Silence could be a living thing. Despite weeks of Spike relying primarily on non-verbal communication, this was the first time that Xander really understood the poetic description. Silence was a living, breathing thing that could create a mood as effectively as it broke them.
Right now, the silence was angry.
“Are you okay?” His voice sounded funny, alcohol and fear mixing with disgust and a slow-burning rage. The conversation with Wesley had paused most of it, but sitting here in the lobby, listening to the strained chatter around him. . . wondering where Spike was, if he was okay, if today was the day the tendency for overblown, dramatic gestures got him into trouble he couldn’t get out of. If Angel was going to help or hinder, if one of them finally broke. If Angel was going to help or hinder, period.
He had a stake in his sock.
Habit made him turn slightly, checking to see if Spike made a response or not. The plush round seat blocked his view, purple-grey fabric preventing bleach and black leather and those incredible blue eyes from whispering secrets his lips no longer did.
The silence writhed as they both waited, for Spike to make a move. Xander wished to god he’d finished the fight back in the car, because running had given Spike new life. Or maybe old life. So now the silence hung there, hovering over their heads like storm clouds filled with angst and pain. Ready to rain down upon them, the shit-storm to end all shit-storms.
“Spike. . . ” Spike. A conical object, blunt on one end, sharp on the other. It could be made of many materials and had many uses, ranging from functional to deadly to ornamental. It could be smooth or ridged, sharp or blunt, soft or hard. Sometimes even all at once.
Xander stared at the stupid sofa and hated it, since he couldn’t hate Spike.
“What do you want from me?” The words were so quiet Xander almost missed them, so full of aching pain and suffused rage that he wished he did. Spike was talking. Really talking, not just responding to what was going on around him. Spike was talking and Xander just wanted him to shut up, if he was going to sound like that.
“I want you.”
The slow sound of a vampire inhaling and exhaling shattered the silence, the remaining shards brittle and dangerous. Xander wondered if running upstairs and pretending to sleep was too cowardly—because those shards hurt.
Turning back to his bottle of alcohol, with barely a shot or two in it when he first found it, Xander contemplated the single drop at the bottom. Whiskey was pretty. Sometimes, after a lot of bullying and usually a blow-job, Spike would compare Xander’s eyes to whiskey. Dark and rich and glowing with an internal light.
That aching voice from the sofa wasn’t going to compare Xander to anything again.
“Are you tired?” he asked, the broken shards around him shivering with laughter. He was so weak. He should be able to fix all this, say a word, some magic word that would make Spike stop hiding from him. But he was just Xander and just Xander didn’t know those things. He wasn’t witchy-Willow, or warrior-Buffy. Not knowledgeable-Giles or innocent-Tara. He was just Xander. “You’re hurt pretty bad.”
Was this speaking good, then? Two whole sentences more than Xander could ever remember occurring when Spike was upset. Because upset-Spike was quiet-Spike. And quiet-Spike was nothing more than a shadow.
“You’re not fine.” The heavy clink of glass on faux-wood cracked through the remaining hints of the living, breathing silence from before. Now there was only sharp-edged pain. “You’re hurt. Cordy said that—and I was—”
“Hard night waitin’ up for me, is it? Sorry to be such a bother.”
The venom was scary, a malevolence Xander hadn’t heard in years now. He wished he could admit that he’d missed it, since he did, but he was too scared of the implications now. Now, when Spike’s anger was such a tangible thing, swords and knives and wooden pointy things, all aimed at Xander.
“Spike. You’re not a bother. You’re never a bother.”
An airless chuckle begged to differ. “Angel said—got eyes, you know. Can guess.”
Should he get up? Move closer? But Spike was talking and the small part of him that had finally shriveled under the days and weeks of constant affection sat up and reminded him that face-to-face hadn’t worked before and wasn’t it better this way anyway? Less personal, so it hurt less. Hurt Spike less.
“Can guess what?” Xander swallowed the sudden lump, forcing his voice to level. “What game do you think I’m playing?”
“Game? Suppose that’s a fair assessment.” This wasn’t his Spike. This was cruel, merciless Spike, despite the quiet voice. With the accent as hard and sharp as his namesake: every word a hammer to his skull. This was the Spike he’d tried to bring back for over a year.
The Spike he’d thought he could fix and still keep.
Be careful what you wish for.
Just another reminder why ancient Chinese proverbs were nothing to scoff at.
“Tell me. Please.” He hated the pleading sound of his voice. He wondered if this was how Spike had felt—except he couldn’t have, because Xander never did this—but the shift in power was so dramatic that Xander felt floundering and afraid. He’d never been afraid of Spike, not since the Initiative. Maybe even before.
“Not a bother, am I? So it was no trouble a’tall to come down here to spend time with them that you hate? Waste your vacation like you waste everything else.”
Those weren’t Spike’s words. Breathless against the bitterness, Xander reeled where he sat, mind scrambling to understand why and where—
A small, niggling doubt wormed it’s way into his mind, presenting things Xander really didn’t want to see.
“I get it,” he mumbled, not really speaking to Spike. “I’m still the Zeppo, aren’t I? Still stuck in high school, where the world is black and white. I hate Angel and vampires are evil, soulless things. Unlovable things, even though I never, never thought that Angel didn’t love Buffy and that she didn’t love him in return. So don’t you dare try to say that—”
“You’re insane.” The disbelieving words accompanied the appearance of a single tuft of pure white hair. Nothing else, although Xander was certain that Spike could see him.
“Yeah. Pretty much. This is such a surprise, too, isn’t it? After all, I’m with you.” Slumping back in his chair, Xander glared at the blank computer screen. His fingers moved restlessly over the keys, closing on a pen and jiggling it absently. Shouldn’t he feel calmer now? Spike was here and safe and that was always the most important thing—but he could feel anger creeping in along his spine.
“Yeah. You are with me.” The malice from before was faded now, washed over with confusion and a hint of wonder. Xander didn’t believe for a second that it would give him the reprieve he craved. “Wonder of bloody wonders.”
And Xander did wonder. Had always wondered. Because Spike was gorgeous, lithe, and talented. He’d made an effort to be liked by the ones he now called friend and they liked him just fine. He could’ve had any of them, even Buffy. She’d tried, too, in the months after her return, when she couldn’t understand what was going on and needed comfort none of them knew how to give her. Yet those hesitant, destructive overtures had been shot down with a level of both disgust and compassion that had reassured Xander that Spike really was being truthful. That it was Xander he wanted.
That it was Xander he wanted—but not no one else.
And then it clicked. It all clicked, with a suddenness that stole the air from his lungs. His stomach turned sour, balling into a tight knot of sickness while his body shook. Bile rose as his mind flashed over comparisons, words and images jumbled together into one nauseating mess.
Spike’s reassurances had never come with the second part attached, never.
Which meant he was right.
“This is hell. That’s—there’s no other explanation, is there. This is hell.” A hysterical laugh made him choke and shake his head, his heart beating in time with the pen he frantically tapped. “I really am back in high school, aren’t I? This is one great big nightmare except I’m not going to wake up to you laughing at me and pinching me like you used to. Because this is real.”
“What the bloody hell are you talking about?”
“I’m not Angel. I’m still not Angel. And I’ve still got a bottle-blond I’d do anything for who can’t see anything past him.”
It was so clear, now. So utterly clear what Spike had wanted from the very beginning. What he’d tried to get from Xander, except Xander wasn’t good enough. Because he was never good enough.
“That’s not true.”
“Oh, really? Cause from this side of the sofa, not seeing too much to deny it. You—god. Is that why you started hanging out with me, Spike? Because I was brooding?” Because after Anya and the accident, he was quieter, less brash. Needier in some ways, but controlling, too. A confidence that Spike had worked hard to bolster, although the groundwork was older. Spike hadn’t even looked at Xander, not the way he used to look at girls, not until Xander had started locking bits of himself away.
“No!” It wasn’t a shout, but it was harsher and louder than anything he’d heard from Spike in. . . in ever. Leaping up, Spike whirled around to glare across the room, rage too big to be contained by on measly sofa-blockade. “That’s not true!”
The anger stripped away the normal fear and hesitancy that Xander was used to seeing, leaving what he’d wanted: strong, powerful Spike, standing up for himself. But now it hurt. Not just the words, but everything. The anguish. The hate. The way he looked like crap, covered with what was probably an old sweatshirt of Xander’s, the rest of him alternately white with bandages or bright pink with drying calamine. His eyes were wide and rolling, his skin as flushed as it ever got even in the heat of sex, and his hands were trembling. His hands were trembling.
“I don’t compare you to him,” Spike repeated, breathing hard.
“No, probably not consciously,” he said as calmly as he could. “You’re not that cruel, no matter how hard you try. But there had to be a reason. I used to hope that it was because you liked me.” Their eyes met, Spike’s rage countered with Xander’s quiet bitterness. “Maybe even loved me. But no! That’s too easy. You picked me because I’m the closest you’ve found to him.”
The loathing caught him by surprise—well, not really surprise. I don’t hate Angel. Not anymore. But dammit, that’s one more time he’s come between me and someone I love. And I’m getting really tired of this. Of everything.
“That’s what you wanted!” The shout echoed through the lobby, but neither of them could look away. Now when blue eyes were bleeding yellow, rage a physical thing to be seen. “You wanted me like that. I did what you wanted.”
It was a mantra, the cadences of anger and hurt making the repetition obvious. Xander wondered how often Spike had told himself just that. How much he’d done with that phrase on his lips, stuffed inside his head. How much he wouldn’t have done without it.
Xander shook his head. “What I wanted,” he repeated. The words were heavy and strange on his tongue. “Spike, I never wanted you to—to change yourself for me. I wanted you. For a while, even, I thought that’s what I had.”
The pattern was suddenly luminous in his mind, each step highlighted with neon brilliance. Off-hand comments about Spike’s mouth, jokes made with teasing grins, taken too seriously. A wistful desire to never have to cook again, gratitude that Spike was there to take over the job leading to a speculative, inward look. Hundreds of things, tiny and inconsequential except if you were looking for them. Believing in them.
Because you were trained to. Because you needed to.
His hand twitched down towards the stake before he realized that he’d have no chance. Angel wouldn’t just roll over and let himself be staked—and Spike would try and stop him, too. He’d claim it was to help Xander, to try and save him from the pain a murderer felt, and it would probably be true.
Just not the whole truth.
“Did you ever—” His voice broke, looking down at his reflection shining on the glossy, varnished wood of the front desk. Even distorted and yellowed, the resemblance was there. Bigger now than his scrawny high school days, broader and almost hefty looking. Dark hair and eyes complimented the picture, his frozen expression a good replacement for mysterious brooding. “Was it ever me? When we were—was it ever me?”
Or was it always him in our bed?
The question wasn’t immediately obvious to Spike, the confusion eating through the anger until a spark of realization appeared. Understanding made his eyes widen, an expression of horror chasing over slackened features before it closed off completely. Xander could see the defense mechanisms slam into place, almost hear the gears shifting in Spike’s head: the slumped body abruptly straightened, his old, manic energy dug up from whatever hole it’d been kept in, slid on like a mantle.
“Yeah?” Spike sneered. “’Cos it was never Buffy with you, was it? What’d you say before, about bottle-blonds? Not the only one you’ve chased after, why should I be the only one in your bed? Was I Cordelia, then? Is that why you called me a shrew? Or was I Willow? All sweet an’ innocent?”
His hips cocked out unconsciously, the old swagger reappearing as Spike warmed to this new role. And it was a role, Xander knew that in his rational moments. But rationality was hard to hold onto when the world was being yanked out one chunk at a time.
“Don’t forget to miss the complete lack of denial as you run through everyone I’ve ever said I fantasize about. Notice, Spike, I did admit to you that I fantasized about them. And, you know, here’s a funny thing: when I was with you, I was with you. I never wanted anyone else but you and you—” He had to turn away, couldn’t see the answer in Spike’s eyes, not for this. Wasn’t even sure he wanted to hear it, but ever the Zeppo, he was a glutton for punishment. “Was it ever—”
“You wanted me like that.” The self-loathing was thick in the air and Xander wanted nothing more than to go over there and hold his lover. Because everything was all right when he could hold Spike. Everything. “Your sweet little wifey.”
Spike looked smaller, prowling back and forth, without the black duster trailing behind him. A child trying to act like a grownup and coming off as lonely and miserable. “What the hell did you think I was, Harris?” he demanded, the words harsh but the tone aching. “I clean your house, I cook your meals, I spend time with your friends. I take care of your every fuckin’ whim; make sure you get seen to right an’ proper. You got another word for it? Cause if I ain’t your wife then all I can come up with is slave. You pick which fits best.”
“What—my—are you insane? Did you hit your head somewhere? My wife?” The word lodged itself deep in his gut, churning and rolling until Xander thought he was going to be sick. Because maybe, just maybe, Spike was right. “I never asked you to do any of that. You volunteered to do the household stuff when you moved back in. You chose to spend time with my friends—which, by the way, are your friends, too. And if ‘seeing to me’ means what I think it does than maybe I’m glad we’re doing this. Because I never want to be ‘seen to’, Spike. Ever.”
Spike flinched a little, but continued gamely on. “Oh, yeah, right. You think I didn’t know how much of a kick you got, havin’ me at your beck’n’call? Any position, any time you wanted—”
“No. No, I won’t believe that.” And he didn’t. It was the only thing he clung to, in the maelstrom of his emotions. He never did that, never wanted that. “You wanted it just as much as I did, hell, you initiated it just as much as I did. Uh-uh, Spike, try another one. Because I will never believe that I was just. . .just using you.”
“Usin’ me? You never did anythin’ but.” Crossing to his side of the room in a move too fast for Xander to catch, Spike curled his lips in a smirk that seemed ancient, throwing back his shoulders and looking like a ragged, broken copy of the old Big Bad. “Don’t you remember the car, Harris? Remember how you were about to use me there? Come on, then. Let’s us have a go.”
“What, you scared now?” His eyes were glowing pure gold, now, emotions sparked and out of control. His face transformed completely into that of a monster, the face he’d hidden from Xander no matter how many times he’d been asked not to. “With the anger all gone and the heat of it coolin’, you too scared to finish what you started? Finish it, whelp. Come on. What’s a good wife without a black eye from her hubby?”
No. Never. Xander backed up slowly, keeping his breathing slow and even. It was because Spike was hurting. He touched a nerve somewhere. Something. Because he couldn’t possibly mean what Xander thought he meant. He couldn’t. He loved Spike and Spike. . . Spike had at least cared for him. A little.
The furious, vampiric face that stared back at him contained nothing but hate.
“No,” Xander whispered. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Aww, were you waiting for the ring to make it official?” There was something wrong, something too crazy in his eyes, but Xander couldn’t understand what it was. He could only hear the words that ripped apart everything he was. “What about your own brats, would that make it better? You could come home, bitchin’ how I spend all your hard-earned money on pretty frocks and trinkets I buy just for you. ’Cos I’ve gotta keep you happy with me, don’t I now? Stop you from runnin’ around, maybe bark at the kiddies? And you’ll just lay one on me good. Is that what you want, Harris?”
“No!” Shoving away, Xander picked up the bottle and hurled it at the wall. The glass shattered, spraying the desk and leaving an ugly gouge in the wall. No one was sleeping now and Xander could only hope they weren’t listening to this, hiding in their rooms and praying for it to just end. The way he had. The way he’d sworn to never do to anyone else.
“I don’t want that. I never wanted that. And I haven’t forgotten the complete lack of transition, either, Spike. We were talking about who was in our bed. Our bed. Not domestic-happy land. But if you wanna do that, let’s do that. I trusted you.”
I trusted you enough to love you.
“Aw, innit that sweet?” Spike taunted, sneer brittle and breaking. His eyes were too bright and Xander could almost believe that Spike was about to cry—but that couldn’t be. Because Spike obviously wanted out, so why would he cry? He was getting what he wanted. “What about me, huh? I’m a vampire. Yet here I am, arse-up for you whenever you bloody want—”
“No,” Xander said as calmly as he could. Not loud, or forceful, but calm. Controlled. He supposed he should thank Giles for teaching him the trick. “You don’t play this line with me, Spike. I have never treated you like that and if that’s what you think than we should have done this months ago. Fuck you, Spike. I don’t deserve this. You don’t get to use this.”
“Which means I got nothin’ left.”
Their eyes met just as Spike shifted back, the demon taking the crazy rage and fear wherever it went. Blue eyes surrounded by thin lines of red, the skin around it swollen and puffy from more than just bruises.
It was an opening. A tiny one. “Spike, you have me. I—”
Spike put his hand up, backing away so there was more distance between them. He swallowed heavily, shoulders slumping back into the creature Xander was learning to hate. Because it hated himself and everything else.
“I know,” Spike said eventually, words heavy and dull. “You love me. But that’s not enough, Xan.”
“Okay,” he said after gathering himself. “Okay. We—how about we adopt?” The idea came out of nowhere, the words tumbling from his lips. “We could, Spike, I had Willow look into it. She thinks it’s cute, but I thought maybe one day when I wasn’t such a kid and if you were willing and I was going to ask you about it before we did anything but I wanted to see if it was even possible before I brought it up and—”
“Don’t you see?” The interruption was quiet, yanking away his energy like stopper in a tub. “You’re human. You should—you thought about kids? The two of us?”
The stunned, beatifically happy expression Spike quickly shuttered away only left him feeling worse. Because he was right—and it still didn’t matter.
“Yeah,” he said numbly. “You—you’d make a good dad.” Spike wanted kids, they’d all known that. The way he took care of Dawn, the wistful expression whenever Willow and Tara talked about kids of their own. The way Angel had finally broken him.
How much of this is because you can’t be what you think I want, Spike? The things you wanted and won’t let yourself have? He didn’t say that, though. Because it didn’t matter. Spike didn’t want him, had never wanted him, and he wasn’t going to fight anymore.
“I’m a vampire, Xan.” He never should have told him. Never should have dangled that precious hope. Spike sounded like a corpse, now, dry and dusty. “I don’t do kids. I don’t do choice two-bedroom apartments in the good part of town. I don’t do normal. And both of us are just fooling ourselves if we stay like this. All my unlife, I’ve lived the things I never could when I was human. But this isn’t living, Xan. This is dying.”
And there it was. The ball in his stomach turned to stone, dragging at him so he probably looked as worn and as old as Spike. The final straw, the broken camel back. Shattered. His knees trembled but he didn’t fall because he knew that he couldn’t, not yet. Because the old habits were still there, the old love, and if he broke down now, then Spike would do worse. So he was strong. Stayed standing while the world whirled at supersonic speed, shredding everything he’d ever wanted.
“You’re breaking up with me.”
Spike flashed a hint of a smile, lost eyes empty. “Yeah. I think I am.”
He grabbed onto the table, still convinced that he had to look strong. Air felt like glass shards in his mouth, tearing at his throat with razor edges. He swallowed them down, wishing he could taste the metallic tang of his own blood—but that was dangerous. It always was.
He had to get out of here. Pulling the glass shard out of his leg hurt, the physical pain flaring through nerves that already felt raw. The scent of blood made Spike sink deeper into himself. “Was it ever me?”
Spike turned his face away.
The world went white.
“Right,” he managed hoarsely. “That’s what I thought.” He was not going to cry. Had to stay strong. Had to. “I used to think it was Drusilla,” he said absently. “That when you looked at me, you saw her. I guess it was pretty much the same thing, wasn’t it.”
“A bit like, yeah.” Dru was just another substitute, but the result was the same. Spike had sacrificed himself for her, become everything she needed and wanted. When she’d no longer wanted him anymore, Spike had been devastated.
Just like Xander.
Walking was difficult, forcing his body through molasses on legs that felt broken, but he did it. Climbed the stairs with a death-grip on the railing, mentally reminding himself that he could do this. He was Xander. This was what he always did, when the ones he loved could not. He moved on. He picked up the pieces.
Back in their room—Spike’s room—Xander packed. The books they’d brought went into the low bookcase and he made notes of Spike’s favorites to send down. Same with the portable CD player and the CD’s lying next to them. The random trinkets that Spike picked up, like the ivory-handled razor and his favorite vibrator, were placed the way Spike would have arranged them. Spike’s clothes were hung, especially the bag that lay on the bed. He didn’t want the leather pants to get a crease.
The sheets were messed up since Spike hated a made bed, the curtains drawn closed but with the farthest window left open so the air would sift through the room. The mirror was covered with the silken black cloth folded up next it. A gray candle was lit and for once, Xander could almost smell whatever it was that Spike said it was scented with. Rifling through his wallet and pants pockets, Xander came up with three hundred dollars in cash. He placed that on the dresser, right in front of the covered mirror.
His own clothes he threw in the bag haphazardly, not concentrating on anything but the things he knew Spike would like and would want to keep.
Except me. He won’t keep me.
None of the things he’d bought, not even the gifts for the gang back home, were packed. When—if—Spike ever visited, he could give them. Xander didn’t care.
Slinging the half-empty bag over his shoulder, he went back down the hallway and downstairs. Only a little longer, now. Once he was in the car. After he put the top up.
Then he was going away from LA. Where didn’t matter, but he couldn’t stay here a minute longer than he had to. This was Angel’s place.
He was waiting at the foot of the stairs.
“Hey, Angel,” Xander greeted with forced flippancy. “Congratulations. Great job. Kudos.”
Eyes as dark as his own blinked at him in surprise, brows quirking in confusion before urgency made him shake it off. “Xander, wait. We’ll talk about this, we’ll—”
“We talked. Don’t tell me you didn’t listen to every word.” He had to find his keys. If he couldn’t find them, he’d just take a bus somewhere, arrange for his car to be towed, but he really didn’t want to do that. Or maybe he did? The car would smell like Spike, now, and—
He had to find his keys.
“No, I heard. And you’re wrong, you know that—”
“He’s all growed up, Angel. He knows where I live.”
His keys were in his jacket pocket. Gathering up the few things he was taking, Xander kept his attention on Angel’s Neanderthal expression: the one where you could see the effort behind the nice, sympathetic look. The one that made the girls swoon faster than Fyarl-mucus hardened in the sun.
Xander hated that look.
The pleading nearly undid him but the continued silence from the lobby convinced him that he was right. “Take care of him,” he whispered. “Please.”
Eyes straight ahead, Xander walked out the door.