Amen

Author: Trixie

Disclaimer: Joss owns them. Finally I can say that and believe it.

Rating: R

Timeline: Directly after Sleeper on BtVS and Rain of Fire on A:tS

Summary: "I used to pray for you, you know." Buffy heads to LA with Spike, for information from an old lover

Category: B/A, B/S (Some shades of C/A)

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Tell me you love me

Come back and haunt me

Oh what a rush to the start

 

"The Scientist" – Coldplay

 

+ + +

"Whatever this thing is, from beneath us, it's bad," I trail off and look over at Spike, trembling underneath the cloak of wool. "And it's only getting worse. I don't know what to do except get close to Spike. Talk to him. Find out what he knows."

"I don't like this," Dawn says tightly, her hands clenched. "He's… what's to stop him from hurting you again?"

"I'd second that concern," Xander puts in. "He tried to rape you."

"I know, Xander," I remind him coldly. "Stop bringing that up in front of Dawn."

"I can take it," my sister objects. "I know what he tried to do to you. I know what he is-"

"No you don't," I cut her off. "None of us do. Something is controlling him. I don't know exactly what it is, but it has Big Bad written all over it. And until I can figure this out… I'm not letting him out of my sight."

"I agree with you," Willow nods and I look gratefully at her. "Spike is the key right now. I think he's what's going to help us unlock this whole mystery."

Glancing around at them, my little family, I wonder briefly what they're going to say when I tell them where I'm going. It can't matter what they think or what they feel about this because it's too important. They're not going to like it, but when have they ever liked anything to do with him?

Standing fluidly, I cross to the window and gaze in the direction of the coast, thinking of how I used to pray for him before things became so messy I couldn't worry about someone who didn't seem to worry about me. ((Lord, keep him safe))

The stars are bright and heavy in the sky and I blink, turning back to the group assembled in the living room.

"I have to go away for a little while," I tell them softly. "To LA."

"What's in LA?" Anya asks without preamble.

"Angel," Xander answers her, sourly. His mouth twists. "Looking to further complicate things, Buffy?"

"Xander—"

"Are you sure contacting Angel is really what's important right now?" Willow inquires, her tone soft but like steel all the same. "There's so much going on and whenever you talk to him—"

"What?" I interrupt. "Things get intense? You can say it. But that's not…Angel and I… we aren't about that anymore."

"Then what are you about?" Xander asks coolly. "Cause I sure don't want to wake up tomorrow and see Angelus smiling down at me."

"You just love to throw that in my face," I sigh, stalking over to the door and grabbing my leather coat off the hook. "I can't change the past. I can't change the stupid things I've done. But seeing Angel… it isn't about our relationship or lack thereof. It's about information. I need to see if things are… well, apocalypse-y for him right now too."

"You say that now," Xander bites off, "but it's always the same with you two- one look and it's googly eyes all over—"

"He's not in love with me anymore," I cut in, and everyone looks at me, stricken. Smiling bitterly I shrug. "Is that what you wanted to hear? What we talked about after I came back from Heaven? It's over. For good. But he may have information and I need that right now. Spike?"

The vampire's eyes haven't left me since I stood up. He nods. "Yeah?"

"Get up. You're coming."

"Buffy—" Willow begins, but I hold up a hand, curling my fingers inward.

"Don't. I need you to do research and look after Dawn while I'm gone. Shouldn't be more than a few days. At the most."

"Can't I come?" Dawn inquires quietly. "I miss Angel."

My expression softens and I walk over to her, touching her hair and drifting my fingers down to her cheek. "No, Dawnie. It's too dangerous. But I'll tell him you say hello."

"This is a mistake," Xander mutters. "At the very least Angel and Spike are going to kick each other's asses."

"That could be fun to watch," Anya comments.

"If that was my biggest problem, I'd be doing cartwheels right now," I reply wryly and head for the door. "If anything happens, call my cell. Dawn—do your homework."

"Why? The world is ending, isn't it?"

"Smart-ass," I smile slightly, and the door closes behind me and Spike.

+ + +

Switching on the heater, I stretch slightly as I relax into my seat. The wheel of Mom's car is stiff underneath my palms and I consider turning on the radio before rejecting the idea. Wind roars outside as I turn onto the coast road, heading for Los Angeles and attempting to ignore the scent of Spike beside me. He's thrown off the blankets and he shifts, fidgeting with the handle of the door.

"Do you feel any better?" I ask him quietly, and he shrugs.

"Better than what?"

"Don't play games. Just answer me."

"Thought I did," he responds quietly and his finger traces patterns on the window. "Might I ask why I'm here, Buffy?"

"I need to keep an eye on you," I reply. "I thought that was clear."

He cocks an eyebrow at me. "Besides that. Who're you tryin' to kid with that innocent act?"

"What are you talking about, Spike?" I snap. "Scratch that. I don't want to know."

"I'm talking about keeping up appearances for the ex loverboy," he drawls. "You don't want him to know your heart's in a thousand little pieces so you're draggin' me along to save face."

"That's not true," I deny softly. "What was there between me and Angel… it's done."

"Never be done with you two," he whispers, as I turn onto the coast road, and the sound of the waves rises above the roaring wind. "I should've known."

"Spike…" I trail off and my breath hitches. There are no right words for this. "Angel isn't… I mean, he's not—not the reason why I can't be with you."

"What's the reason, then?" he murmurs, and looks at me. His cheekbones are like razors in the wash of moonlight.

My eyes shift to the crashing sea, its dark depths sparked with pearly foam. "I don't want to talk about it."

"Then why'd you bring it up?"

"I didn't."

"Right, then. No heart-to-undead hearts."

"We've tried this before. It doesn't work."

"What? Talking?"

"No." My thoughts are jumbled. "Us. We don't work."

"Didn't know we were starting up again," he responds in a hushed tone.

"I know that's what you want, but—"

"I want you," Spike cuts me off. My stomach clenches and he continues, "But I know that's impossible. I ruined everything when I— look, it's done and so what if I got this bloody soul for you, right? I get it."

"Am I supposed to feel like that soul is a gift?" I ask him scathingly. "Because I can think of merrier Christmases than this, Spike."

"It is a fucking gift," he snarls. "It was supposed to be what--- what made you love me."

"You can't make me do anything," I growl back. "You can't make me feel—"

His hand suddenly grips my thigh and the car swerves, towards the guard rail. Quickly, his fingers dip between my legs and squeeze. "I made you feel, Buffy," he reminds me thickly. "More than you'll ever admit."

"Get your hands off me," I whisper shakily. "Before I kill you, Spike. Big Bad or no Big Bad. I mean it."

"Do you?" he curves his thumb and then slides his hand down to my knee. "Gonna stake me Buffy?"

"Is that what you want?" I ask.

"Maybe," he leans close and I fight to stay in control as his mouth presses lazily against my ear. "Maybe I just want this torment to be over."

"Torment? Save it the James Dean act for all your girlfriends, Spike," I scoff, pushing him away with one hand. "You're not Angel, so don't pretend this soul makes you into him—"

"That's what this is about, then?" he laughs mockingly. "Angel? Jesus, Buffy… you have issues."

"It's not about—" painfully, I swallow and shake my head. "I don't want to talk about him with you."

"You don't want to talk about him with anybody," he notes quietly.

"I always knew no one wanted to listen," I whisper and stare into the distance. Droplets of rain begin to fall, splattering against the windshield with silvery persistence. "Besides, it's easier to just forget."

"How could he…" Spike glances at me and then finishes, "stop loving you? Can't fathom it, myself."

My belly begins to churn and I clamp down on the feelings of sickness the memories of our meeting after Heaven always evoke. I used to wonder, if I prayed, would someone look after him? ((Lord, keep him safe)) Before, so many years ago… he was still my beating heart and I knew, if he died—I was done. Now it's all over and I don't think there's anything in this world that can make me understand.

"I don't know," I answer blankly. "Do you want to stop for coffee?"

"Abrupt change of subject," he remarks. "And, no. Let's just get to the bloody city of Angels and get this over with."

"I'm sorry… but I had to bring you."

"Not objecting, Slayer," he shrugs. "I'd rather not go all catatonic and chop up Dawn, so it's probably best I stay in your sight."

"I can't be with you because I might be able to love you," I say in a rush and blink, the road before me blurry. "But I can't. I won't let myself so—just don't ask me anymore, Spike."

He's silent for a moment and doesn't look at me. "Even after…?"

"You tried to rape me," I bite off, the words hurting my mouth. "I don't even know if it was the demon or the human part of you that wanted to… force me. I don't want to know. Lots of things have happened with us that I just—I can't understand them. I did things that I—well, I wouldn't normally have sex in back alleys, let's just put it that way. But…"

"But what?"

"But I still… look, I could love you. But I won't." Shaking my head, I twist in my seat. The car is hot. "Last year is only part of the reason why."

"Is it him?" he asks softly.

"No. I told you, it's done with him. He doesn't come into my relationships---"

"That's a fucking joke," Spike pins me down with a glare. "Everything you bloody do comes down to him. Don't lie to yourself, Slayer. He was what made it fail with Riley, and he's why you tried to kill Anya and he's why you never staked me."

"Why I didn't stake you?" I breathe out and risk a glance at him. "What are you talking about?"

"I remind you of him," Spike murmurs. "I must smell a bit like him too, huh Buffy?"

My skin crawls and I shudder. "You don't… you're not like Angel."

"Keep telling yourself that," he drawls slowly. "I know it's a comfort. But Angelus and I… we're two peas in a pod. Both have the spark. Both screwed. Cause we love the girl. I guess the only difference is that he's a wanker."

"Oh fuck off," I reply, too distracted to be truly angry. "That's not why I've never staked you Spike—"

"Then why haven't you?" he asks with devastating swiftness.

"I just…" trailing off, I stare out at the rain. "I have no idea."

"Could it be because… you care?"

"I already told you that I don't want to talk about that," I snap. "You and I are not going to happen again. Too much has happened for me to ever want to—"

"Is it the fact that I tried to rape you?" he inquires without any inflection. "That I would have? If you hadn't stopped me."

Swallowing hard, I tap my fingertips against the wheel. "Maybe. Just because—even if I know that I could love you, it doesn't mean anything. I can't let it control my life. Everything right now is too fucked up. I'm gonna be waiting for the bat signal until this big evil finally shows itself. Until then…"

"No rest for the wicked," he opines and I nod.

"Can't say it'll be any humungous change. Not like the Slayer's ever at peace."

"Except when she's dead."

My stomach twists and I look over at him. "Where I was… that's still a secret, Spike."

"You have amnesia, Buffy? You revealed the Heaven bit during the group sing-a-long, remember?"

"I remember," I growl warningly. "But Angel doesn't know. And I don't want him to."

"Jesus," he sighs. "Really you two are a piece of work. Commitment issues, trust complexes…"

"Don't Psych 101 me now," I caution him. "So not in the mood."

"Then what are you in the mood for?" he flirts.

"Save it."

"How in the fuck did I end up stuck with you?" he rants, tapping on the window. "You could drive a guy to drink, you know that? Wait… you already have—"

"Shut-up," I say softly, my eyes suddenly riveted to the sky. "Look. What is that?"

Leaning forward, he shakes his head. "It's… looks like a rain of fire. I'd say the apocalypse came early to LA."

Flooring the gas pedal, I weave in and out of traffic, intermittedly gazing out at the bowl of night, which is streaked with crimson. "It looks like blood," I whisper, my throat aching. "Could people be hurt?"

"I'd say so," he confirms. "Anyone inside should be ok, I guess. Saw one of these a long time ago. Dru thought the stars were falling," he pauses, "literally."

"She never was the smartest chick on the block," I remind him.

"I loved her," he says quietly.

"She killed one of my friends. Tortured my Watcher. Forgive me if I don't look back on her with affection," I reply sarcastically, studying the splashes of colour angling down on Los Angeles. As we enter the city limits, I turn down the street that will take me to the Hyperion. Angel gave me directions during our meeting. I never thought I would use them.

"Forgiven," he mutters with a smirk.

"Shut up," I silence him. "Please don't speak when we get there. I want to make this trip as fast as possible. And it will go easier if you and Angel don't end up exchanging blows."

"Can't promise that won't happen, blondie."

Sparks ping off the windshield as flames hit the ground a few feet from us. Craning my neck to see the sky, I marvel at how something that looks so beautiful could only be coming from something so deadly.

We pull up in front of the Hyperion, and I get out, feeling the tickles of nervous energy in my belly. Spike walks with me silently, and as we get closer, I notice the splatters of blood on the doors and windows.

"What the—"

"Look down," Spike advises and I do, the bile rising in my throat at the sight before me. Hundreds of dead birds litter the ground by our feet, completely surrounding the walls of the Hotel. Their grey bodies are sleek and rotting; the smell like old feathers and the gutter.

"What do you think happened?" I ask grimly.

"Again with the apocalypse," he repeats slowly. "Strange though. Birds…"

"This is getting bad. He should have called me."

"Why didn't he?"

"Because he's a stupid, selfish shit," I decide and Spike nods.

"Can live with that."

Opening the doors, I step over the birds with distaste, entering the huge lobby for the first time. "Hello?" I call, crossing over to what looks like a receptionist's desk. "HELLO?"

"What?" a voice comes from the stairs and I spin around, faced with a large, gun-toting man who looks pissed off, tired and irritated to boot. I can relate, so I get right to the point.

"I'm looking for Angel."

"Angel Investigations is closed for the night," he shakes his head. "Want to make an appointment?"

"No. I'm looking for Angel," I repeat. "Not… I don't want to employ him. I'm a… friend. Well, that is to say I'm--"

"She's Buffy," Spike interjects. "Mean anything to you?"

He looks at me, his eyes suddenly alive with knowledge. "Yeah. I should've recognised you from the picture Angel used to keep, sorry." Sticking out his hand, he takes mine. "I'm Gunn."

"Funny," I respond dryly, inclining my head towards the pistol he holds in his hand.

Smiling slightly, he shrugs. "Name goes with the line of work."

"Is Angel out… um, you know—keeping the peace?" I inquire and Gunn shakes his head.

"He's in bed, actually."

Glancing at him, Gunn waves his weapon in annoyance. "Who in the hell is that?"

"Spike. Ignore him. How can Angel be in bed? There's huge amounts of fire out there. Isn't he in the least bit interested?"

Gunn regards me curiously. "You're the Slayer, huh? That why you're here? To help him?"

"I'm here for information," I inform him. "Nothing more or less. If he wanted my help, he would have called."

"Doubt that," Gunn stretches and leans against a wooden table near the stairs.

"Why is he in bed?"

"Personal crisis," he says. "Also, he got a knife to the neck."

Fear clutches my throat. "What? Which one's his room?"

"I don't think he'll wanna see you," Gunn stops me. "It's not every day he sees his son and his girlfriend getting it on. It takes a guy some time to process that."

"Excuse me? His son? His… his girlfriend?" my bones sting. "What do you mean? What happened?"

"Cordelia and Connor. Angel saw them doing… well, *it*. He won't say anything but I'm pretty sure he's feeling some pain."

"Connor... he has a son?" Breathing out, I look down. Everything seems blurry. Distorted. "Who's the Mother?"

"Jesus, aren't soul mates supposed to keep in touch?"

"We haven't been," I say flatly. "Which room is his?"

"Fourth floor. Last one on the right--but don't go getting him all excited---"

His voice begins to fade as I race up the steps until I reach the fourth floor. As I stalk down the corridor, I wonder what I'm going to say to him. Gunn threw so many bombs at me, I don't even know where to start. But I can think of a couple good places. Connor the son for one thing. Cordelia the girlfriend for another. Cordelia? Cordelia? I have a headache.

Knocking on the door, I listen as he calls sullenly, "Gunn, I told you to get lost."

"It's not Gunn," I say slowly as I open the door. It's dark in here, and heavy with tears and shadows. Stepping up to the bed, I see the black sheets and fire burning in the hearth by the window. It smells of ashes and copper pennies and I see the blood stained bandage on his neck. Rage swells in my throat.

"Why didn't you call me if things were bad?" I ask coolly.

If he's surprised by my visit, he doesn't show it. Sitting up painfully, his chest bare, he shrugs. "Things are always bad."

"And what? This isn't my city, so I couldn't understand what was going on?"

"I don't need this Buffy," he warns me and I pounce immediately.

"Why? Because you saw your son and Cordelia having sex? Isn't that a little immature, Angel?" He blinks and stares up at me with something akin to anguish in his eyes. "How did you know?"

"Gunn told me. Nice guy. When in the fuck did you get a son? And how, Angel? Because I seem to remember a conversation we had a long time ago where you told me you couldn't have children. In fact that was one of the reasons we broke up, wasn't it?"

Shaking his head, he gazes off to the side. "Connor is mine. Darla was his Mother."

"Darla?" I repeat blankly, remembering vaguely that he had told me Darla was back as he comforted me in that long night by my Mother's grave. "She's a vampire. You're a vampire, for crissakes! I don't understand this."

"Darla and I had sex," he informs me brutally. "It produced a child. What do you not understand?"

Leaning against the wall, I sigh. "A lot of things. But it doesn't matter. I came here for information."

"About what?"

"Impending doom."

"You mean the one that's raining fire all over LA?"

"That's the one."

He smiles slightly. "I don't have any more information than you do, I'm sure."

"But it's happening… Angel, I don't think this is something that's just Hellmouth bound. It's a global killer. Like the asteroid in 'Armageddon.'"

Sending me a perplexed look, he settles back against the pillows. I ignore what the sight of his naked chest and stomach is doing to me, and concentrate on his words. "Where do you get that idea?"

"From some dreams I've been having," I reply. "It's complicated, but we've all… well, we've been having some conversations with this thing that's stalking Sunnydale. I'm not sure what it is, but it's taking on the forms of people we know and trying to mess with us."

"Who has it—" he pauses and then looks straight into my eyes for the first time. "Buffy—did it try to hurt you?"

My knees feel funny and I stretch a little, pushing away from the wall and walking over to the window. "No… not directly. It used Spike."

"Spike? Why is he still in Sunnydale?"

"Long story," I sum up and wave my hand. "But it's messing with him more than anyone. It made him kill people—"

"Kill people? Did you get any information before you staked him?"

"I didn't…" turning, I gaze at him seriously. "I didn't stake him. He's downstairs."

"WHAT?"

Jumping at his outburst and then at his groan of pain as he clutches the bandage on his throat, I shake my head. "What did you expect me to do? I have to have him in my sight, don't I? He could hurt someone while I'm gone."

"He could have hurt you on the drive over here," Angel points out angrily, tearing away an edge of the cloth and tape and probing his wound gingerly with his fingers.

"Let me do that," I say quietly, and come over to sit beside him. He stiffens as I peel away the bandage and begin to fashion a new one from the roll by his bed. "Spike's different now."

"Oh, he's changed?" Angel asks scathingly.

I smirk faintly. "Actually, he has. He has a soul, Angel."

"What?"

"He has a soul." Pressing the cloth to his bloody wound, I ignore the cool feeling of his chest brushing against my elbows and the way he's held himself so still since I sat down. "It's not that complicated. But he's sort of… well, I'm trying to give him the benefit of the doubt until I decide what to do with him."

"I can think of a hundred and one things," he growls, "and they all have to do with torture and maiming. How did he get a soul anyway? Why did he get a soul? The Spike I remember couldn't be bothered to have a conscience."

"He…" wondering how much to tell him and preoccupied with taping the bandage cleanly to his neck, I don't see Spike stepping into the doorway.

"I got it for her, Angelus. I love her."

Freezing, I notice Angel's hands trembling and wonder if it's from rage or something else.

"You don't know anything about love," Angel says without a trace of emotion in his tone.

"No? I seem to remember being the one who was there when Buffy died. Where in the fuck were you? Off shagging Cordelia from what Gunn was telling me. I was there when she came back too. Where were you? And I was the one who made love to her all last year and made her feel somethin' when the world seemed to be turning against her… do I need to repeat it, Angelus? Where in the bleedin' hell were you?"

I close my eyes. "Spike, Get out. Please."

"I won't," he replies belligerently. "Let him answer."

"There was…" Angel's voice is scratchy. He clears his throat, and I open my eyes, looking at him. "You and Spike?"

"Yes," I respond gently and stand. "Just a second."

Grasping Spike's collar, I leave the room, dragging him along behind me. Just outside the door, I halt and push him against the wall. "Why did you come in?" I ask in hushed tones. "I'm trying to get information here."

"No you weren't," he denies. "Saw the way you were looking at him."

"Oh God, Spike," I roll my eyes. "Don't be the pathetic ex-boyfriend. Just don't."

Cupping my cheek, he moans softly, "I can't help it, Buffy. It's still… it's about you. No other girl could mean anything to me."

"Stop it," I whisper desperately. "I already told you—"

"Love me, hate me… I don't fucking care," he cries low. "Just don't—don't love him anymore, Slayer." He yanks me into his arms and I shudder. Dipping his head, he kisses me, his lips tender and yet forceful. They taste like rain and bitter regret.

Pushing on his arms, I step away, my mouth raw. "You know I can't. It's not going to happen again, Spike."

"What? Us? Or you and him?"

"Go downstairs. Spike… please?"

Without a word, he bows mockingly and heads for the stairs. I watch him for a moment and then walk back into the bedroom.

"Look—"

Angel's face is a study in stony blankness. "You slept with Spike."

"Yes."

"He just kissed you."

"What—how did you…?"

"Your lipstick's smudged," he says softly, and my stomach bottoms out. Pressing a finger to my mouth, I touch its swollen surface and shake my head.

"Spike and I are—"

"I don't want to hear about it, Buffy," he replies without inflection. "It's none of my business."

"So I guess you and Cordelia are none of my business," I snap bitterly. "Because I heard about that to."

"You heard about what, exactly?"

"That you love Cordelia. Do you, Angel?" I stop moving around the room, waiting for his response. The fire continues to burn and tendrils of wayward smoke wind around me. Wishing suddenly for a cigarette ((Spike and I shared one once. After sex, and it made me cough. It made me throw up. He thought that was hilarious)) I stare fixedly at the wall.

"Yes," he answers after a long time. "Not—"

"Don't."

"Don't what, Buffy?" he inquires, sounding frustrated.

"Don't say, 'not in the same way I loved you.' It means nothing."

"Actually I was going to say, 'not that it's any of your business," he says coolly. "You know nothing about me and Cordelia. Nothing."

"I know that it's unexpected," I reply, tears stinging the back of my throat. "That you would fall for… her, of all people."

"She's my best friend. She's… she's everything to me," he informs me quietly, and I can hear him shift on the bed. "I don't know what you want me to say."

"What else is there to say? I just want information. Whatever you've managed to dig up on the Apocalpyse-y happenings. Then Spike and I will go home."

"I want him to leave now."

I spin around, swallowing. "Too bad. He stays."

"This isn't your home, Buffy," he reminds me. "Its mine. If I want Spike to go—"

"What're you gonna do?" I taunt. "Throw him out? You can't even walk, much less—" I trail off as he moves, throwing back the covers and standing. He's big. Bigger than I remember, and as I stare the white, white skin above his collarbone, he comes closer and closer until he stops in front of me.

His voice is strained as he whispers, "You were hurt."

"What?"

"Someone hurt you…" his palm reaches out and rests on my bicep. "I can smell the blood."

"I'm hurt all the time." Wishing he would take away the heaviness of his hand, I bow my head. "It was just—"

"Spike did it." It's not a question. He knows me too well.

"Yes, but it was just… something was controlling him."

Ignoring me, he continues, "And he licked it off."

"How did you—"

Looking uncomfortable, he shrugs. "I can smell his salvia."

"Look, Angel—"

"I don't want him anywhere near you. He's dangerous."

Anger flares. "And who are you to tell me what to do? This doesn't have anything to do with you. It's between me and Spike. I'm trying to help him."

"Help him?" he scorns. "By what? Sucking his cock?"

Momentarily shocked by his choice of words, it takes me a moment to react. My fist flashes out and catches him in the nose. He rocks backward, but unlike any other normal vampire or human being, he doesn't fly across the room from the force of the blow. Catching my hand before I can hit him again, he pushes me back against the wall and holds me there.

"I might have deserved that," he acknowledges. "But don't ever hit me again."

"Don't ever talk like that to me again."

"Thought you would be used to it," he sneers. "After all, you're sleeping with Spike. He's not exactly the King of sweet nothings."

"I'm not sleeping with Spike anymore," I whisper, cutting him off. "It's over with us. It has been for a while."

He looks confused. "Why? I thought… I mean, he kissed you out there."

"Last year—" debating on whether or not to tell him, I sigh and study the floor. "He tried to… he tried to rape me." His hands on my arms snap so tightly closed that I whimper from pain. "Angel—"

"Where did he go?" he growls and I look up. He's in full game face, snarling, his eyes as yellow as lemons. "Where in the fuck did he go,Buffy?"

"Angel, stop…"

"Tell me where he is!" he shouts and starts for the door. "I'm going to fucking kill him."

As Angel races for the door, I start after him, my hand already outstretched. Fear clutches at my throat. Tangled and bitter, it winds down into my belly and I choke on it. Fear? Spike. I can hear Angel's growls and they sound hungry. A bit like Acathla.

"Angel, stop!" I shout, but he doesn't listen and I didn't think he would. Following him as he runs down the hall, I watch as he holds his neck. The wound re-opens and I see the splash of crimson on the bandage I just taped ((so carefully)) to his white skin and fury rises. He has no right to do this. No right to fight these non-existent battles for me and oh God, I wish I could punch Cordelia in the face and how did Connor come into being and Jesus, Spike.

"STOP IT!" I scream as I reach the stairs and see Angel beating Spike to a pulp. The sound of cracking bones and bubbling bruises fills my ears and it's a blur. Gunn is nowhere to be seen, and Angel is snarling and frothing at the mouth like an animal.

"You think you could lay your hands on her?" Angel spits in Spike's face, holding him against the wall in a moment of respite. "Try to rape her?"

Spike gasps and coughs. I think he's laughing. "What're you more pissed off about, Peaches?" he asks. "That I tried to rape her or that I love her?"

"The two are mutually exclusive," Angel growls and cracks him across the jaw, throwing him down and kicking him in the ribs over and over. I hear the shattering of fragile bones. They were so slow to mend after Glory's fun with him. When I slipped into a robot's skin for a few brief moments and kissed his lips, I remember hearing the bones knitting back together underneath his skin, as if there was an invisible needle and thread stitching the muscles and veins and oh god. It sounded as if it hurt.

Rushing down the steps, I wrap my hands around Angel's arm, hauling him away from Spike and shoving him against the nearest wall. "Didn't you hear me? This isn't your business, Angel."

His face remains contorted with fury and yet collapses into confusion. "What…?" Trailing off, he leans his head back against the painted surface and breathes out un-necessarily. "I should have killed Spike a long time ago."

"You? I don't see the word 'Slayer' next your name in the mythological lexicon," I comment, exasperated. "Spike has nothing to do with you anymore. He's my problem."

"Problem?" Spike wheezes from the floor. "Fuck you, Blondie."

"Shut up," I return, without tearing my eyes away from Angel's.

"Buffy… this is a mistake."

"What is?"

Angel sighs, tense under my punishing grip on his upper arms. The smell of his blood and sweat fills my nostrils. "Getting involved with Spike. He's dangerous."

"He has a soul," I reply quietly. "Until he does something horrible, he gets the benefit of the doubt."

"Killing people isn't horrible?" Angel scowls. "Did I miss something, or did your morals take a nosedive?"

"Something was controlling him," I remind him fiercely. "Don't try to make me feel guilty just because you're pissed off I was involved with Spike."

"I'm pissed off that you put the people you love in danger."

"Just like I did when I was in a relationship with you," I say softly and he stiffens. "You have to go back to bed. Your bandage looks like a Crest RedStrip. Get upstairs."

"Buffy—"

"Get gone, Angel. I'll be up in a second."

Waiting until I see him ascend the stairs and disappear around the corner, I drop down on my knees and rest my hand carefully over Spike's heart. "How much does it hurt?"

"Not much," he says without inflection, not looking at me.

"Drop the bravado. Tell me."

Coughing painfully, he tries to shrug and fails. "Nothin' I didn't deserve, Slayer."

"You have a soul now. Angel just doesn't understand," I shake my head. "He doesn't understand that you've changed."

"I still love you," Spike wipes an unsteady hand across his purpled mouth. "That hasn't changed. Not likely to, either."

"Can you not, right now?" I plead. "This isn't the time."

"Oh fuck off then, Slayer. If you wanna get back to loverboy, go ahead."

"This isn't about Angel. Our relationship… he-- he doesn't come into it. But I still need to talk to him. Find how what he knows. He's too angry right now to think clearly. Once he calms down he might have some valuable information about the bad guys," I pause and with my palms, lift his head gently and cradle it on my knees. "Maybe we can find out what's been haunting you."

Glancing up at me, he lifts his arm slightly and curves his hand around my waist. "I miss you." His mouth twists in self-derision. "Can't help it."

I'm silent for a moment and then I lean down and quickly brush a kiss over his forehead, near his hairline. I can smell the acidic bleach and wonder briefly how much his scalp bleeds when he dyes his hair. Lightly, I touch his mouth with my own. "I'm going back upstairs. Let mehelp you to the couch."

Sliding an arm around his back, I get Spike to his feet and he shuffles over to the overstuffed sofa resting near the door. "Want anything?"

"Besides a stiff drink?" he asks wryly and shifts with a groan. "No."

"We'll get you some… well, whatever it is you drink on the way back home," I promise.

"Right," he nods, his eyes already closing as I make my way back up to Angel's bedroom.

The door is closed but I ignore the jab and open it, staring at the bed. It's empty. It only takes a moment for me to locate him in the darkened bedroom, where he stands by the window, gazing out at the streaming fire.

"Beautiful, isn't it?" he comments blankly.

"Deadly," I correct and close the door. "You should be in bed."

"You going to tuck me in? I'm not Spike, Buffy. I don't need mothering."

"Evidently you do," I remark firmly and walk towards him. "Don't be a baby. I'm not going to hurt you."

Every part of his body stiffens and he turns away. "Go home, Buffy."

"What is your problem?" I ask, irritated. "Sulking because of god knows what, beating on someone defenceless and now apparently doing a Dawn impression?"

"Go. Home," he repeats.

"Is it Cordelia?" the name hurts to say, and I blink, the back of my throat stinging. "And… Connor, is that his name? Is it because they're together?"

He doesn't answer for a moment. "No. I mean—I want her to be happy. If he makes her happy then…"

"Do you really love her, Angel?"

"You think I would lie?"

"No."

He turns slightly and lifts his shoulders in acknowledgement. "Then that's your answer."

I stare in Angel's general direction. Everything appears blurry for a moment and I imagine how my hair would look fanning the waters of the Pacific.

"I guess it is," I say dully. "I think—I think I'm gonna go."

"Don't you want your information?" he inquires, surprised. "About the—"

"No. I don't think—" taking a breath, I shake my head. "I can't stay."

"Buffy, I don't see---"

"No, you don't," my hand comes up to ward him off. Curling my fingers inward, I laugh slightly, hoarsely. "I used to pray for you, you know."

Something flickers in his eyes. "What?"

"Stupid thing I did," I continue, ignoring him. "After you left… I used to pray that you'd be looked after. And I don't even believe in— but I used to. When I came back, I stopped."

"Why?" he asks, so softly I can barely hear him.

Looking up, I lock eyes with him and feel my flesh burning. Pins and needles. He always stings me. "I knew what it was like up there," I say without thinking. "In Heaven. I knew you'd be going to that place."

((Lord, deliver him. Lord, keep him safe))

"In Heaven?" he breathes out and steps forward, his hands outstretched to take mine. "Buffy—you never told me—"

"Where did you think I was?" I snap bitterly. "In Hell?"

"No—but I didn't think you remembered… oh Jesus— to be brought back from that…"

"And you wonder why I slept with Spike."

"That's not the only reason," he instantly denies. "You care for him. I saw it downstairs."

"I do."

"Do you…" he pauses, "do you love him?"

"Don't ask me that," I shake my head. "Please."

"Why not?"

"Because you love Cordy." I laugh. It sounds funny when I say it out loud. Like an impossibility that Willow and I would have giggled over in High School. "Because everything's changed."

His eyes are bright. "Not everything."

"Oh, God, don't," I moan, spinning away and stumbling on the carpet. His hand catches me and yanks me against him, and it's the shock of his body that makes me finally give in to the tears.

His lips on mine are slick and salty and I whimper, clutching at his bare shoulders as he bends me back until I feel the curtains brushing my hair. The sounds he's making deep in his throat and the taste of him – god – I can't think. "Buffy, Buffy, Buffy," he groans and I feel an awful sense of triumph ((Yes, it's me. Not her.)) He presses me back against the window and it's cool against my lower back and I realize he's undressing me and it's wrong but his fingers are inside me ---

"Angel…" I pant against his lips and he shudders- he must feel- he must know how wet I am inside, how open and aching I've been since I knew I was going to LA. Since Spike taunted me and I walked in this room and saw Angel's nipples and bare belly and since he grabbed my arms and made me weep- I'm still crying, I can feel the tears, as his tongue slides down my neck and his fingers go so deep that it's oh god so good, and it hurts and I thrust harder against him, wanting more.

"Please—" it's a gasp and I don't know from whom.

Biting his lips so hard I taste blood, I feel his fingers go faster and harder and so, so deep and it's please too much. Gripping his shoulders, I throw my head back, smashing the window with the force of the blow. Glass rains down over my shaking body and I taste ashes on my lips.

I realize my legs are wrapped around Angel's and unhook my feet from his knees, feeling the loss of the raw fullness inside me as his fingers slide from my body. I fall back against the window ledge, its edges cool against my back. Tugging up my jeans and thong, I glance up at my ex-lover. He's shaken, his eyes closed, his hands in fists. I reach out and press my palm to the front of his pants. "Let me…" I breathe out.

"No—" he protests, his hand snapping out to grab mine.

"Why not? You—you want this."

He laughs harshly. "Of course I do. That hasn't changed. I still want you more than—"

"More than what?" I ask and curve my palm against him, finding the shape and size of his heat. He bites off a sharp groan and rolls his head back.

"More than I want to keep this fucking world safe from him," he finally snarls and steps fully away from me. "That's why you have to leave. That's why you always have to leave, Buffy. I can't be that guy you prayed for, anymore."

"Don't tell me to leave," I flare. "Not when you were the one who started this—"

"I could smell you from the second you walked through the door," he cuts me off, his voice heavy with knowing and I can smell *myself* and my cheeks burn.

"Don't talk to me that way."

"What way?" he asks silkily. "Is only Spike allowed to talk dirty to you, Buffy?"

"Spike was allowed to do things to me that you'll never get the chance to," I let that sink in. "Does that hurt? Knowing I slept with him and loved it? That he fucked me at the Bronze and in the crypt and in my bed? That he made me scream and scratch his back and that sometimes—"

Grabbing my shoulders, he shakes me, once. Hard. "Shut the fuck up, Buffy," he intones coldly. "I don't care what you did with Spike. It just makes me feel sorry for you."

"WHAT?" I shout, and push him away, watching him sprawl across the floor. "NEVER feel sorry for me, EVER! I'm doing better, now. Maybe my life isn't a Hallmark card, but I've come a long way since you left. I'm not the same girl and I'm goddamned glad, you hear me? I used to waste time praying for you, staring in the direction of LA and wishing that—" cutting myself off, I sneer at him. "You're still the same pathetic mess who left Sunnydale. Only a *loser* would fall for a vapid *whore* like Cordelia."

Jumping to his feet, he comes towards me with such an expression of fury in his gaze that I feel a stirring of fear. Lashing out with my fists, I catch him in the nose but he bends back and cracks me in the face with his full strength. Flying backward, I hit the window ledge with my legs and feel myself beginning to fall. A sensation like drowning fills my lungs and I can't even scream. Blinking, I feel my body bend as it begins to soar through the air, until --- one of Angel's hands closes around my calve. A terrible wrench slices through my bones and I flail, my arms and other leg dangling wildly. I can see the dead birds down below. Grey and messy crimson and this is all such a joke.

"BUFFY!"

Suddenly I realize Angel is shouting at me. "Buffy! Give me your hand," he cries in desperation. Arching upward, I curve at the waist grab his wrists, allowing him to haul me upward and into the room.

As if I might shatter, he leads me carefully over to the bed and sets me down. "Is anything broken?" he asks quietly, and I assess the damage.

"My leg—I think it's sprained," I feel the muscle gingerly. "But otherwise just the normal Slayer aches and pains."

"I'm sorry—"

"We were in a fight. It happens," I assure him without censure.

"Buffy, don't ever—I don't want to hurt you."

"But you do. And I hurt you," I whisper. "You always hurt the ones you love, right?"

His eyes glow for a moment in the darkness. "How did you know?"

"How did I know what?" I ask him, shaking slightly.

"How did you know that I was lying when I said I'd stopped loving you?"

My thighs ache and between them is sore. I can smell the musk slipping through the air. Sliding a hand through my hair, I feel tiny prickles as slivers of glass slice my palms. Angel's not looking at me but I can feel the pressure of his words, as heavy as if his gaze was locked with mine. Shrugging, I respond softly; "I didn't know. I was just… it was something Spike said to me once. About hurting the ones you love. Stuck with me."

His mouth curls with distaste and something close to envy. "How close were you and Spike… really?" he asks and his voice is blank.

I shake my head. "We were—we were close. Close to a lot of things. Just not each other."

He shoots me a look. "Do you love him, Buffy?"

"You don't get to ask me that," I reply coolly.

"I don't care," he says. "Do you?"

"Stop it."

"You asked me if I loved Cordelia," he reminds me and I blink, replying without thinking.

"You told me you'd love me forever."

"Things change."

My eyes sting. "Fuck you." Starting to stand, I'm hauled back down by his hand, heavy on my arm.

"Do you love Spike?"

"I could," I respond, looking straight into his eyes. "Maybe I do… in a way. I care for him. But I'll just… I'll never love him in the way he wants me to. I couldn't die for him. I wouldn't."

"Why not?" he asks and I smile slightly, knowing the answer he wants. The answer he craves. I won't give it to him.

"There's nothing left."

"Is that really true?" he inquires, his thumb brushing my elbow. "Do you have nothing left to give?"

"Not when there's big evil afoot," I sigh. "Everything's crazy at home. Everyone's unhappy. And I know I have to do something. Something to make things right. But I don't know what to do. I don't know how to fight this thing yet."

"How powerful is it?" he wonders, and I shrug.

"Its not like Spike isn't easily manipulated. But if its making him kill… I'm going to have to be with him 24/7. Babysitting vampires isn't really in my repertoire."

"It was once," he says softly, and I feel my hands tremble.

"Things change."

His mouth twists, acknowledging my jab. "What'll you and Dawn do for Christmas? Its coming up soon, you know."

I rub my forehead. "God, I know. I've made turkey once—for Thanksgiving a few years ago. Dawn came down to UCS cause Mom was away. She almost got eaten by a bear and then had an allergic reaction to the mashed potatoes. Merrier times have been had. " Smiling faintly, I remember how innocent those days were. With Riley by my side and Spike still evil and Giles still living in the Dale. "That's the extent of my holiday-making experience. Mom always did everything for Christmas… and now, Dawn's going to expect more."

He touches my back briefly. "I think she'll appreciate all you can give."

"Have you met Dawn?" I ask him, grinning.

His lips curve in a half-smile. "Hasn't changed, huh?"

"Brattier," I reply. "Hopefully she'll understand we're on a tight budget."

"Buffy, if you need money…"

"Don't even finish that sentence," I answer coolly. "You don't run a charity Angel and I'm not looking for donations. Dawnie and I'll be fine. She just can't have the five thousand shirts she asked for."

"Five thousand?"

"I may be exaggerating. Not by much though." My tone is wearier than I meant it to be and he glances at me.

"When was the last happy Christmas you had, Buffy?"

"I don't remember."

"You don't?"

"No," I whisper. "I can't remember much about life before I was the Slayer. Maybe I can't imagine a life before I was the Slayer."

"But you had one."

"Maybe," I say softly. "Maybe it's all a dream."

He laughs harshly. "If only."

I look at him, measuring his expression with my gaze. "That bad, huh?"

"Not good," he corrects.

"What's your son's deal? If he knows you… if he knows you love Cordy, why would he sleep with her?"

"He hates me, I guess," Angel says without inflection. "He hates me and he's confused and maybe he loves her. I don't know. I don't know anymore."

Suddenly a thought occurs to me. "Unless Cordy's suddenly a child molester… I'm guessing he's older than… did—did you and Darla sleep together a long time ago? Is that what produced him?"

"He—he's 18. He was conceived a year ago, give or take. It's a long story."

"Sounds like it," I say wryly and then pause for a moment. "Did you—did you know him as a baby?"

Angel closes his eyes, as if he's remembering the smell of powder and suds in the bath. As if he can recall the touch of a downy cheek and the blue spell of veins underneath pale, translucent skin. "Yes," clearing his throat, he continues; "he was… Darla came here and—he was perfect. So small. Sometimes I still expect to hear him crying from his crib—because… he was taken so suddenly. I never got to say goodbye. I just—"

"Angel…" shocked, I reach out blindly and my fingers brush his cheek.

"Don't," he grabs my hand and grounds it down onto the bed between us. "I can't right now, Buffy."

"Ok. Ok," I murmur, "I'm sorry. I sort of … I mean, I understand. Dawn."

"I know," he whispers. "I know you understand. That makes it harder. No one here does. They knew him as a baby, of course. They knew—but they don't know how much I—how much your heart is taken over." He's silent for a moment, and slowly his fingers begin to caress mine. The slide of his skin is almost unbearable and I bite my lips, trying not to protest, make a sound. "I love Christmas," he finally says dryly. "Sometimes. I mean, it was when I was given a second chance."

"When it snowed," I sigh, remembering.

"When you gave me my second chance," he amends. "When you believed."

"I've always believed," I remark gently.

"I know."

"Are you glad—that someone made it snow? That you were given the chance to fight?"

"Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no. Fighting's more important than self-pity. But then… I was really looking forward to giving Connor a proper Christmas. Buying him little toy trucks and explaining what snow's like. So I guess pity's out, but regret is still there. Too much regret."

"I still don't understand how two vampires sired a child," I comment. "It seems impossible… I mean, isn't it? Or were you—were you lying when you told me it couldn't happen?"

He shoots me a look that speaks volumes. "No, I wasn't lying. I don't know what happened but sometimes I'm afraid Darla and I only sired evil."

"You're only saying that because he slept with your girlfriend."

"She's not my girlfriend," he informs me, evidently deciding to ignore my catty tone.

"Why?"

"She can't handle my past. What I've done. I can't blame her."

Incredulously, I glare at him. "What you've done? And since when was Cordy not there for all of that? She went to High School. She hung out with us. I believe she knew about… Ms. Calendar and the freaky pictures and Willow's goldfish."

"Willow's—" he shakes his head. "I'd—I'd forgotten."

"Don't remember," I advise.

"Cordy… by the means of a higher power, she was able to feel what I felt as Angelus." His mouth twists. "The enjoyment he got from killing people. From murder and rape and torture."

"I hate to point out the blinding flash of obvious, but you're Angel, not Angelus."

"Aren't I?" he asks bleakly.

"You're not. There's a world… actually, an entire solar system between the demon and you. If Cordelia can't see that…"

"Why should she?" he inquires. "She doesn't—she wants a life not completely consumed by darkness. How can I expect her to live with a demon? How I can expect her to live with someone who carries that inside of him? Who smiled when he ripped out a little girl's heart? Who used to take pleasure from raping virgins just to hear them scream? Buffy—"

My belly is roiling but I lay my fingers over his mouth, halting speech. "Stop it. I understand what happened. I understand that Angelus did horrible things. But you're not him. Cordy should know that. Hell, Cordy does know that. And if she's too scared to be with you, then—"

"She's not scared."

"Then what's she doing? Trying to decide whether to dick you around a little longer?"

"Is that what you're doing with Spike?"

"No," I reply, irritated. "I told you what I'm doing with Spike. End of discussion."

"But you get to ask me about Cordelia? Forget it."

"Forget what? That suddenly you can sleep with someone?" My vision blurs as the thought that has been prickling around in my brain for the last few hours finally slips from past my lips. "What happened to the curse?"

He looks at me. His eyes feel like fire. "It wouldn't be perfect happiness," he says simply.

My breath hitches.

"I had it once," he continues, "and I don't know if I could ever re-capture that."

"Have I emotionally stunted you for life?" I inquire, half-jokingly and like that he smiles slightly.

"No. There's just too much—in my life, for a moment with Cordelia to bring me to that state of forgetfulness and peace. Or a moment with anyone for that matter."

"But just now— you stopped," I remind him, blushing faintly as I remember his fingers and our hot breath mingling.

"It's—" he stops and then stands, pacing by the shattered window. "I can't guarantee it won't happen with you. Buffy—you're not like anyone I've ever met. It just—it's different with you. You know that, it's always been different."

I watch him, his body moving, beautiful in the faint light from the fireplace. Embers flutter amongst the ashes and my mouth quirks. "I can't believe it. You and Cordy."

"You and Spike," he says wryly.

"It's over," I say firmly.

"Is everything over?" he asks me and I wince, wondering what he means. Wondering if I want to know what he means.

"Impending doom makes it impossible for me to know," I joke without humour, and stand, joining him by the window. The breeze tastes like tears but the fires have been put out. I can hear rain and it isn't red. "I should go. Spike's probably desperate for a drink right about now."

"Be careful with Spike… on the ride home. He's dangerous, Buffy. Everything about him is wrong."

"Everything about this situation is wrong," I whisper.

"Be careful," he stresses. "I don't want—another visit from Willow is not what I want. Please."

The back of my throat stings with tears and I step forward. Enfolding me in his arms, he presses me close to his heart and I imagine that I can hear it beating. So full of blood and bravery and promises.

"Has anything really changed?" I ask him. I can almost hear his half-smile.

"Some things. Not everything."

"Good to know," I murmur and tilt my head back.

He kisses me and its heavy and sweet. Panting slightly, he pulls away and leans his forehead against mine.

"Buffy?"

"Yes?"

"Someday."

Tears slide down my cheeks. Light like a moth's wing and I barely feel them. "Someday," I repeat.

"Call me when the Apocalpyse comes to town. You'll need back-up."

"Right back at you," I order, and touch his chest. "And you be careful too. Please."

"I will."

I look up and its Angel. I haven't looked at him, really looked at him for such a long time. Maybe not since I gazed into his eyes and saw nothing but trust and shining love and then stuck a sword through his belly. Now, I see him and its Angel. I think I've been walking blind for a very long while.

"Bye," I whisper, and turn.

He doesn't answer, and I feel his eyes on me as I leave the room.

Spike sleeps. Leaning down, I press my fingers to his bruised cheek. Cruel, but a definite way of eliciting a response. "Fuck off," he mumbles, burrowing deeper into the cavernous cushions of the Hyperion's sofa.

"Spike."

"What, Buffy? G'away."

"Get up, we're leaving."

"What?" he asks, coherent now. "Thought for sure you'd be married to the Pouf by now."

"No marriages. Also no patience. We have to get back to Sunnydale. Never know what might have happened since we've been gone."

"Yeah, Xander could've grown a personality," he snarks and sits up, groaning as he does so. "Fucking bastard broke all of my ribs."

"You can nurse the pain in the car. We'll get you some liquor."

"Being nice to me," he notes, as I help him up, my arm underneath his. "What's the catch?"

"No catch, but if you don't shut up I'm leaving you here."

+ + +

The lights of LA recede into the distance as I drive down the Freeway, content to take my time now that we're on the road. Spike lies back in his seat, a bottle of Jack Daniels in one hand and the other clutched over his bloodied and bruised midsection.

"Did Angel give you the 411 on the demon-y stuff?" he asks.

I nod. "Some."

"What d'you thinks gonna happen, Buffy?" he inquires quietly.

"I don't know Spike. But maybe there's hope."

He doesn't ask for what, just reaches out and brushes his fingers over mine. I say a silent prayer, blowing it like a kiss in the direction of Los Angeles. My words hang in the stillness, lighting our way home.

End.



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