As always, feedback makes me dance around and cackle like Drusilla. X_x
Previous chapter found here.
Empty of Tomorrow 2/?
by Meredith Bronwen Mallory
Out of sheer habit, Xander stood in front of the mirror as he prepared to go out of the evening. He ran his hands along his body, smoothing fabric, tugging at his belt. Cataloguing, as if he was blind, and could only 'see' through touch. He'd pulled a simple, cream silk shirt down over his smooth black jeans, adding a thin golden chain to dangle just above the second, unlatched button of his shirt. Behind him, his frabri-leather jacket (he didn't even think they made things in leather these days) lay folded on the bed. None of these clothes were ones he really liked, or would have chosen on his own. He felt strange in them, as if they'd been painted on, and everyone could see it.
"Have to look the part, Xan-man," he lectured himself. "Big, bad-ass vampire, here." The last bit came out as a snort. He ran his hands haphazardly through through his shoulder-length hair, frowning at the blank glass. As a human, he'd always felt a vague suspicion towards the mirror, as if-- while not exactly lying to him-- it warped things in some subtle way that he could not divine. It was like a child's picture book, illustrations laid side-by-side-- now, what's off, what's missing, what doesn't belong? Or maybe it was more that the mirror showed him all the things he did not want to see; a bruise from he's father's thick fist, the tacky uniform of yet another greasy restaurant, the painfully hopeful eyes of a boy trying so hard to be a man. Now, some forty years since his turning, there wasn't much Xander wouldn't give to see his reflection just once more. Without that mischievous doppleganger, it feels as if he's just a pair of hands, calloused from heavy construction work, and the occasional lock of hair falling in his face. Seeing is believing. He'd remembered Willow and Tara, curled together on Giles' couch with some oversized tome-- Tara's voice, golden and earthy. 'Believing makes things real.'
(Spike, combing his freshly bleached hair, smile sweet as sin. Not a lock out of place, not a single crease in his jacket.
"How do you do it?" Xander's voice, strained with sheer vexation. Spike turned his attention to his Childe's clothing, tugging at corners, smoothing Xander's hair. The fledgling batted a wandering hand away. "How do you know you've got it right-- that you look fine-- without the mirror?"
Willow once talked about trickster deities; Loki, Manu, the Monkey King. Neither good or bad, just chaotic-- unexpected, unpredictable, playing by rules of their own. Morally ambivalent, she said. That was the light in Spike's eyes then, pleasure in perfect mischief. It was a look that never failed to melt something within Xander's chest, relaxing in this boyish flash of youth. A kiss, unifying and intense, then:
"Easy, pet. I know I always look like a god.")
A god of marble, Xander thought absently, staring at the mirror. There were nights when he barely glanced at it-- just stood in front of it, getting on with life, such as it were. Nights when he could go through the motions, watching the flashing lights of the cities and highways on a sort of mindless cruise control. He felt the absence of his Sire always, like a deep fatal hole, but there were days when he could look at it and feel clinically detached. 'Going to kill me one day, maybe,' he'd think, calm as anything. He'd move in an ocean of anesthesia, watching the colors wash out and drain. Then there were nights like this one, a needle sinking into his dreams, finding its way past the numbed skin and all the way down to the bone. He hated being aware of himself-- he hated to feel.
'Mirror, mirror, on the wall,' he thought, almost laughing. 'Got any advice for a depressed vampire?'
'Out to lunch,' he imagined the mirror replying mechanically, 'be back in twenty.' Xander quirked a forced smile, shrugging on his coat and shoving his card key in his pocket. The emptiness seemed to seep into the room, to-- in pure contradiction-- _fill_ it from wall to wall, soaking into the towels and the bedspread and Xander's pores. He left, face as blank as he was trying feel, letting the door fall shut behind him.
The mirror reflected an empty room-- just as it had the whole time.
"Stop thinking so hard, pet," Spike's slightly sleep-roughened voice made Xander's body jump just a little, as if it had received the smallest bolt of electricity. He could almost feel Spike's energy, the very essence of what Spike was, running through his newly deadened body like a charge. It scrambled the images in the young vampire's mind, but could not dispel them completely.
(Giles. So stuffy, so well-read. Grown-up. 'You must understand,' speaking to Buffy, his hand on her shoulder, 'that once someone is turned, they are no longer the person you knew. The body is host to a demon-- a powerful one. The packaging means nothing.'
Jesse, his mouth a round 'O' of surprise.)
"You woke me up, turning those wheels." There were kisses, of course, pressed into Xander's neck, his hair, sprinkled on his shoulders. Like the charge, Xander's body soaked up those constant touches, storing them all.
"Where are we, exactly?" Xander asked, making no attempt to escape from Spike's tight embrace. His helplessness, his anger, seemed to curdle in his body, finding no outlet. It lay like a layer of oil over a hidden affection-- over all the feelings he would deny.
"Little town in Colorado," the elder vampire replied, settling deeper into the thick quilts. "Why-- trying to plan your escape?"
Desolately, "I _can't_. Where would I go?" The anger in his voice did not seem to surprise or even bother his sire. Spike laid still, as if listening to something underneath Xander's words. "Willow and Buffy... I can't let them see what I am. What you _made_ me."
"They wouldn't stake you," Spike said consideringly. His hand came up to pet the other man's hair, "They'd give you the benefit of the doubt, I think. Want to stick your so-called 'soul' on tight. I'm surprised you don't want one now."
"I don't deserve it," the fledgling murmured, not sure if he meant the soul, or his friend's simple faith. Spike seemed to know, seemed to have discovered something Xander himself did not know.
"You're not telling me all of it," he seemed so certain, nipping lightly at Xander's ear. "What are you hiding?"
(Smoke, music. Harmonic chords, vibrating through the floor, in the body, music you could touch. Jesse, prowling, scanning the crowd. There were screams then, yes, discordant shouts and cries. Underneath those copper lights, his best friend's face had broken, dissolved into a nothing that slipped through Xander's hands.)
"Nothing. You're not all-knowing." Trying for disdain, ending up with petulance.
"I know you, love. My poor little boy," said with kindness that made the fledgling want to hide, "tell Sire what it is." For a moment, Xander wished-- wished so intensely that he was sure, despite the distance, the hellmouth was going to make it so-- that he could hear mocking in Spike's voice. Loathing, dismissal, even pity; anything save this concern, this gentle imprisonment. "Is it that you want a soul? Would that make you feel better?"
"I know I'm still me-- and I don't want to have anything in common with Deadboy." A pause, "Besides, if I'm still me, what difference is a soul going to make?"
Spike chuckled, but didn't seem to hear Xander's question. "You could have a soul, I suppose," he considered, "if you really, really wanted." As if offering a shiny bauble to a child.
'No,' the fledgling corrected himself-- there was too much genuine concern in it for that. More like gentle coaxings for a child afraid of the dark. Xander shivered under the silken sheets, somehow disturbed by this generosity.
"I don't want one," he said angrily, "I know what I am."
"Do you?" Spike asked, rolling to pin Xander with fantastically elegant speed. Kneeling over his child, the Master Vampire caressed the side of Xander's face with a single finger staring down.
"A vampire." Said easily. Did he know, even then, that such a statement was like saying the ocean was full of water? Vast understatement. Oversimplification.
"Oh no," Spike smiled, it seemed to hurt him, though his childe could not imagine why. "You're mine-- my Childe, my Consort. All mine." He leaned down, close to Xander's ear, short platinum locks brushing so soft against the younger vampire's cheek. "Show me your true face," his Sire urged, husky, wanting, "let me see my beautiful baby boy."
The "No!" that burst from Xander's chest was delayed by moments of shock. He thrashed, managed to bury his face in one of the plump feather pillows.
"You don't need to breathe. You can't very well smother yourself," Spike said, sounding genuinely amused.
"Watch me try," Xander said stubbornly, even as his Sire lifted the pillow away. "You see my face when I feed," he offered logically. 'From you' was the unspoken end of that sentence. Since his awakening, Xander had only tasted the thick, rich blood of the elder vampire. Spike's blood-- heady, sometimes hinting at sweet, filled always with emotions that washed through the boy with a gentle possessiveness that made his trembling afterwards somewhat ironic.
"You need to learn to shift," Spike said with surprising patience. "I would feed you from me forever, but you won't get strong-- not off the swill I drink." A brief flash of disgust, passing quickly into determination. "An' anyway, I'm your Sire," Spike grinned, "my duty to teach you to hunt, an' all."
Xander blanched visibly, feeling a nausea that had nothing to do with his useless stomach. Underneath that, or perhaps part of it, was a longing for Spike's blood that shamed the pious and addicted.
"Hush, now," the blond soothed. "Murders, thieves, rapists-- feed off them, if that's what you like. Makes me no never mind." Spike kissed along Xander's jaw. "Now, show me."
Xander merely bit his lip, staring rebelliously at some point above Spike's head.
"Oh now, you're a difficult one," his Sire laughed-- already drawing a sharp nail across his own pale chest. The scent assailed Xander's senses immediately, no where near the coppery tint that had marked his human existence. He smelled, instead, emotions-- Spike's desire, strange pride and--
(don't say it, no no no)
He smelled the vague echoes of humans to whom the blood had once belonged, that silvery shimmer of life. It was strong and pulling, and had no comparison of which he knew. After a moment, Xander did not even fight the change-- he told himself something about battles and wars, picking and choosing, even as Spike cradled him, drew him to be loved and fed.
Xander had expected hatred. The gentle touches and rumbling purrs of his first few days as a fledge had seemed too fortunate, too rich, even without considering their source. The child tucked away in his now-deadened chest knew better than to grab for anything; it only showed others what was precious, so they might better take it away. As soon as he was distanced enough from The Place to have true awareness, his body had tensed in Spike's arms. Each caress seemed foreign, each kiss a misdirected gift.
'Beat me,' he'd think, held so tenderly. 'Yell, please be cruel. Let me have a reason to hate you.'
None was forthcoming.
Spike could loose his patience, could be angered-- that had not changed. In so many ways, this new life held so many resemblences to snarking friendship he and Spike had developed in Sunnydale. It hurt to think about that; the movies, drinks at the Bronze, pool, Spike crashing on the couch in Xander's new apartment. Hindsight showed Xander all the little touches and looks as the friendship developed, the way Spike's eyes tracked him around the room. Had there been something crouching there, behind each platonic touch? He didn't know. They'd been friends. Unspoken, sure, but firm; he'd trusted Spike to make it quick.
Presently, Xander pulled away from Spike's chest, looking up into those fathomless, arctic eyes, trying to communicate something that was both pain and a hidden, growing _something_ far behind his heart.
"Why did you do this to me?" Xander whispered miserably, reaching up to touch Spike's cheeks.
"I didn't want to lose you." Certain, almost righteous. "I couldn't stand to lose you."
Aimed to sting, like a tiny knife, "Maybe I wasn't yours to lose."
"Oh, love," Spike pulled Xander down once more to drink, "you shouldn't tell lies. Not to me."
Feeling an odd absence of defeat, Xander allowed himself to drink, to be pulled down in the torrent of Spike's blood, to a place where he was always held.
Xander walked a few blocks from his hotel, taking the 19:00 Vertical Lift to Tokyo Topside. The crowded lift-car and quick burst of speed no longer bothered him-- he tuned out the pleasant, computerized stewardess even as cool female tones offered him services in English, German, French, and Chinese. It took about a mile and a half to reach what served as the surface of Tokyo-- a blessedly short trip, as Xander instinctively loathed the sensation of traveling upwards on his back.
'Never been much for roller coasters,' he thought absently, briefly allowing an imagine of childhood to float behind his closed eyes. Willow's mother, all perky but somehow unenthusiastic cheerfulness, toting the Three Musketeers up to Northern California. 'A theme park!' Ms. Rosenburg's voice betrayed exactly what she thought of this exercise, even as she extolled the fun they would have. 'You dears will just love it.' Sitting in the back, sandwiched traditionally between Willow and Jesse, Xander had felt a pickle of envy for even this forced form of parenthood. How dutifully they'd trooped from attraction to attraction, childish, sweaty palms linked as they trailed behind Willow's ever-purposeful mother. Ferris-wheel, carousel, tilt-a-whirl
"I'm gonna yak," Jesse threatened dramatically as the stumbled off the ride, "yak all over the place."
Ms. Rosenburg narrowed her eyes, "Don't you dare, young man." So cool, water off fresh ice. They'd all unconsciously straightened themselves, Willow pulling uncomfortably at her uneven braids. Behind the older woman's back, Xander and Jesse had each tugged gently on a red, dangling plat, not meeting her verdant, apologetic gaze.
'We know,' the boyish action had said, 'we understand'.
The memory was fresh, bright like perfectly preserved technicolor film, shades and hughes unreal in their intensity. 'The Ten Commandments', 'The Thief of Baghdad'-- something with Charlton Heston, anyway, and an actress with that classic beauty-look, eyelashes the color of a raven's wing. The turning had given clarity to even Xander's most hazy memories; womb dreams, his mother's breast, the terror of a three year-old lost in the grocery store. He often wondered if this was what drove vampires crazy-- the ones that made it past The Place, anyway.
'We only use twenty percent of our brains, anyway.' Willow, in her soft-spoken teacher-mode, sprawled comfortably in Buffy's bedroom.
And Buffy, frowning through the curtain of her too-blond hair, 'So what's the rest of it for?'
"For this," Xander muttered to himself, very softly, "for being driven crazy from remembering too much." Every touch from Spike, every kiss-- only moments fresh, petrified not in rock, but in the lobes and neurons of Xander's brain.
(The cool night air, the moon a yellow cat's eye wink in the sky. Three hills already, and Xander's clutching the grimy bar with all his little-boy strength. The train of cars slows, Jesse stares stoically upward as they clink-clink-clink up the slope. A sharp incline. 'This one is the worst,' Xander thinks, numb except for where Willow's delicate hand is fisted in his shirt. Thinking with all the eloquence of childhood, 'Oh, _shit_.' Just at the top, there's an old, faded sign; 'no standing', and a blond, winking, lips a red curve of a smile. Xander closes his eyes as they pass under it, gravity beginning to pull them down. Faster, faster, fast--
He can see her face, that old sign, her expression.
'Just you wait and see what's comin', boy,' it says. The frown of her cartoonish wink is a promise. 'You ain't seen nothing yet.')
For a moment, Xander had the urge to laugh. Second time tonight-- a bad sign, but he stifled it. It's funny, because he really, really didn't see that dip, the plunge. Down she goes, and your stomach is in your throat, in your mouth, floating somewhere back there at the top of the hill like some disconnected thought bubble.
('You ain't seen nothing yet.')
He'd felt that, the first time he'd fully, finally woken up at Spike's side. That sensation, that feeling _under_ a feeling, that he would open his eyes and glimpse things from a height he'd never known before. See the lights of the boardwalk, the midway, the city... way, way off, to where the darkness gathered under a spoiling moon. As breathtaking and terrifying as the trip back down.
('There's so much I want to show you, love,' Spike's voice, tender, filled with promise. Things to do, to see, places to go. Hands to touch, to hold, brushes of lips to fill a ticking that went on into eternity. A spinning, mad clock-- the fledgling saw it in his dreams-- ever faster, time with no meaning.
He'd done, and gone, and seen.
The Lift stopped at Ginza Station, and from there Xander again went on foot, this time tilting his head up towards the sky. The lights of the sprawling metropolis masked all but the brightest of stars, but he enjoyed it, anyway. While there were plenty of places in the sublevels where a meter or so of sky could be seen up through the cavernous levels-- the area around Xander's hotel being one of them-- Topside offered the only true flat, unobscured expanses. Hands in his pockets, Xander strolled towards the Adult District, the high, digital clocks mounted on nearby skyscrapers assuring him of his punctuality. He didn't slow as he reached the gates, or bother to cast his gaze on the two curved, golden pillars that composed them. The forms were unusual, lines and subtle shading vaguely erotic, suggestive of giant nudes. Nearby, a sign admonished 'You Must Be Over Sixteen To Enter' in several languages; Xander nodded to the blue-uniformed guards, and stepped fully into the Pavilion.
The octagon structure extended for stories both above and bellow the vampire's head, with a court yard cut in the center. Here, the bustle of commerce echoed vibrantly off the glass and chrome, the sound of so many people talking the same as the roar of water from the central fountain. Xander absently admired the colorful objects in a few reflectionless shop windows, before detouring briefly towards the fountain. One of the summer festivals had ended only recently, and the celebratory statue still remained in the center of the many-tired waterfall. Unlike the modern-art feel of the gates, the statue was traditional; pale marble with an all too human expression. A young woman on a pedestal of stars, hair like the fall of spring rain, kimono drifting in unseen winds. Her face was down turned, eyes eternally on the chiseled face of a peasant man, her outstretched hand insufficient to the distance between them. It drew Xander with a sort of low magnetic hum, both exotic and somehow painfully universal-- fascinating him until he'd gleaned the legend from his employer. He couldn't pronounce the artist's name for the life of him, couldn't even read the title of the piece, carefully engraved on its plaque. He knew the woman's name, though; Ori-hime, a weaver-goddess of legend, cursed with a pure, undying love for a mortal man, or so the legend went. Separated for this same blasphemy-- the crime of mixing the undying with that which would eventually be dead-- and able to meet only for the duration of the summer festival. The story was very 'Rome0 and Juliet', something which would have stirred only vague sympathy from him in high school. It was the expression of the statue's face that drew him, however, again and again. It was a sort of peaceful agony, a despair that was borne only because it _had_ to be.
'I'm leaving to save you,' he imagined her saying to her peasant boy. But even her marble face betrayed-- at least, to Xander-- what she was really thinking. 'Moreover, I am leaving to save myself'.
'Right with you there, sweetheart,' Xander thought at her, a sort of low drawl in his mind. 'Forty years, night-in, night-out-- I'm there.' She was thinking that the pain would lessen over time; she was wrong, and she was right, because the rot would set it, the gangrene, and in so many ways, that dull, slow pain was worse.
'And you're projecting,' he thought wryly.
"Ohhh," this aloud, "big two-dollar word from the vampire." He rolled his eyes at himself, and turned away.
His place of employ was just across the way a little; a dark, shadowy enclave that extended further back than it's narrow windows revealed. The windows where hung with thick drapes-- silk-- which shone with every bizarre color mutation thrown by the halfling neon lights. 'Neo-Japanese meets Gothic,' was how Fumiko, the owner, described it, and Xander had to agree. It was like some ink still-life nightmare, lavish, elegant and foreboding all at once. Lights in purple and blue, dimmed by heavy fabrics, the floor tiled with black stone, doors of dark lacquered wood. Above the entrance, emblazoned in gold, were the words 'Alpha Draconis', and the angular, katakana transliteration. Which, in Xander's opinion, sounded absolutely nothing like the English pronunciation, but it was something you got used to. In one of the windows, Xander saw a familiar white and red banner-- even recognized the symbol for blood, which did look vaguely like flowing trickles of such fluid. Bellow that was the notice that made this little shop a bona-fide part of the Adult District.
'Vampiric Services Offered Here.'
It was a nice place to work-- small, reputable, well-run, staffed by people who were genuinely kind to Xander. The pay was good, he had all the blood he needed. Easy commute, nice boss.
Xander shook his head, feeling a stab of something like self-disgust mixed with unreasonable guilt.
"Doesn't matter how nice it is, or how you cut it," he told himself dryly. "You're still working the streets."
+While I have been to Tokyo, the only districts I've been to are Asakusa Gates, Roppongi(sp?) Hills, and Juuban. I haven't been near Ginza, so my descriptions are all fictious-- even more so since this is set in the future. There is no 'adult district', per say, but it seems like something they might consider.
+The summer festival Xander is thinking of is Tanabata Matsuri. Originally borrowed from China, it revolves around the weaver-goddess Ori-hime (Princess Ori) and the peasant/sheperd boy she fell in love with. They were so wrapped up in each other that they neglected their respective tasks, for which the gods punished them. They were set into the sky, far apart from one another, but were so miserable that the gods finally took pity on them and allowed them to meet once a year. I was in Sayama last summer for Tanabata Matsuri (usually the week of July 7th in Eastern Japan)-- it was a lot of fun! ^__^
I hope you guys will forgive the culture references and general weirdness of this story. If you would be so kind as to post a comment, I'd be forever in your debt. ^_^