Story notes: Just a little one-off ficlet, inspired by the SpikedAwards image of Spike up on the newspaper box. What's he doing there, anyway? The stuff of my late Tuesday evenings.
Tonight there was supposed to be something on A6 about seismic disturbances in Orange County, and Giles wanted a copy. And Xander was the guy with sixty-five cents and a couple of minutes to spare. So here he was, at the corner of Parmenter and Vine, fishing in his jeans for an extra dime and wondering whether he was going to get sent out to pick up the pizza the minute he showed up at Giles’s.
“Hey, I aim to please,” he muttered, and pulled a handful of change and lint out of his pocket for inspection.
There was a rustle in the bushes beside him, and he jumped back instinctively, grabbing for his stake pocket and realizing he wasn’t wearing his coat. He’d left it in the car. Why had he chosen the box right next to the park?
“Hello?” he called, trying to sound large and authoritative. “Somebody there?”
There was a short silence, while he swallowed and listened to his heart hammer in his ears, and then the bushes rustled again and Spike emerged. He looked both ways along the sidewalk, glanced at Xander, then looked away again, as if he weren’t entirely comfortable standing there. He had a leaf in his hair.
“Oh, Jesus Christ,” Xander said, exhaling and putting his hand to his chest. “Who are you, George of the Jungle?”
Spike gave him a narrow look. “Paying for that, are you?”
Xander blinked at him, then down at his own hand, which was closed in a fist around his pocket change. “Paying for…yeah, I’m paying for it, Spike. And you can buy your own paper.”
Spike sniffed. “Didn’t ask you for one, did I? Just making sure you’re above board.”
Xander gaped. “Above what?”
“Go on, get your paper and move along.”
Xander just stood there a minute, then shook his head and shoved some coins into the slot. “What are you doing here, Spike? Anything I or a certain Slayer should know about?”
“Not doing anything. Evening edition’s sixty-five.”
Xander paused and looked up. “Yes,” he said. “I know how much the paper costs, Spike. What are you doing here, exactly?”
Spike looked away again, and brushed a twig from the bottom of his shirt. “Just move along,” he said, and then glanced more intently down the street to his left. Xander peered that way but couldn’t see anything.
”’Move along’?” he repeated. “Are you in the Bureau now? And can we go back to the lurking you were doing just now? Because either you explain it or I give my version to Buffy, and my version will include the foliage you’re wearing.”
Spike gave an irritable swipe at his hair, and spared Xander a quick glance. “Look, you’ve paid your money, now hurry up and get going.”
Xander grabbed the metal handle of the box door and pulled it slightly, just enough to make it disengage. Then he stood there bouncing it on its spring, just watching Spike. Spike glanced away down the street again, and now Xander could hear footsteps coming from that direction. He raised his eyebrows. “What’s going on, Spike?” he asked.
Spike gave him a furious look, then turned and muttered quickly, “Got a job, don’t I? Bunch of wankers are pinching papers from the boxes, company wants someone to put a stop to it. Easy money. But I can’t do it with your fat arse parked here, can I? So take your bloody paper and piss off already.”
Xander felt a grin of utter disbelief and delight start across his face. “You work for the newspaper?” he asked. The footsteps were louder now, and Spike flapped his hand urgently.
“Shut up, you idiot. And bugger off before I—”
“Oh no,” Xander said. “No way. This I have to see.”
Spike turned a furious look on him, just as a figure came around the corner and crossed the street toward them. It was a young guy in a dark jacket and jeans, with little round glasses and a goatee. Constant Reader, by the look of him.
Spike took a step back and got interested in the pavement, and Xander pulled the box’s door open all the way so he could grab his paper. The guy hopped up onto the curb beside him and said casually, “Oh—hey, mind if I snag one while you’ve got it open?”
Xander paused and half-turned, his hand still in the box. “Well,” he said slowly, pretending to consider. “I don’t know. I mean, you’re supposed to pay for them.”
“Oh, right,” the guy said, and patted his pockets. “Damn, I left my wallet at home. I’ll pay double next time.” He reached an arm forward, and Xander let the door close a fraction.
“I don’t know,” he said again, glancing sideways at Spike, who was watching the pavement intently. “Says here they monitor these things for theft.” He nodded at the little metal plate that said so.
The guy paused a moment, then shook his head and squinted incredulously. “Come on, man,” he said. “It’s a fifty-cent paper.”
“Sixty-five," Spike muttered to the ground.
“I’d pay if I had my wallet with me,” the guy went on. “I just don’t want to walk six blocks home to get it right now.”
“Sure,” Xander said. “Well, I can see your point.”
“Okay,” the guy said, and reached forward to take a paper from the box.
There was a snarl as if the air had torn in half, a quick black blur in front of their faces. The box boomed and shuddered, and Spike was on top of it, squatting on his haunches with his fingers clutching the metal like claws, his face leonine. The guy stumbled backward and half-fell off the curb. Spike glared down at him with cold yellow eyes, the snarl still bubbling out of his throat. His fangs shone like knives under the streetlight.
“Holy—” The guy picked himself up, made a faint grabbing gesture at Xander, then turned and high-knee sprinted across the street. He skidded a little going around the corner.
Xander stood holding his paper, listening to the retreat. He had a faint, inexplicable sense of well-being.
When he couldn’t hear the footfalls anymore, he turned back to Spike, who was sitting crosslegged on top of the box now.
“So does it pay well?” he asked.
Spike shrugged and rifled his pockets for a cigarette. Xander glanced back at the empty streetcorner and shook his head. “That was kind of fun,” he said, and caught Spike’s offhand nod out of the corner of his eye.
“Passes the time,” Spike said, blowing out smoke.
“And kind of hot, actually,” Xander said. “In a Wild Kingdom kind of—I didn’t say any of that.”
He didn’t give Spike a chance to reply, just folded up his paper and his dignity and walked fast back across the street to the car. When he pulled out, he caught a glimpse of Spike sprawled boneless on the box with one leg hanging down, the cigarette dangling from his fingers, his eyes half-closed, a look of supreme self-satisfaction on his face.
“Not hot,” Xander said, and lowered his head, and drove.