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Ronin
Part 1

Author: Cynthia Martin
Rating: R
Summary: Spike, Andrew, Dana, post AtS, AU/no spoilers
Feedback: ycymartin@cox.net
Note: Thanks to Barb

****

In three days Los Angeles never really stopped burning. Fucking horrible corpse of a town, hellhole, charnel pit. Cinders drifting through the dead air, piling up in drifts, sluicing into the gutters when the greasy rain fell by night. Putrid fucking place.

The flames had spread to hills and they left the hills to burn themselves out. Spike could see the glowing lines low against the sky, little red veins in the blackness, hungry unchecked destruction. No engines to spare for the hills when half the city was in ruins, while the dogs and their humans still scrambled over the rubble under the arclights, searching for the dead and the highly improbable survivors. Spike had tried to do his bit with that, stumbling past the tape and digging about, following his nose as well as any mutt, pulling a severed arm or two out of the wreckage until the uniformed pricks got in his face. He'd laughed when they told him it was too dangerous for bystanders and nearly took a guy's head off with a left hook, and after that he figured maybe he wasn't thinking too clearly and to hell with it, anyway.

It was hot. The sirens had stopping moaning and shrieking after the first day, but it was too hot to sleep, even in the damp steaming hole where the Wilshire Line used to be. Everything stank of fuel and fire and filth. He was famished, but broken. The thought of feeding made him heave tiredly, and he wondered if he might not just stay where he was, drying out like a mummified insect in the bowels of the earth, growing rigid and empty as his mind fell away. Forgetting. But that was shite, of course. The towering pile of girders and twisted steel at Sixth and Hope pulled at him, put pictures in his head, compelled him. On the fourth night he pulled himself out of the crawlspace next to the third rail and staggered back to the spot where Angel had died in his arms. Poor Angel, poor sorry bastard. Angel had done his best, right to the end, and small thanks with it. They'd done the job, all right. Debris was still falling as Spike crawled to Angel, over the corpses of the others. Took him up and cradled him as Angel's face withered, crumbling under the weight of two centuries' age, too much for a weak human body. Spike had clutched him and begged stupidly: Come on, Angel, now, come on, don't quit, but Angel had only smiled and whispered, "I'm Liam," and died. Eyes shining, the only thing alive in his ruined face. But then his eyes filmed over and became fixed, staring. Staring at heaven, probably, and Spike supposed that was good enough by Angel's lights. He hoped it was. It seemed like a sucker's deal all the way around to Spike, though.

The intersection of Sixth and Flower was quiet. All the trucks and flashing lights had moved on. In his mind's eye Spike tried to see the radius of destruction surrounding Wolfram & Hart, the blast zone, everything flattened and fanning out, people's shadows etched onto the few walls left standing. His thoughts floated above the broken streets like a night bird riding an updraft, trying to see the edges of things, get a sense of scope. The radio said the center was three miles wide. Jesus. And how many dead? It was hard to take in, that they'd killed themselves and hundreds of others, thousands, just to take down a bunch of evil lawyers with suits and briefcases. Had they saved the world? It didn't feel that way at all. Charlie gone, Percy gone, Harm gone, hell, even that green git Lorne had insisted on fighting a fight that wasn't his, and had died for it. Illyria fried to her constituent atoms, or whatever she was made of, and a thousand other people he'd never met or thought of were dead, too. Nothing left.

Spike sank to his heels, leaning against a chunk of broken concrete, and listened to the night. Very quiet now. They'd taken his friends away in bags and he hadn't lifted a finger to stop them. Shock, maybe, from the explosion and the significant hole it had blown in his guts. Shock had kept him on his feet for a few days, God knew how or why. But he was thinking clearly now, and the last of his strength was ebbing. The hole hadn't closed or healed, and wasn't going to. He tried to ease his legs and realized, distantly, that he'd never stand up again. He waited instead, thinking about them, about the look in Angel's dead eyes. He waited quietly into the cold blue watches of morning, into the gathering light of dawn, waited for the sun to clear the rolling smoke above the hills and take him. He had a word or two with his soul to pass the last bit of time, and his soul seemed to be okay with things, but very tired. Couldn't seem to work up any fear of hell, which was a mercy. Nor any rush of triumph like he'd had in Sunnydale, which was a faint sadness but no surprise.

The sky became gray, and then brown. Spike lowered his head. Locked himself away inside, bracing, trying to prepare.

A van rolled up the street and stopped at a barricade. He heard a door slam and footsteps crunching over the glass and bits of strewn crap, the steps speeding up, then running, heading right for him.

"Spike?" A hand on his shoulder, felt from very far away. "Spike?"

It was getting too bright, just scent and shapes in a glowing haze. Spike had to squint. Andrew, of all fucking people. Andrew in a long coat and scarf, of all fucking things.

"Spike, what are you doing here?" The hand began to pull at him. "Spike, get up."

Spike tried to say: "Can't," but nothing came out except a cough.

Astoundingly, wee ickle Andrew got an arm around him and pulled him up, dragged him weaving toward the van. There was Andrew-babble of some sort going on, high and anxious, though Spike couldn't make a syllable's sense of it. He felt giddy from the renewed pain, felt his exposed face beginning to sting, felt his legs fail just as Andrew shoved the sliding door open and pushed him inside. The door shut him into darkness again. Spike lay sprawled as he had fallen, face down on the shag. The engine started and Andrew threw the van into reverse, yammering the while about two heroes meeting past all hope on the field of the Pelannor, or some such incomprehensible trash.

The van bounced a little on the buckled streets. Spike rolled with it. He listened to the hum of the engine, to the traffic noises closing around them, to the astonishing comfort of a familiar if idiotic voice. Andrew seemed to be talking about brave samurai, and castles in the sky, and those who do or die. Spike lost the thread early, though, and passed out.

****

It was broad day when they got to Van Nuys, because of the checkpoints and downed overpasses, and because they were driving a suspicious-looking vehicle that jumpy patrolmen liked to flag and inspect, a problem Andrew hadn't foreseen. Once over the Sepulveda pass it wasn't too bad, though -- Andrew turned off on Sherman Way and found the wide boulevard almost empty. The despised San Fernando Valley was 20 miles and a world away from the destruction of downtown Los Angeles, and only the smoke boiling up from several points on the horizon made it look like anything but another hot Valley morning.

It was a tight fit getting the van into the parking-breezeway under his aunt's apartment building, but Andrew had been taking badass driving courses and knew his stuff. No way was Spike going to be forced into a blanket-dash in his condition, not with the Andmeister as wheelman. He scraped a rainpipe loose as he squeezed the van down the ramp, but that was nothing, collateral damage. Spike was the priority.

Brave Spike, battered but manly, limp but well-muscled still. He roused only a little as Andrew drew him out of the van and up the garage stairs, his coat flapping around the horrible mess that had been his stomach. Andrew wasn't entirely sure he'd be able to open that coat and take a good look at the wound without doing something stupid, like cry or whatever, but he was determined to try. First a little battlefield vamp triage, then a trip to the Big Lots for... did Big Lots sell blood or just really bloody meat? Maybe a Carnecia? Or a Botanica, were Botanicas good for blood? Something Mexican...

First things first. Andrew propped Spike against the door frame while he fished out his duped keys, and told him firmly: "Enter, Vampyre, freely and of your own will," which got a grunt from Spike that he interpreted as a good sign.

Andrew got Spike onto his aunt's bed and started pulling curtains and gathering towels, while Spike lay still, eyes shut in a white hollowed face.

When Andrew brought him a glass of water to tide him over, Spike waved it away with visible effort, rasping, "It'll just run out again." Andrew set it on the headboard shelf next to his aunt's bible and chewed his lip.

"I'm going to get you something to eat," said Andrew. "You'll be okay for an hour, won't you?"

Spike opened his eyes. "They're all dead. Everybody."

"I'll be right back," said Andrew.

****

The blood ran out of the wound as predicted, but Andrew kept forcing it on him, and after a few hours it slowed to a trickle, easily contained by the towels.

The apartment began to swelter. Andrew resented the banging of the air conditioner -- it was gross and disrespectful in the sickroom of a wounded hero -- but when he tried to turn it off Spike growled, "For God's sake, what does it matter," which made Andrew retreat in confusion and leave it on.

Around midnight he heard Spike stirring and jumped up from his laptop to intercept him. Spike was trying to rise, trembling and panting, and his bandages were blooming red. Andrew soothed him, and when that didn't work Andrew pushed him. To his amazement Spike fell back on the bed, unable to resist. Andrew brought him more blood. Spike drank it prone, with a look of shame that broke Andrew's heart.

"Give yourself a day or two, Spike, Jeez," Andrew made bold to say.

"Yeah," sighed Spike.

In the morning Andrew woke to the sound of television. Spike was hunched stiffly on the recliner next to the couch, watching news footage of rescue efforts in Los Angeles. Andrew didn't like the expression on Spike's face at all.

"They're saying people shouldn't be watching news all the time," said Andrew timidly. "It's prolonging the trauma."

Spike turned down the volume but kept his eyes on the screen. "How'd you fetch up here, Andrew?"

"I'm... I'm looking for someone."

"Thought you were in England, training with Giles, getting 82 percent bigger balls and so forth."

Andrew sat up. "Mr. Giles isn't teaching me anymore. He quit."

"Quit?" Spike snorted. "How very unlike him."

"He said he was tired, and that he'd taught me all he could."

Spike's lip curled.

"I don't think he was telling the truth," said Andrew, pulling the pillow carefully onto his lap. "I know he had more to teach me. But he went all Samuel L. Jackson, said he wanted to walk the earth and stuff, and then he left."

"Well, that's the wanker down to the ground. Pretty typical, in fact. Tough luck."

Andrew played with the pillowcase. "I really have a talent for Watching, Spike. I've learned to be the strong pillar of support, the center of calm, the deceptively mild-mannered mentor who explodes into action at the first hint of threat to my charge."

"Have you."

"I just need someone to complete my training."

"Is that so."

Andrew nodded, beaming. Spike turned, wariness kindling behind his eyes.

"Spike --"

"Forget it."

"But, Spike --"

"No way. No way in hell, Andrew. I'm a vampire, and I've retired too, as of four days ago, in case you haven't been keeping up with the news. If you came to Los Angeles to talk me into teaching you anything, you wasted a bloody trip."

Andrew tried to hide his disappointment. The idea had struck him while Spike slept; he'd examined it from every angle and could see no flaw in it. But he'd jumped the gun and thrown a scare into Spike, Spike who certainly might have been wooed if Andrew had just taken things a little slower. Stupid, as always. Stupid and lame.

"I didn't come to L.A. looking for you," admitted Andrew, rising and gathering up his sheets. He began to fold them, patting the creases flat.

Spike turned up the volume. "Right. Vacation, then?"

"Not exactly," replied Andrew. "I lost my Slayer. I think she's here."

*****
Spike was grieving. Lost to everything, ready to take a stroll in the UVs, stunned, shocky and overwhelmed. It was just like Beauty and the Beast, the one with Dazzler and the Beast by Marvel, not the shamefully egregious ripoff Disney musical. Andrew tried to explain this distinction to Spike, but Spike didn't seem to appreciate how much cooler Marvel's Beast was.

"But the real Beast, the Marvel Beast circa 1982 as immortalized by Ann Nocenti in a last burst of creativity just before the Revlon buyout, he was just like you. When he lost his team, he lost all will to live. Until a glitter-clad disco superheroine on skates gave him back a sense of love and purpose."

"For the love of Christ, shut up," sighed Spike.

"Courage is what you need. Remember the words of Hurin son of Thurin, at the Nirneath Arnoediad. Channel the spirit of the Edain, Spike. Dawn will come again."

Spike thumbed the volume.

"It's okay. It's jake, dude. Roger with the surly fretfulness, mio hermano, all the way, what with getting your intestines blown out and losing your beloved sexy dominant Sire, and probably cursing the stupid pride that kept you apart until it was too late." Andrew opened his hands. "You're in a safe place, Spike. Let it all out."

Spike heaved himself painfully up from the recliner and went to the bathroom.

Interesting, deeply interesting. Four bathroom visitations in 12 hours. Another Spike anomaly or a new vampiric field observation? Andrew made a note.

When Spike came back 40 minutes later Andrew renewed his attack.

"Spike! I've got an idea! Let's rent a DVD, Spike. Or a game. What do you say?"

"What's say you clear out and look for your bird," muttered Spike, flipping channels.

The very digit on the problem. There was gumshoe Dark Knight detective work to be done, but as Spike had healed and started moving around, Andrew had become less and less easy about leaving him alone. Too many opportunities for the desolate bereaved many-times-dead to make a bad choice. A quandary.

Andrew placed his carefully prepared cup of blood on the coffee table. On a saucer, with a napkin. Then he leaned back.

"I'm dying to check out Maze 4," he said. "It's a challenge like no other, they say."

Spike's eyes slid to the coffee cup. His hand drifted to the bulge under his shirt, grazing the bandages Andrew had renewed, tirelessly, for three days.

"Right," he said softly and at last. "If you like."

As a diversion the game-choosing was quiet. Too quiet. Not a spark of fight in Spike at all, even when Andrew suggested they try a rudimentary bloodless motocross nobrainer, as a test. Spike followed where he was led, and agreed to what Andrew pointed out, and the stunned empty look never left his eyes.

"Have you ever had a Krispy Kreme?" asked Andrew. "It's all the rage."

"Sure, if you like," shrugged Spike.

****

Spike took one stoic bite of his Krispy Kreme, grimaced and laid it aside.

Andrew folded his paper, angling the Valley section obscurely, just to be safe. "Buffy's good," he said.

Bad move. Spike's face dissolved like a sandcastle under a tide, and there was an awkward moment as Spike turned to the window and fought himself into control.

"I can't tell her. I couldn't save him." Spike's voice was steady, but his fingers wandered, shaking, stroking the tablecloth. "She loved him. I can't tell her."

There was nothing to say to that. It was all too complex and beautiful and tragic.

"I never told her about you," said Andrew, instead.

Spike's nervous hands stilled.

"Thanks," he said, without looking.

****

Andrew had been counting on Spike's daze of noble mourning to buy a little creative driving grace, but the fourth time they crawled past a welter of yellow tape and squadcars Spike's eyes narrowed.

"This place is worse than Sunnydale," he murmured, craning. "What the hell's going on?"

****

"You simpleton, you twit, you perfect ass!" Spike was very angry.

"Spike, this task is mine alone. On me the burden falls, on my head lies the --"

"She's gonna twist your head clean off, you demented sod!"

Andrew checked his holster, releasing the flap. "I can handle her."

"Like you did in the alley? For fuck's sake, Andrew, the pair of us together didn't even slow her down."

"Spike, you're staying here. You're wounded in body and personally-acquired soul, crushed by grief at the loss of your beloved companieros. No offense, but you couldn't fight your way out of a wet paper bag."

Spike hissed, face rippling. "Give me one of those guns, Andrew."

Andrew stood his ground. "I fear I must refuse, O seeker of a noble end. I know, Spike, I know. You desire an honorable death at the hands of a worthy foe, like Yagyuu Jubei. You seek to join those who have gone before." He turned away, fumbling pellets into his utility belt, eyes filling. "And it's beautiful. I mean that. But I won't let you do it, Spike, I won't."

"Who's Yagyuu Jubei? Is somebody helping her? Christ, that's all we need."

Andrew wiped his eyes and moved, getting between Spike and the door. "Spike, I must face her alone."

Spike shrugged into his coat and slammed past him into the hall.

****

Spike was waiting in the van when Andrew arrived.

As he slid the key into the ignition Andrew said: "Spike, I know you resent me for interrupting your vampire seppuku. That's okay. But I need to tell you that I find your hostile takeover of my personal mission intrusive and demeaning. I wanted to spare you all this, Spike, and had only the best intentions. I need you to know I feel very underappreciated right now."

"Drive," barked Spike, and Andrew frowned and put the van into gear.

****