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Convergence-verse

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"We'll be safe here, for now. They won’t be able to track us through this storm." Connor says, his voice gone flat in the stale, dusty air. He's felt many things since the return of Steven's memories, but very rarely has he felt safe. And that was before the giant clusterfuck Angel pulled off tonight.

But here . . . the one place he was ever completely happy. . . .

He tamps those other memories down for the moment. He’s got more immediate concerns, like a soaking wet, newly-human ex-vampire, quietly going into shock. Like hoards of things that hadto have been portalled in from the Quor’toth, to a beast bent on ending the life of the aforementioned soaking wet, newly-human ex-vampire, and anyone sheltering him.

“Sit,” Connor snaps, when Spike shows no signs of moving out of the cramped entryway. A firm Monster-Boy shove sends the ex-vampire stumbling to the makeshift bed, where he collapses in a huge puff of dust--

And lays asprawl, face down like the dead man he--until so recently--was. Progress, of a sort.

Spike’d been strangely pliant just out of the alley. He’d run when Connor said, stopped when Connor said. The only thing he wouldn't do is move more than a foot away from Connor.

Not even Monster-Boy shoves had kept Spike away for longer than a few seconds. He'd come sidling back, like a half-drowned albino rat, all red miserable eyes and wet—everything. Afraid to touch or cling, but obviously wanting to do both. 

The part of Connor that's Steven Holtz is disgusted by this degeneration from what Spike was, to what he is. 

But the part of Steven that's Connor Reilly has fought every barrage of: he's useless, save yourself, and kept the shivering wreck of a man with him—carried him when he couldn’t run, even though Spike’s just one of many burdens, heaped on their shoulders by guilt, by Angel. 

But who saves someone's life, then leaves them on their own to die? Connor had reasoned, with all the righteous indignation a well-raised, suburban teenager could bring to bear on the situation. What was the point of saving him at all, then?

That, coupled with Spike's frightened, shell-shocked eyes had cowed Steven into a stubborn, sullen silence in the back of their shared headspace. 

For little awhile, it was almost like being a whole person again, instead of two people vying for the same space in one life. Then Steven's insistence on going to ground until morning had made too much sense to be ignored. 

The museum was the last place he'd had felt safe, and the last place anyone but Angel--and a bunch of very dead evil lawyers--would think to look for him.

And now, even Angel's dead. The kind of dead that doesn't rescue helpless blondes from demons.

Connor can't help frowning at the untidy pile of black, white and platinum sprawled on the bed.

Like father, like son, Steven whispers in the back of his mind, and tries to curve Connor's lips in the smug, uncharitable smirk that’s characteristic of only one of them. Tries, fails, then laughs.With or without Vale's spell, we just can't pass up Angel's cast-offs. 

"Back in your cage, Monster-Boy," Connor mutters aloud. Spike rolls onto his back and sits up. Watches Connor warily for few seconds.

”Only one of us can be barmy at a time, mate," he apologizes, then lays back down with a sigh. "Reckon it isn't your turn, just yet."

"You're not crazy, just--" Self-pitying, cowardly, worthless "--in shock. You've had a long night. We both have. But we're safe . . . for now." Connor reiterates, though he doubts he's convincing either of them. "And when it's light out, we're gonna get out of LA. Head northeast." 

No agreement or disagreement, just that too-silent silence. 

(Having only met Spike the one time previously, Connor feels he knows enough about him to know that silence--this type of silence--isn't at all normal. 

Then again, neither is the heartbeat and shivering.) 

Connor has a feeling that if he'd been Angel, announcing their plans in the same my-will-be-done way, logic bedamned, Spike would’ve have stirred himself to argue—or at least ridicule Angel down a peg. 

Probably. But now, Connor'll never know for sure. 

In the meantime, he drifts around the attic. It's familiar, cluttered, dirty . . . somehow homey. It triggers memories that belong to another boy, one who, in his heart of hearts, would always be Steven Holtz.

This attic has seen Steven lose his virginity--a hazy, perfect memory flavored with the scents of dust and fading orchids, rotting wood and brimstone . . . tainted only by the knowledge of the grief and death that would follow. But he can still feel Cordy's smooth skin sliding across his own like a revelation, her mouth everywhere, burning like the doom that rained down around them. 

All of her had been a cry of welcome and desire, from the hands that clawed their ownership into his back, to the heels that drummed slow rhythms on his lower back. 

She was everything Steven had ever wanted and suspected he'd never get, every sinful dream he’d had ever had, and forgotten upon waking, surrounded by the scents of his own pheromones, sweat and come. 

Connor falters at the edge of the gulf between two immeasurably different lives. 

Unlike Steven Holtz, Connor Reilly's first time was much less dramatic, much more mundane. Eons of planning certainly hadn’t gone into it, nor had the outcome been the birth of a god. The gir's name was Diane Murchison, and she was his best friend's sister, home from Northwestern for the holidays. At sixteen, he’d been four younger than her, and since then, he’d assumed his attraction to dark-eyed older women was because of her. 

Just recently, of course, he's learned otherwise. 

And, pretty as she'd been, Diane couldn't hold a candle to Cordy. Her skin didn't glow--sometimes literally--and her smile wasn't as big or bright. 

The world didn't end, then begin again in Diane Murchison's arms. . . . 

No, nothing has ever felt so perfectly right as being with Cordy did. Still does. 

You're just hurting us both. Why are you doing this? Connor wonders. Never has having two sets of memories—another whole person rattling around the walls of his skull been more painful or confusing. And that's saying a lot. I understand how much you loved her, I do. But we can't do this. Now isn’t the time, even if this is the place. I’m sorry.

No . . . now isn't the time, Steven agrees, subsiding. Connor's prepared for arguments, for denials, for anything but weary assent and a creepy sensation of memories being carefully smoothed, then tucked away, like old photographs.

Spike suddenly bolts up, his eyes wide and darting all around the dim, junky space. "I think. . . ." he trails off, his face scrinching up like he's going to throw up. "I think--" 

Ah, Christ. What, now? "Are you oka--"

Spike sneezes violently. It's Looney Tunes-ish in volume, force and spray, rocking the bed and further mussing Spike's hair.

In the wake of the sneeze, Spike's face is a perfect mask of horrified surprise, and he seems to be almost near tears. But when it's obvious that another sneeze isn't forthcoming, he laughs shortly. 

"That'd be Consumption, then." His voice is too calm, the voice of a man hanging on by his fingernails, and when he lies back down, he practically curls up in a ball.

Connor has a few puzzled moments of wtf?--wracks his brain, then laughs. "Dude--of all the things to be worried about at this point in time--you do not have TB!" 

"Is that so?" He can make out Spike's half-hearted sneer easily in the shadows and dim, shifting light. "Didn't realize Stanford had a medical school." 

"Yeah, well, it does." For all the good that'll do Connor, now. "And kindly Dr. Connor says you don't have TB. But you are gonna catch a cold if you don't at least take the duster off. It's soaked." 

Connor doesn't know if it's the dust, Steven's memories, this place, which, after nearly two years, still smells faintly of Cordy's perfume . . . but his voice is softer, kinder than he means it to be, even though at the moment, all he feels is depressed and resentful--at Spike, at himself. At Steven, still sniggering in the back of his mind.

At Angel, who'd left him this--this, to take care of. . . .

Connor hangs his head and seriously considers just walking away. Leaving Spike’s survival to fate, or the Powers, or whoever looks after the helpless now that Angel doesn’t.

But the moment passes, and Connor straightens up, squaring his shoulders against exhaustion that’s purely emotional.

If he's mine to take care of, I guess I'd better get started on that. "Get up, Spike." 

A disagreeable sound that's too tired to be a snort. "Why?" But Spike pushes himself up and to his feet without waiting for an answer. A fluid shrug, and the duster slides to the floor with a sticky-wet slither . . . a puddle of midnight around his booted feet. Without it, Spike looks small, naked and defenseless. His pale arms are all over goosebumps and he's shivering hard enough that he actually appears to be vibrating. 

"Maybe I should go out, find you some warmer, dryer clothes. . . ." Connor says doubtfully, already looting Steven's memories of the area: which shops were easiest to get in and out of, which apartments. But Spike seems alarmed at the suggestion of separation, crossing his arms and looking down at his feet. 

"Cold doesn't bother me much." The fact that he's tucking his hands up under his arms doesn't really support that statement "Never has. I'm--used to it." 

"Bullshit. Vampire-you was used to the cold." Connor reaches out, hesitates, then puts his hands on Spike's arms and starts rubbing. Spike's not dead man-cold, but he's nowhere near living man-warm. His skin lacks the tensile, dolphin-like smoothness Connor remembers sliding under his knuckles in the midst of a hundred fights with a hundred vampires. The pulse under it--slow, steady and strong--is downright disturbing. To the both of them, he senses. "Human-you is probably gonna wind up in Intensive Care, dosed to the eyeballs on Isoniazid." 

Spike's reply is an ambiguous silence--he either isn't listening or doesn't care. His eyes are dark, and unfocused on the point just above Connor's shoulder, and if he keeps biting his lip like that, he's gonna need stitches. Connor sighs. "Isoniazid is used to treat people who’ve contracted TB. Get it?" 

That look of alarm crosses Spike's face again, sharpening his features and widening his spaced-out eyes. "Consumption killed Father. Mother had it before I killed her . . . I probably would've died of it, if not for Dru." A faint, sad smile that briefly makes Spike look every year of his true age. "Be just like them, wouldn't it? Be just like the PTB to play such a cruel joke?" 

"Look, there's nothing wrong with you--except maybe a head cold. Which isn't to say it won'tturn into something worse, if you don't help me take care of you.”

The sad smile widens fractionally. “What does it matter? I’m fucked, mate. Royally so.” 

“You are if you don't start giving a shit." 

No response. Connor's hands make curiously loud whist-whist-ing sounds as he tries to rub some warmth back into Spike's arms. It occurs to him that keeping Spike is a two-man job, and they’re currently one man short, because the other man? Is cruising down a four lane super-highway in Checking-Out Land, getting farther away from reality with every passing mile. 

Look at him. He doesn't want to be here, doesn't want to be alive. Steven's as close as a breath on the back of Connor's neck, as forward as he can be without assuming control of their body.He's worse than useless, he's a liability. It'd be a mercy to kill him. 

Steven says this without mockery, or cruelty: this is fact, not opinion. But it's a fact Connor's not ready to accept without a fight. 

He lets his hands tighten on Spike's arms until Spike winces and, finally, is forced to look him in the eyes. That annoyingly absent stare is now flecked with anger. 

For the first time since the alley, Spike seems present and accounted for. But Connor . . . Connor is at a distance behind his own eyes, behind Steven, who's had enough of mincing around Spike's selfish disconnect. 

"One of the things humans--most humans—have to worry about is getting ill. Mortally ill. Youcan get sick, now, Spike." Steven can feel the strain his grip is causing on Spike' muscles, the way they quiver in protest. There'll be brusies in the morning--for many mornings after. Something long denied within their divided soul sits up and takes interest in the proceedings. "You can get weak, slow us down, get us caught. Get us dead. You wanna wind up like Angel?" 

That makes an impact. There's something kindling in Spike's eyes, and Connor wonders if Spike had actually seen Angel get dusted. Steven, however, doesn't know and doesn't care. Dead is dead, and the how doesn't matter, even if the who sometimes does. 

Spike gasps, the anger in his eyes changing. Whether to the neurotic's fear of pain and death, or the beginnings of every animal's basic instinct is another distinction Steven has neither interest in, nor time for.

"You're hurting me--let go!" 

Connor hadn't quite realized how hard they were squeezing until that hissed out plea. But Steven had--has, after all, known his own strength for a lifetime longer. 

"Make me," he murmurs in low, threatening tones. The thought of bruises on Spike's pallid arms, like bracelets--like territory marked--is both unsettling and compelling. Spike isn't trying to pull away, despite the threat or the pain. In fact he's leaning closer, like a pale, demented flower toward a distant sun. 

Well, yeah. Until a couple hours ago, he was a vampire. 

Connor shrinks away from Steven’s dark, reptilian-dry satisfaction. 

"Make it quick, if not painless," Spike says softly, going limp and resigned. And Steven is about to do just that--about to snap Spike's neck and be done with this farce. He'll have a hard enough time getting out of Los Angeles unnoticed without a basket-case former vampire--possibly with TB--hanging off his arm like a sickly lover. 

Whether Wolfram & Hart get him, or sickness and age do, Spike will die. The only point up for debate is sooner or later.

Better to have done with it now. It really would be a mercy--

That's enough. Connor does something within his own mind that feels like upper-cutting someone, only . . . he's the puncher and the punchee. He drives fist after mental fist into his corpus callosum like a warning, like a hurt-shaped wedge driven between the two distinct parts of his self.

It's a trick Connor's picked up in the weeks since Steven came screaming back into his mind, complete with all kinds of baggage that was too creepy and depressing to examine closely.

Tears of surprise and pain spring to his eyes and double his vision. Connor's no doctor--and never will be, now--but he's pretty sure that if he does it enough times, he'll put them both in vegetative state. But that's all the subtlety Steven seems to understand. I've seen your idea of mercy, Monster-Boy. Back the hell off.

Though he’s never seen his face when he and the evil twin are dukin' it out, it must be a sight. There’s something resembling curiosity on Spike’s face, and his eyes are knowing--understanding, even. 

"There's a monster in you,” he says. Something too grim and rueful to be a smile twists his grey, bitten lips. “It is you, and it wanted to kill me. You wanted to kill me, I could see it in your eyes. So why didn’t you?" 

No fear, now, just that intense, intent curiosity. 

"Don’t stare at me. I’m not a fucking sideshow." He shoves Spike toward the bed again, before the urge to do real damage is irresistible. Before what passes for Steven's reason rallies to drown out his own. "You may not care whether you live or die, but I do. I do." 

Spike sits on the bed, watching Connor out of the corners of his eyes. A few seconds later, he pulls one of the dusty, moth-eaten blankets around his shoulders, and bruised arms. It’s more common sense than Connor would’ve given him credit for. 

“I care,” he says, and it hangs in the air, naked and sad. He hitches the blanket higher. “Of course I bloody care. But I'm worse than useless, now. If that hasn’t already become bloody obvious, it soon will. I’ll slow you down, and we’ll both die. Alone, at least you have a chance."

Steven’s words coming out of Spike’s mouth. The absolute last thing Connor needs to hear, right now. “I saved your life. You’re my responsibility, now.”

“Saw that in a fortune cookie, did you?” Spike’s tone is gentle, teasing. It makes Connor feel like a kid caught masquerading as a superhero in filched bed linens. “Bein’ a hero’s not all it’s cracked up to be, you know?”

Gunn’s gone. 

Wesley’s gone. 

Fred’s gone. 

Cordy’s . . . gone.

Angel, is gone, too. 

And Spike--the part of him that was brave, that fought back and took no prisoners--is way gone. What’s left of him is just enough to remind Connor of how completely his other life, his first life, has been decimated.

Connor knows that being a hero is nothing like it’s cracked up to be.

His own jacket--also a sodden, uncomfortable mess--hits a pile of crates near the window with an offended plop. “You should rest while you have the chance. You may not get another for awhile.” 

There doesn’t seem to be anything to say, after that.

*



There's precious little space for thinking, let alone pacing, but Connor is definitely pacing.

Sitting silently on the bed, hands folded neatly on his lap, Spike's eyes follow Connor ceaselessly, shuttered by the occasional blink. Outside, the still rain beats down as if God--some God, or other--is trying to cleanse the world. The sound of it is merciless, continuous, eventually white noise.

Connor’s nerves are too keyed-up to allow sitting down, and it's not wise to be close to Spike. Not with the lees of Steven's anger--and that creepy fascination with bruising Spike still swirling within him. 

Not when the Monster-Boy himself is lowering over Connor's consciousness like the threat of a migraine, or a hurricane. 

He can feel Spike's eyes on him: watchful, waiting, assessing, but oddly detached. It's almost like visits to his great-aunt Jean's house, and the taxidermic nightmare that was perfectly preserved Fluffies, all in various places and poses, light bouncing off their glass eyes to make a mockery of life. All watching Connor like he's holding back a plausible explanation for why they're dolls in some crazy old bat’s livingroom.

Spike's situation is the reverse: he was a dead thing, preserved by dark magic, and a demon. Now he's alive, though his eyes tell a different story.

Connor paces, even though pacing doesn't do jack when all he wants to do is go back to his dorm room and hide under his bed. When all Steven wants is to get his hands on something, anythingand squeeze until it's dead.

”I knew it wasn't me," Spike says as Connor passes him for the umpteenth time. His voice is vaguely defensive, but shaky, like a guilty man in a confessional.

"What?" Connor's own voice isn't much better, cracking up into pre-pubescent registers. He clears his throat. "What's wrong, now?”

"Angel should've been their bloody champion," Spike says angrily, barely audible over the squeak and scuff of restless sneakers on the floor boards. “Not me.”

Connor pauses to look at him, and catches flashes of anger, grief and confusion on Spike's face, swimming to the surface of sea-dark eyes before Spike glances away, into the many shadows. 

"Deep down, I accepted that. No matter what I said, no matter how many times we fought over his bloody destiny, like two dogs over a piece of gristle." He shakes his head. "I knew that it wasn't me." 

"Shows what you know." Connor rubs his temples. The impending Monster-Boy storm still rumbles ominously, but is retreating a little. Steven doesn't care for destiny--hates it the way any child grows to hate a overbearing parent. 

But Connor picks up on something so obvious--and disturbing--he feels short-bus special for not realizing it sooner. 

"Angel--Angel made you, didn't he? Before he got the soul? He was kinda your dad, right?"

There are too many emotions in Spike's eyes that Connor can't read, and isn't sure he should try to. "Was a bit more complicated than that, but he was . . . family."

Well, that takes on new and bad touch-y meanings when it comes to vampires. Sheesh. "So that sorta makes you my . . . brother." The fine point Connor really wanted to avoid putting on things. "Sorta."

There’s a wry smile in Spike’s voice. "Sorta. If you choose to look at it that way." Inoffensive, equanimous--irritatingly indifferent. 

"I choose." Off Spike's raised eyebrow, Connor shrugs defensively. "You asked why I didn't let Monster-Boy kill you. Angel gave up a lot to give me a normal life, so I kinda owe him. You--and I guess me--are all that's left of his family. He loved us, and he’d want us to go on."

The sharp look Spike gives him makes Connor's face burn, and it's on the tip of his tongue to apologize for assumptions made, bounds overstepped, but the look softens into something that's could be guilt, or horror, or just the precursor of another sneeze.

”Angel and I were . . . Angel and I, Connor," Spike says heavily. Connor's name sounds strange in his low, smooth voice. Sounds like an adult trying to reason with another adult, not an adult trying to sway a recalcitrant child. "All this . . . it's nothing to do with you. You don't owe Angel anything, and you're not--bound to me, in any way."

In the vaults of Connor’s memories, in a special room of its own, is a looped reel of Spike's wet, frightened face, corpse-pale in the bright flashes between thunderings, one hand outstretched for help, an army of monsters at his back. 

He remembers how light Spike'd felt, how easy to carry, how fragile. 

Connor’d run for a mile carrying Spike before he finally got winded, finally thought to go to ground. Even Steven's adamant lack of concern for anyone but himself hadn't touched Connor till the relative safety of the museum.

In the heat of the moment, all that had mattered was getting Spike somewhere hidden, or at least defensible, until daylight.

Not bound? 

Yeah, right.

"I do . . . I am," Connor says. That's the only certain thing in his life, right now: his connection, however uncomfortable and unwanted, with Spike. "You're as good as dead on your own. The only way I can keep you alive is to keep you with me."

"For how long?" 

Connor meets Spike's eyes. "Till I'm sure we're safe." 

Spike takes a deep breath, and Connor's sure it rattles a tiny bit. "And when will that be?" 

"Well, let's see. Wolfram & Hart are gonna be looking for you—for us for a long time. Probably for the rest of our lives. The Powers That Be have a higher champion kill ratio than Wolfram & Hart, so the likelihood that we'll make it out of this museum alive is only slightly less probable than us making it out of Los Angeles at all. Assuming that we somehow manage both those things, there's still looking over our shoulders, never staying in any place for too long, trying to keep a few steps ahead--" Connor pauses mid-rant, frowning.

There's been a gradual easing of tension in his mind that normally means Steven's nursing his wounds and resentments in the back of Connor's brain, like a mental patient in a very small, dark corner of a large asylum.

But it seems two months together hasn't taken away Monster-Boy's annoying way of surprising the hell out of Connor. Steven's not back there sulking, or plotting. He’s planning escape routes from the city--from SoCal altogether. 

These plans are made to accommodate their newly-human traveling companion 

Somehow, Spike'd had been quietly moved to the "us" side of Steven's simplistic us / them worldview. A place previously held by only two people, both of who are now dead. Connor can't pin the moment it happened--and Steven is suspiciously mum on the subject, ignoring Connor's surprise in favor of wheel-spinning--but strangely enough, Spike fits there. 

Not perfectly, but pretty well. 

Fits better than Holtz or Cordelia ever did, which really isn’t saying much. 

"When will I be sure we're safe?" Connor smiles, and there's enough of Steven in it that it may technically be a smirk. "When evil is completely vanquished forever." 

"Oh," Spike says softly. "Right, then. So not for a few weeks, at least?" He lets out a breath in something that sounds enough like a laugh that Connor joins him. At least until Spike's laugh turns into a nagging cough. 

Connor can barely hear it over the coughing, but it's there, alright: a slight rattle in Spike's lungs that means he's heading for a doozy of chest cold. 

Beautiful, he thinks tiredly. Steven merely adjusts their plans, moves cold medicine further up the priority list, just behind food, and just before a hastily added fake ids added by Connor. 

"Oh, bloody hell--" Spike makes a strangled snorting sound, his face a rictus of disgust. "I've got a runny nose--and it's running back down my throat!

He sounds so revolted, so helplessly horrified--so like he’s about to retch--that Connor stops the almost hysterical laugh that wants to bubble up out of him. Clears his throat and gallantly tears the left sleeve off his button-down. 

"Here. Take it." 

When Spike continues to look horrified, Connor rolls his eyes. 

"I left the Kleenex in my other museum, okay? So it's this, or your arm, pal." 

The sleeve is yanked out of Connor's hand before he finishes the word arm. After a moment of hesitation, Spike sighs and blows his nose half-heartedly. It's a pathetic sound, considering who Spike is--was. It's helpless and lost. 

It's human. 

"S'dot workig!" 

So is that petulant distress. Connor has to fight another Steven-smirk. "Then blow harder." 

Spike's eyes narrow; he thinks Connor's making fun. And Connor is, but just a little. "Makes my head hurt and my eyes throb." 

"Better out than in. Unless you wanna develop TB--" 

Improbably, Spike pales. He takes a deep breath, like a man marching off to his own execution, and blows hard

Connor feels like a jerk, but only a little. 

I bet he didn't used to be this squeamish when he was drinking the blood of babies, Steven notes, with the mental equivalent of shaking his head in wonder. 

Hey--even monsters can change. 

Steven’s surprise is almost a physical thing . . . then Connor's other has retreated far enough and deep enough, he only registers as a watchful presence at the back edges of consciousness. 

And Jesus, Spike's blowing so hard, he's actually honking like a flock of geese. Nasally, but somewhat less congested geese. 

"Um. You might wanna stop now," Connor suggests, and Spike does stop, gratefully. He wads the sleeve up and shoves it in his pocket with relief that's all out of proportion to putting away a used make-shift hankie. 

"Can't believe I ever wanted this," he mutters, sniffling and hitching the blanket back up around him again. His face is still apoplectic-red from his exertions. "Forgot about the mucus and what-all that comes with bein' a real boy." 

"There's more to being human than head colds, y'know." Connor's very aware of the irony of a monster that used to be a man, explaining the upside of humanity to a man who used to be a monster. 

"It's weird--and gross--'cause it's new, but . . . you'll get used to it, in time. Even the snot. The secret is remembering that mucus is your friend." 

Another laugh and this time, there's barely any rattle. It also doesn't end in a coughing fit. 

"God, you remind me of a bloke I used to know. He . . . oh, bugger me," Spike exclaims at the end of a jaw-cracking yawn that leaves him starry-eyed and shocked. 

In that moment, he barely looks old enough to drink, let alone kill, or die. 

"Tired?" It's a stupid question, and out before Connor can stop it. 

"Yeah. Too scared to sleep, though. Too cold."

Connor crosses the small space in a few strides and sits on the bed. Spike edges toward the center to give him room, then tenses when Connor follows and puts an arm around him. 

This close, Spike smells like blood and sweat, leather and smoke.

"Sit still," Connor murmurs, gently, but insistently. And Spike does--as still as he can sit, shivering that hard. Connor pulls him closer, and drags the other blanket--even more raggedy than the first, but better than nothing--over them both.

"My, but you know how to make a girl feel pampered." But the sarcasm is laced with exhaustion and Spike's obviously fighting another yawn. 

"You might as well get some sleep. The sun won't be up for a couple hours." 

"What about you?" 

"I've gone six days without sleep, tracking pack of Jendrakar across the Yluw Plains . Not to mention I got through finals week on, like, three cat naps and a half-pound of chocolate covered espresso beans." 

And by the end of finals week, Connor had been hallucinating some pretty weird stuff. Quor'toth stuff. But when he finally got a chance to really sleep, it was dreamless, and twenty hours deep. "I'll be fine. I can sleep when--" 

"We're safe?" Spike finishes for him, his voice and eyes almost warm with amusement. Connor blushes, looks away. It’s weird sitting this close to a guy he’s not fighting with or getting stoned with--weird being this close to eyes that aren’t a girl’s. 

But there's nothing in this place to stare at that isn't junk, shadows or Spike, and he finds himself once again meeting the other man’s eyes. “Safe-er, anyway." 

The silence stretches, isn’t precisely uncomfortable. Spike’s the one who looks away, this time, frowning and biting his lip. "Jendrakar, hunh? I take it they're good eatin'." 

"Uh . . . they’re great, if you like the taste of necro-slime and sulphuric acid." Spike starts shivering harder, and Connor realizes he’s silently laughing. Pride stung, Steven darts forwardto say: "Picture a giant, mutant leopard-wolf thing that's mean, rabid, smart and poisonous to the touch. With ten inch claws, and razor-sharp spikes and scales, and you’ll be picturing the things the Jendrakar hunt." 

The silent laughter stops, and Spike is looking at him again, respect bordering on awe in his eyes. "And you hunted the Jendrakar for fun." 

Connor can still taste the blasted, furnace air of the Quor'toth--remembers what it felt like to race across a plain of stone and sand, feared and unfearing, driving demons and monsters before him like a cleansing fire. Remembers how black and white life was, once upon a time, when evillooked evil.

Remembers what it was to be the Tro-clon. "Every chance I got." 

For awhile, neither of them say anything. Spike starts to relax, his head slowly drooping onto Connor's shoulder. 

"I'm suddenly liking our chances of survival a lot better. Well, your chances, anyway." 

Mildly startled--Spike’s breathing had been so even, Connor thought he was asleep--it takes a moment to reboot. “You had it right, the first time. Anything that wants you is gonna have to go through me. And I think it'll find that I’m not . . . that . . . go-through-able.” 

The response to that is a chuckle, bitter, and soft as silk. “If Angel hasn't earned the right to live, I don't see how I could have. We weren’t the best of friends, but even I can say he deserved a hell of a lot better than what he got. He deserved to still be here.”

"Yeah, well. Life sucks. Welcome back." That’s all Connor can think of to say. Because it's true, and because there's nothing else he could say that would sum up everything that’s happened to the both of them. 

Spike sneezes again, and starts to wipe his nose on the back of his arm before he remembers the torn, soggy sleeve and makes use of it. Then he shoves it back into his pocket and looks at his scraped, dirty hands.

"Thanks, mate.”

Connor shrugs uncomfortably. “I’ve got a spare, if you need it." He flashes his other sleeve, even though he knows that isn't what Spike means. “And a t-shirt, under this one.”

“At the rate I’m going, I might just have to take you up on that,” Spike makes that ridiculous snorfling sound again. “Some bloody champion. I can't seem to stop sniffling and sneezing, I’mfreezing--and I can hear it beating in my ears loud enough to drive me mad--dunno how you lot stand it all."

"We just . . . do."

Silence descends again, unbroken but for the white noise of the storm, and Spike’s occasional sigh. Eventually, his head drops onto Connor’s shoulder again. He’s asleep before the shivering and sniffling finally ease.

They are, neither of them, warm, or particularly comforted. 

But they'll do, for now, Connor supposes.