Once Xander recovers enough to be sure Spike punched him, he glares at the two Spikes until they merge into one. “Okay, next time? We discuss the demonstrations beforehand.”
With a shaking hand, Spike removes the cigarette from behind his ear and tries to relight it. He can’t seem to manage, so Xander takes the lighter from him and flicks it open. Spike leans forward to touch the cigarette to the flame and Xander is hit with a strong sense of déjà vu - or maybe that’s just his head still spinning.
Xander turns back to Brad. “Look, Brad, I asked you to come out here because I know you’re a reasonable man…”
“No, you asked me to come out here because you know Jordan is a drama queen.”
Xander nods and concedes the point. “Fine, but still, you have to trust me on this one. You just saw that Spike can’t harm anyone.”
“I just saw him punch you.”
Xander waves his hand and makes a pshah sound. “That was just a love tap. And besides, it hurt him more than it hurt me.”
Brad looks stern. “Not funny, Xander.”
“I can’t help it. Inappropriate and ill-timed humor is my signature, you know. My calling card. My…”
“Look, it’s a long story, okay. But he really can’t hurt people and I honestly don’t think he wants to. And he can help. So could you do me a favor and invite him in and maybe not mention the whole creature-of-the-night thing to the others?”
“No,” Brad says.
Xander is genuinely surprised. “No?”
“I’ll let him in, but you are damn well going to explain this to everyone.” Brad looks at Xander as he steps out of the doorway. “I assume you can still come in on your own”
Xander nods and crosses the threshold. Spike looks in at them and frowns.
“They’re not actually sitting around sharpening stakes in there, are they, mate?”
Xander looks to Brad. Brad just raises his eyebrows and shrugs. “Come on in, Spike.”
"Didn't come all this way to be staked," Spike mutters, passing Brad. He stays close to Xander when they enter the room.
When Spike leaves, it's with at least five offers for another kind of staking and Xander's pretty sure he saw Spike considering at least two of them. "Not bad for a bunch of poofs."
He's got a fresh pack of Kamel Reds and Xander is starting to wonder if cigarettes are gay currency and he never noticed. Like Snoopy valentines in kindergarten. Spike lights up and stows cigarettes and lighter in his pocket and that's when Xander identifies the pat-fumble for what it is.
"Hey - what happened to your duster?"
"Must've left it somewhere." He drags hard and fast on his cigarette and turns toward the waterfront.
"Where do you think you're going?"
Spike twists and gives Xander a glare way more lucid than anything in this evening's fine program so far. "Got demons to kill, don't we?"
"Did you miss the part about big and nasty? And reconnaissance?"
Spike finishes off his cigarette and flicks it into the street in a shower of sparks. "Reconnaissance is for poofs."
Xander catches up with him and takes his arm. "Okay, first," and Xander holds up a hand to mark his place in the air between them, "poofs? Kinda falls short as an insult around here. You really need some new ones if you're gonna work with my crew. And second," Xander hurries on before Spike can say anything like 'I don't want to work with your crew, Harris,' "you may be all suicidal crazy kamikaze guy but the rest of us kinda want to come out of this with our limbs attached."
"So - what?" Spike's looking around and his hands have gone back in his pockets. He looks smaller without a cigarette. "You want me to find a place to hole up for the day, is that it? I can...yeah. Fine. That's fine."
Spike looks anything but fine. In fact he looks kinda resigned - and then confused when Xander takes his arm and steers him in a wide circle back the way they came.
"Where're we going?"
"Back to my place. You know? The place where the couch and I live."
Xander gets out of bed sometime after noon, slips on some clothes, and sneaks into the darkened living room to watch Spike sleep. Okay, that’s not his actual reason for going into the living room - it’s more like a side effect, something he falls into doing.
The blanket has fallen to the floor and the sheet is tangled around Spike’s legs and Xander wonders if Spike gets nightmares. A new soul’s gotta be tricky, when you think about it.
Xander hasn’t really, before.
But whatever tossing and turning Spike may have done in the night, he’s perfectly still now beneath Xander’s gaze. A beautiful corpse.
But not a peaceful one.
Pale, gaunt, haunted.
The moment stretches.
Spike twitches, or maybe it’s a play of the shadows, but it snaps Xander back to himself and he looks away. He picks up his keys and grabs his wallet. Time for a trip to the butcher shop.
He shuts the door softly behind himself.
When Xander returns, Spike is sitting up.
Xander walks over and picks up the remote off the coffee table, turns on the TV so he can pretend that’s what Spike is staring at.
“Ready for breakfast?” he asks as he carries the bag of pig’s blood to the kitchen.
Spike doesn’t answer.
Xander puts the blood in his least favorite coffee mug - for lack of a better option - and puts it in the microwave. When it’s done, he carries the mug over to Spike and sets it on the coffee table.
“Breakfast is served.”
Spike doesn’t answer.
Xander picks up the remote again to change the channel. He finds it hard to convince himself that Spike is watching Days of Our Lives. A cool hand darts up from nowhere and closes around his wrist.
“Don’t,” Spike says. “Passions is almost on.”
Xander doesn’t know quite what to say to that – or quite what to do with himself – so he goes back to the kitchen and pours himself a bowl of cereal, takes it back to the living room and sits down to watch Passions.
Spike's unmoving beside him. Eerily so except when he's lifting blood or cigarette to his lips.
It's like watching daytime television with an animatronic man.
And if a hidden speaker on Spike's body starts to play 'It's A Small World,’ Xander's going back to bed.
But it doesn't. And he doesn't.
So they sit and watch Passions until Charlie throws Sheridan into a pit in the basement and Spike turns off the television while Sheridan's still screaming something about contractions.
Xander's glad he turned it off.
"Sodding hate basements," Spike's muttering and lighting another smoke. He's ashing into one of the club's ash trays.
Apparently the soul doesn't have anything against petty theft and Xander kinda hopes nobody noticed Spike's fingers turning sticky last night.
Although it was kinda considerate of Spike to provide his own ash tray.
"Mukkiks don't much like vampires," Spike says, like he's saying commercials for orange juice are bloody stupid. Which he also did.
"Vampires don't much like other vampires," Xander points out because that's one of the first things you find out on the streets. Vampires piss off everybody.
"Well, yeah. But these really don't. Suppose it could be dangerous." Spike ashes into the ash tray and unfolds his legs, propping his feet on the coffee table.
His feet are bare.
They don't look like the kind of feet that kick the shit out of innocent trash cans, doors, passers-by...
"Demon hunting? Pretty much dangerous by definition," Xander says to arrest that train of thought.
Spike has nice feet, the train adds while it's being handcuffed and bundled into the paddy wagon.
The train's right.
"Yeah. I'll go in first. Distract 'em," Spike's saying.
“Being attacked by a vampire’ll piss’em off. They’ll ignore you ’til I’m gone.”
Xander stares at Spike. “Recon,” he says. “Re. Con.” He hopes breaking it down into two clear syllables will help the concept penetrate Spike’s nicely shaped skull.
Penetrate Spike’s thick skull.
And maybe penetrate isn’t the word Xander wants to use here. But still…
“Recon is the thing that we do so that we can make the plan,” Xander says. “The plan is the thing we make so that we can fight the bad guys without getting any good guys killed.”
“I’m not a good guy,” Spike says.
“Okay, good vampire,” Xander amends, though he knows that’s not what Spike meant.
“I’m not — ”
“Going in first to distract them,” Xander finishes. He stands up and claps his hands together. “Good. I’m glad we’re agreed. I’ve gotta head to work in a minute. I traded shifts with Danny so we can do the recon tonight. There’s more blood in the fridge and extra towels in the bathroom. You can come by the bar when it gets dark. If you want. JD’s on me.”
Spike doesn’t say anything, just goes back to the staring thing and Xander doesn’t know whether or not to expect Spike to show after sunset.
“At least eat something while I’m gone,” Xander says.
No response from Spike. Xander grabs his keys and is halfway to the door when he hears the soft words.
“You shouldn’t be nice to me.”
“I’m not being nice, I’m being self-serving. The only thing worse than a crazy souled vampire is a crazy souled vampire with a death wish.”
Xander says it all without turning. For some reason, he doesn’t want Spike to see his face.
He's not sure what he expects when he comes home.
Spike sitting where Xander left him - likely.
Spike smoking on the balcony - possible.
Spike sitting in the middle of the living room floor playing solitaire - makes a surprise stealth campaign.
But what Spike is - is asleep. With that pale foot sticking out from beneath the blanket with a vulnerable arch and relaxed toes.
Spike doesn't wake up when Xander comes in and shuts the door behind him. Or when Xander goes into the bedroom to slip into something more comfortable for a night of recon. Something that makes a statement other than 'financially comfortable wino.'
He's acutely conscious of how he smells now that Spike's around - he wonders if he has time for a fast shower.
He wonders if Spike will be around long enough to find out whether Sheridan has her baby in the pit.
Then Xander wonders when he lost his mind. It's a soap opera. Of course Sheridan will have her baby in the pit. And then it'll be spirited away by the wacky witch and her semi-competent henchman.
Spike's grinding the heels of his palms into his eyes when Xander comes out of the bedroom. "It's your fault," Xander tells him.
"All right," Spike says.
Agreement wasn't on the program. "Wake up on the wrong side of the couch?" They both look at the high back of the couch. "Okay - that was possibly not the snappiest of snappy come-backs. Blood?"
“Up for some recon?” Xander asks, moving toward the fridge.
“And we do remember the meaning of recon, right?” The patronizing tone alone ought to provoke a snarl.
“Sure.” But it doesn’t.
From left field comes the urge to ask Spike for a blowjob, as long as he’s being so agreeable. Some part of Xander’s brain slaps another part for being a pig. The pig parts points out that the not breathing thing? Definitely of the blowjob good.
Meanwhile, some part not involved in the debate moves his hand to open the refrigerator and sees exactly the same amount of blood sitting on the shelf as when he left over six hours ago.
This bothers him.
And it bothers him that it bothers him, dividing his brain into further factions.
Once upon a time, his brain was united — of one mind, so to speak: Vampire is as vampire does. Vampire kills. Hate vampire. Kill vampire.
Or, in the case of Angel: Don’t kill vampire and hate vampire extra to compensate. But don’t feel sorry for vampire. And don’t fall for vampire’s broody act.
So when did things get… complicated?
But then how can you want someone dead if he doesn’t seem to want to live? And if you let him kill himself does that make you his friend? Or if you keep him alive, does that make you his enemy? And which one is Spike supposed to be anyway?
The microwave dings and he hands Spike a mug of blood - watches Spike, making sure he drinks it down.
Xander slams the door behind them.
“What part of recon didn’t you understand? Re-con. Two syllables.”
Spike shrugs, shedding his jacket and falling into the couch. “Killed ’em, didn’t I?”
“Re. Con,” Xander says. “You could have been dusted.”
Spike pats down his own chest. “Wasn’t.”
“That’s not the point,” Xander says, picking up Spike’s jacket, pulling out cigarettes and Zippo, and handing them over.
“Point is they’re dead.” Spike fishes one out of the pack and slides it between his lips.
“No, the point is—”
“Barely broke a sweat.” Spike flips open the Zippo and lights his post-carnage cigarette. “Not much of an apocalypse if you ask me.”
Xander puts his hands on his hips and glares. “Don’t be down on my apocalypse. I mean, sure it’s not Sunnydale level, but for Oxnard, this was big.”
Xander looks down his own body, realizes he has his hands on his hips and drops them. His lips slide into a pout. “You could have at least let me kill one,” he says.
Spike pats him on the shoulder with the hand that doesn't have a cigarette in it and the arm finds its way around Xander's shoulders. "Would've taken your head off, mate. They've got a wicked bite - and they're bloody fast."
For a guy who almost dusted four times in the last hour (and Xander counted), Spike's unnaturally cheerful.
He's going to the fridge and helping himself to -
Okay, he's helping himself to Xander's orange juice straight from the carton, but Xander can't bring himself to object.
Then Spike holds the carton out to him and Xander figures what the hell and drains the juice.
Vampire cooties taste okay and - "Hey. Wait a minute. Why are you sharing?"
Spike gives him another idiot look, this one with more fire behind it. "Because you looked pale, Harris. Don't fancy you dropping dead at my feet."
Xander looks at the orange juice.
Then he looks at Spike and speaks with his eyebrows. 'Dead?' his eyebrows ask.
'Yeah. Sure. Never know,' Spike's eyebrows answer and Spike drops himself onto the couch and kicks his feet up and Xander puts a finger on where he's seen this side of Spike before.
In a school hallway.
The view's a lot better without his head jammed under Angel's arm.
But the side's not solid. There's still cracks in it where the other Spike peeks through, flicks glances at him that say simultaneously 'is this all right?' and 'bugger this for a game of soldiers. I'm not moving my boots.’
And Xander's got a problem because he wants to sweep one Spike off its feet and take him to bed - and he just wants to sweep the other Spike's feet off his table and go to bed because mother of god he hurts all over and works an early shift tomorrow.
And hard work.
"Suppose I should be getting back to Sunnydale, now your apocalypse is over," Spike says.
“Gotta return me to Buffy, remember?” Spike smirks a smirk of satisfaction. “Might actually be able to help now.”
For some reason, Xander’s heart is pounding, but he stands with his arms crossed and studies Spike - thoughtful. “No more crazy?”
The smirk disappears as Spike seems to introspect. “More like just enough,” he says a moment later, smirk returning along with a raised eyebrow. “Something to be said for a fighter’s got nothing to lose.”
And all of a sudden, Xander wants to give Spike something to lose. Or maybe something to remember him by. Or maybe just something.
Because isn’t that what last nights are for? Isn’t that the kind of thing you do before sending someone off into battle? Isn’t that the way you thank the hero before he rides off into the sunset?
And because isn’t Xander dying to know what that skin feels like? That skin and those hands. Those hands and those lips. Those lips and everything else he can’t see from here…
Xander looks at Spike and Spike looks at Xander and Spike looks ready and Spike looks willing, but Spike always looks that way – it’s part of his presence, his appeal. And Xander looks and Spike looks, but Spike doesn’t move, so Xander doesn’t move and they stand there not moving until it’s too much and Xander says…
Xander is too tired to have any trouble sleeping, but his brain works while his body rests and he wakes up convinced that Spike can’t go back yet.
For one thing, who knows if they actually got all the demons last night?
There could be more in hiding somewhere just waiting for the scary vampire to leave so they can kill Xander and all his friends and all his non-friends and all their pets until Oxnard is nothing more than the middle of nowhere, which it’s been accused of being before, but not in quite that literal a sense.
Or even if all the demons are gone right now, who’s to say that they don’t have demon friends?
Demon friends who might be on their way right now and who won’t be happy when they find that their demon amigos are dead and gone. Demon friends who will hear about how Xander was standing there watching while all their demon amigos were killed and who won’t care that it wasn’t Xander who did the killing. Demon friends who will come to the club one night and pull Xander out from behind the bar and viciously disembowel him in front of everyone, after which the patrons will be driven to drink, but won’t be able to since the bartender will be dead, so said patrons will flee the club instead, leaving all the strippers without tips, and said patrons will never come back to the club again, leaving all the strippers without livelihoods, forced to beg on the street where they will be picked off one by one by the things that go bump in the night.
The whole situation is a tragedy waiting to happen. And all because Spike is going back to Sunnydale too soon.
And what kind of man would Xander be if he lets that happen?
So for the good of humanity, Xander rolls out of bed and marches into the living room and over to the couch to tell Spike that he can’t possibly go yet.
But when he gets there, the couch is empty.
Spike is gone.
Spike is gone.
Xander repeats it to himself silently. Spike is gone.
Xander repeats it out loud. "Spike is gone," he tells the stove.
The stove doesn't say anything back and Xander doesn't want to become the crazy cat guy who talks to inanimate objects so he grabs his phone and dials.
"The Magic Box. What can we sell you?"
It's a woman's voice, nice, and totally not what Xander wants to hear. "Spike is gone," he tells it.
"No he isn't," she says.
"Yes he is." It's not much better than talking to the stove and Xander decides to cut the long and vicious cycle short. "This is Xander Harris. Buffy sent Spike to Oxnard and he's gone."
"Of course he's gone. I assume you averted your apocalypse. I mean - Spike's back and the world is still here."
Spike's back, Xander thinks and then nips that cycle in the bud too.
So he skips the stove and gets to the point. "Spike's back in Sunnydale?"
Which means he made it safely. Ali – okay, in one piece and Xander looks at the kitchen clock to see what time it is but the clock is gone too.
Spike made it safely - and he took a souvenir.
"Hello? Xander Harris?"
"Yes, that's me," Xander's mouth says while his mind is still wrapped around Spike wanting his clock. Spike wanting his James Dean clock.
There's a huff on the other end of the line and then -
"Sorry, Buff, can you say that again?"
"Xand - are you okay?"
"I'm okay. I'm fine. I'm - " He's struck by an idea. "Actually - is Spike there? Can you put him on?"
"Why would Spike be here?"
Okay - Spike wasn't here - there-here - and Xander forces his brain into a before-coffee think.
Except there’s no coffee maker either where there was a coffee maker before.
Spike took another souvenir.
And Xander starts to feel that kinda lifty feeling - because it means he'll have to go to Sunnydale to get them back.
“He took my coffee maker,” Xander says. “And my clock.”
Buffy snorts. “Just be glad he didn’t take your toaster oven.”
Which might be a good point except…
“I don’t have a toaster oven.”
“Or your stereo,” says a voice in the background that sounds like Dawn.
“Or your bookshelves,” chimes the voice that answered the phone.
“He seems to be nesting,” Buffy explains.
“Nesting? Vampires nest? With toaster ovens?”
“Hey, it’s a step up from lurking in the basement and muttering to invisible people while trying to cut his soul out,” Buffy says.
And Xander has to concede that point.
He does not, however, have to concede his coffee maker.
“I’m coming over there,” he says.
“For a clock and a coffee maker?”
“It’s only an hour.”
“You don’t have a car.”
“I don’t have a coffee maker.”
“You could buy a new coffee maker for less than it costs to get here.”
“It would be nice to see you again, too, Buff,” Xander says, because faced with logic, he often finds it best to counter with emotional manipulation.
Buffy sighs. “Not the best time for a social call, Xan. We’re kinda in crisis mode here.”
“Believe it or not, I might actually be able to help.” And this time the sarcasm isn’t manipulative, it’s honest. “It’s not like in high school, you know. I’m not like in high school.”
“I know, Xan. Of course I know.”
Buffy sounds genuinely sorry now and, for a second, Xander feels guilty because he knows deep inside that his motives aren’t exactly pure. But a second later, he’s convinced himself that his motives are perfectly pure and fills his voice with righteous indignation to announce…
“All right then, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Because one day is more than enough time to borrow a car from one of his buddies, his pals, his brothers in arms - right?
Xander steps off the bus at the Sunnydale Greyhound station, shoulders his duffel bag, double checks his stake and starts to walk.
He can use the exercise. A physique like his doesn't keep itself after all and walking is great exercise.
And good for the heart.
Light cardio - for free!
Xander leads a heart-healthy lifestyle.
Xander also has totally fair-weather friends.
But - hey - last time he was here, he was picking up an Inca mummy who'd later try to suck the life out of him. No Inca mummy this time so Xander figures he's ahead of the game.
He hangs a left onto Main and walks past the hardware store - where his zombie buddies got their cake ingredients - and past the dress shop where he and Cordy were attacked by hell hounds.
Yeah, Xander's way ahead so far and he does not miss this place.
Get his coffee maker.
It's a Mr. Coffee search and rescue operation.
And if he's thinking more about engaging the enemy and under the covers covert ops, that's his business.
Xander sees The Magic Box up ahead and takes a sharp right into the Espresso Pump.
Because he has no coffee maker.
And he cannot be expected to face the rescue operation without his morning coffee.
Xander bellies up to the counter and fumbles his way through ordering a hot chocolate.
A minute later, Xander nearly fumbles the hot chocolate itself as he steps through the Magic Box door and is slammed with an armful of Dawn.
“Hey, Dawnie,” he manages with the last bits of air in his lungs.
She steps back and gives him a once-over that’s just a little less innocent than it used to be in the early crush days. He blushes and manages to set the hot chocolate down on the nearest available surface just in time to catch an armful of Willow.
“You suck. Do I need to cast a spell that attracts you to Sunnydale? ’Cause I can do that, you know.”
They squeeze each other tight and when she steps back, he smiles and gives her a kiss on the lips. “Missed you too, Will.”
“Hey, how come I didn’t get a kiss?”
Xander smirks over at the pouting Dawn. “Because you’re too young and not gay enough.”
“I like to think of it as self-preservation. You do remember that your sister can kick my ass?”
“Damn right I can, so stay away from her and come over here.”
Buffy emerges from the training room and Xander crosses the shop to meet her halfway and enfold her in his arms. “Missed you, Buff.”
“Missed you, too.”
Buffy steps back and Xander leans down to kiss her on the lips, too.
Across the room, Dawn stomps her foot. “Buffy’s not gay.”
“Buffy’s also not jailbait.”
“Dawn,” Buffy says, “don’t you have homework?”
“But I’m not at home.”
“But you could be.”
Dawn crosses her arms, but plops into a chair in front of some books. “Fine.”
Xander laughs. “Ah, the joys of raising a teenager.”
“Tell me about it,” Buffy mutters. “Were we this bad?”
“Are you kidding?” Xander lowers his voice. “We were so much worse.”
“I heard that!”