All About Spike - Print Version
What We Keep
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By Girl With Journal
Junk Drawer Challenge Fic
For angelchicken, who requested: after Chosen, Buffy and Xander remember Spike and Anya.
There are the things she remembers, and the things she doesn’t. She spends most of her time thinking about the latter. In her mind, in the quiet moments, she tries to grasp those illusive details. The palms of his hands; she tries to picture them. The backs of his hands (the lifeless veins barely visible through pale skin, the long, tapered fingers - sometimes with nails painted black, sometimes not, sometimes adorned with rings, sometimes not); the feel of his fingers gently wrapped around hers; the sting of his knuckles, his clenched fists: these things she remembers, clearly, sharply. But his palms are a mystery to her. They are blank and unlined, wiped clean after only a few months. Buffy traces her own lifeline, and wonders.
Xander thinks about Anya’s hair. How many different colors was it in the short - the all too short - time he knew her? When he pictures her in his mind, he sees a rainbow dancing around her head. Doubtless she’d find this imagery tacky, but he knows what he’d say in response. The scene plays out in his head, over and over. “Ahn,” says this dream-Xander, who is kinder and slimmer and more charming and altogether a better boyfriend and maybe a husband; “Anya,” he says as he gently runs his fingers through her hair, perhaps once a kiss has broke, or after they’ve made love, “what’s your natural color?” The answer, Xander knows, doesn’t matter. Just that he asks. But he never did.
The house is very big - so big that it prompted a week-long argument among the new Slayers as to whether it was a big house or a mansion. It’s certainly not the mansion of Buffy’s, or Xander’s, southern California dreams: it’s shingled and sprawling, with a big wrap-around porch and no towering white columns a la Gone With the Wind. It’s positively gothic, which, both Buffy and Xander privately suppose, can only be appropriate for a training ground for demon-killers. But it doesn’t feel appropriate, not to either of them. Both remember the Summers’ bright kitchen; they remember hot pancakes and the smell of freshly washed dishes; and Buffy remembers her mother while Xander remembers Joyce, and they both sigh and step outside to clear their heads and breathe in the crisp night air.
They exit through separate doors and stop to lean against railings at opposite ends of the house. Hanging benches dangle from rusty chains at even intervals along the length of the porch, and Buffy and Xander both settle onto them. Buffy sits with her knees pulled tight against her chest; Xander with his legs straight out in front, gently rocking.
They watch the stars come out.
Buffy knows something Xander doesn’t, which is that she’s not the porch’s sole inhabitant. She can hear the chains of Xander’s swing creaking, a soft, steady pattern, and for a while she just listens. Then she gets up and walks slowly along her side of the house. She turns the corner, and traverses the length of the back porch. It’s the longest, so she has plenty of time to feel the familiar tightening in her chest. She can still hear the phantom rocking; it could be anybody waiting for her in that chair. It could be--
She rounds the corner, and it’s just Xander sitting there, staring intently at the space where she’s just appeared. On his face she recognizes a familiar expression, and she knows that he’d heard the sound of feminine footsteps coming around the corner, and for a moment, thought--
But they don’t think those things. Neither one.
“Hi,” Buffy says, and it’s a relief to hear the silence shatter.
“Hi,” echoes Xander. He scoots over, and Buffy sits down without being asked.
They rock together for a while, Xander keeping them moving with soft prods of his feet, heel to toe, heel to toe. The chains compose a symphony of creaks.
“His hands,” Buffy says. An indeterminable amount of time has passed. “The palms. I don’t remember.”
Xander never stops rocking. After a moment, he says, “They were soft. Warmer than I thought they should have been. He was hurt because of the knights. I helped.”
Heel to toe, heel to toe.
“Her hair,” says Xander.
Buffy remembers. “Brown. She said it couldn’t be like that for the wedding. Didn’t match the bridesmaid dresses.”
Xander’s burst of laughter sounds too much like a sob, and his feet stumble against the porch floor. Its rhythm interrupted, the swing shudders, tilting. Buffy puts her foot down and stills it. The creaks fade into the night air. In the stillness, Xander thinks that he can hear the faint sound of crickets chirping. But it’s far too cold for crickets.
Buffy leans her head against Xander’s shoulder. She wants to say something melodramatic, like, “All that’s left is the way we remember them.” But she knows that’s not true. It can’t be. The Spike in her memory is both too cruel and too kind, a devil and a saint. Her memories are stark, robbed off all texture and shading, and that’s no way to see the world.
He taught her that.
He taught her a lot of things. She remembers - so clearly, she remembers - his description of his 147-day vigil. Buffy has tried to mourn like he would have mourned, but for her the 148th day has counted, and the 149th, and the 150th. She can’t spend the rest of her life counting, she knows. It’s not what he would have wanted. It’s not what she wants.
“I loved him,” she says. She expects Xander to tense against her, to begin sputtering denials and accusations, but instead he just takes her hand and squeezes it, and says nothing.
Buffy would ask Xander if he loved Anya, but she doesn’t have to. She knows.
Unconsciously, they have begun to rock again, both pushing gently against the wood, heel to toe, heel to toe. The night air is chilly, but not uncomfortably so. There are plenty of worse places they could be.
Xander’s voice is a whisper, barely audible against the steady creaking of the chains. “Do you think that’s enough?”
Buffy closes her eyes. In the darkness of her mind, she can almost see him as he truly was. The man she loved.
“No,” she says. The night settles around them, two people in the world. “But it’s close.”
Author's Note: The house in this story is probably almost, but not quite, entirely unlike the architecture in England, but it grabbed onto me and wouldn't go away. It's based on a house on Lake Caspian in Greensboro, VT, where I stayed one summer. It's something I've kept.