By Cynthia Martin
"Calm down," whispered Angel tightly.
"Here they come!" shouted Wesley.
A tide of demonic fury broke over the crest of the palisades and swept toward them, howling and roaring to rend the skies. Spike charged, exulting. A rookie couldn't ask for a better inaugural -- a fair fight, just knuckles and guts and enchanted knives -- maybe being back wasn't going to be such a snore after all.
The front ranks of the dark army slewed to a messy halt, causing a an ugly pileup.
"Ayieee!" shrieked the foremost demon. "He is here! He is here, bright and horrible! Flee, brothers! Fly, fly!"
Oh, no sodding way. The useless buggers were turning tail. Spike brought down a straggler with a desperate tackle, fighting to maintain a grip as it writhed in panic.
"Unhand me, mercy, ooh!"
"Shut it and fight!"
"We cannot fight you! We fear you, we tremble before you -- you are incandescent, glowing, an immolated soul!"
"Cor, I bet you say that to all the guys," grunted Spike, sinking a fist into the demon's gooey center. "Come on, let's go."
The demon collapsed into a puddle of mucus, whimpering, and expired. An awkward pause followed as the employees of Angel Investigations sorted themselves out on the empty beach.
"I imagine that clears away all remaining doubt," muttered Wesley at last.
"Life just got a lot easier," added Gunn.
Angel tilted his face to the heavens and closed his eyes.
"Right." Spike wiped his hands free of mucus. "I want a raise."
Earth wasn't a patch on heaven and having a human body was a grind, but things were looking up. Fred cooed and fussed and giggled all the way back to the offices, Wesley solemnly shook Spike's hand and Gunn even delivered a comradely backslap. Spike smirked and preened, brushing aside all praise, deepening his North London drawl until he could hardly bear himself.
"It's no big deal," he repeated endlessly. "Didn't ask for it. Just sorta happened, like."
Angel suffered stoically, his face white and drawn, and said nothing at all.
"Hey there, gaffer. S'not good to sit in the dark, you know. Makes a man think bitter thoughts."
Angel ran a hand over his face. "Aren't you supposed to be sleeping, Spike? And who said you could have a beer?"
"Careful, Peaches, you're not the Watcher of me." Spike drank deep and groaned. "Coo, that's marvelous."
"Actually, I *am* the Watcher of you. I sign your paycheck. And it may be evil beer," sighed Angel, toying listlessly with a pen. "Everything in this place is tainted -- be warned."
"Well, you're still a ray of sunshine and cheer, aren't you?"
"It's been a rough week."
"Very flattering." Spike sank onto the couch and took another pull from the bottle. "So what's eating you, then? I know I'm not the center of your big unbeating heart, but you could make a lad feel just a bit more welcome. Back from dusty death and all."
"How was that, by the way?"
Spike weighed him. "Hurt like blazes," he replied, hoping to remove the tragic look from Angel's face.
"I'm sorry about that," said Angel with dignity.
"Not to worry. I'm right as rain now. And apart from that, what's got you down, you big old blouse?"
Angel stared out at the shimmering lights of West LA for so long Spike wondered if he'd been forgotten.
"Fine, keep it to yourself, then," he muttered.
"Ever hear of the Shanshu prophecy?" Angel asked heavily.
"Can't say as I have."
"That figures. Well, you did it."
Spike blinked and smiled. "Did I? And that's good?"
"You tell me."
"Can't complain. My insides are still in an uproar, but in for a penny, in for a pound -- think I'll stick it."
"Oh, God," sighed Angel. "You Shanshued. Want details? A souled vampire gives his life at the End of Days, averting said End of Days, and is reborn human as a reward for services rendered."
For a long moment Spike couldn't reply. The silence hung between them, acrid and fraught, just like the bad old days.
"A souled vampire," repeated Angel bleakly.
Spike dropped his eyes and peered into the bottle. "Whoops."
Angel tossed the pen onto the desk. "Forget it. It's done."
Spike whistled. "Bloody hell. Allow me thank you for not twisting my head clean off the moment I turned up on your doorstep."
"Don't mention it," grated Angel. "I mean that. Don't. Mention. It."
Spike nodded. "Right."
"You're one of the team now, Spike. We're all fighting the same thing. Good versus evil, defending the world, unsung heroes. Keep your mouth shut and your powder dry and we'll get along fine." Angel laughed weakly. "Unbelievable. I never dreamed, in my wildest nightmares, that I would sit in my office and deliver that speech to you, of all people. Crazy."
"Seems pretty daft," agreed Spike obligingly. "Look, Angel --"
"You know, this could be all right," mused Angel. "I mean, maybe enduring your presence will be purgative for me."
"And at least we understand each other. Here we are -- the only two vampires ever cursed with souls, sent to hell, brought back... I mean, shared experience. Right?"
"Sure," answered Spike uneasily.
"It's hard to discuss hell with people and get a fair hearing. Evil undead, hell -- what are you complaining about? You can see people think it, see it right in their eyes. I don't want -- I don't want to go back there." Angel shuddered. "The worst thing about hell was the timelessness of it. That's what I found unendurable -- the illusion of eternity."
"Yeah. I could have done without that."
"Not to mention the actual torment. They're pretty inventive down there, aren't they?"
"You said it."
"I'll tell you what, Spike. Let's try to keep each other from making any return trips. Deal?"
Spike thought of heaven, the ecstatic joy and light, the flame that consumed and ravished him; the omniscience, the union, the utter peace. It was still washing through him at odd moments -- waves of beatitude and rapture he found difficult to hide. Spike looked at Angel's sad face in the ambient light of the Los Angeles nightscape and rose, offering his hand. "It's a deal, mate."
Angel shook. "Fair enough. Maybe we'll get through this in one piece."
"Maybe so. Right, I'm knackered." Spike turned away. "Bed for me."
"Not going up on the roof to watch the sunrise again?" murmured Angel, picking up a file.
"Naw, you know how it is -- seen one, seen 'em all." Spike opened the heavy door and paused, looking back. "Angel."
"Just kidding about that raise."
"It'll be in your next check. Good night, Spike."
"Night, boss," grinned Spike.