Late Night Double Feature by Kimberly

17 Bargaining

Xander took it easy for a week. Didn't go in to work. Apparently the hospital had phoned the site manager directly and given strict orders that he take a week off.

So he spent his time mostly watching tv. Dawn came over after school each day and told him all the teenage gossip she usually shared with Spike. Xander had no idea what she was talking about most of the time, but he was glad for the company, so he just smiled and nodded and gasped in all the right places.

Willow and Tara came by together a few times, and Willow came alone once, too. She kept picking at him, though, trying to get him to talk to her about Spike, and he didn't want to talk about that whole mess right now, so he ended up faking a headache to get her to leave.

Everybody came over for video night three times that week. It was a new record. And "everybody" included Spike, though he fidgeted a lot and went outside to smoke more times than usual.

Spike didn't come over on his own, but everyone else mentioned him. "Spike asked me how you're doing." "Spike seems really moody lately." "Spike's been patrolling every night, looking for the Bregni demons." "Spike said he might come with me to visit today, but then something came up."

Every word about Spike seemed like a hidden message. Secret code.

He wasn't supposed to drive and he got really bored in the apartment, so the girls took him out to the movies twice and brought him over to their house once. He was kicking back on their couch, drinking hot chocolate Willow had made from scratch (in honor of his visit) when Spike showed up. It was pretty obvious from the panicked look on Spike's face that he hadn't known Xander was going to be there.

"Hey," said Xander, like nothing was weird.

"Hey," replied Spike, lingering in the entryway. He glanced nervously toward the kitchen. Come to think of it, the girls were rather curiously absent. Those sneaks.

"So..." Xander began, not quite sure where he was going with this, "my incarceration comes to a glorious end tomorrow."

Spike nodded awkwardly. "Right. Like new, are you?"

Xander shrugged. "I've been feeling pretty good for the past few days. I'm just taking it easy so the Scooby Nursing Brigade doesn't give me too much shit."

Spike nodded. Whenever he looked at Xander, his eyes were dark and vulnerable. Xander wanted to fix him ... make him not look like that. But Spike had been strange since the two days he spent with Xander after the concussion. He'd been sort of awkward and easily startled. And whenever Xander caught his eye, he quickly looked away like he'd been caught doing something wrong.

"So I was thinking," Xander said, trying to look Spike in the eye despite the attempted evasions, "patrol as usual tomorrow?"

Spike looked at him straight-on, then, not blinking, obviously surprised. Then his expression transitioned more into confused. Or maybe concerned.

"Patrol as usual" was, of course, a ridiculous thing to say. He and Spike hadn't patrolled together -- except for the night of the Bregni-induced concussion -- for ages. But Xander wanted things to be right again. He wanted to find a way to make them right again, and this was as good a place to start as any.

Spike looked about to say something, probably something about how Xander was hurt and he shouldn't blah blah blah overly-protectivecakes. So Xander leapt in and said, "I've spent an entire week just sitting around, even though I feel fine. I'm ready to hit the cemeteries."

Spike walked slowly into the room and sat down in one of the chairs, closer to Xander's position on the couch, but still at a safe distance. He seemed deep in thought, looking down at his hands and frowning. But eventually he looked up, actually looked right at Xander without letting his eyes slip away like they'd been doing lately, and he said, "All right then."

And Xander smiled. "All right then," he repeated. "Patrol tomorrow night."

* * *

Of course, it wasn't that easy.

Even after they'd been patrolling together again for a couple weeks, it hadn't fixed things the way Xander had hoped. Things were still weird. He occasionally looked out his window and thought he saw Spike across the street, watching the apartment from behind a telephone pole, which was weird enough, but when they were around each other Spike was still skittish.

They were stiff with each other, formal, cautious, serious, quick to take offense. Patrol was very tense.

They were walking through Shady Hills when Spike actually had the guts to mention it. He was flipping his knife and catching it. Flip and catch. Flip and catch. Familiar. And then, "Not really friends anymore, are we?"

Xander was startled. But he admitted reluctantly, "No, not really."

Spike didn't reply right away, but then, "Think we could be, again?"

Xander couldn't help remembering the sections in Spike's journal about not having friends, and not wanting to lose Xander's friendship. Xander had worried about the same thing ... it's why he didn't tell about the time loop sooner.

And yet things had somehow ended up like this. Exactly what they'd both wanted to avoid.

"I don't know," he replied with a sigh. "Maybe if we could catch a time-loop back and do it all different."

"I'm afraid you're the only one who had that luxury, mate. Most of us fuck things up, they just stay fucked."

They walked for a while, not talking. Spike was still flipping his knife and catching it. The glimmer of the spinning silver reminded Xander of the time loop, and how different Spike was then.

Hell, maybe they both were different then.

Xander rubbed his forehead in frustration and finally said what he was really thinking. "I don't know, Spike. I don't know if we can, because how are we ever supposed to be friends after this? You hit me."

Spike stopped walking and turned to look at him, head tilted, body language suddenly pissed as hell. "Yeah, well, you lied to me. For months."

Xander frowned. "That's different."

"Both hurt, don't they?"

They just stood there, silent, staring at each other in the darkness of the cemetery, the moonlight shining down on them so that Xander could clearly see the pain in Spike's face.

Yeah, it hurt. Still hurts. And I'm not the only one who's hurting. Would it kill me to take a little responsibility here?

Xander sighed. "Look, I promise not to lie to you again, okay, Spike?"

Spike's eyes were suddenly like dark slits in his face, his mouth set in a tight line. "Doubt you'll keep that promise."

Xander raised his hands -- look, no weapons, I come in peace -- and said firmly, "Spike, now that I know" -- how much it hurts you? how much it means to you? how vulnerable you are? -- "um, now that I know, I can absolutely promise I won't do it again." He lowered his arms back to his sides, watching Spike's face.

They were both silent a moment, and then Xander continued, even more seriously, "But I'm not sure if I can deal with the hitting me thing. I mean, you said it yourself, you're a demon ... violence is part of the package."

"In more than a hundred years, I never hit Dru in anger!"

"Yeah, but you loved her." Not me. Not me not me not me.

Spike's chin tilted up, just slightly, in the gesture Xander remembered from the time before the time loop. He didn't say anything, but his eyes were filled with things he wouldn't say, things Xander couldn't understand.

Xander let loose. "I'm just some idiot. Some 'child'. Some pathetic kid you had sex with out of some kind of sense of obligation, like you had to protect me from myself. Well, I can do without your kind of protection, Spike." Xander closed his eyes and shook his head. He'd run out of steam. His voice was quiet again when he said, "Nothing to keep you from smacking me around, is there." It wasn't a question. It was just a really depressing fact.

"Listen to me, you fucking idiot." That brought Xander's head back up, and Spike looked ... not angry, but ... frustrated. Determined. Ready to take on dragons and gods, if necessary. "Because yes, you are being an idiot. I will not hurt you again. I swear it. If I do, you can bloody well stake me yourself. You know where I sleep. Can sneak in during the day when I'm out for the count. Nothing I can do to stop you, eh? Won't even try."

Xander rolled his eyes. "I'm not staking you, Spike, no matter how much you might deserve it sometimes."

But Spike was persistent. "I'm not doing that again, Xander. Not hitting you again. I swear it."

Xander stared at him, just watching his eyes, and he could see that Spike meant it. Spike might have an impulse control problem, he might have a thing for violence, but he also was true to his word when it mattered. And his eyes right now said that this was something that mattered.

That maybe even Xander was something that mattered.

And didn't that possibility just shake the earth's foundations?

Xander raised a hand to push his hair out of his face, and saw Spike's eyes follow the movement. It stirred a memory, though he wasn't sure if it was something he'd dreamt or if it was real.

Did Spike really stroke my hair? Why? When? It must have been a dream.

The hazy memory gave him pause for a moment, made his heart beat a little funny, but then he realized that Spike was watching him, waiting for some response, uncertain of whether he'd be pushed away again. Xander didn't want to keep doing that.

"How about we make a bargain."

"A bargain?" Spike sounded suspicious.

"Yeah, a bargain. No lying, no hitting. If either of us breaks it, there's no going back. Game over. The end."

"That simple?"

"That simple." Xander held out his hand.

Spike stepped hesitantly forward, then reached out to shake Xander's hand. His grip was firm, his skin cool and smooth and familiar. They hadn't touched in ... Xander wasn't sure how long. Too long. As they released each other's hands with one last squeeze, they didn't step away but stayed standing where they were, facing each other.

Spike smirked, "Mind you, deal's off if you beg me to give you a smack or two just for fun ... or if a good blow to the head'll get you out of danger's way."

Xander couldn't help but smile in response. "All right. I think I can deal with that." He thought a moment. "Well, and I can't promise I won't lie if I'm possessed by some hyena spirit or enthralled by Dracula or if you're wearing something that makes you look really fat or if I'm planning your Christmas present or..."

"I liked the journal."

That brought Xander up short. "Uh ... I ..."

"The Christmas present. I liked it. I'm sorry you read it, sorry I got so angry, but I liked the gift. It was ... thoughtful."

"Spike, I never meant to invade your privacy."

Spike gave him a wry look. "Xander, I've snooped through your things more than you could ever dream of snooping through mine. I'll just do a better job of hiding it next time, 'stead of leaving it on the bloody bedstand."

They grinned at each other and it was as if all that other stuff -- all that bad stuff -- just fell away. Xander found himself wondering if this was what it felt like to be baptized, having all your sins washed away in that one moment of forgiveness, getting a chance to start your life anew and do it better this time.

"Now let's finish this damn patrol."

* * *

The next night was Friday. He and Spike actually weren't on patrol together, because the Scooby schedule had been reshuffled to suit Willow and Tara's university course schedules. They patrolled on Friday nights now. Spike and Xander had Saturdays.

So it was Friday night.

And somehow Xander found himself dressed in one of his nicer shirts and one of his cleaner pair of khakis, heading toward a familiar part of the cemetery. He tried to smooth his hair down, but it was doing some funky curling thing in the front. He didn't want to have funky hair for this.

But as he approached Spike's crypt, he realized that something was wrong.

The door was slightly open, candlelight was spilling out in a golden sliver across the grass, and a tall man was leaning in at the doorway, as if kissing someone goodnight.

Xander stopped where he was and just stared. He couldn't really see the person very well, but it was definitely a guy, definitely tall, and definitely lingering at Spike's door as if he didn't want to leave. Xander could hear the murmuring of conversation, but couldn't make out any words.

Finally, the shape disengaged, pulling away from the crypt doorway enough that he became an independent silhouette. Enough moonlight shone on him that Xander could now see that it was Jeremy, the doctor from the sex club. He seemed to be smiling into the doorway as he backed slowly away.

Spike stepped into the doorway, shirtless, looking rumpled and languid. He called a goodnight after Jeremy and then stood there for a moment as if frozen, frowning slightly. Then he turned his head and looked directly at Xander, as if he'd somehow known he was there.

Shouldn't have worn that aftershave.


Well, he couldn't just run away home now, little though he wanted to have this conversation with the obviously post-coital Spike. He dragged his feet as he walked to the crypt. Spike invited him in, but they stayed upstairs.

Yeah, the downstairs is probably a mess after ... that.

The top button of Spike's jeans was undone. He hastily grabbed a black button-up shirt off the back of the chair and put it on, but he didn't button it.

Xander felt like a golfball was stuck in his throat, and his heart felt like it had been stomped on by a whole stampede of Bregnis wearing football cleats. He tried to smile. Here I am. Xander the friend guy. "So. You and Jeremy, huh?"

Spike frowned in confusion. "What?" He seemed to see something in Xander's expression, though, and his eyebrows went up. "What? No! Nothing like that."

Right. Ha! "He just stopped by the cemetery for a cup of tea?"

"No, I ... sometimes I help out at the blood bank. Keep an eye out for other vamps, that sort of thing. And they don't seem to mind if a bit of the stock goes walkabout when I'm around. Haven't been by the blood bank lately, so Jeremy was ... concerned."

"Concerned." Xander's voice was flat. Disbelieving.

"Yeah, concerned." Spike was starting to sound a little annoyed.

"So you just sat around and chatted about blood?" With your pants undone and your shirt off.

Spike frowned. "He brought me a couple of pints. Interrupted me when I was about to get better acquainted with my left hand, if you must know. What's it to you, Xander?"

Right. Right. What's it to me? It wasn't like we swore undying love to each other or anything. We just agreed to be friends again. With no hitting and no lying. Just ... non-hitting, non-lying friends. Right.

Xander looked down. The crypt floor was surprisingly clean. He tried to picture Spike with a broom, merrily keeping everything tidy, and it just didn't work. Maybe he had secret minions to do his housework. Like the shoemaker's elves. Except evil.

Except he's not so evil anymore. Not really evil at all, actually. Well, mostly. And we never said we weren't going to be more than friends. There wasn't actually a friends-only clause to the bargain. So ... there's no reason not to ... might as well...

Leaning against the wall, Xander asked casually -- or at least he hoped it sounded casual, even though his heart was beating like he'd been running laps -- "You been keeping an eye on The Majestic?"

Spike tilted his head as if in surprised curiosity. "Can't say that I have." He didn't say why, but it hung there in the air between them, unspoken: It was something we always did together.

Xander nodded nervously. This had all seemed very suave and easy when he practiced it at home, but now it seemed like a huge risk, and he was a little afraid. He licked his lips and said, "The place is probably overrun with vamps by now."

Spike nodded cautiously, watching Xander.

"So I thought maybe we should check it out. Like patrol."

Spike nodded slowly. "Like patrol."

Xander's palms were sweating. He was sure of it. Very suave. "Yeah. So ... you want to?"

Spike didn't nod this time. He just watched Xander's eyes, just staring right at him, and then he smiled, just a little bit, and said, "Yeah, all right."

* * *

They dusted four vamps before the movie even started. Then Spike got up and said, "Be right back."

"Is it another vamp? I'll come with."

"Nah. I can handle this on my own."

Xander shrugged and put his feet on the chair in front of him, waiting for Bride of Frankenstein to start, but still keeping an eye out for the demon contingent.

Spike plopped down into the seat next to him and tossed a box into Xander's lap. Xander looked down. Then he looked at Spike, who was opening a box of Red Hots.

"You bought me Snowcaps?" He could feel a smile starting to grow.

"Well, 'bought' might be overstating it a bit..."

"Never mind. I don't want to know." He was grinning now.

Spike smirked.

"But thanks."

During the movie, Spike's knee slid over to rest against Xander's, and it was more intimate than anything they'd ever done when they were naked.

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