“She was my friend.”
“I know. She was mine, too.”
Silence filled the LA cemetery, aside from the quiet and wholly unnecessary breathing of the two vampires that stood over the grave. It was the second time in what was turning into the worst month of either of their lives that they’d stood there, in front of the grave of a friend, trying to rationalize why they hadn’t been able to save her.
First, it had been Cordelia. Pain still arched through Angel at every thought of his fallen Seer. Yes, he’d lost his connection to the Powers, but, at the same time, he’d lost yet another woman he loved. On the heels of his rejection by Buffy, simply because of where he worked, it had been a double blow. Cordy’s grave had been just as carefully chosen as Fred’s was. In a place they knew either woman would’ve liked to sit and read. Physics books for Fred… and possibly the latest issue of Cosmo for Cordy, but reading, none the less.
Cordy’s grave wasn’t very far from where what was left of Fred’s body now lay. And it also wasn’t very far from the memorial Angel had raised on the same day as Cordelia’s funeral… A memorial to their first soldier down, Doyle. Doyle had given his life for them. For the world. In an act that wasn’t wholly different from the way Spike had sacrificed himself only a few months earlier in that dark hellhole, to save the world.
How ironic that Angel was now standing in front of yet another friend’s grave, with Spike at his side.
And now it was Fred whose body was lying cold, under the ground, and the two vampires were once again standing vigil.
“I miss her.”
“So do I.”
Twenty/twenty hindsight. Wasn’t that always the way? Now that Fred was gone… had been gone for days, actually… It was all so painfully obvious.
If they’d only taken Fred and that stupid sarcophagus with them, when they’d first GONE to that stupid Well, then there would’ve been no one between her and the tomb when the Old One would’ve been forced from her body and back into it’s prison. No moral dilemma and Fred would’ve been with them, still.
And Wesley… He’d have still been whole.
He’d been holding Fred when she died. Seen her when the Old One took control of the shell that was left by Fred’s soul’s departure. And it had been Wesley who, in the end, had discovered how to kill it… And who had carried it out.
It had taken all the strength of the two Champions, Angel and Spike, all the brainpower of Wesley and Gunn, and the know how of Lorne to bring the creature down in the end, but it had been Wesley who had delivered the killing blow.
It had been the second time that he’d been forced to remove the head from the already dead body of a woman he had feelings for. But the first time it had been someone he’d truly loved.
Wesley hadn’t been the same after that.
Now it was almost a miracle for him to come out of his library. He spent all his time researching, and Angel was pretty sure that the former Watcher hadn’t slept since before Fred originally became… infected. As far as either vampire knew, the last time Wesley had been out of his little research haven, had been for Fred’s funeral, earlier that afternoon. And then, according to the report that Gunn had phoned in to Angel a few minutes earlier, Wesley had simply returned to the library. Angel had the sinking feeling that, within the next few weeks, they were going to lose yet another friend.
Spike swallowed, very quietly. It was the first outward sign of the emotions that Angel knew were boiling just under the younger vampire’s calm exterior. Angel felt an urge to put his hand on Spike’s shoulder, but he ignored it for the moment. He was hurting as well… And he’d known Fred longer than Spike had. He doubted he could be a real comfort to his Childe, anyway. No matter what his instincts told him.
Angel gave a very soft sigh, and slowly turned his head to look at Cordy’s grave, not so far away. A painful lump rose in his throat, and he quickly turned back to look at Fred’s tombstone.
“Winifred Burkle 1979 – 2004 As Good A Person,
A Better Friend, A More Loved Soul,
Will Never Again Exist.
We Love You, Fred”
The older vampire choked again, reading the inscription that Spike had actually come up with, in lue of any of them composing anything on the spot. Truer words had never been written, he mused to himself. When Spike wasn’t trying to write about something that he knew nothing about, he was actually a decent poet, though Angel would probably never admit that aloud.
Spike, meanwhile, had his eyes squeezed tightly shut to stave off the tears he could feel building. He’d fought them back when everyone else had broken down after the demon’s defeat. He’d held them off at the funeral, though not by much. And now they were threatening again. With only he and Angel there, he couldn’t really rationalize holding them in anymore, except for his stubborn pride. And even that seemed to be failing him. Especially knowing how badly Angel had broken down when the reality of the situation had hit.
They’d still been in England when the news had come. Gunn had called, first to inform them of Knox’s guilt… and rather unfortunate demise… But while the street punk turned super lawyer was on the phone with them, he’d suddenly fallen silent. They’d gotten a call from Wesley, telling them it was over. Struck with guilt and grief, Gunn almost hadn’t been able to repeat the news to the two vampires on the other end of the phone. And when he had gotten it out finally, Angel had hung up on him.
It hadn’t been on purpose, of course. The purest of accidents. Shock had made the older vampire clamp his hand so hard on his cellphone that he literally smashed it, which had decisively ended the connection. And driven several shards of the plastic cover into the palm of his hand in the process, though physical pain was the last thing on Angel’s mind at that exact moment. No. The emotional pain was far greater.
As vampires tend to do… or, at least, as Angel tends to do… He’d dropped the remains of the phone, let out a roar of rage, and lunged at the first thing he could see clearly… Which happened to be a tree, and not Spike, thank goodness. Spike, baffled by his Sire’s behavior, since he hadn’t overheard the last of that conversation, had jumped out of the way to avoid being steamrolled. He blinked, wide-eyed at the older vampire, as Angel proceeded to reduce a perfectly good young oak tree to splinters that wouldn’t even be suitable for stakes.
Then, as an exhausted Angel slumped to the ground in the pile of kindling that he’d created, bloody hands over his face and jacket pooled around him on the ground, Spike realized what the news must have been. As Angel sobbed heart-wrenchingly into his bleeding and broken hands, Spike slowly approached him, choking back his own tears. He crouched next to his Sire, and wordlessly put his hand on Angel’s shaking back as the older vampire mourned the loss of yet another close friend. Another of his family gone. Lost to him forever, if what he had told Spike about their chances of making it to heaven was true.
For once, the usually talkative Spike was at a loss for words. He knew nothing he could say or do could comfort his Sire, no matter how much he wanted to do so. No matter what Angel had done in his long life, he didn’t deserve this. He didn’t deserve to be losing one friend every other week. Didn’t deserve to be burying his family one at a time. So Spike had stayed with his Sire, crouching next to him, eventually putting his arms around Angel’s shoulders and just holding him as he mourned. It had been only a couple of hours until sunrise when Angel finally managed to pull himself together enough for the pair to head back to their jet and think about their next move. And Spike suddenly realized why he had felt such an aversion to taking the ‘free agent’ offer that Angel had proposed to him only a couple of days earlier. Angel needed him… And he needed Angel.
It was the downside to living seemingly forever in a world full of mortals. Your friends, the people you care about more than anything in the world… They’re all frail. They grow old and die right in front of you, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Humans are so easily killed, too. Much easier than any demon… or vampire. And what could they do about it? Nothing. You can only save them so many times… Eventually, they wouldn’t have been fast enough… strong enough, or smart enough… and the humans, those people who define their long, lonely lives, are gone. In an instant. Sometimes without warning, like Cordelia… And sometimes with a misused chance to say goodbye, like Fred. Sometimes they die heroically, saving the world, or just their friends, like Doyle. And sometimes it’s a senseless melding of events that started so long ago that it is entirely possible that there was never any way to avoid it. Like Fred.
And Angel and Spike would be forced to repeat the cycle. Again and again and again, until finally they, themselves gave into the passage of time. Whether it be death at the end of a stake, or if the Sanshu prophesy was finally fulfilled for one or both of them, eventually, they knew they would die. It is the knowledge that every living thing is born with. What is born, must one-day pass from existence. For some, like Cordelia and Fred, it’s after only a painfully short life. And for others, like Doyle, Angel, and Spike, it’s after many years of doing what you have to do to survive. But either way, the destination is the same.
Predators know this better than any other creature, as they are born to cause death, in order to live themselves. Vampires, as predators, first and foremost, know this. But it still doesn’t make death any easier.
Especially this one.
And this was why the two vampires needed each other. In their lives, that could last centuries more, there was nothing that would be constant if they continued to live apart. Friends would be made. They’d grow old and die, or sacrifice themselves for the greater good. After a century or two of that, it was quite possible that both Angel and Spike would be quite insane. However, with the presence of each other, constant, no matter how much they fought, annoyed each other, or just generally pissed each other off… They would have the consistency necessary to survive. There would always be someone there who knew. Who could be a shoulder to cry on, or a face to punch. Someone to yell at, or complain to. This was why the Powers had allowed Spike to be resurrected. The real reason he’d been trapped at Wolfram & Hart long enough to get used to… and attached to… being with Angel and his friends. Now that Angel needed him… he could really, REALLY be there for his Sire.
Only now, as the two stood in the cemetery, the roles were slowly beginning to reverse.
Spike choked quietly, but managed to whisper to Angel, “I’m gonna go wait in the car.” He turned and made his way out of the cemetery, the tears blurring his vision, a painful lump rising in his throat, along with the knowledge that he was very likely to throw up before he even got to the car. He’d been being strong for Angel… For Gunn and Wesley and Lorne… All that was left of the tiny family he’d been thrown into seemingly by accident… and, because of Fred, had really become a part of.
But now Fred was gone, and Spike was almost entirely certain that he was very close to being thrown out. Now that Fred wasn’t there to ‘argue his case’, the younger vampire was relatively sure that Angel would quickly see him shipped off to ‘outer Mongolia’ as he’d half jokingly said the other day. Expense account or no, cars or no, Spike did NOT want to go now. Pain was coursing through him. Pain so excruciating that he thought that HE might be dying… But the truth was that it had just been so long since he’d mourned like this that he simply wasn’t used to it anymore. Joyce had been the last friend he’d lost… and then the pain he’d felt had been distant, because he’d had Buffy and Dawn and the whole Glory problem to focus on. When Buffy had died, the pain had been ten times more intense than this, but, again, he had something else to focus on. His promise to keep Dawn safe. And that had gotten him through.
But this time… With this death… He had nothing. Initially, he’d kept himself focused on defeating the demon that was inhabiting the shell of Fred’s body. But now that was gone. And it hadn’t been around long enough for him to push the grief into that place that, when his self-imposed mission was complete, he’d be able to ignore it for the most part. This… having that focus stripped away so suddenly and so quickly… It had been like ripping the cast off a broken leg that had only had a few hours to set, then deciding to jump on it.
The pain was almost blinding, and Spike fell to his knees outside the cemetery gates, and proceeded to rid himself of the little bit of blood he’d managed to choke down that morning in preparation for the funeral. And now the tears, cold and salty, finally began to fall. He felt like it was somehow his fault. Like there HAD to have been something he could’ve done… But, at the same time, he knew this wasn’t another tower. When Buffy had died, he’d almost instantly started concocting things that he could’ve done to save her, but with Fred… There was nothing. The ONE option that might have worked, they’d had no way of knowing about beforehand. There was nothing he could’ve done. And somehow that made it worse.
How many lives had he saved? The world, at one time. Since then? Ten… twenty a night. It was acceptable. Even admirable. But when it came down to it… When the life at stake was that of the woman who’d stayed up to all hours trying to figure out a way to corporialize him again…. The woman who’d befriended him, and listened to him when the others simply ignored him as if he were part of the scenery, or an annoying bug that someone had let into the office… The woman who’s life he’d saved once before, by giving up what, at the time, had seemed to be his only chance of ever becoming solid again… When the life at stake had been Fred’s… There had been nothing he could do.
The anger would come later, he knew. With Angel, grief and rage almost always went hand in hand. If he was hurting, it was his instinct to make something around him feel his pain. Only then would he feel that it was alright to cry, or whatever else he needed to do to grieve. But with Spike, the pain always was first. Sometimes he could stave it off by drinking, or fighting, or, as he’d thought of before, simply finding something more important to focus on. And the anger would come later. Anger that had propelled him to go out hunting… Not patrolling, HUNTING, for 146 nights after Buffy’s death. Every night he’d go out and come back a little more hurt, and a little less emotionally empty. For a time in his grief, he’d let anger fill the hole that the loved one’s death had caused… and that was the second phase of his grieving process. After that… Well, to be entirely honest, he didn’t know what would come after that. Buffy was the only one who’s death had propelled him that far into his own grieving process… and by the time he’d been almost ready to come out of his anger phase, she’d been back. Something told him that wouldn’t be happening this time.
Spike groaned softly between sobs, and put his hands on his own stomach, trying to hold off another wave of nausea that he knew would bring nothing but more pain, as there was nothing in his stomach for him to throw up anymore. He tried to stand, but couldn’t quite get his legs under him, and wound up sitting on the dew-wet grass, knees pulled up to his chest and arms wrapped around his legs. He choked, then finally gave up on drawing an unimpeded breath, and simply stopped breathing, letting his tears fall silently onto the fabric of his black jeans. He heard Angel approach him, but he made no move to get up, or even to acknowledge his Sire’s presence.
Angel stood a short distance away. He could smell the blood that the younger vampire had expelled, and could hear, in the silence that accompanied the early morning, the soft sound of tears slowly dropping on denim. Angel felt something in his heart twist painfully at the sight of his Childe, in pain on the ground. He took a step toward Spike, then another. Soon, he was standing directly behind the younger vampire… and he took that moment to make a decision. At that instant, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world for him to decide. Later, he might question his own logic… perhaps even his sanity… But for now, his conscience knew what was right.
“Spike?”, he whispered quietly, crouching down and placing a hand on his Childe’s shoulder, much as Spike had for him not too many days earlier. His voice softened when Spike blinked at him with red rimmed blue eyes, not even making an attempt to hide his pain from his Sire. “Let’s get you home, okay?”
Spike swallowed, but nodded and allowed Angel to help him to his feet, then guide him to the car. The truth was, Spike was NOT looking forward to being in that lonely, empty apartment of his… That mockery of Angel’s first apartment in LA. He didn’t want to be alone, but he also knew that he had nowhere else to go.
The two vampires sat in silence as Angel drove, and Spike simply stared blankly out the window, occasionally sniffling quietly. It was rather obvious that Spike wasn’t even fully aware of what he was seeing out the darkly tinted windows, because he didn’t even react when Angel completely passed the exit from the freeway that would’ve taken them toward Spike’s apartment, and, instead, continued on toward Wolfram & Hart.
Angel sighed as he pulled into the new Viper’s parking place in the garage, and turned to Spike, who was still staring unseeingly out the window. “Spike?”, he said again, just as quietly as before, and was rewarded by Spike turning his head to blink at him blearily. “We’re here.”
Spike’s brow furrowed for a moment in confusion as he looked around at the interior of the garage, then he wordlessly blinked at Angel again, but the older vampire just offered him a small, sad smile. “What’s goin’ on?”, Spike asked softly, his voice roughened by his earlier crying spell.
Angel just shrugged slightly as he opened his door to get out. “I told you. We’re getting you home. Now come on… Unless you want to sleep in the car.” He hoped Spike would, for once in his long history of annoying Angel, just take this at face value, and not analyze this act of kindness and friendship to the point that Angel would wish that he had simply left the younger vampire in the cemetery. And his prayers, no matter how figurative they were, seemed to be answered when Spike slowly got out of the car and turned to follow Angel to the elevator.
Angel noted that Spike seemed to be in a rather… clingy mood at the moment. But that was okay. He’d basically expected that. And considering how close Spike was following his Sire, it was rather obvious that he either thought he was dreaming, or that Angel was about to let the elevator doors close on him. When that didn’t happen, Spike just blinked at Angel slowly as the older vampire pressed the button for his private suite.
After a few moments, Angel was getting slightly unnerved by his Childe’s constant, confused stare, so he said quietly, “It’s just for tonight. Tomorrow, we’ll find you your own room somewhere in the building. I’m sure we have another one somewhere… God knows I don’t know where half the things in this building are, anyway. We’ll find something for you. Don’t worry.”
“I’m not worried,” Spike said quietly, licking his lips a bit. “I’m just buggerin’ confused…”
Angel was saved from responding to that particular little statement by the elevator doors opening. He stepped out into his suite, and Spike, once again, followed on his heels. Wordlessly, he headed into the bathroom, with a little ‘make yourself at home’ wave of his hand.
Spike felt a little overwhelmed, emotionally. His usual self was practically screaming at him to do literally what Angel’s little gesture had implied. To get comfortable in the EXACT center of the bed, so Angel would be crowded to one side, or forced to the couch. To wash up in the little kitchen, and proceed to steal Angel’s big, comfy bathrobe… But he didn’t do either of those things. He DID go into the kitchen to wash up, though. He knew he had to look like a train wreck after that little fit in the cemetery.
A short time later, having shed his shirt, and being about as clean as one can get in a kitchen with dish soap and paper towels, Spike emerged from the kitchen, almost looking submissive. Angel raised an eyebrow at his Childe from where he sat on the end of the bed. Both vampires wore nothing but their jeans, modesty and a desire not to make each other nervous causing them both to forgo their usual sleeping attire of… well, nothing. In the past, when both had been evil, it hadn’t been unheard of for them to share a bed… It had happened several times. A couple by necessity, and a couple by choice. But neither of them were ready to relive those days any time soon.
Angel saw that Spike was heading for the couch, and he cleared his throat to get the younger vampire’s attention, then he patted the bed next to him. The communication was wordless, but very obvious. ‘Neither of us really wants to be alone tonight’.
Spike swallowed, and slowly approached Angel. The cockiness that usually pervaded his demeanor seemed all but gone at the moment, as if the vampire was broken, and simply working on the instinct that Sire means food, protection, and care…. All three things he desperately needed that moment. Angel was hurting as well, of course, but his grief was already at a more manageable state, now that he wasn’t confronted with the tombstones of his friends. And he was willing to put himself aside for one night, to be there for his Childe. Spike was clinging to that knowledge. The safety that his instincts informed him that Angel would provide. Slowly, he crawled onto the bed, until he could burrow into the pillows at the top of the turned down silk sheets.
The black jeans Spike now wore were a bit too big, and clean, as he’d stolen them from Angel’s wardrobe on his way to the kitchen, so he at least wasn’t getting any grass or dirt from the cemetery on Angel’s big, clean bed. Angel turned, watching as Spike settled himself in a semi fetal position up against the pillows. He sighed softly, sadly, and turned to crawl up next to his Childe.
They lay there together, neither even attempting to feign sleep for the longest time, and Spike suddenly swallowed as he felt the palm of Angel’s hand slowly begin stroking up and down his bare side. He tensed immediately, just on reflex, but when Angel didn’t withdraw his hand, Spike slowly allowed himself to relax into the comforting touch. At times, with the way Angel was letting his fingers trail over the muscles of Spike’s ribs, the sensation was almost ticklish, but the younger vampire didn’t move away, or even twitch, any more than the slightly pleasurable shivers the touch was causing.
Angel, for his part, didn’t really know what he was doing. He was, for the most part, simply listening to the instincts that are born into any Sire with an emotional investment in their Childe. With touch being almost as important to a vampire as sight or smell, it made sense that gentle stroking would be comforting. And the way Spike was starting to make a very, very quiet rumbling sound from deep in his chest, Angel knew he was doing the right thing. Absently, he wondered if he had ever heard Spike purr before. He didn’t think so. But there was something comforting about that soft vibration that made Angel shift closer to Spike unconsciously, until his chest was against Spike’s back, and the two of them were almost spooned together.
“There really was nothing we could’ve done,” Angel whispered after awhile, his head resting on the pillows and absently blinking at the back of Spike’s head. “The more I think about it… the more I realize that.”
“It isn’t fair,” Spike mumbled, his voice soft and his purr stalling as the painful thoughts rose once again to the surface. “After all she’s done for us… for me… There should’ve been SOMETHING we could’ve done…”
“There wasn’t,” Angel whispered, taking a slow, deep breath and letting his chest press firmly against Spike’s back for an instant. That touch seemed to get the younger vampire purring again, though it was much quieter than before. “Think about it, Spike… How could we have known? There was nothing… It had to happen.”
Spike shook his head a little, but the motion was halfhearted. The action of one who knows he’s wrong, but is insisting on arguing simply for arguments sake. He shifted back against Angel slowly, wanting that firm contact of back on chest again, and gave a soft sigh when he achieved the sensation. Exhausted, he didn’t bother saying anything else. Instead, he let his eyes close, not thinking of where he was, or who he was with… Just thinking of how he felt. Safe. Comforted. Protected. And it was the first time in his life he could ever remember having that exact feeling, so he savored it.
Angel could feel himself dozing off, the exhaustion of the past week finally catching up to him, but Spike wasn’t quite ready to sleep yet.
“She was my friend,” the younger vampire whispered very softly.
“I know,” Angel responded in a whisper just as soft. “She was mine, too.”
“I miss her.”
“So do I,” Angel whispered, then he tightened his arm around Spike, giving his Childe a gentle, comforting hug. “Let her rest, Spike. She deserves it. Just let her rest.”
Spike swallowed and nodded, snuggling a bit back against Angel and finally letting his eyes drift shut. Fred did deserve to rest. And so did they. But it wasn’t their time yet.
But somehow, Spike knew that, after this night… It wouldn’t be so lonely an existence, anymore.
They had each other.