Before he even tries to get Spike’s coat and shirt off him, Connor hands him the bottle of scotch.
“Knew there was a reason I love you.” Spike’s smile is thin and tight. Pain drips from his words and he doesn’t try to hide it. He’s not sure he could if he wanted to.
Closing his eyes in gratefulness, he brings the bottle to his lips and tilts his head back. He swallows gulp after gulp until there’s only the smell of good scotch left in the bottle. Until the little bits of bright, shiny lights in his head are from the alcohol hitting his system rather than pain – or at least, not only from the pain.
Connor pulls the bottle from his hand. When Spike opens his eyes again, Connor’s back is to him, and there’s a tremor that shakes his shoulders, so faint that for a moment Spike thinks his vision is blurry. But no, Connor is shaking. And still rummaging through the first aid kit he opened on the kitchen table. Still not looking at Spike.
“You don’t have to be the one who does this,” Spike says, slurring the words a little, even though the prospect makes him want to puke the alcohol he just drank.
“You patch me up often enough,” Connor says, finally turning around. “My turn.”
There’s a tightness at the corner of his eyes and lips that tells just how unhappy he is, and Spike wants to say it again. It doesn’t have to be him. All it would take is a phone call and a few minutes of waiting. He doesn’t want Connor to think of blood, torn flesh and broken bones when he thinks of touching him. He doesn’t want those images in his head; there are too many of them in there already.
But Connor is slipping behind the chair in which Spike collapsed. He helps him out of the duster – his good arm first, and then… the not so good one. The leather is torn, the sleeve holding on by two or three inches. Which means that the limb beneath is in just as bad a shape. All Spike can see when he looks at his arm, before and after Connor cuts what’s left of his shirt off him, is blood. Now his vision is definitely blurry, and it’s hard to focus. When Connor starts actually touching him, Spike grits his teeth and wishes he had another bottle to drown himself in. Or two. Or an entire brewery.
He looks away from his arm, away from Connor’s bloody but oh so gentle hands, and squints a little to force his eyes to focus on Connor’s face instead. The boy has never had that California surfer boy tan, but he’s never been so pale either, not even when the blood and pain were his own.
Spike didn’t mean to say the word, but by the quick, surprised look Connor throws at him, he must have voiced it. Connor doesn’t respond with more than a tiny shake of his head. Then he says, “Ready?” and before Spike can ask what for, pain explodes through his body. If before it was as searing as the touch of sunlight, there are now a thousand suns caressing Spike, peeling away layers of skin right along with conscious thought. Even in the Hellmouth, it never was this bright. This painful.
When Spike opens his eyes again, he’s in bed. He’s not too sure how he got there. He’s not sure either he needs to know. There’s blood on his tongue, the taste as familiar as it is heady. Later, he’ll scold Connor. For now, he silently thanks him.
Despite knowing better, he tries to move his arm. The pain, this time, is manageable. He doesn’t even gasp. Or at least, not very loudly.
“Idiot,” Connor mutters right into his ear. “Do I need to strap you down so you won’t move?”
Spike’s first thought is, a bit of bondage is always fun. The second, he’s already all but tied down, with Connor’s arms around him, his legs tangled with Spike’s, his warmth seeping in everywhere and making Spike as mellow as a sun-warmed kitten. What comes out of his mouth in the end though is, “You ok?”
Connor snorts. “Am I ok? I’m not the one whose arm almost got severed tonight.”
“No. You’re the one who fixed it.”
A tremor rocks Connor’s body at that – and by extension, Spike’s. It fucking hurts but he doesn’t make a sound, this time.
“Do you ever regret getting it back?” Connor asks after a moment, and Spike has to wonder if he drifted out and missed a bit of conversation somewhere.
“Getting what back?”
“Your soul.” The 'Duh' that punctuates those words is silent but very loud. “I mean, if you didn’t have it, you wouldn’t have been fighting tonight, and you wouldn’t be hurt now.”
It’s been months since Spike let it slip that it was his choice; Connor never asked a question before. Very slowly, Spike slips his good arm underneath Connor, wraps it up so he can touch the nape of his neck, feel the tension there, and try to stroke it away.
“If I started regretting every stupid decision I ever made,” Spike says, trying to push a bit of humor in his voice, “I’d never stop brooding and people would start calling me Angel.”
Connor doesn’t even acknowledge the joke. Instead, he pushes on. “I don’t get why you wanted it back anyway.”
It’s not a question, and so Spike doesn’t answer. Not that he would if Connor asked point blank. They both have things they’d rather not talk about. Spike closes his eyes and tries to chase away the glare of the light of white porcelain tiles.
“What does it feel like?” Connor asks after a while, just as Spike is starting to fall asleep. “Not having a soul, I mean?”
It doesn’t feel like anything, but that’s not really what Connor is asking.
“Ever drove on a highway at night?” Spike says, and doesn’t wait for Connor’s answer to continue. “No one as far as you can see, you flick on your high beams, and all those little shiny bits of plastic show you the path. Show you where it’s straight and where it turns. You see the signs better too, speed limit, exits, how many miles left to wherever. Sometimes there’s someone in your rearview mirror and their lights are so bright that you’re a blinded for a bit. Or sometimes there’s someone ahead, and you follow them for a while. You with me, pet?”
Connor shifts a little against him, readjusting his position so he’s pressed to Spike’s side, his head tucked in beneath Spike’s chin. “I… think? Unless you’re trying to say you want to go on a road trip, in which case I’m totally confused.”
The tension in his neck is slowly melting away, and Spike doubts it’s from his words; rather, it must be from his tone, soothing as a lullaby. He continues just as gently, words trickling out of him, eased by the alcohol and the numbness that follows too deep pain.
“That highway at night, it’s what it’s like with the soul. You don’t have to keep to the speed limit, you can exit whenever you want, you can change lanes or do what you want as long as you accept there might be consequences. And you know that if you do follow the rules, you’ll get to where you’re supposed to be. It might not be a fun journey, you might even have accidents along the way, but in the end that’s the safe way to travel.”
“But I asked—”
“Turn off the headlights,” Spike cuts in, tugging lightly at a strand of Connor’s hair. “Take away the reflective bits. Take away all the signs, and the guardrails, until there’s nothing left but the road, pitch black and infinite. Spread the road on both sides until it covers the entire world. You can go whichever way you damn well please. You can go straight toward the headlights you see traveling around you and hit them full on without feeling a thing. You can go as fast or as slow as you want. There aren’t any exits or destination, because there doesn’t need to be. At times, you see beacons in the distance and you can decide to check them out. Sometimes the road to get to them is like sliding down a hill, and you pick up speed the entire way, and it’s the most exhilarating feeling. But sooner or later, you reach the bottom, and then you remember that speed and you wish you could do it again, but it’s gone until you find another, deeper valley. At other times, the beacon is at the top of a hill, and it’s a struggle to get there, and you keep wondering why you even decided to go to it. But when you do reach it, it’s worth it, worth every bit of doubt and pain.”
For a long moment, long enough that Spike wonders if Connor has fallen asleep, no more than the quiet, regular beat of Connor’s heart marks the passage of time. Connor finally clears his throat lightly and asks, his voice hesitant enough that Spike can see his frown in his mind, “So… That’s what it’s like without the soul?”
Spike feels embarrassed, suddenly, like drunkenness has caused him to expose himself, except he’d never mind showing skin as much as he minds having shared this. “Yeah.”
Another long silence is followed by a kiss at the crook of his throat and whispered words. “Angel once said you used to be a poet. I always thought he was kidding.”
From anyone else, at any other time, Spike would take the words like he would a blow; he’d parry with sharp comments and hurt back, swift and unforgiving.
From this boy, though, after the night they’ve had, he accepts them at face value, caresses with no more intent than Connor’s thumb stroking against his chest. As he finally drifts toward sleep, the pain that radiates through his arm isn’t as bad as it used to be; his soul doesn’t seem to ache so much either.