Spoilers: Set directly after the events of "You're Welcome."
Summary: The things Angel doesn't understand could fill a fucking book.
Author's notes: For Kita, because she asked. I hope you like it.
The problem with being a martyr is that you have to die first.
Angel isn't stupid, but there's a lot he doesn't understand. How airplanes don't fall from the sky. The whims of fashion. This American Idol thing. And, more than anything, the laws that govern his life. It should have been him; he had earned it. Cordelia. Doyle. It should have been him.
But maybe the true punishment is that he has to live. Through everything. Forever. He has to live.
Fear of death is nothing compared to fear of an eternity without life.
He doesn't understand. But he's the leader, they look to him, so he has to pretend. He enters the bar to find them together, laughing, but the weight upon him is so grievous and so obvious that the moment they see him, they fall silent. And Angel has to explain, even though he doesn't understand, himself. And he's so numbed by grief that he can neither form the words nor hear them; he's vaguely aware, somewhere, that his mouth is moving, his throat and chest in fabricating the breath to push the horrible words out, but he is merely a conduit. The words just move through him; it's not his fault.
Only it is. It is definitely his fault.
Angel finishes speaking, and his friends cry and reach out for him, but he can't. He's so exhausted from pretending to understand, and he'll just kill them, too. It's for the best. Angel trips out into the dark, wet night.
He can't stand to go back there, to his prison and her grave. The place where he lives, but not his home. He has no home; he has built his home in women – Darla, Buffy, Cordelia – but they've all died and left him. Adrift. And so he walks through the dark streets, a specter among the living, breathing, hopeful people walking through their city.
How people keep trying, how they keep the faith – this is something he does not understand.
"This is a bad neighborhood, nancy. Picking up some extra quid selling that wide, pale ass?"
Angel stops, turns for the voice. He wonders how long Spike has been following him, how lost he must have been to not notice.
Very. Very lost. That's a given.
"Not tonight, Spike. Any night but tonight."
And Spike doesn't say anything. He stares, blue eyes icing through Angel – damn those eyes – his mouth an unsound testament to indecision. Finally, he shrugs, lights a cigarette, pale smoke rising around him, distorting his face in a hazy veil.
Angel starts away, back to his wandering. But then Spike is before him, in his path, thin fingers arresting his wrist.
"Come on, mate," Spike says. "Let's have a drink."
"I don't--" Angel says, but can't decide where to end. He is very tired.
"Don't give me that hero party line," Spike says. "Did you wake up today not a Mick?"
Sometimes it's just easier not to fight.
Angel is two-thirds a bottle of Bushmills in. Spike has, Angel is still sober enough to realize, been exhibiting uncharacteristic restraint; he's mostly been smoking, though he's knocked out a few beers. They are in a nowhere bar, in a booth in the back, which is just fine with Angel because he wants to be unseen, invisible. If they can't see him, they won't know what he's done.
"She was the best of all of us," Angel says, in lieu of nothing.
"Cordelia?" Spike asks, stabbing his cigarette out on the table. "People always say that kind of thing when someone's dead."
"I think I mean it."
Spike lights another cigarette. With the butt dangling from his lip, he begins the two-handed task of peeling the label off an empty beer bottle.
"She was all right, as humans go. Always said what she meant; I like that. Plus, the legs on her--"
Angel flinches. "Don't."
Spike sets the beer bottle, only half-stripped, back on the table, and just studies Angel for a long moment.
"All right," he says finally, softly.
"Is it my fault?" Angel asks. If anyone will tell him how he's fucked up, it's Spike.
"No," says Spike. "Not unless you're in control of the Powers That Be and Cordelia herself and medical science. And I just don't give you that much credit."
"I couldn't save her," Angel says. "I couldn't even see it coming-"
"Listen, hero," Spike says. "It's not your job to save everyone."
"I'm not talking about everyone. I'm talking about Cordelia."
Spike holds his tongue for the second time in one night.
The bar is closing, and the barkeep comes over to hustle them out. Angel now has enough alcohol in his veins that a human would be dead, and has sunk so far down the slick pleather of the booth that his knees are jammed between Spike's across the table.
"All right, nancy," Spike says, rising from his seat – somewhat awkwardly, tripping over Angel's legs – "they're giving us the boot. Let's get out of here before the flames and pitchforks."
Angel doesn't move. His body feels very heavy.
"I don't want..." Angel says.
Spike comes around to Angel's side of the booth. He studies the old man for a second, considers the logistics of picking up his heavy sire and lugging him out of the booth and the many blocks home.
"You're going to have to get up," Spike says.
"I don't," Angel says, not even making it to the verb this time.
Spike sighs, then bends, slips his arms around Angel's immovable frame. Angel smells like liquor and grief, the sharp odor of the alcohol contrasting harshly with the old tears and grave earth softness of the emotion. Spike pauses. He has, over the course of his unnaturally long life, felt pity for Angel many times. For his soul and his occasional horrible hair choices, for all the obvious character flaws that kept the old man from being as cool as Spike. But that kind of pity was mostly of the comfortable in one's superiority, hey isn't that funny kind of pity. He has never before felt sorry for Angel and really felt for him. But he does now.
"Will," Angel says, softly. Spike is bent against him, and Angel curls a hand around the back of his neck.
Spike looks away from the raw pain of Angel's face. "Come on," he says, his arms bracing Angel, and he begins to stand, to lift Angel to his feet.
Angel's hand closes hard on Spike's neck, to the point of pain. Reluctantly, Spike looks back to the old man's face.
"How did this happen?" Angel asks. "It wasn't always like this. We weren't always like this."
"We have souls now," Spike says.
"Maybe we shouldn't," Angel says. His eyes are wild, desperate.
"You don't mean that."
"The bar is closed, ladies," cuts a bored drawl from behind Spike. "You can do whatever freaky shit this is somewhere else."
Spike turns to the beleaguered bartender. He starts with a cutting retort, but then feels it isn't worth it, and turns back to helping Angel up.
But Angel is getting up on his own.
"You want to mind your own fucking business," Angel says, pulling himself from the booth and taking a step in the man's direction.
The bartender is not impressed. "Listen, pansy. I don't care about your fucking business; believe me. I just need you to get out--"
There's a growl – low, feral, familiar – and Angel is in game face and the bartender is running.
Spike is stunned. Usually the old man is so buttoned-down.
"Well, then," Spike says, "that proves it. You're much more fun when you're drunk. 'Course, I always suspected as much."
Angel sinks back into the booth. Spike has a sneaking suspicion that it's because Angel is really too drunk to do more than menace, so he bends back down to help Angel up and out of the bar before the man comes back with an angry mob. But Angel doesn't move.
"Spike," he says. "I wanted to--"
"It was 'Will' earlier," Spike says, not sure whether he's teasing the old man or trying to win something from him.
Angel's face softens. "Will," he says.
Spike slips his hands around Angel's torso, starts to hoist him up. "We should get out of here before your friend comes back."
Angel resists, pulling back into the booth. Spike is pulled, too, and now they're both in the slick seat, and very close. Angel brings his hand back to the nape of Spike's neck, just rests it there. The weight of it is comfortable, but the reason behind it is unspecified and therefore uncomfortable, and Spike is torn.
"We need to go," he says.
The weight on the back of Spike's neck increases; Angel draws him close. And then Angel is kissing him, bluntly, desperately, and if anything, the grief smell, the smell of tears and the damp ozoney smell of the sky after the rain, just grows thicker and thicker.
Spike pulls away. "Angel. We need to go."
"Please, Will," Angel says, and his voice is weak and thin and he looks old, so old, not like Spike's always teasing him about but like he could crumble away into dust any moment.
Spike hesitates, looks toward the door the bartender ran out. Angel's fingers are five points of pure pain burning into his spine, and his voice is like nothing Spike has ever heard before – not from him, never from him – a rent sound, like something precious tearing, and Spike doesn't want to look back because he does not – and this is the real shock – want to see Angel crying.
"Please, Will. Just-- please."
And Spike closes his eyes, and he turns back to Angel, and when Angel's mouth again descends upon his, he reciprocates, moving against Angel, opening his mouth for him, drinking in the cloying ozone and the surprisingly bitter saline of Angel's real tears. And when Angel falters, his hands unsure and shaking, Spike opens his eyes and he palms Angel's jaw in his hand, and he presses him against the sticky cheap upholstery of the booth so hard that Angel stops shaking and just surrenders. His muscles beneath Spike's hands, beneath Spike's body, untense a bit, and a bitter lump rises in Spike's throat. And he thinks about the hours of fantasy devoted to Angelus willingly submitting to him, and he wonders whether he'd be enjoying this if he'd never gotten a soul.
And he is grateful that he'll never have to know.
Angel surges quietly against him, searching for friction, and Spike starts unbuttoning the old man's shirt but halfway through he stops caring, and starts messing with his pants instead. The half-buttoned shirt hangs around Angel's shoulders like sloughing wings, heavy and useless, but beneath his expensive pants Angel is hard, waiting. Spike unbuckles and unbuttons and unzips Angel, forces the fine fabric down past Angel's hips, down until Angel's position and the physical reality of the booth stop them. He is bending over Angel's cock when Angel tautens again, and Spike changes game plan, straightening and taking Angel by the shoulders, pulling him up to his knees and then flipping him around, forcing him to his hands and knees facing the wall. Angel relaxes again, even as Spike is tugging his pants down to his knees, as he is positioning himself behind him. "Please," he said. Spike can count on one hand the number of times he's heard that word pass Angel's lips. He can also count on one hand the number of times Angel has offered himself to him like this, and he wonders again whether he'd be enjoying this if he'd never gotten a soul.
Morning is pale on the horizon as they leave the bar. Angel walks slowly, face upturned, the last of the stars reflected in his eyes. He smells slightly less like ozone, but Spike can still smell it, even under the raw pungency of sex.
"Get a move on, nancy," Spike says. "If we don't hurry, I'll burn to ashes walking you home. And you're not worth it."
Angel's eyes flicker down briefly from the view of the heavens.
"You don't have to walk me home," he says. "That wasn't a date."
Spike smirks. "Don't be bashful, gorgeous; I don't care that you give it up on the first date."
Angel looks back at the sky.
"You never did," he says.
Together, they walk slowly home.
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