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Past Tense of Loving
The slaughter hut was some way from the house, over a small rise.
Davant stood with his arms folded, watching Spike looking around until Spike turned and said, ‘You need to leave me to do this thing. You need to trust me.’
Tom pouted but turned. ‘You know the way back.’
Left alone in the house of blood, Spike fell to his knees with heady pleasure at the sense of anticipation.
Blood from the kill that day—a large, plump steer—lay in buckets under the table. He knelt and lapped at it, long licks of the sticky, red fluid. It was almost off, but not enough to spoil the pleasure. He’d forgotten what blood in the raw (blood not out of hygienic plastic bags) could taste like. It was almost more natural, made him feel less demon, even though he knelt with his face in the blood.
When he was full, he began on his other task. He extracted the fresh liver from the steer, and using a butcher’s knife, minced it meticulously. He scrapped the raw mince into a cup and diluted it with some of the blood. It was incredibly tempting to him, but he had a very strong feeling that Katherine wouldn’t think so. He smiled ruefully at himself but was kinda enjoying this odd role-reversal.
He carried his precious load back to the house and went to the kitchen for a rummage in the spice cupboard. He often added things to his blood for the fun of it, and thought maybe she’d like her raw liver with cinnamon, or maybe just some sugar and nutmeg.
He tried a few things then carried the mug up the stairs.
He knocked softly.
She was in the same chair. She had clearly not moved from that chair for some time.
He came closer.
Her eyes flashed, and he smiled inwardly. There was some fight there still.
‘I’d rather you didn’t call me that. It’s Mrs Caruthers.’
‘Well, you and me are gonna get pretty well acquainted over the next few days, and as I’ve been hired to risk my life for you, I think that gives me the right to call you want I damn well like.’
She sat up more in the chair. ‘Will you leave please?’ He wondered, from her expression, if she had ever heard a man curse before.
‘So, you’re just gonna let that baby die, are you? Do you want a dead baby inside you?’
She reddened, a tiny flush of high colour on her porcelain white cheeks. ‘Get out! How dare you speak of such things to….’
Spike went up to her and knelt in front of her. ‘I dare because you need to—to dare. You need to get out of this damn chair and fight for your life. Life is precious, Katherine.’
‘What do you know about…?’
‘About life? I’m something of an expert on that, too. There’s a whole world of it beyond this place, Katherine. Shall I tell you about life—what will come soon if you choose life, what you will give to you baby if you choose life…. You’ll be able to fly back to England in a few hours, maybe, or the little ‘un will. You’ll be able to pick up a tiny box and speak to him even though he’s miles away. You’ll see women get the vote, work just like men, wear trousers. Your son will see a man walk on the moon. If you sit there and die, Katherine, none of that will come true for you. And hey, you’ll miss TV, and that’s really worth waiting for.’
‘What are you?’
Spike laughed. ‘What are you?’
She smiled, frowning at the same time. ‘I just feel so tired.’
‘Your blood needs something, Katherine, like a plant needs water. You’ve been starving your blood of what it needs. If you have it, you’ll bloom just like a plant. Have you seen a desert bloom in spring?’
She smiled. ‘It’s the thing I love the most about my new country.’
‘Your baby’s blood is your blood. He’s getting your starved blood. You’re starving him.’
‘Oh, God, the doctor said….’
‘Katherine, Tom trusts me.’
For the first time, she gave him a look that made him start. She nodded ruefully. ‘Tom would.’ When she saw his look, she added, amused, ‘Tom is easily impressed with… men. I suspect with someone who looks like you, he would be quite easy to persuade.’
Spike laughed. ‘And I haven’t even told him about TV!’
She laughed, too. ‘What do I have to do—to feed my baby?’
He brought out the mug. ‘You have to drink this.’ He saw her look of horror and disgust and added pointedly, ‘What sort of mother are you going to be, Katherine? It’s time to decide if you dare. My Mum gave her life for me, in a way; is your son worth less to you?’
She took the mug, put it to her lips, said faintly, ‘Oh, God help me,’ and began to drink. He actually had to slow her down, so she wouldn’t vomit it up.
When she was done, he had a long glass of water ready for her. She drank that greedily as well. He nodded. ‘Good. Now you just have to do that every day for a week.’
She fell back against the chair, and he made to leave, but she put a hand on his arm. ‘Stay, sit with me, please. I would like to… tell me more about living. I think I’d rather like to live in that place you speak of.’
Spike found himself talking about his life in L.A. He knew she would understand little of what he was saying, not having a common language to describe the things he spoke of, but when he’d finished she was smiling. ‘I think your father will be missing you.’
‘Huh!’ He rose, agitated.
She chuckled merrily. ‘You spoke of him more than anything else—this Angel, who made you.’
‘Oh, well, yeah.’
‘Do you miss him?’
Spike kept his face neutral. ‘We argued all the time. I’m not missing that, and I guess he’s not either.’
‘All sons argue with their fathers. It’s natural. Tom did not get on with our father.’
‘Angel isn’t exactly my…. I mean, he’s more like…. How are you feeling?’
‘I’m very tired.’
‘Okay, tomorrow—same time, same place.’
She smiled. ‘Yes. What will you do now?’
‘I’m not sure. I guess I sit outside and look menacing.’
‘Two men have already died for me.’
He made a wry face. ‘I can’t die, remember? I’ve got too much life running through my veins.’
‘From this place called L.A.?’
He left, wondering who’d been healed more that evening.
He sat out on the veranda and every so often got up and walked around. It was pretty boring. By the time the sun came up, and he was relieved by a man who had strolled sleepily out of the bunkhouse, he was ready for sleep himself.
After three weeks, Katherine was walking with him every night, sometimes up to four or five miles. She’d begun to recover after the first week, by the second she was singing and pottering around the house, her face always bright and wreathed with smiles and by the third, she craved her night walks with Spike. They talked about her husband and about Angel. If Spike found this incongruous, he didn’t examine it too closely. She enjoyed hearing his (watered-down) tales of their exploits together, and she clearly needed to talk about her husband.
Toward the end of the third week, when they both least expected it, they were rounding a small depression in the ground when Spike suddenly drew a gun and shot into the dark. She screamed and sat down, the extreme speed and violence of his actions making her legs collapse in shock. He took her arm and hurried her away. In the morning, they found a man, rifle still in his hands, a bullet hole through one eye.
Katherine’s account of what had happened—the darkness, that she had heard nothing, the speed with which Spike reacted—combined with the deadly accuracy of his shot stunned the men on the ranch. The body was laid out for longer than it would normally have been so they could come again and again to view the hole, which once had been an eye. Men brought up to respect only those who could shoot were now in awe of Spike. The odd clothes and hair, the even stranger way of talking, the fact that he did not seem to know how to actually clean his weapons and had had to be shown—these were all forgotten. They told stories of him around the bunkhouse at night, each one adding something more outlandish than the last.
Tom and Katherine already adored him, each in their own way, so this new facet of his personality—that he was a killer—made little difference. It only made them want him more.
Spike was ambivalent about the killing. He’d acted on instinct, out of his fierce protectiveness for Katherine, but he wasn’t entirely sure that the man had needed killing. When he saw the body and examined the area the following night, it seemed to him that unless the man was a great deal more skilful than his rough, cowpoke appearance indicated, he would not have been able to see or hit Katherine at the distance he had chosen to lie.
It disturbed him, but he did not speak of this to Katherine or Tom.
He was not unaware of the adoration they both felt for him and was also very aware of the different provenance of these feelings. Katherine valued an intelligent confidant. Tom wanted something quite different.
Spike had first become aware of Tom’s feelings for him the day after he’d persuaded Katherine to take the blood tonic. Over the following few days, the young man sought him out, often sitting on the edge of his cot as he rested, talking, usually about England and books, two things Spike found it easy to listen to. It had amused him at first, when it was harmless hero worship. When it turned more intense, when Tom began to get argumentative, when he began to criticise and provoke a reaction from Spike whenever he could, it had alarmed him. Not because he couldn’t handle the arguments, he could, giving better than he got and getting provoked and angry himself, but because he saw in this relationship another one playing out.
Somehow, he had taken Angel’s role, and Tom had taken his. And this alarmed him greatly, for all Tom’s intensity came from repressed desires. Tom provoking him to argue was Tom wanting to touch his skin. Tom shouting at him in frustration was Tom wanting to kiss. Tom storming out was Tom wanting to stay: in his bed, in his heart. He saw all this from the benefit of his hundred years and from living in an age when such desires are commonplace, unlike Tom, who was all confusion, all repression, all lack of self-awareness.
Spike had no intention of letting this thing with his host develop, but he didn’t stop it. He let it happen because it was illuminating dark recesses of his own. As he had begun to believe that he would not return to his old life in L.A.—how could he?—it didn’t seem to him that it mattered if he finally tried to untangle his relationship with Angel. Unless he sought Angelus out, which he supposed he could do, they would never meet again. He had the luxury now of allowing himself to think all day about Angel and what could have been, perhaps what already was beneath the arguments, the sniping, and the constant, soul-draining hatred.
So he allowed Tom’s confused attentions because they helped his confusion.
They made a tight-knit group: Tom, Katherine, and their vampire protector.
Something of a holiday atmosphere pervaded the ranch after Spike’s killing of the hired gun. Everyone felt that it marked the end of the trouble—that the Caruthers brothers would now back off and leave Katherine alone. Spike didn’t. He thought it was just the beginning. He was more alert, discouraged the night time walks and found himself going out alone. He wouldn’t have called it hunting, but he knew that it was.
He was the least surprised, therefore, the least upset when one of the men announced that the Caruthers’ had a new gun. A good one. The man glanced at Spike and repeated, awed, ‘A very good one.’
Spike shrugged and went back to the game of poker he was playing.
The small, local town, Dry Gulch, which had grown up to service the three large ranches in the area, was smaller than Molina, only boasting a saloon, a whorehouse (which was the back room of the saloon and one aging whore), and a small church, which was never used and now doubled as a general mercantile run on the lines of a co-operative between the ranchers. When Spike had a night off, which he did once in a while, he went there to drink—to forget and to remember.
Tom now became very wary of him going. Possessiveness, which had shown in a dislike of him going, now became positively manic. After a particularly bad fight, he forbade Spike to leave the ranch. Spike knew the boy was scared—scared that he would get killed by this mythical gun who was better than him—but this didn’t lessen his anger toward the young man. All the good work that he had done with Katherine began to unravel, as she picked up on the tension and came to believe that not only were she and the baby in danger, but that Spike was soon to die, as well.
All of this led Spike to make an uncharacteristic decision. He decided to kill the stranger, the new gun, even before he proved a threat to his new family. How could it be murder if this man was already dead?—albeit in his time, but Spike wasn’t in the mood for being pedantic.
He had heard that the Caruthers went to Dry Gulch on the first Sunday in the month to stock up, drink, and do whatever else men needed to do.
The following Sunday, he determined to join them.
Somehow, word got out. The boys from the ranch were noticeably absent on the preceding Saturday night, all having made their way to Dry Gulch for the show.
Spike didn’t tell Tom or Katherine what he was going to do, but he knew they knew. He left on Saturday, too, so he could travel safely.
Tom intercepted him half way down the dirt track, a dark figure looming in front of him, horse rearing.
Spike held his horse still (it was all he could do yet beside walk it: walk, stand still—he reckoned he was becoming pretty proficient on the bloody animals).
‘Don’t do this.’
Spike hooked one leg around the saddle horn and lit a cigarette, watching Tom through narrowed eyes. ‘I’m not gonna get killed; you know that.’
‘No! I don’t know that! This man is fast. They say two years back he took out an entire posse, without taking a hit himself. He’s shot three men in cold blood. Please, Will, don’t go.’
Spike kicked his horse closer, and wanting the company, the horses nuzzled together, forcing the men close, legs brushing. ‘I’m coming back. I promise.’
‘And then what?’ Tom’s face flushed in the soft evening light. ‘You don’t—. I mean, I—.’
‘Go back and keep Katherine company, Pet. An’ I’ll see you just after sunset tomorrow.’
He nudged his horse past Tom’s and didn’t look back. He’d not seen his own reflection for a long time, but he reckoned that too often recently in L.A., his expression would have looked like Tom Devant’s did now.
He rode into town and made his way to the saloon. He didn’t expect the Caruthers until midday the next day. He didn’t want to drink and wondered what he was supposed to do to fill the void. The saloon was full of cowpokes from all the surrounding ranches, so he veered off before they saw him and went back to the stable where he’d left the horse. Even that was packed, but at least the patrons weren’t all talking about him. He made himself comfortable on the straw and closed his eyes.
He played the small scene with Tom back in his mind. He’d let it go on too long. He had to decide what to do before he went back the next day. The obvious thing was to stop it now, tell the boy that he wasn’t interested. Something held him back from making this decision, and when he thought honestly enough, he knew it wasn’t only for Tom’s sake. He could not now deny that he got a charge out of their sparring, particularly this last time when Tom had tried to lay down the law. That had given him a real charge. He’d been tempted to make the boy make him stay. He desperately needed the physicality of fighting. He drifted to one of his favourite memories: the sounds and feel of his fight with Angel for the Cup of Perpetual Torment. Grunts, cries, moans, touch of leather on skin—it had been better than sex. It worked like the memory of sex now. He hardened in his pants and put his hand down to stroke the swelling through the tight leather. They’d both been hard then, and they’d both known it.
He was almost glad he wasn’t going back to L.A., back to his own life. He wasn’t sure that having come this far, having understood these things about himself, he wanted to go back and resume a relationship which would now bring him nothing but pain. He’d been there before with Buffy: that desperate worship of her from afar. He knew the pain of such abortive need. He still felt the sting of her words, the look she’d given him. William. It was amazing he could use that name and still feel a sense of fondness for the person who had once been William. He snorted. Was William now—somewhere in an over-furnished house in London.
His erection subsided to an ache of loneliness.
He dozed, waiting for the sun to come up, waiting for the sound of horses.
He woke in early dawn and squinted out of a gap in one of the planks. Four men were riding down the street toward the saloon, one in front and three behind. He recognised the three as the Caruthers brothers from a photograph of Katherine’s; the other he saw only as a dark shadow.
He slipped out of the stable, dusting down his coat, adjusting his guns. He couldn’t remember if they were loaded, assumed they were, but knew technically it wouldn’t matter. He’d win whatever.
He sauntered to the middle of the street and watched the men dismount. He didn’t get why they were here so early. For a moment, he wondered if they had heard he was here waiting for them—that they might have come at this hour to avoid him. This puzzled him, so he decided they were trying to catch him still asleep—it made him feel better about the killing.
Spike swept his coat behind his gun (he’d practiced this once or twice, just for affect, just to pass the long nights), and shouted, ‘Caruthers!’
Men began to tumble eagerly out of the saloon, an audience of severe hangovers forming on the porch.
The eldest brother turned and stumbled against his horse when he saw Spike standing in the street.
Spike nodded. ‘I hear you’ve hired yourself a new….’
The dark figure that had led them into town suddenly pushed past the horses, which were nervously skittering with all the unexpected tension.
Spike braced, the predator in him keening with delight.
The figure began to run.
Spike frowned, and his hand fell away from his gun.
It was still very dark, dawn hardly making an inroad on the shadows, but Spike began to run, too. They met in the middle of the road and embraced. They weren’t sure what they embraced as, but it surely wasn’t as men about to kill one another.
Spike felt himself melt with pleasure.
Angel thought for a moment he could hear Spike’s heartbeat.
He only said, ‘Let’s get out of view.’
Spike nodded, wiped a sleeve across his eyes and pulled Angel back toward the stable.
‘How did you…?’
‘When did you…?’
‘Why did you…?’
‘Where are you…?’
‘Spike! Me first!’
Spike laughed and nodded. ‘Okay.’
Suddenly Angel couldn’t think of a single question he wanted to ask. He just pulled Spike back for another hug, and this one went on considerably longer than the previous one. He breathed softly into Spike’s neck, ‘Tell me this was an accident.’
Spike pulled away. ‘Coming here? Looking in that damn cardboard thingy? Of course…. What did you think?’
Angel scratched his ear thoughtlessly. ‘That you’d decided to leave.’
Spike began to laugh. He looked at Angel and doubled up, the tension of the last months pouring forth in this sound that was anything but humorous. Finally, Angel grabbed his arms and shook him, and Spike hiccupped to silence. ‘No. I didn’t run away. Not here. Christ, not here. But what are you doing here?’
‘I followed you—to bring you back.’
Spike felt his insides melting with relief. He squared his shoulders. ‘Okay.’
‘Well, I didn’t—. I mean—.’
‘You don’t know how to get back?’ Spike saw in his expression that he didn’t. Instead of blowing up, he tipped his head to one side and said wonderingly, ‘You came after me without waiting to see if we could get back?’
Angel shrugged and glanced toward the door. ‘Shit. Grant’s coming over.’
‘Grant Caruthers. I’m working for him.’
Spike didn’t really know why he’d not got this already. He’d been expecting the brothers to ride in with a new gunman—one who was fearful, better than him, they said. They’d ridden in with Angel, but still he’d not got it. He did now though and said lamely, ‘You’re the new gun.’
Angel nodded. ‘And you’re the Pale Death.’
He smiled, amused suddenly. ‘That’s your new nickname. Did you know? They call you Pale Death.’
Spike shook his head. ‘We need to talk.’
Angel nodded. ‘Is there anywhere? Sunrise is only five minutes.’
Spike nodded. ‘Maybe. How much money you got?’
‘About twenty. I got into a poker game in some dive called Molina and won it off an ugly guy who said he was owed my coat.’
Spike began to laugh. ‘Okay, we’re in funds. Let’s go.’
The whore was reluctant to give them her room, but for twenty dollars, which was more than she had earned in three months the hard way, she changed the sheets, made them some coffee and left them to it. She’d known men like them before. Didn’t bother her if they wanted to stick it in each other. She was making the money, and they were the ones getting fucked for once.
Spike sat on the edge of the surprisingly comfortable bed and gave Angel a sly look. ‘I think we’ve kinda ruined our reputations. We snog in the high street and get a room. Hardly the shoot ‘em dead, badass gunfighters people were expecting….’
Angel seemed distracted, pacing around the room, picking things up and putting them down with no apparent aim. It was taking him a while to overcome his reaction to finding Spike. He’d ridden in with Grant and his brothers early, so they could avoid a meeting with the one they were calling Death. Then he’d heard Spike voice, curling around him like the soft dawn. He didn’t realise he was running until he’d felt that familiar, slim body in his arms. For a first hug ever it was a good one: warm, intense, reciprocated.
Forcing himself back to the present, he murmured, ‘We didn’t kiss. Tell me what you’ve been doing since you got here.’
He sat down and leant against the headboard; Spike twisted around and leant against the foot rail. ‘I drifted to this ranch, got hired to protect a woman called Katherine Devant from your employees the Caruthers. I want to know why you’ve signed on with the devil again, Angel.’
‘Caruthers and his brothers. They’ve tried to kill a pregnant woman; hardly the….’
‘Scare off! Not kill! And she’s not pregnant! That’s a tactic she learnt when she was a whore in Bristol!’
‘This Katherine is a Kate Devant, who tricked Robert Caruthers into marrying her. Grant and John and Peter are good guys, Spike. They’re trying to save their ranch—they’ve got families starving!’
They looked at each other, and Spike rolled his eyes. ‘Why can’t people just talk, Angel? Clear the air and get things straight? I kinda thought the last guy they sent wasn’t trying to kill us.’
‘But you blew his brains out anyway!’
‘The two hired guns before me got killed! What was I supposed to think?’
Angel looked annoyed. ‘They were low-life scum who tired to bushwack Peter—shit, Spike, he’s only nineteen. They deserved to die.’
‘Well, yeah. But Katherine is a lady, Angel. She reminds me—. I mean—.’
Angel pouted and plucked the covers. ‘I couldn’t find you. I woke up in some damn goal with this fat guy staring at me.’
Spike chuckled. ‘Did you ask him what year it was?’
Angel laughed. ‘Yeah, he didn’t seem too pleased. I wondered why. Then he told me about you—well, he didn’t say you, clearly. But I kinda put two and two together—detective, yeah?’
Spike pouted. ‘Odd hair? Nancy-boy clothes?’
‘He said smart-mouthed English girlie-boy, but I struggled with it and figured it was you.’
Angel shrugged. ‘He said he’d put you on the stage to Red Rock. I went there. No one remembered you getting off. I fell in with Grant, and the rest is history.’
‘How long have you been here?’
‘About a week. It seems longer.’ With a grunt, Angel lifted up and unbuckled his gun belt. Spike noticed it looked better kept than his, and he took his off as well, letting them drop to the floor.
Angel cursed and picked them up. ‘You’ve got to treat guns with respect! A knock like that and they’ll lose their….’
‘Are you fucking lecturing me again?’
‘Well, you damn well can’t do anything right, Spike!’ Suddenly, in complete contrast to his words, he dropped the guns to the bed and cupped Spike around the back of the neck. ‘I’m sorry.’ His voice was low, his tone uncertain.
Spike eased back enough to see his eyes. The feel of Angel’s hand on his neck was the first touch he’d had for over a month. It shot through him like blood: the same kick, the same heady sense of power, the same swelling. ‘I—.’ He tried again. ‘I was glad to see you, Angel. I’m really glad we found each other.’
Angel flicked his eyes to Spike’s lips as if watching the words to check he was actually hearing them and smiled softly. ‘For all I knew you were looking for Angelus. Maybe you’d think of stopping him… turning William….’
Spike pouted. ‘As if I could do that.’
‘Angelus might have listened to….’
‘I meant stop William—me. I seem to remember stretching my neck and inviting you in.’
The correction killed the growing intimacy of the moment. Spike eased off the bed and poured them both some coffee. ‘So, what now?’
Angel tipped his head back to the wall. ‘I guess we stay alive long enough for Wesley to bring us back.’
‘I meant about this situation we’re in the middle of.’
Angel looked thoughtful. ‘We need to get them all together.’ He glanced toward the blinds. ‘We can’t do anything until tonight. I miss the Wolfram and Hart glass.’
‘I miss hot showers.’
‘Jesus, yes. I miss clean clothes!’
‘Well, I didn’t like to say….’
As if on cue, there was a soft knock at the door and a tiny, elderly Chinese woman shuffled in, her eyes lowered to the floor. ‘I come Missy clothes.’
Angel swung his legs off the bed and bowed, then spoke to her in fluent Cantonese. She raised her eyes, and they filled with moisture, her hands wringing together in delight at hearing her own language from a stranger in this strange country. She was nodding, smiling with delight when suddenly Angel began to strip off his shirt.
Spike slid nervously off the bed, refusing to regret his utter disinterest in learning this language when he’d had the opportunity. Angel turned to him, laughing. She does the laundry for “Missy”; she says she’ll do ours!’
‘Oh, fuck.’ Spike stripped off, too, handing the toothless women his T-shirt. Angel had pulled off his pants and wrapped himself in a sheet. He turned to Spike, eying the leather pants and asked the old woman a question. At her reply, he indicated them. ‘She says she’ll do those, too…. Hot sand. At least, I think that’s what she said.’ Spike peeled them off, his back to the room and took the last sheet off the bed.
Wrapped, he turned back and handed them over. The old woman disappeared.
Angel pouted. ‘I hope I got that right.’
Spike began to laugh. ‘We’re such a fearsome pair of vampires.’ He flung himself onto the bed. ‘I could kill for a hot shower and some shampoo.’
Angel sat gingerly on the other side of the bed, arranging his sheet modestly. ‘What now?’
Spike realised he’d left his cigarettes in his pants and cursed softly, stretching out and folding his arms under his head.
Angel twisted around on the bed, studying him. ‘When did you get so thin?’
Spike pursed his lips. ‘When I got chipped.’
Angel was silent for some time then he lay very carefully on the far side of the bed, with the largest gap between them he could manage without actually falling off.
Spike smiled inwardly and after some more time had passed asked petulantly, ‘What did we used to do to pass the time?’
Angel raised his eyebrows and said without thinking, ‘We had the girls….’
Spike nodded at this astonishingly badly timed memory—reminding them both, as it did, of the long sex sessions they indulged in with their respective partners to pass the daylight hours.
Spike shifted slightly on the bed, pulling his knees up surreptitiously to tent the sheet draped over his lap. After a few moments, Angel turned onto his belly, appearing to find it hard to get comfortable.
The sunlight burned against the heavy drapes, and the air in the room appeared to shimmer with trapped heat.
Spike tried to wilt his erection by the force of his will. He bullied his thoughts onto memories that sent blood rushing to his face instead. Giving cunnilingus to a robot was always a good one.
Something moved in the periphery of his vision. Trying to resist, he swivelled his eyes to watch a single bead of sweat run between Angel’s naked shoulder blades. It seemed to take forever to traverse the smooth skin. Spike’s mouth watered; he could taste a salty residue as if he’d put his tongue to the glistening flesh. A vice of need closed around his balls.
He lifted the sheet and stared forlornly at his erection. It had pushed obscenely from the foreskin, pulses of clear fluid dribbling down the deep red tip, gathering in the paler folds. An orgasm was so close that it trod on his thoughts, tangling in them.
He wondered if Angel was asleep and turned his head to the silent figure.
At the same moment, Angel’s hand snaked back to scratch a thigh. He pushed his hand under the sheet, which tented it. Spike had a perfect view down the tunnel of white cotton to Angel’s hard, tight buttocks.
A knock on the door made them both jump.
Spike’s erection was so noticeable he slid off the bed and went to stand alongside the window, staring out.
Angel called out cautiously, and sat up, swathing himself in sheet.
Two young Chinese girls came in, struggling with a hipbath. They bowed then disappeared only to return with kettles of boiling water. In a little chain gang, they arrived and departed, arrived and departed. Finally, they bowed and retreated.
Spike had gained some self-control, and with the sheet suitably bunched around his waist, he came closer and drifted his hand through the water. Angel came up, too. They suddenly looked at each other, and Spike narrowed his eyes. ‘I’m not taking seconds from you.’
Angel narrowed his, too. ‘I’m the one who spoke the damn language!’
Spike pursed his lips. ‘I’m cleaner than you.’
Angel laughed. ‘I’ve only been here a week. Have you smelt yourself?’
‘Okay, draw straws.’
Angel looked sly and Spike added, ‘I’ll hold them.’
They found some ribbons; Spike held them in his fist; Angel selected and won.
Spike turned away, for more reasons than he was pissed off at losing, and listened to the sound of flesh sinking into warmth.
Angel made suitably loud sounds of satisfaction: humming, dropping the soap and finding it elaborately.
Spike shook his head in disbelief and turned, saying with a sudden surge of affection, ‘And you’re how old, Angel?’
‘Yeah, well, this water is just so….’ (Faint sigh of satisfaction) ‘Hot.’
When Angel realised that Spike had turned to watch, he glanced across. A look passed between them that made Spike shudder—as if someone were walking over his grave. He would have called it déjà vu except that it possibly was happening now, somewhere in England. He’d had a vivid memory of Angelus taking just such as bath, and turning to him as he sat on a bed, waiting his turn—always waiting his turn—and Angelus had said, ‘Wash my back, Will.’
Angel turned back and continued washing one leg thoughtfully. Spike would have said he’d not felt the moment that had passed between them, expect he suddenly asked softly, ‘Where did we go wrong, Will?’
Still lost in his memories, Spike started and replied before he’d had time to form a more subtle response. ‘You saw the light. I remind you too much of when you were Angelus.’
Angel switched to his other leg, clearly pondering this and eventually replied, ‘When I first had my soul and when we met again in Sunnydale, I guess you’re right. But it’s never been so… bad… has it? I mean—.’ He frowned. ‘Why all the antagonism now? Now we’re kinda on the same side.’
‘Maybe that’s why. Maybe the world is only big enough for one souled vampire.’
‘Well, we’ve never really put getting some distance to the test…. You’ve not only stayed in America and in L.A., but in Wolfram and Hart. We’re sharing a very small space.’
‘And now, we’re gonna share even closer. Get outta the bloody bath. It’s my turn.’
Angel grinned and rose, his back to Spike, reaching for a towel.
Water glistened on his smooth, firm muscles. When he shook, tiny beads of crystal flicked off of his hair and caught the light.
Spike sucked in his breath, tried to suck in other things, and slid beneath the fortunately soap-murky water.
When Spike emerged from his underwater retreat, Angel was sitting on the bed, cleaning his guns. Spike flicked the water from his eyes and watched, intrigued. Everything was laid out—rags, oil, pull-through—as if his life really did depend on them working just so. He huffed and began to scrub at his skin, examining everything minutely. ‘What’s the plan then?’
Angel looked up. ‘I’m coming back with you tonight. I want to meet them.’
‘Why? Don’t you believe me?’
‘It’s not that. I need for Grant to believe me, and he won’t unless I can say I’ve seen them—spoken to them.’
Spike shrugged. ‘Whatever.’
Angel went back to cleaning his guns, testing them, constantly trying the action to make sure it was just right. Spike took his jewellery off and tried to dig the dirt out of it.
Angel glanced up. ‘How have you fed?’
‘You don’t wanna know.’
Angel smiled, seemed satisfied at last with his guns and slid them into the holster.
After a light knock, the old woman returned their clothes. Angel tried to pay her, but she would accept nothing. He bowed, she returned it and slipped out. Angel pulled on his pants with a sigh of satisfaction. He glanced at Spike. ‘You’re going soggy. I need to speak with Grant—explain… tell him the plan.’ He pulled on his shirt. ‘What are you going to do?’
Spike slid under the water, and that was all the reply Angel got.
They rode edgily side-by-side toward the ranch. It was a clearly visible track, but even so, riding at night wasn’t easy. The horses spooked at noises and shadows. Neither of them very proficient horsemen, they didn’t attempt to speak, concentrating instead on the ground and on staying in their saddles.
Eventually, the house came in sight. Spike felt absurdly as if he were coming home, an impression helped by the figure that flew from the house and embraced him as he dismounted. It was the embrace of a brother who had sorely missed his sibling; it was the embrace of a father for a recalcitrant child that had returned; but more importantly, it was the embrace of a lover, declaring this for the first time.
Spike had genuinely forgotten Tom—forgotten his anxiety the night before, forgotten the intensity between them over the last few weeks. The hug was the last thing he would have wanted Angel to see, but as he was hugged, a flash of them hugging came into his mind—a dawn-soaked street, a dark shadow running toward him. His relief at having Angel once more at his side in this strange world made him hug back more fiercely than he meant to. They pulled apart, laughing, and Spike turned to Angel to make introductions. His words dried on his tongue. Angel’s expression, for an instant, was pure Angelus. Spike didn’t want to use the term evil, but it sprang unbidden to his mind.
‘Angel?’ He put a hand on Tom’s arm. ‘This is Tom—Tom Devant.’ He turned to the human and tried a reassuring grin. ‘This is the guy I went to kill—wait!’ He held the furious man’s arms tightly to his side. ‘He’s an old… acquaintance… of mine.’
Spike turned back to Angel, puzzled by something he heard in his cold question. He faltered. He hadn’t wanted to say friend in case he inflamed Tom’s ire more. But clearly, Angel was more than an acquaintance—but he thought Angel would have worked this out for himself. This wasn’t the time or the place to placate wounded sire feelings—if that’s what they were—so he only finished lamely, ‘This is Angel, and he’s here to talk about the Caruthers.’
‘I don’t want….’
‘Tom, please, trust me on this. He’s a….’ He had been going to take the opportunity to slip in the word friend, but he felt waves of antipathy surfing off the dark figure, so said, ‘He’s trustworthy,’ instead.
Tom glanced up to one of the windows in the house. ‘You’d best come in.’
Spike chatted as they went to the living room, asking about Katherine, clearly at home, a fact that he saw was not lost upon Angel. When he saw the other two make a stab at conversation, he thought it would be easier if he left them. He was starving, anyway, and went to feed.
When he retuned, the ice had thawed somewhat. Tom had agreed to a meeting. Angel had agreed to deliver the message.
Tom said he had to have Katherine’s agreement and went up to speak with her, leaving Spike and Angel alone in the living room
Spike crouched in front of a welcome fire; it was oddly cold in the desert at night, and getting noticeably chillier as the month had gone on. ‘I’ll show you where some blood….’
‘What the fuck’s been going on here?’
Spike turned, losing his balance slightly. ‘Huh?’
‘Since when do you have huggie-feelie sessions with men, Spike? Never took you to be a freaking fa….’
‘What the hell’s business is it of yours?’ This was so not what he meant to say, but Angel didn’t give him a chance to add the denial he’d been going to make.
‘I’m thinking I wasted my fucking time coming back for you. Seems to me you’re very happy where you are right now! Nice snug little bug in his rug.’
Spike strode to him and thrust his face close. ‘You know? Maybe, I was trying to get away from you. Maybe, I knew what would happen. Maybe, leaving L.A. wasn’t far enough! I had to leave your sodding time to get far enough away from you!’
‘Good! Why don’t you stay here? Stay with your new little fuck-friend! Go up to him now! Maybe he’s beating off to thoughts of you! How does that make you feel?’
‘It makes me feel kinda good. Warm glow, ya know? ‘S nice to be liked. Oh, sorry, you wouldn’t know, would you!’
‘You disgust me.’
‘I know! I know I do! I always sodding have, and I don’t know why! What have I done to disgust you, Angel? I let a boy have a crush on me! And why the hell do you care? Why do you make my life so bloody miserable? Why don’t you SOD OFF!’
Angel pushed him. ‘How much further can I go? I got a fucking soul, and you followed me and got one, too!’
Spike pushed back. ‘I left our sodding time, and you followed me!’
‘Stay away from me!’
Spike backed off, nodding furiously. He turned and went back to the fire, and when Tom came in, smiling, holding his sister’s arm, to all intents and purposes, nothing had changed in the room.
‘Angel, I’d like you to meet my sister, Katherine.’
Angel rallied enough to remember his innate good manners and nodded at her. At her reaction to him he frowned, and she laughed lightly, laying a hand on his arm. ‘I’m sorry, do forgive me, only….’ She smiled so fondly at Spike’s back that for one moment he wondered which one of the siblings Spike had been sleeping with. ‘William told me so much about you, and I was expecting you to be quite old and grey!’
Angel licked his lips. ‘Grey?’
‘Well… being his….’ She laughed at her own foolishness. ‘Father… which, clearly you’re not! William, shame on you! Tom—help me out; I’m afraid I’ve embarrassed our guest.’
Tom only smiled fondly at her and nodded. ‘Come, back to bed, my dear.’
Angel intercepted them. ‘I’ll go speak with Grant now.’
Tom looked surprised. ‘I thought you were going to go just before dawn. I meant what I said, Angel: you are welcome to spend the….’
‘No. I’ll go now.’
Tom glanced at Spike, but the crouching figure did not turn from the fire. He nodded graciously at Angel. ‘Until tomorrow then.’
Angel nodded and left without looking back.
As soon as the sound of the horse faded, Spike went out into the night. He needed to walk. He needed to run. He needed something he wasn’t going to find in the house. It sometimes seemed to him that he would never find it.
Go to chapter 5
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