Beauty Effulgent

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Sunday Morning Coming Down


But I took the sweet life, I never knew I'd be bitter from the sweet
I've spent my life exploring the subtle whoring that costs too much to be free
Hey lady...
I've been to paradise,
But I've never been to me…

Xander’s hand shot out, cutting the alarm off. He fell back against the pillow, rubbing a hand roughly over his face. What the hell radio station was that thing set on?

He rolled over, checking to see if the embarrassing bit of sugary pop had awoken his bed partner. Pale hair faded into a white pillowcase. A paler cheek was burrowed into the pillow, the sheets pulled up to small, strangely delicate ears like a dramatically drawn cape. There be vampires here.

Well, one, anyway, and that was scary enough. Xander lay back, blinking around the darker than normal room, trying to remember what time he had set the alarm to go off. His eyes went to the sleeping bag he had haphazardly nailed over the window last night, after informing Spike that he could sleep on the sunny side of the bed and receiving a sour look in response.

Xander reached a careful hand out, barely touching the edge of the sheet by the back of Spike’s neck, and then jerked back when Spike suddenly rolled over onto his stomach, still facing away from him, and abruptly stilled. Xander held his breath, staring at the pale back that was now bared to him until he was sure that Spike was still sleeping. Or hibernating or regenerating or whatever vampires did.

Xander’s eyes followed the slight groove of Spike’s spine to that dip his back made right above where the curve of his ass mounded up the sheets. He felt his breath hitch slightly and clenched his fingers into the sheets, wadding the cloth into his fists and then stopping when he realized he was baring even more Spike nakedness.

He didn’t want to feel like this. He didn’t want to look at Spike and see ‘pretty’ and ‘strong’ and ‘dangerously hot.’ He dropped his eyes from the sleek lines of Spike’s back, staring blindly at the white sheets as if their blankness would blanket these thoughts. What was in this insane attraction to Spike? Was it just the inherent “Come to me, my pretty” danger in Spike that had nothing to do with him being a guy or no longer of the living? Or was it something more…and we’re not going there.

Xander pulled his hands away from that tempting flesh and rolled over with a sigh to check the alarm clock. 7:10, which meant he needed to get up, shower and head over to Dawn’s to get the mower, to the woods to mow, back to Dawn’s to get the girls, back to the woods for the Sunday morning routine, drop the girls off and then back home to his…vampire.

He eased out from beneath the sheet and into the shortest shower he’d had in days. Mostly dry, he almost silently opened his closet and drawers to find a t-shirt and shorts to mow in and khakis and a pullover to wear back to the woods. He was tying his tennis shoes when he heard the sheets rustle behind him.

“You don’t have to sneak out, pet, it’s your flat.”

Xander turned around, seeing Spike rubbing his hand sleepily over his wavy, ungelled hair and refusing to find that cute. “Gotta go mow,” he mumbled.

“Ah,” Spike answered. “Guess I kind of threw your routine off last night, eh?”

Xander decided not to enumerate the ways his routine had been thrown off last night and nodded toward the darkened window instead. “You gonna be okay here for a while?”

“Suppose so,” Spike answered, snuggling back down into the sheets with a grin. “Find and mock your porn, answer the phone with ‘Harris’ bitch,’ put your albums in all the wrong cases…no shortage of evil I can get up to on my own.”

“Don’t answer my phone,” Xander said with a stern finger point, and then grabbed his keys and left.

Xander put the mower back into the shed behind the house and used the hose to rinse most of the grass off of his legs. He ducked behind the shed, shucking his shorts and t-shirt and scrambling into khakis and pullover before the neighbors caught the early morning naked Xander show.

Ah, sweet routine. Comforting creatures of habit. Peaceful, unthinky normalcy. Okay, time to get the witches and the teen of vague mystical energy to go visit the secret, hidden grave of a vampire slayer. Bring on the normal.

He walked around to the front of the house and found Willow, Tara and Dawn waiting for him at the open door. It was always so strange to see Dawn in a dress. Well, a dress that wasn’t so short that it had him casting his eyes around for somewhere to look than at those long legs that got less skinny and more eep, bad thoughts, with every passing day. Willow and Tara in dresses was too normal to be naughty-making, but these Sunday morning ones were always less Renaissance Fair and more Parent-Teacher night.

They drove to the woods like usual, the only sounds the radio turned up so that they could ignore that they weren’t talking and the crackling of the cellophane around Dawn’s flowers.

Xander pulled off the road and drove in as far as he could without getting stuck. They got out and started into the woods in the unspoken order: Willow in the lead, Tara clinging to her hand, Dawn following behind and Xander bringing up the rear. He tried to concentrate on the shiny bounce of Dawn’s hair rather than the memory Giles’ sweater-clad back blocking the view of it and the feel of Anya’s fingers twining with his.

Dawn turned and gave him the same half-smile she always gave when she smelled the fresh cut grass and saw the grave cleared of the – don’t think dead – old flowers. Dawn knelt and arranged the new ones as Tara started chanting softly and Willow stood with her eyes closed, her face lifted to the sky and her hands out, the palms turned up. Xander wasn’t sure if that was a witch thing or a Jewish thing, but he’d always felt it would be dumb to ask.

Besides, other than, “When are you coming to get the mower?” and “Need to pick up the flowers,” they never talked about what they did here.

Xander’s job was done once the mowing was finished, so he did what he always did, watched the others, casting the occasional glance around to make sure that no one disturbed them. Before, he had stood and muttered, “I don’t know, I don’t know,” repeatedly to Anya’s whispered questions of, “What’s Tara saying? Why is Willow doing that? Why doesn’t Giles look at any of us? How long do we have to keep coming here every week?”

The truth was, none of them really knew what to do once they got here. Tara chanted for a while, and Willow did that looking up thing and Dawn spread the flowers out and then gathered them together and then spread them out again. And then they all waited for Giles to say, “I suppose we should be heading back, then.”

In a way, it wasn’t much different from the first time they’d come here, except there had been more things to do that time. More things to do, important things, non-thinking things. And then Giles had said something in Latin, Xander was almost certain, and Tara and Willow and even Spike had nodded along with the words. Xander had just stood and held Dawn’s hand, feeling younger than she was and wishing that she were holding his hand, and not the other way around. It had been dark that time and easier to ignore the details, like the name engraved on the stone and the way the ground mounded up in front of it.

Xander looked down at Dawn, watching the flowers sift through her fingers. Stargazer Lilies, Tara had said they were. They were kind of bright and loud and big, but in some way the name Stargazer had fit Buffy. Not that she had been much of a dreamer, but somehow the way they’d all looked to her…

He realized that he was staring past Dawn now, staring at the name. Buffy Anne Summers. If he just read it like that, all together, it didn’t seem like the same person. Had he even known her middle name was Anne? He stared at it harder. Buffy Anne Summers. Buffy. Buffy, I….

Buffy, I fucked Spike. Xander’s eyes opened wide and bit down on his lip, hard. He hadn’t thought that. It’d be like yelling, “fuck” or “goddamnit” in a church. Buffy, I left Anya, or she left me, and I fucked Spike, or almost, and now I think I might be…Xander’s teeth snapped down on the tip of his tongue, tasting blood. He swallowed hard. He was not telling his best friend’s spirit, or whatever, that he was banging, or hoping to bang, her undead stalker.

Or maybe Buffy was up in Slayer heaven and she and all the other Slayer-angels were sitting on clouds and looking down at him, watching him suck off a vampire on his kitchen floor. Xander closed his eyes tightly, no, no, heaven was perfect and Buffy’s idea of perfect was not watching Xander try to deep throat her lusty nemesis.

He opened his eyes again to see Tara looking at him with a soft, understanding smile on her lips. Oh, God, she thinks I’m trying not to cry. Yeah, that’s it, I’m just letting this place, and this day and this act, and not last night, get to me. I’m thinking of Buffy. And Slayer heaven. Which…huh, wonder if it’s like Jesus heaven with big, white fluffy angels or like Willow’s heaven, or does Willow even have a heaven, or maybe it’s just like another world, like when that portal opened Buffy just went somewhere else, but no, her body stayed here so does that mean she… He realized that his eyes were opened wide again and that he was chewing his lip and Willow and Tara were both staring at him.

“I suppose we should be heading back, then,” he heard himself say.

Tara took Dawn by the hand and helped her up and they started walking back towards the car. Xander turned to follow them and felt Willow’s hand slide into the crook of his arm.

“Hang on a second,” she said softly. She watched until Tara and Dawn had moved away from them and then turned to look at him, “We need to talk tonight,” she said, reaching up to brush her hair behind her ear. “About what were going to do now. How we’re going to handle things.”

Xander nodded, looking at the ground and frowning when he noticed a spot were the grass was taller than the rest.

“Xander,” Willow said, tugging at his arm until he looked up at her, “Are you with us? Are you going to be able to do what needs to be done?”

He looked back at her, wanting to say, Nope, and stroll out of this place without another thought, but he felt himself nodding. “Yeah, Will, whatever you need.”

“Okay,” she said, sighing and then smiling a little. “Can you meet Tara and me at the Bronze tonight? Around eight?”

Xander nodded again, moving slightly so that her hand dropped from his arm. “What about…should we ask Spike?”

Willow frowned at him. “I thought you said that we couldn’t count on Spike, that it would be better to just leave him out of this.”

Xander shrugged. “Yeah, but…I don’t know, Will. This is,” he looked around, avoiding Buffy’s headstone. “This is asking a lot of us, and really I don’t know if we’re gonna be able to do it alone.”

Willow crossed her arms. “I’m not worried about that. And for tonight, it’d be better if Spike weren’t there. Maybe later, when we have some idea of what we’re going to do. Anyway, I need someone to stay with Dawn. So, I figured, after we leave here, I’d go by the crypt and see if…”

“I’ll ask him,” Xander said quickly. Willow raised her brows and Xander cleared his throat and said, “I have stuff to do over by Restfield, anyway, so it won’t be a big deal to stop by.”

Willow shrugged, nodding. “Okay. You can have Spike duty.” She turned to start toward Tara and Dawn. “After all, he’s your patrol buddy and late night escort.” She looked back at him with an impish grin. “Come to think of it, he’s really been up your butt, lately.”

Xander groaned. Naturally, the one bit of Judaism he did remember was, “From your mouth to God’s ears.” He shook his head and followed after her.

Xander walked into his apartment and headed straight for the kitchen to put the bags down on the counter. He glanced into the living room and found Spike sitting at the center of the couch, away from the windows, and leafing through one of the research books Xander had been supposed to look…something up in a while back.

“’Bit okay?” Spike asked, not looking up.

Xander nodded slowly, unloading his purchases, and then remembered to answer aloud. “Yeah, I guess. She, um, she hasn’t cried the last couple of times and Tara says that shows that she’s learning to start dealing with it. Living with it,” he finished quietly.

Spike nodded and Xander turned to open the refrigerator and stumbled over the over-flowing garbage bag that blocked his way. He looked around, discovering that the pizza boxes, beer bottles and empty take-out sacks were gone, presumably stuffed into the bursting bag at his feet.

“Spike…you cleaned,” he said in shock, the quart of milk in his hands falling to land in a safe, non-exploding way on the bag of garbage.

Spike shrugged, flipping pages faster. “I had to find somewhere to sit, didn’t I? And Harris? It smelled,” he looked up and met Xander’s eyes before wetting his thumb and forefinger and turning another page, his attention going back to the book.

Xander picked up the milk and moved the garbage out of the way to finish unpacking his groceries. He snickered a little. “William the Bloody – house vamp,” he chuckled, looking around the room. “What – you couldn’t do the dishes, too?”

Spike slammed the book shut. “Don’t,” he growled, his voice low and deadly, his fingers clenching on the spine of the book. “Look, I picked up your garbage, yeah, fine. I didn’t answer the bloody phone – didn’t ring anyway, you were with anyone who might want to call you, ya stupid wanker. I didn’t touch your precious cds, the comics under your bed are still in their little plastic coats and I only smoked twice.” He shook his head, tossing the book aside. “I did find your porn, though, and I was right – sad lot, that.”

He looked up at Xander, his smirk fading. “So just…don’t. I got to sleep ‘til I wanted to get up, an’ I got to sit here, all non-flamey, so I held up my end of the bargain. I cleaned. Sod it. And then you come in here, dumping your snark on me, because we both know you don’t have the balls to say what you really want…”

“Here,” Xander interrupted. He held his hand out, the dark red bag gleaming in the low light. “I kept my part of the ‘bargain,’ too.”

Spike stood up staring at him, and then slowly made his way over to the kitchen, reaching to take the bag of blood from Xander’s hand. Xander handed it over, seeing Spike stare down at it like it was a fluttering virgin or a children’s choir – or whatever Spike’s vamp kink had been back in the day – and not like plastic full of cold, dead pig juice.

“I need you to do something for me,” Xander said, watching as Spike walked over to the cabinets and started searching for mugs. I’m going to lie to Spike, well, not lie, but not tell and, okay, a week ago, so not big on my list of things that make but gut clench, but now... “Not the Quark’s Bar mug,” he said, shoving Spike gently aside to replace the two-quart novelty cup and reach for something less Trek.

“But it’s the biggest one,” Spike argued. “Welsher.”

“Here,” Xander said, handing him a Batman mug. “Knock yourself out.”

Spike rolled his eyes and headed to the microwave. “So what do you want me to do?” he asked, vamping to rip the bag open with his teeth. “’Cause if it’s laundry, you’ll find it all piled up in the tub.”

“You know we have fancy newfangled machines for that now, right?” Xander paused. “Heh. New fangled,” he snorted and then looked up in horror. "Tell me you didn’t use the cheese grater as a washboard….”

“Barely held my dinner hauling ‘em into the bathroom,” Spike said, setting the timer on the microwave. “What you do with them now is your problem.”

“Now, here’s something I’ve always wondered about,” Xander said, leaning back against the refrigerator and crossing his arms, and then smirking a little as he watched Spike mirror his pose and lean back against the counter. “You don’t breathe, right?”

Spike nodded slowly, his eyes narrowing.

“And yet you have a super-keen sense of smell – not unlike Daredevil, except you’re not blind – so explain to me how this coexistence of no breath yet bloodhound sniffing occurs?”

Spike shrugged. “Don’t have to breathe, ‘s all. But I can still draw in air to scent something out.”

“So you don’t just do it,” Xander said thoughtfully, “you have to make yourself do it. So you were making yourself huff my boxers?”

Spike’s lips fell open and his body language changed to righteous rebuttal just as the microwave pinged and saved him from answering. “What did you need me to do, Harris?” he said instead, lifting the mug to his lips and draining it and then starting the refilling and reheating process again.

“I…we need you to stay with Dawn tonight.”

Spike looked back at him, watching as Xander’s gaze fell from his. “All night?” he asked quietly.

Xander shrugged, flushing a little. “Whatever.”

“So…what’s up with you and the witches that I’m on Niblet watch?”

Xander turned away, busying himself with shaking the garbage bag and searching for a tie. “Just a Scooby meeting. Figuring out what the plan is now.”

“And…you don’t think I should be there for that?” Spike said, turning in irritation as the microwave dinged again.

“That’s not it, it’s just that someone needs to be with Dawn, and…”

“And it should be the person with the least to offer to the big summit,” Spike said, giving him a pointed look.

Xander dropped the garbage bag, walking out of the kitchen and slamming his way back to his bedroom. “Just be at Dawn’s after sunset,” he yelled back through the closed door and then kicked it hard for extra measure.

When Xander opened the door several hours later, he found the living room vamp free, a blood-stained Batman mug sitting in the center of the coffee table. CDs were scattered around the floor, and Xander didn’t even bother to look at the evil Spike had wreaked on his meager, post-Anya, music collection.

He picked up the phone and dialed. “Dawn? Is Spike there? Okay, tell Willow I’ll meet her in a few minutes. What? Oh, well, tell Spike I said right back atcha. What? Oh, nevermind.”

Making his way into the Bronze several pissed off minutes later, Xander saw Tara and Willow sitting at a small round table at the back. He walked over to them, smiling at their heads bent together, allowing himself a moment to ponder what sort of naughtiness they were whispering, and then hopped up onto to the stool closest to Willow.

“Oh, how the mighty Scoobies have fallen,” he said, looking at the two of them and forcing a grin. “I can remember when we could fill an entire booth at the Bronze.” He pointed across the room. “That booth over there. I think it has our names on it. I think they bronzed it.”

Willow and Tara smiled half-heartedly, and then Tara reached for her cup, burying her face in it.

“So, is there a plan?” Xander asked. “Have we figured out a way to do this without losing our ass? ‘Cause I’m dying to hear it, really.”

Willow elbowed him and then picked up her straw, toying with it. “Yeah, I think I’ve come up with an idea.”

“Well, that’s great,” Xander said, looking around for a waitress. Beer was needed now, and he was okay with that. “So what is it? Cast a protection spell on the entire Hellmouth? Turn the demons into Tribbles with a few carefully muttered and hard for me to remember words?” His eyes gleamed. “Use Spike as bait?”

“Um, no,” Willow said, looking to Tara and then reaching out to take her hand and Xander’s. She leaned forward, staring into Xander’s eyes with a small smile playing on her lips. “I don’t think it’ll come to that.” Her fingers tightened on his, painfully. “Xander,” she said, dropping her voice, “I think I know how to bring Buffy back.”

Part Ten

Lyrics from “Never Been to Me” by Charlene
Stargazer Lilies are a nod to Tabaqui's story Changes

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