Summary: Xander's dealing with the holidays. Spike's dealing with the death of someone who meant something to him. They find a way to deal together.
Rating: R
Author Notes: Love and apologies to the Clash. Thanks for still mattering. A big wink to "24 Hour Party People."
Story Notes: Set in mid-season 7, but only vague spoilers there; spoilers for S6. An expansion of a moment mentioned in "Sunnydale Calling," but it can be read on its own. Warning -- two sad and drunk men -- lots of language.
Disclaimer: Joss and Mutant Enemy and others own the characters from BtVS. The Clash own the songs. No copyright infringement intended, and the writer receives no profit from this story.

Thief of Life


It's two days before Christmas, and Xander is sick and tired.

Mostly metaphorically, but literally too. He is down with the literal sickness and tiredness. He's had a persistent scratchy throat since he woke up this morning, and it doesn't take any of a thousand demonic variants of prescience to know that come tomorrow he's going to have a full-blown cold.

Willow tried pressing some homeopathic nasal gel stuff on him, giving him a mini-lecture on the whole like-cures-like principle. He gave a tentative press on the pump mechanism and recoiled at the goo that came welling from the top. "I get it. Snot to ward off snot." He shoved the bottle back at her. "No thanks."

Tired, yeah, that too. He's just come from the job site and hey, no need to change clothes or sit down with a beer, because there's some hammering and fixing of broken stuff that needs to be done around here, too. He's working in the living room while Dawn bounces around like Tigger, adding more tinsel to the tree and singing Christmas songs with the six o'clock news blaring in the background.

"C'mon, Xander, sing!" Who can resist? That old classic, "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer." Like living on the Hellmouth isn't torture enough.

Here's where the metaphorical sickness and tiredness comes in. He's had it up to his eyeballs with Christmas tunes. Carols, standards, high church, novelty -- he doesn't care. He'd had his fill by about December 2.

He's sick to death of hearing about retail indicators. Two days before Christmas, and the news is full of how many people are in the malls. To hear these asswipes on the TV, disaster looms if Americans don't go into more debt than they did last Christmas. How screwed up is this?

He's tired of obsessing about Anya's gift. Yeah, he actually has one for her. He bought it last February while they were still gearing up for the wedding. It was just too perfect to pass up, so he bought it and put it away for Christmas, and here's December 23 and everything blows.

Tired of being back where he was two years ago, wondering where his sleeping bag is stashed and just how depressing Christmas Day will be this year. He hopes the owner of his company will be handing out the good booze again this year on Christmas Eve. He's not so sure, though. Things weren't as good this year as last, even with the work still going on at the high school.

Spike comes in the front door from a butcher-and-convenience store run. Yeah, make sure you've got your blood and cigs, but don't worry about the rest of us. He stops to react to something that's going on on the TV. "Now that's bloody music. The only band that -- fuckin' hell." He whips his head toward Xander. "Could you leave off the soddin' hammering?"

All Xander catches when he does are the words "apparent heart attack," and then it's on to another story. Spike dumps his burden on the coffee table and bolts back out the front door.

"Who was that about?" Xander asks Dawn.

She shrugs. "Some old guy in some band."

This depresses him on general principles. Even if he hadn't been born on the first anniversary of the day some Catcher in the Rye-reading wackjob plugged John Lennon on 72nd Street. Despite the whole hope I die before I get old vibe, rock musicians shouldn't die -- from assassinations, cancer, o.d.'s, any of that.

Well hell. Merry Christmas.

He asks Dawn if she'd mind putting Spike's blood in the fridge for him. Xander suspects he won't be coming back anytime soon.

Xander doesn't know what time it is when Spike returns. He's been sitting for at least an hour in the kitchen, lit by the dim glow of the over-the-sink light, holding a jeweler's box opened in his hand. Anya's necklace. It will never actually be hers. This is the sort of present you give your wife. Wildly inappropriate for the ex-fiancee you jilted at the altar but still care about and hope you'll always be friends with or at least forgiven someday. Then again, wildly inappropriate is not a concept Anya's a stranger to.

Maybe he will have a wife someday. Maybe he isn't so hopelessly screwed up that he'll never make it past that altar thing. But even if he does -- this is Anya's necklace, it called his name when he'd seen it in that boutique. One of a kind, artisan-made, stones glimmering with the color of her eyes, flecked with gold in just the same way, and with a chunk of green amber that reminds him a little -- not too much -- of that amulet she used to wear. This is her necklace, not any other woman's.

When he hears the door he snaps the box shut and slips it into his pocket. Spike is three king-sized sheets to the wind, clutching a still-sealed bottle to carry on the work he's begun. "Xander," he slurs, once he sees him sitting there in the near-dark. "Rotten fuckin' news, did you hear who bought it?"

"Some old guy from some band, Dawn said."

"Bloody hell!"

"No kidding. She makes me feel old too. At least you are old." Xander feels a little guilty. No need to take his Christmas funk out on Spike, who's already too unhappy to make it any fun anyway. "I caught it on the eleven o'clock," he says quietly. "Joe Strummer."

"S'a bleedin' shame is what it is." He thumps himself a few times on the chest as he weaves on his feet, three fingertips held together like a blade. "He was the heart of the Clash. The fuckin' heart. Only band that matters."

"Uh-huh." Xander has only a vague recollection of their music. That Casbah song, that he sort of remembers.

"They were like nothin' you ever heard. 1979, all that amazing sodding music going around, surging like blood, and they were the best of the lot."

"Maybe we should keep it down a little," he suggests. "So that must've been a great time to be in England, huh?"

"Christ no! England was a cesspool. Fucked up beyond all belief. But the music, you can't even imagine it, mate. Angry and passionate and bleedin' true." He reaches inside his leather coat, comes up with a handful of cds and a video, lets them spill out of his hand onto the counter. "This is what it's about. Come downstairs and listen. We'll raise a glass."

"I figured you must've followed that whole punk thing when it was going on."

Spike takes a lurching step and has to throw out an arm to catch his balance. "Followed?! I practically started the entire Mancunian scene."

He's lost Xander here. Nothing like the Manchurian Candidate, he supposes, but he has no idea what Spike's going on about, and it only gets worse.

"I'll have you know I'm the one made Tony Wilson go see the Pistols."

"That's great. Only who's Tony --"

"Right, yeah, you weren't even born yet. Factory Records, the bleedin' Hacienda. Bloody genius -- smart enough to listen to me, at any rate. I was a regular there when you couldn't scrape together enough punters to play football. Dun matter, I told Tony. It's history. How many were at the Last Supper? Bleedin' Kitty Hawk? An' I was still there when the place was so crowded you could drain some poor bugger dry and he wouldn't even drop until closin' time."

It's difficult to tell if Spike's blowing smoke up his ass or not. Could be a parade of lies to impress him, but there would be a greater motivation for that if Xander were actually impressed. Or knew what the hell Spike was talking about.

"Bloody lost on you, innit?" He gathers up the cds and video again and heads for the basement. "Come and listen, then."

There's some appeal, Xander decides, in being around someone who's not cajoling him to get with the Christmas program and be cheerful. Plus there's the full bottle of booze. So he rises and follows Spike downstairs.

Which turns out to be a good thing, since Spike is so drunk he nearly pitches headfirst down the stairs. Xander catches him by a leather coattail and he manages to right himself. The cds clatter onto the concrete floor, but -- good man -- Spike somehow keeps a grip on the bottle.

They don't exactly raise a glass to Joe Strummer, because neither of them bothered to bring down any glasses. They just pass the bottle back and forth, and Xander takes two pulls for every one of Spike's, because he's got some catching up to do.

Spike keeps shouting, "Listen to this. S'fucking brilliant!" But then he keeps yammering through the songs till Xander hears none of them.

Finally, by the time "London Calling" comes on, Xander's drunk enough to tell Spike to shut the hell up and let him listen.

Holy shit. This song pierces him right through. It's apocalyptic music, describing exactly what it feels like to be in the house on Revello waiting for From Beneath You It Devours to come and get its freak on.

"Waitwaitwait. Play that part again. Did they say what I think they said?"

Yeah they did. London calling, and we ain't got no high, except for that one with the yellowy eyes--

"Shit. Did they know-- Shit."

"'Course they knew. Haven't you ever seen any pictures of them days? Bloody hell, Harris, half the London scene was vampires. A good three-quarters of New York City. Includes the bands as well as the kids in the clubs."

He shakes his head. "No. You're shittin' me now."

"I never. I'm tellin' you. Look at the old pictures. I look like George bleedin' Hamilton next to some of these pasty-arsed gits."

He makes Spike play the song another couple hundred times, and takes it in. Zombies of death. Holy shit. Holy shit. He drinks a lot more.

Finally he lets the song go, and his attention drifts in and out, until another song that cuts him in two, this one for different reasons.

You said you loved me, and that's a fact
And then you left me, said you felt trapped
Well some things you can't explain away
And the heartache's with me till this day

Anya. He is so so sorry. He thought he'd explained things away, but now he sees what a shitheel he is. He must say this out loud without realizing, because Spike looks at him with a great deal of drunken pity.

"Harris, I'm really sorry about sha-- About how things went down with Anya. Though she wasn't, in any technical sense, still your fiancee. Or even your girlfriend."

"No. All my fault." He leans forward to take the bottle Spike offers and pitches onto the floor. He turns his cheek against the cool concrete and listens to the song that comes up next on random shuffle.

And I was gripped by that deadly phantom
I followed him through hard jungles
As he stalked through the back lots --

Holy shit. These guys, they knew.

"To Joe Strummer," says Spike, and Xander hears the liquid sound of the bottle tipping back.

"Joe Strummer," Xander says to the floor, and after that he remembers nothing.

The End

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