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Past Tense of Loving
Consternation greeted Angel’s shot, but too stunned by the appearance of the hard men riding down on them, the rapid dismount, the guns, the small group of people did nothing—until Angel gathered Wesley in his arms and made to leave.
Then there was a rising murmur like angry hornets preparing to sting.
Spike slid from his nervous horse and stood over Angel, echoes playing with his head.
There was a shot, he spun and clasped his shoulder.
You do the Devil’s work—hissed words following the bullet, now hot in his shoulder.
Angel rose behind, Wesley in his arms.
The vampires backing away, Spike levelling his guns on the group.
Murmurs of assent.
Another shot. Deep thigh. He wondered if they’d been aiming somewhere more painful.
Angel: Spike! Turns to see Angel lifting Wesley into a covered wagon, beckoning him urgently.
He goes back toward the mob, covers their retreat, firing repeatedly, each shot carefully aimed away from flesh.
He’s not a devil. He’s a good man.
But not one hand on Angel.
He walks forward, firing.
Another bullet. Chest this time. You’ll have to do better than that.
Grabbing the horses.
Final bullet in the spine.
Abomination! shouted at his retreating back hardly hurts after that.
The silence and calm of the desert shocked him. He followed the sounds of the wagon, listened for sounds following them.
For the first time since he’d sat in Tom Devant’s study, he believed he was going home.
He felt cold and empty as the land around him.
The wagon had stopped over a small rise, in the lee of a tumble of rocks.
They’d not been pursued.
He slid from a shivering horse and skidded to his knees alongside Angel.
Angel shook his head and rubbed softly at the vivid mark around the man’s neck. Then with a swift movement, snaked his hand out and cupped the back of Spike’s neck. His hand was shaking. ‘Can you ride?’
Spike clasped his hand. ‘A couple of grazes. It’s nothing.’
‘We need to get further away. Mobs gain courage recounting their exploits. Wesley needs to get warm….’
He had no need to point out that in less than an hour, the sun would rise.
Angel tied the horses to the back of the wagon; Spike climbed inside with difficulty. A fact that Angel noted silently. He laid the wounded man in the wounded vampire’s lap and jumped into the driving seat.
He drove the horses mercilessly, only stopping once to swap the teams over. The prickle of sun drove him mercilessly. He could not afford to do less to them.
If they were caught out on the plain by Wesley’s attackers, he would die, for they would not be able to protect him. Angel, too, believed that Wesley had come to take them home.
He didn’t have time to analyse how he felt about this now. He’d get home, and then he’d think about it all. He’d have twenty years to think about it then.
Finally, he could push the night no further. Shadows were being thrown by the wagon, and it was time to stop.
He looked despairingly around for cover then he heard Spike calling him.
He peered inside. It was relatively gloomy. Not enough cover, but with blankets, they could survive the day.
He hopped inside, reloaded all their guns, laid them ready, and then climbed under a blanket.
Wesley lay between them, his breathing raspy and laboured.
‘Did he wake at all?’
Spike’s voice was oddly controlled. ‘Briefly. Rambled about the devil.’
With difficulty, Angel manoeuvred over Wesley and lay next to Spike, holding the blankets tented above them. ‘Let me see.’
With difficulty, Spike unbuttoned his shirt and shrugged it off. He peeled his jeans off one leg, exposing a blood-soaked thigh.
‘You should have healed by now….’ Angel’s voice angry at Spike because he needed to be angry at something.
‘I need to feed. So do you.’ Spike’s voice calm and forgiving because he knew why Angel was angry.
Angel nodded, ashamed. He examined the wounds, finding it hard under the blankets. Eventually, Spike pulled away. ‘I’ll be okay, Luv.’
‘You should have climbed in with us! Why do you have to be so…?’ He turned away. There was only so much hurt he could hide.
Spike put a hand on his shoulder and rubbed it gently. Angel put his over Spike’s, stroking his fingers.
As ever, it began to get hot. They sweltered under their makeshift coverings, but it was so much better than being buried in sand that they didn’t complain.
They drifted in and out of sleep, unwilling to let themselves slide too readily into that deceitful realm.
When they woke, it was evening, and Wesley was gone.
Angel sat up with a disoriented shout. Spike grunted and curled back into pain-filled sleep.
Wesley poked his head in the wagon and said cheerily, if a little huskily, ‘Anyone for tea?’
He’d never seen either Angel or Spike look so human. Which seemed unfair to humans, really, as he was judging entirely on the state of their dishevelment. Angel’s hair looked like a porcupine. He thought Spike had stubble until he realised it was just grime.
He squatted by the fire and watched them climb stiffly from the wagon. Before they could begin the interrogation, he said succinctly, ‘Yes, I know how to get us home.’
He was shocked by the expressions on the vampires’ faces. He’d expect relief, and he did see that, but he’d not expected it to be mixed with so many other emotions.
Angel accepted a mug of hot liquid that Wesley optimistically described as tea then held the man gently by the back of his neck, examining the slightly faded burn mark. ‘Start from the beginning.’
Wesley glanced at Spike and then at Angel and had the vivid thought that he’d never really known where the beginning was, but he started at a place that seemed critical to the story. ‘You jumped through that damned portal! Of all the irresponsible things to do, Angel, for all you knew…. Anyway, fortunately for you, I’d been taking readings of the device, and as you went through, I caught a mass of data. It took me a while to break it down to anything I could use, but eventually it showed me exactly where you’d gone and when, and….’
‘How did you find us?’
‘Well, I rather think you found me, but I came through the portal, found myself in some kind of shed, and when I went out….’
‘Were you sick?’
‘Oh, no. But I never travel without Dramamine.’
‘Anyway, there was this rather agreeable chap who filled me in on you two and said you’d been heading to the mountains—for some bizarre reason.’
Angel looked peeved. ‘It seemed like a good idea at the time.’
‘No, it didn’t.’
They both ignored Spike, and Wesley took up his story again. ‘Well, he helped me get kitted out, and I sort of set off to follow you.’
Angel glanced at Spike, and Spike raised his eyebrows slightly, ‘You thought you could make it to the mountains on your own?’
Wesley frowned. ‘Well, I’m not entirely useless, you know….’
‘Uh huh. So, tell us about the hanging, then, Pet.’
Wesley shot him a look, which made the vampires laugh, and Wesley had the distinct impression that they’d not done that for a long time. He smiled. ‘Yes, well. It’s the very last time I shall stop and offer to play the Good Samaritan for a group of Mormons.’
‘And I thought the ones in suits hijacking you on doorsteps were bad enough.’
‘Why were they calling you the devil?’
‘Were they? Damn cheek. I saw the light of their fire and didn’t fancy sleeping out on my own much, so I rode in, intending to ask if I could share their camp. As I did, there seemed to be a lot of panicked activity, and when I could make some sense out of it, it seemed that they’d been having their evening meal, and a small child had choked on some meat and died. He was lying there on the ground, Angel! The mother was hysterical. I went over and it was so….’ He shook his head sadly. ‘If I’d not been there he would have died. What a damn waste.’
‘He wasn’t dead?’
‘Of course not! I fished the lump of meat out of his throat, got his pulse back and gave him the kiss of life.’
Angel frowned. ‘What did they…?’
‘That’s the last thing I remember! I woke up here, lying alongside you two, which, I may say, was something of a relief. I’ve got one hell of a bump on the back on my head, and my throat feels like I’ve been….’
‘They were hanging you.’
Wesley paled and buried himself in his cooling tea. ‘Perhaps it is time we went home.’
Angel looked down, his face dejected. ‘I tried to find a way, sought out…. But it came to nothing. It was all a fucking waste of time. I’m not sure if we can…. What’s that?’
Wesley tossed him what looked like an MP3 player.
‘I fashioned a more user-friendly version of the two cowboys. We need to get back to the original place we came through….’
Angel stood, staring at the human. ‘This is a device to take us…?’ His words were cut off as he was flattened to the sand. Spike wrenched the device out of his hand and began to scuttle away to one side. Angel caught at his ankle. Spike threw the device into the dark.
‘I say….’ Wesley hovered, utterly bemused, utterly unable to interpret what he was seeing.
Angel reached the device first and held it out of Spike’s reach until he was kicked in the groin. He went down; Spike grabbed the tiny silver object and drew back his arm as if to throw it in the fire.
Angel came to his side, able to prevent him moving, but not—just waiting.
Spike swallowed and dropped the object to the sand then walked out of sight to the privacy of the darkness.
Angel cut Wesley off with a savage look and handed him the device. ‘We need to be back in Molena to use it?’
Wesley nodded, scared of this Angel. The thought flittered across his mind that this wasn’t the Angel he’d come to rescue.
Angel kicked at the fire. ‘We move. Now.’
Wesley drove the wagon, Angel rode ahead, leading the way.
He knew Spike was following some distance behind. He wondered if he’d rejoin them when the dawn came.
He pushed them hard all night. When the sun began to burn, he climbed into the wagon and lay under a blanket, trying not to worry.
There was a thump; the wagon bed rattled, and someone joined him under the covers.
Angel wasn’t in the mood to talk anyway, so the angry silence suited him just fine.
They pushed on through the day, but by the next evening, Wesley was done in, and they had to stop.
It was the first time that they’d not travelled at night, and suddenly, sitting by a fire, talking quietly, the scent of home close, some of the tension drained from Angel. He glanced across the fire at Spike and saw that he was lying on his back, his head pillowed on one arm, staring at the fire. He felt an easing in his tension, too, and wished he could think of something to say. He still wasn’t sure what had happened, what Spike had intended to do, but then he was also fairly sure that Spike didn’t either.
To bring back a sense of normality, he interrogated Wesley about the office: new cases, old cases, everything that had happened in their absence. In talking of the past, he subtly introduced the future and re-established that they were going home—for himself as much as for the silent figure the other side of the fire.
After filling Angel in on all the on-going cases, Wesley suddenly said, remembering, ‘Nina’s been in every day. She’s not said it, but she’s been terribly afraid. Missing you, of course. She is such a nice girl.’
Spike felt Angel glance in his direction and waited with interest to hear his reply. Angel didn’t make one, unless an inarticulate grunt counted. Spike smiled inwardly, a bitter taste in his mouth. Angel wanted him to remember they were going back? Perhaps he’d do well to remember it, too.
Wesley finally groaned with tiredness, and they pulled the bedding out of the wagon and made some makeshift beds. The human lay close to the fire between the two vampires, not admitting that he found the vast desert at night intimidating, but nevertheless not going far out of sight, even to make his necessary ablutions.
The only sounds were the occasional scurrying of a nocturnal predator and the crackling of dying embers.
Angel shifted his weight, trying to get comfortable, his mind spinning with random, unhappy thoughts.
After half an hour, the night sounds were joined by that of a human breathing deeply and restfully in sleep.
After five minutes more, he heard something else.
Then his view of the stars was blocked by a dark figure.
Spike stood for a long time, staring down. Then he lifted the blanket and slid in alongside Angel.
He lay on his side, studying Angel’s profile for a while, then he turned the troubled face toward his and brought their lips together.
Under the cover of the night, Spike redefined the meaning of heat. His kiss seared them together, and Angel knew that whatever happened after this night, he would carry the scars of this burning.
He knew that in twenty years time, what they did now might cause him to beg for his unlife once more. He rose to the kiss, pushing into Spike’s demanding mouth with his tongue. His hands caressed the back of Spike’s neck, kneading his skull between them as if shaping their relationship.
Their bodies warmed quickly to the arousal, hands and faces flushing with pleasure. They kissed then parted, darted quick eager glances at lips and kissed again in new positions. Tongues explored then drew back to savour, eyes closed, eyes open, hands still roaming.
Spike half-lay on Angel, his leg hooked over him, rubbing them together under layers of stiff cotton. Angel’s body responded to the deep kissing: cock swelling with blood and the illusion of life. It was meaningless though, automatic, expected. What wasn’t expected, what was new, was the swelling in his heart. He felt the lifeless organ expand like the endless sky above them, like the land. He could hear air rushing through its empty chambers, driven by the hot intensity of Spike’s passion. He was diminished, and in that sense of himself as something tiny, insignificant and powerless, his true power grew. For the first time, he saw how empty he was. For the first time, he saw himself not as a mighty, aloof warrior, but as a hollow man. And these insights gave him power, for they gave him courage. He pulled away, tightened his grip on Spike’s head, watched the dilated eyes, tasted the swollen lips in his memory, and cried hoarsely, ‘I love you.’
The sky contracted, the land came back into focus, and Angel knew he was exactly what he had always been, except that now he was not alone and he was in love. When Spike dipped again to kiss him, he put his palm to the swollen lips. ‘I promise: when we get back, we talk.’
Spike’s eyes spoke his acquiescence. He laid his head tiredly on Angel’s chest, one leg still bent possessively over him.
Their erections rubbed pleasantly together. Spike idly stroked his finger rhythmically up and down Angel’s arm. Angel scrunched and released the long blond locks, tugging them lightly.
Angel’s sense of vastness shrank until only they existed within the whole universe. He felt a sense of unlooked-for peace. Insignificance in the vast scheme of things wasn’t so bad, sometimes. Without the finger of God pointing at him, he could make decisions that might go unnoticed. He could lie by a fire and be in love with another man, and for this tiny moment in time, he was content.
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