Despite Buffy's steady stream of illustrated correspondence, it was Angel's recurring nightmare that Spike would still be in the wheelchair when he pulled up in front of the Summers-Pratts' home. It was an indescribable relief when Spike limped down the porch steps to meet him, his stride jerky but reassuringly vigorous, and pulled his one-time grandsire into a bear-hug that left no doubt that the vigor was genuine. His short-cropped curls were iron-grey nearly all the way through now, but there was still plenty of wiry strength in the set of his shoulders, and his eyes were as bright and his grin as broad as ever. “’Bout time you paid us a visit,” he said. “How the hell are you, you one-eyed bastard?”
“I was better before you cracked all my ribs,” Angel said when he could breathe again.
And that was all he had time to say before Cordelia swept past him in a rustle of wine-colored taffeta and a cry of "Buffy! So marvelous to see you!"
Angel paled at the exchange of air-kisses and arm's-length, don't-wrinkle-the-dress hugs. It was a law of nature that Cordelia Chase and Buffy Summers-Pratt got along in inverse proportion to the distance between them, and while enough miles had separated them for enough years that it would probably take half an hour, at least, before effusive greetings started to shade into catty comments on one another's wardrobe and makeup, the inevitable clash of the Sunnydale titans required fortification. Spike caught his eye, and nodded significantly in the direction of the back porch. Angel didn't need a second invitation.
Spike threaded his way through the crush of wedding guests, trading cheerful insults with Xander Harris and affectionate jibes with Dawn, clapping Charles Gunn on the shoulder and expertly relieving Clem of a brace of beer bottles. All around them, humans and demons mingled, dancing, drinking, mostly not killing each other. In the middle of it all were the happy couple - Sam Lawson and Connie Summers-Pratt, Spike and Buffy's eldest girl, both of them wearing matching dazed grins. Not the first Slayer-vampire alliance in history, and not likely to be the last. Sunnydale, California, 2046.
Angel tagged after with a strained smile firmly affixed to his face - it had been a long time since he'd tried being social, and he was starting to remember why he'd stopped in the first place. The night air was bracing after the stuffy heat of the packed house. Angel took a deep breath, gazing out over the back yard and the line of tiny, fuel-efficient cars crowding the driveway, ants next to the rusting behemoth of Spike's ancient DeSoto. With merely human eyesight, he couldn't have picked out the makes or models in the darkness even with two eyes, and it wouldn't matter anyway; none of these prosaic modern vehicles were worth picking out.
When he turned back Spike had vamped out to bite the caps off the beer bottles, still-handsome features morphing briefly into something like the demonic horror Angel remembered from the reflecting pool in Pylea, and back again. Scales and horns in one form, or grey hair and deep lines in the other, it all amounted to the same thing: Spike was getting old, and it probably didn't say anything good about his priorities that Angel found the horns and scales less disturbing. "You're walking." Brilliant observation. "Buffy said you'd, uh, mostly recovered. You look..." Damned good, for a man of seventy-odd who'd had a mountain dropped on him six months ago. Of course, Spike wasn't exactly a man, but at this late date, Angel didn't feel much like arguing the point. "...like you haven’t been missing many meals.”
Spike laughed and patted his little belly. “Bloody right. Laying in supplies for the next time you strand me in a crater.” He spat out the last bottlecap and passed Angel a beer, settling back against the porch railing with a grin and a salacious waggle of his eyebrows. "Going well, then, you and Chase? She find the Rooster Cogburn look kinky?"
"Cordelia says I look rakish." Angel poked defensively at his eyepatch; the empty socket still ached now and then. "And there's no 'it' to go well. Or badly. We're just... old friends. Getting to know each other again."
"In a carnal sense, I hope. You're always less likely to throw a wobbly and end the world when you're well-laid." Spike set his bottle aside and fetched out his lighter. The mocking note left his voice as he applied flint and steel to a hand-rolled cigarette. "'M glad you came, Liam."
Once that would have been awkward, but now... it was still awkward. Angel rubbed the back of his neck, uncomfortable. "How could I stay away? Lawson showed up on my doorstep and asked for my blessing, for crying out loud."
Spike burst into laughter. "Did he? For the Scourge of bloody Europe, you sired the soppiest lot of romantics in an age. "
"I would have come anyway." Angel made a conscientious examination of the label on his beer bottle. "I always used to think... Buffy sent me invitations all the time, and I'd think, 'Next time.' There'll always be time. But now..." There were reasons other than habit that he avoided mirrors, even after all these years. Especially after all these years. "I'm starting to realize there won't."
Spike drew deeply on his cigarette, stoking the tip to a bright cherry red. "No," he agreed.
"Do you regret it?" Angel asked abruptly. "The Mohra blood? I didn't have a choice. But you - "
"Do you regret losing that eye?" Spike countered. When Angel didn't answer, he went on, "I had a choice, yeah. But what else could I have chosen?"
You could have chosen immortality. Even at the cost of the ability to feel love and rage and sorrow. I would have. "And so you've ended up with the worst of both worlds. You're going to age and die like a human, and go directly to hell like a demon."
Spike was looking at him, with that too-sharp gaze that had nothing to do with the benefits of vampire eyesight. "You've always sold yourself short, Liam," he murmured, almost to himself. He turned to look in at the kitchen window, the lamplight reflecting off the sharp planes of his face. The gay sound of Buffy's laughter rang out into the night, against the background of music and voices. "Nah. I've had the best this world can give, mate. And as for the worst of the next..." He blew a smoke ring. "Nothing lasts forever. Including the Summers-Chase detente. Stir your stumps, it's time to intervene."
He swung the screen door open and plunged into the crowd, intercepting Buffy's dagger look at Cordelia with the smoothness of forty years' practice. He slung an arm around her shoulder and whispered, "Canapes, love. Shocking lack of same. Can't have Connie's guests go wanting, can we?"
Buffy sprang to instant mother-of-the-bride alert. "Oh, God - is it the bacon-wrapped water chestnuts, or the pig's blood mini-sausages? I told you not to eat that second tray - "
A blast of punked-out swing roared out over the sound system, the mutant offspring of Benny Goodman and Joey Ramone. Angel couldn't say he had Spike's finesse, but - "Hey. Cordy. There's...music." Of a sort. "Wanna dance?"
Cordelia stared at him, as if this was the most unexpected thing he could possibly have said, and maybe it was. She raised a hand to his brow, as if to check for fever, and said, "What was in that beer?"
Maybe there had been something in the beer after all. He felt unaccountably giddy. "Is that a yes or a no? The night won't last forever."
She shook her head, laughed. "You're insane. But I'll take what I can get."
Through the house and out onto the lawn, where paper lanterns bobbed overhead, and Connie Summers-Pratt was dragging a laughing Sam Lawson into the spotlight for a celebratory pogo. Angel drew Cordelia into the swirl of bodies, century-old moves coming back with startling clarity as she followed his lead. Younger couples parted before them, whooping and clapping.
He'd never asked to be human. But for the first time in a long time, he wasn't sorry it had been thrust upon him.