Apocolypse Then
Liz Harris (lizz140@yahoo.com)
Disclaimer: Theyíre not mine, stop asking!
Distribution: list archives, whichever of my sites I put it on.
Pairing: Angel/everyone (in a friendly way), Wes/Gunn
Summary: Takes place just after Angelís slated apocolypse, Wes, Gunn, Cordy have to deal.
Notes: The poem is ĎO Captain! My Captainí by Walt Whitman
Thanks: To Ames for the handholding, support and beta, Shirlz for her beta, and Walt Whitman, without whom I would not have been inspired to write this.
Challenge in a Can: Wesley- Shirt- Furious
Improv: Orange- Air- Dark- Chime

"I think Iím beginning to understand this now- it's all about the journey, isnít it?"
-Giles in Restless

*

"O Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done;
the ship has weathered every rack, the prize we saught is won;
the port is near, the bells I hear, all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring...

My Captain cannot answer; his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse or will;
The ship is anchored safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won:

Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead."


Wesley nodded once to Cordelia. "Cordelia," he said softly, touching her on the shoulder when she didnít move. She finally looked up at him, clutching the urn so tightly, unwilling to let it go. As if it could hug her back... "Cordelia, itís time."

Keeping her face blank she pulled open the lid and turned it upside down.

They watched in silence as the wind picked up the ashes and made them swirl in the sir, giving one last morbid dance before flying off to parts unknown.

Cordelia pulled the urn back to her chest and cast her eyes inside the vase and turned it upside down again, shaking it this time- then shaking it again harder when the last pieces of dust remained inside. She gave a cry of frustration and after several more angry shakes she hurled the vase as hard as she could into the ocean.

A look of surprise and pain crossed her face with such intensity that Gunn had the sudden urge to lunge for it, deadly cliffs be damned.

"No!" her scream echoed, bouncing along the waves and changing the tone so that when it came back it was laughing and mocking like wind chimes or children playing from far away, almost gleeful with her grief.

She sank heavily to her knees and Wesley rested a gentle hand on her shoulder the two men watched, helpless, as she cried in big, loud, gasping-for-air sobs.

Wesley looked over at Gunn worriedly but said nothing.

*

The ride home was silent, each so lost in the comfort of companionship, the distraction of their own thought, the mind-numbing grief, and the fear that all three would end with the car ride.

They hadnít seen each other in four days. (Four days? Had it only been four days?) Four days since Angel averted the apocalypse, four days since LA was reduced to rubble, four days since Angel died...

It was Wesley who had extended the olive branch. He had slipped a note under Cordelia's door (hers was one of the very few neighborhoods not destroyed). He hadnít quite known what to write.

Cordelia,

I've knocked on your door for the past two days. I know you're in there. I gathered Angel's ashes and I'll be by your house tomorrow just before sunset.

Please come.

Wesley

Though Gunn had been more difficult, at least he had spoken to him face to face. Well, face to face whenever Gunn would look at him. He seemed too busy cleaning up his gangs hotel (a last gift from Angel) to care about saying goodbye to Angel but he was there the next day, waiting for Wesley to pull up, saying nothing more than, 'I'd rather mourn alone'.

Neither he nor Cordelia had said anything about the fact that Wesley was driving Angel's car and for that Wesley was grateful.

Wesley pulled up in front of Cordeliaís apartment and put on the brake.

No one moved.

"Have you called Buffy yet?" asked Wesley finally.

"No." Her voice was hoarse. "The phones are still out, remember?"

He hadnít forgotten.

"I was, um, going to go home for a while. Give up my lease and stuff."

Wesley and Gunn turned to her.

"Leave? You canít just leave."

"What about the visions?"

Cordelia glared at Wesley. "Fuck the goddamn visions, Wesley. The guy they were intended for is dead. I don't even know if I'm getting them anymore." She opened the door and stepped a foot out. "Fuck the goddamn visions." She got out and slammed the door.

"Cordelia," Wesley called to her. She stopped but didnít turn around. "Grab some things," he said finally. "Weíll all go down there for a couple of days. You may decide Sunnydale still isn't where you want to be and thereís no point in giving up all this," he gestured to the pile of rubble that used to be LA. "when you may change your mind."

She gave him a tired, non-committal smile, and slowly walked into the building.

"Iím glad she's doin' so good," said Gunn sincerely.

Wesley gave him a curious look in the rear view mirror. "You're talking about Cordelia?"

Gunn nodded. "At least she's letting it out, you know? Unlike a lover of his I could mention who hasn't shed a tear."

Wesley's jaw tightened. A million comebacks raced through his mind like- how did Gunn know... and Gunn didn't appear to be grieving either... This was not something he wanted to be discussing so he chose the quickest end to the conversation. "Thatís *former* lover and it's really none of your business how I grieve." His hands gripped the steering wheel tighter.

"Yeah, you're right... Only problem is, you ain't grieving."

"I'm English. This *is* how we grieve."

"Bullshit. You been in America for eight years now- you officially became a citizen five years ago. You ain't English no more. I know how this story goes: you bottle it up like this- eventually youíre going to release it and that release may get you killed."

Cordelia came out just then with a small bag of clothes.

"We donít discuss this in front of Cordelia," Wesley whispered intently. "Or ever," he muttered as he helped Cordelia put her bag in the back seat.

Wesley waited patiently as Cordelia got herself situated before pulling away from the curb.

Getting out of LA was tougher it sounded. The aftermath of an apocalypse was spread all over the streets rendering many of them undriveable.

Wesley picked his way carefully through the traffic and rubble and within the hour they were on a highway that bordered a cliff and the ocean.

Wesley stared blankly at the dark road in front of him. This was what life would be like from now on. Just a dark road with no end (or anything else, really) in sight. Life no longer held a purpose without the apocalypse to prepare for. He glanced over at Cordelia, and then Gunn in the rearview mirror. They were still so young though you couldn't tell it from their faces. The weight of death and depression hung on them making them seem centuries older than their birth years.

He had to take care of them now. Had to make sure Cordelia started eating again and Gunn didnít go running off to find his death in some too-absurd-to-be-noble cause. It was all up to him...

Gunn leaned his head back and stared at the sky, grateful Wesley had left the top down on the convertable. It was a full moon tonight, so full and looked ready to burst. So bright it tinted the sky around it blue. He couldn't remember the last time he'd seen the stars; this sky at night almost didn't seem real. Like at any moment the fantasy someone painted would be torn down from the sky leaving only the murky burnt orange tinted clouds heíd always grown up with. All an illusion... A part of him hated this sky for all its beauty. Why should it choose to hide itself from him and all the other people he's worked with for the past six years? Why should it be denied them after all theyíd done... all theyíd sacrificed?

All they'd sacrificed. He couldnít feel the kind of pain over just Angel's death the way Cordelia and Wesley were. He'd lost too many people to focus on one death. Anne was gone. He sometimes felt that Anne was so much the better person- while Gunn was out killing evil Anne was saving lives. There's a difference. She dealt in life, Gunn was always in death.

A couple of days ago heíd set out on a little pilgramage. Determined to visit the places his friends had died. Both to say his goodbyes and to make sure he knew where they all were. Maps burned into his memory. If he were truly honest with himself heíd admit that he'd spent the longest time at Angel's site. He knew what had happened the first time Angel was killed and part of him hoped if he hung around long enough...

Gunn crossed his arms against his chest and closed his eyes, trying to get some sleep.

Cordelia leaned her head to the side, resting it on the door. The ocean was loud enough to be heard over the car and the white noise was a comfort, it let her mind wander without the sense that it was going anywhere. Images floated through her mind without her having to control them. Things from years back, long since forgotten, came in uninvited.

Seeing Angel for the first time... the party in LA where sheíd seen him again... Doyleís death... her first in a long line of visions... waking from her Vocah demon induced vision-catatonia... so many, many more... And in all those memories, woven like a golden thread (a broody, scowly, golden thread), was Angel. What would life be like now that he wasn't there making her day miserable? Always there to point out that the silver lining around the clouds was just more acid rain.

She had secretly, whenever she had a spare moment, been making a list of all the things she wanted to show him when he became human. Rollercoaster rides and morning glories and picnics and all those things he'd had hints of in his years of redemption but had never really had. She still had the list tucked inside her bra, unable to throw it away.

There was a loud roar as the ocean claimed her attention again. And she watched it rise and fall, rise and fall... coming closer and closer before slipping away quickly and quietly with nothing more than a whisper to announce its departure. In with a roar, out with a whisper.

They'd thrown Angel's ashes in that very ocean. Letting the winds take them wherever winds take the ashes of the dead. Maybe they were all in one place sitting and waiting to be found, laughing at the great cosmic joke that had thought to put them there...



Cordelia straightened her head up suddenly. "Stop the car."

"What?"

"Stop the car, Wes. Now."

Wesley pulled over to the side of the road and put the car in park.

"Whatís wrong?"

Cordelia stared at the ocean for a long time before opening the door. "Nothing's wrong I just- there's just something I have to do." She stepped out of he car and began walking along the edge of the cliff.

Wesley and Gunn both rose up simultaneously, looking over the top of the windshield.

"Hey, Cordy, where you goin'?" called Gunn.

"I'm looking for a-" she pointed at something between the trees. "that." She said as she disappeared down the path to the ocean.

Gunn hopped out of the car and went to follow her. "Where the hell is she-"

"Let her go," said Wesley sinking back into the drivers seat. "She needs to be alone right now. She has to deal with this in her own way."

Gunn walked back to the car. "Maybe you should follow her example," he muttered as he leaned against the front of the car.

"You just won't let it go, will you?" asked Wesley stepping out of the car.

Gunn just shrugged and crossed his arms. "Whatever man. All I'm saying is that it won't hurt anything to let out some of those feelings youíve been holding in."

Wesley looked at him. "Since when did you become the break down and share type, Gunn? And if I fell apart like the two of you did, who would be there to take care of the aftermath? Bandaging your wounds, wrapping her wrist?" His voice was raised louder than he had intended but he was too upset to care and he jerked off his glasses and turned his fury on Gunn. "Who would have picked up Angel's ashes? Who would have cleaned up Angel's hotel so that you and your little troop can move in? Who would have put his things in boxes to bring to Buffy? Who saw to it David and Anne were buried and that all of those people got out of the building? Who would do all those things, Gunn? Certainly not you or Cordelia. You're too busy all of a sudden and she's currently going through a nervous breakdown I donít think I can pull her out of. So who does it Gunn? Someone has to keep their head or nothing around here gets done. Someone has to keep their head or people die- ANGEL dies."

He looked down at his hands in frustration both wishing that they could snatch that last sentence and hide it away again and hoping for something throwable to appear but all that was in them were his glasses and he couldn't throw those. No. Sensible Wesley, practical Wesley knew that while throwing them would feel good right now once it was done his glasses would be smashed or scratched beyond usage- he needed them to drive.

"That's what this is all about? You think it's your fault that Angel died?"

Wesley stepped forward so that their noses were almost touching, eyes burning with intensity and unshed tears and barely controlled anger. "I was responsible, Gunn," he whispered with deadly intensity. "There are a thousand and one reasons why he died and they all have me as the catalyst."

Gunn was already shaking his head. "No, man. It wasn't your fault. No one thinks that and you know why? Cause it's bullshit. You would have given your life to save Angel- don't know how smart you are for that but it's true."

"I may not see him through the rose coloured glasses I started out with but I still know heís a greater man than I and that if I could I would take his place right now so that he could live."

Gunn looked at him strangely. "He wasn't a man. He was a vampire and if he were to have turned back into a human after the apocalypse he would not have been any different than you or I. Well, 'cept we have better social skills. And this thing that youíre doing, this trying to take Angel's place- donít. Don't try cause you can't ever live up to the Angel that runs around in your head."

Anger, guilt, and grief gone in an instant as Wesley refused to meet Gunnís eyes anymore. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Come on, Wes. The car, the clothes... you mean to tell me you picked out that outfit without Angel in mind? You donít even own a black shirt."

"I just canít help it," Wesley whispered finally. "I don't *want* to be Angel. I donít want to drive around in this car that reminds me of him every five seconds, I donít want all this pain I have inside that I can't do anything about, I donít want my dearest friends to hurt as much as they do and most of all I don't want the knowledge that it's only going to get worse. But I still do it. It's the only thing I have to do now." He sucked in a breath of air, uncertain what to do next. He scratched at his cheek only to find tears on his face, which he rubbed at self-consciously with the back of his hand feeling every bit the ten-year-old with a skinned knee.

Their eyes met and a thread of understanding stretched between them. Gunn opened his arms and Wesley went into them gratefully. It was the first physical contact he'd had in days and he found his body had been aching for it.

The tears came finally. Gunn said nothing in that time only held on tightly, never wavering in the intensity of the hug. Wesley straightened up and pulled out his handkerchief, dabbing at his eyes.

"My mind has been so focused on the apocalypse and how to aid Angel that now that itís over..."

"Youíre feeling lost?"

Wesley nodded. "Yeah."

They hugged again briefly and when Wesley pulled back their eyes met.

Gunn leaned forward and pressed his lips to Wesley's. There was an instant when he didn't respond, when the shock of what Gunn was doing stopped his mind. But it was only and instant and Wesley soon recovered enough to return the kiss with the same intensity, the same quiet *need*. It wasn't full of passion orfumbling fingers at waistbands, but the gentle I'm-here-and-I-care old lovers give to one another.

They broke apart, finally when their lips were too numb from the pressure to do anything more than quiver.

"I- I didn't know you..." Wesley trailed off, unsure how to complete the sentence.

"Swing that way?" supplied Gunn with a grin.

"No. I mean, I didn't know that but I was going to say, 'cared for me.' Why didnít you... tell me?"

Gunn shrugged, arms still around Wesleyís waist. "It was always the wrong time. First I didn't even know if you were, then you were with Angel, then you were coming off a pretty intense relationship... then Angel was dead."

"What made you..."

Gunn shrugged again. "It just occurred to me that there would never be a good time. That any time I chose would be the best."

Wesley looked at Gunn uncertain what to say or do next. "I wish you would have told me. I-" He was cut off suddenly by a rustling of branches as Cordelia burst through a patch of trees that was decidedly not the path she went down on.

They broke away self consciously, hoping she was too concerned with picking leaves out of her hair to see Angelís former lover embracing another man just days after his death.

When she looked at Wesley her eyes were clear and the gray that had tinged her face for the past week was gone.

"Are you all right?" he asked her quietly so as not to disturb her mood.

She passed up the two men and sat in the passenger seat. "I'm much better than I was."

Wesley looked at Gunn. The back of his mind was whispering to him about how the suicidal are always very cheerful a day or so before they kill themselves.

"Um, are you guys coming or are you going to make out some more? Cause if so I'm driving and you two can get in the back seat."

Wesley stared at her for a moment, opened mouthed. "Yes, uh, right. No thank you, I know your driving." Wesley and Gunn returned to the car and after a moment of situating themselves Wesley pulled out onto the highway again.

There was silence in the car again but of a different kind. They seemed to drive now with more hope. Angel was dead, yes; Buffy would have to be told, yes; the coming days would be just as hard as the last few but stillÖ Perhaps it was the return of Cordelia's cheerful personality or the fact that Wesley and Gunn seemed to be starting something. Maybe it was the fact that the sky was at its darkest- inky black that threatened to wink out the stars- a sure sign the sun was soon to rise.

Wesley's mind was racing, wondering what brought about Cordeliaís sudden about face. Did she get a vision? Perhaps of Angel dropping down from heaven like he did all those years ago... no, not heaven, hell. Angel had been in hell. Still, he might return. Perhaps...

"I said goodbye to him," she said finally, breaking the silence. "I know that's what his funeral was for and everything but I donít know, I guess I just needed a little more time."

"I didnít mean to push you," said Wesley quietly. "I was just worried."

She smiled. "I know. I was doing my Anne Frank impression a little to long- my tan was stating to fade, it was time I got out. I just needed a kick in the butt." She stopped for a moment, mentally getting back on track. "I'd been making a list for him- of all the beautiful things you can only see in the light of day... I gave it to him when I was down at the ocean." She stared out at the ocean again, seemingly finished with her story.

"Gave it to him?"

"Gave it to him, as in, I ripped it up into little pieces and threw it into the ocean. Maybe it'll get back to him or maybe it'll kill a couple of fish." She gave them a moment to let that sink in before continuing. "Heís not coming back. I'd convinced myself he would, you know, cause he never got to Shoeshine-"

"Shanshu," Wesley dutifully corrected.

"Whatever, he never got to. He wasn't human for even a tenth of a second. But I think- no, I *know* he's getting a reward elsewhere. I can feel it. Sitting there next to all the pain and anger and sadness is a- a sense of *rightness*." She looked at them. "You guys must feel it to."

Wesley nodded slowly. He'd always assumed the feeling was due to the fact that he aided in averting the apocolypse, but now...

The silence that had taken up residence in the car had changed. It was no longer a heavy weight reminding them of all the things said and unsaid.

"Welcome to Sunnydale. Enjoy your stay," read Gunn as they entered the town.

Wesley pulled into Buffy's driveway and turned off the car. No one moved. "I should tell her," said Wesley finally.

"Fine with me," said Cordelia a little too quickly.

"Me too," said Gunn.

No one moved.

"Does she know... about you and Angel?" asked Cordelia softly.

"I never told her but... Angel may have. Though when he and I were together they didnít talk much."

"And afterward?"

"Afterward I didn't ask," said Wesley. The conversation being uncomfortable enough to make him open the door and get out of the car. Cordelia and Gunn followed suit.

Wesley looked up at the sky. The sun was soon to come up. Angel had seen many a sunset but sunrises were rare for him.

Already there were flecks of light blue and pink and orange in the sky like drops of paint on an empty canvas. It always amazed him how even though a sunrise was just a sunset backwards the colours were so different it was impossible not to tell them apart. Sunsets were fire, destroyers of the day, pulling the night into existence; Sunrises were gold, gently tickling their way into your life, kindly asking if the sun could please come up.

He was procrastinating and he knew it. With a sigh he closed the car door and the three of them, legs heavy and minds racing, stepped onto Buffyís porch just as the first rays of sunlight peeked over the trees.

END


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