Disclaimer: Nothing of the Buffy/Angelverse belongs to me.

Erm. So, this is my second ever Angel/Buffyverse fic, and the first one doesn't count because it's unforgivably stupid. So please, let me know how I've gotten the characterizations, etc.


Angel isn't sure what prompts him to say it, why he risks the delicate peace he and Spike have tentatively built over the past several months…particularly since their recent trip to Rome.

Actually, that's not quite true – he does know why he starts talking. Whiskey and Spike's presence have always had a loosening effect on his tongue, and his soul is generally primed and ready for a round of Confession at all times.

He just doesn't know why he says what he does, why he suddenly decides to be honest instead of indulging in their unspoken agreement that an exchange of half-truths, outright lies, and veiled silences is better – and safer – than the truth.

But his voice seems to have suddenly gained a mind of its own, and he hears his own words echo throughout the room: "Angelus hated coming in second."

They're sitting side by side in his dark office, nursing drinks and brooding – not that Spike'd ever admit to the latter. He was thinking, he'd say, or musing, plotting world domination, planning evil's ultimate downfall.

Funny, Angel thinks, not for the first time, how the younger vampire can insist he doesn't give a damn about redemption, and then a moment later go and risk his very unlife to try and attain it.

For the millionth time since he met the little asshole, Angel wonders which he ought to trust more – Spike's words or his actions.

That is, if either can be trusted at all.

Drusilla's childe, her sneering knight in scuffed leather, shoots him an odd look. His eyes glitter like cut diamonds and shadows caress the hard planes of his face, exaggerating the sharpness of his cheekbones and the sensual curves of his lips.

Not that, you know, he notices or anything.

"Like you've ever come in second," Spike scoffs, more than a hint of bitter envy in his tone.

"I'm talking about Angelus," Angel insists pointedly, forcing himself to get back on topic. "Not me."

The difference is important, essential. He has to believe he's not capable of the evil Angelus is, if he wants to succeed. He has to believe they aren't the same person, not where it matters.

He has to believe that he can't be swayed, if he's going to get any of them through this alive. Or undead, as the case may be.

Spike rolls his eyes expressively and slouches down even further on the sofa, upper lip curling subtly. He's so small, really, but he takes up more room than just about anyone else Angel knows, always acting like the whole damned universe is his personal playground. Strutting and sprawling and smirking, his every movement screaming self-assurance…sometimes Angel envies the way Spike can seem confident no matter where he is, no matter what he's doing.

Right now, though, Spike's body is suffused with an almost palpable nervous tension that Angel can sense from a foot away. The nonchalant slouch is all a front – for once the indomitable William the Bloody isn't at ease. But Angel knows his boy'll be bloody damned if he lets it show.

"Whatever you say, mate. You're just fine with being runner-up, right? It was Angelus that hated coming in second," Spike says sarcastically, hand tightening on his bottle until Angel fancies he can almost hear the glass screech in protest. "Like you haven't always been king of the bloody hill anyway – and I mean 'bloody' literally." He gulps down some more beer, and Angel suspects neither of them are nearly drunk enough for this conversation.

On reflection, he doesn't think it's even possible to be drunk enough for this conversation.

Then again, if they were well and truly sloshed, they wouldn't be talking about this in the first place, which would definitely be an improvement. They'd be arguing about, about cavemen and astronauts and other similar harmless inanities.

Of course, the astronauts would win. But that's beside the point. And the point is, Spike's wrong.

As usual.

Angel sighs, staring into his tumbler as if it holds the key to solving all of the universe's mysteries. Spike taunted him about that very habit one night when the whole gang went drinking. The blonde said it looked like he was staring at a giant 42 written on the bottom of his glass.

He still doesn't quite understand what the hell the younger vampire was blathering on about, though Wesley and Fred had both snickered at the crack. Wesley told him later that it was a reference to a book about hitchhikers or something.

"Angelus hated coming in second," he repeats dourly, brow furrowing as he once again is forced to acknowledge Spike's superior ability to move with the times – something he himself has never quite mastered. "And I…he always came in second with you."

And to him, sometimes, but it'll take a hell of a lot more than a bottle or two of whiskey to get Angel to admit that.

Spike's forehead creases in confusion. "What the hell are you nattering on about now?"

"You!" Angel snaps, exasperated. His whiskey sloshes dangerously close to the rim of his shot glass as he twists suddenly to face Spike. Sometimes he really doesn't understand how the other vampire can be so discerning in some matters, yet so completely blind in others.

"Dru may have been the one to turn you," he says, his voice low and silkily dangerous, "but I trained you, I taught you everything. In every way that mattered, I was your sire, boy! And you always. Chose. Her. You'd laugh with me, hunt with me; hell, you even admired me. You all out hero-worshiped me those first few days! But you always went back to her. It infuriated me. I – Angelus actually went out of his way to impress you after she brought you home, and all you could do was yammer on about your 'dark princess'. He – I hated it."

Spike stares at him incredulously. "You wanted my attention," he says disbelievingly.

"Yeah," Angel agrees sullenly, taking a deep swallow of his drink. He's past the point where it burns going down, and he almost regrets it. He'd welcome just about anything capable of distracting him from this lovely little chat they have going. He and Spike…they aren't meant for heart-to-hearts, not between the two of them.

Theirs is not a talking relationship, except for copious insulting of heritage, parentage, intelligence, looks (particularly when relating to hair), and penis size. Oh, and the not-so-rare threats of death and destruction.

Because talking – real conversation – makes it all too likely that one of them will end up giving something away, let some information slip that isn't meant to be shared. Just like now.

Angel never wanted Spike to know he'd craved the younger vampire's attention, back in the day. He'd never wanted Spike to have that power over him, that knowledge. But…the proverbial cat had clawed its way out of its back, and what's the point of trying to force it back in?

"Yeah," Angel says again, scowling in defeat. "I wanted your attention. And I didn't get it – at least, not your undivided attention, and that's what I was after. I hated coming in second more than anything else, and like I said, Dru was always first with you."

He sneaks a sideways look at Spike and sees that the other man knows what's coming. He says it anyway.

"That's why I took her from you."

"You utter bastard," Spike says, in a peculiar tone that sounds like it's half laugh and mostly snarl. "That's why you did it, is it? I told you she was my destiny, you got angry 'cause it wasn't you, so you – "

Angel glances over at him warily and winces when he sees Spike's tightly clenched jaw and his white-knuckled grip on his bottle of beer. A grin slowly stretches the younger vampire's lips, but it's thin and mirthless, hard as iron and cold as ice. "You always were a dick, Angelus."

He wants to protest the name, if not the sentiment, but instead he starts talking again, as if his brain's decided it needs a permanent break from being connected to his mouth.

"It was the same damned story all over again in Sunnydale – at least, once I lost my soul. A century later and Angelus was still fixated on…" He trails off at Spike's incredulous look, cursing this new and inconvenient inability to keep lips sealed.

But he's broken open Pandora's box – hell, sledgehammered it to splinters – and he needs to tell Spike the rest, explain…something. Explain why he acts the way he does, why he acted the way he did back in Sunnydale and before the gypsies.

That's him. Always searching for an absolution he'll never receive.

It's either a hero thing or a masochist thing, and frankly, given his nature, it could go either way.

"Back before I got the soul," Angel says glumly, his mood growing ever darker, "I was…obsessed with you, I guess. I…Angelus…I – you were defiant and angry and you always went to her. Even when it was the two of us alone, you would act like it was just a good time and nothing more. But whenever you were with Drusilla…you worshiped her like she was your god, Spike, and I wanted that from you."

Spike snorts, shaking his head. He looks bitter and brittle, like he's been stretched too thin and is about to snap. "Don't even try to pretend you had feelings for me back then," he says fiercely. They both know better, after all. William the Bloody might have been capable of love as a vampire, but Angelus… Angelus had spent quite a lot of his unlife trying to eradicate every last lingering human sentiment left over from his turning.

"I don't think Angelus is even capable of deeper emotions, not like that. You were an obsession of his for a long time, but no, he – I didn't really care about you," Angel says frankly, with a one-shouldered shrug.

Out of the corner of his eye he sees Spike flinch, and hastily but honestly adds, "No more than I did for Dru or Penn, anyway. But I wanted you to have feelings for me. I wanted you to need me the way they did – the way even Darla needed me, to an extent. Dru and Penn, I broke them and molded them to be what I wanted. I made them live for my approval. But I could never quite manage it with you."

"An' that's why you hate me, innit?" Spike asks quietly, though it sounds less like a question than a realization of a long-elusive fact of life. His handsome face is twisted with a tangled mix of emotions Angel can't quite sort out, and he isn't sure he'd want to if he could. "You can't feel guilty 'bout me, 'cause I never wanted to be Daddy's, not like they all did. You can't feel guilty for breaking me because I never broke, so you hate me instead."

"I don't know what the hell I feel for you anymore, Spike," Angel confesses with an unnecessary exhalation. "Before Rumania, I obsessed over you. Even in Sunnydale, I was still preoccupied with you. I wanted your attention, and I got it any way I could, even if it meant making you hate me. You looked to Dru before you ever looked to me, so I took her from you – and then you sided with Buffy rather than submit to my command. You went to the Slayer instead of… Do you have any idea how pissed I was when I…when Angelus realized…?

"And yeah, I hated you back in Sunnydale when I still had my soul, and when you popped up out of that damned amulet a few months ago. But it's never been just hate. I don't know if hatred is even a factor anymore – at least on my part. Extreme irritation and dislike, sure, but honest-to-god loathing?" He pauses, shaking his head. "No. Not anymore."

He can't make out the expression on Spike's angular face – for once, the younger vampire's normally expressive features are completely inscrutable.

Then the peroxide blonde nods slowly, but more as if he's agreeing with something playing out in his own mind than with anything Angel's told him in the past few minutes. The younger man eyes him for a frozen eternity, then says, "You may not've noticed, Angelus, but Dru's not here at the moment. An' neither is Buffy. I could've stayed in Rome, y'know, an' I almost did. But in the end I came back here." He hesitates, then reluctantly concludes, "With you."

Angel blinks, wondering exactly what Spike is trying to get across to him – and what it'll take to get the little bastard to stop calling him Angelus.

Or worse, one of those moronic nicknames that make his friends and employees giggle like schoolchildren when they don't think he's listening. 'Poofter' and 'Captain Forehead', his shiny pale ass!

"An' don't think you're the only one comin' in second," Spike adds with a scowl, crashing Angel's one-vamp self-pity party. "When've I ever come in first?"

"Did you hear anything I just said?" Angel demands, annoyed. "Angelus spent over twenty years fixating on you – not Darla, not Dru, not Penn." He pauses, swallows, and softly continues, "And you don't see me with Buffy, either."

They lock eyes for a long moment, and then Angel finds himself wanting a close-up view of that familiar, loathed, beloved face. He starts to lean in, lips parting, but stops himself quickly enough that it seems like he's just swaying from the whiskey.

Judging from the look in his eyes, the quirk of his lips, Spike isn't at all fooled. But then, he's always been able to read Angel like a book. A children's book, with big colorful pictures on every page and a huge, bold font.

'See Angel. See Angel brood. See Spike. See Spike snark. See Angel and Spike argue. See Angel want to screw Spike into the carpet until they both scream.'

Angel nearly laughs. Not exactly the best bedtime story for the kiddies.

Not that that'd stop his grandchilde. Hell, Spike'd probably write it up himself and find someone to illustrate it in lurid detail, and then try to sell it for cigarette, blood, and beer money.

"You want to kiss me," Spike says, drawing Angel out of his increasingly disturbing reverie. Only Angel's not sure he's glad to be rescued – the peroxide pest next to him sounds almost gleeful, and that's never a good sign. "I knew you were a poofter!"

"What? No!" Angel denies vehemently, trying not to think 'See Angel pin Spike to the couch and do naughty things to him all night long'. It didn't work. "Mmm. I mean – no. Not a chance. At all. Don't be disgusting!"

Spike simply looks at him, his scarred eyebrow raised. Angel doesn't know anyone else who can so effectively mock by way of eyebrow.

"I don't want to kiss you," he insists unconvincingly, trying not to pout like a toddler. Then he deflates. "Okay, so yeah, I do," he confesses grudgingly, giving up. "But just a little."

His grandchilde stares at him, shocked that he actually admitted it. Angel tries not to squirm under his companion's gaze.

"Christ, we're fucked up," Spike finally groans, tossing back the rest of his beer and dropping the bottle carelessly onto the floor, along with the others he's already emptied. At least five, possibly as many as seven or eight. For someone so small, the blond bastard's always had a damn good constitution – even for a vampire. "We're damaged in the head, both of us."

Angel, for once, can only agree.

And wonder if this means Spike wants to kiss him back.