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Despite his pain, despite the jealousy burning in his gut, when Angel ran into the room, Spike went toward him and embraced him in a hard, possessive hug. Angel returned the hug-- and more. Spike stepped away, confused, his thigh twitching where something had moved against it, hard and urgent.
Angel put his hand out to catch Spike's arm, but when he dodged away his hands fell uselessly to his side. 'What's wrong? We survived Level Six….'
Angel frowned and appeared to be silently counting. Suddenly, Spike said softly. 'You don't remember Angelus, do you?'
Angel looked confused then looked down at his pants, suddenly seeing Spike's reaction to his hug in entirely different manner. 'What did he do? Are you all right? What did he say to you? Spike! He is the Prince of Lies! What did he tell you?'
Spike saw the need in Angel's eyes. He felt his arousal and confusion. Thoughts tumbled in his mind; Prince of Lies-- perhaps he had been lied to.
Hugging himself, he replied tightly, 'Conner. He told me about Connor.'
He saw from Angel's expression that Angelus had not lied, and this knowledge was like another death. He was so cold now he began to shake.
Angel went to stand by the window, his whole posture defensive. 'What did he tell you?'
From a great distance, Spike replied evenly, 'That you loved him.'
Angel swore softly. 'What right does he had to speak of love like that?'
'It's true then?'
'I didn't know love like that existed. How could I? It's not the kind of love I'd ever allowed myself to hope for. Not what I thought I could ever be.'
'This place is because of him-- to protect him?'
Angel turned. 'Id have sacrificed a lot more than this for him, yes.'
'Could you ever love someone else like that?' Spike's voice cracked as he spoke, but Angel, sunk in the misery of his own memories, didn't seem to notice.
'He was the only one, Spike. There'll never be another-- not for me. How could there? A miracle.'
'Oh.' Spike sank back against the table, and a sense of being trapped flooded him. He felt if only he could run, he could escape the game, Angel, himself-- him.
He rose and turned toward the door but stopped and murmured, 'Doyle….'
He heard Angel behind him and a hissed, 'Lindsey!' Angel came forward. 'Let me guess: new benefactor?'
Spike nodded, confused. 'You know him?'
Lindsey smiled. 'Yeah, we're old friends.'
'I don't remember ever calling you a friend.'
'Oh, come on-- tried to save my soul. Don't-- I'm not real.' Angel stopped his advance, and Lindsay said amused, 'I'm no more real than this game.'
'You've done this?'
Lindsay smiled. 'With a little help from some new friends.'
'So, what do we do now?'
'Now? Now you go home. This is the last level.' He turned suddenly and showed them the doors to Angel's private elevator. 'That's the portal, Angel. Back to reality. You just have to step through.'
Angel took a step forward. The lawyer held up his hand teasingly, as if he'd genuinely forgotten to tell them something.
'Er… did I mention just one of you? Only one body can pass back through. The other one stays here - in this level - forever. And that's a real forever, Angel. No one else, no death, just alone here for eternity.' He chuckled at Angel's expression.
Angel nodded his head at the portal. 'What do you get out of this?'
'Me? I get what I should have had all along: CEO of Wolfram and Hart. I get to fill the vacant shoes.'
'You're assuming I won't go through?'
Lindsay smiled broadly. 'Before this game? I'm wasn't sure. They said not. I said yes. Now? Now we all know, don't we, Angel? You'll never leave him here. Can't stake him, can't leave him. You'll be imprisoned by your own passion. We danced long enough together for me to taste it, and it will be your prison.'
They were alone. Angel put his hand out to the space Lindsay had occupied, but suddenly something slammed into his back. He was propelled toward the elevator door. The unexpectedness of the attack left him helpless, bounced along, until their greatly unequal weights allowed him to stop-- on the edge of the glow, hands clenched either side, arms braced. When he'd stopped the momentum entirely, he spun around and grabbed Spike. 'What the freaking hell are you trying to do?'
Spike flung his hands off, turned and ran from the office, pounding furiously down the hallways, trying to seek escape that way instead.
Angel caught him up by the copier and crashed him into the wall.
Spike spun-kicked him, then jumped over him and sprinted for the elevator.
He got in, but Angel's fingers appeared in the crack. Spike tried to peel them away; Angel forced the doors open, stepped inside, waited until they closed, then slammed the emergency stop. Then he slammed Spike into the wall, equally hard.
Spike looked at him bitterly. 'You know? Maybe I'll do it another way. I'll go home-- fuck you!' He hit Angel hard, then again, harder. In the narrow confines of the elevator, there was nowhere to go to escape the furious onslaught. Down, Angel swiped at Spike's legs and brought him down too. They tangled on the floor, biting, gouging, blood flicking the metallic walls.
Spike punched the controls, the doors slid open and he fell out, staggering along the hallway toward the office. Climbing painfully to his feet, Angel gave chase.
Spike crashed through the office doors and limped to the elevator.
Angel fell through the doors behind him and shouted, 'Wait!'
Spike turned, the portal so close it made his skin glow faintly. He hugged his coat around himself painfully.
Angel came closer. Spike stepped back, the portal now surrounding him.
'Just tell me why. If you're leaving me here, at least tell me why.'
'I thought we were starting on something new. Just for once, Angel, not all this old history and hatred, which I never wanted anyway. Just for us, something new. But you'd been there before with someone else and you can never love anyone like that again. You're dead there, used goods. You gave it all to him, and there's nothing left for me.' He thumped on his chest. 'I'm greedy where you're concerned; I want it all, Angel-- all for me. It should have been mine. I want what you gave him, but I can never have that now. He got there first.'
Spike stopped, panting. Angel was frowning. He opened his mouth to speak, frowned some more, and then said, 'We're talking about Connor, yes?'
Spike stepped forward, incandescent with rage. 'What do you think! Yes, Connor! That should have been me-- all those things you did with him….'
'You want me to change your diapers and burp you?'
Spike's mouth opened theatrically, but he was effectively silenced. He grunted his confusion.
Angel stepped forward and said softly, 'Connor was my son, Spike. What did Angelus tell you?' He didn't need this answered; he saw his answer in Spike's expression. 'He was just a baby-- a totally human baby. His skin was always warm and he smelt like sunshine and I loved him.' He turned away and went to the window. 'I can't talk about this with you.'
He sensed Spike alongside him and added quietly, 'I allowed his memory to be wiped from everyone to save him.'
Spike's voice was husky, ragged, as if the effort of controlling it was almost too much to bear. 'We need to get out of here. I can't do this anymore. I don't know what's real anymore. It's all lies.'
Angel seemed to agree with him. He nodded. 'None of it's real. None of it!'
Spike turned to look at the portal. 'But we're not using that…?'
Angel grabbed his arm. 'No. We're not. Let's see if we can't find something better than real.' He led the way to Wesley's office and murmured, pleased, when he saw all the books were there.
He held one up to Spike. 'This is how we get out.'
Spike hovered in the doorway. 'I think someone is waiting for us to fight to the death.'
'That's not going to happen.'
'After a few decades here together….'
'I'm not going to be here that long. Not decades, not years, not months, or even days. In fact,' he glanced at the clock on the desk,' I'm getting out of here now….' He chuckled wryly. 'Well, when I've found the answer….'
He settled down in a good impression of Wesley and buried himself in some research. Spike flung himself into a chair opposite, his legs draped over the arm, and closed his eyes.
He listened to Angel read, suffused with embarrassment. Conflicted and vulnerable.
He'd been jealous of a baby-- and he still was.
The arousal might have been for him, but the place deep inside where Angel never let anyone, that was now given to someone else. I can't talk about this with you. A baby-- he could at least have fought another man.
After an hour or so, he opened his eyes and watched the lowered head. A son. Where did that leave him, the childe? The first eclipsed everything of the second, made it nothing more than a squalid blood letting between demons.
'What are you thinking, watching me so intently, Spike?'
Spike jumped slightly. 'I'm not watching you. I'm asleep.'
Angel still did not lift his head. 'Hmm. That so? Why don't you wake up and help maybe.'
'I think I've done enough helping everyone, don't you?'
'He's a plausible liar, Spike. You, of all people, should know that.'
'Have you found a way to get us out of here?'
Angel pouted. 'No.' He glanced at the clock once more, then swore and shook it. 'Damn. Stopped.' He sighed and looked at Spike. 'Hungry? If we're staying here for eternity, I vote we find the food.' He rose and walked into the lobby.
Spike trailed after him and almost collided with Angel's back when he stopped. Angel was staring at the clock over Harmony's desk. 'It's reading the same time. Stopped at the same time.'
Angel saw his bored face and sighed. 'Food then. Where does Harmony keep it?'
Spike stared at him incredulously. 'You don't know where the soddin' canteen is, do you?'
Angel winced. 'I'm CEO-- perks, yeah?'
'Oh, yeah, Harmony's a perk all right. You were perking her right up, I seem to recall.'
'Huh? And… hey… that was you! Corporeal? Oh, I'll fuck Harmony over one of Angel's desks.'
'It weren't one of your desks specifically I wanted to fuck her over.' He jogged after Angel down the hallway. 'And at least I only shagged a dead demon in a reanimated corpse. You shagged Eve!'
'Spell, Spike? Spell!'
'I don't need a bloody spell to get hard, Mate.' This confused them both so much, on so many levels, that they didn't speak again until they reached the canteen. Spike grabbed one bag of blood from the refrigerator and after showing it pointedly to Angel, he theatrically placed it in the microwave and punched some buttons.
He was about to lean superciliously on the counter when he frowned and punched the buttons again. 'Bloody thing's broken! I don't want my soddin' food radiated for nineteen bloody minutes.'
Angel suddenly pushed him to one side. 'What?'
Pushing back, Spike waved his hand at the digital counter. Angel frowned. 'That's the same number as the clocks: Nineteen-oh-Six.'
Spike look interested, 'Yeah,' then immediately bored, and he hit the machine hard, then picked it up and rattled it.
Angel put a hand on his arm. 'This has to mean something.'
'It means we'll be eating cold again.'
'Spike! Stop playing the fucking fool!'
Spike suddenly dipped his head. 'Sorry. I'm feeling…. Okay. Nineteen-Six. Maybe it's a code or something? For the portal?'
Angel looked hopeful for a moment, then they both took to their heels and ran back to Angel's office.
Angel, watching Spike, punched the numbers into the elevator pad.
They waited expectantly, seeing the portal lessen and disperse in their imaginations.
Annoyed, Spike said, 'Damn.'
Angel patted his arm. 'It was a good idea. Think of another one.'
Spike shoved his hands in his pocket. 'Let's go eat then. I can't think hungry.'
Angel nodded and they wandered slowly back to the canteen.
After a few mouthfuls of cold blood, Spike said, staring out at the view, 'What did you do to escape the last level? After the quake? After I fell.'
Angel frowned. 'I chose.'
Spike nodded. 'That much was true then. 'Gelus told me: Wolfram and Hart-- you've chosen it.'
Angel choked on some blood. 'No! Spike! No…. Buffy was there - you saw her - then I….'
Spike turned and watched Angel carefully. 'What?'
'Her history teacher was called Mr. Dawson.'
'Oh, now, that's real relevant. Well, done, Moron.'
'No. Nineteen-Six. She said Mr. Mathew and Nineteen-Six.'
'Uh huh. Still not much bloody help…. Hey! Where you going?'
He pounded after Angel back to Wesley's office.
By the time he got there, Angel had most of the books off the shelf. He cursed, pleased, then ripped off his jacket and gingerly pulled a last one off the shelf.
With some difficulty, burning his fingers, he turned the pages.
He looked up to Spike with shining eyes. 'Mathew Nineteen-Six, Spike!'
'Oh!' Light dawned. Spike came to crane over his shoulder. 'If I'd known the Bible was so interesting, I'd 'ave read it.'
'Shut up. Here we are.' Angel scanned the verse. He lifted his head then let the book fall to the floor.
'Hey!' By the time Spike had negotiated the tricky task of finding the reference without scorching his fingers, Angel was nowhere in sight.
Angel was back in his office, staring at the portal when Spike came in.
Spike clenched his fists. 'Just for the record, in case anyone's interested, I'm not doing it.'
Angel whirled around. 'Jesus! No!' They stared together at the portal.
'Guess we're staying here for eternity then. Look, Mate, there's no need for both of us to stay here. You go and maybe find a way to get me back?'
'No. That's what I was thinking. You go. You're the… champion.'
'You'd rather be trapped here than… that!'
'That's what you just said!'
'Well I didn't mean it!'
'I'm not doing it!'
'No! You're not!'
They stomped off, going their separate ways.
Spike found Angel the next day in his office once more. He was sitting on the couch, a bottle of whisky in his hand.
Spike hovered. 'What are you doing?'
Angel waved the bottle. 'Getting very drunk.'
Spike came in and flung himself on the far end of the couch. 'I can't remember whether I hate you, love you, or can't give a shit about you….'
'None of this has been real.'
'No. Some of it felt real.'
'None of it. Do you want to get out of here?'
Spike lolled his head over to look at him. Angel repeated. 'Do you want to get out of here? Back to your own life?'
'Given what it's going to take.'
'Still yes-- fractionally more than I'd rather not do it and stay here.'
Angel nodded, and Spike added, 'Very small fraction.' He swallowed. 'So, how are we going to… do this thing.'
Angel waved the bottle once more. 'I've already started.'
They shared that bottle equally between them. It didn't seem to help much. One of them thought total darkness might help, but they couldn't find any for ages, wandering around, trying out various storerooms until they came to the basement. It was dark enough there. So dark that they put down their various bottles of alcohol and undressed.
Very quickly, they redressed and came back to the office.
Spike could only nod.
'For Christ sake, Spike, do something… erotic! You haven't seemed to find it too difficult for the last hundred years!'
Spike took some offence at this and turned to reply, hooking his elbow over the back of the couch. As he did, the sleeve of his T-shirt rode up, exposing pale, hard, blue-veined flesh leading to a glimpse of soft hair.
Angel swallowed and reached for him, and then they seemed to be falling.
He was never too sure whether they actually landed on the expensive carpet. He remembered the tearing of clothes, and he remembered heat. Then there was just flesh, joined at last to flesh, one body to pass through the portal, and he woke, spilling seed messily and noisily around a bed.
When he was done, he opened his eyes with a long groan to find Wesley watching him, poised halfway out of a chair as if raised and then frozen in time. Wesley recovered first. He coughed softly and straightened. 'Good. Back then.'
Angel hunched into himself and took in the hospital room with the nurses' station beyond. For one moment, he cursed that it was all real - just at a time when he could have wished for some unreality - but then he said dangerously, 'Tell me.'
'You went missing. We tracked you down to Spike's apartment. You were both unconscious on the couch, so we brought you here.'
'Down the hallway. Gunn's watching him.' Wesley fished out a phone and made a call. 'He's woken up, too. Do you want him held? He wants to leave.'
Angel shook his head.
Wesley coughed discreetly once more. 'I'll leave you to get dressed.'
'Wes…. It was Lindsay. All our resources, everything we have, find him and bring him in.'
Wesley nodded and went out.
Angel did not expect to see Spike again, so was extremely surprised a few days later to see him in the lobby talking to Fred.
He called Wesley in his office. 'Spike's here. What does he want?'
'I assume he's found Lindsay. He's been helping us look.'
Angel watched as Wesley appeared in the lobby and began to talk to Spike. He strained to see their lips moving to work out what they were saying, and in the end could stand it no longer. He went out and hovered.
Spike immediately left.
Wesley came over, rubbing his glasses on the edge of his shirt. 'I've never seen him like this. He's too embarrassed to catch anyone's eye.'
Wesley frowned. 'He thought he was chosen, Angel. That damn man had fooled him into thinking he was special: needed. It must be very hard to find that you're not and that you've been played for a fool.'
Angel spun on his heel and went back to his desk.
After a few days, Spike could stay in Angel's presence, but he never spoke whenever Angel was there and always made an excuse to leave quickly. This was so unlike the way things had been before - when he seemed to find the slightest excuse to plague Angel's existence with his presence - that everyone noticed it.
When Lindsay was found, Angel called a conference to decide what should be done with him. Spike found himself included, although it was clear by his expression that he'd rather have been anywhere else. He sat silently next to Fred, examining his nails with great concentration.
Angel began the meeting by shuffling his papers around in an irritating matter, so Wesley took the initiative. 'We can't let him go, although technically he seems to have committed no crime.'
Gunn nodded. 'Jude and Prachett of….'
'I'm not interested in the law.' Angel leant back in his chair. 'I want justice.'
'There's no evidence….'
'There doesn't have to be. I know what happened.'
'It wasn't real, Angel. You were unconscious in….'
'It was all real to me.'
At that, Spike looked up from his nails with a small frown, staring out of the window.
Angel pushed on doggedly, staring intently at Spike. 'It was real because it was true.'
Wesley looked annoyed. 'From what you've told me, it was a number of very unrealistic, rather stereotypical demon encounters that….'
'I haven't told you the parts that were real.'
Suddenly, Spike said softly, 'Sometimes I think I'm still in there. Sometimes this seems less real than that.'
Angel replied equally softly, 'I think there's as much confusion, yes.'
Not hearing the sub-text of the conversation between the vampires, Fred suddenly murmured, 'Time passed in real time-- your arms healed at a normal rate, and almost all feeling has returned….'
Spike rose, shoved his chair back and left quickly. Angel held his hand up when Gunn made to stop him. 'Let him go.'
He stared out of the window for a while then cursed and left too.
He didn't bother to knock. Invited once, he pushed open the door and went in.
Spike was staring blankly at his hands and looked up, angry.
Angel opened his mouth and the words tumbled out. Once started, he couldn't stop, and he told Spike things about Connor that he had not told anyone, even Cordelia. He spoke of a love so intense that he had fallen into it like a man drowning. He paced as he spoke, and emotion poured off him: a catharsis of words. He used expressions Spike had never heard him use, let emotions show that proved the vulnerability of this apparently invulnerable demon. But when the good things were spoken of - the aching love and need so violent it had almost torn him apart - then he spoke of things he had not even told himself, expressing them for the first time as he shared them with Spike: about the other one, the one who had not smelt so good; the one who hated him and made his demon sick with the need to kill him; the one who he hated but could never say that for he had once been loved. He spoke of hating his own child and not understanding that, because he did not really understand love. He told Spike of the guilt and the tearing apart inside, because he had made choices to end his own confusion, not to save the child he could no longer love. He'd chosen so he could remember a baby and have his sweet, innocent smell in his memory.
When it was over, there was nothing left. Like a hollow man, he was eased onto the bed. Spike took off Angel's shoes, covered him with a blanket, and he slept for two days without dreaming or moving.
When he woke, Spike was sitting alongside him in a chair, his feet up on the bed, writing.
They stayed that way for a long time: Angel awake and watching Spike; Spike knowing he was being watched, writing.
'What are you doing?'
Spike didn't look up. 'I'm writing to Buffy. To tell her. Seemed important.' He glanced down at the ground littered with crumpled efforts. ''S not easy though.'
Angel sat up, and Spike laid down his letter. 'They've all been looking for you.'
Angel nodded and ran his fingers through his hair. Spike watched him, tipping his chair back and snatching it to balance just in time. Angel swung his legs off the bed and bent for his shoes.
When he was dressed, he glanced back at the bed, nodded his thanks and left.
The next day, everyone noticed that, once more, things between Angel and Spike seemed to have changed. Spike was back to haunting him - sitting in his office, watching him work - but for the first time, this did not appear to annoy Angel. On the contrary, they often observed Angel leaning back in his chair, returning Spike's look thoughtfully.
They knew for sure that things had changed when, during a meeting, Wesley voiced his doubts about the choices they had made, but before Angel could reply, Spike said evenly, 'It's not about choices; it's about intent. It's about what we intend by our choices that counts, and that's often better than we know at the time. You have the chance to make something of this choice now; so, I suggest you all shut the fuck up whining and go do something good? Yes?'
One by one, everyone else left the table, drifting out, embarrassed by some vaguely perceived disloyalty in themselves, which was highlighted by this outburst from Angel's supposedly bitter enemy.
Finally, they were the only ones left.
Angel rose from his position at the head of the table and began to walk toward his private elevator, unbuttoning his shirt. He stopped and held out his hand. When Spike frowned, Angel said softly, 'It's time I stopped whining and did something good for once. Are you coming?'
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