Perfect Day

Written by Glassdarkly, March 2005

The balance will falter until the vampire with a soul drinks from the Cup of Perpetual Torment…He will have the weight of the worlds upon him, binding his limbs, grinding his bones to meal until he saves creation…or destroys it.

Rutherford Sirk, the Shanshu Prophecy, Destiny, AtS Season 5

Wesley stood gazing out from the crumbling grey-pink battlements of Fort Jesus, letting the warm sea breeze caress his skin. He closed his eyes, soaking up the heat, the sensuous pleasure of it made all the more intense by the sweat running down his face and pooling on his upper lip, and by the way his thin cotton shirt clung damply to his body.

The quality of the air here in Mombasa, the salty thickness of it, was very different to the dry heat of the interior. It was languid and enervating and yet cocooning too, so that you felt as if you were pushing through a warm, living substance when you moved. Wesley was glad that he and Spike had chosen what passed here for winter to make their trip, as currently the heat was just bearable, whereas he suspected that in summer, it would be anything but; and it wasn't like L.A., where you could cool off every few minutes by diving into the nearest place with air-conditioning – at least, not if you chose to stay here in the centre of town rather than in some beachside tourist hotel.

He opened his eyes again and adjusted his dark glasses, pushing them back up his nose and once more gazing out to sea, although you couldn't see far because of the heat haze. Nothing between him and Indonesia, he thought, except the Seychelles. Spike had wanted to go there, rather than here, but he'd held out for the Kenyan coast, knowing there was more to interest them both – the nightlife and the beaches for Spike and the atmosphere and historical sites for himself.

In a day or two, they'd go up the coast to Malindi, visit the Vasco Da Gama pillar and the ruins of Gede – maybe do some snorkelling - and then drive back inland to the game parks. There was still so much to see.

Turning round and looking down into the interior of the fort, Wesley watched a party of tourists wandering about the huge pentagonal space, wondering if it was his imagination that they all seemed so lively and so full of genuine enthusiasm, or was that, too, part of the Change?

Averting Armageddon had had all kinds of interesting consequences, but giving people the urge to immerse themselves in the culture of other countries rather than just glancing curiously at it in passing, hadn't been one that Wesley had foreseen, he had to admit. Suddenly, it seemed that people really wanted to know things in a way that many of them just hadn't before.

At this very moment, the guide of this particular group was sitting down in the shade and talking animatedly with some of his party, all of them drinking iced lime juice while the guide expressed himself with expansive sweeps of his arms. No doubt, Wesley thought, he was enthralling his audience with blood-curdling tales of the fort and its wicked slave-trading past, but at the same time there was an earnestness about him – a real desire to make them understand and picture in their minds what he was trying to tell them – and an answering receptiveness in the way they listened that suggested they would have plenty to say themselves when he was finished.

It was good. It was all so very, very good.

Making his way down to ground level, Wesley strolled back across the courtyard towards the entrance, looking forward now to returning to the hotel and waking Spike from his afternoon nap. Maybe they'd go to the beach later, or just stroll through the Old Town together and have something to eat before finding a matatu and going north up the coast to the Tembo Club again. He had to admit that it had been fun the other night, and Spike said his dancing was improving all the time. What's more, it felt good to relax and to know that since the Change, no one would look twice any more at two men dancing together; no more than they did when he and Spike walked around holding hands, even though Spike had said it was 'sissy' at first and hadn't wanted to.

The atmosphere here, though, the way everyone was so relaxed and never in a hurry, had seemingly made him change his mind, and Wesley would find the strong, slim fingers twined in his the minute they left their hotel room.

Coming out through the gates of the fort, he allowed himself to be drawn back in to the twisting narrow streets of the Old Town, stopping to admire the displays of fruit and vegetables on the roadside stalls – the guavas were his favourites at the moment in all their many permutations from hard all the way through to soft as mashed pears in the middle – and the other stalls selling wood carvings and brass ornaments in the Arab style, and bolts of brightly dyed cloth.

Two women dressed in the traditional all-encompassing black bui bui were coming the other way, pausing to draw the hanging folds of material over their faces when they saw Wesley approaching. He averted his eyes courteously from them, allowing them plenty of room to pass, then strolled on, hands in pockets, slightly dizzy with the heat and with the intoxicating sights and smells around him.

He loved the white Arab-style houses festooned with bougainvillea, their balconies and crumbling plaster, and their heavily carved wooden doors turning blank faces to the street. In spite of the heat, they gave an impression of coolness and peace hidden within, while the cries of the street vendors, too, were without aggression or urgency, and even the detritus of spoilt fruit underfoot with its particular overripe smell simply added to the general impression of unhurried ease.

You couldn't hurry here, Wesley thought. The temperature didn't allow for it, and after an hour of so in the place, you could already feel yourself slowing down, your brisk pace becoming an easy amble, with many stops along the way for cold drinks and the sampling of local delicacies, with the attendant casual conversations that led to.

He hadn't felt so relaxed in his whole life, he didn't think.

He wished for a moment that everyone could have come; all of them, holidaying together like a real family. However, you couldn't expect people to drop everything just like that, could you? Besides, for him and Spike this was a first – the chance to be alone with each other and to see how they coped with that, now there were no demons to fight and nothing to fear save fear itself, as the saying went.

So far, it was going even better than they could ever have hoped, Wesley thought.

With difficulty, he dragged his mind away from the memory of firm lips pressed to his and a knowing hand fingering its way down his body, and reflected that things seemed to be all right with their friends in any case, holiday or no holiday.

Angel and Cordy had emailed to say that Connor's therapy was going very well, and they hoped that soon they might be able to bring him home. Charles, meanwhile, was going great guns – if one could be allowed a little pun at his expense – with his new neighbourhood law practice in South Central. He was inundated with clients, he said, and having to take on new staff to deal with them all. It had been a terrific idea, of course, setting up the practice near Anne's homeless kids' shelter, which was such a focus of the neighbourhood; and Wesley could only agree with Charles's decision to take his skills back to his community. It was the best thing that could be done with that rather dubiously acquired knowledge, and it was pleasing to think of Wolfram & Hart's reasons for providing it being so thoroughly subverted.

As for Fred - well, that professorship at Stanford had come up at just the right time for her really. Of course, before the Change, she probably wouldn't have been able to fulfil her lifelong academic ambitions so spectacularly early, given her youth and lack of published papers. However, now that things were so different, her innate intelligence and proven scientific rigour had won the day, and it was fortuitous, Wesley thought, that this had also brought her back into contact with Willow, who had recently taken up a post at the same august institution.

That Willow was just getting over the end of her affair with some young lady whom none of Willow's friends had liked very much – Kennedy, that was her name – was rather fortuitous too, all things considered, coinciding as it did with Fred's decision to come out. After all, there had always been that spark between them, hadn't there? Looking back, it had been obvious right from the day that Willow had come to help them restore Angel's soul, although Wesley hadn't wanted to acknowledge it to himself at the time.

That Willow had become available – as it were – just when Fred had made her announcement seemed almost pre-destined now.

Wesley was sure that Fred wouldn't cause Willow's loved ones the sort of heartache that Kennedy had, and of course, both sets of parents had been terribly understanding, the way people just were these days. Willow's mother, in fact, had been so enthused at the thought of Willow romancing a 'real academic' – even if it was one who wouldn't give Derrida and Foucault the time of day - that it had been a little embarrassing to witness really, all things considered.

He came out of his reverie to pause by a stall he'd noticed earlier where the wood carvings and brass ornaments that were so ubiquitous had struck him as particularly fine, running his hand over the smooth grain of the bust of a Masai warrior. It was a generic piece, of course, and hardly local to this part of Kenya, but it was still very well executed and rather desirable. From the two-toned wood, one could tell that it was genuine ebony as well.

"Jambo," the stall-holder greeted him, coming forward at once at his display of interest. "Can I help you, sir?"

The man wore a long multi-coloured Arab-style robe, his head covered modestly by a little round cap, startlingly white above his dark face with its long Arab nose and full African lips, and he was smiling, as everyone seemed to do here – although Wesley had no idea whether it had always been so or if it was only since the Change.

"Jambo, m'zee" he answered, politely, thinking that the man's age just about qualified him for the honorific. "Thank you, yes, I am interested in this piece. How much?"

"For you," the stall-holder said, "500 shillings, but I have many more, better than these. Will you come and see?"

He gestured to a boy – his son, or maybe his grandson – who was lounging nearby in the shade, to come and watch the stall, and beckoned Wesley inside.

Wesley followed him into the dark interior of what must be the ground floor of his house. There was a doorway leading to the upper floors at the back of the room, but it was covered by thick matting which discouraged any intrusion onto the privacy of the female inhabitants, giving the unseen parts of the house a sense of mystery and secrets hidden from view. The ground level, however, was simply one large open space, filled with more of the glorious carvings, some almost big enough to hit the low ceiling. Wesley gazed around him in wonder."They're marvellous," he said. "I haven't seen anything like them before."

The stall-holder smiled broadly again.

"The people who make them live up the coast, inland from here – very poor people. But recently, they received a grant from the government - money for new tools and access to – sustainable resources." He said these last words as if he relished them, rolling them on his tongue and drawing them out with obvious pleasure, then went on, "and now, they send me better and better work every time. When people are happy, they make beautiful things."

"I'm sure," Wesley agreed, filled with awe yet again for the very many simple things that were happening since the Change to make life better all over the world, like a row of dominoes falling in some pre-ordained pattern. The new Kenyan government had only been in power two months, but this time it seemed they were really serious about the anti-corruption drive and about making sure that aid money got where it was supposed to get, and the results of that were already trickling down to the man in the street, which was wonderful.

"You choose," the stall-holder said. "Choose something for your wife – for your children; to remember us by when you go home."

"Thank you." Wesley spent a pleasant twenty minutes in the cool dark of the downstairs room examining the pieces and haggling without rancour, until he came away well-satisfied with the pair of busts he'd chosen; a man and a woman, possibly Masai again, or maybe Samburu, he with long hair twisted into fantastical shapes and braided behind his ears, and she shaven-headed, even more so than Spike, with the lobes of her ears so elongated that they touched her shoulders; both made of ebony, and certainly not cheap.

But then, this wasn't the time for cheap, was it, Wesley thought, and he had plenty of money.

He wandered on, his ramblings taking him past the Jain temple with its gold spire and silver doors, existing in perfect harmony, it seemed, with the many mosques scattered about the Old Town. It had probably always been this way here; not a sudden outbreak of tolerance occurring since the Change - but all the same, the peacefulness of the atmosphere and the sense of rising optimism were so palpable that Wesley couldn't help feeling suddenly very light-hearted.

After all, this was simply a microcosm of what was happening all over the world.

He hurried his steps, in spite of the heat, wanting to be back with Spike, without whom none of this would have been possible, and wondering what the people here would think if they knew exactly who Spike was. He suspected, though, that if they did know, they would just smile and nod and say 'no problem', as they did about everything, and accept him into their midst, no more and no less welcomed than any other visitor. But then Spike had a way of slipping under the radar and not attracting attention to himself these days, which was very surprising for anyone who had known him before.

On the other hand, once you did notice him, you couldn't tear your eyes away, which was probably why he tried so hard not to be noticed in the first place.

Wesley couldn't help pondering yet again as he walked on just how astonishing it all was, how very unexpected – both the Change itself, and this – yes, call it a love affair, because that's what it was – between himself and Spike. After all, it had been little more than six months since he'd fancied himself hopelessly in love with Fred – ready to kill his own father for her sake – and now that all seemed like a dream. Not a bad dream, of course – well, maybe at times – but a dream all the same. He could hardly believe, looking back, how devastated he had been when she'd made her coming out announcement because it seemed quite absurd to him now that he could ever have felt that way.

Thinking of this, he tried, as so many times before, to pin down the exact moment when his view of Spike had changed, and, as usual, it seemed to elude him a little, like something glimpsed out of the corner of one's eye.

Oh, they'd all suffered with him when he'd returned, weak and exhausted and already in terrible pain, from the quest for the Cup of Perpetual Torment, and in many ways, they'd continued to suffer with him as he'd gone through his subsequent ordeal – even Angel, who had to have been so disappointed to be defeated and yet who'd returned from Nevada bearing Spike's battered body in his arms as tenderly as a father bears his son. But there'd been nothing then to make Wesley feel that he personally had been singled out by Spike in any way, nor would he ever have expected to feel such a thing.

In fact, poor Spike had been beyond them all for the most part, lost in his agony, until that final day, after they'd been fighting non-stop for what seemed like weeks and the terrible fires were burning out of control around the city, only to be suddenly and dramatically extinguished when Spike got up from his sick bed and looked around him.

"What the fuck is going on around here?" he said "Can't you people get along for five bloody minutes without me?"

Having said which, he'd fallen silent, a look of intense concentration on his face, while all around the fires died down and the sullen armies – demon and human - drew apart, still eyeing each other suspiciously but seemingly having lost the will to fight. Wesley remembered that he'd felt a strange vibration coming up through the earth and had thought for a moment that there was going to be an earthquake, only for the sound to fade, like that of a tolling bell falling silent, followed by an eerie calm and the sense that something somewhere had changed forever.

He knew he would never forget Spike's face in that moment. It had been filled with a strange, calm certainty, and seeing it, Wesley had known that everything would be all right; that this time, things really would get better and they wouldn't all be torn out of some worthless illusion they'd thought was the truth, to discover the being they had put their trust in was rotten with maggots.

This wasn't like Jasmine, Wesley thought. This was the real deal, as the Americans put it. After all, it wasn't as if things had suddenly become perfect overnight, was it? In fact, for a while, for him personally, when his memory of Connor and of the terrible mistake he'd made had come crashing back, and when Cordy had suddenly woken up from her coma only to be overwhelmed by the knowledge of what Jasmine had done while in control of her body, it had actually all seemed worse.

But even then, while he struggled with his memories, something inside Wesley had known that, what with the final defeat of Wolfram & Hart and the peace treaty signed between humans and most of the demon clans – even the more intelligent of the vampires – it couldn't be long before other more personal things began to come right too.

He'd been certain of it, in fact, if not from that very first moment then from that other moment a few weeks later when Spike had received his reward and the light bathing his body had begun to dissipate like gold dust settling. They'd all been crowding round him to hear his heartbeat, when suddenly, Spike had said, loudly and to no one they could see: "Sod off! I don't want it. Not if Angel can't have it too."

It wasn't what any of them had expected to hear from Spike – except for the 'sod off' part, of course. All they really knew about him and Angel was that they seemed to hate each other and that when forced to share any space, they sniped and snarled at each other like obnoxious teenagers, which had been very wearing at times. Yet, here was Spike, saying quite clearly that he wouldn't accept the Powers' reward for taking the world's ills on his own head and averting Armageddon if Angel couldn't share in it.

It had been an extraordinary moment, and, in many ways, a harbinger of the profound changes now echoing round the globe, which was surely not coincidental, Wesley thought. He remembered Angel's face, which had been dragged down by defeat and disappointment, and a weary acceptance of his fate, suddenly opening up, lifting, to gaze at Spike in astonishment. Spike had held out his hand, which was once again glowing golden, and said in a strangely distant voice, as if someone else were speaking through his mouth:

"Come on, you sad old git! One time offer only."

The look that had passed between them had been indescribable, and then Angel had taken Spike's hand and the glow had spread, enveloping them both in twin columns of fire, so that for a moment, the onlookers had been afraid of seeing them burn to ashes and disintegrate in front of their eyes. Then suddenly, the fire was gone, and the two men had stood staring at each other as if they didn't recognise where – or even who – they were, before falling into a long and obviously heartfelt embrace.

Angel was saying: "Why?" and Spike was answering, in his ordinary voice and really sounding rather puzzled, "Because you need it, mate. You've been fighting for redemption for so long, and you may be a boring old ponce but you deserve something back from the Powers That Arse About – or whoever the fuck they are, don't you? I mean, fuck 'em, right?"

Wesley couldn't recall what Angel had said in reply to this typically forthright piece of Spike-ian logic, because at that moment he and Fred, Charles and Lorne had suddenly remembered what they'd forgotten, which had all been so overwhelming that he personally had felt fragmented – torn to pieces and then reassembled piece by slow painful piece. In fact, sometimes he wondered if there were still bits of him missing that might return some day when he wasn't expecting them.

Shrugging off the thought and coming back to the present, Wesley stepped into the cool, Spartan lobby of his hotel, constituting its only public space, with its plastic tables and chairs clustered in little groups. He greeted Samuel, the desk clerk, with a smile and a nod and was quite tempted to sit down for a moment and cool his feet on the tiled floor, maybe order a beer, and then just listen to the noises from the street and be grateful to be inside where it was shady and relatively cool. He resisted the notion, however, more concerned now with getting back to Spike and reaffirming that connection between them, which had become the most important thing in his life.

It certainly hadn't manifested itself that first day, he thought, as he made his way up the stairs from the lobby. In the confusion and excitement of Spike and Angel finding themselves suddenly human, Spike had hardly noticed Wesley, or indeed any of them, his initial joy and astonishment quickly turning to bewilderment and even irritation, exacerbated by the fact that he'd rapidly realised he needed glasses and had gone stomping off to find some, muttering imprecations under his breath at the Powers and their 'stupid sodding rewards.'

After that, Wesley hadn't seen him for days and before he suddenly turned up again, had almost concluded that he must have set off for Europe to find Buffy after all – not that he'd devoted much thought to what Spike might be up to at the time. He'd been too involved - along with Angel, Charles and Lorne - in the delicate peace negotiations with the demon clans and then with helping poor Cordy when she came out of her coma. They'd all tacitly agreed to say nothing to Angel about the mind-wipe business for her sake - a decision that seemed even more appropriate when Connor had suddenly burst back into their lives as full of rage and hurt as ever and desperately in need of help that only his father could give.

Wesley remembered his passing surprise at Spike's non-reaction to the discovery of Connor's existence – as if vampires had human children every day - knowing that this revelation and its likely effect on him had been of some concern to Angel. Spike had merely stared at the boy a moment, however, shrugged and said he wondered where Connor's blue eyes had come from, seeing as his parents had been brown and green-eyed respectively, causing Angel to scowl a little and Spike to grin rather smugly at causing that scowl, before he seemed to lose interest and had wandered off again.

After that, they hadn't seen him for a while, but had hardly noticed his absence considering how bad things had been with Connor.

Spike had been around, though, that day when Wesley had finally made the breakthrough. The ex-vampire had been standing off to the side, staring intently at nothing, just as Wesley had dropped the book he'd been holding and when he bent down to retrieve it, had discovered that other book, kicked under the book case out of sight; which Wesley had thought was rather a coincidence at the time, but was now inclined to believe was no such thing.

"What you got there, mate?" Spike had asked, not really sounding much interested, while Wesley had looked at the book's spine and gasped in astonishment.

"It's called 'Secrets of Quor-toth: a cure for those afflicted'," he said, while his head was spinning, as much at the idea that Connor's problems might be partly physical in nature as at the thought of having found something that might actually help him.

Before that, he'd been convinced that the facts of the matter were simply that the boy was severely mentally disturbed due to his upbringing in that worst of all demon dimensions and was thus beyond the help of mere spells or incantations – something for which Wesley felt profound personal guilt, having been the one whose actions had condemned Connor to his fate in the first place. Now – almost miraculously - it seemed that he might have been incorrect, at least in part, and there was something that magic could do to help after all.

"Sounds like a sodding kiss-and-tell," Spike had said. "What the fuck is Quor-toth when it's at home?"

Wesley had ignored him, however, the book already open on his desk and revelation after revelation unfolding itself as he turned the pages. Here, he realised, was the key at last to freeing Connor from his despair and anger without interfering with his poor broken mind any more. A cure, if you liked, for what ailed him.

He'd hurried to take the book to Angel and, after many days work, when real progress had been made with the boy, the moment had finally come when his friend had embraced him and thanked him from the heart, in a way that let Wesley know he was truly forgiven at last. It had been a day he'd never thought to see, and he would treasure it forever, along with the sight of father and son clasped tight in each other's arms, with Angel finally able to offer Connor true comfort, as he'd always wanted to.

It was only when things had begun to even out after this that Wesley had become peripherally aware of Spike again, lurking in the background, looking somewhat lost and maybe a little lonely.

By that time, he was beginning to feel rather lonely himself. Angel and Cordy were back together and deeply involved with Connor's ongoing treatment, since he had - as was only right - become the focus of their lives. Charles, meanwhile, was already looking for premises for his lawyers' practice and Fred was busy sending off resumes to physics departments at colleges all round the country, as well as writing out invitations to her coming out party.

As for Lorne, he'd already left L.A. on his second attempt to take Vegas by storm, this time with Harmony in tow as his PA. She'd been one of the first vampires to sign her name on the list of those who had sworn off human blood as part of the peace settlement; a pledge that Wesley was pretty sure she'd be able to stick to, with Lorne to keep an eye on her. She was very easily led after all, and Lorne seemed genuinely fond of her, so there couldn't be a better person to keep her on the straight-and-narrow.

Her farewell to Spike had been rather affecting really, he showing his usual blend of exasperation and fondness towards her, and she flinging her arms round him and telling him she'd never forget him and what he'd done for everyone; which had only made him stick his hands in his pockets and glower, of course, but Wesley had had the distinct impression that he'd missed her when she was gone, all the same.

For that matter, he'd missed her himself, along with all his friends, as their personal lives had gradually taken over from their existence as a group, although he'd known it was inevitable. After all, the war they'd been fighting all these years was over, and they had won – unexpected though that outcome was – this meaning that it was time to move on to new battles, because it wasn't as if there weren't still battles to fight. The world hadn't suddenly become heaven on Earth; just a place with the potential to be better than it was and with the will to move in the right direction, which was really preferable to immediate heaven in the first place.

Human beings needed to have goals to strive for, in Wesley's opinion, or paradise could soon turn sour – as that business with Jasmine had shown them.

So, he'd been alone in his office in the Wolfram & Hart building, which was increasingly deserted these days, what with all their old clients being dead or out of business, when he'd looked up and seen Spike lounging in the doorway rather uncertainly.

"What are you up to, Percy old mate?" Spike said, on seeing him looking, and had approached him with an odd diffidence that Wesley had never expected to see in him. He looked so different in every way these days. Gone was the leather duster, heaven knows where, and the peroxide, his hair now shaved so close to his head that it barely covered his scalp, looking like moleskin or velvet with the nap rubbed the wrong way – and dark blond too; almost brown.

For a moment, taking this in, along with the little round steel-framed spectacles the ex-vampire wore, Wesley had thought: "He's become non-descript – ordinary." But then, looking closer, he'd realised that there was nothing ordinary in the direct gaze of those blue eyes. There was a curious nakedness about that glance that had made Wesley feel it had the power to look into his soul.

Suddenly, he knew exactly why Spike had been brought back from the dead and had then been able to do what he'd recently done. They'd all just been too busy to really notice him before, what with him being so uncharacteristically self-effacing, but now that Wesley had looked into those eyes, he knew he'd never be able to forget what he'd seen.

For a moment, awed, he had wondered if you could really call Spike human even now.

"Nothing much," he'd responded, shaken. "Tidying up here, really. It's time to move on, Spike."

"Yeah," Spike said, "I get that, mate. Bit more tidying up here first, though, than you realise."

And he'd held out a paper for Wesley to see, which, when Wesley read it through, had initially made his blood run cold.

"Where did you get this?" he asked.

"Been wandering down in the archives," Spike answered, vague. "Found it there. Who is this Lilah bird anyway?"

"She's – someone I used to know," Wesley had admitted, finding himself unwilling – unable, even – to say more. "She's dead now, but her soul is enslaved to Wolfram & Hart in perpetuity and– "

"Not any more," Spike said, simply, and in that other voice; the one that was his and yet wasn't at all.

This was true, as Wesley had realised when he'd scrutinised the document more closely. Here in his hands was the answer - the get-out clause - that would free Lilah from her servitude and allow her soul to find rest. It seemed that her enslavement to Wolfram & Hart had been dependent on their continued existence in this dimension, and now they were gone, a simple spell was all it would take to free her.

Wesley had known then that - even if he pressed Spike to tell him where he'd got the paper from, Spike wouldn't – maybe couldn't – answer.

The ex-vampire had just stood there, small and slim and oddly vulnerable, and yet still radiating a power that was changing the world while seemingly totally unaware of it.

Wesley had thought of Lilah then; her arrogance, her beauty, her selfish delight in the beautiful things of this world and the power she wielded. He shivered, remembering sweat-darkened sheets and velvet restraints – the blindfold and the whisper of suede tails on flesh.

She'd tried to seduce him, he thought, and in the end, lost herself to him instead, and because of that, she should be free, and she would be.

"What do I have to do?" he asked Spike, and when Spike told him, it was like remembering something he'd always known. So simple, yet so elegant – candles, incense and a few drops of blood spilt for love's sake, then the fire; and he'd been sure he heard her voice, wraithlike in his ears, thanking him as she passed.

After that, he'd looked at Spike, to see the ex-vampire blink at him in puzzlement, apparently already forgetting the role he'd just played in helping Wesley achieve another of his heart's desires.

"Come on, mate," Spike had said, clapping him on the back as if they'd always been friends. "I'm parched. Let's go and have a drink."

Thinking about these things, Wesley opened the hotel room door, to be greeted by warm air that was hardly stirred by the sluggish whisper of the ceiling fan as it made its lazy circles above. The room was dark, the blinds drawn against the daylight and noise outside. Spike still had problems with living human hours, clinging stubbornly to some of his vampire habits, no matter how Wesley tried to coax him out of them.

That was why, so far, they'd only seen Fort Jesus together by moonlight – not that that was an experience that Wesley would have foregone – and had even done a fair bit of swimming at night, in the warm shallows, while the big waves pounded themselves to nothing on the reef a mile out. Thinking what else had taken place in those warm shallows made Wesley hurry forward to sit himself down on the edge of the bed and rest one hand on a bare shoulder.

"You're back." Spike's voice was slurred with sleep, and he stretched and yawned, opening one eye to blink at Wesley before burrowing down under the sheets again.

"Wake up, sleepy-head," Wesley said, bending down to kiss him and breathing in the musky odour of sweat and warm skin with an indescribable sense of pleasure. He ran a hand down Spike's arm, only to have his wrist snagged and to be pulled down into a sticky, welcoming embrace, his mouth crushed wetly against his lover's.

Lover. The word still filled Wesley with astonishment, because it was just so hard to grasp. Less than a year ago, the man in the bed had been a stranger to him – and a vampire ghost at that, filled with a frightening helpless rage at the unjustness of his fate – which Wesley had found almost amusing at the time. He remembered wondering just what exactly Spike had been expecting, after the sort of life he'd lived. It was absurd of him to think that he would be absolved of all his crimes just for dying to save the world, wasn't it?

After all, if Wesley had learned anything in his years of working with Angel, it was that one good deed didn't count for much in the overall scheme of things, and, for that matter, one bad deed often seemed to out weigh all your good ones. He'd often thought that if there was a celestial balance somewhere, as so many people believed, it was weighted very unfairly, so it had been a very welcome revelation in many ways to discover that he'd been wrong, and the Powers could be merciful as well as just.

He'd actually disliked Spike quite a bit in those early days, he thought, and had considered him rather childish and quite spiteful in the way he'd behaved towards Angel – not that Angel had behaved so well himself, of course - though Fred had told him he was wrong to think that – that Spike was all talk; but it was hard to keep that in mind when you were on the receiving end of the talk.

The first inkling he'd had personally that Fred was possibly right had been that time after the business with the robot imitation of Father, when the vampire had attempted – however ineptly – to offer him some comfort for his supposed trauma.

It had been excruciatingly embarrassing – listening to that rather uncomfortable revelation about Spike's mother - but the thought behind it had been touching in a way; a bit like their first time together, which hadn't been exactly the stuff of high romance.

In fact, after that business with Lilah, they'd both got rather drunk and had staggered out of a bar at 2am only for Spike to fall to his knees in the alley round the corner and give Wesley the best blow-job he'd ever had in his life, before being thoroughly, and very unpleasantly, sick. How they'd made it back to Wesley's apartment, Wesley had no idea to this day, but he could only assume that some Good Samaritan of a taxi driver – of whom there were probably more in L.A. than had been the case before the Change – had taken pity on them and driven them home.

In the morning, they'd both been terribly embarrassed; Spike for what he'd done and Wesley for letting him do it. Drunkenness hadn't really seemed like a very good excuse for public sex and projectile vomiting to either of them in the cold light of day. Yet somehow, they'd both known that their coming together had been destined – that if not this way, then some other way; and it had been a very Spike-ish method of going about things after all, even if Spike was some kind of Higher Being now, which could well be the case – a thought that left Wesley awed and just a little bit afraid.

He remembered that he'd asked Spike about Buffy at some point after their hangovers had begun to recede a little, wanting to know why he'd chosen not to go to her, and Spike had tilted his head on one side, as he so often did, but this time as if listening to that inner voice, before saying: "She's fine, mate. She doesn't need me and neither does Dru," and then had blinked in a rather puzzled way, as if he'd forgotten what they were talking about, and said: "Got any hair of the dog?"

It had been an odd moment, which had made Wesley feel a little uneasy at the time, but he was used to Spike doing things like that now. It was just the way he was.

Later that morning, after a shower and a cup of tea and some moments of awkward silence, Spike had let it be known just how he would like Wesley to reciprocate his friendly gesture of the night before, and Wesley had found himself only too happy to do it.

Just as he was happy now, when Spike was pulling at his shirt, tearing at the buttons in his haste to get them open, hands dropping to his flies and fumbling with his belt impatiently, wanting him naked too.

"I should wash," Wesley protested. "I'm all sweaty, Spike," to which Spike responded, "Don't care. Like it anyway. Wanna smell you. Wanna feel you."

And he leaned up and whispered in Wesley's ear to let him know what else he wanted, which, surprise, surprise, had become Wesley's favourite activity in private, so he was happy to oblige.

"Turn over, then," he said, watching in profound pleasure as Spike kicked the sheets back and turned on his belly, as requested, offering himself without hesitation as he had done from that very first day. Wesley ran a finger from the nape of Spike's neck to his coccyx; to that place where the flesh began to swell with muscle. He rested his hand there for a moment, filled with a deep sense of gratitude that this was all his – incontrovertibly and forever, as Spike had made only too plain.

He'd never been given such a gift before, Wesley thought, nor ever expected it, yet when he'd received it, somehow it had seemed as if it had always been his.

Soon, buried in tight coolness, his body adhering sweatily to the hard curves of the prone form beneath him, his mouth close to Spike's ear, he whispered:

"I love you so much, Spike, but I don't understand. Where did this come from?"

Spike undulated beneath him, like a wave on the white Indian Ocean beach, and said:

"Because you needed it, Wes. And because I did."

That was the only answer he ever gave – the only answer he could give, Wesley thought, having no more understanding of whatever strange force moved in him now, and must have done since the day he gave his life on the Hellmouth, than he'd ever had. It disturbed Wesley to think about sometimes, as if all this wasn't real and might be snatched away from him at any moment; but he'd learned to live with the doubt, since it was no more than the doubts that plagued everyone in this world that was still striving for perfection and had a long way yet to go.

After all, uncertainty and eventual mortality were part and parcel of the human condition, and there was no changing that, even now.

Instead, he thought of the first time Spike had said those words to him, which were in answer to a similar question Wesley had asked him on a cold rainy day in London, after Father's funeral.

Wesley had been sitting, bowed down with grief, having read the letter in which the old man – finally – confessed his love for his son and his many deep regrets over the way things had been between them. He'd turned to Spike then and asked him a question, wanting to know why this man – if he was indeed a man - whom he hardly knew and who had saved the world and changed it forever, was here at the funeral with him – or indeed with him at all - when he felt so unworthy.

Father had done his work well, after all, no matter his later regret, and it had seemed impossible to Wesley that anyone should care about him enough to want him as Spike appeared to do.

Somehow or other, though, all it had taken to change his mind had been for Spike to put one hand on his shoulder and look deep into his eyes. He'd become lost in that gaze, which was oddly hot, as if the sun lay behind the blue discs, illuminating everything and revealing essential truths that were as mysterious to the ex-vampire himself as they were to everyone else.

"Because you needed it, Wes," Spike had said. "And because I did."

It had been as simple as that. Like rain washing ink from a page, Wesley had felt suddenly as if he'd been washed clean of all his fears and doubts, the needless cruelties and humiliations inflicted on him in childhood smoothed away into insignificance. He could accept the letter he held in his hand as the last word on the matter. His father had loved him, had respected him, and here was the proof.

All it had taken to make him see it had been that firm pressure on his shoulder, that open blue gaze, whose directness filled him with both terror and awe, and those words; the words that let him know how much he was wanted and needed and that he would never have to be alone again.

That had been the last of all the past griefs that had blighted his life; laid to rest and at peace, just as he was, buried deep in this welcoming body beneath him.

"I love you," he said, again. "And I think I'm the happiest man in the world."