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Compatible Faults

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Spike materialized with a book of matches (mostly full, from the Alibi Room), seven cigarettes in a crumpled pack, his flask (empty), a wooden stake (sharp end broken), three dollar bills folded into a silver money clip decorated with an Indian-head nickel (stolen off a mark nearly a decade ago but kept because it was good and weighty and really worked), and fifty-three cents (five dimes, he remembered now the deli had been out of quarters, the old man’s gnarled fingers shaking as he fussed with the slippery little coins, handing Spike his change from the last pint of blood he bought in Sunnydale. Come to think of the timing, it might have been the last pint ever SOLD in that doomed burg.)

These items he laid out carefully on the narrow counter in the Wolfram and Hart men’s room. There was something poetic, something solemn, about cigarettes from beyond the grave. These dimes had seen the path immortal. This misshapen chunk of wood passed beyond the pale and remained to tell the tale.

He’d already smoked one of the cigarettes. It was his post-fight fag, and his first post-incorporeal fag, in the still desert twilight outside of the opera house. His skin still jumped at the thrill of fire, his lungs still burned in the old way, welcomed the draw and the comfort. It had been thoroughly enjoyed, but he felt a little guilty, because he hadn’t stopped to think about it – the import of these immortal ciggies – until he was grinding the butt under his boot. He toyed briefly with the idea of never smoking the rest. Never striking these matches. They were priceless relics of the lost city of Sunnydale! Thank god they’d survived the stupid battle over the stupid cup. Still he had straightened the crumpled cigarettes like the limbs of a much-beloved and delicate pet, soothing them into a semblance of their former selves and slipping them back into the pack (itself smoothed against the counter and urged back into a square-ish shape) one at a time.

Bugger that. He swept the collection of junk off the counter and tucked everything in its proper place again. Flask and stake inside right pocket, money in jeans, fags and matches in his left outer pocket, loose change in right outer pocket. There. His wealth was secured.

Christ, imagine if he hadn’t worn the duster to the battle? He’d have nothing but the money-clip and three wrinkled dollars, looking like the last leaves of a drought. But even then, he’d have more than he deserved, more than was reasonable even to expect. He had one undead body. He had feet in his boots. Hell, he had his boots – and these were the most comfortable pair he’d had in decades, just broken in enough. And his jeans – not his best pair, but the pair that had been clean, that morning.

He leaned on the narrow counter, studied the empty restroom in the mirror and allowed himself a moment to mourn the washing machine. The box of powder. The kewpie-doll elf that hung out of the edge of the box of Christmas ornaments on that shelf over the laundry sink. Revello drive. They’d told him – it was Fred who’d filled him in – how Sunnydale was completely obliterated. The theatre. The Bronze. All of it gone, and him, here, still smelling the fabric softener on his jeans, re-created by magic along with him and three dollars and fifty-three cents.

Blood dropped onto the counter. Three little drops, randomly spaced. He felt his face, fingers stinging over an unmapped network of injury. Right. He was supposed to be setting himself to rights. That was the plan, the reason he’d come back. He knew they’d have soap and hot water and towels and no reason to turn him away. It certainly wasn’t to return the old pouf’s car. He wasn’t that moral. Property rights were the furthest thing from his mind. It was just the best, most logical place to tend his injuries. That was the plan.

Plan. What plan? The giddiness of freedom, of being whole again, had to coalesce back down into putting one foot in front of another. If he wished to continue putting one foot in front of the other, he needed blood. A pint of pig’s blood had been $8.95 plus tax at the butcher’s in Sunnydale. Considering reduced volume vampire-wise and increased cost of living, it was probably more here in Hell-A.

He took out his silver money clip and flipped it around in his hands. Right. When in doubt, hock. Pawn shops were sweetly ubiquitous. He had a plan. Hock what he could – the flask was worth something too, he thought, even though it was steel not silver. Buy blood. Find a place to sleep. All the other questions (How to find Buffy? SHOULD he find Buffy? Why was he still alive? Did he have a purpose?) could wait. God, they could wait forever while he put one foot in front of the other.

He snatched another towel from the dispenser and wiped up his blood, tossed it in the bin with all the other blood-splattered paper towels he’d crumpled up, cleaning himself up from the fight.

It was early morning – three or four ish; he’d glanced at the clock in the hall on his way in. Pawn shops wouldn’t be open. Two or three hours of dark left to find a place to sleep. Shame they were on the good side of town. He’d be walking some time before he rested. Best to get started.

Angel stood in the lobby, hands in his pockets, waiting like a man on a subway platform. Spike kept his gaze away from him, straightened his shoulders and headed to the exit.

“Where are you going?”

Spike whirled on one heel. Angel hadn’t moved. “Out. Giving up the haunting gig. It’s been real, Peaches. Let’s not do it again.”

Angel turned his head, but not his body, looking to Spike’s left. “You have no place to go.”

“Sure I do. It’s called ‘away from here’ and I hear it’s lovely this time of year.”

“Spike.” Angel stepped between Spike and the door. “You can’t just leave.”

“Why?”

Angel’s jaw worked, his eyes darting around the room. “You owe Fred a good-bye, at least.”

“And?”

NOW Angel looked at him. Brown eyes intent. “And I can’t unleash you on the unsuspecting world.”

Spike staggered back, a hand on his chest. “Unleash me? Have you forgotten I just fought for a cup of bleedin’ torment? What the hell do you think I am, Angelus?”

Angel looked away again, jaw clenched hard.

Spike held up a hand. “I’ll be back to wish Fred farewell,” he said, and slipped out the door.

Angel clenched his fists inside his pants pockets and watched Spike trying to swagger down the brightly-lit front walk of Wolfram and Hart, almost but not quite hiding how injured he was. Maybe he was hiding it, to eyes that didn’t know him so well.

Angel walked back up to the executive floor, nothing on his mind but bed. He had no idea why he stopped at the security office. The officer on duty stood up, spine straight, hands quickly shoving his magazine behind his back. “Sir. What can I do for you?”

Angel leaned against the doorframe, trying to make it look like a casual move and not much-needed support. “I want Spike tailed.”

“Of course, sir. We’re already tracking him.”

Angel’s eyebrows rose. “Oh? Um…”

“It’s standard procedure, sir. Any entity that directly assaults a member of senior management…”

“No, no, that’s good. I… just keep me posted.”

“Yes, sir.”

The security guard’s eager smile scared Angel. Never mind the guilt – guilt he felt like his own weight, like the smell of air – it was so omnipresent you stopped being able to notice. He was using the resources. Growing attached to the resources. A private army, keeping tabs on people he wanted tabs kept on. Was he still a champion? Bargaining and balancing a line that was grey and getting greyer. And, in the end, Spike had won the cup.

He took a long route back to his apartment, checking to see if Gunn or Wes or Fred were around, even Lorne, maybe, pulling a late night. For once they’d all gone home. He wanted someone to talk to, someone to assure him he was making the right choices, that the mission was going to benefit from this, that he was still ‘the one’.

But Spike had won. Spike never beat him. Never. Angel never feared that Spike MIGHT beat him.

But it was a long, long time since Spike had been newly-dead, with more enthusiasm by far than experience, rushing at a patient Angelus with no grace or guile and laughing when he was easily thrown on his back.

Angelus had never taught someone how to fight before. No one had taught him but the rough schoolmasters of the Galaway pubs and that relentless task mistress “experience”. Certainly Darla hadn’t taught him. Darla wasn’t a fighter. Guns were developed and made small just for her delicate hands. When there wasn’t a pistol or crossbow to be had, her preferred weapon was a smile. She brought him into the world of vampirism as to society. They were civilized monsters, eating only the best people and never mussing an evening coat. Darla taught him to make meals leap effortlessly into his mouth. There was no need for violence, unless it added to the artistry of the moment.

Spike, however, had taken it in his head that his preternatural strength and speed had no higher purpose than to be flaunted in the face of the biggest brutes he could taunt out of the dockside taverns. And so the boy needed to be taught.

That was quite what Darla had said, tossing her shawl over a bare shoulder as he carried a beaten and bloody William back to their lair over HIS shoulder. “The boy must be taught, Angelus, and Drusilla isn’t going to do it.”

And how pleased William had been to be taught! Proud, adoring! He looked to Angelus with the absolute certainty that this ne’er-do-well turned vampire gentleman knew all there was to know about everything, and especially fighting.

Angelus had contracted a few lessons with a famous pugilist when he felt himself starting to run out of material. Angelus wasn’t too proud to fake a test. Five years later he’d slipped off on his own quest to the east and martial masters there, and even then couldn’t deny it was partially to keep the edge he had over his protégé.

Yes, Spike had been an apt pupil, and certainly practiced what he was taught every chance he got, but even when Angel had met Spike again, a soul and decades apart, he’d assumed, deep in his heart, that if it came to a knock-down, drag-out fight, Angel would come out on top. Maybe just because he remembered those first few lessons, remembered that fumbling little gentleman, trying to make himself over as a thug.

Which was stupid. Infuriating. Why would anyone want to be what Liam was?

Angel lay awake longer than he wanted, feeling sore in his bones and thinking “Spike did this. This pain is from Spike’s fists.”

He didn’t know how it made him feel, just that he FELT, and it was unbearably potent and indescribable and as hard to look at as the sun and he didn’t want to feel it anymore.

He called down to the night concierge and got sleeping pills delivered with another glass of otter’s blood and didn’t feel the least bit guilty for the privilege.

Spike walked until the sky was beginning to lighten. He found a pawn shop and worked in a spiral out from it, testing doors and windows until he found an abandoned shop with a broken lock, the interior spread with cardboard and bottles and the piss-sweat-rot smell of vagrancy. But the windows were boarded up and there was enough clean cardboard to make a sort of nest against the far western corner. He bundled up his duster under his head and lay down to a chorus of gratitude from injured and stressed muscles, hard-worked and ready for sleep. Was his body exactly as it was, then? Was there fatigue still in place from the battle on the hellmouth? The throbbing bone-bruise on his left forearm: Angel or Uber-vamp? He must not have noticed, before, since feeling anything at all was so glorious after feeling nothing. But now he felt like he’d been awake for a week, and his mind shut down almost as soon as his eyes closed.