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24 April 2003 @ 12:02 am
Subtleties 23  
In the midnight hour, my brain cells are hoops through which thoughts refuse to jump. I've poked at this with tired dissatisfaction and now I must give up and go to bed with the hope that there are no typoos.

We'll just leave that one in for luck, 'kay?



He's thought more than once about why Spike's here--one of the survivors, the redeemed. It was easy to hate Spike before the soul, but now Xander sometimes has to wonder: was he always a demon with character?

The confusion sometimes breaks Xander's mind, a big stick thrust into his bicycle wheel to send him flying. Demons are demons are demons, and most of the toothier species kill and eat humans, and they're just not worth knowing when they inhabit that side of the world. The underworld.

But Spike crossed over to the other side. Xander wonders about this more now than he ever did back when Spike's soul was oven-fresh. What is Spike, a freak of nature, a guy who can turn himself inside out, and will do it just to kick back at the universe?

He's a man who still has some secrets.

Xander and Spike maintain a busy boy-slayer hobby. They're not like other couples--okay, Batman and Robin, maybe--and there's a big gap to fill in the Sunnydale Justice League these days, even with Riley back. Buffy is doing her thing across the country, Faith has her own duties that don't often bring her to the unfashionable Hellmouth, and Willow has long preferred to "patrol" from the comfort of home, cozied up on cushions while she gets her magical buzz on, though that's a tenuously upheld duty these days. Becca's ongoing depression distracts her.

They patrol and Xander wonders, which is just a thing he does now and then, about how it affects Spike--killing his own kind. Because isn't there still some kinship under the skin with other demons?

"What, like ethnic solidarity?" Spike says when Xander asks. He's dry, amused. "Thought you knew better than that by now."

Xander: "Are you kidding? What do I know? I know what Buffy knows, and that's not a hell of a lot. I mean, don't get me wrong, I respect Giles, but the guy tossed out the slayer handbook, gave her a stake and said 'kill'. Watchers, man--they tell you just enough to get by. Too much info, you might start questioning the mission, and we can't have that."

Spike: "Aren't you the cynical one these days."

Xander: "I've earned it."

Spike: "With interest."

Xander: "And now they're rebuilding watcher lore from just about nothing--stone knives and bear skins. I say that makes you an expert in the field."

Spike, dismissively: "Huh. Expert on nothing but myself, pet." They stroll along the docks, looking for the slimy thing that's been cleaning out the seagull population and menacing fishermen. After a minute: "What do you want to know?" But he goes on before Xander can answer: "Vamps come in all flavors. Not a lot of loyalty among us." Us, not them, Xander notices. "You've got family lines--sometimes that means something, other times not so much."

Xander: "But you've got a vamp code."

Spike: "Yeahhh. For what that's worth. More honored in the breach."

Xander: "So what happens before you get, you know, embodied?"

Spike: "What d'you mean?"

Xander: "Well, in hell, when you're just hanging out waiting to suit up."

Spike's face has slackened with faint amazement. "D'you mean to say all this time you've been thinking--"

Xander shakes his head: "Wondering. I almost asked you about it once, back in the day--that time you emptied my dad's liquor cabinet and got me stinking drunk."

Spike: "Don't remember needing to pour it down your throat."

Xander: "You were a bad influence."

Spike, smiling: "And look where it's got me." A pause. "Someone sold you the crooked dope there, pet. Demons are born--incarnated, like. Same as humans, if you go by some religions."

Xander: "Yeah, but--what, there's just some baby demon in the driver's seat? Okay. That actually explains a lot." He hesitates, then stops Spike as he's walking by taking his hand. They pause near a tomb in the grass of the Fisherman's Graveyard, nothing stirring to distract them. "I know I've asked before, but, I'm still trying to figure it all out--demon, not-demon--"

Spike: "Half cup of one, third of the other, toss in some currants. Right." He's wry, indulgent of Xander's curiosity, but his eyes cut away with familiar evasion. "Don't know about most vamps. I've heard a few life stories, yeah, but existential debate doesn't come up as cocktail party conversation often as you'd think. Not really our bag."

Xander thinks that moonlight is the only place you can ask: "So do I love the demon, or the man?"

Spike's eyes are hard to read. "I'm baked, love. It's all one in the mix." He's silent as if waiting, then goes on: "Dru turned me and I woke up. I knew who I was. Same life, same loves, new eyes. Reborn, is all."

Xander: "Reborn. So how do you know you're a demon?"

Spike: "Just something you know."

Xander: "Yeah, but *how*? If you remember everything before you died--" A pause. "Okay, see, it's too confusing. *You* died, but *you're* a demon. And now you've got soul. A soul. His, yours--"

Spike: "Give it up, pet." His voice is kind, sad. "No answer's going to satisfy you."

While they were in Paris they'd met vampires Spike had known decades ago. They bred a different type of demon in Paris--or the city attracted and held them. These had been languid creatures, civil and fond of the arts, with stock portfolios and patrons. They held salons, mingled with humans, drank blood without killing. Not all the time, Xander felt sure, but enough so that he didn't feel too creepy hanging with them for a few hours.

"Bunch of effete housecats," Spike had said in derision. "Balls snipped, collared to rich buggers who show them off at parties--all of them hoping to star in the next Anne Rice novel."

And Xander, blinking, had glanced over at Spike's irritable profile and realized that he was (a) honestly contemptuous of the Parisians, and (b) utterly unaware of any irony.

Other people's blind spots can be exasperating and Xander hopes he'll never feel impatient with Spike's as he did with Anya's. As they rubbed shoulders with the Paris vamps, Spike described to Xander old grudges and slights, his inability to fit in with their "set." It was clear that the snubs rankled him even now, years later. Well, okay, there wasn't much guesswork involved, since he actually said: "Still rankles." Spike is often helpfully unsubtle.

The Paris vampires prey on Xander's mind weeks later. He tries not to think about this proof that vampires might vary, might paint pictures and attend the theater and contribute to society while sucking only the willing. It fucks with his worldview, which is clearest when the unsouled fiends are gamefaced and vicious, reeking of grave dirt.

Buffy comes home for a visit, and when Xander picks her up at the airport, she says: "You bought him a *jet*?"

Xander: "Just a small one."

Buffy: "You bought him a jet."

Xander: "And it was on sale."

Buffy, arms crossed, head cocked skeptically: "All over the world, orphaned children are starving, so you thought, 'Hey, I know what I'll do! I'll spend thousands of dollars on a big flying machine shaped like a penis!'"

Two million, Xander thinks, but it's probably better not to mention that. "It gets good mileage," he says helplessly.

Buffy stares him down, then her mouth twitches and her face is suddenly like ice cream on a hot day, melting and slipping off the cone. She throws her arms around him, and he hugs back with relief. When she pulls away he sees that her eyes are brimming with tears, but she's got a smile wedged on tight, her lower lip full of indulgent pride. "And the Olympic gold for the boyfriend freestyle goes to Xander Harris."

"Thanks," Xander says, smiling gently, a bit confused and off-balance.

Buffy's head hangs. "I'm so out of touch with the teasing," she apologizes, a huge sadness pulling at her small body. "I practiced that orphan line twenty-three times in my head." And then her lip trembles and she bursts into tears.

There's a horrible few minutes where Xander thinks that he's the one making her cry, that their relationship is so shaky that she can't see him without water-works. But then she gushes like a hydrant, and he learns that she's broken up with her boyfriend and eaten a gallon of mocha ice cream and found out she's pregnant, all within the last twenty-four hours.

It's a strange and difficult visit. Buffy stays with Willow and only comes over to the beach house a few times, and only when Xander is home. She also makes all arrangements through him. ("I thought I might stop by tonight, if you guys feel like hanging.") He wants to tell her it's okay, not to fret about formalities and the past when she's got other things to worry about. But he doesn't, because her being here like this--pregnant and alone and needy--puts him on edge, and he still has an instinct to keep Spike to himself. When she does stop by, the conversations between the three of them are awkward. Some serious social drinking might have helped, but none of them indulge.

He tells Spike about the pregnancy as soon as he gets home that first night. They're getting ready for bed, and they've been talking about it on and off for hours. When Xander comes out of the bathroom, Spike's outside on the deck, gazing out toward sea. Xander comes up behind him and cups Spike's left elbow in his palm, then slides his hand down until their wrists overlap, their hands mesh on the railing.

Spike, after they've talked a bit more about Buffy: "You're not getting the urge to spawn, are you?" His tone is wary, and maybe other things, but Xander hears only the wary.

Xander: "Oh dear god, no."

Spike, relaxing: "Didn't think so."

It's Willow who drives Buffy to the doctor's office where she gets the abortion. Xander doesn't see her at all that day, though he talks to Willow on the phone for a few minutes, gets an update in soft murmurs pitched so that Buffy won't hear. She's been crying, Willow tells him, and then as she talks Willow starts crying too, wet whispery sniffs that fill Xander's body with tension and helpless rage against the guy who isn't around to deal with all the shit he's caused.

After Xander hangs up, he holds the phone for a while and works on his rage, and wonders if he personally could have done anything differently, given Buffy other options. He'd talked to her over coffee--given her the choices talk, been the supportive guy friend of old--but his help had never quite gelled. His mind doesn't want to look where the possibilities pointed. It's too late, and he's not father material, and she hadn't expected more of him than he'd given.

Buffy is old, for a slayer. As the years pass Xander is beginning to feel a chill if he thinks about this too closely.

The abortion itself doesn't seem to count for much with Spike, doesn't make him angry or sad on the unborn's behalf, but Xander can tell he feels for Buffy. He's writing again, and there's something in the line of his mouth, the lowered brood of his eyelids.

A few weeks pass. Buffy goes and Dawn visits them more often for a while as if instinctively seeking comfort. The breezes from the beach are growing cooler at night. Riley comes over for dinner one evening and the three of them end up in the living room afterwards, talking late over too many beers, music playing low. The Spike CD mix. Nirvana. Buddy Holly. Norah Jones. Riley sleeps over in the spare room--they won't let him drive--and in the morning Spike treats him more or less like a normal guest at the kitchen table. They're starting to take each other for granted.

Xander feels out of sorts for a while: everything he does, it's as if he's fumbling. He can't get a grip at the office, he's distracted during patrols, and his workshop projects are shaping up into misshapen messes. Sex is good, but there's something building inside him like a sneeze he can't quite get out. All the ordinary things he usually handles without even thinking about them feel off, clumsy in his grasp.

It's like a fever breaking with relief when one day Spike comes out to the workshop on some errand, and stays to fuck him. He's got Xander bent over the workshop table and Xander's left hand is braced on the splintery surface while his right grips the edge so hard he thinks the wood might crumble like gingerbread. Xander's jeans are around his knees, and Spike rides him from behind with rough, merciless thrusts, every upstroke driving Xander onto his toes and lifting the nearest two table legs off the ground, every downstroke letting the table thud back to the floor. Each jarring smack knocks a cry from Xander's throat, and every few thrusts Spike twists his hips and nails him somewhere deep inside, prodding a live current at the base of Xander's spine.

"Yes!" Xander shudders and grinds back, trying to take more.

Spike's hips move at a slightly off-kilter angle, a skidding heaviness of hipbone against Xander's ass. He's got an arm around Xander's waist, Xander's balls in his hand, and he's working them, tugging and rolling and massaging.

"I need you--oh fuck," Xander gasps. "Please--" Spike skims his hand up and then down again, up and down, up and down, and then suddenly fists the head of Xander's cock into a tight, slick cap--thumb, forefinger, heel--and pulls it over him again and again. A blur of pleasure rises into pain and then breaks like glass.

"That's it," Spike says thickly, his own hips starting to lose rhythm, a sweet fuck, like popcorn jumping. He comes with a shout, face pressed into Xander's hair.

Waves crash, days wheel by, fall wanders in.

Xander doesn't often surface from his life. It's hard to explain, but he's submerged in daily existence, and it's not often that he kicks up, breaks gasping into the strange upper air, and thinks: Huh, so I'm a human being--what the hell *is* that? How fucking weird is it that he's this bipedal, soft-organed creature capable of abstract thought, a member of a race that builds skyscrapers and dreams up moving pictures and tosses rockets at the moon once in a while? Did the human race just invent itself, or were they created by a god--some big Brain Guy who contains multitudes and must be at least partly responsible for prime-time television? Evolution seems highly questionable given what Xander knows, but the idea that Darwin and the monkeys could be batting for the losing team is pretty fucked up, when he thinks about it. Which he rarely does, thank you very much.

Human existence is bizarre, science-fictionally bizarre, but when you add in demons and the implication of angels, the power of the holy cross, an eyewitness testimony of heaven--it's all a mystery he thinks someone should explain.

Then he sinks back into life. The beach he lives on runs along the edge of Sunnydale, and he goes back and forth between two worlds, one where he battles the insane forces of evil at the insane whim of good, and another where he grills steaks and listens to the waves crash while Spike sits on the deck rail with a beer and reads to him from his latest attempt at fiction.

Spike is his normal life now. Things cross over. Xander is going to keep Spike with him here at the edge, where some evenings it almost feels safe.

 
 
 
northern: northernRavennorthernveil on April 24th, 2003 12:46 am (UTC)
God, this is good. I had no idea you were writing this. It's like the ultimate Spike fantasy of it's genre.
dbdb2305 on April 24th, 2003 03:08 am (UTC)
I keep expecting this to end, but it never does...
torchflambeau on April 24th, 2003 04:14 am (UTC)
Spike is often helpfully unsubtle.

And I'm helplessly grinning and shaking my head. :)
Vanilla  ... Spiked with Slivovitzjenna_thorn on April 24th, 2003 05:15 am (UTC)
No, the perfect Spike moment is in Paris, when he's both bitterly contemptuous and unaware of irony. That's just wonderful.

Funny though, I find myself wondering about the goings on that Xander's introspective pov doesn't give us. Last chapter's installing a handrail for Willow's companion Becca, and now her ongoing depression. I love how you are setting up, with little bits, something to happen later. Entwining bits within each unit.

I still simply cannot believe how quickly you are writing these.

And a very small part of me remembers that subtleties are often fanciful, and sometimes trickery. Yes, there were peacocks redressed in their skins and presented in flamboyant glory to the High table, but there were also marzipan imitations of other foods. Or the apples in pastry designed to look like tripe. I'm overthinking this, I suspect.
auroramamaauroramama on April 25th, 2003 04:29 am (UTC)
Your name reminds me to notice that it's also a Vlad Taltos moment. "Bitterly contemptuous and unaware of irony" -- relatively early in his career, perhaps. The funny thing is, being aware of irony doesn't allow you to avoid it.
Vanilla  ... Spiked with Slivovitz: nothing to losejenna_thorn on April 25th, 2003 06:03 am (UTC)
Irony
Makes it easier to sharpen your own dialogue, though.

The moment you are thinking of, I bet, is the bit with the Orca toughs, since he is openly bitter about his father buying the title, "thus allowing them to be sneered at as Jhereg as well as Easterners" or something like that. It's been a while since I read the books.
kassrachel on April 24th, 2003 05:54 am (UTC)
I love how you write Buffy.

I also love how you write Xander and Spike, so.

The Paris thing is lovely. The hints of a sketch at Willow's new life are lovely. The sex scene in the workroom is hot like a sizzling hot thing.

It's 9am and I'm here with my tea and my oatmeal, happy. Mmm. S/X for breakfast. :-)
(Deleted comment)
Herself_nycherself_nyc on April 24th, 2003 07:27 am (UTC)
Gorgeous. Again.

All the little glimpses into the others' lives are so tantalizing. Your Buffy is terrific. Yay for the abortion decision, and how you describe it.

Sigh. This makes me all gooey and happy.
Circe: colddeadcirce_tigana on April 24th, 2003 08:33 am (UTC)
Man, for a minute you had me freaking that the baby was Spike's. Damn demon pregnancies.

I loved the recipe/baking imagery for what a vampire is. A very elegant explanation.
Lesleyparatti on April 24th, 2003 11:31 am (UTC)
So so real and so so good. Thanks for it.
Carriecbking on April 24th, 2003 04:08 pm (UTC)
I think I just figured out why I love this so much. With most ongoing S/X stories, my kink is satisfied in the bringing-them-together part, and I feel no need to stay with them after that. Here, I'm still along for the ride, and don't want this to end.

So satisfying, after all these posts . . .
(Anonymous) on April 25th, 2003 09:33 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the story
This has been a great story. I love the way you used Spike's writing to show the depth of Xander's feelings -- his new glow when he tells Willow he suspected Spike was writing a book and then being amazed by the book even though it stank and then supporting Spike in everyday routine as he learned how to write. That's exactly what love is.

Thanks very much.

Nonnie