Angel Investigations got one or two manila envelopes without return addresses a week. They were mostly crackpots sending tenuous evidence of conspiracy theories, but every once in a while, the crackpots hit on something real – just because you’re crazy doesn’t mean there isn’t a demon sacrificing children next door to you – so Angel set the big envelopes aside until he had three or four, and then poured himself a double shot of whisky and went through them.
He opened the second envelope of the day and felt the familiar edge of an 8x10 glossy photograph. For a moment, he suspected a desperate actor was petitioning him for help on some circuitous path to fame – in LA it was hard to pick a penny off the sidewalk without also getting a spec script. He up-ended the envelope and slid two glossies out, and a slip of notebook paper. He caught a glimpse of black sharpie block-letter but then his eyes caught something on the top photo. Angel let the paper fall and turned the stack of photos upright. He squinted, at first wondering if this were one of those optical illusion things you had to cross your eyes for, but he looked a long time and the picture didn’t shift or change. He had to slowly acknowledge that he saw exactly what he thought he saw.
Buffy and Spike.
Spike. And Buffy.
Their jaws were tensed, their faces smooshed together, both pressing hard – it was clear that this was no one-sided kiss. Angel flipped the second photo on top of the first. It was the same scene, the same kiss, a moment off, Spike had tilted his head back, a little of his lower lip now exposed. Buffy’s hand was higher on his arm.
Angel flipped the two pictures back and forth, playing the world’s shortest, most personally painful cartoon. Head left, head right. Hand up, hand down. Lip in, lip out.
He didn’t know how long it was before he looked away. He slapped the pictures facedown on the desk.
Cordelia walked by the open office door and Angel wondered briefly if she knew anything about photo retouching, if there was a possibility someone was playing a cruel joke on him.
No, he couldn’t show Cordelia THAT. He saw the note on the desk and snatched it up. “Angel – Just thought you should know what’s going on in Sunnydale. A concerned friend.”
His hand started to crumple the paper. He thought better of that and held it to his nose. The astringent scent of marker drowned out anything else. He did crumple the note, then.
Cordy poked her head in the door. “Everything all right?”
“Hm? No. Fine. I’m fine.”
“Because you’re growling. Did the Kings lose again?”
Angel swept the photos and the crumbled note back into their envelope. “I’m going for a drive,” he said, and paused only to grab his car keys from the little dish by the coat rack.
Cordy followed him. “Uh, Angel? Daytime?”
Angel stood at the door to the hotel, shaking his key ring in his hand while the sun glared cheerfully off the pavement outside. He turned in place.
Cordelia had her arms crossed and that look on her face that he might as well give up and tell her everything.
Angel sighed. “It’s family business.”
Angel shook his head. “Spike.”
Cordelia looked curious, but just nodded. “Do you want backup? I owe him a piece of rebar in the gut.”
Angel rather liked the image of Cordy putting a piece of steel through Spike, but he shook his head. “Thanks. I think I just need to tear his lower lip off.”
“That’s oddly specific and gruesome. I think I’ll stay here, then.”
Angel had a long day ahead of him. He walked back to his desk and told himself he was not going to pick the photos up again.
Buffy. Spike. Buffy’s tan, smooth cheek. Spike’s soft pink lip. A sharp cheekbone, a lithe neck, strong fingers pressing into black leather.
Angel looked down. Without meaning to, he’d started sketching the kiss. He snapped his pencil in half. “Screw it. Cordy – find Wes. I need someone to drive me to Sunnydale right now, sun or no sun.”
He had no idea what he would do when he got there, but he certainly wasn’t getting anything done until he did.
It was hot and cramped in the back seat of the Plymouth. Angel’s jacket caught underneath him, trapping his arm. The blanket slipped. He tore his jacket and got a burn on his nose.
“Are you all right back there?” Wesley asked, sounding unfairly calm.
“Fine,” Angel grunted. He shrugged out of his torn jacket, balancing the blanket on his head.
The car swerved sharply and Wesley muttered, “Damn this traffic. What’s so vitally important we couldn’t wait for sunset?”
Angel sighed. He supposed it was too much to hope Wesley would never ask. “I got an anonymous tip. Someone’s bothering Buffy. A powerful vampire.”
There was a pause. “Hm,” said Wesley.
Angel laid down on his side again, adjusting the blanket to keep covered. “I know this guy. He’s a serious threat.”
Wesley’s “Hm,” sounded even more judgmental than the last.
“Come on, Wes. It’s serious. You think I’d drag us both out to Sunnydale on a minute’s notice because I was afraid she was dating someone I didn’t like? Is that what you think?”
The car lurched. Angel felt car-sick, which was very unfair. “I think,” Wesley said, slowly, “That I’m trying to drive.”
“Oh,” said Angel.
“Though now I am wondering if this is a romantic issue. I have things I could be doing, Angel.”
“It’s not that.” Angel fumbled the manila envelope out from under his leg. “It’s not.”
“Hm,” said Wes. The car wove back and forth, picking up speed. They must be finally reaching the end of the downtown traffic. After a long time, Wes asked, “So what is your plan, when we get there?”
Angel turned the envelope over in his hands. “Just… you go find Giles. Warn him that a powerful vampire is after Buffy. I’ll track Sp- the vampire. I know his scent.”
Wesley’s “Hm,” was shorter and harder.
Angel curled up and thought about the days when Wes had just come to LA and looked up to him and couldn’t say so very much in a single hum.
Wesley let Angel out in the shadow of the brick wall along Restfield Cemetery.
“Are you sure?”
“I smelled the guy. I don’t need backup. The best you can do is get to Giles and warn him.”
Wesley looked like he wanted to lecture, but all he said was, “Be careful,” and pulled away.
Angel relaxed considerably as the Plymouth turned the corner. He vaulted the wall, which was just high enough to be challenging, and started his shadow-by-shadow path across the cemetery. Soon enough, he caught Spike’s scent for real. He jogged toward it, but he hadn’t gone four steps before he smelled sex – hot, spicy, recent sex.
With a growl, Angel sped forward, heedless of the sun. He kicked down the door to the crypt where he knew Spike was hiding.
The scent was stronger in there, thick with Buffy’s unique perfume. Angel’s vision hazed with red.
Spike himself popped out of a hole in the floor, hair all tousled, chest bare. “Oi! What’s this racket? Uh – oh.” His eyes widened on seeing Angel and he dropped back down the hole faster than a whacked mole.
Angel leapt after him. Spike was naked, and fleeing down a narrow tunnel. Angel caught hold of him by the hair and yanked him back, getting an elbow in the chest and then a face full of raking fingernails. He punched Spike in the gut and the smaller vampire landed against the soft earthen wall.
“What the hell is this home invasion about, Angelus?” Spike’s fingers sank into the dirt at his sides, prepared to launch himself.
“What have you done to Buffy?”
Spike looked caught out for a moment, then he straightened away from the wall, a smug smile spreading across his face. “Well, I hate to brag.”
Angel punched the smile, neatly ending it. “Where is she?”
“She’s her own bloody keeper, ask her.” Spike wiped a trickle of blood from his lip. “And while you’re at it,” he slugged Angel hard in the jaw. “Keep your trap shut about other people’s business.”
So much for reasonable discussion, Angel thought, and tackled Spike into the muddy tunnel floor.
Angel should have had the upper hand easily, he was sure, but Spike was slippery, being all naked, and had an unfair knowledge of the terrain. Also he could flip right over your arm and kick you in the back of the head.
Angel was going to have to figure out how that happened, when he finished being pummeled into a mud-puddle.
Angel threw Spike off of him and tore off the soaking remnants of his shirt. Spike had landed at the foot of his bed and was still getting to his feet. Angel tackled him before he could. There was a sound of cracking wood and Spike, oddly, said, “Christ, not again,” as the bed surface abruptly dropped two feet.
Spike tried to do his weird, gravity-defying-spin-thing again, but Angel stayed on top of him and slammed him back into the pillowed surface. Spike flipped him and they rolled together. Sheets got wound up around their legs and between them. At least it cleaned some of the dirt off. Angel found himself fighting to get free of the twisted cloth as much as to keep a grip on Spike, who had the nerve to laugh at him and then head-butt him.
Angel got a good, firm grip on Spike’s neck and slammed him down, hard, and pinned him with all his weight. “Now you’re going to tell me, you little bastard-“
A high-pitched voice interrupted him from behind. “Angel?”
Buffy stood at the base of the ladder, her stake raised in a fighting stance, her expression stupefied.
Spike scooted up out of Angel’s grip and settled himself with annoying ease against the tilted mattress and still-standing headboard. “Hello, love,” he said, clasping his hands behind his head. “I can’t wait to watch this show.”
Spike’s smug smile faded as two very pissed-off faces turned his way. “What?” he asked.
Buffy held up both hands. “I can’t even,” she said, and stomped up the ladder.
Until precisely that moment, Angel had been unaware you could stomp up a ladder.
“Oh come on,” Spike sighed. He swung his legs off the bed –right over Angel’s head, and he really had to stop being so damn flexible. Angel recovered his wits as Spike was wriggling into a pair of jeans and dashed after Buffy.
Angel caught up to her a few crypts away. The sun had finished setting and there was a beautiful twilight – usually a vampire’s favorite time. “Buffy,” he said. “Spike has some sort of spell on you. I know you won’t believe it, but this isn’t what you want. You hate him.”
“Oh, oh do I,” Buffy said. She spun in place and pointed a finger at Angel. “But what kind of spell were YOU under, just now, Mr. Grabby Hands?”
Angel stumbled back. “Mr. Grabby Hands?”
“You were all over my… I mean, over Spike. With the hands and the chests pressed together and grinding and….” Buffy’s gaze unfocused for a moment, but she snapped back to attention. “I need a minute to process all of this. What are you even doing here?”
Angel shook his head. “Buffy – this jealousy, it’s the spell. Whatever Spike did to you. Trust me, you really – and we weren’t doing anything for you to be jealous of! That was fighting! I mean… Spike. Ew.”
Angel grimaced. He sounded unconvincing. He should have quit when he was telling the truth. Buffy was giving him such a look, too.
Then her eyes widened, looking past Angel. Angel turned to see Spike coming toward them.
“You’re right!” Buffy suddenly declared. She grabbed Angel’s arm. “You are so right. I was under a spell of some kind but your timely intervention has pulled me from its grasp. Now I think you should go. Job well done.”
“Oi!” Spike strode forward, one hand raised to point at Angel. “You leave Buffy alone. I might be a terrible choice, but it’s still her choice.”
Buffy took hold of Angel with both hands now and turned him away from Spike. “Except it wasn’t my choice because I was under an icky gross lust spell which I am now completely cured of. “
“Oh for the love of Pete,” Spike said. “We’ve been found out, love.”
Spike’s gentle exasperation – so like the way he would talk to Drusilla – caused Angel to suddenly question everything he thought he knew about what was happening. “Wait. You.” He looked from Buffy to Spike – whose eyes were entirely on each other as they tried to conduct a conversation in exaggerated expressions. Angel took a step back. “You were under a spell, weren’t you?”
“Ha!” Spike said. “If anyone’s under a spell here--”
“Yes. Total spell. And you and Angel were just ‘fighting’.”
“We WERE just fighting,” Angel said.
Spike laughed. “You know vampires and fighting, love.” He stuck a hip out in a suggestive way
“I…” Angel wished he had a witty retort.
A flashlight suddenly flooded over them. “There you are!” Wesley stepped forward. He moved the beam from Spike to Buffy to Angel. “There you all are. Am I interrupting something?”
Wesley looked Spike up and down like he was a very interesting scientific anomaly. It didn’t help matters that Spike and Angel were both shirtless and mud-splattered.
“Everything is under control, Wes,” Angel said.
“Is that William the Bloody?” Wesley asked.
Spike grinned and strutted forward. “Heard of me, have you?”
Angel put a hand square on Spike’s chest before he started seducing the watcher, to boot. “Spike and I were just having a discussion. It’s personal.”
“Personal and shirtless,” Wesley observed.
“I’m out,” Buffy declared. “Whatever you boys are doing… figure it out on your own.”
“Buffy!” Spike ducked under Angel’s arm and took off after her, leaving Angel and Wesley alone.
“Rupert Giles moved back to England,” Wesley said. “Almost a month ago.”
“Huh?” asked Angel.
“You sent me to warn Giles.”
“Oh. Well, obviously I didn’t know he’d gone.” Angel squinted after Spike and Buffy. They’d stopped near the entrance to the cemetery and were gesturing wildly at each other. Buffy glanced back his way, and they continued out the gate. “Should we go after them?”
“Is Buffy really in danger?”
“I think?” Angel sighed. “He’s evil. There could be a spell. Some kind of lust spell.” Angel adjusted his waistline and wondered if it had affected him a bit, too.
“There are ways to detect that a spell has been cast,” Wesley said. “Or would you rather we kept stumbling about on theory?”
Angel scowled. “It has to be a spell. She’s sleeping with Spike!”
Wesley’s features were perfectly still in a way that suggested to Angel he was purposefully not rolling his eyes. “Very well. Let’s run a quick detection, and if it turns out, in fact, to just be misguided romance, you owe me.”
Wesley walked calmly in the direction Buffy and Spike had fled. Angel worried what, precisely, he would owe Wesley. “It’s a spell,” he said, again, sounding as unsure as he felt, and followed.
Behind a tree, a dark figure sighed. There went all the fun he had planned. Watchers. Always too sensible by half.
Two figures walked down Revello Drive. One carrying a paper sack that smelled of herbs and the other following, shoulders hunched, wearing a torn jacket and no shirt. A smear of mud shone on his cheek.
“No, Angel,” said the first man – the one with the sack. “We’re not sneaking about like children. I’m sure Buffy and Spike will agree to a simple detection spell.”
Angel, if possible, hunched his shoulders even more. “What if it isn’t a spell? I mean… it’s still SPIKE.”
“If you want to stay and play agony aunt, that’s your choice, but I won’t be waiting around to drive you back.”
Ethan ducked down a driveway. It was a pity to miss the rest of their conversation, but he did have a slayer to pay back for an intensely annoying stay in the Initiative.
At least when he landed in normal prison, they didn’t have anti-magic fields. It had been tedious, breaking out using his wits alone.
Call him a romantic, but he’d thought Angel would have dusted the slayer’s current boytoy, preferably in front of her. Then she would have been heartbroken twice over. It would have been a good start on vengeance, and also fun to watch.
Ethan found the window he wanted and peeked over the sill. Buffy walked past. Spike leaned against a wall behind her.
“What would put it in your head that Brood-boy and I were shagging in the first place?”
A twirl of blonde hair and she’s facing him. “I used a little thing I call ‘eyes’.”
Spike laughed. “We were fighting.”
“There was…” Buffy waved her heads over her head.
The knock came at the door just in time to prevent Ethan losing his stomach over the adorable couple. He prepared his spell.
It would be better this way, after all. He smiled and imagined the scene about to unfold, working quickly as Wesley did inside the house, in unknowing tandem.
Wesley set out the supplies on the coffee table in Buffy’s living room. Spike hung back, by the fireplace, looking positively gleeful. Angel ground his teeth and imagined sinking his fangs into Spike’s oh-so-pliant flesh.
Spike threw a casual glance at Angel as though he guessed the word ‘plaint’ had crossed his mind. Smug bastard.
“You really don’t have to do this,” Buffy said. “Spell’s gone, like I said.”
Wesley straightened from lighting a small bowl of herbs. “Best to be sure,” he said, and crumbled something into the small flame that made it flash.
A flurry of sparkles drifted up from the bowl, spread out through the room, and then settled on Buffy, outlining her briefly in twinkling light, which trailed off as quickly as it had settled, leaving a fairy trail to Spike that faded last, like bubbles dissipating in the air.
Spike looked down where the sparkles had been heading for his chest, hands up defensively. “What was that, then?”
“It appears I owe Angel an apology,” Wesley said. He turned to Angel. “There has been a spell cast on Buffy, and it was cast by Spike.”
Angel grinned and cracked his knuckles.
Buffy and Spike exchanged identical looks. “Like hell,” Spike said.
“As if,” Buffy agreed. “Back door?”
“Way ahead of you.” Spike darted through the archway to the kitchen.
“Hey!” Angel ran after him, wondering why Wesley wasn’t being more helpful, what with Spike being clearly guilty after all. Wes just stood where he was, watching.
Angel caught up to Spike on Buffy’s driveway and grabbed him by his neck, throwing him into the wooden siding. There was a sound of splintering. “Love spells, Spike? I didn’t think you could sink any lower.”
Spike rolled his eyes and kicked Angel, but Angel had leverage on him, against the wall, and wasn’t giving up easily, this time. He tightened his grip.
Buffy came around the corner of the house. “I found…” she stopped, sighed, picked up a rock and threw it at Angel, hitting him in the head.
Spike slipped free as Angel’s hold loosened.
Buffy said, “Could you two get a room?”
Angel ignored Spike for the time being – he was busy rubbing his throat and rasping half-audible swear words – and approached Buffy. “You heard Wes – it’s a spell.”
Buffy held her hands on her hips. “Because Spike has the patience to cast a spell.”
“But… Wes proved it.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “The last time Spike wanted to cast a love spell, he kidnapped Willow to do it.”
Spike came to Buffy’s side, still rubbing his throat. “Right. An’ I wouldn’t do that now because Willow is way the hell too scary these days.” He looked at Buffy’s frown, coughed, and added in a flat voice, “I mean… it would be wrong.”
“So while you were busy doing structural damage to my house, I found a bunch of herbs and boot-prints under the dining room window.”
And like that, Buffy and Spike were walking away from him, back around the front of the house. “Let’s see if we can catch a whiff, eh?” Spike said. He could not possibly sound or look more pleased with himself.
Wesley met Angel at the front porch. “I’ll need more information on the nature of the spell to remove it. Did you get any information out of Spike?”
Angel chewed over all that had happened in the past minute. He settled on jogging after Spike and Buffy. “Come on,” he said.
Angel and Wesley caught up to them half a block away from the house.
Ethan Rayne twisted in Buffy’s grasp, found himself unable to escape, and relaxed. He deadpanned, “I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids.”
Buffy shook him. “So you wanted, what? To make Angel stake Spike?”
Ethan rolled his eyes. He looked from face to face – Angel and Wesley and Spike all watching him with varying expressions. “Well, it was supposed to be a fun time.” He shrugged and threw something at the ground.
Ethan vanished in a puff of smoke, leaving Buffy rubbing her eyes. “Jerk,” she said. “Why does magic always have to stink?”
Wesley hm’ed, and when Angel looked at him, said, “Of course, it makes sense. A simple illusion mimicking the results of the detection spell. He must have known I’d use Glormheart’s.”
Angel still felt like his brain would break. “But does that mean…?”
“It means it’s none of your business,” Buffy said.
Spike cleared his throat. “Just like to point out – she means we’re shagging.”
Buffy turned to glare at him.
“What?” he asked.
Buffy sighed, turned to Angel, and said, “STILL not your business.”
Wesley put his hand on Angel’s shoulder. “Come on,” he said.
“Let’s head home while it’s still dark and you can drive. You owe me.”
Angel tried to ignore Spike’s awed smile, like he’d just received the most heartfelt declaration of love, and even more, he pretended not to notice Buffy walking up to him, putting her arms around him, and the silence that echoed in their wake.