Title: Fading Away

Rating: Teen, just to be on the safe side.

Summary: Post NFA, Spike and Angel have a bonding moment.

Author's Note: This is just a thought that occurred to me. It has nothing to do with the other (novel-length) fics I'm writing.

--

If there was one word in the whole world that could define Angel right then, it was pain.

Or maybe it was ouch.

He lay there holding his head, glaring at Spike, who lay several feet away, his back to Angel, his coat shredded and blood trickling from his wounds "This isn't the way it was supposed to happen. It was supposed to be a glorious exit."

"Yeah? Well, tough," said Spike with a laugh. "Glorious exits are for ponces."

"It was supposed to redeem all the stupid mistakes I've made."

"One minute of glory doesn't make up for a lifetime of wrong. Burning up to save the world doesn't make you a hero."

"I didn't burn up."

"No, that was me. Git."

For a while they were silent. The dripping noises of the destroyed sewer around them settling further were beginning to drive Angel mad.

"I did kill the dragon, though."

"Yes, you did. Very good and heroic of you."

"Why are you mad at me?"

"Ultimately, I'm not. I'm mad at me and the waste I've made of my life, and how powerless I am in the face of destiny. But, hey, give me a good fight and I'll work that out."

"I don't see why you're so mad at me."

"I just said I wasn't."

"Yeah, but you're lying, William. Lying."

There was a long pause, and Spike sucked in a deep, although unnecessary, breath. "You know, Angelus, there've been times I've wished I could torture and kill you. The only thing that's been stopping me lately is a scrap of conscience that can't even keep me good enough to keep me true to her, and a voice in my head that isn't strong enough to call me to her side."

Angel was silent for a long time. "You could have gone to her," he finally said. "I couldn't. I couldn't be that happy. It was too scary. I was to the point where being with her… even sex-free… it was nearly perfect. I almost lost it."

"And I could have been with her and kept the soul? I wish it were that easy, mate. I really do. The problem is that she and I… we're not exactly meant for each other. Or, more precisely, she was never mine."

"Spike…"

"Just shut up."

"Are you crying?"

"You know that saying, better to have loved and lost than to have never loved? I wish I were stone. I wish I never had loved and lost. Drusilla, Buffy… I should have been nicer to Harmony."

"She was a soulless vampire, and she betrayed us."

"Yes, but you're not defined by the kindness you show to those you love. The kindness you show to your enemies, or those you don't know… isn't that more indicative of what kind of person you really are? The way you treat the people who can't help you."

"I don't know."

"Well, Liam. Well, well."

"Shut up. I know a few things pretty well. I know I did this for the right reasons."

"Oh, not to be a real boy?"

"I signed that prophecy away. You can have it if you want it."

"What? Why?"

"What'd you just say about being defined? The sort of person who does good for a reward isn't really good, is he? He's a mercenary."

"Whereas if you do it for no reward you're a hero?"

"That's the one right there."

Spike laughed. "Doing it for love of a woman or to assuage your own guilt doesn't count, then? Or because it's your destiny? I don't think I've ever known any real heroes."

"Oh? Think harder."

"Nah. Even Xander—poor idiot—was doing it for Buffy. Heh."

"Do you really think so?"

"Yeah."

"Cordelia wasn't. She didn't do it for me. She didn't do it for anyone. She didn't do it because she had to. It wasn't her fate. She chose it. Even when she didn't have to, she chose it."

"Well. Cordelia. Wasn't that the brunette? I vaguely remember her. From the year you had no soul, right?"

"Yeah, she was there. She was just a kid then. It took her a long time to grow up."

"It took me the better part of two centuries."

"Me too."

"I guess we really are pathetic, aren't we?"

"Yes, we are."

"Big babies."

"Yes."

"There's an upside, though."

"This I have to hear."

"Yeah. Screw you. Ready to hear it?"

"I'm just quaking with anticipation."

"Idiot. Everything I ever did led to this minute, right here."

"That's an upside?"

"I don't think I ever would have forgiven you if we hadn't come to this."

There was a very long silence then. Angel let his eyes slide closed.

"Liam? You still with me?"

"I'm not dust yet."

"I said I forgive you. No snappy comeback?"

"You're not ever supposed to be the more mature one."

"Yeah. Only I don't know if we'll last to see another night. I don't know if Illyria is still alive out there somewhere, waiting to meet back up with us. I don't know if we have any more fights left. And I don't want to die without having said it."

"I stopped hating you a long time ago."

"You did?"

"I stopped hating you when I found out you'd been sleeping with Buffy."

"Oh, really?"

"I started loathing you then, but I couldn't hate you any more. I couldn't hate someone she loved."

"Well, if it's any consolation, she never loved me."

"She wouldn't… not with someone she didn't love."

"Well, she would. It was the whole just-back-from-the-dead thing. I could explain it to you, but I'd need a chalkboard."

"Shut up."

"Seriously. She had issues. It was the only reason."

"Agh. God. I can't believe I apologized to you only to have it thrown in my face."

"Yeah? I can't believe you're such a git."

"Seriously, if we ever get out of this, I'm going to cut your head off."

"Like you could, grandpa! Didn't I beat you last time? Remember that?"

"And you drank the cup of perpetual torment. The mountain dew of perpetual torment, rather."

There was a noise at the end of the tunnel, a shifting and creaking.

"Well, somebody found us. I knew it wouldn't take forever. Think they're going to dig us out?"

"Bound to."

"Well, then."

"Well."

Both of them sat up slowly, gingerly. Angel shifted his shoulders, his face morphing, the human façade falling away. When he spoke his voice was slurred by the fangs pressing down into his tongue. "So, William. To the end of the world?"

"If I had to pick one person to face death side by side with… it would be anybody but you."

There was another sudden shifting, and a cloud of dust exploded up, obscuring their vision. When it cleared Illyria stood there.

"The forces of evil are regrouping. We would do well to do likewise," she said shortly, glaring at them.

"Well, well. She came back for us," said Spike, grinning. "I do believe she's further along the road to redemption than either of us."

Angel sighed. "Do me a favor, Spike. Don't ever help me get ready to face my final fate again."

"Next time I'll speed you along towards it."

"That's better."

They limped out of the cramped space towards the former god-king of the universe, Spike whistling as they went.