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Disclaimer: The characters belong to Joss and a bunch of lawyers. I only wish they belonged to me cause I'd make em do naughty things together forever. I'm just playing with them. No disrespect intended. No reflection on real persons or places intended. I'm not making any profit from this. This is strictly for entertainment.
Warnings/Squicks: Angst, Suicide Attempt. Maybe hankies needed? Major Character death/almost death?
Summary: Bad things happen to Xander.
Previous chapters: None
Notes: I dunno what you call this. Just the one short story. I'm working on my next chapters for TMTC and this pops into my head. It shakes me until my teeth rattle and hangs on like a bulldog. I couldn't get rid of it until I wrote it down. So here it is. It's sort of dark. Don't ask me where it came from. *Shrugs* If you catch any errors I'd be glad to hear about them.
Never For a Moment
The first thing he scents when he rouses, still muzzy from the blow to his head, is blood. That treacle sweet scent of human blood, it makes his mouth water, and his stomach clench, despite the yammering of the soul. And candles burning with a sandalwood and hot wax smell, bubble bath, and wine. The sharp citrusy scent of fruit tangs the air. And chocolate; the expensive rich dark kind that costs you your first born to purchase.
The second thing; he feels the burn of ropes, pulled tight, They dig uncomfortably into the skin of his arms and waist and legs. He flexes his muscles against the roughness of the ropes and they're tight. He knows he can work himself free of them, it'll take a while, but he's patient. So he relaxes and gathers more information.
There is duct tape across his mouth; he can feel the sticky tightness of it wrinkling the skin of his cheeks, and scoring the skin of his neck, pressing his lips against his teeth.
The third thing; he hears the soft splash of water and the uneven breathing of a human. The heart beats in a hypnotically slow rhythm despite the unevenness of breath.
The fourth thing; he sees as he opens his eyes and blinks, despite the ache that pounds persistently behind his eyes, an old fashioned claw foot bathtub. He shakes his head and closes his eyes, sure this is some kind of hallucination. But when he opens his eyes it's still there. A small questioning sound escapes from his throat, dropping into the oppressive silence.
A rough velvet voice shocks into the quiet like the first icy drops of rain that hits bare skin on a cold winter's day.
"You finally awake?”
The body in the tub moves and the water ripples. He can hear the liquid sliding across smooth flesh and sloshing along the sides. Lap, lap, lapping like tiny ocean waves caught on a miniature porcelain shore. And the clink of metal against the rim of the tub.
His eyes trail up from the old-fashioned claw feet to the body of the tub and settle on the occupant. His eyes pause on a foot perched casually of the rim of the tub; the toes curl slowly then relax.
A motion, a new movement snags his attention and his gaze moves to the head and shoulders he can clearly see from the place where he's bound body and mouth. A tiny noise escapes his throat and falls into the air.
The head rolls over on the towel folded beneath it, to look at him. He lets his eyes rest on the face of the boy; no, young man, who rests at ease against the back of the tub. Rich sable hair curls in the damp heat from the water, the tips spread and wave with the movement of the water just beneath the surface.
The face turned to him is worn with care, and as haggard and hungry as any junkie in withdrawal. Dark circles resting like bruises beneath dull dead eyes. His gut wrenches painfully and steel bands tighten around his chest as recognition steals over him.
"Sold my ass on the streets for three weeks to buy this stuff.” The rough velvet voice slides out again in that cracked mockery of a conversation. "I managed to avoid that for years, but it was the only way to get money quick. I guess it was worth it. I couldn't get a job stripping anymore. They told me I looked too strung out.” He snorted "And drugs are the one thing I've never done."
Anger spears through him at the casual indifference the young man shows about selling himself for a few short-term luxuries.
"I waited you know? Just like you told me. You said you'd come back. So I waited. I waited for six days in that dump. I didn't leave for a minute. I was afraid I'd miss you, that you would show up and I wouldn't be there. They had to come and drag me out kicking and screaming. Took me straight to the hospital. Almost died from dehydration. I waited for almost a year. Then one day I just gave up. I knew you weren't coming back."
He listens as the young man talks about what his life has been like, in that awful conversational tone as though he's speaking about nothing more important than the weather.
Pain clamps down on his chest. Guilt and sorrow make his eyes water as he listens to the tale of a life of despair. Gone is the sunshine and the laughter he remembers. The innocence. The generous shining spirit.
A sardonic laugh comes from a throat too long without laughter. It grates on his ears with the sound of rusty gears that someone neglected to oil.
"She found out I lied about that stupid spell. When she finally decided to show her face again that is. One sleepover night with the witchy wonder and the rest of my world fell apart. I didn't try hard enough I reckon. Couldn't bring myself to care enough. She wouldn't listen to me. None of them would. They all just left me. Wouldn't talk to me anymore. Told me she hated me, not to come around, didn't want me or need me."
"The funniest thing was she didn't have to send him to Hell. All she had to do was get his blood on that sword and throw it in. No one said anything about throwing his whole body in. But her mistake was my fault too. Someone don't know which one of em it was, talked to my boss and told him something or other that got me fired. Couldn't find another job after that and my folks kicked me out of the basement. Couldn't stay in school with no place to live and I didn't want to see their faces there every day."
A hand breaks the surface of the water and feels around until it finds the long stemmed wine glass resting on the floor. A pause while the head lifts and the goblet tilts. The sound of swallowing is loud in the quietness. Then another clink as the glass set carefully back in place on the tiled floor.
"Found an abandoned warehouse that was halfway secure and took up residence. Started shoplifting the little food I ate. And I waited. I slunk around town and spied on them hoping I'd hear your name, but I never did. She caught me one time. I guess I was too careless. Beat me up pretty bad. Didn't see them again after that. After a year I gave up waiting. One day I just accepted you were never coming back. I died that day. My body just didn't get the message then."
A far away look slips over the tired face.
"It's funny you know?” The lips twist. "I can't remember the date. You would think the date of my death would be a memorable thing. But I don't. Remember that is."
He flexes his muscles against the rope. Every flex stretches the fibers just a tiny bit more. He watches the young man and listens to what he isn't saying. What lurks between the lines of speech.
"I disabled a few fledges and rifled their pockets. Bought a bus ticket to LA and just drifted. But it's kind of hard to keep a job when you're dead and you don't have anything left to care with anymore. Makes for sloppy work habits, and mistakes that get you fired from shit job after shit job. I started stripping. But after a while of not eating and drinking myself unconscious every night. My looks started to suffer. I couldn't do that work any more either. A dancing corpse isn't too sexy."
The hand resurfaces with a soft splash and reaches over the edge of the tub, grasps one of the little bottles on the floor next to the glass of wine. It rises and those terrible bruised eyes look at it for a long moment, Fingers twist off the top. The sound of the contents rattle in the bottle as it tilts and empties with the sound of a death.
The need to get free is surging in him as he watches the sable haired youth. He flexes and works the ropes with no noticeable movement. But it doesn't matter anyway. The monologue continues after the bottle is empty.
"So four years later I'm wandering the streets of LA making plans for this day. Just panhandling and I happen to see a familiar head of hair. I heard you laughing, saw you smiling, happy. I started selling my ass that night to whomever would pay for it. Saved everything I could and got this place for three days."
The dull eyes wander over the room and then rest on his face for a second. Then he rests his head back on the towel again as if too weary to keep it upright.
"You might think this is about you. This isn't about you. It's all about me. Finally. Just me and no one else. I chose you because of the memories. That and I know you'll live a long time. So maybe once in a while I'll drift into your thoughts and someone will remember that I existed at one time. That once I was alive."
The hand reaches down slowly to the floor again and picks up the wine glass. A crystal ringing peals out as the base of the glass taps the rim of the tub as it rises. More swallows in the dimness, the wine drains away to drops in the bottom of the glass. The steady thump of the heart beat as it slows slightly is noticeable already. A flare of light reflects as the glass is tossed onto the floor carelessly. The glass breaks and scatters into jagged pieces like the sound of a life shattering; and the few drops of dark red wine that cling to the inner surface stains the tile like the last drops of heart's blood.
"You let me pretend for a while that I mattered. That you loved me. That I deserved love like everyone else. It was the happiest time of my entire life even if it wasn't real. I knew it was lie, but I'm the one who let myself believe it." A sad wistful look flitted over the the haggard face. "It was nice to pretend for a while though, that someone really cared about me. It's kind of ironic isn't it? That out of all the people I had around me, one soulless evil creature made me feel alive; loved for just a brief moment in my whole life. It's not your fault I forgot, and let myself believe it. So that's why you're here. I'm not angry with you. This isn't a final gesture of revenge. I just quit. I'm not playing the game of make believe anymore."
Another twist of lips. "I just figured it out is all. I've been invisible for so long. There must be something intrinsically wrong with me. That's why no one loves me for long, or at all. I have something missing. Some vital thing that everyone else has and I don't. I gave everything I had. My body, my heart and soul, my very blood. And it still wasn't enough. No matter how much I give it's never enough. No matter what I do it'll never be enough. No one knows me. No one will miss me. It won't even register with anyone that I'm gone. I died four years ago, it's time for my body to get the memo."
The heart beat slows a little more, The watcher flexes and flexes, the ropes are not quite as tight as they were before. Just a little more and he'll be free.
"I tied the ropes tight, but I know you'll get free sooner or later. By then it'll be over. Have someone cremate my body and wash the ashes down the drain. I don't want my ashes in an urn somewhere. I want every trace of me to be erased. I don't want a funeral. I don't want a grave, or a marker. I don't want any words from anyone. They're not worth much to the dead and they should have been said while I was still alive."
His words slur slightly and he looks a little groggy, but he reaches down to the floor again and picks up an open bottle sitting there; pours it over his arm, rubs it in with his fingertips. The excess drips into the water with the sound of the tears he can't shed.
"No one said I can't be comfortable," he says with a bitter smile. He treats the other wrist the same way, fumbles on the tile for a piece of jagged glass. He rests the point of the glass against his pulse and he draws it down towards his elbow, the glass gouges in hard and deep. Then he switches to the other wrist and repeats the gesture. Blood wells up and he drops his arms into the water staining it pink. He shifts his shoulders to a more comfortable position on the towel. Lays his head back and closes his eyes with a sigh of relief. "Not long now. It's over. Finally. I can have peace."
The ropes finally give to frantic pulling and twisting, the last strands snap with a loud pop that draws no interest from the tub's occupant. He reaches up, claws the tape away from his face, and leaps toward the tub. The heartbeat slows and stutters like clock winding down. There is no time for hospitals or blood transfusions. No time left to save his lost boy.
He grabs one arm out of the water and changes to his true face. His fangs drive deep into cooling flesh and he draws hard and swallows. The bitter taste of despair, loneliness and barbiturates, flood his mouth. He almost can't bear the taste of it. There isn't much blood left. The rest of it is dying the cooling water in swirling patterns of red.
The color of it brings the old mariner's rhyme crazily to mind as he slashes his wrist and forces the jaws open.
Red sky at night mariner's delight. Red sky in the morning sailor take warning.
Dripping his own blood into an open mouth. "Come on drink you silly sod. I'll not lose you this time. Went back for you. I did. Kept my promise. It was all real. It was real." He sobs, tears making his voice hoarse and harsh. "You must have just left town. Beat the slayer half to death to get news of you and she didn't have any news to tell. Near cracked my unbeating heart in pieces. Then the soldiers got me. Then I burned up to save the world. Came back as a ghost and you must have seen me the day I got my bloody body back. There's never a moment you haven't been on my mind night or day, Xander, since I took Dru away."
"Never for a moment."
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