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Reality Check - Chapter 24
Work was cancelled for the day by mutual consent.
Instead, they cleaned up and went for a drive. A long one. They drove to Sunnydale and witnessed the devastation neither of them had seen before. They drove to the ocean and argued. They went shopping and argued some more. It was the best day either of them could remember for a very long time. Ever. The best day and it was real; it was normal, and it was theirs.
They returned to the firm in the early evening, depositing the things they’d bought to make the apartment more habitable for two. Peaceful domestication didn’t seem too much to ask after four hundred combined years of nothing but strife and pain.
Spike watched telly. Angel cooked. They argued some more, and before they could believe it, night had fallen, and they actually felt tired, like real people: tired without the exhaustion of death and evil, demons and killing.
Bedtime though was something very new.
They sat on the couch, mindlessly watching TV, neither wanting to break that intimacy to start another. Angel lay sprawled, one leg up, one hanging down to the floor, Spike lying along him, his head propped on his elbow, one leg hooked over Angel’s. They played with fingers, touched hard flesh on thigh or arm, trailed hands lightly over sensitive skin and talked. Always the talk, endless talk, trying to re-write their history, examining in minute detail who’d done what to whom and why—the real why, the why given life in this newfound love and trust. Spike admitted how jealous he’d been of Angel and Buffy. Angel admitted the same, which amused them both. Spike got up the courage to tell him about getting his soul—what had precipitated it. Angel only stroked gently down his arm and told him how he’d tried to kill Wesley. They plunged into sad memories, feeling they could not hurt them now. They felt invincible, armoured, safe.
The feeling stayed with them as they eventually risked the bed, leaving the warm, comfortable embrace. Within minutes, they were wrapped together in a tangle of tired limbs and not even the most precise instrument in the labs of Wolfram and Hart could have said where one began and the other ended, or have attempted a separation of those powerful, matched bodies.
Angel woke, saw immediately by the light that it was late, and realised he’d forgotten to set his alarm. He smirked and snuggled closer into the warm hollow. He wasn’t a morning person, and it took very little to tempt him to stay a little longer in bed. Spike was more than a little temptation. He was warmth and ease, delicious scent and intriguing tastes. He begged to be played with, and Angel indulged himself. Sleepy and warm, half-asleep, he idly plugged Spike with a finger or massaged his wobbly sac. Spike grunted, made himself more available then went back to sleep. The spread backside woke Angel some more—enough to slide down and replace finger with tongue. But tongue required too much effort, and he fell back asleep with his mouth open, drooling slightly into Spike’s shallow valley.
When he woke again, he sensed that Spike was already awake. He grunted quietly and righted himself, pulling the pliant body closer without opening his eyes.
Angel only grunted again and tried to tip back over into the peace of sleep.
‘You gonna think about maybe going to work?’
Angel sighed and twisted his head round to check the alarm. It puzzled him. Time appeared to have gone backward. As he was puzzling this small phenomenon, Spike said amused, ‘It’s tomorrow.’
Angel sat up. ‘Shit!’ After a moment, he mumbled, ‘So much for being the damn CEO….’ He peered down at Spike then shook his head in despair. ‘Do you always look that good in the morning?’
Spike nodded happily.
Angel shook his head again and swung his legs out of bed. There was a moment of disappointment between them, as if Angel should have done something other than this small movement away from the warm, spread figure. Then he picked something off the nightstand, looked at it for a moment, then stretched his hand behind to Spike.
When the incongruously delicate gold chain landed in Spike’s upturned palm, Angel bent his head, like a supplicant, like a man awaiting an axe that would surely change his fate.
With a small murmur of wonder, both at the simplicity of Angel’s declaration and at the fact he had remembered this at all, Spike knelt behind the bent figure, his thighs spread around Angel’s naked hips. His better-than-life moment repeated—only this time it was real, and it was his. Spike’s hand trembled slightly as he placed the chain on the smooth skin. He fastened the clasp then straightened the gold links, running a finger around the thin track. Before Angel could lift his head, Spike bent and placed one kiss on the warm skin at the back of his neck. With a smile, Angel put his hand back and cupped him around the neck, rubbing affectionately with his thumb on the short-cropped hair. ‘You coming down?’
Spike kissed him again. ‘Yeah. Maybe later.’
Angel nodded, no need to speak his thanks. Appearing together was still too soon. Their feelings lit them from the inside, and he feared that the glow would shine through their pale skin, betraying them to the world.
All morning, the chain on Angel’s neck warmed him. He could still feel Spike’s fingers where they’d touched. His feelings scared him slightly, but it was good fear. It made him want to rise to some unspoken challenge. It seemed ironic, but he wondered if he was finally about to discover exactly how he could be a champion: in deserving Spike’s love.
They did not see each other again until the late afternoon. Even then, it was only in passing: Spike entering an elevator that Angel was exiting. They nodded at each other in much the same way they had always done. It was a test, and they passed it. If it set up a ache in belly and balls that needed to be relieved, if it made Angel’s chain burn with a fierce need to feel fingers on his body once more, if it made them insensible to all that happened around them for the next hour, then all of that was kept private. Outwardly, they passed, nodded, and carried on. That was enough for now.
Angel was surreptitiously watching the minute hand on his watch, trying to make it move faster with the power of his will, when Wesley knocked questioningly on his door.
Angel glanced up and flicked his eyes to the chair in welcome. ‘What’s up?’
Wesley suppressed the desire to suggest that Angel probably knew the answer to that better than he did and said dejectedly, ‘I’m worried about Gunn.’
Angel sighed and got up to pour them both a drink. He handed Wesley one and then sat back in his chair, swivelling it so he could put both feet up on his desk. ‘I know.’
Backs to the door, neither saw Spike approaching across the lobby.
‘I didn’t tell you, Wes. He tried to kill himself.’
Spike, standing in the doorway, his face paling, went unobserved.
Wesley replied to Angel’s declaration calmly. ‘I suspected as much—but a cry for help only, surely?’
Spike leant on the wall just to one side of the door. This was fascinating. Really fascinating. He’d never believed that old adage that you should never listen to friends talk about you. There was a rustle in response to Wesley’s observation, and Spike actually saw Angel shrug, so intently was his mind’s eye fixed in that room. ‘It looked pretty convincing to me.’
‘Ah. And that’s why you’re giving in to him like this?’
‘I’m not… I’m… letting him down gently. There’s a difference. I understand his pain.’
‘He thinks you value him more than that. Keeping him on here like this will ultimately only hurt him more.’
‘I do value him, Wesley.’
‘I know. But he used to be a bloody good operator. Like this, he’s useless. He’s dangerous. You have to tell him. You have to let him go.’
‘I can’t. I owe him more than that. We have a long history.’
‘I know. It’s why I’m keeping him here with me—keeping him close. I’m afraid of what he’ll do if I push him away. But be very clear on this, Wes; if he hurts me or mine again, I will end it.’
Spike rolled slowly off the wall. It was too much effort to do more. He walked toward the elevators. For some odd reason, he had the desire to get blindingly drunk.
Wesley leant forward and replaced his glass on the desk. ‘You’re more vulnerable now, Angel. You have a lot to lose.’ He paused and adjusted his glasses. ‘Spike, for example.’
Angel swung his legs off the desk. ‘Is that a tactful English way of asking if I’m in love with Spike?’
Wesley chuckled. ‘As if I actually need to ask.’ He rose and began to walk toward the door.
Angel frowned deeply and just before the man went out of earshot, said softly, ‘Do you approve?’
Wesley turned, surprised. ‘Since when do you need my approval?’
Angel lifted his eyebrows but continued to stare at something on his desk. ‘I made an error once assuming your approval. I don’t intend to make that mistake again. Be very sure where you stand in this, Wesley.’
Wesley came a little forward. ‘I’m not entirely sure I get what you mean, but I’m very sure where I stand: if I could, I would surround you both like a bastion. You are owed this. Both of you.’
Angel smiled down at the desk then raised his eyes. ‘Good.’ He smiled, that enigmatic smile that kept the human a willing slave. ‘One day, I may tell you why that means so much to me.’
Wesley swallowed, more caught up with Angel’s eyes than his words.
It was on the third drink that Spike got they’d been talking about someone else. It cheered him up until the fifth when he got that they hadn’t. Tried to kill himself? That kinda pointed the big old finger of suspicion at him.
So, Angel was letting him down gently. It hadn’t seemed to him, from his position, that Angel had been doing that at all, but he allowed that face pushed into the pillow, arse stuck up like a bloody bulls eye, he’d not been in the best position to judge. Seemed to him that Angel had finally made that transition from someone he could only love in his head to someone he could love passionately out loud. But, once more, he allowed that he might not be in the best position to judge—being as he was in love, and love clearly clouded your mind.
By the tenth drink, he’d decided to help everyone out and go before Angel had to ask him to leave. After all, Angel hadn’t said he hated him—far from it; he’d seemed genuinely fond of him, in his own way: like a dog that’s been abused by previous owners, maybe. Like an old shirt that’s outlived its style.
But Angel had agreed that he was dangerous. To whom? Spike had no wish to hurt anyone, except himself, and maybe Angel. Possibly Wesley now, the sneak. He wasn’t too fond of the cunty bitch with the crimson silk, either.
By the twelfth drink, Spike had the whole of Wolfram and Hart burning in a vast conflagration of hate. He watched the flames rise to the night sky, but when he saw a vague and disturbing similarity between this and his burning (twice), he switched it to a tidal wave, which was equally satisfying, if a little improbable. The comet he crashed into it next was much more probable. Or on the fifteenth drink it was.
He was getting pissed that he couldn’t get pissed. Trust preternatural constitution to kick in when he didn’t want it. He tried to remember how many drinks it had taken to him to muster enough courage to return to Sunnydale and tell Angel that he was love’s bitch. More than this. And he had a soul now. Maybe that absorbed the alcohol, like hollow legs on sailors. He began to wonder if it was working, when strange thoughts of sailors began to creep around his defences. That would piss Angel off. Or would it? What had Angel said? I value him. It wasn’t: I’ll tear him a new one if he skanks off with a sailor. Not that Angel would know a good skank if he tripped over one….
As if on cue, someone offered to buy Spike his next drink. He wasn’t drunk enough to refuse a free drink, nor sober enough not to check out the man that offered. When the thought, ‘Hmm, nice,’ crossed his mind, he laughed and began to think that he’d put Angel behind him. Like the devil. It was a nice thought, until Angel began to undress and do bad things to him….
‘Yeah. Sure, why not?’ He played this back in his head, and it sounded okay. Sober enough.
The man attracted the bartender then sat down. ‘You come here often?’
Spike lifted his eyebrows. ‘Even my chat-up lines are better than that!’
The man jerked his head back. ‘Who the hell said I was chatting you up?’
‘See? That’s much better.’
The man looked confused and glanced at his own chair as if wondering whether to return to it. Spike laid a hand on his arm. ‘And no, I’ve never been here before.’ Suddenly, he began to laugh. ‘Oh, bloody hell, I’ve never left. I just circle around and around and wind up shit-faced in some bar with my heart broken.’
‘Okay, I’m thinking maybe you really need to be on your….’
‘No.’ He increased the pressure on the man’s arm. ‘I don’t wanna be alone. I’m sorry. I’m not drunk. Honest.’
The bartender overheard this last and, as he’d poured the beautiful, pale man drinks all night, raised his eyebrows sceptically. Spike put his face into one of his innocent expressions. ‘I’ve got a hollow soul, see?’ He turned back to the man and raised his glass. ‘Cheers.’ The bartender rolled his eyes but left the bottle, which was all Spike cared about.
The other man nodded and picked up his glass. ‘So, do you have a name?’
Spike shook his head, sadly. ‘Nope. Thought I did, but that must be someone else.’
‘Okay.’ The guy blew out his cheeks. ‘Well, I’m Nick. What do you want to be called? Here’s your chance for a whole new name.’
Spike’s eyes widened. ‘I’ve had two of those already. A new one? Huh. Okay.’ He screwed up his face. ‘Nope, can’t think of one.’
‘Then I’ll call you Sean.’
‘Ugh? Bloody Sean? What the fuck?’
Nick laughed and ran his palm over Spike’s head. Now on his sixteenth drink, Spike still didn’t get it, but he got the touch. He lifted his eyes seductively. ‘That’s a much better line.’
Nick snatched back his hand. ‘Maybe I’d better go.’
‘What do you want?’
The man immediately found something fascinating in the bottom of his glass. ‘You looked….’
‘What?’ Spike was genuinely curious. Perhaps he could find out what it was in his face that made him so unlovable.
Yep, that would do it. What had Angel said? Misery likes company. He and Angel—matched misery.
‘So….’ He ran a finger lightly over the back of the man’s hand. ‘You thinking of cheering me up then?’
Nick bit his lip. ‘I think I’ve made a huge mistake, Sean. I’m sorry. I—. I’m kinda new to this, and you looked….’
‘NO! Sad—like I said. I kinda thought….’
The man sagged and blushed. ‘Yeah.’
‘I said, why not? I am on the rebound. Well, I’m not actually bounding anywhere, more like slinking in me own fucking misery, but what the hell? He wants to let me down gently? I’m thinking you’d make a real soft cushion.’
Nick looked down, his face dark. ‘I thought maybe you’d say that I should have more self-esteem.’
‘Hell, no, I’m a bad man. I’m out of control—apparently. Why the fuck should I care about you?’
‘This was a bad idea.’ He got up to leave, but Spike held his sleeve.
‘Don’t. Please. I’m sorry. I’m—. I am drunk, in case you didn’t notice, but I’m kinda out of options here.’
Nick sat back down and poured them two more drinks. ‘I do want more than this, but I can’t work out how to get it. Do you know what that’s like?’
Spike laughed but felt tears of self-pity prick at the same time. ‘Yeah. I do. Believe me, I do.’
‘So…. How long since you… broke up…?’
Spike glanced at the clock over the bar. ‘Three hours, but he doesn’t know it yet.’
Nick let out a breath of relief and at Spike’s curious glance mumbled, ‘I was afraid it might be a girl.’
Spike closed his eyes wearily. ‘Nah. I just died for her. ‘S different. This burning will go on interminably.’
‘Do you want to talk about it? Him?’
Spike kept his eyes closed but put his hand unerringly on the man’s thigh. ‘What do you think?’
Nick moved his leg away with a nervous glance around the bar. ‘Er… do you have a place?’
suddenly brightened. ‘Actually, I do. Yeah, I do. My own place. Come on….’
He ruined his big exit by falling off the stool when he misjudged the
distance to the floor, but swept up the rest of the bottle without spilling
a drop. Triumphantly, he took a hold on Nick’s jacket and pulled him toward