Cross posted to sickchicks and my regular journal.
Hell Is In the Details – Chapter 16 – Even at the Turning of the Tide
Angel paled visibly. It seemed that bluffing and brazening his way through just went out the window as options. Once again the proverbial bad penny had turned up at his doorstep.
~That’s my vampire!~ Buffy grinned. “Always did like to make an entrance,” she murmured, thinking back to a certain Parent’s Night.
They never listened to her, Harmony pouted. It would serve them right if Blondie Bear took everyone apart.
Wes stared as if he’d spotted the Golden Fleece.
Lorne and Gunn immediately leapt to Spike’s side for support just before his legs gave way.
“Gorgeous entrance, my little drama Queen.” Lorne whispered. “Can you stand any longer or do you need to put your tush down?”
Spike grimaced. “Barely holding on, mate. Sittin’ sounds like a wonderful idea. Lyin’ down would be better, but…”
Buffy shoved her way through the chairs blocking her path to Spike the moment she saw the injured vampire’s legs start to buckle. She’d argued against this foolhardy stunt but Spike had insisted on showing up. Said he wanted to ‘shove his survival in the twat’s face’ and made the trip to Wolfram & Hart out of sheer stubbornness.
She reached Spike just as he’d been gentled onto one of the sofas towards the back of the office. “You know you shouldn’t be out of bed, don’t you?” Buffy ran her fingers over the vampire’s shoulder. “Are you going to be alright or do you need to go back to Lorne’s place? I think you made your point just by showing up.”
“M’fine, pet. Leastwise for the moment. Go do your vengeful bitch thing. M’not missin’ a bleedin’ moment of it.”
Wes watched them guardedly. What he knew of Spike had been gleaned from Watchers’ Journals and Angel’s descriptions. He was unsure if Spike was baiting them all into believing he was weak; all the better to strike at them when their guard was down. However, noticing the solicitous way the Slayer was acting, and the ease with which both Lorne and Gunn interacted with the vampire, he relaxed enough to allow some common decency to surface.
Noting Spike’s weakened state, he pulled Harmony aside. “Do make yourself useful, dear, and heat up a thermos of the house special for our guest.”
The vampiress simply nodded, and left without an argument.
Unable to see through the small knot of people that had gathered around Spike, Angel became enraged, smashing his fists down on the hardwood desk with enough force to break it in two, driving splinters deep into the meat of his hands.
“What the hell is wrong with you people, fawning all over that sycophant like he matters to any of you? Buffy, really – is this what turns you on – danger boy? I mean he tried to kill you and all your little Scoobies for years.” Angel sneered, baring teeth that were almost fangs. “I could have stayed Angelus if that’s all it takes to keep you satisfied.”
Spike kept his eyes on the Slayer and smirked, as she performed a classic Buffy maneuver – she rolled her eyes. ~Elegantly put, luv.~
Harmony quietly let herself back into the room, handing the thermos of warmed otter blood to Spike.
“Thanks, pet,” he said, grateful for the warmth and strength it provided as he downed most of the viscous fluid in one swallow.
“I’m glad you’re back,” she whispered, pressing a kiss to his cheek. Turning to Buffy, the nervous vampiress said, “I didn’t have anything to do with this, I swear. I would never…I mean, killing? Yeah – vampire. But what he did was wrong.”
In a move that surprised them both, Buffy grabbed Harmony into a quick hug. “If I thought for one moment that you had something to do with this,” she said, “I’d stake you myself. But Spike can use all the support he can get, and I do know that you cared for him.”
Wesley walked over to the destroyed desk, intent on calming things down before the situation got even more out of hand. He wasn’t happy with the things his friend had done, or the attitude he was displaying – Wes just couldn’t bring himself to summarily abandon Angel after all their years together.
The irate vampire placed his hands on Wes’ shoulders… and pushed him to the floor without a word of apology for the rough treatment, acting more like he wasn’t there at all.
He turned his full, fiery attention to Spike, getting as close as Buffy would let him. “Just like a fucking cockroach, aren’t you Spike? Church organs, fire, Slayers… even dumping you from the Order... nothing gets rid of you. You’re still crawling around no matter how often you’re stepped on.”
“And that makes you what, you ponce - a dung beetle? All full of shite? Couldn't best me fists and fangs, could you, you bastard?” Spike fumed, wishing he could stand up and face his… this… enemy on a more level battleground. Being seated – looking up – was too damned reminiscent of all those months in a bloody wheelchair, listening to Angelus pontificate as he stole Spike’s life away piece by piece.
“Had to shoot me in the back to take me out. Why the fuck didn't you just drain me or dust me if you hated me so much? I could understand that. We’re vampires – s’what we do.”
Angel lunged past Buffy, knocking the almost empty thermos of blood out of Spike’s hands. “Didn't want to dirty my hands with the likes of you, boy. I was sure you'd be dust by the end of the week, and out of my hair one way or the other.”
Gunn rushed forward, shoving the elder vampire away from Spike. “What the fuck is wrong with you, man? First you do the dirty and sell out your kin, knowin’ he’s got a soul same as you. Now you’re trying to attack the dude for sittin’ on a damned sofa.
“Tell me, Angel. Tell all of us. What can we expect from you now? If we piss you off – you gonna sell us out, too?” Gunn shook his head. “True colors, man. Fucking vampire. Never should have trusted you.”
Angel remained silent, glowering.
Gunn turned to Spike. “Look, dude. I don’t know you enough to even think about trusting you, and if you ever flash a fang at me I’ll dust you so fast you won’t see it comin.’ But you were wronged, big time – and I’m all for giving you one chance. We cool?”
Spike grinned. “Knowin’ where I stand with a bloke s’a good start.”
Buffy could barely contain her anger. The unprovoked attack on Spike had her delving deep into Mama Bear territory. Grabbing Angel by the shirt, she flung him back towards his desk.
“You get off that chair again, and I’ll find Wes’ crossbow,” she threatened. “What happened to the compassion in you? I thought your soul guided you to be decent and good. Are you sure you still have the bloody thing?"
Her unconscious usage of Spike’s favorite word made Angel’s fangs itch. “You know I do, Buff.” Smooth as silk he sounded, despite his rage, unruffled by everyone’s stares. “Soul's all anchored... it was part of the reason why I agreed to work here in the first place. Wolfram & Hart agreed to anchor my soul.” With a wicked grin, he asked, “Did I go out and kill anyone after we fucked?”
“No, but apparently you attempted to before sleeping with me – when there wasn’t even a chance that your soul was lost.”
Angel’s frustration began to rear its ugly head once more. “You know, I really don't get what you're so upset about. This was vampire business, settled under demon laws and practices.”
Why didn’t he see how wrong he was? Maybe the soul anchoring spell was faulty. Buffy wouldn’t put it past the Evil Empire to screw it up somehow, on purpose. She tried to explain, slowly – like one would to a small, really stupid child.
“No, Angel. It wasn't settled at all. Spike was right - vampire business is settled with fists, fangs or
stakes. You ’settled’ it like a coward. When his back was turned you drugged him and dumped him on someone else’s doorstep.”
Buffy felt ill. The more she thought about just what he’d done, the more nauseous she became. “How dare you call yourself a champion? How can you justify what you did? Spike was never yours to sell off like chattel.”
Obviously there was no answer that would satisfy her, so Angel just muttered, “He was family – I was his Sire. I had rights where his disposition was involved and I sold ‘em. Not having to look into his damned face or hear his bullshit gave me peace and quiet. Simple. Done.”
Buffy stared at him for a moment, still not believing the words coming out of his mouth. How deeply he believed what he was saying. The set of Angel’s shoulders told her he’d given up trying to justify his actions – that they were just that… his, and he’d make no further explanations.
She had an epiphany as she recalled another time Angel had been so resigned to his own actions. ~Look, I'm weak. I've never been anything else. It's not the demon in me that needs killing, Buffy. It's the man.~ It made things all so simple.
Spike was pretty much William… a good, decent man… without the moment-to-moment sense of insecurity and the bravado forged by time and circumstances. He was an elegant amalgam of evil since dampened, gentility and passion. No split personality for him – all that he had been and all that he will be was claimed and accepted.
And oh, how it all rammed home now! What had been niggling at her since she first arrived. The differences between the Angel she knew and what he’d become. What couldn’t be filtered through her maturity and experiences. This Angel was much more like Spike – more of a whole person. Only the person underneath it all was a self-serving, petty and vindictive man. Merge him with the demon and it was easy to see how he could justify the things he’d done.
She shook her head. “I knew that this whole Wolfram & Hart thing was a disaster from the start. You were a better vampire than you were a man, Liam. I can hardly see the Angel I used to know.” She turned her back on Angel, and sat down next to Spike on the sofa, deeply affected by what had come to light.
“Well, Wonder Midget might be done, but I ain’t. Lorne and me found out where you sold Spike… what they did to him there. You knew damned well you didn’t expect him to survive long. Question is… did you know what they were gonna do?”
“Yes, Angel.” Wesley was deeply curious as to how much of Spike’s demise had been plotted. “Do tell us what Dante’s had to offer that made you turn to them as a disposal-all for your unwanted family.”
“Dante’s had a rep for holding demon cock-fights. The strong triumph over the weak. Best of all, if one is targeted, they keep on fighting until he’s gone.” Angel smirked. “The idiot was so proud of his reputation, I knew it would be the very thing to ensure his swift demise. A second souled vampire, well known for betraying his own kind and working wth the Slayer? They were gonna line up for miles to be the one to take him out.”
A small scuffle broke out in the back of the room, followed by a muffled “Bloody tosser.” It took both Buffy and Lorne to restrain the furious vampire from attempting to fight a battle he was only going to lose.
Wesley gasped. He was utterly appalled that Angel – Angel - could be so cold blooded as to send Spike out to be murdered for no other reason than he hadn’t wanted to sully his own hands.
“You think that’s something, English?” Gunn was incensed. Something so simple as a fight to the death scenario? Nuh uh – they were gonna know the truth. “Demon fighting is only a secondary offering at Dante’s. Their spotlight attraction is fronting for a demon whorehouse. Forced prostitution.”
Spike shut his eyes tightly. He had known the revelations weren’t going to be pleasant, but it was affecting him far more than he’d ever admit. His recollections were generally hazy, but this was bringing things much closer to the surface. The urge to run was mounting in his veins, and he was just this close to begging someone to get him the hell out of there.
Then Buffy smiled at him. And Lorne rubbed his shoulders in a show of support. He could do this. He would do this. He was not ashamed. He was bloody well ticked off, and would see it through to the end.
“Oh, come on now, Charles,” Angel countered. “How bad can it be? Spike’s been gone for a year now, and he looks just fine – well, except for the whole not walking thing.”
“Fine, you bloody tosser?” Spike grated out between clenched teeth. “I've been free and clear of that soddin' place for almost five days - been gluttin’ on the best human money can buy... and I still can't stand for more'n a moment, and can't walk. I'm bruised and broken in places you'll never see again. This looks like fine to you?”
He struggled to stand, thankful for the added strength he’d gained from the blood. Assisted by Lorne, since it was obvious he was going to get up with or without the help, he shucked off his duster, pulling his shirt off over his head.
Spike trembled as he shook off Lorne's supportive hands. His torso was still deeply bruised, ugly patches of olive and plum making his pale skin look dirty. Black jeans slung low on slender hips, the inflamed scar from his navel piercing was striking. “Here’s fine for you,” he murmured.
All too soon, his knees buckled; his reserves gone. Gunn scooped him up from the floor, looking to Buffy and Lorne for guidance.
“I think our little party’s at an end, buckaroos. Looks like the kid’s reached his limits. I’ll meet you at the car, Charles. Just a little bit of unfinished business here.”
At the door, Spike asked the man to wait. Turning back towards Angel, he said. “You know, over the years I’d grown to hate you with a deep and abiding passion, as you did me. I was always yours to hate… until now. You set me free, and I publicly acknowledge that fact.”
As they exit the office, Lorne walked up to Angel’s desk, planting his hands on the broken halves. “You're no champion, bucko. You're a vindictive, petty, jealous bastard who hasn't grown a whit from the useless Irish sot he was as a mortal. I quit.
“And Angelcakes? Just so I make myself perfectly clear on this?” Lorne leaned in close to the elder vampire – and spat.
Harmony ran after the green-skinned demon, silently pleading with her eyes. He nodded, wrapping his arm around her shoulders and they headed towards the car.
Angel sighed as he watched them all go, one by one – listening to their condemnation. Only Wes and Buffy remained.
Wes cleared his throat quietly. “I’m going home, Angel. I need some time and distance on this whole matter.” With a final glance at a once trusted friend, Wes said, “I’ll call you when and if I decide to come back.”
Angel watched him go, then turned to glare at Buffy. “Happy now, Buffy? You came into town to start a new life with me, and ended up decimating mine.” Viciously, he started picking the splinters out of his hands. “So, any parting words of wisdom for me, Buff? Probably your last chance, since I doubt we’ll be traveling in the same social circles.”
Buffy shook her head, sadly. “I wish one day you’d understand how wrong your actions were, Angel. You were right all along – it was the man that needed killing after all.” And closed the door on another chapter in her life.