Who Wants to Live Forever
AUTHOR’S NOTE: FLASHBACK IS OVER, WE ARE NOW IN THE PRESENT
All houses have an abandoned air about them the day after a party. No matter how tidily the hosts have cleared away the debris, there is always a sense of time having swept through and left behind emptiness.
Xander sat in the Summers’ living room and felt like the only survivor of some alien invasion. There were bits of confetti here and there. A wine glass had kept itself hidden behind a picture on the mantel. He wiggled and found some rice under his right leg on the seat cushion. The house was silent. He was feeling weak and shaky and exhausted. He had rummaged through the kitchen, found orange juice in a carton, and sat on the sofa steadily drinking the whole thing down. He imagined the benefit to his immune system to be something like pumping air into a leaking tire. Might get him down the road a few more feet but then what?
There was the thump of feet on the stairs, and Xander looked up and saw Willow.
“Hey,” she said.
“Hey,” he answered. They looked at one another. Then Willow was coming across the floor and he was rising to his wobbly feet, and she just dove onto him, and he folded her into his chest so firmly she made that little ‘oof’ squeak. They just stood there like that for a minute. “Wills,” said Xander huskily, burying his face in her hair.
“Mmrflwnlk,” she said into his shirt.
Xander arched his head back and looked at her. Willow raised an abashed and teary face.
“Welcome home, dork,” she said, and snuffled. She stood back, wiping her eyes. “You hungry? I’m cookin’.”
“Then I’m eatin’.”
It was weird to be in this kitchen, sitting at this island, with Willow bumping pans and bowls around, talking a mile a minute. Xander sipped coffee and felt ….odd. He felt like Xander inside of some old and sick person’s body.
“…transferring title. So Dawn and I both can avoid all the escrowy badness…”
Willow was pulling ingredients from cabinets with the assurance of familiarity. She whirled about smiling, “and voila, Casa Summers is transformed into Casa Rosenberg!” She paused, and peered at Xander. “Xan?”
Xander was staring at a napkin ring holder next to the stove. It was the cutout silhouette of a cat. He had made it in woodshop to give to his mother, and at the last moment had decided to give it to Joyce. It had been his first project; he was very proud of it, and he wanted someone to gush over it, not just toss it aside. Joyce had dutifully gushed, and immediately put it in a place of honor. It was still there. But Joyce was not. And he realized suddenly that he had been sitting here the whole time waiting for Buffy to walk through the door. Hopefully in those little flannels with the bunnies. And those fuzzy slippers. His eyes filled with tears.
“Xander?” Willow gently took the coffee cup from his now shaking hand and set it down. She petted his shoulder unhappily. “Xander, what’s wrong?”
Xander shook his head helplessly. He could feel it all coming down on him. Somewhere back in time, there had been a young man who had wanted to do something to help. A young man with a very clear sense of good and evil. He remembered that he had existed, but could not find him anywhere in the corruption that was his body, or the confusion that was his mind. He wondered sadly if that young man had ever been real, or if he had been just another stupid lie he had told himself. Willow wrapped her arms around him and rested herself against his back. She gently rocked back and forth, and he let himself relax back into a bit, let himself feel that undeserved comfort. He patted her hands, clasped across his chest, and worked to control his tears.
“I’m good, Wills,” he croaked. “Just had an attack of nostalgia, ya know.”
He felt Willow release him, and looked up when she leaned against the counter near him. She crossed her arms and regarded him. Xander suddenly became eerily aware that he was being studied by a very powerful Wiccan with a lot of Earth Goddess type wisdom in her.
“No, Xander,” she said seriously, “I think you need to tell me what’s really wrong.”
Spike lay on his back on Joyce’s old bed and listened to the house waking. He knew if he didn’t rise soon, Dawn would be in here. Making him zip a blouse, fasten a clasp, open a stubborn jar. She would prowl about the room, kicking clothing and distastefully announcing that he was a pig. She would criticize his cd collection. She would whine and complain and generally drive him up the bleeding wall until he roused himself and came out. It was what she had been doing for over five years. And it was very much like the treatment he had received from Buffy before her; “Spike, I need to slay a demon. Spike, do you ever clean this crypt? Spike, I know it’s hard for an old guy like you to keep up with things, but they actually make clothes now in colors other than red and black.”
Spike had caught on to the trick early on, but he still played. He wondered why he would get out of bed after today. He wondered if he would bother getting out of bed after today.
He stood up and scratched at the dry flakiness on his chest. A shower. And then blood. One event at a time, he told himself grimly. He heard Giles’ voice in the hallway and realized that meant that Xander was probably still somewhere here in the house. He noted the little flutter of anticipation in his belly and shook his head sadly. “Spike, you are a bloody fool,” he muttered, trudging into the master bathroom. He paused before the sink and looked at the mirror. You are invisible. He gave the mirror the two-finger salute and stepped into his shower.
He could hear the whelp in the kitchen with the Witch before he even came down the stairs. He thought briefly of turning around and heading back to his dark bedroom, but decided he had to do this eventually and at the moment he needed blood. Red met him as he entered. Her face was like thunder and she paused as if to say something to him, then seemed to change her mind and kept going. Spike walked as casually as he could into the kitchen.
“Mornin’,” he grunted nonchalantly, heading straight for the fridge without glancing at the man sitting there.
“Spike.” Xander’s voice sounded like hell, Spike noted. What comes of drinking too much, he supposed.
“Yeah,” he said without turning, head still in the fridge. He pulled out a couple of bags from the back and checked the expiration dates. Dawn, the compulsive housekeeper from another dimension, always marked his bags with expiration dates. She fussed if he didn’t check them.
Behind him Xander made a gargly noise, like he was trying to clear his throat. “Erm, Spike, about last night..”
Spike reared back in surprise and halted in his journey to the microwave. He turned and stared at Xander. The man looked pretty hard done by. His eyes were red and his face was puffy. He was as white as, well, as white as a vampire almost. “Yeah?” Spike managed to get out.
“I was pretty drunk.”
Oh. Right. Spike studiously looked away and turned back to the microwave. He slammed the bags in and stood waiting for them to heat. “Sure ya were,” he growled over his shoulder.
Xander couldn’t think of what to say. He wanted to tell Spike that he was sorry, but thought the word was so woefully inadequate that it was insulting. He wanted to say ‘last night was different than the other times, Spike’, but thought that would sound ludicrous considering how much like the other times last night had been. He wanted magic words to come into his mind. Magic words that would give him another chance. A chance for what he couldn’t even be sure himself. He stared at the vampire’s stiff and angry back and wished Spike would speak.
The microwave beeped and Spike whipped the bags out, dumping them expertly into a cappuccino-sized mug. “Don’t worry about it, Harris,” he said gruffly. He turned and gave Xander a hard look. “You probably had quite a bit to drink.”
“Yeah, I did,” Xander said eagerly.
“So fucked up you didn’t know what you were doing.”
Xander looked at Spike. There was something going wrong here. “I was fucked up…” he began unsurely, “I was…”
“I’m sure you can’t remember a bleedin’ thing,” Spike said with a sneer.
Xander couldn’t move. He watched Spike finish his blood, rinse the mug and put it in the drainer. The vampire stalked towards the door, but stopped before exiting, and turned to face Xander.
“Don’t worry about it, Harris. Whatever happened, you were drunk. Whatever you did, I’m sure it didn’t mean anything.” And Spike stomped off.
Rupert Giles reflected that, for a relatively young man, he had spent most of his life feeling very old. He had been just thirty when Buffy Summers had first come to Sunnydale. Just barely begun in his career and wonderfully excited at this great opportunity. To Buffy and her friends, however, he had seemed venerable at best, ludicrously out of touch at the worst. And his job had so completely consumed him that he had had little time and few opportunities for mature companionship. So he often saw himself as they saw him. Stuffy. Humorless. Pompous. And old.
After Buffy’s death he had, much to his discomfort, found himself somewhat famous amongst the younger watchers. His advice was frequently requested, if infrequently followed, and he had actually heard himself quoted amongst the younger men on more than one occasion. The whole thing made him feel so archaic, he was surprised he didn’t creak when he walked.
But what really made a man feel old, thought Rupert Giles sadly, was all the never-ending sorrow. He was forty-seven years old and he was exhausted by sorrow. His sorrow rose with the sun, reaching across a town in which loved ones once had walked but did no more. His sorrow set with the moon that had seen horrors only Rupert Giles was left to remember. He felt he had spent so much of his adult life in mourning.
He gazed at Maurice, sitting across the oaken library table from him, and Rupert Giles felt very old.
“They never even knew what she was,” Maurice said heavily.
“Perhaps that’s for the best.”
“Just a child. To them, still, just a child.” Maurice looked at Giles pitiably. “Somehow that just made it worse.”
“You were very kind to them, Maurice. You protected them from so much pain.”
Maurice looked away. Haunted eyes searched the bookshelves, “I couldn’t protect her.”
Giles straightened up. He reached across the table and grasped the younger Watcher’s wrist. “Maurice, there was nothing you did not do. You trained her well. You gave her the tools and the knowledge she needed to do her job.”
“Did I?” Maurice asked himself more than Giles. “Did I really? I had no experience; there was so much I did not know. What if there was something important? Something I did not stress? Something I should have done? Something I should not have?”
“Stop it, Maurice!” said Giles harshly, and at the man’s stricken look, continued, “You can only drive yourself mad asking those questions. There is no answer to them.”
Maurice looked down and rubbed his hand roughly across his eyes. “You should have seen her mother at the funeral, Rupert. God, what have I done! She was only a little girl!”
“An innocent little girl!” And Maurice laid his head on his arms on the table and wept for his Slayer.
And Rupert Giles stroked the man’s arm and thought about all the sunrises and all the moonsets and was very, very old.
“You’ll have to speak to them again.”
“I have, Willow. I’ve spoken to them repeatedly. They are adamant.”
“Well then, maybe I should speak to them.”
“I hardly think the Council would take kindly to being told what to do by a Witch. No offense,” said Giles hastily, at Willow’s look.
“Well, maybe they won’t like it,” said Willow nastily. She put her hand on the glass. It was the waning of the full moon still, so Rupert could see the mild glow of power arcing around the Wiccan’s hand. “But maybe they’d just better do it anyway.”
Giles sighed. Willow looked at him belligerently for a minute, then her shoulders drooped and she lowered her hand. “It’s so wrong, Giles,” she said.
“It could be argued that it was never right to begin with, Willow,” said Giles gently.
“Pish! I hate that Watchery evil is evil and good is good bigotry, Giles. It’s so… It’s so limiting!”
“Well, you can see why they would be a little bit less flexible in this case. Angelus was a tragic mistake.”
“But Spike is completely different.”
“Of course. But they don’t know Spike.”
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