And Ice For Your Wounded Heart - part four
Ms. Calendar was dead, really dead, and the little urn of ashes being slowly buried under a rose-tree was the proof. Xander stood in stunned silence next to Cordelia, who was clutching a handkerchief but hadn't cried enough to smudge her eyeliner. Willow was sobbing on Buffy's shoulder, and Buffy had a look of stunned horror on her face that hadn't changed for days. Giles... Giles was like some pillar of dark smoke - black-burning flame - and Xander didn't dare look at him - talk to him. The hate and despair - the helpless rage - terrified him. Giles was a man possessed, and Xander stood there in the mild sun and fragrant grass of a California Spring and smelled burning.
"I heard Giles kinda lost it last night - tried to kill Angel," Willow said, sliding into a seat at the table, tray of lunch in her hands and Oz beside her, solemn in his deeply-blue hair.
"Well, yeah. I mean - Angel killed Ms. Calendar - 'course Giles wants to kill him." Xander shoved his corn around and around on his plate, angry for some reason he couldn't determine.
"Angel didn't - do anything, it was Angelus -" Willow started, but Xander interrupted her, looking up furiously from his tray.
"It's the same thing, Willow! Don't try and pull that same lame crap Buffy does! Angel and Angelus are the same."
"But they're not!" Willow said, eyes wide, and Oz leaned back in his chair, looking at Xander - little frown drawing his eyebrows down.
"Yes they are!"
"Angel has a soul. He's not - not in control right now! Angel would never hurt anybody!"
"No?" Xander pushed his tray sharply away, fighting to keep his voice steady. "Tell that to the guy who got offered up to Spike as a snack. And then he ran. And he was too scared to help me and Buffy find Jesse - he just let us go in there alone! Angel's no hero. He's a soulless monster with a curse, Willow - he didn't ask for his soul back - what makes you think he likes having it or that he'll want it back now?"
Willow just stared at him, and Xander knew he was being unfair - he knew he was. But he didn't care. Buffy had dithered and moaned and cried over Angel for days and days and now this - now Ms. Calendar dead and Giles almost getting killed. She was the Slayer. But she wasn't slaying, and people were dying, and she just - didn't seem to care.
*But she'd have killed Jesse without thinking twice about it - nobody even thought about not killing Jesse...* Xander put his head down into his hands and squeezed his temples, eyes tight shut; barely noticing when Willow got up and beat a hasty retreat, saying something about getting ready for the class she was temp-teaching after lunch.
After a bit, when the throbbing in his head had settled in for good and all and Xander knew that nothing was going to make it go away for now, he lifted his head. Oz still sat there, picking apart the taco the lunch lady had served; eating the pallid tomatoes and lettuce, ignoring the greasy hamburger.
"You really think they're the same?" he asked, and Xander slumped back, staring at the ceiling.
"I - dunno. Yeah. I do. I mean - Angel...he's still in there. He's knows all this stuff about us. He knows - Buffy. He just stopped caring. And a soul - never made anybody care. I mean - serial killers have souls. Him having his soul doesn’t mean..."
Oz looked up at his silence and reached for his milk. "Doesn't mean what?"
"Doesn't mean he wouldn't hurt us anyway," Xander said, slowly. "If a person - a vampire - that doesn't have a soul doesn't hurt you - what's that mean?"
Oz studied him - drank his milk through a straw and ate some of the cubed jell-o on his tray, grimacing just a little. "I - dunno. Maybe it means... Souls aren't what we think."
"Yeah. Maybe." Xander shook his head. "I gotta get out of here. Don't - don't tell Willow I ditched, okay? She'll really be mad at me."
"I won't," Oz said. He stood up, collecting his tray. "You need a ride someplace?"
Xander looked into his eyes - darkly green, calm - knowing. Slowly shook his head. "Nah, that's okay. I'm just - just gonna go to the beach - get some quiet, you know?"
"Yeah sure." Xander got up and got his own tray - dumped it off and went to his locker, grabbing book-bag and overshirt and escaping the campus via a hole in the fence by the gym. A small group of goth-looking kids were hanging out there, smoking a joint. Pale powdered faces and black liner - black clothes and piercings and one guy with a strand of barbed wire tattooed around his neck. Xander walked by them, wondering. Did they want to be vampires? Or did they just want to be...soulless?
Xander pretended he didn't have any destination in mind - spent until five wandering the streets. He actually went to the beach and sat in the warm sand, but he couldn't settle. The mark in his palm - Jesse's ashes - seemed to itch and burn. Seemed to resent the sun, and the quiet. And Xander was just stalling - trying to resist the inevitable.
*Been a month. A fucking month...* A month since the spell, three weeks since Angel had lost his soul. An eternity, it seemed, since Xander had seen Spike or Dru. An eternity of time and all he'd thought about had been Dru's hands - Spike's mouth. Cold skin and cold mouths and warm, laughing eyes. *God... I am so fucking...stupid...* He stomped down the sidewalk, furious with himself - desperate.
Giles had said he'd burned the factory to the ground - had he? And - had the vampire's gotten out? Xander didn't want to care - *monsters, they hate us, want to kill us...* - but he did. He cared...too much. *Came and checked on me - said he wouldn't leave without...without seeing me. Holds me...* Xander shivered all over, remembering that. Remembering touch that was - so, so hard to get. That he didn't have enough of, ever. That he... *Would I die for it? If I keep messing around with them, I'm gong to die. They're going to...kill me or...turn me...* His stomach dropped at the thought, but his heart pounded in excitement and he stopped dead on the sidewalk, panting. Wanting, wanting so very badly. *Is it wrong? Am I wrong? Jesse...loved me. I loved him and we could have... We could have been okay. I don't - believe what Giles says. They just want to kill vampires - how can they know anything about them when all they do is kill them? Spike is different...he's different...*
The factory was blackened - cracked like an egg by the fire and Xander stood for a long moment and stared, sweat creeping down his back. *What if Angelus is in there?* Buffy hadn't killed him - again. She said he'd run away. *Just like before.* It was nearly six. The sun would be down soon, and he wouldn't have any safety at all. After a minute or so of silently nerving himself, Xander slipped into the door that was hanging open, half way off its hinges. The inside reeked of burnt wood and plastics - of scorched metal. Heaps of debris were still smoldering, here and there - the Sunnydale Fire Department had evidently not been called.
"Spike?" he croaked - cleared his throat and tried again, louder. "Spike? D-Drusilla? Are you here?" His heart jumped and pounded as his voice echoed back to him, but nothing - nothing else. *God - are they dead? I'd never know - nothing to find - ashes and shit everywhere here, anyway, oh god, god...* "Spike!"
There was noise at that - a sort of slithery, scraping sound and a moan and Xander jumped, gasping. "Who is it? Spike?"
"Hh - help -" Scratchy, raw voice off to his right somewhere and Xander darted that direction. The stairs were there - the stairs to the bedroom - maybe they'd been in bed? "Spike? Is that you? Where are you?" He stopped and waited - listened - and the voice came again, agonized.
"I'm coming! I’m coming -" Xander ran to the half-collapsed remains of a wall of machinery and finally - finally - something. Shape of a head - shoulders - arm - arms.... *Oh god -* Xander thought he might be sick. The arms ended in stumps below the elbow. Frantically he looked away, and saw that one leg was nothing but charred bone - the other was gone, right up to the thigh. "No - no - please don't be - please -"
"Help -" the voice whispered, and Xander's eyes darted up to the face - to a face. Not Spike - not Drusilla.
*Thank god, thank god, thank god -* For a moment Xander was so lightheaded he thought he'd pass out, but then he took a deep breath and crept closer. He stared at the fire-crisped skin and hazel eyes that swam with pain - at a mostly hairless skull that was peeling and bloody - raw. "Where - are they? Where's Spike?" The vampire writhed, reaching for him, and Xander flinched away - steeled himself and crouched down, watching the disfigured face ripple into its demonic aspect; that much more hideous for the terrible burns.
"I need - blood, just - a little blood -"
"I know. Tell me - where's Spike? Did - is he alive?"
"F-found a new place. Angelus - found a new place, m-moved everything out last night, said - come back f-for me. Please - please -"
"Yeah... " Xander set his book-bag down and started going through it - looking. "Where's the new place? I need to talk to Spike." Finding what he wanted, he turned back to the vampire who was inching closer with agonized little twisting movements, his truncated arms slipping on the filthy concrete.
"House. Big - house. C-c-crawford Street. Please, just - a little - won't - hurt you -"
"I know. You have to change back. I'll give you blood but - you have to be human, okay? I don't - don't want you to bite me." The vampire blinked, staring at him in confusion then the demon-face smoothed down and away, gone. "Okay...here we go... What's your name?" Xander opened his knife - Buck knife, that Jesse had given him for his birthday three years ago. His Uncle Rory had shown him how to sharpen it once and the edge gleamed, razor-thin and deadly.
"W-walt. I'm Walt."
"'K, Walt. Remember - don't bite." Walt nodded frantically and Xander duck-walked a few inches closer - carefully cut into his hand, the fleshy part just under his thumb. Walt surged upward and Xander put his hand to the vampire's mouth, letting him drink. Shuddering at the sensation of flow - of connection. The burned skin was sticky-hot under Xander's fingers and he let them curve gently, cupping the vampire's jaw. Walt made a groaning noise, licking and mouthing frantically, his eyes fluttering shut. Xander laid his knife down and pulled the stake out of his bag - brought it down, hard and precise. Walt jerked - dissolved - and Xander fell back, sitting down hard. He sat there for a long time, staring at the man-shaped layer of dust where Walt had been. Staring at the spattering of blood from his hand. The cut stopped bleeding after a while, and Xander got up stiffly - put stake and knife away, and shouldered his bag - turned and walked out. He knew where Crawford Street was, and he wanted to find the new place before it got dark.
"You're mad if you think she's not hunting you, Angelus. The Watcher nearly got you -"
"Fuck off, Spike. Of course she's hunting me - she's hunting all of us! And I'm not going to just sit here when the game's going so well."
Xander crouched in the weedy bushes that crowded around the foundations of the house, as close as he dared to a broken window. The swathing of dusty velvet drape obscured most of what was going on, but Xander had caught glimpses. Angel, limping and bruised; Spike shirtless, arm and back burned and Drusilla, who looked to be untouched. She was holding a doll, and singing softly.
"Bell horses, bell horses, what time of day? One o'clock, two o'clock, time to away..."
"Going well? Look at yourself, Angelus! You'll be days mending, and so will I! And it's sheer bloody fortune Dru wasn't hurt -" Spike's voice cut off abruptly and Xander edged carefully, carefully closer, trying to see more. Aware that the sun was rapidly setting - that soon the other vampires would probably be coming out of the house, if not Angel and Spike and Dru. He couldn't be there, but he...wanted to be. Had to be.
*Just want to know, just want to...to see...* To touch, that little voice whispered. Traitor-voice that made him shiver. But he did.
"I'm hungry. And I want to know what she's doing. I'm going. If you're too scared to come -"
"Oh, leave it, Angelus." Spike's voice sounded tired - tired to death - and Xander ducked and squinted fiercely - saw him, finally, indistinctly. Leaning wearily against the edge of a table, cigarette smoldering in one hand, the other slowly, slowly stroking through Dru's hair. "Just leave it. Go and do whatever you like. Maybe try killing the Slayer for once, yeah? Just - give me some peace." Xander watched Dru's slim hand come up and touch Spike's shoulder where he was burned - saw him shiver, and then lean forward to kiss her forehead.
"Time to away, my love," she said, and pushed her face into his, a little. "Time for little birds to come home to nest." She looked up at Spike - let her gaze wander over the room and settle for a moment on the window. She seemed to be staring straight at Xander and he froze, holding his breath. But then she looked away finally - slipped gently away from Spike and swayed across the floor - to Angel, Xander supposed. Her red skirt and bodice were edged in black and she looked like a gypsy dancer - moved like a slide of water over stone. "I'll bring you back something sweet and tender, Spike. A nice treat for tea to make you feel ever so much better."
"Thank you, poodle," Spike said, but his face was drawn with pain and tension - his voice hard.
"Come along, Daddy - we've things to do." Drusilla's voice turned wheedling and light - little-girl voice that made Spike wince. "I read the ashes last night, from all the burning - there's a secret - a surprise! Waiting for us. Time to go and get it."
"I love it when you do that," Angel said, laughter in his voice. "Can you just see that in your head? Like pictures?" Drusilla came back into view, hand in hand with Angel who smirked over at Spike and pulled her close, kissing her lingeringly. Drusilla leaned against Angel, gazing up at him.
"Blood will tell, Daddy."
"I'll paint the town with blood for you, Dru-darling. Make it scream." Dru giggled - looked fleetingly over at Spike who waved his hand, looking away. Xander watched them go - watched Spike smoke his cigarette. Another vamp - one with a burn across his face - approached slowly. Spike whipped his head around, snarling. Demon-face and demon-fangs, and the other vamp cringed, freezing on the spot and lowering his head.
"What the bloody fuck do you want?" Spike snapped, and the other vamp looked frantically around.
"We - uh - sun's down and we - we were just gonna go -"
"Yeah, right." Spike interrupted him. He looked around himself - sighed, shaking his head. "Just go. Do what you have to do but don't make a bloody spectacle of yourselves. Keep an eye out." The vamp nodded and scurried away, others following and after a moment Xander could hear them, coming out of the door at the back of the house, where Xander - circling to find a place to look in - had seen a sunken garden and a fountain. After a few minutes everything was silent again. Spike just smoked - tossed the butt away when he was done and sighed, leaning back on the un-burnt arm and staring up at the ceiling. Xander slipped away from the window and went around the side of the house - hesitated at the double French doors.
"You don't need an invite, little cuckoo," Spike said, and Xander went inside, dropping his book bag. He walked slowly across the room - stone floor and tall ceilings and heavy, dark furniture.
"I know. I just...didn't..." Xander stopped a few feet away from Spike, looking at the burns - looking at the rest of Spike's skin. How white it was, next to the redness of the damaged skin. Wanting.
"Didn't know if..."
"If what, pet?" Spike turned his head finally - looked at him, and Xander couldn't breathe for a moment.
"If...I should. You - haven't been around..." Spike just kept looking at him and Xander felt the blood rushing to his face - felt hot and miserable and stupid. He willed his feet to turn him around - get him out - and then Spike tipped his head to one side a little, contemplating him. Held out his hand, and Xander thought he might be sick.
"C'mon, pet. Come here." Xander walked slowly, slowly to him - stood there, while Spike's fingers reached out and gently combed through his hair - petted it, just as he had petted Drusilla's hair not long before. "Been tryin' to keep Angelus from getting us all dusted, haven't I? He's come back...all wrong, pet. Not himself. Doing things that..." Spike sighed and his hand fell away, and Xander moved a little closer - reached out, very slowly, and laid his hand on Spike's knee.
"You don't...want him around?" Spike snorted softly - took Xander's hand and tugged him closer, until Xander was standing between Spike's thighs. Xander let his hands settle lightly on Spike's hips, his fingertips just brushing the cool skin right below his ribs.
"No, I don't. He's...makin' Dru unhappy, too." Spike seemed particularly angry about that, but the kiss the other two had shared made Xander think that 'unhappy' was maybe not the word.
"Buffy's going to kill him if she can." Xander leaned just a little, looking at the burns that ringed Spike's left shoulder and bicep - licked around behind, over his shoulder blade and ribs, just a little. Red and rippled and blistered, but not too awful.
"If she can. Do you think she can? She hasn't yet." Spike's hands were on Xander's waist, as well - pulling him a little closer. Sniffing delicately at his neck - his hair. "You smell like burning. Where have you been?"
"I went to the factory. I wanted to make sure that -" Xander choked on the thought of that vampire - Walt. Imagining if it had been Spike. Or Dru. Could he have killed them? "There was - you left s-somebody -" Spike went still and then he pushed Xander back, just a little.
"You saw somebody there?" He looked - pissed off.
"Yeah, there was - another vamp and he was really hurt. I - I -" Suddenly Spike grabbed Xander's hand and yanked it up - stared at it, then put his mouth over the cut, his cool tongue lapping over the tight, burning line. Xander shuddered, his eyes going closed and then fluttering open.
"You gave him your blood?" Spike's voice was soft but his eyes had gone the color of old gold, and fangs prickled at Xander's hand, holding him very still.
"He - he was really - fucked up. I let him have a little and while he was - was drinking I - staked him." Spike just stared at him, and Xander felt that same miserable feeling - humiliation and fear - longing. "He told me where you'd moved to."
"Shouldn't ever get close to a vamp that's that hurt, cuckoo. He could have killed you."
"He didn't - have any hands, he -" Xander stopped, shuddering, because that could have been Spike, that could have been Dru, hair burnt off and dancing limbs gone, just gone. *Like Walt's gone - like Jesse is, nothing left but ashes and dust, nothing to show...* His eyes were burning and he squeezed them shut - started in surprise when he felt cool lips on his own. Spike kissed him then - slow invasion of cold lips and tongue - teeth like ice-slivers pressing into his mouth. Spike's arms came up and around him - hiss of pain into Xander's mouth and then kissing again, slow and sweet. Cool arms enfolding him, cool chest under his and the heat and misery and confusion seemed to sluice away, and Xander just rested there. *He's alive. He's here. With me...*
Bell Horses - Mother Goose