Title: Perfect Memory (1/1)
Summary: A tale of two vampires.
Disclaimer: Relax, house of Whedon. I have no claim on the Scoobies or the L.A gang. Feedback…It's better than a parade with 76 bloody trombones.
Keywords: B/S, C/A. AU.
When you are corn and roses and at rest,
I shall endure, a dense and sanguine ghost,
To bend above the thing I loved the most,
To rise, and wring my hands and steal away,
As I do now, before advancing day----Edna St. Vincent Millay
He was an old soul when Buffy knew and loved him, as only a beautiful girl experiencing passion for the first time can know and love another. Now, a century removed from that moment of hope, he felt ancient, as if the burdens of age were settling on his heart when they gained no purchase on his bones or his handsome face. Both remained forever young.
He was still dark, and soulful--and waiting for redemption.
He still marched outside the flow of time, and his path was circuitous, always leading back to places that held a sacred meaning for him. Not holy sanctuaries, as we think of them, but still beloved because the moments that took place there forever altered what he stood for, who he was, and who he became. Places like the barren lot where his hotel once towered against the city skyline…the shell of Caritas…the mid-point between L.A. and Sunnydale where his path joined the Slayer's and finally diverged from hers. And there were tragic places, like the paved street, cobbled in his boyhood, where death came for him in the irresistible form of a beautiful, bejeweled lady. There was the room where Cordelia slipped into death as easily and naturally as she slid into the latest Paris fashions. There was her grave.
It had been years since he last stood here, in what was Sunnydale in the years before the third world war found its way to peaceful shores. Years since he'd been to this little plot of earth, where Buffy slept out the war, safe from the chaos raging above. The devastation changed the world, and rebuilding spanned the lifetimes of the war generation, their children, and their children's children. New cities rose where there had been prairie and grassland, while the old stomping grounds were largely abandoned. They remained only in the hearts and memories of those who survived, a rougher, simpler breed. They endured and prevailed--but never forgot.
Buffy's Sunnydale was among the lost cities. There were only groves of young trees now and miles of unbroken field where the Magic Box, the Bronze, and the Summers house once stood; not even night creatures dwelled there now. The vampires were gone, taking the demons and the ghorras and the werewolves with them. They went in search of another Hellmouth, leaving no trace of their presence on the land. But, he dared to imagine, that should another city rise here, its builders would find an unusual assortment of bones beneath the surface, picked clean by sharp little teeth and polished smooth by the hands of time. Probably animals, they'd say, and go back to their task of nation building. Vampires weren't immune from the bombs, or the famine, or the very cruelties they'd visited on mortals. Ironically, they'd suffered alongside humanity and lost nearly as much. Angel was among the oldest, since Darla had lost her unlife somewhere south of the border, in Argentina or Mexico, he didn't remember which.
There was no stone to mark this spot, but a knarled tree, probably the grandchild of the one that spread cherry blossoms in Buffy's day, leaned over her resting place, a living marker and a sentinel, faithful at the birth of the year and at its end. The dark vampire stood there for a long time, silent in black, an image frozen ages ago and transplanted onto a changing landscape. Had it really been a century since he'd been in this very spot, helping consign her to the earth? The cherry tree was in bloom then, and so was the young sister. They were all there: Watchers, and witches, vampires, lovers, dreamers, demons and troubadours--nature's odds and ends. A strange little family bound together by their great love for the golden girl who died in life's morning. They buried her in the evening, and a new Slayer rose by dawn.
He was startled from his thoughts by the crunch of a footfall in the long, sharp grass that stretched for miles in place of gardens and manicured lawns, thoroughfares and avenues. He turned warily, the habit of centuries, and his still, dead heart surely leapt.
What heart doesn't leap at the site of a returning child, especially the wayward one, who was never yours at all?
He'd changed little in the decades since they'd last met, in a world on fire. His hair was darker then, having reverted to its natural brown--bleach, like most luxuries, was hard to come by. He looked stronger now, his hands no longer shaking with fatigue and the desperate desire for a cigarette amid the privation. They'd trembled on that hellish night outside burning London, when the two of them, and a crying Dawn, dug a grave for Giles. Clinging to one another in the crucible of war, petty grievances gave way to survival at all costs.
Perhaps forgiveness began then.
Angel vividly remembered slashing his own wrist and holding it to Spike's mouth, and how the former Big Bad had reached out to cover Dawn's eyes. Spike had mumbled a few words as the last handful of dirt fell on the body of Rupert Giles, Watcher and caretaker, the memory and the heart. It was the only benediction they had time for, with the bombs dropping close. Angel remembered thinking how easy it was to forget, until a moment like that, that Spike wasn't born a hell-raiser. He'd been a poet, once, and young.
---There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped made aware
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam---
The lines weren't his own, but they were fitting and right. Spike may have lacked poetic talent, but he loved words and wielded them well.
The two regarded each other across the bridge of memory that spanned a shared nightmare. Finally, the newcomer spoke.
His hair, bleached back to the shade Angel remembered so vividly, gleamed in the moonlight. Angel studied the planes of his face, just visible beyond the glow of a cigarette. He was, as always, a compelling blend of dark and bright.
"It's been a long time."
"That it has, mate."
He sidled to Angel's side. "I've often wondered if we should have stuck together--you, me and Dawn. But you hared off to find your lady. Did you find her in time?"
"Cordelia? Yes. I got her out just before the bombs hit."
"Did she…?" Spike let the question hang in the night air.
"Survive the war? Yes." Angel laughed softly. "I wouldn't have believed it possible, when I first met her…Cordelia, the May Queen, lasting through war, and hunger, famine, and disease, dressing in whatever she could find as long as it was warm. She was very strong." Unbidden, tears filled his eyes. "Cordy was still beautiful at ninety." He paused, choosing his next words carefully. "You and she were the two people in my life who always told me exactly what I didn't want to hear, but needed to." He sighed. "I miss her."
Spike didn't answer, but bent down and trailed his fingers across the dry soil where the Slayer's tombstone once stood. Angel focused on his bright hair and waited patiently. Perhaps he was thinking about Buffy and Cordelia, two women who died at opposite ends of the life spectrum.
Spike spoke at last. "When the shit hit the fan, I was glad, in a way, that Buffy wasn't here to see it. Death had marked her life so much, y'know?" He tossed his fag into the weeds. "I tell myself that on the good days. But, right now, I'd give anything to have had the chance to survive it with her."
Angel looked up into the night sky. He was struck by the choices, or lack of, that guide the way.
Who would have dreamed, at Buffy's funeral, that the two of them would ever stand here, discussing the extraordinary women they'd loved and lost and couldn't let go of, all these years later? Who could have imagined it, when he was so angry that it hadn't been him holding her when she died, but Spike? Spike had been the one to comfort her, embrace her, and say goodbye in the last, precious seconds of her short and wondrous life. If it weren't for Cordelia--beautiful, gifted Cordelia--he'd probably still hate Spike; Cordelia, who was living proof that a man, or a woman, can have more than one great love in a lifetime. Old lovers and loves burn in the heart forever, but as an eternal flame rather than a conflagration. He understood and accepted this truth: he was Buffy's first love; Spike was her last.
He smiled sadly at the vagaries of fate. How far removed they were from how they'd begun, as a London gentleman and a wild colonial boy.
Spike looked up at him questioningly. Angel shrugged. "I was thinking how ironic it is. I was there when Buffy began her life as Slayer. You were there at the end."
Angel leaned against the old tree, lost in memory. "The first time I saw Buffy, she was walking with her friends, golden in the sunlight. She looked like a fairytale princess."
Spike snorted, the old smirk tugging at his fine lips. "The first time I saw Buffy, she was dancing in the dark, a seductress. Princess, my arse."
Angel wondered how two men could remember one woman so differently, but with such love.
"She was kickin' up those pretty heels with the Whelp and Red."
Angel took a moment to decipher the Spike-speak. "I miss Willow. I wish she were here."
Spike patted the ground beside Buffy's spot. "Why, she is, " he said, as if surprised at Angel's ignorance. "I buried her here, with my own two hands, just before Dawn and I left to find the Watcher. Anya was gone, Xander dead of a broken heart. Of Tara, we'd heard nothing. It was just Red, Dawn and ol' Spike." The blond vampire looked at Angel, and the elder was shocked at the sadness in the younger's blue eyes. "She was in such pain--the radiation and all. Begged me to end it for her, to make it quick."
"And did you?" Angel knew the answer before it came.
Spike nodded. "I did what I had to do."
Angel couldn't fault him for it. He remembered how, during the worst of the hunger, vampires had abandoned their few rules of conduct and bit everything that moved, including children. More than once, he and Cordy had been forced to put some newly turned little girl or boy out of their hunger and misery.
Spike continued his narrative. "Then Niblet and me, we ran. I promised the Slayer, you see."
It was Angel's turn to snort. "Bullshit. You loved that child like your own, promise or no promise."
"Yeah, "Spike sighed. "She was ours, really, mine and Buffy's. No one loved her like we did." He lit another cigarette. "Did you know, that just before Buffy died, Dawn wanted to leave us, to go wanderin' and see the world? I remember that night like it was yesterday…it was her nineteenth birthday. We were sitting out on the back porch, the three of us. Niblet had her feet in my lap." Spike smiled at the memory. "Suddenly, Sweet Bit looks up at the stars and announces that she's leavin' on some kind of bloody grand tour."
Spike glanced up at those same, patient stars. "In the end, we could deny her nothing--even freedom."
Spike fell silent, so Angel finished the story. "But Buffy was killed. Then the war came."
"Yeah, the little one saw the world all right. Saw it come down around her bloody ears. We barely made it."
"But she lived, didn't she?" A wave of sadness swept over Angel, for all the ones who didn't: Wesley, and Gunn and timid little Fred, who slayed the cockroach demon and warded off terror with Pi; Xander, Giles, Anya and the Wiccas; the two slayers, strong Buffy and beautiful, half-broken Faith; gentle Joyce Summers, the irrepressible Lorne, Oz-wolf, and Janna of the Kalderash, who fell victim to his own Angelus.
"Yup. Married, had kids, the whole deal. The school let Niblet have what for, 'cause her bunch kept scarin' the other kids with stories about their vampire uncle." He grinned evilly. "No one had much in those days, just after the war. Just each other. Family was everything, like in the olde days."
Angel cringed at the corruption of Dawn's offspring. "You're a sick man, William."
"William…no one but Dru ever called me that."
Angel shifted uncomfortably. "Did you know that she…"
"Died? Yes, in the Hunger. I know."
"I was there," Angel admitted. "I had to be." Drusilla was his great sin, the one that haunted him. "She said she could hear her mother singing, as sweet as she remembered."
That could have been a tear on Spike's pale face, or a trick of moonlight. "Maybe we all see our mothers at the end. Buffy told me she could feel Joyce's arms around 'er, holdin' tight." He shrugged. "We all find peace in our own way, I wager."
"Spike?" There was something Angel had to know, though he'd heard the words before. He needed to hear it again. "With Buffy…was it a good death?"
Spike thought for a long moment. "Depends on how you look at it. I would have liked for her to see ninety, like your girl. It took us years to get together, you know---she didn't just fall into my arms. We were enemies first, then allies, then friends, and finally lovers." Spike had the good sense to skirt quickly over the last. There were places where even he didn't go. "Our time together was too bloody short, and it wasn't all beer and skittles, believe you me. There were some hard times." Spike paused painfully. "But she wasn't afraid of dying, you see. Because of that Glory bint, she knew there was something waiting for her, somethin' good and fine." He closed his eyes for a moment. "I hope Death is a great dancer, who came and spun her away, waltzed her straight to heaven."
Angel didn't know what to say. He looked down at Buffy's austere grave. "I should have brought flowers."
Spike inhaled a lungful of smoke, then released it. "Funny, I never really thought of her as hearts and flowers kind of girl. A good crossbow, now that was something she could appreciate."
Angel disagreed ."She could be soft and loving."
"I didn't say she wasn't loving. She showed me love by taking the time of day to kick my ass." Spike noticed Angel's wide-eyed look, and conceded. "We didn't love each other like normal people, I'll admit, but we had a good time. Life's a sight more entertainin' if you live it with clown hats on."
Angel shook his head in amazement. "How can you feel so much without a soul?"
Spike twitched his black leather shoulders in response. "Damned if I know. Niblet got pretty philosophical in her old age, and she thought love existed apart from everything else, even the soul. She believed it came from the divine, rather than the spiritual…that there were endless stores of it in the commonality that we're all born from, even vampires."
Angel gaped at him. A poet, once, and young. "Who are you, and what have you done with William the Bloody?"
Spike looked embarrassed, a pale deer caught in the headlights of Angel's open-mouthed disbelief. "Well, that's what she said!" he declared defensively. "Sweet Bit was a little dotty toward the end, though."
Angel laughed, wiping at his tears. "I wonder what Buffy would think of us now?"
"She'd probably box my ears for keeping you talkin' until dawn. The sun's almost up." He nodded toward the horizon. I take it you feel it too, whatever's coming?"
Angel nodded. "I think we need to pay the Slayer a visit, warn her that there's a new Big Bad. I miss Giles at times like this. That man was a walking bible of boogeymen "
Spike grumbled. "We pop in on her and we'll probably get staked for our trouble."
"You can talk to her. I'll wait outside."
"Not likely, Peaches. You can lay on some of that Irish charm…sing to her…do something poofy so the girlie doesn't have to waste slaying time hoovering us up off the carpet."
They turned to go, but not before Spike knelt once last time. "Goodnight, love," he said softly, giving the soil a final pat. The blonde vampire looked out across the fields. "We're the only two who know about this place, unless that sod Whistler is still about. It's better that way...no one will get any fancy ideas about resurrectin' the Slayer. Willow paid a high price for what she did. We all paid, especially Buffy. That's why I never replaced the stone. She deserves the peace we never gave her in life. Not a one of us."
Angel tentatively reached out and placed a hand on Spike's shoulder. Spike rose, then it was Angel's turn to cast another look back. "Hard to believe that a city was here."
"Yeah, " Spike said ruefully. "There's a lake where the mall was."
They moved through the grass, wisps adhering to their black clothing and crackling under Spike's boots. "The mall," Spike recalled fondly. "Remember when Buffy fired that bazooka at the Judge. Scared the shit out of the lunch crowd."
"How could I forget? Drusilla was so upset…she ran off and ate every clerk in the yogurt place."
Spike was enjoying himself. "Remember how pet drowned some wanker in her basement?"
"And organized the Battle of Graduation."
"And fought the Knights on top of a bloody Winnebago."
"And dropped an organ on you."
"Gee, I try not to dwell too much on that one…"
Remember how they tried to hold you down
But we climbed those towers and looked out upon our town
And everything you hope will last
It just always becomes your past
And I'll remember you
And the things that we used to do
And the things that we used to say
I'll remember you
But our world slipped through my fingers
And even the sun seemed tired
I still cared
As they lowered you down
My heart just jaded
In that moment the earth made no sound
But you were there
You helped me lift my song to the air-- Remy Zero, "Perfect Memory"