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Past Tense of Loving
They rode out just under an hour later.
Spike had neglected to mention that Tom Devant had paid him in case there was some confusion in Angel’s mind exactly what he had been paid for. He’d purchased the items they’d needed, feeling a sense of deep unease that neither knew what they were getting into. He’d added two thick coats and some gloves, but it was cold even as they left Molena. The sheriff had drawn them a rough map to the mountains, but beyond that they were on their own.
Spike was feeling in the mood for complaining (he wanted to whine, but it was beneath his dignity). ‘What we gonna eat?’
‘I was once under the ocean for three months without food, Spike. I survived. You’ll survive.’
Spike frowned. ‘Liar. You ate a nazi on that sub, I saw you.’
‘Not then.’ He really wished he’d not mentioned it. Spike would worry at this now, like a terrier on speed.
‘Were you souled? So, you couldn’t eat cus of that?’
‘No, I was sealed in a box.’
‘Huh? When? I mean, who? Bloody hell. How did you get out?’
‘Wesley found me.’
‘Huh. I’d like to meet the person who did that to you.’
Angel nudged his horse ahead so talking became difficult. Spike watched his tense back for a while, mulling things over. Finally, he muttered, ‘You can afford not to eat for three months,’ just loud enough for Angel to catch.
When the trail widened, Spike came up alongside him. Angel waited for the interrogation to continue, but Spike suddenly said, ‘So, what’s with you and the werewolf then?’
‘Change the subject.’
‘No, I like this one.’
‘I’ve had your dick in my mouth, Angel. You’ve sucked on my arsehole for a good hour, so let’s drop the act, huh?’
Angel gave him a sideward glance. ‘How come you’re not still seeing Harmony?’
‘She works for me, Spike. She talks. You’re not.’
‘Yeah, well. It kinda palled.’
‘Exactly. With Nina… it was… flat.’
‘A vampire and a werewolf, and the sex was flat?’
‘She didn’t seem to think so. She said….’
‘Nah, they all say that.’
‘They all tell you that you were the best, that you made them come more times than Lassie that you’re the biggest, best, most inventive….’
Angel stopped his horse, staring at him.
Spike blushed. ‘What?’
‘No one’s ever told me that.’
It was kind of a conversation killer, and they rode along in silence for a mile or two until Spike said, so softly that Angel had to strain to hear it, ‘You were the best.’ Before Angel could respond, he kicked his horse and took the lead position where further talk was impossible.
As they had to make a stage depot by sunrise, Spike kept up the pace, the trail fairly easy to follow and relatively safe. They rode into the depot with half an hour to spare, unsaddled the horses and put them in the corral and made their way into a squat, depressing looking building. There was a bar and a few tables and chairs. It was going to be a long day.
Angel bought them both a drink, and they took the table furthest in the shadows. Spike looked up as he took a first drink, and Angel caught his eye. Angel grinned softly and looked away. ‘Moron.’
Spike smiled into his beer and somehow their knees met under the table. Angel pressed his hand to Spike, who responded by slipping his hand under the table. Suddenly, there was a commotion in the doorway; three men strode in, and the vampires straightened, feigning interest in the beer.
Angel shot Spike a look and found there was a matching glint of amusement in his eyes. Satisfied, he smiled and pulled out the map the sheriff had given them. In a low voice, he outlined the route he’d planned. He wanted to cut across to the mountains at a lower point—a longer journey—to given them more likely access to caves or other suitable cover during the day. Spike wasn’t really bothered. He’d followed Angelus’s lead for long enough to trust they’d get where they were going.
‘A game, Mi Amigo?’
The largest of the three men was staring at Angel and waving a pack of cards like a fan across his face, and although his words seemed friendly, his eyes were anything but. Angel smiled pleasantly. ‘Thanks, but, no.’
‘Ah, come my friend! What else is there to do to pass this heat?’
Spike mumbled, ‘Minding your own business?’ but only preternatural ears heard it. Smiling at this, Angel shook his head again and returned to his map.
‘Something about me amuses you, Senor?’
Angel rolled his eye faintly at Spike. Spike pursed his lips and suggested, ‘Breakfast?’
Angel laughed and stood up, turned around and swept his coat behind his back in one swift motion. He held the man’s gaze and replied, ‘I’m not easily amused. Do something funny, and I’ll let you know.’
The man’s companions stood back as if choreographed. Spike tipped his chair back, watching the action with a neutral expression as if he hadn’t quite made us his mind whether this was amusing or threatening.
Later, the man’s friends swore they saw him go for his gun. They knew him, knew his mannerisms and remembered that he had twitched his hand. Next thing they saw, his hand was red, but whether this was before the deafening blast of a gun or after they couldn’t say. It was just a blur of sound and blood. Then things came back into focus: their companion screaming and holding his hand less the two fingers that had been shot off, the quiet man holstering his guns and staring at the blood, the blond one rising to his feet and standing casually by him, but with an air of unmistakable menace. They backed out with their howling companion, but one of them cast a final look at Angel and mouthed some words.
Angel pursed his lips and sat down, resuming his study of the map. After a while, he said, ‘What?’
Spike sat down again. ‘What did he say?’
‘My Spanish is rusty.’
‘He said: Más tarde. Later. He was just being polite.’
‘Oh, well, this is bloody great! Now we’ve got a pissed off El Greco after us.’
‘He was a painter.’
‘Oh! And that’s bloody relevant!’
‘You stood up with me. That felt good.’
Suitably distracted, Spike dropped the subject of their imminent demise at the hands of Mexican bandits and resumed their earlier, more interesting pastime. His hand slid onto Angel’s leg. He moved his chair closer on the pretext of studying the map with him, and then his fingers walked up toward a hard lap.
Angel bent his head over the map.
The bartender returned; the hand was removed.
This pattern continued the whole day, and it set up a level of tension in them both that notched up to unbearable levels as the day progressed. As soon as the sun went down, Angel muttered something about the horses. Spike followed him out, and in the privacy behind the barn, hands on each other, they relieved their frustrations, dead seed spilling to the arid earth. Wiping his hand on Spike’s shirt, staring deeply into his eyes, Angel said softly, ‘Whatever happens when we get back, your body makes me hot. Remember that.’
‘It’s you that needs to remember, Pet.’
‘Maybe I need you to remind me.’
Spike leant against the fence and lit a cigarette. ‘If I need to remind you then that kinda defeats the purpose.’
Angel ran a finger over Spike’s cheekbone. ‘I can’t ever imagine your body not exciting me.’
His words didn’t have the effect he was looking for. He sighed at the sad expression that greeted them and added flatly, ‘You think I’ll stop wanting you when we get back.’
Spike pitched his cigarette into the dark. ‘I know you will.’
Angel caught his arm and, staring deeply into the troubled eyes, pulled Spike toward him. He sought to reassure, but he didn’t know how. He was all physical need and emotional indecision, and nagging in the back of his mind was that exclamation mark. He was kissing Spike!
Spike felt all of this indecision through Angel’s lips, but they felt so good, his whole body felt so good, tingling from the aftermath of his orgasm, responding to the kiss, that he didn’t push for more. All day he’d hovered on the edge of this, and he took it for what it was.
They couldn’t afford to waste the darkness however much they may have wanted to linger. They needed to push hard to reach the mountains to ensure their safety during the day. Just how critical this was to them was brought home the first day. After riding hard all night, not talking, not stopping, an hour before dawn found them almost totally exposed on the plain. They flung from their horses and scrabbled in the softest dirt at the side of a small rise, digging hollows, which, when curled tightly and covered by their saddle blankets and coats, kept them from the sun’s rays.
It was appalling. The ground began to bake. They could not move, stretch or relieve the cramps that formed in their bodies. Although they didn’t need to breath, because they now couldn’t, they felt a desperate ache to, an ache to stretch and breath cool, fresh air. There was nothing to do but sleep, but with their sanctuaries reaching over one hundred and fifty degrees in the noonday sun, this didn’t prove easy. Out on the plain, flat vistas in all directions, there was no respite until the sun sank beneath the horizon. They’d spent over fifteen hours in their hideous shelters by the time they rolled out into the rapidly cooling air.
They didn’t need to speak, they could see the effects of the day written on the face of the other—in the sand that filled hair and clothes, in the weariness from lack of sleep and in the tension from the knowledge that one twitch of a coat or one ill-timed movement and they would have burnt.
They didn’t need to say that fear for the other had kept them strung out and angry for the whole fifteen hours. That, too, was on their faces.
Angel urged Spike to saddle and water the horses as he consulted the map and the stars.
When they were ready, they set off again: same pace, same silence. Now they had the added fear of actually knowing how bad it was when they got caught out in this featureless plain. Neither wanted it to happen again. The trip, which had once seemed like an adventure, now seemed a hastily conceived and casually executed folly.
It was bitterly cold, light flurries of snow blowing in their eyes, fingers freezing around reins. They had never felt as human, as vulnerable. Nature, in its raw power, diminished them. It was harsh, monotonous riding in the dark with no respite for the vampires or the horses.
An hour before dawn and they seemed to be no closer to the mountains. They were caught once again without shelter, exposed. Spike looked despairingly toward some rocky foothills. ‘We could make them.’
‘Not in an hour.’
‘Yes! We could. I’m not spending…. I can’t.’ He gave Angel such a despairing look that Angel suddenly nodded and swung his exhausted horse forward. They ran for the rocky outcrop at full pelt, their skin prickling under the rays of the rising sun.
Tumble of rocks, frantic dismount, saddles ripped off, and they found an overhang. It was only big enough for one, so they became one, curling into each other’s body, so tightly packed in the tiny hole that breathing would have pushed the other out. Sealed with a saddle and coats, it was all there was.
The heat began to rise.
Neither spoke as if in some silent agreement that it was better to keep their thoughts to themselves. Arguing in the luxury of Wolfram and Hart’s sunny spaces, arguing in cars as they drove to cases, arguing anywhere else but here had been nothing more than a luxury—arguing because they could, because either of them could have walked away from it when they wanted. No so here. Here they lay entwined, more one body than two, and whatever else defined their relationship, the will to survive was paramount.
That didn’t make the day pass any quicker or make the heat any less oppressive—the silence they cloaked themselves in.
Around midday, when madness hovered close to their sanctuary, Spike said in a dry, quite voice, ‘Tell me about the ocean—being under it.’
Angel didn’t reply for a while then but then murmured equally softly, ‘It didn’t start there. That was the end, in a way. Or the beginning of the end.’
During the rest of their imprisonment, when the sun beat down on them so fiercely that they were only a bead of sweat away from running screaming in the light just to end it quickly, Angel began the tale of Connor.
He was as good a storyteller as he was an artist: an eye for detail and not afraid to tell the truth however unpalatable some of that truth seemed to be. Hour after hour of torture slipped by without them noticing. Spike only interrupted when Angel went too quickly over things—not because Angel was trying to avoid them, but because it seemed to him that it had happened so quickly at the time. Spike wanted to hear more about Angelus being returned. He questioned Angel on every detail of Faith and their fight. He was fascinated by Angel’s relationship with the adult Connor, and by the time the story came to its conclusion they only had two hours left to endure.
Spike had been quick to question, but he was not so forthcoming with his views on the story. After a few minutes of silence, Angel said tersely, ‘Well?’
‘Aren’t you going to make a snarky comment about dealing with the devil. Aren’t you going to accuse me of fucking my friends over for my own ends?’
‘Nah, I reckon you’ve been accusing yourself well enough without my help. I wanna know more about Connor—you fought a lot.’
‘We fought all the time. The only time we weren’t fighting was when he was actually plotting to kill me.’
‘He liked provoking you.’
‘And you always bit.’
Angel would have frowned had there been space. ‘What are you trying to say, Spike?’
‘Oh, I dunno…. Might explain us.’
‘Okay, I think you need to be real careful where you’re going with this.’
‘I only meant that maybe somewhere in that dullard brain of yours, you’re trying to recreate with me what you had with Connor.’
‘That’s crap. I was pissed off with you long before Connor came on the scene.’
‘I guess, if anything, now I look back on it, my relationship with Connor was exactly like the one I had with you.’
‘He was a substitute me. I’m touched, Luv.’ This would have sounded more heartfelt without the tiny snicker of amusement that followed it.
Angel groaned softly. ‘Jesus. I’m more fucked up than I thought.’
After another lengthy silence, Spike asked casually, ‘Why didn’t you tell me all this before?’
‘I had no reason to.’
‘Er, maybe to just tell someone?’
‘Well, what about you? I don’t notice you being too forthcoming telling me about your soul or… other things.’
‘Uh huh. And by other things you mean Buffy.’
‘How did it start?’
‘How do you think it started?’
‘Knowing you and your misplaced romanticism, you probably showered her with soft toys or something equally dumb.’
When Spike didn’t reply, Angel felt uncomfortable enough to prompt, ‘So…?’
‘I never knew that Buffy. That one was all yours—the soft toys and the flowers and the hearts. Bloody hell. The one I knew was hard, desperate, flying apart at the speed of light. It wasn’t soft toys, it was hard fists and kicks and blows that broke our bones.’
Hesitatingly, aware of how close they were and not wanting to provoke an argument, Angel said quietly, ‘Maybe I wasn’t the only one trying to recreate a relationship.’
Spike bit, but not forcefully. He, too, was aware that arguments between them needed space to become physical. ‘You think I was fighting with her because I’d always fought with you?’
‘Fuck off, Angel.’
That silenced them until a few minutes before the darkness fell when Angel murmured casually, ‘I’m not Buffy—in case you hadn’t noticed.’
‘I’m not Connor—in case you hadn’t noticed.’
‘So, this is entirely….’
The sun finally leaving the land saved them both from committing themselves further.
They rolled out, so stiff they took some minutes recovering, Angel muttering about surviving hell, but falling foul of a hole in the ground.
When the kinks were out, they saddled up and looked at each other. ‘Tonight in a comfortable cave?’
Spike nodded grimly, and they set out on rested horses heading for the mountains.
They thought the previous night had been cold. This one cut into their own cold flesh and froze their blood. They hadn’t fed enough to fight it off, hadn’t taken warm, borrowed blood into their reanimated bodies. Snow began to fall as they hit the foothills of the mountains, and as they tracked up a steep, pine-covered trail, it got deep. They didn’t need to worry about the coming dawn; the trees formed a dense, impenetrable canopy which let almost no light through. So they pressed on beyond their previous cut off and only stopped when a few streaks of light began to prick their scalps. They just moved off the trail into the denser forest and threw themselves wearily onto a bed of frosty pine needles.
Exhausted, lacking sleep and blood, they fell into uneasy dreams that woke them frequently and stripped their sleep of real rest. It was cold up in the mountains, even during the day, and neither coats nor saddles blankets warmed their preternatural bodies. They had taken on the temperature of the mountains, like reptiles, and they could not get warm. When night came, they set off, exhaustion etched on their features, their skin almost waxy with lack of nourishment or rest.
That had been the easy part though.
From then on, the nights become treacherous: snow-covered trails, the days wearyingly long and cold. Two more days, two more nights, horses slipping, throwing their inexperienced riders off into wet snow, clothes permanently soaked, skin splitting against leather.
Then finally, Angel stopped and said, ‘End of the tree line.’
He was right. Ahead of them, in the moonlight, rose vast, snow-clad mountain peaks. Angel sat still, his eyes raking the featureless landscape.
Spike dragged up some energy to ask, ‘What we looking for?’
Angel turned in the saddle and regarded Spike carefully in the bright moonlight. ‘A shaman—a powerful one.’
‘What’s one of those look like when he’s at home?’
‘I’m guessing he’ll be up high—access to the summit, but he’d have to have an extensive cave system… food… water…. So, not too far above the tree line.’
‘Narrows it down to about a hundred square miles.’
‘There’ll be signs.’
‘I’m so excited.’
‘Shut up. I’m concentrating.’
Spike listened, but he couldn’t hear anything, and he sure as hell couldn’t see anything but snow and trees.
‘We’ll leave the horses here and go on foot.’
Angel nodded at the craggy rocks rising in front of them.
Spike’s voice held real concern, but Angel said between gritted teeth, ‘He’s up there, I know it!’
Spike half-fell off his horse and sank at the base of a tree in a crouch, hugging his arms around his frozen body.
Angel dismounted and sat beside him. ‘I feel him, Spike!’
‘What’s the alternative?’
Spike turned to him. ‘We stay here. We buy a big bloody house in Boston and some fancy clothes. I’ll catch up on all the reading I missed the first time round following you round the damn world.’ He closed his eyes and sank into his own misery.
Angel leant back and closed his eyes, too, picturing himself in a wing-chair, whisky in hand by a roaring fire, watching Spike read. His body didn’t respond, even when he undressed Spike and had him read naked in the firelight.
He opened his eyes.
Habits of several lifetimes died hard. Spike nodded and rose to his feet.
They made slow progress, the snow up to their thighs, clinging and wet like the hands of the damned, pulling them down. After half an hour, it began to snow again, flakes driven against their faces on a rising wind. They turned from the lee of steep rocks and found a sheer slope in front. Spike clutched Angel’s arm and shouted over the wind, ‘We can’t cross that!’
Angel shook him off and ploughed into a ferocious wind.
Spike, without the deafening sound of the wind, heard it first—a soft crunch like the sound of a heavy man rolling over on crisp linen. His voice dried in his throat, and his next cry was as soft as the snow itself. ‘Angel!’
Angel didn’t hear.
Spike stepped out and tried to reach him.
They were both caught by the avalanche that sloughed off the mountain. It took the ground under them so they slid over three hundred feet in a few seconds, then hit them full blast with tons of snow, packing around them, driving them down. Trees were sucked out by their roots, forced down the dark hillside, bringing more down with them, wood broken and splintered into deadly shards churning in the maw of snow. Then all was still and serene. The stars shown down on an unblemished landscape, all traces of the vampires and their quest obliterated.
Go to chapter 8
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