the Fire in Which we Burn
Episode 4- Chapter 4
Angel woke uneasy. The unease did not let up, and uncharacteristically he felt like taking a bath. The immersion in water did nothing to calm his fears. He watched streaks of light as they harmlessly illuminated the far side of the room. They disturbed him. He sank under the water and lay looking up. That was worse. He felt trapped within its glassy opacity and rose angrily, climbing out and draping a towel loosely around his waist.
Spike would be back in less than twelve hours. Spike. Angel glanced at his cellphone. Against his natural instinct not to call when Spike was on a job, he dialled the number. There was no signal. He frowned, staring at the phone.
Wesley leant in the doorway, holding out his cell. 'I can't get Lilah, either.'
Angel nodded and tried once more. Wesley copied him and then held out his hand as he heard it connecting. Angel came closer and after Wesley nodded his permission, he leant in, his lips almost brushing Wesley's cheek as they listened together to the small instrument.
'Nice. As always. Where are you? I've been trying to call you for the last hour or so.'
'What do you want?'
'Not now… I'm….'
'Lilah? What was that noise? Are you all right? You sound odd, even for you.'
'Fuck off Wesley. I am what I am. I do what I have to do to survive, okay? Now, go back to your cosy little denials and leave me BE!'
Wesley and Angel jerked back from her final screamed word at the same time. Angel raised an eyebrow. 'Is that normal?'
Wesley titled his hand from side-to-side. 'I used to put it down to her time of the month, but then I realised she was always like that. But… I don't know… that was extreme, even for her.'
Angel tried Spike's number again and cursed in frustration when he still couldn't reach him.
'He'll be okay, Angel. He's survived this long. He'll be around to plague you forever.'
Angel nodded. Wesley put a hand on his arm. 'Stop it!'
'Angel! You've been rubbing that arm since I came in. You're starting to bleed!'
'No wonder. Run it under some water.'
'I've tried that. I'm hot all over. Jeez, maybe I'm ill!' He gave a small cough, the kind someone who is never ill makes when their innate hypochondria kicks in.
Wesley took pity on Angel and led him back to the bed. He sat down next to the vampire, trying desperately not to notice the smooth, naked skin. Angel laughed humourlessly. 'And I thought Spike was bringing me too much happiness.'
'He's probably lounging around somewhere, waiting for the sun to go down so he can come home to you.' He put his arm around Angel's shoulders. 'You're starting to think too deeply, like me.'
Angel turned suddenly, and they were too close. 'He slept with someone else yesterday.'
'Oh. Err…. That's not good….'
'Well, yes, but… I guess I see things from a…. You're really not bothered, are you?'
'You're missing the point, Wes.'
Angel put his hand to the back of Wesley's neck and caressed the short hairs with his thumb.
Wesley swiftly got the point. He blinked slowly as if the step he feared had become rather redundant: the precipice, alarmingly, coming toward him. He dodged his neck very slightly to one side, but all that did was to rub his cheek softly into Angel's open palm. Angel kept his hand there and now brushed his thumb over the soft stubble, looking at Wesley's mouth with intense concentration. 'Help me stop thinking about him, Wes. Give me something else to think about.'
Wesley jerked back, his mood shattered. 'Fuck you, so you can stop thinking about Spike? You have got to be….'
Angel looked angry, not at Wesley's reaction, but at his misjudgement of the human's capitulation. 'That's not what I meant.'
They both recognised this for the lie it was, and Wesley rose. 'When you want just me, Angel, then I'll make you forgot a lot more than Spike. But you have to want me, not a convenient, distraction-fuck.'
Whether from anger, embarrassment, or because he was genuinely ill, Angel lay the rest of the day sweating on the bed, unable to sleep.
When the sun when down, it took Spike six hours to regain enough sanity to want to rise from the floor. He'd been tortured before - many times - but not systematically for over twelve hours, not where the agony had driven him screaming from wall to wall until the glass was blackened and smeared with his body.
Still blackened, still smouldering, he had lain for a long two hours until he heard a thud. He couldn't see, for his eyes had burned out within the first hour of the torture, but he fumbled across the floor and found a blood bag. It was rats' blood, and he knew it was not there to speed his healing. He only had ten hours to heal naturally before it began again… and again… and it would never stop.
The demon had been right: Spike did want to survive; he wanted to go home; he wanted Angel; and those three things would determine his survival for eternity. He fumbled with numb hands and drank the liquid then turned onto his back to escape the agony from his front for a while - every few minutes turning to relieve the pain.
In a few hours more, he could feel with his hands once more, skin returning there first for some reason. Then, as the first half of his respite passed, he felt strong enough to stand.
Still not able to see, he pulled himself up the glass. He wondered if the demon was there, watching him and turned his back.
Another hour passed. He felt something deep in his belly, but he refused to admit it was terror. There was nothing to do to take his mind off the passing time. He couldn't see the night sky, but he felt it lightening above him.
Some more time passed, and he tried to pry open an eye. He could still see nothing but felt that his eyes had begun to heal.
When his fingers were sensitive enough, he put them to his head and discovered his hair burnt away, raw, bleeding sores covering the scalp where it had been.
He didn't want to feel other things. He knew they'd burnt away - had felt every inch as they had shrivelled to the light. But still he wasn't dead. He would never be dead.
He screamed, his vocal chords still working well, although his ears had long since burnt off. He went on screaming until the tendons in his neck ruptured.
And then the pricking sensation began on his skin once more.
Stumbling on bones that were all that was left of his feet, he tried one more time to find somewhere in the cell where the light couldn't reach him, but it was impossible. His scalp melted, flames he couldn't see illuminated him, and then all was insanity once more.
When the darkness came the next time, Spike did not try to rise. He wasn't there; he was in a place where the devil was hot, and the devil had embraced him and would not let him go. The devil laid his hands on his raw, agonised body and made him cry out with vocal chords long since silenced. The devil began to drag him, and all he could do was whimper. His victims had whimpered - centuries of getting hard on humans' desperate fear, and he was no different to them when the pain overwhelmed him.
He could hear a muffled voice, but it made no sense for it was urging him to rise, urging him to walk. In his madness, he laughed, but no sound escaped his broken body. The dragging continued. The little skin he had left tore off on rough stone.
The dragging stopped. Something hot was pressed to his teeth where once lips had been. It squirted into his mouth and throat.
With the first sound he'd made, he sucked the warm, fresh human blood into his body. Healing kicked in with a rush, and he clawed his way to his knees, mewing desperately against the thin wrist. So much warm blood, it ran screaming though his body, reanimating him. He heard the voice again, demanding that he stand and walk. He nodded, grabbed the arm for support and stood - blind and helpless, but on his feet.
He stumbled along, holding tightly to the guiding arm. He began to see shadows, flickers of light, and kept blinking to try and clear his vision. Blurry objects passed by: steps. He stumbled but was dragged up them.
Brighter light, which made him howl and flinch, until a hand was clamped over his mouth and hissed fury unleashed in his ear. He was pushed into something that smelt of burnt skin, and he cried out inwardly, but did not let the fear escape him in sound.
Darkness once more. The noise of an engine, and then they were moving - fast. He rubbed at his eyes and saw the interior of a car. He didn't need to turn and see who was driving, who had rescued him. He'd smelt her from the first. It was a smell he would never forget.
They drove like madmen, fast enough to crash though the gates, fast enough to escape physically from the house, although they both knew that they left something of themselves behind forever.
Darkened glass, designed for a powerful vampire, kept the day's light off Spike as he curled foetal-like on the back seat.
By the time they stopped, he could see clearly enough to watch the skin on his arms reforming. It was all he wanted to think about and ignored his rising panic when she left him.
When she finally dragged him out, he could tell they were in an underground garage. For the first time, he realised he was entirely naked, but a blanket was wrapped around him before he could protest. Half dragged, half guided, they made it to an elevator. Spike sank down to the floor, but she kicked him to standing and pulled him out into a hallway.
Fumbling with a key, she led him into a room and to a large bed. She pushed him onto it unceremoniously and disentangled the blanket.
For the first time, Spike began to believe that he was not going back, that this was not just a trick to draw out his agony. He bit it back, but still a small whimper of self- pity escaped him. She flew to his side and clamped her hand over his mouth. 'Not one fucking sound from you, do you hear? I don't need it. I don't want it. I-I….' She jerked away and went into the next room, slamming the door.
He lay for many hours, every hour marked by the woman bringing him fresh human blood - this time not from her wrist but from hospital blood bags. She didn't speak, and her look discouraged him from trying again. Day turned to night. Night passed, and still he drank pint after pint of the healing liquid.
When dawn arrived, she came in once more but stopped on the threshold. For the first time, she spoke to him. 'Cover yourself.'
He cleared his throat slightly, unwilling to test his voice, but said softly, 'What?'
'You've healed. Cover up.'
Spike sat up and looked at his legs and feet. He stretched his arms out and looked at them. Bright, flawless new skin covered him. His hands flew to his face, and he cried out at soft lips and earlobes. At last, he ran his fingers through his hair… long, thick, soft hair. He heard a strange sound and looked up at the woman. She was shaking, her hand in front of her mouth. She seemed as uncertain as Spike whether she was crying or laughing. She pointed at him and tried to form words through mounting hysteria. 'Brown.'
'Your hair is dark brown.'
He stared at her incredulously and then rose stiffly from the bed. She didn't even attempt to back away. She seemed unable to coordinate her movements. He came up to her and took her arms. They stared at each other.
She wavered in his vision, and he blinked. She rubbed a hand over her eyes and then looked to the ceiling, clenching her jaw.
She looked back into eyes that seemed almost more blue, more penetrating and knew he did not mean her act of treachery. She tried to form a lie, tried to bluster and evade with her usual bravado, but he held her gaze, demanding the truth. Eventually, with a small shrug, she said simply, 'My actions had a consequence I cared about.'
Spike tipped his head a little on one side and said wonderingly, 'Have I just saved my first soul?'
She jerked her head back. 'Don't get a hardon about this, Vampire. Still evil here.'
He smiled. 'I should kill you, but I want to kiss you instead.'
'I'd prefer flowers, ya know? No offence.' Her eyes betrayed her, grazing down his perfect face to his new, soft lips. He saw the look and flicked his tongue out to moisten them. He bent slowly forward. She resisted by coming forward to meet him, for her resistance was only in her head and did not stop them finding their healing in a long, tender kiss. She swallowed and rested her lips to his cheek. 'I don't understand this.'
Spike chuckled and ran his thumb over her eyes. After what had gone before, the shockingly intimate, yet dangerous gesture only united them more. He murmured softly, 'We are so alike. You work so hard to maintain all your little fictions.'
She kissed him this time, perhaps to silence the truths she was so unwilling to hear. He felt his body swelling to her and revelled in his restored masculinity. She eased off and raised an eyebrow. He chuckled. She flicked her eyes to the bed and said huskily, 'What now?'
Spike grinned. 'Now you go out and buy a bloody big box of bleach, Bitch! Evil here, remember!'
She blinked but heard no rejection or mockery. Instead, she heard something in his words that made her begin to breathe once more: live again, where she thought she was dead. Returning his grin, she ran her fingers through the luxurious brown locks. 'Sunlight: patent hair-restorer for men - not recommended for the faint of heart.'
'No faint of hearts around here, Luv.'
She looked down for a moment. 'I'm not looking forward to going to work tomorrow. He has… a long reach.'
'You need someone to bump him off then?'
She looked up incredulously, pleasure creeping around the hard edges of her face. 'A vampire assassin maybe…? And maybe one who'd like to do this one for free?'
'Don't know one of those. Know one who'll do it for… ten.'
'Spike! You owe me two already!'
'And how do you work that out, Bitch?'
'I paid you to deliver yourself to the evil rugrat - you escaped. I want the two thousand back.'
'Fair point. Eight thousand and the little sticky is history.'
'I'd have settled for five, you stupid bint.'
'I'd have gone up to twenty, you fuckwit vampire.'
Immensely pleased with each other once more, slowly closing the gap between where their respective goodness and evil lay, they gave the other a final, frank look, and then she turned, mumbling, 'Fuck. What kind of domestic frump goes out to buy bleach?'
Spike sat back down on the bed when she was gone and did a more thorough inspection of his body. It seemed better than before, which was a pretty impressive trick. He eyed his bag, which she had put in a corner of the room and pictured himself getting up and going over to it, saw himself calling Angel - reassuring him. He saw all this, but did not actually do it. He couldn't find any words in his head that said what needed to be said: that Angel was wrong to love him, that he was too vulnerable, that Angel's heart was too tied up with him to survive his loss. He could not get the image out of his head of Angel receiving those monthly updates on his torture, and although this would never happen now, nevertheless, he was profoundly shaken by the thought that it so nearly had. He'd walked into a trap. He'd trusted a human. He'd been curious, amused, over confident - he'd been almost human as he walked down those cellar steps. Everything he'd learnt as a vampire had been forgotten; all his instincts subdued under the soul that made Angel love him.
Spike pursed his lips and stared at the offending bag for some time more.
By Monday morning, Wesley was beginning to wonder if he'd ever see Lilah again. Expecting her Saturday, he had been looking forward to forgetting his argument with Angel in her hard, willing body. When the long awaited knock came on the door early Monday evening, he flew to open it whilst at the same time keeping his detached, ironic sneer well in place. All pretence dropped when he saw Spike leaning on the opposite wall, smoking. 'Spike. If you've come to plead Angel's case then you're wasting….'
'I've not seen Angel.'
'Not seen… when did you get back?'
'You mean Angel's been alone… I mean he must have been worrying… damn. What do you want here? You should go there!'
'Can I come in?'
'No! Spike! He'll be….'
'It's Angel I want to talk about. Let me in. Please.'
Wesley so rarely heard a please from Spike that he stepped aside, watching him cautiously. Spike went over to the window and, in an uncanny mirror of Angel whenever he visited, leant on the glass and stared morosely out at the night. Wesley poured them both a drink and took them over, leaning with his back to the glass, close to Spike. Spike took the drink gratefully and downed it in one. 'Angel was right, Wesley. He is too close to losing his soul again. We need to cool it down, but I don't think he's going to agree with me, so I've decided to leave for all our sakes.' Having made this rushed, oddly stilted speech, Spike pursed his lips and did not speak again.
Wesley let a long, slow breath of relief. 'We've already got that covered, Spike. Suffice to say, unless Angel attempts perform cunnilingus on you sometime soon, I think his soul is securely anchored.'
Instead of the profound relief he expected to see on the vampire's face, Spike's expression darkened, and he pushed off the glass. 'Fuck. I'm just gonna have to tell you…. Wes, I'm bored. I'm bored of LA; I'm bored of my new game with the job an' all, but most of all, I'm just bored to death of Angel.'
He turned and looked at Wesley, holding his gaze. The human saw nothing but total sincerity in the look and heard nothing but the truth in the words.
He was instantly suspicious and totally convinced that Spike was lying - Spike never wholly told the truth and was never entirely sincere. Consequently, Wesley knew that whatever Spike was lying about was extremely important to him. He nodded as if he believed him. 'I can see how that might be. He is rather… heavy going.'
'Hey! What the fuck do you…? I mean… yeah - all that brooding.'
'Oh, I meant the constant need for sex, the endless ability to sustain… what?'
Spike gritted his teeth. 'Nothing. As I said: boring.'
'Why are you telling me this? You need to tell him.'
'I've been trying, ya know? I took this job to get away for a while - came back late, haven't been to see him. 'S not easy to say… thought you might….'
'No! Besides the fact that I'm not speaking to Angel, I'm not telling him any such thing.'
'Then I'll just leave.'
'Without telling him?'
'Why not? He did it to me once.'
'All right. I'll ease the news to him, but you must go there now and put his mind at rest - tell him any damn lie you like, but be pleased to see him.'
'I don't want….'
'I don't care what you want, Spike. When I left him, he was ill with worrying about you - damn it man, he was burning up….'
'When? I'm not sure. I found him like it on Saturday, I think. Why?'
Spike jaw was clenched so tightly he could hardly reply. He raised his eyes to the ceiling to bring them under control too and said softly to himself, 'Too close. We're just too close.'
Feeling Spike's pain, but unwilling at this stage to probe its cause, Wesley only reiterated his conditions. 'Go to him now. If you want me to speak to him about this, you have to see him first.'
Spike nodded and left.
Spike went directly to the hotel. Angel was in his office and sensed him coming in. Cordelia and Fred were in the outer office, filing and generally attempting to take Wesley's place during his new, mysterious absence. They looked up as Spike appeared, turned as Angel came out, watched as he went up the stairs without acknowledging Spike, and smirked when, without a word, Spike followed him up.
Angel was waiting around the corner out of sight of the lobby. He enfolded Spike in his arms and held him tightly; just swaying with the pleasure of holding the body he'd held so often in his thoughts over the last few days. 'You said Saturday.'
'You will be. Do you still want hitting?'
'No. I'm kinda wiped out, Luv; can we make this… short. I need to feed and sleep.'
Angel held him away, and for the first time looked at him intently. Spike couldn't hold his gaze and tried to find a cigarette, but Angel wouldn't allow this familiar avoidance tactic. He held him very still then suddenly plunged onto his neck and smelt him deeply. Spike eased himself away with a small grin, rubbing the back of his neck ruefully. 'I'm all in one piece, see?'
'It had its moments. I have to get back now.'
Angel wondered if his brain was acting particularly slowly because it had been starved of blood for so many days to feed other organs. 'Back to… the job?'
'You're not staying? Here. With me. Now. Tonight. Jesus, I'm not making much sense.'
Spike finally got his cigarette alight. 'I can't, Luv - much as I'd like to.'
'Spike!' Angel lowered his voice. 'Come here.' He didn't wait for compliance and pulled Spike to him, crushing him back against the wall, kissing with an intensity that almost hurt. Spike allowed the kiss, but barely responded and then ducked away and made for the stairs. He tried to give Angel a cheeky smile, but it collapsed on a vision of his sire watching the monthly video. Biting his lip, he ran down the stairs and out of the hotel.
Good as his word, but with no intention of talking about what Spike actually wanted him to talk about, Wesley strode into Angel's office later that night.
'Get it clear, Angel, I'm not actually speaking to you, nevertheless….' Angel rose from his desk, and at exactly the same time they said, 'There's something wrong with Spike.'
Angel sagged with relief. 'You've seen him too.'
'He was acting extremely oddly - even for him. Do you have any idea where he's been? I feel sure this must be linked to the case.'
Angel pursed his lips slightly. 'He was with Lilah.'
Wesley's eyes widened then he chuckled incredulously. 'That's utterly impossible. Did he tell you this?'
Angel shook his head. 'I smelt her on him.'
'Oh. OH! How ON him!'
Angel only raised an eyebrow, and Wesley's brows kitted together in consternation. He tipped his head a little to one side. 'Bloody hell, he WAS telling the truth.'
'Wesley! Talk to me… truth about what?'
'He's leaving you for her.'
'Ugghg?' Embarrassed at the noise he'd just made, Angel came out from behind the desk. 'What the fuck are you telling me here?'
'He was in my apartment earlier, told me to my face that he's giving up the agency, leaving you - that he was bored of it all, and I thought… but, bloody hell, it's all true. A pair damn well matched in hell.'
'No way. You're wrong.'
'They slept together….'
'Well, yes, but….'
'YES! Angel! I was only wildly speculating! Stop confirming things will you!'
'Sorry - only you're wrong. Something else is causing this, and we need to find out what it is.'
'We? I'm not speaking to you, Angel, let alone….'
'Do you want to get her back?'
'At this very minute? No!'
Angel stepped close. 'Do you want us?'
That was a much more difficult question to lie about, so he turned away. 'I'll help, but only under protest.'
'Protest noted. Come up with a plan while I stand here looking handsome and brooding.'
Wesley looked up sharply then gave a small, shy smile. 'I'm sorry. I flew off the handle rather the other day. I knew you didn't really mean….'
'I did, and I'm sorry.' Angel laid a finger on Wesley's cheek. 'I treat you like a very old lover - taking you for granted, not considering your feelings - instead of as a….'
Wesley caught his breath and murmured, 'As…?'
'A potential one who needs careful nurturing.'
Wesley eyes flew open, and he coughed, embarrassed. 'Spike doesn't know what he's missing.'
Meaning this only as a small joke to relieve his embarrassment, Wesley shivered at the look Angel gave him.
'Funny you should mention that, Wes….'
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