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Reality Check - Chapter 15
Spike’s resolution to leave L.A. lasted as long as the next show he watched on the annoyingly empty couch in the depressingly silent apartment.
He didn’t like or understand what was happening, but it seemed better and less confusing than the prospect of being out alone in the world with a soul.
He flicked between channels mindlessly for a while, debating whether he had the energy to go shower.
The knock at the door startled him. He sat up, genuinely bemused. No one ever came here.
Cautiously, he opened it a crack. Wesley looked mildly anxious, then smiled when he saw Spike’s face. ‘Good evening.’
‘The end of the world must be upon us.’
‘Yes, well, if you were a little bit more hospitable and invited one…?’
‘And you throw so many parties….’
‘Can I come in so we can continue this childish disagreement in more privacy?’
Spike stood to one side.
Wesley stepped in and went immediately to turn off the television, as if he were allergic to mindless noise. He turned and stopped up short.
Spike blanched and went into the bedroom. He came back out wearing dry jeans and a T-shirt that did not appear to have had a baby puke milk all over it.
Wesley had made himself comfortable in the couch and was reading Spike’s book. Spike went to the fridge, took out two beers and handed one to him. ‘Well?’
‘I’ve been thinking about the demon that was manipulating Angel.’
‘You did kill it.’
‘Well, yes, that’s what I was thinking. Nothing alive can be unique. By definition, it must have others like it.’
‘So… where does that leave Harmony?’
Wesley quirked up his lip. ‘I’m glad to see you can still joke.’
‘Mr. Entertainment, me.’
‘I’m intrigued by the theory that these demons may be responsible for many cases of sleepwalking or night terrors. What if we could harness that ability?’
‘Have you ever read…? Never mind. Better than life…. It’s a staple of so many science fiction fantasies: the idea that you can send the brain into a status where it can create a fantasy world that it can’t tell apart from real life.’
‘Like the Matrix.’
‘Well, yes, that’s an example where it was used destructively, I suppose. I’m talking about humans deliberately able to harness the power to create their own better-than-life fantasies and leave them as well.’
‘You’ve kinda blown your own theory there, Pet. They wouldn’t leave, would they? Angel and I sure weren’t intending to…. I mean….’
Wesley laid his hand on Spike’s thigh. ‘It’s all right. You don’t have to lie to me, Spike. Why do you think I intervened?’
Miffed at how transparent he was being, Spike said brusquely, ‘There you go then. If we were too weak to break free, how the hell do you think a human would?’
‘Nothing is insurmountable. If I could synthesise the drug—or whatever it is they do it with—I could make it time-dependant: have it dissipate after a time.’
‘What’s all this to do with me?’
‘I need your help—firstly to find another of these creatures….’
Wesley looked genuinely puzzled. ‘Because you don’t have anything better to do. Why do you think?’
Spike grinned. ‘Whoa, hold back the flattery there, Mate.’
‘I would never flatter you.’ There was an edge to Wesley’s voice.
Spike watched him for a moment then nodded. ‘Okay. Let’s do it. I need something to keep me busy.’
‘How are things going? I’m assuming this’ he brushed the back of his hand lightly over Spike’s stubble, ‘would be some sort of clue—if I knew how to interpret it.’
‘Nah. I just got tired of the bleach. Needed a change.’ He did not catch Wesley’s eye, and the human leant back in the couch, thoughtful.
‘He seems relatively normal.’
Spike nodded and shrugged.
‘You seem a little… distracted?’
Spike twisted his head around and gave the human a withering look, and Wesley added quickly, ‘But less battered.’
Spike leant back, too. ‘Yeah. Less battered.’
‘Visibly, at least.’
‘Spike. Having a soul works two ways: you give and you take. It’s not all about you being a good person; it also entitles you to love.’
‘No one has entitlements, Pet. You earn what you get in this life.’
‘And for God’s sake! Who’s earned a little affection more than you?’
Spike’s face crumpled, but he held things together and took a long swig of his beer. ‘I’m a bad man, human. Don’t romanticise me.’
‘I’ll make my own judgement on that if you don’t mind, and it has nothing to do with being romantic. I choose to be your friend. It’s a gift freely given.’
Spike swilled the bottle around and around in his hands. He frowned in surprise that he was sharing something so personal but said softly, ‘I’m trapped, Wesley. I can’t leave him, and I can’t stay like this. When it got like this with Buffy, I went to the end of the world and got my soul back—so I could change and be what she wanted. I think I’d have to lose it again to be what he wants.’
‘No. You’re wrong. Angel takes things too much to heart because he won’t, or can’t share his feelings. But inside, where it really counts, he is a good man. He would never condone or desire someone becoming evil.’
Spike turned his piercing gaze on the man. ‘He told me that he tried to kill you once.’
Wesley nodded. ‘Yes, but he was Angelus then, and he’d been tricked and drugged. That wasn’t Angel.’
Spike felt that this did not match Angel’s version but held his tongue.
Wesley patted his thigh again. ‘Come and work with me down in the lab on this project. You’ll hardly see him. Some time apart might do you both good.’ When he saw Spike’s glum reception of this suggestion, he said hesitantly, ‘Can I suggest something else?’
Spike dragged sad eyes over to the darker blue ones.
‘Copious amounts of alcohol, something with a large number of calories and a mindless film?’
Spike pouted. ‘You and me. Watch a vid with a takeaway?’
Spike smiled shyly. ‘I get to choose the film.’
‘Thank God. That leaves me selecting the food.’
It was the most peaceful, normal evening either of them could remember for a long time. Once the macho barriers had fallen—Spike realising that Wesley was neither pompous nor boring, Wesley seeing that Spike was very different beneath the front he habitually wore—they bonded like old friends. Exiles, both from an earlier time—albeit an emotional attachment for one of them—both trapped in an orbit of love by Angel’s dark gravity, they found an easy acceptance they had not expected to find.
They munched happily on too much junk food, watching films that required nothing more taxing than keeping eyes open, and talked endlessly, fuelled by the alcohol, which they drank steadily with considerable enjoyment.
When the credits for the final film were rolling, sitting side-by-side on the couch, feet on the empty pizza boxes on the table, Wesley said curiously, ‘If you could have better-than-life—I mean, if this thing I want to attempt actually works—what would it be like?’
Spike pouted. ‘Dunno. ‘S not something I’ve even given much thought to. What about you?’
Wesley fiddled with the remote in his hand for a while. ‘I think it would be much like here sometimes—when things are at their best.’
Spike tipped his head back thoughtfully. ‘I guess Angel’s was like, too—so bloody normal, ya know? He wasn’t a rock-God or a movie star; he wasn’t even a superhero. He drew for a living, and he lived in a house with a wife and a baby.’
‘It doesn’t seem much to ask, does it?’
‘Yeah, but it wasn’t his life. He’s what he is, and he has to sort of accept that.’
Wesley rolled his head over, regarding Spike thoughtfully. ‘That’s what you do, isn’t it? That’s the essence of how you do it: you accept and you adapt.’
Spike smiled ruefully. ‘I wasn’t too accepting of that incorporeal thingy.’
Wesley sighed. ‘I’d better be going, I suppose.’
Spike nodded toward the bedroom. ‘Stay. I’ll sleep on the couch.’
Wesley nodded gratefully, made a weak protest about taking Spike’s bed, which was ignored, and handed Spike half the bedding before stretching out gratefully on the small bed.
Despite his assertion that he’d sleep fine on the couch, Spike didn’t sleep at all. He was plagued by thoughts of Angel, veering wildly from one view of him to another. Wesley’s question—what would better-than-life be like for you?—haunted him. He knew very well what it would be like; it would be like this night, but with Angel, and the bed would be bigger and… Angel would be what he was not. His better than life depended upon Angel—the real one, not a fantasy one he could call up in his head. It amused him to think how Angel had adapted Buffy to suit his purposes, turning her into a flower-arranging, perfect wife. He didn’t want that. He wanted Angel as he was, just more… just without… just… he wanted Angel loving him. This thought then alternated with ones where he hurt Angel, badly, giving him back some of the pain and anguish he was now causing.
It made for a restless night, so when Wesley began to stir, Spike was glad for the excuse to get up. He’d resolved nothing. He made some breakfast for the human, still having long conversations in his head that had no beginning and no end, but which revolved endlessly around Angel. He woke the human and handed him his breakfast, wondering what Angel was doing and whether he was thinking about him. He went into the shower, angry at the endless waste of his capacity to love. He came out, smiled at Wesley’s pale, sweaty countenance, and imagined another man with pale skin in his bed.
Still, nothing was resolved, but he had decided to accept Wesley’s offer to help in the lab.
At least not seeing Angel at all would make things temporarily easier.
A towel around his waist, amused that he’d picked up another to rub non-existent hair, he jumped slightly when a knock sounded on the door. That knock he did recognise.
Wesley looked up from his hangover-induced slump over eggs to frantically shake his head, until the effort made him turn green.
Spike pouted but opened the door, completely confused by his reason for doing so: he wanted something to happen, only he wasn’t too sure what that something was.
Angel nodded and his face, for once, was open. There was guilt and confusion in the expression and something else, something that could have been longing. He opened his mouth to speak then took in the scene. Spike could see it from Angel’s eyes and was very aware it didn’t look good: Wesley having breakfast-in-bed in his bed, he obviously having just taken a shower, and the detritus of a very pleasant evening filling the living room.
Wesley climbed out of bed, trying to point out that he was fully dressed, without actually stooping so low as to point this out.
Spike turned back to Angel. ‘What do you want?’
Angel’s eyes were raking the room, his thoughts now completed veiled. Then he turned his gaze on Spike, his eyes automatically roaming over the shaved head. ‘I don’t care where you sleep or who you fuck, Spike.’
Spike looked up sharply. He seemed about to say something then he laughed. It was full of genuine pleasure. ‘I never thought you would! But as you just felt the need to assert that so quickly, I actually do now. You care! But you are so full of denial, Angel.’ With that, he shut the door in Angel’s face.
Wesley winced and stepped back, watching the door anxiously. ‘He could break that down.’
‘Sure he could. But he won’t.’ He was still smiling.
There had, at last, been some resolution in that small exchange.