Chapter 10

Angel stood behind the reception desk, tapping his foot impatiently. Customers could not have come at a more inconvenient time. Gunn was downstairs with his Childe, who was doing who-knew-what to the hunter. Wesley was in his room, researching information for their clients. Cordelia was downstairs with him, but it was fairly obvious the visions were starting to wear her out. She looked pale and determined, popping a couple aspirin when she thought he wasn’t looking. Angel sighed. He needed someone to help him and none of the humans had the stamina. And Spike was downstairs, torturing Gunn.

Angel winced as he thought about what the blonde was doing to the hunter. He trusted Spike, but only to a certain point. He felt tempted, time and again, to reach inside the bond the two of them shared and snatch the information he sought away from Spike. Manners, and a very real sense of what happened when someone believed their trust broken, kept him at a bay. He had no wish to be at odds with Spike, especially now that the bond between them had been renewed.

The sound of Spike’s footsteps were unmistakable—he wasn’t taking care to be silent, the way he normally did, probably thanks to the sore muscles he still had from last night’s whipping. Angel cocked his head to the side, listening. His Childe was still at the elevator—a lengthy walk for someone with injured soles—but he was accompanied by Gunn, whose footsteps, though quiet by human standards, fell heavily. Hearing the way the man was walking immediately told Angel that he hadn’t been injured and also that Gunn harbored no wariness towards Spike. Both of which were good things, considering the two of them were going to have to get along if they were all going to live together.

I see you didn’t kill him, Angel said, tone laced with amusement.

Oy! Warn a bloke before you do that, mate! You made me jump nearly outta my skin. And a’course I didn’t kill him, Peaches. What kinda numbskull you think I am, anyway?

Angel had to suppress a snort. Spike always managed to put a precise inflection on his words that surprised Angel at times. Shock, fake outrage, genuine exasperation at accusation…all of it came across loud and clear. It was one of his favorite things about the blonde, but he doubted he’d ever say that to the man’s face. So no torture, then?

No, Spike said, putting all the petulance into his tone as he could. After a moment of silent rebuke, he relented.Seems the bloke just wanted someone to talk to, Peaches. He was blaming himself for Doyle’s death and thought you blamed him for it, too.

Shock coursed through Angel at those words. Of course I don’t blame him! The very idea is…

Preposterous, I know, Sire, Spike answered, his tone soft. He wasn’t looking to provoke his Sire’s anger any time soon after the last incident. I told him that. Not sure if just me telling him is going to be enough, though. It’s why he’s been getting pissed. Thought you didn’t care for him anymore.

William, you know how bad I am at expressing my feelings.

Um, yes. But I am not Charlie-boy here. He hasn’t had nearly two centuries to get to know you and he’ll never have that much time. He’s human, Peaches. They’re more fragile than we are.

I don’t know about that, Angel thought to himself, keeping it from Spike. He didn’t want to offend his Childe, but the truth was Spike was much more fragile than any of the humans they were surrounded by. That fragile nature was where Spike drew all of his strength, whether he realized it or not, and it was only because the blonde was so comfortable in his own skin that he was able to persevere despite everything that happened to him.

“Oy, Peaches,” Spike said, coming in to view of the reception area. “I see you have customers. What seems to be the trouble?” He directed his attention solely to the married couple standing in front of the desk who were immediately taken in by his charisma.

“Our daughter, she’s been possessed by some kind of spirit,” the woman said. “She flies into tantrums and she’s been writing threatening messages on the wall. We’ve tried everything else. We even went to a priest, but he said he didn’t do exorcisms because no one got possessed anymore.”

Spike guided the woman to a seat with a hand on her shoulder, angling his body towards her to make her feel more comfortable about talking to him. “How long has it been happening?”

This is my job, Spike, not yours.

Spike quirked an eyebrow in Angel’s direction, but otherwise ignored the man. There was no reason for Angel to get angry that the woman was telling him about her daughter instead of him. It should be as obvious to Angel as to him that Spike was his possession, not a combatant.

“About two months,” she said, wringing her hands nervously. “I don’t know what else to do.”

“We’ll pay anything,” her husband added. He had followed them over to the waiting area and was hovering over them.

Spike nodded and patted her hand sympathetically.

Spike. Angel’s tone was sharp and meant to be threatening.

You’re being ridiculous, Sire, Spike replied softly, keeping his tone respectful. He knew that to act like Spike right now would be completely ineffective. When Angel got into a mood, there was only one way to soothe his anger.

Ridiculous, Childe? It is you who is being presumptuous. Angel was angry. He’d finally been ready to talk to the couple and figure out what their problem was when Spike had swept into the room and taken over. The blonde was supposed to stay in the background and learn, not participate in cases. If he remembered correctly, they’d agreed that Spike had to earn his way into helping with cases, not jump right in them.

Sire, I understand your anger. I truly do, but please let me talk to her. I promise, I won’t do anything but talk.

You won’t do anything at all without my say-so.

Without being obvious about it, Spike caught Angel’s eye and tilted his head submissively to the side and lowered his eyes deferentially. Aye, Sire.

After a moment’s thought, Angel felt himself relax a fraction. He was still not comfortable with Spike talking to his customers, but he was satisfied that Spike understood his place in the hierarchy of things.

May I talk to her, Sire? I am just going to direct her to you. I know I haven’t earned the right to help with cases yet, Spike said, echoing Angel’s earlier thought. Ruefully, he added, I just can’t help it. When I see someone in such distress… he trailed off, embarrassed. He didn’t want Angel to know that about him. That, even after two centuries of learning to maim and slaughter, he still hadn’t lost his humanity; that he would still stop and comfort a grieving widow or a distraught teenager. It was just him.

Angel felt a surge of affection towards Spike at those words. Maybe…just maybe…the two of them could re-establish the relationship they’d held before. And this time, it wouldn’t have to be so unequal. Spike had hardened, that much was true, and Angel had softened. But, now that he thought about it properly, if the two of them had changed in those ways, then they’d grown towards the other. Surely, such a relationship would complement them, rather than hinder them. He shook his head. Now was not the time to be thinking of such things. All right. You can direct her to me. And I’m beginning to understand the drive to help those in need, William. My soul has taught me the same thing you’ve been trying to tell me for centuries.

Spike flushed and ducked his head to talk to the woman, unable to reply. His Sire’s words had reached down deep and squeezed his heart. He’d missed Angel fiercely, but always doubted the man had felt the same about him. But those words…it let him know that Angel always had him on his mind, even if he wasn’t aware of it. Feeling a lump of unchecked emotion start to rise, he hastily choked it back down and turned back to the distraught mother. We should talk, Sire. After this business is concluded.

Yes, we should. We have much to catch up on.

“You see the man standing behind the desk?” Spike asked of the woman, motioning towards Angel with his head.

She nodded, clutching a tissue she’d pulled out of her purse in order to dab her eyes, and motioned to her husband.

Hysteria was nothing new to Spike and he watched the scene unfold impassively. Her husband was the one who took the initiative and approached Angel. Spike couldn’t blame her—Angel, even when he was being nice, always looked daunting. He cut a sharp figure and exuded authority. People were either drawn to him or stayed well away. Angel was one of the few vampires who could exude dominance, confidence, and complete awkwardness in the face of a new situation.

Hey, I’m not awkward.

Spike snorted. You weren’t supposed to hear that, but since you’re busy eavesdropping on my thoughts instead of listening to that poor bloke’s story, yes you are.

I am not!

Oy, peaches. Not so loud. This is my head you’re yelling into.

I know.

Spike could feel the smirk. He pouted.

Angel rolled his eyes and turned his attention back to the man in front of him. “Your daughter has been possessed, is that right, Mr. Crawford?”

“Yes,” Mr. Crawford said.

“What symptoms does she have?”

Mr. Crawford looked back towards Spike, obviously torn between telling Angel the symptoms or telling Angel that he’d already told Spike the symptoms. Angel repeated the question, which helped him decide. “She’s been throwing tantrums. She sweats constantly, whether it’s cold or hot. And she talks in gibberish and writes strange messages on the wall.”

“Does she use blood to write those messages?”

With a horrified, disgusted expression, Mr. Crawford answered slowly. “No, not blood. Just ink. But it’s frightening.”

Angel nodded. “Okay. Cordelia, the brunette who you talked to when you first got here will take care of the financial side of things. I am going to need you to bring your daughter here unless you are comfortable with having a vampire inside your home.”

At those words, Mr. Crawford sprang back. “A v-aa-mm-pp-ii-reee?” he stuttered. “I thought that was just a myth.”

Oy, Peaches. Did you have to go and scare him?

Full of teeth, Angel replied, Yep. Makes me feel better. This man obviously had no idea what he was dealing with. He concentrated on the file Cordelia had shown him before the couple showed up for the meeting that indicated he’d beaten the girl in order to drive the demon from her and she’d been so badly injured she’d had to be hospitalized. So a little fear is in order, Childe.

Spike rolled his eyes, but couldn’t help feel for the girl. It wasn’t right, what that man had done to her. And, of course, you want me to do your dirty work for you.

Why else do you think I keep you around? The humor in the words took the sting out.

Rolling up his sleeves, Spike strode over to the desk where Angel was standing and leapt up on it with a flourish so that he was seated, feet bouncing off the wood as he swung them. “No, mate, I’m afraid we’re real.”

It took a moment for Mr. Crawford to realize what had been said. “You?” he asked slowly, stupidly, beginning to back away.

“Oy, mate. Just ‘cause I’m a vampire don’t mean I’m going to eat ya. This guy here won’t let me.” Spike prodded a finger into Angel’s side viciously. Angel glared at him.

“S-om-e kind of spell?” the man asked.

At the very absurdity of the thought, Spike burst out laughing. A spell indeed! Oh Sire, it’s a good thing I don’t need to breathe.

Angel rolled his eyes but smiled tolerantly. Poke me again, and I will break your finger.

It was worth it.

“No, Mr. Crawford, I’m afraid it’s not a spell. The truth of the matter is that I am also a vampire. But,” Angel said, quelling the man’s backwards pace with a look, “I have a soul. Most vampires do not. That is why I am able to do business with people. Now, the problem is your daughter being possessed, not whether or not I’m a vampire. So, again: do you or do you not care if a vampire is in your house?”

Mrs. Crawford, by this time, had come up behind her husband in an odd reversal of their earlier positioning with Spike. “I don’t care that you’re a vampire,” she said softly. “I just want my daughter back.”

Angel nodded his understanding. “Mr. Crawford? It seems it’s up to you.”

He frowned. “I’d rather not have a vampire in my home, whether you have a soul or not. I’ll arrange for her to be brought here. What day?”

“I only work in the middle of the night,” Angel said, motioning towards himself as he added, “for obvious reasons. But any night is fine. I don’t have any other cases currently, so if you’d like to have her brought over tonight I have a friend who could arrange it.”

“Is this friend of yours a vampire?”

Mrs. Crawford shushed him. “That doesn’t matter, Harold. The important thing here is Rebecca. If we can get her here tonight and get rid of the demon, we should do it.”

Angel nodded his agreement. “I’ll set it up.”

Mr. Crawford started to protest, but Spike leaned forward and grabbed him by the collar, drawing him in close. “Mate, I wouldn’t get on his bad side. If you’re expecting any kind of sympathy from him, you’ve come to the wrong place. ‘Specially seeing you beat up your own daughter and—

“Spike,” Angel said, tone sharp.

The blonde straightened immediately. “Sire?”

“Do not harass my customers.”

Spike leered at the man and settled back into his spot. I forgot how much fun it can be to play with humans like this.

Yeah, well, keep yourself entertained. Make them think you’re—

Not quite as leashed as they think? No problem. He leaned forward again once he was sure Angel was out of eyeshot. “You better be glad he’s here,” he said to Harold. “I’ve got a personal problem with humans who think it’s okay to beat their children.”

Mr. Crawford leaned back, assessing the blonde. “Don’t vampires thrive on violence?”

Spike shrugged. “Yea, mate, that’s what makes us vampires. But we don’t beat on people for no reason, especially not the younger of our kind. And especially,” he said, voice going into a low hiss, “when they haven’t done anything to deserve it, when their actions are beyond their own control.”

Angel came back around the corner and stood over Spike’s shoulder.

Spike pretended not to notice, leaning closer to Mr. Crawford, whose eyes were frantically darting between the blonde dangerously close to him and the dark-haired man who seemed to be waiting for something. “You’re lucky it’s Angel running this and not me, because I’d make sure to dispose of you so that—

Angel placed his hands on Spike’s shoulders and pressed down hard, startling a gasp out of the blonde, who hadn’t been expecting any sort of physical contact. “I thought I told you not to harass my customers.”

Spike looked guiltily from Mr. Crawford to Angel. “I wasn’t,” he said and amended hastily at Angel’s darkening look, “not really, anyway. I was just speculating.”

“If you’ve got time to speculate, you’ve got time to gather what I need for the exorcism. Wesley should have everything up in his room.”

Spike wrinkled his nose. “Sire, you know I hate magic.”

Angel shrugged. “Since when have I cared what you liked?”

Spike swung his legs over the counter and stood up, pushing Angel backwards in one fluid motion. “I refuse,” he said, meeting Angel’s eyes squarely.

Mr. Crawford chose that moment to speak up. “If I may say something?”

“Go ahead,” Angel said, glowering at his Childe.

“Wasn’t it you, sir, who told me getting on his bad side was a bad idea?” Mr. Crawford asked, directing his attention to Spike.

Spike tore his gaze away from his Sire. “Well yeah. It is a bad idea. For you.” He looked at Angel who was staring at the ceiling as if looking for strength to deal with him.

Angel turned back towards his Childe when he realized that was the extent of Harold’s questions. “Go get the materials from Wesley’s room.”

“No. Get them yourself.”

“Do I need to get my whip?” Angel asked, dropping his voice just enough to make Mr. Crawford think he was trying to be secretive. In truth, he was making sure the man heard him.

Spike looked stricken and sickened by the thought, playing it up for all it was worth. “No, Sire,” he said, just as lowly, then added at a normal level, “Fine. I’ll go get your damn materials.” He stomped off in a huff, not daring to look back as he exited. He was afraid he wouldn’t be able to keep a straight face.

Angel smiled at Mr. Crawford who smiled shakily back and took a couple steps away from the desk, obviously unsettled. “It okay with you if I call my friend and have him bring your daughter here now?” he asked.

Harold nodded his assent sharply.

“Thank you,” Angel said, turned to the phone, and dialed Gunn’s room. The man hadn’t gotten off the elevator with Spike. He’d probably gone to take a shower.

On the third ring, Gunn answered. “Hello?”

“Hey. I need you to do me a favor.” Angel rattled off the address of the Crawford’s home and explained the situation and told Gunn he needed him to retrieve the girl.

“Not a problem,” Gunn said and then hesitated, unsure how to word what he wanted to say. Angel sighed and started to hang the phone up when Gunn continued. “Hey. Thanks for Spike,” he said. That was the best way he could think of to put it without sounding like a wimp.

“Anytime,” Angel said.

The phone clicked and the line went dead. Gunn stared at the phone in his head for a moment before shaking his head. This wasn’t the time to be thinking—he had a job to do.

Chapter 9     Chapter Index     Chapter 11

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