On the Rocks
On the Rocks
Spoilers: Post Not Fade Away
Disclaimer: All belongs to Joss.
Author's notes: Written for spring_spangel, 23 May 2006. Many thanks for beta work to the good folk at FS, and especially myfeetshowit.
Summary: Spike finds Angel.
In Atlanta, Georgia, Spike finally stops to pick the dragon-scales out of his soles.
Wasn't his first plan for the afternoon. First plan involved Rolling Rock, weed, and sparkling conversation, but the backpacker kid who was going to provide all three is buggering off and spoiling it. Spike glares at him down the length of the sway-backed sofa in the flyblown boarding-house lounge.
"You should come too, dude," encourages the kid. "You know, outside? Get some food, go down to the lake. It's kinda bad for you, hanging out here all day. You look way goth."
Spike glares. "Day I take advice from someone with an Offspring tattoo is the day I - that day will never come."
"I've got beer," lies Spike.
"Ten minutes ago you said you were all out."
"Yeah? Well. Must've forgotten."
"Well, you go on up and get it, then. We can take it down to the lake," says the kid.
"You are, like, freakishly afraid of tanning," the kid tells him.
"Like it in here, is all," mutters Spike.
The kid wanders into the kitchenette, retrieves his Rizlas from a cupboard, and Spike takes the opportunity to steal his wallet and penknife.
"Last chance," offers the kid, picking up his backpack all oblivious.
Spike wears his gallows grin. "Never run out of those."
The kid nods sagely and saunters out into the afternoon.
The walls feel closer when he's gone. Spike slumps for a minute, drumming his clattering boot against the floor, then gets up and scoops the kid's abandoned card-deck off the table.
In the desolate lobby, a poster invites guests to the 2001 New Year's party, and a terse, yellowed little sign warns that smoking is not permitted anywhere inside the building. Spike trails up to the second floor landing: very faint moaning issues from behind the DO NOT DISTURB sign on room 4. A forlorn tap drips in the bathroom. He knocks at room 9 and waits: bedsprings, feet on floorboards, a stage-whisper and a giggle. The door opens.
"Spike!" Mona, the skinny college girl with the mean poker face, has one vest-strap hanging off her shoulder.
"Afternoon, love. Pinochle?" He holds up the card deck.
"Oh!" Mona's cheeks are pinker than usual. "You know, I would, but - " She beams like Fred Burkle, and a man in a polo shirt appears behind her. Looks at Spike down his paid-for-straight nose. "Spike," beams Mona, "This is Jake." She turns that lovely smile on Jake himself. "Me and Spike came in on the same Greyhound."
Jake slings a commandeering arm around Mona's waspy waist. "You shoulda let me drive you."
Mona pulls a face. Turns back to Spike. "You're playing cards? You know, we were just heading out for some icecream. Wanna come with?"
Spike grits his teeth. "Oh, no. Wouldn't want to intrude."
Jake squeezes Mona's waist, gives a little push to the small of her back to set her tottering back into the room. He turns, too, then pauses: grins back at Spike over his quarterback shoulder. "Guess you're playing solitaire."
The door slams.
"You too, huh?" A tired voice.
Spike turns. In the doorway at the far end of the hall stands a woman with a bottle. For a moment Spike takes her for a weary ghost, a grey lady: her long loose hair is a silver cobweb curtain around her bloodless face, her pale dress a drifting shroud, and her feet on the tattered rug are bare. But she leans against the doorframe solid as flesh, and under the juniper gin smell he can taste the melancholy, saline scent of life.
"Solitaire," she explains. Holds up the bottle: off-brand gin. "You're staying on the third floor. I've seen you." She walks toward him, her cloud of misery and gin trailing in her wake. Clinging to her hips, shimmering round her thighs, her dress is a mermaid's tail. "I'm Leah," she says.
Spike stands still, his throat tightening.
Mascara stains widen Leah's grey eyes. "You don't want to go outside," she says, placing a fingertip on his shoulder, stepping round to his side. "So stay in with me."
Not a ghost, then; a siren. Spike swallows. "Not solitaire if there's two of you."
Half-smiling, Leah tilts her head. "You really think not?"
Fists clenched, irritated at the shaking of his fingers, Spike goes to his room alone. The door bangs shut and closes the world down smaller than ever. The room's a dusty attic, where the smoke-wraiths from his cigarettes curl into the curtains to join their thousand predecessors, and the pumpkin-lantern glow from the drawn orange curtains bakes the air flat. It's August, hot enough to drowse through the cabin-fever hours. First few days Spike just slept, long as his conscience and memories let him; but then he met the kid, and stoner company's better than staring at the walls. Doesn't tire him out so much he can't go out for his night-time jollies, duff up the local demonic fauna for tips on where to get a bite to eat. Can't duff 'em up so much as to draw attention, of course - which is bloody unfair, since he's performing a public service so to speak - but it is what it is.
He's got hooked, though, he worries. Walls never felt so bloody close before he had a choice about staring at them, and now that's gone - bugger it. Nobody here but the stoned, owned, and alone - he doesn't need 'em. Couldn't have 'em if he wanted. He has outlets: who needs people? He's made paper planes from half the pages of the bible in the dresser drawer. And it's not like he's a prisoner here. He'll hit the road again soon – this weekend, maybe next week - soon as he dreams up a next destination. Just, seems a shame to run when his pursuers are nowhere in sight. Sooner stand and fight, if there was anything to get to grips with: he’s never been the running type. And it's hot out, and the nights are short. Local butcher has a glitch in his backdoor security, and for once in these three months Spike's not quite starving. The stewed peach afternoons make him slow-headed, make him stay.
He fishes the stolen penknife from his jeans and turns it over in his hand. These days, he likes to have a reason for stealing stuff - boredom sometimes qualifies - and he's sure he's on the brink of working out what it was this time. He flips each tool up in turn. Fancy bit of kit, this knife; corkscrew and scissors and tweezers and file, the full escape-from-Colditz. The big blade's scored with notches, which gives Spike new respect for the kid. Tiny pliers. Thing for getting stones out of horses' hooves. And it hits him. Had to be some use for those in the modern world. He hoists one booted foot up onto his thigh, turning it up so he can see the bottom: the rubber's rife with dug-in dragon-scales, stuck up between the treads. Thank god. Something to fix, or at least something to niggle at.
Spike sets to work on the dragon-scales. Tough old buggers, but the tool does for them: one by one they come free and patter to the wooden floor. They're dull when dry but a speck of water finds oily rainbows in the nacre. A single scale skitters away, jams itself between the pale floorboards, and Spike remembers how the beast looked framed against the angry sky, scything the air with chain-mail-and-leather wings, making Angel's sword look like a cocktail stick, and he smiles.
The air combusts with a brutal growl. Spike's on his feet before his brain kicks in, the penknife clattering at his feet, dragon-scales trod underfoot and digging back into the newly-relieved rubber. He goggles at the drawer. It's growling fit to make his teeth jitter, and something in his guts thrills. Stand and fight it is, then: he sets his jaw, scoops up the penknife, flipping up an implement at random - it's the tweezers - and he strides for the cabinet, yanks open the drawer.
He'd forgotten about the cellphone.
Every ring sets it vibrating and makes the cabinet's wooden frame burr against the floor. Spike snatches it up, snaps open the mouthpiece, and doesn't register the unknown number on the call-id before he punches answer.
"Hi there." A woman's voice, dry, northern-accented.
"What?" The phone crackles sharply against Spike's ear. He's not fond of these things.
"Hi. This is Amy Doolan, from the Dry Dock Bar in Jackson Harbor... I've got a guy in here, passed out dead drunk. This phone number is the only thing I can find on him."
Apart from what he's nicked the last few days, he has sod-all in the way of luggage: he can be packed and out in five minutes. "Don't know any guys. Sorry. Ta-rah."
"Hold on a second! Listen, this guy, he's in a pretty bad way. I think - he really needs some help."
"Sorry, love. Got the wrong bloke for that." Spike snaps the phone shut.
It strikes up bleating and buzzing again before he's even snatched his coat off the hook. Fuck it. Spike slings the handset onto the bed, throttles it with the mean sheets. Balls his fists and tries to think. Place isn't so fancy as to have towels to pinch, but he finds a couple of heavy blankets in the closet. Stuffs them into the rucksack he liberated from a dizzy bitch in the last town. Judging by the glow at the window, it's still light. Spike curses under his breath. The phone's ringing chokes off, then starts up again.
The stoner kid's wallet disgorges three plastic cards, a hopeful number of condoms, a picture of some blonde, and seventy dollars in folding money. Better than he'd hoped. He shucks the penknife into the bag and buckles it shut, pockets his cigarettes, snatches one last look around: good, quiet little place; it'll never let on he was here. He's striking out for the door when the phone sings out for a fourth time. Plaintive. Spike havers, bag bumping against his back, open door and open road ahead of him: they've never come at him like this before. Yeah, they've never stopped coming, these last three months, however far he gets, however one-horse the town. They've always caught up in the end, shadows and silhouettes, following or waiting, big glaring signs to get the hell out of Dodge. But never like this. Never a voice on the phone. Never tipped their hand so steep.
Whatever it is inside him that always overrides his brains answers the phone.
"Jeez," says Amy Doolan. "Your friend must be down on his luck, if you're the one he calls up in a crisis. Listen, if you know this guy, you've got to get over here. Jackson Harbor, in Maine. This guy, he's in real bad shape. I've seen some bad drunks in my time, but this is serious bad news."
"Make it tempting, don't you," mutters Spike. The phone maintains a laconic silence. "You know his name?"
"Uh-uh. He's been coming in here 'bout a month, but he doesn't talk to no one. Not a local. He's got nothing on him - no cards, no driver's license. Just cash. And this damn nasty scar, right across his face. He needs to see a doctor."
Spike looks down at the dragon scales. The beast had had claws like rhino horns, teeth like jacknives.
"This bloke. What's he wearing?"
"Uh... black. Shirt and slacks. Nice shoes."
Spike sits down on the bed. "Right," he says. "Right."
A red-eye flight to Portland International, a Greyhound bus, a three-a.m. trudge along rural roads where the air smells of salt and flesh, and he arrives. Welcome to Jackson Harbor, the lone sign greets him, frail and peeling where the sea air's seethed into the paint. Wouldn't need a car to knock this one over. Spike considers giving it a boot, but walks on by in the end. Days of grand entrances are behind him. He strolls up a stony road in the sharp, pre-dawn air, past white frame houses with blistered paint and shingle paths.
Place gets right up his nose before he's made it to the waterfront. Feels closed-in, Celtic, with its buildings stooping toward the indifferent granite, air stinging wet and cold, and everything rich green or dismal grey. Little boats lap in the harbour like they do off Cork or the Galway of the past. Spike grinds his teeth, and thinks no imagination, you old git. Like your whole existence is of such cosmic significance, you can't even stick a pin in a map without washing up somewhere ironic.
The air's alive with that prickle that means dawn's inches away, and Spike scopes out the gaggle of buildings in the cove. The Dry Dock Bar stands down by the slipway, festooned with the expected fishing nets, an anchor flowering with orange rust propped against its slatted flank. Spike gets in under the awning: plenty of shelter from the egg-yolk dawn breaking over the horizon. Heavy deadbolts seal both doors but there's a pale light at an upstairs window, a silhouette moving against the blinds. Spike dumps his bag and slouches in the shadows against the splintering wall, watching the sunrise pick out foamy caps on distant waves.
By the time the bolts slide open there's a gut-tormenting smell of frying on the air.
"Good morning." The woman who swings open the door is wiry, freckle-scattered, squinting as if she's staring far out to sea. She withdraws back into the building, then stops and turns back. "Hey. Are you him?"
"S'pose I am," says Spike. He hefts the bag, hanging close to the shady wall.
The woman looks him up and down, folds her arms. "Well." She turns and re-enters the building, leaving the door open behind her. "Guess you'd better come on in."
It smells so good inside, Spike almost shuts his eyes. His stomach groans under the waistband of jeans that life on the lam has made too loose. People-food's like smoking – takes the edge of his real hunger.
"I'm Amy," says the woman, as Spike trails after her into a tiny kitchen where a kettle's beginning to shriek on the hob. "You want some breakfast?" She picks up a wooden slice, prods around in a skillet full of sizzling bacon and mushrooms. "Or are you wanting to get right on up and see your friend? He's sleeping, but I could wake–-"
"Breakfast would be bloody marvellous."
Amy makes pancakes too, brings out a bottle of maple syrup, and Spike chases every last drop and crumb and grease-spatter off the plate. Who can say where his next o-negative's coming from.
"Come a long way to clean out my store-cupboard?" asks Amy, when he's licking his upper lip and staring over at the stove.
"Yeah." He hesitates, then admits, "Atlanta." God help him, if they're on his tail, he's doomed anyway.
"So, you're a good old Georgia boy, are you?" Amy's eyes in the middle of that screwed-up squint are bright. Spike sniffs, grins, licks a bead of oil off his knife, and Amy flips another pancake onto his plate. "Your friend upstairs English too?"
"Nah. Bogtrotter, originally. Mostly all-American now."
Amy nods slowly. "Thought maybe he was your family."
Spike raises his eyebrows and chews.
"Don't say much, do you?"
"Bit out-of-sorts lately."
Amy tilts her head from side to side, then gets up and clears away her own plate. "Well, fair enough. Not good manners of me to make you talk while you're eating."
Time was, I'd talk when I was eating, fighting, fucking, grieving, getting dead, thinks Spike, letting maple syrup weigh down his tongue. How are the gobshitey fallen.
Then he hears it: a groaning crack overhead, short and ominous. He stares at the ceiling.
Amy plunges her red hands into a sink of sudsy water. "There he goes." She looks up too. "Glad to hear him moving. He slept like a corpse... Sure enough, whole bottle of single malt'll do that to a feller. Nancy, the part-time girl, she was serving him. Like to think I wouldn't have let him have that much, but..." She wipes her hands on her apron and shrugs. "Sometimes you can see, a person's just got to get it done. Better he did it here where I could take care of him than out by himself on the rocks. Steep drop down off those rocks." She looks at Spike, and whatever she sees makes her put on a warm smile. "Don't worry. I left him a bucket up there, he needs to up-chuck."
Spike carries his plate to the sink and chugs what's left of the sludgy coffee.
"You have to rescue him a lot?" asks Amy.
Spike grits his teeth and smiles grimly. Shakes his head.
"Go on up, then. First left at the top of the stairs. Holler if you need anything." She turns away from him, immerses to her elbows in the dishwater. "Oh," she calls, as Spike reaches the kitchen door. "What's his name?"
"It's Angel," says Spike. "I think it's Angel."
Angel is lying face-down on the bed.
"Darling," says Spike. "You look marvellous."
Angel doesn't move. He's shirtless, barefoot, and the grainy grey light silvers his flesh like driftwood.
"Come on, you git. Came a bloody long way for this little trip down pathos lane. Least you can do is be conscious while I take the piss out of you."
It's someone's teenage bedroom, abandoned for adulthood: dusty sports almanacs and knickknacks on the bookshelves, faded Nirvana posters on the walls. Over the bed where Angel's sprawled hangs a print of two women, dark and blonde, kissing, the same poster Xander Harris had in one corner of his folks' basement. The salt's got in even here. Everything's peeling, swollen: warped floorboards, flaking windowframes, cracking paint at the skirting boards. The whole thing creaks. Then Angel rolls over and damn if it hasn't got into him, too: his face is puffed around the filthy scar in his cheek, lips chapped, and skin a flotsam shade of grey.
"Been cutting back on product?" asks Spike.
Angel groans. He makes to sit up, but wavers and collapses onto his elbows, then his back. Spike stares for a minute. Folds his arms tight around his chest and strides to the bookcase, pulls out volume after volume, leafing through. Sci-fi. Fantasy. The name Sean Doolan biroed on the flyleaf. "The room in which he slept was large and bedraggled and did not much benefit from the sudden intrusion of light," reads Spike aloud, fondly. "The sun crept slowly across the bedclothes, as if nervous of what it might find amongst them."
Angel's voice is half death-rattle. "Get lost, Spike."
"Been there, done that. Then I get a call out of nowhere telling me to come and find you. And, oh yeah, you owe me the plane fare."
Angel starts to make a shaking, hacking sound that Spike realises, with a start, is laughter. He gestures with a flailing arm at the dusty room. "Tell them," Angel coughs, "tell them to charge it to my account." He laughs for a minute more then falls back against the pillows, looking sepulchral.
"Knock it off, Angel. Not bloody well impressing me. This your big plan, was it? Didn't get to go out with a bang back in LA, so it's out with a whimper on the rocks?"
"On the rocks," repeats Angel. He hauls himself upright and dishevels the bedding, searching for something. "On the rocks... See, that's funny, 'cause... there was whisky... and..." He leans over the side of the bed and vomits into Amy's bucket. Stays hanging face-down when it's over.
Spike rolls his eyes, walks to the bed, grabs Angel by the shoulders and hauls him upright. "Fucking hell, mate. How long since your last hangover?"
Angel shuts his eyes and slumps back onto the bed. "Thirty-six hours," he says, eventually. "One before that, thirty-six hours again. Before that... two hundred and forty years... give or take."
Spike whistles. "That right? I get 'em all the time. Then again, you never did have any fun, did you?"
"Fun," says Angel, blackly. He lets his head drop back, lips parted, eyes almost shut.
Everything about this makes Spike feel wrong in his guts. He turns and leaves the room, troops downstairs and draws a glass of water in Amy's dark kitchen. Through the wall he can hear her humming, clinking glass, tending the bar out front: strange business goes down in harbour towns. No chance Amy reckons this is the strangest. Spike takes the water up to Angel and watches him down it in two desperate glugs. It seems to wash the worst of the green out of Angel's gills: he lies back more easily, and his eyes fall closed. Suddenly unable to remember when last he slept, Spike finds a bathroom to rinse out the bucket, restores the vessel to the bedside, then pulls his stolen blankets from his stolen rucksack and beds down on the complaining floorboards. Outside, the morning seagulls begin to wheel and call.
Spike wakes alone. He sits up, licking salty lips, from a hunger-dream in horribly vivid colour. On the swollen boards lies a bright, penny-thick shard: a dragon scale that's freed itself again from the treads of his boots. He sticks it back in out of nostalgia. The door opens and Angel enters, towel wrapped around himself, hair standing up in tufts.
"Prised the monkey off your back?" Spike asks.
"Getting there." Angel hauls himself back into bed. He coughs and looks at Spike unhappily. "Spike – what day is it?"
"Make it Thursday." This news makes Angel close his eyes, and Spike snorts. "Thought you knew exactly how long since you'd last sobered up?"
"Just a guess. Good guess."
"Guess that good, gotta be born of experience."
Angel sighs. "How'd you find me?"
"You had my number on you. Landlady hauled you out of the gutter and called it. Oh, I'm touched, really I am. Watching you bail out your stomach-lining's the best fun I've had in months. Can't match it."
Angel shuts his eyes, the thin skin beneath them blooming dark. The scar across his cheek, up past his eye and onto his temple, is filthy. Silver-pink tissue, lined and tender, hems the wide edges: the wound had begun to heal, then abruptly stopped.
Angel nods, and Spike fetches it. He dumps himself beside Angel on the narrow bed, pretending to ignore the long look Angel gives him. Angel drinks the water and Spike watches his throat convulse, his own stomach growling.
"S'pose you're not falling over yourself to hash out what-all you've been doing these six months," says Spike when Angel finishes. Angel raises his eyebrows. "Oh, don't give me that," Spike tells him. "Know full well I give a toss. I'm not the one who's changed, here."
Angel doesn't have much further to crumple, but he tries.
"Go on, then, just tell me why here. This town."
"Here..." Angel sets the water glass on the nightstand and rubs his eyes. "Here's nowhere."
"The Maine State Tourist Board would be shocked to hear you say that. Shocked and hurt." Spike swings one leg over the other, crosses his arms behind his head, and Angel frowns at the spot where his boots meet the bedspread. "Know where Charlie went? Vegas. With Illyria. Bet they're painting the town blue."
"Really?" Angel sits up a bit. "They're okay?"
"You didn't know? Oh no, that's right. You buggered off the second you got your fancy new pulse, and didn't stop to find out."
Again with the slumping.
Spike digs an elbow into Angel's ribs. "Come on, you bastard. Fight back." In the grey light he can see how deep the vicious scar goes. It smells of old blood, and something faintly off. Spike makes himself stare instead at Angel's broad chest, with its held-taut muscles and bruise-coloured nipples. He swallows. "You know, I followed you? Six days, far up as Oregon, before I found a wee bit of dignity right at the bottom of the barrel and went my merry." He sniffs. "Glad I did."
"Yeah," manages Angel, through a throat full of gravel. "So you're here now... why exactly?"
Spike snorts. "Cos I don't catch on quick." Outside, the seagull Greek chorus strikes up wailing again. "That," says Spike, "and the sea views." He has missed Angel's sometime indulgent expression, the one the old sod cracks out for split-seconds at a time: maybe now he only hallucinates it in the strained light. "Did wonder, though. Why you kept my number. Going to give me a ring one day, were you? When you got over yourself?" He makes a fist then releases the thumb and little finger, holds them up like a handset to his ear. "'Hello William, how's death treating you, just had my second hip replacement myself?'"
Angel grimaces. "Wonder why you kept the phone. That thing makes you easy to track."
"I'm not the one in hiding! Well, alright. Am too. But I'm not the one in denial."
"Oh yeah? You still really think your hair looks good?"
Spike grins maniacally. "Knew you were still in there, you old tosser."
The cast of Angel's mouth threatens to turn dramatic. "I don't know if I am here. Don't know where I am at all any m–"
"Oh, give it a rest." Spike stoppers Angel's mouth with his own.
He kisses him for a long time. Angel tastes of human sickness, stale alcohol, air-borne salt, but his mouth's a well of bewildering warmth that makes Spike's innards whirlpool. Angel lifts himself, leans deeper in: he meets the stabbing of Spike's tongue as though he's grateful. Not the desired effect, but it does Spike a damn sight better than hearing the old bugger soliloquise.
"You taste awful," Spike says, when Angel breaks the kiss to drink down air.
"You stink of cigarettes," says Angel.
"Think I'm going to give up smoking just cos you can get lung cancer, you've got another think coming."
Angel grabs Spike's shoulders and pulls him back to him, digging broken-nailed fingers into knotted muscle. He slams Spike's grinning mouth. Kisses relentlessly, his tongue all fevery and fast, while he works his hands across Spike's shoulders. He grips hard still, laying claim to the tissue under his fingers, pulling Spike in and encompassing him. The heat is undoing Spike fast. It feeds his fear and makes it rage, burns his homesick hope to ash, but it gets him plum in the guts too. He struggles onto his knees, arms pinned by Angel's to his side, and limpet-clings to the rock of Angel's chest. When Angel shifts his weight to grip the back of his head Spike scrabbles free of his shirt: he's dizzy from the feel of hot skin glued against his own, from clouds of breath against his throat, and from Angel – pressing him down like old times but trembling, and it is beyond Spike to ignore that confounding heartbeat.
They lay waste to the narrow bed. Angel battles free of the bedsheets and hauls Spike to his knees, his cock hard up against his belly and a red flush starting in the v between his collarbones. Spike's own erection aches under denim, trapped against his thigh. He grabs Angel's hands and makes him tug the zip. Nearly loses it to the feel of wide warm palms moving down over his arse. Removing his jeans is torture – they cling, drag, trap him, and Angel's hands moving rhythmically in his groin make everything harder. He bursts free at last and topples back onto the bed, knees bent, already reaching for Angel before the bedsprings finish lamenting. He lets his eyes shut ahead of the next: the slide of Angel's hands up his sides, down his thighs, the possessive kisses meant to bruise skin.
Spike opens his eyes and looks up. Angel's there, kneeling, breathing hard and sporting wood to make a giant sequoia jealous. But not moving. His eyes are lowered: fixed on Spike's body, dilated with lust, but closed off – or perhaps just far away, helpless in the face of all the things he has not said.
Spike sits up. It takes a moment for Angel's eyes to follow him.
"Angel," Spike says. Ground control to Major Tom. The satellite transmits the message at last and Angel lifts his head, meets Spike's eyes. "Tell me all about it, mate. Some time," Spike says. "But not now."
Angel frowns, leans back, and the cords of his muscles all tauten again.
Spike shakes his head. "Let me," he says, moving onto his knees to mirror Angel, who has always liked him kneeling.
For a moment Angel just breathes, the battle so far behind his eyes that Spike can't see it. Then he puts a hand to the curve of Spike's jaw and kisses him til his breathing quickens. He lapses back when Spike pushes his chest, lies back on the disarranged sheets and watches Spike move downward, shivering through the kisses he strafes across his ribs. Spike skims the furnace flesh of his belly, balls, and thighs, and Angel flinches – but it's nothing as to when Spike wraps a hand around his cock. Angel corpses, board-stiff all over, eyes shocked wide. Spike pauses. Looks up.
"Cold," gasps Angel.
"Yeah?" Spike smirks. "Well, just have to develop a kink, won't you?" And he brings his mouth to Angel's cock and swallows him whole.
Angel breaks the skin on Spike's shoulders when he comes. He has broken it there a hundred times before. Spike mumbles around the heat in his mouth, the last convulsion of Angel's orgasm shuddering against his tongue. He draws back, releasing Angel, moving up to get a look at the old bugger's face before he can slam the guards back on: his eyes are wide and blind, lips parted, the colour of his blood high in his cheeks. All this pink and sweat and radiant heat, Angel doesn't look like an old bugger – he looks brand new, uncertain, and it gives Spike vertigo and headspin and a hard-on that leaves him in no fit state to think things through. Some power restores Angel's sight and he smiles a lazy, satisfied grin, hauls Spike up his body to kiss. Holds him there longer than ever he used to.
"Post-coital cancer-stick time?" asks Angel, at last.
"Not exactly post, here." He grinds his erection into Angel's belly.
There's a bit of evil in the grin Angel gives him then, but Spike lets it pass when a warm hand closes around his cock, fingers pressing the tender flesh behind his balls. He shuts his eyes and pushes himself hard against Angel's sticky body. Rests his lips over Angel's pulse.
They stay in bed til disjointed strains of music twine through the gaps between the floorboards from the bar below. The room stays cool all day. Between fucks Angel sleeps intently, twitching as though taped to electrodes and muttering odd fragments about pursuit and defeat and the sun. A bar of light processes across the beamed ceiling but avoids the bed. They take each other lots of ways: Spike's heels on Angel's shoulders, his body jacknifed; Angel face down and groaning into the pillow; spooned up with Spike's eyes screwed shut as Angel goes supernova behind him. When the music wakes them, the wall clock stands at 5.
"Downstairs open for business, then," says Spike, sitting up by degrees so as not to dislodge Angel's arm from its sprawl across his stomach. "Could murder a beer."
Angel has the decency to look green about the gills, and Spike grins. "Don't tell me. Never drinking again. How long's that usually last?"
Angel swings his legs out over the side of the bed and stands facing the window, stretching. Spike admires the view and listens to the popping joints. Beyond him the glow at the curtains has turned from grey to lavender, and Angel looks up at the clock. Turns back to Spike. "I - really don't want you to take this as an invitation, but... how long since you last ate?"
"In your dreams, poof." Spike ignores the excitement that jolts through his half-mast cock.
"Spike. Seriously. You look kind of... bad."
"I look bad? I'm not the one with the bloody great dragon-wound across my skull! And if you think that's five-o'clock shadow you've got there, your watch has bloody well stopped."
"I'm trying to be nice to you," Angel grits.
"Save it, mate. Not what this is."
"Fine." Angel pulls on his unwashed clothes and slams out of the door without another word. The room shudders as he leaves.
From the wall, Kurt Cobain leers. Spike glowers back at the poster, decants himself from the bed, and dresses slowly. The drawn curtains glow brazenly. Barefoot he saunters to his stolen rucksack, retrieves his cigarettes and lights a narrow tube. Glances at the clock. 5:05. Sunset's about eight, he guesses: Angel'll be back by then. Course. He looks around: the water glass stands empty, the stained and rumpled bedding is slowly exhaling its ripe warmth into the cool air. Beyond the curtain the window stands ajar and the breeze is stealing even Angel's scent. Spike glares at the window, the curtains biding their time. He'll be back. What's out there that's so good?
There's the sunset, of course. Angel watched those from his Wolfram and Hart suite all the time, maudlin poof that he was – Spike caught him at it more than once, holding court in his chair before the wall of necrotempered glass, eyes half-hooded and hand propped against his temple. Watching the setting sun catch pane after pane across the commotion of gleaming skyscrapers congregated along Wilshire. He's out in it now, while the sun bows out into the sea and turns it amber. Might be up at the headland, on the rocks.
Brooding must be contagious, Spike suspects, spinning himself into action with a turn on his heel. Nowhere to pace to, really; he doesn't much fancy shooting the breeze with Mrs. Laconic downstairs, but the walls up here are only ten feet apart. He bunches and twitches his fists. Smokes the cigarette down and flicks the ash into Angel's water-glass. Dumps himself on the bed and cranes over to the bookcase.
Twelve pages into Omerta, Angel returns, carrying a brown paper bag. Spike drops the book, starts to smile, then picks the volume up again and swings his booted feet up on to the bedlinen. Angel stares at him levelly for a minute.
"What?" Spike demands.
Angel shakes his head. He drops the paper bag by Spike's ankle and heads off out of the door again, but he kicks off his shoes as he goes.
Inside the paper bag nestle two sturdy polythene packages of blood. Hunger swamps Spike in a second and he bites right through the plastic, sucks down the tepid blood. It is heaven. Manna. Three banquets a day.
Spike hoovers every drop from the plastic and opens his blissed-out eyes. Angel has a new water glass and a little card package, which he opens, producing a foil-covered sheet. He pops out two white tablets, swallows them, and gulps the water. "I told the landlady we'd clear out," he says.
"Well, sodding great – what am I s'posed to do when – "
"By tomorrow lunchtime," continues Angel. "You're buying her a bunch of flowers."
"Yeah." Spike fingers the second blood packet lovingly. "Bet they sell loads of those hereabouts, in the dark."
Angel snorts. "Do you have any idea how hard it is to get hold of pig's blood in a lobster town?"
They wind up back in bed. Sunset comes unremarked, and the bedsprings wail and the floorboards moan and the clamorous seagulls fall quiet. Angel gets his languor back, lying with Spike sat in his lap, hands gripping Spike's hips mostly for show. Show, and for Spike's benefit. Under electric light the sweat gleams on Angel's body, which smells now of sharp clean air and the salt that makes the whole town swell and split. Spike rocks forward to lick it off and Angel swats him. "Focus – " he gasps, "on the task – ah! At hand – ah!" Spike sits back and takes Angel inside him so deep and sharp that Angel grapples desperately with the bedsheet. Not so languid now. But it's too much for Spike too, the hammering pulse up inside him, the bump every time he ends a downstroke and his balls compress against Angel's stomach. The stretch of his body around Angel's cock. Angel grinds up inside him, looks up at him with stunned-wide eyes and open mouth. And Angel calls him Will, and he comes.
Down by the water they find an open restaurant in a clutch of old wharf buildings, cemented like limpets to the granite. On the rickety terrace perches a cluster of outdoor tables, lit with lanterns and braziers, overlooking the sea. A deadpan waitress herds them to a secluded, check-clothed table for two and lights a candle in a jar. Angel frowns at Deadpan's confidential smile, looks out to sea, and shivers.
"Before you start defending your virtue," Spike tells him, "just here to get you outside of some food. 'S the only place open in this no-mark town. Romantic setting notwithstanding, I'm not planning to propose, so you can uncross your legs."
Angel glares at him over the menu. "I'm not hungry."
"Oh yeah? What've you been feeding yourself on, anyway?"
Angel skulks further behind the menu. "Hops... sourmash..."
Spike shakes his head. When the waitress teeters over with pad and pen he orders lobster, twice, before Angel can edge a word in.
"You've eaten lobster?" Angel demands, at last, settling on a fight he's willing to pick.
"Brittany, with Dru," Spike tells him. "They cook 'em alive. Most of the French places got a tank right there in the room. You pick out the one you fancy, then they fish the bugger out, drop it in a pan of boiling water, and bob's your uncle. Have to put 'em in tail-first, else they flap hot water all over you," he says, with relish.
"Course, now you've got people saying that's cruel. Soppy bastards kill 'em before they go in the pot. You get a knife, see, stick it in the back of the head, and crrrack. Much fluffier."
"When I went downstairs at the Dry Dock, the landlady called you a quiet guy. What'd you do, hypnotize her?"
"Well, we can't bloody well both sit here and mope."
They're the only people in the place. Two waitresses, Deadpan and a redhead, conspire by the serving hatch and eyeball them with understated brazenness. Beyond the cliff-edge the ocean laps under the thrall of a high, small moon. The rocks rise high to the west, where Spike can make out the mechanical outline of a weir, churning the sea to fury. He shudders. Tomorrow they'll get out of here.
Deadpan brings the plates and disappears with Ginger just inside the dooway. At the limit of his range, Spike makes out whispering through the wall: "Under the table – their knees are touching!" And girlish laughter. He grins to himself and presses his leg between Angel's thighs. Oblivious, Angel returns his secretive smile. It fades when he looks down at the plate of lobster in front of him, all boiled-red claws and fat tail.
"Watch this," says Spike. He takes the tail of the beast on his own plate and squeezes. "You squish these bits in, right, then grab hold of the edges, stick your thumbs – there – and pull." The shell cracks and the hot salt smell of meat rises in the cold air. Angel's frown lifts a nanometer. Oh yeah, that's the good stuff. "Go on," he tells Angel, nodding at his plate.
Angel looks doubtful.
"Bit of a bitch for puny mortals, breaking the shell, but you'll catch on. Some places they give you a little hammer to help out, but that's for nancies. Though, I've got a pen knife, if you fancy a crack."
Angel waves his fork at him.
"Very civilized," Spike tells him. "You'll get the knack of this human business yet. Right, claws next. You get this bit – like the thumb – and tug." Flesh dislocates. "Then you just pop it there. Claw snaps." A shard of coral-pink carapace arcs off the table, pings against the granite.
Angel watches with disgust. "Why?"
"Because it's fun," says Spike, patiently. He deepens the crack in his lobster's claw, and lifts a tender chunk of meat to his mouth. "You remember fun. You know, you're allowed that now. Much as you like. Go wherever you like. Shag whoever you like."
Angel sighs. "You know how I'm going to tell you all about it, but not now?"
Spike tilts his head from side to side, chewing. "Please yourself."
"Any chance of you not needling me about it til I hit you?"
"Bring it on." Spike grins, letting Angel glimpse his tongue between his teeth.
Angel pulls his party trick: becomes part-man, part-wall, and bricks-up into silence. Spike rolls his eyes. "Better while it's hot," he says, pointing at Angel's untouched plate of lobster.
Angel shells the lobster methodically, without reference to Spike's instructions. Years of cracking demon bodies must give you the knack, Spike supposes. Angel eats slowly at first, til Spike nudges the pot of butter toward him. He gets engrossed, then, licking his fingers, digging the flesh from the shattered shell. Sometimes he eats with his eyes shut, and Spike imagines the greyness in his skin is letting up a little. More like it. Angel the sensualist is still in there. And still he makes a neat pile of the shell, eats symmetrically for all his relish, and uses the bloody fork.
"Think that's good, wait til you have oysters," says Spike. "And tuna steak. And shrimp. Makes me sad just to think that there's a whole world without 'em."
"This isn't a holiday, Spike. I'm not on some cookery tour. If I don't keep moving they'll find me, and if they find me – it's gonna be ugly."
"Right. So you are going to tell me all about it. Want me to dispense rosaries?"
"Just shut up, Spike." Shivering, Angel stares out to sea, all along the churning horizon, and Spike sees right through his claim that this place is random, nowhere. Stage-managed, more like, the perfect place to dash himself to bits. "I... I thought I wanted this," Angel continues. "And then, you know, I thought I didn't want anything. I didn't think I'd make it. It just – I never realized that it would be this way. That I wouldn't be able to protect Connor. I didn't think about how much... less this would be."
Spike hikes an eyebrow. "Back in the Sands you said it was a cross and a burden. Big bloody headache."
"Well, yeah. But I just didn't want you to have it."
"I just..." Angel sighs, screws up the serviette and begins to smooth it back to flatness. "I never appreciated what I had."
"Oh, save the Joni Mitchell bollocks. You hated your life. And we all followed you into the Charge of the bloody Light Brigade. Could have a bit more grace about what you got out of it." He leans back in his chair, looks Angel in the eyes. "Way I see it, you've just won the goldfish at the funfair. You're off the cosmic hook, right? And you’ve got all the fringe benefits you could ever want. Surfing, tanning, dating, matinees, seafood. The American sodding dream. Go out and meet a nice girl. With or without superpowers."
"You sound just like Doyle," says Angel.
"Doyle?" Spike stares in confusion. The fake visions bloke? But Angel convulses in a coughing fit before he can ask about it. Spike stares at him: the inch of arm he can see beyond the end of Angel's sleeves is puckered with gooseflesh, and his hands look as a pale as ever they have. "Turns out you're kind of a nelly human, doesn't it?"
"Turns out you don't have much of a bedside manner."
Spike smirks. "Wanna bet? Put me beside your bed, and we'll see."
They get the bill from Deadpan, who has given up all pretense of subtlety and gives them both a salacious grin – Spike leers back, Angel cringes – and walk down onto the shore. Broken-teeth rocks snaggle up out of the choppy black water, snarling at the sky. Angel shivers with cold – "It's August, poof," sneers Spike – and coughs rheumatically. "I'd've thought the sea air'd do you good," Spike tells him. "When I was a lad they were forever sending me mum to the seaside at Brighton for a rest cure."
"When I was a lad they put leeches on the sick," says Angel.
Spike nods. "Well, aren't you lucky to come back in the age of aspirin." He offers Angel his coat, just to set the anger sparking in his eyes again.
They climb the promontory to the headland, sit down on the spray-lashed granite and stare into the night, arms just touching. Far out the sea is calm, flat under the coasting moon, and even where it dashes itself ceaselessly against the cliff there's a coolness to its monotony. "Never stops, does it," says Spike.
Spike watches the breakers, head tilted. "Yeah, well. Me either."
Angel looks over at him, half-smiling. His skin looks so normal by moonlight it makes Spike's chest feel tight.
"Tide's rising," Angel says.
"Better haul your arse to high ground, then," says Spike. He looks down: in the grass before him a glimmer catches his eye. The final dragon-scale, fallen from his boot.
Angel stands. "You coming?"
Spike gets up, watching Angel wrap his arms tight around himself, and jams his own hands deep into his coat-pockets. "Yeah," he says.
They walk inland.