Disclaimer: Not mine. They're never mine...

A/N: Angel is every bit as important to this story as Spike and Buffy. I wish I could select three characters to categorise it.

This story is written a bit more like my regular fiction. Does it work here, in the fandom, or should I avoid this sort of formatting in the future?


"Well, well," Spike says. "Don't we look stunning?"

Buffy bats her eyelashes in an expression of innocence, not that there's much innocence to be had by someone wearing a dress like that. "Yeah?" she asks. She strikes her best 'come and get it' pose in the bedroom doorway.

Spike goes, "Hmm," and rumbles a little purr in the back of his throat and he walks—okay, honestly it's more of a slink—towards her. "Trying to come up with something more specific, but I'm recalling the last time I told you what I liked. Don't think I'd fancy you quite as much without my favourite parts." He ends the final word with one arm wrapped around her waist, hand palming her breast.

Buffy's laugh is a mixture of amusement, embarrassment, and arousal.

Angel's expression is baffled. "What happened?" he asks. He looks between the two blondes as they become ever more distracted by one another's bodies. "What happened?"

Buffy waves a hand distractedly. "It was silly," she dismisses, busying herself with Spike's face.

xxxxxxx

Even though it's Spike who does the whole gentlemanly thing for her; walking on the kerb, opening doors, and pulling out chairs (she somewhat suspects he isn't even doing these things intentionally, because he always looks just as baffled as she does when he suddenly finds the doorknob in his hand), it's Angel who treats her like she's fragile.

It was nice at first. She took it as flattering when he moved to take a blow in her place, or when he restrained himself.

He loves her. He wants to take care of her. He can't stand the idea of hurting her. He can't stand the idea of her being hurt.

But as hard as he pretends, she isn't a schoolgirl anymore. She can take the punches thrown her way and roll with them. She does not need a man to stand between her and the real world. He can ride her as hard as he rides Spike (literally and figuratively) and she can fight her own fights and they can actually have an argument and live through it without the world ending.

But it never changes. It's all they know.

xxxxxxx

Sometimes, in the middle of one of those big, epic, fight-to-the-death, blood, guts, and glory types of battles, and sometimes in the middle of abso-fucking-lutely nothing, Spike can see them staring at each other, the looks on their faces ones of unbridled, untarnishable adoration.

And, sometimes, in the middle of those moments in the middle of moments, it occurs to Spike that, not only has no one ever looked upon him like that; he's stopped waiting for it to happen.

At some point down the line, he's stopped expecting them to love him the way he loves them, or the way they love each other.

But maybe this is because this is the way it has always been. Old hat, new lovers. And old lovers, too.

No one has ever stared at Spike as if they feared the stars would rain from the sky or the Earth would split in two if they dared to so much as blink, much less turn away.

Maybe it should bother him that he's stopped believing these sorts of expression could be directed toward him. Maybe it should bother him that the people he's with always turn to direct them towards others.

But instead it's just one of those things that gets ignored. Like how Angel moans Buffy's name in bed no matter who it is getting him off. Or how Buffy stares at him with a look of absolute incomprehension every time he tries to do something nice for her that doesn't end with them all naked.

It's just one of those things.

xxxxxxx

There are plenty of days when Angel awakens to find them already settled before the TV, often times hours after the original settling had taken place.

They'd sit close up in the middle, even though neither of them took up all that much room and more than half the sofa was left on either side. They'd scoot close, shoulders touching, and bend over the same bowl.

Buffy would smile around a mouthful of popcorn and swallow and say, "There's more in the cabinet."

Spike would lick a muck made of coffee-doused ice cream off his spoon in slow motion. "Or you could share."

And Angel would stare over their shoulders, over the bowl of popcorn or ice cream or Chex Mix or leftover chicken salad and at the television screen that played out the false stories of melodramatic people with whom he did not relate.

"I don't eat."

And he'd leave them there, and he'd drink his blood and he'd sharpen his weapons and they'd join him.

They join him and together they fight, and smile, and patch one another's wounds, and fall into bed just before sunrise. They are together, the three of them. But there are those few hours, those few hours just before the sun sets when they belong to a world that Angel does not.

xxxxxxx

She feels like an outsider sometimes.

She shouldn't be surprised. It seems likely that, judging from Angel's often possessive hands and Spike's insecure gaze, they all suffer from the same worries. The idea that one of them belongs there less than the others.

She imagines it's fair of each of them, too. She knows Angel lacks a sympathy for Spike, and that he worries on the closeness she'd developed with the younger of the two vampires after he'd gone away, and on the mendedness of her heart in the aftermath of that same leaving.

And she knows too that Spike worries if he's ever truly held her heart the way Angel did, and that she'd brought about that, with her words and her double meanings and her fists. And she knows that he knows that there isn't something that can ever nullify the emotions that go hand-in-hand with that first love.

Buffy also knows that long before Angel was her first, he'd been Spike's.

What she doesn't know is if she can compete with that. A hundred years of even the most mixed of feelings is difficult to contend.

They've got a century of history, and even though the generation gap between Angel and Spike is about the same as the one between Spike and herself, she feels left out more than she'd like to admit.

The stuff they watch on TV puts a gap between them that she does not like. It isn't like they grew up with it, she knows, but they hold a familiarity with the lack of colour that she does not. It's stuff her grandmother was into. Maybe. She doesn't remember her grandmother being all that into TV. But if she had been, it would probably be these sorts of things.

It isn't like she and Spike don't have shows in common, or like Angel's interested in half of what Spike turns on, but sometimes they pull up things from one of those eras ripe for nostalgia and Buffy remembers that she's really just a baby.

Sometimes they recall the first time they saw things, sometimes there are other names involved, though usually only in Spike's stories. Like when he saw Dracula with Darla, but she grew bored and devoured the rest of the audience and Drusilla became too confused for them to stay for the entire film.

Buffy doesn't lack an appreciation for the older movies, but she simply can't look at them the way Spike and Angel can. They're outdated and silly in her eyes and she can't watch them with the same seriousness they do.

Spike takes up the habit of seating himself on the floor and resting against her leg, or sometimes laying his head in her lap. He purrs when she pets his hair.

The first time he used her as his pillow he called her 'lady' and spoke like he was fresh from some century gone by. (Yes, obviously he was, but he didn't usually speak like it.) Angel responded with the sort of sound a person makes when they recognise that a joke, or something resembling one, has occurred, but do not find said joke to be particularly funny itself.

Buffy had just stared blankly.

There's this massive generation gap between all three of them and sometimes it's almost like it will swallow up their relationship.

xxxxxxx

"Ow!"

Spike tries to scoot himself away the best he can, which is not much. The handcuffs keep him rather firmly in place, and what they don't do the weight of Buffy's body pinning him down accomplishes just fine.

"Ow?" She pulls back, but her motions aren't at full range either. The nurse outfit is just a size to small, which seemed like the exact right size for it to be when she'd modelled for them earlier, but wasn't working out quite as well as they'd hoped since she could only move just a little, and not much of her hips. "What ow?"

Spike squirms a little and tilts his head far to the side, his hollow cheek to his shoulder.

Angel frowns from the other end of the bed but doesn't move in. "What?"

Spike blinks, and then looks at Angel. After a moment his expression changes from mild hurt to embarrassment. "Um, nothing. From the other day, yeah? Sexy wounds?" he leers at Buffy, though it does somewhat lack for its usual lustre.

It was true. The wound part, that is. The sexy was left open to interpretation. But he had taken a rather hard punch that had blown him clean through the wall of a mausoleum. Which was rather impressive, if not extremely painful. There'd even been coverage of the Spike-shaped hole on the evening news.

"Yeah, it was real sexy the way you bled all over the backseat," Angel agrees sarcastically and finds himself on the receiving end of Spike's leer this time.

"Just how I do everything. Can't be helped."

Buffy rolls her eyes but when her warm hands fall back upon Spike's chest the touch is gentle. "Well, if you're not up to it—"

"Oi! Didn't say that!"

"—we can just take things, you know," her fingers trail up and make their way up his arms, which are extended up and out as fast as they can go, "slow."

She leans herself over him and he strains his neck up, mouth parting to lick at her breast as it moves steadily closer to his face.

"She bit you?"

The red mark in the little space between Spike's neck and shoulder is easily visible now that he's moved his face away.

Spike's expression attains a blankness that would have impressed even a werewolf musician. Buffy just tilts her head and looks back at Angel, sitting so close to her arse and not even touching.

"Yeah," she says. "Is that—"she remembers suddenly to address her questions to Spike, "that's okay, right?"

"Yeah! Yeah, sure, 'course it is, pet," Spike reassures quickly.

Buffy's eyes tell a story, the plot of which centres around a girl named Buffy who does not believe the bullshit fed to her by her vampire lover. "Spike," she says, her voice is gentle and free of judgement, "if you're not okay with something—"

Angel doesn't laugh all that often. And when he does, most times it amounts to a chuckle and nothing more.

This is not a chuckle.

It's the sort of laugh he gave before he was Angel, the sort that makes the extra weight around his stomach bounce and the sort that makes Spike's head duck and hide. "You're a vampire, boy!" he reminds Spike, as if he could have somehow managed the feat of forgetting such.

Spike's face flickers somewhere around absolute humiliation for a moment before it shifts to a default mixture of annoyance and cockiness. "Clean out your ears," his voice rises a bit to speak over the sound of Angel's chortling and gathers to it a bit of snap. "Already explained myself once."

He takes it upon himself then to distract the direction of the conversation further and encouragements begin to spill from his mouth in the form of; "C'mon, Slayer. C'mon, Slayer. C'mon, c'mon." He bounces a little underneath her in a motion that can't quite be qualified as bucking as she'd settled herself just too high above his hips, straddling his waist with her legs parting just over his navel.

Buffy stares down at him, excitement tempered by the sad understanding of what it is Spike is doing. But it was also this understanding that turns her around and scoots her down between the legs of the blond vampire and descends her lips upon Angel's.

The topic never does come up again, but Buffy keeps her teeth to herself as often as the thought occurs to her.

xxxxxxx

The wet sand sticks to the bottom of their feet. Buffy laughs when Angel's arms wrap around her waist from behind.

"What?" Angel asks, with just a touch of self-consciousness.

Buffy shakes her head and leans back against his broad, bare chest. "Nothing," she says. "I just remembered I dreamed this."

"When?"

"Mmm," she says, somewhat distracted by the waves rushing up the shore, "a long time ago."

"All of this?" asks Angel, pressing his lips to the top of her blonde head. She smells like salt and sweat and sunscreen.

Buffy turns her head to look down the beach and out into the ocean. She watches the two figures wrestling in the waves. "No," she admits. "Not that part."

Spike dunks Connor under the water and pins him there. The water splashes around them and Spike's laughter can be heard above the noise.

"Spike, don't forget he breathes!" Buffy calls out to him, hands cupped around her mouth unnecessarily. Her voice is still tinged with light amusement.

Whether an automatic response to hearing his name, or just by his easy distractibility, Spike's attention shifts from Connor and the boy takes the opportunity to surge up from the water. Using the momentum and his superior size, he manages to quickly flip Spike and reverse their positions.

Buffy's body vibrates against Angel's with the force of her laughter. "I think I like the real version better."

xxxxxxx

Spike packs the frozen broccoli around her bruised ribs while Angel holds the cloth of disinfectant to her face. It stings but she doesn't pull away. She's the Slayer. She's died twice. She's been stabbed clean through. She's survived a bullet to the chest. She can deal with sting.

Still, it's easier when Angel wraps his great big hand around her own, dwarfing her tiny fingers. And when Spike tucks the blankets up under her chin tenderly and peers at her with blue eyes filled up with concern and love, well; it's even easier.

"Is there something else, pet?" Spike asks. "Something we can do?"

It hurts to smile, because half of her face is completely raw, but she still has to do so anyway, because it's Spike and his concerned face is the sweetest thing ever.

She works her hand out from under the blankets—Spike is good at tucking them in—and pats the mattress beside her. "Lie down?" she proposes, her voice slightly slurred from both the one side not working entirely properly and the pain pills.

Not that she really needs the pills when Spike curls up against her side and nuzzles his head against hers and Angel stretches his arm out around her, cradling her. When the pills pull her to sleep, Spike's soft purring a lullaby in her ear and Angel's arm wrapped around her like a security blanket, the smile she can't keep from her lips doesn't even hurt.

xxxxxxx

He kind of panics when Dawn finds the book. Panics and freezes, even though these are exactly the sorts of things Big Bads don't do. But he does it all the same.

When she picks it up, it's like she's holding every single piece of him in her hands. The deepest, most sensitive parts of him. Everything he is and everything he has been.

And she holds the perfect way to destroy him too.

He wants to yell at her to drop it, or laugh it off and tell her it isn't interesting anyway, because a request for privacy translates to a plea for investigation in teenage girl language. But he doesn't do either of those. He can't. He just freezes, and tenses, and waits.

She would open it and read it and find every little piece of him, the ones he doesn't discuss because he is ashamed and afraid, and the ones he doesn't discuss because he is vain and stubborn, and the ones he doesn't discuss for reasons he can't even remember anymore.

And he can't even stop her.

But the emotions that Dawn isn't holding must show up on Spike's face rather recognisably, because Angel takes one look at him, and he sees that panic there, and the complete terror, and he snatches the book away from Dawn.

She makes a few indignant teenaged girl noises in return, but Angel's never been too overly concerned with explaining himself, so she doesn't really bother asking the whys and just goes on about her things.

Angel hands the book; the battered, ancient book, back to its proper owner. Spike snatches it away quickly and holds it close, as if in fear that the melodrama and pitiable rhymes would escape from the pages if he didn't grip the book tight enough.

"You know," Angel points out in something bordering on a drawl, "it doesn't have to be a secret."

Spike opens his mouth to reply with a sharp, sarcastic comment, but finds none and settles for a glower instead. The glower is probably somewhat undermined by the fact that his face still shows how shaken he is by the close call.

"I like them," Angel adds, this time with complete sincerity.

Spike fumbles again for some appropriately derisive remark to shrug off the compliment, but comes up empty again. He goes for his own sincerity instead. "I can't."

"I'm sorry," Angel says. He really does look sorry too. "I hope that you can, eventually."

Spike tilts his head to the side slightly and studies at Angel's expression. He looks at Spike with understanding and acceptance, and Spike comes upon the bizarre discovery that Angel actually just might understand and accept the situation. And he thinks about Buffy, who doesn't even know the existence of the situation. Doesn't have the slightest idea what he's hidden away in those yellowed papers.

"Yeah," says Spike. "Me too."

xxxxxxx

It would be hard not to love Angel.

He spends so much time cultivating that dark force persona. The vigilante in the black coat, the man on the rooftop.

But he's not Batman. He's just Angel. Somewhat awkward, slightly spazzy, couldn't carry a tune to save his life Angel.

The stoicism stands there, of course, but he puts too much effort into his mystique for them to really give it any credence.

And, in a way, it just makes it all that more rewarding when he stops brooding and just smiles.

xxxxxxx

It would be hard not to love Buffy.

She's like this inextinguishable volcano of righteousness and malapropos, exuding goodness and incomprehensible grammar everywhere she goes. The way she smiles, the way she fights, the way she cares.

She always gets back up when she falls, even if she needs a hand. And she's always there to offer one to them.

Constantly, without fail, she endears herself to them further. Their little bottle blonde California spitfire.

xxxxxxx

It would be hard not to love Spike.

The demon in leather who stands beside them, always, forever. The undying loyalty and the love that's always there, even when they're at their worst.

And of course they love the rest of him, too. The snarky, potty-mouthed brawler and the sensitive, somewhat insecure poet beneath.

It's nearly childlike, the wonder and disbelief that appear on his face when they show him they care, even if it goes hand in hand with a little twinge of guilt because they caused that disbelief. And still, Spike will love them until it burns him to ashes and tears him to shreds.

Love's bitch indeed.