Title: Chapter 5: Whelmed
Characters: Angel, Charles Gunn, Cordelia Chase, David Nabbit, Faith Lehane, Fred Burkle, Rupert Giles, Spike, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, Willow Rosenberg
Word Count: 4,029
A/N: Though I list a lot of characters, and some of them actually do get dialog, some of them just pass through.
Spike had never been very good at just sitting around and waiting out the day. It's what drove him to risk being turned all nice and crispy to spend time with people who may or may not prefer him less undead and more dead. It's also what had him waiting in a darkened alley as Angel's human, Fred, ran back after buying an almost terrifying number of tacos. She had been unwilling to venture out into LA alone –and who could blame her even if they didn't take into account her time spent in another dimension—and Spike had been bored enough with Willow off visiting Faith in jail to volunteer himself to accompany her.
Of course, it's not like there was anyone else around to go instead. The humans had all be shooed off and their boss vamp was snoring away in his hotel suite. He didn't even mind that she had chattered and prattled on the whole way to the street where her favorite taco place was – "I've done some in-depth studying and this place so far has the best meat to lettuce ratio." – and on the way back. Of course, it helped that she was willing to stop her Ode to Angel when he asked. Didn't even get worked up over the fact that he may have snapped at her over it.
They had just entered the basement of the Hyperion when he heard arguing upstairs. Holding up the hand that wasn't carrying her food to halt Fred's talking, he listened carefully. Rolling his eyes and dropping his hand, he sent her a rueful look.
"Apparently, they've noticed we flown the coop."
He couldn't help but smile back at her conspiratorial grin. He turned back toward the stairs and made his way to them, listening to the argument and trusting Fred would follow behind in near silence. He didn't bother to fight down the small smirk that came at the thought of what she would be like if some lucky vamp turned her. He made sure that they made as little noise as possible coming through the door to the basement, but Angel was still starting directly at them when they entered the lobby.
Failed Watcher, Jr. and the cheerleader had moved from yelling at Angel to yelling at each other as Gunn looked on. The three didn't notice his and Fred's entrance or even that Angel's attention wasn't on them. Spike took special pleasure in the guilt that flashed across his sire's face when his eyes dropped to the bag in his hand. Before he could give the bastard a proper smug look, his attention was caught by Gunn.
"Don't be dragging me into this nonsense. I'm just here for the tacos."
Finally, having had enough of the pointless bickering –seemed to happen a lot among white hats, if you asked him—he held up the take-out bag and gave it a shake and interrupted, "Then you're just in time, mate."
Gunn wasted no time in making his way over to them while Angel made what was, in Spike's opinion, a huge production out of apologizing for being asleep and unable to take Fred himself. She told him that Spike had taken good care of her and he got a kick out of the confused and slightly jealous look on Angel's face as he watched her make her way to the round sofa in the middle of the lobby.
Fred and Gunn dug into the tacos as Wes and Cordelia both took up positions behind the front desk and glared at him. In between bites, Fred began telling Angel about her day so far. Spike remembered it being a big boring but, to hear the girl talk, you'd think he'd been the most fascinating thing to walk through the door since she'd arrived. Although Angel was very obviously uncomfortable, he made his way over and sat beside her looking a lot like a kicked puppy. When Spike happened to glance over at Gunn, the other man looked to be fighting down a smile.
The two at the desk looked on in undisguised disapproval for the most part. Spike would almost believe that Angel was oblivious to the tension if it weren't the small glances he would shoot at them whenever Fred would say something particularly complimentary about Spike. When Wesley interrupted Fred in a pretentious tone, Angel had apparently reached his limit.
"Enough. You two, head home. If we get any clients, I have your numbers."
They were smart enough to clear out with very little grumbling. When Angel noticed Gunn staring at him, taco halfway to his mouth, he shook his head.
"Not you, you're fine where you are."
Looking around he gave a deep sigh. Spike was expecting some toned down and pathetic rant about team work or whatever it was souled vampires got huffy about, so he was notably surprised when all that Angel said was, "We should really look at setting up an eating area."
Later that evening Spike was holed up in the room Willow had slept in. As much as he detested the boredom that came with being cooped up alone in a room, he couldn't spend any more time with Angel without it ending up in an argument. Part of him definitely was itching to get in a knock-down, drag-out fight, but he had promised Willow he wouldn't. He was nearly to the point where he was willing to risk Willow throwing a hopefully temporary spell at him, though, when he heard the doors to courtyard open and then Willow's soft greeting to Fred and Angel.
In the blink of an eye he was standing beside her at the bottom of the steps, just within touching range. She looked tired but somehow far more relaxed than he'd seen her since Glory had got her nasty little hands on her girl.
"I take it Faith is on board with her early release?"
Part of Spike had to wonder if Willow had used magic on the slayer. When his girl was determined, he wouldn't put that kind of thing past her. However, he was smart enough to not voice that particular fear. He'd seen her verbally lash out at Tara once when she'd made that mistake. The way her face lit up at his question, however, told him she wasn't expecting any kind of judgment, so it was doubtful she'd used magic.
"Oh yeah, she's totally on board! Well, I mean, I kinda had to go all 'tough love' with her and say that she was being a big ol' scaredy-cat. That, of course, may have been followed up with big teary eyes and telling her we needed her, but I'll never admit to it, no matter how much you torture or bribe me."
Her grin was too wide not to return. Soon enough, her smile lost a bit of its brightness as she continued, "Of course, now I have to figure out what to switch her charges to or else the memory spell is going to cause a lot of problems."
At this, Angel spoke up from his place behind the front desk.
"Actually, Fred has that covered for you."
Spike was glad they had actually put in some time to offer up real assistance but a selfish part of him wished they had done so with him around so he could have been the one to take that burden from Willow. Still, it was good that it had gotten done.
From behind Angel, at the computer, Fred gently corrected him, "Actually, I don't really have that covered for you. I mean, I've done all the research and figured out the charges and what files need to be changed. Assault, third degree, causing physical injury with deadly weapon, dangerous instrument, or electronic defense weapon. I've got a whole story put together if you wanna hear it. I'm just really rusty with computers on account of my being gone for five years, and I've never really done much in the way of hacking into prison records."
Looking completely pleased in a very dopey and ridiculous way, if you asked Spike, Angel said, "See, Fred has that covered."
While the girl in question looked at Angel with a very confused expression, Willow was busy making her way toward the computer, babbling the whole way.
"I am totally hacker girl, I can get you into the prison records. And, when you're done, I can get us out without anyone being the wiser, no problem. Then I'll just head upstairs and work on the spell."
As the two scarily intelligent young women worked away at the computer, Angel came around the desk. He walked out toward the courtyard and motioned with his head for Spike to follow as he passed. Spike knew there was a good chance that he wouldn't be happy with whatever Angel wanted to talk about, but he couldn't really see a way out of it without upsetting Willow. By the time he made it outside, Angel was sitting on the edge of the silly and pointless water-feature… pool… thing. He'd been on his best behavior all day, so he couldn't really resist poking at Angel a bit.
"I know what you're going to say, Angelus, but you've hurt me too much. It's possible that you may have changed, but I've made a good life for myself and I'm just not willing to come back to you anymore."
Angel didn't look amused, but he didn't look upset either. After a pause he asked, "Are you done?"
With a huff, Spike collapsed down beside where Angel was sitting and vented in a way that, if pressed, even he would admit was a bit overly dramatic.
"I'm just out of practice. I can't really push buttons back in Sunnyhell. Everyone there is too raw and touchy. One button and they'd blow up and Willow would be stressed out even more. Next thing you know, Xander and I are two slimy toads and you know she's not gonna come close enough to turn us back!"
After a weighted silence, Angel asked, "But that should be all over now, right? With Faith going back with you, Willow shouldn't be under so much pressure."
Spike let out a less than amused snort, practically jumped to his feet, and then walked over to lean against the pillar and stare into the lobby where he knew Willow still was, even without being able to see her. Taking out his smokes, he lit one up before he responded in a much calmer voice than he had been using. To be honest, he was almost grateful to share his concern.
"That's just it, innit? It's not all over. When we get back, Red's gotta find a place for the slayer to live. Unless she takes to sleeping in crypts or squatting in an abandoned building, that's gonna take money." Spike took a drag off his cigarette and shot Angel a look from the corner of his eye before focusing his gaze forward again. "I've got some things lined up that could bring in a few quid here and there, but Willow would want to know where it's coming from. She probably be none too pleased with the answer."
Angel seemed to be thinking hard as he stared down at the ground between his shoes. Or maybe the old man had fallen asleep, sometimes it was hard to tell. Before Spike could throw and insult at him to see if he was paying attention, Angel stood up. He walked by where Spike was standing and paused to rest a hand on his shoulder.
"I don't really have the money to help out myself, but I have a friend that might be able to do something. I'll give him a call and talk to him."
Spike was spared the awkwardness of having to find a way to thank Angel without having to actually say the words by Willow's sudden appearance at the doors.
"Hey, Spike, if you two are done with whatever bonding you're doing, you think you can give me a hand with this spell?"
Knowing that Willow might be uncomfortable with his discussing her financial worries with Angel, Spike decided not to tell her that there was a possible solution just yet.
"Nah, pet, we're good. I just had to break it to Angelkins that I wasn't going to be getting back with him no matter how much he begged."
He counted Willow's small laugh as a victory and quickly made to follow her as she went back inside and started up the stairs. He had just made it to the door when Angel's voice stopped him.
"We both know you'd come crawling back to me if I said the word."
Make no mistake, he was happy Angel was going to try and help Willow out. However, he still wouldn't let him have the last word. He turned to fully face Angel and gave him a slow once over, tongue curled up behind his teeth. With a shake of his head, he said, "Not even in a dream, mate."
In the early hours of the morning —three in the morning to be exact— Gunn drove Willow back to the prison. Spike had attempted to convince her to get a few hours' sleep first, but there was no reasoning with her. She was far too energized by the idea of having a slayer back with them. And so, after receiving a promise from Gunn that he would keep Willow safe, Spike crawled into the bed that she had barely slept in. And, if he took the time to breathe in her scent before falling asleep, no one could prove it happened.
It felt like it had only been a few minutes when he woke up to the feeling of someone staring at him. He quickly recognized Fred's scent, though he could swear her heartbeat was quieter than most. She was practically tailor made to be a vampire. Without opening his eyes, he said, "You know pet, a man wakes up to a pretty girl in his room staring at him, he's bound to get ideas."
Instead of being startled or embarrassed, Fred seemed to take his comment as an invitation to invade his personal space. His eyes shot open when he felt the bed dip beneath her weight. She was perched on her knees, waving a wad of cash at him with a huge grin on her face.
"I went ahead and asked Angel for some money and I was thinkin', since you're up and all, you could go with me so I could pick up some more tacos. Different place this time. The meat to lettuce ratio isn't nearly as good, but they have some things there I haven't tried before. I'd wake up Angel, but he gets cranky if you get him up too early."
Spike really couldn't find it in him to be angry she was interrupting his sleep. After all, she was a sweet little thing and still getting over being in a hell dimension. Besides, he really did love the sour look on his sire's face every time she went on and on about how nice he was to her.
"Since I'm up, might as well take a pretty girl out. Though, you might want to step out of the room for just a tick." At her questioning expression, he sent a meaningful glance over the bed spread covering him. "Didn't exactly bring my jammies with me."
Her eyes got huge and she quickly hopped off the bed and rushed to the door. Turning around, giggling and blushing, she said, "I'll be right outside when you're all done getting dressed!"
True to her word, Fred stood on the other side of the door when he opened it again. Her chattering began almost as soon as he got the door closed and didn't stop as they made their way down to the lobby. What did stop her was the sudden presence of Angel. Spike was sure that, if she knew about it, Willow would have something to say about the glee he took in the way Angel's face fell a bit when Fred told him that she was heading out with him. Fred, however, didn't seem to feel that particular joy along with him.
"Oh, but you can come with us. Right, Spike?"
No, it was not right. In fact, it was the very opposite of right. However, looking at Fred's hopeful face, he felt himself crumble.
"Sure, pet. Ol' Angelus can tag along with us."
Spike wasn't sure if she didn't notice the fact that he and Angel refused to talk to each other, or if she just chose to ignore it. Either way, she seemed content to fill the silence herself. When she left them both standing in the shadows of an alley, Spike decided to take over the talking.
"Eventually you're going to have to find something for her to do besides hide away in that death trap of a hotel."
Angel didn't bother to look at him when he bit out, "I'm aware of that."
Spike wasn't about to let it go, though, and continued on in a patronizing tone, "And if you're planning on keeping her, you're going to have to feed her better."
At this Angel did turn and look at him. Spike could tell he was on the edge of striking out and it felt comforting to be on familiar ground with him again.
"She's not a pet, Spike."
When Spike replied, his voice was calm and, though he would deny it, even understanding.
"She's not exactly a fully functioning adult right now, either. She's hiding away in her room and, from what I can tell, living off fast food. Until she's ready to take care of herself, you're going to have to do a better job looking out for her. Lord knows your other humans are doing an absolute rubbish job of it."
Whatever Angel was going to say was interrupted by the sound of Fred running across the street, bag of food in hand. When she caught sight of Angel and Spike, she stopped short.
"Y'all aren't fighting, are you?"
Angel quickly gave a smile and shook his head. "No, we're just catching up. Are we ready to head back?"
Once again, Fred was left to do all the talking as they made their way back. Spike did hear Angel on the phone later with Gunn arranging for the man to stop by for some money to go food shopping.
"Wait, you mean they have grocery stores that are open at night? Huh. So, uh, what exactly would you say the basics would be for someone like Fred?"
Of course, a few minutes later when Angel brought up going out and picking up food with her, he didn't bother to say where he'd gotten the idea. Wanker. At least the poor girl would get some decent food, so Spike supposed it didn't matter. He was turning into a right bleedin' heart. Thankfully Angel didn't seem to notice it. Mostly because he seemed to be enraptured by Fred's rhapsodizing over different foods she could pick up at the store after dark.
She had just wound down when a slightly frumpy man who looked to be in his late twenties or early thirties came in through the front door. By the way Angel jumped up to greet him, he was apparently not a stranger.
"David! I didn't expect you to show up tonight. Is there something wrong?"
Although David didn't look uneasy, he did fumble a bit as he answered, "No, uh, nothing, there's nothing wrong. I just… Is she still here?"
Spike had just begun to wonder if he had a thing for the cheerleader when Willow walked in the through the back door with Faith not far behind her. Spike's eyebrows raised when Angel said, "Here she is now, actually."
Spike could only sit back in confusion as the new guy seemed to fawn over Willow's brain and gush about how someone he knew had talked on and on about how they had tried to recruit her in high school or some such nonsense. What it seemed to amount to was an apparent job offer that they closed themselves off in the office to talk about. When he looked at Angel, he seemed just as lost. Apparently, whatever David had been called to do, it wasn't to make a job offer.
He may not have been able to barge in on the spontaneous meeting, but that didn't stop him from listening in. He didn't notice he was tensed up until he felt himself relax when he realized that, even with this job she seemed ready to accept, she would still be living in Sunnydale. When she came out of the office and said her goodbyes to David she seemed a bit dazed. After a few minutes of silence, her eyes got wide and her gaze excitedly bounced between him and Faith.
"We're going to have to look for a house as soon as we get back to Sunnydale! We don't have to wait to save up money or anything."
She quickly went from joy to horror and continued, "I'm gonna have to quit college now. How am I gonna tell Tara?"
For the next few hours, until it was dark out, Willow paced back and forth in the lobby going over the pros and cons of her new job and having random bouts of panic over having to tell both Tara and her parents. At some point Gunn had arrived, though she paid him no mind. She only stopped her monologue disguised as a conversation when Fred said it was time to go grocery shopping. Apparently, even company starved geniuses recently escaped from a hell dimension had their limits.
The next morning found Willow with her newly signed contract in her bag, Faith in the passenger's seat beside her, and Spike tucked away in the backseat under a blanket —he had absolutely refused Angel's suggestion of riding in the trunk. She was still half convinced that David Nabbit hiring her had all been a very strange shared hallucination. The relief she got from no longer having to worry about how they were going to keep Faith housed and fed helped fuel her through the two-hour drive home. While Faith seemed to not really be paying attention to what she was saying, she did ask questions whenever there was a lull in Willow's babbling.
Faith managed to put on a good enough front to almost have Willow believing that she was unconcerned about her reception. However, it was hard to miss the look of relief on her face when they pulled into Willow's house and she found out she wouldn't be seeing anyone else until the next day. Willow had just shown Faith around the house and was just about to head out to check on Tara when there was a knock at the front door. She caught herself sharing a worried glance with Faith and Spike who had quickly joined her in the hallway.
"If they were going to attack, they wouldn't knock first. Right?"
When they both shrugged, she took a deep breath and stepped close to the door to look through the peephole. She gave a relieved huff of laughter when she saw Giles on the other side. She quickly opened the door and invited him in. He gave a nod of greeting to both her and Spike, but then turned a serious look on Faith.
"I'm so sorry I couldn't give you more time to settle in, Faith. However, we seem to have a bank robbing demon on our hands."
Looking a bit relieved —Willow couldn't help but think she would rather face demons than any emotional confrontations— Faith headed back into the living room and picked up the jacket she'd just recently laid across the back of the couch. She quickly shrugged it on, pulled her hair out from the collar and shot Willow a quick smirk.
"No rest for the wicked, Red."