Title: Learn to be Lonely Chapter 31/?
Author: [profile] chocgood84
Rating: NC-17 for brief violence and sexual content
Pairing: BtVS Spike/Xander
Blurb: When everything seems lost to Xander, Spike's there to steal him into the night. But something's not right in Sunnydale - people are falling asleep and dying in their dreams.
Author’s Note: Yes, I am aware that the timeline is a little screwed up and that Giles didn’t own the Magic Box until after Adam and after Dawn arrived. But in my reality, who’s Dawn? Adam what? Also, a huge spanking thanks to [profile] kitty_poker1 for beta-ing even through the worst of it.
Disclaimer: These character’s aren’t mine, never were; I don’t get any profit for this hobby, so don’t sue – Thanks.
Warning: Brief violence, nudity, and hetero and homo sexual content and situations.
This can also be found in my LJ Memories, as well as on my new website: Forgotten Java.

Special note: The long absence the last few weeks was due to changing over my website from the doomed Geocities to its new home at Forgotten Java. Have no fear, L2bL hasn’t died again. And if you have the geocities site bookmarked for easier reading, you should probably update that *g*. And now, on with the fic.


Learn to be Lonely




The sunlight – the first real patch of sunlight he’d known in months – felt good on his face. Like a fleet of great ships, the first rays of morning plowed through the fog, sending it scattering into the trees and air. And even here, in the dense and black forest, a few strays found their way to the third floor deck of Tuna’s compound, bathing it in warmth and brightness that had been lost to Xander for eons, it seemed. Sitting on the quickly-warming steel platform with his back to the railings, eyes closed and mind wandering, his face was turned up to the fleeting clouds passing over the treetops far above.

The shadows would come, he knew. Twilight would fall and this comfort – this calming and numbing warmth he hadn’t known he’d missed – would fade for another night. He would return to what he’d made of his life. He would return to the night, to the arms of a lover who waited for him just behind the shadows, just outside of the sunlight. And Xander knew that was where he belonged, where he wanted to be. But just for now… he thought, surfacing from his thoughts for a moment. Just for now, I want this.

He could feel the protective glare, the worried energy practically vibrating from the open double doors where Spike leaned against the frame, watching him. Silent, unmoving, Spike had been his sentinel as Apollo journeyed westward. Unable to approach, yearning to help and to understand and to protect, his face was contorted into a solid mask of anger and frustration while his eyes spoke volumes of worry and fear and hope. I know it‘s killing him…I just can’t right now, Xander thought before delving back inside himself.

Her dry, chalky hand felt weak in his. So brittle, Xander thought to himself as he stared down at his mother. With his free hand, he stroked the hair that framed her ghostly face. One eye was swollen over, bruises shading the entire side of her face. The other was almost peaceful, relaxed but frozen. The breathing machine ticked and gasped beside her as her chest heaved and collapsed, giving the only assurance that she was still alive. The florescent tube over her bed cast a funereal tint and reminded Xander of too many morgues he’d spent his adolescence in.

“Mom, what happened?” he whispered, wanting so desperately for her to wake up and tell him. “How did this happen?”

The door to the room opened with a crash as Nurse Candy sashayed into the room, Jessica’s chart in hand. She gasped and clutched her bosom, seeing Xander standing beside her patient. Her already scarlet cheeks darkened. “Gosh, I thought you’d gone, darlin’.”

“No, uh…I noticed…” He tried to swallow the boulders that had crept into his throat. “I was leaving and saw her. I didn’t know-”

“I’m sorry, hon, but you really can’t be here unless you’re family.” Candy’s crimson cheeks faded back to pink as she glanced nervously from Jessica to Xander to the chart in her arms.

“Please,” Xander turned his gaze back on his mother, “I’m, I mean, I know her.”

“Are you,” Candy glanced back down at her chart and back to Xander, “Alex Harris?”

“No!” Xander squeaked, not entirely sure why he didn’t want this woman to know who he was. For some reason, it just felt safer. Candy’s eyebrow raised in suspicion. “Bondsworth,” he offered. “Alex Bondsworth. I went to Sunnydale High with Xander, er, Alex.”

“You don’t know where we can find him, do you? We’ve been trying to contact him regarding her.” Candy nodded toward his mom.

“He’s uh,”
Think, Xander, think! “Dead.” Smart. Real smart.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know-” Candy rambled, visibly startled.

“A month ago,” he explained, trying to give just the right amount of details. “He was on his way to Chicago with a friend…Terrible accident. I don’t think his parents even knew.”

“I’m so sorry,” Candy repeated, finally approaching the bed and looking rather pointedly at the various monitors reading out vital signs. She plucked a pencil out of the pocket of her scrub top, flicked the tip of it against her tongue and made a few notes. “Sure seems like that family is cursed.”

“What do you mean?”
You don’t know the half of it, lady.

“It’s just, this woman, I mean. From what I heard…” The nurse hesitated, trying to decide whether it was okay to give away the information or not.

“Please, these people…” He sighed for emphasis. “They were the closest thing to family I had. I only just got back from Chicago a while ago. I was dealing with Alex’s things.”

Candy apparently decided Xander was trustworthy, because she pretended to take more notes on her patient while in a hushed voice laid out the whole story for him.

“Well, a couple of months ago, Ms. Harris, here, called 911. She was screaming something awful, from what I heard. She said ‘He’s going to kill me!’ and was yelling at the top of her lungs for them to help her, all kinds of terrible things. The call was disconnected before the dispatcher could find out who it was or what was going on. Didn’t even get her address!”

Xander listened, wanting desperately to know the truth, but he could feel himself pulling away from the gruesome scene playing out in his head. His dad must have finally snapped…
I’m so sorry, Mom. So sorry I left you there with him.

“Anyhoo, they have that GSP or GPS or whatever it is on all the 911 calls now, so they were able to find her pretty quick. ‘Course, it was too late by then.” Candy looked up at him, glanced behind at the open door and back down to her patient, smiling sweetly. “The police report said the house was a wreck, tables overturned and the television set in pieces. I guess it was real bad. They found Ms. Harris in the kitchen…she was hurt pretty bad. Cop I talked to said it looked like she’d been hit with the tea kettle quite a few times, and that’s the least of it.” Candy shook her head solemnly. “Once they got her stabilized and on the ambulance, they went looking around the house. They found her husband in the bedroom unconscious, clutching a loaded shotgun! The story is supposed to be that someone attacked her, then went after the husband who was hiding in the bedroom, but found him unconscious and thought he was already dead, not knowing that he had really come down with that Deep Sleep thing. And on top of all of that, Alex – your friend – had disappeared! And now you say he’s died. It’s all very strange.”

“Strange…” Xander mumbled, still trying to block the parade of gruesome images that was marching forcefully before his mind’s eye.

“Cops think Alex did it and then took off,” Candy explained with a roll of her eyes.

“He would never!” He found himself suddenly very emotional and very protective of both himself and his mom. “He couldn’t have!”

“It’s terrible, isn’t it?” She leaned towards Xander conspiratorially. “Got my own theory, though. See, I sort of knew her.”

“What do you mean?”

“I knew her. Kind of.” Candy glanced nervously at her watch. “A bunch of years ago, probably fifteen at least, I was an ER nurse. One night she came in.” She nodded towards his mom. “Her face looked almost as bad then as it does now. I tell you, it looked like someone had used her as a punching bag… It was awful.” Candy seemed to be lost in the memory.

“What happened?” Xander asked, and the nurse shook herself back to the present.

“Well, she wouldn’t tell me, exactly. Not at first, anyway. She had her little boy with her, Alex.” At this, Xander met the nurse’s glance, afraid she was implying that she recognized him. “Cute little boy, chatterbox he was. Had all the other nurses laughing up a storm in the waiting room. Anyway, when her and I were finally alone as I was stitching her up, she told me what happened. She said she came home from work and caught her husband beating up on the little boy. She tried to get him to stop, but it just made him angrier and he turned on her. Laid into her something awful, let me tell you, judging by those cuts. I tried to get her to press charges, but she wouldn’t. She said it wouldn’t happen again…”

Xander gave a dry laugh, as brittle as the hand he held. He cleared his throat again, realized how thirsty he suddenly was. “So you think…”

“I think the fact that Mr. Harris fell asleep when he did saved this woman’s life. Such as it is… Who knows if she’ll wake up? We may not know anything about this sleeping thing, but comas are pretty well-researched. The longer a victim is in one, the less chance there is of coming back.”

“So the doctors don’t think, um, that’s she’ll…”
Wake up? Mom, wake up, please…

“No one knows. I’m trying to keep the faith, though.”

They both jumped as Xander’s cell phone started ringing. Taking it out of his pocket, he saw it was Spike calling. He silenced it and returned it to his pocket.
I really do need to go…He looked back down at his mom, trying to think of something, anything, to say. Prayers seemed useless, and words seemed trivial. He settled for squeezing her hand one more time before turning to face Candy.

“Could you, uh, could you let me know…if her condition changes?” He fished a receipt out of his pocket and jotted down his cell number with a pen from her pocket.

“Sure thing, darlin’. You’re probably the closest thing to family she has left.”

Xander only nodded and walked toward the door. He was stopped by her melodious whisper.

“Funny things, scars.” She seemed to be thinking aloud.

“Huh?” He turned back to her, not sure he had heard correctly. “Scars?”

“See, before I helped her, I patched up the little boy too. He had a pretty bad cut just over his eye.” She stroked her brow pointedly. “I always figured it’d leave a pretty nasty scar. Kind of like the one you have there over
your eye.”

“Uh…” His cell phone started ringing again. He turned quickly, giving a quick “thank you,” over his shoulder as he bounded out the door and to the elevators, leaving the nurse behind to look after his mother.

“Xander, where are you?” Spike growled through the phone when Xander answered it, pressing the button to call the elevator.

“I’m at the hospital,” he answered, aware that his voice sounded strangely alien, even to him.

“What is it, love?” Impatience shifted quickly to worry.

“It’s my mom…I found her, Spike.”

“Sweetie, you need to eat something,” Tuna was saying. Xander snapped back to the present, realizing his friend was kneeling next to him and rubbing his arm gently, trying to get his attention. He had apparently brought a tray of food out onto the deck for him. Xander looked at him, but couldn’t bring himself to speak. “Honey, you gotta keep your strength up.”

“Love, eat something,” Spike murmured from where he still stood in the doorway. The shadows seemed to have grown. Indeed, the shrinking circle of sunlight Xander was sitting in had grown warmer. What time is it? “Please?”

Tuna’s hand was solid on his shoulder, reassuring. Xander let his gaze wander, to the large, iridescent, multi-colored eyes of his demon friend, to his demon lover’s stone face of worry, then gliding to the pine haven surrounding him and finally coming to rest on the fleeting clouds far above them.

He was thirteen. Sitting on the steps outside his junior high school with his tattered backpack at his feet. He glanced at his Star Trek watch again: almost six o’clock. I guess I might as well walk home again. The campus had been deserted for an hour as even the teachers and the poor unfortunate souls who’d stayed after for detention had fled another school day. Four times in as many days he’d been forgotten, and he briefly wondered if his mom was at home, passed out again. She’d recently taken to staying up all night and drinking during the day. A little at first – she’d forgotten to pick up him a couple of times here and there – but lately it seemed like it was getting worse.

Hefting his backpack and slinging it over a shoulder, he started his long trek across town towards home.
Maybe I’ll swing by Jesse’s house on the way, see if he’s still willing to give up that skateboard. Besides, his mom always has leftovers. And maybe by the time I get home, Dad’ll already have left for work.

He noticed the shadows were getting longer, and he quickened his pace. It wasn’t that he was afraid of the dark, really; he wasn’t. There was just something about Sunnydale after dark that had always made him feel a little wiggy.

Xander was vaguely aware of a female voice speaking somewhere nearby. She was asking someone a question. Whoever she was talking to only grunted back at her. Were they arguing? He couldn’t tell…couldn’t quite bring himself to care. There was another woman’s voice, quieter, that seemed to soothe the others. There was a hush, and he felt for a moment like he was on display. But he still wasn’t able to take notice as another memory overcame him.

He’d just returned home from patrolling with Buffy and Willow. They’d spent the whole night trawling through the cemeteries and he was wondering if he’d ever get up the nerve to ask Buffy out. Does she like me too? he wondered. They’d been friends a few months now, but he still couldn’t tell. The Slayer always seemed like she was a little preoccupied. I’d probably be preoccupied too, if I’d been chosen to protect the whole world.

Xander inched the front door closed, thanking whatever gods there were that it hadn’t given its usual
squeak. He tiptoed through the front hall and the living room, throwing a nervous glance towards the couch where his mom was passed out with all the lights burning. There was an empty box of wine tipped over on the floor beside the couch. Wonder what time she started today, he thought bitterly, making his way silently towards his bedroom. He left the light off as he carefully closed the door.

God, when am I going to get out of this house? he wondered, taking off his clothes and tossing them onto a heap in the corner of the room. He plopped down onto his bed and slid under the wrinkled sheets.

His thoughts turned to Buffy once more as he waited for sleep to come.

There was a sharp breath of frozen air skimming across his skin as the twilight wind picked up and swept around him. Xander shook his head, trying to clear the cobwebs of memory that still clung to his vision. He was still staring up at the sky, though it was no longer that innocent shade of blue. Instead the sky was on fire, as the Sun God had begun his final descent into Hades for another night. The shadows of the surrounding evergreen towers inched closer around him, and he was aware of four pair of worried eyes watching him.

“Xan?” Spike was closer now, just out of arms’ reach. The sunlight lily pad he was resting on was quickly being swallowed by the night. He closed his eyes again. “Pet? Are you with us?”

“Xander?” Buffy’s tentative voice, somewhere nearby. There was another hand on his arm. “Xander, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”

“Could you maybe explain how you knew his dad was found asleep with a shotgun but not know his mom was in a coma? I smell Eau D’Nile.” Tuna. He would go up against Buffy the first time they met.

“Look, I told you guys we didn’t know, okay?” Buffy exclaimed. “We knew she was in the hospital, we just assumed…”

“All right, you two, I think that’s enough.” Tara was obviously tired of always, being in the middle of people. There was a hardness to her voice that Xander had never heard before. “We are not here for that. We’re here for Xander…”

“Well, I guess assuming makes a superficial bitch out of-” Tuna wasn’t going to let it go.

“Shut up, sushi-breath!” she screamed back at him. “What the hell are you, anyway? And what makes you think you know anything about my friend?”

“Oh, excuuuuuse me, your friend?” Tuna accused. “It seems to me-”

Shut up!!” Spike bellowed, closer still to Xander, startling everyone into silence. “Will all of you gits just shut the fuck up? It is not about you.” Softer, now. “Xander, love? Are you in there? It’s me, baby.”

The words wouldn’t come. They died in his throat, burning into bitter ash as he tried to voice them. What could he say? There was nothing. Mom, oh god. That son of a bitch! I’d kill him if I could.

And again the floodgates opened as the tears stung his eyes like pins. All the beatings, all the nightmares, all the fights from his childhood seemed to squeeze their way from his memory, racing through his body and finally pouring out of his eyes. The only thing he could feel was pain spreading, burning like gasoline fumes in his veins. He opened his mouth to speak again, but only a howl escaped, a long and twisted sob.

Xander knew he would tell Spike what had happened on the way home. He just didn’t have words right now for what he had found four floors above. He’d asked Spike to meet him at the hospital. He just couldn’t face his other friends right now. Mom’s upstairs, at death’s door…I could have stopped this, he thought as he stepped off the elevator into the deserted hospital lobby. Could have stopped this all…

In a blur, he’d made it to the parking garage and into the passenger seat of the Jeep. In silence, he’d waited for Spike to meet him. He felt like a black hole, full of nothing. There was no sound, no smell, a complete absence of every emotion and thought. There was not even numbness, only
nothing as he sat. He could see only his mom’s bruised face in front of him.

He was vaguely aware of Spike finding the Jeep and sliding into the passenger seat and throwing his arms around him. Trying to get his attention, trying to ask him what was wrong. Was there something wrong with his mom? What was going on? Where was his cell phone; it was ringing? Xander only stared ahead, unable to focus on anything.

Xander dug the phone out of his pocket like a man without a soul and outside of time. Slowly, with no show of recognition or thought, he gave the phone to Spike without looking at him. The vampire answered it, growling in place of a greeting.

“What? No, he can’t come to the phone. What the fuck-” Spike stopped. Xander felt his eyes on him, and was only remotely aware of the vampire inching back out of the Jeep and closing the door.

Minutes passed – or maybe hours – as Xander reconstructed the night’s events. And working backwards, his life.

Suddenly Spike was next to him, holding his hand. With his other hand, he turned Xander to face him, though Spike’s face was only a blur to him, accentuated by two bright blue punches of light. Spike was talking to him. He knew what he was saying, could hear the words, but couldn’t process them. Not yet.

“Xander…she’s gone,” and suddenly the entire world fell apart.

He felt the arms around him, though he still couldn’t open his eyes completely. The warmth of the sun on his face had faded, the light behind his eyes had gone. The tears were still raining freely, and the sobs were still wrestling out of his chest like thunder. Spike, he knew. The other voices were there – his friends – asking him if he was alright, wanting to have some kind of assurance, wanting to help in some way. Please just go away, he thought.

“Everyone, get the hell out,” Spike commanded, as if reading his mind. He just knows me that well.

He was being carried, he knew. He heard doors closing, the sound of footsteps on stairs. Felt the warm bed beneath him finally, as the arms that held him moved so that they trapped him against a body he knew well. Soft scent of stale smoke and something richer, spicier, near him. Hard lips that felt like frozen silk against his temple, hand stroking his head.

“S’okay, Xan, love,” he heard through the sobs. “You cry all you need. Take what time you need, pet. I’ll be here, I’m not goin’ anywhere…”
.

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