Rating: Mature Audiences – for content and themes
Summary: Xander has PTSD after rescuing one too many slayers. Spike is recovering (sort of) after the battle with W&H. Fate may have it they eventually find each other - she's funny that way.
Spoilers: Sometime in early season five – or possibly late six BtVS.
Warnings: M/M – if you don’t like boys together, don’t play here!
Disclaimer: Don’t own the characters nor make any money from stories etc, and bow down to their original creators Joss, et al., plus all the wonderful online writers who continue to give the Buffy/Angel verse characters life.
Xander’s life fell into a rather set pattern after coming to terms with the routine of the hospital, though he was still rather ‘miffed’ that he could not lock his own door due to the night nurses (male and female) being required to check on him several times a night apparently.
His room was much in the fashion of a classy hotel room – but for the single bed – the en suite ample and it was serviced daily. A small alcove sported a desk and window overlooking a pleasant garden and had sun in the afternoon. Willow had supplied him with a laptop computer, and though internet was not available, he was able to read from the many books she had loaded on for him, listen to music, watch movies, and do something he thought he would never undertake post high school, write.
In the beginning it was just random thoughts on a document, but as the days passed he began to compose somewhat of a journal of his travels, trying to remember places and people from his past in minute detail. It was a healing process of sorts, though he still avoided the harsher realities of his experiences.
He was always up and showered by the time the morning call for breakfast came, greeting Charles with a genuine smile on the fifth day, before padding down the long corridor to the dining room.
Breakfast started at 7.30am and finished at 9, though the ‘perpetually confused’ members of their exclusive club tended to wander in just after the kitchen closed, much to the cook’s chagrin. They were always fed and given the same speech about arriving on time complete with stern looks and promises that this was the ‘last time’.
He avoided most of his fellow patients for the first two days, but after art therapy on day three, began to talk to a rather portly gent who sported a stiff back brace and suffered from chronic back pain due to an injury incurred when a rather violent attack on his clothing shop saw him defend a young worker against thieves and saw him tossed down a set of stairs. Kevin apparently checked himself in a couple of times a year for pain management and ‘to give the missus a break’, though Xander came to the conclusion that it was rather the other way around.
Dr Hokin visited each afternoon, and despite Xander’s efforts to the contrary, managed to have him admit to some of the horrors of his time in Africa, his early home life and the devastation that led to his loss of an eye (carefully edited) and the consequent demise of Sunnydale (again with details of vampires witches etc deliberately omitted). For the first time since what seemed like a lifetime ago, he allowed himself to grieve for his parents, and Anya, and Spike, and the many others he had witnessed passing in the event.
In one particularly harrowing session, he admitted his feelings of powerlessness over circumstance, his thoughts of impotence in the face of ‘unspeakable odds’ and his lack of ability to save the people he was charged with protecting. Dr Hokin had taken notes, made some suggestions and recommended that he take his time before deciding to ‘check out’. And after a week of ‘lockdown’, recommended that Xander join the small group of patients who were allowed to attend the local pool and fitness center.
Despite his trepidation, he was still appreciative when Giles delivered his swimming gear, and from the moment he dived in to the warm water, he felt that life just might improve. He hadn’t really swum since high school, not for recreation at least, though there had been several times when he had been forced to make an escape via the aquatic route during his time rounding up new slayers. After initially experiencing dismay at his lack of condition, three days into the new routine he simply pedaled up and down with an easy freestyle and genuinely enjoyed the feeling of exercising ‘for the heck of it’.
So that became the pattern. Breakfast and morning meds, group therapy, lunch, afternoon at the aquatic center, dinner, chat with his doctor, evening meds, write, then bed… and repeat. Giles visited twice, once to bring in his fitness gear, and the second as a courtesy. Other than that, he was left to his daily happenings and began to heal, a little at a time.
Spike would never admit it aloud, but the drive north with Connor was rather fun.
For a start, the boy was genuinely friendly, intelligent and a willing and (as it turned out) a witty conversationalist.
Spike was still chuckling and staring out the passenger side window after Connor’s rather terrible attempt to imitate Spike’s accent.
“Oh come on! It wasn’t that bad!”
“Little more coaching and around ten years of proper practice mate, you might just ‘ave it down.” Spike punched the driver lightly in the arm and grinned in his direction as Connor tried his best to look annoyed.
“Alright, you do American SoCal then… if you can.”
“Ah let’s see…” Spike paused for effect whilst trying rather desperately to think of the correct terminology to suit the accent.
“OK how’s this?” then in a falsetto voice said, “OMG I cannot believe you’re wearing that. You do realize that halter tops that colour are so last year.”
Connor roared laughing and almost changed lanes by mistake before offering an apology, “Geez Spike, if I knew you did ‘little sister speak’ I would not have started this!”
Spike grinned and pushed his right arm out of the open window to catch the draft of the car as they sped along the I5, still wondering at his immunity to the sun. “Just as well then mate, figure if I’ve gotta meet your nearest an’ dearest afore we hit campus, might as well give it a go. Anyways, was taught by the best. Slayers little sis used to spend a fair bit of time with me before…”
Spike cut off suddenly, and Connor spared a sideways glance, seeing in a short moment the pang of pain wash across handsome features, so he quickly shifted the subject.
“Mum and Dad will just love to get to know you I’m sure.”
“That right? So what’ve you told ‘em? That I’m a dashing 150+ year old vampire, who’s a relative of sorts and who’s saved the world a time or two?”
It was Connor’s turn to scoff, “Yeah right, not. I told them you are a Post Doc student in Law History, and before you ask, Matti told me about your studies, well a bit. Anyways I figured, you are here to look at the American legal system and doing some tutoring on the side. Oh, and that you write poetry as a hobby.”
“This mean I have to invest in a brown swede patched jacket, an’ a pith helmet or sommit? Bugger that!”
“Spike… geez… Just?! I know who you are, and what you are, and kind of get that you are a whole lot more, especially intellectually. Just play along… please? Remember why we’re stopping in?”
Spike looked a little contrite (and somewhat pleased) after the outburst, and muttered a quiet, “No worries mate. I’ll give it me best.”
A few hours later they pulled up to the front of a pretty double story home in Fremont, in a leafy suburb that was bordered by Lake Elizabeth.
Spike would never admit to being nervous, but still brushed himself down as he departed the small RV and wished that his ‘upgrade’ had come with the ability to check in a mirror.
Connor strode up the path with a confidence and familiarity that Spike did not share, the vampire hanging back, hoping he would be found an acceptable candidate for the O’Neill’s son’s venture into independent living ‘out of digs’. He need not have worried.
Connor’s adoptive mother was at the open front door before her son even made it to the bottom step of the porch. The woman reminding Spike instantly of Joyce Summers with associated easy smile and pleasant demeanor that promised a warm welcome.
Connor immediately fell into a hearty hug then turned to introduce the interloper. “Mum, this is S…William, the guy I met in L.A. that I told you about.”
Warm hazel eyes were turned on Spike as he too made his way up the stairs. “So lovely to meet you William. Connor has told us all about you. I’m so glad you boys could stop in while you do your house hunting. And you really must stay until you’re all settled. I’m so glad Connor has decided to… well it doesn’t matter at the moment… come in… Come in!”
Spike, to his credit, took the offered hand but rather than shaking it, gave it a genteel kiss on the back followed by “Charmed Mrs O’Neill. And thank you so much for the welcome.”
In the ensuing four days it took for Spike and Connor to find new lodgings near(ish) to Stanford, Connor was amazed at how easily Spike was incorporated into their house, and a little jealous of all the attention his sisters seemed to pay their unexpected guest, particularly when it came to the number of girlfriends who happened to ‘drop by’ in the two afternoons they were actually at home.
His sisters (to their credit) were rather protective of their brother’s new friend, making sure he always had an exit planned as a seemingly endless number of female lashes were batted in his direction over glasses of iced tea or simply across a room.
Finally Spike took matters into his own hand admitting, apparently embarrassed that he was in fact ‘gay’, and had no designs on the brother Connor as he, Spike, was but temporarily parted from the love of his life due to work commitments. It was an embellishment of the truth to be sure, but seemed to quell the tide of young women apparently determined to win his heart. It didn’t stop Connor’s youngest sister Claire from all but begging Spike to accompany her to the Homecoming Ball at her high school. He begged off (backed by Connor’s mother) on the grounds that he was far too old, promptly suggesting a number of prospective beaus more suited to the task.
Though she pouted at the time, the handsome captain of the swim team eventually came to the party and Spike was afforded a reprieve.
The trip back to the Council HQ and Giles' home was odd after the five weeks of safety in a place that Xander had come to think of home, the Delmont, but it had to happen eventually. In that place he had found his high school physical form (severe loss of weight and associated adult construction musculature notwithstanding), had a schedule he knew was important to keep, had rediscovered his love of woodwork, and to continue writing, though the subject matter was becoming something he would rather not share - other than anonymously online to a random writers’ group which he had learned of whilst he was ‘convalescing’ from Justin, a rather intense young man with jet black hair, effeminate features and a penchant for spitting into the nearest bush whenever anyone mentioned their mother.
And despite, or perhaps because of, Justin’s enthusiasm that he should post anything he wrote, Xander found he actually enjoyed the feedback, and so began his venture into the world of fantasy. Although for him it was autobiographical for the most part.
He was given a space in the coven workshop to create with wood and when not there took himself to his room to write. But Giles still worried on a number of levels.
Xander was certainly ‘better’, but Giles still remembered the big hearted, open boy from Sunnydale and struggled with the quiet, withdrawn man, though no longer feared the man might take his own life as two of Giles’ peers had during his university days. It did not stop him worrying for Xander’s future however, and there was no way Giles could imagine him going back into the field without disastrous repercussions.
Xander attended the outpatient program at the Delmont twice a week and saw Dr Hokin every month, took his medication and tried hard to fit back into life at Council headquarters, but he felt directionless and useless on the whole. Who really wanted a one eyed, emotionally damaged ‘nutter’ in their lives longer term. He had no formal training, just a whole lot of experiences. He’d been out of the construction business since leaving Sunnydale, so even something he had prided himself as being good at in years past was no longer available. He voiced his worry in several of the group therapy sessions and to Dr Hokin. Eventually the suggestion that he try his hand at a woodwork course being run at a local arts and crafts center provided a focus and Giles organized some tools and a small workshop at Council headquarters.
A month after establishing the workshop, Giles thought Xander was doing a lot better particularly as he seemed to be taking a keen interest in his woodwork and continued to write. But when Willow visited for the first time since Xander’s stay in hospital, Giles was confronted by a tearful witch and realized that he had perhaps simply become used to the changed man.
“He’s not the same person Giles… it’s like he’s lost himself! And he’s so thin!”
“My dear he’s put on some weight since before hospital, but I confess he eats only if I cook and put it in front of him. I fear that he often goes the whole day without more than a small meal at night if he’s in his workshop. The days he attends the clinic I know he at least gets morning tea and lunch.”
“When I asked him about friends he just shrugged and kept on sanding the table top he’s working on.” Willow blew her nose and wiped away tears before continuing, “What can we do? We have to do something! Maybe there’s a spell that would help?”
Giles took Willow’s small hand in his, “No Willow. No spell. He has to heal on his own and it will be a long journey. We simply need to be there to support him when he needs it. As Dr Hokin and all his therapists keep saying PTSD is not a simple fix and even the professionals say it is not a single solution that will help but a combination. They are doing their best and so must we, the rest is up to Xander.”
Mid afternoon post Willow’s visit he found Xander sitting in a darkened bedroom staring at himself in a mirror apparently blank. He turned the light on and the brunette jumped to standing and swung around with fright.
“Are you alright, dear fellow?”
“Fine, I’m… yeah I guess I’m fine. The mirror is wonky though.” Giles nodded at the strange comment, “I see. Well I’m about to make tea, would you like a slice of apple cake with it Meredith my secretary’s specialty”
“No, just a black tea would be fine… just a bit weaker than last time.”
“Indeed. Are you coming down?”
“Yeah, be there in a minute. Just need a shower.” Giles was about to point out that Xander had already showered that day but thought better of it.
“Right I’ll see you in ten then.”
Xander grabbed the towel from where it hung by the heater, slung it over his shoulder and made his way down the hall in the opposite direction to Giles.
Giles woke suddenly around 3am the next morning to agonizing screaming from Xander’s room down the hall. Grabbing his old robe from behind the door and flinging it on he raced to the younger man’s door and burst inside, flicking the light on as he went.
Xander was curled up in a ball in the corner of his room arms over his head as if under attack intermittently crying out and sobbing. Giles squatted down beside him and gentled away resistant arms. When Xander scrambled away and jammed himself between his dresser and the bed, Giles followed this time speaking to him as though to a frightened child, “Xander… Xander… It’s just me, Giles… It’s just me… Xander you’re safe… Your safe here…”
After a long minute the young man looked up, staring at Giles with a wild look of terror in his eye and blood from a nasty gash on his forehead dripping into the empty socket of the other. Giles took both Xander’s hands in his and said quietly, “What’s happening son? What are you seeing? Xander it’s me Giles, can you tell me what’s wrong?”
Xander gave a hitched sob and whispered, “They just keep dying… all just ripped apart and dead… bloodied and all dead… and I can’t help… can’t reach…” He started to hyperventilate and shake violently then let out a blood curdling scream, followed by “No… No!! I can’t breathe… I can’t… help me!!! I’m disappearing… I’m disappearing… I can’t breath and I’ll be gone… just like them… gone… gone…”
Giles grabbed him by the shoulders and with a strength borne of desperation pulled the bigger man into his lap and enveloped him in a tight hug and simply held on, repeating over and over, “You’re here Xander, you’re here and you’re safe.”
Eventually the shaking subsided somewhat and Xander went quiet, but for the occasional sob.
Giles gentled him up until he could sit on the bed and wrapped him in a comforter, and sat next to him rubbing small circles on his back. “I’ll get you some mirtazapine OK? Later we’ll ring Dr Hokin OK? I’ll only be a minute, will you be OK if I do that?”
Xander gave a single nod and pulled the comforter tighter.
True to his word Giles collected Xander’s drugs and a glass of water juggling that and the phone he returned to Xander’s room as quickly as possible. Rather than ringing Dr Hokin’s rooms he called the hospital and spoke to a member of their CAT team. After a few pointed questions, the advice was that a bed was available, so he should bring the boy in the next morning and they would contact his doctor on his emergency number immediately.
At least Xander seemed happy at that, knew where he was going and why.
He was welcomed easily by a nurse he knew and ushered to a different wing to that he had stayed in previously, but the rooms were much the same.
Giles had carefully packed his laptop and basic clothing, intent upon visiting the following day with anything else necessary. His drugs were checked in and Xander left sitting on his bed still shaky and staring into space but at least somewhat calm, or at least resigned, regards what was to happen next.
All settled, he trained his one good eye on Giles and stated in a flat tone, “It’s OK Giles, go home. I’ll be fine now. Second home and all that apparently…”
The old Watcher looked rather pained by the despondent tone, but still managed a forced cheerful, “Right then, I’ll let the Art Center know you’ll be missing for a week or two.”
“Yeah, taa… I finished the table top at least.”
“Indeed you did Xander, and it’s beautiful… indeed you did… Well, I’ll leave you to it. Your computer is plugged in on the desk if you want to….”
He barely heard the “Yeah, whatever,” as the brunette curled into a ball and faced away from Giles as the Watcher departed. It would be four hours before Dr Hokin was available for a consultation, but at least Giles felt that the troubled brunette would be well cared for (again).
A week later, Xander had fallen back into the pattern that was life at the hospital after the initial shame he felt at having to return so soon, but there were others there that remembered him. The staff were understanding and helpful, the therapists reassuring, and some of the inpatients genuinely welcoming. It wasn’t home, it wasn’t permanent, nor was it ideal, but it was a reprieve. His drugs were changed and he slept dreamlessly for the most part as a consequence. There was no workshop, but he did return to his art and his writing pace increased.