Who Wants to Live Forever


by
Metaforgirl



Part Twenty-Five

Bartholomew drew one of the charmed daggers out of his shoulder sheath and nodded in the dim light towards Spike. The vampire was crouched at the other end of a long, dark row of men hidden amidst the trees and shadows at the edge of the encampment. He couldn’t see Spike in the dark, but he knew the vampire would see his signal.

The woods seemed to sway slightly outwards as the shadows of men parted from its belly and swarmed over the gray earth. They were armed with pistols, but held the daggers. The charm would disable a victim without killing, it was hoped. The difficulty was that one had to be close enough to use it.

Hanging back on the periphery of the clearing, vague forms were gliding around and behind the soldiers. Members of the coven would attempt to protect the men as best they could. They had to hold back, though, as wielding magic and fighting hand to hand could not always be accomplished simultaneously. Warding spells were only effective if they were continuously reinforced.

The great advantage to the little troupe of having Spike and the few demons he brought as aid, was that they could disarm and disable the Initiative soldiers without being killed by guns. They could go in as a first wave and give them the advantage they needed to accomplish a, hopefully, death-light victory.

Bartholomew reflected, for the second he could allow himself, on the grim, determined faces of the young men and women of the Coven whom he had instructed just before their departure. He knew that, “Do as thou wilt and harm none.” was a solemn vow to the Wiccans. That they would be willing to place themselves so close to possibly breaking that vow spoke of how dangerous they perceived the Initiative to be.

Bartholomew’s Watcher vows were less specific. Full of pompous pedagogery about good versus evil and saving the world, he had taken them with vague distaste and an unhappy sensation that he couldn’t be certain to what he was agreeing. He personally agreed with the Wiccan law. Life. Any life. However it chose to conduct itself, whatever form it chose to walk the earth, was precious and valuable and not to be destroyed. It was a truth he felt in his bones.

He saw the flank of men which were headed by Spike sweep forward quite suddenly as an alarm was raised inside a group of tents. Activity, lights, and noise flared up suddenly like a torch, and Bartholomew leapt towards the fray.

Spike and Harry had surprised the group of men around the arsenal. Even men who were accustomed to demons were a little taken aback by Harry. He was just so large. Spike dove in during the minuscule moment of shock and had knocked two Initiative soldiers to the ground before anyone could react.

Still focusing their attention on the hairy blue demon descending upon them, the Initiative soldiers began firing their useless guns into the thick, impenetrable fur, while Spike round house kicked a couple more into the wall of the tent. He spun about and found himself faced by a dozen angry men. A couple of cross-bows had appeared. “Right then,” said Spike fiercely, high on adrenaline, “got yer attention now, have I?”

Harry roared and shoved a man a bit too firmly to the ground, as another phalanx of men, led by Bartholomew, swept in from the back. The men holding Spike at bay were temporarily distracted, and Spike leapt behind a stack of crates, cross-bolts narrowly missing him as he went. He spotted more soldiers coming from behind Bartholomew’s crew and shouted a warning as he sprinted back, trying to come at them from behind.

He almost ran into the loose string of chanting witches. Their magic prickled over his skin and ran like tiny electrical fingers through his hair. He covered his mouth instinctively, as the sickly sensation seemed to catch at the back of his throat. Latin, and some other language, pushed on his ear drums. Spike spun about and ran back into the ranks of Initiative soldiers from behind. Kicking and disarming as quickly as he could. Ahead he could hear Bartholomew shouting and the beginnings of gunfire as the Initiative men recovered from their surprise. There were cries of pain.

Spike leapt forward again as the chanting behind him increased in volume. He felt he was being thrust forward by the power of it, as if he were surfing a wave of magic. For a moment he felt like a spear flying through endless time. He howled with the glory of it and came down on the backs of two soldiers. Found himself crouched in front of a blood-spattered Bartholomew, who was moving at an unnatural speed for a human, wielding his knife in a bizarre arcing fashion, the tip barely making contact as soldiers fell before him like scythed wheat.

Spike circled quickly to cover his back. Nearby he saw one Watcher down. His face had a stillness Spike knew in his soul. He was dead. Spike felt the panic he associated with fear for his humans, and scanned the remaining Initiative soldiers for those with guns. He began methodically taking them out, half an eye on Bartholomew, who instinctively kept his back to Spike, slicing his charmed knife in ritualistic circles the whole while.

All around them, Watchers fought, witches were descending, and the ranks of still mobile Initiative soldiers began to thin and were not reinforced. They were winning. Spike relaxed a bit and began to have fun.

He tipped hard to the ground and tried to see how many jaws he could crack with one good outside kick. His record was only three thus far. He shot into a tight wedge of men in a jumping kick that threw them apart like a cue ball in the break shot, with a loud satisfying crack. He landed gracefully and spun about. Witches were everywhere now. Kneeling over fallen bodies, chanting, and digging in pouches. The remaining Initiative soldiers were huddled in a group, disarmed and hands over heads.

The war was over. It was time for the healing.

Spike calmed himself, scanning the room in an automatic head count. He spied the redheaded Wiccan Willow seemed to be so attached to, and a few other familiar witches, then accounted for the men he had led. Near the dead man he had spotted earlier, he saw Bartholomew. The Watcher sat on the ground listlessly holding the man’s hand. He appeared absolutely shattered. Spike approached him gingerly and crouched beside him.

He scanned the body quickly. The bullet had apparently caught the man in the head. “Was quick,” opined Spike to Bartholomew gently, “don’t think he knew it happened.”

Bartholomew was silent for a moment, then said in a strained voice, “I know that’s supposed to be comforting. But it’s really not.”

Spike didn’t reply.

“Death,” said Bartholomew, picking his way methodically through the shock, “is supposed to be natural. Why does it always seem so wrong?” He looked at Spike expectantly.

The undead man rocked back on his heels and raised an eyebrow at Bartholomew’s query. “Don’t think I’m the one to answer that, Watcher,” he said roughly. But Bartholomew’s eyes were so needy that Spike made himself think for a minute.

“Seen humans fight to survive for over a century,” he said thoughtfully, “sometimes against me. Sometimes against each other. Sometimes against just what God or whatever decided to throw at them.” Spike sighed and looked at the young, still face laying before them. “It’s not yer nature to give up, you mortals. It’s yer nature to fight back and hope against hope. Maybe that’s what makes demons want to corrupt you and evil want to destroy you. It’s yer nature to believe and fight and try. It’s how you’re made. You’re not gonna succeed, you’re all gonna die, but you try anyway. It’s not fair, but Christ it’s beautiful the way you try.” Spike returned from his internal space and saw tears on the young Watcher’s face. “Told ya I’m not the right one ta ask,” he said apologetically.

Bartholomew shook his head and smiled a little. “No,” he whispered, “that was perfect.” He caressed his friend’s hand one more time and laid it gently down. Rose shakily. Looked around. “There are things to do among the living,” he said quietly, “that’s enough for now.”


~*~*~*~*~


Xander lay on the sofa of the Summers/Rosenberg house, under a fluffy granny square blanket that Joyce had probably knitted. He was studying the portraits of Buffy on the side table and tipping his bottle of anti-depressants back and forth in his hand contemplatively.

He wondered what made men want to live.

Willow came in with a large tray laden with foodstuffs and carefully placed it on the coffee table. “Are you going to take those?” she asked, nodding at the pills, “or use them as a percussion instrument?”

She had baked salmon and fresh green beans on a plate. Normally Xander would have devoured it before she could set it down. Now the smell slunk oily and cloying into his nose and made him feel nauseous.

“I don’t need to take them,” he said.

“No?” Willow’s voice was neutral. She spun silverware out of a napkin and placed it next to the plate. Opened the salad dressing. Watched him expectantly. Xander wanted very badly for her to take the food away. It was beginning to have that aggressively thick and heavy look that unwanted food can have.

“Thanks, Willow, not really hungry yet.”

The Wiccan’s face darkened and Xander wanted to pull the blanket over his head. He could hear the distant thunder.

“I thought we were friends, Xander.”

Oh Christ, thought Xander. I’m in for it now. Some part of him believed he deserved whatever diatribe was about to be hurled at him. But some other part, the weak, injured, lonely, stressed out part, just felt tired and sick and wanted to be left alone.

“I thought you trusted me.”

“God, Willow, do we have to do this now?” Xander sounded more peevish than he meant to.

Willow’s eyes widened at his tone. “No, of course not, Xander,” she said, “just blow me off. Tell me not to care about you. Tell everyone not to care about you.” Her voice began reaching a dangerous pitch. “We can all just go to hell and leave you to kill yourself. Is that what you want?”

Xander ground his teeth. “I did not try to kill myself.”

“Then what were you doing?” Willow was almost shouting.

“Needed to save Spike,” Xander blurted out. He looked down at the blanket and began intently picking at its fuzz. “You didn’t see him, Willow. I had to.” He saw again the vampire as he had been in the van. Tears blurred his vision. “Almost lost him again.”

“Why, Xander?” Willow asked, her voice back at a normal level.

Xander’s eyes were sparkling with tears as he turned to her quizzically. “Why what?”

“Xander, it’s an obvious question.”

“Ask it anyway.”

Willow looked at her old friend. His eyes were heavy and sad. “Why?” she asked softly. “Xander? Why Spike? Why this sudden attraction to men? And why a vampire?”

“Attraction to men wasn’t sudden, Willow.”

“But Cordelia. Anya.”

“Geez, Willow. Oz?”

“Okay then, why a vampire?”

“Why a werewolf?” retorted Xander hotly. Willow frowned.

“I didn’t choose that. Oz was a werewolf, and I loved him…” she drifted off, looking at Xander. “Oh.”

“I love him, Willow,” Xander said with a grim patience. “I have for a long, long time. I can’t even remember how long. Maybe since he was chipped. Maybe before.”

“You hated him, Xander!”

“Yeah. Sure, Wills. Starts with a D and ends with an L. Old Harris family trick.”

Willow was silent. She sat back and gazed out the window. “I had no idea.”

“Me neither,” said Xander succinctly. “Big, stupid Zeppo, that’s me.”

“You’re not stupid, Xander,” said Willow automatically.

“No, you’re right,” Xander said with sudden heat, “I’m much worse than stupid, Willow. I’m a fucking asshole.” He ignored Willow’s startled look and continued on. “All these years, poor Xander, poor underappreciated Xander. Dopey all-American guy next door. All a big lie,” he said furiously. “You know the sort of thing I used to do in San Francisco, Wills? You want to know about me and my buddies going down to the gay bars just to start a fight? And the next night I’m down there picking up guys?” Xander was so overcome with rage at himself he could not see Willow’s reaction to all this. “You want to know about Jesse? About that big fight we had just before,” he shivered and grit his teeth, “just before I oh so conveniently had to stake him?”

“No, Xander,” said Willow suddenly.

“Yeah, I bet you don’t wanna know,” spat out Xander with fury. “You want to know why I think Larry was on the front lines at graduation?”

“Stop it, Xander!”

“Oh, sorry to dispel the mirage,” said Xander angrily. “Sorry to taint the image.”

“It’s not true!”

“You want to believe that, go ahead.” Xander slid down into the couch and miserably ground the heel of his hand against his eyes. “Believe whatever you want, it doesn’t fucking matter. Damage is done.”

“Jesse wasn’t your fault, Xander,” said Willow softly. “A vampire killed Jesse.”

“Yeah, right,” said Xander bitterly, “conveniently right after he tried to kiss me.”

“I didn’t know,” said Willow sadly. “But it still wasn’t your fault, Xander. Jesse was just unlucky.”

“Fucking knocked him down,” Xander said to himself, “fucking called him every filthy thing I could think of.” He was curling up in the corner of the sofa, wrapping his arms around his drawn up knees. “Just before the dust,” ragged indrawn breath, “I looked in his eyes, and he knew. God.”

“Jesse wasn’t your fault,” Willow repeated, watching her friend crumble with concern. “Larry wasn’t your fault either, Xander. He was just there. He was just unlucky.”

“Why am I so lucky, then, Wills?” Xander exploded suddenly. “What’s so fucking great about me that I get to live and everybody else gets to die?”

Willow drew herself up. “There’s nothing great about you, Xander,” she said solemnly. “You were just lucky. And if you want to do nothing with the life you’re lucky enough to have, well, that’s your right.” She stood slowly. “You’re not the only one who has lost people, Xander. You’re not the only one with regrets.” Xander looked up at her, somewhat surprised that, for once, Willow had not defended him against himself. “But you’re making other people punish you, Xander. That’s not fair.” She left the room and Xander heard her walk up the stairs.

He fell back into the couch. That had gone well, considering, he thought unhappily. He looked out the window again and wished for Spike. If the vampire would just come home. If he could just talk to him; hold him, kiss him, claim him, again. It would all be alright. It would fix everything.

He considered Willow’s last words for a second. Making people punish you? He cocked his mental head and wondered about that. As much as Xander believed he deserved punishment, he could see nothing but solicitous love in the behavior of those around him.

He noted the fading moon and worried that the night was almost over and still Spike hadn’t come home. He felt relatively sure that if his mate were injured badly, he would know. He had felt all the alarms and terror when Spike had been tortured and when he had almost dusted in the van. But maybe that had just been the magic. Xander peered into the night beyond the black glass and wished for Spike.


~*~*~*~*~


Across the street, Spike leaned in the shade of a tree and longingly watched the silhouetted head resting on the back of the couch. He didn’t know what to do. Of all the mortals Spike had ever known, Xander Harris perplexed him more than any other. He still couldn’t imagine what had motivated Xander’s act of sacrifice in the van, or for that matter his rescue attempt beforehand. If he wanted to end the relationship with Spike, if he wanted to sever the claim, why did he persist in saving the vampire? Spike closed his eyes and felt the little zip of happiness as he played again the memory of Xander telling him he loved him. Of course it wasn’t true. It couldn’t be. But Spike leant against the tree and wished and ached.

He saw a light switch on in one of the side bedrooms, and realized that Willow must be staying the night with Xander. Keeping an eye on him, most likely. He slunk around to the side and quickly, silently, climbed a tree. Hopped onto his bedroom balcony and broke in with the ease of endless experience. Then he just stood there, in the tumbled room. There was nowhere else to go. If he left the room, he’d have to walk downstairs to Xander. And he wasn’t ready to do that yet. He sat down on the flipped mattress in exactly the same position he had left it hours earlier.

He heard Willow in the hallway, but was still mildly surprised when she entered his room. He had assumed whatever ritual would be done would require both himself and Xander to be present. He found himself resenting that he wouldn’t be given even that little bit of closure.

Willow leaned against the doorjamb, arms folded. Spike kept his head in his hands.

“Didn’t expect you yet, Red.”

“Can we talk, Spike?”

Spike looked up, sighed and shrugged. “Yeah. Sure. Whatta ya gotta get off yer chest?” he asked listlessly.

Willow tilted her head. “Why are you angry with me?”

Spike shook his head. “Not angry, pet. I’m not blamin’ you. Just …” He turned his head away again. “Just not particularly likin’ what you gotta do. So,” he cleared his throat, “yeah, I forgive you, yadda yadda yadda, now just pull the damn switch.”

“What the FUCK are you talking about, Spike?”

Both Spike’s eyebrows went straight up at the obscenity. Coming out of Willow’s mouth, it sounded so dirty.

“The claim?” he stumbled out hoarsely. “Ain’t ya gonna reverse the claim?”

“Why do you presume that I know how to do that?”

“Xander said…”

“What exactly did Xander say?”

“That…” Spike took a moment to recall. “That he asked ya to try to reverse it. He said…” Spike’s face crumbled. “I didn’t understand it. All I heard was he wanted to end it.”

Willow sat down next to Spike on the mattress, raised her hand to stroke his shoulder and was happy to note that he did not flinch away this time. He was shaking under her hand, however. She sighed. “Spike. I haven’t even found out enough about this to make any kind of spell. It would appear that a vampire claiming a human has long range and perhaps not entirely negative effects on both parties.” Willow frowned. “The text said the claimants are bound. They become more and more sensitive to each other, dependant on each other eventually. Your lives are bound, Spike. This might even help Xander live longer.”

“Might help with the sickness?” asked Spike eagerly.

“Spike.” Willow slid closer and wrapped her arm carefully around the distressed vampire. “Sweetie, did he tell you the effect the claim would have on you?”

Spike shrugged. “He said somethin’ about it, yeah. Said I’d die when he did or somethin’.”

“Don’t you think that’s pretty serious?” Spike shrugged again. Willow tisked. “Spike, Xander didn’t want to be responsible for ending your existence.” When the vampire didn’t respond, Willow became irritated. “How would you feel, Spike, if I told you the claim would harm Xander?”

Spike looked at her, worried. “Will it?”

“No, I don’t think so…”

“You sure?”

“No,” Willow admitted with a sigh.

“What might it do to him?” Spike was becoming more agitated. “Watcher said,” he shook his head, “that maybe Xander was changing.”

Willow thought for a minute. “The impression I get,” she said slowly. “the text implies that the demon is changed, not the human.” She gave the vampire a worried look. “Spike, do you not understand the effect this would probably have on you?”

“I’m not stupid, Red,” said the vampire impatiently. He took her hand contemplatively and thought how to phrase this for a mortal. “I’ve been around for a long time, pet,” he said. “Haven’t found that much worth hanging onto. It all goes so fast,” he said sadly. He looked up from her hands and into her eyes and said with absolute assurance. “A few years with him, with what we might have?” He looked down again. “Just wanna be with him. As long as it doesn’t hurt Xander.”

Willow looked at the strong, cool hands that held hers. Flawless skin that healed eternally from any injury, nevertheless they felt heavy and tough with experience. She squeezed his hands, feeling emotion rising in her throat. “You love him.”

“Outta my mind with it, yeah.”

“I’m still trying to understand this, Spike. How long have you felt this way?”

Spike snorted. “Don’t know. Sexually? Well, that big surprise hit about five years ago. But emotionally? Don’t know, maybe always a little bit. Since the soul, I guess.”

Willow nodded slowly. “He’s hard to resist.”

“Big ol’ puppy hearted, stubborn bastard.” Spike smiled to himself. Willow noted that his hands had begun shaking again before he pulled them away. He tucked into himself, like he had at the hospital. “But if he doesn’t want it,” he said hoarsely.

“He doesn’t want to hurt you.”

“This is hurting me, Red,” said Spike. “This is killing me.”

Willow petted his shoulder again, thinking. “I’d like to understand, Spike. Why did you and Xander choose to bind yourselves in the first place?”

Spike sat thinking. “Didn’t really choose,” he recalled. He thought some more. “Xander wanted it,” he remembered finally. “Said he read it in a book. Said it meant something to him. Said it meant…” Spike angrily fought against the closing of his throat, “said it meant I was his, I wouldn’t leave him. Said that’s what he wanted.”

Willow sat contemplating this for a long time. “Spike,” she said finally, “I guess you’re pretty insightful about humans.”

“Don’t know, guess maybe.”

“But I think most of the humans you know well are involved with the Slayers.”

Spike thought. “Well, if you don’t count slime like Willy, yeah.”

“Men who spend a lot of time around women,” explained Willow carefully, “well, they can become pretty adept at manipulation. It’s a sort of survival technique,” she said apologetically. “And I will undoubtedly be struck dead for saying it.” She glanced briefly upwards.

Spike sighed. “Men who hang out with a lotta chits get the hang a listenin’ to endless prattle, yeah, I get that, Red,” he said meaningfully. “So watchya tryin’ ta say?”

“Xander may have told you what he thought you wanted to hear.”

Since what Xander had told him had been exactly what the vampire wanted to hear, Spike was knocked back.

“Ya think he didn’t mean it,” he said shakily, what was left of his world tipping slowly sideways.

“I think he thought he meant it. And maybe he meant some of it,” Willow said, watching Spike’s reaction with concern. “Spike. I really think he loves you.” She raised her hand and petted the awestruck vampire’s head gently. “I think he may have had some other motives, though. Maybe ones he wasn’t even aware of.”

Spike had a bad intuition all of a sudden.

“Like Buffy when she came back?”

Willow winced. She still felt guilt about that. “Maybe. How long has Xander been self-destructive?”

Spike snorted. “Always.”

“Exactly.”

Spike let that sink in. “You thinking he’s using me ta off himself?” His quick mind tallied words and events and came up with… “No,” said Spike suddenly. “That doesn’t add up.” He turned to Willow. “You’re wrong Willow. I know Xander. I know he’s all fucked up with guilt and crap. But he really cares about people. He cares about me.”

“Have you asked yourself why?” Willow asked, knowing it was cruel but needing to know anyway. “What do you offer him Spike?”

And Spike, who had been asking himself that question almost continuously since Xander had knocked at his bedroom door, still shook his head in fierce denial. “No. Xan and I, we get each other. We like each other.” He looked at her seriously. “Even if I couldn’t bite ‘im we’d be friends.”

Willow looked at him, wondering.

“He’s not like Riley.” Spike spat out the name.

“No,” said Willow, “of course not. But Spike, what if some part of him does want you to …” she paused, “punish him for the things he’s done. What if he pushes you too far? Spike, how would you feel if you accidentally killed him?”

“Stop it,” said Spike, pulling away from her on the mattress. He jumped up suddenly. “Stop it, Red.” He began moving around the room, like he was looking for an escape. “It’s not like that,” Spike begged, to himself, to the world at large. “It’s not like with Buffy. Xander likes me for me. He does.” The last was said in a pathetic whine. He whirled and slammed out of the bedroom, pounded down the stairs. Stopped in the living room doorway. “Xan.”

Xander looked up at him from his place on the couch. He was pale and seemed almost sagging with exhaustion and illness. Despite his anxiety about Spike, he had almost been asleep when the racket upstairs had roused him. He stared at Spike with huge black eyes, the pupils fully open.

Spike took it in. Xander, pale and ill, the bite on his neck scabbed but still red and bruised. His hand clutching convulsively at a bottle of pills. He wanted to touch him. He needed to touch him. He was afraid his touch would kill him. “Xander.” He finally made the word come out of his mouth.

Xander slowly moved his legs off the couch. He stood creakily up. Spike moved towards him in a jerky way, like he was fighting the impulse. Oddly stiff and awkward, the two men slowly merged together in the center of the living room. Arms hesitantly wrapping around waists. Hands slowly, painfully closing around biceps. Xander lowered his head with a little moan onto Spike’s shoulder and the vampire shuddered and made an answering squeak of need. He wriggled closer to Xander, working his way into the man, so that every inch of air was closed between them. He pulled the warmth into him through every cell of his dead body.

Xander felt the worry and depression slipping from him like a heavy coat. Everywhere Spike’s hands touched him a little poof of magic sparks seemed to remain on Xander’s skin, healing and soothing. Everywhere Spike pressed his cool torso to him, a swell of endorphins surged outward. Xander held the vampire tighter.

“Missed you,” he murmured into the cool neck. The soothing sensation was mounting to something more demanding. The happy feelings running and pooling between Xander’s legs. His balls tingled and he felt his cock swelling with need. He rocked into Spike firmly and felt the answering hardness. Both men shuddered all over and held each other closer as they rocked, gently thrusting, in the middle of the living room.

Xander buried his face in Spike’s hair and rubbed his mouth across his ear. “Want you,” breathed Xander.

“Yeah,” growled Spike. His hands wandered lower and he squeezed the firm buttocks and pulled Xander’s hips more firmly into his own. Rubbing his mouth and nose against the warm neck, rubbing his mark, a little keening noise coming out of his throat. He clutched his human to him. Wishing Xander would say magic words. Tell him something that would make Willow’s doubts go away.

“I’m sorry, Spike,” Xander whispered into his ear, his lips nipping at the lobe, his tongue plunging inside, circling, lips and teeth nibbling. “I’m sorry. I love you. I’m sorry.”

Spike shuddered and whined and clutched Xander to him. His mouth moved of its own volition to drag slowly and erotically across Xander’s mark.

Xander’s body arched suddenly towards him. “Please,” Xander whispered into Spike’s shoulder. “I need it, Spike. Please. Bite me.”

Spike jumped back and shoved Xander into the coffee table. Xander tipped and almost fell. He gaped at Spike like a boy who had been slapped by a loving parent.

“No,” said Spike in a low intense hiss. “I won’t bite you.”

Something inside Xander reared back and roared. He stepped forward. Raised his hand and backhanded Spike across the face as hard as he could. The sound of the blow seemed to snap across the room and echo between the walls. Spike’s head whipped sideways. A spot of blood appeared at the corner of his mouth. The two men stared at each other.

Xander found he was breathing so hard he had to open his mouth to get in all the air he needed. Spike was raising his hand slowly to his lip, his other hand clenched in a fist that shook with the effort not to retaliate.

“I won’t hit you either, Xander,” growled the vampire angrily. “You can’t fucking use me ta hurt yourself. ”

Xander gasped for air. He felt a kind of hysteria building inside him. Quite suddenly he knew what he needed to do. He strode right past Spike and into the kitchen, reached up into a cupboard and brought down the rejected bottle of Johnnie Walker from the night before. Viciously twisted off the cap. Who needed a glass, he thought as he brought the bottle to his lips. He was gonna drink the whole fucking thing anyway.

He heard Spike behind him. Waited for words or blows. Neither came. Then he heard the front door open and slam shut. Good, he thought, closing his eyes. Now it’s just me and my shadow. He tipped back the bottle and poured the whiskey down his throat.


~*~*~*~*~


Willow had had some interesting conversations with Amy shortly after the young witch had been transformed back from her rat-ness. Amy was decidedly pleased to have been restored to her human body, but there were things about rat-ness, she admitted to Willow, that she rather missed.

“You just do things,” she recalled nostalgically, “you don’t decide. It’s all twitchy and instinctive, like someone else is driving the car.” She tipped her head sideways and unconsciously brushed at her cheek with the back of her hand in a little washing motion. She caught herself mid-stroke and lowered her arm stiffly, her cheeks crimson. “You aren’t self-conscious, because you aren’t responsible. Eat. Sleep. Protect yourself.” She sighed, looking tired. “It’s so much easier.”

Willow thought that what she particularly liked about being human was the knowledge that at any given moment she could decide. Wiccans saw nature as following patterns, cause and effect. As above, so below. If you plant a seed it grows. It follows its nature to fruition and reseeds. But human beings, for some inexplicable reason, had the right to choose. From an infinite number of possible paths at every minute of their lives. Up until the moment of their death, humans choose. Willow loved it. Loved to watch it manifest.

Now she stood at the bottom of the stairs and watched Xander make a choice. She had heard the slamming, heard Spike leaving and run downstairs. Through the open doorway, she saw Xander, stiff shouldered, tilt the bottle back and swallow. Put the bottle down. She saw him stand there, hunched. Then watched as he carefully leaned over and picked the cap up off the floor. Methodically screwed it back on, and set the bottle back in the cupboard. When he turned to see her, he looked weary and gray, but determined.

“Gotta go out, Wills,” he said tiredly. He joined her in the hallway and opened the door. It was still pitch black outside. “He thinks I wanted him to hurt me,” he said into the night. “I wonder why.”

Willow met his eye when he turned towards her. “Do you?” she asked tipping her chin up in that brave little way of hers.

Xander’s eyes measured his old friend. “You shouldn’t read those pop-psychology books, Willow,” he said slowly. “They give you crazy ideas.”

“Xander, you seem to be so self-destructive…”

“Right,” said Xander in an extremely sarcastic voice, “that’s how I survived ten years on the Hellmouth.”

“Are you telling me you don’t feel guilty?”

“Sure, Willow. I feel guilty. Guilty for lying. Guilty for fucking with people who cared about me.” Xander shook his head, a look of utter conviction on his face. “He would never hurt me, Willow. Even if I wanted him to. Which I don’t. Mostly.” He grinned a little. A sly look came over his face. “Ya wanna know about the times I do?”

“Nope,” said Willow hurriedly. Xander nodded once, smiling, and turned to go.

“Wait.” Willow walked up to her friend and carefully drew a little arc from his left shoulder up over his head down to his right shoulder, her palm flattened towards him. Xander shivered as the ward dropped over him.

“Thanks, Wills.” He gave her a tiny smile. “You won’t get in trouble for that, huh?”

“Screw it,” said Willow lightly. She stepped forward and touched two fingers gently to Xander’s lips. “Blessed be,” she whispered gently. Xander felt the tingle sink in. He turned to go.

“Wills.”

“Yes, Xander.”

“This is it for me, you good with that?” He turned back to look at his friend, begging her permission.

Willow studied him. Then she smiled. “If you hurt him,” she said calmly, “I will beat you to death with a shovel.”

“Yeah,” said Xander, and he walked out the door.




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