“Hey, you can’t go in there!” Angel’s receptionist – not Harmony, thank god – yelled as Buffy strode past her towards Angel’s office.
She ignored the woman and kicked the door open. Angel was sitting on the edge of his desk, talking to a disturbingly adorable lizard woman in a lavender power suit and really awesome shoes. She was definitely going to have to ask the demon where she did her shopping. But not now. Later. After Spike was safe.
“Damn the legali-” Angel stopped in mid word at the sight of her, his eyes taking on that puppy dog look she’d once thought was all soulful and loving. The fact that he’d been able to mimic that look when was he’d been soulless really should have clued her in, but she hadn’t wanted to think about it. “Buffy….”
He said her name like she was a precious treasure. One that should be locked away in a museum and placed on a glass-shielded pedestal, forever untouched. She didn’t want that. She wasn’t some marble statue of a girl. She was just Buffy, a young woman who could be both terrible and kind – and everything in between – and deserved to be cherished for all that she was.
The lizard woman blinked at her, a clear film flicking in from the side before the more human-like lids came down. She tilted her head in a way that reminded Buffy painfully of Spike. “You are Buffy Summers? I expected you to be….”
“Taller?” Buffy suggested when the other woman trailed off, her voice harsher than she’d intended.
“…younger,” she said after a hesitation. She glanced at Angel and then at Buffy. “My apologies, Ms. Summers.”
Younger? Yeah, that made sense. Angel liked to believe she was still the same little girl who had fallen in love with him all those years ago. She wasn’t that girl anymore. That girl had died the night she’d set Angelus loose, though she’d shuffled around in the corpse for a while, like some kind of vampire in desperate need of dusting. Now even that was gone, the vestiges burned away in the Hellmouth.
“That’ll be all for now, Penelope,” Angel said quietly, his gaze still locked on Buffy.
The lizard demon – Penelope, apparently – nodded. “Yes, sir. Eve requested my expertise once I had a free moment in my schedule. I’ll be in her office if you need me.”
Buffy barely noticed as Penelope scurried away, her attention focused on Angel. He approached her, looking like he expected a hug or a kiss. Probably both. What he got was a punch to the jaw. Not the nose. That was… special.
He reeled back, looking like she’d just spat a tap-dancing cobra at him. The expression was almost funny. Dumbfounded incredulity, like he couldn’t believe his sweet little Buffums would actually hit him, even though it wasn’t exactly the first time. He was going to have to get used to the idea again, because there was going to be a lot of hitting.
“Buffy, what –”
She hit him again before he could even finish his sentence. She really didn’t want to hear it. “We almost had him,” she spat. “We almost had him, but you asked him to stay. You wouldn’t let him come to me, you possessive son of a bitch!”
This time he caught her fist before it could smash into his face. He spat out blood from her last punch and worked his jaw a bit to make sure it was still where it was supposed to be, giving her his best “what do you think you’re doing, you silly girl?” look. She hated that look. She wanted to beat it right off of him.
“Okay, you want to try that again, using words that actually make sense? And no hitting!”
She swung her other fist, burying it in his gut this time, since he wouldn’t expect it. He staggered back with a grunt and released her. She followed it up with a roundhouse kick that sent him crashing into his nice, expensive-looking desk.
“But I’m really enjoying the hitting,” she said with a mock pout. “Like, really a lot. I think it’s good for the stress, you know?” Her expression hardened. “And probably for the soul, too.”
Angel’s eyes narrowed as he staggered back upright. “This is about Spike.”
“Finally figured that out, huh? Yeah, it’s about Spike, and the fact that you’ve done everything you could to put him down and keep him in that damn amulet.”
He sighed and gave her that condescending look she hated so much. “I know you’re in pain and need to work it out somehow, but you really can’t blame me for what the Angel in the amulet has been doing. That isn’t me.”
He did have a very small point. She was in pain and did need to work it out. There had been another time she’d needed that, and another vampire she’d taken it out on. Put it all on me, he’d said, and she had. The difference was, Spike really hadn’t deserved it while Angel absolutely did.
She widened her eyes, feigning surprise. “You mean the information you deliberately tried to hide from us was wrong? The amulet isn’t directly tied to your psyche with your actions fueled by your actual personality and influenced by what you’d do?”
His expression went through several changes in only a few seconds. From shock to the tiniest speck of guilt to annoyance and finally to anger. “Damn it, Buffy, it’s Spike! Do you honestly expect me to be happy about him being in the running for Buffy cookies?”
He still didn’t get it. She had known he wouldn’t understand right away. That he wouldn’t want to understand right away, but she hadn’t thought his stubborn blindness would last this long. Of course, denying what we don’t want to see has always been one of the few things we have in common.
“He isn’t in the running,” she said quietly, “because there never was a running. You don’t even like cookies, Angel. Spike does. He likes all of the human things you turn your nose up at.”
He stared at her blankly for a moment, still not getting it. Would she have to spell it out for him before he finally believed she was over him? That she wasn’t still pining over the relationship he kept insisting they could never have? The one he kept rubbing her nose in every time she tried to move on. Museum pieces weren’t supposed to move on. They could be shipped from museum to museum, but they still ended up displayed on their pedestals, trapped behind the glass.
“Okay, you’re mad at me for trying to keep back information that wasn’t really important. I get that,” he said slowly, as if trying to explain something to a five-year-old. Information that wasn’t really important? Did he honestly believe the bullshit coming out of his mouth? “But you can’t just throw your life away for Spike. He’s evil.”
“He has a soul.” There was a lot more to it than that, but that was the part that would mean the most to Angel.
His expression twisted into something bitter and ugly. “Yeah, a soul, but not much of one. Mine torments me every day, but Spike? He gets to have a nice bout of crazy in a basement, and then he’s fine. I suppose I really shouldn’t expect anything more from a soul he got just so he could get into your pants.”
Buffy had thought she couldn’t be any more pissed off at Angel than she’d been when she stormed into his office. She had been wrong. She threw herself at him, fists flying as white-hot rage seared through her.
“Almost did me in a dozen times over,” Spike said evenly as he gazed up at the opera house balcony where his grandsire stood. The man should have been bloody proud of him, of what he’d accomplished, but instead, he demeaned it, claimed he wasn’t a real hero because he’d supposedly only saved the world once. Maybe so, if you only counted when he’d had a soul, but he’d done it at least twice without, once even thwarting Angel himself. “But I kept fighting. ‘Cause I knew it was the right thing to do.”
It had been the only way to make himself safe. He’d hurt the girl. Not physically – yeah, there had been a physical component, but they’d done worse to each other as foreplay, and it was barely a mosquito bite compared to what she’d done to him in that alley – but emotionally. He’d been drunk and hurting and confused from all the mixed signals, but none of those were an excuse. Just reasons that could never absolve him for destroying Buffy’s trust in him.
Spike jumped up onto the balcony and looked right into Angel’s face. “It’s my destiny.”
And it was. Destinies weren’t handed down on silver platters for the likes of him. No, if you weren’t a special sanctified monkey like Angel, destiny was what you made for yourself. You fought for it and shaped it from the clay you dug out of fate with your own two hands.
“Really?” Angel said with a dismissive sneer. “Heard it was just to get into a girl’s pants.”
Spike was used to Angel belittling him and treating his accomplishments like they meant nothing. It hurt, but there was no real point in getting riled up by it. This though? Reducing Buffy to just “some girl” who was only important because of her body? Spike slid the toe of his boot under a metal rod of rebar and kicked it up into his hand before taking a swing. He wasn’t going to let Angel get away with that kind of disrespect.
Just so he could get into your pants…. The words echoed in Buffy’s head as she lashed out at Angel. Spike’s look of horror in that damn bathroom flashed through her mind with those words, along with the broken shadow she’d found in the high school basement. The shattered wreck draping himself over a cross and desperately asking if they could rest. The scared, confused, and tormented man begging her to stake him in another basement, this one full of the fledglings he’d been forced to make by the First.
Angel blocked her first blow, but not the follow-up. It slammed into his face with a satisfying crunch.
“Spike wasn’t fine after being crazy in the basement,” she said, her knee coming up in a lightning move towards his groin. Both hands flashed down in an attempt to stop her, leaving his face open to another punch. His skin split, dampening her knuckles with cool blood. “I don’t know who told you what, but none of them really saw. None of them knew.”
She beat her words into him, able to do as much damage as she was because he wasn’t actively fighting back yet, just blocking and dodging what he could. He wasn’t taking her seriously. Later, she would probably be pissed off at him for it, but right now, it wasn’t about her.
“He was broken.” She kicked Angel, sending him staggering back against the wall.
Spike had been broken even before the soul. She’d played yo-yo with his heart, tossing him away and pulling him back until the string had snapped. And then he’d made a terrible mistake, and to make up for it, he’d shattered himself into pieces in the hopes that he could be put back together as someone worthy of her love. The fact that he’d been able to do that, to make the decision to get his soul despite being a demon, was proof that he’d already been worthy. She just hadn’t been able to see it.
Buffy grabbed Angel and pulled him away from the wall before tossing him across the room. “The guilt shattered him, Angel. It tore him apart and left him bleeding. Do you have any idea who he used to be? Before Dru turned him? He was shy and sweet and –” Her voice broke, and she had to stop talking for a moment.
What might have been shame flickered through Angels eyes before being replaced by something harsh. “He’s good at fooling people, Buffy. He played you. He had to have, or he wouldn’t have gotten over –”
“He didn’t ‘get over’ anything,” she snapped, charging at him and kicking him in the ribs. “He should have had time to recover. He didn’t.” She hit him, over and over, each point she made punctuated with an explosion of violence. He actually started trying to fight back at that point, but she’d hurt him enough that he was mostly ineffective. “The guilt ate at him…. The First ate at him…. His own insecurities ate at him…. He was taken and tortured!” She paused, panting for breath. “And no one…. Even…. Cared!”
She grabbed Angel by the shirt and flung him into the remains of his desk. “Even before the soul, we went through more than you could ever imagine, so don’t you dare stand there and say he did it to get into my pants! Don’t you dare say he was fine! He wasn’t.” She paused and closed her eyes, taking deep breaths as she struggled for calm. She opened them again, giving him a cool stare. “He was just able to look beyond himself and put away his own problems for the sake of everyone else.”
She saw it then. Actual guilt in those “soulful” brown eyes. “Buffy, I….”
She held up her hand in a stopping motion as he trailed off. “I don’t want to hear it. The cookies are done, and they aren’t for you. Real love is selfless. That’s something Spike knew even before the soul. If you really feel something for me, you’ll let me go.”
She turned and walked away before he could say anything, leaving him to contemplate her words alone.
Spike stared down at Angel, at the piece of wood shoved through the older vampire’s shoulder. He’d won. He’d… he’d actually won. Against his grandsire. Could have put the smarmy ponce out of everyone’s misery, but….
“Probably should have dusted you,” he said, changing out of game face. “But honestly… I don’t want to hear her bitch about it.”
That was part of it, but there was also the fact that he didn’t actually want Angel dead, no matter what all he’d done. Angel was a person, trying, in his own muddled, Neanderthal way, to find redemption. And… if the other man was dust, Spike would never win his approval, something he wanted even if he really didn’t want to acknowledge it.
He didn’t want to think about that right now. He just wanted to get this over with. He turned away from Angel and walked towards the cup. Perpetual Torment then, was it? He’d been stuck in L.A. as a ghost with Angel and no Buffy for about three months. You didn’t get much tormentier than that.
He reached for the cup. This was his chance. He’d finally beaten the old man, and now he was going to take part of the wanker’s grand “destiny” for himself. A right proper two-fingered salute for both Captain Forehead and the bloody Powers that Be.
“Spike, wait!” Angel called out. “Wait.” Spike rolled his eyes. Couldn’t just take his defeat gracefully, could he? “That’s not a prize you’re holding. It’s not a trophy. It’s a burden. It’s a cross.”
Spike glanced over at him. The stake was out of his shoulder now, and he was standing. He sounded… almost sincere. As if he actually gave a crap. Spike put the cup back on the pedestal, considering. Did he actually want this? Did he want perpetual torment and to become a human again? Not really, but….
“One you’re gonna have to bear till it burns you to ashes,” Angel continued, as if he actually had any idea of what that was like. “Believe me, I know. So ask yourself: Is this really the destiny that was meant for you? Do you even really want it? Or is it that you just want to take something away from me?”
That sanctimonious, self-righteous sod. He knew, did he? And had the sheer steel-plated stones to act as if finally taking something from Angel wasn’t something Spike deserved, after all that Angel had taken from him?
Spike just shrugged and grabbed the cup, refusing to show his anger. He’d finally, finally beaten Angel, and that was all that mattered. “Bit of both,” he said honestly.
Angel lunged at him, but it was too late. Spike had already taken a drink. For the first split second it tasted of strawberries and moonlight and made him think of Willow. Then… the taste changed and he dropped the cup.
“I-it’s… Mountain Dew,” he said, staring at Angel in confusion.
In a room of the Hyperion, Willow’s eyes flashed black for a second before she got herself under control. The amulet was a tricky thing, almost sentient in what it could do. She’d only managed to get a little bit of her magic into Spike before the amulet had twisted things again.
The redheaded witch took several deep, cleansing breaths before squaring her shoulders in determination. A little bit was going to have to be enough. She was Willow Rosenberg. She’d once nearly ended the world and had created an entire army of activated Slayers. There was no way one tacky piece of jewelry was going to stop her. She centered herself, reached for that pulse of her magic that was now a part of Spike, and slowly began to pull.
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