Scoffs At Gravity by Reremouse

Chapter 6

"Okay - I'm pretty sure I remember telling you not to stuff the pinatas with entrails," Xander says making his entrance.

"It's not a pinata, my little pumpkin empanada." Lorne puts an arm around his shoulders and steers him away.

"What was it?"

Lorne's grimacing and Xander seriously considers the possibility he hasn't had enough to drink to deal with planning a Wolfram & Hart Halloween party. "The caterer. I need a drink. Do you need a drink?"

Xander needs a drink and for a really tall green guy with horns, Lorne makes a great new best friend.

"Sea breeze," Lorne says.

"Same," Xander says. "Hold the sea. Unless it's the breeze."

The kid tending bar looks at Xander funny and Xander stares into the middle distance and a pile of Halloween decor. The skeletons look disturbingly realistic.

"Just give me a vodka." Because Xander's used to being looked at funny. Funny and Xander are old friends but he's gonna need a lot more than funny to find out who the rest of the decor used to be. "Double. And keep 'em coming."

"Keep 'em coming slowly, Jameson. I need my handsome assistant here on two feet."

Xander's ready to object - lined up ready to fire but what comes out is, "The bartender's name is Jameson?"

"Irish too. Irony of life." Lorne's arm tightens around him again and they're facing what's left of the caterer even though Xander kinda wishes they weren't and downs the double, snags the second double before Lorne steers him along. It's like being a bicycle on a crowded boardwalk. "Get ready for another. Hey, Mac." He waves to the guy using a push broom to get all the caterer in one place. "Scoop Jacques there into a serving tray and ferment him overnight will you?"

Xander tips the vodka down and stares at the ceiling.

Lorne's pinching the bridge of his nose. "And remember to cover him with saran wrap this time."

It's not an interesting ceiling.

But it's refreshingly viscera-free.

"The ghouls'll love it. Fermented human meat? Great species-inclusive PR for the firm," Lorne's explaining. "Of course, we'll have to put it in a walled enclosure because - whew- it's really an acquired taste, let me tell you but there's no point in letting the guy go to waste."

Xander's feeling the vodka. He's also feeling it trying to make its way back out into the world. And it's weak. It's lame. It's below his standards. But it has to be said so he says it: "Ghouls just wanna have fun."

The ghouls do have fun which is more than can be said for Spike who's keeping a morbid count of Xander's drinks and a running commentary while they prop up the bar together. Well - technically, Xander's doing most of the propping but Spike's there for moral support. "That's drink number twelve, you slob."

"Twelve drinks and still standing calls for a toast." Xander's comfortable taking verbal abuse from Spike. It's familiar. It's cozy. And after entrails and Jacques the fermented caterer he's really earned his place on the fun-having side of the party. Also on the drinking side.

And he's gotta hand it to Lorne - the guy knows how to plan an open bar.

Xander pours himself a glass of the first bottle he sees and takes a sip, rolls the burn around his mouth and licks his teeth. "You're just jealous."

"Too sodding right I am." Spike folds spectral arms and looks peeved when two vampires and a troll walk through him. "Hey! Standing here!" He shouts in spite of the evidence.

"Lighten up, mi spectral amigo," Lorne says with an empty glass and glassy eyes that're just the whole lack of sleep talking and he throws an arm around Xander's shoulders. "Have a good time. Know your limits."

"I am perfectly sober," Xander says except Spike's shimmering. Floating. And - okay - so maybe Xander's a little blitzed but he's a functional drunk. And anyway, Spike's protesting enough for two.

"A good time? I'm a sodding spook!" Maybe three. "No shagging, no drinking, no fighting - how the bloody hell am I supposed to have a good time?"

"You know what they say, when the party's dead, be the life of the party." Lorne claps Spike on the shoulder and passes off his glass to the bartender. "Sea breeze, por favor. And andale with it." Lorne leans in voice low. "Sober up for real, chickadee. The big kahuna's headed this way and you don't wanna know what passes for Alcoholics Anonymous in the corporate health insurance policy."

Which is about when Xander becomes aware of three things: one, Angel really is coming his way, two, Xander's really really disturbingly sober. And three, that choking sound's coming from Spike - who's sagging against him really solidly and wheezing like a guy who hasn't needed to breathe in over a hundred years.

Which - okay.

"Fucking hell."

And then Xander loses the thread when Spike grabs his face between sweaty hands and gives him the kiss of life.

There's a certain morning afterness to it even though they haven't gone to sleep - lying stripped down and naked in Xander's bed, sweat cooling and arms flung every which way. And Xander can't blame the booze - can't feel his toes either - so he keeps being sober and sated and tingly and asks the ceiling. "What the hell was that?"

"Bloody brilliant sex." Spike sighs and Xander feels him stretch in the bed and groan in a way that gets Xander interested in the possibility of another round of it. "Fuck, you've got a nice cock on you."

"Thanks." Because it's not the first time Xander's heard that. Okay - maybe not so bluntly. But he's heard.

He could be a ride at Magic Mountain.

The bed dips and shifts again and all the nagging thoughts come creeping back into Xander's brain where they haven't been for a while.

He doesn't want a drink.

Xander and all his thoughts marvel at it for a while and he should say something intelligent now. What comes out is: "It was pretty good, wasn't it?"

"Too right it was." And Xander finds himself wishing he smoked so he could offer Spike a cigarette.

They lie there in silence a while. Xander staring up at the ceiling with his one eye and wondering where his patch went and Spike staring at Xander but Xander guesses Spike's seen worse than him naked so he makes his peace with it.

"Are we gonna talk about the whole you alive thing?"

"Nah." The bed bounces when Spike drops back to the mattress. Jiggles when he scoots across it and settles when Spike drapes himself over and around Xander like a collection of friendly pythons. Spike's a cuddler. "Probably a spell." Spike dismisses it and his breath tickles Xander's collarbone and Xander drops a hand into Spike's curls and - okay - pets him.

"Think it'll wear off?"

His hand drops through insubstantial blond curls and lands on the bed.

They look at it.

And Spike shouts and falls through the mattress right about the same time Xander's hangover comes roaring home like a gang of Hells Angels back from World Destruction Tour, 2003.

Chapter 7

"Fucking Lorne," Spike says, pacing back and forth through Xander's coffee table.

Through Xander's computer.

Through Xander.

Who skims shaking fingers along the track pad and winces when he clicks the button. Loud buttons. Goddamn Apple. He squints at the screen and scrolls through his entry for September 28th: Proposal for an in-depth study into the evils of Southern Comfort.


Xander skips to the bottom of the entry and edits to add: 'Evil confirmed,' and crawls off the couch, through Spike and into the bathroom because apparently it takes a really really cold turkey to turn him into the throwing up kind of drunk and Thanksgiving came early this year.

"I don't remember you eating that," Spike comments like the spectral spectator he is but Xander feels the brush of fingers in his hair, holding it back from his face and feels a kind of vague but nauseous gratitude.

It grows when Spike concentrates and depresses the handle with a fingertip. "That's because it's my spleen."

"Nah. Doesn't look like a spleen," Spike reassures - badly - and sits next to him, hands dangling between his knees like he's just a guy sitting next to a guy wiping his face with a damp towel and leaning over to spit into the shower.

"Silly me. What does it look like?"

"Squid canapes with fish eggs."

Which is enough for another comeback tour for whatever it was and Xander slumps back against the wall and concentrates on the basics - like not breathing through his nose.

"You don't have to go through this, you know."

Xander follows Spike's gesture to a bottle of Wild Turkey and raises a hand. "Spike. I wrote a series of entries in my Watcher's Diary about Jeannie vs. Samantha Stephens."

"Yeah - well - nobody noticed, did they?"

Xander rolls his head against the wall until he's looking at Spike.

Licks his lips.

Regrets it.

And when he's done brushing his teeth and gargling says, "Yeah. That's the problem."

So Xander holes himself up in his room for a week, spends the first three days wincing his way through blog entries and tall glasses of orange juice, standing under the shower head until his skin prunes and picking up his cell phone and setting it down again.

He hasn't made a blog entry since October 31st: Can you serve human entrails at a party and not be evil?

He's got a headache and he misses delivering pizza.

Pizza delivery was easy. Hand over the hot cheesy goodness, take the money, brandish the stake, leave.

No muss, no fuss, no entrails.

Nobody got hurt.

Nobody got laid either despite the claims of the porn industry but Xander's got that covered and Watching's not a sexy career by definition.

Too much tweed.

And Xander's not the kind of guy who can make tweed sexy.

"I need a new job," he tells Spike for the millionth time.

"Yeah and I need a new place to haunt but you don't see me complaining do you?"

Xander stares at him.

Spike stares back. "What?"

"Nothing," Xander says with a smile on his face that feels better than the pinched ache between his eyebrows he gets from spending too long staring at the computer screen. He has a moment of profound awareness that he's alone in this except for Spike but he's not the kind of guy to say it out loud so he picks up his cell phone again and flips it open.

Listens to it ring.

Leaves a carefully apocalypse-free and coded message on Willow's cell phone.

He'd send a letter but nobody's seen the mail guy in days.

"How far can you go before you end up back here?" Because all Xander knows about Spike he learned listening to Spike rant and he's not sure Spike got around to that one.

Spike looks like he's not either. "Rancho Cucamonga." He also looks like the thought depresses him.

It's a depressing thought.

But there's plenty between here and Rancho Cucamonga so he stands up and says, "Let's blow this popsicle stand."

And because breaking up is hard to do - even when it's with an evil mega corporation - when he opens the door there's a cyborg on the other side of it who grabs his arm and yanks him out into the hall with a yell.

Chapter 8

All Xander's worldly possessions fit into one bulging suitcase, a laptop bag and a crater in the ground down the coast.

The crater stays where it is but the laptop bag fits onto the suitcase handle and the suitcase's got wheels and Xander leaves Spike a note on the table and wheels away from Wolfram & Hart as fast as his unbroken arm'll wheel because a guy's gotta draw the line somewhere and Xander's line is drawn pretty clearly right above cyborgs.

So he gets around to checking his bank account for the first time in months and rents a cheap basement apartment just this side of Rancho Cucamonga without thinking about it too hard, makes a call to Ikea, lets the delivery guy in and wraps himself in a Mysa Vatten on a Munkarp and Grankulla and dreams of snow, blonds and meatballs, but he's pretty sure that's only the Percolone talking.

He throws out the bottle the next day and just dreams of cyborgs, Spike, sex and the meaty snap of breaking bones. Wakes up in a cold sweat and does another load of Slumra and Tupplur in the washing machine while watching Jerry Springer, waiting for Spike to show up like he always does and checking his voice mail because he's got an addictive personality and what else is he going to do with it?

He finds out Spike can pick up a phone but can't make his voice carry over it.

Finds his limits for talking into the phone without an answer - twenty eight minutes.

Hangs up and checks his voicemail again.

There's a message from Willow - she's out of the office and Xander listens to her voice a few more times and soaks up the weird of Willow with an office.

He didn't get an office.

But that doesn't stop him from listening to the voice mail again and falling asleep to the certainty Willow's out of the office this week and Spike can't make himself heard over the phone but he's willing to listen to Xander talk about nothing for twenty eight minutes.

Certainties are thin on the ground these days - and he'll take what he can get.

Then on the third day the guy from the cable internet company shows up six hours early and on the wrong day and Xander turns on the computer and reads his last entry:

October 31st: Most exciting thing at this Halloween party? Bobbing for apples.

And the one before that:

October 29th: Weekly staffing report.

And before that:

October 28th: Werewolf activity in LA is back to normal.

He goes back to Munkarp and pulls the Mysa Vatten over his head and listens to Maury Povich talk about normal problems.

Like learning to love a man with six toes and a toe-sucking fetish who lied about it in his online profile and kept his socks on for sex.

An hour later, he crawls out of bed, wedges his feet into his shoes and walks to the 7-Eleven.

Two hours later he crawls back into bed with a mostly empty bottle of Captain Morgan and gets back to the serious business of passing out because a guy can only take so much and he's pretty sure none of this was in the contract.

Six hours later he wakes up to pounding - in his head and on the door and slams the Gosa Blinka over his ears.

There's a key under the mat.

If it's Spike, he'll snoop until he finds it.

And if it's not Spike, whoever it is can stay on the other side.

It's Spike.

Who stands in the doorway, hands braced on the jambs, head down. "Xan-derrr."

Which should annoy him. Which should make his head throb unpleasantly which - okay - it does. Which should -

"I can see you smiling."

"Fuck off, Spike."

"Can see more than that too, mate."

Which should not be getting him interested with a headache like this except -

No. No, he's too tired for speculation and too tired for anything but, "Don't tell me. I love guessing games with a hangover. Lorne made another wish."

"Let me in and I'll tell you."

Which makes the hairs on the back of his neck - and other things - stand up and Xander gives up and rolls over and says, "Come in Spike - but I'm warning you I'm at least eighty proof."

The door clicks when Spike closes it - carefully - which either means Spike's still got his soul or just doesn't want the neighbors making a fuss. "Sounds tasty." The bed dips and Spike's cold and the Munkarp's big enough for two if they're friendly and Spike's very friendly.

"The least you could do is take off your boots."

"Just the boots?" And there's a speculative note in Spike's voice that's not doing anything for Xander - nope. Not a thing. And neither's the mental picture it inspires and -

"You promised to tell me what happened if I let you in."

"Oh, that." Spike makes himself comfortable. Lifts the quilt and fits himself neatly under it, boots off, toes tucked under Xander's. Leechy cuddler. "Don't know."

"I let you in for a don't know?"

"Nah. You let me in for - " Spike stops and Xander listens to him think about it. Spike thinking sounds a lot like distant traffic noise and the sink Xander needs to fix in the kitchen. "Don't exactly know that either."

It turns out after drinking the rest of Xander's Captain Morgan, 'don't know' means a care package of flashy special effects and a bloody nose.

And after Spike goes back to the 7-Eleven for another bottle Xander's pretty sure he can't produce a receipt for and brings the contraband back to his apartment like a cat with a dead bird, 'don't know' also means freaky happenings at Wolfram & Hart of the bloody-eyed and violent variety and Xander'll enter it in his blog as soon as he's sober.

He says so.

"Oh, please. Think you're the first watcher who turned to the bottle?"

Xander thinks about it.

"Duh," Spike says and reaches for the Captain Morgan. His hand collides with Xander's on the way and Xander pulls the bottle close to his chest and takes a long drink before handing it back because sometimes it's about drinking until you forget, not drinking your favorite poison. And poison it is because when they have sex, Xander can't get it all the way up but that only makes it last longer and he thinks he falls asleep to Spike's lazy in and out and twist and dirty talk and dreams of aliens with anal probes and Tourette's.

Wakes up to it too and snorts into the pillow.



Spike huffs room temperature air against his shoulder and rolls his hips, groans deep and hungry and slides a hand up under Xander's jaw. "You try bein' a ghost for four months."

He's got a point. A point other than the one nailing Xander to the mattress so Xander rests his cheek on his cast once Spike lets go and says, "Hmm," which is his way of agreeing.

Then he bites Spike's fingers, runs his tongue up between them and arches his back because - oh - oh yeah, right there and this time it's less hmm more moan.

Spike snorts into Xander's hair.


"You." Spike's fingers leave Xander's mouth and brace on the mattress somewhere off to Xander's left. "I was a ghost. What's your excuse?"

Xander thinks about that too, hitches his hips into whatever Spike's doing because whatever it is it's good enough to get up onto his good elbow for and brace his knees a little further apart and - okay - apparently he's either a drunk or a whore and he makes his peace with it. "Sobriety."

Next time Xander wakes up, the rum's gone and Spike's on his couch with his boots off and toes bare, arguing loudly with Dr. Phil.

Chapter 9

Spike keeps arguing while Xander shuffles from bed to bath, tries to remember the usual sober morning routine and gets the basics right but he doesn't floss. He's not that sober.

He gets around to looking in the mirror too. There's a love bite - okay, horny vampire bite - on his shoulder and lines under his eye he's pretty sure weren't there in the mirror in Sunnydale and he's not sure if it's him or part of the weird that was Sunnydale.

And its too awkward to fiddle his patch on with one hand so he leaves it on the bathroom sink and goes back out to the living room, less shuffle, more walking like a human being and listens to Spike.

"Since when did you have a spouse who didn't approve of your drinking?"

Spike's head moves like it's on ball-bearings and an eyebrow slides up into you must be joking position.

"Right," Xander says and sinks onto the couch next to him. His computer's nowhere to be seen but he's too tired to ask if Spike hocked it. "Buffy."

He feels Spike shrug against his shoulder.

"Couldn't help it, could she? She's the slayer."

"A slayer."

"Nah. She'll always be the slayer."

"The one girl in all the world."

"That's right."

They sit through a Kotex commercial in mutual masculine discomfort.

"Poor Buffy."

"Got that right."

Dr. Phil tells the husband to be a man.

Spike gets to the point. "Got your note."

Xander doesn't ask him what note. "Everyone else make it out okay?"

"Wes shot his dad."

Xander tries to work up some righteous shock - can't. "Lucky Wes."

"Wasn't his real dad, mind."

"Too bad."

"It was another cyborg."

"I hate cyborgs."

Xander shifts his arm in his lap and scratches under the edge of his cast. "That what got you drinking again?"

"I'll have you know It takes more than an attack by killer cyborgs to drive me to drink." On screen, the couple's headed for divorce. Xander gives them a charitable month at the outside. He looks around the room. "Did you hock my computer?"

"I wouldn't do that."

Spike's a picture of wounded innocence but Xander's got skeptical eyebrow skills of his own.

"Oh all right I would." Spike slouches into the cushions and waves a hand. "But I didn't - it's in the kitchen cabinet for safe keeping."

"Because when you think safe keeping for the computer you always think the kitchen." And Xander gave up trying to make sense of Spike a long time ago. He finds the computer next to a new box of Wheaties.

"It is when a bloke from Wolfram & Hart pays you a visit asking after your health."

"You snooped."

Spike doesn't say anything. He doesn't have to. A phantom duh hangs large in the air.

Xander pours a bowl of Wheaties and carries it back to the couch.

Willow calls him back in the middle of Oprah and says something about four months of phone tag and she can't believe it's really Xander on the line and Xander agrees because - hey - it's possible. Most of the last few months are blank.

He asks her if there's been any weird news coming out of LA.

She tells him he'd be the first to know, she loves him, she'll visit sometime next year - she promises - and she has to go.

She emails him a photo of her cats sleeping on Kennedy's head.

"I'd be the first to know if there's anything weird going on in LA," he tells Spike after he closes his phone. Two cats stare at him cross-eyed from the screen.

"That so?"

"That's the word on the street."

"The street's got bollocks for brains," Spike opines, critically examining the effects of breast reconstruction on cancer survivors. "She's got a nice pair."

Xander squints at the TV until it comes into focus. "No nipples."

"Can't have it all," Spike says philosophically and crunches a Wheatie.

Xander crunches his spine into a new position God never intended and squints at the computer screen. Angel had been especially heroic on September fifteenth, single-handedly ridding Venice Beach of djinn and saving the puppy. "Okay - I know I didn't write that."

Which gets Spike's attention - or maybe it's only because there's a commercial on. "Course you didn't."

"Thank you."

"Don't know why you're letting it get to you, mind." Spike eats another Wheatie and Xander snatches the bowl away. "Well I don't. What did you expect going to play spy in Wolfram & Hart?"

And Xander tries to think through the eighty proof fog of memory.

"There. You see? Think they'd have asked a sot like you to liaison for them with the Council if they'd wanted a man on the ball? Not bloody likely."

The bowl of Wheaties disappears from Xander's hands and crunching resumes.

So does Oprah.

"They asked for me?"

Spike doesn't look at him. "Yeah. Overheard Rupert saying you were bound for Africa."

"I told him I didn't want to go to Africa."

"Seemed to think it'd be good for you," Spike says to a perfect and newly-reconstructed pair of breasts, absorbed in the miracles of modern medical science.

"Okay," Xander says during the commercial break because there's no profit in talking to Spike during the show, "assuming I agreed to go to Africa and assuming I didn't get mugged, killed and kidnapped by rogue guerrilla groups or eaten by a lion - "

Spike snorts.

Xander ignores him.

"I fail to see how adding to the trauma that is my life alone would be good for me."

Spike tosses a Wheatie into the air and catches it in his mouth. "Builds character."

"I have plenty of character, buddy." Xander snatches the bowl back from Spike. It's empty but it's the principle of the thing. "And anyway I can get mugged, killed and kidnapped by rogue guerrilla groups all from the comfort of Los Angeles."

"Can't get eaten by lions though," Spike points out reasonably - and since when was he reasonable guy?

"As new hire bonuses go, the chance to get eaten by lions really doesn't sell me on the job."

Oprah's back on but the sound isn't and Spike's drumming his fingers on his knee. "What sold you on Los Angeles?"

"Wasn't Africa."

"Ever consider doing something else?"

"I wanted to be an astronaut when I was eight."

"I could use a sidekick." Spike's offhand. Also off the couch. And -

"Did you just say sidekick?"

And back with beers Xander doesn't remember buying. "Yeah." Spike twists the top off and flicks it across the room.

"Okay - back up. Did you just ask me to be your sidekick?"

Spike lifts his eyebrows and takes a long drink.

"And aren't you supposed to be keeping me on the wagon if you expect me to have your back?"

"Nah. A man's entitled to his drink."

"You've seen me drunk."

"Seen you sober too."

The bottle cap bites into his palm when he twists it off and when did he lose all the construction calluses? "Sidekick."

"Well you're not cut out to be the hero, are you?"

And Xander should say something like 'and you are?' Something cutting. Something witty. Except Spike's the vampire with the soul and he's the human guy with the drinking problem and sense of humor. Sidekick. He licks his lips. "How's the pay?"

Spike shrugs. "It folds."

Chapter 10

The pay folds and as it turns out, the hero does too. Folds, curses and knows what he likes. Basically Spike's a great lay from either side of the equation so as job perks go this one's a lot better than the chance to be eaten by lions.

He says so.

To Spike, who stretches and looks smug.

To the Xander in the mirror, who looks kinda smug too.

To Shannen Doherty on TV, who's helping some girl dump her loser roommate, when Spike's out getting more cigarettes.

But not to Giles because he's not ready for that much sharing when he phones the council his resignation.

They don't accept it.

Or, more accurately, it's Giles who doesn't accept it.

Through Buffy.

"What do you mean Giles said no?"

"I don't interpret them. I only deliver them," she says over the line to Xander who's in a suspiciously Spikeless room.

"Since when is the slayer messenger girl?"

"Since the slayer put in for a position with less slayage, more watchage."

And Xander takes time to process that. Okay - there's not enough time in the world to process that. "Excuse me?"

"I'm not the Slayer anymore and I'm not getting any younger. Retirement's never gonna be an option but who'd make a better watcher than a slayer?" He hears the slurp of a straw. The last of a smoothie which he bets is strawberry because she's Buffy.

"You're asking the watcher with one eye and a substance abuse problem," Xander points out because he's never going to be in the running for Watcher of the Month.

"Xander, you don't have a - you have a substance abuse problem?"

"Hello, you have met my parents haven't you?"

"Is that why you tried to quit?"

"Um," Xander says because it's a good question. With a complicated answer. He settles for the simple, "Not exactly." And him and Buffy - they've never been about the prying.

"Anyway, I look at it as lateral career advancement with better benefits and a seriously better retirement package."

"You mean you have a chance to get old enough to retire?"

"Uh huh."

There's a silence. It's not an uncomfortable silence. It's the kind of silence they'd have filled walking down the hall toward History class together and dodging the kids who had lockers on the other end of school from their classes. It was just a silence and Xander ended it with, "You'll make a great Watcher, Buff."

"So will you."

"Vampires don't have Watchers. We eat Watchers," Spike grouses in the shower with his back to Xander because apparently part of the sidekick package is washing the hero's back.

Who knew Robin had it so good.

"Angel's got Wesley," Xander says to the dip at the small of Spike's back that he really, really wants to lick especially since with licking there'll be less thinking - about things like Wesley washing Angel's back.

"Angel's a poof and Wesley's a - " Xander licks. Spike's fingers scrabble on the wall. "Percy's a poof too."

Xander considers this ironic while Spike's spread naked against a wall with Xander behind him but he lets it go. "Yeah but you're getting beyond the basics here." Xander lathers his good hand and reaches between Spike's legs to soap his balls and - okay - totally feel him up but Spike doesn't seem to mind. "Angel's a heroic vampire and Wesley's a Watcher."

He turns Spike around.

Looks up into dilated eyes and rests the hand that's not sliding up and down a handful of hard vampire flesh with pomegranate scented soap in the hollow of Spike's hip which was pretty much made for a hand to rest there even when it's awkward and the garbage bag over his cast is dripping water in weird rivulets. Xander's feeling no pain. "And you always struck me as the kinda guy who likes being watched."

Spike's got his fingers in Xander's hair. Not pulling, not pushing - just there. "Accusing me of being starved for attention?"

"No," Xander says, palming water over Spike until the suds wash away. "I'm pretty sure you get all the attention you want," which is all of Xander's attention at this moment. His attention, lips, tongue - and for a few surprising seconds - his throat.

Spike makes a whole new Spike noise when he comes and sinks to his knees between Xander and the shower wall. Breathing.

And when Xander catches up with him on the breathing thing, he washes the hero's hair because he's pretty sure it's all in the taking care of the hero part of the sidekick handbook. At least - it was in the first edition - Buffy Summers, 1997.

Spike catches the grin before it gets away. "Poof."

Xander doesn't have the heart to tell him he was just thinking about Buffy. "Close your eyes." Spike's hair is translucent when the water runs through it.

And Xander appreciates a hero who lets his sidekick do his thing.

Division of labor.

That's what it's all about.

His thumb is running circles at Spike's temple and the air around them smells like a fruit salad. "Poof," Spike says again.

"Duh," Xander agrees.

"Seem to remember a time when you weren't," Spike says, continuing the whole poof topic which Xander's starting to realize is one of Spike's favorites.

He's also realizing he's pretty much okay with this. "You remember a time when I had dignity."

Spike looks skeptical.

"I did. I had dignity. Once."

"Did not and anyway nothing undignified about being a poof," Spike says despite the sounds and faces he was making earlier which - okay - Xander remembers making with Anya once upon a time too.

"I had hangups."

"And now you don't."

Xander gives it some thought. "No. I just moved on to a better class of them."

Spike snorts and rolls over which largely involves rolling on top of Xander. He grabs the remote and rolls off. Such is romance.

It's surprisingly comfortable.

"Am I actually going to be doing anything as your sidekick?"

Spike gives him a look - okay, a leer.

"Anything sidekicky." Xander holds up a hand. Talk to the cast. "Heroically sidekicky."

Spike turns back to the TV and channel surfs just below the speed of sound. "Dunno," he opines at last.

"Someone's been impersonating me to the council for months. We should do something." The feeling's vague - like an itch on Xander's elbow - which he can't reach. Vague and - really itchy.

The channel stops changing and the look's different. It's a look Xander hasn't been formally introduced to. "Wolfram & Hart's been impersonating you for months. Well - one of their agents."

"And you want to - what - sit here and do nothing?"

Spike puts down the remote and sits up in bed. "All right. Heroing for wankers, lesson the first. Know your limits."

From the guy who -

Is holding up a forestalling hand. Xander recognizes that hand. Spike stole his hand of forestallment. The jerk. "Know what you're thinking but I never tried to end the world, did I? Got the girl too - well - much as that one could ever be got." The hand finds its way to Xander's face. The thumb finds its way to the thin skin under where Xander's left eye used to be and it's hard to be mad at Spike for something in the ancient past when Spike's got that look on his face.

Spike's got a whole family of looks Xander's never met before and he realizes it's the first time anyone but a medical professional's touched that skin since there was an eye under it.

"We don't go in blind," Spike's saying and Xander lets the irony go because he's pretty sure Spike's serious about this, "And we know our limits."