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Thing - Part 2

Two days of rest and gluttonous feeding found both vampires in a better frame of mind when they set out again. Back to full strength, Angel sallied out, found the car where they had left it and raided the emergency fuel supplies to top up the tank. They’d discovered several gas cans in the hospital basement, which Angel filled and stacked in the trunk in case of inclement service stations, and then they were ready to go.

As he sat in the driver’s seat waiting for Spike to pick his way across the debris in the lobby, Angel reflected that they were probably both as healed as they were going to get. The bite marks on Spike’s arms were all closed, his skin complete and clear of infection. His hair, shorn close to his scalp, was fuzzy and covered his head like moleskin as it began to regrow. The only reminders of his experience now lay in the permanent damage to his arms and leg, and a lingering thinness, which should disappear over time. And, of course, his continued habit of speaking in verse.

“I will arise and to my Mother go; this very hour the journey is begun,” Spike said as he clambered into the car.

Angel reached over him to fasten the seat belt. “Isn’t that Father?” he said, recognising a poem William often used to quote when the family moved on to new hunting grounds. “That’s the Earle poem, right. The one about the pointlessness of seeking god.”

Spike gave him a disgusted look and said, “Mother. Mother’s milk. Milk a cow.”

“Cow poke, cow hand. We playing word association now?” The engine started with a purr at Angel’s first touch and he put it into drive before turning to his passenger. “Okay, Einstein, where are we headed?”

Closing his eyes and leaning back against the headrest, Spike repeated the words that had come to haunt Angel over the last couple of days. “In the south land by the flat water, drowned am I, yet pulse still with life; the dying serpent given breath by those who have no need of air.”

“Nebraska it is then.”

They encountered none of the expected problems heading east out of the city. Being so acutely aware of the trouble they might be in, Angel had stopped and picked up – well in his case purchased -- a couple of guns and some ammunition. It didn’t hurt leaving enough money to cover the price of the weapons plus a little over for when the store owner wanted to replace the broken glass. Angel knew Spike was looking at him with that particular expression of incredulity on his face but he didn’t care. It made him feel better.

There were some signs of life in the city but not what Angel had hoped for. No state of emergency declared. No troops rounding up the criminals. Just a few gangs of looters and vandals taking pride in the destruction they were causing.

“Where is everyone?” mused Angel. It had happened. It had really happened. So many times he’d managed to avert it and once or twice he’d tried to cause it, but now here it was in all its glory. Apocalypse.

“And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondsman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains,” said Spike thoughtfully after they’d travelled for a couple of hours without seeing anyone.

“Oh great, this road trip will be fun with kings and rich men jumping out at us while we’re crossing the Rockies.” Angel turned the car radio on and searched through once more hoping to hear anything other than hiss and crackle.

“Why are we going to Nebraska?” he asked after while. And why am I taking instructions from the member of my family voted least likely to succeed and who’s now not only stupid and annoying but insane as well? He didn’t have the heart to say these things anymore. To be honest he didn’t really feel them, he was just overwrought at the moment.

“Everyone here is dead. We are moving west to Nebraska. Stay on our route. Watch for signs,” proclaimed Spike in a loud voice as he scratched at the healing wounds with the protruding bone of the other arm.

“East not West.” Angel stared ahead into the darkness. He’d intended to amputate those revolting bones and cauterise them while they were in the hospital. He’d even prepped up one of the operating tables ready but couldn’t do it. He couldn’t even bring himself to talk to Spike about his arms so how was he ever expecting to be able saw off the rotten stumps?

The further they drove, the weirder it felt, and when Angel realised they were approaching the outskirts of Las Vegas he pulled over and flicked on the interior light. “I need to look at a map.”

“Lost in a haunted wood, children afraid of the night who have never been happy or good.” Spike sounded very melancholy and Angel was absolutely certain he was being made fun of.

“We’re not lost. I just don’t wanna risk driving through the middle of a fucked in the head city like Vegas.”

“Is it worse to be scared than to be bored? That is the question.”

Again there was that feeling that he was being made a fool of and Angel lost his temper. “Right, fine. You wanna go see demons eat the strippers at the Olympic Garden we will. I’m tired. I need a break from driving. It’s not as if I have anyone useful here to help me is it?”

Angel was disgusted with himself; that was a fucking shit thing to say. Pulling up in front of the first habitable hotel he came to, he tried to think of some way to apologise but the words just didn’t want to come out.

“Come on, Spike. It looks quiet enough. I need to stop and get something to eat.” It was the nearest Angel could get to sorry at this minute. Climbing out of the car he stretched like a cat, his body unused to driving for hours at a time. All the months he’d been with Wolfram and Hart it had been private jets and helicopters.

Taking the shotgun from the backseat of the car, Angel loaded it and picked up one of the rucksacks from the floor. This place obviously had no emergency power. Maybe the fuel in the genny had run out.

“Flashlights or vamp vision?” he asked waiting for the shuffling limp to get closer.

“One thing about living in Santa Carla I never could stomach. All the damn vampires.”

“I guess it’ll make for more of a covert entrance,” agreed Angel remembering watching the movie that line came from with Cordelia -- The Lost Boys, pretty damn appropriate.

There were no signs of looting, everything looked completely normal except for a distinct lack of people. Angel made a thorough sweep of the hotel checking it out for signs of habitation and making sure he kept his pace slow enough for Spike to keep up, which was all well and good except for the fact that Spike was no longer with him. Re-tracing his steps, Angel discovered the him sitting at the bar looking longingly at the rows of spirits.

“Might’ve guessed I’d find you in here.”

Spike said nothing just carried on staring at the bottles.

“This is one time I can stop you from having a drink.” Angel patted himself mentally on the back. He was on a roll today. How many more times was he gonna rub Spike’s nose in it? Apparently his grandchilde thought the same thing and, adopting as much of a swagger as he could, stalked out of the room.

Fuck it all. Angel was furious with himself and decided the best thing to do was let Spike sulk a while and then try for an O-neg peace offering. Picking up the rucksack, he found his way to the kitchens and lit a burner on the gas range to heat up four pints of blood in a pan.

If you were gonna end up somewhere during an apocalypse, then Vegas was definitely the place to be. The city had more strippers and beer per square mile than anywhere else in the damned country. Bozo swung the broken off length of streetlight through the window and whooped when it smashed, spraying glass over the sidewalk. Across the street, Franz kicked in a door and hauled a woman out from behind it, throwing her to the ground. She screamed a few times and Bozo was considering going and joining in when Franz suddenly howled and staggered away from her, blood gushing from his neck. Ok, that wasn’t meant to happen. It was the little girls that were supposed to rip and tear, not hellions.

“Fucking vamp!” Franz yelled and swung a boot at the blonde, kicking her head clean off her body.

They were everywhere, like rats. Normally hellions ignored them, or dusted them for fun, but it was starting to get serious. No humans and the vamps were getting desperate. Franz wasn’t the first of the gang to get damaged.

Bozo grabbed a few bottles of whiskey from the liquor store display, smashed the top off one and tossed it back inside. A couple of matches later the whole thing went up with a boom-crash and it was time to move on.

The gang saddled up, kicked over their bikes and took off for different district – one they hadn’t gotten around to trashing yet. That meant off the strip, and they headed up Flamingo Road, engines roaring and sending anything alive scurrying for cover. It was more fun hunting them down.

Efghal waved them over outside a likely looking place. A good few hotels and some fast food joints; always worth checking out. The gang swung into the lot of one of those hotel-casino set-ups and were about to ride in through the front doors when Bozo spotted the car. Engine was still hot, and that meant fresh prey. Human hopefully, ‘cos demons weren’t doing much in the way of moving around.

Splitting up, they dumped the bikes and spread out. Bozo and a couple of others took the back route in, over the fence and onto the deck cutting off any escape routes. They threw chairs into the pool and set light to a couple of trees on the way through, and were about to smash in the glass doors to the rooms when Franz let up a holler.

“We got a live one, lads!”

Something small and fast flew out of the shadows and a boot hit Bozo in the side of the head. He yelled, going down and seeing stars. As he fell, he heard a voice yelling, “the clay underneath them shall pant,
and demons be broken in pieces, and trampled beneath them in death.”

It took him a second to get up again, but when he did, Franz and Brian had the kicker cornered. Bozo leapt across the deck, intent on ripping its guts out, but Franz stopped him.

“Reckon it’s time to have a bit fun,” Franz snarled, his leather bit clanking against the rings in his neck. He advanced on the vampire – it had to be. No human coulda survived losing its arms like that – and said, “You ever seen Deliverance, boy?”

The vampire twitched, then made a break for the gap between Bozo and Brian. It didn’t move fast enough. Bozo brought it down, paying back the kick with one twice as hard to its balls. The vamp dropped, screaming, its stumps clutching at it groin. Bozo whooped in glee. This was gonna be fun.

He missed the bikes pulling up outside, but when the first glass smashed, Angel quickly finished his portion of the blood and picked up his twelve bore. Checking he had a pocket full of cartridges, he headed for the main floor and the sounds of booted feet.

Through the glass in the door, he spotted two demons – Hellions by the looks of them – and waited for them to start trashing the slot machines before he took them down with a couple of well aimed shots. More noise came from elsewhere in the hotel and, worried for Spike’s safety, Angel broke into a run. He knew Hellions. Was familiar with the types of things they could do and Spike was essentially helpless.

Berating himself for allowing Spike to go off alone, Angel tracked and killed five more demons before turning his attention to the grounds. From where he was, at the far end of the accommodation block, he could hear someone, or something, screaming outside, and, hoping desperately that it wasn’t Spike, he ploughed into one of the bedrooms and smashed through the glass doors leading onto the pool deck.

It was Spike. Three hellions had him face down over one of the terraces and it didn’t take a genius to work out what was going on. Or would be if Angel didn’t get there fast enough.

Hardly conscious of going into game face, Angel hurtled across the deck, leaping chairs, tables and planters that got between him and his objective. The first demon fell without making a sound, its neck broken. The next put up a fight, but not enough to slow Angel down. It too went down, its head blasted open with a blast from the shotgun. That just left one more. The one with its pants round its ankles shuffling backwards towards the pool.

Angel jerked the shotgun, loving the shuck-shuck as it reloaded, and swung it up so it was pointing at the hellion’s head. He was about to pull the trigger when something moved next to him. It was Spike, in game face, looking as pissed as Angel had ever seen him.

“Any last words?” Angel asked.

The Hellion dropped to his knees and snivelled, “Please don’t kill me.”

“Not you!” Angel aimed the shot well. It went through the demon’s gut and left it trying to hold its insides inside.

He turned back to Spike, who smirked, showing a mouthful of fangs. “Yeah,” he said and sniggered at the grovelling Hellion. “Go ahead, punk, make my day.”

Loading up the trunk with extra weapons acquired from the biker demons, Angel looked longingly at the row of motorcycles. If only it were possible. They could make better time, avoid any obstacles and cut across country if needs be. For one insane moment he thought of attempting it then he looked at the leaden face of Spike who was sitting in the passenger seat staring blankly to his right. Almost dead. Almost raped. Angel didn’t need any extra sensory powers to know what Spike was thinking despite his bravado.

Throwing a couple of bottles of bourbon and some smokes into the trunk at the last minute, Angel slammed it closed and got in the car.

“Nebraska here we come,” he said with a forced grin as he started up the motor.

“I’m off, Lord. Headed home. I’ll be going slow, don’t reckon to get there until midnight or so, but the Book says fear neither the terror of night or that which flieth at noonday.”

“Thanks, Will.” Angel’s words were almost genuine. There were times when Spike spoke with absolute faith giving Angel hope alongside the confusion.

With the lack of light and the absence of any other vehicles, driving was monotonous to say the least. Sometimes Angel thought about starting a conversation; at least trying to work out the meaning behind Spike’s convoluted answers would give him something to do, but when he looked over at his companion, at the shivers and the greyish pallor, he knew Spike was better off trying to rest.

He sang a while in his head and then counted trees and then circled his thumbs and drummed his fingers on the steering wheel while he thought long and hard. Maybe they were going about this all wrong. He’d gone hysterical after losing his friends. It was all just paranoia. Yeah, the demons had wreaked havoc on Los Angeles but that wasn’t a first. Maybe America was wiped out but there were a lot of other countries out there in the world. Australia. Europe. Italy. Buffy! He needed to find out if she was alright. He was such an idiot, he’d not even tried to use a phone.

Calculating in his head, he reckoned they had no more than three or four hours of driving time. They needed to stop at the first place they came to, hopefully one with a payphone. Angel yawned; it seemed as if they’d been on I- 15 for at least a year or two. Unfurling the map, he switched on the light and spread it using Spike’s shoulder as a book rest. Spike was busy pretending to be asleep and Angel allowed him his little pretence. After all it didn’t hurt, and pretty much suited them both.

They’d make it comfortably over the Utah border before sun up. St George was bound to have somewhere for them to sleep. With his new idea bouncing away in his head, Angel couldn’t wait to find somewhere to stop for the day. The last couple of hours it took to get to the Utah border seemed to fly past but then, glancing down at the display, Angel realised they were almost out of fuel. He didn’t want to bother dragging cans out of the trunk and was relieved to see a gas station with its lights on. Most of them so far had been blacked out, at least here there was a chance of the pumps working.

Angel heaved a sigh of relief as the machine whirred into life and the gas tank began to fill with fuel. He watched as Spike shuffled over to the driver’s seat and slid out of the open car door, supporting himself with his right stump. It made Angel wince with pain and he wanted to look away but no way was he going to make this day any worse. When the gas reached its auto shut off point, Angel replaced the cap and nozzle and followed Spike towards the building, wondering how the vampire was going to get through the door without any hands.

It wasn’t a problem. After barging his way in, Spike stared at the rows of candy and potato chips and kicked out at them in frustration. “The hungry judges soon the sentence sign, And wretches hang that jurymen may dine.”

Ignoring him, Angel found the pay phone and picked up the receiver. There was a fucking dial tone. He felt like jumping up and dancing. God he was such an idiot. Pulling out a handful of coins and his wallet, he searched through the scraps of paper until he found the one with Buffy’s number on it.

Force feeding the slot with loose change, Angel dialled the number and waited to be connected.

“A homely fancy, but I judged it to be sugar-candy; yet to my raised imagination, divested of its homelier qualities, it appeared a glorified candy,” yelled Spike with all the vocal qualities of a temperamental two year old.

“In a minute,” screeched Angel with all the vocal qualities of a frustrated parent as he listened to a recorded female inform him that all international lines were busy and could he please try later.

Slamming the phone down after his fifth attempt to connect, Angel looked at the chaos Spike had caused with his too big Nikes.

“Show me what you want?” he growled though gritted teeth, trying very hard to restrain himself from slamming Spike’s face through the window as the vampire picked out bag after bag of candy and mega sized packets of chips. Picking up the items and throwing them on the counter he followed Spike over to the entertainment section.

Spike pointed out magazines and CD’s and Angel collected a pile of crap in his arms and kept silent. It was the thousand page Stephen King novel that finally made him lose his temper.

“What the fuck are you gonna do with this when you can’t even hold it let alone turn a page? And no, I’m not reading it to you for bedtime stories.”

“And in the end your reward will be to go away with strangers from all the things you love the best and you’ll die in a strange land with your work not yet finished.”

“Now I get it. That totally explains the need for a copy of National Geographic and The Stand. Thanks, Spike.” Angel carried all the crap over to the counter and fished a few bills out of his pocket, slipping them under the till and loading everything into a carrier. “Go back to the car. I have a phone call to make.”

He didn’t want Spike in there on the off chance he got through to Buffy. How could he explain everything with an insane vampire chattering away in the background? The recorded message was the same but it still inspired hope; the phone lines weren’t down and that alone had to be good news. There were people still alive, friends, lovers. They’d carry on to St George, hole up there for the day and then head north for the airport in Salt Lake City.

The brown paper bag full of goodies lay between Spike’s feet and once or twice Angel caught him gazing down at it but he wasn’t giving in. Spike did not need candy bars to survive and somehow the idea of feeding another man chocolate seemed out and out wrong. With dawn less than ninety minutes away, Angel pulled in to the first motel he came to in St George and looked up and down the street. All was silent but then it had been in the Terribles hotel for a while. He’d make sure he slept with both shotguns beside him and that handy chainsaw he picked up in Vegas.

“Come on then, let’s check in.”

“It is a riot of colour in nature-glistening green leaves, pink, blue, purple, yellow blossoms that fairly stagger the visitor from the north.” Spike wedged himself stubbornly into the seat gripping onto the seatbelt as best he could with his arms. “North.”

“No. We’re sleeping here.” Angel unpacked their rucksacks from the backseat.

“As when a lordly cedar, green with bough goes down with a great shout upon the hills.”

“I’m either leaving you to get dusted or I’m carrying you. The first option seems pretty much a given right now.”

“Green. North. Cedar. Map,” Spike shouted, slamming both stumps against the windshield.



If only Spike’s annoying head would part company with his neck, Angel could finally get some peace. Damn that soul. He climbed back into the car and unfurled the map, watching as Spike dragged the jagged end of his arm down the page slowly and carefully, coming to a stop at Cedar City.

“Okay. You win. Fuck you. I’ll drive some more.”

Silence, punctuated only by the screech of brakes and whine of an over strained engine, accompanied them all the way to Cedar City. Spike appeared to go back to sleep, oblivious to Angel’s frustration, and even snored softly after one particularly badly taken corner.

By the time they reached the city limits and the horizon was starting to lighten, Angel’s mood had progressed from incoherent rage to cold wordless fury. Detailed images of dismemberment and torture danced in front of eyes each time he thought about his passenger and the last thing he wanted was more crap.

“Yellow submarine,” Spike said, perking up and taking an interest in their surroundings for the first time since St. George. “Yellow rose of Texas, big yellow taxi, and it was all yellow.”

Hands tightening until the steering wheel creaked, Angel ground out, “I guess we’re looking for a hotel with yellow in the name.”

Spike smiled happily, his head nodding along to some kind of internal soundtrack. At each intersection, Angel slowed down, waiting for instructions in the form of waved stumps pointing left, right or straight on. More quickly than he’d imagined possible, and before the sky lost its deep midnight hue, they pulled up outside The Big Yellow Inn.

Just looking at the place made Angel’s fangs itch. That faux historical kitsch that summed up everything that was wrong with the US screamed out from every twee balcony and yellow painted shingle. Even Spike looked doubtful.

“All art is quite useless,” he said, peering up at the hotel.

“At last, something we can agree on,” muttered Angel, grabbing their bags from the back.

They made a run for the front door, which Angel was about to kick in when it magically opened in front of them, revealing an interior saccharine enough to induce a sugar coma.

“Christ, this is awful,” Angel said as he stalked inside.

“And that from the vamp with such an impressive sense of style.”

Angel swung round, his mouth dropping open at that familiar voice. Concealed in the shadows and looking a fraction of his usual size, was the last person he ever expected to see again.


“In the green and sober flesh,” the demon said, shuffling forwards into the light. “Turns out Utah’s not the throbbing hub in karaoke circles. Who’da thunk it.”

Spike poked his head round the open door, face splitting into a huge grin when he saw who was there. “The green man speaks life through the mouth,” he announced and was immediately gathered into a hug. Angel looked on, excluded as always, even as his body language screamed its need to connect.

“Jeez, what’s with the meat grinder chic?” Lorne asked, holding up Spike’s stumps so he could see them more clearly. “Just tell me the other guy’s missing a couple of legs.”

Only Lorne could be so overt in the face of misfortune, Angel reflected. Whereas he, the one who should be most at home with that body, could barely bring himself to look at the stumps, Lorne seemed fascinated and thus immediately put Spike at ease.

Spike shrugged and cast a quick pleading glance in Angel’s direction. Angel rode to the rescue. “It was Dana. He was trapped under the old factory where we cornered her.”

Lorne took a step back and cast a curious gaze up and down Spike’s emaciated body. “Bad trip, hey, Slim,” he said sadly. “But I’d hazard a guess you got well rewarded.” Abandoning his inspection, he pushed past the vampires and headed further into the house, saying, “But that’s for this evening’s entertainment. Right now I can offer bed, board and good thick curtains, all for the measly price of the house red.”

The vampires stared after him; Spike’s face as inscrutable as Angel’s was bemused. Still, bed and board was easily understood and neither of them was going to turn down an offer like that.

As the sun went down Angel woke to the sound of Spike singing, accompanied by Lorne on the piano. For a while he lay in the bed, luxuriating in a type of softness he hadn’t experienced in months, and listened. It was a simple tune, yearning and sad, and seemed to be explaining why they were travelling the way they were.

“I was her she was me
We were one we were free
And if there's somebody calling me on
She's the one.”

It gave Angel a sense of peace and he drifted off into a light doze, haunted by a face he could scarcely see and by words that took physical form in his dreams.

“When you get to where you wanna go
And you know the things you wanna know
You're smiling
When you said what you wanna say
And you know the way you wanna say it
You'll be so high you'll be flying.”

The next time he woke, the sun had been down for hours and the voices were lifted in laughter, drunken laughter if Angel was any judge. He showered and made his way down the stairs into the small sitting room to find Lorne and Spike sharing a bottle of bourbon between them.

Spike’s drink was in one of those cycling bottles so he could grip it with his arms, and a lit cigarette balanced in the ashtray next to him. After slurping the alcohol, he leaned down and grabbed the cigarette between his lips, taking a drag and letting it drop back. Lorne reached over and set it up again, never stopping with his tale of daring-do that had brought him to Utah.

It was a sobering sight and made Angel realise how lax he’d been in helping Spike come to terms with his handicap. The way Lorne dealt with it was so understated, so simple; he made it look like the most natural thing in the world.

“Evening stranger,” said Lorne. “We made a sortie out to the car and found some treats. Just the sort of thing to take m’laddo here’s mind off Nebraska.”

“About that,” Angel began, “I’ve been thinking and-”

“Well, isn’t this nice,” Lorne interjected, slapping his legs as he stood up and speaking over the top of Angel as though he hadn’t spoken. “Company, music and decent alcohol, not necessarily in that order.” Turning to Spike, who was frowning quizzically, he added, “Having said that, wasn’t a nice long soak on the agenda for you tonight? The taps here will be a doddle, even for you.”

Spike sniffed at himself and nodded, smiling happily when Lorne went on to mention the stock of clothes he’d scavenged from a down town mall. “A liar goes in fine clothes. A liar goes in rags. A liar is a liar, clothes or no clothes,” he said and followed Lorne out of the room.

Angel waited for them to leave and then investigated the kitchen, finding a cooler of fresh blood stood on top of the refrigerator. Either Lorne was expecting them, or he’d had a busy day.

Lorne reappeared a little later, wearing a different suit and Angel presumed he’d showered as well. They sat in the sitting room, both nursing drinks, and listened to the echo-y sound of Spike singing in the bath; lyrics, apparently, were close enough to quotes to make it easy.

The silence was far from comfortable. Lorne’s final words before the battle hanging between them, unspoken but an impenetrable wall nonetheless.

Angel caved first, clearing his throat and saying, “Y’know, you’re really good with him and we could easily fit you in the car.”

Lorne glanced over, his eyes surprising Angel with the intensity of emotion they held. “I meant what I said, Angel. ‘Don’t look for me.’ I’m not doing this for you, or for not-so-blondie up there. In fact, I was on my way to Broadway, set for a rerun of Oklahoma complete with backing singers, when the message came through. But when the powers speak, you don’t try running. Or, if you do, you’d better be ready for a bumpy trip back.”

“You knew we were coming,” Angel confirmed.

“I knew Spike was coming,” Lorne clarified. “And seeing you in tow was far from welcome, let me tell you. No offence.”

“None taken.”

“Good, because as it turns out you’re the one I need to speak to. Spike knows exactly what he’s doing.”

“Spike’s insane.”

“Well, yes, but there’s degrees of insanity and his is the kind that can turn on a dime given the right inspiration. Angel?” Lorne paused and waited for Angel to look at him, “You need to go to Nebraska. I know it doesn’t make any sense and I can’t help you with that, but, believe me, you’re on the right path. The mantle may have passed on, but Spike still needs you. He can’t do what he has to without help. So stop plotting behind his back and let him guide you. For once, listen with your heart.”

With that, Lorne put his empty glass on the table and stood up. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an opening curtain to catch and New York isn’t getting any closer.” Picking up a carpet bag from by the door, he called a goodbye up the stairs and disappeared into the night.

Spike was upset at not getting to say his goodbyes to Lorne. At least that’s what Angel thought was the matter. He tuned out the majority of Spike’s ramblings now; the sick vampire becoming harder for him to understand as the days wore on. It was easy for Lorne; he spent a couple of hours in their company playing Florence Nightingale and Mother Theresa all rolled into one and then fucked off to…

Broadway? Opening curtain? Oklahoma? No way, not in the middle of an apocalypse. Lorne was just trying to shimmy his way out of dealing with yet another crisis.

Angel paced up and down the reception area which was the least floral of all the rooms in Big Yellow Hell, having discovered that excess chintz interrupted his thought process and made him want to vomit. He’d spent the last two hours trying to get through to Italy from the phone at the unoccupied reception desk and all he ever got was the same old ‘please call again’ message. In desperation he tried calling other numbers, any numbers, even some that were scribbled on the pad in front of him but nothing. Nothing.

Goddamn, why did Lorne have to be here to tell him that Spike was good and Spike was kind and Spike was right even though he was completely mental? Why did Lorne have to be here to point out his failings?

Heating some blood in a saucepan, Angel poured some into Spike’s sports bottle and the rest into a mug for him. Tonight and the remainder of their stay in Cedar City was about mending fences, well, constructing them from scratch really. He carried dinner through into the lounge room and put Spike’s bottle on the table within reach. Spike stared at the blank screen of the TV.

“You mad at me?” asked Angel sipping at his blood. “Because you’ve every right to be.”

Spike shrugged and went to pick up his dinner. He moved too fast and the bottle tipped, spraying an arc of blood down the chair and onto his clean clothes.

“Fucking shitting buggering ballsing-” he cursed leaping to his feet.

“It’s okay,” Angel said, grabbing the still leaking bottle. “I’ve got it.” He automatically offered it for Spike to take, only to grab it away in embarrassment just as Spike reached for it. “Shit,” he said and held it out again.

Spike stared at him, then at the bottle as though expecting it to be taken away a second time.

“Go on,” urged Angel, “take it.”

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me,” Spike said, reaching out hesitantly.

His stump brushed against Angel’s hand and Angel cringed before he could stop himself. It’s not my fault, he argued silently when Spike flinched, took the bottle and turned away. “I’m not used to it.”

“I met your father last week,” mumbled Spike, “old hands soil whatever they caress.”

“Okay, I didn’t actually mean to say that aloud, and will you stop mixing your quotations. Satre and Gide do not belong in the same sentence.” It was all getting away from him again. Angel sank onto the couch and rested his face in his hands. “I don’t know what to do with you, Will. You’ve never been hurt like this. Hell, no one I know has ever been hurt like this. Everything I do or say makes it worse.”

Something brushed across his hair and came to rest on his shoulder. Even knowing it was probably the stump of an arm with a jagged tip of bone protruding through, Angel leant into the touch. It felt good. They didn’t touch anymore. Apart from the knock down and drag fight they’d had in the old opera house, they’d shunned physical contact as though it burned them both. There were too many memories.

“My God, my Father, and my Friend, Do not forsake me at mine end,” Spike said quietly and the words felt like a stake in Angel’s heart. So many he’d forsaken, so many soldiers down. From Doyle to Gunn, Cordy to Fred, and still no end in sight. He’d even abandoned Connor; had never gone back for him or checked that he was okay.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered not certain who he was apologising to. He owed the world more sorries than he had within him to give.

The cushion next to him shifted and a moment later Spike said, “It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution.”

Angel snorted sceptically.

“Every night I save you,” Spike added, his words hardly audible in the silent room. “Can’t say, ‘sorry’. Can’t use, ‘forgive me’. All I can say is, I’ve changed.”

Yeah, they had, both of them. Beyond recognition. And the changes beneath added up to so much more than superficial things like severed arms and broken legs. Sensing a sea change within himself, Angel closed his eyes and relaxed, allowing Spike to hold him while he grieved for his friends.

Angel awoke to the oddly familiar sensation of Spike’s face mashed into his neck and a hard cock grinding against his thigh. He blinked up at the ceiling, momentarily disorientated by the lack of women in bed with them.

Somewhere in the house, a boiler kicked on with whoosh and gurgle.

Oh, yeah. Apocalypse.

“Things were looking very grim but they’re looking good again, swallow my pride,” mumbled Spike, his hips faltering as he rose from sleep to awareness.

Rather than answer, Angel rolled them over, settling his weight so that their bodies touched from top to toe. His own erection, hot and urgent, pressed against the solid muscle of Spike’s belly and he smirked down at blue eyes full of ill concealed lust. “Feeling a bit frisky are we, Will?” he said. “That must be getting a mite annoying, what with you not being able to deal with it.”

The shutters came down over Spike’s emotions and he turned his face away, body going lax and quiescent under Angel’s.

Angel tutted and tugged his chin back round. “’S lucky I’m here, really.” He shifted slightly, gasping as their cocks nudged together. “Oh, yeah,” he groaned. “I remember luck like this. Lasted for hours if I remember rightly.”

“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last-”

“Shut up, Spike.”

The kiss was as powerful and bloody as the ones they’d shared all those years ago. Now life had stripped them back to basics it seemed only natural to fall into the old ways and as he unfastened the buttons of Spike’s blood spattered jeans Angel felt inexplicably happy. Unfettered by underwear his hand was immediately full of cock and he allowed himself to enjoy the feel of it thick and cool against his fingers until the brooding began all over again. It was a hard habit to break.

“Spike, I…” he began but was interrupted in mid flow.

“Silence and darkness were all I craved.”

Smiling blue eyes looked up at him and, when Spike reached for another kiss, Angel knew that Lorne was right. Shifting slightly, Angel released his own cock from the restriction of his clothing and hissed as it sprang to full erection slapping taut against his belly. From then on it was easy -- the way it always had been -- easier still without other bed partners egging them on and giving them instructions. Raising his hips Angel teased Spike, grazing the head of his cock over the slippery hardness beneath him then writhing and bucking just enough to send Spike into a state of frenzy.

“How bad do you need this, Will?”

“Pleasure is necessarily reciprocal,” rasped Spike, his voice husky with sex, “No one feels it who does not at the same time give it. To be pleased, one must please. What pleases you...”

Talk about getting your own back. Never mind Chinese water torture, Spike was the master of English literature torture. Angel interrupted the flow of words, canting his hips then dipping and grinding and adding to the pleasure with a slight shimmy. Spike’s quotation evolved into a moan which Angel then silenced with a mouthful of tongue.

When Spike’s arms wrapped around him, Angel felt no hint of revulsion, just a sense of security that had been missing for years. As he felt the slight shudder and flood of wetness on his belly, he held Spike tighter and brought himself off against wet skin, nuzzling into the pale column of neck and praying that the world really wasn’t over.