Sequel to Modus Vivendi
Story notes: There was widespread dissatisfaction with the
ending to Modus Vivendi.
In general, most plaintiffs requested an ending in which Xander stayed with
Spike and their relationship continued to develop. I thought about that for a
while, and came up with this.
To understand this story, you should probably read Modus
first. Then you should forget everything that occurs after Xander falls asleep
questioning his sanity in Chapter 13. In other words, we are taking advantage
of the fine Whedon-approved tradition of Alternate Universes, and positing that
Angel never showed up, and Xander never left the loft.
This ending isn't intended to abjure the previous ending. You
can pick whichever one you like. Or dislike least, as the case may be. Feedback
is welcomed at the usual location.
All thanks to Peasant,
who is always right, and Indri,
who read generously under adverse circumstances.
He lies awake in the dirty sheets, listening to the music and
the sweep of feet in the kitchen.
They’re speaking in Spanish, English, some French and German and God
knows what, and a few times he hears his own name in the mix. Xan-der, rolled with amusement off a
woman’s tongue. The music is all
Spanish. It’s about love—amor, mi
amor, no me abandona mi amor—and the singer’s voice is taut and
plaintive. It’s a song on its
knees. They’re dancing through it,
It’s warm out there. He
can hear the hum and the occasional tetchy thump from the generator: the sound of heat. He wouldn’t dance, but he could go out and sit with his back to
the wall, just sit quietly and drink whatever was handed to him, and soak in
the warmth. Listen to what they’re
saying about him. It would be an
appealing thought if he were someone else entirely. If the people in the kitchen were other people. If they were people.
A bottle falls and starts to roll, and the record skips, and he
binds the sheet tighter over his shoulder. He doesn’t have a watch anymore, but
the moon has been out of the window for hours. It’s getting late. They’ll go
soon. The music will go with them, and
the house will fold back into a pile of dry boards, empty at its core. A dead man practising philosophy on the
Or maybe not. Maybe this
will be the night he’ll appear, throwing a long black shadow in the yellow
light from the hall. He’ll have a bottle in his hand, and he’ll smell of booze
and smoke and anticipation, and maybe he’ll rap his knuckles against the
doorframe ironically, or maybe he’ll just stand there, waiting to be asked in.
all the time. His clothes are California clothes, and this isn't California.
It's the Empire state, which sounds grand but isn't. They're in some silent,
gutted ghost town, putting up in a gangling bare-boards pile left over from a
time when people built them tall and skinny, with lots of narrow stairs.
There's no heat, no electricity. There aren't enough blankets. It's November
now, and November in the Empire state means snow.
frozen in place here for more than a week, which means they should be due to
move again soon. But Spike’s not showing any signs of leaving. He’s stopped
talking about finding Liv, and though he’s mentioned friends in the city, he
hasn’t said anything about going there. Hard to imagine what Spike, of all
people, sees in a boarded-up ghost town in the middle of winter. Hard to
imagine why they’re stalled here, while Spike tinkers with the DeSoto and makes
careful conversation and a bed on the couch.
just road fatigue; they've covered a lot of ground since the chip came out,
because Spike wanted to see everyone. Wanted to show off. They've been laying a
bloody trail east across the nation, and sometimes Xander wonders what's
stopping Buffy or Angel from picking up a newspaper and figuring this out, and
just showing up on the doorstep with a stake and dustpan. They used to be good
at this research stuff. But maybe it isn't that easy to put this together, or
maybe once evil leaves the orange grove, they don't bother with it anymore.
Maybe they just aren't looking in the first place.
tough for him to pass judgment on what they are or aren't doing when he's so
thoroughly occupied in doing nothing, himself. From time to time he thinks
about a decision he made in another lifetime; he was just going to give up and
let himself fall. When he made that decision he was sitting in an armchair,
drinking a glass of bourbon. He was warm and there was food in the fridge and
all he had to do was sleep and watch television and mind his own business. That
was a pretty good life. He's such an idiot.
He puts on
three or four shirts, and the one sweater that’s made it this far, and goes
down to the kitchen to boil some water. There’s no hot water here, and that
makes it doubly weird that they’ve lasted so long, because Spike likes baths.
At first it seemed like a girlish kind of thing for him to like, but after a
week of being cold, Xander gets it. Baths warm you up. There's a little window
just after Spike's come out of a bath, after he's cooled down from the weird
overheated feverish stage, and before he's back to room temperature, when he
feels human. His skin is the right temperature, and even his mouth is warm.
That's nice, in a way.
still a little light when he comes into the kitchen, and a moth beating against
the window pane to get out. As he watches, it falls to the sill and lies there.
It's too cold for moths, and this one's days are numbered whether it comes or
goes. He studies it for a minute, then takes the pot from the sink, fills it at
the banging, jerking faucet, and lights the little gas range. The flame is
beautiful in the half-light, a ring of soft blue teeth.
close to the flame pretending he can feel some warmth from it, and watches the
unmoving moth. There are other bug husks on the sill around it, a few flies,
some cobwebs. Below the sill there's a knothole in one of the boards, and he
can see the purple shadows cut into the snow bank outside. He's so used to
seeing his own breath indoors that he doesn't notice it anymore.
door slams and there's some cursing, and then Spike's boots start down the hall
toward him. Xander doesn't turn around when Spike pauses in the kitchen
serpentine's hanging by a thread."
He nods. The
serpentine went on the Nova, right after he got it. He can't remember how much
it cost to replace now, but it was enough that he had to borrow the money from
Anya. Serpentines didn't come cheap.
in and looks over his shoulder, as if he has to see it with his own eyes. As if
Xander hasn't boiled water here several times a day, every day. Xander doesn't
move, neither away nor toward. He just stands there, looking at what Spike is
looking at, which is the flakes of rust floating and settling in the pot.
minute Spike takes hold of the tail of his sweater and pulls him back a step.
"Don't go up in flames, will you?"
purses his lips and nods as if it were a serious consideration, and after
another pause, Spike walks out.
It used to
be much worse. Bad. Really bad. In the first weeks after Spike found his feet
again, after he was done shitting his intestines out in a bloody soup on the
bathroom floor, when he was just realizing that he'd really done it, really
shaken the chip—that was bad. A bad time. In his mind, Xander has it cataloged
under "A" for Awful, "M" for Miserable, and "F"
for Forgotten. Except of course it isn't really forgotten. Maybe the
"F" is for Fucked-Up.
Liv was gone
by then. She hung around just long enough to see Spike start walking again,
then skipped out before he got big and bad enough to stop her. Even now when Xander
thinks of her, he vacillates, trying to decide whether she knew what was going
on. She never said anything. Probably she didn't care. Probably she was too
busy figuring out how she was going to disappear with all that money. Sometimes
when he's trying to decide whether she knew, his mind takes a side trip and he
wonders whether she ever considered taking him with her. Or at least asking. He
might not have said no.
night Spike came back covered in blood—drenched in it, like he'd opened someone
up and rolled in the result—Xander was too shocked to say anything. He just
gaped when Spike dropped the duster and stood there like some kind of hellish
Keith Haring self-portrait, wearing a red T-shirt that had been white when he'd
gone out. He was leaving blood footprints. His skin was copper. The whitest
thing left about him was his grin, which was enormous. He was grinning with
pure delight, like a dog that had just retrieved and wanted to be praised,
wanted to do it again.
stood there, and in a minute Spike was all over him, kissing him and pushing at
him, knocking him down and then dropping down on top of him. There was a second
when Xander was lying splayed, shoving with his good arm, scrabbling uselessly
with his heels, and staring up into that bright bloodied face. He remembers
that face very clearly, even months afterward. There was nothing unusual about
it, really. Nothing outstanding, compared to what came after. It was just the
first time he'd seen Spike from quite that angle, seen the teeth from quite
that perspective, and known that everything so far had been play compared to
what was going to happen next.
Bad days. He
tries not to think about them. But he does.
that if he closes off a certain part of his mind, he can have lengthy
conversations with Willow. He can’t think about her very much when he’s here,
when something is demanding his attention in what he assumes to be the real
world—if Spike is in the room he can’t even think of her without panicking. But
if he’s alone, lying still with his eyes closed, and everything is quiet, he
can cut ties with reality and shoot the breeze for days.
are you now? Willow asks, and he considers.
York, upstate. Some little town, I don’t know what it’s called. Jesus, it’s
parts. Or spring, whichever comes first.
pause. Then, predictably, like a delicate elbow to the gut: He leaves you
alone all the time. Why don’t you go?
It was a
straight shot east from LA to Tucson, and somehow they crossed the border to
Nogales, though Xander can't remember exactly how. Spike drove, and Xander
spent a lot of time sunk down in the seat with his head in his hands, sick and
dizzy and exhausted. He had a lot of holes in his throat. He remembers
listening to Pistols at top volume, over and over, hating it more each time.
Spike's hand was always on the back of his neck or on his leg, and Spike was
singing along to the music, grinning and shouting and smoking a thousand
cigarettes. He remembers Spike pulling without warning into turnouts in the
middle of the night and spilling sideways into him, kissing him with a mouth
that tasted like an ashtray, calling him beautiful and biting down hard while
Xander flailed with both hands and found only the door handle, the seatbelt,
the floor. Once he clawed the glove compartment open, and a couple of old Playboys
slid out and smacked him in the forehead.
off the deep end in Mexico. Completely off, so Xander was afraid to be around
him or talk, afraid to draw his attention because he might do anything. He
bought a gun, or won it in a card game or something, and for a while he used it
laughingly to order Xander around. Turn on the telly, love. Close the
blinds, love. He'd sit on the bed and tip it indolently in Xander's
direction, smiling as if it were a shared joke. A few times Xander was just
sitting doing nothing, and he looked up to find Spike aiming the thing at him,
grinning. Come sit with me, love. Come sit on my lap.
For a while
he wondered if radiation could drive a person insane.
Spike had a
lot of friends in Mexico, and the longer they were there the more friends there
were to see. Word had started to spread about the chip being nuked, and
suddenly everyone wanted to greet the new, old Spike. There were endless brutal
bouts of drinking, impromptu wrestling matches, shootings, screamed insults,
tearful remembrances. Spike got into a fight with something that took the
bottom half of his right ear off, and for the week it took to heal he left a
dark red jelly on the pillows. He lost the gun at some point, which was a
or the food, or something, made Xander so sick he could hardly drag himself
back and forth to the bathroom. Spike wasn't disgusted; he thought it was
funny. He stood at the bathroom door while Xander crouched over the filthy
toilet, and laughed. When Xander emerged, shaky and reeking, he ambushed him
onto the bed and bit him again.
manic, irrepressible. He hardly slept at all. During daylight hours he turned
the radio and television on full blast and paced around the motel room,
occasionally dropping onto the bed where Xander lay, tearing the pillow off his
head, kissing or biting him or working at his clothes. At night he disappeared
alone or with a gang, and came back just before dawn with a bloody smile.
A few times
Xander wondered if he was going to die here. He couldn't much bring himself to
care, as long as the pain in his gut stopped.
of Spike's friends stuck his head into the room, scowled, and said something in
Spanish, fanning the air in front of his face. Spike laughed. Xander was lying
in a ball on the carpet by the bed, and Spike had to step over him to go out.
He leaned down and kissed Xander behind the ear, and the friend said something
else, and Spike’s fingers tangled briefly in his hair, and then they were gone.
Several hours later Spike came back and dropped a paper bag on the carpet in
front of Xander, then went into the bathroom and started the shower. There were
bloody fingerprints on the bag. Inside was a bottle of something chalky and
medicinal. It helped.
finally spooled out in Mexico; either Spike ran out of friends or he ran out of
interest. He was still hopped up, still obscenely pleased with himself, still
looking for trouble and spoiling for a fight. But he wasn't the crackling,
mad-eyed bastard he had been. He was slowing down. He was bored by the vicious
little towns now, and annoyed with most of the friends he'd tracked down. He
turned the car north, and again, like ghosts, they made it back into the land
of the free.
They were in
Texas, and Spike hated Texans, so they pushed east to Louisiana, and down to
New Orleans. Again, Spike knew everyone. They ended up staying a while, putting
up in a rotted old house in a kudzu-covered lot, lent to them by an old woman
without any eyes. There were a lot of cats in the place, all skinny and
out fighting and drinking in the evenings, and Xander slept or sat on the
perilous balcony, watching the cats stroll their little paths. The air smelled
thick. He had a bottle of cutrate tequila left over from Mexico, and he kept it
on his knee and from time to time remembered to drink from it. A raw, flaking rash had begun to blossom on
his neck and on the back of his left hand.
night Spike came back stoned, Xander couldn't figure out what was going on.
He'd never seen Spike like that before—sleepy, dopey, leaning in the doorway
with a dumb torpid expression, as if all the whirling spitting wheels in his
head had been wrapped in wool and packed away for winter. Xander sat staring at
him, trying to decide what to do, and eventually Spike shuffled forward and
laid himself out along the settee beside Xander, his head in Xander's lap, his
boots planted on the arm. He was boneless and heavy, and he didn't make any
still until it seemed that Spike had gone to sleep. Then he lifted the bottle
and took a careful sip. He was afraid
it would wake Spike up. But nothing woke Spike up—not a cat fight in the vines,
not a drunkard weaving up to the front of the house and yelling Spike's name over
and over for half an hour, then cursing, unzippering, pissing an age, and
wandering away again. Spike didn't move for hours, until the sky was dark blue
instead of black and the stars were starting to fade. Then Xander poked him in
the shoulder, and poked him again, and finally grabbed the collar of his coat
and shook him.
He woke up
looking confused, and then sheepish, and staggered inside to collapse on the
bed. Xander stayed put a little while, until some feeling came back to his
legs. Then he followed, and there was a day of utter motionless quiet, of just
lying together in sleep or half-sleep, as if the world had looked in an unused
back drawer, found some leftover mercy, and tossed it in his lap.
strangely, it's usually during the quiet spells, when nothing very bad has happened
for a few days—she won't leave it alone. He's going out tonight—why don't
you leave? Just put that Nancy Sinatra on and start walking.
he tells her. Once. Early on. It didn't…it didn't work out.
uneasily back over it, the night he just got out of bed and pulled his coat and
shoes on, walked out of the empty motel room and left the door ajar behind him,
as if he were just stepping out for a cigarette or some ice. It was a warm
night, somewhere between New Orleans and New York. The air smelled sweet and
industrial, and he found himself walking along the side of the highway, the
wrong side, with white headlights bearing down on him like ocean breakers. The
big trucks pushed a wall of warm foul air in front of them, and sucked him half
into the lane when they'd gone by.
knew it he was out of the oasis, and the night was black except for the
blinding stream of traffic, and he had no idea where he was going. It occurred
to him that he should try to hitch a ride, but he didn't want to hitch back the
way he'd come, so he waited for a gap and jogged to the far side.
backward with his thumb out, and nobody stopped. When he thought about it, he
realized he wouldn't have stopped either. Stopping for a guy like him, in the
middle of the night, the middle of nowhere—that was dumb. After a while he
dropped his thumb and just kept walking.
later a car did pull over, and he looked up and saw the familiar black shark
glaring back at him with red taillight eyes. He stopped walking and stood there
while it backed up. There were a few seconds to consider stepping out to his
left, into the path of the sixteen-wheeler that was blasting by.
passenger side door popped open. Spike was sitting looking at him silently, his
face white and hard in the dashboard glow. Xander got in.
Back in the
motel room, he expected to be hit or bitten or fucked against the wall, taught
a lesson of some kind. He kept his hands down at his sides and waited for it
with his shoulders up around his ears. But Spike just dropped the duster,
disappeared into the bathroom, and ran the water full blast. Xander waited, then finally gave up and
crawled into bed. He woke up to find Spike lying on his back on the far side of
the mattress, on top of the covers. When Xander moved toward him, he shifted
away. Xander swallowed and said, "I'm sorry."
reply for a minute or so, then said, "Don't be." His voice was quiet
still for a while, trying to think.
There was a strange feeling in the middle of his chest, as if some
thread were being drawn slowly out of him.
It hurt. He closed his eyes and
rubbed them hard. Then he moved over
and wrapped an arm tightly around Spike's chest. Spike tensed. After a minute
he raised one hand and patted the top of Xander's head a couple of times, as if
he didn't know how to touch him.
sorry," Xander repeated.
rested on the top of his head. "Fuck's sake," he said, quiet and
didn't say anything, just forced his other arm under Spike's back, so he could
clasp his hands against Spike's ribs. He squeezed hard. Hard as he could.
moved down the back of his skull and rested on the nape of his neck. After a
minute, he said, "You should go to sleep." His voice was a little
cheeks were burning. He pushed his face
into Spike’s side so he couldn’t see anything, so the world was pared to smoke
and skin and silence. The unspooling in
his chest was slowing, hurting less. He
could still feel the big trucks shuddering past, pushing and pulling, like
forces of nature.
know what all Spike did, but whatever it was, the end result looked pretty
good. He started to take an interest in the stuff that spilled out of Spike's
coat pockets at the end of each night. While Spike was in the bath, he went
through it. The white papers must be acid. The pills could be anything. The
little resinous wads were hash, he knew; plenty of times he'd seen Spike open
up a cigarette, drop the tobacco into a fresh paper, add a few bits from the
wad, and seal it all up to smoke. It smelled strong and sticky and kind of
nice. There were a few other things he couldn't identify at all: a little glass
bottle with an eye dropper; a weird gelatin, like Turkish Delight, wrapped in
paper and aluminum foil.
enough little paper squares that a couple wouldn't be missed. He put them in
his pocket and took them sitting on the porch, watching the cats, after Spike
had gone out.
About an hour
later he started to realize that he'd made a mistake. He was hearing a dull
roar just over his shoulder, and then voices in the house behind him, and every
time he jerked his head around to check on the speakers they traveled just out
of sight. The kudzu was rippling like a giant animal. A woman in heels walked
through the kitchen behind him, and asked who was that man sitting out on the
balcony. His skin began to crawl. His mouth tasted sour and dry.
He sipped a
little tequila to wet his mouth, and tried to close his eyes and ignore all of
it. A man with heavy feet came and stood over him in silence. He smelled of
sawdust. Xander opened his eyes and stared at the porch ceiling, where several
large delicate spiders, big around as dinner plates, were tentatively
circumnavigating the burnt-out bulb. He was afraid one would fall on him, and
he looked away. A cat sat yawning on the edge of the kudzu. It glanced at him,
looked away, then looked back with sudden malign intent. His heart began to
got back, Xander was curled in the bed with the sheet wrapped tight around him,
cold and sweating. He'd been listening to people come and go all night; Spike
was just one more. Then he sat down on the edge of the bed, and was real.
over and looked at him silently, not knowing what to say. Spike looked
startled, and put a cold hand on Xander's forehead. "You're all clammy.
You got a chill or something?"
his head. Someone dropped a plate in the kitchen and started cursing, and he
flinched. Spike reached out and pulled him upright, pulled him close, and
stared into his face. "Oh, fuck. What'd you take?"
Xander said. "I think."
it look like?"
the little paper squares. Spike winced. "How many?"
Spike's face was starting to distort, and he had to look away. "It was
stupid, I'm sorry, I didn't know—"
right." Spike's arm was around him, stroking his shoulder. "'s not
your fault, I shouldn't leave these things lying around."
morosely at that, and Spike kept stroking his shoulder and back. He felt a
little saner with someone else there. It was easier to ignore the goings-on
throughout the house, the sound of dogs belling in the yard, the odd movements
in the sheet. Spike pulled him down onto the mattress and for a minute he was
terrified there would be kissing or biting or something else, something he
couldn't possibly handle right now, but there wasn't. Spike just kept an arm
around him and asked him now and then how he was doing, and he said he was
time you want to try something," Spike said, "let me know first, all
right?" Xander nodded.
asleep with his head on Spike's chest, with the man and woman standing over the
bed arguing viciously in whispers.
an hour, he’d lost most of the feeling in his toes. Wait here, Spike had
said, slipping through the doors with a distracted smile, already tuned into
something he’d caught a whiff of somewhere inside. Big damn ugly building, and Xander didn’t want to know what was
inside it. He didn’t want to know what
made Spike’s chipless eyes light up like that.
He pulled his cap a little lower over his ears and tried to lose himself
in his coat. California coat, a coat
that got mocked and bullied by real cold.
Inner-city cold, snowless and savage.
thinking vaguely about trying the doors, maybe just getting inside the foyer
and waiting there, instead of out here on the street like a dog, when there was
a bang of locks and Spike strode out with the brilliant buzzing grin. He was
smoking a cigarette, crackling orange sparks. There was a little blood at the
corner of his mouth.
time to say anything, not that there was anything to say. Spike just rammed him
up against the wall and pushed a cold bloody tongue into his mouth, and there
was a cold hand popping the buttons on his coat, and the tip of the cigarette
was scorching his cheek. Xander coughed and squirmed, and Spike paused to flick
the cigarette away, then started on Xander’s fly.
here.” Spike grinned and shoved his hips up against Xander’s. Bone on
bone. It hurt.
Xander pushed at Spike’s hands, watching the street past his shoulder. “Not
here, Spike. Really. Come on, let’s at least—"
his face in Xander’s neck, made a deep snuffling sound, and started to press
down with his teeth. Xander twisted away. “Spike, I’m serious. Where’s the
left it. Come on, love—"
to the car.” He said it firmly, as if he were already walking away, though
really if Spike didn’t want to let him walk, he wasn’t going anywhere. After a
minute, Spike let him go and he stumbled free, buttoning his fly and his coat,
hoping that the whole thing had just looked like a mugging to anyone who might
remember exactly where the car was, but at least he started out in the right
direction, and after about a block Spike stopped walking a step behind and
started leading the way. He had another cigarette lit already. He was like
this, after eating. He smoked nonstop, talked a blue streak, couldn’t keep his
hands to himself. He looked at you like he wanted to roll right over you. Like
he was going to blast right through you.
was like this, Xander sank a little deeper into himself, kept quiet, and tried
to stay out of the way. It wasn’t easy. Spike looked for him. He wanted to kiss
Xander while he still had blood in his mouth, wanted to do all kinds of things
to him that ended up being messy and bloody and usually painful. The worst
thing was, he clearly wasn’t trying to be cruel. When he finished he wanted to
lie close, and if Xander pulled away he looked confused. Hurt.
was suddenly right there on the curb, and Xander slowed down. Back at the
building, the car had seemed like a good ploy. What could he do now to put it
off a little longer? The car wasn’t safe either; maybe he could tell Spike to
wait until they were somewhere else, until they had a room or at least until
they were out of the neighborhood. Spike passed the passenger door and opened
the back door instead. Xander stopped walking.
maybe—" He didn’t get the chance to say more; Spike turned and grabbed
him, yanked him half off his feet and shoved him into the car. Then he piled in
after and slammed the door, and they were a messy banging tangle of limbs,
Xander trying to get turned right way around and Spike on top, grappling with
him. Xander ended up with his head in the footwell, pinned, breathing hard.
Spike pushed his coat up and started to kiss his back.
too bad, so he just lay still for it, and after a bit Spike wedged a hand
beneath him, undid his fly, and started to stroke him. He was saying Xander’s
name under his breath in a singsong, half-laughing, as if Xander were the one
doing something unaccountable. His touch was light, and that was one thing you
had to give him; he was gentle in that department. He’d never bitten Xander
pushed up a bit, cautiously, and Spike let the pressure off so he could turn on
his side. Then they were spooning on the narrow seat, with Spike’s lips pressed
against Xander’s ear, saying his name over and over in an amused tone. Spike
started to move his hips very slightly, pushing Xander forward and letting him
swallowed and tried not to make any sound. Sounds could be interpreted in a lot
of ways, he’d found. Usually Spike considered them to be encouragement.
He lay still
and tried not to make a sound, tried not to jump to any conclusions about what
Spike wanted, but then Spike shifted his hips and pushed forward again, and
there wasn’t much doubt anymore.
fuck you, love,” he murmured. And there was no doubt at all.
stared at the rip in the back of the driver’s seat and tried to think. Spike worked
his other hand down between them and tugged at Xander’s jeans. Xander flinched,
then abruptly made a decision and squirmed around. It was dark in the car, but
there was just enough reflected light to see that Spike was smiling, that he
looked pleased and surprised.
beautiful,” he said, and pulled Xander in for a long kiss that tasted like
kissed back, and for a while he thought maybe that was enough, but then Spike’s
hands started working at his jeans again, harder this time. He gasped and
shoved Spike’s hands away, then wriggled down the seat and took Spike into his
The idea was
that this was better than the alternative. Better for Xander at least; less
painful and humiliating, on a scale of one to a billion, and if he could do
this right then maybe Spike would forget about the other. Sometimes it worked.
was doing it right or not, there was a pattern. At first Spike just seized up and lay rigid, with his eyes
screwed shut and his fists clenched. That was the easiest part, when he was
still grappling for control. Then he’d gasp quietly or make a weak sound deep
in his throat, and sometimes there would be time for Xander to feel a baffling
flicker of almost-fondness. He might
put a hand on Spike’s hip or stomach, and sometimes Spike’s hand would come
down and press overtop of his.
would open his eyes and watch, and the little sounds would turn to a string of
praise and curses, beautiful beautiful love fuck oh love, beautiful.
Xander tended to try to hurry it up at that point. It could get pretty furious
by the end, when Spike had forgotten to be gentle.
was no exception to the rule, except that when they got to the part where
Xander buckled down, Spike pushed him away. Xander looked up in confusion.
love, I want to fuck you.” Spike was smiling, tugging at his shoulder, running
one hand down his own belly to touch the wetness Xander’s tongue had left.
A black hole
opened in Xander’s chest, and he blinked. “Just let me—" he said weakly,
and tried to maneuver back in, but Spike stopped him and pulled him up.
Spike said, and kissed him. His fingers were in Xander’s hair, pulling the cap
off and scrubbing the scalp. “Want to be in you.” He got a hand in
Xander’s jeans and yanked them down, and when Xander let out a hopeless little
moan he growled back and pushed his tongue into Xander’s mouth.
It might be
funny, Xander thought, as Spike was pushing his own jeans down. It was such an
awkward, ridiculous, messy hobby. Someone should find some humor in it. Maybe
he would have, once upon a time. He used to be the guy with the smart mouth,
and he sure would have had something smart to say about this. About him trying
to turn over with his jeans still wrapped around his ankles, figuring numbly to
at least get it over with fast, and about Spike stopping him and pulling them
both upright, so they were sitting together, Xander across Spike’s lap. Spike
got rid of the jeans and made Xander face him, and they did it like that. Spike
said some ridiculous things about love and beauty, and Xander had to say some
stuff too; it was part of the deal. Hilarious. It must be. For someone.
along the line Xander picked up a map. It disappeared immediately, but he found
it later, stomped on the floor in the back seat, when he was rifling the car
for warm clothes. He keeps it under the mattress and looks at it sometimes when
Spike's out. It gives him a strange feeling to look back over the route they've
taken to get here. It gives him an even stranger one to run it backwards with
his finger, all the way back to the west coast where for some reason he still
imagines himself living, in his old apartment with the bead curtain and the
roaches. If he closes his eyes he can see himself waking up in the morning,
going to work, coming home. Reading the newspaper. Getting a bite from the
taqueria up the street. He can run the loop for hours, just watching himself do
unimportant things, going on about his life.
That was a
month ago, maybe more. The frozen wait outside the building, and the fiasco in
the back seat of the DeSoto, and the terrifying inner city tour that followed,
because Spike wanted to find the restored Masonic Temple: Detroit. The City
That Put the World on Wheels.
almost got himself torched in Cleveland, by three guys in a gas station. He
stood grinning and baiting them with a cigarette between his lips while the one
holding the fuel nozzle tried to work up the nerve to use it. Somehow, it
didn't happen. Later that night, in the motel room, Xander lay wondering
whether Spike thought he was faster than fire, whether he thought he couldn't
know anyone in Amish country, so in Pennsylvania he spent the night in. The
motel had an orange velour bedspread, which amused him for some reason. He said
it made Xander look Roman. By the time they left, the bedspread was mangled in
the corner, and Xander was walking slowly and carefully and with quiet
concentration, like Lazarus.
were in Jersey, and Spike was swigging from a flask and making Jersey jokes,
and Xander sat staring at the dashboard and nodding from time to time. After a
while the jokes petered out, and then they were just riding in silence through
the Garden State, mile after mile of slush-spattered freeways. Without really
thinking about it, Xander assumed they were going to the city. After a while he
realized that Spike had stopped smoking. He was just driving, both hands on the
wheel, looking sideways at Xander from time to time and frowning as if Xander
were someone he almost recognized but couldn’t quite place. Or didn’t want to.
go to the city, and Spike didn’t say why. They turned north instead, slipped
off the freeway at an exit Xander didn’t see, and drove straight to this house
as if Spike knew it. He broke the lock off the back door with the tire iron,
and they’ve been here ever since.
Willow says. So the leaving didn't go so well. It doesn't mean you can't leave
again. You can, you know. Leave.
respond to that, just sits thinking about the curve of her cheek, the smell of
her hair, the brown argyle sweater she's had since junior high. After a while
she gets the hint and moves on to something else.
learning new stuff, really cool stuff. Locator spells, and retrieval spells,
and spells for making time go backward so you can undo stuff that's happened.
he says. Did I tell you about that place in Terre Haute? With the Wiccan
Wednesdays, twenty percent off all mortar and pestle sets?
go there sometime. You can stock up on nasty herbal stuff.
first you have to come back.
Talking to Willow has been getting harder lately; she's more insistent, she needles
him more. More and more, she's forcing him to account for himself, and he can
never do it, so he just falls silent. It's starting to worry him, because what
if it gets to the point where they can't talk at all? He doesn't think he could
Look, he says. I have
to be honest here, Wills. I don't know whether I'm going to make it back there.
silence. It's the first time he's said anything like this, to her or to
himself. Well, it's all to himself, he knows that, but she seems so real—
Cleveland? she says. She's got her serious face on, the one that's always
creeped him out, because it's so cold and purposeful and unlike her. Remember
that gas station in Cleveland?
those guys, with the gas hose?
could do that, she says. He's not invulnerable, Xander. He just thinks he is.
You could burn him, or stake him, or open the curtains when he's sleeping—
away from her in his mind, shaking his head.
doesn't keep close tabs, you could surprise him—
No, he says. No, I
can't do that—
done it before, you've killed lots of them, and what about the people he's
killed, what about the things he does to you—
A spasm goes
through him when she says that, and he groans and wants to cover his ears like
a child, but it wouldn't help. No, he says, over and over. I can't
do that, I can't—
could use his lighter. Break a chair up for a stake. Visit a church and get
some holy water—
No. No, I
are you talking to?"
He jerks and
lies rigid under the blanket, blinking in the half-light. Spike is standing in
the doorway, his coat still on, staring at him. Xander just stares back, his
mouth open in shock. After a minute Spike steps in and peers around the room.
talking to yourself?" he says. When he looks back at Xander, his
expression is disturbed.
thinking, Xander puts out a hand, and Spike comes over at once, crouches down,
and takes it. "Got cold little hands," he says, rubbing the fingers
and then kissing them. Xander watches him in a trance. Has he been having these
conversations aloud, all this time? He thought they were in his head.
more like Dru every day," Spike says, and gives him a quick worried smile.
They take a
night trip to Woodstock, because Spike is feeling nostalgic. It's a forty-five
minute drive, quiet all the way. Spike keeps to his side of the seat, and
Xander sits staring out the little patches of clear glass on his window,
feeling the careful looks that Spike is giving him. It's amusing, really, and
it spells itself out in the simple declarative in his mind, like a first-grade
reading primer: Spike thinks Xander is going crazy. It's funny because it's
a quaint little place, a single winding road lined with yuppified bookstores
and restaurants. They've put white lights on the trees for Christmas. Spike
drives through it with a silent frown, then turns off onto a side road and
takes them out into the dark countryside. He's looking for the field, but he
can't find it, and they end up just driving back roads for an hour or two, the
headlights flaring off the snow banks. Finally Spike pulls over and cuts the
engine, and Xander shakes off his daze and sits up straight, waiting to be mauled.
doesn't maul him. He doesn't even look at him; he just rolls down his window
and leans out with his elbow on the door, staring up at the stars. It's a clear
night, silent and black. After a couple of minutes, Xander forces down the
window on his own side and looks up too.
there for a while, not talking. The longer Xander watches, the more stars he
can see, as if they're appearing for his benefit.
while he starts to shiver, and Spike leans back in and rolls his window up, starts
the engine, and puts the heater on. Xander stays out a moment longer, because
watching the stars makes him feel calm and sane, and because he's afraid that
when he leans back in, Spike is going to tell him he's beautiful or something
just as awful. When he finally does roll his window up, though, Spike doesn't
say anything. He just flicks the headlights on and turns them around, back
driving back he smokes a cigarette, and Xander can't help but think of it as
postcoital. As if the two of them sitting out there, staring at the stars and
not even talking, was as good as sex.
in the front room, in the broken-down wingback chair by the cold fireplace, an
old Life magazine open on his knee to a picture of Ike Eisenhower.
There are piles of old magazines in several rooms, most of them bloated and
moldy, a few of them still readable. He doesn't read much, but he'll flip
through for something to do. He's got a cup of hot water in his hand, still
steaming. It never really warms him up, but he drinks it all day anyway.
down the hall and puts his head around the door. "Go for a walk?"
glances up, nods, and puts the cup carefully down on the floor. The invitation
doesn't surprise him anymore; he even expects it around this time of evening.
Spike asked for the first time a week ago, and Xander accepted warily, sure it
was going to turn into something bad. But it was just a walk, a stroll along
the snowy sidewalks, past the decrepit boarded-up houses, and when they got
back Spike went out again and left him to his own devices. They've walked every
night since. It's become a routine.
on the step while he puts his coat on, and then they start off down the middle
of the street, because the sidewalks aren't cleared and there are never any
cars. It's cold and cloudy, which means there'll be more snow soon.
his hands thrust in his pockets and walks fast for the first few minutes,
trying to warm up. Spike doesn't comment, just smokes and watches the sky and
occasionally veers off to peer inside the black, glassless windows of the
houses they pass.
down to the canal, and then along the uneven old towpath, windblown and glazed
with ice. Xander keeps a hand on the rusty iron railing, and has to catch
himself a few times when his shoes slip.
concentrating on his footing too much to look up, and he jumps when Spike takes
firm hold of his coat. Then he sees the black figure coming down the path
toward them, and is transfixed. Spike's walking in front now. His shoulders are
up and he's swaggering, and even from behind he looks like someone you don't
want to fuck with. His hair is silver in the starlight.
keeps coming, big and bulky, but it's slowed down a little. Xander tries to think
through the fog in his brain. He should warn the guy. It's probably already too
late. Is he going to see someone killed? Is Spike going to take someone's
throat out right in front of him?
he says quietly, and Spike gives no sign of having heard. "Please.
his head slightly and gives him a quick annoyed look, the sort of look he gives
harmless idiots. Then he turns back to the figure. It's a man, tall and broad,
with a full red beard and a flattened nose. He's wearing a pea coat and a watch
cap just like Xander's. He stops a few feet away on the path and looks them
night," he says at last, and Spike shrugs.
he says. "Depends on what you're doing."
you're standing gawping at me. You'll know when you're walking, because you'll
feel my boot up your arse."
smiles widely. "Hey, Spike," he says.
The big man
takes his hand out of his pocket, and Spike shakes it. Xander swallows and
presses himself against the railing, trying to find somewhere to disappear
into, and the big man looks over Spike's shoulder at him.
busy," he says, looking back at Spike. "Sorry to interrupt. Unless
you're in a sharing mood—?"
his hand back, and shifts to try to block the big man's view. "He's not a
meal," he says coldly.
raises an eyebrow, and then comprehension breaks over his face. "I
remember hearing about this," he says. "Milosz told me: Spike's got a
human. I thought he was kidding. But I guess—" He glances at Spike's face
and trails off.
seeing you, Standish," Spike says.
The big man
pulls himself a little straighter and glances back at Xander.
"Right," he says. "Same old Spike. Well, good luck to you,
little man." He smiles at Xander, and then the smile widens and his fangs
shine like icicles. "Still got some juice in you, smells like. Got an
nothing. His hands are locked around the railing behind his back.
chuckles. He pats Spike on the shoulder and says, "You've got a live one
there, Spike," and when Spike says nothing, he gives him a little salute,
turns on his heel, and starts back the way he came. In a minute or two he's
just a dim shape in the darkness, and then he's gone.
stands listening to his heart thud in his head, watching while Spike stares
down the path almost a full minute after the man’s gone. Then he turns away and
glances at Xander. "Come on."
his hands off the railing and follows Spike back the way they've come, back up
to the sidewalks and the gutted silent houses. He's shivering from cold and
nerves, and he just wants to get back to the house, back to doors that close
and cold sheets he can pull over his head.
there, Spike stops and shoves him up against a wall. At first he thinks it's
anger, but then Spike's hands are under his coat, icy against his belly, and he
gasps into Spike's mouth. The kiss tastes of cigarettes.
kissed him since they got here. Hasn't touched him. Ever since they arrived
he's slept on the ageless, slumped couch in the front room, and let Xander take
the waterstained mattress in the back. He's given him wary sidelong looks and
shown him the stars, asked him to walk in the evening, kept to his side of the
house, the car, everything. This is the first kiss in all that time. Cold and smoky and carnal as always, and
maybe a little more desperate even than before. Xander stands with his back
arched stiff against the wall, his hands dangling at his sides, waiting for it
to be over.
back slightly and studies him, then tries again, more gently. The tip of his
tongue just brushes Xander's lips, and for a second Xander's eyes want to
close, and his hands want to rise up and touch Spike's face. He doesn't let it
happen. Spike pulls his hands out from under Xander's coat and steps back. He
straightens Xander's clothes as if he'd just noticed they were awry.
his mouth and looks away at a house across the street. Spike doesn't say
anything. He doesn't apologize, but he doesn't move away. Xander keeps looking
at the house.
Spike sighs and digs through his pockets, produces a cigarette, and lights it.
"Fucking Standish," he says, stepping back onto the sidewalk.
"No pleasure seeing that prick still walking the earth, I'll tell
stands there a minute, staring at the trampled snow around his feet, then peels
himself off the wall and starts down the dark street after Spike.
is warm and yellow, hazed with smoke, fuggy from the tracked-in snow melting in
clumps on the floor. It reeks of Spike's cigarettes, Standish's cigars, the
women's perfume and the dope they're all passing. The only clean air comes from
the blue rectangle of night below the steamed window over the sink, the window
that Spike's chocked open for the generator cable. There's a record player in
the corner, playing scratchy sad Cuban music. Standish brought it, along with
half a dozen bottles of sweet red wine and a black-haired woman named Luz who
is almost as tall as he is. Spike’s eyes keep flicking back to her, sharp and
another woman too, a shorter blonde one, who seems out of place for some reason
Xander can't put his finger on at first. He's sitting in the corner, behind the
table with his back to the wall, a glass of wine untouched in front of
him. He’s heard all this before, the
night before and the night before that, wrapped in cold sheets on the other
side of the wall. Tonight, though,
there was no choice. You’re here,
Spike said, planting a chair firmly. No
explanation. He stares at a clot of
graying snow and tells himself it's just a matter of keeping quiet and going
unnoticed. At least he's warm.
named Luz is draped over Standish's lap, one brown arm around his neck, playing
with his earlobe. She's holding a glass of wine in her other hand, a joint
tucked between her first and second fingers. He has one hand around her waist,
the big thumb stroking her side, and is gesticulating with the other, dropping
cigar ash on the floor.
order's gone all to seed," he's saying, over the music. "If Cathbad
could see the twerps they're grafting on these days, his fucking head would
explode. That stupid bitch Caitlin got everyone worked up about the bloodline,
and everyone's siring like dogs, hoping they'll make another one like
forbid," Spike mutters, and tosses back the rest of his glass. He's
drinking bourbon, not wine.
needs a purge, is what it needs. Someone needs to take a torch to the passel of
them, and I'm the man to do it."
Valiente," Luz says, and laughs a low throaty laugh.
Caitlin?" the blonde woman asks, and they all ignore her.
Standish says, with the air of a man settling to his topic. "Now you have
a totally different problem. How many of you are left, these days? Ten, a
dozen? Do you even count Angelus anymore?"
Spike asks, frowning at the cigarette he's rolling.
you need—" Standish says, and pauses while Luz puts her wine glass to his
lips. "Thank you, love. What you need, Spike, is a shot in the arm. You
need to make someone. Dru's out of the picture, right? Well, time to get out
from under her skirts, my friend. Time to turn someone tall, dark, and
ravishing." As he speaks, his hand travels up Luz's waist and cups her
little breast. She glances down at his fingers, smiles bitterly, and looks
gone tense in his chair at the mention of Dru, expecting Spike to turn it into
a fight, but he doesn't. He just smiles and pours himself another glass, and
watches while Standish leers and raises his eyebrows and sets his cigar down on
the table edge. When he slips his free hand up the bottom of Luz's dress, she
stiffens slightly and then drops her forehead to his neck, her hair veiling her
face. Standish's cigar rolls off the table. The blonde woman blushes into her
room in back," Spike says, after a minute. His tone is amused and
her head and gives him a black-lipped smile, then lets her gaze travel over
Xander and the blonde woman. "They smell so good," she says, and
slides off Standish's lap. Standish rubs the front of his trousers
uncomfortably and bends down to retrieve his cigar, while Luz glides barefoot
across the floor toward Xander's table. Xander sits frozen, watching her
advance. Out of the corner of his eye, he notices that Spike has moved to the
edge of his chair, and his face is hard and alert.
care, hermosa," he says quietly, and Luz turns at once and rests
her hands on the back of the blonde woman's chair. Then her hands are on the
woman's shoulders, and in her hair, combing gently.
one?" she says, smiling, running one brown hand down the woman's throat.
"Yes, she's right for you, Spike. Perfect. You like him?" She tips
the woman's head back and looks into her face, and the woman nods dumbly.
"Of course. Even an idiot like Standish can see you are meant for each
woman laughs nervously, and Standish snorts. Xander's palms are sweating, and
he runs them down his trousers. He wonders if there's some way he can warn her.
She'd think he was stoned, or insane.
Luz says ironically, and pulls the woman's chair back. "Dance with me,
gets up uncertainly, and Luz sweeps her into an embrace, starts spinning her
around the room until she's laughing and stumbling. Luz's dress is split in the
back, and her legs are long and brown and dark-haired. The soles of her feet
are black with dirt.
around the room, then back to where they started, and Luz drops the woman into
Spike's lap. He holds his glass at arm's length to keep from spilling it.
Luz says, in a businesslike tone. "I think you must take this one now,
Spike, while you have her."
absently at the woman, who is watching him with wide bright eyes. Her cheeks
are flushed, and her hair has swung across her face.
do you think?" he asks, raising an eyebrow. "Might be fun, yeah?"
don't want to be turned," she says. "But I'll sleep with you if you
widens, and he casts a disbelieving look at Standish, who is smiling and
shaking his head. "Where do you find them?" he asks, and then turns
back to the woman. "Well, that's certainly a tempting offer."
don't want to be turned," she says again, then seems to work her nerve up,
and puts her hand on his chest. "But if you just want a little bit of
frozen, staring at her. He feels like someone has brained him with something
huge and soft, something that's obliterated his mind. How can she know what
they are? Something is twisting bitterly in his gut. Luz laughs, dancing back
around the table to Standish. The record skips and the Spanish voices stutter
briefly, and the air in the room seems suddenly too warm to breathe.
to say something, then glances over and catches sight of Xander's face. He
takes the woman's hand off his chest and returns it deliberately to her, then
gives her a little push off his lap. "Another time, love." She
lingers, and he pats her rear and pushes her away.
Luz is back
on Standish's lap, watching closely with heavy-lidded black eyes.
"No?" she asks, pulling her knees up and curling her dirty toes.
"She's not for you, Spike? But you must be so lonely." Her eyes
flicker to Xander, and the corners of her mouth rise.
lonely with the thought of you in my mind, Luz," Spike says, and Luz
laughs and drops her head onto Standish's shoulder. The blonde woman sits back
down in her chair and pours more wine into her glass, and says nothing for the
rest of the evening.
an hour before dawn, and Xander gets up while Spike is still outside saying his
goodbyes. He goes straight to the bedroom and crawls under the cold sheets in
his clothes, then lies there listening to his heart pound. After a few minutes
Spike comes to the door, hesitates, then comes in and sits down heavily on the
mattress beside him. Xander doesn't move.
away from her," Spike says. "Both of them. They're trouble."
nothing. After a minute he nods, because Spike seems to be waiting for an
answer of some kind. He has no intention of going anywhere near any of them.
He's not the one who invited them over in the first place.
that's going to be the end of it, and that Spike's going to get up and go back
out, back to his own bed on the front room couch. But Spike just sits there,
and after a minute or two Xander's better judgment falters and he makes eye
contact. Spike's watching him with a strange fierce expression.
know that was just a bit of fun," he says. "That girl, I mean. I
The blonde girl, the one who knew what they were. For a minute, Xander can't
figure out what he's talking about—he wouldn't ever what? Bite her, kill her?
Of course he would. Then he realizes Spike's talking about something completely
different—sex, or love, or something. Spike thinks he's jealous. He feels a
weird mixture of desolation and rage and a slight, bewildered tenderness.
doesn't matter," he says, and looks away.
does," Spike says. He puts a hand on Xander's shoulder and rolls him onto
his back. "Of course it does. I wouldn't ever do that. You have to know
He stinks of
booze and smoke, and Xander tries to count the empty bottles in the other room,
tries to estimate how drunk he is. His voice is raw. The hand on his shoulder
is too hard, too heavy. It's
ridiculous. What is there to be jealous about?
okay," he says, and puts a hand up to pat Spike's forearm awkwardly.
"I know that, Spike."
clutches at his fingers and kisses them, and Xander lies there with a pain in
his chest, thinking of the girl, the way she'd said I don't want to be
turned, the way she'd walked out of the house to do God knows what with
Standish and Luz. She'd walked out, that was the key thing. Whatever else she
suffered or did tonight, somehow she'd walked out. She was free.
sometimes what Spike sees in him.
clouded old mirror over the bathroom sink, half the silver flaked away, but he
can still make himself out in it. Sometimes he stands in front of it and
inspects himself in sections. He's skinny and white and anemic-looking, and his
eyes are like burnt holes. Half the time he's unshaven, and most of the time
he's unwashed. It's too much trouble to heat enough water, and he's too cold
anyway to strip down.
He has old
scabs and scars all over his neck, as well as in a few extracurricular places.
He has the rash on his hand and throat.
His hair needs cutting. His clothes need washing. His fingernails are
doesn't really get what Spike means when he starts throwing around words like beautiful,
which he does with embarrassing frequency, every time he gets worked up. It's
like Spike doesn't even see that stuff, like it doesn't matter to him at all.
Well, maybe that's not so strange, given that he's dead and a demon and all.
dead gives him a permanent long view, so that falling desperately in love with
someone he hated a year ago doesn't seem like any big. Xander can almost see
that. If he were dead, he's pretty sure none of this would bother him very
weird, when he's taking stock like this, to think about the good old days when
Spike just wanted to kill him. When did that stop? Looking back, it's all
seamless, a headlong blur from hatred to worship, and even now sometimes he
can't tell the difference. It's unsettling. He never asked for this.
Once upon a
time there was a…craving, something to do with a constant empty ache in his
chest, and cockroaches in his apartment. But that was a lifetime ago. And now,
whatever he says and does gets held up in midair, flipped on its back and
manhandled into something else entirely. Confirmation, approval, a plea for
more. Even when he says no—but has he ever said that? He's said Oh
God, and Christ, and Please, and made all manner of
desperate inarticulate noises, but has he ever said no or stop?
He's sure he has, but he can't remember when.
matters anyway, because he knows it would just get translated into some new
brand of yes, and Spike would keep doing whatever he's set his mind to
do. Like that moment long ago, lying on the floor of the loft with his head
still ringing, trying leglessly to scramble out from under that dripping copper
grin. Even then, Spike had been saying love you, love you. With his
fingers digging into Xander's ribs, his elbow cracking him hard across the jaw.
He didn't notice. Love you. Wrenching his head aside, one hand tearing
at his jeans. Love you. It wouldn't have mattered if Xander had said no.
It would only have made it worse to remember, later on.
that's it." He turns around and Spike is standing in the doorway, staring
at him. "Come on, let's go."
where?" He's standing over the gas range again, watching the rust flakes,
watching his breath. He's tired. He wants to drink some hot water and crawl
tightens his lips and walks away without a word, and Xander stands listening to
his footsteps go down the hall, into the front room. Then they come back, and
when he appears in the doorway again he has Xander's coat in his hands. He
throws it, and it hits Xander in the chest.
that on. Let's go."
are we going?" In the minute that Spike was gone, he had time to think
that this is it, they're moving on, and the magical misery tour is starting up
again. He had time to feel afraid, and to realize that whenever he thinks he's
at absolute bottom, there's another step just below. But this doesn't seem like
Spike's pulling up stakes. This just seems like an outing. As soon as he thinks
of it like that, he feels a completely different kind of fear.
you a decent meal."
stands there staring, clutching his coat against his chest, until finally Spike
starts across the room toward him. Then he shakes his head and turns quickly
back to the range. "Nah, I'm fine, I don't want to—”
A hard hand
grabs his elbow and yanks, and he has just a second to flip the range off, so
the place won't burn down while they're gone.
He has no
idea where they're going to get a decent meal in this dead town, and as it
turns out they don't. Spike takes them back out onto the freeway, and they
drive fifteen minutes south, then turn off into a little cluster of lights and
signs: food, gas, lodging. There's a diner attached to the gas station, and
Spike pulls in and cuts the engine.
nosed right up to the plate glass window, right up next to one of the booths,
with the silverware and glasses laid out, the little plastic stand-up with the
prices for beer, the bottle of Heinz 57. There's no one sitting at it, but
there are a few people at the counter, and at a couple of the tables. There's a
waitress in a T-shirt and jeans and a short apron. She looks about sixteen
pockets the keys and opens his door, and Xander just sits there, staring
through the glass at the yellow light and the people. His heart is racing, and
his hands are damp. Spike glances back, then lets his door swing almost shut
his door again, then lets it fall shut when Xander doesn't move. "What's
the matter with you?"
can't go in there."
looks at him, and he runs a hand through his hair. He's shaking slightly.
"I'm—look at me." He holds his hand out and they both look at the
dirty, chopped fingernails, the dirt in the web of his thumb, the grimy shirt
cuff. "I'm disgusting."
haven't showered in a week. More than a week."
bath later, then."
can't go in there." He rubs his hands on his jeans and glances at the
yellow light. The girl is pouring coffee with the order pad tucked into her
apron. The light is warm and soft, and everything looks clean.
drops onto his knee and he just manages not to jerk his leg away. "I'm not
hungry anyway, let's just—"
be stupid," Spike says, then softens his tone. "You're fine, you look
fine." His hand leaves Xander's knee, curls around the back of his neck,
and starts to pull.
throws a quick glance at the window in front of them, ducks his head free,
opens his door, and gets out. He closes the door and stands there with his
hands jammed into his pockets, staring at the "Open" sign on the
door. After a minute, Spike gets out too and leads the way in without a word.
The light is
butter-yellow, and there is the click of silverware, the clink of glassware,
small conversations and clattering in the kitchen. There's a smell of grease
and warm bread and coffee. It loosens something in Xander's stomach and spine,
and he's suddenly ravenous. Spike, walking in front of him, looks back over his
shoulder and raises an eyebrow.
swallows and says nothing. They take a booth along the wall and Spike sits
facing the door, which leaves Xander staring at the black slate of the window
behind him, and at his own reflection. He pulls his sleeves down over his hands
and studies the paper place mat. It's printed with a red cow, overlaid with a
map of cuts: rump roast, sirloin, chuck, strip steak.
appears over them, impassive, pen in hand. She has menus under her arm, but
Spike cuts her off before she can start the spiel. "He'll have the
breakfast special. Cup of coffee. I'll have a beer."
you like, love."
him a skeptical, heavy-lidded glance, and goes. Xander starts to get up, and
Spike's feet block him. "Where you going?"
to wash up."
nothing, but the feet withdraw. Xander walks fast back to the men's room.
light is too bright and there's a smell of floral disinfectant and whoever used
the place last. He stares at himself in the mirror, which seems mercilessly
sharp after the impressionist blur of the one he's used to. He looks like a
junkie. He looks like hell.
cheap iridescent soap out of the pink plastic bulb bolted to the wall, and
washes his hands. The suds are grey at first, then white as he adds more soap.
He gets the worst of the dirt out of his fingernails, then washes his face carefully.
He wants to fill the sink with hot water and plunge his whole head in, but he
can't walk back out there dripping down his collar like a homeless guy.
He does the
best he can and then catches sight of himself as he's drying his hands on the
rough brown paper towels. He doesn't look any better. Suddenly it's too much,
and he's on the verge of hopeless tears, on the verge of walking out and
grabbing the first person he sees and begging for help, or maybe grabbing Spike
and begging to be killed, turned, something. Anything. Just no more of this. He
can't stand it anymore.
against the sink and keeps drying his hands, one finger after another after
another, until the paper towel is a worn frazzle and the stabbing pain in his
throat is gone. He's okay. He stands up, pushes his hair back, and takes a deep
breath. He's okay. He throws the towel away and turns off the light on his way
already there when he gets back, and Spike is sitting with one arm curled
around his beer bottle, the other hand resting on the neck, turning it in slow
half-circles. He doesn't look up until Xander slides into the booth across from
to get to that before it gets cold," he says.
Xander says, and picks up his fork. Then he just sits there, staring at the
plate. It's two eggs sunny, a side of home fries, toast, and bacon. The egg
yolks are viscous and bright crayon yellow. He hesitates, then spears a fry.
watches him eat, watches the other people in the diner, drinks a little beer.
Xander puts his fork down and drinks some of the coffee, and it's good. It's
all good—the hot greasy food, the hot thick coffee. After a second he realizes
the coffee has cream in it already, and that Spike must have put it in.
reaches out, breaks a chip off one of the bacon strips, and eats it. He's
watching someone at the counter, over Xander's left shoulder, a middle-aged man
who's talking to the waitress. Xander doesn't have to turn around to know it;
he can hear the guy going on about gerrymandering, or something. The waitress
gives him a couple of uh-huhs, sounding bored out of her teenaged
mind. Xander tries to remember when he last sat in a place like this, a homely
dumpy blueplate-special type of place like this, where middle-aged guys tried
to talk politics over pie.
He eats a
few more home fries, drinks some more coffee, and is contemplating the toast
when Spike shifts suddenly and straightens up as if he's decided something.
Xander freezes with his fork in midair. If Spike gets up, if he follows someone
out or God knows he's crazy enough to do it in the men's room—
But Spike is
just staring at him, tapping his fingers against his beer bottle, looking
he says. "How's it?"
swallows past the lump in his throat, and it takes him a minute to understand
what Spike's asking about. The food, he realizes. "Fine. It's fine."
You need it."
his gaze back to his plate, and stabs another fry.
somewhere on the way back, lay in a store. What do you want?"
He eats the
fry, which doesn't taste quite as good as the others, and shakes his head.
"I don't know. Doesn't matter."
want coffee? You drink enough bloody water, might as well get something with a
little more kick."
And, what—bread? Make yourself toast or something."
from his beer, and a silence falls again. Xander shifts uncomfortably and
drinks his coffee, and the guy behind him segues to filibustering, or
something. The waitress says something, and he says Oh darling I'd love to,
but the wife'd kill me—oh hell, give me a slice anyway, and she laughs.
Spike gives a quiet snort and turns back to Xander.
course for a coronary, that one. Smoker."
the bacon. It's not bad. Salty, still almost hot. Maybe it'll give him a
coronary. Maybe he should take up smoking.
reaches over abruptly, grabs one of Xander's toast slices, and stabs his egg
yolks decisively: one, two. Then he drops the toast on top of them and leans
back in his seat. "Can't stand those things," he says. "Fucking
eerie, staring up at you like that."
down at the yellow ooze creeping across his plate, then back up at Spike, who's
staring at him. There's an obscure challenge in Spike's eyes, a spark, and
Xander suddenly remembers a dream he had once, of sitting in a diner across
from Spike, and kissing him. It was a good dream. He remembers feeling happy
suddenly sick, and pushes the plate away. Then he picks it up, stands, and
walks it over to the empty table next to them. He wipes his hands on his jeans
and turns back to Spike, who's watching him with dismay.
go now, please?"
off at a supermarket and in the surreal fluorescent light Spike buys food at
random: cereal, bread, Pop-Tarts, tomato juice. Xander follows listlessly, then
remembers soap, and throws that in. Spike pays with a wad of bills from his
coat pocket, and Xander sacrifices a few more ounces of sanity to wonder whose
money it used to be, and where they are now that it's Spike's.
Back at the
house, Xander goes straight to bed, and Spike stays up heating bathwater. As
he's lying staring at the cracked window pane, Xander can hear the wet slippery
noises of Spike in the bath, using the new soap. Sometimes Spike sings to
himself when he's in there, and makes squelching noises that sound suspiciously
like he's squirting water between his palms, but tonight he's silent.
After a few
minutes, Xander gets up and walks down the hall to the bathroom. The door is
ajar; it's dark inside. He just stands there, not knocking.
pushes the door open with one finger and walks in. His eyes are pretty good in
the dark by now; he's used to it. He can see the white blur of the tub, the
vague shape of Spike in it. He goes over and sits down with his back against
the tub, his knees drawn up to his chest.
doesn't say anything, but after a minute his hand comes out of the darkness and
rests on Xander's head. It's warm and wet and it acts like a switch; before he
can do anything about it, Xander's face is buried in his knees, and he's
crying. Silently, his arms wrapped around his head, just shaking.
swish of water, and then a warm arm awkwardly around him, a hand on his back.
Xander hitches, coughs, and gets hold of himself. He wipes his face, but he can't stop shaking. He's cursing under
his arm away, and they just sit there for a while with Spike's hand still on
his back. Not moving, just resting there, as if Xander were furniture. Finally
Xander wipes his face and sighs and starts to get awkwardly to his feet. His
knees are still a little tricky, sometimes.
his hand on the tub edge, and Spike's falls over it, dry now and cooler.
all right?" he says, and Xander tries to smile.
fine. Sorry about that."
He tries to
go, but Spike's hand closes around his wrist. "What's happened to
He tugs, but
Spike doesn't let go. "Nothing. I'm tired, that's all."
different. You're all moony and you never bloody talk."
fine. I just want to go to sleep."
know I love you." He flinches, and Spike's grip tightens. "I do. Wish
I didn't sometimes, but I do."
know what to say to that, except what he always says. "I know."
why are you so fucking mopey?"
just it—the part that Spike doesn't get. Xander can't help laughing, a sharp
bitter bark. Spike's hand tightens painfully on his wrist, then lets go. He
snatches his arm back and rubs the sore spot.
joke, is it?" Spike's voice is cold, and Xander take a step back.
something's funny or you wouldn't laugh."
is that the only bloody word you know?"
He has a
crazy self-destructive impulse to say it again—No—but he stifles it.
He just stands there rubbing his wrist, staring at the floor.
now you're mute again. I swear to God, you're driving me round the fucking bend
another step back and scratches at the rash on the back of his hand. There's
nothing to say. His hand itches, his head hurts, and he wants to go to bed.
not an idiot, you know." Spike's tone is flat, and Xander shakes his head
reflexively. "I'm not completely stupid. Have I ever asked whether
you…whether it's the same for you?"
stands still and tries to think. Spike's never talked to him like this before.
For some reason, it's terrifying. His heart is lurching in his chest. No,
Spike's never asked. He shakes his head again.
haven't. Because I know the answer, and I'm not stupid enough to ask for it to
my face. But this is just the same as hearing it."
another step back. He can't remember why he came in here in the first place;
what dumb impulse was that? He just wants to get out, go back to bed, go back
to sleep, and when he wakes up Spike will have forgotten this and moved on to
little sound of water moving, and he can see that Spike's leaning forward.
"The thing I don't get," he says, "is why you're still
to swallow, and can't.
don't want me," Spike says. "Fair enough. Door's open, Harris. You
don't want to be here? Get out."
long silence, while Xander clenches his hands, releases them, clenches them
again. "You're a demon," he says at last. His voice sounds weird and
throaty. "You're a vampire. You eat people."
supposed to want that?" He realizes after he's said it that he's lagging a
lap in the conversation, and says, "I did leave. You came after me."
The water shifts again. "And you came back."
walked out right now, you wouldn't come after me?"
silence for a few seconds. "Be stupid to walk out there in the middle of
the night, middle of winter. You're smarter than that."
if you want to go, don't keep fucking moaning about it. Just, next night I'm
out, don't be here when I get back."
his hands, feels his fingernails bite his palms, and releases them again.
else stay," Spike said. "And don't be so fucking soft."
his mouth, and there's a violent movement of water. "Get out of
here," Spike says. His voice sounds thick and strange. "Go back to
and starts walking blindly back to the door. Then he stops and turns back.
"You're a monster," he says, clearly and almost calmly. "You're
did say I wanted to go, what's to stop you from just killing me?"
laughs again, sharp and dry like a cough. "Right. You could kill me any
don't piss off and let me bathe, I might just."
It's a joke to you, isn't it? It means zero to you. You could do it by
long moment of silence. "Don't be stupid," Spike says at last.
fucking gun in Mexico—"
gun, that stupid fucking gun you had—"
another swish of water, and he can see that Spike's leaning forward, over the
edge of the tub. "I never had a gun."
stands with his mouth open for a few seconds. "You had a gun," he
says clearly, when he can speak again. "In Mexico. You used to point it at
me when you were bored."
hands are in fists again, and he's fighting a wave of panic. He isn't insane,
he didn't imagine it. He can't breathe properly.
didn't—" Spike says, and then trails off. Xander takes a deep breath.
"That was different," Spike says slowly, as if he's remembering
something. "That was a strange spell, I was…different."
wouldn't have done it," Spike says. He's rubbing his head, Xander can see
faintly. "I wasn't that much of a lunatic."
just…it was like being let out of a cage. I was a bit off for a while. I don't
remember…but I wouldn't have hurt you—"
laughs, loud and startling. "Jesus Christ," he says, and laughs
again. Then he turns and walks out, because he can't stand being there anymore,
there's nothing big enough to say, and if he has to try to say something he's
going to start swinging instead. He gets halfway down the hall to the bedroom,
then hears Spike coming after him and veers away to the front room instead. He
leans against the wingback chair and faces the doorway. There's moonlight in
here; he can see better. He's cold, and his heart is hammering.
around the doorframe and stands glaring at him. He's got a towel around his
waist. His skin is wet and steaming slightly.
are you on about?" he asks. Xander grits his teeth and shakes his head.
think I'd hurt you?" He pauses, but Xander doesn't say anything.
"Because I wouldn't. Just because I can, doesn't mean I have to, you
away at the window, his arms crossed tightly over his chest.
you gone mute again? Because I swear to God—"
remember that night you came back to the loft, back in LA? The first time you
really—after you'd…you were covered in blood." He glances sideways and
sees confusion and frustration in Spike's face. "Oh come on, you'd just
killed someone and you were fucking drenched, and you came back like that
and—" He pauses. "Don't tell me you don't remember."
stares at him, and after a minute he takes a breath and looks at the window
again. "Okay. How about driving out here? Rest stops. Remember
thought I liked that?" Silence. Xander wets his lips and glances sideways
quickly, and away. "You don't think that hurt?"
is dark with dust, dirt, cobwebs. The moonlight casts a mottled pattern on the
back of the sofa and the floor.
hurt you," Spike says slowly, "why didn't you say something?"
laughs, and cuts it off before it can build. "I really think I did,"
he says, weighing each word carefully.
don't remember it."
don't remember much."
you, I wasn't myself." Xander chews his lip and stares at the window.
"It was a bad idea to have you along just then. But there wasn't anywhere
to leave you—"
I didn't mean it, I was just a bit mad for a while. And you're all right—no
laughs and scratches the back of his hand viciously.
Xander turns to stare at him. Spike looks confused and annoyed and at a loss.
"A couple of nips, maybe I was a bit rough. I don't see how that's
not talking about the biting," Xander says. His face is hot, even though
he's freezing. "I'm not just talking about the biting."
at him, then suddenly the pieces fall into place and he half-smiles,
quizzically, disbelievingly. "What—that?" Xander says
nothing, and Spike's smile fades. "What are you saying, exactly?"
do you think I'm saying?"
haven't the faintest fucking clue."
think I wanted that?"
his gaze deliberately to the floor and seems to consider. "Yeah," he
says after a moment. He looks up at the ceiling, glances at the window, then
finally looks straight at Xander. "I was under that impression,
long silence, while Spike just looks at him, his eyes narrowed and his lips
pursed. Xander's sweating, and he feels sick. "Jesus Christ," he
says, when he can't stand the silence anymore. "I'm not gay, Spike."
taken aback. "I never said you were," he says immediately.
Xander has a
sudden urge to punch something: the window, the doorframe, Spike. He reaches
back, grabs the top of the chair, and digs his fingers into it. "Then why
did you think I'd want that?" he asks, carefully and slowly.
looking at him as if he's started speaking Urdu. "I never thought—"
he starts, then stops, works his mouth, and settles his shoulders firmly.
"Look, that's stupid, it's just a bloody word, it's got nothing to do with
anything. Got nothing to do with what you want."
Xander says. "Sorry, I'm such a literalist. What's the best way to say, I
never wanted to be fucked by a guy?"
stares at him. His jaw is ticking frantically, and all his muscles have gone
think that hurts?" Xander says bitterly. "You moron."
his throat. "If I hurt you," he asks, "why didn't you say
something?" His voice is tight and quiet.
already did this part, Spike. I did say something. I fucking yelled—"
never said stop."
stands there for a second, and they look at each other. Spike raises an
eyebrow. "You never told me to stop," he says again, more firmly.
the time. You're a vampire, Spike. I'm a guy with a bum shoulder and no
wouldn't have had to fight me off. If you'd told me to stop, that would have
closes his eyes for a moment, trying to make his head slow down. His fingers
are clenched around the back of the chair, cold and sweaty and painful. For
months he's felt like there's nothing to say, no words for anything, and now
there's too much to get out. He wishes desperately, crazily, for someone to do
this for him.
tried," he says flatly, when he can speak again. "I tried to get you
to stop. You didn't."
come on. You couldn't tell from looking?"
after a minute he looks up. Spike's face is white and blank, like a stranger's.
stares at him a minute, and suddenly he's just exhausted, clicked off like a
light. He sighs and pries one hand off the chair to rub his head. "You
have no fucking clue, do you?" he says wearily. "No chip, no fucking
his weight from one foot to the other. Xander frees his other hand and rubs his
arms. He's freezing.
least the biting felt good sometimes," he says absently, and catches
Spike's flinch out of the corner of his eye. For a minute Spike stands still,
swaying, as if he's been punched and hasn't managed to fall down yet. Then he
turns and disappears. His footsteps go back into the bathroom, and Xander
wonders whether he's sick. Then they come back down the hall, quick and
the corner with something in his hand, already held out. It's a wad of bills,
Xander sees. He stares at it dumbly as Spike walks across the room toward him.
he says. "Here, that's bus fare at least." Xander just stares at the
money, and Spike stops a few feet away, holding it out. "Go on," he
says. "Take it."
his hand out without thinking, and Spike puts the money in it. "That'll
get you home," he says. "Sunnydale, wherever."
stares silently at the money in his hand: fives and tens and twenties, all
folded up together a couple of inches thick. He has no idea how much it is.
bus stops at the gas station out by the exit," Spike says. "There'll
be one in the morning."
staring at the money, then slowly closes his fingers over it.
"Babylon?" he repeats dumbly.
Island. Get you to the city, at least."
Oh. He nods,
squeezes the money, then puts it into his pocket. He can feel it there against
his leg, cool and flat. Spike takes a step back and stands staring at him, his
lips pressed together, his arms crossed tightly over his chest. He looks small
and skinny and pale, and his face is impassive.
his hand in his pocket, touches the money, and nods. "Okay," he says.
awake in the dirty sheets, staring at the crack in the window and listening to the
faint sounds from the front room, where Spike is. They aren't much, just an
occasional pull of breath and once or twice a faint muttered curse.
The money is
on the floor beside the mattress, in a neat pile. There's a little over four
smell like Spike.
have a watch and there's no clock in the house, but as soon as he wakes up he
knows it's late. The light through the curtain is pure white on the foot of the
mattress. It must be afternoon.
He gets up
and goes down the hall to the bathroom, pisses, washes with cold rusty water.
Glances at himself in the warped mirror, starts to turn away, then sets his jaw
and stares steadily at his reflection. He doesn't look any different. He needs
The tub is
still full of cold water, so he pulls the plug, then sits down on the edge to
fit a new blade into his razor. When he looks up, Spike's standing in the
doorway. He looks wan and thin and angry.
you were going."
pauses, then drops his gaze and tests the razor against his thumb.
missed the bus. I'll catch it tomorrow."
He gets up,
turns away to the sink, and starts to work up a cold lather with the soap.
After a minute or so, Spike walks away.
done shaving he goes back to the bedroom to scrounge something warmer to put
on, and ends up standing in the middle of the room, staring at the tangle of
sheets on the mattress and the pile of bills beside it. He feels tired and numb
and hopeless. After a few minutes he realizes he's in here because he doesn't
want to see Spike. He listens for a minute, to see if he can tell where Spike
nothing warmer to put on, so he straightens his shoulders and walks out, down
the hall to the kitchen. The grocery bag is still on the table, and he pokes
through it, pockets a couple of Pop-Tarts, and grabs his coat off the back of
the chair. He could just go out the back. That would be easiest. But for some
reason he turns and goes back down the hallway, to the front room.
pulled the wingback chair around to face the windows, and he's sitting in it
with one leg up over the arm, staring out at a cornflower sky. He glances up
briefly as Xander pauses in the doorway, then looks away and shakes a cigarette
out of the packet on his knee.
for a walk," Xander says, and waits. For what, he isn't sure.
nothing and doesn't look at him. He lights the cigarette, draws hard, and blows
out a blue cloud. Finally he looks up with an irritated expression, as if
surprised to see Xander still standing there. "All right," he says,
elaborately clearly. "You do that."
hesitates a moment longer, shooting a look at the windows. There's a thin bush
with a few winter berries in front of the house, and as he watches, a gust of
sparrows descends into it, shaking off the snow. He can hear their peeps even
from where he's standing.
another drag of his cigarette, and Xander glances at him. He's watching the
sparrows, a furrow in his brow.
Xander says. "See you later."
a hand without looking at him, and he goes out the front door, breathing
shallowly through his mouth because the air is so cold it stings. The door
doesn't fit right in the frame and he has to yank it closed, which frightens
the birds out of the bush. Then he's walking down the little icy path to the
sidewalk, nudging the cockeyed gate aside, and turning right because he doesn't
want to walk past the front windows, past Spike.
The sky is
huge and deeply blue. The sunlight off the snow banks stabs his eyes.
He pulls his
collar up as far as he can and starts walking fast, listening to the crunch his
shoes make in the snow. His ears are burning, and his toes are going numb. It's
probably sixty degrees in Sunnydale right now. You probably wouldn't need to
wear a jacket.
know where he's going, but he ends up on the towpath, just because it's where
he's been before. The canal is frozen almost completely over; there's snow
drifted a couple of feet up its walls. The ice in the middle is gray and
rotten-looking, with a black seam of silent free water like a spine. He stands
in the sunshine with his hands in his pockets, staring down, while his eyes go
sticky with cold. There's no visitation, no revelation. Just a few dead leaves
frozen to the ice, fluttering dryly.
too cold to stand still anymore he starts walking again, back up the sloping
icy sidewalk with the sun in his eyes. It occurs to him that it would be nice
to see something living. A cat, for instance. He'd be pretty happy if he saw a
cat right now. Or even some more birds. Just something out here in all this
silence, out threading the frozen sunshine with him.
you money, for crying out loud, Willow says, and he settles a little deeper
into his coat and tries not to scowl. What do you want, a ride to Port
going, he says. Color me gone, I just overslept.
be coloring you Baltimore by now. Xander, you can't let this slide.
sliding. I promise.
He rounds a
corner and has to grab a telephone pole as his feet almost go out from under
him. That cuts off the flow of conversation for a bit. He's leaving the
warehouse neighborhood behind, and now he's in narrow streets lined with houses
again. They're all thin and tall and slanted at odd angles, with boarded
windows and collapsed porches. The sidewalk is lined with black, leafless
was more than four hundred dollars there, Willow says at last.
you think he—
know. I don't want to know.
pause, and he wonders whether that's it for the day. What time is it? He's
hungry, in a vague way.
you money to go, Willow says, and he sighs.
Wills, we've covered that already—
he do that?
unsure of where this is heading. I'm thinking, so I can go.
he want you to do that?
Because—He hesitates. Because
he finally figured out that it's been a one-man show.
he says after a minute. That—you know. That I'm not digging the scene. And
never was. And fuck him, he thought it didn't hurt?
careful silence, and then she says, So he's upset?
know. I don't care.
him this was bad for you, and he gave you money to go. He doesn't say
anything. But you didn't go.
going. I'm gone. I'm eating a Philly dog as we speak.
faster now, not paying attention to where he's going, and when he finally looks
up he's alongside a row of houses without yards, their front windows pressed
right up to the sidewalk. There must have been a fire here at some point; he's
just passing a house that's been half-given to flame, its roof and one wall
missing entirely. The other houses are blackened, their windows shattered,
debris scattered on their porches and steps. Despite himself, he peers in as he
goes by, into the dim ruined husks where people used to live.
middle house there is a pair of eyes looking back. Black liquid eyes, shining
in the inside darkness, and he skids to a stop and almost falls.
mi hijo," Luz says, and smiles.
the world is silent, and suddenly Willow is nowhere around. He gets his feet
under control and takes a step back.
slowly, languidly, and uncurls from the blackened chair where she's been
sitting. She's wearing the same long dark dress she wore that night at the
house, or maybe it's another one like it. Over that she's wearing a heavy ugly
corduroy coat that's too big for her. It's Standish's coat, Xander realizes
after a second. She pulls the collar up and buries her hands in the pockets as
if she's cold.
someone says, and after a second he realizes it was him.
and lowers her lids at him. "What are you doing out here, niño?"
then says, "Walking. Just…going for a walk."
"It's a lovely day for a walk."
little silence, and he wonders where Standish is. It's stupid to talk to her.
Stupid to stand here at all. He has a sudden moment of panic that he's not
standing in direct sunshine, but he is. Not even in the shadow of a tree
like this cold weather?" Luz asks, and he blinks. Then he has to fight off
the urge to laugh. Vampires have to make conversation too.
he says matter-of-factly. "I pretty much hate it, actually."
widens and becomes more confiding. "Oh! You cannot hate it more than I do,
niño. I grew up on heat, on fire. Now—" She pulls the coat closer
around her. "I'm always cold."
I know what that's like."
She eyes him. "You would not like to come inside, to share your coat with
He says it fast and sharp, not caring how it sounds, and she laughs.
you share with Spike."
Who bites you, then?" She's watching him with a glint in her eye, a curl
at the corner of her lip. He half-raises a hand to his neck, then drops it.
He'd forgotten, briefly, about how he looks.
are you doing here?" he asks, pointing with his chin at the burnt timbers.
"I thought you'd be somewhere dank and windowless, this time of day."
"I forgot the time. And Standish is being a prick. He can sleep alone
What if someone comes by?"
comes by here."
And he has
to admit, she has a point. He nods and resists the urge to take another step
back. "Well, I have to get going—"
course," she says, tilting her head and curling tighter into the chair.
Her eyes glitter. "Back to Spike."
not back to Spike. Just—just back to—I just can't talk right now." He can't
remember exactly where he had to be, but he knows it isn't Spike, and it isn't
here. Willow—he was meeting Willow somewhere. Baltimore.
shame that Spike can't walk with you," Luz says. Her eyes are enormous,
glossy, familiar. "Such a bright day. It must be so difficult, to be with
is," he says softly. It isn't so dark inside the house, now that he's been
looking for a while. It looks sort of warm and homey.
makes things difficult, niño. They can be simple."
He's a step
closer to the blackened doorframe, and he almost thinks he can feel heat coming
from inside. The air might be wavering a little with it. Simple sounds…good.
must be tired," Luz says, tipping her head back to rest on the chair.
"All that blood…it must exhaust you."
are heavy, and there's a spot on the floor by her feet that's perfect, inviting
him. He steps forward, right up against the doorframe. He's in the shadow of
the roof now, and it isn't cold, it's warm.
want to come in, no?" Luz asks, and he nods dumbly. "You want to be
dark and safe." He nods again. "You see, it's simple after all. Spike
is an idiot."
again with a slight smile, because it's true, Spike is an idiot. It's vaguely
gratifying to hear someone else say it out loud.
thinks he can keep you like this," Luz says, and he nods again, only
half-listening. "He thinks—what? That you won't break. You're kindling, niño."
She pats the chair cushion. "Come and sit with me a while."
He lifts his
foot to step over the doorsill, and her smile changes.
are certain you want to do that?" she asks.
it's like he's been jerked bodily out of himself and slammed back in, and the
world is bright and cold and breathless at his ears. He's standing in darkness,
he's half-inside the house. He takes a stupid, awkward hop back, tangles his
ankles, and hits the icy sidewalk hard. He can't breathe. He's gasping,
grabbing at his legs to pull them out of the last inch of shadow, and when he
finally gets far enough away to look back, Luz is laughing at him.
He stands in
the snow bank, one hand braced on a tree trunk, swallowing the weird bitter
taste in his mouth and watching her grin. She cocks her head and makes fake
fangs at him with her fingers.
close, niño," she says. "Close enough I could smell you
again. And none of him on you, you didn't lie."
wipes his mouth, looks away and then back.
smell good," Luz says, and folds her hands comfortably over her stomach.
made me do that," he says, and it sounds a little shrill in the bright
clear air. "You do that thing, like Dru. That thrall thing."
"Perhaps you wanted to do it."
don't think so."
you don't admit."
didn't want to do it."
her fingernails briefly. "Perhaps," she says, "you should not
speak to me, if you think I can do this to you."
He stares at
her a second, then shoves off the tree trunk and steps warily back onto the
sidewalk. He's an idiot. It's a wonder he isn't dead already.
nothing as he takes a few steps back the way he came, and for some reason that
makes him feel a little safer. He pauses, and without looking back says,
"Why did you let me go?"
takes a moment. "Perhaps I am not your enemy."
half-turns and glances at her. She's still sitting in the chair, watching him
quietly over her shoulder. Her face is unreadable. Spike said she was trouble.
hesitates, then blurts, "Can Spike do that?"
people do things. That they don't want to do."
him solemnly. "Ay mi hijo," she says after a minute. "I
hope you will come back and speak with me again."
Somehow he finds his way back through the cold white maze, bangs
through the front door, straight down the hall, and drops face-first onto the
mattress. He's vaguely aware of Spike moving around in the front room, and then
wakes up it's dark, and the house is silent. He rolls onto his back, fishes the
Pop-Tart out of his pocket, and eats it carefully, in small fragments. Then he
folds the foil wrapper into a neat, tiny square, and lets it spring open in his
hand. There's still no sound in the house. If Spike is around, he's keeping
sliver of moon, like a fingernail clipping, in the top corner of the window.
Christmas must be coming. In Sunnydale, there'll be aerosol snow and polymer
evergreens, and Giles will be moving the Druid wares, and by now they must know
he's not in LA anymore, somebody must have picked up a phone. They must have
missed him by now.
He folds the
wrapper tiny again, presses it hard between his finger and thumb, then lets it
unfurl on its own. He's still tired.
were black and deep, like windows into a burnt house. Spike makes things
difficult. They can be simple.
hard to imagine in anything but the past tense.
I don't get is why you're still here.
about Willow but she doesn't come. Maybe she's said her piece. Maybe he's
really on his own from now on. He puts his hands behind his head and watches
the moon, and finds himself wondering for no good reason if it hurt Luz to be
hard, and he wakes up with a tang of fear in his mouth. It's late, dim morning
and Spike is standing over him, still wearing his boots and coat, like the
wrath of God after a hard night. His eyes are red and strained-looking, and
there's a trace of a bloody nose on his upper lip. He's wavering slightly on
still fucking here," he barks, and Xander blinks.
stands there glaring at him, and Xander looks back for a second, then blinks
again and looks away. "What time is—"
You missed it again." There's a stench of booze and puke and ashes. Xander
swallows and clears his throat.
I'll…I'll catch it tomorrow."
stares at him a minute longer, and he's really drunk, really tipping, in a
minute he's going to fall face-first onto Xander. Xander sits up quickly.
catch it tomorrow," he says again, and Spike takes a dizzy step back.
he says. "See you do."
turns and walks out fast, bashing into the doorframe and snapping around to
punch it, as if it had attacked him. He pauses, staggers, shakes his hand, and
goes out inspecting his knuckles.
Xander says quietly.
hall, Spike kicks something, and it shatters.
The sky is
clear again, blue as a cheerleader's contact lens, and he's freezing. The food
Spike bought is still in the paper sacks on the kitchen table, surrounded by
sticky half-frozen bottles of wine and cigarette butts. It was a nice thought,
but he really can't eat much of it. Spike bought coffee, but no filters. Bread
for toast, but there's no toaster. No can opener for the tomato juice, which is
probably frozen and anyway, he's always hated the stuff. He has a couple of
chilly Pop-Tarts in his pocket again, like K-rations or astronaut food.
He leans on
the metal railing and stares down at the black line of water in the middle of
the canal. It looks a little thinner today. There's a pinch in every breath he
takes. He watches a forked twig bob past and reflects that of all the
disadvantages of being dead, feeling cold all the time must be the worst. Not
that he plans to do firsthand research.
wandering dead ends all day, and though he doesn't have a watch anymore he's
sure it must be close to three o'clock. The angle of the sun is getting low,
the blue of the sky is starting to deepen out. It'll be dark in an hour. Time
to go back to the house, and if he times it right maybe he can stay away until
Spike's already gone out. If Spike isn't planning to spend the night passed out
on the couch in the front room, with his mouth open and his arm over his face
and his shirt rucked up to show an interesting boot-shaped bruise on the left
side of his ribcage. He was snoring when Xander left. He only did that when he
was really beyond recall.
pushes off the railing and starts walking carefully back up the steps to the
sidewalk, keeping an eye out for ice. When he gets to the top he glances
right—that's the way to the house, but it's too soon to go there. He can see
his own leftover footprints up and down the snowy sidewalk on the other side of
the street. He's too cold to think properly. He wraps his arms around his chest
and turns left, the one way he hasn't gone yet today, and before he knows it
he's walking past house fronts painted black with soot, and the light seems
help himself; he stares into every blown-out window he passes, his heart
thudding in his throat. It's hard to tell which house she was in last time.
They all look the same, and the shadows are different now. There was a screen
door half-buried in snow in the side yard, or maybe that was the house beside
it. There was an armchair in the front room. But she might have moved that. He
should have paid better attention. He shouldn't be here. Keep away from her.
Both of them. They're trouble. Why didn't he pay better attention?
He walks all
the way to the end of the street, staring into blackened porches and living
rooms, frustration and anxiety and finally anger cracking him, because none of
the houses is right, and none of them is occupied. In desperation he tries the
other side of the street, even though he knows it's wrong. The sky is the color
of mussel shells. He crosses back over and tries each house again, stopping on
the sidewalk and looking carefully for any movement inside. She might still be
asleep. She might be waiting to see how serious he is.
By the time
he's been up and back all the way again, daylight is more theory than practice,
and the temperature's dropped another couple of degrees. He stands in the
middle of the sidewalk, wipes his nose, and says out loud, "Luz?"
There's no response. Just silence, and a first star through bare black rafters.
back to the house with his head down, his hands jammed in his pockets.
bites his hand and then, even as he's wincing, the door swings open and Spike
is in his face. "Where the fuck?" Half-yelling, almost pushing him
off the step. "Are you blind now too? What time is it?" He smells
awful. He's too close, too close even to see properly, just a sharp loud face
wired tight with anger. Xander tries to step back, but Spike grabs his collar
and shakes him. "It's fucking dark out, Harris, last thing I need is you
to get yourself fucking topped and I get the blame—" He yanks
Xander inside and slams the door behind him.
banged into the wall, still trying to get his bearings. Then they're just standing
there in the hallway, Spike's hand on his coat, and Spike doesn't seem to know
what to do next. "Stupid twat," he says grimly, and gives Xander's
coat a final shake. He's already letting go and starting to step back, but it's
too late, Xander's arms are rigid and his ears are roaring, and before he knows
what he's doing he's shoved Spike. It feels like shoving some much bigger,
heavier person. It only moves Spike back a step, but it puts him off balance,
and in the instant before he figures out what's going on, Xander's punched him
in the face.
crunches—knuckle on chin—and he closes his eyes for a second against the pain.
When he opens them again, Spike's coming at him and he knows he's screwed.
back into the wall, a shoulder rammed in his solar plexus, his head smacked
into stars. He can't breathe. Time halts.
He has the vague blind sense that Spike's face is crushed against his,
that he can hear Spike grinding his teeth right beside his ear, and if he could
breathe he'd smell acid and smoke and familiar skin. A hand clamps onto the
back of his neck and squeezes, and he loses his legs entirely. He’s pushing
feebly at whatever he can reach. Some part of Spike, he can't tell what. Chest
or arm or neck—it's all hard and furious and Spike is yelling in his ear now,
or at least it sounds like yelling. It's too loud to tell.
leave!" Spike is shouting. "Get the fuck out!" He shakes Xander
hard by the neck, and Xander still can't breathe, he's going to die, he's going
to suffocate right here in the hall. Red spots are whirling inside his head.
Vaguely, he can hear himself making a sick gasping sound.
shifts, and they're moving, he's dragging Xander boneless and foot-dragging
down the hall and into the front room. Xander tries to get his fingers under
Spike's hand, and can't. There's a sip of air in his throat now, halfway down
to his lungs. He tries to get his feet under him, and can't.
you money," Spike is saying. "What more do you want from me? You're
doing—doing my head in, you're—" He shakes Xander again and drops him
abruptly on the couch. Xander bounces and tries to breathe.
think I like this?" Spike snaps suddenly, as if he's just remembered what
he's supposed to be saying. He's looming now, out of focus. But Xander can
clearly see the flaking black blood under his nose. "You think I want
heaves in a breath and turns away, and Spike grabs him by the hair and jerks
his head back around. The pain is sickening, humiliating, and it makes Xander
furious again. He brings his knee up hard into Spike's side, and Spike gasps
and lets go of him. He tries to sit up, but there isn't time. Spike's already
shoved him back down and wrenched him to the edge of the couch by the waist of
his jeans. He gets a quick glimpse of Spike's face—hard, purposeful,
furious—and sees him raise a knee onto the couch.
progression hits him like a fist in the throat, and he feels stupid for just an
instant, then really frightened. He bucks board-rigid against Spike's hands,
and starts punching again, whatever he can reach. Not going to let this happen.
He gets maybe two good ones in before Spike grabs his wrists and pins them over
his head with one hand, then fastens the other on his throat.
saying something, rasping something, but the roar in Xander's ears is too loud
and he's too busy fighting to hear. He gets a knee in, one hand free, his
knuckles in Spike's eye, and has a dim tunneled roaring view of Spike going
suddenly, easily to game face. Fury face. Xander doesn't stop punching. Then
something he doesn't see cracks him across the cheek and nose, black red bloom
like fainting and he feels a blast of heat in his head and thinks, Oh God,
not knocked out.
He wakes up
with something warm and wet all over his face, and his first thought is too
confused and terrible to archive. It's just blood. He sees it on his fingers
when he touches his lip. And then some minor functionary leans over the wrecked
desk of his mind and whispers gently that Spike's come is only room temperature
touches his head and he jerks and half-falls off the couch. It's Spike, backed
a few feet away, staring at him. There's blood on his face, too. He looks
shocked. He has one hand out still, as if he doesn't know how to put it away.
at each other.
you all right?" Spike whispers finally. He sounds dazed.
touches his chin again, and looks at the blood on his fingers. His face feels
hot and strangely tight.
himself onto his elbows and knees, then loses steam and has to just hang there,
his head resting on his fists. His throat burns and there's too much spit in
his mouth. He hears Spike move behind him and sits up quickly, even though it
makes his head spin. His spit tastes like salt.
you—?" Silence. Xander wipes his lip again—that's where the blood is
coming from, it seems like—and sniffs wetly.
When he made
that decision to let go and fall, he hadn't been thinking of this. Hard to say
what he'd been thinking of, really.
he can keep you like this. He thinks you won't break. You're kindling, niño.
didn't want that," he says to the baseboard.
are—" Spike says, and stops.
if the blood smells good to Spike. Of course it does. Stupid even to wonder.
He leans on
the back of the couch and gets painfully to his feet.
you all right?" Spike says again, and Xander turns to see that he's still
standing there with his hands out strangely, as if they're wandering without
permission. Vampire mime. "I hit you."
He says it automatically, even before he has a chance to recognize Spike's
weird, disbelieving tone. "Yeah, sure." His head hurts, his body
hurts. He's retort-free.
another moment or two to realize that Spike's never hit him before. Not meaning
to. Not since he was a black hat and everything was simple. There's probably
some meaning in that realization, for someone who cares enough to find it.
his lip lightly again, then wipes his hands on his jeans and walks around Spike
without looking at him. He feels oddly light, even though he's exhausted.
Angles don't seem to matter much. Veering works fine.
He waves a
hand over his shoulder and keeps going. The pillow will be cool against his
okay. I'll see you tomorrow."
down the hall, the old faded wallpaper too close to his face, and tips around
the doorway into the bedroom. Falls into bed. The pillow is cool indeed.
wakes up the blind is drawn against the sun, and his head is pounding. He's
lying on his back on the mattress, the covers pulled up to his chin, his hands
at his sides, like a dead man. Even with the blind drawn, the room feels too
bright. He squints at the window and feels the weird hot heaviness that means
his cheek and eye are swollen. His frees one hand from the covers and pats his
are coming down the hall for him; in a minute, Spike is in the doorway. He
hangs there without saying anything, and when Xander's done feeling his face,
he looks up. Spike's washed his face and combed his hair back and he's even
changed his shirt. He's wearing a black T-shirt with a flaming skull on it, a
little small for him but probably the cleanest thing he's got, given that
Xander's never seen him wear it before. Still, it looks weirdly familiar.
you'd want—" Spike lets it hang and gestures tentatively with one hand.
He's holding a towel and a little amber plastic bottle. "For your
Xander doesn't get it for a second; then he does, and sits up slowly. His arms
shake under his weight. Spike's crouching next to the mattress, the towel held
out, and Xander takes it with his left hand, because his right is swollen and
stiff from meeting Spike's chin. Which looks just fine, of course.
The towel is
full of snow, just starting to soak through. He puts it against his face and
just sits there, staring at the foot of the mattress, while Spike rattles
something out of the plastic bottle. Familiar sound. Spike's hand appears in
front of him, a couple of Demerol in the palm. Xander just stares at it.
After a long
minute, Spike draws his hand back and tips the pills back into the bottle.
Xander turns his head, slowly, and watches him click the childproof lid on.
It's the same bottle. Spike is looking strangely embarrassed. And the shirt—
Xander says, as it comes to him. "That was Liv's." He feels a weird
satisfaction in making the connection. Spike looks confused, so he points
awkwardly. "That shirt. She had it back in—in LA."
glances down, takes the bottom hem between his thumb and forefinger, and pulls
it out so he can see the front. He studies it for a second, as if he's never
seen it before, then shrugs. "Sure. Gotta kill that bitch. I was going to
do a wash, you want me to take any of your kit?"
His tone is
false-casual, and Xander squints to focus on him properly. Spike glances at
him, then back down at the bottle in his hands. He's playing with it, rolling
it between his palms, the pills inside clicking quietly. Have they done laundry
once since leaving California? Or even before? If they have, Xander can't
Spike says, and then stops and scratches the back of his head sharply. He
glances up, resettles himself on his heels, and closes his hand in a fist
around the bottle. "Look, I know this has been hard on you."
and Xander knows it's his cue to give a derisive snort, but he doesn't have it
in him. He feels translucent. He waits.
the bottle between his finger and thumb and seems to read the prescription
label. Alexander Phillips, it must be made out to. Whoever he is. Funny how
familiar the sound of the pills is. And what's the feeling it gives him, to
hear them? Something painful and murky, and he doesn’t want to feel it so he stops
mean," Spike says to the bottle, "I know it's been wrong. For you. I
thought—I didn't get that before. But I do now. And I'm sorry."
shifts the towel against his cheek.
sorry, Xander," Spike says, looking straight at him. "I'm sorry for
all of it. I didn't mean to hurt you."
is, he looks sorry. His mouth is tight and his eyes are sharp and wet,
and he's searching Xander's face for a sign, any sign. He's the picture of
Sorry. Strange, when you consider.
all right," Xander says. It's all right. He's tired, he wants to forget
any of it ever happened. File it under "F." He'll go to the city, get
a job that makes no difference, live his life. He can't imagine having
grandkids to tell this to.
sorry I hit you," Spike whispers, and reaches for his free hand. Xander
lets him take it.
sorry I—" Spike breaks off and kisses his puffy knuckles lightly. "I
always fuck things up." Pure despair.
Xander smiles slightly. "It's okay. I'm all right, it's no big deal."
Enough. All is forgiven and he wants to go, to be away and alone with the sharp
cold spine of blackness growing in him. Spike is sorry. Spike has apologized.
He feels the blackness tremble, the seam begin to widen. Now is not the time. Spike's
lips are cool on his knuckles.
didn't mean to hurt you," Spike says again, his mouth against Xander's
skin, and Xander carefully puts the towel down, reaches out, and put his hand
on Spike's head. Spike starts and stares at him.
know," Xander says gently. "I know you didn't mean to, Spike. It's
all right. Really." Spike's eyes are huge, hopeful, disbelieving. Xander
pats him lightly, twice, on the head, then drops his hand to Spike's shoulder.
"It's all right, Spike. I'm okay."
half-turns his head to look at Xander's hand on his shoulder, as if he can't
quite believe it's there. He's shivering. He looks back and his face is
stripped wide open, shaking and wet. Something shivers back in Xander's chest,
and he looks away quickly, down to the bottle in Spike's hand.
and sniffs, and Xander knows without looking that he's just wiped his eyes.
There's a pause.
bloody wish I didn't love you," Spike says.
Spike says. "Strike that. I bloody wish you loved me back."
smiles. Something in him whispers, Wait, wait. There'll be time
should sleep," Spike says. "Rest up, give yourself a chance to heal.
Be on the bus tomorrow."
in there with you a minute," Spike says. Xander looks at him. Spike
half-meets his eyes, fiddling with the bottle, letting the request hang like a
bar bet, an idle suggestion, some advice. Like he doesn't care one way or
collects the towel and squirms over onto the cold side of the mattress, and
Spike pulls up the blankets and gets in. He's still got his boots on, still got
the bottle in his hands. He lies on his side studying the label again, while
Xander lies a foot and a half away, the towel pressed to his cheek.
this stuff for pain?" Spike asks, staring at the bottle. Xander considers.
glances at him, then back at the bottle. "Maybe I'll keep it around. Just
he wonders idly—he's seen Spike beaten black and blue, seen half his ear torn
off, and the pills were never mentioned, so God knows what he's banking them
for. Dismemberment, maybe.
sure?" Spike says, raising the bottle slightly. Xander nods. Spike nods
back, as if he understands, and puts the bottle carefully, precisely, on the
mattress between them. Then he closes his eyes and sighs and sinks his head
into the pillow. He looks very tired. It's been a while, Xander realizes, since
Spike slept anywhere comfortable.
going to sleep all bloody day," Spike murmurs, his eyes closed. "And
all bloody night. And when I wake up you're going to be gone."
watching while Spike falls asleep, while his face loosens and his lips part and
the ends of his fingers twitch. Xander dozes a little, himself. When he wakes
up for the final time, sudden and clear as if someone had shaken him, the room
is almost dark and Spike hasn't moved. The towel has soaked the pillow between
still for a minute, letting his eyes adjust, feeling the gritty ache in his jaw
and cheek and hand. Spike's face is open, serene. The face of a man who's given
up. Xander considers, then leans over and kisses him lightly on the forehead.
Then he gets
carefully out at the end of the bed and starts collecting what he'll need.
taste to anger. It's thick and sharp and dry, like electroshock therapy, like a
thousand volts of lightning injected straight into the spinal marrow, ripping
through every tissue and regrouping in the gut to come barreling out the mouth
because that's how you puke, that's how you get rid of what makes you fucking
he yells again, and pauses to listen. His mouth tastes putrid. He leans over
and spits into the snow. It ought to be black, it ought to sizzle. It's just
spit. He unscrews the bottle and takes another sip. Silence. Fuck.
He drops his
head and starts walking again, his arms wrapped around his chest for warmth,
his shoes sliding a little on the ice. Every time he loses his footing he wants
to scream and smash the bottle on the pavement. Fucking stupid. All his life
he's run from vampires, and now that he wants one, he can't find her. Fucking
stupid. He can't smash the bottle; it's all the booze he's got. Jim Beam,
three-quarters full. He took it off the mantelpiece in the living room when he
left. He left the front door ajar because he didn't want to bang it and wake
going to sleep all day and all night, and when he wakes up, Xander's going to
he shouts again, turning in a circle and staring down the street the way he's
just come. They're here, they're somewhere, they must be somewhere. They must
have a house, like Spike's. An oh-so-humble abode. They entertain. Can't do
that without a base of operations.
the fuck are you?" he shouts, his arms straight out, teetering on the
balls of his feet. "What the fuck am I supposed to do, bite myself?"
has no opinion. He spins back around and starts walking again, as quickly as he
can without falling. The pack throws him off balance, and he wants to wrench it
off and hurl it into the nearest tree, but there's some part of his mind that's
still sane enough to stop him. The same part that kept a silent chokehold on
all of this until Spike was asleep, until he was sure he could get out, until he
could come looking. Until he could actually do something about the sound and
Or try, at
vampires. Fucking no-show vampires.
right here!" he yells, swinging the bottle out again for emphasis.
"I'm drunk and alone and will you please come fucking bite me, you
gap-toothed Goth fuckers!"
hits on the bottle, another block of the wrong houses. He yells for her again,
and the streets and sky give back nothing. Maybe he's the one who's
disappeared. Maybe Spike finally did him in, made something hemorrhage or broke
his skull against the wall, and all of this is just a useless epilogue. Could
be this is what ghosts feel like. Riddled with bile, lost, stamping.
The last voice
he wants to hear, and he flinches physically, then feels like an idiot.
not here," he says out loud. "You're in Sunnydale. I made you up to
keep me company, remember?"
what are you doing?
my LPs. Cut it out."
safe out here.
laughs at that, and fingers his swollen cheek.
don't you leave? Just walk—keep walking, go to the highway and hitch or call—
he says. "You go on ahead, I'll catch you up later."
walking and sighs. "What you fail to understand, Willow, is that—" He
stops because he can't think how to say it, how to even start to find the
words. His head feels suddenly agonizingly full, too much rage beating red at
the inside of his skull, it should come shooting out of his mouth and nose in a
bloody fountain, he should have an aneurysm of fury and die right here. He'd
welcome it. He stands with his hands clenched in his hair, waiting for it to
crest and pass. When it finally does, he's left panting.
He wipes his mouth and spits into the snow. "Okay. So, that
You don't have to do this.
he says grimly, and takes the bottle from his pocket. "I want to
walking again, a little unsteadily at first, then faster and straighter. It's
cold, so cold his footsteps sound gritty and there's a moon dog, but he doesn't
feel it. He feels hot. He feels like he could drop his coat right here, drop
his pack, lose everything and just start to run until he finds her. Until he
hunts her down and tells her—fucking orders her—to do it to him.
catch that whole apology scene?" he asks, slipping and grabbing a lamp
post to steady himself. "That whole mea culpa drama? Real tearjerker,
doesn't matter. He doesn't matter. You don't have to do this.
for a guy he does a good line in trembling lips, don't you think? And the way
he couldn't even say half of it, you know, because the emotion—" He swigs,
loving the burn. "'I'm sorry I hit you, Xander.' 'I'm sorry I hurt you.'
'I'm sorry I fucked you—'" He stops, his whole body rigid and
hurting, a blaze between his ears. When he comes back, his hand is gripping the
neck of the bottle so hard it aches. He pries his fingers loose and drinks,
then laughs. "Sorry, that didn't actually make the cut. It was, you know,
idiot," he snarls, and then throws his head back and bellows, "Luz!"
He waits a minute, staring at the hazy pale circle around the moon. Ice
crystals, or something. Fascinating. Where was the stupid bitch?
please. Please stop this. Please come back.
gone blurry and his eyes hurt, his throat hurts and it won't stop working. He
tries to drink and can't.
can't come back, Willow," he says. "I can't come back now."
You can. Just walk to the road, just call us.
swaying, shivering, his face upturned, tears running down his cheeks and into
his ears and collar. There's a trench of pain in his chest. Her soft woeful
eyes, the smell of her. The smell of her house when they were kids, the
newspapers stacked on her parents' hall table, the dying ficus in the sun
porch. The summer he spent trying to teach her to swim. The one kiss. He
remembers the taste completely.
can't come back now, Willow," he says, and wipes his face. Tears freeze
he says, and shrugs her off. He walks away down the street, leaving her behind
in the argyle sweater she's had since junior high, calling after him without
making a sound.
too tired to keep looking, and he slings his pack through the window of one of
the burnt-out houses and makes a cold bed in the blackened corner of what might
have been a living room. This must be bottom. He drinks a little, pillows his
head on his pack, and watches the moon move through the empty window frame
hears footsteps one floor up, he's not sure whether he's awake or asleep. He
doesn't move. It can't be safe to walk around up there, he reflects. The
ceiling is stained with huge brown eddies of thaw water, soot like negatives of
flame. The footsteps go across the floor to the back of the house, and come
quietly down the stairs.
He lies with
his ankles crossed, his hands behind his head, the bottle nestled to his side.
She comes down the hall trailing a finger on the wallpaper, trailing a coat
behind her like a train.
mi hijo," she says, stopping in the doorway and smiling at him. Her
hair is black and loose. She’s wearing the same dress, or another like it. Her
feet are bare.
update your tetanus?" he says, gazing at her feet.
slowly and looks down at her feet, then back at him. Her eyes pass over the
bruises on his face, rest there a moment, then move on. "What do you want,
you to bite me," he says immediately, and lets his head drop back onto his
pack. There's silence.
lifts his head and looks at her. She's leaning against the doorframe wrapping
the coat around her—Standish's coat, he notices again—and pushing back her
seen you people turn pencil-neck froshes," he says. "Accountants.
Cheerleaders. I'd make a better vampire than that, don't you think?"
fussing with the coat.
been staking vampires for years. I know everything not to do. I'd be a great
addition to the family."
want to be like us," she says absently, as if verifying the point.
want to hunt?"
hesitates, then says, "Yeah."
want to kill."
There's a long silence. He thinks of Spike's wet eyes, the jumping muscle in
his jaw. I'm sorry. I'm sorry for all of it. I didn't mean to hurt you.
he says roughly, and has to clear his throat. "Yeah, I could do some
her head and looks at him steadily for a minute, then goes back to the coat. He
expects her to say something, but she doesn't, and the silence just gets longer
and longer, until finally he sits up.
maybe I was vague. I'll reprise. Bite me."
glances at him, but says in a low, bemused tone, "Por favor…"
Thank you. Before I freeze to death."
are cold?" she says, looking up with real interest. He has to rein his
impatience in hard.
smell warm, though," she says, and crosses to his side.
faster than he'd expected, and he can't help the age-old recoil, the stupid
grapple for the bottle beside him because after all it's a weapon of some kind.
She crouches beside him and watches him force himself to let the bottle go.
smell wonderful," she says, and leans toward him.
hard and closes his eyes, feels his heart kick up into red alert, feels sweat
run down his sides. It's going to hurt. He knows it will. And it won't be
Spike, and for a foolish instant that makes him sad.
brushes his cheek, her lips touch his jaw. He thinks, I'm sorry.
gone again, and all he has is a smell of charcoal and iron.
if I just drink you?" she asks.
He opens his
eyes and looks at her. She's crouched on the burnt floor beside him, one elbow
on a raised knee, her chin on her hand, regarding him thoughtfully.
if—?" he asks, then gets it. "Oh. Well, that's… Well, I hope you
won't." Incredibly lame, and all he has.
turn you," she says, "you will be truly cold. Not warm anymore, at
He lies watching
her. She runs her hand down her leg and examines the polish on her toenails.
Spike had cold hands, cold legs. Cold mouth. Because he was dead. Because he
was a demon.
he says. "Night like tonight, I'll be a balmy 32 degrees, or maybe I'll
just be dead if that's what you decide to do, but one way or another, could we
please get this show on the road? I've got stuff to do."
stuff?" she asks quickly, her eyes flashing up to his.
he says. "Unfinished business, as they say in the movies. Can we—"
you want this?" she asks. Her eyes are black and bright in the moonlight.
He tightens his lips and stares at her. "Ay," she says.
"Let me ask, then, what do you want to do to him?"
him," he spits, before he knows he's going to. As soon as he's said it,
the fury is back, a hammerblow to his brain. It hurts, it makes his fingers
stiff and his face hard, and he has to open his mouth and gasp as if he were
being choked. He's never felt anything like it. He wants to kill.
do you want to do to him?" Luz repeats, and he manages to find her face
and see the oddly compassionate interest on it. It infuriates him even more—he
is pitied—and he has to stop himself from swinging a fist at her head. He
unscrews the bottle with shaking fingers and takes a short swig.
him," he says, when he can breathe. "I want to fucking kill him. I
want to beat the living crap out of him and—"
Luz says, when he doesn't go on.
his head in his hands, trying to keep his skull from exploding, and the last
few frayed cords of reason are popping. He shakes his head, grinds his teeth.
Luz says again, more gently.
him," he spits. "Fuck him so he knows what that's like, how that
feels, fuck him up, stake him, dance on his ashes. I want to do a Snoopy dance
on his goddamned ashes, see how he likes that. Then go and get a Big Gulp and
call it a day."
long silence, while he trembles and holds his head and wonders if he's going to
throw up in his own lap. Slowly, the pain eases down, and he's sitting on the
cold burned floor again, in silence, with a taste of used electricity in his
mi hijo," Luz sighs. "I like you. I'll think about it."
with him, curled up against him with her face against his throat. Because he's
warm. Because he smells good. He lies stiffly for the first few hours, staring
at the ceiling and trying not to twitch when he feels her dreaming lips work
against his skin. Finally he falls asleep, and when he wakes up next he's
holding her in his arms.
wakes up again the sky outside is bright, and there's a square of sunlight a
few feet away, glinting on an empty Captain Morgan's bottle. Luz is still
curled against his chest, one knee drawn up over him as if they were lovers.
Standish's coat smells like cigars.
He lies for
a while looking at her, at the faint lines around her eyes, the jut of her
cheekbone, the few grey strands in her hair. She was older than he is, when she
was turned. He wonders where she lived, when she was alive. I grew up on
heat, on fire. He wonders how Standish met her.
enough to go back to sleep, but ridiculously, he has to pee. He shifts slightly
and she opens her eyes and looks at him.
There's a moment, staring at those blank black eyes, when he remembers what she
is and feels a stab of fear. She could lean in now and open his throat in a
single mouthful. He's sleeping with a barracuda.
and her eyes soften slightly with what might be recognition, and she smiles.
The smile doesn't make him feel any better, but then she lifts her leg off his
side, and that's a relief. He sits up and puts a foot or two of floor between
them, trying not to look like he's doing it. Stupid, when a foot or two doesn't
matter a damn.
dreamed about making a boy of my own," she says, and stretches so that the
coat falls open and he can see the hard outline of her rib cage through her
dress. "A blue-eyed boy with soft lips and a cock like a tulip."
and pulls his coat closed. "Oh." That hangs in the air long enough to
make him feel irretrievably stupid. "Well, that's—"
was angry," she said, rubbing her eyes. "He came in with a branch and
staked my boy."
He looks around,
finds his bottle, and tucks it into his coat. Some part of his mind is starting
up with a plaintive, nonsensical whine: he'd expected to be turned by now. He's
supposed to be one of the living dead. He shouldn't still have to pee.
gone," Luz says. "And Standish was still angry, and he beat me with
the branch until my bones showed through my skin."
with his fingers on his buttons, and glances at her. She's lying on her back,
staring at the ceiling, her face sombre.
Standish—?" he says, and then can't think what to say. It's none of his
business. She turns her head and looks at him, and he meets her eyes for a
moment, then glances away at the square of sunlight on the floor. "You
should be careful," he says. "No curtains out here."
him for a moment, perfectly still, and without thinking he reaches out and
pulls Standish's coat closed around her. He pats it lightly. "I guess I
to Spike." She says it naturally, without hesitation, as if it were a
foregone conclusion. He feels his face go stiff.
She props herself up on one elbow. "You have not forgiven him?"
He laughs sharply, gets to his feet, and grabs his pack. The anger's starting
to swell again, and he needs to get moving before it makes him punch something.
"No. No. Not so much with the forgiving."
He starts to
turn away, blinking at the bright white world outside the door. He hears her
shift behind him.
still want to be bitten?"
hesitates, then turns back. She's standing up, the square of sunlight just
beside her, all but touching her foot. He can't wait to be out in the sun, feel
some warmth on his skin.
Yeah, I still want…to be bitten."
there staring at him, and he waits, and nothing happens. Finally he shakes his
head and turns away again.
well, you know. Have your people call my people." He starts for the door.
back, halfway out into the world. She looks thin and somehow despairing.
want it so much, you can wait."
"Yeah, that's what my folks said about tickets to Sturgis."
She holds up
three fingers. "You can wait three nights, niño. In three nights,
He stares at
her. Three nights. Why three nights? An eternity. And at the same time, some
tiny boneless thing is wriggling deep in the mud of his mind, beginning to
panic. What is he asking for?
he says. "Three nights." They both nod, and he turns and goes out
into the sun.
He sits on a
bench by the towpath and sleepily eats a Pop-Tart. He hadn't known that
Pop-Tarts could freeze. It makes almost no difference to how they taste.
hungry when it's gone, but he ignores that. In his pack he has a few sweaters,
a wine bottle filled with water, the road map he kept hidden from Spike. There
are a couple more Pop-Tarts in the outside pockets, and there's the money.
Four-hundred-odd dollars stuffed in with the Pop-Tarts, and just about as much
use. There's nowhere here to spend it, and even without thinking about it he
knows he's not going anywhere else. Not yet. Not for, say, three days or so.
expecting a counter-offer. He wasn't expecting to have to make a sales pitch.
He was a healthy neck, a willing lunch. All he asked in return was a mouthful
or two of disgusting, and then he'd be on his way.
you want to do to him?
imagine how it must feel, to be like them. He's been close to their kind all
his life. He's seen them when they first rise, when they're still puzzling over
the sore neck, before they've even thought to be glad they didn't sign for
cremation. Seen them hop over a tombstone for the first time and stand there
with a look of bewildered, animal delight at their own lightness and speed.
Seen them go poof on the end of a stake in no time at all. Usually a stake with
Buffy at the other end, wearing something kicky.
them straight out of the shell like that, and he's seen them after a few years
knocking around, like Spike and Dru and Darla. He's seen them old and ugly,
blanched by tunnels and power. He knows them like an extended family, and
sometimes he's dreamed he's one of them, that he's useful in the fight, he has
a purpose, and no one has to look out for him. He used to wake up from those
dreams feeling gross, like a traitor.
The sun is
warm on the back of his neck, and he closes his eyes and lets himself doze a
little. He can imagine Spike's hard bicep in his fist, knows how it will feel
when his fingers bite into Spike's skin and he sets his feet and yanks. He's
heavier than Spike. It'll take Spike right off his feet, send him ten or maybe
fifteen feet through the air. He'll hit the wall at the height you'd hang a
picture. That's enough to daze even a demon, and by the time he's started back
to his feet, Xander will be over him already, and he knows how the muscles in
his shoulder and side will feel, whipcracking, when he starts to punch.
He wakes up
to find the little bush beside the bench full of sparrows. When he moves his
hand to his pack they dart away, but they come back for the Pop-Tart crumbs he
He walks all
day, making a game of finding streets he hasn't tried yet, until finally there
are no streets left without his footprints already going in at least one
direction. The shadows get long and blue. He's tired. He tries the door of a
warehouse down by the canal, and lets himself into a black cavern of rusted
metal and ropes. There were ships here, once. Upstairs is a small office with a
desk, filing cabinet, and fold-away cot. Jackpot.
but he covers himself in sweaters and curls sideways to avoid the worst of the
springs. The room smells of mildew. He swigs bourbon, wiggles his toes to bring
the feeling back, and thinks about his fist around Spike's wrist, his arm
windmilling, the crack of the bone inside. It's a satisfying thought.
while, not as satisfying as it should be.
his eyes and forces himself to think of Spike crouching wet-eyed in front of
him. I didn't mean to hurt you. So convenient, the apology in bulk. Sorry
for…well, everything. Don't know what I was thinking. He can let himself
the roll of rage now. He waits for it.
his grip on the bottle and grimly turns his mind to that night in the loft, his
head ringing, blood in his mouth, Spike flipping him and grabbing him and— And
he's instantly furious, gasping and outraged as if a switch has been hit, and
now when he thinks about the bone twisting into a fringe of greenstick inside
Spike's arm he's exultant and he can go even farther with it. He can think
about smashing Spike's head into the wall, dazing him, and ripping his jeans
down, fucking him without preamble, until he bleeds and cries and begs. You're
sorry? You didn't mean to hurt me? He can imagine hurting him like that,
fucking him to hurt him, because there are no words for what he's felt, how
sick it makes him and how much he hates it, all of it, what it's done to him
and what it's still doing. He'd never thought of doing that to anyone, ever.
Always thought of it as a travesty, an atrocity. Which it is. It's monstrous.
He takes a
long drink, waits blinking for it to settle, and then another to keep it
company. He's not tired anymore; he's tense, juiced with disgust and anger. He
reaches down and rummages in his pack until he finds the road map. There's just
enough light left in the office to see the major routes. He props himself up on
one elbow and starts tracing highways north, south, west. Wondering where he'll
back in the window, nosy and tireless, celestial guidance counselor, and he
groans and pulls a sweater over his head. His temples throb, his mouth is
paper. He fishes the water bottle out of his pack and drinks as much as he can,
in small sips. It's cold and it tastes of rust.
takes it in, looks it over, and starts up a bitchy whine: water isn't food,
apparently. Feeding a Pop-Tart to the sparrows is already seeming pretty
stupid. There are two left, and he eats half of one without understanding what
flavor it's supposed to be, then covers his face again and tries to sleep.
nights. Three nights and a maybe. It's out of his hands now, he's made his
case. Somewhere, in some half-burnt house in the snow, his fate is being
decided and he's not going to be consulted again. Not until she makes up her
mind, and finds him.
answer is no, he wonders whether she'll tell him that. Or just kill him.
He thinks of
her lips against his throat, soft and needing, and because he's half-asleep and
drifting, it makes him hard. Just that touch, the brush of skin against his, a
body curled into his as if for protection. It makes him want to be gentle and
calm. He slides a little farther into sleep like that, imagining his hand on a
thin back and feeling comforted, himself, by the way he strokes it.
time you want to try something, let me know first, all right?
had been gentle on his arm and back, and his shoulder had been bony but
familiar to lean on. He doesn't want to think about Spike. But he does. He
thinks of that black night when he seesawed in and out of the world, in and out
of sanity, and each time Spike's calm arm was the lever that brought him back.
sorry. I never meant to hurt you.
Too late, he thinks, or makes
himself think, but he's too sleepy for venom. He should think of something
terrible, sort through the memory chest for one of the really awful moments,
but he's too tired. He doesn't want to feel like that right now. Later. He'll
get angry again later. Right now, he just wants to—
Spike's cool arm around him. Soft, dreaming lips against his throat.
He's still hard when he wakes up, and he curses his body, then
rolls off the cot and shuffles downstairs to piss in the snow. The light is
dark blue, late afternoon. He's never pissed in the middle of a street, in the
middle of the day, before. He has the leisure, while he does so, to look both
left and right, all the way up the hill and down to the canal. Not a soul in
what Spike is doing right now. Rattling around in the big empty house, smoking,
watching the birds. Having a bath. Reading a six-month-old racing paper.
Cussing Xander out when he notices that his bourbon isn't on the mantel.
Drinking a few litres of rotgut wine instead and wandering out into the
off and folds himself awkwardly back into his fly. Then he stands looking down
at the bump in the front of his trousers.
do you want from me?" he asks. "God."
He feels too
exposed, out here in the daylight with a hard-on in his trousers like some kind
of raincoat pervert, so he goes back inside and wanders the cold dark aisles of
rusted machinery until his cock finally gives up on him. Then he goes back up
to the office, wraps himself in sweaters, eats the second half of the Pop-Tart,
contemplates the whole one that's left, and decides against. There are no books
in the office, nothing in the desk drawers. He spreads the map out over his
legs and looks for little towns in warm places, towns with names like Euphoria
and Gladness and Normal.
He wakes up
cold, all the sweaters fallen to the floor. His stomach wails in the darkness.
In a fit of self-indulgence he eats the last Pop-Tart, so fast he almost chokes
on the crumbs. That gives his stomach something to think about, and he finds
the sweaters by touch and piles them back on the cot.
cold to fall asleep again, so he walks a careful circle around the room, cot to
desk to wall to cot and back. Each time he goes around he passes the window and
sees the stars. No moon, no light. He should have brought a flashlight, or a
candle. He wasn't thinking very clearly when he left.
nights, I'll decide.
twists in his gut again, when he sees her standing barefoot on the burnt floor.
He asked to be bitten. To be turned. Her black lips, smiling at him in the
kitchen, her strong brown hands in the blonde woman's hair. Is she still alive,
that woman? Is it really possible to bargain with them?
He asked to
be bitten—for some reason that won't leave him, and the twist of worry is
growing and roiling, and suddenly his mouth drops open and he gasps. Willow.
His life. Everything— He closes his mouth and forces himself to think of white
fingers digging into his shoulder, teeth in his neck, the thrust and tearing
pain and suck and nothing left undone, he's done it all or been done by at
least, not a shred of innocence left to him, or even imagination, because it
was what Spike wanted, because Spike loved him. Things he shouldn't know. About
Spike, about himself. What else is left, after that? What other option is
weeping, standing in the middle of the room with a wet face and heaving
shoulders, too full of hatred and disgust even to fold and do this properly,
prone. He's dead already.
to sleep all bloody day. And all bloody night. And when I wake up you're going
to be gone.
there weeping, exhausted, until finally the cot bends gently into the backs of
his knees and he's dry, wasted, hiccupping in the silence.
moved since he sat down, over an hour ago. He doesn't trust his body, doesn't
want to distract himself. His hands are clasped loosely between his knees, and
his head is bowed. It's too dark to see anything, but he's staring at the floor.
want it anymore. He doesn't want to be bitten, turned, or killed. That's the
starting point. He might never have wanted it, might only have been furious and
afraid and desperate—but that's a distraction. He doesn't have time for
He has to
himself up a long time ago, and he gave himself up again two nights ago, and he
has one night left to try to get himself back. If he can. If it's
possible. He's not sure it is.
thought was to run. He has four hundred dollars in his pack, he could make it
to the city at least, He's got one more night to do it. Maybe he'll still try,
if he gets desperate enough. But if he does that, it'll be a gesture and
nothing more. He doesn't have to be told that running isn't in the rules, and
if he runs, sooner or later, she'll find him. She has all the time in the world
to track him down. So, no running.
thought was Buffy. The highway, a pay phone, Buffy. No time to explain,
just help, get on a plane and fly here, I'm in New York, not the city, just the
state, a little town where they don't even plow the streets, I don't know what
it's called, I'm still alive, I need your help—
get here fast enough? Could he even explain in time? It all seems so unlikely.
Buffy seems like a figment of someone else's imagination, a better imagination
than his own. One that could dream up a shiny blonde vengeance machine,
unstoppable, unafraid. And on the other side of the continent.
imagine making that call. His mind won't make that leap, won't bring Buffy here
to the land of snows. He can't imagine explaining to her how he got here in the
first place, or why his neck is full of holes, or why he never called before.
It takes him
a long time to consciously try the next thought. Which is Spike.
He feels his
heartbeat jack up and for a while he can't think past that, just the fact of
Spike, who suddenly seems realer than he has in a long time. Or real in a
different way. He has a clear image of Spike's face: he can study it, the
grooves of his cheekbones and the exact blue of his eyes, as if Spike were
right there in front of him. Funny, because most of the time he only has the
outlines. He doesn't like any more detail. Doesn't allow himself to have it.
But right now he has to be clear and focused, and there's no time for what he
won't allow himself.
If he's still in the house at all. If he didn't wake up, see Xander and the
money gone, and pack his own bags. Take himself and his failing serpentine off
for a fresh start in Florida. It's possible.
All of which
is another distraction. What matters is—can Spike help him?
Luz. He could talk to her, make her call it off. He could fight her, if it
comes to that. Could he fight her and Standish, both?
Xander has a
brief, prophetic image of Spike struggling with Standish, and Luz breaking his
neck simply, from behind. Then, as he crabs on the dirty floor, a broken chair
He shuts his
eyes and squeezes his palms together. There's a pain in his throat. It's a
distraction. He has to think.
If it were
Luz only, Spike could help him. But it may be both of them, and two against one
is easy to predict. The pain in his throat is swelling. It's funny, almost. He
did this because he wanted to hurt Spike. Wanted to kill him. Now, the thought
of him fighting and dying is terrible.
He can't ask
Spike for help. This is his own fault, even if everything else is Spike's.
Briefly, he hopes someone is keeping a tally, because it's complicated and he's
starting to lose track.
point at which he starts to feel he's run out of options. The sky is lightening
outside the window; he hears a bird peep somewhere in the eaves. It will be
And then it
will be night.
He stands at
the window watching the last stars disappear into the dawn. That night outside
Woodstock, leaning out of the car and staring up until his eyes watered, seeing
more and more stars, the longer he looked. The smell of cigarettes and snow.
His teeth starting to chatter.
the heater on and it kicks in with a clunk. He's looking for a cigarette. The
headlights need aligning. The car turns, straddles the road, idles while Spike
tries another pocket.
over and takes hold of his collar, pulls him gently around, and kisses him.
Softly, sweetly, the way a kiss in a car should be. He can feel Spike's smile
against his mouth. It's a beautiful night. There's time.
left, so he goes down to the street and snaps an icicle off the drainpipe. It
helps to crunch it in his teeth, it helps to have something solid going down
his throat. He eats it all, pees a second hole into the snowbank, and stands
again contemplating the front of his trousers. Apparently he's going to die
with a hard-on.
if he should write a note of some kind. For Willow. He feels guilty at having
abandoned her, turned his back on her, even though he knows she was never here
in the first place. And maybe, somehow, if he leaves a note it will find its
way back to her in the real world, and she'll at least have a transcript of
what went down.
drawers are still empty, so he rummages in the warehouse until he finds a
broken China marker and an abandoned newspaper. He takes them back up to the
office, spreads the paper on the desk, and writes, "Dear Willow" in
the top left-hand corner.
Then he just
sits staring at the paper, because he can't think of a single thing to write.
He lies on
his back watching the square of sunlight move down the wall by degrees. He
isn't cold. He wishes he could say he weren't hungry, but his body's too
practical for that. His stomach hurts and he feels a little woozy. He keeps
thinking about roast chicken.
practical in other ways, too—or if not practical, indifferent to his plight.
He's half-hard, as if fear and resignation were a turn-on. He refuses to do
anything about it, because he knows what he'll end up thinking about and he
doesn't want to think like that right now. It would be hypocritical, to say the
square of sun is halfway down the wall, he gets carefully up and goes
downstairs, outside into the last of the bright day. He washes his face in a
snowbank, washes his hands, then thinks what the hell and pulls his
coat and sweater and shirt off, and scrapes snow in handfuls all over his chest
and arms. His skin turns a startled pink. He shivers, but he doesn't really
feel cold. He takes his trousers off and does his legs as well. There's a
ruthless satisfaction in dousing his cock with a handful of snow.
scrubbed all over, hopping from foot to foot and breathing in rigid little
gasps, he forces himself to stand still and take stock. It's his body, the one
he's had all his life. His second toe is longer—the smart toe, Willow used to
call it—and he has a scar above his left knee from the trash heap when he was
nine, and now a scar under his right knee from the surgery in LA. He's an
innie. There's a mole in his right armpit; the doctor told him to keep an eye
on it when he got older. Those are his ribs, his hipbones, the bumps of his
spine. His hands are rough and square and familiar. The scars on the backs are
familiar. His tan has faded. His cheek
hardly aches at all now.
body. Looking it over, he feels inexpressibly sorry for it.
slowly, and leans against the wall for the sun. His face throbs and prickles in
When the sun
is so low the sky is flat turquoise with a lip of orange, he pushes off the
wall and starts back inside. He's cold, and the black maw of the warehouse is
freezing. He hurries upstairs and wraps himself in the sweaters, then lies
shivering violently in the half-light.
He has hours
left at best, and he wonders how he'll stand them. How he'll stand it when she
comes. He'll try to talk to her. If she doesn't listen, will he weep? Beg? His
mouth tastes strange, coppery. He might vomit, if he had anything in his belly.
He should have run, should have gone to the city to buy some time and called
Buffy, or maybe Willow could do something from that distance, or at least if he
was in the city he'd die somewhere with lights. Somewhere he could see her
face, see his own hands as he fought.
now, or so close it makes no difference, and he closes his eyes and thinks as
hard as he can, Willow, I'm sorry. Not your fault. Love you. I should have—
things he should have done, he can't start. He hopes she gets the cable. He has
to think about himself now, try to put himself in order.
won't be so bad. With Spike, the biting was good sometimes. There were times
he'd craved it. Invited it. So strange, now, to think about that first time,
midnight on the couch with his knees a shambles, kissing sweetly. Smiling in
the darkness. Everything important that's happened to him since Sunnydale has
happened in the dark.
mouth had tasted new, and his hands had been gentle, and he'd said, You're
toasty. His teeth had been pure sex. He'd cleaned Xander's neck with
alcohol, and taken him to bed.
little hard again, and this time he doesn't judge himself. It hadn't been so
bad, back then. He can see, looking back, how it all came about.
be thinking about this. Not now, in his last few hours on Earth. He should be
thinking about his life, his soul, which he only knows he has because he's seen
what the lack of one looks like. He should pray, or something. He should try to
make a plan.
are clasped between his knees for warmth, and he's stopped shivering quite so
badly now. That first night, when he'd meant to put his hand on Spike's side
and touched his belt instead—he'd been mortified. Wanted to pry up a
floorboard. Because he'd touched Spike's belt.
do that, you know.
his hands and raises one, shifts a little, and runs his fingers over his
half-erection. He's smiling. What the hell. It doesn't matter. Spike's mouth
had been cool, he'd held himself up so he didn't hurt Xander with his weight.
His fingers had felt good in Xander's hair. That kissing, and the kissing that
came later, the times it was sweet and gentle or sweet and sharp, Spike's hand
on him or in him, lips at his cheek and ear, the heady submerged knowledge that
he was loved. Loved.
Even when it
was brutal, love.
His hand is
harder on his cock now, his wrist jerking, and he's grinning and biting his lip
at the perversity of it all. But, more. No reason not to. Not now. He lets go
and undoes the button of his trousers, rakes the zipper down.
in the warehouse, the door bangs closed.
His mouth is suddenly bone dry. He can't hear, the roar in his ears is too
loud, and then he can—and the footsteps are halfway up the steps already.
himself and sits up on the edge of the bed. His cock is tiny in retreat.
have made a better plan. He thought he'd have more time.
In his head
he's trying to remember what he'd thought of to say. Her name, first. What
then? He has no idea.
door opens and he wets his lips and looks up in the darkness, tries to think,
tries to speak, and can't.
silence, and he realizes he's shaking. She'll smell how afraid he is. He wishes
he weren't so afraid.
not—" he says, and stops. Something's wrong. It isn't her. He knows it
was angry. He beat me with the branch until my bones showed through my skin.
prepared for this. He stands up anyway, locking his knees because his legs are
shaking. He should say something. His mouth is too dry to speak.
shift in the darkness, a footstep, and he opens his mouth to start talking
fast, last line of defense, only line he's ever really had.
the hell do you think you're doing?" Spike asks.
pause. Xander blinks. His mind has fled.
further into the room and Xander backs up reflexively. It's Spike, he knows
that, but his heart is still racing and his body only knows how to retreat.
didn't leave," Spike says flatly.
Xander says. It's not Standish, not Luz, it's Spike. "How did you find
me?" he asks, because it's the next thought through his mind.
doesn't say anything for a minute. "You've been staying here?" he
asks, and toes something on the floor. "Why didn't you leave?" Xander
says nothing, and after a few seconds he hears Spike sniff sharply. "What
are you scared of?"
not—" he says, and falls silent, because of course he is, of course Spike
knows it. No point lying. He can't quite understand how Spike is here, and not
Luz. "Did you see her?"
shakes his head. "Right. No, that's stupid, I just thought…forget
rustle of coat, a click and grind, and light. Spike's holding his lighter up at
arm's length, so Xander can see him. Same face, same blue eyes watching him
carefully. He didn't think he'd see that face again. The light from the flame
is soft and yellow, painting moving shadows around the room. He can't help
glancing over Spike's shoulders, at the open black door behind him.
just me," Spike says quietly.
you doing here?"
his mouth, then closes it and shakes his head. Spike's voice is gentle, his
face is hard and earnest. The scar in his eyebrow glows. Xander wants to touch
He opens his
mouth again and says, "I don't know." He sounds like someone on the
verge of tears.
Then he is
in tears, shaking and looking away with his fists at his sides, and Spike
clicks the lighter off and doesn't touch him. He stands for a few seconds in
silence and darkness, wondering if Spike is watching him or looking away to
give him that small measure of privacy, wondering why the hell Spike hasn't
touched him yet, what kind of summons he's waiting for.
the hell are you?" he snaps finally, bad-tempered, fisting tears
out of his eyes.
sigh, a movement, and Spike is close enough to feel, close enough to smell.
"I'm right here," he says. Close enough to touch, if Xander just
reaches to his left.
instead, and his head meets Spike's neck, and he can feel Spike's throat
working, can hear the click of his teeth inside his jaw. Spike's hands come up
and rest lightly on his shoulders. He makes a shushing sound.
presses his forehead to Spike's neck, grabs hold of his coat in shaking hands,
and cries. He feels Spike's hands pat his shoulders, through his coat and
sweater and shirt. Light, gentle pats, when what he wants is to be snared in
arms that are stronger than his own. He wipes his nose on his hand, wipes his
hand on his trousers. He's a mess.
He lifts his
head and kisses Spike on the mouth.
instant it's good, it's familiar, it's sweet and blameless and it makes him
ache and he moans in his poor bitten throat. Spike's lips are cool and soft and
he pushes his head forward a fraction, just enough that he's kissing back. And
then he pulls away.
left kissing air, his mouth open, his eyes closed. He closes his mouth and
licks his lips.
idea," Spike says, and steps back.
still holding onto his coat, and he doesn't let go when Spike tugs at it.
what?" Spike's voice is rough; he clears his throat and jerks at his coat
again. "Let go, it's leather."
it a bad idea?"
doesn't answer, but suddenly there are twin blows on his fists, sharp downward
smacks, and he lets go in surprise and pain. Spike takes a breath, as if he's
about to say something, but he doesn't. Xander hears him turn away and take a
shouldn't be staying here. It's not safe, I told you that."
all right." This isn't going the way he wants it to. Spike's right, of
course. "I'll get the bus tomorrow—"
get it tomorrow."
drive you out now. Get your stuff, let's go."
stands still and says nothing. After a minute he hears Spike turn back to him.
said, get your stuff. You keep hanging around here, you're going to wake up
with herself hanging over you and then you'll—"
did," Xander says softly, without realizing he's going to.
to think. There's a best possible route to take here, there's a way to do this
that would involve telling as little as possible, but he can't think what it
is. He can't even think of what he's going to say, a moment before he says it.
You saw Luz?" Spike's surprise is loud and sharp. He takes a step forward,
so he's close enough to smell again. Xander's fingers twitch.
Talked to her. A few times."
Spike seems at a loss. "Where? When?"
There are some houses, burnt houses, and she was in one of them."
He can feel
Spike studying him, and he doesn't need the light to see the furrowed look of
dismay and concentration. The wheels ticking over, fast. "What
closes his eyes for a second. "She can do that thing, like Dru. That
thrall thing. Did you know that?"
He hears the
coat again, and then Spike's got the lighter open, and he's right, dismay and
concentration. More fear than he'd imagined. When did he fall in love with that
are you talking about?" Spike asks clearly.
does that thing, puts you in a trance." He wants to touch Spike's hair,
the ear that grew back. Amazing. Inhuman. He's not human, that's the point.
"It was sunny and she talked me half into the house with her."
staring from under his brows, his jaw hard, shaking his head slightly as if he
can't let it loose any further than that. "I never heard of—" he
says, then abruptly shakes his head harder and takes a breath. "Doesn't
matter. What did you talk about?"
he needs to be canny, to hold something back. "I asked her to turn me. So
I could kill you." He's never been good at holding back.
widen and he fumbles the lighter. For a second they're in darkness, and then he
sparks it again and he's staring at Xander with horror.
seemed like a good idea at the time," Xander says.
at him, his mouth open, and through the raw relief he feels at simply telling
someone what he's done, Xander starts to feel a curl of fear. It should be
funny—Spike the eminently surpriseable. It's not funny. Suddenly he wants to
take it back. He shouldn't have said anything.
Spike says. He stops, and makes a visible effort to get his face under control.
"What—what did she say?"
half-smiles and decides. "I'm still here, aren't I?"
stares at him.
you're not strung up in front of an east-facing window." He shrugs and
spreads his hands, palms out. He wants to go on, to say that none of it matters
anymore, it's going to be all right. He's not sure it's the right moment to say
at him a few more seconds, as if trying to read through his skin, see the truth
in him, and then all at once the horror in his face folds in like ash and he's
slack with relief. Xander just gets a glimpse before the lighter clicks off,
but he sees enough to make him reach out into the darkness and touch Spike's
Come on, I'm fine. Kind of hungry, maybe…."
an inarticulate noise—it might be bafflement or rage or grief—and suddenly
Xander's wrapped up in thin hard arms, crushed, a bony sternum ground against
his own, no air in his lungs. He fights his arms free and wraps them tight
around Spike in return. Squeezes as hard as he can. They stand pinned, tipping,
barely balanced, until Xander's head starts to swim. He squirms and Spike lets
him go and lets him suck in a lungful or two of sweet black air, and then
there's no further discussion, Spike just hauls him back and kisses him.
desperate kissing, cliff's-edge kissing, and Spike's hands are under his shirt,
up and down his skin, thumbs socketed in the hollows at the base of his spine,
just above his buttocks, making him jump. Spike's mouth is over his, in his.
His tongue tastes good. Xander's hands are in Spike's hair because the fucking
coat gets in the way and makes him hard to touch. It's all right, he loves
Spike's hair, how soft it is, how short. Loves his palm cupping Spike's skull.
He wants to go to bed with Spike. Right now. Never thought—it doesn't matter.
He just wants more, wants to keep being alive and feeling this, this
broken-through transport of everything right, everything brilliant. Brilliant
even in the darkness. He feels like he's glowing.
Spike's tongue and grabs his collar, starts walking backward to the cot. Spike
lets himself be pulled a step or two, then fights his mouth free and says,
"Wait—" Xander finds Spike's mouth and kisses it, then finds his hand
and yanks it down to show him it's all right, he's hard, he wants this. He's
alive, he's loved.
Spike says again, but softer, and he doesn't move his hand away.
Xander says, and kisses him again. Idiot. Taste of smoke and booze and cold,
taste of love. Life. It can break him open on a rock, as long as it doesn't
leave him. As long as he doesn't have to say goodbye to this, all of this, this
dead little town and the world at large, his own body, the handkerchief of
soul. He understands better now. Why Spike is the way he is. Desperate.
Understands how it feels.
him, takes hold of him and strokes him twice through his trousers, and
metaphysics flees. He squeezes his eyes shut and grabs Spike's forearm, holds
it tight and trembling.
His mouth doesn't work, but Spike gets it, and they stumble back the last few
steps and the cot hits Xander in the back of the knees. He gets a spring in the
back when they fall. The pain makes him grin.
lying on top of him, a hand on his leg and another on his jaw, then in his
hair, smoothing it because of course Spike can still see. And it's funny to
think that here they are again, a couple of horny guys making out in pitch
darkness, as if nothing that's happened in between has mattered at all. As if
it's been a straight line from there to here, a smooth trip with no wayside
stops, no breakdown lane, no breaking down.
him sober, and he lies still, feeling Spike's weight on him, feeling Spike's
cock press hard into his thigh. Spike's fingers are light and orderly in his
hair. They pause a moment, and he can feel Spike considering.
He wraps his
arms around Spike's waist before he can roll away, and shakes his head. He's
not smiling, but he still wants this. It's just—
you," he says.
fingers stop, then move down and touch his bruised cheek lightly. There's a
Spike says at last. Then he doesn't say anything else for almost a minute.
Xander waits, watching the darkness where Spike's face must be.
don't," Spike says at last. "You're just upset." His voice is
resigned, adult. Xander smiles slightly and shakes his head, then shrugs and
pulls Spike down for another kiss. It tastes good, tastes like Spike, but he
can feel the resistance. Before it's really over, Spike pulls away and rolls
whatever you want to take," he says, from somewhere by the door.
on his back on the cot, everything vital pulsing in his groin, and listens to
Spike's footsteps go down the steps.
up the sweaters, finds the bourbon by the head of the bed and the roadmap by
the foot, and fits it all into the pack. He has to make his way down the steps
by touch, and he barks his shins twice in the minefield of the warehouse.
Spike's left the door open, a rectangle of night blue. He heads for it, feeling
When he gets
there, Spike is standing twenty feet away, chipping at the rime on a snowbank
with the heel of his boot. He's smoking, and the smell is clear and essential
in the cold air. It makes Xander's mouth water. He walks over, and Spike
Spike's eyes look wet and thumbed, but before Xander can say anything, Spike
turns and starts walking. Xander tips his head back and stares up at the stars.
Impossibly far, impossibly lovely. Without looking down, he fishes in his pack
for the bourbon and unscrews the lid.
mine?" Spike sounds…not irritated, but like he's trying to sound
irritated. Xander nods and drinks. The taste fills his nose and throat, stings
and sears, and he coughs, wipes his chin, and squints through the blur of tears
it brings on. He can hear Spike walking back, crunching in the snow.
asked…" The bottle's taken out of his hand and he hears Spike swig. Long
swig. Then a pause, and another, shorter and thoughtful. Without looking, he
knows that they're both standing in the same position, heads tipped back, eyes
on the stars.
know…two constellations," Xander says, shouldering the pack slowly.
"And I can't find either of them."
a laugh, and when Xander reaches out, the bottle meets his hand. He drinks.
a crappy Boy Scout."
be worse than me," Spike says. "Took me ten bloody years to learn
when the sun was going to rise."
screws the cap loosely back on the bottle and hands it over, and they start
walking up the hill slowly, side by side, like old men.
back, in the middle of the silence, Spike suddenly says, as if he's decided
they should have a conversation: "I talked to Standish."
glances over. "Yeah?"
turned up. Had some news from Milosz."
the bottle, and there's a pause while he drinks. Xander waits until he's done,
then holds out his hand.
foot falters. He recovers fast and takes a drink; he doesn't think Spike can
Somebody else caught up with her first. Ibiza. Of all places."
swallows hard and concentrates on the glow in his belly. If she'd asked him to
go with her, he might not have said no. She was the only one who'd known where
he was, who he was with. He has a strange, dizzying sense of things winding up.
Playing out. All things come to an end.
he'd get under my skin," Spike is saying. "Knew I wanted to do
her." There's a pause, and then his tone turns wistful, appreciative.
"She had agates, taking off like that."
moral," Spike says, holding his hand out for the bottle, "is this.
Don't fuck with little women in pink dresses."
The house looks smaller than he remembers, the little bush
barer. The footprints up the walk are familiar. He's lived here for weeks,
longer than he's lived anywhere in what feels like his entire life. It's not a
They go in
the front door, Spike bashing it with his shoulder to get it to give, and of
course it's no warmer inside than out. It's pitch black in the hall, and Spike
says, "Just a mo," and heads down toward the kitchen. Xander stays
put by the doorway, blinking in the darkness. It smells the same. Dust and cold
and old, forgotten things. Emptiness. Cigarettes. Time.
yellow light is coming back down the hall; Spike is carrying a candle. It makes
his face monstrous. He stops a few feet away and shrugs slightly, embarrassed.
"No more generator."
glances to his right, into the front room. He sees broken glass, magazines torn
to shreds, the couch disemboweled. Spike moves the candle away, and the room
falls into darkness.
the urge to say you, and shakes his head. Spike holds the candle out,
and after a moment's hesitation, Xander takes it. Their fingers don't touch.
go put the sparkplugs in." He doesn't explain, and Xander doesn't ask. If
it's not the serpentine, it's the sparkplugs. If it's not one thing, it's
another. Spike walks around him and starts for the door. "We'll put you in
a motel for the night. You can get a bloody wake-up call this time."
He has no idea what he's going to say next, and when Spike stops and turns to
look back at him, he just stands there. Then he says, "I don't want to
well." Spike half-smiles, wearily, like a parent. "That's too
happens if I don't go?"
do you think?"
glances into the front room again. Laid out like a lesson: this is what
happens. He looks at the couch, the ribbons of foam, the springs that stabbed
his back when he was fighting. Without thinking much, he says, "You could
take an anger management course."
snorts. Then he turns and goes out, leaving the door ajar.
stands in the hall for a minute, staring at the wreckage without really seeing
it. He's going to be in a motel tonight, in clean sheets, with a shower and
soap and a baseboard heater. He has money; he can order a meal. He can use the
telephone. It all seems almost unbearably exotic, seductive. He thinks of clean
white sheets and is hit by a sudden wave of exhaustion, as if he hasn't slept
in a week. His knees want to fold. He wants to curl up on the cold floor and go
the pack off and lets it drop, then walks into the front room. The candle's
starting to drip, and he tips it to let the wax run off. The flame flickers
long and orange in the warped old mirror that used to be in the bathroom. Now
it's propped on the mantel where the bourbon used to be, and the floor in front
of it is littered with cigarette butts.
He stops in
front of the mirror and holds the candle up, moves it left and right, and
watches the orange glow in the mirror follow suit. He's a dim outline, a mess
of dirty hair and a glint of tired wet eyes, a few fingers wrapped around a
candle stub. That's what he amounts to. Spike's right, he needs to catch the
bus. He's given himself up for lost twice already; he can't have much luck
though he doesn't think he wants to go anywhere, doesn't want clean sheets and
magic fingers if it means waking up alone, he has a weird feeling, like a part
of his brain is waking up after months of torpor. Telling him Spike's right about
the love, too. He doesn't love Spike. He just thought he was going to die.
He thinks of
Spike's cool hand on his head, thinks of him alone and tearing the place apart,
and he wants to put his head down and weep. He's exhausted. He can't do this
anymore. He wants someone else to do this for him.
He drips a
little wax onto the mantel and stands the candle in it. He's going to curl up
on the couch and sleep until Spike's ready to go. It's all an anticlimax, it
all feels stupidly unfinished, but he's too tired to do anything about it right
now. Somehow, she decided against. God knows why. Maybe she never really
considered it in the first place. Maybe he dreamed the whole thing up.
He turns to
drop onto the couch, and just catches the movement out of the corner of his
eye. Then she's on him, a hand over his mouth and an arm around his waist,
snapping his head back, knocking the breath out of him. He flails and staggers
backward, and they fall onto the couch. A spring stabs him. He can't breathe.
like it was with Spike. It doesn't feel good. Her teeth pop through his skin as
if he were a fruit, and she pins his face with her arm to drink. He's gasping,
gurgling. He can feel his own blood scalding out of him, soaking his neck, more
blood than he's ever bled, and so fast. His hands are cold. He hasn't screamed.
It's so stupid to die like this. He won't let himself die like this.
He makes a
massive effort and bucks her half-off, choking. Coughing. He can't breathe to
scream. She's torn something in his throat. He has just a second to figure that
out and then she's on him again, her hair in his eyes, her fingers under his
shirt and in his hair. His face is soaked and cold, he's still coughing. His
fingers are dug into the couch, and he knows he should use them to beat her,
but he can't let go. There's a banging sound coming from his feet. His heels
her head, and for a strange slow moment they regard each other. Her eyes are
yellow, unrecognizable, kind.
hijo," she says gently. Her face is painted with his blood. "Mi
hijo, you will do better than I can do."
desperately for air, gets none, and grapples at her shoulders with hooked
fingers. She smiles and lowers her head again.
He thinks he
must die now, but he doesn't. Somehow he must be breathing, though he can't
feel it, because he feels his heart stagger and lose its way. He loses track of
his arms and legs. Can't keep his eyes open. Vaguely, he knows his trousers are
wet. That's embarrassing. Worse than the pain, almost.
"Take," she says, and lifts his head.
There's something in his mouth. He coughs it out. She lifts his head again.
"Bebe, mi hijo. Drink."
voice, and his eyes flicker open, pure reflex. Her face is still close to his;
she looks startled, angry. Then there's a blur and confusion and he's knocked
down, onto the cold floor with the wax and blood and broken glass, and he hears
her wail. Blood is pooling around his head. Someone grabs him. Spike's fingers
are in his skin, hauling him roughly onto his back, prying his jaws apart.
Spike is saying, and in the dim light he doesn't look monstrous at all. He
looks frightened and perfect. "No," he says again. "Spit it out.
Open your mouth, spit—" His fingers are in Xander's mouth, pawing
something out in strands. Messy. Dying is messy.
cold, though. He's warm. Funny. And there's no time to regret, just a great
opening and he's in it but he isn't enough for it, it bends and frees him
gently, inexorably, until he has no choice, he has to let himself let go.