She still has his lighter. The surface is smooth in her hand, worn by years of his touch. He'd always carried it, even after he'd stopped smoking, given up because she didn't like the smell. She knew it must have had a history for him, some memories invoked by its familiar weight, the way it fitted in his hand, the flare of the flame. She had never asked him. There was so much she'd never asked him.
She isn't sure even now why she'd picked it up that last night, why she'd slipped it into her pocket when she'd woken by his side and taken it with her to face their fate. A talisman. A symbol. Something of his she could return after… after…
But there had been no after.
She flicks the lighter open, strikes a blue-gold flame, watches it flicker gently in the soft breeze warm with the scents of a Roman spring. She looks at her reflection in the mirror, at the solemn green eyes staring steadily back at her, their shadowed depths reflecting the light of the flame.
They should have had their happy ever after. They deserved that. He deserved that.
But… it wasn't to be.
He hadn't come back. He'd died a Champion's death; he chose to die because it was what he had to do, because it was the right thing to do. It had taken a long time, but she understands now. And every day she wakes and she remembers and loves him more because of it.
Love. So much in a word. Four little letters that she'd thought she'd understood.
Until that moment. Until it was too late.
She is always going to love him. He will be there, in the core of her heart, and she'd never want it any other way, because if he went there would be a cold, empty space that she'd never fill again. All that they'd had, all they had been, is written on her soul, woven through her being, bright as the fire that had taken him away. Time passes, the world turns, life goes on and she has no choice but to go on with it. And maybe the time will come when he won't be there as she wakes, there as she closes her eyes at night. Maybe days will go by when she doesn't think of him – but the memory of him will never be more than a whisper away.
She can still close her eyes and draw back the feel of him, the cool strength of his arms around her, holding her to him, holding her together. Sometimes the feeling is so intense she'll almost believe he's there, that if she just opens her eyes she'll see his face, see his eyes soften with the smile her has only for her, the smile that no-one else had seen, the Spike that no-one else had seen. Her Spike.
But she is never going to see him again.
And although the knife-sharp, gut-wrenching despair that went with that realisation has faded to a blunt-edged, empty ache, it still hurts.
She knows she has to make her afterlife without him, and for him, for all he did – and she's doing… OK. A new life in a new city with real job – no longer the 'one girl in the world', she's big sister to a whole horde of young slayers, a somewhat uncomfortable elder statesman for the new fighters against evil. She's needed and valued. She goes dancing, shopping, laughs with her friends – and if at first this had just been a shell, a cover for the inward lost and confused Buffy no-one saw, it was becoming easier to don that shell, easier to be the Buffy she knew everyone wanted her to be. So, here she is with an apartment of her own and a good, grown-up relationship with Dawn and a new – well, boyfriend, she supposes, who spoils and flatters her but who was is superficial as she keeps the relationship. Superficial is good right now. Life is – if not peachy – at least shaping up to be just that; a life. A life.
But despite everything, occasionally, just occasionally, she wishes – so hard it takes her breath away and she has to fold her arms tightly, very, very tightly, around the hurt to stop herself breaking – she wishes that he was here to share it with her.
The phone is ringing, insistent, invasive, intruding on her internal world.
Time to go. She's late for her date. Again
She watches the bright, steady flame a moment longer, then flips the lighter closed and slips it into its familiar home, in the left hand front pocket of her jeans.
"So, what? We just have to live with it? Get on with our lives?"
"Fine. No problem. I was plannin' on doin' that anyway."
"Yeah, me, too."
"Actually, I'm doin' it right now. As we speak, I'm movin' on."
Spike sniffed hard. "Don't s'pose you fancy movin' on down to the pub, then?"
"You're asking me out for a drink?" Angel's surprise was almost palpable.
"But it's the middle of the day."
Spike looked at him in sheer disbelief. "And?"
Angel paused and gave it some more thought. "Me?" he asked eventually.
"You want to go out drinking with me?" Angel was clearly having problems getting his head around this.
Spike's patience snapped. "No," he said acidly, "not really, but there's no-one else around!"
"Oh, thanks," Angel huffed. "Well, if I'm not even first reserve…"
Spike rolled his eyes in despair. "Oh, for… don't be an arse all your life! C'mon. Let's go drown some sorrows. Toast our new, shiny Buffy-free lives. Be like the old days... only without the muderin' an' pillagin' an' corrupting of the innocents. Although if you fancy it…"
"I…" Angel hesitated, then shook his head. "Nah. I got things to do." He sat down at his desk importantly.
Spike wasn't giving up that easily. "C'mon! Nothin' that won't wait, I'll wager. Surely the mighty evil empire can lumber on without you for an hour or so!"
"Yeah, but it won't be an hour or so, will it?"
"Well – no. Was kinda hopin' maybe a few beers, nice little lap dancin' club I know. There's this one girl, you should see the size of her… What?" he raised his arms in response to Angel's snort of disgust. "Movin' on, remember? So – what, you're gonna sit and brood all on your lonesome? Well, full marks for consistency but minus several thousand for imagination. What is it with you? Soul doesn't have to equal bloody boring, you know. Look at me! Still know how to have a good time, soul or no."
"Yeah, I know your 'good times'. Which is why I'm staying." Angel sighed heavily and looked up at Spike earnestly. "Things are going down, Spike. Big things. Need to keep my finger on the pulse."
"Yeah? What's up?" Spike settled on the corner of Angel's desk and gave hin his best concerned look.
"I… can't tell you."
"Oh." Spike frowned. "But you would if you could, right?"
"Well… actually… no."
"Thought not. Bloody drama queen." He sniffed. "Well, stuff you, mate. I'm gonna go get completely outta my tree and pick up a bird. Maybe two. Hope you an' the law firm from hell will be very happy together. Have a good brood." He set off across Angel's office at a swagger.
"You got over her quick." Angel's voice stopped him in his tracks.
He kept his back to his grandsire, hiding the flash of hurt. "Yeah. No point livin' in the past. Like we said. Movin' on."
"You know… you know it's for the best, right? Last thing Buffy needs right now is either of us complicating things."
"Last thing… yeah…" Spike made for the door determinedly.
"Walk away is the best thing all round."
"Yeah, well, you're the one with all the experience of that, mate, so I guess you know best, huh?" He made it to the door and kept walking. "Wastin' good drinkin' time here. Enjoy the sticking your finger wherever, yeah?" He closed the door to Angel's office behind him and leaned back against it, eyes shut.
"Spikey?" Harmony's voice greeted him. "Are you OK?"
He straightened up, frowning. "Yeah. Why wouldn't I be?"
"Oh, I dunno. Just thought, you know, having been over to Rome and what with the slayer," Harmony imbued the word with a healthy dose of sneering disdain, "being there, just wondered…"
"Well, don't. Everything's fine. Better than fine."
"Oh, OK…" Harmony didn't look or sound convinced. "Look, it's lunchtime. I know this really cool little sushi bar, it's, like, where all the stars hang out, and you can even get that poisonous fish there that I so wouldn't try because, you know, it's really, really deadly if they get it wrong and it can kill you… even although technically… I guess I'm dead already… Anyway, I was thinking I might just go down there right now, and maybe you'd…" she hesitated and smile awkwardly, "…wanna come?"
He looked at her blankly. "No."
"Oh." Harmony's smile crumpled.
Spike felt a twinge of conscience. "Don't like raw fish, pet."
"Oh! Oh, we could go somewhere else…" Harmony's smile battled on.
"Another time, huh? I gotta…" he gestured vaguely. "Stuff goin' down. Angel wants me to… Is there an office free?"
"An office?" Harmony hesitated uncomfortably. "Well, Gunn's not around, but…"
"That'll do nicely." Spike headed towards the empty office purposefully.
"But I don't think you're…" Harmony called after him.
"No problem." Spike raised a hand but kept walking. "Enjoy the fish."
He closes the door of the office behind him and makes for the hospitality bar, helps himself to a bottle of whiskey, opens it and throws himself down in Gunn's chair. Through the necroglass of the window he can see the pale sun, high in a hazed and gritty sky, the occasional seabird making its desultory way seawards, the glint of silver on aeroplane high above the brown-tinged clouds. He can hear the muted murmurings of the traffic below, the everyday noises of the building and its inhabitants, temporary and otherwise, doing whatever it was Evils'R'Us did at lunchtime of a working week. The world moving on.
He takes a drink from the bottle and winces as the neat spirit hits his growlingly empty stomach.
Lunch time. It would be evening in Rome, then. Buffy would be probably be getting ready to go out with… he winces … the Immortal.
What the bloody hell was she thinking…?
No, he shrugs the tension out of his shoulders. That was OK. Her life, her choice. She'd moved on, got herself the normal… normalish… life she'd wanted and he was good with that. Happy to see her happy. Way it should be. Last thing either of them needed was stirring up the past. Angel had it right – walk away. She's better off without him. It's the right thing to do.
Yeah. He purses his lips and nods at the bottle in his hands. He's good with that.
A scowl gradually settles on his forehead, his lower lip drawing forward into a pout.
Like hell he was.
"Bollocks." He growls, slamming the bottle down on Gunn's desk and sending a spray of neat liquor over what were quite probably earth-changingly important papers. He is not good with that. He is not good with lurking here in LA, burying his head in the sand and trying to be something he isn't when the woman he loves… loves… is thousands of miles away and doesn't even know he's back. He is not good with maybe never knowing if what he'd seen in her at the Hellmouth was real or imagination or just some bloody cosmic joke by the Powers that seemed to be intent on fucking his life up. And anyway, he's more than happy to take that risk – he is not good with being a bleeding coward. And he most definitely is not good with being some pseudo-bloody-Angel.
Stuff the 'right thing'.
He. Is. NOT. Good.
He's almost mastered it. The alcohol helps – except when he goes too far, which, on reflection is more often than not. And the riling Angel, that helps, and the launching himself into unlikely alliances and even less likely battles and… hell, even the pulverisings Blue gives him help. Help stop him thinking too much, help keep her memory carefully locked away, just close enough to feel, but not near enough to hurt. He'd shut her away, refused the flames of what he felt for her the oxygen of her memory, let himself grow cold from lack of the fire, numbed his heart to save himself the pain. But the emptiness of the cold is worse than the pain of the fire.
Well, fuck that.
He wants the fire back.
He closes his eyes and lets her come, the sight-taste-feel-sound-smell of her that is written in his blood. A kaleidoscope of images, of sensations, of pain and joy, of fear and trust, and desire and hate, and lies and truth, of the feel of her warmth around him, the smell of her hair, the sound of her voice, the taste of her mouth on his… all imprinted so deeply that the strength of what fills him feels almost real, and for a heart wrenching, breathless moment he thinks if he opens his eyes he'll see her face, her smile, the Buffy only he saw. The Buffy he loved… loves still... with body, mind, soul, being.
Angel was wrong. Walking away was not the right thing. Not for him.
He opens his eyes.
Besides – he'd made a promise to a lady. He reaches into his duster pocket, pulls out a worn and charred PostIt note, and carefully smoothes it flat on the desk, his finger lingering on the faded ink of the numbers. Real lady she'd been too. He hesitates a moment longer, sniffs, shrugs his courage into place, picks up the phone and dials.
In a small apartment somewhere in Rome, a phone is ringing…
He makes a deal with himself. He thinks – seven rings. Seven rings then I'll hang up…
She checks her make-up in the mirror, flicks a speck of mascara from her cheek.
He closes his eyes, tries not to think, just to wait…
She picks up her bag, frowns at the phone…
He tries to ignore the tightening in his throat, the growing sense of desperation…
Her hand is almost on the door and she's biting down on annoyance, because really, she's not that late…
Seven… his hand tightens on the phone. Well, what did you expect?
She shakes her head, gives a resigned sigh and picks up the phone… to silence.
She listens for a moment to the echoing emptiness and feels a sudden desperate longing, a sudden surge of hope so strong it takes her breath away and she can only whisper…
There is a pause – a second that seems to last for eternity.
"Hello, Buffy," he says softly.
And the grieving ends.