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The Darkling Plain
Spike woke, turned over and stared at the sleeping face on the pillow next to him.
He blinked and reached out to run his finger across the long eyelashes and into the rumpled dark hair.
A pair of startlingly brown eyes flicked open, and Spike smiled softly. 'Morning sleepyhead… sleep well?'
The woman sat up, alarmed. 'Did the baby wake?'
Spike processed this for a moment, then replied, 'No, she's fast asleep. Don't worry, Luv.'
Nevertheless, she crawled to the end of the bed and picked something out of a cradle. 'No… she's lying here like Mummy's little angel.' She placed the baby in Spike's arms and snuggled down close.
Spike held the baby, his mind held like a slice of ice on the surface of a deep lake. If he didn't put any pressure on it, it stayed happily floating over all the dark depths. As soon as he thought about anything, it began to plunge down, and everything was fearful.
He cooed at the baby and nestled her down between them: him, his wife, his baby. Don't think any deeper.
When he awoke again, sunlight streamed into the room from an open window. It caressed his body, and as he looked down at this naked, sun-bathed flesh, one finger slipped off his ice-float and dipped into the icy waters of memory. He snatched it back and went to lean on the sill, staring out at well-manicured lawns. Amanda looked up. Amanda- no ripple at all: the name came easily to him. Spike gave her a small wave, and she pouted at him. 'Get up, lazy bones. Susan will be here soon!'
She went back to laying a table in the garden.
Spike dressed and went down through the house- his house. He felt a small wobble as he descended the stairs, so sat very still on his ice flow and didn't rock it again. He went out to join his wife and child in the sun.
Amanda handed him a glass of wine. 'I wonder what he'll be like?'
'Who, Darling?' That caused a fairly major tip, so he repeated it without the endearment. 'Who?'
'The new boyfriend, silly. He's all she can talk about!'
Spike nodded, remembering this now. He'd known it all along, but had forgotten to remember.
He made desultory talk until they saw a car pull into the driveway and two people get out. Spike watched a young woman - so like his wife it was uncanny - walk eagerly toward them- his sister-in-law, of course. He knew that, too. She handed him a large gift with a pink bow and said, flushed, 'Where is she?' She spied the pram and went, chattering with her sister, to admire the new arrival.
Spike turned to watch the other figure approach, and a huge wave of icy water washed over his small ice island. The young man came over to him.
'You must be Spike.'
'Yes. I think I must be.'
'I'm Angel.' The young man's brow creased, and he blinked and shivered slightly.
'Are you cold?'
Angel glanced down. 'No. I suppose not.'
Spike pursed his lips a little. 'I feel I know you.'
Angel looked relieved. 'Yeah. I think we've met. But I'm kinda wiped today- flu maybe.'
Spike nodded. 'Must be going around; I've been feeling weird all day.'
'Okay, good. Vague?'
'Maybe we met at work. What do you do? Suzi didn't say. I don't think. I don't remember ever having that conversation with her.' He looked away as if it had suddenly occurred to him that he couldn't remember any conversations with her about anything.
Spike kept his gaze fixed on the man and said, 'I don't know. I'll think about it for a moment, and it'll come to me. Yeah. I'm a banker. I work in a bank.'
Angel hung his head and said sadly, 'If I think, I can hear earth being shovelled- as if I'm in a deep hole.'
'Huh. Cold water- deep.'
'Shall we join the girls?'
They both shuddered at the same time, which only seemed to confirm that they were suffering from the same condition.
They stood together in the shade and watched the bright, sunlit figures in front of them.
'She's a lovely baby.'
'Were you there at the birth?'
Spike had no idea and waited without rocking his little boat. 'No. I was away.'
'Why are we here?'
'You asked me why we were here.'
'I don't think so. Why would I ask that? We came to see your baby.'
'Of course. Sorry. Why is that bloody dog barking?'
Spike blinked. 'It's gone now. When I thought about it, it went.'
'That's the best kind of dog to have, I'm thinking.'
'Yes. I think I'm drowning.'
'Down- into the sea.'
'Do you want to sit down?'
'Out of the sun sounds good.'
'Yeah, I want to lie in the dark.'
'I'm sure of it.'
'What's my next line?'
'I need my lines, or I can't think of anything to say.'
'I'm going inside.'
'Okay. I feel bad about you leaving- as if I need you for something.'
'If I go inside, I think your lines will come more easily, and I'll stop drowning.'
'Will the sound of earth stop as well?'
'I think so. We're upsetting each other for some reason.'
Spike walked across the lawn toward the house, and at every step away from the familiar young man he'd never met before, he became clearer and more focused: Amanda, baby.
It became positively calm on his small ice flow.
Wesley arrived back only a few days after the vampires. Once they'd left, the house became cold and empty- not through supernatural means, just missing the life and fun they'd brought.
He put it into the hands of various agents and took the earliest flight home he could manage. It did feel like coming home, and he even found himself humming once or twice as he made the long journey.
He immediately saw that nothing of any use had been done in his absence and gave the lounging women a stern look and Gunn a frown as he sat down on one of the central couches. 'Where's Angel?'
Cordelia smirked and rolled her eyes upstairs. 'They've taken another - airquotes - holiday. Horizontal, I'm thinking.'
Wesley frowned. 'Is that what Angel said?'
Gunn got up to pour himself another coffee. 'We've not seen him for days.'
'What! At all?'
Wesley got up and went into one of the offices. He dialled a number and waited, tapping anxiously with a pen on the desk.
'Yes, look… have you seen Spike since they got back?'
There was a slight hesitation. 'He's probably been busy.'
'So, you've not seen him?'
'I just said that.'
'But you thought you might?'
'Well, I kinda….'
'Can you come over?'
'What's wrong, Wesley?'
'I don't know. I'm just… surprised… that's all.'
'Sure. Ten minutes.'
Wesley went back out and raised his eyes to the ceiling, pursing his lips.
When Sam arrived, he sauntered over and joined Wesley by the coffee machine. 'They're probably just fucking.'
Wesley winced. 'That's what everyone else thought, but I'm…. Angel was very concerned about things here- when he was there. He'd not just…. Damn. Maybe they are. They didn't over there much.'
Sam tried to follow this, then just sighed. 'Go up and see maybe?'
Wesley winced again. 'What if I'm wrong and they're….'
Sam punched the button and grinned. 'I'm counting on it.'
They stepped into the elevator together.
'So… things go well in England?'
'Oh, yes, you have NO idea how much property prices have soared in the last….'
'I'm not talking about property.'
'Oh. Yes. Very well.'
The doors slid open, and Sam cautiously put his head around. He then nudged Wesley, amused. 'We were right. Fucking.'
Wesley drew back as if shocked, but then frowned and put his head around too. 'They're very quiet.'
'I can see their feet sticking out.'
'Oh, maybe they're asleep.'
Cautiously, they went closer, more of the bed being gradually revealed as they moved to one side of the screens.
Suddenly, something flew at Wesley, and he backed off with a small curse. Sam laughed and bent. 'Hey. Mutt. It's me!'
The puppy snapped viciously at them both, then went back to his position by the bed with a fixed stare at its occupants and wouldn't be moved again.
Wesley rounded the screen, now very anxious that the vampires had not apparently heard this small exchange. He gasped, grabbing for Sam's arm. 'Bloody hell!'
Sam skidded to a halt and shouted, 'Get it off them!'
He leapt forward, but Wesley restrained him. 'Don't touch it! We have no idea what it is!'
Together, they looked at the large, white, maggot-looking creature that lay over the bodies of the naked vampires, almost totally obscuring them. Sam suddenly began to cry and stamped his foot furiously. 'What the fuck is it, Wesley?'
Wesley began to circle the bed. 'I don't know. Oh, Christ. Look….' He directed Sam's gaze to a proboscis, which seemed to be attached to Spike's temple. Sam swore loudly and pointed to another on Angel.
Suddenly, he swung around and ran to the kitchen. He came back with a knife. 'Fuck you, Wesley; I'm cutting that damn thing off them.'
Wesley didn't interfere physically, but said in a very low voice. 'And kill them….'
Sam screwed up his face but stilled his hand. 'We've got to do something.'
'We will. Look, they are still alive- in their own way. They'd be dust if they weren't. That's a good sign. I need my books.'
Sam nodded. 'Call J. He'll bring over anything you need- no way are you leaving me alone with that thing.'
Wesley turned to the phone but halted with a shiver going down his spine as the puppy suddenly began to bark furiously. With his eyes still fixed unwavering on the figures on the bed, he sent up a furious volley of high-pitched barking.
Sam winced. 'Jeez. Take him next door or something.' He bent to do it himself, but got a badly bitten hand for his trouble. 'Fucking dog!'
'Leave it. We need to get a handle on this.'
Sam nodded. 'Call J.'
Sam stood and looked at the thing that covered the one he loved almost to distraction and felt a sense of total helplessness wash over him.
With a grimace, he went to join Wesley at the table. 'Tell me what to do- research. There's a first time for everything.'
Spike sat with his head tipped back on the couch and heard Amanda coming in from the garden. She came slowly into the room and said, concerned, 'Are you all right, Sweetheart? They've gone. Alex didn't seem well.'
Spike opened his eyes. 'Who?'
She frowned. 'Darling! Alex? The new love of Suzi's life?'
'He was called Angel.'
She gave him a funny look. 'Since when? We've been talking about Alex for weeks, Steve. You know very well what he's called.'
Spike stared at her and then chuckled. Of course. Alex- he knew that. Steve- he knew that, too. He'd always been called Steve. He felt distinctly better and got up, circling her around the waist.
'Sorry. I think we both had the same thing. But he's gone now, and I feel a lot better.'
She slipped away from the obvious intent in his face and pouted. 'You know it's too soon. But I'm glad you liked him, because I've invited them both over for the day tomorrow.'
'I didn't like him. I don't want him here.'
She narrowed her eyes at him. 'Tough. Get over it; they're coming.'
Spike hovered in the bedroom the next day, watching the young couple arriving. He knew he'd be summoned down soon. He stared at the man: Alex. Except, he wasn't Alex; he was called Angel for some reason. Now he saw him again, that he was sure of. Angel, he noticed, was looking as unhappy and confused as he felt.
Squaring his shoulders, he went slowly down the stairs, kissed his sister-in-law dutifully and nodded at the other.
Suddenly, he flung his head around. Angel gave him a look, and Spike murmured unhappily, 'Bleedin' barking again.'
Angel replied equally quietly, 'I had the taste of that freaking earth in my mouth all the way over.'
Amanda came out of the kitchen and nodded at them both. 'Why don't you two go upstairs and work on the nursery for a while?' She smiled patronisingly at Spike. 'Two brains better than one?'
Spike gave Angel a small apologetic look. 'Flat-packed furniture. I'm not very….'
'Sure, I'll help.'
They went up the stairs together and into the room that was to be the nursery. Angel frowned and stared at the walls. 'Blood red? Bit weird for a baby?'
Spike felt something rise in his belly and, without looking, said, 'Ice pink, I think.'
Angel pursed his lips. 'Oh, yeah. They are. Sorry.'
Spike looked down at his feet for a moment and murmured softly, 'Why did you tell me you were called Angel?'
Angel looked down as if finding Spike's shoes equally fascinating. 'It's my name.'
'No, it's Alex.'
'I know. But it's Angel.'
Spike nodded faintly. 'Spike, not Steve.'
Angel glanced up at him through lowered lids.
Spike swallowed deeply. 'I didn't want you to come here today.'
'I had to be bribed.'
Spike looked up to find Angel still regarding him carefully. Suddenly, a voice drifted up from downstairs. 'Together yet?'
Spike kept Angel's gaze and whispered sadly in reply, 'Not yet.'
A brief frown flickered across Angel's face, and he took a hesitant step closer. 'I thought about you last night.'
Spike bit his lip. 'Will someone stop that fucking dog barking?'
'Are you still… drowning?'
Spike shivered. 'I rowed to the shore, and I climbed out. I didn't think about you, and I rowed to the shore: fast.'
'I let the earth cover me. I wanted to think about you.'
Spike took a step back, but there was nowhere much to go. 'I have a wife and a baby.'
Angel stopped and ran his hands through his hair. 'I….' It wasn't much, but it seemed to say far more than he intended, and he turned to the stack of boxes on the floor. 'Let's do this thing.'
Spike watched him kneel and tried to peel his back off the wall. He watched sunlight stream in through Angel's hair, watched his strong fingers undoing bindings, stared intently at his shirt, tight across straining shoulders.
'You have a tattoo.'
Angel turned abruptly. 'No, I don't.'
'Yes, you do. On your back.'
Angel rose to his feet uncertainly. 'Do you want me to take my shirt off and prove it?'
'What's it of?'
Spike gave him a very pointed look, and a small tic in Angel's cheek flared. 'Why did I say that?'
'Because you knew. Just like I did.'
Angel suddenly began to unbutton his shirt, and he tore it off, turning. 'Well?'
Spike didn't need to look. He knew there would be no tattoo on Alex's back. The tattoo was on Angel's back. He was about to point out this paradox when the two women suddenly appeared in the doorway. They stared at the boxes on the floor and at Angel, half naked. 'Are you comparing muscles? That's what boys do, right?'
Spike laughed nervously. Angel shrugged his shirt back on and said gruffly, 'I thought I'd been stung.'
Susan immediately flew to his side with that level of concern a woman can only produce before actually getting married, and began to baby him out of the door and into the bathroom. Amanda looked down at the boxes and sighed deeply.
Spike, with his back still to the wall, said defensively, 'I told you I didn't want you to invite him.'
She gave him a slightly bitter look. 'Well, as I said- tough. She's my sister, and she loves him. I like him. And I've just invited them to the cabin next week.' Raising an eyebrow, which indicated she expected his total, silent capitulation, she spun on her heel and went to assist with the doctoring.
Spike tipped his head back and felt tears prick his eyes. He swallowed deeply. Wife, baby, human. It was his mantra, and if he practiced it enough, the dog stopped and the world stopped lurching under his feet. A whole week- he had a feeling he'd have to do a large amount of practicing during that week.
Jordan, Wesley and Sam sat together around the new table, deep in books. They had moved the screens around the bed to one side so they could watch the figures, even though there was very little to see. Their friends just lay there with the obscenity heavy on them, sucking them, feeding them- they really had no idea.
Suddenly, Sam shouted triumphantly and pushed a book at Wesley. 'I've got it!'
Wesley frowned and looked at the picture. 'A Queller demon…?' He read some of the accounts for a moment and shook his head slowly. 'I'll give you it looks very much like one of those, but….'
Sam got impatient and snatched the book off him. 'Look- big fat grub. That's it!'
Wesley snatched it back. 'These come for the insane. Okay, another point…. This thing has one mouth- look. Our… thing… has those proboscis.'
He saw Sam's expression. 'Good work, though.'
It got quiet once more, except for the occasional frantic barking of the puppy. After a while, Wesley looked up and said pointedly at Jordan, 'Your book too boring for you?'
Jordan shook himself slightly and drew his gaze away from the bed. He hesitated, glanced at Sam, and then said, 'When the mutt barks, that thing flinches.'
The other two got up and went closer. Jordan joined them and said softly, 'Watch.'
They stood for what seemed like an age, none of them really wanting to look at all.
Suddenly, they saw it, but before Sam could congratulate Jordan, Wesley said slowly. 'No. The thing twitched, then the dog barks. He's not precipitating the reaction; he's… responding to it.'
'Is this important?'
Wesley suddenly looked reanimated. 'Yes, I think it might be. What if the demon is quelling - yes, I do think there may be some similarities in effect, if not in intent - Spike and Angel's natural brain activity? But maybe, when that activity begins to reassert itself, the creature finds them harder to control and makes that involuntary movement. The dog - with his advanced sensory perception - can pick up on it too.'
Sam pursed his lips and looked at him. 'That thing is stopping them thinking, and when they do think, Mutt-face hears them?'
Wesley pouted. 'I thought that's what I just said.'
He went back with renewed vigour to his books, but Sam gave Jordan a glance. 'How about we give Spike something to really think about?'
Jordan grinned and nodded. 'His favourite things….'
Sam raised an eyebrow, and together they went to the CD player and sorted through some favourites.
Wesley was silently bent over his books; he heard the first, small yap of another volley beginning and tuned it out as he'd been doing all evening. He almost screamed when a loud, thumping beat made his books judder on the table. He turned, outraged, to see Sam and Jordan kneeling by the bed. Suddenly, they began to shout loudly: anything, everything. The music began in earnest. Wesley clamped his hands over his ears. Strangely, rather than being upset by the noise, the puppy wagged his stumpy tail a little and barked harder.
The demon on the bed shuddered noticeably and began to pulse.
Wesley was about to shout for them to stop it- that they didn't know what harm they could be causing, when he saw it: one small twitch of Spike's finger, as if he were waking from sleep. He fell to his knees alongside the other two and grasped Spike's hand, stroking desperately across the palm to stimulate it more. 'Fight the bloody thing, Spike. Fight it.'
Suddenly, the puppy stopped barking. They glared at him, but he lay down on the floor and closed his eyes, as if exhausted. Reluctantly, they turned off the music. Sam stared down at the player then shook his shoulders out determinedly. 'More stimulation: scent, taste.'
Wesley was about to make some serious suggestions, when he saw that Sam was grinning at Jordan. He paled slightly. 'You'd better not be suggesting what I think….'
Sam raised an eyebrow. 'No one's asking you to volunteer, Englishman.'
'I should bloody well hope not!'
'Spike's favourite smell though….'
Jordan added softly, 'And taste.'
Wesley turned away with a dismissive shrug. 'I won't rise to the bait, by the way.'
Sam chuckled. 'No, I'll do the rising. J?'
'Oh, yeah, always willing to lend a hand with rising….'
They went, laughing, into Spike's room and shut the door firmly.
Wesley immediately turned back to the bed and leant over Angel as best he could without getting too close to the thing. 'Angel. I know you can hear me somewhere in there. Remember your mission. You have things to do here; you are needed. Spike needs you. If nothing else will bring you back, Spike needs you.'
to chapter 3
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