Author:  Meltha

Rating:  PG

Feedback:  Yes, thank you.

Spoilers:  For "A Hole in the World"

Distribution:  The Blackberry Patch and  If you're interested, please let me know.

Summary:  After the Deeper Well, Spike and Angel still face a long plane flight back to L.A.

Disclaimer: All characters are owned by Mutant Enemy (Joss Whedon), a wonderfully creative company whose characters I have borrowed for a completely profit-free flight of fancy.  Kindly do not sue me, please, as I am terrified of you.  Thank you.

Four Hours

Neither of them had said a word since they left the Deeper Well, at least none that mattered.  Angel had produced his cell phone from inside the pockets of his coat and called the pilot, informing her that they would be leaving for Los Angeles as soon as they arrived.  The words came out as sharp, pointed things, too rough on his lips.  He had seen Spike wince at the sound of his voice, and he knew why.  It was as though everything were somehow magnified, and the softest noise was repellent.  It dared to break the sanctity of their horrified shock. 

They arrived without incident at the tiny airfield on the outskirts of the Cotswolds.  The jet's door opened as soon as they set foot on the tarmac, the stairs descending towards them with a torpid movement that felt funereal.  Their footfalls on the metal steps were nearly imperceptible, the sounds made by predators who walked silently by instinct when it suited their mood to be invisible.  The co-pilot greeted Angel with a smile that was too wide, and the vampire's cold glare made him turn pale.  Informing them that they would leave as soon as the pilot received permission, he half-fled back to the safety of the cockpit, leaving the two of them standing in the middle of the cabin uselessly.

It took a great effort of will for both of them to sit and fasten their seatbelts.  Angel's fingers were suddenly made of lead, and his body felt as inflexible as cold stone.  The windows were filled with darkness now, something he preferred to the disconcerting sunlight that had filtered through the necro-tinted glass on their original trip.  He had seen sunlight fairly recently, and that wasn't it.  The quality of that light was never quite right, always deprived of the golden glow and warmth the sun should give.  Instead, it was as dead as they were.  He didn't need another reminder of death now.

"This is your captain speaking," suddenly blared over the intercom.  "We've been cleared for takeoff and will be leaving momentarily.  Estimated arrival in L.A. should be 5:00 a.m. local time."

The aircraft shuddered to life, and once again Angel found himself thinking that this thing, this metal object that weighed more than a dozen elephants, shouldn't be able to fly.  The screaming of the engines grew unrelentingly louder, and Spike turned his head towards the window, away from Angel.  The younger vampire had been terrified during takeoff on their first flight.  He'd smelled it coming off of him in waves, but he'd said nothing since there was at least as much fear coming from himself.   But no scent tainted the air in the cabin now from either of them.  The prospect of a fiery death didn't seem to matter to either of them anymore.

They were lurched forcefully back into their seats by the acceleration of the jet as it sped forward.  The dizzying moment when they felt the front wheels, then the back, leave the ground as they were rocketed off of the world and into space passed soon enough.  They both looked below, and though no words passed, each knew the other was thinking of the gaping hole in the darkness somewhere below them, of the pierced earth that had long since ceased to make sense to either of them.

Time passed in silence.  The seatbelt light went off, and they were free to move if they wished.  They didn't, though.  Both sat perfectly still, dead things.

At long last, Angel moved his wrist, checking his watch.  It seemed to take an immense amount of concentration.  Only half an hour had passed.

"Three and a half to go," he said, not looking at Spike, who, unseen, nodded his head slightly in response.

"You think we should call?" the blond suddenly blurted out. 

Angel stared at him, actually looking at him.  Spike's eyes didn't really hold hope except perhaps that this was all a nightmare.

"You know what we'll hear if we do.  You know she's…," Angel's voice drifted off, not wanting the word to form.

"We don't know that for certain yet," Spike said coldly. 

"Damn it, Spike!  Shut up!  You know as well as I do that Fred's gone," he exploded. 

"Yeah, well, maybe your old buddy Ragu or whatever the hell his name is suddenly acquired the highly desirable skill of lying!  Ever think of that, you stupid ponce?" Spike shot back.

"No," Angel said in a disorientingly calm tone.  "And you don't believe that he's lying either."

"I know what I think and what I don't think," Spike spat, finally finding the strength to undo the buckle and stand, facing his grandsire.  "You can't screw around inside my head and decide what I think for me!"

"We failed," Angel growled.  "We both know it.  So sit down and shut up!"

"No!" he yelled, getting in Angel's face.  "I do not know it, and neither do you."

Angel stared at the face in front of his, every line of it carved in anger, a thin mask for the desperate hurt beneath it.  Angel reached in his pocket and produced the cell, pressing it into Spike's hand.

"You call, then," he said, his voice quiet.  "You know the number as well as I do."

Spike stared at the small bundle of microchips and plastic in his hand, his mouth working into a grimace of disgust.  His shoulder twitched convulsively for a moment, then he pitched the phone headlong towards the cockpit door, embedding it in the thick metal.

"So this is being a champion, eh?" he yelled accusingly at Angel.  "We get to save innocents, but not anyone we care about?  Is that the way this game goes?  Anyone we care for can't be rescued?"

"I don't know," Angel said simply looking at the floor, endlessly tired.  "It seems that way."

"Well, I'm bloody well tired of it!  I spent a century trying to save Dru from what you did to her," he growled viciously, "and that never came to anything.  I lost Buffy, couldn't save her, got beaten by some stupid lizard-tongued flunky demon, and she was never the same again.  That one's all my fault, mate.  Believe me, I've tried to find a way to pin it on you, and it's not possible.  Now, Fred?  I swore… she was…"

"What?  Kind?  Sweet?" Angel said, raising his face towards Spike and uncaring of the teartracks he had exposed.  "Someone who saw the face of your monster and looked at it without being afraid.  Someone you could love without ever needing to own?  Something pure?  I was there before you, Spike.  Neither of us has much in the way of friends, but she loved with her whole heart.  Even me."  He sank slowly back in his seat, staring blankly out the window.  "Even you."

A long moment passed, and Angel felt Spike's eyes on him.  He expected a loud, raucous retort, an angry insult or some half-crazy declaration of his hatred for the other man, but there was nothing.  More time passed, and the eddying changes in altitude and turbulance marked its passage.  Like life, Angel thought.  He could tell it was passing from the jolts it gave him, one after the other in a never-ending succession with just enough pause in between to make him believe that perhaps, just maybe, the next shock wasn't coming.  Then it always did.  Buffy.  Doyle.  Darla.  Connor.  Cordy.  Fred.  There was always going to be another jolt until the ride was finally over.

The pressure on his shoulder was something of a surprise, but he didn't move.  Spike's hand was resting there, and he could feel a plea in the tentative touch of the fingertips on the leather of his jacket.  He wasn't sure he had the strength to turn his head away from the window, but he did, and he looked into eyes that were as weary as his own.

There was understanding between them in that moment.  For Angel, Fred had been the one person who hadn't reacted with horror, fear, and disgust at his demon, even in its worst state.  She had simply accepted it as part of him.  It was a moment that, when control had returned to him, he could barely believe had even occurred.  Accepted as he was, completely.  For Spike, in the midst of being sucked into a hell he felt he deserved, Fred was the angel who fought for his soul like a female version of St. Michael armed with a quantum physics book instead of a flaming sword.  For both of them, she had been the embodiment of a hope they had long ago stopped believing could ever exist.   And now, there was more than one hole in the world.

"I'm so tired," Spike murmured helplessly.  "Just so tired."

Angel knew neither of them had slept in over thirty-six hours, and yet he also knew it wasn't really what Spike meant. 

"Should probably try to get some sleep before we land," Angel said. 

"Yeah," Spike agreed.  "Don't know what we're in for when we get back."

Spike took his original seat again, reclining his chair until it was almost flat, and pulled his duster around him loosely.  Angel watched as he wrapped his arms around himself tightly in a gesture that seemed to be becoming a habit for him ever since the amulet.  He decided he should take his own advice and try to sleep as well, but the cabin lights were far too bright.  Unlatching his seatbelt, he stood with a strange sensation that nothing but air was below him for several thousand feet except for a little metal and fiberglass.  He unsteadily made his way to the two desks and clicked off the lamp on each one, making the place at least a bit less glaring to his eyes.

As he was returning to his seat, he looked at Spike again.  He was miserable and small, and he looked strangely fragile lying there, curled tightly against the armrest.  Angel stood still for a long time, just looking at him.

Spike's eyes flickered open when he felt the other weight settle against him on the chair.  A pair of strong arms closed tightly around him, pulling him towards a broad chest, and his head was tucked under a chin.  It was more than a surprise, but his only response was to move deeper into Angel's sheltering embrace, lending his own strength in return.  They clung together in their brief sleep until the plane landed in the air that was beginning to smell like daybreak.