Xander takes a minute to himself to lean up against the wall outside the house on Revello drive. He can still hear the snick of the door closing behind him. The click of the lock.
Buffy never used to lock the front door.
It's how these things go every time now.
And he used to think it was the orgasms making his knees shake and his thoughts do the watusi.
But now he's pretty sure it's fear.
And maybe some loathing. Variety: self.
Xander should take the act to Vegas.
He drops his head and sits on the porch swing - it's a nice swing and he installed it himself - and tries not to feel like fruit in a basket for any vamp walking by feeling peckish. Something to his left needs oil and he makes a mental note for himself to come back in the morning and fix it.
The swing creaks and judders under a second body. "Still giving it to the slayer? Way to go, mate." There's no heat in Spike's words.
Which - okay, fair enough - because there's no heat in Spike but there's nothing else in the words either. They're words of habit and Spike sounds about as wrung out as Xander feels.
"None of your business, Spike." Also habit because Xander's too empty inside to raise an objection and too tired to raise anything else.
"Come on, Harris. Her juices are all over you."
Maybe he could manage a finger.
Except Spike's right and even Xander can smell Buffy all over him like some kind of weird eau de demon repellent that doesn't repel Spike because he's doing Buffy too and Xander never figured Buffy would be the one degree of separation between him and Spike. He leans his head against the back of the swing and closes his eyes waiting for Spike to keep talking like Spike always does.
He doesn't have to wait long.
"What happened, ran out like an affronted maid without your shower?"
There's never time to shower. It's like Faith each time only Buffy gives him time to get dressed first and maybe he could ask to stay and use the shower but there's something inside that feels a whole lot like shame that doesn't want to explain to Dawn why he's taking a shower while Buffy changes the sheets and he's not even staying for dinner. "Didn't have time."
Takes longer for Spike to answer this time and when he does there's that freaky sympathy in his voice again. "She comes and goes." And it's cruder than Xander would've put it but he can't hate Spike because it's true. It's almost funny because it's so true and he thinks he might have something like a smile on his face.
Spike's got his cigarettes out and Xander takes one before he puts the pack away.
"Smoking's bad for you, Harris."
"Yeah - because that always keeps me from doing stuff I shouldn't." Xander leans over and Spike lights his cigarette and Xander hates the taste but it's something to do with his hands and a reason not to get up and walk away yet.
"Not so far." Xander takes a cautious drag. This'll be cigarette number five since he first explored the wonderful world of potential lung cancer at age sixteen. It's good.
"Yeah." Spike packs an unexpected amount of dejection into one syllable. "Guess she's all - " Spike makes a vague gesture and Xander's grateful for the vagueness because it still manages to imply the lady's been served in a way that makes him wince.
"Won't be wanting - " Spike stops himself and Xander's glad for that too.
Spike lights a second cigarette while Xander's still working on his first. Only.
When it's done he has to leave because he's not going to become stalker guy who hangs around outside Buffy's house and litters the ground with cigarette butts after she throws him out.
"Never has me in there you know." Spike gives his chin a quick jerk in the direction of the house.
"Huh?" The syllable slips out before Xander realizes he really doesn't want Spike to explain.
"In her house. She'll have me in a crypt, against a tree. In the alley behind that bloody awful place she works. But never in there. Never in her bed." The hand holding Spike's cigarette shakes and he takes a deep drag. "Can't make it real."
"A bed doesn't make it real." Xander blames it on the cigarette and the quiet and not on the worn out sadness in Spike's voice. "A bed's not about making it real. It's about hiding." Xander leans forward, elbows on knees and his hands dangle limply from the wrists.
"Haven't got anything to hide have you?" Spike's down to the filter again and flicks the butt into the night where it flares and winks out. "Not anymore."
"Okay - is there anybody who doesn't know why Anya left?"
Spike lights another cigarette. "Dawn. Red."
He's not wrong and Xander wants to keep it that way.
"Besides - I'm not the one who's hiding." Xander's cigarette is crackling close to the filter. He takes the last drag and flicks the butt after Spike's - he'll rake the lawn when he comes back to oil the swing. "It's okay if it's what she needs." That shower's starting to sound good again and Xander's belly and thighs feel stiff and itchy.
And when he stands up, Spike stands up with him, hands in his pockets, cigarette in his mouth.
Xander takes a few steps and Spike takes a few steps with him. They stop at the end of the walk. "Where do you think you're going?"
Spike tilts his head, looks at the house and at Xander, fiddles with his cigarette. "Can't serve her needs if you get eaten on the way home can you?"
"Ah hah you assume I am serving her needs at all."
"Keeps coming back doesn't she?"
Neither one of them wants to talk about what'll happen when she doesn't.
The swing on Buffy's porch doesn't squeak anymore and that's good because this is the Xander Harris quiet thinking time. The time between getting dressed, getting out and actually going home.
Buffy's hair had smelled like cigarettes this time - her blonde hair and her hair that's never seen a bottle and isn't blonde and that Xander spent five years figuring he'd never see because Xander's luck doesn't run that way - and Xander knows where she's been and what she's been doing because those smells amount to Spike: the perfume.
It's a weird thing being intimately familiar with Spike's smells.
He's got his eyes closed. "Spike."
"Harris. Got a third eye now?" Spike sounds grouchy, wary, tired and he sits next to Xander without being invited.
Xander smiles. "Nah."
He wonders if Spike's been waiting out here since Buffy dragged him into the house by his belt and if Anya's got her vengeance on again and that's why Xander just happened to be here when Buffy came home from patrol because that would so figure.
Xander can taste Spike on the back of his tongue - it's a subtly vengeancey touch and more than he ever wanted to know about William the Bloody.
But that thought's more intimate with his eyes closed, more verging on too and Xander opens his eyes. "What happened to you?"
Spike looks like shit and he looks like he doesn't want to talk about it. There's a trail of blood Xander doesn't wanna be looking at up the front steps and a couple of the fingers clutching Spike's cigarette look oogy and broken. He licks his lips and sucks on blood from a split and Xander's wavering between thinking its gross and thinking duh, vampire when Spike gets around to answering with a smile on his face that looks like it hurts. "Ran into a door."
They get up together like they've been doing this longer than two weeks and start walking toward Xander's apartment. "What is this anyway?" Xander takes an offered cigarette and his shoulder bumps Spike's while he lights up.
"What?" Spike's mumbling around a cigarette that won't light and Xander cups his hand around the lighter. "Ta." His breath puffs into Xander's palm.
"This." Xander gestures between them. "The you walking me home thing."
Spike looks around like he's trying to deny walking Xander home but there's not much else to do in Xander's part of Sunnydale and Spike's no championship thinker. "Herself wouldn't like it if some nasty ate you because you smelled like her."
Xander's wearing eau de Spike too but wise men don't open boxes from Pandora's Store 'N' Save. "Thanks."
"Not doing it for you."
"As the primary beneficiary here, I'm entitled to thanking you." Which pretty much kills the conversation dead or at least deader than Spike because they walk the rest of the distance to Xander's apartment in tobacco-laced silence and relative peace.
It's not bad.
Kinda quiet and Xander likes that.
Then they're climbing the steps to Xander's apartment and there's a crazy moment where Xander's got the urge to invite Spike in for a beer. "Spike?"
Xander's got the door unlocked and open and they're both kinda hovering and if Spike ever wanted to break into Xander's home and kill him in his sleep he could've done it in the basement. Xander opens the door wider. "Come in. Put your feet up. Have a beer."
Because he's been drinking alone a lot lately and Spike's the lesser evil.
There's a vortex above Xander's left eye, spinning gently on an ovoid orbit and fueled by beer and Wild Turkey and not enough sleep and it's going to suck him in.
Suck him down.
Wrap its cool, wet whorls around his dick and suck until his hips are rising and falling, rising and falling slow and easy and everything's foggy and distant and good and his balls are cold because everything's down around his thighs but his shirt's too hot.
And he feels too good to do anything about it because there's a small hand in his and the air smells comfortingly of - Spike and Buffy or Buffy and Spike. Perfume and cigarettes and Xander buries his free hand in -
- oh god not Buffy's hair but it feels too good to stop and -
God it smells just the same even if it's hair wax slicking his palm and short curls slipping between his fingers and a broader shoulder his leg hooks over.
Buffy never blows him.
That should've been his first clue but it's actually where he gets last when he's gasping like a fish and trying to explore Spike's larynx and boldly go where no Harris has gone before. And he's pretty sure he's babbling something that might be fuck fuck fuck because Spike's taking him literally.
Or kind of literally.
High school literally and their pants are open and there's a hard dick thrusting against his own and Spike's mouth over his and he tastes like Buffy does these days too.
Or maybe Buffy tastes like Spike and that's a revelation that hits him like a mackerel and he's grabbing Spike's head to push his tongue deeper and taste more.
Rolling them over to grind down on Spike's thigh and thrust up against his dick and there's a matching slime trail on their bellies that's not enough.
And he's not sure what would be enough - he'd ask - okay maybe he'd ask - but Spike's got his mouth busy, tasting and fucking with his tongue and shoving smaller hands than Xander's down the back of his pants and groping his ass like -
- he wants him.
Xander rears back for breath, staring into eyes scrunched up and realizes Spike's still wearing his duster, shirt, jeans, boots.
And that's - good - good like if they were naked this'd be too real and Xander'd have to stop and he doesn't want to stop. Doesn't want to stop until Spike's mouthing his neck and bucking against him and shooting come that's not cold all over Xander's hip and belly and a shirt that'll never be the same.
Gasping even though he doesn't need to and clinging to Xander in a way that whispers need so seductively Xander comes all over them both, propped on his elbows and shaking with the force of it all.
He doesn't move.
Neither does Spike.
And a calm, too calm, part of Xander's brain notes that this is the part neither of them has any recent experience with.
So when they keep not moving till Xander's eyes drift shut and his head falls down on Spike's shoulder, Xander's okay with that.
The world's spinning too much to move around in anyway.
Xander wakes up some time around three thirty with his pants open and his belly stiff and itchy.
It's not the first time for that.
But it's the first time on his own floor and it's the first time when he smells only like Spike.
So Xander lays there till he decides what he's feeling about this whole thing.
Some time around eight, numb outvotes sated by a nose and Xander takes a shower.
Xander's still feeling the numb the next day at work and under the numb's a kind of creeping warmth that feels a lot like shame and that, at least, is kinda familiar.
Around lunch time he identifies it.
He felt it enough before Anya caught on and took off. Rode the next dental hygienist out of town and into the sunset.
He feels like he cheated on Buffy - which is actually pretty laughable but Xander's always been a laugh a minute kind of guy. And then there's the punchline: he doesn't know if he feels like he cheated on her with another guy or if he's the other guy her guy cheated with.
Xander really should have learned all his lessons about this in high school.
And that night's the first night Xander can't keep it up with Buffy. As apocalyptic signs go, it's small and intensely personal.
"Rough day on site," he says and tries to go down on her so they don't have to have the it happens to everyone conversation. She grabs his shoulders and he stares at the dip below her rib cage. She's still got her halter top on and it's a seafoam green line across his vision. Above it is Buffy - regular every day Buffy - and below it's another kind of Buffy he doesn't know so well. He stares at the line.
They have half the conversation, the half where Xander's assured it's okay and it happens to everybody and they can fool around for a while until he's got it up again and he doesn't let himself say out loud the part where he really wants to get it over with and go and he shouldn't have come here tonight.
"I shouldn't have come here tonight."
He ends up on her front porch swing again with the memory of her lips on his and her hands in his hair and the reality of his own nearly-full packet of cigarettes and a plastic lighter from the Quik Mart. He takes out a cigarette and rolls it between his fingers.
"Those're better when you light 'em," Spike says and the swing swings under them when he sits down.
"Is this our morning after talk?" Xander takes Spike's Zippo when it's offered and lights his cigarette. It works a lot better than flicking his Bic and he hands it back.
Spike lights his own cigarette and makes the Zippo disappear somewhere in his duster. "I don't do morning afters." And Xander wonders if this is the same guy who stayed with one woman for over a century.
He says so.
And Spike says, "Times change."
They sit and smoke and it's not uncomfortable.
It's so large with the not being uncomfortable that while Spike's walking Xander home, when they stop for Xander to light another cigarette because the slow death of chain-smoking is his new raison d'etre, Xander says, "It's over. Me and Buffy."
Feels weird to say it out loud.
Xander's surprised how fast he's taking to smoking.
And to Spike following him into his apartment and pinning him to a wall, burying his face in Xander's neck and doing obscene things down Xander's jeans with his fingertips.
What follows isn't surprising at all, either Spike gasping for breath or Xander coming so hard the world turns gray around the edges.
Or waking up on the floor again at three in the morning, flaky with come and staring at the ceiling fan while it slowly revolves.
Xander sits up to grab the throw off the back of the couch, wraps up in it, and goes back to sleep.
Then Riley blows back into town.
All eight and a half camouflaged and security-clearanced feet of him.
And by the time he blows out of town in the middle of the night with his blushing and security-clearanced bride, there's pieces to be picked up and Xander should have a whopping big conflict of interest but he doesn't.
Because he heard it through the grapevine the Buffster is doin' it for herself these days.
And it's good.
But good with collateral damage.
Xander pays the collateral damage a visit.
"You look like shit," Xander says. He's got a flashlight and blood in a cooler and it kinda looks like Spike could use the blood.
And a bath.
The coal miner's vampire look isn't working for him.
"Yeah," Spike says and doesn't look like he's going anywhere. Doesn't look like he wants to. He's got his back up against the sarcophagus and Xander realizes there's sheets and a pillow on top of it and Xander's glad he can't smell much but the smoke and cordite.
Buffy's perfume fades fast.
Spike lifts two fingers and watches Xander find a place to sit that doesn't poke him in the ass. Eventually, Spike reaches up and grabs the pillow and shoves it at Xander's chest.
Xander sits on it and pulls out his cigarettes. He takes one and offers them to Spike.
Who takes one.
So it's no longer an awkward silence in a crypt. It's two guys smoking in a crypt and it gives Xander time and space to do the thinking he really didn't do on the walk over. He taps his cigarette and ashes onto the crypt floor. "You need a new maid service."
Spike grimaces. He crushes out his cigarette on the floor and looks like he wants another.
Xander gives him the pack.
Spike fiddles with the pack before pulling out a cigarette and sticking it between his lips. Mumbles around the filter. "Not likely to get my security deposit back anyway." Spike picks up a chunk of stone and tosses it through the hole into the basement. They listen to it clatter on the floor below. "If you hadn't noticed."
"Sorry I missed the show." Except he really isn't because the show looks like the Union Army just got done with Tara, only there aren't any chickens to loot.
He's not sure he can deal with Spike and a Southern accent.
But the sound Spike makes when he takes a breath sounds too much like a sob for Xander's comfort. "Didn't miss much." Spike's voice is muffled, very English and Xander gives him the privacy of not looking at him. There's char on the floor around the ladder into Spike's basement and Xander thinks it's been over a year since this top floor saw a broom.
Xander's looking at a spider web that survived Riley's Devastation 2002 comeback tour. "Crypt walked into a door too, huh?"
It's a better sound than the sob thing so Xander risks a glance and finds Spike with his knees drawn up and the packet of cigarettes in both hands. He's looking at it with a smile - looks like it hurts. "Hard to stop feeling," Spike says. "Doesn't work like that. Doesn't just stop."
And Xander doesn't know what to say to that.
Because it's been a long time since he felt much that wasn't numb or want or shame.
And maybe sorry.
For Spike and that's a new emotion he has to try on for size.
And keep the tags and the receipt because it's the kind of emotion that's hard to return if it doesn't fit.
So when Xander's hand wanders up to the back of Spike's neck and starts to rub -
And when it doesn't stop when Spike looks at Xander like he doesn't know who or what he's looking at -
Xander decides it's comfort and Spike's right after all.
Because Xander's been feeling the need to give comfort for a long time.
And it doesn't stop.
Then Xander's standing and his hand's open to Spike.
Spike takes it.
"Need my coat."
Xander's plan pretty much began and ended with helping Spike off the floor and now he's winging it in unfamiliar territory like a sparrow on a crash course with plate glass. He's not encouraged when the walking wounded notices.
"Don't have any place to take me do you?"
He doesn't. His apartment's too intimate for this moment because this isn't a time for the floor or the couch but Xander's not ready to have Spike in his bed. "Of course I do. What do you take me for?"
Spike tilts his head like he's thinking - or like he's pausing for dramatic effect. Which he probably is. "A bloke with a heart bigger than his brain."
"Okay, I'm thinking that's a medical impossibility." Xander wishes he had a plan and because he doesn't he starts walking.
Spike falls in with him.
This, they can do.
Xander pulls out his cigarettes.
Spike offers his lighter.
And when they end up in front of the Sunnydale Tropicana, home of the weekly rate, Xander turns into the parking lot because it seems like a good idea at the time and it's a step up from the roach motel Faith stayed in but it's an expense he's willing to pay because his psyche's really not ready for this happening there.
He's got his wallet out and his hand on the desk call buzzer when he realizes Spike's not complaining.
Spike reads his look and shrugs, drops his cigarette and grinds it out. "Not in a position to be fussy, am I?"
Xander pays for two weeks and follows Spike to his room and he doesn't feel like a white knight with a semi and his heart beating hard. "You don't owe me anything for this." He needs that to be clear between them.
"Coming in?" Spike fits the key into the lock, opens the door and doesn't look back while a stale breeze of cigarettes, cheap sex, and air conditioner mold remind Xander he didn't put Spike up in the Ritz.
Xander comes in.
And wakes up naked between sheets he's not sure are clean and next to a bony back with a knobby spine and a bruise over the kidneys that had to hurt.
He rides out the impulse to run a hand down Spike's spine and fit his palm over the bruise because they're not like that yet. At least Xander isn't so he tucks his hands behind his head and listens to the ice machine rattle outside Spike's door because he's not gonna be the guy who leaves before the other guy wakes up.
Xander's gonna be the guy who owns it.
The big gay it.
Spike rolls over and Xander rides out the impulse to run too. "Hey."
"You're still here." Spike's got smudges under his eyes and the hair on one side of his head's sticking out like a blond explosion.
Xander rolls onto his side. "Pretty much."
Spike makes a sound like a huh and flops onto his back. He rubs the back of his hand over his nose and fumbles on the bedside table.
Xander hands him a cigarette and Spike sets the ash tray on his chest, an arm behind his head.
They smoke and Xander stays long enough for two cigarettes and a solo shower with cheap shampoo and cheaper soap and towels that take the top layer off his skin.
Spike's still lying in bed smoking when Xander comes back out with a totally inadequate towel around his waist.
And Xander's picked up his pants by the time Spike says anything.
"Thanks," he says and sounds like he means it.
Xander doesn't ask what for because it's not the kind of thanks a guy qualifies.
Xander thinks about kissing Spike goodbye.
But he doesn't.
Waves, walks home alone in the middle of the day and feels the slick leftovers of lube with every step.
It's making him self-conscious and when he gets home, he's ready to take another shower.
He checks his voice mail first.
"I need you at the Magic Box. Warren has something new up his geek sleeves."
The message is still playing when Xander locks his apartment door behind him.
Because some things actually don't change.