He plays the jokester now.† Prat to their follies, one‑liners at the ready, and he wonders, sometimes, if he shouldn't find a way to contact Harris.† Get the inside scoop from someone whoíd perfected the act Spike had never once usedóeven though it probably wouldíve done him a whole lot more than earnestness ever did William.† He needs it now, though, ícause the alternative isnít bearable.† So he tosses out rude gags and quips at the worst possible moment, because thatís usually the most intense and heís got to find some way to make himself real.† Touching a glass here, a pen there isnít much, either, but he works at it.

Punching that robot‑thing that was choking Gunn felt damned nice.† The nod of respect and acknowledgment after was nicer.

The disdain isnít meant to be cruel, least, not from them that arenít Angel.† They donít know him, donít care to know him other than Ďvampireí, if a ghostly one, and theyíve got as tight a group as ever the Scoobies were.† Less trust, though.† These arenít a gaggle of kids who believe that friends mean everything.† Angelís gang are adults, one and all, and know that friends come and friends go just like everything elseóitís your own head youíve got to be careful about, because youíve gotta live there for the rest of your life.† So Fred gives him pitying looks and tries her best to help him, scattered thing that she is.† Lorneís got no use for him at all, which is fine, since Spike is more than happy to steer clear of a demon who spends most of his time singing.† Once was damn all enough; nothing good ever comes out of a song.† Gunn isnít as tightly wound as the rest, less baggage, Spike guesses, but also less depth.† Not that it isnít there, mindóSpike can see the off moments when the glib lawyery bits are put to sleep and the boy whoíd been a street tough peeks out and asks when the hell this had become his life.† Spike likes teasing Gunn ícause of that, but Gunn just laughs or figures out how to run Spike off, never lets anything carryover.† Can respect that, Spike can, but itís not useful for what he wants, so he never lingers long.

Spike spends most of his time flitting between the Englishman and the bloke from Galway, only heading off to Fred when he needs a dose of comfort or youthful enthusiasm.† Sheís a tumble of all his girls combined, and a bloody breath of fresh air in the gloom and doom of a law firm.† But sheís ultimately shallow, just like Gunn and Lorne, so he takes her grin and comfort and holds onto it like a shield, a bloody touchstone to keep him safe from the ones he does want.† He thinks the blue‑eyed one is catching on, and doesnít know if thatís good or bad.† Spike canít hurt Fred, not even if he wanted to, and he knows for a fact that some discreet phone calls have been madeóDawn may still hate him, but her memories of trusting him run deep and untainted.† Wes lets one too many things drop, and who says Spike canít do some checking of his own?† Turns out she doesnít hate him so much, anymore, and it takes a damned amount of work not to blubber when he talks with her.

Wes finds out about that, too, not that Spike bothers keeping it secret.† Itís a lure, of sorts, and it works as itís supposed to.† Heís invited for a pint in Wesí quarters and even though Spike canít drink it, canít even smell the dark tang of hops, he can see Wesís enjoyment and, ever the good vampire, he drains each hint of satisfaction into himself.† They talk, and Spikeís allowed to drop the pretense fairly early on.† Wes wants to know what he feels like, what a vampire who wants a soul thinks about, and Spike doesnít hold anything back.† Well, he holds some things back, but not as much as usual.† Starts asking some questions, without pursuing that fool line of Ďwell, I killed my mum, tooí, and gets some answers.† Wesí relationship with his daóhis real daóis about as cheery as Spikeís was, and it gives them a bit of common ground.† Night grows long, stretching into the day Spike no longer fears quite so much, and theyíre still talking.† Wes isnít quite drunk, but heís looser than Spikeís ever seen himóprobably more to do with having a proper person to talk to than the alcohol.† Spikeís been imitating Rupert all night, something thatís surprisingly easy since itís so close to who he is and was, and he wonders why heís ever played the idiotóuntil they start talking about Angel.

Oh, he remembers right enough.† Angel doesnít believe in Spikeís soul, not really, and any contributions Spike makes are instantly suspect.† Angelís colder, harder, than Wes has ever seen him, and even if Wes never says it, Spike knows somethingís off.† Knows Wes knows it too, wisp of thought just brushing over your nose, annoying and distracting and happening often enough that maybe itís not just a stray lash or bit of dust in the air.† Spikeís feeling it too, something thatís not quite scent, not quite touch laying heavy on all of Angelísóbut not Angel himselfóand itís good to know his ghostly senses arenít completely useless.† He never comes out and says it, either, but thatís part and parcel of speech for a good, well‑trained Englishman and Spike leaves thinking that maybe heís made an impression.

Finds out he has, when heís invited over for more nights, beer turning to sherry or port, books cracked and Spike canít understand why heís sharing his love of poetry, but Wes is going out of his way to find volumes Spike wants, so maybe itís just to see the lanky human dance to his tune.† Maybe itís cause he missed the stuff, but he doesnít think about that.† Itís all going swimmingly, but Wes. . . Wes may be the bigger fish, the one thatíll keep Spike from going nutters in the end, but heís not the fish he wants.† Wes is a stepping stone, in a way, since the late night meetings are gaining attention and dark eyes are following as they disappear up the elevator, a combination of hatred and jealousy Spike knows better than anyoneóand a hint of pride and gratitude that heís only starting to get the hang of.

He wonders when Angel will stop seeing the fool.† Itís getting damn‑all hard to maintain.