Who We Used To Be
A short two or three chapter piece, just a tiny snippet of life, set after Angel season five, acting as if no comic series or novels occurred. Consider this an alternate universe, it'll be easier.
Author's Note: I needed a break from novel length pieces, guys. Work on the big projects resumes this week.
Dedicated to all the ones who read, and doubly so to all the ones who review.
Nothing of Buffy belongs to me, except my sincere admiration. However, this story is all mine.
Spike looked in the mirror, and of course, saw nothing. "Just hope I don't look as bad as the big broodin' idiot." He muttered and started swigging straight from a gallon jug of blood. His phone rang and he groaned and swore as he answered. Who in the world would call him, anyway? Everyone who had his number had died today or was close to death at the moment, hardly the time to make a call. Unless one of them had kicked off. No, don't think like that. Probably a soddin' wrong number, or even worse, a political survey call.
Spike whipped the phone to his ear. "I jus' saved the bloody world. Again. I'm not feelin' so hot, an' frankly, I think I might be in mournin' for people I ought to hate! This better be damned important!" His groan had turned into a full throated snarl by the end of his unorthodox greeting.
A clipped voice ignored his outburst and spoke calmly."A female guest was here to see Angel. She was unaware of your presence in this city and seemed both infuriated and elated when I told her you were recuperating from our epic battle at your own apartment. I directed her to your address."
"Blue!" Spike felt panic seizing him and he took it out on the being he had known as the sweet girl named Fred, now the cold, deadly ex-goddess Illyria, and sometimes, in his disregard for due respect, he called her the shade of her hair and her startling eyes. "Why could you- how could you- wait, it is Buffy, isn't it?"
"Yes. She sat by Angel's bedside for a few hours. In our conversation, your name was mentioned. She wanted to know your location, I provided the address. Then she asked who would look after Angel, and I assured her I would, and care for Charles Gunn as well."
"You do it all, Blue, don't you?" Spike said admiringly, still grateful beyond words to this creature, one he'd once hated. He couldn't even work up a good snit about her giving Buffy his address, even though he had mixed feelings about it. Very mixed.
"I cannot take credit for the final burst of primordial power I displayed that dispatched the beasts and closed the hell portal." Illyria's voice shook. "I did not know I had that ability. I did not know- that the shell's love could become my love. I did not know that love was a power, and that lost love creates the most powerful and intense fury. More strength than I had ever felt, even as an immortal."
"Yeah, well... it can cause all kinds of strong emotions, Luv." He lit a smoke in his agitation. "Angel all right enough?" Buffy'd probably be here for him. She would make a brief detour to his basement flat to yell at him, question him, maybe punch him or kiss him. Never could tell with her. Although yeah, at the end...he could tell. He'd buggered that up, though.
"Angel is in and out of consciousness. He will heal, of course. Gunn is worse, and mortal, so his fate is uncertain. I believe they are considering some organ transplants. He lost a lot of blood, and I believe his spleen is also being removed because of the blood loss and it's failure to assist in making new cells." Illyria was cold and clinical as always- yet somehow she sounded pained underneath. "Do you realize out of all - only we four remain?"
"Better than usual, Ducks." Spike's tone softened. "You be all right?"
"I am not used to being a caregiver. I am used to being feared and worshipped." He voice faded slightly. "I became used to Wesley's care of me. Even if he only did it for the sake of Fred."
"He loved her. But he came to respect you."
"It is not fair. I came to love him. As he lay dying. Why- why do humans or other beings sometimes only realize the truth and depth of their love as the object of that emotion is about to die?"
Painful flashes came back to Spike. Burning hands joined, green eyes looking at him full of tears, a whisper, "I love you" and an almost flippant rejoinder, "No you don't, but thanks for sayin' it." replayed in his head. "Can't say. You usually realize a hell of a lot, just before it all goes bang an' up in smoke."
"This girl that looks for you? She was Angel's?"
"She'll always be Angel's." For a few months, I pretended she was mine...
"Angel doesn't call her name in his delirium. He calls for Cordelia."
"Figures. Never did know a good thing when he had it. Bloody noble types."
"You did just fight to your almost certain final death for a city who wants to kill your kind and a purpose you don't wholeheartedly embrace."
"I embrace the good! I just like my vices, Pet."
"Do not call me that term. It irks me."
"You irk us all. Pet."
"Do not anger me. I still have power, apparently."
"I know you do. But- oh hell, Blue! How long ago did Buffy leave?"
"Shortly before I called you, of course."
"You still at that friend of Gunn's?" Spike had helped get Gunn to the hospital, Illyria was strong enough to pick Angel up like a doll and carry him on foot to the address Gunn gave just before he went into some sort of seizure and passed out.
"Yes, Anne has given us a place in the basement and she's holding vigil at the hospital with Charles now."
"Hm. I'll be over later, check on him. I s'pose I ought to, bein' on the same side, an' all." He paused, ran a tired and broken hand over the back of his bitten neck and sighed. "You're alright?"
"I'm tired. I'm tired, and it hurts inside, even though I'm not injured."
"You're injured plenty. Heartache. It's an emotion. You'll get used to it. Tell you what, you curl up beside his Unconsciousness and let him hold you with what's left of his arms, an' you hold him."
"For what purpose?" Illyria sounded faintly disgusted at the prospect.
"It's called comfort. Sometimes, after you've had a real bad time of it, you do that with someone you know. Not necessarily someone you love." Like me an' Slayer. One sided for the longest time. Maybe always. If not at the end, it will be now. Still- there was some comfort for both of us in it.
"I will do as you suggest." There was a pause. "I am glad you're still amongst the living."
"You, too." He rang off, returned to his blood and went through a dozen opening lines and attitudes. Brash and unconcerned. Apologetic. Explanatory. Make it into a joke, make it into a heartfelt outpouring- and then he smelled her scent, sensed her, just outside his door, and the world washed out from under his feet.
He could feel her hesitating outside his door, like she sometimes used to hesitate outside his crypt when she came for one of their trysts. Everything in him seemed to tense in hope and anticipation and whatever passed for adrenaline in a dead man's system. He walked towards the door, and he could feel her heat on the other side of it. He pressed his hand to the wood and knew, somehow just knew, her hand was pressing the exact spot on the other side. He stopped thinking about what he was going to say and just stood still, all attention focused on that heat signature and scent he had so recently gone on a hunt for. Focused on the miracle that the owner of it was now here to see him.
He stood frozen.
She was frozen in place, unable to lift her hand back off of the wood to make the required tapping sound needed when you knocked on a door. It wasn't because she didn't want to go in, it was because she didn't know what to do when she got in there.
So much has happened. I can tell him anything, I can tell him everything, I always could. Communication wasn't an issue for us. Okay, we severely needed to work on using our words instead of our hands- or other body parts, but it's not like he didn't try to be there for me. And I tried to be there for him. At the end, when it was too late.
Stupid jackass! Why didn't he tell me, why?! So it's been a good year of rebuilding my life and taking a break from guys for six months in between Spike's death- more dead death- but if he didn't die- crap! Hate this life all over again when I have to think about him dying and then coming back and not coming to see me. Not right away, not when I wasn't trying to "move on." Why'd he wait until just recently? I thought he loved me.
But he didn't think I loved him...
Or maybe, Buffy rested her forehead on the door, maybe he thought no matter what I said, I really loved Angel. I guess that's fair. Seeing as until a couple hours ago I was wondering about that myself.
Three hours ago...
"This is the place? Not what I pictured. What, Wills?" Buffy was speaking into her cell phone and walking towards a large house that had been converted to a teen shelter, according to the sign on the fence. "Yeah, that's what it says, teen shelter. So I'm in the right place? Your scrying crystals aren't having an attitude problem are they, since you haven't used them in a year? Okay, okay! Can't you take a joke?" Buffy paused and leaned on the railing leading up the steps. "Love you, too Wills. Say hi to Kennedy."
"Hi, would you like to come in?" A cherub cheeked blonde opened the front door and stared down at Buffy. "You don't have to stay, if you- oh my God! Buffy?" Anne flew down the stairs and plowed into one of the people she considered a true hero. "Buffy! It's me! Anne! Or- well- Lily! Chantrelle, Lily, Anne, it's finally just Annie or Anne now, oh my God, how are you!"
"Kind of squished." Buffy cried in a muffled voice inside the embrace. She pulled free and stared at her affectionate welcomer. "Anne! Hi!" Her smile of recognition turned sad as she took in the sight of her acquaintance in front of the shelter. "So. You- uh- live here?"
"Oh, yeah. But not like that, I'm the founder and director. Of this one and three others, thanks to some money someone helped us raise." Her eyes flickered for a moment and then resumed their happy, steady gaze, locked on Buffy. "It's so good to see you. Although, if you're here for the epic, Book of Revelations-style, destroyed a three mile chunk of LA event, you're about eight hours too late."
"So I heard." Giles had told her as soon as one of his seers in their affiliated coven told him. Getting it confirmed wasn't hard, all they had to do was flip to the news and the top story was about a theatrical publicity stunt gone wrong, a stunt involving "dragons" and "dozens of people dressed as monsters", and how the city of Los Angeles was burning, buildings were toppling, solar flares were lighting up the sky, and people were being evacuated from the center of the disaster.
That was followed by a long conversation- slash- battle with Giles, Dawn, and Xander, but they had finally seen her off on a plane with the promise to have a follow up contingent of new slayers on stand by to fly over if needed. Add in the travel time from Rome and yeah- apocalypse over.
"I'm not here for the battle. I mean I was trying to be here for it. I mean- I'm here for Angel. I heard he was here?" Buffy shook herself out of her thoughts and back to her explanation. "Which, frankly, strikes me as weird, but hey, I'm used to weird."
"Well, he is here." Anne's face was grave. "I think he's going to be okay. I hope."
With ice filling her stomach, Buffy followed Anne in and through the kitchen, and down dimly lit stairs to a basement rec room lined with couches and a big television, and ping pong tables. "Well, at least he can have fun while he rests up."
"Oh, no, it's just that this is the only room without windows, plus, the rec room isn't done yet, so none of the kids come down here."
"Declare yourself!" A wild haired, wild eyed woman suddenly appeared, springing from the darkness of a corner, and slammed herself in front of Buffy.
"De- what myself?" Buffy blinked and rocked back on her heels.
"She's okay, Illyria. This is Buffy. She's a good guy."
Illyria regarded her quizzically. "You are here to assist?"
"That was the plan. I see you don't need the help right now, but I thought I'd say hi to Angel before I flew back to the other side of the world." Buffy felt a weird sense of deflation. She had been prepared to fight, and not worry about relationship crap. Mostly. Maybe they'd talk about it, but Buffy was still dreading it. How could she tell him that even after a year and a different boyfriend, a "growing year" she still didn't feel comfortable somehow? That their big love, which she had finally stopped clinging to, which she'd been honest about putting second, after her own needed time to grow up and become her own person- wasn't at the top of the list yet? If anything, "Buffy and Angel" was falling further and further from the top as new experiences made life muddier and muddier.
"You may greet him, but he is not able to reciprocate. He has burns and wounds and punctures. He sleeps but can't be woken, though technically he is undead. He'll heal with blood and time, they tell me that is the way with vampires." Illyria nodded.
Buffy's heart twisted. "He's okay though? Right? He's not dust? Because as long as he's not dust, he can come back from it." She rambled worriedly.
"He is in one piece. Mostly. One of his arms is more bandage than flesh, but he's in no danger of expiration."
Buffy looked at this odd woman and had to ask. "You remind me of someone. You're not- ex-demon, are you?"
"Ex- god. Thank you." Illyria replied coldly and pointed to a fold out couch in the darkest corner of the room. "He is there. And I shall sit here." She pointed to a couch near the stairs. "I am watching over him. Anne-"
"I have to go. I just told Charles I would get him some clothes, and I'd be back." Anne gave a frantic look at her watch. "I have to go, I've been gone almost an hour!" She flew up the stairs.
"Hospital?" Buffy knew this scenario so well. The humans got medical treatment from doctors, the oddities, vamps and demons, they had to be tended to by amateurs.
"Yes. He will not be able to wear the clothes for days, but it is Charles Gunn. He has pride and he likes to look 'tough'." Illyria's voice softened. "He is tough. For a mere mortal."
Buffy made a mental note to ask about the battle and its participants later. For now, she had become hyper focused on Angel as he let out a groan. "Painkillers do help vamps. You just have to give them big enough doses. Like huge doses. Spike once took a whole bottle of morphine and-" She stopped abruptly. Talking about Spike still hurt.
"Yes, he would do something like that." Illyria stated simply. "I've given him all the aspirin he can swallow, all that was in the medicine chest."
Buffy nodded and moved to the bedside softly, blinking once as she replayed the woman's words. It sounded like she knew Spike. Well, maybe she had. An ex-god and a vamp who's been around for almost two centuries might have crossed paths. Or maybe Angel talked about him. Maybe bad mouthed him. Buffy's lips tightened in anger, but then Angel let out a sharp cry and she forgot all about everything else but him.
"Hey." She murmured, sinking to his side. "Hey, Angel. It's me."
"Cordy?" Angel turned closed, contused eyes in her direction. "You're gone... Am I in heaven? Are we in heaven together?"
Buffy bit her lip and looked at Illyria, who regarded them with blank eyes. "It's Buffy." She whispered.
"Buffy's not in heaven. She came back. Cordy came back- just for a day, to help me. Always helped me stay with the mission." His voice was weak and dreamy.
"You love your mission, I know that." Buffy laughed softly under the words, and took his hand. He hissed. "Sorry! Sorry, charred hands, so sorry!"
Illyria rose and glowered, then sank back down.
"You have one hell of a watch dog." Buffy whispered, lips closer to his ear.
"Yeah, it's Buffy." She smiled and pressed her lips gently to an uninjured spot on his hairline, which took some effort to find. He was wrecked, this guy, and if the battle ended eight hours ago and he'd already had time to heal- she could only imagine what he'd looked like at first. "I came to help, but I got here too late."
" 'S okay. Nice to see you. Ha. Can't see." Angel laughed once and then shifted and groaned again. For a moment he lay still and Buffy held her breath, waiting for him to move again. "Cordelia?"
"Cordelia?" Buffy repeated slowly.
"His lost love. He misses her." Illyria drew her knees to her chin and rocked herself, the picture of confused pain, suddenly. "There is an ache..."
"Am I in heaven? I have a soul..." Angel whispered.
"Not yet. Someday, okay?" Buffy turned her attention back to him, stunned by what Illyria said. How had she not known that? And Cordelia had died? When had she died? And hello, what was that about love?
"Okay. We'll be together. I can talk to you then. You always wanted me to open up and share more. You know you talked enough for all of us."
Buffy had to smile. "Cordelia's trade mark. Even in the afterlife."
Angel's face contracted in pain, then winced into a smile. "Did you see him, Cordy? Our boy's all grown up. Did you see him fight, my boy? Helped him with his paper, too. You'd be proud of us..."
"She is. I am. We- we're all proud." Buffy kissed his forehead again, confused, but playing along, speaking soothingly. "You're going to get better and fight lots of good fights and do lots of things that make us proud."
Angel said nothing for a long time, and Buffy resisted the urge to poke him, make him talk, unable to shake the fear that he'd "died" on her. "Angel?"
"This is getting old." She mumbled, and then shrugged. What the hell? "Right here, Angel."
"You must not be too mad at me. Didn't call me dumb ass this time." He laughed again, a weak sputter.
"I would never call you-"
"You do. Always. When I need a kick. And you never gave up on me. I never gave up on you. Fred was right. Fred was right and we almost missed it. Kyrumption."
"Say what now?" Buffy lost her soft, sweet tone in confusion.
"When two champions meet and acknowledge their mutual destiny." His weak voice became even more faint. "You were my destiny. My field of battle isn't the same without you."
"That's romantic when you're Angel, huh?" Buffy lightly stroked his hair and clumps of singed locks came away. "Oh boy are you gonna be mad... glad you don't reflect right now..." She hastily patted the rest back in place as best she could.
"Buffy?" One puffed and blackened eye slit open and regarded her for a moment. "Hey! When did you get in?"
"Just now." Buffy smiled. "Came to say hi."
"Hi." He reached for her hand and lightly squeezed it as it lay on the sheet covering him. "Will you be in town long?"
"Couple days." She hadn't book ed her return ticket yet, but she would soon. If he didn't need her to help fight, and he had this incredibly devoted nurse and some friends to look after him, maybe she would just be in the way. "I'll see my dad."
"See Spike, too, would you? He's going to be pissed if I saw you and he didn't. I'd kinda like that actually... except no. No, I know how it feels to miss you..."
"Spike? See Spike?" Buffy's voice was shrill in the darkness and she stood rapidly. "Angel-"
"Shhh! Soft tones!" Illyria ordered and was suddenly by her side, fierce expression on her face.
"What does he mean? What do you mean 'see Spike'? Spike is dead." Buffy's voice cracked.
"He is a vampire, so of course he's dead."
"Ghost." Angel licked his bloodied, swollen lips.
"He's a ghost?" Buffy cried, not caring for "soft tones" in the wake of such startling news.
"Was." Angel and Illyria said as one.
"It is a long and complex story." Illyria said dismissively. "He can tell you if he likes." She walked away again, and resumed her huddled position.
"Angel, tell me everything, tell me what happened, tell me-"
Buffy felt a confused tear trickle out of the corner of her eye. Spike was alive. Angel was half-dead, Cordelia was all the way dead. Cordelia was dead and Angel missed her. She'd thought Spike was dead and she'd missed him so much. Now Angel was saying Spike missed her. None of this made sense. And when you're really out of it, dying, confused, badly injured and delirious- you focus on what matters most to you.
It's not me anymore. I'm cool with that, I guess. He's not what matters most to me anymore, either.
"Shh, Baby. You tell me everything you wanted to say while I've been gone. I'll just listen."
Angel's hand tightened on hers. "I missed you so much. You don't know what it's like not having the one person you can just tell anything to not be there anymore."
Sure I do. Aloud she whispered. "We'll be together soon. For now, just talk all you want, and I'll listen, okay?"
He let out a deep, shuddering sigh, and a tiny smile managed to peek through the blood and bruises. "Okay..."
At the end of about two hours of confused outpourings of battle events, bragging about "our boy", and general confessions of love, grief, and friendship, Buffy felt emotionally saturated. She also didn't feel terribly guilty about no longer classifying Angel as the only love of her life, or the only one she wanted. It was confusing, there would always be that love for him. But in love? Not so much. It was alright, though. Angel was normally silent, closed over, all this passion brooding for her and never talking about it to her. Today, in this dark little basement, it was like he had life in him, openness, there was something like happiness, self-mocking, even a joking streak. Because as far as he knew- he was talking to "Cordy."
Cordelia really must have changed. Angel must have, too, for them to be best friends, to be so in love, but to stand so true to their mission. And he- he was happy with her. She sounded like she'd been happy with him, too, the way he talked about their pasts. In spite of all the pain- two people were happy in each other. They'd changed. Not the people Buffy remembered, thought she knew.
I get that. Better than you know. She wiped her eyes and kissed him on the forehead once more.
Finally, Buffy helped him drink from a mug with a straw, still talking to him, and then he passed out totally, and Illyria informed her it was time to depart.
"Yeah, he's crashed. I'll get going. I'll be back tomorrow, though. Will someone help take care of him?"
"I will do it. And for Charles Gunn. Anne will help, but even if she does not- I will do it. At least this once."
Buffy nodded. "Good. Good, you seem to- uh- really protect him." Illyria didn't acknowledge the comment, staring steadily at her, straight through her. It was unnerving. Buffy made as if to leave, hesitated, then asked, "Do you know where Spike might be?"
"He refused to be 'coddled'. He went to his own home to tend to his injuries. He said he would procure some human blood from the hospital to help him heal faster."
"Is he as bad as Angel?" She asked fearfully.
"No, he has a different method of fighting. Spike kills hard and ruthlessly, the quick dispatch and onto the next. He 'brawls', seems to like mobs."
"Yeah, he likes mobs." Buffy smiled to herself.
"Angel is more thorough and his kills are not as quick or clean."
"He used to play with his food. Hard habit to break." Buffy muttered.
"You are the girl they searched Rome for." Illyria stated bluntly.
"Searched Rome for?" Buffy's eyebrows smacked into her hairline.
"Recently. They both were seeking you to see which suitor you'd choose, except neither one seemed fully comfortable with the idea. They had a work related cause to go, but they were using subterfuge. They were competing for you." Illyria frowned. "I do not think Spike wanted to compete with Angel over this. He simply wanted to win."
"Win without competing? That doesn't sound like Spike. He's very competitive."
"Especially with Angel." Illyria smoothed Angel's brow in a tense, cautious gesture, as though it was unfamiliar to her. "However, in this case, I think he felt there was too much at stake for a childish competition."
"That really doesn't sound like Spike."
"Maybe you don't know him as he is now."
Buffy swallowed. "No. I know him like he used to be. But I'd really, really like the chance to meet this guy you're talking about. Can you please tell me where to find him?"
To be continued...