Pairing - Uuh... Spander. For a given value of "pairing"
Disclaimer - I am not Joss Whedon, but if he ever feels like signing all of his material belongings to me, I'll be sure to let you know.
Summary - Retrospect, Justification, Heartbreak. The usual.
Rating - PG-13 if that.
Warnings - This is something or a blatant, maudlin indulgence of my mood today. I happened to be listening to the Garden State sound-track this morning and the song just... snagged and insisted and wouldn't let go and then there was crying and grumping and defensive knitting. But... I want the story that happens with the song. Because it seems like a thing worth writing. It seems like a love worth having had. And how's that for some verb conjugation? The real warning here is that it's a song-based story.
Feedback - Is, as ever, deeply appreciated.
I Just Don't Think I'll Ever Get Over You
At five o’clock in the morning Xander shuffled towards the empty kitchen in bare feet and pyjama bottoms and couldn’t be bothered to flick the light switch. Gloomy blue light came through the sky-lights; mornings in Ireland were always gloomy blue, but it suited him fine. He didn’t miss blinking his way into consciousness in the full light of day and needing sunglasses before eight-am. The coffee maker was programmed to go off at seven when the girls started to stir, but more often than not its program function was never tested because Xander was up hours earlier to push the button. Sleeping in was something that had gone the way of Sunnydale and he enjoyed the time to himself.
As a young man Xander had fantasized about being the only man in a house full of young women. Welcome to Castle Anthrax, with the eight score young blondes and brunettes, all between sixteen and nineteen-and-a-half, cut off in this castle with no one to protect them. Except the appeal of that had worn off when the wish had been granted and it turned out to be all about settling fights over who stole whose hair brush and who had first claim on the bathroom – it didn’t help that they could all single handedly break him.
Now Xander relished the hours in the early morning when he could have a few moments of peace, disturbed only by softly snoring slayers and the occasional curfew breaker sneaking in from a boyfriend’s flat. When he’d had those daydreams in the back of Mrs. Ybarra’s math class he hadn’t figured on being the authority figure. The coffee pot gurgled and dripped and kept the secrets of its scent to itself until Xander poured himself a cup. The rest got dumped into a carafe which accompanied him to the office after he’d set up a fresh pot for the girls. He was considerate these days as a survival mechanism.
His office had a southern-facing window overlooking the training yard, but his desk sat on a perpendicular wall. There were some things he just didn’t need to see; reminders of how old he was becoming while limber girls half his age did gymnastics which had eluded him even in the prime of his youth. After spending his adolescence with Buffy he didn’t think he’d ever see the day where he got tired of watching a nubile young thing limbering up and showing off, and that really made him feel old. A lot of things made him feel old these days, that had been half the problem. And when Xander realized that he was standing against the door in his office remembering things he couldn’t go an hour without re-living, he shook himself and sat down at the desk with the little lap-top that beckoned. E-mail needed to be read, bills needed to be paid, and wallowing wasn’t going to get any of it done.
He rubbed painfully at his bum-knee while the computer took its time about waking up. He’d been chewed on and spat out by a demon of the week almost six years ago, officially ending his time in the field but landing him a nice cushy spot babysitting five teenaged super-girls under one roof. Most of the time he remembered that he liked the house job and that demon hunting was a hell of a lot scarier than the nostalgia let on. The coffee, when he finally got around to taking a sip, was a perfect balance of nutty and bright citrus. He drank it black these days, a habit he’d picked up in Africa. There were cows and sheep and goats but a surprising shortage of convenience stores, and in two years he’d been there, he could never bring himself to trust the milk, but there was coffee everywhere, grown in vast fields for mass consumption and shipped off to places where pasteurized milk was more readily available.
Ireland had amazing dairy products.
Once he got over being cold all the time and the knowledge that he’d never be tan again, Ireland was pretty amazing in general. The house was out in the middle of nowhere in the south end of Leitrim county, but the air was clean and things grew here. There was snow in the winter, and warmth in the summer, and a pub where a one-eyed American could sit and drink until he was unselfconsciously joining in the melancholic wailings of his fellow drinkers and no one looked twice. That had been important his first year here, when he had felt old, useless, and guilty. But in the week after his first Christmas there he realized he had reached a point where he hadn’t been totally sober in a month. Eventually one of the girls called the Council in London and it was Buffy herself who dragged him out of the pub by his shirtfront, both awing and terrifying the girls he’d been neglecting as she delivered a scathing lecture that made him feel simultaneously like the scum of the earth and grateful that they hadn’t sent Willow. After that he pretty much quit drinking. It was harder than he thought.
There was an email from Amanda, something about a little-known on-line RPG which sucked the soul out of its players and delivered the energy to a demon dimension; Xander chuckled when he read it and spent a happy thirty seconds imagining Giles’ reaction to technologically advanced demons. There was also a quick note from Andrew announcing the pregnancy of one of his older charges, and a long, informative ramble from Willow all about her life in Brazil; it was all sangria, Santaria, and sunshine, something he knew she deserved. The rest of his inbox was ads for bank deals, coupons for specialty stores where the girls liked to shop, and an announcement for a blood drive that was happening next month.
At six o’clock, Xander flicked on the radio and pulled out his personal organizer with the list of things to be paid. Anya had taught him something after all. The rent was due, and the cable bill. The phone and internet charges were astronomical because no teenage girl could survive without their freaky cell-phone-computer-hybrid-love-children;
In Sunnydale’s last days, when they’d made the decision to change the world, no one had given much thought to what would happen afterwards. Suddenly, there were girls with the strength of ten men cropping up all over the world and no remaining Council of Watchers to provide support and information to them. The people that had staggered away from that last battle, dusty, bloody, and bruised, were barely given two days to recover before being packed off with magically rendered passports, lists of locations, and rudimentary information brochures in about a dozen languages to hand to the girls they found. The first time Xander had ever been on a plane it was on his way to Egypt. It was harder work than anyone imagined.
While Xander was away in Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Mozambique respectively, Giles and the brainier people in their circle were developing an infrastructure which could handle the sudden surplus of super-heroes. Xander was learning enough of basic languages to ask for the bathroom and explain that he wasn’t evil; Giles was buying up cheap, isolated property; Xander was getting bruised and tumbled and scratched up by scuffles with demons who were attracted to the fresh, untrained slayer meat in the area; Buffy stood watchfully over Giles’ desk while the Watcher drafted special Watcher codes about keeping the girls with their families until they were at least fifteen. While Willow was still neck-deep in the mojo and Buffy was building an army, Xander was stumbling around trying not to screw things up any more than absolutely necessary, and he figured there was some kind of screw up in the works (probably not his own this time) because eventually he stumbled on to Spike.
They had stared at each other in shock across gate seating at the airport in Bangladesh, Spike on his way to Heathrow, Xander headed into Cairo International for the umpteenth time. It had been so good, after that heart-attack inducing moment of shock, to see a familiar face, and so good catching up, superficially at first and then sharing in the grief of lost friends and yet another wrecked home and so much wandering, that Xander missed his flight. Apparently Andrew was capable of keeping secrets after all, but Spike remembered the Mbuna fish and grinned his irritating and sexy and impossible grin, and the tension and hurt he’d held so close to his chest since Sunnydale just fell away like a bad dream. He loved Spike then, instantly and fiercely in the way he’d loved Buffy after that first horrible flight for their lives in the Sunnydale tunnel system – they’d been through something, bonded by trauma – after that Spike was with him everywhere and for the first time Xander didn’t mind.
That had been 2003. By 2011 Xander was so deeply enamored of the vampire that he was willing to die for him and nearly did. In 2012, when he could walk again with the aid of a brace, Xander had taken the job in Ireland and Spike hadn’t come along. He joked that he didn’t appreciate the Mayans predicting his love life. It really did feel like the end of the world.
The early-morning radio host gave over to some soft music that was suitable for not-quite-seven-o’clock and Xander clicked “send” on the expense report that was due each month. He tried like hell sometimes to forget, without the aid of alcohol these days, things he’d said and things he’d done and how stupid it all was, but shadows of Spike were etched on his brain and there weren’t enough distractions in the world. In the cool blue mornings when the sun seemed especially slow to rise and the house was silent he could almost feel the vampire there with him. Wanted the vampire there with him, and knew that was impossible. Instead, he contented himself with another cup of coffee that reminded him of places far away and fiddled with the pocket knife that lived in his desk. It was a small, single bladed affair that folded into a bone-handle; Spike was always more the found-weapon type, preferring to travel light, but sometimes a man simply needed a pocket knife, and Spike had carried this one with him for years, possibly decades. After Xander asked to borrow it to cut the tape off a box, he’d slipped it into his pocket, and Spike never asked for it back.
It bothered him, more than he liked to admit, that Spike was timeless while he was constantly aging. The moment he realized he might make it out of his twenties with his head still on his shoulders it began to worry him that he was going to grow old. That he was going to slow Spike down. By twenty seven things had already started to creak and ache, a decade of eating crap, running for his life, and being carelessly tossed into solid objects had taken its toll on Xander’s body. He could pop his left shoulder in and out of the socket at will because it had been dislocated so often. He tried to hide it, desperate to keep the pace of his adolescence and praying Spike would never come to look at him as a weight around his neck.
By thirty two he had a permanent limp and it didn’t matter that he’d earned it in the defense of the person he loved best and a few more just for convenience – what mattered was that he would never be the same again and that he refused to drag someone with so much energy and… vitality down to his shuffling pace. So Xander let him go. Pushed him away. And now he got to live with it.
But he had Spike on the brain, today more than usual, and usually often enough that it was debilitating. Xander picked up a pen. Letter writing was the kind of thing that had gone out of fashion, but Xander had never been much for the cutting edge of technology; learning to use the new microwave had nearly unhinged him. He didn’t bother to address the sheet of printer-paper he’d drawn out of the tray.
“I heard a song that reminded me of you.” He started, read that, nearly crumpled it up and started again but that would have been an exercise in futility. This was the version he’d started again. The hundredth version of the letter he never got quite right.
“Or maybe it reminds me of me. You would hate it. Or you’d want to dance with me. Hard to tell. Do you remember that night in Dawnie’s kitchen? I told you I couldn’t dance – have rhythmic seizures yes, but dancing, no – and by the end of the night you believed me. I miss that. And sometimes I wish you were here with me, but never out loud because we both know how that ends. And we both know why we’ll never know now whether you’d be indulging me or secretly loving it when you caught me singing that song in the shower. That was a convoluted sentence. Sorry. About more than the complicated sentence, I mean. I’m not any better at coherency on paper than I am aloud.
“I wanted to make a clean break. When I got hurt you told me that you’d take care of me. That when you were turning two-hundred I’d be turning one-hundred and it wasn’t that big a gap after all. That just being near me was enough. You probably remember that. I don’t want you to think that I didn’t believe you. I believed you. I know you meant that, and I know you’d follow through. Even if after five years you were miserable and stuck, let alone fifty – I knew you’d be there, helping me up the stairs and watching me order off the senior menu while twenty-something waitresses admired you taking such good care of your grandpa. Fashion sense to the contrary I’m a pretty vain guy. I wanted to spare you that. I didn’t want you to resent me for that. Hate me for hurting you, don’t hate me for loving you when all you would have wanted was to be free.
“I think if you read this that you’ll probably laugh at me; yes, I am a big girl. Indoctrinated by women, living with women, I’ve only gotten worse. I wish I hadn’t been such a jerk. I’m sorry about that too. You didn’t deserve it. You were amazing. And I don’t think I’m remembering things more fondly than they were – I distinctly remember you being a shit head more times than I can count – but you were amazing. We had fun, didn’t we? I did. I hope you did. I hope that… when I broke it off I didn’t break your heart, even though part of me hopes I did. I hope I left a dent. That’s a horrible thing to say, isn’t it? I am a horrible, self-conscious, possessive, needy bastard and I’m so sorry. Sorry if I left a dent. If I left so much as a scuff mark. All I want is for you to be happy.
“Are you happy? That’s a stupid question I’m never going to get an answer to, isn’t it? And another one. But I’m fairly sure I’m okay. I don’t want you thinking it’s been five years and I’m still a complete wreck. I’m not saying I’m perfectly content – I wouldn’t say no to a fourth bathroom – but on a scale of 1 to the bottom of a bottle, I think I’m okay. The girls tell me I’m a shut in, that I spend all of my time here and at the hardware store and they keep trying to take me dancing. Now I think I know how Giles felt whenever we invited him along to the Bronze. Who knew the thought of going to a club would one day fill me with paralyzing horror? It confuses them that I like fixing things, and writing up watcher reports – the worm has officially turned. They keep trying to set me up with their English teacher and… you don’t care about any of that, but I don’t want you to think I’m still pining away for you.
“Sometimes I just miss talking to you. And I know I’ll remember you even when I’m ancient and impossibly senile and can’t remember how to tie my shoes because… it’s you. But I don’t think it’s unrealistically optimistic to tell you that I’m okay. That I’m sorry. And that I hope you’ll forgive me, that you are happy, and that one day I’ll have the courage to actually send one of these letters.
“Fully aware of the inherent awkwardness of affectionate closing sentiments,
Xander dropped the pen with a sigh. While he was writing, the house had begun to stir. Somewhere above his head a shower was running, one of the girls came thundering down the stairs and was now poking around in the kitchen. Xander was half-way through re-reading this latest version of a weekly missive when there was a tentative knock on his door. Giving it up for lost he crumpled the sheet of paper into a wad and lobbed it at the trash can before giving his attention to the little brunette in the doorway. “What’s up, Mags?”
“Uh, Xander, can I use your bathroom? Andy’s in the shower, and Siobhan’s locked herself in the other one and I’ve really gotta pee.” She was squirming in the universal language of potty dance, prompting Xander’s first out-right laugh of the day as he waved her on through his bedroom so she could use his toilet.
Moments later Lucy’s voice carried out from the kitchen, “Xander! We’re out of coffee!”
He was already on his feet, prepared for the answer when he called back “Why don’t you make some yourself?”
“Because it’s always better when you do it!” So he got up to make coffee. When Maggie was safely out of his room he’d put actual clothes on and see what he could do about fixing the hobby horse that Gillian had busted last week, but in the mean time he was kitchen bound. “And do you think you could make some breakfast? Your scrambled eggs are the best.”
Life went on.
The song, if you're curious because I patently refuse to give things like that away, is "I Just Don't Think I'll Ever Get Over You" by Colin Hays. Lyrics read thusly:
I drink good coffee every morning
Comes from a place that's far away
And when I'm done I feel like talking
Without you here there is less to say
I don't want you thinking I'm unhappy
What is closer to the truth
That if I lived till I was a hundred and two
I just don't think I'll ever get over you
I'm no longer moved to drink strong whiskey
'Cause I shook the hand of time and I knew
That if I lived till I could no longer climb my stairs
I just don't think I'll ever get over you
Your face it dances and it haunts me
Your laughter's still ringing in my ears
I still find pieces of your presence here
Even after all these years
But I don't want you thinking I don't get asked to dinner
'Cause I'm here to say that I sometimes do
Even though I may soon feel the touch of love
I just don't think I'll ever get over you
If I lived till I was a hundred and two
I just don't think I'll ever get over you
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