Also Comes in Strange
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Title: Pinch Me
Author: Tania
Rating: R
Pairing: Angel/Spike
Summary: Post-Not Fade Away, A Shanshu tale, of sorts.
Thanks to sangpassionne and lady_alatariel_ for the betas. You guys rock!


Room #217, Flagstaff, Arizona

There's a harsh bitterness in his eyes, much like the air here. Cold, no wavering of focus, straight ahead, gale-force wind. Spike rushes past him, elbows connecting with ribs just hard enough for Angel to know it's intentional. Their bags are dropped at the foot of the bed, a suitcase popping open scattering clothes onto the worn brown carpet. The drab room's left empty as Spike races towards the bathroom. Within seconds the sound of the shower fills the room, reverberating off thinly papered walls. Steam begins curling the edges of dulled wallpaper in an instant; the smell of moistened glue mixing with years of roadside motel ambiance.

The warmth smacks Angel in the face just as Gunn's battle-heated blood had a day earlier. He can still feel it there. Even though he has done his best to scald it off with hot water every time they have stopped, there's no cleaning the stain. Tears fill Angel's eyes, the act of blinking only making the sting worse as the saline mixes with dirt and soot, leaving blackened smears across his forearm as he tries to wipe the droplets away.

He picks up the clothes from the floor, tries to stay silent, focus on their next move. He manages to remain stoic for almost a full minute before collapsing to the carpet, holding Spike's tee-shirts to his face in a futile attempt to muffle the sound of his life shattering around him.

"Stop it!" Spike yells from the other room.

Angel tries harder, pinches at his arm as distraction, stares as a welt rises. It's not enough. Hasn't been enough since they burned Wesley's body, taking the estate he died in and half the grounds with it. Not since Illyria slipped into the shadows declaring the battle lost. Not since Connor ran from the ruins of Wolfram and Hart, clutching his side, barely able to lift a sword. Not since…

Spike runs from the bathroom, his foot connecting with Angel's ribs as he bellows for Angel to shut up, stop, let go. Angel isn't sure why the need to attack is so strong, but as Spike connects fist after fist with his stomach, Angel's tears stop, even if the heaving in his shoulders doesn't. Spike refuses to hold him, to give comfort. "I won't pick up the pieces," he yells into Angel's face before going back to the bathroom, adding the sound of the sink's faucet to the din.

"I'm sorry," Angel says, pushing up from the floor, slowly climbing the bed. Balance is a hard thing to find as he makes his way to the locked bathroom door. The torrents of water from inside and howling of wind and rain beating against the single paned windows aren't enough to block out Spike's mumbled curses. "Spike, please."

"Fuck off."

"Spike…" Angel let's the word hang, mouth open, silently begging his mind to find something to say.

The lock turns, door creaking open just enough for Angel to feel the hot air brush his cheek in mock comfort, ghostly fingers caressing as Spike's words dig in like nails, "Call me William. Never call me Spike again. Ever."

The slamming door nearly takes Angel's fingers off as he tries to reach out, tries to block the words before they hit his ears. Drawing them back to his sides for a moment's pause, it's all he can do to keep from covering his ears as the thump thump thumping echoes through his body. It would be no use. He could drive for miles and the sound of Spike's heart beating would still pound louder than any distraction he could muster.



Room #217, Russell, Kansas

The smell of blood mingled with vinaigrette and chamomile tea sickens him. There's a distinct smell of tomato coming from the table and in between memories of Cordelia picking through her salads and watching Connor's first taste of the fruit, Angel feels painfully alone.

Angel stares across the room, wet eyes begging Spike to talk to him. He goes through the motions of putting folded clothes into the drawers, talking to himself, recalling battles too vivid in both their minds. He waits for Spike to tell him to stop, remind him that he was there and doesn't need a recap, show him the wounds that heal too slowly and never seem to fade.

Spike just keeps eating, slow bites, chewed too many times. Every third bite followed with a sip of water, and then warm tea, just like doctors recommend for healthy digestion. When the last bite is gone he throws the Styrofoam container into the trash, watching as the remaining dressing coats blood splattered clothes and disposable rags.

Like clockwork he falls to his knees, pushing up from the carpet a few dozen times before throwing his ankles onto the bed and pulling his chest up in rapid crunches, hot breath exhaling over his legs each time he rises.

Angel watches from the corner, fascinated and appalled by his companion. He still calls him Spike in his mind, dreams of their decades together, remembering a hundred instances of them bleeding at each other's sides. In none of his dreams does Spike brush his teeth before bed, or have to shower to wash the sweat from his skin. Never does Spike cry out as soap finds its way into gashes. Never does Spike insist on separate beds.

Angel abandons his makeshift housecleaning, stares into the seascape on the wall and lifts his shirt up just enough to trace fingers over open wounds. Rubbing fresh blood between his fingers, he signs his name on the dresser top. Tears wash away the letters in the middle as his gaze locks with the word. He sees nothing but lost hope in his name. To him it looks like death on an ancient scroll, goodbye scratched in Niazian with a dozen witnesses.

No guarantees in life, death, or the in-between. He couldn't have known it would be so sudden. How could he have known the opening volley would count for so much? When the clouds have parted and the world remains the hero shall be forgiven. Wasn't that the way it was supposed to be? Angel tries to picture notebooks written in Wesley's perfectly legible hand, clues upon clues of what it all meant, but the words are gone. He can't wrap his mind around it without seeing empty halls and charred baby blankets, pentagrams on the stonework.

He whispers an apology in Spike's direction but his only reply is the sound of gentle snoring; soft rustles of air that belie the rapid movement of Spike's eyes, tears pooling in the corners even as he sleeps. The morning will be spent watching Spike scrape crystallized nightmares from his eyes. Angel wants to run away, wants to leave. The only recourse he has is to put the keys to their car under Spike's pillow. He reaches out to touch Spike's hair, dying to feel its softness. Spike's hand darts from under the blanket, latching onto Angel's wrist. The pinch is brief, just long enough for his point to be made. Spike's fingers pulse, thump thump thumping making Angel back away, his legs hitting a wooden chair, forcing him to sit, hands covering his forehead as his shoulders begin to shake again.



Room #217, Monroe, Louisiana

Spike hasn't touched him in weeks. Angel tries to remember what it was like not caring if he was touched or not. Had he ever really reached that point? He thinks he had. It's so easy to take simple brushes with life for granted; Harmony handing him coffee, Wesley passing a book, Cordelia's random hugs, Connor's tiny hand wrapped around his finger in a powerful squeeze, Nina's kiss.

There's nothing now.

They fight back to back, side by side, flanking positions. Every night together, but Spike is careful to never touch, not even to graze against his arm as they pivot around each other in a deadly dance. He tosses swords through the air, towels from the laundry. Always thrown, never handed.

Angel imagines slicing a dagger down Spike's back as he sleeps, just where he can't bandage it himself. He pictures his hands covered in blood, fumbling with butterfly bandages and peroxide, arms flailing behind him trying to reach the wound. Finally calling out for Angel's help. Angel cries in his sleep. Vampires are monsters, he reminds himself, waking to the darkened room. Such thoughts are only natural after spending night and day with a human.

Abandoning the mockery of sleep he sits on the edge of the bed and polishes the few swords they have managed to keep intact. As he runs cloth over blade, disgusting images of forcing himself on Spike dance through his mind. He blinks away tableaus of his companion pinned on the floor, mattress, against the hood of the car, unable to break away. Angel runs his thumb down the side of the blade, cutting into the fleshy tip. He watches mesmerized as blood trickles down his wrist. After a moment's pause he pinches the sides of the cut closed, licking it clean with a swipe of his tongue. He stares as the sides fuse together just enough to trap the flow beneath his skin. A shimmer of purple shows itself gathering below the surface, ready to burst open at the slightest touch.

Angel feels like his entire body has manifested itself in that small cut. One touch and he would burst. He begs for that relief.

Spike thrashes in the second bed. Angel wonders if he is able to sense the need for desperate action that burns within Angel's chest. Hopes he can't.

"William," Angel breathes the word, soothing like a father should be. He tries to remember what it felt like to protect before he'd ever heard the word 'Shanshu'. Did he ever live selflessly? Would he know the feeling if he had it? "It's going to be okay, William."

Spike groans, crushes his arms around extra pillows, whispering unintelligible words. His heartbeat slows almost imperceptibly. Thump thump.

It's enough, Angel thinks. At least Spike remembers to exhale after the nightmares make his breath catch. It's enough for now.



Room #217, Lexington, Kentucky

There's an arrow in Angel's leg, another broken off just below his ribs, shaft barely peeking out from the hole in his shirt.

"That was bloody stupid," Spike sneers at him as he tosses their weapons onto the table.

He's only gone from the room for a second, but it's too long. Angel bites back the pain as he breaks the feathered end from the arrow in his leg and pulls it out the other side. The sudden rush of blood makes him dizzy, forces him to lie back on the bed, vain attempt to compose himself before Spike is back at his side.

"Couldn't have waited two minutes for a towel?" Spike says, his anger barely contained as he tries to wrap gauze around the wounds.

"Sorry, Sp…" His words are cut off when Spike yanks at either end of the bandage, catching skin in the knot. A warning.

Spike is all business as he tears the shirt from Angel's back, sizing up the other arrow. "Too short to push through."

"I know," Angel says, trying to grip the blood-covered bolt, wincing as he twists his arm behind him.

"Move your hand," Spike orders. Grasping the bolt with a towel, he tests for traction. "Hold still," he says quietly before placing his hand across Angel's rib cage, pushing forward as he pinches flesh between the sides of his clenching fingers.

Angel can hear Spike's breath being sucked in between his teeth as he readies himself. His body is pressed forward again, a gentle rocking as Spike counts silently; one, two, three sways. On the return of the third push the bolt yanks backwards, a sickening sound emerging from his side as the point scrapes bone, suction releasing as the thin shaft retraces its entrance.

Falling back to the mattress as the bolt gives way; Spike instantly rolls to the side of the bed, pulling the small wastebasket to his chin as he begins retching. Thump thump thumping buried beneath sloshing indignity.

Angel has nothing left to say, he can barely mutter a thank you before escaping to the solitude of the bathroom. He practically throws himself into the shower, turning the water on as he crouches in the cold porcelain tub. Staring at the ceiling, Angel wonders if he'll find god in the mildew covered texturing. "How could this be his reward?" he asks the invisible deity as more gagging sounds reach his ears and the non-slip flowers turn from pale yellow to crimson.



Room #217, Sunbury, Pennsylvania

An almost peaceful slumber is the greatest gift. Angel watches intently, waiting for the thrashing to return, but two nights go by and Spike only wakes once to use the restroom in a sort of sleepwalking haze. They've managed to avoid major fights in the last two states. He thinks maybe the horde is boring of the chase, doesn't expect it to last, but is thankful for the respite.

The sun rises and shines through the vinyl covered curtains in thin streams. As yellow light dances over Spike's face, Angel tears up for the first time in days. He tries to forget that he could feel that warmth safely only a few short months ago. Pushing back the urge to stand in the sunlight until the mark of the Black Thorn is scorched from his chest, he pulls the blankets over his head, shuts his eyes until all he sees is a shield of red and black. Blood and death, the only things he knows anymore.

"Gonna get breakfast," Spike says from the other bed. He hasn't sat up yet, struggles to move his body, still unused to waiting for blood to return to sleeping limbs and heavy eyelids. "You need anything?"

The question comes as a surprise. It's the first time he's asked Angel a question in weeks and the words take him aback. Angel pulls the blankets away from his face just enough to see Spike roll from the bed. Spike slides his hand over the curtains as he stands, smiling at the small shock from the friction of skin on vinyl. The action jolts him with a small arch of blue, pleasant in its pain. Angel stares, wishing he could feel that electricity in Spike's touch.

"Anything?" Spike asks again.

All Angel can do is nod. Spike knows the only thing he needs, so Angel doesn't bother voicing it.

Watching Spike dress, grab his keys, wallet, Angel is painfully aware of the fact that Spike is leaving. He suddenly remembers every story he's ever read about men going out for milk and cigarettes and never coming back. He envisions himself stuck in a motel room until nightfall, alone with his ghosts and demons. His knuckles turn white as he grips the sheets.

"Relax," Spike says, running a hand over Angel's arm, taking just a second to pinch at the flexed muscles, "Be right back."

When Spike releases him, Angel finds himself desperate for the touch to return. "Wait," he calls after him, just as Spike reaches out for the doorknob.

Spike rests his head on the door, slowly taking in a breath before turning to face Angel. Eye contact is so rare between them now that when Angel looks at him through fear-filled eyes the thump thump thumping pounds faster.

"Are we just going to…"Angel searches for the right words. "I just don't want to keep doing this."

"What?" Spike asks, more harshness to his words than he means to add.

"Acting like nothing happened, never talking. We used to talk all the time."

"Nothing to say." He opens the door, careful to not let the light reach Angel's bed, "I want to go out while it's still warm."

He leaves Angel on his own, and the blanket suddenly feels like it's made of ice. The last bit of warmth walks out with Spike.



Room #217, Newburgh, New York

The days are longer now and Angel spends them alone. Spike wanders the streets, only coming back when the nights turn cold. Angel thinks the word is 'mothering'. He brings Angel food, fresher than he's used to. Tells him to be careful when he goes out, and then curls up in front of the television with a drink. He never looks up when Angel leaves.

They go days between words and Angel curses himself for ever calling after Spike, for not waiting until Spike was ready to talk. He worries that he's blown his last chance to get it right.

"I didn't want it," Spike says, coming in from the night, a thick coat wrapped around his shoulders.

Angel sits up in his chair saying nothing as he waits for Spike to go on.

"You were right when you said I just wanted to take something from you. It was…petty."

"I took enough from you over the years," Angel says, truth standing between them like a mountain.

"I felt it when Illyria left, my heart beating," he stares at the walls, "I went to reach for Charlie, and there it was, loud as a bomb."

Angel stands, unsure what Spike needs, but willing to wait for his cue.

"I would have died there if you hadn't grabbed me. I think I was ready." Spike looks to the carpet, toeing the ground, only looking at Angel when he offers no response. "The soul doesn't know anything about pain. You think it does because it has memories, but it's all a lie. Until your body remembers what it's like to touch fire and live with the burn, you just don't know."

"I'm sorry," Angel whispers. "I don't know how to make it better."

"Same way you always did," Spike laughs. "Blood."

"I won't," Angel says, getting Spike's meaning.

"No, don't suppose you could."

Memories of Darla begging him to turn her play out in Angel's mind in Technicolor. He won't let Spike get to that same place, dragging demon bars for the filth that floats to the top. He vows to keep him safe; safe as can be expected in the middle of an apocalypse.

"It's not what you want," Angel tries to reassure, to reclaim his place as protector.

"You're right," Spike bites his lower lip. "I never wanted it."

"Maybe you should try to leave while it's quiet," Angel says, voice in his head begging Spike to stay.

"Nowhere to go."

"Rumor has it Europe's still there," Angel says, smiling when Spike gets the reference.

"Imagine it is."

"Maybe we just need to sleep on it." He tries to keep his voice steady, not letting implication slip in.

"Maybe," Spike answers. He turns the light out at the switch, undressing in the dark.

Angel watches, eyes adjusting to the darkness, taking in bruises made darker by the night. He climbs into bed, ignoring the thump thump thumping that grows ever faster as each layer of clothing hits the floor. Angel shuts his eyes, trying to focus on the ambient sounds from the city street and not the rustling of fingers pulling back the stiff blankets, exposing his body to the chill of the room.

For now he's content with the radiant heat that comes in waves from the other side of the bed. Angel shifts onto his side, careful to keep his limbs from tangling with Spike's. He moves slowly, avoids rocking, doesn't make a sound, lets the blanket fall loose to the mattress between them.

"Prat," Spike whispers, reaching over to pinch Angel's hip before moving just close enough that Angel can feel the soft down of Spike's thighs tickle the backs of his legs.



Room #217, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

The room is a single. The first they've had since fate decided to have its way with them. It's as much a matter of finances as personal space at this point. Spike jokes about taking a job in a library or magic shop, putting his history to work for him. Angel laughs, but the sound is bitter.

He still isn't allowed to call him Spike. He is William, sometimes Will, once Angel called him 'idiot'. The moment after was long, like learning to laugh all over again. Angel is sure that babies laugh before they speak. It's only with time that people lose that ability. He wants it back.

There's a mood in the air, darkness is coming over them just as they are remembering what the light looked like. It starts with a few vampires in a quiet town, sun loving demons in places known for their skiing. The horde is close again.

"Don't go out alone," Angel says, turning at the sound of the lock turning. "Please," he adds a little softer.

"Just need a drink."

"Another hour and I can go with you, safer that way." Angel doesn't want it to sound like an order. He's not the boss here, maybe he never was, just a puppet with a motor pool. "Maybe we should stay in real hotels, they have room service."

Spike stares back at him, hand still on the door. "Fine then, another hour."

Angel watches as Spike pushes away from the door, looking through the space between curtain and window frame, watching the vast orange sky fade to black. He wants to let Spike see the sunset from the edge of town, wants him to see it rise every morning for the rest of his days. Angel does math in his head, less than twenty thousand sunrises left before he dies. Shuffling around the room, hands pinching at sore muscles and bandaged arms, Angel moves from chair to chair in restless moments. He redoes his math, adding himself to the equation this time. A few hundred sunrises if they're lucky.

"Let's pack," Spike says to Angel, maybe seeing that he needs a task, maybe just determined to keep moving, Angel doesn't know.

"What's the hurry?"

The laughter between them is genuine. Their time is up, the battle is coming again and all thoughts turn to their few remaining friends scattered throughout the world. Oblivious to anyone's fate but their own, they pack their few belongings, lay knives and stakes out on the tables, ready to stuff into holsters and pockets as they walk out the door.

The skyline is almost dark by the time they finish, Angel stands at the table running his fingers over the various blades, gauging which to take.

"I won't let you die," he blurts, dropping the blades from his hands with a loud clang.

"Okay," Spike says slowly.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean for it to come out like that." Angel moves across the room, punctuated steps as he gets closer to Spike. "I just don't want to have to fight them alone."

"You won't," Spike says, "Not like you haven't fought with humans before."

"It's selfish."

"It's natural."

The tears well in Angel's eyes before Spike can finish the words. He can't stop himself, almost leaps for Spike, hands in soft hair, lips to his cheek, kissing away streams of tears that match his own. Spike tastes like Buffy the morning before her prom, Cordelia in dreams that cost a man his soul, Gunn's blood on his lips, remnants of Fred on Wesley's hands. He is pain personified, and yet Angel can't break away to let him breath until fingers pinch at his arms, forcing him to relax just long enough for hot air to fill the small space between them.

Spike burns him, each gripping finger leaving behind a bar of red skin, enflamed at his touch. Angel forgets about the setting sun and the memories it takes with it. There's nothing left here but kisses that taste like a lifetime's worth of tears and yet, underneath it all, William, human, stolen salvation.



Room #217, Rockford, Illinois

Their routine is open to little variation. There is patrolling, looking at atlases, planning their next move. The occasional phone call to see if those strong enough to ignore the truth of demons are still well, safe in their denial. There are so few moments when they are not being hunted; it leaves little time to make decisions based on anything but instinct and desperation.

The drives are quieter in winter. Spike doesn't ignore him completely, but he doesn't bring their kiss up either. Angel thinks of it constantly, can hardly drive because he can't keep his eyes from Spike's lips. He wants to taste him again, to remember what it was like to love a human without obsession. No, love is the wrong word, their connection is deeper, maybe it is obsession. Angel stops worrying about semantics. He focuses on the radio, the static coming through in pulses that beat in time with the thump thump thumping until he can't hear anything else.

Spike pinches Angel's thigh, forcing him to break out of the trance long enough to flinch towards the door, small laugh at his moment in absentia. Yawns fill the air and a few growls from hungry stomachs add their voices to the soundtrack.

He thinks Spike almost asks for two beds when they request a room. Angel wonders if he's being humored, Spike who was born naked and swore for a century that he'd die that way wears boxers to bed. Thin cotton playing the part of pirate flag, warning Angel to stay back or risk life and limb. Angel gets the message, sleeps with an arm over the side.

"I thought you'd be up earlier," Angel says as he steps out of the shower and nearly trips over Spike.

"After last night figured I'd better be rested," Spike dries his face with a towel before handing it to Angel, "Haven't seen that many at once for a while."

"Yeah, wasn't easy." He grabs a corner of the towel in each hand and rubs it over his back, biting his lip as the terrycloth catches on unhealed wounds. Shaking his head until droplets of water splash the mirror, a few landing on Spike's shirt, leaving dark gray spots in their wake.

It's hard for Angel not to turn away as Spike watches him finish toweling off. He feels eyes on him every second, reminds himself that he's been subjected to worse. Angel pictures walls lined with porcelain dolls, some gagged, others blindfolded, glass eyes in a dozen colors watching his every move. Sometimes silence helps, other times chatter is the only thing that saves him from feeling the insanity he knows how to build so well.

Taking the mug he is handed, Angel sloshes red liquid over the sides, drinking too fast to taste anything. He turns his back to Spike and has his glass rinsed and in the sink in under a minute.

"Good?" Spike asks, taking a sip of his own drink, carbonation fizzing on his tongue as he speaks.

"It's food," Angel responds, hunger pains sated for the time being.

He drops several stakes into his coat pockets, handing one to Spike on his way out the door. The thump thump thumping follows him into the night.



Room #217, Valentine, Nebraska

"It wasn't the worst thing that could have happened," Spike says, wrapping a bandage around the fingers of his left hand.

"You'll never play a guitar again." Angel sits next to Spike at the small laminate table, helping tape the top of the gauze.

"Probably shouldn't have tried in the first place."

"You have to listen when I tell you to move," Angel traces over the crushed fingers, unable to let go.

"You whisper, can't hear you in the middle of a fight anymore." Spike pulls his hand away, giving Angel the other to worry over.

"I forget," Angel says quietly.

"You didn't hear me when I told you to take the one on the left."

"I got confused, I saw him coming for you, I think I panicked. I panicked, I know I did." Angel lets go, puts his hands on his thighs, pinching at the material of his jeans. He watches the cloth rise and fall, catches the rhythm of thump thump thumping and slips into time with it. "It was easier with three people fighting."

"Illyria might still be in LA," Spike ventures, "Maybe we should head that way."

"Nothing left there," Angel whispers, putting thoughts of offspring and scattered ashes to the back of his mind.

"Might be something," Spike presses. "We could help pick up the pieces."

Angel raises his head to meet Spike's eyes, "They'll never take us back, we gave it away."

"Angel," Spike runs his hand over Angel's wrist, "You gave it away, that means it had to have been yours."

"The city?"

"All of it," Spike says, thump thump thumping pounding faster in the air. "Let's just go, we'll see what's left. Maybe we'll just take it back."



Room #217, Kemmerer, Wyoming

"Changes fast doesn't it?"

"Huh?" Angel asks, peeking his head around the bathroom door to stare at Spike's wet body standing in front of the mirror.

"Time was this would have healed already."

Coming around the door, Angel stands next to Spike, taking the wet cloth from his hands and wiping the thin trail of blood running down Spike's back. He watches the blood drip from the rag and onto the white tile floor, mixing with the water until it's thin like watercolors. "You'll get used to it," Angel says in a voice that wavers between certainty and a choked sob.

"Will I then?" Spike closes his eyes as unseen hands move the cloth over his shoulders, gently wiping at the numerous scrapes and gashes that cross his skin. Angel kisses his neck as Spike sighs at the pain. Supposes the adage is true; he should be glad to have it. The pain means he's alive. Truly alive.

"Yeah, sure you will," Angel says as he rinses the cloth under the faucet, watching the steaming water swirl in a pink haze down the drain. "Someday when you're old, and I'm still beautiful, and you're cursing my name, you'll be so Alzheimer ridden you won't even remember that you were anything but human." Angel smiles, but when Spike turns from the mirror and looks into his eyes; they're brimming with held back tears.

"It's okay," Spike says, leaning a wet head against Angel's shoulder and holding him as tight as he can.

Angel wants Spike to crush him, show that he's still just as strong, but it's nothing but a memory now. He could lift weights the rest of his life and this body would never be as powerful as it had been in the first hours of his turning, let alone after a century of honing that vampiric strength.

"We're gonna be fine, Angel. Promise, you and me...this is nothing, little scrape. I'll know better next time."

"Right," Angel says softly, letting Spike release him.

"Come on, let's get dressed and see if we can't find a reason for you to save me. That'd make you feel better wouldn't it? Get to play the strapping hero, save the um, bloke in distress."

Angel almost smiles, not quite, but at least he's able to keep the tears from his eyes and hand Spike a dry towel. It's enough for now.

"I think I'd rather stay in."

"Good enough, we'll watch the news, get a game plan."

"No, I've had enough of that for one day too."

Running the towel through his hair until each soft brown curl clings to his face giving him the look of an Adonis, Spike presses on Angel's chest until he backs out of the cramped bathroom. "You worry too much."

"Not really," Angel argues.

"Yeah really. Not much to be worried about anymore the way I see it. There's you, and you're fine, quite fine in fact. There's me, I'm fine, in fact I think that with this striking tan," Spike walks across the room, giving a model peek over his shoulder before turning and walking back, "I think I look like that Calvin Kline model that married his mom."

Angel laughs, the sound still foreign to his ears, and sits on the edge of the bed, waiting for more of Spike's performance-slash-pep talk.

"The Slayers are fine, as a people I mean, out there going strong, saving orphans and uh, people who aren't orphans. We haven't seen any lawyers gone bad in almost a year, and everyone we love is dead."

"I thought you were trying to cheer me up?"

"I am." Spike says, pushing Angel back onto the bed as he crawls up and straddles his waist. "You have, let's say, fifty years left to dote on me alone. No one else to divide your attention between, just me to look out for."

"I'm failing to see the bad here, continue."

Spike helps pull Angel's tee-shirt over his head tossing it to the floor. "So see, fifty years of just this," Spike leans down to kiss Angel, but is thwarted when he turns his head.

"Please stop saying that," Angel whispers.

"What?" Spike asks, sitting back up.

"Fifty years, it's...not long enough."

"More than most get." Turning Angel's head back with a soft hand, Spike kisses him, warm and gentle on Angel's mouth. "We've already had more than most, we can't be greedy."

"But none of it counted before," Angel says through another kiss. "We're just getting started, and you're already bleeding."

"I've been bleeding since the day I met you, I don't think you've heard me complaining much."

"That was different."

"Now you're getting my point aren't you? Everything is different now."



Room #217, Los Angeles, California

Angel grabs at Spike's hips, the warm touch still confusing his hands, feeling so unfamiliar to his skin. It isn't just the tan and the hair, the smell is different now, so much less tang to him. Spike almost smells sweet, softer and it forces Angel to be gentler too. Gentler in every touch, more cradling and rubbing his hands over tired muscles, waiting for Spike to catch his breath between bouts of fighting, running, everything.

As their bodies connect the thump thump thumping guides Angel's every move. He tries to remember what slow lovemaking feels like. Dozens of invisible lovers kiss at his neck as he closes his eyes, each one whispering secrets as Spike's hands roam over his chest. He tries to lose himself to the moment, revel in the kneading pinch at his sides, Spike's breath on his throat. It's only then that he realizes what he's missed for all these weeks, months, miles.

The threat is gone.

The mouth at his throat wants nothing but this moment. No fangs here, no golden eyes or fingernails burrowing into his skin. There is nothing but softness and clenching thighs, urging him on until the tears return. Spike is gone, lost to the past. It is William he sees now, his long lost human counterpart, the antithesis of everything Angel has been for two centuries, and yet here he is. Wrapped around his body like bliss, long thank you whispering over his lips as they kiss.

It's a moment Angel has so long feared he almost doesn't recognize it when it comes; perfect happiness blanketed in relieved sobs, two bodies so desperate in their need that consequences mean nothing. They are crushed together so tight their souls couldn't escape their embrace if they tried. But they don't try. There is no burning in his chest, no faces of the dead haunting what should be a moment of joy.

Angel pulls at Spike's shoulders, beckons him closer with words and strong hands, pressing himself within the heat he has been so scared to touch for fear of igniting. There is no such thing as deep enough for kiss or cock, he yearns to be one with Spike, feel that heartbeat close to his chest, feel breath on his lips, internal combustion enough to match the sun's rays. Spike rises and falls above him, fingers leaving bruises as he whispers "It's real, Angel."

The voices at his side disappear one by one until only Spike's remains. His every syllable encouraging Angel to let go, kiss him, stroke, hold, take more. The room echoes with nothing but the thump thump thumping. Angel responds in ways he had forgotten existed. He marvels at the way Spike holds his breath when Angel finally lets go. The ecstasy is meant to be Angel's but Spike is the one riding him, waiting for the wave to come back to earth and crash against their bodies. Angel sucks the air from his lungs, runs his tongue over pulse points, desperately trying to swallow the life that beats through his lover's body. Grasping at sweat covered arms, Angel traces over contracting muscles, rolling them over and over, embracing Spike until he thinks he can almost feel the spark within him.

They make love until night becomes day. Angel thanks him as they join again and again. Day turns to night again and just before sun up Spike reluctanly pulls himself away.

"Come on," he beckons, handing Angel a clean set of clothes and setting his shoes before him.

Angel follows his orders, dressing quickly as Spike reminds him they can't be late. When Angel's ready, Spike takes his hand and pulls him through the room. They rush past suitcases full of clothes, grocery sacks filled with tomato soup and canisters of tea, empty vegetable juice bottles lining the counters, weapons polished to a high shine, showing no evidence of the battles they have fought and won. Spike opens the door to the early morning air, dragging Angel behind him.

They hurry through the parking lot, up a hill covered with dew, resting only when they reach the top. Spike holds Angel's hand, pulse racing across his palm. As the sky lightens Angel tries to pull away.

"Spike, please, it isn't funny." He pulls again, begging, "Spike…William, please."

There's a moment of panic, Angel pushes against Spike's arms, trying to break free as the clouds take on golden edges.

"Angel," Spike says softly, "You were willing to give away everything, sign away the only hope they'd ever offered you."

More pulling, elbows to ribcage, fingers gripping bones until they are near to breaking.

"How could they have known who the Shanshu was meant for if there was never a name on the scroll?"

"It's not mine," Angel cries, trying to make the change come, desperate to break Spike's hold, slow realization that his struggle is in vain, he's no stronger than the man before him. "Your heart beats, I've heard it," he says, tinge of madness in the words.

"Angel, look at me," hands on cheeks, touch wetted by tears, "No one deserves to die alone, not even us. They've given us fifty years to get it right, give or take."

The pushing stops. Thump thump thumping growing stronger in the air. Angel hears the sound he's been unable to escape since a rainy night in May when the world tried to die. Thump. Thump.

"Never wanted it to be me alone. Never wanted to watch all your mates fall around me, if that was all the powers brought me back for you should have let me die then and there." Spike squeezes his hand again. "They brought me back to keep you fighting…just like you were ready to do."

"I wasn't." The sky is lighter, warms Angel's skin just enough to make itself felt, "I didn't want to let you go. Had to keep you safe."

"And you did," Spike smiles, eyes tinted with refracted gold, giving them a hint of the familiar, "I just had to take care of you for a little while first."

"But how?" Angel asks, still unclear, thump thump thumping still so loud in his ears he can't form a thought beyond its iambic rhythms.

"Angel, it's not important why. We all do what we have to, and you did the one thing none of us could. You gave up everything. I figure this was just the world's way of saying thanks, job well done," Spike whispers, kissing him softly before he turns his head towards the first orange rays of the rising sun.

"Now you have two more things to do," Spike adds, pressing their interlocked fingers against Angel's chest, against the thump thump thumping of Angel's heart. "First, pinch me," Spike says, holding his arm in front of Angel.

"Why?" Angel asks, one eye still on the sky's transformation.

"Because I've been pinching you for months and you still won't believe it's real." A smile spreads over Spike's face as Angel obliges.

"What's the other thing?"

Spike moves closer, pressing their hands between them and resting the side of his head against Angel's. "Just watch the sunrise with me. And Angel…"

"Yeah?"

"Don't forget to breathe."

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