Useful Commodities

PAIRING: Anya/Spike (Friendship); Spike/Buffy (implicit); Anya/Xander (implicit)


SPOILERS: Up to BtVS 7x14 "First Date"

SUMMARY: Post-"First Date" – Anya talks, Spike mostly listens…

Spike wakes to the sound of footsteps on the basement stairs. It's not the noise as such that alerts him. With the house turning more and more into a YMCA for potential slayers, the basement seems to have turned into a 24/7 laundrette. Plus with the freezer down here, and the ironing board and the training equipment, it sometimes feels like Grand Central Station. Normally, the constant coming and going washes over him like the incessant churning and gurgling of the washing machine. It's the uncertainty in that hesitant tread that sends a brief stab of alarm through him before he recognizes the characteristic clickety-clack of those particular heels and the soapy, freshly scrubbed scent of their owner: Not one of the potentials, not Dawn. Definitely not Buffy. "Anya?"

"Oh look, you're awake!" Anya exclaims with false cheer and quickly marches down the rest of the stairs.

Metal rattles as Spike sits up on his bunk-bed. He runs both hands through his hair, combing it back, and smoothes down his T-shirt. He still looks a bit rumpled. Oh well, better rumpled than starkers.

Dull daylight seeps in through the basement window. From upstairs comes the usual background noise: clomping footsteps, gurgling pipes, the slamming of the refrigerator door, the whistle of a boiling kettle, girly chatter, Andrew's high-pitched whining and Xander's deeper voice. Cooking smells waft down, something with melting cheese. Another vegetarian casserole.

Anya approaches with caution, taking in the cot, blanket and pillow, before resting her gaze on Spike's restraints. "Chains. Kinky," is her comment, followed by: "Please tell me the current state of your mental health. Are you sane or should I come back later?"

"Not to worry, Anya. Haven't come undone in a while. What's the matter?" Spike asks warily. "'S there a crisis?"

With a dismissive wave of her hand Anya starts pacing up and down. The rhythm of her footsteps betrays her irritation. "Isn't there always? The dishwasher broke down again and now Harris is trying to repair it. Again." Her voice rises to an angry pitch. "Do you have any idea how many dirty dishes this household produces every day? Look, dish-pan hands! If Mr. I-chat-up-demon-girls-in-hardware-stores can't repair it I'm voting for you to be chained to the sink instead of down here, where you're no good to anyone. I don't see why you shouldn't make yourself useful, like the rest of us."

Spike blinks in surprise, taken aback by her outburst. "Lovely recruitment speech. What'd you like me to do? Go upstairs and make the beds?"

"Why not? It's not like you're doing anything important. You know as well as I do that Buffy doesn't need you to train the potentials. What's the lesson they're supposed to learn? That leopards can change their spots? That's really going to do wonders for their life-span."

The truth in her words makes him cringe inwardly.

"And it's not like we can let you patrol on your own, either." Anya continues. "Because then the First might either make you kill people or it might capture and torture you again. And we can't let that happen. That makes you pretty darn useless. Especially now that Buffy is dating her boss."

This is one of those painful moments, where the Spike of old would have flipped her off, turned on his heel and barged out, duster flapping indignantly, to wash down the sour taste of self-pity and wounded pride with plenty of cheap booze. But his coat is god-knows-where, his pride is tattered beyond repair, and he's chained to the basement wall. So he submerges, lets himself sink below the still surface of a dead body with a blank face and limp unclenched hands. He watches while a pensive Anya gives the sandbag that hangs from the ceiling a lingering pat. There's a handful of towels the girls left lying around after their last work-out session. Anya picks them up and puts them in a basket next to the washing machine. There's something aimless and lost about her.

"You gonna tell me why you're here?" Spike finally asks.

"Buffy is back from work. I was sent here to take off your chains. And Willow said to ask you if you want to come up for dinner." Anya tells him in a bored tone as if going through a checklist. " Personally I find that a waste of good money, since you get neither nourishment nor vitamins out of eating people food."

She's got a point. Even so, dinner would be a nice distraction. Revello Drive is a virtually book-free zone and he has neither radio nor TV to keep him company down here. Just the pictures in his head. This is worse than Xander's old place, even without the funky smells. Or it would be if it weren't for the fact that he's actually staying in Buffy's house. Under the same roof with her. For that exquisitely painful privilege he's prepared to put up with the potpourri of sounds, the barrage of smells and the perpetual whoosh whoosh of the washing machine.

Anya's right, though. Wouldn't do for him to act too human 'round the girls.

"Think I'll pass. It's crowded enough up there. Just the chains." He holds out his manacled wrists and she unlocks the restraints.

He gets up and stretches himself. "Wouldn't mind a beer though, think there's some left." He walks to a crate in the far corner of the room. "How 'bout you?"

Her answer surprises him: "Yes, why not." She sits down on the cot, hands clutched in her lap. "You know, you really seem to have an affinity to basements. First Xander's, and we all know what a barrel of fun that was, then the school basement with its evil hellmouth and seals, and now this place. Do you think that's destiny's way of telling you where you belong?"

"I *belong* six feet under," Spike says dryly.

"You think so?" Anya considers his statement earnestly. "Actually from a vengeance demon's point of view you belong in hell. Not that I'd wish that upon you. In fact, I'm thinking you should get an apartment, like I did. I mean not now, obviously, because, hey, nobody wants you running around free as long as you're still a Manchurian candidate. I'm thinking later, when this whole First Evil thing is over and you're not dust."

Spike vamps out, opens the two bottles with his teeth, then hands her one.

"At least you've still got your fangs," she says wistfully.

Spike shakes his demonic visage off and sits down beside her. "Yeah, Spike's a big fluffy puppy with bad teeth," he mumbles. Where has he heard that expression before? He frowns then winces. He lifts the bottle and takes a hefty swallow.

"If you ever got a chance to be human, would you take it?"

"Never really thought about it. It's pretty hypothetical, luv, since there's no way in hell that's ever gonna happen." He smiles faintly, realizing she wasn't really asking about him. It's just an opener. Fair enough. "Who we talkin' about here? I mean with you it's a done deal. You regret going for this mortal coil?"

"No. Yes. Sometimes. I mean I tried to do a good job but my heart just wasn't in it anymore." Spike nods. Anya continues, obviously grateful for a sympathetic ear: "The teleporting and the super-strength, those were useful. I miss those. Also, as a vengeance demon I wasn't so damn fragile. Every day I wake up I feel like saying 'Hail world, those who are about to die salute you.' Except that I'm no gladiator and all I'm armed with are a handful of smelly old books, all of which I've already read three times from cover to cover without finding anything useful. And if that wasn't enough, there's also a bunch of demons out to kill me, because d'Hoffryn doesn't like his vengeance demons to quit."

"You were human before. What's different now?"

"For starters I still had my shop. I also had a lot more sex then." Her hand plays absentmindedly with the neck of the beer bottle.

"Anya," Spike says warningly.

"What? It's true. When Xander and I got scared, and somehow there were many reasons to get scared, we'd have sex and for a while the fear—the fear would go away. It wasn't just the orgasms, although hey, orgasms are good. But I can have those on my own, all I have to do is imagine doing it with Xander, or you or both and 'wham!'"

Spike shifts uncomfortably, finding her a little too forthright. It's not her, it's him. The set or morals he's stuck with is as outdated as corsets and recycled tea leaves, and as much as he tries to catch up with the times, he hasn't quite made it to the swinging seventies yet, let alone the 'anything goes' of the early twenty-first century. "Um, Anya, are you sure you wanna talk about—"

"Oh, don't worry, I'm not going to jump your bones," Anya tells him. "You made it quite clear last time that you're not interested." She's bravely tries to keep the hurt out of her voice. "I'm just saying, it's not the orgasms, it's the cuddling that comes after that I miss. Don't you?"

She looks at him earnestly and utterly oblivious to the sharp stab of pain her words cause him. He swallows. "Never took the big oaf to be the cuddly type."

"But he is. Was," Anya explains unhappily. "There's a lot you don't know about him. He can be sweet and kind and he's got a nice body. I'm just glad his date was a total bust."

"Compass of love still pointing his way, does it?"

She throws her hands in the air. "I can't believe I'm still not over him!" she admits in shrill exasperation.

"I know how you feel." Spike admits gloomily. This time, his sadness gets through to her. Anya gives his arm a friendly pat.  They sit silently for a minute, drinking their beer, lost in thought.

"What if he's really gay? It's not like I can suddenly grow a penis!" Anya suddenly bursts out.

"Piffle. Can't be too gay if the first guy he wants to mentally undress is that boring starship captain." He sees Anya giving him a horrified stare. "What?"

"You're a geek! You're like him, you're just like Xander!" She exclaims.

Spike almost chokes on his beer. "Take that back!"

"Yes, you are. I had sex with exactly two guys in the past few years and now it turns out they're both geeks. What does that say about me?"

"That maybe you should start dating what's-his-name?" Spike raises one eyebrow. The corners of his mouth twitch slightly.

"Andrew? Are you nuts? Oh a joke. I get it. Make fun of the date-free unemployed ex-vengeance demon."

"Sorry. Didn't mean to--"

"It's okay." He frown fades away and is replaced by a tiny smile. "I haven't heard you make a joke in a long time. I thought maybe your soul hasn't got a sense of humor..."

Spike shrugs. "Yeah well, got other things on my mind lately."

"Which is why you shouldn't sit here all on your own and brood." Anya says resolutely and stands up. "Come on upstairs, Spike. Let's have dinner."

"What happened to 'a waste of good money?'"

Anya dismisses her earlier words with an impatient flick of her wrist. "Come on, I'm not sure I can take all the hand-holding underneath the table and the love-sick looks between Willow and Kennedy on my own. I don't see why I should be the only one to suffer. Also, you helped save Xander, even if he's a jerk - I think that entitles you to a share of Willow's casserole."

Spike hesitates for a moment but then he gets to his feet and gestures politely. "After you," he says and follows her upstairs.