Holding On

Holding On

There were so many nights
when we lay as close as thieves.
Lying on the bed together laughing
I'd feel your breath upon my cheek.
But it all comes down to this
one look into your eyes
tells me something has gone.
I must be out of my mind.
I keep holding on.


All my life I've known
things must change
find a way of their own.
History rolls along so slow.
We never notice where it's going
- Jim Cuddy from the song ‘New Year’s Eve’

Buffy packs carefully. There isn’t much left here: some books, a picture of Cordelia and Wesley, their arms wrapped around each other, baby clothes that only hint at the memory of powder and sour milk, a long silver chain, a claddaugh dangling at the end.

She stands and rubs at her lower back. A cup of tea would be good. Or a stiff shot of whiskey. She bites her lip, misses Giles for a moment, and then turns back to the task.

Spike’s call hadn’t been completely unexpected.

It was years after the battle in Los Angeles. Years after he’d come for her in Rome and they’d settled into a life neither had ever really expected to have. She knew they’d always find their way back to each other. Always knew that they’d part again, too.

She’s just barely holding on here.

Spike appears at the door, a steaming cup in his hand.

“You’re psychic,” she says. “I hope there’s something stronger than tea in that.”

He smiles. “Of course, love.” He walks across the room and hands her the mug. “How’s it going?”

Buffy presses her lips together. She knows that when she does this, little lines appear around her mouth, revealing her age.

“I’m almost done.” She surveys the room. One small box is all that remains of the man she loved for almost her entire life. She takes a sip of the tea, startles at the bite of liquor. “Wow. You weren’t kidding.”

“I never kid,” Spike says.

“Since when?” Buffy says.

“And then what?” Spike says sitting on the edge of the bed. “Once you’re done, I mean.”

Buffy takes another sip of the spiked tea and sits beside him.

“I wish you could see yourself,” she says, ignoring his question and nodding towards the bureau mirror.

“I do,” Spike says so softly that it brings tears, finally, to Buffy’s eyes.

Afterwards, at dusk, Spike takes her out to the cemetery. There, in a plot Angel had purchased after Doyle died, were stones for Wesley and Gunn; one for Fred and another for Cordelia- even though her body had been shipped to Aspen, where her mother had settled after she’d divorced Cordy’s father.

“So many gone,” Buffy says, sadly, laying the flowers she’d brought at the foot of each tombstone. “Will he—will you--”

“I thought you’d rather do something for him back home.”

Spike means Rome.

“I guess,” Buffy says. It wasn’t something they’d ever planned for.

Spike sees her hesitation. “No. I can do something, pet,” he says.

“I just don’t know,” Buffy says twisting her empty hands together.

Spike places his hand between her shoulder blades. “It’s okay.”

“How would he like to be remembered, do you think?” It’s as though she doesn’t know him anymore, no longer trusts her memories of him.

“I’ll have to think on that,” Spike says.

Buffy nods.

“Should we dust some vamps,” Spike asks suddenly.

Buffy lifts her head and smiles. “Really?”

“I’m up for it, if you are,” Spike replies. “For old time’s sake.”

“I didn’t bring a stake,” Buffy says.

“Well, lucky for you I’m carrying a spare,” Spike says, pulling two lethal looking stakes from the pocket of his jacket.

Buffy takes one from him, presses her thumb against the pointy end. “Did you make this?”

Spike smiles proudly. “Pretty decent workmanship, I’d say,” he says. “Course, you could argue that it’s not politically correct but,” he shrugs, “who gives a fuck.”

Buffy is winded after the first fight. This isn’t really her gig anymore. She sits heavily on the grass and watches Spike, still as agile and ferocious as ever, dispense with two more vampires before he joins her.

“That was fun,” he says, pulling a pack of crumpled Marlboros from his pocket.

“I’m surprised I ever survived it,” Buffy says.

“I’m not,” Spike says. “You were the most stubborn, tenacious, resourceful Slayer I ever encountered. And you know I met a few in my day.”

“Seems like a long time ago.”

“For me, too,” Spike says.

“Doesn’t everything seem like a long time ago to you?” Buffy asks, smiling.

“You cut me to the quick,” Spike says, standing and offering his hand. “Come on, let’s get you back.”

Buffy can’t sleep. She wonders if it’s being back here, in Los Angeles, or being in close proximity to Spike or visiting the graves of her friends or the cold metal of the ring between her breasts.

She shifts restlessly in the bed, throws the covers back and walks over to the window.

The panes of glass are cool against her fingertips; the moon is an impartial witness. She turns her cheek to the cold glass, presses her body against it. Not like him, but enough.

Spike finds her.

“Come on, love,” he says.

“Oh God,” she says, her fingers drawing invisible lines down the glass. “I can’t do it, Spike.”

“Yes, you can. You’re the strongest person I know. You’ll get through this.”

He leads her back to the bed, tucks her under the sheet. She holds out her hand. Don’t leave me, her eyes say.

And he doesn’t.

Buffy wakes up alone. The room is bright, full of sunshine. She showers and dresses and heads downstairs to the kitchen.

Spike is standing at the stove, stirring something in a frying pan.

“Scrambled eggs, I think,” he says. “And I attempted coffee.” He laughs. “I’m not really…a cook.”

Buffy nods. She walks around the centre island and takes a coffee mug from the cupboard. She lingers, for a moment, at the stove.

“Thanks,” she says. “For last night.”

Spike nods.

“I don’t think I’ll stay much longer.”

“I know,” Spike says reaching for a plate. He scoops some of the not-half-bad-looking eggs onto it and hands it to Buffy. “Here. Try some vampire cuisine. There’s tomato sauce on the table if you’re interested in aesthetics.”

Buffy grimaces comically and then crosses the room to the table and sits down with her breakfast. It smells delicious. She can’t eat a bite.

“Spike,” she says.

He joins her at the table.

“What if he’s in some horrible hell dimension?”

“He’s not,” Spike says authoritatively.

“How can you be so sure?”

Spike shrugs. “He may never have gotten his Shanshu, Buffy, but he was human in every way that counts.”

“That actually doesn’t make me feel any better.”

Spike reaches out and pushes her plate a little closer. “You should eat.”

Angel had shown up in Rome almost three months after the battle with the Black Thorn. He was waiting for Buffy as she left the café where she’d been working for a little walking around money. The Council paid her a stipend for her years of service, but Buffy just wanted to earn money the old-fashioned way: serving cups of cappuccino and carafes of wine to tourists and the regular clientele who frequented the trendy spot on Via Del Porto.

That night, she’d dropped the last of the empty wine glasses on the counter, pulled off her apron and waved goodbye to Tristan, the British guy who worked the bar. She stepped outside onto the quiet street and, taking a lungful of humid air, decided to walk back home along the Tevere. She hadn’t taken two steps when she stopped, the hairs on her arms and neck prickling.

“Angel?” she said, twisting her head to look over her shoulder.

He materialized from between two buildings.

“Oh my God,” she said, turning all the way around and closing the gap between them in three long strides. “Oh my God!”

“Hello, Buffy,” he said, his mouth curling up.

“What are you doing here? When did you get here? Are you okay?”

Angel laughed. “One question at a time would probably be easier, but for the record: I came to see you; I just got here; I’m fine. Now.”

“Are you real?” she whispered.

He reached out a hand and touched her cheek.

“Oh, boy,” Buffy said.

The adjustment had been blissfully easy and painfully difficult. Buffy had to deal with the fact that Angel was still a vampire; Angel had to deal with that fact, too. He was battle weary, sadder than Buffy had ever seen him. The hope he’d held on to that one day he’d be mortal was gone. He’d signed it away, he told Buffy, as part of his ruse to gain the Black Thorn’s trust.

“You signed it away?”

“In blood,” he told her.

“But why? What about us?”

“I know,” he’d said pulling her close. “I know.”

They fell into a rhythm that was, in its way, a comfort. They patrolled and talked and Buffy cooked food that he only nibbled at. They slept in the same bed, twined around each other like gnarled roots. Sometimes he touched her carefully along the smooth skin beneath her nipple or between her legs until she cried out, fist in mouth.

They didn’t make love.

Buffy said: “You can’t seriously think, knowing all we know, that you’re actually in danger of losing your soul, Angel.”

“That’s not why I won’t make love to you, Buffy.”

She felt perilously close to pouting. “Then what gives.”

“I’m not staying.”

“What’s that supposed to mean.”

Angel dropped his eyes.

“It’s not what I want for you.”

“Please tell me we are not--” Buffy rolled her eyes dramatically. “The last time you read me Angel’s Rules for Dating I was seventeen. For God’s sake, Angel, I’m almost twenty-two.”

“And I’m almost two hundred and fifty.”

“That’s your come back? Puh-leeze.”

“Eventually you’ll see,” he said ending the discussion.

He was right. Of course.

They lived in different worlds. As much as her light called to his darkness, as much as her lips yearned for his, as much as she knew he loved her and she him, they were always destined to be what they were: a Slayer and a vampire.

Buffy was thirty when he left for good. During the in-between years, he’d come and go- following the trail of some of the most heinous demons that walked the earth, destroying them with single-minded purpose and then returning to Rome for rest and comfort and companionship.

Then, one day, Buffy knew something had changed. Slaying had changed; they hardly ever did that together. Years of it had finally caught up with Buffy anyway; she no longer had the appetite (or the physical strength) for it anymore. Besides, she wasn’t the one and only Slayer, hadn’t been in quite some time. She and Angel trolled the graveyards because it was familiar, comfortable. Nostalgic.

“I heard there’s a Flith’tp Demon in Crete,” Angel said one morning over his breakfast blood.

“Wow,” Buffy said. “They’re rare.”

Angel nodded.

“I think I’ll go check it out. I mean, I should.”

“Yeah, sure. Want me to come with?”

Angel smiled a smile that was so distant, Buffy had to look away.

“No.”

He was already gone when Buffy woke up. It took her a second to realize that this was the moment she’d been dreading for the past eight years. She ran her hand over his pillow, pulled it close against her and breathed in the familiar smell that lingered: wood and leather, shampoo and earth.

Although they had never discussed it, Buffy had always known that Angel had meant what he’d said: I’m not staying.

I’m not staying.

He was gone.

Others left her, too, in the years that followed. Giles died of a massive coronary. The funeral was horrendous. Willow called and told her that Kennedy had died of cancer. Buffy hadn’t gone to that funeral. Andrew drifted in and out of a coma brought on by his brush with a Gerush demon. Every year, it seemed, Buffy had less Christmas cards to send and received even fewer herself.

Except for his, which arrived like clockwork, on Christmas Eve every year until the year it didn’t.

And then Spike called.

Spike hadn’t changed. Well, vampires rarely did. They were what they were until their luck ran out. Despite the antagonistic nature of their relationship, Buffy always knew that Spike and Angel (and Darla and Drusilla) had a bond that she could never sever or understand.

Like calls to like.

Angel had come back to the City of Angels after he’d left Rome. Buffy supposed it was appropriate to return to the scene of the crime, as it were. To be back to the place where he could visit the graves of the fallen.

She hadn’t seen Spike in a million years and his cheekbones still cut like glass.

He was waiting at the hotel when she got there. He didn’t try to make small talk or get her to share her grief or anything else for that matter. He showed her Angel’s room and he let her be.

“I don’t miss America,” Buffy says. They are standing at the pier. The sun has slipped into the water, leaving a thin band of pink across the horizon.

“I don’t miss England,” Spike says.

“I wonder why? How is it that you can just leave a place that was home and never look back?”

“Dunno really. S’pose it’s because home isn’t a place.”

Buffy looks over at Spike.

“Ah. ‘Home is where the heart is.’”

“Sounds corny, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

“Maybe then Angel needs to be here,” Buffy says.

“Silly girl,” Spike says.

She is a silly girl to think it could have ended any other way but this.

Buffy lays out what was left of Angel in LA beside what is left in Rome. So little to mark the passage of time. She considers what might be left of her when she goes.

Here is Angel:

A few books, a photograph, a baby’s sleeper, a piece of jewellery on a silver chain, a couple shirts he hadn’t taken.

And here is Buffy:

Almost thirty-seven, an unemployed ex-Slayer with a younger sister and scattered friends, dead parents and a flat she doesn’t own, a head full of memories and a heart full of glass.

She doesn’t tell anyone he’s gone. Spike knows and that’s enough.

At night, she sits in a chair by the window and watches the Tevere glitter under the lights from the city. Rome is so old, so much older than LA or New York. There’s comfort in that, in knowing that things go on. Even if he isn’t one of them.

She knows she has to find a way to keep on living. He’d be cross with her for staying maudlin too long. And she doesn’t want to end up like one of those crazy old cat-ladies, living in squalor, sharing tins of tuna with her felines.

Besides, her sorrow is overshadowed by her anger. That’s the truth. She is so angry. At him and at fate and at herself for ever accepting his dogged belief that he wanted more for her. Fuck you. That’s what she thinks.

Fuck you.

When things are really bad, she conjures him up- her fingers for his.

Buffy wonders if this is what it would have been like for her if she’d married Riley and he got killed in the line of duty or in some bizarre farm equipment accident. She wonders how she’d feel looking down at his maimed body, so strong but fragile. Easy to break.

Buffy has a hard time remembering what it felt like to kiss Riley. She thinks she should know, but she doesn’t.

She’d had a chatty e-mail from him once. He was in Guadeloupe or El Salvador. Sam, too. Just checking in. She’d deleted it without replying.

Some things are easier to let go of than others.

She’ll never get through this night.

Or the next one.

Angel told her once that in 243 years he had never loved anyone else. She’d counted on him saying that after another 243.

Buffy cries until her eyes are dry and burning.

She thinks of all the nevers:

Never have his children.
Never get married in the sunshine.
Never see his reflection in a mirror.
Never order eggs benedict on a balcony in Bali.

Ohgodohgodohgod…

He made love to her once. In a dream.

This is all she has to sustain her. Not what came after. She loved him still.

Corrects herself. Loves him still.

She closes her eyes.

He is so beautiful. Even in death.

In the end she thinks Ireland is more fitting than Rome. She tells Dawn that she’s taking a break. She packs Angel’s things and she flies from the Mediterranean heat to the damp shores of Galway.

She rents a stone cottage, fills the stove with peat, wraps a shawl around her narrow shoulders, drinks tea.

She feels, strangely, close to him even though he never talked about his birthplace and the lilt of accent was long gone from his voice. (How has Spike managed to retain his all these years? Buffy wonders.)

At dusk she walks down to the shore. The sea is a huge heaving chest; the salt air whips around her face, chaps her lips.

Did he come here as a child? Did he swim in these waters? Buffy wishes now that she had asked him. These questions and so many others will clutter her head until she dies.

When she’s too cold, she goes back up to the cottage, stokes the fire, and crawls beneath the thick goose feather duvet.

On the second morning she takes his belongings and buries them in the yard. All of it, except the ring. She can’t bear to part with that.

She dreams that he has come back to her. She dreams of being young. She dreams of what was and can never be. She wakes up, terrified and sweating and coming against the pillow between her legs. She wakes up alone.

She writes him a letter.

She tells him all of her hopes and fears and dreams and sorrows. She tells him how it felt the first time he kissed her and the first time he touched her cheek and the first time he pressed his mouth between her legs. She tells him why she chose Riley and why she fucked Spike. She tells him how it felt to throw herself from the platform and dig herself out of the grave. She tells him what it was like to find out she had a sister and what it was like to lose her mother and to watch her friends die. She tells him about Angelus, about how she hated him (and loved him) and the guilt she felt that she couldn’t kill him and then could.

She writes the ink out of the pen.

And then she burns the letter and leaves Ireland.

His leaving was like the taste of lemon on her tongue- a sharp and bitter tang.

Her world was better for knowing he was in it. And now her world is less.

The loss is hard.

But so is living.

Buffy knows that. Has known it since she was sixteen. Before, even.

She doesn’t have a calling anymore, but she has a purpose.

For as long as she remembers, Angel lives.

The End

Story Index
Thoughts