He worked hard to keep his voice casual, then turned toward Gunn as he'd originally intended and asked if he'd seen the Coldwell Realty mug. Gunn looked from one to the other and clearly didn't care for the dynamic he saw. "Uh, I think it's probably drying on the counter in the bathroom. Fred said something about having washed it out. Just grab another one."
With that, Gunn slid off the stool he'd been seated on, mumbled something about things to do and beat a hasty retreat. Smart man.
With a deliberate slowness he knew would drive Angel to the brink of distraction, Spike took a mug, filled it with blood, put the mug in the microwave, fiddled with the controls for a moment to get the perfect setting, hit "start" and put the container back in the refrigerator. During all of this, Angel simply glared. Only when the microwave had beeped and Spike retrieved his mug did he speak again. "Let's go into the office."
Spike sipped at the warm blood. "I'm comfortable here."
Another glare. "It's more private in the office."
"One of the reasons I'm comfortable here."
Angel's arm shot out to grab him, but Spike moved backwards out of range. "No, you don't. The game's changed. I'm not a fledgling you can order around. You want to talk? Fine. We'll talk here."
"I would think you wouldn't want anyone else to hear this discussion," Angel said through gritted teeth.
"No, you don't want anyone else to hear this discussion," Spike countered. "To be specific, you don't want Buffy to hear this discussion."
He was treading on dangerous ground and he knew it. Angel might not be quite so quick to hit as Angelus, but Spike was not so foolish as to think the possibility didn't exist. Another reason to keep the locale public.
Angel looked uncomfortable enough that Spike knew he'd hit a nerve. Pulling out a chair from one of the desks, he settled and took a sip of blood. "You want to talk? Let's talk."
"You can't keep this...'relationship' going with Buffy. It's not good for her.'
"Isn't that her call to make?"
"If you really cared about her, you'd do what was best for her, not think about your own needs. Not that I'm surprised by that. You've always been a selfish creature."
"And you believe that what's best for her is for another man she cares for to bugger off, leaving her to face the upcoming fight alone because you don't approve of him." Spike took another sip of blood. "Who's the selfish one here?"
"Buffy deserves better than someone who'll keep her trapped in the shadows."
"You mean, she deserves better than me." Spike set the mug down, his appetite gone. "That's what this is about, isn't it? You can't stand the idea of Buffy and me together."
"I can't conceive of the idea of you and Buffy together." Angel leaned forward, hands resting on the desk. "I want to know what you did, how you tricked her into this."
His voice was low and threatening, but for some reason Spike didn't find it as frightening as he used to. Maybe it was years and experience; maybe it was the suspicion there was a line Angel wouldn't cross for fear of permanently pissing off Buffy. "No tricks, mate. The girl and I fell for each other."
In an instant he was hauled to his feet, Angel's hand wrapped tightly in the front of his shirt. "Somehow, I can't believe that," he said with a snarl.
Spike's first instinct was to shove back, try to break Angel's hold. That would only lead to a fight, which was probably what Angel wanted. With an effort, he merely smiled. "Just ask her."
They held that position for a moment and then Angel shoved him back, causing Spike to stumble as he collided with the desk. "Don't think you'll like the answer?" he taunted.
"I'm thinking she'll spin whatever story you've convinced her to believe. What did you do? Tell her some sob story about being reformed because you had a soul?"
"Projecting much? Isn't that what you did? Tell her you'd been evil but you were now reformed? News flash, Peaches. Buffy already knew I was evil."
"So why? What could you possibly say or do that would convince her to roll in the dirt with you?" Angel managed to endow the words with extreme distaste, as if his lady love had somehow been sullied.
Spike considered telling Angel to piss off, that the how and why were between himself and Buffy. But since Angel wouldn't believe anything Spike said, why not go with the truth? "She said I'd changed; that she believed in me."
For a moment, Spike swore Angel's eyes flashed yellow, the demon threatening to emerge. "How did you get your soul?" he growled.
"Earned it. I found a demon in Africa who could do the magic if I passed the trials. Did it to make myself a better man. Did it for her."
He watched as his words sank into that thick Irish skull. "What conditions?" Angel asked, the words raspy.
"No conditions. It's mine, free and clear."
"There's always conditions with magic like this. A demon can't just decide to put a soul back into a vampire. It's an unnatural state."
"Tell me something I don't know. You weren't listening. There were trials: guys with flaming fists, beetles, other things you do not want to know. If I didn't pass, I was going to end up part of a cave floor in Africa. But I did pass, so the soul's mine. No happiness clause, since that's what you’re aiming at."
Angel turned away, pacing the floor. When he turned back, his jaw was set. "If you truly value your soul, if you truly understand the sense of right and wrong it's given you, then for once in your miserable existence, think of someone besides yourself and let her go."
It always came back to that. "I am thinking of her. I'm thinking of the fact that anything that tries to kill her is going to have to go through me first, that I would rather be dust than see her hurt."
"And what about the day to day? You can't go out in the sun, can't give her children, can't give her a normal life."
"Have you ever considered the fact Buffy probably wouldn't live to see a child grow up? She's the Slayer. They die young. She will never have a normal life and you're not helping her by pretending she's somehow deficient because of that."
Another blow that struck home given the reaction he saw in Angel's face. "I'm trying to make her happy," Spike continued, "give her some joy in her life. I'm trying to make certain she doesn't get so damn depressed she ends up with that death wish slayers get. But whatever happens, I'm going to be there at her side at the end."
The silence stretched on for so long, Spike thought the conversation might be over, that Angel had realized any attempt to convince him to leave Buffy was doomed to failure. Of course, that didn't rule out the threat of physical violence...
At last, Angel looked up, his face sad. "This is about me taking Drusilla away from you, isn't it? You've never forgiven me for it and I can understand that, but she is fickle, Spike, and you should know better than anyone one else she doesn't have to longest attention span in the world."
Spike just stared at Angel, not believing what he was hearing. Then he laughed. "I wasn't trying to be funny," Angel snapped.
"I know." Spike groped for the chair. "That's what makes it so hysterical."
"I'm trying to discuss serious things here. I'm trying to understand why you used Buffy to get back at me."
Spike stopped laughing. "Do you seriously think I'm using Buffy to get back at...oh, grow the fuck up, Angelus. You're, what, two-hundred and fifty? You'd think by now you'd have realized the sun doesn't rise and fall upon your every move. Drusilla dumped me -- twice, I might add -- because she realized I was in love with Buffy. Said she was all around me."
He stood and slowly began to close the distance between them. "Do you think it's easy falling in love with a slayer? I fell for her long before I got my soul. It ate at me, tormented me. I decided I had to try to be good for her, go against my nature. All this without the soul. It's been a long, hard road for the two of us and I'll be damned if I let you bugger it up just because you're miserable on account of the girl you've been hankering after went for Wonder Brat...and why am I not surprised you and Darla produced such a disagreeable kid?"
"You don't know anything about it."
"I know plenty about you and Darla; had to listen to you almost every night for almost twenty years."
This time, it wasn't his imagination. Angel's eyes were flashing yellow, a warning sign Spike knew he should heed, but common sense was fast being replaced with annoyance. "You don't understand about Cordelia," Angel ground out from between gritted teeth.
"The Powers that Whatever gave her the chance to merge with some demon abilities so the back of her head wouldn't blow out from her visions. She disappeared over the summer. Now, for some reason, she's gone evil, was behind the Beast and having your soul stolen and she's been shagging Connor and is about to have his spawn."
Spike braced himself for the blow that was probably about to come. Buffy would kick his ass later for starting a brawl with Angel, but getting some of his own back might be worth it.
The blow never came; instead, Angel's face began to crumble. "She's...no, she can't be pregnant."
"Heard the two heartbeats myself and she apparently confirmed it to Willow before everything went down yesterday."
Now it was Angel who groped for a chair. "I don't understand how this all happened. I saw where she was. It was like...heaven's the only word I can use."
Oh bleeding, blithering, buggering fuck. "If she was in heaven, how the hell did she get back here? You didn't pull her out, did you?"
Angel shook his head. "I was looking for her but once I saw where she was...why would anyone want to pull someone away from that?"
Why indeed? "How did she get back? Surely she didn't just appear one night."
"That's exactly what happened. We were out, we came back to the hotel...and there she was. Only, maybe it wasn't really her. Maybe I was so overjoyed that she was back I didn't consider it might not actually be...her." Angel shook his head. "The night she disappeared, I was going to tell her how I felt. Then, after she came back, she said she'd seen everything I'd done and it repulsed her. Then she took up with Connor..."
He looked up with ache and longing in his eyes. "Why? Why can Buffy care for you despite everything you've done and Cordelia couldn't do the same for me?"
Spike hesitated before speaking. He wasn't sure of all the details and Buffy or Willow or Wesley could probably explain it better, but looking at the pain on Angel's face...for once, Spike actually felt something akin to pity. "Because maybe that isn't Cordelia. There's a possibility it might be something that's taken over her body."
Shock, surprise and disbelief played across Angel's face, all mixed with a note of hope. "You mean..."
"Maybe Cordelia -- the real Cordelia -- hasn't been here all the time. Maybe that's not her who got horizontal with Connor. Look, I don't understand it, but Willow and Wesley should."
Figuring this was a good time to exit, Spike headed for the main lobby, pausing only to grab his mug of blood from where it sat. He hadn't gone too far when something tickled at his conscience. "You might want to spare a kind word for your son while you're at it. He's an annoying little piss-ant whom I'm ashamed to be related to in any sort of manner, but I think he cares for Cordelia in his own way and he seems to be taking this pretty hard. If that wasn't Cordelia and you get her back, he's probably going to be left out in the cold. A little sympathy might be nice."
With that, he left Angel to his brooding, deciding to go in search of Lorne. Maybe they could swap a few more tales while they waited for the women to return. Yesterday, Spike hadn't actually gotten to finish telling him the one about the bass player, the twins and the hotel room with the Magic Fingers attached to the bed...
Continued in Chapter Twenty-Three