All About Spike

Chapter: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24  25  26  27  28  29  30  31  32  33  34  35  36  37  38  39  40  41  42  43  44  45

Affinity
By Ginmar

Chapter 42

The first thing they saw from down the block was Xander's car, parked in front of the house. "Great." Spike muttered. "Maybe they're just leaving."

"Hey!" she smacked him. "You like Anya."

"Well..."

"You do... don't you?"

Spike shrugged and pulled over. Her smacking him would have carried slightly more weight if she hadn't been sitting yet again half across his lap, one arm around his shoulder, and utterly unaware of it. "I guess."

"No honor amongst demons?"

"She's a former demon," Spike pointed out. "I, however, have not let my membership lapse."

"I'd noticed." He got out, reaching in the back for the bags, but by the time he'd gathered them up she was out of the car, looking at him over the top of the car for a moment.

"Had you?" He eyed her as well. "Was it the excessive reliance on sunscreen that gave me away, you think? Or the aversion to Judeo-Christian religious symbols? Or maybe it was the, oh, I don't know, sexual endurance level---"

"Hey!" She hissed. " We're in public!"

"So which is it?" He enquired evilly. "Public discussion or vampire discussion that's got your knickers in a twist? Well, assuming you were wearing any?"

"Public! Somebody might hear you!" She whispered, glancing around. "Dawn's already asking about sex! I don't want her to be reminded that it... exists. Or happens. Or whatever." She closed her eyes and sighed. "Just have to resign myself to that one, okay? Like in ten years or so."

"Uh." he muttered, suddenly sober. "Could always show 'em the fangs, Slayer. That'll keep the buggers away...from... her... Oh...." Off her glance, he shifted his eyes away, wondering what he'd done now. "Well," he cleared his throat. "Cross that bridge when we get to it, won't we? Dawn's not nearly old enough to begin dating, is she? Nothing to worry about."

She gave him a look as he crossed around the front of the car, another Buffy look he simply couldn't interpret. I can speak how many languages, but nobody's ever yet deciphered Female, he thought to himself. Nevertheless, there was something companionable about their silence as they approached the house, even if both of them were bracing for something, him for Harris, and she for Angel.

The Monopoly game was in full swing when they entered the living room, with Anya having enthusiastically entered the fray and laid waste to her opponents. Angel was sitting in aloof silence at one end of the couch, watching the players go at it, while Harris perched on the edge of a chair and from all appearances tried to rein Anya in. Hallie seemed to be doing little but moving her piece, giggling, and clutching at Wes' arm. D'Hoffryn sat at the opposite end of the couch from Angel, staring twitching at Anya's every play. As the two of them came in the front door, they all looked up, and Spike raised the bags from the liquor store, partly as explanation, partly as shield. "Beer. Wine. Champagne. Let's medicate, shall we?" D'Hoffryn perked up instantly, raising a hand like an obedient schoolboy. "Oh... Heineken?" Spike freed one from the bag, and tossed it to him, and retreated to the kitchen, but not before catching the slow tightening of Angel's face as a certain realization dawned. Angel's eyes darted at Spike, then Buffy, and stayed on her. He stared at her, then slowly ran his eyes up and down her entire length, before looking her in the eye again, his jaw agape, his eyes wide and startled. For a moment, he looked so much like he had when she'd loved him that it hurt. Then it vanished, as his face twisted and he drew back an inch or two. It might as well have been a mile. She felt that as keenly as she'd felt it when she'd stabbed him.

"Buffy?"

She looked at him squarely. "Angel? Is there something you want to say?"

They stared at each other, three feet and three years apart.

His lips tightened, and he shook his head at her. It came across to her less as a negative answer than a total negation of her and everything she'd asked him. Unless I do what you want, you're not going to be nice to me? She thought. Well, fine. Two can play at that game. "Well, we're back." She said lightly. "I guess I'll go take a shower, and then we can talk about Cordelia's baby."

Wes' jaw dropped, and he slowly closed his mouth, looking for a long moment at Angel, then back at Buffy. "Angel?" He asked.

"Never mind, Wes."

"But... Angel...."

"I'll deal with it, Wes."

"Well, it doesn't look like...." Wes said slowly, but Angel turned around and looked at him, and he suddenly remembered what he'd felt early, staring down a drunken Angel in his office. He dropped his gaze, and everyone in the room suddenly found it difficult to know where to look. Hallie's bright and perky face softened into concern, and she gave his arm a gentle squeeze, completely different from the rather clutchy grip she'd had on it all evening. When he glanced up at her, she met his eyes firmly and gave him a little nod. He found his voice: "I have pictures." He said helpfully.

"What?" Xander asked. Even D'Hoffryn tore his attention away from the game.

"Oh, I have pictures." Wes said with forced cheer, pulling out his wallet. "He's such a remarkable baby, really." He flipped open his wallet to show the credit card compartment, which turned out to be completely filled with pictures of Cordelia, a young black man none of them recognized, a slender girl who again was unknown, and a chubby-faced infant who couldn't have been more than a month or two old. "See? That's Connor." He passed the wallet around. D'Hoffryn was the first one to take it, his face scrunching up at he looked at the infant. "Aw." He muttered.

"God, looks like someone's had an influence on the poor girl," Spike said, rejoining the group. "I didn't have her pegged for the Irish name type of thing. More like a Justin or a whatever's trendy type of name." Angel winced, but Spike was working his way through the bodies around the living room and missed it. He flopped down into the chair and looked around. Angel stood immobile, hands jammed in his pockets, and Spike raked him with a skeptical glance. "What's the matter, sweetness? You act like a minister with dirty pictures stashed somewhere. Or a blonde who's afraid somebody's gonna find the peroxide." Angel made a disgusted sound, which made Spike laugh outright. "Better watch it, Grandpa. That's an old man's noise." He turned in his seat to look at the other vampire, now truly amused. "Is that it? You don't approve of Cordelia's kid, do you? Does it soften the blow, disapproving of something you can't have? Or do?"

Angel took a swift step forward, but Buffy, lingering in the doorway, cleared her throat quietly. "My house." She said quietly. Xander recognized it as the tone she'd once used on Quentin Travers. "You shouldn't be worried about each other. You should be worried about me."

She stood there and stared Angel down, till bit by bit the tension in his body relaxed and he slumped. Then she turned and walked up the stairs. At the landing, she stepped inside her room and then slammed the door, just because she had to slam something. What she wasn't expecting was the yelp from the bathroom.

"Uh, hello...?"

"Oh, is that you?" came a familiar voice. There was the sound of water sloshing, then the door creaked open and Lorne peeked through. He was wearing a shower cap. "Uh... be just a moment more." He disappeared and the door almost shut, but there was a squeak, and Lorne reappeared, plucked a yellow rubber ducky from between the door and the jamb, and vanished. She flopped down on the bed. There's a demon in my bathroom, she thought. Maybe it's the Sunnydale version of 'How Much is That Doggy in the Window?' It occurred to her that at the moment, the humans in the house were outnumbered by demons, and this was scarcely the first time. Normal? Here? This is normal? Being human in Sunnydale is like being....a virgin in a whorehouse. Rare and not likely to stay in that condition..

She stared up at the ceiling, half-listening for fighting noises downstairs. Nothing. Were Spike and Angel behaving? Or were they just afraid of her? She smiled at the ceiling. Not a half-bad thought, actually. At the very least it would make them behave.

She stared up at the water spot in the plaster, and tried to remember normality. All that came to her were vague pastels, memories of crushes, fashions, and gossip. Angel. I'm too old to be twenty-one. Oddly enough, with Spike, she felt not her age, or her vulnerability, but her potential. She looked forward. With Angel, she struggled to remember. Loving him had been the last gasp of the teenager she had desperately wanted to be----the cheerleader with the boyfriend who should have been a football captain. In real life, it was very likely what he'd been.

Football player. She shook her head at herself. What had Spike said?

What had he been?

She rolled over on her side, punching the pillow into a comfy shape. Of course, vampires were nothing like the humans they'd been. Angel didn't act like a football player, he acted like the dad of a football player, somebody who'd probably peaked in school, and then gone downhill from there. It was funny how she'd never really seen some of these tendencies at sixteen, but who could, the way Angel had mysteriously swooped in and out, disappearing before she could complete a sentence, much less ask a question? Whereas, of course, with Spike, he was always around, always talking....

"So what were you like when you were human?"

Spike was a perfect example; geeky git as a human....

...a walking rebellion as a vampire.

She sat up abruptly.

He'd thought of himself as a poet; the others had thought of him as a git, at least according to Spike. Angel hadn't disagreed with that assessment at all; she'd seen it herself. They act like two brothers, the older one picking on the younger one, if the older one was an athlete, and the younger one was a geek...What was the name of that football player who died, and whose nerd of a brother tried to make him a girlfriend?

The bathroom door opened, and Lorne stepped out, fully dressed, if damp, and toweling his hair vigorously. He surfaced from the towel with a rapturous smile on his face. "Honey, I feel like a whole new demon. What a palatial bathroom that is. I'm envious. And nice shampoo, too." He paused, studying her. "What's going on, sweetheart? You look like you just got hit over the head."

"Do you think Angel's like a football player?"

"I...What?"

"He acts like a football player. He acts like a guy who used to be a football player. He acts like a former football player who's going bald and selling used cars and---" Inspiration struck. "----fussing about his hair. He acts like he's middle aged all of a sudden."

"Well." Lorne said carefully. "Sweetie, I can't reveal anything, but Angel's going through some changes."

"Why? What changes? Middle age?"

"Long story, darling, and not something I can really tell you."

"How come?"

"Professional ethics and all that."

"Yeah, but you're a demon."

"We have ethics."

"What are they?"

"We're sort of like the AMA. Can't reveal stuff, you know. Maybe like a priest."

"Why, are you celibate?"

"Not by choice, sweetie, not by choice." He gave her a sly look. "Unlike you."

She shrugged, embarrassed. He shook his head at the ceiling as if appealing either to a deity or the plaster for help. "Sweetie, on the one hand, it's nice to see someone taking my advice. But you know what? I don't get to offer advice like that a lot of the time. You know why?" He looked down, gathering his thoughts. "Love is rare, and most people don't get to find it. So they don't ask me for advice about dealing with it. They ask me for advice about coping with not having it. Or poor shadows of it. They ask me advice about finding it. They use substitutes, they find close facsimiles, they fall in love or they tell themselves they fell in love, they love somebody who doesn't love them back... but they're not in the position you're in. Somebody loves you. Doesn't make any sense at all. But run with it, sweetie. Life is short, especially if you're the Slayer. Get all the chocolate cake and nookie you can." Buffy blushed bright red, and he slapped one arm around her shoulders and gave her a hug that so reminded her of Joyce that she blinked for a second, whipped between a memory and wish. God, I wish Mom was alive. I could ask her about Spike.

"There's no real dilemma here, is there?" Lorne asked. "Not a big talker are you? I think, you just damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead." He squeezed her again. "Angel, well, Angel...."

"How long have you known him?"

Lorne thought about it. "I tend to measure time in terms of demons fought, drinks drunk, clubs destroyed, diapers changed..."

"That's the dilemma." Buffy sighed. "Cordelia's baby."

That took a moment to sink in. "Cordelia's... what?"

"Her baby."

"Her baby?" Lorne pulled away to look at her. "Who told you it was Cordelia's baby?"

"Well, Spike saw her in LA, and..."

"What did Angel say about that?"

"Well, we got interrupted last time. I don't think he likes talking about it."

"How did you get interrupted?"

"Spike."

"Ah. How fortunate." He rubbed his chin, obviously thinking, and Buffy stood up. "You know what? Go take a shower, it helps. I have to go do something."

"Huh?" Buffy frowned at him, puzzled by the sudden change into Mr. Decisive Demon, but the siren song of the shower called to her. She shrugged it off and went to prepare for the next round. Nothing like being all shower fresh when you argue.

Behind her, Lorne sat on the bed, and stared at her as the bathroom door clicked shut. "Yes, how fortunate. For Angel."



Gotta stop having sex in the tub if that's all I'm going to think about later, Buffy thought. It just seemed a terrible hardship to soap her own hair and scrub her own back, to slosh around with no sleek male body to fit against and melt into. Kissing him under the stream of water, feeling his body warm to hers with the temperature of the water, slipping and sliding against his skin. It wasn't even sexual, that feeling, well----until it had turned into sex----it was more like a whole body sigh, as every muscle relaxed, every cell exhaled its tension. The way his head tilted back slightly when she did anything to him, his lips parting, his eyes drifting half shut....

Great. That was helpful.

She soaped resentfully, sighing periodically, but no one came to her rescue. After a moment it occurred to her that Lorne might very well be still in her bedroom, and God only knows how he was interpreting her sighs and mutters. She scrubbed between her toes and replayed Angel's look as he'd looked at her, reality dawning over his face, shock setting in....

The question was, how much reality?

Maybe it was just being around Spike, who habitually blurted out whatever thought was in his head at the time, no matter where he was or what he was doing. Example: "I knew it. Only thing better than killing a Slayer would be f----" But at least she knew exactly what was going on. Not like he was going to go all broody or anything on her.

She smiled at the thought. Spike's version of brooding would probably be to throw things and swear all the time instead of just now and then.

Her smile faded. It wasn't just that Spike blurted out whatever was on his feverish brain, no matter what; it was that she was surrounded by people who didn't quite do the same. Willow? There was a huge chunk of missing there. Xander? Between the Dancing Demon and his refusal to acknowledge what Spike had done over the summer, she didn't know where she stood with him. Giles? Gone.

And now Angel.

What was wrong there?

It wasn't that he said anything that seemed false. It was just that what he said seemed so... incomplete. She'd been expecting something else to come out of his mouth, some other shoe to drop, and it hadn't happened.

What could it be?

Did Cordelia get impregnated by a demon?

Well, okay, bad, but who cared? After all, this was California, they made birth announcements for just about every pairing. Why not interspecies?

Okay, maybe it was something worse. Cordelia got impregnated by an actor? Again, ugh, but so what?

Musician?

Mucous demon?

Who cared? Why hadn't she called? Why hadn't she written?

She stared down at the water, scrubbing between her toes, thinking, It's so much more fun when Spike does that. Crap.

Had something bad happened to Cordelia?

Again, she had to dismiss the idea. There was no hint of that in Angel's speech, his demeanor, his attitude.

He just doesn't want to talk to me.



He sat on the bed for a moment, listening to her moving around in the bathroom, starting the water, getting out towels. Then he got up and padded in his bare feet to the stairs and silently glided down them till he was standing motionless in the hall outside the living room, watching the Monopoly game. Angel stiffly sat on one end of the couch, cheek in one hand, the picture of slowly-stewing irritation, while Spike sprawled cheerfully in the chair across from him, sipping nonchalantly from a beer and breaking out occasionally into a grin of pure malice. He was practically bouncing in his seat with sadistic delight.

Wes and Hallie huddled on one side of the coffee table while D'Hoffryn intently scanned the board from the head of the table and cast sullen looks at Anya, who appeared to have taken over on behalf of both herself and Xander. Xander was paying more attention to the TV than to the game, glancing over his shoulder now and then at Anya's exclamations and muttering, "That's nice, sweetie."

Lorne leaned in the doorway. I used to have a club, he thought. I used to have a club. I used to be somebody. Now I change diapers for somebody. It wasn't so much the diapers he minded, it was the fact that Connor didn't seem to have the same effect on Angel as he did on himself and Wes. Hell, Wes was carting around pictures of the little rug rat. Given the opportunity, he himself could natter on happily about the little brat for quite some time, but it bugged him that Angel... wasn't. Might not be my kid, might not be my ex.... but how could you be so proud of the kid and not talk about him with the love of your life? Didn't he trust her? Why was he lying to her?

"So, Angel..." He said. "I guess you and Buffy have been having some interesting conversations."

Angel looked up at him, and a slow moment passed, ticking by, as everyone else ignored them. "Well... Yeah."

"Cause, of course, you've been discussing Cordelia's baby and all. God only knows that's a subject you want to just go on and on about."

Angel's eyes sharpened suddenly, and Lorne found himself confronted with a face he didn't recognize, but Xander did: Angelus. He glanced up from the game, casually looked from demon to vampire, then back at the television. There was a moment's delay while his brain caught up with his eyes, before his body recognized what his eyes had seen, and he froze in his place. Then he turned and looked carefully at Angel. He glanced up at Lorne, too.

"Well, who wouldn't be fond of that kid?" Angel chuckled. His sudden smile looked more like a grimace than a smile, the sort of thing a man might do during acute intestinal distress.

"Yeah, who wouldn't?" Lorne asked quietly. "Because evidently, one way or another, his father doesn't care to own up."

And Xander watched as the tense smile was whisked off Angel's face as if it had been slapped off. His hands turned cold, and his face felt hot. "So... Cordelia had a kid?" He interjected weakly. " Cordelia as a single mom. Can't imagine she'd do that. Isn't it kind of bad for the..." He gulped as Angel turned to him, that tight, white face bringing back all too many memories. "....complexion?" He finished breathlessly. Angelus, crowding against him in a hallway, while his best friend struggled to keep breathing. Was it unfair of him to still blame Angel for... well.... everything? If he had helped them instead of, well, everybody else... Maybe you just didn't get credit with the Powers That Be for helping your friends. A sudden thought hit him. He never came back after the funeral. Looking at him now, he was seventeen again, and it wasn't a good seventeen, either.

"Oh, pregnancy isn't bad for the complexion." Anya said helpfully. "It's actually quite beneficial."

Spike had glanced up as the tension mounted, his wide grin slowly ebbing to a smile, then fading entirely away. Wes, likewise, had leaned away from the game, and was steadily regarding Angel. Hallie kept her eyes fixed on her hand, laid next to Wes' on the carpet.

"Good to know." Xander said, nodding vigorously, his eyes fixed on Angel's face. "Good to know. I'll be taking notes."

"No, you won't, sweetie." Anya said absently, hopping a piece several squares and seizing on a property that made D'Hoffryn's face pucker up with tension. "Your handwriting is awful, but you make up for it by doing lots and lots of----"

"Anya!"

"Oh, yes." Anya looked up, finding all faces turned to her. "It's okay, Xander, see? I didn't make any sort of sexual reference. Isn't that good?"

"That's wonderful, sweetie. I'm so proud of you." He leaned forward and pecked her on the lips.

"Why are your lips so cold?" Anya enquired. "Are you afraid I'm playing for money?"

"No, sweetie, if you did, we'd be able to buy a house."

"Hey!" Anya said suddenly, turning to the other players. "Could we play for money?"

A ring of skeptical faces suddenly surrounded her, like petals on a flower. "Anyanka," Hallie chided. "Is that all you think of, money?"

"Oh, no!" Anya corrected brightly. "The rest of the time, it's Xander!"

Xander turned suddenly to her, all the fear washing out of his system. "Anya..."

"What?" She whispered, worried by the look on his face. He was so serious all of a sudden, his eyes full of something that she couldn't interpret. "What did I say wrong?"

He cupped her shoulder with one hand, stroking her comfortingly. "Absolutely nothing, sweetie. Absolutely nothing."

"Which is nice." Lorne said. "Because it does kind of bring us back to the motif of the evening, which is sort of similar. Let's talk."

"Already tried that." Buffy said from the stairs. "Didn't work. So what do you want to talk about?"

Lorne regarded her steadily. "Oh, this, that, stuff. Here's an idea. How saying nothing sometimes can be worse than lying. Point, counterpoint."

Spike yawned. "Are you getting all philosophical? Because I could use a nap."

"Yeah." Angel muttered. "I'll bet you're tired."

"Would you?" Spike leaned forward, his legs relaxing, falling slightly further open. "Because that would be kind of ignorant of you, wouldn't it? Not that you'd really... know." He relaxed further, sinking deeper into the cushions of the chair, His hand sliding down his chest and pausing at his belt buckle.

"Hey!" Buffy snapped.

"Sorry, luv." Spike glanced at her, abashed. "Didn't mean it quite that way."

"I still can't believe it." Angel said. "You and..."

"Well, I know what you mean." Buffy said. "After all, he's still here."

Heads snapped up around the table. "Uh...." Xander asked, then swallowed. "What did I miss?"

"Nothing." Anya sighed. "They're just going to talk and talk and talk, and then they won't even say what's pissing them off."

"And nobody will get revenge." D'Hoffryn muttered sadly. "And then they'll probably start talking again."

"No, we're done talking." Buffy said quietly. "Because you're not talking to me, Angel. I can tell you're.... you're not exactly lying but you're not telling the truth." Her glance fell on Xander, suddenly, and her face softened. "And I'm used to being around friends who at least try to tell me the truth."

"Oh, we can?" Anya said. "Because that top..." She paused regretfully. "It's just so the wrong..."Xander poked her and she frowned. "Hey! She said..."

"No, it's okay." Buffy said. "You know, I did some thinking in the shower. " Spike cocked his head at her, consideringly. Damn. Knew I was missing something. "And I just kind of came to the conclusion that you don't want to talk to me, Angel. You just don't. And I want to know why."

Angel glanced scornfully at Spike for a second, no longer, as if the younger vampire weren't worth more attention. "You know why."

"No, I really don't."

"Him." Angel spat out. "Him and his chip. I trust him about as far as I trust that chip."

To Buffy's surprise, Spike didn't get mad at all. He simply looked disappointed and rather disgusted. "Yeah, because souls are so trustworthy."

"How would you know?" Angel spat. "All you have is a piece of plastic."

Spike stared into his eyes. Again, his reaction was not the one Buffy expected. "You're forgetting, mate." Spike said. "I have a lot more than that. "

The two vampires stared at one another, and Buffy felt the most curious shiver of depression slither up her spine. There went my childhood, she thought, and the way I used to feel about him.

"Yeah." Angel said quietly. "How long before the chip fails?"

"There's something you're missing, Angel." Buffy said quietly. "It's not the chip you have to trust, it's me. If he really wanted to be all Big Bad, he'd have minions doing his work for him. I mean, if you really want something, you really do find a way to get it done." She looked around the room, to find all the faces turned up to her, running the gamut from Xander's rapt expression to Wes' distracted glance. Lorne buffed his nails on his shirt, assessed the result, and gave her a firm little nod without missing a beat. "If I trust Spike, then you should, too. When somebody almost lays down their life for my sister, for me, and... well... doesn't insult my friends nearly as much as he could have, I think that means something. So either you trust me, or you don't. That's fine. But don't pretend there's anything left between us if it's only when you feel like it."

Angel jumped to his feet. "Buffy... You're going to tell me that you... trust Spike more than me?"

"He's been here, Angel. You haven't even tried to be here."

"Buffy..." Angel ran his hands through his hair, something that made Spike open his mouth. Buffy could practically see the remark form on his tongue, and shot him a look that made him sigh and sink back in his chair. "I can't trust him. I can't. I've known him since..."

Spike frowned suddenly. "You don't know nothin', mate, nothin' at all about me." Putting his beer carefully aside, he stood up, as casually as if he intended to stretch. "Don't give me this crap about you knowin' me at all. I haven't seen you in a hundred years—well, except for that little relapse----but I have heard about you. What you did to Dru. What you were doin' with Darla. Or is it only you that's allowed to...?" Angel snarled at that, and lunged forward, but Buffy was faster, snapping between them.

"Darla?" Buffy asked.

"Nothing." Angel said. "Nothing."

Buffy stared into his face, seeing more desperation than anger. "Why can't you believe me?" She asked.

In answer, Angel just jerked his chin at Spike, who was simply standing there, his arms crossed. "I know him, Buffy, and I've known him longer than you, no matter how you count it."

Buffy thought about it for a minute, then answered. "Well, he's known you a lot longer than I have. Should I listen to him about you?"

Xander grinned to himself and swiftly stifled it behind his hand. "Especially seeing as how it's always been Angel trying to end the world, and ah, Spike..." Xander stopped so abruptly he made a choking sound. "Oh, God, I almost said something nice about Spike. Oh, God. Oh, God." Anya patted him on the back efficiently, but her eyes never left the little scene going on in front of her.

Spike's glance in Xander's direction was oddly consoling. "Know how you feel, Harris. Almost had the urge to say somethin' about you which wasn't entirely derogatory, but I laid down and it went away."

"I don't even care what it is you're not telling me any more, Angel." Buffy heaved a great sigh and turned and walked away, to stand in the doorway. With her back to him, her head bowed, and her arms crossed, she continued, "I mean, I know it's something about Connor, and I don't think he's Cordelia's baby or anything, and I know you're probably trying to protect him, but I really don't understand why. And you won't tell me. And you won't listen to me, either." She turned and looked at him. Everyone was still, even Spike, who had jammed his hands in his pockets. "I don't want it to end like this, Angel, I really don't. I've lost too many people who I loved. The way you feel about somebody never goes away, does it? Not even when they do." Her throat closed, and her eyes filled, so that she had to look down again, to study her blurry socks. She looked up and saw her life, perfectly posed before her. Her past, her present, her future. The past love of Angel, the present and perhaps future of Spike, and the constancy of Xander. Even Wes and Hallie were woven into the fabric there, Wes part of her past, and part of Angel's present, and Hallie from both Spike's life and Anya's. Why did they have to be of separate phases? Why couldn't they all be like this, all the time, no ruptures, no separations? Why did it have to end?

She looked at Angel. "Choose, Angel."

"Buffy, I can't."

"Then give me a good reason."

All he did was turn and glare at Spike. For a moment she had an idea she knew what it felt like to get staked, because that look just seemed to shoot through her. "I can't, Buffy. Not with Connor's life."

"Connor's life?" Buffy exploded. " What about my life? Because you sure seem to like popping in when it suits you. I mean.... What, did you adopt him or something? Is that it? He's not Cordelia's, he's not Wes', is he yours?"

Angel blanched, his jaw dropping open, flinching back away from her. It was Buffy's turn to stare in disbelief at him, throwing her hands up in the air. She shook her head at his reaction, but it took a moment to sink in. "He is yours? How? Is that all? You didn't....You couldn't even... send a card?" She spread her hands, bewildered. "God... You... adopted a kid? Why?" D'Hoffryn, still holding the baby pictures, glanced at them again, then at Angel, shrugged, and raised his hand. Everyone looked at him, and he hunched with embarrassment. "He's, ah, he's a really cute baby."

Angel ran his hand through his hair, momentarily pleased, then shrank, at the circle of disapproving faces.

Spike gave a short bark of laughter at that. As they both turned and glared at him, he covered his mouth and cleared his throat. "Sorry, but... how Los Angeles of you. Isn't adoption the big thing now? No stretch marks and all. Actually, that way I could believe it was Cordelia's..." He coughed again as everybody glared at him. "Well, makes more sense than Granddad here adopting a human. He is human, isn't he? It's not like you were ever a good father anyway... What next?" He enquired cheekily. "Hair transplants? Yoga?"

Xander raised his hand. "Uh... You do realize, this makes my family look normal." Everybody stared at him. "Sorry. But that's never happened before." Anya beamed at him.

Wes had been staring at the game board silently for quite some time, face flushed, almost embarrassed-looking. He bit his lower lip and looked up, his eyes firm and his mouth set. "Angel," he said quietly. "You can't keep doing this."

"It's none of your business, Wes."

"Well, it's not business, is it? We're not talking about work, are we? Because if we were, I could discuss how I came to be your employer."

"What would that prove, Wes?"

"Nothing, really, except that you've made some terrible mistakes, Angel." Angel's eyes bored into Wes', but the slender Englishman didn't blink. He raised his chin defiantly, and took a deep breath. "It's not as if I don't understand what a terrible strain this is upon all of us. But this.... "

Buffy thought about it for a minute, then tried to interrupt. "Oh, Wes...." I just called a Watcher by his nickname, she thought.

"Please, Buffy, let me finish." He smiled slightly at her, and nodded graciously in acknowledgement. It was so Watcher-like she had to smile herself. Once a Watcher, always a Watcher, she thought. He turned to Angel again. "The things we do, the things we see, take a terrible toll on us all. But... this really doesn't have anything with Spike's chip. Well, it might, but then we'd have to ask about your soul, too. Isn't your soul supposed to accomplish the same thing as Spike's chip?"

Angel stared at him ferociously, and after a moment, Spike slipped unobtrusively between him and Buffy, sought her eyes briefly, and then turned to face the older vampire. Angel didn't say anything, though, and the silence was so complete that they could hear the clock ticking in the hallway. Xander let out an explosive breath, then gulped another one in and held it.

"It should." Buffy said quietly.

"Then why didn't it?" Wes asked quietly.



Continued in Chapter 43

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