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Spike spent the first half hour of the flight rigid in his seat, his hands clamped on the armrests and his face lowered. Watching him out of the corner of her eye, Buffy eventually leant over and whispered, 'It won't crash.'
Spike jumped. 'What?'
'Big flying machine no crash.'
'No. I wasn't…. I was….' He turned to the window and stared out at the night.
'What's wrong, Spike? I come to rescue you from the evil empire; I'm taking you home. Why are you so… moody-vamp?'
Spike didn't turn his head, but the pressure on his fingers on the arm of his seat increased.
'I think I've just made the biggest mistake of my life.'
Wesley's head snapped around at the soft voice, and he saw Angel standing in the shadows of the carpark. He felt in no mood to pander to Angel's misery, having enough of his own to cope with. He unlocked his door and began to climb in, until a hand seized his wrist. 'Let go!'
'I need… I need your help.'
Not for the first time, Spike wished he'd paid for a private plane as Wesley had hinted. The trip exhausted him. He felt an ennui so paralysing that he seemed unable to speak or act or even think about the things that were happening around him. He felt more insubstantial than he had as a ghost, except that now everything hurt. The lights were too bright, the planes too loud, people too plentiful. His nerves were beginning to unpeel. He wanted to scream, and the feeling scared him- such lack of control something he'd fought so hard against. His body betrayed and mocked him, bursting with the illusion of life: swollen painfully hard, aching for the only touch that could relieve it.
He felt his madness returning, but here, in this totally alien world of the skies, he had no respite from that insanity.
He jerked back from another retreat into silence.
'What's wrong? This is not good, Spike! You need to….'
'It's too high.' What's he doing now? Is he missing me yet?
'Up here. Too high. I'm not supposed to be this high. Creature of the earth, yeah.' Did he watch the sky? Did he watch me leave?
'How much longer?' Is he staring out over the city, lost? Is he lost?
'Tomorrow. We'll be at Heathrow tomorrow, and then it's a couple of hours drive.'
Spike winced, his head was hurting so much that he couldn't focus on her words for the buzzing in his ears, but he had to make the effort or he felt the instability pulling him under. 'You said London.' Can you hear me? Are you lost, Angel? I've got lost, too, and I need you.
Inevitably it was raining when they landed: a cold sweep of horizontal water pushed on a strong northerly wind. Coming from the heat of a Californian August, even Spike shivered as they stepped out of the terminal, but as it suited his mood to be cold and unhappy, he shrugged and tried to light a cigarette in the wind.
A car drew up, and a familiar face leant out of the window, and, with relatively good impression of a taxi-driver, said, 'Anyone for a lift, Love?'
Buffy smiled and slid into the passenger seat, leaving Spike to climb in behind her. Giles turned and said in his normal voice, 'Spike. Nice to see you alive- given all the caveats to that, of course.'
Spike nodded and turned to look out of the window at the rain.
They drove for some time before Spike interrupted the conversation in the front to say, puzzled, 'Thought you said this gaff was in London?'
Giles chuckled and although he could not actually see him in the mirror, nevertheless addressed the absent reflection. 'I think you must make allowances for the fact that Buffy is American. We're not in Edinburgh, ergo we must be in London.'
Spike sank back into his miserable huddle on the back seat and continued his fascinating study of the wet road.
Giles continued to watch the empty seat for a while, thoughtfully. 'I hear things are rather different in L.A these days.'
Buffy glanced over at him, puzzled, and Spike hunched further into his coat.
Giles smiled enigmatically and dropped his eyes to the road.
Spike felt hypnotised by the heat in the car and the swish of the wipers on the windscreen. Lights from oncoming cars dazzled his sensitive eyes, and he felt an uncharacteristic headache forming behind his temples, similar to the after-effects of the chip firing off. He felt like shouting or running, anything to release some pressure that was building up inside his body that he could not control. He wrapped his arms tightly around his chest. He had the feeling it would be the only touch he would have for a very long time. Living without touch again. He thought he would go mad: talking to imaginary people, just to make a connection with someone. To amuse himself, he began to hum Early One Morning, but a severe, reproachful look from Buffy shut him up. He smiled and enjoyed the mean feeling it gave him.
They pulled up in front of a small manor house, which appeared to be genuine Tudor, although a later Victorian wing had been added.
Giles took Buffy's bags, eyed Spike's one small holdall then led the way in.
The large hall was dark, gloomy and cold, a granite floor sucking any potential heat out of the house.
Giles turned to Buffy. 'We have some new girls. Andrew brought them in. You should go and meet them.'
She nodded and turned to Spike, but Giles said swiftly, 'I'll take Spike up to his room.'
Not caring one way or the other, Spike followed the man up the sweeping stairs until they reached the upper hallway.
'Third door on the right, Spike. Remember, we have a house full of impressionable young women.'
Giles made to turn away then hesitated and turned back. 'Whatever happens, you are actually welcome here- if you decide to stay.'
'I'm bloody here, aren't I?'
'Yes, well. As I said, third door on the right, and don't make too much noise.'
'Stupid git!' Spike stomped off down the dark hallway and half-kicked, half-pushed the door open. He flung his bag onto the bed then put a hand over his face as if by retreating into this small, private darkness he could escape more than just this room or house.
A dark shadow detached from the recess beside the fireplace and waited to be noticed.
Spike lifted his face and paled noticeably. 'Oh, God. I am mad.' He stumbled away from the figure and back into the hallway.
'No!' Everything in Spike's mind screeched, as if he were listening to a vast vehicle trying to avoid a collision. It was impossible that Angel could be there, so the only other alternative was that he was mad. For one moment, everything that had happened since he had emerged from the amulet seemed unreal, wavering on that narrow margin between where reality and dream lay. What was more real, that he was dead and dreaming this, or that he and Angel had really become lovers? He turned blindly and began to run: down the hallway, down stairs out through a door, where a cold blast of rain splattered across his face. The rain invigorated him, and he felt the soaked earth beckoning him. He ran across an ill-tended lawn, vaulted a couple of low walls and crashed into a small, dense wood that crackled under his feet and tangled in his hair. He pushed through the branches and for the first time heard the one pursuing him.
He pulled up short and turned. For a ghost, conjured from his madness, Angel seemed very corporeal. He stopped when he saw that Spike had stopped, and they stared at each other across the gap.
Slowly, before Spike could speak, Angel closed the small space separating them. He seemed to sense that Spike needed to touch him, to test his reality, and he laid his hand on Spike's arm.
Spike looked down then wrenched his arm away as if the touch burned rather than reassured.
Angel blinked, rain streaming down his face and flattening his hair.
Spike sobered. He saw that his madness was the phantom after all. Suddenly, with a hot stab in his spine, anger took the place of fear. He was angry with Angel, but more importantly, he was angry with himself. He'd allowed himself to sink beneath self-doubt once more. He had run away, because he still not could ask Angel for what he wanted in case the answer was no. It seemed so simple, but its simplicity did not make it any less real or painful, and he was so angry that he had followed meekly behind Buffy's undefined more and away from the only one who had ever defined that more for him. He was so angry, that he lashed out, catching Angel a stinging slap across his cheek. It wasn't the usual way he hit him, but it seemed to suit the moment.
Coldly, he turned away and pushed through the branches, just to put some distance between them. The trees cleared, and he found himself in a small clearing. The rain then seemed to ease to a light drizzle, but he was soaked through anyway and hardly noticed the respite.
'This was never about you, Spike.'
Spike turned, surprised at Angel's ready confession. He nodded faintly, some of his anger starting to drain away from him. It left him cold and confused again though, and he hugged his arms over his chest.
Angel came very close as if his presence could warm Spike, but as he appeared even wetter than Spike, this was a vain attempt.
Suddenly, expecting an explanation, an argument, anything other than what he got, Spike was dismayed when Angel fell to his knees and lifted his face. 'Now.'
A jolt of something unpleasant shot through Spike, however, at Angel's submission, and he realised it was temptation: temptation to do what he knew Angel was asking.
He tested the situation by pushing Angel's shoulder, and Angel just stayed on his knees and lowered his eyes. 'Just take me now, Spike. I can't explain how I feel, and you won't believe me anyway.'
Angel flinched at something unmistakable he could hear in Spike's voice, but he rose obediently. He flinched again as Spike put his hands to the waistband of his pants and ripped open his zipper. Roughly, Spike turned Angel around and pushed him against a tree. He yanked the torn pants down just far enough to allow his hands to fondle Angel's cheeks. They were very pale and felt cold to the touch, quickly becoming slick under the cold rain.
At his touch, Angel made a small noise in the back of his throat. It was more than fear- a lot more. Spike heard echoes in the tiny intake of breath and realised, with a profound sense of shock, that he was hearing an echo from hell. He looked around wildly and imagined taking Angel in this place-remembered Angel's halting confession and the effort it had taken for this great, powerful creature to tell him of such violation.
As Spike stood with his hands parting Angel for penetration, he knew he couldn't have summoned an erection if the world were about to end and it would be his last. He let his hands fall from the cold flesh for a brief moment then replaced one- this time on the small of Angel's back, sliding it gently under his shirt. Angel turned his head, and at Spike's expression, he moaned softly in distress and pulled Spike into his arms.
They didn't speak for a long time. Nothing they said could take away the hurt they'd given each other, or make the understanding between them now any more complete.
Nevertheless, after some time, Spike lifted his face and said distinctly, 'When I take you, it will be as perfect as I can make it for you, Angel. In our bed, at home.'
Angel closed his eyes to the promise and nodded.
Sensing that Angel now needed to talk, Spike put a finger to his lips then refastened Angel's pants as best he could. Taking his hand, he pulled him further into the wood until he found what he was looking for: an ancient tree with disturbed roots. He ducked in under the thick cover, pulling Angel with him. Leaves from a previous autumn filled the cavity, and they were still dry, scrunching slightly as Spike made a small nest for them.
Angel didn't seem to notice the surroundings; his eyes were troubled. Spike lit a cigarette, the brief flare from his lighter illuminating Angel's pain. 'Bloody soddin' weather!'
Predictably, Angel didn't indulge Spike with a conversation about rain. He spoke haltingly, his voice low and slightly shaky from the cold, stressed at what he had been willing to offer Spike in this place. His hair was flattened to his scalp, and he began to run his fingers through it continually, as if he could never return it to what it had once been. 'I was mad for over eighty years, Spike. I was mad until I met Buffy. In a way, she was my soul for me. Loving her and then trying to be a good man became kinda synonymous. I think I thought, "Without one, how could I have the other?" And the logic kinda got twisted up. I began to think that if I loved Buffy I must be a good man and that my soul must have meaning. And then, there she was, in my office, and I realised that I had stopped seeing myself through her- that I was free of her.'
Angel seemed to find this confession so painful that Spike laid a hand on his knee and said softly, 'I know. I worked this out for my….'
'No!' Angel turned, and his eyes held a spark of his more habitual spirit. 'No! I know what you thought- Wesley told me. I don't fear not being able to love you enough; I don't fear that I'm going to lose you! Don't you get it, Spike? I stopped defining myself through Buffy, because now I do it through you!'
'And that made you turn away from me? That made you deny me?' Spike's eyes felt hot, and he blinked them furiously to keep his focus on Angel's face.
Angel's head lowered, and the voice was quiet once more, without its usual authority. 'What am I, Spike, if I'm defined by you? I've lost my sense of myself as a man. She was the Slayer; I was the vampire with a soul, but with you, I'm just… me. But I'm not sure who that is anymore.' He lifted his head, and his voice was angry. 'So, yeah, I let you go. I turned you away from me. I came to that fucking airport and watched you leave me, and it was like being in a nightmare where I couldn't wake up and make it stop happening. It was almost good that it hurt so much. It was what I wanted: to hurt and feel miserable.'
'Why do you need to be defined by anyone? Why can't you just be… you?' Spike's puzzlement was so genuine, that Angel only frowned at him without replying. Spike shrugged and added, 'You've always had everyone fawn over you love, but you're the one with no confidence. The universe uses me like its own private punch bag, but I always seem to… bounce.'
'Not helping maybe?'
Spike smiled softly at the petulance in Angel's tone. It was successfully drawing him away from the despair that he had heard there earlier. He pulled Angel into his arms and offered him his cigarette. Angel took a long, sensuous drag, and Spike felt a little more of Angel's vast tension slip away.
'Am I dreaming you, Angel? I wanted you to miss me; I didn't expect you to bloody be here!'
'Fast jet-CEO perks. We've been here two days.'
Angel brought Spike's hand down for another lungful of smoke. 'Wesley's brought the Codex for Giles. I'm giving them to him- to help him start again.'
'The Watchers' Council in partnership with Wolfram and Hart? Well, things do change.'
'Yeah. It'll wipe that supercilious look off her face….'
Spike smiled into Angel's hair and only hugged him tighter. Angel being childish was not Angel in despair either, and that was just fine by him.
They were both quiet for some time, enjoying the restful intimacy of smoking and lying in each other's arms. As if feeling the moment intensely, Spike suddenly blurted out, 'Let's stay here.'
Angel twisted his head around and tried to fathom his expression. 'In England?'
'No. Here. In this wood. In this burrow.'
Angel appeared to be considering this then murmured, 'Living like true creatures of the night….'
'Under the stars; bared to the earth….'
'Naked, unencumbered by human concerns….'
'Hunting and eating small, scurrying…. Okay. Maybe not.'
Angel chuckled 'We're sad vampires, Spike. Creatures of showers, designer clothes and microwaved food.'
Spike kissed his hair. 'Come on. Let's find Wes and go home.'
Angel crawled out first, cursing the mud now coating some of the designer clothes he had just mentioned. He put down a hand and pulled Spike out after him.
Arms loosely around each other - as much as the wood allowed - they strolled slowly back through the rain until they stood on the edge of the lawn, staring up at the huge house.
'I wonder why they picked here?'
Spike raised an eyebrow. 'Looking at the state of the roof, I'd say it was cheap. Where's Wes?'
Angel smiled. 'My guess, if we find the library, we'll find him.'
'God, I'm so tired suddenly. Jeez, can vampires get jet-lagged?'
Angel frowned. 'I don't know. I've never flown before- and not for three days. Maybe you are. You can sleep on the way home.'
Spike tipped his head gratefully onto Angel's shoulder then straightened. 'This isn't going to be easy.'
Angel blinked some rain out of his eyes. 'I know. Just tell the truth- as far as you can.'
Spike nodded. 'Okay. I'll say that I've fallen in love for the first time in my life, and that I intend to actually have that life, with you.'
Angel nodded sagely. 'That should do it.' He grinned down at Spike. 'Does it for me.'
Together they went in through the side door they'd left from and wound their way through long, dark stone corridors until they heard voices.
Taking a breath, they pushed a set of large doors open and stepped into light, blinded for a moment by the contract with the darkness they'd shared outside.
All voices stopped, but more disconcertingly, all eyes swivelled to them. Totally self-consciously, Angel suddenly looked over at Spike. He winced and realised he must look as bad. Spike was dripping wet and his legs were heavily splattered in mud. Leaves stuck out of his hair at odd angles, looking like some ancient, tribal decoration. Trying to look inconspicuous, he plucked a few of them out.
Spike was staring around the room in horror. Teenage girls wherever he looked. He felt an immediate need to retreat to a cellar somewhere.
Buffy stood, her face registering total confusion at Angel's presence, but before she could speak, he said, 'I wasn't very welcoming, Buffy. I came to say sorry and bring you… have you seen Wesley?'
She shook her head, as if having trouble processing his presence. 'Angel?'
Angel smiled weakly. 'Yeah. In the flesh.'
'Muddy? And… are those leaves?'
Spike smiled helpfully. 'Big vamp in the wood needed staking.'
'And you and Angel… sorry, I'm not getting this. You and Angel staked a vampire in our wood?'
'Well, I'm kinda gonna leave him till we get more comfy in L.A. but the thought was there.'
Angel suppressed a smile at Spike's remark and came toward her. He laid a hand on her arm then looked around the room at the assembled girls. 'They're all… slayers?'
'Yes, Angel, and they're not hearing-impaired.'
Angel pursed his lips. The girls stared back at him.
Overcoming her obvious shock, Buffy looked angry then covered by going back to the front where she'd been addressing them, murmuring to Angel, 'Can we do this later?'
Angel nodded and walked thoughtfully back to Spike, and they went back out into the large hallway. For the first time, they looked properly at the house, and although they did not speak of what they saw, nevertheless, each sensed what the other was thinking. Angel tipped his head back and scented the air then led the way down another hallway and pushed open a green baize door.
Wesley looked up and raised his eyebrows. Giles adjusted his eyes and groaned. 'God. Have we had another leak? You're soaked.'
Angel was about to summon Wesley when the watchers turned back to each other, and Giles finished a comment that he had clearly been in the middle of making. 'So, as you can see, it's pretty hideous. The girls come here terrified- full of power, I'll grant you that, but it's all totally misplaced, untrained.'
They both turned to Angel, and Giles took off his glasses, pinching the bridge of his nose. 'It's good in theory: every potential a slayer and all that. But we didn't really have time to think through all the consequences. Can you imagine a Buffy or a Faith without a watcher's care and…. Well, Buffy then… can you imagine what she would have been like now without the experiences that have shaped her and made her what she is? You, for example, Angel. Oh, and I suppose you as well, Spike. Are those leaves? See, you have something else in common.'
Angel ignored the gibe; he'd suffered them for the last two days since his unexpected and slightly emotional arrival.
'So, you are bringing them all here?'
'Well, they come here for the first few weeks- more if they need it. Some of them are very traumatised. Then we're trying to… well, I suppose foster is the best description We foster them out to suitable people to train and care for.'
'Why choose this place. It's…. ' Angel tried to be tactful, but Spike helped him out.
Giles frowned. 'Some of us don't have the benefit of the millions that support an evil law firm. I'm grateful for the Codex, Angel - very grateful - but don't come here and criticise what we are trying to do.'
Angel said softly, 'I wasn't criticising.'
Giles nodded. 'Well, all right then. Now, I suppose you are leaving? All of you? Have you told Buffy? She'll be…. Well, never mind.'
Angel looked down at his feet for moment and didn't want to look at Spike. Nevertheless, some kind of masochistic impulse made him glance across. To his profound surprise, Spike was not only looking at him, he was clearly thinking exactly the same thing. They had a moment of complete, private, and very intense understanding, and then Spike said casually, 'Actually, I think I will stay for a tad. Few weeks maybe. If I can help, like.' He didn't look at Angel again. He didn't need to. Angel's affirmation and love reached him clearly enough without having to see it.
Giles's relief showed plainly on his face. He just nodded and said brightly, 'If we have any electricity, would anyone like some tea?'
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