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Fiction by:  Title Author Pairing Rating
Title: Because You Let Me
Quote: Why do you make things so hard?/Because you let me.
Author: frimfram
Rating: G/PG
Setting: post-NFA
Summary: Angel eavesdrops on the Story Of The End Of The World, as told by William T. Bloody.
A/N: Many thanks to sockmonkeyhere, bogwitch, and beanbeans for the beta work.

Because You Let Me

"An apocalypse has to work harder to impress the real connoisseur."

Drama queen. I huff my shoulders up into a solid wall, ears tingling, straining to hear his voice through the booth partition. Talking to some girl. I can smell her — her perfume, I mean. Like grapefruit.

"The dragon — yeah, nice try, and Angel went for it hook, line and sinker. Course he did. Always was a sucker for that St George crap."

I roll my eyes, hunch over my beer. It's not crap. Just way over his head.
The girl asks something, indistinct. I listen so hard I bite the tip of my tongue.

"Me? I'd seen a dragon at the apocalypse three years-"

He stops abruptly, mid-brag. I can almost hear him choking on the rest of the sentence. He shifts in his seat and I feel it through the booth wall, which squeaks as he moves. He's right behind me, his back to mine, just this thin, all-important division between us. I tip my head back to rest against the partition, watch the ceiling fan slice the fug of smoke. This bar reeks of it, and I miss California so damn hard.

It's gone quiet on the other side of the partition. What's happening? Did the girl pull a stake out of her purse? That's the only sure way to make Spike stop talking. I've tried most methods. Through the wood I hear him cough briefly, lower his voice, muttering something that sounds apologetic. I feel like my ears are stuffed with cotton wool. Dammit.

His voice rises back to audible, but there's an edge to it now.

"... Well, might've looked like I was shivering, but it was just from the rain. Now, that actually was something: getting real live rain out of a balmy LA evening, not a bad parlour trick. But even that let up about the same time Illyria supernovaed. I was just working on my ‘points for effort' smirk when the blinding blue light where she'd been standing burst out and swallowed me up.

"That was more like it. Pain, falling, a huge explosion — that's what I'm talking about. But we were the ones who brought all that to the picnic; bunch of Big Bad wannabes had nothing to do with it. They didn't understand Blue any better than we did, and she stole the show."

My jaw hurts, and it takes me a moment to realise I'm grinding my teeth. I stop.

Some things just don't change. Spike doesn't change. Even now, after everything that's happened, he still gets right under my skin, same as ever. Even when he isn't trying to. This big speech he's doing now, How Illyria Saved The World, isn't to get me riled up. He doesn't even know I followed him here. He never talks about this stuff to me.

And I'm glad he doesn't. I knew it'd go like this. Knew he'd turn the story of the end of my world into a classic Spike barroom tale, polished to impress the ladies. Just doesn't bother him that the big climax turned into chaos, and at the end of it all we're left in the same old world, screwed up worse than ever, walking around in Holland Manners's hell. The way Spike tells it, there'll be a punch-line, and something about how he was the damn hero. Then on with the next chapter. The next drink, the next girl.

"We were getting into the swing of things, cannon to the right of us, cannon to the left of us, when she set off glowing. Looked like one of those nerdy plasma ball things that people like Andrew have in their bedrooms" — he pauses while the girl giggles, and I narrow my eyes — "Tendrils of blue light snaking off her and out toward the clearing sky."

He's silent for a moment. Maybe just slugging his beer.

"Next thing I knew I was in the air, blasted backwards so hard I could feel my clothes tearing. Then I opened my eyes — don't remember closing ‘em — and the rain wasn't falling on my face any more."

I can feel myself slumping.

I just tip the beer into the back of my throat and swallow.

"I was lying on my back. There was wetness still, but it smelled of blood. Blinked hard, and I saw stars. After a while, it turned out I really did: the real ones, bright white in a clear night sky.

"Which is bloody odd in LA."

Is he... thinking of Dru? He's talking now like he did to her, his voice fraying just a little, lower than when he talks to me. Softer, like velvet worn through to a shine.

We have both lived so long.

"Lay there for a bit, for want of anything better to do. All the stars had a reflection in the snow of broken glass strewn all over the street. I was deafened: battle sounds ringing in my skull, that trying-too-hard dragon screaming, the fucking awful noise Charlie was making at the end, all of it just going on and on and on. Then the din went the opposite way to the stars: not really there, only in me head. My eardrums hurt but I knew it was silent now, all around me.

"Silence — not really my thing. Can't be doing with it. Did my bit in the good fight against it by hauling myself upright, and groaning like a baby because moving hurt so much. That was it, though. I stood there, wobbling, must've looked like I had three bottles of Jack to thank for my condition, and the silence was as deafening as the ringing had been. I turned around slowly. Miles past eerie. There was nothing but silence and dark, spreading out for whole city blocks.

"Whatever Illyria had done, it hadn't just knocked out the demon army and given me a shiner. The buildings nearest to where we'd fought were rubble, and, judging by those bright stars, the lights must've been out for miles around. The lights and everything else: to begin with, there wasn't another fucker in sight. No screaming means no screamers. Demon horde was missing, which is how I like my demon hordes; but so were Blue, and Charlie, and the Sugarplum Fairy himself."

I roll my eyes.

"For once, I told myself, this looked like the real thing. A city destroyed, everyone gone — this is what disaster movies teach a bloke to expect. Except, in disaster movies, you don't get one lightly-bruised vampire left standing in the middle of it all, twiddling his thumbs and pondering the plot twist. Also, there's usually popcorn. What was I supposed to do? Shake my fists at the heavens and rail? I went indoors."

He's... only telling it this way to impress her... the old sensitive poet routine... I take the corner of the beer bottle label and yank it off. Stare hard at nothing.

"The wall of the building on the right had collapsed, and its guts were sprawling out into the alley. Don't know what drew me in — well, didn't at the time — but that was where I dragged myself; into the gory, charred remains of a ... lobby. Every time the world ends, I wind up in a tastefully-furnished room with potted plants. The ones here were worse for wear, though, and looked like they'd been flagging long before hell broke loose around them. Place was a wreck. There was blackened parquet and a couple of blackened pillars; a blackened desk with a blackened service bell; a blackened lift shaft with the car nowhere to be seen; and there, in the middle of it all, what was left of a sofa.

"That's where he was lying."

I realise the song on the juke box finished a while back. Apart from Spike's voice, it's kind of quiet in here.

"Talk about a charmed life: blasted into the rubble of a collapsing building, and he'd landed on a sofa. Think that's when I knew, really. If someone up there liked him that bloody much, the next bit was a gimme."

He has no idea. He -

"But, buggered-up timing being the story of my life, I didn't have time to get properly pissed off before I saw the wound. You see, vampires don't bleed that much. Not as much as Angel was bleeding, anyway. The stuff was pooling around him on the sofa, and, what do you know, it was blackened too. Thick, rich, dark red liquid, this overwhelming metal smell coming up off it in waves, and I just stood there gaping. It was ... pulsing out of him.

"I stared."

I stare.

"He looked... well, he looked the same, but it's not just about what you can see. Everything else was different. It was as though ... alright, if a soul makes a body hum, a demon makes it crackle. You feel it more than see it, this fizzing, this pop. The crackle was all gone from Angel. His limbs were at the wrong angles, his head was thrown back with eyes closed, and... he was just a man, lying there bleeding.

"The blood threw me. The smell of it — yeah, right, I know you people don't get the thing with smell, but try not to wince."

I try to picture her face. Just get a visual of Buffy, lip curling. But then Spike laughs, just one short cough of laughter, and it's gone. He... nothing bothers him. What about her? I breathe in deep, in search of clues. Force of habit.

"It's visceral. And what was coming off Angel churned up my guts, alright. It was familiar — much more than familiar; it was like those scents you get that pull you back to childhood by the scruff of your neck. Dunno what it'd be for someone like you. Strawberry bubblegum? CFCs? Proust had a madeleine, I have a great ponce bleeding like a stuck pig. Ain't life grand. But, beyond the memories, there was something new, too. All this... life. Like nothing I'd ever known before, hot, and rich, and fascinating, and — alright, I could go on about this for hours, but you'd only think I had a crush on the old tosser."

She says something back and he laughs again. And I feel like... I'm hearing things I shouldn't. My face gets hot. I twist the bottleneck round and round in my closed fist.

The seat behind me creaks. I picture him leaning forward, broken eyebrow cocked, a bottle in his hand too and a wide-open smile on his face. Holding forth. Being Spike.

"So. Yeah. Spent a few moments doing my best rendition of the caveman gape for which Angel himself holds the copyright, then got my arse into gear. I knew what the blood meant, so I knew what the fact that it was spilling prettily all over the upholstery meant too. Yeah, I've whiled away the odd hour daydreaming about how the laugh-a-minute, Fred-and-Ginger story we've been spinning for a century is supposed to end, but I don't reckon it's with me watching him bleed to death and thinking that he smells appetising. So I went to the couch and scooped him up.

"His body was warm. Funny thing. It was actually getting cold, but, compared to his career average, it was warm. Could tell he was out for the count. Usually, I get within ten feet of him and he starts bristling."

I do not bristle.

Here right now, about an inch and a half away from him, and... I force myself to relax my shoulders. Release the death-grip on the beer bottle neck. Breathe out slowly through my nose.

She asks a question, though I only catch the intonation.

"And then?" He chuckles. "And then, heroically, without regard for the cost to myself, I took him to the ER. Whole city was sliding into chaos. God king had just exploded a couple of blocks around Wilshire, and an Al Qaeda splinter cell had claimed it within hours. No one had the time or sense to make any trouble about our phony Wolfram and Hart personal records, at least til they'd got him patched up. Had to let them put stitches in my face, just for form, you know. Sweet of them."

The scars in Spike's face were gone before I woke up. Mine are still there. Like webbing, all over the right side of my face. That's my reflection.

I can hear her speaking now, can almost make out her words. Her voice pitches upwards, hesitant. He echoes her.

"How is he now?"

A pause.

"Why don't you ask him yourself? He's sitting in the next booth."

My heart stops. Just to show it can.

"Oh yeah. He came in about five minutes after us and slipped in to the next seat. Very sneaky. Very Angel Investigations."

There's a boiling-hot second where I imagine escape. I remember how I used to move: melt into a shadow, watch from a rooftop. I could disappear in the instant you glanced away. Now I'm shackled to a weary body, sick for want of its demon. Reduced to dropping my head, hoping it'll just all go away, watching hopelessly as a moment's stunned silence ticks by, then the girl stands up slowly and looks over the partition.

She looms, lip-glossed, on long Bambi legs. Wearing her sister's wide eyes and pout.

"Oh my god. Angel."

I imagine the sting of my scarred skin stretching, the rasp in my voice if I try to say her name. So I say nothing.

Dawn looks from me to Spike, her lips parted. "You knew he was here all along?"

Spike shrugs expansively. "Mr. Brightside here reckons he'll never adjust to being a real boy, but he's forgotten what it's like to be a demon already." He looks at me. His face should be — I imagined contempt, scorn, that permanent scowl-and-smirk he wore all of last year. But it's just not there, no matter how hard I wish it was. He looks ... gentle. "Remember preternatural senses?"

Oh, you have those, do you? How come they don't stop you being such an idiot? sneers one of the dead men in my memory. I say nothing.

"Knew as soon as you came into the room," Spike says. He hesitates. "And then, anyway. Could feel your heartbeat through the wood," he says, tapping the top of the booth partition. Then, he suddenly looks embarrassed. Lowers his head, sniffs, goes so far as to bite into his bottom lip. Picture of said-too-much.

And that? That makes me smile.