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Repossession

by Lazuli Kat

review by Mad Poetess

Rated NC-17; Post-S6 (I think, though an AU S6) Future -- WIP

There's a lot of talk in various discussion forums about this story as a 'guilty pleasure.' For me, not so much. Perhaps a painful pleasure -- or a guilty displeasure. There are parts of it that I like, but they teeter in very precarious balance with aspects that will allow my dentist to retire to Barbados at an early age due to my excessive molar-grinding -- hence the pain. And as an unrepentant Spike/Xander shipper, surrounded by stories that commit far more obvious crimes of bad form, purple epithets and unrecognizable characters, I get the feeling that I'm expected to love this story, purely for the things that it's not. It's a Spike/Xander story that's technically flawless (spelling, grammar, fluidity of prose), portrays a deep, painful, abiding love, doesn't bash Buffy, rape Xander, or ever utter the word 'nummy' -- so what kind of picky bitch must I be, to have problems with it?

Well...

Repossession is the story of a Xander who's separated himself from Sunnydale and the Scooby Gang, and has become a major success in a distant city. A Xander who in the past had a deep friendship and almost-relationship with Spike, so deep that there's a huge rift between himself and Buffy/Angel, who at one point risked Spike's life in order to stop an apocalypse-of-the-month, and didn't tell Xander about the plan, for fear his concern for Spike would ruin it. Xander is separated from Spike, too, though, having fled when their friendship threatened to become something more.

He hasn't seen any of them in years -- until Spike shows up on his doorstep. Cringing, tortured, mute and almost catatonic, apparently amnesiac -- but knowing enough to come to the one place in the world where he feels safe, even when he can't let himself remember who he is. Xander devotes everything he has to putting Spike back together, getting a second chance along the way to claim the relationship he foolishly threw away because he was too afraid to admit how powerful it was.

Damn, that sounds good, to an S/X lover. To bifictional folks, especially those used to reading mostly m/f and canonical pairings, there's the slash hurdle to jump, and the S/X hurdle, and the AU hurdle. For me, the first two don't take convincing, and the third only takes a bit of decent worldbuilding. And boy, does Lazuli spend time building the world Xander lives in. So... guilt guilt guilt, in my displeasure, because I ought to be grateful.

But. It's hot and cold running grateful. The passion the characters feel for each other? The protection, the devotion, the loving description of such from the author, in full-on show-don't-tell mode? Punches all the right buttons. The smut? Consensual power games and fierceness and tenderness and guh. But the characterisation? Might put my dentist's kid through law school.

The most obvious ouchness? An offscreen Riley is one of the people responsible for Spike's condition. And Riley as a cold-blooded torturer (written anytime past early season 4 when we didn't know his motivations) is so out of character that it almost made me stop reading the series -- which *does* say something for Lazuli's ability to write hurt/comfort, since I *haven't* stopped. It's as if in order to avoid the traditional Buffy-bashing in many S/X stories (by the slimmest of margins, since yes, it's only from Xander's POV that Buffy is bad, but that's a *Xander* characterisation problem) we *have* to find another canon character to make a villain of.

Xander and Spike are more subtly off, but in a way, I find that even harder to deal with. Everyone in his new life thinks Xander is wonderful and perfect and can do no wrong, and he's successful in everything and can shower his friends with gifts, though he secretly gives Willow more, because she wasn't part of the betrayal plot. Xander has basically a fairy godmother in Beth, a co-worker's wife. Xander is, well, Xander-Sue.

And that Buffy-bashing thing? Xander still resents Buffy years later -- after Spike has forgiven her -- for doing to Spike what Xander *himself* bloody well did in "Becoming" -- making a judgement call, lying and putting one person in danger to save the world. The story ignores -- or at least gives short shrift to -- how loyal Xander has been to Buffy in canon, the number of things he's forgiven her for and supported her in, despite his continued disapproval. Yes, the reader is made to see that Buffy is -- mostly -- not evil or bad, and it's all in Xander's head -- but to me, it's only in Xander's head because the words have been put in his mouth. I don't sympathize with his resentment because it feels inserted and unnatural.

Xander is also, at one point, willing to let Spike kill his parents, merely to make Spike happy. It doesn't happen -- it's just a lovers' discussion. But the idea of a Xander so changed -- without the events that would make that radical change in character remotely plausible (say, demons conquering the earth) being shown -- was another moment when I almost closed the book on Repossession forever. That's a change beyond any Xander I know, or would want to know. The only thing that saved it for me was that it didn't happen, and the subject hasn't surfaced again.

Meanwhile Spike is talented at *everything* including art, something that's canonically Angel's thing. Another facet that treads the line of 'okay, I can't read this anymore.' The exploration of Spike's shattered psyche is fascinating, and I feel for both growly, jealous Spike and trapped, wise, beaten William -- but between them, Spike also adds up to the Perfect Guy.

It's the Mary-Sue version of canon characters, in too many instances. Without the traditional beating down of other canon characters to make our boys look better, yes, but this is mostly accomplished by isolating them from the other canon characters, and inventing a new cast who love Xander and Spike without reservation or pre-existing conflicts. By raining outside angst on them over and over until the reader has to feel sorry for them, right? And sometimes that works and I do feel sorry for them; sometimes it's too much, and I can't. I can recognise the boys at times, in some of their dialogue, but they're idealized (their dramatic romantic flaws aside) so much that it's a struggle every time I read, to keep suspending my disbelief.

In some ways I think the parts that I do love about this story, the passion and tenderness and willingness to throw everyone and everything else to the winds, are what make it hard to accept as a Xander/Spike story. Because while Spike would act like that, and has, I can't see Xander ever isolating himself from his friends on purpose, and basically creating his own little perfect world where he and his love can stay wrapped up safe and warm against the storm. It's beautiful and passionate, but for me, it's not *Xander*.

So, not a guilty pleasure. I don't feel guilty about liking the parts that I like. Nor is it a terrible read, or I wouldn't be still reading it. What I feel guilty about is that I can't bring myself to recommend it, when I've pimped far less technically well-written stories, when so many people love it, when it smacks of jealousy to me, as an S/X writer, not to love it -- but I don't, and I can't.

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Further discussion (in response and rebuttal to this review) can be found here.

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