I Love You, Means
Alexander Harris couldn't remember the first time Sunnydale had tossed him through a loop. He supposed it didn't really matter. After all, he'd been a demon magnet for as long as he could remember. A giant preying mantis had tried to mate with him and eat his head, a beautiful Incan princess had cared for him enough to _not_ suck the life out of him, and the soldier in his head kept his hyena on a short leash. He'd been playing "tag" with vampires and werewolves and slimy, scaly demons whose names made him want to say, "Gesundheit." So what did it matter if he didn't remember the first time this place fucked him over -
- it hadn't been the last.
He watched as Spike paced back and forth over the worn path of dirt. "Y'know," the vampire continued, "you'd think the bint would notice one of her friends was missin' and send out a rescue party or _somethin'_, but no-ooo, that'd be too easy, wouldn't it? After all, this is Sunnyhell, isn't it? Nothin' goes wrong in Sunnyhell, so why should we even bother to check out missin' persons; they'll turn up eventually, won't they now?"
The blonde stopped mid-tirade and glanced at his unwilling audience. "On what?"
"How often you frequent the morgues."
The vampire pulled out a cigarette, lit it, and continued his pacing, letting loose a string of expletives that would have made a sailor proud.
The two of them had been on patrol, and Giles had insisted they check out the rumors of a strange, new demon that'd been spotted in one of the more prominent cemeteries. Despite Xander's adamant protests of being paired with "the biteless wonder", and the vampire's equally vehement insults of "whelp" and "donut boy," they'd found themselves together in the cemetery arguing loud enough to draw the attentions of several creatures of the night.
Spike had taken his aggressions out on a few hapless minions, and Xander had managed to stake two of the vampires on his own. However, they'd found no trace of the alleged demon and had been ready to report back to Giles before turning in for the night when suddenly the ground beneath them had given way and they'd tumbled into a dark, dirty cave.
They found the demon down there and Spike had immediately recognized it as a recluse of the demon world, killed it by snapping it's neck, and complained, quite loudly, when the demon had melted into a puddle of orange goo - some of which managed to get on the vampire's prized duster.
That's when their troubles had begun. After carefully searching the cave for another exit, they'd found the only way out was the way they came in. However the hole was a good thirty-feet above them, and none of the walls were suitable for climbing.
Five hours later brought them back to the present. Xander was sprawled on the floor, staring up at the ceiling of the cave, and Spike was pacing back and forth, chain-smoking and cursing up a blue streak. The vampire had a seemingly endless supply of cigarettes, and the butts of at least two packs littered the dirt floor.
"I got it!"
Xander spared a glance at his companion. The vampire had been trying (unsuccessfully) to come up with a plan to get them out of the cave for the last hour.
The blonde continued, "How 'bout we use our shirts - rip 'em up into strips - an' tie 'em together. Put two o' those stakes at the end like a cross, then toss it up an' outta that hole. We try long enough, an' it'll prolly catch on somethin' an' we shimmy ourselves up an' out."
Leveling a glare at the vampire, Xander said, "It took you, like, an hour, and _that's_ the best you can come up with. What? You've been watching 'Survivor' instead of 'Passions' recently?"
Spike petulantly stuck his tongue out. "Don't see you comin' up with anythin' better."
"That's 'cause _I'm_ not combustible, so I don't really _care_ if I have to wait until the morning to get rescued," Xander snarked.
"Yeah?" The vampire pointed to the far end of the cave. "I can wait over there if I 'ave to. I jus' don't feel like wastin' the night in 'ere if I can 'elp it." When Xander rolled his eyes, the vampire continued, "Look, if it works, it works. Just 'and over the shirt, right?"
"Look, whelp," Spike glared, "I want _out_. You don't 'and it over, I'll take it."
Xander glared back. "Chip leaking into your brain, fangless? 'Cause last I heard, you were just helpless, not deaf. I said _no_."
"Why's the shirt so important? It's a flannel for fucksake. I'm givin' up silk over 'ere!" The vampire pinched a piece of the sleeve between two fingers and held it out to emphasize his point.
Xander hesitated, then finally replied softly, "It belonged to Jesse."
"Jesse?" The blonde gave him a quizzical look and asked, "Who's that? Never 'eard the name before..."
The dark-haired boy nibbled his lip and muttered, "... my best friend."
Spike shrugged, the leather duster rustling at the rise and fall of his shoulders. "Never met the boy. 'ere I thought I knew all of Slutty's acquaintances..."
"She didn't know him."
"Oh?" The vampire pulled out another cigarette and lit it. "Why's that?"
The words were harsh. "He's dead."
Spike puffed on his cigarette, casually blowing rings of smoke in the air. "Can't say I'm sorry to hear it - evil vampire who rejoices in pain an' such."
"How's Dru?" Xander asked abruptly.
"Drusilla. You know, kooky vampire chick who talks to Barbies." The last bit was said with a small twist of Xander's mouth.
The blonde hesitated and finally admitted, "She's... dust. 'eard from a Coshnar demon that she went dancin' in the sun. She always wanted to - said she missed the 'eat on 'er skin - 'ad to tied her up so she couldn't, sometimes. 'er mucus demon didn't know to, though."
"Can't say I'm sorry to hear it - you know, average human who hates blood sucking fiends and such."
Surprisingly, the vampire just nodded. "Point seen. Sorry, pet."
"How..." Xander swallowed, wondering why he was even bothering to ask, "How'd you meet her? Dru, I mean."
"Why?" There was surprisingly little emphasis on the word. It wasn't spoken harshly, and not a trace of snark could be found. It was actually said in a sort of gentle tone that Xander hadn't thought the vampire was capable of.
"Because..." The dark-haired boy swallow and stared up at the ceiling of the cave. "Because I miss Jesse, and you miss her."
"... Fair 'nough."
If Willow or Buffy or Giles were there, they would have been amazed to see the Big Bad sitting on the floor next to the Donut Boy, sharing a cigarette and their memories. They would have been shocked to see the pair smiling about Spike's stories of browsing Kids-R-Us for the perfect doll for Drusilla, or laughing about the tree house that Xander and Jesse had attempted to build in the first grade. _Anyone_ who'd witnessed the near-famous animosity between the pair wouldn't have believed that the two of them could sit and just _talk_ about the people who'd meant the most to them.
There wasn't any barely-veiled hostility. There weren't any condescending nicknames. No barbs, no taunts - just two people who wanted to remember the good times in their lives. Two people who wanted to share those times with someone who was willing to listen.
Three hours later, three hours of stories and laughter and smiles, Spike finally asked the question that had been on his mind. He lit two cigarettes, passed one of them to Xander, and asked, "How'd this Jesse die? Vampire attack? Spell gone away? Hell's own incubus, perhaps?"
And maybe it was a trick of the light, but Spike thought he saw a smile on the dark-haired boy's face as he answered, "I killed him."
The cigarette fell from Spike's lips as they parted in surprise. "Not to be rude, but... aw, hell, of course to be fuckin' rude... WHAT?"
"I killed him. Slipped a stake through his heart." There was an old bitterness in Xander's voice, and Spike was sure it was a smile that twisted the boy's face. He couldn't understand it, but it was a smile.
At one time, Spike would have said something like, "Battin' for the wrong team, 'arris?" but he'd spent hours listening to stories about a dark-haired boy filled with love and laughter, and he couldn't bring himself to dishonor that memory. Instead he tugged on the cuff of Xander's shirt.
"You know," the dark-haired boy snickered, "If you wanted to get me out of my clothes, you only have to ask."
There was a smile on Xander's face, a _real_ smile, and Spike found himself smiling back, "Snarky little git, aren't you?"
"You're a bad influence. What can I say?"
Spike stood abruptly and shook his head. As enlightening as their conversation had been for him, he still wanted to get out of the cave. His voice came out a bit harsher than he'd intended as he said, "Take off the bloody shirt before I do it for you."
Xander gave him a piercing long, then nodded slowly. He unbuttoned the shirt and shrugged out of it, then handed it to Spike without meeting the blonde vampire's eyes.
The vampire's gaze traveled along the length of the boy's body, eyes widening marginally. He noted the scars and burns with keen interest, and gave a low whistle of admiration. "Somebody worked you over good, didn't they, pet? Who gave you those?"
"Which ones?" Xander asked. The lack of feeling in his voice disturbed Spike a little.
The blonde pointed to the series of parallel scars on Xander's chest.
A tiny, bitter smile tugged the corner of Xander's mouth as he trailed his fingers along the markings. "Cordelia."
At Spike's incredulous look, he shrugged. The vampire asked quietly, "An' the rest of 'em?"
"A couple are from Faith, and some of your standard badges of honor from fighting demons, but most of them are from my dad. Well," he amended quietly, "from my dad, or from myself."
"Anybody ever tell you you're one fucked up kid, Xan?"
"Every day of my life, Spike."
Before Spike could reply, a light flickered overheard, and the blonde heard the voices of the Scoobies. Xander quickly grabbed his shirt and pulled it on. As he did up the buttons, he called out, "Um, guys?"
Willow's voice called out, "Xander?"
"That'd be me."
"Where are you?" Buffy asked.
"Watch where you're stepping. There's a cave, and some of the ground's kinda' hollow. Me and Spike fell through," Xander replied.
"Just hang on," Willow called back. "There's some rope in Giles' car."
"Got it." Xander looked over at the vampire who'd remained uncharacteristically silent and said in a soft voice, "I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell anybody."
"Buy me a bottle of JD an' y'got yourself a deal," Spike replied.
After the cave incident, Spike and Xander began to spend more time together. The blonde was loath to admit it, but he and the boy had bonded, somehow.
It was nice, the vampire supposed. He had a mate to drink beer and watch Passions with, to chain-smoke cigarettes and exchange bizarre relationship stories. When Xander finally got around to getting his own apartment, the Watcher had jumped on the opportunity and told the boy he had to take the vampire in. They had both protested accordingly, but the insults weren't fueled by their mutual dislike anymore; "whelp" and "fangless" had become pet-names, and secretly Spike was thrilled. Xander was much better company than the stuffy Watcher, and the boy had a morbid sense of humor that appealed to the vampire.
By that time they were patrolling together every night. And when they got back to the boy's apartment, they drank and smoked and watched b-horror movies and talked about whatever happened to come up.
It was... comfortable.
They never talked about what Xander had admitted in the cave, but sometimes he'd catch the faintest hint of fresh blood on the boy when Spike _knew_ there hadn't been any patrols. It bothered him.
Spike had always had a thing for brunettes. And with the boy reminding him more of Dru every day, was it any wonder he'd started to fall in love?
Oh, he'd gone through the denial stage. Pacing furiously back and forth. Muttering "I don't have feelin's for the Slayer's zeppo. I _don't_." Illustrating, "Well, I do, but they aren't _nice_ feelin's."
After a few weeks of that, coupled with the daily ritual of crawling into the boy's bed after he'd left for work and snogging his pillow, he'd finally been able to admit that the Big Bad did indeed have feelings for the Zeppo. And, despite his earlier protests, they _were_ nice feelings.
He just didn't think there was a snowball's chance in hell that they'd be reciprocated.
Late one night, however, Xander looked up from a terrible rendition of Dracula and asked Spike, "Can I kiss you?"
Spike nodded mutely. With the TV as nothing more than static and the taste of beer still lingering in his mouth, he'd leaned forward and pressed his mouth against Xander's. A soft, gentle kiss was all it took, and the blonde fell, hard and fast.
Chaste kissing became full out snogging. Which led to tentative hands unbuttoning shirts, and bolder hands running along the smooth planes of Xander's stomach. And those touches led to quiet murmurs suggesting they move to the bedroom. And the bedroom was nothing but jeans unzipping and falling to the floor, and they in turn were nothing but bodies under sheets and hesitant touches and quiet gasps and a mutual understanding that was wholly satisfying.
And afterwards, when they were lying in bed, snuggled against each other, Spike had felt the need to say it. To somehow tell the boy that the impossible had happened and the Big Bad was once more love's bitch. So he opened his mouth and began, "Xan, I lo-"
"Don't say it!"
He looked over to Xander. The cry had been from the boy's heart; it had sounded so wretched. But the boy's face was pleasantly blank, save the small, ever present smile. The chocolate brown eyes Spike loved so much were empty. Dead.
The voice matched his eyes, cold and quiet. Accepting, even. "They all said they loved me, Dad, Jesse and Willow, Cordelia and Faith. They all loved me and they all hurt me. Don't say it unless you mean it."
The blonde felt as though someone had slipped a stake into his heart while he wasn't paying attention. It all made sense. The morbid fascination with pain, the craving for it. The scars on Xander's body, mind, and soul. All of it had been done to him, accompanied by the words, "I love you."
In that moment Spike knew he'd never let this boy be hurt again, not by anyone.
So he pulled Xander closer to him, wrapping his arms securely around the boy's waist. Gently, he said, "Relax, Xan. Vampires can't love; they don't 'ave souls. I was goin' to say, 'I hate you,' pet."
Relieved, Xander snuggled into the blonde's arms and closed his eyes. He smiled, suddenly tired, and he heard himself whisper quietly, "I hate you too, Spike, -
- and everything that went with those words - anger, remorse, guilt, / tenderness /, sorrow, torture, agony, / compassion /, heartache, depression, desperation, / need /, hopelessness, helplessness, pain, / ecstasy / - flooded through him and he knew it was true, knew it in his soul. And he wanted Spike to know it just as he did, so he told him, the only way he could -
- hate you so much it hurts."