By Dira Sudis
Xander ran a hand through his hair and
waved the flashlight around, aiming at knee-level. He’d memorized the plan, he was in the right
spot, and Spike had seemed attached to this place. He ought to be here.
“Spike?” Xander thought, again, about how
much easier it would have been to buy the beer, instead, and spend his solitary
Friday night in the customary fashion.
“I brought you something.”
On the other hand, this plan would have
been irresistible after a six-pack, and then he’d be here anyway, but drunk,
and he’d have fallen over when Spike popped out from behind a file cabinet.
Xander aimed the flashlight beam for center
of body mass, so that he wouldn’t blind Spike.
The same spiffy blue shirt he’d been wearing for over a week was
brightly illuminated, and Xander noticed it was even grimier now than it had
been in the woods last night. Spike had
picked up what looked like a big smear of grease somewhere, and spatters of,
It was Spike who finally broke the silence,
his voice hoarse and uneven, so that it took Xander a moment to decipher the
words. “You don’t know when’s my
Xander tried not to sigh out loud. He’d known coming into this that Spike was as
crazy as a very, very crazy thing. He
could deal. “You want to come upstairs
Spike waved one hand, a wild slashing
gesture full of no. “You said you
brought me something, but you don’t know when’s my birthday, so why would you
do that?” Spike moved closer, squinting
warily at Xander like he was a math problem just outside comprehension, trying
to figure the puzzle without losing his cool.
“Who are you, anyway? Can’t fool
me, I’m not stupid.”
“It’s me, Spike, just me.” Xander lowered the flashlight as Spike moved
closer. “The thing I brought you–-it’s
not a birthday present, it’s a reward.
Job well done.”
Spike’s eyes shifted up to meet Xander’s
Xander gentled his voice as much as he
could. “You were a big help last night,
tracking that demon.”
Spike nodded, and his gaze drifted lower
again. This close, it seemed like Spike
was staring at his throat, but that wasn’t true. Probably.
Not important, anyway. “Got ‘im,
“Yeah, yeah. Buff gouged out his eyes.”
Spike looked up again, suddenly sharp. “So now you throw the dog a bone, that
it?” He turned away, back toward his
fortress of filing cabinet solitude.
“Don’t like bones.”
Xander considered letting him go, but,
hell, he’d already bought the stuff, might as well go through with this. “Do you like Weetabix?”
Spike half-turned back, and Xander was
surprised by how much it pleased him to see the familiar expression of
amusement on his face. “You never did.”
Xander grinned and waved the flashlight
back the way he’d come. “You gotta come
upstairs with me.”
The prospect of Weetabix, which, even dry,
would make a nice change from rat’s blood, sustained Spike through the basement
and up the stairs. But Xander, a couple
of strides ahead, just kept walking, through the night-quiet hallways. They were strangely dimly illuminated, as
though a full moon was shining from all around.
That was obviously a crazy thought, but Spike got so distracted trying
to sort it out that he stopped walking, and Xander, halfway down the hallway,
had to call to him.
“It’s just the night lights,” Xander said,
as Spike caught him up. “It’s a thing,
they didn’t want it to ever be dark in here.”
Xander kept walking, leading him down another
hallway and through a set of double doors, and a little bird whispered to Spike
that this wasn’t quite right. “No,” he
whispered back, “No it’s not.”
Xander glanced back at him as they walked
through the rows of lockers, and Spike walked slower. “Why couldn’t you just bring it down to me?”
Xander turned back, walked a little faster,
leading him on, and Spike caught him just at the doorway, grabbed his shoulder
and spun him around. “What’s going on
here? Where is it?”
Xander’s eyes swept over him slowly, head
to foot. “I want you to do something for
me first.” Spike snatched his hand back,
staring warily at (the alleged) Xander as he met his eyes. “Take off your clothes.”
The funny thing, Xander thought, or maybe
the sick, scary, not-funny-at-all thing, was that Spike didn’t ask any
questions after that, just blinked once, nodded like that made sense, and
turned half away as he pulled the shirt off over his head. Xander turned away as well, to the bag he’d
left on the bench before going down to find Spike. He was thrown almost literally off balance by
Spike’s easy acquiescence, and he steadied himself for a moment, pulling out
the stuff he’d brought, dismissing all the arguments and explanations he’d had
When Xander turned around, Spike was just
standing there, naked. Really, really
naked, and almost glowing in the dim white light. Xander fixed his gaze on Spike’s face,
willing even to make eye contact at this point, because if he didn’t look at
all that exposed skin, maybe it didn’t count.
He tossed the soap, and the washcloth, and
crazy or no Spike still had vamp reflexes, and caught both before he had time
to register the surprise on his face.
Xander, not looking down, not looking, gestured through the doorway
where Spike had stopped him. “Shower
Spike pitched an eyebrow.
Xander stepped back, through the doorway
and into the shiny-new echoing shower room.
Leading the way had worked up to now.
“Come on, Spike. I don’t know if
you’ve noticed, but you smell awful. You
need a shower.”
Spike looked down, hefted the bar of soap
in his hand. When he looked back up, he
was on top of things again, all cool amusement.
“It’s your world, boss.”
Spike strolled in, brushing past Xander just
inside the door, just close enough to be deliberately invading his personal
space, and crossed to a showerhead on the other side of the small room. He turned the water on and stood still under
it for a moment, then started soaping the washcloth. Xander was just starting to wonder why he
hadn’t yet retreated back to the locker room when
Spike looked back at him over his shoulder.
“So, I smell, do I?”
Xander had the horribly familiar feeling
that there was no earthly way to answer this question correctly. Spike had a strange look in his eyes, not
crazy, not angry, but intent.
“Well, Buffy said something last night,” and, wow, that was so
not the right answer.
Spike turned his face back toward the wall
and slapped the soap down in the little metal tray. “That what this is, then? Slayer sent her errand boy to give the dog a
bath before his biscuit?”
Xander, safely out of Spike’s sight, rolled
his eyes. “No. Buffy didn’t send me. She doesn’t even know I’m here.”
Spike turned all the way around to face
him, soaping one arm as he looked Xander over, head to toe and back again. Xander held very, very still, and fixed his
eyes on Spike’s chin. “Dirty secret,” he
murmured, his voice almost lost in the sound of the water as he turned away
again. “Right. I can do that.”
Xander let his hands open and close, clench
and unclench, before he tried to answer.
Spike went on washing methodically.
“It’s not like that.”
“Yeah, no, I know.” Spike bent slightly, washing his legs, and
was he . . . ? No. Surely not.
“Not like that at all,” Spike continued, half to himself, as he grabbed
the bar of soap. “I’m just standing here
all naked and soapy and wet and then I’ll probably–-“ There was a dull
clattering sound, and Spike bent all the way over and looked back at Xander,
upside down, hair hanging in wet clumps.
“Oh, look.” He blinked at Xander,
and then looked at the floor. “I’ve
dropped my soap.” And now he was, yes,
undeniably, shaking his ass, a slow, sinuous motion.
Xander closed his eyes, pressed his fingers
into his eye sockets like he could squish out that image, and reminded
himself that Spike was crazy and almost
certainly not doing it on purpose. “You
should pick it up, then, huh?” He didn’t
lower his hands or open his eyes until he heard the soap slap back into the
soap dish and the faint sound of a washcloth running over skin.
Spike was facing Xander now, balanced on
one leg and bent over as he scrubbed intently at the toes of his raised
foot. Spike glanced up at him, once,
just for a second, and then returned his attention to washing as he switched
feet. “So, explain to me why you care,
then? If I smell bad?”
Xander had been asking himself that for
hours, and still hadn’t come up with an answer that didn’t sound lame. “I know hygiene isn’t a huge priority for
vamps, but you never used to stink.”
Spike put his other foot down and just
stared at Xander for a moment. “Yeah,
well, maybe it’s because I’m crazy!”
Xander couldn’t stop himself from recoiling
at the shout, which echoed almost unbearably in the small room, but stood his
ground. “I know that. That’s why I’m here.”
Spike frowned, looking puzzled.
Xander sighed and waved a hand toward
Spike’s head. “Did you get behind your
Spike obediently raised the cloth and
washed behind his ears, and then the back of his neck, all the while staring at
Xander, waiting for an explanation.
“Look, I know you’re crazy, all right?
It’s pretty obvious. But that
means you need a little help looking after yourself, and you’ve been helping
us, so here I am. To help you.”
Spike’s head whipped sharply to his
right. “Yeah, well, nobody’s talking to
you,” he snapped, “so sod–-“ and his face changed, just like that, as if he’d
been slapped; suddenly he was pleading.
“No, no, I’m sorry, baby, I’m sorry, I didn’t–-“
Spike froze in place, his head still turned
toward the apparition, but his eyes were on Xander.
“Come on, Spike. Stay with me, here. Finish washing up.”
Spike’s eyes slid back to his vision, and
he gave–-her?–-a sneering, superior little nod before turning his attention
back to washing. “So, you’re to be my
Xander shrugged. “I don’t have a plan, I just. Wanted to do something tonight.”
Spike started rinsing out the washcloth,
frowning down at it in his hands, and Xander ducked out into the locker room
and pulled the shampoo out of the bag, tossing it to Spike as he came back
in. Spike caught the bottle and then stared
down at it. “What is this?”
For your hair?” Craziness, as it
turned out, had not dulled the edge of Spike’s who-ate-your-brain look.
“This stuff’s English, innit? Giles had this brand.”
“Yeah, Will brought it back, it’s for
color-treated . . .”
Spike’s hand had clenched on the bottle,
and he was staring at it like it was full of holy water. “Red’s come back?”
“Yeah, she–-hey, when Buffy and I came down
to talk to you, she was here, wasn’t she?
You were talking to her?”
Spike clutched the shampoo to his chest,
pressing his hand to his head and staring down.
“No, no, she wasn’t, she couldn’t.
She didn’t have papers.” He
looked up at Xander. “I double
checked! She wasn’t real! You’re real, and you couldn’t see
“No, Spike, she was really there. It was–-that was the rest of the world being
crazy, okay? Not you.”
“Not–-“ his face started to crumple, and he
turned away again to face the wall, lifting his face into the spray. Xander slipped out, picking up the towel he’d
filched from Buffy’s when he’d stopped to get the shampoo. It was from the linen closet, all clean and
fluffy and not overly pink.
When he stepped back into the shower room,
Spike was under control, lathering his hair with steady hands. Xander suspected that somewhere deep inside,
Spike was freaking out, but at least it had distracted him from the
prison-shower sex kitten routine.
Spike rinsed and repeated, all the while
pretending he was alone, and Xander wasn’t sure what made him stand there and
watch. It was somehow more personal than
anything yet; this was what Spike looked like when he was alone and naked and
washing his hair, and there couldn’t be many things more private than that. Still, Xander stood quietly and waited, towel
in hand. Finally, Spike shut off the
water and stood there, the water dripping off his body loud in the sudden
silence. Xander walked over and pressed
the towel into his hand, and Spike took it and began drying himself off. When the towel was safely tucked around his
hips, he finally looked at Xander, spreading his hands. “So, do I pass muster?”
Xander tried for a grin and got only an
uncertain smile. “You’ll do.”
When he headed back out to the locker room,
Spike followed close behind. He stopped
by the forlorn heap of his dirty clothes, and Xander went on over to the bench
and rummaged through the bag. He pulled
out the black jeans and held them out to Spike.
Spike blinked. “Where’d you get
Xander shrugged. “Thrift store. Hadn’t been there in a while, but they had
some good stuff.”
Spike’s brow wrinkled as he reached out and
took the jeans. “Yeah, well. Ta.”
Xander turned to the bag and stayed bent over it, fiddling with the next
item, til he’d heard the zip of the jeans.
The pants fit fine, so his vague memory
about Spike’s laundry was correct. He
held the shirt out hesitantly. “I got a
blue one, since you seem to like that now.”
Spike looked at him like maybe he was the
crazy one, and took it carefully from his hand, just an old second-hand shirt,
soft with wear.
“I can take your other stuff and wash it,
if you want. Bring it back Monday, I’m
working here just about every day.”
Spike nodded slowly, and picked up his
boots and sat down on a bench to put them on.
Xander bundled the dirty clothes into a bag and withdrew the main
attraction: a big yellow box of Weetabix and a thermos. He set them both on the bench next to Spike,
and sat down across from him. “The blood
should still be hot, it’s a pretty good thermos.”
Spike’s hands went briefly still in tying
up his boots, but then he went on with no other response. When he’d got them fastened up, he carefully
unscrewed the top of the thermos and sniffed.
A little steam escaped, and Xander rubbed his nose and braced himself
not to notice the smell.
Spike poured himself a cup, and opened the
box of Weetabix and crumpled some of the cereal into his blood. His hands shook a little as he gulped the
mixture, but he didn’t spill a drop.
When he’d done that, he put the lid back on the thermos and pulled out
another Weetabix-unit to munch on, and finally looked at Xander again. Xander looked back, waiting, wondering if
Spike was going to start arguing with invisible people again.
“I can’t do it all myself, you know.”
“I mean,” he waved toward the shower
room. “I was trying, to make it easy for you in there, but
obviously you’ve got this scene all planned out, so, if you could just get on
with it, I’d appreciate it.”
Xander blinked. “Spike?”
“I mean, look, you’ve never liked me, I
know that, and I’m crazy, so not the best company. But you’re not here to enjoy my riveting
conversation, and we wouldn’t be dallying about like this if there was work you
wanted me to do, so, fine. I see why you’re
here. Fair’s fair. You’d have been out with Rocky’s mum right
now if I hadn’t gone off and scared her, and I can see how you might want me to
pinch-hit, but I can’t do all of it myself.”
Xander wished, devoutly, that Spike were
directing all of this at some imaginary, or possibly invisible, other
person. Because he couldn’t possibly be
“I mean, it’s not that I wouldn’t, I do as
I’m told. The loot, that’s a real nice
touch, and I’m grateful. I just
can’t. Chip won’t let me, right? Sooner or later, you’re going to have
to jump my bones, so–-“
He wrapped his arms around his stomach,
like Xander might try to take back the food he’d already eaten. “Yeah?”
Xander sighed and then crossed the space
between them and leaned over Spike.
“Listen carefully.” When he got a
wide-eyed nod, he went on, “I’m not here to have sex with you.”
Spike nodded again, slowly,
obediently. “Right. I know that.
You’re here to help me, ‘cause you’re a white hat. Altruist, I get that. But then, the fucking. Because.
That’s what you get out of this.”
Xander shook his head, and moved back, sat
down beside Spike with a couple of feet between them. “Wrong.”
Spike nibbled on the Weetabix some
more. “I’m never going to be able to
tell when I’m being crazy if you insist on acting crazy around me all the
“I’m not being crazy. I’m just . . . trying to help.”
“Like I said.”
Xander sighed. “Okay, fine.
Truth is, the girls are all out doing girly things and I was bored, and
this was all just a way for me to pass the time. So, now time has been passed, and I’m going
to go home.” And the beauty of it was,
if Spike ever tried to tell anyone they’d had this conversation, Xander could
claim he’d hallucinated it, so there was nothing to stop him from repressing
the whole evening.
He went and gathered up the stuff he’d
brought and Spike’s dirty clothes, ducking into the shower room to retrieve the
soap and cloth and Willow’s shampoo.
When he was ready to go, Spike was still sitting there, half-eaten
Weetabix in his hand, staring at the locker across from him. “So, I’ll see you Monday, all right? Bring you your stuff.”
Spike didn’t look up. “Whatever you say.”
Xander nodded, pointlessly as Spike was
quite oblivious, and walked out.