Rides a Pale Horse
It was good horror movie weather. Or would have been if Xander’s life was anything but a horror movie. Life was wet and the Bates motel was right around the corner. The hellmouth didn’t see too many rainy summer evenings, but when it rained it poured, and his girlfriend had just broken up with him for the umpteenth time – maybe.
Anya was funny about human relationship rituals; it was one of the things he adored about her (who else would drop her dress off her shoulders and ask to interlock?) but also the thing that most annoyed him. She hadn’t grown up with years of stupidly sappy television relationships to take her examples from; instead, she had a millennium of twisted vengeance-causing break-ups to call to mind. They broke up, they got back together, they broke up, they had sex, they got back together. It felt like something new every other week, something he had or hadn’t done had irked her and she took it out on him, he explained (not always reasonably) that she was being overdramatic, she threw vengeance stories in his face, they fought, they broke up, they had sex.
It was exhausting.
The week before last she’d flipped her lid over their song. Or rather, the fact that Xander didn’t remember ‘their’ song - it was like TV drama had infected Anya’s brain and hijacked their relationship for the three days that Anya refused to talk to him. Somewhere in the back of his head Xander knew that these were things Anya needed to work through, breaking points she'd seen as a vengeance demon where couples had genuine problems beneath the frippery of favorite songs. He knew it, but her antics were no less infuriating. When he did finally get her in the same room for long enough to ask whether or not they even had a song she’d gone suspiciously quiet, blushed bright red, and muttered something about “Well we should.”
Xander was so tired of being needled about the little, inconsequential almost-human spats that he just couldn’t deal with the real ones. Like the one about ‘do you really love me, or have I made it too easy on you?’ or the one where Anya kept asking ‘why can’t you move out of your parent’s house for me?’ Relevant questions that he couldn't bring himself to take seriously because this was the girl that insisted he learn to make her favorite dessert or she'd break up with him. Anya - a thrill a minute, and no one could live like that for long. Sometimes it was like living inside a tornado.
Or possibly that was the water pouring down on him. He didn’t think tornadoes got this wet – this was a monsoon. Water was sluicing off the buildings in great sheets that drenched the sidewalks and splashed back out of the rapidly forming puddles until even his ankles were drenched. Handily thick socks that looked warm on a night where all of Southern California was expecting torrential downpour just trapped the water in, siphoning it into his shoes which squelched with every step he took. Everything about tonight sucked, from the socks to the B-movie weather, to the fact that Anya had thrown him out of her apartment with an ultimatum: me or the basement. It wasn’t as though he even wanted the basement. Sure, real estate in Sunnydale was hardly a tough market; nice places went for dirt cheap because the landlords were so desperate for people not to remember that the previous tenants had been disemboweled in the kitchen. He could even afford it if he worked some overtime to scrape together a deposit, or first months' rent or whatever, but as much as he didn't want the basement he wasn't positive he wanted Anya either.
He should have said something to her, been upfront about it and explained that he was a twenty-one-year-old guy looking to get his first apartment and wasn't positive he wanted his slightly-insane mostly-girlfriend to move in with him and dream about white picket fences and hijack his life any further than she had. She'd once told him he was a good boyfriend, and he wanted to be a good boyfriend, but sometime over the summer it had occurred to him that maybe he would rather be a good ex-boyfriend. That he didn't want to tie her down; that he didn't want to be tied down because she thought the boy she dragged to the senior prom would be good life-partner material. The thought scared the bejeezus out of him and he had to tell her - maybe he'd use zany, zany was better than slightly insane, right?
So Xander had wanted to tell her what had been on his mind lately. He wanted her opinion, and he knew that it might be risking breaking her heart and bringing vengeance down on his head from someone that was very experienced in the field, but he needed her to know. He'd never gotten the chance. Anya had a romantic evening set up in her apartment, candle light, roses, soft music, "a seductive mood" she said, none of which Xander needed to be seduced but he appreciated her sweetness. They made love in the candle light, miraculously not toppling any of the wax pillars, and then she'd dropped a bombshell on him when he was least inclined to listen. She couldn't be with a man who had no motivation, she said, she couldn't be with someone who couldn't make his way up in the world, who was content to live in his parents' dingy basement for absurd rent. She couldn't be with a coward too afraid to leave his nest, no matter how damaged it was and their romantic evening had been about trying to convince herself that Xander was worth trying to change. Evidently she'd decided he was, and Xander decided in that moment that it would be frighteningly easy for Anya to control the rest of his life.
His lack of response to her heartfelt attempts at serious conversation had pissed her off. The truth of it was that Xander was fighting himself for control, fighting his fears about Anya's presence in his life and struggling against the urge to run away like a little girl. He hadn't liked the conversation, Anya didn't like the deer-in-headlights look on his face, and she became hurt and angry by the time he'd rallied himself to respond. It wasn't pretty, the resultant fight had Anya's next door neighbors pounding on their walls, and she'd kicked him out. Crying, blotchy faced, and hurt by him; she told him she couldn't stand the sight of him just then and thanks all the same but she'd see him in two days time at the Scooby gathering when they'd both calmed down. Xander hadn't even given her that much, just swept up his ineffectual jacket and marched out into the pouring rain.
Real fights and the unreal ones swirled together in his mind as Xander trudged home to his parents' dingy basement that they both detested. He hated to be blindsided. It wasn't as though he enjoyed being a useless lump on society's ass, it was just that with the way things were it was easier to go out and fight demons and never have to imagine improving himself. Time had been standing still in Sunnydale for long enough that they'd all gotten complacent, knowing that nothing would ever really change, and so Xander didn't ever feel inclined to affect that change. Except just now, in this precise moment, change didn't sound like such a bad thing after all - but anybody squelching uncomfortably through the worst rain storm all summer would probably feel the same. He might as well be swimming.
The rain continued to pound down on him, causing the gutters to swell over the sidewalks and the water sucked at his pant legs trying to drag him down. There was one advantage to rain like this: not many demons appreciated being out in it either. Except for the demons that frequented the storm drains of course.
Even as the thought crossed his mind Xander felt a chill crawl up his spine that had nothing to do with being soaked to the bone. It was an old familiar feeling, being caught out in the open and being watched, a feeling he knew intimately having grown up on the hellmouth. It was just after two in the morning, the Slayer was probably tucked up in bed, and Xander realized with a resigned certainty that he had forgotten a weapon, but he couldn't not know. He couldn't not look. Steeling himself against what he might see Xander slowly and carefully turned around. There was nothing behind him, only the sheeting water and the drowning fluorescent "closed" signs from the shop windows lining the street.
Feeling like a moron for not having the sense to come in from the rain, he spun around again with the intent of scurrying home and suddenly there was the demon he'd feared. Xander felt a jolt race through his heart and he fell on his ass, landing in a puddle but it didn't really matter because he was soaked through anyway and the demon was laughing at him. "Fucking... Spike, you scared the hell out of me!"
"Really? I'm flattered." The vampire returned with an infuriating grin that made Xander want to strangle him. Apparently Spike didn't have the sense to get out of the rain either, just stood with his hand carefully cupping a soggy cigarette, trying to get it to light with a sputtering Zippo. Xander had never been much of a smoker but even he knew a lost cause when he saw it, and after a moment the vampire discarded the cancer-stick with a curse. "That a comfy puddle?"
"Yeah, only the finest damp patches for my posterior, thanks." Xander groused as he pushed himself to his feet, rubbing his sore back side. Spike hadn't offered him a hand up, which didn't surprise him in the slightest, but he did crack a smile that was quickly doused by a sneer and eye roll combination move. "What the hell are you doing here anyway? All the bars are closed."
"Only for the last few minutes. Bunches of folk makin' their ways home, I'm just seein' if I can't scare up a little dosh."
"Doesn't hurt that they're probably all wasted frat boys." Xander said knowingly. It wasn't that he condoned Spike's actions but the beer incident of a few months ago still hadn't vanished from his memory completely and, well… Xander was all about evening the playing field. Besides, it was funny when all those super-smart, wealthy, annoying college boys screamed like little girls and ran away. Spike was nodding his agreement, "Well fangless, you have fun with that."
Xander was off again down the street before he remembered to hate Spike especially violently for the whole ADAM fiasco. But he was wet, and tired, and figured it could wait until the next time he ran into the bleached menace. That was the thing about Spike, he popped up when you least expected him and by the time you'd gone your separate ways you'd forgotten why you were so angry with him in the first place, though usually because he’d given you something else to be pissed about. Xander had seen him several times over the summer, just hanging around town, wandering around in the graveyards on patrols, and grabbing a drink at the only place in town - their meetings were surreal and Xander was always left trying to figure out why he didn't feel the good old Scooby vampire resentment.
For a month or so after Spike's betrayal, such as it was, Xander had been pissed at him; he mentally staked a voodoo doll of Spike every time the vampire's name came up, but that irritation didn't last, and looking back he found it a little entertaining. Spike hadn't so much thrown a spanner in the works as fixed the mechanism. The vampire had inadvertently given the Scoobies exactly what they needed to succeed against ADAM and the Initiative, and Xander couldn't help but find that entertaining. Downright funny, in fact, because only Spike could screw something up that badly. For the first time since Anya kicked him out he chuckled darkly in the rain.
Xander spent another soggy fifteen minutes making his way back home, taking the route his feet knew best despite there being shorter pathways through Sunnydale. His feet knew the way better than his brain at this juncture, which was a good thing because the rain was pouring down so quickly it seemed to be blurring the lines of reality - buildings were runny and indistinct, the sidewalk was a river. The construction company he was working for had a site along this route and the thought of rain washing out his job tomorrow made him sigh with satisfaction. It was just a sign of how strange his life had become that he was grinning like a loon as real trouble finally appeared. Xander giggled a little hysterically at the sight of an eight foot demon glistening in the dim streetlamps - it wasn't enough that his girlfriend threw him out in the rain, or that he appeared to be smack dab in the middle of another Biblical Deluge – he had to walk straight into a demon looking for dinner.
The demon was massive; it looked sturdy enough that not even a tank would damage it and thankfully it hadn't noticed Xander yet. He wanted to avoid a confrontation if possible, take his happy ass home and call Buffy when the sun came up so he was trying to think his way around backing down the street and around the block to get home when he noticed that the demon wasn't alone. It had apparently already found dinner in the form of a woman in her late twenties, it had her with one massive hand buried in her hair and was dragging her closer to the management trailer where there was an over-hang which would keep him dry during dinner. Work would definitely be called tomorrow if they found a dead woman mauled on their site, and Xander felt a sudden stab of guilt for even briefly considering leaving the woman to her own devices. She was clearly terrified but fighting the monster with everything she had - the expression tooth and nail came to mind - even as the demon tore a chunk of her blonde hair out and she began whimpering in pain. Xander would never be able to live with himself if he left her to die, that was what being a Scooby was all about. And he was nothing if not a Scooby.
Knowing all too well that he was about to do something monumentally stupid, Xander crept onto the construction site, trying like hell to remain inconspicuous despite encroaching on the demon's personal space. He was only fifteen feet away from the dumpster where he'd been forced to trash a load of rebar because of a warehouse fuck-up, twenty feet from the demon which he could now see was armed with teeth and claws that looked like they were made of smoky-black glass. Praying that somehow Buffy would pop out of a manhole and rescue him, or that some magical force would make the demon melt into blackberry jelly with the strike of the iron Xander rushed the dumpster, snagging the first piece he found, and let momentum carry him to the demon with a war cry that was probably more terrified than terrible.
The thing didn't seem to care that he'd been whacked on the back with a steel rod. It turned around curiously and gave Xander an uncomfortably close look at its long, jagged teeth and fierce face. Xander could hear a dark growl rumble from the demon's chest as he backed away and it regarded him with curiosity that was slowly becoming rage. He heard himself swallow, heard the woman still held by the demon moan in fear, he felt frozen and the rebar in his hands was an undisputable certainty - he definitely had the demon's attention now. "If you get a chance," Xander rasped at the woman still squirming in the demon's grip, trying to stay calm even as he readjusted his grip on the rebar. "Run."
He wasn't Buffy, he wasn't Spike, he wasn't even Giles, he was just a guy trying to rescue a damsel in distress; and as he sent a quick prayer up to whoever was listening. Xander figured that at least this would get him out of breaking up with Anya. He charged again, his trainers thudding against the wet concrete with ridiculous slaps as the demon was suddenly right there and the rebar was skittering off its skin, leaving a long gouge that oozed with oily dark ichor. It let the girl go and she bolted, legging away on high heels and adrenaline without a single glance backwards. Now it was just Xander and the slavering monster, vaguely reptilian, fangs that dripped with saliva - he was so screwed. The demon swung a fist, surprisingly fast and just as powerful as it looked, Xander whipped the rebar around to block, but it was caught in the meaty claw.
Xander let go quickly as the rebar was dragged away from him, skidding backwards instead of being drawn into the demon’s grasp. There was growling behind him, a low snickering rumble that sounded horrifyingly familiar, but he didn’t dare turn to look, just hoped that it wasn’t a second tall-grey-and-ugly because he was busy enough with this one. “Okay… okay….” Xander was sliding away as fast as he could, trying to avoid the growl and the slavering demon while his feet slid around familiar piles of construction detritus and clods of dirt. “Sorry I interrupted your dinner… I’ll just be going now.”
“It was a sacrifice to her magnificence.” The thing responded venomously, and Xander was confused enough to wonder ‘it can speak English?’ before the terror struck again. “You must die to appease her.” Three steps backwards, he was twenty feet away then running full speed ahead straight towards the busy street and apparent safety when the rebar came back, thrown by the demon in a whistling arc and he was flung to his knees, gasping.
The pain was startling for its insignificance, and he slumped backwards to sit on his feet, dragged back by the weight of the bar; cold with sudden shock, hands clasped desperately around the piece of rebar protruding from his gut. Liver. His brain provided helpfully while his fingers slipped in the blood-slick fabric of his shirt - he had liked this shirt. But that was no concern because he was dead - knew it like he knew what his birthday was, or his shoe size. Dead and that hurt, even if the rebar didn’t. He stared at it, rusty and dark - never thought he would die of something so ridiculously human.
There were sounds in the distance that didn’t make sense, dull cracks and thuds, feral sounds and Xander tuned them out, head swimming. Someone was calling his name from miles away, but the cold starkness of his mind did not extend to his ears, and he could feel the world shrinking with every breath he took. Mere seconds. There was his name again, frightened on the breeze, and then there was pain. Immense, explosive, bursting through his spine and out his chest; the second piece of rebar hit him in the chin as it flew through him, bowling him forward into the gathering pool of blood.
“Your fight is not over, vampire.”
The world slid away into blackness, inky and opium rich, and that was the day that Alexander Harris died.
The world slid away into blackness, inky and opium rich, and that was the day that Alexander Harris died.
Spike was torn. He'd been near enough Harris to hear the gasping intake of breath he'd managed before the Krecht's second missile took his life and now he didn't know what to do. He'd killed the Krecht almost by instinct, that hadn't been a question, tearing into the soft skin of its belly and ripping out his intestines to display before he tore out the demon's throat. Krecht were notorious for hunting in the rain and he should have known better, should have kept a more careful eye out for trouble, but he hadn't and one of the Slayer's gang of do-gooders was dead because of it. He hadn't left the body. Spike was an evil vampire but not even he was crass enough to leave his corpses where they lay; the demon he dismembered and dumped in a nearby park - it would be gone by morning - dinner for hundreds of scavenging demons.
Xander, on the other hand, had to be taken care of, had to be laid to rest somehow. It wasn’t easy; the steel rebar juddered in his grip as it scraped between the fourth and fifth ribs, finally coming lose with a wet squelch. The body slumped sideways and Spike tried not to vomit up his dinner of pig’s blood. The second piece came free more easily, dragging with it deep purple chunks of organ and a flush of contaminated blood that Spike couldn’t bring himself to touch. The effect this was having on him was strangely painful, each new chore a lurch in the pit of his stomach as he rolled the body over and straightened the limbs, closing the dead eyes. It wasn’t even as if he liked the boy. Except that he'd seen Xander not thirty minutes ago, alive and vibrant and laughing despite the rain. The boy hadn't been much of a friend to Spike, but they shared a strange, friendly animosity and he hadn't precisely hated Xander either. He was plucky – Spike, when he bothered to pay attention, could appreciate that and resent it at the same time.
Xander hadn't been like the Slayer, who was all hard, sharp edges and questionable wit; he'd never displayed her highly irritating, brittle vulnerability. He wasn't like the witches, so much power couched in such softness – like sinking his teeth into marshmallow fluff – and he'd never shared their annoying idealist do-gooder-ness. Xander was somehow more down to earth than the witches, kinder and more genuinely stable than the slayer – he was certainly more interesting than the watcher who had gotten boring in the 80s. It was, Spike reflected while he lifted Xander and carried him back to his crypt, a bizarre vampiric version of Goldilocks – the witches were too soft and too sweet, the slayer too hard, too bitter to be fun, but Xander – Xander was just right. Easy to get a rise out of, good for the occasional game of pool, and the nearest thing Spike had to a friend. But now Xander was gone and Spike felt an unprecedented sense of loss. And he didn't know what to do.
A town like Sunnydale was a good place to be a demon. No one noticed him carrying a gory corpse through the cemeteries, or if they did, no one cared. Spike made his way to Restfield and his crypt cradling Xander's body to him, feeling the lively warmth seep away from it one drop of rain at a time. He made good time, half-running back to his home and pushed the door open, gently laying Xander’s body out on the cold marble. Harmony, who hadn't ever gotten around to moving out, even after he'd staked her during the Gem of Amara incident, looked up in surprise when he walked through the door. "What the... Spikey, is that... Ew. Is that Xander Harris?"
"Yeah." Spike answered her hoarsely, watching her warily as she crept closer for a better look at the body.
"What the heck, he's dead already," she said, disappointed, "Well that's no fun."
"If you wanted something more lively you should've gone out yourself," Spike grumbled, not bothering to hide his irritation. She’d never picked up on it before.
"Are you kidding? This rain would, like, totally ruin my hair."
Spike shot the former cheerleader a contemptuous look, tempted to stake her again but instead settling for a blow where it would really hurt, "It could only be an improvement."
Harmony gasped indignantly and Spike shook water out of his hair like a dog, leaving it in gelled spikes that flared in every direction – Harmony squealed in protest as the drops of water spattered against her designer top. "Spike! Ew! God!" she whined, then seemed to remember that she was a vampire and Spike didn't give a damn about her wardrobe, and stiffened up under the pretense of examining the corpse. He couldn't keep himself from snarling as her manicured fingertips traced the frayed edges of Xander's chest wound and she jerked her hand away and licked her finger. "So... Uhm... Are you gonna tell Buffy?"
"Gonna have to, aren't I," Spike sighed. He'd brought the boy back to his crypt and if Buffy came looking she'd stake him on sight. Spike had to get to her first, explain things, be there when he presented the body of her dead friend - it was inevitable from the minute he'd gotten involved. He knew the minute he killed the Krecht demon that he'd have to confront the Slayer, but it seemed wrong somehow to gloat about a thing like this - Spike had done nothing to cause this death, did his damnedest to prevent it in fact, and a strange regret at having to deliver the news weighed heavily on him. "She'll come lookin' when she can't find him, best just to sort it out now."
“Well good luck with that.” Harmony mumbled flippantly, inspecting her manicure with the air of one who’d completely lost interest in the conversation.
Spike couldn’t quite bite back the low growl that rumbled out of his chest. Vampires weren’t by their natures particularly respectful of the dead, but this was different somehow, this was his dead and Harmony’s blatant disregard grated on him. “You might want to clear out for the night, Harm,” he said with remarkable calm.
“But Blondie Bear, the sun is gonna be up in, like, three hours.”
“You’ll want to get a move on then.”
She hadn’t heard him, “And it’s all rainy outside and…”
“OUT!” Spike bellowed, his patience finally snapping under the strain of her excessive conjunctions. Harmony was a lot of work for a moronic fuck bunny. Spike was disgusted with himself for ever getting involved with her, not because she wasn’t a fantastic shag but because she was making quick work of reducing his brain to Swiss cheese.
Fortunately for both of their sakes she scuttled away into the rain, probably gone to hole up with a chaos demon or one of her little cohorts - Spike didn’t care. He allowed himself to breathe a brief sigh of relief at having gotten rid of her but it was short lived as his eyes caught the body lying on what was essentially his parlor table. Seeing the Slayer was the last thing he wanted to do, but this could hardly stay quiet. Gently and with a rueful smile at the dead man, Spike tucked the limp wet strands of hair that were clinging to Xander's face away, and closed the corpse's eyes.
The slayer was going to kill him for this, he knew that, he'd hardly done right by the slayerettes by playing their insecurities against each other and because of that he'd hardly be handed a medal for doing the right thing just now, but something in Spike insisted he had to, so he would. He tried to make Xander neat, tried to lay his limbs out straight before rigor could set in, tried to present his best front, but Xander’s best front at the moment was still a dead guy full of holes, and as the hair began to dry in fluffy disarray the vampire realized he was just stalling. "This is a fine mess you've gotten us into, Harris." he said conversationally, trying not to wince because Xander didn't respond. "A fine mess indeed."
Spike felt like a chit. No, worse, he felt like the sensitive loser that all the chits cooed over – possibly he felt like Xander. He was standing outside the Slayer's window chucking pebbles at it like some John Hughes cliché love-interest. Classy. He was just trying to get her attention without going through the front door – granted his invitation had never technically been revoked, but Spike had a suspicion that if he tapped on the Slayer's bedroom door at four in the morning he'd be dust before he could explain. No need to make Joyce work that much harder to keep her carpets clean.
Evidently the Slayer slept like the dead though, which was a bloody miracle in all this loud weather, but this was his tenth pebble, and there wasn't so much as a flicker from her bedroom window. The window was shut, curtains pulled open to welcome the sun if it decided to make an appearance today, and for just a brief moment Spike contemplated actually hopping up the trellis and onto her roof to tap on the window personally but decided it would be less trouble just to stake himself. He felt ridiculous and he was getting very, very fucking wet.
With an irritable sigh Spike stooped down to pick up another handful of the small landscaping rocks that he'd been chucking at Buffy's window, intent on giving up and heading to the witch's if this next handful didn't wake sleeping beauty. He sure as hell wasn't giving her a kiss – he'd had enough of that to last a lifetime, thanks. Spike growled low in his throat and chucked the first of the fistful of small rocks, thinking maybe he should shatter the window. At last he was saved from his own banality by the Slayer, who snapped the window open faster than he could think and sent the rock spinning back at him – it hit him squarely in the shoulder, smacking against the leather of his duster with a wet thwack. "Finally!" Spike said with an exasperated sigh, "I've been standing here for a bleedin’ year."
"What do you want, Spike?" The Slayer asked in a passable imitation of his growl.
"I've..." Spike stopped abruptly, watching Buffy's face grow angrier in the dim light of the streetlamp. He didn't know how to say it, wasn't quite sure if he could break this news without getting himself killed and kicked himself because all of the little rehearsals he'd been practicing had flown out of his head. "I've got bad news... it's something you need to see."
"Spike, its four o'clock in the morning," she said darkly, somehow managing to imply that for every minute she had to be awake she was going to hurt him. "And it's raining. No way is it important enough for me to leave my house at four a.m. in the rain."
It wasn't just raining, it was a bloody monsoon, but Spike thought better than to say that because she'd shut the window again and get to ignoring him. This was important, four a.m. important and not something he would just blurt out while she was leaning out her window sill. "It is, it's... nothing you have to slay, but Buffy... it's important."
She stared at him for a long moment, the glinting hazel in her eyes his personal harbinger of doom. Stared at him like she didn't know what to make of him, like she was obstinately (but justifiably) angry with him and curious at the same time. Finally she sighed, let her gaze wander up to the bruised sky, back down again to the flooding sidewalks, and across to the vampire trying to get a cigarette lit on her front lawn. "Fine, just gimme a minute," she said, and retreated into the dry safety of her bedroom.
Spike waited in the rain, shielding his zippo from the worst of the weather as he tried to get another soggy cigarette to light and this time succeeded. It was his first in hours and as the nicotine hit him he sighed, grateful that vampire bodies didn't form addictions or immunities and every smoke was like his first, putting him on the moon. The vampire sucked in hit after hit of the toxic smoke and felt some of the tension leave his shoulders but it all returned when the Slayer dropped down nimbly in front of him, an open see-through plastic umbrella trailing behind her like a Mary Poppins prop. She was, and he hated himself for even thinking this, fucking adorable in last season's boots, Angel's old leather jacket, and yummy-sushi pajamas, not having bothered to dress in anything more impressive on his behalf. Spike snorted richly and extinguished the dog end, "Oh that's just charming. Nice to see you've made an effort."
"What the fuck is this about, Spike?"
"Oooh, better be careful with that language, pet, they'll take away your hero's license." He teased her gently, affectionately – Spike hated her to be sure, but what he was about to do to her outweighed any petty jabs he could have at her now.
"But not my license to stake," she said threateningly, waving a piece of pointy wood under his nose that she'd pulled from god knew where. "Start talking, blondie."
"Right," he started, then stopped again. "The thing you need to see is at my crypt. It's... I can pretty much guarantee that you're going to be fucking furious about it, but it's better if you didn't wait until morning."
"Explain." Now Buffy was looking both confused and concerned, Spike couldn't say he blamed her – he'd never made an effort to forewarn her about anything in their dodgy history, but it wasn't the first time he'd helped her out, and it probably wouldn't be the last.
Gently he nudged her in the direction of Restfield, watching her carefully to gauge a reaction as he started to explain what happened to her friend. "I was... hanging about on Main Street –"
"Yes, lurking. Don't interrupt. I was on Main Street trying to scare up a bit of dosh when I ran into Harris. He said the demon bird threw him out, and I must say it was about time."
"Is this important, Spike?"
"Yes, I don't want you thinking any of this was my fault, because it bloody well wasn't. I did the best I fucking could..."
The cemetery mud slurped at their boots as they hopped one of the low-rising walls into Restfield, walking slowly and carefully to avoid mud puddles, open graves, or ankle-twisting hillocks. "Still failing to see a point."
"Look, thing is... rain brings out the crazies, I was in the mood for a fight, and Harris attracts trouble," which sounded reasonable enough now that he said it, but Spike wasn't entirely sure that he was telling the truth – Buffy made an unladylike snort of agreement, so he pressed on, "so I figured I'd follow him home. I was... Jesus, maybe fifteen seconds behind him and..." Spike looked the Slayer dead in the eye, stopping her short of his crypt. She huddled under Angel's too-large jacket, huge eyes following him warily and for a moment he thought he'd never seen a slayer look so insecure. Realization was slowly dawning and Spike couldn't watch her face as she came to her own conclusions, settling on the pale white of her tiny hands where they held onto the umbrella for dear life. "He charged a Krecht demon."
"Big, grey, likes the rain. Not a big fan of errant knights with rusty rebar interrupting their dinner."
The penny dropped. "Oh... god. How... how bad?" she stammered.
"I tried to stop it. I thought if I could get him to a hospital on time, but..." Still gently he prodded her forward into the crypt, the door swinging open on rusty old hinges that squealed in protest. Buffy rushed to the sarcophagus and Spike made no motion to stop her, simply closed the crypt door behind them and waited for the storm to break. "I did everything I could, Buffy. I was just... too late."
The Slayer collapsed over the body of her friend with a sob, her small hands reaching for Xander's cool, large ones. Spike watched her take stock, watched her examine the boy's wounds through teary eyes, watched her note how unbelievably pale he was, though all the blood had washed away in the rain, and how impossible it was to survive a stab to the liver, let alone the heart. He watched all this and then he watched the Slayer cry, helpless to save her friend now that he was far beyond her reach, but Spike didn't glean any satisfaction from it. Perhaps if it had been his doing, or perhaps if Harris hadn't made him laugh every now and again he would have felt vindicated, a vicarious thrill from hurting the slayer so dearly, but Xander did make him laugh, and he really didn't see much profit in hurting humans these days.
Spike stood awkwardly in his own home, warring between the insane urge to comfort his only predator, and the urge to get the hell out of dodge. Time seemed to stretch on forever while Buffy cried, curled up on the floor with her back to the sarcophagus and Xander continued to be dead. It seemed like a million years before the Slayer straightened herself up, squared her shoulders and looked him in the face with her eyes red and furious. "How long?"
Spike shrugged, "An hour, maybe two."
Buffy cracked her knuckles and pushed herself to her feet, "Where the hell do I find the Krecht?"
Uh oh. He hadn't thought of the Slayer's revenge while he was taking his own, frankly he didn't think at all, just tore the thing apart and carried Harris back to his crypt before his brain came online again. Spike couldn't say he regretted tearing the demon to bits with his bare hands, but he regretted the hell out of not giving the Slayer an alternative beastie. "In pieces... all over Wilkins' Park."
"You killed it." Buffy said flatly before hysteria took her, "you killed it!?"
"Needed to be done." Spike said stoically as the Slayer lost her mind.
He couldn't hit her back, didn't even try, and she didn't come at him with a stake, simply threw a punch at him, then another, crying and raging at the vampire that stole her vengeance. Xander was her friend, her responsibility, and Spike had taken away the satisfaction of maiming what had hurt him. He understood the something primal about the Slayer that was more animal than human, understood her need to hunt and kill and protect her humans, and Spike had taken that ability away from her, so he had to pay for it. He'd stripped her of her purpose, stolen her vengeance and handed her all of the guilt instead – if she hadn't been asleep in bed, if she hadn't been across town when Xander was in trouble then he wouldn't be dead now – and somehow that was Spike's fault too. Her tiny fists pounded against him, leaving bruises and cracked ribs in their wake but her energy was manic and exhausting, and instead of beating the stuffing out of the vampire she clutched at him, sobbing into his shirt. Spike understood this too, and let her.
It was an odd thing to be this close to a slayer, all that sweet nectarine blood under her skin, just under his nose, and her trusting him enough to run comforting hands up and down her arms. It was odd and horrifying, Spike wasn't sure what they'd become. Spike and the Scoobies – just phrasing it that way put him in mind of a pop band from the sixties – but their relationship had become mercurial. Antagonists, reluctant allies, or in some deranged fashion, friends. The thought made his skin crawl. Buffy eventually calmed down, stopped sobbing and snotting into his already soaked shirt, stopped clenching her fists into Spike's sides like bruising him further would somehow make what he'd said disappear. She stopped crying altogether but didn't pull away, Spike could practically feel the embarrassed heat radiating from her and figured it was easier to stay hidden in his chest than have to face him after such an awkward crying jag – this, at last, made him smirk.
"If you ever tell anyone I did that..." Buffy muttered direly, pulling away from him when she'd gotten herself under control. He could see her trying not to break down again when she looked over her shoulder, and found his desire to tease her about it wildly inappropriate. "I... Jesus. What am I gonna do?"
"How do you mean, pet?"
"Do not call me that," she snapped suddenly, like an unexpected dragon underfoot and Spike nodded placatingly. "I mean his parents. What do I tell them and... god, do I call the police? I've... I don't know how to..."
"You've never had to bury someone." Spike guessed, and Buffy nodded miserably. "I suggest you talk to the watcher – he'll know exactly what to do; and you can sort out whether you're going to make things all official, like."
Another miserable nod and Buffy took another helpless glance in the direction of her friend – there hadn't been much blood left in him when Spike brought him in, and what little there was was laying in bruised pools where gravity had dragged it – it wasn't even Xander anymore, only a poor, chalky facsimile. "I've..." her voice cracked, "would you mind if I brought Willow here? She'll want to see him."
"Sure," Spike said kindly, and was instantly disgusted with himself. "You let Red and the watcher know, first thing. I'll go have a chat with Anya – demon to demon."
Buffy didn't question this, only nodded gratefully.
He ran, panting through a dark abyss, feeling nothing below his feet, nothing to ground him. He felt nothing but a sharp pain in his right side, a deep ache that was somehow different than the cramps in gym class or a pinched nerve. He ran, one hand pressed against his side as his feet fell through the atmosphere, paint dark, molasses thick, and intangible. He ran on. Through the twisted corridors of the labyrinth with no name, through infinite space with no definition, no dimension. He was always running, panting, desperate to escape the threat of what loomed behind him and he could feel it haunting him, hunting him, and promising dark agonies and unknown horrors if it caught him. There was no sense of distance, no sense of ending - only the deep and certain fear that something was chasing him. And it would catch him.
He ran through an absence of light so profound it almost seemed tangible. But it wasn't, and out of the darkness, miles away, loomed a door. It was small and grey on the horizon of the infinite blackness, a small and distant source of light that he strove for, fighting with the burning ache in his side, fighting with struggling lungs and legs made of lead he pushed himself towards the door wanting more than anything to be on the other side of it, to be away from the thing that was chasing him. His lungs burned - the door slid closer, infinitesimally bigger. His heart pounded and an ache rose up in his chest; the door was that much closer, still a ghostly shadow looming in the blackness. He squeezed his eyes shut as his legs pumped underneath him, praying that willing the door closer would make it happen. Something wet and slick slid against his right hand… and suddenly he was there.
Smacking face first into the pewter grey door and agony exploded in his chest when the momentum he’d been carrying slammed to an abrupt stop. His eyes flew open in time to see a grey liquid explode and spatter against the door, leaving streaks like acid etched into its surface. The door towered above his head, marked with strange wavering symbols that he couldn’t read in a million years. It shone, a gentle luminescence in the oppressive blackness, and he could see himself. He could see his scarred and calloused hands banging against the surface, spraying it with more of the acid stuff. He could see his own feet when he slumped against the pitted enormity. He could feel the beast behind him, slavering just beyond the touch of the door’s light; but what he couldn’t see, what he couldn’t feel was an opening. He couldn’t see a way through, it was a door without purpose or direction and he sobbed helplessly even as his feet tried to carry him around the perimeter. Twenty paces in each direction and he hadn’t moved, trapped between the impermeable doorway and the monster pacing in the shadow.
He could feel the hot, dangerous breath against his back while his hands scrambled for something to hold onto, a doorknob, or a miracle. He beat on the door with his palms, desperate and crying, his heart pounding and the pain in his body growing worse with every wheeze from the beast behind him. He wanted in, he wanted in, he wanted away from this thing, he was frantic and "Please! Please let me in... God please. Please let me in."
The door didn't so much swing open as dissolve and he fell through the minimal resistance, landing in a heap on what was suddenly a floor. Color and the world came rushing to him in a flood of memories and pain that he hadn't realized he'd been missing. Xander Harris – the name came to him in the memory of a seven year old red-headed girl – lay coughing and helpless on an unfamiliar floor in a room he'd never seen before. But it was a room, more comfortable than the empty black space he'd previously inhabited. And occupied by someone else.
He coughed again, coughed up grey acid that spattered on the floor in bright red droplets that were painful to the eye, dripping and smearing down his lips. Xander gasped in air with a wet, sucking sound only to cough it back out again – and blood, that stuff was blood. The blackness loomed behind him and before him was a chintz living room set, placed (quite bizarrely) with a number of coffee tables and a free-standing fireplace. Blinking off the surreality, Xander tried to push himself to his feet - his body struggled against sudden gravity while his mind fought with vague remembrances of why it was so hard to move. He pulled himself forward on his left hand and his knees, still clutching his right side and more of that grey acid, that stuff he was having to remember was called blood, slid between his fingertips.
"What on earth are you doing down there?" The soft murmured gossip echoing in the almost-empty room tapered off to nothing as she stared at him, pathetic, sprawled, twitching and bleeding on her carpet. He took a rattling breath. A reassuringly absurd pair of scuffed and worn wellingtons presented themselves to his line of vision and as he looked up to beg for help her eyes ate into him, staring past his breast bone. He was nervous in her presence, but the woman smiled softly at him and hauled him to his feet, ignoring the gush of fresh, hot blood that slid and dripped down his pant legs.
"I... thank you." Xander said quietly, warily prodding the gaping wound and suddenly he could breathe again. "Can... can you tell me where I am?"
"That's... geographically speaking a very difficult question to answer." Xander nodded as if that made any sense at all and she pressed on. "I've been meaning to speak to you; it's very good to meet you at last Alexander Harris."
"Er... how do you... look I... I appreciate the rescue and I'm sorry if this sounds rude... but who are you? And how do you know my name?"
"I am Death, Alexander. I know all the names," she said in an eerie cacophony that made his skin crawl. Her eyes were a kaleidoscope – she blinked, flickered like a candle flame – came back with a vague smile. "And I have a proposition for you.”
Spike witnessed the Slayer's breakdown the night Harris died and he witnessed Red's that same afternoon but she, at least, hadn’t snotted on his shirt. Instead she clung to her girl with such ferocity they both shook, and Buffy shot him awkward looks as though to say "thanks" or "I'll kill you if you tell anyone" and life moved on.
The Scoobies, after the standard pointless bickering, made the collective decision to keep it all in the family, and things happened appallingly fast after that. Turned out Spike knew a guy that could get caskets on demand because in some ways he really was a traditionalist, and Harris, the fucking horribly practical little sod, had bought a plot the day he turned eighteen, which made things easy. Harris would be buried in the land he paid for, but the landowners wouldn’t know it. No death certificates, no mortuary fees, only his friends and some shovels. The vampire was unsure of why he got saddled with laying out the body, but he was. He and the little blonde witch washed and clothed the corpse indoors while the Watcher and the Slayer furtively dug a grave and Red collected his things from his parents' place. Simple, clean, illegal, noncommercial, no police – it was the hellmouth at its best.
They buried him at sunset. Spike spent the gorgeous September afternoon holed up with the casket in a smallish crypt in Hillside Cemetery near the boy's plot. He and the Marine – acting on some tacit truce – neglected to squabble with each other when they lowered the box into the ground and filled it over with dirt. It had been too quiet, and too beautiful to really mark the end of a life. Spike felt wrong standing there, feeling the weight of every spade-full.
He wondered if this would only be the first of the Scoobies he planted.
Xander wasn't exactly a slow riser but these days he was always apprehensive about opening his eyes. Waking up, or being conscious in general, wasn't always the most pleasant experience because more often than not he came to stiffer than a board and it took Anya with a pry bar and a mug of coffee to get him out of bed. So on the mornings he could, he lay there for a few minutes taking stock before bothering about shifting his eyelids. This morning he felt like he'd gone five rounds in the puffy-suit with Buffy before he took on a headstone at 20mph. And he wanted pancakes. His mattress felt like it had been replaced by a pine board, and that was curious enough, but the room smelled... wooden. Xander's heart began to pound in his chest and his eyes snapped open to total darkness – even with the blinds drawn tight his basement was never this dark, it never smelled of pine and his mattress sure as hell never felt... like a box.
"Jesus," he muttered, feeling the sound echo around him in the space that he was beginning to realize was very, very small. His breathing was shallow, he could feel it come back to him in the narrow space and he felt the walls pressing in around him. Xander drummed his heels against the wooden floor and heard the solid thunk of his bones reverberating against a completely solid surface. The box didn't move and his knees made the same noise when they hit the top. A dull, solid thud, and for some reason this was important, important because he should've heard a hollow thok, should've felt the box vibrate – his hands came up to pound against the ceiling, with solid, unwavering thuds.
"Jesus." Xander felt the adrenaline flood his system, felt his breath come in shallow pants that stirred the air around him, reminded him how little he had. Because this only happened in movies, right? This was just some stupid nightmare and the real thing only happened in spaghetti westerns, right? People didn't just get buried alive... did they? "Oh god."
|Feed the Author|