The tin soldier was the first in a long line of odd little gifts Spike gave Xander. Out of the blue, no reason at all, no explanation given kind of gifts. Xander took the presents and put them away, smiling that smile that said thanks and wow and maybe I don’t know what this means but I’ll be damned if I question it too close. He made it part of his morning routine, standing next to the curio cabinet Anya left behind, cup of last night’s coffee in one hand, the other hand resting on the shelf right in front of the soldier. Xander knew it was old, kinda suspected that it was something of William’s that Spike just couldn’t let go of. And cherished it all the more for that.
Soon the shelf began to fill up, Xander had to get rid of Grandma’s chipped porcelain plates to make room for the other little bits Spike gave him. A little pink seashell from a country that no longer had a sea, feathers from a crow and a raven, rocks and pennies and tiny twisted shards of lightning-struck sand turned to glass.
The little tin soldier was the only item that made it out of Sunnydale when the sky collapsed, tucked safe in the bottom of Xander’s duffel, carefully wrapped in a hideous tropical shirt he was positive Spike really did like.
Years later, when he finally had his own house, complete with a white picket fence and a dog, the first piece of furniture he made for the living room was a dark oak curio cabinet. It took six months to find glass doors he liked and a special order of black velvet and red Chinese silk before Xander was happy with his soldier’s new resting-place. He felt a measure of comfort, of familiarity the first morning he stood in front of the cabinet, cup of last night’s coffee in one hand, the other resting on the shelf just in front of the toy. He tipped his cup, saluting a fallen friend, and drained the rest of the coffee in a single long swallow.
So his life went on, coffee in the morning, lunch with the crew on site, the occasional slayage after work. He went out on dates, chatted on the phone with friends, and took the dog for long daylight walks through the park. And then the sky fell in again.
Xander knew when the phone rang that it wasn’t a good thing. First off it was still the middle of the night, and the frantic quality to its peals just screamed Willow in panic. He could hear Willow before the receiver made it to his ear, her shrill chants of ‘Please be sitting, oh Goddess, please let him be sitting’ made him very grateful that he was still lying flat in bed. By the time he said ‘Hello’, her words had dissolved into inconsolable sobbing, and Xander could picture Willow curled on the floor around the phone. A quiet scuffle, then the unmistakable sounds of ‘hemming’ and ‘ahhing’ announced that Giles had taken the phone from Willow and was prepared to deliver the apocalyptic news himself.
“I…I don’t quite know how to put this, Xander, so I suppose…its Spike, Xander.” There was silence on both ends of the phone, Giles in England looking absently around for a cloth to swipe at his glasses with, and Xander in America slowly climbing out of bed to stand on shaky legs then sitting heavily on the edge of the bed.
“Is Anya next?” Xander turned on the bedside lamp, then stood again, walking blindly to the living room. Feet taking him straight to the curio.
Giles processed this for a few seconds, years of trying to follow Xander-based logic helping him to trace the line of mental babble that lead him to that question.
“Ah, no. I don’t think so anyway. Anya died a natural death, her mission fulfilled. Spike, it’s difficult to explain.”
Xander opened the case, fingers tracing the familiar lines of the tin soldier.
“Ok, fine. Spike’s alive, and you felt you had to call me in the middle of the night because…?” he plucked the toy from its cushion, carried it over to the couch cradled safely against his heart.
“Well, ah, Spike called here earlier today, we were so stunned that when he asked where you were, ah, I told him.”
Xander later hoped he’d at least said goodbye before he hung up on Giles, but he never asked, and Giles never said.
He barely registered the sun rising, making his ritual cup of coffee by instinct. The whirlwind in his mind slowed down, memories finally playing out in real time rather than fast-forward-skip-pause-flip-flip-flip
The first time Spike kissed him, full moon shining down, illuminating the blood and gore coating his battle-mussed hair. The first time he had his hand wrapped around Spike’s cock, listening as guttersnipe words smoothed out into a silky rumbling growl. Long nights spent just wrapped and petted and coddled by Spike, letting his lover indulge in his need to touch.
Fucking like weasels.
Mapping out the scars covering his lover’s body, hearing the mostly gruesome details of how they were earned, kissing them all better.
The scar over his eye, a keepsake from his first slayer. The long silver lines from various ‘discipline’ sessions with Angelus. The faint scoring on his neck from Dru, when she prattled on about fish and shining lights as she took his life away. Until Xander was sure he could mold and sculpt Spike’s body in perfect detail.
And then…then it all crumbled.
Xander wandered the confines of his house, replaying those final days over and over again in his mind. Spike knew he was going to die, for that matter so did Xander. They never spoke of it, never acknowledged it, and just took advantage of the time they had left.
Xander placed the tin soldier back in the curio, carefully nestling it back on the velvet. He stood quietly for a moment, staring at the toy, then stepped back and slammed the door. The glass spiderwebbed, hazy white lines spiraling out in a jagged circle, then falling to the floor like crazy splintered confetti.
He followed them down, arms curling around his legs to create a perfect hidey-hole to duck his head into. Cried until his eye ran out of tears and his chest ran out of sobs. Then in the grand tradition of can’t keep a good man down, he picked himself up, brushed himself off, then set about preparing for his visitor.
“I was broken, Xan, broken and fixed and broken again until I was just a jigsaw puzzle put back in the box without any corners.” Xander jumped, it was the first time Spike had spoken since knocking on the door an hour earlier. Spike didn’t seem to notice, just pushed his too long hair out of his eyes and continued ducking from corner to corner. He wouldn’t look at Xander, didn’t actually touch anything, just kinda flitted in whatever space he occupied.
“Wolfram and Hart makes the Initiative look like schoolyard bullies.” He lapsed into silence again, standing perfectly still against the wall. Xander stared, trying to reconcile this version of Spike with his memory version, and couldn’t do it.
“I’m just gonna…I’ll be…crap.” He edged out of the room, gathering up supplies on his way to the bathroom. Clean sweats to replace the ratty jeans and sweater, scissors to cut the matted hair on his head, blood to replace some of the color in his cheeks. Xander ran the tub, making the water as hot as he dared, laid out towels and a new razor. Fiddled around the bathroom as long as he could, until he had to admit to himself that he was procrastinating.
Spike was in the same spot Xander had left him. He only flinched a little when Xander curled his hands over the too frail bones of his shoulders, only mumbled quietly when Xander pulled him from the corner. Xander was absurdly proud of this.
He let Xander strip him bare, quietly thankful when Xander didn’t cringe at the mapwork of scars marring his flesh. He sunk down into the water when Xander pushed lightly on his shoulder, ducked his head under when Xander tipped him back. Blinked slowly when Xander began to strip.
“Gonna have to get you under the showerhead to rinse all that off.” Spike looked down at the water, frowning at the dark gray film floating on the surface. He nodded then stood up, holding his hand out to help Xander climb into the tub.
Xander smiled, until this moment, he wasn’t sure how things were going to turn out.
It took weeks for Xander to find out what had happened, he’d had to piece together jumbled nightmares and halting conversations with Spike, and long heart-to-hearts with Giles before he got a good picture.
One very hungry dragon.
Angel had died, taking the dragon with him. Spike had lived.
Wolfram and Hart wanted their vampire with a soul. They weren’t above studying vampire physiology while they waited for key prophecies to roll around.
And then, they just let him go. Turned Spike loose in the streets shattered and bloody and half-starved. It took Spike months before he was able to feed on anything larger than alley cats, months after that to speak with any kind of coherency.
Years before he called Giles.
There were days, now, when it was the old Spike. Snark and snarl and bristled tail arched up. Nights that he pulled the shiny new duster over his shoulder and tied the unscuffed Docs on his feet, stalking the shadows in full game face.
Those were the good days, few and far between. Mostly it was Spike curled in Xander’s chair, jumping at noises and dust motes dancing in the air. He was silent on those days, watching Xander do his thing with unblinking eyes.
And through it all, Xander coped. He dealt. He held Spike during the nightmares and followed him out on the hunt. He let Spike build a nest in his closet, with his good work shirts and old flannel pajama bottoms. He fed Spike from a mug on the good days, and opened a vein on the bad ones, just to let him connect with something.
Xander woke one night with Spike sitting on his legs. His eyes glowed neon yellow in the darkness, and his fangs were blinding with the moonlight bouncing off them. Both arms were clutched around an object, pulled in tight and safe against his chest. Xander let his eye adjust to the dark before sitting up, before holding out his hand for whatever Spike was protecting. He smiled when he saw the tin soldier.
“I gave this to you, I remember that.” Spike’s voice seemed to come from far away, hollow and vague. Xander waited, knowing he wasn’t done.
“It belonged to William, Dru took it the night…the night she took me.” Spike ran his fingers down the toy’s profile, tracing the hand-etched folds of the soldier’s uniform. “You never had one, growing up. That’s why, you know.” Xander just nodded, he’d figured it out just after the collapse of Sunnydale.
“You’d never been to the seashore, never seen the marvels that I had. I wanted to share that with you, but didn’t know how.” Spike fiddled with the toy a bit more, then reverently laid it in Xander’s lap. Xander moved the soldier, then reached out for Spike.
“Ya know, I think we’re gonna be ok.”
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