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Past Tense of Loving
Spike let the Wolfram and Hart doctor inspect his neck—he got free human blood as his medicine, so he wasn’t complaining. He’d tried all day to see Angel, but Angel had been avoiding him. He’d watched the demons going in for a meeting, had debated just wandering in under the pretext of that conference, but something in Angel’s demeanour had deflected him, and he’d turned instead to the lab to have some TLC, albeit from a doctor with cold hands.
He was declared fit, and topped up with warmed blood, he felt brave enough to face Angel.
The office was empty.
He grinned and rode up in the elevator.
It didn’t occur to him to knock; he just pushed open the door and wandered in.
Afterwards, he’d almost wished he had caught them shagging. It would have been less intimate than what he did find.
Angel was lying on the couch, his head in the girl’s lap, and she was rhythmically stroking through his hair, speaking soft, comforting words.
And Angel was lapping it up.
That was obvious even from where Spike stood.
She heard him and looked up, slightly fazed, but not enough to let Angel go. ‘Spike. Hi.’ Modulated and soft, her words didn’t warrant the tremor of shock that went through the figure on the couch.
He sat up abruptly.
Spike flushed and frowned and tried to light a cigarette all at the same time. ‘Sorry.’ He wasn’t used to mumbling, and it sounded odd, even to his ears.
He turned and frantically pressed the button for the elevator, cursing that it took so long for the door to open.
He stepped inside and then a dark presence was with him.
The doors slid shut, and they were alone.
Angel’s face was a study of misery, and for all that his heart was cleaved in two, Spike could not deny him the slice of comfort he’d been enjoying.
Angel seemed to sense that Spike wasn’t confrontational, rather sad, and he risked coming closer. He tipped his chin up with one finger and examined the wound.
Spike allowed him, his eyes riveted to the darker ones.
Angel nodded, satisfied, and then he leant back on the wall and rubbed his hand tiredly over his face. ‘I haven’t been avoiding you.’
‘Yes, you have.’ Spike merely made a statement of fact, and didn’t, once more, appear to want an argument.
Angel glanced up at him through lowered lids. Spike hesitated for a moment then slid closer. Angel lifted his arms and draped them over the bony shoulders. They stood for a long time, just looking at the other, as if neither had seen the other’s familiar face before. Angel brought his fingers to Spike’s neck and began to twist a strand of blond hair. ‘Perhaps we’d better talk now.’
In all Spike’s better imagining of this conversation, Angel’s sad, intimate playing with his hair and his forlorn expression had never featured.
He didn’t need the talk.
He knew what Angel was going to stay.
He’d known it all day.
It was why he’d not tried harder to see him.
Angel watched the thoughts flick through Spike’s mind, revealed by the subtle changing of light and shadows in his eyes. There wasn’t anyway to say what he had to say that wouldn’t hurt. There wasn’t a better time or place or way to say it; it just had to be said. Once said, actions could follow and life would play out, and twenty years from now, he’d be content that he’d made the right decision.
‘I meant what I said, Spike. I do love you. B—.’
‘You don’t need to say but, Angel; I can see it in your eyes.’
‘I do need to. I need to try and explain it to you.’
‘Why? So, you can explain it to yourself?’
‘This is gonna be good then.’ He moved away from Angel’s embrace and flattened the spike of hair that Angel’s erotic twisting had given life to.
‘I can’t lie to Nina—I won’t lie to her—but I can’t tell her the truth.’
‘That you love me.’
‘Yeah. That I love you.’
‘You have a very odd way of defining love, Mate.’
Suddenly, the doors slid open, and the empty office faced them.
Relieved by Spike’s calm demeanour up to now, Angel was startled when they stepped out into the bigger, freer space and Spike rounded on him, real anger creeping slowly into his eyes.
‘If you loved me, you’d have the balls to tell ‘er.’
Angel strode away, the space allowing him to give vent to his feelings equally well, but something held him back. He could tell Spike about Nina; if pushed, he’d tell him about the dream. The other, the thing he hardly named himself, he could not speak of.
He waved a hand dismissively. ‘You talk like a child, Spike.’
Spike came up behind him, banging his arm. ‘I didn’t notice you treatin’ me like a child back on those long, hot days, Mate. Didn’t notice that at all. Seems to me, you liked me being just what I am—a fully grown man.’
Angel turned, a flush discernable on his cheeks. ‘You’re a hypocrite, Spike. If you were still with Buffy, you wouldn’t tell her about us.’
Spike took a step back. Angel saw he’d made a fatal error. Spike nodded as if something finally made sense. ‘There’s something else, isn’t there? You’re not telling me the real reason why you’re telling me to piss off.’
‘I’m not telling you to piss….’
‘Whatever. What is it, Angel? You brought Buffy into this as if she were just a name, as if your bloody heart doesn’t break for her every day! No way you’d do that unless you were trying to hide something. What is it? I’m not giving up on this till you tell me. Think you can fob me off with I can’t tell Nina?’
His mimicry of Angel’s voice was cruel and cutting, and it gave Angel the edge to retort, ‘You just don’t want to believe that’s it. You don’t want to admit that I’m a more decent man than you—that I can’t lie to someone I care for.’
Angel dug his own trap; it wasn’t even disguised, and he tipped in, almost willingly.
‘You’re lying to me.’
Angel closed his eyes then put a hand over his face. When he spoke, his voice was husky, as if trying to squeeze the words past a clenched throat. ‘What do you expect me to do, Spike? Do you expect me to run this place when everyone knows I’m…? Can you see the freaking headlines? Shit, Spike, I control this company, this city, through fear—their fear of what I was and can be.’ Stating this seemed to bring back some of that menace. He looked Spike straight in the eye, and his voice was level and controlled. ‘There are no gay superheroes, Spike. Life doesn’t work that way. Gay doesn’t say hero. Gay doesn’t say champion. I couldn’t command squat if I destroyed my entire reputation over you. And I need to command. I need them to quake at my name. I need for them to fear me more than they love evil. And when the great battle comes, as it will, for I have seen it in a dream, I will be triumphant. And all of this will come about because I play the game, Spike. I play the game by their rules.’
Spike didn’t confirm or deny any of Angel’s contentions. He bent to light a cigarette and said in a cold voice, ‘Maybe it’s time you gave up being a champion and did something you wanna do for once.’
Angel just looked at him.
Spike put on an unconcerned face. Then he frowned. ‘What?’
Angel just continued to trap him with his dark eyes.
‘Bloody hell! All right! It’s your sodding mission, and I get that, I do, but….’
‘What?’ He put a hand to Spike’s cheek, and despite the anger that had flown between them, it was not rejected. ‘What, love? Would you have me different? Tell me it isn’t exactly this—this damn mission of mine—that you love me for.’
Spike caught at his finger and said harshly, ‘I’ve never told you I loved you, if you remember.’
He couldn’t keep up the pretence. His face crumpled, and he clasped the finger into the hollow of his neck. ‘I do.’ He blinked and looked down. ‘This can’t be happening. After what you said….’
Angel eased them together, respecting Spike’s great anger, which was now dissolving into misery. ‘I was out of time, Spike, out of place. What I said is true: I do love you. But I didn’t think through the consequences of that love—for either of us.’
‘What are we going to do?’
Angel laughed bitterly. ‘I get it now. It wasn’t being turned; it wasn’t hell; it wasn’t losing Connor; it wasn’t this place—none of those were my true torment, the path to redemption I have to tread. This is. Loving you and losing you will torment me for eternity. But the world will go on, and it will be safe. I’ll see to that. I will triumph against evil even as I live out my twenty years of mediocrity.’
‘And me? What about me?’
Angel hugged him closer. ‘I want you to suffer.’
Spike pulled back, but Angel clasped him tight again. ‘I’m not that noble. I can’t tell you to be….’ Suddenly, a tremor passed through his body, and he turned away, going to his favourite place by the window, hugging his body tightly. ‘I can’t tell you to be happy. I’m not that much of a hero.’ He turned and held out his hand. ‘Tell me you’ll be sad, Spike, please.’
Spike didn’t need to say it.
They stood together looking out over the city, Spike leaning slightly against the strong body, Angel’s arms around the slim waist, his chin on the bony shoulder.
After some considerable time, a quiet voice murmured, ‘I’ll be sad for me. I’ll be sad for you, and I’ll be sad for this whole bloody mess.’
Angel tightened his arms but could not at that moment reply.
When the night was at its darkest, Spike pulled out of Angel’s embrace and straightened his coat. ‘Well, I’ll be off then.’
He tipped his head to one side, thoughtfully. ‘I can’t stay here, luv. Not now.’
‘No! You can’t go!’
‘Angel! I can’t see you every day! I can’t watch you with her! I can’t watch you at all!’
‘Spike!’ Spike realised with a frisson of shock that Angel had not even considered his leaving. For the first time that hideous night, he saw Angel’s conviction that he was doing the right thing wavering. He came close.
‘I’ll stay tonight…. Just one night together….’
Angel groaned. ‘No! I can’t….’
‘What about me? I need something, Angel. I need to… put you together in my mind. I need to assemble all the fragments that I have of you going round and round in my head. See, if I can put it all together, make a coherent whole, then I can spend the rest of my eternity deconstructing you. I’ll take you apart piece by piece in the proper order and stow the pieces away. Then you’ll have no hold over me. It’s how I survived Buffy… after I’d… with her…. She stopped being my phantom ideal. You have to, too.’
Angel hung his head. ‘Maybe I want to be your ideal.’
Spike saw his error. In making Angel more human, he only increased the amount he loved him. Far from enabling him to pack Angel away, Angel defeated, Angel vulnerable and intensely sad, made his heart ache with desire for him. He pulled him into a tight embrace. ‘Okay, Pet, we’ll play it your way. No last, first, only night. Will you promise me something though?’
Angel nodded into his shoulder. ‘If I can.’
Spike straightened them. ‘Promise me that when there are gay superheroes, you’ll look me up, hey?’
Angel saw the immense effort Spike made to inject this small thread of humour, and he responded in kind. ‘I’ll come in my tights and find you. Promise.’
Spike stepped back. ‘Okay. I’ll send word where I am from time to time. Postcards from the edge….’
The reality of Spike leaving hit Angel, and he almost crushed his ribs, so tightly did he wrap his arms around them. Anything to prevent him reaching out.
Spike turned when he reached the door. He made a wry face. ‘I can’t think of a single thing to say.’
Go to chapter 12
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