Spike didn’t need to go by the description Cordelia had given him of the sewer or the bend in the tunnel ahead to know that he was getting close to the secret entrance of Wolfram and Hart. He could smell the evil, hear it calling to him, tempting him the closer he got.
He wondered at that fact. He had thought that by gaining a soul that that temptation, that underlying longing for a darker existence would be banished from him forever. It had seemed so simple at the time. As a soulless vampire he had chosen evil. So it only made sense to him that as a souled being he would always do good. It would be, should be his nature now he had thought. After all, when he had been human he was decent, obedient, had felt great love and affection for people and had always chosen the safe and right road. Well, except for that one fateful night.
That night Dru had offered him something that he had been searching for, writing about, obsessing over all of his human life. Love. Little did he know the cost he would have to pay for it. He had been so terrified of her at first and the time he spent with her had been so different than he thought it would have been. Each passing night, trying to prove himself to her, fight for her attention by performing one kill after another, each one more gruesome and creative than the one before. It had taken him years to grab the first clue, the first hint that what she had offered him that night had nothing to do with love and everything to do with simple companionship. Dru had needed someone to take care of her, someone she could take care of in return, someone who needed someone, anyone. And that night she had found her perfect victim.
And it had taken a Slayer, The Slayer, to open his eyes, to show him that that ‘so called’ love wasn’t real, wasnt rig’ht. Buffy. He closed his eyes for a moment as he pictured her there in the hell mouth, tears in her eyes, words of love on her lips. He wished so deeply that she had really meant the words of pity she had given him as the hell mouth closed around them. But he knew the truth. Knew the truth and didn’t care. He would always love her, always fight with her, for her, no matter where or with whom her heart lay.
Bloody hell. He was channeling William again. Spike shook himself at the soft and emotional path his mind seemed to be taking. Sure he loved the Slayer, had loved her even before the soul, if you could believe it, but that was the second time since he had returned from hell that the sodding poet had tried rattling around in his head.
The first had been the moments he had spent with Cordelia at the hotel. The way she had treated him had made him feel something he had only felt once before. Words he once spoke to Buffy came clear in his mind, “You treat me like a man, he h”ad said to her. He had been so grateful for that grain of respect that the Slayer had thrown him that until he had come to L.A. he didn’t realize there was anyone else that would see him that way. And Cordelia had even gone one step further, she had treated him not only as a man, but as an equal, as someone she trusted, as a friend. She knew who he was, what he was capable of, and still she accepted him, and wasn’t embarrassed by that fact. In a matter of hours his growing affection for her had started to develop into a blind sense of loyalty. He loved Buffy, and would do anything for her, but he was gradually beginning to realize that she wasn’t the only woman he would risk his life for.
He shivered at that thought.
Must be the soul.
The entrance ahead looked suspiciously clean and well used. Even so, Spike readied himself for the battle. Cordelia had warned him that in the past Wolfram and Hart had used special detection devices for vampires, enabling them to send teams of combat demons to rid them of the nuisance.
Touching the entrance, he tensed his muscles and pushed the heavy, metal door, opening it with ease. He sensed another being then, human but not, and with his great speed and strength he ran blindly into the room, hitting his would be attacker hard and pinning the delicate frame beneath his own.
“Impressive” the pretty woman breathed heavily beneath him.
“What the…sorry” Spike rose and offered the attractive woman his hand. “Expected to meet some big uglies at the door”;
“How do you know you didn’t?” Lilah grasped his hand, hanging on to it long after she was on her feet. She looked him up and down, admiring his lean frame and the way it had felt pressed hard against hers. “So, you’re William.”
“Name’s Spike, luv.”
“Is it?” she answered with a taunting and somewhat knowing laugh. “Alright then, have it your way, SPIKE. I wouldn’t want to inadvertently insult you right off the bat” she teased. “After all, I’m a real big fan of your work.”
Spike had been close enough to hell to spot someone or something who was intimately connected to it. But there was something charming about the woman in front of him. Something that made you want to save her in one moment and twist her neck until it popped the next. “A fan ay?” he cocked a scarred brow. “Pre-soul or post?” his curiosity pushed him to ask.
“Both actually” her voice rang with a seductive note.
“And you are?”
“You mean you don’t know?” she feigned a hurt expression.
“Well, I know you’re evil. That much I got, pet. Just need a name to go with that pretty disguise you wear.”
“Lilah Morgan” she answered with another smile, feeling a bit reminiscent of her days of sarcastic banter with Lindsey. “I’m here to take you to see Angel.”
“How did you know…..?”
“Please don’t ruin my image of you with a silly question like that, Spike. I mean, you obviously have some kind of idea of just who and what we are. My heads-up that you were on your way to see Angel can’t be a huge surprise to you. Can it?”
“Guess not” he eyed her suspiciously. “So” he waited for her reply. “Where is the big poof?”
Lilah hesitated for another moment before answering, “Right this way” she smiled, eager to see how much damage two souled vampires could or would do to each other in the name of a Slayer.
“I will, Dawn. I promise. You just stay with Dad until I can come back. Deal?…….Alright. Tell the others I said….” Buffy sighed, what should she tell the others. That Angel was in danger of losing his soul, that Spike was alive. Buffy fought the lump in her throat and the butterflies in her stomach at the thought of him. “Just tell them I’ll be there as soon as I can…..I love you too. Bye” Buffy placed the receiver down and leaned against the massive, wooden desk, her face full of fatigue and hopelessness, the worry in Dawn’s voice making her ache to protect the young girl. She hated being away from her now and since Sunnydale had been sucked into hell, she had hovered over the teenager like a mother hen. Dawn had tried, in vein, to express to her how embarrassing it was for Buffy to shadow her every move, that it wasn’t normal sisterly behavior. But Buffy was no normal sister. Dawn was her responsibility, she couldn’t trust anyone else with that. No one else understood how important that responsibility was.
No one except for Spike.
He had a way of understanding everything about her. The good and the bad. And loving and excepting both in her. She had fought her feelings for him for so long, thought that it would be wrong to love someone who could look at the world and see ugliness, the weaknesses of it and everyone in it. But what she realized much too late about Spike was that it wasn’t the imperfections of the world he concentrated on, just the truth of what it was, what it could do to you if you let it. He was the only being she knew that wasn’t afraid of that little word, truth. Not only was he not afraid of it, he relished the way others were. The way they squirmed and denied what was right in front of their face. The way they refused to admit how they felt for one another, playing stupid and petty games when all they had to do was say what they meant. He had always done that. Said what he meant, even if she never did. At least she could face that truth now. She closed her eyes and pictured Spike, his body trembling as they said their goodbyes at the hell mouth. She had told the truth then, meant it more than she had ever meant anything in her life. She only hoped that when all of this mess was done, that she could convince him of that.
“How is she?” Angel looked up from the mound of legal documents he had been studying.”
“Okay, and not. I guess the best answer I can give is that she’s used to it.” Buffy took a deep breath and headed back around the desk, peering over Angel’s shoulder. They had to find a way out of this, a way that lead her back to Spike. “Anything?” her voice was flat but desperate.
“Nothing” Angel threw the document in his hand down onto the desk and buried his face in his hands, frustration and an ominous sense of defeat creeping over him. Lifting his head, he looked up at her, “I can’t find a way out of this.
“I don’t understand, Angel. You said you convinced the others to leave. If they could leave, then why can’t you?
“They couldn’t leave.”
“Well, if they couldn’t quit their jobs here, then how….”
“I fired them.”
Her brow crinkled in confusion.
“When I signed with Wolfram and Hart it was as CEO and president. I work for Wolfram and Hart. The others just worked for me. They stayed because of me. And I just couldn’t let them do that any longer. So, I sent them home. I should have done it a long time ago. I just got so far off track that I didn’t care what it was doing to them. Besides, if we can’t find a way out of this and I…..” Angel stopped and thought of the unthinkable. “Cordy’s gonna need them.”
“Have you called her?”
Angel shook his head.
“She’ll be pissed.”
“I can’t call her. Not without good news.”
“Why do you do that?”
“You think keeping people away, in the dark about what’s going on protects them?”
Angel didn’t answer.
“Why do you think I let Xander and Willow not only know about who I was, but help me with my mission?”
“You needed bait?” he almost seemed serious.
“I needed friends. People to ground me. I’m the Slayer. I have this power, this huge responsibility. It would be real easy for me to get lost in it. Play the dark, lonely hero. But I’ve seen what that can do to people. Faith tried to play that part, thought she had to embrace it because it was forced on her. And you seem to want to force it on yourself. The thing is, if you push away or run from the few good things that come along, you’ll forget why you fight, why you care.”
Angel stared at Buffy for a moment as if expecting her to continue. “Been giving a lot of team lectures?” he finally said looking up at her. “I’m not pushing Cordy away or leaving her out of anything. I just….I have to find a way out of this. I promised her and I’ve broken so many….” Angel trailed off, not wanting to think about the pain he’d caused Cordelia in the last few years.
Buffy watched as Angel seemed to drift in thought, realizing for the first time that she didn’t know him anymore, or his reasons for keeping away the people he cared about the most. He’d changed so much. Or had he? Maybe he’d just found his place, himself.
She might be the Slayer, the Chosen One, but this was his world. A world she didn’t control, didn’t really understand. And he was right. He didn’t need some team speech from the Slayer. He wasn’t some novice warrior that needed her direction or advice. He needed an ally to help get him out of the mess he’d created for himself….and for her. She swallowed hard at that thought. The reminder that she was in the same sinking boat with him. “Well find a w’ay, Angel” she tried at comforting him, but knew that it was a selfish statement, meant more to help her own desperate mind than his. “There’s got to be something” her voice began to shake with panic, the fear in Dawns voic’e and her own ever present thoughts of Spike crowding together in her mind. What if this never ended? What if she was doomed to stay in Angel’s hell of a life while her own “life” waited out there for her. With Cordelia.
Angel noticed the way her hands were trembling as she reached frantically for some of the papers on his desk. He truly realized then that she had just as much invested in the outcome of his problem as he did.
“We’ve got to find a way, Angel. I can’t stay here. Not like this. He’s out there and I’m here” her eyes began to tear. “What if something happens and I never get to tell him?” Her movements were fast and desperate now as she blindly searched through the papers, the occasional tear dropping down, splashing a wild pattern on the evil records.
Angel stood and reached down, grasping her wrist and forcing her to stop.
She stared at the wet paper in her hand before letting it float down to the top of the desk. Looking up at him, she confessed, “Real big help, aren’t I? It’s just….I waited so long because I was afraid. And when I finally realized what he meant to me, that I didn’t have to be afraid, that I wanted him in my life, I kept thinking the moment would come when it would seem right to tell him” she gave a small sob. “I waited, I waited until it was too late and he was gone. And I couldn’t make him see. Couldn’t make him believe. Now he’s back and I don’t know what to do. Part of me wants to run to him, tell him everything. But the other part of me wants to keep him away, keep him safe” finally she quit fighting the tears, crying into her hands.
“Shhhh” Angel soothed and placed his arms around her, unable to stand her tears, feeling responsible for them. “It’s alright. It’s all going to be alright. I promise” he smoothed her hair as she wept into his chest freely. “I felt the same way. I loved Cordy for so long. But I waited. So afraid that she wouldn’t love me back that I couldn’t tell her how I really felt. Then it was too late. She was gone, or as good as. And when she woke up part of me wanted to jump back into our life and begin loving her the way I couldn’t before. But the other half of me wanted to keep her locked away, safe from all of this” he looked around at the room.
Buffy, her sobs subsiding, pulled slightly away from Angel, wiping at her cheeks and eyes. “I’m sorry” she tried to smile through the embarrassment of her outburst, a hysterical little chuckle escaping her mouth. “It’s been a really hard year.”
“Tell me about it.”
“You know” she began, “five years ago, when you left Sunnydale, I dreamed of this. You and me, standing in front of each other in some distant future. In love. Except you were a lot less talkative and didn’t mention Cordelia Chase at all” she smiled a little more.
“And you think I pictured you confessing how much you loved Spike?” he raised his brow in bewilderment.
“What happened to us?” she breathed the question softly.
“We grew up” he wiped a stray tear from her cheek.
“BLOODY HELL!” was all that either of them heard before crashing to the floor.
“Sweet Pea, the speed limit’s forty-five” Lorne complained with a greener than usual face.
“I can’t believe you guys,” Cordelia stared at the racing road ahead. “He fires you and you just leave him there. Alone” she griped as she gripped the wheel in another turn, tossing the other four bodies from one side to the next.
“He told us to leave” Fred whined and looked at Wesley for support. “He even growled.”
“Pfft. Old trick. Don’t you know him by now? He’s protecting you.”
“I find it hard to believe after months of encouraging us to work for Wolfram and Hart that Angel has now suddenly decided to protect us from them” Wesley added.
“He’s not. He’s protecting you from himself. Or more specifically something he’s about to do.”
“What’s he gonna do?” Fred’s eyes were wide with fear.
“Something really, really stupid” she gunned the engine and ran the next light.
“Stupid as killin’ us all in a head on collision?” Gunn mumbled as they passed the truck in front of them over a blinding hill.
Cordelia swerved the car in front of the truck, nearly missing the oncoming traffic. “Well, at least Spike’s with him now. Spike I can trust” she emphasized sharply.