Xander scrapes sweaty hands over his scalp. Stubble prickles against his fingers because last week, it seemed like a good way to beat the heat.
His head is shaped like an egg.
A man in a red coat careens off Xander's shoulder and he skitters sideways, reverberations of the strike making his skin hum and itch.
He scratches and circles around a woman with expensive shoes.
He dated Cordelia. He knows expensive shoes.
And he might have said that out loud because he feels eyes on him and they itch so he bumps and rambles his way down the street.
He should listen to what he's saying; it might be important.
"Why is a knish a knish? Would it be a knish without the k?"
There are knishes and Xander mutters and fumbles his way through getting a cheese knish.
It's got broccoli in it but that's okay -
"Broccoli's good for you," the guy behind the counter says.
"Okay," Xander says and walks away without his change.
The knish is warm in his hands and it smells like cheddar and metal.
Broccoli smells like metal sometimes and Xander takes a bite.
It burns his tongue so he can't taste the metal anymore and he keeps eating because he's hungry and then he licks the napkin and pieces of paper melt into his tongue.
He uses his fingers to rub them off and drops them onto the sidewalk.
Then he goes back and picks them up and shoves them into his pockets because - DNA. He doesn't leave DNA behind because with DNA, someone could build a better Xander.
And if someone can build a better Xander - why wouldn't they?
This model is deeply, deeply flawed, and must be eradicated.
The thought sparks something inside and he walks more quickly. Bump, brush, shudder and skitter. Dances around a group of school kids who part around his legs like a shoal of fish and he breaks into a run.
This model is deeply, deeply flawed and must be eradicated.
Xander runs faster; he doesn't want to be eradicated.
It's getting hotter and he drags his nails over his scalp.
People are yelling now and it's getting dark because the sun is going down and the yelling brings vampires so Xander leaps a railing and scrambles down the embankment.
Half way down and he's tackled.
Tackled, held down, and the needle's in his vein again.
He howls, bucking against the weight holding him down because it stings, it hurts it -
Xander wakes up calm.
He's sore and bruised and pretty sure if he looks down there's gonna be something he doesn't like - like an ankle cuff or a hospital gown.
He sneaks a peek.
Spike stares back from the foot of his bed.
Something he doesn't like - it's Spike he's handcuffed to.
There's no hospital gown though. He's naked.
"What happened this time?"
"Got away from us," Spike says and sits on the edge of the bed. Xander's left wrist is cuffed to Spike's right, leaving Spike's left free to run over his scalp where things feel bristly.
Xander has a vague memory of hair falling. "How long?" He reaches for the injection site on his arm. It stings. He relaxes.
Spike's fingers are cool on him. "Day and a half. Red tracked you down when she woke up."
No memories to reassure him and fear dances a jig on his last nerve.
Spike's holding him down before he can work up to a good shake. "Just got her with the needle. That's all."
"Hasn't got anything to do with it."
"Remember anything this time?"
Xander shakes his head.
He remembers something about building a better Xander and stops shaking his head.
He tells Spike.
He's playing chess after the next injection. The serum burns along his veins while it spreads and aches in the crook of his arm like a vampire bite.
Xander appreciates the irony.
Chess is a great and noble game of strategy - in which nobody cares if you stare at the game board for hours.
Spike's on the phone in the bedroom, arguing with Giles.
Spike wants to send him back to England.
Giles doesn't want him back.
Xander moves the white knight.
He's playing black but the white knight looked out of place standing between the two queens.
He puts it next to the black pawn and calls it a day when his hand starts to shake.
It's a side effect, the shaking.
He keeps his mind and the rest of him jitters out of control.
He thinks he might be thirsty but he doesn't have any more clean shirts and anyway, Spike's finishing his talk with Giles.
They're shouting at each other.
"What the fuck do you know about it, Watcher? I'm watching him waste to bloody nothing - it is not wearing off!"
Xander rubs his hands over his scalp where his hair prickles except in the spots where it lies flat like crop circles.
He's tracing one with a fingertip when Spike slams the phone onto the table and stalks out of the bedroom.
Spike stops and stares at Xander's fingertip circling around the funny flattened patch and shakes his head. He changes course and pours himself a whiskey. "Bloody Watchers. Says it'll wear off as long as we keep up your treatment. Says the fumes induce paranoia. Says fuck-all, basically," Spike says, falling into a chair without spilling a drop.
Xander spends a while envying him. He spills all over the place when he's sitting still - and he can't drink. Interferes with the medicine "Great."
"Red's sending another batch."
Xander rubs his inner arm while Spike talks - it reminds him to tell Spike the rest. "They were going to steal my DNA," he says calmly. It's distant, lukewarm now he has the heat of the antidote in his veins.
He's not sure. Willow and Giles tell him to take it. It'll make him better.
So he takes it.
Spike pins him to the bed with a knee and makes him take it when he doesn't want to because it's all they've got.
Xander shrugs and stops rubbing. He lifts his hands and shrugs again, letting them say 'that's all I got'.
They stutter when his muscles start to twitch again and he drops his hands into his lap and watches the penny drop behind Spike's eyes.
The penny or the shilling or whatever they have in England these days.
"That what all the soggy paper in your pockets was about then?"
Xander nods. He thinks it's best not to tell Spike he scraped it off his tongue with knish grease and broccoli scraps. Spike looks like he's figuring it out anyway and takes a long, hard drink straight from the bottle.
Spike shudders. "It's bloody disgusting looking after you, Harris." He sticks the bottle between his knees and wipes his palms on the thighs of his jeans. "I'm not emptying your pockets again."
Xander fights against a snicker, compromises with the kind of minimized shit eating grin that only had a nibble.
Spike snorts and polishes off the whiskey.
Then he moves the black pawn and captures Xander's white knight. "You're bloody useless at chess, Harris."
Xander thinks about telling Spike that the knight looked lonely but Spike would only shoot him up again and Xander's not ready for more fire in his veins yet.
Instead he lets Spike pull him to his feet and all but carry him to the bathroom.
"You've got mud in your hair," Spike says and Xander remembers putting it there when he was running crazy so Spike would have to wash it out.
He can't say crazy guy Xander never gave him anything.
Spike keeps muttering and his fingers feel good.
Xander's handcuffed to the bed but there's nothing sexy about it.
And Spike doesn't like it.
He keeps saying so, like it'll change Xander's mind.
Xander might not have much mind left but what he has left has spoken.
Well, technically it's his mouth that's spoken. Or his vocal cords depending on how you want to look at it.
He feels his spine curl off the bed and a tremble-shake in his arms because it's starting and his veins feel cold.
Everything else is fluttery and he's noticing things.
Like the way Spike's eyes don't leave him for more than a second at a time.
Like the way he can feel Spike's gaze on his skin.
It feels like greased fingertips in a tight leather glove and smells like metal.
Xander wonders if you can oil up a gaze for a massage because the muscles in his back are starting to cramp and the arch is getting harder.
And he remembers knishes.
"I don't like it," Spike says - again - and lights up another cigarette. Xander's fingers flicker sympathetically with Spike's fumbling over Zippo and packet.
He has to remember knishes. They might be important.
Unless he's just hungry.
Then he remembers the rest.
Short hair catches on the pillow case and Xander hears himself ask for water and he's glad when Spike doesn't leave because there's shifting shadows outside his window and they're coming for his DNA.
They're outside the window and they're coming for his DNA.
Then Spike is gone.
And Xander's still handcuffed to the bed where the metal's cold and the mattress is too hot and he's sweating into the sheets and doesn't like this kind of wet spot.
He fights against the handcuffs and they fight back - it's a scuffle. He knows. He hears it.
Hears the blows landing and bodies hitting the wall.
The handcuffs and mattress are really putting up a fight by the sound of it.
But it stops before he's done fighting the restraints and that's rude.
The fight isn't supposed to end while he's still fighting.
And it doesn't sound right anymore, click and clack of handcuffs, groan of mattress springs and clank of the headboard.
Grind of his molars against each other and pops in his spine and wrists and -
"What did they want?"
Giles - on the speaker phone. And only one wrist felt heavy, like it was attached to a vampire - not a feeling Xander had ever expected to become this familiar with.
Xander cracked his eyes open to stare at Spike's profile while Spike glared across the room at the speaker phone, a cigarette and a bottle of whiskey in his free hand.
"His DNA." Spike said, paused for a beat, "wanker."
"Spike, we had no way of knowing that the danger was anything more than a hallucination brought on by the fumes Xander inhaled."
"Fumes of Pythia."
"I told you, Spike. The interdimensional crevice at Delphi closed thousands of years - oh."
"Not so certain anymore, are you?"
Xander scratches casually at his arm, where it's warm and achy from the syringe and lets Spike have it out with Giles.
It's a weird feeling - being right about the DNA thing although why slimy demons in Levi's want their own Xander is beyond him.
And kind of ooks him out.
He wonders if that means he was right about the Green Burrito's beans containing government-issue microchips to track border-crossers.
Xander scratches at his wrist. Both are bandaged and itchy.
He vaguely remembers getting into a fight with the bed.
Feels like the bed won.
Spike's finishing the phone call - with a lot of wanker and git and bloody from both ends of the call so Xander knows somebody's about to hang up.
There's something else nagging at him. But it's hard to think - like he doesn't have enough brain in his skull to do it, so he pushes his head against Spike's thigh and remembers.
"Yeah?" Spike asks and Xander wonders if Spike knows he's petting Xander's hair, back and forth over the bristle and stubble.
"Yeoman the Red," he says - it doesn't mean anything to him but he remembers it was important.
Fifteen minutes ago.
Or an hour ago.
Or whenever it was Spike shoved the needle into his vein.
The words don't mean anything to him - but he guesses they could mean something to Spike.
Xander's a good guesser.
Xander runs into the man in the red coat again on Tuesday.
It'd be like old home week except Xander's been taking his medicine and he looks the man in the red coat in the eyes.
And it startles Xander because if the man had two eyes, he'd look just like -
A girl in a green hoodie pings off Xander's shoulder and spins him around and when he turns back, the one-eyed man in the red coat is gone.
Xander rubs his left eyelid to make sure everything's there.
Then he peels back his eyelid and feels the sting and burn of his fingertip against the surface of his eyeball. The touch makes him nauseous and he's starting to worry the medicine isn't working.
Is wearing off.
Spike didn't give him enough and Xander hurries home.
Because he's sane - now - but he remembers they want his DNA. They want another Xander and now that's - that's - that's not crazy enough for him anymore.
When he gets home, Spike's not there - only Spike's there and talking to someone Xander can't see but not there and Xander sticks a hand through Spike's transparent stomach.
"Oi! Bloody well watch where you're sticking things!"
Xander yanks his hand back but his fingers squelch when Spike goes solid before he's fully withdrawn.
Spike swipes his fingers over the spot and they come up red. He glares at Xander and stalks to the sink. "That was a fucking expensive call, Harris." Spike's crackling like a cat with static cling and Xander remembers how much he hates magic.
He feels more sane already - with Spike glaring at him and complaining. "I'm sorry," but he's not because Spike can't be Xander's one real thing in a crazy, crazy world if he's not real - and real is solid.
Xander clings to that.
Spike looks down, where Xander's arms are wrapped around his waist and Xander can look over Spike's shoulder to see Spike's hands twitch and fall to his sides. "What do you think you're doing?"
There's no good answer so Xander borrows one from Spike's book. "I'm crazy. Who needs an excuse?"
Spike snorts and twists around but he lets Xander hold on and Xander's finally grateful to Dru for giving Spike his crazy person care and feeding badge.
It's worth putting up with the sniffing - like Spike's doing now, raising and tickling hairs along Xander's neck. "Been out then?"
"Carp the uncrazy time."
Spike looks like he's doing some Xander to English translation on that one before he nods. "Needing another shot, are you?"
"Have to admit you don't seem crazy, mate."
"I'm hugging you, Spike."
"Yeah - well - I'm irresistible. 'S not crazy wanting to cop a feel of perfection."
"Dru. Harmony. Pulled out of Heaven Buffy. Me." Xander would tick them off on his fingers if his fingers weren't knotted into the back of Spike's sweater. "It's a symptom of crazy."
Spike glares at him. "You'd have to be mad to think you had a chance, Harris."
Spike raises his eyebrows.
"Oh." Xander lets that spin around for a while in his brain while Spike pulls away and comes back with a hypodermic.
"What happened out there?" Spike doesn't need to feel around for a vein and that should wig Xander out but he used up his year's supply of wig weeks ago and watches while the licking heat spreads down through his fingers and up his arm, through his body and into his brain.
"It's not a good clone," Xander hears himself saying through the clearing fog and nerves and crazy - finds himself a seat on the train back to sanity and closes his eyes. His lips taste like autumn air and metal when he licks them but the metal is the medicine. He runs his hands back over his scalp and licks his lips again. "If it's missing an eye."
Spike's on the phone when Xander comes out of the shower and the perfumed cloud of cheap zesty citrus shower gel wafts forth to do battle with the eternal pall of leather and cigarettes that follows Spike wherever he goes. Like a pet smell.
The perfumed cloud doesn't have a chance because Spike's pet smell rips it apart like a junkyard dog.
Xander drops himself onto the couch and scrubs a towel over his hair until it stands up in little stiff peaks and he twists them while he waits with tingling fingers and cotton wool thoughts. Xander wants a new drug.
"Harris, if you've got to hum, bloody well hum on key."
"Can't," Xander says and keeps humming.
"Huey bloody Lewis and the sodding News," Spike's muttering while he scribbles on a hotel notepad. He rips off the top page and crams it into his pocket where it'll slowly disintegrate under pressure - or become a diamond.
One or the other.
Spike's looking at him suspiciously so Xander turns on the guileless big eyes and asks "What?"
"See something you like?" Spike's got his thumbs tucked into his waistband, framing his bulge - and in any other circumstance, Xander might blush and look away but that's the advantage of being crazy.
There is no shame when you're crazy.
So Xander stares at Spike's zipper because he knows what Spike looks like hard, what Spike tastes like, and what Spike likes - which is kinda weird since he's never been groiny with Spike. He's pretty sure the ancients at Delphi didn't get pornographic vampire visions and he's still trying to figure out if that's unfair or kinda great. Like a free unscrambled porn channel. Xander licks his lips and Spike looks a little nervous.
"Right." Spike fumbles a cigarette to his lips and gets it lit. "Going out tonight - deal with that Yeoman the Red bloke." He's patting his pockets like he can tell what's in them that way. Xander knows he can't. He keeps forgetting the room key.
"Yeoman the Red means something?" Xander's surprised to feel surprised at that because - hey - he is crazy oracular vision guy. Oracular visions aren't supposed to be easy to figure out.
"Yeah. Demon named Yoman in Karpathos, got red skin. Owe him a few bob. Probably heard I'm in the neighborhood and sent his people out looking for me."
"Over a few bob."
Spike mumbles an answer but Xander thinks he hears the word 'thousand' in it.
"You don't have any money. You never have any money." Xander knows. They live off his Council Visa card and Spike signs Xander's signature better than Xander does. Spike pats his pocket again and Xander knows better than to check his wallet for the card because it won't be there.
At least Spike leaves him cash and his passport now.
Xander never wants to participate in a Turkish jailbreak again.
"Won't be back until tomorrow," Spike says abruptly, like he can see the shoal of Xander's thoughts gracefully turning toward the coral reef of stolen wallets and international incidents. "Not leaving you on your own though - Bit'll be here. Coming all the way from Cleveland." He mutters, already looking for something, vague, pawing through a pile Xander's pretty sure came from his coat pockets and carrying them to the duster, making them disappear like a dyslexic pickpocket.
The world feels like its wrapped in cotton wool, sleepy and comfortable and Xander's getting used to the uncertain thoughts about DNA and clones, so he watches Spike's hands. Elegant fingers, bitten nails, scraped knuckles - that all together hold up a full hypodermic.
Spike stares at Xander.
Xander stares at the needle.
Then Spike rolls his eyes, hauls Xander up, and jabs the hypodermic into the upper curve of his ass, depressing the plunger and letting him go to bounce on the couch. Xander rubs his ass and vaguely takes offense.
"You didn't have to do that."
His eyelids are drooping and It's the last thing he says until he wakes up to knocking on the door and a room without Spike. He sits up fast, heart pounding hard because Spike has a key, Spike has -
Scribbles on his hand catch his eye and he squints at them. Some are smudged - okay, some are probably smudged onto his face but he can make out the words in Spike's handwriting. Back tomorrow. Let Dawn in. Don't get killed before I come back.
Xander scrubs his hands over his face, smudging the ink more and staggers toward the door thinking about that - does it mean Spike wants to be there when Xander does get killed? Or not to get killed at all? And it's kinda possible Xander needs another shot because he doesn't know how long he slept. Only that it's still dark out and Dawn's pounding on his door.
He opens it.
It's not Dawn.
He's leaning in the doorway on the other side, except he's on this side of the doorway too. "Okay - there is no way to say this that isn't gonna sound like a bad movie," One-eyed Xander says. "I'm you. You're me. Only kinda not. And we're going to Nepal." He lets himself into the room - gets a funny look on his face poking through a pile of Spike's abandoned crap on the table, crossword puzzles and crumpled cigarette packets. This other Xander - with his one eye and his patch and his red coat - looks at him and says, "Better wear something warm."