Damned if you do, damned if you don't. A/S, A/X, S/X.
Twenty years from now and none of it's pretty.

Last Men Standing


The water drops crawl tiredly down the shop windows.

The rain is letting up to a sedate drizzle, and Spike wonders once again why they didn't just take the fucking car. Angel likes to do everything at a slower pace, but this is just ridiculous.

At least it means walking the L.A. streets and brushing against humans, catching old, familiar flavors dearly missed. There's very little that's new and exciting these days. Angel fights demons because it means escaping the overreaching shadows of the hotel. Spike follows Angel around because putting up with his Sire sounds better than being the Big Bad on his own.

2 a.m. on a weeknight.

On Hollywood Boulevard the hookers look bored and the pimps nervous.

A lanky brunette wraps herself around Spike's back and murmurs some anatomically extravagant suggestion in his ear. He can sniff blood between her legs, and the tip of his tongue darts out to moisten his lips.

You'd think that after decades of embarrassing the female population to death with stupid adverts on the telly about ultra-absorbing pads presented by absurdly manic women, they'd finally come up with tampons that don't leak.

Not that he minds. The hooker doesn't look like she minds either. She probably has clients lined up who wait like clockwork for that special time of the month. Star-lovers stalking the new moon to watch the sky in goddamn peace. Right now though, she just smells like a satin-clad vamp magnet.

Her fingers wind through his hair - still bleached, a change might be in order. After all, he dumped the leather coat ten years ago. Her tongue begs entry and he grants it, wedging his thigh between her legs. She grinds down on him. The aroma of blood gets stronger. Maybe she'll drip on his jeans. No time to hunt, but he wouldn't mind some kind of trophy to show off at Caritas.


His fangs lengthen just enough to slice her tongue. She tries to pull away, startled by the pain, but his arm is firmly locked around her waist and his mouth muffles her screams. Sweet elixir. Tinged with the new popular version of angel dust.

He barely takes a sip, but holds her tight as she involuntarily rubs against him, and dips two fingers between her thighs.

She howls. Her nails grip the back of his neck painfully, breaking the skin.

The passerbys keep on passing.

He grabs her hair and roughly bends her head back, leaning his face close to hers. The tinge of gold in the blue irises shuts her up. She whimpers around the blood escaping her lips.

"Sorry about that, luv," he purrs and smiles his killer smile. One slow rasp of his tongue across her mouth to clean her up.

He removes his invading fingers and licks them slowly with a feline grin.


He is gone and at his Sire's side two hundred yards ahead before she has time to draw breath.

Angel hasn't slowed down. Even though he too smelled the hooker and must have known what the blonde was up to. Even though his Childe reeks of her blood now. She's not dead or dying, and that's about what it would take for Angel to interfere.

Warped work ethics.

Angel has kept up the patrolling and prancing about in cashmere coats.

(It's that whole Blotched Cow Syndrome scare of 2005. Came from bloody England - big shock there - and finally finished off the cattle. No decent leather to be found anywhere. Angel's still in mourning.)

Nights are spent maiming demons and sometimes assorted low-lives of the very human variety.

They just don't make Dark Avengers the way they used to.

Spike scavenges his pockets for his trusty pack of Marlboro. Some things don't change. His smokes still come in red packaging and dear Dr Martens has yet to go under. 'Course it's illegal to smoke on the streets of L.A., but it's not like Spike would give a shit even if a cop ever ventured downtown long enough to enforce the law.

He lights up a fag. Offers one to Angel.

The dark-haired vampire doesn't break his stride and borrows Spike's old Zippo. Drops it back in the blonde's coat pocket without a word or a glance.

Spike has grown accustomed to the quiet and the company of his own voice. He never minded talking to himself, so why would it be different now? Twenty years of silence haven't driven him away from his Sire. And it's not really that Angel never acknowledges his presence (it's kind of a prerequisite, at least when they fuck), or that he never talks anymore or asks Spike for his opinion about one thing or another - it's that when he talks, he isn't really saying anything.

The souled bastard was never the life of the party, but for the last couple of decades he's toned it down to three basic modes - indifferent, horny and angry. That last one is reserved for demon fighting. Horniness is devoted to Spike on a good day. Indifference pretty much defines all the moments in between.

Spike and Angel share eighty-three rooms at the Hyperion.

Lots of space to misplace each other in.

Spike is always the one who does the seeking. But then it makes sense. Animals are the most social. Humans are social too.

Angel's neither, or so it seems.

It's like living with a tall-dark-and handsome-shaped void.

But there's flesh.

There are grunts in the dark, sweat, fangs in his neck, sometimes even his name on parted lips - and yes, yes, that's what matters most of all, someone who remembers his name.

There are memories.

There's always been memories. He's clung to some, discarded many others. Entrenched in time, have beens, intervals, eras, cycles. Seasons. Lots of names - William the Bloody, Will, Spike. Lots of befores and afters - Turning, Curse, Sunnydale, Apocalypse.

Only Angel is timeless.

Hatred and the meaning of souls seem like petty obstacles when you're the only ones left.

Vampires need lairs. And packs. Sires don't hurt either. Good fucks, preferably at regular intervals. The hunt and the kill. Spike doesn't have to worry about ordering minions around, and Angel doesn't seem very interested in lording over him. Spike has the endless stash of whiskey and Angel the basement. Spike hunts between Hollywood and Fairfax, Angel north of Montebello, and never the twain shall meet. It's a pretty good arrangement.

And when Spike smells human blood on his Sire's clothes, tastes it on the tip of his fangs, he keeps his wise mouth shut.

And when they shag in a dozen different rooms, it's always dark so Spike doesn't have to look into Angel's hollow eyes and Angel doesn't have to be faced with the fact that he's fucking anybody at all.

Spike breathes. The air is sluggish, smells like exhaust and tastes like grease. (Anti-Pollution Act my arse.) Still he keeps up the pretense. Clinging to the thin veneer of mortality placates the humans and makes the kill easier. Angel can't be bothered anymore, and when they fuck, there's eerie silence tumbling from one side of the bed.

Angel hasn't breathed since the Slayer died - except maybe to smoke and speak.

The Apocalypse came and went, Angel's pulse didn't miraculously start to beat - probably because there wasn't a heart left to make the blood flow.

Flash of blond curls on the sidewalk. The girl brushes passed them at reckless speed, shiny rollers glinting in the artificial light of the lampposts.

Angel doesn't look up. Spike grinds his teeth.

The last time Angel saw Buffy, there were tiny pieces of bone and chunks of brain matter caught in the golden mane. Blood pooled around her, painting the ground dark and the vampire crimson. There wasn't enough consciousness left for a last goodbye. Just wide, startled hazel eyes and limbs sprawled at unnatural angles.

Angel was sitting, holding the mangled hand of the Slayer, dead eyes roaming, a bit confused, from the desecrated corpse of the Watcher, the entwined, rigid bodies of the witches, the wreckage of broken bones and torn flesh - unidentifiable remains of Wesley Wyndham-Price and Cordelia Chase.

Those were the ones he could see without having to move.

So Angel lay down, cheek resting against Buffy's thigh, relishing the last of her warmth, and stared at the night sky. Waited for the gaping wound in his stomach to finish the job, for stolen blood to go back to the Earth, leaving only the tiny pinprick of final death behind.

A few yards away, Spike was staggering to his feet relatively unscathed.

He waited for the ground to stand still and cast a look over the battlefield.

Found himself alone.

Sole survivor

And felt the urge to cackle insanely.

Saw his Sire invite death with a smile and strolled over to the dying vampire. Dragged Angel away from the Slayer, ripped his wrist open with his own fangs and pushed the wound against Angel's mouth.

He had expected no thanks and didn't get any. Not when he pulled Angel to safety as the sun threatened to rise. Not when they stood by the giant funeral pyre and watched the flames consume flesh until ashes and bones remained. Not when he followed Angel back to L.A., not when he moved into the Hyperion, and not when Angel pinned him to the wall that first night then proceeded to fuck him into the floor with cold determination.

Last men fucking
Humans say that the first instinct after being reminded of their mortality is to embrace and create life.

Angel's instinct had been to remind himself that he was dead and deserved to stay that way.

Spike's had been to insure that he wouldn't be left behind.

Angel pauses long enough to crush the stub of his cigarette.

Spike holds in a sigh.

Most of the time, being with Angel feels very much like being left behind.

There's a short queue at the entrance of Caritas, but the crowd parts to let the vampires through. Spike tries to ignore the fact that the patrons are more scared of his Sire than they are of him.

When Angel walks, he looks a little like the wrath of God clad in dark and expensive textures. When he stands still, he looks like Cerberus crouching at the Gates.

The bar's crowded. Some purple demon is torturing Frank Sinatra on stage. Lots of really old blokes in here, lots of really old songs. To think that Sid Vicious is now considered a classic.

Spike's gaze seeks out the handful of humans scattered around the place. The Host maintains a strict no blood-games policy, but the vampire has other appetites. He hungers for lovers who thrash under him, moan and pant, lovers who bloody make a sound and give half a fuck about the fact that he's shagging them.

Angel stalks to the bar.

Spike follows.

Angel leans against the hardwood of the bar and watches Spike. Watches him sip beer, watches him scan the crowd, watches him breathe. Watches him fit in. Knows what he's looking for, doesn't bother to comment or to assist. Spike will find it on his own, he always does.

Usually tall and brunette, gender doesn't seem to matter. Made the mistake of bringing a blond home... once.

It's the game and it's familiar. The new way to gauge continuance. Angel doesn't keep track of the days or the months, but he knows it's mid-week when Spike starts to get edgy for company in the bed. He never asks what Spike gets out of the arrangement, doesn't really care. Angel gets a sack of warm blood and bone, and the chance to inhale something other than dust. Sometimes, it feels just good enough that he keeps his fangs sheathed in the dark, and plays the part. Most times, it feels just good enough that he has to let the fangs out.

The scent of seasons and rain, fast food and sunshine piss him off, and Spike is left to pick up the pieces. Oh, he doesn't kill them. No one dies in the Hyperion. A lot of folks probably need years of therapy after a late night visit though. Angel occasionally wonders what the fuck they would tell a shrink anyway. So many things have changed in twenty years, but the simple truths of human stupidity and mortal egotism endure. No one believes in monsters anymore than they did Before.

Before. That's how it is filed in Angel's brain. Before. And Now.

Before was Cordelia's hair products in his bathroom and Wesley's hairs in his sink. Before was leather and battle axes, point, purpose and pride. Now is knowing that Apocalypse is all relative.

Spike is stalking a tall brunette at the end of the bar. Gray hairs at the temples, and that's different. Inside, though, they're all the same.

He's seen their insides, and so he knows this much is true. Oz was a werewolf, Anya some sort of ancient demon, Buffy and Faith the Slayers.. but their blood all ran the same color of red into the Earth,
and they all stank like death in the end.

(...Now is memories of Giles' fingers futily reaching across the chasm of scalded dirt and flesh to find Buffy's hand. Angel remembers breaking those fingers once. But that was Before.)

Spike is talking to the man; making grand gestures with his hands, wearing his most charming angelic face, and Angel is relieved. All that chatter; maybe Spike will be purged of it before they make their way back to the hotel. In the last twenty years the only important thing the blond has ever said to him was "duck".

("...not one word about it, boy," Fangs covered with the first human blood he'd spilt this way in two hundred years. Angel a menacing temple-gargoyle, the body crumpled at his feet.

"Who, me? Not gonna say a thing, soul-boy." Spike lit up a cigarette, and in the orange cast, recognized the dead man.

Local muscle, nasty reputation.

"She's dead. She died to save the world, and scum like this is still walking." Angel buttoned his coat.

"Actually, he ain't walking anymore. And that ain't why you killed him."

"Fuck you, Spike. What do you know about it?"

"I know you didn't kill him 'cause he was scum. I know you didn't kill him to martyr the Slayer. You wanna kill humans again, Peaches, be my fucking guest. But please, no more Christian soundin' bullshit about someone dyin' to save the planet and you just bein' a minion o' god, all right? I'm not that bloody stupid." )

Yea, Spike's a fucking poet all right.

The human seems impressed. Back rigid, hasn't moved since Spike sat down beside him.

Everyone in this bar is either a demon, or living on society's fringes. With the exception of shorn, shocking yellow locks, Spike's appearance cannot be dated. Clothing in jeweled colors and dark tones, all classic material and simple lines. To the occupants of Caritas, Spike is no more threatening than the bartender.

Angel's manner of dress is similar. His hair is short, there's a few days' stubble on his chin and upper lip.

No one ever approaches Angel.

Third glass of O negative, and he is bored. If he has to listen to one more goddamn classic mangled by something with four eyelids and no teeth he's going to smash the Karaoke machine. Small blessing, the Host hasn't said word one to him in fifteen years. Stopped trying to "save" him that long ago. Stopped looking in his direction soon thereafter.

It's too fucking loud in here and he just wants to go home, go to bed, and... whatever. Another glisten of relief when Spike grabs the man by the elbow, and leads him toward his Sire.

Then Angel sees the face.

He just assumed... (Dawn was killed instantly when Glory threw her into the brick wall. Her neck ruptured neatly in two, and Angel heard the sickening c-run-ch... over the wail of Buffy, and the shout of Giles to get back... get back...

Godsend that Joyce had already died. Didn't have to see the wreckage left. Didn't have to hear them calling out for her.

The rest of them not nearly as lucky. Tara and Willow burned alive, Oz gutted like... and Buffy... with her fucking superhero powers that kept her alive while her brain leaked out her ears into the dirt and all over Angel's hands. No heartbeats, he hadn't heard any heartbeats in what remained of the ruined warehouse... And surely, afterward, watching the flames shoot into the night sky... He could see them for miles, miles while Spike drove south to LA, with him still screaming and cursing until Spike hit him hard enough to... )

But he'd never actually seen the boy, dead, had he?

He'd just assumed. No one could have survived that holocaust.

Looks into dark eyes ringed by blue circles underneath.

"Angel," and the voice is familiar, but much too deep, richer somehow. Not right.

Swallows, and sees Spike watching him. Watching so closely, while he swallows again. Breathes in. "Xander. Xander Harris."

There's a dirty table in front of them, more blood, and beer. Spike still peering at him around it all, straddling the chair beside him. Angel wraps his fist hard around the glass and keeps his voice steady. "Is anyone--anyone else-"


Angel just nods.

"So, Deadboy, how come you're not?"

The growl in his chest rumbles before Spike cuts in. "We might ask you the same question, eh? We got that whole immortal thing goin' for us. How the fuck you get out of the Dale in one piece?"

The aging man with Xander's eyes shrugs carelessly, lifts his shirt sleeves. "I didn't."

Angel's gaze traces line after line of scars across wrists and forearms. White and silver webbing that tattoos shoulders, chest, and now, he can see it, across the neck.

"I broke just about every bone in my body. Punctured both lungs. Had some non-essential organs removed. Irrevocably damaged my windpipe. Major head trauma. Spent eight months in a coma, a year in a Rehab Hospital and two more after that in Physical Therapy. You'd be surprised to learn how damn talented the therapists around the Hellmouth are. Must be all that practice."

Talented maybe, but no gods. The fingers of the man's left hand remain curled slightly, the left side of his face doesn't quite match the right. His spine is straight, even when he leans forward. And the prominent scar that cuts his right brow in half resembles Spike's.

"So, what're you doin' in LA?" Spike asks him.

Another shrug and Xander buttons up his shirt. "Seems as good a place as any. Spent some time just about everywhere else already. Disability checks find me, doesn't really matter where I go. Did two years on an Indian reservation somewhere in the Dakotas. Two in the state prison just before that..."

Spike laughs, a hard, amused little sound. "What the fuck for?"

"Arson. Burned down what was left of Sunnydale."

"What was left? What was left?" Spike asks with the smallest of grins. White foam coats his upper lip, and he licks it away. Flash of metal in the half-light, the small gold ball in the center of Spike's tongue.

"Not much. A couple of government buildings. Guess that pissed 'em off."

"I see."

"So," Xander leans toward the vampires, and Angel smells years of alcohol on his breath, and the faint scent of dis-ease on his skin. "What are you two still doing in L.A.?"

Angel leans back, lifts one shoulder slightly and blinks. Watches as Spike moves imperceptibly closer to the man. Watches Xander unconsciously shift a pace or two back. And Before and Now collide with enough force that Angel can almost hear the suck of air displaced.

(Merle told Angel just last week that another Slayer was called. He thinks that makes the sixth, since. Bands play on. All relative.)

The chair underneath him is suddenly too hard.

More banter, more beer. A lot more beer. Some whiskey. Shards of conversation carved in sharp relief around Angel's stillness, against the smooth backdrop of bar noise, female singers and laughter. Every once in a while Spike laughs, and his eyes are almost alive.

Xander's aren't.

There's a faint scent to the man, almost like a sickness. It's bitter and lingering... Angel is reminded of the poison Faith shot him with decades back. How the odor alone made him want to vomit...

(Faith had searched for Angel's gaze over the chaos, but he was too far away. So she dove gracefully between Glory and Buffy, and the goddess grabbed her by the throat with one hand... By the time Angel made it to her side, Glory had gone through both Slayers.)

Sometimes, he can see Faith's eyes. They are never alive.

Spike's voice with all the edges rounded off; quarry mode, Angel recognizes it. Xander's voice raw and harsh; damaged vocal chords, a full bottle of whiskey, and the festering anger Angel can smell oozing from
every shiny scar. Molotov cocktail; righteous indictment and survivor guilt. And the vampire wants to laugh... Guess what Xander, in my fantasies, it ain't ever you that's still living either...

"Xander, I have something for you."

Sees the start on Xander's face, realizes it's not what he said, but that he said anything at all. Realizes two hours have passed.


"You have to come back to the Hyperion. It's there."

Xander makes a show of checking his watch. "No, can't do it, Deadboy. Maybe some other never."

"It's from Cordelia."

Spike ducks his head and grins.

Xander only realized he was drunk when he nearly fell on Spike leaving the bar. Only gave the keys over to Angel when he realized that drunk still came with nauseous. He hasn't gotten this drunk in too many years to recall. Not because he doesn't drink, actually. Mainly because he does. A lot. As a result, getting well and truly pissed requires hard discipline and more money than he usually has in both pockets.

Every once in a while, he swears it off. Typically when he's heaving his guts up, although out his own car window is a new experience. When he's sober, he can tell real from dream. Problem is, that's not always a kind differentiation.

Willow calls him every morning. She used to cry and tell him she was sorry. She doesn't cry now. Now she tells him all about her daughter, and how she thinks she's going to be Pre-Med. About the latest artsy-fartsy award Tara won. Asks him if he's going to make it to the Labor Day picnic this year, cause she misses him, you know? She really misses him. And he tells her that he misses her too, and promises her that he'll try. But he knows work will keep him away again; this is the boom season for contracting, and... well, it's not like they don't have next year. There's always next year. Then Anya is hollering at him to get off the phone, it's time to go... time to go.

He doesn't cry. He hasn't cried for Willow in almost nineteen years. Hasn't cried for anyone.

And it occurs to him suddenly that maybe this is all part of that Living Willow dream. Maybe the vinyl under his cheek and the blue-gray smoke swirling around his eyes and the whoosh of air past his sweaty face is all his subconscious tainted by beer and expensive Irish hooch. Just part of the dream. The clipped accented speech and the silence which is its only reply. The buzz in his belly that comes from being so near to vampires which he hasn't felt in twenty years. Hellmouth education. One learns where to go to avoid the undead. They didn't seem to like Montana, so he hung out there for almost five.

Now he's in a car with two of them, and it occurs that he never trusted either one when he was younger, stronger, sober-er. And that he doesn't carry stakes in his pockets anymore. And that he doesn't much care.

The Hyperion is a huge, pretentious monstrosity. Which is kind of how he always thought of Angel. The thought makes him smirk, which makes him nauseous again. He promptly throws up on the front steps of the hotel. Spike holds the heavy wooden doors open for him, and Angel just keeps on walking.

He stumbles inside, wiping a corner of his mouth on his sleeve. The lobby is shuttered, it's haunting crypts all over again, patrolling cemeteries, the exhilaration of the hunt - although he often felt like the prey, even being the one with the stake. This time around there won't be any surprise attacks from the bushes, because the quarry is right there in front of him. Not hiding.

Presenting him with a white envelope held in a steady hand.

Xander almost steps back, liquid ice painting his insides, but he is compelled... compelled... and he accepts the envelope. Takes it gently from Angel's fingers.

It's like signing a pact with the Devil.

You can't see the harm yet, but that's because you're too near-sighted and drunk to make out the fine print at the bottom.

He blinks slowly, until the three missives in his hands resolve into one. The pads of his fingers travel the mounds and crevices of thick white paper. They tell him of black curls, small closets, big dark eyes and the widest smile he's ever known. Alcohol dulls shock and fear.

He flips the letter around, can't bear to stare at his name sprawled in loopy curves over the front. The seal is intact. He expected it to be. He's the first to think the worst of Angel, yet he isn't surprised to find the envelope pristine white. Angel has kept it safe - the rarest of relics - even though he must have believed neither sender nor sendee would ever reclaim it.

Angel loved her too.

The starch blade of understanding slices something inside his gut.

He doesn't like to think of the way he was always, in one fashion or another, tied to this vampire, this goddamn fucking leech, because that's what love and friendship do - they bind you to other people, their friends, and the friends of their friends.

Sometimes, they tie you to your enemy.

Cordelia called Angel a friend.

She says so in the letter; the paper shakes so bad, the words float like psychedelic butterflies.

She talks about growing up, about forgiveness, about clinging to the beautiful memories, not the ugly ones. She calls him a doof a couple of times. Goes off on little tangents about life in the office and how Angel doesn't pay her enough... all the while she knows how the letter will end. Because there's only one reason she's writing this, and all the jokes in the world won't soften the blow.

She doesn't really talk about goodbyes. He pictures her shrug and a little smile. It's just the way the cookie crumbles, the show must go on, etc. Cordy always loved to mix her clichés. He looks for dry, tear-shaped indentations in the paper, but he doesn't find any. There's only small drops of ink. She borrowed Angel's old-fashioned letterhead and fountain pen, because she wants to go out in style, but ink is leaking all over her very expensive manicure. Damn thing must be broken, it can't possibly be because she has no clue how to hold the pen.

She says Xander always held a special place in her heart, and as she writes this, he still does. So chances are he was still in there somewhere when her heart stopped beating.

It hurts to look away from the letter. To not crumble the envelope in his fist.

It hurts to cry for the first time in nineteen years. Ancient water through rusted pipes.

He presses letter and envelop to his heart, and imagines that he can smell her perfume. Something ridiculously expensive and French (she would make fun of him when he tried to read the label with a broken accent... the language of looooove...)

He hasn't forgotten the vampires. It's just harder to see them through the tears. Angel hasn't moved, his expression hasn't shifted or even altered. Spike is sprawled in a dusty loveseat and is clutching a beer bottle.

They are staring at him.

There is... hunger.

Curiosity. He's as much a new specimen as a blast from the past to them.

Angel stands languidly, which Xander knows from experience is just a skilled mask - there's nothing relaxed about the impossibly huge vampire. Was he always that tall, always that hulking? Maybe it's the alcohol.

Maybe Jupiter's aligned with the moon. Maybe it's that time of the month. Maybe he's losing the last bare threads, which hold his mind together.

Maybe he's jealous.

Of Angel. And that makes him mad. Because he doesn't think Angel should have any power left over him, after all these years. But the letter brought it all back. Angel's paper, Angel's pen, Angel standing by without prying, ready to help, to show her how to use the ancient instrument.

Angel who had been with her forever until she died.

Angel she had called for in the end.

He clings to the letter. Wipes off the tears with the back of his hand and a tired sigh. Each year, it takes a little more energy to be angry. To feel anything at all. Sometimes... not often... but sometimes, he chooses a scar, always at random, always a different one, and takes knife to flesh, never too deep, but he needs the wound... needs to watch himself bleed.

He needs it now, when he is open and raw from the letter and the memory of Cordelia, that very last imprint burned into his mind's eye (a blast of Glory-fire-ball-thingie, Wesley jumping in the way with a stupidly heroic cry, Angel's name on a wail, but too late, much too late, and then a flash of something unrecognizable, and it is them, what is left of them, and he knows madness.)

Drops of blood to mix with the drops of ink. An easy pattern of pain, past, future and other things which make no sense.

He can't remain frozen here much longer. He might never move again, and he doesn't figure Angel would take kindly to a permanent Xander-shaped fixture in his lobby.

He doesn't realize how much it hurts to breathe, until there's a hand on his shoulder and starved lungs beg for oxygen.

Angel still stands in front of him, shoulders slightly hunched, unfathomable and so cold.

They've never had more in common than they do now. Xander wonders if Angel bleeds himself too. Then feels the lithe vampire standing at his back.

Yes, Angel bleeds. Except he's not so prosaic as to use a knife.

That's what Spike's fangs are for.

And it will do. It will do just fine. For now.

He feels ready. To collect new scars. And he can't deny himself the pathetic comfort of all things known and familiar. You never miss home so much until you get a glimpse of the front gates, and it's all wrapped up in there - in Angel and Spike, but mostly in Angel. The vampire touched them all. He carries a small silver cross for luck, a love of old, dusty volumes full of knowledge, the smell of herbs and rituals, the musk of the wolf, British stuffiness and an unhealthy devotion to high-heeled shoes.

Residue of alcohol or the lucid unreality of a twenty-year trip into the past, but he doesn't remember Spike guiding him up the flight of stairs. He just knows that Angel is still there, he feels that hulking shadow following him - to the second floor, and then, there's a bedroom.

It's mostly dark. Tiny shards of neon light sneaking in through a back window.

There's a bed.

"Bathroom?" Xander asks, and Angel points in the general direction of more darkness. Xander stumbles into the tidy, tiled room. Flips on a light. He starts to laugh at the absurdity of the huge mirror over the sink, until he sees himself reflected in it. What a blessed relief it must be for them not to have to do that every goddamn day. Another good reason to hate them, if he needed one more.

He finds a toothbrush, toothpaste, and clean, white towels. And he's just sober enough to wonder about vampires who actually have these things in their bathrooms, but apparently, not quite sober enough to make the leap in judgement and just leave.

When he exits the bathroom, minty fresh and tear-track free, Angel is nowhere to be seen.

The blankets to the bed are turned down. Spike is sprawled on top of them, two beer bottles in one hand, and boots off. Xander eyes the large, soft mattress, feathered quilt and pile of dark pillows. The bleached vampire in startling contrast to the offer of rest and home which he hasn't been able to conjure in nearly two decades. Leave it to Angel to fuse his own love of creature comforts with self-flagellation.

Xander is just so. fucking. tired. If there are crosses to bear wrapped up inside this overture of cold beer and clean sheets and a night's rest from dreaming, then he will abide the nails in the morning. Maybe he will even enjoy them.

He sinks into down and cotton, closes his eyes, and finishes the Guinness in three sips. Watches the obvious amusement play across pale features when he is through. Startling blue eyes hold his, as Spike drinks down the last of his own beer, and leans over Xander to the nightstand.

One cool, bare arm and one still heartbeat draped across Xander's chest, and the soft clink of glass meeting wood. "What are ya doin' here, pet?" Sweet breath and the tip of Spike's nose on his left cheek. Xander wonders if Spike feels this cool and sharp to Angel, like some divine instrument of pain.

He grabs the back of the vampire's head, and tugs, until those eyes find his again. Wide. Amused. "Here is as good a place as any," he says slowly.

The small lines in the corners of Spike's eyes vanish as he nods his wordless understanding.

When the kiss comes Xander's mouth is chilled from the beer, and he doesn't even notice how cold the lips are on his own.

That same mouth over chin and cheek, and it only finally feels cold when it brushes against the smooth hairs of his chest. But Spike's tongue has found the path of silver scars, and that is reason enough for the shudder which wracks Xander's form. There is an expression strangely akin to rapture on the vampire's face, as he traces line upon line of misshapen flesh with the tip of one finger.

The scar on Xander's shoulder, looping around almost to his back, and running alongside his carotid. From where the support beam fell on his head and gave him a nine month trip to the land of never-never.

The scar on his belly, from Glory's own fingertips touched by a god, should have felt a damn sight better than this.

The scar on his eyebrow from falling down and down and down and landing on a pile of stones and shards of glass, face first. They patched him back together pretty well, actually. Considering.

And the scar just above his heart, from where Willow accidentally stabbed him with scissors when they were ten, and playing pirates. Spike brushes them all with an open, reverent palm and an expression of curious wonderment in the gold eyes.

How fitting, isn't it... Not just the Willow scar over his heart; no, he has debated that pathetic metaphor ad nauseum ever since puberty. But that Spike can't tell the marks apart. That no one can.

The wounds he received in life and the ones he bore near death are interchangeable. A testament to continuity. Maybe a sign that this foolish, stolen moment will amount to something greater than temporary respite.

Maybe, knives and fingers and razors and tongues are really all the same.

And maybe... with Spike's fangs buried in his neck, Xander can finally bury the dead.

The vampire is kissing him again, open mouth over his chest, small, gold metal ball brushing against his nipples. Xander arches, inches between the mattress and his back, which Spike spans easily with long, determined fingers. Spike is lean, and hard, impassioned. Every moan and gasp from Xander brings a fiercer caress, a longer lick of flat, wet tongue. Nothing at all like making love with a woman Anya Cordelia Willow and for that Xander is almost grateful. Spike takes what he wants of Xander, and Xander lets him. In return, he gets to lay back and be stripped by steady, determined hands.

Lay still and be covered by lingering, half-worshipful kisses. Lay his head on the softest of pillows, feel his face turned to the side just... so... and be drained.

Of thought, and fear, and memory.

Drowsy pleasures and lazy fires in his gut, a taut form above him, naked hips grinding against his groin. Smell of his own blood in the air, thin rivulets on the once-pristine sheets.

Opens heavy eyes to the vampire hovering over him; wet, red lips, arms corded and stretched tight to accommodate his weight as he presses down... Xander reaches up, grabs that weight against him, crushes it into his skin, and his bones and his scars. Rubs and rocks and moans. Closes his eyes, and surrenders to rythym and impermanence. Hears Spike breathing, harsh, jagged, by his ear.

Just the smallest amount of sweat at the base of the vampire's spine. Xander gathers the drops on his fingertips, drags them up, over the bumps and valleys of the long, white back. Digs his fingers into the vampire's scalp, and raises his hips.

Drags a moan from his chest, offers it up to the altar of continuance.

Somewhere he remembers it. He can put pictures to it, if not words. Soft hair in sunshine and feet pajamas.

The vampire's muffled cry against the hollow of his shoulder, punishing hands pin Xander's wrists to the bed. He opens his eyes....

Prom dresses and Leggos

Sees Angel draped across a large leather chair beneath the window. Shirt off, long legs covered only in gray shadow. Two half-finished cigarettes beside him on the small table, wispy halos of white and blue smoke around ruffled hair. Sculpture of a lifeless god, baptized by moonlight. Watching with unfathomable eyes and no upturn of his red, red mouth.

Iloveyouforevers and pancake syrup in the big plastic jar that looks like a fat old lady

Xander struggles, digs his heels into the vampire's calves, presses cock to cock once, twice more. He groans, and shifts his gaze away from Angel. His tears are a foreign and unbidden aside to his orgasm, his shout is roughened by the riot of salt in his throat.

 .. safety and hearth and home and .. 

And so he turns his head again to the side, and he offers his neck to the vampire. Because this, this was none of those things. But in bloodless sleep, there is at least the comfort of Nothing-at-all.
He awakens much later to a heaviness in his chest, something sitting on his heart, and the choking throb of fear mingled with grief.

No way to judge the passage of time in this room; heavy velvet drapes and no modern conveniences such as alarms or radios. It is so dark, in fact, that Xander is not even wholly aware that the familiar ache he rises to every morning has now materialized into flesh.

Until there is a flash of car headlights between the slats in the blinds, and he sees it...him. Angel, kneeling over him, eyes the color of noontime sun and mouth half open. Rocking on his haunches, hands resting not-so-gently on Xander's breastbone. Angel. And only Angel could have that look while wearing the face of a demon, only Angel could be the fucking physical embodiment of sorrow and loss and pain while deadly fangs tear into his own bottom lip and he sniffs at the air around Xander's head like a wild dog.

Breathing and panting and breathing him... in. Xander lays still while the tiger paws at his chest, because it is the smart thing to do, and because suddenly, he understands.

He closes his eyes while Angel's nose presses into his hair, his face, nuzzles the softest places on his neck and chest. And Xander wonders what he smells like. Does he still carry them? Incense and white sage, hemp and cannibus, grave soil and sweet, sweet sunlight. Will Angel find them on his skin? In his pores, in his cells?

The vampire burrows into him, snuffling across the long blue vein where Spike has fed, but making no move to rend the flesh. He drinks without teeth, and Xander hopes it is enough. Hopes that what remains on him, of him, is still something of those that he loved.

Angel purrs, a rough aria to plunder the silence. Muscles flex and strain, lips part and glisten in borrowed light. Ridges smooth out before Xander's mortal eyes, and he cannot help the little sigh, the release of tension. Relief as old as humanity itself.

Mortals would rather behold the mask than the beast.

There is a question and the luxury of choice in Angel's hunched shoulders, downturned mouth and tragic eyes. The vampire lifts a gentle hand to Xander's cheekbone, slow and obvious, but Xander doesn't flinch, or scream or squirm away.

He twists his head to the side, unconsciously offering his throat, looking for Spike. He finds nothing but more shadows. Angel can watch, but the reverse isn't true. Maybe... maybe this is too much intimacy - not Spike doing what vampires do, fucking and drinking, but Angel roaming human skin, chasing disheartened dreams of suburban life and golden ages.

Angel takes the bared throat as preemptive absolution, a quiescent invitation. His fingers course Xander's damaged features like Braille, a parchment telling of friends not forgotten and enemies long gone. Tongue sneaks out to bathe the bumps of a badly-mended collarbone and Angel sheds his remaining clothing the way Xander wishes he could shed years.

Scar-ravaged skin longs for the sweet whispers of flawless alabaster flesh. Lips which loved Buffy, arms which carried Willow away from harm and deadly fumes, hands which broke Giles' fingers... right and wrong, good and bad, black and white fade under the threat of nothingness.

So bitterly sweet, that an union which the past should condemn to failure and impossibility holds the key to remembrance, for both of them. Small worships, pagan offerings of sweat and seed.

The chill - Angel's cold passion - descends over Xander like a distant fog, and if there isn't tenderness, there is mindfulness. Not an inch is neglected or cursorily attended, and Xander hasn't known such devotion since the sweetness of Willow, the worldliness of Cordelia and Anya's eagerness.

A symphony of color, copper, black and chestnut curls; and of course golden blond, always there. Ghost of Buffy in the background. Does she mind sharing? And what would Cordelia do, if she found them here, in the dark, commiserating loss over naked flesh - besides grunt in tactless, exaggerated disgust?

Xander squirms under Angel's sharp licks - hinges of memory and shards of intimate knowledge. A guild.

A secret society of two.

They fit easily, curves to curves, none of Spike's harsh angles. Angel straddles Xander's hips and the weight is comfortable. Real. Almost feverish, skin impossibly soft.

Xander has never equated softness with Angel - or another male body. Older recollections of paternal hands too often curled into fists. Now Angel's chest is like velvet against his own, and Angel's purr is like a lullaby close to his ear. Lids fluttering, darkness and shadows, broad, round, white shoulders, known by touch rather than sight. Solidness. Wide back, which doesn't give under Xander's clawing fingers, strong thighs that won't let go.

Less for the ghosts, more for him. No need to explain the scars, no need to worry about his partner's pleasure. Angel asks for nothing, expects nothing, no demands, just weight and meat, and growls for a lover who won't scream or break down when the demon howls. Warmth.

Xander clamps blunt teeth deep in Angel's biceps, pushes his tongue flat against the unbroken flesh. The vampire grunts and grabs Xander's hair, wrenching Xander's face away from his arm. Pale lips hover next to his own.

Xander doesn't strain upward to close the distance.

Angel holds still.

Inches between their thin mouths, more room for the specters mourning over their shoulders.

Angel coaxes Xander on his stomach in a rasp of sheets and the moans of the old mattress. Face pressed against the pillows, extinguishing what little light filters through the blinds, muffling all sounds - it feels like a cocoon, caught between the hardness of the bed and the hardness of Angel.

(Buffy's slight frame pressed to Angel's hulking body, her tiny hands in his strong ones and how did he not crush her to nothing that first night?)

Not a hair-breath of empty space left for the phantoms, and there's relief in absence, nothingness less threatening now. It feels like clean ground, new foundations tabula rasa and however fleeting the remission, it's good while it lasts.

Angel knows how to make it last.

He wraps an arm around Xander's stomach, lifting him off the mattress just enough to arouse neglected nipples. Xander's hardness swells, crushed by the weight of his own body, but the ache is comfortable, and he doesn't try to ease it. Muscles knot and tighten pleasantly in his groin. He breathes out little puffs of air into the pillow.

Angel's free arm winds around his throat, but there is no dread, just eyes closed, because he refuses to open them. Stare into the faces of his ghosts, again. This time is for him... just a few blessed minutes... of indulgence and release long forgotten please, I beg you.

Wild growls and moans, Xander forced on his knees, but no fear, yet no fear... He likes that he cannot look into Angel's eyes, he likes that about fucking a man, likes it and despises it too.

The vampire takes the time to prepare him, but Xander does not care one way or another. Then good pain, and blood again, dripping not from his jugular; intrusion, unrelenting girth stretching him. He whimpers, cheeks wet, drives himself backward with a small shout.

A sob.

His chest hurts. He's the one crying.

The tears are few and shameless. His body did not remember pleasure. Did not remember fullness. Until now.

Thrusts taking him off the bed, lithe fingers flattened against his stomach, jerking him off, playing with his nipples, invading his mouth, restless, bruising, hungry, manic. Pressure builds in his loins and between his eyes. He clings to one thick arm as he loses control, and Angel lets him. Holds him tighter. Until ribs groan and cave in pain.

The vampire forgot how to hold a mortal's body a long time ago, and does not care to remember now. Xander finds himself smashed face-first against the wall at the head of the bed, palms flat above his head, crucified by the sheer mass of Angel's body. Weak, painful knees protest the workout.

And the vampire, relentless, pounds into him until the foundations shake and Xander's wail is heard all the way down to Santa Monica.


Twin, needle-like fangs reshape the territory claimed by Spike.

More blood lost, more crimson memories draining out.

When he falls, there's no one to catch him.

Light dims. Angel is gone again.

"So, you're asking what? For my permission?" Angel's voice from another room, soft echoes of amber honey and bloodletting in the sex-roughened tones.

Rising, unsteady on half-empty veins. Following the exchange like a tether to reality, to the light spilling from the bathroom.

"I'm telling you what I want. On the rare chance that you give a flying fuck." Xander can hear the peculiar pattern of intake and release of breath, recognizes the sounds of a vampire smoking. The mind clings to such peculiar recollections.

"You're telling me." Carving knives and cold, cold fingers along the base of Xander's spine. More uninvited memories; the cadence of anger and hate, his parents raging in the bedroom next to his. The sounds of fists in the drywall. His legs ache.

"Yeah, I'm telling you. I'm telling you that I want some goddamn company. I'm telling you that I want something that moves around for more than a kill. Something that whimpers and groans and bloody well notices when I'm fucking them. Someone that actually remembers what a conversation is."

What are they...?

"Because you're a frigging poet, right, I forgot."

"Suck my dick, Angelus." (Invoke the name, and shouldn't his heart skip a beat now?) "You think I didn't notice? You think I didn't hear you? You haven't made sounds like that in twenty years. Shit, you haven't made a sound in twenty years. And the way you looked at him in the bar ---"

"What the hell are you --oh... I get it. This is some half-assed jealousy. That it, Will? Afraid of not being Daddy's favorite anymore? Newsflash... I didn't like the kid twenty years ago, and I don't like him any more now. You should know better than anyone... neither of us have a problem fucking someone we don't even claim to like."

The words sting for the briefest of spells. (that worthless little bastard... he is your son... not mine... Paternal disdain always hurts
much worse than fists...)

He clamps down on the small hysterical laugh that wants to bubble up. It's too fucking ironic, that Angel would remind him of his father now. His own fault anyway, for allowing the vampire's dead touch to feel like home.

"Then what's the problem then? You did it once. You've been doin' it for a hundred and forty-some years."

"The problem is that I have no intention of making the same mistake twice."

Wouldn't be the first time Xander was called a mistake.

"You know what, Angel. It's really no goddamn wonder you're always alone."

But it will be the last.

Home is not here.

Xander dresses in silence, or what passes for it among mortals. He knows full well they can hear him anyway, but figures that if they have not sought him out again by now, they likely won't. He is in no condition to wrap his mind around some fucked up archetypal bitterness which has transcended centuries, but he is all too familiar with the warped ties of kindred. He has no doubt such will take precedence over one scarred and exhausted remnant from their past.

And that if they truly wanted him dead or worse it would already be so.

He folds the letter from Cordelia carefully, and stuffs it into his jacket. Spike's sarcasm is raw, a bleeding wound Xander can almost see. God knows he can relate to its bright and stunning violence.

"The only thing keeping you going was that bullshit back in Sunnydale, and now you're just gonna let the last of it walk out this fucking door...because you're too stubborn, stupid or what... afraid to let me make it forever?"


When was the last time Xander contemplated forever?

The last time he gave thought to anything past one hour from now, one moment from now, what it would take to get him through in one piece, and where he will spend the next cold or wet night. And if Spike or Angel bit him, took him, turned him, he could shed that grief and that fear like a paper skin.

But he would shed Them too. He would forget the way Willow bit her bottom lip when she worked on math equations, the way Buffy pushed her wheat colored hair out of her eyes with a whole fist, and the very first time Giles looked at him with absolute pride, and suddenly, he knew what Father was.

He lives every day with crippling physical pain, but it has been twenty years since he has felt so acutely aware of his own frailties. His own mortality. It has been twenty years since he has been...grateful for it.

For the ache in his bones that reminds him he is here. For the graying at his temples that reminds him that he will not always be.

He will die. And whether he will see them all again, those he loves, or whether he will simply rot and be forgotten, doesn't really matter. One way or the other, his grief is finite. Because he is finite.

He will not live forever. But he will not suffer forever either.

He briefly wonders if they would follow, tonight, tomorrow. If some night in some strange city he will turn around and stare into yellow eyes, signifying that Angel has had an ephiphany of sorts, and he wants Xander to come Home.

He takes comfort in the fact that he is old, and getting older, and soon, not even the fires of immortality will be able to create something pleasing to the eye out of his wearied flesh. They would not suffer to spend eternity with ugliness.

Xander thinks of heading back to Montana.

He can hear the vampires' sharp voices carry through the marble and mortar as he exits the hotel. He closes the heavy doors and trades the sounds of rage for the gentle spray of rain on the sidewalk.

He takes his ghosts with him.

The End

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