I'm so very restless tonight.
"On the upside, it's better than any post-apocalyptic world I envisioned. On the downside..." Xander looked around Wilkins Park. "Everything else."
A dispirited bunch, they sat on the grass watching giant blue slugs inch slowly down the park paths pushing strollers, horned children swinging and spiraling down snake slides on the playground, couples walking hand in hand, their demon faces revealed in broad daylight.
Willow was watching the inhabitants of a park bench, a pair of vampire teens who were passing a cigarette back and forth, heads bowed, bodies slumped in attitudes of angst and tragedy. "Have you noticed how all the vamps look ready for Prozac and a Tori Amos concert?"
"Regaining your soul's pretty traumatic," Buffy said, following her gaze. "One day you're merrily killing the innocents, then all of a sudden you're wishing you hadn't offed your teachers 'cause you need a job reference. I know I should feel for them."
"My heart bleeds," Giles said. "Metaphorically." As the cold remark settled and bred silence, he took a swig from his flask, ignoring their looks.
A shadow fell across the grass and a lighter, more jocular voice intruded on their group mope. "Well, well, well. Are these the strays that launched a thousand quips and burnt the topless towers of Sunnydale?"
"Who's topless?" Giles asked rather muzzily, frowning up and shading his eyes. "Oh, Spike." An immediate ebb of interest was conveyed in two syllables and followed by another pull of whisky.
Spike, not topless, gazed down at them in amusement while Xander levered himself to his feet. "You poor sods. Losers without a cause. Whatever will you do now? Say, I hear the Qwikky Mart is hiring."
"Don't worry," Xander was quick to retort. "We'll get by. This apocalypse isn't going to run itself." Despite the edge to his voice, he let Spike pull him close for the kind of kiss that earned movies a PG-13 rating. It showed every sign of continuing well past the credits.
"Young love," Willow said dryly, then corrected herself: "Well, young and young-looking love anyway."
"Hey, I'm young," Spike broke off kissing to protest. "Compared to some of what's walking the streets now."
"I saw a mummy this morning," Dawn piped up. "He was lurching and losing his wrapping, all arghhhhh," she held her arms out to demonstrate, "but he looked kinda lost. I felt sorry for him."
"What were you doing out?" Buffy turned to glare at her sister. "Dawn, I told you not to leave the house by yourself."
"I wanted doughnuts!" Dawn went squeaky with righteousness. "You stuffed them in your face fast enough."
"I didn't know you'd been *foraging* for them."
Their voices dwindled in Xander's hearing as Spike led him away. They were holding hands, just a guy and his demon, as openly as any other couple in the park. At least Spike wasn't in game face, though.
"How's the new job?" Xander asked.
"Not bad." Spike was rubbing his thumb against the side of Xander's hand in a way that felt too amazing for public. "Power's fun. Amazing how many whiners ooze out of the woodwork when a dole's on offer. Johnny-come-latelies wearing their souls on their sleeves." His scoff implied that he'd always been far more advanced than that and always would be.
Hiding a smile, Xander said, "Well, you have to expect a period of adjustment."
"Suppose so." Voice softening, Spike sounded completely indifferent about whether the liberated vampires of the world received their due. He was squinting at the blue sky with an expression--happy, reverent, raw--that cut sharp new channels through Xander's heart, a flash flood of love. "God, look at that sun. Fire and mercy, all rolled up in one big ball."
Poetic revery tended to leave Xander groping for a response. "To quote Cordelia the Great, 'It's just like a tanning salon--but free.'"
Spike made a sound approximating a snort. "Girl has a gift for inanity. Ought to have her own talk show." A ruminative pause. "Wonder how L.A.'s taking the Big Event."
"All these demons and domestic disputes should pay the bills."
"Angel Heart's got to be sulking." Spike's satisfaction was emphatic, a curl of voice and lips punctuated in his cheekbones. "Souls to the left of him, souls to the right. Not the one and only any more."
"Not even one of two." Xander shook his head in mock sympathy. "We should send him a card. Something Hallmarky, with cartoon animals. Possibly wearing bonnets."
Xander suddenly found himself shoved against a tree, back to bark, Spike kissing him while the leaves flickered in a confetti of light above their heads. Though not entirely sure he deserved this, he submitted. He liked to take things easy; easy come, easy go. And Spike, he was easy to come and very easy-going, if you grabbed him at the right angle. Which Xander couldn't do in front of children, so he settled for hanging on as he was kissed.
"Not again," Angel said.
Spike glared at him, but he could see in everyone's faces--guilty twitches, averted eyes--that it was what they were all thinking. He hung up the phone, and from that moment on everything he did took on a purpose, even the smallest acts becoming firm and deliberate: pulling on his jacket, feeling for his keys. Humans wore down, and Angel, he got impatient. But Spike had spent over a hundred years taking care of Dru, his mad dark beauty. That long, and freak mood storms became predictable weather patterns, drama a habit. He could do this in his sleep. Some nights, did.
"Do you want us to come with you?" Willow asked.
They looked relieved when he said no, and he brushed by, leaving them standing like department store dummies around the Hyperion lobby, posed in attitudes of concern he expected they'd hold for another two minutes, at least. He went out into the rain, head ducked against its touch, surrounded on all sides by the patter of drops against the thousands of leaves in the forecourt. The hissing of wet wheels from the street, strangers with places to go, reminded him of nights spent driving cross-country with Dru by his side, outrunning history, making it up as they went along.
The soul didn't do away with nostalgia, even for bloodier times. It was like looking back at childhood, a time when you were carefree and every hour was yours. A lack of conscience, an abundance of joy. Houses with their shingled roofs tucked along the side of the road, under the evergreens, like presents waiting to be opened. Each diner window at midnight bright as a Hopper painting, beckoning you to stop and eat the lonely.
He felt these things as he drove, clear sharp memories dealing themselves off the bottom of the deck until he had to chase them away with the radio.
Xander lifted his head up when Spike walked in to the hospital room. He was tied down at the wrists and ankles, strapped across the chest to a narrow bed. No strait-jacket this time. His hair was mussed.
"Feather of a harpy? Feather of a harpy? *Who* thought this was a good idea?" Xander slashed out with his sword and hit only a nearby stalagmite. A squawking cyclone of feathers blurred out of range at high velocity.
"It's for--the spell--" Buffy chuffed out a reply between blows.
"I still think a very angry chicken would have done the trick."
"Xander, watch out!"
He heard her yell at the same moment a big talon whacked him upside the head. The timing on that could have better, he thought as he went flying. The cave was about ten feet too small, which accounted for the impact of his head against the rock. Ten more feet and he'd have skidded to a stop with maybe some heavy chafing and a clown roll or two. Pratfalls, no problem. Instead, he saw stars and then the black universe behind the stars, and then just the black.
A while later and somewhere else, he woke up. He knew it was somewhere else because it was soft and smelled unlike a bird cage. He knew it was a while by the accumulation of pain. Like snowfall, but in his head. Six to eight inches of pain, if the weatherman could be believed, school cancelled, and oh yeah, this was delirium setting in. He could deal with that though. The weather channel helped distract him from the kids making snow angels behind his eyelids.
"How's he doing?" someone said.
A low non-verbal growl answered the voice, long and steady, like the utterance of a lawn-mower in the distance through an open window on a summer day. Where it was not snowing. A warm familiar sound, but kind of menacing.
"What did I tell you?" Lawn-Mower Man asked with an edge. "Don't break him, I said."
"We didn't," said a third person with snappy defensiveness. "Do I look like a big, pissed-off harpy to you? Do *not* answer that."
"If you can't keep yourself between him and danger, stop bringing him to your death matches, slayer."
"You think I can stop him? What should I have done, handcuff him to the refrigerator?"
"That's a start."
"Sorry. Unlike some people, I don't carry police contraband and sex toys around with me."
"Too bad. Might get you a--"
"Hey! Can you two shut the hell up for five minutes? I think he's waking up."
Xander obliged the anxious, red-haired voice by opening his eyes. Eyesight confirmed Willow's presence at the end of the bed. She was holding a floppy bouquet of flowers and a balloon with a dementedly smiling clown face on it. Her smile grew almost as wide.
"Hey you," she said.
"I should get the doctor," Buffy said with a jittery concern and left the room before Xander could even focus on her.
He let his head loll left on the pillow and found Spike scowling at him.