Spander. They’re finally in the same room again.
If legislative action is to be brought, it is to be brought. But I claim nothing for no one.
aRe you going to ScaRboRough faiR? … sorry.
This chapter’s a little… weird. Though I couldn’t explain why I think so.
Makes me unbelievably perky. This week was hell, please perk me up.
. Last week’s chapter was really flipping depressing in the end, wasn’t it? I had considered letting her live – giving Xander the win, but as
has often pointed out, I do like to twist the knife. Twist twist twist. This week’s chapter… came out of nowhere, but I’m more than okay with it.
on Tuesday if anyone is interested in random fluff. And I wrote a
that I would be really interested in seeing the reaction to, but I have no idea how to advertise it [except here, of course]. Enjoy.
The rest of Rides a Pale Horse lives here
Spike found him on the roof. It was good, his roof. Xander spent all day up there, roasting and freezing by turns, the late February breeze still winter-cold, albeit winter in SoCal under a sun that shone relentlessly. After a few hours, his whole body felt dry and chapped, ready to crack apart in perfect fractals of desert dust, but Xander was ignoring his discomfort in favor of anger. Right now, he hated himself.
To be fair, right now he hated the world and nearly everything in it, and included himself in that nebulous definition. Resentful, responsible for the hope and the grief he’d laid at Buffy’s feet, and so very sad – a word that was painfully inadequate. He’d told her ‘do this thing’ told her ‘let the doctors fix it’ and she’d thanked him; Buffy had been so grateful because they caught it, because her mother had a chance now and wouldn’t it have been horrible if he hadn’t said anything because that thing could’ve burst at any moment, but… Joyce had still died. Worse, Joyce had lain in a narrow bed, icy plastic wires and tubes and noises sprouting out of her like a sculpture from the Castle Pandemonium, empty as a gutted old house, and waiting for her daughter to give the doctors permission to unplug her. A woman who never caused anyone pain, who had sheltered her children from as much ugliness as she could, and she had died like that. Because of him. Xander was angry, and utterly defeated. So he went home.
Quasimodo in amongst his bells, or at least hiding in the garden supplies, and Xander didn’t think he would ever find the courage to come down again. How stupid of him to think that he could ever grow anything, or help anything to live, because clearly he carried disaster with him in a wicker basket and left pools of it in his wake. It was a minor miracle that his Christmas tree hadn’t died, and when he’d seen the little shrub still growing in its little pot, spiky branches still adorned with ragged tinsel and straining towards the sun, he sat down and would’ve cried if he thought he could remember how.
That was how Spike found him a few hours after the sun had well and truly set, and he rattled with the cold now but he couldn’t make himself move. When the door to the roof access creaked open, staining his hands and his little tree with light, Xander didn’t have to look up, and said, “I think someone’s been watering it for me.”
“I asked the complex manager to keep an eye out up here, just in case,” The vampire told him gently as his boots came into view. He was so damned considerate sometimes it was laughable, but the chuckle that creaked out of Xander had an edge of whimper to it, so high and thready it didn’t sound like anything at all. “Xander, what’re you doing up here?”
He shrugged, “Feeling sorry for myself. I’ll get over it, probably.”
“You don’t have to.”
“Which?” He asked wryly, “Get over it, or feel sorry for myself?”
“Either?” Spike sounded leery, and maybe even a little desperate, “Both?” He sat down with him, long body folding into a graceful tailor’s seat, but Xander saw him wince. “Whatever makes you feel better, I guess.”
“Jesus Christ, what happened to you?” Xander hadn’t wanted to meet his eyes before, he hadn’t wanted to even look at him, really, preferring to brood, just for a little while longer, but now he couldn’t look away. Spike was a wreck. He looked like a cautionary tale edition of a safety manual: warning, your new wheat thresher may chew you up and shit you out, see example below. Side of his face was black from above his eyebrow to the sharply defined ridge of his cheekbone, and the lay of his collar bone was… strange under the thin fabric of his shirt, but worse, he was dirty. There was actual dirt, mud and slime and some pink goop that Xander couldn’t quite identify speckling his jeans, and what looked like a streak of bluish sewer sludge was dried in a stripe across his hair. For as long as he’d known him, Spike had always been fastidious; he remembered bitching about forty-five minute showers and hair-gel all over the bathroom sink, and reminding him, when Spike snarked back about pizza-boy hygiene, that dust didn’t bathe. Quality entertainment. “You look like hell.”
“Ran into the Slayer earlier—”
“And what, she beat seven shades of shit out of you?”
“What? No. This was… I got into it with a clan of Leyrant demons, been layin’ low for a while. Nasty little buggers refused to take ‘no’ for an answer.”
Xander’s look was searching, and a little dark, “Was it because they were asking you ‘Please stop, don’t kill me’?”
“Maybe.” For just long enough, Spike’s grin was shit-eating and absolutely irresistible, and Xander felt himself grinning back for half a second, knowing the reprieve was temporary. All too brief, because Xander watched the smile slide away from Spike’s face and a miserable shadow steal over his mouth, “I was sorry to hear about Joyce.”
“She was a good woman.”
“You said you talked to Buffy?”
“For a few minutes. She—”
“Does she hate me?” He interrupted, desperate to know that she was blaming him too.
“No,” Spike hedged, but they both knew it was hedging. “She doesn’t hate you. She told me she may have had some… uncharitable thoughts, but this wasn’t your fault Xander. She knows that.”
“It was the surgery. The doctor explained it, he said if they hadn’t done the surgery… it’s just… if I hadn’t said anything, Joyce would still be alive.”
“You don’t know that, Xander.”
“Yes I do! That’s the one thing I definitely do know!”
“All right,” the hands made a placating gesture, and Xander realized he was shaking. “How long? How much more time would she have had if you hadn’t said something.”
It was a whisper, and he knew it was pointless. “Three days.”
“Three days.” Spike repeated incredulously flat.
“Yeah.” Three days didn’t seem like much. Especially to Spike, who had once confessed he hadn’t really bothered marking time until he’d started associating with mortals. It wasn’t enough time to write the Great American Novel or go appreciate the entire Louvre, but it would have been the opportunity to tell Buffy and Dawn that they were loved at least three more times – or three hundred times. It would have been something – another moment of laughter, another hug, something. And maybe the sudden shock of finding a loved one dead would be, in the long run, more traumatizing than the hope and disappointment and horror that had stained the last twenty four hours, but Xander wasn’t willing to bet on it. And he knew himself well enough to know that he couldn’t have done anything differently – if he had watched Joyce die and tried nothing to stop it the guilt would have eaten him alive – it would have been murder. So what he really hated was seeing at all – knowing that Joyce would have had three more days, wondering if every death he saw but couldn’t prevent was on his hands. And what would happen in a few weeks when it was Buffy. Would he want three more days with her? “You’re right. Look, I… thanks for letting me borrow your roof. I’ll go see if I can crash with Giles or something, get out of your hair.”
“What? Why?” Spike sounded genuinely surprised, maybe even a little hurt, and Xander stilled in the process of setting his plant aside, frozen and waiting for Spike to remember that he didn’t want Xander around, resigned to hearing it again. “You don’t have to go.”
“Don’t go.” The vampire lurched forward, and flinched when Xander did, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…” He shook himself, and Xander watched while Spike took a deep breath and put on his most disarming face, appreciating the completely unnecessary effort. “Please don’t go.”
“All right…” Xander cautiously acquiesced; there was nowhere he would rather be, but he was a little wary about what that meant. Not because of Spike, who looked at him like he was something too delicate to touch, who looked like he wanted to touch him, but just… wary. Because he didn’t want to get comfortable again only to have to leave.
“Will you come inside with me? I’m freezing my bollocks off here.”
The look on Spike’s face, suddenly flicking into pure irritation at the universe, forced a guffaw of air out of him. “You’re always bitching because it’s never cold in Sunnydale.”
The vampire shrugged, looked away, “It’s cold tonight.”
“All right.” Xander said again for something to say, and climbed slowly to his feet. He shook, sharp prickles of agony planting flags in the space around his knees, his spine creaked a weary litany from his butt to his shoulders, and it occurred to him that he hadn’t moved in hours; he felt like he’d been caked in wet concrete. Spike didn’t look a lot better, moving gingerly around his bruises, and something went “pop” in his knee, Xander caught him by the elbow before he could fall back down. He took a deep breath, trying not to feel how good Spike’s skin was, the wonderful relief of being taken out of his mind. “Ratley demons, huh?”
Spike steadied himself on his feet, not favoring the knee at all as they teetered and wobbled towards the access door, both stiff and awkward, but leaning on each other out of necessity. When the warm air from indoors hit his skin, Xander felt like he’d been lit on fire.
“Harris, I have to know… do you hate me?”
“I’m not mad at you, Spike.”
“That wasn’t what I asked.”
Trust Spike to be a complete shit even when he was looking for absolution. “I don’t hate you.”
“Wanna try looking me in the eye when you say that.”
Xander stopped, leaning against the wall of the stairwell, irritable that this was a question at all, and looked Spike dead in the eye to reiterate with threatening calm, “I am not mad at you.” But looking Spike in the eye meant looking at his face, and the vampire’s wonderful eyebrows were drawn together in consternated creases, like Xander had just drawn back his boot and he sighed, wondering why Spike was allowed to look so damned injured by the whole mess. It made him sad. “And I don’t hate you. I don’t… even want to. Life is too short, and I’m too tired, okay? Let’s just… let’s just go in. Let’s go… get you patched up.”
“Don’t need any special attention.”
“Spike, parts of you are broken.”
“Hardly the worst that’s ever happened to me,” the vampire told him, voice rough with a little too much sincerity, and Xander stoutly refused to imagine that he meant anything more than the obvious.
The state of their apartment, when they’d staggered down the four flights of stairs to the front door, had Xander’s eyebrows crawling up to meet his hairline. “Primal screaming?” He asked glibly as he took it all in. It was just one more thing, not even the biggest thing, but it was his home. The wave of astonishment crested and broke, beating on him, “What the fuck, Spike?”
“Yeah, sorry.” He didn’t sound particularly penitent; he sounded like honest-to-god William the Bloody, who offered his attrition to no one for nothing, and Xander wanted to smack him. “Haven’t had a chance to sort it out yet.”
“Do you still have running water, at least?”
Spike shrugged, wandering into the kitchen and banging around in there, looking for god-knew-what in the mess of broken crockery. Xander closed his eyes when he saw that two of the cabinet doors were hanging off their hinges and didn’t open them again until Spike was in front of him, pushing a glass of water into his hand. “Yeah, washroom’s in decent shape.” He shot him a sheepish glance, “You looked like you could use it.”
“I… what’s? No… I…” Xander started gearing up for the world’s most incoherent babble and stopped, closed his eyes again, took a deep breath and drained the water glass – and it galled him that Spike was right and he was so thirsty his tongue clove to the roof of his mouth and his throat was about to go on strike – it felt like a miracle, and Xander wondered if it was drugged again. He didn’t know what he wanted, or even how to ask, but that had never stopped him before. “What exactly do you want to happen here, Spike? What do you get out of…” stuck for an example, he waved the empty glass, “bringing me water?”
“Just like seein’ a nicely watered human about the place,” Spike quipped, shrugging, and sighed when he saw this went over as well as vanilla frosting at a chocolate convention. “I don’t have an agenda here, Harris… Or nothing more complicated than… making you a little happier, maybe? I don’t know. You show up and—”
“Stop.” Xander cut him off, hands up in a gesture of surrender. Spike subsided, looking relieved. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be… demanding answers or criticizing your hospitality or… whatever. I’m sorry. And I’m really… The last few days have been a massive suckfest and I don’t have a capital T talk in me right now. I don’t wanna do serious. What happened happened, and it sucked for both of us, but… all I want to know right now is if I’m allowed to come home, and then no more seriousness until… I’m old enough to drink.”
“That soon, huh?” Spike muttered wryly, and it wasn’t an answer, but Xander wasn’t going to call him on it either.
“Maybe til Dawn’s old enough to drink…” And standing here with Spike, watching the vampire’s automatic scowl, reminded him of the light-hearted conversation he and Buffy had been having only that morning. His voice caught in his throat. “Can I at least stay here for a couple of days? I don’t wanna knock on Buffy’s door when she’s in the middle of… funeral preparations or something.”
“Yes.” Spike said with feeling, a hand rising to reach for him then falling away before it met its destination. “Of course yes. Xander, I’m so sorry. I never should have…”
“Nope. No seriousness.” Xander reminded the vampire, and he let himself be relieved. “No history. I had it all planned out. We were gonna talk about soup. Maybe bagels if I was feeling daring.”
“Soup and bagels? Clearly you are a man living on the edge of a culinary revolution.” Spike played along, eyes twinkling like they sometimes did when he was teasing Dawn.
Xander felt himself laugh, deep in his belly, and nodded his approval. “Better.”
“Anything you want, Xand.”
“Well, I’m not gettin’ you a pony.”
“Nah. Horses. There was a thing when I was eight… Ick.” He’d smelled like “specially horse-processed” alfalfa for a week. “What I want is to sit you down somewhere and… fix you. You look like an extra from Night of the Living Dead.”
“I’m not the only one,” Spike responded, waving in the general direction of the bags under his eyes, which he was sure could be seen from the moon. But Xander glowered at him until he surrendered, and bullied him into the bathroom where at least they could sit down without risking splinters in their asses.
It felt strange, manhandling Spike the way the vampire had cared for him. Strange and almost cathartic to strip the vampire out of his shirt and count the bruises, some were dim and yellow and others were new and fresh like purple-black roses exploding under his skin. They were almost pretty from a distance; Spike was a garden. Xander prodded one or two of them, gently feeling for damaged ribs or swollen organs, and Spike hissed, but he didn’t protest, even when Xander pushed his thumbs under the narrow line of his crumpled collar bone and pulled it back into place. Spike gasped, and nearly gagged, but the bone settled into line with a hearty little click, and for the first time, Xander offered him a smile. “Sorry,” he said.
Xander hauled the vampire to his feet, inviting Spike to rest his hands on his shoulders for balance while he wrestled him out of his pants, fighting with unfamiliar button holes in a way that was breathtakingly intimate but clinically distant. Touching without fear of censure, running his hands over sweeps of smooth muscle and milk-blue skin that caught his fingers and held and felt so much more real than it looked; Xander was laying a claim in a way he had never done before, something invisible, but potent, and what gave him the courage now when he had never even thought before was a mystery. He tugged, and Spike gripped nearly hard enough to bruise, and the only thing Xander felt was a vague sense of impatience because the jeans were so worn it was like peeling off a second skin, and of course the vampire wasn’t wearing underwear. He had seen Spike’s cock before, but had never really looked; he did so now without the slightest hint of shame, and felt nothing.
But his left knee was some cause for consternation. It was the deep purple of an eggplant, swollen to shininess, and the curve of the bone looked strange to him. “How can you even walk with that thing?”
Spike’s leer was palpable. “Practice.”
“I meant the knee, asshole.” The dirty snicker followed him under the cupboard while he rooted for an Ace bandage, emerging victorious and successfully hiding a smirk of his own. Xander was gentle now, gently stroking over the tender skin; Spike didn’t flinch, didn’t look the slightest bit concerned, so Xander winced for him, jogging the lump of his knee cap back to true. It moved slickly under his fingers, and Xander’s flesh crawled. “Christ Spike…” he said weakly once the urge to puke all over him had passed.
“S’not so bad.”
“It’s disgusting!” Spike chuckled, low and deep in his throat, and scraped his hand back through Xander’s hair, tucking a strand of it behind his ear. He flinched away sharply and felt bad about it, sad because Spike looked sad. And queasy because the moment he let go, Spike’s patella slipped to the outside again, and the vampire wasn’t in the least perturbed, but Xander felt his face fall at the prospect of having to adjust it again. He did so carefully, pinning it in place with a careful finger and wrapping the ace bandage around Spike’s leg, gentling the quivering muscle.
“Your hands are warm,” Spike told him conversationally, fingers safely back on the edge of the bath.
“Good or bad?”
“Good. Feels nice.”
“Yeah.” The admission evoked a soft smile, and Xander laid his hands around the bandage, quietly sharing until the slab of muscle that framed Spike’s thigh was loose and the vampire was slumped forward, more relaxed than he’d been all night. “Okay,” said Xander, peeling himself off the floor, “Now my knees are starting to hurt. You need pain meds? What else does a vamp good?”
“Just the obvious, pet.”
“The… Oh. Right.” Xander shrugged, “Okay. Okay we can do that, you stay. I’ll be right back.”
Xander was prepared for glass all over the kitchen, but was pleasantly surprised to find it had been swept aside and there was a clear path to the refrigerator. The inside of the little ice box reeked of aging lo mein, but behind the gently seeping white box from Chen’s were some deep Tupperware dishes containing deeply aubergine sludge. Xander snagged one and peeled the lid back. He wasn’t a connoisseur by any means, but even he knew blood shouldn’t have pinkish yellow peach fuzz spreading over the top like the encroaching armies of doom.
“Jesus, Spike. All the… everything in here is just rancid.” Xander’s voice was muffled, bouncing off the back of the refrigerator. He made his way back to the vampire, picking through the debris towards the blessedly intact bathroom. “When was the last time you ate?”
“When was the last time you slept?” Spike retorted, and for just a minute Xander was tempted to smack him, or flip him the bird or something worse because his ribs were on display like the damn barbeque menu at Chili’s and the prominent jut of his hipbones stared at Xander, accusing him, making it all his fault that Spike was less than perfectly healthy, and that wasn’t fair. Because Xander wasn’t the one who had sent him away.
He managed to squash the impulse. “Yeah, okay, but that’s… different.”
“You’re a bean pole!”
“And you’re a zombie, so we’re a nicely matched set.”
Xander gave up. Gave up trying to be exasperated with him and chuckled instead; it was laugh or throttle him. “Look, I know I shouldn’t offer but… do you want…” He trailed off, holding out his wrist where the thin blue veins pressed up against his skin, and Spike surprised the hell out of him by tumbling backwards into the, thankfully dry, bathtub, scrambling to get away. “Guess not.”
“No, Xander. I can’t, I…”
“What? Once was enough? You’re over the novelty?” He meant it as a joke, but it emerged with unexpected bitterness.
There was no apologizing, and some of the bile he’d nearly forgotten came spewing out. “Or are you just afraid you won’t get the one without the other and I just don’t do it for you?”
“You are still mad.”
“No, I…” But it was hard to deny, even for him. “Yeah, I guess.”
“Good.” It sounded meant. “Be angry with me. What happened was… I’m so sorry Xander.”
“Look, I’ll get over it, okay? Just fucking eat something.”
“I can’t,” Spike told him, and he looked ridiculous, sprawled in the cold porcelain that was just a shade paler than he was, making him look blue. Blue, ridiculous and frighteningly sincere. “Not like that. I don’t want to… do that to you.”
Xander couldn’t explain why he was pushing it. “Damaged goods not good enough for you? It’s hot and it’s fresh and it’s dinner – you won’t get a better offer tonight.”
“You aren’t dinner!” He pushed himself out of the tub, roaring vexation and in Xander’s face now, and Xander felt a frission of fear skitter down his spine, but he wasn’t about to back down. He didn’t even know why he was fighting, or how the mood had shifted so abruptly, and Spike’s face crackled with electric frustration, eyes snapping from gray to gold and back and finally settling, with a bit of a sigh, on quietly miserable. “I understand you’re upset, maybe we should just get you to sleep. I’ll eat tomorrow, I promise.”
“Why wait?” This time it was a dare. And the more daring Xander became, the more his anger settled in his bones, the calmer Spike grew, infuriatingly resuming his perch on the edge of the tub and gesturing with gentle hands and a patient smile for Xander to sit beside him. And when Xander capitulated, feeling the anger drain out of him like a tapped keg. Spike took the offered limb gently, just holding on to him, holding his hand. Xander squeezed, and Spike turned the hand over, cradling it cautiously and bussing the inside of his palm in an echo of a courtly mannerism that Xander had never seen before. It tickled, and it made something deep in a quiet corner crack open and bleed with longing. “Let me do this.” He whispered, “Let me be what you need.”
“Let me get something right for once.”
And Spike bit.It was bruise deep, press and pop and as delicate as this act could be, but it stung like ice and each pull was a slow slick spiral of oily blackness and the curve of a fire lily. Spike didn’t let go of his eyes, mouth soft and warming with the flush of his blood even as Xander started to feel cool, started to find the world a little worn around the edges and fading to gray. He spared a thought to hope, just before he passed out, that Spike wouldn’t let him crack his head on the shower.
Go on, you know you wanna.