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Past Tense of Loving

Chapter 1

It was getting increasingly difficult: the infighting; the arguments; the silences; the flaring, bitter hatred. It wore everyone out. It wore them out. For they still had to work together. They found themselves going on cases, sitting side by side in the car and remembering that they couldn’t talk because of some implied slight, or that they had to continue an argument when neither of them could now remember what it was they had argued about. It was wearing everyone out. It was wearing them out.

The silences were uncomfortable and led them into too much introspection, which neither particularly wanted nor liked.  Angel felt childish, as if he should be able to rise above Spike’s constant niggling. Spike felt disappointed, as if this life in L.A. should have given him something he was missing before, in Sunnydale, as if Angel should be giving him something he’d been missing before, with Buffy.

This time they found themselves driving toward the beach. Angel wanted to ask Spike to fetch the map out of the box and locate their destination, but he couldn’t. Spike felt sure they weren’t going in the right direction, but would be damned (some more) before he pointed this out.

They arrived at the pier despite Angel’s driving and Spike’s non-navigating and left the car, glad to leave the embarrassing silence, too.  Youngsters had been disappearing, the only thing connecting them was the pier—they’d all visited within the last few days.  Angel believed vampires were responsible, as they were attracted to those attracted to amusement arcades and piers: the lonely, the forgotten, those who might not be missed.

Privately, Spike believed they’d just come to the ocean and decided to carry on, walking out into the deep blue, ending it all, finding peace. He thought of doing this himself sometimes, so he hadn’t mentioned his theory to Angel, especially as they weren’t talking anyway.

They wandered along, investigating in their own way: Angel meticulous and slow, questioning people and showing photographs; Spike playing the machines in the arcade.

They were rigged. He gave one a kick and went to find Angel.

Angel was entering a small hut halfway down. Spike pushed a curtain aside and stepped in. He laughed and walked around, fingering cardboard cut-out figures with their faces missing, which begged to be filled. The Edwardian one caught his eye, three figures together, one, a lady sitting and then two gentlemen standing with their hands on her shoulder. It was an almost identical pose to one he and Angel had had taken with Darla.

It made him feel even more disappointed about his relationship with Angel. He wasn’t sure what he’d expected, but to tip their hats to the fact that they were related, that they shared this long history, seemed the least either of them could do.

The Edwardian figures were squeezed between a cut-out of two fat people in swimsuits and another of two cowboys, guns drawn and spurs almost jangling.  He brushed his hand wistfully over the shorter of the two Edwardian gentlemen then followed Angel further into the hut. 

Angel was showing the photographs of the missing teenage girl, the one they were most anxious to find, to a man in a dirty suit. Spike drifted over and when Angel had finished, murmured, ‘Anything?’ It was the first word they’d spoken since their last blow up three days previous, and Spike could see the palpable relief on Angel’s face. 

Angel shook his head and replied, ‘Let’s go.’

Angel pushed past the man, stalked through the cardboard figures and out onto the pier, walking straight into a small group of vampires. They were strolling along, eating candyfloss and appeared to have no idea what Angel was. Angel tailed them, waited until they went under the palings to eat properly and dispatched them. It was only then that he noticed that Spike wasn’t with him.  He instantly regretted backing down from the fight, letting that friendly let’s go escape from his constant antipathy toward his childe. This is what it had been about in the first place: responsibility, thinking about other people—the argument had gone on for hours, the aftermath simmering for days.

He jogged back up to the pier and strode along as if looking for a lost dog, without the concern or the whistling, which might accompany that activity. He checked the arcade then checked all the food outlets, his temper rising.

Finally, he went back into the small hut where he’d last seen him. He pushed back through the figures, paused for a moment, shook off a strange feeling that someone had walked over his grave—he guessed he had those feelings more often than most people—and located the small, scruffy man.

‘Did my… colleague… say where he was going?’

The man looked nervous. ‘I don’t want any trouble.’

‘Then avoid it and answer my question.’

‘He said he was… pissed off….’

Angel’s eyebrow rose. ‘Pissed off? What the hell does that mean?’

‘He said he had better things to be doing.’

‘What? And he just… walked off?’

The man shrugged. ‘I didn’t see.’

Angel turned and went back to the car, but he didn’t climb in. It wasn’t something you did: arrive with someone, leave without them. It didn’t seem right, even with Spike. He went back onto the pier and now began to question people about him.  Oddly, most people remembered having seen Spike, but no one could rightly say when it had been, or what he had been doing.

Finally, after a few hours of futile searching, Angel drove back to Wolfram and Hart.

The next day, Spike’s absence was noticed fairly early. He apparently bought doughnuts for the girls in the typing pool everyday, and when he didn’t appear with them, one was sent as a tiny delegation of dismay to Harmony. She went in to Angel to pass this on. Angel was busy with a client and implied that Spike was busy, too.

The next day this excuse ran thin. Wesley missed him in the lab and had to cancel some experiments he’d been planning—things Spike had promised to help him with.  He went to Angel to clarify Spike’s schedule.  Angel said he had no idea what Spike was doing and said he had to make some calls.

By the end of the week, a more sizable delegation formed and tackled Angel when they saw he was alone, and after they’d got Harmony to divert his phones. 

Wesley, Gunn and Lorne moved into Angel’s office purposefully and grouped aggressively around the desk.

‘Is this an intervention?’

‘Where is he?’

Angel played with his blotter then went to look out of the window, arms securely folded. The words I lost him at the pier floated into his mind and made him snort with amusement, but he stifled the humour and said neutrally, ‘I don’t know. We were at the pier together—Monday—and he… left.’

‘Left? Left where? What do you mean?’

‘One minute he was there, and the next, he’d told some pissant man he was bored and he… left.’

Wesley came forward, outrage clear in his voice. ‘Spike wouldn’t just bugger off without telling us! What the hell are you doing to find him?’

Angel winced slightly and wanted to retort, ‘He started it!’ but thought better of this just at the last moment. Instead, he said weakly, ‘He’ll turn up again. He always does.’

Lorne looked nervous as usual, unwilling to tackle Angel as directly as Wesley always did, but he said faintly, ‘It didn’t look like he was planning to leave, Angelpie. Nothing’s been taken from his apartment. Food was all going off this morning….’

Angel turned. ‘You went to his apartment?’

Lorne and Gunn nodded together.

Wesley looked around at them all and said softly, incredulously, ‘What we’re saying is that Spike’s disappeared, has been gone for a week, and we’ve done absolutely sod all to find him.’

Angel studied a nail with an air of martyred innocence.

Wesley strode out. ‘Harmony! Get everyone in. All our resources are to be put to finding Spike. I want teams out day and night.’

Lorne and Gunn decided to return to the apartment to see what they could find. No one involved Angel, and he felt annoyed that Spike had, once more, put him in the wrong by his pissy behaviour.

He went up to his apartment and had a long, leisurely shower. He’d actually enjoyed being able to go down to work without the constant niggling and derision. He’d been able to be in command, make decisions, be the boss.  

He dressed in old jeans and an inconspicuously old T-shirt and drove back to the pier. He’d been here every night, searching, but he’d seen no reason to tell anyone else this.

People still remembered Spike; people still claimed not to know where he’d gone.

Angel joined in with the youngsters in the arcade, listening, learning.  He even sought out the remaining vampires, who were holing up under the boards of the bingo hall and plied them with cheap whisky. Spike had not made contact with them, as Angel suspected.

As he had every night that week, he returned to his apartment alone.  This different kind of silence gave a new definition to oppressive.

After another week, everyone assumed that Spike had made good on his numerous threats to leave. Everyone suspected that he’d had a fight with Angel at the pier, that something said or done in that fight had made him go.

Some people thought privately that Spike had been staked, as this was the only rational explanation, but no one actually put this theory to Angel. They would have thought that without his usual punch bag, without his sparring partner, Angel would have taken his anger out on everyone else. He didn’t. He seemed to diminish in status, shrink into himself, and no one wanted to mention Spike’s death in case he faded away all together.

At the end of the third week, it was common knowledge that Spike had been staked. Someone had heard something from someone who vaguely knew someone who had seen it. He’d come out of the hut, had got into the fight with the vampires with Angel, and one of them had staked him.

Naturally, this upset everyone, even those who’d said all along that he was dead.  Angel didn’t bother to listen. He’d been there. Spike had not come out of the hut, and he hadn’t been staked. He’d know. He’d feel it. He’d felt Darla’s death for months, even though he’d caused it. He’d felt Penn’s absence like a gap in a row of previously perfect teeth. If Spike were dead, Angel’s tongue would now be probing his gap. It wasn’t, and Spike wasn’t staked.

Wesley knew Angel was thinking this and didn’t point out that neither Darla nor Penn had been souled. Who knew how Spike’s soul would alter his blood connection with Angel? Perhaps, being souled, they were closer to their human selves and therefore less related. In which case, Angel would feel nothing at all at Spike’s passing.  He kept these thoughts to himself and missed Spike daily, if for nothing else but that his unique personality had given Angel vitality and an illusion of life that he’d not had since coming to this bloody firm.

Angel was drinking whiskey in his room one night, idly listening to some music, when he took a fancy to doing some sketching. He’d not drawn anything for a long time, so naturally had to look through his portfolio to refresh his ideas. There were lots of Buffy, which made him smile, and one or two of Giles. More recently there were ones of Connor, but he put them to one side.  He delved down further into the pile. He wanted older ones.

He found some of Darla and one or two of Drusilla.  Finally, he found what he was looking for. He studied it for a long time. He’d not realised quite how much Spike had changed.  This sketch of his childe, William, taken a few weeks after he’d been turned, seemed to capture a different person entirely.  Angel would have been hard pushed to say they were same man.  He rummaged some more and found one that made him huff ruefully. He’d taken hours to get it right, and he’d still not been happy with it. He’d had to do it from a photograph, because both Spike and Darla had refused to pose together for more than a minute.

Darla was sitting, he and Spike standing behind her with one hand each on her shoulder. They’d all been smiling in the photograph, but when he’d made then smile in his sketch, it had looked wrong, so he’d erased these expressions and made them sterner. Under the new expressions he attempted, shadows—the smudges of the smiles—had stubbornly remained, and he’d never actually finished the sketch, putting it away to finish later. He’d not actually meant to leave it a hundred and twenty years, but better late than never.

He was about to tackle Spike, make him thinner—as he now was—when a flash of memory stabbed into Angel’s mind.

He rose, the pictures falling from his lap. 

The second time he’d gone into the small hut on the pier, the cardboard cut outs had changed. There’d been three the first time, the second, only two.

With startling clarity, he remembered that the one of the two cowboys had been missing.

He grabbed his phone and some keys and headed down to the garage.

Go to chapter 2


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