Burn

When she gets back to the room, he's curled up on the bed, shockingly still. A plate of bread and cheese sits abandoned on the floor, a cooling mug of what looks like tea beside it. She closes the little window with a loud scrape, and sheds her rain-soaked jacket, and still he doesn't move.

Balancing the container of blood in one hand, she makes her way over to the bed and sits on the edge. He flinches when she lays a hand on his back, turning far enough that she can see the lines of hurt on his brow, tear tracks glistening on his cheeks.

"Angel," she says gently, realizing he must have thought she'd run from him. She presses a kiss to his forehead, and smoothes a hand down his arm. "Sit up."

He obeys slowly, moving as though physically beaten. And for a moment, the sickness that's been ravaging her body is gone, replaced by the all-consuming need to make things right with him.

He meets her gaze, and suddenly she's seventeen again, staring into the face of the man she's just condemned to hell.

-

Dawn watches the taillights of Xander's car fading into the darkness. As the gloom swallows them, a knot of dread forms in the pit of her stomach.

This is going to change them all. That much is certain.

She isn't ready to have the ground yanked from beneath her feet, all stability shattered again.

Knowing Buffy, she isn't going to come easily, even now. What nobody has been willing to say is that they will kill if necessary.

Dawn can't decide how to feel about that.

-

She drapes herself over his back, and presses the container of blood into his hands. He tenses against her, shivering as though he's somehow caught her fever.

"I shouldn't," he grates out, sounding agonized. "I don't deserve…any of this."

"I don't care about what you deserve!" The words surprise her, and stinging tears spring to her eyes. Silently, she curses the hold he still has on her after so many years. "I need you."

For a moment she thinks he's going to hit her or run. In her mind she sees Spike, chained to a chair and struggling to overcome his inner demons.

Silently, she takes the lid from the container and holds it to his lips. He goes slack against her as he starts to drink, and moans low in his throat. The sound reminds her of a dying animal.

-

Rain sizzles down the windshield, making the rubber of the wipers bubble and warp. Xander glances over his shoulder at the girls in the back of the van. Four pairs of eyes stare straight ahead, light from the road reflecting in their irises.

These girls are practically machines, factory branded and whipped into shape.

They are turning children into cold-blooded killers.

Such is the work of destiny.

-

She sits cross-legged on the bed, Angel sprawled across her lap, momentarily sated, eyes half-closed. Her fingers run back and forth through his hair, and she watches as if it's someone else's hand. There is a coldness to the contact, an emptiness that's crept into the space between them over the years.

For the first time in years, images of L.A. come to her, and she knows.

"Angel, what happened at Wolfram and Hart?" Her voice sounds foreign, crusty, like an old woman's. "What did you do?"

-

"The apocalypse," he says softly. "We—I—ended the world."

Standing in a ring of candles, Willow hesitates. She's been their leader since the night Los Angeles exploded.

Since Giles died.

Since Buffy lost her hold on reality.

Now, she's looking at a fight between her two best friends. She isn't sure who ought to win. Who she needs more.

Whose name to utter at the end of her spell.

-

"I thought maybe if I told you…" He pauses again, swallows hard. "I thought you might kill me."

"Oh god." The creature in her chest is tightening its jaws again, making her head spin and her vision go dark in patches. Suddenly she's back at the mansion, the long, heavy sword at her side, the cut on her arm stinging like hell. Watching the storm winds of hell swirl open behind him, even as a look of total peace settles over his features. "You brought me here to kill you?"

"There's no other way." His voice is flat, utterly defeated. "You're my last…hope."

Then she's on her feet, righteous anger surging through her, though the room is still spinning. Everything freezes around her, crashing down until there's nothing but bitterness.

The world has used her. Chewed up her heart and spit it back, a useless mass of dead tissue.

How dare he?

How fucking dare he?

She knows suddenly that she isn't ever going to be finished, not really.

"Damn you!" she screams, over and over again, driving her fists into his chest until everything is floating around her, and she can't be sure that anything is real.

When her knuckles are an angry red, and her arms have gone numb, Angel grabs her wrists and pulls, crushing her against the mattress beneath his body. He growls as he kisses her, the faintest tang of blood still on his lips.

-

There is something very wrong with the sky tonight. The rain continues to pour down, but the sky isn't getting any clearer. When the lightning comes, it exposes the bloated bellies of huge low-hanging cloudbanks. There's a stillness in the air, a foreboding quietness in the rain.

Dawn kneels on her bed, eyes glued to the sky, and wishes she believed in prayer.

-

His chest is stained purple with bruises when she wrestles his shirt over his head. She can see the shape of her fists on his skin, marks so dark they are practically black where her knuckles made contact. She brushes her fingers over the marks, disgusted with herself. His eyes falls closed, and he shudders again.

"I'm sorry," he says, so softly she thinks she's imagined it. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have brought you into this."

She shoves his shoulder hard, until he rolls onto his back, taking her with him.

"I wanted to tell you. Every time you came." He takes hold of her shoulders, keeping her in place above him. She doesn't have the strength to fight him off. "I kept hoping you'd come to end it. Me."

"Shut up," she snaps, and kisses him so he can't reply.

-

"Stop," says one of the girls as they pull up to the airport. Xander isn't sure what her name is, just that she is one of the fiercest Slayers they have. He slams on the brakes, and the black pickup behind them nearly smashes the back end of his car.

"Careful!" One of the other girls, though he's too distracted to turn and see which.

"What's wrong?" He asks, resisting the urge to snap at them. And then he sees why they've stopped.

People are rushing from the airport so quickly that children are getting trampled. Fear is tangible in the air as Xander roles the windows down, screams floating up to make his skull throb. There's a strange burned scent in the air, but it isn't quite smoke.

"Bomb," says a woman into a cell phone.

"Storm," says a man to his crying wife.

"The borders have been closed," says an official voice through an unseen megaphone. "Nobody goes in or out."

"The apocalypse," whispers one of the girls.

No, thinks Xander. It'll be much worse before it's over.

-

The ground starts to shake as she pulls her shirt over her head, the window rattling loudly in its frame. The bedsprings protest and the blanket slides to the floor. Angel works her pants and underwear down her legs and drops them off the side of the trembling bed.

"Something's happening," he murmurs, turning his head away, ashamed.

"Let it happen." It's not her responsibility anymore.

-

"Willow!" Dawn pounds desperately on the door, thinking she'll break it if it doesn't open soon. "Willow, get up!"

The door flies open, and Dawn nearly loses her balance. Willow is wide-eyed, little pieces of her hair standing on end. She looks like a terrified cat. "I—I was meditating. What happened?"

"I don't know," says Dawn, trying to keep the panic out of her voice. "Mass panic, someone raised the alarm. They've closed the borders again. I don't know if Xander—"

"It'll be all right," says Willow, too quickly.

-

The wind sounds like a tortured animal as it howls all around the thin old walls of the bed and breakfast. There are screams in the air tonight, and Buffy isn't sure whether they come from within or without. If it matters.

For a moment her thoughts stray to Angel's little cabin, and she wonders whether it's still standing. Unexpected tears spring to her eyes at the thought of its inevitable destruction, her senses suddenly overwhelmed by the weight of the world.

Angel hovers predatorily over her body, and finds his way between her legs. She jumps as he pinches a nipple between his teeth, his erection pressing into her. His body looks deceptively fragile in the occasional strobe of lightning, all sunken ribs and jagged hip bones, the pale skin of his chest jagged with thin white scars under her bruising. She closes her eyes and thinks how easy it would be to break him, to drive a stake through his heart as she did the sword before. To give him his wish.

His fingers ghost over her other breast until her entire body is covered in gooseflesh, and she isn't sure whether the raw, needy sounds are from the storm or her throat.

"Angel," she whispers, and he is inside her with one powerful thrust.

-

"We have to get back," says Xander to the girls. "Willow will need us at the compound."

"The mission—" That's all they care about, he thinks bitterly. Mission. Fate. Destiny.

Everything a Slayer should be, only they have a thousand now, and it isn't doing the world a bit of good.

-

Lightning strikes the ground outside, and a ball of green fire comes skittering down the window frame and into the room. It plays across the floor in a jagged line, and little sparks singe the edges of the blankets. She watches, fascinated by its deadliness as Angel moves above her. He buries his face in the soft skin between her breasts, lips and tongue sending little prickles all over her body.

And then she's coughing again, her mouth thick with the metallic taste of blood, gold pinwheels of oxygen deprivation dancing across her field of vision to join the lightning. He doesn't stop, but covers her lips with his own, teeth shifting into fangs beneath her tongue.

The ball of fire hits the edge of the blanket full-on, and the sheets at the foot of the bed burst into flames. Adrenaline surges through her as his motions become harder, faster, pulling the air from her and driving her into the bed until she can feel the frame beneath the mattress. He isn't making any move to get away from the fire, knowing it will certainly spell his death.

She wraps her legs around his waist and rolls, forcing him away from the side of the bed that's burning. "No you don't," she manages past the thickness in her throat. "You're not going anywhere without me."

The window explodes as she comes, gleaming shards of glass grazing her skin like a million daggers. The storm roars in, a wall of wind and water engulfing them as Angel goes still against her.