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Angel stirred, the phone startling him out of the intense introspective mood he'd been in. He ignored it, knowing Harmony would pick it up, and stared at his arm. He'd been rubbing it again.
He frowned. There was nothing there-- perhaps just the faintest trace of bruising from those preternatural fists. It shouldn't be so…. He frowned again, finding it hard to define how it felt. It was like…. He pressed it then trailed his finger over the inside. Sensuous-- it was like his body was swollen and ripe; it demanded touch… where the bruises had been… where he'd been so hurt.
Abruptly, he stood up and strode angrily to the window-- angry at the self-indulgent introspection. Hurts healed-- even the kind you couldn't see.
Eventually, he started from his new reverie at the window and realised, with a slight jolt, that it was now dark outside and that the building was silent and empty.
This was getting worrying. He wondered momentarily if this fading in and out was a spell, or the dream-sucking demon still attached to his chest, but he knew it wasn't magical-- knew that it was just him, just his lack of commitment to anything.
He felt trapped, and a desperate desire to flee from something rose up in him, but he swallowed it down. The thought that he had this choice - flee or stay - let him inevitably to thoughts of the one who did not-- the one who was trapped.
He sighed deeply.
He didn't want to go there again. Once had been dutiful… sort of employer… sort of acquaintance. There was no reason to go again: no excuse… no desire. No need.
Angel hesitated at the nurses' station, wondering if it was too late to turn back and go home. This was dumb; they'd have nothing to say to each other. They never did. They spoke with their fists mostly.
Spike looked up from his book but kept his expression neutral. 'Didn't 'spect to see you again.'
Angel hovered then went to the window, fixing the angle of the blind unnecessarily. 'How are the feelers?'
Angel glanced at them and nodded.
Spike waited patiently, then ventured with a slight edge to his voice, 'So… grapes?'
'Grapes. You must 'ave some reason for stepping off the evil throne and visiting a minion; so, I thought… grapes?'
Angel put a hand into his pocket, cast him a small, enigmatic look, and tossed over a pack of cigarettes. 'Something better.'
Spike looked genuinely pleased and chuckled. 'Ta very.'
Angel nodded, glanced up, and then disabled the smoke detector.
Spike smirked. 'You can come again, Mate.'
He picked up the pack and tried in vain to remove the cellophane. After a moment, Angel came over and took it from him. 'They'll heal.'
Spike kept his face lowered, staring at the offending limbs. ''S takin' too long.'
'It's been three days, Spike. Fred expects three weeks for full usage.'
'Just as well I don't need to pee then, ain't it?'
Angel suppressed his response to this and handed Spike a cigarette. With difficulty, Spike took it and put it in his mouth. He looked up at Angel for it to be lit, helplessly, a slight smirk on his lips.
Angel frowned, but it wasn't particularly censorious. 'Where is it?'
Very slowly and deliberately, Spike lowered his eyes to a noticeable bulge under the sheet.
Angel snatched back his hand with a curse.
Spike chuckled and folded his hands behind his head. 'Only joking, Pet-- in my coat.'
While Spike smoked, Angel stood in the doorway, his back to the room, watching the comings and goings of the nurses.
When he'd finished his cigarette, Spike said carefully, 'So, what's with the arm?'
Angel turned and glanced down, realising that he'd been stroking it again.
He ignored the question and came back over to the bed. 'Need anything?'
'To get out of here.'
'So… what did you come for?'
'Call Harmony if you need anything.' Angel turned on his heel and left.
Spike watched his back all the way down the hallway; the burn in his hands increasing with every step that Angel took.
They'd been burning ever since he'd come round from the operation. He'd expected pain; he'd expected itching, but this burning need had disturbed him. He wanted to touch things, but nothing he touched satisfied.
The day after Angel's unexpected second visit, Spike discharged himself and went home-- to the bleak apartment that was a home of sorts.
He ran his hands over the cool door of the refrigerator, then fetched out a beer. His hands ached to feel the coolness, to suck out the sensuality in the bottle's fluid lines, to sink into the green of the glass and bathe in it like the cool depths of the ocean.
It gave him no satisfaction at all, however, and the burning need continued.
Sometime later, and several beers on, there was a faint knock at the door. He glanced over, annoyed, and said coldly, 'Go away, Poof.' After a moment, he added resignedly, 'Bloody hell… come in!'
Angel came in and stood looking around, his arms folded censoriously.
'Yeah… see! That's why I didn't want you here! Why are you here? No-- how did you know I was here?'
Angel began to walk slowly around the main room, apparently examining the lack of things and replied evenly, 'I'm the devil incarnate, running the evil law empire-- I know everything.'
Angel glanced over. 'What are you doing?'
Spike flicked his eyes over incredulously. 'What does it bloody look like I'm doing?'
For the first time, a slight smile appeared on Angel's lips. 'I'd answer that, but you'd call me a poof.'
Spike glanced down to his hands, fumbling inexpertly in his lap, and carefully laid the game controller to one side. He said distinctly, 'Poof.'
Angel nodded at the now empty hands. 'It was too soon to leave the hospital, Spike.'
Spike held up his un-bandaged arms, avoided looking at the near perfect red circles of reattachment and shrugged. 'My first time in a bloody hospital, and I didn't like it. What do you want, Angel? You didn't come here with my welfare in mind; so, what's up?'
He stood up and brushed past Angel, going to the refrigerator, fumbling with the door and pulling out another beer. With a small hesitation, he asked in a surly tone, 'Want one?'
Angel came over and took over the opening of the two beers silently.
When he was done, he wandered into the living area and looked around for anywhere to sit other than the couch. Finding nothing, he perched uneasily.
Spike took a long swallow then murmured, 'You really need to ditch those suits, Mate. 'S like the cat in the bloody hat: incongruous.' He smirked and added pleasantly, 'And they make you look fat.'
Angel frowned briefly. 'I'm a CEO, Spike. It's….' He trailed off when Spike snorted loudly.
'It's me, Angel! Remember me? The one you bloody lived alongside for twenty years? Don't give me that corporate crap. I know you, yeah…?' He came into the living room and pointedly sat down on the couch, as far away from Angel as possible without actually falling off the end.
Angel turned to look at him, his face dark. 'So, are you going to tell me how you can afford this place?'
'Or why you're still here? In my city?'
'And maybe tell me what you intend to do?'
'Oh, now, that I will tell you; I'm going to do what you should be bloody doing: helping people.'
'Jesus, Spike, you can't even help yourself.'
'That so? Will you stop rubbing your sodding arm? It's driving me bloody insane!'
Angel looked down, puzzled, but stopped. Eventually, he said coldly, 'I want you to leave L.A. This is my city; they're my compromises.'
'Huh? I mean fuck off, Angel. You know? I was gonna leave. But now you've said that? Think I'll stay a while… a thorn in your side… niggling you.'
'Why do you do this, Spike? Sunnydale? Here? Why do you follow me?' Angrily, he snatched up the discarded handset as he realized he was rubbing his arm once more.
Spike gritted his teeth and snatched it back, and for one moment, weak and leaden as his hands were, he held Angel's hands instead, the handset cradled between them.
Spike fell to his knees.
Something came out of the shadows.
Angel spun around and dusted a vampire.
It was suddenly very quiet in the dark, filthy alley.
'What the fucking hell!' Spike climbed to his feet in fighting stance. 'What have you done, you bloody…? Hey, nice outfit!'
Angel's mouth - open to trade insults - snapped shut, and he glanced down at his leather pants, flowing leather duster and kick-ass fighting boots. He looked to the end of the alley and began to run. Spike cursed and jogged after him.
They stood together on the sidewalk, looking up and down the street.
'I'm thinking we slept through the end of the world and woke up… here?'
The street was utterly deserted of cars, people or other city nightlife.
Angel gave Spike a patronizing look at his suggestion and replied, 'End of the world and we survive it together? Yeah, I'm believing that.'
'This is something to do with you! You and that bloody spooky firm you work for.'
'No… run. I run Wolfram and Hart. I'm the CEO.'
'Oh, bloody focus on the important, why don't you? So, what do you think…? Hey!' Spike jogged to catch Angel up once more. 'Ponce. What do you…?' His words cut off as the thwack from a crossbow bolt spilt the silence. He glanced down at his chest and said distinctly, 'Bugger,' then crumpled to dust.
Once more, they stood at the entrance to the alley. Angel turned to Spike, and his hand automatically reached out to him.
Spike sucked in his breath in a very human reaction to the death thing. 'Fuck.'
Angel, his hand still on Spike's arm, let him back to a doorway. Grimacing, he kicked it in and pulled Spike into a basement: dry, dark, and strangely sweet-smelling.
Angel eased Spike onto some packing crates and squatted down in front of him.
Spike turned his face away from the close scrutiny, and when Angel saw this, apparently seeing what he wanted in this small, defiant gesture, he rose and began to pace angrily. Spike looked over at him and swallowed deeply before saying quietly, 'I'm using up me nine lives pretty rapid like: three down, six to go.'
Angel whirled around. 'Don't joke about it, Spike! What's happening?'
'I don't know. Felt real.'
Angel paused in his pacing, glanced away and murmured, 'Yeah.'
After some more angry paces, he said more to himself than his audience, 'We need to get back to the office-- Wesley.'
Spike nodded and stood up, fingering the absence of a hole in his shirt thoughtfully.
They went out together to the curiously empty street and began to walk along, silent, both deep in their own thoughts.
Incredulously, they turned to each other at the sound of the bolt once more, and once more, Spike crumpled to dust.
This time, Spike kicked in the door to the basement himself, pushed Angel inside in front of him and began to kick furiously at the packing crates. When this didn't vent his anger enough, he ran at the wall and slammed his fist into it. Angel suddenly appeared at his side, the raised arm now held firmly. 'No.' He ran a finger over the still healing attachments. 'Don't.'
'You're worried about my hands! I've just been fucking dusted-- twice!'
'It's not real.'
'It felt real! Twice!'
Angel flung his arm away. 'I was there, Spike! I saw it! Felt real here, too!'
Something in Angel's tone made Spike bite back the bitter retort he had been about to make, but when Angel suddenly caught at his hand once more and said in a low, determined voice, 'Come on,' he was too distracted to analyse what this something was.
Spike walked along the street on his own, eying the spot ahead where he had already died twice. He tried to appear nonchalant-- tried not to give away any clue that he was reluctant to get there again.
Suddenly, there was a choked-off scream from above, and two bodies fell out of a window, tangled together, hitting the ground with a sickening thump.
Angel disentangled himself and rose, brushing down his clothes. Spike toed the body and frowned deeply. 'Human?'
Spike narrowed his eyes and tried to make his tone more pointed. 'Human!'
Angel just shrugged.
'Angel! You killed a human!'
'This isn't real.'
'Yes, it is! In a way. What we feel is real!'
Angel spun around. 'Twice, Spike. Now, drop it. Let's go.' He began to run.
Utterly unwilling to be left alone in the strange, empty street, Spike had no choice but to follow.
They ran past empty shops and cafés, Angel's pace not dropping until he stopped-- suddenly… so suddenly that Spike slammed into his back. They both cursed, but Angel's was half-hearted, and Spike followed his gaze. 'Oh… bugger.'
Well over eight feet tall, the demon's presence dominated the street. It glared at them and then began to speak in a resonating voice. Spike glanced at Angel. 'You understand that?'
Angel's eyes opened wide. 'I understand that!' He pushed Spike to one side and dove after him as a bolt of lightning almost hit them. They rolled together, flipped to standing and skidded into an alley. Another bolt of lightning crashed after them. 'Run!'
They ran side by side, equally fast, and found an entrance to a sewer too small for the creature to follow.
They paused for a moment in the gloom, not needing to catch breath, but gathering themselves, nevertheless.
'What was he sayin'?'
'I don't know.'
'Jeez…. What is this shit?' Spike began to rub his wrist.
Angel came over and took his hand, brooking no resistance. 'What's wrong?'
Spike gritted his teeth at the tone of the question, but replied, 'I fell on it. It's nothing.'
Angel rubbed carefully around the join and said distinctly, 'The surgery took almost eighty percent of my miscellaneous mop-up-cocked-up-operations budget, Spike. You lose the hands again? You sew them back on yourself.'
Spike didn't seem to hear him; he was watching the lowered head. In almost a murmur, he ventured, 'Maybe I didn't get that sucking thing off you, Angel. Maybe there's one on me too, now. Maybe we're both dreaming.'
'I don't dream about you….' Angel trailed off then added quickly, 'Anyway, this isn't a dream.'
Spike took his arm back and shoved his hands in his pocket. 'You got a better suggestion then, oh-wise-one?'
'Yeah. I have. Let's go.'
They traversed the city in the underground tunnels silently, both deep in their own thoughts.
Eventually, they rose back to the surface and walked along the deserted streets once more.
Spike looked at the passing buildings and frowned once or twice before saying, 'We've been past here before.'
'Not possible. We covered over twenty miles underground.'
'Yeah, we have. Same café-- look: The Right Price.'
Angel snapped. 'Focus maybe?'
Spike bit back a retort but sulked for a while, until he said in a soft voice, 'He was human, Angel. You didn't need to kill him.'
'I didn't mean to fall on him.'
'You pushed him out of the window.'
'Just drop it.'
'No. You killed a human to save me.'
'No. I…. This is not real, Spike.'
'Even more reason not to take it that seriously then. Let me die.'
'Seems to me, I remember you coming back!'
'And going again.'
'Will you drop it?'
'No. I want to know….'
'I'm not freaking doing metaphysics with you.' He turned a corner and uncharacteristically hissed, 'Fuck!'
Spike jogged to catch him up but didn't need an explanation of the curse; he heard the strange, guttural demonic language once more. Angel cursed again then shoved Spike hard into the wall and ran at the demon.
A bolt of lightning thudded into his chest, and he burnt with a brilliant, blinding light.
Spike staggered as Angel rose from his entanglement with the human. Angel brushed his clothes down, and if he was feeling to see if he really was solid once more, he didn't make the reassuring pat too overt. He looked over to Spike and opened his mouth as if to speak, but Spike suddenly whirled away and went to stand by the wall, his back to Angel, trying to light a cigarette.
He found his lighter taken from him. 'It's not real, Spike. I don't die easily.'
Spike nodded and accepted a light. 'I remember. Been the one tryin' the killin' 'nough times.'
Angel gave his shoulder a small squeeze, and then squatted down in the doorway next to him.
Hesitantly, brushing his shoulder where Angel's fingers had touched him, Spike turned and sat on the step alongside him.
'I think we're trapped in time somehow.'
Spike greeted this bit of wisdom with a theatrical, you think? look.
Angel scowled. 'You got a better idea?'
Spike lifted his eyebrows. 'What's that bloody noise?' It was a rhetorical question. They both knew what it was.
Angel pulled Spike to his feet. 'Run.'
Once more, they ran from the demon's lumbering steps, but this time, they didn't stop, both sensing that if they did, it would somehow magically appear. They kept moving swiftly through the city streets until with a small cry, Spike suddenly shoved Angel into through a door. Angel whirled on him. 'We'll be trapped in here!'
'No. This is the same café again, Angel. It's a… clue.'
'I--.' Spike hesitated, clearly reluctant to be ridiculed again. '"The Right Price?" I think this is where we get Wesley.'
'No, listen….' A bolt of lightning suddenly crashed through the window and caught him in the chest. He looked up and had time to mouth, 'Bugger,' before burning up.
This time when Angel rose from the human's dead body, they nodded at each other grimly and began to run. As soon as he spotted the café, Spike grabbed Angel's arm and pulled him in. Without hesitating, he snatched up a delicate china cup filled with cold, brown liquid and held it up to Angel. 'What do you think?'
'I think I don't want our asses fried again.'
Spike drank it.
They stared at each other for a moment until they heard thumping footsteps from outside. They were about to turn and flee when a quiet voice said, 'It's The Beast. It's looking for the Champion.'
The vampires turned as one to find Wesley sitting at one of the tables. Angel swore his relief and slid in alongside him. 'What's happening, Wes?'
Before the human could reply, the window caved in, and the table where they sat erupted into flames, carrying them both with it.
Angel rose. They ran, side by side. Together, they crashed through the door. Spike drank. Angel whirled around, grabbed the astonished human, and all three rolled out of the back door and began to run.
Angel found a sewer entrance, held it open for Wesley and Spike, and then dropped in himself, the sound of something exploding uselessly behind him cut off when he dropped the lid, sealing them into the fetid, but suddenly very welcome air of the underground tunnels.
Wesley bent and put his hands on his knees, taking ragged breaths. Spike leant close to Angel's ear and whispered, 'He's not real.'
Angel nodded, but before he could reply, the man straightened, adjusted his glasses, and said pointedly, 'I'm out of breath-- not deaf. And can I just say I object to that assessment.'
Spike snorted. 'Bloody good facsimile of him though; I'll give you that.' At that, he seemed to lose all interest in the proceedings and made himself comfortable on a small wall running along one side of the tunnel, fumbling with a cigarette.
Angel said pointedly to Wesley, 'Sit down and stay here.' He grabbed Spike's arm and propelled him some way down the tunnel, then pushed him to sitting once more. He sat alongside him, and then for a moment, put his face down into his hands.
At a nudge, he lifted his face and found a lighter being waved in front of his eyes. He sighed but made the now familiar gesture of lighting Spike's cigarette for him.
Spike took a drag then said deceptively casually, 'Thought now you 'ad your best little friend there you wouldn't need me….'
'I don't need you, Spike.' They both knew it was just the old routine: something that had to be said to such a cue. Once this was understood between them, Angel said in a more business-like manner, 'How did you know?' He glanced over at Spike and added, 'About the café.'
Spike winced as if the unwilling bearer of bad news. 'I think we're trapped in the bloody PlayStation, Mate.' Having spent most of his one hundred and twenty odd years trying to get just the right rise out of Angel, he chuckled at his success in this strange time and place. He sobered at the expression that flickered across Angel's face at his laughter, though, and added more responsibly, 'I think we've been suckered into some kind of magical game.'
'When we touched that thing at the same time….'
'The handset, yeah.'
Angel tipped his head back, closing his eyes. 'And this is…?'
A cultured English voice replied, 'Level Three. This is Level Three, Angel.'
The vampires peered down the tunnel at the human, now standing and looking at them.
Angel murmured to Spike, 'What's his part in this?'
'I'm guessing we can sort of collect useful things along the way.'
'Oh, good.' Spike chuckled at Angel's ironic tone, and Angel gave him a small, complicit glance before standing. He held out his hand to Spike, and this small gesture, as much as the previous glance, kept Spike silent for some time as they walked through the tunnels, Angel quizzing the odd human on his knowledge.
He started with something that seemed fairly critical. Glancing over at the familiar face, he spoke as if really talking to Wesley. 'How many levels are there? What's the aim of this game?'
Wesley took off his glasses and began to polish them on the hem of his shirt. 'I have no idea, I'm afraid.'
Angel glanced at Spike for help, but saw that he wasn't even listening, that he was deep in some thoughts of his own, so responded, 'You said the demon on this level was looking for the Champion. You called it the Beast.'
Wesley frowned. 'No, I didn't.'
'Well, yes, it is - on both counts - but I don't remember actually telling you….'
'It feeds on courage, Angel. It sucks courage from its victims, like you suck… I mean. Yes. Quite.'
Suddenly, a voice said distinctly, 'I'll say this just once: that thing is not sucking anything of mine.'
Angel smiled. 'I don't know-- seems like a good plan to me.'
Spike opened his mouth to play the old game, dance the familiar dance, but saw a gleam of unexpected humour in Angel's expression. He snapped his mouth shut with a huff of annoyance, but when Angel turned back to talk more with the other, he returned his gaze thoughtfully to Angel's broad back.
Angel suddenly glanced up, as if he could see the sky. 'It'll be light soon. We need to get back to the office and figure this out.'
Spike pursed his lips. 'We need to defeat old Thor out there. 'S how this game shit works.'
'I don't play games, Spike-- unless it's by my rules.'
Spike just made a you'll learn face, but trailed behind the other two without further comment.
Angel did learn. As hard as they tried, they could not get back to Wolfram and Hart. At every turn, every attempt to regain the upper levels, the chanting demon caught them.
The vampires lost count of the number of times they found Wesley, ran, hid.
Eventually, they stopped to rest, the strange human tired from one particularly long run, the vampires exhausted from the cumulative effects of all the attempts to leave this level.
Suddenly, Angel tipped his head back and said softly, 'It won't ever get light.'
Wesley murmured, 'I really need my books. I'm useless without them.'
Spike tapped Angel on the arm. 'Maybe we should try for his apartment instead of your office. Maybe it'll let us get there. We can hole up-- while it's light. Cus, ya know, it always gets light, Pet.'
Angel glanced at him and then down at the hand on his arm. He nodded gratefully. 'Let's go.'
He led the way, followed by the slower human, Spike bringing up the rear once more, staring thoughtfully at one numb hand, shaking it every so often as if it ached even more for something he could not define.
Angel looked around Wesley's apartment with a small, bitter smile. Spike gave him a questioning frown, and Angel nodded at the row upon row of shelving, all housing dusty, leather-bound books. 'Wes would take offence-- he's not this boring.' He glanced at the human, who was already engrossed in some reading at the table, and went into the bedroom, flinging himself wearily on the bed with a groan.
Spike hovered in the doorway. 'You seem very… at home.'
Angel rolled his head lazily over to look at him. 'Who gave you the playgame thing, Spike?' He sat up and made it clear with a glance that he expected Spike to sit next to him.
Surprised at this, and at Angel's calm tone - considering the nature of the question - Spike sat and stared at his numbly aching hands. 'The guy I got the flat off.'
Angel took hold of an injured arm once more and began to inspect the red welt. 'And?'
'He's a good guy, Angel. He's not behind this.'
'Maybe he just appears good to you.'
Spike snatched his arm away, but Angel took it back and said patiently, 'The Cup of Perpetual Torment? The chest-sucking demon? The insane slayer? Something's trying to drive a wedge between us-- turn you against me… me against you.'
Watching Angel's fingers probing his wound, Spike replied softly, 'It won't have a hard job then, I'm thinking.'
Angel gritted his teeth and released the arm. 'What about higher purpose? Maybe we were given these souls for a purpose. Sire, childe--both souled? Kinda more than coincidence?'
Spike made Angel look up and hold his gaze by the simple expedient of staying silent. When Angel was looking at him, he said very carefully, 'The only purpose waiting for us is flames. You know it. I know it.'
Angel licked his lips. 'I've been promised redemption.'
Spike shook his head sadly. 'You've made a pact with the devil. I'm sorry, Pet, but you're now the evil you've fought so hard against.'
'Who have you made a pact with, Spike?'
Spike's gaze faltered, but he replied evenly, 'He said I could help people.' He laughed wryly. 'He said I could be a hero.'
Angel was silent for a moment then his gaze fell. 'I wanted that once. When I was lost.'
'You're lost now, Angel, only the baubles around you are so bright - new office, power, shiny cars, pretty people - that you can't see it for all that dazzle. I think you like where you are, and you ain't looking for a way out.' He glanced down. ''Cept that, maybe, which is really starting to piss me off.'
He grabbed Angel's arm angrily, preventing the bigger vampire from the ceaseless rubbing that he'd been doing as they talked.
As his fingers contacted with the reddened skin on Angel's forearm, he hissed and dropped the arm as if it burnt him. Immediately, he took it up again and lightly brushed his fingers over the heightened area.
Angel closed his eyes.
Spike swallowed deeply.
'Angel, I think I have a solution of sorts.'
Angel jerked his arm away and rose. Without looking back, he strode in to join the human in the living room.
Spike sat on the bed and stared at his fingers. He wondered that he could not see them actually pulsing with pleasure, for that's how they felt. He closed his eyes to play back the moment when their greedy numbness had surged with satisfaction at the feel of Angel's skin.
Angel listened to the human without hearing what he said. Spike's fingers were on his arm still, and for the first time in many days, the ripe, swelling need was abated somewhat.
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