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Past Tense of Loving
Spike waited until Angel was deeply asleep and then eased out of his embrace. He sat the other side of the fire and lit a cigarette, blowing smoke trails up into the vastness above. He’d meant to apologise for the fight, but standing over the supine figure in the dark, he’d suddenly wanted something else. For the first time, something had given him courage to take it. And when he’d tried to take it, he’d found it freely given. A grin split his face as he remembered Angel’s eagerness, his need, his passion.
It was like turning on a tap of desire. His thoughts were a chaotic tumble: the power of a gun in his hand; the smell of blood from the charnel house; Katherine’s hand on his head; Tom. Thoughts of Tom crashed and sloshed from side to side as if the memories were a vast, contained wave. They churned up the silt of desires long buried: hands on flesh, but not Tom’s on his; a tongue, following the run of a swollen vein, but not Tom’s on his; hard clashing of lips and shared moans, but these weren’t the human’s, either. His body went into spasm; he bit his lip, coppery blood filling his mouth.
He wasn’t afraid of going back now. In that embrace, in that long, drawn-out kiss, Angel had finally revealed his true colours. Spike had tasted him.
He closed his eyes and inhaled the night scents. He would miss this place. It was where he’d finally found what he sought, where all his striving had ceased.
He returned to the two figures and lay down on the far side of Wesley. There was time enough for the human to know how things had changed.
Where would they have the talk Angel promised? What would he say? Do? He couldn’t keep the grin off his face. Everything seemed to have enormous promise. For the first time since he had his chip implanted, and all the bad time that had followed after, he felt life stretching before him, bright and enticing.
He laughed quietly to the stars.
He was in love, too.
Knowing that this feeling was returned, knowing that just across the sleeping human lay someone who loved him, settled his eternally restless spirit.
He tipped into sleep and shared its deep restfulness with Angel. Just before he finally stopped thinking, he realised it could be the last night he slept alone.
Angel’s innate radar for danger clicked in, but it was too late.
‘Mi Amigo! Buenos días.’ A gun cocked against his temple.
He would have killed the man, but he heard a grunt of pain and knew it was Wesley’s, so he opened his eyes cautiously, non-threateningly, and looked up into a pair of eyes frenzied with hate.
A dozen men sat on horses, watching the early-morning scene. He could see Wesley’s legs amongst the horses.
Spike was lying some feet away but was oddly still. Angel smelt blood and guessed the cause of the stillness.
The man grinned, displaying a set of gold teeth. ‘I am well, thank you for asking!’ He held up his right hand, which was bloated, purple, missing two fingers, and stinking. Angel could not help but feel slightly guilty, but he did not let this show on his face.
He rose slowly, hands held well away from his body. He backed to Spike and nudged him with his foot but got no response.
One of the men on horseback said angrily, ‘Get on with it if you’re gonna kill him. We got business in town.’
The bandit turned, grinning. ‘This one took two precious things from me!’ He held up his destroyed hand like a trophy. ‘So, maybe I no kill him! Maybe I take from him, too!’
Angel made a small move, and the man grinned unpleasantly. ‘I see you comprende, Mi Amigo! I lose two; you lose two.’ He suddenly nodded, and Angel hitched his breath in as the horses parted. Wesley was suspended between two saddle horns, his arms extended, his head hung down as if unconscious already.
‘Is funny, no?’ The bandit sucked his teeth appreciatively at his inventiveness.
Angel kept his face impassive, but he studied the scene. If he moved, he had no doubt the horses would be kicked to life, and Wesley would be….
As if reading his mind, the man said gleefully, ‘Sometime one arm come off—sometime two. They flop like chicken when you cut ze heads off, no? On the ground with their no arms. Funny, no?’
Before Angel could reply, there was a stirring behind them. Angel grinned as he sensed the balance of power about to change in his favour. The bandit quickly waved at his companions and one of them walked toward Spike’s waking figure, hauled the semi-conscious figure to his knees and wrapped a length of piano wire around his neck. One side of Spike’s head was caked in blood; whatever had smashed into his skull while he slept had hit hard.
The leader spat into the sand and said conversationally, ‘Which one you want go first?’
Angel raised his eyes as if seeking divine guidance. He calculated they had about five minutes before the sun made another enemy. He looked at Spike; the wire was already cutting into his neck, and a bright band of blood had begun to flow in rivulets onto his shirt. He looked at Wesley and felt his pain.
He could save one or the other. He couldn’t save both.
Everyone looked at Wesley, his face as ragged as his voice. ‘For God’s sake, Angel, just give him the damn gold.’
Angel stepped toward him. ‘This isn’t about….’
‘Gold? Where you have this gold?’ The bandit held out his hand to stop Spike’s slow torture, and his companion relaxed the hold on the wire.
Angel summoned what he had once been, before he had become so indecisive and vulnerable, and followed Wesley’s lead. He lunged at him, screaming convincingly, ‘I’ll fucking kill you! You bastard!’ The words set up unfortunate echoes in his mind, but these painful memories only gave his passion the necessary edge of truth.
Startled, the bandit held out his injured hand, trying to placate, but Angel knocked it away then pointed accusingly at Wesley. ‘You die!’
The bandit nodded at the men on the horses. ‘Let him go.’
Even the act of dismounting stretched Wesley, and he cried out in pain as the men tried to release the ropes. Arms trembling, he shoved his hands in his pockets as he fell to his knees.
The leader strode over and picked him up by his hair, thrusting his face close. Wesley reeled at the stench of his mouth and rotting hand.
‘Now talk. You have….’ He nodded at the man holding Spike. ‘To cinco, or his head….’
Wesley opened his mouth to lie plausibly, and the bandit calmly said, ‘Five.’
There was a scream.
The horses reared. The last thing Wesley saw was the gold in the bandit’s teeth. Then he felt as if he’d been hit by a black rhino from the skies of a childhood nightmare. His last thought, as he pressed the button on the tiny device in his pocket was, ‘Oh, bother, I forgot my Dramamine.’
Wesley’s fears of opening a portal some miles from the original ground zero proved to be unfounded. They didn’t return on the middle of the freeway, or inside solid rock, but in the lab. What he had failed to take into account was the effect of varying distance they were away from the portal when it opened.
Closest, he travelled through with no more than a violent migraine and sickness that left him incapacitated for two days. The bandit fared worse. He blew apart, his body parts decorating the walls of the lab. He flopped for quite a while, but he didn’t seem to find that too funny this time.
The only other human to return, the one cutting Spike’s head off, evaporated. A faint, red mist hung in the air for a while, but no one who was conscious understood its provenance.
Spike was already unconscious when the portal hit him. So like drunks and babies, relaxed, he survived the shock relatively unscathed. The rifle butt to his temple and the flooding gash in his neck were more serious problems.
Angel, tense, his muscles in full flight as he’d dived for Spike, fared worse. Ligaments ripped, tendons snapped, and he fell into the portal, sick, disoriented, and suffering severe pain in every inch of his body.
Angel then suffered more as he was subjected to his own rules: quarantine. The three of them were put in separate holding cells until the scientists at Wolfram and Hart could determine whether they were contaminated. Angel raged; he ranted, but no one took any notice. It was what he’d ordered, and they were too afraid of him to break his orders now.
The hours ticked by slowly.
He paced, thinking about Spike.
He was declared safe, and the cell was opened. He saw Wesley being led out of his, holding his head, and then he turned at the sound of the third door sliding open.
Angel whirled around. ‘Nina.’
She ran into his arms, laughing, crying, talking.
He held her. He was glad to be back, to be whole, and something of that relief transferred itself to his hug, and she seemed satisfied.
She pulled away and held him at arms’ length, feigning anger as her privileged position of his lover allowed her to do.
Angel glanced to the last figure emerging.
He was bandaged around his neck, and Angel wanted to hold him at arms length and be angry with him. It was his privileged position, after all.
Spike watched the small scene play out.
He sensed there was more to Angel’s hug than the girl perceived, but he couldn’t tell exactly what that something was.
He could tell what it wasn’t though; it wasn’t I love you, and it wasn’t we’ll talk.
As it wasn’t either of those, he turned away and left them to it.
Angel was sucked into the needs of Wolfram and Hart. Its vast power had brought him back, and it exacted its pound of flesh. He showered; he changed; he joked to Nina that he was too sore for anything more intimate than letting her watch both of these, and then he went down to the office.
He hoped Spike would make an appearance. But he didn’t seek him out.
The scene played itself over and over in his head like a frantic pulse. It didn’t matter if he replayed it from his point of view, or from Wesley’s or Spike’s, the outcome was always the same: he stood rooted to the spot with indecision whilst his friends were killed. He knew they didn’t actually get killed, but he couldn’t make his memories play out that way. In his mind, he let them die, because for the first time, he’d allowed himself to be human: he’d allowed himself to love like a man. It didn’t matter how many times he told himself that he couldn’t have done anything different, his heart betrayed him. His heart told him that he’d become weak.
So, he didn’t actually go to Spike’s apartment. He didn’t enquire if he was in the building and seek him out.
He hadn’t changed his mind—he still loved him—only that love had consequences that he’d not foreseen.
With all this confusion swilling around in his mind for the first few hours at work, he did not need the added complication of Nina. He had her though, and her presence stifled whatever impulses might have made him seek Spike out. He was trapped by his own nature. Whatever else he was, had been, he was not dishonest in love. Where he loved, he loved passionately and with a single focus. He could not lie to her with his body: sleep with her while his mind was on someone else. In any other circumstances, he would have admitted what had happened while he’d been away and faced the consequences of that truth. If he’d slept with a woman, he would have told her. But he had not slept with a woman, and that changed everything. He could not tell her, but he could not not tell her and still see her. He wondered, as the long morning stretched on, whether if he’d slept with an anonymous man, he might have admitted that as well. He actually rehearsed words: ritual, connection, extremity. They seemed better than passion, fuck and need. This wasn’t an anonymous man, though. This was Spike—Spike, someone he’d sought her sympathy for; Spike, who he frequently told her was the bane of his life.
Then, in thinking about this trap, for the first time, what he had done with Spike embarrassed Angel. It had seemed a good motto to live your life by: never do something you are too embarrassed to recount. Shame twisted inside his guts.
Nothing had changed between them—he still loved Spike—only he had given no thought to the barriers that would still lie between them.
For the first time, he faced what the dream—which he’d known all along wasn’t a dream but a portent of what was to be—meant. He’d toyed with the idea that it meant he’d made the wrong decision, that he should choose unlife with Spike over life with Buffy. Now, he saw its true meaning. He had to commit to his life and see it through. He had not given of himself to Buffy, not been honest, not committed, and twenty years into their marriage they had been so estranged, and he had been so lonely, that he’d begged his own childe to take him back into the dark world—unsouled, a monster, a demon.
It seemed to Angel that the same scenario was playing out with Nina. He owed her more than lies.
He had an uneasy morning, but things got worse in the afternoon. Things had slipped so much in his absence that he had to stamp his authority back on the city. He summoned some of the leaders of the various demonic factions for a meeting.
They came reluctantly, and it was when he looked up from his place at the conference table and saw them coming toward him that he knew. It was a knowledge so painful and so embarrassing that he could not give it air to breathe and buried it under false greetings and slick words.
He hadn’t changed his mind—he still loved him—only that love had consequences that he’d not foreseen.
By the time the evening came, all he wanted to do was be left alone with his misery. He turned off his desk light and rose to go up to his apartment and then saw the slim figure in the doorway.
There was nothing else he could do.
He held out his hand and smiled. ‘Nina.’
She came into his embrace. ‘Tired?’
‘Come on, lover boy, let’s get you to bed.’
She pulled him toward the elevator, and there was nothing Angel could do, despite his vast strength, to resist.
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