Part 12

My first impulse is to simply barge in without knocking. My fingers are already closing round the door knob, when it hits me that I'm about to violate his privacy again. I yank back my hand, surprised at how rapidly my heart is beating.

What if he's gone? I vaguely remember talking him out of leaving. But what if he just grabbed his stuff and moved out while I was sleeping it off? And why do I even care?

It's midday - by rights he should be in bed, sleeping. But how can I be sure? Do vampires snore? I strain my ears but I can't hear a thing. No singing, talking, dreaming or. or whatever.

The door knob looks tempting, but with my luck he'd probably catch me peeping and then he'd come to all kinds of conclusions. Wrong conclusions. He'd think I'm trying to catch an eyeful of him wrapped in nothing but pale skin and a white sheet.

Fuck! Here I go again. One would think last night's humiliation permanently drove all thoughts of naked Spike from my sleep-and-hangover-addled brain. But the mental snapshot of smooth strong limbs entangled in crumpled bed- linen is enough to make my dick perk up and tell me that no, it's not hung- over. At all.

Could my life possibly be more screwed up than this?

There's a rhythmic pounding in my head that feels like half a dozen elephants are marching up and down in there. I realize I've been standing outside Spike's door for several minutes, supposedly trying to make up my mind what to do and in what order, but in actual fact I was zoning out. Okay, I better get rid of the elephants first. And the hard-on.

Half an hour later, I walk out of the bathroom, feeling vaguely human again and my tongue no longer feels like it needs a shave. Plus Colonel Hathi and the dawn patrol have left for greener pastures. Meaning coherent thought is back. Give me a coffee and I may even be up to coherent conversation. Go me! Thank god I can make coffee while completely on autopilot.

Crap! My boss is gonna kill me. And I forgot to drive Buffy and Dawn to school. I better give them a call first, they might be worried. I'm surprised they didn't try to reach me - until I find out that the receiver is off the hook and buried underneath a few sofa cushions.

I pick up the receiver and dial Buffy's number. After three rings the phone is answered: "Summers residence."

"Willow?"

"Oh, hi Xander. How are you? Feeling better? Cause I can always come over and look after the patient."

"The-? Oh. How did-"

"Spike called and told us you were too sick to go to work, that you were vomiting and everything."

He did?

At the other end Willow continues: "Those twenty-four-hour stomach flues suck, but at least they don't last long, unless of course they're not really a twenty-four-hour thingie but a forty-eight-hour-or-longer sicknesses. I offered to come by but Spike said there was no need. Or should I have come? I still can, you know. No more classes today."

"No. I'll be fine, thanks Willow."

"Oh, and I called your boss. You better get in touch with him. Um, I may have exaggerated a bit so when you talk to him you should make it sound like you're on your deathbed."

"Thanks Will, you're the bestest." I tell her, relieved that last night's swan dive into the bottle costs me nothing more than a sick day. Now all I have to do is somehow deal with that Spike thing. We kissed. Well almost. Technically, I kissed him and he shot me down with a left hook. "Willow, I was wondering, are you busy? Or can we talk?"

"Sure! Talking is good, we should always talk. This reading assignment isn't due till Friday, anyway. What's up?"

"I did something really stupid last night." Understatement of the year.

"How stupid? More the 'oops, shouldn't have done that' kind of stupid or the 'Everybody run for cover' variety?"

"Colossal, but not apocalyptic."

"Is this about Anya? Buffy told me about last night, how she and Anya fought and what d'Hoffryn did to Anya's friend. Did you and Anya . you know, make up? Did you let her know how you feel? I mean, I know you still have feelings for her."

"No, not so much. I mean, you're right, I do-- have feelings for her. But there's no chance we'll ever get together again. Until last night I thought we might still be friends, like Harry and Sally, and a few years from now, when we're both ready for it, we'd have a contrived but cathartic sexual encounter, banter for a couple of weeks, then we'd discover that we love each other and settle down for our two point four kids. But now I'm thinking this is a Gone with the Wind deal. Frankly, she doesn't give a damn."

"Oh Xander, I'm so sorry."

"It's alright. I had my chance and I blew it. Now I just wanna make sure this kind of thing never happens to me again. I don't need any more pile- ups on the Xander Harris relationship highway." A tiny voice in the back of the head seems to say: 'It's a little late for that, mate.' I glance at the closet door.

There is a pause at the other end. Then Willow asks: "If it wasn't you and Anya you wanted to talk about, what was it? You were saying: something stupid?"

"It's Spike."

"Oh. What did you do? Did you have a fight? Xander, you know he can't fight back."

Now would be the perfect moment to tell Willow about-about what? About that kiss? About how something that started off as a harmless nothing's-ever- gonna-happen-anyway fantasy turned into something way too real?

"Nothing," I say. "Unless you count the fact that I let myself get caught while going through his things."

"Xander! You searched his stuff? Why? I know it's your apartment, but shouldn't he have some privacy? So he caught you? What happened?"

"He-um nothing. He didn't exactly pat me on the back." A thought pops into my head. Something that I noticed last night but then forgot about. "His chip fired. Several times."

"He hit you?"

"No, I mean yes, but not because of the snooping around - and only once, but the chip dished it out pretty bad - it went on zapping him even when he wasn't doing anything."

"That's weird," Willow says. "Why would it do that?"

"I was hoping you'd be able to tell me," I admit.

"Did that kind of thing ever happen before? What did Spike say?"

"Actually, we haven't really talked." At least not about the chip. Crap, did I really bring up the robot?

"Well, I remember researching Spike's chip a couple of years ago, but what I found out was pretty sketchy. I always meant to ask Riley about it, I mean Dr. Walsh was all into behavioral science and he was her TA, but then I kind of forgot. It didn't seem important then. I mean, the chip kept Spike from killing people, that's all we needed to know, right? It wasn't like we didn't have other stuff to worry about, you know, bad stuff like - the gentlemen! And Faith, and then Oz ."

"It's alright. It was probably nothing." I say hurriedly. "Just a glitch."

"Ask Spike if he knows what it was. Let me know either way. I can always hit the books and do some digging."

"Will do." I glance again at the door to Spike's closet and lower my voice. "Willow? There's something else."

* * *

The rest of the afternoon passes without incident. At five I go out to fetch the car and pick up some groceries. When I get back, the door to Spike's closet is still shut.

My resident vampire makes an appearance around seven. He strides out of his closet and stops when he sees me folding laundry in the living room while watching Jeopardy.

"Hey," I say, looking up from a pile of not-matching-socks. I pick up the remote and turn the TV off.

"Hey," he echoes, eyebrow raised, like he's waiting for something.

"You think there's something like Murphy's law for laundry? Did you notice how you always put two socks of a kind in the wash but when the laundry is dry you're left with just one?" Swell. I'm talking to him about laundry. Real smooth.

"Can't say I've noticed. But then I never used to--" He stops, looking uncomfortable.

"-do laundry." I finish the sentence for him. Feels kinda weird for him not to proudly rub it in. "Yeah, I get it. Vampire - laundry. It's like Mother Theresa and murder charges. Only the other way round."

"Yeah, like that." He jams his hands into his pockets.

I squint at two dark socks, trying to decide if they're the same color or not. "Thanks for phoning Willow," I say and chuck the socks back into the basket.

I shoot him a quick glance when he doesn't answer, but I'm unprepared for the expression of uncertainty with which he regards me.

I've had all afternoon to think. I know I could pretend I've got a blackout. Pretend that I don't remember what I did. Or what I said. All I have to say is how I was so drunk last night, I don't even remember how I got home. There. Easy fix. I wouldn't even be lying. Much. I mean, I don't even remember getting out of my clothes and into bed and--

Holy crap! I. Don't. Remember. I mean, I remember arguing with Spike, and I think he grabbed me to keep me from going out to get the Chrysler, but I don't recall anything after that!

Fuck!

"I-uh, I guess I was pretty drunk last night," I say, sounding really lame.

"Yeah? Hadn't noticed," Spike mutters dryly. "So why did you get plastered like that?" he asks. "Something must've happened for Mr. Bricklayer-in- shining-armor to go completely overboard like that."

"Anya is human again." I blurt out, seizing on the opportunity to talk about something other than the kiss-that-shouldn't-have-happened.

He tilts his head, clearly bewildered. "Is that right? Didn't see that one coming. Someone smash her pendant again?"

"Not so much. I guess you could say she got fired. Except she kinda quit before that."

Blink. "I didn't know you could just quit being a vengeance demon."

"You can't. I mean, normally you can't." The way you can't quit being a vampire either. Maybe that's what getting a soul was all about.

Spike hesitates. "She alright?" he finally asks when the silence becomes oppressive.

'What do you care?' I almost snap back. Almost. Instead I ask: "Wanna hear the whole story?"

He blinks, then shrugs and sits down, trying to look casual. "Yeah?"

So we sit on the sofa and while my hands are busy, folding towels and nervously smoothing over embarrassingly gaudy boxer shorts, I tell him the whole thing. When I'm finished, he arches his eyebrow. "So, Anya lost her appetite for vengeance. Can't say I'm surprised. I s'pose being round you Scoobies all that white hat stuff rubbed off on her. Should be easier for her this time: being human, adjusting." He ponders. "I mean, she chose it. And she's not alone, you're still friends, right?"

I don't know how to answer that, so I get up and start putting the laundry away.

Spike begins to pace. "Xander, listen, about what happened..."

I stop in my tracks.

"We were drunk. Both of us," he continues nervously. He pats his pockets searching for his smokes.

I stare at him in mute terror. Oh god, what did we do?

"It wasn't about you," he continues. He stares at the pack of cigarettes he's just dug up, then remembers that this is a no-smoking-zone and starts fraying the package instead. "It's just-- we were lonely, is all."

Not. About. Me?

"Look, you shouldn't hold it against her."

'Her?' Oh. He's talking about Anya. For a minute there I thought--

He squints at me and I feel my cheeks burning.

"You-- you thought I was talking about something else, About last night." he states quietly. "Look, you needn't worry. I'm not going to tell anyone."

I stand there, open mouthed, feeling dumb and helpless and cowardly.

"I mean it." Spike hunches up his shoulders and shifts awkwardly on his feet. "This. thing.." He vaguely nods his head towards the closet. "Let's just forget about it. Pretend it never happened."

Hey, that's MY line!

TBC