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The light was gone. His bones were broken. The sounds of the battle were distant, as if they were coming from a televised replay, but annoying, as if the television was a foot away and at full volume. He tried to turn from it and couldn’t. Someone was losing. Did that mean someone was winning?

“Spike,” said a voice, coming through reality and not a television. A hand dropped onto his shoulder like the jaws of a wolf. “Spike, get up.”

“Fuck you.”

Those big hands pulled him onto his back, and he couldn’t turn away from that, either. “I’ll help you.”

“I’m dying, numbskull. Let me be.” He was dying. Everything was broken.

“You’re not going to die. We’re not done yet. I need you to keep fighting.”

In a sudden wash of dread, Spike realized it was true. The battle was still in full swing. Nobody was winning, and he wouldn’t be allowed to die until they were. “Angel,” he protested.

Angel said nothing. For a few seconds he ignored Spike entirely, leaping to his feat to dispatch a hellish creature that had come to investigate the two vampires crouched in an alley, but then the enemy was dead and Angel was hovering again. Spike could see his intent gaze through his own wet eyes. “You’re thinking with your bloody sword again. I can’t. Move. I can’t fight.”

“I know.” Angel studied the wreckage of Spike’s body. Under any other circumstances, the kindest thing would have been to conceal him from enemies and the eventual sunrise, and return in the case of his own survival. But these were no ordinary circumstances, and kindness could not be a priority. “I drank Hamilton’s blood. It’s potent. If you take some, it could heal you.”

“Take some? What, by sipping it out of you? That’s like using your bathwater. Get away from me.”

Angel didn’t obey. He was barely listening, already focused on the problem of how to get the blood in question out of his own veins and into Spike’s. A few minutes ago he would have had any number of open wounds to choose from, but he was healing too fast, and now he would have to make a new one. He scowled, letting the expression expand until it transformed his face, and dug a fang into his left palm.

“Don’t try it,” Spike warned, struggling feebly. “Get off. I’m not your bloody girlfriend.”

He was silenced in a second by Angel’s dripping palm over his mouth, but Angel wished he had chosen a different taunt. The last person he had done this for was Darla, and then it was for no other reason than that she wanted him to. Her tongue had tickled him as she unlaced his breeches, and later he had marked her palm in the same way, to remind her that they were equals.

Spike’s tongue tickled too, but the sky blue eyes that watched him now were full of hatred, and no amount of reciprocation would settle it.

It was working, though. Angel didn’t feel any weaker, but the changes to Spike’s body were already visible. When he reached some particularly painful stage of the unnatural healing process, he roared and his body spasmed, taking Angel by surprise and making him lose his bloody hand’s tentative grip. In an instant their positions were reversed, with Angel on his back and a half-mad vampire pinning him down. Rather than going for the neck, as Angel almost expected him to, he bit into the left wrist, where the blood from the already-healed puncture on Angel’s palm had dripped. For a few long, silent seconds, Angel allowed him to continue, and then he tore his arm away, punched Spike’s face with his other hand, and jumped up to his feet.

Spike stood up slowly, in dazed deliberation, and flexed his newly functional arms and legs. He faced Angel, who was empty-handed and unharmed. Decades of accusation and interdependence rushed between them.

Angel stooped and picked up a sword, not his own. He tossed it to Spike, hilt-first. “Get to it,” he said, and went running back into the battle.