Who knew you could wallow yourself out of writer's block? I should try it more often. (Or perhaps not, lest James hat me with great vigour...)
I appear to have written a story.
Xander leaves the wet towels where they lie. If Spike won't pick them up when Xander bitches at him, well. He's not going to waste his breath anymore, and he's not going to play Mr. Belvedere for this...thing they left with him, yet again. That's somehow one blow too many. To have the soaking mess, the puddles on the floor, not be his own. The complaining voice not clear and high and shrill and unhappy with itself for sounding that way, but his own marblemouthed tenor, trying to spark up the energy to care. Too much, when the only reaction is incomprehension. On a good day, the flash of two familiar fingers in his face. Screw it; he leaves his own towels on the floor now too.
So the bathroom is a mess. It's in good company. The kitchen's a disaster area. The inside of the microwave is crusted with so many different colors of foodstuffs it looks like ground zero at a blown-up germ warfare facility. Living room... well, if you can call it that. Only one of them's living after all, and Xander's not always sure which one that is. There's a pile of old newspapers next to the couch, layered with fast-food wrappers, and the occasional box of fries discarded when they got too cold because cold fries are for shit, something he and Spike apparently agree on, because they don't all belong to Xander; he doesn't dip his in blood.
I'm allowed to be a slob, he thinks when he allows himself to think about it; this is a bachelor pad. I'm a bachelor. Xander tries the word out on his tongue. Bachelor. It sounds like somebody grown up. Somebody with a suit, which he has, hanging clean and pressed in the bedroom closet because he drops it off at the drycleaners after every time he wears it now; he's afraid he'd burn down the place if he tried using the iron. Bachelor. Somebody in a suit behind a screen answering questions on the Game Show Network, and if he just gets it right, he'll get to take the blonde on the other side of the curtain to Tahiti, all expenses paid. Bachelor sounds so much better than dateless fuckup reduced to sharing what used to be a nice apartment with a blond that he'd never want to take to Tahiti.
Living in a sty, with something that hates him, that he hates; it's all safe, sane and consensual, baby. Something that's cold and silent and crazy, and only looks human. Instead of warm and alive and sometimes shrill and...
He doesn't think about that, much. Only eight or nine times a day. About how human *she* was, or wasn't. She was creamy and smooth and shaped like a woman, smelled like flowers and lemons and the million things women put on their skin and in their hair, and there was still a dent in the bed that fit the curve of her hip, that he couldn't ever bring himself to roll over into. And she used to rip people's spleens out through their noses. Or maybe just call things up to do it for her.
Xander was very good at not thinking about that, for a long time. She isn't that anymore, he used to tell himself, when the whisper crept into his mind. She's real and here and mine, and she wants me. Wants a future with me. Two point five little pink peg kids to cart around in a nice red sedan with good seatbelts and a low monthly payment. There, dammit, be comforted.
Low monthly payment would be right about the time in the middle of the night when he'd roll over and breathe warm across her neck and slide his fingers into her hair and wait for her to open her eyes and wrap her legs around him, because that would chase away those thoughts entirely and he wouldn't have to decide which was scarier, spleens or seven point nine percent interest, if he was smothering his fear between her breasts.
And Xander knows, he understands, now. That he'd been the guy who gave bachelors a bad name. So afraid that two point five peg kids would grow up to see their peg dad drink away his paycheck and say things to their peg mom that they had to hide in their rooms and play music really, really loud in order to be able to pretend not to hear them. So full of shit, that he couldn't say it, didn't know how, didn't want to have to think it was true until it was too late and the frying pan was in his hand and he *knew* it was a spell, and it didn't matter. He'd known who the monster was when he walked out the door of the church.
Then she'd taken back her old face. Suddenly she *wasn't* not that anymore. She was cold and hard and her face changed shape just like the thing that slept in the walk-in linen closet now, and she wanted to rip Xander's spleen out through his nose. Or somebody else's nose; she wasn't going to be picky.
And he'd wondered, at how easy it had been for Anya. To slither back into the body of a demon, like the demon who left towels on his floor, the demon who'd slithered into *her* body, and did Buffy even think about that, did she? That the thing in his apartment, the monster in his closet, had slept with Anya? A week after... But she'd already been a demon then, hadn't she. Not his Anya, not the warm human body in his bed, the low laughter in the night, the soft wet tongue in his ear. So maybe Buffy didn't think it was any big deal, having Spike here now. Maybe it isn't. Maybe that thing who slept with a vampire wasn't Anya, at all, until it made the choice to wipe the blood from its hands and be human again.
Or maybe there'd always been a demon in his bed. Maybe that face was there all along, underneath her skin. Like the blue veins and black eyes beneath Willow's skin, like the soul Buffy says went and crawled beneath Spike's, and Xander doesn't have a clue in hell which one of them all is the monster. Scarier than two point five kids or ripping spleens, is that it doesn't matter.
God help him, he still wants Anya. Which is something he doesn't let himself think about at *all* -- but that doesn't matter either. Think about it or don't. Call her or don't. Smile at her when they meet on the street or don't. Human, demon, human. It doesn't matter. She won't have him back, and maybe there's nothing to go back to anyway.
Just a bachelor pad, full of old banana peels, sopping towels, and a silent, dead son of a bitch who won't even give Xander a good fight, not like he used to. Just sits there, stares at the TV sometimes. Sometimes a book, which is weirder than weird, to see Spike leafing through the pages, squinting occasionally and holding it further away. The moments when he gets caught at it, the quick honest panic that fades to silent belligerence... then a glint of the old Spike, the twitch of his eyebrow that points out that *he's* just reading a book; it's Xander who's staring at him, and why's he so interested anyway, then?
Gone as quick as it comes, leaving just the sound of the TV, or the ticking of the kitchen clock. Silence, when he's home from work. Driving Xander out into the daytime where that silence can't follow, to search out Buffy, Dawn, Willow. To pretend he's safe and sane and grown up and alive, and that Spike's the only one who leaves towels on the floor. To hear people talk. To open his mouth and make noise without that twitchy eyebrow there to *know* he's only doing it because if he doesn't, he can't quite prove to his mind that he isn't alone, no matter how solid the body slumped on his couch might look.
With Buffy, with Willow, he can talk about other people's problems, and pretend he doesn't have any of his own, pretend his apartment is spotless, that inertia isn't growing new and fascinating cultures in the back of his fridge. That he doesn't live for every mention of Anya's name, that he doesn't die a little more each time he hears it, that he doesn't know just how pathetic and girly that sounds and that it isn't true anyway. With Dawn, he can shut his mouth entirely, just listen to her babble, clothes, boys, how she'll never live cheerleading tryouts down... and he doesn't have to speak to remind himself he's alive. She does it all for him, realer than real, bright and shiny as cartoon colors, a two year old ball of green light who's more of a teenager than the rest of them ever were.
There's work and there's patrolling and there's late night meetings and sometimes Spike is there, which is okay because Xander doesn't have to look at him then. Buffy takes up all the space in the vampire's eyes, brings out more words from his mouth than Xander could ever coax if he ever admitted to wanting to try. With Buffy in the room, there's no quirking eyebrows at him. It's Spike who's the bachelor then, the one who won't ever get to go to Tahiti, and Xander takes those moments with quiet glee that he can't quite bring himself to be sorry for. Revenge? Maybe justice. For what Spike did, for what he didn't, for everything that either of them don't have. Or maybe just the sound of his voice, proving the bastard *can* talk, if he wants to.
Xander has to go home, though. Eventually. Home to the artificial sound of television and the tiny dry sound of pages turning and the smell of mildew in the bathroom that he's beginning to almost think of as homey, because god knows it smells just like his *parents'* bathroom. Home to the bed with the Anya-shaped indentation, that he puts off going to as long as he can. Even though it means listening to nothing, trying not to think that there were a hell of a lot better snacks in the fridge when he wasn't a bachelor, trying not to get caught watching Spike and wishing he'd say something. Anything. Quit looking at me. Get bent. Turn the channel. Nice shoes, wanna fuck? Well, if bachelors said that, without hating themselves in the morning. Xander's pretty sure they don't, but then, he's never been a bachelor before. Sometimes he thinks about saying any of those things to Spike, but thankfully there's always a bag of Cheetos or something around to stuff in his mouth until the insanity passes.
The hands on the clock creep forward, and there's work tomorrow, if it's not the weekend, and he has to sleep sometimes. At least when he sleeps, it all gets turned off. He doesn't dream, doesn't see things behind his eyelids that aren't there or couldn't be, or used to be and never will again. Not when he finally drops away. There's just heavy black rest, and Xander likes that. But before, when he lies in bed, listens to the sound of himself breathing, then yeah. God yeah. Then that bed is a thousand miles wide and he's alone in it and he might even be imagining the sounds of his lungs. There might be nobody there at all. Now, then, ever.
Out in the living room, there's the TV, but it goes off soon. Like Spike only keeps it on for him. Or can't pretend, without the shared fiction of the two of them in the room, that it's anything but empty noise. Make-believe reality, too bright to be true. Then there's the tiny noises, the last real ones of the night. Creak of a door, to a room that's not a closet anymore. Soft shift of a body lowering itself to an old camp cot, springs so rusty that even the slightest weight would make noise. Silence. Silence. Waiting. Waiting to fall asleep. Waiting for the night when Xander doesn't reach for warmth that isn't there. Waiting...
Sometimes it doesn't come before he sleeps, and he sleeps the same, heavy and dreamless, but in the morning, the covers are kicked to the floor, the pillow sweaty and wrinkled, and Xander wakes tired. Most nights though...
It starts with a low, complaining mutter. A denial, higher, sharper. He can't make out the words yet, but he knows the voice. Knows both voices. All the voices. All the same voice, though the pitch is high, low, somewhere in between. Sometimes the words are soft. The voice is soft. The accent is something like Giles, if he were twenty years younger, if he'd been born a hundred years ago. Sometimes it's Spike, the Spike he knows, the Spike who shared that older, smaller, damper bachelor pad with him, once upon a time. Rough and smooth and yeah, a tiny bit seductive; he's allowed to think that in the privacy of his own bed, with the door closed and nobody staring at him from that old red chair.
Sometimes it's someone else entirely. Stealing Spike's voice. The musical tones of a woman; the painful cockney accent that he realizes must be Dru. Spike's memory of Dru. Something hard and cold and unforgiving that it took Xander forever to realize is Buffy. The Buffy who lives in Spike's head. The Buffy Who Lives in Xander's Closet. He thinks sometimes she'd be amused at the idea; mostly he knows she'd be appalled.
Sometimes Spike sings. A mad, low croon, full of half-heard words about pretty horses. Dapples and bays. Cherries with no stones. Endearing young charms. Those nights, Xander listens, listens close, and falls asleep easy, somehow. Hears the serenade die away as he tumbles into darkness and doesn't know if it's just him drifting off, or if Spike has sung them both to sleep.
Sometimes he cries. Loud and wet and awful and mixed with a thousand sorries, a thousand fuck you's, a thousand words that tear through the wooden apartment walls as if they were paper. Something in Xander's lungs aches, then. It makes him want to shove his legs into his jeans and his keys into his hand and get out and drive around town in mindless, hateful circles until he's sure Spike will be asleep by the time he comes home. It makes him want to stalk over to the closet - bedroom - door in his boxers and rip it off its hinges and punch Spike in the stomach over and over until he just stops making that *noise* because if Xander's not allowed to do it, then godammit, neither is he. It makes him want to do other things too, just for fleeting seconds, like take him an extra blanket and heat him up a mug of blood and possibly hate himself in the morning.
Xander doesn't do any of those things. He just lies awake listening, until he can't be awake anymore. Lets Spike, or whatever Spike used to be, cry in peace. Maybe for himself, maybe for all of them.
Sometimes. Sometimes there's no argument. No song, no sobs. There's the murmur of conversation, the music of voices that if Xander lets himself drift, he can almost believe are two different people. Then, eventually, Spike, his true voice, clear and honest and deadly. Half monster, half singer of lullabies. Asking permission. Receiving, from someone, a silent affirmative. The other voice is gone. Xander only knows it was yes because Spike's drops down. Becomes hot and living and so, so wrong. Tongue like the devil, slither and sweetness. Or the innocent at the foot of the bed, staring up with worshipful eyes, at... someone. Buffy? Drusilla? Some hundred year old ghost?
Someone with skin like roses, with eyes like sloes, whatever those are, or sunshine, or honey, or burning blood. Someone with perfect roundness, shadowed creases, hair as bright as oak leaves in autumn. Who rides him, who lies beneath him, who wears him out with creaks and growls and scratches at his skin, or takes him soft, just the quiet shift and moan and Xander wonders if anyone's ever done anything softly with Spike ever, and who would *take* him, and how, and why as many of those words are shaft and sir and master, as breast and sweet and mistress. Things that can only be wondered in the dark where no one can see you wondering, with your hand wandering beneath the waistband of your boxers.
The part of him that cringes, that thinks, you're listening to a crazy man jerk off in your closet. He's probably fantasizing about your best friend. The girl he tried to... The girl who brought him to live here, later. That part of Xander? It doesn't say a word. That's for mornings and daylight and the odd second that it flashes in his head as he's sanding off the end of a board and almost takes the skin of his finger with it before he can tuck the memory away again. At night, Spike's voice in the air, in the walls, in his ears, it's just Xander and his hand, and it doesn't matter. There's no one on the dip-side of the bed to see him stroke himself. See him close his eyes and hear please. Let me. So beautiful, so cold, so warm, so mine. Make you feel good, best you'll ever have, never want to leave me, you won't. Make you want me. Make you love me.
It's the please that does it every time, turns his slow caress to strip-and-rub, still hips to pistoning, fucking his own hand. When would Spike ever say please? To who? But it comes no matter whose the other voice had been. The stubborn silent fucker with the broken eyes who reads in Xander's living room, the chain-smoking smartass in tight jeans that Spike only wears like a dime-store mask these days... they're both gone. There's just this desperate man, needing to be touched, to be held, to be needed. Wanted. Loved. Christ, does Xander know the empty, angry, hungry ache of that, of his hand on his own cock rubbing so hard it burns and still not quite getting off just right because he knows it's just *him*...
Please, Spike says, and it's begging and it's not, and it's just this close to Xander pulling him out of that tiny room and into the empty place in his empty bed because at least, at least, the hand on both of them could be real, even if the rest of it was nothing. At least. At least there could be a demon in his arms, even if it wasn't the right one, even if he hated himself in the morning. Please, Spike says, to Buffy, to Drusilla, to Angel. Maybe to Xander, if he can hear just as well, the creaks of Xander's bed, or smell him, hot and lonely and alive.
Xander doesn't move except to jerk into his hand.
Because he doesn't deserve it. Neither of them deserve it. Blankets or warm blood or lullabies or somebody next to them in bed. This is it. This is the best they get. Shooting in silence. T-shirt as a wipe. Falling, swirling, spent into sleep. In the morning...
In the morning, Spike takes a shower first, and leaves his towels on the floor.