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Reality Check - Chapter 13
Spike lay in Angel’s arms, in the warmth of a huge bed. He’d made the commitment—decided to join Angel in his fantasy world—and this would be theirs evermore. He’d had a terrible dream though. He’d dreamt that they’d been ripped back to Wolfram and Hart and that Angel had not understood he had meant to commit to him. Angel had hurt him, although even in the dream, his mind had shied away from remembering exactly how. Some things should remain in dreams. He didn’t want to remember it and ruin this perfection now. If he moved, Angel tightened his hold to prevent even the tiniest space from separating them. They were more one flesh than two, which is how he felt it ought to be, as he had sprung from Angel’s desire, was maintained by his will, and was now flooded with his life-giving fluids.
For some reason, Angel’s hold around his waist began to hurt, as if he were squeezing his ribs too tightly. He tried to shift into a better position, but then his shoulders flared with pain. Gradually, the agony spread over his entire body, and like a child trying to hold back a flood, he was helpless in its inexorable path. Gradually, delusion and reality merged. Angel’s arms became his own, tightly clamped around his body to stem the agony. The bed became the hard, cold ground of the ally in which he had finally fallen, and the dream became reality.
He’d made it about two miles from Wolfram and Hart, two miles from Angel, before he’d fallen. He could not summon up the energy to rise, even though the sun was only a few minutes away.
He heard footsteps and winced, unable to defend himself, hoping they would pass him by and mistake him for the detritus of the city that shared his hiding place.
Hands seized him, neither roughly nor kindly, just taking hold and moving him from one place to another.
Leather, a seat. Moving. He could not open his eyes; they were too swollen now. His senses were lying to him anyway. He smelt Angel, but that could not be. As he’d just dreamt him, he put it down to his delusions and concentrated on returning to the better place where he would be able to explain to a loving Angel how he felt.
Hands pulled him from the car, and then things seemed familiar: an elevator ride, bright lights.
Voices, and again, he swore one of them was Angel’s.
There were other hands on him then and blood being forced into his mouth, making him swallow his broken teeth. He’d read of tiny teeth being found in people’s bodies, undeveloped embryos making their presence felt, and wondered about his, now swilling down his throat. Teeth and sperm; he had the makings of life in his belly.
The next time he woke, he recognised the room. He’d lain here for two weeks while his arms had healed, and Angel had visited him every day. He glanced around anxiously and then relaxed, until with a shudder of shock, he recognised the tall figure talking to one of the doctors. He tried to cry out but cut it short. What could he say—Don’t let him in; he did this to me?
He waited until Angel came in. The immaculate figure began to rearrange the sheets, humming quietly. When he was done, he leant in close and smiled. ‘Can you hear me?’
‘Good, then listen up. I changed my mind. You’re not going anywhere. I have to live in hell? You’ll live in it with me.’ He patted Spike affectionately and left.
It was easy. He waited until the middle of the night, disengaged the tubes that were feeding him God knows what, and left. He couldn’t find anything to wear, so just went in the white, backless robe.
This time, being at least able to walk, he made it to a car, which he hot-wired and drove out of the city. He drove until he ran out of fuel and then with his broken fingers, levered off a sewer cover and dropped inside. It was so familiar and so safe he began to cry. At least, that’s what he told himself the scalding, salty rivers on his cheeks were for.
They found him: men in black, faces masked, dropping on ropes around him. He jerked to wakefulness; they dragged him to his feet and took him back.
Angel was waiting for them in the hospital room, sitting elegantly, scanning a chart. He nodded curtly to the leader of the team and waited until the doctors had hooked Spike up once more. When they were alone, he sat on the edge of the bed and regarded Spike thoughtfully. He prised open his mouth, as if inspecting a slave, and ran his large, blunt fingers over the newly grown teeth. The cheekbones got similar treatment. When his inspection was finished, he sat back, tapping a finger against his lips, deep in thought. Finally, he nodded, decision made. ‘You’ll be healed in a few days; then you’ll pull this stunt again, and I’ve told you: I want you here. So, here’s the deal. I will have company in my hell, Spike. If it’s not to be you, then it will be Wesley. If you’re not here, I’ll do this to him: every bone, every break, every rip and tear, every taking, measure for measure.’
For the first time since his beating and rape, Spike spoke, but his throat was too dry and his mouth still too damaged for Angel to understand. Patiently, Angel fetched some water and held it for him. When he could, Spike swallowed and repeated, ‘You are the Father of Lies.’
Angel nodded. ‘Because you think you,’ he made theatrical air-quotes, ‘know me.’ He leant in conspiratorially. ‘What you’re missing, Spike, is the big picture. See, Wesley’s done this to me before, only then it was real, and I actually had heaven in my hands. But he took it away from me just as surely as he’s done this time. So, no, I don’t care about Wesley, and I don’t care about you. Remember, then: you’re free to go wherever and whenever you want, but as you mince through your eternity, Spike, remember that back here in Wolfram and Hart, Wesley will be suffering through a hell that even his over-active imagination couldn’t conjure.’ He took hold of Spike’s hand, gently playing with the broken fingers. ‘And when you lie somewhere on some lonely bed, he’ll be lying alongside me, and this pain will be nothing compared to his.’ Systematically, he re-broke each one of the delicate bones in Spike’s fingers. Then he leant down and kissed Spike on the forehead. ‘Sleep tight, little one.’
Spike returned to work three days later, and the story had already circulated that he’d been beaten in an alley by a number of demons, and as this was so much the truth of their lives, no one heard or suspected the lie.
He attended every meeting that day, not shirking anything he was asked to do, but he did it mostly in silence, which was uncharacteristic enough to make Wesley scrutinise him carefully.
Wesley would have gone on believing the lie of Spike’s injuries if it hadn’t have been for one tiny incident. They were all sitting around the conference table after lunch, Angel at the head, and they were discussing plans for an up-and-coming open day for prospective clients. It was so normal, after what had gone before, that he wasn’t fooled for a minute and used his restless uncertainty to focus on Spike. Spike sat with his eyes downcast, not even smoking. When the meeting finished, Angel said softly to the other vampire, ‘I want to discuss some things with you—upstairs.’
No one else took any notice, and if Wesley had not been studying Spike so carefully, he might have missed the tiny flicker of expression on the vampire’s battered face. But he did see it, and it fizzed in his brain, sparking memories. He rose, unsure, trying to grasp the elusive thought. Where had he seen that face before? He went to his own office and poured himself a drink. He was drinking too much; he knew that. He felt tired and stale and ran a hand over his face, grimacing at the thick stubble. There was a mirror hanging discretely between two bookcases, and he leaned over to see if he was looking as bad as he felt. As he stared at his reflection, the memory surfaced. He’d been seven or eight—just before he was sent away to school. He’d done something wrong, some childish prank that had gone wrong and angered his father. Running away, he’d hidden in one of the long-disused bathrooms on the top floor. Thinking he’d be safe there and that he could wait until his mother came home to arbitrate between them, he’d been dismayed to hear the heavy, familiar tread come to a stop outside the door.
His father had knocked in his oh, so cold and polite English way. Wesley had stood, and as he had done so, he’d caught a glimpse of his face in the mirror. Now, twenty years or so later, he was seeing it again, not on his face though, but in the memory of Spike’s at that seemingly simple summons. Wesley bit his lip and took another long swallow of whisky.
He didn’t like thinking about Spike looking like a terrified child.
He wasn’t seven now, though. He was a grown man, and Angel wasn’t his father. Had he ever confronted or crossed Angel? He thought sometimes that he had, but it was more a dream than a memory, so he did not believe it. This wasn’t a dream though; he could confront Angel now… ask him outright: Who hurt Spike?
Did he really believe that they had done this thing to him—ripped him from heaven—and Angel had just accepted it? That Angel’s not mentioning it meant he was okay with it?
Wesley knew he’d been naïve and cowardly.
He took another drink and paced out of his office towards Angel’s. No one was there, and he lifted his eyes fearfully towards the ceiling.
He could not go up. He called instead, letting the phone ring, refusing to put it down. Eventually, Angel picked it up. He seemed to Wesley to be panting, which made his stomach lurch with anxiety. ‘I need to see you, Angel. Now!’
‘I’m busy.’ Angel put the phone down, and when Wesley rang back, it had been left off the hook.
Angel laid the phone carefully alongside the cradle and said conversationally, ‘That was your little friend. I think he’s worried about you.’
Spike didn’t reply.
‘I’m real impressed by the way you’re keeping him safe, Spike! Did I tell you that? Real impressed.’ Angel backhanded him to the floor and stepped over him. ‘Get up.’
Spike climbed unsteadily to his feet and spat out another tooth. He watched Angel stripping off his T-shirt, and reality lurched, making him dizzy. Angel was even thinner and more beautiful than he had been in the unreal world. Was this real? Had they actually come back or were they still trapped, but now in the flip side of all that perfection? He jerked his head around and stared wildly at the bed. Were they still lying there? Could he break free of this delusion?
Angel came closer, and for the first time since they came back, his voice was normal, his curiosity genuine. Spike ran his tongue over his bleeding lip and said quietly, ‘Are we still there?’
Angel followed his eyes to the bed, and did not immediately reply. Eventually, he shrugged. ‘Why?’
Spike darted bloodshot eyes to him. ‘You. Your body—it’s the same as it was back there.’
Angel glanced down, studying his abs for a while. ‘You fucking moron. I’ve not eaten for over a month.’
Spike felt a sense of hopelessness sweep over him. Angel picked up on it gleefully and leant closer. ‘What? Did you think this was all a nasty dream? Oh, Childe, am I the demon of your nightmares?’ He kissed Spike’s cheek and went to find a clean shirt. ‘I’m going out. Have that shit cleaned up when I get back.’ He toed some blood and flecks of thicker red material that marred the tiles, then added, ‘And take a Goddammed shower. You smell like someone’s just pissed over you.’ Laughing at his own joke, he strode to the elevator and let the doors close over him.
To Spike’s intense surprise, Angel came back looking much as he felt: beaten up and defeated. He stomped into the living room and poured a drink, wincing as the alcohol hit a split lip.
He turned to look at Spike. ‘What?’
Spike only shrugged. ‘You try to save someone’s life, too?’
Angel stormed over and punched him hard into the wall. ‘You weren’t saving my life, Spike! You were playing God with it.’
‘You were dying!’
‘Do I fucking look like I’m dying?’ He hit him again, just for good measure.
For the first time since the abuse started, Spike hit back. It wasn’t a particularly hard punch, as his fingers were still healing, and they hurt to even make a fist with, let alone thump into Angel’s belly. But at the one, not very hard punch, Angel went down like he’d been tranquillised: his knees folding, his arms hugged tightly over his belly. The smell of his rich blood filled the air.
Spike’s conflicting emotions threatened to overwhelm him. He could actually see himself fall to his knees and take Angel’s arms away, gently inspecting the wound. The trouble was, he could also see himself taking advantage of the situation and kicking the bastard in the head. Angel looked up, and without a shadow of doubt, Spike knew that Angel understood that he was debating these two options. The demon’s eyes glittered with malice but with something else as well, something that was curious to see how this would play out.
Spike decided. He eased himself to one side and left without doing either.
The next day he hung around the hallways, inconspicuously, not really fearing that Angel would make good on his threat to the human—he’d heard melodramatic bluster from the best of them—but curious to see what would happen now they were levelled. He had no doubt that Angel had sustained a serious wound, whereas he was now almost healed. Balance had returned.
It was good focusing on these physical details—who was stronger, who was less injured, who would cause most injury and how quickly—it stopped him thinking about the emotional, stopped him falling into his daydream of lying beside Angel in the large, warm bed, thinking that he’d found the thing that would give meaning to his eternity.
Angel appeared an hour or so after his usual time and sat carefully in his chair, doing nothing. Spike was about to leave when Wesley came along the hallway, clearly flustered. ‘Is Angel in?’
Spike was about to advise him not to go in when the man peered around the door and went in anyway. Spike sighed and followed cautiously, casting Angel a small glance to see if his presence would be tolerated. Other than an equally small look back, Angel made no sign that he knew Spike was there, one way or the other.
‘What the hell happened last night? All-out bloody war seems to have broken out!’
Angel either didn’t like being questioned in this way, or he was hiding some other source of pain, for his voice was broken and slow, each word laboured. ‘I did what had to be done. What should have been done a long time ago.’
‘Do you have a death wish, or something? Really, Angel, you should have taken one of us along with you to back you up….’ He trailed off when Angel began to laugh, deep, painful jolts of his belly, and once more, the smell of blood filled the air.
Spike suddenly stepped forward and said in a low voice, ‘Let me handle this, Wes.’
Wesley looked reluctant but relieved at the same time and backed out, watching the odd scene for a moment.
Spike punched the button for the elevator then took Angel’s arm, easing him out of the chair. Angel was still laughing, but neither of them found the sound very amusing.
He sobered in the elevator and hung his head, another scent now mixing with that of his blood, and when he lifted his face, it was streaked with tears. He pushed Spike’s offer of an arm to one side and staggered into the apartment, collapsing heavily on the side of the bed.
Spike pulled off Angel’s jacket and swallowed deeply at the sight of his black shirt and pants, glistening with blood and the dark red fluid pooling steadily to the floor. He tore the shirt and pulled it away.
Something had tried to eviscerate Angel. His belly, which had been so smooth and hard the night before was now a study in hurt. If he looked too hard, Spike feared he would see Angel’s spine; so, he averted his eyes and eased him back. When Angel was lying flat, he went to the bathroom for towels. There was nothing much he could do but press them on and hold them, but it seemed enough for both of them for a while, Angel silent and watchful, Spike silent and deliberately not catching his eye.
When the bleeding stopped, Spike was able to wash and examine the wound. He rummaged through Angel’s cabinets and came up with a not surprising amount of First Aid equipment. A stab of guilt that he had brought Angel back to this life twisted into his gut, but it found such a mass of warring emotions there already that it retreated quickly.
Pulling yards and yards of stretchy bandage free, Spike bound Angel’s belly as tight as a corset. When that was done, he fetched some blood and handed a bag to him.
Angel couldn’t sit up, so shuffled back until he was propped against the headboard. ‘This doesn’t change anything, Spike.’
Spike shrugged. ‘Yeah. It does.’
With that, he began to clear up the mess. The apartment had seen a lot of blood recently. Spike wished it well; everything needed blood.
When he was finished, Angel was asleep, his mouth open, breathing deeply in pain, his brow no less furrowed and anxious than it was awake.
Spike sat alongside the sleeping figure, studying him.
He wondered idly why he didn’t hate him; why tending Angel gave him pleasure when he could have taken the opportunity to cause him considerable pain. He laughed ruefully: Angel’s emotions were as screwed up as his. He had one advantage over Angel, however: he’d already lived through something like this with Buffy. Buffy’s beatings had not been so malevolent, or so thorough, but they had been done with the same motive behind every fist. Buffy hadn’t hated him; she’d hated herself for wanting him. Spike knew that when Angel pounded on him, when he’d… taken… him, he’d not really been punishing him at all. As Angel had stood hate-filled and malicious over him, he’d been punishing a slim young man who wore a tight red bathing suit. He’d been punishing the young man inside himself who could admit that he was needy and lonely.
He pondered the paradox that was Angel for sometime more but came to no useful conclusion—except that he was bone weary of it all. He couldn’t leave, and he couldn’t stay—nothing ever changed.
Without thinking through the consequences too much, he lay down beside Angel and closed his eyes.
Without meaning to, he slept, but only fitfully. His dreams were no more vialent or confused than his usual ones, but they were more vivid. The ability to tell fact from fiction had deserted him, and when he woke warm and alongside Angel in the dark, for a moment he was back there again. Had he really meant to stay there with Angel? Or had he just told himself that to justify letting Angel fuck him? It had been his one chance—in that unreal place. Here, they would always be bound by the rules of a very different relationship, painful rules they’d honed over decades.
He sighed softly and rolled onto his side, curling up around questions, which he had no answers to.
There was a palpable air of tension in the room and when he opened one eye cautiously, he saw that Angel was awake, staring up at the ceiling. He could have been waiting for a particularly unpleasant examination, his body rigid, his fists clenched. Spike sighed more audibly and rolled off the bed, padding into the bathroom. He rummaged through the medicine cabinet, muttering in a voice he hoped would be just loud enough to carry to the vampire on the bed, ‘Would saying you were in pain be too much? Just once?’
He took a handful of Tylenol, fetched some water and sat on the edge of the bed. ‘You gonna be a pillock and refuse them?’
Angel shook his head and held out his hand, swallowed the pills and accepted the water.
‘Just tell me whose idea it was.’
Spike sighed yet again, the most forceful (if fake) one of all. Was he to spend eternity avoiding this damn question? He felt a rumble of anger in his belly and snapped, ‘Seems to me it was yours! You were the one with the freaking sun-safe pool and the too-tight trunks.’
He snatched back the empty glass and took it to the sink, hunching his shoulders, gripping the counter with unnecessary force. He heard Angel stir and turned, incredulous.
‘Whoa! Where you going?’
Angel managed to stand and straighten, but he kept a hand firmly on the wall. ‘You brought me back to live in hell, Spike, so that’s where I’m going. I’m going down to the office to make deals with the devil and live with my memories.’
‘Oh, you are such a melodramatic prick sometimes, Angel; did you know that? You’ve had your fucking guts ripped out and now you’re going to work!’
Angel was in the process of selecting a shirt. He turned very slowly and said distinctly, ‘They were ripped out before this. This hardly hurts compared to the pain of what you did.’
Spike toed the ground for a moment then ventured, ‘You’re not the only one who’s hurting.’
Angel’s hand hesitated as he buttoned a shirt over the bandages, but he only said, ‘Stay out my way, Spike. I don’t want to see you.’
Being beaten was better than being banished. ‘I didn’t want to soddin’ bring you back!’ He wanted to take the words back, coat them with a tone of mature snark, but he couldn’t. They were out, winging around the room on childish pain and hurt.
‘Why did you?’ Angel’s face was genuinely curious.
Spike frowned. ‘Cus it was wrong—what that demon was doing to you.’
Angel’s eyes darkened. ‘Letting me be happy?’
Spike took his time lighting a cigarette then said through the smoke, ‘So… I made you happy…?’ He lifted his eyes.
Angel came toward him. Spike’s eyes widened, but Angel walked straight past him to the refrigerator, where he bent with difficulty and extracted a bloodbag. He straightened and ripped the top with his teeth. As he paused with it held to his lips, keeping Spike’s gaze with a strange intensity, he said distinctly, ‘The trouble with you, Spike, is that you constantly mistake physical need for emotional commitment. Doesn’t matter how many people wanna fuck you, you never get that’s it just that: fucking. No one actually likes you. Your mother was embarrassed by you; Dru laughed at you, her mummy’s boy; I—.’
‘Shut up! You’ve made your point.’
‘No. I haven’t.’ He took some blood and licked his lips appreciatively. ‘You think Buffy doesn’t know you’re back.’ He snickered and flicked up an eyebrow. ‘She’s known for freaking months, Spike! What? You think we don’t call each other every night? She begged me not to tell you that she knew! She was so – sick – of – your…. Whoa! You gonna punch me now? After all that tender care last night? Will, I’m hurt.’
Spike backed off. ‘So… a baby, huh? I wasn’t gonna mention it, like, seeing as it was kinda private—your head, after all. Jeez, what a shame you pump out nothing but dead seed, seeing as you want a wittle baby so bad!’ He sidestepped a lunge and laughed. ‘Call up the only thing that could stand being around you, Angel! Couldn’t bloody escape, could it? Little chubby legs running so hard to get away from all your cloying need!’
‘Watch your mouth, Spike!’
‘Well, that’s kinda hard, cus I can’t see myself in a mirror—thanks to you!’
‘Oh, change the freaking record! We’re all sick of that one. Been dancing to that tune for twelve decades. Haven’t you got it yet? You could never see yourself even when you were alive! You were the world’s most invisible human!’
‘Oh, really? So, how come you wasted an entire London season stalking me and then seducing me?’
Angel narrowed his eyes. ‘I got bored fucking sheep.’
Spike inspected a nail with a shaky air of nonchalance. ‘So, that’s why you called up a baby…. I get it now: something you’d never fucked before.’
Angel didn’t reply. He stared at Spike for a moment then turned and sat heavily on the edge of the bed.
‘You need to leave now.’
‘Why? Cus the great Angelus demands it?’
‘No, because I’m asking you to.’
Spike faltered. ‘What’s… wrong?’
‘I—.’ Angel stood up again went to the windows, parting the blind and pressing his face to the glass. ‘You need to go.’
‘I didn’t mean….’ Spike cursed under his breath and ground out his cigarette. ‘I know why you….’
‘You know nothing. None of you. Now just go.’
‘You’re not going to do anything… dumb…?’
There was no response. Spike walked slowly the elevator, casting a last glance behind him. Angel’s arm was bent up on the glass, his forehead leaning on it.
The bitter words they’d spat at each other hung in the air. He was glad he did not need to breathe.
He went straight to Wesley’s office and flung himself in the armchair. Wesley was on the telephone, but he made his excuses and put the handset down. ‘How is he?’
‘You spent the night?’
‘In the loosest sense of that, yeah.’
‘I’m not entirely sure what is happening between you, Spike.’
‘I’m entirely sure I don’t know.’
‘Don’t be facetious.’
‘Oh, I’ve been a lot worse than that. Shit! Why can’t someone just cut out my fucking tongue?’
‘I’m sure a number of people have contemplated it.’
‘Cheer me up, why don’t you?’
‘Well… things are back to normal. That’s good.’
Spike looked up. ‘I’m immensely cheered.’
Wesley smiled softly. ‘Did he mention… me?’
‘Believe me, Wes, you wouldn’t want your name mixed in our… conversation.’
Wesley’s face was as close to a pout as a stiff Englishman could manage. ‘So nice to know I’m so easily forgotten.’
They both jerked up as Angel strode into the office. He turned to Spike and said meaningfully, ‘Don’t you have somewhere else to be?’
Spike frowned over the tip of his cigarette. ‘No.’
Angel nodded. ‘No matter. Wesley. My office.’ He turned and strode back out.
Spike swore, flung out of the chair in a swish of duster and stomped off in the opposite direction.