"Okay. Four plus three – no wait that one's a double letter so, that's four plus two is six, plus two, plus another four is twelve, and triple word score is thirty-six, plus twenty-five for the naughty means sixty one points for me."  Spike jabbed his finger at the notebook in front of Xander.  "Sixty-one.  Write it down."

"Screw that.  Fanny is not a sex word."

"Uh…yes.  It is."

"It's a cute butt word.  Not naughty."

"Rules were I could use English slang."

"Yeah.  It's English slang here too.  For butt.   You don't get the extra points if you can say it on television during the family hour."

"In England they can say pussy on television, 'cos a pussy is a cat.  Just like a fanny is a butt."

"Oh…" Nicolette said.  "That's why those cops in London kept trying not to laugh when I told them I'd been pick-pocketed from my fanny pack.  We're gonna give him that one, Xander."

"Fine.  Fine.  I'm still winning."

"Yes, but you still have to take your shot," she said, and poured the vodka.  They clinked glasses in honor of Spike's sixty-one point fanny.

He didn't mind the vodka.  He was winning.  The Scrabble-tile gods were smiling down upon him this night.  Because, face it, ordinarily Xander was crap at Scrabble.  Even with Buffy, who was not good at all, he'd lost.   And playing with Willow was an exercise in futility for anyone.  She had all the two and three letter words memorized.  She'd been on the fast track to becoming the state Spelling Bee champion in fourth grade until an unfortunate pants-wetting incident had cut short her promising career.   Still, she kicked his ass every single time.   And she had a stick up her butt when it came to the rules.   For instance, Willow would never have allowed the word precum to be used.   Even if she believed it was a real word she would have argued that it was a hyphenated word and therefore not allowed.    Whereas, Spike and Nicolette didn't challenge it.   Predictably, Spike had used the "p" to spell prick.  

The board was filling up with sex words – including the word "sex" which didn't earn the additional twenty-five points for naughty, but was nevertheless, thematically pleasing.  Plus, they'd decided to allow both British and American spellings so as to utilize more vowels.   He doubted that either of his best female pals would know half the words on the board right now.  

Nicolette spelled meld off of the blank tile m in Spike's second – count 'em - use of the word quim.  Yeah, Xander thought as he downed the required shot of vodka, that obsessive interest in Hustler is paying off at last.  

As the game went on, he found himself pleased, in a blurry-eyed fashion, with pattern the words made together - words that grew out of one another in a strangely organic fashion.   Spike's two quims had yielded meld and mood, with gay and anus inextricably linking them all.  In the wide open spaces between pussy and fanny, reamer and jiz, were the jarring realities of settle and lies.  Smegma and axle and sex formed a trinity that seemed entirely coincidental, yet holy and mystical, like an image of Jesus in a tortilla.  

He was now very drunk.  And something else.  In love.   Yes, he was in love with Scrabble.  With the perfect, smooth little tiles and the way Nicolette's breasts lolled about like courtesans on velvet couches.  In love with Spike's bare feet, with the blue veins and the soft bristle of hairs on each toe and ---

"Hey," he said as he slid down and down, eye meeting hairy toe.  "Is there love in this vodka?"


"Your feet taste weird."

"You could stop licking them."

"I can't.  I love them."

"Okay."  Spike shifted his right foot a little so Xander could have better access.  "Beard stubble tickles though."  Xander felt a sudden rush of love, the kind of rush you got from Jolt Cola or Red Bull or three Mountain Dews, only this was softer, more diffuse, like a big cottony moist cloud of love oozing from his pores to blanket the world in ethereal fluff.  Yes.  The breadth of his love covered the entire world, demon-world included because hey, demons were part of his 'hood after all, demons were his boyz, his scaled, slimy and/or undead bruthas, and it was all good, even down to the way he loved Spike's toes and Spike's ankle and the muscles jumping beneath the skin of his thigh.  His compadre, his amigo, Spike.  He felt the joy too, a flush of pride that Spike, who was a manly man in all ways had acknowledged Xander's own manliness by alluding to his beard stubble which was now rubbing over and around Spike's naked belly button.   He did not know when they had become naked.  Nor did it seem to matter.  Love was all around.  And it was good.

"I think we've been drugged," Spike murmured.

"Yeah," Xander sighed serenely before plunging his tongue into the shallow well of the vampire's navel.  Vampire.  Human.  Man.  Woman.  Words.  Just words.  And how could a mere word ever hope to encompass the feelings he was feeling.  The sense that he was connected to everything alive and…uh, not-so-much alive.  And not simply connected.   Love emanated from him.   He was some kind of love generator.  Pure undiluted love.  In a bottle.   "Nicolette you think?"   


"Did she leave?  Why would she leave us?"

"Went to get the laundry a bit ago.  But I think—I think that's her back again." 

"Oh hey, Nicolette."

"Hey Xander.  Got your pants.  Want 'em?"

"Not right now.  I'm licking Spike."

 "Ooh…um…I'm just…gonna get my camcorder, 'kay?" 

That made Xander a little teary eyed.  "She loves us so much," he said into Spike's bellybutton.  

"Yeah.  You could move your mouth a bit lower, pet."

"Really?  You wouldn't mind?"

"Nah.  Be kinda nice." 

"I've never done this before."

"Nothing to it.  Every bloke knows how.  'S like that cellular memory thing we was chatting about earlier."

"Oh look!  It's poking its head out and saying hello."

"Likes being warm.  God, you've a mouth like a sauna on you—" 

"I was in a steam bath –" Slurp   "—a couple of times—"  Slurp  "—in high school.  It was weird."

"Yeah?  Why's that?"  

Ah.  Getting the hang of it now.  "All the other guys were amphibians."  Just think of how you'd want it, then do it like that—"

"—oh, oh, oh, sweet motherfucking—"  Fingers wrapped around the base, commence suction-y goodness. 

"Huh?"  Nicolette's voice came out of left field.  "They were what?"


They angled huge pupil-ed gazes in Nicolette's general vicinity.  She looked so forlorn sitting there with her device-not-used-for-styling-hair and a camcorder.   But it was one of those truths they couldn't share despite the non-gender specific love that filled the room.


"You wouldn't understand, pet."

"Kind of a guy thing."  

"Right.  A guy—"  and GO.  "—GUH-guy. Thing.  Christ!  Do that.  That.  Yes.  More of ---oh yes thatthatthatthat—"


It wasn't a Big Bang that set the stars in motion, but a blowjob, an infinite, eternal blowjob.  Xander was God breathing life into the universe, mouth closed hot and moist around cold matter, forming it, animating it.  Oh, eventually there would be a bang, but no hurry.   This was a quantum physics kind of blowjob. 

Xander sucked and swirled, licked and sucked, luxuriating in the feel of Spike's fingers tangling in his hair, nails scraping at his scalp, pressing into his skull, but without any, you know, actual pressure.  This vampire who had once been his hated enemy had surrendered willingly to the risk of teeth – Xander's teeth.  Even Spike's erection, which was more than a mouthful, more than a handful, felt velvety smooth against Xander's palate, pliant and cooperative in a way that Spike had never been before.  Or perhaps he'd never been offered the chance.  Xander pondered this possibility.   He could tell just by the feel of Spike in his mouth that the guy was really sensitive.   It was as if in his cock lay the true spirit of William the Bloody. It was filled with compassion, and it was this great compassion, finally, that shot to the back of Xander's throat in gagging jets.  But even the gagging was kind of zen.  He was, after all, in a higher state of awareness here.

Spike pulled him up, up, clutching at him, kissing him all over his face, saying, "oh, oh, oh, you sweet, beautiful boy. God, how I wish I could bite you and turn you and make you my love slave forever and ever!" Which was just Spike's way.  He had no frame of reference for what he was feeling, no way to express universal love, being a vampire.  It made Xander want to watch movies about the true meaning of Christmas with him.  They could share a bowl of popcorn.  It would be nice. 

After a long moment, or perhaps minutes – jeez, time really was relative – he heard a little whirring sound and a click.  A loud gulp and then a shuddering sigh.

Poor Nicolette. "She looks lonely over there."

"Can't have that. C'mere, love. Come join the party you started."  One hand fell away from Xander's shoulder and flopped onto the floor, the fingers waggling in an invitation that wouldn't been nearly so compelling without the smile that accompanied it – a sultry grin that made Xander's dick leap up like a spaniel for tasty treat.  

Nicolette cocked her head and considered them.  Her eyes glittered in the candlelight.  Her dimples looked like irony quotes around something too sly to be a smile.  For a second, he was jarred out of his total connection-to-everything-that-was-is-and-ever-will-be.  She was considering the invitation?  Who the hell did she think she was?   

Spike did the come-hither thing with his hand again, upped the wattage on the smile.  Gave her the look.   And crawling to the mattress on hands and knees she came, for who could resist the look if Spike chose to bestow it?  Well, besides Buffy.  But she had superpowers so it didn't count.

Now there was a soft, round girl body between them, sheen of sweat cooling on her skin, slightly sticky.  He reached for a breast and met Spike's hand.   He reached between her thighs and collided with a couple of fingers aiming for the same place.   Cosmic.  It was like they had one mind.   Nicolette opened her legs to allow both sets of fingers ample playing room.  And there was much swirling in slickness and plunging in of digits.  Naughty words were exchanged.   Suddenly, Spike grabbed Xander's wrist.  His first response was to pull away, but then fingers met mouth and were pulled in.  It was erotic to infinity and beyond, Spike sucking Nicolette's tasty juices from Xander's hot little fingers and gallantly pleasuring her clitoris with his other hand.   While Spike was multi-tasking, Xander's eyes rolled back in his head and took a good look at his brain.  Ooh.  Fireworks.  Pretty.    

The exotic interconnection of flesh to flesh to flesh that followed reminded him of playing Tetris – a highly lubricated three dimensional Tetris with all the t-shaped pieces made out of satin covered foam rubber, shifting and turning and sliding into perfect, tight but slippery slots.  Sometimes it felt like they were just rubbing themselves all over each other with no actual sexual business going on.  Because, really, this was all about the cosmic oneness of big Love.  About wanting to be inside your companions so completely that you became them and they became you.   Other times it was just a steady rocking, rolling motion, like lying in the bottom of a boat.   But there were also fingers and tongues in places Xander had never before considered.   And other things he'd never considered.   Nicolette's device was called Stan.   Stan was a gentle lover in the right hands.   Spike hands were just right.    His words were righter still, like listening to champagne fizzing in a glass, tiny bubbles popping next to the ear, all "soft, what light through yonder window"-ish, which brought little sobs from Nicolette and prompted her to lick him from stem to sternum.   Xander didn't have any words, just guh, and ohhhh and mmmm as Stan worked his magic in a part of Xander no man had been before.   And it seemed like they would be occupied with filling the holes and crevices in each other with each other until the end of time.  

When the end of time came, they fell asleep listening to Prince the Hits Volume One, hands clasped across Nicolette's body, idly rubbing their knuckles over the piercing in her belly button.  Nicolette held a limp dick in each fist, a goddess with her sheaves of wheat.    


Awake but with his eyes closed.   Lying on his left side.  Roof of his mouth spackled and almost dry enough for that first coat of paint. 

Eyes opened onto a dim gray.   Unfamiliar shadows in an unfamiliar room.  A moment's disorientation reminded him of waking up at grandma's during the first week of summer vacation.  Then the more alarming disorientation – that he was not a child, and this strange place was not the spare bedroom at Grandma Lucille's.   Nor was he in the fold-out bed in his parent's basement.  The body pressed up against his wasn't soft and pleasantly squishy in the chest area like Anya's.  The arm flung over him was bone white.  The hand splayed across his stomach sported chipped black fingernail polish.   He shuddered and his skin felt like it was being sanded with rough grade sandpaper – from the inside out.   He opened the desert of his mouth – to scream perhaps, but realized his jaw and neck muscles were too stiff and sore to accommodate any sudden screaming action.  The how and why of that was duly recognized, shoved away hard, only to come back and hit him in the face like a swinging door.   Behind him, Spike twitched then went very still.  "Oh god," said the vampire in a baby bear voice as he put two and two together about who'd been sleeping in whose bed.  Then, "Sodding hell!"  He pulled his arm away fast enough to leave a rope burn on Xander's chest.  Broke the sound barrier getting off the mattress.  

Xander considered simply lying there until said vampire magically disappeared like the Lucky Charms leprechaun.    But then he rolled over.   Because Spike never magically disappeared when you wanted him to.   You had to use reverse psychology.   Hi, look at me.  I'm always after your pink hearts, green clovers and lily white— 

But the sight of wild-eyed, naked Spike, half-crouching, turning this way and that like an actor hoping to be discovered with his stunning performance of "Cop One" busting down the drug dealer's door, brought on a fit of giggles.  Xander made note of the edge of hysteria in his voice and giggled again.

Spike spun and stared at him.  His naked, vulnerable man parts were dangling, just like any ordinary guy's on the morning side of a bad night.  He looked as completely wigged as Xander felt.   For a moment he felt something almost like empathy.  And then came the mortification.  They both looked away, pretending to be looking away because they were looking for something very important on the floor or the ceiling, eyes darting furtively to make sure the other was still looking away, mentally "eek"ing when their eyes caught.  Looking away again.   The discomfort of that moment?   Mastercard Priceless. 

Suddenly Spike swept the kitschy figurines off the top of the television, roaring, "You bitch!"

Xander leapt up.  Regretted it immediately what with the sudden throbbing headache and need to dodge flying objects.   He wasn't about to let Spike see that.   "You got a lotta nerve calling me bitch, bitch!" 

"The other bitch, you great twat.   She's scarpered.   Evidence in tow no doubt."  

"Evidence?   What evi—doh!  GOD!  Dammit!"


"Fuck. Fuckfuckfuckingfuck."  Spike's muttered mantra wasn't the kind of mantra that actually helped locate objects but it seemed to help his concentration as he methodically tore the place apart.  

Xander could barely concentrate on getting his feet through the legs of his pants.  He found his boxers under the empty bag of Cheetos – after he'd caught his pubic hair in the zipper.  His shirt was buttoned wrong and sported the gummy stains he associated with quick early morning jerk-offs.   Danger was everywhere, shame implicit; in the minefield of Scrabble tiles, melted candle wax, empty bottles, sticky pink towels, and broken ceramic figurines.  Oh, that's where the fork ended up.  He could only find one sock.   Panic was riding him like a mechanical bull and he just wanted the bitch off his back.  He needed air.  To drink in huge goblets of sweet, sweet air.   He lurched across the room and threw open the drapes over the sliding glass doors, crying, "Oh my God!  How late is it?" 

Spike yelped, cursed more than was humanly possibly because he didn't need to pause for breath, and smothered the flames on his bare foot (a foot that Xander had licked – licked for Christ's sake!).  He stabbed one finger in the direction of the clock on the VCR, then angled it towards the clock radio and, same finger trembling with outrage, arrowed in on the bright green numbers on the microwave.  None of the clocks read the same, but the general impression was near or around five.  Slept through the day.  Like a freaking vampire.   Like a freaking vampire who'd partied all freaking night.  

"You could help me search, you berk.  Was it a camcorder or one of those little digital things?"

"It was a digital camcorder.   She had a camcorder.  She took pictures with a digital camcorder.  She's probably at Kinko's making 8x10 glossies."  Spike's eyes narrowed to dangerous slits.  He picked up a pile of mail and flipped through it so fast Xander's eyes refused to follow, so he closed them.  But they couldn't stay closed as a more horrifying thought occurred.  "Oh. My. God.  What if she posts them on the internet?  What if someone sees them?  What if my friends SEE THEM?"

"Your friends surf a lot of gay porn websites, do they?"

"GAY PORN!  Oh Jesus.  Jesus Christ.  Oh, Lord God Almighty!"

"Stop praying!  Giving me a headache.   I'll get the sodding goods.   Even if I have to hire someone to beat it out of her."

"No, you can't!    No beating up.   She'll—she'll have to be killed.  Yes.  That's it.   We'll have her killed.  No.  No.  Can't have her killed.  We'll have to do it ourselves.  Better that way.  Can't be any weak links, no way to trace it back to us—" 

Spike swiveled his head, lizard-like, and stared at new improved evil Xander, obvious respect and yes, even admiration in his eyes.

"Uh.  Never mind.  No killing.  Killing bad.  No beating up either.  We'll just have to stake the place out." 

"Yes.  We'll do that.  In our special van with all the high tech spy equipment."

"Why do you always have to be so negative?  You're a vampire.  You do this kind of shit all the time!  Stalk your prey.  Study it.  Find its weak spots."

"That woman has no weak spots!   Looks all soft and sweet, yeah, but she's the devil's own marshmallow pie.  Put a toe in and suddenly you're up to your eyeballs in deadly goo." 

"Soft evil is the worst kind."

"Tricked us, the bloody bitch."

"Drugged us."

"That's right!  Drugged us and made us—do— made us feel—"


"Right.  Stuff.  That we don't feel." 

"She must pay for her treachery!"   Okay, a bit over the top.  Again.   Even Spike seemed to think so.

 "Oh, hell.  Maybe she's just run up to the 7 Eleven or something." 

"So what do we do, wait until she comes back?  What if this isn't even her apartment?"

Spike sighed by way of a growl.  Held up what was apparently a utility bill.  "Nicolette –C for cunt – Cunningham."

"What if she isn't even the real Nicolette?  What if she murdered the real Nicolette and set up this lair?" 

"In order to do what exactly?  Shag a couple of guys and take naughty pictures of it to get her through the lean times?" 

"She could be some kind of incubus!"

"Succubus, you moron.  Though the way you're near swooning like a girl with the vapors—"

"Oh like you're not.  Your hands are shaking!"

"Low blood sugar!"

"Whatever.  You probably don't even care.  Just another amusing anecdote your demon pals at Willy's."

"Shut up.  You don't know anything."  

"God.  This sucks."

"Yeah.  A lot of sucking going on."   Spike shuddered.  "We were all cuddly.  Like bloody Care Bears.  Turns my stomach just thinking on it."

"Wait.  Wait.  The snuggly Care Bear moments?  That's what's freaking you out?"

"Well.  Yeah."

"Not the sex?"

"What?  Hell no.  Sex was bloody brilliant.  You didn't think so?"

"Uh…" His eyes slid from the vampire's unbearably earnest expression.  "Um…we really have to get those pictures back."

"Destroy the camera as well.  Possibly dismantle the World Wide Web itself.  Right.  Right."  Spike pulled on his bad-ass mode much the same way he pulled on his t-shirt and buckled his belt.  "If you say anything to anyone about this, ever, I'll gut you like a fish and use your entrails to decorate my Christmas tree."

"Right back at ya, there, pal."

"Fine.  That's settled."  He waved a piece of paper he'd retained from rifling her correspondence.  "Pay stub would indicate she works at Tower Records on 5th and Main.  So.  I'll do all the leg-work, stalking and what have you, meet you outside here tomorrow night for a little breaking and entering at, oh, say, ten-ish?"

"Sounds good to me."

"Bitch is going down.  Er, metaphorically speaking." 


Xander ended up walking home, which proved to be, in true Sunnydale fashion, only a couple of miles from Nicolette's apartment.   He ignored his mother's nagging concerns as to where he'd been all night and most of the day.  His dad happened to be in Bakersfield on business so it was a lot easier to say screw you, I pay rent, then fall into bed and sleep for fourteen hours.  Not that he felt good about doing it, but his mom was less inclined to knock him upside the head when he was being a shit.   She just got that trembly lip thing.  He'd deal with that later. 

The next night he got lassoed into doing reconnoiter on the military guys.  Fortunately it gave him an excuse to carry his backpack with his stake-out stuff inside.   But it was nearly ten before he managed to fake an injury convincing enough to make good his escape.  

"Ow.  Damn.  Pulled a groin muscle.  Damn." 

"What?  So no sex tonight?"

Throughout the evening, Buffy and Willow had been running neck and neck in the eye roll category.  Willow added a growling snort and a headshake as she turned away in disgust, proving she was still champion in the Why the Hell is Anya Here Anyway competition.

The sex question brought a fresh surge of panic, until he remembered the coup de grace.   "But I thought you were---you know, still—you know that girl thing—"

"Menstruating?  Yes.  But I read that having sex during can relieve the unpleasant cramping."

A groan from Buffy.  "Can you guys discuss this somewhere not here?"

"I'm really in a lot of pain, An.  Lot's and lot's of—ow, oh man, this hurts."

"Ice'll fix it right up."

"Hey, Anya," Willow said in her dangerously chipper voice.  "Why don't you go ask Spike?  Hungry little vampire, reduced to begging for handouts?  Bet he'd be really grateful to share the bounty of your glorious womanhood."

"God!  Willow!" Buffy squealed in equal measures horror and amusement. "Gross!"

"What?  It's a classic Hell's Angels rite of passage."

At which point Anya got huffy and Xander was off the hook.  He limped away until he thought they couldn't see him then ran like hell, tormented by images of Spike indulging in the bounty of glorious womanhood.  

He was half an hour late.  Spike was nowhere in sight.  Or even out of sight.   The drapes were closed in Nicolette's apartment, but it looked like the lights were on in there.   He settled down next to the dumpster and started his own stakeout, with thermos of coffee and sandwich and binoculars and an internal monologue about the loneliness of the stake-out practically writing itself in his head.  So when the cops showed up he was kind of surprised.  Apparently somebody had noticed a guy by the dumpster watching the building through binoculars and called them.  

"Hey, buddy.  What're you trying to get a peek at?"

He didn't try to run or anything.  They both had their hands hovering over their weapons.   "It's not what it looks like."

"Really, cuz it looks like you're casing the building."

"No.  What?  NO.  I'm not here to rob anyone –" As he said it, he realized that wasn't exactly true.   "I mean, I'm just waiting for –" nor could he say a friend— "this – guy I know."

"Does he live here?"


"You know anyone who lives here?"

"A girl.  She lives in that apartment."

"Spying on your girlfriend?"

"No.  Look, she's kind of this girl who— I met her the other night and she—I think maybe I—shit."     

"We're gonna need to see some identification.  Why don't you let Officer Pizarek hold the binoculars for you, Mister…Alexander Harris?  You know what it looks like to me, Alex?  Looks like you might have formed an attachment to a girl that she might not share.  You know what we call that?  We call it stalking.  There's a law against it in the state of California.  Were you aware of that?"

"Ye-es.  But I'm not stalking her—that's not what I'm—it's not like that—"

"You want to show us what else you've got in the backpack, Alex?"

"Nothing.  I mean, just another sandwich and some HoHos and—" oh fuck.  "Heh heh.  Those?  Those are…uh…plant markers.  I've been helping my mom in her garden.  Planting.  Love the planting.  It's planting time at the Harris homestead, yup and – oh, that – that's just for – carving the plant markers.  So they stick in the ground real deep—"

"We're going to have to ask you to come down to the station, Mr. Harris." 


Giles looked tired.  And annoyed.   Xander could see the hems of his pajamas sticking out from under his trousers.    His hair was sticking up.   He was wearing slippers without socks.   It did not bode well.   

"Thanks for coming.  Sorry I got you out of bed and everything."

"Just get in the car, Xander."

"I'll pay you back for whatever money you had to put up—"

"There were no charges filed against you.   Or were you not paying attention to the nice officer when he returned your plant markers and the very large knife you used to whittle them?" 

"I was too busy being relieved that I didn't have to spend the night with Donny and Lloyd."

"Yes.  Well, the young woman in question didn't want to press charges.  Her boyfriend said there was some rivalry between you?"  Boyfriend?  She has a boyfriend too?  "Still, both of them assured the officers you were harmless.  In fact, they suggested you were – I'm quoting here – developmentally disabled."

Spike.  He'd been there, in her apartment, the whole goddamned time.   Disabled.  I'll show him disabled.   "Son of a bitch."  

"Where is Spike, Xander?"

"What?  What d'you---?  He's, he's – at the house!  My house."

"You're sure of that, are you?"

"Waiting for me to bring him some blood.  Which, I wasn't able to get.  Because, you know, picked up by the police.  So I guess he won't be eating anyone – any thing tonight.  Again.  Just like last night.   When he didn't eat, so he'll be tired and worn out…from the not eating."    Stupid traitorous son of a bitch.

"Yes.  Well, good.  Stay on your toes.  He may not be able to kill but he's still capable of great … mischief.  May I ask why you were spying on this girl?  And please tell me it's because you've discovered she's associated, however loosely, with a certain mysterious military operation."

"Uh…kind of."  If you count sleeping with a vampire who's been experimented on by said mysterious military operation.  And me.

"I'll expect a full account of this tomorrow.   Er, not before ten in the morning however." 

"Thanks for not forcing me to call my folks."

"You're welcome.  And you owe me five dollars for gasoline."  


So.  Funny story.  A guy walks into his house at two o'clock in the morning and there's a vampire in the kitchen drinking coffee— 

"What the fuck are you doing here?"

"Alexander Lavelle Harris!"

Spike had actually jumped when Xander yelled, but as soon as Mom asserted her mom-ly authority with the use of his full name, the undead shithead oozed back against the kitchen counter in a loose-limbed, utterly relaxed lean.   Quirked a brow.   Mouthed "Lavelle" in a way he'd seen a million times before, so no points for originality.  Easy to ignore.  What could not be ignored was that Spike was here in the kitchen with his mom.  Like it was normal for him to be here.   With Mom.   At two in the morning.  Holding a coffee mug that apparently contained coffee.  

There was coffee still in the pot.  And powdered sugar donuts in a box – the crappy Hostess kind.  There was powdered sugar on Spike's t-shirt.   Mom was sitting at the kitchen table, a box of Kleenex standing shoulder to shoulder with a half empty bottle of Southern Comfort.   Crumpled tissues scattered about her own mug of coffee like corsages the day after prom.  She twisted and untwisted the latest tissue in her hands.

Drinking and crying.   Damn.   What had his dad done now?

"Spike's been nice enough to keep me company.  What with you disappearing for days and your father away—"

Oh, man.  Iit's about me.  "It hasn't been days, Mom."

"Ought not to worry your mum so, Xander.   A boy's mother is his dearest friend."

Crushing guilt turned immediately into seething hostility. "And you know this how?"

"I had a mother," Spike said, defensively, chin thrust out.  Then he sighed, hung his head.  "Once."

His own mother's face went all mushy sympathetic and she emitted a little "oh," blinking back fresh tears.

"Oh for Christ's sake," Xander muttered.  "Spike.  Why are you here?  Talking to my mother?"

"Ah.  Yes.   Well, 's like this, right?  I stopped by with that camcorder you wanted to borrow and found your mum all alone, frantic over your whereabouts."

"Oh.  The camcorder.  Great.   Uh…what about those movies you were going to download for me?"

"Down.  Load…?  Oh, right.  Got 'em."  

"Hand 'em over."

"I'm not liking your attitude lately, mister."

"I know, Mom, I'm sorry.   Look, I'm home now.  Maybe you should go to bed.  We can talk about this tomorrow—"

"Spike's been very sweet.  So polite."  She gave the vampire a wobbly smile.   "Are all English people so polite?" 

Spike shrugged in a way that suggested humility and superiority at the same time.  "Spare the rod, spoil the child."

Xander's teeth were in danger of being ground into powder. 

"Well, you're very polite."  She turned to her son.  "Not like that girlfriend of yours.  Or those other friends."

"Who among my many friends is impolite to you, Mom?   You've known Willow since she was five.  She brings you flowers on your birthday."

"I think she's into some questionable things now.   At college.  College offers a lot of temptations to a girl like Willow.   All that freedom.   And Buffy Summers.  I'm sure she's the one who got you into all this."

Oh shit.  He's told her we're all on crack or something.   "All this what?"

"That vampire game—"

He felt his face turn into a big question mark followed by an exclamation point.

"I thought you outgrew that Dungeons and Dragons nonsense a long time ago.  And that other one—"

"Magic, the Gathering," Spike helpfully filled in.   Xander shot him a look.

"And now you're obsessed with this vampire card game.  The way you talked to me yesterday when you got home --- well, I never thought I'd say this, but I think your father's right.  You need to stop living in a fantasy world."

"Okay, Mom.  Can do.   You really should go to bed.   Uh.  Spike's gonna crash here.  That okay?"

"Oh…okay.  Sure honey.  I do feel safer knowing you boys are around."

"Good.  Cling tight to that illusion."

"What's that, honey?"

"Night Mom."  She smiled and kissed him on the cheek.  "Night sweetie." 

"Aw," Spike said.  Xander waited for the sound of a door closing off the hall then grabbed him by the elbow to pull him towards the basement door.  

"Leave off, Harris.  You're gonna make me spill my coffee!"

"Like you drink coffee," he hissed. 

"Got whiskey in it."  He gulped it down quickly then turned – to rinse the fucking mug!  "Your mum sure likes her toddies, don't she?"

"Just what's that supposed to mean?"  Knew what he meant, but even so. 

"Good looking woman like that ought not to drink alone 's what I was thinking." 

"My mother is not good-looking – I mean, she is, maybe, but not to you.  Or to me.  Just – don't be thinking about my mother, you vampire perv."   He opened the basement door and shoved.   Spike failed to tumble down the stairs in a gratifying manner.  Or at all.  Bastard. 

"Case of pot calling the kettle pervert, seems to me—"  Tapped a cigarette out of a pack.  "Don't know what you're getting all pissy about—"  Strolled toward the washing machine. "I'm not the one run off and left me to handle all the details—"  Nudged a lumpy duffle bag on the floor with a scuffed boot toe.   "Lucky I came back here at all.  Could get me a nice bit of dosh for this stuff."

"I didn't run off, as you damn well know."

Lighter flared against the tip of the cigarette.  "I was there at nine sharp just like we agreed." 

Xander slapped it out of his hand.  "No smoking!  And you said ten, idiot!"

"Waited 'til ten and you didn't show!   Narrow window of opportunity, Harris.  Kinda had to take it."  He picked the cigarette off the floor and brushed the dust off.  It was still burning so he put it between his lips and grinned through the smoke.  "Made good work of it though.  In and out in under fifteen minutes."

"Wow.  Only fifteen minutes.  I'm surprised, considering what a stud you were the other night."

"I'm thinking that's what passes for sarcasm round these parts.  So then, what bug's crawled up your arse this time?"

"I know you were in her apartment when the police showed up.  Hell, you probably handed her the phone to make the call.  Ooh er, officer come quick, there's a nasty boy in the parking lot spying on me girlfriend."

"Is that supposed to be the way I talk?  Because you're doing Ringo Starr.  And again…the hell?"

"The boyfriend that talked to the police?  Told 'em I was a harmless retarded boy spying on her because I thought of you as rival for her affections and… oh shit…you don't have a clue what I'm talking about do you?"

"We've been had."

"In oh so many ways." 

Spike flicked his cigarette across the room heedless of piles of laundry and sofa cushions that could catch fire, suddenly all business.  He plonked the duffle bag onto the washing machine and began pulling out the booty.  

Camcorder?  Check.  Pile of disks?  Check.   Laptop?  Uh.  Oh. 

DVD player!   Oh shit. 

"Noticed you didn't have one.   And look.  The Godfather boxed set!"

Suddenly Xander had a clear, stunning vision of himself in the future, in this very basement, sitting in that very chair, sporting the requisite mullet hairdo and an ACDC t-shirt stretched over a beer gut, enjoying an evening of WWWF Smackdown, with eau de spilled bongwater perfuming the air, surrounded by empty beer cans, unaware, as he waited for Donny and Lloyd to deliver the stolen goods from their latest robbery, that one of them had cut a deal with the Feds and would be wearing a wire.

He took a deep breath and began the difficult ascent up a slippery slope.   "No."

"But it's got special features!"

"No.  We check the disks that might have us on them.  Destroy them.  That's it.  Then we – no I  - will take this stuff back tomorrow."  


An hour later. 

"Can I watch The Godfather now?"

"NO!  Fuck.   What's the point of having a DVD player if you can't play stuff you get off your camcorder?  I mean that's one of the selling features of this technology.  Make pictures.  Watch them."

"Use the laptop."

"I can't get it to boot up."

"I'll boot it up.  Piece of shit—"

"Quit it!  We have to take this stuff back!"

"Sure.  Right.  Do that tomorrow.  Don't worry.  You should get some sleep now.  I'll just watch The Godfather very quietly—"

"Spike.  If you mention The Godfather one more time so help me GOD, I'm going to kill you.  Long.  And hard."  Gulp.   "I mean…"

A low rumble of a laugh.  Miles away, whisper close.  "Mmmm.  Gonna make it hurt, are you?   Make it last?" 

The big thing stuck in his throat would not go down and he made entirely too much noise trying to swallow it.  His voice came out a clotted whisper, "You need to shut up now."

"You don't want me to shut up.  You wanna make me scream.  I bet you could too."   The voice was all over him now, in his hair, under his shirt, stroking his thigh.  He could hear the blood rushing around inside him, running from Spike's voice.   "Make it hurt in all the best ways."

He hadn't blinked, but suddenly the distance between them was non-existent.   "Deep dark waters run through you, don't they?   Sensed it.  I could show you things.  Things didn't get around to showing the other night."  

Fear.  Yeah.  And something else.  Something worse.   Curiosity.   What things? 

"Back off, Spike." 

"You sure that's what you want?"

"Spike.  Back off.  I mean it."

"Or what?" 

"I won't let you watch The Godfather."

Spike was in the chair before he'd finished saying the God in Godfather, legs bouncing like a kid with ADD.  

"You did that on purpose!"

"Maybe.  Either way, get what I want."

"Asshole."  He kicked off his shoes and crawled into bed with his clothes on.

Just as he was drifting off to the sounds of Sonny being whacked at the tollbooth, he heard, "Harris?"


"Time doesn't heal wounds."

"Right.  Established that."

"Has a tendency to make you forget the good stuff though.  Like…these films are brilliant, right?   But it's only when I watch them again I remember all the reasons they're brilliant." 

Xander rolled over, squinting against the strobing light coming off the television screen.   "So…what are you saying?  It's okay if Nicolette keeps her precious memories of our happy, fucked-up-on-drugs time together, to watch over and over at her leisure?  That you're okay with that?  Is that what you're saying?"

"I'm saying…look, you had a good time, didn't you?"

Xander considered this.  His legs couldn't do the knee-jerk of denial in his current state of exhaustion, so it was easier to be rational.   Did he have a good time?  Well, it seemed like some it was pretty incredible, except—  "Guh.  Hell if I know.  I can barely remember the ride in her car now.  Yeah.  Okay, I get it.   Not a memory that's gonna stick with me.   But I'm warning you, if you bring it up privately, or in mixed company, if you even allude to it for the sake of your own amusement, I'll tell everybody that you said you loved me."

"I never said that!"

"How do you know?"

"Ah.  Yes.  Right.  We've reached an understanding then.  Now shut yer gob.  Watching Scorcese here."  


"Alexander?  Honey?  Wake up."  

"Huh?"  His mother's face bending over him.   Was it a school day?   No.  No school.  Not any more.   Because, hey, no school building.   "Yeah, I'm awake.   What?"

"There's a call for you.  Upstairs."

"Can you take a message?"

"Do I look like your secretary?"  The words lacked impact due to her whispering.   He couldn't figure out why she was whispering.   And then it hit him.    Spike was still asleep.  She was being all solicitous because a widdle precious vampire was sleeping in her basement. 

He lifted his head.  Yup, there he was.  In the chair, knees drawn up, hands clasped beneath one cheek.   Features softened to, well, if not innocence, at least blessed silence for once.   And obviously his mother was all over that.   Didn't notice the asshole wasn't breathing.   He let his head drop back onto the pillow.  Scrubbed a fist over his eyelids.   "Please, Mom.  Can't you take a message?  I'm begging you."

"No, I can't.  She said it was really important."

Oh crap.  "Was it Buffy?"

"Mmm…Nicolette something.  I didn't quite—"

He shot out of the bed.

"If you're getting up you should let Spike have the bed."

"He's fine where he is."    Up the stairs.   Picked up the receiver from the kitchen counter.  "Hello?"

"Xander.  How's it going?"

"Uh.  Fine?"

"I want that stuff back."

"Yeah, hey, sorry about that.  Spike's kind of…"

"A thief?"

"Among other things.  Look—"

"I'm willing to do an exchange."

"Uh huh."

"I'll give you the vids I made.  You guys can do whatever you want with them.  But I really need that stuff back."

"Not yours is it?"

"Um…no.  It belongs to this guy I know.   He's kind of wigging about it.  Especially The Godfather boxed set.   Can you guys meet me at the Bronze around ten tonight?"

"Are you planning on slipping Rohypnol into our drinks?"    

"Never accept drinks from strangers, Xander.   Any girl knows that."

"You really are evil."

"No I'm not.  I'm just drawn that way."  He could practically hear the dimples of her smile burrowing into her cheeks.   "Ta ta."


There was no band on Mondays.  Monday was karaoke night.   He never went to the Bronze on Mondays if he could help it.  Or Tuesdays, for that matter, but that was because of the open mike poetry situation, not because of the multitudes of people who couldn't sing but insisted on doing it anyway.   And there she was in the midst of it all.  Nicolette.  Sitting at a table too close to the stage.   Dressed in a tight red top.  The breasts were like beacons – yoo hoo, boys, over here.  He tapped Spike on the arm and jerked his chin in her direction.   They threaded their way between the tables, both twitching and wincing as a skinny blonde attempted to reach high notes that were best left to Mariah Carey, and even then should never be performed in the presence of fine crystal or small animals.

Xander sat down across from her.  Spike pulled up a chair, which led to a brief scuffle with the guy he pulled it out from under.  But when Spike flashed something from inside his coat the guy went away.   This knack for intimidation without the ability to actually follow through on any threat was remarkable.   To someone.   Probably.   Xander could give a rat's ass, actually.

"So," he yelled, leaning in close to her, but not too close.  "You got the stuff?"   It sounded like really bad dialogue from a really bad movie and he could feel himself flush in embarrassment.   Naturally Spike punctuated this embarrassment with an eye roll. Unscrewed the cap to a pint of Jack Daniels.  A waitress chose that moment to appear, a girl with chunks of short hair like a collection of horns on her head, and a smooth tanned belly showing above her low-slung apron—

"Yo.  Babe-alicious.  Told you before you can't have that in here."

"Oh right."  He upended the bottle and drank the entire thing in one ha-ha-don't-need-to-breathe gulp.   "See.  'S like it never existed."

"You know, Spike," she said, scooping up the bottle and slipping it into her apron pocket,  "one of these days, that tight little ass of yours is going to start sagging and you won't be able to get away with this shit anymore."

"Not in your lifetime, love."  

"What'll you guys have?"

"Nothing for me.  Thanks."  Xander said, feeling guilty about it.

Spike grinned.  "I'm good for now."

"You better tip me."

"Don't I always?"

"With your own money this time."

Xander watched the exchange, and the end of it, which involved eyebrow waggling and eyelash batting.  The Mariah Carey girl ended her song to whooping and generous applause from her friends.  Xander pressed the advantage of relative silence.  "Look, Nicolette."  She glanced at him, all the appearance of polite attention while her eyes darted to the stage.   "Can we just take care of this?  I kind of have things to do—"

"And now for the one we've all been waiting for," the DJ announced in his rockin' radio voice.  "The soulful song stylings of our own Nicolette Cunningham!"

She gave his forearm a squeeze.  "Sorry.  I'm up!"   Then she was.  Up.  On the stage.  Removing the microphone from the stand like a pro.  The first beats of her chosen song started and the crowd went wild.  Next to him, Spike said, "Oh sweet motherfucking god."  He grabbed Xander's wrist, eyes bouncing in panic between Xander and the big girl in tight red on the stage.  "It's Aretha.  We're doomed!"

"No.  We can do this.  Be strong!  You're an evil soulless thing.  Soul music cannot affect you."

"It's not just Soul!  It's fuck-me Soul!"

"'Rock steady baby, that's what I fee-eel now.  Let's call this song exactly what it is.'" 

Damn.  Spike was right.  It was Fuck-me Soul.  She wasn't doing Aretha.  She was doing Nicolette.  The Nicolette with whom they were intimately acquainted

"'Just move your hips with a feeling from side to side.  Set yourself down in your car and take a ride.  And while your movin' rock steady, rock steady baby—'"

They sat like dogs fresh out of obedience training school, unable to shake to the beat like the rest of the audience, yet unable to keep their tails from wagging or their tongues from hanging out.  Because they knew what those big bouncing tits felt like, what those undulating hips were capable of, how deceptively jelly-like was the flesh of her thighs, thighs that could squeeze, render ordinary men and vampires into whimpering shells of their former selves, posing for pictures, dicks in hand. 

"'Let's call this song exactly what it is.  What it is, what it is, what it is, yeah— it's a funky and low down feeling.  Move the hips from left to right.  What it is, I might be doing, this funky dance all night—'"

"I say we wait outside."

"Good idea."  They scrambled for the back exit.

In the alley, Spike bent over, hands on his knees like he was trying to force the blood back into his brain.  Maybe it was that simple for a vampire, but for mere human Xander the process was slower and more painful.   Spike straightened and began patting his pockets.  It suddenly struck Xander as odd, that a vampire could seem so normal as to be addicted to cigarettes.  Or addicted to the ritual involved in the habit.  Spike's normalness was a kind of thrall unto itself.   It sucked you into his gravitational pull, until you were standing much too close and were in danger of forgetting that he was bad for reasons other than the fact that he stole DVD players and smoked cigarettes.  Now, Angel – Angel had always seemed totally alien even when making an effort to be sociable.  Angel was otherworldly, superior, aloof.   His hatred of Angel was all about fighting the sense that this tall brooding guy was actually better than him, and not just because he was older and smarter and really buff.   Even when Angel referred to himself as "cursed" and "an abomination" there was this subtext:  Angel, the most special cursed abomination that ever walked the Earth.  Or maybe that was just the way Buffy looked at him.  

Spike elicited the opposite response in her.   He was the lowest of the low.  Belly-crawling low.   Spike was the kind of evil that crawled out from under rocks and only hissed after he'd bitten.  So this sudden awareness of Spike's normal-ness, frantically searching for his goddamned cigarettes, lighting one up, saying "ah" like the nicotine was doing it's job on his brain chemistry when hello? No chemicals moving about in there.  All these obnoxious but completely normal human behaviors sent a fission of irritation through Xander that started in his toes and rushed up his spine right out the top of his head.   

"I fucking hate you!"

"Feelings mutual.  So what?"

"I hate that you got me into this.  I hate that I'm stuck out here with you while you blow smoke in my face—"

"Could be blowing it up your arse—"

"I hate your stupid hair and the way you get away with shit that nobody else can.  I hate that you picked out the only girl in a bar that has a camcorder, a stockpile of illegal substances, and a kink for two guys getting it on.  I hate that we—" He broke off, not wanting to say the words that would make it a really real reality

"Got it on?"

"When this over I don't ever want to see you again—"

"You breaking up with me, lover?"

And oh, that smug, mocking look had to be eradicated.  Terminated with extreme prejudice.  His fist came up.  Blind rage was not just an expression anymore.   He knew because there was only Spike's face, his fist and everything else did not exist.   He felt something crackle, possibly the bones in his hand, but there was a bright gush of blood and it was good so he drew back and belted him again.  And again.

He probably only got two good punches in before Spike grabbed his arms and threw him into the wall.   The wall was solid, comforting, a product of good old fashioned human industry.  He let himself slide down it.  Sat listlessly, listening to the howls and anguished sobbing for what seemed like forever, without really connecting the sounds with the creature on its hands and knees some few feet away.   

"You're kind of a bully aren't you?"

Xander looked up.  Nicolette came walking, her fluttery skirt fluttering, shiny red boots scattering gravel.  It took him a moment to realize she'd been talking about him.   He ran a shaky hand through his hair, pulled it away when he realized it was bloody.   "I'm not.  Usually.  Tired of people messin' with my head."   He glanced at Spike, who had both feet beneath him again, face turned away from them, a hot, angry muscle dancing along his jaw as he swiped the blood from his mouth and nose.   Guess he was tired of it too.  Xander swung his gaze back around to Nicolette.   Stared coldly.  Waited.

She looked down, turning a CD case over and over in her hands.  For just a second it seemed like she might be feeling contrite, or maybe even sorry.   But then, "You should be nicer.  You guys are so hot together."

Spike growled.  And not in a sexy way.   In a way that made wise men pee their pants and then flee in terror.   Her clever boots shuffled back a little.   Xander felt his lips twitch.  

"Yeah.  We sizzle," he said.  He jerked his head at what she held.  "Is that it?"


"I suppose you made copies."


Somewhere over his left shoulder, Spike snorted eloquently and lit another cigarette. 

"I didn't!  I watched it a couple of times. Or five.  Honestly.  No copies.  It's all yours.  Do what you want with it."  Xander got up to reach for it.  She snatched it back.  "After you load all that stuff you stole into my car."

When the last of the goods had been vented from the trunk of Spike's DeSoto into the open hatch of her Honda, and hatch and trunk were slammed shut, Nicolette tossed Xander the disk.  She leaned her ample bootie against the car, grinning full-on dimple action.  Butterfly clips bobbed in her glossy hair.  Bountiful tits tried to break over the retaining wall of her red velvet bustier.  She crossed one shiny red boot over the other.   "Well, been nice working with you boys.  Maybe we can do it again sometime." 

They both went stone still for a moment.  And it wasn't like the stillness had anything to do with considering her offer.   Necessarily.   More like they were mentally inserting steel rods into the place where their spines used to be.  Before she smiled in that particular way.  

"Well, see," Xander began, pleased by the firm but carefree tone of his voice, "there's a whole hell freezing over thing that has to happen first."  

"I understand.  But you really ought to watch it before you destroy it.  Because, you guys may sizzle, but the three us together?  Volcano hot.  I'm talking lava, rain of fire, magma flows.  Hot hot."   She sighed dreamily then gave a little shimmy, riveting two sets of eyes to her chest.   "So.  I guess this is it then."   She pushed herself from the car, walked around, got inside and drove off. 

They stood there for a minute, blinking stupidly as the car rounded a corner until the taillights faded and it was okay to breathe again.   Xander had to, of course.  Unlike the vampire who did it merely for effect   He gazed resignedly at the CD in his hand.  "Shit.  I guess we'll have to watch it just to make sure." 

"Yeah.  Could do."

"I mean, we don't know that this is even…you know."

"Do you want to watch it?"

"Do you?"

"Well…say we do.  Watch it.  An' it's just a lot of snaps of her sweet sixteen party or such.  Then we have to go through all this again.  Staking out her place, nicking her stuff—"

"Wasn't even hers—"

"—nicking stuff she nicked from someone else.  Back to square one.   Seems a waste of time to me.  Especially when we could be watching – " He pulled a fat book shaped something from inside his coat and presented it with a flourish of triumph.  "—this!" 

The Godfather.  Boxed set.  "Fuck yeah!  You kept it!"  Xander snatched at it greedily.    "Um.  Bad evil monster.  Got a line on a DVD player?"

"I could steal one again, but Blockbuster rents 'em."

"Need a credit card for that."

"Give us a mo' I'll get us one," Spike said, looking around for likely prospects.

"Nah," Xander said.  "I mean NO.  Absolutely not.  I'll…borrow... my mom's.   Anyway, one of the guys who works there is a friend of mine." 

That was that.  All settled.  There was only one thing left to do.  Xander opened the CD case and dropped the disk on the ground.  He stepped down hard and twisted until it cracked.   Spike did the same thing only his boot was heavier and the crunching sound more satisfying.  

They went to Blockbuster and never spoke of certain things again.

Because, though memory might indeed be cellular, scored into the flesh, eyes, minds and hearts of every living creature, in the land of Sunnydale, denial was king of all it surveyed.