By the Blessing of the Dark
He hadn’t really said goodbye to anyone but Spike. He loved them all, Buffy, Dawn and Willow, but he felt so removed from them, so distant, that he had no idea what he could have said that would have made sense to them. Since he had fallen in love with Spike and experienced Alexander’s life, he had become a stranger even to himself.
His eyes and throat throbbed from holding back tears for so long; his hands ached from gripping the steering wheel, and his back was cramped from sitting. He refused to stop to sleep. Sleep would bring dreams, and while Xander had never been much of a dreamer, he had a feeling, just a feeling, that his dreams were not going to be pleasant. The last dream he remembered having was of heather and snow. It had been at Halloween.
He cracked the window to get some fresh air, shifting in the car seat to relieve the stiffness in his legs. He let his hand fall out of the open window and float on the passing air, it distracted him for a moment before he fell back into introspection, trying to ferret out the source of his desperate urge to flee Sunnydale.
Even before he had left, his discontent, his dissatisfaction, had been driven by something more than his inability to accept Spike as a lover. Oh, that had been a very large part of it, but there had been an unidentifiable more. Even now, with all the peace and quiet and time to himself that he could ask for, Xander couldn’t put his finger on what had gone so wrong. With Thomas destroyed and the curse broken, he should have felt safe, content even. Instead he had felt even more fractured, incomplete, somehow. The drugs, the pot and the E, had helped in those last few weeks before he had made the decision to leave, but they weren’t the missing piece, they didn’t mend whatever was still broken.
Xander‘s thoughts were becoming muddled as he slid toward sleep, and the car was drifting from lane to lane, when he felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up and an icy chill waft through the muggy heat of the car’s interior. He looked up, forcing his dry eyes to focus on what had appeared in front of him on the highway.
Holy shit. Xander jerked the wheel and sent the car careening sharply off of the road into the ditch. He sat, trembling, clutching the wheel, breathing in short gasps. His head felt warm where blood oozed from broken skin. One blurry glance at the windshield told him that he’d cracked it, hence the headache. The car, bless it, was still running, but with one headlight broken and the other casting eerie shadows into the desert. He tried to move, slowly. There wasn’t anything broken, thank God.
He breathed a heavy sigh, noting the tenderness in his chest where the seatbelt had probably bruised his ribs. “Jesus,” he muttered. There had been a woman in the middle of the road. A woman dressed in rags, with long, dark hair. She had appeared, for that brief moment, to be as solid as the rocks silhouetted against the night sky, albeit pale and thin. But Xander knew, he just knew, that when the dust settled and he looked back at the highway, she wouldn’t be there.
Ghosts no longer truly had the power to scare him. After everything he had faced, particularly in the last months that he had lived in Sunnydale, ghosts were somewhat familiar and comfortable. A little too familiar, Xander thought, I see dead people. He chuckled to himself at that thought as he wondered, briefly, if it was a new skill. Maybe he finally had something valuable to offer the Scooby Team. No, probably not. But he certainly wasn’t going to consider the alternative. This was how it had started last time; Thomas and Robbie had haunted him and Spike, causing, in the end, well, this. This headlong flight from home. That haunting was over now, though. There was no reason-- no reason at all-- that he should be getting visits from the ghosts of his past any longer. Those ghosts had been laid to rest. Literally.
So, to hell with the Ghost of Christmas Past, Xander thought, scanning the dark, empty road. Been there, done that.
He rubbed a hand over his tired eyes, feeling the grit of sleeplessness grate against the lids. His first thought when he’d seen the woman, his first, damning thought, had been to call Spike. He knew he couldn’t do that. He couldn’t call anyone. He was going to have to deal with things like this by himself now. He would get the car back on the road and go on-- by himself.
Xander told himself, looking out at the never-ending desert, that he’d made the right decision. The only decision he could. He was resigned to life in the dark, to life without Spike. So, he was surprised when a tear fell onto his hand and then another. Then, he couldn‘t hold back. The pent up emotion washed out of him. Xander laid his head on the steering wheel and sobbed, ignoring the pain. He was too absorbed in his own sorrow to hear the softer, more feminine cries that mirrored his own, echoing into the night.
And so, it
was here, on a dark highway in the California desert, that he realized
that he was alone. For the first time in his life, he was truly adrift,
with no place and no one to come home to.
December 27, 2003. Las Vegas.
It was a couple of days after Christmas. Xander pondered on the exact date for a moment before dismissing it as irrelevant, as the lights of The Strip swam and danced in his line of vision. He also had no idea what time of night it was; it was, after all, the city that never slept. That suited Xander just fine. He had discovered that you could take the boy out of Sunnydale, but you couldn’t take Sunnydale out of the boy. He still kept vampire hours, no matter how hard he tried not to.
He didn‘t want to sleep, anyway. It turned out that his odd little premonition about his dreams had come true. The farther away from Sunnydale he got, the worse the dreams became, and more drastic measures were required to avoid them. The damned thing was, the dreams were vague, and there was no real image for Xander to latch onto and analyze. Whenever he dozed, he dreamt of mist and blood in the rain, and awoke with feelings of crushing lonelines, heartache and, of course, fear. It was as if something had been torn away from him, not just Spike, but something even deeper, something more than Spike. So, Xander dismissed the hollow ache, the lingering depression and the frantic feelings of loss, as the necessary pain that came from ending his relationship with Spike.
He didn’t think about the fear. And he tried not to sleep.
He had just lost the little money that he had left for gas and food at the blackjack tables in the MGM. He’d thought it’d be fun to gamble with money. Why not, he thought. I’ve been gambling all my life with things that are much more valuable than money.
Celebrating the loss of his cash, he slipped his last little white ecstasy pill (the only one left from the night before he had left Sunnydale) under his tongue and went for a walk.
A voice in his head, one that sounded suspiciously like Willow, chided him for his recklessness. He pictured his friend, all glowy and shiny in his head. Gambling, Xander? she asked, scrunching up her nose. Why? He shrugged, fascinated momentarily with the feel of warm concrete beneath the soles of his shoes. Why not? Don’t have anything else to do. Besides, worldly possessions don’t mean anything, anyway. They just hold you back, right? The whole rich man in heaven bit. Right? If I get rid of everything, then maybe I’ll figure out what it is that’s missing . . . Willow looked at him with sorrowful eyes. The look on her face was familiar and Xander knew why he had pictured her with it. It was the one that said, ‘if you come home, Xander, we can fix it for you. We always fix each other’s messes, we always have.’
Not this time, Will. And with effort, Xander banished the angelic Willow image from his mind and continued to walk, unconcerned with where he went, or if he ever got there. He had left Sunnydale, he had left his friends and he had left his one, true love behind. It was only appropriate that he lose everything else.
As he ambled along someone pinched his arm. Oh. It was one of his fellow blackjack players. A black-haired girl, almost as tall as he, and she was speaking to him very seriously. The harder he concentrated, the harder it was to understand her. He shrugged and followed her onto a shuttle bus. At first he had thought she was the woman on the desert highway, but she wasn’t. Thank God.
They got off the bus at the Hard Rock, and Xander was too fucked up to read the marquee, he just stumbled after the girl into the concert, smiling muzzily at her as she paid for his ticket.
It had been hot outside, but it was stifling in the close confines of the Hard Rock theater. The bodies were packed in so close to Xander that he couldn’t tell where he ended and the others began.
He didn’t recognize the opening act, but it didn’t matter because the music was loud and the girl he was with was working her hands into his pants as they swayed and ground together to the beat.
And they didn’t slow down when the band left the stage; Xander was just getting started, chasing all nasty words like preference, lifestyle, partner, and soul mate, out of his dizzy mind.
But, when the first chords of the headliner’s guitar broke through the screams of the crowd, Xander stopped dead in mid-grind. Ohnofucknoplease. He couldn’t help himself, it was like the morbid urge to stare at a car accident; he turned toward the stage just as the first words of the song washed over him like ice water.
From where Xander was standing he could see the leather jacket and the trademark bleach blond hair as Billy Idol strutted across the stage to the resounding shrieks of the audience. Xander didn’t even have time to move before he vomited all over the black-haired girl.
will burn you
Xander left Vegas that night, taking the cash from a wallet that he’d lifted from a drunk in an alley who’d asked him for a blowjob.
As he was staggering
out of the alley, he caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of
his eye. It couldn’t be the drunk. Xander had knocked him cold. He had
learned some things living in Sunnydale; it made incapacitating a drunken,
middle-aged gambler fairly easy. Xander was, perhaps, mildly surprised
that he felt no remorse for what he’d just done. He reasoned that there
was a thin line between the demons in Sunnydale that he’d killed because
they’d wanted his body, either just to kill, or to eat, or to use in a
ritual, and the mean, ugly, little man who’d wanted to use Xander’s body
for his own twisted purposes.
He shook his head, trying to clear it of the cobwebs that seemed to have taken up permanent residence there. It wasn’t the drunk, and when Xander’s vision cleared he saw that it wasn’t the dark-haired woman either. It was a thin, wide-eyed child. It was too young, and its hair was too long for Xander to tell if it was a boy or a girl.
He dropped to his knees and stared. A burning feeling of love and loss threatened to overwhelm him. Images slithered though his mind of smoke and rain, and he could hear the sounds of screaming over the horrible, unfamiliar racket of gunfire. There was an intense pain in Xander’s stomach, incapacitating him. When the child turned to walk away, Xander tried to crawl after it, too stunned to call out, but positive that he had been in this position before. He was so lost in the moment that when he held a hand to his belly he expected to feel a wound. He was unharmed but he couldn’t reach the child, and it faded into the night.
Xander was left, on his hands and knees in the filth of the alley, alone again, with only money stolen from a drunken john in his pocket for comfort.
December 29, 2003. Green River, Utah.
Xander had made it as far as St George, Utah, just across the Nevada border, on the morning of the 28th before pulling the car into a truck stop and sleeping most of the day away. He hadn’t wanted to, but he was sure if kept driving he would have killed himself or someone else when he passed out at the wheel. He awoke feeling dirty, sick and afraid. He was particularly afraid that if he didn’t keep moving, he was going to turn around. How in God’s name did it come to this? Where did everything go wrong? Xander wondered as he drove north through the cold Utah night. I know. Fuck it. I was never supposed to live this long. I can’t make it work; I can’t hold it together. Spike should’ve let me die. Saving me has only made things worse. I didn’t ask to love like this. I didn’t ask to want the pain, to love the pain. It’s not me. It can‘t be me.
He did not think about children in alleys or dark-haired women on lonely desert highways.
He pulled into Green River a little past midnight on the 29th, stopping at another truck stop. He spent half of the cash he’d stolen on a full tank and a warm meal. It was meatloaf, and it was terrible. He was starting to doze off in his squeaky, sticky, red vinyl chair when a trucker shook him awake.
“Hey, kid. Wake up.” Xander jerked awake, looking at the man suspiciously. “Don’t freak out,” the grizzled man said, holding his hands out peaceably. “I just thought that you could use a little something to get you going.”
How cliché, Xander thought tiredly. He was a little shocked by the number of men who had propositioned him since he had been on the road. What? Do I have a sign or something?
The old trucker laughed. “It’s not what you’re thinkin’. Come outside with me.”
Half an hour later Xander was on the road again headed west toward Denver, alone still, but feeling better than he had in weeks. He was, as the saying went, bright eyed and bushy tailed. He didn’t have to worry about the dreams anymore, not if he didn’t have to sleep . . . He would come to Colorado as a brand new man with a shiny new addiction.
T B C