the Fire in Which we Burn
Episode 2 - Chapter 3
It was a very small conference. Wesley sat next to a very disgruntled looking Jordan on the couch, and the two vampires paced and wandered around, looking at everything but each other.
Wesley took a deep breath and said ruefully, 'I feel like I've woken from a dream.'
No one seemed willing to contribute anything of their own, so he continued pointedly, 'I felt awful. As if I didn't want to face the day. I felt you all hated me. I couldn't make the simplest decision. It was very unpleasant.'
Spike was looking at a book and said deceptively casually, 'The stubble's back.'
Wesley smiled and rubbed it. 'You've got to admit it's an improvement.'
Spike didn't comment and continued to read his book. Wesley looked at Angel. 'So, this thing has affected us all?'
Angel was rearranging Wesley's CDs and only nodded. Wesley sighed and turned to Jordan. 'Perhaps we should all describe our experiences and see if we can't find a common thread.'
Jordan nodded then flicked a glance at Angel. 'Ask him. Let's see how it affected the champion over there.'
Angel pouted but did not reply.
Wesley looked between them. 'I think we've established that whatever happened was not really us. Although, I must say, I felt more like me than... me now. If you see what I mean.'
At that, Angel turned and said sharply, 'No. Not us. None of that was us.'
Jordan smiled unpleasantly. 'I kept shifting: one face then another. I don't really know what I am, but I guess that was fundamentally me.' He kept staring at Angel, and everyone knew he wasn't only referring to himself.
Wesley sighed at the tension in the room and got up to make everyone another drink. 'Spike. How did it affect you?'
Spike was engrossed in his book and appeared not to hear, so Jordan answered for him. 'It didn't. Spike's the only one who hasn't been... who didn't change.'
Angel narrowed his eyes. 'Spike can speak for himself.'
Jordan stood up. 'Yeah, and he had some very interesting things to say, Fucker.'
'When? When you were in the fucking shower together?'
'I am still here, by the way.' At Spike's soft comment, Jordan sat down and stared resolutely out of the window away from Angel. Angel went close to Wesley and took the drink with some eagerness. When he looked down at the whisky, however, he went slightly pale and put it down again. Wesley gave him a small pat on the shoulder. 'Tell us what happened to you, Angel.'
'Yeah, why don't you tell Wes. He's the only one that doesn't know.'
Angel gave Jordan's back a sour look at this interjection but said with some haste, 'I had strange thoughts. I kept thinking about the past....'
'No. Before that. When I was human. It seemed so real, but I was here. I mean, I understood everything about here, only I thought about it as if it was then. Does that make sense?'
'Yes. Exactly. That's exactly how I felt. I knew who I was. I knew you, but I kept thinking you were just a vampire and that I was a watcher and… that I was afraid of you.'
'You should be.'
They both ignored this comment from the couch and carried on their personal conference. 'I was so angry, Wes. Out of control with it. I was drinking, and all I could think about was hurting someone.'
'And we know who.'
Angel finally snapped. 'If you've got something to say, shape shifter, just say it.'
Jordan stood angrily. 'I don't need to fucking say it! I stemmed his bleeding, for fuck's sake!'
'Jordan.' It was the first word Spike had spoken since his comment about the stubble, and it was the more telling for that. The demon went quiet and looked down at his feet. Spike came over to him and lifted his face, placing a soft, loving kiss on his lips. 'Thanks, Pet.'
Jordan grinned and flashed Angel a triumphant look over Spike's shoulder.
Wesley looked between the two vampires. 'I'm sorry. I still seem to be in a bit of a fug. I'm being very slow tonight. You hurt Spike?'
Angel kept his gaze on Spike and Jordan, standing close, sharing small touches and smiling at each other. He nodded. 'I wanted to ruin his happiness, because I didn't have it.'
Wesley shook his shoulders. 'Right. Well. I think we all agree that none of this was really us. We need to accept that and move on. Spike?'
'Sure, Wes. I already told Angel that. Not him. Just like when he raped you.'
Wesley's eyes flew open, whether at the abrupt reminder of his ordeal, or at the realisation of what had happened between his two friends, he couldn't have said. He turned to Angel. 'You...?'
Spike interjected with a small chuckle. 'Nah. He just used a knife on me, Pet. Don't worry.'
Wesley swallowed deeply. 'I'm not so sure this meeting was a good idea now. There are too many issues here.'
'Issues....' Spike gave a small, rueful laugh and suddenly turned with his arm around Jordan's shoulders. 'So, we've all agreed that someone or something is doing something or another to you guys, but not me. Great meeting. But if you'll excuse us, we're going home to bed.'
He steered the grinning demon toward the door but paused when Angel's soft, 'Wait,' followed them. Spike pouted but did not turn around. 'I need to speak with you. Alone.'
With his back still turned, Spike said lowly, 'Nothing you can say to me you can't say here.'
'It wasn't me.'
'No.' Spike turned and gave him a sweet smile. 'You said it yourself: it was the real you, Angel. And you know? Maybe I'm kinda wrong on this... but... I'm pretty damn sure I don't want the facade you put up to the world anymore. I'd kinda be seeing that knife in my arse too much, know what I mean?'
He playfully punched Jordan in the belly and kissed him, watching Angel's reaction to this carefully, then propelled the demon out of the door.
When they got into the hall, Spike doubled over and just stood for a long time, leaning on the wall. Eventually he straightened and, glancing at Jordan, went toward the elevator. 'What are you going to do now?'
Jordan stepped in alongside him. 'Come home with you.'
Spike hesitated for a moment then nodded, and the doors slid closed.
Angel picked up the whisky he'd left alone until then and downed it in one. Wesley put a hand on his arm, but Angel jerked away. 'Fuck! Fuck! Why can't he accept that it's some kind of spell? You did.'
'I was raped by a complete stranger who happened to look like you. I suspect that that is not the case here. As I told you, I was completely myself, but I had the emotions and fears of a much younger me. How much of that was still you, Angel? Only you can answer that.'
Angel looked penetratingly at him, and Wesley had to look away, but Angel brought his face back gently. 'I love Spike more than I have ever loved anyone. He gives meaning to the part of my soul that allows me to love.'
'I suggest you tell him that, although, to be fair to you, Angel, he does seem very resistant to hearing it.'
'What went on in....'
'Spare me the details, please.'
'I tried to destroy him. Not physically - he's been through a lot worse than that many times - I knew his vulnerability, and I played on it.'
Wesley rubbed his stubble again. 'Perhaps we should focus less on recriminations just now and more on finding out who or what is doing this and stop it. Why did we all just... get better?'
'It wasn't sudden. I was leaving Spike's, and I just gradually stopped feeling angry and bitter, and the next thing I knew, I was just me.'
Wesley gave him a look. 'I'm sorry, Angel. That must have been... awful.'
Angel turned away as if this first sympathy for him, rather than for his victim, was too much to bear.
Wesley put a hand on his shoulder and then gradually came closer until he slipped his arms around Angel from behind and hugged him. 'Come on. He'll come round. He loves you, Angel. You can't doubt that.'
Angel didn't respond to that but clasped Wesley's warm arms with his cold hands. 'I'm going back to the club. I didn't get a chance to speak to the owner yet.'
'I'll come with you.'
'No. I want you to hit the books, Wes. While you still can - in case this comes back. Find out anything you can on mass hypnosis.'
'You think we've been hypnotised?'
Angel turned. 'Don't you? It's like people say... you are you, but you're forced to do things you maybe don't want to do.'
'I'm not sure any modern theory on hypnotism would agree with you there, Angel, but it's the best we've got. I'll see what I can find. It would have to be a very powerful spell to affect you so.... Sorry.'
Angel only nodded and left.
Spike ripped the sheets off the bed, eyed the stains on the mattress, sighed and roughly threw some clean ones over. Jordan sat down and pulled off his T-shirt. Spike watched him with pursed lips but did the same. He began to rip off the bandages Angel had lovingly placed around him, not caring much if he opened the wounds.
Finally, they lay side by side in the dark. Spike reached over to his nightstand and lit a cigarette, sharing it with the silent figure next to him.
After a few puffs, Jordan handed it back, turned and began to rain light kisses down Spike's healing arm. He shifted closer and kissed his chest. Then, with a look, he bit lightly on Spike's nipple. Spike watched the movements listlessly. After a while, he said softly, 'Pet?'
Jordan didn't stop but murmured that he was listening. 'I'm not really up for... can you... like when we met? Jeez. Someone fucking shoot me; my life so sucks.'
Jordan looked up with a smile and changed into the beautiful young woman that Spike had once taken to his crypt. She smiled at Spike and stroked his hair then ran a hand down his belly and lower into soft hair there. Spike watched the hand working his flaccid penis and sighed. 'He was really pissed with us.'
The woman looked up. 'So he should have been.'
'Thanks for sticking up for me. I used to do that for myself once.'
'Hey, Baby, don't be so hard on yourself. You love him. It must have been really hard.' She slid up and began to kiss Spike lightly.
Suddenly, she sat back. 'I think I know what you need.'
'You've got a new life for me?'
She changed. Spike reared away. 'NO! Change back.'
Angel's face came toward him. Spike tried to pull away, but the other was stronger and held him for a light, loving kiss. 'I'm so sorry.'
'I don't fucking need to hear that from you.'
Jordan sighed, resignedly.
Swallowing deeply, his face almost scrunched in pain, Spike slid lower as strong familiar arms embraced him.
Angel murmured softly, 'I'll just hold you.'
Spike nodded and allowed himself to slide into the dark forgetfulness offered.
Spike woke before Jordan and eased himself away from the dark form, studying the face he had come to know so well. He couldn't work out what he felt. His emotions were all so new, and what he felt for Angel so complex, so tied up with the complexities of his soul, that he did not know how to deal with the pain. Angel could deny that he had been there, that it had been him, but Spike knew different: that had been the real Angel that had lurked behind the role of adoring lover he had been playing so well. Even after these months of proving otherwise, it always seemed so unlikely to Spike that Angel loved or wanted him at all. It seemed so much more reasonable that Angel should deride him and try to hurt him.
He trailed his finger lightly down the naked chest, down the hard belly and lower into the soft hair. He ran it down the semi-hard penis and then back up to the broad chest once more. He knew every inch of that body, every hair, every flaw, all its perfection, and yet he felt like a stranger, as if he had no right to touch it.
He started slightly when he found a pair of dark brown eyes watching him through lowered lids. Jordan came closer and kissed him. 'Let me be him for you.'
Spike opened his mouth to the kiss and felt himself swelling slightly, but then he pulled away and caught at the face. To soften the rejection he smiled and said with a chuckle, 'I'm responding to you, dangerous demon, not him.'
Jordan changed to his usual look and grinned happily. 'One day, Spike. One day.'
'Yeah. In your dreams.'
'I'm as I always am, Luv: bouncing back.'
'If you were mine, you wouldn't need to keep doing that. I'd keep you happy all the time.'
'Well, you do have tempting possibilities; I'll say that for you. I've a very long list of people I've always fancied fucking.'
Jordan turned with a twinkle in his eye. 'Name one.'
Spike pouted. 'Hey! Private fantasies here, Mate!'
'Go on. One.'
'Okay... Julie Christie.'
'Oh, bloody hell.'
'Sorry. I tried.'
'Yeah. Thanks, Pet. I'm just showing my age, I guess.' He sat up and swung his legs off the bed. 'Unlife goes on. Let's shower.'
Spike lifted an eyebrow. 'Have you heard of Julia Roberts?'
'Come on then.'
With a grin, Jordan changed and slid under the water with Spike. Spike eyed the figure appreciatively and continued the pretence, for Jordan's sake, that he was much as he had ever been.
When Angel checked in with Wesley, he found that there had been two further disappearances. As before, the only link between them appeared to be their sexual preference and their frequent visits to Babel. Wesley went with Angel back to the place that seemed their only lead, but before they went in, they mingled with the crowd outside, asking questions, each showing a photograph of one of the missing men. They met up at Angel's car. 'Any luck?'
Angel shrugged. 'Some and none. Fuck, it's a weird life.'
Wesley looked at him for a moment. 'I did discover a connection between mine and the others. It's probably nothing - a coincidence.'
Wesley hesitated some more. 'Sam.'
'Resist saying good.'
'I am. But mine had fucked with him too - or so those... gentlemen… over there told me.'
'Damn, perhaps this is more significant than I thought. We all have Sam in common - one way or another.'
'And Spi... I heard he was down. Not himself.'
'I don't think you should go there....'
'I'm not going to torture....' Angel shut up swiftly but got in his car. 'Are you coming?'
'Will you be okay without me?'
'Well, okay. No. I'll go back and see what I can dig up on Sam's background.'
Angel nodded and put the car in drive.
He jogged up the stairs at Sam's apartment block, unwilling to risk the memories that might haunt the elevator. He turned the corner into the hallway and froze. Spike, about to knock on the door, froze too, and an awkward silence fell between them.
Eventually, Angel came up and put a hand lightly on Spike's arm. Spike put his arm up as if to scratch, effectively dislodging even that gentle touch. He took a step back too.
'What are you doing here?'
'Sam's connected to every one of the disappearances. I want to speak with him.'
'Connected how? Oh… like that. Sam's connected to almost everyone at the club in that case. You're way off mark.'
'Maybe, maybe not. He's my only lead though.'
'Just fuck off Angel, and leave my faggot friends alone.'
Spike knocked and took a considerable amount of his angst out in that hammering.
Angel watched him, then said quietly, 'Why can't you forgive me, Spike? I forgave you, and you did a lot worse to me. Shit, you took a fucking blowtorch to my balls.'
Spike whirled around and seemed about to snap back, but instead, he frowned and looked down. 'I don't know why not.'
'I am really, really sorry. I love you.'
'Yeah. I know. So you say - on a good day.'
'You're going to let this destroy us.'
'I'm not so sure that's a bad thing.'
Spike looked up. 'You heard.'
'Hearing but not fucking believing this.' Angrily, Angel knocked on the door too. 'I'm too fucking busy to deal with this now. Maybe you'd better come over tonight and viciously torture me again, and then we'll be fucking even. Oh. No. You'll still be one up on me. Fuck you, Spike.'
'No thanks. I'm sticking to fucking people who actually want me.'
'Like that slimy shape shifter of yours?'
Spike laughed. 'You think we're shagging?'
'I know you are. I can see it in the way he looks at you.'
Spike raised an eyebrow. 'I'll have to look more closely next time.'
Angel raised a hand but lowered it with a despairing look at the door.
'Hit me again; why not?' Deliberately using the damaged hand he'd kept in his pocket until then, Spike knocked on the door once more.
The deep penetration wound in his palm flared open, and the blood ran down to mingle with that from his wrist. Angel caught the wrist in his hands and refused to let it drop. 'I took days to recover from what you did to me. But I was feeding on human blood, Spike. Let me get some for you. Come over tonight, and we'll feed together.'
There was something so reassuring in this conjured vision that Spike nodded, despite his better intentions. Angel tried to hide his relief without much success, so took his confusion out on the door, kicking at it viciously. It flung open, and Spike shrugged and stepped in. He gave Angel a snarky look and made a show of looking around. Annoyed, but not showing it, Angel stayed banned in the doorway and watched him. Eventually, Spike said, 'He's gone somewhere. Some clothes and his stuff from the bathroom's packed.'
'Fuck you, Angel. He's probably gone home again. He's having a drama queen crisis.'
'Where does he live?'
'Yeah, like I'm gonna tell you.'
'You don't know, do you?'
Spike pouted. 'No.'
Angel got out his cell and talked with Wesley for a while then he turned back to Spike. 'I'm going there.'
They both felt Spike's dilemma. Angel tried to help and said softly, 'Come with me.'
Spike gritted his teeth. 'You must be joking. Give me the address.'
'It's out of state, Spike.' He didn't need to mention Spike's wrist; Spike looked down at it without prompting and wrapped it protectively in his other hand. Eventually, he nodded.
'Go back to your place. Pack an overnight. I'll meet you there.'
Keeping his eyes lowered, Spike came out of the apartment. Angel caught at him as he passed. He held up the still bleeding wrist. 'If this isn't healed tomorrow, you'll feed on more potent blood.'
Spike raised his eyes and withdrew his wrist. 'No, Angel. We're not sharing anything again. Blood, sperm, spit. Ever.'
Angel watched the stiff back walk away from him down the hallway, fear at the earlier anger had now given way to terror at the uncaring resignation he heard in Spike's voice.
It was not an auspicious way to start a road trip. It seemed to occur to both of them that things should be very different for their first trip anywhere together as a… couple. Angel passed Spike two blood bags when he got in and watched as he drank them. When he was satisfied Spike had taken in the healing human blood, he once more took the wrist in his hands. Spike didn't pull away, but he let Angel touch him as if he were being given a medical: cold and unresponsive, pulling away as soon as he could.
Angel gritted his teeth, put some music in and pulled out from the curb. Spike heard the Bach begin with a shiver but did not want to speak, so could not ask for it to be turned off.
He turned and stared out at the night, watching nothing and everything - anything so he didn't have to hear the silence between them.
Angel kept glancing at his turned head. 'Have you ever heard of Pleasantville?'
Spike sighed at the direct question he could hardly fail to reply to. ''S where Superman lives. Why?'
'It's where He lives.'
'Oh. How far?'
'About seven hours.'
'Long way without speaking.'
'Say something then.'
'I fucking hate you, and I don't want to talk to you?'
'Okay. That's a start. Why do you hate me?'
Spike turned, and once more, his snarky mood vanished. He pouted and switched off the music. 'I don't know why. I've forgiven you for less.'
Angel was quiet for a while then ventured, 'Can I say something without you biting my head off?'
Spike only gave him a look in response, so Angel took a breath to calm himself and said, 'Has it occurred to you that you were affected too?'
'Why are we all assuming that whatever this human has done....'
'He's not done shit, Mate.'
'Maybe. Whatever has done this then... why are we all assuming you were unaffected? Seems to me - and remember, you promised not to bite my head off....'
'No, I didn't.'
Angel gripped the wheel tighter for strength and continued, 'It seems to me that you are more William at the moment than Spike.'
He turned and gave Spike a glance to see how he took this. Spike bent his legs, rested his feet on the dash, and stared out of the windscreen. 'No. You're wrong.'
'He would have....'
'I haven't even thought about that time. You said you were thinking about the past. I felt nothing.'
Angel gave a small, pleased smile. 'So, why the pissy attitude?'
Spike suddenly jerked his head around, facing away from Angel. Angel cast him an anxious look, then when he could, pulled in on the side of the road. He bit his lip for a moment then put a hand to Spike's hair. 'Hey. Don't.'
Spike shook his head but wouldn't turn around.
Angel frowned and swallowed deeply. He turned the music back on and sat with his arms folded on the wheel. After a minute, he lowered his head, and they sat in their respective misery until Spike said quietly, 'It'll be light before we get there if you don't get on.'
Angel nodded and ground the heel of his hand into his eyes. He turned the music up louder. Other than the blissful notes that reminded them both of their souls and their capacity to love, they drove in complete silence until they reached their destination.
Angel pulled up at the end of a dirt drive and consulted his notes. He glanced across at Spike and said awkwardly, 'Can't be.'
Spike looked around at the farmland and at the distant lights and nodded. 'Phone Wes. Check with him again.'
Angel pulled out his cell, punched the number and held it to his ear, watching Spike. To his surprise, Spike held his gaze, so when Wesley finally replied, he was distracted. He confirmed the address and put the phone away. He shrugged. 'It's right.'
Spike narrowed his eyes. 'Gonna be light in half an hour. We'd better do something.'
Angel nodded and swung the car into the drive, and they bounced over potholes until they reached the house. Spike ducked his head and looked at it through Angel's window. 'Goodnight Johnboy.'
'Nothing, Pet. Let's go knock before the banjos start playing.'
He climbed out and went slowly up the steps to the front porch. 'It's kinda early.'
'Lights are on.'
'Probably scare them to death.' He knocked anyway.
To his immense surprise, Sam answered the door. He looked equally surprised to see Spike. Spike stared at the overalls and flannel shirt, and couldn't help a small snort of amusement. Sam grimaced. 'Awful, aren't they?'
'What the fuck are you wearing them for then? In fact, what the fuck are you doing... here! Shit, Sam, I'm hearing fucking banjos.'
Sam suddenly saw Angel and gave Spike a look. 'What did you bring him for?'
'Sorry, Pet. How's about inviting me in; I'm feeling smoky.'
'Oh, sure. Sorry.'
Spike stepped in, and they both turned to look at Angel who was standing rather abashed on the porch. Sam looked him up and down. 'Cheery as ever.'
'Invite him in, Luv.'
'Nah, let's let him burn.'
Angel gave them both a sour look and pushed past. Once he was inside, he turned on Sam. 'I want to speak to you.'
Spike grinned at the effect of the familiar personality in the bizarre clothes and put his arm over Sam's shoulders. 'What the fuck are you doing here?'
Sam laughed. 'I'd seen the light, Spike. I swear.' They began to walk toward the kitchen. 'I came here to repent, to atone, to… I don't know fucking what. By the time I got here, I was having Armani withdrawal and had to spend the first five hours jerking off.'
Spike chuckled and clapped him on the back. 'Welcome back, Pet. You had me worried there.'
'He gets forgiven.'
Spike turned at this soft interjection but didn't comment.
Sam poured them both some coffee, lowering the blinds carefully as he watched them drinking. 'So, to what do I owe this pleasure?'
'Sam? Who's that?'
'Shit.' Sam glanced anxiously at the stairs. 'My fucking mother.'
A worn, sour looking woman of about forty came into the kitchen and stopped up short when she saw the two men sitting at her table. She looked at Sam. 'Friends of yours?'
Angel rose. 'I'm a private detective. Your son was helping me on a case. I needed some information from him.'
'Oh. Well. In that case....' She bustled around the kitchen, chatting about Sam and, before anyone could stop her, let the large blind up. Spike yelped and dived for cover. Angel, not wanting to look ridiculous, tried to rise naturally and, consequently, ended up burning. He clapped his smoking hand behind his back.
Sam bustled them out into the hallway. 'Why don't you two lay up for the day upstairs?'
Angel, inspecting his hand, nodded, and Spike only shrugged, so Sam ushered them up two flights of stairs to a large room in the loft. 'I'd better go and explain to her that you're up here.'
He turned and left them both facing nothing but a large double bed.