Days merged. Recovering, getting drunk, being drunk… it was all there was. When he heard the footsteps once more, he realised he'd been listening for them the whole time. Angel came in and glanced over at him then made a show of wandering around the small cave, inspecting things. Spike sat on the bed and waited. He'd had strange dreams all week but sensed this was real - or as real as his life was going to get. Eventually, Angel stopped pacing around and went to the bar, standing with his back to Spike. 'You're drunk.'
'This is relatively sober for me.'
Angel looked at him over his shoulder, seemed in the middle of a battle he knew he was losing badly then came over, pushed Spike back and crawled onto the bed, straddling him. Wordlessly, he unzipped himself and eased out a painful looking erection. Signs of the battle inside disturbed his features, and he seemed unable to go further. He hung his head, his expression dark and confused. Spike pushed him off then slid down to take the need in his mouth. He heard a moan and felt soft fingers in his hair.
It was almost as good as forgiveness.
He used his mouth, his lips and his teeth in a soft dance of need on the hard shaft and felt it lose that hardness against his waiting throat. He swallowed deeply then rose up and lay on his belly, waiting for Angel to leave.
After an age, Angel turned on his side toward Spike, put an arm possessively over the thin waist and pulled him into a tight spoon.
His head spinning as much from confusion as from alcohol, Spike lay very still and silent. He jumped when a hand cupped him and strong fingers began to work his neglected need. Angel only took a few minutes, but they were strange minutes: wordless, hands moving, silent ejaculation, and then the slow coming down from a place that held as much pain as pleasure. Spike lay still, his sticky fluid a damp patch in front of him and waited once more for Angel to leave. Angel pulled away, reached for the covers and returned to the same spooned position. Not questioning, not thinking, Spike pushed back into the strong embrace and left himself instead - if only into sleep, where all was less confusing. When he woke, he was sober, and that indicated that at least a whole night had gone. Angel was sitting on the edge of the bed, pulling on his shoes. He sensed Spike and said neutrally, 'Sun rise in an hour.'
Spike didn't reply for a moment, just watching the broad back under the creased shirt. He looked down at the bed and said quietly, 'Or twenty-five.'
Angel hesitated, his head down. Spike slid closer and trailed a finger down Angel's spine. Angel tipped his head back and clenched his jaw. 'Oh, God, I hate you so much.'
Spike just watched the effect of his pale finger on the dark silk. 'You could have twenty-five hours to show me how much.'
He sat up and began to raise the shirt over Angel's back. Suddenly, Angel jerked away and stood out of reach of the bed. Without turning back, he left.
Spike knelt on the bed for some time then, with a shrug, returned to his preferred reality, opening the whisky with only slightly shaky hands.
He hadn't even recovered from that urgent drinking bout before he heard the footsteps once more. He watched Angel's legs coming down the steps. His head pounding and his vision spinning, he spat out, 'Piss off.'
Angel came slowly over to the bed and lowered carefully down. Spike sat up. 'Blood? You're injured.'
Angel did not deny it. He didn't speak at all, only sat with his head lowered. Eventually, he eased off his shoes and shuffled back until he was sitting against the headboard. Spike twisted around and sat cross-legged, watching the closed off expression for a while. He didn't see he had much to lose, so leant forward and began to unbutton Angel's shirt. A heavily bloodstained bandage, glinting with fresh blood, met his eyes. He eased Angel forward and took the shirt off entirely then pressed the palm of his hand to the wound. He drew it away and licked at the blood for a moment. Angel slid down into the bed and closed his eyes. Spike could not believe how tired and stressed Angel looked. He hesitated for a moment then pressed his thumb to the strained temple. When Angel didn't pull away, he circled it around then dragged it over the pain-furrowed brow. He sensed Angel relaxing and stretched over to the floor to reach a glass. Angel's eyes opened when he smelt the alcohol, and he drank willingly then he eased his head back onto the old pillow and lay still.
Spike lay beside him, propped up on one elbow. 'Lawyers?'
Angel turned his face, his expression thoughtful. Spike looked away. 'Not that I care course.' For the first time in a lifetime, Angel smiled a little, but that seemed to exhaust his reserve of strength. His eyes fluttered close, and he sank into a deep coma-like sleep.
Spike sobered gradually during the many hours he watched over Angel. He only left once, just to stock up on blood bags and bandages.
Angel woke after twelve hours of deep sleep to find a mug of blood being placed to his lips. He drank gratefully then lay back with a grimace. Wordlessly, Spike began to open the carefully wrapped bandage. Angel watched him, equally silently, lifting when required until the wound was exposed. Spike raised an eyebrow but murmured, 'Not as bad as mine, Baby.'
Once more, Angel smiled faintly. The smile faded, and Spike could see that Angel was recalling some of the reasons why his childe's wound had taken so long to heal.
Ignoring the look, Spike pressed gently over the healing edges of the slash and then began to rip open the packets of new bandages. Before he began to wrap Angel up again, he passed him another mug of blood and said causally, 'Why did you come here?'
Angel frowned. 'The pain made me think of you.'
Spike chuckled. 'I hate you too, Mate.'
Angel closed his eyes and went back to sleep.
Spike smiled and left the bandaging, just covering the wounded belly carefully with the sheet.
Angel slept for a long time, but eventually, Spike sensed he was being watched. He continued to turn the pages of his book, ignoring the scrutiny. 'What are you reading?'
Spike turned the book so Angel could see the cover, and then continued reading. Angel folded an arm behind his head and lay staring at the ceiling. The wound was healing, and Spike knew Angel could leave and drive back to LA if he wanted. He did not understand how he'd managed the trip so injured but, more importantly perhaps, he didn't understand why he'd made it.
Without being asked, Spike fetched more blood and offered it to the silent vampire. Angel sat up slightly, wincing and drank greedily. 'You gonna tell me how it hap….'
''K then.' He sat alongside Angel on the bed and picked up his book once more.
It was quiet for some time. Spike tried to ignore Angel's silent presence.
'You were reading that one in LA.'
Spike didn't turn his head. 'I'm a slow reader then.'
That seemed to exhaust Angel's desire for conversation, and for the rest of the day he lay awake, but silent and still alongside Spike. Beside the offering and the acceptance of blood, they had no further interaction.
Spike sensed the fall of night and, as if on cue, Angel sat up. He reached for his discarded shirt and pulled it carefully on. Spike waited for the inevitable leaving, but Angel remained on the bed for many minutes. Eventually, without turning to look at Spike, he said, 'I can't come here again.'
Spike didn't know how to reply to this, so said nothing.
At this silent reception of his words, Angel turned at last to look at Spike. 'I can't come here again. It's worse back there now, and I'm needed. They suspect where I've been coming and… I can't come. I can't have this distraction.'
'The distraction of hating me so much that you have to come here every other day to fuck me - that distraction?'
Angel didn't reply, and Spike's bitter tones frizzled in the air between them.
At last, Angel stood and made his way slowly to the steps. He stopped at the bottom one and, staring up into the hole above him, said, 'I would fight them, Spike, if you were worth it. I'd keep you, despite what they wanted. But this was worse than when you betrayed me to Buffy. This was worse than trying to torture me to death. This was worse, Spike.'
Spike flung himself off the bed and stormed over to Angel, a week's fury unleashing as he crossed that narrow space. 'Worse in that I missed you so much, I'd even accept a metallic heap of shit that looked like you? Worse in that I love you so much, I'd settle for a word or a gesture from a robot? Worse in that I thought about you so much and knew you so well that I created something humans couldn't tell apart from you? Is that the worse you mean? FUCK YOU, Angel!'
Angel whirled and caught at Spike's arms, the swift movement clearly paining him. 'You still think it was like me?'
Spike faltered slightly at this, and his brow creased in confusion. 'It's what I remembered, what I wanted, yeah.'
Angel nodded and released Spike's arms as if decontaminating his hands. 'The robot was perfect, Spike. You wanted a perfect me. I always thought that you, of all of them… got me. But you're no better than Buffy or Darla - one wanting the perfect boyfriend, the other the perfect demon childe. I always thought you saw…. Jesus, Spike, it was fucking perfect!'
He climbed the steps, and Spike was left below, reeling with the knowledge that it had never been the robot's flaws that Angel had hated, but its perfection.
Angel drove slowly back to LA, trying to repress the thoughts that tore at him: raping Fred and Cordelia, killing all the humans slowly and painfully, allowing his demon free and unfettered until nothing was left, annihilation, death, entropy, darkening the sun, tearing the land asunder, causing so much pain that his was assuaged for a short time. Instead, he parked, smoothed his clothes and hair as best he could, and went into the bright lobby. He walked slowly toward the stairs past four sets of inquisitive eyes.
'Nice to see you. Are you well?'
He clenched his jaw to the ironic tone.
''It's been busy here. Since you took a little holiday. We could use you.'
'I'm going to do some research in my room.'
'That okay with you?'
'No. Actually, Angel, it's not. We need to focus on this together. You've been absent more this week than you've….'
Wesley trailed off as Angel came stonily back to the office, sat equally stonily at the desk and picked up a book. 'Happy?'
Wesley didn't reply to the provocation and went back to his work. Angel altered his fantasy slightly and kept Wesley alive to the very end so he could witness the destruction of all he held dear - and then he gave him a grizzly death. He risked a furtive glance at the lowered head and added vicious rape in before the grizzly death - why waste a good hard on?
'Angel! When you are here you don't seem… here!'
'Sorry.' Torture first, then rape, then grizzly death.
'Have you heard from Spike since he got back?'
'What?' Angel took Wesley off the rack and tried to focus for a moment.
'Oh. I wonder if he knows how successful we were getting Cordy back. How well his plan worked.'
'It was not his plan. He was just trying to recover from a spectacular cock-up and save his own skin, as usual.'
'He could have kept the existence of the robot to himself and not given it to us, Angel. Things may have worked out very differently.'
Angel thought wistfully for a moment of portals unleashing hell into the world. 'Maybe he found living with such fucking perfection too fucking hard. What'd'ya reckon, Wesley?'
Wesley looked disdainful at the expletives, but slightly flustered at the same time. 'Of course, you may be right. So, anything useful in your volume?'
Angel laid down the old book and looked closely at Wesley's flushed, lowered face. 'What?'
Wesley took off his glasses. 'In your book…?'
'Fuck the book. What do you know about the robot, Wes?'
Wesley looked pained, but suddenly seemed relieved to be confessing. 'Fred did her best, but the stuff we got from Spike was so… inadequate it was hard. I didn't tell her. You know, a few chips removed here and there - the worst excesses deleted - and I added one or two more attractive traits….' He trailed off at Angel's look. Totally misinterpreting the lowered brow he stammered on. 'Don't blame Spike too much, Angel. He doesn't know the soulled you all that well, does he? I think he focused on the more unfortunate aspects of your sire childe re…. Where are you going?'
Once more, the humans were treated to the sound of breaking furniture coming from Angel's rooms.
When he'd systematically destroyed the furniture in his room, Angel went into Spike's and began on that too. He smashed a chair against a wall then ripped the closet door off its hinges. That gave him pause, however, and he stood, staring at the hanging clothes, the broken door swinging in his hand. He slid a shirt off a hanger and brought it to his face. There was nothing: brand new, it smelt only of shop packaging. Angel flung it away angrily and tried to find a shirt he remembered Spike wearing, one that would smell of him, but he could not. He began to tear the clothes out of the closet, flinging them around the room until they lay like multicoloured snow on the old carpet. Leaning against the wall, he sank into their welcoming coldness, sliding his back slowly down the faded wallpaper.
It seemed very quiet suddenly, and for the first time he realised how much noise his outburst had created and pictured the sound of breaking filtering down to the lobby. He could feel already the curious stares he would get when he next emerged. He pulled his knees up to his chest and put his head down on folded arms, briefly returning to his fantasy where everything was simple, for everything was blood and death where, full of his demonic power, nothing could hurt him.
Angel could not believe how much it still hurt to think about Spike's betrayal.
He lifted his face and pushed the heel of his hand against his eyes to wipe tears that he could not believe he was crying. Not since he'd given up his chance to be human with Buffy had anything hurt him so much. He had the distinct feeling as well that he had not handled this situation quite as maturely as he'd handled that one, and once more the sense of being powerless and out-of-control washed over him.
He'd tried to exact revenge on Spike by hurting him. That hadn't worked, and he'd only hurt himself more. He'd tried to take Spike for what he offered: release from sexual tension in a willing, demonic body. That had worked even less; for every intimate conversation he had not shared with Spike over the last two weeks; every soft, loving touch he had not given him; every comfort he had not offered; every proof of love that he'd withheld had only made him want those things more; and the effort of pretending had almost destroyed him. Literally - driven half-mad with his need for Spike, distracted, he'd not seen the near-fatal blow coming.
And now this. Now Wesley's words forced him to see Spike's creation for what it had been intended to be - for what Spike had just told him he had intended it to be: a totally Spike-esque way of saying how lonely he was and how much he missed him - possibly, even how much he loved him. If Angel let his defences down for a moment, he could almost see the affectionate intent behind some of the robot's programming.
But that was the problem. That's why the furniture was smashed. That's why tears continued to flow down Angel's face, and he couldn't summon the enthusiasm to wipe them away: he could not afford to let his defences down now. This obsession he had for Spike had nearly destroyed him, and if he had died in that fight, his friends would not have been long behind. Their deaths would have been slow and painful, and it would have been entirely his fault. His entire mission, his redemption, his fight - all lost for a self-indulgent obsession. He'd done it with Darla, and he had almost done it again with Spike.
Not this time.
Angel rose. He wiped his face. He closed the door to Spike's room. He picked up the detritus of the outburst in his own, showered, bandaged his wound and went downstairs.
He ignored the looks and went into the kitchen.
Days began to merge once more. In Sunnydale, trapped by a life he could not summon enough enthusiasm to break free from, Spike mechanically went about the business of helping the slayer and trying to find meaning in the senseless. Angel, equally trapped by an obsession to be what he found it so hard to be, fought the good fight and felt that with every victory, more of himself got lost.
The only thing that marked the passage of time for Spike was the need to feed and sleep, so when he stepped out one evening and realised that it was blisteringly hot and that summer had arrived, it made him focus for the first time in twelve lost weeks. He did not head automatically for Buffy's house as he had been doing, but sat in the soft moonlight, staring thoughtfully at nothing.
The next evening, in LA, Angel woke, but he did not have a startling realisation of how much time had passed, for the months, weeks, days, hours, minutes since he had last seen Spike ticked inexorably in his head: asleep, awake, it made no difference - he knew exactly how long it had been. He showered, dressed and walked straight past the shut door as he always did.
He came down into the lobby, expecting hesitancy and fear, and received it just as he knew he would. None of them wanted to be around him these days, and he did not blame them. Not wanting to be around himself either, how could he blame his colleagues for their antipathy? But he did what they wanted. He fought, and he struggled and he did good. If he did it with a heavy heart, then that was his business.
Ignoring the humans, he went into his office and shut the door. He listened with half an ear to the talk outside, to telephones ringing, to the occasional client coming and going but did not even look up when Cordelia brought him some coffee. She hesitated as if she wanted to say something but, with a small sigh, left him to his habitual bad mood.
Angel worked on for another hour forcing himself to concentrate, dragging his mind away from his need for pain and blood. When he heard the familiar accent, he berated himself for hearing it in his head and thus allowing Spike into his fantasies again. He only allowed his childe's seductive entry to his thoughts in his own room, when some swift relief from the enticing presence could be taken.
When the few words turned into a conversation and he heard Wesley answering back, Angel rose so swiftly from his desk that he uncharacteristically banged his thigh on the solid wood top. Cursing quietly at the sudden pain, he went into the outer lobby.
Spike was standing at the counter, talking to Wesley, a large pile of books stacked between them.