"I'm afraid we'll have to go undercover," said Wesley.
"Why? It's a cruise. They sell tickets, last I heard," said Gunn, lounging back in his rolling chair until it looked on the verge of tipping over backwards.
"It's a honeymoon cruise."
Spike, Angel, and Gunn looked at each other. As one, they turned to look at Illyria.
She stared back at them.
"We must be able to pay someone." Angel muttered. "LA is crawling with 'resting' actresses."
"It's a gay honeymoon cruise," Wesley further specified.
"There are enough of those to make money? It's not even legal yet." Gunn said.
"Apparently." Wesley cut off that line of irrelevant speculation. "Spike, Angel, you're the obvious choices."
"We bloody well are not!" said Spike, overridden by Angel's pained yelp of "What?"
"I can understand Spike," Angel said. "Everybody knows about those British boys' schools. But why me?"
Wesley fixed Angel with a stern eyebrow for the British crack, which Angel tried to ignore. His lips twitched.
"Because," said Wesley, "In my judgment, you two stand the best chance of impersonating a couple."
"So that's what the kids are calling it these days," Gunn muttered.
"You bicker incessantly," Wesley said, ticking the points off on his fingers. "You have an encyclopedic knowledge of one another's history. You live together—"
"Oi! I'm just crashing with Angel till I get a place of my own again," Spike interjected.
"How's that coming?" Gunn asked interestedly.
"Shut up," mumbled Spike.
"And," continued Wesley inexorably, "you have large amounts of extremely noisy sex."
Angel looked at his hands. Spike looked at Angel's hands, and blushed.
"That doesn't make us a couple!" Spike protested, as if they'd been called something really disgusting, like shechyarin demons or girl scouts. "We're just... vampires... family..."
"Sluts?" offered Gunn.
"Stop helping," Angel muttered to Gunn, who grinned.
"In short," Wesley said, "all you lack are the rings."
Angel looked like a man gearing himself up to go to the dentist. "We really need this?" he asked Wesley.
"We really need this," Wesley confirmed.
Angel groaned. "The things I do for atonement. I need a beer." He stood up and Wesley and Gunn followed his slow shamble towards the doorway. Illyria was already standing in it, studying dust motes perambulating in the light.
Gunn clapped Angel on the shoulder. "Think of it as –"
"No." Spike said. He hadn't budged from his seat. Everyone looked back at him.
"Hell, no." Spike elaborated. "Don't any of you idiots read? This is the plot of half the terrible historical romances ever written. We're forced to pretend to be married to foil a dastardly plot, and the next thing you know, I'm bloody swooning, he's swooping me up in arms the size of a Volkswagen, and at the peak of simultaneous orgasm doves fly out of my arse. No bleeding way."
Gunn coughed. "How long you been reading those, Spike?"
Spike mumbled something that might have contained the word "Harmony."
Wesley was studying him with a fascinated expression. "Do I understand your objection? You're afraid you will end up married to Angel in truth?"
"Of course not!" Spike all but howled. Everyone was still looking at him. "I'm just saying, don't run upstairs when you're being chased by monsters, don't split up into pairs if you know one of you's the sodding murderer, and don't pretend to be married. Clichés never end well."
"We'll just have to hope the villains don't share your encyclopedic knowledge of literature," Wesley said.
"Maybe they'll tie you to the railroad tracks," offered Gunn.
"Why don't you sodding pretend to be his ladylove, then?" Spike demanded of Wesley.
"The Watcher's Academy is co-educational," said Wesley primly.
Spike buried his head in his hands. "Fine," he said. "But when this plan goes completely bloody south for the winter, I reserve the right to say I told you so."
"Like death threats ever stop you," said Angel.
"I want overtime," Spike said, disregarding this.
Spike peeked through his fingers. "Hazard pay," he continued.
"Hey!" said Angel, but both Spike and Wesley ignored him. Wesley nodded again.
"And you're buying," Spike finished.
"That seems fair," Wesley said.
Spike stood up and joined the others.
"What do I get?" Angel asked.
"Me," Spike said. "Hubbykins."
Method acting must be in the smog-filled LA air. There was no earthly reason, really, why Spike should have gone to West Hollywood and not to the first crap jewelry store in the first crap mall he could find. Except that he didn't fancy explaining to some clueless clerk why he didn't want any flowery engraving and needed a size that had a prayer of fitting Angel's huge sausage hands. Not that parts of Spike didn't have reason to know to the millimeter how big Angel's fingers were, but he didn't think sticking the ring in his mouth (let alone anywhere else) was going to win him any friends, even in West Hollywood. Fit his thumb and hope for the best, was all he could do, and if Angel didn't like it he could bloody well buy his own.
He was going to laugh as it was. Spike knew it. He wasn't a total git. But Wesley said rings, and dammit, if Angel was going to be his I-can't-believe-I'm-even-thinking-this-sentence fake husband, then Spike was going to pick his fake ring his fake self.
Spike was disturbed to realize he actually had quite a good idea of what he wanted. Something in platinum or white gold. It wouldn't hurt any if Angel mistook it for silver and thought he hadn't spent a penny more than he had to, but that wasn't the point: yellow would look garish against those pale hands, or make them look cold. Something smooth and solid, like Angel, on the scale of him, heavy in the hand. A little off center, not quite twisted, one of those chunky modern shapes that looked strangely older than the old fashioned ones, like it had been worn by wind and sand and waves over a hundred years.
There was a whole tray of them, and the salesbloke was blessedly bored instead of nosy, so Spike managed to pick one out and head to the back counter to pay for it before the electronic buzzer sounded and someone else came into the shop. Spike hunched defensively over the charge slip. It wasn't like he knew so many people in LA, but with his luck it'd be an old drinking buddy of Lorne's, full of arch insinuations, and Spike couldn't cope. Not with this hangover.
"Claddagh," said an appalling familiar voice from behind him. "With Ds. And a G. In red gold."
"I don't know if we have those," the man said doubtfully.
Spike turned around. "The one with the heart and the little crown thing," he said resignedly. "Hello, Angel."
"Spike." Angel looked like he'd bitten a sugared lemon and found it was covered in salt.
Spike cheered up immeasurably. "What are you doing here?" he said, twisting the knife.
"I was just going by –" in the middle of the day, in a notorious gay shopping district, right –"and I thought I'd, you know, browse or something..." Angel looked like he wished the hardwood floor would swallow him on the spot and spare him having to finish the sentence.
The cashier dropped his parcel into Spike's hand with a rustle of brown paper. "A bit Gifts of the Magi of us, don't you think?" Spike said, but Angel just looked blank, and Spike recalled with a sigh that he wasn't much for fiction.
"Since you're here," he said. "You might as well try it on."
Spike's suitcase was heavy. Considering he only seemed to have one outfit, Angel was worried.
Then again, struggling with the fucking thing up the gangway was doing nice things for his deep cover. You didn't expect a vampire to break a sweat over luggage. Maybe Spike had thought of that and filled it with stones.
Maybe Angel would have to come up with some suitable way to thank him for his thoughtfulness. Something involving the many supple leather belts that seemed to have found their way into his own luggage, in black and black and slightly narrower black, patent and suede and good dull elk skin. Angel hadn't been sure just which toys it was normal to bring on a gay honeymoon if you weren't a vampire, but it didn't matter. He could do plenty with just his teeth, and his hands.
Spike would help, of course. He might be an irritating useless prick on every other occasion, but when it came to getting his rocks off he was eager as an intern. Angel would set him to palming candles from the dinner tables and send him shirtless to fetch ice with scratches down his back, so that everyone he met knew damned well it was destined for something far more decadent than happy hour. The sacrifices he made for his cover story. Close your eyes and think of England.
On a boat – even as swanky a boat as this one – there were sure to be coils of rough rope somewhere. As he humped the stupid bag down the narrow staircase, Angel was getting hard imagining the red burns rising on Spike's skin.
Spike met him at the door to their cabin. He was already shirtless, and he handed Angel a sweating glass of something that looked like water and burned going down. "The fuck?" he said when he could stop coughing.
"Pepper vodka," Spike said, and downed his own. "Bar's open."
Of course it was, and of course Spike had already found it while Angel had to fetch all their goddamned shit.
"What do I look like, the porter?" Angel demanded, feeling unnaturally hot and flustered. Which had nothing to do with the fact that Spike had shut the door behind him and they were alone in a tiny room, where for the next ten days they had to pretend to be in love.
It occurred to Angel later that maybe Spike had been doing him a favor, giving him something to be pissed about and something to blame and some liquid courage to get them past the first, awkward moment. It occurred to him even later that maybe Spike needed some liquid courage of his own.
Spike scrawled "Bugged" on a cocktail napkin and as soon as Angel had read it, crumpled it up and shoved it into his jeans pocket.
"Don't be like that, pet," Spike said, and Angel had to be imagining the hurt in his eyes. "I missed you." And then his hands gripped Angel's hips and his tongue tasted like cold fire and when Angel slammed his head into the upper bunk he didn't even mind.
The weight in Spike's suitcase turned out to be a tape recorder and one of those automatic tennis ball pitching machines, which was Spike's insane idea of an alibi. A locked door, some animalistic growls and a few random thumps ought to make it quite clear where they were while they were actually somewhere they shouldn't be.
Spike insisted on taping bits of several different sessions of his getting vigorously fucked, so no neighbor would notice a verbatim repeat and get suspicious. Angel obliged.
It wasn't, Angel admitted, though only in his head, a completely stupid plan. Except for the part where hiding a tennis ball pitching machine in a tiny stateroom whenever the maid came in was going to be all kinds of fun. But when he pointed this out in a hissing whisper, Spike had rolled his eyes, locked it back in his suitcase, and left it in plain sight.
"Don't worry, love," he'd said aloud. "I'm sure we're not the only ones on the good ship sodomy who don't want their toys pawed through." Angel had to admit he was probably right.
It was that "love" that worried him. And "pet." And once, after a particularly successful recording session, "dear heart."
Of course, Spike was a) British and b) weird. He called the wine steward "love", and the cabin boy, and Harmony, and anyone else who had anything he wanted. But if Spike had ever called anyone dear anything without sarcasm, Angel couldn't remember it. Maybe Dru. Probably Buffy – which made Angel want to growl for reasons he thought it wise not to delve into too deeply.
Not that Angel had forgotten that they had to keep up a pretense of newlywed bliss even – especially – when they were alone. But Christ, it was creepy.
Creepier yet, he'd answered to it. And ruffled Spike's hair and dropped a kiss behind his ear, where the skin was softest. And fallen asleep with his cheek smashed into Spike's bony shoulder.
If this case didn't end soon, Angel was going to steal one of the fucking lifeboats.
Detecting on a cruise ship might have been tailor made for vampires – a dozen levels to play hide and seek through, with only tiny round windows to let in the sunlight, and if they never appeared to swim in the pool and drink cocktails on deck till after sundown, they weren't the only ones. They'd even waltzed once, very badly, in the moonlight. Till his dying day, Angel was going to blame that one on bad champagne.
Spike wanted to knock out a couple of deckhands and take their uniforms to check out what lay behind the crew only door. He'd been watching too many caper movies, Angel said. Angel insisted on stealing them from the laundry instead.
"You're getting stodgy in your old age," Spike accused.
"Missing crew gives us a matter of hours, with luck, before the alarm goes up. Maybe minutes," explained Angel. "No one pushes the panic button for a pair of lost pants."
"We could lose them again," Spike offered with a leer. "I always fancied a man in uniform."
"White's never been my color," said Angel.
Spike stole a glance at Angel's hand as he gave up on the keypad and broke the lock. He hadn't taken off the ring.
There was nothing on the crew level but, well, crew. Panels of blinking lights, machine rooms that smelled of oil and hot metal, a break room with a pot of bad strong coffee, messy utilitarian bunks even smaller than their own.
Spike slumped back against a bank of lockers. "Is it bigger than a breadbox?" he asked tiredly.
"Fuck if I know." Angel pressed his fingertips into the corners of his eyes. "Just once I wish Wes could tell us what the hell we're looking for."
"You'll know it when you see it," Spike quoted. "Like porn." He reached into the nearest locker, held up a couple of skin rags. "Think this is it?"
Angel didn't bother to dignify that with an answer.
Spike started leafing through them. Angel leaned in and looked over his shoulder.
"I've seen better," said Angel.
"I should hope so!" Spike said indignantly. "That bloke looks like an elephant stepped on his face. And he's got a paunch. About all he's got going for him is that third leg—"
Angel grabbed Spike's hand. "Come on!"
"What?" Spike demanded. "Where are we going?" But Angel wouldn't take time to answer; he just dragged Spike back out into the corridor, leaving a locker door swinging wide and a trail of fluttering pages behind them.
Spike knew Angel had gone insane when, with maximum drama, Angel yanked Spike back into the humid laundry and commanded him to bar the door.
"Uh, sure, pet. Whatever you say. I knew I shouldn't've kept you up all night. All that liquor on top of not near enough blood. Mine doesn't count..."
Angel caught Spike about the throat to choke off the stream of words, an old Angelus trick he knew Spike would make him pay for later. That was all right, that was normal. Angel almost looked forward to it. But first things first.
"Look!" Angel demanded, and shook a pair of pants inches from Spike's face.
"I'm looking," Spike said, but he was looking at Angel, worry etched into his furrowed forehead. Worry and something else Angel was nowhere near comfortable with.
"At these, moron," Angel said, his patience with the role finally fraying, and then Spike did look and finally saw.
"Third leg," he said.
Angel's poise was back, almost smugly casual, now that the talk was all business. "That or a tail. The crew's not hiding contraband. The crew is the contraband."
Spike hesitated. "There's nothing wrong with hiring demons, mate."
"Boiler room," said Angel, and this time Spike took off on his heels without Angel having to crush his ring into the flesh of his hand.
When Angel flung open the low, airlock-style metal hatch, all motion stopped. A tangled circle of long steel chains, like a dreamcatcher on the plated floor, glowed in the firelight. Every one ended in a shackled demon ankle.
Of course they couldn't swim. That would be too simple. Three had babies in the cargo hold. One had hysterics. None had papers. In the end it was easier just to radio Wesley for helicopter backup, so Spike got to knock out an officer and leave him tied up in a closet after all.
Angel didn't want to be seen on the mainland in polyester, so they had to go back one last time. Spike pushed the door open. The sexcapades had finally fallen silent, and only quiet tape hiss filled the room.
Spike turned his back while Angel changed, out of some strange vestigial sense of shyness. Then he pegged Angel hard between the shoulderblades with one of the pristine tennis balls that dotted the thick carpet.
"Fuck you," Angel said without turning.
"Time to go," said Spike, and stuck his hands deep in his pockets.
Wesley and Gunn joined them on the docks. At night the light from the shipping cranes glittered in the water.
"Do I even want to know how you made the INS guys disappear?" Angel asked.
"I'm thinking no," said Gunn.
"Not to mention customs," reminded Wesley. "There are very tight restrictions on the importing of wildlife."
"Spike doesn't count," Angel cracked automatically, but nobody called him a fucking asshole. Nobody slapped him upside the head. He craned his head. Nobody was giving him two fingers either.
"Spike?" said Angel.
"I guess he went home," Gunn said. "Probably wanted to wash off the married cooties."
Angel nodded, but didn't think so. Mostly because he'd never given Spike a key of his own.
Of course, maybe he'd just stolen Angel's. Wouldn't be the first time. Angel checked. Nope, key still present and accounted for. It clinked hollowly against something metal that hadn't been there before, so softly that only a vampire could hear it. Angel didn't have to look at it to know it would be red.
A week later, Spike had cashed the outrageous check Wesley insisted on mailing to a PO Box Angel didn't know. But he hadn't come back, to work or to Angel's apartment. His side of the bed was filling up with empty bottles and stacks of used paperbacks, their covers overwrought in pinks and purples, ruffled shirts straining open over hypertrophied pecs. Angel's head was swimming with fevered descriptions of aristocracy and cunnilingus, both wrong.
He wished he could get Wesley in on this little research project, but Wes wasn't any too pleased with Angel for blowing off the mission to mope about some blond bit of tail from his old family yet again. Though being Wes he'd used bigger words.
Still, Angel thought, there must be a clue in here somewhere. All Angel could figure out was he was supposed to wear a kilt or get in touch with his feelings or something.
Fuck that. Angel was in touch with his feelings. He felt these books were bullshit. He felt that he was sick of jerking off, his tongue tasted like week old bread, and the silent apartment he used to yearn for just sounded like empty tape playing on after the show was over.
Angel stormed into the back room of the bar. "Give me your hand," he demanded.
Spike didn't bother to look up from his poker game. "In a minute, mate. In the middle of something here."
Angel growled. He knocked the beer out of Spike's loose grip – it skidded in the wet rings, rolled off the table and broke with a dull clunk.
Spike folded his cards and looked up at last. "Christ. Keep your shirt on."
"Give me your fucking hand!"
"Don't do it, buddy," one of the other demons at the table advised in an undervoice. "That’s Angelus. He probably wants to break your fingers till you tell him what he wants to know."
"Maybe," Spike admitted. He met Angel's eyes and reached out anyway, palm up, like he was asking a question.
"Do you want a fucking wedding?" Angel demanded.
"Of course I bloody don't!" Spike said.
Angel shoved the ring on hard enough to bruise. "Tough shit. Now you're mine. Get up and come the hell home."
"Idiot," Spike said. "I was always yours."
Angel smiled. "That mean I can take that back and sell it?"
"Over my dead body." Spike's fingers closed into a fist.
And then they had a bar fight, because once Spike had a fist it seemed a shame not to use it. Plus someone was insisting that they couldn't go until he proved Spike was cheating with a kitten down his pants. Spike was insisting that he wasn't cheating. Angel was insisting that anyone but him who put their hand down Spike's pants was gonna lose it at the wrist. The bartender was insisting that he didn't want any trouble and Angel better take it outside.
Spike got bored with talking and broke a chair over his head.
Angel grinned at him over the melee. "Traditionalist," he accused.
"Romantic," Spike accused right back.
They walked out of the remains of the bar, as the battle raged on behind them.
"Tell anyone and I kill you," Angel promised.
Spike looked down at the cans tied to Angel's bumper. "I think they already know."