Angel stood outside of the Hyperion, gazing quietly at the building. He still owned the hotel, hadn’t given it up just because he was now CEO of Wolfram & Hart, so he had every right to be there. Despite that, he knew he probably shouldn’t be. Buffy had made it clear that she was through with him. But… well, if he was honest with himself, he wasn’t there for her. He was there for Spike.
There had been so many times, both before and after he’d been cursed with his soul, when Angel could have killed Spike. He’d just never been able to do it. Even on that submarine during World War II, he hadn’t dusted Spike, even though it would have made things easier. He’d just expended the extra energy to keep the younger vampire in line and had even felt a sort of fond regret when forcing him out of the sub.
Did Dru know, Angel wondered, that he would appeal to me as much as he did to her? Probably.
He still remembered when he’d first met William. Angel had tried making a faithful protégé before, but Penn had lacked that spark of true passion and creativity. Dru’s little stray puppy, though? He’d had it in spades, though he’d been too afraid as a human to really let that passion out.
Standing around thinking about the past isn’t going to accomplish anything, Angel. He strode towards the door and went inside.
“… you say, you worthless little maggot?” one girl spat at another.
There were only a few of the girls down in the lobby, and what they were doing was none of Angel’s business. Still, Buffy should be dealing with this. They were her responsibility, and she was shirking it.
“What’s wrong, Kennedy? Can’t clean the wax out of your ears without five servants to help you do it? I said that just because you’re humping the witch doesn’t me-”
Angel went up the stairs and down the hall to the room he’d given Buffy, not bothering to listen in to the rest of what the girl was saying. He closed his hand around the doorknob, but didn’t turn it. He could hear her in there. Buffy. Crying.
“Why didn’t he get on the damn boat?” She sounded both angry and heartbroken. “That excuse was so…. Does he really think any of that would matter to me?”
“It’s going to be okay, sweetie, I promise.” Willow’s voice. “I mean, yeah, it would have been nice to get him out all at once but the siphoning is working. We just need to keep the amulet distracted, and we’ll keep sneaking him out in little dribbles.”
“That may even be why he came up with that excuse. He isn’t fully himself anymore, after all,” an unfamiliar male voice added soothingly.
Angel flung the door open, eyes immediately locking on the man patting Buffy on the shoulder. He was about Giles’s age maybe, and nowhere near as handsome as Angel himself. Or even Spike. The man was standing next to the bed while Buffy and Willow sat on the edge, the latter projecting an image of Spike and Harmony drinking together at a bar.
The real Spike was lying comatose in the bed, Buffy holding one of his hands. Her thumb absently stroked back and forth across his knuckles as she stared at the projection in obvious distress. The amulet was in her hand, a pinkish gold thread of energy connecting to a five-gallon fish tank taking up most of the bedside table. An Orb of Thesulah was suspended in some kind of clear gel in the tank, the bottom eighth of the gel tinted the same pinkish gold as the energy thread.
Buffy noticed Angel was there and surged to her feet, standing defensively between him and Spike. “What are you doing here?” she asked harshly.
His gaze drifted from Buffy’s angry face to what he could see of Spike. What was he doing there? He’d decided he wanted to help, but should he? Or should he just pull her out of the way and stake Spike? He honestly didn’t want to, not really. But what if that was the only way Buffy could move on, to have the normal life he wanted for her?
What would Cordy say about all of this? he found himself wondering. She’d glare at him with her hands on her hips, and tell him he was being a self-absorbed, controlling pig. She’d tell him to get over himself, put on his big boy pants, and be a champion, not a jealous idiot.
She’d be absolutely right. He was being a jealous idiot, and it wasn’t all just about Buffy. His soul had been forced on him as a punishment. It had tormented him for so long. He’d been able to tell himself that the torment meant he was a good person, that his soul was pure and righteous. But then there was Spike. Spike who fought for his soul. A soul that Angel had tried to dismiss as lesser. He’d told himself it must have been a tainted, corrupted soul, and that’s why Spike seemed to have adjusted so much faster.
But then I dug into the information about that damn amulet and learned the truth, he thought bitterly. He should have known. Even at his most vicious, Spike had always had an odd sort of sweetness to him, no matter how much Angel had tried to beat it out.
Without a soul, he’d been able to love enough to go and get one, while Angel… hadn’t. He wanted to believe it was because the demon in him was stronger than Spike’s, but he knew it wasn’t true. Spike was the way he was because William had been a stronger – in some ways, anyway – and better man than Liam.
“Damn it, Angel, answer me, or get out!” Buffy shouted. “Actually, no, don’t bother to answer, just get out!”
“I’m here to help,” he said quietly. He looked into her hazel eyes, flashing with anger. Huh. He’d forgotten they were hazel. If asked, he would have said they were blue. How had he forgotten?
Because she was right. I don’t… like cookies. He just liked the smell of them, knowing they were there. It was like with all things human. If left to his own devices, he’d let it all go on around him, observing, but never really engaging.
“We don’t need your –”
“Buffy,” the unknown man said, gently cutting her off. Angel had almost forgotten he was there. “I think, perhaps, he could prove most useful. If Willow were to create a link between Angel and myself, it’s possible I could go into the amulet again, this time filtered through his psyche.”
“Mathias, no! You can’t,” Willow protested. “Not after what the amulet did to you last time.”
“I must,” the man – Mathias, apparently – insisted, his voice still gentle. “I’ll not pretend I’m not still haunted by my last experience, but I won’t give up. The amulet is influenced by this man’s psyche.” He inclined his head towards Angel. “Filtering through it should give me a certain amount of protection from it.”
Willow bit her lip, obviously torn, then looked towards Angel. “You really want to help?”
Did he want to help? Yes and no, but more one than the other. “Yeah,” he said slowly. “I want to help.”
Willow had been doing a lot of magic lately. More than she was comfortable with, honestly, but like Mathias, she wasn’t giving up. She owed it to Buffy, and, well, she’d always kind of liked Spike. Despite the whole being kidnapped and broken bottle in the face thing, the drunken Spike sobbing on her shoulder over Dru had been oddly endearing.
And then he tried to reassure me that I was bitable, even though he was really upset about his newly discovered… um, “issue,” she thought. He’d always been kind of charming, in his own weird way, and she’d honestly been upset the time he’d tried to kill himself in Xander’s basement. So despite what she’d considered a creepy crush on Buffy at the time, she’d liked him, even before he’d taken the time to give her tips on how to take care of a mindsucked Tara.
Tara…. Willow took a deep breath and started gathering her magic, channeling it down through her hands as she painted symbols on Mathias’s half-naked body. She’d lost Tara. There was no way in hell she was going to let Buffy lose Spike. The amulet wasn’t going to win. She wouldn’t allow it.
“What’s that all about, anyway?” Angel asked suddenly, staring at the fish tank.
They’d brought a couple of chairs up to the room, and Mathias and Angel were sitting on them, the former holding the amulet with his eyes closed. She knew he was using his psychometry to passively read the thing while he waited for her to finish the symbols. That was safe enough. He couldn’t actually go into it unless she augmented and slightly transmogrified his powers.
Angel was nowhere near as calm. He was fidgeting and obviously trying to distract himself from the two figures on the bed. Buffy had been running herself ragged, to the point that Willow had – with her permission of course – used a sleep spell on her. He may have come to help Spike, but that didn’t mean Angel was exactly happy to see Buffy snuggled up to him.
“It’s a holding tank,” Willow said in answer to Angel’s question. “I tried to put some of my magic into Spike, so I could pull him out, but only a little bit got in. So instead of yanking him out all at once, he’s sort of… spooling out. The orb is collecting pieces of his soul and the gel is holding his… um… self, I guess is the best way to explain it.”
She was actually pretty proud of that piece of magic. She didn’t know what kind of effects an incomplete soul and consciousness would have on someone, especially with parts of it still being in what was basically hell, so she’d made the holding tank. Once it was full, she’d pour soul and self back into the body they belonged to.
Since a small part of him was already in the tank, Mathias had been right about Spike not fully being himself anymore. Willow was pretty sure, though, that the amulet had also had a hand in Spike’s dumb excuse for not going back to Buffy. Harmony was the embodiment of his insecurities, and Willow doubted the ditzy vampire had been sent running around knocking people out for the fun of it. The amulet had been stirring up and strengthening Spike’s insecurities.
“You’re going to curse his soul back into him?” Angel asked, an odd tone to his voice.
“Huh?” Willow’s brow wrinkled in confusion. “Curse? Why would I need to curse…?” Her eyes widened as she realized what he was talking about. “Oh! Oh, no, that, um…. He doesn’t need a curse. Your soul… it… well, it’s in there because of the curse, so the curse had to be used to put it back. Both times that I put it back. Spike’s though…. It’s, um, integrated, I guess? Like a human’s, instead of just a cursed vampire.”
Spike had fought for and earned his soul. Because of that, his soul was held in by the same force that held in a human soul. It was tethered the same way, and as long as his body wasn’t dust, that tether still existed. But with Angel… well, the curse was all that kept it in him. A sort of cursey glue that kept it from running off to wherever vampire souls went. Considering he already had that tight-lipped “I will hold back my pain, because I am a man!” look, Willow was pretty sure Angel didn’t want to hear any more about it.
“Once I finish the last of these symbols, I’m going to need you to focus on someone Mathias can go in as,” she said, changing the subject. Well, sort of changing the subject. It was still about Spike, but considering they were trying to rescue him, talking about the weather wouldn’t be very productive. “Someone good, who the amulet wouldn’t be likely to make on its own.”
“I don’t know. Maybe… maybe Doyle,” Angel said hesitantly.
“Who’s Doyle?” The name sounded vaguely familiar. Was he the guy Buffy had met for about a second when she’d gone to give Angel a piece of her mind after Thanksgiving?
“He… uh, he used to work for me,” Angel said, his face twisting slightly with what looked a lot like grief. “He was a really good guy. A hero. And he’s…. The amulet wouldn’t use him.”
He’s probably dead, Willow thought. That happened a lot with heroes, and the people who hung out with them. She pushed thoughts of death out of her mind and focused on finishing the symbols in silence.
“Okay,” she said once she’d drawn the last one. She smiled reassuringly when Mathias opened his eyes and looked at her. “It’s show time.” She glanced at Angel and put one hand on his forehead and the other on Mathias’s. “Think about Doyle.”
Come on, Willow, steady now, she told herself as she began the complex magic. She tapped into Mathias’s power, giving it a little twist as she slowly and carefully pulled the man’s consciousness through Angel. Like dredging noodles through flour. Gotta get a nice coating. She funneled it into the amulet, careful not to disturb the flow of Spike essence going into the tank.
She released the spell and took the amulet from Mathias’s suddenly lax hands. One more surge of magic, and the projection was going again. More time had passed while she’d been preoccupied with getting everything going, but Willow wasn’t sure how much. Spike was in a strip club now, talking a strange man. Was that Doyle? Mathias would have been sucked into the time flow within the amulet, so it was entirely possible he’d already made contact.
“I want to know who – or what – you are, what you want, and how fast I can snap your forearm before you answer,” Spike was saying, clearly upset about something.
“You can call me Doyle.”
“That’s not Doyle,” Angel said, eyes narrowed as he watched the projection. “That’s Lindsey.”
Willow frowned, glancing at him, then back to the projection. She’d come a long way from the kind of bumbling witch she’d once been. She hadn’t made any mistakes with her spell. “Could you have been thinking of this Lindsey guy at the same time as Doyle?”
“I met them around the same time, so, yeah, I guess I might have,” Angel admitted with a sigh. “Lindsey is…. Well, he’s not really evil, just sort of gray. How badly does that mess things up?”
Willow studied the projection and smiled. “Actually, I think this is going to work out just fine.”
The more powerful and complex a piece of magic, the more likely it was to gain a sort of pseudo-sentience. Even Angel’s curse had ended up possessing her halfway through to ensure it was completed properly. The amulet was at least as powerful and quite a bit more complex. So far, it hadn’t noticed the siphoning going on.
Willow would keep throwing things at it, doing her best to keep it distracted and everyone safe. Mathias going in as the secret creamy center of a Doyle coated in Lindsey seemed like a good way to do both.
She took a deep breath and did her best to put aside her worry about Mathias. Giles’s friend had his part to play in this, and so did she. She would let him do what he could to keep Spike from giving in to despair while she worked on more spells. Some would just be distractions while others would be legitimate attempts to go ahead and pull him out in one go. She glanced at the painfully slow filling of the tank. No matter what, Spike was coming home.
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