The Dying of the Light –LIII

'Rage, rage against the dying of the light…'

Dylan Thomas

The day Dawn Summers was laid to rest it rained relentlessly.

The afternoon sky was overcast and grey, the sun hidden behind a mass of cloud that allowed Spike his chance at goodbye, wrapped inside a trench coat and a fishing hat that at any other time would have been comical. The vampire huddled beneath a weeping willow, his collar pulled up high, and his shoulders trembling. He cut a bizarre figure, and the throng of mourners gave him an understandably wide berth; some of Dawn's high-school friends exchanged whispered stories about the mysterious and dangerous older boyfriend, and even though Spike's heightened vampire hearing detected every word with perfect clarity, he was too broken to even begin to care. Let them talk.

Buffy stood at the graveside, clinging to Angel's arm. She was reminded of the day that her mother had been buried in the same ground, and Buffy's head reeled as though she had just stepped off the tilt-o-whirl.

Buffy had needed to be the strong one that day- the rock for her baby sister who was much too young to handle the adult situations that life had thrown at the Summers girls. However, no such stoicism was necessary now, and Buffy cried until her lungs burned with the effort of it.

Behind, Willow, Xander, and Giles stood in a neat line- all that remained of their family. Their arms were interlinked, and every so often one of the three would retract a hand to wipe at their own teardrops. Willow kept her puffy and red face downcast and, although standing tall, Giles hid behind a pair of dark sunglasses. Ironically, it was thus perhaps Xander, with his ruined eye, who saw most.

Buffy hardly heard a word the minister spoke throughout the entire service, too distracted by the great effort it took to prevent the bile she felt rising in the back of her throat from making an appearance all over her shoes. By the time the coffin was lowered into the ground, Buffy's head was spinning so badly that she was forced to lean her entire weight against Angel, who bore it without complaint.

Slowly, he manoeuvred them both forward, and cast a handful of dirt atop the lid of the mahogany coffin. Brushing a gentle kiss against the crown of Buffy's head, Angel guided her hand into the pile of soil, and watched as her fingers came to life of their own accord. Only Spike refrained from the pointless act, and instead spun on his heel as soon as the first grains of soil connected with the solid wood.

Buffy became vaguely aware of Willow murmuring an ancient foreign prayer under her breath, and then she was encapsulated in more well-meaning embraces than she was certain her fragile mental state could handle. A string of forgotten relatives passed her by, clasped her hands, kissed her cheeks, and uttered heartfelt, teary-eyed condolences that Buffy found herself only half able to digest.

Hank Summers did not attend the funeral or wake; an intention he had made clear several hours earlier via a voicemail message left on Buffy's cell phone. Giles had returned the call from the privacy of the upstairs bathroom, but nonetheless Buffy and Angel had no difficulty in hearing every word and expletive flung at Hank by the usually mild-mannered ex-librarian. Giles had returned downstairs with tousled hair and a somewhat manic glint in his eye, before declaring that 'the situation had been addressed accordingly'. Buffy had watched him throw back two glasses of Scotch in quick succession before he had wordlessly departed to don his suit and tie, and the name Hank Summers had not passed anyone's lips for the rest of the day.

The gathering at the Summers' home following the service was modest; one or two of Dawn's teachers, a handful of close friends, and a smattering of neighbours who Buffy assumed were more curious than filled with any overwhelming desire to pay their respects. Willow and Xander dutifully handed out drinks and made sandwiches, whilst Giles and Angel fielded well wishes and the odd probing question.

On the mantel above the fire, 'congratulations' cards mingled with messages sent 'in deepest sympathy', creating the most bizarre paradox. Those who had purchased gifts for the new baby left them nonetheless, although they had refrained from wrapping them, or even leaving a gift card to indicate responsibility. Angel swept the gifts quickly aside, creating a space for them in an empty kitchen cupboard, and resolved to ask Spike what should become of them once things had settled down.

All the while, Buffy curled up in an armchair by the window with a mug of coffee in her hands growing steadily colder. She watched the sky darkening further, oblivious to the sounds of mourners leaving around her, and allowed herself to sink into the quiet recesses of her own mind.

x-x-x

In all his one hundred and sixty years, Spike had never felt so lost or alone.

He stumbled along the sidewalk with the empty bottle of whiskey clutched in his right hand like it was his only lifeline, and chuckled mirthlessly as he passed by a young couple in the throes of a passionate clinch. The guy shot him a dirty look, which Spike met with a leer that would have made Angelus proud. Deciding that the filthy, evidently drunk, and somewhat rancid smelling stranger was more trouble than he was worth, the boy slid his arm through his girlfriend's and lead her back towards the main street.

"Yeah… go on…" Spike slurred, smashing the neck of the bottle he clutched against the wall as an afterthought, "get out of here… with your puppy dog eyes and your…"

He belched loudly, the sound interrupting his diatribe, and the vampire frowned as he found that the insult poised on the tip of his tongue had been forgotten. He flexed his fingers, his eyes ticking to his hand as he recognised the faint scent of iron in the air, and he became vaguely aware of something thick and warm beginning to trickle down his wrist. A piece of glass was embedded in his palm, but Spike simply cocked his head to one side as he surveyed the wound, which would have doubtlessly required stitches had he been human.

"Well bloody hell…" he muttered, grunting as he seized the shard between his thumb and forefinger and yanked it out in one swift motion. He flicked the shrapnel into the gutter, aware that his skin was already in the process of knitting back together, and turned his attention to the building he had drawn to a halt before.

The sounds of jukebox music, throaty laughter, and the clinking of glasses drifted out onto the street from an open window, and Spike's lips curved into a lopsided smile as he realised that he was standing on the sidewalk outside 'Willy's'. Decision made, Spike stumbled purposefully through the doorway, the overhead bell announcing his arrival long before the stench of alcohol clinging to him.

All eyes in the bar were immediately upon him, but Spike made it to the counter without intervention. Several more scaly patrons, having heard of Spike's recent reputation for do-gooding and parading round with the Slayer, surreptitiously made for the exit, leaving only a handful of human males lingering, who all looked as down on their luck as Spike felt.

"Willy, old pal…" Spike called, raising one arm in greeting to the barman, who gazed back at the vampire with only sympathy present upon his weasel-like face.

"Hey Spike," Willy replied, already beginning to fill a shot glass, which he then proceeded to slide across the bar to Spike's waiting fingers. "On the house."

"Course it is," answered Spike, tossing back the drink and then slamming the glass on the stained wood, "we're partners… buddies… chums…"

Nodding, Willy wordlessly refilled the glass and set it before the vampire, who fell upon it as though it were some vital medicine.

"I heard about… well, that is… some of the regulars, they…" Willy began, eyes downcast as he swallowed the lump in his throat and forced himself to continue, "your girl… she was a real good woman and… I'm sorry, is all."

A snort rose involuntarily deep from the recesses of Spike's liquor drenched throat, and the vampire's lips parted as he prepared to deliver a condescending retort. However, in his mind's eye, the image of a dark haired young girl flickered to life, and Spike's mouth closed of its own accord. Suddenly, she was everywhere; her perfume reminiscent in the scent of the floral air freshener that permeated the room, her voice present in the sweet and melodious tones of the song echoing from the jukebox, and the ghost of her touch against his cold, dead cheek haunting him when furls of cigarette smoke wove in the atmosphere around him. It was more than Spike could bear.

He began furiously attempting to blink back the tears long after they had started to fall, and he choked on a sob that wrenched itself from his chest. His head fell forward and the glass toppled from the bar, shattering on the floor at his feet, but Spike made no move to retrieve it, only rested his forehead against the grain and heaved great sobs that would have suffocated any breathing man.

"Ok, party's over, early close tonight, boys," Willy said quietly but forcefully as he began to round up the final patrons, one of whom he literally shoved out onto the sidewalk in his haste to bar the door. Pulling the blind down across the window, Willy moved to Spike's side and perched somewhat hesitantly on the adjacent stool. Reaching out a trembling hand, Willy patted the vampire's shoulder and, before he knew it, Spike was in his arms.

"Hey… it's ok, man…" Willy soothed, simultaneously disturbed by but sympathetic towards Spike's sobs.

"No… it's… it's not," Spike stated, his voice clouded by misery as he finally gathered enough of his wits to pull away from the barman and affix him with an embarrassed stare.

Handing Spike the rag he had been using to wipe down tables, Willy reached behind the bar and seized two more shot glasses, which he set down before them. He tipped an equal measure of vodka into each glass and raised his own almost daintily between his thumb and forefinger.

"To Dawn…" he offered, tipping the glass somewhat and sloshing a little of the clear liquid onto his already grubby trousers. After a moment of hesitation, Spike seized his own glass and mirrored Willy's gesture.

"To Dawn," he whispered, wiping at his eyes with the rag before downing the shot in one.

"You know… I've never really been in love…" Willy said gently, reaching for the bottle again in order to refill his glass, "heard it's a real head trip though."

Spike grunted in acknowledgement, pinching the bridge of his nose and shaking his head in order to dispel the haze that was beginning to cloud his mind as a result of too much alcohol consumed too quickly. It was a rare sensation for a vampire, but not altogether impossible given the fact that blood still played a major part in the functioning of his body.

"You don't look so good," Willy observed, but not unkindly as he returned to his position behind the bar and paused in order to squash a cockroach that scurried across the counter. Spike arched an eyebrow as Willy's palm slammed down on the creature with a wet thwacking sound. Unconcernedly, Willy then wiped his hand down the leg of his pants, before running it through his hair.

"Guess I don't feel so good," replied Spike, moving towards the bottle and then suddenly thinking better of it. He allowed his hand to fall back to his side, affixing Willy with the weight of a serious gaze.

"How do you carry on when the one thing you ever loved in the world is gone?" Spike asked, his voice a quiet, uncharacteristic murmur. He raised his eyes to the ceiling, and the unshed tears that lingered there were iridescent in the overhead lights.

Willy seemed to deliberate over this for several moments before he sucked in a breath.

"I guess you find something worth carrying on for real quick or else… you make the choice to lay down in the dirt," he said, shrugging almost apologetically as he realised how unhelpful his response was.

Softly, and without daring to raise his eyes to meet Spike's, Willy probed, "Do you got something worth carrying on for, Spike?"

Spike frowned, and his mind was awash with images of the immeasurable creases between tiny fingers. He did indeed have something worth carrying on for; but he did not even know her name.

Author Note – I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season, and that 2013 is off to an amazing start for you.

This fic is very nearly complete now, I'm sure the long suffering among you will be thrilled to hear! Sit back for a tad more angst and… well, I'm not going to tell you now, am I?!

Reviews feed my muse. She has a healthy appetite.