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Written for the Music of Pain ficathon based on "The Gambler". Lyrics below. It's set in season 7 of Buffy, instead of Andrew going off with Spike to the mission, Xander did.



Words Of Advice


by
Nash


On a warm summer’s evenin’ on a train bound for nowhere,
I met up with the gambler; we were both too tired to sleep.
So we took turns a starin’ out the window at the darkness
’til boredom overtook us, and he began to speak.

He said, son, I’ve made a life out of readin’ people’s faces,
And knowin’ what their cards were by the way they held their eyes.
So if you don’t mind my sayin’, I can see you’re out of aces.
For a taste of your whiskey I’ll give you some advice.

So I handed him my bottle and he drank down my last swallow.
Then he bummed a cigarette and asked me for a light.
And the night got deathly quiet, and his face lost all expression.
Said, if you’re gonna play the game, boy, ya gotta learn to play it right.

You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table.
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.

Now ev’ry gambler knows that the secret to survivin’
Is knowin’ what to throw away and knowing what to keep.
’cause ev’ry hand’s a winner and ev’ry hand’s a loser,
And the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.

So when he’d finished speakin’, he turned back towards the window,
Crushed out his cigarette and faded off to sleep.
And somewhere in the darkness the gambler, he broke even.
But in his final words I found an ace that I could keep.

You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table.
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.

You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count you r money when you’re sittin’ at the table.
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.

Xander spent the entire journey to the mission in an uncharacteristic silence. He still wasn’t sure exactly why he’d volunteered for this trip. He could have let Andrew go with Spike, hopefully never to return but instead he’d jumped up and offered to go before Giles could suggest something else. He’d been back from the hospital for five minutes and already he’d just wanted to leave.

It was all becoming way too much for him to handle. The whole Anya thing, being swamped by baby Slayers…He’d tried to get away by going on a date and in typical Xander style he’d landed another demon. The worst of it was that he didn’t even know if he’d been really joking when he’d asked Willow to gay him up. The girl had been hot and all but Xander kept catching himself looking at random men’s asses. He’d been doing that a lot in the past few years but he’d been happy with Anya so he hadn’t really paid that much attention.

Only in the Hellmouth would someone be having a crisis about his sexuality right in the middle of an apocalypse.

And now, on top of all that he’d lost his fucking eye. So he was trying to deal with his own men-are-now-hot issues, keep everyone’s morale up, fix things with Anya and for the past few days he’d had to keep reassuring people that he was fine. Well, he wasn’t fine. He was feeling the pressure inside him mounting continually and he had no way to release it. He needed out, if only for a day, if only with the guy who was the walking personification of why Xander was questioning his own freaking sexuality.

By the time they got to the mission, Xander was already feeling the pressure release a little.

“Why does it always have to be an abandoned building?” he asked, walking in behind Spike. “One of these days we’re going to be sent to investigate evil in a four-star hotel. That would be coo-”

Before Xander could even finish the sentence someone came at him from his blind side, pushing him against the wall.

“Spike!” he yelled, pushing the guy off of him. “Bringer!”

He watched Spike deal with the guy, and push the hood off his face. He seemed perfectly normal. Well, if you didn’t count the ugly looking mark on his cheek.

“Okay, maybe not a Bringer,” Xander muttered, approaching the guy. He let Spike do the questioning. After the burst of adrenaline faded, the tiredness had returned with a vengeance. He stayed quiet, following the monk and Spike into a secret compartment, until the monk confessed, that he’d run away.

“Don’t knock running,” he said quietly, “it helps people survive.”

The monk didn’t look reassured.

“He did this to me,” Xander gestured towards his eye. “If you hadn’t ran, we wouldn’t know about this. It may help us defeat him. You did good.”

Spike’s voice thankfully distracted Xander from the pity he could see in the monk’s eyes.

“It is not for thee. It is for her alone to wield.”

Xander walked closer to the inscription.

“How much do you bet that ‘her’ is Buffy? What’s ‘it’ though?”

*

Xander was vaguely ashamed of the relief he felt when they discovered that the sun was already up. With no way to go back without flambé-ed Spike, they had to stick around for the day.

They had another look around the mission but the monk was nowhere to be seen. Spike settled down with back against the wall and knees drawn up close to his chest. In contrast to Spike’s apparent composure Xander was feeling restless and out of sorts. He sure as hell didn’t want to be heading back so why was he feeling so trapped? He finally settled for standing next to the window, staring out at nothing.

“Want some advice, Harris?”

Xander nearly jumped out of his skin at the suddenness with which Spike’s voice intruded in his thoughts.

“No,” he snapped, fighting the urge to move so that he could see Spike. He heard Spike sigh, an obvious sound of exasperation.

“When a creature that has over a century of survival behind him asks you if you want advice, you take it, Harris and you thank them for it.”

This time Xander turned around, too shocked by the command in those words to fight the impulse. Spike was looking steadily at him, no sign of mockery or levity in his eyes.

“Fine, then. Gimme your precious advice, oh old, wise one,” he mocked, taking a funny little bow.

Spike ignored his theatrics and commenced to speak.

“I’ve lived for a long time, Harris and I made my living as a predator. Every predator knows that the secret to survival is your choice of victim. I knew who the weaker part of the herd was, I knew who wouldn’t be missed, who would put up a fight, who would taste of despair or pure joy in life. I knew because I’ve watched humans for a long while and I know the signs. And you…you need help, Harris.”

Xander made a dismissive noise and turned back to the window. The obvious dismissal didn’t seem to deter Spike though.

“You have to know three things to survive in this world. Know when to give up. Know when you have to run from something and know when you have the luxury of walking away,” Spike said, raising a finger for each piece of advice,

That’s the advice?” Xander turned around and looked down at Spike incredulously. “How the hell am I supposed to know?! You don’t just know stuff like that.”

Spike gave him a small smirk. “That’s where the experience comes in. Over a hundred years and I still get the first one wrong. I didn’t give up on Dru until she nearly destroyed me. Didn’t give up on Buffy until I nearly destroyed her.”

Xander tried to raise the familiar anger when he thought of what Spike had done to Buffy but it was very hard to do. The blond had come a long way since then, most obvious being the brand new soul Buffy kept harping on about. A lot of other things had gone down since then. Xander’s hand was halfway to the patch before he caught it and brought it back down. He waited for Spike to go on speaking. Except it seemed that Spike was waiting for the fireworks too.

“How come you’re not yelling at me, then?”

“I guess Buffy’s constant whining of how you have a soul now finally sunk in. And…you saved me. If you’d been a little slower…” Xander shrugged, unsure how to finish the sentence; unwilling to admit that he’d forgiven Spike before that, for less pure reasons.

“Could have been faster too,” Spike mumbled.

“Could have not been there at all. I’m glad you were.”

Xander’s words were soft, his eye still looking at nothing.

“Right…Back to the advice…”

Spike sounded distinctly uncomfortable and Xander had to smile at the blond’s inability to just accept a ‘thank you’. He’d tried thanking him at the hospital too but Spike had quickly changed the subject much as he did now.

“What you don’t know Harris is that you have the walking away and the running part down. You ran here didn’t you? I know you well enough to know you don’t run for long. But you ran when you needed to. And you knew to walk away from demon girl. Not the nicest thing you ever did, that. You knew you had to do it though. You just need to learn when to give up. So do I.”

The last one was said sadly, as if Spike knew he would never learn that part.

“That’s stupid, Spike. If I know all that so well then why is my eye gone? Why does  it still hurt to see Anya alone? Why do I think about…I don’t even know who I am anymore. Why…fuck…why is my life so goddamn messed up?”

By the end of the question Xander’s anger had left him and he just felt the tiredness bringing him down. He was surprised to feel strong arms wrap around him as Spike pulled him into his embrace. Unable and unwilling to fight the need for comfort, Xander let Spike hold him and pressed his face against Spike’s neck.

“Hush, luv. You’re a strong one and you have some time to fix things. You can’t count your blessings or your curses until you’re gone, pet. Time enough to count your winnings when you die.”

Xander let himself enjoy the comfort for a few moments before he pulled back and went to stand by the window again.

“Thanks, Spike.”

*

Xander stood in front of the crater, looking down at the centre.

“I’m sorry Xan, I know you guys were friends.”

Buffy was standing next to him, watching him stare at the crater.

“Yeah.”

He very carefully didn’t mention the feelings he’d developed for Spike after their mission.  He’d tried to thank Spike for saving his eye by taking him out for a couple of beers and in the end they’d go every couple of days. Getting away from all that estrogen helped them both relax a little and they’d even gotten to enjoy each other’s company. Friendship had soon given way to something more. Or at least, it did for Xander. He’d been too scared that Spike had still not given up on Buffy to see if things could maybe even be mutual.

“Go on in, Buff. I’ll be there in a minute.”

With a last sad look at him, Buffy left and he was finally alone. He’d worked up the courage to tell Spike what he really felt just before they went into the school. Instead of letting him down gently, Spike had grinned at him and pulled him close for a hard kiss. “Been waiting for you to say that since the first night at The Bronze, Xan. We’ll talk about it when this is over, pet. Count on it.”

Except Spike had gone and gotten himself killed so they wouldn’t be talking about it any time soon, would they? No talking, no kissing, no making fun of how Xander’s little gay-me-now speech had come true.

“You’re supposed to know when to run, you bastard.” Xander screamed at the crater, viciously kicking a rock hard enough for it to fly half way to the centre. “You’re supposed to know when to fucking run!”




The End



The Sequel

The Gambler Returns

The first time Xander heard Spike was back he punched Andrew in the nose and warned him never to lie about things like that.

The second time he couldn’t react in quite the same way because (a) he couldn’t punch Willow and (b) Giles never lied about things like that.

“We need someone to talk to him about joining the Council,” Giles was saying, a pained look on his face. “Despite my…personal feelings towards him, Spike has already proven himself capable of training slayers and quite frankly we need everyone we can get,” he continued off Xander’s questioning look.

“And you want me to go get him.”

“You just got back from Africa and you haven’t started on anything else yet and we know you’re friends with him,” Willow chimed in, smiling apologetically at him.

“Yeah…friends…” Xander frowned. “How long has he been back?”

“Andrew has known of his return since his last trip to America and he’d been back quite a while before that,” Giles replied absently, trying to find Xander’s plane ticket in the clutter of his desk.

Xander nodded, his frown deepening. “Yeah….great friends we were,” he muttered darkly.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander was still muttering two days later as he walked down the Wolfram and Hart hallway towards Angel’s office.

“ ‘know when to run’, he said, ‘we’ll talk about this after this is all over’ he said, count on it he said.”

He ignored the blonde receptionist yelling at him, “Hey! You can’t just walk in there!”, and slammed the door open, coming face-to-face with the object of his wrath. Spike looked shocked, then pleased to see him and that very pleasure in the blond’s faced incensed Xander all the more. He immediately drew his arm back and punched Spike in the face, sending him sprawling to the floor.

“This is for me and this,” he drew a bunch of papers from his jacket pocket and threw them down next to Spike, “is from the girls. They want you back. I’ve been elected to get you to them. Giles wants to offer you a job.” Xander turned to leave again, only stopping when Spike slammed the door closed before he could pass through.

“Xander, please listen to me.”

“Oh no…no I listened to you before remember? Know when to run? We’ll talk about this when it’s all over? I’m done listening to you.” Xander spat out, reaching for the door knob again. “The girls want you back and God knows I’ve never been able to say ‘no’ to them but I’m done with you Spike. You not coming back to see me was a big hint wasn’t it? So I’m done. Know when to give up and all that.”

“No, pet, I-”

“You what? Give me one good reason why you didn’t come back.” Xander waited a moment, while Spike stared at him and then nodded, “That’s what I thought. Your tickets to England are in there,” he gestured towards the envelope Spike was clutching. “Show up, don’t show up. Whatever.”


~*~*~*~*~


Xander checked in his bags and made his way through the duty free shops, not even pretending to wait for Spike. He had no illusions that the blond would follow him to England. After all, he’d had plenty of chances to fly over in the past few months hadn’t he? He was so unprepared for even the possibility that Spike would come that when the blond sat next to him at the coffee shop he actually did a double take, spilling some of his coffee in the process.

“What the hell are you doing here?”

Spike, the utter and complete bastard, looked puzzled, as if he didn’t understand the question.

“Going to England, Xan. Got me a job offer.”

Xander glared and left the cafe, getting lost in the crowd. He tried to ignore the vampire’s presence by his side as he made his way to the boarding gate. He and Spike sat far enough away from each other on the plane to preclude conversation. Xander spent most of the flight alternatively seething because Spike had dared to show up and craving Spike’s attention. Anything that would prove the blond gave a damn. He’d been running on anger since the moment he’d found out that Spike had been back for months and now the anger was finally fading, only to be replaced by a deep sense of loss. Xander had told himself over and over again that if Spike had survived they would have been together but his illusions were painfully shattered. Spike obviously didn’t return his feelings. Had their positions been reversed, the first thing Xander would have done upon his return would be to run to Spike. Instead of that, Spike had forbidden Andrew to tell anyone he was back.

Know when to give up he thought and turned his attention away from the blond head a few seats away.

He successfully managed to ignore Spike through landing, reclaiming their suitcases and boarding the train to Coventry. Once there though, Spike sat right across from him, making himself impossible to ignore.

“I’m sorry, Xander.”

Xander slowly looked away from the window, facing towards Spike. He certainly seemed sorry. His mouth was just a little bit tight in the corners and his eyes were earnest and open.

“Doesn’t matter,” he replied, turning towards the window again.

“It does,” Spike protested, “I hurt you and-”

NO,” Xander interrupted, unwilling to hear platitudes and excuses from the one person he never thought he’d need them from. “No,” he repeated, “It doesn’t matter. Know when to give up, remember?”

Xander ignored the unhappy look Spike sent his way and went back to staring through the window at the darkness. Silence reigned for a few moments.

“Does that mean you gave up on me?”

The hint of accusation in Spike’s voice was enough to take Xander from sad but detached all the way back to angry.

“Fuck you Spike. You’re the one who forgot your own advice and got yourself killed. You’re the one who gave up on me when you stayed with Angel and didn’t even tell me you were back. Now fuck the hell off and leave. Me. Alone.”

“Xander, I’m sorry.”

Nobody could mistake the look on Spike’s eyes as anything other than misery and regret but at that moment in time Xander simply didn’t care.

“For what? What are you sorry for? Not coming back to me? Or being busted.”

Xander’s voice caught and he mentally swore as he tried to hold on to his anger.

“I was someone’s champion for the first time in my life, Xan.” Spike’s voice was so low as to be barely audible, making the little sob Xander couldn’t quite suppress sound all the more conspicuous. “I didn’t want it to have been for nothing.”

Spike hadn’t come back because he wanted to die a hero? “That’s stupid,” he said firmly, trying once again to swallow the stupid lump that seemed to have taken residence in his throat.

“I know, pet. I’m sorry,” Spike tentatively reached out to touch Xander’s hand where it lay on the table and Xander gave up the battle to hold on to his anger, a clear sob escaping him. Spike was suddenly sitting next to him, arms going around Xander’s body and holding him close as he finally broke down after months of silent grieving. He spent the rest of the trip with his face hidden against Spike’s t-shirt, holding on so tight he’d probably leave bruises.

“New rule,” Spike said, as the train rolled into the station, “Know when to hold on, okay? I don’t make the same mistakes twice.”

Xander gave him a weak laugh, arms tightening a little more around Spike, a practical demonstration of the new rule.

“Why is it that whenever we talk about these rules of yours I end up crying? I’ll have to hand in my macho man card if I keep doing this.”


~*~*~*~*~


Time passed slowly at first, with awkward silences and embarrassingly obvious attempts to get things back to where they were supposed to be. Gradually though, it picked up speed, as Xander stopped mentally preparing for the worst whenever Spike was a few minutes late and Spike stopped trying so hard to make up for letting go before. There was even a period when it was way too fast, rushing by as they both frantically went through every single book the Council had, trying to find a way to slow it down again.

It stopped altogether as Spike waited, looking anxiously at the still form on his bed.

Then, miracle of miracles, it started moving just perfectly as Xander opened his eyes, soul stuck firmly in place, to smile at his sire’s anxious face.

“I told you I never make the same mistake twice, pet, I may never have learned when to give up but I bloody well know how to hold on.”




The End




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