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Past Tense of Loving
Angel went straight to the hut and swept in. He found the man in the back, and after a few questions, asked in his usual sweet way, he extracted the information he wanted.
When Wesley came into work the next day, Angel was staring thoughtfully at a cardboard cut out of two cowboys with their faces missing.
He laughed and went toward it. ‘I haven’t seen one of these since….’ Angel shoved him out of the way, just before he put his face to one of the holes.
‘That’s what Spike did.’
‘The man said he keeps losing people. They put their faces in, and before he can photograph them, they disappear.’
‘Bloody hell. Where? Does he know?’
‘None of them have ever come back to tell him.’
‘Study it, Wes. Find out where it came from and what it’s doing—how it’s doing it. But, most of all, find out where the freaking hell it’s sent Spike!’
Wesley nodded. ‘Quite.’
For the first time since he’d been sucked into this strange world, the enormity of what had happed hit Spike as he sat on his own in Tom Davant’s study. It hit him that this might be all there was for him now, that he would have to stay in this time and place and do his whole eternity again. He really didn’t fancy that idea much—once was kinda enough, sometimes. Then he thought about his human self, in London. If he were there, too, then he would soon be dead, soon fall prey to Angelus’s passions. Then there would be two of them. Further than that he could not go. He could not see how they could both exist, and thinking that made him realise how wrong it was that he was here. His head began to spin and he laid it onto the back of the comfortable wing chair and stared into the fire. The flames held no answers for him, but he was glad he’d come to this house. It was like his house had once been. It felt safe.
After a couple of hours, the door opened, and Davant came in. For a moment, Spike wondered if he’d forgotten he was there, but if he had, he covered swiftly by asking Spike if he had been taken care of: coffee, food. Spike was desperate for food so accepted some coffee to stave off the hunger pangs—to enable him to walk and talk with this human as if he were one, too.
Davant waited until the coffee was brought and then sat down in the facing chair, also staring into the fire. ‘What part of England do you come from?’
Spike replied cautiously, ‘London. You?’
‘Our family originated from Hampshire, but I was living in Exeter before I came here.’
Davant looked up at him. ‘This isn’t my place. It belongs to my sister, Katherine. It’s just something the men do—call it my place. I think they prefer working for a man. It belonged to my sister’s husband, Robert Caruthers. Robert came to England to buy some pedigree bulls to improve his livestock and met my sister. They married, and he brought her home—here, to live.’
‘And you came with them?’
Davant smiled. ‘Not at first. I have to admit that the thought of leaving my mother and everything I knew in England to come to this “savage” land didn’t appeal at all. But Robert was killed. Katherine needed me….’ He shrugged as if this simple declaration of need explained the giving away of all he had previously held precious. ‘So, here we are, the two of us.’
‘Why am I here? What do you need me for?’
Davant stirred from his reverie. ‘Robert’s brothers believe that the ranch is rightfully theirs—my sister had been married less than a year when he was killed, but suddenly it was all hers. They’d worked this land. They’d made the ranch what it was. They’ve tried to kill her.’
Spike pursed his lips. ‘What good would that do? Then it would be yours….’
‘Oh, no, Robert left the ranch to his children. If they should die it reverts to his oldest brother. Katherine is carrying the heir, you see. If she dies, her unborn child….’
‘But, again, I don’t see what use I can be.’
‘She needs protecting day and night.’
‘Uh huh. And I take the night shift.’
‘Yes. If you are willing.’
‘I’m kinda thinking a nurse would be….’
‘No, you see, I’ve decided to take the fight to the Caruthers.’ His face hardened. ‘I’m sick of waiting. Sick of thinking every time she goes out she’s going to be….’ He refilled Spike’s coffee. ‘Are you as good as Joe said?’
‘Yeah, I am. But….’
‘I’m not sure how long I’ll be here. I mean…. It’s kinda hard to explain. I’m sort of not sure why I came here or how long I can stay.’
Davant shrugged again. ‘That’s what this country is like. I know that.’
Spike let out a long breath. ‘I’ll do the guarding thing. But I’m not killing anyone in cold blood.’
‘Take it or leave it. I’ve done more killing in my lifetime than most, and I stopped a while back.’
Davant watched his eyes for a long time, Spike holding his gaze. Suddenly, the human grinned, and Spike sensed this was the first time he’d done that in a long while. ‘I feel happier about leaving you with Katherine now! I hire these awful men and then tell them to be with her….’
Spike leant forward. ‘There have been men before me?’
Davant blushed. ‘Two. They were both found dead. I’m sorry. I thought Joe would have told you that. I didn’t mean to try and trick you.’
‘Silver what’s his name?’
Davant nodded. ‘But you’re better than him—so Joe says.’
‘What does your sister say about all this?’
He looked sad. ‘She doesn’t say much of anything.’
‘Grief’s a strangely powerful emotion.’
‘Tell me about it.’
‘Have you ever lost anyone?’
Spike smiled bitterly. ‘Funnily enough, when I came here, I lost everyone who matters to me.’
‘Oh, I’m sorry. I—.
Spike waved his hand in dismissal. ‘How’s about I meet your sister?’
The man nodded and rose, glancing at a handsome clock over the mantel. ‘She’ll be just finishing with the Doc. I’ll show you up.’
Spike followed the man up a winding staircase, as elegant as the rest of the house, but now he knew the circumstances, he could see it was looking neglected: dusty, untidy, with man’s clutter of boots, hats, and guns lying around.
They went down a long hallway and paused outside a door. Davant knocked, and a man called out, ‘Finished! Come away in!’
They stepped in, and Spike slid into the shadows, taking in the scene swiftly. He frowned at what he saw and watched the doctor packing away some fat leeches, carefully easing them into their jar.
A woman sat in a rocker in the shadows.
For one moment, Spike had the bizarre thought that she was a vampire, too. She was paler than he was, and sat so still that she appeared dead. Except for the tiny pinpricks of blood on her arms, where the leeches had taken their fill, there was nothing on her that indicated life.
He watched Davant cross to her and kneel reverently, holding her hand. The scene was so familiar—a young man kneeling in worship to a women, the clothes, the décor of the room—that he reeled. He almost put a hand to his eye as if he could feel the damn worm-stone working its way around his skull again, pulling memories from his head.
The doctor left, and Davant turned to Spike to introduce him. The woman lifted listless eyes to his but did not speak.
‘He’ll start tonight, my dear. Perhaps you could take a walk around the home paddocks in the cool evening air. Spike doesn’t like to go out in the sun—like you—so he’ll guard….’
‘Spike?’ Her voice was like a soft wind: utterly arid.
Spike came forward a little and for some reason said, ‘It’s actually William, Ma’am.’
She smiled, and it illuminated her fragile features. ‘William. That’s pretty.’
Spike nodded and left, waiting for the man in the hallway. They went slowly down the stairs together, Spike giving him the occasional, puzzled glance. Finally, the young man turned to him with a smile and said, ‘What?’
Spike frowned and hesitated, but Tom laid a hand on his arm. ‘What, William?’
‘Why was the doctor bleeding her?’
Tom looked surprised but answered swiftly, ‘He said it’s the best cure for grief. She was hysterical, and in her condition he was afraid….’
Spike scratched his face. ‘Look, I’m no doctor, Tom, but there is one thing I know a bit about, and that’s blood.’ He twitched up his eyebrows and deliberately obscuring the issue added, ‘It’s my line of work, so to speak.’
‘Yeah, your sister’s anaemic. The last thing she needs is to lose more blood.’
The man looked angry suddenly. ‘I’ve never heard of this… anaemic. The doctor said….’
‘I don’t give a fuck what some ancient quack from the nineteenth century said. Does she tire easily?’
‘Well, yes, she can hardly….’
‘Does her heart pound…?’
‘Is she short of breath?’
‘She needs iron, Tom.’
‘Iron. Iron? What do you mean? Iron ore…?’
Spike frowned. ‘Do you slaughter your own meat on the ranch?’
‘Do you trust me?’
The question came so out of the blue that the man said simply, ‘Yes. I think I do.’
Spike smiled. ‘Okay. When it’s dark, show me. Get rid of the fucking quack, and let me help her?’
‘The blood expert….’
Spike poked him affectionately. ‘Well, I am one of those creatures… what did you call them? Vampyres….’
Tom laughed. ‘Come on, I’ll show you your room. Where’s your bag?’
‘Bag. Oh, yeah. I kinda left in a hurry—didn’t have time to pack.’ Tom pushed open a door at the end of the bottom hallway to a small room with an equally small bed.
Spike went in and said idly, ‘Can I take a shower?’
Davant hesitated. ‘I guess. If we have one…. Take it where? What is it?’
Spike turned. ‘Uh huh. Can I have a bowl of hot water?’
The man smiled. ‘I’ll get Maria to bring you some.’
Spike flung himself onto his cot and lit a cigarette. When the woman arrived he handed her his shirt. ‘Any chance I could get this washed?’
She took it without protest, and Spike lay down and closed his eyes. He could hardly remember L.A. If felt as if he’d been here all his life, as if somehow his life had just taken a hundred and twenty four year leap, from here to here without the in-between.
Tears pricked his eyes, and he let them flow.
Missing L.A. was hard.
Angel went down to the lab at the end of the day, expecting results. He was disappointed. Wesley had made no progress with the strange object.
The sense of contrast—coming down here expecting Spike to be back with him in a few moments compared with this complete lack of progress—made Angel draw in on himself. He folded his arms, his brow lowering, his thoughts shut away from his audience.
Wesley went through all the things he had found out; he outlined the avenues he intended to follow, and then he began to postulate some of his own theories.
He didn’t even get what Angel was doing until it was too late.
Before he could try and stop him, Angel looked through one of the faces.
Go to chapter 4
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