Remember

They remembered. Six months ago Sunnydale had become a crater, and that's all they did. The potentials were scattered like starlings before a storm - some to Cleveland, some to St. Louis, New York, Miami. Some back to England with Giles and Willow, saying goodbye with dark and too-knowing eyes. Kennedy had stayed behind, bitter and snappish, and then gone south-west somewhere - Mexican demons, maybe. It had been a relief to see the last of her angry, left-behind face. Faith and Wood gone walk-about, and really, that had been a relief too; their togetherness as bad as anything else. Angel's crew had made a deal - Wolfram and Hart - and they were gone. Andrew had simply...disappeared. Broken through the treacherous crust of night-time LA and gone down - drowning, not waving. They'd barely noticed. Now it was just Buffy and Angel and Xander in the Hyperion, and they remembered.

Demons and vampires still roamed the streets, so they still went out, night after night, knives and stakes and fists, blood and bones. Afterwards they would sit in the kitchen, a bottle between them, two glasses. Pour, drink, and remember.

"Remember when he would..."

"Remember the night he..."

"Remember how he'd..."

Xander didn't join in this - he remembered differently; picking up the bottle and turning it in his hands, memorizing the familiar label and watching them, his one-eyed stare cold. But he was silent, like he'd never been before.

After all these years, Angel had started smoking, and that was between them, too - the red and white pack, the overflowing ashtray. Angel held the cigarette cupped in his palm, watching the smoke curl out from between his fingers. Buffy held it like the flame-tipped cylinder of poison that it was, but still pulled the smoke into her mouth, rolling it over her tongue, pluming it up to the ceiling. Xander got that the most right, of all of them - holding and smoking as if he had done it all his life.

Buffy had taken to bleaching her hair. A shade paler every week, until it was a stark platinum blonde that made her eyes huge and dark. She'd cut it, too, and wore it combed straight back, curling under at her jaw. As close as she could get - would get.

When they were killing was the only time Xander would talk - sarcastic commentary on what they were doing that evoked other comments - other nights. He worked at it until it was perfected, just like the smoking, and sometimes it was almost like he was there, again. Afterwards, Xander would stalk away and not come back for hours, joining them at the kitchen table when they'd killed half a bottle and the talk flowed freely; first Buffy, then Angel, both locked into memories the other knew nothing about. Talking in circles but always circling back to him, to him.

Later, it wasn't enough, and Angel and Buffy took to remembering other ways. Buffy would lie with eyes closed, feeling cool flesh under her fingers, letting her lips rest on the pulse-point of a throat that had none, breathing in scents of whiskey and smoke and leather and remembering.

Angel looked down with half-shut eyes, seeing nothing but pale skin and bleach-blond hair; a blur in the filtered streetlight, taste of smoke and whiskey and sometimes blood on the mouth that was too warm. Perfect happiness not a question, any more. They both whispered their remembrances then, whispered things that once upon a time would have slashed their hearts to pieces but now - was just barely enough.

"Remember how he'd sigh my name, just whisper it..."

"Remember how he'd kiss, here, right here, edge of tooth..."

"Remember when he'd move, like this, ohh..."

"Remember how he'd smile, after, and let me hold him..."

Xander would stand outside the door on those nights, forehead pressed to the wood and hands clenched into fists. He'd remember as well; reciting old fights and old jokes, spooling out more of him into the dank stillness of the Hyperion's corridors then either of them did. Remembering times neither Angel nor Buffy had ever known about - stolen kisses and desperate fucks in the basement, at Spike's crypt - something that wasn't quite love but that hurt, all the same. Angel would listen and remember and forget that the body beneath him, above him, had a heartbeat, or warmth of its own, and he would arch his head back and wait, straining, for the fever-prickle of fangs to his throat that never came, the pale-blond body moving and sighing but never quite resolving itself into...him.

During the day they separated. Buffy would sit in the lobby; more smoke, black coffee, staring into the shadows and the dark spaces. Staring so hard that sometimes the dark spaces stared back. Angel would sleep in restless fits and starts, and he took to wandering the halls, searching. Sometimes he stood outside of Xander's nest, up in the top floor of the hotel, and listened to the sounds of British punk music, or to silence, that seeped under the door. Sometimes he smelled pot, and sometimes he smelled blood, but Xander never invited him in and he never asked. Just stood there, listening.

When they slept, they curled themselves around emptiness and slept like junkies - mumbling over their memories and waking often, crying out, searching the dimness for the elegant curve of cheekbone, the languid drape of worn black leather.

Buffy painted her nails, darker and darker red, then plum, then finally black, and Angel never put off his mourning colors. Xander just watched them, hard-eyed and thinner by the week, jeans and ragged t-shirt, boots and a little line of black under his eye, the patch on the other gone ragged, showing scars. He went out by himself and didn't come back and didn't come back, and then on the fourth day he did, and he'd done it - found the ultimate way to remember, the best way, and Buffy only looked at him in sick and silent envy, and Angel wearily acknowledged him with a nod and a sigh.

And Xander curled his lip in a trade-mark smirk, showing fangs, and went away upstairs, remembering the demon by being the demon, and all the little conjured shadows followed in his wake.