Afterward Spike could only ever remember his flight from LA in fragments and scraps; staggering his way through the shadows back to the meeting point, avoiding the sunrise, bracing himself for painful sprints across open ground and intersections; finding and stealing one of Angel's cars, barely squeezing it out of the collapsing parking garage, grateful that The Great Forehead had had the good sense to install that necro-whatsis glass so he could drive by day without getting his own personal collection of cinders and ash all over the front seat; the frantic dash for supplies at his apartment, looking over his shoulder all the while and only willing to go there at all because it was on his way out and not further in to the budding new hell-dimension that was the City of Angels; the long, long drive with stops only to refuel, down a bag of lukewarm blood, bandage wounds, catch an hour's kip in the backseat; and above all not thinking, not letting himself wonder or worry about the rest of them. Not letting himself mourn, for as long as he could get away with it.
It wasn't until he was halfway across Utah that he stopped looking over his shoulder every few minutes, shoulders tight, half-convinced that they'd missed someone on the Black Thorn or that the Senior Partners were right behind him. It wasn't until Nebraska, in a truck stop somewhere off I-80, two bottles of something in him whose name he couldn't even remember, that he allowed himself to admit why he was afraid – because if the Senior Partners or their agents were to get hold of him, they'd be able to finish the job; all of Angel's people would be eliminated.
All of them. Oh, God, all of them.
He shoved himself farther back into his corner, out of the already dim light, and sat shaking with his hands clutched around the bottle and his teeth clamped around the moan of anguish that threatened to slither free. Gunn bleeding all over the pavement, Angel roaring along with an actual sodding dragon as they tore each other apart, Illyria sidestepping into a more hospitable dimension after dragging his own wounded arse to a sheltered corner – they were all gone. Wesley was killed elsewhere that night, Cordelia was already dead, Fred had been destroyed, and Lorne? If he lived, Lorne would never be the same again.
That left Spike. And I only am escaped alone to tell thee, he thought. Soddin' sole survivor, as if I was special. As if I deserved to make it out when no one else did.
"You should go to her, hon," said the waitress. "She needs you."
Spike blinked. "Sorry, luv, what was that?"
"I said, 'Do you need anything'," she replied, shifting her weight from foot to foot tiredly. "It's getting to be last call, hon, you'll need to go soon."
"Er, yeah," said Spike. Drunk enough or tired enough, a bloke will start hearing things. "Right. What's the nearest hotel, then?"
He tossed back the last of the bottle, trying to blank it all out again, trying so hard not to fall apart, not just yet, not yet; but he couldn't seem to shove the thoughts aside.
And there was that one question that wouldn't go away: What am I going to do now?
Afterwards, Buffy could never remember the particulars of the conversation in which she learned Spike was alive. She was just passing through the room where Andrew was talking, and all she caught was that there was an apocalypse in Los Angeles, and that it was "too bad about Angel and Spike".
She almost dropped her glass of orange juice.
The rest, she only kept in fragments and scraps; Andrew's trip to LA to retrieve a Slayer who'd been horrifically abused as a child, discovering that Spike was there; his conference with Giles afterward, and the Watcher's decision not to inform her; their mistrust of Angel now that he was CEO of Wolfram & Hart and their subsequent decision not to involve themselves in what they later learned was Angel's attempt to take the evil corporation down from the inside.
Now they were all dead. Angel, his friends, Spike, were gone and the City of Angels itself was sucked down into a hell dimension, and how much of that was because Buffy and the other Slayers weren't called in to assist – weren't even notified that there was a situation where they could have helped?
Buffy found herself clutching her stomach with one hand, trying to hold in the ache. Spike – she'd seen him in Sunnydale, knew he was going up in flames even if she never saw him dust, knew, knew that he was gone. Mourned him. Gave into pressure from Giles (and why does it always come back to him, she wondered) to "move on" and tried to date while staying in Rome… Realized she'd loved him for far longer than she had ever been willing to admit to herself.
And now, to discover that he'd been alive for that entire time, the knowledge kept from her "for her own good", again… it was as if he'd only just died, all over again, the grief as raw now as it was the day they'd closed the Hellmouth together.
And Giles had been willing to let her suffer her grief, all for the sake of protecting a lie. If she'd known, God, if she'd ever guessed that there was a hint of possibility that he'd managed to make it out of Sunnydale, maybe she could have gone to LA to fight beside him, one last time.
Maybe he'd still be alive – undead, whatever – now.
Another fragment she recalled later, Andrew falling all over himself to apologize, swearing that Spike himself had wanted to be the one to tell her, in his own time, had made Andrew promise to keep his secret; his sincere belief that he was doing the right thing by not telling her; his regret for coming between The Slayer And Her One True Love.
She turned away, unable to look at him, one hand holding her stomach in, the other shaking around her glass of juice.
Another fragment: when she found Giles in the kitchen and spoke his name; the look on his face when he realized she knew – not a hint of regret, only guilt that his lies were finally uncovered. The ache inside stabbed at her, until she thought she might throw up right then.
Luckily for her and the carpet, though, Giles started talking, and anger began to replace the agony. God, the man was a broken record where Spike was concerned: Spike was a vampire, one of the evil undead, soul or no soul; she wasn't in love, it was only obsession, allowing him to have an unhealthy influence on her judgment, even after all this time; it was for the best that she move on, get over him, try to live a normal life; he kept her in the dark – she laughed bitterly, he actually used the phrase "for your own good" – and on and on until she was no longer sick to her stomach, only sick of him.
She didn't remember his exact words and didn't want to. Her own, on the other hand…
"I didn't realize I was still sixteen, Giles," she began. His mouth snapped shut at the quiet, absolutely blank tone of her voice. It was a tone he hadn't heard her use since the days leading up to their battle against The First.
"I didn't realize my life was ever yours to run. I didn't realize those choices, those decisions about how I would live my life, were ever yours to make.
"Obsession? You of all people want to talk about obsessions and poor judgment? Well, I guess you'd know all about it, wouldn't you. After all, you're the one who tried to have Spike murdered behind my back, never mind that he had a soul, at the exact time when the First was working its hardest to divide us and just when I needed a warrior – a friend – I could depend on. You think being trustworthy is an unhealthy influence on my judgment? You're talking about the only man – the only person – to ever stand by me completely, unreservedly, with no strings attached and without walking out on me when I needed them most. That even includes my mother, Giles. And God knows it includes you."
She set her glass down on the counter before she could throw it across the room. Giles didn't move, didn't even seem to breathe as she found the words for her next assault.
"You want to talk about unhealthy influences?" she asked, turning to face him again. "Go look in the mirror. I remember the day we first met and you told me that a Watcher's job is to observe and record, but never interfere." She snorted in disbelief. "By those standards you're a terrible Watcher, Giles, or maybe just a liar and a hypocrite. You've done nothing but interfere from the beginning. You observe, and then you judge and you manipulate and you control… even if it's by doing nothing at all. And always, always, always because you knew what was best. Quentin Travers would be so proud.
"I'm done. Never again, Giles – never again," she repeated when he made as if to interrupt her. "You can find some other girl to try and make into your puppet. God knows you have enough other Slayers to choose from now, it should be pretty easy for you to find one willing to let you pull her strings whenever the hell you want. All I know is that it won't be me anymore. Not ever."
She was shaking with anger now as she moved toward the door, but she never raised her voice above that deadly low tone. "I can't believe I ever thought I could trust you again after Sunnydale. I should have known better. Now I do."
"Buffy…" Giles stepped toward her, a stricken look on his face. "Don't," she cut him off again. "I'll be packing my things and leaving, Giles. Today if I can. No later than this weekend. Don't cross my path. Don't speak to me, don't even look at me – you son of a bitch."
She made it as far as her room, one hand holding her stomach the entire time, before the tears began. She managed to get the door shut and locked, and to find a pillow to bury her face in, before she dropped to her knees and began to howl.
Afterward, exhausted and heartsore, she started methodically packing her things, wiping her cheeks occasionally as the tears started up again. Her stomach still hurt, there was an ache in her throat that she couldn't swallow away, her eyes were swollen, and there were only two thoughts she could hold onto for any length of time. The first, of course, was of Spike.
The second: What am I going to do now?