|Disclaimer: This is fanfic, based on the shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Characters are property of Mutant Enemy. This story was written for fun, not profit.|
How The Light Gets Inby: Shadowscast
That's how the light gets in."
(Leonard Cohen, Anthem.)
Xander was dreaming about the firing squad when the phone rang just after noon. He woke up drenched in sweat, tasting the Jack Daniel's from eight in the morning. He fumbled with the phone, dropping it twice before he managed to croak "H'lo?"
"I'm sorry, is this a bad time?" Giles asked.
"Yeah. No. You just woke me up. It's fine."
There was a pause at the other end, and Xander imagined Giles doing the math. "Still a bit jet-lagged, are you?" he suggested politely.
"Actually, I was up all night. Up and around I mean, not—not with the nightmares again." The one he'd just woken up from was fading already, and he didn't feel the need to share. "I found your girl."
"Not a Slayer. Turns out she's some kind of primordial god, I didn't follow the whole story." Xander snatched his jacket from the floor by the bed and fished the cigarette pack out of the pocket. "But that's not even the big news of the night. You'll never guess who not-a-Slayer lives with."
He lit up a cigarette, took the first drag. Smiled a bit. "Come on Giles, it's no fun if you don't guess."
"You did say I'd never guess."
"Okay, okay. She lives with Spike."
"Oh." There was the glasses-cleaning silence at the other end of the phone. "I did know Spike was alive, in fact; Andrew encountered him last winter. I suppose I should have mentioned it to you, but it hardly seemed likely that you'd meet him randomly in a city the size of Los Angeles."
"Giles, I'm from Sunnydale. The laws of probability work differently around me. Anyway, I bet you didn't know he was alive."
"Sorry, I think we have a bad connection; I just said I knew he was—" Giles stopped, catching the emphasis. "Wait. Alive? As in, no longer a vampire?"
"As in human. Un-undead. Pulse confirmed by yours truly."
"Oh my." Giles paused again, which was understandable under the circumstances. Not that a vampire turning human was any weirder than ten thousand other weird things in their everyday lives, but it wasn't just any vampire; it was Spike. "Did he say how it happened?"
"No." Xander ashed his cigarette into the empty Coke can on the nightstand. "He was still a vampire when Andrew met him, right?"
"So what do you want me to do? I mean, there's no Slayer here."
"Well..." A shorter pause, this time. "Did Spike happen to say anything about whether he's still working for Angel?"
"He was working for Angel? He hates Angel."
"He hated us when he first started cooperating with us," Giles pointed out.
"True. But I don't think he's with Angel now, not the way he acted when Angel came by last night."
"You met Angel, as well? You've certainly had a full night." There was a light edge of sarcasm in Giles' voice, a reproach for not mentioning Angel right away. "Did you meet anyone else interesting? Ethan Rayne, perhaps?"
Xander felt himself tensing up. "Okay, okay, don't bite my head off!" he snapped. "I would've got around to Angel in a minute, he just didn't seem as important as all the other stuff. I'm still half asleep, y'know. I spent most of the night in a fucking emergency room with a former vampire who apparently doesn't understand the concept of 'not to exceed recommended dosage.'"
"I'm sorry," Giles said, in that backing-off gentle tone that let Xander know he sounded like he was about to totally lose it. "Why don't we start again from the beginning, and you can tell me everything that happened. It sounds like you had quite a difficult night."
So Xander finished his cigarette in one long drag, settled more comfortably back on the bed, and told Giles everything—starting with finding the girl who could kill a Polgara demon barehanded, and ending with leaving Spike at his apartment in the care of that same girl.
"I want you to learn as much as you safely can about this Illyria," Giles said finally, when the story was exhausted and they were back to the what-does-Xander-do-next? part of the agenda. "Is she a danger to us, or a potential ally? And on a related note, I want you to convince Spike to come back to Rome with you."
"You want me to what, now?" Xander's voice nearly cracked, he was so much not expecting that one. "Not only is Spike at pretty much the bottom of our list of trusted allies—well, okay, not as far down as Angel, but still—but he doesn't even have any powers anymore. What the hell could he do for us?"
Giles kindly refrained from pointing out that Xander didn't have any powers himself, unless you counted not getting killed despite ridiculous odds. "I don't need to tell you how thinly spread we are," he said instead. "Spike knows about the shadow world. He certainly knows more about vampire society than any surviving Watcher, myself included. Good lord, if nothing else he's the only living person who speaks Fyoral, and what with the Council library having been destroyed we could certainly use his help writing a new dictionary."
"Okay, let's say I go along with this. How do I convince him to join us? What's in it for him? 'Cause I gotta say, last I checked we weren't offering much in the way of benefits."
"Hm." Silence on the other end while Giles thought.
Neither of them mentioned Buffy, or the strong possibility that Spike would come to Rome if she just asked him to. That had Not Going There written over it in big red letters. Besides, there was the question of why he hadn't gone looking for her yet—maybe he finally was over that obsession. Xander still wasn't convinced Spike wasn't screwing Illyria.
"We might be able to offer him help with the headaches," Giles suggested. "He said they started after he became human, correct? Perhaps they're magical in origin, something to do with the transition."
"Yeah, okay," Xander agreed reluctantly. "I'll try."
And that pretty much wrapped up their business. They did the small talk thing for another minute, then Xander told Giles to tell Dawn 'hi' for him and they hung up.
Xander rubbed his gritty eye, considered smoking another cigarette, and decided to go out for lunch instead.
Xander figured if Spike was working again today it'd be the same shift as yesterday, so he went by the apartment at four in the afternoon.
Spike opened the door just a crack at first, with the security chain stretched across the gap. Xander saw a flash of rumpled hair and blue eyes, heard a muttered "Oh, it's you," and the door shut.
He lifted his hand to knock again but the door swung away from his knuckles, opening all the way this time, and Spike caught Xander's fist in his cupped palm.
"'Lo," Spike said with a tilted half-smile, not letting go, "What d'you want?"
Xander twisted his hand away from Spike with an irritated jerk. "Just to talk. Can I come in?"
Spike backed away from the doorway, raising an eyebrow. "Not if you need to ask, you can't."
It took Xander just a couple seconds to think that one through. "Huh. That's a good one. I should use that," he said, and followed Spike in. "Is that god-king chick here?"
"Nah. She seems to've killed all the nocturnal demons in the neighborhood, so she's taken to hunting by day." As he spoke, Spike gathered up the loose sections of newspaper that were covering the couch and dumped them in a pile on the floor. "Have a seat. Want a cuppa tea?" He glanced back at Xander, noticed his expression, and scowled. "I just woke up, it's my fucking breakfast, all right?"
Xander held up his hands, still smirking, and sat down on the couch. "No offense, but you just had a Giles moment there."
Spike shot him a look of disgust and padded off to the kitchen. He was barefoot, wearing gray flannel pajama pants and a black T-shirt with a Dark Side of the Moon logo half worn off. His left forearm still had the neat white hospital bandage wrapped around it, and it was sort of weird to think that it was going to be weeks before Spike healed, and he'd probably have a scar after that.
Welcome to the club, Xander thought.
He glanced around the living room; he hadn't had a good look when he'd dropped Spike off in the morning. As low-rent basement apartments go it didn't look that bad—there were only a couple visible mildew stains, high on the wall. Besides the couch there was just a TV and a coffee table for furniture, and the paint-splattered coffee table looked like it'd been pulled out of somebody's trash. There was a Playstation 2 hooked up to the TV, and a controller and a few games were scattered on the table along with a couple empty mugs and plates with crumbs on them. Up against the wall there was a pile of books in want of a bookcase—a colorful mix of paperbacks and hardcovers, too far away for Xander to see what any of the titles were.
Spike came back with a steaming mug in his hands and settled at the other end of the couch, propping his heels up on the table. He ignored Xander, raising the hot drink to his lips for a careful sip. Up close Xander noticed several long pink scars on Spike's unbandaged arm—it looked like last night hadn't been his first fight since turning human.
"So, um, how are you doing?" Xander asked.
"Fine," Spike said. It sounded automatic, kind of curt, so Xander wondered, but he didn't wonder enough to pursue the question.
Last night it'd been obvious enough when Spike wasn't fine—when he'd been passing out in the passenger seat of the rental car, too dozy to even tell Xander where the clinic they were supposed to be going to was, so Xander had just taken him to the nearest emergency room. Now he looked okay—he was holding his mug with steady hands, and not wincing away from the light.
"What was it you wanted to talk about?" he asked now, glancing over at Xander impatiently.
"I talked to Giles this afternoon," Xander said. "He wants me to find out more about Illyria."
"You told him about me, then?"
Spike gave a sort of resigned shrug. "Figured you would. Well, if he wants he can ring me and I'll tell him what I know directly. Illyria gave you the number, yeah?"
"He also wants you to come back to Rome with me."
"No," Spike said quickly. "I'm not going to be his bloody science project. Had enough of that already."
"Calm down, he doesn't want to study you. He wants you to join the Council."
That got an amused look from the ex-vampire. "He wants William the Bloody to join the Council of Watchers?"
"He has this theory that you know enough to be useful."
Spike snorted. "He said that about me? Sure you had Rupert on the phone there, not a clever voice impersonator?"
"Don't get a big head about it. Remember, Andrew has a position of authority in the new Council. Our human resources department isn't exactly turning down hundreds of qualified applicants every morning."
"You have a human resources department?"
"Actually, no. That was a joke."
"Oh." That got an eye roll. "What do you have, then?"
"A whole lot of Slayers. Willow thinks there are about seven hundred in the world, and we've managed to make contact with about a third that number. There's sixty-four working full-time with us now, including all the girls who survived Sunnydale. The others we try to get to come to Rome for a few weeks of training, and stay in touch." While he spoke, Xander pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. "Mind if I smoke?" he asked automatically, already shaking out one cigarette.
"Actually...yeah, I do." Spike gave an almost apologetic shrug. "When I woke up human, I wasn't addicted anymore, and...well, I tried smoking one a while later, and it's bloody disgusting, innit?"
Xander stopped just short of lighting up, and gave Spike a curious look. "Were you really addicted? I always kind of wondered how that worked—with vampires, I mean."
"I got shirty if I went too long without a fag, yeah," Spike said, and took another drink of tea. "Dunno if it's the same as for humans."
Xander rolled the Camel between his fingers and gave a moment's thought to all the times Spike had annoyed him with cigarette smoke in the basement, in the Bronze, in his fucking closet. Then he stuck it back in the pack and put it away, because he was trying to recruit Spike to the Council and pissing him off probably wasn't the best way to do it.
"What was it like, anyway? Turning human?"
"Wouldn't recommend it," Spike replied, deadpan. "Woke up exactly as I'd been the night Dru killed me—stupid hair and all."
"Stupider than the bleach job?"
"Hey, I'm fucking hot with the punk look." He smirked. "Never had any problem pulling, birds or blokes."
Xander blinked. "You just lost me there. Pulling what?"
Spike rolled his eyes. "I've gotta get you a bleeding English dictionary."
"So why'd you stop bleaching, if you liked it so much?"
"Thought it better to lie low. Too many demons in town who've heard of 'the vampire with the long black coat and the white hair' and since I don't have the fangs anymore..."
There was something else different about Spike, and it'd been bugging Xander ever since he first saw him in the porn store—and suddenly it clicked. "Hey, you used to have a scar on your eyebrow, didn't you?"
"Yeah, I guess." Spike touched the place where the jagged white scar used to be. "Got it from the first Slayer I killed. Carried it for over a century." His voice sort of faded at the end, faraway. Then he drained his tea and stood up. "Look, I've got to get ready for work. You have anything else to say?"
"You didn't say whether you'd come to Rome."
He shrugged. "I'll think on it. Rupert can ring me, like I said."
Xander stood up too. "There was one other thing. I told him about your headaches, and he said it was possible there was some magical cause. He could look into that, or Willow could."
That stopped Spike. He stared at Xander for a few seconds, only it was like he was looking through him instead of at him. Then the corner of his mouth twisted up at he looked at Xander for real. "That's the deal, then? If I work for him he'll try to fix me?"
Xander shrugged, since that was pretty much what Giles had said. "You got a better offer coming from somewhere?"
"No," Spike admitted, pretty quietly. "Not particularly."
"Hey, before I go—" Xander said, taking a step towards the door and looking back, "When you were working with Angel last year did you ever run into Cordy or Wes?"
"Oh. Yeah, uh," Spike rubbed the back of his neck with his hand, like he was trying to figure out how to answer the question. Which gave Xander kind of a bad feeling, because it was a pretty simple question. "Actually, what would you say to getting together for drinks after the store closes?"
"Yeah," Xander said, pushing the worry away for now. "Sure. I'll meet you at two."
"I know an afterhours place nearby," Spike said as he locked up the porn store. "Hunted vamps there a couple times last year."
"Oh, that makes it sound really appealing and safe."
Spike gave him a sideways look. "Used to hang out at the Bronze, didn't you?"
Xander shrugged and pushed away from the wall. "It was Sunnydale. There was nowhere else."
It was a warm night. Xander was comfortable in a T-shirt and khakis. Spike was a bit overdressed for the temperature in a battered jean jacket, and Xander guessed he was hiding the bandages on his arm. "What did you tell your boss about last night?" he asked.
"Said a drunk customer banged into the glass. Georgie's being nice and only taking the half of it out of my salary," Spike said with a kind of weary resignation that made Xander think of the Year of the Basement. "Couldn't tell him anything else—he'd've wanted me to talk to the police so he could claim the insurance."
It seemed like maybe Spike made just as bad an ordinary guy as Xander did. Xander felt stirrings of empathy, which prompted him to say in a cheering-up kind of voice, "I could probably get you a green card so you wouldn't have to worry about that anymore. Magic plus computers equals unbeatable fake I.D., y'know?"
"That'd be a bit of all right," Spike said. "Couldn't pay much for it, though."
"Pay?" Xander repeated. "Hell, Spike, I wouldn't charge you, you're—" He stopped, not sure how to finish it. A friend? They'd fought side-by-side for a few years, sure, but they'd kept their distance. And Xander wasn't forgetting the many very good reasons he hated Spike—but he'd travelled a long road since Sunnydale. "—one of us," he finished lamely after too long a pause.
Spike gave a bit of a shrug, and turned to go down a flight of steps to an oversized metal door just below street level. "This is it," he said, yanking the door open.
The bouncer just inside nodded them in without asking for I.D. Just past the foyer they hit a wall of techno-pop loud enough to make Xander's bones vibrate; strobe lighting gave a stop-motion surreality to the packed dance floor. Not the kind of place Xander would've expected Spike to choose, but he guessed their options were limited at this time of night.
Spike shouted something but Xander couldn't hear what; he held up his hands in the universal 'what are you talking about?' signal. Spike grimaced, grabbed Xander by the hand, and pulled him around the edge of the floor to the bar.
They ordered drinks by pointing, then Spike took Xander's hand again and led him down a staircase. The lower floor was smaller and quieter, and there were tables to sit at. Spike led the way around the edge to an unoccupied one.
Xander sat down and shoved the empties on the table to one side to make room for his own drink. "Okay," he said. "Tell me."
Spike didn't need to ask what Xander was talking about. "They're dead," he said without preamble, and took a long drink.
It hit him hard; sound and sight got distant suddenly, and his chest felt tight. He'd suspected this ever since Spike had evaded the question in the afternoon, and he'd thought he was ready to hear it, but it was different when the words made it real.
Spike was watching him with a solemn, patient expression.
"How?" Xander asked.
"Wes got his a couple months back, fighting a demon sorcerer."
"And Cordy?" Xander's voice came out low, almost steady.
"I guess she went down fighting, too. No one ever told me the details. She was already in a coma when I came along, and she died sometime in the winter."
"Shit," Xander said softly. It wasn't enough. Nothing he said could possibly be enough. "She was my first girlfriend."
Spike's eyebrows raised slightly. "I didn't know that. Christ, I'm sorry, mate."
"You should be," Xander said. "You're the reason we broke up." At Spike's startled look Xander shrugged, brushed that grudge away. It was too stale to be really bitter. "It was a high school thing. I hadn't even talked to her since she moved to L.A. Weird how in the end it was Willow who kept in touch with her." Xander stopped, thinking about that. "I guess Willow doesn't know, either. She would've told me." He blinked, and felt a tear building up in his good eye. "God," he muttered, brushing it away, "Angel should've said something."
"He's a complete wanker," Spike agreed.
Xander took a drink of his beer, but he couldn't taste it. "God," he said again, softly. "Two ex-girlfriends killed fighting evil. Think I should stop dating?"
It was gallows humor, and he didn't expect Spike to smile or anything, but he was surprised at the other man's look of shock. "Anya's dead?"
"She never made it out of the high school." Xander spread his hand on the tabletop and stared at his fingers, because watching Spike absorb the news made the loss seem fresh again and Xander wasn't sure how much longer he could hold out without weeping like a girl. "I thought you knew."
"Bloody hell," Spike whispered, his voice suddenly thick like he was on the verge of tears himself. "Andrew never said. Thought I'd look her up once I got it a bit more together, like, compare notes on turning human."
A woman at the next table broke into loud peals of laughter. It was too much. Xander stood up abruptly, nearly knocking his chair over. "Let's get the hell out of here."
They ended up at Spike's kitchen table, sharing a bottle of tequila without the benefit of lemons or salt and talking about the past. Illyria was in the living room playing video games when they arrived, but she left not long after muttering something about the stink of grief.
Spike, for all his rough punk masculinity, didn't seem embarassed at the tears welling in his eyes as he clinked his mismatched glass against Xander's and said "To all our dead heroes."
"To Anya and Cordelia," Xander replied, and drank it down. It tasted like lighter fluid smelled, and it would have made a good excuse for the tears that were streaming from his own eye but he realized now that here, with Spike, he didn't need an excuse.
"And Wesley," Spike reminded him, and took another drink. "Fred, too," he added after a moment. "And Charlie boy."
"Tara," Xander added. He didn't know who Charlie was, but for now it was the naming that was important. "Miss Calendar."
"Cheers," Spike said, rough and low, and tipped up his glass to the toast.
It could have been painfully maudlin, but a few shots in they were laughing through their tears.
"I never did figure it out."
"Remember her funny-shaped pancakes?"
"...made me hot chocolate with mashmallows in it..."
They got really fucking drunk, and by the end of it they were both on the floor and Spike was resting his head against Xander's shoulder and Xander was patting his hair and telling him he was sorry for getting mad at him for having sex with Anya.
"She was a hell of a woman," Spike mumbled against Xander's neck.
"Yeah," Xander agreed sleepily, "She sure was."
Spike's couch wasn't the stupidest place Xander had ever woken up with a hangover, so he didn't waste too much time cursing himself as he levered himself into a sitting position and painfully straighted his neck.
And nearly jumped out of his skin. Illyria/Fred was standing just a few feet away, watching him.
"How long've you been there?" he croaked.
"I just got in," she said in the soft, girly drawl she used when she wasn't scary and blue. "I must've woken you up when I shut the door. Sorry about that."
Xander rubbed his throbbing temples and noticed the eye patch had slid around sideways while he slept. He tugged it back into place with a faint twinge of embarrassment. "Do you know what time it is?"
"It's about seven o'clock."
Way, waaaay too early. Xander swallowed against a dull surge of nauseau and realized he was still probably a bit drunk.
"You look terrible," she observed, her tone some mixture of motherly and annoyed. "Did you and Spike stay up drinking all night?"
"Pretty much. Do you have any coffee?" he asked, contemplating standing up.
"Maybe. I don't eat or drink, so I don't really keep track. I'll go see," she offered, and set off for the kitchen.
Xander wasn't sure what was more disturbing—her perkiness in the face of his hangover, or that little I don't eat reminder that she wasn't really a pretty girl, just a god-king faking it.
He realized he should probably just leave before all this action woke Spike up; being human, Spike must be just as wrecked as Xander. And Xander didn't really want to face him this morning, especially not with fuzzy drunken memories of cuddling swimming to the surface when he thought about the guy.
But the sound of running water in the kitchen let Xander know that Illyria was going ahead and making coffee, and he figured it'd be rude to leave now. So he dragged himself to his feet, holding his head to make sure it didn't fall off, and made his way into the kitchen.
Besides, Giles had told him to find out more about her.
"So, did you kill anything interesting last night?" he asked by way of small talk as he sat down at the kitchen table.
"No," she said with her back still to him, measuring spoonfuls of instant coffee into a mug. "There's not much overt demonic activity in L.A. these days—not on street level, at least."
"That's, um, too bad," he said, since she sounded disappointed about it.
"My existence is tedious enough already, I don't know what I'll do when I've eliminated every foe that can even make a pretence of threatening me," she said, and though the cadence of her speech was still chirpy-Texan-girl, Xander recognized the sentiment as a god-king one.
"Well, hey, if you like killing super-powerful demons," he said, "I might just be able to hook you up." He pulled his pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and shook one loose. "Remember that Council I told you about, first time we met?" He flicked his lighter, sucked in a lungful of smoke, and felt his hangover ease up a fraction almost at once. "We've got leads on all kinds of supernatural baddies."
"Really?" The electric kettle came to a boil, and she added water to the mug.
"For sure. Hey, maybe you can come to Rome with Spike and me, talk to Giles yourself." And he can figure out for himself what the hell you are and what to do with you, he added silently.
Illyria plunked the mug down in front of Xander and sat in the other chair. She had a faint worry line between her eyebrows now. "Spike's going to Rome?" she said, not sounding pleased about it.
"Oh. Well, I offered," Xander backpedaled. Do not upset the super-powerful and possibly evil elder god. "He said he'd think about it. I'm sure he was planning to talk it over with you."
"Talk what over?" Spike said from the doorway. "Harris, I told you not to smoke those fucking things in here."
"Huh? Oh!" Xander glanced at the cigarette in his fingers with a guilty start. "Sorry. Hung over, brain not working, didn't think." He looked around for something to use as an ashtray—he hadn't even thought that far ahead. "Anyway, think of it as payback for all the times you stank up my apartment."
There was one window in the kitchen—a small one high up on the wall over the sink. Spike stalked over to it and yanked it open as far as it would go.
"This human thinks you are going to travel to your god's ancient seat of power with him," Illyria said, no trace of the Texas girl softness now. When Xander wasn't looking, she'd slipped back into blue.
"I wouldn't go anywhere without making sure you're well set up, luv," Spike reassured her, then coughed into his fist. "Put that bloody thing out, Harris," he said, and coughed again.
Nothing on the table looked serviceable as a makeshift ashtray, so Xander got up and went over to stub it out in the sink. "I was just telling Illyria that if she wants bigger, more exciting demons to kill, the Council could maybe help her out."
"I said I'd talk to Giles," Spike said, sounding annoyed. "You don't need to go bringing Smurfette into it."
"Look, she said she was bored. I was just offering—" He broke off because Spike was coughing harder, leaning against the kitchen counter. "Are you all right?"
Spike flipped him off and left the kitchen. A couple seconds later a door slammed shut somewhere in the apartment.
"Shit," Xander said quietly, but with feeling. He glanced at Illyria, who looked back at him with calm dispassion. "Is he allergic to cigarettes now, or something?"
"I believe the smoke from the processed tobacco irritated his lungs."
"You could have warned me."
"Human weaknesses are multitude, and unpredictable." She tilted her head, examing him. "You appeared to breathe the smoke without harm."
"That's not what the surgeon general says." Xander stood up. "I'll see if he's okay." He felt a bit guilty, but also pissed off. The pissed off part was kind of irrational, but there nevertheless: Since when is Spike all environmentally sensitive? He smoked for like a hundred fucking years! A detached part of Xander's brain noted that he was kind of a bastard when he was hung over.
He went and rapped his knuckles on the closed bedroom door. "Hey, Spike?"
Xander opened the door. Spike was sitting on the edge of the bed, hunched over with his head in his hands.
"Said bugger off," he said without looking up.
"Are you okay?"
"For half a bottle of tequila and three hours of sleep? Yeah, bloody brilliant."
"Sorry about the smoke. I think your kitchen will air out okay. Maybe if you opened another window?"
"Isn't another window." He lifted his head, peering at Xander with bloodshot eyes. "When'd you take up smoking, anyway? Not very Scooby, is it?"
"The Congo." Xander shrugged. "Not so much a Scooby anymore."
He half expected Spike to hassle him about it the way Buffy, Willow and Dawn did, but Spike just nodded and said "So how about shoving off and letting me go back to sleep?"
"Yeah." Xander's one remaining eyeball was still trying to crawl out of his head and his tongue felt like one of those fuzzy caterpillars you see in the spring, so the go back to sleep plan was definitely one he could get down with. "So, uh, see you later maybe."
Spike stood up and something hit the floor. It looked like an inhaler. Spike snatched it up quickly, shot a quick fierce glare at Xander, and tossed it into a pile of clothes in the shadowy back corner of the room. "I'll show you out," he said.
When he got back to the hotel, Xander flopped onto his bed and picked up the phone. Early morning was the only really good time to call Rome, and he needed to talk to Giles. He felt kind of bad about smoking in Spike's kitchen, and what says 'I'm sorry' better than fake I.D.?
While the phone rang he lit up a cigarette. Tasting the smoke, he felt a fresh little surge of guilt. Seriously, though, the idea of Spike as someone who could be hurt by a bit of cigarette smoke was still kind of hard to wrap his head around. Also a head-wrapping challenge: feeling bad about hurting him.
When Giles answered the phone Xander didn't tell him the whole story—he just mentioned the trouble Spike was having without a green card. They were trying to recruit him, after all, so it only made sense to throw him a bone or two.
"Indeed," Giles agreed, "and in any case, if he does agree to come to Rome he'll need a passport. Good thinking."
"How soon can you put it together?"
"It won't take long. We'll need a photo to work with—though I suppose Buffy or Dawn might have something..."
"He should send you a new one. His hair's different—oh, and that scar on his eyebrow's gone, that'd be kind of hard to explain."
"Oh?" Giles sounded interested. "I wonder how...never mind, I'll talk with him soon enough. As to the I.D.—he'll need a proper name. Do you know if he's established an alias already?"
"Hold on, I know this one." Xander pressed his fist to his forehead, sifting through his fuzzy thoughts. "At the hospital, he had a Medi-Cal card...oh yeah. Ian Curtis."
"Good lord," Giles said, "we can't use that one."
Xander frowned, tapped his cigarette over the Coke can he'd been using as an ashtray. "Why not?"
"Ian Curtis was a musician. A bit before your time, I suppose, and British, so it's not surprising you haven't heard of him. Still, the name stands too much a chance of attracting attention. Not to mention, it's in rather bad taste, seeing as the original bearer of the name committed suicide in 1980."
"Oh." Xander exhaled, watched the smoke curl away. "Okay, I see your point. Um, some other name, then. I guess it doesn't matter. He went by Billy at work."
"Right, then. If you have Spike courier a photo to me, I can get the I.D. to you in about a week. Now, have you managed to learn anything else about Illyria? My initial research has been fruitless..."
So Xander told Giles as much as he could—including the part about offering to bring Illyria to Rome.
It wasn't until the end of the conversation that Xander passed on what Spike had told him about Cordelia and Wesley. He said it in a steady voice between long drags on his second cigarette, and Giles took it with the expected stoicism. He said something about informing Wesley's parents, and Cordelia's if he could find them.
"Are you all right, Xander?" Giles asked finally, in a gentler voice than he usually used.
"Yeah. It was hard finding out about Cordy, you know? But I'll be all right, I just need some sleep."
"Perhaps you should talk to Willow. In fact, if you wanted to visit her while we wait for Spike to make up his mind about coming to Rome, the Council would certainly pay for the flight."
"I'll think about it," Xander lied.
Before he fell asleep he started to wonder: why had Spike picked that name?
Naming yourself after some rock star was one thing, but choosing one who'd killed himself—that was a little on the morbid side. Like, say someone started calling themselves 'Kurt Cobain'—you'd worry, right?
It was pretty obvious that turning human hadn't worked out too well for Spike. He lived in a dank basement apartment with a creepy elder god for a roommate, he worked crappy hours at a porn store, he had migraines and possibly asthma. After a hundred twenty years of having superpowers and living the want-take-have vampire high life, that had to suck.
In fact, it probably sucked about as much as it had when he first got chipped. And how had he dealt with that? He'd tied a stake to Xander's coffee table and tried to throw himself onto it.
It was enough to make Xander wonder if Spike's little accident with the pills the other night had been such an accident after all.
Subtle lines of investigation had never been Xander's strong point.
"What d'you want now?" Spike asked, standing aside to let him in.
Xander pulled the door shut behind him and looked around to see if Illyria was home. She wasn't anywhere in sight. "Spike, I was wondering something. Are you planning to kill yourself?"
Not surprisingly, Spike looked kind of shocked. "What's the fucking poof been telling you?" he said.
Okay, that was interesting. Not an outright denial, and it sounded like he thought Xander had been talking to Angel.
The urge to fill the silence was strong, but Xander had learned a few tricks over the past couple years. He gave Spike a patient, knowing look, and waited.
"Look, I was a fucking vampire for over a century," Spike said, backing away with a scowl and hugging his arms protectively around his chest. "I know where my fucking veins are. If I'd wanted to kill myself I'd be dead, all right?"
Xander stood silently for another moment, feeling really awkward and wishing he'd thought this through better before he asked the question. Spike was scowling and looking everywhere but at Xander; there was tension in his pose like he was about to get the fuck out of there, even if it meant leaving Xander behind in his living room.
Xander tried to think of what a wise, sensitive person would say at a time like this. "Would you maybe like to talk? I mean, I know we were never friends or anything, but it's not like you really have any friends besides the scary blue chick—"
Spike let out a short, barking laugh. "They cut off your training short at the suicide hotline, didn't they?"
Xander shrugged a non-response. "I haven't talked to Angel," he confessed. "It was the name."
"Name?" Spike looked puzzled, and he visibly relaxed a bit. "What name?"
"The one you gave Medi-Cal—Ian Curtis."
"Oh." Spike raised his eyebrow. "Wouldn't have thought you'd know Joy Division."
"Why'd you pick that name?" Xander asked, not bothering to correct Spike's assumption.
"Look, it doesn't mean I'm planning to off myself," Spike said, rolling his eyes. "I liked the man's music, is all."
"What about the overdose?"
"Since when is this any of your fucking business?"
"Since when did I mind my own business?"
"I'm fine," Spike said, suddenly perfectly calm, way too sincere. "It's very nice of you to stop by and check, but there's really nothing to worry about."
Yeah, and if Xander believed that, there was a bridge in Brooklyn going cheap. "Okay, um, look. I talked to Giles about getting you I.D. He needs a passport-type picture of you," he said, mostly to buy himself time while he tried to figure out what the hell to do now that he'd got himself involved in Spike's mental health issues. "Why don't we go get that done, send it off, then find someplace to grab dinner before you have to go to work."
"You know what? Forget it. I don't need your sodding charity." Spike went and yanked open the front door. "Smurfette and me are doing fine on our own, ta very."
"God, what's with you, Spike?" Xander didn't make a move towards the exit Spike was very pointedly providing him with. "If you don't want to talk, whatever, but I know you need some documentation. And hello, it's not charity—Giles wants you to work for us."
"I know what it is," Spike said with a dark look. "It's that I'm human now—all of a sudden I'm part of the club, everyone wants to look out for me. Well, sod that."
"That's what you're—you think I'm just doing this 'cause you're human? Christ, Spike, I was saving you from yourself back when you were evil and I hated you. Give me one good reason I should stop now."
Spike opened his mouth and shut it again without saying anything. The indignation melted out of his posture and his shoulders slumped. He pushed the door shut and leaned against it, still holding the knob. "Sorry," he said quietly, facing into the wall. "Suppose you're right. And I could use the I.D., that's for certain."
"Okay," Xander said, stepping carefully closer. "Then let's go get your picture taken."
Getting the pictures was easy; there was a photo shop on the commercial strip a couple blocks away from Spike's apartment.
Negotiating dinner was more of a challenge.
There was an Indian place next door to the photo shop. Xander suggested eating there.
"Suit yourself," Spike said, shrugging. "I'm not really hungry, I think I'll just head back home."
Xander frowned; he still had a weird, uneasy feeling about leaving Spike on his own. "Don't you have to work in like an hour?" he pointed out. "If you don't eat first you'll be starving by two a.m.."
Spike shook his head. "I'm not on tonight. I only get four shifts a week."
"Oh. Well, that's cool. Lots of free time, I guess."
"I'd work more if I could," Spike said with a bit of a grimace. "Georgie doesn't want anyone doing more than 32 hours a week. Something about benefits."
"Oh, shit. The full-time, part-time thing. I got hit with that a couple times back before the construction job. That sucks."
Spike shrugged again in a what-can-you-do? kind of way. "Maybe once I've got those shiny new papers I'll find something better."
Xander, meanwhile, was remembering what it was like earning $216 a week in California. He was remembering counting pennies and saying 'I'm not hungry' like a broken record when the girls wanted to eat out or order pizza. "Dinner's on me, by the way," he said.
"I could pay for my own bloody dinner if I wanted to eat," Spike said, giving Xander a sharp look of wounded pride. "I was just explaining my fucking schedule, not trying for a handout."
Xander winced inwardly—damn, Spike was touchy. Take two, with more tact this time: "Look, I have an expense account. This is a business trip, right? When I say dinner's on me, I really mean it's on the Council, and believe me the Council is not hurting for funds."
Spike looked skeptical. "Aren't you folks starting from scratch, though, with this Council business? What, have you got the Slayers robbing jewelry stores?"
"Hey, remember, the First Evil wasn't exactly sophisticated. The Bringers blew up the Council's headquarters and killed most of the Watchers, but they never touched the bank accounts. We've got a lot of problems now, but money isn't one of them."
Finally, Spike looked interested. "Well," he said, "when you put it that way...it's been too bloody long since I had a good curry."
They had beer with dinner—the Council was paying for it, after all.
Xander explained the organization of the new Council in a rough kind of way, and told Spike about some of the more interesting evils they'd defeated in the past year. The giant bank-robbing leprechaun always made a good story; it had taken six Slayers plus a hell dog that Andrew summoned to take it down.
About halfway through their second beers, he decided it was time to change the subject. "So," he said into a pause in the conversation, "How did you turn human, anyway?"
"Wish I knew." Spike paused to tear off a piece of naan bread. "Happened after I got dusted again—in Angel's showdown with the evil law firm. You remember that dragon came out of the rift Glory opened up? Seems Wolfram & Hart were keeping it as a pet. Anyhow, breath of fire, vampire—not a healthy combination."
"Huh. I always wondered what happened to that thing."
"Well, Angel did for it after it flambéed me. And then I popped up again in the same place I'd got dusted—only, human." He shrugged. "Stuck in Angel's craw something awful. See, there was this prophecy."
Xander nodded. "There's always a prophecy."
The corner of Spike mouth twitched in an almost-smile. "Yeah. Anyhow, this one, the Shanshu prophecy, led Angel around by the nose for years. The gist of it was a vampire with a soul was supposed to do a bunch of good deeds, play some role in an apocalypse, and then turn human. Or possibly die. Or maybe get forgiven for his sins. Apparently a few of the key words were hard to translate. The 'vampire with a soul' bit, though, that was clear enough—so Angel knew it was about him, whatever it was."
"Until you came along."
"Right. Buggered up his whole Atlas complex, I did."
"So...it was really about you?"
Spike shrugged again. "Dunno. The whole thing may be complete shite—we know for sure that some parts of it were fake. And then Angel signed away his right to it when he was trying to convince the Circle of the Black Thorn that he was really bad to the bone."
Xander frowned. "You can't sign away a prophecy, can you? I mean, if you could, I'm sure Buffy would've been up for it back when we had that one about the Master escaping from his prison and killing her."
"Yeah, well, tell that to Captain Forehead. Anyhow, even if the bloody prophecy was about me, it still doesn't explain how this happened," he said, gesturing at himself. "Prophecies predict events, they don't cause them—a fine point that's completely lost on Angel."
"And now he's, what, jealous of you?"
"He thinks I stole his destiny and he doesn't like what I'm doing with it. Thinks it's a bloody great gift, turning human."
Okay, now they were getting down to the nitty gritty. Xander put his beer glass down and watched Spike's expression carefully as he said, "But it's not so great, huh?"
Spike tilted his head a bit, looked at Xander through narrowed eyes. "You're still trying to suss out if I'm planning to off myself, aren't you?"
"Well, yeah," Xander admitted. And then, since the subtle approach had apparently failed, he asked "Are you?"
Spike met Xander's eye for a moment with a kind of challenging glare, like he thought maybe Xander would back down and retract the question. Then his shoulders slumped just a bit, and he sighed. "No, I'm not," he said quietly, and took a drink of beer.
"Okay," Xander said in a prompting-for-more kind of way.
"Dunno why I'm back, do I?" Spike said, still quiet, fiddling with his fork now. "Maybe there's something else I'm supposed to do. Maybe I've got a second chance here. Angel thinks the Shanshu thing means my evil deeds are washed away, and my soul's back to hanging in the balance, waiting for judgment and whatnot." He spun the fork between his fingers, staring at it. "Suicides go to hell, right? I've visited the place on a day pass, and I don't fancy ending up there."
Suicides go to hell? Xander wasn't sure what kind of theology Spike thought he was drawing on, but he wasn't going to argue with it if it gave Spike a reason not to kill himself. And unlike earlier when Spike had said he was fine, this time Xander believed he was telling the truth. He might be miserable, but he didn't want to die because he was afraid that whatever came next would be worse than this. Xander could understand that kind of logic.
"Besides," Spike added in a more normal tone, "I can't really say I didn't choose this. I drank the bloody Mountain Dew, didn't I?"
Xander blinked. "I'm sorry, in what universe did that statement make sense?"
Spike grinned. "You'll like this story. It ends up with both me and Angel looking like complete dolts."
Xander let himself return the grin, feeling a surprising amount of relief now that Spike had finally opened up a bit. "I can hardly wait to hear it."
Xander hung up the phone, lit a cigarette, and thought about the evening ahead.
He didn't have to keep his promise to Andrew. There was bound to be something worth watching on cable, and he still had half a bottle of JD under the bed...
...and the walls were closing in.
His hand was shaking again. Shit. He clenched his fist until it stopped, then punched Spike's number.
"Hey, Spike. You said you were off again tonight, right?"
"Yeah, what of it?"
"It's Saturday night. Wanna go out?"
There was a surprised pause on the other end, then Spike said "Out where?"
"There's this DJ Andrew really likes. He made me promise to go to the club where he spins and buy a signed copy of one of his CDs."
Another hesitation; Xander somehow knew Spike was going through the same not really my thing / nothing else to do thought process he'd just gone through himself. "We don't have to stay there long," he added. "We could go somewhere else, play pool or something."
"Yeah, okay," Spike said finally. "Meet at my place?"
Illyria opened the door. "Come in," she said warmly—she was playing the brown-eyed girl again. "Spike's doing his hair."
Illyria went to the couch, picked up the Playstation controller she'd left lying on the coffee table, and resumed her game. Xander went and sat at the other end of the couch and watched her play for a few minutes. It was one of those martial arts games; he thought he recognized a few of Buffy's favorite moves in the mix.
"So, how've you been?" he asked eventually.
"Oh, same old, same old," she said, squishing an animated ninja's head into the dirt. "I'm older than time, you know."
"Right, yeah." Xander glanced towards the bedroom and bathroom—still no sign of Spike. "Hey, did you think any about my offer?"
"Spike says we're better off here on our own."
"But what do you think?"
She ignored the question, and her avatar kicked a bloody hole through the chest of another ninja.
"Because I'm not so sure he's right," Xander pressed on. "Money's kind of tight for you two, isn't it?"
"I don't worry my pretty blue head about things like that," she said dryly, and Xander was pretty sure she was quoting Spike.
"Does he miss a lot of shifts at work? With the headaches, I mean?"
"It's only happened a couple times."
"What would you do, though, if he lost the job?"
"If I lose that job I'll find another one," Spike said irritably, coming into the room. "What're you trying to worry Illyria for, Harris?"
Xander looked around—and saw why Spike had been taking so long with his hair.
It was freshly bleached, a starker white than he'd ever had it in Sunnydale. It looked like he'd cut it, too, sometime since Xander saw him yesterday; it was short enough now that he could gel it up into little spikes all over his head. He was wearing a tight black T-shirt with a brown outline of a coiled cobra on the front, and the usual black jeans and Docs. He still had a bandage around his left forearm, of course, but he had thick leather bracelets with silver studs around his wrists. He was wearing black nail polish, too—and was that eyeliner?
For the first time since Xander had met him here in LA, he looked like his old self.
"Hey, Spike." Xander stood up. "I thought you said you didn't want anyone to recognize you."
Spike tilted his head, giving Xander a puzzled look. "What's that?"
"The, uh, hair." Xander gestured vaguely at his own head. "Something about the bad guys having an APB out on the bleached blond vampire?"
Spike shrugged. "Not a vampire anymore, am I? Got a stake on you? Then no worries. Where are we going?"
"The Eclectic Ballroom." Xander hesitated—he hadn't planned to tell Spike this ahead of time, but now he realized it was probably dumb not to. "It's kind of a gay club, by the way."
Spike arched an eyebrow. "Really, now? Anything you've been meaning to tell me, Harris?"
"Yeah. Andrew's gay."
"Well, yeah..." Spike trailed off, giving Xander a tell me something I don't know look.
"I mean, he's, um, capital-G Gay. He came out." Spike still didn't seem at all surprised. "Wait, did he already tell you?"
"No, the subject didn't come up." Spike rubbed the back of his neck, looking faintly amused. "So when you say he came out...?"
"Rainbows, pink triangles, obscenely tight T-shirts—the whole deal. And since I'm the only other guy under forty involved with the Council these days, I'm the one he drags out clubbing with him."
"Must be a bit awkward for you, then?" Spike asked, innocently raising his eyebrows. "What do you do when he pulls?"
The question confused Xander for a second, and then the British slang finally clicked. "Oh. Well, then sometimes I pick up, too." Not that any of this had happened since before the Congo, but he didn't feel like going into that.
"Places like Andrew would take you," Spike said, turning an amused smirk on Xander now, "are you sure it was always a woman you left with?"
"Pretty sure it wasn't, actually," Xander replied deadpan, and enjoyed the surprise that flickered over Spike's face.
"You've grown up some, Harris," he said with a slight nod. Xander wondered what he meant by that.
Stupid vampire senses; Spike had probably known Xander was bi back before Xander even did.
Spike moved towards the door. "Right then. Illyria, pet, you're set up all right?"
The music from the video game had been playing in the background all along. Now Xander looked back at the couch and saw that Illyria had gone all blue without moving at all. "May your empty pursuits in the face of imminent doom give you some measure of satisfaction," she said without turning away from the TV screen.
"That's her way of saying 'have a nice time,'" Spike whispered. "Let's go."
They were early; DJ Dongo wouldn't be arriving till one in the morning.
"Might as well dance," Spike said. The floor was only half full, with colored spots highlighting one dancer at a time on the beat of the tech trance music.
Xander shook his head. "I'll just get a drink, find a table."
Spike shrugged. "Suit yourself, mate. If you don't dance with me, someone else will." He slid away from Xander, already moving to the beat.
Xander did what he'd said—ordered a double rum and coke, and found a table with view of the dance floor.
True to his word, Spike had already found a partner. The guy was dark-haired, bronze-skinned—Latino, probably. His lanky arms were covered with tattoos, and his ears were studded with silver. His white wife-beater and pale cargo pants made him almost Spike's chromatic opposite.
Xander watched them dance for a while, sipping his drink. Andrew could pick up almost that fast, but never that confidently. He always had a wide-eyed puppy thing going, a kind of innocent amazement that the guy in question might actually be interested in him. Spike, on the other hand, knew he was wanted. It showed in every moment, every glance. Xander wasn't sure if Spike was even into guys—maybe he was just putting on this show for Xander's benefit—but he had absolutely no doubt that Spike had hunted like this, back in the day.
Which was a thought that should have been chilling, but somehow failed to connect. There were too many worse evils in the world than a vampire killing for food. The worst weren't even demonic.
Xander realized he'd lost track of his surroundings and he was gripping the edge of the table way too tight. He shook his shoulders loose, took a deep breath, and found himself patting the cigarette pack in his pocket. Fuck. No smoking in California bars. He took a drink instead and tried to locate Spike again on the dance floor. There he was—electric white hair, dark hands around his waist. He was kissing the Latino guy.
Xander felt himself relaxing. He determinedly kept his attention on the dancers—on Spike and his partner in particular—and didn't let his mind drift again. Spike and the other guy finished kissing and kept dancing, their hands roaming over each others' shoulders, torsos, butts. Xander wondered if he was supposed to be embarrassed and turn away—but what the hell, if they were going to do it in public....
Actually, it was pretty damn hot. The Latino guy wasn't hard on the eyes, and Spike—Christ. He was a cat, he was quicksilver, he was a punk rock angel. Watching him, Xander felt stirrings of arousal, and God that was something he hadn't felt in a long time.
Fucking hell, who'd have thought he could be attracted to Spike?
Spike is strong and mysterious and sort of compact but well-muscled.
Yeah, okay, maybe he'd been attracted to Spike before. But back when Xander was supposed to be straight and Spike was supposed to be evil, it couldn't exactly have gone anywhere. Now...
Now he was entertaining wild fantasies of getting up on the dance floor and pushing between the Latino guy and Spike and saying "Hey, you came with me" and kissing Spike the way the other guy was doing.
Wait a second. They were leaving the dance floor. They were holding hands and Spike was leading the way—not towards Xander but the other way, to where the washrooms were.
Oh God. Spike sure as hell wasn't taking the other guy back there to drink his blood.
Xander decided it was high time for a cigarette.
Standing in the alley out back of the club, Xander was almost finished his cigarette when he suddenly got the feeling someone was watching him from the shadows. Someone or something. He hadn't survived an adolescence spent hanging out at the Bronze without learning a couple things about shadows in dark alleys. He pitched the stub of his Camel to the pavement and reached into the side pocket of his cargo pants as though reaching for another cigarette, but actually his fingers closed around a stake.
Keeping his breathing steady—if it was a vampire, it'd hear any change—Xander made a half-casual move to one side and then suddenly kicked a garbage can in the direction of the shadow. A flash of movement, a low-pitched "Hey!" and then Xander had the business end of his stake poking a big, beefy leather-clad chest.
"Xander," gasped Angel. "It's me."
Xander backed off, but he kept the stake in his hand. "Hi, Angel. So you're still big with the lurking, huh? Plus ça change."
"Yeah, well." With a wry look, he rubbed at the dent in his coat where the stake's point had been pressing. "Thanks for not dusting me. Does this mean you've warmed up to me a bit?"
"No, it means I'm curious why you followed me here." Xander tapped the stake against his palm. "Or are you going to tell me it's just a coincidence?"
"It's not a coincidence," Angel admitted readily. "I followed you and Spike here."
"I'm still waiting to hear why." Xander knew perfectly well that now that he'd given away the element of surprise, there was pretty much no way he could succeed in dusting Angel. Still, it was satisfying to see Angel flinch at the threat in his voice. That never used to happen.
"Spike doesn't want my help, but that doesn't mean he doesn't need it," Angel said. "The city's full of danger, and he doesn't understand how vulnerable he is."
"So you stalk him?" Xander asked, raising his eyebrows. "You know, there's about four million people in LA getting by without your help."
"I can't save all of them," Angel said. "But Spike's my responsibility."
"Since when? If this is some kind of sire thing, I think you get a pass now that he's human."
Angel shook his head, looking morose. "He's carrying a burden that was meant for me."
"You mean the prophecy? That whole thing with the Mountain Dew?" At Angel's surprised blink, Xander added "Yeah, he told me about that. No offense, but one, he beat you fair and square, two, you can't sign a prophecy away, and three, wasn't the whole thing a fake, anyway?"
"It was never completely clear..." Angel grimaced. "Parts of it were definitely true, all right? Anyway, whether you believe in the Shanshu prophecies or not, you must see that Spike needs help."
Xander gave a half shrug; he couldn't exactly deny it. "I'm helping him. I'm getting him a passport and a green card."
Shaking his head, Angel glanced back towards the club. "He shouldn't be out here."
"Why not?" Xander wondered if Angel even knew what kind of club it was, or if he could possibly suspect what Spike was up to right at this moment.
"It's after midnight," Angel said, like Xander was dumb for even needing this explained to him. "He's human now. He should be in bed."
"Okay, uh, human." Xander gestured at himself. "Not in bed. Human," he gestured widely at the back door of the club, "not in bed."
Angel rolled his eyes. "Obviously. But Spike's not very strong; he shouldn't be wearing himself out like this."
"Yeah, I'm starting to see why he hasn't invited you in," Xander said, finally tucking the stake back in his pocket. "Do you tell him stuff like that to his face?"
"You don't understand," Angel said, and there was a tinge of desperation in his voice. "He's been sick. He had TB complicated with viral pneumonia, he was in the hospital for weeks. And then not long after he got out, he came down with bronchitis. He only got over that a couple weeks ago."
"Oh. Shit." Xander stared at Angel, finally comprehending a little why he'd developed this weird overprotective streak. "So if he only turned human a couple months ago..."
"He's been sick most of that time."
"Damn, no wonder he seemed kind of depressed."
"Xander," Angel said, lightly touching his arm, "he won't let me in. Maybe you can talk sense into him."
Xander moved away from Angel's touch, and closer to the door to the club. "Look, no offense, but if he doesn't want your help, he just doesn't. I'm not going to talk him into anything." Except maybe going to Rome, he thought silently. If Spike was as messed up as Angel said, then he'd definitely be better off with the Council than with Angel. What the hell kind of resources did Angel have to take care of a human?
"Will you at least watch out for him? As long as you're here?" Angel asked, his face drawn with worry.
"Well, obviously." Xander reached for the door handle. "That's what friends do."
DJ Dongo had finally arrived and started setting up. Xander went and bought the CD—which had been the whole point in coming here, after all—and while he was handing over his cash, Spike came up behind him and draped an arm over his shoulder.
"How're you holding up, mate?" he said near Xander's ear.
"Okay," Xander said, taking his change and tucking it away. He looked around and saw no sign of Spike's dance partner. "Don't tell me you got ditched?"
Spike looked at him like he was dumb. "No, we finished with each other is all." He met Xander's look with a slow, lazy grin. "Have to say, it was a brill idea coming out here. Best night I've had in a long time."
"Spike..." Xander wasn't sure if he was embarrassed, appalled or jealous. Plus, with the conversation with Angel fresh in his mind, he couldn't stop himself from looking at Spike for signs of weakness. His eyes were bright, and his cheeks and lips were flushed—hello, recent orgasm. "At least tell me you used a condom."
Spike rolled his eyes at Xander. "You're a regular wet blanket tonight. All right, look, I didn't sleep through the eighties; I know what's what. We bought one from the little dispenser by the hand dryer."
"Okay." Xander tucked the CD into the biggest pocket of his cargo pants, and nodded toward the exit. "Let's get out of here."
"Something wrong, Harris?" Spike asked, still keeping inside Xander's personal space. "You seem...off."
Xander gave a jerky shrug. There was plenty wrong, but no more than usual. "I ran into Angel outside," he said. "He followed us here."
"Fucking poof," Spike muttered. Xander knew enough about British swearwords by now to see the irony, but he didn't point it out. "Did he hassle you, then?"
"Nah. I nearly staked him, though." As expected, that got a smile from Spike. "He seemed to think it's past your bedtime." And that brought out a scowl.
"He has boundary issues," Spike said irritably.
"Listen, he told me about how you've been sick." Xander felt like he needed to tell Spike he knew because he was pretty sure Spike had been deliberately not mentioning it—and he didn't want to be sharing secrets from Spike with Angel. "He thought you should still be taking it easy."
Spike rolled his eyes again. "I've been fine for weeks. What I needed was to get out of that sodding flat and have some fun—which is a concept Angel doesn't quite get."
"No argument here," Xander said. "So speaking of fun—I got Andrew's CD. Wanna go find somewhere to play pool?"
"Actually," Spike slid around to block Xander's path, black-lined eyes burning bright with a kind of hungry smile he'd never turned on Xander before, "I want to dance."
Cordelia told him once that he danced like a frog in a blender. As her insults went, that one had been delivered lovingly. He'd tried to develop some dignity for her, and it had left him feeling stiff, with too many elbows and not enough knees.
Anya had been new to the scene when he'd danced with her at prom. He'd kept her at arm's length as long as he could, disconcerted by her bloodthirsty small talk. If a future-telling demon had come to him that night and told him that in two years' time he'd be asking Anya to marry him, he would have laughed in its face.
Spike pulled him onto the dance floor with a light touch of fingertips. He looked at Xander like he owned him, smirking as he ran his fingers down the length of Xander's arm. The heavy drumbeat of the music kept time exactly with Xander's racing heart.
And yes, there was something fundamentally wrong with looking at Spike and feeling like this, but it had been too many months since Xander had looked at anyone and felt like this. And yes, this was probably just a game for Spike, but he had the trick of making it seem real. Maybe it was the rum, maybe the heat and the strobe and the jungle beat, but something that had been tight inside Xander since—the Congo? since Rome? since Sunnydale?—something let go, and he decided. He'd let Spike seduce him tonight.
There were hands. There were slender hips and strong shoulders and sleek arms, moving. Inside Spike's sphere of influence Xander forgot that he'd ever been awkward. Everything was fluid—movement, identity, desire. The strobe caught the planes of Spike's face, his sharp cheekbones and black-lined eyes looking unworldly one moment, glittering and feral the next with the slightest turn.
Closer. The chemical scent of fresh-bleached hair. The tang of sweat, a flash of white teeth in a hungry grin, and Xander's brain flickered on the realization that for over a century this was the last thing Spike's dates saw before they died. And in the moment that Spike's lips met his, his body decided that it would have been worth it.
At about ten thirty the next morning, Xander stared up the stone steps at the big wooden front doors of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church.
Intimidated? A little. Weirded out? A lot. When Illyria had told him where to find Spike, he'd thought at first she had to be joking. Or, given that she wasn't big with the humor—lying. She'd stuck to her story, though, even when Xander said it was an emergency, so here he was, climbing the steps.
Funny thing was, Xander had never been in a church before in his life. Walking through the door, he wasn't sure what the rules were—was he supposed to check in with someone? Take his shoes off? Drop to his knees and say three Hail Marys?
But no one stopped him; in fact the vestibule was empty. So he passed through the next set of doors and hey, there were all the people. Just like on TV, the huge stone room had stained glass windows, rows and rows of wooden benches, and a pulpit at the front with a priest behind it. There were maybe eighty people in the room, more gray haired than not. Spike was easy to spot by his electric white bleach job—that, and the fact that he was sitting alone on the last bench, just a few feet in front of Xander.
Xander slid into place beside him and whispered his name. Spike turned and his eyes widened. There were still smudges of black eyeliner ringing them, Xander noticed. Spike was dressed a bit more formally than last night, though—a gray button-down shirt with his black jeans.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Spike whispered.
Xander resisted the urge to throw the question right back at him—there'd be time for that later. "The Council needs you," he said instead.
"Lives are in danger. Every minute counts. Come on, you know the drill."
Spike gave Xander a skeptical look. In the background, the priest droned on, telling a story about some guy called Lazarus. "Illyria must've told you where to find me, right?" Spike whispered. "If there's something needs killing, she's your girl."
"Not killing. Translating. Giles says you know Ancient Greek."
"Yeah, and? So does he."
So Giles had been right. Weird. No way would Xander have guessed Spike for a dead languages scholar. Of course, there's also no way he would've expected to find him in church, so hey. Weirdness abounding here.
"There's plenty Greek for the both of you," Xander explained. "He needs an entire book translated A.S.A.P." A gray-haired lady sitting a couple rows in front of them glanced backward with an annoyed expression, and Xander realized his voice had exceeded whisper. "Seriously, lives depend on it," he added more softly, but quickly. "Come with me now, I'll explain the rest."
"It's always something, innit?" Spike muttered, looking unenthusiastic about helping—but he followed Xander off the bench and out of the church.
On the way to the Internet café, Xander gave Spike the run-down. One Slayer and two civilians had been bit by a giant snake-like demon in northern India.
"Oh, like that mayor of yours turned into?"
"Not that big. More like jumbo python-sized, with extra teeth."
Now the three people who'd been bit were sick. Their limbs were getting stiff, and their skin strangely hard. The elaborate and grotesque statuary in the den where two other Slayers had tracked down the snake demon suggested that the victims were actually turning to stone.
"And I come into this where?" Spike asked as they pulled into a parking space outside the cyber café.
"Giles found a reference to a cure, but the only surviving copy of the book it's supposedly in is in Ancient Greek. It's about four hundred pages long, and we need to find the right part fast. Giles thinks the people who got bit have a couple days, tops, before they turn into astonishingly lifelike lawn ornaments. So, division of labor—Dawn's scanning a part of the book to give to you."
"Dawn," Spike echoed softly as he followed Xander into the café, but he didn't follow up on the thought. "So, what, I'm going to sit here sipping a latté and translating the ancient mystical text? It's a bit public, innit?"
Xander shook his head and said in an undertone, "Dawn said I should print the pages and give them to you. You can take them home or whatever."
He paid for some time on one of the computers, and Spike silently watched as Xander logged onto his email account. There were a bunch of new messages from Dawn, all with big attachments: p1.jpg, p2.jpg and so on. "Hope we didn't just trap a demon in the Internet," Xander muttered, double-clicking the first one to open it.
"Can that happen?" Spike asked, crouching in close to see the window that popped up. He put his hand on Xander's shoulder as he leaned forward, and Xander felt suddenly warm. Last night's kiss flashed through his mind, and—Dammit, Xander, focus. Crisis.
"Surprisingly, yeah. This one time in high school, Willow accidentally released Moloch the Corrupter into the network by scanning the book he'd been trapped in since the Dark Ages," Xander explained absently as he clicked print and tried to ignore Spike's hand, still on his shoulder. "Then she had an Internet affair with him, and then he turned into a giant robot and tried to kill us all. Just your average week at Sunnydale High."
He jumped up to get the printout, conveniently escaping Spike's touch at the same time. The page looked okay to him, so he handed it to Spike, who squinted at it for a few seconds then nodded. "This'll do. Do you have to print them all one at a time like that?"
"Yeah, I think so. She's sent every page as a separate file." Xander clicked the next one open.
"Right. Gimme your car keys, then." Spike held out his hand.
"Been over a century since I bothered with this shite. Gonna need a dictionary."
"Okay." Xander tossed him the keys. The Council was paying for the rental, anyway. "Where will you go, UCLA?" Spike gave a half nod, half shrug. "UCLA," Xander repeated more firmly. "I'll meet you there when I'm finished printing."
Printing the pages was a mindless task that gave Xander time to finally think about last night.
Spike. Lips of Spike.
They hadn't gone any further than kissing. He remembered being disappointed about that when he'd dropped Spike off at his place sometime around 2:30 a.m.. Now he knew relief of the profoundest, most knee-wobbling sort.
Bad enough that he'd gone home drunk with Andrew and had sex with him that one time. At least Andrew had felt as awkward about it as he had the morning after. Spike would have gloated. He would've seen it as a conquest, and he would've used it to mock Xander into the ground.
But...fucking hell, that kiss had been hot.
Finally done printing, he collected all the pages and took a cab to UCLA, where he found Spike in the humanities library. Spike had found the book he wanted, but needed Xander to pay for a library card so he could take it out.
"Though of just nicking it," Spike commented as they headed for the car, "but they have those magnetic sensor thingies at the doors..."
"Hey, you're supposed to be non-evil now." He glanced sideways at Spike, who shot him a who, me? grin.
And then Xander caught sight of the car.
"Spike," he said in a very mild tone, "When you borrowed the car it had two headlights, right?"
Spike shrugged. "What. The Council did spring for insurance, didn't it?"
"Fuck." Xander took in the damage. "Just tell me the police aren't after you." The right front headlight was smashed to bits, and the hood and bumper around it were crumpled.
"No problem there," Spike assured him, sounding totally unconcerned about the whole thing. "Look, it still runs fine. The damage is just aesthetic, like."
Xander smacked the hood of the car with his fist. "Fuck! There's no time for this." This was the Spike he remembered from Sunnydale—the one whose picture should be listed under 'irresponsible' in the dictionary. "You are such an asshole," he said through gritted teeth, and he must have sounded dangerous because Spike visibly flinched before he covered it up with a roll of his eyes and a muttered insult. Xander unclenched his hand and reminded himself: Lives are at stake. "Okay, if it can drive, we're driving. Get in the damn car. Passenger side!"
After Xander dropped Spike off at his place with the sheaf of papers and his Greek-English dictionary, he headed for the rental place to deal with the car. Since he couldn't exactly tell them that he'd loaned the car to a guy who didn't have a legal identity, let alone a driver's license, he ended up telling them he'd run into a telephone pole. And yeah, that was going to look fantastic on his driving record, thanks very much Spike.
He was still pissed at Spike when he went to bed, and then he couldn't sleep. Instead, he obsessed over all the ways he'd screwed up in the past twenty-four hours. He should've made Spike take a cab. He should've made up a better story for the rental company. He should've told Giles this was a stupid idea in the first place—there must be someone else they could call on to translate Ancient Greek—anyway, Spike obviously didn't know it very well if he needed a dictionary. Hell, Xander could probably translate it with a dictionary.
He shouldn't have danced with Spike last night.
The phone rang.
"Hello Xander. Terribly sorry to disturb you at this hour." It was Giles, and he sounded tired. It would be morning in Rome, and he probably hadn't slept all night.
"No problem," Xander insisted quickly; not like he'd been asleep anyway. "How's it going?"
"Not very well," Giles confessed. "The text is written in a particularly dense style, and my progress is slow. Paramita and the others have lost all sensation in their extremities, and I fear time is running out. I wanted to check on Spike's progress, but when I tried the number you gave me all I got was a recorded message stating that the number I'd dialed was not in service."
"Have you got the right number?" Xander flicked on the bedside lamp, nearly knocked over the whiskey bottle sitting beside his wallet, then managed to find the right slip of paper. He read the number to Giles.
"That's what I have here," Giles confirmed. "Why don't you try from your end? Let me know as soon as you raise him."
So Xander tried calling Spike—but just like Giles had said, he got an out-of-service message.
"Fuck," he muttered, and started getting dressed.
Fifteen minutes later he was banging on Spike's door and feeling 80% righteously pissed off, 20% worried. The 20% evaporated as soon as Spike called out "Who's there?"
There was a short pause, then Spike opened the door. He was still wearing his church clothes, but now the shirt was untucked and its top two buttons undone. The faded remains of eyeliner made his eyes look hollow—or maybe he was just tired. "Haven't got it yet," he said, and he sounded tired—his voice was low and flat. "Still workin' on it."
"Yeah, Giles too." Xander felt his ire about the smashed headlight slipping away; they were facing a life-and-death situation here, and Spike was doing all he could to help. Xander stepped inside. "He wanted to compare notes, but your phone's not working."
"Hm?" Spike gave him a puzzled look for a second, then walked into the kitchen and picked up the phone. Xander followed. Spike listened for a second, then hung up. "Suppose that's what happens when you don't pay the phone bill for three months."
"Here." Xander pulled his cell phone out of his pocket. "Use this. Giles is 003 on the speed dial."
Spike started to reach for the phone, then got a funny expression on his face. He turned away from Xander and sneezed.
"Geisundheit," Xander responded automatically.
"Cheers," Spike muttered, taking the phone while he rubbed his nose with the back of his wrist.
The scanned copies of the ancient text were spread out over the kitchen table, Xander noticed, and there were notes scrawled over some of the pages in blue ink. The book from UCLA sat open, face down. There was a roll of toilet paper sitting on the table, too, and crumpled wads of tissue were scattered over the papers. With the phone tucked between his shoulder and ear, Spike grabbed the roll, pulled a few squares off and quickly blew his nose.
"Hi," he said a second later into the phone. "Vi? ... Yeah, it's me ... Well, yeah, I was dead, but I got over it. Look, I've got to speak with Giles, it's really bloody urgent." He turned the phone away from his mouth and turned to Xander. "There goes the cat, then."
"The one that just got out of the bag. Everyone'll know I'm back now."
By everyone, Xander was pretty sure Spike meant Buffy—and probably Dawn, too. "They'll be happy," he said, trying vaguely to be reassuring. He really had no idea why Spike hadn't run to Buffy as soon as he corporeally could. "They like you."
Spike shrugged in a clear I-don't-want-to-talk-about-it gesture, then sneezed again.
Xander handed him the toilet paper roll. "You're getting a cold, huh."
Spike shrugged again the exact same way, shot Xander a quick scowl, and said into the phone "Hello, Rupert."
Xander pulled out a chair and took a seat. Spike followed his example a second later and started shifting through his papers while he and Giles talked. From the half of the conversation he could hear, Xander could tell they were skipping the pleasantries. "About thirty pages," Spike said, and "Not a fucking clue. How long do you reckon we have? ... Bugger."
Lacking anything else to do while he waited, Xander watched Spike.
Even with bleary eyes, a reddened nose and messed up hair, Spike somehow looked hot. He had really nice, round lips and those sharp cheekbones...
You sound gayer than Andrew, Xander's inner critic pointed out politely. And at the same moment, Spike raised an eyebrow at Xander, like he was asking 'What are you looking at?'
Xander dropped his gaze to the table and pretended to be interested in a page of Ancient Greek until Spike looked away.
"No, I'm using Liddell and Scott," Spike was saying, pinching the bridge of his nose with his free hand. "It's a bit weak on the mystical vocabulary, of course ... How do you spell that?" He picked up his pen and started scrawling something in a margin.
It was weird, he kind of sounded like Giles. Even the way he was talking, his accent, seemed strangely Giles-ey. Xander had been pretty skeptical this morning when Giles had told him what he needed Spike to do. Xander would believe that Spike knew how to hot-wire a car, maybe, or cheat at poker—but read Ancient Greek?
Spike is actually smart, Xander realized with a kind of shock. Book smart, like Willow and Giles. That was...cool. Mind-bendingly weird, but cool.
Meanwhile, Spike was saying good-bye to Giles.
"What now?" Xander asked.
"Giles hasn't found anything yet, no more'n me. Nothing for it but to keep going." Spike set the cell phone down on the table and massaged his temples wearily. "Best leave the phone with me, all right?"
"Yeah, sure." Xander hesitated; not like there was anything he could really help with here, when the only Greek he knew was the names of a few fraternities, but it didn't feel right to just walk out and leave Spike with all the work. "Is there anything I can do?"
"Wouldn't say no to a cup of coffee." Spike gestured vaguely towards the cupboards. "There's a jar of instant somewhere."
"Great," Xander said, standing up. "I can get back to my roots as the bringer of coffee and donuts."
Spike didn't reply; he was hunched over his papers, scribbling something else in a margin.
It wasn't so bad being Donut Boy, Xander reflected as he started opening cupboards, looking for the coffee. At least Donut Boy never hurt anybody. And all of a sudden he could swear he smelled gunpowder. He could see the girl slumping forward, the blood pooling in the dirt at her feet.
"You all right, Harris?" Spike's voice cut through the flashback and Xander saw the cupboard in front of him again. Empty. His hand ached from gripping the knob so hard, and he wasn't sure if he'd said anything or not.
"I'm fine," he said curtly, and tried the next cupboard.
He found the coffee, and by the time he'd spooned some into two mugs and plugged in the kettle, his hands had mostly stopped shaking. Spike seemed to ignore him, bent over his work and sniffling every few seconds.
Last night, Angel had been worried that Spike would get sick again. So there was probably an "I told you so" coming up in the near future. Xander wondered briefly where Angel was living these days, what he was up to besides hassling Spike. He hadn't seemed especially evil when they'd met in the porn store or behind the Eclectic Ballroom. Whatever the deal had been with Wolfram & Hart, it must be off since they'd left the dimension. Spike had seemed pretty hostile towards him, but that probably came from a thousand things in their history together. Plus, Angel's disturbing new manifestation as an overprotective old woman was obviously annoying the hell out of Spike. Christ, if Angel heard Spike had a cold he'd probably be at the door ten minutes later with a thermos of chicken soup. If he even knew about chicken soup, that is—being a vampire and all.
Wait a second. Thinking of food, it dawned on Xander that there'd been something wrong with the cupboards when he was looking for the coffee. As in, they'd all been empty. He checked again, including the ones he hadn't tried before. Spike had literally nothing but the coffee, a box of tea, and three packages of ramen noodles.
"What're you looking for?" Spike asked, looking up just as the kettle started whistling.
"Old Mother Hubbard."
"Hm?" Spike looked puzzled.
"But when she got there, the cupboard was bare, and so the poor dog had none. Come on, you're English—you must know that one," Xander said, pouring the boiling water into the two coffee mugs. He brought them over to the table.
"Oh. Yeah. Haven't really been shopping." Spike paused, cupping his hands over is mouth and nose. "ah...htchoo!" he sneezed, his shoulders hunching in.
Xander nudged the much-diminished roll of toilet paper towards Spike, who sneezed again before he managed to rip a piece off and blow his nose. He looked pretty fucking sick and tired, Xander realized—and he was about to pull an all-nighter. "Spike, don't take this the wrong way, but when's the last time you ate?"
Spike took a careful sip of the steaming coffee. "Church runs a soup kitchen out of the basement. I was gonna go after mass."
Well, at least that explained what he was doing at church. "Okay, but when's the last time you actually ate?"
After a couple second's hesitation, Spike sighed. "At the curry place with you," he admitted, looking like it pained him to say it.
"That was two days ago," Xander pointed out.
Spike's jaw tightened stubbornly. "Grocery money's tight, yeah, but I was getting by all right. You going to go all Angel on me now and tell me I'm going to starve to death?"
"Hey, I've seen people literally starving to death, and believe me, you're not even close," Xander said quickly, before Spike could get all offended and defensive again the way he had the time Xander offered to buy him dinner. Which was true, as far as it went—but going two days without food wasn't healthy, even Xander knew that, and it hadn't been his imagination before; Spike was thinner than he had been in Sunnydale. "But if you're buying hair dye and video games when you can't afford food, you're kind of a moron."
Spike straightened up in his seat, looking indignant. "The bleach was left over from before everything went pear-shaped, and as for the bloody video games—if you lived with a wild Siberian tiger, who would you feed first, it or you?"
Xander frowned. "Illyria? Is she that dangerous?" He lowered his voice. "Is she here?"
Spike shook his head. "She's out hunting. Probably be back soon. As for dangerous—she's a lot stronger than a vampire, and completely amoral. I haven't got a sodding clue what makes her tick. She likes fighting, the video games seem to keep her from going barking mad with boredom in between times—she doesn't sleep, you know—and I think...ah...etchoo!" Spike shuddered slightly after the sneeze, and reached for the toilet paper. "I think maybe she's lonely. I don't know that someday she won't decide my insides would look better on the outside, or such like—she threatens it often enough."
"What is it with you and violent women?" Xander asked, meaning it as a sort of joke, but he regretted it as soon as he heard the words coming out of his mouth. The question could really open up a whole wormy can of don't-go-there, not that Spike was likely to answer it anyway. And of course Spike didn't know that after Sunnydale, while Buffy was getting therapy and they all thought Spike was dust, Buffy had told Xander all about the fucked-up relationship she'd had with him after they brought her back from the dead.
Spike did tilt his head, giving Xander a quick, puzzled look, but then he just shrugged and said "Illyria hasn't hurt me since I turned human. Anyway, I have to get back to work. Ta for the coffee."
"Okay. I'm going to go out and get some food." Xander stood up.
"I don't need—"
"You're working for the Council," Xander interrupted him. "Therefore, we feed you."
Spike blinked, maybe surprised at the forcefulness of Xander's tone. "I suppose I am, at that," he agreed hesitantly. "Just on a temporary basis, like."
Xander tried to smile. "So, anyway, good luck. I'll be back soon."
Outside the apartment building, he immediately lit up a cigarette. He leaned against the new rental car and took a long drag, waiting for the nicotine hit.
A guy coming along the sidewalk eyed Xander in a edgy sort of way, then crossed to the other side of the street and kept going. The guy was black, looked maybe seventeen or eighteen, close to six feet tall and dressed in gangsta style. Xander watched him go, darkly amused, and rubbed his chin. Maybe I should shave....
As soon as he was finished his smoke, he got in the car and went looking for someplace to get food at midnight.
Things with Spike were getting confusing. Okay, first of all—he was human. It was taking a while for that to really sink in. He'd known it intellectually ever since he'd found Spike's pulse in the back of the porn store, but he seemed to keep forgetting it on a gut level whenever he was with him. Spike just didn't seem different from before. Xander had known people who got vamped, and there had always been pretty fucking significant differences in their before and after personalities. It stood to reason that getting unvamped should mean a big change, too.
Of course, he couldn't wonder about that without thinking about souls, too. Nothing they'd learned from Angelus about the effect of a soul on a vampire had seemed to apply to Spike. Other than his insano basement period, Spike hadn't seemed much different after the soul insertion. So maybe Spike's personality was like the speed of light, a universal constant.
Only, Xander was starting to get the feeling that Spike had to work at it these days. At the club last night he'd seemed almost exactly like his pre-chip self, enough so to send shivers down Xander's backbone....but he'd put on the look like a costume in the bathroom while Xander was waiting for him.
And maybe he was different, in some way Xander couldn't quite put a finger on...because fuck, Xander was starting to like him. Part of it was sympathy pains for the crappy job and the money problems; he kind of felt like taking Spike out for a beer and telling him about the Fabulous Ladies Nite Club in the I've been where you are spirit. And, let's face it—part of it was the fact that Spike was fucking hot. Now that Andrew had succeeded where Larry had failed and got Xander to admit that yeah, sometimes guys did turn him on, he could admit to himself that he found Spike attractive. More so when he wasn't directly plotting Xander's own death, of course...but that second time they'd lived together, sometimes Spike had walked around the apartment after a shower with just a towel around his waist, and Xander knew perfectly well that his sarcastic comments about Spike's lack of body hair had been cover-up for his own accelerated heartbeat.
I wonder if Spike's chest is still all smooth like that, or if it was just a vampire thing.
Naked Spike was a happy thought, actually, but Xander pushed it aside for now and kept his eye peeled for an open takeout place. It was hard enough driving one-eyed at night in an unfamiliar city without sending all his blood down south away from his brain.
It was nice, though, having those thoughts. After everything that happened in the Congo he'd pretty much lost interest in sex. Xander half-smiled, imagining telling Giles 'I'm doing so much better now, I want to have sex with Spike!'
Yeah, that would be a good way to get himself sent for involuntary psychiatric treatment. He laughed quietly, picturing Giles's expression.
Anyway, there were complications. Illyria, for one; Xander hadn't realized before that Spike was scared of her. Or, maybe not scared exactly...but not as much in control as he'd seemed to be. Angel, for another, wherever he was lurking right now. If Xander finally managed to convince Spike to come to Rome, they'd probably both want to tag along. That would sure be interesting.
Xander spotted a KFC with its lights on, and pulled into the parking lot. Get food. Keep Spike from passing out before he finds the cure for the demon snake bites. Figure out the rest later.
Illyria was on the couch playing video games when Xander walked back into the apartment. She was in blue mode, sitting ramrod straight and eerily still other than the clicking of her thumbs on the control pad. Xander gave her a cautious hello, but she ignored him, so he went on to the kitchen.
Spike was poring over a page of text, his chin resting on his fists. He looked up and blinked wearily when Xander walked in.
"I brought presents," Xander said, putting his bags on the kitchen counter and starting to unload them. "KFC family pack. Kleenex. Drugs. Here," he tossed the little packet of cold tablets at Spike.
Spike fumbled the catch and the box fell to the floor. He bent down to scoop it up with a sighed "fucking hell"
Xander winced slightly. "Um, sorry about that. Guess you're missing those vampire reflexes, huh?"
The glare Spike shot him left no need for subtitles.
"Anyway, food!" Xander said. "Eleven secret herbs and spices, lots of yummy grease." He peeled the top off the bucket and pushed away enough papers and used tissues—ew—to make room for it on the table.
Spike had the shrink wrap off the box of cold tablets and he was peering suspiciously at the blister pack of pills. "These things really work?"
"Kinda," Xander said with a half shrug. "They don't really cure you but they can make you feel better. Anyway I got the non-drowsy kind, so they'll give you a caffeine buzz if nothing else. Hey—just two, okay?"
Spike had already popped three out of their little foil prisons. He rolled his eyes at Xander, but put one down on the table and the other two into his mouth. Wordlessly, Xander opened one of the bottles of Coke that had come with the meal deal and handed it to Spike, who chased down the pills.
"How's it going?" Xander asked, nodding towards the papers.
"I'm through about a third of the pages I've got." He sniffled. "Hope I haven't missed anything."
"Eat." Xander nudged the chicken bucket a little closer to Spike. "To eat makes the brain work good."
Spike gave him an amused look, and reached for a drumstick. He took one careful bite, like he didn't know quite what to expect, then tore into it.
They munched in companionable silence for a while. The kleenex was brought into service for wiping greasy fingers, and the pile of stripped bones grew high on top of the discarded lid.
"Good, huh?" Xander said finally. And okay, he was fishing—would it kill Spike to say something along the lines of 'Thank-you for the delicious and life-sustaining fast food, Xander'?
"Doesn't taste like much," Spike shrugged. "Feels good in the belly, though."
Well, that was sort of like a thank-you. "You're probably not tasting anything because you're all stuffed up," Xander pointed out in defense of the Colonel.
Spike seemed to accept that. "Bit ironic, taste's the one thing that usually works better since I turned human," he said, and reached for a kleenex to blow his nose.
"Yeah?" Xander peeked into the bucket and saw it was empty, so he sat back. "You're saying vampires have no taste? 'Cause that would explain the hair..."
Spike started to glare at Xander, but it turned into a grin. "Explains Angel's, maybe."
"Yeah, most food's a bit dull for vamps. Blood's the only thing we—shite, they—really taste at full intensity."
"You always ate food," Xander pointed out, letting Spike's little verbal slip go without comment.
"I liked it." Spike dumped the chicken bones in the empty bucket. "Liked the texture more than the taste," he added. "Touch was more intense back then. Sound, smell, 'n sight too—these days I feel like I'm swaddled head to toe in fucking cotton batting."
"That sounds like it sucks," Xander said quietly. "It'll probably get better, though. I mean—after Caleb took my eye the whole world got flat, y'know? But it's been over a year, and I don't really notice anymore. The world just looks the way it looks."
After a few seconds' pause, Spike nodded slowly. "S'pose you're probably right."
They were both silent for a few moments longer, and Xander decided they were sharing a bonding moment. Which was a bit weird, but not bad.
"I've got to get back to translating," Spike pointed out. "You might as well go get some sleep."
Because you're useless here was the unspoken conclusion, but Xander didn't take it to heart; it wasn't like he envied Spike's job here. Still, he didn't feel quite right leaving. So he said so.
"You're distracting me," Spike said, his tone edging into cranky.
"Well, I could just, um, sleep on the couch," Xander suggested. "Then if you need anything—"
"Illyria," Spike reminded him. "Sits on the couch. Plays video games. Doesn't sleep." And then, before Xander could even come up with a plan B, Spike sighed and said "Bugger it, just sleep in my bed."
Xander woke from a heavy sleep with someone shaking him by the shoulder, and he only barely registered Spike's voice saying "Harris, get the hell up!" in time to stop himself from going into violent self-defense mode.
"Fuck, Spike," he gasped, sitting straight up.
"The Watcher. I need his number." Spike had pulled his hand away when Xander sat up, but he still hovered close. He looked totally wasted—his eyes were dark hollows and his hair was poking clumpily in every direction at once.
"Which?" Xander asked, still sleep-fuzzed. Where am I? Oh, fuck, Spike's bed.
"Rupert Giles," Spike said, pronouncing it carefully almost as though he were drunk. "I think I found the right passage." He handed Xander the cell phone.
Passage. Greek. People turning into stone. Okay, he was awake now, and—Spike had found the cure? That was very fucking good. "Zero-zero-three," Xander said, punching it in. "Speed dial, remember?" He handed the ringing phone to Spike.
"Right, speed dial," Spike said blankly, and pressed the phone to his ear. A moment later, "Hello, Rupert? Yeah, I found your antidote."
Xander swung his legs around and stood up. Spike flicked a look in Xander's direction and then headed out of the room, listening intently to the phone. Xander padded after him to the kitchen and heard Spike listing off page numbers, and then saying something else, Xander couldn't understand half the words.
The conversation didn't last long, and then Spike was saying "Hope it works, mate. Good luck," and snapping the cell phone closed.
"That's it?" Xander asked. "It's over?"
Spike nodded, coughing, and sank into a chair in a not-quite-falling kind of way. He caught his breath and explained "I found the right bit. Giles will finish translating it and do what has to be done. He thinks we got it in time."
"That's good. That's really good." Xander leaned against the wall, letting the relief wash through him. They wouldn't lose another Slayer, not today.
Spike coughed again and dropped his head down onto his arms. "Christ, I'm tired," he mumbled.
"You should sleep now," Xander pointed out. "Not on the table. In bed."
"Right." Spike pulled himself upright again with what looked like a lot of effort. "How'd you sleep, by the way?"
"Hm?" Xander was kind of thrown by the question. "Fine, I guess."
Spike pushed to his feet. "Just you seemed to be having nightmares, is all," he said, giving Xander a searching look. "Started yelling a couple times. Stopped when I came in and shook you a bit. You don't remember?"
He didn't remember dreaming at all last night, but if he'd been having the nightmares, that would explain why he didn't really feel rested. He wished Spike hadn't heard him, though. "Slept fine as far as I can remember," he said. "What time is it?"
"Quarter of eight," Spike said. "What will you—" he broke off, coughing again. His voice was hoarse and he still sounded all stuffed up; obviously staying up all night was not a good cure for a cold.
"I'll head back to the hotel and get a shower and change," Xander said as soon as Spike had caught his breath. "Are you...okay here?"
Spike glared at him briefly, then his expression softened and he nodded. "Gonna sleep. Thanks for last night—for the food and such."
"Yeah, no problem," Xander said. He kept his tone casual, sensing what a big deal it was for Spike to have said that. "Any time."
Spike was leaning over the counter reading a magazine when Xander walked into the porn store. He looked up absently at first, then raised his eyebrow when he saw who it was. "What are you doing here? Don't tell me there's another damsel in distress."
Xander shook his head. "I went by your place and Illyria told me you were working." He held up the Subway bag he'd carried in from the car. "I got hungry on the way over. Want half?"
"What kind is it?"
"Cheese steak." He didn't give Spike time to say no; he just spread a bunch of napkins on the counter by the register and plunked six inches of hot, meaty goodness down on top. Then he took a big chomp from the other half.
"I earned this," Spike said, kind of defensively, and Xander just nodded and chewed.
After a tentative first nibble, Spike downed the sandwich in quick, big bites. He was hungry, Xander observed. He'd suspected as much—if Spike hadn't had money for food yesterday, he wouldn't today, either.
He wondered how long it would take Spike to break down and accept the job the Council was offering him. Willow figured he was as good as one of them already, especially after helping them out with the petrifaction crisis. She'd told Xander as much when they talked this afternoon, when she'd called to let him know that the cure had worked. She'd talked to Spike herself, first; she'd been trying to reach Xander, but she'd called his cell and that was still at Spike's place. She'd still been giddy with the shock of that when she talked to Xander afterwards.
On the other hand, Willow was always too quick to assume people would do what she wanted them to. And Spike was full of prickly pride; he'd already shown he was ready to starve before asking for help. But he takes the food I offer. That thought brought more satisfaction than Xander would have expected. We kind of have a ... thing.
When there was nothing left but crumbs, Spike licked his fingers and gave Xander a searching look. "Seriously, Harris, why are you here? Don't tell me you just missed my pretty face."
If Spike had still been a vampire he would have heard Xander's heart speed up at the question. Because, really? He didn't have any good reason to be here, he'd just wanted to see Spike again. He couldn't tell him that, though, so he came up with something reasonable-sounding. "I'm going back to Rome soon. I need to know if you're coming with me."
Spike grimaced and started gathering up their napkins and brushing the counter clean. "I don't know what the old Watcher thinks I'm good for. If it's a translator he wants, there must be a thousand blokes in Rome who're better qualified than I am."
"You came through last night," Xander pointed out.
"I don't want to spend the rest of my life going through fucking dusty old books." Spike tossed the napkins into the garbage can behind the counter with an angry flick of his wrist, and stifled a cough. "I learned Greek because that's what schoolboys did in my day, understand? I was never good at it."
"There's other things you could do. I mean, there's enough work for me, and I don't know any languages or have any superpowers."
Spike rubbed his nose with the back of his hand, sniffling. "Just bloody leave it, all right? I said I'd think about it."
A customer walked in then, cutting off their conversation. Spike helped the guy find the video he was looking for, while Xander hung out in the background, not sure what to do with himself. On his way to the cash to ring up the sale, Spike brushed by him and said under his breath, "If you're going to stick around, at least pick up a magazine and try to look pervey, all right?"
A couple walked in as the guy walked out with his video. The woman was giggling and the man was blushing, and they wanted help picking out a vibrator. They made Spike explain the function of nearly every one in the store before they finally settled on one of the smallest, cheapest models.
As soon as the door shut behind them, Spike came over to Xander. "Thought they'd never make up their bloody minds," he muttered, and stifled a cough against his fist. "What've you got there?"
Xander shrugged; he'd been paying more attention to Spike than to the skin mag in his hands. "Naked women with big breasts," he said.
"Boring as hell, and fucking plastic." Spike snatched the magazine away and plucked one from a part of the shelf Xander had been avoiding. "Here, take a look at this one. See if there's anything you like." His smile had a definite predatory tinge.
Xander's mouth felt dry all of a sudden. Spike was invading his personal space, watching for his reaction, and this was flirting, wasn't it?
He'd taken away the women, and handed Xander a magazine that was all men. Men, and kink—the slender blond guy on the front cover had his hands chained up over his head and a black ball gag in his mouth. "Not really my thing," Xander said, but his throat felt kind of thick. He could feel Spike's warm breath on his neck as he reached around Xander to flip the pages open.
"No? Are you sure? Come on, Scooby, I bet you've never even thought about it." He was teasing now, letting his fingers brush Xander's, waiting for a reaction. Waiting for Xander to push him away, maybe, or...?
On the open page in front of him, the model from the cover was bound in another position. He was on a sort of bench, his hands handcuffed behind him. The gag was still in his mouth, but he stared out at the camera insolently. His dick lay half-hard against his thigh, dusky against the pale flesh of his leg. It made Xander wonder what Spike would look like naked. "Told you, I'm not a Scooby anymore." He pulled the magazine away from Spike, and when he started to protest Xander kissed him.
He kind of surprised himself, doing it, but sweet Jesus he'd been thinking about it all day. And Spike wouldn't have been teasing him like that if he hadn't been thinking it too. Or so Xander hoped, anyway.
Spike hadn't expected the kiss; he flinched at the first contact. Xander instantly backed off, stammering the beginnings of some kind of apology, but Spike grabbed his arms and shut him up by kissing him back.
For an endless second there was nothing but the kiss, and the steel of Spike's fingers on his arms and his own heart pounding in his ears. And then the fucking door chime went off again and Spike broke away. In the moment before he turned towards the door, the look he gave Xander was strange—worried, almost. Not the predator at all.
Then he was away, chatting with the customers—a pair of frat boy types this time—and Xander was flipping blindly through the gay bondage magazine. His hands were trembling and his cheeks were hot, and he had a hard-on from the split-second kiss.
I have a crush on Spike. It was self-knowledge from Bizarro Land, but he couldn't deny it. At the other side of the store, Spike laughed at something the taller frat boy said. He was showing the two guys the packaged blow-up dolls. The shorter, quieter frat boy looked kind of uncomfortable, but the other guy was making contextually obscene hand gestures. Spike was nodding and smirking conspiratorially, and almost-not-quite licking his lips. Xander felt a quick surge of hatred for Tall Frat Boy. I'm jealous, he realized, just barely detached enough to be amused by his own reaction.
It seemed to be physically impossible for Spike to talk to anyone without flirting. It was frankly amazing that he never get beat up for it, but the paragon of testosterone-fuelled heterosexuality he was talking with now didn't seem to notice the undertones in Spike's body language. Maybe it was the punk thing, the I-could-kill-you edge to him that made guys like that overlook the nail polish and eyeliner and smirks and leave him the hell alone. Spike was wearing a Ramones T-shirt tonight, and the thick leather bracelets he'd worn to the club. The bandage around his forearm was gone; even from here Xander could see the curving red-black line cut by the junky's knife.
The frat boys finally left, having bought a blowup doll and an X-rated birthday card. Spike rested his elbows on the counter and let his head droop.
"Hey, are you okay?" Xander asked, coming up to him.
"Yeah." Spike lifted his head, sniffling. "Bit tired. Think the medicine's wearing off, I kept feeling like I was going to sneeze."
Xander checked his watch. "It's just after midnight. Are you on till two again?"
Spike nodded, but his eyes were unfocused. Then he turned away quickly. "eh...etchoo!"
"Gesundheit," Xander responded automatically.
Spike shook himself, and then with his jaw set in a scowl he headed for the back room. Xander followed in time to see him ripping a couple kleenex out of the box on the desk.
"Seriously, are you all right?" Xander asked after Spike blew his nose. He didn't want to piss him off, but ... "The other night, Angel was saying that you've been sick a lot."
"I'm fine," Spike snapped, tossing the used tissues into the waste basket. He ducked down under the desk and brought out a battered red courier bag, out of which he pulled the box of cold tablets Xander had bought yesterday. He poked the last two pills out of the blister pack and popped them in his mouth.
"They go down better with water," Xander suggested helpfully, perching on the arm of the sofa.
"Fuck water," Spike muttered, fishing around on the surface of the paper-strewn desk until he came up with a paperclip. He unbent its end, and in four seconds flat picked the lock on the bottom desk drawer. He came up with a bottle of Wild Turkey and a shot glass.
Xander nodded. "I'm impressed. Not especially surprised, but impressed."
Spike tossed back a shot while Xander was talking. He coughed, then slammed the glass down on the desk with a fierce grin. "That's how we cured a cold when Vicky was on the throne."
Xander rolled his eye. "Yeah, and that era's famous for its effective medicine." Still, when Spike poured a second shot and offered it to him, he downed it in one gulp.
"So if you're not a Scooby anymore," Spike said, taking the shot glass and placing it upside down on the desk, "what are you?"
"An Associate." He shrugged. "Not quite as catchy, is it? It was Giles's idea—if you're not a Slayer and you're not a Watcher, what are you?"
"And that's what you want to make me?"
"I guess so. It's Giles who's in charge for now."
Spike fiddled with the glass, spinning it a half turn and back on the film of spilt bourbon. "What's it pay?"
"I'm getting forty thousand American, plus expenses. And the Council pays the rent on my apartment in Rome."
Spike's eyebrow lifted slightly. "Not bad."
"I could've done better if I'd stayed in construction," Xander observed with a shrug.
"So why didn't you?"
"I decided I didn't want to get old and fat." The joke went flat; Spike looked startled and maybe a bit appalled. Xander tried to reassure him with a quick, hard grin. "Hey, once you start saving the world you just don't look back. At least it's not my unpaid hobby anymore."
"Right. There is that." He coughed.
"You don't have to sign up for life, you know," Xander pointed out. "You could just go to Rome and try it out for a bit, see how it goes."
Out front, the door chime sounded. "I'll think on it," Spike said, and went back out into the store.
Xander stayed behind for a moment, wondering how that whole conversation had happened without even coming close to dealing with the fact that he'd just kissed Spike. Was Spike being incredibly nonchalant about it, or avoiding the subject because he didn't want it to happen again, or what?
Then the sound of shouting filtered through the door and Xander's awareness. Shit. He rushed out into the store.
Angel was standing in the aisle between the video rack and the dildo display, with Spike blocking him from coming any further. Spike's hands were balled into fists. "Get it through your bloody thick forehead, you're not invited here!" he was saying as Xander walked in.
"You can't keep—" Angel cut himself off when he noticed Xander. "Hi Xander," he said in a much more neutral voice.
Spike glanced back over his shoulder. "Harris, go back in the office," he said in a tight voice.
"What's he doing here again?" Angel asked Spike.
"None of your sodding business. Harris, the office."
"Actually..." Xander eyed the two of them cautiously. Spike looked like he was about to resort to fists and fangs, minus the fangs, but Angel didn't seem so close to violence; he just looked downtrodden. "I'm going out for a smoke."
"Xander, you have to make Spike—"
"Going out," Xander repeated sharply over Angel's words. "For a smoke." If Spike didn't want him getting involved in this Angel thing, he sure as hell wasn't going to let Angel drag him in.
Outside, he couldn't hear their voices. He stood with his back to the plate glass window so he couldn't see, either. If he wants me, I'm here, he told himself—not that he knew what Spike might possibly want him for.
He was halfway through his second cigarette when Angel finally came out of the store. He looked gloomy, with his hands stuck in the pockets of his dusty jacket and his shoulders hunched up.
"Did you get what you came for?" Xander asked, not bothering to take the cigarette out of his mouth.
Angel ignored the question. "Are you living in LA now?" he asked.
Xander shook his head once. "Just visiting."
"Where are you staying?"
"None of your business."
Angel's jaw muscle twitched. "I just meant—are you staying with Spike?"
Xander snorted a laugh, and smoke came out his nose. "No."
"Oh. All right." Angel seemed to be at a loss for words for a minute; Xander didn't help him out. "He's sick again," he said finally. "He was trying to hide it from me."
"So? He doesn't want your help. Fucking get over it." Tossing the stub of his cigarette to the pavement, Xander propped one foot against the wall behind him and crossed his arms. "Anyway, what are you doing these days?" It was more an accusation than a question.
Angel's jaw twitched again. "I'm between jobs."
"So you do...what, all night?"
A shift in shadow and the sudden stark outline of the tendons in Angel's neck told Xander the vampire was clenching his fists inside his pockets, but all he said was "I meditate."
"Well, that's useful." Then Xander had a sudden crazy impulse. Giles had told him to recruit Spike, to recruit Illyria...why not extend the idea? "Hey Angel, how would you like to go back to fighting evil professionally?"
By the time he'd finished with Angel, another customer had gone into the store. It was the bald sweaty guy who'd wanted to sell his porn collection the night Xander had taken over Spike's shift; apparently he was back to try again. Spike looked up from the box of tapes just long enough to tell Xander to wait in the back room.
The bondage magazine and the Wild Turkey were still on the desk. The bourbon probably belonged to Spike's boss, but what the hell, Spike was the one who'd picked the lock—he couldn't complain if Xander had one more shot.
It was good stuff—smooth, with hints of oak and honey. He welcomed the fiery warmth spreading from his throat to his belly.
He wasn't sure why he was waiting, really, or what he wanted from Spike. He was tense; his back was in knots and his head had started up a dull throbbing. He wanted to find out whether or not kissing Spike had been the stupidest thing he'd done all week. Nothing good could come from getting involved with Spike, he knew that much, but some types of bad were more appealing than others. Maybe Spike would do him just so he could mock him in the morning. That would be the bad kind of bad. On the other hand, maybe they'd have a transgressive, lust and desperation-driven, degrading and destructive sexual relationship—something Xander could sink himself into like a tall bottle of sweet bourbon.
It was better not to think about this stuff. He poured himself another shot and flipped open the magazine.
"I may be drunk, but you just missed another stop sign."
Spike snorted. "Wasn't anyone coming, was there?"
"You crashed the other rental. Dunno why I'm letting you drive." Xander let his forehead rest against the cool window glass; the city lights streaked sideways, making him dizzy.
"Because you polished off my boss's entire rainy day insurance, that's why. And you're going to bloody well buy him another bottle before he fires me."
"Yeah, yeah. Said I would."
He wasn't that drunk. He probably could've made it back to the hotel all right. He just hadn't felt like fighting Spike for his car keys.
"This is the one, right?"
Xander let his head loll around so he could see the Ramada sign. "Yeah, this's it. Home sweet home."
Spike managed to get the car parked in the underground garage without causing any property damage, and they took the elevator up to Xander's room. Xander got the key card in the slot the right way up on the third try.
"Posh," Spike said as they walked in. It was a small single, the cheapest style the hotel offered, but by his standards 'posh' probably meant anything with unstained wallpaper.
And then Xander realized: Spike had come up to his room. They'd kissed earlier tonight, and now Spike was in his room. Say something, Xander, before he leaves.
"I can get room service to send up some beer," he offered.
Spike shook his head. "You've had enough, mate." He closed the door behind them and cocked his head. "Let's have a sit, shall we?"
There was nowhere to sit but the bed. They perched side by side on its edge, and Xander touched Spike's thigh. "I read the magazine," he said.
"If you want to try—I mean, I don't have any of the stuff, but—"
Spike put his hand over Xander's, immobilizing it. "Sorry, pet, I didn't come up here for that," he said gently. "I just wanted to talk, like."
Damn it. Who knew Spike knew how to play hard-to-get? "Talk, then." Xander tried to nuzzle Spike's neck. "Buffy said you can talk so dirty she'd almost come just from listening to you."
Spike jerked away from him. "She said what?"
Buffy references, maybe not the best idea here. "Never mind. It was a thing, we were drunk..."
"Were you throwing yourself at her, too?"
"I'm not throwing myself at you. You're the one who keeps—with the dancing, and the kissing, and the pictures, and your hair and your eyes and the smirks..."
A pale shadow of a smirk played on Spike's lips right now. "You think you fancy me, do you?"
"I did not say that. Fancy boy," Xander muttered, not sure what it meant but pretty confident it was some kind of insult.
Spike rolled his eyes and squirmed a little further away from Xander. "You've changed since Sunnydale."
"Who hasn't?" Xander suddenly felt on guard. Spike really did want to talk. Shit.
"You have nightmares now."
He should've known that night at Spike's place would come back to bite him in the ass. "You would too, if you'd seen some of the freaky, messed-up shit I have."
"I do have nightmares," Spike said quietly, "ever since the soul. But you never used to have them, and you'd seen plenty of 'freaky, messed-up' shite already."
"Guess some straw broke the camel's back."
"I don't want to talk about it. If you're so fucking curious, ask Giles." His buzz was well and truly killed. His hand felt shaky, reaching for his cigarettes, and then he remembered he couldn't smoke around Spike and fuck.
"I already asked Red, this afternoon," Spike said. "She told me about the Slayer you lost. I want to hear it from you."
"What are your nightmares about?" He didn't expect Spike to answer, but he bet it would stop his questions.
Spike raised an eyebrow. "What do you think? I spent a hundred-odd years killing people, got a soul to load me up with guilt for it, then lost the bloody demon that told me why all the murder and mayhem seemed like such a good idea in the first place." He backed up further so he could lean against the pillows. "Satisfied? Your turn." He coughed, and hugged himself, and waited.
Maybe it was the Wild Turkey in him, but Xander started to wonder if he could tell Spike. Compared to Spike's own blood-soaked history, maybe his story wouldn't seem like such a big deal. He'd kept this secret for too damn long, and he knew it was killing him.
He needed a cigarette so fucking badly. He fumbled one out, just to roll between his fingers. "You met Andrew when he went to LA, right? Do you know why he was there?"
"Huh?" Xander looked up from the cigarette to see Spike had gone tense. "Did you meet her?"
"Yeah." He didn't elaborate.
"Okay. So you know...crazy traumatized girl, Slayer powers, not a great combo."
"Yeah." Spike's left thumb traced his right wrist in an odd unconscious gesture. "But she's all right now, isn't she?"
Xander gave a jerky half-shrug. "I heard she was making progress. Dunno what that means. I haven't met her."
"Count yourself lucky, mate." Spike rubbed his wrist again, as though it hurt. "A good few of the blokes who met her didn't survive the experience."
Xander looked down at the cigarette he held; it was crumpled now, with bits of tobacco falling out the end. "Lucky. Yeah. Not so much. Imagine Dana with an AK-47 and her own small army." He looked up and saw Spike watching him steadily, waiting for him to continue. "Her name was Mathilde. She—do you know anything about the Democratic Republic of Congo?"
Spike coughed, shook his head. "Never been."
"What about child soldiers?"
"Heard the term before. So this Mathilde...that what she was?"
Xander gave a tight nod. "Her parents were killed and she was kidnapped and forced to fight for—God, I don't even know whether it was the rebels or the government to start with. Apparently at the exact moment the Slayer spell hit, her commander was raping her. She killed him."
"Good for her," Spike murmured.
"Sure, nobody's going to cry over that one. But after she killed him, she took his command. She started gathering her own little army of kids with guns. They called themselves les Enfants de Dieu."
Spike tilted his head. "Children of God?"
"They figured that's where she got her power from—she was God's instrument for vengeance, or something. The war ended just about a month after our fight with the First Evil, but Mathilde was in the eastern part of the country, where the government had no fucking control. They'd—the Enfants would go into a village and...well, pretty much they'd kill everyone. And then they'd live in the village for a while, and then they'd move on."
Xander didn't realize he'd stopped talking until Spike touched his shoulder and prompted him, "And how did you come into it?"
"I was already in Africa—I mean, I was in Zimbabwe, which isn't exactly close, but..." His voice was shaking a little. "But the main thing was, Giles figured I was good at...talking people down from that kind of place." He'd done it with Anya, and with Willow. Even with Ampata back in high school.
But not Mathilde.
Beside him, Spike coughed. "It was a hell of a job he gave you," he said.
"I took it. I wanted to do it. There was a squad of government troops tracking the Enfants, and I knew they were planning to kill Mathilde when they caught her. I wanted to find her first."
"So you went after her alone? Good to know you're still brave and bloody stupid."
"I had a translator with me, a local guy. Joseph." Xander closed his eye, remembering. His ears were starting to ring. "We found a dead village first. There were flies everywhere. The bodies were mostly piled in this one building, looked like it used to be a school. It was half burned." He opened his eye again, and turned to Spike. "I'd seen gruesome slaughters before, you know that. But this—it was humans who did it. Kids." God, he needed Spike to understand.
Spike's hand was warm and firm on his shoulder. "I've seen a few wars, pet. I know what humans are capable of, even children."
"We caught up to them before we expected to. They captured us." When he first saw Mathilde, she'd been wearing camo pants cut off at the knee and cinched at the waist, and a crisp white too-big men's dress shirt. She was skinny and small, with big bright eyes and tight black hair cut raggedly close to her scalp. He'd been told she was fifteen but she looked more like twelve: a sweet little girl with a Kalashnikov slung over her shoulder. "Joseph tried to talk, and they killed him right away. They would have killed me too, only Willow had done this protection spell on me—a kind of magical bulletproof vest. It was only good for a couple shots, but when the first bullets didn't kill me they must have decided I was special somehow. They kept me alive, tied up. The government troops found us three days later." He hadn't seen the battle, being tied up in an oven-hot outbuilding, half delirious from thirst, but he remembered the screams, and the short bursts of machine-gun fire. "They captured Mathilde alive. They rescued me. And then they executed her."
Spike squeezed his shoulder. "It sounds like it was a fucking awful situation from beginning to end, Harris, but you did all you could."
"No." He could smell the gunpowder and the bitter blood. "I didn't stop them from killing her."
"And what were you going to do against a bloody army?"
He shook his head. His whole body was shaking, actually. "I had papers that said I was a U.N. guy. The squad's commander spoke some English. He was ready to defer to me. They already had her up against the wall, but then he asked me if...if I ordered them to take her to Kinshasa instead. I said...no." The ringing in his ears got louder.
"You haven't told anyone that last part, have you?" he heard, gentle and far away.
He tried to answer, but only a ragged sob escaped. He felt like throwing up.
"Let it out," Spike said. He sounded weary and sad, but there wasn't any recrimination in his tone. "Put it on me." He hugged his arm around Xander, and somehow Xander found himself leaning against Spike and weeping. He wanted to say something, anything, but his throat was too tight and he couldn't properly breathe. The pent-up guilt and grief seemed to be physical things, choking him. His face under his good eye was soaked with tears, and he couldn't stop the wracking sobs. He buried his face against Spike's shoulder. "That's it," Spike murmured, rubbing his back. "Put it all on me."
Xander lay quietly with his head on Spike's lap. Spike was stroking his hair, not saying a word, just coughing once in a while. Xander sniffled; his face was a wet mess of tears and snot, and he desperately needed a kleenex, but he didn't want to move or speak, because that would break the spell.
He'd told Spike. He'd said it out loud, and the world hadn't ended, and Spike hadn't called him a coward or a murderer. That didn't mean he wasn't, of course...but it was something. It was unexpected, and good.
It was Spike who finally broke the silence. "You should tell Rupert."
"How?" Xander's voice came out all raspy from the sobbing; he sounded almost as bad as Spike. He must think I'm pathetic, thought the self-mocking part of him.
"Might not be as hard as you think. Rupert's a bloke who understands shades of gray and hard choices, Harris. Remember the time he plotted to get me killed?"
"We all tried to kill you, Spike." Xander managed a hollow laugh. "You were evil."
"Well, yeah, but I mean that time after I got the soul, when he tried to use Robin Wood to do for me."
"Oh." Xander swiped his shirt sleeve across his face and sat up. "Look, no offense, Spike, but you weren't human." He wasn't sure if the little twitch Spike's lips made was a wince or not, but he rushed to add, "That makes a difference to Giles, is what I mean. He's got that whole Watcher philosophy—humans 'yay,' demons 'boo.'"
Spike raised an eyebrow. "Seem to recall someone else having that attitude."
Xander shrugged. "I grew up."
"Well, Rupert's a bloody grownup too, innit he? Do you still think he's a fucking toff-nosed librarian, after everything? Ask yourself this, then; what ever happened to Ben?"
Xander frowned, confused at the non-sequitur. "He, um, I guess he died."
"Right. And who killed him? Buffy?"
"Hell no. She wouldn't—"
"Right then." Spike coughed, and leaned back against the pillows. "I was a broken useless heap at the bottom of the tower. Dawn was up top with Buffy. You were with Anya, the witches were together—count it on your fingers. Who's left?"
"Shit." He'd never really thought about it; there'd been too many more important things to deal with. Too much grief. "Maybe one of the minions...?"
Spike shook his head. "I asked Rupert about it a while afterwards—got worried that Ben had slipped through the cracks again, maybe no one even remembered him but me. He said he'd taken care of it."
"Oh." Xander was too tired and wasted to really figure out what this meant, but he had a shivery feeling at the back of his neck. Before he could say anything else, the phone rang. Who the hell's calling at 3 a.m.? With a pang of worry, he picked it up. "Hello?"
It was Illyria. "Sorry to call in the middle of the night," she said, "But do you know where Spike is? He never came home from work."
"Oh. Yeah, uh, he's actually here with me." To Spike's questioning look, Xander mouthed 'Illyria.' "You want to talk with him?"
She did, and Xander handed over the phone. Then he went to the bathroom to clean up. He pulled off his eye patch and splashed cold water over his face. He felt strange, light and hollow and not quite real. The bathroom light seemed too bright. When he came out into the room again, patch back in place, Spike was just placing the phone on its cradle.
"I told her I'm staying here for the night," Spike said. "Hope that's all right."
"Sure." He felt awkward suddenly. "There's only one bed, you can—"
"It's wide enough for the two of us." Spike stifled a cough. "Don't know about you, but I'm right knackered."
"Okay." Xander shook his head, trying to focus on the necessary mundane details. "I can give you a T-shirt and boxers to sleep in," he offered, heading for his suitcase.
Spike undid his leather bracelets, set them on the bedside table, then pulled his own T-shirt off. Xander, busy undoing his boots, only saw the movement out the corner of his eye, but he looked up just before Spike pulled on the shirt Xander had tossed him. In that moment he caught a glimpse of dozens of thin pink scars crisscrossing Spike's chest.
"Jesus, Spike, what happened to you?"
Spike looked up, surprised, tugging the T-shirt into place. "What?"
Xander waved a hand at his own chest. "Who cut you?" The long thin scars matched the ones on Spike's right forearm. It must have happened after he turned human, otherwise they would have disappeared like the one on his eyebrow.
"Was nothing," Spike muttered, fiddling with the belt of his jeans. "Just some demon with long nails."
Spike wasn't all that great at lying, and he was obviously doing it now—badly, with the eye contact avoiding and the mumbling and the vagueness. Whatever, none of my business, Xander told himself. He just hoped it wasn't an Angel thing.
They finished changing in silence. Xander usually slept in the buff, but that didn't seem like a good idea tonight, so he put on a fresh pair of boxers before he crawled under the covers beside Spike. "Good night," he said awkwardly, reaching for the light switch.
"Night," Spike mumbled, already curled up away from him. "Sweet dreams."
Xander woke up with a headache and a hangover taste in his mouth. He woke up to the sound of coughing, and for a moment thought he was back in the hospital in Kinshasa.
No. L.A. Spike.
"'Morning," Xander said as soon as there was a break in the coughing. "You okay?" The eye patch had slid around sideways; he didn't usually sleep in the thing. He tugged it into place before he looked at Spike.
Spike caught his breath and tugged the blankets tighter around his shoulders, burying his face in his pillow. "'m fine. What time is it?"
Xander squinted at the digital clock. "Just past ten. Want to get brunch downstairs? My treat."
"Wanna sleep more," Spike mumbled into the pillow.
"Okay." Xander considered trying to go back to sleep himself—but now that he was awake he needed to pee, and he was desperately craving a cigarette. "I'll bring you up something," he promised, and climbed out of bed.
He sat on the hotel's terrace so that he could smoke while he had his coffee. The sun was bright and hot, and he could hear the roar of the traffic out front. It was a good noise, the kind of noise that could anchor a guy in the here-and-now and stop him from freaking out too much at the memory of getting drunk, coming on to his former mortal enemy, getting rebuffed, and finally spilling out his darkest secrets to said former mortal enemy while curled up on his lap, crying.
What does Spike think of me now? Last night, Spike had been...supportive. He'd been incredible, really—all non-judging and comforting and then letting it go after Illyria called and Xander got into pretend-it-never-happened mode. There was a little cringing, ashamed part of Xander that still wished he could turn back time and shut himself the hell up, but mostly what he felt was a profound sense of relief. And maybe Spike was right about telling Giles; at least it would be easier to tell him now that he'd already made his confession once. Maybe he wouldn't even have to get drunk for it next time.
And as for the kiss...okay, he really had no idea what was going on in Spike's head. It's Spike's turn to make the next move, he decided. Xander had made it clear enough that he felt something, and he wasn't going to be the loser stalker guy who keeps trying when he's not wanted.
He just hoped he hadn't already totally blown it.
"Hey, Spike, you awake? I brought you juice and a muffin." He hadn't wanted to go right back upstairs and wake up Spike, so once he'd finished his first coffee Xander had asked for a newspaper and a refill, and he'd stayed in the sun catching up on world events until the lunch crowd started filling up the place and the waiter asked him pointedly if he'd be buying anything else.
Spike stirred and croaked out, "Not hungry. Ta, though." He'd obviously been out of bed at some point, because the kleenex box from the bathroom was now on the bedside table along with a scattering of crumpled used tissues. Nice.
Xander shrugged and headed to the mini-fridge to put the juice inside. "Spike," he said over his shoulder, "did you notice that round basket-like thing beside the bed? It's what we humans call a 'trash can.' We use it for disposing of gross things that our roommates wouldn't want to touch."
Spike pulled himself up enough to give Xander two fingers. "Not your roommate, am I?"
Xander grinned at that, though he wasn't sure why. "At least you don't leave blood rings on the coffee table anymore."
Instead of responding, Spike just coughed. Xander's smile faltered at the hollow, wheezy sound. He didn't sound that bad last night, did he?
Xander went over to the bed. "Are you all right?" he asked, a bit nervously. Spike had fallen back flat on his back, and he was still coughing. "Can I help?"
"My bag," Spike gasped.
The red courier bag was on the floor at the foot of the bed. Xander snatched it up and brought it to him. "What do you need?"
Spike's eyes were open wide, and he was still making that scary wheezing noise. "Front pocket."
Xander ripped open the zipper and shook the bag so its contents fell on the bed. A pencil, a small black notebook, an expired bus transfer—and an inhaler. "Here," he tried to hand it to Spike.
Spike didn't lift a hand to take it. He was obviously struggling to breathe. "Shake," he managed to say.
Xander was starting to get scared. He looked down at the inhaler. It had a label on it printed with instructions in big bold letters: Shake for 5 seconds before using. Okay, I can do this. He shook it vigorously; it rattled like there was something loose inside. With no watch on he wasn't sure how long five seconds was, and every breath seemed like an eternity. Then Spike reached for the inhaler, and Xander pressed it into his hand. He watched him put the mouthpiece between his lips, press the canister sharply and take a long, wheezing breath. Then Spike dropped his hand and the inhaler down to his chest and closed his eyes, still holding his breath. His jaw was tight, and his face was pale. Finally he let out a sharp cough, and seemed to start to breathe more normally as he opened his eyes.
"Jesus, Spike. What just happened?" Xander's mouth felt dry, and he wasn't sure that his voice wouldn't crack.
"Think I'm sick again," Spike said dully. "Feels like I've got a fucking Chirago demon sitting on my chest."
"Shit." Xander flashed back to Angel's warnings—maybe Deadboy hadn't been overreacting, after all. "I think we should go to a hospital."
"Just take me home." Spike struggled to sit up. "Illyria's there, she'll—" He coughed, and didn't finish the sentence.
"She still has the cell phone," Xander pointed out. "How about I call her now?" He didn't wait for Spike to agree, he just dialed the phone. Elder god or not, Illyria was Spike's actual roommate and she probably knew something about his health issues. Xander didn't want to go all Angel on Spike's ass and start trying to strong-arm him into seeing a doctor—maybe Illyria could talk him into going voluntarily.
She answered after the second ring, a chirpy "Hello?" in the Texas girl voice. Xander quickly explained what had just happened, and Spike glared at him.
"Oh good Lord," Illyria groaned, "is he running a fever, too?"
"Um, hold on." Xander put the receiver down on the table and turned to Spike. "Illyria wants to know if you've got a fever. Can I feel your forehead?"
Spike rolled his eyes at that. "Can't keep your hands off me, can you?" There was something affectionate in his tone; he was joking, not complaining. Xander managed to smile a bit as he laid his hand across Spike's forehead, but the smile died when he felt how hot he was.
"Yeah," Xander reported back on the phone, "he's got a fever."
"Damn it, not again." Illyria sounded upset; Xander wondered what she'd sound like if she was using her god-king voice instead. "Take him to the ER at County General, okay?" she said. "I'll meet you there." She hung up before Xander could ask her to talk to Spike herself.
Fuck. "Okay, Spike. We're going to the hospital. Illyria says so."
"Bloody hell," Spike said weakly. "All right. Gotta do what Smurfette says, don't we? Where're my fucking clothes?"
"She said it won't be long," Xander said, sitting down beside Spike. "Probably twenty minutes." 'She' was the admissions nurse at the ER, to whom Xander had just handed a filled-out form listing Spike's name (fake), address (real), birth date (fake), and Medi-CAL number (real).
Spike was huddled shivering in Xander's jacket, though the temperature in the waiting room was in the high seventies. He was vampire-pale; just getting to the hospital seemed to have sapped his energy. "You don't have to stay," he said. "I'm all sorted now."
"Shut up, Spike, and lean on me before you fall over." He tucked his arm around Spike's shoulders; there was just a moment of stiff resistance, and then Spike sagged heavily against him.
"Fuck" he swore, and it turned into a rattling, body-shaking cough. Xander held on tighter.
"You're gonna be okay," Xander promised, because it was the kind of thing people always said at times like this. He didn't know what to say, really; he was kind of scared, but he figured Spike would hate it if he showed that.
When Spike stopped coughing, he rested his head against Xander's shoulder. "Thought I was okay this time."
Xander pitched his voice low so the people sitting to either side of them wouldn't hear. "Was it like this before? I mean, when you were human, before Drusilla—did you get sick a lot?"
"Nah. Don't remember much, it was a hell of a long time ago, but I'd remember if it was like this. Didn't get the headaches then, either."
"Then something must have gone wrong when you turned human again. Look, I know you haven't been exactly jumping at the idea of going to Rome, and frankly I don't blame you if you don't want to get involved with the Council, but we have a couple doctors there who work with us. They know about Slayers and vampires and everything. You could tell them the truth about what happened to you, and maybe they'd have a better chance of figuring out what's wrong."
"Bloody hell, I came back wrong." Spike said the phrase like it had more significance than a half-echoing of Xander's words. "Wonder what she'd say to that?"
Spike ignored the question. "Just as well," he said in a brighter tone. "Last night if I hadn't felt like shite I probably would've shagged you instead of tryin' to get you to talk."
The words hit Xander with a shock and a little thrill, and a whole complicated undercurrent of the memory of what had actually happened. He guessed Spike was just doing the bravado thing, but—"Really?" he laughed.
"Oh well..." Xander hesitated. "Maybe later, huh?"
"Later," Spike agreed, and coughed. His voice was fading again, and he leaned more heavily against Xander. "Tired now."
Impulsively, Xander kissed Spike on the temple. Spike's eyes were closed, but he reacted with a small, quick smile. Then his expression went slack and Xander had to tighten his grip around Spike's shoulders to keep him from slumping forward. "Spike? Are you—oh shit."
So apparently, passing out was a great way to bump yourself up in the ER waiting line. There was a flurry of activity when Xander called for help, and soon two orderlies had strapped Spike onto a gurney and rushed him away.
Left alone with no one to hide his worry from, Xander found it too hard to sit still. He felt like Motcha demon hatchlings were running up and down his back, his throat felt weird and tight, and he wanted to punch something. After a three-second staredown with a security guard, he decided to go outside for a smoke.
He was on his third cigarette, talking with a nicotine-addicted doctor about the amenities offered by hotels in Zimbabwe, when Illyria showed up.
"Where's Spike?" she said instead of 'hello.' Her brown hair was coming out of her ponytail in frizzy wisps, her cheeks were flushed and she was breathing hard.
"Inside," he answered her question. "Did you run all the way here?"
"Of course." Already her breath was coming steady; Xander wondered whether that meant she had a superhuman recovery time, or if she'd only been faking the panting to start with. He had a feeling she wouldn't get out of breath at all if she were in blue mode. "I want to see Spike."
The waiting was easier for Xander now that he had something to do—keep Illyria out of trouble. Every time she went to the reception desk to ask what was going on with Spike, she sounded a little less like a polite young woman and a little more like an angry god-king. When the clerk finally told them that 'Mr. Curtis' was being admitted but they couldn't see him yet, Illyria's eyes went cobalt. Time for damage control mode—Xander grabbed Illyria by the elbow and escorted her to the hospital gift shop.
An hour later, they walked into Spike's room. The room had three beds; the middle one was empty, and an elderly black man slept in the third. Spike's bed was adjusted so he was propped in a half-sitting position, facing the door. He didn't see them come in, though, since his eyes were closed. He was hooked up to some kind of monitor, an IV drip and an oxygen tube. He looked...sick.
Xander hesitated at the doorway but Illyria closed in on Spike's bed in three long strides. "Spike," she said, and it sounded like a command. Xander was about to tell her to be quiet and let him sleep when Spike opened his eyes.
"Blue," he said softly. And then, "Harris?"
As Xander came to stand beside her, Illyria held out the bundle she'd been carrying in a stiff-armed gesture. "We brought you an anatomically incorrect miniature bear made of fabric."
"Oh." Spike's eyes flicked to Xander, registering amused surprise, before he raised a slightly shaky hand to take the teddy bear. "That's right sweet of you, luv. Watch the dialect, though, hey? This is a public place."
"There's no one listening," she protested, but she said it in her higher, softer, human voice. "Anyway, forget all that. How are you doing?"
"Better," he said. "Breathing's easier. Think they're gonna keep me a day or two."
"I should hope so." Her fingertips touched his hair, and she looked like she couldn't decide whether to muss it up or caress it. "You gave us quite a scare, sweetie."
Spike winced. "Don't lay it on too thick, Blue."
Illyria withdrew her hand, and when she spoke again her tone lay somewhere midway between her two extremes, low but tentative. "I only meant to say—I have grown fond of you. I wish your existence on this plane to continue. The frailty of your human body concerns me."
"Sorry, pet, I didn't mean—" He stopped, coughing.
"Maybe we should let you get some rest," Xander suggested.
"No, I want to talk with you. Illyria, would you give us a mo'?"
Her chin rose, and she stepped back. "I shall seek out your caretakers and question them."
"Just don't threaten anyone," Spike advised her. She nodded once, and walked away. Spike turned to Xander and raised an eyebrow. "A teddy bear?"
"Doesn't have any money," Spike interrupted, "so either she nicked it or you bought it."
"She was starting to mutter things about ripping out entrails," Xander explained, shuffling his feet. "I had to do something to distract her."
"She gets edgy in hospitals."
"Do you think the doctor will tell her anything?"
"Might. Last time I was here I told them she was my girlfriend."
There was a chair nearby. Xander tugged it to the side of Spike's bed so he wouldn't have to look down on him while they talked. "Right, Angel said you were in the hospital before."
"Yeah." Spike sighed, petting the teddy bear absently. "Seems like I've bollixed up this human business. Can't stay out of the fucking hospital. Doctor said I've got pneumonia again."
"That's—shit. I'm sorry, Spike. That sucks." The diagnosis wasn't a big surprise; Xander realized he should have tried to get Spike to see a doctor yesterday. Of course, that would've meant listening to Angel.
"Listen, Harris. I think you're right—I came back wrong." Spike's voice was fading, like he was getting tired, but he turned his head to look right at Xander. "If you think your old librarian can still find a use for me, I'll go to Rome."
And see a doctor who knows what vampires are, Xander added silently. He felt an unexpected relief at Spike's decision. "He will. I'll call him as soon as it's morning in Italy."
Spike nodded slightly, and closed his eyes. "Watch out for Illyria tonight, would you?" he asked in a voice barely above a whisper.
Xander nodded, then realized Spike couldn't see. "I will," he promised. He stood up to go, and nearly missed Spike whispering his name again.
"Thanks for the bear."
"So what did Spike want to talk with you about?" Illyria asked as she fastened her seatbelt.
Remembering how Illyria had reacted last time he mentioned the going-to-Rome plan, Xander briefly considered being evasive. She was obviously really worried about Spike, though, so he decided to go with the truth. "We have this theory that something went wrong when he turned human, and that's why he keeps getting sick. If it's true, then maybe the Council can help him."
"So they're going to send a doctor over?"
"No, he's going to go to Italy. Once he's better, obviously." Xander glanced sideways—Illyria was frowning, but it wasn't a scary expression, just a thoughtful one.
"If he goes, I'll go too," she said.
Xander nodded. "I figured you would. That's no problem. I can get you travel documents—"
"Oh, there's no need for that." Illyria flashed him a wry smile. "As far as the government's concerned, Fred Burkle never died. I still have her I.D. and passport and everything."
"Right. Okay." Xander wasn't sure what to say to that. It was a little freaky to dwell on the fact that he was sitting next to the corpse of a murdered woman. "When you're like this—I mean, when you're not, um, blue—are you basically being her?"
"I have access to all her memories. I can reproduce her mannerisms exactly. Even her own parents didn't notice a difference."
"You met her parents?" Okay, that was creepy.
Illyria shrugged absently. "They came by not long after I took over the shell. Wesley was appalled, but he didn't tell me to stop it. They still think she's alive."
"Does it bother Spike when you look and talk like her? I mean, I've noticed you usually change when he's around."
She gave a curt nod. "It bothers him. You missed the turn."
The rest of the way to Spike and Illyria's place, Xander just concentrated on driving.
The battery in Xander's cell phone had just enough charge left in it for him to find out he had four messages, but it died when he tried to find out what they were.
"The charger's back at the hotel," he said. "You'll be okay here, right?"
She rolled her eyes. "I'm immortal and I have superpowers. I think I can handle an afternoon on my own, thanks."
Xander hadn't exactly been concerned about her physically...in fact, he wasn't so much concerned about her as about what she might do to anyone who crossed her path. Plus, Spike had said to watch out for her.
Still, though, she seemed fine.
Back at the hotel, there were three messages and a package waiting for him at the desk. The messages were all from Giles and they all said "Ring me as soon as you get this." The package was from the fake Roman address the Council sometimes used. He opened the package in the elevator on the way up. It had Spike's new I.D. So, that was useful at least.
He called Rome right away even though it was one in the morning there. Giles answered, sounding tense. He didn't even ask Xander why he hadn't been answering his phone all day—he jumped straight to business. "There's a situation in South Africa."
Xander felt his hand clenching tight around the phone; he sat down on the bed and made a conscious effort to relax his grip. "Shit. Giles. I told you I am not going back—"
"I know," Giles cut him off. "But this is South Africa, not the Congo. It's an entirely different situation, a crisis of supernatural rather than human origin. We had a distress call from Thandiwe."
Thandiwe was a Slayer—one of those who'd chosen not to join the Council, or even to travel to Rome. She was one of the youngest Slayers Xander had found, only twelve when Willow cast the spell. He'd explained the situation to her and her parents—in English, yay British imperialism—and her parents had decided that she was too young to go to Rome for training. She had a bright, crooked smile and she loved playing soccer. "What happened?" Xander asked, filled with sudden dread.
"The town was attacked by vampires. From what she said, there were at least thirty of them—more than we've known to ally together since the Master tried to open the Sunnydale Hellmouth. They drove all the humans down into the mine."
"Jesus. That's—thousands of people."
"Indeed. And Thandiwe is planning to rescue them."
Xander closed his eye—his one eye—and rubbed his temple. "Okay, but what does this have to do with me? That's a job for Slayers. My suggestion would be lots of Slayers, but hey, you're the boss man..."
"Rona's group boarded a flight to Johannesburg two hours ago," Giles said. "But you're the only one who knows Thandiwe—the only one of us she knows..."
"Xander, this may be the best way to get past the difficulties arising from your last visit to Africa."
That was bullshit, and Xander knew it—stiff-upper-lip Watcherly bullshit. But anyway, it wasn't the point. The thought of going back to Africa didn't make him start shaking and flashing on gunpowder and blood, not now. He knew he wasn't what you'd call 'over it,' but spilling his secret to Spike had made a difference...and this was all very significant in a personal growth kind of way but still not the point. "I can't leave LA, Giles. Spike's sick."
"He's got pneumonia, it's pretty serious. I just got back from the hospital."
"Oh." Giles was clearly thrown for a loop. "Oh dear. When did he become ill?"
"It happened pretty fast. I mean, he was sick on Sunday when he was working on that translation with you, but it was just, like, a cold. Yesterday at the store he seemed better, but Angel was worried about him...which reminds me, I recruited Angel for the Council."
"And Spike's agreed to it, too, by the way, and if you order now we'll throw in a primordial god-king for the low, low price of absolutely nothing."
"Perhaps you had better back up a bit, Xander, and explain what you've been up to for the past couple days." Giles sounded kind of irritated, but Xander wasn't sure if that was because of him recruiting Angel and Illyria along with Spike or just because he wasn't already hopping on a plane to Johannesburg.
So he gave Giles the Reader's Digest version of the past couple days, skipping the parts about bourbon and kissing and blood-soaked secrets. He told him the things he'd learned—how Angel was spending his nights brooding in a derelict hotel and seemed like he was ready to start fighting for the good guys again, and how Spike had been getting sick ever since he turned human.
"That is troubling," Giles admitted when Xander got to the part where Spike confessed his fear that he'd come back wrong. "I wonder...could it be something as simple as his immune system being out of date? I think you were quite right in your recommendation; he'll be better off here. But in any case, now that he's getting medical care he doesn't need you. Thandiwe does."
"Giles, this is America and he doesn't have insurance. They're going to discharge him as soon as they possibly can, and I'm not leaving him with just Illyria to take care of him. She didn't notice when he didn't fucking eat for two days."
"What about Angel? You mentioned that he seemed quite concerned for Spike's welfare."
"Not possible. Spike won't invite him in."
"Interesting," Giles said, sounding exasperated. "Why not?"
"I never asked. I assumed it was something to do with Angel being an asshole."
It wasn't like Giles was going to contradict him on that one. Xander thought he heard a muffled snort of laughter.
"The point is, Spike hasn't got anyone else. I can't leave him."
"Spike must be greatly changed," Giles mused. "It's quite unprecedented to hear you advocating for him."
"Uh, yeah," Xander agreed. Really, he wasn't sure Spike had changed much at all...but something sure had.
Giles really doesn't need to know about the kissing.
Giles didn't seem to notice the lack of conviction in Xander's reply. "I think we can solve this problem," he said. "For one thing, now that Spike's agreed to work with us, the Council will cover his medical expenses."
"Okay, that'll help. But he still shouldn't be on his own—"
"Quite right. I'll send Willow and Kennedy to stay with him until he's ready to make the journey to Rome."
Xander's resistance to the plan made it easy to see its logical flaws. "Don't you think Willow would be more useful than me for fighting thirty vampires? I mean, she could take them all out with a box of office supplies."
"Willow isn't available for the mission," Giles said, suddenly evasive.
"But she's available to come to LA?"
Giles cleared his throat. "She won't be able to do magic for the next several months."
"What?" A whole new texture of worry rippled through Xander's stomach. "What happened?"
"Oh, no, it's—it's nothing to worry about," Giles assured him. "You had really better ask her yourself." Xander's fear abated at his tone; he sounded bemused more than anything. "So that's settled then?"
Xander knuckled his forehead and let himself dwell for a moment on how much it sucked that he had to choose between being there for Spike and helping to save thousands of people. Couldn't the fucking universe get things lined up better, give him one crisis at a time? "Yeah," he said, pushing the words out despite himself, "I guess that'll work."
The elevator door was closing to take Xander up to Spike's floor when someone's fingers intervened. Xander hit 'open door'—and regretted it as soon as he saw who it was.
"Xander?" Angel hesitated, looking disconcerted, but when the doors started closing again he quickly stepped inside.
"How did you find out he was here?"
"Illyria." Angel glared at Xander, but kept well to his own side of the elevator. "I told you this would happen."
The fact that Angel was right did absolutely nothing to make Xander like him more. "You really have no conception of how much you're not wanted here, do you?"
Angel rubbed his thumb over the knuckles of his other hand. "Are you planning to try to keep me away from Spike?"
Xander considered it. He was still considering it when the elevator dinged open—but really, short of making a scene that would get them both kicked out, what could he do?
It was dinner time in the ward. The middle bed in Spike's room now held a twenty-something guy who was spooning up his jello while talking in rapid Spanish with a pretty, dark-haired girl. The old guy in the last bed was slowly working on his vegetables, keeping his gaze on the room's muted TV. As for Spike, he seemed to be asleep; his tray of food sat untouched off to the side. The teddy bear was still tucked into the crook of his arm.
Xander wasn't sure it was a good idea to wake him up, but he had to talk to him. Giles had booked Xander on a midnight flight to Johannesburg; he'd be heading straight to the airport from the hospital. Xander had talked to Willow and cleared the plan with her, so all that was left was to make sure Spike didn't go all wiggy at the idea...
God, I can't believe Willow's pregnant.
Angel, meanwhile, was frozen in the doorway. Knowing from first-hand experience that invitations weren't an issue for vampires visiting hospital rooms, Xander left him to get over it.
"Hi Spike," he said quietly, sitting in the chair at the side of the bed. "You awake?" Spike didn't respond, so Xander gently squeezed his hand. He opened his eyes just as Angel finally came into the room. There wasn't another chair, so Angel was left looming over the bed.
Spike glanced up at Angel, then at Xander. "Should've told me there was going to be a party, I would've got beer," he joked weakly. As he spoke, he threaded his fingers through Xander's.
Xander's heart sped up when he realized what Spike was doing. We're holding hands. In front of Angel.
Angel either didn't notice or pretended not to. "Illyria told me you're going to Rome," he said. "She thinks the Council's doctors are going to help you."
Spike gave a slight shrug. "That's the general idea."
"I've agreed to work for the Council too," Angel said.
Spike's eyes went wide at that, and he turned to Xander for confirmation.
Xander suddenly realized that Spike might be upset that he'd recruited Angel, too. Shit. "I figured, why should we hog all the fun?" he said, squeezing Spike's hand conspiratorially. "There's been a posse of slime demons terrorizing Ecuador all month. I bet Angel could handle them."
Spike grinned, and Angel looked vaguely uncomfortable and possibly pissed off, so that was all right.
"I talked to Giles," Xander added. "He's going to put everything in motion. Oh, and—" with his free hand he pulled Spike's new passport and green card out of his pocket, "—you're all set up now for international travel."
Spike let go of Xander's hand to take the documents. Opening up the passport, he raised his eyebrow. "He named me Will Smith?"
Xander hadn't looked carefully at the name Giles had chosen; now he stifled a snort of laughter. "Hey, at least he didn't go with Spike Jonze."
Angel looked perplexed. "Smith is a very common surname, isn't it? I don't see the problem."
"There's no problem," Xander said with a shrug. "It is a common name—there's probably like a hundred William Smiths in LA." He started humming the 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' theme under his breath until Spike glared at him.
"Look, you'd better hang on to these things 'till I get out of here," Spike said, holding out the documents to Xander again. "Got no bloody privacy in this place."
"Uh, no can do." Xander winced inwardly, hating what he had to say. "I'm leaving, Spike. Tonight." He reached for Spike's hand again, explaining quickly before the surprised look in Spike's eyes could turn into anything worse. "When I talked to Giles he told me about this huge crisis in South Africa. A bunch of vampires have taken over a gold mine and taken thousands of prisoners, and there's a local Slayer but I'm the only one who knows her."
"Oh," Spike said. "Well, I suppose you'd better go save the world, then."
"I'll look after Spike," Angel promised quickly.
Spike bristled at that. "No you won't, you bloody poof."
"No, he won't," Xander agreed emphatically, daring Angel with a glance to make a thing of this. "Willow and Kennedy are going to come stay with you when you get out of the hospital, until you're ready to go to Rome."
"I don't need anyone looking after me," Spike muttered, glaring at both of them in turn. "And it'd be nice to be bloody well consulted about these things."
Xander didn't bother arguing the point with Spike; he figured that with Angel listening in there was no way Spike would admit to needing anyone to take care of him. Instead, he just squeezed Spike's hand and apologized. "Sorry. Everything's happening really fast, there wasn't time to talk to you first."
Spike seemed to accept that. "Be nice to see Red again," he acknowledged, and stifled a cough.
The Willow solution seemed to satisfy Angel, too; at least he wasn't arguing. "I'll give your I.D. to Illyria," he offered, getting back to the original topic. "It'll be safe in your apartment."
"All right." To Xander's surprise, Spike handed over the documents.
Just as Angel was tucking the fake I.D. into his pocket, a nurse came into the room. Angel stood aside so she could check Spike's readouts and his IV. She frowned at the untouched meal tray. "No appetite, Ian? You really should try to eat."
"I will, luv," Spike promised. "Just been busy talking with my friends here." The nurse moved on, and Xander pulled the table with the meal tray on it into position so Spike could reach it. Spike grimaced at the food—limp grilled chicken, mushy peas and carrots and red jello. "'m really not hungry," he muttered.
Xander found himself exchanging a worried look with Angel; he broke eye contact before Spike could catch them. "Just try some of the jello," he suggested, "even a hospital kitchen can't screw that up."
So Xander and Angel ended up making small talk of the who's-where-doing-what-now variety while Spike ate. Xander shared the bombshell that Willow had dropped on the phone, and found them a lot less surprised than he had been.
"Who's the daddy, then?" Spike asked around a mouthful of jello.
"She didn't say. She's still with Kennedy, so...yeah, I have no idea."
"It's not mystical, is it?" Angel asked, looking suddenly worried.
"Probably just one of them turkey baster deals," Spike suggested, looking cheerful at the confused and grossed out looks that he elicited from Angel and Xander respectively.
Having eaten the jello and a couple bites of the chicken, Spike laid down his plastic fork and knife and closed his eyes.
"Spike? Are you all right?" Angel asked before Xander could.
"Just fagged out is all."
"I'll fix the bed," Xander said. They'd raised it to its maximum angle so that Spike would have support for sitting up while he ate; now Xander lowered it to the position it had been in when they came in. "Maybe we should go, so you can sleep."
"Angel, you'll get that stuff to Illyria, right?" Spike said. "I want a word with Harris before he goes."
"Right." Angel hesitated, then turned to go. "I'll be back tomorrow."
"I know you will."
When the door closed behind Angel, Xander shook his head. "I don't get you and him."
Spike gave a faint smile. "S'pose it's complicated. Family always is, innit?"
"Do you still think of him as family?"
"Don't know what we are, exactly. That'd be one of the complicated bits." Spike looked at Xander uncertainly. "Xander? What are we?"
Hell if I know. Xander rubbed the back of his neck and focused for a moment on the teddy bear. "Damn, Spike, you gotta warn a guy before you ask a question like that." He waited for Spike to say something, to help him out, but Spike just waited. "I'm not sure if we're anything, yet."
"Oh." Fuck—Spike sounded hurt. "Well, I just wanted to know," he said, and the hurt Xander had heard in the first syllable was gone now, covered up with as much flippancy as Spike could muster when he was this close to passing out. "Good luck in Africa and all."
"I said that wrong." Xander reached for Spike's hand. "I mean, we're something, we're old comrades-in-arms, we're friends...if we hadn't both been really fucked up I think we would've had sex by now."
The flow of Spanish conversation from the next bed faltered for a moment, and Xander belatedly realized he should probably lower his voice.
"Thought you wanted to shag me because you were fucked up," Spike said, but he let Xander hold his hand.
It wasn't something he could flat-out deny. "This is confusing as hell, okay? I didn't expect to ever like you, but now I do, and it completely sucks that you're sick and that I have to leave, but...I'll see you in Rome, right?"
"I like you too, Xander," Spike said, hardly above a whisper. "When do you have to leave for the airport?"
Xander glanced at his watch. International flight, leaving at midnight... "About an hour."
"Stay here till then?"
"Sure." Xander squeezed Spike's hand, feeling almost giddy just because Spike wanted him to stay. "I'd like that."
Spike fell asleep quickly after that, his right arm wrapped around the teddy bear and his left hand in Xander's. Xander sat there, watching him breathe. He wondered whether they'd be able to pick up from here when they saw each other again, or would it be all weird. He wondered how he'd stopped himself from realizing in Sunnydale how beautiful Spike was. He wondered what the hell Spike saw in him, why he let Xander in while chasing Angel away.
Then the time was up and Xander had to leave. He slipped his hand out of Spike's as gently as possible. He hesitated, then kissed him lightly on the forehead. Spike didn't stir. "Bye," Xander whispered, not expecting to be heard. "See you soon."
Xander was dreaming about vampires when the door buzzer rang just after noon. He woke up to the taste of stale beer and cigarettes, and the perky chatter of the satellite station that had been showing the Red Sox versus the Yankees at two a.m.—now it was an infomercial for some kind of exercise equipment that looked vaguely like a comic book villain. He stumbled to the window, nearly tripping over his jeans and shoes. He hoped it was Andrew, and not Giles or one of the girls; if it was Andrew he wouldn't have to get dressed. He stuck his head out and squinted down at the street below. "Hello?"
It wasn't Andrew, Giles or one of the girls. He saw bleached white hair, a black leather jacket—and then Spike tilted his head up, shielding his eyes against the sun, and shouted "Oi! Harris! You gonna let me in or not!?"
He just had time to shut off the TV and pull on yesterday's jeans while Spike was coming up the stairs. Then there was a sharp knock on the door and he opened it, and faced Spike for the first time since he'd left him in the hospital in June.
The first things Xander noticed were the differences. For starters, Spike wore glasses. The stark black rectangular frames managed to look vaguely punk, but in an intellectual way. He wore a black leather motorcycle jacket over a red T-shirt and black jeans. Overall, he looked a hell of a lot better than he had in LA.
"Hi," Xander managed to say. "I thought you were still in England."
"They let me go a couple days ago," Spike said with a half shrug. "How's your arm?"
"Pretty good," Xander said, flexing his hand automatically, just a little startled by the question. "Got the cast off last week. How did you—"
"Rupert mentioned it when he called on me a few weeks back." Spike finally stepped into the apartment, giving it a cursory glance before he turned back to Xander. "So, would you be up for a road trip?"
Twenty minutes later, his hair still wet from his shower, Xander was eyeing Spike's bike nervously. "It's a 1998 model, near perfect condition," Spike explained, patting the gas tank almost reverently.
Xander pulled on the helmet and leather gloves Spike handed him. They were black, to match the bike. "You haven't told me yet where exactly we're going."
"Germany," Spike said, meanwhile reaching under Xander's chin to make sure the strap was done up right.
The brush of Spike's knuckles against the skin of his neck made Xander's pulse race, made him think of all the things they hadn't said to each other yet, all the questions left between them in June in LA. What are we to each other? But all he asked was, "What part of Germany?"
Spike pulled on his own helmet, and flipped up the visor to grin at Xander. "Berlin. You did pack a toothbrush, hey?"
The bike growled and purred between Xander's knees, a living thing. As they rounded the first corner he knew he was going to fall off, and his arms locked desperately around Spike's waist.
"Lean into it!" Spike shouted over the engine noise. Yeah, like that helped. Xander's right foot slipped off the passenger peg for a second and the adrenaline rush left his blood roaring in his ears even louder than the Roman traffic. "Into the bloody turn!" Spike repeated, his voice maybe cut off a bit by Xander's death grip on his abdomen.
At the next turn, he got it. It was like dancing; he just had to follow Spike's movements. He dared to relax his grip a bit, so his hands were resting on Spike's waist instead of clutching it frantically. By the time Spike had them out of Rome's traffic-choked streets and onto the traffic-choked highway, he was starting to enjoy it. It was like dancing—two bodies becoming one. Like dancing and...other things you could do with one other person. Other things he still hoped he might get to do with Spike sometime soon.
The first time they stopped to eat, just inside Austria, they talked about where they were going.
"Rupert's not as good with that locator spell as Red is," Spike said, "but he thinks there's a Slayer in Berlin—maybe a new one."
A new Slayer? That would be important. So far all the Slayers they'd made contact with had gained their powers at the moment of Willow's spell. Andrew had even voiced the worrying theory that with the line of succession broken, no more new Slayers would ever be called.
"How are we going to find her once we get to Berlin?"
"Su Li's back in Rome, having a rest. I've borrowed her compass."
"Okay, that works." Willow had made five of the magical devices back when they first started rebuilding the Watchers' Council and searching the world for Slayers. It had taken her a full week. They looked like ordinary compasses—they were, in fact, cheap compasses bought from the travel shop near the central train station in Rome—but within a ten mile radius of any Slayer, the needle would point directly at her.
Xander had lost his in the Congo.
When they finished eating, Spike went to the counter to pay with his new Council credit card, and Xander went outside. It was windy out, so he went around a corner of the restaurant to a more sheltered side before lighting up a cigarette.
Spike appeared half a minute later. "Where are you off to, Har—oh."
They exchanged an awkward look for a moment, Xander holding his breath instinctively because he didn't want to blow smoke Spike's way.
"I'll get the bike ready," Spike said abruptly, and stalked away.
Xander blew out the breath he'd been holding, closed his eye, and let his head knock back against the wall behind him. Shit. It was such a stupid thing to be all awkward about, such a fucking stupid thing to come between them. Especially when you considered that for most of the time they'd known each other, it'd been Spike who smoked and Xander who said things like 'if you stink up my apartment again while I'm at work I swear to God I'll stake you.'
But that was the problem, really. Spike had smoked for a hundred years or so, and probably loved every minute of it. Not like he'd had to worry about lung cancer or cigarette taxes or anything. Now he couldn't smoke, and Xander bet that his own smoke breaks reminded Spike of the long list of things that got screwed up when he turned human.
He took another long drag. He shouldn't smoke, anyway. The girls were always hassling him about it. Dawn kept asking 'What kind of idiot starts smoking past the age of thirteen?' But when a soldier named Philippe had handed him a cigarette in the back of the truck as they were driving Mathilde's body back to Kinshasa, the prospect of getting emphysema thirty years down the road hadn't seemed like a really important concern.
He'd tried to quit when he got back to Rome from LA. That had lasted a day.
He heard Spike rev the engine. "I'm coming!" he shouted, grinding the stub of the cigarette under his heel.
The second time they stopped to eat, just after midnight somewhere in Germany, they talked about where they had been.
"When did you get the glasses?"
"Soon as I got to Rome. Rupert figured out I needed them when I didn't recognize him in the airport."
"Oh. So back in LA, you were—"
"Blind as the proverbial bat, yeah." Spike shrugged and gave a rueful half-grin. "I thought it was just the change from vamp senses to human that made everything seem all blurry. Suppose I should've clued in when I couldn't see the bloody telly from the bloody couch."
Their food came—some kind of meat in batter thing for Spike, and roast chicken with fries for Xander. Weirdly, the waitress gave him mayo along with the fries. Spike discreetly shook a couple pills out of a prescription bottle and popped them in his mouth, chasing them with a gulp of Coke.
"I tried to call you in England," Xander said suddenly. It had been bothering him ever since Spike showed up that afternoon. "I left four messages."
Spike shrugged. "Wasn't in a mood to talk." He stuffed another bite in his mouth.
"Down in the gold mine my phone didn't work. When I got out, I got all Willow's emails at once, about you almost dying and everything." Xander saw Spike's expression closing down—he didn't want to talk about this. Xander pushed ahead anyway. "I called LA as soon as I could, but the only one left at your place was Kennedy. She told me you were better, I'd just missed you, you'd gone to Rome. But then when I finally got to Rome, you'd already gone to England."
"Wasn't my choice," Spike pointed out, which Xander already knew. "Rupert thought this doctor he knew in London would have a better shot at figuring me out than those youngsters who patch up your broken Slayers in Rome."
"So, did she?"
"Did she what?"
"Figure out what was wrong with you."
Spike rolled his eyes. "Yeah, all right? It's sorted now. Just gotta take some pills."
"Hey, that's great."
"Yeah. So what about you? Did you talk to Rupert about how you let that Slayer get killed in the Congo?"
Xander winced. "Thank you, Spike, for your sensitivity. And yes, I did."
"He's making me see a combat psychologist." Xander realized that he was about as eager to talk about this as Spike was to talk about his health. So, okay, time for a conversational truce. "Hey, you haven't told me how Willow's doing!"
Spike grinned. "She looks about the same, only with bigger breasts."
Back on the road. It was past midnight, but Spike still thought they could make it to Berlin. The road was wide and straight, and the nighttime traffic was thin.
They followed a silver BMW in the left-hand lane for a while, cruising along at an easy 130 kilometers per hour. The loose sleeves of Xander's battered leather jacket snapped incessantly in the wind, just audible over the healthy roar of the engine. Xander had to keep his head ducked down behind Spike's or that same wind would threaten to tear him right off the bike. His arms were wrapped around Spike's waist, and he could feel the steady rise and fall of his breathing.
Maybe fifteen minutes north of the restaurant, Spike decided the BMW was going too slow. He pulled out to the right and accelerated past it. Xander held on tighter against the G-force...which wasn't letting up. The BMW had vanished from the rearview mirrors, but Spike was urging the bike still faster. They were gaining fast on a semi in their lane, and Spike darted to the left again. They zipped past the semi and then slid over in front of it to get past a red Ferrari that was in the fast lane.
"Maybe we should slow down!" Xander shouted, but Spike gave no sign of hearing him. A nervous peek over Spike's shoulder at the speedometer showed the needle holding steady at 180.
He's insane, Xander realized suddenly. We're going to die. We're going to be nothing but a red smear on the autobahn. There won't be enough left of us to send home in a bucket.
And then it hit him. Two months ago he'd been fighting a vampire apocalypse two miles under South Africa. Five months ago he'd been chasing a rogue slayer and her heavily-armed entourage through an actual war zone. A year and a half ago, it was ten thousand uber-vamps in Sunnydale High. God, he hadn't been safe since he was fifteen years old—and even then, he'd only thought he was.
We should have died a thousand times over. Hell, Spike did die.
The helmet muffled his giggles, but Spike must've felt the shaking; he tensed up, started to ease off the throttle. Xander patted Spike's thigh, and though he was pretty sure Spike couldn't hear him, yelled "It's okay! I just realized we're fucking immortal!"
Spike gave a slight nod, and the engine roared. Xander barely managed to resist flinging his arms out and making airplane noises. The road became one long blur—they weren't driving, they were flying.
Of course they were going to die. But not tonight.
When they finally stopped for gas, Xander felt like he was still flying even when he got off the bike. At the edges of his vision, the whole world still seemed to be rushing by. The ground under his feet seemed to be vibrating with the cadence of the bike.
It had been a long time since their last rest stop. The toilet was one of those 'ask for the key at the desk' deals. Spike took his turn first, then Xander. Xander noticed that his hands were shaking as he undid his fly.
When he opened the door again, Spike was right there in his face.
"You've been behind me all day, I want to fucking look at you," Spike said in a low, growly voice, pushing Xander back into the washroom and letting the door click behind them.
"We had face time over supper," Xander pointed out, letting Spike back him into the tile wall.
"Not enough. Couldn't do this at the restaurant." He planted his hands on the wall on either side of Xander's shoulders, and kissed him.
"Uhummm," Xander murmured in agreement and encouragement. He hadn't seen this coming, but he was sure as hell ready for it after spending the whole day with his arms wrapped around Spike. Now he slid his hands under Spike's jacket and T-shirt at the small of his back; his skin was hot, smooth, sticky with sweat. He pulled Spike tighter against him, and Spike made a little sound that was almost a moan and attacked his mouth with more ferocious kisses.
When Xander felt Spike's hand slide down between them and cup his crotch, he turned his head to escape Spike's lips long enough to say, "Shit, Spike, not here. The gas station guy's going to wonder what's taking us so long."
Spike grinned, and nipped playfully at Xander's neck. "Don't worry, I told him you were constipated. Told him not to expect you out for half an hour."
"You did not! You don't know that much German."
Spike shrugged it off. "It's the middle of the bloody night. The bloke's sitting behind the counter reading a magazine about the sodding X-files. He doesn't care how long we take."
Xander wasn't so sure, but then Spike kissed him again and squeezed his balls gently and Xander decided he didn't care what the gas station guy thought.
Worst case scenario, Giles'll bail us out of jail.
That was his last fully coherent thought for a while.
"Want to feel you in me," Spike was whispering in his ear. "Want you to fill me up." A zipper sound accompanied his words; he'd opened Xander's fly.
Xander shook his head, even as he closed his eye for a second to sink into the shivery, delicious feeling of Spike easing his dick out of its confinement. "I didn't bring—I don't have—"
"I did. I do." Grinning, Spike produced from his pocket a box of condoms and a very small bottle of lube.
Xander laughed. "You were planning this!"
"Thought we'd find a hotel, talk first." Spike kissed Xander again. "But I got impatient."
Soon Spike's jeans were down around his knees and his hands were braced on the edge of the sink. Xander was behind him, teasing him with one slicked-up finger. He was a little nervous, actually; that time they went to the gay bar he'd tried to make Spike think he was all experienced now, but actually this was exactly the fourth time Xander had had sex with a guy—and only the third time he'd topped. "Feel okay?" he asked, trying to make the question sound sexy instead of anxious.
"Fantastic, pet. Now go ahead and fuck me."
Xander watched Spike's face in the mirror as he entered him. Spike's eyes squeezed shut behind his glasses and his teeth clenched, and on the edge of the sink his fingernails scraped the porcelain. Xander hesitated, afraid he was hurting him.
"Don't stop, pet. Bloody hell, don't stop."
Xander's body was happy to not stop. Sweet Jesus, it was happy.
His hands were on Spike's hips, helping his balance, but now he reached around with his right hand to touch Spike's dick. Spike was wearing a condom, too—"don't wanna make a mess," he'd murmured at some point in the middle of the kissing and touching and getting ready—so he was inhumanly smooth against the palm of Xander's hand. Xander matched the movement of his hand to the rhythm of his hips and Spike rewarded him with a happy-sounding groan. His eyes opened slightly, glittering feral slits gazing at Xander in the mirror.
Spike came before Xander did. His head arched back and his knuckles went white and he moaned through clenched teeth, and Xander thought he was beautiful.
He paused, after, wondering if he should stop now.
"That was fan-fucking-tastic, pet," Spike murmured. "But you're not done, are you?"
That was all the permission Xander needed. Now Spike was watching him in the mirror with wide-open eyes and a lazy grin, licking his lips suggestively—and part of Xander's brain decided it was kind of redundant for Spike to flirt with him when they were already in the middle of having sex, but the rest of him was too busy enjoying it to care.
After Xander came he grabbed the base of the condom and carefully pulled out of Spike. Spike was still leaning against the sink, with his head hanging down now, and his arms were shaking. Xander tossed the condom into the garbage and leaned against the wall. "Fuck," he said. "That was..."
Finally standing up, Spike smiled. "Good, yeah?" There was just a hint of insecurity in his tone, like maybe on some level he wasn't sure if Xander had enjoyed it at all.
Which was crazy.
"Come here," Xander ordered him. His voice came out all low and rough.
Spike peeled off his own condom first and tossed it in the trash, and he fumbled with his jeans as he crossed the short distance to Xander. As soon as he was in arm's reach Xander grabbed him and pulled him close in a tight hug.
"Good?" Xander whispered. "I've been waiting for that for two fucking months, Spike. It was incredible."
"'Course it was," Spike murmured back, letting his cheek rest against Xander's collar bone. Xander felt something rough and warm; Spike was licking his neck. Then he felt Spike's teeth nipping gently at his skin, and Xander laughed.
"You're not a vampire anymore."
"Old habits, luv," Spike murmured with a smile in his voice.
"Spike? Did you just call me 'love'?" He wouldn't even have asked if he weren't so far past exhausted, in a state like being drunk. Now Spike stiffened in Xander's arms and butterflies dive-bombed Xander's stomach and he wished he'd kept his mouth shut.
"Just an expression," Spike clarified, stepping back from Xander. "I'm fucking English, recall?"
"Yeah. Uh. I don't mind. You can...call me that."
Spike raised an eyebrow at Xander, seemed to study him for a minute, then smiled. "Right then, luv. Time to go."
"Wait," Xander said. The thought of getting back on the bike and pushing on for Berlin suddenly struck him as incredibly stupid. They were both so tired they were shaking, and it's not like they were even in a fucking hurry. "There was a sign for a hotel at this exit, right?"
"Think so, yeah." Spike frowned. "Why?"
Thinking was hard, like wading through molasses. And who wades through molasses, anyway? But Xander managed to decide before he opened his mouth that trying to argue that Spike was too tired to go on was a strategy doomed to defeat. So instead he said, "I'm totally wiped. If we go much farther I'm going to fall asleep and fall off the back of the bike."
Xander was afraid for a moment that Spike would argue it anyway. But then Spike touched Xander's hand and looked at him, head tilted just a bit to the side, and said quietly, "All right then. I'll get you safe to bed."
Xander got a nice feeling in his belly when Spike said that. Warm, and soft, and unexpected.
The attendant barely raised his head from his magazine when they handed back the key. Outside, Xander pulled out his pack of cigarettes. "I'm going to, um, walk down the road a bit for a smoke," he said.
"Yeah, okay." Spike stuffed his hands in his pockets and scuffed the pavement with his boot, and tried to look like he didn't care. "I'll come meet you with the bike."
Xander, meanwhile, was still staring at the pack in his hand. "Know what?" he said. "Screw this." Without letting himself think twice about it, he shoved the cigarettes into the garbage can outside the station door.
Spike's eyebrow lifted again. "You're going to be in a right bad mood tomorrow, luv."
"Yeah, well." He shot Spike a tight grin. "You can distract me."
They climbed on the bike and set off slowly away from the highway. Xander kept his head high, willing himself to stay awake until they got to the hotel. He felt strange and light—giddy, maybe, from the exhaustion and the sex and the endless vibration of the bike.
No, it was more than that. Something had changed. This thing with Spike...it wasn't over. It was only beginning. Xander wasn't sure how far it could go, or what it meant, but he knew one thing: he was happier now than he'd been for a very, very long time.