Chapter 31: Coping

Chapter 31: Coping

††††††††††††††† The eleventh of February came and Xander felt an odd sort of surge - excitement and defiance in equal measure.† He'd survived it - got through fifty-two days without Spike and Spike was one year done - one year down.† *Less all the time - one year gone...†† Miss you, Spike, miss you so much.*†††† It had rained on and off for most of the week and the eaves dripped on them as he and Manny stood on the back porch, making notes.† The construction was getting underway in a day or so - tearing out the back wall and adding three bedrooms upstairs, making the kitchen larger, adding a room for Xander to carve in - maybe making it large enough† for a piano, something that Dawn had been quietly yearning for.† She was keeping up her singing practice with Derio and she hummed or sang softly around the house while she studied and experimented in the kitchen and tried to find a part-time job.† She was so different here, out of Buffy's shadow.† A more grown-up - more capable girl - who was the Queen of the house.†† The three of them would spoil her endlessly if they could, but Dawn had quietly said no, in various ways, to their indulgences. *We'll leave it for Spike.† He can spoil her all he wants when he - when he comes home.† She won't say no to him...never has.*

††††††††††††††† Manny had been angry on Spike's behalf - angry and relieved and worried about the Sidhe.† They weren't trusted in demon circles, and he'd questioned Xander closely about what Jack and Scavenger had said and done.†† In the end he seemed satisfied, but Xander knew the story was making the rounds of that other Seattle, and he also knew that several groups of demons had gone to view the Sunnydale crater.† It was all quiet there, Manny said - truly dead and gone and Xander hoped that Faith and Robin and Johnathan weren't having to deal with too much Hellmouth craziness in Cleveland.††† On Valentine's Day he finally hung Spike's duster in the closet, instead of having it lying over the empty side of the bed.† It hurt, but it felt good, too.


††††††††††††††† Emails came two and three times a week from England and Xander mostly let Dawn handle those.† He was locked into what he was doing - concentrating so hard on just surviving, that he didn't want to fend off questions or have to muster the energy to show interest in anything.† He was interested - he just...† Just couldn't bring himself to get involved.††† He listened to Dawn talk about the doings of the new Council, and what the Pembrokes and Giles and Ethan were building was good - was better than the old Council by far.† Grey was seeping into the Watcher's black-and-white view of the world and every demon sect, clan, species or individual - driven by curiosity or a desire for peace - that approached the Council transported the Pembrokes into raptures.† Some of the demons were amazingly literate and historically oriented and already human history was gaining new facets.††† Apparently the younger Pembrokes envisioned a time when demons would be citizens, just like humans, but Xander silently doubted that many demons would care for that 'privilege'.† But it gave them something to do, and it made Dawn delve even deeper into her language studies.† Xander even found her poring over history books, and her half-formed notion of going into one of the sciences was rapidly being subsumed under a growing fascination with archeology and anthropology.† 'Indiana Jane', he teasingly called her, and wished desperately that Spike were there to tell her stories and help her with her Greek.† And probably buy her a fedora and a whip.

††††††††††††††† Tara's emails and phone calls were easier to deal with; she spoke about her own studies and related snippets of Connor's doings and the most recent battle or demi-apocolypse the A.I team had averted.† Wesley's magic skills were much along the lines of Giles' own, and she was learning a more formal and regulated kind of occultism from him.† And he was learning about 'kitchen' magic and proving to have a bit of a knack.†† She talked about Cordelia-as-Mommy and about Gunn and how tough he was - and how loving with Wes - and about Fred, in a kind of cautious way that said to Xander she was still being careful of her heart.†† Xander sat down once a week to laboriously two-finger-type a message to her; mostly details of the house and what had gotten built in the past few days.† He pressed her for her own ideas about what she wanted the house to be like and cheerfully added space for a still-room when she talked about making her own soaps and teas and essential oils.†

††††††††††††††† February blew out and March came in no warmer and just as wet.† Construction carried on under tarps and whispering, rustling layers of plastic, and Oz and Derio started a kind of patrol.† Mostly it was a desire to establish their territory - make boundaries that any demon would respect.† After a week of them going out and coming in, spangled with mist all along their fur and the link singing with *water, run, hunt, good pack pack pack* Xander gave in and went with them.

††††††††††††††† Running along the sandy margin of the Duwamish, breathing in wet lung-fuls of sea-salt air and the thick, sharp smells of earth and wet wood and winter-dead grass felt good.† He let the hyena stretch out - let it shriek up at the low-riding, gibbous moon and play a rough game of King of the Hill with the wolves.††† The link was full of happiness and Xander realized how much the wolves had been missing him - and how much he'd missed them.† He realized with a wince of guilt that he'd been cutting them off - tuning them out.† Because he didn't want to push his sadness onto them, and because...

††††††††††††††† *It hurts.† Hurts to hear you and not...him.† Hurts to have this when he CAN'T...shouldn't have it if he...can't.*

††††††††††††††† *No, no, Xander.†† You can't do that.† Can't leave us like that and we won't leave YOU.† Won't.† We told him we'd take care of you, told him we'd be here.† Promised.† We won't break that promise.*† Oz-wolf shouldered him roughly, making him sit down hard on the cold, wet ground and Xander pulled him close and hugged him; warm, rough fur scratchy on his face, thick wolf smell and the smell of apples.

††††††††††††††† *Pack, family, OURS. You're ours as much as you're his and we won't let you go.† Lean on us, hermano, let us help, donít be afraid...Hurts, to not have you...*†† Derio-wolf pushed in for his own hug, cold nose in Xander's cheek and the pepper-lemon smell of his fur.† Xander clutched at them both, holding on tight - shuddered for a moment with tears.† But then he stopped and wiped his face - lay back on the grass and sighed as the wolves curled close under his arms.†† Let the link open wide and just sank into it; stayed there for long, long minutes, reconnecting.† Reaffirming.† When they finally stood up and began a slow walk home, Xander felt - almost normal, again.† The ache of Spike's absence was still there, but the love and delight and *want* from the wolves eased it - soothed him - made him feel part of a family again.

††††††††††††††† *Sorry.† I'm sorry.† I won't - hide, anymore,* he promised, and the wolves yipped soft 'thank you's.


††††††††††††††† April the second was year two, and Xander stood in the kitchen, a bottle of water in his hand and a fuzz of sawdust covering him.† Remembering, in a rush of bitter-sweetness, Spike on the phone to him.


††††††††††††††† †"So, pet...what are you wearing?"

††††††††††††††† "About ten pounds of sawdust."

††††††††††††††† "Mmmm...all furry and sweet-smelling, I'll bet..."

††††††††††††††† "I gotta go, Spike.† I'll be home - around six...† I promise I won't chop off or ventilate anything.†† Love you."

††††††††††††††† "Love you, pet.† Hurry home."†


††††††††††††††† Xander drew in a deep breath and crossed the day off on the calendar.† *Getting there.† God I miss you, love.† Miss your voice so much, telling me things...telling me you love me, telling me you want me...† Miss your hands, miss your laugh...† Miss you reading to me, miss fighting over the remote and the radio and dinner...† God, Spike, Spike...*

††††††††††††††† The missing was like a funny little tide that ebbed and flowed differently each day.† Sometimes there was almost nothing, like when he was working.† Up on the scaffold, hammering, sawing - creating - he could push everything away and just exist in the radius of a saw-blade or the numbers on a tape measure.† Sweet new wood smell, mud and rain and the Duwamish.† The smell of the skinny little black cigars that Manny smoked, and the hot tea and coffee the crew drank.† And then - some small thing...† A line or two of a song - a glimpse of a black-leather coat in a crowd - an accented voice coming from the TV and he was drowning in it - lost in it.† Pain like a knife to his heart and he had to stop and just breathe.†† Reach for the wolves in the link and let them help - let them soothe and calm.† Worst of all, probably, was feeling that hurt from Oz or from Derio.† Raw ache that only made his worse and they'd got themselves in that loop once or twice.† Gotten it from Dawn, who would fight it and fight it and then give in and look through her computer files at all the pictures she had of Spike.† Look at her archived emails from him, or open a notebook and see his precise and beautiful handwriting; notations in her Latin homework or a line or two about a book.† Then they would huddle together, doing whatever they had to, laughing at how horrible it was even as they cried themselves hoarse.† Xander had his postcards still, tucked into the mirror's edge.† And the picture Dru had taken, that was Spike and was not Spike.† Was something out of time and memory and almost didn't hurt.† But the picture from this house - their first night there when they'd nested on mattresses in the living room floor and Derio, getting up early, had captured Spike and Xander curled around each other, Spike's head on his chest, Xander's arms holding him close...† That made him catch his breath and shiver, every time.† Some mornings he went without aid of his mirror, and fled the room before he saw.

††††††††††††††† April and then May, and Dawn was graduating from her GED classes and they all went to see.† Tara up from L.A., almost completing them, and Dawn shining like a star in her class of older women and work-worn tradesmen and tired-looking girls with mothers and babies cheering them on.† She'd already signed up for classes in the fall - was impatient to get the 'required' work out of the way so she could move on to bigger and more interesting thing.† Derio took dozens of pictures, because Dawn wanted to be sure Spike would see this moment as if he'd been there.† It was a long day, with a celebratory dinner atop the Space Needle and a long, slow walk all over the parts of Seattle they liked best, just being together.† A good day, and a happy one, but there was something in the air, and Xander felt uneasy until they were all safe home.

††††††††††††††† He woke with a gasp, his hand curling for the stake he didn't have under his pillow anymore - groping for the body that wasn't there.††† Something - was shivering through the link - twisting through the air like a subtle perfume.† Something familiar and not at the same time.† Xander held his breath - closed his eyes - concentrated on it.† And felt his heart lurch painfully in his chest.

††††††††††††††† *Not, not, not.† It ISN'T.† Fuck, I'm asleep, I'm - what the HELL?† Oz - you there?† Oz, Derio -*†† Sleepy grumble from the wolves but Xander was already up and yanking on a pair of sweats - stumbling out of the bedroom and down the hall - down the stairs.† Soft sound from Dawn's room, and Tara asleep on the fold-out couch and Xander almost ran to the front door.† Pulled it open and stopped dead, the screen door mesh cold and yielding under his hands.† Something...was there, in the darkness.† Someone.† There was a candle burning by the door - Dawn insisted - and its flame cast a feeble circle of tired gold light onto the porch.

††††††††††††††† "Spike?" Xander called, and his voice was cracking - strained and hoarse - and he was gasping for air, shivering.† When the hand came out of the darkness - pale and slim and tipped with long, red nails - he nearly screamed.

††††††††††††††† "No, oh no, oh no," Drusilla whispered, and Xander recoiled, the air hissing out of his lungs in something like a sob.† "No, not my prince, not my love..."

††††††††††††††† "He's not yours," Xander growled, and Drusilla came closer, her face fading in out of the blackness.† Her hair was swept up and pinned with long, Chinese-red sticks, and tendrils of it hung down beside her ears and on her throat.†† Some sort of black shirt that showed pale, muscled arms and her collarbones - the upper swell of her breasts.†† Modern, and so different than anything he'd seen before.† She had on a choker of black and white and silver - onyx and ivory, and very old-looking.

††††††††††††††† "No?† No," she echoed sadly, and put her hand up to the screen.† "Always this between us, this fish's net.† Sieving out your intentions and your passions and leaving me with cold comfort..."† Her palm flattened against the house's barrier and the wards Tara had made a part of the very foundations sparked cold green fire.† Drusilla hissed, and pulled slowly away.

††††††††††††††† "What are you - why are you here?† Spike's not...he's not -"

††††††††††††††† "Not there, I know.† Not anywhere in this world...† Did you think I wouldn't feel that?† Think I wouldn't feel everything he was being torn down - burned up - turned to ashes?† To ashes, to ashes and he fell down, but you didn't - you didn't."† Drusilla's eyes were gold gleams in the darkness and her mouth snarled, and Xander flinched from that - from the wash of pure guilt and misery that overcame him.† Behind him he heard Tara waking up - heard the quiet tread of the wolves' upstairs, coming closer.† And - fuck - the creak of Dawn's door that he couldn't seem to oil out.

††††††††††††††† *It's Dru, she's here, please - be careful, I don't - don't know what she wants -*

††††††††††††††† *Fuck -* Oz thought, and wolf-sense shivered through the air, he and Derio both shifting minutely, scenting the intruder on their door step.

††††††††††††††† "Xander?" Dawn asked, sleepy-soft voice, and he closed his eyes for a moment, just breathing.

††††††††††††††† "It's okay, Dawn, it's just..."

††††††††††††††† "You tell her.† I'm the fire that burnt the phoenix and brought it back to life - the womb, little boy, the seed -"†† Drusilla seemed abruptly hysterical - furious - and Xander took a step back.

††††††††††††††† "Xander?"† Tara now, and he could feel his family at his back - wall of living heat and *pack, family, brother, love love protect love.*

††††††††††††††† "It's - this is....this is Drusilla.† She - she made...Spike into a...vampire."† Sharp gasp from Dawn and Oz's shoulder pushing into him - Derio on the other side, gentle pressure.

††††††††††††††† "And you're all here, all here in the nest, cozy as little birds all agreeing.† Changeling-child and moon-drinkers and the good Witch of the North, though she's got a tinker's dam in her blood, hasn't she?"† Drusilla crowded up close to the screen door again, ignoring the St.Elmo's fire that crawled over her.† "And you, sweet beast.† You, you, you..."† She put her hands flat on the barrier and growled and Xander finally shook off his shock and paralysis and glared back, letting the hyena up and out, so that her scent of blood and licorice and church incense was suddenly strong in his nose.† He knew his eyes were the same cold fire as the wards - watched the otherness of the hyena call Dru's demon up.† And then gone again, and she leaned back, making a low moaning sound.

††††††††††††††† "Why?† Why, why, why did you do it?† Why did you let it?† The olders, the others, they're not to be trusted!† They're not to be seen!† Let him go off with Jack, Jack, Jack -"

††††††††††††††† "I tried to stop him," Xander whispered, feeling suddenly cold, and small.† "I tried.† Dru - he...he wouldn't be stopped. †I tried."† Xander blinked, tears slipping from his eye and stinging in the empty socket and Drusilla cocked her head to one side, watching him.

††††††††††††††† "Does it hurt, to cry that bone cup full of tears?† Do you have the seeing still, Wodin Alfadur? Or did that wight take it from you?"†

††††††††††††††† "I - still see.†† I...Drusilla.† What - do you want?"†

††††††††††††††† "He's gone, beast.†† Winked out like a candle...out, out!"† She crossed her arms over her chest and put her nails to her biceps - drew them down her arms and lines of scarlet sprang up behind.† Blood welling in the furrows and there was noise somewhere off to the left; a hiss, quickly muffled.† "Gone and not mine and there's no one left of what was one left..."

††††††††††††††† "Angel's still here," Xander said, and Drusilla licked her nails, her eyes opaque and far away.† "Oh, daddy's got a new family, hasn't he?† Monkey see, monkey do; he couldn't bear to not have what my Spike had and he infected Grandmummy with his nasty her get sits on his lap and he won't take away that innocent's toys, will he?"†

††††††††††††††† "Spike has a soul," Xander said softly, knowing that Dru knew that and wondering why it was different from Angel's.

††††††††††††††† "Yes - yes he does.† Soul of fire and starlight, and the burning...burning fish..."† She laughed softly.† "His soul is not like to that soul - his soul loves and takes in what it can't kill.† Daddy's soul hates and only wants the darkness to end.† He can't see, can he, that the darkness is the only thing that makes the light so pretty."

††††††††††††††† "Do you have a soul, Drusilla?" Xander asked, and he took a step up to the door and leaned there, and her hands came out and touched his, palm to palm through the barrier and the screen and the wards.† Cold hands, strong as bone.

††††††††††††††† "Oh no, sweet beast.† No, no, it was stripped from me - split me open and pulled it out; milkweed silk on the wind, all drifting away.† I felt it go with my blood, and blessed it as it went."†† She leaned even closer, until Xander could see clearly the color of her eyes.† Or, the color they were at the moment because they shimmered with the demon's gold and that made the actual color uncertain and shifting.† "I never missed it, but I was cold, wasn't I?† Until my poet came to me; until my William, my Spike..."

††††††††††††††† "Mine," Xander whispered, and Drusilla laughed, soft and deadly.†

††††††††††††††† "Yes, yes, yours, little boy - little toy.† The soul that was born to die for you...† I whistled him to me but he dies for you now.† When Angel's gotten his Grail and you've made your peace with that devil in the red dress, you tell my love I've found a new boy to keep me warm.†† Tell him...tell him...we're counting crows.† 'One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a funeral, four for a boy...'"

††††††††††††††† "Five for heaven," Tara whispered, and Dru smiled at her, her eyes huge and wet and suddenly very human.

††††††††††††††† "Six for hell," Derio said, shivering against Xander's side, and Xander slipped an arm around him - around Oz, who was holding Dawn's hand.

††††††††††††††† "Seven for a secret, never to be told."† A new voice, accented in something unfamiliar and Dru stretched out her hand and pulled a young man into the dim light of the guttering candle.† Taller than she was, hair a burnished copper that fell in wisps and locks to his shoulders.†† Huge green eyes, and a slim, ringed hand slipping into Dru's.† Utterly unlike Spike, and somehow exactly like him, and Xander shuddered - leaned back into Tara's hand, that had settled at the small of his back.

††††††††††††††† "Sinjan," Drusilla sighed, and smiled at him.† "I've killed my Christmas wren, and now it's to take him on procession.† You, beast...Al-ex-an-der..."† Dru pressed her hand to the screen again, pushing, and the wards flared up high and bright.† "You, mind your book and mind your heart and take the Slayer's skin when you're called to go riding.†† That's the only way you'll see your love again."† She pulled back abruptly and she and Sinjan turned and walked away.† A moment later they all heard the rattle of a motorcycle's engine, roaring to life and then dying rapidly away.

††††††††††††††† *God, what the hell was that?† What did she mean?*†† "Everybody - everybody okay?"

††††††††††††††† "She's scary," Dawn said, and Xander turned around and looked at her and started laughing, pulling Dawn to him for a hard, hard hug.

††††††††††††††† "She's fucking terrifying, Dawn, and don't ever forget it.† God -"

††††††††††††††† *We're here, we're here -* from the wolves, and Tara was stroking his back and he kissed Dawn's cheek and sighed - let her pull away a little.

††††††††††††††† "Fuck, I - would rather not have talked to her," Xander said, and Oz took Dawn's hand again, smiling at her a little.

††††††††††††††† "Maybe it's for the best, though.† She left, and she pretty much...gave up any claim.† One less thing to worry about."

††††††††††††††† "Fuck, I guess."† Exhaustion suddenly swamped Xander - exhaustion that was jangled and tense and he knew that even though he felt as if his bones were made of lead, he couldn't sleep now.† "I'm gonna make some hot chocolate.† Anybody wanna join me?"

††††††††††††††† "I'd love some," Tara murmured, still stroking his back, and he reached for her and put his arm around her as well.

††††††††††††††† "Yeah, me," from Dawn, and assent in the link from the wolves.†† After a while the kitchen was full of the sweet scent of chocolate and the Souchong Tara had brewed, after all, and Xander let the soft *pack, family, pack* soothe him.

††††††††††††††† *Slayer's skin and going riding...† God.† I donít need more riddles and I don't need...† Don't need more otherworldly CRAP.† Three and a half years, four in July, that's past the halfway mark...† Spike, I miss much.† Waiting for you, love, waiting for you forever and a day, if that's what it takes.*





" The soul that was born to die for you..." is from† A.E. Housman's More Poems.† Spike also quoted this poem to Xander
on one of the postcards from Chapter Ten.

The Xander/Spike phone dialogue is from Chapter Eighteen.