All About Spike

When in Rome
By Annie Sewell-Jennings

Rating: R for A/S slash, overtones of B/A and B/S.
Email: anniesj@comcast.net
AUTHOR'S NOTES: I totally blame Kita for this. It's all her fault. Thanks to my delicious beta readers, Kita, Laura, harmonyfb and wisteria for their input. I heart y'all with the fire of a thousand somethings. ::smooch::

Onto the slash!



He remembers when they were in Rome....

Sitting in the dressing room while Spike bends on his knees before him and smirks. A hand, paler than ivory, running down his chest. Red wine and fresh ziti. "We'll go to the opera," he smirks. "Show you what all those lovely arias mean."

But they're not in Rome anymore.

Angel turns the car into the high school parking lot, and she is caught in the headlights like a frozen deer. Bright and golden, his Buffy, but not his anymore. Not anyone's. She's dressed in black, her hair pulled up around her face. She has that sad look in her eyes that doesn't seem to go away anymore. It's there every time he sees her, and he wonders where that giggling girl went.

Angel knows that he can't help her.

But maybe he can help him.

As he steps out of the car, she walks to him, and there's that old song and dance. Stay far enough away from each other that there's no temptation. No pull and tug to do what should not be done. They have their own lives now, their own missions and dreams and loves, but there's still this. Can't erase it. Can't push it aside. Love like that... it just goes on.

Buffy smiles softly at him. "Thank you for coming."

He tosses a smile back at her. "Of course I came. I mean, I'm here to help him...."

"But you also want to see for yourself," she finishes. She ducks her head down and kicks a rock with the tip of her boot. "I know. Come on, let's go before anyone sees anything. We're not... not supposed to be here this late."

The high school is very different from when Angel last saw it. He remembers those hallways well. Running down them to save her, to help her fight. Prowling them for schoolteachers and innocent students in those darker times he doesn't like to think about. But this place is different, new.

"How have you been?" Angel asks gently as they walk, and Buffy shrugs her shoulders.

"Tired. Busy. Worried. The usual."

It didn't used to be the usual for her, but everyone grows up.

"And how is he?"

The walls crack a little bit, and Angel sees more of what he suspected. Fear and concern. Guilt and regret. She looks torn apart. Her fingers start to fidget with the curls of her hair. "It comes and goes, I think. Sometimes, he's lucid enough to talk about it. Others, he's just... gone. He cries a lot." Her voice lowers, and the sadness in it makes him ache. "I just don't know what to do."

A hand on her arm, and oh, he can feel the life in her. That heat. The warmth, the fire, the passion. It's still there, still wild and uncontrollable. When he touched her all those years ago, that first and last night, he'd felt that stir. That tug. Potential, running through her veins. Still innocent, still scared and so lovely....

But it's not his fire anymore. It never really was.

"I'm glad you called me," Angel murmurs. "It was the right thing to do. But Buffy, you have to know that I don't know if I can help him. I'll do my best, but I remember how it felt."

Her eyes are wide, concerned. "How did it feel, Angel?"

He looks away. "It felt hopeless."

They walk down the steps to the basement together, and Angel does not quite know what to expect. There is something down here that stinks of bad energy. It's dark and musty, and filled with unwanted things.

Buffy walks in front of him, softly calling his name. He doesn't answer, and Angel wonders if he'll even come out. Remembers that. The way that it felt. He didn't want to show his face, didn't want anyone to see him. Didn't want to dirty their hearts or their eyes with his very presence. Is it like that for him, too?

But Angel still remembers Rome.

He stood before the mirror, doing his tuxedo tie. It was a novelty, using the mirror, but he was young and those things still amused him. Elegant fingers swiped through his honey-colored hair, and he smiled into the empty glass. Slender man, so pretty, so sharp in his tux. Cheekbones that could cut like a scythe, and a mouth that begged for long, slow kisses. Slowly, he turned around and grinned like he owned the world, and for one night, they really, really did.

There's nothing left of that now.

Hunched in a corner, tucked away in the shadows, is all that's left of Spike. He's unbearably thin, dressed all in black, curled up into himself as though he's trying to disappear. Mumbling words so soft that Angel cannot hear him. Dirt on his hands, those hands he'd always taken such good care of. Frightened, alone, miserable.

For the first time since Buffy called him, Angel truly believes that Spike has a soul.

Carefully, so not to disturb him, Buffy steps forward. Angel stays back. Doesn't want to startle him. She bends down and takes tiny steps. Her voice is soft, even. "Spike? It's me."

He shakes his head, buries his face in his arms and tenses. "No, no. Go away. Can't talk now, everything's talking. Can't make them go away if you're here."

Her hand lands on his shoulder, gentle as a butterfly, and Angel feels a strange compulsion to look away. But he can't help but notice it. The way that they are together. There's a feel to it, passion and fire, and horrible, dark ashes. But there's kindness, too. A gentleness that he remembers from lighter times. Not Rome, no, that was all about death and destruction.

He remembers the way that Buffy touched him, and knows that there is more to all of this than just sympathy for the devil.

"I brought someone with me," she whispers. "It's all right. He's here to help you."

Slowly, Spike raises his head, and Angel is frozen in his big, blue eyes. So wide. So huge and desolate. His face is dirty, streaked with ash and tears, and God, his eyes are so beautiful that they could kill.

Angel steps forward. "Hello, Spike."

Instantly, Spike shrinks backward and starts to shake and shudder. Tears slide down his face, and he throws off Buffy's hand. "No, no," he whimpers. "Here to punish me, he is. What did I do wrong? Bloody tried to keep Dru straight, but she's mad as a hatter and I can't help it if she turns a kid every now and then. Can't help it. Can't do anything right, can't do...."

Buffy just closes her eyes for a second. Breathes, and Angel can see that she's holding herself together by a thread. This hurts her. Angel thinks he knows why, and even though it hurts, he doesn't let it show. Not his.

"Spike," Buffy says. Voice still even. Eyes so dull and sad. "It's all right. He's not here to hurt you, okay? He's here to help. You didn't do anything wrong." But Spike won't believe her. He twists and turns away from her touch, and Angel can see the desperation in her eyes. She's hurt. Hurt and tired and afraid.

"I don't know if I can help him, Angel. I don't know what to do for him. He won't move, won't talk about it. And I have to do something. He did this for me. But if I don't do something soon.... I think he might try to kill himself."

He's here to help.

Angel steps forward and puts a hand on her shoulder. "Why don't you go wait at the top of the stairs?" he suggests. "Play look-out for a little while. I'll talk to him."

She looks almost relieved to be sent away, and Angel understands that. There's something indecent about all of this. It's wrong to see Spike so small and defeated. He's supposed to be the braggart, the bastard who storms into rooms with that lady-killer grin and makes the world a more wild place. Seeing him destroyed?

It's like seeing Rome in ruins.

They kiss up against one of the pillars, hard and fast, while Spike giggles into his mouth and bites down on Angel's lower lip. Undoing ties and buttons, hands on hard muscles. Spike keeps saying the most delicious-sounding things in Italian, and even though Angel doesn't speak the language, he knows that it's all got to be absolutely filthy. Everything about Spike is like that. Beautiful and perverse.

As Buffy slips away into the shadows, Angel turns his attention to Spike. He's hiding from him, and it only makes Angel feel terrible. But this is not about Angel. This is about Buffy. And it's about Spike. Because even though he hates him, even though he hates everything that Spike was and stood for, a part of him still remembers. A part of him still loves him.

They're family.

Angel says nothing. Just moves across the room to sit next to Spike. Sits very close, the way that they used to sit. So close that they were almost touching. Spike always needed things like that. Closeness. Touch. Always so hungry.

He's starving now.

"Sorry, so sorry," he whispers. "Know I shouldn't have... know I did wrong."

"What did you do wrong, Spike?" Angel asks, and Spike sniffles.

"Everything. It's all wrong."

Suddenly, Spike's eyes narrow, and he looks at Angel with great suspicion. "You're not real. Seen this trick before, I have. Put on different faces and walk around me, talking in circles about nothing and everything. Give yourself a new name, a new voice, a new everything. But see, underneath, you're still just scum. Know that, I do. Just a bad, bad thing."

"I know," Angel says quietly. "It's not as simple as everyone makes it out to be. I'm still Angelus, no matter how different I try to make myself. It's not about making yourself over. It's about accepting those parts of you that you feel are unacceptable."

Wildly, Spike laughs and stands up. God, it's horrible to see him like this. His clothes are in shambles, falling apart and stained. He almost looks transparent, like smoke. He drags his fingers along the wall and starts to pace. "Unacceptable. Know a lot about that. Latin's unacceptable. Your math is unacceptable. Can't calculate the figures, and headmaster will whip you if you don't get it right. Have to get it right."

"You're doing right," Angel says. He sighs and slides down to sit on a stack of boxes, never taking his eyes off of Spike. "You did an incredible thing, Spike. You went out and got a soul. Of your own choice. It says a lot."

"Says that I'm wrong," he whispers. "Wrong and bad. Needed to be... needed to fit. Needed to fit for her."

"For Buffy."

A sigh, so old and tired and full of love that Angel wants to cry. A smile touches Spike's face, and all of that grief and regret seems to fall away. He looks like he used to.

Looks like that night.

Clever fingers trail down Angel's bare chest, his smooth fingertips circling a hardening nipple. Doesn't matter that they just finished a minute ago; they cant get enough of each other. He's smiling, and oh, but he's pretty when he smiles. Talking, always talking. Spike talks a lot. Talks about all the places he wants to go, all the things he wants to do. All the people he wants to kill. "Set the world on fire, we will. Make all those buggers get down on their knees and beg for a bit of mercy. Won't that be funny? And then--"

And then Angel shuts him up with a kiss.

"Buffy," Spike sighs. His fingers skitter along the walls, like he's drawing a sketch of her body. "Used to... she used to touch me, you know? Touch me like a lover should. Didn't want me to know she was doing it, of course. Bad things don't get touched pretty. But sometimes, she'd kiss me when I was supposed to be asleep, and oh, she tasted so sweet...."

Angel doesn't want to hear this. He closes his eyes and shuts out the image of this madman, but he knows that these are more than mere ravings. Buffy hadn't said that they were lovers, but he knew the instant she started to talk about him. The minute she told him what Spike had done.... Angel knew. He was in love with her, and they had been lovers.

"But she doesn't touch you anymore," Angel murmurs.

Spike crumbles. He claws at his chest with his hand, and shakes his head. Every word sounds like a sob. "Did bad things," he whispers. "Tried to take what wasn't mine. Nothing's meant for me. Bad man, I am. Bad thing. Dead thing. Should be punished, should be hated, should be left to burn...."

"So you got the soul."

Spike looks away. "Wanted to be hers. Just wanted to be someone's. Someone's something. Thought that.... If I could just get that piece. The missing piece. That spark. Might she look upon me like a lover would? Might she see what's good in me?"

Oh, how Angel hates this. It all hurts too much. There's a feeling of nausea churning in the pit of his belly. Because he remembers too much. Remembers the way that Spike could cut a swath through a crowd in all his finery and fisticuffs. The sly way the man had of moving his eyes.

Yet he's not surprised at all.

It shocked him at first. The idea of Spike with a soul.... It was absolutely earth-shattering. But then, as things came together and the story fell into place piece by terrible piece, it all started to make sense. The way that he cries now. The way that he whispers her name like a broken piece of prayer. This is how Spike has always been. This is the way it will always be.

It always goes back to Rome.

They're surrounded by statues and sweet, sweet scenery. The girl's body slumped over by a marble likeness of Artemis, goddess of the hunt. They pay her worship now, worship with the mad frenzy of their bodies. Growling, snarling. Pushing and pulling, and Spike giggles drunkenly as Angel bites and nibbles at his lover's knees. "Oh, luv, you pretty bastard."

Spike shakes his head and laughs miserably. "Nothing good in me, though," he says. "Wasn't enough. Nothing's enough. Can't take the monster out, can't make it go away. Want to kill. Want to hunt and hurt. Tear her to shreds." A smile graces his face, fierce and ferocious. It's the same grin he wore for over a century, but it's not that Spike. This one is completely unhinged.

Spike steps closer to Angel. "Yeah, it's all still there," he whispers. "Ain't that the kicker? Know what it's like to live under a bloody high school? Smell all those kids running 'round in the daylight. Fresh blood everywhere, and pretty young girls who haven't learned how to really scream yet."

There's a hand on his chest. Cold, thin. Running across his breast. Angel can't move. Can't look away from him. Spike keeps on giving his wolf-grin and cocks his head at Angel. "Oh, yeah. Could just run upstairs and pluck any one of them out of the herd and kill them. Snap their necks."

"You won't," Angel says, and Spike chuckles. He smells too strong. Not bad, really. Just... strong. Unadulterated Spike, and it's starting to get to Angel's head. Starting to get to other parts of his body. Angel shudders, closes his eyes.

"Won't I?" Spike murmurs. His hands are all over Angel. Body pulled up tight so that he can feel every bone and sinew in Spike's lean body. "Don't got no worries about that chip in my noggin. Electricity lies. Pain like that don't matter anymore. You know that. Should've figured that out by now, but I'm not as clever. Not as quick. Reason why I could shove you full of hot pokers and torture you was 'cause the pain didn't matter."

He's right, of course. No physical amount of pain can ever compare with the knowledge that thousands upon thousands of innocent lives were snuffed out with his bare hands. Torture him. Chain him up. Splinters under the nails, gouge out his eyes. Won't make a difference. Nothing hurts like a soul.

Angel turns his head, but Spike's voice is everywhere. Whispering in his ear, and there's the whisper of silky lips right against his earlobe. "But you and I know better now, don't we, mate? Know that there are some things hurt worse than a good knife in the back. Take the knife any day, we would. It's the lie that kills."

"I never lied to you," Angel mutters, and Spike giggles.

"Oh, but you did," he purrs. "Lied with your hands, like this." The barest whisper of the vampire's fingers running down his arm. Soft, like cotton. "And with your mouth, like this." A kiss, barer than air, right against his cheek. So fragile. So delicate.

He tastes like Rome.

Spike likes it when Angel kisses him. Likes the kissing more than anything else. The fucking is just icing on the cake. Whispery kisses are his favorite. The kind that ghosts would give. So Angel kisses him softly, sweetly. Wants to hear that sweet whimper in the back of the boy's throat. Just a little tongue, and hands in all the right places. "Yes," Spike whispers. "Yes, love, just like that, you know how I like it, don't you.... Know it so well...."

God help him, but Angel wants.

Spike's hands are all over him. Everywhere all at once, like magic. Like he always did. All of the blood rushes and pulls in time to Spike's incoherent murmurs and the movements of his body, and Angel groans when Spike reaches down and cups Angel's burgeoning erection. Heat and fire, and it's been so long since anybody touched him like this. So fucking long.

"Spike," Angel rasps, "please... you don't know what.... Oh, God...."

"Remember that, you do. Remember the way we would move. How beautiful we were, walking 'round Europe with the world in our pockets and our girls behind us. Had everything, had it all, had nothing. Nothing but a good bloody fuck. Thought it was more, know it was less. Always less, always...."

With a sob, Spike breaks away and hides his face in his hands. Crouches down on his heels and starts rocking back and forth, and Angel stares at him, feeling flushed and confused. But it's the sadness of this all that touches him the most. Seeing Spike like this. Destroyed and diminished. Reduced to babbles and tears.

It breaks his heart.

"Is that what you want, Spike?" he asks softly. "Just to be touched?"

Spike doesn't say anything. Shakes his head, clutches his hair. His shoulders shake and tremble as he silently cries. Angel kneels down gingerly, just inches away from Spike's pretty face. "Tell me, Spike. Tell me what you want."

A sniffle, and Spike raises his head. Tears stream down his face. "Wanted love," he admits. "Wanted it so bad. Someone to just look at me and take me for what I am. Wanted you to love me, wanted Buffy to love me. Kissed her, touched her, talked to her. Got the spark for her, and it don't burn as bright as I thought it would."

"What do you want, Spike?"

"What you came here to give me," he whispers. His lip trembles. "Punishment."

It all becomes very clear in that moment. Everything moves together in a strange sort of syncopation, and Angel understands. They aren't in a basement. They aren't in California. They aren't even in the present year.

They're still back in Rome.

"I love you."

Angel turns his head. Spike stares at him, his blue eyes so bright and innocent that he almost looks human. One pale finger reaches out to play with a lock of Angel's disheveled dark hair, and Spike smiles as sweetly as a child. "Love you and Dru like nothing else. All that family talk is rubbish. Blood runs thicker than water, and our blood runs deeper than any of that. We'll stay together, we will, and we'll take the world by storm."

"Is that so?" Angel asks calmly.

Spike laughs, his eyes glittering as he turns on his back. Looks up at the night sky that pours through the broken roof of the ruined temple. "Oh, yeah," he drawls. "Gonna set the world on fire, the three of us. Four, if you want to bring Darla along for the ride. Topple civilizations, slaughter all sorts of annoying people, and at the end of the day, we'll make the most wicked kind of love known to man or beast." That sly wolf look enters his eyes, and Spike smiles. Slides a hand down Angel's bare chest. "Speaking of...."

It's over in an instant. A flash of flesh and starlight. Angel rolls on top of the vampire and slams his fist into his face. Spike cries out, and Angel grabs him by his hair. Holds him tight. "You're a fool," he hisses. "You thought this was about love?"

The wounded look in Spike's eyes says it all. "What the.... You can't be...."

Angelus shuts him up by slamming his head against the concrete floor of the temple. "Stupid boy. Love's not a part of our world, William. We're vampires. This is all about death, and chaos, and fury. Vampires don't love."

There are tears in Spike's eyes. Angry, rejected tears. "Yeah? Then tell me why I'm here in Rome with you while the girls are away in London. Tell me that you don't love me, too."

Another blow to Spike's pretty face, and he can hear bones snap and shatter. Satisfying sounds. Music of the gods. "You simpering idiot. Always the schoolboy, always the poet. Want to hear a little poetry, William the Bloody? We're killers. You're here because you're a good fuck and a good spot of fun. Nothing more than that."

"You love me," Spike growls. "You love me and you know it."

There's something in the boy's eyes. Something foreign and awful that must be snuffed out. Something that's soft and delicate. Beneath the hunter's smile and the killer's wolf-grin, there's still that lily-white wanker Drusilla dragged to their front door. And that has to be snuffed out immediately.

"There's something wrong with you," Angel says. Tightens his grip around Spike's hair until the younger vampire cries out. "Something dirty and foul. And I'll kill it, I swear."

He'll kill it.

Angel had no idea it would be such a slow, slow death.

There are shadows here. No beautiful ancient starlight to paint them pretty colors. No gods to look down on them. No temples to desecrate, just their own bodies and souls. It's just Angel and Spike, and the shadow of a lovely woman who has no idea of the kinds of evil these two men have done to each other.

"You want me to punish you?" Angel murmurs, and Spike sighs. Relief floods through his slender, diminished body, and he closes his eyes.

"Yes. Please."

Angel rears back his fist and slams Spike in the face. He reels backward, but the expression on his face doesn't change. Angel grabs him by the lapels of his torn shirt and pulls him close. Glares at him. "Did it help, Spike? Did it make everything better? No. It never does. I could stay down here for hours and beat the shit out of you, and believe me, there's a part of me that thinks that's a real good idea. But I'm not."

Tears well up in Spike's eyes. Angel wonders if he'll ever stop crying. Has to think that he will, because the alternative rips his heart in two. "Why not?"

"Because I love you."

"I can't ever love you," Angelus sneers. Slams another fist in the boy's face, and Spike's not crying. Just gritting his teeth and taking it, and his eyes scream of humiliation and rejection. "Do you know why, William?"

Spike glares at him with those hateful eyes. "Because you're a bastard?"

Angelus just grins and slides his fingernails down Spike's chest. "No. Because you are."

It's a gentle kiss. Feathery, softer than down. Just the way that Spike liked it. Tender, fragile, like it hurts to kiss him. And oh, it does hurt. There's the taste of stale blood and dead tears here. All that love, broken and battered. But he can resurrect it. Angel can bring it back from wherever Spike has buried it. He can save him.

"I love you," Angel whispers. Spike starts to sob, and Angel kisses his forehead. "I couldn't love you then. But you're a part of me, William. You don't have to go through this alone. I love you."

He remembers this. The curve of Spike's slender neck. The way that kisses just slide down his steep cheekbones like rain. Has to be gentle, has to be tender. Every motion is slow and smooth. Slide a hand down his back. Run his fingers right over his left nipple, find that little spot that will make Spike moan. And when he does, Angel catches the sound in a kiss. Tastes it, and even though it's all wrapped up in pain, there's still a taste of that old fire.

He'll make him burn again.

Spike is bleeding all over the sacred stones. Down on his belly while Angelus snaps the belt across the boy's pale skin. One lash for every infraction. That kiss that was too intimate. The flutter of his hands across Angel's knee during the opera. Every pretty word that fell out of the fool's lips. Sins. All of them, sins.

There is something very wrong with the boy.

People would say that this was wrong. Fucking Spike in this condition. But it's not. It's necessary. Angel and Spike spoke in many different languages. Kisses, punches, silence, noise. But Spike has lost his words, and this is the simplest language of all.

Softly, Angel runs his hand down Spike's neck. "I know that it hurts," he murmurs. Spike shudders, stiffens when Angel nips at the younger vampire's earlobe. "But you can do it. You're stronger than this, Spike."

When he sighs, it weighs a ton. "I'm so tired...."

"Shh, Spike. I know."

More kissing; it's easier for them both when he doesn't speak. And oh, Spike can kiss. Nobody could kiss quite the way he could. All the rest of him is about razors and daggers, but that mouth is soft as a feather. A hand slides across Angel's cheek. Kiss him deep, oh-so-deep. Kiss him until he can taste everything. Taste his soul.

Blood running down the boy's shoulder. Tastes bad, tastes off. Tainted. Smash that glass into his back. Make him scream. Make him beg. But he just yells and yells. He's wrong. Contaminated. Ruined. A failure, a disaster. Yell those words at him, tear chunks of flesh from his bones with his fangs. Has to make him understand.

He'll make him understand.

Funny, how Spike tastes just the same.

"You love her," Angel whispers in his ear as he undoes the buttons on Spike's shirt. Spike shudders; Angel kisses the corner of his mouth. "It's all right. I love her, too. But she needs you. Needs you strong, and--"

The words disappear from his mouth when Angel sees what Spike has done.

Cuts. No, scratches. Long, jagged scratches all across his chest. Over his heart. Angel can smell his blood on them. He knows that they are fresh.

He knows these marks quite well.

Red wells up from everywhere. Angel straddles Spike's stomach. Claws and rips at the vampire's pretty skin with his fingernails. "I'll take it out!" he roars. "I'll cut the damn thing out of you if I have to! You pathetic bastard, carrying this around with you!"

The pain cuts too deep. Deeper than swords, deeper than screams. Angel can feel every scratch as though they were carved into his own flesh. It burns like something holy.

This is all his fault.

"Spike," he whispers. "Oh, Spike, I--"

And then Spike shuts him up with a kiss.

Not like the other kisses. This one is hard and violent, gnashing teeth and crushing lips. His palms press hard against Angel's cheeks, and lust strikes him deep in his belly. Oh, God, there's something in the way that this man moves. Every action so fluid, so carelessly graceful. That talented tongue against his, kissing harder than liquor. Spike's hands pull apart his shirt, rip the cloth; he does not bother with buttons.

This is not how things are supposed to be going. This was supposed to be about Spike, about giving him love, about showing him that there's something to live for. But now he's on his back while Spike bites at his nipples, and he's so hard and aching that he can barely think.

And then, Spike's hand is on his cock and Angel throws everything other than this out the window.

After all, these are Roman times.

When he fucks him, Spike does not scream. Doesn't matter that he was raw and unprepared, doesn't matter that he's bleeding and bruised and broken. He does not scream. Angelus slaps him, fucks him, bites him. Throws dirty words and horrible things in his direction. But the boy never screams.

"Remember this, don't you?" Spike murmurs. He slides his hand around Angel's cock, strokes it from the thick hilt to the moist tip. So slow that Angel can hardly stand it. "Yeah, knew you would. Remember the way that I'd touch you and tease you 'til you couldn't stand it no more. Taught me that trick, you did. Taught me everything I know."

The barest tip of Spike's tongue slides out, flicks against the head of his cock. He taught him these things. How to do this act properly, after he tried to suck him off back in the old days and failed miserably. Beat it into him, just like everything else. Beat the truth in, beat the lies out. Instead of schoolbooks and slates, Angel used bruises and blood.

Cool fingers stroke his balls, and Angel arches his back, moans Spike's name. There are dark things all around them that are laughing, and Angel can almost hear them. He thinks that Spike's insanity is contagious, and every caress is contaminating him. But oh, it feels so good. Feels so good to be touched, and kissed, and loved....

"Even if I could love, even if I should love, it'll never be you, William."

Stroking. Sucking. Pulling and licking. Everything is flashing all around him. The shadows, the stars. The swirl of heaven leaking through the broken sky. There's blood here, there's blood everywhere. Blood in his eyes. Blood on her hands. A cacophony of madness rages all around him, and Angel has nothing but pain to anchor him.

And Spike has all the pain in the world to share.

It's all about pain. All about love. It's all there, and he can feel it. Torture and passion, that fitful brew of Spike. Moving with love, and radiant and blazing, and can't he feel it? Can't he feel how beautiful this is? How beautiful he is? Arcing and radiant, and everything seems to be tightening and intensifying, and when Angel comes, he is loved.

He's loved.

"You wanted to know, mate? What I bloody well wanted?" He stands up, staggering, clutching his broken arm to his side. Shaking with rage and hurt. "I just wanted you. You and Dru. I just wanted.... Something."

Angelus hits him one more time, and it sends him sprawling to the floor.

"It's something you'll never have. And that's what you love about me."

Oh, God....

But it's too late. Spike is pulling away, pulling his shirt together to cover up the terrible marks on his chest. Ducking his head, hiding his eyes. "Best clean up now, luv," he mutters. "Got your sis at home to take care of. Or maybe it's your job, right? Got to go flip your bloody burgers. Wash up nice. They might smell you on me."

"Spike?" Angel whispers, but he's shaking his head. Lost in his own dementia. Everything hurts in that sudden second, and Angel stares at him with pleading eyes. "Spike, please don't--"

"Did it help?" he asks softly. "Did I make you.... Did you feel it? Felt alive, right? Felt something other than dead? Did I do it right, Buffy?"

The instant Spike says her name, Angel knows that he has failed.

Clumsily, he pulls up his trousers and tugs on the remains of his shirt. He has to get out of here. Has to leave, very quickly, and very permanently. He was a fool to think that he could do anything other than hurt Spike. A fool to think that he could help Buffy. He should've remembered things. Things like the way that Spike loves without end. The way that he takes everyone's pain upon himself because he thinks that is what love was supposed to be like. He forgot the way that Spike kisses and touches and tastes.

He forgot Rome.

There are gods all around them. Stars in the sky. There's language and wine in the air. Angelus can still taste the boy's blood. Dirty and foul. Just like Spike, all spread out and damaged on the stones.

"I'm going to kill you," Spike snarls. So angry. Too much passion, too much feeling. Even the rage is tainted and off.

Angelus just smiles. "No, you're not."

"Give me one bloody reason why I won't!"

"Because you love me."

One last look at what has become of him. Spike the proud and vicious, Spike the sly and funny. Spike the cruel, Spike the killer, Spike the terrible romantic. All of them gone, and all that's left is a skinny little thing in tattered clothes, scraping his nails along the walls while he sings to himself in Italian.

Angel knows what the arias mean now, and it's ruined the opera for him.

As Angel ascends the stairway, he can see Buffy standing in the hall

A slender silhouette, clutching at her own skin. Hair slicked back and face in sad, still profile. He remembers the girl she used to be. Pretty and naive.

But Angel made her grow up very fast, indeed.

As soon as Buffy spots him, she turns her face and stares at him with worried eyes. "How did it go?"

Angel looks away. "I only made things worse."

She sighs the way that Spike did. Tired. Like they're carrying the world on their backs. Sometimes, love feels like that. Angel knows that by now. "It's all right," Buffy says. "To be honest, I didn't expect much. It was just... I had to do something."

"Yeah. I know."

He watches her as they walk down the hall together. Looks for the signs, and finds them in more subtle ways with her than with him. She's thinner, yes. Her bones are sharper, and those soft cheeks of hers seem a little more sunken. She has eyes that are older than sin. Every gesture is soft and bare, like she's saving all of her strength for the next breath or heartbeat.

Angel wonders when she will go mad, too.

The day is coming soon. He can smell it in the air as they walk into the parking lot, towards his car. Buffy stops for a second and looks up at the sky, and she's so beautiful in that moment that Angel can't help but fall in love with her for just a second. A second won't hurt. She smiles a little, that Mona Lisa smile that tells nothing and everything if you know how to read it. "Full moon," she says. "You know, I haven't looked at the moon in forever. I mean, really looked at it."

He doesn't look away from her. "It's beautiful."

That's the worst part. He knows what love is now. Didn't know it back then, when the moon was full and ripe like this a hundred years ago, but he knows it now. He really does love them both. They're his, just as much as he's theirs. They belong.

But he can't love them enough to save them.

She just stands there and looks at the moon. Looks for things that she can't have. Things he cannot give her. A taste of sanity. A hint of normalcy. All too much for the both of them.

They don't need to say goodbye. They said their farewells years ago.

Angel just turns on his heel and walks to his car, and as soon as he is far enough from the school, he pulls over to the side of the road and sobs.

There was a reason for it. He couldn't take Spike's love because he was afraid of it. He could taste it, recognize it for what it was, but he couldn't understand it. He couldn't feel it in return. And a part of him always wondered what it was like to love someone. And then, when he found out with Buffy.... When he failed Spike in the basement....

He knows why this happened.

Because no matter how hard he tries, his love will never be enough to save them.

He'll never leave Rome.

Fin

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