Beauty Effulgent

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Sunday Morning Coming Down


Xander pulled into the driveway and killed the engine, glancing up to look in the rearview mirror at Willow. She met his eyes with a questioning look and Xander shook his head, dropping his gaze. They all sat in the car quietly for a moment, and then Xander took the keys out of the ignition, jiggling them in his hand.

“So,” he said, turning to Dawn, “school starts tomorrow, huh?”

Dawn shrugged, her eyes on her lap. “I guess.”

“C’mon,” Xander said, reaching over and squeezing her hand. “Ninth grade! Freshman!” A look of realization crossed his face as Willow and Tara open the back doors, getting out of the car. “Ooo…you’ll have Mrs. Fashnick.” He let go of her hand and lifted his own to his mouth, crooking two fingers out and wiggling them. “She’s got fangs.”

Dawn stared at him, wide-eyed. “She’s a vampire?”

“No,” Xander said solemnly, shaking his head, “She’s got this scary-ass snaggletooth…”

Dawn giggled, elbowing him in the side, and then reached for the door handle.

Xander sat back with a slight smile. First Sunday giggle. Go Xan-man.

He watched Willow and Tara’s backs as they headed into the house, his smile fading. First grave visit since Willow offered to make it a “we’ll look back at this and laugh someday” scenario.

It had nearly killed him to watch Dawn mess with those damn flowers again while Willow looked on with a peaceful smile. It had made something he used to have to steel himself into doing into something he was embarrassed to be a part of. Almost like Buffy wasn’t still in that grave, but in some vague nowhere and they were playing some sick game.

It felt fake. It felt wrong. But nothing had changed. Buffy was still dead, Dawn was still hurt. They all were. Yet somehow his hurt and anger were shifting direction from the fates, or Glory, or their own failure, to Willow. And that felt even more wrong.

He watched as Willow opened the front door, stepping back to let Dawn and Tara into the house.

She hasn’t done anything but offer to make it right. Xander turned away from the sight of Willow smiling at Tara and looked toward the tree where Spike used to wait for…something. All Willow wanted to do was make things like they used to be.


He looked up to see Tara still standing in the open doorway, looking at him expectantly. “Did you want to come in?”

He looked back for a moment, seeing her shy smile, her eyes looking back at him openly, honestly. “Yeah,” he said quietly as he shoved his keys in his pocket, opening the car door. “Yeah, I do.”

Xander stood in the living room, looking out the window as he heard Tara come down the stairs. She had changed into jeans and a sweatshirt, and was pulling her hair back into a ponytail as came into the living room.

“Willow?” she called. “Did you decide what we’re going to do for lunch? Oh, hey,” she said, seeing Xander alone in the room.

“Dawn was hungry,” Xander said, smiling. “Really hungry. Old school Dawn hungry. She and Willow ran down to the corner store because she was craving one of those greasy pizza pocket things they sell. You know, the ones in the warmer on the counter next to the porn magazines?”

Tara shook her head with a small smile and walked into the kitchen. Xander followed her, watching as she took fruit and cheese from the refrigerator. She looked up from slicing a pear, finding his eyes on her.

“Xander? Is everything okay?” she pushed the plate of fruit toward him and he shook his head.

“Listen, Tara…can I ask you something?”

Tara nodded, her eyes going back to the fruit on the counter, concentrating on sliding the knife carefully through the pale green skin and white flesh of the pear. “Sure, um, what did you want to know?”

“When Willow first told you about the spell…about bringing Buffy back, what did you think?”

Tara looked back up at him, her eyes searching his. “You mean, after ‘holy god, my girlfriend’s crazy’?” she asked with a tiny smile.

Xander laughed a little, nodding.

Tara bit her lip thoughtfully, placing the knife down on the counter and looking away from him, at the windows. “The night after we came back from the first night in the woods… the night we dug the grave,” Tara said, looking quickly at him and then away, “I woke up and Willow was gone. I walked all through the house, looking for her, and then I saw this light in the backyard. She was sitting outside, surrounded by candles, and at first I thought she was doing a spell, and it kind of s-scared me, you know, like when Dawn tried to bring Mrs. Summers back?”

She turned her head toward Xander and their eyes met and something stuttered there between them, something unsaid but silently acknowledged and then they both pushed it away.

Tara cleared her throat, continuing, “But she wasn’t. She was reading. She had her laptop and those books the Watcher’s Council gave Giles…the texts about Glory’s ritual.”

Tara sighed, the look in her eyes faraway, and Xander concentrated on the sound of her voice, realizing he’d never heard her speak this much, and for so long, and that her voice was just flowing, no stutter, no quick glances at him and then away. Words gliding out smooth as glass, as if all she had needed was to be asked and to know that she would be heard.

“Willow was just sitting there on the grass, papers all around her, and I walked up and she didn’t even hear me, didn’t see me until I touched her shoulder. And it was warm that night, summer, you know? But she was so cold, I could feel it through her t-shirt, and she was strung so tightly she almost…I don’t know, vibrated. Then she looked up at me, and she was crying and I don’t think she even knew it, because she was laughing, too. She just looked into my eyes and said, ‘I found it.’”

Tara was quiet then, and Xander looked at her, feeling like he’d seen something too personal, and he knew that they were both blushing, but he couldn’t help it, he felt like he’d walked in on them, naked, and not in a good, ‘Come play with us, Xander,’ naughty thoughts kind of way.

Xander swallowed, his mouth dry. “She found what?”

“Where Buffy c-could have gone. The portal. Dimensions. Hell,” she said softly. “She knew then that if she…we could find the right spell, follow the right steps, we could do it. Bring her back. Raise the dead.”

“Yeah, okay, and that’s the part where my brain kind of shuts off. Raising the dead, Tara. We’re talking about forces here that we’ve never dealt with before, and there are reasons we haven’t.” He shook his head, his hands gripping the edge of the counter. “This is everything we were ever told was wrong…”

“It is wrong,” Tara said, and Xander’s neck jerked as he looked up at her. “It's against all the laws of nature, and practically impossible to do, but it's what we agreed to.”

She tilted her head, looking at him. “Willow’s a very talented witch, Xander.” She nodded then, almost unconsciously, her eyes meeting his firmly, and he wondered how much that moment of self-assurance had cost her as she continued, “What we’ve seen her do…that’s barely been a glimpse of the power she has. I have to believe that she can do this, and even if she can’t, I believe that it’s something she has to do. To try.”

“Would you do it, if you could?” he asked, feeling kind of low for pointing out her own limited power and for putting her on the spot like that.

Tara shook her head, her ponytail brushing her cheek. “Oh…I c-couldn’t, I mean I’ve never had that kind of…and, you know how much I liked Buffy, but it’s not really m-my p-place to…”

Xander felt like kicking himself as he heard Tara’s stutter worsen and felt her pulling away from him, becoming aware of things she’d told him here in the quiet kitchen, lulled by the intimacy of shared grief, of Sunday ritual.

“It’s okay,” he said, putting his hand up and giving her a lopsided grin. “Just, I don’t know. Spike said something the other day that got me to thinking. We were, ah, talking about Buffy, kind of hard to believe, I know, and he said, ‘we’ll leave her to heaven,’ and you know, I know he doesn’t know anything ‘cause Willow’s been all about the down low, but he said it with such…conviction…”

Leave her to heaven and to those thorns that in her bosom lodge, to prick and sting her,” Tara said softly and then smiled, a real Tara smile, at the confused, slightly fearful look on his face. “Hamlet,” she said, reaching for a slice of pear, “he was quoting something Hamlet says about Ophelia.”

Xander shook his head. “Am I the only one who fell asleep during that movie?” He smiled at Tara’s quiet giggle and then said, “But here’s what really gets me…if Willow’s found it, if she knows that Buffy’s in hell, why didn’t she tell Giles? I mean, he would have stayed then, right? If he’d known there was even a chance of bringing Buffy back? I totally get not wanting to tell Dawn, ‘cause there’s no point in getting her hopes up, and this is all kinda…freaky, but why not Giles?”

Tara frowned, blinking at him, and started to speak, but Xander shook his head, continuing, “And that thing she said about how it would be like re-ensouling Angel? You weren’t here then, Tara, but Angel wasn’t dead, well, not undead, anyway. He was still walking around, living large, and Willow put something back that had just whooshed out in the first place. But that’s not what we’re talking about now, is it? We’re talking about bringing back someone who’s dead. Been dead.” He cleared his throat, his voice choking on the words, “buried in the ground.”

He looked up at Tara. “And you’re really one hundred percent behind that? ‘Cause that night at the Bronze when Willow told me about this, that’s not the feeling I got from you.”

“Xander,” Tara said, her hand trembling slightly as she went to put the plate in the sink, “Willow’s a really talented witch…”

“Yeah, you said that,” Xander interrupted and then winced as her eyes widened, filled with hurt at his tone.

Tara took a shaky breath and continued, moving away from him again. “And Willow would never do anything to hurt anyone…”

“Well, duh,” Dawn said from the doorway, walking toward them to drop a grease-spotted bag on the counter. She grinned up at Xander. “What’d you do, eat the last of the ice cream and now you’re trembling before the wrath of Willow?”

“I, uh, I’m gonna go see what Willow got at the store,” Tara said, ducking her head as she passed Xander on the way out of the kitchen.

“What’s up with that?” Dawn asked, reaching for a slice of pear.

Xander shook his head, not looking at her. “Don't know. Guess she missed Will.” He flashed her a shaky grin. “You know how those two get when they’re not within hand holding distance.” He shoved his hands in his back pockets, turning away. “I better go. Gotta check in with Spike about patrol tonight.”

He gave her one last smile and then headed for the door, barely acknowledging Willow’s startled goodbye as he brushed past her on his way out.

“What’s up with that?” Willow asked.

Dawn shrugged, taking another bite of the pear, her eyes thoughtful as she watched Xander all but run from the house.

Xander opened the door to his apartment, finding it cool, dark and quiet. For someone who had loved to keep the blinds open, sunlight streaming into the rooms after the dark and dankness of the basement, he’d adjusted to the return to dimness quickly.

Spike was curled into the couch, his face pressed into the back cushions, Xander’s jacket from the night before still draped over his bare feet.

Last night had been bad. Patrol had begun as usual, quick sweep outside the Bronze, dispatching a couple of oblivious fledges, their limited powers of concentration too focused on listening for, “I am so fucking wasted!” to hear the whistle of descending stakes behind them.

They’d hit four cemeteries, Xander walking ahead of Spike and turning around, walking backwards occasionally, so that he could see the look in the vampire’s eyes when he said something particularly snarky.

Then they’d come across a pair of what Spike called Tethra demons, who’d been taking out their frustration at not finding anything living to kill, by hacking with axes stained black with blood at a marble angel.

Xander could understand their frustration. What he didn’t understand was what drew demons to the cemeteries in the first place. Vampires – no choice there, they popped up where they were planted. Ditto zombies. But you’d think demons, be they green and spiny or red and horny, would realize that the only people likely to wander through a cemetery on a Saturday night were people looking to find demons. And not as some demon outreach, “Meals on Sneakers” program.

Spike had grinned, his face morphing even as his lips spread open, the human faced smile of glee somehow more frightening than the fangs and forehead that replaced it. And then he had howled, launching himself toward the marauding pair who had looked up with goggling looks of shocked horror on their faces. Then they had grinned with evil delight as they gave answering growls and ripped their axes free of stone wings, meeting the downward stroke of Spike’s blade with a clang that had shaken Xander to the soles of his feet.

He and Spike had tried fighting back to back, but that just caused the vampire to keep turning around, checking Xander’s position and counting his appendages, before whirling back to narrowly duck axes and claws. And then he whirled when he should have ducked and claws had lashed and axes bitten…

Xander closed his eyes, remembering the feeling of his own hands ripping the axe from Spike’s leg and watching as the blade buried itself between the neck and shoulder of one demon even as he heard preternaturally strong hands rip the head from the other. He hadn’t bothered to point out the futility of Spike’s threat to “shit down its neck.”

They’d limped home, eyeing each other silently as they realized they were going to get themselves killed, trying to protect each other. Both of them trying desperately to hold on to something they hadn’t defined or acknowledged.

Xander opened his eyes and reached down, trailing his hand over a pale arm that was marred by scratches that had faded to pink from vivid red and blood dripping.

Spike stirred under his grasp, turning slightly. A slow smile spread over his face and he leaned into the light touch. Blue eyes opened, sleep dazed and innocent, as he looked up at Xander. “Oh. It’s you,” he said, closing his eyes and snuggling back into the couch cushions.

“Ha ha,” Xander answered, his fingers running over Spike’s skin one last time before he pulled his hand away, turning toward to the bedroom.

“Mmm,” Spike said, scooting over a scant inch on the couch. Xander smiled down at him and then kicked off his shoes, sliding in behind Spike. He slipped one hand beneath blond hair that curled slightly beneath his fingers. His other hand fell naturally to the vampire’s side, rubbing absently at the soft t-shirt that covered Spike’s ribs.

The past few weeks had seen several moments like this. Xander knew that they both needed this kind of closeness, this kind of touch. Even though it usually wigged him out beyond the enjoying of it – waiting for Spike to remember that vampires didn’t cuddle and shove him away. Or examining his own need for it, because he couldn’t remember needing to touch Anya this much, other than to arouse or to comfort.

Yet they’d end up curled together, either on the couch or in bed, and Xander would relax into it for a few minutes and then he’d realize it was Spike’s hand pulling his head down to rest against a hard shoulder. Or that the chest beneath his own hand didn’t rise or fall and that it wasn’t soft with curves of flesh but taut with muscle. And then he’d really start to think about it and wonder if Spike thought of him as “the girl”, or if Spike was pretending that he was someone else and that every time Spike’s eyes closed he was just surrendering to the fantasy. Or worse, that this was some kind of conditioned behavior ingrained in Spike after Drusilla, and all of this was just comfort, because he saw Xander that way, like something…broken.

He’d get so tense then that he wasn’t leaning into Spike anymore, but more just propped against him, stiff and anxious and grinning unnaturally and saying, “This is nice,” loudly and often. Spike would mutter a curse then and bury his lips against Xander’s throat, chest or thigh, wherever he’d thought it would most distract. And that was okay, because that kind of touching just made everything quiet again.

But when it was like this, when one or both of them were still mostly lost to sleep, it was easy. He’d slept here, like this, after they’d come in last night. Spike had stumbled to the couch and torn off his boots before falling back with a groan. Xander had cleaned the scratches on Spike’s arm, ripped the tear in his jeans open wider, swallowing hard when he’d seen the place on the pale leg where a demon axe had glanced off of bone and started to bandage it, but Spike had waved him off, mumbling, “Be healed by morning.” Xander had moved to put away the first aid kit and head to his empty bed, but Spike had whispered, “Stay.”

And so he’d woken up this morning, fully dressed, clothes stiff and crackling with demon blood, and Spike’s head on his chest, cool lips pressed against his throat. Xander had looked down at the body in his arms, stronger than his, and in his opinion, a whole lot prettier, and just held on.

And it wasn’t as if they never talked. Or snarked, fought, teased or just listened. While they patrolled, while Xander experimented with new things to do to hamburger, after they had sex. Spike pushed for answers on Xander’s feelings about the fractured state of the Scoobies, made him talk about Anya, about Giles, about what he thought Anya might be doing with Giles. Xander would refuse to respond, and Spike would just answer for him, answers so close to the bone that Xander would just end up letting it all spill out and then shutting down when he heard all of his own fear and anger and confusion just…out there and Spike would shrug and say, “Still here, aren’t you? Means something, that.”

Spike would answer anything just about anything Xander asked. What the chip felt like when it fired, if patrolling really appeased his blood lust, where he’d learned to do those things with his tongue. The only questions he wouldn’t answer were about his past; the turning, Drusilla and Angelus and if the things the Watchers Diaries had written about them were true. Spike would just curl his tongue over his teeth and say, “Tell you when the now gets boring, pet.”

But they never talked about what this was, so it just was. Spike had only gone back to his crypt once since what Xander had come to think of as “the night of the naked fight,” and he guessed that meant they were living together, although there was nothing that domestic to it. Spike didn’t push him to out them to the Scoobies and treated him pretty much the same as he always had around them, although he had called Xander “mate” once, causing Dawn’s eyebrows to shoot up and Spike to say, “What?” before continuing with his tale of patrol, or as he liked to call it, “How I saved Harris’ ass last night.”

And even though they never put words to it or acknowledged anything, whatever this was came the closest to anything Xander had ever had of something real. More two-sided than the tussles with Cordy and Faith and somehow less confusing and guilt ridden than two years with Anya. The very fact that neither of them had to call it anything just made it seem more…honest.

Xander burrowed his face closer to the back of Spike’s neck, closing his eyes. Yeah, honest.

It wasn’t like Spike didn’t lie to him, but the lies he told weren’t meant for Xander to believe. Just more of the old posturing, and they both knew it. Spike lied to him to cover his own reasons for being there. Xander lied to them both about why he was afraid that someday Spike wouldn’t be.

“Xander,” Spike mumbled, “calm down or start something. Your heart’s pounding me through the bloody sofa.”

Xander took a deep breath and held it, and then realized that just made his heart beat faster, so he exhaled, watching his breath stir the soft hairs at the base of Spike’s neck.

Spike reached back, groping at Xander through his jeans with a hand that moved with the ease of familiarity.

“Uh-uh,” Xander said, reaching for Spike’s hand then resting their joined fingers against his thigh. “Don’t want you when you’re half-dead.”

“Out of luck then, mate,” Spike sighed, growing still against Xander and not complaining about the mental wrestling and restless fidgeting that was disturbing his sleep, since it came with body heat and warm breath that bathed his cheek.

“Go to sleep,” Xander said, resting his chin on Spike’s shoulder. “Gotta be all healed up and dangerous, ready to save my ass again tonight.”

Spike grunted, his eyes still closed as he nipped at Xander’s shoulder. “Some danger I am…don’t even scare you anymore.”

Xander tightened his arm around Spike and concentrated on just breathing and believing that that was true.


Part Fourteen

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