“Wait a minute. Let me get this straight. You’re sending me a crazy vampire?”
“I wouldn’t exactly say…”
“Buffy - are you or are you not sending me a crazy vampire?”
“He has a soul now.”
“Oh, okay, so you’re sending me a crazy, souled vampire. That makes it so much better. Hell, why don’t you just send Angel over?” A beat. “Don’t you dare send Angel over.”
“Look, Xan, Spike’s the only one we can spare. You know I would be there myself in a second if it weren’t – ”
“For all the shit going down there. I know, Buff. I get it.”
“Besides, I think it will be good for him to get away from Sunnydale for a while.”
“Good for him?”
“Good for Spike?”
“Yeah. I think the Hellmouth… unsettles him.”
“Right, ’cause I called you out of concern for Spike’s mental health…. Oh wait, no. I actually called you because I needed help. Remember me? The guy needing the help?”
"We're sending you help."
"You're sending me Spike." Xander holds up a hand to be talked to.
Then he realizes Buffy can't see the hand and therefore can't talk to it, so he saddles up Cordelia's famous ‘hand - talk to it!’ sound and heads Buffy off at the pass.
"Look - you're busy. I get it, okay? Just - keep Spike and I'll call - uh - "
"You don't have anyone else to call. That's why you called us."
The hell of it was Xander hadn't been lying. "Uh..."
Xander tastes defeat, and slumps. "How crazy are we talking here? Sees butterflies and rainbows or 'Xander, make sure you don't leave anything sharp where Spike can get it'?"
"I don't think it's butterflies and rainbows he's seeing."
"And that means what exactly on a scale of murdering me in my sleep?"
"'M not going to murder you, Harris," Xander's darkened window says, lighting a cigarette.
There's a beat while Xander hyperventilates and the window smokes its cigarette.
Xander glares at the phone. "When the world doesn't end, I am so coming to Sunnydale and making you pay." He hangs up and glares at the smoking window. "And you? What's with the skulking? Is it in the vampire handbook or something? Acceptable modes: biting, growling, skulking?"
"’M not skulking."
"'M lurking. There's a difference."
Xander rolls eyes. "My mistake. Think you could lay off the lurking?"
"Might help if you invited me in."
Xander ponders the dark window and the red glow moving in the darkness. Invite him in? Yeah, sure, why not? He's only tried to kill you twice. "Come around to the door," Xander says.
He crosses the room and opens the door and there Spike stands, looking... different. Longer haired, undustered and less fangy. Subdued.
"You don't look all that crazy," Xander says.
Spike shrugs. "It comes and goes."
Spike just stands there - waits.
"Come in," Xander says.
"Ta," Spike answers, walks in and puts his boots up on Xander's coffee table when he slouches onto the couch.
He's patting himself.
And as soon as Xander realizes these are the movements of Spike's ritualistic cigarette search, he's hovering over Spike with hand extended.
Spike provides them with a look of confusion on his face that'd be cute if it wasn't worn by an evil - or possibly ex-evil - vampire. "Didn't know you smoked," he says.
Xander takes the cigarettes and shoves them into the garbage disposal.
It's not like he uses it for food.
"No smoking. It's in the lease," Xander says and wonders when that became the snappiest come back he has.
"Right." Spike's not looking at him. He's sitting on the couch picking at a cuticle and Xander realizes how weird it is that Spike's not wearing nail polish anymore. For that second, it's weirder than the missing duster or the longer hair.
Xander wishes he hadn't ground Spike's cigarettes into snuff because the silent nail picking is moving toward wiggy.
Xander paces his way across the room again, opens the refrigerator. "You want some..." Okay, he's got nothing. He closes the fridge. "Water?"
Xander looks over at the couch. Spike is hunched closer over his cuticles. Xander casts a longing look at the garbage disposal. "Um... you're not going crazy over there, are you?"
Screw the lease. Xander decides to pick up some cigarettes on his way to... "Oh shit, I'm gonna be late for work." Xander tugs off his loose gray tee shirt and throws it on the bed, picks a tight brown one up off the floor and slips it on. He looks around for his keys. "Will you be okay here?"
Xander spots the keys and picks them up, weighing them in his hand as he weighs his options: Leave the crazy vampire home alone or take the crazy vampire to his place of employment. Door Number Three, he thinks. But there is no Door Number Three.
"Okay," Xander says, "let's make a deal. I take you to work and buy you a pack of cigarettes, you sit in the corner booth and chain smoke and try not to act all crazy or blood-drinking in front of my friends and coworkers. Fair?"
"Bugger off," Spike says.
But he stands, which Xander takes for an acceptance of the terms. Xander opens the door and ushers Spike out in front of him, closes the door and locks up.
"Oh," he says as they start down the block, "one more thing - could you not mention to anyone that you're my secret weapon? I'm trying to keep up morale."
Spike looks over at him like he's just realizing Xander's there and if ever a bad sign dressed up like a hula girl and shimmied in front of Xander, that is the bad sign. "Okay," Spike says, makes an abortive pat for cigarettes and then shoves his hands into his pockets.
Whoever told Spike that denim jackets were a good look for him needs to be taken out back and shaken.
Even Spike's skin doesn't look like it fits him right.
After another two or three - dozen - cigarette searches, Xander veers into a 7-11 parking lot. He tells himself it's because he's going to catch Spike's crazy before they get to work if Spike doesn't stop fumbling for cigarettes that aren't there.
Xander almost wishes Spike would talk to invisible people like a normal crazy dead guy.
Not that his experience with crazy dead guys is extensive.
Just better than most people's.
Xander buys a packet of Marlboro Reds and hands it to Spike.
Spike stares at it for a minute, like he's trying to remember where he's seen one before, then tucks it into his jacket. "Ta, mate."
Five minutes later, back on the street, Spike starts patting again and Xander holds back the urge to scream.
He'll tell his crew insanity's in this year.
Spike's looking at him funny again.
"You always talk to yourself like that, mate?" He pats himself down again and thank god takes out his cigarettes this time and lights up. "Didn't come all this way to work for a crazy person," he says on a stream of smoke.
Xander considers a very nasty comeback, but then laughs instead. It feels good. Lets out the tension. Cigarettes, he decides, are a good thing. Tobacco companies, yay! Tomorrow he's gonna call and lobby his congressman. Not that his workplace had ever kicked out a paying customer for lighting up discreetly in a dark corner...
"Here we are." Xander comes to a stop in front of a heavy door without windows, pulls it open with a grand gesture. The Latin stylings of Mr Ricky Martin pour out into the quiet street. "Welcome to the Fabulous Ladies Night Club."
Spike gives him a look, but steps inside. Xander follows and the door swings shut behind them. Spike’s eyes sweep the room.
"This is a gay bar," he says.
"Actually, it's a gay strip club.” Xander smiles. “The name is ironic. Come on, I'll get you a drink and introduce you and then we'll find a nice place for you to sit and not be crazy while I do my shift."
Spike nods, then blinks. "Wait a minute. You're a..."
"Stripper? No. Why? Don't you want to see me shake my bon bon?"
Spike looks vaguely terrified at the prospect. It takes Xander a moment to get over being offended and remember the last time Spike probably saw him dance. Junior year at The Bronze. Terror? Fair enough.
Xander shrugs and gives a small smile. "Your loss."
Xander leads them over to the bar, then steps behind it. "Don't tell me," he says, putting a hand dramatically to his forehead and picking a bottle off the shelf. "Jack Daniels. Neat."
Spike nods and Xander pours him one.
"Psychic bartender trick."
Spike doesn't look impressed.
The bartender strolls over. "Hey, Xan. Was beginning to think you might not show..." He gives Spike a thorough once over. "Though now I wouldn’t blame you if you hadn’t. Who's your friend?"
"Danny, this is Spike. He's, uh... visiting... from my hometown. Spike, this is Danny. He taught me everything I know about tending bar."
Danny winks at Spike. "And a few other areas."
Xander grins and moves closer to Danny, rubbing a friendly hand over his ass. "Hey now, not everything. I'll have you know I've picked up a few great new moves since then."
"Oh yeah?” Danny walks his fingers up Xander’s chest. “Gonna show me sometime?"
“Maybe.” Xander kisses Danny full on the lips. "If you ask nicely." A final pat to the ass and Xander moves out from behind the bar. "Be right back. Just gonna get Spike settled."
Spike looks anything but settled. In fact, Spike looks wigged, like he stepped outdoors and the trees were doing a samba beneath a marmalade sky.
He collects himself enough to slam back his JD and set the glass on the bar.
It's only polite for Xander to refill it, so he goes back around the bar and does. Spike looks like he can use it, and who knew two guys getting their happy on together could put that look on Spike's face?
Or maybe it's Ricky Martin and Latin Lovers Night that's doing it to Spike. He's already looking around for a dark place to light up and Xander takes pity on him and points to a table close to the bar where the overhead lights have been burnt out for about a year and a half now. "If a one-eyed English guy named Gaz asks what you're doing at his table, offer him a smoke."
Spike shoots him a look that could be fear, blank incomprehension, or a new round of crazy fun, but he takes his drink and carries it to the table and wedges his chair into the vee of the walls. His hair glows.
"So what's his story?"
Xander can't tell if Danny's interested or making small talk. "Crazy," Xander says because that's about the only certainty in the box.
Danny's leaning on the bar. "I could do bugfuck."
Xander draws a beer and slides it over to a guy in a purple tee shirt. On stage, Ricardo (real name: Ted Hennessey) is shaking his bon bon to vintage Menudo and god help him, in the dark corner, Spike's nodding along to the beat.
It's Apocalypse season in the old home town.
Madame Francesca the drag queen glides up to the bar. She's got a basso voice, her own mile-long eyelashes, and a drinking problem that'd make Xander's parents blush. So when she says "Shirley Temple, extra cherry," a frisson of fear tingles down Xander's spine and circles, yapping like a small and really freaked out dog.
Some signs of Apocalypse don't take a Watcher and a moldy book to decode.
Xander serves the drink anyway and walks back over to Danny, who is still gazing off in Spike's direction with a hungry look is his eye.
"You can't do Spike," Xander says.
"Why?" Danny asks. "Doesn't swing that way? 'Cause you know, I've been known to change minds."
"Yes, I know. You're talking to living proof, remember?"
"Very fondly. But if that's not it, then what?" Danny looks thoughtful for a second, then smiles and nods. "Oh, I get it. Not willing to share."
"What? No! I mean, it's not that I'm not... I mean, Spike and I aren't... don't... haven't... would never..." Xander stops to catch his breath. "He's crazy, Danny. Actually crazy."
Danny shrugs. "With a face and body like that, I don't really care what's going on in his mind."
Xander shakes his head. "You are a sick, sick man. You know that?"
"Hey, man, the mentally ill get horny, too. It'd be an act of compassion."
"Sick," Xander repeats. "But seriously, Danny, just don't go there."
"Ah, come on Xan..."
"Danny? Do you trust me?"
"And have I saved your life on more than one occasion?"
"Yeah. Xan, I..."
"So trust me when I say - don't go there."
Danny nods. "You good here?" he asks, indicating the bar.
"Cool, I've got a hot date."
"Picking him up at the asylum?" Xander asks.
Xander smiles. "See you tomorrow."
Spike's watching and Xander knows he heard everything.
Okay, Xander thinks he heard everything because Spike these days? Doesn't seem to groove in the vibe of normal expectations with the rest of the world.
He could be sitting there tuned in to Neptune, waiting for the next exciting move in the interplanetary table tennis tournament.
Xander keeps an eye on Spike as the night goes on.
Gaz shows up.
Spike offers him a cigarette and they smoke together in English silence.
Then Gaz asks him to dance and ends up dancing alone.
Apparently Radio Neptune isn't a dance station because Spike's turned inward again - literally - with his cheek pressed to the wall and an arm wrapped around his stomach.
Xander wonders if it's worth praying Spike doesn't pull a crazy here at the club.
Xander also wonders if it's too late and really hopes the bugs Spike's scratching at under his skin are imaginary because the exterminators aren't due for another month and the cockroaches are piling up under the sink in the back kitchen.
But roaches are going to be the least of their problems if Spike pulls some serious Neptunonian crazy before they can save the - okay, not so much with the saving of the world, but they'll save about thirty six square miles of prime California real estate that Xander happens to call home.
From demons who can't read a map.
Xander's going to file a complaint with the demonic Triple-A as soon as his blood stops running cold from their whole 'tunnel into the nonexistent Hellmouth' vacation plan.
It’s time for a meeting, he supposes. Time to sit the gang down together, go over what they know, plan some recon… and introduce Spike.
It’s hard to imagine taking Spike to their meeting place, inviting him in, telling him all their plans. It feels wrong. Like a movie hero when he chooses to trust some chick just because she’s pretty and good in bed, and the members of the audience who aren’t thinking with their cocks the way the hero is cringe and say ‘no, no, don’t do it, you stupid idiot’ and throw popcorn at the screen and then, at the worst possible moment, she stabs him in the back and it turns out to be a near fatal mistake.
Not that Xander’s thinking with his cock in this situation. His cock has no thoughts about Spike. None whatsoever. Not about Spike’s body, not about his eyes, not about his lips or his cheekbones. Not about how a vampire might be in bed.
Which is good.
Because chances are, any wrong move this time won’t just be near fatal. No, with these demons, it’s gonna be all the way fatal – the full fatal – and not just for Xander.
And that’s what sucks about being the leader. Your bad judgment is everyone’s problem.
Back in Sunnydale, it went like this: Xander thought with his cock, Xander screwed up, Xander got his ass saved by his super friends. And sure, it wasn’t great for the self-esteem, but very little deadness of Xander resulted.
In the years since high school, Xander has gained an all new respect for Buffy and Giles. It sucks to be life-and-death decision guy. Of course, Buffy and Giles had the superhuman strength and the superhuman research skills going for them.
Xander has a whole lot less.
Basically, a level of foolishness that sometimes passes for bravery and a bunch of pointy sticks.
It sucks to have people look at you and say ‘what now?’ just because you happen to be slightly less clueless than the rest of the general population and he knows he’s not good enough for the role he’s taken on in this town.
But he’s all this town’s got.
And he takes his role very seriously.
Spike's down to his last cigarette by last call, but he's tapping another package against his knee. American Spirit - looks like Gaz took a shine to Spike while Xander was slinging Cosmos and Singapore Slings.
And what kind of people drank Singapore Slings these days?
Well, clearly gay people - so much for the gay rep for taste.
"You smell like a distillery." Spike doesn't look up when Xander heads over but he's not talking to the fairies anymore so Xander counts it progress.
"You smell like a fire on a tobacco plantation."
Looks like Spike decides that's a fair description because he stubs out the butt and picks at the cellophane on his pack of American Spirits. "You're a popular bloke these days, Harris."
"I'm the bartender, Spike. In a gay strip club. I am the definition of 'guy everyone wants to talk to'."
"Noticed more than a few weren't ordering drinks."
"So I can't be chatted up?"
"Weren't chatting you up either." Spike mouthed a cigarette and squinted at the other end of the club where Xander knew without turning around that the new guy was waiting for him. "Mostly. Can I break his legs?" Spike asks it so casually, Xander's sure he heard wrong.
But Spike's moved on. "And anyway, I heard you tell the bloke with bad Eighties hair there was a meeting tonight." He lights up and Xander's experiencing a surreal moment thinking about pots and kettles.
“Yeah, thought I might as well introduce you and get you up to speed and all. The sooner we find the demons and you help us kick their asses, the quicker I can return you to Buffy.” As soon as the words leave his mouth, Xander realizes how bad they sound. He envies those people who make these realizations before they speak. “I mean… I’m sure she’d like you back ASAP. ’Cause, you know, sounds like she needs all the help she can get right about now.”
Spike doesn’t seem offended or even hurt. There’s a sad sort of acceptance in his voice when he says: “I wasn’t helping.”
And there’s pretty much no good answer to that, so Xander just claps his hands and smiles like a camp counselor on crack, voice overloud and pumped full of artificial cheer. “Alrighty then, let’s get going. Rest of the gang should be waiting at Brad and Jordan’s by now. Thaddeus? You ready?”
“Yep,” the new guy calls as he starts for the door.
Spike stands and makes some sort of odd, five-part ritual of stashing his unsmoked cigarettes. “Thaddeus?” he asks with a soft snort.
“Be nice,” Xander warns under his breath. “We try not to alienate the new recruits.”
“He’s only here because he fancies you,” Spike says, leaning close. His hushed tone suggests the back-alley revelation of a highly classified state secret.
Xander just laughs and winks at Spike. “Hey, whatever gets them through the door.”
He can feel the weight of Spike's stare while he walks away. Spike's got super vampy speed on his side so he can afford a little stop-and-stare. Right on cue, there's running footsteps and a cloud of American Spirit tobacco smoke falls into step next to Xander.
Up ahead, Thaddeus is hurrying along throwing looks back over his shoulder at Xander.
He nearly walks into a mail box.
"Luring them in with your pulchritudinous charms, are you?"
"My what now?" Not for the first time, Xander wonders how Spike's managed to keep a big bad image this long tossing out SAT words like that.
"Comeliness." Spike apparently realizes that was a bad choice of words when Xander snickers in spite of himself. "Your beauty, all right?"
Xander's enjoying the look on Spike's face too much to call him on it so he shrugs. "Hey, it worked for Buffy."
Spike looks at him narrowly through the smoke, up and down. "Not gonna change into a skimpy halter top and chunky heels, are you?"
"Only on Drag Night."
Xander waits for Spike to rise to the bait but Spike only says, "Good. You haven't got the legs for it."
They walk in silence and smoke while Xander tries to decide whether he's offended or amused and whether Spike actually made a joke that didn't involve hilarious dismemberment or exsanguination.
"All of your gang poofs, then?"
Xander looks forward toward Thaddeus and back at Spike, nods. “More or less.”
“And which are you?” Spike asks. “More? Or less?”
Xander grins. “More. Definitely more. I have crossed over to the dark side and am never going back. I have seen the light. I’ve been saved. Hallelujah and amen.”
Spike gives him a look like he’s the crazy one. “You’re disturbing,” Spike says.
“And you’re disturbed,” Xander replies. “Guess that makes us a dynamic duo. Use your bat lube, Batman!”
Spike stops walking, stops smoking, and stares at him. Thaddeus stops walking, turns around, and stares at him.
“What?” Xander asks, looking back and forth between the stares. “Am I the only one here who watches reruns of Super Friends?” He gets nothing. He sighs. “Apparently so. Fine. Come on, the house is on the next block.”
They reach the front porch and Xander doesn’t bother to knock, just opens the door. He can hear the sound of voices inside. The sound of friends - talking after, around and over the top of one another and laughing like it’s not the end of the world. Man, he loves these guys.
“Go on in,” he tells Thaddeus. “Find Brad and tell him I want to talk to him out here. Just Brad, not Jordan, okay?” Thaddeus nods and goes and Xander turns to Spike. “Jordan can get a little melodramatic,” he explains.
Brad comes to the door half a minute later, stopping on the inside side of the threshold like a good amateur vampire fighter.
“Brad,” Xander says, “this is Spike. He’s here to help, but you need to invite him in.”
"Okay and the rule that says 'help is the guys you don't need to invite in' changed when, exactly?"
"Uh - when my friends in Sunnydale sent us their pet vampire instead of a Slayer or a - " Xander gives up, drowned under 'I'm not her bloody pet!' and 'Vampire?'
So much for doing this the easy way.
"Let's start again. Brad, this is Spike. He's a vampire with a soul." Xander decides that leaving out the 'crazy' part is the better part of valor here. A guy's got to pick his battles, make his stand, choose a team - "What?"
"Vampires don't have souls."
Xander jerks a thumb at Spike. "Tell that to him."
"Vampires don't have souls," Brad says, facing Spike.
"Ta," Spike says and looks like he's ready to turn around and go knock over a liquor store or something. Xander recognizes the early twitches and fidgets of Spike getting bored.
Unless they're the early twitches and fidgets of Spike wanting to run away.
There's something in his facial expression that makes Xander think that's not completely out of the question. "Clap if you believe in vampires with souls," Xander mutters under his breath.
"Look - got any demons in your gang?"
Brad looks to Xander for help and gets the hands up ‘you are so on your own, pal’ gesture in return. "Uh - no. We pretty much fight the demons."
"Right, then. Can't hurt any of you lot anyway."
"And I'm supposed to believe that why?"
Spike squints and makes a complicated series of movements that put out his half-finished cigarette and tuck it behind his ear.
Then Xander and Spike are both writhing on the front porch clutching their heads in pain and Xander has the vague feeling Spike punched him.
"This is our help?"