nothing lost and nothing gained
- Ani DiFranco
He was very drunk, leaning up against a bathroom stall and just doing the breathing thing when Spike came in, looked at him, shrugged, and slammed his fist into an empty mirror without preamble. It took awhile for Xander to realize what had happened. There was glass everywhere, and Spike, not reflected anywhere. Spike, Xander thought, was definitely a not with a whimper, but a bang kind of guy, especially considering that he was supposed to be dead. Not to mention the way he'd died.
"What did you do that for?" Xander asked dumbly.
As he watched, Spike raised his fist, studied the damage, and proceeded to suck on a bleeding knuckle. His eyes glittered in a terrible way, as if with a sheen of tears, but not. His lips, when he lowered his hand, were stained a shade darker than they should have been and he smiled with them. "What, no kiss hello?"
"No," Xander said unsteadily. "No, I don't think so."
Spike very nearly pouted. "You wound me, Harris. What's this? I did save your moronic arse, yeah? Because I'm not feeling the gratitude."
Xander blinked. "What are you, I mean, what are you doing here?"
"In existence, like?" Spike frowned. "How am I bloody well supposed to know? Who can answer a question like that?"
"Spike," Xander said unbelievingly. "This is different. You're supposed to be dead."
"Yes, well, no one ever seems to follow that rule around you lot, do they?"
"There's no lot," he informed the vampire, stung despite all the time that had passed. "Just me."
"Oh, no." And now Spike mock-frowned, and asked plaintively, "Did you and the little witch have a row? Why can't we all just be friends?" Xander just sighed at the familiarity of the whole affair. Spike looked entirely the same, which was both unfeasible and awful, not to mention surreal. He could remember when Spike had made him feel like a child, but now Spike seemed to be the child, a sinewy boy-monster with impossibly smooth skin and angry words. Eyes that gave him away. That wasn't new either.
"How did you find me?" Xander asked. He felt abruptly, coldly sober, the shock of it all hitting him at once as a delayed reaction.
"What makes you think I was looking for you?" Spike asked, and sneered.
"Well, whatever," Xander said, and played his hand. "I'm going home. You can-"
"Do what I want?" Spike cut in smoothly, roaming fingers suddenly at Xander's throat, as if to strangle, as if to caress. So, the vampire had called his bluff. Fine. But Spike caught the punch before he threw it, and then he really did go for the throat, and ow. "I can do whatever I fucking want?" Spike asked, crushing his windpipe with an easy, painless countenance while Xander wriggled like a fish on a hook. "That what you were going to say?"
And Xander was angry, so hot and cold in his rage, that he choked out, "Go ahead," and even meant it.
Spike released him immediately. "You're ruining all my fun."
"And I'm wracked with guilt about it too. Fuck you, Spike. Where have you been?"
Spike lashed out at him then, and it was a messy blow, badly thrown. Ears ringing, Xander pressed his cheek against the wall which reeked of cigarette smoke, and just kept trying to breathe without breathing anything in.
"Let's not talk about that," he heard Spike say. Strangely flat voice, like an answering service. 'Lo, this is Spike. I'm not in at the moment, but leave a message after the tone and I'll get back to you once I'm finished killing you and everyone that you know.
"Fine," Xander rasped out, the first traces of fear niggling at him, his spine. "Fine, okay. What do you want to talk about?" You were always supposed to keep the serial killer talking, he knew. Personalize the situation. Except, personally, Spike hated him, so he really wondered if he was using the wrong diversionary tactic.
"Hmm," Spike said lowly. "Let me tell you something."
"Is this one of those 'if I tell you, I'll have to kill you' kind of situations? Because, gotta say, I'm too trashed to deal with that right now, so."
"I was looking for you," Spike informed him slyly, but didn't answer the question.
"What? Why?" Xander asked muzzily.
But he didn't get to hear the answer.
He awoke fuzzy-headed and dry-mouthed in his bed, in his apartment, in his world. Someone had loosened his shoelaces, the same someone he was willing to bet was the someone he could hear in his bathroom, splashing around.
Spike chose that moment of profound observation on Xander's part to throw the bathroom door open and saunter in in all his naked glory.
"Ah, Jesus," Xander said, and would have closed his eyes if he hadn't been worried for his life. So he focused on Spike's face, on the single droplet of water that sloped its' way down his cheek. "You're getting water everywhere."
"My apologies, mate," Spike said unenthusiastically, and then he ambled out of the bedroom.
Xander jerked to his feet. "I didn't let you in," he whispered.
"Did so," Spike called back. "Lucky I was there, too. Can't hold your drink at all, can you?"
"Or maybe the unconsciousness was, you know, the result of you bashing me up against a wall." Spike hmmed. "What are you doing out there?" Xander asked.
"Come and see."
"No," Xander said emphatically. "No. I think- no."
"There is a naked vampire in my kitchen," Xander announced to no one in particular.
"That would be me," Spike said, and ghosted back into the bedroom. He looked at Xander trying not to look at him, and said, "Well?"
"Do I pass muster?"
"Spike, for the love of everything, like, ever - get dressed. Okay?"
Spike smiled at him, no teeth. "Okay," he said simply, then raised an eyebrow. "So."
"Move," Spike suggested blandly.
"Uh, yeah," Xander said, and banged his arm up against the wall in his haste to get away from Naked Spike, who had left and returned before Xander had decided if he wanted to make a run for it despite the fact that this was his territory. He was thankfully no longer making with the nakedness.
Xander followed Spike back into the kitchen, and blurted out, "So, what? You're killing people again?"
"Well, yeah," Spike said. He picked up a cherry form the bowl in the middle of the table and sucked on it.
Xander, shocked into silence, although precisely why he was shocked he had no idea, could only stare. "But you've just been, like, stalking me?" he pressed finally, cautiously. Spike shrugged, and took another cherry. Popped it into his mouth. "What about Buffy?" Xander asked, as evenly as he could.
Spike looked as if he'd been gutted, although his smile never slipped. "Not her bitch anymore, am I?"
"Only because she won't have you."
Spike kept smiling. "Not her bitch. Not her whore. Not her fucking anything. You should hear, the things she-" Eyes glinted, with madness or tears, and Xander really didn't want to see this rendition of Spike cry. "One for the road, yeah?" Spike continued, forestalling any concerns, and lunged at him across the table. A hard, quick pressing of their lips together.
When Spike pulled away, Xander remained close-mouthed. He thought he might be angry. Furious, but anger felt like something else. He had enough time to register that he was alive and that he had a raging hard-on and then Spike was gone altogether.
The thing was, after that initial invitation, Spike could show up in his apartment whenever he wanted to, and he often did. Once Xander got as far as picking up the phone, as far as saying, "Willow, I need-" before one cool hand closed across his mouth.
"What?" Xander mumbled.
"My needs come first," Spike told him. "All right?" Xander thought then that Spike must be really fucking needy, but all he did was nod emphatically. Yes, yes. Willow's voice sounded tinnily from the fallen receiver. Spike gently hung it up. "Right now I need to talk to you."
"That never seems to end well for me," Xander pointed out, batting Spike's hand away from his face.
Spike nodded. "Suppose not." Stilled. "Look. Want to stay with you for a bit."
"Is this something that's my decision?"
"Not really, no," Spike answered, and that was that. When Willow called him back he told her that everything was fine, just fine. Spike, unpredictable, deathly, smiled that smile of his from across the room.
"We should have ourselves a celebration," Spike told him cheerily. Xander just stared, unnerved. No one smiled like that. Even Spike had never smiled like that. The vampire caught the look and clicked his tongue. "If that's the way it's gonna be, then," he began.
"No," Xander said numbly. "No. We should- do that. Celebrate."
"So," Spike said, rolling papers on the countertop, shoving the bartender tumbling back against the wall without looking up, with a mere flick of wrist. The other man's head sounded with a sick crack. "Suppose you're getting antsy," Spike was saying. "Wanting to know what this is all about."
"This has been a very, uh, drawn out process," Xander agreed, slowly. He felt like he was doing everything slowly. He really didn't think he needed any weed, but when Spike handed him the joint he took a long, burning hit.
"I'll sum it up for you," Spike said. "Didn't look for the Slayer first off, and why should I? Because she once tried to tell me something with her eyes?" Something tightened in his jaw. "Looked for you instead."
"And why would that be?"
Spike shrugged without really shrugging and said bluntly, "Have to have a connection somewhere, yeah? Anyone else I've had one with has fucked me, or fucked me over, or both."
"We don't have a connection," Xander said firmly, and flinched when the bartender moaned from his reclining position on the floor.
"No, but we're both all by our lonesome. And alike in that way, see?"
"No, no I don't see. Why can't you just go haunt someone who cares?"
"Because there isn't anyone who sodding well cares," Spike told him flatly. "Just you, and at least you care enough to hate me. Drag?"
Xander took another drag, blinked, thought about crying. Didn't. He was strangely, oddly touched. He was terrified. He recalled that Spike's lips had tasted of cherries, of copper, of blood.
"You didn't tell me why you, uh, kissed me," Xander said later.
"Wanted to," Spike said, somewhat petulantly.
"What are you, four? Stop asking me that. I like to kiss, to shag, to fuck. You were there."
I'm here now, Xander thought. He was so very stupid.
"You didn't tell me where you were."
Back at the apartment, Spike lay on the bed. Regarded him with slitted, burned-out looking eyes. Without answering, he reached out for Xander, for something, in a kind of flailing, kittenish way. Let his hand fall back to his side.
I could call Willow, Xander thought. Right now. I could fix this. I could.
Xander awoke the next morning shockingly sober. Spike was crashed out between him and the phone, twitching a bit in his sleep as if he were chasing rabbits, chasing something. Someone.
He kept very still and let himself think about it, the first time he'd kissed a boy, a man, because he was a man now, right? It had been that summer in Oxnard at the end of the earth and he'd been really baked, and for the first time ever, even, and so later he'd convinced himself that it didn't mean anything, nothing at all, and promptly fell in love with Anya. Well, okay, an apocalypse had been in there somewhere too. And the Prom.
Ah. High school. Good times. And he never thought he'd think anything even resembling that, ever, but in hindsight, high school had been a lot better than the whatever-life of the Solitary Bachelor. Sometimes he did a construction gig, sure, but he hadn't lately. They were all living off the Council's funds for the time being, which should have been great - woo, freeloading! - but somehow wasn't. And then there was the fact that Anya was dead, which hit him at odd, inopportune moments. And Spike, of course.
Strangely enough, the ladies seemed to dig the eye-patch, but he thought that might just be a Johnny Depp thing. Even though the guy didn't have an eye-patch in that movie, did he? Xander didn't know. Maybe he was just hot stuff and cutely ignorant of that fact. Or something.
As opposed to someone like Spike, who was hot stuff and knew it, thanks.
Okay, so Spike was hot. He'd actually had the thought Spike is hot. As Xander processed that disturbing development, the man (who was not a man at all) in question arched his back, stretching in a way that was at once languid and spine-shattering.
"See anything you like?" he asked, and then he opened his eyes.
If I was really gay, Xander thought, I would have noticed whether or not Johnny Depp had an eye-patch. "Get out of my bed," he said flatly, in what was an attempt at being smooth, authoritative. It failed miserably, he was certain.
"I get that a lot," Spike told him, and didn't move. His eyelids were at half-mast, his hair ridiculous, in tufts. "We can skip the foreplay, yeah?" he asked.
"Um." Xander sat up, bracing his hands on his knees. "Yeah. I mean, no. I mean, trading barbs is foreplay to you?"
Spike merely propped himself up on his elbows, cocked an eyebrow.
"You're ridiculously horny," Xander said. "I can't believe how ridiculously horny you are. And I was fifteen not that long ago."
"That so, old man?"
"Shut up. Whatever. I'm at the, you know, peak of my virility."
Spike scoffed. "Oh, come off it. Know you want me, Harris. Can smell it on you. Not only that, but everyone wants me, so it's not as if I'm grasping at straws here. I'm a valuable commodity. Peak of my bloody manhood. Eternally. Perfectly. Preserved."
"Uh huh. Well, I'm sure the Red Light District could make good use of you."
Spike nodded appreciatively. "That wasn't bad. S'only a matter of time, though. You're lonely. I'm, well, I'm me. Gotta get your jollies somewhere, right?"
"I hate you," Xander moaned. "And why are we talking about this? And did I mention the burning hatred?" At least he wasn't naked again. That would really be too much.
"Because I'm bored," Spike said. "And hungry." He gave Xander a terrifying, considering look. His eyes widened a bit, and brightened, and Xander froze, all deer-in-the-headlights. Then Spike chuckled a little, and his head lolled back against the headboard.
"Look," Xander said. "Look, Spike." His hand were shaking, barely, and he bit his fingernails into his jeans. He was unwashed. He felt prickly with sweat and something else.
"At?" Spike prompted.
"No," Xander said. "Just. Why are you here? And how can you be- oh God, you're killing people again, and I-"
"Told you why I was here, pet," Spike said softly.
"You're killing people. You're murdering people and then you're coming back to my apartment and wanting whatever it is you want. Is that it?"
"Sex. And, yeah, suppose it is."
Oh God. Oh fuck, and he thought Spike was hot? It was a stupid little teenage girl word. Why would he associate it with Spike? Why was his brain that of a teenage girl? He felt nauseous, and twelve, and very old, very tired, all at the same time.
"S'not really murder," Spike was saying when Xander came back to himself. "What I do, right? I mean, it's what I was born to do."
"You weren't born at all, Spike. You're a perversion." His stomach jumped in an awful, sick, I shouldn't have said that way, but Spike hadn't moved.
"Oh, I was born, all right," he said tightly.
"What about last year?" Xander pressed. "You- what you did."
"The whole martyr bit?"
"Yeah. Just, think about that."
Spike stared at him. "What of it?"
"Would you do it again?"
Spike kept staring. "Yeah," he said finally.
"But now you're killing people," Xander clarified, as if to a small child. Spike stared some more. He looked blank, uncomprehending. He didn't get it. "I don't believe this. You've got a total conscience deficiency."
Now Spike gave him the you're a blithering idiot look, which was immediately followed by him saying, "You're a blithering idiot. 'Course I do." Pause. "S'not about that anyway, though. Play the hero again, I would, but only because it's the only bloody thing I've ever done that's meant something in the long run. You asked me about the Slayer. Fact is, I love her still and most likely always will, the magnificent bitch. But she doesn't define me anymore. My ts are all crossed and my is are all dotted. How many people do you know who can say that? Can you? No! So sod off."
Xander dry-scrubbed his face. "Look. You just, you can't stay here and go around killing people."
Spike shrugged. "Fine," he said mildly.
Xander blinked, taken aback. "Fine. Okay, fine. Good." He swallowed, and swallowed again. "I have to take a shower," he murmured. Shower good.
He locked the bathroom door behind him; checked it three times before he was satisfied.
He needn't have been worried. When he reentered the bedroom, scrubbed clean although not feeling like it, Spike was gone. Xander sighed out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding before catching sight of two head-shaped indentations in the pillows at the top of the bed. It had been a long time since the last time he'd slept next to someone. He sighed again.
By the third day, however, a little bit of his gratefulness over the absence of the evil undead had seeped away into the minefield of unexplored emotions that made up his psyche. Whatever your psyche was. He'd never been really aware of the details, which was probably the thing that was screwing him over since your psyche was just your awareness of things, right? Of yourself?
On the fourth day, he realized how utterly tedious his life had become before Spike had come along and shaken it up, and seriously considered asking around. "Seen a wayward vamp? He comes to the name of 'Spike'." But, no.
Dawn was just breaking on the fifth day when the creak of the door alerted him to Spike's return. Seething in what he recognized as a stupid, irrational anger at Spike thinking he could show up just whenever he chose, Xander flew into the kitchen, only to find Spike with a bruised cheekbone and bruised eyes, muttering vague things under his breath.
"You get lost?" Xander asked coolly.
"Could say that," Spike answered. Delayed response.
"Did you get into a fight? Or, you know, get attacked by a rabid pack of wolves?" It wasn't really that bad, except for Spike's eyes, which were foggy and squinty, like he'd been looking at the sun all day. Which was altogether impossible, so.
"Fight," Spike said monosyllabically.
Xander opened his mouth to say something, realized he didn't have anything to say, and shut it. Paused. "Want some ice? I have, well, I don't have any ice. Sirloin?" Spike just shut his eyes, very tight, and kind of swayed. "Look, Spike, are you, uh, okay? What's-"
"Bad blood," Spike said. "I think. Maybe."
"Bad blood," Xander repeated stupidly, but when Spike swayed sideways he took an arm and held onto it.
Spike jerked away from him sluggishly. "Shut your gob, yeah? I wasn't here. Said I wouldn't be, and I kept my bloody word, all right?"
Inanely, Xander wondered why Spike always spoke in questions, even when he was answering them. "Well, that makes the kind of sense that- that makes absolutely no sense, Spike." It made a lot of Spike-sense, actually, but that wasn't saying much of anything at all. "God, Spike, you can't- This isn't-"
"Isn't what? Acceptable behavior? Tell you what, Harris, I'm not an acceptable fellow. Never been acceptable. Was thinking about that today. I remembered-"
There was a beat, and then two, and then Xander shook Spike a little. "You remembered something?"
"Not about that," Spike said tightly. He was holding himself very still.
Xander had thought as much. "Well," he said cautiously. "Don't leave me in suspense."
"There was. Something in the blood," Spike told him instead of answering, in a strange, staccato way. "Feels like opium - like when you're coming down off of it, you know?"
"No, but okay." Spike looked vaguely spooked, but Xander wasn't cutting him any slack, not over this. He let the vampires' arm go, and Spike wobbled in a precarious way that made Xander clench and unclench his hands. "Fuck you, Spike," he hissed, abruptly sickened. This was a ploy. It had to be. It was Spike. "Get out of here."
"Sun's out," Spike pointed out.
"Oh, very observant."
"Yeah? Do I get a sodding gold star? For fuck's sake, bury a stake in my chest, at least. Not just walking out there like a ninny. This'll be the third time I've died now, and I've got certain criteria that has to be met."
Xander gaped, then shut his mouth. "God. Just- don't come into my room. And don't touch anything. Or do anything. Or anything anything."
Spike smiled at him sickly, knowingly. "Missed me then, did you?
Xander found himself unable to think of a single suitable response to that.
"Oh come on, now," Spike said, when Xander didn't move, just stared at him hatefully. "Your chit eviscerated countless blokes for a living," Spike told him, picking up a piece of their conversation as if they'd never left it. "The poor sods." Spike, looking more dead that usual, tossed himself onto the sofa and threw an arm across his eyes dramatically. Yet he was still talking. It was highly discouraging.
"I assume that you're referring to Anya. And no she did not, not while she was with me."
At that, Spike let his arm fall away from his face and gave him a somewhat sinister You fell right into my trap, you stupid git sort of look. "Am I 'with you' Harris?" he drawled. "'Cause that would certainly be news to me."
"You know what I mean, you big undead- freak."
"Watch the language, eh? And anyway, what's the bloody difference whether or not she was with you all those times? She did it; it's done. Just like with me, see?" He paused, and then wickedly added, "You hypocritical loser."
"Did you, did you just call me a loser?" No fucking way was Spike going all Sunnydale High on him. "All right," Xander continued, trying with no avail to keep his voice steady. "When I told you not to do anything, that included talking."
Spike was silent for all of five seconds. "Anyway, you and I both know I'm not big on evisceration, which has to gain me a point or two."
"No, no, I didn't know that, but I thank you for sharing. And by thank-you, I of course mean ew. Also, no it doesn't."
"S'messy," Spike clarified. "Too much wasted blood."
"Gotta conserve, I guess," Xander said flatly.
Spike seemed to find that somewhat humorous. "S'true, though," he said.
"Sooo, we've had our heart to heart. I'm going back to bed now."
"You do that."
Xander started off, watching Spike peripherally in a cautious, untrusting manner. But Spike merely shifted, buried his face between the pillow and the side of the sofa, made himself small. This drew Xander's gaze for an entirely different reason.
Abruptly, he pivoted on his heel and left the room.
At four o'clock in the morning, he decided to call Willow. Again. This time with intent. And purpose. And success. He had no idea what time it was where she was but had a good idea that it would either be really late or really early. He was the little engine that could.
"Hello?" Willow was asking. "Hi?" Xander hesitated. "Xander?"
"Willow," he said lowly. "How did you know it was me?"
"You were breathing funny. I recognized your- funny breathing. What's wrong?"
Nothing. Nothing at all. Just a little Spike problem. We've all had one, I'm sure.
"Xander," Willow was saying gently. "Is this about Anya? I know we haven't had much of a chance to talk lately. You and me, I mean. And I'm sorry, if you're still grieving, and I'm not there to-"
"Of course I'm still grieving," he nearly snapped, then rubbed a hand across his face confusedly. He'd thought that part was over. "Sorry, Will. Sorry. I didn't mean that the way it sounded."
"It's okay," Willow told him. "I miss you, and- I just miss you, is all."
Xander smiled into the cell phone. Just let Willow speak. Just listened. She sounded familiar, like a piece of that home he could never return to. And then there was the sound of something else. From his end, something shattering. It was a brash, strident noise, and even though Xander should have been accustomed to the unexpected by now, the phone slipped from his fingers.
"Shit," he hissed. He snatched it up, but the batteries were strewn out all across the floor. "Shitshitshit."
The sudden silence was deafening. Xander found Spike in the bathroom, standing there with freshly bleeding knuckles. It was seven more years of bad luck, if you believed that sort of thing, but he was pretty sure Spike couldn't care any less if he tried.
"Interesting habit you've developed, there," Xander told him. He was in his bare feet and kept his distance.
Spike looked owlish. He looked pale and sick. And possibly homicidal. Xander wasn't sure. He could never really tell. Yes, distance was good.
"Well, thanks, you know. For defiling my apartment. That's all kinds of great." When Spike merely blinked harmlessly, he added testingly, "And for the decibel level. I was on the phone-"
"Telling tales out of school, Harris?" Spike rasped out.
"Didn't get a chance to, actually. You went all Destructo Guy, here."
"I'm that guy anyway you slice it, yeah?" And Spike's gaze hardened, the way it sometimes did. It usually meant something Bad, that look. "Call them back. Whoever you were on with, call them right back."
"You won't, uh, kill something? Like, maybe, I don't know, me?"
"Bloody well stop yakking and do it."
"You want me to- call them back?" Xander asked skeptically. "No. No, you know what I think this is? You, being the manipulative bastard that you are. You knew I was on the phone, and you knew why. You knew, and that's why you did this. Because you're ungrateful, and masochistic. And let's not forget, evil."
Spike didn't flinch, but then again, that just wasn't something Spike did very often.
"Am I wrong?" Xander asked harshly. He couldn't be wrong. He couldn't be, because what was the alternative? What was Spike playing at now, brushing past him into the living room, hitting speed-dial-
Xander's heart was beating hard, so hard that he could feel it fluttering around inside of his chest cavity, so hard that he could hear it, this trapped thud-thud sound, as if something were seeking escape. No way out, Xander thought inanely, and then for reasons unbeknownst to even himself, he surged forward and jerked the phone line from the jack.
"Okay," Xander said shakily. "Okay. What is this? Why the change of heart?"
"Could ask you the same question."
"Well- I asked you first."
"Indeed," Spike said, in disconcerting Giles-voice.
"So?" Xander prodded.
"It would do you well," Spike told him softly, "not to regard my actions too closely."
Then he stomped back to the bathroom and slammed Xander's own door in his face. Okay, then. Spike was being all Giles-y, (not to mention crazy, again) Willow probably thought he was dead, and he couldn't even call her back right away because he'd cut the goddamn connection.
At least he wasn't actually dead. Small comfort.
"What if I have to take a leak?" he called out.
"Then you can just sod off," Spike called back predictably.
Since Xander didn't actually have to take a leak, he spent the better part of a half an hour on his hands and knees, searching for a single, wily battery. When he finally got ahold of Willow she was understandably frantic, she wanted to know what had happened, why their conversations always ended in the same way.
"I worry about you," she told him softly.
And because Xander abruptly, stupidly felt bad that there was no one to worry about Spike and his equally stupid penchant for breaking mirrors all he said was, "You don't have to."
"But I do."
Xander's gaze was drawn to the bathroom door. "That's- thanks."
He awoke disconcerted. It was the middle of the afternoon. Slats of sunlight pressed heavily against his skin. He felt hot and sticky and wanted a shower so badly that he could taste it, but the bathroom door remained firmly closed.
When he finally got the nerve to tell Spike to get over his existential crisis, however, he threw said door open with a flourish only to find- nothing. There was a not very neat little pile of reflective glass in one corner of the room, as if Spike had pushed it back there out of some kind of warped Spike-courtesy, but the resident vampire was once again nowhere to be found.
Xander took a shower. Got dressed. Made breakfast. Brunch, whatever. Microwavable pizza pockets. What did that classify as? After awhile he realized he was doing everything slowly, as methodically as an automaton. Just as if he were waiting for something. Or someone. Where did a vampire go in the middle of the day, anyway?
God, Spike was right - he was lonely. It twinged within him, bringing a whole new level of meaning to the word. Spike, he had come to realize, was almost always right. He was all caught up in his contradictions, but he usually, infuriatingly, knew what was what.
So Xander really had to wonder why Spike, selfishly or otherwise, would deign a world such as this worth saving.
Spike! It was Spike. Xander had a certain bone to pick with him.
Spike, having just closed the door behind him, must have seen Xander's buoyant look of anticipation, for he slashed a hand through the air viciously, saying, "What's this, then?"
Xander thought it was fairly obvious. "Well, it's like this. I'm getting very, very drunk."
"Ah, the drowning of the sorrows. Good on you, mate. That method's tried and tested."
"Of course by me. And look how sodding happy I am." Spike grinned with a hint of fang. He stalked over to the sofa and kicked Xander's feet out of the way. Sat, but seemed restless. He was lanky in leather, looking edgy but keeping still. Feline, Xander thought abruptly. That was how he looked, as if he'd just finished going for the jugular or was just preparing to.
Xander decided to show him up, just this once, and he knew he was drunk and that it was idiotic, he knew it, but he leaned across the sofa anyway, across Spike's lap, and plied his fly open just like that, watching for a reaction out of the corner of his eye.
His gaze hardened immediately afterwards, but it was too late, Xander had already seen it. Ha!
"I'm the evil one, eh?" he heard Spike ask through the roaring of prideful blood in his ears.
"Hmm," Spike said noncommittally. He moved Xander's hands lower, and shifted a bit beneath them, strategically. "You know, I think you're right, because this here is downright immoral of me, innit that right? Taking advantage of you in your- state."
"My state?" Xander sputtered. He let his hand rest upon Spike's pelvic bone for a moment, enjoying its smoothness, the hollow above it.
"Yeah. All hot, and bothered, and out of your head."
"I'm not. Out of my head."
"Oh, they always are," Spike told him knowingly, and Xander didn't know what that meant, but he really was hot and bothered, so he just nodded, jerking Spike's pants down past his hips impatiently, and took his cock into his mouth. He'd never done it before, but he must have done something right, because Spike did something like whimper.
Xander jerked back and away at the sound, but then Spike was rocking against him, skin on skin on skin and he couldn't believe that he'd made Spike whimper, or that Spike had been right again - because he was out of his head; he had to be. This was-
"Oh Christ," Spike kept saying, but Xander couldn't even get any words out. He could only feel Spike's hands on him, his fingers like fuses. See those hands, the knuckles already healed over, and then not even that. The bottom dropped out of his world, and he saw only pure white, undiluted everything.
When he could see again, little blotches of colour, Xander said mindlessly, "I want to go home." He looked at the blank ceiling, shaking with sick realization and all the rest of it. "I mean, to LA. To Willow, and- everyone."
Spike gave him a rather vacant look at that, but did something like hold him. For the moment, Xander let him.
Spike had his feet up on the coffee table and was watching Saturday morning cartoons. He looked very put-together, still all decked out in leather. It was all Xander could smell, the leather. That and alcohol, of course. And sex.
"Oh, fuck." It seemed like the thing to say.
"Yes, we did do that, didn't we?" Spike asked rhetorically, flicking past the Care Bear countdown. Then shook his head, saying, "And here it begins."
Xander cast quick little glances at his cut-glass profile. "The surrealism of this moment knows no bounds."
"I get that a lot," Spike told him. "You're all so busy hating me that you don't realize what's right under your noses."
"What's right under my nose?" Xander asked recklessly. He was sure he was walking into something, because you always were with Spike, but he wasn't sure exactly what.
"You tell me," Spike said, and looked at him, finally. Xander felt as if he'd been suddenly integrated into reality, but it was too real. Spike was a killer, with a killer's constitution, and it didn't matter that he'd flinched, or that after Buffy had died he'd been there with Dawn every day for reasons none of them could bear to think about. Not Xander, and certainly not Buffy, who had a job to do, the Slayer of those who were already dead in every way, animate only through senseless evil. Those like Spike, even if he had flinched. (Xander isn't sure now. He was drunk. He can't be sure.)
Yet despite all that, she'd fallen into something with him too. Like Anya, like everyone did in some way. Well, Xander was sick of it.
"You know what it is?" he bit out. "You have this thing with bringing people- down to your level. Every time you think you feel something for them. Every time."
"You think I feel something for you?" Spike asked him lazily. It managed to be cutting anyway.
Xander took a deep breath. "You're here, aren't you?"
"Could be for entirely selfish reasons. You ever think of that?"
"Well, yeah," Xander said, although he hadn't, not last night at least.
"And you admit I can feel, do you? How- novel. How very novel." Spike was smiling that smile again. Xander felt sick, but it could have just been the hangover.
"Oh, I know you can feel, Spike," he said. "Sick, twisted feelings."
"Be that as it may, you're certainly not blameless here," Spike said and jabbed at the power button. The screen died.
"I didn't say that I was," Xander shot back, and then swallowed. He was thirsty. He couldn't remember ever being so thirsty. "I said- what I meant was- you can feel, but nothing that you feel is real. It's all-" What was the word? "-warped."
Then suddenly Spike was right there, right in his face, and Xander had never seen anyone move so fast, but then Spike wasn't really someone, was he? He was a thing. An animal. It was best to think of him that way. Easier.
Except it wasn't so easy, not anymore, and fuck it all if he hadn't brought it upon himself.
"This isn't real?" Spike pressed him, and pressed up against him.
"You're like a trap," Xander told him. "That everyone falls into."
He found himself on the floor, blood screaming. Sure Spike could hear it, gazing down at him with a face that looked apathetic but couldn't have been, not the way he was breathing when he didn't even have to. Dead man walking, Xander thought. Why was he breathing?
"You feel that?" Spike said harshly. "Your skull cracking against the bloody floor? This isn't real?"
"No," Xander murmured heedlessly.
With a sound that was inhuman but somehow, terribly not, Spike upended the sofa. The floor shook, and Xander shook with it. He turned his head away from its underside. All that dust and things better left unearthed.
"You say that you did something that mattered," Xander said tightly, lying down, feeling dizzy. Fuck it. Fuck Spike. Coming back this way, coming to him. Making him feel things when he'd left everything he'd ever known just so he wouldn't have to deal with all of this. "And it did, it mattered. It mattered to all of us. It mattered to Buffy. But it didn't matter enough for you, did it?"
"Jesus," Spike said. "Listen to this."
"Because she doesn't love you," Xander said, in epiphany-voice. "She can't, because of what you are, she can't, and neither can anyone else, no matter how much of a, a man-whore you are, so-" So you go around breaking mirrors, he wanted to say, but it seemed unnecessarily cruel, saying aloud what they both knew. He'd leave that part to the evil vampire. "Anyway," Xander continued, convinced of his imminent death but wanting to live his last few moments to the fullest. Not that putting down Spike was living life to the fullest, or doing anything with Spike for that matter. "That's what I meant to say."
"That so? Got me all figured out, have you?"
But Xander found that he wasn't finished yet. "Not only that, but no one will ever love you, Spike. Not even your own kind. Because they can't either. It's just, it's just you. So maybe I don't even want to figure you out."
"Just me," Spike echoed. Xander couldn't read him at all.
"It's you, Spike. You're what's not real. Not to anyone, not really." Okay, too far. Way, way too far. Spike had flinched, and he knew it even if he didn't want to.
He'd felt real, too.
So much for unnecessary cruelty, Xander thought and then Spike asked, entirely unexpectedly, as Xander was expecting to be strangled, or at the very least throttled, "Did you just call me a man-whore?"
Xander swallowed again. His voice came out all crackly when he spoke. "Could have, yeah."
"Must be my cue," Spike said, and stepped back, and away. All of the sudden speaking altogether too calmly.
He loomed down at Xander for a few moments and then did that dramatic exit thing he seemed to be fond of. Xander put his head between his knees, the way you were supposed to when you felt faint. He stayed that way for a long time.
It had been the better part of a week. Mrs. Hagar, who lived down the hall from him and owned the two tiny yipping dogs that sometimes kept him up at night, peered at his mail when he went to pick it up. It was a postcard from Buffy. It didn't say much, but he held it close to his chest. She'd started crossing her is with little hearts again.
"Have you heard, dear?" Mrs. Hagar asked him.
"Sorry, about what?" he responded quizzically, snapping to attention.
"Little Elizabeth, you know, from the second floor. She was such a nice girl. She always-"
The postcard slipped from his fingers, and he scrambled for it on the floor.
"How did she die?" Xander wanted to know.
"You're back," Xander said.
"I'm back," came the reply.
"Did you tear my neighbor's throat out?" Spike remained close-lipped. "I mean, did you? Because I think that would be really- crappy of you."
"Not the only predator on the block, Harris," Spike told him. "Could have, though. 'M not certain."
"She was about my age," Xander hissed. "She had brown hair."
"Well, then," Spike said, and smiled wolfishly. "Couldn't have been my doing." He paused before announcing with dramatic flourish, "I only do blondes."
"God," Xander said succinctly, and sighed.
"Got you a ticket to LA," Spike said, and let go of a white slip of paper, presumably said ticket. It drifted downwards and landed on Xander's chest.
Xander sat up, fingering the stub. "You got me a ticket to LA," he repeated numbly. "With, um, what, your own money?"
"Don't be bloody difficult."
"With my money?"
"My money. My sodding money, all right? Liberated, but not from you, so just stuff it. Pack up your collection of X-Men comics. Vam-fucking-oose."
Utterly shocked, and forgetting for a moment the imagery of tearing flesh, Xander asked a question that Spike had never liked. "Why?"
"Christ, Harris. Because you said it was what you wanted. Because at least one of us knows how to get things done. So what you're going to do is run on home to all those pretty girls with their open arms, and you're going to forget all about me and why I do certain things, right?"
"But, what-" He paused, at loose ends. "I mean, what are you going to do?"
"Without you? However will I survive?"
Xander wanted to ask about what Spike had said that time, about how at least Xander cared enough to hate him, but didn't know how to broach the subject. It was his weakness, that he found it enough to be needed by someone, anyone. He hated Spike.
"No," he said, and settled on repeating, "What are you going to do?" because he hated Spike, he did, but Spike wasn't usually that dense.
"Easier for me too, this," Spike announced, with something like nonchalance, but spoken too loosely. "I've decided that I can't rely on humans for anything. Can't do that and be what I am at the same time. Not natural."
"You finally figured that one out, did you?"
"It was different before," Spike told him. "I had the chip. Or, at least I thought it was the sodding chip. But it was me. Everyone that's not in the Slayer's circle, right? They're expendable to me. Just as they ought to be." Spike looked as if he were on the edge of something, looking at him. He jabbed his finger at the ticket, and said rather grudgingly, "But I don't want to kill you, see?"
"Me- being in the Slayer's circle and all," Xander said, going along with it.
"Right," Spike said. "Plus, I know you, see? Wouldn't be proper-like."
"So, you don't want to kill me," Xander prodded, sensing an opening. "At least not as much as you used to. And you haven't. Killed me." He paused, then riskily added, "Are you listening to me, Spike? Because that's as easy as it would be for you, to stop this, to-"
"Stop what? Stop being what I bloody well am?"
Xander shrugged tentatively.
"Could, I suppose. Don't want to. Besides, I can't be tamed if that's what you're getting at," Spike informed him. "S'been attempted."
"Buffy," Xander said simply, a counter-argument in one word.
Darkly, Spike said, "Listen. Want you to do something for me where she's concerned. You don't tell her about this, about me. Your conscience is acting up, you tell Faith, you tell one of the other warriors of the bloody people, but you don't tell Buffy, and you don't tell Dawn. Want them to think-"
"God, Spike. Why does it matter? Why are they any different that anyone else?"
"Just are, is all," Spike said quietly. "Will you do that for me, or no?"
"I'll do it," Xander said, and didn't really know why. In some vague kind of way, he knew that for Spike, it gave meaning to his existence, and he got that, fundamentally. But he didn't know why he cared. Insanity? Misplaced something or other?
Then Spike smiled at him, and it was a real smile, shockingly human, and that was why, damn it, right there. "Right, then. Ta, mate."
"Spike-" Xander began, but found he had nothing to say. His throat closed off.
Spike's smile turned wan. "One more for the road?" Xander nodded, lost, and they kissed, openmouthed and wet, and Spike's knuckles were still grazing Xander's jaw when he said, "Would you ever tell Red about this? About what we did to each other?"
Xander hesitated, then asked rhetorically, "Does anyone ever talk about the things they do with you?"
"No," Spike whispered. "No." Then, urgently: "Promise me. About Buffy."
Xander swallowed. "I said- I mean, I promise. I promise. Okay?"
Spike just looked at him, eyes shining, and this time Xander kissed Spike, his cool trembling lips, and he made it soft, tried to make it real like Spike's smile had been, and it was, almost. But not quite. And no one would ever love Spike; he'd said so himself. He tried not to think about what that meant, yet he couldn't think of anything else.
And then Spike left, and it was Xander, just doing that breathing thing.