Characters: Xander, Spike (OCs and surprise guests in later chapters)
Rating: PG overall
Warnings: Angst and major character death
Disclaimer: Joss and Mutant Enemy et al own everything. I own nothing except my original characters
Summary: Five years have gone by since Xander and Spike managed to bring a string of killings to an end, but fate and an unexpected phone call turn Xander’s life on its head one more time.
Beta extraordinaire: thismaz Thank you my dear, for all your thoughts and insights, your patience and your love.
Comments are cuddled and called George
Note to the unwary: If you haven’t read the previous stories in this series, then this story probably won’t make much sense. I hope I can tempt you to do so. They are Magpie, Fledging and Mockingbird on my LJ. Or you can get all three at AO3, Magpie 'verse
Status: Story is complete to first draft stage. Will be posted weekly following beta
I’d like to thank baudown for making me think about this ‘verse again. In the snowflake challenge she wanted to know what the boys had been up to since the end of Mockingbird. Her question got me thinking and this is the result…
Nightjar: Chapter 1
Willow died on a Tuesday.
Xander had always hated Tuesdays. He’d told her once, on the walk to school, that Monday was the start of the week and there was always the faint possibility that it wouldn’t completely suck. By Tuesday he knew his optimism was misplaced. Wednesday was hump day - the middle of the week - the tipping point towards the weekend. Thursday, well Thursday was the day before Friday and that was as good a reason as any to like it. Friday meant the weekend was so close you could taste it. And Saturday and Sunday meant time off from school. Time to hang with Willow and Jesse, and in later years with Buffy, Giles and Dawn and whoever else made up their rag tag gang at the time.
In more recent years, in the twilight time after Drusilla’s games changed his life forever, the weekend meant time with Willow and with Spike - with his best friend, and with his sire, who was someone who existed in a category he had yet to define, despite the years they’d had together.
So, if there was ever a day for Willow to die, Xander acknowledged that it was inevitable it would be a Tuesday. It made him want to purge the day from the calendar altogether - 52 or so less days would make the year a little shorter. Make the future years that stretched out before him seem a little less endless and empty and bleak. And Willowless.
“The hearse is here,” Spike said from behind him.
“I know,” Xander replied. He didn’t turn around. “I don’t know if I can let her go.”
“I know,” Spike echoed. “But she’s had her time here. Can’t keep her in the cellar forever.”
“I just needed to be with her for a while longer, you know? Away from prying eyes and questions.”
“Yeah,” Spike replied. “Practical, our little witch was, what with our line of work. Not many folks have their own morgue in the cellar. She’d like to know that she was laid out here, like the Slayer and the Watcher, Bit and the geek boy before her. It’s right that’s she’s here and it’s right that she’ll be with them in Kensal Green.”
“Do you think any of us will die of natural causes? I mean, Buffy, Giles, Dawn and Andrew were killed by Dru.” Xander crossed his arms, his hands cupping each elbow. If he gripped tightly, it might just be enough to stop him flying apart. “I died right here in this cellar and you, you’re buried in Kensal Green as well, even though you’re still walking around.”
“In this line of work, we’re probably the only ones going to die of old age and I intend that it will be a bloody long time before my luck runs out, or I make the decision to bow out on my own terms. But, if by natural causes, you mean human causes, then the Witch’s death was as natural as you can get in this world.”
Xander turned, his eye turning to yellow as his face changed, his nails digging into the skin on his arms. “She got hit by a car. By a drunk driver who ran away. How is that natural?”
“She was killed because of a honking big piece of metal piloted by a pissed-up arsehole who couldn’t face the consequences of his actions.” Spike stood, feet apart, shoulders back as if he was daring Xander to disagree. But then his stance relaxed and he shook his head. “That’s about as human as it gets,” he said. “The only thing you can say is that it was bloody quick with the speed he was going. She was there and then she was gone. She didn’t have any time to use her magic, and I doubt that she felt more than a moment’s pain.” He paused. “The pain is for the rest of us who’re left behind. That’s the way it works.”
“I hate it,” Xander whispered. His eye faded back to brown as he changed back, and his arms dropped to his side. He felt more human, more powerless, than he’d felt in years. “I hate being the one left behind.” The ‘again’ remained unspoken and understood. “I knew it would happen eventually. You remember you told me in Lisbon? You said one day she would die and I knew it was true. But I thought it was years and years away. I thought we’d have more time.”
“We always think we’ve got more time,” Spike said. “Hell, I thought I’d have more time with Dru, and I had over a century with her. You have to realise that it would never be enough. We had that talk in Lisbon five years ago. I know it’s the blink of an eye, but it’s five years more than you thought you’d have when Dru stuck her finger in the pot and gave it a stir. So, think of the time you had, yeah, not the time you lost. Remember, but don’t regret.”
Xander stared down at his boots. The toes were covered with dust from the cellar floor. He’d always meant to get a sealant for the flagstones, but never quite got around to it. Without Willow to remind him, he thought he probably never would. “I’ve tried not to think about you and Dru. You know, since. But you still miss her, don’t you?”
Xander knew Spike shrugged, even though he couldn’t see it. “Worshipped the ground she walked on. But in the end, she made her own choice and I made mine.”
You remember when I would go to the mausoleum every day?” Xander said. “I’d ask you if it would ever get better?”
“And I told you that it would,” Spike replied. “I told you that your little gang would want you to believe it, but only you could make it happen. The Witch would say the same thing - that only you can make your way through this, but she’d hope that you could.”
Xander raised his head and looked at Spike. “I might need some help.”
“I’m not going anywhere. Even if I’m not always right there, modern technology and all that shite. There’s always a way to communicate. You’d think after all this time, you’d believe that.”
“But then, I always was a contrary git,” Xander said with a flicker of a smile.
“Remember that, do you?”
“I remember I had to ask Wills what contrary meant.”
“But not ‘git’”?
“You’ve been calling me that since I was sixteen. Even if I didn’t know what it meant at first, I recognized the tone of voice that said ‘idiot’ at a hundred paces, even without heightened senses.”
“Git,” Spike repeated, but there was a softness in his voice and Xander closed his eye and shuddered. He turned back around and his fingers splayed on the polished surface of the wood at the bottom edge of the long table where the coffin rested.
“Do you want to go up?” Spike offered. “I can see to her.”
Xander shook his head and opened his eye, reaching up to rub at the stretched skin under his eyepatch with his thumb knuckle. “No,” he said. “Thanks for the offer, but this is for me to do.”
“It’s for us to do.”
“Yeah.” Xander walked slowly up to the head of the table and look down into the coffin. Willow lay serene, her red hair fanned out and glorious against the white of the interior, her skin pale and her lips tinted pink. Her eyes were closed as if she was sleeping. The thought hit him like a freight train, or an out of control car. “What if she’s not dead?” he said. “She looks like she’s sleeping. She could be sleeping, or in a coma. We could put her in that mausoleum, but what if she wakes up and it’s cold and dark, and she’s alone? Remember we did it to Buffy. What if-”
“Xander,” Spike interrupted. “Stop it. She gone. We did every test we could, medical and mystical. Her spirit, her soul has passed on. It’s not like with the Slayer. Then you were calling her back. Here, you’re letting Willow go.”
“I know. I’m sorry.” Xander’s hands curled on the edge of the wood as he felt Spike’s hand, light on his shoulder.
“Nothing to be sorry for, mate, but it’s time.”
Xander nodded, head moving up and down like that of a marionette on the end of a string. He bent down and kissed Willow once on the forehead just as he’d done long ago when Joyce had died, and just as he’d done so many times since. “Good bye,” he whispered. “Love you. Always love you. Thank you for, well, just thank you.” He took a shuddering breath. “Say hi to them all. Give them my love. Tell them, tell them I’m sorry.” He paused. “Give my love to Tara.” Spike’s hand tightened on his shoulder and he kissed Willow once more, this time on the lips. They were cold and he dashed away a tear before it could land and stain her skin.
He stood and Spike eased up beside him. “Goodbye Witch,” Spike said. “Been a hell of a ride. I’ll take care of your boy. Make sure he doesn’t get into any more trouble than normal, not that that is saying much. You can keep an eye on both of us when you’re not cuddling with that lovely girl of yours.” He caressed one long white finger down Willow’s cheek and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “You turned out well in the end, didn’t you? Went through your tough spots and came out the other side. You’ve earned your rest.” He stepped back and squeezed Xander’s shoulder lightly once more before letting go. “Alright, pet?”
“No, but that doesn’t matter, does it?”
“It matters,” Spike replied. “But it doesn’t change things.” He picked up the edge of the white linen shroud that lined the coffin. “Going to help,” he said.
“Yeah, sorry.” Xander paused. “It’s stupid, I know what we’ve got planned for tonight. But only because you’ve planned it. Wills and me, we never talked about it. I guess I was avoiding it. If I didn’t talk about it, then I could pretend that it wasn’t going to happen. I never thought. God, why didn’t I think?”
“It’s okay,” Spike said. “We talked on and off over the years. She wanted to be with everyone else in the mausoleum, so you know she won’t be interred in the coffin. But she knew that not everyone would be comfortable without some of the familiar trappings. So, we’ll wrap her here in the coffin and do the service so that folks can say their farewells. Then we do a ceremony outside in Epping Forest. She’ll like that, all that green and the earth and the outside air. That way we’ve satisfied all the needs. Then we’ll take her back to Kensal Green and she can be with the others. We’ll take her out of the coffin and it’ll be just her, and the linen and the stone, all natural like. And the others, they’ll look out for her. They’ll guide her home.
“Fuck,” Xander said. “I hate that you had that conversation. That she didn’t have it with me. But I’m selfish enough to be glad at the same time.”
“Smart girl, our Red. Knew her audience.”
“That’s my Willow,” Xander said. He pulled up the edge of the white linen and together they folded it over until it looked like a cocoon over her body, with only her head still free. He thought of the shy young girl he’d known when he was young and the way she’d grown in ways he’d never imagined, a butterfly both fragile and dazzling in her world.
“Let’s get it done,” Spike said. He turned to where the coffin lid rested against the wall behind them by the cellar door. He lifted it easily and laid it carefully on top of the coffin, sliding it into place, until all that could be seen was Willow’s face.
Xander stared at her, trying to fix her essence in his memory. Finally, he nodded. “Goodbye, Wills. Love you always.” He glanced back at Spike who stood silently at the foot of the coffin. With shaking hands, Xander pulled the lid up until it was flush with the casing and Willow disappeared.
Together, they tightened the fastenings. It reminded him of trying to rewind the carriage clock the night Buffy died. The tears streamed down his face with every turn of the screw.
“Have this,” Spike said softly.
Xander looked up and Spike was holding out a white handkerchief. “Never know when one might come in handy.”
Speechless, Xander accepted the fine cotton square and wiped his face. “Willow would tell me to blow now,” he said.
“Yeah, well, if you do that you can keep it until it’s been washed.”
“Big bad vamp. Scared of a little bit of snot.”
“I’ll give you snot,” Spike said. “Come on, time to go. Folks are waiting.”
“Yeah.” Xander stuffed the square in his pocket and lay his hands gently on the coffin lid, feeling the solidity of the wood under his fingers. He’d spent two long days making the coffin, planing and sanding the wood until it was smooth to the touch and polishing it until it was warm to his craftsman’s eye, a coffin fit for the most important woman in his life, even though she would only need it for such a short time. He stroked the wood lightly, then nodded to Spike. In tandem, they lifted it gently until it was balanced and clear of the table. Slowly, carefully they walked up the stairs, Spike shuffling as he backed up, Xander facing forward, guiding him, for once the leader and not the follower. He thought Willow would have approved.
In the hallway, a guard of slayers waited. Vi and Rona, now senior slayers, stood side by side with a dozen more who flanked each side of the hallway. Some had been with the Council for years, some a matter of weeks or months, but they all stood silent, swords in their hands as Spike and Xander and Willow passed.
Pausing on the threshold of the house, where once a set of bloody keys were pushed through a letterbox heralding another aching death, Spike glanced over his shoulder at the hearse waiting outside, at the side of the road. He looked back at Xander. “Right then,” he said. “Her girl is waiting for her somewhere. Let’s take her home.”
A/N: Looking back, I posted the first part of Magpie, the first story in this series, on 24 July 2010. So not quite seven years to the day for this new story, but as near as damn it. Unless RL gets in the way, I'll be posting weekly for the next 16 weeks