Set Asunder

He sat in the living room on the couch, grateful beyond words that the girls had opted to spend their slumber party below stairs. Mattresses and more pillows than a handful of girls should need had turned the basement into a veritable haven.

No doubt the fact that Spike had moved out of the basement had much to do with it as well.

He glanced upstairs, listening. No sound, nothing moving. Everyone was asleep.

As they should be. The night was almost over, and, like always, they'd been up til ridiculous hours trying to figure out how to save the world. His own angry words notwithstanding.

He hadn't meant to shout at them. By the looks on their faces he knew they hadn't understood. Guilt, yes, but confusion as well and he couldn't blame them. How could he think that life stopped when the battle waned? Wasn't life the whole point?

He sighed and rubbed his face, tipping his glasses up. He was tired, and he ought to lie down. Get some sleep, or at least allow his body to rest while his mind whirled with other things. How did you defeat something you could not touch?

As he moved his hand and his glasses fell back into place, his gaze came to rest on the couch opposite the room. Why Xander didn't sleep at home, he hadn't asked. Perhaps the reason was obvious -- they could be attacked at any time. Perhaps the reason was less obvious, and the young man simply couldn't not be here when things were about to end.

He'd had no right to accuse them of forgetting what they faced. Dropping his gaze, he told himself he would apologise in the morning. To Buffy, at least, because she was the one who needed most to understand. If not everything, at least that he still supported her. She wouldn't understand everything because how could he tell her?

How could he say that the words had been ripped out because he'd had to say something? Something that wasn't 'how dare you mock me'.

Those words hadn't been directed at him, though. He knew it -- had known since the first time he'd seen Xander after his summer away. None of the words were directed at him anymore. No snide remarks and no half-glanced jokes that meant everything if you knew what lay beneath them. Everything forgotten, marked up to a past best left behind.

And there was no way he could cast that blame solely on Xander. He'd tried so hard to unmake everything that he'd done that he'd been grateful when nothing was said. Take one slip of control and forget it ever happened, take all those subsequent slips and pretend they were fantasies. Pretend he hadn't abused his authority and damaged a young boy who might have--

And he had forgotten, or at least he'd been able to pretend, until tonight. Laughing about a thing which made it difficult to even speak, sometimes. Mocking the very thing which he sometimes allowed himself to pray for.

He laughed, suddenly. Maudlin, in the early hours of the morning. That he had ever prayed Xander would tell him that he'd run so fast to Anya -- then run finally away -- was because of him. Could wishful thinking be called a prayer? Could dreaming about touching him one more time be called anything but delusion?

Turning his head, it was easy to see him. Asleep, bandaged and worse the wear from whatever impulse had driven him to date a strange girl in the middle of a war. Was it just that Xander felt so much a part of the world they sought to protect, that he slid easily from warrior to everyman, going to work and making conversation with beautiful strangers as though the word evil was only something you saw on telly?

Or was it just that it was very, very late at night, and he hadn't had any sleep, that made him wonder if Xander was still just trying to run?

Was that why he'd stood up and crossed the room, silently, hands in his pockets like always so he wouldn't reach out and touch the one person no one else ever knew he'd ever longed to hold? Was it delusion or dream that made him walk all the way over to the other couch and stand there, looking down, seeing the crease of pain on Xander's face and the still, soft way he breathed in his sleep?

And was it madness that made him kneel, and lean over, brushing his hand along Xander's shoulder to wake him, then do what he had never done before? Two things he'd never done, before it was over, and when he leaned back on his heels and watched how Xander stared at him, he was already wording his reply. Apologies and whispers in the dark, and they would never speak of it again. But it was done, and would not be undone. A kiss, and a simple I love you -- and he tried not to think about how many times Xander had whispered those words to him, in the library. How many times he'd wished he had simply returned them instead of letting the darkness swallow them up.

He said nothing as Xander stared at him, closing his eyes and opening them again in a timeless gesture of ensuring one was awake. He gathered himself to stand, to go, and thought perhaps no words at all would be best. The night and the darkness would make none of this real come morning, and they would all go on as they were, trying to defeat an evil and trying to make the best of themselves in the meantime.

"No."

He froze at Xander's word, and the apologies began to spill out, stammered and inadequate for taking what he'd done away.

Then his hand was being taken, and he found himself pulled down, and pulled in, and despite still being fully dressed and too astonished to move, he found himself down on the couch and wrapped in arms much stronger than he remembered.

"I don't--" he began again.

"Shh."

The couch was barely big enough for both of them, but he couldn't -- didn't want to -- move. Xander was already closing his eyes, going back to sleep, and he couldn't for the life of him bring himself to object.

When he woke, it was to the sound of giggling in the kitchen and a painful crick in his neck and a wonderful warmth all along his body that made him think that perhaps, in spite of everything, the nighttime does have happy endings.