Beauty Effulgent

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Fear roared in Spike’s head and he attempted to shake it away. He hadn’t shown fear when he’d faced down three slayers, hadn’t let himself feel it any of the times Angel had tried to wring it from him, and he wasn’t going to let it dissolve him into a blithering mess now just because a lost slip of a girl and a scared, angry boy were forcing it from him.

Still, nothing short of dying was going to keep him from getting back to the Summers’ house faster than inhumanly possible. He hadn’t lost Dawn and he hadn’t forced Xander into crawling into his mind to hide. Wasn’t his betrayal, and fearing that it was wouldn’t change it. He’d kept his promises, now he just had to suss out a way to change the things he couldn’t control.

He looked back behind him to where Xander followed, the darkness of early morning obscuring everything but the blank shimmer of Xander’s eyes, the pale gleam of his fingers on Spike’s arm.

Spike slowed as the lights from the house broke from the trees around them. The porch was empty and silent, and Xander’s slow and careful steps to meet him thudded hollowly in the midnight quiet around them.

Spike’s hand closed over the door handle and some dim part of his brain registered the memory of Dawn carefully locking it, despite the easy way it turned in his hand. Xander started to drift away from him, and Spike reached out and fisted a hand in his shirt front. Xander swayed slightly, and Spike tightened his grip, jerking Xander back to him on one side and snapping the door handle cleanly in half with the other.

Spike grunted quietly and then shoved the door open, slamming it against the far wall as he strode into the foyer, dragging Xander behind him. The house lights were still on, flickering hope, but he couldn’t remember if Dawn had turned them off before they’d left.

“Dawn!” Spike glanced over at Xander, equally searching for and hoping not to a find a reaction to the undercurrent of terror shadowing the command in his voice.

Xander’s face remained blank, his eyes meeting Spike’s with the same dull sheen they turned on the rest of the familiar room.

Spike turned away, unable to read anything in that blank stare and afraid of how deep that emptiness went. Even at her weakest, Spike had always been able to read Dru's eyes, see the brilliance that danced just beyond, out of reach of the madness. Xander, however…

But he didn’t have time for this, any of it. No matter how deeply buried Xander was, or what had forced him to crawl in and find a place to hide to begin with, at least he was here, and whole, at his side. Let Willow sort him out, Spike nodded to himself, because there were other things, and morning was coming sooner than answers, leaving him with things he couldn’t change and forcing him away from the things he could.

“Dawn!” And he felt her, he knew he did, part of it human and half-remembered, the sense of a presence, and part of it something other – a knowing, and not just a hope, that she was here.


Xander felt Spike’s hand loosen on his wrist and he followed Spike’s gaze to the top of the stair where Dawn stood, looking down at both of them. She eased slowly down the steps, not taking them two at once this time, her steps slow and measured, eyeing them hesitantly.

Xander’s eyes lowered and he followed the scuff of her feet against the carpet runner. He felt Spike brush past him, tension even Xander could feel radiating as Spike stopped at the foot of the stairs and looked up at Dawn.

“Thank God,” Spike growled, his hand closing around the banister, the wood creaking. “You…”

Xander heard the words thicken in Spike’s throat, and then Spike’s voice was rising, a blustering anger that Xander knew covered for something darker, something deeper.

“I could kill you,” Spike continued, his eyes not leaving Dawn.

“Spike,” she said quietly as she reached the bottom of the stairs.

“I mean it. I could rip your head off one-handed and drink from your brain stem.”

Dawn ignored Spike’s bluster and edged closer, stopping just short of him. They both stilled, looking at one another, and Xander watched as Spike’s anger seemed to go to a place somewhere so far beyond mere rage that it became an eerie sort of calm. Dawn lost her jittery, hesitant motion, transformed somehow, then reached out, resting a hand on Spike's sleeve.

They stood there silently for a moment, staring at one another, Dawn’s face calm and imploring, and Spike losing all tension and just easing into her touch.

Xander cocked his head, watching them as if this was some sort of performance they were holding for his benefit, their voices rising and falling with unheard words, eyes meeting in a way Xander couldn’t understand.

Free of all worry and understanding, he just stared at them, finding them almost strangers. Seeing for the first time the woman that Dawn would be someday, calm and sure. Spike dropping the armor he wore as easily as that coat, becoming just a man, unsure and unguarded. Looking at Dawn as if she had the answers to questions that had remained unanswered so long he’d stopped asking them.

Both so unaware of him that Xander edged closer, wondering idly if this was what it had been like with Buffy and Spike in those moments hidden from the rest of them. Spike needing someone to treat him like a man, and Buffy…

“Spike…Xander,” Dawn said, looking between them, and Xander’s head jerked toward her. Her eyes hadn’t really met his yet, she didn’t know about his bubble of numb, didn’t know what he’d…something wrong, something she wouldn’t…and then everything around them thrummed. Xander shook his head, hearing Dawn’s voice again, seeing Spike turn, his eyes finding Xander’s and the tension flowing back.

“Look,” she said softly, and Xander’s gaze left Spike, following Dawn’s up the stairway and…

White. She was wearing white. Just like the first time he’d ever seen her – and the last.


Spike tore his gaze away from Xander, sparing a glance toward the stairs where both Dawn and Xander stared, transfixed. “Yeah? Seen the bloody ‘Bot before…”

And then her eyes met his, and he knew.

Dawn turned away from him, her hand dropping from his arm and reaching for Buffy. “She's kind of, um...she's been through a lot...with the...death. But I think she's okay.”

Spike stared at two of them, his throat working, all of the things he’d wanted to say, to take back, to promise, rushing through him. I want you to know I did save you. Not when it counted, of course, but...after that. Every night after that. I'd see it all something different. Faster or more clever. Dozens of times, lots of different ways...Every night I save you.

When the words came, they were deepened, rough and unplanned. “Her hands.”

Dawn’s hands fluttered around Buffy now, unable to settle, hesitant, as if touching Buffy would make her disappear. “Um, I was gonna fix 'em. I don't know how they got like that.”

Spike nodded slowly. “I do. Clawed her way out of a coffin, that's how. Innit that right?”


Spike’s eyes had never left Buffy, but Xander’s never left Spike.

At first he’d thought that Buffy was just part of his bubble universe, his mind letting him see the things he wanted to see. A world where Buffy came walking back to him, and it was okay this time – none of the horror of his walking nightmares since the day Willow had promised she could make it happen. A world where Spike still stood by his side while they smiled up at Buffy, just happy to have her back and sharing a laugh at the joy bursting from Dawn’s face…

But Spike had stepped toward Buffy, the words, “Done it myself,” falling from his lips and then everything burst around Xander. It wasn’t Technicolor surround-sound, it was flat and human and real.

Dawn’s hair wild around her face, dirt-smudged and childish, not a woman on the brink, but a little girl who’d been given her greatest wish and terrified of losing it again. Spike, eyes wild and staring, focused on Buffy’s face and Xander had gotten his wish, too, lost in the mix again and unthought-of.

Clawed her way out of a coffin.

Everything he’d risked, all the words he’d been afraid of saying all summer, staring down Willow and maybe losing her as he said them – and for this. It wasn’t some glorious return, Buffy rushing to hug him, knowing his grief somehow, and easing it.

Somehow, despite everything, they’d brought her back to life. Right where they’d left her – in her coffin.

He watched as Spike shook his head, taking another step toward Buffy.

“Um...We'll take care of you. Come here.” Spike’s hand hovered above her shoulder, and Xander watched it tremble and then drop away, gesturing her toward the living room and then nodding to Dawn. “Get some stuff, uh, mercurochrome, bandages.”

Dawn nodded and jogged toward the kitchen. Xander stared after her and then stood there, hearing everything now; Spike’s voice a deep rumble and Buffy’s answers quiet, the sound just a murmur.

Xander turned walked toward the door, his hand reaching for it and then staring dumbly at the broken handle. No choice, no escape, unable to lock himself back into his mind or unlock the door that lead away from this –

And then the door flew open and Willow rushed into him, her hands gripping his shoulders, her eyes bright as she stared up at him. “Is she here?”

Tara brushed past them, her movements quick and nervous as she stopped in the doorway of the living room, her breath leaving her in a rush. “Sh-she’s here.”

“Oh, Xander, it worked! It must have…I don’t know, it doesn’t matter, but it worked – Tara and I saw them, Dawn and Buffy – on the tower! And we ran and we yelled but they must not have heard us and then we weren’t sure…I tried to find you and tell you, but then we came here, just in case, and…” Willow’s words stopped abruptly as she looked at him, stilling.

“Xander.” She swallowed hard and stepped back from him slightly. “You were right. And, yeah, I know, easy for me to say now, but you were and I have to tell you – Tara and I talked and, god, Xander, I was so wrong, everything you said, and,” her eyes searched his, but Xander just looked back at her, silent and waiting.

“And I’m sorry,” she said softly. “I know that doesn’t…make up for…but I can make this right, I know I,” she sighed, dropping her gaze. “And I’m doing it again, huh?” She met Xander’s gaze firmly. “I don’t know if I can make this right, but as long as Buffy’s okay, we can figure something out.”

She reached for his hand carefully; as if afraid he’d pull it back. “And what I said about you and Spike, I was wro-”

“Will,” Xander said quietly, reaching up to brush her hair back from her cheek. “It’s okay. You did it and…” Xander glanced back toward the living room. “Everything is just like it used to be.”

His hand fell away from her and he reached for the door, slamming it open and then walking out into the darkness.


“Buffy! Are you okay?”

Spike dropped Buffy’s hands as Willow and Tara ran into the room. He stood, looking down at Buffy for a moment and then glanced toward Xander, frowning when he found the foyer empty, the door hanging open.

He glanced back toward Dawn as she spoke.

“You knew she was back? How did you know?” Dawn stared at Willow and Tara, her eyes widening. “You did this…what did you do?”

Willow tore her eyes away from Buffy and turned a cautious gaze toward Dawn. “A…a spell. We did a spell. We didn’t think it worked…”

Spike's jaw tightened and he whirled away from them and headed toward the door.

“Spike, wait!”

Spike spun around, looking at Willow. His throat seized shut at the look in her eyes, bright and dancing; fear warring with happiness, with pride, on her face.

“You,” he said thickly, advancing on her, finding a dark joy in the way she immediately trembled and stepped back from him. “You green girl. The one who would smile, and smile, and be a villain.”

Willow shook her head. “Spike…what? No, I –”

“You shut me out,” he said carefully as anger coiled and the chip buzzed in warning. “You knew there was a chance that she'd…that she’d come back wrong. So wrong that you'd have...” Spike dropped his head and then glanced back at Buffy, silent and still between Tara and Dawn as they reached for her with careful hands. His voice lowered, anger restrained. “That you would have to get rid of what came back. And you knew I wouldn't let you. If any part of that was Buffy, I wouldn't let you.”

“No!” Willow said quickly, casting her own look back at Buffy. “That’s not…” her voice grew small. “We just didn’t tell you.” She looked down at her hands. “And I know that was…wrong. That I should have. But I couldn’t, and I thought everything would be okay, that she once she was back, everything would –”

Spike shook his head, backing away. “Confess yourself to heaven – not to me. You think you know what you’ve done, what wrongs you have to make right. But you haven’t even…that’s the thing about magic, there’s always consequences.”

He reached the door and looked back at her. “And when sorrows come, they come in bloody battalions.”

Xander concentrated on the feel of the shovel in his hands, the wooden handle digging into his cut palms as he used the vague grey outline of the headstone to guide him in the darkness.

He looked down at the grave, and at the place where the ground opened from it. It wasn’t a large opening, but then, Buffy was so small…

Xander swallowed and looked away. Away from the overturned earth, scattered with bits of white satin lining that Tara had sewn so carefully and that Anya had helped him nail inside the coffin without a word of complaint.

He looked instead at the headstone. She saved the world – a lot. He couldn’t even remember which of them had thought of that, but he did remember that it had almost made Dawn smile.

He dropped the head of the shovel down, tapping against the shards of wood that poked up from the ground. She clawed her way through that. Three months of Sundays they’d stood at this grave, and the one time she’d really needed them to be here, they’d…no, Xander thought, shaking his head, he’d let her down.

He stood over her grave, the shovel in his hands and feeling like time had slammed him back, back to the night he and Giles had dug it, knowing they were going to have to put Buffy in it, and away from them. Not knowing at the time that he’d come back here again and again, hiding from himself even with the others. The times alone when it served as a purpose; the one thing that he could still do for her now that there was nothing else. Others when he came just because it was her…or all he had left of her. And now, Sunday again, and it was just a hole.

Time slammed him back, taking away the grief that had dogged him each time he stood in this place. She was back, and all things had become new, nothing left but a hole, just as if this grief, this summer, had never happened. As if none of it had.

Xander lifted the shovel in his hands, forcing the tip of it down on the wood and shoving it back beneath the earth. The shovel rose again, dirt falling with a hollow sound back into the grave as Xander filled it.

The snick of a lighter sounded behind him, unnaturally loud in the silence and Xander’s hands tightened on the shovel handle. When Spike spoke, his voice was low and carefully measured.

“What are you doing?”

Xander’s eyes squeezed shut and he didn’t bother to turn around. He focused instead on the weight of the shovel in his hands and the sound of the dirt falling from it. “Fixing a hole.”

Spike chuckled, but it was dirty sound, dark and strangled from his throat. “Well, I walked right into that one, didn’t I? So…” Xander heard the rustle of Spike’s duster behind him, leather boots creaking as steps grew nearer, “you’re back to talking to me, then?”

“Yeah,” Xander answered, with a humorless laugh of his own. “Sorry about that back there – just kind of…” he shrugged. “It was a thing.”

“Lot of that going on tonight,” Spike agreed.

Xander heard the leaves crunch as Spike moved around him, edging the sides of grave and stopping just behind the headstone. Xander glanced up to see long, slender fingers curve around the rough hewn edges of the marble and drum against it lightly.

“You know, I think I figured it out,” Spike said.

Xander’s gaze left Spike’s hands and lifted slowly, his breath stuttering in his chest when he saw the dried tears on Spike’s cheeks, and the look of utter bitterness on his face.

“Willow didn’t want me to know, and you were my distraction, right?” Spike continued. “Took one for the team?” He lifted the cigarette to his mouth and inhaled deeply, his voice coming low and husky as he exhaled. “Well, I’ll be sure to tell them how sweet you took it.”

Xander wasn’t sure what surprised him more, the ability to laugh at that or the harsh, ugly tone it had as it left his lips.

“Right,” he said, nodding. “I was your distraction.” He looked away from Spike, lifting and filling the shovel again. “You know, Spike, for someone’s who survived for over a hundred years by cunning and impulse alone, you’re surprisingly predictable. How very like you to run after me to get your…what? Pound of flesh? Instead of staying to...”

Xander’s voiced trailed away on words even now best left unsaid. He shook his head, his smile a bitter mockery. “You just don’t know how to be happy, Spike.”

Spike snorted. “Look who’s talking. Don’t see you all piled up with them back there,” he said with a nod toward the lights of town, “braiding hair and trading secrets.”

Xander looked away, the thought of curling up between Buffy and Willow at this moment unfathomable. Buffy alive and thanking them for everything they’d done to make that happen, and then finding out what he had…He looked back down at the grave, and the purple-black slivers of the urn that gleamed in the moonlight.

“You knew,” Spike said suddenly, the mocking tone dropping from his voice. “You brought her back and you didn't tell me.”

“Well, now you know,” Xander said. He hid the wince that followed that, because of all the times he’d manage casual, to sound cool and unaffected, this had to be it.

“All summer,” Spike said, his eyes not leaving Xander. “I worked beside you, patrolled, watched Dawn, listened to you and Willow blather on and on about how things were going to be now, how we we going to handle them. Shared your flat, shared your bloody…”

Spike stopped and Xander sighed quietly, letting the shovel fall to the ground. “You’re just covering, Spike.” He looked up, meeting Spike’s angry glare. “Look me in the eyes, and tell me when you saw Buffy alive, that wasn't the happiest moment of your entire existence.”

A muscle twitched in Spike’s cheek and his lips tightened, but his eyes never left Xander’s, everything he felt laid bare and open.

Xander’s eyes widened and then he stumbled back as Spike leapt over the headstone, boots crunching against the exposed coffin as he walked toward Xander.

“Guess I should have seen it, really,” Spike said as he reached out with a negligent hand and grabbed a fist full of Xander’s shirt, holding him there. “Knew there was something, of course, but I just figured that was you – letting go of the old ways and trying to find that darkness within. With me. Worried, too, all summer, ‘bout keepin’ a promise, protecting Dawn. ‘Til the end of the world,” he said with a soft laugh. “But it wasn’t just me keepin’ promises, was it? Crawlin’ out of my bed without a word and running to Willow, making your plans to bring her back.” Spike scoffed, dipping his head mockingly. “Slayer’s Loyal to the end.”

Xander wrenched out of Spike’s grip and shoved him away. “Loyal?” He spun around back to the grave, his hands digging through dirt and shards of wood until he found what he wanted. He held a piece of the urn in his fingers, the edges sharp and slashing into his hand. “Buffy didn’t do this, Spike.”

He flipped the chipped pottery toward Spike, smiling grimly as Spike caught it in the air. “That one was all me. Yeah, I knew. Willow told me, but that was after you and I…” Xander shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. I knew, and I didn’t tell you, but that’s not the worst I’ve done.”

He nodded toward the grave. “I came out here with Willow and Tara tonight, lit the candles, made enough noise to wake the dead. All in the name of what was right – we had to bring her back, had to fix everything. Because Willow could. But you know what, Spike? I couldn’t.” He laughed bitterly. “I talked a good game, though, shoulda been there. All the reasons why it wasn’t right, and not what Buffy wanted. But Willow still wouldn’t stop, because she had her reasons, and despite what we did or didn’t do, her heart was in the right place.”

Xander took a deep breath. “So I grabbed that,” he said, nodding to the shard in Spike’s hand, “and I smashed it. Slammed it into the ground, right where we put Buffy. And all along, I told myself it was the right thing to do. That lasted right up until the part where I couldn’t claw my way out of myself, like she had to from that grave. And you want to know why? Because even if they were the right reasons, and what we did was wrong, I knew deep down that part of me was doing it because of you.”

Xander looked up at Spike silently, swallowing hard. “Because if she came back, I’d have watch you crawl out of my bed without a word and run to her. And I have to live with that.” Xander licked his lips and then shook his head. “So I’m not the Loyal, Spike. I’m the fuck-up. But when we walked into that house and I saw her come down those stairs…” Xander’s jaw lifted and he met Spike’s eyes evenly. “Best fuck-up I’ve ever made in my life.”

Spike stared back at Xander and then looked down at the chip of pottery in his hand. He ran his fingers across a jagged edge as he turned it over, looking at the smooth, curved underside, still stained with blood. Knowing it for what it was; the dark magic rising from it almost a stench.

“You did this for me,” Spike said softly. He looked at Xander again and then flung the chip away, the sound of it as it shattered against the headstone causing Xander to jerk and step back.

“Well, at least now you’re telling your lies to my face,” Spike continued. He walked forward until Xander was forced to stop, his back between Spike and the open grave. “You did this for you,” he said, with a glance toward the grave. “A bit for her, maybe, but mostly for you. And you thought you’d never have to be man enough to tell me the truth of it, because I’m not supposed to be here, am I, Xander?”

Xander said nothing and Spike scoffed, “Not part of your plan, was it? I’m supposed to be…what? On bended knee before the Slayer, eyes cast down as I explain our little…dalliance as the truest expression of my grief?” Spike snorted.

“You love her.” Xander’s voice was dark and gritty and Spike hadn’t seen that mixture of pain and anger mar his face since the night the boy had shambled his way into a crypt and demanded whiskey for his troubles and ended up getting more than he’d bargained for.

Spike stepped back slightly and Xander continued, “Buffy. Can’t deny it, Spike, because you told me so yourself. ‘Never doubt you love,’” Xander said, laughing bitterly. “Guess I play things a little closer to the chest than you do, though, because you might not have known we were bringing her back, but I never doubted for a second what you’d do the moment we had.”

Spike stared at Xander incredulously and then lunged forward, grabbing Xander’s chin and kissing him angrily. It was a brief kiss, passionless in its intensity and so dry and spare that Spike licked his lips as he broke it.

That’s all I ever had of Buffy, you dim bastard,” he said, forcing Xander to look at him. “A kiss of peace – a kiss of payment. But you’d know all about that, right? Gave me the big payoff all summer.”

Spike chuckled, trying to force answers from the look of shock on Xander’s face, waiting for awareness to dawn and finding nothing in the darkness but doubt. “Don’t know what you thought it was like between me and the Slayer, but…shared your bed, Harris, and in the end, I guess Buffy was the one that treated me like a man. Least she was honest about how little I meant to her.”

Spike swallowed hard. “She treated me like a man,” he repeated, looking away. “But you made me feel like one, and I can’t forgive that.”

One hundred forty-seven days yesterday, hundred forty-eight today,” Xander quoted dully.

Spike’s head jerked and then Xander was on him, hands fisted into the collar of Spike’s duster, forcing Spike to look at him.

“Yeah, I heard you. Right down to the second, wasn’t it? You shared my bed,” Xander nodded, “counting down the days. Did you glance at the clock when it turned over midnight and ticked off another day while I was inside you? How about that, Spike?”

A slow smile spread over Spike’s face and widened as he saw that it caused Xander’s anger to waver uncertainly. “Yeah,” he said softly, “that’s it. There’s the man I was looking for.”

Xander’s hands loosened on Spike’s jacket, and Spike backed away, nodding. “Knew the exact day, the exact hour she jumped. First ‘cause it was the single most painful moment of my entire existence,” he said with a pointed look at Xander. “But I don’t have to tell you that, mate, you were there. You know how that was. But what you don’t know is that something…changed. Shifted, like.”

Xander was a dim shadow against the pale glow of the headstone and Spike eyed him carefully. “Before the chip, I didn’t care about much,” he said simply. “Loved Dru, loved bein’ a vampire more. The thrill, the rush, the crunch. Loved being something other, not having to care. And then there was the chip…” he shrugged slowly and then reached into his pockets for his cigarettes. “And then there was Buffy. Soon as that was, though, she was gone. Become a vampire, you've got nothing to fear. But then I did. And that’s you, love.”

Spike lit the cigarette, drawing on it slowly and watching every expression that flitted across Xander’s face. “Never had to put much thought into loving Buffy, beyond the ‘oh, dear God,’ moment, that is. Tried to force it a couple of times, but never got what was I was anglin’ for. Got somethin’ else, though. Got her mum, her little sis, treatin’ me with respect. And sometimes her, too.” Spike smiled sadly.

“Coulda left once she was gone, you know. Except for a promise I made. Buffy dyin’ didn’t break that promise, only forced me to want to keep it. Keepin’ Dawn safe, and the rest of you lot just sort of fell in there. But then there you were – eyes like holes, drillin’ into me, seein’ me. Wanting me,” Spike finished with a sigh.

Spike drew deeply on his cigarette and waited for Xander to speak. He wasn’t sure how much longer he could do this, or even how much longer he wanted to do this. The anger at Xander’s betrayal was still a steady thrum, fists clenching and unclenching. But this was one Why? he had to figure out, hear answered. Wouldn’t cost him anything he hadn’t already lost, either way.

“Should’ve stayed away, I ‘spose,” Spike continued lightly as Xander didn’t answer. He grinned slightly. “But you were just so much…fun, Harris. No matter how hard I pushed, you bore up and shoved back. And then you weren’t shoving me away, so I stayed. Pushed you hard, though, tryin’ to get you to find that darkness, the man beneath. Knew what you were runnin’ from, hadn’t wanted to feel it myself. All that bloody nobility Buffy seemed…seems to inspire. Caring’s a bitch, innit? So I watched you trying to break away from all of it, running from yourself and hiding with me. Because you could, and she was gone. But now she’s back.”

Spiked dropped his cigarette and crushed it into the ground beneath his feet. He looked up at Xander, brow arched. “Changes the game a bit, doesn’t it?”

Xander stood as he had, feet poised on the lip of the grave, and tried to play all of that back in his head. There was too much, though, and most of it felt like Spike was fishing for something. So he tried to pare it down, get the basics, the meat, as Spike would say.

All of the reasons Spike had let this happen, this summer, and despite the way things stood now, he realized it had happened. Whether Buffy was back or not and all the wrongs and rights he’d done in making that so, everything Spike had outlined had happened between them. And Spike, of course, once again saw too much. Things Xander had kept hidden laid bare in Spike’s words – the fear and the guilty pleasures of this summer, and the joy at not having to be the heart of everything.

The knowledge that Spike knew Xander had been trying to hide in him, whether he knew everything Xander had been running from or not. And then clarity popped like just as he had earlier tonight from his scramble of fear when he’d seen Buffy walk down those stairs. Buffy was back…and Spike was here.

And once clarity decides to party, it evidently settles in for an all-nighter, because Xander reexamined that statement and stumbled back, almost pitching into the grave behind before Spike’s hand shot out to steady him.

“Buffy’s back,” Xander said, his lips falling open and his hands trembling at his sides. “Buffy’s alive.”

“Well, yeah,” Spike drawled slowly. He cocked his head, his expression inscrutable; as if this was the path least likely he’d expected Xander to choose. Spike nodded toward the boards that cracked under Xander’s feet as he gained his footing and backed away from the grave. “Not quite a rolled away stone, that, but as far as harbingers go, it’s one of the more obvious ones.”

Xander shook his head. “Buffy…I didn’t get a chance…” he looked at Spike and swallowed. “I didn’t see. Is she okay? I mean, did she seem like…Buffy?”

A shadow crossed Spike’s face and then he shrugged. “Didn’t try to eat my brains, if that’s what you’re asking. Seemed okay; best as can be expected.” He looked at Xander for a moment and then said, “But you’re obviously not, since you didn’t go for the easy brain eating set-up I just handed you.”

Xander stared at him in horror for a minute and then laughed. Laughter felt strange in this place, but Xander didn’t stop to examine it.

He gave Spike a brief smile. “Too easy.”

Spike’s eyes on him were suddenly too expectant; looking for things that Xander was afraid weren’t there. He turned away from it, and back toward the grave. Stepping away from Spike, he crouched down and lifted the shovel off of the grave, uncovering the hole he’d half-filled.

“The thing, though, bigger than you and me and what happened this summer, and bigger than the apology you’re trying to stare out of me…” Xander turned his head and looked back at Spike. “Right?”

Spike dipped his head. “One of the things I’m waiting for, anyway.”

Xander frowned and turned back to the grave. “The thing is,” he said carefully, “where does grief go? I mean, how do you go from grief to joy and back in a second? Everything we felt all summer…does it mean anything? And Buffy never saw any of that – all that time, it never happened for her. She was dead, and it was wrong, and then we were trying to be bring her back, and it was wrong and now she’s back and I just feel…I feel like I can’t just…shut off all those things I felt this summer. I mean, I watched her fall, and I held her in my arms, and then she was here,” he said, waving at the grave. “And that’s all she was. So now she’s supposed to be undead? It just makes all of that stuff, all those feelings seem…meaningless.”

Xander chuckled, dropping his head and shaking it. “And I know how that sounds – like I’m feeling bad that my best friend’s not dead.” He turned around to look at Spike. “Stupid, huh?”

Spike stared at him for a moment and then shrugged. “Not stupid. Bit wrong-headed, but you’re only human. Death is just as malleable as life, love. Maybe not from your perspective, but I’m the unliving proof of it. I don’t believe in destiny, or fate, or any of that rot, lived too long to see things as a divinity shaping our end, but some things are without explanation. They just are, Xander.”

And Xander felt it again, that tug from Spike, that expectation. As if he were supposed to be giving something, and not just a clumsy apology for things that couldn’t be swept away with ‘sorry.’ Irritated beyond reason, he snorted softly. “Yeah, I guess I shouldn’t be looking to a vampire to understand the black and white of life and death, huh?”

“I may be a vampire, but, baby, you’re the walking dead.”

Xander spun around to see Spike behind him, and close, eyes burning into his with all of the anger that Xander had just sensed beneath the surface. “You protected her death,” Spike said with a glance toward the headstone and then looked back at Xander. “Now what are you going to do with her life? Or is that it, Xander? Buffy was gone, and you got to be the man, and now she’s back and you’re…”

Xander shoved Spike away from him and started to get to his feet. His breath left him in a rush as Spike slammed into him, his chest taking the brunt of Spike’s weight as they fell back onto the grave and the ruptured coffin cracked ominously beneath them.

“Pushed for it all summer, didn’t I, Xander?” Spike lay half atop Xander, his hands plunged into the dirt and grass on either side of them, keeping them both from being impaled on the shattered wood below. “Trying to get you to be the man I knew you were inside. Bit dark, but noble despite all of that. Show you how to figure a way to be both, let you find the man underneath the fear. Get you to take what you wanted. Now I’m bloody givin’ it to you with both hands, and you’re still hiding behind the Slayer.”

Xander licked his lips, his body motionless as Spike slithered over him and the ground trembled around them. “I’m not hiding, Spike. You wanted to know, and now you do. I’m not hiding anything.”

“Oh, no?” Spike asked softly. His hips twisted and he grinned at the rush of breath that left Xander. “Explain to me then why part of you just wants to run back to that house, back to Buffy and your mates and spend the rest of your life not looking me in the eye and hoping I’ll just go away.” Spike dropped his full weight on Xander, his hands digging deeper in the earth so that he could drag their bodies together. “And part of you is just begging me to fuck you on the Slayer’s empty grave.”

Xander’s anger faded and he laughed softly. “Maybe I am. Both. Maybe. But even if this is something we both want, we’re the only ones who will want it.” Xander felt the ground shift beneath them as Spike’s hips shuddered against his again and groaned. “Might want to watch the thrusting, buddy, you’re in more danger from the poky sticks than I am. Fuck you on the Slayer’s grave,” he snorted. “Nice. Rip that one off of Angelus?”

Spike grinned down at him. “Vampire, remember? Kinky.”

Xander sighed. “So my neck reminds me.” He sobered. “Seriously, Spike, even if we figure out a way to dig ourselves out of this mess we’re in, we’re not the only ones who’re gonna have to deal.”

“Xander…” Spike jumped up, his hand latched around Xander’s wrist and pulling them both to their feet. “Buffy’s back, and yeah, seems mostly all there,” he said bluntly. “But even if she’s not been tainted, somehow, by where she’s been, you’ve all got bigger things to worry about than how everyone’s gonna react to what you and I were getting up to during her little dirt nap. Or what you even want to do. Not your fight, wasn’t it?”

Xander thought about being able to turn away now. Now that Buffy was back, and Giles would return and the good fight would come out swinging again. Down, but not out.

“Seems like you’ve got a few choices, really,” Spike said. “Head back to Slayer Central and stand at Buffy’s side again, with or without me.” Spike looked at him thoughtfully. “Or you can be out – for real this time.” Spike nodded back toward the road. “Gas up the car, kiss the Niblet goodbye and hit the road, find somewhere without girls with pointy sticks and monsters in the night. But that one…” he took a step toward Xander, his voice lowering. “That one you do without me. Because if all the reasons you’ve been hiding from me are true, then we’ve got a fight on our hands.” Spike grinned slowly. “And I’ve never run from a fight.”

“I’m staying,” Xander said firmly, this time not waiting for Spike to ask him what he wanted. Buffy was back…and Spike was here. Clarity was a beautiful thing. “Buffy’s going to need...I mean, I always knew I'd be there for Buffy, right up till the end, and you’re right – that one’s not all about me. And Willow,” Xander winced slightly. “That’s going to be a conversation. Although she said that you as far as you and I went…” Xander shrugged, his head ducked.

“Think Willow’s figured out that the one thing she needs to worry about having control over right now is herself.” Spike looked at him thoughtfully. “You sure about this, Xander? You can stay running scared, but that isn’t the man I came here tonight to find. I wanted the man who took what he wanted, who stood up to someone he loved even when he thought it could mean losing everything. The man I…”

Spike stopped and looked at Xander silently.

“The man you what?” Xander asked quietly.

Spike gave Xander an appraising look and then shook his head. “No, you don’t deserve the words.” He moved closer, the expectation back in his eyes as they stared fiercely into Xander’s. “The man who deserves them would take them.”

Xander took a deep breath. He looked back at the grave, all of the fear stirring, eager to rush back and then turned back to Spike, everything that this was between them, whatever it was, honest and open. “I’m in it for the fight, but I don’t know if this is love, Spike. Love isn’t betrayal, and…and fucking and fighting and not knowing if it’s all just…”

Xander broke off as Spike chuckled softly.

Spike reached up, his hands cupping the back of Xander’s neck and drawing him forward until their lips were a breath apart. “Xander, this is the very ecstasy of love.”


Some dialogue references from BtVS “After Life.” Many, many references from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It was a…thing.

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