Spirit and Imagination

by kcarolj65

 


Summary: Buffy and company arrive at the Hyperion, post- Chosen.
Rating: NC-17
Author Notes: Thanks to Judy and Sue, who encouraged me for months to post.
Story Notes: Vaguely related to "Curiosity", my story set during Chosen.
Disclaimer: Joss Whedon and ME own it all. I just play in their sandbox from time to time.

 

The sun was low enough that it was safe for him to be outdoors, so he waited in the hotel courtyard until he heard the bus lumbering down the quiet street. It had seen some hard driving; school buses weren't designed to outrun earthquakes and sinkholes large enough to swallow a whole town. The radiator hissed threateningly and the brakes squealed as the vehicle ground to a halt. Giles opened the door and nodded a silent greeting to Angel; the vampire stepped forward to offer his hand, then stopped short as if he had slammed into a wall.

What the -

Blood power fear kill run fight Slayer Slayer Slayer

Holy fuck! Angel stumbled backward, turning away from the bus, pressing a hand to the ridges in his forehead. Inhuman adrenaline surged through him and he snarled involuntarily. The demon leaped and flinched, straining to break free, to run, to fight, to tear asunder...

He groaned, fighting hard to push it back. Through his unreasoning panic and bewilderment, he was downright ashamed of himself. He was a master vampire: he controlled his demon, not the other way around!

But then, he'd never felt anything like this before.

"I wondered how you'd react." Giles' quiet voice held a hint of smugness. Angel stared at him through a fading yellow haze; though every nerve pulsed with energy, he held himself still in the twitchy immobility of the hunted, a gazelle surrounded by a prowling pride. He could feel them, the young hungry lionesses, tense predators staring down their prey - him - from behind the dust-smirched windows of the bus.

Fortunately, the first to disembark were Willow and Xander, familiar and relatively unthreatening despite the almost visible power swirling around the redheaded witch; grateful for the diversion, he grinned, but it faded at the grief etched on their faces, particularly Xander's. Angel could neither see nor smell any recent injury on either of them, though Xander sported an eye patch that promised a painful back-story. The young man was too absorbed in his thoughts to acknowledge him, much less muster any kind of greeting, but Willow stepped to him and kissed his cheek warmly. "We're here," she murmured unnecessarily.

"I'm glad." She smiled tiredly at his reply and led Xander into the hotel.

Giles was next to alight; he ignored Angel's awkwardly reoffered hand, instead turning his attention to the young women who followed him from the bus, assisting those who needed it. Angel shuffled his feet uncomfortably as perhaps a score of them - dirty and disheveled, but terrifyingly attentive - began to disembark, their eyes burning into his with instinctive recognition and challenge.

Angel turned a questioning gaze on Giles, met again that satisfied, disdainful gleam and felt a wave of despondency. No, Giles would never forget, and a small petty part of him would always enjoy Angel's guilt and discomfort. The Watcher's voice was cool and inflectionless. "They're all Slayers. Not Potentials anymore. Slayers."

Angel's stomach dropped and he concentrated anxiously, to no avail. There were too many of them for him to distinguish one particular Slayer. "Buffy?" he choked the question.

Giles' expression softened and he nodded toward the bus. The small blonde Slayer was there, gently steering her sister down the steps. Her tired, lovely face lit at the sight of him and he smiled broadly, relieved.

"No need for that second front, huh?"

Her answer was a headshake and a strong one-armed hug. He returned the embrace in kind, closing their small circle by placing a gentle hand on Dawn's shoulder and squeezing lightly. That elicited the ghost of a smile from the younger girl, perhaps the most affectionate expression she ever had bestowed upon him. It puzzled him even as it pleased, but he had more pressing matters on his mind.

"Is this everyone?" Maybe I was wrong. He knew he hadn't been, but he scanned the now-empty bus anyway. Nothing.

If she heard his unvoiced comment, she didn't respond to it. Her voice and expression were brisk, businesslike, exactly as they had been a few nights before in the Sunnydale cemetery, her emotions tightly leashed of necessity. "Everyone who made it, except the ones we dropped off at the hospital. Robin and a few of the girls needed some attention, and Faith's handling the details. Well, actually, Andrew is, but Faith wanted to stay with Robin."

"She's all right, then? Good." He turned them toward the hotel. "Come in."

Together they descended the stairs and sat on the circular sofa in the center of the lobby. He took her hand in both of his, rubbing gently. Dawn sat beside and slightly behind her, leaning her head on Buffy's shoulder as they watched Fred tend to the exhausted girls. The slender scientist-cum-demon fighter ushered them toward the stairs, murmuring soft promises of food and baths and beds.

Angel smiled at the sight. Fred's warm smile and gentle flutterings were in their way exactly the kind of comfort and nurture the girls needed; despite their formidable powers, the new Slayers were little more than children and they responded immediately to Fred's mothering, following her like lambs. As the girls climbed the stairs to the guestrooms, Wesley, Gunn and Giles disappeared toward the kitchen, leaving the three of them alone in the lobby.

They sat quietly for a few minutes; then Buffy turned suddenly heavy, moss-granite eyes on him. "Do you want me to tell you about it now?"

He swallowed hard and nodded. "Yes."

He listened silently as she outlined her plan, Willow's spell, and the descent into the Hellmouth, the thousands of Turok-han gathered there, ready to be unleashed on an unsuspecting world. Horror and pride warred within him as she related how she had been seriously wounded, and had despaired of victory but had risen to her feet to continue fighting anyway, and then...

He cringed inwardly, dreading what was coming and yet terribly eager to hear it, in all its wonder and awfulness. Myriad feelings //envy dislike pride admiration guilt love loss// careened through his consciousness like elusive insects, each fluttering briefly through the scope of awareness before giving way to the next as she told him of the brilliant golden light piercing the gloom, streaming from the amulet on Spike's chest to destroy the First Evil's army.

"He said he could feel his soul, that it was really there." Buffy's voice was little more than a whisper. "I took his hand, and I - I think I felt it too, like it went - through me. It was - he was -''

She paused, her eyes bright but her voice was soft and sad, like a lonely flute. "Spike closed the Hellmouth, Angel. He's - gone."

"I know." Too well, he knew. Searing pain such as he'd never felt before, and a bark of sardonic laughter, then - nothing. A vast, aching emptiness where that immense vitality had been.

Somewhere, Angel was sure, Drusilla had been screaming for hours.

He gathered Buffy close to him and she buried her face against his neck. She shifted a bit, as if she found it difficult to fit her body comfortably against his, and for the first time he felt awkward, too large for her; he wondered if she felt it too. This had never been an issue with Cordelia - taller, more curvaceous, built like a goddess... Junoesque, a well-remembered voice teased through his mind, and he snorted. Dammit. I've had Spike on the brain all day. Now I'm channeling William the Bloody Poet.

Always kind of liked the poems, though, he mused absently. In those early days, just after his turning, after Darla fell asleep...

He'd strained his ears to hear fledgling William softly reciting his verses to Drusilla. For the most part, they were contrived, adolescent blatherings of feelings dreamt of but not yet felt and experiences wished for but not yet known, all staggering under the weight of too many large words, plodding and overblown and often poorly rhymed. And yet, they had charmed him. They were so earnest. So heartfelt. So - Spike.

He's gone. Really gone.

All at once, Angel felt every one of his many years. Too many years, too many lives, too many losses, in all too rapid succession: Doyle, Darla, Buffy herself, Connor (twice), Cordelia, and now Spike. He and his grandchilde had been many things to one another, most of them unpleasant, but Spike's absence - so sudden, so unexpected - was acute, like the severing of a limb.

Voice carefully low and steady, he assured Buffy of his help, and a place to stay for as long as she and the other Slayers needed it. He mentioned nothing of Wolfram & Hart. Time enough for that later, if at all. She said nothing, just snuggled closer to him. It was still awkward, and Angel's throat ached dully: her small, fairylike slenderness was better suited to one with a swimmer's or dancer's body, lean and whip-strong, no matter how fragile he might have looked.

"Here we are," Wesley's cultured baritone softly broke the silence as he placed before them a tray laden with sandwiches, mugs and a carafe. Similarly burdened, Giles and Gunn climbed the stairs toward the guest rooms. Dawn sat up and chose a mug, then frowned and poked a finger into it; with a touch of domestic pride, Wesley lifted the carafe and announced, "I've added a healthy dose of Bailey's to this, so it's quite potent but it should help the girls to sleep. I'm certain they need it. Now, my dear, hold your mug steady and I'll pour - Dawn? Dawn?!"

Buffy raised her head from Angel's shoulder. "Dawn, what is it?" Dawn's face was white and her slender hand shook so that had she not looped her finger through its handle, the forgotten mug would have fallen and smashed on the floor. Her eyes were fixed on the small white object she had fished from the mug and now squeezed between the thumb and forefinger of her other hand. As Wesley gently took the cup from the girl and poured rich, fragrant brown liquid into it, Buffy's eyes widened with comprehension and she threw her arms around her sister.

"Oh, God. Oh, Dawn." Tears poured down their faces. The younger Summers was sobbing as if her heart would break. Wesley shot a puzzled, stricken look at Angel, who was equally mystified but had the niggling feeling he shouldn't be.

"Ma - marshmallows -'' Dawn mewled like an abandoned kitten, staring miserably at the crushed sweet in her fingers. Her slim shoulders trembled. "Oh, Buffy, I was s-so mean -''

"Sh-shh," her sister soothed through her own tears. "It's all right. It's all right. Shhh."

"I ne-never forgave him." She turned tortured blue eyes on Buffy. "Buffy, did he know that I -"

Buffy held her sister's shoulders, locked their gazes and nodded emphatically. "I told him, Dawn. Don't worry. He knew."

Dawn's face crumpled again and she collapsed into Buffy's embrace, still weeping but more quietly. Buffy glanced at Wesley and Angel and gave them a watery smile. "Spike loved my mother's cocoa." She nodded at the filled mug Wesley held, and her voice wavered as she finished, "With little marshmallows." Fresh tears spilled down her cheeks and she bit her lip, leaned her forehead against Dawn's and closed her eyes.

*Of course: Joyce and Spike, in the kitchen.* Angel remembered coming upon them that night, how terrified he'd been for Joyce. Unnecessarily terrified, which he should have known despite Spike's pantomime of biting Joyce's neck. Angelus might have killed her after she'd served him cocoa, but not Spike.

All unwitting, Wesley's attempt at comfort food had compounded the new loss with the old, recalling Joyce's small but pivotal act of kindness that sowed the seeds of Spike's genuine, reverent affection for her. Small wonder the Summers girls had broken down.

"It's okay, Wes," Angel said softly. He threw Wesley a look, Go ahead, I've got this. I'll explain later. The former Watcher nodded obediently and set down the carafe and mug, then patted Dawn's hair comfortingly. At the girl's hiccupped thank-you, he blinked hard and pulled off his glasses as he turned away.

As the girls nibbled halfheartedly at the food, Angel awkwardly stroked Buffy's back with a light hand, uncertain what to do next. These two young women grieved a different Spike - from all accounts, a far better one than the annoying fledgling that had plagued Angelus for nearly twenty years or the bloodthirsty master vampire who usurped the Anointed One in Sunnydale. It was difficult to reconcile the concept of Souled Spike with those memories, and yet, knowing what Spike had done and having a fair idea why, he felt obligated to say something kind, relate an anecdote that would console Buffy and Dawn.

He racked his brain, scanning and rejecting recollections as soon as they occurred to him. His demon thoroughly enjoyed tripping down memory lane, but his reminiscences offered little that would be of comfort, unless he glossed over so much brutality and bloodshed as to make the events unrecognizable. Dawn might believe revisionist history, but Buffy would not. He rubbed his eyes, bleak futility settling over him. In human terms, the only admirable activity pre-chipped, unsouled Spike ever undertook was caring for Drusilla, lovingly and patiently, for more than a century.

But at least he did that much. Can't say the same for anyone else, most of all myself.

He remembered clearly how it had come to pass. He and Darla, weary of his childe's tiresome prattle of burning raindrops and bleeding fairy wings, had encouraged her to make a playmate for herself and, at the same time, relieve them of the burden of caring for her. Drusilla had agreed delightedly and added, with besotted certainty:

*"And he will be the wisest and bravest knight in all the land..."*

Just then, a tearful, bespectacled William had stumbled blindly between them. The mad vampiress had halted her steps and turned to look after him, wondering, mesmerized. Angelus and Darla had continued on their way for a few moments before realizing she had stopped; upon returning to her and learning the reason for her hesitation, he had laughed derisively at her choice. The look Drusilla had given him then - sly, cunning, completely lucid - had sent an uneasy chill through his unbeating heart, but he'd laughed it off. After all, he was Angelus. Let her have her washed-out fop! What could a mere fledgling, especially one made from such stuff as that, do to him?

What, indeed? Drusilla had had some measure of revenge over the next eighteen years as Angelus discovered, then was forced to continuously redefine, the limits of frustration and annoyance, thanks to his wild, exasperating, intense grandchilde. Fledgling Spike had imprinted on him rather than Drusilla and had sought his approval, turned shining hopeful eyes to him after killing, fangs dripping gore. More often than not, Spike's recklessness had earned him rebuke rather than praise, and Angelus' methods of punishment had stolen the worship from his glance and replaced it with hurt, shamefaced desire and fawning apology at first; then hatred, fear, and a hint of contempt had grown and eventually blotted out every expression of softer feeling. The pre-slumber poetry recitations had ceased. Spike came to respect Angelus' supremacy, but rarely passed on an opportunity to goad him, skirting the edge of open defiance though never crossing over. Their twisted relationship became a tug-of-war, a battle of wills that neither would concede.

He could have destroyled Spike at any time, and how often he had wanted to! Spike's penchant for drawing attention to himself endangered all of them; dusting him was Angelus' right. Yet he never had, nor had he ever truly examined why. At the time, he'd told himself it was because of Drusilla. No one else had Spike's limitless patience with her, his extraordinary devotion to her, certainly not Angelus: He wouldn't have abandoned her, but he couldn't deal with her nearly as well as Spike. So, Spike and his foolhardy escapades had been endured. It was reason enough. Seemed plausible, anyway.

Half-truths are so much easier than whole.

He sighed and rubbed his eyes again, then froze as a far more recent memory stirred.

Something else Drusilla had said. Something that had registered strongly at the time, through his shame and self-loathing. He had been so tempted, so close to succumbing as Drusilla, his worst crime, his beautiful broken creation in a crimson dress, swayed bewitchingly like a snake in the shadows...

"Mmm, Daddy," Drusilla crooned. "Standing in the doorway. Fed us all those lovely lawyers who tasted of riches and misery. I see your soul, all whips and nettles, crying bloody tears. So sad, so alone, like birds in cages." Her voice dropped to a low murmur, soft and seductive. "Come in, and shut the door. It's not polite to let in a draft, when it's so cold outside. Come back to us, Angelus, where it's dark and warm. Come back and we'll be a family again, kisses and laughter and thorns, all of us together..."

*Body trembling as he fought to maintain control, he squeezed his eyes shut against the sight of her as she spoke - because she was RIGHT,
he wanted it, wanted them,
LONGED
for them, to be with them. His blood kin, his loves, bound to him with ties beyond all human understanding because they were the SAME
beneath their skins, sharing a oneness that humans could never know, closer even than mother and child for only half the child was its mother whereas what made vampire childer was the same that made their sires. They could see it in each other's eyes and know it, feel it knitted into every fiber of their beings, and know they were never alone.*

He missed them so, all of them, and missed being with them - the rush and crunch of the hunt, and the quiet times afterward, tumbling beneath silk sheets, the achingly sweet contact of soft flesh on hard, the rare lovely spectacle of soft on soft, and the even rarer exquisite friction of hard on hard. And the complete liberation, the freedom from conscience, with the night their domain and the world their oyster to crack open and suck dry.

He took a step toward her, toward that wonderful screaming abyss, for in that moment he believed, truly, that redemption was a hopeless impossible dream for such as he, and whatever he did wouldn't matter. Would not, in the final analysis, make one iota of difference. The good fight was too hard a fight and it was futile anyway, and he wanted so badly to return to them, his family, his icy golden queen and his dark wicked plum and his beautiful blue-eyed boy...

His eyes, stinging with helpless tears, hardened suddenly. "All of us? What, is Spike with you?"

Drusilla's cunning smile dissolved into a pout that quivered; Angel leapt forward and caught her wrists in a crushing grip, snarling into her face, "Is he?"

*Drusilla shook her head and babbled, with growing hysteria: "My little Spike has swallowed the sun and the nasty gnomes are shrieking. He shines from inside like a glowworm, but he tastes of ashes, all black and sooty, stinging and choking." Eyes rolling, hands fluttering with fear and agitation, she cried, "The sky, the sky does not want him and he falls to lightning in a million shiny pieces, and I can't - I can't See him anymore!*"

He hadn't known what to make of her words at the time; all he knew was that Drusilla had tried to bring Spike back into the fold, and had failed. The younger vampire had not obeyed. Had done the unthinkable and Defied His Sire, whom he'd loved and served for more than a century, for the sake of his new love who was also his nemesis. As that incredible fact registered, he'd found the strength he needed to thrust Drusilla away from him and reclaim his chosen path. He had sent her back to Darla with dire warnings to leave Los Angeles, and had returned to his friends, squirming under the obligation he felt for his absent grandchilde. Later he'd contemplated what Drusilla had said, but since he couldn't make heads or tails of it, had dismissed it as random nonsense, and nearly forgotten it. He knew its meaning now.

The sun. Gnomes. Shining and glowing and ashes.

Ashes.

Not dust.

Ashes.

"Jaysus, Mary and Joseph." The mild expletive, and the hint of Irish accent, spoke to the depth of his astonishment. He shook his head disbelievingly. "She knew."

"Who did?"

"Knew what?"

Buffy and Dawn spoke almost simultaneously, turning curious tear-streaked faces to him. He blinked at them; he'd all but forgotten they were there.

"Drusilla," he blurted, and Buffy's eyes narrowed dangerously. He winced, both at the expression and what it revealed, and hastened to explain. "She knew what Spike would do, how he'd -'' he bit off the word and stood, hands on hips, shaking his head again at his own obtuseness and feeling as if he owed an apology to the absent vampiress. "I thought she was just rambling, you know, talking crazy. She does that a lot. But she must have seen it in one of her visions."

"Visions? Like Cordelia?"

Dawn's innocent question clutched at Angel's heart with rending claws, but he forced a gentle smile, arching a brow in consideration. "Maybe. Drusilla's not very lucid most of the time, so it's hard to separate her true visions from her delusions. Cordy is,'' was, he corrected silently, "much more coherent."

"What did Drusilla say?" Buffy asked, quietly but with an edge to her voice. He smiled inwardly, with sadness. Buffy, you betray yourself in a hundred ways.

"That Spike had swallowed the sun and was glowing, and the nasty gnomes were shrieking. I assume by that she meant the First's vampire army." He withheld the reference to ashes; neither Buffy nor Dawn would thank him for the reminder of Spike's immolation. Hell, he still shuddered at the thought of that beautiful sculpted body, the angular face with its impossibly soft mouth, decimated beyond hope of recovery, mingled with the filth of a dead town.

Buffy and Dawn waited mutely, clearly expecting more. He reached out and took one of each girl's hands in his, watching his thumbs rub the soft skin of their knuckles, then turned a warm gaze on them. "I think she knew even before that, though, that he'd do something - '' the word lodged in his throat for a moment " - amazing. I think she knew it from the moment she saw him."

Then he told them what Drusilla had said, long ago under the London gaslights, and he watched nearly identical, soft smiles slowly illuminate their faces, undimmed by the new tears that trickled down their cheeks. He knew the smiles were for him as well as Spike, that he would give them this. Buffy smoothed a lock of hair behind her sister's ear, then leaned forward and kissed Angel chastely, a benison of gratitude. Then she pulled away and shook her head with a gentle snort.

"That crazy vampire..." she murmured.

"Who, Spike?" he joked, deliberately obtuse. "Could've told you that years ago. Wait, I think I did."

She rolled her eyes but smiled. "No. Drusilla." She glanced at their clasped hands, then returned her gaze to his face. "You didn't believe her."

"Not at the time, no." He shook his head, a smile tugging at his lips. "I guess I should have."

*

This was not his usual method of dealing with grief. His was to seclude himself and have a long, depressing brood, work out all the ways the unpleasant situation was his fault, and emerge when he'd successfully swallowed yet another heaping helping of unworthiness to make his quest for redemption seem that much more difficult.

No, drinking himself into oblivion was not his accustomed way of going about this. But it had once been Spike's. Under the circumstances, it felt right.

He'd been drinking rather slowly, and the alcohol had had time to take effect. Reaching again for the half-empty bottle at his elbow, he nearly knocked it over as a too-familiar scent pierced his alcohol-fogged brain. Horror and hope twisted his gut, and he turned toward the doorway of his office as the redolence of leather and books, fine whiskey and something else - something not quite right - came closer. It couldn't be -

"Angel."

Giles. The vampire nearly groaned in mixed relief and disappointment. With the identification of the man came the recognition of the aroma's odd component - tweed. Definitely not Spike. Still, Giles' scent was similar enough to surprise Angel that he'd never noticed it before. Of course, during most of his past dealings with Giles, he'd been in Spike-denial mode, willfully suppressing every memory of him, and thus the resemblance had escaped conscious acknowledgement. Now, with his departed grandchilde uppermost in his mind, the familiar combined smells of learning and violence, refinement and ruthlessness, brought all the details flooding back with renewed color and clarity. And with them, the pain. Again.

Angel pasted a smile on his face and tipsily waved Giles toward a chair. "Come in, Giles," he said with uncharacteristic warmth. "Sit down, have a drink." Giles accepted silently and seated himself as Angel located a second glass and filled both. With a nod of thanks, Giles took an experimental sip, then a deeper pull, exhaling appreciatively after he swallowed.

"Is this a wake?" Giles asked gently, his blue eyes filled with a cool pity that irritated the vampire. Like he could possibly understand. He can't. With an effort he suppressed the rush of emotion; the anger and grief so inextricably intertwined that if he indulged in the one, the other was sure to manifest in ways he could not allow, not in front of the Watcher. He'd had enough of losing control today.

His lips stretched in a broad, insincere grin and he spread his arms wide, his glass tilting precariously. "Well, someone's got to do something in memory of the little gobshite." Noting his liquor was in danger of being spilled, he brought the glass quickly to his mouth and bolted the contents.

The corners of Giles' mouth drooped disapprovingly. "Oh, come now. He was hardly my favorite person, but he gave his life - er, unlife - to save the world. At the very least, he deserves our respect, and some sort of recognition." He sighed, leaned his head into his hand, and rubbed his temples with thumb and forefinger. "I'm sure Buffy will want to do something for him."

"Oh, I'll bet she will," Angel drawled, smirking unpleasantly as he refilled his glass. He leaned back in his chair as Giles raised narrowed eyes and fixed Angel with a look he recognized, one that said Pillock as clearly as the Watcher's voice had years ago, spitting the word at him from his chair of torture in the mansion. His smirk deepened as he wondered idly where his chainsaw was. Not that I'd use it. On Giles, anyway.

"Much as it pains me to say this, he was right," Giles said softly, with a hint of steel. At Angel's surprised look, he continued, "About you and him. Vampires with souls. After he regained his -'' Giles paused to smirk as Angel's eyes flickered " - he said he wasn't much different than he'd been without it. He felt remorse for what he'd done, certainly, enough that it nearly drove him mad, but otherwise was basically the same person. He was, too." He smiled, amusement and sadness shadowed with an intriguing hint of guilt. "I found him just as annoying as ever."

As Giles' meaning penetrated, something inside Angel started to burn, slowly at first but escalating rapidly. Maybe I'll have to rethink the possible uses for that chainsaw. As evenly as he could manage, he said, "What are you saying, Giles?"

The Watcher thumped his empty glass on Angel's desk and leaned forward, chin daringly outthrust. "You've worked hard to convince everyone of the distinction between your souled and unsouled personas. Buffy accepted it as truth, because of her feelings for you. But Spike was right. You're not too far from Angelus right now, and I'll venture a guess that you never are. You just hide it well most of the time, when you haven't drowned your inhibitions in good whiskey."

Angel's hands fisted to still their sudden trembling, a yellow haze drifting across his vision. "If you're right, it's probably best not to provoke me," he growled, shoving back his chair to stand and loom threateningly, if somewhat unsteadily, over the Watcher. Giles stared up at him with a distinctly unimpressed expression, going so far as to retrieve his empty glass and hold it out to Angel for a refill, a suppressed smile twitching at his lips. Frustrated, Angel glared at him for a long moment, then made a harsh, furious sound and grabbed the bottle, sloshing full measures for both of them before slumping into his seat. He took a gulp and pointed an accusing finger.

"Do you have any idea what it was like, living with him for nearly twenty years? The constant yammering. Going on the run every time he got carried away and brought an angry mob down on us. He ruined more plans and schemes than you can imagine, just because he got bored with them."

Giles chuckled and nodded. "He never could follow a plan through to its conclusion. If he had, he might have beaten Buffy. But he never could. He must have had the vampire equivalent of Attention-Deficit Disorder." He chuckled again; the sound grated painfully on Angel's raw nerves.

"And the grandiose gestures! The harebrained stunts he'd pull! He drove Darla and me right around the bend a hundred times if he did it once!"

Grandiose gestures, harebrained stunts. The Buffybot. Chaining Drusilla and Buffy in his crypt, offering to dust Drusilla to prove his love. Allowing Glory to torture him for hours rather than giving up Dawn. Giles commiserated, "Yes, I can well believe that."

"All fists and fangs, he was. Never saw any vampire who enjoyed it more than he did. Especially the supernatural strength. He was always challenging himself, taking on the strongest opponents he could find -" Angel's voice trailed off as Spike's mockery echoed in his mind: When was the last time you really unleashed it? Don't you ever get tired of fights you know you're gonna win? "Soon as I told him about Slayers, he was obsessed with them. Wanted to run out and fight her right away. Lucky for him he didn't find one for twenty years."

"I'd have thought that sort of enthusiasm would have impressed you."

Angel glared at him darkly. "Hardly."

"And Darla?"

"Oh, she couldn't stand him." A corner of his mouth curled. "Probably because he saw right through her and wasn't afraid to tell her about it. Me, too. Took the truth and hit you over the head with it like a sledgehammer."

"Yes." Giles' tone held less amusement this time. He had been on the receiving end of that piercing insight, that brutal honesty, too many times to enjoy the reminder. She treats you...like a retired librarian.

Angel shot him a knowing look, not without sympathy. "The only person he didn't cut to shreds was Drusilla. With Drusilla, he was - '' His voice softened suddenly. "He was so good with her. Gentle. She was hardly the easiest of charges, but he never lost his patience with her. If you could have seen him, the way he cared for her - it was amazing."

"I saw something of it." At Angel's surprise, Giles smiled meaningfully, then the vampire's brow cleared.

"Dawn." So that's what all that was about.

"Yes. After the battle with Glory, Spike devoted himself to Dawn. He'd promised Buffy he would look after her. When Dawn fell ill with flu, Spike never left her side. Frankly, I think he was quite frightened for her - understandable, I suppose, in one who grew up in an era when such illnesses often proved fatal." One particular memory of that incident came back to him, of Spike clutching a heating pad for hours on end, warming his hands to avoid giving Dawn a chill while he tended her. He cleared his throat loudly. "He cared for her tirelessly, without complaint, for days. At the time I didn't stop to consider how extraordinary that was, a soulless vampire caring so lovingly for a human child. I suppose I was too wrapped up in my own grief, and in trying to decide what to do next, to really give it much thought." He smiled self-deprecatingly. "Or maybe I simply took it for granted, because it was Spike, and therefore not terribly surprising."

It was just too much for Angel, on top of everything else. "And now he's done this - incredible thing. Saved the world." He shook his head. "Spike, saving the world."

"Yes." Giles smiled gently. "He was - incredibly brave."

The wisest, and bravest. Angel's eyes stung sharply and hurriedly he reached for the bottle, needing a distraction. Only a few inches of liquor remained.

He got to his feet and refilled their glasses, raised his. Giles rose and lifted his glass in similar fashion.

"To heroes," Angel whispered, suddenly unable to find his voice.

"To heroes," Giles echoed, clinking his glass against Angel's. They downed the liquor as one, and, after a moment's hesitation, Giles extended his hand to Angel. He took it and forced himself to meet Giles' sympathetic gaze, then Giles turned on his heel and left Angel in the half-lit office, with only his memories for company.

 

 


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