Driving north on 101, the wind whipping in through the open windows. Deafening - numbing - and Xander didn't want to close them.
Didn't want to turn on the air conditioning. He wanted the sharp scent of the ocean in his nose for as long as he could have it - sun-warmed granite and pine and wet sand. Didn't have the radio on because he was thinking - hard. Contemplating what he was going to do - and say - when he got back to Sunnydale.
He shifted a little on the seat, his hand on the gearshift of the truck. The one he'd bought to replace the car that had died so spectacularly on him in Oxnard. Shoddy Detroit workmanship and zero maintenance that'd just about sent him into the side of the Oxnard Post Office.
That was Xander's life - a thrill a minute.
And headed toward at least two point five thrills a minute when he got home.
He took a deep breath of sunshine and sea air - good old Southern California standbys - and grinned at himself in the mirror. Good start. Bright grin. Not at all wooden.
"Hey, Buff! You're lookin' good. Me? Yeah, I got a lot of exercise this summer working as a stripper."
A VW bus cut him off and he slammed his feet down onto brake and clutch, fighting the unfamiliar gear-pattern and nearly stalling until he got the truck into third and began to ease back up to cruising speed. The VW weaved across another lane and darted for an exit, leaving a trail of honking horns in its wake and Xander shook his head.
The gods were smiling on Xander Harris. At least as far as keeping him from being creamed by a vehicle older than he was. He gave himself a quick check in the rearview mirror - the smile was really lookin' wooden.
Maybe that wasn't the right approach to take and diversionary tactics were in order.
"Hey, Buff! I'm gay! Havin' the big gay sex with big gay guys and - "
Well, it'd be diversionary.
Maybe too diversionary.
Xander analyzed the distance to the next rest area, took a big gulp of his Big Gulp, cleared his throat and answered himself in a falsetto. "But Xander, you had all of those big plans with Anya on Prom Night."
Apparently, Buffy Summers was being played by a chipmunk on helium in this production of Sunnydale Hills.
Xander coughed and answered himself. "The Xand-man's plan was a roaring success - or a moaning success anyway. For at least fifteen minutes which isn't bad for a first try...and okay, totally inappropriate level of detail."
He waited for imaginary Buffy to answer but she seemed to be shocked into silence.
He tried imaginary Giles because he didn't require a falsetto. "Young men often strike out on their own and...experiment. That first flush of freedom from school and home can - can be quite intoxicating." Huh. All those days and nights spent in the library with really big books seemed to have rubbed off. Xander passed a semi pulling two trailers and weaving a bit and took another sip of his ice-melty Big Gulp.
Unfortunately, after those words of not-quite-advice mental Giles went quiet too, so he addressed the entire group. "Guys, my summer vacation was a profound and life-changing experience. There I was on my last dime when I was taken in by a band of male strippers and taught their ways. While living on a diet of generic imitation Twinkies and canned spaghetti in the luxurious Roadway Inn Mo-Tel ($19.99 a night, weekly rates available, no pets), I learned their traditions, their language, their ways and their mating rituals. But their world is not my world and so I returned home to you, my beloved friends, bearing the name they gave me - Dances With Cockroaches."
Xander would not be missing life in the Roadway Inn Mo-Tel.
As he coasted to a stop in front of his house, Xander realized he hadn't really been missing life at the Harris House, either. Everything was - exactly the same. With a sigh, he turned off the truck, climbed slowly out and stretched. He hauled his duffle out of the bed and went reluctantly up the walk. Maybe he could practice his 'gay now' speech on his dad. This time of day, he'd have a few beers in him - probably wouldn't take in half of what Xander said.
Xander woke with a small start when there was a crash right outside his door. He blinked - squinted blearily at the little clock radio on the nightstand. Nine a.m. It was the ice-machine guy, then. Not - (sexy) evil vampires. It was never sexy vampires if by 'never' he could convincingly mean 'a month.' He pushed himself upright slowly, groaning because that's what you did when your body started rallying for the opportunity to die instead of getting out of bed.
*Worse than I thought. Damn - long fall...* Construction was - so not his thing. Village People pedigree or not. The swinging of the pickaxe and the toting of the...shovel. Or whatever. And the falling through the thin crust of the earth into hidden caverns before an audience of dozens part was really not his thing. And he'd planned to spend his Thanksgiving a lot more bruise-free than this. *Maybe in a normal city it'd be kind of cool,* Xander thought, swinging his legs over the side of the bed and feeling a sudden rush of giddy nausea. *But in Sunnydale it just means secret, hidden burial mounds and weird mist and...more bruises.*
He really needed a new job.
But at least this job didn't fire him for bruises.
"Hot shower, fix me right up. Right. Up." Xander pushed weakly at the mattress and then flopped backwards, pulling his pillow over his head. *Ten minutes.*
Ten minutes turned to fifteen and fifteen turned to going back to sleep until pounding on the hotel room door woke him up again.
Xander considered telling whoever it was to fuck off.
But that would require raising his voice.
That would require using his voice and he really didn't have it in him.
Xander compromised with a weak and sweaty groan and pulled the blankets up higher under his chin.
"Answer your fucking phone!" Voice. New York accent.
Xander tried to sit up - decided sitting up was of the bad and flopped down.
The phone obligingly rang, and the neighbor went off.
*Oh yeah. Better than having dogs.*
Xander flailed an arm in the direction of the phone, caught the headset and dragged it to his ear. He made what he hoped was a Hello. Please talk now sound.
"Harris, where the hell are you? The bus is loaded."
There was a bus?
Xander flashed on today's day job - landscaping a new church in the suburbs - and groaned again.
There was a bus.
"You can be here in ten minutes or you can find another job."
Xander's schedule was suddenly very clear again.
A free schedule meant sleep, so Xander closed gritty eyes and curled sideways, the headset poking him in the chin. He didn't care.
After a while, there was more pounding.
*Is that my head? Or maybe it's the sheets-and-towels-lady? No, wait...that's Monday...is it Monday?*
"Urrr?" Xander stared up at a face with a fuzzy brunette corona and an almost tangible cloud of Obsession. The cloud kinda sparkled.
"Xander, what's wrong with you? You're all - clammy and - pale. Kind of green. Are you sick?"
Xander croaked, and the cloud bounced down on the edge of the mattress in the shape of Anya. The bed heaved sickeningly, right along with Xander's insides.
"Well, you have to get up. Today is the day of the ritual sacrifice and I told Buffy I'd go to the store for her. You have to help me carry things! You're made for carrying things. Big and broad in a very useful way and it would be a shame not to put those shoulders to use."
*Kill me now,* Xander thought, and pulled the blanket over his head.
"Xander!" Note of frustration. "Xander?" In a key of confusion. The blankets were tugged out of his weak fingers and a cool hand pressed to his forehead. "Well that's no good."
Oh. Good. That meant she'd go away and he could get back to the business of dying a slow death, marinating in his own sickbed sweat.
Except strong hands were lifting him and the covers were being stripped away and -
Okay, Xander didn't have the energy to protest about nakedness or even joke about sending her a bill for the peep show. "Where're we going?" He asked when it became clear they were going somewhere - that's what being stuffed into pants meant. Going somewhere.
Going somewhere was bad.
"Well I can't leave you here like this." Anya shimmied Xander's pants up his legs - and that was a really weird experience - and shoved him onto his back to zip and buckle them, keeping up a narrative of phrases like 'when I was a vengeance demon' and 'putrefying diseases' and 'you look like you're getting all of them'.
Xander decided to listen to the expert.
The drive to wherever passed in a blur. And thank god, because Anya was a very forceful driver. Like - force the other drivers off the road kind of driver and Xander just closed his eyes and clung to the ceiling strap, swallowing repeatedly to keep his frog-hopping gorge behind his teeth.
"There's never any parking here," Anya muttered - took a hard left and slammed on the brakes. Xander whimpered. "Okay! Now lets get you inside and then I have to go find fresh peas. And heavy cream. Not light cream or cream in a can. I don't see what's wrong with whipped cream in a can. You turn the can over and the cream is whipped. Women slaved over whipping cream and shelling peas before being rescued by innovations like frozen peas and cream in a can..."
Xander whimpered again as Anya dragged him out of the car and up the sidewalk - down the steps and across Giles' little courtyard. Xander gazed longingly at the deep shade under the bougainvillea but then Anya was shoving Giles' door open and he was swamped by the revolting smells of boiling potatoes and cooking turkey.
*Oh god. Now I know I'm dying when Turkey-day food smells bad.*
This year, he would not have his traditional fifth and record-breaking sixth helping.
He might not even have a first.
Which would be another record.
"Did you bring the peas?"
"I brought Xander," Anya said, propping Xander up against herself.
Buffy circled the end of Giles' counter with a frown on her face. "No peas?"
Xander considered snark. Then he decided snark took too much effort and staggered over to Giles' couch, flopping gratefully into its thankfully non-moving field of gravity.
His leg fell off the edge.
He didn't care.
"I'll get the peas now."
'No!' Xander wanted to yell. 'Don't leave me, Ahn!' He might have mumbled something into the couch cushions by the time he heard the door close behind her and Buffy saying something about ricers.
Willow arrived after a while - Anya came back - Giles and Buffy argued about the right way to baste a turkey and Buffy and Willow argued about...
"What? I'm - what? I didn't do anything to those guys!" Xander protested, flailing in the drift of cushions Anya and Willow had packed him in. Because they were getting into whole new levels of unfair if some dead guys he didn't even know were going to curse him with syphilis. Willow patted his knee, making a sort of 'there there' sound that meant she wasn't paying much attention. "Syphilis. I didn't do anything to deserve syphilis!"
He even carried his own condoms.
"Of course you didn't! They were tortured and disenfranchised and - "
"I didn't torture anybody!"
" - and massacred, Buffy! They just want justice!"
"And giving Xander syphilis is justice?"
"It might not be justice, per se, but it's probably justifiable," Anya murmured - patted Xander's other knee when he shot her a disbelieving glare. "Although I doubt you gave anyone syphilis. I mean - you always have a condom in your -"
"Anya! Please! Whip the cream!" Giles - a spatter of yam down his shirtfront - shoved a bowl and whisk into Anya's arms and she stomped over to the breakfast bar, grumbling. Buffy sniffed the air.
"Is something burning?"
"I certainly hope so," Giles muttered. "We'd have to evacuate."
"Giles!" Buffy's tone was deadly, but whatever she was going to say next was cut off by a pounding on the door. "Who's that? Everyone I know is here."
"This is my house, you know. Could be someone for me."
"Oh, sure," Willow pointed out. "Everyone you know is here too."
Buffy rolled her eyes and went to the door.
And Xander really needed to get his subconscious under control or the syphilis was already eating his brain because mystery guy was starting to sound like -
*Okay - possibly dying of cursed syphilis is not the time to be making with the sexy vampire hallucinations.*
"What part of 'help me' do you not understand?"
Xander hooked his hand on the back of the couch and strained every syphilitic cell to sit up and - so not a hallucination.
Because mystery guy looked like Spike too. Under the blanket, the smoke and the...uh.
Okay, he'd remember if he'd given Spike syphilis, wouldn't he?
Could vampires even get - ?
"I'm parboiling out here! Invite me in!"
"Highly unlikely," Giles was saying while Xander's stomach was still doing flip-flops at the idea of experimenting in giving a vampire syphilis and what was wrong with him?
Well - okay there was the syphilis but wasn't it too early for syphilitic madness to be - huh?
" - had a little trip to the vet and now he doesn't chase the other puppies anymore. I can't bite anything. I can't even hit people."
"So you haven't murdered anybody lately? Let's be best pals," Buffy said in that 'I'm so happy I could kill you' tone that, Xander supposed, was purely a SoCal cheerleader thing. Not a SoCal cheerleader blonde thing 'cause Cordy had had that voice down, too.
"Ask Red!" Spike demanded, and Xander let himself collapse back onto the cushions. Although 'let' could be the optimistic way of saying 'had to succumb to gravity due to syphilitic weakness'.
*Red? What, are Spike and Willow pals now, too? Everybody's friends with the sexy vampire but me.* "Oh god, please, let that be the syphilis talking," Xander mumbled, and closed his eyes, drifting into that safe 'fifteen more minutes' place.
It was good there.
It was safe there.
He stood a chance of surviving Thanksgiving with his sanity intact there if the syphilis didn't get him first.
And every time things in his head got too surreal - Chumash Indian Spirits! Magical syphilis! Buffy peeling potatoes! - Xander would crack his eyes open and stare at the rope-wrapped vampire over by the credenza. On several occasions, the vampire was staring back.
"I know you, you know," Spike said, and Xander blinked. "You're the one that was...thinkin' about me." Spike somehow managed a leer despite sunken cheeks and dark-circled eyes and Xander shivered.
*It's the fever. Or the syphilis. Or the - whatever else I've got. Syphilis makes you crazy and I'm obviously crazy because - because -*
"You're thinking about me again," Spike said, teasing singsong that was pitched just for Xander's ears.
Or at least, he hoped so.
"No I'm not," he muttered, and fumbled for his glass of apple juice.
There was no thinking going on at all.
It was all primitive Cave Xander hindbrain action.
But boy would Spike be in trouble if Xander recovered from his syphilis and found a big stick to club Spike over the head with so he could drag Spike back to his lair and make him his mate.
Xander stared blearily at Spike, reviewing what he'd just thought and really hoping Spike couldn't read minds.
Spike smirked - and did a tongue-curling thing that made Xander's syphilis-addled libido sit up and beg for scraps.
"Leave that one here," Spike was saying. "He looks like he's ready to drop any minute, and I think I can eat someone if he's already dead."
Xander closed his eyes and banged his head weakly on a pillow, trying to expel 'Spike' and 'eat me' from his addled psyche. "I'll take my chances."
He could always blame the syphilis.
Xander couldn't blame the syphilis anymore.
Rattling of chains.
Jangling of Xander's nerves.
Sexy vampire in Giles' bath tub.
"There's parts of the Geneva convention against this!"
"You are not covered by the Geneva convention, Spike." Giles turned a page in his book and passed it to Xander.
"Covers the dead, doesn't it?"
"Would you like to be returned to your homeland for burial?" Giles tapped the page. "Only scan this chapter. The others are duplicated in the Rhine-Stratsfield codex."
"These chains are chafing me! And it's almost time for Passions! And I'm hungry! If you're not going to let me out you have to bring. the. blood. to. me!"
"That's it. I'm going to kill him," Giles said abruptly, dropping the book into Xander's lap and snatching up a stake from the desk.
"Whoa, wait, hang on!" Xander scrambled to his feet and put his hand on Giles' shoulder, making him stop his determined stalk toward the bathroom. "I thought we needed him? Secret inside information about the scary commando guys?"
"Oh, bollocks," Giles growled. "I very much doubt he has one speck of useful information for us."
"Yeah, but - we don't know that. Better safe than sorry, right?" Giles stared at Xander - sighed heavily and reached up to rub his forehead, bonking himself in the glasses with the stake in the process.
"Yes, yes, I suppose you're right. I'm just not used to all this - racket." He gave Xander a halfhearted smile and Xander eased the stake out of his hand for safekeeping.
"I get that. Single guy, used to the quiet. Look, why don't you go and get that extra spindle of CD's you wanted for back-ups while your trusty - and freshly hired - new assistant will feed and water Rex thus proving you made the right choice in hiring him."
Which was a really difficult speech to make while sexy vampire was rattling his chains and shouting "Rex? I'm not a bloody dog!" and Xander was having leash and collar fantasies he would never ever mention in front of Giles.
"Sorry," Xander said, not so much sorry as long as the fantasies stayed on the inside.
Sexy vampire in nothing but a collar and leash.
He swallowed - hard.
Okay. Bad. Bad thoughts to be having in the employer's living room.
Spike in bunny ears.
By the time Xander carried the mug of pig into the bathroom, he was grinning and not at all imagining Spike in a bunny suit. "Who ordered the Porky?"
Spike sniffed the air and narrowed his eyes.
Okay, so maybe Xander was imagining Spike in nothing but bunny ears. He'd made his peace with it.
The chains rattled as Spike tried to sit up in the tub, reaching for the mug and growling. "Gonna unchain me so I can drink it?"
"Nope." Xander dropped a straw into the mug and held it within Spike's reach. "Okay, Bunnicula. Suck."
And wow was that a bad choice of words.
The 'homicidal pit bull' glare and sneer suddenly slid away and somehow, without actually doing much of anything, Spike wasn't so much straining against the chains as languidly stretching in them. 1000-watt blue gaze gone half-lidded and sultry instead of drilling a hole through Xander's head and Xander almost dropped the mug right into Spike's -
*Lap. Which is right there. Under that chain. Oh. My. God.*
"You sure it's the straw you want me to suck?" Spike husked, and Xander gaped at him for one horrible, frozen moment.
And the instincts of a lifetime kicked in.
"Yeah - because I'm sure I want razor sharp fangs fastened around my dick." And that would have gone a lot better if he had that eye roll thing Buffy could do, but he didn't - so he worked with what he had. "And grow up. You're how old anyway?"
"Old enough to know a trick or two," Spike said in a voice that knew a trick or two itself and Xander suddenly really wished Giles hadn't left.
"I don't suppose one of them is shutting up and drinking your blood?" came out of Xander's mouth - and sounded a lot more pathetic than Xander wanted it to. There could have been a whimper in there somewhere.
"Come on, then," Spike said in a reasonable voice. A soothing voice. A voice that stroked fingers down Xander's spine and said it's all right, now. There. Who's a good boy, now?' and Xander was -
"Hey! Less with the licking!"
Spike's tongue retreated into his mouth and there was a chilled spot on Xander's hand where it'd been. A chill spot with memory of a very cold, very soft tongue lapping over it.
"Spilled a drop. Wouldn't want to waste it," Spike said, and closed his lips around the straw, cheeks hollowing in and oh mother of Zeus.
Xander managed to keep his mouth shut for the rest of the...sucking. And tongue-tip-showing. And - wiggling. He also managed to stagger out of the bathroom without running into the door jamb or dropping the mug, but just barely.
"Xaaander! One cupful really isn't enough, you know!" Spike called, and Xander shoved the mug under the faucet and turned it on. The straw was toast, he was sure. "I need more than that to...fill me up. Don't you wanna fill me up, Xander?"
"Later!" Xander croaked. Cleared his throat and turned the water off. "I mean - no. I don't! And - uh - we're out of blood so I'll get you some more later so just - uh - take a nap now! Or something."
"Or something," Spike said. "Ah, to sleep, perchance to...dream..."
*How does he make Old English sound sexy? Shut up shut up shut up.* "Lots of work to do. Musty old books to scan, things to organize, busy busy busy." Xander dashed back to the bathroom and flipped on Spike's television without looking at Spike except for that ten or so seconds where he accidentally stared right at him while fiddling with the sound and asking 'is this good for you?'.
The slow grin from Spike had practically grown legs and followed Xander as he'd gulped, blushed and scurried back to the - Sexy vampire in the bathroom - desk and grabbed a book and opened the scanner. It took ten minutes for him to figure out he'd just scanned the wrong part of the book at least four times.
By the time Giles got back, Spike had been quiet for exactly forty one minutes including commercial breaks and the Xand-man had it all under control. *Yup, that's me, control guy. Cool as a cucumber.*
Thank god for Passions.
Xander was a lot less cool when he showed up at Giles' place expecting to work the work that'd been pretty sweet to him for the last few weeks and was greeted instead with Little Orphan Spike and his metaphorical suitcase. "Excuse me. There's something wrong with my hearing because I could have sworn I heard you just say Spike's going to stay with me."
"That would be because I did." Giles leaned against a desk - cool and - and cucumber-like and that just wasn't fair. He'd stolen Xander's act. He'd blown Xander's big number.
He'd - he'd -
Spike was smirking.
*Okay. Don't think 'blow' or 'blown' when Spike is in the room.*
"Is this an employer-employee thing? Because - "
"I could make it an employer-employee thing," Giles said in a voice that was not at all threatening.
Xander didn't think Giles would fire him but - visions of the jobs he hadn't taken yet shimmied through his head. Janitor. Garbage man. Weekend clown mascot. Xander shuddered. "No. That's uh - okay. I just - uh - don't have anywhere to put him," Xander said and wished he hadn't when Spike's smirk turned into a (sexy) leer.
"You have a bathtub, surely? I'll loan you my chains," Giles said - far, far too cheerily and Spike growled which was less sexy and gave Xander time to sag against the couch and relax as much as a man preparing to take Spike into his house could relax.
"Here now! I will not be chained up in another sodding bathtub! Especially his bathtub!"
"What's wrong with my bathtub?" Xander snapped.
That was him - relaxed man.
"Do you even know what Brillos are? And I've seen the state of your fingernails, mate."
"What's and - my what? I had to help Buffy loot - er, search that crypt! I'm perfectly clean most of the time!" Xander was ready to rant on a little longer about actual working people and nail brushes when he saw the glint in Spike's eyes.
*Game. It's a game. He's playing me like he did Giles and the singing. Oh, I'm so on to you, buddy. In a totally non-sexual way.*
"Right. Okay. Giles - chains? And I'll get the blood." Xander walked manfully into the kitchen, manfully ignoring Spike's glare and muttered curses. *Score!*
Spike was bundled into the back seat of Xander's car, wrists chained to his ankles before he spoke again. "Feel like a manly man now do you?"
"Feel like a man pretty much all the time, Spike. It comes with - oh - being a man. And having man-type equipment." Xander's hands shook with something like first date nerves when he got the key into the ignition.
He so needed to get laid.
Which was of course unlikely.
Guys tended to get nervous when you explained you were a clerk for a demonologist and second dates generally didn't happen.
And dates usually showed up in the rearview mirror and didn't keep up a running commentary of -
"Where would I go? I'm helpless as a bloody kitten. If I so much as took a nibble, this sodding piece of hardware would cook me from the inside out."
While Xander tried not to feel kind of sorry for the guy - no. Not guy. Homicidal killer.
"Afraid I'm going to hock your television?"
"My television is bolted to the dresser, Spike. You're welcome to hock it if you can get it out the door."
Xander swung a right and pulled into the Sunnydale Motor Inn and killed the engine. "Welcome to home sweet hovel."
And as it turned out, vampires didn't need invites into hotel rooms which was not reassuring.
And when the bathroom was all of ten steps away the clanking and kicking and swearing was really loud. Xander put up with it for twenty long minutes, one irate neighbor and two phone calls from the manager before he reluctantly led Spike out of the bathroom.
Spike immediately flopped onto the bed, chains clanking, wiggling around like a landed fish and making these sort of - moaning noises.
"What the hell are you doing? On my bed?" Xander snapped, and Spike grinned up at him.
"Just stretching. The bloody tub's cold and hard - this is nice and soft. Feels good." As Spike writhed around Xander found himself staring. A lot.
*I'm going straight to hell.*
"Gonna keep me nice and warm?" Spike wriggled his way to one side of the bed and stretched until a sliver of pale flesh showed between his jeans and his tee shirt and Xander snatched back the bad, bad and naughty hand that was reaching for it and pulled himself together.
"Okay - first? We both know you're trying to use my libido against me - "
"Is it working?" And oh dear god that tongue and the cheekbones and the -
"No." Xander ignored the way Spike's fingers splayed and shifted over his zipper and - all right, he couldn't even lie to himself convincingly about that. "Okay. Possibly, yes. But you're only doing it so I won't make you sleep on the couch."
They turned their heads to look at the cramped love seat.
Spike snorted. "Rather sleep in the bath tub."
"That can be arranged, buddy." Xander ran his hands back through his hair in a rough scrubbing motion - went over to the cooler Giles had given him and started unloading blood into the mini fridge. "Look, just - I know you're not happy with this setup and neither am I so let's just...try not to kill each other and you'll be back at Giles' place in no time."
"Oh, sod that! Not goin' back there unless it's in an urn, mate. No, I figure this'll do me just fine until you lot figure out what the G.I. Joes are up to and make 'em fix me." Xander turned around and stared at Spike.
"You really think we're gonna let you go back to killing and torturing and raping?"
Spike stared back. "Can't keep me chained up forever, now. You have to -" At Xander's incredulous look Spike's mouth snapped shut and he turned over abruptly, back to Xander, fists curling into the bedspread. "Just fuck off and let me sleep, yeah?" he muttered, and Xander slowly shut the fridge.
Then, he quietly left the hotel room and - decided to take in a movie.
A decision which had nothing to do with giving Spike some privacy while he slept.
"How are things working out between you and Spike?"
"That would presume there is a me and Spike - or a working," Xander said, carrying another load of books to the table. For once in his life, he'd studied for a pop quiz in advance. When Olivia's stay ended and no words were spoken about Spike moving back in with Giles, Xander figured The Talk would come around. The talk that made it logical for Spike to continue staying with Xander in the smallest and seediest hotel room in Sunnydale because Giles was always logical.
The talk that would absolve Xander from admitting that the company wasn't too bad and it was kinda nice when Spike shared his stolen beers.
"Has he been giving you any trouble?" Giles went on before Xander could answer - and yep. This was that talk. "It seems that Olivia may be coming back and a representative from the Council could drop in at any time. It would hardly be acceptable for him to arrive while I have William the Bloody chained in my bath."
"Yeah, makes you seem kinda kinky and weird, doesn't it?" Xander said, and Giles shot him a look as dry as the book he was currently leafing through.
"Something like that. If he's behaving, it really would be a great help to me, Xander -"
"Yeah, I get it. It's cool. I mean, he can stay." Xander sat down and pulled a notebook over, flipping it open to make a note about the books before he shelved them. He kind of thought, down where he tried not to think, that even if Giles had said to bring him back, Xander would have let Spike stay anyway.
There was something about dragging a depressed, smoldering vampire out of the sun and into the shower - and bandaging the blistered hands with Noxema and gauze - that made you feel kind of... Buddy-like.
Anyway, he was getting used to Spike's swearing and smoking - cigarette smoking - and weird cats-mating music.
At least he had someone to come home to even if that someone left blood rings in the mugs and wet towels on the floor even though the maid only came with fresh towels on Mondays.
"I will, of course, supplement your pay for the inconvenience," Giles was saying.
And that was why when Xander came home that evening he tossed a carton of Marlboros at Spike and said, "Get your coat on. Drinks are on me."
"You're not old enough to drink, Harris."
"And that would be why you're coming with me." Xander had never - once - seen Spike get carded.
"Gonna pay for the wings too?"
"I could be persuaded to pay for wings." Xander became aware of a narrow, Spikely look. It bristled and prickled and oozed distrust. It was kinda like owning a cat only without the pet deposit. "What?"
"What're you softening me up for?"
"Softening -? Oh! Oh, no, I'm not - I mean, there's nothing I want." *That I'll admit to.* "We're celebrating my vampire-allowance."
"Your what?" Spike tore the carton open and plucked out a pack - stood idly tapping it on his hand, scowling at Xander.
Xander sniffed at his shirt and started to unbutton it. "Giles actually has a life, and vampires in the bathtub aren't part of it so he's giving me more money to keep you."
"He's giving you money? I should get half."
"In your dreams, depresso boy." Xander tossed his shirt in the general direction of the laundry bag and wrestled with the dresser drawer. It always stuck.
"Only fair - you wouldn't be getting anything extra if it wasn't for me," Spike pointed out, voice oh-so-reasonable as black-painted nails shredded cellophane and dropped it to the floor.
"And I wouldn't be spending most of it on cigarettes and bribes for Sharonna to give us extra towels. No deal." Xander yanked a clean T-shirt on and pushed his hair back - went into the bathroom to brush hair and teeth.
"Not my fault you lot think I have to be watched all the time. If I'm gonna be a prisoner I get to have some comforts and I think a little pocket money should be one of them."
"And I think you're nuts. I'm buying drinks and wings. You know you're gonna hustle at least a hundred bucks out of some poor UC Sunnydale idiot, so forget about getting my extra cash! Besides, I'm trying to save for a deposit on a place. I am not going to live here forever."
"Great. Won't mind getting out of here myself." Spike was already fidgeting by the door while Xander was changing shoes, impatiently shifting from foot to foot while maintaining that air of I'm so cool above the waist.
Which was fine. Because Xander wasn't thinking about anything of Spike's below the waist. It'd worked for a month. And it'd keep working.
"So where're we moving to?" Spike fell into step beside Xander when they left the room.
Xander considered raising the energy to split hairs over Spike's assumption that wherever Xander went, Spike went too but it just wasn't there. He could safely say denial had left the building. "Someplace with fewer cockroaches."
Spike only nodded and lit up. "Gonna miss Sharonna."
"Sharonna or the clean towel fairy?"
"Well, bit of both. That woman's got a wicked tongue on her," Spike said, doing his own wicked tongue thing, which made Xander stumble into a Sunnydale Herald box.
"And she slings a mean bottle of bleach. Huh. I'll have to buy towels." Xander contemplated the full-on domestic life wherein he would be responsible for towels, sheets, and vacuuming. "Damn. Maybe we should just move up to a better class of motel," he said. He did not miss Spike's little grin of triumph at the 'we'.
The Bronze was crowded - Oz's old band was playing Ozless - and the beer was two for one until ten, which suited Xander just fine. He ordered the wings while Spike ordered the beers and they both scoped out the floor; Spike looking for suitable marks, Xander pretending to look for a cute guy.
*But lets face it. Nobody here looks better than Spike. And I can't bring anybody home with me.* That thought made Xander swallow hard since Spike quite happily shared the bed. Xander was pretty sure Spike would happily share anything else, too.
Xander tore his eyes away from a sexy bronze swimmer type before eye contact could be made and plans for sharing could be initiated.
He was not thinking about that almost coffee-dark skin tumbled between him and Spike. And he was not thinking about Spike and tumble and -
He was totally thinking it.
Xander lowered his head to his folded arms with a sigh of defeat.
"I know what you're think-ing," Spike singsonged and Xander could feel his not-breath on his ear.
Xander lifted his head and glared. "It's a number between one and ten."
Spike waved a dismissive hand. "All right. I don't know exactly what you're thinking but I'll bet that number's got dark smooth skin and a taste for imported beer. I give him a six."
The glare dropped off Xander's face with the pure force of *Did Spike just initiate guy watching with me?* "N-n-nine," Xander stuttered, and Spike took another look - took a long drink from his beer.
"Okay, maybe seven." Spike glanced over the room - pointed with the bottle. "What about him, then?"
Xander looked - studied the rangy body and shaggy hair. Surfer-type. *Not bad. Not at all. Wait. What the hell am I doing?*
"Spike, I am not going to sit here and - and scope out guys with you!"
"Why not?" Spike leaned back as the waitress came up with their wings - put down his beer and pushed the sleeves of his coat up, grinning.
"Because it's weird. And unsettling. And wrong - it's so, so wrong. You're -"
"Horny, for fuck's sake. Been weeks." Spike tore a chunk of meat off a bone and chewed, his eyes gleaming and sauce on his chin.
Xander yanked a napkin out of the dispenser and shoved it at him. "God, you are such a slob! And I don't care if it's been years, you're not hooking up with some - guy - and bringing him back to the motel!" Xander gulped at his own beer - resisted the urge to reach out and wipe Spike's chin with his thumb. Spike grabbed the napkin and did it himself, licking his lips.
"Don't necessarily have to bring him home - there's a perfectly good alley right out that door over there."
"Okay - really trashy, Spike. Sex in an alley?" Xander made a face, hoping like hell his bluster would cover the fact that a little movie - starring himself, Spike, and a wall - had just run through his head.
"And you'd be so into it, mate."
"Whoa, whoa! Wait. When did I come into this?" Xander held up his hands and scooted a few inches backward on his stool. Any further and he'd be on his ass. On the floor. "There is no me. And alleys. And into. Alleys are for staking vampires in, not - "
Spike was looking at him with a cocked eyebrow and lascivious smirk.
"And I said that out loud, didn't I?"
"Every word," Spike agreed and downed his beer, licking the bottle's rim in a way that so did not help Xander's blood pressure. "Don't know what you're so uptight about, mate. You weren't getting any for weeks before I moved in."
Spike tapped his nose and took another wing.
"Just keep your big super sniffer to yourself, pal."
"It's just sex, Harris. Nothing to be ashamed of. Unless there is something to be ashamed of? Got some toys in that old Army locker you don't want me to see?"
"No! And anyway, you picked the lock on that on the second day you stayed with me. I wouldn't hide anything in there."
Xander picked up his own hot-wing and took a bite - licked off a smear of sauce and took a drink of his beer. Across from him, Spike settled in to methodically demolishing the plateful and Xander relaxed a little. No more sex talk, if he was lucky.
A Blooming Onion, four beers, and a trip to the bathroom to degrease later, Xander was lounging against a pole while Spike racked the pool balls. He was fussy and concentrated and Xander ogled to his heart's content. Of course, Spike caught him.
"Another number between one and ten, Harris?"
Spike straightened up and hefted his pool cue, hips forward, feet apart. Hands doing vaguely suggestive things to the cue. "A number between one and ten, Harris. What do I rate?"
*A very bad idea.*
Xander sighed and took up his cue, keeping his hands firmly in place on the wood and looked Spike over.
"Nine? Are you daft, Harris? I'm a perfect ten! Always have been. Well, maybe not so much in the thirties - black hair isn't good with my skin tone. Hey!" Spike stomped around the end of the pool table and got up in Xander's face, hands on either side of Xander's head, one jeanclad thigh way, way to close between Xander's own.
"Put your hand under my shirt, Harris."
"What?" It came out more of a squeak and Xander cleared his throat - tried to look anywhere *no, not there!* but at Spike's eyes and Spike's mouth and Spike's lips that were inches from his own.
"C'mon, Xaander... Just slide your hand up under my shirt - right here in front," Spike said. No, he didn't just say it - he purred it - growled it - something low and breathy and rumbling that seemed to vibrate right through Xander's body. In a sort of daze, Xander felt his hand swing loose from the pool cue and stretch out to Spike's body - touch the tight fabric of the black T-shirt.
"Yeah, just like that..." Spike undulated a little closer and Xander's fingers fluttered over the flat belly - caught and tugged and pulled the hem out of the waist of Spike's jeans. Xander looked down finally - stared in amazement at his own callused fingers resting on the milk-smooth skin of Spike's belly.
*Oh - god. This is a bad, bad, bad...fucking idea. So...smooth...*
"Now - that? That is a ten. Don't you think?"
Xander swallowed - licked dry lips. "Uh - I - it's... Yeah. Ten."
"Told you," Spike said - dipped inches closer, smirking, and then he whirled around and was gone, striding over to the pool table and setting the cue ball up for the break.
Xander lost the game spectacularly and had to buy Spike another carton of Marlboros and a box of Weetabix on the way home.
His fingers tingled.
The experience was pretty much up there with the time Buffy's halter top dropped off on patrol Junior year.
Weeks in and the blue balls hadn't killed him - yet - but Spike's good mood might.
"Come on, Harris. Get off your fat arse and bring out the stakes, mate. There's nasty vampires running around this town's streets. If we're not out there to protect the helpless people of Sunnydale, who will?"
"The Slayer." Xander peeled his face off his pillow to stare blearily at Spike. "What time is it?" There'd been an all nighter to figure out what happened to Giles - only to find Ethan Rayne three doors down from Xander's room at the Sunnydale Motor Inn and beat the answer out of him. Which was good in Xander's estimation. He'd only had to go three doors down the hall to collapse into his nice bed...
Three hours before.
Xander moaned and shoved his face into his bunched up pillow. Maybe he'd get lucky. Maybe he'd suffocate.
"Harris! Shift it! Time's a wasting! Although not for me, of course, unless you count all the minutes I'm trapped in this sodding flea-trap being bored into a coma." Xander tried to bunch the pillow tighter around his ears and groaned in pitiful frustration as Spike pried the case out of his hands and flipped him over, like a turtle.
"C'mon! Puppies, cheerleaders, and bloody awful hags with purple hair who run over your toes in the shops! We have to make Sunnyhell safe for 'em all!"
"Mrs. Albright said she was sorry, Spike. And those boots have steel toes! Not like it hurt."
"Yeah, so? Steel soles, too. So when the mine goes off under your tank you don't lose your piggies. It's the principle of the thing. Get. Up!"
"Spiiike!" Xander whined, but Spike hauled him upright by his shirt and slung an arm around his waist - grabbed the key from the nightstand and started dragging Xander toward the door.
"You'll wake up once we get into a tussle. I'll get you one of those ghastly purple drinks you like from the Quik-Mart, yeah?"
"You'll buy me a Galloping Grape Slushee?" Xander mumbled, trying to keep his feet under him as Spike hustled them down the street.
"Course I will. Well, when I say buy I mean nick, but - you get the picture. Restfield or Willy's what'dya say?"
Visions of oogly things with lots of arms at Willy's warred with fangy vampires that poofed into clouds of nice neat dust.
Ooze versus dust.
"Did you just tsk at me?"
"Yeah. You're sublimating. It's getting downright pathetic, mate."
"And what is it - exactly - I'm supposedly sublimating beneath a desire to see the fangy undead go to their dusty rests?"
Xander scrubbed his hands through his hair, still about two cups of coffee or an extra large grape Slushee away from obvious. "Humor me. Pretend I'm really stupid." Xander held up a forestalling hand. "And remember who shares his vampire-sitting money with you and lets you sleep in his nice, comfy bed instead of chained up in the bathtub before you answer that."
"Staking vampires, Harris," Spike said slowly. Xander admired his restraint and his technique - which allowed a perfectly normal tone of voice to tack you stupid git onto the end of the sentence. "Think very carefully."
"I only want to stake you in the traditional way, Spike. And only sometimes."
"Only sometimes?" Spike asked, and there was a world of amusement and disbelief and - coaxing in his voice that made Xander want to smack him. Or kiss him.
*Jesus, it's third grade all over again.*
"Yeah. Sometimes. Then there's the other times when I want to knock you on your ass."
"Sublimating again, Harris," Spike said - fished out cigarettes and lighter and lit up with a flourish.
Xander felt his mouth working but no sound was coming out. "What? You are so, so wrong. When I say 'knock you on your ass' I mean -"
"Shhh." Spike was suddenly tense - alert in a way that meant something mean was out there, lurking in the darkness. Xander hastily shut up and looked around nervously.
"Jesus, we didn't even make it to Restfield! What is it?"
"Can't tell exactly. But I can smell it..." Spike's eyes suddenly glowed gold - his face shifted with a soft sort of crackle and he lifted his chin, sniffing the breeze. "Come out, come out wherever you are," he called, and something went grrrrrr in the scraggly trees that flanked a small house off to their left. "Stay back, Harris," Spike warned. He held his smoldering cigarette out. "Hold that for me?"
"Uh - sure -" Xander took the cigarette and Spike practically bounced into the trees.
Xander looked at the cigarette, shrugged, and decided vampire cooties couldn't be that bad and took a drag.
Then he took another because a guy could either be a guy standing awkwardly on the street at night holding someone's cigarette while someone beat the crap out of something big and nasty in the bushes, or a guy could be a cool guy casually standing on the sidewalk having a smoke.
Xander had a smoke.
He was down to the filter by the time Spike came back. He held it out wordlessly.
Spike took it and got a mouthful of filter smoke. "Bugger." The cigarette was flicked away into the dark and Spike pulled out his pack and lit up again, exhaling with satisfaction.
"Did you have a good time killing the big nasty, dear?"
"Sod off," Spike said and Xander took it for a yes the way Spike was strutting with extra snap to the duster. And why had Xander never noticed before what a drama queen Spike was? "What's so funny, Harris?"
"Just admiring your technique."
"Oh, you haven't seen one tenth of what I can do, Harris," Spike said, and he did this thing with his mouth and his teeth and his tongue that made little squiggles of icy heat go all down Xander's back.
"Oh, look, Restfield!" *Thank god.*
Restfield was host to two fledge risings and one crypt looting and Spike waded into that fight with a fangy grin on his face, whirling and kicking and getting in some sneaky little moves that Xander could only dream of imitating.
And some mean moves, that left one vampire gasping and moaning in the grass, innards having become outards and her legs useless. Spike finished her off neatly with the stake Xander tossed to him and then strolled back over, idly licking blood off his thumb and looking pleased with himself.
"That calls for a drink, mate."
"Are you offering?"
"I'm offering to let you buy me a drink."
"Oh yeah. And why would I want to do that again?"
"'Cause I'm the bloody hero, that's why! Making Sunnydale safe at night for the little munchies on legs."
"Okay, Spike - if you're still thinking of them as munchies on legs, you're kinda excluded from the whole hero thing."