The Grieving Process

A/N: 1244 words.

Willow's the first one in the door. Spike glances up from the creature feature on TV, arm wrapped around a sleeping Dawn, just in time to realize that something's wrong. He's not fast enough to stop Angel from walking in the door.

Of course he's there. Of course he came.

There's moments of quiet snarling, both conscious of the sleeping girl at Spike's side, before Willow cuts in between them looking more tired than anything. That's what makes them stop - how tired she is.

"I'm taking Dawn up to bed," she says, weary eyes. "And I can't afford to fix anything else that breaks, so you guys probably better leave before you talk." She pauses. "No dusting," she instructs, no joking, no threats. They both nod and exit out the front door, waiting to hear her lock it behind them.

Angel touches the door softly, head ducked forward to hear. Spike snorts disdainfully at him and lights a cigarette. Vampire hearing removes the need for dramatics, but the day Angel lets an opportunity for dramatics pass is the day the earth grinds to a halt in its orbit.

When Angel's eyes cut up to Spike's, they're full of lectures, of the promise of pain - and not just the fun, bloody kind. Spike just rolls his eyes and starts down the steps.

He's yanked backward by the collar of his duster and shirt, tripping backward on the steps and sprawling there, banging his back against the edge. Angel's in his face instantly, holding him by the lapels and snarling low, under his breath. "If I find out you had anything to do with..."

He doesn't get a chance to finish. Spike's already swinging. There's a solid thump of flesh under his knuckles - old, familiar flesh he's touched a thousand times. A hundred thousand. They fight in the front yard of Revello Drive, moon overhead and the unthinkable under their feet. Both of them still walking, still moving, still alive, whatever that means, and she's...

The blood runs hot in them now, in the thrill of the fight. So many times they've fought, and every crack on the jaw, every thud of bone under muscle, every knee to the head and heel to the gut just makes them angrier, harsher. They breathe in the night, dead air mingling with dead air, but it's still air, they still breathe it. Not like her.

Angel scores a hit on Spike that makes his mouth fill with blood. He coughs and it bursts out, spattering the grass and the sidewalk. Angel grabs him again, furious now, and Spike understands it. Blood on the lawn. Blood on the flowerbed. But the next hit doesn't come, or if it does, Angel picks a strange fist - his mouth closes on Spike's, and the moment of surprise there lets Angel's tongue sweep over the red drops. Spike feels the shudder go through him and almost kisses back before he remembers.

She's gone.

He pulls back and feels his face shifting to match Angel's, fangs and lumps, pain and destruction. He throws himself at Angel, forehead cracking against Angel's nose and making an answering flow of blood there. Angel stumbles back and Spike's on him, slamming his fist into Angel's ribs over and over. He doesn't even hear his own voice.

"Where were you, where were you? We needed you and you were gone, you're always gone, you let her go, you..."

Angel's fist cracks against his chin, sending him flying backward to skid on the grass. They both lie there for a minute, listening to one another breathe. Like sire, like fledge.

They get up at the exact same time, pushing up off the turf, raw earth in their hands, their nails. For a second, Spike's lost, doesn't see Angel or the trees or the porch or anything, but he wipes the blood from his eyes, and there it all is. It's getting colder out here. Then Angel slams into him, all movement and speed like a rampaging bull, and Spike whirls and throws him. It works, though it shouldn't have, but Spike's blind again and doesn't care. The world's gone blurry, watercolor.

He gets on top of Angel, straddling his waist and pummelling ribs again, but Angel catches his wrists and pulls him down. Spike fights the hold, but Angel's arms snake around his rib cage and crush them together. Spike's breath is gone, so he lays quiet against Angel's body. Angel eases up on the pressure, and they just lie there near the spreading oak tree, shaking against one another - from the fight or the cold or something else again.

And then Spike has to move again, but this time it's his hand coming up to curl in Angel's spiky hair, his mouth closing the distance and tasting blood on Angel's lips. He expects to be hit, expects to be thrown, screamed at.

I didn't save her, I was there, I should have, he'll think I'll hurt the Bit and Willow, the bastard, and he'll think I'm...

He is unprepared for Angel's hands closing on his shoulders, but when they do, and Angel pushes him over, onto his back, that makes sense. There's no way, though, not this time, and he slams his legs back against he ground instead of around Angel's waist, tries to get up, to pull Angel's mouth to him. Won't take it like that, not again. Not this time. Not when he'll try to make it something other than what it is.

Angel fights back, of course. Their mouths meet and then they're both on their knees, gripping necks and shoulders and hair, pressing and pulling advantage, disadvantage. When they finally pull apart for unneeded breath, both leather jackets bear the nail prints where they clutch at each other. The skin bears the mark of their need. There's a third presence here tonight, and they tried so desperately to ignore her, get lost in blaming each other and hating and fighting, but there she is.

They let go.

Nails come free of leather with a poking sound; they climb up on their feet unsteadily. For a long moment, they stare at each other - same bruises, same dark clothes, same tracks through the blood on their faces. Same misery, same grief. They recognize it.

Angel breaks eye contact first, looking down at his feet and putting his hands in his pockets. Spike watches him for a minute more, then sighs and fishes the cigarettes from his pocket. He lights two and hands one over without even thinking about it. Angel stares at it, at him, like they're dirty and inappropriate, but that's familiar in its way, too, and when Angel takes the cigarette and puts it to his lips, it makes sense.

"I'm not going," Spike says softly.

Angel nods slowly, takes a drag. "I am. Tibet, for a while, I think."

Spike nods along. It's what Angel would do - skip out when the going got tough. But it does no good to say that now, and anyway, he's got what he wants.

Well. As much as he can.

They smoke together on the front lawn, silent. It's all unspoken, doesn't need voice to make it be. When the stub of Angel's cigarette goes flicking off to the curb, smoldering red tip end over end, they're done. Angel heads for his car, and Spike to the house, and that's that.