After the Fall
Xander POV, post-'The Gift'. PG-13, with lots of angst and some profanity.
I don't remember when things changed.
That's not true. I remember exactly when things changed. It was in those first crazy hours after Buffy died. After she sacrificed herself. For Dawn. For us. For everyone.
It was chaos. Buffy was dead. Anya was barely conscious. Willow was sobbing in Tara's arms. Dawn was leaning against a wall, bloody fist clutched to her stomach, crying. Giles just stared, like he couldn't take it in. And Spike...
I remember that I had two thoughts; Buffy's dead, Anya's alive. I remember that between the joy and grief I had some pity to spare. For Spike. He looked so broken. In body, yes, bloodied, his leg twisted awkwardly; but also in spirit. Had I ever heard anyone sob so hard, grieve so openly?
I don't remember how long I stood there, just holding tight to Anya and staring at Buffy; but when Tara asked what we should do, I took charge. The plan came to me, fully formed, as if someone else was speaking through me.
I passed Anya to Giles, all but forcing his arms around her. I walked over to where Buffy lay, so peaceful, so beautiful. That wouldn't do at all. I threw her down, crumpling her body on the scattered debris.
Willow screamed at me. I think that I'd be a tadpole if she had been able to speak coherently. Spike lunged at me, but his chip kicked in, keeping him from ripping me to pieces. Giles just held Anya. He looked so resigned. So defeated. I didn't look at Dawn.
I threw bricks, some scrap metal. I half buried my friend.
I shoved the semi-conscious vampire into a sheltered building, stripped off his coat and covered him with the black leather.
I used Anya's cell to call 911.
And while we waited I told for the first time the lies that we would all repeat.
Seeking shelter from the sudden storm we had ducked into the construction site. Lightning had struck; falling debris had injured Anya and Buffy. Dawn had fallen onto something sharp. I don't know what. Something metal. It won't matter; they won't question us too closely.
Giles handed Anya back to me. He began to unearth Buffy. He pointed out that I was holding Anya, and that Buffy deserved the same treatment. Giles held Buffy until the ambulances arrived.
The Emergency Room was busy. No one questioned our story. Lots of strange stuff had been happening. It was dark by the time Anya and Dawn were settled into a room. We left Tara and Willow to watch over them.
We made it back to the construction site. I was functioning on automatic. I don't think that Giles was functioning at all. I had to help him out of the car. I remember that he asked what we were doing there. I didn't know quite how to answer. It was just.... Spike had helped Buffy and Dawn. It seemed wrong not to help him.
I pulled the coat off. I don't think that Spike had moved in the, what, eighteen hours, since we'd left. His face was caked with blood; tears had cleaned a few tracks down his cheeks. He wasn't breathing, and for a second I thought he was dead. I was surprised at the pang of grief that caused me. Then I got a hold of myself. I lifted him and Giles helped me balance him across my shoulder. Spike moaned with each step I took. His mangled leg brushed against me, and I wished that he'd just lose consciousness.
We went to Buffy's house. I stood in the hall; Spike cradled in my arms, while Giles fetched sheets and towels. He didn't want to get the couch dirty. I remember that this struck me funny, and that Spike joined me in laughter. I don't think that I've ever been that tired.
We settled Spike on the draped couch. Where to start. Spike solved that for us by asking for a drink. Joyce had a well-stocked liquor cabinet. A couple of rounds and we tackled Spike's pants.
His leg was a mess. Giles called it a compound fracture. I had to swallow a repeat visit of JD when I saw the jagged bone poking through his skin. I held Spike down. Belly to belly. Chest to chest. I pressed my cheek against his. We both gritted our teeth when Giles pulled on his ankle. And I swear that I heard bone grinding against bone, even over Spike's scream.
Giles wrapped Spike's leg with gentle hands, while I poured drinks with hands that shook uncontrollably.
I don't remember how long we drank, but we were most of the way through the bottle when Spike said he was hungry. I searched the freezer. No steak, no hamburger, not even any chicken. I didn't think that frozen yogurt and Lean Cuisine was going to cut it.
I remember the look on Spike's face when I reported my findings. Shame, hunger, desperation, sorrow. I offered to go out for blood, but I was so tired that I just collapsed in my chair.
I watched while Giles went into the kitchen. He came back with a coffee mug and a chef's knife. I didn't understand what he meant to do until he actually sliced his hand. He sat back and drank while blood dripped into the cup. Spike's face was so confused. Grateful and wary at the same time.
We drank in silence.
Dawn came home the next day, and with her Willow and Tara. Anya came after a week. The doctor told me that she should have stayed longer, but they just didn't have any beds to spare. We settled into Buffy's house, into something like normalcy.
Giles reopened the Magic Shop, and I went back to work. It was hard for me to walk onto a construction site, but I had responsibilities. Will and Tara took turns helping Giles and looking after Anya. Dawn had to go to summer school to make up for missed classes.
So I came home everyday from a hard day's work to the perfect sitcom family. An invalid wife, a distant father, a delinquent teenager, lesbian roommates and a mooching vampire.
Sorry. I don't get much sleep.
We weren't without joy. Anya wore my ring and the girls planned a wedding. I was surprised at how much they all got into it. I was giving Anya a bath one night and I teased her about it. Said that she was planning a Barbie dream wedding. She told me that she really wanted a simple ceremony, like the handfastings when she was a girl, but she didn't want to disappoint the others. Dawn wanted a pink bridesmaid dress, and Willow and Tara had endless debates over the symbolism of myrtle and orange blossoms compared to how pretty roses would look. It kept them occupied, maybe even happy.
Giles and Willow helped Dawn with her homework. I wasn't much help there, and Anya could only do math if the question involved money. Turns out that Tara was a botany major. Go figure. Said it helped her identify useful plants. Spike lurked, mostly, but one night he got upset over what Giles was telling Dawn about some poet. He got all passionate, quoting and gesturing. I guess he noticed our open-mouthed staring, because he got all defensive and went outside for a smoke. But he always helped Dawn with her English homework after that.
It was almost never quiet. We talked, and laughed, the TV and radio were going constantly. Silence was our enemy. Anytime it crept into a room we would smother it with chatter.
I remember that the quiet would wake me up at night. I would wander through the house, opening doors, counting heads. Giles, in the livingroom, asleep in front of the TV, or at the kitchen table, drink and book in hand. Buffy's room, two heads nestled close together, pale gold and bright red; check to hear them breathe, or back away, trying not to stare. Dawn's room, tuck the huddled girl more deeply into the covers; nod at the silent figure standing watch. Back to Joyce's room to gently smooth the curls from Anya's face. To hold her carefully, trying not to wake her, to hurt her with my need. I would lay back, reassuring myself that everyone was fine. But I never was very convincing. I'd repeat my rounds, two, three times over before I'd lapse into sleep.
One night - I should remember when it was - Dawn had Shakespeare for homework. It was A Midsummer Night's Dream. I remember this so clearly. Dawn was complaining that the play didn't make any sense, and Spike said that Shakespeare wasn't meant to be read, but to be seen. And he pulled Giles up and said that he was bottom - this didn't make any sense to me, I never understood Shakespeare in school, but I don't remember a lot of kinky sex - and when he couldn't involve Willow or Tara, he played the Fairy Queen himself.
It was the first time I enjoyed Shakespeare. See, Bottom is a man with a donkey's head, and the Queen has a spell put on her that makes her fall in love with him.
I thought about Amy and Willow and Buffy and Joyce and Drusilla. Falling in love with a man who didn't know that he was an ass. And I laughed. Real laughter. Fall on the ground laughter. And the girls laughed. And Spike. And Giles smiled.
And we connected.
And everything was okay.
I remember the sound of the laughter. I remember that we looked at each other, fed off of each other's joy. I remember how good it felt.
I fell asleep with a smile on my face. It was the first time that silence didn't wake me. Instead, I was pulled from sleep by Anya's frantic hands.
I turned on the light. Anya's lips were blue and her right eye was dark red. And I remember thinking fuck, she's possessed. Then I reached for her, but her hands fluttered against my chest like trapped birds, and she gasped for breath, and she couldn't talk. I grabbed her and slammed out of the room.
Doors opened. Heads peeked into the hall. I gathered an entourage as I tore out of the house. I had to get outside. I had to get somewhere, but I couldn't remember where. I stopped on the lawn, holding Anya, confused, helpless.
Spike ran from the house, keys jingling in his hand. He pushed us to the car. I sat with Anya in my lap while Spike drove us to the hospital.
They took Anya from me. Put her behind a curtain. I don't remember how long I stood there, watching people move in and out. Cold seeped up from the tile floor, sucked up through my bare feet until I was icy.
The frenzy of movement behind the curtain slowed, then stopped. I was aware of Spike standing behind me as a doctor walked toward me.
And the doctor was telling me that sometimes, when people don't move around a lot, like when they are convalescing, they can get blood clots, and, sometimes, the clots break off and move into the lungs, and it's called an embolism, and they can't get enough oxygen, and sometimes people die, and, you know, this is all fascinating, but what does it have to do with me, and shouldn't you be helping Anya, AND DON'T TELL ME THAT YOU'RE SORRY, AND - - - And strong arms closed around me, and there was silence.
I don't remember how long we stayed at the hospital. I know that Spike told me to sign papers, and I did. And I know that they gave him a paper bag. And I know that people looked at me with pitying eyes.
I don't remember the drive back to Buffy's. I know that Spike led me through the door, past the worried faces and anxious questions.
I don't remember climbing the stairs. But I do remember looking at the bed, and Anya wasn't there. And I heard a strange noise. And when I looked for the sound I saw a hand holding the bed rail, and the hand was shaking, and the bed was shaking, and when I reached out to still the hand the shaking traveled up my arms, into my head, and my teeth were rattling.
And Spike grabbed me and took me into the hall, and through it, to Buffy's room. And he put me into Buffy's bed. And I think that he tucked me in.
I remember waking up in Buffy's room. I looked in the closet and my clothes were there, and in the dresser too. I remember being impressed at their efficiency. How did Tara and Will rearrange things so quickly and quietly?
When I went downstairs things were quiet. So I turned on the radio, and Patsy Cline was playing. Willow lunged to turn the station. And I was surprised that everyone knew the words to It's Raining Men.
And days passed. Routines were reestablished. I started sitting up with Giles. We would drink and talk. He told me about taxes and mortgages, and how Dawn's emancipation worked. And I remember I felt so grown up. So proud that Giles was dealing with me, man to man.
And that feeling lasted for about two weeks. That's when Giles told us that he was leaving. Going back to England. Going home, is how he put it. And Dawn ran upstairs, and she slammed her door. And Willow cajoled and pleaded and begged. And when that didn't work she scolded - how are we supposed to manage without you, and what happens to the store, and what if Glory comes back?
I remember thinking, Good one, Will. But Giles had things planned. He had been preparing us to get on without him, and he trusted us to manage things. And Willow was crying, and Giles was walking out, and do something Xander....
So I grabbed his arm, and he wrenched away from me and stood back, arms up, palms out. The universal Don't Touch Me. The ultimate rejection.
All of my clever, convincing words dried up. I might have grunted. And a voice from behind me asked about Glory. I remember wondering how often I was going to have to be grateful to Spike.
Giles hunched his shoulders a little, and took of his glasses, and said that we didn't have to worry about Glory.
And images flashed through my mind. Giles cutting himself to feed Spike. His opened palm, scar still red and angry. Dad's voice, drunk, talking about the Mark of Cain. And when was the last time he touched one of us? I don't remember the last time he touched me. And the images coalesced to one startling insight, and I understood his need to retreat, to find home.
I remember how much love was in me at that moment. How it gave me the courage to reach for him, to ignore his instinctive withdrawal. I took his broad, scarred hand in mine, and I knew that it had held me safe, and had guided me with wisdom and love, and that this man was my father. And I told him these things in a faltering whisper. My tears wet his hand while I told him that he'd made the right choice, the choice I would have made. And I murmured my gratitude against his palm. Thanking him, over and over.
And Giles reached down and he touched my bowed head, and he kissed my hair, and he walked out the door.
We rebuilt our lives, again. And so what if I was drinking a lot, and if I was ignoring Dawn, and if I was mean to the cat, and who made you boss, anyway, Will?
I remember the anger, how I wanted to just shove those words down Willow's throat. And I squeezed my hand into a fist, and the glass I was holding shattered. The pain cleared my head, focussed me. Will was staring at me, horrified. Tara and Dawn huddled together, shocked out of their tears. And we watched blood drip on the floor.
Spike walked over. He curled back my fingers and pulled a shard of glass out of my hand. Then he bent his head and lapped blood from my cupped palm.
I remember that his tongue was soft and rough, and that he looked up at me through his lashes and apologized. He said that he was wrong. That I was a nummy treat.
And I laughed. Then, in the space of an indrawn breath, the laugh turned to a sob, and I felt my face crumple, and a weight crashed on me from above. My knees buckled, and I fell forward, and I brought Spike down with me. And then I was crying on Spike's lap.
And when was the last time I cried? I remember crying when I heard about Joyce. Anya held me then. So I cried for Anya, who was never going to drink fruit punch again. And who usually skedaddled before armageddon, but who stayed because she loved me. And who was dead because of me. And I cried for Joyce, for her soft laugh and hands that didn't hurt. And why couldn't I save Buffy? Brave, beautiful Buffy who was my hero, and whose body I desecrated. I cried for Faith, who didn't love me, and for Cordy, who did. I cried for all the times I'd hurt Willow, from the Barbie incident up to five minutes ago. And I cried for Oz, oh, how I miss you, and things would be so much better with you here. I cried for Giles, poor noble, wounded soul. Angry tears, for a second, why did the only overt expression of love you ever give me have to come at the end of five fucking years. And I cried for Dawn, because the only men who hadn't abandoned her were Spike and me. And, shit, now the tears are because I'm throwing up, and Spike is wiping my face with a wet cloth, and when I was eight I threw up in bed and Dad hit me because I made a mess and what kind of loser am I that a monster treats me better than my father.
And then I cried for me. For my whole miserable life.
I didn't want to wake up. I didn't want to open my eyes, to get out of bed, to go downstairs, to face the others. Hell, I didn't want to face myself. But, leapin' lizards, did I ever want to pee.
Interesting how bladder function takes precedence over self-preservation. I don't know if it shows up in any history books, but a surprisingly large number of soldiers are killed while taking a piss.
I felt battered, my body ached, my face hurt, my head felt swollen. My mouth tasted like I'd thrown up and then went to sleep without brushing my teeth. To be fair, I'm pretty sure that's what did happen. My eyes were bloodshot, the skin puffy and rough. I could actually see salt trails across my cheeks. And the less said about snot the better.
I remember being unsurprised that crying gave me a worse hangover than drinking.
After a long shower, I headed back to Buffy's room. I took my time getting dressed. I wasn't sure that I could face anyone. I was sitting on the bed, contemplating socks, which are amazingly difficult to put on with one hand, when Spike walked in. He started shedding clothes the second he crossed the threshold, and was down to pants and boots by the time he sat on the opposite side of the bed. And I know that he needs to sleep somewhere, and that Buffy's room is light-proofed, but why does he....Nah, I can't even get upset about him sleeping in Buffy's bed anymore.
I was tying my laces as Spike pulled off his boots, and the reverse synchronicity of our actions struck me. The bending down, the pulling off, the putting on, switch sides, repeat as needed. Heh.
...Mornin' Sam/Mornin' Ralph...
And what the fuck was that? Spike and I looked at each other with something close to horror; a pop-culture reference was not something I'd ever expected to share with a vampire. I mean, Angel never understood anything I said, and I liked it that way.
I remember that I practically ran downstairs.
I put a big goofy grin on my face as I headed into the kitchen. The girls looked up at me from the table. Tara said a tentative hello. I touched Willow's cheek with my fingertips. All's forgiven? Yeah, we're okay. Dawn looked at me with wary eyes in a hopeful face, and I ducked my head into the fridge to hide from her.
And what do we have here? Eggs, butter, where's the skillet, and here's the pancake mix. And just what are you doing Xander? Why, I'm making pancakes. And why are you making pancakes Xander? Why, that's what a man does the morning after yelling and breaking stuff and weeping and throwing up. You make pancakes while your family sits at the table, watching you, hoping you won't snap but knowing that you will, and it's just a matter of time. And this is why we eat cereal. Because Capt'n Crunch is a man you can depend on.
I remember that I was suddenly cold, and I had to put the eggs down because my hands were shaking, and I smiled sheepishly at the girls, and I went into the basement. The basement was dark and lonely and I stood with my back against the door until the panic subsided.
I heard the girls leaving. They called out good-byes, and where they were going, and when they'd be back. Even though Spike was sleeping, and I was hiding, and, besides, we knew they had to open the shop.
My eyes adjusted to the gloom and I could see boxes piled against one wall. They were neatly stacked and labeled. 'Mom', some read, in Buffy's round letters; the largest pile had 'Buffy' written on them, in Giles' neat script and Dawn's back-slant; 'Anya', a few were labeled. I walked a little closer. I recognized Willow's printing, but whose writing marked the rest? I traced the upright 'A' the swirling 'y'. Tara? Spike?
I reached out a hand and laid it on the nearest carton. I pulled off the tape that sealed it. I opened the flap.
I remember this dress. Silky and short and spring green. She said that it signified her new life, and that it made her look hot. I used to stroke her back, enjoying the way the thin fabric warmed to her skin.
I remember this sweater. Anya wore it in the mornings. It was falling apart, had gaping holes and fraying sleeves. She loved it. And, when I put it up to my face, it still smelled of her.
More boxes. More clothes. Mostly clothes. Anya had a lot of clothes. But here, one box, full of notebooks. Journals. Anya felt that it was an appropriately human endeavour. Recording one's life. She never let me look at them. I closed the box.
An ornate wooden box. Anya's memory box. I opened it. Prom tickets, a rose from the corsage I'd given her, an empty juice box, a dryer sheet - ahh, yes, the basement years. Oh.
Look how it shines. How it sparkles in the dim light. I remember how it shone when I gave it to her. In a basement, then, too. I remember how it flashed under the bright fluorescent hospital lights, when I put it on her finger. I remember how sometimes she would be talking, gesturing with her pretty hands, and the diamond would catch the light and she would get distracted and lose her train of thought. I remember that she would stare at it so intently, and when I asked what she was looking at she said the future.
It hurt me, to remember like this. But I still smiled, and it was somehow better than what I felt around Willow and Dawn. Guilt is more painful than grief. I must remember that.
I put the ring away. I put the box away. I went upstairs.
I wandered the ground floor, restless, unsure of what I was looking for. I ventured up the stairs, past the empty rooms, until I came to Buffy's door. I leaned my head against it, what did I want? I told myself to watch TV, to mow the lawn, to drive aimlessly; but, instead, I turned the handle.
I stood in the doorway, not quite in the room, not fully in the hall, and looked at Spike. He lay in the bed, and I could see a faint light around his face. Not like the ring shone, he wasn't reflecting back trapped light. He was luminescent; his skin so white that it glowed. I wondered if it was bright enough to read by. A Spikelight. By the Light of the Silvery Spike. I swallowed a giggle, and it came out a snort.
Spike wasn't moving so I crept closer to the bed. The room was quiet, gloomy, peaceful. I leaned over and reached underneath the sleeping vampire. My fingers stretched, groping. And then I had it, cool and slick in my hand. I settled onto the floor and leaned against the bed. I started to read, very amused that Spike was illuminating the page.
And then, from behind and above me, a voice. Thick with sleep and curiosity, it asked me a question.
A good question, actually. What was I doing here?
Short answer; this is where I keep my comics. Long answer? I like it here. I like dark, quiet rooms filled with dead things. It comforts me. With Dawn, with Will, with people, I'm not me, not like I remember being. I'm not sure who I am, but I don't like me, and I scare me. I know who I am when I'm here. I still don't like me, but I'm not scared. I don't know what I feel when I'm with you, but it isn't pain. Everyone else makes me hurt, and I'm tired of hurting, I'm tired of being in pain. I want quiet. I want dark. I want surcease. I want me. And, apparently, I can get these things from you.
I remember stopping, confused, because I didn't know what I had spoken, and what I had thought. And, you know, I didn't really care.
There was silence. And, eventually, a hand came to rest on my head. And the voice spoke. And it said that there were worse reasons.
And I realized what I was feeling. It was acceptance. My thoughts stilled. The pain was gone. The guilt was gone. The fear was gone. I was empty. And there were worse things to be.
Continued in Les Noyades