Spike smirks, making Angel's heart twist in his chest. "That the best you can come up with?"
"Well, since the best I can come up with ends with you being a little pile of dust, I kinda think you might want me to stick with 'Shut up.'"
It's the silence that follows that tells Angel exactly what's going on here.
Spike is standing over by the window, leaning against the frame with one shoulder. Angel knows from countless hours of personal experience that there's really nothing to see out there, but it's not that Spike's looking at scenery. His posture gives him away. Shoulders slumped, not in a casual, I-don't-give-a-fuck sort of way, but in something closer to defeat.
Angel gets up from his chair and saunters over, his own attempt at casual. Stands close enough to Spike that the edge of his worn duster brushes against Angel's pant leg.
When Spike turns his head to look at him, Angel punches him in the face.
It's so hard, and obviously unexpected, that Spike's head flies back and cracks against the window frame. His hands immediately come up to cradle -- and then straighten, with a satisfying *crunch* -- his broken nose, but he also has enough sense to back away. "What the *fuck* was that?" he asks, his voice muffled behind his hands.
"That," Angel says, opening and then re-clenching his fist, examining knuckles that feel split but aren't, "is what you need."
"I always knew you were a sick bastard, Angel, but this really takes the cake." Spike drops his hands and shakes his head. Little droplets of blood patter onto the floor, the sound of it so soft that a human wouldn't be able to hear them.
There's almost no blood on Spike's face though. Angel's surprised and, disturbingly, disappointed, but pushes the thought away.
"How exactly is having you haul off and punch me in the face what I need?" The glower, the sheer stubborn tension that is Spike, makes Angel hard.
Angel takes a step closer, not aiming for casual now because he and Spike know that it moved into serious territory more than a minute ago. "You've been thinking of worse," he says.
In response to Angel's move forward, Spike steps back, keeping the distance between them equal. "Haven't been thinking about you beating me up." It's sullen.
"That's not what I meant." Another step forward.
And another step back, the dance between them a hundred years old, and much, much older. "Then come right out and say what you mean, for fuck's sake," Spike says, even though the challenge in his voice can't quite cover up the hint of fear Angel can see in his eyes.
Breaking the pattern, Angel takes three steps and grabs Spike by the throat, propelling him backwards and pushing him up against the wall. "Does it burn?" Angel asks, as Spike struggles in his grip, but as soon as he speaks the words Spike stops. Is still. "Or is it cold?"
Spike stares at him, eyes wide. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Bullshit." Angel lets a little grin slip onto his face; Angelus coming out to play. "It's like a fire. Burns everything it touches. Sometimes cold, sometimes hot. Feels like it's turning you to ash inside, doesn't it."
Spike trembles, and when Angel releases his throat, lets his head fall back against the wall, like he doesn't have the strength to keep holding it upright.
"You think I don't know?" Angel moves in so close that they're a hairsbreadth from touching in half a dozen places. His mouth less than an inch from Spike's ear, he purrs, "You want to die, Spike?"
The slump of his shoulders defeat now, Spike closes his eyes. Swallows. Then, slowly, nods. "Yeah." His nose is bruised and slightly swollen, and when he looks at Angel again, his gaze is like an anchor weighing Angel down.
Oh yeah, he knows what that's like.
"Will you do it, Angelus?" Spike sounds like he's lost somewhere inside himself. "I just -- I need it to end now."
It's the right thing to do, and that's the only thing that makes it possible for Angel to turn away, to inject some disgust into his own voice. "No. Jesus Christ, Spike, get over it."
Spike's answering snarl and attack aren't unexpected. Are actually what Angel was hoping for, although the knee in the small of his back as Spike's launch knocks him to the floor wasn't on the list.
He flips over, not using anything close to his full strength, and blocks as many of Spike's punches as he can. It's not all of them though, and Angel can feel his lip split, can taste the blood in his mouth.
On top of him, Spike's more solid than he looks. Right punch that Angel blocks, then a left to his cheekbone. He blocks the next few, and then Spike makes contact with Angel's eye socket. The pain unfolds sharply, like a paper cut, crisp and surprising.
Angel bucks his body and throws Spike to one side, but he only has time to get to his knees before Spike flies at him again, one fist connecting with Angel's rib cage with bruising force. Angel grabs onto Spike's other fist before it can strike him and squeezes. Not hard enough to break bones, but Spike falters for just a second.
"Wanker," Spike gasps, flailing at him again. There's less power behind the blows now, less coordination. The pain's winding down, now that the tension that had been twisting it up is loosening.
"That all you've got?" Angel taunts, shoving Spike over onto the floor.
"You... fucker..." Spike manages to get out, as he comes at Angel again. His fists aren't as clenched, and he's moving even slower now. It's child's play for Angel to catch both of Spike's wrists and stop him.
They're still then, other than Spike's panting and shaking.
"Fucker," Spike says again, but it sounds forced. "Okay, fine. Let me go."
"No." Angel's voice is gentle.
Spike struggles to get away, half-heartedly. "Let me *go.*"
"No." Angel waits until Spike looks at him, then says, "I'm not gonna let you go."
There's a twist of Spike's face that has nothing to do with vampire. He shudders, lets his arms go limp. The soul has brought him here, and Angel's pretty sure it wasn't where Spike intended to end up.
"I know it hurts," Angel says.
"Yeah, well you're the only one," Spike grumbles, still looking at him.
Angel's still holding Spike's wrists, but he lets go of one and uses the other to pull Spike closer. Gets an arm around Spike's waist, and Spike's face settles into the curve of Angel's collarbone as the smaller vampire trembles.
It's not until after-- hours later -- when Spike has left and Angel's alone, that he allows himself to tremble too.