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The Darkling Plain
Angel became feverish very quickly. Spike had fallen into an exhaustion-induced doze when he felt the thrashing begin. He turned to Angel and hissed at the look of the wound. He unbuttoned the rest of Angel's shirt and peeled it off. The pale flesh was a dark red and very hot to the touch, and the entire shoulder throbbed beneath his hand.
Angel suddenly opened his eyes and cried out, 'I can't tell him!'
Spike frowned and went to fetch a wet cloth, laying it over Angel's forehead. It didn't have the soothing effect he was going for. Angel shouted, 'I didn't mean to do it, but I can't tell him!'
Suddenly, the front of his shirt was seized, and Angel levered up to sitting. 'Don't tell him. He'll hate me.'
'Who, Luv? Tell who what?'
Angel's eyes began to dash furtively from side to side as if looking for conspirators, and he whispered, 'Spike.'
Spike pursed his lips and eased Angel's fingers off his shirt. 'Why don't you tell me, Mate, and I'll made sure he never gets to hear, yeah?'
Angel nodded, looked around once more, grabbed Spike around the head, and breathed softly in his ear, 'I was afraid.'
Before Spike could comment on this, Angel added, with a catch in his voice, 'I was too afraid to step out - didn't want to burn, see? Too much to do. Need to be here to fight for them - they can't. Being preyed on in the dark. No one understands like I do. I wasn't going to do it. Not really. But he thinks I was. And he went, and I can't tell him. Coward. That's the word. I'm a coward. He'd hate me. Either way.'
Spike knew his hollowness was filling up with something he didn't want again. He pressed it back, tried to fight it, and laid Angel down on the bed gently.
'Don't tell him!'
'I won't, Luv. I promise you that: I'll never tell him.'
Angel nodded and closed his eyes, falling into a restless sleep. Spike eased up to the headboard and got comfortable, lighting a cigarette.
He wasn't sure what to believe anymore.
Once more, he must have slept, for he was started awake by a shout. Angel grabbed his arm and said in wonder, 'Spike?'
Spike sighed, ran a hand through his hair, and sat up. 'Yeah. You got….'
'I had a dream! Fuck!'
Spike turned the lamp on and looked at Angel's face. He cursed when he saw the green, sickly appearance of his skin. The shoulder was now like a balloon and appeared more black than red.
Angel roused again with a small laugh. 'I dreamt we had this really big fight.'
'No change there then.'
'Yeah. Only, this was real bad, ya know? And you left me.'
Angel tried to wipe his face but frowned when he couldn't move his arm. 'You left me!' Suddenly, he turned and buried his face into Spike's thigh. 'Promise me you'll never leave me.'
Spike pushed him off and went shakily to the kitchen. He poured them both some blood and handed some to Angel.
Angel couldn't hold the mug, so Spike crawled on alongside him again and held his head while he drank it. The hair was damp and spiky. He lowered his face slowly and inhaled, then without caring too much to analyse what he was doing, buried his face into the soft strands.
He laid them both back onto the bed and cradled Angel's head, stroking him gently as the confused vampire fell asleep.
Lying on the bed with Angel was more painful than leaving him had been.
He felt a touch on his ankle and jerked awake, cursing that he'd let sleep take him once more. Wesley put a finger to his lips and gestured silently at Angel. Spike nodded, and together, they eased more of the antidote down his throat, making him swallow without real consciousness returning.
'How's he been?'
Spike rubbed his face. 'Rambling.' If he noticed that Wesley was now sitting with them on the bed, he didn't mention it. 'Wound's bad.'
Wesley held the back of his hand to it and winced. Suddenly, he got up and went to the kitchen. When he returned, he had a knife in his hand. Spike scrambled off the bed. 'You've gotta be fucking joking.'
Wesley gave him a confused look. 'What? I'm going to lance it.'
Spike swallowed and tried to appear as if he'd thought this all along.
Wesley saw this small attempt at bravado and looked down at the knife with a frown. Suddenly, his eyes widened, and his head jerked back. 'Oh, my God. I'm so sorry. I didn't think you'd think… I'd never bring it up like this… Christ!'
Spike hesitated then put his hand out, touching the man lightly on the arm. ''S okay. 'S just me, yeah? Bit jumpy. 'S good idea. Sorry.'
Wesley looked down at the familiar pale fingers on his arm and bit his lip. Without looking up, he said faintly, 'I'm so sorry. I miss you so much.'
Spike shoved his hand in his pocket and hunched his shoulders. 'Just cut him, yeah. This is all too much now. I can't….'
Wesley nodded and knelt alongside Angel. 'Should I sterilize it first?'
Relieved at the business-like tone once more, Spike breathed out slightly and replied, 'No need. Human germs can't hurt - they must be some stinking demon ones.'
Wesley nodded and carefully cut across the bulging wound.
'Oh! Fucking hell!' Spike turned away, a hand over his mouth.
'Some towels would be appreciated about now, Spike!'
Glad to have an excuse to leave, Spike went into the bathroom and grabbed some off the rail.
Keeping his face averted, he handed them over.
'Some use you are as a nurse.'
'That's just… I need a drink.' He hesitated. 'You?'
Wesley looked up. They gave each other an inquisitive look, and then Wesley nodded. 'Thank you.'
Knowing he'd not been thanked for the offer of a drink, Spike went thoughtfully to the bar and poured then both a very large whisky.
Spike took his to the couch and, for the first time, sat on it. He hooked his elbow over the back and rubbed his eyes wearily. He felt the couch depress next to him.
'He's asleep. He seems peaceful. I think he's over the worse.'
'How did you find the antidote?'
Wesley seemed surprised to be asked. 'I cross-referenced the frequency of the portal appearances with the possible dimension it was linked to. Once I had that, I narrowed the demon species down, and then I looked for….'
'Just as well you were here then.' Spike stood up, went to the elevator and left.
Wesley mulled this over and decided, with a sense of deep gratitude, that no irony had been intended.
Spike waited for Angel to appear all the next day, into that evening and the next. Toward late afternoon, a dark figure appeared in the office doorway, and Spike looked up from doing nothing to find Angel leaning there, looking at him.
'I came to say thank you.'
Spike shrugged. 'I don't want you to die, Angel. I told you, I love you.'
Angel let out a small breath. 'That's not what I meant.'
Spike got up and began to pace in the confined space. 'This has to stop. If you don't leave me alone, I'll leave now - even though they aren't ready.'
'Okay. I'm sorry. I just wanted to say thanks. I have a case, so I have to go anyway.'
'Case? Aren't you a bit… crock?' Spike grimaced, furious with himself.
Angel didn't comment on the contradictions and moved his damaged shoulder stiffly. 'I have to.'
Gritting his teeth, Spike grabbed his coat. 'One more. I want paying, and then we're finished.'
Angel nodded. 'Okay.' He flashed Spike a look through lowered lids, and with a stab of pleasure, saw a glance across at him. He risked a small, guilty smile and, incredulous, saw Spike repress one back. As he stomped out of the office, Spike said under his breath, 'If I ever find you poisoned yourself….'
Angel didn't hear the punishment he'd get for that heinous crime; he was too busy playing that small smile back in his mind.
Spike entered the abandoned warehouse with a sigh. 'Don't they have new ones in this damn city?'
He kicked some fallen beams and cursed when more of the roof came down.
Angel stepped in after him. 'Shh. We're supposed to be stealthy.'
'Yeah. What's the case?' He squinted through the gloom.
'It's a doss house for runaways. They've been turning up dead. I think someone's picking them up here.'
'People live here?'
'It's not as bad as your new room.'
'Uh huh. I wondered when that would come up.'
Angel stopped and looked down at his feet for a moment. 'Are we talking?'
Spike carried on. 'No.'
'Oh, okay. Only, I kinda heard words.'
Angel smiled and caught up with him.
They negotiated a hole in the floor, peering in warily. Spike said knowledgably, 'Hell hole.'
Angel chuckled. 'Where were you brought up? This is pure human evil.'
Suddenly, their vampire senses pricked, and they both turned. 'Baby?' Angel glanced at Spike, puzzled.
'Not very likely.' They pushed open a door cautiously and reeled. The smell, released when the door opened, hit them with a vengeance. Flies buzzed around, and something lay moving on the floor.
When Angel went closer, he put a hand over his mouth and nose. The swarm of flies rose off the small body, and it ceased its illusion of movement.
They backed together into the corridor. Spike said grimly, 'We're fucking vampires. We LIKE death.'
Angel nodded. 'You go back in then.'
Spike grimaced. 'Not much point. It's dead.'
'What was that noise then?'
Spike rolled his eyes, cupped his hand over his nose too, and they went back in.
Angel suddenly nudged Spike and bent to pick something up. Spike wrinkled his nose in disgust and then backed off.
Angel held the squirming dog in his hands, checked around the bodies of the others to see if it was the lone survivor and then joined Spike in the hallway.
'We don't… yeah. Fuck yeah.'
When they got into the street, Angel held the very small puppy up to the streetlight. 'Nearly dead.'
Spike nodded without interest. He seemed to have something on his mind and finally blurted out, 'That's me done then? All paid off?'
'For this extremely difficult case?'
'Sorry. Yeah. All paid off.'
'That's it then. No more crap excuses to see me.'
'Can I use my really clever ones?'
His face flicking rapidly between emotions, Spike spun on his heel and walked away into the darkness.
He knew it was time to leave, but he couldn't make the final bit of effort to actually… go.
Days passed, and still he could not do it. There was always something. Injuries, problems, fears; every time he tried to leave, something would happen with one of his gang, forcing him to stay.
After three days like this, he went to the office determined to tell them that he was leaving. When he entered, everyone stopped talking, and he eyed them speculatively. 'What?'
Sam glanced at Jordan and then said casually to the room in general, 'So, are you going to the party?'
Spike nodded as if this was exactly what he felt like doing and gave Sam a look. As he went into his office, he said without interest, 'Whose party?'
Suddenly, he didn't need a reply to this, and he turned incredulously. 'You bloody jest.'
Sam shifted a piece of gum to his other cheek and said nonchalantly, 'A party's a party, Babe. You can't not go.'
'I'm not going any fucking where, and if I was, it wouldn't be to a fucking Angel Investigations party.'
Trying to be helpful, Jordan corrected, 'This is just an Angel party - personal.'
Spike frowned. 'Angel doesn't do parties.'
Lilah held out a small piece of card. 'Invitation. Guess he does.'
Spike chewed the corner of one nail, staring at the small card. 'You can't go.'
'Hey! Me in particular or them as well!'
Deciding there was little worse than a petulant, disobedient childe, Spike frowned severely at her. 'All of you.'
'And that would look mature.'
Spike glared at Sam and went home.
The night of the party, he holed up in his room with a few bottles of whisky, determined to enjoy his own celebration. Having no furniture, he sat on the windowsill with his feet up and opened the first one. The long swallow slipped down like blood.
He was just about to let himself go to the darkness, when he heard a soft knock at the door.
It wasn't Angel's knock, and this made him frown. He couldn't decide why that should make him frown, and angry with himself, he strode over and snatched it open.
Spike stared at Giles.
Giles nodded politely and came in. 'Bloody hell!'
'Why are you here?'
Giles poked his head into the adjoining room. 'Bloody hell.'
'I'm here for the party. We all are.'
'What? We? All?'
'Hmm. Angel invited everyone.'
'Oh. So why are you… here?'
'I've come to get you.'
Giles smiled. 'Come on, change.'
'I'm not fucking changing anything, but most critically, I'm not changing my mind that I'm NOT FUCKING DOING THIS!'
'Lower your voice, and hurry up, please. The food looked rather good, and I've not eaten since breakfast.'
'You've… been there?'
'Oh, yes, I dropped everyone off, saw you weren't there, and came to get you.'
'Why for fuck's sake? You know….'
Giles came closer and put a hand on his shoulder. 'There is one immutable rule about parties, Spike - if you don't go, you spend the whole evening being talked about by everyone else who is there. Now, think about it. Harris speculating with Angel? Buffy interrogating him? If you aren't there, you will be the whole topic of the conversation.'
Spike gave him a 'stupid git' look and said petulantly, 'No, I wouldn't.'
Giles chuckled. 'I'll make sure you are. Now, are you coming?'
It was his old apartment, but he didn't recognise it. Gone was the quiet, soft ambience, the sense of peace and calm. Loud music filled the place, and there seemed to be people everywhere. Spike stepped out of the elevator, hung his head and went swiftly into one corner, just to steady his nerves.
He was about to chicken out and leave, when he felt something at his ankle and looked down. A small thing was tugging at the hem of his jeans. He shook his foot surreptitiously. 'Fuck off.'
'Don't swear at him; I don't want him learning bad language.' Angel bent and swept the puppy up from the floor. It fit in the palm of his hand.
Spike narrowed his eyes at it. 'What the fuck is that?'
Angel tipped his head on one side and said softly, 'Something to fill up some of the emptiness.'
Spike blinked and moved away to the bar, pouring himself the whisky he'd been denied earlier.
He sat on a bar stool and concentrated on the bottom of his glass.
'Cool place for the deadboy.'
He sighed. 'Harris.'
'Have you seen this place? It's so neat!'
'Yeah. I know.'
'Oh. You've been here before?'
'Once or twice.'
'So, how are you? See… thinking about you… not that I've been THINKING about you….'
'I'm still standing.'
'More than the last time I saw you. Drunk?'
'Oh. I don't remember that time very well.'
'Jeez, look at that plasma screen! Didn't know Angel was into TV!' He wandered off to admire Spike's things.
'I've never seen anyone so much in love.'
Spike turned at Giles' soft comment and followed his gaze. Buffy was standing with Angel by the bed.
Spike sneered. 'Only thing she loves is bloody slaying.'
'I didn't mean Buffy, you prat. Angel's showing off his new love.'
'I hope he doesn't notice it's just crapped on the couch then.'
Giles put his hand on Spike's arm and turned him. 'You do realise that this whole party is for your benefit?'
Spike looked down at his boots. 'Yeah. I'm being… courted. 'Parently.'
Giles took the other stool. 'I didn't realise how things stood when you came to me. I thought Angel had left you… given your turning of Lilah. It never occurred to me that you'd left him. Given up all… this. You are quite… extraordinary. Particularly stupid, but extraordinary.'
'You don't know….'
'I know that you've all got yourselves into a very dark place.' Spike followed Giles' gaze to Wesley who was talking, with some animation, to Lilah.
'You know too much then.'
'Unlike you, Spike, I'm still talking to Wesley. Now, I suggest you wander over in the direction of the bed and mention the crap on the couch. I don't know very much about love, but if I were you, I would want to keep the one I loved away from the one he used to love, no?'
Spike gave him a look, gave Angel and Buffy a similar look as he passed, and went into his own room, shutting the door. He remembered it was not his room anymore, and feeling utterly dejected and confused, he threw himself onto the couch. A small whimper made him look down. The puppy cowered back against the cushion.
'Yeah, well you might cry, Mate. He's gonna see that crap then I'm gonna bubble ya. Mind you, I might tell 'im it's Harris'. Guess you're not liking the party much either, hey? What?' He peered at the small, shaking thing and then, with a curse, swept it up. 'Don't you fucking dare crap on MY couch.' Totally unable to walk back through the room with the thing, he grinned and crawled over the bed, opening the window, and dropping the puppy outside onto the small balcony. 'Crap out there, Dog.'
He tried not to watch but, suddenly, with a curse, climbed out too. 'You bloody jump up at the wall like that again, and I'll personally rip you a new hole to crap out of. Can't you see how bleedin' high up we are?'
He squatted down and lit a cigarette, enjoying the view of the city. The puppy, apparently needing nothing but some cooler air, came and lay down next to him.
He put his hand down and absentmindedly fondled the silky ears. ''Spect you've got fleas and lice and worms an' all. Just like the poof not to think of things like that.' He lifted him up as if to inspect his fur then dropped him onto his lap and ran strong strokes down his back, making the puppy arch with pleasure. 'Like that, hey?'
'Who wouldn't?' Angel climbed out and squatted down alongside them, passing Spike a drink. 'I'm glad you came. Makes the party almost… bearable.'
Spike twitched up an eyebrow. 'You've slept with three of the guests - should make it easier.'
Angel gave him an amused look. 'And you've slept with five of them. And with two being lesbians, that's quite good odds.'
Spike returned the look and added slyly, 'Six actually - seven if you count you.'
'Oh, well, if we're counting each other, then it's four for me. Are we counting each other?'
Spike looked out at the view and shook his head, unable to answer.
Angel put a very brief hand on his thigh and patted it. 'I'm glad you're here now, anyway.'
Spike looked down wryly. 'I was blackmailed into it. And, 'sides, I didn't actually get an invitation.'
Angel chuckled. 'You're the only one who'd never need one.'
Spike made no comment. He looked down at his lap. 'What's it called?'
'I don't know. He doesn't speak English very well.'
'I've not decided yet. I've been too busy looking after it, and yes, I did take it to the fleas and lice man.'
Spike wondered how long Angel had been watching him but didn't ask. ''S not very practical in an apartment.'
Angel laughed. 'Oh, yeah, like my life is so practical.' He shifted so he was sitting next to Spike and took the puppy out of his lap. 'It's going to be something Irish.'
'Why? Is he thick?'
'Because he's an Irish Wolf Hound.'
Spike laughed, and the sound was so strange he cut it off quickly. 'He's a Heinz assortment; sorry to destroy your illusions.'
Angel ignored him with a smile. 'It's pretty out tonight.'
'It's going to rain.'
'Are we going to be okay?'
'I don't know.'
'That's better than no. I'd better get back. That's what you do at your own party.'
'Guess. Thanks for the drink.'
'Can he stay with you? He doesn't like parties.'
Spike gave him a small sideward glance.
Angel handed the puppy over. 'Don't swear or let him smoke.'
Without waiting to see Spike's expression, he climbed back in through the window.
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