The giant, drafty house belongs to the Watcher's Council somehow; it isn't clear to Spike. Giles and Andrew stuck him there with Angel and Illyria when they arrived in London, too beaten and battered to care where they were.
At first, he found himself having a lot of conversations with Andrew, but gradually, the others began to appear. Willow came, tanned and shining from Brazil with Kennedy in tow. Xander showed up, and Faith. Finally, Buffy and Dawn appeared, in the latest Italian fashions, glowing from the Roman sun. There's a constantly fluctuating population. Sometimes all the rooms on the bottom floor are full; sometimes it's empty except for the upstairs area that has become the unofficial haven of Spike and Angel. Even Illyria comes and goes, restless but tied to the only beings who know who and what she is.
Your grief is suffocating. I desire a change in activity. She goes, and comes back.
Only Buffy stays.
Buffy and Spike sit in the upstairs hallway. They usually meet there; it's close enough to Spike's room that he doesn't have to risk seeing anyone he doesn't want to. It's quiet and Buffy won't have to answer questions from any other refugees of Sunnydale and LA who might currently be inhabiting the building. It's also close to Angel's room, close enough that they'll see if he opens the door, or leaves, or does anything at all. But they don't say that.
Their conversations are whispered, intimate. When Buffy retreats back down the stairs, to Willow and Giles and sanity, Spike tries to use them to make Angel jealous. It doesn't work. They sit close enough to his door, and the rest of his world is silent enough that he can hear everything they say. Mainly, they talk about him.
"Is he alright?" Buffy asks. Spike, who has sworn never to lie to her, says "no."
Spike sits by Angel's window, smelling like Buffy. Flaunting it does no good, so he's dropped the intentional irritation and the rival act. He's settled on quiet endurance under the weight of Angel's stare.
"You should talk to her, mate."
"I wouldn't think you'd want that."
"S'what she wants."
Spike's voice is hesitant, wary, and Angel hates it, hates the way Spike's eyes shift to him, to the window, to the book he's not reading. He has Spike walking softly, treating him as though he's fragile. No, not fragile says the inner voice already broken. Angel is pacing, anxious. Spike is still. Spike is never still; he's manic and fluid, constantly moving, changing, in flux. It's unnatural enough to make Angel pause and study the other vampire, wondering when he got so quiet, wondering at the damage done to them both.
"I'm alright, Spike." Spike looks up, raising one eyebrow in the faded image of his usual defiance.
"Don't remember asking." And he hasn't asked, not once since Wolfram and Hart left them for undead in the alley at dawn. He hasn't asked. He hasn't really left Angel alone either.
"You should have called me."
"Then you'd be dead too."
Buffy wants to argue, to point out her experiences with the end of the world, her army of slayers and powerful witches. She doesn't.
"You're alive," she says quietly.
"Look at who survived, pet. Angel, one walking reminder of everything he's lost and one walking reminder of everything he was. They left us alive. You they'd have been sure to kill."
You'd have been the first they'd try to kill he thinks.
"I could have helped . . ."
"It was suicide. We all meant to go down with the ship, just 'cause we didn't . . ." he trails off, watching her.
"You think that Wolfram and Hart would leave you alive after what you did? People like that don't take that kind of risk!"
"I think they want Angel to suffer."
"You don't know that."
"I know we didn't win. I know we're still alive." He's angry, bitter, barely keeping it reigned. "We did a good thing there, Buffy, but the price . . ."
"The stakes are always high, Spike," she's the general for a moment, hard and resigned, but her voice is sad and she softens as she turns to look at Angel's door, clenching her hand to resist knocking again. Spike shakes his head.
"They weren't high enough."
There's an edge to her that's unfamiliar. He's seen her once since they arrived, before he holed up in the bedroom. It was there in her eyes, despite her relief, her obvious love and her righteous anger. Something was broken after her return from the dead and it had nearly destroyed him to see it. Something was hidden the night he saw her in Sunnydale, locked behind the forced bravado of one more fight for her life. It's open now, melted and reformed. Sharp and angular, she sparkles with a colder light. She has vampire eyes. She could be twenty-four or two hundred and forty. Humans don't age like that, he thinks. In a mortal, eyes so old shouldn't look out of a face that young. Does he even know the woman in the hallway with Spike? Loves her still. She isn't that girl, but if she isn't the same, then neither is he.
Spike breaks the silence, "Did you love him?"
"I cared about him, sure."
"Cared about . . ." Spike sputters, "Buffy, we know this guy. He's arrogant, obnoxious, thieving, amoral . . . Do you know how he goes through women? . . ." Buffy's hand tightens on his arm, interrupting his tirade. Her voice is low and soft.
"I've heard it all." And she had. The Immortal's legend was larger than hers. For the first time in her life, there were no demands. She didn't have to protect him, not from demons, or apocalypse, or his own darkness, or herself. It was a temporary reprieve, so she said that to no one. She had her affair, and when she heard about LA and ended it, he shrugged, said "I'll miss you" and left. She'd had no power to pain or break him. It had been a relief.
"He didn't need me. He asked nothing of me, Spike, don't you see?"
And Spike does, but he doesn't want to.
Angel lets Spike in when he knocks. He always lets Spike in because it's easier than trying to keep him out.
No one else tries, anymore, except Buffy. The others came, at first. Giles wanted to talk about Wesley. Faith did too, and she and Willow both wanted to talk about Connor and resurfacing memories. Xander wanted to talk about Cordelia. Everyone wanted to talk about Wolfram and Hart. Angel didn't want to talk at all. It's all too fresh to be put into words. There's too much emotion to make it make sense.
He isn't sure what Buffy wanted to talk about. She hugged him, but hung back, watching him carefully. He retreated to the room they offered and wouldn't see the others. He couldn't see them, and not see Buffy. And he can't see Buffy, except that he does, every time he closes his eyes.
She's there all the time, often with Spike, sometimes with one of the others, sometimes alone. He's scared of himself, that he'll be lost to her again. He's scared that he won't be. Perfect happiness isn't a thought he entertains these days. He might touch her and . . . nothing. He might love her, as much as he ever did, and . . . nothing. He's missed too much of her life; she knows too little of his. And would that loss destroy them? Because it is a loss in the guise of a gain, so he keeps confirmation at bay.
He lets Spike in, because Spike has no questions. Spike was there, has damn near been there all along, and so it makes no difference if he's there now. Spike doesn't try to comfort or say the names that still wreck him. He closes the door quietly, shedding layers of black and leather and bravado as he approaches, and they both forget, for as long as they can. The nights are harsh between them, hard, sweat-slicked and weighted with memory. They communicate with touch and unneeded breath, because they were both there, and there is nothing else.
"He talks to you," she accuses, confused and hurt. Spike searches her for the source of the pain. Is she angry that Angel would talk to someone else, or that Angel would talk to him? He can tell her nothing that nears the truth.
"No," Spike finally admits, "he doesn't."
They always lock the door, but they didn't. Buffy's standing in the doorway, staring, unreadable. Angel's name dies on her lips, before she turns, without a word, and walks away.
Angel disentangles himself from Spike and gapes after her. Spike sighs, closing his eyes and leaning against the headboard.
"I think you should take this one, mate."
She's in the garden when he finds her. Her chest tightens at the sight of him, the way it always did. She almost can't breathe and God, she can nearly see his pain.
"Buffy, it wasn't . . ."
"Oh, it was exactly what it looked like."
"It's not about you." He fixes her with darkened, burned eyes, waiting for her to speak. She nods.
"You can't have."
"Actually, I can have, from the Spike never being in his own room part," she smiles tightly, "but it wasn't that. I always knew." She's unsure for a moment, "this isn't exactly a new development, is it?" It's more resigned statement than question.
"No." It's as new as the night they returned from Italy not having seen her. It's as old as the night they met. He thinks that's what she's asking. "You knew?" She shrugs.
"Maybe not really, but on some level, yeah. I'm not surprised. It makes sense. It makes all kinds of crazy sense." She shakes her head, to clear it or forget he isn't sure.
"Spike and I . . ."
"I get it," she says.
"That's not what I meant," she looks up sharply, and her voice is hesitant, careful, "What did he tell you about us?" Angel sighs.
"Frequently, and in great detail."
"I'm sorry," she smiles a little, then tightens again. "Are you sure it was . . . everything?"
"Some of it took a little more alcohol to get out of him." He darkens, remembering how they'd fought that night, and she reaches out to steady him. He takes her hand, "God, Buffy, I'm sorry."
"No. It's in the past. It's all past."
"All of it?"
When he kisses her, every damn time he kisses her, she's sixteen again. She's trembling against him, clinging to him and years are swept away, and if he isn't quite as strong as she remembers, doesn't hold her quite as tight, she tells herself she can ignore it. She breaks the kiss, forcing him to look at her.
"Are you alright?"
"It was bad, Buffy. I can't, not yet." And his eyes beg her to understand.
"Shhh. It's okay." It isn't, but she hopes it will be.
Later, he breaks the silence.
"I love you."
"I love you."
"We don't work."
"Buffy, I . . ."
She silences him with her hand over his mouth and cold sparkling eyes.
"That's never worked either. Don't you dare say something so final as good-bye."
So he doesn't. He stays with her, until just before dawn, and then leaves her in the garden. Spike's pacing when he finds him in the bedroom with the curtains drawn. His jealousy's visible, flooded, beneath his skin. There's a challenge in his eyes, and his cocky, defiant expression is real. Angel almost sighs with relief.
Angel doesn't answer, not with words. Spike lets Angel drag him to the bed to finish what was interrupted. It'll be hours before he remembers to ask his question.
It's history beneath Angel's hands, a century of pleasurepain and lovehate and something very new and very old that he's starting to recognize. Understanding. Friendship, maybe, though his slight laugh at the thought is strangled by their kiss and then he forgets to wonder.
Outside, the sky is lightening and the cold, full night is sinking slowly.
Buffy stays in the garden and waits for the sun.