Summary: Four months ago, Spike received an unaddressed letter in the mail. Now he has to decide what to do about it. The foregone conclusion to its predecessor "I Just Don't Think I'll Ever Get Over You."
Rating: PG. For today I believe in the power of fluff! 
Warnings: Unbeta'd. Most of it's so old I've given it several decent proofreads, but the new stuff is... new, so if you catch glaring mistakes, point them out and I will fix them. Also warning for unrepentant sap, original characters, awkwardness involving teenaged girls, and unrealistic dialogue. 
Feedback: Makes me squee like an otaku on crack. 

General Stuff: This has been sitting on my computer for… two years. I actually started it about 15 minutes after I finished its prequel, and it’s been sitting on my hard drive, 75% completed and collecting dust since then. And I wasn’t going to write it because… I believe in the power of angst? I guess? But… then I did. I’m almost embarrassed. But I like cute things as much as the next girl, and with any luck, you will too.

I thought for the sake of symmetry I’d switch voices. The problem there is that I am geographically, psychologically, and chronologically closer to contemporary SoCal than Victorian London. But I tried. Also – this is probably not as tight as the last one, largely because it’s not a retrospective. Yes, I hate it when that happens. Sorry.



Lover, You Should've Come Over


by
Rayne Jelly


Sunday.

The first time Spike flew in an airplane he was in a private jet with leather seats leaving from a private tarmac on a doomed mission to save a girl who, for love or money, couldn’t be saved. His most recent flight was a little less grandiose – stuck smack dab in the middle of a 747 surrounded by sweating, snoring, stifling humans, like a sardine in a tin from Chicago O’Hare to Dublin. There was no fancy company car waiting for him at the other end, just a long rental line and a 130 kilometer drive up N4 until he was here, nervously slinking up the walkway to the old house that loomed before him. Large, a bit off the beaten track, but built to last and settled against the rolling countryside like a contented sheepdog; like it intended to stay there for hundreds of years.

He’d dreamed of this moment a time or two over the years. Sometimes he was angry in the dream; he was furious and vindicated as he tore into the house’s inhabitant with scathing rhetoric. He huffed and he puffed and the house blew down against the force of it. Sometimes it was like coming home. The door would open and he’d be greeted with a spill of laughter and warmth like sunshine, the closest thing he’d ever feel to pure light. Sometimes he just cried. But in the day dream he was never nervous. There was never a sick clenching in his gut as he stared at the heavy oak door. He never had to fight to knock.

When Xander left he’d gone a bit insane. Nothing surprising about that. Spike spent about a year looking for what he’d lost where they’d been together, but he’d gone in company to all of those beautiful places, and without Xander there to gape and sigh and appreciate him for it, there was no joy and they were just cities. He ran into Dru while he was looking for ghosts of his life and she was just so wrong for what he needed, tinkling shivery bells like moonrise in contrast to Xander’s brassy warmth, but she was the kind of wrong which helped him to stop feeling. When she left him again it was mutual, stung even less than he thought it would. And then there was nowhere else to be. There was here.

Spike had spent a hundred and seventy years on the earth, man and vamp. He’d beaten down slayers, hell gods, and the first evil itself, and he never wanted to run away quite as badly as he did just now. He wanted to scurry back to the airport in his crappy rented Subaru and never look back. And he would have, but his boots seemed rooted to the floor, so there was nothing for it but to knock, hollow as the grave.

He couldn’t seem to draw a breath. Breathing hadn’t been a problem for over a century, but right now it seemed like the most important thing in the world. He couldn’t believe he was standing here like a fool, or maybe he couldn’t believe he hadn’t been standing here five years ago. He couldn’t breathe. His head felt about a mile away from his shoulders, the world was dropping out from under him, and he couldn’t breathe.

The door swung open mere seconds after his knuckles hit it. He hadn’t expected it to be that easy. It was after midnight, still early by vampire time but… maybe Xander was no longer on vampire time. He had expected a wait, thought if he just knocked he could say he tried and that would be it. He didn’t know that if he simply lifted his hand and let it drop that the door would open and that things would suddenly be… real. More than paper. He stared, for a moment, dumbfounded at the girl who’d opened it. Glossy red hair and wide blue eyes and so damned young and apple-cheeked when she asked him, “Yeah?”

The air came rushing back. Spike cleared his throat. Tried to remember why he was here. “I uh… Xander about?”

Her eyes narrowed dangerously and he felt that rush, the tingle at the base of his spine that meant he needed to shift his ass or see to a slayer. “Why do you want him?”

The question wasn’t cocky, it wasn’t a teenaged girl question, it was a low veiled threat that said she’d be happy to deal with him instead.

He took his hands out of his pockets and tried to look non-threatening. “Look, love, you don’t have to invite me in, and I’ll stand well back. I just want to talk to the bloke, he’s an old… friend. Perfectly safe.”

She didn’t budge “You’re a vampire.”

“I know it. And I’ve been a vampire long enough to know a slayer when I see one – he’ll be perfectly safe with you standing right here, won’t he?” There was a time, not very long ago, when he didn’t have to stroke the egos of little girls in order to get what he wanted. Part of him, the beast hiding in the shadows and gnashing its teeth waiting to be fed, wanted to rip this baby slayer into shreds and feed on her still beating heart for being on the other side of that doorway. He bit back a growl and made his more civilized half do the talking. “I just want to talk.”

She didn’t take her eyes off him. “LUCY!” The volume was painful, but Spike refused to flinch. “GO GET XANDER!”

Spike held her unfriendly stare, listening intently to the noises behind her. Brief thunder – a teenager pounding down the stairs – something he remembered all too well. Some murmured conversation that he didn’t quite catch because walls had to be thick in a house full of slayers, and finally, after five agonizing minutes that weren’t nearly long enough, the shuffling swish of socked feet across the rug.

 “What’s up, Andy?” The voice came from over the red-head’s shoulder, vastly different than before, and Spike realized for the umpteenth time that this was stupid, that he shouldn’t be here. He stared over her shoulder at the familiar dark hair, half the face he’d loved and a hand rubbing at a tired eye.

“Someone wants to talk to you.”

Xander finally looked up and his face flickered through several unnamable expressions before all the color drained from it and he simply stared. Spike stared back, unable to sketch a smile.

Spike didn’t notice when the girl, Andy, melted back to stand beside her watcher, and he didn’t know how long they would have been stuck in that tableau had the little slayer not said something, “Xander? You okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” 

What he looked like was a well-tread quarter-mile of hell’s own highway. Xander was pale, almost sallow white, and unkempt. Shaggy hair fell into red eyes and hovered at the corners of his pale lips. He was thin, too. Easily as thin as he’d been as a boy, his t-shirt and pyjama bottoms hung off him; Spike would bet he could count his ribs in the mirror.

Then Xander sneezed and the spell broke because the sneeze degenerated into coughing and the coughing kept up until Xander was leaning on the teenager for support.

“Christ Harris, what have you been doing to yourself?” The question slipped out, the old tone, the old lurch in his gut. Xander made a shocked noise that sounded a bit like “Whuhu,” an expulsion of air that turned into a laugh that turned into a cough and Spike stood in the door way as in love with him as ever. He thought he’d gotten over that.

They moved their mutual-staring venue to the kitchen. The red-head, whose name was Andy, hadn’t been happy about that decision until Xander reminded her that A, he’d been slaying vamps since she was in diapers and B, this was Spike, the very same Spike she’d been reading about in the updated Slayer handbook. Her fair freckled skin had flushed a painfully embarrassed pink at that revelation and she dashed up the stairs without a word. Then Xander invited him in.

It had never been awkward before. Awkwardness was a thing which Spike caused, it wasn’t a thing he often experienced. But Spike couldn’t adequately explain why he’d come, and he didn’t want to, so he waited, staring at the rich finish of the maple table and pretending fascination with the golden reflection of the over-head light. Xander had never been able to maintain a silence for long. Spike spent ten minutes listening to every ragged breath that crackled through his lungs, he heard the hitch and stutter that prompted Xander to break the silence with the same ragged cough that had nearly laid him flat in the parlor. Spike looked up.

“You’ve got great timing.” Xander rasped sarcastically when he could breathe again, he had wrapped himself up in a blanket he’d grabbed from the living room and looked, if possible, even worse. “Goddamn slayers. They’re sick for half an hour and the puny mortal who feels their foreheads and brings them soup gets a flu that just won’t quit.”

“It’s not mystical, is it?” This, at least, was familiar territory. Spike had never known Xander to be sick a day in his life.

Another hoarse laugh, “No. Totally mundane, I checked.” Spike’s only response was a raised eyebrow – the same raised eyebrow that for years had prompted Xander to fill the silence. “The girls have a Workings class on Thursdays with a local coven, so I had Corinne check it out.”

All of this was new to Spike, who, after Xander, had largely divested himself of Scooby company. L.A. was a slayer-free zone for the most part, he hadn’t heard boo about the Council in years. Sometimes he got an e-mail from Dawn, but his replies were stilted and non-descript. He was fine; he loved her; he was unavailable for Christmas. He needed a break.

Somehow, when he came back he hadn’t expected new people with new lives – a happy family without him in it. Xander’s life had filled up with girls and plans and regular Thursday night meetings, and there wouldn’t have been enough room for Spike to wriggle himself back in, even if he wanted to. Just now he didn’t think he did. When he’d come here he’d thought… but he’d been wrong.

“You seem to have made yourself a life here.” Spike hadn’t wanted to say that. He’d wanted to say something appropriately scathing because Xander might be sick as a dog, but he had a home here and people in his life who obviously loved him and Spike resented the hell out of that. He could feel his mood, tenuous at best, slipping into foul. “The girls, I mean. Thursday coven meetings and weekend footie games, is that it?

“Yeah, that’s about it.” Xander glowered at him from the folds of his blanket and Spike supposed he deserved it, but then the glare dropped away and he just looked tired. “They’re so young. They were infants when the Hellmouth closed, babies breaking rattles, and… I bust my ass trying to make them feel like normal girls. I want to give them everything they need to survive – to stay human – before the Council sends them out as cannon fodder. So yeah, it’s magic meetings, and soccer games, and shopping trips, and a new heavy bag once a week. That’s what they need, that’s what they get.”

This little speech had been too much for Xander’s congested lungs, and an attempt to clear his throat became another of those debilitating coughs. Spike couldn’t bring himself to be too sympathetic.

He tried to picture it. His Xander, fierce, funny, caring Xander who’d been game for anything as the den mother to a house full of Buffy wannabes. The images were surprisingly reconcilable. Spike supposed it made sense; all those women Xander had surrounded himself with before the world had gone to hell in a handcart, women who trusted and relied on him to be another one of the girls, who cried on his broad shoulders and asked him to carry their battle axes… he had been so good at being there for them. But Xander had hated that, said so at any rate; loved to be included, hated to be used. Spike never thought he’d find Xander right back where he started, but he hadn’t been asked for his opinion.

“Where are the tea things? I’ll make us a cuppa.”

Xander flung a hand out from under his blanket and gestured vaguely at a cupboard in the corner while he got his breathing back under control. Spike had the kettle on before he could rasp out a “thanks.”

“No trouble.” It meant he didn’t have to sit across the table from a man he was apparently still in love with and trying not to throttle. “They seem to care about you.”

“Yeah, sorry about Andy. She’s probably upstairs right now gushing all over the Slayer network about how she met – and yelled at – the William the Bloody.” Xander laughed a little hoarsely. Spike felt Xander tracking him across the room, “Do you remember the last time we were in Serra Dourada and Willow kept making me fact check for her?”

He did remember. Long, hot summer nights reminiscing about old times with old friends, drinking sticky-sweet wine and listening to the cicadas croaking in the undergrowth. Xander had smelled like sunshine and it was all he could do to keep his hands off in any company.

“Well you should’ve paid closer attention, because she wrote you into this heroi-tragic bad-boy-with-a-heart-of-gold character who would burn alive for puppies and Christmas and… Manchester United.” Xander wasn’t looking at him anymore, but his voice was full of humor; Spike couldn’t say he minded. Six years together – happy, good years – and Buffy was still a sore spot that Xander never really stopped poking. “All the girls fall head-over-heels in love with you when they read about it.”

Spike hid his preening by puttering around with the tea things, but he couldn’t stop himself from saying, a little smugly, “As well they should. I’m a hero, me.”

Xander snorted, “Yeah, but Willow conveniently left out your ego.

“Oi!”

“And the snark.”

“You love it.”

“And your complete inability to do your own laundry…” Spike laughed. He couldn’t help himself. He’d forgotten how easily it came when Xander was near. “And your habit of complaining that your car’s been stolen when you can’t remember where you parked it…”

Xander was laughing too, dark eye shining with unshed tears of mirth. He’d missed this. “Oi, Harris. I didn’t drive half-way across Ireland to have my shortcomings listed for me.”

Immediately, he regretted it. The laughter practically fled from Xander’s face, but to his credit, Harris very calmly doctored his cup of tea before reacting. “That does beg the sixty-four thousand dollar question, Spike. Why now?”

What did Xander want from him? He was here, he had swallowed his not inconsiderable pride and was sitting in this man’s kitchen. He’d made him tea for Christ’s sake. He felt himself frowning. “You don’t know?”

“Am I supposed to?”

“Well yeah.” Something wasn’t right here. Xander’s face was not the careful blank he cultivated when he was being deliberately obtuse. It was genuinely puzzled and Spike had the feeling that something had gone horribly wrong. He was here, and more than ever he wanted not to be. “You mean you have no idea something may have changed in, say, the last four months?”

A shrug, “My birthday, but…” that hadn’t mattered much before. Something in his face must have given away his distress because Xander was suddenly sitting up straighter, rigid with fear. “Is there something wrong? Did something happen?”

“You really don’t know…” Spike didn’t have the words, so he dug a much-handled piece of paper out of his pocket and gently unfolded it, smoothing down the creases. “Got this in the mail a couple months ago.”

“What’s…?” Xander aborted his attempt to ask what it was, because from the horrified look on his face he knew exactly what this was. He’d recognized his own handwriting and cringed. “Oh…god.”

“Took me a while to open it.” Spike said bravely, hating that he was admitting this, but if there was anyone on the planet who knew what a spineless coward he could be it was Xander. “Took me even longer to decide what to do about it.”

“That…” Xander couldn’t seem to tear his eyes away from Spike’s hands, “that was never meant to be… I didn’t send that.”

“You didn’t?” Panic swirled through him.

“No.”

“It’s your handwriting!”

“That’s cause I wrote it! But you were never supposed to…”

Spike pushed his chair away from the table, horrified, more hurt than he’d admit. “Then how did I…?”

“One of the girls.” Xander said finally, he still hadn’t looked up. “That’s the only explanation. One of… it must have been Gillian. This is Gillian all over. I don’t know how the hell she knew how to find you but…”

“You didn’t send it.” He seemed to be stuck there. He’d put so much stock in this letter. So much faith in the assumption that Xander would welcome him home, that he’d be received with the same sort of desperate hope that he’d read over and over again on this sheet of cheap paper. He had fought with himself for weeks before making the decision to get on a plane. Before Angel had put him on a plane, and it was starting to sink in that but for the machinations of a teenaged girl he’d still have a little dignity.

“I’m thinking grounded for life is a good start. Also maybe I should buy a shredder.”

“I should go.”

“What?”

“I… shouldn’t be here. I should leave.”

“No!” Spike flinched, Xander clapped a hand over his mouth then removed it sheepishly. “That was louder than I… Sorry. You should stay. At least… it’s late. You came all the way from…um…”

There was a question in that embarrassed silence, Spike sighed and answered it. “Been in L.A.”

“L.A.? I thought you never wanted to go back there after…”

After the fragments of Angel Investigations had been sucked into a hell dimension that called itself Los Angeles and was ruled by demons and chaos. After he’d lost half the people he called family to the virulent plague that pretended at being a law firm. After he’d sworn to never again set foot in that hot, stinking heap of steel and concrete. He’d gone back; he missed the accent. “There was nowhere else to go.”

Xander winced. “Oh. Um. Anyway, the sun will be up before you can make it to Dublin, and I know the girls would love to meet you… if you stay.”

Still reeling a bit from the body blow his expectations had suffered, Spike drywashed his hands over his face. He thought if he were capable he’d be sick.

Xander was so bloody composed when he said, “We can be civilized with each other, right?”

Spike wanted to hit him. “Yeah. Course.”

Xander pushed himself to his feet with a little groan and started collecting tea things, dumping everything in the sink to be dealt with later. “C’mon, the guest room’s upstairs.”

Spike allowed himself to be led down the hall and up a straight staircase, watching cautiously while Xander clung to the rail and made his left leg do all the work. He had forgotten, almost, that Xander would have a limp now, that his right knee had been ruined and that the ruination had effectively wrecked Spike’s life. It was a funny thing to forget. He followed two steps behind and didn’t mention it. “You have a guest room?”

Xander made a whuffing sound which might have been a laugh. He stopped at the top of the stairs for a brief cough. “Yeah. The girls all have families who sometimes visit. And friends. This place really isn’t big enough, Lucy’s got her own room cause she’s the oldest, but the other four are doubled up and there’s always a fight over the bathrooms…. Sorry, you don’t care. Yes, Spike. We have a guest room.”

Said guest room was moderately furnished with a queen sized bed, a bedside table, a chair, and a large empty mirror that stared at him from above a dresser. Spike was relieved to see that there were heavy blue drapes framing the single window – sun proof if he was any judge. It was as sterile and impersonal as any hotel room, but it smelled like Xander – the whole house smelled like Xander – and Spike stood by the chair feeling lost and unhappy.

“The sheets are clean.” Xander said from the doorway, either misreading him or choosing not to read him at all.

“This’ll do me fine, thanks.”

“Good. Uh… you’re right next door to Andy and Mags, and there’s the bathroom across the hall if you need… anything. Just um… let me know.” To his surprise, Spike was actually looking forward to the quiet. Xander seemed exhausted, and Spike felt too drained for words – he just wanted to shut the door and stare at the ceiling for a while. Figure out his next move. “If you get bored there’s a slayer-handbook in the bedside drawer. Willow gave me about three million copies when she had it printed and I haven’t found a use for them all yet, even as insulation. Read the chapter about yourself – you’ll laugh yourself sick. Also, it’s gonna be pretty chaotic here in a few hours, just to warn you. The walls are pretty thick, slayer hearing, but the girls all have school and there’s bound to be some noise. I’ll try to warn them all so they don’t disturb you but…”

“Xander.” He’d even missed the godforsaken babble. “It’s fine. This is great. Thank you.”

“Are you… tomorrow I’ll make a run to the butcher’s. Is sheep’s blood okay? I don’t know if I can manage human on such short notice.”

Spike shook his head, marveling. “Don’t. I took care of it, there’s a cooler in the boot of the Subaru. Just get some rest, Harris.”

“Yeah… okay.” Spike hated putting that look on his face, the one that was resigned and dejected, but it was just blood. Xander tried again, “We’ll talk tomorrow?”

“Yeah. Tomorrow.” Spike crossed his arms, recognized the defensive posturing that Angel never stopped giving him crap about, and forced himself to uncross them, shoved his hands in his pockets instead. The mini-macarena he found himself doing made him feel helpless. He didn’t want to be here. “Xander…” the man stopped on the first stair and looked back over his shoulder, “If you weren’t ever going to send it, why’d you write the letter?”

Xander smiled faintly, that familiar self-deprecating twitch of his lips that Spike had adored. His fingers twitched, longing to touch. “Tomorrow, Spike.”

It was hard to argue with a retreating back, not that Spike hadn’t done it more times than he cared to count, but he was tired, and confused as hell, so he simply shut the door. The window in his room let out onto the roof of the back porch, overlooking the training yard. Spike slung his coat over the chair and crawled out onto it with a fresh pack of Marlboros, noting the half-completed expansion on the south-west side – Xander’s complaints about space hadn’t been idle – and smoked until the sun came up. It was tomorrow, he was still without answers.

Monday

“Xander says I owe you an apology.”

It wasn’t often anymore that Spike woke totally disoriented, with his blood singing and his teeth pushing their way through soft human gums. There was a girl in his room. Blonde and precocious with an accent thick enough to stick a knife in; she’d knocked twice and barged in, and though Spike hadn’t remembered falling asleep he knew he was awake now. She looked like Buffy. When he figured out what was happening and managed to shake off the game face, he growled out, “Is it for bothering a man in his sleep?”

She shrugged, “Probably that too.” She plunked herself down in his chair, probably creasing the hell out of his coat and inconveniently trapping his clothes beneath her ass. “I’m Gillian. You’re Spike, right? You’re not what I expected.”

“Christ, love. Give a fella a chance to get sorted…” Finally, giving up modesty for lost, he pushed himself upright and took a closer look at the slayer that was making his bones hum. She really did look like Buffy; blonde hair, green eyes, a certain set of the jaw that was both vulnerable and fierce… but she was wearing an utterly unrepentant grin that was nothing like his Slayer’s, and she was altogether too curious. He felt like a prime cut of steak and fought the urge to clutch at the sheets. She couldn’t have been more than sixteen. “What were you expecting?”

“Someone different,” came the considered reply, but ambiguous enough that Spike couldn’t find it offensive. “I mean, you’re Spike.

“And you’re Gillian.” The pieces finally came together in his head, a fuzzy picture of the series of events that led to his discovering a certain letter in his post office box. He wanted a cigarette, or a drink, possibly several of both. “The same, nosy Gillian who did some scheming and plotting on the behalf of her Watcher, am I right? I really can’t have been who you were expecting.”

She surprised him by chuckling under the force of his stare, and shrugged. “I guess maybe I was expecting someone less famous. Or more feminine; Xander’s kinda… straight looking. It’s okay though, you showed up anyway. I knew you would.”

He was that predictable, apparently. Lacking anything clever to say, Spike just stared at her, one eyebrow raised, until she started to talk. It used to work on Dawn before she got married and had kids of her own, it still worked on Xander; they wanted to explain, he let them.

It came pouring out at several miles a minute. “I knew you would come. I’ve only been here about nine months, but Xander has never been on a date, and I asked Lucy who’s been here nearly three years and she’s never seen him go out either. And sometimes he’s just… sad. Then I found the letters. He never addresses them, and that drove me crazy, but they’re just so… I didn’t know people wrote letters like that in real life. I thought if the person he was writing them to read one… they’d have to come. I asked Lucy who asked Diana who asked one of the older girls who knew more about it, well, you, and apparently she phoned the White Witch who rang me, which I think was the scariest phone call I’ve ever had, and she gave me your P.O box.” She paused to suck in a breath, bouncing a little, “And then this morning Andy told me someone was actually here. I knew you wouldn’t be able to stay away.”

Spike groaned, absolutely mortified. The little slayer had been right, he’d read that letter and come running, and Spike hated himself for being the product of a teenaged daydream. And she’d talked to Willow, who had always been a hopeless romantic. It was beyond embarrassing, and ridiculous; he never should have opened the thing. But he had, he was here, and god help him he was curious. “You keep saying ‘letters,’ plural.”

“Yeah. I get stuck with trash duty, which is a lot better than dish duty or bathroom duty so it’s cool, but I have trash duty and there are always balls of paper around his trashcan – bills, and notes, and his aim is really horrible, but when I found the first letter I couldn’t help myself from reading it and then I started finding them a couple times a week, and, okay, so maybe I was looking for them, but yes. Letters. I saved you some of the better ones if you want.”

She brandished a folder which had been sitting on her lap and Spike jerked backwards like she had whipped out a fire brand. For all he knew she had and that folder would be an instrument of torture; he didn’t want to see, and he knew he wouldn’t be able to help himself. Xander was sad; he hadn’t been on a date in at least three years. Spike didn’t know how much either of those things had to do with him, and he didn’t kid himself that he didn’t care, but he wasn’t sure if he was up to the task of fixing it or even trying. “Just… set it on the dresser, love.”

She stuck it down the side of the chair instead, like a coked up squirrel, chittering away at him and hiding her acorns. “So Xander says I have to apologize.”

Spike was about to ask what, exactly, she was utterly failing to apologize for, but he never got the chance because Xander’s hoarse bellow cut across his thoughts as he stumped up the stairs and into the room. “GILLIAN! WHAT THE HELL!?” He sounded even worse than he had the night before.

“You told me to apologize…” she said, her voice suddenly meek and half hidden behind his cough. “I was apologizing.”

Spike snorted at that and Xander shot him a look full of sympathy and horror.

“Yeah, but I meant once he was awake, and dressed for Christ’s sake. I didn’t mean for you to barge up here and just start talking at him. Jesus.”

 “I’m not stopping him from getting dressed.” Fifteen-year-old logic complete with fifteen-year-old pout.

“You’re sitting on his clothes!” Xander stopped yelling and sucked in a deep breath before he could start coughing again. “Come on. Out. You are going to sit in your room and do your homework until dinner, and we will be going over it later, so no slacking. Then you are going to issue us both one astounding apology, and if you’re lucky your sentence will be up before the Spring Formal.”  

“But that’s six months away!”

“Keep digging that hole and I’ll make you train with Mags for a week.”

Spike listened with amused satisfaction as Xander lectured his charge all the way down the hall. He was laughing as he crawled out of bed and reached for his clothes, rumpled but none the worse for wear. The folder full of letters he quickly stashed in the top drawer of the dresser. There was a knock on the door just as he was buckling his belt, Xander, flushed with anger and embarrassment and holding a wad of tissues to his nose, was leaning in the doorframe.

“She always that much trouble?” Spike asked, feeling Xander’s eye on him as he reached for his shirt.

“Yes.” The response was petulant and stuffy, Xander pocketed the tissues. “I’m sorry. Gillian has four older brothers and absolutely no shame.”

Spike slipped his shirt over his head but decided to stay barefoot – the sun wouldn’t be down for hours yet and there was no point in strapping his boots on to sit around a stranger’s living room. Spike hadn’t really minded the girl. True, she babbled like a brook, but he appreciated the frankness, something he’d had very little of these last few years; Xander, who had always been irritatingly candid and meddlesome, seemed to be getting some of his own medicine. “No harm. What was she supposed to be apologizing for?”

This question prompted a heavy sigh, “For invading your privacy, for a start, and mine.” Xander really did look furious; there was none of the soft indulgence from earlier on his face, this was something that had genuinely made him angry and nothing short of truly spectacular repentance was going to make him forget it. “For sending that letter and stirring up all sorts of old… Jesus, Spike, I’m so sorry. I never meant for you to see that, I know she’s just a kid but… Christ, I’m so embarrassed. She’s going to be doing dishes for the rest of her natural life.”  

“It’s all right.” It wasn’t, really, but Spike had always been an adaptable creature. It didn’t change much, really. Xander hadn’t meant for him to be here, but he was. He hadn’t meant for him to read that letter, but Spike had, and now they’d have to deal with it. Xander rewarded him with a smile for the lie.

“Yeah… okay. Hey, Is it cool if I get your stuff out of the car? I don’t want your blood going bad or anything.”

Spike fished around in a pants pocket for his keys. “Sure.”

Later that night, after the requisite apologies had been extracted, and dinner had been picked over by five girls, each as devastating as a swarm of locusts, he tried to pin Xander down to an actual conversation, but it was impossible. Xander made a pot of coffee and they sat down for a cup, but then Siobhan, a cool honey blonde with a pointed little face, came in, ostensibly with a question about her geometry homework, but sneaking curious peeks at the vampire in their midst. Then it was Andy asking if she could go out with some girlfriends Friday night, then Mags asking where the extra chain was because she’d accidentally busted the one on the heavy bag, then Siobhan again, this time with a question about the Archduke Ferdinand. Xander kept shooting Spike wry grins as though to say “welcome to my life, sorry about the mess” and before he knew it Spike was suckered into helping hold up the bag while Lucy replaced the chain, and talking to the girls about their lives with the Council. With all the attention he felt like the prettiest girl at the ball, but he couldn’t get away.

By nine o’clock Xander’s skin was the color of day-old oatmeal, his breathing was labored, and it seemed like an effort just to keep his eye open. He convinced Spike to stay another night, so they really could catch up, and went to bed moving like he was eighty, leaving Spike to the wolves. They dragged him out to the training yard and begged him to spar with them. He was careful to pull his punches, not trying to do them any damage, but a fight with one slayer was a rush, let alone five of them, and whatever Xander had been teaching them seemed to be working because they were all eager and deadly facing their first actual monster. It was as though the last fifteen years hadn’t happened and he was still in Buffy’s backyard teaching the rabble to fall. Three hours later Spike knew why training with Mags was such an effective threat; she’d actually blacked his eye. Fortunately they were meant to be in bed no later than twelve-thirty and none of them was obstinate enough to cross Xander, even when he was sick. Spike collapsed onto a plush leather couch while they all trooped up the stairs to get cleaned up and crawl in bed like the nice little girls they were.

Living in Los Angeles with Angel had made him a stranger to the world – it was just the two of them, taking down bad guys and bitching at each other, and so it was likely to remain for eternity. He’d gone back to L.A. because it was too much damned work, finding new humans, breaking them in, letting them abandon him. He wasn’t up to the job anymore, and Angel, for better or worse, didn’t have any excuse to walk away. They’d keep each other company until the world ended, even if that particular company had never seen The Nightmare Before Christmas. At least he’d finally talked Angel into a television. He wondered if Angel longed for the solitude he’d had in the years before Spike came along, wondered if, to Angel, he wasn’t as tiresome as those five girls had been tonight.

He’d forgotten how exhausting young people could be. When he’d met the Scoobies, so long ago in a town that wasn’t there anymore, they had been young, but they hadn’t been so energetic as to be baffling because he was young and energetic and hadn’t been ground down by the endless cycle of good and evil. They had been children, but so had he, and somehow they became his cohorts, his compatriots, and finally his friends. He’d grown up with them. Or their growing up had forced him to grow up, and now, in the face of this new generation of bubbling, bouncing adolescence, Spike felt every minute of his hundred and sixty-odd years. He wondered how Xander stood it.

Spike wanted a long soak in a hot bath and a cigarette. The cigarette he could manage if he was willing to crawl out onto the roof again, but he wasn’t about to strip naked and have a soak in a bathroom shared by a bunch of teenaged girls. Since he’d gotten the soul, those days of impropriety were over. No matter how uncomfortable he felt in his own skin, he wasn’t about to be a slip of a girl’s first glimpse of the other half of the world. Instead, Spike fixed himself a liquid dinner then stumped up the stairs and settled for a hip-bath, washing what he could before settling into his room for what would prove to be some interesting reading.

He picked up the Slayer’s handbook first, delaying, and he knew it, the inevitable moment when he would have to look at that stack of handwritten not-love letters and torture himself with their contents. His chapter was a worthwhile read – disgustingly one sided and occasionally so funny he thought he would die. Willow had missed some of the details when she was penning it, Xander was right about that, but most of the important things were there. He longed for the simplicity from times when he thought a bottle to someone’s face would solve his problems. He lost himself in old times, reading about Buffy and how genuinely amazing she’d been when she was the one girl in all the world, skimming a few of the demon chapters and appreciating the research that had gone into them – some of those contributions had been his, it was bizarre. Xander was barely a footnote in any of it. Apparently ordinary humans didn’t get full chapters in the Slayer’s handbook, no matter what they gave up in service to their heroes.

While he was reading, the letters were burning in the back of his mind, staring at him from the top dresser drawer where he’d stashed them. Finally, fed up with himself and the distinctly unsettling sensation of being stalked by paper, he gave up on putting it off and reached for the folder that Gillian had left him. There were at least twenty in the stack. Not one of them was dated and not one of them was addressed; every single one had been crumpled into a ball and smoothed out again by careful hands. A few times a week, she’d said, and he was never meant to see any of them.

Spike started reading.

 “I got over the impulse to reach for you on the other side of the bed years ago. Except, apparently, for this morning. That made me laugh at myself, and I hope you don’t have those mornings anymore either.”

“I keep pretending that one day I’ll send one of these. I’m pretending it’s going to be today and that keeps me from telling you how much I wish you were here.” 

On the surface they were apologies. Crap explanations for fears and behaviors that were fundamental to Xander’s nature, full of little anecdotes about the girls who had become so important to Xander’s way of life, little details about their growing up that he thought he could share because he loved them. They were all the same thing with just the details changed, but Spike didn’t get bored reading them. It was the rhythm, Xander’s voice in his head saying what he’d been hoping to hear since he knocked on the door.

“I hate that we’ve been apart for five whole years and your name is still the first one – the only one – on my tongue when I come.”

“It frightens me how much I still want you. I smell leather, or cigarettes, or so much as think of the way you stand with your thumbs in your pockets, and all I want is to have you here so I can suck your cock. Worship you. Christ I miss fucking you, miss you biting my lip and leaving bruises on my ass, and I miss the sounds you make when I ride you. I miss coming so hard it felt like dying and waking up to do it again. It’s been Rosie and her five sisters for too damn long, but fuck I want you in me. And a shower. And this is a letter I know I’m not going to send…” It occurred to Spike to be mortified that Gillian had apparently read that, but only for a moment, and for a moment he lost himself in imagining, remembering. Xander, warm and solid and digging his strong fingers into Spike’s muscles. So horny, and that low buzz of excited contentment that used to pulse under his skin, contradictory and unique to Xander, rekindled itself.

“Sometimes I think I’m stuck on you because there is absolutely no one else – the whole damned island is totally bereft of available, smart, funny, beautiful, sarcastic, interesting, aware people who are either the right age or even remotely interested. I blame you for being utterly spectacular and spoiling me for other people. Bastard.”

They made him laugh because Xander made him laugh. And they hurt. One day, if it was ever less raw, when he was out of this house that tasted like disappointment and compromise, he’d send these to their author, just to imagine Xander squirm; seeking a petty revenge for the littlest crime. But the hurt and the humor eventually wore thin and Spike was reminded of how fucking angry he was.

“I don’t know what I would do if you were here. Send you away, maybe. Worship at your feet. I’m getting too old to do this job and when it’s over I’ll be totally alone.”

He wondered what right Xander thought he had to pen these things. What right he had to so obviously obsess when it was he who left, Xander who’d fucked it up, who’d issued the proclamation that he was leaving, and Spike wasn’t allowed to follow. If Xander was totally alone then it was his own fucking fault; Spike had nothing to do with it.

“I wish I weren’t such a coward.”

Spike would have stayed with him until the end of the universe.

Tuesday

When it was over, when there were no more letters in the stack and he’d revisited a few choice paragraphs, Spike sat in silence, upset and wishing any of it made a difference. Around four in the morning he heard coughing underneath his feet, Xander trying to choke up a lung by the sound of things. He wanted out of here – there was about an hour to sunrise, and he could have been gone. But he’d be civilized – Xander had asked for civilized – he would at least tell the man goodbye.

The words spun like a blender full of thick and slow molasses, refusing to be properly churned, gumming up the blades, clinging to the walls, stubborn and sharp, biting at his tongue and leaving horrible bitter-sweetness lingering at the back of his throat because he’d dared to taste.

“I wish I weren’t such a coward.”

And that was it. He couldn’t bear it anymore. Bare feet didn’t have quite the impact of his boots as they clattered down the stairs and across the hallway to the object of his ire, but it didn’t matter; his boots were never what made his step firm as he stomped across the world. Xander was still awake when Spike marched up to his door, but the vampire wasn’t sure it would have made a difference. Fuming, he shoved the door open… and then realized he didn’t know what to say.

Xander was sitting on the edge of his bed, and he jumped when the door smacked against the wall. “Spike?” he asked hoarsely, so quiet and run-down that even the vampire’s hearing strained to catch it. He looked like hell, “What’s going on?”

The silence seemed to run for hours. Maybe it did, Xander seemed too empty to question him again.

“I don’t understand you,” Spike finally managed, apropos of nothing. It didn’t matter that Xander was sick and not up to talking, Spike didn’t need, or particularly want, him to talk. “You left me and… I have no idea why.”

Xander drew in a crackling breath to answer him, and the hurt and anger that had been quietly simmering under his skin for the two days he’d been here finally overflowed. “No. Shut up.” Xander’s mouth shut with a sheepish smile. “You left me. You broke my heart. I was a fucking wreck, and it was completely your fault. You owe me the courtesy of keeping your mouth shut long enough for me to yell at you.”

Xander’s mouth opened, but only so he could heave in some air and Spike could tell he was trying not to laugh. Spike hated this. The folder full of letters hit Xander in the chest with a soft “thwap” as Spike began to pace like a caged cat, wishing he could light up, but the second-hand would only exacerbate Xander’s lungs. It was easier not to look at Xander because they’d been telling each other to shut up for years, laughing and snarking and loving and it annoyed him that even the phrase came with a flood of memories that settled in his heart like little stones.

He looked at the dresser instead, with its highly-polished surface, scattered with photographs of teenaged girls. “You don’t…” He had to start again. “I thought I made you feel old. I thought… Scratch that, I know, because you told me so, that every time you looked at me I reminded you of your mortality. That you were ‘going to get old and die one day, and I’d still be young forever.’ I… thought I understood. I hated it, but I understood. And I loved you, so I let you leave.”

Xander made a noise of protest and Spike whirled around, the calm of the moment gone because he was angry, and it was time Xander knew why. “I thought being around me hurt you! But I find you here, surrounded by these little girls with their perky smiles and their ceaseless energy, and I don’t understand. You just traded one kind of youth for another, and if it’s not still torture – you called it torture – then… there must have been some other reason you decided to grind my heart under your boot heel.”

Xander had his lip between his teeth, worrying it. The sight inspired a surge of gratification and agony in the vampire. Spike wanted to walk out the door and leave him to it, leave him to the tears that would inevitably follow – because Xander never cried in front of anyone, not even Spike, he just bit at his lip until he was alone – but Spike wanted to see him hurt. Hated to see him hurt. That was the whole problem.

And then there was nothing else to say.

When Xander didn’t utter a word, that big eye just staring at him out of a pale face, Spike walked away but the thrice-damned sun was up again and crappy Subaru rentals didn’t have necro-tinting.

            ***

Spike had been hiding all day, belligerently ignoring the sounds from the house below him. By seven am, the house was thundering with noise and confusion as five girls fought for three bathrooms, and Spike sensibly stayed out of the way. Later, when the girls were off to school and silence bloomed in the house, he told himself he was staying in the little guest room because it was dark, and cool, and he wasn’t risking stray beams of sunlight. He kept the door closed and tried to sleep. Around two o’clock, the constant construction noises from the back of the house ceased, and Spike gave up on pretending. He didn’t remember the last time he was so desperate for the sun to fall.

At about four-thirty, there was a knock on his door. Spike didn’t look up from his book, “Look, Xander, I’ll be out of your hair by sundown, okay?”

“A…actually…” the tentative voice was not Xander’s, it belonged to the little blonde, Siobhan. When Spike turned to face her, she was standing in the doorway wringing her hands, looking as lost and helpless as any other seventeen year old girl. “I don’t think you should. Xander’s really sick, I think… we might need your help.”

Spike bolted upright before he could remind himself that he was angry and wanted to leave. The girl was watching him with a face full of caution, distractedly toying with her own thumbnail. Spike hadn’t known her long, but it was long enough to know that this one didn’t often lose her composure, and this was as close to panicking as she would ever come.

When he was human, the kind of rattle and wheeze that was happening in Harris’ chest was a death knell. He had heard it before, too many years ago to bother counting – an asthmatic wheeze and the crackle of wet lungs preceding a cough that could rip a body apart – the doctor had advised them to take a rest in the French country side, where the air was cleaner than in London, where his mother could recover her vitality. They never did make it across the channel.

It didn’t matter to Spike that it was a hundred years ago, or that people didn’t often die of the flu anymore, for a brief and guilty moment he was that man again, frozen and helpless in the face of something that was impossible to swing a sword at. Then Harris coughed, and Spike took a diagnostic sniff, and his brain informed him that as bad as it was, and as fluey as Xander was likely to get, he wasn’t about to die of TB.

Xander would be fine, he knew, he always was, miraculously fine when the rest of the world was still licking its wounds. Spike could go, he could force a few aspirin down the man, pack himself into the car and put his foot on the gas and everything would be fine. Good. Normal. But he couldn’t, or maybe just wouldn’t. Harris didn’t know when to stop. He should have spent the day in bed, should have spent it drinking tea and eating toast and being a snotty headachey mess in the comfort of his home, but instead he’d dragged himself into the back yard and spent the afternoon… hammering, or whatever else it was that carpenters did when they were being too stubborn for their own good. He wasn’t up to the house right now, wasn’t up to the cooking or the girls, or even making himself a pot of tea, and Spike couldn’t leave him like this; he couldn’t leave the little slayers unattended, and he told himself that was why he stayed. Not for Harris, exactly, who was too stupid, even, to crawl into his bedroom like a normal person. He was crashed out on the couch, almost deliriously feverish, and greeted Spike by flailing at him.

Spike heard Siobhan make a nervous noise behind him, and sighed, “Idiot.”

It wasn’t the work of a moment to haul Xander upright and sling him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. He was reassuringly heavy, thin, but not starvation weight, and Spike muttered to himself about idiot men and pneumonia while he tromped back to the bedroom. In his imagination, the moment he finally got Harris naked and alone in his bedroom, he had not been peeling the shirt off his sweat-damp back while the man, incoherent and mumbling something about fixing tuna noodle casserole, utterly failed to help. Alone and naked and he was rolling Xander under the covers and telling him to stay put while he rummaged around in the unforgivingly stark white bathroom for the Benylin and a glass of water.

He managed to coax the drugs into Xander with a minimum of fuss, marveling at how convenient it was, how clean the world had become when he could dig up a little box of pills, sold in rows at every pharmacy, grocery store, and gas station from here to China, and sickness was suddenly no longer a threat, just an inconvenience. Getting the pills into him had been no trouble at all. The trouble was getting himself back out of the room because Xander clung to him, grasped at his wrist when he’d held up the glass of water and hadn’t let it go, and every time Spike had to move closer, he tugged at more, murmuring a slow, “Cool… God you feel so good” in semi-drunken babble until Spike tugged him close and sat beside him just to shut him up, Xander’s head a searing brand on his thigh. He felt arms wrap around his waist and knew he’d be stuck there for a good long while.

“Fucking charming, Harris.” Spike muttered, making himself comfortable and, because he could, petting through Xander’s hair, as soft and thick as he remembered. Xander who smelled like bitter sickness, but still so good, and who hummed contentedly and slipped from feverishly clinging into soft sleep while Spike watched, and thought. Remembered.

The last time Harris had been sick like this, or the last time Spike knew of at any rate, they’d been on the Baydrag river, miles and miles away from the civilization of Ulan Bator with one of a half dozen new slayers they’d been sent to find. Xander spent most of the ride heaving over the side in the muggy sunlight, a pale, shaking, wretched mess where Spike couldn’t get to him, and he clung to that little girl like she was the last solid rock in a hurricane. Eventually Mei got fed up and dragged the shining specimen of watcherdom into the cabin and transferred his octopus grip to Spike, displaying an impressive grasp of English when she said quite distinctly, “Crazy man.” And it was all Spike could do not to laugh and laugh. The next day when they were finally off the godforsaken river and Xander’s shakes had stopped, he tried to apologize, haltingly, using his English-to-Mongolian phrasebook, but she just laughed at him, called him an idiot, and gave him a big hug. To this day, Mei was one of Spike’s favorites.

Six months later they were outside the little city of Kolin and Xander was stupidly charging in front of a massive Trelknet bitch in heat to save… him, he supposed. Him and the latest little slayer and what felt like her entire extended family, and it all came crashing down. The little slayer took out the Trelknet beast, her first kill and in front of her whole family, but Spike simply hadn’t cared at that point, too busy pressing his thumb into Xander’s ravaged leg, holding his femoral artery shut with luck and too much of the wrong kind of experience, and Spike’s whole world came crashing down. Again. He decided that the Czech Republic was cursed and he wouldn’t be returning if the rest of the world was on fire.

Except, of course, right in this minute when he would rather be anywhere else and had nothing left to lose, he would happily run back to Prague where he knew Xander wouldn’t chase him and he could be alone in his head with the rejection. Again. Fucking Prague. He didn’t like to remember Europe, and tried not to dwell on it because if he lost himself in the dark corners, if he saw nothing but what his life could have been, or the things that he had done that his soul cringed away from in the daylight… he’d turn into Angel. It was better to think about Africa, that big, hot, impossible continent that was as mysterious as the word. They’d been to so many places together, bouncing out of Bangladesh and into Cairo, then down through Sudan and into Ethiopia where Xander asked him endless questions and looked like every day he was still there was Christmas. Spike kept him safe and sound and patched him up with good natured grumbling while Xander collected young women from their families, doing his solemn best to explain that he wasn’t crazy or perverted, and that their daughters weren’t possessed by things they found in the dark. It was good, and Harris made him laugh.

They had been in Kenya, sharing a crappy hotel room on the Council’s stingy dime in a rare moment when there were no girls and there were no pressing assignments or demons trying to eat them. Xander had his shirt off and was sitting on the end of one of the double beds, rolling out the kinks in his neck while the sun broke over the horizon, and he’d looked at Spike sideways, smiled a bit and asked, “Hey, do you wanna go catch a movie some time?” That had been it, all it took. Amusement overrode bemused skepticism, Spike laughed, Xander laughed, the whole world seemed brilliant and airy in that golden pink dawn and that was all it took for best friends to trip over the line into lovers. They never did go see that movie.

A figure standing in the doorway cleared her throat, Spike realized he’d been staring right at her without seeing. He made himself focus. Average height but slender, full of whipcord strength and speed he’d experienced first hand – Spike saw fighters before he saw features – mousy brown hair the color of a walnut shell hung to her shoulders and her mouth, soft but stubborn, wore a faint smile. This was Lucy.

“May I come in?”

Spike gestured magnanimously, as though to say it was her house, she could do as she pleased. She was holding two mugs carrying blood and Darjeeling, respectively; Spike had smelled them the moment he came out of the daydream, and smiled appreciatively when she handed his to him without a flicker  of disgust. “Ta, love.”

She didn’t sit down despite there being acres of bed left, even with two of them in it. Slayers, when they were worried, preferred to stand.

“He’s a good guy you know.” Spike knew. “Lets us get away with more than he should.”

Spike figured this was probably exactly accurate, Xander denied the women in his life nothing. When they were first together, just learning each other, it drove Spike mad with jealousy, but Xander was Xander, and Spike would have been lying if he’d said he was any different. If someone so much as mentioned Dawn…

“It’s hard. We… it seems stupid to complain about because, well, we’ve got super powers, but we all grew up… weird.” She took a long draught of her tea. “The whole world knows what we are now, and that kinda gets in the way of who we are and then… we come here when we’re fifteen or sixteen and… we might’ve been freaks at home, but it was still home. Gilly’s just gotten over the home-sick stage and Siobhan used to flinch every time she was in a room with someone.”

For the first time since showing up here in this house full of extraordinarily well behaved young women, Spike thought about how much work Xander really put in. He was a friend, a councilor, a teacher and the only authority figure, out numbered five to one by a bunch of girls who could all break him in half and who were progressing through the trickiest stage of their adolescences. Teenaged egos compounded by the fact that each and every one of them had grown up knowing she was special. Bloody nightmare.

Spike had been so preoccupied with being frustrated and confused by Xander’s place here that he’d forgotten how damn hard it was. Small wonder he’d been running himself ragged maintaining that delicate balance of sympathetic and disciplined. When they’d been collecting Slayers together all those years ago he’d walked that line so effortlessly, connecting with the human within each of the little girls they encountered. He’d once done the same for Spike. “He helps you feel like a person.”

“Yeah.” Lucy smiled at him, slightly crooked teeth, and she finally took a seat at the edge of the bed, laying one affectionate, proprietary, hand on Xander’s blanketed foot. “Exactly. And they send him a lot of the hard cases. I mean, girls who…”

“Have some skeletons in your closet, do you, pet?”

She looked startled for a moment before she realized she was being teased, “No. I’m here cause my parents live in Sligo. But Mags…” Spike didn’t have to ask, he could practically taste it when they’d been sparring the other night. The flash in her eyes when he’d backed her into a corner was something like a fox in a trap, terrified, and unpredictable. To her credit, she’d helped him up after she knocked him arse over tea kettle. Spike nodded. “Xander should be getting some… what is it? Auxiliary support? Help. From older slayers or... someone, I guess, but he’s so good at it and they keep saying that there aren’t enough resources, still.”

“Why older slayers?” He knew, and didn’t want to have this conversation, but she had brought him breakfast and some perverse part of him wanted to hear it – wanted to hear exactly what kind of trouble Xander had kept himself in for the last five years. Something else to be angry about.

Her response was surprisingly flip, “In case one of us goes barmy.”

“Happened before?”

“Once.” The smile slipped away from her face and she stared at her watcher in his cocoon of blankets for a moment. It wasn’t a happy memory – Spike just watched her. “I’d only been here for a week – scared the life out of me. It took three of us to pin her down and Xander… has a hard head.”

“Bloody… coconut” Against his will, Spike chuckled, which set Lucy to giggling too. “S’all that practice, been thrown head-first into headstones since he was your age.”

“Headstones?” She sounded scandalized, which Spike loved; he had to get his mischief in somewhere. It was a new council when there weren’t even headstones. “Xander?”

“That’s right, he’s not in your Slayer’s Handbook – he should be.  Harris here has been fighting the good fight since he could walk, practically. Dives in head first when he should be running for his life. Didn’t he tell you about any of it?”

“No…” she breathed, grey eyes wide and full of curiosity. Spike wondered what kind of a cat he’d just let out of its bag. “I mean… I know he’s friends with the Slayer and the White Witch but I guess we thought he was just… a watcher.”

Spike snorted. “Far from it. He hit a hell-god with a wrecking ball, did your watcher. Got brass knackers. Lost an eye and a rib, took damn near losing his leg to slow him down. Nothing was gonna keep him from being there for his slayer, even when she wasn’t the only girl in the world anymore.” Spike knocked back the rest of his blood, full of a sudden resentment that shouldn’t belong to him at all. “Can’t believe he’s not in your bloody book.”

Lucy thought about it for a minute and gave him a look that was so old it made Spike feel like a child – made Spike think of Glinda, who’d been dead so long he’d almost forgotten her name. “Maybe that’s a good thing.”

She took the empty mug from his lax fingers and stood, brushing hair out of her face and giving her sleeping watcher another grin, “I mean, we’re slayers, right? We kill things. I bet if anyone ever wrote a book on how to be human, Xander would be on the cover.”

She patted him once on the shoulder, apparently recognizing that the conversation had come to an end and he could use a moment to think. Spike watched her slip towards the door, still wearing that faint Glinda-smile, and said, impulsively, “He left me, you know.”

The smile bloomed again to reveal those crooked teeth, “Yeah, sometimes humans are stupid.”


Wednesday

The fever finally broke in the early hours of the morning, and Spike was confident that it wouldn’t be returning. Of course, that meant he was stuck in this house with its surplus of Slayers and Xander Harris for another day. And when Xander woke up, he couldn’t be away from him fast enough. “Oh god, Spike? What’re you…?” 

“Wouldn’t let me go.”

“Jesus. Sorry. I didn’t want you to have to see me like this,” Xander told him a little more coherently, sweaty and stinking of sickness, but sounding better than he had all week.

At a loss for what to say, Spike managed to snark, “If I’d known you were going to be bleedin’ plague ridden, I wouldn’t have dropped by.”

“No, I…” Xander stopped and blinked a few times, a familiar gesture that meant he was trying to muster the correct words. Spike didn’t really want to hear it, so he fussed with the bedclothes instead, trying to push Xander back to that state of quiet delirium where they didn’t have to have this conversation. “When you were yelling at me earlier…”

“Which you deserved.”

“Which I deserved,” Xander confirmed with a shadow of his old smile. “You said you didn’t understand, and that’s it. I didn’t want you to see me this way.”

“You’ll be fine before long.”

“It’s gonna keep happening.” Spike stopped fussing with the bedclothes long enough to stare at him like the idiot he was. Then he moved to start cleaning up the tissues from the floor. “Not this exactly, obviously. But… this. I’m gonna get sick. I’m gonna get old. I’ll be feeble and pathetic and I didn’t want you putting up with it. And yeah, sometimes it bothers me that the girls are so young and energetic and it’s all I can do to keep up, but they’re just girls. They stay here three, maybe four years, and then they go. I know it, I expect it and… I’m happy for them because I love them, but I’m not – they’re not – you. When you got fed up with repeating a question in a louder voice, or dodging the sun so we could catch the early bird special at Denny’s and left, I didn’t want… didn’t want that. I couldn’t take waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

Did Spike understand that? He knew what it felt like, waiting on tenterhooks for the person you loved more than anything to walk away. But Spike was the kind of poker player who went all-in on shaky hands, and the excuse wasn’t acceptable. “I’m not the one that leaves, Xander.”

“What’re… wait. Anya? That was a thinly veiled Anya crack, really?”

Spike felt the surprise and indignation was a little unjustified. “Well let’s review, shall we? You get upset about something, refuse to say a word until it festers and rots, and then you run away. Have I got that about right? Isn’t that your standard modus operandi?” He all but snarled.

“It’s not the same! That’s…” The look on Xander’s face was raw, hunted. Hurt. “Maybe it is. I don’t know anymore, Spike. Anya has been dead and buried for fifteen years. All I know is that I didn’t… want to be hurt like that.”

“So you hurt me first.”

Frustrated, Xander threw his hands up. “You would have felt trapped, Spike! Stuck caring for a senile old man whose diapers you felt obligated to change. I couldn’t subject you to that.”

“Maybe, but it wasn’t your choice, Xander. You robbed me of that. I wasn’t expecting forever, I’m old enough to know better, but you took what few years we had away from me. It wouldn’t have been enough, but you took what little I could lay claim to away because you were afraid. I mean,” he laughed, but the sound lacked any affection or amusement. The relationship had come to an end years ago, there was no reason not to be honest now. “When you got hurt I was relieved. I thought… finally, we’ll have a chance to take it easy. I wouldn’t have to spend every waking minute worrying that the next mission was going to be your last one. That you’d come across a crazy slayer that I couldn’t stop, or that you’d throw yourself at a demon who’d rip your head off. I thought you’d finally be safe. You’d have to be safe, and I could have you without your bloody missions getting in the way… and then you told me to go to hell, cut me out of your life, and I was never going to hear from you again.”

“I loved you.”

He wished he were made of stone. It would be easier than chasing around in circles. It was the same old tired argument from six years ago, and Spike… was finally ready to let it go. He couldn’t do this to himself anymore. He blamed himself for having been evil, he blamed himself for having loved Buffy first, he blamed himself for not being able to walk in the sun, and for being too much, or not enough, but he couldn’t blame himself any more. Spike was what he was, and this he couldn’t change.

“I would have stayed. I wanted as much as you’d let me have.” It was disappointingly little.

Saturday

Spike stayed for three days. Long enough to know that Xander wasn’t going to succumb to fever again, long enough to know that his mind was made up. They were surprisingly amicable days, Xander, when he wasn’t coughing, sleeping, or avoiding him, was more hospitable than he had any right to expect, but there was awkwardness there that refused to be assuaged, and Spike spent most of his time with the girls before he left, teaching them what it was like to go all-out with an enemy that wasn’t afraid of breaking a nail or pulling on their hair. Siobhan turned so red when he tweaked her nose that Spike laughed for a good ten minutes and got his backside kicked by Lucy. They were reluctant to let him go.

Andy called him an asshole, and Gillian hugged him so tight he thought his ribs would crack. He was surprised to find that he would miss them, these bright happy women that so reminded him of the life he used to have. Maybe that was the appeal, why Xander had turned to guiding little Slayers on the path to heroism; maybe they made him feel important more than old.

Spike didn’t know anymore. He didn’t want to. He was in Dublin returning his rental when he decided that if he didn’t have a smoke he was going to kill something, soul or no. Something crisp rustled against his knuckles when he reached for the pack of Marlboros in his pocket, and he dragged it out with the pack. It was a clean, white square of cheap printer paper. A kind he was, by now, too familiar with. He could almost feel what it said before he opened it, and for a moment, he didn’t bother. He dug out a smoke and his lighter, then took a calming drag before unfolding the paper.

“Spike,” declared the first line, and he thought with some bitter satisfaction that at least this time it was addressed – intentional. “I told Gillian to slip this in your pocket before you left. I wanted to talk to you myself, but you’ve gone out of your way to avoid me and… I guess I have to respect that. You can stop reading here if you want to, but… I wanted to tell you I’m sorry.”

He put the note back in his pocket, finished cigarette, and three hours later got on his plane, back to Los Angeles and a life he felt nothing for because it was better than feeling… this. Abandoned and bereaved with only a half-assed apology as comfort.

***

Angel didn’t ask and Spike didn’t volunteer any information. Just picked up his short sword and went out to battle demons for cable TV and the possibility of getting his head smashed in hard enough he’d forget for a little while. He was a machine. Pigs’ blood and hacking at whatever L.A. threw his way until the axes broke and he could collapse on the couch with a beer and Angel and episodes of Law and Order until he felt nothing. Was nothing. He was a machine, and he liked it that way.

September rolled around with nothing but the creak of cooling concrete to herald the coming autumn – a balmy mid-70s that Spike enjoyed as much as he resented. He and Angel were hunting a pack of demons with a name like something off the back of a marshmallow fluff jar, but there was nothing remotely fluffy about them, and when his face hit the side of a brick building with the force of a wrecking ball, he was grinning.

He came to back at the flat with Angel looming over him like the brooding edition of Bruce Banner and some of his fine motor functions not quite acting right. Angel greeted his return to consciousness with his typical warmth: “You look like shit, Spike.”

Spike tried to flip him the bowman’s salute, but it came out more like a claw and a choked noise that meant his brain wasn’t back on line just yet. There was a terrifying moment when he thought it never would be again, that he’d be trapped in a body that couldn’t tie its own shoelaces, and something must have shown on his face because Angel was biting into his wrist and pressing the bloody appendage over Spike’s mouth. It was dark and bitter and sat on his tongue like old old wine, but it felt like cool morphine and fire in his skin, knitting him back together until he could string together a thought, until he could push Angel away. “Thanks.”

“Seriously. Help if you’re gonna help, but there are easier ways to kill yourself.”

He meant to say something to the effect of “sod off,” possibly with a few choice words in there for effect, and he blamed what came out on the head injury. A good skull scramble and sire’s blood would distract anyone, “Do you remember being happy?”

Angel shrugged, plunked his arse on the bed beside Spike and looked like he was genuinely thinking about it. “Yeah.”

“When?”

Another long pause that felt suspiciously thoughtful, and Spike couldn’t remember the last time they’d had a conversation that wasn’t “pass the blood” “get your boots off the sofa” and “lighten up, it’s just a little ichor.” “Darla.” He nodded, serious as a stake, and said it again with his eyes closed, like he could wish her there. “Darla. About 1800, pissin’ off the local magistrates and seein’ the world through backwoods and barn yards… Before Dru.”

“Before me.”

“Christ yes, before you. Before it got to be all… responsibilities and keepin’ the family in line and the soul… before I knew it could end. We had us some times.”

“Always ends,” Spike said a little bitterly, chasing the taste of Angel out of his mouth, because he could feel it in the blood, the weight.

“Was it like that with Dru?”

“For about five minutes maybe.” Spike snorted, “Then there was the thing with my mum and some Irish bog-trotter gettin’ in the way of everything and…”

“I’m not about to apologize for that.” Spike cracked a grin that was seventy percent mischief, and Angel laughed, for once in his unlife, “Had us some times then, too.”

“Can’t go back,” he said, maudlin, and he blamed Angel’s blood.

“No.”

Last time he saw Dru, she’d been chasing the moon, and after a while, he found he didn’t even want to follow. And even without the soul, it wouldn’t have been Dru he was thinking of. “Darla? Not Buffy, or… your folks here?”

“Not Buffy. That was… not Buffy.” Angel shrugged again, and it looked strange on him, “There was a time, just after Connor was born that I thought… but it didn’t last. Never does, but I had a family again, for a little while. Not long enough.”

“Is it ever long enough?” he snarked, and Angel answered him with a stare that made his blood go cold.

“Longer than that. Another week. Another year… longer than that.”

“Sorry mate.” He was surprised to learn he actually meant it. Maybe he’d been hit harder than he thought. “Fuck, I need to get drunk.”

“Maybe…” Angel coaxed something out of his pants pocket, something scuffed and familiar that Spike had played with more times than he could count, but had never read. “Maybe you need to stay sober. Found this when I took your coat to the dry cleaner’s, thought you’d like to hang onto it.”

“You read it?”

“Yeah.” He was utterly unrepentant.

“Say anything interesting?”

“Read it yourself.”

Spike took it gently, almost reverently, and Angel backed away to resume sitting in his customary chair, but he didn’t leave, didn’t have anywhere else to go, and faded into the furniture while Spike finally let Xander apologize.

I’m sorry about the way that I treated you. I’m sorry that I robbed you – your words – of the time we might have had together. You didn’t deserve that. I don’t know what you deserve – a better man, woman, person, than I am, someone who is as brave as you are. Because you are… so brave. I can’t tell you that enough. Or… apologize enough, I guess.

I never would have had the guts to send that letter – any of them – and you still… I don’t know what I’m trying to say here. Thank you? Maybe, for just… fuck this is hard. And I don’t have time to write three thousand of these fucking things because you’re leaving tomorrow. I think you have to leave tomorrow, because if you don’t, I might ask you to stay. We both know that will lead to bad places. So you have to go. I’m glad you’re going. Look, I can lie to myself on paper. I’m glad.

The girls will miss you. Even Andy, though she’s being a righteous pain in the ass about it now. It’s… I’ve always wondered about that. They all seem to think you’re… I don’t know. Teddybear vamp? Hah – and now I really am glad I’m not in the room cause I can almost feel the scowl. It’s like Dawn, back in the bad old days when she thought you were her only friend and she just kept running to you, no matter what you did or what we said, or even what she said, she always loved you. And she’s really pissed at you, by the way, stop blowing her off – I get an email about it at least once a week. Be mad at me, but don’t take it out on the rest of the family.

I shouldn’t… Sorry. Shouldn’t lecture. Your life, your rules. Sorry. I don’t really know where I was going with this. I mean, I know when I started that I had something to say, something to tell you, but I don’t know. And now I’m rambling on paper, which is so much worse than out loud because I can see that I haven’t gotten to a point yet and… yes. Point. Right. What was the point? You were always better at making my points for me than I am. It drives Siobhan crazy. Off topic again. Point.

Thank you for showing up. Really thank you for helping me get over this stupid flu thing because I know that can’t have been in the plan. If there was a plan. But I appreciate it, the girls appreciated it. Thank you. And I’m sorry I’m not… what you wanted. I’m sorry I can’t be what you wanted, I guess. But… you’re always welcome here. If… if you ever need a break, or want to see the girls or… anything. They’d love it. And don’t be surprised if Gillian hunts you down when I unground her – five years from now – because she does not know the meaning of the word “reasonable.” And she’s making monkey noises, which I guess means she hears you coming down the stairs – I think our neighbors in the village can hear your boots, but I need to wrap this up. So I guess it’s point time.

Thank you. I’m sorry. Be good to yourself,

~Xander.

The silence stretched out for miles, but Angel was still there in the quiet turn of a page and the glow of the table lamp. Spike sat up, worked the kinks out of his neck, made sure his jaw was screwed on right because clearly his head wasn’t. He asked again, “You read it?”

“Yeah.”

“What would you do?”

“I guess… fly back home.”

Spike made a frustrated noise. “So you’d what, torture yourself? Hang around knowing he doesn’t want you? That sounds like you, all right.”

“Does it really sound like he doesn’t want you?” He hated when Angel got rhetorical on him. It made him want to put Nair in his hair gel.  

“Sounds like he doesn’t know what he wants.”

“So go make up his mind for him. You’re good at that.”

“So what if he makes it up and it’s not me?”

Angel put down his book and swiveled in the chair long enough to give him an irritatingly superior glance, but Spike saw the pain there. He wouldn’t wish Angel’s life on anyone. “You want to know what I’d do if… there was anyone left alive? If one day Connor… sent me a note to say he was doing fine and he didn’t need me? I’d stay sober, borrow the company jet, and go prove him wrong.”

“We don’t have a company jet anymore.”

“Fuck sometimes I miss being evil.”

Spike chuckled, already stomping into his boots, “I don’t. You were a soddin’ pain in the arse last time you were evil.”

A derisive snort, “You couldn’t feel anything in your ass.”

“Made it worse!”

And finally Angel laughed, that deep rolling Irish-glen sound that had Spike coming back to him again and again. Because it was family. “Go. Don’t be me.”

“Want to come with?” It was an offhand offer, and part of him didn’t know why he made it. “Meet the in-laws? Get your ass kicked by a sixteen year old?”

“As appealing as that is…” And he could see Angel trying not to laugh again, “I can’t. Should stay, take care of that nest of Slitherelk.”

“Christmas?”

“Think you’ll be there for that long?”

Spike smirked. “I’m convincing, remember?”

Sunday Again

The trees on the drive were molting, red and brown and yellow spangles all around him in the gloomy twilight a few hours past sunset. The trip had been a little harrowing, dodging stray beams of sunlight every time a little bratling opened the window to look out into the wide white sky and cursing the enormity of airport windows – as though empty tarmacs were at all appealing to look at – but he’d made it only lightly scorched, and now he was here. Here and afraid to knock – again. Spike hated repeats.

This time though, his pocket buzzed, startling the crap out of him and he was infinitely relieved that none of the girls were there to see it. Angel, with a text that said, “Left your coat. Should I ship it to you?” Irritatingly, smugly, and how a text could be smug he had yet to uncover, but it goaded him into knocking. And then it was just waiting. Again. If Xander sent him away, he’d kill him.

This time it was Mags, black-eyed Maggie in his mind, who opened the door and didn’t say a word but hugged him so tight he felt something pop. “Thank you, God!” she said when she released him, sweet funny thing who practically did a dance in the doorway, “I’m starving. You’ve come to save us right? He’s burning everything!”

It took Spike a full minute to make that into any kind of sense, and by then Gillian was there, squealing and hugging him for the breath it took to say, “Your fault for lettin’ Harris cook.”

And the man himself, looking fresh and clean as a Spring morning, “There is nothing wrong with my cooking.”

Gilly dropped a resoundingly wet smack on his cheek, releasing him to dance away and dragging Maggie with her with girly whispers and secret giggles, and the taller, darker Mags followed, caught up in the whirlwind. She was so much like he imagined Buffy to be, so much like her better days before Spike had done his solemn best to wreck his life, that he watched them and sighed. She dropped a kiss on Xander too, cheeky and calling over her shoulder, “You do an okay sandwich.”

Xander was smiling when he turned away from them, and joined Spike on the porch. There was a bench on the railing, where they could watch the drive, and Xander wandered towards it, inviting Spike to join him in the cool evening air. Spike did, feeling like a girl on his first date, and hoping there was some way to take control of the situation again. “What’re you doing here, Spike?”

“Got your letter.”

For half a heartbeat, Xander froze, white with shock, and then he shook himself, “But I haven’t written…I…” Spike felt the smirk crawl up his face and it stopped the babble in its tracks, inspiring a mock glare. “Which letter, exactly?” Spike pulled it out as evidence, showed him. “Christ, I know my handwriting sucks, but it took you six months to read this thing?”

“Pillock.”

Spike probably could have sat there all night, waiting for the boy to ask again. And he was a boy, still. Probably always would be, after too much time with Angel, nearing forty at an alarming rate, but still so young, still so ready to smile. It didn’t matter that his hair was starting to silver at the temples, or that the smiles were permanently etched on his face, Spike could have waited all night. “Spike, why are you here?”

“Got your note,” he repeated, clarified. “The one that says ‘I’m an idiot, and I fucked up, and I miss you, and will you please come back and raise baby slayers with me and stop them starving to death.’”

And Xander laughed and groaned, and buried his face in his hands, “I didn’t say any of that!” 

“Sure you did.” Spike went for the letter, but took his hand instead, “That bit with Siobhan having her knickers in a twist and me making your points for you? That was your point, pet.”

“Noooooo.” It wasn’t an objection or a refutation, per se, just a noise that Xander made, frustrated and folding like a house of cards. Because, as much as it pained him to admit, Angel was right, he was convincing. “I tried so hard not to say it. Any of it. Tried so hard not to tell you that… I want you here. Love you here. … love you.”

“But you do.”

“I really, really do. And I’m enough of a pragmatist to know that however long I’ve got left isn’t going to be all sunshine and daisies and enough of a romantic to want to keep you from… all of that. I wanted to spare you that.”

“You’re kindof an idiot.” Spike said frankly.

“No one in seven continents would argue.”

“And an asshole.”

“Yes.” Xander nodded, smiling like sunshine. “Yes I am.”

Spike had to kiss him.

“Gillan’s going to be insufferable.”

Spike shrugged, “Angel’s coming out for Christmas, they can be insufferable at each other.”

The gobsmacked look on Xander’s face was well worth the subsequent explosion of noise. “He? What? You… you’re just… gonna walk into my life and… rearrange it?”

“Objections?”

A moment’s consideration. “You can’t cook either.”

Spike shrugged, “Eh. We’ll learn. We’ll make the girls learn.”

“So you’re gonna raise baby slayers with me?”

“I guess so.”

Xander smiled. Smiled and smiled and held Spike’s hand like it was the only thing in the world. Like he maybe couldn’t let go again, which was convenient, as Spike wasn’t about to let him. And for all that they had to talk about, and there was so much in six years that must have been important, Spike couldn’t think of a single thing, and didn’t say anything for what might have been hours.

“Hey Spike?” It would be Harris who broke the calm, and Spike just made a noise in the back of his throat, acknowledging him, “What’re you doing for the next fifty years or so?”

Spike tried to school his face into a bemused expression, he was shooting for curious and amused, but was fairly sure he landed on apprehensively ecstatic, “Dunno, pet. Why d’you ask?”

“I was wondering if we could maybe see a movie some time?”

I did say Sappy.I distinctly remember saying the word "Sappy" 

"... And maybe I'm just too young, to keep good love from goin' wrong...but ooooh Lover, you should've come over."
If you're at all interested - the song that I stole the title from is this one. It's pretty.




The End



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