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Domestic Bliss

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Midnight rang out like a bell
My heart sunk like a ship
Deliver me from this hell before I slip.
Well my lungs can no longer breathe
And my legs can no longer run
And the only thing I need's for this day to be done.
And the bluebird can sing
But the crow's got the soul
And I'm a dog among kings with no self-control
And the only thing left is to try to live
The sins on my back
No one could forgive.
~ Midnight, William Elliot Whitmore

1.


It's dark in the tiny room Riley has been given. He lies under the sheets, ramrod straight, staring blankly at the ceiling. His shoulder aches and his face burns, unseen, with the shame of how low he's fallen. He hadn't meant to accept an offer of help, hadn't meant to need it, but then that was the story of his life, wasn't it? He hadn't intended for any of this, but yet here he was.

Alone again, and yet... not.

How many times has he fallen, he wonders. How many times have the best of intentions been his undoing?

But this time is different. This time he's been given an unlikely guardian angel. He can hear the muffled sounds from the room beyond, and he would like to pretend that it's only the noise that's keeping him awake, but it's Spike out there. It's Spike's apartment, and he can barely think the name, let alone acknowledge the reality. Spike has an apartment in LA. It's Spike who has taken him in. Spike who could have left him behind. By rights maybe he should have. Spike who had tossed careless insults at him and curled his lip in disinterest and disgust at everything Riley was, but still Spike who had saved him. Spike who has given him somewhere to lay his head.

Riley turns his face into the pillow and tries to sleep. In the room beyond, the sound of movement continues.


---


2.


Riley sleeps fitfully through what's left of the night and most of the next day. As usual when he wakes there are a few moments of blissful ignorance before it all comes rushing back. He rolls out of bed; the movement a welcome distraction. The room doesn't gain much with the dim light filtering through the drawn curtains. A mattress on the floor served as his bed. There's a small table lamp in the corner of the room that he didn't see last night and Spike didn't think to point out to him. A wardrobe (empty, save a few wire hangers) built in to the end wall completes the room.

Basic is one word. Spartan is another. Riley's seen much worse.

He moves silently, locating a small, functional bathroom where he washes and checks his injuries. Mostly scratches and bruises. Nothing that'll leave a scar.

It's only when he's standing in the middle of the apartment, bag on his shoulder, that he notices the silence. It wraps around him like a blanket and he finds himself unwilling to break it. So he just stands there, staring blankly at his surroundings and trying to reconcile them with the creature he knows lives here. The open plan apartment is basic, to say the least, with the kitchen set off to one side of the living area. Spike could have been living here a week or a year for all Riley knows. There are only a few signs that he has been here at all. A few scattered CDs, DVDs, overflowing ashtrays, a couple of newspapers on the coffee table all folded over to show half-finished crosswords filled with neat black letters. On one wall there's a frayed poster for a band Riley's never heard of. There's a pair of boots discarded at the foot of the couch, scruffy and worn, two drunken old men slumped together. In the corner is a battered old guitar with a few strings missing.

He feels like he's intruding, though he is content just to stand there and look. This, of course, is when Spike makes his presence known. He crosses the room without acknowledging Riley and heads straight for the refrigerator. Standing at the open door, clad only in a pair of ancient jeans, he drains a plastic container of what can only be blood. His distaste seems an old habit, a throwback to a time when Spike was... something else.

"You're still here."

Riley blinks, the statement catching him off guard. "Yeah, I..." He glances at the door. "I couldn't help but notice -- you're not dead."

"Observant of you."

"I, uh, heard about Sunnydale. Not much, really. Just that it was gone. What happened?"

"Evil was defeated. I didn't die. That about covers it."

"And Buffy, she--"

"She's fine."

"Yeah. Okay." Riley didn't really expect volumes of information to be volunteered, but he wonders what really happened. He's filled with sadness for a life he once led, people he once called his friends. He's sure that whatever it was that happened, the world was saved again. He's standing here, thanks to them, and he doesn't know much more than Sunnydale fell into Hell. He'd ask for more, but it doesn't look like Spike's in a sharing mood. "Well, I was just leaving."

Under his lip, Spike runs his tongue over a canine and it looks like a sneer. He examines the bottom of the empty container and has yet to look at Riley. "You know where the door is."

"Yes, I..." Riley draws himself up a little straighter. "I wanted to thank you."

This, it seems, is enough to finally warrant Spike's attention. He tosses the empty container over his shoulder where it lands with a clatter in the sink. "Bet that burned," he says, all at once the old Spike with the swagger and the menacing smile. The cocky Spike. The Spike who makes Riley's throat burn and his jaw clench. "Forget it," Spike says, waving a hand. "Nothing personal. You be a stranger now, y'hear?"

It reeks of dismissal and the old urge nudges at Riley to salute and turn on his heel. Spike is already in the bathroom with the shower running. It's the last sound Riley hears as he closes the apartment door behind him.

He goes straight back to the bar where Spike found him the previous night. He knows it's foolish, but it's his last -- his only -- lead. He's got nothing else to go on. This time he takes the softly softly approach and bribes the bartender with the last of his cash. He makes a show of it, like it's no big deal, like he bribes people all the time. The fact that he doesn't know where his next meal is coming from and he has nowhere to sleep tonight doesn't enter into it.

The bartender keeps one eye on the room and both hands on the bar. Riley tries not to get distracted by the thick green and yellow skin of his muscled forearms and the way those muscles tense and shift as they talk. The bartender happens to be a Vanglash demon, a very rare breed, possessing the matchless ability to sense and locate Porta'kqua demons. It's a Porta'kqua that Riley is looking for. Porta'kqua is an ancient name, one Riley had to do a lot of researching to discover, and these days the demons are more commonly known as Burrower Demons. Referred to, in the trade, as Grubs. The bartender gives him a hard time, threatening to kill him if word gets out about his special talent, but in the end Riley leaves with the information he came for.

Unfortunately, as he steps out into the night, he knows he has also picked up a tail.

The vampire waits until they're away from the bar before making his move, but by then Riley is more than ready for him. He spins, a flick of his wrist extending the deadly little black baton he's carried for years, and smashes it into the vampire's temple. The vampire staggers back with the blow, but keeps his feet. He comes up snarling, baying for blood. The fight is fast, vicious, and for most of it Riley has the upper hand. When the vampire is caught in a chokehold, Riley's arm around his throat, a stake in his other hand, it should be a done deal, but the vampire plays dirty, sinking his fangs into Riley's forearm and shaking his head like a dog. Riley howls in pain and his body reacts purely on instinct, letting go and curling in on itself. The vampire stands tall, with blood on his lips.

"First," he says, "I'm going to take your blood." He grabs Riley by the lapels and hauls him to his feet. "Then, I'm going to take your money. And when I'm done," he grins, "I'm going to feed your remains to this Mm'tet demon I know. He pays top dollar for human carrion."

Riley doesn't waver. "Good luck on all counts."

The vampire lunges for his throat, but before the pain comes, Riley hears the familiar rushing sound of flesh turning to dust, and the vampire is gone.

When the dust settles, Spike is standing in front of him, looking bored. "Is this going to be a regular thing, me rescuing you when you run headlong into peril? Because, honestly, you're starting to eat into my time."

"Thanks, but I had it." Riley produces the stake he had hidden behind his back. "Never let 'em know your real strengths until it's too late," he deadpans, and tucks the stake away.

"You're very bloody welcome, I'm sure. Now if you don't mind, I think I'll exit, stage left."

"Wait." Riley jogs a few paces to catch up. "Why are you here again?"

Spike finishes lighting his cigarette before answering. "Used to be my local. They won't have me back there now if I'm offing the clientele. Typical." His nostrils twitch and he casts a slanting look at Riley. "You do know you're bleeding."

Riley looks down at his arm and sees the sleeve wet with blood. "Fuck," he says. The pain hits him suddenly, making him reel. "Fuck." The swearing feels constructive, so he does it again. "Fuck."

Spike takes a long, hard drag on his cigarette. "I suppose you'll be needing..." he waves his hand in an irritated fashion, "... help. Of some description. Again."

Riley thinks of the small, inadequate first aid kit in his bag. He doesn't like it one bit, but it looks like he's out of options. "Yeah, I think I might."

Spike works his jaw. "Right then," he says, and sets off.

"Where are we going?"

"Back to mine. I've got some old first aid supplies there from--" He squints at the dark horizon. "It was this thing with a dragon. Don't ask."

Riley doesn't. He just follows as best as he can until they get to Spike's car. It's new, black, sleek, and expensive. Riley has already walked past it until he hears the engine start, never imagining Spike in a Lexus. Before he gets in, he sees there's a long scraping dent along one side and one of the headlights is smashed. This, at least, makes the car seem more like it might have had Spike behind the wheel at some point.

One short, alarmingly fast journey later, and they're back at the apartment. It feels strange to be back here again, like he'd already closed the chapter on it forever. Strange to once again wait while Spike turns on lights, throws his coat over a chair, lights another cigarette, and generally restakes his claim to the small space. He opens and closes several cupboards in the kitchen until he finds what he's looking for.

"Come on then, time's a-wasting."

Riley realises he's still standing just inside the door and that his arm is throbbing. Spike waits for him in the kitchen, cigarette dangling from his lip and looking like the world's unlikeliest nursemaid as he scavenges the contents of the deluxe Wal-Mart first aid kit for bandages and tape. A bottle of hydrogen peroxide is produced. Riley dumps his bag on the floor and gingerly takes off his jacket. Spike pitches his cigarette into the sink, grabs Riley's wrist and examines the arm. It's in bad shape. The wound is deep and still bleeding sluggishly. Spike is close, and can't possibly miss it when a few drops of blood patter to the floor. He goes very still, and Riley can see his throat working when he swallows.

"Go ahead." Riley lifts his arm. "It'll help." It's funny how little thought goes into those four little words. If there was such a thing as a negative amount of thought, that's how much Riley puts into the offer. He figures it's okay, though, seeing as how there's plenty of stunned disbelief to fill the vacuum. "Vampire saliva contains several compounds, mystical and chemical, conducive to coagulation," he recites by rote. "It's the bite and suck you have to worry about."

Spike goes very still. Only his eyes flick to Riley's face. "How in the hell would you know a thing like that?"

Riley can't quite look him in the eye, so instead he stares at Spike's shoulder. "Initiative research."

Spike's grip tightens painfully on his wrist. "Of course. Silly me." His voice is low and hard, and the mention of the Initiative is all the encouragement he needs. Watching Riley closely, like the offer could be withdrawn at any second, Spike slowly licks a long, contemplative stripe up the inside of Riley's arm, from his wrist up to the patch of unbearably sensitive skin on the inside of his elbow.

The sight of Spike's tongue, curled and stained with blood, disappearing into his mouth is too much. Riley fixes his gaze on what looks like a smudged footprint on the wall opposite, and stands firm. Spike lets out a little snort, and goes to work. He licks up Riley's blood with hard swipes of his tongue, causing no small amount of pain as he cleans the wound.

Riley grits his teeth and accepts it all without a sound.


---


"Finn! My boy. I've missed you. So glad you're on your way."

Riley's head is heavy. He knows he's dreaming. He tries to fight it, but he it's too much. He can't lift his head. It weighs a thousand pounds. He can't move his limbs either. He can't turn away. Can't do anything. He's detached from this, knowing vaguely that it's all a dream, but the fear washes through him regardless. What if it's not? What if he's drugged or if it's something else? Something worse? Something magical. Something demonic. What if this is what it feels like when the Grub is inside you? What if this is how it works? What if this is how they take you?

He tries to swear, to fling vicious, disgusting, hurtful words, but he has nothing. His lips won't respond. And he has nothing. He knows it. But it doesn't stop him struggling.

"Finn. I'm afraid that Sam has gone. I've worn her out, you see."

It doesn't make any sense, because the Grub still looks just like Sam. He's still wearing her face and that white suit he'd worn the last time their paths crossed, but it's dirty now, creased and spattered with old blood. He has his hair scraped back in a greasy centre parting, and he's wearing a stupid moustache and that makes her... him. It's oily and ugly and Riley would rip it off his... her... his face if he could because the thought of it makes him ill. Old and decaying: brown blood and oil. Riley hates it. He hates the Grub with everything that he is, but it's useless because he can't move. He's useless, and he knows it.

Sam... The Grub takes hold of his injured arm and squeezes. Riley wants to scream, but he holds it inside. He bites on his lip instead, refusing to give the satisfaction.

He knows this is a dream. He clings to that because it has to be. He wants more than anything to wake up, so he struggles because he can't bear to see it. He can't bear to see Sam like this. Some tiny part of him knows that when he wakes he can shake it off. But he's stuck. Stuck and struggling and useless.

"Have you missed me, Finn? I've missed you. I've been waiting for you. But you are taking your sweet time about it."

The Grub draws closer. Riley can't move, can't do anything as the Grub bends precisely and kisses him. Riley twists and turns, but can't dislodge the thing from his mouth. Sam... It... The Grub is in his mouth, filling his mouth with foam and filth and death and he can't dislodge it, can't get loose, can't get away. He's choking and still it's Sam attached to his face. Can't--

He wakes suddenly, his legs kicking out, tears streaming down his face. His body is damp with sweat and his injured arm aches. He bites on his hand to keep from sobbing, his dreams still mixing with his waking mind, and right now nothing makes sense. Everything in this moment is twisted and black and he wants none of it. All he wants is peace.

A sound from the hall beyond his bedroom door brings him back to the here and now, making him clamp down on his tears, making him hold his breath even though it hurts. There's a long pause, then the sound of bare feet padding away from his door. Riley hangs his head and lets himself breathe, keeping it slow and easy until his body calms down. He curls himself up in bed, draws the sheets up to his chin and pulls a pillow over his face.


---


Riley waits, killing time by doing not very much of anything. Spike wakes near sunset and makes his early evening trek to the fridge. He's still half asleep, so he's halfway across the room before he pauses, realising he's not alone. Riley just sits in the armchair, fingering the bandage on his arm.

"You're still here?" Spike looks truly confused, like he's woken up in the wrong apartment. "Thought you'd be long gone. How's the arm holding up?"

"Good." Riley realises he's toying with the bandage and drops his hand. "It's fine."

"Then what?"

Riley sits, feeling nothing but foolish. "I was thinking... I thought maybe I could stick around?" He tries not to make it a question, tries to stop there, but his words continue regardless. "For a few days. If that's okay with you. I, ah... have this slight cash flow problem."

Spike closes his eyes for several seconds, then opens them, and seems genuinely let down when Riley doesn't simply disappear. "Why in God's name would you inflict that on me? Get a job if you're skint. You're army, right? I'm sure there's some poor little country needs invaded by big, strapping soldiers like you. Luxembourg, maybe. You know Siam's never been occupied. Or Chad. I bet Chad is in need of a good invading. Or if you don't fancy that, some nice government office where they have pens they need pushed."

"I have a thing. In LA."

"Elaborate."

"A demon I've been tracking."

"Which particular demon?"

"A Burrower Demon."

Spike draws back in disbelief. "A Grub? Are you pulling my leg?"

Riley shakes his head. "If he moves, I move, but in the meantime, I'm in LA for the duration."

"Lucky old LA."

"Believe me, if there was any other way... But I'm out of money. Out of favours."

"Out of friends, you mean." Riley doesn't rise to the bait and can't quite meet Spike's eye. It seems that this, more than anything, chips the hard edges off Spike's distaste. "For fuck's sake," Spike says under his breath and adds a slow, aggravated shake of his head for effect. "Fine. You can stay. But don't get too comfortable here, you hear me? This is just one of those... fucking..." He searches for the word. "... greater good things, right? You get your act together and get out."

"Deal," Riley says with a nod, knowing what it had taken Spike to agree. It had taken him a lot more to ask.

"And you'll have a job of it. Grubs are daunting bunch and no mistake."

"I know. But it's a thing. Listen, I appreciate this."

"Don't. Just don't. Don't appreciate it. And don't get used to it." Spike disappears, going to the fridge for his blood.

Riley takes a deep breath and laces his fingers together, cracking each and every one of his knuckles.


---


3.


As soon as it's dark, Riley goes to the address the Vanglash gave him. He bypasses two security systems, utilises a nifty set of lock picks, and lets himself in undetected. The two-storey building is modern white with lots of exposed old brick, set back from the street within its own grounds. It speaks of wealth and taste, and bears the distinct imprint of a single, upwardly mobile bachelor. Inside he's met with silence. No people, no pets, not even a goldfish. It's only in the kitchen he finds signs of trouble: spattered blood, hastily cleaned, but nothing a trained eye can't spot. So this is where it happened. The Grub has been here, Riley's sure of it.

He quickly searches, looking in every room, even checking under the mattress until he finds what he's looking for: a passport with a name to match the utility bills and a face to match the few framed pictures scattered around. Michael Lukins. The face in all those pictures is that of a young man. Attractive, strong, wealthy, young and male. To Riley's knowledge, all the things the Grub usually chose in a host... except for the time when it had chosen Sam. Riley's stomach heaves, but at least now he has a face. He's going to have to search for him. Michael Lukins. The Grub will be calling himself that now. Ingratiating himself with unsuspecting friends and family. Choosing someone new. Maybe right at that very moment.

Riley keeps looking. He knows he won't find credit or membership cards because those are of interest to the Grub, but he finds receipts. He hacks into Michael Lukins' laptop, reads his email, checks his calendar and his appointments schedule. There isn't much to go on. Riley gets a feeling that perhaps the former Mr Lukins' business wasn't strictly legitimate. His books are encrypted, withstanding Riley's attempts at access, and his schedule only lists the occasional function. There's one two weeks from now. Two weeks is a long time to wait, and the Grub might not even show up. It might even have moved on by then. It's not nearly enough, but it's the best Riley has to go on.

Grubs are shrouded in secrecy, in mystery, and they've earned their privacy in rivers of blood. Riley knows it isn't going to be easy, but he has to try.

In the single car garage, Riley finds confirmation of what he already knows to be true. In a corner, under a tarpaulin, lies a corpse. A young black man. Eyes open and dry. Face blank, totally blank. Chest torn open, ribcage cracked, ribs reaching like clawed fingers. Organs decimated. Blood pooled; black and congealed. Riley closes the unseeing eyes with a gentle touch and tries not to choke at the presence of the fat buzzing flies.

He leaves; his anger buried deep, his failures shining bright. He tries not to think of the photograph in the passport as anything more than the enemy he's seeking. Michael Lukins is dead, and there's a demon walking around wearing his face, wearing his body, and right now, right this second the Grub could be killing a friend, a family member. He could have moved on, killed again, killed a dozen times by now.

Michael Lukins is dead, and Riley blames himself.

He goes back to the bar looking for the Vanglash demon. He needs more information. Two weeks is too long. The Grub could change hosts several times before then if it so chooses. There's a Pootah demon behind the bar in the Vanglash's place, looking deceptively harmless, soft downy fur covering its body, cheeks high and rosy, giving it an unsettling resemblance to a demonic Care Bear. It denies all knowledge of the Vanglash, claiming to have only started working in the bar. Riley loses his temper and the Pootah shows its true colours -- granite muscles under the fur and razor sharp teeth hidden behind those shiny pink cheeks -- and forcibly ejects him from the premises.

Nursing his ego and a few new bruises, Riley picks himself up and waits until he's calm enough to consider his options. He has two weeks. In the interim he can search by other means for the Grub, check back at Michael Lukins' house, rely on luck and hope for a miracle. He stops at a payphone and makes a quick call, reporting Michael Lukins' credit cards as stolen. It's not much, and he knows it, but it's something. And in the meantime, there are plenty of other demons in LA to keep him busy.

Time is an indistinct blur, passing by. He sleeps by day, waking in the evening and going out, barely sharing a dozen words with Spike in the process. It's an arrangement that seems to suit them both.

There's never anyone at Michael Lukins' house, but Riley checks in there every day. He walks the city. Walks for miles. It's inefficient and unproductive, especially in a city like L.A., but it's the best he can do. He keeps an eye out for trouble, and it's as easy to find as he remembers. The good old US of A. There's something in the air here, whether it's the mentality of the local vampires, or just the sanctimonious air of liberty, but demons are so much easier to find. They don't even need a hellmouth to draw them, just a city with a twenty-four hour lifestyle and an abundant food supply. Here they walk and talk like humans, wherever possible, and don't show their true colours until after dark. Here they have their own subculture, whether vampires pretending to be humans pretending to be vampires, or just tempting those foolish enough to find their call enticing. Demons abound in bars, nightclubs, hotels, restaurants, parks, street corners, alleyways; look closely at any dark corner of any neighbourhood and they're there. Riley finds that here there are demon-run bars and brothels, if you know where to look and how to ask. He finds them living in the sewers and condemned buildings, even running illegal gambling dens.

In the jungle, Riley could go months without spotting anything more unusual than birds, insects and the occasional lizard. Most nights his biggest problem was keeping the mosquitoes away. To find a monster in those humid climes, you had to search. You had to offer sacrifices and tempt the evil to come to you. Here, in the City of Angels, the underworld spews its dark children into everyday life. He finds them in delis and coffeehouses, drinking elaborate drinks with complicated names and watching the other customers with an insatiable hunger. He finds them in convenience stores, buying cigarettes and alcohol, munching on candy bars like the thought of drinking blood or eating human flesh has never occurred to them. He finds them in groups, clustered around swing sets in children's parks in the dead of night, laughing like teenagers, the menace thick in the air around them.

He finds them, and one by one he kills them. It's that simple. And each and every one of them, he asks about the Grub. Not one of them has ever heard of him.

Then Riley meets the one vampire he hates most in all the world. Angel muscles in on his fight, taking a kill that doesn't belong to him. Riley doesn't really care about that, though. He's not so stupid that he won't take help when it's offered in a fight. What he doesn't get is why Angel bothers. There's no love lost between them. Only a lost love. That much, at least, they share. When the last body falls, Riley feels only apathy about anything Angel could have to say to him. He remembers the burning wrath that consumed him the first time they met, but time has put out that fire. Angel does exactly what Riley expects. Never one for simple questions, Angel looms over him, issues softly spoken threats, the usual.

It's what comes next that rocks Riley to the core.


---


Dazed, and filled with confused anger, Riley sits at the little kitchen table, in one of the uncomfortable wooden chairs Spike keeps, staring at nothing and slugging occasionally from a bottle of beer. He doesn't know how long he's been sitting there when Spike arrives home. Riley's a little past tipsy, and he's dog-tired, so his reactions are sluggish. He takes a final mouthful of his beer and tries to stand, wanting only to get past Spike and go to his room. Spike lays a hand on his shoulder and keeps him in his seat. Riley's anger flares, but that's all it is, a flare. He stares at Spike's hand until it's withdrawn. It's the first time someone's touched him when it wasn't absolutely necessary in months. Unless, that is, he counted...

"Angel."

Spike's expression doesn't give much away. One simple little word and it's the one of the biggest invitations to conversation that Riley has offered to date. He waits Riley out, and Riley knows it, but can't really bring himself to care and caves after a few seconds.

"I met him. Tonight. Vampires and he was there. I didn't know he'd be there but he was."

"How did it go?"

"What?"

"The vampires. How did it go?" Riley lifts his arm to show the fresh bandage on his forearm, and raises the tail of his shirt to show some nasty looking bruises on his stomach. "That it?" Riley nods. "And Angel?"

"He..." Riley's limbs feel heavy, his head woolly. He knows he's drunk too much, thinks he's about to give too much away, but again he can't seem to care. Defences are down, and right now that seems good. He tries to explain, but it's still hard to it force out, the words still stick in his throat. He slugs from his bottle, but it's empty so he lurches to his feet and drops the bottle into the sink. Head down, he grips the edge of the worktop.

"And Angel?" Spike prompts.

"Nothing," Riley says. "He was just there. Ass."

"Angel's an ass or I'm an ass?"

"Both, I suppose."

"And Riley makes three." Riley hears a short little sigh. "I'm not going to peel the onion here, mate. Tell me or I'm off to my scratcher."

"What?"

"Bed. I'm going to bed."

"Oh. No. Nothing. Goodnight."

"Yeah." Spike walks away.

"He... I think he... hit on me." Riley manages a little glance from under his brows. "I'm probably wrong, but that's what it felt like."

Spike seems to consider this for a second, and it troubles Riley to see the evolution from bamboozled smile right up into a chuckle, all of it at Riley's expense.

"Lemme guess," Spike says. "He was all alpha male, leather coat, barely constrained violence about it, right? Bit of a sexy growl thrown in for good measure? Just enough to dance up your spine?" Riley nods dejectedly. "Got into your personal space, yeah?" Spike says, walking towards him. "Up close. Left it all ambiguous, like he hadn't decided if he wanted to kill you or fuck you?" Another dismal nod from Riley. He can't quite get over how complacent Spike's being about the whole thing. "Thought so." Spike shakes his head impenitently. "Don't sweat it, kid. He's like a dog in heat sometimes. Just charges right in. Head first. He never did learn any finesse about the wooing process."

This is absolutely the last thing that Riley expects to hear. "You mean you--" He gets a very strong finger jabbed in his chest for his troubles, bending him back over the sink. He feels pinned; too ham-fisted to be able to protect himself, so he just stands there and lets it happen.

"Me nothing," Spike says. "You don't want Angel? He won't push it. He'll just let it hang there and disturb you for the rest of your days. At least, I'm pretty sure he won't push it. It was probably just a momentary lapse. His head's so far up his arse these days I'm surprised he can even walk straight."

"But I'm not even..."

"Tuh." Spike snorts mildly. "You never are."

The finger is taken away and Riley straightens, feeling a series of little clicks along his spine. "This is... It's just so fucked."

"Just ignore the tosser. I do."

"But it's..." Riley lets out a grunt of frustration and runs his fingers through his hair.

"What? Because he's a bloke? Or because he's Angel?"

"Both! Because it felt... so wrong."

"Ah. The penny drops. Because he's a vampire. Little too close to home, was it?"

"No! Because I just can't deal with this right now. Because of Buffy. Because of everything. Like he was just the same. Like nothing's changed and he hasn't learned a goddamn thing. Stupid, stubborn, fucking..."

"That's Angel."

"Yeah." Riley deflates, sags a little. "Exactly. What is he? On a pendulum? Good one year, bad the next, 'cept..."

"Except it's never that simple."

They share a look.

"No," Riley says. "Never is."


---


Shoulders set, Spike storms down the hallway of Wolfram & Hart, stopping for no one and nothing. The new secretary, an even more useless bint than Harmony ever was, squeals at him as he strides past her desk, but he doesn't stop.

"Angel!" he says, bursting into the CEO's office. "Just the man."

Stony-faced, Angel calmly ends his telephone conversation. "Spike. To what do I owe the displeasure this time?"

"Riley Finn."

Angel sits back in his chair, eyeing Spike carefully. "What about him?"

"I heard about your little run in last night."

"And?"

"And frankly, I'm confused. Didn't think he'd be quite your cup of tea."

"Didn't think you'd have an opinion one way or the other. What is it that you want exactly?"

"To cut a long story short... He's staying at my flat." Spike eyes Angel defiantly, but is met with only silence, so he regroups and continues. "Here's the thing. You and I could go head to head over who hates the bastard more, but he needs help -- in the short-term, I bloody well hope -- and this pesky soul-having gig means that I have to give him a fair go. He's many things, but he's always been one of the good guys."

"Why are you telling me this? Whoever you decide to co-habit with is none of my business."

"Don't be a smarmy git, Angel. It's degrading. What I want from you is to put him on the payroll."

"You're kidding, right?"

"Nope. I can't afford to keep him and he's out of cash. Boy's gotta eat. He's in town for some demon or other. Playing it close to his chest, but he's out every night patrolling and getting pretty banged up for his trouble. I don't like it, but there is it. You're sitting pretty, so help him out."

"You're serious."

"Yes," is the exasperated reply.

"You're here on a mission of mercy... for Riley Finn."

"Oh, get over it, you great nonce. The faster you help him, the faster he's out of my hair. You going to do this or not?"

"Sure." Angel spreads his palms in a gesture of magnanimity. "Why not." Spike nods just once and turns to leave. "Be interesting to see how this works out," Angel continues, "the two of you sharing such close quarters. Fighting side by side, living together. No, you know, it's more than close. One might even say it's intimate."

Spike freezes in place with his back to Angel. "Give him a car, too. Something fast. Solid."

"Anything else? You want me to pay off his overdraft? Maybe buy him a nice house in the suburbs? How about a dental plan?"

"It's practical. He needs a car if he's going to be out and about. LA is a great big freeway."

"Fine," Angel says. "Fine. I'll set it up."

Spike tips his imaginary hat and slams the door behind him.


---


Spike disappears at sunset and Riley patrols. He's had no word of the Grub's movements for days so it feels like he's treading water. It's not useless to take out three vampires and a juvenile Slime Demon and he knows it, but still there's a pervading sense of bleakness to his actions. He remembers a time when regular patrolling was a thrill, when it terrified him, exhilarated him. When it got him so pumped up he couldn't sleep afterwards. Thinking like that now just makes him feel old.

When he's tired enough that he knows it's foolish to push himself any further, he still patrols for another hour -- an empty warehouse with blacked out windows that yields nothing but splinters in his palms for his troubles -- and finally goes home.

He's standing in the kitchen in the predawn, eating a plain cheese sandwich over the sink, drinking a glass of OJ, and not tasting any of it, when the sun comes up. It's the sun that finally focuses his attention. Spike isn't home. The door to his bedroom is wide open, and there is no sign of him anywhere in the apartment. Riley swallows the last of his sandwich, goes to the living room and stands in the middle of the floor. The apartment seems so quiet. So empty without Spike's overbearing presence to fill it. Riley has never really noticed before. He stands there for a long time. Finally weariness overtakes him and he settles into the corner of the couch and closes his eyes.

He's woken several hours later by the front door crashing open. He's on his feet before he's woken all the way up, but it's just Spike, his head covered by a smoking blanket. He tosses the blanket away, but his inner equilibrium seems to take a second or two to catch up to the cessation of movement. Laboriously, he locates a cigarette and manages to light it on the second attempt. It's only then that he catches sight of Riley.

"Hey there, Solider Boy." The words are slurred, but the contempt shines through, loud and proud. "What you doin' home so early?"

"It's one in the afternoon." Riley glances at the glowing readout on the DVD player to back this up. It's the other numbers that sucker-punch him and he checks the date on his watch to be sure.

"Whassa matter?" Spike asks, turning and letting the arm of the couch catch him behind the knees. He folds and falls back on the cushions with a whoomph. "Look like you've seen a ghost."

"It's my birthday."

"Oh." Spike waves his cigarette regally. "Many happy -hic- returns."

"I'd completely forgotten."

Distracted, Spike only watches the rising smoke from his cigarette for a minute. "How old r'you anyway?"

Riley follows the line of Spike's body from the haphazard laces in his boots to the hair so messy it looks like Spike has slept on it. Spike has been drinking, that much is obvious, but there's more. The creases on his shirt, the leg of his jeans twisted in a boot, the redness of his lips and the heavy lids of his eyes. He twists his head to blow a crooked smoke ring, and, yes, there are even little mouth-shaped bruises on his throat.

Riley clears his throat. "Twenty-five."

Spike bobs his head, those eyes getting heavier by the second. "Same as me."

"Hardly."

"No, I mean when I died." He takes a drag, ash falling to his chest. "When they turned me. I was twenty-five."

"They?"

"Mmm." The hand with the cigarette makes it halfway to Spike's mouth, falters, and instead falls out to his side where it hangs only inches above the floor. Spike takes a slow blink. Then another. "They... always did like to work... as a team." His eyes close and stay that way. All the little amounts of tension, unnoticeable until that moment, seep away under Riley's scrutiny and Spike sleeps.

Riley takes the stub of the cigarette from Spike's hand and crushes it in an ashtray. He takes Spike's cell phone from his pocket and calls his parents' number, first double-checking that the anonymous caller setting is activated. His father isn't home, but he talks to his mother for nearly half an hour. He answers her eager questions, telling her what he's been up to recently and what he has planned for his birthday. How's he's been coping with the loss of Sam. Promising her that he'll call home more often.

Lying to her.

He tells her that he loves her and hangs up the phone. He watches Spike sleep and waits for the sun to go down.


---


4.


Patrolling is uneventful, mundane even, and Riley wonders if this is how Buffy felt on all those quiet nights when no big evil was rising. All those nights when there wasn't even a fresh grave to sit beside. Just wandering aimlessly and looking vulnerable. He doesn't venture too far from the apartment, just trekking around the neighbourhood looking for action. Two vampires, separate kills, and no word of the Grub. It's hard not to be disheartened.

He finds the set of car keys and a scrawled note written on the inside of a ripped up cigarette packet when he gets back in the early morning. He reads the note three times, keys held tight in his fist. It's a little surreal to suddenly be just handed an income like this. Real money to buy real things like food and shoes and new razors and still have enough left over to do it all over again. It's the car that really staggers him. Transport. He's already working out how much more ground he can cover. It's all he can do to get his mind around the fact that Spike did this. Spike stepped up, did something for him without being asked, and he did it by getting Angel to cough up. Riley's life and his mission just got a whole lot easier, and he has Spike to thank for that. It feels a little like making a deal with the devil -- Angel the devil in his little scenario, Spike the unwitting instigator -- but Riley's not going to be stupid about it. He can use this.

The only key in his pocket is a solitary door key that Spike had thrown at his head shortly after agreeing to let Riley stay. He clips the car keys onto it and jangles them in his hand. Spike did this. Spike did this. It boggles the mind. A lot of what Spike does boggles the mind. It's interesting, in a strictly clinical sense, to share space with Spike, in the limited fashion that they do.

Like Spike doesn't usually get in his space. If Riley happens to be on the couch when Spike arrives, the vampire always goes for the armchair. It's guy etiquette, Riley knows, but it's more than just that. There's subtle body language at play. Subtle enough that Riley's not sure he would have picked up on it if he hadn't been trained to read just such subtleties very well by Maggie Walsh. He may still hate her for the effect she's had on his life, but he can't deny that the knowledge she filled him with has saved him more times than he can count.

If he and Spike are in the same room, Spike seems much happier if they're on opposite sides of it. Unless, of course, he's angry. Or bragging. Or if he's had one too many drinks. Then Spike has no qualms about getting up close and personal. He can't loom, Riley's too damn tall for that -- a fact he's sure endlessly irritates Spike -- but Spike is by far the fastest and the strongest of the two. One second they're a mile apart, the next Spike is nose to nose with him, flashing a hint of fang, eyes glinting gold, an angry dog-growl in his throat. He does it to unnerve, Riley gets that. Spike is the predator and Riley is just the guy with the jaded survival instinct, but he never gives Spike the satisfaction of backing down. Neither does he lose his temper. He's too long in the tooth for that.

Besides, it would take more from Spike than threats and insults to really make Riley lose his temper these days. Because Riley can't help it: the way he sees Spike has changed. That change didn't come with hard-won souls or dying to save the world. It came with an offer of a place to stay, a home, and someone to rely on, however grudging the offer might be. Riley hasn't had that for a long time. Not since...

Yeah.

So now when Spike gets in his space, engages him in whatever fashion -- whether words spat in anger, or simply shooting the breeze -- Riley lets him. In fact, he welcomes it. He looks forward to it. He even searches it out.

Because things have changed.

Car and money, car and money, car and money. With this, his new mantra, Riley locates the car, black and shiny, parked on the street below, and drives. It's fast and solid, and Riley can't help the little boy surge of delight at the thought that it belongs to him. For the first time in too long, he goes shopping. He buys a few clothes. Shirts and pants. Socks and underwear. Some food with actual nutritional value. A few toiletries. The basics. When he gets back to the apartment, he finds he actually enjoys putting things away. He looks forward to using them. His things.

Of course, this only provides ammunition.

"Why does my bathroom look like a rainforest?"

Riley looks up, distracted.

"All the organic, fragrance-free, natural shit. And don't even get me started on all this."

"All what?"

Spike sweeps his arm over the groceries Riley is putting away. "All this hippy food in my kitchen. Who died and made you Earth Mother?"

Riley resists the urge to say, Well, Spike ol' buddy, you did. Instead he graces Spike with the truth. "It's... Where I was. You couldn't just go to the nearest mall and restock. I had to make do. Sort of got used to it. When I got back here, all the chemicals, all the additives and processed stuff just... I didn't like it. I haven't been able to eat what I wanted in a while. So this is the best option I have here."

"Short of starting up your own farm, you mean. I don't get it. Doesn't the military drop you supplies? Food parcels and uplifting leaflets and the like?"

"They couldn't. Where we were... We were off the radar."

"So you saying they didn't know what you were up to... or they couldn't?"

Riley pauses before answering. "Couldn't."

"Huh. Where were you?"

"It's classified. Sorry." Over the years, Riley has perfected his poker face when it comes to keeping the military's secrets. It's only the personal ones he has trouble with. He remembers what it was like, the heat, the flies, the knowledge that they were completely on their own; trying to impose military rules and regulations on creatures of immortality and magic. Spike shrugs, and Riley's glad. He's sure that Spike wouldn't want to know what went on. Not really. After all, he was one of the Initiative's first 'successes'. The seventeenth test subject of hundreds. Of thousands.

"I get it," Spike says. "Ask me no secrets, I'll tell you no lies. Just keep the froofy shit to a minimum, would you?"

"It's not froofy. It's good for you." Spike just gives him a look. "Okay, so it's good for me. I'm not getting any younger. I just thought I should probably take care of myself more."

"You go do that thing. Just keep it out of my way."

The poker face doesn't waver. "No problem."


---


5.


Riley doesn't keep waiting for Spike to wake up before he leaves. Sometimes Spike gets up in the afternoon. Most times it's sunset. Sometimes he doesn't surface until close to midnight. Riley has only been doing it, all the waiting around, because it seems right somehow. Like it's the polite thing to do to exchange grunts before one of them leaves for the night. But it's something Riley would really rather avoid, so after a while, he just draws a line under it and stops worrying about it. It takes up too much of his time. So he does his own thing. He takes his new set of keys and lets himself out.

He's glad of the car, but still has trouble with the fact that it's his, and that Spike obtained it somehow from Angel. His job would be damn near impossible without it, but his chest always tightens while he drives it, a constant reminder of his inadequacies and of all the unwanted debts he's racking up.

He goes to Michael Lukins' office. It feels strange to be out in the world doing normal, everyday things, even if he is only pretending. He enjoys the sun on his face, letting it warm him. The office is tasteful. Understated. Not bad for a debt consolidation agency, but as far as Riley's concerned, especially after having seen Lukins' private filing system, it's nothing more than a glorified loan sharking operation. He tries to make an appointment, but the receptionist tells him that Mr Lukins is taking an extended leave of absence. So he asks about the banquet evening he saw in Lukins' planner, and casually enquires if Mr Lukins is still going along. It takes a little sweet-talking, but eventually the receptionist admits she doesn't have any idea what Mr Lukins is doing because he hasn't shown up for work in over a week. Riley feigns shock and asks if anyone has called the police. The receptionist just shrugs and bats her eyes, more interested in flirting with him.

Riley thinks of the body wrapped in a tarp in Lukins' neat little garage. He thinks of the Grub and sees nothing but disregard in the receptionist. He can't bear to be in her presence a moment longer, so he drops the act and leaves.

He's back to treading water. No leads, no ideas, and nothing to kill but time. He finds himself back at the apartment. Spike is there playing video games, a cigarette stuck in the corner of his mouth. There's a glass of blood on the table. The glass is half empty. Riley just wants to get into his bed, pull the sheets over his head and not dream. Spike's caught up enough in the game to shout a greeting and grin around his cigarette. Riley just stands there stupidly. He stands there for a long time, watching Spike without really seeing, until Spike scowls and pauses the game.

"What is it this time?"

"What?"

"Well, look at you." Spike gestures with his cigarette. "It's depressing having you around. You're depressing me."

"What? Oh, I... Sorry."

"For fuck's sake, kid, don't apologise. Fight back. Show a bit of backbone. For the love of god, doesn't anybody know how to snark anymore?"

"I'm just..." Riley sinks into the armchair. "I'm just so tired."

"What's that got to do with lumping around like a great... lump?"

"I've been... I thought you would want me to keep out of your way."

"Well, yeah. 'Course I do. Doesn't mean I want to room with a zombie."

"You don't want to room with a dead thing who eats the flesh of the living," Riley says astutely, eking the words out for maximum effect.

Spike almost smiles as he raises his glass of blood and taps it with his fingernail. "It's long dead by the time I get my hands on it."

Riley watches his Adam's apple bob as he finishes the glass.

"Come on then," Spike says, standing up.

"Where are we going?"

"Thought we might look for a spot of trouble."

"Trouble?"

"Bit of the old ultra-violence." Spike cracks his knuckles and tosses his head from one side to the other like a boxer readying for a prizefight. "A fight, you know?"

"What, both of us? Together?"

"Why not?"

Riley mulls it over. "I heard about a vampire nest not too far from here."

"Good a place to start as any."

"Start?"

"Surely. The night's young, and I'm not getting any older."

So Riley drives them. They fight side by side, and together they clear out the nest. It feels almost constructive. It feels for a few moments like he's back in the game. More than anything, it feels good to have backup again. Someone who can handle themselves in a fight. Someone he trusts to watch his back -- and how strange that he once stabbed that person in the heart over a girl, but is now perfectly at ease fighting at his side? He wonders if Spike feels quite so comfortable.

"You know, he wants you to know what he's doing."

Riley frowns and glances at the piles of dust on the dirty floor. "He?" he asks, wondering if Spike's talking about Angel.

"Your Grub. And it seems to me maybe you can find a way to use that against him. Some demons are nothing without an audience. Somebody has to witness the horror, otherwise what's the point?"

They drive home in silence, Spike smoking out the window and Riley letting the road lead him home.

When they stop at a red light, Spike lights yet another cigarette. "Better?" he asks.

Riley considers this as the lights change to green. "Some," he admits, and when he glances over, Spike looks away, staring up through the open window at the overcast night sky.


---


6.


On the night of Michael Lukins' function, Riley shows up wearing a new suit and a pasted on smile. His name isn't on the list, but business is business, and he's welcomed inside with open arms and a freshly penned nametag in corporate colours. It's a celebration banquet; the perfect opportunity for rich businessmen to drink for free and work at getting richer, and for Riley to ask questions under the guise of schmoozing. After several unproductive hours, however, there is still no sign of Lukins. Riley ends up sitting at the bar, shredding a napkin and cursing his luck.

"Business not going your way?"

He looks up to see the waiter smiling at him across the bar. His slicked back hair is so black it's striking, and he sports a beard worn in a thin line around his jaw line, so thin it's like it's been pencilled on. Riley realises he's tracing the line with his eyes and looks up abruptly.

"Business is great. Plenty of..." He waves his hand obliquely. "Networking."

"Then why the long face?"

"This is starting to sound like one of those 'a horse walks into a bar' jokes."

"Oh, I get it," the waiter says with a knowing nod of his head. He leans in. "She didn't show, huh? These things are boring enough, but to get stood up..." He draws in air over his teeth and tugs twice on his black tie.

"No, she... There isn't any--" Riley starts to explain, and there's a sudden, startling burst of loss and grief for Sam, but the waiter is already waving it away.

"Forget it, man. You don't owe me an explanation. How about a drink? On the house," he singsongs.

"Isn't everything on the house tonight?"

"Yeah, but I just like being able to say it. Sends the tips through the roof."

They share a grin and Riley orders a double bourbon.

"Thanks..."

"Malcolm," the waiter supplies.

"Hullo, Malcolm," says a voice at Riley's shoulder. "I'll have what he's having."

Riley turns to see Spike swinging his leg over the stool beside him. Riley doesn't think he's ever seen Spike look more out of place than he does in this place. Leather and boots and punk-blond hair amongst all these suits and it doesn't ruffle Spike's feathers in the slightest. He wonders how in the hell Spike managed to get in, and the sight it must have been, Spike striding past the reception desk covered in all those little nametags, no doubt sneering at the meet-and-greet woman with her clipboard and her neat charcoal suit and sensible shoes. Then he sees the looks and the wide berth every other person in the room is giving Spike. Spike just walked in, because really -- who in their right mind would try and stop him?

"Cheers," Spike says, lifting his glass and sipping contently.

"What are you doing here?" Riley hisses when Malcolm takes the hint and wanders away to serve another customer. "I'm supposed to be incognito."

"Oh, yeah? And what's the secret agent act for, double-oh-seven?"

"I-- He--"

"Didn't show, did he?"

"No," Riley admits, and gulps his drink. "I think maybe it's too late."

Spike doesn't offer any empty platitudes. He just sticks out his bottom lip a little, sips his drink, and holds up the bar like he was born to do it.

"What are you doing here?" Riley asks.

Spike shrugs. "Was curious. Thought maybe you were holding out on me. Besides, when I saw where you were headed... There's always a free bar at these things."

Riley lifts his glass, but it's almost empty. He considers tossing it back and ordering another, but instead he sets it down carefully, lining it up precisely in the centre of the hotel's fancy little coaster.

"Oh, look at you," Spike says, not entirely unkindly. "Sad little soldier."

Riley wonders where his anger is, but it's notable only by its absence. "Maybe there's something else I should be doing," he considers. "Something more."

"Like what?"

"I don't know. Maybe I'm going about this all wrong. It's been going on so long." He picks up his drink, feels the weight of it in his hand, and drains it.

"Time is both fleeting and relative," Spike says seriously, but the effect is ruined when he sees the look Riley is giving him and smirks. "So you want to what? Go on the offensive?"

"Would if I could. I don't know how to find him. That's the thing. He could be anyone." Riley sinks his fingers into his hair and bites down hard on the urge to order another drink.

"Told you. He wants you to know what he's doing. He'll come to you."

"I need to find that Vanglash demon again and get a location, but they're almost as hard to find as--" Riley looks up at the sound of his glass being refilled. "Hey, no. I don't want--"

"Guy wanted to buy you a drink," Malcolm says. "I tried telling him his money was no good, but he insisted." When the glass is full, Malcolm slides a square of folded paper across the bar. "Said to give you this."

Riley unfolds the paper. "Sixteen forty-two Riverdale," he reads. "What is -- Fuck.' He's on his feet, reaching across the bar for Malcolm without realising it, knocking his drink flying in the process. "Who gave you this?"

Malcolm eyes the front of his shirt. "You want to take your hands off me first?"

Riley glances down, sees his hands bunched into fists on Malcolm's shirt like they belong to someone else, and lets go. Malcolm tugs on the hem of his shirt, straightening it. "Just some guy, man. One of the suits."

"Did you get a name?"

"We didn't exactly exchange life stories."

"A tag. Was he wearing a nametag?"

Malcolm glances at Spike while he thinks. There's a whole lot of distrust in that look. "Coulda been Luke. Something like that. I didn't get a real good look."

"Young? Good looking? Brown hair?" Riley asks, searching through his pockets until he finds the photo of Lukins he's been carrying with him.

"Yeah," Malcolm says, eyeing the picture. "That's him."

Riley's blood runs cold. He spins around, his heart pounding, desperately searching the room the face in the photograph. There's no one. There's nothing. Only a room full of people trying not to stare at him and his out of place companion. Riley grabs for the paper and has to stare at it for a minute before the words swim back into focus.

"Well?" Spike asks.

"Sixteen forty-two Riverdale," Riley says, hurriedly putting on his jacket. "You coming with?"

"Lemme see. If it looks like a trap and smells like a trap..."

"Are you coming or not?"

Spike sighs. "Yeah. I'm coming." He finishes his drink and stands. "Hey, that's a nice suit, by the way."

Riley pauses, and looks down at himself. "Really?"

"No, you prat. You look like an undertaker. Come on."

The address isn't too far, about a dozen streets over and a few down, leading them away from the busier streets and the constant buzz of LA traffic. They take it on foot because the time it would take to get Riley's car out of the valet parking just isn't worth the wait. The building, when they arrive, takes up nearly half a block. They find a side door and let themselves in without being seen. It's cooler inside and the steady hum of machinery is in the air. They duck behind a wall of plastic-wrapped cardboard boxes stacked on a bay of loading pallets.

"What is this place?" Riley whispers.

"Smells like blood." Spike sniffs the air. "Animal blood."

Riley produces a knife and slips it under the plastic wrap. The logo on the boxes shows a pig and a cow, walking on their hind legs, linked hoof in trotter, and looking inordinately happy to be doing so.

"Meat packing plant," Riley says.

Spike nods. "How much you want to bet what we're supposed to find is in the freezer?"

Riley swallows, and tries to hold it together.

Spike shuffles away a few paces. "What?" he says defensively when Riley eyes him quizzically. "Don't barf."

"I'm not--!" Riley's suddenly furious.

Spike holds up his palms. "Hey, you looked a little queasy. I'm just saying."

"Why don't you make yourself useful and sniff out what we're looking for."

"Sir, yes sir," Spike says with the requisite eye-roll, but curves himself around the edge of the boxes, checking to see if the coast is clear.

Spike is right, which stands to reason. Between intuition, luck, and vampiric sense of smell, it's not long before they're standing in a freezer room, looking down at a body-sized bundle.

"You want to do the honours?" Spike asks.

Riley thinks about shaking his head and letting Spike get his hands dirty, but instead he crouches down and pulls back the plastic sheet to reveal the man he's been searching for all night. Now he wishes he hadn't found him. It's all too horribly familiar. The cracked ribcage, the mess of a torso, but worse somehow because Lukins' eyes are frozen open and it's like he's staring Riley right in the eye.

"It's him," he says dully. "That's the guy. Body's icy, but not frozen through. Hasn't been here long. But it doesn't matter. We're too late. The Grub's moved on." He just squats there, swaying slightly, letting the cold bite into his skin. He doesn't know how much time he spends just looking down at the body when he feels Spike's hand on his shoulder. The offered comfort cracks something inside him and he looks up wretchedly.

"Hey, what are you guys doing in--" They turn sharply, in time to see a man in the doorway. White rubber boots, white overalls and white hardhat. The man's eyes widen when he sees the body. "Jesus," he whispers. He backs away, turns and runs, shouting for help.

"That's torn it," Spike says. "Come on. Time we were off."

He has to pull Riley to his feet and they run. They zigzag through the plant, escape back out the same door and lose themselves in the side streets.

Soon as they're clear, Riley spins away from Spike and punches the wall, hard, welcoming the spear of pain that jolts up his arm.

"Oh, that's productive," Spike says, lighting a cigarette.

"Shut up."

Spike takes a hard done by breath and exhales a cloud of listless smoke. "Do I really need to go through the whole 'it's not your fault' schpeel? Because it's not, you know."

"Isn't it? What the hell would you know about it?"

"You're trying to stop him, mate. Nothing he does is your fault. None of it."

"I should have found a way to stop him before now." Riley tucks his injured hand under his arm, feeling nothing but foolish now the pain has subsided to a dull throb.

"Shoulda woulda coulda." Spike lifts his head. "We have to get out of here."

"Why?"

"Cops are coming and we're not exactly inconspicuous."

"How do you--" The faint sound of sirens starts up in the distance.

Spike gives him a smug little 'I told you so' smile.

There's a scuffle at the corner and half a dozen men in white appear. They see Spike and Riley and one of them points.

Spike pushes Riley ahead of him. "Time to leave. Now."


---


7.


Riley feels weary a lot of the time. Wasted. He knows that there should be great vengeance and furious anger, but after all this time, all those years of dutiful service and secret missions, and all the heartbreak he's suffered, there is only a deep, dark ache that remains. It's nameless, discordant, and it owns him totally. He's unsure of it, but it's his only driving force, his only reason. It's all he knows. It's all he has, and he's not about to let it go, for if he does, if he releases it, then he'll have nothing. And if he has nothing...? Well, that would be it. Game over. And he couldn't tolerate that. Besides, he reasons, it can't all be worthless. The suffering. The one-sided loves he's endured. It can't all be for nothing. And so he continues to fight, because that's all he has. He's good at fighting. In human terms, maybe he's the best.

The help that Spike brings him is welcome, but it comes at a price. For days at a time Spike is content to ignore him utterly. He will fight at Riley's side, saving his life, suffering grave injury as his brother-in-arms with barely a dozen words spoken between them. Yet at the same time he offers Riley sanctuary. A place to lay his head. A place where he is safe. A place where -- on rare occasion -- Spike will demand his attention. His stilted conversation. Jesus, even his opinion. Spike grates against him, revelling in the fact that history has turned itself inside out and Riley is now the outcast whereas Spike has a place in this world -- no matter how precarious or tenuous that place may be.

Riley sees all this, and over a period of time, he processes it. He sees how Spike has changed and yet not changed. He sees how Spike's eyes have darkened, how his humour, once so easy and cruel, is now more flippant and doesn't always carry itself off so easily. Once upon a time it would have cut to the bone.

Some days Riley tries to process all this. Other days he fights until his knuckles are swollen and bloody and his conscience is less muddy. This helps to block it all out until he can't recall anything more than a blur when he throws himself into bed at the end of another long and eventful night. He can't understand why Spike tolerates him.

Then there's the Grub. The one who has been making his life a misery for so long now. Who is so good at hiding from him, only surfacing to deliver another devastating blow before disappearing again beneath the waves. Riley knows he isn't doing his job. There's something he's not doing right because the Grub is still walking around and Riley doesn't know how he's ever going to manage to stop him. He hasn't done what he came here to do.

Some days... some days he just tries not to think at all.

But he does wish that he'd been thinking a little more clearly, paying just a little bit more attention this evening. Maybe then he wouldn't be in such a predicament.

His cheek is pressed up against the side of the Wolfram & Hart car he's been making such good use of, the full weight of Angel's bulk pinning him there like Angel's reclaiming his ownership. The repo-man cometh. Angel's palm is on the paintwork in front of Riley's face, his fingers slipping but leaving no condensation patches in their wake. They're in the underground parking bay of Spike's apartment building, and Riley curses himself for letting his guard down just because he was so close to home and looking forward to sleep.

Angel twists Riley's arm a little harder up behind his back and the wrenching burn travels all the way up to his shoulder. Even the tendons in his neck ache. Angel's whispering in Riley's ear, such strange, awful things. The heavy granite of Angel's body is solid behind him like a living statue, cold and pitiless. He can feel Angel's breath on his ear, on the skin of his throat, and it's sending showers of reflex prickles over the back of his skull and down his spine. Riley grunts, straining against Angel, but he has no room to manoeuvre to get out of this hold. So instead he screws his eyes shut, goes limp, and waits for his chance.

He can't see Angel's face, but he knows, he knows exactly the smile that's curving itself over Angel's lips at this perceived act of submission.

"Give me one good reason," Angel is saying, sibilant around his fangs. "One good reason why I shouldn't."

"Why? The soul not doing it for you anymore?" Riley spits. He can't quite stop the yowl of pain when Angel twists a little harder in response.

"Give me a good reason," Angel hisses.

It seems that he's serious, so Riley considers his options. There's Buffy, of course, but he doubts that invoking her name right now would be at all wise. There's the fact that everything Angel is suggesting is evil and wrong and reserved for the bad guys, but Angel seems to have conveniently switched off his sense of right and wrong for the moment. Threats will only be laughed at. So instead, Riley chooses the one thing he knows will help him.

"Spike."

Angel bursts out laughing. "Spike? You think I care about what Spike thinks?"

"No." Riley shoves against the car and finally manages to get himself turned around. He dredges up a shaky little smile for Angel's benefit. "But he's standing right behind you."

There's a beautiful split-second of angry uncertainty before Spike swings the two-by-four he's holding and cracks it off Angel's skull. The hell of it is, Angel spins with the blow, but he stays standing, and seems to just shake off the pain like water.

Riley pushes off the car, watching Angel closely. He promises himself he won't give Angel the pleasure of backing down, of appearing weak ever again. He's so tired of being fucked with. His little black baton slips easily into his hand. He sees Angel's eyes flare in interest and he can only imagine what expression he's wearing to evoke such a response.

Before he can act -- attack, he wants to attack -- Spike steps in. Spike lays a hand on his chest, and it's this touch that draws him back to the here and now.

"Go home, Riley."

Riley falters, but Spike just pats him on the chest.

"Go on up. I'll be along presently."

Spike has his back to Angel. A simple flicker of his eyes conveys his real meaning. Go home, Riley. Please. Don't make this any more of a pain than it already is.

Riley clenches his teeth. He looks over Spike's shoulder at Angel. His willpower frays to breaking point, but Spike is asking him. Standing there and asking him when he could simply order him away. Piss off, kid. Go on home like a good little boy. Leave the grown ups to talk. Riley owes him, so in the end he nods, just once, and like a good little boy, he goes.

Angel grins broadly as they watch Riley walk away. "Isn't that cute. You've got him house-trained."

"Look," Spike says, squaring off. "I'm only going to say this once, god help me, but leave him alone. He's got enough on his plate without you messing with his head."

"But it's so much fun."

Spike snaps. "You're a sick fuck, you know that? You really enjoyed what you did to Dru, didn't you? I bet you still get your jollies thinking about it late at night in that big empty bed of yours."

Angel has the good grace to look guilty, but to save face he doesn't avoid Spike's eye. "She was a masterpiece," he says quietly, his face melting back to human. "My finest work."

"I hate you."

"And I've earned it."

"That's it." Spike tosses the two-by-four to the ground where the clatter echoes around the parking bay as he strides towards Angel. "I want you to leave him alone. And while we're on the subject, I think you need to back off from a lot of shit. You're headed back to dark waters, Angel. Again. And the hell of it is, I can't see why. We won, or did you forget that?"

"Win? You call that winning?"

"Yes! We're still here, aren't we? Nearly got ourselves killed in the process, but the Black Thorn, the Senior Partners, they're gone and we're still standing. Unlive to fight another day, isn't that what it's all about?"

"Maybe for you. I don't know if I can do it anymore. I've lost all my reasons for going on. More than you know."

"Bullshit. You're just having a good old-fashioned wallow. Snap out of it. It's getting boring. In fact, it's beyond boring. I want your word you'll leave Riley alone."

"Why do you care so much?" Angel asks, crisp and clear on the night air, like he's really fascinated by Spike's reasons.

"He's... Oh, Jesus, I don't know what he is. You and I both have our reasons for enmity where Riley Finn is concerned, as does he. But he doesn't need this shit from you, Angel."

"And if I don't care?"

"Why are you being such a wanker? Truly. Do you really fancy him, or is this all a game? Because I gotta tell you, either way it's you with the problem."

"I'm bored," Angel admits with a sigh.

"Bored? Bored? That's your big excuse? You've been spending too much time with Illyria, mate, and that can't be healthy."

"Illyria... She's the only... She was there."

"So what? We were all there. She has her own reasons for what she did. For what she continues to do. Most of it to do with Wesley, god rest him."

"She's keeping me sane."

"Oh god, listen to yourself. She's not Fred. You can't rely on Illyria for emotional stability. That way lies madness. The two of you, cooped up in that godforsaken law firm. I don't even want to know how you got the failsafe reversed. And if you're killing time by tormenting Riley Finn then maybe you're a little further gone than I thought."

"I'm fine," Angel says sternly. "It's just... Everything that happened... All of it. And nothing's changed. Oh, wait, all my friends died horribly -- that changed -- but I'm still here. Still walking the tightrope at Wolfram & Hart."

"You're not tied to the place. For the love of god, Angelus, why are you still there?"

"Where else should I be?"

"Anywhere. It's a big, bold world out there. You did the needful. More than was ever expected of you. It's okay to leave, you know. No one's asking you to stay."

"I can't just walk away. I'm stuck here."

"So you're taking it out on him."

Angel waits just a moment before answering. He fills the space with a sly little smile that Angelus would have worn with ease. "He's not the first."

"Jesus." Spike gives a worried little shake of his head; looks Angel up and down like he's never seen him before. "What's wrong with you? I thought this past year you and me..." Angel raises an interested eyebrow. Spike sneers and clenches his teeth in response. "I thought we understood each other. It was starting to feel like old times again, without all the torturing and maiming, y'know?"

Angel cocks his head. "Without the girls to get in the way?"

"No, you old poof. Without the stupid vampire shit to get in the way. Like we were on the same team again."

"That's such a beautiful sentiment."

"Why are you being such a twat?"

"I guess I thought it was my turn."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning that you only act this indignant when you're not getting your own way. When it's something that you really, really want."

"Oh, piss off. I never take the softly softly approach with you. Normally we'd be bashing each other's heads in right about now. I thought for once I'd try the high road. Although, must admit, the view's pretty shitty from up here."

"Hey, I'm just saying."

"Well, don't. Just don't. I don't need this shite from you of all people."

"Why not? We're all we have. You and me? We last when everything else just rots away."

"Now who's spouting beautiful sentiments? Last time I checked our 'relationship' only lasted this long because we're immortal, and it's always nice to see a familiar face every couple of decades. It's hardly a match made in heaven."

"Still."

"Still nothing. You and I never chose one another. It just worked out that way." Angel only looks at him enigmatically. "So, what?" Spike continues. "You're jealous, is that what you're telling me? Or you still can't forgive the boy for touching Buffy."

"She doesn't answer to me. And if I tortured every man who'd ever laid a hand on her..."

"Tuh," Spike scoffs. "Lay off with the ominous silences. None of that was ever any of your business."

"Even when you hurt her?"

"Especially then. We shared things that you could never-- No, you know what? You're not sidetracking me with Buffy. We're dealing with the here and now. I'm going up now and you're not invited. Don't follow. Don't be weird. Just go home and... I don't know. Brood in the dark or something. You used to be good at that."

Angel grabs a fistful of Spike's coat before he gets far. "I'm not finished with you."

"Really," Spike says. "Well, you know what?"

"What?"

"I've had it with the high road."

Spike throws the first punch and their fight begins.


---


8.


When Riley wakes up he imagines he can taste the foamfilth of the Grub. It's disgusting. Maybe it's just another hangover, coupled with his overactive imagination. He tries to get up so he can go and rinse his mouth, but he can't move. He's strapped down. That's odd enough, but why he chose to sleep on one of the operating tables in the Initiative HQ in Sunnydale... that part he can't explain.

Professor Walsh appears at his shoulder. She has her hands held up in front of her, gloved and pristine for surgery. She's got a mask on too, but her eyes are smiling at him. She holds out her hand and asks for a scalpel.

"Such a good little boy," she tells him. "We're all so very proud."

Adam emerges from the shadows to hand a scalpel and an Initiative chip to Professor Walsh. He stares down at Riley with an empty, cold intelligence. "Soon, brother," he says. "Soon we'll be together again."

Riley screams. He screams and he thrashes on the table. It occurs to him, somewhere in the back of his mind that this has to be a dream, but it doesn't matter. He's trapped. There's no escape for him. Not now. Not ever.

"Where's my good boy gone, Agent Finn?" Professor Walsh asks, no longer smiling, and presses the scalpel to the skin over Riley's heart, slicing down into old scar tissue.

With all his strength, Riley wrestles against his restraints. The table teeters and crashes to the floor with enough force free him. He jumps to his feet, but he's alone in the operating theatre, standing in a solitary pool of light. On the floor at his feet is Michael Lukins' body. The discarded shell of a body, the chest cracked open, ribs exposed, like a crab lying dead on its back, legs curled inward. Riley falls to his knees beside the body, but something is different. He looks at the face, and it's not Lukins.

It's Spike, his eyes frozen open and staring right at Riley.

Riley wakes up with a start. He's shocked into stillness for a second trying to get his bearings. The room is in darkness, but there is still something holding him down. He struggles against it with all his strength, shouting out hoarsely, until he hears a voice.

Spike's voice.

"Just a dream, mate. Calm down. Just a dream."

"Spike?"

"Yeah, it's me." The strong hands on his shoulders are withdrawn. Riley scoots up the bed to sit with his back against the wall. He can feel from the dip on his mattress that Spike is sitting on the edge of his bed. "You back in the land of the living?"

"Yeah," Riley says, and pushes the heels of his hands into his eyes. "Did I wake you?"

Spike reaches over and snaps on the little table lamp in the corner. "Nah. I was already awake. Bad dream?"

Riley snorts. "You could say that."

"You were screaming blue bloody murder."

It takes Riley's eyes a second to adjust to the light, but when the room clears, he sees the bruises on Spike's face. "Jesus." He darts forward to get a better look. "I wouldn't have left you if I thought he'd--"

"What this?" Spike waves it away. "You should see the other guy."

"But if I'd stayed I could have--"

"This is nothing. Me and Angel have done much worse to each other in the past. There was this time not even a year ago--" Spike catches himself, but there's an enigmatic little smile on his face. "This is nothing more than a few little love taps."

Riley accepts this at face value, but he can't help the guilt he feels. How could he have just come up here and fallen asleep, leaving Spike to fight his battles for him? He'd only sat down for a moment, intending to wait up for Spike to come back, to go and check if he wasn't back within a few minutes, just to be sure that everything was okay, but he'd closed his eyes, just for a second, and sleep had swallowed him whole, the very worst sin of a solider on watch.

"So... he's gone?"

"Yeah. He's gone. Can't vouch for him staying gone though."

"So what now?"

"Now?" Spike huffs out a breath of air. "Now I haven't got a clue." He stands up and shoves his hands in his pockets, and Riley is blindsided for a moment by how amazingly young he looks. A smile plays around the corners of his mouth. "But it's always, always fun punching Angel repeatedly in the face."

"Yes," Riley considers, and surprises himself with the wide smile that creeps over his face in return. "Yes, it really is."

Spike looks at him appraisingly and gives a little nod. "That's my boy," he says, and it's funny because it sounds almost like he's proud. With a final nod he leaves the room and Riley is alone.


---


9.


Riley gets home exhausted. His eyes are drooping and his head is nodding. The call of his bed is a siren song he can't possibly resist. Sleep means escape, and if he's lucky, a couple of hours of peace. Although the dreams might come, there's nothing he can do about that. He lets himself in and moves easily in the apartment. He's been here too long, he realises. It feels like home. He knows where everything is, every light switch, every stick of furniture, every door handle. Navigating in the dark is simple. He goes to the fridge, opens a bottle of water and takes a long swallow. He replaces it and is just closing the door when the dark figure huddled in the corner of the kitchen catches his eye.

His body jolts, adrenaline flooding his system. The fridge door closes and he's left in darkness. The fatigue takes a backseat.

"Spike?"

Nothing.

He flips on the small light above the oven, squinting as his eyes adjust. The huddled figure is Spike. He's sitting on the floor in the corner of the kitchen, his knees drawn up to his chest, his face hidden, arms wrapped around his knees, hugging himself. It's been a long, long time since Riley can remember seeing this vampire look so small. It's unnerving. That Spike was a brief interlude in a life he's left far behind.

He crouches down. "Spike?"

Still no response, so Riley lays a hand on Spike's shoulder. He almost flinches when Spike's head raises sharply, just a couple of inches, just enough for one amber eye to stare at him, unblinking. A warning growl reverberates in the small space. He's not being toyed with here; the growl, the threat, is very real. Riley almost retreats, almost, but doesn't, because there's something here. Something he doesn't like at all. So instead he just waits. His breathing picks up, because it feels more and more like there is wrong here, something really wrong, but all he can do is wait.

The unwavering amber fades slowly to blue and Spike shifts just a little. It's almost like he's folding in on himself, but that just doesn't seem right. For the first time Riley notices bruises that look horribly like a handprint, like dark fingers spreading over Spike's throat and jaw.

Without ever looking away -- it seems like defiance, it seems a little like trust -- Spike raises and tilts his head ever so slightly towards Riley. The bruising only gets worse the more of Spike's face that is exposed. From his cheekbone to his jaw is swollen and stiff, the skin mottled purple-red and shiny like a ripe plum. Riley gets the same bitter taste in his mouth that he tasted when in his dream the Grub Sam kissed him. Spike's hurt. Hurt badly, and Riley wasn't there to repay his debts. He swallows hard, but it's a minute before he can speak.

"Did... did Angel do this?"

The last thing he expects is to see humour thread through the hurt on those proud, damaged features, but it's there.

"No." Spike's voice sounds altered. Different again to those few times that Riley has heard him speak through his vampire fangs. It's not a brash lisp, it's a cautious intonation, like it hurts him to speak, like the words stick in his throat. "Wasn't him. Not this. He would never..."

Sickening realisation creeps over Riley at the sound of Spike's slurred voice. "Show me," he says, barely comprehending what he's asking. Spike looks grieved and shakes his head. His eyes are red; his hands shake as they weakly clasp his bent knees. Riley twists in his crouch, his knees pressing into Spike's thigh. "Show me."

Spike hesitates, then his expression seems to slide and stretch into nausea. Riley waits as one minute extends into two before Spike finally complies. Cautiously, he cracks open his mouth and curls his lip. It's just as Riley had feared, worse now when he is faced with the reality.

Where one of Spike's sharp human canines should be, there is only a bloody gap.

"We'll kill him," Riley says instantly. It's a heartfelt promise. An oath. "Angel dragged you into something, didn't he? Made you come on one of his crusades when he couldn't cope by himself -then wasn't there when you needed him. It was Angel."

"Stand down, soldier. It wasn't Angel." Spike regards him solemnly. "Time was when you'd have welcomed this. Might even have initiated it, if I remember rightly."

Riley wants to hang his head but doesn't give into the temptation. At his core, he's still proud of his Initiative days. He worked hard, gave his all, and did what he believed was right. He wasn't the one to warp what the Initiative stood for, and he did what he could to put a stop to it as soon as he found out. If it would have done any good, he'd have gone up against Adam personally. He'd have relieved Maggie Walsh from her command if he'd thought that a single solitary soul would back him up, but by the time he had it figured all out... Buffy and her gang had most of it taken care of. He was just an accessory after the fact. But recently... recently he's been thinking about the time Spike spent in the Initiative. He's been thinking about the chip, and wondering how different all their lives might have been if Spike hadn't been implanted. He can't apologise for that time. He won't. It's part of him.

But the thing is, if he can't bring himself to apologise for it, if he doesn't feel the need to, he can't fathom this terrible need he feels to express regret.

"Times change," he says. "You were different then. So was I. Now it's..."

"Different," Spike finishes for him.

Riley nods briefly, realising that the past has finally become just that. The past. "What can I do?"

"Nothing you can do."

"Will it... grow back?"

"'Spect so," Spike says, staring at his boots.

"You don't know, do you?"

Spike shrugs, the tiniest lift of his shoulders. "Us vamps aren't known for our weak dentures, mate. It's kind of our trademark."

"Then what happened? Why was this time different? What did--?"

"Pliers, all right? He used pliers on me. Smacked me around a little, held me down and he-- Fuck." Spike runs a hand through his messy hair, neatly hiding his face.

The bolt of fury assaults Riley again, harder this time, striking right at his heart He wants to reach out, to comfort, but he's at a loss. He doesn't know where to start. Doesn't know how. Instead he settles for a promise of retribution.

"Who? Who did this to you?"

Spike turns his head. It seems heavy, like supporting the weight of it is all Spike can manage right now, and even that small burden is too much. When he speaks, his words are stilted and weary, and what he says makes Riley's head spin.

"Funny thing. It was your mate Malcolm from the other night. Asked after you."

Malcolm. Malcolm. Black hair. Pencilled beard. Sharing smiles and chatting with the son of a bitch. Riley had his hands on him and he just... let him go. He never even considered the possibility. He just ran out and left the Grub behind, blindly following a simpleton's clue to a dead-end without even thinking it through. Without seeing the obvious answer that was literally staring him right in the face.

"He only pulled one. Said the other would keep if he needed to get another message to you. He was so strong, Riley, I couldn't even-- When he was done, he just let me go. Dumped me in the street out front like it was no big deal."

Riley is so angry that for a brief moment he literally can't see past his fury. His vision clouds and all he can see in his mind's eye is Sam. Sam from his dream with her dripping, putrid moustache and her white suit stained with blood. Sam with her insides blackened and dead, a monster wearing her skin, and it's all his fault. He comes back to himself, and the first thing he can see is Spike.

"I'm... I'm so sorry. This is my fault. I didn't know."

"You want to tell me what this is about? Is this why you asked to stay here? You knew this would happen?"

"What? No! No, I had no idea that any of this would...'

Spike doesn't look as if he gives a damn about anything that Riley has to say. Riley's at a loss. He doesn't know what to do. He doesn't know what he can do. Then it comes to him, like the sun breaking through the clouds, and it's all so simple.

His heart beating wildly, Riley clambers to his feet, bringing Spike with him. Spike seems dazed. He sways and Riley has to right him. Riley shoulders off his jacket and tears the bandage from his arm. It won't do. The skin is healing well. Too well. Spike is watching him and the scrutiny makes Riley swallow, his nerves suddenly contracting.

Without breaking eye contact, he tilts his head back and to one side, the offer unmistakeable.

For a second Spike actually looks angry. Then his eyes flicker to Riley's throat and his tongue darts out to wet his bruised lips. There are a million things that Riley could say, but he remains silent. The moment stretches out until he can't bear it any longer and he lays a hand on the back of Spike's neck. Just the tiniest amount of pressure and Spike starts to breathe. Short, sharp little breaths of a man trying to control himself, and his face changes. There's an awful moment when Spike's face twists and he lets out a soft cry of alarm at the unaccustomed pain of his changing. Then it's done. The resistance against Riley's hand melts away. It's so simple really. The sensation of lips on his throat, then a tongue, just tasting. A hand on his hip and another cradling the back of his head. Riley can hardly bear the anticipation.

The sharp slice of teeth.

All the awareness all over his body rushing to that one point. He thinks that he groans, but he can't be sure. He can't really hear anything over the rushing in his ears. Spike is only sipping at him, really. Trying to be careful. Trying, perhaps, to be polite, but it's enough to make Riley's eyes roll back and his knees buckle. They stumble together. Riley thinks he's going to fall, but the wall is at his back and Spike's body presses close, touching him everywhere, holding him up. The impact seems to wake something in Spike, and he bites harder, his lips moving, his fist clenched in Riley's hair. This time Riley is sure that he groans, and he pushes his body up, trying to get more contact, trying to give more of himself.

It's been a long time. He had almost managed to forget.

But his body remembers.

Spike breaks away with a gasp, and it's too soon too late too much not enough don't stop. It takes a visible effort for Spike to force his face back to its human appearance, and when he licks blood off his lips, Riley watches, entranced. They stand there, hurting, still locked together, inches apart, staring wide-eyed at one another. They're both breathing heavily, chests heaving, but it's Spike who finds his voice first.

"Why did you do that?"

There are so many ways to answer that Riley can't pick any actual words. He can't reveal anymore of himself that way. He can only gape, useless in Spike's arms.

"Fuck, Riley. Jesus fuck." Spike clutches Riley's shoulders and thumps him off the wall like he's punctuating his questions. "Why did you make me do that? Did you set me up for this? Is this revenge? Some game? Is that why you're here?"

"No. I swear--"

"Is this some set up? Some newfangled Initiative experiment? You testing the soul, is that it? Is this all just a game to you?"

Riley doesn't want confrontation. He doesn't want to descend into argument. He just wants to take comfort from this moment, this embrace, this thing that he hasn't allowed himself to even think about since he left Sunnydale. And then there's Spike. Staring at him in a rare moment of unguarded curiosity. It seems genuine. Sincere.

Riley leans in and rests his lips against Spike's. There's a moment of stillness and plain ugly fear, but then he feels Spike lift his head a fraction and takes it as an invitation. He's as gentle as he can be, mindful of Spike's injury, but he wants to taste. He wants to have this moment written on all of his senses. It's slow and uncertain, and it's the best apology Riley has to offer. His presses his tongue into the roof of Spike's mouth, tasting himself there, but the second he brushes against Spike's teeth Spike draws back sharply.

"Did I hurt you?" Riley asks, concerned. He can see that the dark bruising on Spike's jaw has already started to fade. The skin not so tight, the flesh less swollen. His blood is working inside Spike.

"What are you doing here?" Spike asks, ignoring the question.

"I don't know," he says honestly. "I don't know what I can possibly do to make this up to you."

Spike's face darkens and he pushes away, the back of his hand to his mouth like he's ashamed, like he has something unworthy he has to hide. "I'm not looking for tea and sympathy, you get me?"

"No," Riley says, confused. "What?"

"Pity. Yours. I don't need it."

"I didn't mean that."

"I'm sure you didn't. Never bloody do." Spike lets out a grunt of frustration. "I am not getting myself caught up in this shit anymore, you hear me? Not ever again."

"Spike," Riley says softly, not understanding quite what it is that he's done to evoke such anger, but wanting to make it right.

"I won't," Spike says with finality. He turns, but hesitates, and gestures vaguely to Riley's throat. "Make sure and bandage that," he says thickly, and retreats to his room, leaving Riley standing there alone.

Riley doesn't have the nerve to go and knock on Spike's door. He's too shaken up by what he's done. He can only stand there, hard and trembling at the sense memory of Spike's fangs in his throat, swallowing him down. He presses his fingers to the bite on his throat until the pain of it makes him gasp and the guilty want of it fills his eyes and burns his throat.


---


10.


Riley spends most of the next day alone, knowing that Spike is in the next room. Knowing that sooner or later, they'll have to deal with what happened. He can't sleep, so he watches TV with the sound turned down low, but he drifts, and ends up spending most of the day looking out of the window, his body alive and restless, trying not to toy with the sweetly aching bite on his throat. Eventually he needs movement, tired of waiting on tenterhooks for any sign of life, so to speak, from Spike's room. So he goes out and, for the want of anything better to do, he goes food shopping, and though he has no appetite he ends up buying far too much. He arrives home after sunset; his arms full of bags. The four food groups for him, heavy on the protein and complex carbs, blood and cigarettes and more of the imported beer he knows Spike drinks by the caseload.

Riley stops dead when he sees Spike sprawled in his customary position on the couch. It's hard to see how well his bruises are healing by only the light of the television, but already he looks much more like himself than-- Than before.

Spike is holding a bottle of whiskey in one hand, propped on his hip, a cigarette in the other, watching--

"Turtles," Spike says, lifting his chin towards the screen. "I fucking love these little guys." He points with the two fingers that hold his cigarette. "They've just hatched, see? And now they have to make it to the ocean, and the whole way there there's these bloody great birds and lizards and every manner of predator you can think of just waiting to gobble them up, but they just keep on plodding on until they make it. A lot of them drown." He takes a final drag on his cigarette and crushes it in the ashtray balancing on his stomach. "But once they make it, they vanish. Nobody knows where they go." He looks up. "It's a mystery."

Riley can't help it. He smiles. Maybe this is Spike's way of offering him a reprieve. He opts not too think too hard about it. Not to second-guess.

Spike narrows his eyes. "What?"

"You're..."

"Go on. You can say it. Marvellous, I know."

"A closet Discovery Channel junkie."

"Knew it was a mistake letting you stay here."

"If I'd known you were Turtle Guy, I might have had second thoughts myself."

Riley heads for the kitchen, his arms complaining about their burden. He tries not to think about the fading bruises on Spike's face or the half-empty bottle of whiskey in his hand. He tries not to think about the sound Spike makes when he's drinking, or how strong the circle of his arms had been when they held Riley up. How his tongue had rested on Riley's pulse point, testing the waters before he bit. Riley tries hard not to think of it at all.

"Vamps need interests, too, y'know," Spike grumbles. "It's not like I'm collecting stamps or doing needlepoint. And if I play any more Crash Bandicoot my thumbs are going to fall off."

"Why don't you go out if you're so bored?" Riley calls over the sound of rustling bags and the open and close of cupboards. He glances out of the kitchen in time to see Spike take a slug of the whiskey, focusing grimly on the television as he swallows.

"Yeah," Spike says. "Maybe later." Light from the television flickers in his eyes. "How's your throat?" he asks, like he's talking about the weather, and drinks again.

Riley freezes, the question bringing him up short. "Good," is the best he can come up with, though his voice is a little rough when he speaks. "It's good." There's only the sound of waves and David Attenborough's compelling voice from the living room. He goes back to his unpacking.

"You know," Spike says after a moment, "me and Dru were there for them hatching once. She spent all night running up and down the beach collecting the little chaps and carrying them to the ocean so they'd be safe. She'd go in waist-deep, further even, before she'd let them go. Got soaked right through. Said they were carrying her secrets off into the ocean where no one could ever find them."

Riley stands very still in the kitchen, a can of lentils in one hand and a can of tomatoes in the other. He abandons them, his feet leading him back out to the living room where he sits in the armchair, facing Spike. "Why are you doing this?"

"Doing what?"

"Making it easier."

"Oh. That. Because... seems to me it needed doing. Don't you think?"

Riley knows he should let it go, but he can't seem to. "Don't you hate me?"

"'Bout as much as you hate me."

"That much, huh?"

Spike looks at him a while before answering. "I'm pretty sure. Yeah."

"Tell me more."

"'Bout what?"

"About Drusilla. About what happened."

Spike flicks his gaze over, weighing up the request. Riley has to resist the urge to squirm. "Why do you want to know?"

It's a good question. One Riley isn't sure he has the answer to. In the end he just shrugs.

"Nobody ever wants to know that stuff," Spike says. "The past, like. 'Cept Angel. But he was there so it doesn't count. But most humans? Nah. It just makes 'em uncomfortable."

"I do. Want to know, I mean. I do."

"Fair enough." Spike holds out the whiskey bottle. "Are you sitting comfortably?"

Riley takes the bottle and nods.

"Then I'll begin."


---


11.


"Angel. I need a favour."

"Spike. How nice of you to call."

"I said I need a favour, not you being a sanctimonious arsehole."

"When you put it like that... How can I possibly refuse?"

"Angel. Favour. Today."

"You know, maybe someday I'm going to collect on all these favours I've been paying you."

"Fuck off, would you, you old bastard. You're not the Godfather, and it's not like I'm asking you to water the plants while I'm on holiday, is it? It's demon shit. All goes towards your master plan for LA, whatever the hell that is these days."

"I'm listening."

"We need someone found."

"We do, do we?"

"Yes. We do. A bloke calling himself Malcolm. Or failing that, a Vanglash demon."

"Vanglash are hard to come by."

"Grubs are even harder."

" ... Grubs."

"Yeah. Grubs. One in particular."

"And this would be Malcolm?"

"Sharp as mustard, you are."

"You have a face?"

"For the time being, although god only knows how long he'll keep it. He's probably still in LA. That's all I've got."

"I don't know, Spike. This is a tall order."

"You're Wolfram & Hart. What's the point of being there if you can't abuse the system?"

"We still have to work within the law."

"Don't give me that. I know you've got psychics on the payroll."

"Mm. A dozen or so."

"And you've got the city wired, right?"

"Hooked into everything."

"So, what's the hold up? Hop to it. Work some mojo if you have to, just find it."

"What's in it for me?"

"Sweet FA."

"Ooh, tempting."

"Because it's the right thing to do, you git, and you know it."

"What did you do to get involved with a Grub?"

"I didn't do anything."

"Ah. Suddenly it all becomes clear."

"Yeah. The Porta'kqua's got a bee in his bonnet over Riley. Happy? Are we done here?"

"Almost. But I'm curious. What are you going to do when you find him? How's a guy like you and a guy like Riley Finn planning on taking down a Grub?"

"Cross that bridge when we come to it. First things first, though. Gotta find him first and right now we're at a dead end. Hence calling out the big guns."

"Did you just call me a big gun?"

"I have plenty of names for you, Liam. "Big Gun" isn't one of them. CEO of Wolfram & Hart is. So get your finger out."

"I'll do what I can. You'll have to come in so we can do some sketches and get a face."

"Can't you just get the psychics to buzz me?"

"You're just going to let them inside your head like that?"

"Get your best man to do it. Chances are I won't even notice it happening, am I right?"

"You know for someone who's being so noble, you sound terribly bitter about the whole thing."

"Bugger off. Call me when you find something, yeah?"

"All right."

"Good. So I'll talk to you--"

"Spike?"

"God, what?"

"Is something wrong?"

" ... Why?"

"I don't know. You just sound... like something might be wrong."

"You don't know the half of it, mate."

"So enlighten me."

"Nothing. 'S nothing. Got a lot on at the minute, that's all. A Grub for one thing."

"Is that all?"

"Well, no actually. There's this annoying wanker of a vampire keeps stalking this guy I know. Getting to be a real pain in the arse having to beat the crap out of him all the time."

"Don't be like that. Is it so wrong that I asked?"

"What, like you care?"

"I care."

"I'm fine. Everything's fine. You get me answers, all right?"

Spike hangs up the phone before Angel can say anything else.


---


12.


Riley's been here too long. The apartment isn't just "the apartment" any more. It's become home. He knows where things are kept. He can lay his hand on a particular mug or the bottle opener or a new light bulb at a moment's notice. The place has become a whole to him, all the little details merging together. It's hard now to view it through a stranger's eyes.

There's not much of Spike here, not really, and even less of Riley if he's honest. He knows that if he goes to the fridge or opens a few cupboards or looks in his wardrobe he'll see signs of his living here, of a human being living here, but there's nothing of any permanence. Only the basics: shelter, clothing, sustenance. It seems wrong, suddenly, that he's been unable to leave his mark here. He wants something indelible. And then he wonders about Spike. Who he kissed. Who he can't seem to stop thinking about kissing. Spike has lived lifetimes. Surely he would at times want the same thing? To leave his mark on the world? Though Riley suspects it's not the world that interests him. He wonders suddenly what secrets Spike could conceivably have hidden away in his room. Spike, who has tasted him twice now. Whose sharp teeth and hungry curve of his mouth Riley can still feel when he closes his eyes. Funny that Spike's secrets could be antiques. Souvenirs of lifetimes gone and past.

Riley thinks of his own room. Not much to consider, really, given the tiny dimensions. Functional. Sparse. But, hey, he's lived in enough barracks over the years, and worse from time to time, so he'll take the tiny room that's his and his alone and think it more than enough. Even if he's had so much more. Like the room he knows is left behind in his parents' house in Iowa. The old ramshackle farmhouse, warm timber and dust-filled sunbeams, and the long, slow tug of home. He's sure even now his room won't have changed. His mother's shrine to his childhood. Comic books, silver trophies, fishing tackle, toy soldiers. He should call her again, and he knows it, but he won't. It's better to leave that behind him. Not to dwell. He can't rely on thoughts of that home to sustain him. Thinking of them holds him back when he needs to be propelled forwards to be kept alive. He has his strength, his knowledge, his determination, and a small, but effective personal arsenal to see him through.

And, until now, that's been enough.

Sam would have had his bedroom filled with tasteful little pieces of mismatched furniture by now. She always liked to have mirrors everywhere, and she'd have hung carefully selected pictures on the walls. But not Riley. These days he wants to be able to pick up everything he owns in one bag and run out the door. Most of his memories he carries inside his head, inside his heart, etched on his skin.

Most of them.

In the bottom of the wardrobe, tucked away in the corner and hidden under an old shirt ruined with a splatter of demon blood that no amount of washing will ever take out, there is a small box. When he opens the box and spills its contents on his mattress, he lets the ache take him and hold him close like a lover. He traces frozen moments of the past through the few photographs, smoothing over faces, memorising smiles. Pictures of once friends. Pictures of family. Pictures of fallen comrades. All those he may never lay eyes on again. Lifetimes gone and past. He picks up the plain gold ring and lays it in the palm of his hand. Such a small piece of metal to weigh so heavily on his heart. He touches it to his lips; the metal warmed from his skin, and renews the promise he made. Retribution, punishment, revenge. All good words, and Riley clings to them as he would once have clung to love and to peace and to duty.

In the bottom of the box, securely wrapped in cotton wool, lies a small stoppered bottle. Riley lifts it carefully, holding it up to the light, and he watches the refraction cast tiny rainbows on the wall. He curls up on the bed and presses the cool side of the bottle to his dry lips. He knows what he has to do. Knows that his time is coming. It's inevitable. He lies still, listening to the almost-silence, and lets his heart ache.


---


13.


"Ask."

Spike looks up from the book he's reading; a cigarette trailing smoke up his arm; his leg tossed over the arm of the chair he's sprawled in. "Hm?"

Riley stands in the doorway to the living room. "Ask me. Whatever you want to know. I think I owe you."

Spike tilts his head. He closes the book and sets it aside. "Maybe you do"

"Yeah." Riley's muscles are tight. He wants to pace. "Do it now while I'm feeling brave."

"All right." Spike considers his cigarette. "This Malcolm's your Grub, right?"

"Yes."

"And he's out for your blood?"

"No. Yes." Riley breathes, conscious of Spike's watchful eyes on him. "Maybe. He's-- I hurt him. All this is payback."

"Payback? You managed to hurt a Grub and didn't finish the job." Spike takes a final drag of his cigarette, favouring the undamaged side of his mouth, and crushes it out. "You're fucked, mate."

"Feels that way sometimes."

"He done this to you before? Going after your-- after people you know?"

"Yes," Riley says, and the admission hurts. "That's pretty much what he does. How much do you know about Grubs?"

Spike's face closes off and Riley flinches. Stupid, stupid question. In some ways, Spike now knows as much as Riley. He may not have been doing all the chasing, all the research, but he has spent time with the Grub, after all. They're just as well acquainted. Riley remembers what that was like, lying bloodied and defeated on the ground, staring up while the Grub... while it... did those things to Sam.

"Enough that I'd like to see this one wiped off the face of the planet."

Riley comes back to the here and now and replays what Spike has just said. It sounds like maybe Spike has a score of his own to settle. Riley tries hard to squelch the little voice that says maybe Spike will help him now. That maybe there'll be someone with him through this, all the way to the end. He can't listen to that voice because it lies to him all the time. This is his fight. No one else's.

He tries not to notice how Spike is tonguing his gum under his lip.

"I didn't know anything about him," Riley says. "Not at first. Just that he was a demon who'd killed a man in one of the villages and taken his form. We didn't know what was involved, just figured him for a shapeshifter. Orders were to take him out. So I did."

"Jesus. I'm grudgingly impressed."

"Don't be. He'd chosen his host -- that man from the village -- and I destroyed the body. Made him feel the pain of death. But they're creatures of more than just flesh. They're like mystical parasites. They can survive on their own well enough in their true forms, but to live, to be conscious and tangible, they have to take hosts." He hangs his head. "I tried, but I didn't know enough to kill him completely."

"How do you kill a Grub?"

"You can't. Not like that. Not by just killing the host body. But there's a way. Apparently. I've been looking into it."

"Do tell."

So Riley lays it all out for him. He tells Spike everything he's learned about Grubs. Their history, what little is known of it. Their scarcity, as there was no known case of Grubs reproducing: they just seemed to go on forever. Immortal, like the vampire, but unlike the vampire, they were said to be invincible.

"Can't be," Spike interrupts. "Nothing goes on forever. Nothing. Not even Grubs."

"There's a way."

"To kill them? Really?"

Riley nods. "I found a shaman in the jungle. He was said to be nine hundred and something years old."

"Demon?"

"Hard to say. He read as human."

"And what did Methuselah have to say for himself?"

"You have to use a twofold attack. There's a dagger--"

"Lemme guess. Just the one?"

"Just one. It's infused with a lot of power from a long time ago. Forged from the time when Grubs began. You have to strike the heart. It's from the heart that the Grub reaches all parts of the host body. And then there's a magical potion that the shaman told me about. Made by the Cult of the Porta'kqua."

"Hell. You're not telling me Grubs have worshipers?"

"No. The opposite. They wanted the Porta'kqua race destroyed. They devoted themselves to it."

"Why the past tense?" Spike asks with a frown.

"The Grubs found out about them," Riley says quietly. "No more cult."

Spike makes an unhappy little "ah" face.

"The potion will take care of the mystical side," Riley says. "It destroys the energy. The spirit. The Grub has to drink the potion." He holds up one hand. "And be stabbed in the heart by the dagger." He holds up the other. "You kill the body and the spirit at the same time. No more rejuvenations." He brings his hands together. "Case closed."

"Just like that?"

"Just like that."

"Right," Spike scoffs. "So you're just going to -- what? Ask him to be a poppet and take his medicine then hold still while you stab him in the heart?"

"I have a plan."

"A plan, he says. Why do I not like the sound of that?"

"It's a good plan," Riley says, and where ordinarily there would have been a glimmer of defensiveness, for this there is only dull acceptance.

"So where do you find this magical twofer?"

"I've been looking for the dagger. So far, nada."

"And the potion?"

"The last of it's in my room."

Spike looks impressed. "Looks like you got yourself half a plan."

Riley glances up at him and tries to find the place where he was feeling brave again. "Listen. I'm sorry you got dragged into this. I just wanted you to know that whatever you think of me, I never meant for--" He jams his hands into his pockets. "I was thinking maybe I'd move on."

"Move on where?"

"Out, rather than on. I can't leave LA until... But maybe it'd be better if I wasn't around."

"What good would that do? He knows where you live now, and I'm not just talking geographically."

"I don't know. I'd be out of here. Out of your way." His voice gets very small. "Especially after..."

"Hey, y'know what? Sounds good to me. When you thinking of going?"

The blasé response sucker-punches him in the gut. "Soon, I guess. Now that I have money coming in--"

"You're welcome, by the way."

"Yes. Thank you." Riley chews on his lip. "I should have said."

"Meh." Spike gives an easy little shrug.

"Anyway, I can get out. Stay in a motel or something until I find a place."

Spike sighs. "You leaving won't make a damn bit of difference. Only thing is you'll be alone."

"Alone?"

"Look, you don't have to go. You're here now. You can wait it out 'til you find something permanent like. Couple more days won't kill me."

"Thanks. I appreciate it."

"I told you. No appreciating. Besides, you keep bringing me beer."

"You're welcome, by the way."

"Don't push it, sunshine," Spike says, but Riley imagines he can see a hint of a smile in his eyes.

"Wouldn't dream of it."

Spike gives him a final warning glare and picks up his book.


---


14.


Riley has only been up for a couple of hours, diligently looking through the newspaper and circling likely apartments, when Spike appears, looking muggy, and heads straight for the coffee pot. Riley knows that Spike hasn't been sleeping well. He can't help but hear when Spike's up and about in the small apartment. He's heard the TV on at all hours of the day and night. Sometimes he hears Spike plucking at the banged up old guitar, coaxing tunes out of it.

"Listen, uh..." Stalling for time, Riley takes a gulp of his coffee. It burns his tongue. "How is it?"

"Haven't made it yet, have I?" Spike says, holding up his empty mug.

"No. How is it?"

"It?"

Riley only lifts his head by way of answer. Spike's injury is not something they talk about if they can help it.

"Oh," Spike says, grunting his displeasure. "Getting there. How's the throat?" he asked pointedly.

"Fine," Riley says too brightly, mortified by the full body blush that instantly blossoms.

Riley lets him go through the ritual of preparing coffee. It's a ritual, certainly, but one known only to Spike. Some days he uses half a pint of cream and enough sugar that Riley's teeth ache just to see it. Other days he takes it black, and has been known to heap in extra spoonfuls of instant on top of the brew. Today it seems he's content to take it as it comes from the pot.

Riley stands, keeping his body language neutral. "Let me see."

Spike scowls over the lip of his mug. "You want to eyeball the lopsided vampire, is that it?"

"I just want to see."

The scowl deepens, but it takes on a faint edge of something Riley can't quite place. It could be irritation. It could conceivably be panic. He takes the mug out of Spike's hands, sets it to one side, and lays the lightest of touches on the uninjured side of Spike's jaw. Spike jerks his head back, but doesn't go far.

Riley gives a small, encouraging smile. "Say 'ahh'."

Spike rolls his eyes, and it takes him a minute to work up to it, but he opens his mouth. As his mouth opens, he vamps out. Riley is relieved to see that it doesn't hurt him to change.

"All the better to bite you with," Spike says dryly.

With both hands, Riley takes better hold of Spike's face, keeping his touch light. He tilts Spike's head and ducks down a little to get a better look. Spike's edginess is palpable.

"It's getting there."

Spike abruptly shuts his mouth, and snaps his head back to front and centre. "Jesus, I told you that already."

Riley watches, fascinated, as Spike morphs back to his human face. It's the eyes that take Riley's breath away. The way the pupils change size and shape like poured black ink, and the fiery amber iris melts into cool blue. He stares for a moment too long, before realising that he still has Spike's face in his hands.

"Yeah," he says, and lets go. "I just wanted to see for myself." He goes back to his abandoned coffee, turning his back. "It's looking much better."

"Yeah," Spike says from behind Riley's back. "It is."


---


15.


Riley doesn't quite know why he does it. He hasn't ever snooped through Spike's things. He hasn't peered through doorways, rifled through belongings or poked his nose where it doesn't belong. So why he picks up Spike's battered cell phone and listens to the voicemail message, he can't really say. Why he stands perfectly still in the doorway between kitchen and living room, listening to Angel's smug, flat American accent telling him that not only had Wolfram & Hart's finest located a Vanglash demon, but that they'd also cajoled the whereabouts of the Grub out of it...

Riley drops the cell with numb fingers before the message even finishes, grabs his coat, gathers a few of his most effective and discrete weapons, and hits the street. When he arrives at the address that he can still hear Angel's voice saying, over and over inside his head, he can't remember the drive over there at all.

The apartment block he's looking up at is an unexceptional building in a nondescript part of town. He doesn't think he's ever been here before. It feels like he could be anywhere, any city. Odd to think how his focus has narrowed down to this one place. The street will lead to a door, will lead to a hallway, to another door, to a room, to the Grub.

He resolves to be calm. He knows there is little he can do here, and that he could very well be walking straight into a world of trouble, but he can't seem to care. He knows he could be blowing his chances by letting the Grub know that he knows where it's been hiding out, but he doesn't stop moving forwards. It's like his higher brain functions are sectioned off. There is little thought, only motion and emotion, blurring together. He wants to fall at the Grub's feet and beg for it all to end, because he's tired. He's so tired and he's afraid all the time. He wants to let out his hatred, his anger. He wants to kill. He wants to kick and punch and stab and gouge until his body's worn out and it's enough, it's finally enough and the Grub is dead, out of his life and gone forever. He wants to rip the Grub out of this new host with his bare hands because the Grub took away everyone he cared about, took Sam from him, made him an outcast, and now, just when he was finally starting to maybe find himself a new home in a place he never expected -- the Grub is going to ruin that for him too.

Riley lets himself into the first floor apartment silently and catches the Grub alone, standing by the window with a glass of red wine in his hand, watching the world go by. Riley can't help but savour the look of surprise that his appearance engenders.

"So," he says. "You're going by Malcolm now, is that right?"

The Grub recovers quickly. "Malcolm Merriweather." Malcolm Merriweather's face cracks a smile that slides up one side of his face as he reassesses Riley. He looks impressed; almost proud. "Doesn't it just sing?"

"Tobias Toomba. Martin Dimson. Jackson Harding. Thomas Coffey. Michael Lukins. Malcolm Merriweather. Sam Finn." Riley's voice doesn't waver as he says her name.

"All so brief," the Grub says with a faraway look in his eye, and Riley is struck by how differently the Grub holds himself, the change in voice and bearing, now that he's no longer playing pretend as Malcolm the bartender. Now that he's just being himself. "If you only knew the lives I've led..." He comes back to himself. "Well, is that all? Aren't you going to go on?"

"Oh, I could," Riley says, his voice a cold, hard thing. "How many names have you had? How many faces?"

"Oh, my dear boy. How many stars are there in the sky? How many fish in the deepest ocean?"

"Cut the crap. There's no poetry in what you do. You're a murderer. A parasite."

"You really want to know how many?" He abandons his glass and leans in a little, like he's imparting a great secret. "More than I care to count. And never, ever enough."

"You can't go on forever, you know that, right?"

"Nonsense. Of course I can. It's what I do. It's what I've always done. I'll still be around when you're little more than dust. I'll think of you, from time to time. Keep your memory alive, so to speak."

"I'm good with the dust thing, thanks."

The Grub looks at him appraisingly. "Riley Finn. It's good to see you again. You finally tracked me down. Good for you."

"Don't do that. Don't patronise me. Don't talk to me like we're friends."

"But you are my friend. Closest thing I've had to one in a long, long time. You know the real me. Not the memory of the face I'm wearing. You know me. That's real. It's special. And nobody, nobody, cares about me quite as much as you do. I wonder if anyone ever has."

"You're sick."

"Maybe. It's an odd life I live." Malcolm flashes him an unsettling smile. "I think perhaps I go a little mad from time to time."

"At least you're honest."

"Oh, yes. I try to be. I have to live one lie after another, never quite fitting in. Always playing a game. The least I can do is be honest with myself. I have no respect for those who can't tell the truth once in a while."

"You want the truth? Try this for size: I'm going to kill you."

Malcolm chuckles good-naturedly. "Oh, I know you're going to try. But you won't succeed. And it certainly won't be today."

"Why not? Today works for me."

Riley waits just a beat, watches Malcolm's pupils dart back and forth, and lets his hatred build. The little black baton slaps into the palm of his hand and Riley raises it to attack. The Grub moves faster than he can process and grabs his wrist, squeezing until Riley is forced to drop the baton. The Grub catches it in his free hand and snaps it like a twig, tossing it away.

"I do like you, Finn, my boy. So fine and upstanding. Always straight down to business. Perhaps I'll take you one of these days, before you get too old."

"Never going to happen. I'll die first."

"Yes," Malcolm says, considering. "You most probably will." He lowers Riley's arm and steps up into Riley's personal space. "Now I'll tell you what you're going to do. You're going to turn around and walk out of here."

Riley holds his ground but his nostrils flare and beads of sweat break out on his forehead at the Grub's proximity and his own uselessness. "Why would I do that?"

Malcolm smiles, most civilly. Only millimetres separate them now. He runs the back of his hand over Riley's face in a parody of a lover's caress, but his eyes are cold and black and dead. His touch ghosts over the bitemark on Riley's throat and Riley trembles, ready to bolt.

"Don't you flinch from me, boy," Malcolm murmurs from behind his faint and awful little smile. "Don't you dare." Malcolm releases his hold on Riley's wrist. Hot blood rushes back into Riley's hand making it tingle, but Riley can't figure out why he's getting off so lightly. He can't figure out if it's all just another trick. "Your friend," Malcolm says, his words touching Riley's cheek. "The English vampire with all the attitude and that wonderful hair."

"No. No, you didn't even know I was coming here."

"Oh, I knew. I knew before you did. Don't you think I keep track of any and all Vanglash demons within a hundred mile radius of wherever I am? Do you know they think it little more than a curse that they can sense my kind? It brings them nothing but trouble. I thin out their numbers every couple of decades, just to keep the playing field level, you understand. But I could tell you where several are located up and down the west coast right this very minute. It pays to know when one might be... coerced into revealing my whereabouts."

Riley's heart sinks into his boots. "What have you done to Spike?"

"Oh, nothing. He's fine. This time. Whole and unmarked." Malcolm blinks rapidly, a thought occurring, and leans in. "Tell me, did the tooth grow back? Or should we call it a fang? I'm most curious. I still have the one I pulled. A souvenir best kept for myself, I think." He chuckles again, tapping his index finger against his lips. "Perhaps I'll get it made into a necklace."

Riley grits his teeth, fury burning in his gut. "If you hurt him again--"

"He's fine. I told you. But he won't stay that way if anything happens to me."

"You work alone. There's nothing you can do to him if you're here."

"So true. But the sun will rise whether I'm here or not."

Riley feels sick. He's beaten and he knows it. "How do I know you'll let him go?"

"Because I give you my word."

"I'm supposed to trust you?"

"Have I ever lied to you? Ever?"

"I don't know," Riley says, at a loss. "I don't care. You're the last person-- the last thing on this planet that I'd ever put my trust in."

"Very well. How about a good old-fashioned threat? You will leave here and go straight home. You will not linger. You will not try to follow me, because I will know. You return to that dingy little apartment of yours, and the vampire will be with you before sunrise."

"Why are you doing this?"

Malcolm shrugs fluidly. "Why not? You felt like wreaking a little havoc. I felt like a little chat. I just needed insurance."

"Why?"

"Oh, just to avoid any unpleasantness. I told you. I have plans for you. It would be such a pity to mar that lovely strong body of yours any further than it already is."

"You're sick."

"So you keep telling me. But I know what I want." The Grub steps back and gives Riley a little push right in the centre of his chest for emphasis that nearly takes Riley off his feet. "And I always get what I want."

"This isn't over," Riley says, backing out of the apartment.

"It is for today," the Grub calls after him, and the sound of laughter follows Riley as he stumbles out of the building.


---


16.


Riley doesn't know what to expect when he gets home, but all he finds is an empty apartment. He can do nothing but wait, dread in his heart, not knowing if Spike will return at all, if he can return, or if he'll be injured when he does. Spike's phone is gone from the kitchen, so Riley calls it, hoping against hope that Spike will pick up, but it goes straight to voicemail. He can't think of a thing to say that will do a damn bit of good -- hope you're safe, hope you're not hurting, hope you're not dust, come home -- so he just snaps his phone shut. All that's left is to pace restlessly, trying to will himself to be calm, but all he can think about is how subdued and beaten down Spike was that night when Riley found him huddled in the corner of the kitchen, hurting and alone, a boulder-sized hole smashed through the armour that he wore every other day with ease.

However the Spike who walks assuredly into the apartment just before dawn is anything but subdued and beaten down. He stands just inside the door, jaw set.

"Spike." Riley smiles, relief washing through him, one long wave that sends him across the room towards Spike. "Are you--"

"Why are you still here?"

Riley draws up short. "I don't know, I--"

"We only ever said a few days. It's been fucking months."

Riley holds his ground and hears Graham Miller's voice in his head telling him to stay frosty; to wait the hostile out. He wants to meet this head on, whatever this turns out to be, because he knows one thing: whatever Spike has in mind to dish out to him, he's earned it in spades.

"I want you out," Spike says, precise and forceful. "Today. Gone before I wake up."

There's heavy silence in the room. Riley is almost afraid to move. "I'm sorry," is all he can find to say.

"Oh, fuck off. I don't need your apologies. Sick to the back teeth of 'em," Spike says pointedly, his barb cutting Riley deep. "I've had it up to here with you, and I've had it up to here with your Grub. The pair of you can fuck off out of my life for good."

"I didn't mean for you to get hurt. It wasn't my intention."

"No? Pricking at your conscience is it?" Spike strides towards him, bristling with resentment. "You don't have to worry about me, Agent Finn. Just make believe I'm still your Hostile 17. If that doesn't do it for you, just think about some of the good times, yeah? Think about all the times I would have ripped you to shreds if it hadn't been for the handy piece of government hardware in my head, and I do mean: Literal. Shreds. Think about that day you caught me with Buffy in my crypt. Any earlier and you might have caught us fucking. I gave it to her good that day. She came to me looking for love, did you know that? She wanted the words, wanted to see it in my eyes. To see if I could give her what she could never find with you." He stops and looks at Riley coldly. "Tell me, any of this helping to ease your heavy burden?"

Riley knows what Spike is trying to do, but it's still hard to clamp down on the anger that floods his system. "I don't see you like that anymore."

"Oh no? It's a piece of piss for me to see you exactly as you were. A useless drone. Only good for following orders. Can't hold on to the ones you love. Can't protect them either."

Riley's body reacts to the taunt before his brain has any say in the matter. He throws everything he has into the punch. The second he feels the jolt of connection he knows it's too late to take it back. He can only stand there, his hands shaking with the sudden rush of adrenalin, and wish that he could. "I'm sorry," he says immediately. "Please... don't. Just don't do this. I don't want to fight with you."

Spike's eyes are ringed with gold as he stares Riley down. He presses the back of his hand to his lip to see if he's bleeding. It comes away clean. "Fuck you," he spits. "I want you gone. I don't want you here, get it? I don't want you--"

"Spike." Riley cautiously steps forward, palms open. Spike breaks off, lost for words and watching Riley closely, anger etched on his features. Spike stares him down, barely moving, a proud statue. Riley knows he's a wreck in comparison. He knows he's trembling, knows Spike can hear his heart, smell the chemical changes in his blood. He knows all too well. But he doesn't care. He has no control over this. He couldn't stop it if he wanted to. He can't seem to keep away from this vampire, his once enemy, and that somewhere along the line, he's made his peace with that.

"No," Spike says, his voice dropping to a harsh whisper. "I don't want you."

Riley touches Spike's face, an apology of sorts, and although Spike jerks away from the touch, Riley follows him. He kisses Spike for the second time, not knowing if it will be accepted, without a single clue as to whether this is a case of the worst timing ever, or just wildly inappropriate. It's more of a lunge and grab that an embrace. It's sloppy, and their teeth click when they connect, but he can't make himself stop. He doesn't have the words to explain. He just wants to make Spike understand. For one beautiful, heart-stopping moment, he feels Spike kiss him back, move with him, hungry and wet, tongue in his mouth, teeth closing on his lip, but it's over before it's begun. Strong hands on his chest push him away. Riley spins, barely keeping his feet, and suddenly there's half a room between them.

"Stop doing that."

"Can't help it," Riley blurts out.

"Jesus Christ, Riley, what are you playing at here?"

"I'm not playing."

"Yes you are!" Spike shouts the words and reveals too much of himself. He groans and pushes his hands through his hair, linking his fingers behind his head as he regards Riley. Riley wants to pretend that he doesn't notice how the movement lifts Spike's t-shirt, revealing a slice of perfect white skin over the hard muscle of his stomach, but he's kidding no one but himself. "I saw you with him," Spike says.

Riley frowns, a cold trickle in his chest. "With who?"

"Him."

A rush of ice and it all becomes clear. "Malcolm. You saw me with Malcolm."

"Yeah, genius. I saw you with Malcolm."

"But how did you--"

"I listened to my messages when I got home. Thought you might be doing something stupid like, say, going to face him by yourself. And surprise, surprise, there you were, happy as Larry."

"It's not what you think." To his surprise, Spike actually barks with laughter. "No, I mean it."

"Mean whatever you want. I saw you. Nice and cosy. On the very best of terms. This is all a game, isn't it? Some sick, twisted--"

"No! He..." Riley stutters, terrified because he knows that he's finally going to have to let it all come out. He's going to have to let Spike in. "I went there to, I don't know, stop him if I could. I don't have any way to really stop him, but I just couldn't not go. I didn't even think. But when I was there he told me that he had you again. He said he'd do worse than-- than before. So I did what he told me to do. I walked away."

"Bullshit." Spike steps in closer, his fists clenched, his anger palpable. "Bullshit. He never had me and you knew that. Handy little excuse, though. Well thought out. Full marks for effort. But I'll tell you what really happened. You made your little deal and when you were done kissing his arse you came back here to-to-to... fuck with my head some more."

Riley's spirit sinks. He remembers how he stood with his back to the window. How they would have been visible from across the street, right where Riley's car was parked. He remembers the Grub's smiles and little touches. The way Riley was pulled in; held close and intimate by all that awful strength. He remembers how the Grub stroked his face, called him a friend, and with a dreadful certainty, he knows what Spike must have seen.

"So I'm guessing you didn't show up in time to see him nearly break my arm?"

"Right," Spike snorts. "I saw enough."

"You didn't see anything," Riley yells at the top of his lungs. "I'm not playing any fucking games. Can't you understand that?"

"You're the enemy, I understand that much. I was such a do-gooding idiot, thinking I had to give everyone a fair go now when all you were out to do was--"

"He killed--" Riley's voice hitches, the stab of pain stealing his breath, even after all this time. "He killed Sam."

"Sam? Who the fuck is he?"

"She. Sam was my wife. She... He-he killed her." Riley stumbles back a few steps until his back hits the wall. He slides down it and just sits there; staring numbly at nothing the middle ground, at something in the past only he can see. "Right in front of me. Kept me there and made me watch. I could never, never be in league with him because I hate him more than anything on this earth." He takes a deep, shuddering breath, trying to get himself under control. "He hurt you, just to send a message to me. Tonight, he told me that he'd taken you again so I couldn't touch him. And I believed him." He clenches his jaw and screws his eyes shut. "Stupid. That was stupid. I should have been able to see that he was lying. He played me again. But I believed him. I'm sorry. I didn't mean for you to get caught up in this. It's my problem. I thought... I thought I could take care of it myself. Then yesterday when you disappeared and then he told me... I just thought that he was going to do it all over again and I just couldn't..."

Spike's voice is low when he speaks. "Why didn't you tell me any of this?"

"I don't know. I... I don't know."

"You should have told me."

"I know. I'm fucking everything up. I'm sorry." Riley fights it, but tears won't stop spilling from his eyes. He swipes at them self-consciously.

"You bloody fool, Riley. Why the hell didn't you just tell me?"

"I don't know. I didn't want anyone to know, I guess. I just wanted him dead. That's been my only goal." He looks up, misery written all over him. "It's all my fault."

"Now there's an oft-quoted lament."

"It is. It's my fault he took her. It was because of me. He was just taunting me. He was--" His voice chokes off in a sob. Spike hovers. No longer really angry, Riley thinks -- hopes -- but not ready to just let everything go either. Spike starts to say something, but Riley only shakes his head slowly, side to side, wanting it all to go away, and keeps talking, because if he stops now, he doesn't know if he'll ever get it out. "Since I... since I hurt him, he's been taking new hosts all the time. Says it's all for me. Every month. Every couple of weeks. Sometimes more often. More than he needs. I kept losing track of him, but then he'd find me. Let me know what he was doing. You were right. You were exactly right. He wants me to know exactly what he's doing. He's doing it for me. He told me that. Says he's going to keep doing it."

"And he started with your girl."

Riley can only stare at the floor, his fingers white on his thighs. "He... he made me watch when he... And then once he'd taken her..." He looks up suddenly, catching Spike watching him with dark eyes. "He... he sends me souvenirs sometimes. Pictures, you know? Sometimes he sends me parts of--" He can't say it. He just can't. "I have to get this done. I have to stop him."

Spike just stands there, watching him, unreadable.

"You do... you do believe me, don't you?" Riley asks, hating how weak and needy he sounds, but needing to know.

Spike hesitates, and Riley knows it's all over. He's lost whatever small part of Spike's trust he ever had. This odd friend he had found hiding in the guise of an old enemy is his friend no longer. The vampire he's been throwing himself at in a variety of embarrassing ways doesn't want him, never wanted him, and Riley doesn't blame him for a second. Riley lets his eyes close, because he's tired, always so tired, and because he can't take the scrutiny any longer. He's going to have to get up off this floor in a moment, he's going to have to make himself gather his meagre belongings, and he's going to have to walk out the door. He's going to be alone again. There'll only be him and the Grub. Locked together until one of them dies.

When he opens his eyes, Spike is holding out his hand.

Riley stares at the offering, and has to take a couple of unsteady little breaths. Spike pulls him to his feet easily and doesn't let go straight away. Their hands sway between them a little, like an odd sort of a handshake. Like words unspoken.

Their hands part and Spike lowers his head, patting his pockets down until he locates his cigarettes. "I'll give you a hand, if you like," he says quietly, lighting up and exhaling expansively before looking up again. "This is a lot to be dealing with alone."

"Thank you," Riley says. His head's spinning and it's all he can think to say, though it hardly seems like enough, not considering what Spike's just offered him. He's inordinately touched by Spike's gesture, barely allowing himself to believe that he's been given a reprieve. Especially considering their past. Especially considering... well, everything really. "Okay," he says, gathering what's left of his resolve, "but when we find him..." He looks Spike in the eye, hoping that he looks a hell of a lot more fearless than he feels. "I'm the one who kills him."

Spike weighs this up, eyes soft and curious. "Hey," he says, tucking the cigarette in the corner of his mouth and backing off a pace, "it's your party."

He's already halfway to his room when Riley calls after him, "Do you... do you still want me gone?"

"Hell, yes," Spike says without turning. "Just you keep circling those ads in the paper. Maybe you can find yourself a nice granny flat. Keep you off the streets."

Even though he knows it's coming, the slam of Spike's bedroom door makes Riley start.


---


17.


Of all the mistakes Riley could have made, of all the foul ups, real or imagined, dangerous, stupid, or just plain inconvenient, this really wasn't one he'd been expecting. A regular patrol. A couple of vampires. Nothing Grub related. A quiet night with a few easy kills before heading home and calling it a night, and then this had to happen.

Typical, he figures.

He figures, just his luck.

He's lying naked in bed, making a good job of creasing the sheets, his clothes discarded in an untidy trail leading all the way from the front door. Heat is spiralling out from somewhere inside, lighting him up from within. His thoughts flick to the shower again, but he's already tried that, standing under the cool water until his skin pruned, and it didn't do a damn thing.

The bedroom window lies open a crack, letting in the occasional breeze to lick softly at his skin, but it isn't enough to really lift away any of the heat he's putting out. Outside the wind rises and falls, rattling the shutters, and it's raining, just starting to come down heavily, but it barely registers.

His mind is a snarl of notions and desires. He feels a little foolish to have been caught out by such a rookie mistake, but it's overshadowed by so many more pressing emotions. Sweat prickles on his chest, and he rubs it off on the sheets only for it to form again. His muscles are molten and restless; his skin too sensitive, every touch a rough caress, sweet and electric, setting his nerves alight. The low, bass line throb of his body is driving him to distraction. He's so hard and sleep-heavy and full of want that he's dizzy from it.

His fingers twitch. He wants to touch himself, needing to take the edge off, but he holds off because, really, there's no point. It wouldn't be enough. Jerking off twice in the shower wasn't enough. Running the water as cold as it would go and standing under the spray until his teeth chattered wasn't enough.

There is only one thing he knows will make it all go away.

The sound of a key opening the front door is enough to finally stop him from tangling his sheets. The door slams, and there's a pause, then quick footsteps that stop outside his bedroom door. There's a slow shushing sound, like skin passing over wood, and another pause, longer this time, interminable, until the door opens. Riley turns towards the rectangle of light, watching as Spike grips the doorpost, his hair damp from the rain, nostrils flaring as he scents the air.

"Riley?" Spike steps into the room and actually sways like he's woozy. He tosses his head to clear it. "What is that... smell?" He comes right up beside the low bed and drops to his knees. "There's something..." He lays his palm over Riley's chest, cold enough to make Riley hiss. "Jesus. You're burning up. What is this? What have you got yourself into this time?"

Riley blinks owlishly, staring up at him. He feels exposed like this, lit up and on display while Spike is hidden in shadow. It's not entirely an unpleasant sensation. There's all this wonderful stuff floating through him, thoughts and emotions twisting and swirling, pinpoints of light and heat dancing over his nerves, licking through his body, and all of it right this second is focused on Spike. Riley wants. He wants so badly.

"Thought it was a vampire," Riley says, the words heavy, so he runs his tongue over his lips. His body turns, shifting his shoulders, arching his back to press himself against Spike's touch. He moves like he's underwater. He's so damn restless, like every part of him is impatient for something. "She had a guy pinned against a wall. Couldn't see what she really was until I pulled her off him." Riley sits up. He does it deftly, placing one leg on either side of Spike, the sheet only just keeping him modest. Spike frowns faintly, watches Riley carefully, but doesn't move. He just lets it happen.

"So what was it?" he asks, his gaze trailing over Riley's bare skin.

"Succubus," Riley says simply, trying not to moan when Spike's hands grip the taut muscle of his thighs.

"Christ. A Succubus?" Spike starts to breathe. "She cut you?"

Riley nods, showing a shallow slice on his shoulder. He's marked now. The itch of demon taint under his skin. He knows what's coming for him, but Spike's here now, so he just can't seem to care. "Found her when she was halfway through her last victim." He leans in, like he's telling a grand secret. "I wasn't quick enough." He hesitates, then hooks his fingers on the neck of Spike's T-shirt, feeling Spike's throat constrict as he swallows.

"How... how did you get away?"

"Think I knocked her out," Riley says with a quick grin. "Not sure really. After she cut me all I could really think about was--"

"Sex," Spike supplies, low and heated. Riley nods rapidly, glancing at Spike's mouth.

"I ran. Got in the car and just drove." He inches closer to the edge of the mattress. Closer to Spike. He's hard and aching and there's no way to hide it. No way in hell Spike hasn't noticed. "Had to get back here." His hands are on Spike now, pushing his coat off his shoulders, wet leather under his palms and rubbing on the inside of his thighs. Spike is malleable, swaying just a little, unresisting and more than a little dazed as Riley manhandles him. The coat pools on the floor, forgotten.

"She'll be coming for you," Spike says. "Her poison's in you. You'll have given half the city a dose of the horn with the pheromones you're putting out. You have no idea..." He catches himself gazing at Riley's mouth and gives his head another little shake. "Only way to stop it is to kill her."

Riley's hands ghost up Spike's arms, his fingertips sliding under the sleeves of Spike's t-shirt like they belong there, running over cool skin and hard muscle. "I know," he says, leaning in. "I know. I just had to--"

Spike makes a guttural sound, and cuts him off with a kiss, needy and bruising, and it's perfect. He crawls his way up onto the bed, kissing with his entire body, getting in between Riley's legs, pushing Riley back without ever separating their lips.

"She'll be coming," Spike says, in close, his words in Riley's mouth. "Should stop this. Need to be ready."

"No," Riley says about a dozen times. "Don't,' he murmurs. "Don't stop. Don't worry about it. Just want this. Want this. Waited for you to get home." With every utterance, every word, every affirmation, he can feel Spike's resistance crumbling a little more. "Don't think. Don't think." He urges his body against Spike's and just kisses with everything he has.

"This isn't us."

"It is. It is. Please."

"It's just her tainting you. Making us want."

Riley holds Spike's face in his hand, making the vampire look at him. "I already wanted. You knew that."

Spike is quiet for the space of a few breaths, considering. "Yeah," he says. "Yeah. I knew it."

They're already moving, agitated and impatient, drawn back into one another. Riley kisses eagerly, wet and hungry, relishing that for once Spike isn't pulling away, and not finding it within himself to care that it took demon interference to make it happen. Spike circles his hand over Riley's hip and down the back of his thigh. Riley obliges, lifting his knee and wrapping his leg around Spike, pulling him in close, making them both gasp at the contact.

"So bloody hot," Spike whispers, rocking his hips. "Like a furnace."

Riley wants skin on skin. He's already trying to tug the sheet out of the way and pull at the buttons of Spike's jeans at the same time, and managing to achieve precisely nothing. Spike bats his hands out of the way and the sheet disappears as if by magic. He tries to kick off his boots, but they're laced too tightly. He tugs at the laces, snapping one in his haste, before Riley is grabbing his hands, bringing them back to more pressing tasks.

"Leave them," Riley says, pushing again at Spike's jeans. "God, just, leave them."

Spike grunts and shoves his jeans down a couple more inches but it's enough to give him room to manoeuvre. Riley pulls him in close and they both groan when their bodies connect. They thrust slowly together, sliding on Riley's sweat and their own moisture. Their kiss stutters and breaks, foreheads pressed together. Spike looks like he's struggling with something, almost like he's in pain. Riley wraps his hand around the back of Spike's neck, slides his hand up and scratches blunt nails through the damp hair at the base of Spike's skull, making him arch into the touch, lost in sensation. When Spike gets it together enough to wrap his hand around both of them and squeeze, Riley's arm drops numbly to the mattress and he's useless, totally useless. All he can do is push up, wordlessly ask for more. He can't last. It's good, too good, and he's been waiting for too long. He cries out when he comes, hips lifting, his body shaking, feeling suddenly hollow inside.

He should feel sated and spent, but he can already feel himself stirring, wanting to go again. The restlessness is still there. Spike is still above him on the bed, still hard, looking down with wide, shocked eyes, and Riley knows that they're not done here. He doesn't want it to be over yet. He doesn't want to give Spike time to think; doesn't want the moment to be broken. He flips Spike over, pushes his t-shirt up and out of the way, and bites at the perfect line of his hips rising out of the worn denim of his jeans. Spike groans and bucks up with enough strength to nearly throw Riley off the bed.

Riley doesn't even get to where he wants to be before Spike pulls him back up the bed and turns them again, getting one thigh in between Riley's, the tangled jeans getting in their way. He swears, and kisses Riley's neck -- the safe side -- then moves to his collarbones. Riley can feel the tension in him, and just lets Spike have his way, holding on tight. Their fingers lace together, joined up to the knuckle, Spike gripping him so hard it hurts. They start up a rhythm of backwards and forwards motion with one another, not quite thrusting, more a sort of rise and fall, give and take.

Spike hesitates, then allows himself one long, hard lick up and over his bitemark, and just like that Riley's hard again.

Spike breaks away with a gasp, his lips trailing over the rasp of stubble on Riley's jaw as their eyes meet. Riley opens his mouth and with a startling bolt of terror he knows that he's about to start saying things. Terrible, damning things. Wishes and promises and nonsense words that he knows Spike won't want to hear. He's biting his tongue, trying to hold it all in, but it's like he's drunk, like he has no control. He wants to tell Spike everything. All his hopes and fears, but mostly his desires. He wants to spill them out like sand through his fingers.

But the outside world elbows its way in, and he doesn't get the chance. The crash of the window imploding shatters the moment and they fly apart. As one, they look up and see the Succubus, furious and screaming like a banshee, her hair wet from the rain and streaming around her face, coming towards them, her cold eyes on Riley.

Spike is moving, already attacking, while Riley falls right off the damn bed and sprawls on the floor, his limbs heavy and stupid. By the time he gets to his feet, Spike has thrown a couple of punches, and without preamble he feints left, catches the Succubus off balance and breaks her neck. She slumps in Spike's arms, and Riley watches as the life fades from her eyes. It's like a long, hot breath is pushed out of his body, and just like that her hold over him is broken. His muscles are warm and achy, like pulled toffee, and the fog lifts from his head. His legs wobble alarmingly so he sits heavily on the edge of his mattress, closing his fists in the sheets. Spike looks like he doesn't know whether to hold onto the Succubus or not, but he fumbles, dropping the body to the floor, and just stands there, breathing. He stares down at her for a long time. A little rain patters in through the broken window and Riley lifts his head, drawn by the muted staccato. He gets up stiffly, goes to Spike's side and joins him in looking down at her, her head at an awful angle, the quiet in the room shrill after her piercing screams.

"Spike?"

Spike doesn't look at him. He just holds up a hand and backs up a few paces before turning and leaving the room.

"Fuck," Riley spits. "Fuck." He pulls on some sweatpants and has to add a shirt that he leaves hanging loose over his waist because no matter that the Succubus' magic is gone, no matter how much his brain is so very much not in the mood any longer, his body has some very definite other ideas. He calls Spike's name, but there's no reply. Spike is standing in the centre of the living room, his hands out a little from his sides, looking for all the world like he's waiting for someone to attack him.

"I don't want to know, all right?"

Riley tries to keep his voice level. "What do you want me to say? It wasn't me? It was just the magic? Fine. It was just the magic."

"I told you I didn't want to get into this with you."

"And I accepted that. I don't even know..." He takes a breath and runs his fingers through his hair. "There's--" He catches Spike's eye and feels that uncomfortable whoosh of his nerve deserting him. "There's a dead body in my room."

Spike lets out an angry, long-suffering sigh. "I'll be mother, then, shall I? Get the rubbish bags from under the sink. The heavy duty ones. I'll take her out and dump her."

Spike shoulders past him, but something snaps inside Riley, and he slams Spike up against the wall. He bends his knees and slides his hips up against Spike's. Spike's eyes roll back and his head bumps off the wall. Spike is hard and the top button of his jeans is still undone so Riley takes it as an invitation. Spike avoids him at first, not pushing him away, just turning his face away, so Riley kisses Spike's neck, mouthing at his throat and sucking hard at the spot over his jugular. He takes Spike in his hand and works him slowly at first, moving in time to the sucking little bites he's making all the way up the column of Spike's throat. Spike's hands are flat on the wall, his nails scratching reflexively over the paintwork. His hands come up, hovering in the air for a second, before dropping onto Riley's hips, pulling him in close and holding on tight.

Spike's eyes are closed when Riley kisses him, licking into Spike's mouth, biting gently on his lips, mimicking the way he'd worked over Spike's throat. He can feel the tremor start in Spike, that telltale throb against his palm telling him that Spike is close.

He mouths Spike's name against his throat, and bites down again, sucking hard. Spike bangs his head off the wall again, harder this time, but he doesn't even seem to notice. He squeezes Riley's hips hard enough to leave bruises; his eyes glazed and wild as he comes in a rush over Riley's hand. He hangs there for a moment, his forehead dropping to Riley's shoulder. Riley waits it out, taking what he can get, his thumb rubbing small circles on Spike's hip.

The moment is over quickly.

Spike pushes him away. "Told you I didn't want to get into this," he says, and puts his arm across Riley's chest to his opposite shoulder like he's going to clasp him there and give him a brotherly shake, but instead he just elbows Riley out of the way.

"Didn't look that way to me," Riley says, braver than he feels.

Spike ignores him and walks on mostly steady legs to Riley's bedroom, hoisting up his jeans as he goes, taking one shaky little sidestep but covering it up with a little hop and shimmy to pull his jeans up the last couple of inches.

Riley lets out a frustrated snarl, and follows him. "You're really just going to walk away."

Spike just looks back over his shoulder and curls his lip. "What do you want? I should lay my head on your manly bosom and we can have a good old chat about our feelings?"

"So you're not going to talk to me about any of this?"

"Don't think I should. My brain is in my trousers right now. Might say something to alarm your girlish sensibilities." It should be funny, Riley knows, and ordinarily it probably would be, but right now it sounds nothing but bitter and twisted.

Riley swallows what he was going to say and just nods. "You need a hand with her?"

"No. I'll take care of it," Spike says, not looking at him, dismissal written all over him. "Just try not to bring any more strays home with you, yeah?"

Riley fetches the bags and gets back to his room in time to see Spike crouch down and close the Succubus' staring eyes. It's strange, but with her eyes closed, she looks beautiful again. Every inch the enchanting seductress.

Spike holds his hand up for the garbage bags. "Come on. I want to get this taken care of quickly."

"What's the rush?"

Spike tears a bag off the roll. "Can't you feel it?"

"Feel what?"

Spike pauses. "Not to be melodramatic, but there's a storm coming."

"You know you just probably jinxed us in the worst way, right?"

"Whatever, mate. It takes more than words." Spike sniffs indifferently and glances at the rain rattling off the shattered remains of the window. "Go find me some duct tape, would you?"

Riley does as he is bid, and tries not to listen to the rain beating down.


---


18.


The rain lasts a day or two. The storm passes. It's a cheerful, bright and breezy Sunday afternoon when Riley is attacked by a Razorback Demon out the back of a Mobil station. Razorback is just the modern name for these demons, Riley's brain helpfully supplies as he's tossed against the side of a dilapidated mobile home, but the name more than fits the bill. Sadly, that's all his brain throws up -- it's lacking in any helpful pointers as to how to actually kill the thing -- and he's left to fight the rest of the battle on only instinct and reflex.

He leaves the demon for dead, in a ditch as providence would have it, and limps back to his car. He drops the keys from numb fingers before managing to get the door open, and then just sits in the driver's seat, gripping the wheel to stop his hands from shaking, marvelling at how completely normal the outside world still looks. No one comes running, no one screams or points, no one does a damn thing. A man emerges from the restroom and strolls back to the gas station kiosk, twirling the restroom key around and around his finger and whistling, and Riley tracks him the whole way across the parking lot. He can't hear the whistling inside the car over the ringing in his ears and the ragged sound of his own breathing.

He drives home hunched over the wheel and dripping blood on the interior. His ribs and cheek ache from where he collided with the mobile home, and there are some nasty slices on his forearms from grappling with the Razorback. He's way past exhausted. His whole body has been aching for days in a way that warns it's time for a break. Now, Riley decides, is the perfect time.

Gingerly, he takes a hot shower that cleans the slices on his arms but makes them sting like hellfire, and awards himself the night off from patrolling. Possibly the next two nights. He leaves the option open for stretching it to three.

He stands in the bathroom, leaning over the sink and staring at his reflection in the mirror. The man staring back at him is pale and beat up, with dark circles etched under his eyes and a blossoming bruise on his cheek. He stares blankly at himself for a long time, and it's like looking at a stranger. By the time he bandages his arms and goes looking for clothes, his skin is long since dry.

His room seems changed somehow, like it has everyday since the rain came. Like the room fills a different space now. Maybe it's the daylight, maybe it's just his perspective, or maybe none of it ever happened. But it did. Riley knows it did. He still hasn't got around to fixing the window -- the black plastic duct-taped in place shows him that it wasn't just his imagination running wild. That night happened. He really did do those things with Spike. He really did say those things. Nothing he does now will take it away. He wonders, not for the first time, why he's still there. The door's open. Wide open. He could walk any time, but he's still here. Still stalling for time, and he can't figure out why. He doesn't need to be here to keep tabs on Angel, or to get word when the Vanglash demon still being held by Wolfram & Hart gives him a new location on the Grub, but still he stays.

The worst part of it, the very worst part, is that Spike is still being kind of nice. Apart from a few incredibly awkward silences and looks that speak volumes about how pissed off Spike is about a few things, Spike hasn't made his life a living hell. Riley wishes he could figure out what that means, but every time he tries to think it through, it only makes his head hurt and his heart beat too fast, so he's given up on thinking.

He puts on his oldest jeans and a long sleeve T-shirt, and shuffles to the kitchen for some dinner that he doesn't really want and barely tastes, then retires to the couch for the evening. He also helps himself to Spike's brandy. The bottle hasn't been opened but he figures what the hell: add it to the list. He wants something that's going to warm him from the inside.

He's a few inches down the bottle when the sun sets and Spike gets up.

"Jesus, mate, are you drinking again?" Spike says on his way to the kitchen, and it's anything but a condemnation. "You got Irish blood in your veins? We'll have to take you there sometime, see how you fare."

"What?"

There's a pause from the kitchen. "Said you should go to Ireland. Nowhere else like it in the world for boozing." Spike wanders back out, a container of blood held in one hand. "Maybe Russia. But Ireland has it by a nose. Hey, that's my-- For fuck's sake, Riley! Do you know how much this shit costs?"

Riley hovers in that perfect state of intoxication, mellow yet alert, slightly out of synch with the world yet perfectly able to function within it, or better still, to rise above it. Everything has an edge to it, especially himself.

"No," he says simply. "How much?"

Spike looks put out. "A lot."

"Oh. You steal it from Angel?"

"Well... Yeah. But that's hardly the point."

Riley settles back into the couch and takes another sip, enjoying the heat as it warms his lips and slides down his throat to pool in his belly. He lifts the bottle, tilting the base of it to Spike in offering.

Spike eyes the bottle and sighs. "I'll just get a glass then."

Spike returns, trailing smoke from the ubiquitous cigarette in his mouth, and Riley sits up for a refill, but the movement pulls at his bruised ribs and he jerks, hissing in pain, elbow tucked into his side like a broken wing.

"What's wrong with you?"

"Nothing. It's--" Another sharp twinge cuts him off. He considers that maybe his ribs are worse than he originally thought. He thinks maybe he should tape them up and wonders if he has any ibuprofen left in his kitbag. "Met a demon earlier." He chuckles a little and it doesn't help his ribs. "At the gas station." The chuckle catches in his throat and turns into a coughing fit.

Spike frowns. "You okay?"

"Sure." Riley grins quickly, feeling kind of desperate and not really knowing why. "You should see the other guy."

Spike puts out his cigarette and doesn't even crack a smile. "You don't take enough care of yourself, you know that, right?"

"I don't always have a lot of choice."

"Okay, off."

"What?"

Spike stands and gestures for Riley to do the same. In the end, he helps Riley up so as not to strain his ribs any more than necessary. He takes hold of the tail of Riley's shirt, but Riley lays his hand over Spike's, trying to stop him. Spike won't have any of it. He pulls the shirt up and off and Riley's history is laid bare.

It's not the first time that Spike has seen him without clothes, but this is different. This time all the focus is on Riley's shortcomings. Spike examines the bandages on his arms first, and while Spike doesn't look impressed, apparently they're just about up to scratch because he leaves them to look the rest of Riley over.

Riley feels naked. More naked than he ever did with Spike's tongue in his mouth and Spike's pressed up against him, skin to skin, because Spike is looking at him now. Spike can really see him. He can dip below the surface, past the delicate threads of old scars that will never entirely fade. Old war wounds map Riley's flesh. Bite marks cover his arms, his shoulders and his throat. There is a jagged incision right over his heart. All these marks, all his scars, they overlap and intertwine and Riley remembers every last one of them. One of the newest marks, the most vivid, lies directly over his jugular. Riley feels it tingle, nerve endings firing at Spike's proximity.

Spike examines him with a lack of propriety that the warrior spirit in Riley struggles against. He wants to push Spike away, to hide himself, his past, to tell Spike it's none of his business. On the other hand... Christ, on the other hand...

He doesn't resist. He simply stands there with cool hands on his hot skin. He gives Spike free rein and thinks he would give more if only Spike would demand it. Oh, there might be the initial skirmish for the upper hand, but then again... then again Riley might just roll over and present his vulnerable underbelly, ready to accept whatever treatment Spike deemed fit to dole out. He knows it's wrong, knows it's a throwback. A weakness. He hopes -- knows -- that Spike wouldn't demand such a thing or even think to ask, and knows that he shouldn't -- wouldn't -- be such a pushover... but the idea of it. Oh, the idea. It's like a reawakening.

But this Spike is eminently more dangerous than any long distant suckjobs of the past. Spike is a... companion. An old enemy. An old rival. This Spike is his goddamn landlord.

"Look what you've done to yourself," Spike says, clucking his tongue. "I used to know a few like you. They never lasted long. There's plenty around who'll take one look at you and think you an easy meal. A thing like this... it'll never fade. Not really."

Riley doesn't answer. He can't. Spike's hands are on him. Not disgusted. Not shocked or appalled. There's understanding here, bewildering as it may be. Riley has the oddest feeling that Spike is seeing him with a confused sort of innocence. Spike doesn't scar. You could cut him a thousand times, break him, beat him, and he'd always heal, his skin unbroken and pure. So to see Riley like this, marred with a thousand fine lines of skin broken and healed over, to Spike this must seem so wrong. So fragile. So very human.

Yes, Spike is a companion. Spike is a vampire. And worse: Spike has a soul. It wouldn't just be himself Riley would be damning this time. This time he'd be dragging Spike down with him. And that's something Riley's not sure if he's prepared to do.

He lets Spike touch him until Spike looks up and sees Riley's parted lips and his blown pupils. Spike's expression is unreadable as he steps back and holds Riley's shirt out to him, waiting while Riley pulls it back over his head.

He cares about you, whispers the disobedient part of Riley's mind, the part that Riley can't quite bring himself to believe. Go to him. Offer yourself. Go ahead. See if he can resist. But Riley doesn't. He promises himself he's going to be strong. That there there'll be no more humiliating attempts to get to Spike, in any fashion. Because that isn't who Riley is now. It never was. At least... it never should have been. And if Spike really does care? If that little voice in his head is right? If Spike shows in word or deed that Riley is more than six feet plus of blood and bone and gristle taking up valuable space in his little corner of the world? If Spike has taken to helping him with his demons, metaphorical and literal, without ever having to be asked? If any of it means a damn thing, then Riley should be able to return the favour. He'll leave Spike alone, because that's what Spike wants. He's said as much, more than once. More than twice.

Riley can take a hint.

They suffer through another of their awkward silences, but the brandy helps to smooth over the cracks. Riley takes solace in the moment, and for the next few days he takes it easy and just lets his body heal.


---


19.


"Here." Spike throws a newspaper-wrapped something onto the kitchen table. It's heavy enough to make Riley's glass of orange juice jump and it sounds like there's metal inside the crumpled paper.

Riley repositions his mouthful of toast in one cheek. Spike's up unusually early today, after getting back late last night, almost at sunrise. He's acting kind of twitchy and Riley isn't quite sure how to take it. He decides to try for quietly amused and seeing where that gets him.

"What is it?" he asks.

"A means to an end." Spike looks between Riley and the whatever-it-is on the table. "Well? Open it then."

Riley chews a little and swallows his toast. "You brought me a present?"

"No," Spike says, a little appalled. "Look. It's nothing. Lifted it off a Racktang demon earlier. Those blokes are easier to kill than time."

Riley takes hold of a loose corner of the newspaper and lifts. What comes tumbling out takes his breath away. He pushes the remnants of his breakfast to one side, food forgotten, like its proximity is inappropriate. "Jesus," he says, and picks up the gift. It's a dagger. A short, sharp, deadly and very familiar looking dagger. "Jesus," he says again. "Where did you get this?"

"Told you," Spike says shortly and gives a little sniff. "A Racktang demon. Bit of a tussle. No big deal." He watches Riley's reaction critically. "It's the right one, right? The one you were going on about?"

Riley holds the dagger to the light where it glints, a pinpoint of light slinking along the edge of the blade. The balance is perfect, like it was crafted for his hand. More importantly, it's exactly what he's been looking for. The only dagger that suits his purpose. The blade infused with power from long ago; forged from the time when Grubs began. The one blade in all the world that can do what he needs it to. He has his weapon, and with it, he has his chance. He holds it in his hand, such a simple thing, his way to kill a Porta'kqua. A way to kill the Grub. It's finally within his reach.

"Perfect," he says. "It's perfect." He lays the dagger reverently on the table, turns in his seat and stands, bringing him face to face with Spike. Catching Spike by surprise, he cups one angled cheek and smoothes his thumb into the hollow under Spike's cheekbone. "Thank you," he says, in close and quiet. "This means a lot."

Spike is still watching him intently, but his tension seems to ease when Riley smiles at him -- more of an honest-to-god grin than just a smile because this really does mean a lot. It means a light at the end of the tunnel. A way to end this awful game of cat and mouse. It means justice. It means revenge. And it means that Spike must have called in a lot of favours, spent a lot of time on this because there's no way in hell some brain-dead Racktang demon would ever be able to lay its claws on anything like this. It means... a lot.

Riley remembers his promise, and he doesn't try anything. He doesn't lean in, doesn't push the issue, no matter how magnetic the pull towards Spike is, no matter how willing he is to make a fool of himself all over again. He just stands there, looking, with his hand on Spike's face.

Spike breaks away first. "Rightio," he says brightly, pressing his lips together, and quickly puts some space between them. He ducks his head a little, pretending he's not doing it, pretending like nothing happened, and disappears into his room on a mission for cigarettes. Riley refuses to second guess. He just lets himself feel good for once. He just smiles and picks up his dagger.

It's been a good start to the day.

He's still smiling when Spike treks back, cigarettes in his hand, going for the door.

Riley glances at the sun peeking around the drawn blinds. "Where are you going?"

"Out for a smoke."

Riley furrows his brow, thinking of the tiny overhang of their little almost-porch, wondering at how much shadow it gives. "Out for a smoke?"

"Yeah. Out for a smoke," Spike says, giving a belligerent tilt of his head.

Riley just spreads his palms, the dagger still tucked under one thumb, like he wouldn't dream of making an issue out of it.

Spike pauses, looking at the dagger. "So this is your ticket."

"Well, yeah. If I get really, really lucky then no more Grub."

"No more Grubs plural. Or singular, really, seeing as there's only one."

"What?" Riley asks with a frown, blinking a couple of times. "You want to rewind that and start over?"

"This is the last one."

"The last one what?"

"The last Grub."

Riley just stares at him.

Spike looks at him, confused. "Didn't you already know that? It was all in Angel's message."

"But how can there only be one? That doesn't even... But they don't die! That's the whole point."

"Well, there weren't that many of them to start of with, and then there was a bit of infighting, apparently. Turns out there's one other thing that can kill a Grub -- another Grub. There was this whole..." Spike gives a sort of all encompassing gesture with his hands. "... infighting thing about fifty or sixty years back."

"Infighting?"

"Infighting, power struggle, genocide. Whatever you want to call it. In short, things got a little out of control. Didn't bode well for the Grub population in general. Your Malcolm neglected to mention any of that, I take it?"

Riley can only nod.

"Well," Spike says, with a knowledgeable little sniff. "That's the thing about demons: they never know when they're well off. Still, their loss, our gain, right?"

"Really? That's... This was really all in Angel's message?"

"Yeah. After all the boasting and gloating and beating around the bush, that is. He got it out of that poor Vanglash demon he beat the truth out of. Didn't you...?" He raises his eyebrows in disbelief. "You telling me you didn't listen to the whole message before you went storming out of here?"

Riley's small, disbelieving smile starts out slow, but it's there and it gains strength quickly. Hope rises like a balloon in his chest. "I didn't listen to the whole message," he says, and then the laughter comes. "I didn't listen to the whole message!"

Spike sighs like he can't believe he has to share airspace with such a dim-witted human. "See?" he says. "This is why it's never good to go snooping through other people's things if you're only going to do a half-assed job." He's still shaking his head on his way out the door.

Riley can only sit there, slack-limbed and grinning foolishly. It's been an awesome start to the day.

It's almost too much to take in, and as he sits there, reluctant to let the dagger out of his sight for even a moment, he thinks that maybe it's all just too much to hope for.


---


20.


The new apartment that Riley finally decides on isn't much to speak of, but it's clean, it's self-contained, and it's cheap. Well within his means so long as the Wolfram & Hart monthly payments keep appearing in his bank account. Another point in the new apartment's favour is that it's all the way across town. It'll be like living in another city. Riley knows he could do much worse, but really, he doesn't care. At this point he'd take anything. It's time to go. He's stayed too long.

"So you're all packed up then?"

Riley pushes one last shirt into his bag and pulls the drawstring tight. That's the problem with buying yourself a few of life's little luxuries: if you want to cart them around with you, it takes up more space. More time. It takes longer to pack up your life; longer to throw everything in a bag and walk out the door. He already has the all non-perishables from the kitchen packed up in cardboard boxes and waiting for him beside the front door. He'd offered to leave them, but Spike had brushed it off. What good would it do him, Spike had said. Unless Riley was planning to leave behind some manner of well-fed farm animal and a straw, he could take it all with him. Good riddance.

"Uh huh," Riley says. "Everything's arranged. I move in tomorrow."

"'Bout bloody time, too," Spike says, but Riley doesn't even look up, just gives a little smirk as he closes the strap on his bag and pulls it tight.

"You'll miss me when I'm gone."

"Like hell I will."

Riley pushes his bag into the corner with one foot, sits back in his chair and runs his hands down his thighs to his knees. "I'd say I appreciated everything you've done for me, but I know how much you hate that, so..."

"Yeah. Good thing."

"You want to go out tonight?"

Spike looks at him, full of suspicion. "Do I want to what?"

"Patrol. One last time around the block?"

"Oh. Violence." Spike considers it for all of half a second. "Absolutely. Let me just get my coat."

Riley laces his fingers behind his head and looks around the apartment. It's not so bad to be moving on. It feels constructive. Positive even. If nothing else it's healthier than his current living arrangements. Because living like this is pretty damn far from healthy. This isn't his home. It never really was. It was just a reprieve. And it was never a comfortable living arrangement. Honestly, he's amazed he ever had the balls to ask if he could stay in the first place. He's even more amazed that Spike said yes. And as for everything that's happened since then... No, it's not so bad to be moving on.

They go out for their violence. Riley drives, figuring it's the least he can do. Spike just watches the world go by, drumming his fingers on his thigh, silent until he points at a dark alleyway and tells Riley to pull over. It's a standard slash and grab kind of a deal. They interrupt a couple of vampires while they're feeding on a young girl. She doesn't stick around for thank yous when they pull the vampires off her. She just turns tail and flees, shaken and sobbing, but alive, very much alive. The vamps are little more than fledglings, really, the embarrassing kind, dressed in too much black leather and velvet, but the fight gets Riley's blood pumping. It's even fun. He and Spike work well together, they know each other's moves by now, and they're good at this. Good at hunting and fighting and getting the job done.

When Riley stakes the last vampire, breathless and feeling pretty good to be alive, he looks up to see Spike grinning at him. He likes it, likes it a lot, and they keep right on staring at one another until the smiles fade into something else. It's then Riley knows that he's going to walk right up to Spike. He's going to walk up to him and he's going to kiss him, and he knows by the way Spike's looking back at him that Spike is absolutely on board with letting that happen.

So when another vampire steps out of the shadows and swings an iron girder at Spike's head, Spike's a little distracted. Spike moves, but he's not quite fast enough, and the girder connects with his skull with a sickening thud and he goes down hard. Riley's running before he can even think about it, tackling the vampire before it has time to finish its swing. He twists the girder out of its grasp, gets a fistful of stupid velvet overcoat and starts punching. He punches and punches until he can't lift his arm any more. Ramming a stake into the vampire's chest and watching it crumble to dust should be eminently satisfying, but instead he just feels sick to his stomach.

He helps Spike to his feet and with a little manoeuvring gets Spike's arm around his shoulders. Spike is conscious, but hangs heavily. Riley hadn't imagined that he'd be so heavy.

"Gotta tell you." Spike spits out a mouthful of blood and looks up at him blearily. "This one last spin round... the block thing was a top... top drawer idea."

"Hey," Riley says, shifting their weight to avoid stumbling, "I'm not the one who didn't duck."

"Yeah, well I'm the one..." Spike trails off. He bobs his head a little. "Yeah. Yeah, pro'ably shoulda ducked," he slurs and slumps in Riley's arms.

It's not an easy job, but as carefully as he can, Riley manhandles him to the backseat where Spike simply folds at the waist and flops back into the car. Riley has to tuck Spike's feet up onto the seat to get the door closed. He's in the driver's seat, keys in the ignition, before he looks in the rear view mirror and experiences a terrible jolt because Spike is nowhere to be seen. He's whirling around before he can even process the thought of vampires don't have reflections, stupid, and sees Spike struggling up to prop himself up on his elbows. Spike's hair is mussed from rubbing against the seatback and his eyes aren't quite focused when he asks, "We there yet?"

"Almost," Riley says, trying and failing to keep his tone light, and starts the car.

"Tell me when we're there." Spike slumps back down. "Hey," he says. "Hey, d'you hear that?"

Riley pulls out, gripping the wheel tightly. "Hear what?"

"Dunno." There's shuffling from the backseat. "Dunno," Spike says again, quieter this time. "Sounded like... cobblestones."

There's silence after that. Riley resists the urge to keep Spike awake, to keep him talking, ignoring his basic medical training that's screaming words like concussion and internal haemorrhaging and brain damage at him. Spike is a vampire. Spike will be fine. He doesn't want to think about it, but Spike survived years of having a behaviour modification chip in his head that was only ever designed to be tested in the short term, so really, a little blow to the head shouldn't even register.

By the time they're back at the apartment, Spike seems a little more with it. He manages to swallow the handful of painkillers that Riley gives him, chasing it with a mug of blood and a long swallow of cheap whiskey, then falls face first onto his bed and passes out. He's facedown on top of the covers, lying where he fell, one leg crooked up by his side, his hand curled loosely in front of his face. The bruises don't look so bad in the dark. A faint frown mars his face as he sleeps, but there is no movement. No comforting rise and fall of his chest. Nothing. Riley sits in a chair opposite, with a bag of ice on his knuckles, and tries to kid himself that he's not keeping watch. He's tired, but too restless to sleep, his heartbeat slow and regular, but thumping hard in his chest. So he just watches.

Hours later, when Spike opens his eyes, going from sleep to alert in an instant, and looks right at him, Riley lets out a little breath. "It's funny," he says, his voice low because that seems right somehow. "You really do look dead when you sleep."

"Funny that."

"Don't you ever dream?"

"Sure I do. I dream. I have nightmares. I kick the sheets around." Spike uncurls his body and sits up. "I have this recurring one about, ah, drowning in shoes. Or sometimes about not having any shoes. There's this whole..." He swings his legs out of bed and sets his bare feet on the floor, wiggling his toes like he's wondering where his boots went. "... shoe motif. Don't ask me why." He glances over and sees his boots set neatly to one side, his coat hanging in the open wardrobe. He raises his eyes to Riley.

"I thought they'd be more..."

"Bloodthirsty?" Spike sits forward, elbows on knees, and scrubs his hands over his face, then back through his hair. "Oh, trust me. They can be."

Seconds tick by. Riley feels very awkward, like he shouldn't be there, like he's trespassing somehow. He feels foolish for having stayed while Spike slept.

"How's the head?" he asks.

"Better."

"All the way better?"

"Pretty much."

"And how's..." He can't finish, but lifts his chin to convey his meaning.

By way of answer, Spike vamps out. Without taking his eyes from Riley, he presses the pad of his thumb against the regrowing canine. It comes away bloody.

"Getting there," Spike says, his face melting to human as he sucks the blood from his thumb.

Riley swallows. He moves his weight forward, glancing at the door. "I guess I should be--"

"Riley." Spike holds out his hand.

The moment feels suddenly huge. Riley takes a deep breath, sets the icepack to one side, and purposefully crosses the room to take Spike's offered hand. His hands are cold enough from the icepack that Spike actually feels warm to the touch. All he can feel is the caress of Spike's thumb across his palm. All he can see is the shadow of blue eyes looking up at him.

"What do you want from me, kid?" Spike murmurs. "Truly."

Riley has to wet his lips to speak. "This," he says, and lays his palm on Spike's chest, feeling the quiet inside. "This is good."

Spike cocks his head to one side and smiles a twisted little smile. "How can I be sure you're not still playing?"

His heart beating wildly, his stomach twisted up in knots like something amazing is about to happen, Riley pulls Spike to his feet, takes Spike's hand and presses it to the bulge in the front of his pants. "Can't lie about this," he says in a choked little whisper, his face hot in the darkness.

"Guess not," Spike says, and kisses him.

Riley closes his eyes and simply falls into the kiss. He opens his mouth, eager for more, and it deepens at once. He forgets to breathe and has to break away, fists on the front of Spike's shirt, chest heaving as he sucks in oxygen. Spike feels so calm by comparison, like he's standing in the eye of the storm.

Spike turns them, pushing Riley to the bed and Riley goes willingly. They kiss for a long time, just kissing, learning each other, like they never have done before. Heat builds, warmth from Riley suffusing them both, and the cool hands stealing inside his clothes lose their chill quickly. Riley loses his shirt somewhere along the way, and Spike skims his muscles and smoothes over his skin. He has the feeling that Spike is watching him, that Spike can see him perfectly well in the dark while he's half blind and relying on touch.

What starts out calm can't stay that way. Riley wants more, more than Spike is giving him. He feels a little frantic, his body working to its own rhythms, its own desires. It's all he can do to hold on, using Spike as his anchor. And always they're kissing. Riley is lost in it. Spike isn't pushing him away and isn't denying him anything. They're safe and alone and together and right now that's all he wants. Spike shudders against his, his muscles tense, and he's holding back. Riley presses in closer, silently urging, and Spike gulps in a lungful of air. Strong fingers hook Riley's waistband and tug at his fly. Riley can't help but buck up, his head thrown back, mouth open, one hand groping blindly for the headboard, the other clenching into a fist on the sheets. Spike stills, and Riley is more certain than ever that he's being watched, but he can't imagine what it is that Spike sees.

He offers himself as best he can, pushing up with his body, turning his head to expose his throat, without conscious thought, without realising what he's doing. All he knows is more and now and please. His whole body trembles with anticipation as he waits for the sharp-sweet pain of fangs at his throat. There is a pause -- a moment devoid of sound or movement -- then a touch ghosts over the healed bitemark on his throat. Riley groans; a long drawn out sound he has zero control over. His heels push into the mattress, his hips moving, his body restless and searching. His breath is hot and damp against his bicep.

"Ah, god, Riley." Spike's voice is rough, thick with desire. He touches Riley's face with the backs of his fingers. "Not like this, eh?"

Riley freezes; feeling like he's going to choke on this rejection.

But Spike is still stroking his face, his throat, his shoulders. "You don't have to offer yourself to me."

"But I--"

"I can't,' he says, and Riley knows it's an admission, knows that yet again Spike is being the voice of reason. "I can't drink from you, Riley. There are certain things a man shouldn't... get used to."

Slowly, Riley releases his grip on the headboard and lowers his arm. He turns into the curve of Spike's body and up until their lips are almost brushing. "So... you're saying... just on special occasions."

This actually makes Spike chuckle and Riley smiles in return.

"I promise nothing," Spike says, and their mouths press together, wet and alive. Spike's weight is above him, cool and strong. Riley kicks off his shoes, then his pants, and he's naked and hopeless in Spike's arms. He tries to take the lead, but he's not the strong one here. He's exposed and too hot and his chest is too tight to speak. Everywhere Spike touches him is a brand, and Spike seems to want to touch all of him. Skin slides and sings. Spike thrusts up against Riley and it's almost too much. Riley gasps and bites down harder than he intends on Spike's lip. Spike kisses him harder and there's the taste of iron in their kiss.

In the dark, Riley could swear he can feel the brush of sharkskin against his cheek, the bridge of his nose, and the rasp of razor sharp teeth on the velvet of his tongue.

He cries out as he spills himself against Spike's body, arching up off the mattress with only Spike's solid weight to keep him from simply flying away.


---


21.


It's nearing noon when Riley's phone starts ringing. It rings and rings, and rings some more. He's dreaming about oily black ravens screaming at him because he's late, he's always late, and it doesn't matter how fast he runs because he's always standing still-- until he wakes up enough for the sound to swim into focus and he realises what the sound is. Then he remembers what day it is. He sits up in bed, his brain not quite in gear, trying to remember where the hell he left his phone.

"You gonna get that some time today?" Spike's voice asks from under a pillow

Spike. He's in bed with Spike.

A little dazed, Riley leans off the side of the bed and tries to ignore the grumbling aches of his body as he rifles through his crumpled pants, searching for the phone. By the time he finds it, it's stopped ringing. Four missed calls all from the same number. Riley just holds the phone in his hand and stares at the little screen.

"My new landlord. God, I was supposed to be there... two hours ago."

Spike mutters something unintelligible and shifts again in the bed.

Riley keys his voicemail and listens to the messages from the increasingly annoyed voice on the other end. He's already glancing at the clock and calculating how long it's going to take him to drive across town when the phone starts ringing again. He's about to answer when a pale hand darts out of the tangle of sheets on the bed and grabs the phone. Spike pulls back the sheet just far enough to see to turn the phone off and then flings it across the room. Before Riley has time to protest, a strong arm wraps around his stomach and pulls him back into the curve of Spike's body.

"Can't a bloke get some shuteye 'round here?" is muttered into the back of Riley's neck.

Riley can't move. He wishes he could see Spike's face for some sort of a clue. One wrong sound, one twitch of a muscle could break this moment. He's hanging in limbo, not sure what rules they're playing by now. He thinks he knows what this is, but he's not sure, and he doesn't want to presume. He's fearful about what is or what could be, but mostly he just wants to stay.

Spike's hand rubs a slow circle over his belly and a swift kiss is pressed on the line of his shoulder.

He waits for Spike to say something. Something meaningful, something glib, something demanding, or smart-assed, or caring, or blasé, or any of the million and one different things that Spike could conceivably say right now.

Instead, all Spike says is, "Okay?"

"Okay," Riley echoes softly, and it feels like coming home. Their fingers lace together over his stomach, and he closes his eyes, relaxing into Spike's body. He's almost surprised at how quickly he slips back down into sleep. Peace hovers somewhere nearby, just outside of his sphere of perception, but close enough that if he chooses to stretch out his hand he could brush it with his fingertips.

Later, when he wakes, he has to replay everything in his head, trying to pick apart the knot of what was dream and what really happened. After a few moments of hard thought, it would seem that most of it was real. Everything except the ravens. It happened. Right here in this very bed. And the proof is here with him, as Spike is still curled around him, basking in stolen warmth, dead to the world.

Riley disentangles himself and follows the call of nature all the way to the bathroom. He pees, then takes a long, hard look at himself in the mirror as he's washing his hands. He has a serious case of bedhead and a scattering of vivid hickies on his throat and chest. The face looking back at him in the mirror is a little shell-shocked, but prone to bouts of tentative, private little smiles.

He can't help but stop by his room to check on the dagger and the potion. Both are exactly where he left them. Secure. Waiting. He wonders again if they're safe enough. He wonders if he should find a better hiding place. Hw wonders for the hundredth time if he should ever let them out of his sight and whether he should start carrying them around with him all the time. He dithers, thinking through his options, but in the end he puts them back in the same place and covers them carefully.

He pulls on a pair of sweatpants and thinks, what now? Wasting the day being decadently lazy sounds really good, but now that he's left Spike's room he doesn't know if he can just go back in there and lie down again. There's something very decisive about the idea. He doesn't know if he has the nerve. But if he doesn't go back in, then what? His own room doesn't really feel like his room anymore, and it doesn't seem right to just leave. Not after Spike's "okay?" from earlier. The ambiguous "okay?" that Riley still doesn't really know how to take. Which could really have meant anything. Or nothing. It could have meant "stay another five minutes" or "stay for good". It could have meant simply "are you okay?" It could have meant "you're not going anywhere just yet because you're warm and I'm using you as my blankie, got it?" What it definitely means is that they'll have to talk about it at some point because as good as Spike is at avoidance, Riley's equally as good with direct questions when the mood is on him.

Riley figures they have plenty of time to worry about it later as he's pretty sure by this stage that he's lost his new apartment and his security deposit. Not bad for a morning's work.

Spike's door is ajar, so he nudges it all the way open and stands with his shoulder against the frame. He can't see any part of Spike, only a body-sized lump under the sheets.

"I can hear you eyeballing me, you know," the pile of sheets says.

Riley grins and looks down at his bare feet. "I was just..."

"If the next word out of your mouth is 'brooding', 'leaving' or 'thinking about getting dressed', you'd best fuck off now, mate. Otherwise..."

Riley looks up, interested. "Otherwise?"

Spike flips back the sheet. "You could come over here and put that talented mouth of yours to good use."

"Oh," Riley says, the word riding out on a long breath, caught unawares by his body's instant reaction. "Yeah," he says and licks his lips. "Yeah, okay."

Spike pulls him down on the bed and kisses him, pulling the sheet up over their heads so it covers them completely. Spike's kisses are a little overwhelming. They feel so focused, so driven, possessive even, and Riley savours the feeling of being the centre of all that attention. Spike grunts his displeasure at the sweatpants and they soon disappear. Riley can't help but smile at the smug satisfaction Spike wears like a second skin every time he gets what he wants. He kisses his way down Spike's body, pausing to suck hard on the pale soft skin of his throat, to bite Spike's nipple and tongue his bellybutton. When he swallows Spike down, Spike's knees fall apart and his hand fists in Riley's hair. Riley hums his satisfaction and swallows everything that Spike has to give.

Afterwards, when they're lying side by side and Riley's absently running a hand through his hair, trying to flatten it though he knows he's fighting a losing battle, he asks, "So you still think this is... What did you say? Tea and sympathy?"

Spike sends him an appraising glance. "No," he says. "You're off the hook."

"Good," Riley says, swallowing a little yawn. "Glad to know you don't just think I'm using you for your body."

Spike just pouts a little and tucks one arm behind his head. "Wouldn't blame you if you were, mate. It's a hell of a body."

"It's a good thing that modest guys really turn me on."

"Mm," Spike agrees. "Good thing."

"Besides," Riley says carefully, "you ever think it might be you who's taken pity on me?"

Spike doesn't look impressed. "I may have taken you under my wing a bit, but I don't do pity. Well," he reconsiders, "maybe that's not strictly true, but you've never garnered pity from me, and that's a fact." He rubs at his chin and gets a faraway little look in his eye. "I suppose there have been times in the past when tea and sympathy were called for. There was this one time with--" The hesitation only lasts a fraction of a second, but it speaks volumes. "Angelus. There was this angry mob, see, all pitchforks and pious indignation. Angel was trapped in a barn. He'd been left to fend for himself when Darla ran off and--"

"It's okay to talk about her."

Spike feigns ignorance.

"Buffy," Riley says, and it lies heavy between them. "She's our past. Part of both our lives. It's okay to mention her. I won't fall to pieces."

Spike sees he's been caught and takes a moment to digest this. With down-turned eyes, he gives a complex little smile. "No. Don't suppose you will."

Riley's stomach growls, loud and insistent, and Spike lets out a whuff of laughter.

"Guess it's time for breakfast," Riley says and rolls out of bed. He stretches, rolling his shoulders to work out the kinks, and scratches at his belly, considering the sweatpants again. Glancing up, he catches Spike watching him. So he leaves the sweatpants where there are and stands there naked and unashamed. He flexes a pectoral muscle, just because he can, just because he knows he can make it look inadvertent, just because Spike may be the stronger one, but Riley totally has him in the muscle mass department. "You want me to fix you some of the red stuff?" he asks, nonchalant, biting back on a smile when Spike's eyes snap to his face.

"Sure," Spike says, and if he's surprised at the offer it doesn't show. "Two minutes on low."

Riley gives him a sloppy little salute and pads off to the kitchen.


---


22.


Riley goes back to Spike's room after he's eaten. He watches Spike drink his blood with a detached sort of interest and the two of them just laze the day away. It feels good. Better than good. It feels kind of like a vacation. It feels like starting something new. In the back of Riley's mind the questions keeps nudging at him. The whats and the whys and the how longs, but they go unvoiced. They're for later. Right now he just feels so indolent, so zoned out, not to mention the constant low level arousal that's buzzing him by just being around Spike and knowing that now he is allowed to watch, to touch, to kiss. Whatever he wants, and Spike isn't going to push him away. That means something.

They're side by side in the rumpled bed, Spike on his back with one arm tucked behind his head, his customary position, Riley on his side, his head on the mattress, watching Spike with heavy eyes. Spike has been toying with his lighter, tapping it off his chest for a while, his comfortable sprawl slowly losing headway to edginess. He mutters, "Fuck it," and tosses a cigarette at his mouth, deftly catching it between his teeth and goes to sit naked at the tiny almost-balcony of his bedroom window to smoke, careful in his positioning, his eyes watering as the sun peeks in around the edge of the blinds.

Riley catches the faint whiff of acrid smoke, but doesn't mention it. He watches Spike smoke for a while, then sits up and rests his forearms on his thighs.

"So."

Spike breaks out the predictable eyeroll. "Here we go."

"What?"

"I've been wondering how long it would take you."

"I'm just... Okay."

"You're just okay?"

"No, I mean... Okay. Okay, here's the thing. Earlier, when you said... I'm kind of at a loss here, Spike. I mean, yay for the sex, don't get me wrong, but I don't really know where this is... I mean should I--"

"You can stay," Spike says, effectively cutting him off. "And we'll see. That's what I've got. Is that enough for you?"

"That's, ah... Yeah. That's enough."

"All right then. Glad we got that sorted." He makes a fist. "Go team."

Riley gives a little smirk but doesn't press the issue. He's staying. And they'll see. It's enough.

He sits there, watching Spike smoke. To the casual observer, Spike is quietly absorbed with his cigarette, but Riley knows that Spike is well aware that he's being watched. His chest feels tight; just watching Spike makes him want. He knows the touch of Spike now. He can almost feel cool muscle under his hands, the strength of broad shoulders, the flex of a corded thigh. Spike gives up on pretence and starts to watch him back, silently, his eyes dark with interest. The cigarette gets tossed out the window, and Spike is across the room and is against Riley, on his knees between Riley's thighs, in seconds flat. The last of the smoke curls from between his lips as he mouths at Riley's throat, nips at his jaw, kisses his lips. He tastes like tobacco and sex, branding himself on Riley's taste buds. One hand skims his chest, pinching a nipple before it's on the move again, grabbing at Riley's hip, pushing, pulling him close, touching him everywhere, running up the juncture of Riley's thighs.

"Wait." Riley grabs Spike's hand. "Stop. Don't."

Spike jerks back, and there's a split second of shocked anger before his face shutters.

Riley grabs for him -- hard to grab a naked shoulder when it would be so much easier if there was a shirt or something to take hold of -- and kisses him before he can pull away entirely, one hand holding Spike's face, his thumb smoothing under one high cheekbone. He rests their foreheads together and shakes his head a little. "I didn't mean completely. I just don't want to, uh, rush. I was thinking..." He glances at the bed. "I mean I want... I want you to..."

"Oh," Spike says, pieces falling into place, glancing at the bed and back up at Riley. There's an interested lift of his eyebrow and Spike works his jaw back and forth a little, like he's savouring the idea. "Sure. We can do that."

They're kissing again, sprawling back onto the mattress. Even though Spike's smaller, Riley feels pinned, manhandled, possessed. He likes it. God help him, but he loves it. Spike produces lube from somewhere, presses clever fingers into him, crooking, hitting that spot. Riley swears and strains and bites his lip, because it's good, it's so fucking good, but it hurts and it's been a long, long time since anyone touched him there, and he's scared because he's never done this before. Not this. He's never even--

Spike's face is inches from his, his eyes wild and concerned. "Riley?"

"Yeah," Riley murmurs, his head rolling on the pillows. "Yeah," he says a couple more times. "Yes. Please," he says, and there's a terrifying press into him and he can't possibly take this, it's too much.

"Easy," Spike says, running his hand over Riley's chest like he's calming a wild animal. "Easy now." He kisses Riley, keeps kissing him, his tongue sliding in, soft and easy, fucking Riley's mouth until Riley gets caught up in it and he kisses back, his body relaxing, pushing up, wanting more. It's too much, Spike's never going to fit inside him, but he's moving. It's happening. There's a long, slick, press and Spike's inside him, all the way inside him, buried as deep as he can go. Trembling, holding in place, Spike keeps kissing him, gently now, his arms shaking as he holds still, taking shaky little breaths, his eyes closed as he murmurs nonsense against Riley's lips that Riley only half hears.

"Relax," Spike is saying, almost pleading. "Relax for me, baby. That's it. 'sgood. Let me. Let me in."

Riley feels too big, too unwieldy. He doesn't know if he can do this. Spike's kisses cover his mouth, little licks tasting the inside of his lips, behind his teeth, the curve of his jaw. Spike strokes Riley's cock, distracting him, and there are little fingertip touches on his shoulders and the sides of his face like Spike's making sure he's still there.

Spike pulls out a little, and nudges back in. Riley grabs for his thigh and the slap is loud in the room, his hand like a brand on the taut muscle.

"Wait. Wait."

"Okay. Shit. Okay," Spike says, and he presses his forehead to Riley's jaw, his breath harsh and patchy.

Riley needs contact and he draws Spike in for more kisses, his body feeling like it's being folded in half. They're kissing, and Spike is working his cock, sliding on lube and pre-come. Spike moves again, rolling his hips, and this time it's good, it's good, Riley's body takes over the reins, leaving his brain to just try and keep up. He feels open, used, tender, and Spike is an unstoppable force between his legs, touching him everywhere, gathering him close, and he's really moving now, giving Riley the whole length on every stroke and it's just happening, it's happening, sending waves of pleasure over Riley's whole body. Spike shifts his hips up and in, and Riley comes, a sudden rush of heat between them. Spike doesn't last much longer, his face a snarl of concentration, riding the moment. Riley feels the rush as Spike comes inside him. He tries to wrap his shaking arms and legs around Spike, and just holds on tight for as long as he can.

Their embrace just kind of... disintegrates rather them than making any conscious effort to disentangle themselves. They lie together for a long time, content in the silent company, Spike's hand resting on the pulse of the artery in Riley's stomach, petting absently, and they're calm. Until Riley realises that he's close to dozing off, and props himself up on one elbow to watches Spike's profile.

"So the thing with the dragon..."

"Thought I told you not to ask."

"Tell me about it."

"You really are a one for taking advantage of the post-coital lull, aren't you?"

"Tell me."

"Shan't."

"Go on. Was it really a dragon? Or was it just a demon that looked like a dragon? Or is a dragon a demon anyway?"

"You ever seen a dragon?"

"No. Can honestly say I never have."

"You don't want to. They're dirty great big bastards. Scales, wings, claws, teeth, fire-breathing. The works."

"Yeah, well, dragon."

"Which is why I don't want to rehash the whole sordid affair."

"You had a sordid affair with a dragon?"

Spike rolls his eyes. "No. Angel was the one arsing about with a sword trying to hack lumps out of it. 'Well, personally, I kind of want to slay the dragon,'" Spike says with an unimpressed little wobble of his head, making a passable attempt at mimicking Angel at his most pompous. "He ended up riding about on its neck at one point, the poseur, can you believe it?"

"I'd believe it. So what happened?"

"He blinded it. Made it crash into a building and I chucked a spear down its gullet. That shut it up right quick."

"So what you're saying is, if the dragon was a glass jar, you opened it, but Angel loosened the lid for you."

"No, that's not what I'm saying at all," Spike says with a little scowl, "and I'm starting to think that you're spending too much time in the kitchen doing... kitcheny things. People will start to talk."

"I like the kitchen. Best room in the house."

"'Cept the bedroom."

Riley ducks his head a little. "Yeah. Except for that. Besides, you shouldn't worry. People will always find other, much more interesting things to talk about where you're concerned."

"I think you might be right."

"I'm always right." Riley's face loses its mischievous edge. "I mean--"

"I know what you mean." Spike kisses him, gathering him close.

Riley gives himself over to the meeting of mouths. He loves the way Spike kisses. He feels like he could do this forever.

Spike draws back. "Have you done this before?"

"This?" he asks, wondering if Spike can suddenly read minds.

"This. With another man."

It's not what he was expecting. "Oh. I... Yeah. A couple of times. Not this exactly, just... things. It was good, I guess, but it was never..." Riley shrugs, looking vaguely uncomfortable. "I was just testing the water, I guess. I mean it never really went anywhere. No big deal. Why? You think you're so irresistible that I suddenly switched teams?"

To Riley's surprise, Spike doesn't grin, doesn't rise to the bait or puff out his chest. Instead he just sighs and turns on his back. He tucks his hands behind his head and looks at the ceiling like he's searching for answers. "I don't know. Nothing like that really. I just... didn't want to be responsible for corrupting someone else. That's all."

"Oh." Riley rests his chin on Spike's chest, thinking this over. "Well, you're not. Rest assured your conscience is clear. I was corrupted long before you came along."

Spike seems relatively cheered by this. 'That's all right then."

Riley's lips quirk. "Victorian."

Spike bites back on a smile and hefts Riley off his chest. "Metrosexual," he tosses back.

Riley snorts with laughter, surprising himself. "I am not!"

"I've seen you do your hair. And those little matching outfits you wear?"

"It's called camouflage."

"For the dense and tropical jungle we have round these parts? Right you are. Since you've been getting paid the number of toiletries in the bathroom has risen exponentially. Plus I've seen you create things in the kitchen that I can't even pronounce."

"I explained about all that. It's called healthy living."

"It's called nesting."

"It's called stockpiling. Besides, none of that makes me a... what you said," Riley insists. "Especially considering that we're..." He gives a bashful little smile feeling his cheeks heat up. "It's just... silly."

Spike flips them suddenly on the bed. "Lucky for me that you're not," he says, and places a little biting kiss on Riley's collarbone. This makes Riley's breathing pick up, and his head lolls back, knowing that he shouldn't, but he really can't help it. His hips lift and he's ready for anything that Spike wants to do to him. The sensation of Spike's cool skin against his is like a balm, it makes his own skin feel too hot. His cock starts to fill and lengthen. "Such a responsive boy," Spike murmurs, moving his head around Riley's like he's scenting him. The thought that he might actually be doing this only makes Riley twist his hips and push up harder. "Always ready for it, aren't you?"

"Can't help it. I just..." He tries to catch Spike in a kiss, but Spike pulls away teasing him. "Damn it, kiss me."

Spike smiles evilly, and starts up a lazy thrusting, which Riley believes is designed to drive him crazy. Riley lifts his hips, grabbing for stray pillows and stuffing them under his hips. "More," he pants. "More. In."

Spike chuckles, and brushes over where Riley wants him the most, watching the human reactions closely. Riley gasps, and grabs for Spike's ass to draw him in. Spike's lips rest on his jaw, just resting there, and he's serious now.

"You always like this?" he asks softly, his lips rasping against Riley's stubble. "Always want it so bad?"

Riley shakes his head, because talking is too much, and reaches for Spike again. Spike pins his wrists to the bed -- more easily than Riley knows he should be comfortable with -- and nips his jaw with blunt teeth.

"Do you?" he asks again, intently watching Riley's eyes, black with desire. Spike flexes his hips and pushes in, just the head, just enough to drive Riley insane with want.

"No, never, never like this," rushes out of Riley in one long breath.

Spike tuts. "Liar," he says, but seems pleased with the lie. He rewards it with one long, slow push forward, filling Riley completely.

"Ohgodfuckyes." It still hurts a little, everything's so tender, and he figures he's going to be feeling it for days, limping around like a saddle-sore cowboy, but it's worth it, and it's good. It's all so good. Riley's eyes are wide, his muscles tight, his large body straining under Spike. "Not lying." He glances down their bodies. "Not like this. Never let anyone in like this."

Spike is unreadable. For a moment Riley thinks he's done something wrong, but then Spike kisses him deeply. Spike's tongue is in his mouth as he starts thrusting. He pushes Riley's knee to his chest and fucks him hard. Riley can't help the little cries he makes on every thrust. It's almost too much, too much for him to take, and he's about to get Spike to ease off a little when Spike touches his cock and he's flying apart, coming all over himself again, losing it completely. He hooks an arm around Spike's neck, holds tight and urges Spike on, muttering in his ear, telling him how good it is. Spike actually roars when he comes, and there's a split second of terror at the demon sound of it. Spike pushes his face into Riley's throat and there's that familiar paper tearing sound, and rough skin grazing his shoulder, but when Spike lifts his head, his eyes are wide and blue, his hair curling and messed beyond all recognition, his lips red and kiss swollen, and Riley can only smile, knowing that he must look like a smitten teenager, but can't quite seem to care.

He hisses when Spike pulls out, digging his fingernails hard into Spike's shoulder. Spike murmurs apologies as he pulls Riley into his arms. He falls asleep with his face tucked into the curve of Riley's shoulder, their sated bodies tangled together.


---


23.


They go out patrolling together. Just to be out. To be occupied. There is no word of the Grub, no bleeping of Spike's battered phone heralding a call from Angel with any news, so their time is their own.

Patrolling in LA isn't anything like working in the jungle. It's not the same as patrolling the hellmouth either. There's no back up, for one thing. Just as many demons, if not more (demons have a whole sub-culture society of their own built up in the city, hiding in plain view) but this far from the hellmouth's all consuming presence and the demons tend to be a little less frenzied in their activities, a little less reckless. Some of the demons they encounter actually seem surprised that there's someone who knows what they are and is actively trying to stop them. Riley keeps expecting them to wave a white flag and proclaim, "Hey, buddy, don't kill me. Just a guy trying to make a buck."

Some of them know of Spike and the smart ones know to be wary of him. The really stupid ones mention Angel and it's like waving a red flag to a bull. Times like that, Riley steps back and lets Spike have his fun.

This is how they roll. This is LA. There are more bars, more flop houses, less graveyards. Demons here fit the scene. They've found their way to live amongst the humans, outside of the law, working within the trappings of human society. Some humans even know the score. They get mixed up in the wrong circles and think they can handle the dubious pleasures the underworld has to offer.

So things are a little different here. It takes legwork, not just checking obituaries and sitting beside a fresh grave. In LA people fall through the cracks. Vampire attacks are mistaken for the latest thing in gangland killings or junkie deaths, although Spike tells him that Angel has a whole new sub-department set up for local DBEs.

"DBEs?"

"Death By Exsanguination," Spike explains.

"You're kidding. He's got a department for that?"

"Hey. It's good to be the king."

Riley lets Spike take point. It's easier that way. Spike knows the lay of the land, but there's more to it that just being familiar with the geography. When Riley patrols alone he has to rely on detective work, common sense, and plenty of luck. With Spike it's all instinct. He can walk into a bar and tell immediately how many of the people there aren't actually people. Which ones can be despatched easily and which require a little more effort. When he's paying attention, that is. Spike is easily distracted. Bright lights, pretty people, loud music, the promise of a stiff drink... They all catch his eye. Riley wonders if it's an act. If the slack limbs and casual grace are nothing more than a careful deception. If it's just another trick of Spike's to make those around him let their guards down. Riley wouldn't put it past him. He can't help but cast sidelong glances at Spike. Spike may or may not realise he's being scrutinised, but Riley feels as transparent as a pane of glass, like the world can read his thoughts. It appears that Spike is in a serious mood tonight, his movements tight and controlled. His hips roll when he walks; his eyes constantly seek out prey in dark corners that Riley can only squint at. Neither of them talk much. They walk side by side. An arm's length apart. No more. No less.

Spike drinks whiskey in the places they stop, his back to the bar as he scans the throngs of people. Riley orders beer for appearance's sake, but he only cradles it, not drinking. He's been drinking too much recently, and he knows it, but to drink when he's out on a hunt is to wander right up to the threshold of suicidal and peer over the edge. He feels awkward next to Spike. Too big for his own skin. Whereas Spike can bonelessly settle himself in any environment and look perfectly comfortable, Riley feels bulky and inelegant, like his body's constantly trying to stand at attention. He feels like maybe he's wearing his emotions too close to the surface -- no matter how perfect his poker face might be.

Spike leans in and speaks with his lips brushing the shell of Riley's ear. Riley smiles easily, ignoring the heat that licks through him, pretending to share a joke when in fact they're fingering demons and planning kills.

They follow two vampires out a side door. The vampires have a drunk, giggling girl strung between them. She stumbles on her heels and the trio pauses. Riley watches silently as the vampires fob her off with excuses and cheap promises and lead her further into the alley, further away from prying eyes. They're old, these two, that much is obvious. They're confident, but rightly so.

Riley knows this alley. He used it as a shortcut just last week. It veers away from the bar they've just left, turns a sharp corner, then folds back on itself, leading to a garish strip mall around the corner.

Spike drops his cigarette and it hisses in a pool of dirty water. Riley doesn't realise he's doing it, but he waits for instruction, trusting Spike to take the lead. Spike just taps him on the shoulder and gestures around the far side of the bar.

"Head them off at the pass?" Riley asks.

"A-yup," Spike says, and tips his imaginary hat.

"You got it." Riley takes off at a brisk jog, imaging Spike wearing a Stetson and chaps and finding it disturbingly appealing, and leaving Spike to follow the direction the vampires took. It takes him little over a minute to skirt the building, but when he arrives, the sight that greets him stops him cold.

There are four vampires surrounding the girl. Four, not two. This makes their job harder, true, but they've handled much worse odds. Riley takes a stake from his belt, one of the weighted ones. He waits for his moment, takes aim and lets fly. The stake hits his target and the first vampire crumbles to dust. Across the way, Spike takes this as his cue and stakes another one from behind before any of them realise what's going on. Then he's got his hands full, taking on the remaining two, trading brutal punches and kicks, while Riley ushers the girl to safely. It's amazing how much she's sobered up in a few short minutes. The heels are no longer a problem as she runs click-clacking out of the alley, away from the insanity unfolding behind her that she knows isn't real. It can't possibly be real. She never casts a backwards glance.

When he's sure she's made it to the street, Riley hurries back to help Spike, but a sledgehammer blow comes out of nowhere and knocks him off his feet. There's a shout and a scuffle of footsteps. Riley rolls, scrambling to his feet, only to choke on a cloud of dust that was once his attacker. He expects Spike to be standing alone with a smug 'what took you?' look on his face, but Spike is still occupied with the last vampire. He's down on one knee, the vampire behind him using the weight of both their bodies and all his strength to force Spike forwards and down, down towards a broken packing crate with one shard of wood jutting out, inches from Spike's chest. It's a battle of endurance, but Riley can see that Spike is off balance and has no leverage. The ground is wet and his boots are slipping. Adrenaline propels Riley into action. He kicks at another crate, breaking several slats, and snaps one of them off. Slamming the makeshift stake into the vampire's back and watching it crumble to dust feels like hitting a home run.

As the body disintegrates, so too does the weight pinning Spike down, and he flips over to sprawl on his back at Riley's feet. It seems he can only lie there, wide-eyed and shocked at what could have been. He's breathing, and with every breath his unease fades, until he's staring up at Riley and laughing at his own good fortune. Riley extends a shaking hand, but he can't seem to join the laughter. He can't seem to find the humour in it at all. Spike turns his ankle on a chunk of loose concrete, and stumbles, using Riley for support. They're close, face to face, and Spike must see something he doesn't like because his laughter dies away. Riley wonders if his harsh breath feels foreign to Spike. Little patches of heat and moisture -- life -- against cold skin.

"This is getting to be a habit," Spike says. He hesitates for a moment, shares a few of Riley's hot breaths, then says, "Thanks, kid."

The sincerity is like a drug to Riley. He can only shake his head unevenly -- an acceptance, a dismissal, some sort of signal he's not quite sure of himself. He wants more. He wants the touch, but he can't. There's something missing, something just out of his grasp. He licks his lips to speak. He stumbles over words and half-finished sentences about worry and want and need. Spike's lips curve into the faintest smile of understanding. He hooks his hand around the back of Riley's neck and looks him right in the eye, if only to assess the effect he's having. There's something faintly feral in the way he looks at Riley and it uncoils something hot and achy inside Riley. It makes it even harder to find his breath and, to his embarrassment, starts to make him pant for it. It leads him right up to the verge of desperation. Perhaps of misery if he doesn't satisfy his desire. If he doesn't get what he needs to satisfy the craving.

Spike looks into him, slow and steady, and it's like he gets it. It's like he sees how Riley's hurting, and he totally gets it. He doesn't say a word, he barely moves at all, but Riley can see that he gets it, and it's all the invitation Riley needs.

The dam breaks and Riley surges forward, his hands going automatically to Spike's ass and pulling him close, nearly lifting Spike off his feet with the force of it. Their mouths meet in a kiss that's desperate and needy, like they're feeding off one another, like it's their breath, their oxygen. Spike is propelled backwards until he's bent back over another of the packing crates. Riley's hands are everywhere, pushing Spike's coat from his shoulders, yanking his shirt up and open, losing most of the buttons in the process.

"Oi!," Spike says, struggling a little, except he's only insinuating himself closer to Riley's body, letting Riley between his thighs, not really struggling at all. "That was new."

Riley couldn't care less. He's not in the mood to be teased. He doesn't find anything about this funny. He tugs at the collar of the shirt, exposing Spike's shoulder.

"Bill me," he says, and bites down on the lean muscle. Spike just holds Riley's head there, letting him suck and bite, scratching his nails down over Riley's throat, soft enough that it's torture, stroking over the faded bitemark as he mutters encouragements. Blindly, Riley searches Spike's pockets, looking for lube he hopes Spike carries everywhere. There's a grunt of frustration from Spike and the tube is pressed into his hand. Riley's so turned on that he feels dizzy, uncoordinated. They meet again in a kiss, hard and eager.

Riley breaks it, needing to see Spike, needing to be sure. Spike's answering gaze is unwavering, and Riley has his answer. He can't wait any longer. He pulls Spike up by the belt and turns him, shoving him over the crate, crowding up behind him and relishing the feel of pressing himself against Spike's ass. Spike goes willingly, letting Riley jostle him without complaint, bracing himself on his hands. On the surface he looks relaxed, lenient with Riley's manhandling, but his palms scuff against the rough wood of the crate looking for purchase, and where his shirt rides up Riley can see his muscles are piano-wire taut, standing out in pale definition. He slows as best he can, but as he stands behind Spike, feeling tall and a little out of his depth, his hands tremble as he reaches around to undo Spike's jeans. The jeans slip down narrow hips and Riley just lets them go. He lubes himself quickly, with a light touch born of necessity and pauses, struck suddenly by what's about to happen. A pale hand covers his and squeezes as Spike looks back over one shoulder.

Riley slides his hand between Spike's cheeks, his breath coming short and patchy. Spike pushes back against him.

"Forget it," Spike says, his voice poured gravel. "Just give it to me. Come on."

So Riley does as he is bid. He lines himself up and pushes forward, breaching the tight ring of muscle. He can't find his breath as he inches his way into Spike's body.

Spike's hand stutters, then clamps over the edge of the crate hard enough to crack the wood. A stray shaft of light from a passing car a million miles away in the outside world reflects in Spike's eyes and they glint gold at Riley. Not looking away, not blinking, Riley pushes all the way inside, and they're touching from knee to hip. Spike falls forward onto his elbows, his nails scratching reflexively on the crate as his hands form fists.

Riley is trembling, scared to move. "Is it... Are you okay?"

By way of reply, Spike arches his body up and curves his hips back. Riley's stomach hollows out and it's all he can do to keep his footing. Spike writhes underneath him, and gets his weight back up onto his palms. It's almost too much. Spike is too strong. A bolt of fear hits Riley hard, liquid hot lust hard on its heels, and it makes his head spin.

There's a demon moving purposefully under his hands. A vampire giving him what he wants most.

"Yes. Yes. Fuck. Move. Move," Spike snarls.

Riley lets out a choked off little cry, grabbing at Spike's hips, his fingers white under the pressure. Using all his strength, he holds Spike in place, and draws out, almost experimentally, and pushes back in. He's never done this before -- so many firsts with Spike -- and it feels like nothing on earth. He wishes he could see more, watch what's happening, read Spike's face, but for now he'll settle for feeling. His hips move, his body picking up the rhythm quickly. The world fades away, nothing more than faint dull grey on the periphery of the blinding bright here and now with Spike. There is the background burn and stretch of his muscles, but all he can really feel is Spike's body holding tight around him and the cool slick of Spike's skin as their sweat mingles. Spike is groaning and reaching for him, encouraging him. He's cooing promises and saying such filthy things. Telling him how good it feels. Telling him what a good boy he is and how every touch is rapture.

Riley couldn't speak right now if his life depended on it. It's almost too much, the pictures Spike is painting with his words. It almost pushes Riley over the edge and he doesn't want this to end yet. He doesn't want to ever stop pushing himself inside this lithe body. He nudges Spike's legs a little further apart and slides his palm up the pale spine laid out in front of him, pressing down on the nape of Spike's neck. Spike bends under his hands without complaint. He turns his head to one side and rests his cheek on the back of one hand. Riley twists his hips, loving the curses and the happy groans this evokes, and watches himself disappear into Spike again and again. He angles up, and can only hope that he's hitting that spot inside Spike that had felt so amazing when he was on the receiving end.

This thrusting connection of bodies has become everything. Riley is entirely lost in it. All too soon he can feel the end rushing towards him and he can only helplessly ride the burn of his muscles, driving towards the source of his pleasure. He manages to get it together enough to reach around Spike because he needs to know. He needs to know that Spike is enjoying this; that he's getting just as much out of this as Riley is. One touch of his hand on Spike's cock, hard as granite, and Spike's whole body tenses, and he's coming over Riley's hand. That's all it takes. Another two or three savage thrusts and Riley's losing it, emptying himself inside Spike, and it's all that he can do just to hold on. He plasters himself to Spike's back, clinging to him until the tremors subside.

When he finally lets go, the sensation is one of tangible loss. He pulls out and it's messy and kind of gross he feels a strange mix of embarrassed pride that Spike would let him in like this. That Spike would go through this; would let Riley do this to him. With him. When Spike turns, Riley examines his face like he's seeing it for the first time.

"I didn't know if I was going to get there in time. I thought... I thought he was going to... Spike, he nearly staked you."

Spike pulls a 'don't be daft' face, shrugging off Riley's concerns. "Thought wrong, didn't you?" There's a lightning fast little glance from his lashes where Spike looks so unsure, but it's gone before Riley can even be sure he saw it at all. He goes through the process of trying to sort out his clothes, tutting at his ruined shirt, grimacing as he buttons his jeans, squirming a little. Riley can't help but grin a little at his discomfort, knowing all too well the reason for it. Spike catches him doing it and gives a wry little twist of his lips.

The moment stretches. Riley hasn't a clue what to do, what to say, but his hands reach out of their own accord. There needs to be more touching. Spike accepts it, welcoming Riley's arms inside his duster so that they wrap around him.

"So." Spike steps up so they're face-to-face, and ducks his head, pouting his lips just a little. "You, ah, you fancy going home and doing that again?" Riley nods so fiercely that they bump heads. Spike chuckles, rubbing at his head. "That's a yes, I take it?"

"Yes. I mean, take it as a yes. Yes."

Spike takes Riley's hand and presses a kiss to the palm. "Good," he says, and leads the way out of the alley, towards home.


---


24.


Riley drives back to the apartment with Spike's hand on his thigh the whole way and Spike's eyes, sharp and interested, watching him from the shifting shadows of the passenger seat. At one intersection, Riley misses a green light entirely when Spike's hand ventures too far north, and at another he nearly runs into the back of a brand new Mercedes for exactly the same reason, but they otherwise make it home unscathed.

In the parking garage, Riley pulls into his usual spot. Spike is practically in his lap before he even has the keys out of the ignition, slick tongue sliding past Riley's lips, one hand on the back of Riley's neck, the other under his shirt, greedy for skin, moving to sometimes palm his erection through his pants. Riley likes it here, cocooned in the dark, making out with Spike, soft groans and the rustling of clothes, just kissing and kissing and kissing. They start to paw at one another, clothes become a hindrance instead of just a tease, and Riley wonders if they could work it so that they could do it right here, Spike straddling his thighs, boots on the seat, shoulders thumping the ceiling. Instead they stumble from the car, laughing at their haste. In the stairwell leading up from the parking garage, Spike pushes him up against the wall in the shadows to whisper filthy things in his ear. Riley struggles to stay where Spike has put him, to keep his shoulders and his hips against the wall even as his body arches.

"How long has it been?" he manages to get out as Spike sucks more bruises low on his throat, worrying at the skin with his teeth.

Spike doesn't answer at first, distracted by more pressing tasks, like the taste of Riley's skin, and the pressing task of driving Riley slowly insane with the things he's doing with one hand lodged deep in Riley's pants.

Riley rolls his head on the wall. "Spike."

This time, he warrants a vague hummed response.

Riley fists the hair on the back of Spike's head and tugs him back. "How long?"

Spike blinks and there's a hazy scowl at the interruption before his gaze latches onto Riley's lips. "How long what?"

"How long has it been since you..."

Spike's gaze just runs over his face, like he's only half listening, but the silence isn't something he's fazed by. Apparently he doesn't feel the need to fill the gap with words.

Riley runs his tongue over his lips. "You really going to make me say it?"

Spike twists his wrist as he runs his hand slowly up the length of Riley's cock. He watches Riley's reaction closely with a wicked smile on his face and the tip of his tongue between his teeth. "Go ahead," he murmurs, leaning in to brush the words against Riley's ear. "Ask me."

"How long since you let a man fuck you?" Riley asks in a strained whisper.

Spike smiles, slow and private, like he's just won an argument. "'Sbeen a good, long while, Agent Finn," he says, deep and easy. "A good, long while."

Riley hears the words. His throat clicks when he swallows. "So why..."

"Why now? Why you?"

Riley can only nod.

"You know," Spike says, glancing down with another little smile that Riley could spend years trying to decipher, "if you have to ask, maybe we're not doing this right."

"No, I didn't mean... I mean, I was just..."

Spike silences him with a kiss. "I know what you mean." He draws his hand out of Riley's pants and pulls the zipper back up, real slow, and lays his palm on the flat muscle of Riley's belly. "How about we finish this in the shower?" Spike pouts his lips. "I'm a little..."

Riley grins and waves him on. A shower sounds pretty good right about now. The thought of getting Spike wet and soapy and very, very naked definitely holds appeal.

He reaches for Spike as soon as they're inside the apartment, but pauses when Spike holds up a hand to stop him, suddenly serious, his head cocked like he's listening, nostrils flaring as he scents the air.

A single, awful thought hits Riley and all the air snuffs out of the room. He runs to his bedroom, ignoring Spike's shout, and goes to the bottom of the wardrobe, snatching the old stained shirt out of the way. The box is lying on its side, photographs scattered on the floor, the bottle lying a few feet away like it had been casually tossed aside and the sight of it makes Riley's heart lurch.

But no dagger. It's gone.

"No!" Riley yells, throwing the box against the wall with all his strength. "No, no, no!" He scrambles around on the floor on his hands and knees, knocking his only other pair of shoes out of the way, but it's hopeless. The dagger isn't there. He throws himself into the corner and sits there, his knees drawn up, the back of his fist pressed to his forehead.

Stupid. Stupid. He should have listened to his gut. He should have kept them with him. He should have found a better hiding place. He should have thought of this. Did he really think it would be so easy? That he could just sit on things until he got word of the Grub? He's been lazy. Self-indulgent. More worried about getting in Spike's pants than doing his job. And now his only chance is gone.

Spike stands in the middle of the room, casting his gaze around, taking it all in. He says Riley's name, but Riley only knocks his head off the wall in response.

"Wait. Wait now. Listen to me." There's something in his tone that makes Riley look up. Spike runs a hand back through his hair. "You, ah. Hah. You know that Racktang I said I got the dagger off? Yeah, well, that might have been a slight fabrication."

"What?" Riley says, like maybe he didn't hear correctly, although he's pretty damn sure that he did.

"Well, it's like this."

Riley raises his eyebrows, impatient.

Spike twists his face. "I nicked it from the Wolfram & Hart vaults."

Riley frowns his confusion, his temper rapidly fraying.

"Yeah," Spike continues, trying to make light of it. "You wouldn't believe the things they have hidden away down there. It's just this one little room, but it's like the Tardis inside. They've got enough Orbs of Thessulah to... Yeah." He grins awkwardly. "I'm thinking Angel didn't take to kindly to my appropriating his things. So how about we skip the pesky recrimination part and jump right to the going and taking it back?"

Riley considers this for all of three seconds and rolls to his feet. It should be enough. He should be out the door already, and yet... "Am I missing something here? Why didn't you just tell me? Why the story about the Racktang?"

"Well." Spike pauses and gives a little sniff. "I didn't want you thinking I just went to Angel for everything."

"Why do you care what I think?"

"Buggered if I know," Spike mutters, glancing up but trying not to raise his head, probably cursing Riley's height advantage.

"So you knew Angel might take it back?"

"Always a possibility. I don't really know what Angel's game is these days. He's a law unto himself."

"You're sure it was him that took it?"

"Can't think of anyone else who would have taken it." He looks around the room. "Not without making more of a mess. Unless..."

"No. If the Grub had been here he'd have taken the potion too. And he'd have been a little more obvious. Something--"

"Creepy and personalised?"

"Yeah. Something like that. Can you get back in?"

"To Wolfram & Hart? Piece of cake. Their security has more holes than a Swedish-- It's got a lot of holes."

Riley wants to leave. He needs action. Needs to just go and take back what he sees as rightfully his, but he hesitates because he just doesn't get it. "I don't understand why you didn't just tell me."

"I don't know," Spike admits. "It was more... Angel's a funny one. He likes to lord it over all and sundry. You never know which side of the fence he's going to come down on." Spike lifts his shoulders. "I just wanted to get you your means. That's all. I wanted..."

"What?" There's no reply. "Spike. What?"

"I didn't want for it to be a big deal. I wanted you to get this done so you could move on."

"You wanted me gone?"

"Well, yeah, I said so often enough, didn't I?"

"That's..." Painful. Cruel. And something that Riley knew already. "Yeah. Let's just go."

Spike catches his wrist. "Riley. I told you. Right from the start I told you. I didn't want to get into this with you. But I... You're still here."

Riley pulls his arm away. "You told me to stay, remember?"

"I did." Spike says slowly, like he doesn't quite know what he's going to say next. "I didn't want to let you in. But you're still here."

Riley just looks at him, wondering exactly how much of what Spike lets him see is a front. He knows some of this has to be real. Spike's shown too much of himself for them to be able to dismiss this as nothing. Riley knows that. He's sure of it. But maybe, Riley figures, he's just making a fool of himself. What did he really expect to get out of this thing with Spike, he wonders. Did he really expect it to last? Did he really expect it to work?

"This is pretty fucked up," he says with a black little snort of amusement.

"What is?"

"You. Me. Even Angel. All Buffy's cast offs. All still dancing around the issue."

"And what issue would that be?"

"Hey, you're the one who started this," Riley snaps, getting angry now.

"I didn't start a bloody thing," Spike says, squaring off. "You were the one who..." He falters. He can't seem to find his words so scowls instead. "You were the one."

Riley waits for Spike to finish, spreads his hands like a question, like a challenge, but there's nothing. Spike clamps his mouth shut and deepens the scowl.

"Right," Riley says. "It's all my fault. Like I planned this."

"Didn't you?"

Riley shakes his head slowly, pretty disgusted with both of them. All this talking and nobody's really saying a thing.

"No, I didn't. I never looked at you like this when we were... I mean, before. It just..." Riley clenches his jaw. Why does it always have to be him? And why does it have to be now? Every part of him wants to be gone already. Kicking down Angel's door and taking back what's his. But, he realises in a rush, he doesn't want to do it alone. Not anymore. "I didn't mean to either. It just happened. I couldn't..." He licks his lips, his mouth suddenly dry. "I couldn't help myself. I still can't."

Spike shifts his weight, weighing this up. "Yeah?"

"Jesus, Spike. We're still the same people we always were." He grimaces a little, knowing in Spike's case that's not strictly true. "I mean, things have changed, but... All the shit in Sunnydale. Buffy. The Initiative. All of it. If that's what's holding you back. If that's why you're not ready to... I'm just saying, that stuff is always going to be there. That's who we were and it's a part of us. But times have changed. Is it so hard for you to believe that I want this? I mean, not just... y'know. But the whole thing. I like living here. I like, y'know, being with you. I like you."

Spike just stares at him, absorbing this.

"Well?" Riley asks when the silence stretches on too long. "Any input? Or am I just making a fool of myself again? I don't want to rush you, but I'm kind of eager to get on with this whole breaking into the big evil law firm thing sometime today."

"Yeah. I mean, no, you're not making a fool of yourself. I meant, yeah, we can..." Spike rubs his hand across the back of his neck. "Don't know if you noticed, but I never much was one for what you might call 'appropriate relationships'."

"It crossed my line of sight once or twice."

Spike takes a step forward. "I may have been giving you a hard time."

Riley raises his eyebrows. "You think?"

Spike turns his face away, and gives a sardonic little smile that says he thinks Riley might just have a valid point. He sets his hands low on Riley's stomach, palms not quite touching, fingertips stroking down, reminding Riley of a cat.

Spike watches his hands play over Riley's shirt. "I may have been..."

Riley touches his knuckle under Spike's chin until Spike gives in and looks up. When they kiss it's slow and easy and it warms Riley from the inside. His heart tugs at him from deep in his chest and it scares him a little. He doesn't know if he's ready for this. He doesn't know if he'll ever be ready for this. But he doesn't think that he has a choice in the matter. It's still a little strange to be able to do this when he wants, knowing that it will be accepted. Knowing that they have begun something together and that he is desired in return. He can't ask where they are. He can't even think about it too much because the thought of losing this fills him with a cold dread, but for now, the knowledge that Spike welcomes his touches, accepts his kisses, for now this is enough. This is his.

Spike's hand is on his face now, the other sneaking under his shirt. They shuffle slowly backwards, with little thought, until Riley's back hits the wall. He smiles into their kiss, thinking, this is crazy, thinking, we have to go, thinking, I wish I could stay.

"We have to go," he says into Spike's mouth.

Spike shakes his head a little, keeps their lips together. "I'm not going to get that shower, am I?"

Riley lets out a huff of laughter, not missing Spike's little happy grunt when Riley's hands end up on his ass, pulling him in closer.

"Not right now, no."

"Bugger."

"Spike. Seriously. We have to go."

"Right," Spike says, still kissing him. "Right. We should go."

"Like, five minutes ago."

"Five minutes. Okay."

"Five minutes ago. Not five minutes from now."

"Riley."

"Mm."

"Shut up. You're eating into my five minutes."

"Okay. Okay. Five minutes."

"Deal."


---


25.


"Everything's labelled," Spike says, stepping over the unconscious body of one of the Wolfram & Hart guards.

"Dewey Decimal or alphabetic?"

Spike pauses for just long enough in mid-step over the guard to give Riley an appraising little look and continue on, the tails of his leather duster swaying around his ankles. "You know I'm surprised in all your time in Sunnydale you and Willow never took a shine to one another," Spike says, picking up what looks like a glass paperweight and staring into its depths. "Or better yet Giles. I'm sure he would have loved a young stud like you around to quote cataloguing systems at him."

Riley blinks a few times. "And I have absolutely no reply to that."

Spike smirks at his lack of reflection in the paperweight before tossing it carelessly over his shoulder. There's a loud thump as it bounces off the carpet tiles. "Probably for the best."

Riley refuses to get caught up in Spike's teasing, so he just gives his head a little shake, and it's back to the business at hand. He occupies himself with looking around the Wolfram & Hart storage area, trying to get a handle on the place. Spike wasn't kidding. From the outside it hadn't looked like much more than a janitor's closet. There had been a single sign on the door saying "Storage Room 2A" and little else to mark it out from a hundred other doors in the Wolfram & Hart building. Inside is another matter. Inside it kind of reminds Riley of that last scene from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Boxes upon boxes upon boxes, set in never-ending rows, stretching back as far as the eye can see. It's a little disorienting to say the least.

"Look here," Spike says, pointing to a small desk just inside the door. "Refer to evil computer. Look up item. Find reference number. Go to shelf. Like I said: labelled."

"How can you tell it's an evil computer?"

"If it wasn't, it would be a Mac."

"Point."

Spike sits in front of the computer and taps a few keys. "I don't see anything new added. Although I was working on a trial and error system to find it the first time."

"How did you even know it was here?"

Spike doesn't look up from the screen, just gives a supercilious little cant of his head. "I have my sources." He taps a few more keys. "Your dagger was in miscellaneous weaponry before. That's over yonder."

"Miscellaneous? So they didn't know what they had?"

'Maybe. Maybe not.'

Riley jogs over to the section Spike had pointed at. Three rows down, five across. It takes him a little time, but a check of the shelves yields nothing. He swears under his breath and grips the edge of one of the shelves, lets his head drop between his arms and resists the urge to break something. "Spike," he calls without lifting his head. "It's not here."

"Working on it," is the only reply, so Riley pushes himself off the shelf with a deft little shove and jogs back.

"Here," Spike says around a cigarette and turns the monitor around so Riley can get a look at the screen. "No shelf number. Bloody machine. Nothing but a big, fat blank."

"So now what?"

Spike takes a final drag of his cigarette and drops it to the floor to crush it under his boot. "Stands to reason they wouldn't just put it back where it was stol-- Ah. Appropriated from the last time."

"Right," Riley says. "So. Now what?"

Spike raises his head. He's got that glint in his eye. The one that Riley dreads and finds irresistible in equal measure.

"Don't know about you, mate, but I've had it with the softly softly approach."

The door beside them opens and Riley steps back as Spike punches the latest guard before he's even halfway into the room, let alone have a chance to draw his weapon, and the guard falls to the floor, out cold. Spike drags him the rest of the way into the room, lays him out next to his fellow workers, and kicks the door shut again.

Riley looks at the unconscious bodies on the floor. "This is the softly softly approach?"

Spike sneers. "They're alive, aren't they?"

Riley supposes that Spike might just have a point. "What are you suggesting?"

"We go straight to the source."

"Angel?"

"Angel."

"Anything in the way of a plan?"

"Direct approach. Hopefully there'll be lots of punching and kicking and maybe breaking some of his favourite expensive, irreplaceable, incredibly poncey things."

Riley thinks about it for all of half a second and nods.

"Lead on, Macduff," Spike says, and gestures him out of the room.

Riley marches down the hallways after Spike without looking left or right, but he takes everything in. He sees men and women in expensive suits looking up as Spike passes, a blond inconsistency in their day. It's hardly within normal business hours, but apparently flexitime takes on a whole new meaning at Wolfram & Hart. It must be hard trying to keep to a nine-to-five schedule going when the boss is a vampire. At the door of Angel's office Spike never hesitates. He just walks in like he owns the place. Riley stands at ease just inside the door, enjoying the scene Spike creates like he was born to do it. It's perfect. Riley couldn't have scripted it better. Spike disrupts a meeting and badgers Angel until he gets his own way. The room clears, although the slight girl in the corner with the watchful eyes and the blue hair who can only be Illyria naturally doesn't include herself with the subordinates scurrying to leave. When they're all gone and the door closes behind them, Spike tells Angel what they want. He just lays it out there, plain and simple.

It's when Angel steps up his game, acts the incensed sire and gets in Spike's space, when he snarls quiet threats that Riley can't quite pick up from across the room, that's when Riley's mood turns sour. He knows his heart is beating hard and fast, a red flag to the vampires in the room, but there's nothing he can do about it. He can't touch what these two vampires have. He'll never truly understand what they are to each other, because he's not like them. Not under his skin. Not where it counts.

"You think you can just waltz in here and take what's mine without asking?" Angel snarls.

"You didn't even know what it was you had," Spike counters.

Angel doesn't look impressed. "There's a Grub loose in my city and the two of you are just wasting time. If I have the weapons, then I can take care of it when it surfaces."

"You don't even know how the bloody thing works, you gormless idiot. You haven't got the first clue how to--" Spike narrows his eyes. "Wait a minute. What do you mean, 'When it surfaces'?"

"I have people on the streets. When we get word of its whereabouts, I have the manpower to--"

"When you get word? You have your Vanglash demon right here. He's your little sniffer dog, right? Why haven't you got him on the case?"

Riley watches Angel closely. It feels a little off when Angel looks up and meets his eyes over Spike's shoulder.

"We're having a slight... problem with the Vanglash."

"Problem?" Riley asks. "What kind of problem?"

"Nothing we can't handle."

"Angel," Spike says, eking out his name for maximum irritation. "Don't hold back on us now. You haven't accidentally killed the nice Vanglash demon, have you? Or let it escape?"

"No." Angel works his jaw, his anger almost tangible. "It's not talking," he admits.

Riley sees Spike's surprise, and truth be told, he's a little taken aback himself. Angel's skills at torture are legendary. Although Riley knows a thing or two about the Vanglash. He knows how tough they are.

"Let me talk to it," Riley says.

Angel laughs, actually laughs, the bastard, and shakes his head. "No, I don't think so."

Sudden fury propels Riley across the room, and even Spike's warning shout doesn't stop him. The blue blur that materialises as Illyria, however, one delicate little hand clamping around his throat and lifting him easily off the ground, that's enough to bring him to a rapid halt. Riley can only hang there, clawing at her hand, but she's immovable. Such an insubstantial little thing, this blue monster, her eyes cold and beautiful as she watches his struggles with interest. Spike steps up, calm on the surface, only his eyes speaking his concern. He lays a hand on Illyria's shoulder, not attacking, just making his presence known. Her head whips around to stare at him fiercely. Spike's touch is restrained, but he's deadly serious as he shakes his head.

Illyria frowns. "This one is under your protection?"

"He is."

Her nostrils twitch. "You mate with him?"

"I do."

"Interesting."

"I'm glad we amuse. Now let him down. He's starting to turn blue."

Illyria releases him and Riley lands heavily, going down on one knee, one hand braced on the floor, wheezing, his other hand going automatically to his throat.

Illyria regards him imperially. "Blue is a good colour."

"Not on humans," Spike says, his eyes on Riley.

Riley gives him a terse little nod. His heart's hammering wildly, his ears are ringing and there are spots dancing in front of his eyes, but he's breathing. He'll be okay. He has a lot of questions about exactly what in the hell this Illyria is, but Spike isn't attacking her, seems almost sweet on her for some reason Riley can't quite fathom, so his questions will keep.

Illyria just stands there, a strange and proud enigma, looking like a strong wind could blow her over, looking like a tank couldn't knock her down. Her head is cocked, her manner watchful as she watches Riley clamber to his feet.

"What about you, Blue?" Spike asks quietly. "A Grub shouldn't mean much to you. You got any input?"

"In my time the Porta'kqua were just that: Grubs. Lower than insects."

"Yeah, well I guess they took a running jump up the evolutionary ladder. You think this plan of ours'll work?"

"You have your tools. Poison the body, destroy the heart. I have heard of such things, but never of their application, nor their success."

Riley keeps his expression neutral, massaging his abused throat, but if what she says is true... If Illyria knows of his plan, if she's heard of the dagger and the potion that he's planning on using but has no way of testing, then maybe -- maybe, maybe, maybe -- he's on the right track. Maybe this crazy plan of his will work after all. It also means that if she knows that he has the potion, then she was in Spike's apartment. She was there when the dagger was taken, and Riley wonders if it would be at all wise to take umbrage over that fact. It's important to know which battles to fight and which ones to walk away from, so perhaps, all things considered, maybe he should just let that whole breaking and entering part slide. It seems to be the day for it.

"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Spike says. "What say you give it a go if we can't quite pull it off? Keep your hand in, so to speak."

"Once I could have snuffed a Grub out of existence with a mere thought. In my current weakened state, this is no longer the case."

"Yeah, but you could--"

"You presume to instruct me?"

"You know I do."

She raises a haughty eyebrow. "I see your insolence has not waned with time."

Spike gives her a quick grin. "All part of the charm and you know it. Now, how about we go talk to this Vanglash demon, hey?"

It's Illyria who leads them down. Apparently she's not so under Angel's thumb that she cares about a little thing like his wishes, or whether or not he loses face. She conveys her desire for Spike to follow with little more than a glance, which seems to amuse Spike greatly. Angel can only clench his jaw when he realises the chain of command has been superseded. Anything he could say now would either result in him being outright ignored, or lead them into violence, either of which would make him look like a fool. So instead he just sucks it up and goes with them. And why wouldn't he, Riley thinks. It's not as though Angel has anything to lose.

There's an elevator that takes them down into the sub-levels of the Wolfram & Hart building and Riley can't quite figure out how Angel and Illyria know where they're going. The elevator doesn't have any numbers and Riley's at a loss for any sensory input that tells him just how far down the levels go. The only thing he can figure is that it's deep.

Really, really deep.

The elevator doors open out at the end of a long, narrow corridor with doors leading off at regular intervals. Everything is white. It looks like a hospital. It feels like a prison. Each of the doors has a small window set in the centre, and all of them are shuttered. Angel leads the way, Spike following, then Riley, with Illyria silently bringing up the rear. They stop outside the last door, identical to all the others. Angel punches a number into a keypad and the door swings open. More white. The faint scent of bleach. There is a lone figure inside, curled up on the floor in the corner of the room, its face hidden away from them. It looks small, human, dressed in a scruffy suit, only the thick green and yellow mottled skin visible on the back of the its neck giving away the fact that there's a demon in the room with them.

They stand inside the door, but there is no movement from the Vanglash.

It's Spike who breaks the silence with a bored sniff. "There's a touch of the Spanish 'flu about that one."

Riley glances a quick glare in his direction, and starts across the room, only to be restrained by Spike's hand on his chest. Riley keeps his expression blank and just waits it out. Whatever it is that Spike sees, apparently it's enough because he lets go and backs off a pace, starts patting down his pockets looking for cigarettes, giving the appearance of relaxing into his surroundings as only Spike can. Riley knows better. He knows Spike well.

He edges up to the Vanglash, knowing that there's at least one person in the room who has his back. Riley watches for any sudden moves, ready for anything. He's wary, and with good reason. This is the part in every horror movie where the monster plays dead, waiting for its moment, waiting for you to get close enough to reach out and touch. That's when it lunges for you, rips your throat out before you can even draw the breath to scream, just because it can, just because you're just tipping over the edge into the belief that nothing bad is going to happen. Not to you. But the Vanglash doesn't move, no sudden snarl and burst of violent intent, not even when Riley crouches down and lays a hand on its shoulder.

"Does it have a name?" Riley asks without looking around.

"Not that I know of," Angel says.

"It's Malkthor," a quiet rumble of a voice says from Riley's feet. "At least, that's the closest you'll get to it with your lazy human tongue."

"Malkthor?" Riley repeats, shuffling back to give the Vanglash a little room when it starts to move.

"That's right." Malkthor turns his face and Riley's breath catches at the patchwork of bruises and badly healing gashes crisscrossing the demon's face. And that's only the parts that Riley can see that aren't hidden by the old suit. The Vanglash struggles stiffly into a seated position, like every movement is agony, and leans gingerly against the wall. "Do I smell cigarettes?"

Wordlessly, Spike tosses the pack across the room and the Vanglash doesn't even attempt to catch them, just lets them hit the wall beside his head and fall to the floor. He blinks his gaze up to Riley's face and just stares until Riley gets the message and picks up the pack, placing a cigarette in the demon's mouth and lighting it for him. Malkthor takes a long, hard drag on the cigarette and doesn't so much exhale as just let the smoke stream out of his body in one continuous, satisfied sigh.

"So it's you," he says, cigarette bobbing with the words. "I'm here because of you."

Riley stands his ground, resolved to give this battered demon the truth. "Yes."

Inhale. Exhale. "What do you want from me?"

"The Porta'kqua. I want the Grub."

"Oh. Is that all?" Staring at his cigarette, the Vanglash enjoys a small, private little smile. "And why would I want to help you? I don't even know you. You get me stuck in Wolfram & Hart, being tortured by Angelus himself, and I'm supposed to what? Kiss your boots and tell you everything you want to know?"

"I didn't know," Riley says, his ironclad resolve weakening in the face of this new truth. This is how he felt in those last few days with the Initiative. When he realised that the end doesn't always justify the means. This is not what he wanted. "I'm sorry."

"You're sorry." Malkthor laughs, but it catches in his throat and dissolves into a fit of coughing. With stiff fingers he plucks the cigarette from his lips. "Have you any idea what we go through? Being the only ones who can locate Grubs? It's stupid. No one ever wants to find them, but every so often, the Grubs come looking for us. Like it's a game. Our species aren't even related, did you know that? It's just a freak of nature. Some chemical or some magic in our make up that reacts to the Grub's presence. Most of us use it to just stay the hell out of their way. But it's a two way street, there's another little factoid for you. Grubs can find us too. You can't hide forever. And a place like this?" The Vanglash looks around the little room, his prison cell. "Wouldn't keep a Grub out. Not even close."

"Tell me where he is and I'll make sure you never have to deal with him again."

"I already gave up a location," Malkthor says bitterly, venom in the way he glances at Angel. "Let me guess. Didn't go quite according to plan?"

Riley holds its unblinking gaze. "Not quite."

"So you'll excuse me if I don't put much faith in your guarantees."

"I can get you out of here."

Malkthor looks over Riley's shoulder again to Angel, an appraising little look, and Riley hasn't got a clue what it is that he sees there. "Why would you do that?"

"I want the Grub. You want out. Think of it as a business arrangement."

"What makes you think I won't come for you if I get out of here?"

"What makes you think I'll survive going after the Grub?"

Malkthor grins, swollen green lips over brilliant white teeth set in black gums. "There is that."

"Will you tell me?"

He sends a final look over Riley's shoulder to where Angel is standing, and beckons Riley in closer. "You keep him off my back. Get me something decent to eat. Something that still has a pulse. Nothing with feathers. Get me out of here, no tricks, and yeah. I'll give you your Grub."

"You give up the Grub then we let you out. Call it insurance."

Malkthor finishes his cigarette as he thinks this over, taking his time over it, squinting at Riley through the rising smoke. He drops the cigarette and just looks at it, letting Riley crush it underfoot.

"Deal," he says.

Riley stares down at him. "Why should I trust you?"

"Why should I trust you?"

Riley breathes deep. "Touché."

"I'm not going to get out of here if I don't play ball, and I like what you're putting on the table a lot more than what he's been offering," the Vanglash says with a proud lift of his chin in Angel's direction. "Besides, you'll be doing me a favour. Say you manage it. Say you take out the last Grub and I manage to play a part in it." He smiles, slow and hungry. "I wouldn't mind having a hand in that."

"All right," Riley says. "You've got yourself a deal."

Angel doesn't speak until they're in the elevator, riding up through the countless levels so fast that Riley's ears pop.

"What makes you think I'm just going to leave this up to you?"

Riley's been waiting for this. Frankly, he was expecting more threats, or perhaps just some good, old-fashioned violence, but the simple question isn't what he was expecting.

"You looking for me to give you a good reason?" Riley asks, with just enough attitude to let Angel knows he's being reminded of his faults. "Okay," he says letting out a little breath and folding his arms over his chest. "Because it's my fight. This thing stole my family from me and I'd do anything to make sure that doesn't happen to anyone else. Because I'm not going to stop until I have my revenge."

Angel doesn't answer, but Riley wasn't really expecting him to. He just stands there, his profile inscrutable in the moment before the elevator doors open and Angel strides out. They follow him back to his office, where he opens his safe, pulls out a bundle wrapped in velvet and hands it to Riley without a word.

"What's the catch?" Riley asks, feeling the familiar shape of the dagger under the velvet.

"No catch. You want this so bad, you can have it. I'll send word when the Vanglash gives us a new location. After that it's up to you."

"Just like that?"

Angel leans over his desk, his palms flat on its surface, and his lip curls, a silent little snarl. "Just like that."

Riley isn't sure what it is that he's said this time that's different to any other. Angel doesn't like it, doesn't want him here, and Riley's more than fine with that, but whatever it is that he said, whatever Angel's reasons, it's done. Riley has what he came for.

"Well," Spike says brightly, clapping his hands together. "This has been smashing. We'll have to do it again sometime real soon. Have your people call our people. We'll brunch, yeah?"

His hand on the small of Riley's back, Spike herds him out of the office and away from all the Wolfram & Hart bullshit. They step into the elevator and as the doors are closing, Riley drops the act and steps towards Spike. His throat hurts like hell, but in some crazy way he's relieved because it all actually went much better than he was expecting. But he's kind of angry too, at Angel and at himself, and he's all kinds of confused over who or what Illyria is. He's also angry at Spike. Spike, who's hardly the poster child for restraint and who's freely admitted, on more than one occasion, to getting off hard on violence in all it's glorious and ugly incarnations. Spike, who didn't even throw so much as a punch at Illyria when she had Riley held off the damn ground by his throat. He wants comfort, but more than that, he wants to brand his touch back onto Spike. He wants to scrub Wolfram & Hart out of his system. He wants to forget what it was like in that little room. He wants to forget the haunted look in the Vanglash's eyes, the dull hatred it felt for him and everything he stood for.

"Not here," Spike says quietly with a glance to the ceiling of their little box. It stops Riley in his tracks, and he goes back to standing at ease, shoulder to shoulder with Spike.

He waits until they get home, racing the rising sun. He follows Spike inside, kicks the door shut behind them and crowds Spike up against the wall right there in the hallway. Riley pins him there with his entire body and kisses him hard and messy. When Spike grins up at him, defiant and bold, Riley shoves the duster off his shoulders, yanks open Spike's jeans and turns him to face the wall. When he pushes his nose into Spike's hair, it smells like smoke and hair gel. Spike shifts his weight, trying to keep his footing, his fingertips pressing into the wall like he wants to grip, like he wants to tear a hole in it, but he stays where Riley wants him. He doesn't fight it, not really. Riley pushes his face into the curve of Spike's throat and he can still smell sex and sweat.

It occurs to Riley almost in passing that it was only a few hours ago that he lost the last remaining shreds of his virginity. It uncoils something hot and heavy in his groin and he needs to be back inside Spike. It's something that he plans on doing a lot of in the future. He kicks Spike's legs apart, gets a hand between them and his mouth floods with saliva when he realises that Spike is still slick from earlier. It overwhelms him, makes him dizzy, this incredible need, this greedy desire, and there's no way he's stopping. Not when Spike is panting like this, his teeth bared. He's silent for once, waiting for whatever Riley wants to do to him.

Riley pushes inside with no warning. Spike cries out and braces himself against the wall. It's too tight, nowhere near enough slick, but he's inside and it's heat and yeah and god and so fucking good that his control wavers and it's like he's outside of himself, out of focus, watching this happen, feeling it all unfold. He's in as deep as he can go, but he still pushes forward, looking for more, waiting for the hitch in Spike's breathing. He rocks his hips again, feeling the tight clench of Spike's body, of all that smooth muscle wrapped around him, and it's too much. He lets himself go, can't hold back, taking what he wants, branding himself inside Spike, trying to make himself permanent there. He doesn't last long, he's waited too long for this, and when he starts to come, fingers digging into Spike's hips hard enough to leave bruises that'll be gone come nightfall, he goes deep and all movement stops, his body takes over, gives him his release, and he does it with Spike's name on his lips.

Spike lowers his arms from where he'd been bracing himself. He waits until his ragged breathing slows and trails off altogether. "You didn't like me talking to him," he says quietly, "all you had to do was say."

"Shut up," Riley manages, and lays his forehead on the back of Spike's neck. "You said... you just said... When Illyria asked. You admitted it."

"Bit late for trying to lie about it," Spike says, his voice soft, his cheek resting on the wall. "Angel's known about it for as long as it's been going on, I can guarantee you that. He'll have known exactly what we've been up to."

"Good." Riley presses the heels of his hands to Spike's hipbones, spreads his fingers and pulls Spike back against him. He tosses sweaty hair off his forehead and presses his lips to Spike's shoulder, just above the neck of his t-shirt. "Good," he says again, against Spike's skin.

Spike gives him a moment, letting him calm, then pats Riley's thigh to make him pull out. The sensation makes Riley hiss and bite at the column of Spike's throat. Spike turns slowly in his arms.

"Come on, kid. Come to bed with me."

Riley lets himself be led. He stands acquiescent and lets Spike undress him and lay him on the bed. He lets Spike slick him up, work him with his fingers for a while until Riley feels open and slippery and ready and starts begging for more, until Spike lines himself up and pushes slowly inside. They're face to face, clinging tightly together, and it's a little uncomfortable, but it's good.

Riley reaches for Spike, the heel of his hand on Spike's cheek, his fingers spread wide on Spike's skull, holds him still and closes his eyes to ask, "Did I--?"

"No. Didn't do anything I didn't want." Riley opens his eyes, hopeful. "I like that you're jealous." Spike is looking right into him, serious, giving Riley every ounce of his attention. Riley is amazed to realise that Spike actually sounds impressed. "It's something I never... Love it. Love that you want me like that. That..."

Words have power and consequence, and it's dangerous to say things such things. Riley knows it. It's more dangerous to listen, to assume, most dangerous of all to hope.

"That I care that much?"

Spike only nods in reply. Riley can't say any more. He draws Spike closer; a tiny part of him wishing for the bite he knows won't land. Spike's hips move, desperate, a little off the rhythm, but it's good, it's all so good.

Riley falls asleep in Spike's bed, wrapped up in strong arms. He's woken a few hours later when he jerks in his sleep and he for a second he can't remember where he is. He opens his eyes to find Spike looking at him. They reach for one another without words, without thought. Their mouths meet, wet and open, bodies touching, sleepy but awake enough not to want to stop. They rock together, grinding against one another, their arms a tight band holding them close. Riley comes first, finding Spike's mouth in the darkness and gasping his completion into a kiss.

Spike is right there with him, nudging Riley's head to one side and sinking fangs into his throat, giving his whole body over to his orgasm. Riley can't find his breath, can't make his chest work. He only holds Spike close, fingers lost in blond hair, cupping the back of his head, his legs winding around Spike's.

"Stay," he whispers a little desperately when he feels Spike start to withdraw. "Stay there."

Spike gently lathes the wound until the bleeding stops. He presses little open-mouthed kisses Riley's throat, his face fading slowly back to human. "I can't," he whispers back. "You know that. I shouldn't even... It's a bad habit you have, kid."

"Mnot a kid," Riley states, his body walking the fine line between exhaustion and arousal. "I'm a man. I know what I want."

Spike kisses him again and settles into the pillows. "I know you do. Sleep now."

Riley is too tired to fight it, so he does, sinking down into the warmth of the darkness.


---


26.


When Riley wakes up, his mouth is dry and every part of his body aches. His ass, his dick, his throat, every major muscle in his body, it all aches. When he opens his eyes and breathes in the new day, the first thought that arrives in his head, whole and fully formed, is a question. What exactly it is that he's been doing? What has he been promising Spike with his actions, his intent, and his body, if not with his words? The all over ache makes him feel a little like a cliché, sated and debauched, and he tries not to find the pleasure in it, tries to find it wrong and tiring and inconsiderate, but really, it's a little late to be thinking like that. It's a little too late for a lot of things. He walked into this with his eyes open and dragged Spike along after him, even though he knew how it was going to end. How it has to end. He hasn't been fair. He hasn't been even-handed with either of them.

He checks on the dagger and the potion, running his hands over them perfunctorily. He's done this a hundred times. He knows their shape well, their weight in his hand. He has his tools. Poison the body. Destroy the heart.

He pads into the kitchen, and his knees feel a little like jelly as he stares blankly into the fridge, forgetting why he's there, a dented carton of orange juice dangling from his hand, half its contents pooling cold in his belly. He toys absently with the fresh bite on his throat, not quite healed over, throbbing in time with his pulse. It's only when his breathing picks up and he realises he's getting hard that he shakes himself out of it, needing movement. He starts grabbing food at random out of the fridge. He pushes aside packets of blood, a half empty jar of thick, bitter marmalade and a little ceramic pot filled with some sort of unidentifiable meat paste. All Spike's food that's started appearing recently, bulking up his previously staid diet of blood, cereal and alcohol. There's cheese and ham towards the back of the fridge, but Riley wants something sweet, needing the sugar, so he breaks off a square of chocolate and shoves it in his mouth, grabs some fruit and dumps it on the kitchen counter. He plucks an orange from the fruit bowl and starts chopping, glad to have something mindless to do, the knife moving easily in his hands.

He's trembling a little, leaning his weight against the counter, his jaw clenched tight. He sees the blood before the sharp sliver of pain hits. Crimson swells and curls over his thumbprint, trailing down the line of his thumb to pool in the palm of his hand. He stares at it, fascinated. There's the scuffled sound of sudden movement from the bedroom, then a loud thud, and Spike appears, alarm fading to something less urgent as he takes in the scene in the kitchen. He buttons his jeans and scowls faintly as Riley tilts his hand, feeling his pulse push out more blood, letting it collect in his palm.

Spike shifts his weight and runs his tongue over the swell of his lower lip. He seems restless and looks a little more... human than usual. It's the blush in his cheeks that makes Riley realise why. His hand comes up without thought to touch the bite on his throat again, but he stops himself halfway there. It's the blood that stops him, some of it spilling over, clinging to the heel of his hand, dripping on the floor. Spike glances away, his jaw tight, his expression unreadable. He hesitates, but they're past that, it's silly to pretend, so Riley waits for him. He doesn't say anything, just holds out his hand.

Spike takes it, gentle for a creature of such strength, and stares at it like he's reading Riley's palm, finding hidden secrets and things yet to come, then ducks in, runs the flat of his tongue over the little pool of blood that's collected. Riley curls his fingers around Spike's jaw, watching intently as Spike licks his palm clean and sucks his thumb into his mouth, his cheeks hollowing.

Spike is looking right at his throat, his eyes glinting gold, barely stifling his little greedy little moans that vibrate through Riley's skin, running up and down his spine, warmth settling in his bones. Riley can feel the prickle at the base of his skull, the blush spreading across his chest. Spike moves in close, like there's a draw to Riley that he can't quite resist. He keeps Riley's thumb in his mouth until the last possible moment, letting it slide out, wet and glistening, just before their lips meet and Riley closes his eyes. Spike kisses him, flickering his tongue past Riley's lips, stroking behind his teeth. Blood and chocolate and Riley's head is spinning. His body's too tired for this, light and airy and not quite there, but it's greedy for Spike's touch at the same time, working against Riley's better judgement. He's hard, pressing snug against Spike's hips, always ready for this, always willing.

Spike sinks slowly to his knees, staring up with dark eyes as he tugs down Riley's sweatpants. Spike doesn't move. He just watches, and fuck if that isn't nearly enough to set Riley off without so much as a breath where he wants it most. He shifts his hips against the counter, gripping its edge, his knuckles white, his hands slipping in sweat, smearing blood, knocking apples and oranges to the floor. Spike smiles like that's what he was looking for all along, and noses at the crease of Riley's thigh, strong hands gripping his hips, Spike's thumbs rubbing little circles against the soft skin. He runs his tongue up the length of Riley's cock, takes the head in his mouth and he makes this sound, this low down purred hum of satisfaction, and that's it, it's completely embarrassing, but that's all it takes for Riley's body to fold in on itself as he comes down Spike's throat. Spike milks him through it, swallowing everything, and lets Riley's cock slip free of his lips with an obscenely loud pop. He presses a kiss low on Riley's stomach and rolls to his feet, keeping in close, his hand flat on Riley's ribs under his shirt.

"You're too fucking tall, you know that?" he murmurs, running his tongue over his lips like he's savouring the taste. There's an obvious smile in Spike's voice. A gentleness that wasn't always there, Riley realises. Everything is warm and easy. There's no doubt in him anymore. No reservations about Riley's motivations for being here. Just Spike and Riley. Doing what they do.

Spike takes Riley's hand again, examines it critically, sucks on his thumb, gently now, the press of his tongue cool and soothing and wet.

Riley pastes on a smile. "Maybe I'm just right and it's the rest of the world that's too short," he says, his voice rough and strained, and he pretends like it's because he's just woken up.

"Nah," Spike says with a little shake of his head, pulling Riley's sweatpants up over the curve of his ass just far enough that he's almost, but not quite decent. "Not in this dimension."

It occurs to Riley that perhaps he's gone too far. That perhaps he's gone straight past unfair and he's on to downright cruel because of what's to come. The realisation completely blindsides him because he hadn't planned for any of it. Not for this. Because Spike was never supposed to feel the same way. Riley may have wanted it, may even have pursued it, but the idea that it would actually happen, that Spike would start to care, would see him as more than an annoying houseguest and an easy lay... That part was never supposed to happen.

He thinks about having a drink. He glances at the clock on the wall and realises that it's eleven a.m.

Poison the body, destroy the heart.

Riley's legs wobble alarmingly and he laughs. It goes on a little too long, comes off a little hysterical, and Spike eyes him strangely.

"I'm dizzy," Riley admits, still clinging to the edge of the counter.

"I shouldn't have..." Spike rolls his shoulders, looking uncomfortable. "You need to eat. You want to sit? I can, y'know, chop things up if you like," he says, gesturing at the fruit on the floor. "I'm a dab hand with a knife, me."

Riley shakes his head. "I'm good. Just hungry." He goes back to the chopping board, resumes his preparations holding his thumb carefully out of the way. It's okay, anyway, the bleeding has stopped.

Vampire saliva contains several compounds, mystical and chemical, conducive to coagulation. It's the bite and suck you have to worry about.

He can feel Spike's gaze heavy on the back of his head, burrowing a little hole there. A pale hand appears at his side, setting two bruised apples and an orange back on the counter.

"I don't want you going out without me any longer."

"Hm?" Riley turns his head, not far enough that he can actually see Spike, but enough that Spike knows he has Riley's attention.

"I said I don't want you going out without me any longer."

"What... ever?" Riley tries for a smile, quirking up the side of his mouth enough to flash a few teeth. "Am I housebound?"

"I'm serious. And you know exactly what I mean. No more demon hunting by yourself. Especially now."

His smile fades a little. "Spike, I don't need a babysitter."

"It's not like that and you know it. I know how good you are, but you're only human. I haven't forgotten you saving my ass. I never will."

Riley flushes. It's not a night he's likely to forget in a hurry either.

"But that just proves my point," Spike says.

"Which is?"

"That it's better to have a wingman."

This requires a little eye contact, so Riley glances back over his shoulder. "You saying you're going to be my wingman?"

Spike's jaw clenches, but there is humour in his eyes, however black it may be. "Not what I was planning on saying, but whatever helps you sleep at night."

Riley starts dumping handfuls of fruit into the blender. "Much as I appreciate the offer, I'm okay flying solo. Okay?"

"No, it's not okay. Drop the stupid metaphor, all right? This isn't a joke. When you first got here, hey, you were your own man--"

"And now I'm not?" He gets the lid on the blender on only his third attempt, ignoring the way his hands are shaking, and rinses them under the faucet. The warm water feels good.

"Hush and let me finish. You did what you wanted so long as it kept you out of my hair. That was stupid of me. Lazy. I shouldn't have let it go on so long."

Riley shuts off the water and just stands at the sink, his back to Spike because it's easier that way. He wonders how many revelations they've shared in this small room, in the kitchen of all places. He's sure there's a joke in there, something about the two of them living in domestic bliss and the kitchen being the heart of the home, and isn't that funny because they're two manly, demon-hunting, macho kinda guys, who just happen to be screwing on the side, but right now it doesn't seem all that funny. It's just life.

He sighs and says quietly, "You think I didn't know?"

Spike sounds almost suspicious. "Know what?"

"That you've been following me."

"Oh." There's a shuffle of feet. "That. Didn't think you'd noticed." A pause. "'part from that time with Malcolm."

Riley doesn't miss the distaste when Spike says Malcolm's name. "I only caught you once or twice, but that means there was more, right?" He turns finally to face Spike. "That you haven't trusted me for quite a while."

"Hey now! I trust you just fine." Another revelation, one that makes Riley's chest tighten because Spike doesn't even pause. He doesn't quantify it, doesn't realise that he's said anything that wasn't already taken for granted. "I just wanted to make sure you weren't biting off more than you could chew."

"Why?"

Spike's fingers twitch, like he wants a cigarette, but he just balls his hands into fists. He hasn't had a cigarette inside the apartment in weeks. "I was curious at first. Wanted to know what was so damnedably important it would make you stay under my roof. Then for a while I thought you were out for Angel's blood. An old score to settle, I would have understood that." He gives a crooked little smile. "I could have got behind that."

"And then?"

"Then? Then I just..." He shrugs.

"Spike."

"Then I just needed to know you were okay. Especially after you told me about... I just had to know."

"You could just have told me."

"Wouldn't have been very Creature of the Night of me, would it? A straightforward question doesn't hold a candle to leaping from rooftop to rooftop in the dead of night."

Riley leans his hips back against the counter and holds out his hand.

"What?" Spike asks, flaring his nostrils as he inhales. "You bleeding again?"

"No. Just..." Riley ducks his head a little. "C'mere."

Spike lifts his chin towards the blender. "Aren't you going to finish your mulch?"

"It can wait."

Spike goes to him and Riley pulls him in for a kiss, slow and easy. What he really wants is to bury his face in Spike's shoulder and just hold on tight. A hug. An honest to goodness hug, Spike's arms around him so he can take refuge in all that strength, just hold on and pretend that the rest of the world has gone away, but he doesn't think he could ask for that. It seems too presumptuous. Too intimate. Too much to ask. Strange considering everything else that they've done, but he can't. He just can't. So he keeps the kiss slow, makes it last for as long as he can.

"Don't you ever get tired of doing this in the bloody kitchen when there are much more comfortable places we could be?" Spike asks.

"I don't know. I think I'm working on a little sentimental attachment over here."

Spike looks around him in mild disgust. "To this kitchen?"

Riley just pulls him closer, wanting to take the edge off the ice of Spike's skin, but taking comfort in his strength at the same time, knowing he could collapse right now and Spike could hold him up.

"Amongst other things."

Spike doesn't have an answer for that. He just looks at Riley, his eyes fathomless and thoughtful and endlessly blue. Riley can't even begin to judge what he sees. Spike turns his face into the curve of Riley's throat and rests his lips against the bitemark. It's not a kiss, not a bite, just a light press of lips. Riley's vision greys at the edges and his dick gives interested twitch, but Spike doesn't press the issue. Instead he pulls back, lifts a chunk of apple, and rests it on Riley's lower lip. Riley opens his mouth, accepts it with a crunch and a spray of juice against Spike's fingers. Spike leaves his fingertips against Riley's lips as he chews, like he's fascinated by the act of nourishment, like he's making sure Riley swallows it down.

Riley pulls him in close and kisses him with the taste of apples in his mouth. This he can do. He can give and take comfort in the physicality of what they have. Right now, it's all he has to offer.


---


27.


She's pretty, this girl who's drinking with him at four in the afternoon on this muggy Tuesday in LA. It reminds Riley of that song, but there's no carwash opposite this bar. He can't even see out the grimy frosted windows. There's just college football on the ancient television and a flickering neon Corona sign to distract from the décor. She is pretty, though. There's no denying it. He can't help but follow the line of delicate muscle in her arm as she lifts her glass to swirl the ice around. She looks strong, like she works out maybe, but she's slender with it, like he could pick her up with one hand.

He remembers girls like this. Pretty faces, blonde hair, cute little smiles. It's like looking back in time to another life. Another him.

Girls like this were a dime a dozen in Sunnydale. Though most girls who looked like this in Sunnydale -- Sunnydale's gone, he remembers belatedly, fallen off the map, into the mouth of hell -- most of those girls weren't so invested in all the neat vodka and didn't wear emptiness behind their eyes like this girl. It hints at secrets and heartbreak, stories going untold, no matter how many of those little smiles she gives him, no matter how many drinks she lets him buy.

Everybody's entitled to their secrets, he figures. Everybody's entitled to their heartbreak.

They've been there a while, trading anecdotes without fear of judgement or reprisals as only strangers can, and he's enjoying it, probably more than he should. He doesn't complain when she grins, looking mischievous, and leads him by the hand towards the restrooms out back. He stumbles after her, laughing at his own clumsiness. He lets her kiss him, a soft press of lips, and it's nice, but it feels strange, feels so very soft, feels like something's missing. He lets her pull him into the women's bathroom, lets her push him up against the tile, rougher than he was expecting, her touch greedy and pushy, more strength in those delicate muscles that appearances would have him believe.

She pauses after that initial thud of impact. She slows and sways and smiles, and he sees a light in her eyes that wasn't there before. He doesn't think it's just from the vodka. She slips her hand under the tail of his shirt, her fingertips cold against the heat of his stomach, and stands on her tiptoes to kiss him again. Riley smiles, not hating the attention, but he turns his head at the last moment. She huffs her frustration and instead pushes her face into the curve of his throat, humming her interest when she sees his scars. She touches Spike's healed bitemark with just the tip of her tongue, her little hands closing tight on his hips.

Riley stakes her before she can bite down, the sharkskin against his jaw melting into nothing in the air. Dust settles on his clothes, flecking his boots with white. All is silence in the bathroom. It takes a second for sound to filter back in; the steady drip-drip-drip of a tap, the cheer of the crowd from the television outside.

Mary, she'd said her name was.

When Riley goes back out, he half expects to see Spike sitting at the bar, waiting for him with a knowing look and an empty glass, but there's no one. Only Riley's drink still waiting for him on the bar, half a bowl of tasteless peanuts and a stack of warped beermats. The bartender sees that he's alone and glances towards the restrooms, but that's as far as it goes. He doesn't look up again, doesn't ask his questions.

Riley finishes his drink before he leaves.

He walks around for a couple of hours, aimless in his wandering, stopping for coffee and a burger, trying to sober up enough to drive. The coffee's bitter but the burger's good and he finishes them both.

He gets home as the sun is thinking about setting, lets himself in and feels like he hasn't slept in days. He wants to go to bed. The urge to sleep at night like a normal human being suddenly seems very important. He doesn't make it more than a few steps inside the door, doesn't have time to draw breath, before Spike is on him, crowding in close, scenting his skin.

"What have you been up to?"

"Nothing," Riley says, feeling like a child out past curfew, backing away from the scrutiny.

"Doesn't smell like nothing. There's vamp dust all over you. Were you out looking for trouble by yourself again?" Spike yanks Riley's collar to one side, checking him over with fire in his eyes, only letting go when he's satisfied that the only bite marring Riley's skin is his own.

"I'm not your property," Riley says, his voice flat and calm, hiding the emotion churning just under the surface. "And this..." He gestures at his throat. "Doesn't mean anything."

Spike's eyes flare, like he's going to lash out, like he's going to argue.

Like he's hurting.

"I went out for a drink," Riley says. "There was a vampire. So I took her out. Easy kill."

"I thought we agreed that you wouldn't be doing this by yourself any longer."

"No, you gave me an order. I just didn't follow it."

"And there was me thinking you were good at following orders."

"Yeah, well, maybe you thought wrong."

"Pretty, was she? Liked a tipple before feeding?"

"Jesus, what is this, Spike? Jealousy's not a good colour on you."

"Jealous?" Spike spits. "You think I'm...?" His cruel snort of laughter fades into something else. "And what if I am?"

It's absolutely the last thing Riley expects to hear.

"Don't be," he says, shouldering past Spike. "You have no reason to be."

Spike catches his arm. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"It means don't be jealous. It means lay off with the possessive vampire routine. That's not what I signed on for."

"No? Then tell me, Agent Finn. What exactly did you sign on for?"

Riley pulls his arm away. "You shouldn't get too attached to me."

"Too attached?" Spike asks in disbelief. "Too attached?" He looks Riley over carefully, and Riley shifts under the scrutiny, not quite able to hold Spike's intense stare. He wonders if maybe Spike is figuring him out and he feels sick to his stomach. "What are we talking about here?" Spike asks softly, sending a frisson of fear down Riley's spine. "What is this?"

"What d'you mean?" Riley asks, trying for light-hearted and failing miserably.

"Why're you... why're you backing away from me?"

"I'm not..." Riley aims for a confused smile, but it feels wrong on his face and he knows he's not carrying it off at all. "I mean, I didn't... I'm not..."

"Yeah," Spike says slowly. "Sure you are. Gotta admit, your timing's spot on. You wait until you're under my skin, and then you pull this. This very specific thing that I said would happen. Tell me, do I have a sign on my forehead or something?"

"I'm not... I'm not doing anything. You... you just shouldn't get too attached to me. That's all."

Spike raises his eyebrows and just looks at Riley like maybe he didn't hear him right. "Why're you're telling me this now?"

"I'm just... I don't think that maybe it's--"

"You want out, say so."

"No," Riley says, too quickly. "No, I--"

"Then what?" Spike asks, and he steps in close, stops just short of letting their bodies connect. He's struggling with this, Riley realises in a rush. He's trying not to fuck it up. "What is this?"

"I... I kissed a girl." It sounds stupid. It sounds endlessly, incredibly stupid, but it's too late now. It's said. It's done. He's just not sure if he said it to wound or to protect himself.

"Did you now." It doesn't feel like a question. It's like a bland statement of fact. A judgement. A slur on Riley's good character.

"The vampire. She kissed me. I didn't stop her."

"And, what? I'm supposed to fall to pieces over a kiss?"

Spike steps in again, and Riley gives way. He backs up a few paces until his back hits the wall behind him.

"A kiss isn't anything," Spike says, letting his words ghost over Riley's mouth. "Not unless you mean it."

They're so close they're almost touching and it takes everything Riley has not to just lean into it. He's not sure why he's resisting because they're good at this: the kissing, the heat, the fucking, communicating without words or specifics. It might be enough to make it all go away if they fall back into it now. It wouldn't solve anything though. Spike doesn't look angry anymore, he's just watching, just waiting, like he doesn't have any more of a clue about what to do here than Riley does. Riley swallows, and balls his hands into fists. The moment stretches out and neither of them move. Riley doesn't know what to do.

"Spike, I..."

Spike's gaze flits to his mouth, like he's drawn by the movement, but he's more interested in staring into Riley's eyes, searching for something, waiting him out.

"Spike, I really--"

Spike's phone starts to ring.

"Leave it," Riley says, not taking his eyes off Spike's face.

"Can't have that," Spike says, all cold flippancy and swagger. He's walking away, and it's stupid, it's so stupid, but Riley feels a chill against his skin without Spike standing right there in front of him. "Might be our fearless leader." Spike picks up his phone and shoots Riley a bored look that tells him it's Angel even before Spike hits a button and brusquely says Angel's name by way of greeting. He listens for a moment and looks right at Riley to say, "Yeah. Okay. On our way."

Spike thumbs the phone off and slides it into his pocket.

"Grub's surfaced," Spike says like it's the simplest thing in the world. "Your Vanglash demon says he's got a location. Won't give it to anyone but you."

Riley grits his teeth hard, but it feels like the ground is giving way beneath him. Not now, not yet, this is all happening too fast. He needs time. Needs a way to make this okay. He needs something, but there's no time. No way to make this right.

"So this plan of yours," Spike says. "You think maybe it's time to let me in on it?"

"I... Wait. We should talk about--"

"No, now, you know how this works: work first, talk later. That's how it is for the good guys. Personal life gets put on hold when there's beasties to be taken care of."

"You're... you're still coming with me?"

Spike shifts his weight, looking a little bored, looking a little affronted. "Yeah. 'Course. Got a score to settle, don't I?"

Riley nods unhappily. It's not the answer he was hoping for, but it's enough.


---


Angel opens the Wolfram & Hart holding cell door for them and stands back with a bored expression on his face. Riley ignores him to the best of his ability and peers in to see the Vanglash curled up in his customary position in the corner of the room. Riley walks in slowly, and this time the Vanglash turns at the noise. Riley swallows heavily at the sight of him. The deep cuts on the Vanglash's face are festering and there's a bad smell in the room that not even the heavy tang of bleach can hide.

"Finally," the Vanglash spits, squinting across the room. "When the fuck are you planning to get me out of here?"

"Give me a location and you're a free demon, Malkthor."

"Ho no," Malkthor chuckles mirthlessly. "I'm not falling for that."

"We had an agreement."

"Fuck our agreement. And fuck you. I want out."

"I can't let you go until I know for sure I have a location."

"No, no, no. I need out," Malkthor says, panic bleeding through. "You don't understand. He's coming for me. I can feel it. He's ready to take a new host and then he's coming for me. He knows I'm here."

"Well, see," Riley says, squatting down beside the Vanglash to look him in the eye. "Here's the thing. We're your best shot at getting out of this alive. You don't tell us where he is, and he's coming for you. Doesn't matter if you're here or a hundred miles away, he's still coming. Am I right?" The Vanglash just stares, helpless and furious and hating it. "You do tell us where he is and we take care of it? You walk away. Everybody wins."

"You don't actually think you're going to be able to kill him, do you?"

"I have a plan," Riley says simply, and there's a soft snort from somewhere behind him. He doesn't flinch when Malkthor brays laughter in his face.

"A plan," Malkthor says, shaking his head. "You're going to get us both killed, you know that, right? You'll probably get us all killed."

Riley doesn't reply, just stares evenly at the Vanglash and waits him out. It's been a while, but he's good at this. Trained by the best.

"Fine," Malkthor spits. "Fine. You win. Give me a map."

"What?"

"A map," he says impatiently. "A map, come on, that's how it works. Unless you want me to lead you through the streets like the Pied Piper, I need a map. It helps me focus."

Angel silently produces a poorly folded map from somewhere, tossing it to the floor in front of them. Malkthor glares up at him and opens it out with shaking hands. There's a reddish brown stain splattered across the map and it looks like old blood. The Vanglash looks up at Angel again, murder in the set of his jaw. Angel doesn't look impressed. Riley wonders how many times they've been through this. How many times the Vanglash resisted, and how many times Angel made him pay for his silence.

Malkthor closes his eyes and lets his hand hover, trembling a little over the map. "Here," he says, opening his eyes and jabbing a finger on the creased paper. "He's here."

"The Hills?" Riley asks, tilting his head to get a better look.

"Looks like our boy likes the good life," Spike says quietly.

"Makes sense," Riley agrees. "He usually takes people with money." He curls his lip in distaste. "Makes life easier for him. Show me where," he instructs Malkthor. "Show me where exactly. Tell me everything you can."

So Malkthor spells it out for him. This is it. Riley has his information. He has his ways, he has his means. This is as good as it's going to get.

"Well," Spike says with a quick little sigh when they're done, like he's seen enough. "The Country Club, is it? How darling. Let's get this show on the road then, shall we?"

Angel waves them out of the room, obviously not too enamoured with his role as glorified butler, and Riley moves to follow Spike's lead, but he hesitates and looks down at Malkthor's prone form.

Without a word to anyone, Riley grabs a fistful of Malkthor's dirty suit and drags him to his feet. Malkthor tenses and lets out a long moan of pain, but once he's found his feet, he stumbles out of the room after Riley. Riley's surprised that no one says anything. No one tries to stop him. If he didn't know any better he'd say that Angel actually looks amused, if a thing like that wasn't enough to crack the vampire's face.

Riley holds the ragged demon against the wall in the elevator, and keeps his eyes on the doors the whole way to the surface. He can feel Spike watching him, and allows himself a little glance. Spike just pulls a face: hey, do what you like, I'm not going to stop you. Riley takes all the validation he needs from that one little look, and goes back to staring at the elevator doors, trying not to stand at attention.

When they get to the surface, Riley frogmarches Malkthor across the gleaming lobby floor to the imposing main doors of the Wolfram & Hart building, past lawyers and office staff who really should be more shocked by this kind of thing, and pushes him outside.

"Go," he says in answer to Malkthor's silent confusion. "Take off."

"What about...?" Malkthor starts, gesturing to the lobby behind them, and no doubt to the watchful eyes of a pair of vampires, but realises what he's doing and drops his hand. He gives Riley a single nod of thanks and, with an arm wrapped protectively around his ribs, he turns to leave.

"Wait," he says, his back still to Riley. "The new host, it'll be soon. He's close. Going to do it today. You better be ready for this. I never heard of anyone going looking for a Porta'kqua and coming back to tell the tale, you get me?"

Riley doesn't answer, but he more than appreciates the sentiment. He watches Malkthor hobble away, and he goes back into the Wolfram & Hart building, the cool breath of air conditioning and the scent of dirty money and lost souls enveloping him as soon as he steps over the threshold.

Angel and Spike see him coming, and whatever they're talking about, his approach is enough to shut them up. Spike has that same look in his eye, the one that Riley's come to know means that he needs movement, needs impact. It used to mean that he needed to fight or fuck, but right now Riley's not sure what it means.

"I can give you help, if you need it," Angel offers, and Riley wonders how much it cost him to say it. Or whether this is a whim, nothing more than a grand, empty gesture of Angel's. He wonders how laden the offer is, what it'll cost Riley in the long run if he accepts. Thing is, he doesn't need Angel's help. Not for this. He doesn't need an audience, or back up. Spike's along for the ride, and really, that's more than enough. If Riley could, he'd do it alone, but knowing that Spike's got his back, no matter how this ends up, that means something.

"Thanks," Riley says, "but I--"

"Or you could ask Illyria. I can't vouch for her compliance, but..." Angel lets it trail off and gives a disinterested little shrug.

"We're good," Riley says firmly. The Vanglash's instructions are still buzzing in the back of his head. He wants to be out of here, wants to be on his way. It feels like the end of the line, and he doesn't need to be here wasting time with Angel.

Angel narrows his eyes appraisingly. "How exactly are you planning on carrying this off? There's no record of anyone besting a Grub, not in any of the archives, and believe me, I checked. Not in this world. Not even with your fancy little blade. You mess this up and I'm going to be left picking up the pieces."

"I'm not going to mess it up," Riley says, calm and unyielding, and suddenly he's had enough of this. He's had enough of Angel, of Wolfram & Hart, of waiting around, of not being able to take care of his mistakes.

It's time to go. He turns on his heel and walks away.

"Boy's got a plan," he hears Spike say, and then there are footsteps following him out the door.


---


28.


Spike hangs back, lighting one cigarette off the glowing butt of another, silently watching as Riley opens the trunk of his car. Riley hasn't offered any explanations, or given away his game plan, and he's just hoping that Spike doesn't get curious and start asking a million questions he won't or can't answer.

There's a large black bag in the trunk. Riley unzips it, revealing the long, ominous barrel of an M4 assault rifle, complete with laser pointer and silencer.

"What, the grenade launcher doesn't come as standard?" Spike snorts. "You overcompensating for something?"

Riley just cocks his eyebrow, surprised that Spike's making a joke right now, and also because, really, they both know better.

"Right," Spike says, chastened. "So, uh, where'd you get that, anyway? Angel ante up?"

"No," Riley says, with more distaste than he means, because he's tired of Angel, tired of hearing his name, tired of having to go to him every time they need something. He knows it shouldn't, but Angel's grudging offer of help burns like acid in his stomach. "I know a guy."

"Uh huh. Thought you said you didn't know anyone in LA."

"I know people."

"So why didn't you stay with 'people', then?"

"We really don't have that kind of relationship."

"And we did?"

Riley straightens up, slamming the trunk. "Well, at least I knew you were house-trained."

"You do say such lovely things."

"I'm all about the charm," Riley deadpans.

He's not expecting it when Spike reaches out and touches him, the backs of his knuckles to Riley's jaw in unspoken question. Riley wants to flinch away, wants to close his eyes and lean into it, but he does neither. He just stands there and lets Spike touch him. He breaks away first, staring at the ground as he backs away. It's really difficult to look in Spike's eyes. It feels like a lie.

Riley has the engine started and he's buckling himself in by the time Spike gets in the passenger seat. Spike is breathing, slow and steady, as though he needs the air to ground him, as though it's going to do him some good.

"Riley, I'm going to need something to work with here. What the fuck are you planning to accomplish with a gun? And so help me," he says quickly when Riley opens his mouth, "if the next words out of that pretty mouth are 'I have a plan' I'll slap you silly."

Riley grips the steering wheel and stares out at the Wolfram & Hart parking lot. "I need your help," he says. "When it's time."

"Oh, that's nice and vague. Anything in the way of details?"

"I just need muscle."

"What can I do? I didn't exactly come out on top last time I tangled with your boy. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't mind another go around, but realistically...?"

"All I need you to do is back me up."

"Riley," Spike groans, "whatever you're playing at here, all this cloak and dagger rubbish, I don't like it. Not one little bit."

"Potion and dagger," Riley says, making Spike grudgingly nod. "Ways and means. I... We can do this. And you don't have to like it." Riley turns his head and looks Spike in the eye. "Just back me up. That's all I'm asking."

Spike narrows his eyes; a muscle jumping in his cheek. He stares at Riley for a long time, and Riley has to fight the urge to squirm, mentally standing to attention.

"Don't make me regret this," Spike says eventually.

Riley doesn't answer. He just guns the engine and pulls out of the parking lot and west towards the hills.


---


29.


The main building of the Maplecrest Country Club is brightly lit; the soft sounds of music just audible, rolling out across the tailored lawns. The security here is good. Too good, and they have to ditch the car and make their own way in, silently scaling the outer wall, careful not to trigger the club's alarms.

The grounds are segregated into long strips of green, studded with uneven clusters of trees. It reeks of money and prestige, things Riley has never had much time for.

There are a lot expensive cars in the parking lot, a lot of well-dressed people milling around inside, but that's not where Spike and Riley are headed. They stay low, skirting the edge of the golf course, keeping to the shadows. They move without sound, without conversation, moving steadily away from the lights, away from the people.

They find the Grub exactly where the Vanglash said he'd be: a huge storage building at the rear of the second tennis court, the door standing ajar, its lock broken, the entranceway shrouded in shadow. Inside are rows and rows of shelving units arranged floor to ceiling, filled with boxes of equipment stamped with the club's crest, spare parts for machinery, rolls of fencing and old signs stacked against the wall, even a couple of golf carts tucked away in one corner.

Plenty of hiding places.

Spike taps his nose and gestures to the far end of the building. Riley nods and leads the way up a set of metal stairs leading to an open walkway that circles the room, searching out an elevated position. They peer from behind a humming ventilation fan to see two figures, two men standing face-to-face at the far end of the building, lit by a flickering overhead fluorescent. They're wearing dress shoes, tuxedo pants, both of them naked from the waist up.

One of the two is Malcolm, his hands clamped white-knuckled around the biceps of the other man. There's something wrong with Malcolm. It looks like he's abandoned any pretence of normality, any attempt at passing as a regular human being. His eyes are rolling back in his head and his face is a horrifying blank mask. His captive is struggling helplessly, kicking wildly, scrabbling at Malcolm's hold on him, but he's clearly no match for Malcolm's strength. The man is deathly white, his toes trailing on the ground, babbling words Riley can't hear from this distance, terror written all over him as Malcolm shudders and twitches, a thin line of drool hanging from the corner of his slack mouth.

It's happening, Riley realises with a lurch. It's happening right now and he doesn't know if there's a damn thing he can do to save this man before it's too late. Riley's heart leaps in his chest; this is the reason, this is his enemy. This is his moment, and it's all too horribly familiar. It's been a long time since he's seen this, since he's actually witnessed the Grub changing hosts, leaving only death in its wake, but this is the stuff of his nightmares.

Malcolm's chest ripples and bursts, opening a seam down the centre of his ribcage, spattering blood over the face and chest of the struggling man, who yelps, and steps up his panicked attempts at getting free.

Riley's moving, the rifle already coming up, smooth and easy, an old ingrained habit, his pulse racing as he thumbs off the safety and aims directly at Malcolm.

The Grub slithers out of Malcolm's chest: a warped perversion of giving birth. Its passage is eased by glistening slime, the malevolent slug-creature lit from within by darkly glowing energy. As it emerges it snaps ribs and tears skin, freeing itself from the confines of flesh and blood and bone, only to crawl upwards, unrelenting, seeking out its new host, its new life.

It happens fast. Faster than Riley was expecting. Thin tentacles reach out, a rapid series of little flicks, attaching themselves to the man's cheek and jaw, holding his head still, settling light touches to his mouth. The Grub slips past his lips, prying open clenched teeth, forcing its way into its new home.

Riley fires. The bullet passes right through the Grub's body, hitting the shelving unit behind them with a shower of sparks. He fires again. The same thing happens.

Riley adjusts his aim, staring at Malcolm's head through the sights, the red dot of the pointer sitting precisely in the centre of his forehead.

But there's no point in wasting the bullets. Malcolm is already dead. Malcolm Merriweather has been dead for a long time, only now there's nothing left inside to keep him animated. He's a husk, an abandoned shell.

Riley's too late, always too late. He can feel the moment slipping away from him. There's nothing he can do to stop this. He has no control here, and he's just given up the element of surprise.

Malcolm crumples to the ground, a puppet with its strings cut, his chest a bloody, empty mess, and he's not the Grub anymore, no longer the enemy. He's just another victim. The latest in a long, long line of the Grub's cast offs.

The tail of Grub disappears between the other man's parted lips as he staggers and chokes, falling to his knees, clutching at his throat. He's dying, and he knows it, his last moments of awareness spent in terror and revulsion.

They came too late to save him, and it hurts worse than Riley was expecting to watch the Grub hold someone down and steal their life. An innocent. Someone who doesn't deserve to die.

Someone just like Sam.

Riley hates himself a little bit more, but he knows that at least he can put an end to this parody of humanity. He can save any loved ones from the horror of discovering what their friend, their husband, their brother, their son has become, or worse, never knowing that a monster is walking among them, wearing this man's skin, fooling them all.

Riley swings the rifle to his new target and takes aim, but before he can fire, Spike knocks the weapon out of his hands and shoves him up against the cage surrounding the ventilation fan. A brief scuffle pans out, but Riley gives up quickly, he has no leverage here, and he's no match for Spike's strength. Spike gives him one last shove and Riley stills, pinned against the vibrating metal and breathing heavily as Spike stares at him, fury shining bright.

Spike starts to say something, but Riley cuts him off.

"Get off me. We don't have much time."

"What the hell are you doing?" Spike hisses. "You're just going to shoot him? What the fuck, Riley? We have to get out of here. Now. I don't know how long it takes for a Grub to gather his wits in a new body, but I for one don't intend to stick around and find out."

"No," Riley says. "No. We end this tonight. It has to be tonight."

Infuriated, Spike glances around the corner and Riley can only guess at what he sees. Spike looks torn between hate and pity. Malcolm -- the face Spike had directed all his hatred towards -- Malcolm was nothing but a host. Whoever Malcolm had been, he wasn't the man they'd met. He wasn't the man who tortured Spike.

Riley pushes again against Spike's body, but Spike remains immovable. Riley realises how he's arched against Spike, pushing his hips, his thighs, his stomach into Spike's, and he almost laughs. This isn't a sex thing, not now, not here, but Spike's touch anchors him, gives him escape, gives him comfort.

Right now it's the last thing he needs.

"Riley, this isn't--"

"Get off me," Riley says with another angry shove. "I know what I'm doing."

Spike lets go and backs away, palms up.

Below them the Grub is neatening himself up, an amused little smile on his face. He's using Malcolm's shirt to wipe the blood off his chest and face, redressing in the other man's tuxedo. "Finn," he calls, his voice echoing around the high ceiling, carrying over the sound of the ventilation system. "Riley Finn, is that you, my boy? Come out and show yourself."

"What is this going to accomplish?" Spike asks in a harsh whisper.

"What it did before." Riley raises the rifle and takes aim. "Destroy the body. Make it weak."

"Then what?" Spike growls.

Riley ignores him, all his attention on the Grub. "I have a plan," he says simply, switching to three-round bursts, and he fires.

The bullets spray out, the spit of compressed air strangely quiet against the churning of the fan behind him. He hits the Grub's new host body in the shoulder and chest, making it jerk and spasm.

"You're... you're ruining my new body," the Grub snarls, stumbling backwards and colliding with a shelving unit, bouncing off and going down hard.

When the body falls, Riley steps out from his hiding place and sprays it with bullets from a distance. He keeps going, firing again and again, not stopping until the chamber goes click. The empty magazine falls to the floor. Riley slaps in another one and keeps firing. This won't stop the Grub, and Riley knows it. Weapons like guns and knives only damage the host body. He's learned that Grubs blur the line between spirit and corporeal. They need a human host to live in this world, to truly experience it, but it's just a shell to them. Inside, hidden away, the Grub is weathering the storm, letting Riley burn himself out, just biding its time, immune to his bullets. The second it has its chance it'll just take another host and Riley knows it. That's what it does. That's how it survives.

"What are you going to do?" Spike asks.

Riley drops the empty rifle to the ground with a clatter. The Grub is unconscious, lying on his back, bleeding sluggishly from dozens of wounds. He looks dead. Torn apart. Destroyed. But Riley knows better. It's strange, how inhuman the Grub looks to him even now, even unconscious and unaware.

"Poison the body, destroy the heart," Riley says, almost absently, his attention caught by the way the Grub's fingers are twitching.

"Riley!" Spike yells, grabbing him by the shoulder and spinning him around so they're face to face. "Cut the crap, mate. This isn't going to stop him. What are you going to do?"

Riley doesn't answer. He takes a carefully wrapped bundle from one of the pockets on the leg of his pants and hands it over.

Spike unwraps the bundle to reveal an empty bottle lying in the palm of his hand.

"I'm going to force him to make a choice," Riley says quietly.

"No," Spike says, shaking his head. "No. When did you-- You drank this? Riley?"

Riley can only look at him, seeing the light of realisation in Spike's eyes, because there's nothing to say. He doesn't have the words for this.

Spike throws the bottle away -- once so precious, once a last, great hope -- and it smashes somewhere unseen in the shadows.

"This is what you meant, isn't it? Your grand plan." Spike sneers. "Isn't it?"

Riley nods. "It gets in the blood. Travels the body. Infuses it with... Well, I didn't get the science."

"This is what you weren't telling me?" Spike snarls in disgust. "You're going to play the noble martyr, and you bring me along to watch?"

Riley grits his teeth, because that's not true. Not really. He just needs back up. He needs Spike's help because there's no one else he trusts to see it through. "There's no way to tell how it would affect a Grub, if I could even get him to drink, if he'd ingest it. No one knows, so I couldn't waste the potion trying. This is the only way to be sure."

Spike doesn't answer. He just shakes his head, anger and hurt warring for dominance on his face.

Riley's head is light and buzzing, like none of this is real. It's all happening to someone else. Misery and treachery fill his chest with ice, but he's known this was coming for a long time. This is the writing on the wall. This is how it has to be.

He flexes his fingers; feels the familiar shift and bunch of his own muscles like nothing's changed, like he hasn't just signed his life away. "I don't feel any different. The old shaman, he said it only harmed Grubs, but there wasn't any way to be sure until..."

He trails off, because words aren't helping. There's nothing he can do to soften this blow. So instead he unsheathes the dagger he's been carrying around with him ever since Angel handed it back. He flips it in the air, catching it by the blade, and he holds it out to Spike.

"You have to wait. Wait until he takes me."

"No," Spike says in a horrified whisper. "No. You can't. You can't ask me to do that. Not now."

"Spike, there isn't--"

Faster than Riley can process, Spike is in his face, pushing him up against the nearest set of shelves with a dull clang, one hand fisted on the front of Riley's shirt, the other fluttering uselessly, like he doesn't know how to touch Riley now, like he's forgotten how. The heel of his hand is on Riley's collarbone, his fingers brushing Riley's chin, his lips, circling his throat, squeezing, like he wants to... not quite comfort. Like he wants to fix this somehow, wants to hold Riley together, even though they both know it's useless. Over now. A lost cause.

"Why did you do that?" he's saying. "Why? You stupid bastard." Spike shakes him, then thumps him off the shelves for good measure, slamming twin bars of pain across Riley's back. "You stupid, selfish bastard. I hate these grand gestures. They always mean that somebody's going to die. Why did you have to... If you'd just..."

"I'm sorry," Riley says when Spike's tirade tapers off. "There was no other way. No other way to be sure. It's in me now. It'll still be there when he..." He takes a shaky breath. "When he takes me."

He touches Spike's face, smoothes his thumb under one high cheekbone. He wants to say more. He wants to kiss Spike one last time, but there's betrayal in his heart and poison in his mouth and he doesn't know how to say goodbye.

Spike snatches his head away. Riley lets him go. He understands. There's nothing else left.

"Strike to the heart," Riley says, his voice small but sure. "It has to be the heart."

"Riley, I can't do this. I can't."

"You have to. There's no one else. When he takes me... No hesitation." He presses the dagger into Spike's hand, curls Spike's lax fingers around it, squeezing hard enough that maybe Spike won't notice the way his hands are shaking. "Promise me. Promise me that."

Spike stares at him for a long time. There's so much in his look. Finally, Spike nods. Just once. A tiny, bitter little gesture.

He accepts the dagger, holding it easily in his hand. It's dark enough in their little corner that all Riley can see are the shadows pooling in the hollows of Spike's eyes as he stares down at the dagger. "No hesitation," he says, his voice dull and empty. "You have my word."

And that's all Riley needs. He takes a breath. He steps out from behind the ventilation fan, readying himself to go to meet his destiny. It's time to end this.

When he's attacked, he doesn't see it coming.

There's someone behind him, moving fast and silent and strong, and his first thought is that the Grub has recovered and has found them. His second is for Spike. Spike who hadn't shouted a warning. Spike who might be injured behind him.

He's dragged back behind the ventilation fan, slammed up against the wall, face first, and it drives all the air from his lungs.

Then he sees the flash of white blond hair in his peripheral vision, feels the fangs sinking into his throat, smells the familiar scent of tobacco on the pale hand clamped over his mouth.

Spike is doing this to him. It's Spike who's attacking him. Spike who's drinking his blood.

This isn't like the other times. This is hard and fast and painpainpain because Spike isn't trying to be careful this time. He's doing what he feels he must.

Riley gets that, but it doesn't stop him fighting back.

He doesn't stand a chance. Spike has a hundred years of practice on him. There's no way for him to break out of this, and already his strength is ebbing, that first brilliant white stab of adrenaline giving way to weakness and lethargy. There's nothing for him to do but struggle feebly and know that everything's falling apart. There's nothing he can do to stop it because he never planned for this. Never thought Spike would do this. It never even crossed his mind.

His knees won't support him, and he's too weak, too stunned to hold himself up. It's Spike who catches him. Spike who lowers him carefully to the ground.

He feels betrayed. He feels like prey. He feels crushed by his guilt because he's the one who put Spike in this position. He should have thought of this, should have figured a way around it.

Spike kneels beside him, his hand on Riley's face, tilting Riley's head up so he has no choice but to look Spike in the eye.

"I'm sorry," Spike says, his voice little more than a whisper. "But you didn't exactly leave me with much of a choice."

"No," Riley says, swallowing, trying to clear his head. "Why did you do that?"

"Your blood," Spike says simply. "You said it was in your blood. Now it's in me."

Riley shakes his head, and it's only Spike's touch keeping him upright because his head is too heavy for his neck, and his throat feels like it's on fire. Spike glances behind him, his head tilted as he listens, urgency in his bearing, and he leans Riley in the corner between the wall and fan, slouched low, his head tipped back to stare up at Spike. The fan clicks off behind them, and the moment is suddenly silent.

Spike presses the dagger into Riley's hand and closes his fingers over it.

Tears roll out of Riley's eyes and back into his ears as he realises exactly what's happened. Spike has taken the responsibility out of his hands. Spike just saved his life. Spike just sacrificed himself to Riley's demons.

Spike does kiss him, because Spike is no coward. Spike does what he wants and damns the consequences. Kissing is what you do when time is running out and the world is ending. It's says your goodbyes for you when you don't have the words. Kissing says it all. Spike kisses him, hard and bitter, and it tastes like copper and salt water.

"No hesitation," Spike whispers against Riley's lips, his eyes closed in a frown. "Don't you dare hesitate."

Riley shakes his head. "You can't do this."

"But you could?"

There's no answer to that. "Why?" Riley whispers, his voice shredded.

"Because it had to be done." Spike cups his face. "Because I..." He gives a shaky smile and a little shrug of his shoulders. "It's been a trip, kid."

Spike kisses him again, a soft touch of lips, but when he makes a move to leave, Riley grabs onto his duster, his fingers hooking on the pocket, weak and helpless, but refusing to let go, refusing to make it easy.

"That's it?" he chokes out. "That's all?"

"Don't give me that," Spike spits, suddenly angry. "You had some beautiful parting speech all planned out for when you left me behind? Don't make me laugh."

"Spike, I didn't mean to... I don't want you to do this. Please. Please."

Spike grits his teeth, looking so hurt that Riley wants to die, wants them both to walk away from all of this, just give it up, let it be, forget it all. But Spike reins it in, turns it into a bitter little snarl of laughter, his misery shining bright.

"Riley," Spike whispers, softer now. "Don't, pet. I have to. We only have one shot left at this thing and you know it. We've burned all our bridges." He smiles, a sad little thing, and he touches Riley's face with the backs of his fingers. Riley wants to melt into it, because this is the last time. "You were right and I didn't even..."

Spike glances away, closed off and struggling.

"Spike?"

"It's just..." He looks back and Riley is struck suddenly by how incredibly blue his eyes are. "Riley, this thing. You and me. It's love, you know?"

Riley sobs and his chest feels like it's cracking open.

Gently as he can, Spike uncurls Riley's weak grip on his coat and he disappears.

He disappears and Riley wonders desperately if he has the strength to even get to his feet. Spike did a good job, leaving him weak as a kitten so he wouldn't be able to fight. But he still has a job to do. He still has a part to play in this. He has to find the strength somehow. He has to get up and he has to finish this.

He pulls himself to his feet using the shelves as handholds. His body weighs a ton at least, moving like he's underwater. He leans heavily on the wall, every movement a misery, his shoulder scuffing along the paintwork as he lays one foot in front of the other.

As he reaches the top of the metal stairs, he catches a glimpse of Spike crouched low over the Grub, one hand fisted on the Grub's ruined shirt, but it's lost to him as he carefully descends, the shelves on the lower level too high to give him a clear line of sight.

His vision blurs, tears threatening to spill over, his heart pounding, because he can see it all so clearly in his mind's eye. The Grub's eyes fluttering open, bright and greedy when it lays eyes on Spike, grabbing him and pulling him close. The crack of ribs, the split of skin, the splash of blood. The Grub taking him, and Spike not even fighting it, just letting it happen, because Riley brought him here. Riley asked him for back up, for muscle, and instead Spike ended up giving everything.

Riley stumbles down the last few steps, his feet sliding from under him, his legs not doing what he asks of them, and he nearly falls. Only instinct and luck let him grab hold of the handrail and keep his footing.

He peers around the corner, his back to a row of shelves, his heart hammering in his chest, his vision flickering, and he's just in time to see Spike stand up.

Except it isn't Spike. Not anymore.

A hitching sob catches in Riley's throat. He presses shaking fingers to his lips, jamming them together, but it's not like he can catch the sound and drag it back. It's too late. He's been heard.

"Finn?" Spike's voice calls. The English accent is gone. It sounds dull and flat and off. Countless accents, countless stolen lifetimes all rolled into one. Riley hates it. His chest aches with his hatred. He doesn't think he can breathe past it. The Grub walks around corner and smiles at him, wide and toothy. "Riley, my boy. I knew it was you. You're quite the little bloodhound. Have you been here all along?"

Riley's strength deserts him and he crumples to the floor, banging his shoulder painfully off a shelf on the way down. The Grub grins down at him and picks him up with one hand, easily supporting his weight. Riley can't do much more than dangle from his grasp, the room spinning around him.

The Grub smiles warmly at him, clapping him on the shoulder, holding him up like they're two old friends. Like Riley hadn't just shot him, like the Grub isn't standing here in another stolen body, in Spike. Like everything in the world isn't awful and twisted and wrong.

"Strange, this vampire body," he says. "Do you know I've never had a vampire before. All this time and yet I've always chosen humans. Well, there was that once with a Fyarl demon, but he barely lasted the week. Much too clumsy." He chuckles, but seems disappointed when Riley doesn't share in the joke. "Humans are weaker, true, but you're so much more free. So much more alive. No stubborn little demon to grapple with when I'm taking over. Although I have to say, this Spike character didn't put up much of a fight. Frankly, I was expecting more."

He walks Riley backwards and lowers him into a plastic chair, its legs screeching over the floor under Riley's sudden weight. The Grub licks a spatter of blood off his fingers and chuckles again. "A vampire. Never thought I'd see the day."

He walks in a slow circle around Riley, licking his lips, touching them absently with his fingertips.

Riley hates him, hates him, because he's settling into his new body. He's getting used to wearing Spike.

The Grub falters in his leisurely circuit around Riley's chair when he runs his tongue over his teeth. "I see it grew back then." He smiles wickedly, and his face ripples, then slowly changes, ridges appearing, his eyes colouring, his fangs dropping. Riley flinches when he makes a little noise of pleasure. "Oh," he says, his eyes widening. "Oh, that's... sinful."

He crouches down in front of Riley, moving too fast, making it hard for Riley to focus.

"I can smell you, you know," he says. "Your fear. Your tears. Your blood." He closes his eyes and hums, like he's savouring a fine wine. "I can hear it rushing in your veins. The thump of your heart. All those little gurgles in your stomach. The creak of your bones. Fascinating." He licks his lips. "Riley, my boy, I can still taste you. What was this?" he asks, running fingertips over his mouth. "A last goodbye for your vampire lover? How very touching. How very, very sweet."

Riley leans forward, trembling with the effort. "It's none of your goddamn business."

"Such fire." The Grub warps Spike's mouth into a twisted little smile as Riley slumps back in his chair. "We could be great friends, you and I," he says softly, sounding so much like Spike for a moment that Riley feels it like a punch to the stomach. "You know I've always had a soft spot for you, and now I'm all you have left."

"No. Never." Riley grimaces, shaking his head. "I could never."

"Come now. It wouldn't be so bad. I'm an excellent actor." He smiles, and makes it look genuine. "In my line of work that's a necessity."

"You're not him," Riley grinds out. "You're not."

"No, but I could learn. I could watch you with his eyes. I saw how he would look at you when you couldn't see him do it. All that longing." His eyes close briefly, like he's savouring the memory. "I could touch you with his hands. Kiss you with his lips."

He leans in a little closer. He murmurs Riley's name, low and personal, and suddenly he's Spike: his inflection, his voice, the way he moves, the way he looks at Riley. It's all Spike. It's him. And this isn't fair. This isn't how it was supposed to go.

"Riley, won't you even consider it?" he murmurs. "Just think how good we could be. I won't hurt you. I promise. I've never lied to you."

"You could... be him?" Riley stumbles over the words, despising himself for even asking. "Bring him back to life for me?"

The Grub touches the backs of his fingers to Riley's face and it wrenches a whimper out of Riley, makes him bite on the inside of his cheek until he tastes blood.

"In a way." The Grub smoothes a hand up Riley's chest, tugging his collar to one side, exposing the jagged bite. He leans in, ever closer, and he scents Riley's throat. "Yes," he murmurs, sibilant through his fangs, gold glinting in his eyes. "Oh, yes, I can see the attraction in this." He tilts his head in a gesture that's all Spike's, and he whispers against Riley's jaw, "We could have such fun, you and I."

He lifts his head and touches his lips to Riley's, gentle as a whisper. It hurts so much that Riley chokes. He can't stand this softness, this twisted seduction a second longer. He hooks his hand around the back of the Grub's neck and pulls him into a bruising kiss, biting on his lips, making it brutal. The Grub inhales sharply through his nose, but lets Riley have his way, giving himself over to the kiss.

The Grub still tastes like Spike. He still feels the same. But this isn't how Spike touches him. This isn't how Spike kisses. And it feels like a betrayal.

When they finally break apart, Riley's chest is heaving and his eyes are heavy, it takes a moment for them to open. All he can see are blue eyes examining him, curious and cold.

All he can see is Spike.

"I'm sorry," Riley whispers, and he lets go of the dagger he pushed into Spike's chest with the last of his strength.

The Grub looks down and grimaces as though Riley's just spilled coffee on his shirt, and he gives a pained little sigh. "Silly boy. Did you really think this would work?" He glances down at the hilt of the dagger sticking out of his chest with little more than amusement. "You can't kill me with a blade. You know better than that."

The Grub gives him a look like Riley is nothing more than an errant child, a mild inconvenience, and an amusing one at that.

Riley swallows heavily, frozen to the spot, looking from Spike's face to the dagger and back again. Nothing is happening. Nothing. Maybe it didn't work. Maybe it was all nonsense and he was a fool to believe any of it. Maybe he just got Spike killed and none of it means a damn thing.

"I was thinking," the Grub says, pulling the dagger out of his chest with a vague little frown. "Perhaps I should turn you. Do you think it would still work? It would be an interesting experiment at the very least, and then perhaps we wouldn't keep running up against this pesky conscience of yours."

"I'd rather die," Riley spits, panicking now, because something should be happening by now. That's how magic usually works. A fancy lightshow, a mystical wind, something to show that this worked and Riley hasn't just made the biggest mistake of his entire life.

"Oh, you're not going to die for a long time. I've decided I'm going to keep you. You're my friend, Riley Finn, my confidant. And if I turn you, we could be together forever. Forever is such a fascinating prospect, don't you think? I've never had anyone who--"

The Grub's smile falters, and his body gives a little lurch.

For Riley, everything stops. He wants to latch onto this flicker of confusion, to fan the flames of the Grub's downfall.

Riley holds his breath and he lets himself hope.

"What... what is this? What have you done to me?"

"I killed you," Riley says simply. "You're going to die."

The Grub rises to his feet, staggering back a few paces. "No," he breathes. "It can't be. No."

"Yes," Riley crows, and for one beautiful moment, he feels right. Vengeful and glorious and right. "Yes, you fucker."

The Grub stares at his hands, watching, horrified, as blackness flows through his veins, coming from somewhere deep inside. He tears at Spike's clothes, ripping open his shirt, revealing more blackness creeping under his skin, spidering over his chest.

"What have you done?" he howls, falling to his knees in front of Riley, grabbing fistfuls of Riley's jacket and shaking him.

Riley can only turn his face away, because he can't watch Spike fall apart like this. He can't bear to see his face contorted by pain and rage like this.

The Grub screams at him, shoving him away hard enough that his chair tips over, sending him sprawling over the floor. Riley doesn't even have the strength to get up. He crawls away, trying to put as much distance between himself and the Grub as he can, wanting to put as much distance between Spike and himself as he can, because it's too much. It's too much to bear, and the howls of anguish are tearing him up inside.

It's the sound of Spike calling his name, broken and pitiful, that makes Riley pause. He turns back to see Spike falling to his knees, reaching out to him as his chest cracks and splits, black slime oozing from the wound. The Grub crawls out, such a pathetic little thing to have killed so many, to have brought so much pain and suffering. Spike lowers his head, like he's staring down at the dying demon, but he slumps, his knees sliding on the concrete floor, splaying wide, his hands falling limp at his sides.

The Grub falls to the floor with a wet slap, the dark energy thrumming inside it fading now, weakening with every pulse. It tries to crawl away, but it doesn't get far, shuddering to a stop and lying still and ugly.

On the floor in front of Spike, it liquefies, no longer able to hold onto its own form, and it melts into a pool of slime, the glow dimming to nothingness, energy and matter both fading away until nothing remains.

Spike sinks to the floor and lies slumped on his side.

Riley sits in the silence of the room and breathes.

It's over.

It's over and Spike isn't dust.

Riley crawls over to Spike, hope giving him strength. He hesitates, afraid to touch, afraid that anything he does will only bring Spike more pain, cause damage that even a vampire can't heal, because Spike... Spike is a mess.

He takes Spike's hand and squeezes, running his thumb back and forth over Spike's knuckles.

The silence roars in his ears after so much screaming. Every little sound jars him, like a tap-tap-tap against his sanity.

Spike has always seemed so solid to him, so alive for someone who's technically dead. So this, this stillness isn't right. He digs through Spike's pockets and finds his cell phone. He has to wipe blood off the buttons, but he still can't see. He realises he's crying and swipes at his eyes with the back of his hand, trying to clear his vision. With shaking fingers he hits redial and in his pocket his own phone rings. He barks with miserable laughter and tries again.

"Wanker" appears on the little screen as the call connects and Angel's phone rings and rings.

When Angel finally answers, Riley immediately cuts him off, giving him the directions and telling him to bring blood, lots of blood. Angel starts to ask questions, starts demanding answers, so Riley cuts him off again, tells him to hurry, surprised at the command in his voice, and ends the call. He half-expects Spike's phone to start ringing, because Angel isn't exactly fond of taking orders, but there's only silence. There's nothing to do but wait for Angel to arrive.

Riley pulls Spike into his lap, trying not to notice how Spike is pale and grey, a dead body lying heavy and cold across his thighs. Riley starts rocking back and forth. He keeps touching the still-bleeding bite on his throat and rubbing blood over Spike's lips, but he doesn't know if it's doing any good at all because Spike isn't responding and there's so much blood everywhere, still leaking out of the huge hole in Spike's chest, pooling on the ground, soaking Riley's clothes.

Riley closes his eyes and holds on.


---


30.


Riley slots his key in the door and takes a deep breath, the moment suddenly huge. The key turns and the door swings open, creaking a little and banging off the inside wall, adding to the dent in the plaster, same as always, like nothing has changed. Stepping over the threshold is harder than he was expecting. There's nothing to tell him if this is a trespass or a homecoming. He has no idea what comes next.

There's a low-lying haze of smoke hanging in the apartment, as though the air hasn't been moved around in a while. The television is on, showing an old episode of Frasier, the sound turned down low. Part of Riley wants to smile -- Spike always did have a thing for Daphne -- but his face doesn't want to work that way right now.

Riley walks slowly through the apartment, an intruder in his own home. Except it's not his home. It never really was. It's been a week since he was last here. A week spent sitting in his cheap motel room, fingering the slowly healing bitemark on his throat. A week of broken sleep and nightmares that flicker behind his eyelids even after he wakes. A week since he last looked in the mirror. A week of abandoned meals and too much to drink. A week of staring at his phone for hours on end, running his thumb over and over the name on the screen, thinking of blood and endless screams and last goodbyes. A week of never being brave enough to make the call.

He rode with Spike in the van Angel sent, elbowed out of the way by the team of Wolfram & Hart medics who put Spike back together and pumped him full of fresh human blood. Riley had been treated as a secondary concern. He accepted their ministrations, barely noticing as his throat was bandaged, an IV hooked up to his arm. Whatever drugs they gave him, it was enough to sand the sharp edges off his shock, and he sank into his exhaustion, fading to black on the gurney in the back of the van.

He woke later in one of the medical rooms in the Wolfram & Hart buildings with no way of telling how long he'd been there. He was alone in a dark room; the hospital tang of antiseptic pervading the air.

He tried to sit up -- had to get to Spike, had to make sure he was okay -- and it was only then that he noticed the dark figure in the corner of the room.

"So this was your big plan," Angel said from the shadows, emanating softly spoken menace. "This is how you use him."

"This isn't how it was supposed to go," Riley said, the understatement a physical ache in his chest. It was hard to keep his focus on Angel in the half-light. His vision was playing tricks on him, shadows dancing, grey on black.

He got the impression that underneath it all Angel was uncomfortable, that he resented Riley for making him be there. Knowing Angel and the people he kept around him -- all those fallen soldiers -- the room probably held a lot of bad memories. Riley had no wish to be there either. He didn't want to answer to Angel, and hated feeling like he owed the vampire anything else.

He just wanted to go to Spike.

"The doctors said you'll be fine. Make sure and drink plenty of fluids," Angel said with just an edge of bitterness, and Riley wanted to cringe. He wanted to cover his scars, wanted to hide away from all the things Angel wasn't saying. All the things Angel would be able to tell about him just because Angel was a vampire, and because Angel was far from stupid.

"I want you out of here," Angel said flatly. There was no inflection, no heat, but it licked a trickle of fear down Riley's spine regardless. Whatever Angel's motives were, it was clear that he still held some semblance of loyalty to Spike. Or perhaps it was something else. Some sense of family or ownership that Riley could never hope to understand.

"I'm not going anywhere. Not until I know he's--"

"You think he wants you here? After what you did?"

"I need to know he doesn't--"

"This isn't about what you need."

"Has he woken up? Said anything? Is he going to be okay?"

Angel walked slowly past the foot of Riley's bed, a lion prowling his cage, and suddenly the room was small and ominous.

"You should be more concerned about yourself," Angel said, his eyes hooded, his mouth a grim, flat line. "They've given you a clean bill of health. If you want to keep it that way, I suggest you leave. Now."

"I'm not going anywhere until I've--"

Angel closed the distance between them so fast it took Riley's breath away. He growled through his fangs, his hand clamped tight around Riley's throat with no care for Riley's bandaged wound. "You have no place here. Not after what you did." He shoved Riley hard enough that he fell back onto his bed. "Now get out."

Riley dressed with shaking hands and stooped shoulders, feeling light-headed and not quite there. He tried to stand tall, but had to suffer through the indignity of Angel watching him while he shuffled back into his ruined clothes, filthy and stiff with dried blood.

He paused in the doorway with his back to Angel.

"Thank you for coming to get him," he said, sure that it would be just as hard for Angel to hear as it was for Riley to say it. "Tell him..."

But he didn't finish, realising the futility of expecting Angel to pass on any message, knowing that there were some things that could only be said face to face.

He finds Spike sitting on the floor in the corner of the kitchen, his legs splayed out in front of him, staring blankly at the opposite wall. He's barefoot and the soles of his feet are filthy. There's over an inch of ash clinging to the end of the cigarette stuck in the corner of his mouth, and he has an overflowing ashtray balanced on one thigh. It takes him a moment to blink and look up when Riley's presence seeps into his consciousness. He scrambles to his feet, knocking over the ashtray in his haste, and for a moment it looks like he's about to reach out, to say something, to come closer, but he catches himself and stays where he is. He wraps his arms around his torso, holding himself together, and he squints through the smoke, waiting to hear what Riley has to say.

"I'm sorry," is the first thing, the immediate thing, the words just falling out of Riley without thought, because he's been weighed down by them all week, a skipping record of apology playing inside his head. He jams his hands deep in his pockets to stop himself from fidgeting. "For everything. I wanted to come and see you, but I didn't know if... if I'd be welcome. Angel. He said. He said you..."

Spike doesn't say anything, just watches him, dragging on his cigarette and breathing deep. It's quiet enough that Riley can hear the crackle of burning paper, the whisper as the tobacco catches.

"Yeah," Riley says softly, staring at the floor, embarrassed, because his excuses are feeble and he knows it.

The silence is awkward and painful. Riley is stretched tight and thin. He wants to shy away from this awful scrutiny, but more than that there's a terrible urge to run his hands over Spike, to check every inch of him, to make sure that he's whole and real and Spike.

"You didn't know it would work out like that," he says eventually, because he has to say something. "Did you?"

Spike lets out a soft little snort of amusement, raising a thick cloud of white smoke. "Has to be wood to dust a vampire, or didn't they teach you that in Demon Slaying 101?" His voice is low and coarse when he speaks, like he's been living on nothing but whisky and cigarettes for the past week.

"Yeah, but you still didn't know that you'd survive it. You had no idea."

Spike just shrugs. "I didn't get the science."

"How could you do that?" Riley grinds out, taking a step closer before he can stop himself. He didn't come here to argue, knows he hasn't got the right, but now that Spike is standing in front of him being goddamn flippant about it, bitter, impotent anger is surging up inside Riley, because Spike shouldn't have done it. Spike should never have put himself at risk like that.

"How could I do that?" Spike snaps, his eyes glittering. He pitches his cigarette into the sink where it goes out with a hiss. "You come here to have a go, is that it? Because you can just turn around and march right the fuck back out of here if you have."

"I fucked up," Riley retorts, and it's both an admission and a plea for Spike to hear him out. "I get that. I was cruel, and stupid, and I put the mission ahead of everything else. I expected you just to go along with it because I couldn't even see past it, and I fucked up. But I..." And this is where he falters. This is where he falls apart, because he's the one who brought Spike along for the hellride. He's the one who started this thing between them. He's the one who made mistake after selfish, greedy mistake, and he's the one who nearly got Spike killed.

And for that, he'll never forgive himself.

"I never wanted to see you hurt like that."

"Hurt? That's rich."

"How could you do it?" Riley asks, softer this time. "Tell me." He tilts his head, ducking down a little, looking for the eye contact that Spike is denying him, because this has been eating him up inside.

There's only silence from Spike for a long time. The tinny sound of canned laughter filters through from the next room.

"I couldn't let you go," Spike says dully, speaking so quietly Riley has to strain to hear him. "There was no easy way out, but I couldn't let you go. Is that what you want to hear?"

"I'm so sorry," Riley breathes.

Spike turns his face away. "Stop it. Just stop."

Miles separate them across the kitchen. Riley wants to touch. He wants to fall back into what they've always done, showing Spike how he feels and what he wants without ever really talking about it. Trying to explain himself like this, he feels like a blunt instrument. But to touch Spike now... Riley feels like he's lost the right.

"What you said."

"I say lots of things."

"Spike. That thing. That thing you said."

"About you being a selfish git?"

"No. Before that."

"Oh. About you being a stupid bastard."

"After that."

"About how you needed me to save the day, and how you couldn't have done it without me?"

"I never said that."

"You'd lost a lot of blood. Bit delirious, most likely."

Riley doesn't want this. He doesn't want Spike to resort to this. To skirting around the truth, hiding behind his words, dodging the issue, because the way things are right now, if Spike pushes him away and Riley lets him do it, it'll be the end.

Riley's tired of not being able to say what he wants, because he wants Spike. He wants him so badly he can't breathe. There's a fist around his heart, clenched tight, and he has to do this. He has to be brave, because he can't stand the thought of losing Spike again.

He has to at least try.

"You said a lot of very complimentary things about me," Spike is saying, rattling off the words, letting them fill all the empty spaces between them because it's easier that way. Spike is always trying to make it easier and Riley's sick of it. "All of them true, I might add. I could list them if you like. Like when you said that I had the biggest--"

"Love," Riley says, strained and unhappy, because this isn't funny, nothing about this is funny, and because he has to. He has to be brave. He has to know. "You said it was love."

That shuts Spike up, and he looks down at his hands, his nails black with polish, smudged and chipped. He glances up to give Riley a flashfire little grin, but it's awkward. There's no humour in it.

"'Spose reminding you that I never wanted to get into this would be in bad taste right about now."

"Were you just saying it because you thought you wouldn't be coming back?"

"No," Spike says, more forcefully than Riley had been expecting, looking up and meeting his eye, steady and unwavering. "Never that. That's not my style."

"So then you meant it?" Riley says softly, daring to hope.

"Look. Just forget it. You don't have to say anything. It's not... You don't owe me anything."

"I owe you everything. Everything." Riley steps in closer, his breathing patchy and shallow, but he stops just short of touching Spike. "I want... Is it okay if I touch you?"

"Riley," Spike says, curling Riley's name into a breathless little plea, like he thinks this is a bad idea, like he knows he doesn't have the strength to say no.

Riley's hand is trembling when he touches Spike's face, fingertip-light, cradling his jaw, running his thumb under one high cheekbone. His breath catches. His chest is tight, his whole body tingling.

"Spike," he's murmuring, the words tumbling out of their volition. "Let me. Let me, please. Don't. Just. Let me."

Spike turns his face away, but he doesn't go far. He looks pained, his eyes fluttering closed when Riley's thumb brushes the corner of his mouth. Spike turns towards him, a tiny little movement, small enough to be inadvertent, but Riley takes it as an invitation. He shuffles in closer, moving slow and gentle and scared, and he touches their mouths together. He tastes the sharp bite of tobacco, and he keeps it chaste, breathing Spike in, trying to say everything he doesn't have the words for.

His hand drops to Spike's shoulder, absently tracing the soft skin just above where the collar of Spike's shirt gapes open. When Spike sucks in a little breath and pulls away, Riley sways into it, not wanting it to end, not wanting to lose this tenuous connection, so scared that at any second Spike is going to come to his senses and kick Riley out into the street. Case closed, no more second chances, no more Spike and Riley.

Spike raises his shoulders sharply, shrugging off Riley's touch. Riley glances down and sees why. He sees the tail ends of the scars trailing out from under Spike's shirt. Riley goes very still, seeing all his mistakes written on Spike's skin. He starts to unbutton Spike's shirt with shaking hands, needing to see the damage done, but Spike grabs his hands and holds them still.

"I'm so sorry," Riley says, his voice cracking.

"Stop. Shush now. It's okay. It's nothing. It'll be gone before you know it."

Riley shakes his head, swiping at his eyes with the heel of his hand, because if he starts crying now, he doesn't know if he'll ever be able to stop. He goes for Spike's buttons again, determined, and this time Spike lets him.

Spike's chest is a mess of broken skin. The scars look old, healed over, but still bruised and vivid and ugly, clear reminders of everything Spike went through. Every misery, every torment, every sacrifice. Riley remembers unbroken skin, pale and smooth over hard muscle. This... this is a cruel joke. This is an impossibility, because Spike doesn't ever take this long to heal. Riley has watched Spike's skin knit back together in the past, little cuts and bruises melting away under his watchful gaze. Spike is forever young and beautiful. He was never meant to look like this.

"No," Riley says, shaking his head. "It'll never go away. I'll never forget what you did for me. Never." He apologises again, over and over, a litany of regret.

"Don't. Riley. Don't, pet. It's okay. Don't."

"Why don't you hate me? I don't understand. How can you even--"

He's cut off when Spike kisses him, holding Riley where he wants him, kissing him hard and messy and desperate. Riley thinks maybe Spike's just doing it to shut him up, but he doesn't care. He'll take what he can get.

"I do," he says when they break apart, his arms wrapped tight around Spike's waist, keeping him close enough that they're breathing the same air. "I mean, I want."

Spike doesn't get it and gives a tiny shake of his head, frowning his confusion.

"I don't even know how to say it," Riley says. "I don't know how to explain so you'll get it." He swallows past the lump in his throat. "I'm a little terrified over here."

"Try me."

"Okay. I..." He takes a shaky breath. "I'm staying. I mean, that's what I want. If that's okay. I want to stay. I'd really like to stay. With you."

"Yeah," Spike says slowly, like he thinks Riley's testing him. "I'd like that."

"I want to be here. With you. And I want to do a lot of this. All the time. Like, a lot of this."

"Okay."

"And I don't want to fight any demons for a while. For about a year. Or, you know, at least a couple of months."

"Okay."

"And I want to sleep. A lot. With you."

"Okay."

Spike touches Riley's face, smoothing over the week's worth of stubble that's well on its way to becoming a scruffy beard. Riley closes his eyes and nudges into it, soaking up the offered comfort like a sponge. He realises he's shaking, that his lungs aren't working properly. He doesn't deserve this, hasn't earned it, but Spike looks sincere, looks like he actually wants Riley to stick around.

"Okay? You're serious? You really want that?" Riley whispers, because this is everything. This is everything he wants, and the thought of actually getting it is almost too much.

Spike just nods, a tiny, uneven gesture, and it flips something painful in Riley's chest.

"How?" he asks, his voice wavering. "How can you even want me here?"

"Such an idiot," Spike says fondly. "I told you. I love you. That doesn't go away. Not ever."

Riley whimpers, a pained little sound torn from somewhere deep inside, and he kisses Spike again. He tries to remember to be careful, but he needs to be closer, always closer, and Spike ends up pushed back against the counter, so he slides up onto it and lets Riley between his thighs. Riley's hands are still shaking as they settle on Spike's hips, gripping tightly, never wanting to let go. He keeps making needy little sounds in the back of his throat as they kiss and kiss and kiss.

Spike grips Riley's shirt and tucks his heels behind Riley's knees, and this is finally enough to loosen the knot of tension in Riley's chest, because Spike doesn't need to hold on so tight. Riley isn't going anywhere.

"Gonna make it up to you," he whispers, touching their foreheads together. "I swear."

Spike looks down at his hands resting on Riley's stomach, like that's where his answers lie. Riley watches the dark of fan of Spike's eyelashes over his pale skin, the hollow of his cheeks as he works up to whatever it is he wants to say.

"That girl you kissed," he says, and glances up, his eyebrows raised. "The vamp. She's dead, yeah?"

It's absolutely the last thing that Riley was expecting, and he isn't prepared for the little spear of guilt that skewers right through him. "Yeah. Yeah, she's... I staked her."

"That's all right then. Otherwise I'd have strung the bitch up."

Riley lets out a shocked bark of laughter. "You are jealous."

"Nah. Just... Nobody ever..." Spike sighs slowly, and it's all right there on the surface for Riley to see. All Spike's longing, all his uncertainty. "Just making sure."

Riley nods, breathless. There's so much in the way that Spike is looking at him. Riley wants more, wants it all, and he kisses Spike again, pushing into it a little too hard, trying to get ever closer. Spike hisses like he's in pain and Riley jumps back, but Spike hooks a leg around the back of Riley's thighs and traps him there.

"Sorry. Sorry. Don't want to hurt you."

"You won't," Spike says, sounding so sure. "Just, not the kitchen again, huh?"

Riley nods, taking a couple of baby steps back, but keeps his body in close, making Spike smile because Riley really hasn't moved at all. Riley latches onto the smile and lets it give him hope.

"I didn't think I'd ever have this again," he admits. He lays his hand on Spike's chest, clenching his teeth at the feel of mutilated skin under his palm, his guilt still burning a hole in the pit of his stomach. "I thought this was over."

"Yeah," Spike says softly. "Yeah, me too."

He runs a light touch over the dark circles under Riley's eyes. Riley smiles sadly, because yeah, he's exhausted. He hasn't been getting more than a hour or two of sleep a night, but Spike looks pretty terrible too.

"We should sleep," Riley suggests. "You want to sleep?"

Spike slides off the counter and the two of them sway together, holding each other up.

Spike nods. "I could sleep."

Spike leads the way to his bedroom. Riley hooks two fingers over the waistband of Spike's jeans -- trying not to be alarmed at the jut of his hipbones, the way his jeans are loose and trailing on the ground -- and follows close behind.

They crawl into Spike's bed together, not even bothering to get undressed. Riley keeps shifting, giving little guiding touches, until he has Spike flush against him, strong and familiar even under the layers of their clothes. It's only when their hips connect that Riley realises he's hard, almost as an afterthought, and he gasps, his body thrumming with need. He tries to ignore it, but Spike is insistent against him, nudging up against his jaw.

"What do you want?" Riley murmurs. "Tell me."

"Anything," Spike says. "Anything."

"Don't want to hurt you."

Spike shakes his head, like the thought hadn't even occurred to him, and they trade soft kisses back and forth. Clothes get pushed up and out of the way, jeans undone with clumsy fingers, and Spike tugs him in close, groaning Riley's name so sweetly as they rock against one another. Riley rolls them so Spike is sprawled out on top of him, wanting the weight, wanting to feel pinned down. Spike's hips stutter, his blunt teeth grazing Riley's shoulder.

It doesn't last long, both of them too greedy for it after a week apart. Riley loses it first, turning his face into the pillow, his vision whiting out, feeling Spike tense above him, the splash of Spike's come on his stomach. He doesn't let Spike go, holding him there. Spike burrows in closer, breathing just as heavily as Riley, and he pushes his face into the curve Riley's throat, pressing soft little kisses over the aching bitemark.

He's mumbling something against Riley's skin and it takes a moment for the sounds to filter through the haze for Riley to realise he's whispering apologies.

"Don't," Riley says, much more sharply than he intends, pulling back to look at Spike who's watching him with wide eyes. "Don't ever apologise for that. Not ever. You have nothing to be sorry for."

Riley kisses him before Spike can pull away. Spike doesn't say anything, but he accepts Riley's kisses. He lets Riley hold him close and sweep his hands slowly up and down Spike's spine until Spike finally relaxes and lies boneless against him, just letting Riley do what he wants.

Riley pulls his t-shirt over his head and uses it to clean them up. He doesn't do a great job, but he's too tired to care, and Spike isn't complaining, pushing his hands out of the way so he can pull Riley in close, tugging blankets and sheets up to cover them both. Riley still has his boots on, tangled in the sheets, but the two of them are together, warm in their little cocoon, and that's all he needs. He tucks his chin over Spike's shoulder, hiding his face away from the world. Exhaustion washes over him in waves, but he's too strung out to fall asleep right away. They lie there for a long time, drifting, trading soft touches, reassurances that the other is still there, lying so still and heavy that Riley can't tell where he ends and Spike begins.

When he jerks awake and opens his eyes, he's disoriented, can't remember where he is, but then Spike shifts beside him, still asleep, curled up against Riley's side. He sighs and frowns in his dreams, making little grasping motions over Riley's skin, looking for something to hold on to. Riley wraps an arm around Spike and spoons up behind him, laying his cheek on Spike's shoulder. Spike settles his hand on Riley's hip, sneaking under the waistband of his open jeans, curling his fingers around Riley's hipbone before he stills.

The tension Riley has been carrying around with him for longer than he can remember is abating. He can breathe again. This is where he is meant to be.

They sleep sixteen hours straight, and shuffle bleary-eyed to the kitchen on a mission for coffee. While they're waiting for it to brew, Spike roots through the cupboards, looking for something for Riley to eat, and Riley heats up some blood. It's Spike's last bag, and Riley is already making plans to go out later to pick up some more when Spike pushes a mug of steaming black coffee at him and mutters something about bare cupboards and a pizza delivery place he knows that caters to vampires.

Riley smiles and cradles his coffee in both hands, watching Spike let out a jaw-cracking yawn and gulp at his blood. Riley's focus is on the skin visible where Spike's unbuttoned shirt gapes open. He's not sure if it's his imagination, but it looks a little better today, the scars less prominent. He resolves to make Spike drink as much blood as they can get their hands on until the scars are nothing but a distant memory. The thought of offering his own pops unbidden into his head, but he dismisses it. There are too many reasons why that's a bad idea right now.

They end up sprawled on the couch in front of the television, thighs pressed together, waiting for their blood and pizza to arrive. Riley's stomach wakes up at the thought of food and for the first time in a long time, he feels ravenous. He ends up hopped up on too much coffee, chewing on the side of his thumbnail and tapping his foot restlessly, trying his damnedest not to think about spicy sausage and extra cheese and failing miserably. Loud growls and rumbles emanate from his empty stomach until Spike rolls his eyes and pushes Riley back on the couch. He tosses a cushion over Riley's stomach, then crawls up between his thighs and lies on it, getting comfortable, his head pillowed on Riley's shoulder.

Riley freezes in place, his hands hovering in the air. He swallows, staring down at the blond head tucked under his chin, feeling the urge to start saying all the things he's not ready for.

"One word about cuddling and I'll eat your whole bloody pizza," Spike says, and changes the channel.

Riley learns a million new ways to touch Spike that he never let himself have before. He accepts Spike's slow, tentative caresses in return, the way Spike will stroke over his skin, enjoying him, like they have all the time in the world. He learns that Spike loves to lounge on the couch, using Riley like a human pillow, soaking up his warmth like a cat, but if Riley calls him on it, he'll deny it to his last breath, sulking for hours, disappearing to the kitchen to make endless cups of tea or going outside to smoke half a dozen cigarettes in a row.

Riley waits as long as he can, but always follows him out, stealing sips from his sugary tea, or sitting on the little step beside their front door and watching Spike smoke, breathing in the sharp-sweet scent of tobacco from his skin when he's done.

He catches Spike watching him sometimes, and Spike doesn't always shying away when he realises he's been caught. He watches Riley with a thoughtful expression on his face, like he hasn't quite figured out yet what this is, but he wants to spend every minute of every day figuring it out. Riley is sure he's just as bad, following Spike around like they're attached by an invisible string, but Spike never seems to mind. Whatever personal bubble Riley had before this, it's expanded. Now it's big enough for two.

Sex isn't something that happens straight away, but the want is there, the desire building, and when Spike slides inside him -- Riley's hair still wet from his shower, Spike's face damp from licking the water droplets off his skin -- he can see it in Spike's eyes before he says it. It's all right there, shining so bright and pure in Spike's face that it hurts to look at it. Spike gets lost inside those moments, and it's then that Riley kisses the words of love out of his mouth. It's then that Riley lets himself believe.

He's still scared. Scared that Spike will come to his senses. Scared that if this goes wrong he'll never recover from it. Scared that if he tells Spike he loves him, Spike will think he's doing it out of obligation, just another thing Riley's doing because he hurt Spike.

He's scared because he's never wanted anything this badly. Never had anyone love him like this. He's scared that he doesn't deserve it. Scared he isn't ready.

But he feels it, all the time, like a tickle behind his breastbone. Every time Spike reaches for him. Every time Spike asks him a question like he cares about the answer. Every time Spike teases him, or fucks him, or looks up at him and smiles.

He's been back a week, and it feels like a lifetime. Feels like no time at all. Riley knows that he's home.

Spike is with him, the two of them slouched low on the couch, TV off, curtains wide open, their bare feet up on the window ledge, watching clouds drift past their own personal scrap of smoggy LA sky, passing a single bottle of beer back and forth between them.

Spike's hand is on Riley's thigh, curled loosely around the muscle like it belongs there.

"I never said thank you," Riley says out of the blue, after they've been quiet together for a long time.

Spike glances over, and he smiles, then goes back to staring up at their little patch of sky. There aren't any stars visible past the smog, but it's pretty and it's peaceful and it's theirs.

That's more than enough.

-end-

---


Domestic Bliss timestamp: Six Months Later


"So, this kind of thing happen to you a lot?"

Spike sighed. "More than you'd think."

Riley glanced up at the solid beam they were chained to at the wrist, their arms stretched uncomfortably high above their heads, making standing on tiptoe a necessity. His arms ached, his shoulders ached, and breathing normally was a pain in the ass. It was a lousy way to round off the day.

"You shouldn't have got so drunk," he snapped.

"You shouldn't have let me get so drunk," Spike snapped right back.

"Right," Riley said, eking the word out for maximum irritation. "Because you always listen to me where alcohol's involved."

"Give it a rest, would you? I'm a vampire. We can't get addicted to things, we can't get liver damage, hangovers are minimal, etc. etc., change the bloody record. If I remember right, you weren't always Mr. Teatotal." Spike pushed off from the floor and started swinging back and forth, his wrists bent at a painful-looking angle as he built up momentum.

Riley scowled, trying not to be overly concerned about the damage Spike could be doing to himself. "Yeah, well, things change."

"And some things never do." Spike swung out from the beam, bent his body in mid-swing and flipped up through the air in a move that would have put an Olympic gymnast to shame. He landed deftly on top of the beam and perched there like a very blond, very grumpy bird. There was a lot of clanking and swearing, and nothing that Riley could get a good look at.

Riley sighed, gritting his teeth together. "Any luck?"

"Nope. These things are solid."

"So why are you still struggling?"

"Because I'm trying to--" There was a loud snap and Spike's hand slipped free of the manacle.

"What did you just do?"

"This," Spike said, and there was another snap and his other hand was free. He hopped down to the floor and crossed the room to where a set of keys hung from a nail beside the door.

"Thumbs or wrists?" Riley ground out, furious with Spike, but unable to put any distance between them as Spike stood chest-to-chest and reached up to unlock his restraints.

Spike just looked at him, his expression unreadable, then swore again as he had trouble with the keys.

"We could have figured another way out of this."

"S'all a bit of a moot point at this stage."

"You didn't have to do that. We could have--"

"Look, would you shut your cakehole and just let me get us out of here?"

"You didn't have to--"

"It's nothing," Spike growled, only just managing to bring it back from a full-blown yell, "and you know it. Be right as rain by tomorrow. We just need to get out of here sharpish, that's all."

"Why? We could have found another--"

"They don't play nice with humans, okay? Nasty little fuckers treat you lot like living fondue. It's not pretty, and I, for one, could live a long time without having to sit through that. Not to mention their boring arse dinner conversation, okay?"

"Oh," Riley said, feeling a little foolish and a lot grateful.

"Yeah. Oh. So how about we save the Odd Couple routine until we're out of here and I'll let you wait on me hand and foot 'til my hands heal if it makes you feel any better, but in the meantime, I'd really just like to get the fuck out of here so we don't--"

The manacles finally fell open and Riley stumbled forward into Spike's space. His arms were totally useless, hanging numb at his sides. He leaned in before Spike could finish what he'd been saying, and cut him off with a kiss. He kept it soft and sweet, barely a touch of lips, just enough to make Spike forget whatever it was he'd planned on ranting about next.

"I love you," he said, and Spike blinked in surprise, his pupils dilating as a smile slowly overtook his entire face.

"You git. You've been saving that up so you could use it right when I was going off on one."

Riley gave a tiny shrug. "Maybe, but it's still true."

Spike narrowed his eyes, but he was still smiling. "Fine. Fine, you're off the hook. Now can we please get out of here?"

Riley nodded, trying not to grimace as the blood started flowing back into his arms and he felt the beginning tingles of what promised to be epic pins and needles. "I don't think I'm going to be much use in a fight until I can feel my arms again."

Spike glanced at his own hands and raised a bored eyebrow. "Good thing we're sneaking out the laundry chute, then, isn't it?"

Riley snorted. "You always come up with the best plans."

Spike grinned. "Don't I, though?"

Riley rolled his eyes and followed Spike out the door.


-end-


---


Domestic Bliss outtake: an interlude in the kitchen


He corners Spike in the kitchen. The kitchen again, and maybe Spike was right. Maybe Riley has some weird kitchen fetish because he's pretty sure they've fooled around in here just as many times as they've made it to an actual bed. Spike is busy trying to get a can of condensed milk open using only a serrated hunting knife, and the process is a messy one, to say the least. Riley didn't know they owned such a thing as condensed milk. He's not even entirely sure what it's used for, and he has no idea what the hell Spike's doing with it, but right now, he has more important things on his mind.

Things like Spike's body.

Riley has been lying flat on his back in his room, staring blankly at the ceiling and thinking about Spike's body for at least an hour. Possibly two. He's been thinking about Spike's skin, the way it moves, soft over hard muscle, deceptively fragile, cool and pale as milk under Riley's calloused palms. The way it slowly steals body heat, leaching warmth until Spike feels hot and alive to Riley's touch. He's been thinking about Spike's clever hands and his wicked mouth. He's been thinking about the hollows under Spike's cheekbones and how Riley's thumbs fit there perfectly when they kiss. He's been thinking about Spike's cock, his ass, the clench of his muscles, the sharp of his teeth, the edge to his kiss.

Riley made himself wait for as long as he could, a self-imposed sentence, until it got to be too much. Until he felt restless in his own skin and his hands felt too damn empty. Until it was imperative that he go find Spike and get his hands on all that pale skin.

Spike's barefoot, wearing a frayed t-shirt, his jeans riding low on his hips, and he's bent over the kitchen counter, totally absorbed in his task. Riley doesn't say anything, and Spike doesn't look up when he comes in. Riley just crowds up behind him and puts his mouth on the curve of Spike's throat. He presses in with his whole body, tilting his hips so Spike can feel all of him. He makes Spike drop the knife and the can, laying Spike's palms flat on the kitchen counter and keeps a hold of his wrists, effectively boxing him in.

"Riley, what--?"

Riley bites down, not hard enough to break the skin, but hard enough to get his point across. Spike shudders and turns to liquid against him, his hips pushing back, his head falling to the side in a trusting, open gesture that does crazy things to Riley's insides.

Riley's been thinking about this. He's been thinking about favours that need to be repaid. He's been thinking that he'd like to take some time over this for a change, take the time to make Spike feel good. He slides his arms around Spike's body, feeling strangely tall and in control, having to remind himself that Spike could break him in half if he wanted, but he's letting Riley touch him like this, letting him have his way.

Riley splays one hand on Spike's chest, the other working slowly on his belt, tugging the ancient leather through the buckle, enjoying the sounds of sliding leather and the clink of the metal as it opens for him.

"Been thinking about this."

"Oh, you have, have you?" Spike's voice is rich and warm, and Riley can see his teasing smile as surely as if he was looking Spike in the face.

"Don't laugh at me," Riley says, and he only just manages to pull it back from sounding completely psychotic, regretting the words before they're even out of his mouth.

Spike is still for a second, then turns in Riley's arms. He's frowning, but he only looks confused.

"Not laughing, pet," he says, low and serious.

"I know." Riley ducks his head. "Sorry. Just wanted to... I just wanted..."

"Hey," Spike says. "Whatever you want." He rubs his thumb over Riley's lower lip, and it's sticky and sweet. Spike's eyes darken as Riley catches it between his teeth and tongues at his thumbprint, tasting past the sweetness of the milk to the salt of Spike's skin.

He gives Spike's thumb a little push with his tongue when he's done, and Spike hooks his hand on the back of Riley's neck, scratching blunt nails into his hairline, kneading a little at the muscle there.

"Whatever I want?" Riley asks, leaning in. He kisses Spike, an open-mouthed little offering, and holds still, letting Spike do all the work, letting him suck the sweetness off his lip, sighing as Spike nibbles on it, pulling it into his mouth. It slides free, wet and tingling, and Riley opens his eyes, seeing nothing but desire reflected back at him. "Turn back around," he says, a little surprised at the low husk of his voice.

Spike does it without question. He puts his hands back on the counter and stands there with his head lowered. Riley just looks for a moment, then leans in against the easy strength of Spike's body, using his hips to pin Spike to the counter. His lips hover close to the back of Spike's neck, making the tiny hairs there quiver with each breath. With every inhalation he can smell Spike: soap and hair gel and tobacco and something else he can't quite put his finger on, but his senses recognise it as Spike.

He waits until Spike starts to breathe in time with him, slow and even, his ribs expanding and contracting under Riley's hands, Spike's skin warm now where it's pressed against his chest. Riley rests his hands on Spike's hips, slipping his thumbs under Spike's t-shirt to rub little circles on the bare skin.

"You gonna fuck me?" Spike asks, his voice rough, his chin against his chest, his hips working back against Riley.

Riley rests his lips on the patch of skin behind Spike's ear. "Thinkin' about it," he murmurs.

Spike lifts his head, sucking in a sharp breath. His head falls back against Riley's shoulder and stays there.

Riley slides his palm downwards, rubbing the heel of his hand over Spike's fly, feeling the bump of brass buttons, the hard length of Spike's straining cock, lying a little to the left. Spike hisses as Riley rocks his hand, his mouth falling open as Riley watches, his hands gripping tighter on the edge of the counter.

Riley slips his other hand under Spike's shirt and scratches his nails over tensed abs, over the coarse hair low on Spike's stomach. He scratches harder than he feels entirely comfortable with, but Spike arches his back and pushes into it, a rough little mewl of pleasure in the back of his throat.

Riley touches two fingers against Spike's lips. "Suck," he orders. "Get them wet."

Spike's mouth opens eagerly, his tongue working, sliding between Riley's fingers, then sucking them together again, soaking them in saliva. Riley peppers biting little kisses along Spike's jaw, the line of his throat, tearing open Spike's button fly with his free hand and pushing Spike's jeans down over narrow hips.

"You've been thinking about this?" Spike asks as soon as Riley pulls his fingers away, a lewd little whisper, because Spike loves to talk during sex. Spike can never shut up. "About getting inside me? Been thinking about bending me over, is that it? Getting me all slippery and worked up so you can--"

Riley slides his fingers in without warning, both at once, presses in deep and crooks them. Spike lets out a strangled cry, his hand shooting out to hit the wall opposite, the heel of his hand cracking the tile.

Riley smirks, resting his forehead between Spike's shoulder blades. "Do that?"

Spike starts to struggle a little in his arms, trying to get turned around, but Riley tightens his arm around Spike's waist, and keeps his fingers right where they are, slipping in and out of Spike, reaching deep and twisting right where Spike needs it most, working him like he's a girl, playing with the muscle, scissoring and teasing, ignoring Spike's greedy little grunts and the way he keeps pushing back against Riley's hand looking for more.

Riley licks his palm and fists Spike's cock, rubbing his thumb over the slippery head, making Spike groan.

"Riley, come on, come on," Spike says, babbling now, reaching his arms up to grab at Riley's shoulder, to fist his hair and scratch at the back of his neck, whatever parts of Riley he can reach. "Come on, love, now. Give it to me. Please."

The nearby bottle of olive oil gives Riley the extra slick he's looking for, pouring too much on his fingers so it spills over, ruining Spike's jeans, but somehow he doesn't think Spike's going to care.

It's only then that he turns Spike around to kiss him, the two of them kicking hurriedly at Spike's jeans so Spike can lift up to sit on the edge of the counter and hook his legs behind Riley's knees, bossy as always, drawing him in close. Riley falls into their kiss as he nudges closer between Spike's thighs and takes both their cocks in his hand, almost too slippery to keep hold of, and he works them slowly, keeping his grip tight, rocking his hips, making Spike writhe against him, only half-listening to the bitten off pleas and curses Spike growls into his mouth.

Riley ignores the way his hands are trembling, concentrating instead on the way Spike is looking at him.

"Hold on to me," Riley says.

It's awkward and his thighs are shaking, but Spike is clinging to him, kissing him like his life depends on it, only breaking away to lean back a little, tilt his hips up and wrap his leg around Riley's hips. Riley holds himself in place and pushes in to Spike, slowly, inch by inch, watching himself disappear, the tight squeeze of Spike's body stealing his breath, flushing his cheeks, making the rest of the world fall away until there's only this. Only where they're connected, sliding tight and hot and perfect. He doesn't stop until he's in as deep as he can go, his balls pressed up against Spike's ass, and this is good, this is amazing, this is his.

"God," Riley mutters, shifting Spike's weight and spreading his feet. "Fuck. Spike, I... Fuck."

"Yeah, just like that," Spike breathes, looking shocked, his eyes wide, as he loops his arm around Riley's neck to pull him in for another kiss.

Riley grabs onto Spike's hips, hard enough to bruise, and he pulls out maybe an inch and pushes back in, making them both groan, but Spike's sliding on the counter, and the angle's awkward, and Riley really needs to be fucking him right now but he doesn't know if he can hold them both up like this.

"This isn't... I'm gonna. I can't. Shit, shit, Spike. Floor. Now."

He pulls out, a little too fast, Spike's hand slapping like a vice around his bicep, a snarl of irritation at the loss, and the two of them just sink right to the floor. Spike's kissing him hard, biting on his lips, tongue in his mouth, and Riley rolls them so Spike's on his back, his legs spread. Riley kneels between them, hooks an arm under Spike's knee and tugs him in closer, pulling Spike's ass up onto his thighs and pushes into him again.

Spike hisses and his arm shoots out, hitting one of the cupboards with a loud bang, bracing himself there to stop from sliding away over the tiled floor. Riley leans forward, pushing Spike's knee to his chest, and curls a hand over Spike's shoulder to hold him in place as he starts to fuck into him.

Spike's holding on with everything he's got, pushing up into Riley, meeting his thrusts, his whole body a sinuous line of muscle working with Riley, making it good, making it amazing.

"I... I really..." Riley pushes his face into Spike's throat, giving him the full length on every thrust, and Spike's just taking it, moaning like a whore, pulling him in closer, asking for more. "Jesus, Spike, you're so..."

Spike tenses, his body shaking, his hands rough and grabbing as he comes a second before Riley, his cock trapped between them, soaking both their stomachs. His body clenches hard around Riley, muscles fluttering, and it's too much. Riley manages a couple more ragged thrusts and he comes, Spike wrapped tightly around him, urging him on, working him through it.

Riley slumps over, his forehead pressed to Spike's shoulder, breathing hard as he slowly comes back to himself. There are hands smoothing over his back and shoulders, fingers threading through his sweaty hair, soft lips at his temple, Spike's body relaxed under him.

It's only then that he realises how much his knees and elbows hurt.

"Spike?" he asks without lifting his head.

"Yeah."

"What's the can of milk for?"

"It's condensed."

"And?"

"'sreally good for dunking biscuits in. Uh, cookies, you know? I had a craving."

"Oh."

"You want to try?" Spike manages to ask, only grunting a little as Riley pulls out carefully, messy and a little sore. With a last little kiss to Spike's collarbone, exposed by the mangled collar of his t-shirt, Riley slumps on his back beside Spike on the floor.

"Thanks," he says. "Think I'll pass."

"Are your legs working?" Spike asks after a moment.

"Not really. Yours?"

"Couldn't rightly say. Give it five minutes."

"Okay."

"It's sort of comfy down here."

The tiled floor is hard and unyielding through Riley's thin t-shirt, cold against his bare ass. "Yeah," he says. "Here is good."

"C'mere."

"What?"

"I want to use you as a cushion."

Riley lifts his head to cast Spike a look. "Why can't I use you as a cushion?"

Spike shrugs. "I called it."

"How about we make it as far as the couch and use the cushions as cushions?"

"That... makes a crazy sort of sense. But there'll be none of that cuddling malarkey."

"Oh, god no."

"Heaven forbid."

"Maybe just a little sharing of body heat."

"I don't have any body heat."

"What can I say? I'm a generous guy."

Spike presses his lips together, considering. "You're a pretty philanthropic bloke. I wouldn't have anyone say a word to the contrary."

Riley nods his thanks. "So. Couch?"

"Couch."

"Couch."


The end. Really this time.