DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Sting’s, “Moon Over Bourbon Street.” Spike’s various ramblings come from, in the order in which he says them, “The Cloud” by Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Elegy III” by John Donne, “The Indian Serenade” by Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Hamlet” (Act II, Scene ii) by William Shakespeare, “Clenched Soul” by Pablo Neruda, and “To Haydon” by John Keats.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Willow has asked Xander to go and speak with an ex-Watcher to attempt to have him rejoin the Council, but Xander is surprised when Hanif takes him out to speak with who looks to be Spike…
In shock, Xander loosened his death hold on the steering wheel, and the car jerked to the side when they hit a rut in the dried earth. Quickly, he regained control, but when he began to slow in order to stop, Hanif’s hand shot out to grip his on the wheel.
“It is pointless,” he said. “He will walk for a few more miles at the very least before he collapses. It is best to wait.”
Xander’s eyes were locked on the man in front of the car. “So that is Spike I’m seeing?” he asked, his voice low. “It’s not my eye playing tricks on me?”
There was a long pause. “It is not as it seems,” Hanif finally said.
“So that isn’t dead man walking there.”
“It is not---.”
Xander cut him off with a dismissive brush of his hand. “Yeah, yeah, I got it the first time. You guys just can’t stay away from the cryptic, can you? It must be in the blood or something.”
‘Cause it’s always got to be blood.
He hadn’t thought of Spike in years, but the low, modulated voice in his head, repeating the words from the night Buffy had died to defeat Glory, was as clear to Xander as if it was Spike in the passenger seat and not Hanif. It brought with it memories of laughter, and joking with the girls at the Bronze, and the definitive sense that what they were doing was right, that it mattered.
It brought back Anya.
Xander’s eye burned, and he blinked rapidly to clear his vision.
The memories of her could still hurt when he wasn’t expecting them.
“I have to talk to him,” he said. He pushed Hanif’s hand away and steered to a stop, though Spike never broke his stride. “Enough with the games.”
He was out before Hanif could stop him, half-jogging in order to catch up. As he neared Spike, he was able to make more of the details that had eluded him when he was sitting in the car. The hair was no longer bleached, for one. Though he only saw it by the yellow glow of the headlights, it was unmistakable darker, a light brown most likely, and curly, longer than Xander had ever seen it. Instead of the trademark black, Spike wore a white shirt, long sleeves rolled up to the elbows, left untucked from his rumpled khakis. His feet were bare.
“Spike,” Xander called out. There was no reaction. Just the continued determined pace toward the distant hills.
“Spike,” Xander repeated more insistently, and this time, grabbed his shoulder to pull him to a stop.
He didn’t see the blow coming. He didn’t know why he hadn’t thought it could happen. This was Spike, after all.
A heavy fist landed on Xander’s jaw, sending him sprawling into the dirt. Stars danced in his vision, but as he shook his head, clearing it of the pain the blow had created, it dawned on him that something was wrong with it. The punch lacked the raw power that had characterized the vampire’s hits of the past. Strong, yes. Well aimed. But if Spike had put his full might behind the swing, Xander should’ve been flat on the hood of his car, twenty feet away. He wouldn’t currently be scrambling back upright, just a few yards away from the retreating vampire.
“I see you still have those pesky socialization issues,” he said. Though his tone was lighthearted, his blood was not, surging with the desire to be assuaged of the burn seeing Spike again created. “Nice to know some things never change.”
“’I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores; I change, but I cannot die.’”
It was said without a break in his stride, in a voice that was both familiar and not. While it was unmistakably Spike speaking, the accent was smoother around the edges, the words uttered with a confidence of knowledge. There was no mistaking the tone; Spike meant it as a rebuttal to Xander’s observation. It could elicit only one response, though.
“’Change is the nursery of music, joy, life, and eternity,” Spike said, casting an annoyed glower over his shoulder, presumably at not being understood with his first answer.
“I told you it was pointless.” Hanif appeared at his side with the stealth of one accustomed to moving swiftly and silently. He watched the man in front of them with what Xander would’ve sworn was sympathy. “He will not stop until he collapses from exhaustion.”
“What’s he trying to run away from?”
“’I arise from dreams of thee in the first sweet sleep of night, when the winds are breathing low, and the stars are shining bright,’” came the unexpected response from Spike.
“Great,” Xander muttered. “Just what I need. He’s crazy again.”
“No.” Hanif shook his head, his eyes sad. “He is alive.”
In the aftermath of Hanif’s declaration, all three men remained silent, Spike leading the way as he strode with driven step through the obscurity of the night. To Xander, he seemed oblivious to the fact that he was being followed, but that particular observation only worsened the confusion tumbling about in Xander’s head.
Alive. As in…not undead.
It would explain why the punch hadn’t been as damaging as he would expect from a vampire, especially a vampire who’d never really liked Xander all that much.
But that didn’t happen, even when said vampire died saving the world. They didn’t get to come back, not when others, more worthy, had died in the same battle, doing their part to ensure that the evil would be driven back. They didn’t get to look healthy, and well rested, and able to walk miles in the moonlight, while others were rotting in their unmarked graves, buried beneath the rubble in the spot they were slain. It just wasn’t fair.
What was the point of doing any of it if he couldn’t expect at least a little bit of fairness in return?
“How long?” Xander asked, his voice barely a whisper. He wasn’t interested in any more of Spike’s supposed answers. Hanif’s cryptic was just a little more palatable.
“Just over three years,” Hanif replied. Straightforward. Thank god. It was about time. “Mother believes that’s why I was spared from the tragedy in London. I was needed to watch over him.”
“And…what? Spike knocked on your door and said he needed a place to crash for a few years?”
“It wasn’t like that. I received a package in the post. When I opened it, I found an amulet on a heavy chain. Odd, certainly, because I believed nobody knew of my whereabouts. Since I didn’t recognize the jewel, I put it away for studying further at a later date. I forgot about it until the summer solstice, at which time Mother became quite insistent that she needed to see it. The moment I took it from its packaging, there was a flash of magic, and when I regained consciousness…” His gaze drifted back to Spike walking ahead of them. “…there he was.”
“Like a bad penny.”
“It’s not like you think.”
Xander shook his head. “You let Spike, one of the most notorious vampires in history, take refuge with you. I think it’s exactly like I think.”
“He is not Spike. He does not call himself so.”
“It doesn’t matter what he calls himself. It doesn’t change who he is.”
“You would be surprised.”
Ahead of them, unintelligible murmuring began to drift back on the slight breeze, the individual words difficult to make out, but the sorrowful cadences impossible to ignore. Spike’s eyes were trained on the path ahead, and Xander tilted his head, trying to get a better view of his face.
“You can’t ignore me forever, you know,” he called out. “You might fool some people with this crazy act, Spike, but I saw the show when you still had it on the road. I know how this one ends.”
“’I am but mad north-north-west,’” Spike said without looking back. “’When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.’”
“He is telling you the truth,” Hanif offered.
“You made sense of that?” Xander gaped at him in disbelief. “It sounded like gobbledygook to me. Heavy on the gobbledy.”
“He uses the only words he can. I’ve had time to learn how to decipher his meaning.”
“Still sounds like he’s just fallen out of the cuckoo’s nest to me.”
Hanif sighed. “When morning comes, perhaps you will better understand. This is not how I would’ve envisioned you learning the truth of William’s existence. It is less than ideal.”
“OK, I gotta ask since you keep bringing it up. What’s so special about the morning?”
The Watcher’s eyes were black pools, inscrutable as they walked along. “He wakes up.”
Every night was the same. Rushing, crushing, blinding, winding, falling and falling until the ground crashed into him from below and the heavens blanketed him from above. His eyes opened, and the first thing he sensed was always the same.
Calling to him.
It was impossible for him to ignore.
So, he rose from his bed, and he brushed aside the dirt that seemed to cling to his skin no matter what he did to clean himself, and he walked through the door of the tiny house, angling his feet toward the north stars, using her honeyed words to guide his way. Sometimes, the air was cold; sometimes, the ground was aflame. Always, he stayed true to his course, putting one foot in front of the other until they failed him and he stumbled to his knees. There were times when he crawled then, scrabbling along dried earth until his palms bled, but he refused to stop until the last bit of energy was sucked from his muscles. He couldn’t.
Don’t give up.
I believe in you.
Tonight had started no differently.
He could almost see her, like a ghost dancing on the periphery of his vision. A glimpse of golden hair. A wry twist of a mouth. Small hands that moved with the speed of a hummingbird, the lethal power of a wildcat. But always, when he tried to focus, she skittered beyond his reach, taunting him with the promise of her proximity, all the while whispering what she would do for him when he finally reached her.
But then…then…something new had intruded. Calling…calling someone, though he had this unconscious feeling that it was him. And then had come the touch, the strong grip of one wishing to call a halt to his trek. That couldn’t happen, couldn’t be, and he’d lashed out to loose himself, curled fingers reacting on instinct as they slammed into a stubbled jaw, the pain of the impact shooting up his arm and reminding him of a pain long ago ingrained.
The something new disappeared then, or rather, receded, falling into step behind as another came up to join it. He heard them talking, and answered when it seemed appropriate, but their discourse was secondary at this point. Now, they were behind him, they didn’t bar his way, he could continue to follow the specter of her voice, all the while promising her in the only words he could muster that he finally understood. He hoped she could hear him. Somehow, he knew that he’d failed to hear her in the past and it was his fervent vow that that would not be an event to repeat itself.
Perhaps it was because he was so intent on blocking out the others that he heard the second voice, a new one, mingling with the higher tones of her until it drowned her out completely, ripping away his compass so that he was left bleeding.
He faltered. His eyes searched the scope of the horizon, desperate to regain his anchorage. He barely heard the worried, “What’s wrong?” behind him. It didn’t matter; it wasn’t directed at him anyway.
“’Where were you then?’” he murmured. “’Who else was there? Saying what?’” This time when the tentative touch came to his shoulder, he didn’t shake it off, his panic rising as the second voice began to scream against his ear drums. “’Why will the whole of love come on me suddenly when I am sad and you are far away?’”
Clapping his hands over his ears did nothing to dampen the noise. Neither did shouting to try and drown it out. He fell to his knees, his spirit shredding in the face of his failure to reach her again.
“’Forgive me, that I have not eagle’s wings,’” he rasped. To anyone. To everyone. Most importantly, to her.
The world went black.
To be continued in Chapter 3: Something the Boy Said…