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Reality Check - Chapter 2
‘You can’t be here.’ Angel frowned at the sound of his words. It wasn’t what he’d been saying in his head, and the contrast between hello and you can’t be here seemed extreme even to him.
Spike nodded as if this were no surprise to him. ‘How long has it been?’ He seemed genuinely interested in Angel’s reply to this and waited patiently.
Angel tried to remember. Finally, sure he’d lost a year or two here or there, he said uncertainly, ‘Ten years.’
Spike twitched up an eyebrow. ‘You don’t look a day older, Mate. What’s your secret?’
Angel immediately ran his fingers through his hair, emphasising the sun-kissed highlights.
Spike chose to ignore this and peered behind him as if considering his next move. ‘So, can I come in?’
‘What do you want?’
‘Do I have to want something?’
It was so wrong that Spike was here that Angel couldn’t actually articulate it. He felt he’d said it all when he’d opened the door: Spike couldn’t be here. It wasn’t possible.
Given that impossibility, he had no other recourse but to let him in. He turned and walked away, leaving the door open in invitation.
Spike eyed the opening. ‘Don’t I need a bit more?’
Angel shook his head without turning around.
Spike glanced around once more, as if steeling himself for something, then stepped inside the house.
He wandered into the kitchen and nodded at Buffy. She smiled gracefully, and left off arranging some flowers. ‘Spike! What a surprise.’
Angel smiled at her, so proud of the way she hugged Spike: not too tight, not too casual—just right, as befitted her role as his wife.
He draped an arm over her tiny shoulders. ‘So, what have you come for, Spike?’
Spike was eyeing the flowers and shook himself to say, ‘Wondering if I can crash for a night or two. Run into some bother—demon shit, you know the kind of thing. I need somewhere to hide out. They’ll never find me here.’
Angel wrinkled his brow. ‘We’ve left that world behind us now, Spike.’
Spike nodded again, more to himself than to Angel, and said carefully, ‘I’d like to see how you’re getting along, Luv. You can show me what this life is like, what’s the big…’ he widened his eyes theatrically and made air-quotes, ‘attraction of the human thing!’
Angel tightened his hold and his smile. ‘I think you can see the attraction.’
Spike turned slowly in place. The kitchen was the size of Angel’s old office, vast and airy and white. Everywhere there was glass: in walls, in the roof, in areas of the floor making small see-through galleries to the vast living space spread out below them. More glass, more white, more perfection.
Spike nodded, eyeing the decor. ‘Hope you’ve got a nice cosy bedroom with a bit of colour in, Mate. I hate white.’
‘You can’t stay!’ Angel thought Spike had got this and was annoyed at the hint of panic he’d heard in his voice.
He licked his lips and glanced to Buffy. She was pulling the petals from one of the flowers in absorbed concentration and gave him no help, one way or the other. He didn’t want a scene though—didn’t want to physically tackle the vampire. ‘One night, then you have to go.’
Spike flashed him a smile as if he’d never doubted his acquiescence and stuffed his hands deep into his pockets. ‘Lead on then, cus I’m feeling kinda weary all of a sudden.’
Angel didn’t deliberately take him on the scenic route—through the living area and up onto the galleried landing, through his studio in the attic and down into the guest bedroom—he was only making sure the house was secure before bed.
Spike trailed behind him silently until they came into the studio. Angel’s drawings were still on the desk, with some of his finished, hung canvasses dominating the walls in the vast space. ‘Impressive place you’ve created for yourself here, Luv. Pretty damn near perfect.’
Spike dipped his finger in some crimson paint and held it up thoughtfully. ‘Nothing you miss? From the old life, like?’
‘Uh huh. Sure you’re not hungry?’ He brought his finger toward Angel, and suddenly Angel’s head reeled with the smell of coppery warmth.
He mouthed silently, ‘Blood?’
Spike smiled and wiped his finger on his coat. ‘Just paint, Pet; just testing.’
‘You can’t be here.’ For the first time, this simple phrase seemed less a statement of disbelief in Spike’s presence and more a command.
Tentatively, Spike laid his hand on Angel’s arm. They both seemed surprised to actually feel the touch and stared down at the joined skin. Spike hissed between his teeth, ‘You’re actually warm…. How can you be…?’
‘You have to go!’ Sweat beaded Angel’s forehead.
Spike started and removed his hand. He smiled softly. ‘Okay, Luv. Too…. Come on; show me the room. I’ve always wanted to be your official guest.’
He stepped carefully around the immobile figure and waited.
Angel shook himself and marched across the studio to the far door.
The room was white, like the rest of the house, but decorated with bold splashes of colour: a Navajo rug on the floor; a print of Paul’s Wright’s The Garden of Eden shockingly evocative on one wall. It was a room of someone who hated white and was fighting it with all he had.
The bed was low and sleek, and Spike knew without asking that no one had slept in it before.
He sat on the edge then slowly laid back and spread his arms.
Angel hovered for a moment, adjusting the shades unnecessarily. After an age, he whispered, ‘Why have you come?’
Spike turned his head lazily on the bed. ‘I think, deep down, you already know the answer to that.’
Angel didn’t appear to hear. He straightened and said distractedly, ‘Looks like it’s going to be sunny tomorrow.’
Spike blinked slowly. ‘Have you had one single day yet when it’s not been sunny, Angel?’
Angel smiled wistfully. ‘I have rain, too. Heavy rain, so heavy that when you stand in it, it runs down your body and pools at your feet. I tip my face up to it and let it drown out the sound of….’
Angel bit his lip, leaving a flush of red. ‘Of my heart.’
Spike sat up. ‘Your heart feels… wrong?’
Angel shook his head a little too emphatically.
Spike came closer. ‘Can I…?’
Angel hissed but nodded as if he welcomed the additional affirmation of his new status.
Spike laid his hand over the thin cotton and then withdrew it sharply, then returned it more boldly. He glanced up through lowered lids. ‘Can you feel it?’ Angel nodded dumbly. ‘Can you feel the blood pumping through your body?’ Another small dip of the dark head, hardly more than a flinch of agreement. ‘So many beats in one lifetime. One moment they’re there then….’ Spike snatched his hand away. ‘Gone!’
Angel’s eyes widened, then he said as if this followed, ‘I have a pool. Would you like to see it?’
Turning his face into the shadows, Spike made a non-committal reply. Angel went to the nightstand and tested the light over the bed. ‘Is there anything you need?’
Spike watched Angel’s back thoughtfully and was clearly not willing to speak his needs out loud.
‘Sleep tight, Pet. Give Buffy my thanks. For the room….’
Angel smiled as if the thought of Buffy had returned after an absence.
Her body called to him, Siren-like. But he’d never been in this guest room before and, for a moment, wondered which was the best way to return to her. Through his studio seemed simple enough. And once he was there, his mind became clearer. He went back to humming as he made his way into their bedroom.
It was pure white, not a splash of colour except for her blonde hair spread out and welcoming like captured sunlight on the pillow.
He sank into her arms and into forgetfulness. Both equally welcome.
It was sunny the next day. Angel was lounging by the pool when he saw a figure in the doorway. He sat up, a feeling of disquiet washing over him, guilt tripping on its heels.
Angel felt torn. He didn’t want to leave his sunbathing. It’s what he did now.
Spike managed to look like a puppy left out in the rain: deeply apologetic for being so much bother.
With a wry grin, Angel stood. He knew he was being manipulated, but those relatively harmless, doleful eyes were far less threatening than the looks he vaguely remembered from the previous night. They had promised a manipulation of an entirely different kind.
Angel flinched. ‘That’s not funny.’
Spike shrugged. ‘Actually, it is, but eggs will do just as well.’
Angel closed the shades around the glass bubble of his kitchen, watching them slide over the roof, watching Spike watching shadows.
‘Buffy. Where is she?’
‘At work.’ The minute the word left his mouth, he regretted it.
‘What does she do?’
Angel bluffed. He had absolutely no idea what she did. ‘Something in insurance.’ As soon as he said it, he remembered. She did. Insurance. He felt relieved and said cheerfully, ‘How do you want the eggs?’
Angel nodded, taking this seriously, and began the preparations. Spike perched on a stool and watched him with great intensity whenever Angel turned his back. Eventually, he lit a cigarette. Angel whirled around. ‘Not in here.’
‘Can’t go outside.’
‘Then don’t smoke.’
‘But you’ve missed the smell.’
As soon as Spike said it, Angel knew that it was true. He had. He’d missed it so much he couldn’t afford to smell it now.
He strode over, snatching the cigarette out of Spike’s lips and ground it into water in the sink.
Spike tipped his head to one side with thoughtful, narrowed eyes but made no other response.
Annoyingly flustered, Angel scraped the eggs onto a plate and set them before Spike.
Spike pouted. ‘Don’t you eat?’
Angel glanced down at the pale yellow mass.
‘Cus, like, you’re kinda thin, Angel.’
Angel shifted his eyes to his belly, bare from his earlier sunbathing. He was thin, every muscle standing stark on his abdomen, as if he worked each one obsessively each day. Spike held up a forkful of eggs. ‘Try some.’
Angel reeled away. ‘I don’t….’
This seemed to upset Angel for some reason, and he said too forcibly, ‘No! Don’t like eggs.’
Spike shrugged and stuffed some into his mouth, looking surprised that it tasted good.
Angel leant on the counter and hung his head. ‘I think you’d better go, Spike. Soon as it’s dark.’
Spike didn’t seem surprised or angered at this. He agreed softly, ‘I am going, Luv. Don’t worry. This was just a…. I might come back though—if that’s okay with you.’
‘To be honest? I’d rather you didn’t.’
Spike scraped his fork over the plate in small, intricate patterns and continued in his quiet voice. ‘Afraid of me?’
‘No! Of course not!’
‘Afraid I’ll take Buffy from you?’
‘Shit, Spike! Hardly!’
‘Afraid I’ll take something else?’
‘Afraid I’ll take something you’re working so hard to keep hold of?’
‘No! You have to go!’
‘Okay, Pet. I know where I stand now—where you stand. I need to think things through, but I’ll come back.’
‘You’ve invited me in, Angel. Remember?’
He saw his error now.
He should have ignored the bell.
‘Please. I’m begging you: don’t come back.’
Spike reached out but withdrew his hand at the last moment. ‘I’m so sorry, Angel. I really am.’
Angel grinned. ‘I think I’ll go for a swim. The water looks great!’ He turned and went to the pool, humming softly.
The air was so hot! The water was so blue and so perfect to slide into.
It was a good life, a very, very good life.