Rating: R to start, but definitely heading into NC-17 territory.
Sequel to the Xangelus Unlife!verse series
"Sire. . . ."
Xander's whisper is beyond fear or anger, but not, it seems, beyond hope.
“Sire, please--” he takes a shaky, unnecessary breath and Angelus finally looks at him: a pallid wraith bound chin-to-ankles in chains. "You can't want me, anymore. Not like this."
The brightness in his eye isn’t bloodlust, or desire—or even the usual cheerful insanity. It’s tears and—
“. . . the people I’ve hurt. . . .”
“. . . deserve to burn. . . .”
Angelus hasn’t lost often . . . and never has he lost quite this much.
“Please, Sire--please. . . .”
And he’ll take every tear out of the Rosenberg bitch’s hide.
In that moment, he understands everything: what he is, who he is--who he was--and what he's done.
For in that moment, it all sweeps over him and through him, a tsunami as molten and heavy as a thousand suns, bringing with it memory, and memory of life. The faces--and the names that go with the faces, for a few. Those few are smiling, some even loving. But most are not. Most are deathmasks, each a unique rictus of pain, horror and betrayal . . . starting with hers.
This tsunami of discovery, of realization burns him to a cinder and leaves him writhing on the warm, shifting sands of Copacabana--a broken madman driven completely sane by his own conscience.
"No," he croaks, blinking away tears as thick as the rivers innocent blood he's spilled. "I--I killed her--"
"Xander, what--?" it asks, dropping gracefully--a slow-motion fold to its knees. This . . . monster of matte darks and bright pales is so beautiful, so terrible that looking directly at it hurts.
So he closes his eye in a feeble attempt to deny this vision, shut it out. But it refuses to be dismissed, bathing him in cool, gentle touches that cut like razorblades.
"Don't--don't!" He screams, trying to fend off this lethal concern while curling himself into a very nonprotective protective ball. "Don't touch me!"
"Xander, listen to me--" He's being pulled up and into a cool, familiar embrace. The voice, too, is cool and familiar, but for the panic lapping away at its edges.
Yes, he knows this voice, knows this touch. This is--
--him. This is Sire. The one who can make everything better because once upon a time, he made everything so very much worse.
Love and hatred well within in him, catch him up in arms that squeeze and suffocate him, but do nothing to drown out their screams or his own.
(there is a coldness in him, joyous and savage and watchful. It revels in the memory of harm inflicted, and life taken. Its glee resounds, like bright, golden bells)
(there is a din in him, also, the same hot, riotous tsunami that rolls through him again and again and again, leaving behind the tastes of ash and bile, and the echoing wail of a thousand righteous, wronged souls)
"Help me, Angel--help me!" He is lost, damned . . . left beached and weeping on the cold, grey banks of sanity, with the knowledge that
(this is what I've done. This is what I've made)
not even the tenacity of a demon can save him.
"I'm--I'm here, Xander. I've got you." Angel's arms are unbearable, unbreakable comfort, his words cold, barely audible puffs of air against his temples, interspersed with frantic kisses that tingle and sting like electricity.
"She went crunch, she went crunch, she went crunch," he mutters, rocking--or trying to. Angel--no, Angelus--is holding him so tight his ribs are starting to crack. "When I was done with her, her body went c-crunch in my arms, 'cause I was squeezing her so hard and it's my fault, it is, I killed Dawnie--"
There's no redemption to be found there, but he buries his face in the soft cotton of his Sire's shirt. Bitter-sweet scents--blood, lilies and incense--cling even to his clothes. It forces more memories, more tears, more moans.
"Please, make it stop. . . ."
But Angel--Angelus--has jumped to his feet as if the weight of a flailing, struggling man is nothing, and is stalking up the beach.
"Where are you?! He's roaring so loud it hurts to hear it, but then . . . everything hurts, now. "Why don't you come out in the open and try your little magic tricks?"
(he can see her face, bloody, grey-pale and so very, very dead. But she's smiling at him. Not the pleased, justified smile of the avenged, but the same sweet smile that used to make him want to keep her safe forever and ever)
"Please, Sire. . . ?"
Angelus is laughing, but it sounds like the snarls of an enraged predator.
"You hear me, witch? When I find you, you're dead! You're dead! You're dea--"
Sudden lassitude steals over him, stopping his flailing, stopping the wailing, stopping everything. For a long beat, there's nothing but perfect stillness that's
abruptly ended when they crash to the ground in a jumble of leaden limbs and pain. Around them, the lights of the Copacabana Palace swim and shatter, only to reform in an insane blur. He turns away from it, onto his side.
Facing him, the dark-bright monster, Sire, is moaning and shuddering, eyes screwed shut and fangs bared to the moonlight in a silent scream. Everything goes dim--dimmer, and he's floating, a balloon suddenly untethered and floating free.
In that moment--the last moment--Angelus's--no, Angel's eyes open, glowing a baleful, shocked orange. They lock onto him, try to anchor him, but it's too late, too late, he's going.
"Wow, is it just me, or are they making vamps uglier and uglier?" Xander muses from the mouth of the alley.
Startled, the bulldog-faced vamp glares over her shoulder, yellow eyes flashing in the near lightless murk of the alley. "I'm doin' business, here, man. Whaddaya want?"
Just beyond her, pressed against the wall, a pudgy teenager with round, tear-shiny blue eyes whimpers.
Pathetic . . . yet snackable, the demon notes hopefully, licking it's metaphoric lips. Xander has to force back gameface—no sense in scaring the kid into shitting his pants—and as for his demon. . . .
Pathetic? That's a big affirmative. Snackable? You wish, asshole. Now, shut up. The demon doesn’t subside--not as such; it merely lurks silently, watchfully in the back of Xander’s mind, oddly content with riding shot-gun, but for the occasional mutiny and disturbingly enticing suggestion.
Xander sighs, rubbing his patch. It's one of many nervous habits he's acquired over recent years.
"Look, it's not what I want, it's what your date, there, wants. And it seems to me like he wants to be the hell away from you."
Butt-ugly sneers, revealing crooked, jagged fangs. "Oh, is that how it seems?"
Xander sniffs--catches a whiff of the fear rolling off this kid like stink off a landfill. ”Yeah. And I'm sure you hear this a lot, but--he’s just not that into you.”
The vamp snarls, her face getting that much more scarifying. Xander’s glad he hadn’t seen her human face and that he no longer has a gag reflex. Being this directly challenged makes the demon scramble to the front of his mind, his self for control, but this is a battle Xander’s been winning on a nightly basis for more than three years, now. His face barely ripples.
The kid’s eyes are darting back and forth between the two of them frantically, hopeless and beyond scared. Tears, sweat and blood roll down his face. "Please--I just wanna go home--I promise I won't tell anyone--"
One distracted backhand from the fledge and the kid's sliding down the wall, bloody and unconscious. His attacker, meanwhile, stalks toward the mouth of the alley, wearing bravado and cheap leather like--well, a cheap suit.
"You wanna throw down for this little punk, hunh?” Even smiling, she looks like some kind of fucked up gargoyle. . . . “Then bring it, Cyclops!"
The vamp leaps forward, her right arm whipping out lightning-fast. There's a wicked gleam of sharp, cold steel in her fist.
She's fast, but unluckily for her, not fast enough. Xander could've eaten two cheese-lovers and drunk a six-pack of Pepsi in the time it takes for her to slash out for his jugular. But, snackless, he settles for ducking, and jabbing his wrist-mounted stake up through her ribcage.
Her flesh parts like cotton candy under a laser and before the knowledge of it registers in her eyes, she's drifting to the ground like a tidy shower of grey-brown confetti.
The straight razor clatters to the ground next to her.
"Jesus, what is this, West Side Story? Who the hell even carries straight razors, anymore? Homicidal barbers? Christ!" Xander mutters, stepping over the too-small pile of dust. It feels like at least half of her is rattling around his sinuses. "'Bring it on, Cyclops' . . . yeah, well, consider it broughten, creep."
The unconscious teenager is still unconscious, sitting slumped over, his breath whistling wetly in and out of his broken nose. There's blood dripping from a wound on his scalp and shallow scraps on his face, but his heartbeat is as steady and slow as his breathing.
He looks like a--slightly—larger, rounder version of Andrew, and he's redolent of cheese curls, licorice whips, hormones and Oxy-Ten. And blood.
Xander doesn't realize just how long he's been contemplating licking at the kid's sluggishly oozing wounds till raucous drunken laughter from three blocks over snaps him out it.
He sighs and picks the kid up. "C'mon, Dungeon Master, let's get you to the e.r."
The kid doesn’t even twitch.
Xander walks out of the alley, into the uncertain flicker of dying street lights. Five storeys above him, his observer watches silently, until Xander and his charge are out of sight.
On the way to his tiny apartment, Xander stops at the 24-hour bodega on the corner of his street and gets a box of Twinkies.
Remembering the bright blood running down the kid’s face, he quickly grabs a second box. He’s halfway to the counter when he gives in and creeps back for a third.
Some triscuits for dipping in the pint of congealed, day old pigs blood in his fridge, a bottle of Pepsi, a jar of chunky peanut butter and some Wonder Bread, and Xander’s out the door with a hearty: “No trabajar demasiado difícilmente, Enrique!” to the guy behind the counter, whose name probably isn’t Enrique.
The guy calls something back that sounds a lot more like Arabic than it does any Spanish Xander’s ever heard. It also sounds more like, whatever, fuck you, man, than it does thank you, and come again!
“God, I love this city,” he mutters grimly. A minute late, he’s letting himself into his building. five seconds and five flights of stairs later, he’s standing on his landing, agape.
Sitting on his welcome mat, in rumpled, dusty denim and snoring like a entire lumber factory, is—-
One second Spike’s snorting and blinking, the next he’s on his feet, glaring and holding a switchblade.
Xander shakes his head and smirks a little. “And the West Side Story theme continues. Hi, Spike.” The smirk feels strange on his face--but a lot less strange than seeing Spike asleep on his doorstep.
“What? What the bloody hell are you talkin’ about, Harris?” The switchblade is abruptly gone, probably disappeared up a sleeve, and faster than Xander’s eye can follow. That Spike can still manage that kind of trick mystifies and comforts him. “Have a little tumble off the wagon, did we?”
The sneer, the narrowed eyes--even the fluorescent-white hair, growing out at the roots--haven't changed one bit. But for some faint stubble and a few new lines, he looks exactly the same. He even snarks the same.
The smirk turns into an actual smile. “Spike, you are and always have been the very soul of tact.” Xander fumbles out his keys with a hand that shakes only a little. Getting the key in the lock and turning it without breaking either lock or door will be a feat worthy of--of someone who routinely does either of those things.
Of Xander, for instance, when he hasn’t just found Spike sleeping outside his front door.
“So--“ what the fuck're you doing here? Xander means to ask, but decides at the last moment that that’s being unnecessarily rude. Then he remembers who he’s talking to. “Spike, what the fuck are you doing here?”
Spike frowns and shifts, shoves his hands in his jacket pockets and studies his battered boots. He looks subtly wrong without the duster, but it’s long gone--trod down in the mud of an alley and eventually washed away with blood and whatever demon remains the cleaning crews missed. “Was in the neighborhood . . . figured I’d drop by. . . ." He shrugs and finally looks Xander square in the eyes. "See how you’re doin’.”
“'In the neighborhood'? 'See how I'm doing'?” Xander rolls his eye and shoulders past Spike to get to his door. These Twinkies won’t eat themselves. Not like that one box . . . he shudders. “Uh-huh. Could you try repeating that? In non-bullshit, please?”
The lack of expected and snarky reply makes Xander pause with his key in the lock and unturned. He has that strange, tingly sensation on the back of his neck--Spider-sense, and he’ll always call it that, despite Chaz’s huffing--he gets when he’s about to be jumped by something that’s determined to make a meal/example/sacrifice of him.
He turns around, just in time to get pinned to the door hard. Spike’s eyes are very, very blue and very, very close, boring into Xander as if waiting for something.
(they’ve been here, before, in this exact same position; it’s been nearly three years, but that doesn’t matter, not when memories this strong have the power to melt time like butter)
A little exertion—very little, in fact--and Xander could be free, could kick Spike out on his lying, temporizing ass . . . send him running back to the New Council and whoever the hell he’s freelancing for these days.
A little exertion, and he could be left alone again, to pay his penance in peace, in blessed silence, without any reminders of what he’s lost . . . of what he’s thrown away.
Xander’s head thuds back against the door and he closes his eye, not-so-suddenly very, very tired.
"Look, Spike, just tell me why you're here, then--" is all Xander manages to say before Spike is kissing him, like kissing Xander is an Olympic sport he’s been training for all his life and he’s going for the gold, never mind that Sweden takes it every year--
The mental babble ceases and the plastic bag of groceries falls to the welcome mat, forgotten.
After a brief time--two, three minutes, tops--Xander shoves Spike away.
Too hard, apparently, but Xander catches him before he goes tail-over-tea-kettle off the landing, shoving him against the wall, this time. "Okay, did we not have a talk about this?"
Not at all ruffled, Spike leers. "Might've. Doesn't matter, though, since you obviously can't keep your hands off me."
Pointedly turning his back on Spike, Xander picks up his groceries and his keys. "Obviously I can't. Every time you're near me I just wanna--push you down five flights of stairs. So, I'm afraid I can't invite you in. It's for your own safety, of course," he adds.
"Not a vampire--don't need an invitation, do I?"
"Not human." Xander unlocks his door, but doesn't open it. "I can literally break trespassers into fifty-seven pieces."
That shuts Spike up. Not for long, but Xander's learned to take his victories where he can find them.
He glances back at Spike--always a mistake. Because there's pouting. It's ridiculous, really, especially combined with that big-eyed anime face he's pulling . . . the one that'd be more at home on Sailor Moon.
The one that makes the soul go all stupid.
Xander rolls his eye. "God, you're such fraud. If I let you in, you're keeping your hands--and your lips--to yourself, capische?"
That annoyingly effective pout is replaced by a smirk. He puts hand on Xander's arm and slides it up to his shoulder . . . neck . . . face. The amount of heat even just a human hand puts out seems decadent. "Is that what you really want?"
Xander can't remember what it feels like to make his own body-heat, and curses himself for not paying better attention when he had it.
And when he realizes Spike's somehow gotten kissing-close again, he curses himself for that, too.
He catches Spike's hand and turns to face him. "Spike--" there's a million things Xander could say and should say. Even more things he shouldn't. "Just back off."
"Listen, mate, we both want--wanker!" Spike yanks his hand out of Xander's managing to glare and look wounded at the same time. "You nearly broke my fingers!"
"Only after I warned you to back off." Spoil-sport, the demon whispers, prowling close in his mind, waiting for a chance to break free, if only for a moment. "And I'm not your mate . . . mate."
"Yeah? Got me a mark might prove otherwise." Spike tilts his head back and to the side. His neck is smooth and unmarred, unless your eyes are vampire-keen. High up, an inch or two below his jaw, are two long-healed punctures, slightly pinker than the rest of Spike's skin, as if the blood's just waiting for to wet Xander's fangs and tongue. . . .
Mine! Mine! Mine! the demon pounces like an overgrown, mentally unstable kitten, throwing its will against the soul. What are we waiting for?! C'mon! Take him!
"No," Xander tells it, and Spike. The demon just keeps trying to break free and Spike--
Spike runs his finger over the nearly invisible scar, and shivers, his eyes never leaving Xander.
"Blood doesn't lie, pet," Spike says quietly.
"It's not--we didn't--"
Claim him now! Now!
But the demon's not going to stop fighting him on this issue. It probably won't stop till either he or Spike is dust.
Xander rubs his patch. Even dead he still gets phantom pains when he's stressed, like someone's just poked him in his missing eye. "You never drank any of my blood."
"And who's fault is that?" That grin aims for wicked, but falls far short, landing somewhere between brave and pathetic. It's like a flashback to the last year before Sunnydale went blooey, with him cast in the role of Buffy Summers and Spike cast as love's bitch.
Just another mess Xander's caused that he can't ever fix.
"Spike--what happened was a long time ago, and we were both too fucked up to know better. We did something we--" Xander forges ahead, despite the wounded-and-getting-worse expression on Spike's face. "We did something we shouldn't have—-made a mistake. It's time to move on."
That not-wicked grin turns rueful. "Say that every time, don't you? Yet every time I come knockin' on your door, you let me back in."
If Xander was still capable of blushing. . . . "You actually have a life to live, Spike. Go live it and let the past be."
"Could say the same to you." Though it obviously takes some effort, Spike smooths his face into a pleasant, ice-cream-wouldn't-melt-in-my-mouth expression. "And have, as a matter of fact--though you may have been distracted, seein' as I was fucking you, at the time."
If there's a come back to that, Xander doesn't know what it is. Even if he did, Spike's rebuttal would likely make any victory a pyrrhic one.
It's an impasse--a standoff of Mexican proportions. Situations like this call for an unsubtle segue. Fortunately, those happen to be one of the few things Xander's still pretty good at. "Hey, here's a wacky question: are you actually here for some other reason than making us both miserable?"
"If I say yes, will you let me in?"
"Fine, fine." Spike puts his hands in his jacket pockets hunches his shoulders. It makes him look older, smaller. "Might be there's another Apocalypse about to come crashing down on all us poor helpless humans. Great big evil, out to create Hell on Earth, yadda-yadda-yadda . . . time was when your great big evil had imagination--a certain flair. But now, it's just smash-kill-destroy!" Spike snorts derisively. "Bloody amateurs."
"And that has what to do with me?"
"Let me in, and I'll tell you." Spike's tongue curls over his teeth in that smug way that makes Xander groan. Spike seems to find that very funny. "C'mon, Harris, you know you're curious."
"Not really," Xander lies and throws opens his front door, flicking the light switch as an afterthought for Spike's lack of night vision. "But I don't want my neighbors complaining to the landlady about some creepy homeless guy sleeping in the hallway. So come in, and keep your hands to yourself. Are we clear?"
"As Waterford." He breezes past Xander and into the apartment, looking around like he's casing the joint. "No touchy-feely. Least till you've extracted that giant Sequoia from your--God! Where d'you get your decorating tips? Modern Shut-In Monthly?"
Xander closes his eye, takes a few deep breaths and counts to ten before following Spike inside.
It doesn't help at all.
"So. . . ."
Xander looks up from making the first of many peanut butter and Twinkie sandwiches. Spike's leaning on the wall near the door--an obvious rent-boy pose, if Xander's ever seen one, and he has--all form-hugging blue jeans and challenging leer. It's like being back in Cleveland all over again. "If there's an apocalypse coming down the 'pike, shouldn't you be in Jolly Ol', or the Mistake-By-The-Lake? Swinging a sword, or selling wolf tickets behind some Professor Snape wannabe?"
Spike's lips twitch, but he doesn't laugh. "Nah. Passed along what needed passin', me. The Watchers and Slayers can take care of it from there. The Apocalypse ain't my problem anymore."
"Spoken like a true champion."
"Cheers, love." Spike grins and toasts Xander with an imaginary beer. "'Sides, if the world's gonna end, there's no better place for me than by your side."
Xander's soul? Is currently melting into a girlish puddle of soul-goo, while the demon is noisily wretching.
You are so gay! It despairs, retreating as far from the soul as it can get.
Spike's watching him, waiting for a reaction of some kind. Xander shakes his head. "Corny. And very over-the-top, Big Bad."
Now Spike laughs and relaxes the stony-eyed trade pose a bit. If anything, Spike-at-ease is somehow more tempting than Spike-on-the-prowl. "Yeah. Could barely keep a straight face as I was sayin' it . . . doesn't make the sentiment any less true, however."
There's nothing to say to that, so Xander clears his throat and continues peanut-buttering his bread. "So, what does the latest Apocalypse have to do with me?"
"Not a damn thing." At Xander's glare, Spike shrugs, not in the least ashamed or apologetic. "Don't give me that look. I said that if you let me in I'd tell you what the Apocalypse has to do with you. And I have: nothing. Though . . . there have been a few new--and unrelated--prophecies regarding the vampire with a soul."
The demon perks up, with a hopeful, Sire? Xander completely ignores it, of course. The fact is, there is no more Sire, and there never was, not really. And as for the vampire-with-a-soul. . . .
That would be Xander.
He shudders. "Not the Pereira Codex--or the Van Nuys scrolls? You know those were both hoaxes, right?"
Spike crosses his arms, the poster-child for narrow-eyed offense. "Yeah--but how'd you know?"
Xander smiles enigmatically. "A little birdy told me."
"I see. And this . . . little birdy of yours has it on good authority?"
"Well. Bully for you, then." Spike looks like he's just been asked to swallow something unpalatable. "Anyways, the prophecies I'm talkin' about are new--ink's not even dry on 'em, so to speak. Expect a nattied-up young Watcher to turn up on your doorstep sometime in the very near future."
"Oh, goody." This next slice of bread seems kinda sturdy, but Xander's been burned by Wonder so many times. "I take it these prophecies aren't important, then? At least not important enough for Giles to show up on my doorstep?"
Spike looks away. "Rupes a busy man, pet--gotta hold down the fort, and all that. Can't be haring off to all points of the globe, even when he wants to--"
"Which he doesn't, when it comes to me." When Spike attempts to back-pedal, Xander waves him silent. Since he was turned, Xander's relationship with Giles has been, well, nonexistent. "He doesn't, Spike. Can you blame him? If I had a choice, I suppose I wouldn't associate with me, either. Sandwich?"
"What? Oh, ta, but no. Not even if it was that last sandwich on Earth." Spike makes an ostentaciously disgusted face and the soul is getting morosely nostalgic for better, cleaner days. "You still have the culinary ambitions of a psychotic five year old. I guess some things'll never change."
That low, fond tone is the one Xander remembers hearing most when Spike was between Council assignments. They'd stock up on food and blood and stay in the apartment, killing time in the best possible way till Spike's cellphone rang.
You can't go home again, the demon grumbles. Or, in your case, won't. Have I told you lately how much you suck?
Xander sighs and drops his eyes to his half-made second sandwich. The bread's torn again, this time beyond use.
The true wonder of Wonder Bread? Is that despite the fact that it consistently proves to be inadequate for Xander's sandwiching needs, he still buys it.
--really, really suck--
The silence--at least the one outside his head--draws out. Xander finishes making his second sandwich and a third with minimal tearage, then looks up at Spike. The relaxed lean has degenerated into a mostly un-sexy slouch, and the come-hither stare is gone. Without those things to distract him, Xander's free to notice some details he hadn't previously picked up on.
Like how palid Spike is, even for Spike--that there are faint purplish circles under his eyes, and the hollows of his cheeks are a bit too hollow.
Those new lines in his face aren't just from sun, or smiling, but from worry and strain.
Despite the shanshu, Xander has never been able to think of Spike as human. Spike is too--big, too larger-than-life to be merely human. There's too much of him.
But merely human is exactly what he is, and moments like this remind Xander--painfully--that humanity is almost always a terminal condition.
Doesn't have to be--
Xander's soul saves him the trouble--delivers a savage, shut up, asshole! that momentarily does the trick.
In light of the three-ring circus going on in his head, Xander hardly feels qualified to ask this, but he can't not. Not when it's Spike: "Are you . . . are you okay?"
"Who? Me?" Spike's laugh is way too hearty to be real and Xander knows he's about to be lied to. Admitting to something as human as feeling run-down and under the weather has always been particularly hard for Spike. "Bloody fantastic--never been better."
Yep, as straightforward answers go, that one definitely isn't. But other than looking tired, Spike seems to be fine. His scent--citrus-y and bright, the way sunlight would smell--has taken on a strange, bitter tang to it . . . like burnt herbs.
Whatever he's been doing since Xander last saw him, he was doing it hip-deep in magic. "You're not letting the Council run you into the ground, are you?"
Spike's rolls his eyes. "Not lettin' 'em run me, period. How've you been holdin' up, pet?
"Great!" It's his automatic answer, complete with an automatic grin to prove just how great he is.
Spike drifts almost diffidently toward the kitchenette and Xander, touching a few random bits of secondhand furniture. "No, how've you been really?"
Now it's Xander's turn to make a big, fake party-laugh. "What is this, the Spanish Inquisition? I said I'm fine."
"No, you said you were 'great'. You then downgraded that 'great' to 'fine'." Spike leans on the counter, his blue, blue eyes daring Xander to lie some more. "If I ask you a third time, what answer will I get?"
"The one where I tell you how much I appreciate you stopping by, thank you for your concern then send you packing." It's an unsubtle warning to drop it, but Spike's not going drop it. He's never been one to just leave well enough alone
"How are you, Xander?"
There's always been something disarmingly intimate about Spike calling him by his first name--more so because even when they were sleeping together, he so rarely did. "I really am okay. More or less."
"Emphasis on the more, or the less?"
Xander lets the grin falter until it's a half-smile. Now that the only thing separating them is the messy counter and its payload of Twinkie-peanut buttery goodness, lying doesn't come quite so easily. "Hey--I'm not gonna hold my breath waiting for 'great' and 'fine' to happen. Those aren't things I have a right to be. Not anymore." Now that his sandwiches are finished, he doesn't have the stomach for them, or the blood that's chilling in his fridge. That's been happening a lot, lately. "Sure you don't want a sandwich? They're delic--well, they stick to your ribs."
Spike shakes his head when Xander proffers the plate. "I ate earlier--and I'd like to keep what I ate down, thanks."
"Haha." The ensuing silence isn't uncomfortable so much as painfully expectant. "Look--if you wanna hang out here for awhile, till it's light out, you're welcome to." And there's that smug tongue-curl of victory again. "But--but, when the sun's up, you have to go back to--wherever it is you're living, now."
"Nope, don't think I will," Spike says, just as nice as you please.
"I wasn't asking a question and this is not open to negotiation. You can't be here." All of which Xander's said before, all of which Spike will manage to talk his way around if Xander doesn't stop him. "Do you know how awful it is to have you this close and not--have you?"
Spike's face and tone are irony-free. "Yeah. I've got a pretty good idea how it feels to be love's bitch, now that you mention it."
"And do you think I want to live like this? That I enjoy being cold and lonely and miserable? Well, I don't. But that's the way it has to be." Xander steps around the counter and past Spike. He doesn't stop till he gets to the window. The black-out drapes are the most expensive thing in the apartment--that includes the refrigerator--and they're always kept closed. But Xander can sense sunrise coming. Less than an hour off.
It'd be so easy to just reach out, open the curtains and let time make everything better--
The soul and the demon clamor and tug at him from both sides, throwing dozens of arguments and threats his way. This is one of two things they can both agree on without qualification.
"No, it's not," Spike says softly--the way he always says it. "As flattering as it would be to think that I'm capable of making you perfectly happy--in the fighting-screaming-pissing match that passes for our so-called relationship, have you ever come close to a moment of perfect happiness?"
Yes. "Why do you keep doing this to me? To the both of us?" Xander doesn't even realize how tightly his fists are clenched until blood starts dripping on the floor with a muted pat-pat-pat. Still, he can't unclench them. "Every time you come back it rips me apart."
"And every time I leave it rips me apart. You think that's just a coincidence?"
Xander focuses on the patter of blood, on the lightless swath of drapery in front of him. Anything to help him shut out Spike and his stupid steady heartbeat, his stupid sunshiney scent and his stupid, soothing, very-much missed voice.
"Listen, mate--pet--Xander." That disarming intimacy again, and from right behind him. Spike moves way too quietly for a human, and that--hell, everything about Spike throws Xander for a loop; always will. "If I kiss you again . . . just kiss you, am I gonna get tossed down five flight of stairs?"
Even though Spike's question is just a formality, and they both know it, it's still such a very Spike way to ask do you still want me? "You know you won't, damnit."
"Won't say I was totally sure about you. You're a prickly bastard most days." Spike's arms are sliding around his waist as if no time has passed, and Xander's reactions--body, heart, demon and soul--have been caught in a similar time-warp. When Spike's sigh puffs warm and gentle against his neck, every muscle in his body relaxes. "The prickly's not the word I'd use to describe you right this moment, pet . . . God, I've missed this."
This is the other thing the demon and soul agree on--the only other thing. The pleasant shiver that catches him up and refuses to put him down means one thing: this is right.
Never mind that by midmorning, after Spike's fallen asleep next to him--Just a kiss, my ass, Xander will think--Xander's going to be tied into more knots than jumbo pretzel. Never mind that the soul's already fretting about moments of perfect happiness (and the demon, conversely, is doing backflips).
Never mind that, to paraphrase a manic-depressive robot, this will all end in tears, just like last time. Turning to meet the hungry, possessive, citrus-and-sunshine kiss that's waiting for him is right.
Irrationally, it's the only thing in Xander's unlife that ever has been.
T B C
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