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Reality Check - Chapter 21
As Angel was nothing more to Spike now than the demon that had once bitten him, he wasn’t in a position the following day to ask where Angel spent the night, nor had he verified in person that Angel hadn’t spent the night in his own apartment. Alone. That place was now off-limits, but it didn’t stop him cruising past the entrance to Angel’s office from early morning, on the off chance that he’d catch his emergence. Alone.
On his third stomp past, just after nine, Angel was at his desk. There was no outward sign that he’d done anything but sleep all night. Alone.
Before Spike could think up an excuse to go in and talk to him, he heard voices and turned to find Wesley escorting Charisma Coombs toward them. In daylight, she was even more beautiful than under the artificial light and makeup of the evening. Dressed in casual slacks and a silk blouse the colour of blood, she looked like a Goddess come to earth to recruit armies of worshipers. Spike, however, reckoned he could see surgery scars and collagen, and was determined to be neither impressed nor recruited.
She nodded at him with a smile, and the traitor took her into Angel’s office.
Angel was all smiles and politeness, preparing to show her around.
Spike wasn’t spared a glance, although he knew very well that Angel knew he was there. When they came out, however, Angel suddenly put his arm over Spike’s shoulder, as if they were about to do something heterosexual with a ball, and said in his best jock-voice, ‘Hey! We’ll bring Spike. He knows the damn place better than me.’
Spike corrected, ‘I’ under his breath, but if Angel heard, he didn’t let on. He did give him a smile: private, malicious, and behind the woman’s back as they walked away.
Spike gave him a suitable English response then went in the other direction. He felt in the mood to help Wesley with the drug research.
He was now very much in favour of Wesley continuing to work on it. His motives on this were varied: one minute being simply that it would piss Angel off if he knew, and the next being more complex, as if the promise of better-than-life were seducing him.
Inevitably, the beautiful couple (as Spike had heard someone refer to them) came into the lab. Angel began to explain some of it to her, but dried up fairly quickly and covered by waving over one of the white-coated assistants. While she was being briefed, he wandered over to Wesley and Spike. Wesley was only watching some lines on a machine, which he knew Angel would neither understand nor be interested in, so was not unduly worried. Spike couldn’t care less what Angel did, of course, so he just lit a cigarette. For some reason, though, he was uncharacteristically clumsy, accidentally knocking over Wesley’s mug of tea. This small mishap was not lost on Angel, and his lips quirked up with triumph. Sounding casual, he leant on the wall, watching them. ‘What y’doing?’ Not waiting for a reply, he said to no one in particular (but to Spike), ‘So, great party, huh?’
Spike was grinding his teeth too hard to reply, and Wesley, with a small sigh of martyred effort, replied, ‘Very pleasant.’
‘So, Spike, did you get to meet Charisma? I forget—kinda preoccupied.’
Spike moved away from Wesley and leant on the wall the other side of Angel. In a low voice, he said pointedly, ‘Won’t work.’
Angel narrowed his eyes, watching the woman as she flirted with the lab assistant. ‘Huge… brain. Amazing.’
‘What she see in you then?’ Spike could have bitten off his tongue. In his head, this had sounded so much less like a cue for Angel to point out exactly what the women did see in his perfect body, Angelic face and very large… car.
Angel refrained and only shrugged modestly. Spike bit through his cigarette and ground it into the floor. ‘You’re pathetic, Angel. You play these games, thinking people will always want you enough to put up with the shit you throw at them. One day, someone will call your bluff, and you’ll be left all on your own with your unfulfilled promises and pseudo life.’
Angel looked impressed. ‘You should have been a poet, Will. And you’ll never leave. You can make your dramatic exits—yeah, like we’re gonna actually stop fucking. You don’t fool anyone either, Spike. You’re the one who’s pathetic.’
Spike didn’t turn to look at him but kept his face forward and his expression neutral. ‘One day, it won’t be a crowbar I hit you with, Angel. It’ll be the truth.’
‘Whoa, I’m gonna tear up in a minute. The only truth here is that I’m what you want. I’m what you crave.’
Spike suddenly smiled. He turned slowly to the beautiful profile. ‘Then how come you’re the one doing this pathetic thing with her to make me jealous and get me to come back?’
He pushed off the wall and sauntered out, fairly sure who’d taken the field that day.
Angel got his revenge fairly quickly.
He called Wesley up to the office, and somehow in the call, it was implied that Spike was required, too.
Sceptical, but having nothing better to do, Spike tagged along as Wesley made his way up. ‘Do you think he noticed anything—in the lab?’
Spike shook his head. ‘There was only one thing he was noticing. Relax.’
When they entered the office, Angel and Charisma were having a drink, and Angel immediately poured them both one. Wesley took his, still looking slightly nervous. ‘What’s the occasion?’
Angel, watching Spike intently, said, ‘We’re becoming partners.’ Very deliberately, he laid his arm over the woman’s shoulders.
Spike shook his head wearily and put his drink down. ‘It’s been a long day in the kindergarten, Wes. I’m going home.’
He got halfway down the hallway before Angel caught up to him. They rode in the elevator together. ‘You don’t believe me.’
‘No, Angel. I do. I really do. I believe that you are so up your own arse about wanting me that you’ve spent the entire day….’
Angel slammed his hand on the emergency stop, and this time, the thing worked. Spike cursed his luck then winced slightly when Angel planted his hands either side of his head. Angel was watching his lips with an expression that hung uneasily between lover and predator. He licked his own and grinned, raising his eyes. ‘You still don’t get it. What more do I have to do to prove that I don’t want you? I don’t even like you, Spike. Jesus! Put yourself up against her! What the freaking hell have you got that I would want?’
Spike kept his gaze locked on the dark eyes. ‘I don’t know. Most days I hate myself more than you ever could. You tell me.’
Angel faltered, and for a moment, Spike saw something moving behind the closed-off, hateful expression. It rolled and curled, as if bound and trying to be free, but before he could say anything that might give it life enough to break through the resistance that held it in check, it was gone, locked down once more behind eyes that were now only predator.
Spike almost cursed out loud. So close. They’d been so close to breaking out of this destructive trap. So close to admitting what lay behind the cruel games that they played. For one fleeting moment, he saw himself breaking the barriers: telling Angel how he truly felt. But in doing that, he would surrender the entire war. He’d invested too much in it to do that. So, instead, he dug deep into his reserves of pain and said, ‘You really need to get over me, Angel. Move on, yeah?’
It was only as he heard his own words, that he remembered their provenance. It was only as Angel pushed angrily off the wall, released the door and stormed away that he remembered the consequences of those words when said to him—and all that had followed after.
It was too late to take them back and say the better things that had been hammering in his heart to escape: that he loved Angel and that he wanted the war to end.
Angel strode away without looking back, and thus saw none of the regret and pain crossing Spike’s face.
It was only then, standing in the elevator, feeling utterly vulnerable and wretched, that Spike realised he didn’t have his coat. He needed it like he needed comfort, and he decided one out of two was better than he deserved.
Then Spike had a very happy thought.
He lifted his eyes and stared intently at the ceiling of the elevator.
His clothes were still up in Angel’s apartment.
Obviously, he needed his coat. It was so obvious that it also made obvious that going to the apartment wasn’t actually going to the apartment. Not at all. It was something quite other than going to the apartment, or seeing Angel. It didn’t affect the fact that they were stopped, or that they were mortal enemies now, engaged in a battle, the rules for which had been drawn up over a century before. And it was nothing to do with the fact that he felt like a complete shit for allowing Angel to walk away from that final comment.
Pleased with his decision not to go up and see Angel, therefore, Spike strode out of the elevator and headed for the apartment.
Later, when he had time to remember, all he could focus on were the echoes. They’d started when he’d walked in, grinning shyly at this not-seeing-Angel strategy to see Angel. For a moment, he thought someone had bled out on the floor. Angel? Him? They had shed so much for so long that the bright crimson pool confused him: out of time, out of place. Then his brain caught up with his eyes, and he saw it for what it was: a discarded silk blouse. He suddenly wished that it were his blood.
That was something he was prepared to lose.
Then he heard the echoes, distorted ones: the first sound low and harsh, the echo higher.
He followed the sound because it was what had to be done. How had Buffy felt, watching him through a camera, moving on? Why had he repeated her words to Angel, knowing where they would lead? Where bitterness that deep always led.
So he went forward into the place of echoes, knowing it was pre-ordained for him to have this pain. He was a bad man, and he deserved to be punished. Getting his soul back in reparation for what he had done was nothing compared to this.
The echoes continued, rhythmically.
It was gloomy in the bedroom, despite being high afternoon. Perhaps Angel had pulled the shades to give the illusion of romance, despite the haste with which he must have brought the women up here.
He was on his back, and the beautiful figure rode him. Arched, her head thrown back in ecstasy, the long black hair that had reminded them of someone else hung down so far that it brushed the dark place between Angel’s thighs, mingling with his.
With her back to the door, engrossed with the thick length that was buried deep within her body, the woman didn’t hear Spike.
Had Buffy been able to back away? Or had their secret trapped her, forcing her to pretend a nonchalant watching of something that hurt her so much. He didn’t deserve the freedom to back away, but he did. A soldier in retreat from the battlefield of his life, he made no pretence of victory. He was only glad that they did not know he was there. He would not wish the pain he had felt, knowing that Buffy had been forced to watch, being inflicted on Angel.
Then, he saw the amused eyes.
Not only were they fixed on him, Spike knew that they’d been waiting for him, staring eagerly at the doorway. With a flash of delight in their unfathomable depths, Angel murmured, ‘I’m glad you came. I knew you would.’
The woman moaned her agreement to something of which she was no part.
Very deliberately, Angel put his hands up and cupped the softly quivering breasts, caressing them. Then he slid one hand around her neck and grasped the hair, twisting it like a strangler twists before death. A thick, dark coil in his hand.
It was enough.
Spike gave him a small nod and for all the fighting and loving and talking and screaming and pain over the last twelve decades, that tiny movement of his head was the most telling gesture of all.
He was defeated, and he surrendered the day.
He began to laugh, a hollow silent sound that was trapped in his throat and made him swallow urgently. He turned and walked away just as she had, heart torn. Every shard of pain he’d given her, was now returned. This was the reason he’d been allowed to regain his soul. Not so he could die for the world, but so that he could live and suffer. So that he could understand the pain that he gave to other people.
It hurt so bad he didn’t think he’d be able to physically keep walking.
He was in a car before he realised that he’d even taken one and driving out of the city without taking in one single moment of the journey. All he could see were Angel’s eyes as they mocked him. All he could hear was the sound they made together. All he could feel was an aching emptiness where his love for Angel had once been.
It was a strange afternoon, the sky hanging low over the city, yellow light saturating the walls, casting an eerie glow over skin. It was oppressive and suited his mood.
Without conscious thought, he drove toward the ocean.
By the time he arrived, the wind was blowing straight in off the sea, whipping the waves to frenzy, crashing them to the shore.
He sat for a while in the safety of the car, sensing the storm approaching.
He was a bad man. The very sky seemed to bear witness to his iniquity. He had deliberately said those words to Angel to precipitate that final showdown, even though he had not seen that deliberation at the time.
He was a bad man, and he should suffer for it.
But he was weak as well as bad, and he didn’t want to suffer any more.
It was such a small thing: opening a door, walking on the sand in the daylight. People took it for granted.
He would savour every moment, until he could savour no more.
He wanted to see if he could make it to the ocean. He had no intention of entering it. He didn’t do water, not voluntarily, and besides, he wanted to remember the last time he had done water. With Angel. He smiled at the memory.
He lit a cigarette then opened the door.
Gracefully, he stepped out into the lowering afternoon, buffeted by the wind. The cigarette fell out of his hand, but he didn’t notice for he’d begun to smoulder.
He began to walk toward the sea.
It hardly hurt at all, not even when the smoke erupted into flames.
There was no great rush as there had been the first time, when the light that had burnt him had saved the world. This was a more private death and, he hoped, more permanent.
By the time he reached the sea, flames were licking at his heart, and he knew it wouldn’t be long.
He turned slowly around, one last look at the world.
Another fireball was coming toward him.
Had he brought the echoes with him or had they been here waiting for him? In his pain, he could not work it all out.
Suddenly, his echo collided with him, hard and fast, and he was propelled into the water.
He fought to die like a man desperate to live, struggling in a stronger hold, clawing his way back toward the sand, but dragged powerfully into the sea.
He was submerged, waves crashed around him. He swallowed seawater and gagged like the weak demon he was. Flames were extinguished until a swell left his head exposed, and they sprang back to life like a joke candle given to a distressed child desperate to blow them out. Then he was pulled deeper, sucked into the ocean where it was still and calm under the storm.
His eyes began to focus, healing even as he hung suspended in the cold water.
Angel’s arms were locked around his neck, and they were standing at the bottom of the ocean, the light a faint blueness six feet or so above their heads.
He could not see Angel’s expression, only his hair, which rose like hope to the surface, swirling.
He could feel him though—the arms that locked on his neck, the body that pressed trembling with pain against him.
Time seemed to accelerate and stop at the same time, and suddenly, without a shadow of a doubt, Spike knew that he was dead.
The flames had taken him, and this was his hell, to be forever suspended in dark, cold water with an Angel that he couldn’t see or speak to or hear.
Whether Angel sensed something of this, or whether his own pain drove his actions, Spike suddenly felt a surge of pain in his throat. Fangs tore his muscles, and then nothing but pleasure as his blood began to flow home.
This wasn’t death.
This was life. Eternal and damned though it was. It was life, and he craved it.
With a huge intake of water, he cried out and began to kick from the powerful form, but it held him tight in its embrace. The mouth lifted from his neck, but legs wrapped around his body, imprisoning him even tighter.
A hand found his.
Spike fought again. Not now! Not holding hands now! Then he felt something being pressed against his fingers. A watch. Angel’s watch, and he got it: Angel was holding him under until the sun went down.
Panic surged again, but he was locked tighter, hands now pressing his face into a shoulder so broad that legions could cry on it and not diminish its strength.
They were shaking badly, burnt skin cooling rapidly and defeating their preternatural bodies.
He thought Angel so invulnerable but then saw the dark head stretch back in an attempt to fight panic. Or maybe Angel’s shaking wasn’t fear at all.
For the first time, Spike’s brain stopped churning with uncontrollable emotions; questions flooded in on their wake. How seemed the most pressing, but why tore his heart. He dreaded the answer to that.
At the same moment, they knew that the sun had gone. Angel just let go.
They rose, swimming to the surface as if they needed air. Old habits died hard. Old enmities even harder.
The waves were more powerful than when they’d sunk into the depths, the storm at its zenith, the tide high.
Half-swimming, half victims to the tidal power, they emerged to the sand, dark forms flopping wet and exhausted to the relatively warm, dry land.
Before he could defend himself, Angel was punching at him, albeit weakly, without the strength to do more. He was black from the burning, his hair standing straight up, looming over Spike like a figure from a nightmare. But his words didn’t seem to match his actions. He was crying something over and over again, but against the surf and the storm, Spike couldn’t hear. He grabbed at the hair and yanked, pulling Angel down, trying to grab his wrists and prevent the punching, but Angel rolled and pulled him over on top on him. Only then did Spike hear the ragged litany, ‘I love you! I love you! I love you!’
He wanted to stop the words for he knew they weren’t true, and he tried to free his hand to clamp it over the deceitful lips. For a moment, they struggled, until Angel seemed to sense what he was trying to do.
Sharply, seizing the back of Spike’s head, Angel crushed their lips together.
Nothing could be mistaken in that kiss.
It was every kiss that Angel had denied them. It was every tender moment that he’d resisted. It was the love that he’d locked inside himself to keep it safe.
A seventh wave washed over them, powerful, rolling them like the flotsam of life, but they neither heard its angry hiss nor felt its icy touch. The storm, the ocean, the beach coalesced in two hot mouths: two tongues and two souls willing to admit that the war was a sham and that passion had better ways of being expressed.
Gradually, however, the world began to intrude on their private reconciliation. The questions began to surface. The abandonment to mouth and tongue and lip faded to a quieter enjoyment of the feel of the other, the knowledge that the other was there: owned, wanted, needed, loved. That awareness led to ones of cold, discomfort and sand, and then, once more, the need for answers to questions.
Reluctantly, they climbed to their feet, and only touching occasionally at the arm, they made their way to Angel’s car.
By the time they reached it, the few shreds left of their clothes had fallen away. Angel reached into the trunk and passed Spike a blanket, wrapping one around himself.
Sitting in their dry warmth, cocooned in the luxury of the expensive car, they looked as if they’d escaped the fiery pits of hell, which emotionally, Spike reckoned was about right.
He began to question, but Angel just cupped him around the back of the neck and retuned them to the most important question: how intensely he could show Spike that he loved him. It took a long time for this question to be answered, and then the only language they used was one of tongue and saliva and soft lip tasting the truth on soft lip. Angel reminded them both how sterile it had been without kissing, this kiss now giving life back to places that had died in the bitterness of the preceding weeks.
Finally, Spike slid his hand reluctantly between them, even then having his fingers kissed and sucked until he laughed, a low, melodic sound that seemed so contrary to his demonically frightening appearance. Angel looked at him from bloodshot eyes and said calmly, ‘I didn’t think I’d hear that again.’
Spike swallowed, feeling the painful rawness on the inside of his throat where he’d sucked the burning air. ‘How are you here?’
‘Because I love you, Spike, and I….’
Spike smiled indulgently. ‘I meant how d’ya find me?’
‘Oh. The cars are all bugged.’
‘Huh? Jeez.’ He leant back in the seat, pondering the fact that his life had been spared by the evil paranoia of Wolfram and Hart.
Angel took his hands, playing with the blistered fingers, not looking up. ‘I have to tell you something.’
Spike squeezed Angel’s fingers lightly. ‘I know she meant nothing.’
Angel looked up, confused, then shook his head, rapidly changing this to a nod. ‘Yeah, she didn’t, but not her. I don’t mean that.’ He looked down again. ‘It wasn’t a dream, Spike. See, that was point—why what you did hurt so much.’
‘Huh?’ Spike tilted Angel’s chin, so they were staring at each other through heat-damaged eyes.
‘I didn’t dream it. It was real. Connor was my son, Spike. I had a son, and I loved him more than I’d ever loved anything. He was the height my soul could reach. Do you get what I’m trying to say? He wasn’t a whimsy created by a demon-induced fantasy. I gave him back his life as a baby and lived it again with him.’
‘I don’t understand what you’re saying.’
Angel closed his eyes for a moment. ‘I had a child with Darla—I know, I thought it was impossible, too. But he was very real, and I loved him. When he was only a few weeks old, he was stolen from me. So, when I had the chance, I got him back.’
‘Oh, God, and I took you away from him again.’
‘Yes. I went a little insane, I think.’
Spike turned and stared out of the window at the surf.
Angel laid his hand on the blanket-clad thigh. ‘Hey.’
Spike hunched his shoulders but didn’t reply.
Angel put the car in gear and drove slowly back to the coast road. He kept glancing over at the silent figure next to him. He put his hand back on Spike’s thigh, waiting to see what would happen. He was immensely relieved when Spike took his fingers and began to play with them thoughtlessly.
Suddenly, Spike turned and said, ‘Why did you come tonight?’
‘I told you, the car was….’
‘No, I mean: what is this now? What’s going to happen now?’
Angel twisted his hand so he was holding Spike’s fingers. He squeezed them gently. ‘Who’s idea was it, Spike?’
For the first time that Angel asked that question, Spike answered honestly. ‘Wesley articulated what I already knew. Nothing based on hatred could be as passionate as what we always had together.’
‘Yeah.’ Angel sounded as if a great weight of truth had been taken off his shoulders. ‘That’s what I think.’ He took his eyes off the dark road and turned his intense gaze on his companion. ‘I know it sounds trite, but I wanted you the first moment I saw you, at that damn card party—remember? And, yeah, I don’t deny that I wanted your soul and your pain and your blood, but if it was only that, I would have just killed you, not turned you and kept you by my side.’
‘Eyes front, maybe? Done all the dying I’m gonna do tonight.’
Angel snatched his gaze back to the fortunately empty road but said angrily, ‘And we’re gonna talk about that later, at our leisure.’
Spike pursed his lips, decided silence was best for a while, and went back to playing with Angel’s fingers, this time though with a great deal more concentration.
‘So, you still haven’t answered my question: what now?’
Angel jerked from the exhausted, autopilot driving he’d slipped into and realised they’d reached the city limits.
He sighed and didn’t try to hide his confusion. ‘I’m thinking one step at a time.’
Spike nodded. ‘Sleep first then.’
Angel smiled. ‘Shower and ointment before that.’
It hadn’t been meant as a cue, but nevertheless, Spike asked in a low voice, ‘Want some company for both those?’
Angel closed his eyes briefly and nodded, and once more that night, a small nod spoke more than all the preceding years of emotion could.