Lightening scorched the clouds, brilliant blues and golds bending the space before them in a seamless torrent of ripped space where green earth met the evening sky. A shimmering hole through the universe, pulling them in with a swirl of wind and a rush of sound. A final flash tore through the night and they were home.
Lightening scorched the clouds, silver and blood red mingling above them tearing a hole through dimensions, a terrifying vision of permanent night and monstrosities clawing their way through the gaping maw in the sky. A final flash tore through the night and she was gone.
Her nails were bleeding and bitten down to the quick by the time she heard voices in the hotel garden. Shooting a quick glance over at the office, Willow shifted in her seat and prepared to deliver the bad news. As it turned out, she didn't have to say a word; her mere presence was enough to tell Angel there was something wrong.
The others, two faces she didn't recognize and two she did, gathered silently behind him, their laughter and merriment crushed.
"She's-she…" The words died traitorously in her mouth, a small part of her mind still insisting that if she didn't say it, it couldn't be true.
"Dead," Wesley finished for her, his voice bald in the ornate lobby.
Angel swung away from them, his shoulders hunching as though the Sword of Damocles had finally fallen, and strode wordlessly towards his office.
His hand was on the door before Willow registered where he was going. "No," she squeaked out and then blushed when he turned to stare at her, the unspoken question hanging between them.
"He's sleeping," she started hurriedly, her mouth moving to fill the spaces her mind didn't want to contemplate. "There were herbs and some magic, but only a little because, y'know, whacked out after the battle with Glory. But he wouldn't sleep so I…" Willow wiggled her fingers. "And now he's sleeping and if you go in there, he's bound to notice and then it'll be all `sod' this and `bleeding' that and, no - just, no. I had that all the way here in the car. And the driving. Did I tell you about the driving-?"
"Willow!" It was Wes who did the interrupting again, bringing the girl up short and forcing her to take notice. "Willow, who exactly is in the office?"
Willow blushed again when she realized she'd not actually told them. "Spike," she said. "It's Spike."
"What?" Angel asked, backing away from the office door like it was on fire. "Why the hell would you bring him here?"
"No one else would come with me," Willow said in a quiet voice.
Angel crossed his arms and gave her a hard stare, "And?"
"And," she fought back tears as she spoke. "And Giles said he didn't want to look at Spike, or have him around Dawn, or coming around looking for someone to buy him blood."
"So you brought him here?" Wesley asked, coming up beside the shaken girl. "Why?"
"Well," Willow stuttered, "he kind of insisted."
A low angry growl came from Angel's direction and when the humans looked over at him, they were all surprised to find golden eyes staring back at them. Willow shuffled backwards, putting Wesley firmly between her and Angel. Next to her, she noticed the huge black guy doing the same thing to a skinny mousy looking girl.
Cordelia, on the other hand, was far from intimidated. On her way over to the front desk she demanded in a loud voice, "Spike? Are we talking peroxide challenged nasty little cockney Spike, `cos if we are, I'm thinking a stake is way too good for him." A drawer crashed open and she surfaced holding a loaded crossbow - a somewhat incongruous weapon when set against her scanty clothing. She looked like a renegade from Xena.
Flashing a look at Angel, she received a nod in return and Angel's hand returned to the doorknob. Willow glanced from one to the other and the penny finally dropped.
"No," she said again, this time with more conviction, stepping out from behind Wes' back. "There're things you need to know, Angel. About Spike and about Buffy and about how she died. If you want to dust him afterwards then, well, I guess I can't stop you, but please, at least listen first."
"I'm listening," Angel said, reverting to his human features.
"Well, he has a chip in his head that keeps him from biting humans."
"Oh, you have got to be kidding," Cordelia huffed, wiping a strand of hair from her eyes as she walked across the lobby. "Spike isn't biting humans?"
"No, he's been helping Buffy," Willow insisted.
"Not enough," Angel said through gritted teeth.
"It wasn't his fault," Willow cried, the sudden need to defend Spike surging through her. "He got stabbed and thrown off a huge towery thing for her. It's not his fault he couldn't die saving her."
"Well then, he can die mourning her." Angel waved off the interruption he saw building on Wesley's tongue, opened the door to his office and stopped.
Christ, Angel thought, he may not have dusted but it was a close run thing. Without thinking, Angel kicked the door shut in Cordelia's face and dropped to his knees next to the couch, his eyes running the check his hands dared not. Spike was thinner than when he'd seen him last, his face gaunt and mottled with layers of bruising. His hands, clutching the familiar duster around him, attested to punches thrown and parried, the knuckles scraped and bloodied. The air around him reeked of sorrow and blood, his own, Buffy's and Dawn's, and, as Angel reached out to smooth back an escaped curl, the taste of salt joined them.
"She's gone," Spike whispered screwing his eyes shut, his voice broken and hoarse from crying too many tears. "I tried, Angelus, but I couldn't save her."
In Angel's experience, there was only one person Spike cried for - his beloved Drusilla - and if by some chance Buffy had managed to earn that love for herself, then who was Angel to condemn.
Easing sideways, he sank to the floor and continued stroking Spike's hair, feeling his own tears burning his eyes and throat as they fell silently.
The world crashed inward, the office becoming a vacuum of emotion for both men. Shared history spanning centuries and shared love would always bind them. It had nothing to do with love, or even respect, for each other. The bonds there were more powerful even than the love for a dead Slayer, and while Angel would have liked nothing better than to crawl up to his rooms and sleep away the next millennia he felt compelled to clean the wounds he could and try to put Spike back together again.
"Come on," he said with a firm push on Spike's shoulder.
"Where're we going?" Spike asked groggily as he sat up, the bones in his back creaking and popping with the effort.
"Not gonna happen," Spike groaned, trying to lie back down on the relative comfort of the couch.
Angel reached a hand under Spike's body and pulled him back upright. "You can make it."
"Sod off," Spike threw a half-hearted punch in Angel's general direction, "You go dancing up the bloody stairs after you fall twenty stories and see how graceful you look. I'm going back to sleep."
"Uh huh." In one motion Angel leaned over and scooped Spike off of the couch, slinging him over his shoulder like a weightless sack of potatoes. Spike landed one thump between Angel's shoulder blades as he was fumbling for the doorknob and then went limp as they passed through the lobby.
Five pairs of eyes watched in silence as Angel slowly climbed the stairs. As he vanished around the corner, Cordy jabbed Wes is the ribs and hissed, "Are we gonna let him do that. After last time he was on his own with Spike?"
Wes shook his head and tore his gaze away from the empty staircase. "It's more complicated than we could possibly realize, Cordy," he said sadly.
Upstairs, Spike had given up resisting as Angel stripped him of his clothes and pushed him in the direction of the shower. Gritty-eyed he staggered into the cubicle and flicked on the water, standing with his head bowed as it sleeted frigidly down his back before warming up. His hands moved automatically; picking up the soap, the cloth, working up a lather on his body, his arms, his legs, wash-rinse-repeat, brain switched off, emotions numb.
Angel hovered in the doorway, increasingly concerned. His own emotions were unimportant right now and after a century he was well used to burying them. Not only that but, in all honesty, Buffy's death hadn't hit him as hard as he thought it would. Yes, he still loved her, and he always would, but the girl he had fallen for, that sliver of golden sunlight who had crept into his dark dead heart, was gone. And the Buffy that remained, the strong deadly self-possessed woman she became no longer had the ability to destroy him with a single word. He would mourn, all in good time.
A small crashing sound from the shower made Angel jump, he took a few quick steps into the room and pulled the curtain back. Spike looked marginally better now that the majority of the dried blood had been cleansed away, although the purple mottling that covered most of his body did nothing to quell the nausea that had been building in Angel's stomach since he'd walked through the hotel doors and spotted Willow.
"Yeah," Spike leaned his head on the warmed tile and stared at Angel through half closed eyes. "You've got so many bottles of crap in here I can't turn around without knocking one down." He tried to give a laugh, but couldn't even muster the energy for that.
Bending over to pick the spilling shampoo bottle from the shower floor, Angel took a calming breath, letting the heated steam fill his head. He righted the bottle and backed away, pulling a towel from the hanging rack and handing it to Spike once he had turned the spray off.
Spike ran the towel gingerly over his body and stepped over the small metal lip of shower floor, stumbling a little as he went. Angel reached out and helped him regain his balance before exiting the small bathroom.
"Come on, I'll see if I've got anything that'll fit you."
He needn't have bothered. Spike reached the bed, dropped the towel and pitched face down on the comforter, fast asleep before he was horizontal
Angel sighed, hauled Spike further up the bed and rolled him until his head was on the pillow. Then after shedding his own filthy garb, Angel headed off for a much-needed shower himself.
Sunset found them tangled around each other in the center of the bed; legs woven, torsos tightly encircled by strong arms and foreheads pressed together.
Two pairs of eyes opened and blinked drowsily, trapped in the never-never land between slumber and waking, and neither questioned when Angel's lips sought out Spike's, grazing them with a tender kiss. Spike responded, squirming closer and sliding his hand up Angel's bicep to rest on his shoulder, mimicking the movements of a dance they had performed so many times in the previous century. The kiss deepened, their tongues touching and caressing, their teeth nibbling at each other's lips encouraging them to swell and bruise. Somewhere, far away, voices blathered on, but they could have been in another world for all the notice the pair on the bed paid them.
As they joined, Spike thought Angel's body would leave scalded trails of skin in its wake. He'd been outside for so long, feeling nothing but the cold, that to be inside, to be pressed against a warm lover, seemed almost a punishment. The very act of touching felt like a betrayal, taking his pleasure in the first body willing, knowing she would never have done the same.
A hollow union, no words spoken as lips met and traveled over shimmering skin, tracing muscle and blue flesh, diving into a mouth crimson with desire, this was not mourning, this was wallowing. Taking each other down to the lowest point, pressing until their bodies rose with false ecstasy, a peace of lies and denials. The past meant nothing here and the two men may as well have been strangers as blood kin.
Clawing hands riled Angel to a hazy orgasm, unwilling to let him come down slowly, unable to accept any silence between them, the room filled with growls and groans that reverberated off damask walls and silken sheets. The moment could not be lost, the pain of her death always on the surface, waiting for a moment of calm to be seen. Angel wasn't ready to look himself, so he shielded Spike's eyes as well, rolling him over sweat soaked blankets, looking for a place to hide, finding it in burning flesh and tearful kisses.
As tight muscle parted for him, he dived inside, letting the waters of passion close over his head; drowning, not waving. Here he could lose himself and, with a few well placed touches, take Spike with him, until they were both wandering in a kaleidoscope world of hazy memories and sharp beloved dreams. Here they could imagine the sun on their skin, revel in the blessed warmth that could only be found under her all-seeing eye. They could fabricate the act of breathing and imagine that the pounding in their bodies came from within rather than without.
But the pain, ever present and persistent, insinuated its way into Angel's peaceful mirage, probing with sticky hurtful fingers that harked back to more sin-filled times. Flashes of gold became blood drenched tresses, and the flavor of tears changed from loss to fear and humiliation. In a final futile effort to forget, Angel buried his fangs in Spike's neck, allowing the sluggish flow of cool blood to strip the memory of Buffy's ardent taste from his mouth. Beneath him Spike cried out in a voice aching with anguish even as he spilled his pleasure against Angel's chest.
Angel tried to follow, tried to break through the band of steel that enclosed his heart, forcing his body harder and faster until the breath fair whistled from his lover's chest. But he was lost. No matter how he twisted and turned, how he drove or struggled, she stood between him and release. Desperately he howled his frustration into Spike's skin, using claws and fangs until more blood flowed between them, slickening skin already brushed with sweat and marked with violet violent bruises.
"Hush, love. Just lose yourself." Comforting rather than controlling, accepting the punishment to his flesh as his rightful reward, Spike held Angel close and let him wander the dark forests of his body, no longer looking for landmarks or pleasure points, simply moaning out encouragement as Angel abandoned him for his own bliss.
Panted breaths and hurried words accompanied Angel's release, and as he lay back against disheveled pillows and cast a wary eye over his lover's bloodied body he wondered aloud why Spike had come to LA. What force could have changed so much in the two years since they'd last seen each other that this bed would be the place he escaped to.
Spike just smiled and lazily tasted fingertips coated with both their essences. "This is how we grieve."
Angel closed his eyes and let the tears flow. This was how they started to grieve, but as he slipped back into a fitful sleep, this interlude seemed nothing more than a dream, and he wondered if they'd ever be done mourning.