Chapter 32: Retreat
June was hot - not Sunnydale hot, but hot enough that the last week or so of construction was done shirtless and sweating, hair pulled back with rubberbands and Dawn marching outside with sunblock and ice tea. The house was finished on June twenty-eighth and that night they had a small party. Tara blessed the new rooms and they all took turns sweeping the 'bad' energy out with a broom. Then they burned the broom in the fire Oz had (illegally) built in the back yard, because that was part of it - send the bad all up in smoke. Derio had a new broom and they made a small and silly ceremony of it - passing it through the smoke of the fire and 'blessing' it, much like Sleeping Beauty's fairy godmother's had blessed the infant. They went to bed giggling, and Tara went back to L.A. the next day. And Xander walked into the new studio, feeling a tingle of anticipation in his hands.
Ever since Drusilla's visit he'd had nightmares - some just an uneasiness that persisted through the day, some screaming horrors that prompted Oz and Derio to sleep in the bed with him, curled up close and shushing him when he shivered. The bad dreams were tapering off, but Xander's head was full of images, now - images of Spike. Dru had stirred up all the memories that the claim-spell had given him and now he wanted to make those images of Spike concrete. First was William - bookish, retiring and so very unsure. In love with love, in love with romance - in love with beauty. He didn't even really know how he was going to make this - how he was going to put all that was William into a piece of wood - but he was going to try. A few miles away there had been a lot being cleared for construction and an old, lightning-blasted oak had been cut down. One section of fire-scarred trunk had simply looked right and Xander had paid the men to haul it to his house and dump it in the yard. Now it stood in his studio, stripped of its bark - waiting. Xander flexed his hands, and began.
*Going to carve you, Spike - make something beautiful. Nothing as beautiful as you, but as close as I can get. Thinking about you every day, love...waiting here for you. The house is done... I think you'll like it. We put new facings on all the doors and windows so they match, and new floors down... Sanded them so smooth, just for you. Never have to worry about splinters... Love you, Spike. Love you...*
For a while Xander had tried to hide how much he talked to Spike. Like Oz and Derio would think he was crazy. But Derio did it, too, and then Oz confessed to it, and he'd felt better, then. He didn't know if Spike could hear them or not, but he couldn't not do it. If Spike could hear - how much would he hate it if they went silent on him? And if he couldn't... *Don't care. Talking anyway because.... Because I miss you, and at least this way I'm... I'm trying, love. I hope you can hear me. I hate being here alone. I hate being HERE, and you're there, and I don't know what's happening to you... Hold fast, love, hold fast...*
He worked for hours the first day - until his hands cramped and he had to either quit or risk ruining something - or hurting himself. Oz had soup on the stove, still warm, and bread wrapped in a towel, and Xander sat wearily down in the kitchen and ate - felt in the link for the wolves. They were downtown at a club, working. Doing a fix for the sound-system and staying to check and be sure it was right. Getting a reputation with bands and clubs that if you wanted to sound good, those two were the ones to call, because they could balance the music and the voices so that the bass didn't drown everything out, or the singer cut across all others. It was the sort of work that suited them both - odd days and hours, musicians and music talk and days spent lounging at home or loafing all over the city. Dawn called them slackers, but did it with a smile.
Dawn was, herself, out at the movies with a cousin - or a niece, or maybe an aunt, it was hard to say - of Manny's extended family. So they knew she was safe. Dawn's own views on demons had always been more flexible than Buffy's, and Dawn had friends all over.
Xander drank the last of the good beef soup and put his bowl and cup into the sink - went to stand in the studio doorway. The last rays of the setting sun glinted off the Duwamish, gold-red gleams on the choppy water. Sedge and cattails were thick right below their house and a heron rose up suddenly from the dense patch, winging away towards the north. Upstairs, he and Spike's bedroom also overlooked the water, as did Oz and Derio's, and they'd built a deck up there, for late-night moon watching. Dawn and Tara now had their own rooms, plus a guest room and a 'music' room that was rapidly filing with instruments and strange, cast-off sound equipment. The still-room for Tara was off the kitchen and encompassed part of the now-screened in porch, and it was already thick with scents and living green. Tara had a ledge-ful of herbs in little pots all along the back; mostly for cooking, but some for medicine, and some for magic. A small wood-burning stove and a refrigerator were in one corner, but the center of the room was taken up by a long, long table that was littered with pots and bowls and beakers, mortar and pestle and a stand of thin, sharp knives. Dawn had volunteered to keep things in order while Tara was gone, but everyone wandered in from time to time; to clip rosemary for cooking, or pinch off some sage for a little home-made incense, or to nibble the mint that grew sweet and sharp by the door.
The form that was emerging from the oak trunk was long and sinewy, and Xander wondered if it would convey what he wanted it to. A man whose every moment and breath and word was aimed towards finding the beauty in everything around him - even to the exclusion of some hard truths. A dreamer, whose heart was bared proudly for all to see. A swooning figure, head on hand and eyes turned towards heaven, a spill of books and papers and pens all around. Xander could see it so clearly; the blocky shape that reclined under the sheet didn't begin to hint at what he dreamed of. But he was confident.
*Making this for you, love. You'll tell me I'm a git - tell me William was nothing to be proud of. But he was you - IS you - no matter how hard you want to deny it.* Xander thought of his postcards upstairs - of Spike whispering Shakespeare and Byron and e.e. cummings in his ear when they made love. *He's you and you're him and I wouldn't have that without him...* Spike would understand even as he pretended offense.
The fourth year ended on July sixteenth and Xander spent it in the studio, making the progressively smaller and smaller cuts and grooves that added details to the statue. It wasn't a portrait - Xander didn't have the skills for that, and he didn't want it to be a copy. It was an...impression, with the boldest features highlighted, and the rest done in smooth, sweeping lines. Only the books and pens were detailed, and the folded pair of wire-rimmed spectacles that Xander - grinning to himself - had half hidden under a drift of paper. The high cheekbones and curve of Spike's lips were the same - that real smile that was one of Xander's favorite things to see. But the body was more androgynous than male, and the wide-open, sky-turned eyes were...different, somehow.
"It's beautiful, Xander. He is," Dawn said, leaning on his shoulder as Xander slowly burnished the wood with sandpaper, making it as smooth and perfect as Spike's own skin - working around the charred edges of the lightning strike that had, somehow, ended up in the center of the figure's chest.
"You think? Not half as good as the real thing," Xander said, small smile and small shrug, and Dawn whapped him gently.
"Don't act like it's not good - you know it is. It's... It makes me feel..." Dawn stopped for a minute, chewing her lower lip and glancing at Xander with a small frown.
"Don't be mad at me. It's like - it makes me sad." She glanced at the statue and then at Xander again, and Xander just nodded. "I'm not sure why... I mean, sad because I miss Spike, but...this isn't really him. It's like...what he was. I don't know why that makes me sad."
"I'm not mad, Dawnie. It makes me a little sad, too. It's okay." Xander carefully smoothed the silky black-grey of the charred wood, thinking about William and about Dru. *She said she saw his soul - that it was burning bright. Effulgent. Burning right out of you, love.* It seemed important, somehow, that the burned part be a part of the whole - that it be just as beautiful. Because Spike, in the seeing, did burn. "I think I'll be done in a day or two," he added, and Dawn walked over to the corner where the twisted roots and smooth trunk of a piece of silvery driftwood lay.
"Do you know what's next?" she asked, stroking it, and Xander nodded.
"Yeah. Next is...when he was turned." Dawn's eyes got wide, but she nodded slowly in return, looking at the driftwood with her head a little to one side.
"That'll be...kinda scary."
"Yeah, I think so too," Xander agreed, and went back to his sanding.
By mid-August he had three pieces finished and a fourth started, and Dawn was starting to complain that he never left the studio - that he looked pale and didn't talk to her anymore. Xander objected that he did leave - he patrolled with Oz and Derio at night - took his turn at shopping for groceries and randomly drove around the city, looking for wood for his next project.
"But that's all you do, Xander! You don't - go to the movies or come shopping with me if I ask or - or go to the clubs with Oz and Derio! You just...do this." Dawn gestured angrily at the statues and the one that Xander had just begun - a figure stretching up, face turned to the sky, another figure nestled in its arms, but also part of it. The demon and William, the souls. Xander stopped with one hand upraised, holding a mallet, chisel in the other braced against the wood. A cedar tree trunk, and he'd planned it so the red core would show through in places - the red was the demon.
"I just...need to do these, Dawn," he said finally, not knowing what else to say. There was *hurt fear sad love brother love* from her, and Xander slowly put the chisel and mallet down. "Dawn, I... I just... Spike -"
"I know you miss him, Xander but - but you can't just hide! We all miss him." Xander stared at her - reached up and rubbed at the empty socket, because his head was starting to hurt. He didn't wear the patch inside anymore.
"It's not the same, Dawn," he said quietly, and she opened her mouth to say something else - turned abruptly and walked out. After a moment Xander picked up the mallet and chisel again and made another cut, then slowly set the tools aside. He looked at the rough shape in front of him and then got up, restless suddenly, to pace around the studio. He went to the finished pieces, hiding under their draping of old sheets - pulled the sheet off the last one. Spike killing the Slayer in China. It was a figure frozen in motion - a twisting, whirling shape that somehow danced. One arm back, the other extended, fingers open. Turned at the waist so that the torso was at ninety degrees from the feet. One leg bent, as if preparing to leap, one pushing off, elongated, the muscles sharply defined. Sense-memory of long hair curling into his eyes and across his neck, so the figure had that, as well, fanning over its shoulders. Xander ran his hands slowly over the sleek lines of it - over shoulder and hip and thigh - over the clean, curving line of a buttock.
Seeing Spike in his mind, fighting - seeing the graceful, vicious dance never failed to make Xander's heart pound.
*Spike, Spike...so beautiful when you fought... You loved it, and you were like - like the ocean. Like a bird... God, loved to watch you. Loved to see your power and know I could have it in my hands - I could surrender to it or I could master it... You'd let me own you - possess you - move you like a doll but all the time...all the time... I knew you were the stronger one - I knew the power that was in you and you let me...* Xander shuddered, eye closed, leaning against the oiled flank of the figure, his hand tight on the silky-smooth bulge of a calf. Images flooding him, of Spike - up on the mountain, running through the night. Lying under him, that body of steel cable and bone flexing to his will. Of Spike bending Xander to his design, hands and mouth and tongue and teeth making Xander his willing slave.
*Oh fuck...fuck...* Xander pulled away with a jerk, his body tingling with desire and frustration, his erection uncomfortable and desperate. He went back to the new piece - picked up the mallet and chisel and tried to make his hands stop shaking.
Oz sidled in, leaning in the doorway for a moment before coming over and crouching down beside him. "Dawn's worried about you," he said, *pack, love you, what is it, what can we do?*
"I know." Xander put the tools down again - leaned his head into his hands and just sat there, unwilling to tell Oz the truth. Ashamed. *Spike's alone... There's no one... And I'll wait, I can wait, I won't pretend he's here when he's not...* Knowing that was stupid but feeling...feeling that somehow he would be indulging himself, when Spike... When Spike might be in torment - in pain. After a few moments Oz's arms came around him and he turned and burrowed into the warmth and almond-musk-wolf scent. Clutched fiercely at the smaller man, trembling.
*Oz, I... Can't say it...can't tell her...it's like somebody hacked part of me away - like somebody cut my legs off and every day she's asking me to take her dancing. I have to do this, I have to have some part of him here...under my hands, I HAVE to, I just...CAN'T, I can't stop, Oz...*
*I know, I know... I'll talk to her. It's all right, Xan... Come to us, let us help. You're...pulling away, again.*
"I know," Xander whispered. He sniffed - took a shuddery breath. "I know, it's just... I hate it. I can't stand him not being here, and.... When I do this it's like... It's like I'm touching him again. For just a little while. Oz -" *Miss him, miss him, miss him, I can't stand this, please...*
*Shhh...shhh...it's all right... Come on. Come upstairs.* Oz got him up - out of the studio. It was dark outside and Xander realized he had no idea what time it was. It had been light when he'd gone in. Dawn was on the computer, typing rapidly and scowling and *sister love scared* in the link - the feeling that she was talking to Tara, because 'sister' for Buffy was totally different.
Upstairs there were candles burning, as always, and the scents of bay and rose and citrus, lemon oil and cloves were heavy in the air. Derio came out of the music room, loose cotton pants and his dreads still dripping a little water down his chest from a recent bath.
*Xander? What is it? It's all right, it's all right, family, pack...love you...* Xander couldn't answer him - couldn't make his brain work well enough to form words. Just struggled for a moment and then let it go - let the link flood with what he was feeling. *Anger, pain, frustration, fear, anger, anger, lonely lonely lonely WANT him, want him, miss him, Spike, Spike...* They were in Oz and Derio's room now, on the bed, and Oz was holding him and Xander could feel his throat getting tighter and tighter - his chest hitching as he fought for breath.
*It's the only way I can touch him, the only way...not so alone...I'm sorry, I'm sorry -* The dam of misery that the carving had built broke suddenly and he curled into Oz and cried - harsh, racking sobs that hurt, but didn't hurt enough. He wanted - needed - so much more, and Derio was on the bed, too, getting behind him and holding him tight and Oz's hand on his back, mouth on his cheek, on his temple, kissing and whispering and telling him it was all right, all right, Xander, it's all right. But it wasn't and Xander cried until he was coughing - until his head was pounding and the empty socket was weeping thready tears. Derio got a warm towel from the bathroom and he gratefully mopped himself up - sat there hunched and exhausted and still so damn sad. Oz maneuvered him with deft touches onto his feet and out of his clothes - got him into the middle of the bed and then he was surrounded by the wolves - blanketed by their heat and the weight of them, by the wolf-chant in the link and by Derio's hand on his hip, slowly stroking, and Oz's in his hair, soothing him until his headache gradually eased and he fell asleep.
He woke with a start hours later. A lone candle guttered on the dresser, and the house was silent and still. He could hear the faint sounds of the water in the Duwamish - the distant, echoing honk of a tanker churning towards open water. The ever-present wind that softly rang Tara's wind-chimes, and made the limbs of the chestnut in the yard sigh and rustle. No rain, but the sharp scent of ozone and the sea, and there would be rain by morning. Derio was tight against him, leg over his and arm over his ribs, and Oz was half over him as well; his face pushed into Xander's neck, his arm across Xander's waist and on Derio's hip. Xander lay there, slowing his breathing - trying to remember the dream that had woken him. Because it had been a dream... The details were hazy, but the feeling remained. Spike, holding him - Spike kissing him and touching him, and Xander's body ached - ached with desire too-long denied - a need that seemed to grow stronger every week despite Jack's magic. He wanted, and he couldn't have, and he trembled with the wanting - was painfully hard, his erection trapped under Oz's hip. He began, slowly, to disentangle himself - to get away, and Oz's head lifted sharply, his eyes luminous and wide in the dim, golden light.
"Xander?" *What, what is it?*
"Let me up," Xander whispered, hurting and desperate and somehow ashamed, but Oz stopped him, hand on his cheek.
"Why? Xan -" *It's all right. I know, I know... Let me help. Let me help you. Love you...*
*No - Oz, I'm not - Oz, I can't -*
*Yes you can. It's all right. Just...flesh, isn't it? Nothing you haven't shared before...please, Xander, it's all right...* Xander wanted it... The physicality he no longer had with Spike was as hurtful as the closed-off link; the empty place in his mind where Spike always had been, whispering and laughing and loving him.
*Hurts, it hurts -*
*I know...it's all right... Just lonely, and we're here, we're here, Xander. Pack, pack, love you,*
*Love you,* sleepy echo from Derio and a slow caress of his hand and Xander gave in and let them. He lay shivering under their touches - under soft kisses and lightly scratching nails and teeth that never broke the skin. Slowly turning and touching them back - tentatively at first and then greedily - desperately - so starved for skin-on-skin he felt almost sick with it. Harsh breaths, gasping for air - slickness of tongue and lips on his body, slickness of arousal and the taste of Oz and Derio in his mouth; salty-sweet, pepper and lemon and almonds. He moaned softly, spread wide under them, drinking their touch as thirstily as a desert plant and Oz, fingers deft and clever and *all right, is this all right? Will you let me, Xan, let me, querido...*
And then Oz was pushing slowly in, heat and pulsing heartbeat that was so different - so alien - and Derio pushing belly to belly, his hands sliding over both of them, his mouth on Xander's. The link wide-open, full of love and comfort and want - full of the bonds of the family - the pack - that were like the most insubstantial of spider webs, but would never, ever break. Xander panted and groaned and clutched at them - cried wordlessly into Derio's shoulder when Oz moved harder - faster. Shuddered at the feeling of orgasm moving through the link - through the three of them - impossible to tell where it started or ended, and who was first, who was last. Afterwards he felt lighter then he had in days, and he slept dreamlessly between the wolves, secure in his family. But he woke to guilt, and lay there in the tangled limbs and sheets for a long time, trying to puzzle it out.
*Spike...I'm sorry. It's no excuse, being lonely. Should never...not without you. You're alone... Spike, Spike...forgive me, love...*
querido - beloved