Dead Sunflower

Xander liked the chair by the window. The brown one, with the grey pillow. He used to have to fight the other patients for it, but he'd been here long enough and caused enough split lips to finally gain ownership and rights to it. He would sit for hours sometimes, letting the yellow sunlight illuminate his sketchpad. The buzzing white florescent lights inside gave him headaches sometimes, and the buzzing was enough to make anyone crazy. If they weren't crazy already. And hey, sane people in the psych ward of St. Peters? Few and far between.

Xander sometimes wondered if anyone would come and save him; if anyone would come and fly him away from This Place. He hated it here, the doctors talked to him like he was a child, with shiny smiles and crystal laughter – pretty laughter that would shatter if he said the wrong thing or put down the wrong answer on their little question sheets. 'There are no wrong answers Alexander, this isn't a test, we just want to see how you're doing,' they'd tell him. He knew they were lying. He knew because he could read them by now, could see them narrow they're eyes at the paper and shake their heads, making professionally disdainful noises.

They made those same noises when they looked at his drawings. They told him to stop indulging his fantasies, that the figures were all in his head – the 'characters' he drew were not real. Willow, Buffy, Giles and Anya were ordinary people who had died in an earthquake, they were not killed by Glory, the monster who had eaten up his life and spat it back out. He tried to explain to them about the hellmouth, about the vampires and trolls … that the things weren't monsters, they were demons, but they only sighed and made him take more white pills … Xander hated those pills almost as much as he hated the people who forced them down his throat.

He'd wanted to go to the funerals, but they wouldn't let him. Letting crazy people who believed in demons walk around cemeteries wasn't right. Wasn't proper. And everyone knows how much stock authorities put into making sure everything is nice and proper. The papers were all properly sent to his parents, who properly signed them to confirm he could rot properly in here for as long as they wanted to keep him.

He'd stopped talking about two weeks ago, thinking that maybe if he stopped talking altogether, if he stopped warning them about vampires and ghosts, about the ever present danger, maybe they'd let him go. Maybe they'd leave him to set flowers on the gravestones of the only people who had ever cared about him and probably the only people who ever would.

The drawings were mostly of the last thing he saw before the black haze settled in front of his eyes and he woke up here in the ward. Of seeing Buffy lying in the sunlight, perfectly framed as she lay still and not breathing. Willow lay at her right, thrown to the floor and killed by falling rubble with Giles at her side, both of them covered in crimson. Anya's manicured hand stuck out from underneath more rubble and Xander had screamed and screamed while his hands were torn to shreds as he tried to pull the rocks off of her. Spike was on the ground, his face in his hands as he sobbed … Tara was with Dawn a little way apart, hugging her close, the two of them crying in silence.

After he drew the pictures, he'd stare and scrutinise them, trying desperately to figure out what he had done that was so wrong that he was thrown in here. The doctors told him he was a danger to himself and others, but they wouldn't tell him more than that. It didn't matter how much he screamed and begged, they wouldn't let out a single peep. So.

Xander sat silently in the brown armchair in the corner, by the window, and drew and drew until they took his pencils away. He had stopped eating three days ago and Mike said they'd put him on a drip if he wouldn't eat something soon. Xander didn't care. He was working on his newest drawing, one of Spike holding Dawn while she cried, protecting her. The problem was, he kept messing up Spike's eyes. The sun had set now, but he couldn't stop drawing. He wanted the eyes to look just right, just perfect so he would be able to remember everything that had happened and he wouldn't be crazy anymore.

"Alexander? We have a visitor here to see you," someone said. He ignored it. "Come on Alexander. Your friend came all this way to see you, at least sit with him a little bit?" the voice continued, coaxing. A sigh. "I'm sorry. He hasn't been communicating for two weeks now – it seems as though he has retreated fully into his fantasies and has become more aggressive – he also stopped eating a few days ago. We can't get Alexander to respond to anything that isn't in that sketchbook," the voice continued quietly, but it wasn't directed at him anymore.

"Maybe that's 'cuz it's not his name. Friends called 'im Xander," the other voice said, sharp and familiar.

Xander looked up into blue eyes. Dropped his sketchpad. Wondered if he had finally crossed the line, if he'd finally fallen into complete insanity.

"You have until four thirty before visiting hours end," the nurse said, pulling a plastic grey chair out and walking away. Xander stared at Spike, noting how much he clashed here in a world of muted colours. Startling red shirt under familiar black coat, proper solid black, something that was absent in the ward. Xander's trousers were grey and his shirt was sludge green … Spike was so colourful, so crisp and real he just wanted to touch the colour and hope, hope so much it hurt, that the colour would seep back into Xander and make him feel like himself. It had been so long since he had felt like that.

Spike had sat in the chair, running a hand through his hair – hair that wasn't slicked back but was now bleached curls. So he was a little different, but then, so was Xander – he'd scrutinised his reflection last week and drawn a self portrait. He was much thinner, so much thinner that his face looked sharp and weary all the time, he had dark circles under his eyes and a shadow of stubble on his cheeks. Allie, the girl who slashed her wrists and was here for another week before she was let out, said that he was an amazing artist because it looked almost like a photograph. Xander tore it up after.

"Came to see you a few times, but they said you were in too much of a state to see anyone," Spike said, rolling his shoulder as he looked anywhere except at Xander. "Tara and Dawn were worried 'bout you. Dawn wanted to come herself but I thought I should come first, make sure you're …" he stopped but Xander heard the word anyway. Safe. Spike thought he was dangerous. Xander thought that was funny, so he laughed. He thought he saw Spike flinch, which made him laugh more. The laughter was edged with hysteria and it sounded sharp and unnatural, even to his own ears. He stopped very suddenly and shifted his position on the chair, biting his nails as he watched Spike reach into a pocket, pull out a pack of cigarettes, look around, then put them back. He did this several times before Xander realised what he was doing.

"Go ahead," he croaked, "Staff are always smoking even though they're not supposed to. We're too crazy and wacked out on happy pills to notice. Didn't you get the memo?" he says, sounding more bitter and old than he ever wanted to. Spike looked at him strangely, tilts his head to the side a little before lighting up a cigarette. Some things never changed.

"They say when they're going to let you out?" Spike asked, taking another deep drag. Xander shifted again.

"No. At a minimum, I'll be here another three months before I get re-evaluated. I was sentenced to spend as long as I needed to 'recover'," Xander muttered, closing the sketchbook.

"Recover, then," Spike said, frowning. Xander glared at him, his mind buzzing and whirling and he wanted to much to grab the red shirt and shake Spike until his head snapped back and forth.

"Trying too. Problem is, dunno what I'm supposed to be recovering from. I stopped talking about demons, stopped trying to escape, stopped trying to get a phone, stopped hoping you'd come get me ..." he trailed off and rubbed his eyes with his palms, feeling his fingers twitch a little. Medication caused that. Was a bitch when he was in the middle of drawing something. When he looked again, Spike was observing him with a cold, calculating stare that felt as thought it was piercing into him. Through him.

"You don't know what you did?" he asked, the cigarette smoke curling above his head like a twisted halo.

"No, I can't remember. The doctors aren't allowing me to be told – I have to 'recall my actions' myself. For my 'recovery'," Xander spat, a malice he'd never had before lacing his words. Or maybe he'd always had that malice, it had just been hiding inside of him – until now, that is.

"You nearly killed one of the paramedics. Threw 'im to the ground and pummelled 'im when he tried to make you leave Anya," Spike said, tone flat and blunt. The words were so sudden and unexpected, it was like having a bucket of ice dumped over his head. He felt the shock roll over him as he strained to process this new information, but it wouldn't compute. He'd nearly killed someone?

There was a long silence and Spike lit a new cigarette with the last. Xander scratched the back of his neck and wished the world would stop spinning and let him off for a few minutes to get his breath back.

"Why didn't you come and bust me out?" Xander asked eventually. Spike shrugged his shoulders,

"Was busy. Needed to look after Dawn. She's been through too much, too soon. I'm moving her to LA with me – the witch, too. Going to live near my grandsire. She needs a … a family." Spike said, looking as though the thought of living anywhere near Angel was enough to make him sick. It probably was. "M'not busy now. Do you wanna come with us?" Spike asked casually, as though he weren't asking anything important, blue eyes flashing as he glanced at Bill who was milling around a little apart from them. Bill thought he was a superhero. Tried to fly off a building once or twice. Bill told Xander that after he'd been here for a few years, he'd get used to it. Like it, even. 'In the end', he'd said as he grabbed an extra muffin in the cafeteria, 'You'll never want to leave – we're dangerous, people like us. It's better to be here. Trust me, you'll forget all your worries'.

"I want to leave," Xander said, his voice the steadiest it had been since he'd arrived here.

Dawn had cried when she first saw him and Xander had held her like a china doll. He was afraid he might snap her if he wasn't careful so he just let her cry and stroked her hair. Didn't speak. Didn't need to. Tara had hugged him too. She looked better than the last time he'd seen her, three months ago.

Spike went out and bought him clothes, proper clothes with buttons and real tangible colours. Dark blue jeans, deep green shirt. His parents had sold or given away all of his things. Nice to know they cared enough to cut him in on the deal.

Coming off the meds had been hell. Spike took him to his crypt for the duration, so Dawn wouldn't be exposed to his screams. He'd spent three days in agony, going through fevers, shakes, puking and hallucinations he wish he could forget. Tara had brewed some stuff to make him feel marginally better, and Spike was the one who fed it to him, the one who took care of him in the darkest moments. He'd said thanks after. Spike had nodded, walked away.

The ride to LA was uneventful, and Xander drew for most of the trip anyway. Dawn sat beside him, providing an almost non-stop buzz of chatter until she fell asleep on Xander's shoulder. Tara read a guide book and they had left at night, so Spike drove and they all had to settle for listening to the classic punk station on the car radio. Xander hadn't wanted to drive, his arm still twitched sometimes and he was afraid of crashing and blood and screams.

Xander felt the beginnings of fear flit about the edges of his mind when he thought about seeing Cordelia again. Fear because the Cordelia he remembered called things as she saw them and if she saw Xander now, she would undoubtedly confirm his worst fear – that he was as insane as the doctors had told him he was. He knew he was different since she'd last see him in more ways than one, a blind man could see that, but he didn't want her to think he was … dangerous.

He'd observed Dawn quietly as she slept, his hand flying across the page almost of it's own accord. He found it comforting to draw something that didn't involve mayhem or grief for once. Just the peaceful sleep of the innocence. Sometimes he could feel Spikes measured, concerned gaze on him and it made him smile a little.

When they finally arrived at the Hyperion Hotel, Xander debated carrying Dawn inside but the decision was made for him when she woke up, scrunching her nose as she yawned and stretched. They were to stay at the hotel for a few weeks until Spike sorted out their living arrangements – it was decided the four of them were to live together for Dawn's sake, but finding a place to live in LA – one that was big enough to accommodate them all without being frighteningly expensive – was no mean feat.

Tara and Dawn had went ahead as he and Spike dragged the trunks from the boot of the car. Spike was irritable and only growled when Xander asked how many bags there were, so Xander decided it would be better to stay quiet for a bit. When they dragged the necessary suitcases inside, the girls were already sitting on a circular chair in the wide hallway, smiling and talking to some people he didn't know, and some people he did. He recognised Angel, Cordelia and Wesley, but there was a bald black man, a thin white girl and a green demon with red horns. The realisation that there was a demon with red horns near Dawn hit him like a ton of bricks, and suddenly he was on top of the demon and screaming as he smashed his fists into it's face. He felt himself being hauled to his feet and looked in confusion to Angel's drawn face. They still fought demons, right?

The demon was climbing to it's feet, rubbing it's chin and smoothing out it's yellow suit, it's red eyes narrowed at him as he complained about 'demon rights violations' in a nasal American accent. Xander blinked and stared. He realised someone was talking to him and switched himself back on.

"… Lorne. He's not evil. He read people when the sing and helps us," Angel was saying, looking more than a little disturbed at Xander's little display. Xander nodded mutely and wrenched his arm from Angel's grip, turning away from the demon - Lorne- and walking straight to Dawn's side. Asked her if she was alright, apologised for scaring her and pointedly ignored Lorne's muttered demand for an apology. He wasn't going to apologise to a demon. Never had before and didn't intend on changing. He nodded hello to Cordelia, who was staring at him with wide mascara eyes and shook Wesley's hand. Tried to smile when he was being introduced to the other two - Gunn and Fred - but he suspected he looked more frightening than friendly, judging by the wary looks he got from Gunn and the pure terror etched on Fred's face.

Three hours later, he was once again asleep in a bed that wasn't his.

Xander dreamt of dead sunflowers and drowning. When he woke, he was gasping and writhing – and not in a pleasant way, either. The sun was shining outside so he pulled himself out of bed and showered, brushed his teeth and changed into a loose shirt and trousers. He walked out of his room with his sketch book, into the darkened hallway. It was slightly disconcerting, to walk in the silence. Nothing ever seemed to be silent in St. Peter's. There was always the quiet moans of some of the patients, the murmurs of the staff, the clicking of the ceiling fans. But here, the quiet was only interrupted by his own breathing and the sounds of his bare feet on the carpet. It was only when he neared the stairs that he realised he wasn't the only one up.

"… scary. Cordelia said the Xander she knew was funny and goofy … this Xander is quiet and intense …"

"And sends out a 'Hello, I'm the local psycho axe murderer' vibe?"

"Charles!"

"Come on Fred, you've got to admit, the guy is weird. Did you hear him screaming when he was hitting Lorne? If Angel hadn't stopped him he would have killed him for sure. I've seen that once or twice in my crew – guys like that are bad news. And after that, he didn't say a word. Just sat next to the blonde guy and stared into space,"

"He's been through a lot. After losing all those people close to him and being sent to that place for three months …"

"Yeah, and what does that tell you? He was sent to a wacko ward for three months until he was busted out, not released."

Xander walked down the stairs and ignored the other two people. Fred looked up at him and her eyes widened very slightly as she said good morning and started to sort out a stack of papers that she had alphabetized several times already. Gunn nodded hello and he too was ignored, so he started to sharpen the axe in his hands with exaggerated concentration – pretending not to notice the track marks up Xander's arms. Whether they were evidence of an addiction or a left over from his stay in hospital, Gunn didn't know and didn't care to.

Xander didn't speak, only looked at them for a moment with his dark, sunken eyes before he turned away and walked out the front door – with no shoes on. They both watched him as he looked up at the sun like he'd never seen it before, shielding his face with his hand before he settled for sitting on the front steps. In the shade of a withering tree outside, he drew dead sunflowers and tried to pretend the world didn't exist.

Hours later, Dawn and Tara came outside with water and a sandwich, both asking him to come inside because it was hot out and he would get sick. He sighed and tried to smile like he used to, really tried. He came inside with them, into the dark and the cool, wondering if he'd ever feel warm again. Tara looked at him strangely and he didn't know if he'd said that aloud.

"You alright?" Spike had asked gruffly, much later, when he was climbing into the passenger seat of the car, going out with Spike to look for apartments.

"No." Xander said simply, staring straight ahead. Spike scratched his head and shrugged.

"Okay. Just don't go 'Jack the Ripper' on me, yeah?" he said, starting up the car. Xander just looked at him, eyebrows raised.

"Wouldn't that be more your thing?" he asked, and somehow, it didn't sound as accusing as he'd meant it to be. Spike snorted as he screeched around a corner, cigarette dangling precariously from his lips.

"Nah. I knew Jack – was a bit of a poof and over-compensated a tad too much. Personally, I never had a hankering for the whole 'slicing up women's bits'. Made me feel more queasy than anything. Still, whatever floats your boat," Spike said, over taking two cars on a whim and flicking the birdie to the unfortunate drivers.

"You knew Jack the Ripper?" Xander asked doubtfully.

"Oh yeah," Spike drawled, "But like I said, fella was a bit of a wet blanket. Whiny as hell. Dru liked 'im but he always got on my nerves more than anything," he said, shouting an obscenity or two at a pedestrian daring enough to try and cross the road.

"You are so full of it," Xander muttered, shaking his head. For a moment, Xander felt like it was old times. For a moment, he was just Xander and Spike was just Spike and the biggest problem he had to face was a few vamps and the occasional nasty demon. The silence that followed was heavy, like Spike could feel it too. It was almost as though they felt guilty for forgetting for a moment, for not feeling the grief. It was almost like a sin to forget the other for a single instant, to forget the pain.

They didn't really speak after that, not until Spike finally screeched to a halt and they were met by a woman called Judy, who was to show them around the apartments. Judy was sweet and carried a clipboard and wore her curly hair in an untidy bun. She showed them around the spacious apartment and didn't explain why the price was so reasonable. Never a good indication. She asked if they had lived together before and Spike and Xander said 'yes' at the same time, though in entirely different tones, and Judy thought that was cute and she laughed. Xander only realised what she had been implying when Spike had pointed it out to him when they were driving back to the Hyperion.

"I'm not surprised they thought you were gay – you're British, you wear eyeliner and your hair is bleached," Xander had reasoned, a teasing edge to his voice that had been gone for far too long. Spike glared.

"She thought you were a fairy-boy too," he'd reasoned, a slight flash of glee in his eyes when Xander realised this and inspected his clothes as the car slowed to a stop in front of the hotel.

"Well if I look gay it's your fault – you bought the clothes. If I'd been wearing my old stuff, I'd look like a regular disaster. Willow used to say …" and then it hit him like a ton of bricks. Willow used to. Used to. Willow was dead and …

Oh God. She's not coming back. Not ever.

Xander felt a hand on his shoulder and that was when he realised he was shaking and Spike was still there. He looked up into Spike's eyes.

"She's dead. I … I laid flowers on her grave and I didn't cry, and I thought that there was something wrong with me because I could cry for Giles and Anya and Buffy … Spike. My Willow is never coming back. " Xander whispered, dread and horror filling the hole in his chest as his head spun and he felt like he was going to be sick. But Spike's eyes, his razor blue eyes, they were still fixed on his, tying him to the ground and making him feel sane for the first time in so long it hurt to think about.

"No. She's not," he said stiffly, but Xander knew Spike wasn't talking about Willow.

He decided he didn't much care because Spike knew - he knew what Xander meant and that was enough for now. Maybe that was enough forever.

End.