Fall for S/X Entry! As always, I find these things impossible to summarize, so I'm not even going to try. The title and it's context should say it all. Warnings for... a complete lack of sex. Gentle story, mildly experimental, shouldn't be terribly problematic.
My most profound and heartfelt thanks to sparrow2000 and findmeneverland for their incredible patience in helping me work through this. All of the mistakes that you see in here are probably things that they've pointed out, but I was too stupid or stubborn to fix. ;-)
Also, many thanks to Navin, who not only puts up with my constant requests for advice and cries of "Does this sentence make sense?" but also has to endure my death threats should he actually read the thing in its entirety. He's not allowed to read this page, but everyone else should know I'm appreciative. :D
That was a lot of Ado, so before there's any more...
Seven Vignettes in November
November 26, 1996. 3:45pm.
"The wild November come at last
Beneath a veil of rain;
The night winds blows its folds aside,
Her face is full of pain.
The latest of her race, she takes
The Autumn's vacant throne:
She has but one short moon to live,
And she must live alone."
- Richard Henry Stoddard.
“Sorry dude.” Tuesday afternoon and the golden autumn light flung long shadows of browning leaves against the clean, white concrete of the quad. Xander couldn’t say he hadn’t been expecting this response, he’d been told the same thing since first grade, after all. “Six of my stupid cousins came in yesterday and my Aunt Kat’s coming tomorrow. There are gonna be fourteen of us in four bedrooms…. My mom has wall-to-wall ‘activities’ planned, and… ugh. Next week, yeah?”
Xander grinned at the familiar litany of complaints. The enormous McNally family congregated in Sunnydale every year to kick off the holiday season with a Thanksgiving feast that Jesse was always right in the thick of. Every year he came back from the long weekend full of turkey and stories about his cousins’ exploits, and the stories were always worth it, but that left Xander high and dry on the friend front because Willow was in Oklahoma visiting her grandparents.
Xander’s family didn’t really do anything for Thanksgiving, his mom wasn’t much of a cook, and his aunt and uncle never visited until around Christmas. The time off school was nice, he had all day Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday to hang out in his room reading comics, but he couldn’t exactly claim he was looking forward to five days cooped up with his parents.
Jesse was looking at him sideways in that habit he had, wearing an expression that suggested he could read Xander’s mind, his narrow face drawn even tighter in frustration and possibly sympathy, “Man, I wish we could hang out later. I ran it by my mom, but she got all pissy about it.”
This, at last, made Xander laugh. Jesse was the last in a string of four boys; Mrs. McNally did pissy like a champion. “Nah, don’t worry about it. Just save me some turkey, yeah?”
“You got it,” his best friend confirmed, and artfully directed the conversation towards Batman until the sun had sunk behind the school, leaving them shivering in the November breeze.
Xander let the rhythm of the conversation wash over him, rolling it back and forth, familiar as an old baseball, and when Jesse’s mom finally pulled up in front of the school, honking impatiently, he waved his friend away and headed in the opposite direction.
November 24, 1997. 11:24pm.
"Dull November brings the blast,
Then the leaves are whirling fast."
- Sara Coleridge
Angel weighed a ton.
The ropes twined around the vampire’s wrists were run through with wire, and sawing through them was a task and a half. Xander felt entirely too close, entirely too vulnerable half-trapped underneath the bulk of Buffy’s half conscious boyfriend, and scarce inches from Drusilla’s eerie humming, broken by playful snaps of her teeth. He was highly tempted to just let the big oaf lie in the grave he’d dug himself, but Buffy would probably never forgive him. She and Spike were a blonde and black swirl of chaos, twisting back and forth, pushing and moving in a violent dance, so perfect it was almost choreographed. He paused for just a moment, hands sliding into stillness as he watched them – indomitable, nearly sublime, and absolutely captivating. But with one fierce tug, time and the world came back with a rush. Suddenly the rope was coming apart under his fingers and he was catching a swooning Drusilla as Angel yanked their hands apart. Startled by her lightness, Xander tried to jerk away, but she clutched at his arms just in time to half-crush him under Angel’s full body lean.
Then Kendra was there, a rich brown interrupting the monochromatic dervish, and Buffy was shouting, “Get him out of here!” still more concerned for her boyfriend than her life, and for a split second, in the dramatic melee, Xander caught Spike’s eye.
Xander had never been afraid of Spike before. Not really. Or at least he’d never been afraid on his own behalf. When Spike showed up in the alley behind the Bronze, radiating bleach and menace, Xander hadn’t been afraid for himself because he knew he was inconsequential; knew it even better after he’d played demon bait for the umpteenth time and Spike had let him walk out the door. When he had looked back, before running screaming like a little girl away from the high school, Spike shot him a look that was amused, utterly condescending – like he was a funny little thing; face full of contempt, mind full of the Slayer.
So Xander was afraid for Buffy, and for Giles, and even for Willow, but not for himself because he was so far beneath the vampire’s notice as to be invisible. Until right now. This moment, his hands still guiding Dru’s delicate weight to the floor and his shoulders bearing up the majority of Angel’s bulk. Spike was noticing him for the first time.
Spike’s eyes were malevolent gold, flicking up at him for just a heartbeat, and Xander knew what it was to be afraid.
It wasn’t Buffy, just then, destroying Dru’s chances at well-being, it wasn’t the slayer – either of them – dismantling such a carefully wrought plan while Spike stood by, helpless to stop it. It was just Xander and the pocket knife he’d been given for his twelfth birthday. Only Xander, and the look Spike gave him promised agonizing retribution, promised his full attention, possibly for days…
Then Kendra punched the blonde square in the jaw and Xander got the hell out of Dodge, dragging Angel behind him.
When the church fell, presumably taking the vampires with it in a heavy woosh of dust, Xander breathed a sigh of relief. Being the focus of a vampire’s attention was scary. Buffy could have it.
November 24, 1998 10:17pm.
"O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being.
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing."
- Percy Bysshe Shelley
Xander was cold, the kind of cold that sank under his skin and made it sweat, clinging to his bones and shriveling his stomach until he was choking back his own esophagus. It was probably the nausea that made him open his eyes, looking for some evidence to tell him if the world really was spinning, but when he had, he wished he hadn’t. There wasn’t much light, but each little pinprick from the candles scattered around the room was like a hypodermic needle in his gray matter. Someone groaned pitifully, and it took Xander a moment to realize that it wasn’t him. Moving was even more fun than waking up had been, but Xander fought his heaving stomach long enough to roll over, and it was funny how head trauma could make a person forget the vampire that caused it. “Sp…” was all he managed before his dry tongue glued itself to the roof of his mouth.
The vampire was drunk. Really drunk. Xander was uncomfortably familiar with the symptoms and tried to make himself as small as possible when his pounding skull beat an image of red hair and a horrified face against his memory. The fear he had barely begun to realize for himself was fragmented by a landmine of panic that ignited in his adrenal glands. “Spike,” he acknowledged more coherently, more calmly than he knew he was capable of, “where’s Willow?”
“What’z it…” Spike looked at him intently for a moment and even three sheets to the wind, Spike was scary – maybe scarier. Xander felt his heart rate climb, but held his gaze. Held and held and his vision was swimming, but finally Spike shrugged and made a show of investigating the bottom of his rapidly emptying bottle. “S’doin’ me a favor.”
A shrug, “Fer now. She’s nice. Helpful,” the vampire told him confidentially, and somewhere Xander knew that if he wasn’t concussed and wasn’t afraid for Willow’s life, he would find this confession hysterical. “Maybe I’ll keep her.”
Another bolt of panic, another lurch as he sat up, abruptly enough to make Spike jerk. “Sure,” Xander said sarcastically, thinking fast and feeling uncomfortably cruel he said, “get involved with Willow. Just don’t be too surprised when you’re in matching sweater sets and giving up smoking because she pouts at you.”
Spike’s face came down like a waterfall and dropped into a perfect sneer, one that he wiped away with the mouth of his bottle. “Fucking hell.”
“The pout has power.” Too much power. Enough power to rack him with guilt and ruin his resolve to stop accidentally kissing her. Xander was unpleasantly aware that he should take his own advice, but it probably didn’t matter now.
“Fucking hell…” Spike said again, but differently, low, and pained. And Xander was at a complete loss when the vampire looked up, eyes liquid and dark. “I just want to forget her, but… god I need her. She’s like claws in my heart. If I can’t have her, I need someone.”
Xander hadn’t ever seen anyone get drunk quite like this. He hazarded a guess, “Dru?”
The invasion of his personal space was completely unexpected. So outside the conception of normality that Xander was paralyzed with confusion when he felt Spike’s tongue pressing slickly against some of the blood on his temple and dragging a taste away. It was unthinkable, and then the vampire said, “I bet you’d be loyal.”
Xander thrashed, jumpstarted by the sneer and the cool whiskey breath, kicking out like an animal and for a moment forgetting he had fists, “Get the fuck off me!”
“Maybe when you’re older…” and Spike’s sharp knuckles under his jaw sent him crashing back into blackness.
November 25, 1999 2:35pm.
The bleak November winds, and smote the woods,
And the brown fields were herbless, and the shades
That met above the merry rivulet
Were spoiled, I sought, I loved them still; they seemed
Like old companions in adversity."
- William Cullen Bryant, A Winter Piece
“Shouldn’t have waited,” a voice growled in his ear. “Should’ve just taken you and run.”
Xander was so far gone that it took him a while to realize that Spike was speaking to him, and even then, he felt far too crappy to feel even remotely threatened. At this point, death would come as a sweet reprieve. All he could manage in the form of witty repartee was a pitiful, “Huh?”
“Bet I still could. Think on it, you and me, taking in the night life, hunting…”
Xander mustered up the energy to peel an eye open and raise the eyebrow above it, only to see Spike staring at him with painfully delicate disgust, somehow managing to sneer and look hungry at the same time. Fucking vampires. He spared Spike a cyclopean eye-roll and let it sag shut, a little too nauseous to watch Spike stare at him like a day-old jelly-filled. “So basically you want to turn me so I can bring you breakfast every morning. Pass.”
“Probably shag you too.” The cheerful mania in Spike’s voice made Xander’s eyes pop open again. He was half expecting a devious smirk, but the contemplation on Spike’s irritatingly legible face was far more unnerving. His eyes raked over Xander so hard they practically left marks, “Once we get rid of the disgusting, sweaty, human bits… you wouldn’t be half bad. And I know you’d enjoy it.”
“Again, gonna have to go with ‘No.’”
“But you don’t want to, do you Harris?” And here was a Spike he had rarely seen before, eagerly leaning forward in his chair, face focused and intent, eyes abruptly blue blue blue and tracking the pulse in Xander’s throat. “We’d see the world. New York, Paris, Rio, visit some old stomping grounds in Singapore…. Imagine it; we would hunt. Have you ever really hunted, Xander? Not like hunting demons, oh no, but knowing you’re the strongest person in a room, that everything else is powerless. That the world is yours and you can have anything in it? Isn’t that something you want?”
“As appealing as that is…” and for half a second it was. For half a second, for a man who’d been a hyena, who was fighting with his girlfriend, who had never been farther than Oxnard, and who would probably live with his mother until he was thirty-five unless the demonic flu killed him first, it was the offer of a lifetime. But… “You forgot two things. First… no one in their right mind would want to be nineteen for eternity, and second, you left out the evil, soulless monster part. So you’re nuts if you think I’d ever say yes to that. Now if you don’t mind, I’d like to die of funny syphilis in peace.”
“Offer’s still on the table.” And abruptly as it had arrived, the serious intent on Spike’s face melted away and left the petulant sociopath that Xander was far more comfortable with. “Course… you’d probably have to slit your wrists for me, not sure I can bite ya just now…”
Xander snorted, and let himself nap.
November 21, 2000: 6:30am.
"Every year, in November,
at the season that follows the hour of the dead,
the crowning and majestic hours of autumn,
I go to visit the chrysanthemums ...
They are indeed, the most universal,
the most diverse of flowers."
Xander pressed his lips against the soft plane of Anya’s forehead one last time before leaving the apartment. She mumbled something about Black Friday and rolled away, half burying herself under a pillow. Xander couldn’t help but smile. He was going to marry that woman; he’d made up his mind last night. As soon as he scraped the money together for a ring, as soon as the hellmouth settled down – as much as it ever did – he was going to propose.
“Fifteen percent…” she muttered into the comforter, and he left, practically floating on fizzy bubbles of adoration.
The sun was just starting to peek over the long sweep of distant desert, shockingly red spears of light throwing the carefully manicured lawns and houses into blood-orange relief. Xander’s route took him by Revello Drive, or rather, Xander detoured by the Slayer’s house for the express purpose of ensuring it was still there every morning before heading to the site. It was, and so was Spike, radioactive hair glowing from a deep pool of shadow near the fence, staring avidly at a familiar window.
Xander slowed down, drove at a crawl past the sprawling oak tree, and thought about pulling over. He thought about asking the vampire what the hell he thought he was doing stalking a Slayer, or who he thought he was, but he was unsure of the outcome. It was a conversation he could picture pretty easily, but Spike could be unpredictable, and Xander didn’t know if he would be walking away with a smirk or a black eye… and a smirk because sometimes it was worth it when Spike tried to hit him and got zapped for his trouble.
He watched Spike blow out a gust of cigarette smoke, foggy and spiraling upwards like the morning was frozen. Xander could picture it: “Hey Spike, what’s up? Take it you’re not here delivering a turkey?” “Fuck off, Harris, you…. British slang thing.” Or perhaps not.
Maybe: “What the fuck are you doing here, Fangless?” a flash of yellow eyes and a face full of toxic smoke, “None of your goddamned business, you sodding wanking gormless nancy”? Too much. Spike insults were hard to pin down, even in his head, but Xander was fairly sure that was where he’d be walking away with a black eye because he would try the physical intimidation thing, and Spike would actually succeed at it; he packed a pretty solid punch for such a little guy.
Better just to leave it because there was the third alternative, which scared him a hell of a lot more than being half-blind for a few days. The one that went, “What’re you doing here, Spike?” “What’s it look like, Harris?” And it would be Harris, in that dangerous low tone that Xander only ever heard when Spike was just about to hurt someone. “Looks like stalking…? Y’know, stalking Buffy seems like a bad idea.” “You rather I stalk you instead, pet?” “Probably not, no…”
No, he wouldn’t stop. There were too many possibilities, and if there was a strange twist in his stomach as he drove away, that was between him and his power tools.
November 26, 2001. 2:00am.
"The gloomy months of November, when the people of England hang and drown themselves."
- Joseph Addison
It was ridiculous to even think about, but god things were such a mess. He was happy, or at least he thought he was happy, or had the potential to be very happy, or something like that, living in that fragile space between the abject terror of growing up and actual contentment. His girlfriend – fiancée – loved him, he loved his job, and even most of the demons had backed off for a while because Buffy was back – and that was another happy thing. Sort of. But she certainly didn’t seem very happy about it.
Which was why Xander’s butt was molding itself even further into his corner of the Summers’ couch. Officially it was making sure no demons stormed the castle while the queen wasn’t home, less-officially it was Dawn-sitting, and Xander was taking the opportunity to re-familiarize himself with that most magical instrument, the boob-tube, spending a few hours away from Anya and the endless succession of wedding magazines and stationary and finances. She was going to be pissed at him; it was after two, and he was supposed to have been home by ten, but Willow wasn’t back yet, and Buffy was patrolling. Xander might not have been much use on the fighting front, but he wouldn’t ever abandon his post. Drift off at his post, sure, he had to be at the site by six, but abandon Dawn to…bedbugs or Blethly demons or a lack of cookies or any of a variety of potential problems he would not do. Still, it was a relief when Buffy finally came stumbling in the door.
She came in like a teenager caught past curfew, wide-eyed and frozen in her own foyer. The Buffster looked a little worse for wear when Xander quickly scanned her for injuries, circles under her eyes and almost gray with exhaustion, but not visibly maimed by anything outside her head. “Hey,” he said softly, but the panicked look didn’t fade away. He gave up and pried himself off the couch with a groan, shuffling towards home, towards home-sweet-home and his irritated girlfriend. Buffy didn’t move, and didn’t speak. “So… Willow’s not home yet…” he told her, like gentling a startled animal. Clearly not the time to bring up Willow’s complete absence, or the hissy fit that Dawn threw when it was turkey left-overs for dinner again. He could really only handle one damaged woman at a time, and tonight, Buffy was it. “But Dawn’s asleep… so I guess I’m gonna go home now?”
Finally a nod, but nothing else. Buffy’s mouth was tight and drawn, and she pushed her way towards the stairs, limping a bit, and Xander wanted to tell her good night, to have sweet dreams, or to keep up the good work but… she was stony and cold and not his Buffy at all. Reconciling her with that girl he’d been in love with was impossible – and he wondered how much this life had changed him – what he’d lost. The door shut behind him with a soft click.
Another click was Spike, with a bruise on his cheekbone and a freshly lit cigarette in his mouth, standing under his tree. He was practically glowing with self-satisfaction while Xander scrubbed a hand over his tired eyes. “Hey.”
This time he got a response, “Harris.”
“Don’t suppose that offer’s still open?”
Xander shrugged, it had been a ridiculous thought anyway. “Never mind. Have a good night, Spike.”
The vampire lifted an eyebrow, “You too.”
November 23, 2002. 8:45pm
“'Cause nothin' lasts forever
And we both know hearts can change
And it's hard to hold a candle
In the cold November rain."
- Guns N' Roses, November Rain
Spike was pensively picking at the label on the beer resting between his palms, staring into nothing. Xander was staring at him. He couldn’t help it – Spike had been subdued all week. Not particularly surprising, but Xander… didn’t know how to handle this new Spike, and wasn’t convinced he could, or even should, try to fix whatever was going on in the vampire’s head. He wasn’t the person to talk to about that kind of guilt but… that bottle had been empty for at least ten minutes, and Spike hadn’t moved. He didn’t want a return to crazyville.
He pushed himself to his feet because this couldn’t go on, “Get you another?”
“Should chuck me out.”
“Huh?” Xander checked his route to the kitchen and dropped onto the couch, maybe a little too close to Spike, who wasn’t looking at him and didn’t seem to mind. Whatever, it was his couch. “Why’d I do that?”
“I can’t control it,” the words sounded like they’d been dragged out by a rusty spoon, scraping the edges of Spike’s soul, and maybe they had. The vampire looked at him now, eyes gold and inexplicably furious across the narrow bridge of their shoulders, “I’m a fucking monster, and I can’t control it.”
Xander did something stupid. Since the chip had proven to be dodgy, he was taking his own life into his hands here – perhaps literally – but he did it anyway because Spike was scaring him for all the wrong reasons. He didn’t think about it much, just slung an arm around Spike’s shoulders like he would have with Buffy, friendly and supportive and indifferent to the fact that she – or in this case he – could have broken him in half.
Spike jerked like he’d been shot, snarling reflexively and snapping his unnerving teeth as he stuttered in and out of game face, fighting for no other reason than he thought he should. And suddenly Xander was panicking that he’d started something he couldn’t finish, and the casual arm around Spike’s shoulders evolved into something more like a hug.
It was stupid. He was stupid, and Spike would mock him for the rest of eternity for this but… the vampire was still, solid in his arms and beginning to wilt like a spring snowman. “I’m a monster…” the words crept across Xander’s neck as a whisper while the thawing snowman dropped his head in shame and exhaustion.
“Yeah…” Xander whispered back automatically, because there was nothing else. “You are. And you’re a shitty roommate. But I’m not kicking you out.” Finally, Spike pulled away, actually met his eyes, and Xander was washed with relief and disappointment, a curious emotion he blamed on his constant proximity to women. “You’re an okay guy, Spike. And we need you.”
“Yeah.” And that seemed to be that. Xander stood up, smoothed the wrinkles out of his shirt, and shot Spike a grin. “It’s a Saturday night… I’m gonna go see if there’s a girl in Sunnydale who won’t want to disembowel me.”
“Hah. Not likely.”
“Harris…” Xander paused and managed to turn around without flinching, “I’ll come with. Keep the beasties from eating you.”
April 22, 2004. 11:13pm.
"It's mornings like this;
The stingy sun trying to hold back
Even the warmth of its reflection
Flashing coldly in the lake.
When November leaves drop in sudden gusts,
Like a red and yellow flock of birds
Swooping at once to ground.
Or even nights:
When winds reach wet hands
To take you spinning with random paper
Down back street gutters, under straining bridges
To clogged rivers.
The time of year, along with spring,
When poets must take care
Not to sing the same old songs
Stolen from tribal memory."
- Thomas R. Drinkard
Spike ran into the Slayers in the oddest places. Dank, dangerous holes where a cute little nothing could be eaten alive. He supposed that was why; he followed trouble, and trouble followed the skinny little girls that sparkled with power. Little girls he sometimes dimly recalled from those horrible months under the First’s thumb, and sometimes they remembered him. Tertiary members of an extended Scooby family, they squealed when they met him, extended warm hands and warm hugs that he backed out of from shock or fear or self-loathing by turns. They pelted him with questions and eager puppy eyes, and they were always a bit miffed to see him go, but they weren’t what he was looking for. Spike didn’t know what he was looking for, but little girls playing at Slayer for dress-up weren’t it.
The last one had skin the color of walnuts and a braid that swung around her hips. Her eyes were black sparkles, and she practically danced a jig when she saw him, half slayer blood half innocent excitement. “You’re Spike!” She told him like he hadn’t known, “Xander’s told me all about you!”
He hadn’t known that, hadn’t expected ever to hear the name again and it bit into him like electricity. Its unexpectedness propelled him forward, curiosity and some backward cousin of hope burning in his guts. He couldn’t help himself. He asked the obvious question. Then he asked again.
Spike lurked behind a brightly colored fruit stand that was draped with canvas for the night, stalking his prey. The lone figure sat hunched on a damp pavement stoop, not quite protected by the rusty sienna awning that jutted just off the tight, meandering little street. He was settled carefully against the open door, reading by the spill of warm light that poured out around him, squinting and tracking with a single finger that he used to pin each word to the page. The vampire watched as he sneezed, wrinkled his nose, and reached backwards into the house for a tissue without looking away. Spike found himself smiling.
“Hrm?” A single dark eye glanced quizzically in Spike’s direction, widening as Xander’s clever face blanched shock-white. There was the same dark hair and the same long jaw sagging open with surprise, a handful of years and several thousand miles removed. He’d hardly changed, still that boy from so long ago when the rest of the world had become old and dry. Still that boy whose color was returning and whose mouth was blooming into a grin so wide his head threatened to topple off.
Xander stood, abandoning his book with his face full of welcome, hand rising like he wanted to touch but couldn’t, not yet. His voice was strangled, “Spike…?” The vampire managed a magnificent feat of self-restraint and said nothing. “Laneah told me she ran into you.”
Spike couldn’t speak. It would have been so easy to have taken a seat on the stoop, to crack a joke and a beer and pretend he’d been passing through. It would have been just the thing, an easy evening and the kind of gentle ribbing that would have Harris foaming at the mouth, then back to his life, such as it was, skulking in shadows and waiting for the crisp roll of autumn to lengthen the nights again. And perhaps that’s what he would have done, but then Xander spanned the foot of distance between them, fingertips hesitant against his forearm, testing and they both knew why.
Harris’ face must have been aching with the strain of happiness, and Spike decided it was time for something new. “I’ve missed you.”