Two shadows on the balcony; one small and female and deceptively fragile, and the other male, taller, and deceptively cultured. There was nothing but deception in those days, those very hard days.
“You know, I never thought to see the city burn such a treat,” Wesley said mildly, as though crazed mobs weren’t after everyone he ever loved, everyone who was lost to him thanks to a few monumental accidents. “And she’s out of it already. Fucking queen of fucking hell, she did all this and for what?”
“I tried to ask Spike,” said Buffy, her eyes gazing out into the smoke and sunset of a Hollywood evening with no intention other than to watch it happen. “He said that it was a crusade. He said it would change the world. I don’t know. He’d lost his mind, but I kept thinking he’d be back and he’d be Spike, and it would be easy to hate him and like him anyway. Was that how it was with her?”
“Lilah?” Wesley asked. He didn’t often mention her by name. “She was cunning, relentless, and not nearly as clever as she thought. At first, it was easy. I was using her, back when we were both...and she was there. No one else was there, and I don’t know if you know how it is to have a body there that...I suppose you do, at that.”
“Sounds pretty familiar,” Buffy said. The smell of smoke would take hours to fade, if not days. How stupid were people, anyway? It was goddamn July. They were going to set the entire basin afire if they weren’t smart. “Did you ever really love her? I think, I think I loved Spike a little. And that’s what made it hard.”
Wesley, the scar on his throat aching from inhaling so much pollution and detritus, tilted his head. He thought about the last thing he’d said to her when they were both human, when Angelus hadn’t yet made good on all of Angel’s threats to both of them.
“I don’t think I really did,” he admitted. “She loved me, and I loved that she loved me. She told me that she was thinking about reforming for me. Considering Lilah’s profound hatred of reform, our side, and most people on our side, it was impressive. I felt rather good about it, and then I shoved her onto the bed and fucked her until we were both asleep. I kept thinking, I’m going to save her, I’m going to save her, and she’s mine because of it. It was during that period where I couldn’t pass a woman without her falling into my arms.”
“Yeah, yeah, I heard about that, too sexy guy,” Buffy said with a smirk that faded as sirens screamed past the hotel. “Do you think they’ve found her yet? Cordelia, I mean. She was in charge of the largest pocket of resistance. I figure, being tough as she is, it’ll take a while.”
“I haven’t thought of it,” Wesley said quickly, taking off his unnecessary glasses and polishing them in a gesture that reminded Buffy of Giles. “Would you like a drink? I can’t watch this anymore without a scotch.”
“Nah,” she said, staring into the abstract art of the cityscape. If she crossed her eyes just a little, it was all light and shadow and smoke, patterns that didn’t resolve into information. Certainly not the kind of information that it should have, death and destruction and vicious retribution on the innocent. “I don’t drink much.”
“You know where it is if you want to start,” he called back, going into the hotel room and pouring himself a scotch on the rocks. The alcohol burned, but in a pleasant, antiseptic way. The burning of the city was altogether too unsanitary, too chaotic. They might be getting all the demons and other non-humans, but he shuddered to think who LAPD was “getting” along with those no longer given the rights of humans because they didn’t count.
Buffy looked much different than he remembered. Her hair was short now, short and bleached damn near white, with a few blue streaks for contrast. She had the body of a twelve year old boy, really, though he was not much better.
“Like it? It’s the world I made for you,” Lilah purred into his ear, causing him to leap before he realized she was dead, her soul was doing accounting in hell, and he was simply angry with her ghost.
“It’s the world I won’t miss,” he replied, relaxing into her spectral embrace. “Are you proud of it?”
“A little bit,” she said, wrapping her arms around him. “I miss you, Wes. I’m so cold without you to warm me up.”
Lilah had committed suicide on a January morning in Santa Monica, the way he saw it. In front of a crowd of twenty thousand, she’d walked onto the Pier, thrown her arms open, and let the world see that there were vampires, demons, and monsters under the bed. She believed that it was time everyone confronted their demons, and destroyed them in proper order; at least, that was the line she fed Wesley. He wasn’t sure it wasn’t more about proving the world was as vile as she said it was and not nearly as hopeful as he’d dreamed it was.
She had always needed the world to justify her, and they had. In spades. He wasn’t going to help now.
“Wes, I’m cold,” she whispered again, almost-lips against his earlobe. “Make me warm.”
“No,” he said, breaking the spell. “I’m glad you’re cold. I hope you never get warm again.”
He turned around and she wasn’t there. Then again, she never was.
“I miss television that isn’t news,” Buffy said suddenly, walking back into the damp, cold hotel room and getting herself a glass of ice water. “I just want to watch Friends and not–”
“A pogrom? A vicious ethnic cleansing that we might have stopped but didn’t?” Wesley asked, sitting down on the bed. “This is a fairly posh hotel. They might have a movie channel, if you’re serious about wanting to watch television.”
“Meh,” Buffy said, sipping her ice water and plunking down next to Wesley on the bed. “I want a magic pill that erases guilt and turns back time.”
“No such thing,” Wesley said, bolting the scotch in one go to get his courage up for the question he’d never been able to ask before. “Did you see Spike go?”
“Last one I could stand to watch,” Buffy confessed, loosening her top and looking at Wesley speculatively. He was so strange now, dark and mysterious and full of a quiet that hid a thousand lies. Nothing like he used to be. “He started quoting poetry, when they lit the...it.”
“Did he?” Wesley asked, watching her assessment. He knew the dance that was going on in the blonde woman’s head. Faith, before she’d turned to the other side and betrayed, had had the same look, albeit with more genuine affection. It was a strangely comforting pattern: traditionally, Watchers had been younger men because Slayers and Watchers had a distressing tendency to fall into bed in the face of stress. Human nature, he supposed, but after so many centuries, what could he think when no progress had been made on the problem?
“He did,” Buffy said, taking the scotch from Wesley and gulping away the four or five drops in the bottom of his glass. “I didn’t know the poet. You might, being all smart Watcher-type-guy and all.”
“Try me,” Wesley said, taking his glass back and pouring a double on the rocks for both of them. She smiled and closed her eyes, remembering the smell of gasoline on tires, the screams of poor, terrified Hispanic women, the types who had been candy for vampires and were finally getting their revenge.
“Dear shadows,” cried Spike, oh, poor Spike with his soul and his madness and his guilt and his buckets of salt. “Now you know it all! All the folly of a fight with a common wrong or right–”
The black-mask put the torch into the kindling at the bottom of the pile. He had eyes for no one but her, his arms bound and bleeding against the splintery pole they’d tied him to with barbed wire. Human beings were monstrous things. Who would bind a condemned prisoner to his funeral fire with barbed wire? He had bled so much that if he’d been human, it would have killed him before the fire.
But that was the part that delighted the jeering, dancing mob. He wasn’t, and thus, everything was permitted.
“The innocent and the beautiful have no enemy but time,” Spike shouted, the journalists eating it up with their cameras and digital recordings. There hadn’t been such a fabulous death since the three demon sisters who wept and prayed to their savior Jesu two weeks previous. “Arise! Arise and bid me strike a match and strike another till time catch–”
The smoke was black and it stank like burning tire and cheap wood and gasoline. The crowds were moving back. She’d stood there, no tears, but no smile either, listening to all of what he had to say.
Dimly, in the cold, dark hotel room, she was aware that Wesley was quoting the rest of the poem along with her, that she had placed her head on his shoulder, and that she had every intention of letting him take her very shortly.
Spike was quoting poetry to her. Good poetry; the kind he’d always wanted to write and couldn’t. His death was the only poetry he could give her, a spectacle that she thought the world wouldn’t tolerate.
Wesley’s skin was so warm. It smelled of British things, like Giles had smelled but younger, with a hint of smoke that had never clung to Giles. There was something to being with humans, but only the ones who understood. The ones who had felt cold, inhuman skin under their hands and the way you could just want to roll over and let it freeze you.
“Should the conflagration climb,” they both whispered to her as tears clung to the ducts, unwilling to spill themselves, “Run till all the sages know.”
She kissed the fabric of his shirt, smelling and tasting the Wes-warmth; the flames were to Spike’s waist and they wouldn’t stop until he was consumed. Behind her, a woman was on her knees, weeping with gratitude, clutching a cross and shaking it at Spike as though he weren’t about to combust into piles of dust.
“We the great gazebo built,” and it was only Wesley now, blue-eyed, ghost-ridden Wesley easing her top off with more than a little help from her. “They convicted us of guilt–”
“Bid me strike a match and blow,” Spike whispered, closing his eyes. Buffy laughed, in her hotel room and in the street. He’d licked his lips at the word blow. It was so very much her Spike, the one she might have loved, and he was now mixed in with rubber and wood and flame.
“Who wrote it?” Buffy asked, before Wesley could kiss her into a shared temporary oblivion that would hurt twenty times worse with morning and mutual regret and disgust at the indiscretion. “The poem, I mean. It’s pretty.”
His lips were near her stomach, and his hands were on her hips like a lover’s would be, but he answered her as if he were back in the library, wearing a suit and an expression of upper-class disdain at shenanigans.
“William Butler Yeats. 'In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markievicz, dated October 1927',” he murmured. “Buffy?”
“Don’t ask me if I want to,” she said, eyes closed. “I can’t think about stuff like that.”
“I wouldn’t ask about that,” he said, marveling at how close her bones were to her skin. There was barely any muscle at all, just skin and bone and nerve and beauty. “I just wonder–- do you think, perhaps, we chose the wrong side?”
She rose up, holding herself up by the elbows. Her eyes were the color of television tuned to a dead channel. They had nearly as much feeling, too.
Wesley, whose eyes matched hers, stared back at her, refusing to withdraw the question despite the way she held her chin, her lips, and her endless regret. Finally she sank back down into the mattress.
“What choice did we have?” she asked. “We chose the mission. We did what we had to do.”
His lips crushed into her skin. He didn’t have a better answer tonight, ghosts or no ghosts. He’d have to accept hers.
We did what we had to do. Because anything else would be an invitation to madness.
Behind them, the sunset a beautiful orange-gold tinged with pink, the city continued to burn. Buffy and Wesley didn’t notice.