Chapter 10: Payback
Spike stepped out onto the front porch of the house and simply stood there for a moment, breathing in the night air and trying to contain the screaming, frenzied demon that was scrabbling and howling inside him for control. The demon wanted to run through the streets; smash windows, destroy walls, set fire to the city. Drink until he was as warm as a living man and pull the heart from every human it met. Spike wanted something else. He began to walk - then run - heading straight into Sunnydale proper, searching. As he neared the UCS campus, he found what he was looking for. A college student stood on the sidewalk, fumbling drunkenly with a helmet. Parked beside him in the street was a motorcycle - one of the low-slung racing types that seemed to be all the rage for some rich boys. It was painted an unappealing mustard-yellow but Spike knew its top speed was somewhere above 150, and that's what he wanted - needed. Speed. He bounded up the sidewalk and snatched the helmet from the boy, hurling it away with enough force to crack it in two as it struck a light pole. The boy gaped - drew in a breath to scream as the demon emerged and lunged.
Then Spike was drinking, drinking; the hot jet of arterial blood near-scalding on the back of his throat. The boy flailed at him, writhing, and Spike clamped down tighter, his fingers sinking into the boy's arms so deeply that bones cracked. The blood surged through him, laced with alcohol - sharp and heady with fear. The familiar, wanton heat of it - the tingling wave that rushed over him - was intoxicating, dizzying. A feeling at once both remembered and shockingly new. Spike groaned deep in his throat, arousal pounding through him. This was heat - freedom - life; delicious and heady. He pulled hard, forcing the last mouthfuls to come to him, listening as the ta-tum of the heart stuttered - faded altogether. He wrenched his fangs from the boy's throat and roared to the night sky, sending echoes rolling up and down the street. He snapped the boy's neck with an easy twist of his hands and then frisked the body for keys and wallet. He found he was grinning maniacally - couldn't, in fact, stop himself.
*He did it, he did it, Xander-love, you did it...brought me back, gave me back...everything. Everything. Love you, pet. Love you for it*
Spike straddled the bike, glancing swiftly at unfamiliar controls, learning them. He put the key in the ignition and started the bike. The surging growl made him laugh out loud and he gunned it away from the curb, heading out. Heading towards Highway 101. Towards a place to feed and regain his full strength without interruption; to hone skills that had gotten a tad rusty, of late. To deal out a little payback. He grinned savagely, hurling himself forward into the night. The air was a solid wall to lean into, the roar of the bike lost behind him as he pushed it to its top speed. The highway stretched before him, silver-grey, broad and beckoning, and he remembered what Jack had said.
”I'm for the bonny road, me.” He laughed again. The bonny road was not for him. No, for him it was something else.
"And see ye not yon braid, braid road, That lies across the lily leven?
That is the Path of Wickedness, Though some call it the Road to Heaven..."
The bike surged under him, as vital as a lover, and he crouched over it and flew forward into the night.
Xander finished telling Oz his story.
Oz looked up from his fingers, and smiled up at Xander. "That's pretty cool," he said. And that was all. A few minutes later, Oz changed and curled himself into the corner of the couch, nose to tail, sighing heavily into sleep. Xander just laughed, not really expecting a scene from Oz, but surprised nonetheless at the utter calm.
*Maybe that's all to the good, though. Couldn't really take a scene right now* Xander took a shower and cleaned up a little and waited. He lay down in bed and stared at the ceiling and when his alarm woke him two hours later he was alone and the sun was coming up, and Spike wasn't there. Xander felt the first twist of fear in his belly, and he fought it. Work was a daze, and the ritual of paycheck and weekend plans passed him by, an inconsequential murmur that couldn't break through the tumbling, frantic thoughts in his head. Even Manny asked if he was alright and Xander barely managed to be coherent enough to satisfy the old demon. But inside he was babbling, and the fear was getting worse.
*What if he ran into Buffy, out on patrol, and couldn't resist? What if she... What if he got captured by the Initiative again? They're even hotter to capture and kill now that Professor Walsh is dead... What if he just - left? Went to find Dru -*
*Doesn't want her. Wants us. Wants pack*
*But we're not...I'm not...what if I'm not enough?*
*Don't panic, Harris. It's only one night. One day. And don't you think we'd know if he were dead, or...? Remember feeling his pain?*
He got home and went through his routine of shower and dinner, barely aware of Oz. The werewolf said almost nothing, watching him with dark and speculative eyes. When the sun was gone and Xander was sitting silent in the blackness of the kitchen, Oz lit candles and then slipped away, wolf again. Xander knew Oz was looking for Spike, but he couldn't rouse himself to even say thank you. He went to bed, and the shivery fear came back again and again, waking him with formless, forgotten dreams. No work the next day and he found himself pacing his house, too restless to sit, or talk to Oz. Too scared to think. Oz made a dinner Xander could barely force past his teeth, and when Oz went out again, tail tucked, Xander thought it was with a certain relief. This time Xander forced himself to get up, do a few things; laundry, cleaning. He sanded smooth the gouges Spike's nails had made in the table, running his fingers over and over them. He thought about changing the sheets - sweat and sex and wolf hairs - but couldn't bear to lose the scent of Spike that the cotton still held. In the end he simply curled up in the middle of the bed, pulling the covers around him, burrowing into Spike's pillow and biting his lip until it bled in an effort not to cry. *Won't do that. Won't. That would be...saying he's really gone, and he isn't, so I won't, I won't*
Sunday, it turned out, they had to go to Giles' house. Oz wanted to talk to Willow - he'd put it off too long, he said, and owed her an explanation. So they went and Xander sat on Giles' couch and listened to Giles brief them on the 'situation'. Faith had come and gone, trying some sort of body-switch with Buffy that Tara had helped to foil. Professor Walsh's experiment now had a name - Adam - and it was lurking, killing people, recruiting possibly. Or maybe just hiding. Buffy had gone to LA to warn Angel about Faith. And Riley had finally moved into an apartment, still reeling from the discoveries surrounding Maggie's death. Still recovering from being drugged.
*Wow. Missed a lot. Now will Buffy finally get the hell out of bed with these damn soldiers? Look what they've done - some kind of Frankentronic creature roaming around...drugging their own men... Please tell me we're not on 'their' side anymore...* He listened to Oz explain in his soft voice why he had left with Xander and Spike - why he was staying at Xander's house. Listened to Anya ask him if he wanted a soda, listened to Willow babble out hurt and guilt and love and sorrow like an upended cup, pouring over them all. He heard Willow finally admit that she and Tara were together. Giles started a bit, but Oz only smiled and Xander wondered if he'd ever be able to tell Willow about Spike. If Giles would smile at them and murmur 'very nice' for Xander and Spike.
*Not in this lifetime, Harris. Wishful thinking*
*Maybe. But he's smart...he...if I told him about Jack, he'd...*
*Think you were possessed again. Or under some thrall. Give it up, Harris.*
*Shut up. Miss him...miss him...* He jumped a little when Tara sat down next to him, putting her hand lightly on his wrist.
"A-are you okay, X-xander?" she asked, and he mustered up a wane smile for her.
"Sure Tara. Guess you saved the day, doing that aura-thing with Faith, huh? Good for you." Tara blushed, looking pleased and flustered, and Xander smiled at her for real this time, feeling the stirrings of affection for this shy, powerful girl. He'd looked at her, the day after the Gentlemen had been destroyed, and had seen a soul that was radiant, powerful, and utterly without guile. Her power came from the earth and he could see how gentle - and how fierce - she could be. A true 'earth mother'.
"You're...m-mmissing someone, Xander. I can s-see that in your aura. Spike isn't h-here, is he?"
Xander stared at her, incredulous, then looked quickly down at his hands, which were clenched tightly on his knees.
*Get a grip, Harris. Calm down or she'll know everything!*
*She wouldn't...say anything...*
*You can't know that! This is need-to-know, soldier!*
*I think she already knows*
*Pack. No harm,* the hyena insisted, and Xander looked back up at her; saw the sweetest smile on her face, that faded under his frightened stare.
"Tara - I don't...I'm not...Spike..." He trailed off helplessly, flinching a little from the silent tirade of protest and invective the soldier was hurling at him.
"I-it's okay, Xander. I w-won't tell anybody. I...s-saw you two th-that night, outside of L-llowel House." Xander groaned, shutting his eyes.
*Fuck! We should have been more careful, should have…*
"Your a-auras were really...you l-looked right t-together, Xander. I th-think it's okay, y-you two."
Xander just stared at her, and then he reached out and grasped her hand, startling her. "Tara - thank you. I - Spike is..." He shook his head and smiled. "Just, thanks. I'm...glad you know. And please don't say anything. I think - it's not a good time for earth-shattering announcements, you know?"
"I n-know. I won't say an-anything. I'm happy for you - both of you. You make each other h-happy."
"Yeah. We do." Xander gave a last, light squeeze to her hand and then let her go, and she got up and unobtrusively made her way back to Willow, who had finally stopped babbling at Oz and was hugging him. Oz's eyes were black over her shoulder, and he broke away gently but firmly, retreating. Giles watched him with concern, idly stroking the cover of a book.
"I really need to go now, Willow. I'll be around. I can help with this - Adam thing, probably. Anything to get the Initiative out of Sunnydale. We'll talk, just not... I'll be around, ok, Willow?" Oz was uncomfortable, but Willow didn't seem to notice and she nodded, wiping her eyes, smiling gratefully at Tara as the blonde took her hand.
"Okay Oz. I'm - glad you're back. Really I am. And we're - we're all glad you've decided to help us. Right, Giles? Always good to have one more on the team."
"Yes - yes it is." Giles stepped up to Oz and offered his hand, and Oz shook it solemnly. "When we get more information about this 'Adam', we'll call you and Xander. All right?"
"Sure, Giles. Sounds good." Xander stood up and went over to Oz, cocking an eyebrow, and Oz nodded.
"We're gonna go on home, then. I guess - call me when Buffy gets back, tell me if anything...new is happening," Xander said. They said their goodbyes, and Xander and Oz left. Halfway back home, driving on autopilot, Xander jumped a little when Oz spoke.
"So...Tara knows. About you and Spike."
"Y-yeah. How'd you..."
"I could hear her."
"Oh." Xander laughed shakily. "Gotta get used to all these people with super-powers around me." Oz smiled - touched Xander's shoulder fleetingly with his hand. Xander glanced over at his calm profile - at the hair he'd re-hennaed the day before to a deep, rich auburn that glowed in the gilding light of the setting sun. "How do you feel about - everything? Spike. That whole thing with...Jack."
"You mean, how do I feel now that William the Bloody is back?" Oz's voice was level but the look he shot Xander was full of some emotion and Xander flinched a little.
"Yeah. I mean - I guess you're ok with the concept of me and Spike. But...do you think...I should have left that whole chip thing alone?"
Oz sighed, bringing one foot up onto the seat of the truck and putting his chin on his knee, fingers absently toying with an ankle-bracelet of leather and glass beads. "You're right - you and Spike as a couple, two guys - that doesn't bother me. Me and Devon go back a long way and - we've always been...close." Oz studied his nails for a moment - chipped blue polish instead of black - and Xander felt a little clutch of longing that almost cancelled out the shock of what Oz had just said.
"You and...Devon? Really? But he's always got those...groupies."
Oz laughed. "Yeah. He's not...well, let's just say that Devon thinks monogamy is okay if you practice it serially." Xander laughed, too, but then Oz's smile faded and he knew that he might not like what came next. "As for Jack - that whole scene. I mean - wow. Gotta say he gave you something really cool. I'd like to see what you see, sometime. That'd be..." Oz shook his head, and pulled his other leg up, wrapping his arms around his shins. "And...what he did for Spike...I can't say I'm surprised that you asked. You love him. You want to - take care of him. And he was hurting. I understand that. I dunno what Spike'll do. I hope he's like you say. I hope he'll come back and not...kill us all. But that isn't anything we can really know, is it? 'Cause, people are complex, and he's got a person and a demon to deal with..." Oz rubbed his chin on his knees, thinking. "I don't blame you for wanting to help him. The Initiative was all about power. And what they did to him was...vindictive. Like taking a tiger and pulling out all its teeth and claws and then letting it loose. I want them to go down as badly as Spike does." Oz shifted a little, looking over at Xander, and Xander just drove, amazed at the words that had poured out of him.
"I don't think I've ever heard you talk that much at one time." Xander said finally, and Oz just grinned at him.
"I want it to work, Xander. Just like you do. But it's kind of a wait and see thing, you know? If he's - okay with us, then that's cool. If he's not...you know I won't let him hurt Willow - any of them."
"Yeah. I know. But when I look at him - really look - what I see - what I feel is so strong. He's nothing like the vamps we dust out on patrol, Oz. He's so different. I just...I trust him."
"Trust is nice." There was a long silence, and Oz looked out the window for a minute - looked back. "He'll be back, Xander."
"Yeah. Thanks, Oz." Oz just shrugged, smiling a little, and reached to turn on the radio. "Are you - okay, Oz? I mean, everything that happened...how are you?" Oz fiddled with the radio, finally getting some kind of acoustic NPR-type thing, and settled back in the seat.
"I guess I'm okay Xander. I really want to put the Initiative in the ground. I learned some meditation, in Tibet? It helps keeps the wolf...at bay. It keeps the Initiative at bay, too." Oz's eyes were clear and steady and calm and the lack of emotion more than anything clued Xander in.
*Somebody else with nightmares. Fucking bastards* "You'll - tell me if you need...anything. Right?"
"Yeah. I will." Oz grinned at him, and they drove the rest of the way home in companionable silence.
Monday morning, waking up alone, Xander felt the depression coming back. Oz slept in a loose curl of brown and russet fur on the couch. He'd said that the lumps didn't bother the wolf so much. Xander was glad he was there, if only because it gave him something to focus on.
*Gotta be quiet, don't wake him. Wonder if he'd like to try some kind of chicken for dinner or if we should just fall back on pizza? Remember to get more laundry soap, we're almost out...* Xander managed to make it through the day and felt something like relief, going home. He was looking forward to seeing Oz - just talking a little, maybe, or listening to Oz play his guitar. Something to distract him. He'd trusted Spike not to kill his friends - and he hadn't. But Spike being gone - made him second-guess everything he'd done. All his reasons seemed - faulty, now. Putting his trust in a vampire just seemed stupid. Even one with a soul. Look at Angel, for god's sake. But then he'd think about Spike in bed with him - Spike standing in the glowing corona of his souls, love and need and desire and tenderness flowing out from him. Spike aching with loss over Drusilla and Spike looking him in the eye and telling Xander he was loved. And the trust was there again, just like that. And that only made that void of not-Spike worse, and deeper, and darker. He parked his truck and got out, stretching, hauling his tool belt and laundry soap out of the seat. At the door he paused and got a sheaf of mail out of the box attached to the front wall and carried it inside. He dumped soap and tool belt on the kitchen floor, tossed the mail down and got a cold soda before he slumped gratefully into a chair. They'd all had to pitch in and do some heavy lifting today, cleaning up part of the site so that the buyers could see it. Putting in finishing touches. Xander was sore and tired, but proud of how well his crew had worked - and that Manny had put it all in his hands, no questions asked. Oz came out of the back of the house, a pile of shirts in his hands. "Hey, Xander," he said, and Xander waved at him, gulping soda.
"Oz. I'm just gonna get pizza, okay? I'm so worn out I can't even think about experimental cooking."
"Fine with me." Oz lay the shirts on the table and started folding them and Xander picked up the mail, shuffling through it.
*Bill. Bill. Junk. Previous occupant. Any occupant. Oh good, bras and panties are on sale...* He flipped past yet another gaudily-colored circular and then froze. He went back to the piece of mail, heart pounding. It was a postcard, slightly crumpled around the edges. On it in one corner was a scallop shell, with a bright red strawberry superimposed over it. And the words 'Oxnard - California's Strawberry Coast'. Underneath was a view of the Channel Islands Harbor at sunset - Xander recognized it. He and Thomas had strolled there once hand in hand, watching the gulls. Mouth suddenly dry, Xander turned the postcard over. On the other side were four or five lines in the beautiful 'birthday card' script that was Spike's. Xander blinked, his eyes refusing to focus. Then finally, he read the words there.
"As a perfume doth remainIn the folds where it hath lain,
His heart did a peculiar little extra thump, and he took a deep, deep breath. *Oh god, oh...god... He's alive, he's...in fucking Oxnard, what the fuck? But he's alive...*
"You all right, Xander?" Xander blinked, focusing, and looked up at Oz, who was staring at him, frowning just a little. "Xander?"
"Yeah. Uh. I'm - I'm fine, Oz. It's..." He couldn't think of what to say, so he shoved the postcard at Oz. He noticed that his hand was shaking. Oz took the postcard and looked at the front and 'humfed', so much like the wolf that Xander felt a hysterical little giggle rising up into his throat. He choked it back and took a hasty swig of soda.
Oz turned the postcard over and glanced at Xander for permission, then read it. A slow smile drew up the corners of his mouth, and he handed the card back. "That's nice. I guess that's from Spike?"
"Yeah. Yeah, it is. From Spike." Xander realized he was grinning like an idiot, but he didn't care.
"Why Oxnard?" Oz asked, folding his last shirt.
"I dunno. I was down there, last summer... Oh." Xander sat bolt upright, a sudden thought coming to him. *Oh no. He wouldn't. I mean...would he? I told him the story and he...oh fuck* "I think maybe... I dunno." Oz gave him a searching look, as if he thought Xander knew more, but then he nodded and wandered away with his shirts, putting them in the open duffle that had become a permanent fixture in the living room. He'd refused to let Xander clean out a drawer for him - Xander's dresser was pretty small and he really didn't have a place to put any stuff he moved. Oz just told him it was fine and that in Tibet he'd only had two shirts and one pair of pants so this was really like the Ritz, and he didn't mind.
Xander sat at the table and read his postcard over and over, forgetting how tired he was and how hungry. He barely noticed Oz ordering pizza - turning on the radio.
*God, Spike's down in Oxnard, he's…*
*Hunting* the hyena grumbled, and Xander knew it was so. Spike was hunting. He finally noticed the music playing, and he realized that it was almost dark and the food was there and he was starved. The song played on and the chorus made Xander shiver.
"And I find it kind of funny... I find it kind of sad...
The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had... "
He got up, and got another soda for himself and one for Oz, and was glad when the song ended.
The next day he got two postcards. *Maybe he mailed one on Sunday. Spike...come back,love...*
The second was something that seemed vaguely familiar. He was pretty sure he'd read it in school, but so much had taken precedence over studying - saving the world from certain doom and all that - that it was only a fleeting thought.
"Wild Nights! Wild Nights! were I with thee
Wild Nights would be our luxury.
Futile the winds to a heart in port, Gone with the compass
Gone with the chart--Rowing in Eden.
Ah the Sea! Might I but moor-- Tonight in thee."
The third was as unfamiliar as the first, but it ached with the same loneliness that Xander felt.
"Western wind, when wilt thou blow,
The small rain down can rain?
Christ, if my love were in my arms
And I in my bed again! "
*The same, the same for me... Please, whatever you're doing up there - what I know you're doing - don't, don't, just leave it and come home...* A couple of times during the long days that Spike was gone, Xander thought he was going crazy. He'd wake up in the night certain he'd heard Spike's voice - felt him, right there in the bed with him. But always it was just a dream...or wishful thinking. Once, at work, he'd suddenly started upright from the two-by-sixes he was nailing, fear washing over him - certain Spike had cried out his name. But he blinked at the sun pouring down over him, and the hive-like bustle of the site, and knew it wasn't Spike. At least, it wasn't Spike there...it was as if...
*As if he's in my head - like I'm hearing him. Really must be crazy. Unless it's some kind of freaky vampire thing. I think I need to check out some of Giles' books. Won't that be fun*
Wednesday's postcard was Iggy Pop from that movie, and it made Xander grin all night. Thursday was something amazing and unfamiliar again, and Xander wondered how Spike could possibly remember so much stuff when he couldn't, apparently, remember to rinse blood out of his own mug or wipe his boots off. *The Selective Memory of the Evil Undead: Theories and a Case Study* Xander thought, and snickered over his carry-out curried chicken.
"The incredible beauty of joy
Stars with fire the joining of lips, O let our loves too
Be joined, there is not a maiden
Burns and thirsts for love
More than my blood for you, by the shore of seals while the wings
Weave like a web in the air
Divinely superfluous beauty. "
Oz thought he recognized that one. Something about the style - the subject - made him think he knew it and Xander was startled out of a daze while not-really-watching a 'Law and Order' re-run by Oz smacking his hand on his knee and saying :
"Robinson Jeffers!" with this huge smile on his face.
"The postcard today. It's Robinson Jeffers. He lived up in Carmel. Cool. I wonder how Spike knows his stuff? Doesn't seem like...evil undead poetry to me."
"And you'd be the expert on evil undead poetry?" Xander grinned at him and they had a very...different sort of discussion. All about the kind of poetry vampires should like, as opposed to what Spike, apparently, did like. Xander didn't actually know a lot of poetry but Oz did. Because, Oz said, it helped him to write songs when he got into the cadences and word pictures of poetry. He even quoted a little for Xander and it made Xander feel a little stupid, and a little excited at the same time. Xander wanted to know poetry, too - to know who Robinson Jeffers or Oscar Wilde or Ezra Pound were. He decided to go to the library the next day.
Friday's postcard somehow brought tears to Xander's eyes. He didn't know why, particularly, and he wiped his eyes roughly while Oz poured a glass of milk and they settled to a rather haphazard dinner of cereal and toast.
*Gotta go to the store tonight. Spike in the changing room...maybe we'll go to a different store...*
"But if you ever come to a road where danger
Or guilt or anguish or shame's to share.
Be good to the lad who loves you true,
And the soul that was born to die for you,
And whistle and I'll be there…"
They ended up going to the same store and Xander felt the depression settle on him again, as he remembered that night and the nights that followed. It hadn't been that long - only four months, almost five, since Spike had stumbled through Giles' door, starving and desperate. And a lot of the time after that he'd spent fighting with Spike, or ignoring him, or being ignored.
*How can I feel this way in such a short time? Seems...too fast. It's crazy. But...miss him, miss him...*
*Wanted him for two years. Loved him for two years. It isn't too fast. It was too slow*
Xander was amazed that the soldier would say such a thing, but the soldier was straightforward, if a bit schizo. He lay in bed that night reading a library book - a collection of Jeffer's poetry - and while the words about granite and pines, the sea and hawks, stonecutters and seals ran and blurred together on the page, he remembered... A night in the Basement of Doom, his parents upstairs screaming like the damned, hurling invective and bottles and god knew what else. And Xander had cringed down on his couch, horrified and ashamed and flinching, waiting. Waiting to hear that drawling, caressing voice stroke across him with razors and acid, telling him what he knew already: worthless, useless and wasn't he going to be just like them - already just like them - spoilt blood and not a chance in hell to escape it. But Spike had stood up and stamped into his boots and pulled on his duster, talking about getting a beer and playing a game of pool. Then he'd stood in the doorway and looked at Xander as if he were a complete idiot.
"You comin' or what, mate?" he'd snapped, lighting a cigarette and blowing the smoke toward Xander - eyebrow cocked, lips smirking. Xander had scrambled to put on his sneakers and they'd played pool and drunk beer and basically acted like friends. And Spike hadn't said a word, not one word, about his parents.
Xander looked up at the mirror over his dresser, where six garish postcards and one photograph were stuck. *Maybe he felt the same. Maybe he felt...something for me, too, that long ago. Only took a couple weeks after that for me to kiss him. Mmmm...that kiss ... Spike, Spike, come home* Xander fell asleep on the book, dreaming about storms and seals and white, arrow-winged gulls.
Child's Ballads - Thomas the Rhymer
Arthur Symons - As A Perfume
Tears for Fears - Mad World
Emily Dickinson - Wild Nights
Anonymous, 16th Century - Lover in Winter Plaineth for the Spring
Robinson Jeffers - Divinely Superfluous Beauty
A. E. Housman - More Poems