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They were led into a large, well-lit room filled with comfortable looking chairs and a bar in one corner. Angel was watching Spike's reaction to everything very carefully, and when he saw the smaller vampire eyeing a door to one side, he murmured, 'Don't,' just loud enough for his ears alone.
Spike flicked his eyes over for one second, acknowledging the command, and then he made a dash for the door. He crashed into it with one shoulder, brought it down, flipped to standing and made to ascend the stairs behind, when he fell with an agonized cry, clutching his neck. One or two of the other demons backed off, moaning in frightened tones at the agony evident in Spike's writhing.
Angel shouted, 'Stop it!' and ran forward, dragging Spike back into the room.
The pain seemed to stop as soon as it started, but Spike was still shaking as he climbed to his feet. He saw Angel's expression and backed off slightly, his stomach churning from the residual effects of the extreme pain.
'SIT DOWN.' Everyone but the vampires instantly obeyed the command, but Angel did sit - in his own time - glaring still at Spike.
Spike took even longer to find a chair, but eventually, he lowered himself into one and kept his eyes lowered and his emotions veiled from everyone in the room.
After a few moments, everyone looked up at the sound of voices. Blinds, which had hitherto been obscuring the top of the room, were pulled back. Angel realised they were in a kind of bowl. The thought that they were specimens flickered unpleasantly through his mind. He glanced at Spike then back up to see men and women crowding against the glass that divided them from the room. They were ugly, squashed and leering down at the occupants of the chairs, and to Angel, they looked as ready for blood as if this had actually been a fight club.
He felt ridiculous, sitting in a chair being looked at. He shifted uncomfortably and made a show of studying his nails. He glanced at Spike again, to see him glaring up at the people, as if challenging anyone to put a bet on him.
Angel frowned. He looked up and wondered if they were placing bets, or something… else.
Decisions seemed to have been made. Guards came in and ushered two of the pretty demons out through a door. They came back and stood before Angel. He rose, taller than both of them. He pursed his lips, knowing he could kill them before they could lift a baton to stop him, but he knew the collar was controlled from elsewhere, and that he could not stop so easily-- not yet, anyway.
He began to move, and then one of the guards peeled off and went to stand before Spike. He saw no more, for they were through the door, and then he had other things to occupy his mind for some considerable time.
Angel paced the small room they'd pushed him into when his long day was over. He wiped his mind of everything he'd done and concentrated on what he had learnt: about their operation, their weak points, and their strengths. The room was comfortable, if Spartan, and he had the depressing thought that it was designed for someone staying for some time.
He sat on the edge of the large bed, and ran his fingers through his hair. He desperately wanted to use the shower, but was reluctant just yet to see his body.
He'd seen enough of it all day.
Suddenly, the door opened and something fell through. At first he didn't recognize it-- just for a split second, just until all his senses kicked in. When it hit him what it was, he turned Spike over and hissed with controlled fury at the state of his face: the bones shattered, the skin a mass of ragged cuts, crusted and bleeding. With more care than he used to turn him, he pulled off the bloodied shirt and winced at the damage to the pale chest and back.
Red seemed to flood into his eyes, and he charged at the door, banging with fury and shouting. A hatch slid back, and two blood bags fell through. It was something. He snatched them up and lifted Spike onto the bed, trying not to feel the blood dripping out and through his fingers.
He fed both bags of blood to the unconscious figure by tipping his head back and pouring them right down his throat, forcing him to swallow.
As soon as he sensed that healing would begin, he examined his arms. The joins seemed more healed than before, and he let out a small breath of relief.
In a few moments, he had Spike undressed and in the shower with him, watching as the water ran red between them. Below the waist, Spike seemed relatively undamaged, so when he put him back on the bed and covered him with a sheet, Angel concentrated on the wounds on his chest and face. He slipped into his demonic form, dragged his wrist over one razor-sharp fang and slowly, meticulously, dripped his blood into the cuts and over the torn flesh.
Spike's body seemed unnaturally thin under his hands, this illusion of vulnerability only increased by the defenseless way he lay on the bed. Angel tipped and rolled him forward so he could put some healing blood on his back. He held the limp figure in his arms as he rubbed over the prominent, bruised spine.
Suddenly, he turned his face into the slim neck and tried to hold back something that welled up in his body. The memory of the feel of bodies on him and under him all day, but never once with this kind of intimacy, finally took away the control he'd exercised while tangled in their unwelcome embraces. He lost it, sobbing like a child into Spike's neck, mixing his tears with the blood that already coated the pale skin.
He did not realize that he was held, too, until the worst of the storm was over. When he silenced enough to hear his own weeping, he then felt Spike's hands running lightly up and down his back. He pulled away and let Spike fall back to the pillow, shading his eyes with one hand.
The hand that had tried to comfort him fell uselessly to the bed. Angel stood up and returned to the shower, seeking privacy in the stream of water that cut him off from looks or questions that might have unmanned him more.
When he emerged from his long isolation, a towel wrapped firmly around his waist, Spike was sitting up in bed, seemingly counting his teeth. He glanced over at Angel and pulled his legs up into a defensive position, wrapping his arms tightly around them.
Angel took in a sharp breath then let it out with a small grateful smile. 'One of my best. You?'
'Oh yeah, Level Five is a real peachy place.'
Angel sat down on the edge of the bed. 'Why are you doing this, Spike? This isn't like you-- you don't do things that aren't in your interest.'
'Is that so?'
'Self-interest is your middle name.'
'What's yours, Angel? Cus, do you know what? We've both changed. I changed when some flames licked out my bloody eyeballs-- focuses you on the important things that does, Mate. You changed when you took over that damn law firm! What have you done all day, Angel? You've been screwing people, I'm thinking; so, no change there then!'
Angel got up and began to pace angrily.
'Oh, and before you go into the defensive, pacing rant, remember you cried into my bloody shoulder for an hour, Angel; so, don't try and tell me you're happy with your choices!'
Suddenly, Angel's face was pressed to Spike's, spittle hitting him as Angel hissed menacingly, 'At least I do make them! Someone has to! What did you do all day, Spike? Stood on your damn principles until they crumbled away and left you lying in a fucking puddle of your own blood! I held you and bathed you and gave you my blood; so, don't fucking tell me about being happy! It's what I do: look out for other people. So, yeah, hard choices. I don't have the luxury of not making them!'
He flung back and paced to the door, the room too small for two people so angry to find space to breathe.
Spike began to study his nails with great interest, an unconvincing expression of righteous anger fixed on his face.
After a few moments, he said with deceptive nonchalance, 'I wasn't just lying in a puddle, by the way. If you're at all interested, I was testing their security.'
Angel turned and looked at him. 'If we are to get out of here, we need to stick together. We can't afford to fight each other.'
Spike smiled softly. 'I think that's what I just said.'
Angel smiled at the small apology and came to sit down on the edge of the bed. 'Tell me.'
Spike put his hand to his collar. 'These things disable - too much pain to stand, an' remember, I've been here, done this with that soddin' chip - then they do the dirty work with those batons. But they're all human; so, no collar, no real threat.'
'The collars are controlled from the place we were first in-- with the pits. There's a control room.'
'Uh huh. How do you know that?'
Angel flushed slightly and looked away. 'I asked one of the other demons I was with. He's been here a long time.'
Spike watched the troubled expression for a moment then said softly, 'You did what you had to do. Wouldn't have been much point if we'd both been beaten unconscious all day, Luv.' He chuckled, as much as his split lip allowed, and poked Angel in a friendly way in the ribs. 'Good team, hey? Righteous Anger and the Compromise Kid.'
Angel smiled faintly. 'You watch too much TV.'
'Yeah, and play the wrong games, it seems.' With a small hesitation, he shifted over to the other side of the bed, leaving an obvious space for Angel.
Fixing his towel very tightly around his waist, Angel crawled into the vacant space and leant back on the headboard. 'Tell me more about the guy you're working for.'
'I'm not working for him. I'm his champion.'
'Why does that word keep coming up? Is that what this is all about? That damn fight to see who would drink from that fake cup?'
'Perhaps it wasn't fake? Perhaps this is perpetual torment.'
'Can't be. I had an hour's respite from you when you were unconscious.'
Spike gave him a small look out of the corner of one eye, but then slid down in the bed and pulled the sheet up over his shoulders. 'I'm knackered.'
Angel slid down, too. 'Yeah.'
Spike hesitated then said softly, 'You wanna talk about it?'
'What are you going to do tomorrow?'
'I'm going to survive.'
'I've got no places left to bruise; so, I'm thinking that's gotta be good, yeah?'
Angel turned and propped himself on his elbow. 'What are you achieving by this, Spike?'
'Jesus, that's a concept that died out with the frigging Ark.'
'Angel….' Spike turned, too, with some difficulty. 'I found it again. That's why it's so important now'
'Okay then. I'll go do the dirty work for both of us while you sit pristine, bloody and hurt, bathed in your damn self-respect.'
'Maybe that's what we're both supposed to do to get out of here… did you think about that?'
'Get ourselves beaten to death?'
'Could you bow down, Angel, and let the pride go?'
'I did that today, Spike.'
'Then try it my way.'
'Or you mine.'
'No. I don't like your compromises. They don't fit me these days.'
'Your pride will be the death of you.'
'Yeah. It burnt me to death. And it hurt. A lot. But I felt God smile on me. When did you ever feel that?'
Angel didn't reply. He stared at Spike across the very small space that separated them. With a nod, that was not quite capitulation, he murmured, 'I'll think about it. I'll sleep on it.'
Spike nodded, too, and at the same time they rolled onto their backs.
Suddenly, neither felt so much like sleeping, despite the avowed exhaustion. Spike shifted edgily in the bed. After a few minutes, Angel turned onto his front and seemed more comfortable like that, lying very still, his body pressed into the mattress.
Spike turned his head and watched the broad shoulders for a while. 'Are you gonna talk about what happened earlier-- in the watcher's place?'
'Uh huh. Cus it seems to me….'
'You think too much; go to sleep.'
'It wasn't real, Spike. Nothing here is real.'
'You keep saying that, but we're real. What we do is real to us.'
'Not to me. Go to sleep.'
'If nothing is real, then….'
'One more word, and I'll finish the job those guards did on your mouth today.' There was a pause, and he added less confidently, 'They just hit you, yeah?'
Spike laughed lightly and didn't reply.
'Go to sleep, Spike.'
'Maybe it'll be gone when we wake up-- this level. Maybe….'
'So am I, and you're the only edible thing in here.'
'Are you thinking about eating me?'
There was no reply to this, and the huge shoulders gave nothing away, despite how intently Spike studied them.
With a slightly histrionic sigh, he turned, trying to sleep, but whatever side he lay on, something hurt. Eventually, he swore, crawled quickly out of bed, grabbed his pants and climbed back on, searching for his cigarettes. He pulled out an empty packet.
There was silence for a while.
Angel followed the movements next to him, tracking Spike's progress, relaxing fractionally when he lay back down. After a few minutes, he turned his head to find Spike lying with both arms thrown over his face, the empty packet scrunched in one hand. Spike's armpit was unnaturally pale: the only place on his torso not bruised. His muscles stretched around the small hollow, sockets and ligaments painfully visible. Angel contemplated the bodies he had seen that day, comparing them to this one. Despite frantic couplings and writhing, not one of them had managed the eroticism Spike achieved by the lift of an arm over a bruised face.
With a sigh, he stretched his arm over Spike's chest and murmured, 'Level Six? First thing? We buy you some new ones. Now, sleep. I need to brood.'
He left his arm over the bruised chest, not caring too much what Spike thought about this.
Angel woke when some small sound - settling pipes - disturbed his sleep. He opened his eyes slowly and realised that what they had been unable to enjoy while conscious, had been granted to them in sleep. He lay intimately spooned with Spike, but as this realisation came to him, his first thought was how inappropriate that term spoon was. There was nothing of metal, or cold, shiny surfaces in this embrace; it was an embrace of skin and hair and sweat and the unique, erotic scent of a man asleep.
Angel's chin was stretched high; Spike's head pressed back against his neck, tucked in against the column of his throat. The too thin shoulder blades pressed against Angel's chest, and small, rhythmic nudges matched the deep, even way he breathed in sleep. Curled, Spike's spine ran the whole length of Angel's belly, and their shared warmth, in the small hollow of the mattress, had left a slight sheen of sweat between them. Angel's mind ran lightly over all these places where they joined, but quickly centered on where his concave hips were filled by the rounded, smooth globes of Spike's backside.
Until this moment, he had not fully appreciated how much he had missed touch; no one touched him, unless it was a blow or a kick. It was as if as a warrior, a champion, no one stopped to consider that he might have other needs than violent contact, that intimate, loving, erotic touch might be necessary as well. He tried to remember the last time he had shared such a warm, calming moment, knowing full well that this would have little to do with memory of sexual appetite gratified. He'd come on Eve's body, but had less recollection of pleasure from her dry offering than he had of a casual wank in the shower.
He suppressed the familiar surge of grief he felt on remembering Connor's warm, plump babyness in his bed, tucked against his body: pleasure from touch he could take and take and take, yet never exhaust, even with his desperate need.
He pressed his face down and breathed once more the scent of freshly washed hair. He tightened his arms around the thin body and increased the warmth against his skin.
He was confused, mixing sweet memories of innocence with this, which was anything but innocent. He willed himself back to sleep, tried to will down the evidence of his confusion.
He sensed a breathing pattern changing.
He knew eyes opened, although he could not see them.
'One of us better go sleep on the floor maybe.'
Angel swallowed. He heard layers upon layers in this small, even comment. Spike, he noticed, had made no effort to move.
Very deliberately, he tightened his arms around the pale form. 'I'm comfortable where I am.'
'Uh huh. I'm thinking you're a tad too comfortable, Mate.'
'Floor's all yours.'
Still, there was absolutely no attempt to move, just an annoyed, 'The floor would do me in; I'll be stiff enough as it is in the morning.'
Angel considered then shrugged and replied, 'That'll be two of us then.'
He smiled into Spike's hair when there was no response to this, and with a long, pleased sigh, he fell back to sleep.
He woke with a long, low groan and came. He opened his eyes wildly, panic stabbing him for a moment as he remembered he was not in his own bed, alone. With relief, he discovered he was face down, and his cock pumped, unseen by anyone, into the mattress. Even more relieved, he heard the shower running and the sound of someone washing.
He pushed up and examined the mess, wiping his belly down and patting ineffectually at the large damp stain. Scrunched casually, the sheets covered all, and he discovered his towel - lost sometime in the night - and tied it tightly around his waist. He was watching the faint silhouette from the steam-filled bathroom when, once more, the hatch in the door opened, and two blood bags fell through onto the floor.
Relieved to have an excuse to remove Spike from the shower and take his own turn, he tapped on the glass door and indicated the food.
Spike reached up and took a towel off the door, tying it as equally tightly around his waist as Angel's. He stepped out and grabbed one of the bags, and without any embarrassment about this, they drank greedily. As he swallowed the life-giving fluid, Angel ran his eyes over Spike's body, checking on the rate of healing. It was a mistake, and casually, he turned until his back was to Spike, and then he stepped into the shower and shut the door, his shoulders sinking with relief.
Spike chucked his blood bag on the floor when it was empty and pulled off his towel, walking slowly into the other room, rubbing his hair. He sat on the edge of the bed then turned incredulous and stared at the rumpled heap of sheets. It was too familiar a smell to be mistaken or ignored. He continued to dry his hair, thinking. It had been a long time since they had lived this closely together: over a century. Lines had been blurred then, Angelus careless with his children, not caring that they witnessed him with his sire, bringing Drusilla into his bed still warm from Darla's exertions, encouraging him to lie with Drusilla afterwards in the newly wetted bed. Angel's scent was nothing new; that was not the source of his confusion.
What confused him was the absence of the women.
He watched Angel as he walked out of the shower and wondered if he would speak of these things. Angel seemed intent now on the day ahead, the intimacy of the night and embarrassment of the morning given way to his characteristic focus on the issue at hand.
He cast Spike a quick glance and said evenly, 'You healed?'
Spike nodded. He debated saying something of his thoughts, but instead said, 'We need some new clothes.'
Angel nodded and sat down on the other side of the bed. 'What do you want to do?'
Spike couldn't hold back a small, ironic chuckle at such a question at such a time: both naked and wet from a shower and sitting on a cum-soaked bed. He scratched an imaginary itch on his cheek and said, considering, 'I think you're right. I think I'm being an arsehole and that we need to do whatever we have to, to get out of here.'
Angel flicked his head around. 'That's a sudden change of tune. What's brought that on?'
Spike didn't want to give the impression that anything Angel did affected him enough to bring on such a change of heart, but hesitating to think of a plausible lie gave Angel the only reply he needed. Before he could offer his explanation, therefore, Angel added bitterly, 'Don't flatter yourself, Spike.'
Spike nodded as if he'd expected this. He rose and said stonily, 'I wasn't. Seems to me I was just sleeping.'
He made to go into the bathroom - the only available escape - when a soft 'Wait' held him back for a moment. 'I was wrong yesterday-- about this place. I think we do your method today-- together. They can't keep us both down.'
Spike came and sat back down. He studied a nail for a moment then said casually, 'You think I'm right?'
'Don't make a big deal out of it….'
'Oh, I don't know…. First times are always kinda momentous.'
'You are so… difficult!' Angel got up to pace, the impact of this familiar tactic slightly diluted by the fact he had to hold his towel to prevent it slipping. 'I knew you'd blow this up into something it's not. You're right! Okay! Not a big deal.'
'It's almost worth being trapped in this bloody game with you, just to hear it.'
'Shut up! You've been right before, Spike! This is not the time or the place for your crap.'
Spike leant back against the headboard and laid his hand on the rumpled sheets. 'Go on. We've got nothing better to do till they let us out… name one time you've told me I was right about something.'
Angel's mouth opened; his eyes narrowed, his brain clearly ticking over slowly and methodically. He began to run his hand over his hair, until the towel slipped, and he grabbed it furiously. 'In China. I told you that you were one of us.'
Spike smiled, delighted. 'You were lying, you sod! Is that the only example you can think of?'
'No. Shut up; I'm thinking.'
Spike desperately wished he had a cigarette so he could create an annoying fog of smoke to watch Angel's pain through. He folded his arms behind his head and put on a patient expression.
Angel frowned and changed the direction of his pacing. Suddenly, he pointed an accusatory finger at Spike. 'You never have been right before! That's why!'
Spike laughed and swung his legs off the bed. 'You win. I'm hungry again.'
Angel let his hand drop to his side. He wasn't sure whether he was more distracted by discovering he was being teased, by the fact that Spike's towel had opened and the inside of his thigh was now visible, or that this glimpse of pale, flawless flesh should arouse him so.
He decided that the most distracting was Spike's playful manner with him. He didn't have that from anyone else, either. That had all changed when he'd decided their fates for them, their memories: allowed the mind-wipe that had plundered and taken something that was theirs, and not his to take. There was nothing playful in Wolfram and Hart, no easy intimacy that they had shared before Connor-- before he had sacrificed it for the need of that other, miraculous intimacy he'd been given for such a short time.
Here was Spike, though-- his hand tauntingly resting on the spill, his mocking eyes, gentle and not challenging.
Angel smiled hesitatingly and sat back down on the bed. After a moment, he said, 'I've kinda made it a mantra: never praise Spike.'
Spike laughed again. 'Yeah. Never trust Angel-- I know the feeling.'
They looked at each other and both smiled at the same time. 'We need to get out of this damn game. I'll be admiring your taste in clothes soon.'
'I'll stop calling you fat-- wait a min… nah, that's not gonna happen.'
Angel nodded. 'So, we do it your way.'
Spike began to rub his palm over the sheet, apparently without considering the impact this was having on Angel. Suddenly, he said, 'What about doing both? I mean… we go along with… things… then when the time is ripe… we fight back.'
'When they're distracted?'
Spike gave a small, rueful huff. 'I'm thinking both of us fucking their brains out would be kinda distracting, yeah.'
'One of us holds them off, the other goes for the controls to the collars?'
Automatically, they both put hands to their necks. 'When this comes off, Angel, no one ever puts a restraint on me again.' He paused, wobbled his hand and chuckled. ''Less I'm helping, that is.'
They heard the sound of the hatch opening, stood up warily at the same time then watched as clothes were pushed through to fall on the ground.
They appeared to be their own, washed and whole, and they frowned at each other, not sure when or how they had been removed or mended. Angel bent and picked them up. 'Not real, I guess.'
Spike lifted an eyebrow. 'You said it yourself: nothing here is real.'
Angel pursed his lips, running his hands over the leather pants. He looked up, directly into Spike's eyes. 'Some things are.'
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