Disclaimer: I don't claim to own these characters, y'all.
A/N: This is a sequel to Those Things and Pride. You don't need to read either one (or Love and Pancakes, also set in the same world), but you might get a bit more out of it if you do.
The first time they all patrol together is only the second time they've all fought together. Last time there was a gang and a need and a lot of open wounds to work around. This time it's the three of them, united, up against one lowly, freshly risen vampire.
Last time, they kicked ass.
Last time, they had each other's backs without a second thought.
Last time, they slipped into place with one another like it was the most natural thing in the world.
Last time, they were great.
This time, they are incredible.
This time, they are an unstoppable force of violence and beauty, things that fit together here as they do everywhere. An understanding and synchronisation between all three that should, by all means, be impossible to attain.
Spike slips in between the swing of Buffy's scythe and edge of Angel's sword, fists bared and fangs sharp. They dance around one another like it's the simplest thing in the world. Second nature. Easy as a breath, as a kick, as the lust for the fight that seeps through their bones. The thrown punch and the scent of blood under the moonlight, side by side with the pant and the growl. Predators and prey. This is where they were always meant to be.
This is where they belong.
She lays her head against him, blonde hair fanning across his naked chest and her cheek over his still, silent heart. A tiny, contented sigh escapes her lips. Angel tries not to move.
Thump thump. Thump thump thump.
I felt your heart beat.
Spike rolls over, murmuring soft, sleepy nonsense, and pins Angel's arm to the mattress under his weight. With a smile Angel can feel against his skin, Buffy reaches out a hand to stroke the slumbering vampire's white hair.
With his free hand, Angel skims his fingers down Buffy's spine, touches light enough to almost be teasing. When she shivers, his hand finds its way back up to her shoulder and rests there. He leans in just enough to kiss the top of her head.
He keeps his voice quiet, even though he doesn't need to. Waking Spike takes non-issue to a new level, and Dawn will be getting up for school soon enough, but he keeps his voice quiet, all the same, because he always does.
"How do you feel?"
He keeps his voice quiet, maybe because a part of him is afraid that one day, she's going to tell him the answer that is supposed to go with the question. The answer about a normal girl and her normal boyfriend, singular. The answer that isn't about vampires and slaying and thrills of sliding a stake home and cool hands roaming her flushed skin.
He keeps his voice quiet because when she does give that answer, he doesn't want to hear it.
But she answers the way she always remembers answering, the way, as far as she knows, she always has. "Perfect."
Connor introduces Angel as his father (later adding a clarifying 'biological' in there after a little confusion). The others get only names. Dawn and Buffy are tangled together as sisters, but the rest of the connections are left open for Tracy to make herself.
It's fair, really. There's no way for words to precisely encompass the ways in which Angel finds himself tied to Spike or the girls. Girlfriend is too common, too imprecise, to ever encompass the love-of-his-life, forever-and-ever, true-love, soul mate that is his relationship to Buffy.
But at least, with enough time and words, he could make a rough approximation of Buffy's importance in his life. Trying to sketch out his relationship with Spike? Angel wouldn't know what medium to start with, much less how to explain the bizarre, nonsensical, knotted mess of a bond that snarls him to Spike and keeps him fixed there. And if Angel can't sort out how to describe the three of them, then he can't really expect Connor to.
They shake hands and exchange the nice-to-meets and the how-dos and the heard-so-muchs, even though Tracy had been until just a week ago been a topic of minimal discussion, put on the backburner in place of the prioritized conversation subjects like demons, evil warlocks, beasts of indeterminate nature terrorizing downtown, and Dawn's top college choices.
All the little inner workings of their family (or whatever) are set out, unlabelled, for Connor's girlfriend to shuffle through and make her own inferences.
Connor's voice, muffled through the kitchen wall and slightly impatient: "No, macaroni and cheese isn't vegan. It has cheese in it. You can make vegan macaroni and cheese, but that's not it."
Dawn's snit when they try to summon her away from her SAT practice books and the muddled, semi-coherent conversation that follows. "No, pet, high dudgeon. As in, 'and on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood'?"
Buffy kisses Angel's cheek, but it's Spike who slips his hand up her thigh when they sit down.
Tracy's eyes keep flickering up at Angel throughout dinner, but she never quite manages to ask why he isn't eating anything, just looks down every time he glances her way in response.
Angel shakes her hand and Buffy follows them to the door, stands there while they walk down the driveway and waves. "Nice to meet you, Tracy! Bye! Have a good night!"
"You look confused," says Connor from the passenger seat as Tracy checks the mirror.
"A little," she admits. "But I bet my family is just as crazy."
Connor nods and doesn't contend, even though he'd totally win. "Sure."
Sometimes, she cups his face in her palm and stares into him, eyes wide and earnest and pleading. "You know I love you, right?"
He knows what she's up to. Knows how it ate her up, worrying her mother had never known. Knows, now, how his words hadn't helped her ache there, back at the end in the town that had made them who they are.
Knows she's afraid he'll immolate right there, under her touch, and he'll never know.
Knows too that she doesn't know what it does to him when she speaks to him like this. Doesn't know the war that flickers in his chest, ignites and burns with terror and lust at the same time. She may know, and know well, how much he needs to hear this. How he aches to hear those words and how he'd love to hear them again. God, yes, Buffy. Tell it to me again.
But she doesn't know that he's waiting for the 'except…' Doesn't know he's also waiting to start burning again.
He shouldn't have this, not Buffy, not Angel, not Dawn and Connor and the house near enough the ocean to hear the waves when all's quiet in the late, late night. But here he is, and here they are, and maybe one day he'll figure out better how to understand what he did to earn all this.
But for now, he just smiles at her, feels the softness of her hand against his cheek, and promises, "Love you too, pet."
Spike spits a mouthful of semen into the sink.
Sprawled out, half across the bed and half across Angel's chest, Buffy listens to the faucet run. She runs her fingers up Angel's arm. "Why do you do it if you don't like the taste?"
Gurgle. Spit. Angel strokes her hair. She should shower.
"Dunno," Spike admits, reappearing in the doorway. He shrugs his bare shoulders. "Guess it just always seems like the thing to do."
There's a line of puckered flesh along the back of Buffy's left knuckles, and when Spike grips her hand, his fingers cover the larger welts, slide over the similar sheen of scar tissue spanning her palm, lining up perfectly. He can fit his hand into hers and prove that he belongs there.
There's no matching mark left on Spike's own hand, healed away in a swirl of ash and tortured screams in the middle of Angel's office, but there's still a memory of it, of the fire that had licked at them and joined them and sealed him in her heart. A memory stronger than any of the broken bones and crushed cartilage and deep purple bruises that had tried hard, so hard, to keep him away.
Angel's left his mark on her as well. Two white rows of scarred skin that say nothing of him but the things he does not want to think about and instead speak mainly of her. Of how she loved him. Of how she found him worth this.
The scars speak of the darkness in him, and the parts of himself he finds terrifying, and of how she believed in him even with those part laid out before her, sinking into her throat. How she'd known him, even when he hadn't known her.
But what she'd left on him is long gone.
Still, every so often, when he leans down and she tilts up to meet him, to press her lips to his, he can feel it. The burning against his chest and intensity and the want. Then, it had been about what he couldn't have. The kiss, her skin against his. Wanting but being unable to take.
He's glad the scar is gone, but not as glad as the possibility that he could end up with a new one at any time.
Buffy sits up abruptly, dislodging Spike from where he'd settled his cheek against her flat belly and dropping him into her lap. He makes a vague, muffled noise of displeasure as she studies the night sky.
"What?" asks Angel. He reaches out and brushes away some of the damp sand that clings to her back. "What is it?"
Buffy squints at the distant, dark horizon. "I either just saw a shooting star or a very, very bright UFO crash."
"Um," says Angel. He stops brushing and his hand lingers a little, uncertain.
"Okay, it's probably not the second one. But we're us. You never know," Buffy shrugs. "We had a space demon we had to fight before."
Spike squirms until he's rolled over on his back, his head on her thigh. He looks up at her and when she looks back down at him, she can see the starry night sky reflected in his eyes. Beyond them, the ocean roars and crashes.
"You make a wish?"
Buffy frowns, then she pouts. "I forgot," she sulks. Then she frowns again. "Are star wishes evil too?"
Spike gives her a considering look. "Dunno," he confesses.
"Well," says Buffy, reclining back to rest against Angel's shoulder, "then maybe it's better I didn't risk it."
When she kisses Angel, it's like she's sixteen again. Not the angst and pain and the lies, but the flutter and thump and the way things get dizzy and happy and beautiful each time he takes her in his arms and presses his lips to hers.
For a few moments in time that last until she can hold her breath no longer, when she hears nothing but her pounding heart and is aware of nothing but Angel and love and being loved, everything is perfect.
For a few moments, the world is the world that she, a lost and confused teenager, had scrawled as fairy tale daydreams in her journal and as doodles of hearts filling the margins of her history notes.
When she kisses Spike, it's like coming back to life all over again. The surge of passion and the way she can almost taste the fire that had once consumed him still lingering on his lips. A gasp of air after waiting too long and a light shone in all the dark, unseen corners of her.
Hot sparks and cool lips and hands that always find just the right spot.
Kissing Spike sets off something deep in her blood, in her bones. Something dark and hungry and lustful. Something alive in ways she could never have imagined. Something panting, clawing, vicious and ravenous and beautiful.
She doesn't think much about heaven anymore, except in those hazy, breathless moments between kisses, and then, in those moments, she only thinks about heaven to think she doesn't much mind waiting.
There isn't really anything quite like exploring the Slayer up while she's all hot from the fight and pressed up against the wall. The mausoleum's rough stone cuts against his hands a bit, and it's not like there's an inch of her he hasn't explored already, and in many different ways, but it never does get old.
And, as a bonus, she's fudge-mint-chip flavoured tonight.
Her fingers are just the slightest bit sticky from the melted ice cream, despite her having wiped her hands on his t-shirt in annoyance earlier, and her touch clings to the back of his neck even as Angel peels her hand away for himself.
About time, too. He'd been wondering when the big guy was gonna join in. Been acting extra gloomy all day, though Spike's got no clue what'd set him off.
It happens, sometimes. Angel'll shut down and become even broodier than usual, despite the impossibility a task like that would seem to present, and then off he'll go to skulk alone in his office, excluding the times his kid is squatting in there and he just broods about the house instead, never mind the miserable sods caught in his foul mood.
Then, it'd been Angel who'd suggested dessert, even if he hadn't had any himself.
Spike's pretty sure he's got a better understanding of Angel than most people do. Knows what makes him tick. Knows what'll set him off and knows what'll make him purr. His life's revolved around Angel ever since he stopped having one. Pleasing him, pissing him off, or trying to make his memory disappear the way he'd disappeared himself.
Still, there're parts of Angel that Spike's aware he's got little chance of understanding in the next few centuries. For all of Spike's needling and prying, that mysterious hunk of the night persona is still not entirely without base.
When she looks back on it, she's not sure she ever could have loved Riley. Not the way she wanted to so desperately at the time. Not the way she could, every so often, fool herself into thinking she loved him, before she remembered she was only fooling and the weight of her guilt prodded at her once more and pushed her further away.
She was happy with him, and she remembers the happiness, and she remembers it fondly, but she knows things with Riley were exactly the way Xander laid them out to be. She knows she chased him in an attempt to outrun her fear of being alone, of being without the steady, unyieldingly reliable support she'd convinced herself he'd offered when she'd refused to see how she'd hurt him.
And she knows it was best for all of them she hadn't been quicker. Had waited too late and run too slowly. But every so often, in her waking, sleep-blurred moments, there are things about him she misses.
Maybe it's not even Riley, really.
And maybe it's just so ingrained, so basic and natural. So human. Maybe it's because she was always taught to expect it, but when she wakes, when she slips from the depths of her unconsciousness and finds herself in bed, she's always just a little disappointed by the coolness of the mattress.
Never mind the two bodies sharing her space, the way the sheets always feel untouched and unwarmed always pokes at some little, basic, instinctual part of her. Some part of her that clinches inside her. Some part that says, 'alone.'
You are alone.
And even when she rearranges them across the mattress, even when she wedges herself in between her men, even when she rouses Angel, and even when Spike curls his body around her in his sleep, even then, she misses what Riley had offered her.
Even though she isn't alone.
There's something primal and animal about the way Spike tastes. About the way they are together, to each another. That part of him that wants and needs to bludgeon the younger vampire into a pulp and simultaneously keep him close and safe.
There's always that feeling, when they fight together, feelings about the way they belong like this. Never out of touch, never missing a beat. It's in their blood. Family. Stronger and truer and deeper than what others can know. It's beyond words, beyond articulation, because it's so old, so basic, so familiar and yet so utterly bizarre all at once.
And then, above that, beyond that, is the new connection that binds them. The only two in the world like them. No one else. Not a soul.
And somewhere in between is what they really will admit to. The partnership forged through fires. A trust built on situations of terror and backs against walls, of blood spilled and bones crushed. A trust built where there could only be trust. Only trust or death.
Angel's not sure he can say he loves Spike. Not yet, at least. It feels wrong, in some way. Dismissive. Like trying to tack a title onto something that just is. Like trying to contain something that is bigger, older, stronger than words, trying to trap it in between syllables and keep it where it does not belong.
But he doesn't think Spike minds much, either.
It works better this way. Arguing over nothing and showing off and showing up and being there. With her, their Buffy, their love, and with them, Connor and Dawn, and whatever others happen to walk through their lives for the moment.
Best to just let it be only what it is.
The door bangs and slams to announce Dawn's return. Getting through the front door as quickly as possible is a pretty big house rule. Quietly, though, not so much. And, just in case that wasn't enough noise to alert the rest of the household, the stomp-shuffling and crash of her text-book-laden bag hitting the hardwood certainly is.
The clatter slows and lulls as Dawn reaches the kitchen and by the time she's leaning in the doorway the only noise she's making is the light scuffing of her shoes, which is almost drowned out by the sound of Angel scraping eggs off the frying pan onto Spike's plate.
"Hey," she says, eyeing the room with a wary surprise.
"Hey," says Buffy, glancing up from her mug, though her spoon keeps on swirling in the cream. "Tutoring go okay?"
Dawn tosses her UCSC sweatshirt over the back of the nearest empty chair; it lands slug-side up, the cheerful yellow mascot smiling across the table. "Yeah. Fine. Full of numbers. Some letters. You know." She looks around the kitchen again as Spike drops into the seat beside Buffy. "Are we having an actual family dinner?" she asks. "Like, with everyone here? At the same time?"
"Technically, I'm on lunch," Connor says at her elbow, carefully dissecting a burrito spread out on a sheet of semi-crumpled tinfoil. There's a pile of tomato pieces on his napkin.
Buffy licks her spoon. "We're doing breakfast," she nods at Spike as the vampire douses his eggs in Tabasco, "but, yeah, I guess so."
"That's kinda weird." Dawn scoots herself briefly out of the way as Angel takes his seat at the end of the table. Spike claims it's the foot of the table, Angel claims it doesn't matter, so just drop it, Spike. One day, she's gonna look it up and find out for sure.
"Hey. Is this gonna be like a normal thing now?" She wants it to be. That would be kind of awesome. Well, Connor's not around that much anyway, since he has college and a completely different family and a girlfriend and stuff, but it'd be pretty cool even if it was just the rest of them. They could all eat together, or sit at the table together at least, since Angel doesn't really eat, but they'd be like a normal family, kind of. Sort of. Almost.
There probably aren't any other families like them, but they could be a family like them, right?
Buffy's already laughing at the idea by the time Dawn opens the fridge, though. "Can you imagine trying to, like, order food for all of us? Like, 'how many is this for?' 'Two teenagers—'"
"Hey," Connor interrupts. He sounds petulant, but overly petulant in an amusedly petulant sort of way. (She's getting pretty good at using the words off her SAT prep flash cards, if she says so herself.) "I'm not a teenager. Remember how I turned twenty in November?"
Buffy shrugs. "College student appetite. Same diff. It's still, like, three times a normal person appetite. So that's already pretty much six people."
"Add that to the Slayer appetite," Spike puts in. Ew. He's so talking with his mouth full.
"And what's that supposed to mean?"
Even staring into the leftover Pad Thai from two days ago, Dawn knows without a doubt that Spike has found himself on the receiving end of the patented Summers' Glare of Indignation.
"Nothin', pet." Dawn grins to herself. "Just how it takes a lot to keep up with all that your burnin'."
"Nice save, dude."
It isn't going to be a normal thing. It's never going to be a normal thing. She knows. It's a new house, and new family, but it's still the same. They're out fighting bad guys and saving the girl or the city or the entire freaking universe and she's trying desperately to fill her AP Art portfolio.
She's out of step and unaligned, but, still, maybe when she leaves, there'll be enough of these, of those weird, overlapping times where she could pretend they were a family, maybe there'll be enough that she can remember them as one.