Sometimes, when Spike felt better, and the migraines left from his Visions subsided, he came down to the big commercial kitchen in the basement to cook. He was an excellent cook even for a human, let alone a a vampire; nothing short of miraculous.

The heady aromas of homemade Egg Foo Yung and Chinese wings and noodles and rice and won tons and egg drop soup all drifted through the hotel, and all of the residents found themselves drifting slowly downstairs, drawn by the aura of comfort and warmth Spike's cooking brought to the place.

When Spike cooked, even Angel ate. It said something to him that Spike set aside a plate especially for him, and it was often spicier, more flavorful. For the first time in what seemed like forever, Angel could taste something other than ashes in his mouth. 

Maybe, it was the taste of Spike's obvious esteem that he craved; here, he had it.

Spike would often cook enough for an army, and only after everyone had been served, he would sit quietly at the table; usually next to Angel or Xander, picking at his meal. Sometimes Xander's enthusiasm affected him enough that he would truly eat, mugs of hot blood and whatever he'd cooked that evening.

It was often hard to get Spike to feed properly, so Angel was glad when Xander cajoled and prodded Spike into eating. It had been something Spike liked to do—to keep it interesting, he'd often said, but Angel suspected it had more to do with keeping one foot in the world. Angel had learned that lesson from Spike, and he'd passed it on to Xander.

Xander always ate with gusto, remembering that advice; to hold onto those human things still left to him, even in his Vampiric state. The first time he'd dunked his donuts in blood, however, Spike had first scowled at him, then rolled his eyes, shaking with silent laughter. Angel had stared, first puzzled, then thoughtful; Xander simply continued with a second Bear Claw, and finally the other two vampires joined in the dunking of pastries in blood before eating, snickering and sending pleased glances at each other. When Fred, Wesley and Gunn protested in disgust, the snickering became full-blown guffawing, and the humans sent silent, heavily weighted looks at each other, ostensibly about weird vampire shit, Angel imagined. It only made him laugh harder, and for once, he didn't care that Wesley had that look in his eye that said that he was watching for signs of Angelus.

Xander noticed though, and said meaningfully, “If I have my way, Angel'll be a lot happier than this!”, and poked Spike in the ribs with his elbow. Spike looked at them both fondly, his small grin only slightly ironic. Angel drew a quick breath and looked down, trying to hide the sudden tears.

The humans were silent. Of course, they didn't understand. Angel hunched in on himself. It hurt.

Spike, of all people--rose from his chair, sat beside Angel, and put his arm around Angel's shoulder. He said nothing, but let the pressure of his arm say it all.

It's all right, luv, you're with us; we're family.

Xander rounded the table and knelt at Angel's feet. He ran a hand up Angel's pant leg, not in a sexual way at all; it was pure comfort.

Gunn rose first, and Fred followed him. Angel kept his eyes on the table, but he smelled their discomfort and fear. When Wesley stood to go, it almost broke him.

Spike had drawn Angel closer, and Xander had kept up his gentle caress.

When the humans had gone, Xander had said softly,“They have to get used to the idea. That we need love, too. And that we can have it without it all going to hell. We've got it in each other, Angel. Let that be enough for now.”

Remembering that night, so long ago, Angel marveled at how far they had all come. Tonight, all of the members of the team ate together, and no-one sent worried glances at Angel or Spike or Xander; tonight they all felt like family. Angel had thought this was lost to him, but there it was.


The End