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Reality Check - Chapter 19
The words shot into Spike as if he’d been electrocuted. His balls clenched urgently, tingling and tight.
Coffee appeared on the table, but neither of them noticed who’d brought it. Spike was the first to break eye contact. Angel shifted in his seat then in a slightly high-pitched voice said, ‘I could call the car back early.’
Spike rose and grabbed his bags. Angel did likewise. He threw far too much money on the table, and they strode side-by-side toward the exit. Angel fumbled with his cell phone and barked an order. Like royalty, they swept into the secluded confines of their luxurious transport and back towards Wolfram and Hart.
Spike stared at the partition to the driver and whispered, ‘Is that one-way glass?’
Angel replied equally softly, ‘Go down on me, and we’ll find out.’
Spike snorted with amusement, and the urgency that had driven them from the café turned into warm anticipation of pleasures to come. Spike leant back in his corner and lit a cigarette, sliding his boot toward Angel’s shin. Angel glanced at the driver then allowed his skin to graze the errant foot.
Spike made a small, hissed sound and pulled his coat over his lap. ‘Let’s get out—go through the sewers.’
Angel was staring at Spike’s covered lap, and he swallowed deeply. ‘Faster like this.’
‘Wasn’t thinking ‘bout speed. Wasn’t planning on going anywhere once we got there.’
Angel folded his coat discreetly and stared fixedly through the window. After a few minutes, he murmured, ‘I don’t deserve this.’
Spike laughed. ‘I’m gonna take that as a compliment and not in the what-did-I-do-to-deserve-this way. And no, you don’t.’
Angel pouted but didn’t turn around. ‘I want to make it up to you.’
‘Not gonna give you an argument on that one.’
Angel turned, smiling softly. ‘Guess what?’ Spike frowned. ‘We’re there.’
As he climbed from the car, discreetly adjusting his coat, Angel flicked his head at the elevator, and Spike’s eyes widened. He had absolutely no doubt what Angel intended to do as soon as they were alone. His lips actually began to ache in anticipation of the first kiss.
He got there before Angel and slammed his hand on the button. He sensed Angel behind him, just too close to pass as someone also waiting for an elevator. Then Angel stepped away, and Spike sensed someone else. He turned to find the driver sucking his teeth and staring in that vacant watching-elevator-numbers way. He caught Angel’s expression and almost laughed: if thoughts could kill, the human would emolliate in front of them.
They rode together, all three of them, until the human got off on the floor below theirs. Angel waited until the doors closed and then slammed his hand on the emergency stop. He turned to Spike, realised they were still moving, turned back incredulously and hit the button again. ‘Fucking cheap crap!’ The elevator continued to rise. ‘Shit!’
Spike leant over to help, but before Angel could take advantage of the close proximity, the doors opened, and they were facing a relatively crowded lobby. Angel winced and whispered, ‘Upstairs.’
Spike nodded, and they tried to make an inconspicuous exit, both holding coats strategically closed.
They were halfway to safely when they ran into Gunn—literally. Looking over his shoulder at something, he bumped into them and swore. Angel, very distracted, nodded and murmured, ‘See you later tonight.’
‘I’m not freaking going! I told you! I’m not confused like you seem to be ‘bout where the evil in this city comes from! And you know what? I’m guessing why you’re confused, Vampire!’
He stepped around them, pushed past a couple of eavesdroppers and stormed away. Despite having something else on his mind, Spike murmured, ‘You gonna let him talk to you like that?’
Angel nudged him closer to the office. ‘He has his reasons.’
Harmony was on the phone, and she waved at them, beckoning them over. Angel hissed, ‘Ignore her,’ and continued, but Spike said hesitantly, ‘She looks….’
Angel rolled his eyes and diverted. ‘What?’
Harmony listened for a moment more then giggled, relieved, and put the phone down. ‘It’s okay, they managed to bring him back.’
Angel appeared to be counting slowly then he said, ‘What?’ again in a patient voice.
Harmony giggled some more. ‘Sorry. Only Wesley’s dead. Well, died, because they….’
She looked puzzled at his incomprehension. ‘Wesley? The British guy who….’
Spike put a hand on Angel’s arm, which wasn’t the best thing he could have done. Angel appeared to sway slightly, and he caught the desk. Harmony, watching with eagle-eyed interest said curiously, ‘Have you taken some as well?’
Angel could only manage a weak, ‘Harmony…’ but she seemed to respond to this better than the shouting and said contritely, ‘Oh, yeah, sorry. Wesley took some kind of drug thing and died. It was so cool. They brought him back, but he hit his head, totally ripped off his hair. And that’s not really cool when you think about it… kinda, eww! that is so gross. Anyway….’
‘Harmony.’ Spike’s voice was calm even if his stance betrayed some other emotion. ‘Where is he?’
‘Oh. In the lab, I guess. Maybe they couldn’t move him because of the hair thing, and that really is…. Hey! You’ve both got no hair now! And how weird is that?’
Angel nodded at Spike, and they re-entered the elevator, the presence of a number of people putting paid to anything other than the briefest of conversations. ‘Drug?’
Spike shrugged and lied. ‘Dunno.’
Angel gave him a penetrating look, and Spike had the distinct feeling that now that was the only penetrating he was getting that evening. He wondered why he’d lied and wished he hadn’t, debating just saying, ‘Could be the better-than-life drug we’re working on,’ but heard something behind the words he didn’t like. Why had he agreed to help Wesley make something so fundamentally dangerous? He didn’t know, and he was very sure Angel wouldn’t. So, instead, he let the lie stand and hoped Wesley was bleeding badly enough, and lying close enough to death, to distract Angel from untangling his part in their schemes.
Wesley wasn’t bleeding, and he hadn’t been scalped, but he was looking decidedly pale and slumped on a chair, which was odd enough to draw a look of concern from the otherwise closed-off vampire. Angel put down his bags, pouted and inspected a cut on the human’s forehead. ‘What happened?’
Squinting with pain, Wesley glanced to Spike. ‘Have you told him?’
Spike tried killing him with a look, but it didn’t work, so he mumbled, ‘Sort of.’
Angel glanced at Spike and said steadily, ‘Why don’t you fill me in on the details, Wesley. Spike has been kinda sketchy with his.’
Spike smiled as if he appreciated Angel’s private humour and then lit a cigarette, feeling the need for some obscuring smoke.
‘Well, as you know, I decided to work on synthesising the drug that the demon was using to keep you under.’
Spike winced, waiting for the explosion, and was surprised when Angel said, ‘Why?’ It wasn’t the question he’d expected.
Wesley nodded, missing all the subtleties of the vampires’ exchange of looks, and replied, ‘Well, it occurred to me that in the right hands it could be a very useful tool. Think of its application to the science of anaesthetics. You came back from all that time away with no side-effects at all.’
Angel turned sharply away and went over to the bench, apparently to examine a trace of blood.
Even Wesley, in his slightly pain-fuddled state seemed to regret his last, and he murmured, ‘Well, physical ones anyway.’
Angel just said neutrally, ‘Go on.’
‘Well, I managed to isolate the drug, with Spike’s help…’ another killing death-ray look didn’t even shut him up, ‘I was at the stage of mixing it with carriers to determine just the right strength, when I was careless with that vial. A tiny—and I mean tiny—amount of the bloody stuff got on my skin, and I just went down, I suppose. Hit my head—as you can see—and when they found me, my heart had stopped, apparently. Of course, we have a crash team, and I was back in a little under a minute. If I am back, of course. Although, I sincerely hope that my better-than-life fantasy isn’t sitting with a headache in the lab of Wolfram and Hart talking to your very resistant, very angry back.’
Angel turned, held Wesley’s look for a moment then dipped his head in a small gesture of apology. ‘What about the drug?’
Wesley stood shakily. ‘Well, I still think that what I’m attempting to do is quite feasible. I just need to find the right carrier and the correct strength. But clearly the full strength is dangerous—to humans at least.’
‘And to a vampire?’
Everyone suddenly seemed very interested in the answer to Angel’s simple question. Spike turned to watch not the human’s reply, but Angel’s response to it. Wesley hesitated, staring at Angel equally intently. Angel only folded his arms and repeated, ‘And to vampires?’ If anyone noticed the slight change in emphasis in this near repetition, they didn’t mention it, engrossed as they were in the answer.
Wesley lifted his eyebrows and said quietly, ‘I’m working at the cutting edge of an entirely new drug taken from a mystical source, and you ask me something so precise that….’
‘Its effect on a vampire. It’s a simple question.’
‘I’m trying to tell you that….’
‘Could a vampire take it and live?’
‘Yes, Angel. A vampire could take it and live until they didn’t. It would suck them into a permanent world of dreams, from which they would, in all likelihood, never return.’
‘I think the dream state would be so deep that any attempt to rip them from it would kill them. Eventually, they would starve back in the real world.’
Despite what Wesley or Spike expected from Angel, they were surprised when he said calmly, ‘I want that drug destroyed. It’s too dangerous to hold.’
Wesley seemed relieved and annoyed in equal measure. ‘It’s contained in a Wolfram and Hart secure facility. You thought that good enough for the likes of Pervane. I think one small vial of liquid is pretty safe.’
‘I am still the CEO of this company. I want the damn stuff destroyed.’
Wesley nodded. ‘All right. But I’ll have to put some thought to the best way to do that.’
Angel glanced at Spike then back at Wesley. ‘In the lobby for eight. We’ll all ride together.’
Spike made to follow him out, but Angel stopped when he’d picked up his bags, staring thoughtfully at nothing. Eventually, he said, ‘I’ll see you at eight,’ and left.
Spike waited until he was out of sight and earshot then spun around, flinging his bags into the corner of the lab.
Wesley winced. ‘You hadn’t told him.’
Spike turned slowly and incredulously. ‘You told me not to! You said, and I quote: don’t tell Angel!’
‘No, well, I mean… I rather assumed that you’d passed the listening to me stage and were onto the tell Angel everything stage. Sorry.’
Spike shook his head sadly. ‘I think we were just about to get there tonight.’
‘Well, maybe if I can get this damn drug balanced just right you could.’
Spike jerked his head back. ‘You’re not going to destroy it?’
Wesley looked horrified. ‘You can’t treat science like a toy you’ve suddenly become tired of!’
‘But Angel said….’
‘I’m not too sure Angel is thinking very clearly about this just now. I have no intention of letting his minor squabble with you affect my better judgment.’
Spike stared at him for a moment then let a slow breath out through his teeth. ‘You really do have balls.’
Wesley blushed then groaned holding his head. ‘That hurt.’
Spike grudgingly retrieved his bags, and they began to walk back up to the offices together. After a few moments, Spike said, ‘So, where did you go? What was it like?’
Wesley sighed. ‘It was perfect, and really rather ghastly.’
‘Good grief, Spike, I’m English. You of all people should know that we find anything pleasant very hard to take. I kept thinking I ought to be off doing something noble and self-sacrificing. We do not come from a hedonistic race, I’m afraid.’ He rubbed his head. ‘I feel much better from having been wounded in the course of my investigations.’
Spike eyed the wound. ‘You’re not gonna be very pretty for this party tonight.’
Wesley smiled faintly. ‘As if with you two there anyone would notice?’ He turned and stilled Spike with a hand on his arm. ‘I’m sorry if I cocked things up for you back there. I thought—over the last few days—that I’d noticed a thawing in your relationship.’
Spike sighed and patted his hand. ‘I’ve never heard it called that before, but yeah, we were gonna do a bit of thawing tonight, Pet. Had some pleasant thawing all planned. But then we called down to see the mutilated, scalped body of some English git in a lab.’
‘Oh. Sorry. Scalped? God—Harmony. So, what are you going to do now?’
Spike shrugged. ‘Change into these dumb clothes and go pretend.’
Wesley carried on walking slowly. ‘You don’t give up easily, do you?’
Spike laughed. ‘Buffy would agree with you there, Mate.’
‘I’m not sure I would have your persistence.’
Spike sniffed and lit a cigarette. ‘’S hard to explain. You’d have to see one of those looks he gives me sometimes, or hear him laugh when he knows he’s being dumb, or maybe….’
Wesley laughed ruefully. ‘Not all that hard to explain then: I think it’s called love.’ He stopped outside his office. ‘See you at eight.’
Despite what he’d told Wesley, Spike went straight to Angel’s office and rode up in the elevator to the apartment: he’s was love’s bitch; he knew this, but knowing it didn’t make him less susceptible.
Angel was in the shower; he could hear the water and the faint sounds of flesh on flesh. He pushed aside the erotic thoughts this conjured and laid his bags down on a chair. He’d wait until Angel finished. He had the distinct thought that just getting in the shower with him wouldn’t be welcome at all.
He stared out at the city lights, musing on erections and other interesting topics as he waited his turn. His—the achingly hard stiffness that had assailed him in the café and threatened to rip through his jeans in the limo—had subsided to a pleasant, anticipatory throb. He felt sorry for it. It was anticipating nothing more than a handjob. Angel, he felt sure, would not be on the menu that night.
‘Fuck off, Spike. I don’t want to see you.’
Spike turned, surprised and not a little embarrassed that he’d not heard Angel come in, but mostly amused that Angel’s words so uncannily echoed his own thoughts. Interestedly, he noted that his erection was showing more enthusiasm again, and figured it was as much a sucker for Angel’s naked, wet skin as he was. Dressed only in a towel, hair streaming wet, fastening a delicate gold chain around his neck, Angel watched him from the doorway.
Spike began to shed his coat and unbutton his shirt. ‘I needed somewhere to change, tosser.’
‘You’ll never change, Spike. That’s your problem.’
‘This is about me not telling you what I was doing with Wesley, isn’t it?’
Angel cursed and pulled the chain fastening to his eye line. Spike made a small impatient noise and held out his hand. Angel dropped the chain into it and turned around, obediently, head bent.
He couldn’t take his eyes off the chain.
After a moment, Angel twisted his head around. ‘Well?’
Spike shook himself slightly and came forward.
Angel held his wrist. ‘What?’
Spike ripped away and began to fasten the chain. ‘It was just kinda…. Bugger.’
‘Domestic, Angel. It was kinda domestic. Wesley asked me what better-than-life would be like, and for a moment, it was this. That’s all. And I really don’t know why I tell you these things and then put myself into a position for you to hurt me more.’
He finished the fastening and began to pull off his boots. ‘I’m gonna shower.’
Angel watched him hop toward the bed with a thoughtful expression darkening his already dark eyes.
Spike held his face up to the water, trying to shake the impression that not only had he seen a glimpse of his perfection, he’d seen it all. Complete. Over. One second. It would be a suitable irony for someone eternal: to have one second of perfection.
He sensed he was being watched and turned his head, not taking it out of the stream of water. Angel was leaning on the counter, studying him. Spike turned his face back to the water. ‘Like what you see, pervert?’
Unseen by Spike, Angel nodded. ‘You know I do. Not trying to pretend I don’t.’
‘What are you trying to pretend then, Angel? Don’t seem to me there was much pretence going on in that café. Wasn’t just my body you wanted.’ He fumbled for some of Angel’s shampoo and began to scrub as if he still had hair that needed washing.
‘Why didn’t you tell me?’
‘Because Wesley asked me not to—although I’ll grant you that don’t sound too truthful after the dozy pillock’s slip.’
‘Do you do everything Wesley asks you to do?’
‘Don’t be dumb. I didn’t tell you because of this: I knew you’d freak out.’
‘I’m not freaking….’
‘Whatever. See, I can’t ever win with you, Angel. I tell you or I don’t tell you, but either way, I lose.’
‘Is it a competition?’
Spike began to rinse, turning his head this way and that, soap running down his lithe body to swirl in the stall. It reminded him of the foam at the ocean, and suddenly, more than anything, he wanted to be at the beach again, where things were simple. Where things were a long way from Angel.
Angel was watching him closely, as if he could read these thoughts, so Spike clamped down on them and thought instead how much of a wanker Angel was, and the watching vampire smiled, amused, as if he could read this, too.
Slightly spooked, Spike stepped out the stall and made to pass Angel, but a hand shot out and held onto his arm. ‘I think I was going to pay you early.’
Spike looked at the hand curled around his arm. There was something fundamentally erotic about one man’s fingers tight around another man’s bicep. He couldn’t decide whether this was because it was so right, or so wrong, or because it was fraught with a resonance of power and fight and the ringing sound of battle.
He carefully pulled his arm out of the strong grip. ‘I’m not for sale, Angel.’ He walked past and into the room where he’d left his new clothes. If his heart could pound, it would, like a cartoon, popping out of his chest. He’d said no. For the first time since all this started, he’d said no. He wasn’t afraid to turn around and see Angel’s expression; he was just busy dressing; nevertheless, his ears strained to catch any sound from the other room.
Still, he didn’t hear the other vampire enter until a breath, like a ghostly finger, brushed the stubble on his neck. ‘I could make you.’
Spike saw his paths fracture once more. The one where he reacted to this, they fought, and Angel probably made good on his threat, spiralled off into an unknown future of pain and discord. The other, the one where he laughed and carried on dressing seemed the better route to take, but by the time he’d decided this, he realised it was the one he’d already taken: the laugh laughed, the clothes pulled onto his shower-warm body. As an afterthought, as he’d chosen this path, he added, ‘I can’t do this anymore with you. It stops tonight.’
Angel came around to the front and perched on the back of the chair, watching him through narrowed eyes. ‘What are you talking about?’
‘This….’ As he had no words for any of it, and suspected Angel had fewer, he only indicated the bed, the shower, the clothes, the whole fucked-up little incestuous intensity with the sweep of his hand. ‘This. It’s over. I’m not doing it any more with you.’
‘I’m not sure that’s for you to say.’
Spike flicked him a glance. ‘Get dressed. It’s nearly eight.’
Angel lashed out his hand and caught Spike a stinging blow across his face. ‘You brought me back here! You’re gonna Goddammed share it with me!’
‘No!’ Spike banged his arm away when he saw it rising for another hit. ‘I’ve played this with you, Angel, cus somewhere, in here, in my damaged brain, I was trying to sort though some things—‘bout me and Buffy. All the things I did wrong with her—for her. Tried to help her, too, see? When she got brought back and so sad an’ all. But I couldn’t help ‘er no matter what I did for ‘er! I laid down and covered the puddles she had to step over with my own bloody body, and all I got was wet! So, no more! Yes, you had a shit deal in life, Angel. I get that; I really do. But don’t put all your fucking angst on me! I’ve had a shit time, too, and I don’t need it! Now, go get on that bloody suit, which we spent all fucking afternoon buying. This is your life now. You don’t choose it, but you do have to live it.’
Deliberately turning his back on Angel and on anything that might fly from his lips or his fists, he shrugged on his new shirt and began buttoning it, calm inwardly even if his fingers were stiff and slow.
‘You’ll be back here tonight.’ Angel walked back to his bedroom, and Spike couldn’t tell if this was a promise or a threat.