Xander had been totally right about the arm rest situation. During the first act, he and Dr. Mark Reynolds were smooshed together, and they kept inadvertently brushing against each other’s arms. After the third or fourth time, they grinned at each other, and ended up sharing the arm rest.
Xander blamed his cheeks burning on the complete lack of air in the theater, not elbow jostling with Mark.
They went back to the lobby during intermission, and when Mark said something about going to get a drink, Xander nodded and hung out near the wall murals, checking out the crowd.
“I didn’t know what you wanted, so I just got two glasses of champagne,” Mark said as he came back. He handed Xander a flute.
“Wow, fancy,” Xander said. “You sure know how to treat a guy.” By the time his own words had sunk in, he was choking on his first sip of champagne.
“You okay?” Mark asked in concern. He whacked him on the back when Xander looked up, red-faced and teary-eyed.
“Yeah, fine. Sorry. Just. I shouldn’t talk sometimes.”
“I hear you,” Mark said, but he was smiling. He handed Xander a handkerchief, which, holy Pete, was monogrammed. “So. I’m really glad you could come with me tonight.”
“Me too,” Xander said, and he meant it. The play had been cool so far, Dr. Reynolds -- no, Mark -- was great to hang out with, and it was probably the first social thing he’d done that didn’t involve the girls in a long while.
Someone brushed by, with a quietly murmured, “Pardon me,” and Xander said, “Yeah, no problem.”
The man halted in his tracks and did a double-take.
Xander blinked rapidly. “Hey, Giles.”
“Giles?” asked Mark with interest.
“Rupert Giles,” Giles said, shaking Marks’ hand.
“And Anya, Anya Christina Emmanuella Jenkins,” Anya added as she appeared at Giles’s elbow.
“You’re here,” Xander said stupidly. “Both of you. Together.”
“Ah, yes!” Giles raised his eyes to the ceiling for a moment. “Well, it was, er, a bit of luck. It just so happened . . . that another shopkeeper downtown, whose store is adjacent to mine, he had some extra tickets. Well, when he found he couldn’t attend, he called me this afternoon to see if I could make use of them. And naturally, since Anya was right at the store, and it was such a last-minute situation, I asked her if she would like to come along with me.” Giles gave a bark of laughter. “No sense letting perfectly good theater tickets go to waste.”
“No sense at all,” Xander agreed. He tried not to stare at them, or somehow let on that he’d seen them making out in The Magic Box not too long ago. Because maybe they weren’t even . . . whatever it was they had been doing . . . anymore. They probably weren’t, come to think of it. It made no kind of sense that he could think of, Anya with Giles.
But as he saw Anya’s mouth set in that funny little bow it got into when she was feeling irritated and affectionate at the same time, he had second thoughts.
“That’s not what happened at all,” Anya protested. “Rupert, you got the tickets a week ago when the theater called to let you know they’d found your name on the waiting list, and you asked me to go with you then. And when I asked, ‘Is this our first official date?’, you took my hand, and you said, “Well, I suppose we can call it that, if you like,’ and I said I did like to call it that, and have been calling it that in my head for about five days. So this is definitely a prearranged date, not some unexpected ticket windfall.”
Giles returned his gaze to the ceiling. “Hmmm.”
“Xander, I’m sure it’s awkward for you to see me on my first official date with Giles,” Anya said with a pat to his arm, somehow managing to sound brisk and sympathetic all at once. “But of course it’s important to get back on that horse. Really, we’ve all waited long enough.”
“Great, thanks,” Xander said faintly.
She made a frustrated noise. “I mean it, Xander. Put yourself back out there.” She leaned forward a little on her toes, and seemed on the verge of reaching out and giving him a friendly, encouraging shove.
“I am out there,” Xander said irritably. “I mean, out here. I mean -- ”
It was like he was watching himself on a screen, saying, No, you moron, don’t make this any more complicated than it is!
But the moron on the screen was too busy saying “This is my date, Mark,” to listen.
“Oh. Well. Good lord.” Giles took his glasses off, put them back on, and then took them off again.
Xander sighed. But he’d already jumped into the Oh yeah? Well I have a date too game, so he kept on going. “Mark, this is Giles and Anya. Giles and Anya, this is Mark.”
“Well, I am very pleased to meet you,” Anya said emphatically, grabbing Mark’s hand and pumping it with a vigorous up and down motion. “Xander is a real catch, no matter what happened, and even though I didn’t guess that he was--”
“We should be going,” Giles said smoothly. “Xander, we’ll be seeing you soon, I hope.”
“Oh, you’ll be seeing me,” Xander muttered as they headed towards the bar.
“That’s your ex?” Mark said slowly to Xander. “He seems so distinguished. British. And bi, I guess. Here I was worried that maybe I was a little too old for you, but . . .” He shook his head. “Sorry. That’s completely . . . So you knew he was dating a woman?” He glanced back at the direction Giles and Anya had gone. “No wonder you’ve had a tough time the past few months. That must have been rough for you to find out.”
“Mark.” Xander took a breath. “See, the thing is, Giles isn’t my ex.”
Mark sipped his champagne. “He’s not? But I thought that was the name you mentioned, the other night at the clinic.”
“No, he’s not. I mentioned his name because he was the one I saw kissing my ex -- who is Anya. Anya was my girlfriend until we ended things two months ago.”
“Anya,” Mark repeated. “Anya,” he said again in a voice of dawning realizing. “Oh. Wow. Okay.” He coughed, and lowered his voice. “So you’re the one who’s bi, I guess.”
“Not so much,” Xander said uncomfortably. “I mean, if we’re going by traditional definitions of ‘has gone out with and/or gotten busy with both women and men.’ It was more . . . you seemed so nice. And then you mentioned that you’d broken up with someone too, and then there were tickets . . . It just seemed like we got along so well, but I guess that I really should have been more up front.”
Mark made a funny expression, and Xander felt his stomach do a funny little flip. Mark wasn’t going to get upset and tell him off right here, was he? Or say they should go home, and make them both miss all of Act II?
“So I’m the first guy you’ve ever gone out with,” Mark clarified.
“Yes,” Xander answered immediately.
Mark’s funny expression turned into a grin. “Really? You thought you were straight, until you met me?”
“Yes.” Xander nodded. Then he stopped. “No. Wait. It wasn’t exactly like that, either --”
A man near them laughed, and Xander automatically looked over in the direction of the sound as though it would bring some kind of merry rescue from the conversation he was having.
“Mark?” the man said loudly. He was already starting to approach them.
“Oh. Steven, hi,” Mark said in surprise.
Steven came over, and after an awkward smile exchanged between him and Mark, they did one of those stiff armed hugs.
Xander tried not to balk visibly. First Anya and Giles on a date at the theater, and now Mark’s former boyfriend Steven at the very same play? What were the odds? He glanced into the crowd, just to see if any of his other exes were headed his way. He didn’t really see Faith going to a play, but Cordy apparently had the acting bug these days. . .
“You look great,” Steven was saying by the time Xander tuned back in. “I mean it.”
“Thanks, thank you.” Mark smiled, though it wasn’t anywhere near as happy looking as when he’d grinned a moment ago. “Wow. I haven’t seen you in such a long time.”
“It has been a while,” Steven agreed. “A couple of weeks, at least.”
“Just over two months,” Mark supplied, and then winced.
Steven took a swig of the drink in his hand. “That long, huh? So. Um. What are you doing here?”
Mark held up his play bill. “I had tickets to the play. I got them before -- I got them a while ago.” He looked quickly at Xander, and then asked, “What are you doing here?”
“Oh, I’m kind of -- well, it’s not really dating -- but I’m sort of seeing the guy who is the stage manager of this. I’ve been before, seen some of the other performances during the run. But I came back again to this one, because tonight there’s going to be some kind of cast and crew party afterwards, so. . .” Steven paused and then changed his tone. “Look, I seriously didn’t know I’d run into you here, or have to tell you like this. I should have emailed, or called, or something. I know it can be strange when --”
“No, no, you know what? It’s totally fine. That’s great,” Mark said. He nodded a little too hard. “I’m glad you’re having a good time.”
Despite his assurances, he seemed taken aback, and Xander, without thinking it through much, coughed pointedly.
“Oh,” Mark said in embarrassment. “Sorry. Steven, this is Xander.”
“Hi, Xander.” Steven’s eyes stayed on Mark. “Are you enjoying the show?”
“Oh, yeah.” Xander leaned closer to Mark, and enunciated clearly. “Mark’s a really great guy to go on a date with, as I’m sure you know.”
“Date?” Steven asked blankly. He turned to look at Xander more closely just as the lights in the lobby flashed briefly. “You and Mark?”
“Well, we really should go sit down again,” Xander said, grabbing Mark’s arm. “Don’t want to miss the next part. Nice meeting you, though.”
“You too,” Steven said as they walked away.
Xander had jumped out of Mark’s car as soon as it slowed to a crawl in front of his lobby.
Not that he was trying to get away from Mark, exactly. But since his spur of the moment plan to come clean at the theater and confess that he wasn’t much into guys at all hadn’t exactly gone swimmingly. And the rest of what was obviously a date had, he figured he was coming up on some kind of when can we see each other again? conversation.
He’d already done his best to avoid second-date talk after the play. Though he wanted to beg off any kind of post-theater outing, he didn’t want to seem like a total jerk, and so at Mark’s suggestion, they went to have coffee at a small café that Xander had never been to before. It was very grown-up, with dark wood, dim-lighting, murmured conversations, and jazz playing on the sound system.
As soon as they were seated, Xander had started jabbering on and on about the play and its characters. Every one of his English teachers probably would have keeled over if they could have heard him. But it was all in the interests of keeping the conversation on safe topics, so he figured he had an excuse.
Then Mark had asked him about his job, and Xander had been so relieved for another delay tactic that he’d gone crazy talking about that. Good thing Mark had actually seemed pretty interested in hearing about his construction stuff. He’d asked good questions about what it was like being a foreman, the crew of guys Xander supervised, and the difficulty of the work. Still, Xander couldn’t help but notice that Mark’s gaze kept straying to Xander’s arms and shoulders while Xander described everything some of the heavy lifting and machine work they did. It all made him more nervous and jittery, even before he took the caffeine buzz into account.
“My treat,” Mark insisted when Xander took out his wallet to pay for their lattes and snacks.
Xander shook his head frantically. If Mark paid for everything, there was no way it wasn’t an agreed-upon date. “But you got the play tickets, so I figured --”
“I had already bought those before I even asked you,” Mark said lightly. “And really, you’re the one who did me the favor, coming with me, so it’s the least I can do to take care of this.”
Xander opened his mouth to protest, but somewhere during that Mark had already slipped the bill back to the clerk, tip and all.
So he should have known from the café that Mark was quick, too quick to be foiled by the rapid-car-escape. Sure enough, before Xander had loped more than a few feet towards the front of Mark’s car, Mark called out, “Hey, wait a second, and I’ll walk you upstairs.” Xander froze, caught like a deer in headlights. Which wasn’t such a bad analogy, considering that he was actually in Mark’s headlights.
“You don’t have to come all the way up,” Xander said lamely after Mark had parked his car and caught up with him.
“Don’t worry; I’m not going to push my luck,” Mark said with a wink. “But my dad taught me that I should always see my dates to the door, and somehow I just can’t shake the habit.”
“Fine. To the door. But that’s it,” Xander said, pointing at Mark.
Mark raised his hands in concession. “No funny stuff.”
After a quick elevator ride of chit chat about the play’s unexpected ending, they reached Xander’s floor.
“Well, this is it,” Xander announced.
“Nice hallway,” Mark commented.
Xander stopped in front of his door. “So, thanks. For asking me, for taking me to the play tonight. I really did have a good time, though --”
“Though it was weird, running into Steven and Anya and Giles, wasn’t it?” Mark put in. “It wasn’t exactly the way I’d planned for the evening to go.”
“You planned how it would go?” Xander asked, and then laughed nervously. “See, that’s interesting, because I didn’t plan so much specifically, except for the part where I was going to try to tell you how I hadn’t really been completely clear about myself and the whole dating of men issue, but --”
“No, I hadn’t planned that,” Mark said, obviously amused. “I’d more been planning this.” And then all of a sudden, Mark was kissing him.
And damn, Dr. Mark Reynolds could kiss really, really well.
Xander’s hands rose up, and in the back of his head he felt really sure he had been going to try to disentangle himself from Mark and put a stop to any ideas about dating and romance and veterinarian-client relationships. But either there had been something in the latte, or he really was taking Anya’s advice to get out there, way, way too literally, because he’d just angled his head and kissed back like this had been a date in his mind all along.
* * *
Xander opened the door with a shaky hand and slipped inside. He didn’t bother to turn on the room lights, but just made for the kitchen to pour a cold glass of water.
When he’d gulped half of it down, he heard a small inquisitive, “Mew?” and saw Odo’s eyes glowing as the cat peered up at him.
“Hi, buddy,” he said, reaching down to pet him. Odo pawed at his shoe until Xander scooped him up.
“Okay, so that was weird,” he told Odo, holding him to his chest. “Not that it’s wrong, the male-male kissing thing, but I just didn’t think it was my thing, you know?” He took another sip of the water and then set Odo down on the counter while he dug around in the cabinets.
He fed Odo two Tuna Treats, letting the cat grab his index finger and bite it playfully while he thought. “So either it is my thing, or . . . or it’s just been a little while, since I kissed anyone,” he reasoned. “Makes sense I’d get a little…you know…into it, while he was -- oh god -- pressed up against me.”
He drank the rest of the water rapidly. “None of this means anything at all. The kissing, or the clutching, or the, um, moaning. After all, Dr. Mark is a very handsome man,” he told Odo. “He’s tall, and he’s got great eyes, and you can tell he works out. Anyone would respond to him. Right? At least I did. Oh, god.”
Odo stood at the edge of the counter and cried to be let down. Xander set him on the floor and turned to go brush his teeth.
“Well, now. Who's this Dr. Mark?” a low voice from the sofa asked.
At the sound of Spike’s voice, Xander jumped half a foot into the air, landing with his hand over his heart.
“The hell are you doing here?” he yelled as soon as he could breathe normally.
As he flicked on the light with an indignant snap, Spike sat up on the couch and stretched. “Think you better get that memory of yours checked, pet. Was here playing with the cat.”
“Yeah, okay, I know that’s why you were here before. But with the whole ‘lock your door on the way out’, the understanding was that you'd be good and gone when I got back. So, I say again, the hell are you doing here?”
Spike gave Xander a hard look. “What are you doing here? Or more to the point, what’re you doing here alone? If you’re so hot and bothered about this doctor of yours, with the ‘clutching’ and the ‘moaning’, why didn’t you ask him in?” During the last question, Spike had gotten to his feet and now he stalked towards Xander, a flash of something like menace in his eyes.
“Oh my god,” Xander exclaimed as Spike got closer. “I can’t believe that you’re skulking around in my apartment, eavesdropping on a completely private conversation between me and my cat! I don’t have to tell you anything I don’t want to -- even if there was something to tell! Besides, there’s no heat or bother-making or anything really happening with me and . . . and anyone.” Xander took a step back and then another. “Especially because a little sympathy dating and one round of confused kissing with a veterinarian do not a gay man make, so --”
Spike stopped and stared. “You’re going out with your vet?”
“He’s Odo’s vet,” Xander corrected him. “And going out, that sounds like an ongoing thing. There was one date. One. Which is now over.”
One more step and Spike was less than an arm’s length away. “So you’ll not be seeing him again? Or will you?” Spike cocked his head to the side, and his hand drew up to his pocket, like he was about to take out his pack of cigarettes.
“Like I’m going to tell you if I am or not,” Xander answered, and then trailed off. Come to think of it, he wasn’t totally sure if he had agreed to see Mark again, what with the sort of surprising and really good kissing. Whether it was from thinking about the hallway make-out session, or getting weirded out by the way Spike was acting, his heart was going a mile a minute, and his thoughts were all jumbled. He took another step back, and hit the wall.
Spike’s eyes narrowed. He lifted his arm, and then put his palm on the wall next to Xander’s head, leaning in as he spoke. “Can’t remember?” His voice had dropped nearly to a whisper. “Must say, pet, Dr. Mark’s kisses seem to make you forget about all kinds of things.”
Xander gaped, and then swallowed with some difficulty since his throat seemed to have gone completely dry. “So? I mean, what do you care whether I make out with Dr. Mark or not?”
Neither said anything, and the silence felt like a tangible thing between them. Then there was a quick scraping sound, and both of them automatically looked towards the source across the room.
“What’s with the little man?” Spike asked, gesturing to Odo.
The question and answer session temporarily forgotten, they both turned to look at the cat, who was inching along the wall, coming up to the bookcase. He was mincing forward in a kind of slow-mo, much more silently than usual, and his eyes were anime-eye wide, the pupils so dilated that they seemed totally black.
“I have no idea what’s up with him, but he’s been doing that around there the past day or so,” Xander answered. “Yesterday he kept trying to stick his head under the space between the bottom slat of the bookcase and the floor, and his tail was swishing back and forth like crazy.” Xander took a small step closer so he wouldn’t startle Odo. “I guess he’s just spooked.”
Spike eyed Odo before going right up to him quietly, and then crouched down and gave the cat a full stroke from his head to his haunches. Odo lowered his body to evade most of the touch, and then wriggled away with his belly low to the ground.
“He’s on the hunt,” announced Spike.
Xander laughed aloud at that. “The hunt? Well, he’s in for a surprise, because there’s nothing here to hunt.” He watched the cat for a moment and then shook his head. “Nah, he’s just acting crazy because he’s nocturnal or something.”
“ ‘S not crazy,” Spike objected. “Yeah, he’s nocturnal, but he’s a natural predator, that one. It’s instinct taking over, because there’s prey in his territory. ‘Sides, if he can’t go after birds and rats and whatnot out in the wild, he’ll find something to track and pounce on in here.” He didn’t look up as he continued. “He’s going to go after what’s his.”
Xander scratched his head and watched as Odo returned to the bookcase and began prowling around in front of it. “I guess you could be right, if he’s just making up stuff to chase or hunt. Just seems weird to me, though, that he’d make such a big deal over nothing.”
Spike seemed to be in the middle of an eye-roll when suddenly he put a finger to his lips. Xander gave him an odd look, but Spike just crossed the room towards him, and then reached out to dim the living room lights.
“The hell?” Xander would have said if Spike hadn’t grabbed him from behind and smacked a hand over his mouth.
“Quiet now,” Spike whispered in Xander’s ear. He left his hand where it was, as though he didn’t trust Xander to follow basic instructions.
Odo made a small, single skittering sound in his throat, and then everything was silent.
A moment later, a pink nose and whiskers poked out from under the bookcase, barely discernible in the low light.
“Mice!” Xander might have shrieked, if Spike hadn’t tugged at him with the hand covering his mouth as a reminder to hush up. Apparently just for good measure, Spike curled his free arm around Xander’s waist, pulling him back against his torso.
Odo inched forward a bit more before stopping and then subtly cocking his head to the side. Then, so fast that Xander almost missed it, he swung out one paw and pinned down the mouse before pulling it back and close to him, like a toy. He lay on his side and licked the mouse’s coat before raking one of his back legs across its small body.
“Very nice,” Spike murmured. His arm was still around Xander’s middle for some reason, and he must have been way focused on the hunting show, because his thumb was slowly skimming back and forth on Xander’s hipbone. Xander shivered and leaned away from the scene of cat and mouse, which just so happened to be in the direction of Spike’s body.
For a moment, none of them moved. Then the mouse emitted a pained squeak.
“Oh god -- it’s still alive!” Xander broke from Spike’s hold and went to check out the situation. “The poor tiny guy,” he said under his breath as he saw that the mouse was obviously injured but still breathing, its little chest rising up and down rapidly.
“Hasn’t killed it quite yet, has he?” For some reason, Spike’s voice had an edge of irritation to it. “Suppose he means to play with it a bit.”
Xander shuddered. “That’s awful. And totally gross.”
Spike barked out a laugh. “Little squeamish, aren’t you, pet, for having a killer in your house?”
The mouse struggled to its feet and darted a short distance before coming to a full stop at Xander’s feet.
Xander tried mightily not to either not pass out or dance around on his tiptoes like some scared 1950s housewife in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. He just barely managed it, instead swaying at what was probably an alarming angle.
“Calm down.” Spike knelt next to Odo, who was sniffing the mouse with his mouth gaping slightly, and beginning to drool on its fur.
“But what should we do with it?” Xander tried not to pay attention to the fact that his voice was reaching levels that someone unsympathetic might have described as ‘screechy’. “We can’t set it free outside, because it’s already hurt.”
“Right.” Spike ran a hand down Odo’s side, and Odo put up with the attention, but kept his primary focus on the twitching mouse. “The hunting urge, yeah, now that’s instinct, but killing . . . sometimes that has to be taught.”
Xander nodded impatiently. “Okay. So you’re a philosopher of jumping and killing stuff; I get it. Now help me figure out what to do next.”
Spike sat back on his heels and raised an eloquent eyebrow.
“Oh. Oh!” Xander’s gaze flicked back and forth between Odo, intent on his catch, and Spike, hunkered down next to him. “Okay. I’ll just -- uh --”
And with that Xander scrambled away and fled to the bedroom, so he wouldn’t have to watch a vampire teach his little fluffy kitten how to off a rodent.
* * *
“You should’ve seen it,” Spike said proudly.
When Xander finally ventured back into the living room, Spike slapped him proudly on the back.
“The killing bite, ‘s something any predator’s got. Every species does it different-like, but all the ones in the same species have the same way of going about it. And yeah, I’ve never been much for lions or big cats, I mean, for watching them do it, but just as soon as I demonstrated how it might go, he --”
“Demonstrated on the mouse?” Xander asked.
Spike waved away the question. “He took to it right away.” Spike grinned before ruffling Odo’s fur the wrong way. Odo preened and purred like that was just the best thing ever. “I tell you, even though you’ve brought him inside and made a pet of him, he’s still a killer at heart. Tells you something.”
“Great,” Xander said weakly. “That makes me feel terrific. And the mouse?”
“Oh, well. Dead, isn’t it? Bits of it, he ate right up. And the rest I tossed.” Spike cleared his throat. “Didn’t seem like something you’d want about the house.”
“Awww, and just when I was planning on making him a ceremonial collar from the bones,” Xander snapped.
Spike set his mouth forward and shrugged. “Well. I’ll be off then.”
“Wait, no,” Xander said. “Stop. I’m -- thanks.”
Spike’s shoulders relaxed a bit. “Yeah, okay.”
Xander stuffed his hands in his pockets and gazed at Spike for a moment. “Um. You can crash on the couch for the night if you want. I mean, you did help, and maybe if you’re too tired to --”
“Yeah? All right.” Spike removed his coat quickly and sat on the couch right away.
Xander licked his lips as he watched Spike stretch out. “Okay. I’m beat too, so I’m just going to . . .”
Spike just laced his fingers behind his neck and moved his back against the couch like he was getting cozy.
Xander paused, and then went into the bedroom.
Two minutes later, he came out again.
“You want any blankets? A pillow?”
“No. M’fine.” Spike watched him, attentive and almost smiling.
Xander stared at him until he realized he was doing it, then skedaddled to the bedroom and collapsed onto the mattress.
A moment later he was back in the living room again.
“Forget something?” Spike asked. It was that same low voice he had used when Xander was talking to Odo in the dark and Spike had spoken up suddenly. For whatever reason, it made Xander shiver.
“Um. The blinds. I thought.” Xander gestured towards the floor to ceiling windows.
“Appreciate that,” Spike replied. He kept his eyes trained on Xander.
Xander tried to release and turn the blinds too quickly, sending them up with a clatter and then tangling the cord. But finally the blinds were down and closed, and muttering a goodnight, Xander went into the bedroom once more. This time, he closed the door and leaned against it, making sure that he stayed put.
Rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, Xander lurched out of his bedroom towards the general direction of the coffee pot. The details of last night’s arm-rest sharing, the events in the play, the extra dramatic scenes of their encounters with exes in the lobby, and the oh-so-steamy goodnight kiss with Dr. Mark Reynolds: all of those memories swirled in a fuzzy mess in his head.
But damn if he was going to make himself think about anything confusing until he’d had some caffeine.
He made it over to punch the button starting the brew cycle. After ducking into the bathroom, he emerged just in time to hear the hiss of the last dribble of sweet, sweet java dripping into the coffee pot, and fumbled a mug out of the cupboard. Only after he’d poured a cup, doused it with his usual treatment of cream and sugar, and taken a cautionary too-hot sip did he take a cursory glance around the apartment.
His whole waking up process, it turned out, got ramped up big time at the sight of a platinum-haired vampire sprawled out on his couch.
“Spike,” he started to exclaim, hand over his heart. But it wasn’t just Spike on the couch. No, there on Spike’s chest was a curled up ball of grey and white fluff. Correction, a rapturously purring ball of grey and white fluff.
“What?” Spike asked suddenly.
Xander eep-ed and spilled the coffee, though at least the carpet ended up taking the hit instead of him. He almost directed a stream of curses Spike’s way before he remembered, duh, he had been the one to invite Spike to stay over. Plus, Spike had been helpful with the whole mouse disposal business after Odo had gleefully chomped on the mouse’s innards. So Xander probably shouldn’t be shouting at Spike just yet. At least not before cup of coffee numero dos.
“Morning?” he tried instead.
“Afternoon,” Spike corrected him without opening his eyes.
Odo yawned and rose up, arching his back as he dug his claws into Spike, and then stretched out one leg, giving it a little shake. He padded around Spike’s stomach with a tiny rumble before repositioning himself in what Willow said was widely known as the Kitty Loaf Position: back legs hidden underneath, front paws curled under.
Xander stared at how Odo’s screwed-shut eyes expression mirrored Spike’s closed eyes as the two faced one another. It was like they were looking at each other from behind their eyelids or something.
Or maybe it was just that Odo was trying not to notice, as Xander was now noticing, that the top button or two of Spike’s jeans seemed to be undone. Which was totally Spike’s business, if that was the way he slept, and definitely Xander wasn’t one to try to make anyone sleep in an uncomfy way, because that led to back aches and grumpiness.
Deciding it was best if he just went about his morning as though it was a vampire-less Saturday, he paused by Odo’s kibble canister as he went to refill his mug. It was definitely way past breakfast time for kittens. But somehow he couldn’t bring himself to lure Odo away from his cuddle with Spike. And that was a weird enough thought to flit through his head that he immediately started chattering to fill the silence. Of course, he didn’t look as he chattered, because Spike + partly undone button fly = morning, no, afternoon, weirdness.
“So, you here till nightfall? Because I think there’s patrol later, but my big plans for the day pretty much involve eating three bowls of cereal and then soaping myself up in the shower until the hot water runs out. I’m thinking that probably doesn’t sound too fun to you, so . . . ”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Spike said in a rough voice. He opened his eyes to look at Xander, and somehow in the dimness of the room, they looked more bright blue than ever. “Could have some fun with that, if you knew what you were about.”
Xander laughed and began to say nervously, “Boy, you must really like cereal,” when the phone started to ring.
“Yeah, hello,” he said distractedly.
Odo moved forward and head butted Spike’s chin, seeking pets and attention. Spike smirked at the kitten and started scritching him behind his ear.
“Xander, um . . . hi.”
“Oh!” Xander put his coffee down and switched the receiver to the other ear. “Mark, hey, how are you doing?” He turned his back to the scene on the couch.
“Listen, I know I should probably wait two or three days before I call you again,” Mark said in a rush. “But I had a lot of fun last night, and I wanted to know when I could see you again. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try to find some night I could take you out for dinner.” He cleared his throat. “It couldn’t hurt, right?”
“No, definitely not,” Xander said. Not that he was sure about how he felt about Mark, far from it. But they had a lot in common, with their recent break-ups and former significant others already dating other guys. If Xander saw him again in a date-like scenario, it was only because they got along well and it was good for Mark to socialize. It wasn’t at all because Mark did really impressive things with his tongue.
“That would be great,” he said in a firmer voice. “I’d love to go out for dinner with you.”
Spike snorted as he got to his feet, knocking Odo to the floor. The kitten let out an angry mreeowww! at Spike, and sped off for his hiding place under the bed.
“Right. I’m out of here,” Spike announced.
Xander covered the receiver with his hand. “Wait, don’t you have to take a blanket or something?” he whispered.
Spike raised an eyebrow at him and reached to button up his jeans all the way. Xander could feel his cheeks burn as his eyes darted away.
“Can leave as soon as I get to your laundry room. The tunnel system opens up right next to it.”
“Well, that’s totally reassuring, having a vampire accessible building,” Xander hissed back.
There was an audible pause on the other end of the phone line. “Hey, did I call at a bad time?” Mark asked. “It sounded like maybe -- were you talking to someone?”
“What? No!” Xander waved Spike off impatiently. Spike scowled at him before slinking towards the door.
“I just thought I heard someone talking,” Mark replied.
“Oh, that? No, it was the television. And me. Talking back to the television. And remember how I said last night that sometimes I just shouldn’t talk?”
Mark laughed, a rich warm sound. “Well, I think you should talk. I like hearing you, and I kind of insist you talk when we go out to dinner.”
“Right,” Xander answered. “I mean, what else would we do?”
“Oh, I’m sure we’d think of something.”
If you could hear someone grin, Xander swore he could tell just from listening that Mark was smiling.
Of course, the heavy slam of the door as Spike kicked it shut drowned out any other smiley noises Mark might have made right after that.
When Xander walked into The Magic Box with his tool kit, Anya and Giles were murmuring to each other as they pored over some sort of ledger book by the cash register.
At the round table, Willow and Buffy passed a magazine back and forth, but Xander noticed their eyes were more on Anya and Giles than the pages in their hands.
“Don’t look now,” Buffy muttered to Xander as he slid in the seat next to her. “But it seems like there’s a thing going on with Anya and Giles.”
“A thing with Anya and Giles?” Xander repeated. He swiveled to look.
“Xander! I said, don’t look now,” Buffy scolded him under her breath.
“I know it sounds crazy,” Willow whispered. She leaned forward eagerly. “But Tara pointed it out to me yesterday, when the two of them were going over some pile of receipts and making eyes at each other. Then, when I told Buffy, she said she’s been noticing the two of them acting funny for a while. Like, Anya’s been really giggly when he talks to her, and Giles’s been all strut-y when he thinks she’s watching.” She waggled her eyebrows. “We think they want to start with the smoochies.”
Anya laughed, tossing her hair back, her right hand stroking at her neck. Giles tried and failed to suppress a grin as he watched, and leaned a little closer to speak to her.
“See? That’s some prime flirting right there,” Willow whispered. “Hand to the neck, advertisement of sexual availability. We learned all about it in Human Sexuality.” She clutched the magazine as though she were about to tear it. “Now would be a great time for Giles to make his move.”
“He already made it,” Xander said, grabbing the magazine out of her hands before she began pulling it to pieces. “I ran into them last night at the play I went to, very much on a date. Plus, weeks ago I saw them together when I came over here to fix the hole in the wall. They were already locking lips then.”
Willow’s mouth opened and closed. “Huh? They’re already at the smoochy stage?”
“So you knew the whole time and didn’t tell us?” Buffy pouted and socked him in the shoulder. Xander flinched manfully. “Xander, you know that friends shouldn’t keep friends out of the loop when wacky dramatic things are happening.”
“Hey, I’m sorry,” he hissed. “But I was a little distracted with my own wacky dramatic thing.”
Instantly both of them wore sympathetic looks as they shifted towards him.
“Is it what’s going on with Giles and Anya?” Buffy asked. “I know it’s weird for you, seeing her with him. Keeping it all to yourself, it’s probably got you worked up. But it really has been a while since you and Anya broke up. You can hardly blame her, especially since you went out on that date with the veterinarian.”
“Not just the one,” Xander corrected her. “We’re going out again tonight.”
"Tonight?" Willow squeaked. Anya looked up with a frown, and Willow lowered her voice. "You and Doctor Mark Reynolds, already on to date number two? That's intense. And, moving awfully fast. Are you prepared to move that fast?"
"What, should I be taking motion sickness for fast gay relationships?" Xander said irritably.
“Just how fast is it?” Buffy asked with interest. Based on the sparkle in her eye, she seemed to have gotten over yesterday’s upset at Xander’s initial delay in confiding in her about the date, and was moving right on to romantic snooping. “You don’t seem like you’re objecting to the date label anymore.”
“Not at all fast,” Xander objected. “I’m not some kind of boy hussy. Date-shmate, it’s two adults on a dinner . . . appointment. And last night, that was just a play. And coffee afterwards.”
“Seems like a date to me. I bet he even kissed him goodnight,” Willow said, nodding at Buffy with a knowing look in her eyes.
Buffy grinned, then leaned her chin on her hand. “Do you think he kissed him in the car, or at the door?”
“Hey, I’m right here,” Xander said, aggrieved.
“Oh, totally in the car, before Xander could jump out,” Willow put in.
“A peck on the cheek, probably,” Buffy offered.
“I’m willing to bet it got as far as a quick swipe on the lips before Xander could wrench the handle open and run,” Willow said.
“But no further,” Buffy noted.
“Definitely not,” Willow agreed.
Xander sputtered. “I’ll have you know that I got out of the car just fine, and Doctor Mark kissed me at the door, a very deep, knee-wobbling kiss with many exciting tongue maneuvers. In fact, it went on for twenty minutes or --”
He paused as the two of them faced him, both with wide grins. “You tricksters.”
“That’s us,” Willow said happily.
“Very tricky,” Buffy agreed. “But you’ve been kind of withhold-y about the info, you know? We’re not trying to make fun, we just want to support your --”
“Broadened horizons,” Willow finished with a grin. “And dinner appointments.”
Xander sighed. “Fine. Okay. They’re dates. I’ll stop trying to call them something else.”
“Now that’s progress,” Willow said.
“What I object to is that I can’t panic about the details of dating a handsome gay veterinarian in private. First Spike overhears me telling Odo about it --”
“Spike overheard?” Willow asked. “When?”
“And how?” Buffy asked.
“He was there when I got home,” Xander said impatiently. “I didn’t know he was still around before he decided to get all eavesdrop-py in the dark.”
“Still around?” Willow repeated.
“Plus today, when I was making plans with Mark on the phone, Spike completely listened in, and then slammed the door when he took off.”
“He was there this morning,” Buffy said blankly. “At your apartment.”
“This afternoon,” Xander corrected her. “We woke up late.”
Buffy narrowed her eyes, looking as though she were ready to threaten an informant. “So Spike was at your apartment last night when you got back. He slept at your place, he was around this afternoon . . . and you’re wondering about why he’s upset about your date with Mark?”
“Exactly,” Xander replied. “But not just the last date. The one I’m going on tonight, too.”
“Spike got you the cat condo,” Willow said slowly.
Xander stared. “That has less than nothing to do with this.”
“He got Xander a cat condo?” Buffy asked Willow. “Now it’s starting to make sense.”
“What’s starting to make sense?” Xander exclaimed in exasperation.
“Xander,” Giles said suddenly, as though he had only just noticed him. “I may have forgotten to phone you, but we aren’t meeting tonight. There are no pressing issues --”
“And Rupert and I have dinner plans,” Anya noted as she glanced in the mirror of her compact.
“Yes, well,” Giles flustered. “One does make plans to eat dinner, of course. And dining in companionable circumstances is beneficial for both, er, physical as well as mental wellness.”
Willow and Buffy smiled at each other, and went back to pretending to read the magazine.
“Never mind your dinner plans,” Xander told Giles as he went to stand in front of him and Anya. Anya glanced at Giles with worry in her eyes, then thrust her sharp little chin into the air, while Giles seemed flustered but straightened as Xander approached.
Xander sighed. “Stop looking like I’m going to clock you,” he said quietly. “Not only am I not bugged any more about you and Anya, I’m glad you guys are hanging out. I’m just here to check for points of entry.”
Giles looked blank. “I beg your pardon?”
Xander raised his eyebrows. “You know. No more surprise visits from unwelcome kittens?” He mimed a scratching motion with his fingers.
“Oh. Oh, yes! Thank you, I am grateful you remembered that.”
“No problem.” Xander set off for the training room, relieved to escape any more talk of dinner dates and romance.
He did a quick circle of the storage and back areas of the store, stopping now and again to examine the brick and sealant. After pressing against the back door, he got down on his hands and knees in the hallway, peering at the molding flush with the floor.
Every time he tapped against walls and examined the jointures of carpet and floor in the main area of the store, he could see Buffy and Willow whispering together. But Xander figured they must just be speculating together about Giles and Anya’s shiny new romance.
After poking around in the office, and checking the walls behind the counters and throughout the displays, Xander dusted off his jeans.
“Well? Do we need to have anything re-done?”
“Because that could be expensive,” Anya added to Giles’s question. “And that money would be better spent on cozy dinners and romantic get-aways.”
“Dinners for nourishment, of course,” Giles clarified. “And certainly, Anya, you would be entitled to holiday time, as would I, if either one of us desired to take it . . . ”
Buffy giggled, but turned it into a cough quickly when Giles glanced her way.
“Nope, you won’t have to re-do a thing.” Xander slapped a hand against the wall. “This place is sealed up tighter than a drum.”
“It is? But then however did-- ”
“Did Odo get in here?” Xander finished. He shrugged. “Not sure. But I don’t think you’re in danger of another kitty cat infestation right now.”
“He did seem highly suspicious, that cat, showing up from nowhere,” Anya noted. “If there was no way for him to worm into the building, maybe he teleported inside.”
Willow laughed. “Anya, he’s just a normal little kitten.”
“Oh really? Then how did he get in when Xander assured us that there are no holes he could have wriggled through?” She crossed her arms. “Come to think of it, why did the number of vampires in the cemeteries drop right around the time he showed up?”
“Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure you have to do more to vampires to get rid of them than just scratch them on the arms or purr at them,” Buffy said. She jabbed at the air with an invisible stake to emphasize her point.
“Well, I for one am glad we won’t have to deal with any furry pests,” Anya said brightly. “Especially since I should really get home and pick out sexy lingerie for tonight’s date with Rupert.”
Giles dropped the statuette he’d been cleaning, Willow made an eep!ing noise, while Buffy turned a pretty shade of pink.
“No point in pretending anymore about your companionable dining,” Xander advised Giles. “I’d say the cat’s out of the bag on that one. And on that note, I’ll be taking off for my own evening plans.”
“Have fun on your date,” Buffy said with a grin.
“But not too much fun,” Willow called in warning.
As Xander shut the door, Buffy might have muttered something else. But probably he had imagined the words he heard. Because what kind of sense did, “Because Spike really wouldn’t like that,” make?
"You seem a little distracted."
"Like you're thinking about something else," Mark clarified.
Xander barked out a laugh. "Me? No. What gave you that idea?"
"Well, I've called your name a few times already to see if you were ready to order," Mark said mildly.
"Oh. Oh!" Xander looked at the glaring waiter hovering at their table, and cleared his throat. "I'll have the uh . . . uh . . . beer?"
"Another, sir?" the waiter asked, pointedly staring at the full pint glass at Xander's right.
"We're going to need a moment." Mark gave a forced smile, and the waiter withdrew. "Listen, are you okay?"
"I'm good, yeah." Xander reached for his beer. "Sorry about that."
Mark gave him a searching look. "It feels like you're somewhere else."
"No way. I'm very much here with you." Xander bounced in his seat a little for emphasis. "See?"
"That's not exactly what I meant," Mark said in a dry voice. "You seemed more enthusiastic about getting together when we spoke earlier. Did something happen to make you change your mind about seeing me tonight?"
A million excuses about why he might seem out of it flitted through Xander's head: he could say he was thinking about a building code problem at the site; he could claim he'd just remembered a critical food allergy and needed extra ordering time if he didn't want to turn out splotchy; or he could point out that he had seen someone by the door who looked shifty, and did Mark ever catch America's Most Wanted, because seriously, those criminals were everywhere, and maybe even their snooty waiter might be a suspect.
Instead he sighed and said without thinking, "I just keep thinking about Spike."
Mark's eyebrows shot up. "Spike?"
Xander fiddled with his coaster and lost control of it, flipping it through the air. "Did I say Spike? Because I sure didn't mean to say Spike."
Mark frowned. "Spike. Are we talking about a dog?"
"No! I have a kitten," Xander said.
Mark leaned back in his chair. "Right, I remember, seeing as that's how we met."
"And that's why you're a good veterinarian," Xander pointed out. "Because you care about the little details."
"But that doesn't answer who Spike is."
"Spike, he's just . . . uh . . ." Xander could feel his cheeks burning, though he had no clue why. It should have been easy enough to explain how there was this English punk vampire guy with a jones for fighting who lately had been buying Xander kitten accessories, sleeping over on Xander's couch with his jeans unbuttoned, and making Xander's friends whisper knowingly at each other, shouldn't it? Minus the vampire part, anyway.
"He's just a guy," he concluded lamely.
Mark took a sip of his wine. "Was that who I heard you talking to on the phone this afternoon?"
Xander swallowed. He should have known that old "no, that's just the television" excuse never worked in the end.
Just then a relieved voice called out, "Mark!"
"Steven?" Mark said in disbelief. "What are you doing here?"
"Okay, I know this town is small, but this running into exes thing is getting ridiculous," Xander muttered.
Steven made his way over to their table and leaned one hand on it, all the while trying to catch his breath. "I said to myself, if Mark was taking someone on a second date, where would it be? And you weren't at any of the other three places I tried, so I knew you must have come here."
"Do you mind? We're trying to have a conversation," Xander blurted at the same time Mark asked in an unsteady voice, "You tried four places just to find me?"
"I'm sorry, I just --" Steven pulled over a chair, ignoring the "Hey!" of the people seated at the next table, and flung himself into it.
Mark looked slightly alarmed, and maybe a little intrigued. "Steven, you can't come barging in here like this."
Xander took a fortifying gulp of his beer.
"Look, you're probably really nice," Steven said to Xander. "God knows you're cut, not to mention pretty." He gave him a critical once over. "I can see why Mark is trying to get his hands all over your hot little body."
As he choked, Xander tried to focus on not turning purple.
Steven smacked him on the back a few times to help him breathe, and then started in again. "Even so, Mark and I have a history, and I can't let some cute buff guy just step in and ruin it all."
"You were the one who wanted to break up," Mark said.
"I know. I’m an idiot." Steven ran a hand through his hair. "We'd just been together for so long -- I wanted to try dating, have some fun. I thought I knew what I wanted when I told you I was going to move out. But when I saw you last night . . ." He exhaled. "All I could think of was what a great guy you are, and how we had something amazing between us. The thought of throwing that away, the idea that you could be with someone else and we'd never be together again -- it was killing me."
Xander opened his mouth and closed it again. Part of him wanted to remind the other two men that he was still at the table, damn it, and was in fact now in need of another beer.
But the rest of him wanted what Steven was talking about -- someone he could share something amazing with, someone who made him ache with the knowledge they were meant to be together. None of that was especially new. But in the past, that vague someone of his dreams was always a woman. Now, after one and one-third dates with Mark, some admittedly hot guy-on-guy making-out, and thoughts of a certain blond vampire taking up way more headspace than Xander had even realized before tonight, he was starting to see that was no longer necessarily true.
Mark took a shaky breath as he turned to Steven. "So you're saying --"
"Are you ready to order now?" the waiter asked.
Mark looked up in a daze at the once-again hovering waiter. "We're going to need --"
"A moment, right," the man answered before stomping off.
Steven leaned across the table and took Mark's hand. "I'm saying that no matter what, you're the guy I want to come home to."
"I don't know what to say," Mark murmured.
"Well, don't just say you'll take him back like that," Xander burst out. "He did break up with you, after all. Make him work for it!"
Both Mark and Steven swiveled to stare at him, blinking as if they had just remembered he was there.
Mark recovered first. "Steven, could you excuse us for a few minutes?"
"What? Oh, yeah. Sure. I'll be right over there by the bar." Steven got to his feet and walked off.
"Xander, I’m so sorry to mix you up in all of this," Mark said. "I really like you, but I can't just ignore what Steven is saying. He's right; we have been together for a long time, and if there's a chance that it might work --"
"Then you have to try." Xander held up a hand to stop any more explanation. "It's okay, I get it." He folded his napkin and stood.
"If things were different, I'd really want to see what would happen with you and me," Mark said.
Xander stuffed his hands in his pockets and nodded. In another universe where Steven was still running after stage managers and Xander had already worked out the muddle in his head about upstanding handsome veterinarians and dangerous cat-condo-buying vampires, maybe something would have worked out between them.
"Just make sure you're choosing what you really want," Xander said. "After all, you're a great guy. And a great kisser."
"Likewise," Mark said with a grin. "Oh, and Xander?"
"That guy, Spike? I don't know what's going on there, but maybe you should talk to him."
Xander rubbed the back of his neck. "If he'll still talk to me? I'm thinking you're right."
Xander slipped out of the restaurant, letting the door fall on the murmur of conversation and clinks of plates and glasses inside.
The restaurant wasn't too far from his apartment, but right now he was grateful for any length of walk he could get. He buttoned his jacket as he trudged along and tried to organize his thoughts. Though he'd gone through a couple of various scenarios of how his second date with Mark might end, leaving the restaurant midway to go find Spike and ask what was up between the two of them had been nowhere on his list.
Mark was right, though. He should talk to Spike. Right. He could do that. No problemo. The sooner, the better.
He started moving faster with long quick strides, but after a block or so he found himself slowing.
Talk to Spike. Just go right ahead and talk to the vampire who had been camping out on his couch and taking him to buy jingle balls and giving Odo stuffed tigers, and -- oh my god, Xander realized, that's what had been going on when Spike had basically wrapped his arms around Xander for a slow groove in the dark without music while Odo hunted innocent mice.
"And the whole, oh, a soapy shower could be fun if you knew what you were doing! He was totally coming on to me! I can't believe what a dope I am."
"So long as you learn, it's all right," a wild-looking guy leaning against a lamppost pointed out, making Xander jump a foot into the air.
"Oh, I'm learning," he replied without thinking as he tried to scuttle past.
"Wait! I know you!" the crazy guy shouted suddenly. "You were the guy with the ferret-cat."
"More like a cat-cat, but yeah," Xander replied, trying to edge away casually. "That'd be me." Now that the man had said something, Xander did remember him -- Mr. Crazy on the street, from that very first day of finding Odo.
Mr. Crazy gave him a sage nod. "Got my own ferret now," he noted, lifting a long sleek ferret from where it had snuggled around his neck. The butterscotch-colored animal blinked at Xander, and then returned to its job being a scarf.
"Gosh, that's swell." Xander made a show of looking at his watch. "Listen, I'm happy to hear you're all set up with your own pet, but I have to get going."
"I named him after you," the crazy guy called as Xander continued on down the sidewalk.
"You don’t know my name," Xander threw over his shoulder.
"Your name’s not Ace?" the guy asked in confusion.
Xander darted back over and fumbled a five dollar bill at he guy. "For ferret food," he muttered, and hurried off.
"Catch you on the flipside, Ace!" the guy called after him.
As he turned the corner, his phone went off a top volume:
Don’t fight the feeling,
You know you want to have a good time.
And in my opinionation, the sun is gonna surely shine