Written for tamingthemuse Promt: Hovel
“This I had to see for myself,” Spike said, hovering at the door. ‘Door’ was a relative term. ‘Opening in the side of Xander’s hovel’ would have been more accurate. Spike pressed his hand against the barrier and snorted, “I can’t believe I need an invite to this place,” he said disgustedly, kicking at a pile of dead bugs that had accumulated outside the door.
“And you’re not getting one. Go away,” Xander said, without looking at Spike. He was resting uncomfortably on his woven palette with his hands behind his head. He kept his gaze fixed on the ceiling, eyes restlessly traveling over the simple corrugated tin roof. It was badly dented and rusted, and barely enough to keep out the rain. Good thing it didn’t rain all that often.
There wasn’t much to look at in the rest of the place anyway. The four slatted walls that kept the roof up were so poorly put together that moonlight filtered through the gaps. The dirt floor was mostly bare. The main feature was the palette Xander was sleeping on. A sorry looking broom leaned listlessly in the opposite corner. Scattered all around were more dead insects, endless corpses of dead insects. Xander couldn’t sweep them up fast enough. Off to the side of the broom was something that looked suspiciously like the desiccated husk of a dead rat.
Spike sighed. They told him this wouldn’t be easy, but he honestly thought they’d been joking, “Come on pet, let me in.”
“Um, I’m thinking ‘no,’” he said. Xander still wouldn’t look at Spike.
“I’m not leaving until you agree to come back with me,” Spike stated flatly.
“Suit yourself. Sun’ll be up in a couple of hours. Try to keep the noise down as you burst into flames.” And with that Xander turned onto his side, putting his back to Spike, missing the hurt expression that flitted across Spike's face.
Spike could see a line of sweat down the fabric of his shirt. In fact, Spike realized that Xander had soaked through all his clothing. He was wearing long sleeves, and long pants, socks, and were those gloves? “What’s with the arctic gear? Did you wake up this morning and suddenly forget you were in Africa?”
Xander choked out a snort, which sounded more miserable than humorous. “I’m telling you for the last time, Spike, GO AWAY!” Xander practically shouted the last two words.
Spike hovered at the door for a moment, confused and angry, but mostly concerned. “Fine,” he said tersely, “I’ll be back.”
After two weeks of hovering outside of Hovel de Harris attempting to convince Xander to return to England, Spike was still not making any progress. Xander still refused to let him in, and spent every evening alternately ignoring him or telling him to piss off. Spike wasn’t sure if he was impressed or furious. Furious was winning. If he could get an invite, he’d just drag his sorry ass back to London, kicking and screaming.
So tonight, instead of heading directly out to the shack, Spike phoned Willow. He was hoping she could make some sense out of Xander’s behavior.
“I’m telling you, something is seriously wrong with him,” Spike argued, pacing back and forth across his suite.
“Don’t you think I know that Spike? Why do you think we sent you?”
“Still not convinced it was a good idea, don’t think you lot should have sent me.”
“He won’t listen to us,” she explained patiently, for the umpteenth time. “Whatever he’s going through, he’s afraid to tell us.”
“It’s been weeks, and he still barely talks to me,” Spike grumbled. “What makes you think he’ll tell me?”
“You know why,” she said plainly.
“You don’t know anything! It was just a one time thing. It obviously didn’t mean anything,” the phrase ‘to him’ was left unspoken.
“Xander doesn’t do ‘one time things,’ Spike,” Willow said firmly, then paused for a moment and said, “I just have a feeling that he’ll talk to you.”
Spike heard the uncertainty in her voice and called her on it, “But you’re not sure, are you?” he pressed.
“He’s listening, right?” she asked, and Spike could practically see the expression on her face. Eyes wide with hope, but teeth nervously biting her lip. Without waiting for his response, she continued, “If he hasn’t left, then you’re getting through to him. You just have to keep it up a little longer. He’ll come around.” She sounded like she was trying to reassure herself as well as Spike.
Spike shook his head. The witch just wasn’t getting it. She hadn’t seen him. “Red, I don’t think you should get your hopes up,” he said softly, waiting for the fallout.
“Urgg!” Willow said angrily, finally losing her temper, “Do they just hand guys a stubborn card when you’re born or something? Geez! I want you to march down there, and tell him : 1 – it was NOT a one time thing for you, 2 – we miss him and want him back, and 3 - whatever the H is wrong with him, we can help! Got it?”
Spike cursed to himself. “Yeah, I got it, Red,” he answered, then hung up the phone.
It looked like another fun filled evening.
Xander stood on the plain, feeling the night air surrounding him, listening to the rustling of the grasses. He felt blessedly cool. He’d just stripped off his shirt, with its loathsome long sleeves, and dropped it on the ground next to the hated gloves. Now bare-chested his body temperature was finally dropping in the night breeze. He didn’t want to feel this good, didn’t deserve it, but he couldn’t help it.
Every time he came out here, the very act of shedding the clinging garment gave him a thrill. He tried to stamp it down, but it was huge and there and pretty much un-stampable. The wonderful feeling of being free to roam unencumbered was heady.
Part of him hated to admit that, but that part grew smaller and smaller as the need to feed began to consume him.
He was thankful that Spike didn’t show this evening. Not only because he was starving, but also, as much as he hated to admit it, the vampire was wearing him down. He was lonely and he missed everyone, especially Spike, but he couldn’t explain. Not this.
He had to work harder and harder to steel himself for Spike's visit. And once Spike arrived, it was just so difficult to lay there and pretend that he no longer wanted Spike, no longer cared. He knew he should lie to Spike, he spent large portions of the day thinking of increasingly malicious remarks all aimed at running Spike off. But once the sun set and Spike appeared, the lies died on his lips unspoken.
Xander forced himself to remain silent. But the constant companionship that Spike offered, coupled with the fact that Xander was starving, nearly dissolved Xander’s admittedly thin resolve.
So tonight once the sun had set and Spike appeared to be a no-show, Xander bolted out of his shack and headed here. He figured Spike might show up later, and would possibly be able to track him, but Xander couldn’t hold out any longer. He was starving.
It had been weeks since he’d last gone out to the savannah. Spike had cut deeply into his already dangerously thin margin. Xander knew he was cutting it close, he knew exactly how long he could go without feeding. If he didn’t head out tonight, he’d be too far gone. Xander shuddered. He’d only made that mistake once, but once was enough.
With a quick glance around, confirming that he would be unobserved, Xander headed out into the grasses. His pace increased until he was running full out, feeling free. He felt a brief zing whenever the grasses or insects came into contact with his skin. He knew that he was leaving a small wake behind him that could be followed, if someone knew where to look, but that couldn’t be helped. And he could always hope that Spike wouldn’t know where to look.
When Spike arrived at Xander’s shack to begin the nightly harangue, it was empty. He would have thought that Xander’d had skipped out on him again, but the barrier was still in place.
Spike grinned, at least he could finally just drag the stubborn git off. Maybe the night was looking up after all. He closed his eyes, and scented the air. Once he’d identified the direction of Xander’s most recent scent-path, he opened his eyes and headed out into the night after his wayward charge.
Harris was going to find out that having a soul wouldn’t prevent him from getting a good thumping.
He expected the scent-path to go toward town and was surprised to find he was heading out toward the wild brush lands. What the hell was Xander playing at? Wandering around the bush at night was suicide.
The thought froze Spike for a moment, wondering if that was Xander’s intention after all. He’d been so withdrawn from his friends, from Spike, and acting so strangely. He wouldn’t normally have thought Xander was the type, but lately he was so off that it might be a real possibility.
Spike caught a break when he came across Xander’s discarded shirt and gloves. Without them his scent was fresher and easier to follow. Hopefully Spike could catch him before they got noticed by some of the larger nasties.
Spike found his way much easier than he had thought he would. The grasses seemed to have almost parted before him. He knew he was on the right path; Xander’s scent was all over the place. As he was reflecting on this, he realized he been hearing crunching noises underfoot for the last few minutes. Looking down, he noticed the ground was littered with dead insects, and he’d been crushing them under his boots.
Spike frowned and crouched down to get a better look. Something about the sight looked familiar. Then Spike placed it, Xander’s hovel also had an inordinate number of dead bugs, strewn about the floor like grotesque accent pillows.
He also now realized that the reason that he’d been having such an easy time making his way through the brush. The grass was dead. Something or someone had cut a swath by killing everything it came into contact. What the hell happened to Harris?
Xander perched upon a rock and surveyed the surrounding area. He had yet to find anything suitable. The rock offered less protection than the limb of one of the nearby scrub trees, but Xander didn’t want to risk damaging the tree. He knew it was stupid, putting himself in more danger because he didn’t want to kill a tree, but no one had ever accused him of being logical.
On his way across the grass, he had come across a small clan of hyena feasting on a carcass. They typically would have been exactly what he was looking for, just a few mid-sized animals that he could convince to charge him, but he couldn’t do it. It felt weirdly like cannibalism. So he skirted around them, and continued on.
Once he’d seen the outcropping of rock, elevated a few feet above the grasses he’d headed over. It was surrounded by a couple of pitiful trees that offered a tiny bit of camouflage, but was far enough away from them that Xander wouldn’t inadvertently come into contact with a tree.
He heard a rustling sound off to his right. He turned toward the sound, catching sight of a swishing tail microseconds before the large cat began its charge. He braced himself as he felt the solid weight of the huge thing smash into him, toppling him to the ground. He reached up to grab hold of the lioness, even though it wasn’t really necessary. Once she’d come into contact with him, she was lost. Xander felt her start to pull away, but she was getting weaker by the second.
Suddenly the cat was pulled off him and hurled away, and Spike was hauling him off the ground. Xander wrenched himself away as fast as he could, praying it wasn’t too late.
He looked at Spike, and was shocked to see him standing there raving at him for being a bloody lunatic.
Xander closed his eye and shook his head, but when he reopened it, Spike was still standing there.
Xander felt tears welling up in his eye, and his vision began to blur. He staggered over to Spike, and tentatively reached out and touched him. He felt the tears start to fall as his hand brush against the skin of Spike's face. Spike swatted him away, annoyed, but it didn’t matter. Nothing had happened. Nothing.
Xander collapsed into Spikes arms, sobbing. All the fear, pain and rage of the last several months came flooding out. The entire time he wept, he marveled at the fact that Spike was here, could hold him, could touch him.
When his sob’s finally tapered off, Xander pulled away and went to lean against the rock. He would have apologized, but he wasn’t sorry. It had been far too long since he’d had contact with anyone.
He watched Spike wander over to where the lioness had fallen. Watched his face go through a myriad of emotions before he settled on something that resembled ‘holy shit’ and said incredulously, “What the bloody fuck is going on?”
Spike had seen a great many things in his day, most of which would make good little boys and girls run home screaming to their mums, but this was a new one on him. He had thought he had been coming to Xander’s rescue. He’d been terrified when he’d seen the lioness topple Xander, and ran full out to get to him in time.
He’d wrenched the cat off, and thrown it, barely registering that it wasn’t nearly as heavy as it should have been. Then he’d hauled Xander up onto his feet, intent on at least giving him a tongue lashing. But Xander hadn’t even heard a word. He’d just sobbed in Spikes arms.
After Xander’s breakdown, Spike had needed to distance himself. He didn’t know how to handle this new development. He walked over to the lioness, surprised to see it was still there. He really hadn’t thrown it very hard; he’d only been trying to knock it off Xander.
As he got closer, he could tell that the animal was very dead. It wasn’t quite desiccated, but it was close. Its flesh was stretched thin and taut, its jaw was in a pronounced rictus and even its fur looked brittle. The damage seemed to radiate outward from a point on the beasts chest, a point that looked suspiciously like a handprint, and Spike was willing to bet that there was a corresponding point on the other side.
He turned to look at Xander and asked, “What the bloody fuck is going on?”
Once they’d collected Xander’s shirt and gloves, Spike had managed to convince him to go back to the hotel, assuring him that he wouldn’t have to deal with any of the hotel staff.
Xander had reluctantly agreed. He knew he owed Spike an explanation, and was also secretly hoping to get a shower.
They made it to the room unmolested, and before Xander even had a chance to suggest it, Spike sent him off to the shower with orders to dump his ‘disgusting kit’ on the floor because it was rancid and needed to be cleaned.
Xander didn’t argue, just accepted the sleep pants Spike offered and stripped off in the middle of the suite, tossing his dirty clothes into the corner. He headed to the shower, unmindful of the surprised and appreciative gaze that following him.
Once he was cleaned and wearing the slightly too small sleeping pants, Xander strode back into the room and sat gingerly on the couch. It was strange after all this time to be in such luxury. At one time in his life, he would just have flopped carelessly back into the cushions, and maybe put his feet up. Now he eased himself in, appreciating the comfort the piece of furniture offered.
“You gonna tell me what’s going on now?” Spike asked, handing him an open bottle of beer.
Xander took the beer, and looked longingly at it. “I don’t know if I can drink this,” he said sadly.
“No way to know unless you try,” Spike said, sitting down next to Xander on the other end of the couch. He tilted his own beer bottle toward Xander, as if to toast him, and took a swallow of his own beer.
“What if…” Xander started.
Spike just looked at him.
Xander took a tentative sip, and waited. After a minute, when there were no appreciative negative effects, he took another. Xander felt a huge goofy grin split his face. It was a familiar feeling, but odd at the same time. Like an old friend, it felt changed by the years but still was a shadow of its former self.
“Man, that’s good. Thanks,” he said.
“So, I’m guessing this is tied up in that business with Eshe?” Spike said, gesturing at Xander.
Xander nodded, his grin fading.
Once he began to talk, Xander was surprised that there wasn’t much to tell. The enormity of his secret had grown so large and heavy by his silence, seemed fairly pitiful once it was dragged out into the open.
Eshe was one of the slayers he’d been sent to gather. She’d been young and confident. The daughter of the village shaman, she had been well liked by everyone in the village.
Her father had been less than pleased when Xander had shown up. He had refused to allow Xander to take his beloved only daughter away to England, afraid she would be corrupted by the decadent westerners. So Xander had offered to stay and minimally train the girl. It was an offer he’d been forced to make on occasion for other girls, so this wasn’t new territory.
This time he was more anxious though, he wanted to get back to England, back to Spike. He thought that they might actually have a shot. They had been starting something. At least that was what Xander had hoped, when Giles had discovered Eshe. He was only supposed to be gone for a few weeks.
He was just taking her out for a routine training patrol when the vamps had struck. Eshe had charged in before Xander could stop her. By the time he had reached her, it was too late. Devastated, Xander brought Eshe’s body back to her father. She was the first slayer Xander had ever lost.
Eshe’s father had been crushed. Once he’d accepted her body from Xander to prepare her for the burial, he made it quite clear that Xander was unwelcome. Xander had been unwilling to just leave his charge without paying his respects first. He planned to surreptitiously visit her burial site, and say good-bye before he began the trip to back to England.
A week after she’d been buried, Xander headed out to her grave. He talked to her as he used to talk to Tara and Joyce, and even Buffy, once upon a time. He said a silent prayer to his ladies, including Anya, and asked that they please make Eshe feel welcome.
Just as he finished saying his silent good-byes, he was suddenly driven to his knees. A blinding, burning pain washed over him. He thought for a moment he heard chanting before everything went black.
When he awoke, it was morning and he was disoriented. For a few moments he couldn’t figure out why the hell he was outside. Then it came back to him, the chanting, the burning pain, Eshe’s grave. He stood up gingerly, fighting a slight wave of nausea.
“I see that you are awake,” a voice said dispassionately.
Xander turned to look, and saw Eshe’s father standing several yards away. He began to walk over to him on unsteady legs.
“Do not come any closer,” the man held up a hand, gesturing him to stop.
“I inform you of this only so you are no longer a danger to my people. You have brought death to me and my family, Alexander Harris, and therefore death is what I give to you.
“Never again shall you touch another living thing in joy. A single touch will bring you life, and yet for eternity you will be surrounded by death,” he said coldly, then he vanished.
“What the hell?” Xander said, wondering if that had been a hallucination.
He still felt disoriented and stumbled over to the nearest tree, and leaned on it. He immediately began to feel better. It was like the time Jesse had dared him to guzzle three Jolt’s in ten minutes. The world became instantly brighter, and his skin was practically thrumming with energy. He felt fantastic.
The thunderous crack above his head was the only warning he got before the entire tree began to come down. Xander jumped back immediately and narrowly avoided being crushed by a huge falling limb.
He looked at the tree in horror. It was dry, brittle and decaying. It looked like it had been dead for a hundred years.
“That wasn’t the worst of it,” Xander said bitterly, staring at his hands.
He told Spike of how he tried over and over to eat normal food, only ending up throwing it back up. How everywhere he went, he left trails of dead insects and other pests. How he had starved himself once for six weeks, refusing to even touch a house plant.
“What happened?” Spike asked, fairly confident that he knew the answer.
“What do you think? Some guy grabbed me and held me at knife point. He tried to steal my wallet. His hand brushed my back. It was over in less than two seconds,” Xander said bitterly, “I told myself that it was self-defense, but I didn’t even try to stop him.”
“You enjoyed it,” Spike said confidently.
Xander was quiet for a few moments, and then whispered, “Yes.” He turned to look at Spike and said, “How was I supposed to come home after that?”
“So you found your little shack and started hunting in the wild?” Spike confirmed.
Xander nodded. “I’ve visited every shaman, witch and magic user I can find. No one can help me,” he said miserably.
“Here’s a thought,” Spike said, faux casually, “You could have picked up the phone and called the most powerful witch on the planet, who also happens to be one of your bestest pals in the whole world - I might add - and ask if she might be able to fix you up right?”
Xander exploded. “And how the hell was I supposed to get to England, Spike?” he shouted, “Take a plane, a cruise? How? In case you’ve missed it - I can’t touch people! Not a lot of options for me. What if I get stopped by security? Or customs? Somehow I don’t think they’ll let me skate by with an ‘I’m sorry, you can’t search me because one touch will kill you,’ note from my best friend wicca.”
“Don’t have all the answers yet, do I? Haven’t had time to sort it out yet. You’ve had time to wallow, hiding here, feeling sorry for yourself and coming up with reasons you can’t return. Never mind worrying everyone to death, we could have been working on a fix,” Spike bristled.
Xander crumpled, “I’m sorry. I just keep wanting a big Willow hug and have her make it all go away, and all I kept thinking was if I do that, she’ll die.”
Spike heard the desperation in his voice, and it calmed him down. He said quietly, “I’m not her, but I’m here.”
Xander shook his head, “No, I’m not using you as a Willow substitute.”
Spike’s jaw tightened.
Xander continued, before Spike could get the wrong idea, “If I get any Spike hugs, it’s because you still want me, not because you’re a stand in.”
Spike looked at him, and then got up, “I’m going to bed.”
Xander nodded, and set his now empty beer bottle on the coffee table. He thought Spike would probably feel that way, but had hoped… Well, it was stupid to hope.
Spike turned to him and said, “You coming?”
Xander blinked, then smiled, “Oh yeah!”
They shed their clothes and slipped into bed. Whispers and slow strokes, peppered with sweet kisses and gentle murmurings. Finally they slid together, gently rocking against each other until they were both spent.
For Xander, it was about contact, and comfort, and offering thanks.
For Spike, it was the first steps in repairing what might have been, and opening the door to what could be.
When they fell asleep, they were both satiated and happy for the first time in a great while.
“Xander, it’s time,” Spike announced the next morning, and handed him the phone.
Xander nodded and took it, dialing nervously. He heard the call go through its connections and begin to ring the other end.
Before Spike could walk away, Xander grabbed his hand, and squeezed... Spike looked at their joined hands surprised, and pleased.
Xander heard someone pick up, answering the phone.
“Hey, Will,” Xander said, and smiled
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