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17 April 2003 @ 01:39 pm
s/x sixteen  
Madness from last night. Did I mention I have a hangover? Eh. And how annoying is it when you're glancing at your friends page, and Spike is doing the bedcrawl on herself_nyc's icon, and your cubicle mate just comes around the corner and right up to your desk. Gahhhhh! Makes my shoulders hunch, as I oh so casually click browser-stop to arrest Spike's crawl, turn in my chair, leave the window up so as not to look too terribly guilty. And I'm thinking at her, no, that's not porn, thank you very much. Sigh.

Buffy: "Are you in love with him?"

They're sitting having coffee together. Xander is starting to think that being a grown up is all about the coffee. Not the coffee per se, but the whole social ritual of drinking coffee and having serious, life-like conversations. He wants to rewind to high school, when they all drank pop and gossiped about the horrible fashion sense of their doomed classmates.

Rewind to high school? Jesus. Let that one go. Adulthood, he thinks: I embrace you.

Xander: "Did you get script coaching from Willow? I'm hoping so, because otherwise you're Willow in Buffy's body, and I think we've played that scary movie out."

Buffy, lowering her eyes with a small half-smile: "It's natural for us to be curious, don't you think?"

Xander has a meditative look for his own coffee cup. "Because it's Spike." Who'd be a scary person to love, no matter how you sliced it.

Buffy's kind, gentle correction: "Because it's you."

Xander gazes through the open cafe wall to the street, where cars ease by, kicking up splashes in the unexpected rain. "I look at him sometimes," he says absently, "and I think of that saying--about repeating past mistakes?" He catches her eye again, and she nods just enough. "Fell for a demon, fucked that up," he notes. "It's the been-there, done-that dance. Except it's not the same. He's not Anya, and I'm...not even me. Not the me I was." He tips his head, thinking about stuff, and rather than breaking in, Buffy waits him out. It's a new restraint for her. Or an old one he's never noticed before now. "I look at him sometimes," he says again, "and it's..." He gropes for words. "...it's like my life is rewiring itself."

Buffy, reaching to try and make a connection: "Is that the," uncertainty, "the gay thing?" She asks this with the caution of the indelibly hetero. Meekness, almost.

Xander smiles. Her social efforts are usually far more endearing than her heroic ones. "It's the Spike thing." His eyes grow more intent on her, and he has to ask: "Did you love him?"

Buffy considers, head posed at a slight twist: "I don't know. I was so messed up then."

Xander doesn't force his gaze against hers, drops it. Thinks it might be best not to dredge too deeply into the past. "Do you think it's love," he asks, "if you just have the little stuff and not the big stuff?"

Buffy: "What do you mean?"

Xander: "Like the other day. I'm telling him about some stupid mix-up with a shipment of some insulation. And I'm getting my bitch on, and all of a sudden I tune in, and--he's asking me about fiberglass versus rock wool, and composite versus foam, which has *nothing* to do with the issue, but god. It just about killed me." The memory makes his overfull heart squeeze against his ribs; he feels as lucky as when he won the lottery. More. "No way did I tell him that stuff." Xander shakes his head. "He must be going online, reading up. That shit's boring even to *me*, and he's talking shop like it actually matters."

Buffy seems strangely subdued by this. "He cares," she says, half-lost in her coffee cup again.

Happy thoughts are pressing up like dogs at a window, wagging for Xander's attention, distracting him: "I like being with him. It's the dumbest stuff he does that kills me." A faint smile. "I think he's writing a book," he confides, unaware of his diffident pride, "but he doesn't want me to know."

It's a far cry from New York City, from a flash life of clubs and tricks and contemplations of the eternal.

And later, driving home, Xander's still thinking of Spike. That thing with the insulation, and so many other conversations he hasn't paid attention to, have been slipping gently by him. Spike has been trying hard to make it all look natural.

Xander doesn't always miss the obvious. There are times when life folds together, sweet as a pie--they're deep in the cherry filling and the universe is warm--and he wants to pull Spike close and bring the universe to an abrupt end, so he can be certain that Spike will be the last thing he feels.

Xander more and more thinks love is beside the point, except when he panics and decides love is everything.

It's the most common word.

I love blueberry muffins, Xander thinks. How stupid is that?

Sometimes he trades a dry, wordless look across the Magic Box table with Spike, when Willow is complaining about the difficulty of finding decent clerks or how Anya's new web sites are sucking away their own share of online ordering. Their eyes know how to talk to each other now. Days pass, rise and fall like a tide, and Spike's still around.

So with all that, it should be easy to lay the word on Spike, to give it like a gift, a fancy bracelet--or, if not that, then a magazine you've picked up at the supermarket. Something casual, spur of the moment, stripped of its heavy significance. But Xander doesn't say the word, because he overthinks it. He has two modes: thinking too much, and thinking not at all. When he doesn't think at all, long periods of time can pass.

He says it anyway, one day. He's not forcing the issue, doesn't work it out beforehand. It just happens. Impulse purchase. No fancy bracelet.

Xander: "I love you."

Spike is dripping with demon goo, standing in the middle of a graveyard--headstones splayed out like broken teeth all around them. He stares uncomprehendingly at Xander. He's holding an axe and his face wears a confused frown: he's been slapped by surprise. Xander's gut turns over with fear. You can't take words back.

Spike, lowering his head slightly to process the words: "Love." The briefest pause. "Me." He seems to be having trouble with the basic concepts.

Xander braves it out: "Yeah."

There's a moment of frozen uncertainty, and then Spike actually turns around to look behind him, as if acting out some comical--and yet heartbreakingly terrible--imperative. He's not making a point, he's just unable to help himself. He's trying to find the audience, the laughtrack, the joke.

"You," Xander whispers, and it drowns him.

Love changes everything. But it does it slowly and you usually don't notice, and by the time you say the word, it's far too late. Saying the word changes nothing.

Xander doesn't expect Spike to claim love back, leap to meet him over the abyss. It's enough that Spike nods at last, smiles a little: the right signs to show he's not going to freak out, pull back. Leave.

Drugstore. Xander's shopping for the boring, necessary stuff--the supplies that get you through life, things you'd gladly do without if your existence were simpler, if you were, say, a Neolithic cave-dweller. Shaving cream. Soap. Minty mouthwash. Dental floss. And while he's there, he meets up with Susan Pilgrim for the first time since junior year of high school. Could there *be* any woman more oblivious? She's Classic Sunnydale Lite, but hadn't she moved away? And how the hell did she remember his name? He'd been a non-entity then to everyone but Willow, Buffy, and Giles. Cordelia, if you wanted to get technical, but he tries to block that out. Yet here Susan is, a chick who shared only one English and one Health class with him in four years, her face a high-beam of recognition. "Xander!"

Xander: "Oh...hi." He's blank, no memory at all. At first he thinks she's the wife of an employee.

Susan: "How are you?!" She seems so absurdly delighted, and what that says about her life is terrifying. Her last name is actually Jerome now, he learns. She wants to catch up on old times, and invites him over for some kind of cocktail party or housewarming. It isn't very clear.

Xander thinks in bafflement: The hell?

Bemused, he allows her to press her number and address on him, words looped onto a piece of paper. It's pink, lined paper from a small notebook she carries in her purse. He has no plans to attend, and their meeting seems almost Twilight Zone to him, but then at work, Jack asks: "Are you going to be there Friday?" At Susan's, he means, and it turns out that she's social with a lot of people at his company, and that's maybe why she feels like she knows him better than she does. It starts to come clear, and Xander's Hellmouthy radar, ready to peg Susan for a demon, is apparently off for once.

He's not planning to go, he tells Jack, but somehow by the end of the conversation his no gets arm-twisted into a maybe. Xander can tell Jack thinks he's stand-offish, and it's kind of funny that he's now a guy people try to persuade to parties. His geeky high school past seems firmly dead and buried. Of course, in this town, that means nothing.

When he talks about the party with Spike, it's clear the vampire's interest in attending is located slightly south of the Marianas Trench. He's not horrified or anything. It's simply that Xander's remarks about the party don't seem to penetrate.

Finally, Xander has to get explicit and say: "I was thinking of going...you want to come?"

Spike looks up, his tiny distracted frown giving way to full focus on Xander. There's this pause, like a car jumping the air across a broken drawbridge, and then he says: "Yeah, all right." And turns back to his laptop.

It's a hellishly anxious hour of preparation to get ready for the party, and when he's done, Xander realizes there's still another hour before they even have to leave. Disgusted with himself, tense, he gets a beer and bides his time alone in front of the TV, trying to run his brain down to empty. He doesn't want to be in the bedroom, because he's afraid he'll drive Spike bugfuck the way he's driving himself.

With fifteen minutes left to go, Spike comes into the living room, readied for the evening's social experiment.

Spike is wearing expensively fine suede shoes, brown. Faded blue jeans that rest on his hips in a way God never imagined: not especially tight, but following the line of his legs. A belt that looks right, without catching the eye too closely. A dark-blue fitted shirt, cuffs rolled up, the top few buttons undone. His leather choker. His leather bracelet. His white-blond hair stiffened by hair gel to a nervous mix of curls and tufts, but looking stylish and strokable.

Xander stares, gaze lifting from feet on upward to take it all in. That's my boyfriend, he thinks with dumb wonderment.

They go and it's about what Xander expected. Pricey house in Beechwood with a lot of pastel wall art. People mingling, some known to him, most unfamiliar, all with drinks firmly in hand. A few stray children lurking and mugging on the fringes. Cheese, crackers, wine. Jack coming up to him and clapping him on the arm. Conversations about work, about rezoning, about the Oscars. Spike wanders, looking perfectly at ease. Hangs by Xander's side from time to time, goes to stare out over the landscaped backyard, studies a few bad paintings, buzzes the buffet, gets himself a drink. At one point when Xander looks, Spike's cradling a cut-glass tumbler in his palm, whiskey over ice, and talking in a laid-back way to some woman Xander doesn't recognize. One of the many women who gravitate to him during the course of the evening.

Another time, Xander searches for him and sees Spike by the stairs, looming over a few children who are sitting on the treads. They're gazing up at him, he's gazing down, chit-chat going on. Spike always enjoys being a bit scary, likes to play with an easy audience, and the kids seem transfixed by whatever he's saying. Xander isn't entirely sure he wants to know and hopes that none of the adults overhear.

Xander has been "out of the closet" for a while now. It's a catchphrase, not meaningful when you examine it. He's had few relationships with men lasting longer than a month, which means he's rarely reached that point where it's time to tell co-workers and more casual acquaintances that you're seeing a steady someone. At the office, no one asks if he's gay or straight, but also--on the spectrum of identity--he's just not the kind of guy who drops mention of his orientation into small talk.

Tonight he makes no attempt to hide, and that's a kind of turning point for his dealings with several people in the room. He calls Spike his partner when introductions are being made. It seems the right word when you share a checking account with someone. Spike gives him an odd glance the first time that makes Xander realize they should probably have talked about this first, but then seems to accept it.

After they've been there a few hours, they find themselves on the rear deck, half-hiding in the shadows. Light filters through the nearby trees and shrubs from a few torches. Good taste shows in the design of the backyard. Xander thinks it can't have been Susan's. There are people here and there on the grass, voices carrying to the deck only as murmurs along with the faint smell of cigarette smoke.

For a few minutes they talk, an easy space between them as they relax by the deck rail.

Xander: "Thanks for coming. I know it's boring."

Spike pauses, head tilted as if he's considering possible replies, and then: "What doesn't kill us makes us stronger." A curve of mouth. "'Sides, all the tortures I've been through, not sure I'd rank this top of the list. Somewhere above Sally Jesse, below flaying."

Xander feels a wash of small, ridiculous tenderness and can't stop staring into Spike's eyes, loving the way they speak back to him. He puts his hand out without thinking about it, cups the side of Spike's neck, plays his thumb up and down. Just because he can. And Spike lets him, which is amazing. All that cool flesh, living by magic, standing still for him. A demon with ordinary habits. His close companion with a soul.

If you set your expectations of a relationship low, every small thing is a surprise and a gift. Xander can't do that. He wants a lot. But he's getting a lot already. He thinks about how he once punched Spike's nose hard enough to make it bleed, the vicious thrill in his own knuckles, and the tight fury of humiliation in Spike's eyes as they spoke to Xander, promising that one day he would exact his revenge in the most thorough and painful possible way.

Spike: "Susan wants us to come over for dinner next week--she tell you? Already decided the menu. Told her I like chops." Dry tones. "Should be interesting."

Xander, shaking his head and feeling strangely peaceful: "Not the word I'd use."

kassrachel on April 17th, 2003 01:51 pm (UTC)
You know, the phrase "spin a good yarn" (as synonym for "tell a good story") makes more and more sense to me the more I read of this particular S/X thing. You're spinning it along, twisting all kind of lovely stuff into the wool, and I'm completely content to follow the thread wherever it leads.

I think I just mixed two fiber metaphors, but I'm over it. ;-)
in search of a clever byline: flannel10zlaine on April 17th, 2003 01:55 pm (UTC)
no, that's not porn, thank you very much

nah. porn might be the air-humping 'Gone' icon I want.
gwynnega on April 17th, 2003 05:12 pm (UTC)
nah. porn might be the air-humping 'Gone' icon I want.

Ooh, Tammy, that's a wonderful idea! (Amazing, really, that it hasn't been done yet...)
Herself_nycherself_nyc on April 17th, 2003 02:04 pm (UTC)
I'm glad I can reach out and touch you, even if only to make you cringe, via the element of LJ icons!


Loved this installment. Kass' comment above sums it up. All the bits'n'bobs of everyday life here, are just delicious.
sophia: Dawn Never Heard of Sinsaraslash on April 17th, 2003 02:10 pm (UTC)
This was lovely, as always. Xander's "I love you" was beautifully written.
Plinsuperplin on April 17th, 2003 02:28 pm (UTC)
Confessions of a non-slasher
You know, I don't read slash. Any slash. I've never really managed to "get" the whole Spander thing, and I've tried, I really have. It's just that I always get to the point where it just feels too squicky, too wrong, and I have to stop.
But I am loving this story, absolutely eating it up. I've been trying to figure out why that is, what makes it different from all the other S/X fics I've tried and failed miserably to read.

I think it's a combination of things: the richness of the language, the authenticity of the voices, the way you are able to show the reader so much through tiny details--the usual things that make for excellent fanfic (or, well, any fic). I believe a lot of it has to do with the seductively slow pacing of it, how you walk us through the messy and confusing way thoughts and feelings tumble over one another and evolve over time.

But I think the most important factor that makes this story feel real, something that is developing organically and not just contrived to scratch an itch, is that you tell it all from Xander's POV. We know Xander, we can relate to him, he comes from a world we can empathize with based on our own lives (and the parts we can't, we've "experienced" along with him). So to see him relate to this mysterious demon, whom we also kind of know but can never fully understand, and who has lived through so much we'll never know or grasp, brings the story to life.

It wasn't until today that it occurred to me that most of my attempts at reading Spander fics were told from both characters' POV, and for some reason, having a writer tell me that Spike loves Xander and can't bear the thought of losing him or [insert other romantic cliche here] just feels wrong. I mean, this is Spike and Xander we're talking about, here! Having you show a connection grow, unexpectedly and even reluctantly, between the two out of tiny shared domesticities and moments that you string together like beads, well, that suddenly feels right.

I'll never be a real convert to Spander, but for once, that doesn't diminish my enjoyment of this story one bit. Just thought I'd share.
Trece: got ropestriptkleen on April 17th, 2003 02:29 pm (UTC)
I'm completely content to follow the thread wherever it leads

I agree! I'm loving this. Never thought I'd end up on the s/x ship of loooove.
Hepcatnwhepcat on April 17th, 2003 03:20 pm (UTC)
Dropping in here without having read the previous installments, though your index is bookmarked so I can.

Oh my. This is just delcious. You've got Xander down so well I'm ready to follow him anywhere. The love realization (and declaration) captures that terror and wonder so well. (The insulation talk! That would get me too.)

I am just so thrilled to know I have all the previous chapters to snuggle up with.
Estepheiaestepheia on April 17th, 2003 03:49 pm (UTC)
There's a moment of frozen uncertainty, and then Spike actually turns around to look behind him, as if acting out some comical--and yet heartbreakingly terrible--imperative. He's not making a point, he's just unable to help himself. He's trying to find the audience, the laughtrack, the joke.
That's just so sad. And so sweet. And adorable. Gah.

If you ever start writing original fiction I'll certainly buy it.
my2cents4sure on April 17th, 2003 04:22 pm (UTC)
Oh, yes, now that's what I was talking about!

(Well, that and the whole question of whether M/M love is same/different as M/F love, with respect to the significance of the sex in the relationship. Because now I'm just plain curious. :-) )

Xander's convo with Buffy shows that he is finally aware of those other little things that he loves about Spike, beyond the incredible sex. Like he loves how Spike cares enough to learn something about his business, even though he doesn't have to. And he feels proud at the thought that Spike might be writing a book.

That's what I think I was missing before. I always felt that Xander skirted around that type of awareness. So at one point he felt a need to bring Spike flowers, but never seemed to connect that urge with "because I care about Spike/he's tried hard (in his own Spike-y way) to please me/now I want to do something to take away a little of his pain." Or something along those lines.

I've been wanting to see Xander connect all these little events (like the flowers) with the feelings that underlie them.

Anyway: Lovely Spander here. Love without sex, yet very sexy. (And aww, Spike doesn't directly say "I love you," but he does wear the leather choker and bracelet to the party.) And wryly funny. Lines like this crack me up: His geeky high school past seems firmly dead and buried. Of course, in this town, that means nothing.

Oh, and wanted to clarify: I do agree that good sex is important for a happy relationship. I wasn't trying to say it wasn't; I see it as an important building block. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't like your Spander nearly so much without all the good sex. {g} I just meant that I believe that enduring love is based on more than just the sex. There's the whole companionship/comfort level thing, the respect/appreciation thing, yada yada.
gwynnega on April 17th, 2003 05:19 pm (UTC)
Xander is starting to think that being a grown up is all about the coffee. Not the coffee per se, but the whole social ritual of drinking coffee and having serious, life-like conversations. He wants to rewind to high school, when they all drank pop and gossiped about the horrible fashion sense of their doomed classmates.

Rewind to high school? Jesus. Let that one go. Adulthood, he thinks: I embrace you.

Absolutely marvelous...
AynAtonal: Spike flesh (anniesj)aynatonal on April 17th, 2003 06:06 pm (UTC)
There's a moment of frozen uncertainty, and then Spike actually turns around to look behind him, as if acting out some comical--and yet heartbreakingly terrible--imperative. He's not making a point, he's just unable to help himself. He's trying to find the audience, the laughtrack, the joke.

"You," Xander whispers, and it drowns him.

Gorgeous. My heart is just in little pieces over this.
Lumenara Dhahm: pretty Xanderlumenara on April 17th, 2003 07:53 pm (UTC)
...undying love...
I wish I was a pretty man, so I could propose marriage. Of course, the marriage would be a sham, but I'd let you pick out men for me to sleep with.

But, yeah, if you ever publish work, let me know, because I will certainly buy it. You are astonishing.
ivyincubus on April 17th, 2003 08:44 pm (UTC)
Am in thrall of your work. Completely. Idolize it. *puts it on big high up thing from which to admire it* So, in a vain attempt to fuel my own selfish desire to read this, please continue writing. You're utterly amazing, devistating with wit and snark. Makes me want more, but many chapters end with a certian amount of closure, so I don't feel cheated out of anything.

Please, continue. I'll definantly be keeping up with this...
Circe: willowcirce_tigana on April 17th, 2003 08:44 pm (UTC)
I've loved every previous chapter, but with this installment I actually ached when it was over and thought, "Oh please, no." I couldn't bear that there was no more to read tonight.
Anna S.eliade on April 17th, 2003 09:40 pm (UTC)
You're a sweetheart--a big one! dripping and bloody! a lovely present for Dru! ;)

There should be more later, if you're still up.
Anna S.eliade on April 18th, 2003 12:25 am (UTC)
Okay, I lied, sorry. I won't have the new bit up tonight. It's pretty much done but I don't have the brain to edit.

Circe: spikedrucirce_tigana on April 18th, 2003 12:05 pm (UTC)
And it was totally worth the wait :)
auroramama on April 17th, 2003 10:04 pm (UTC)
Buffy's social efforts
Why does no one mention your Buffy? She's amazing, and a good Buffy in fanfic is vanishingly rare. I love her social efforts, I love her hard-won patience, I love the way she drives everyone absolutely crazy with that dance between strenuous good intentions and her need to walk lightly in their world, to keep the veil drawn; the ways of her elusion. (Like a sourcerer, like an archetype, like a myth: the world is broken and crushed around her if she doesn't take care.) I love how she's all grown up, more adult than anyone should ever have to be, and still a little more childish than the average teenager. Still capable of silliness, pettiness, sheer bloody-minded denial. Endearing, for me, is the word.

*Thank you*. Her price is far above rubies.

Klytaimnestraklytaimnestra on April 17th, 2003 10:49 pm (UTC)
Happy thoughts are pressing up like dogs at a window, wagging for Xander's attention, distracting him:

Loved this. And lots of other things, but here's where - in this installment - I first stopped, astonished.
Shapinglightshapinglight on April 18th, 2003 01:53 am (UTC)
Doing what I should have done before and commenting. This is just so good it's heartbreaking. I have tears in my eyes after reading every part - but in a good way.