Title: The Ax to Fall
Author: Syn
E-Mail: veruca_werewolf@hotmail.com
Disclaimer: These characters do not belong to me.
Content: Fred/Gunn angsty ficlet
Spoilers: Supersymmetry, Apocalypse Nowish (Rain of Fire..whatever...)
Rating: PG-13
Archive: Ask and ye shall receive.
Summary: The end never comes quickly enough...
A/N: Dammit, I swore I wouldn't write a post-RoF story and here I am. 'Course, it's not about the squickiness that shall not be named, so it's all good. Fred and Gunn need some love too, even if it is bleak and kinda short.
In Memory of Gunn's Hubcap Ax, how we'll miss you.
Feedback: If you feel the need.

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As a child, she always wondered about the man she would fall in love with. Back before the days of long library hours, smoking pot behind the gymnasium with Lavonne, and Grad school. Back before Pylea and slavery. Back when her head was half-on. She thinks about those times like a Vietnam vet thinks of his life before walking into the jungle for the first time.

Everything was ice cream and those little candy hearts the drugstore sold around Valentine's Day. Simple.

Now everything is complicated, twisted and frightening. She can't seem to breathe and the coffee she's been drinking lies heavily in her stomach, like she only drank the grinds. She needs something to take her mind off of her troubles, so when the earth starts shaking, she almost welcomes the distraction.

Now, she's crouched low under the cheap table as the world shakes and spins. The darkness is comforting, like a womb or her cave back in Pylea. She's almost afraid to leave it, but one glance around the tiny restaurant tells her she'd better pull herself together. These people need guidance and she's as close to a leader as they've got.

As soon as the world stops shaking, she crawls from under the table and organizes the patrons. One man is bleeding from where a piece of the ceiling hit him. Another woman broke her little finger trying to get under the table. She helps the woman wrap her pinky and feels better. It's not much, but it makes her feel useful. She feels in control, until someone shouts and points at the windows.

Fire rains down and she feels her heart stop. She knows what this is and the coffee swirls and threatens to choke her. He's out there. She knows he's out there and she barely stops herself from flinging her body out the door of the restaurant. Smoke fills the air as she watches the balls of fire descend on the City of Angels.

She tries to call Gunn and there's no answer. All she can do is watch and wait until it's safe.

And still, she almost welcomes the distraction.

****

He feels like he's dreaming, although his eyes are half-open. He knows he's in pain and he knows he should be dead. He can feel hands on his arms and he wishes that they belonged to her.

He knows they don't.

"What's happening?" He slurs, blood on his tongue.

"The end of the world." Comes the clipped British voice. He follows his gaze and stares at the sky, where it looks like the sun has fallen, burning the world to cinders. There's hot ash in the air and he can feel it filling his lungs when he breathes.

"Where's Angel?" He manages around a mouthful of ash, blood and fear. Wesley nods his head and helps him to his feet. The Beast is nowhere to be seen and he swallows in relief.

"Can you walk?"

He shakes his head and pulls out of Wesley's grip. The other man's concern annoys him and touches him at the same time. He needs something to lean on, but he has too much pride to let him know. Lorne appears out of nowhere and stares at the sky. Atop the building, they can see L.A. burning in a scene straight from an action movie. Lorne curses.

"We better get back to the hotel." Wesley says and points to the broken stairs.

And that's when it hits him. Fred is out there somewhere in that burning city. He feels weaker at the thought that she's hurt and alone. He realizes he's falling to his knees, the smell of charred human flesh in his nostrils and the world blood red. Something glints in his view and his shaking hand touches the handle of a weapon he remembers making even now.

Through his dimming vision, he sees the blade of his ax, crumpled and broken like tin foil. In a way, the loss of it is even greater than the pain in his body. He blacks out as Lorne and Wesley help him to his feet, his hand clenched around the broken weapon.

He thinks it's all he has left...

****

When she finally makes it back to the hotel, she's soot-blackened and coughing. Her ears are ringing from the sound of fire engines screaming down the streets in every direction. The juice bar across the street is in flames. There are people wailing on the sidewalk and she feels like yelling at them to get inside, but there's too many of them and what can she do? She can help a restaurant full of people, but not a whole city.

The Hyperion is untouched by the fire, by some miracle, but she doesn't expect that to last long. She's too worried about Gunn to contemplate her luck or to think about much of anything. As she walks up the steps and enters, the first thing she notices is the paper strewn across the floor. A stab of guilt runs through her.

She should have been here and she knows it. She should have helped them.

The next thing she notices is the emptiness.

She swallows and squares her shoulders, heading unswervingly to the weapon's cabinet that's been cleared out. The only things left are a couple of crossbows and one of the small throwing axes. A summer of fighting for her life has given her proficiency with every weapon in the Angel Investigations arsenal and she picks them up without hesitation.

The papers on the floor catch her attention again and she peers at them in interest. She knows the symbol, her mind clicking back and forth like pages in a book. She identifies the right volume within seconds and sprints toward the office. As soon as she walks through the door though, she sees the large map on the wall, the same symbol scrawled across it. She sees the circled middle and knows the target.

She turns on her heel and heads toward the door again, the thought of walking back into the fire daunting, but she can't let them fight alone. Can't let him fight alone.

She reaches the lobby and stops short, staring into Lorne's face as he limps forward. Behind him, Wesley sets Gunn down on the sofa and she feels like her chest is on fire.

She wavers, the ax quavering in her nerveless fingers. She knows she should move or say something, but she can't. If she could have, she'd have said she was feeling relieved, guilty, happy, angry, sad, devastated, alone, loved, crazy, hungry, thirsty, warm, dirty, breathless and exhausted. But she can't speak.

The ax clatters to the ground, breaking the silence.

"Fred? Honey, you okay?" Lorne reaches for her, but she takes a step back.

His eyes are closed, his mouth bloody. Wesley hovers over him in concern. He won't look at her, he won't even move.

The world spins and for a second, she thinks it's only her. Then Lorne grabs her and pulls her under the lobby counter as plaster falls from the ceiling and pictures fling themselves off the walls. She grits her teeth as the floor bucks underneath her, burying her head against Lorne's shoulder.

Less than thirty seconds later, the aftershock is over and she takes a deep breath. Lorne starts to crawl out from under the counter, but she grabs his collar.

"Is he okay?"

"He's hurt, sugar." The way he says it makes her feel guilty. Like he knows everything he shouldn't. She lets him go and takes a deep breath, then crawls out into the open air. Her eyes go to him like a tractor beam as Wesley helps him off the floor, white bits of plaster dusting his shoulders like snow.

She approaches, unsure and aching. He still won't look at her.

"Are you okay, Fred?" Wesley asks, reaching out to touch her shoulder, but she pushes his hand away.

"I'm fine. Where's Angel?"

"We don't know." His gaze flickers toward the doors, where the sky is still burning. She feels her stomach drop and squeezes her eyes shut for a moment. When she opens them, she notices his hand is bleeding and winces in sympathy.

"You're bleeding."

His blue eyes tear away from her face and he regards the blood with a sigh. His gaze shifts from the wound to Gunn's dark, clouded face. "Tend to him."

He walks away and she's thankful.

His footsteps fade and she hears a siren wailing down the street. He won't look at her. She tries to make her thoughts linear and fails. Her mind races through phrases and speeches that don't seem to matter much. Her eyes rake over his hands and she sees the bent ax clutched in his palm.

"Your ax is bent." It's the stupidest thing she thinks she's ever said, but she's just glad she said something. His eyes flick over to her for the first time. "What happened?"

"Apocalypse demon." His voice is rough and full of pain.

"I'm sorry." She means it. Not just for the ax. He knows it and he smiles a little, the corners of his lips turning up. She misses that smile. And she suddenly realizes she misses him.

She sits at his feet and lays her head on his lap. His hand is heavy in her hair and she shivers with the thrill of his touch. His smell is the same, only now mingled with the aroma of smoke and plaster. She takes a breath and feels a sob in her throat.

As a child, she always wondered about the man she would fall in love with. She doesn't wonder anymore. She loves the man beneath her hands, the mysterious, shark-in-a-cage man who would kill for her. Has killed for her to save her from tainting her soul with the Professor's blood. She loves the darkness in his eyes and the newly grown patch of hair on his chin. She loves the way he comforts her at night.

She loves him and she can't believe she lost sight of that fact these past few weeks. Tears spill down her cheeks.

But she can't say it.

****

When he finally looks at her, he can see the pain in her huge, doe eyes. His own pain is forgotten for a moment and he smiles. He knows her apology was more than that. It was an entreaty for amends. Not that she needs it.

He never blamed her for his crime. He did it for her and he'd do it again. Still, he knows she feels guilt and probably a million other feelings right now. He doesn't care though. All he wants is to touch her once before the world burns.

When she sits at his feet, he puts his hand in her hair and sighs deeply, his ribs exploding with pain. He ignores it and concentrates on her. They don't speak and they don't need to. He knows her better than anyone on the planet. He sees Wesley glance their way once and he almost gloats. His concern over them dissolves in a moment.

They listen to the sirens and the screaming for what seems like hours. No one really moves. Lorne drinks from a tumbler that doesn't seem to empty, his lime green hands shaking and his eyes cast in shadow. Wesley hovers at the windows, watching the world burn. And Fred stays at his side, her hand in his and her eyes squeezed shut.

He half expects Angel to walk in, but he doesn't. He thinks he must be dust. He wonders where the Beast is and finds he doesn't have the strength wonder long. He thinks briefly of Connor and feels a twinge of concern for him, but he knows he can take care of himself. And Cordelia if she's with him.

The four of them wait in the dark hotel. Wait for the ax to fall and the world to end. They can't stop it and they know it. He wishes the end would get here sooner though. He feels pain surge through his body and thinks that something must be broken inside. He can't wait to not feel any pain.

There's another aftershock and Fred protects him from falling plaster again. When it stops, he pulls Fred into his arms and kisses her once, sweet and brief.

"I love you."

He thinks maybe she says it back, but he can't be sure. He doesn't have to hear it though. He knows it. Just like he knows she's the only thing he has left.

And soon, he won't even have that. If only the ax would fall.

(end)

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