Croatoan and Catharsis

Off Suit

Prologue - Croatoan

It took them almost ten years to notice. They had all spent so long living in today - with tomorrow an uncertainty that didn’t bare the grief of consideration - that they had developed an innate blindness to the small changes of those around them. Another five years - spent mostly apart as they struggled to rebuild a world that didn’t even know how close it had come to falling to its knees - and they laughingly made comments about good genes. 

It wasn’t until he came back to see them after long months apart to discover that Giles had stopped growing older and had just grown old that worry began to trickle in. He spent more years apart then, sending letters and overcompensating on extravagant christmas presents delivered by courier, as panic settled into the corners of his mind. 

But one can only live in worry so long before it becomes faded and soft, like old denim, and when he came to them again almost five years later, he had accepted it like another scar. They were all growing older, except him. 

They had researched, as they always did in the face of the unknown. An unbreakable group curled together in a library that had grown larger over the years until it was it’s own room in the building the Council owned. Not the library that had been salvaged from the wreckage of the previous Watchers, but a collection of books and papers they had all acquired over the years, kept separate. The history the pages had seen making them sacred somehow. 

He could tell, for all they tried to understand its meaning, none of them wanted to poke too hard at what they saw as a miracle. Buffy would look at him occasionally, her eyes shining a little too brightly with a contentedness that said she was happy he would live on, passed them.

But he remembered the eyes of an old woman, when he had been to Africa in those first turbulent years, looking at him with such hatred he had stepped back almost immediately. Their small village had somehow managed to have three girls Called in the spell. He had tried, through the sporadic words he knew, and his guide’s limited English, to explain what had happened to them. But they had been branded demons before he arrived, left in the sun for scavengers. He had gotten there when the stench of carrion was still strong and tried not to weep. 

She had stood before him as he tried to understand their reasoning, loathing making her sun battered face hard, and spoken precisely. The words themselves held no meaning for him, and he looked to his guide who was horrorstruck; pale-faced under his darker skin tone. 

The words could not be translated properly, there was nothing in the English language to match the abhorrence conveyed in her curse, but the guide tried nevertheless. May you abide to witness the demise of your progeny

At the time he hadn’t understood what the words meant. He’d been dumbstruck by her hatred, but remained confused by the intent behind them. He spent that night trying to understand the ramifications of what, for all it’s malicious delivery, sounded just a little like hoping he lived a long life.

Now, watching age lines form on those so familiar faces, he began to understand the intention of her words. 


It had been inevitable; everything from the moment he had stood in front of that old woman had been leading up to this. He hadn’t expected it to hurt so much. Willow, Buffy, Giles, they had all done what mortals do best. Willow had been last, thank whatever God was still listening. 

Giles had been first, gone in a screech of metal and fiberglass so mundane it shook them all. Dead on impact the paramedics had assured them, as though it was a comfort. After a while it was. Buffy was next, confused doctors calling it cancer in a voice that said they didn’t know what else to call death in the face of such accepting grief. They made soft jokes, calling the third time a charm. She was buried in a plot next to Giles in a corner of the vast lands the new Council headquarters was built upon, Willow leaning against him. He realised then that she was old too, her face lined by life and her hair the soft white of age. 

He laid his best friend to rest beside Buffy, surrounded by people who’d known her, but not the way he had. Not as the small girl terrified of telling her parents she’d gotten a B on her test in the fourth grade; not as the grief filled woman raging at the world for taking away her reason for living; not as a force of Life, determined to tell Evil that the world would keep spinning, no matter what it threw at them, because she was Love, and she was Hope and she would fight to her last breath to protect it.

He had long ago forgotten how to cry - too much anguish had left him barren - but as he stood at the hole in the ground that signaled the end of the only life he knew, he felt something bend, break.

People left in twos and threes, their forced cheer as they spoke of “the good times” making him grind his teeth. At last they were all gone and he watched from a distance as workers filled the hole in, covering the casket with dirt and chuckled jibes as they worked. A witch came and went, ensuring the body could never be used in ritual or forced to rise by magic. Eventually night fell, the few people who had stayed drifted away. The graveyard may not be on a hellmouth but most people were uncomfortable in a cemetery after dark.

He had carried a knife for so many years he couldn’t really remember not having one. He didn’t really consider what he was going to do too deeply. Just sat at the foot of the row of stones that was all there was left of the Scoobies and felt the steel bite. The wound was deep enough that he couldn’t pick up the knife with his other hand; the tendons severed and useless. 

He lay on his back on the patch of fresh earth, riding the pain and sighed out a breath. 

The sunlight was a surprise, quickly forgotten at the overwhelming pain in his left arm. Fire lanced through his wrist, radiating up past his shoulder. Sitting up left him dizzy but he blinked to focus unfocused eyes as he took in the large patch of dark brown earth where his blood had soaked in. 

Looking at the wound had nausea making its presence very much felt. Turning his head he threw up what little was in his stomach. His shirt managed as a temporary bandage until he could get back to the building he could only just see in the distance and find someone to patch him up. Thankfully the new Council employed quite a few medical staff who knew not to ask questions. 

The stitches tugged whenever he tried to move his hand, and the newly joined tendons were stiff. Slowly the fine motor control returned and within a year or two all that was left was a scar, thick and turning purple whenever it got cold. 

It wasn’t until he tried again that he began to hate the old woman for her words. It was pills this time, collected one at a time from the prescriptions one of the Council doctors had given him for insomnia. The lassitude would have been almost welcoming, if not for the cold. 

It was one of those same Council doctors who found him, curled over the toilet bowl as his body rejected the small pills in a burning flood. She didn’t question what had happened, simply waited until the nausea had passed before taking the last few pills in the bottle and flushing them as well. 

His body reacted to the second attempt in a wholly unexpected way. Small scars, white with age, began to fade and disappear. The socket beneath the patch was a constant irritation, a pain more like pressure left him without words when he tried to explain it to the doctor, Saunders. He really should remember her name. 

Slowly but surely his body began to repair itself, until the only scar left was the one on his wrist, covered almost constantly by the thick strap of a watch he never looked at. The patch was unnecessary now, but he didn’t take it off. 

Every now and then he would try again, wondering if this time death would stick, but inevitably he would come back to find himself lying wherever he had been, Dr Saunders almost always standing over him with a look that was half understanding half despair. 

A strange kind of logic led him back to Willow’s grave. He wondered if this time it would work. The scar had stayed, so maybe repetition was key. Another line of fire, barely an inch between it and the only scar he had left. When he woke it wasn’t yet dawn and he had the distinct feeling of being watched. He wondered, with the same sense of detachment he thought everything, how he would live if he was torn to shreds by a demon. 

A ghost of a smell reached him and he sat up. The roll onto hand and knees to throw up the soup he’d had before coming out was perfunctory. Holding his injured arm close to his side he stared at long remembered white blonde hair. 

“Likely to get eaten, looking all tasty and bleeding like that out here.” There was no acknowledgement of what he was so obviously trying to do, just a casual statement that said a lot about the other man - vampire.

“This close to so many Slayers, not many demons have the balls to try.” He said by way to hello as he struggled to his feet. 

A cool hand caught his right elbow, guiding him slowly towards the lights in the distance and another patch up job. He barely blinked when Dr Saunders slapped him, frustration making her hands shake. 

“Stupid man, didn’t you learn anything from the last time?” She asked, glaring at him and the blonde in equal measure, as though Spike could have stopped him somehow. 

“Can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” He was glad for her, her matter of fact tone to his constant attempts made him feel... more somehow. 

“Looking mighty sprightly for a bloke pushing one hundred, Harris. Demon?” Spike asked as the doctor worked on his arm.

He flinched at the tug he could feel through the anesthetic she’d loaded him with.

“Curse.” he said, and hated.

“Gypsies?” the blonde asked, amusement twinkling in his eyes. 

“Naw, Africa.” This blind acceptance was something he didn’t realise he’d needed, and he held his free hand out for the cigarette permanently between pale lips, surprised when it was handed over without complaint. 

He had only just filled his lungs with the heavy smoke before it was ripped away from him by a frowning Dr Saunders. The outrage on her face made him chuckle for a moment before looking down, contrite. 

“Sorry Doc.”

“One of these days Mr Harris, something is going to stick. Maybe not death, maybe infection. Then where will you be? Hmm?”

“Giving you a pay rise?” he suggested with a humourless quirk of his lips. 

Taking over the Council hadn’t been deliberate. It had happened in inches, slowly over the years as those around him realised he had more knowledge than he knew what to do with. It was unexpected, when he noticed there was no one left within the Council that had seen the start of it all, that had watched a small town in the middle of nowhere fall away into the ground and save the world.

By the time Dr Saunders was done with his wrist the anesthetic was just beginning to wear off; the vaguest of sensations making themselves known. Taking the few pills the doctor gave him he stumbled to his feet, surprised to find Spike ready to grab his elbow. 

“You come see me each day for more,” she said, though they both knew the instruction was unnecessary. She hadn’t trusted him with more than a day’s dose of anything since the first time. 

The vampire was surprisingly gentle as he helped him to bed, asleep almost before his head hit the pillow. When he woke he found the other man still present, booted feet propped against the bed as he leaned back in an armchair he’d obviously moved from the living room. 

Time passed, and motor control returned to his hand much the same way it had done the last time; with a frustrating lack of speed. The vampire had stayed almost a year before he noticed the eyepatch was unnecessary. Modesty had become a farce between the two of them, too many years blurring the lines of the acceptable to almost nothing. Spike had thrown the door to the bathroom open, axe in one hand and a devil-may-care grin on his face as he announced it was Slaying Time. 

The words had fallen to the floor with an almost audible sound as he found the other man leaning against the sink, staring into the mirror with a curious expression. Those dark eyes turned on him with a look the vampire couldn’t hope to decipher before a breath sighed out and he crumpled to the ground. 

He’d been stockpiling pills again, one at a time until he was sure he had enough. Holding the warm body to his own Spike listening to the heartbeat slow, stutter, and thump once, hard enough he was surprised it didn’t crack the boy’s ribs, before it began the slow climb back to something close to normal. 

The blonde flung instructions at the first person who walked in the door - obviously looking for him and the fight he was supposed to be leading - to get Dr Saunders. 

Xander came to with a great gasp of air, and he barely had time to point the brunette at the toilet before he was emptying his stomach. Wrapping a towel around shaking shoulders Spike  was grateful when the doctor turned up, her angry face like a storm.

“You are going to be the death of me, Mr Harris,” she said in a no-nonsense tone as she looked him over once the vomiting had stopped. “From now on you take anything I give you in front of me. Stupid man.”

Eventually she left them with instructions to Spike to keep a firm eye on the pale-faced man. 

“Right, figure you and me have been tap-dancing around some issues for years now. Bit sick of it really. So you’re going to listen, and you’re not going to give me any of your melodramatic shit, right?” Probably an unfair statement since the boy was very rarely melodramatic, but Spike was mad, at Xander and at himself for not noticing the other man’s slide into depression. 

He waited for the careful nod before nodding back, satisfied he was being heard, “This... whatever it is, may have been a curse. Right nasty one at that. But that’s no reason you get to spend the next hundred years acting like a right ponce. Turning into bloody Angel you are. All weeping and moaning over people who’re dead and gone.”

And that statement got a reaction, dark eyes snapping fire at him, “They’re gone Harris, not coming back. Made a good run of it, but they’re mortal, it’s what happens. Don’t mean you don’t love them. But you accept that once they’re gone they’re not coming back. And spending all your energy on finding ways to off yourself is doing nothing but spitting on their memory.

“The old hag that cursed you may have meant you to suffer, but that doesn’t mean you have to. You’ve got a chance some people dream of, boy. Stop pining away for things long gone and use it.”

The blonde paused then, letting the words sink in. When the other man drew breath to speak he nodded his acceptance.

“It’s not... death.” Xander struggled to explain the need, “I’m not trying to off myself. Okay, maybe I am a bit, but it’s... more than that, it’s... relief? No, not quite. I don’t... I’m stuck, Spike. I breathe, and my heart beats, but I don’t... I’m not...” 

“So that’s it.” The blonde said quietly, an understanding in his eyes Xander had never seen before. 

“Right, we’re both knackered. Shove over.” Just like that Spike invited himself into the bed, curling around the human who was still a little cooler than he aught to be. 

When he woke that blonde head was tucked under his chin, cool lips resting against his neck. Shivering from something other than the cold he tried to move away, realising it had definitely been far too long since he had a lover. Pale hands with a strength like steel cable pulled him back, knowing eyes watching him for a moment before those lips were back at his throat. The lightest of pinpricks against his skin and he was arching up, pressing against arms that held him in place. 

“How long?” The question was whispered against his skin in a husky tone that made his breath hitch.

“Don’t know, too long?” His answer was only half coherent. 

“Going about it all wrong Harris. S’not death you’re craving.” Another spark of teeth on flesh, firmer this time, and a hand like cold fire wrapping around him, pulling a groan from the depths of his chest. 

Rolling his hips into the feeling he tried to focus on the other man. “Spike, what?”

“Relax, s’been coming a long time, yeah?” And yeah, he could see how that was true, but he never thought it would feel so... everything. 

His skin was on fire and his muscles burned as they strained in every direction that was nearer to the vampire. When slick fingers found their way inside him he stared into smiling blue eyes and thrust down. He smiled back when irises ballooned out with lust.

The first thrust had him catching his breath, burning again with fireworks behind his eyes. He was caught in the ripple that transformed the face above his, harder planes and sharper teeth suddenly grinning down at him. The need in him writhed and he flipped them, laughing at the look of surprise on those demonic features. It took him a few minutes to figure out the rhythm and he found himself fumbling until cool hands placed his palms on slim shoulders for balance. 

A grin told him he didn’t need to worry about crushing his partner and he let his weight rest until he found a comfortable balance, now able to focus on the man under him. Dimly he wondered if he would freak out about the idea of sleeping with Spike later. A sudden sharp role of slender hips had him deciding that freaking out would only happen if the vampire didn’t keep doing what he was doing right now. 

Feeling the blonde shift under him he worried for a moment that he’d done something to hurt the other man. A hoarse chuckle negated his concern and those steel cable hands were urging his hands back to grip the knees that had come up to support him. 

The change in angle left his rhythm stuttering and he groaned out a thanks at the hands that directed his hips, lifting him easily. He could feel the yawning oblivion in front of him, could see it in the face below his and threw himself headlong into it when needle sharp teeth scraped along his collarbone. 

When he woke a short time later his face was burred in a pale neck, cool hands making soothing patterns across his back. Shifting slightly he was surprised to find an unmistakable fullness still present. Raising an eyebrow in askance, he chuckled at the smug look he got in return. 

“Vampire, mate.” The blond said as he rolled them until he lay looking down at brown eyes.

“Energizer bunny more like.” Xander answered with an easy grin, breath hitching slightly as those so very welcome pale hips rolled slightly. 

“Never heard any complaints yet.” Again that smug tone and reality caught up to him with a quirky slip-punch move.

“What now?” he asked, concerned in a way he hadn’t been in... years. 

“Would have thought that bit was obvious, mate.” Another suggestive roll of those hips and he was holding his breath so he didn’t pant. 

“No, I meant...”

“Know what you meant, luv. Now... I see if I can get you to make that delightful whimpering noise I know you’re going to deny later, then we go beat the snot out of the nest of demons that’s taken to scaring kiddies in the town over, then we come back and do it all over again. Live, Harris. You remember, and live.”

The End