Angel stumbles as he tears through the last of this wave. He’s exhausted—so exhausted his head burns and his body shakes. He’s exhausted, but he isn’t too badly hurt, he thinks, not for the three days of nonstop war that have passed.
His vision narrows into a pinpoint of light, darkness creeping in from the corners of his eyes and his knees buckle. He knows there’ll be more, but he barely managed to make it through this wave.
He stumbles into an alley, the alley they started from, and leans against the dumpster. He doesn’t smell Gunn there at first through all the bodies. He nearly pushes some dismembered limbs into him, but there’s so much death around him it must be inhibiting his sense of smell. He’s so startled that he doesn’t register that Gunn’s dead, not for a brief, hopeful moment.
“Shit,” he murmurs, reaching out one trembling, bloodstained hand and gently cupping the cold, smooth cheek. He manages to shut Gunn’s eyes despite his failing motor skills, but it doesn’t make him feel any better.
He doesn’t know where Ilyria’s gone, but he feels certain they’re still alive. Wes is dead and Lorne is long gone, all he’s got left is Spike.
And bless his damned soul, Spike comes staggering around the alleyway looking like he’s about to drop dead at any second. His face is twisted up in pain but he’s on a mission.
“Spike,” Angel breathes.
Spike falls to his knees before Angel, and one of his legs is definitely broken. He’s clutching his side that’s leaking terrible amounts of blood and Angel suspects he might also be holding in an organ or two. There’s no part of him that looks alright, even his skin looks much closer to the deathly blue pallor of the dead not destined to rise again.
“Fuck,” Spike rasps, falling against Angel, his head buried against Angel’s neck and the force of it knocks them both to the ground. Spike whimpers pathetically, and Angel briefly thinks that Spike would never willingly let himself make that sounds around Angel. He sounds broken.
“Shh,” Angel mutters, cradling the back of Spike’s head with his hand.
Spike’s hand, coated thick with his own blood, clutches Angel’s shirt in a fist, tight and desperate, like a lifeline.
“Spike, I’m here,” Angel can’t manage more than broken whispers, but he knows it’s more than Spike can manage. “You’re here. We’re here.” His fingers rub the back of Spike’s head, soothing. Spike is limp, shaking like he wants to cry but he’s too exhausted, too run out.
“Easy,” Angel cautions. “Easy, easy. We’re here. It’s been three days but we’re still here.” His sight is fading fast, Angel notices. Everything is going black. He is pressed so close to Spike that his lips come away with blood. Some of it’s Spike’s, a lot of it’s vile, disgusting, not-really-blood from the army.
“Fuck,” Spike breathes again. As the last of the light fades, Angel agrees.
He wants to open his eyes, but they’re too heavy.
“Angel—Angel! You’ve gotta let us in!”
And then it doesn’t matter what his body can do because the voice is Buffy, so he’ll do it. He opens his eyes.
She’s pounding on some invisible barrier blocking her from them just two feet from where they lay. Willow’s beside her, knelt on one knee and inspecting with worry in her eyes. Ilyria stands behind them, intrigued.
“Angel, Spike!” Buffy continues to shout.
Angel notices there’s no weight against his right side and slides his eyes over to see that Spike has slumped off his shoulder, unmoving and unresponsive. That startles him into full, adrenaline fueled consciousness. There’s no Earth where he or Spike do not answer to Buffy.
He can’t move well, or fast, but he pulls his knees under him and faces Spike. The vampire’s curled in on himself, face etched with pain. Angel really wishes he could tell how bad it is by smell or heartbeat or something, but he knows enough to know it’s bad.
“Angel, take this down!” Buffy insists, hammering her fists against the barrier.
“I’m not doing that,” Angel rasps. He turns his head too quickly and everything goes blurry. A few moments later he’s picking himself up off the wet, bloody concrete.
“Angel!” Buffy shouts, “Oh my god, let me in!” she screams loud enough that even in his dazed state he can hear something in her throat shred. Then, all of a sudden, she topples through and the barrier evaporates. She doesn’t even question it, just pulls his face into her hands. “Thank god you’re alive—or undead or whatever—thank god.”
“I’m alright,” he pants, slapping his palm to his forehead and pressing against his skull in an effort to relieve some pressure. “We need to worry about him,” he indicates Spike with a nod. Willow’s already there, unfurling the very unconscious body.
“Buffy, he’s in bad shape, we gotta go,” Willow says.
Angel squints at the city, a great deal of broken and burning buildings, but he can’t help but smirk when he lays eyes on the hotel just south of them. “There,” he says, pointing. “The Hyperion.”
Ilyria picks up Spike like he weighs nothing and Buffy helps Angel to his feet.
“Wait,” he insists. His head is cloudy, but he knows something isn’t right.
“Angel?” Buffy asks.
“Gunn,” he says.
“None of us have guns,” Willow frowns.
“No,” Angel turns over his shoulder and falls back to the ground, reaching for his comrade. “Gunn,” he repeats. “I can’t leave him here.”
“Angel, he’s dead,” Buffy says softly.
“Ilyria,” Angel begs. Without a word the god strides over and picks up Gunn, too.
“Now we must go,” they say. “Unless you wish to waste more time and let this one die,” she indicates Spike.
Buffy hoists him up again and they head for the abandoned hotel as quickly as they can, which is not very. Willow’s on her cell, presumably calling the others, but there’s a ringing in Angel’s ear and he can’t make out what she’s saying.
Everything feels too far away and too fast, but he can’t close his eyes or he’ll be asleep on his feet and that won’t help anyone. Instead he wills his feet onward, tripping every other step, but still going. There are a million reasons to thank god for Buffy, but her ability to hold him up is currently his favorite.
They make it in no small amount of time, but they make it. There’s a commotion; Angel spots Faith, covered in blood and smiling, along with all the others that Buffy must have called up in the event of a new apocalypse.
Buffy shouts for everyone to get inside and they do. “We’re here, Angel. We made it,” she murmurs in his ear, helping him through the threshold behind Ilyria.
Inside it smells like everyone he loved.
“Faith,” Buffy calls, pulling the other slayer from the busy crowd. “I’m gonna take these two upstairs. Can you . . .” her eyes drift to Gunn. Gunn’s body.
“Yeah, I got it B,” Faith assures her, taking the body from Ilyria. Something like a tender look flashes through her eyes, but Buffy has a mission.
“Come on,” Buffy says to Ilyria, nodding to the stairs. “Follow me.” She has to practically carry him up the stairs even though he remembers how many there are, how the twelfth step is slightly crooked. Buffy shoulders open the first door they come across. It’s a simple suite with a couple of twin beds, a kitchenette, an arm chair, and the ugliest wallpaper one could imagine.
“Put him on one of the beds,” Buffy instructs Ilyria, taking Angel to the other twin. “Are you alright?” she asks, and for the first time her face is in clear focus, very close to his.
“Just tired,” he slurs, waving her away.
Buffy nods. Her eyes slide over to Spike, passed out on the other bed. “Is that . . .”
“Yeah, it’s him,” Angel answers. He’s slow for his exhaustion, but he’d have to be blind to miss the way the muscles in Buffy’s neck tighten and a hundred different emotions flash through her eyes.
“It’s not a glamour or a shape-shifter or—”
“Okay,” she says, steeling herself, straightening her shoulders. She makes her way around with steps that she wants to be deliberate. Her breathing is uneven and her heart is racing and for a moment Angel feels a rush, even though he knows its not for him.
She inspects him with just her eyes, hands perched and ready to touch but scared. “He’s in bad shape,” she says. “How’d it get this bad?”
“It was a tough fight,” Angel says dryly. “Most of us didn’t make it.”
Buffy’s gaze flickers to him. “You’re not hemorrhaging.”
She has a fair point. “I should be,” is all he can think to say.
She turns back to Spike, gently tilting his head with her hand, revealing a very shattered collarbone and a significant laceration from shoulder to neck. Her hand draws back stained bright red.
“It’s a miracle he made it to me,” Angel thinks aloud. “We split up three days ago.”
Buffy nods her agreement before tearing apart the bed sheets and getting to work. Ilyria frowns as she watches her work. “That will do nothing for him. I will go and return with proper supplies. Wesley made a salve for me. I will replicate it.” And with that, the god spins on their heels and strolls out the door.
Buffy continues to wrap and pad, ignoring Ilyria’s warning. It’s not exactly first aid, but it’ll hold up until they get their hands on some actual gauze. When she seems satisfied with her patchwork, she turns back to Angel. He sits up.
“So, you probably have some questions,” he says, attempting a little humor.
“Yeah,” she says, folding her arms across her chest and approaching him. “But I think I don’t want you to answer them right now.”
“You don’t?” he asks, thrown.
She closes her eyes and sighs quietly. Angel studies her face; she’s not sixteen anymore. She looks like a woman, not a girl. She’s still small, still strong, still Buffy, but she’s older.
“No, not right now,” she says, startling him from his study.
He gives her a nod, understanding. One crisis at a time, it makes enough sense. “Can I ask one question?” he requests.
“Of course,” Buffy says. Her eyes are kind. It’s not him she’s avoiding, it’s the difficult answers she knows she’ll get soon enough. He can’t fault her for putting them aside a bit longer.
“How . . .” he tries to think of what he wants to ask her, but his mind is still spinning and reeling and exhausted. He realizes maybe one question isn’t enough.
“Well, an apocalypse this big doesn’t really go down unnoticed,” Buffy explains. “So I called Willow in Brazil, but before I even got her voicemail she’d opened up a portal to me and Dawn and Andrew in Rome. We rounded up a few more—not an army or anything, mind you—but a couple of our best fighters and thinkers, and grabbed the first flight we could. Couldn’t fly in to LAX, for obvious reasons, so we flew in to the next best and high-tailed it on over to LA. We’ve only been here a day, but I ran into the god-king,” Buffy gestures after Ilyria, “who said something about my power. I told her who I was, and she said she knew my name from you and . . .” she throws her gaze over to Spike, briefly, but doesn’t finish her thought. “Anyway, she brought us to you. And you know the rest.”
Angel nods, although he’s pretty sure he only understands about half of what Buffy’s saying. She steps towards him and tips his chin up, placing a quick kiss on his forehead. She smiles at him before speaking. “There’s too much going on. We need to finish saving the world before I can ask any big questions.” She heads for the door, but she stops with her hand on the knob. “Will you stay here?”
Angel can’t conceive of moving much more than his eyelids on his own. He knows that he and his team took care of the worst of it, but there’s clean up to be done. “Yes,” he nods. “I’ll stay.”
Her eyes flicker back over to Spike. “You’re not going to kill him are you?” she asks sheepishly. Angel’s tired eyes follow her gaze over to him. No anger or even irritation flares up in his belly, just a small, gnawing worry and a bloom of . . . loyalty? Protectiveness?
“No,” he promises. “I’ll watch him.”
She bites her lip. “Maybe you should sleep,” she suggests lightly.
He shakes his head, still looking at Spike. “Not until he wakes up. We can’t be caught off guard, both of us sleeping.”
“Okay,” she says. He can feel her steeling herself before opening the door and striding purposefully out of the room, shutting the door behind her. He loses her footsteps somewhere on the bottom floor, among the other frantic humans.
His bed isn’t far from Spike, but the chair on the other side of Spike’s bed is closer and facing him, so Angel pushes himself to his feet. Immediately his vision blacks out and he falls to the floor and he’s momentarily glad that Spike is passed out because he’s pretty sure he just fainted and the bastard would never have let him live it down if he’d been awake. He’s quick to shake any thanks he’d been feeling when Spike’s laughter doesn’t cut through the air and it’s too quiet.
Angel grimaces—this isn’t going to be dignified—but, he reminds himself, dignity was left behind three days ago at least. He claws at the edge of Spike’s bed and pulls himself along on his knees until he makes it to the other side of the bed and clamors his way into the armchair.
Looking at Spike makes his stomach drop, he’s in bad, bad shape, even for an animated corpse. He is broken, bruised, bloody . . . destroyed, for all intents and purposes. Angel’s insides pinch looking at him. He picks up one tired hand and reaches for Spike, but he hesitates because there’s nowhere to put his hand that won’t hurt Spike. It frustrates him more than it ought to.
He sighs. He supposes there’s nothing else to do but sit there with him and hold his unnecessary breath until he wakes up.
Angel hopes he wakes up.