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The Darkling Plain - Episode
An embarrassed silence fell around the table. Angel's face clouded over, and although Spike had thought earlier that he was now cut off from reading Angel's moods, he had no trouble whatsoever reading this one.
He kept his face glued to Angel's lowered profile, almost challenging him to do something - anything - just so they could say that there was still some connection.
Angel felt the silence acutely. It wasn't laughter, but it felt just as bad.
Eventually, he looked up. He turned to face his tormentor and with a small, spiteful smile, took advantage of the fact that he knew Spike would never hurt him physically- not as they were now: so unequal. So, he hit him hard, knocking him off the chair, tumbling him to the floor in an inelegant tangle of duster.
Spike took a moment to gather himself together and then proved Angel wrong: he did hit him. He hit him very hard. He hit him so hard that Angel rose from his chair, crashed across the table, slid over the floor, and landed, unconscious, wrapped around a pillar.
Spike looked at the crumpled figure for a moment, and every part of him cried out to comfort Angel - to pick him up, to hug him - except, that was, for the parts that hurt so much from this betrayal that the pain was physical: in his gut, his heart, his blood.
He looked around the stunned faces at the table then strode out into the night where he belonged.
He sat on top of a high building, looking out over the city, smoking quietly.
He was getting tired of L.A.
His cell phone rang, but he ignored it. He didn't want to talk to anyone. It rang on and on, until with a curse, he pulled it out and stabbed at it.
'Thank God. Spike- it's Angel….'
'Angel's here. He's been…. Don't panic, Spike; he's okay, but he's been… mugged.'
'Yes. I'm sorry. As I said, he's okay- well, sort of. Lilah's tending to him. Rather nasty, and of course, he's not used to being injured… or being in pain, really. So, considering, he's bearing up rather well. How soon can you get here?'
'Yes. I've just said that.'
Spike clicked the phone off and tapped it against his mouth thoughtfully.
Wesley answered the door and let him in, a bloodstained cloth in one hand and balancing a bowl of medicinal-smelling water in the other. 'Good. You're here.'
Spike strode in and stopped some way away from the couch where Angel was sitting.
Angel looked up and studied him from the one eye he had working- the other was completely closed over and badly swollen. He was naked from the waist up and bandaged tightly around the ribs.
Spike pursed his lips, then came closer and held out his hand. Angel lifted his - the one that wasn't split, bruised and swollen - and let Spike pull him to his feet. He turned and took his shirt from the couch, and Spike gently helped him on with it.
Wesley hovered, looking anxious. Lilah sat silently on the couch, her gaze averted from the couple, as if her preternatural senses were telling her a different story from the one that Angel had told them when he'd arrived.
Wesley handed Spike Angel's coat. 'I'll call a cab for you. Will you be able to manage? Angel is being very stubborn about calling the police, but I really think….'
'I'll take care of it, Wesley.'
He helped Angel to walk very slowly toward the door. Wesley held it open for them and handed Spike some packets. 'Rather strong painkillers. I got them after Angel…. Ah, well… you can get some yourself in the morning, but he might need these tonight. I think some ribs might be cracked.'
Spike refused to look at anyone and led Angel gently down the hallway.
They waited silently for the elevator.
Spike fished in his pocket for his cigarettes and tried to light one, but his hands were shaking so much, he couldn't get his lighter to work. Angel took it from him and held it steady in his swollen hand.
Into the small flame, he said softly, 'You have no idea how hard it is to try and fit in as a human when, in your heart, you aren't one.'
Spike closed his eyes. 'Lying isn't going to help, Angel. Why not just try to be yourself?'
'I don't know who that is. I can't find him, Spike. What I was, I am no longer. What I am, I've never been before. I have no previous experiences to shape me, mould me into one thing or another. If it's any consolation, I took one look at them all and wished you were there instead.'
'And then I was- lucky you.'
The elevator arrived, and they stepped in. Spike glanced over and said in a low voice, 'If anyone else had done that to you, I would kill them. You know that, don't you?'
Angel smiled through a badly split lip. 'My vampire protector?'
Spike's face collapsed into a deep pout, and he dragged fiercely on his cigarette. 'Thanks for not telling Wesley.'
'They were in bed when I arrived.'
'I thought he was looking flushed, and - Jeez - aroused. But I assumed that was just from bandaging you up- touching that smooth skin and those hard….' He turned and lifted Angel's shirt gently, running his hands over Angel's flesh. 'I… I saw red, Angel. I just lost it. I'm so sorry.'
Angel hugged him in close, sliding his hands in under Spike's shirt and folding them together around his slim waist.
The elevator doors slid open, and someone stepped in. Spike instinctively made to move away, but Angel held him closer, then bent to kiss into his hair. They stood embraced until they reached their floor, and this small concession said more than a thousand grander gestures ever could.
The cab was waiting for them; Spike eased Angel in, and then slid in alongside him. They rode in silence, but it wasn't uncomfortable. Angel rested his hand inside Spike's clothes, on the small of his back, as if the cool skin eased the pain.
He looked very tired, his eye completely closed over, his lips only now reaching their full extent of swelling. Spike glanced up at him a few times but received only genuine smiles in return.
When they got home, Angel's strength was giving out on him. The pain in his ribs made it difficult to breathe and very uncomfortable to do anything but lie very still and very flat on the bed. Spike made him as comfortable as he could then said he had to take the dog out. Angel nodded, but wished he hadn't.
When he got back, Spike deposited some items on the counter and, after a few moments, joined Angel on the bed. Angel was clearly in some pain: unable to sleep and breathing shallowly.
'Why don't you go to the hospital? I think maybe you need… checking over.'
Angel frowned. 'Can I?'
'I've never joined.'
'Do you have to join?'
'I don't know. Insurance?'
'Oh. I'll ask Sam in the morning.'
Angel nodded gently. 'What's that?'
'It's for you. It's supposed to cure all ills.'
Spike spooned some of the chocolate ice cream into Angel's mouth. Angel frowned. 'This is SO fattening.'
'If you don't heal, you can't work out- think how fat you'll get then….'
He smiled inwardly as Angel opened his mouth obediently for another spoonful. 'Everything is out of focus.'
'That's cus you've got a black eye, Doofus.'
'No. I know that. I mean out of this eye. It doesn't work very well. I think I must be short-sighted in it.'
'Don't worry. There's not much to see really.'
'I wouldn't think you'd want to see me.'
'I didn't when you sat down- I'll give you that. Nice touch with the Blondie-bear comment though.'
'I thought so.'
They continued the slow spooning of the very enjoyable medicine for a while, until Spike said softly, 'So… Wesley and Lilah…?'
Angel tried to smile, but whimpered slightly pathetically when this opened his lip and made it bleed. Spike averted his eyes from the small well of blood, pressing the cold back of the spoon to the wound to ease the discomfort. Angel murmured against the delicious coolness, 'Are you jealous?'
Spike chuckled. 'Of him or her?'
'Fuck, we complicate our lives.'
'Shouldn't she have asked my… permission or something?'
Angel laughed openly but then groaned in pain, still laughing softly. 'Like my children always did?'
Angel shook his head when Spike pressed him to another spoonful. 'What's in those damn pills Wesley gave us? I'm feeling kinda… mellow?' He slid his hand over to Spike and rubbed it lightly over his zipper.
Spike looked down incredulously then up to see this brief spark of interest dissipate in a drug-induced sleep.
He covered his patient carefully, tucking him in as tightly as possible.
He lit the fire, fed the dog, and tidied around. When he could find no other excuse to avoid standing still and facing what he had done, he sat down on the rug in front of the flames, his arms wrapped tightly around his knees, and gave way to the tears of self-hatred and guilt that had begun to form the moment his preternatural flesh had connected in anger with Angel's soft humanity.
Droc lay down at his feet in his undemanding way, and stared at the flames thoughtfully. Spike twisted his head and rested one wet cheek on his arms, looking down at him. His two charges, both injured. He blinked slowly, feeling drowsy, worn-out with emotions he had no outlet for.
Suddenly, the puppy turned his head from a deep contemplation of the fire and looked at something behind them. Spike tensed.
Angel whispered, 'Come to bed. Please.'
Without turning around, Spike shook his head fractionally.
Angel winced as he shifted position and murmured equally quietly, 'I can't sleep unless you're lying next to me.'
Keeping his face averted, Spike rose and eased past. He climbed into the bed and then folded a corner of cover down. Angel sat, carefully swinging his legs up, clearly trying to repress an expression of pain. Spike fed him some more painkillers, saw that there were plenty, so took some himself. He didn't think they would help his kind of pain, but there was no harm in trying.
Angel pulled Spike over so he was tucked into his arms and ran his fingers through the blond hair, tangling and then untangling small strands.
'I want you to turn me back.'
Angel's voice sounded doped, but Spike did not mistake this for insincerity. He caught at Angel's fingers and sighed. 'How, Angel? Tell me how that's going to work.'
He heard Angel swallow, felt him blinking rapidly, and screwed up his own eyes to keep his tears from falling, too.
'I don't know. I just… can't do this. I hate it.'
'Shh. You're just tired; you're in pain, and I hurt you.'
'NO!' Angel took a sharp intake of breath after his vehement reply. 'I did this to myself, Spike. I lied to you; I hurt YOU.'
'I hit you….'
'I hit you first….'
'Nah nah nah nah nah.'
'Will you… think about it?'
'If I was dying, you'd… have to.'
Spike extricated himself from the loving hold and sat up. He stared at Angel until Angel had to look away. 'Listen to me. I swear, if you do something to harm yourself to force me…. Angel, if you've never believed anything I've ever told you, believe this now… if you do that, I'll stake myself and come with you.' He caught Angel by the chin and made him look at him. 'Do you understand me?'
Angel pouted. 'I was only saying.'
Spike slid back down and refastened Angel's arm around him.
'We'll work this out, Luv. Give it time. Being human is good. You wanted it once; Wesley told me.'
'Oh, I forgot to tell you. Wesley's had a great idea.'
At the sudden change in Angel's tone, Spike sent up a small prayer of thanks to the watcher, and said enthusiastically, 'What's that?'
'You must remember….'
'Oh, I remember, Angel. I remember carol singers- the chill of their noses and lips before stilling their worship; sinking my sharp offering into their blood; helping them to reach those high, pure notes of ecstasy; letting them see that their promise of eternal life was real….'
With a jolt, Spike realised that he had replied only in his head. Out loud, he merely said, 'Yes, I remember. I guess if you want a party….'
'No! He's going to hire a cabin in the mountains- for us all! It'll be….'
Spike could sense that Angel was searching for the appropriate word and mentally helped him out: Awful? Scary? Dangerous? Stupid?
'Perfect. Can you picture it, Spike?'
Spike could. He twisted his head around incredulously, disbelieving that Angel could not predict the carnage, too: trapped, snow-bound, demons, humans, lovers, ex-lovers…. He almost laughed, but then he saw Angel's expression. Whether it was the moonlight filtering down from the glass, or just a drugged blur over his face, Angel had never looked more serene. He looked genuinely happy. 'I could learn to ski….'
Spike began to laugh, his body jolting Angel, making him wince and laugh too. Spike kissed into the skin just above the bandage. 'Okay, precious thing, we'll go to this cabin and celebrate Christmas. Hell, we could even do presents.'
Angel's eyes widened with pleasure, and Spike saw that he had not even heard the irony.
He closed his eyes and took back his small prayer of thanks to Wesley.
The excitement of thinking about his first real Christmas finally helped Angel sleep. Spike watched over him for a long time, pondering Angel's alarming mood swings.
Eventually, he decided not to panic about Angel's wish to be a vampire again, or at his obvious determination to accept Wesley's offer for Christmas- events which Spike viewed with a similar level of horror. Life would overtake them, and most likely, the Christmas plan would fade when its impracticalities struck everyone as forcibly as they struck him.
He had lied to Angel when he said he wouldn't think about turning him- he thought about it every minute of every day. It was in his mind and in his heart. He desperately wanted his lover back, but that insidious thought betrayed the lover he had now- this Angel, who was not his Angel, and so the thought went on, around and around, never leaving him in peace.
If he'd believed he could do it and retain Angel's soul, he would have. He didn't question that. That was just there, lurking in the background of every moment of every day that his sire, his lover, and his best friend became more and more of a distant memory. He had this Angel now, and that was so much better than the bad time when he had not had anything. It was so much better that nothing was worth risking losing him again. He had not forgotten wanting to sacrifice everything and everyone on a bonfire of need for Angel- just for Angel to return, and now he had. He had him back, and that was enough.
Everyone took to the Christmas idea with undisguised enthusiasm. Spike couldn't believe it as, one-by-one, his potential allies joined the enemy camp. Fred was the first deserter; he'd relied on her for practical objections- weather reports, no snow, too cold.
She said she'd cook.
Cordelia went next; he'd relied on her to have thousands of glamorous parties to attend and fabulous friends to celebrate with- not to want to go to a cabin with an assorted group of dysfunctional work colleagues.
She said she'd do the tree.
As Wesley had suggested it, Spike didn't even try to recruit him into his small army, but Lilah…. Lilah was his chide; she owed him obedience.
She wanted carols.
In despair, he stalked Gunn, willing him to come up with a nuclear-level objection- an extinction-level event… ANYTHING so that they didn't have to shut themselves up in a Twilight Zone episode with snow.
Gunn told Angel he couldn't ski either and suggested they learn together.
Everyone began to get secretive: asking pointed questions about waist sizes, or favourite colours, or whether someone had read a certain book, seen a particular movie. He wanted to cry out, "I'm dead! I'm soddin' dead! How can you ask me to do this thing with you?" Then he would catch sight of Angel's face as tried to walk innocently across the lobby with bags. He would hear him singing snatches of songs he'd heard on the endlessly playing shop reels. He stopped asking to be turned, and occasionally looked out wistfully, wondering if it was going to snow in L.A.
Spike swallowed his fear that he might end up eating them all in some hideous, Christmas cabin massacre, and kept his own counsel, smiling when he was required to smile, giving information about his measurements when it was asked for, and not looking in Angel's side of the closet, because he'd been asked not to.
He even took up running again, just to work off the adrenalin that pumped continuously around his body. He discovered the delights of plugging himself into loud music and just running hard on Angel's machine- for hours, until his legs burned with pain, and he felt calm and somewhere else. Sometimes, he closed his eyes, and with the music hurting his ears and the machine on its fastest setting, he would pound his fears out, step by step.
After the crash, they couldn't decide whether it had been the closed eyes or the fast speed - or a combination of the two - that had caused the most damage. It had only been a joke, and again, afterwards, it was funny. Not at the time though- not when the speeding belt beneath his feet suddenly… stopped. Not when he flew at high-speed over the controls. Not when he crashed, invisible, into the mirrored wall and brought it crashing down in small shards around him.
He sat up, glass in his hair, glass cutting his skin, and stared at Sam and Jordan who, to be fair to them, stared back at him with equal horror. Sam laid down the power cable very slowly and stepped back from it as if about to blame someone else.
Spike extracted himself very painfully from the glass and crunched over it to stand in front of his friend: a gory, bleeding figure.
Suddenly, he frowned and looked Sam over. He blanched even paler and said in a hushed whisper, 'What the fuck is that?'
Sam grinned and twirled around in his reindeer and holly, hand-knitted sweater. 'I'm getting into the spirit, Babe. Christmas on Waltons' Mountain: no sex, no fun, no drugs.'
'You? You're coming…?'
Jordan poked him. 'You didn't think we'd let you have all that fun by yourself! Hell, no, we LOVE singing carols around the piano.'
Sam grinned. 'And charades.'
Jordan glanced slyly at Spike. 'And cheerful present unwrapping.'
Spike hung his head then lifted it with an expression that made them both go forward to hug him. 'Oh, Spike, who's gonna miss "Mistletoe Night" at Babel? You didn't think we'd let you go all on your lonesome, did you?'
Spike straightened and looked at the ruin of Angel's new training room. He sighed. 'Another bloody fire.'
Sam pulled a piece of mirror out of Spike's hair and then shed his sweater with a theatrical wince, holding it between thumb and finger. 'So, wanna go somewhere tonight?'
Spike shook his head sadly. 'I'm being taken out to buy presents.'
Sam fished in his pocket and casually held out a piece of paper. 'Okay. Here's my list.'
Spike took it, bemused. 'List?'
'Oh, sure. Then I know what I'm getting.'
'But then it's not….'
'Oh, you want to surprise me? Great!' He took back the small piece of paper before Spike had a chance to look at it and stuffed it back in his pocket. 'I LOVE surprises.'
Spike turned to Jordan, but the demon held up his hands in mock surrender. 'I say demon solidarity here- no presents.'
Spike nodded seriously, then sighed. 'I'm not sure how Angel's gonna take you two being there.'
'Don't tell him until it's too late.'
This idea was so attractive that Spike both dismissed it angrily and filed it away to think about later.
'I need to shower.'
'Can we watch?'
Spike hugged them both again. 'Go call the builders back and make us all a drink.'
When Spike came out of the shower, Jordan and Sam were nowhere to be seen. He heard some low laughter from the living room, so dressed and wandered in to find them playing with the dog. They'd made him some pretend skis and were pushing him around on them. Spike looked at the cast and frowned. 'I guess that'd better come off before we go.'
Sam nodded. 'The over-paid, clever guy said four weeks. That's up tomorrow.'
Spike's eyes widened, and he stared at the human. 'Four weeks? Fucking hell.' He felt like adding that it seemed a LOT longer than that since Angel had been back but felt this was disturbingly disloyal. He was pretty sure his friends understood this anyway.
Sam made some swishing sounds, putting Droc through a small slalom. 'We'll come with you. Be good to see him on his feet again.'
Jordan jumped the puppy off an imaginary hill, flying him around more like a helicopter than a skier, and said with wonder, 'He's so heavy these days!'
'He's gonna get a lot bigger than that.'
Sam grinned. 'God, it's so fucking erotic: two vampires, black leather coats, and a Wolfhound. Len Wiseman eat your heart out!'
Jordan coughed, embarrassed. Spike ran his fingers through his wet hair and went back into the kitchen. Sam looked up, realised what he'd said, and cursed, rising and jogging after Spike. 'Sorry, Babe. I forgot. And that's good, yeah? I mean… easy to forgot because he's so… the same? Bright, cheerful smile here!'
Spike smiled and brushed his arm, then bent to the fridge. 'Don't worry. I make the same…. Huh….'
'No blood.' Spike stood up, pouting.
'Forgot to buy…?'
'No. I never forget.'
'Well, in that one maybe?'
Spike followed Sam's gaze to a small metal box on one of the surfaces and said nervously, 'What's that?'
'It's kinda your apartment….'
'Oh, yeah. Sometimes I forget that.' He opened the door of the mystery box to find it full of his blood bags.
Sam grinned brightly. 'Okay. I'm feeling better about my vampire slip now. This is WAY more embarrassing.'
Spike suddenly laughed and pulled out a bag. 'What the fuck am I going to do, Sam? It's like… it's like you tryin' to have a relationship with a woman.'
'Okay, I'm thinking I'll remember that comment to tell Angel when he's REALLY down.'
'We're just fucking… incompatible.'
Jordan came up and wound his arms around Spike's waist. 'Ask Wesley. He's seems to be managing it okay.'
Spike's body shivered so violently that Jordan jerked back. Spike grabbed him by his lapels. 'Wesley and Angel!'
'Lilah! Lilah, you cretin! Lilah!'
Sam mocked punched him. 'You're in LURV….'
'Seriously, Spike, ask Wesley. He and Lilah are kinda… making it work.'
Spike shook his head. 'She's been dead a fucking few weeks! Angel was a vampire for nearly three hundred years!' He took some more blood, and then said in a very low voice, 'He's asked me to turn him back.'
Sam glanced at Jordan. 'And you said…?'
'What do you think?'
'I'm not sure, Spike. I'd want him back as he was, if I were you.'
Spike tipped his head to one side and regarded his friend carefully. He blinked. 'Never go away and leave me, Sam. No one else ever seems to… get me the way you do.'
Sam twitched up his eyebrow. 'Come on, let's go and threaten the poop-machine with the vet- tell him all the hideous things he's gonna have done to him.'
'Maybe I should tell Angel what we're….'
'Nah. We'll bring Droc back and put him in a separate refrigerator. See if Angel gets the hint.'
Spike's shoulders sank. 'Don't. I don't need his… failings pointed out.' He went to fetch the dog.
Jordan watched him then flicked his eyes over to Sam. 'He might not, but I'm thinking Angel does.'
to chapter 2
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