Down The Rabbit Hole, Alice
"What the hell did you do
to him, you bloody pillock?!"
"Nothing!" Angel's got his hands in the air, backing up so fast he stumbles over the coffee table. "I didn't lay a hand on him, Spike!"
Wesley's lying on the floor, gasping like a fish out of the bowl, eyes wide, and not seeing a goddamned thing, and neither am I. He's hit his nose, or maybe bitten his tongue cause there's blood all over his lower face like a goddamned vampire and I can't see. Can't hear. Can't get in. Of all the fucking times for the bond to go weak. Come on, sweetheart! Baby? "Will you two fuckers shut the hell up?!"
Good. Some fuckin' silence, if you can still call it silence with Wes breathing like he's spilling his throat all over again, and god! Fucking shit, what kind of idiot am I? "Somebody get me something to clean off the blood." Because I am willing to bet all of tonight's winnings that the blood pouring down over his throat isn't helping.
And Angel had better not push one more fucking button, because I am so not in the mood to deal with drama queens who are not me right now.
"Thanks." Because I'm not a complete asshole.
"Spike's calling for an ambulance."
"Call faster." Maybe a partial asshole. But not to Wes. Never to Wes. Come on, sweetheart. Know you're in there. Shit, his hand is cold, and it's supposed to be grabbing my fingers, not fucking laying there.
And you know what? Between the blood, the tremors, that god awful harsh breathing, you know what the worst part is? It's his brain. It's like a radio between stations. There's something there, and nothing.
Then I wipe the blood from his lips, and it hits me like a Mack truck going seventy, and there's everything.
"Sodding hell!" Spike was the first to see Xander topple over, and the first to his side, the first to try to separate fingers that just weren't letting go, and the first to get a crack in the jaw from Xander's head when he started to convulse. "Oh, Jesus. Buggering, bloody, sodding, fucking hell."
"Get this under his head. Wes too." Angel crouched next to Spike, letting him see what he held, two rolled towels from the bathroom. "We don't need them concussing themselves before the paramedics get here."
"What-? How can you be so fucking calm?" Spike's voice rose with each word, cutting off in a rattle of teeth as Angel shook him.
"Basic field medical. Army." Angel let go, gently rolling Wesley onto his side as the convulsions eased into tremors, and slipped the towel beneath his head. Tenderly. "What? You think it was all honor drills and driving jeeps around the countryside?"
Spike's hands shook as he eased the towel under Xander's head, brushing his hair out of his wide-open eye, and gently adjusting his patch, putting it back into place to hide the withered hollow from view again. "Nah. Reckon you had some time for shining your bloody boots and making fun of us freaks and poofs as well." Bitterness crept into Spike's voice. "What the fuck did you do to this poor bloke, you great tosser?"
"Nothing. Spike, I wasn't one of those guys. I was never one of those guys." Angel took a deep breath. "Those guys were after me."
It's fucking dark, and goddamned cold, and of course it's fucking dark and cold and last time it was this dark and cold, I woke up without an eye, so I'm thinking this is of the bad here.
And I'm fucking falling, and it's all trees, grass, dirt, hands attached to American accents on one end and blades on the other, and I'm fighting them. It's all a blur of voices, grit biting into my palms and the knife biting into my throat, stretched back so tight I can't get the air in or out to scream, and I want out of here!
Then I'm falling again, fast and hard on the cold slip slide of the knife in my throat and blood gushing out over my hands that can't catch it, can't hold it, can't keep it in. Can't fucking think, only know the pulse isn't supposed to be on the outside, and I'm gonna die, fall hard and fast, and land again where it's quiet.
"I'm sorry," Wesley says, and I can't see him, but I know he's not looking at me. Which is pretty fucking funny since I know where we are. Now.
Hello, Xander, welcome to the inside of your boyfriend's head. Please pardon our wreckage.
"What the hell was all that?"
"My last great mistake."
"Oh no you don't." I sit up, or, okay, I think about sitting up, but in here, it's all pretty much the same, isn't it? I wanna be holding Wesley, and dammit, I'm not giving that thought up till I've got an armful of him. Or the idea of him.
Look, we're in his fucking psyche. It's complicated. Don't ask questions, just pay attention, all right?
"There is no here."
"Don't you start." Then, my arms are full of Wesley, and that's real enough for me. I can even smell my shampoo in his hair if I try hard enough, and ignore the coppery blood smell on the outside. "What was that?"
"The night I," Wesley hesitates, "betrayed Angel."
"Small descriptive words for the guy who wasn't there the first time, Wes." I look around; it's kinda like- Have you ever read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland? Okay, rephrasing that: have you ever seen the Disney movie?
Where Alice is falling down the rabbit hole, and there's all that weird shit floating with her?
Being in deep brain space is kinda like that.
There's nothing solid but what you've got a grip on, and everything passing you by's kinda random.
Did I mention I'm not letting go of Wes in here? Cause it's one thing being lost in your own head, but when you're lost in somebody else's, it really sucks.
"I'm thinking there's more to the whole Angel and you story than you told me, baby."
He still won't look at me, but he's not pulling away, so bonus! "You'd be thinking correctly."
"Wanna tell me?"
God, I don't wanna be the one saying this. "I think you're gonna have to. Or we're gonna be doing this dance again. Wes?"
"Why were you in the park?"
There's a feeling, when you're in someone else's mind and they try to clamp down on their emotions, their memories, it's like the feeling before a summer thunder storm, all electric pressure skittering over your skin.
"Because Angel was supposed to be," Wes says, and if words had colors, these'd be that dirty smog nothing color over LA. "I was looking for Angel."
"So they wouldn't find him first."
"The men who attacked me."
Okay, making less sense. "Who were they?"
"Angel sent them after you? Not getting it here, Wesley."
"No," Wes says, and how the hell is it possible for a psychic representation of a body to shiver like this? "I sent them after Angel."
Angel shifted in the Most Uncomfortable Chair In the World, trying not to watch Spike pace back and forth across the hospital waiting room. "Spike, will you sit down?"
"Look, mate. It's either smoking or pacing, and only one's going to get me tossed out of here, right?" When Angel didn't answer quickly enough, Spike marched closer, filling Angel's vision as he could only when the taller man was seated, and Angel realized, then, that Spike needed this feeling of height, power. Anything but helplessness, so he stayed in his chair and nodded.
"Right," he said, but still reached out to take one of Spike's hands in his, the one that would be fumbling for a cigarette now if it could. "Has this happened to him before?"
"Feel like I should be askin' you that," Spike said after a moment, but didn't tug his hand away immediately. He curled his fingers around Angel's first, giving them a squeeze, and pulling away, stuffing both hands into his pockets and resuming his pacing. "Feel like I should be askin' you a lot of things."
"I meant Xander," Angel said.
"Yeah? Well I didn't. And I dunno. Maybe. Not when he was with me. We're not talking about Xander right now; we're talking about Wesley."
"You want to come clean now, wanker?"
Angel drew a deep breath, wishing that he could have a cigarette even though he didn't smoke. "I don't know what to tell you. I-"
"Haven't trusted Wesley any further than I could throw him since the moment you heard our Xander had taken up with him." Spike caught Angel's surprised look and shrugged. "'M not stupid, am I? Didn't think sayin' anything would do me any good. I know you're a thick bastard when you want to be. Thought you'd see Wes, realize what a complete nonce you were being, and it'd all blow over."
"There's more to it than that."
"Oh, isn't there always?" Spike whirled, and pointed his finger at Angel. "Reckon we've got time, Angel. How bout you tell me a story about how a nice bloke like Wesley becomes public enemy number one on your list."
"I never said he was public enemy number one," Angel said, eyes shifting down to the floor under the weight of Spike's glare. "Or even number five. Why are you taking his side, anyway? Does he have an honest face or something?"
"I'm takin' his side," Spike said slowly, as if speaking to a small and possibly stupid dog, "because I trust Xander when he says Wesley's a decent guy."
"Oh, yeah. Xander's a great judge of people. You, that other guy, what was his name?"
Spike rolled his eyes. "Parker, and only I get to give Xander a hard time about that pillock. Xander never said he was a decent bloke, he said he was a great shag. I think the words were 'Fuck off, Spike. If I want to get laid, I'm getting laid.' And as for me, you should bleeding well know I'd sooner open an artery than hurt my boy. Now how about you start telling me what your problem is with Wesley before I start making arrangements for you to sleep on the fucking couch?"
"Yeah? Well let me tell you about that nice bloke," Angel said in an imitation of Spike's accent terrible enough to make him cringe. "I don't like people who betray me."
"Uh huh," Spike said slowly. "You been dropped on your head on the set lately or something?" The belligerent tilt of Spike's chin lowered as he saw the genuinely hurt look behind Angel's stubbornness, and crossed back to him, standing knee to knee before him. "Less talking," he said, accent gentling, "more listening." Spike made a zipping motion across his mouth. "Promise."
Angel let out his breath slowly. "Okay. I met Wes when the squad was in England. He was studying psychic bonding between members of a squadron who'd just come off of combat or something like that. Interviewing us about experiences in the field, and running tests on us."
"Tests? Like on rats?"
Angel shook his head. "Nah. The military ran those tests. Just tests. Like he'd put us in separate rooms and do experiments on our reactions to things, answers to things. It was all voluntary."
"So where's the bad, luv?" Spike leaned into Angel's knees, reaching out to skim his palm over the prickly spines of Angel's hair.
"I got to know him," Angel said slowly. "Like him."
Spike's eyebrows climbed. "Like him like a favorite aunt or like him like you want to knock boots?"
"The one with the boot knocking."
"Uh huh. That what this is all about?" Spike's eyebrows drew together. "A bad sodding breakup?"
"No. We never got together that way. Just talked a lot when we weren't working." Angel shrugged. "Talked about school, talked about our dads."
"Took years before you told me about your Da," Spike said quietly.
Angel only shrugged. He shifted his knees apart, taking Spike by the hips and pulling him closer to the chair, as if shielding himself from the rest of the waiting room. "Told him first in professional confidentiality. Then, once he was off the clock, he told me about his dad. We kinda had things in common. It's why I came out to him." Angel laughed, though there wasn't much humor in the sound. "Because we had that in common too. He was the first guy I ever said it to, you know? I'm gay."
"Still not seeing where the bad is." Spike began to comb his fingers through Angel's hair, worried when the expected reaction to having his precious hair do mussed never came. "Pretty obvious he wouldn't rag on you for being gay."
"No. But the army would. It went pretty well between us for a while; we made friends. He showed me around. Showed me where to go."
Spike chuckled. "Had wondered how you found your way to that pub and knew what to do there," he admitted. "I've got Wes to thank for you turning up on my shift and I'm supposed to think he's bad?"
Angel licked his lips. "That's not really the part of what he did that was bad, no."
"Let's see. He was your friend. He was your confidant. He pulled your head out of your arse when nobody else could, and I'm here to tell you that's bloody difficult at the best of times, and he sent you to the place where you met me." Spike cocked his head, eyes rolling up to the ceiling as if in thought. "Yup. Must be evil," he said, then whuffed as Angel's fist gently punched him in the stomach.
"He turned me in."
"To the military, Spike. He promised me confidentiality, then set me up and turned me in to my superiors in violation of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Names, dates, places, men. Everything he knew about my time in England up until then. You met me after I'd been discharged, Spike. That was all because of Wesley." Angel lifted his head, looking Spike straight in the eyes. "He cost me my career, my employment, my schooling. Jesus, they even made me pay back my undergrad tuition for summer courses." Angel dragged his hand through his hair, and looked up when Spike caught his fingers, not letting go, and gently squeezed.
"You ever ask him why, mate?"
Angel licked his lips, a guilty expression flickering over the stubborn set of his face. "Not exactly."
Wes's stopped talking, he keeps stopping, like there's something stuck the wrong way around in his throat, like the words are choking him, and fuck it hurts to see. Or feel. Or whatever the hell passes for it in Wesley's head space. "Shh, sweetheart. Breathe." Cause that's not real in here either, but a guy can do an awful lot if he believes it's real. A guy can make himself live or die if he believes hard enough.
Usually pretty calming. Pretty normal.
And Jesus fuck, but we can use a little normal in here. "Better?"
I get a weak smile for that one, and so sue me, I've gotta cover it with a kiss. "Think you can talk now?"
"Cause baby, I have really gotta know why you'd send Angel's squad after him."
Wesley swallows, and tilts his head back onto my shoulder where I can see his Adam's apple work under the skin, under the scar. "Not all of it. Only part of it. To save him, I thought."
"Save him from what?"
"The half of his squad who came after me."
Okay, and so not making any sense here. "Explain this to me slowly, baby. Some of us don't have fancy college degrees."
"One of the members of Angel's squad, a man named Gates, was looking for advancement, I suppose, and decided the easiest way to clear a path was through Angel's removal." Wes is closing his eyes like that makes it easier to talk, and I'm kinda wondering what he sees when the him in his head closes his eyes like this. Is there a head space inside head space? These are the thoughts that a sane man must not follow.
"So you decided to help him along?"
"God, no!" Wesley's eyes pop open like one of those crazy dolls, and he twists around until he can see me. "But I couldn't let Gates frame Angel either. You don't understand; there was no other choice. I tried to find another way to dissuade him from his plans, to prove the accusations wrong, but there was nothing." Wesley's hand is tightening on mine till I'm fucking glad they're not my real fingers because --ow. But since they're not, I squeeze back, and he's still talking. "By outing him, I hurt him. But if I'd let him stay to be accused of-" And there's that chokey thing again. I can feel it beneath my fingers, catching in his throat, pet it till it goes away. "Impropriety and worse, with a woman he'd been involved with some time back, who had. . . kept incriminating items belonging to him," Wesley says, and from the way he's looking down at his hands, I'm getting the feeling that's the Disney version. "It would have ruined him, Xander."
"Was he guilty? Of that impropriety and worse?"
Wesley's head drops down against his chest, like someone cut his strings though the tension in his spine is like a rock. "I don't believe so now."
"But you did then."
"The evidence was very persuasive. She was very persuasive, so I," another deep breath, and now I'm glad we're in the head space, because he'd be passing out on me if he kept on at this rate. "I made a deal with the men who wanted to get rid of him. Offered my evidence in exchange for theirs. Both would remove Angel from the military, but only one would damn him as a civilian."
"What happened to their evidence?"
"I destroyed it."
"And they used yours against Angel?"
"Uh. Huh. So they decided to slit your throat and leave you for dead why?"
Wesley's lips may be smiling, but it's the kind that aches in your gut to see. "They didn't want me to warn him it was coming." Wesley's smile turns to bitterly compressed lips and you know? It's almost a relief to watch it turn honest because there's fuck-all sadder than a smile that wants to cry.
"So you didn't make it, and he still thinks you betrayed him?"
"I did," Wesley says, and how did I know that was coming. "Betray him."
"You just said you saved him."
Wesley shook his head. "Perhaps he could have won the case. Could have discredited the bloody Air Force tart they'd got to file complaints against him. I don't know. It isn't as if they had any evidence that was conclusive."
"It was enough to convince you."
"No. But it was enough to frighten me. The investigation alone would have uncovered his sexuality, as well as branding him a potential predator. I saw it as minimizing his losses at that time."
"I don't feel it was my right to interfere." Wesley's fingers move, and for a second it feels like they're gonna tighten again, but they don't. They unfold my hand until we're palm to palm. Tingly. "But I'd do it again."
"Did you ever tell him why you did it?"
Wesley's eyes go kind of foggy at that, and we're rising through the mind space again, like a balloon in a draft until I can feel the waves of memory on the surface sucking at my skin, tangling into my brain and making it hard to breathe, hard to think around Wesley's panic, like it's pure adrenaline and emotion up here. "He didn't give me the chance."
"What happened?" And hey! Fates! If you're fucking listening to me, I did not want a demonstration when I asked that! Because now we're out of deep head space and back in dizzy flashback land, only now I'm seeing through Wesley's eyes even if he isn't, feeling his warm affection for Angel.
Angel with a buzz cut.
Angel a lot thinner, and a lot younger than he is now.
Angel taking Wesley's hand, and that terrible rush of hope that's gonna kill me because I'm starting to get a handle on what comes next. "You know me, Wes. Probably better than anyone," he's saying, and I can feel each one of his fingers, warm and large on Wesley's hand, talking through the skin because Wesley's throat is all bandaged. Can't talk.
Can't scream either when Angel rips the pillow out from under Wesley's head and slams it down over his face. My face. Our fucking face. And I can't goddamned breathe under here!
"What the fuck were you thinking? I trusted you! I thought I knew you!"
Beeping machines going crazy, hand's killing me where the needle's jammed in, twisted around, ripped out, and for the second time, which is two goddamned times too many, I wake up in a hospital bed screaming.
Spike's head snapped up. "That was Xander," he said quickly, and took off running down the hall before an orderly can grab him, colliding with Xander rounding the corner and toppling both of them into a corner. "What the buggering fuck, Harris?"
"No, Spike. What's gone on? What've they done to you, pet?"
"No. Fuck it, Spike. I have to get to Wesley." Xander pushed Spike away, squirming like a greased eel and took off down the corridor, a nurse and two orderlies in pursuit.
The nurse, however, was not as fast as Xander, and Spike grabbed her arm, and held tight, eyes widening at the bloody gauze in her hands. "What the fuck did you do to him?"
Angel grabbed Spike by the shoulders, too big to be shaken off. "Let go, tosser!"
"Spike, calm down." Not loosening his grip at all, and hoping Spike wasn't agitated enough to kick him in the knee cap with witnesses, Angel addressed the nurse. "What happened?"
The nurse, keeping her distance from Spike, looked from one to the other. "He woke while I was cleaning off the blood, and," she shrugged, gesturing down the hall in the universal sign for 'your guess is as good as mine.'
Spike had gone completely still in Angel's grasp, listening to the commotion in the direction Xander had run off to. "Is over there where they took Wes?"
"His friend? Yes, but-"
Angel shrugged apologetically at the nurse as Spike broke away and ran down the corridor. "It's okay. I'll keep him out of trouble. That's not ICU down there, is it?"
"Great. Uh. I'd appreciate it if you didn't call the cops. They're not crazy, I promise." Angel held up his hands, wincing at Xander's muffled shout, hoping the silence after was Spike trying to talk him out of doing anything stupid, not joining him.
Wes is gone. He's fucking gone from my head, or I'm gone from his, and too close, and nowhere, and everywhere, and he needs me.
Don't fucking touch me, you bastards! Wes is arched out on his back, flailing the way I left him in his mind, but this time, there's no Angel, no pillow anywhere but in his head, but for him it's real again. All real. Still real, and this is gonna be such a long fucking shot.
Odin, I swear if you're listening, if you give even half a godly shit about me, I will be your slave for life if this works.
Baby, forgive me.
The pillow's light in my hands. Too light for how heavy it feels when I slam it down over Wesley's face.