Title: The End Of The Beginning
Title: Measuring oxygen in heartbeats
Pairing: Xander/Spike (eventually)
Overall Rating: NC17
Chapter Rating: PG13
Beta: shakatany (No added extras needed - the name says it all)
Disclaimer: Never mine, Joss owns all
AN: Beware; here be angst. It's not "kill yourself" angst, but thought I'd be polite and let you all know there's no fluffy bunnies.
Xander sat on the couch, nursing his beer and trying very hard not to think about the past 24 hours. Of course, the harder he tried not to think about it, the more he thought about not thinking about it, which led to thinking about the thing he was trying very hard not to think about. Scrubbing a hand over his face, he tilted the bottle to his lips without looking, sucking down half the contents in one long swallow. Sighing, he realised that trying to ignore the pink elephant stomping up and down in his head really wasn't working. Mentally squaring his shoulders he took a deep breath and turned to glare at said elephant.
"I kissed Spike." Saying the words out loud made him wince and take another long swallow of his beer, grateful that the subject of his current dilemma and Dawn were at their weekly movie.
It wasn't so much the fact that he'd kissed someone of the same gender, in fact the gender issue was non-existent. It wasn't the fact that Spike's tongue had known things that would make even Anya jealous. It wasn't even the fact that, out of the whole male population, Spike had been the first guy-shaped-object he'd made out with. It was the fact that when the blonde vampire had stumbled back, panting even though he didn't need to breathe and blamed the entire make out session on adrenalin and the wonder of getting his bite back, something small in Xander had hurt so much he thought his heart would stop.
He hadn't said anything of substance, making a small quip about Spike being wonder-boy again before blindly turning and walking away, trying very hard not to remember if the vampire's eyes were open or closed as he'd pressed Xander up against that crypt.
The brunet hadn't intended to fall asleep, but found himself opening his eyes several hours later and watching a leather-clad back slip silently out the front door, the quiet house indicating that Dawn was sleeping peacefully. He laughed quietly to himself as the lock clicked, suddenly amused at the idea that the Big Bad - with teeth and all - still felt the need to sneak out of his house.
Xander hadn't meant to, but found himself weeks later with an almost perfect routine. It seemed that each step was measured, each breath exactly five seconds long from the start of the inhale to that last wisp of air leaving his lips. He found a comfort in it, his routine broken only at Dawn's infrequent requests. Movies, shopping, appeals for pancakes.
It wasn't until he found himself bodily planted on the couch and interrogated by a very concerned teen that he even realised there was anything wrong. He tried to quip, the words coming almost by rote, but those young-old Summers’ eyes just looked through him, and he found himself flinching slightly.
"I'm just tired Dawnie, work's been hell." he said honestly, realising as the words left his mouth that he was tired - bone weary.
The concern on her face made him try for a patented Xander-smile but when that only made the lines around her eyes deeper he dropped it and repeated her question back to her.
"You know I love you, right Xander?" Her voice was earnest, willing him to believe the truth by speech alone.
"Of course I do." He said the words with a quiet smile, one meant just for her, trying desperately to ignore the whispered voice in the back of his mind hissing truths in his ear.
She may love you, but that doesn't mean she needs you. Love her with everything you are, and watch when she still thinks that a soulless vampire is a better companion, that a killer is easier to trust with every tiny secret than you. The thought made him flinch back, not even seeing the pain in hazel eyes that watched him far more carefully than any normal fifteen year old would.
He turned his smile up, as though he could chase the shadows out of his mind and offered her a cheery "I love you too."
What really killed him was that he couldn't even hate Spike for that knowledge. He couldn't resent the fact that someone without a soul - without a leash of any kind to keep him doing the right thing - could do a better job of taking care of her than he could. Instead he just felt... tired.
More weeks now, though Xander had long ago stopped counting how long it'd been since Spike told him with flat eyes and a perfect mouth that "don't get your knickers in a knot, s'a pretty natural vamp reaction. Nothin' like a wallop of adrenalin to kick common sense in the arse". His routine was perfect now, even the deviations were planned for in their own way. Every step - every stake in a now-dust chest - was timed, executed and the next movement taken without hesitation.
He could play his part without conscious thought, grumbling just the perfect amount as he helped Spike move into a new place just around the corner from his. Giving a completely unnecessary warning to the other man that, while Dawn was allowed over whenever she felt like it, Spike better keep her safer than houses, he made more appropriate noises at the pizza provided for dinner. He’d even said the right words in the right tone to Dawn - though her part in his routine was always a little easier- extracting a promise to phone him if she was ever planning on staying the night or more than a few hours after school.
Even his patrols with the blonde vampire had resumed after Spike had spent far more words than necessary explaining that a vampire would hit on anything with legs - and some things without. The brunet hadn't needed the explanation, having seen the truth of those words as they took shape in the flat blue eyes the first time. He'd let Spike talk though, knowing it would make him easier to patrol with.
So when he found himself with a knife held to his neck by a seven foot demon with grass green skin he started a little in his own head, shocked out of his routine. His equilibrium was re-established in seconds though when Spike ran a star-picket through the thing's eye, killing it without any of his usual fanfare.
Nodding his thanks he blinked again when he found himself pressed up against a cold brick wall, yellow eyes glaring straight at him. He tried to remember what the last thing he said to the blond was, sure that Spike’s annoyance was due to the Xander-comment he'd made. He frowned when he realised that he'd been preoccupied with the fledgling vampire that had been slinking away and hadn't said anything at all.
"Spike, why are you holding me up against a wall?" Normally he would have been scared, but he'd decided quite a while ago that the blond was too impatient for the mind games of his Sire and would have killed him long ago if he'd really wanted to.
"Were you even scared?" The question was more of a growl than actual words.
"Of course I was, an overgrown leprechaun had a knife to my neck." Giving Spike an "are-you-on-something?" look he didn't notice that the comment felt a little flat.
"Right now you've got a vampire holding you up against a wall, more than able to rip your throat out, but you smell like... nothing. Nothing, Harris, no fear, no worry, not even curiosity." There was something in those demon eyes that he couldn't figure out, some question that wasn't being asked that he was supposed to answer anyway.
"If you were going to kill me you would have done it a long time ago, Spike. You don't do the drawn out torture thing. Well... not often." The goofy-grin only seemed to annoy the blond even more and Xander tried to figure out what it was that was bothering Spike.
Before he had time to come up with another response he found himself released. Rolling his shoulders to ease the slight pain of being pressed up against the wall by something decidedly stronger than human, he watched as Spike paced in front of him, one hand raising a cigarette up to his lips and back down to his side.
Up. Inhale. Pause. Down. Exhale. Repeat.
"Why'd you take on the Nibblet?" The question was quiet, but not easily ignored.
There was a sense of déjà vu when he replied, "She's the closest thing I have to a little sister, why wouldn't I take her?"
This time blue eyes spun toward him, glinting like chips of ice and seeming even angrier for the lack of the demon. "S'not the only reason though, is it?"
It was a demand in question's clothing, no option to decline an answer, though he tried hard. "Why else would I? I love her like a little sister, she wanted to stay here, didn't want to go with Daddy Dearest. Hence the Xander Harris, guardian-parent-thing extraordinaire."
Those eyes were still cold, but they no longer cut invisible lines in his flesh, "Was never about her, whelp, and you know it."
"Spike, what on earth are you-"
That one word may have well has been a bullet in the gut. He watched as his routine crumbled around his ears, trying desperately not to listen as drawled words ripped it apart one syllable at a time, turning it into something unrecognizable and slightly ugly.
"Was never about the Bit, was always about Buffy. Couldn't do anything to keep her alive, so had to do the next best thing. Always the Zeppo, but now you could be Donut Boy with a purpose; keep the Nibblet happy. Only it didn't work out like that did it Harris? Because I was still there, and Dawn has always talked to me. Not to you though. You're just the parent figure with a pay cheque and a distant smile."
Xander told himself he already knew all the painful things that perfect mouth was carving into his mind, had accepted them a long time ago. But he found his body vibrating with tension, each word making another muscle draw tight enough to snap. And oh, there was the resentment, clenched in his fist along with the stake out of his back pocket.