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Reality Check - Chapter 26
Spike genuinely didn’t know what was wrong. He had everything he’d ever wanted, but instead of making him happy, he felt increasingly… wrong. It wasn’t unhappy as such, just… wrong. He felt wrong; the place felt wrong, but worst of all, Angel felt wrong. Yet outwardly, nothing had changed from the perfection they’d created that first night.
It had taken him the rest of that night to fully recover from his hangover, but he hadn’t let that affect his almost constant need for Angel’s body. After the furious blowjob in the alley, he’d taken Angel as soon as they got into the apartment, forcing him, yet again, against a wall and sucking his sex into his mouth as if Angel were a cure for all ills.
He’d wanted Angel in the shower, demanded him later in bed, woke up needing him, and each time in his head, he heard: I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Being sorry didn’t make him feel better. Saying he was sorry didn’t work either, and to give Angel his due, he wasn’t demanding this constant apologising, or particularly enjoying it. He’d accepted that Spike would have gone no further with the man. That he’d been there at all, he’d processed in his own way. He didn’t want this obeisance for an error he partly blamed himself for. It had not escaped Angel’s notice that he had been the dominant one in their relationship and in their bed. Spike was entirely subservient, and it seemed to Angel as he took yet another exquisite blowjob from the beautiful mouth that such a power vacuum left enough emptiness for all the doubt in the world to rush in. When he should have known they were not talking about him, when he should have just laughed and come forward, Spike had stood there and let his trust be punched out by the irresistible fist of doubt.
Knowing something and doing something about it were very different things. Angel knew he should not accept Spike’s spread backside that night. He knew he shouldn’t explore inside Spike’s body with his fingers. He knew he shouldn’t release his seed deep into the willing flesh, and he knew beyond all this that he shouldn’t fall asleep still buried deep in the tight channel, claiming it and all that lay around it as his. He knew all this, but the knowing didn’t stop him. Tomorrow. He told himself that tomorrow he’d reverse things. Tomorrow he’d turn and lift his thigh and let himself be taken like a…. Tomorrow. He didn’t have to think about it tonight. He was inside Spike; Spike was his, and however wrong that was, he wanted it for one more night.
Spike woke knowing that the feelings had not gone away. It was like a mental shadow just out of range of his perceptive abilities: dark, creepy, and utterly unwilling to come into the light. He tried not thinking about it, hoping that he could then seize it when it appeared, take it by surprise, and think it properly, but it stayed hidden, lurking under brighter, better thoughts: that he loved Angel, that he had never loved him more.
Despite never having loved Angel more, Spike rose silently from the warm bed and left before his sleeping bedfellow woke. If he could immerse himself in something other than Angel’s body, Spike felt that the elusive thought might come to him. He sought Wesley out and found him in transit between the office and the lab.
Spike was curious to see Wesley’s reaction to him, but he could discern nothing beneath the polite exterior. It was unbelievably restful to be with someone who could control his emotions so completely…
Wesley stormed over to an assistant in the lab. ‘I expressly told you to stand by that canister and not move!’
The young man eyed the three feet from where he was standing to where Wesley was indicating and said, ‘Sorry,’ like someone who wasn’t and who wanted to say something more to the point.
‘Just get out.’
When the man left, Wesley murmured, ‘I’m surrounded by oafs,’ and gingerly checked the seals on the slim, metal container.
Spike lit a cigarette. ‘That’s it, I’m guessing?’
Wesley punched in a code, and the lid of the container sprang up. ‘This is the pure solution.’ He pulled a small vial nearer. ‘This is the carrier, which I’ve perfected.’ Very carefully, he lowered an exact measuring spoon into the main container and extracted a tiny amount, which he added to the carrier solution. Before he did anything else, he re-sealed the metal canister, checked it again, then carried it over to a wall safe.
Spike held up the vial. ‘What would this do to me?’
Wesley turned, in the process of shutting the safe. ‘Very little, I should think. Not with your constitution. A human? Twelve hours of better-than-life.’
Spike raised an eyebrow. ‘Nice.’
‘How much would you pay for that, Spike?’
Spike wasn’t in the mood to reply to this, so instead, he asked, ‘So, what are you gonna do with it?’
‘I want to conduct some resistance to pain experiments now. Can it keep someone happily under during an operation without the need for dangerous anaesthetics? But first I’m going to put this full solution safely in… there. Wolfram and Hart’s best.’
‘Over-egging the security there a bit, Wes?’
‘Just because you are paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you. Right, let’s get on with…. Spike? What’s…?’
Spike flinched. It was hard when your shadowy thoughts finally emerged.
Without responding to the puzzled human, Spike left the lab and headed up to Angel’s office.
He stood outside.
He could still see them sitting there: Angel and Wesley, discussing Gunn.
He knew it was Gunn now. That wasn’t a problem. Angel said they’d been discussing the human, and he believed him.
The trouble was, they could have been talking about him. Everything Angel had said applied to him equally well. It wasn’t a surprise he’d believed them; it was only surprising he’d not seen it before.
Angel hadn’t chosen him. Angel hadn’t made the conscious decision to start this thing with him. Angel had been forced into it by his increasingly out of control behaviour. He’d actually set himself on fire to force the issue. What had Angel been expected to do? Just let him burn? Of course he’d come for him. Of course he’d saved him. That wasn’t love; that wasn’t the conscious choice of a man with free will. He’d manipulated Angel into a situation that he couldn’t now get out of.
He didn’t even doubt that Angel loved him—in his own way. Lost causes—Angel was the champion of them. Didn’t he help the helpless? Who could have been more helpless?
They hadn’t been talking about him, but they might as well have been; just because you are paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.
It seemed so ironic that they should begin their relationship in a dream world where every emotion was suspect, only to find themselves in reality, facing just the same dilemma.
Spike jumped and realised that Angel was watching him from just inside the office.
‘You were out of it.’
‘What’s wrong?’ Angel looked down at his nails, a tiny gesture of confusion that only added to the poignancy of his question.
‘I forced you into this.’
Angel pursed his lips then gestured into the office and shut the door behind him. ‘What do you mean?’
Spike sat uneasily on the couch. After a moment, he said in a rush, ‘Buffy told me once about when you left her to come and live here.’
Angel sat down next to him, not interrupting, assuming this was going somewhere he could eventually follow.
‘She said she nearly died. That she was this close to screaming out and flinging herself on you, begging you to stay—or coming with you.’
Angel kept his own counsel; he already knew all this. He’d been that close to staying.
‘What would you have done if she had?’
Jerked back to the present by the unexpected question, Angel frowned. ‘If she’d begged me to stay?’
‘Yeah. If she’d… threatened to do something dumb maybe….’
Angel suddenly got where they were going before Spike actually took him there. He swallowed and debated what to say. He couldn’t see that anything he said would make this situation better, so he just told the truth. ‘That has nothing to do with us, Spike. I love you, and I want you. In fact, I’ve been thinking that….’
‘But if you had a totally free choice, you wouldn’t.’
‘My choices are my own.’
‘I know that, but….’
‘There are no buts as far as I’m concerned.’ He was about to make an annoyed comment that this was all crap in Spike’s head, but once more, some innate instinct kept him quiet. Once more, he just put his arm over Spike’s shoulders and waited quietly.
Spike’s face was a picture of fleeting thoughts, all equally miserable.
Eventually, Angel said softly, ‘Maybe you’re just scared, and this is your way of keeping an escape route open.’
Spike turned his head sharply. ‘I don’t want out. Christ. That’s the last thing I want….’ He felt something charge through Angel’s body, felt the muscles in the powerful arm spasm. ‘Angel! Did you think I wanted out?’
Angel rose swiftly and went to the window.
Shocked at the emotion he felt pouring off the silent figure, Spike went hesitantly to his side. ‘I’m sorry’ He wanted to add the word again, but knew Angel heard this anyway.
‘Don’t ever think that I don’t love you and want you, Spike.’
Angel turned and went back to his desk, immersing himself in paperwork they both knew he wasn’t even seeing.
Spike watched him for a while, intensely sad that however much Angel purported to love him, and however much he actually believed him, it didn’t change the fact that their relationship was based upon the extremity of death. Angel wishing it otherwise, didn’t make it true.
For Angel’s sake, he kept up the appearance that he was happy. He didn’t expect Angel to be fooled though and knew that he wasn’t. They were too close physically to hide lack of emotional commitment. He gave of his body, but he held back at the same time. He kept some essential core deep inside himself that he didn’t share with Angel, and that tiny absence flowered in the damp warmth of their love making way out of proportion to its size. Within days, there was an emotional chasm between them that they could not cross. Conversation became polite, laughter forced. They lived together like careful roommates: picking up their clothes, washing their own dishes, putting on TV channels that the other wanted. They had sex, but it involved only their bodies. They could not afford to commit their stronger armoury—their hearts—for, unwished, the battle lines had once again been drawn.
It was so hard for Angel not to feel huge resentment toward Spike. Spike knew this—he even agreed with him. His self-hatred knew no bounds. Hating himself, it became very easy for Angel to hate him, too, and so they spiralled out of control in their polite, precise, little relationship.
And, as always at Wolfram and Hart, the very walls of the place seemed to feed upon the misery of its inhabitants. Angel sank beneath the waves of evil, struggling to be all things to all people. If the unfairness of the situation struck either of them, they did not mention it, for this only sparked memories of what Angel could have had in that other place—albeit for so short a time.
The unhappiness of his two best friends did not go unnoticed by Wesley, just as their happiness had not, despite his inability to show his feeling in a demonstrative way. He watched, and he waited, a sense of great disquiet nagging at him.
Lying together at night had become exquisitely painful. They still craved the other’s body, but could not find that elusive, all-encompassing passion, which had been theirs for that one incredible night. As soon as they had released the body’s need, one or other of them would get up on some pretext—work, TV—and spend the night on the couch.
It was on such a night, lying alone in the living room, that Spike, once more, reached the bad place, which he had discovered only a few nights before. Now, though, he didn’t even have the righteous anger that had driven him from the apartment to the ocean. Now, he was to blame for this situation, and knowing that only tipped him further into the darkness of his depression. Blinking back tears, one of his particularly fortuitous thoughts occurred to him. He put it down to fate and did not attempt to fight it.
Stealthily, he pulled on his clothes and left the apartment. He made his way through the dark, deserted hallways of the evil empire. When he arrived at his destination, he stared thoughtfully at the wall for a moment before reaching out a hand.
The combination was tricky, but with preternatural hearing and an excellent memory, he had it opened within five minutes.
Even then he hesitated.
What had Wesley implied? The land from whence no traveller returned? Sounded good to him: he had no intention of returning this time, and it was so much less painful than burning up.
Cautiously, he opened the safe door and slid his hand into the dark interior.
‘It’s not there.’
Spike gave a good impression of someone who still had a heart to stop. He put his palm over the place that should be thumping in distress and turned, angry. ‘Don’t you know better than to bloody creep up on a bloke like that? And what the fuck are you doing here at three in the morning?’
‘Waiting for you. I had a feeling you might try something like this.’
‘Where is it?’
‘In the vaults. Even I don’t have full access to those facilities. I catalogued it as an ancient urn and had it placed there.’
‘Fuck you!’ Spike slammed the wall safe shut and kicked at the wall, the temptation to harm the smug human almost overwhelming.
‘What the hell did you think you were going to do with it, Spike? You know if you take that pure solution you don’t return. Ever. It would hold you in its seductive maw just as tightly as this reality does. No one—demon or human—would have the strength to escape it. No human could even survive it, and you would be trapped until your body faded away.’
‘You have no idea….’
‘Yes, Spike, I do. I had a—. It was a dream, I think, but there was a vampire starving, and he was a very, very unpleasant sight. I sometimes see him still in my dreams and want to feed him my own body. Sometimes I do. I know the power of delusion just as you do.’
‘I just want—. I need—.’
‘You need to stop this foolishness.’
At that, Spike did advance on the human, but the man didn’t step back. He took off his glasses and began to polish them slowly.
Spike, disarmed by the vulnerable human gesture, let arms fell uselessly to his side.
‘Angel loves you, and to tell you the truth, vampire, it makes me a little cross that you seem to be throwing that away. Some people wouldn’t.’
Spike didn’t miss the wistful tone, but he chose to ignore it.
‘You don’t understand, Wesley. You understand less than you think you do. Angel has lost people—people who were very important to him. If he had them back, I wouldn’t even get a look in. Jesus.’ He rubbed his eyes tiredly. ‘I actually feel sorry for Harmony now. What a bloody awful thing to be—someone’s substitute.’
‘You’re an idiot, Spike.’ Wesley put his glasses back on and began to walk toward the door. ‘I’m sorry to be so blunt, but frankly, you need to get your head out of your arse, and let someone else enjoy it.’ On that, he left.
Spike dawdled in the lab for a while, not wanting to return to the awkwardness upstairs, but eventually, he had little choice. Staying away from Angel for any length of time wasn’t an option. The powerful figure was like a drug, with all the paradoxes of the best of those.
The bedroom was dark when he peered in, Angel lying still on his back. Spike felt the dark eyes on him, though he couldn’t see them. He nodded and made a faint gesture toward the couch, which he then sat on. It was a long night, and sleepless with misery. He rose at first light, feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Angel was still in bed, and Spike really didn’t want to wake him, with all the awkwardness that would entail. He crept past to the shower and hoped that Angel would take the opportunity to rise and leave, as he had a number of times already that week.
He was surprised, therefore, to find Angel still sleeping when he came out. He didn’t appear to be faking either. Spike assumed Angel had suffered a sleepless night, too, so he dressed and crept out, leaving him to sleep.
When Angel had not appeared by lunchtime, Spike returned to the apartment. He had a strange sense of déjà vu as he rode up in the elevator, but shook it off, unwilling to examine its provenance.
He saw the legs first and felt a small jolt of fear in his heart. Angel was lying exactly as he’d left him that morning.
Spike stepped forward and put a hand on Angel’s brow, but it was for show only. He knew what this was. He’d known what it was going to be as soon as that déjà vu had pricked his consciousness.
With a shaking hand, he called down to Wesley, and the human arrived in a couple of minutes.
Wesley took one look at the vampire on the bed, turned, and began to run back to the elevator. Spike followed him, and they exited, running side-by-side. Wesley led him to places he’d never been before—ancient book depositories, storage facilities—in the lowest levels of the firm. Outside one, there appeared to be a guard. The man stepped forward with a hand up to restrain them. Wesley punched him unconscious, and they continued running down the darkened hallway.
Eventually, the human skidded to a halt in front of a wall of security deposit boxes. He touched them lightly with one finger then fished a device out of his pocket, running it through a scanner. One box slid out, and Wesley, with a glance at Spike, looked inside.
He lifted out the silver canister and checked the seal. He looked relieved for a moment then punched in a number and released the top.
His face said it all.
With a moan of distress though, he murmured, ‘It’s half gone. But it’s impossible. I mean—. No one knew but me, and all this security….’
Spike was amazed how calm his voice was. ‘It’s what he does, Wesley.’
Wesley’s brow wrinkled. ‘Why? For Christ’s sake, why would he want to do this—now of all times!’
Once more, Spike’s voice was so calm it actually scared him. ‘He wanted to go back to them—to the ones he really loved. It’s what I’ve been sensing all this time, but no one would believe me.’
Wesley shook his head. ‘This isn’t like Angel.’
Spike mirrored his gesture. ‘No, it is. You just don’t know the whole picture, Luv.’
Wesley’s hand began to shake, and he screwed the cap back on to preserve his precious drug. With one hand, he removed his glasses. ‘This isn’t how it’s supposed to end.’
Spike began to walk back up the long hallway. Wesley returned the canister and eventually followed him.
He was surprised that Spike went to the lab, and he jogged to catch up. Spike said casually, ‘I want the dilute one—on the carrier.’
‘Why for God’s sake?’
‘I want to say goodbye.’
‘No! You’ll try to find a way to stay there!’
Spike laughed. It was a sad sound. ‘I could have had him here, Luv. Give me the one that wears off. I’m just going to say goodbye. He’ll need that closure, or he’ll be unhappy.’
‘Christ.’ Wesley’s voice shook, and he turned away to hide his uncharacteristic outburst. Spike pouted then laid a hand on his arm.
Wesley waved him off for a moment to recover his composure then rummaged amongst some bottles and produced the one Spike wanted. ‘I don’t think it will keep you under more than a couple of hours.’
‘That’s all I’ll need.’
Suddenly, Wesley grabbed Spike’s hand and said urgently, ‘It’s still possible that he can be brought back. You could….’
Spike patted the hand on his arm. ‘Nah. I’m going to finally give him what he wants, Wesley. It’s gonna be the last thing I do for him, yeah? I’ve done this before for someone else—let her have her freedom from me. Seems to be what people need.’
Wesley was too wrapped up in his own misery to do anything about Spike’s. He knew that he would not be able to leave Angel lying like that until… the end. One way or another, he would end this for Angel. It was the last thing he could do for him, as well. Sadly, he handed Spike the connecting wires he had put away so thankfully the first time and watched him leave with a strange blurring over the gloom.
Spike took the elevator to Angel’s room one last time. There would only be one final ride down after this—alone. It was fitting, as the rest of his eternity would be suffered alone, too.
Angel had not stirred. Spike had not expected him to. For all the activity they had indulged in their minds in the dreamtime, their bodies in this reality had lain as if in death.
He lay down on the bed and attached the wires, letting his fingers brush lovingly over Angel’s slightly clammy temples. He couldn’t wait to see him again.
He closed his eyes and took the drug.
It was dark, and he blinked. He was not where he expected to be and felt badly thrown. It appeared to be a small cabin, rough-hewn and homely. A few bright rugs were thrown on the floor. The walls were solid split trunks of great pines, and the air was resonant of their evocative scent.
The door of the cabin stood open and intensely bright sunlight streaked in at a sharp angle. Going cautiously to stand on the shady side, Spike peered out.
Angel, stripped to the waist, was standing just outside, chopping wood. He was standing in the bright sunlight, deeply tanned and muscular, sweat pouring off his skin as he bent and swung, bent and swung in a rhythm of activity.
Spike didn’t even attempt to wipe his tears away.
Everything he had ever wanted in the whole of his eternity was contained in that sleek package.
Without turning around, Angel suddenly said, ‘Hi.’
Spike felt his heart flip over, and he replied cautiously, ‘Hi.’
Angel sank the axe into the block and turned, wiping his face on his shirt. He indicated for Spike to follow him and began to walk.
Angel turned, surprise on his face. ‘Just make yourself human and step out.’
Utterly confounded that Angel seemed to know that this was not real, Spike replied hesitantly, ‘I can’t.’
Angel laughed, but it wasn’t a particularly pleasant sound. ‘Don’t tell me you’ve not always wanted to be human. Be brave, Spike.’
‘No! I’ve never wanted that! I like what I am!’
Angel came forward quickly. ‘You tried to kill me to take that freaking cup away from me! You wanted to be human enough then.’
‘No! I just didn’t want you to be….’ His face fell. He didn’t like giving Angel so much ammunition in this endless battle of theirs. Angel, though, seemed genuinely surprised by this, and he nodded contritely.
With a sigh, he said wearily, ‘Just step out, Spike. The sun’s no more real than our freaking feelings ever were.’
On that enigmatic note, Angel turned and began to walk away.
Spike glanced up then stepped out.
For the first time, he regretted not taking the permanent drug. The sunlight on his skin was better than loving fingers, and he tipped his head back, mesmerised by the sensation.
He heard a cough and looked over to find Angel waiting for him, and then, for the first time, their surroundings hit him. He made a small noise of surprise and turned slowly. The cabin was situated in a sloping meadow full of wild flowers. At the bottom of the hill was a dense forest of pine trees and the occasional sparkle from a stream. All around them, in the distance, were mountains. Spike knew that if he looked up into the cobalt sky, he would see an eagle lazily circling. It was better than perfect. It was surreal.
Angel gestured again and began to walk down the slope toward the trees.
Spike stood his ground and said, ‘I’ve only come to….’
‘I know why you’re here, Spike.’
‘Oh. Well, let’s just do it then. I can’t stay long.’
‘I want you to see something first.’ Angel turned and stared at the trees, and faintly, Spike heard the sound of other voices. As he watched, two figures began to run up the slope. From a distance, he thought they were two girls, but when they got closer, he saw that one was a slim, almost androgynous youth and the other a girl of about twelve. Angel held out his arms, and they flew to him, laughing and seeking his love and approval, of which they were given both in large measure.
He turned formally and said with a smile, ‘Spike. I want you to meet Connor—my son.’
The youth grinned and held out his hand. ‘I’ve heard a lot about you.’
Spike didn’t move. He needed his hands where they were: seeing no reason to take part in this insanity, he was holding onto his fragile reason with desperately clawing fingertips. The boy didn’t seem put out. He withdrew his hand and said politely, ‘Dad said you were kinda hard to get to know.’
Angel grinned at his son’s genius and then turned to the girl. Shyly, he picked her up and nuzzled into her long blonde hair. ‘And this is Kathy.’
Spike started. Kathy was a creature of myth and long nights of Angelus’s maudlin tears. Angel seemed to read his mind, for he added quietly, ‘Three hundred years of regret, now ended.’
The girl turned worshipful eyes to Angel and hugged him fiercely until Connor dug her in the ribs and shouted, ‘Race you to the swimming hole!’ She screeched and wriggled out of Angel’s arms, and together, hair flying behind, they ran down the hill through the wild flowers.
Angel stretched out his arms and sighed with intense pleasure. ‘Why did you really come? We don’t need to say goodbye.’
Spike toed the ground, his emotions wretchedly confused. ‘I thought you would—to be happy. Closure or some shit, I guess.’
‘You want to make me happy? Like, I’m believing that.’
‘I do. It’s all I’ve ever wanted, but you didn’t want me.’
‘Ah. There is that.’
There was silence for a while. Angel eyed Spike narrowly then began to walk slowly up the hill past the cabin. Spike followed.
‘Maybe you came here to rip me out again. How do I know?’
‘You won’t ever leave here.’
‘Well, I hardly needed you to come then, did I?’
Spike stopped. ‘Perhaps I needed something! Perhaps I wanted to say goodbye.’
They had reached the crest of the hill, and the view from the top was magnificent. But it had all been taken from old editions of National Geographic, so Spike refused to allow himself to be impressed.
Angel folded his arms and looked about him: a king surveying his domain. ‘Everything I’ve ever wanted is here, Spike. I have created every blade of grass, every leaf, every strand of golden hair on Kathy’s head. Everything.’
‘You want I should kneel?’
Angel smiled. ‘Maybe.’
Spike stepped closer. ‘I want to go now, so let’s just… say goodbye.’
‘You sound sad.’
‘You fucker! What the fuck do you think I am?’
‘I think you came thinking you’d find some way to rip me back.’
‘What? No.’ Suddenly, Spike dipped his head, closed his eyes and said quietly, ‘I want you to be happy, and this is… perfect.’
‘It is, isn’t it? Spike…?’
Spike was screwing up his eyes tightly to keep tears at bay, and only moved his head slightly to indicate he was listening.
‘Look. Look at my perfection—what I’ve always wanted and now have.’
Spike sighed, opened his eyes, and lost control on the tears, which ran hot down his face.
The tears confused his vision for a moment, so he blinked rapidly. One by one, the mountains were greying out until they became as nothing.
The meadows began to roll up and run away to the faint mountains, like waves receding in a hallucinated ocean. Tall, rugged pines went back into the ground, as if the earth missed their company.
And then the children…. Laughing, walking over the fading flowers….
They stood and smiled at Angel then turned and walked away, shrivelling as they went, no illusion left that they were anything but delusion. Finally, the sun went out, and all was bitterly cold and dark.
Spike, shivering, heard a disembodied voice in the darkness. ‘As if any drug could ever be strong enough to overcome my conscious will. Everything I’ve ever wanted is as naught to you, Spike. You would not believe me, though, however much I tried to tell you. You needed to be shown, Doubting Thomas that you are. And I am a destroyer of worlds now—for you. For you to see this physical manifestation of my conscious choice.’
A hand found his in the dark, and Spike clung to it like a life buoy. It was saving him, so it seemed fitting. Then lips found his, and in this place of nothingness, they found all they would ever need.
Angel held Spike in a tight embrace and kissed him, gentle and needy. The power of the kiss carried into reality, for they woke on the bed their mouths pressed together, no drug able to contain the power of their passion.
Angel cupped Spike around the back of the neck and pressed their foreheads together. ‘My deliberate flaw and my true perfection.’ He took a deep breath. ‘Now, can we please have just a few hours where absolutely nothing happens,’ he reached a hand lower, ‘except this, of course….’
Feeback always most welcome to jenny