Summary: Spike and Xander find they have more in common than either of them would have preferred. B/S, X/A, and mentions of various other pairings.
Rating: PG-13, for language and mature themes
Spoilers: Takes place sometime after "Older and Far Away," and both during and a good deal after the episode, "As You Were," but with a few changes. Just pretend "Hell's Bells" never happened.
Disclaimer: BtVS belongs to Joss Whedon, et. al. No infringement intended. No money is being made. Though feedback is always nice.
Archive: Just ask first. Unless you're already archiving one of my stories. Then go right ahead.
Author's Note: Just as a warning, there are a few places where this story isn't very linear. I don't think there's anything in here that's too confusing though. An asterisks signifies a scene change and, usually, a passage of time.
Feedback is always appreciated. It would most definitely make my day to hear from you.
"Armistice \Ar"mis*tice\, n. [F. armistice, fr. (an assumed word) L. armistitium; arma arms + stare, statum (combining form, -stitum), to stand still.] Temporary suspension of hostilities by agreement between the opponents; a truce."
Though he never actually admitted it to anyone, Xander Harris was what some of the guys at work liked to call a 'leg' man. There wasn't anything in particular about his childhood or his high school years that he could really pinpoint and blame for the fact. It just, sorta... was.
Cordelia, Faith, Anya: all great pairs of legs. Muscular, yet not dramatically so. Feminine, but with that touch of feral energy in the smoothness of the skin, the firmness when they moved. As if he knew exactly how well those legs could kick his ass, but he didn't care. Hell, he loved it.
There was just something about women who could break him in two and not break a sweat that he found alluring. Buffy had great legs too. Small – tiny, even – but looking like they'd been carved out of marble. Strong and smooth; graceful when fighting. Great legs.
Willow had been the exception. His mind liked to pass over that thought fairly quickly though, labeling it in large, imaginary letters: "fluke," and tossing aside any ideas about how exceptions usually meant something. Not that Willow didn't have great legs. He just… never noticed them like that.
The thought still scared him sometimes. He really should have noticed them.
Spike was a completely different story. And thank God, Xander thought. 'Cause the longer the list of things he and 'the bleached wonder' had in common, the more anxious and frustrated he tended to get. No, Spike wasn't what any one would call a 'leg' man. Or, a 'breast,' 'ass,' or 'lips' man either, that last one being the rarest, as Xander had only ever met one man who'd thought that the lips were the most sensual part of a woman's body.
Spike, the greedy bastard, liked the whole package.
Legs, lips, ass and all. From the wave of the hair to the arch of the foot. And the reason Xander knew this was as a result of a poorly played game of pool.
He looked up, blank expression fresh on his face, beer in his hands. "What?"
"Ten bucks. Six in the corner pocket. You up for it, Harris?" Xander smirked at the vampire then eyed the shot more closely before shaking his head.
"Like hell. I'm not that drunk." Spike smirked back and shrugged.
"We can take care of that." He muttered, and Xander rolled his eyes, waiting for his turn to shoot.
He never quite knew what to make of these nights. It wasn't as if they happened all that often – only twice that he could think of besides this current one – but they still managed to keep him more than a bit confused from start to finish. He didn't want to be there. He didn't like the man he was there with. And the last night like this one had left him twenty bucks poorer and quite a few aspirin away from something resembling a functioning brain.
Yet... there he was.
"You gonna shoot already, or are we waitin' for another apocalypse to come along and save you from the ass kickin' you're about to get?" Spike gave him a look – one of his more famous 'you're a bloody git and I'm about to prove it' looks – then sunk the six into the corner pocket.
Xander let out a small sigh of relief at having not put up the ten bucks, then shrugged off-handedly at Spike's expression. "What? Any idiot could have made that shot."
An hour later, Xander was almost – but not quite – drunk enough not to notice that his game was worsening instead of improving and, though the alcohol was probably to blame, he kept a beer close at hand anyway.
"What do you love most about her?" Spike didn't even look up, as if used to the young man's semi-drunken questions. But, really, how could he be?
"'Bout who, mate?" Xander shook his head, trying to alleviate the fog that was slowly rolling in over his thoughts. He wasn't completely plastered yet, he knew. He had a fairly strong system, though not as strong as certain vampires in the vicinity, and a few beers and a few more swallows of whatever the hell was in Spike's hip flask hadn't quite brought him over the edge.
Meaning that he was still sober enough to suddenly remember why it was he'd come here in the first place. He'd come here because his friends had left him.
Not literally of course. But in other ways… All of them were leaving him.
He took in a breath, feeling far more sorry for himself than he usually allowed. But, the fact was that, even drunk, he couldn't quite decipher what it was that had driven all of his friends from him. He only knew that that's what was happening.
And, maybe it wasn't any of their faults. But, it was just that… Well, Willow wasn't the same girl that he'd known growing up. And, though he was trying to help her as best as he could, sometimes it got to be too much. It was hard for him to just sit there and watch his best friend drift further and further away.
And Buffy had been different for a while now. Coming back from the dead certainly hadn't helped, but even before that she'd been… distant. And, yes, he loved Anya, but hell, she wasn't always the most witty conversationalist, and damn it if he didn't just want to be around an actual 'guy' for once.
Unfortunately, Spike was as close as he could get on such short notice.
"Buffy." Xander answered after a long moment of trying to remember what the question was. The vampire stalked around the pool table slowly, as if the cue ball were some kind of illusive prey. "What do you love most about Buffy?"
Truthfully, he didn't know where the question had come from, or the gumption to ask it. But he found himself not caring for a moment. He was, at least, drunk enough to blame it on his blood-alcohol level.
Spike stopped walking and stood still, looking up at the man across the pool table from him. It was difficult to tell whether Xander was being serious or not, and it seemed Spike's first instinct was to somehow throw his words back in his face and smirk accordingly. But he faltered, maybe noticing the glazed look in Harris' eyes, and figured 'what the hell.'
"All of it." He said, as if he were talking about the weather or sports or something else that was 'normal' and 'everyday' in the way that Xander was certain that this subject wasn't. "Not a bloody bit of her that doesn't get me up." After a pause, he raised a scarred eyebrow. "Why?"
Xander swallowed and shook his head. "Curious. And I'm not sober enough to really kick the shit outa you, so I figure I should ask these kinda questions now."
"Nice of ya." His voice was just this side of sarcastic.
"Yeah. Well… you know me."
Spike didn't answer as he bent down and sunk another ball.
"I mean," Xander took another drink from the beer bottle in his hand. "I'm the freakin' Scooby whipping boy. Ya know?"
The vampire nodded his head and lined up for another shot. Xander couldn't tell if the vampire was even listening, but decided to go on anyway. It felt good to ramble a bit.
"I told her… I told her last year that I was sick and tired of being the butt monkey around here." Spike smirked. "I told her that I wouldn't do it anymore. But here I am. Playing nice again. Trying to get the undead to listen to my problems 'cause no one else will." He opened his mouth again, about to continue the rant, but then couldn't think of how to finish, and took another drink instead.
Spike said nothing.
He didn't mean most of it, he thought to himself idly. Not really. Sometimes, though, things just got to be too much. And when the only one to go to with complaints was Spike… Well, the fact didn't exactly calm him down any.
"So…" Xander tried to think of a way to change the subject smoothly. Some nights were for not talking. For just being there, playing pool, slightly comforted by the fact that he wasn't alone in his little pit of misery.
This wasn't one of them.
"All of it, huh? The whole package?"
Spike looked up. "Yeah."
His hands shook.
He needed a smoke.
It was the little things that clued him in. When his hands shook, it was time for a cigarette. When his chest constricted, it was time for a drink. He'd learned to interpret these small signs over the years. Had learned not to ignore them, and what exactly might befall him if he did.
Last time he didn't reach for the bottle fast enough, he'd ended up far too sober for his own liking.
He felt his lungs tighten in his chest. Not for any natural reason like breathing, but because some part of him had to react. Some part of him had to make everything that much more real by bringing a bout of physical pain into the equation to match the emotional one. And if any part of him, why not his lungs?
Maybe there was a story there. Maybe he'd nearly drowned as a kid and, ever since, hadn't at all liked the thought of his lungs failing on him. Of just holding his breath. Maybe, even dead, he hadn't liked the thought. So he'd talked his mouth off just so that he'd have to breathe. He'd started smoking so that his lungs could fill up with something that he could pretend he needed.
But then, maybe it was just in his head.
He took a good, long drag and decided that a decent bottle of scotch would be worth the little money he had on him. There'd always be more money. What did it matter anyway? There'd always be another reason to drink. To smoke. To do all of those things that he knew she despised him for, but liked to pretend that she found endearing.
Because, wouldn't that be nice? Wouldn't that just make it all worth his while, if she might just come up to him one of these days and tell him how much she enjoyed that tobacco and blood and alcohol breath of his. How much those little things mattered to her. 'Cause they sodding mattered to him. And wouldn't that just be one those impossible, perfect moments? Wouldn't that just beat all?
He breathed in.
Bloody hell, if he didn't just want her to love it as much as he did. Not him. She didn't have to love him. Just that he breathed. He just wanted her to love that he breathed.
It was only in the mornings – those rare ones that saw him awake before seven – that Xander consciously let his mind wander into territory that was usually deemed 'not worth the risk.' Sometimes, however, it didn't really feel as though he had much of a choice. And early in the morning, still in bed, the sun just coming up over the neighbors' roofs, was when the world seemed its most vulnerable and easiest to question.
His thoughts would usually start with Anya, probably because her sleeping form was right there next to him – perfection in silk pajamas – but would then drift to every other uncertainty in his life. First the standard worries; those ones that were the most apparent at every other hour of the day as well as the one he was currently in. What would marriage be like? What kind of a husband would he be? And children… Could he really even consider being a father when he felt as though he, himself, still needed one?
And what kind of a male role model would he make when he'd had none from whom he could learn?
The questions plagued him, more often lately as the wedding loomed closer. He wanted to get married. He did. But the whole thing left a bitter, terrified taste in his mouth. And it didn't seem to matter how much he loved Anya, which was more sincerely than he had, once upon a time, thought himself capable. Yes, her legs were the legs of a Goddess, and that was a definite 'plus,' but her hair was just as gorgeous. Her eyes and lips. Her long neck, and that dip between her collar bones. He loved it all. The whole package.
Which brought him, rather abruptly, to his next major concern.
Xander took in a few deep breaths and watched his fiancée sleep beside him in an attempt to soothe his nerves. He wasn't always the most coherent when it came to expressions of love, but if any one were to ask him, in that moment, what he loved most about Anya, he'd tell them that it was the fact that just the sight of her could calm him down, in the same way that he imagined most long-time wives could; old ladies soothing there equally old husbands with just a word or a look.
But the calm didn't last for long.
What was he going to do about Spike? The question seemed ridiculous when he asked it outright like that. Something inside of him – probably a self-defense mechanism – wanted to laugh it off, but the emotion that came through, instead, was anxiety.
What could he do? Seemed like a more appropriate question. Or, even better, was: how the hell had it become his problem in the first place? Hadn't he made it clear on more occasions than he cared to remember just how much he despised that cocky vampire? He'd known Spike for years now, most of them as mortal enemies, that last: as reluctant coworkers, and all of that time had been spent bickering or fighting to the near-death.
So how, exactly, had it gotten to be that Xander Harris, the glorified brick-layer himself, was placing the well being of one William the Bloody near the top of his current list of priorities? Clearly, a mistake had been made somewhere along the lines and Xander was, as usual, the one left to clean it all up.
He sighed, realizing that, yet again, he'd drawn the short straw in the grand scheme of things and there just wasn't any way out of it. He had to worry about this stuff. About marriage, and Spike, and whether or not a bunch of little Harris's running around a quaint suburban home was the best of ideas. He had to, because who else would?
Xander closed his eyes and took in another deep breath, idly stroking Anya's upper arm. Throughout his life he'd often felt like the world was just far too big and ugly to ever give him the chance to be himself; plain old Xander. And he felt that same thing now, but he sucked it up, like the man that he was certain he was supposed to be, and tried, again, to figure out what he was going to do.
Spike was in love with Buffy. Great. Not exactly on his top ten list of things he liked about the universe. But there were other factors to deal with: Spike didn't know who he was. And Buffy hadn't yet recovered from that unmentionable summer. And it was all just surreal enough to make him wonder if he could get away with ignoring it. Maybe the whole ordeal would just vanish if he stopped paying attention to it.
"Morning…" Xander looked down at the whispered word to see Anya stretch, slowly open her eyes, and smile at him lovingly. He smiled back, but not without some hesitation. His thoughts, despite the lovely woman who was, even without knowing it, doing an admirable job of distracting him, were still stuck on a certain undead acquaintance.
He had to do something. In truth, he probably should have done something earlier. But things had been rough for a while, and putting a vampire's safety above that of his friends' seemed ridiculous, even now. He still should have done something, though, he scolded himself silently, suddenly remembering more than one conversation from the past summer that might have been the perfect opportunity to do so.
And what a long four months that had been. Though a few particular days and nights had definitely seemed longer than others.
"Come on, ya git. Hit me."
"You know, as tempting as that sounds, I think I'm gonna have to pass." Xander smirked and stuck his hands in his pockets. Spike growled.
"Hit me, ya bloody ponce. I know ya want to."
"Hail, Master of the Obvious." Xander mocked, and resumed walking down the well-lit sidewalk of downtown Sunnydale. "Hurry up, or we'll be late getting back."
Spike's anger dissipated as quickly as it had come – one of those traits about the vampire that Xander had no idea how to react to – and he shrugged and moved to catch up to the young man. "Well, can't have that, now can we? Wouldn't want you Scoobies to pull an all-nighter without the ritual dose of caffeine."
Xander smirked again and absently kicked an aluminum can across the concrete, still warm from the summer day that had just ended.
"What is it with you and the self-mutilation lately, anyway?" He spoke casually, though his muscles stiffened at the subject matter. He glanced at the vampire beside him, who made a point of not glancing back.
"What? That back there?" Spike shrugged. "Just wanted a bit of fun. You know how it is. Let out some aggression."
He gave the vamp a disbelieving look. "By getting me to punch you in the nose?"
"Hey, whatever it takes, right? 'S been too long since I had a decent spot 'a violence."
Xander swallowed and tugged at his shirt absently, wishing the summer would end already. He usually enjoyed these months of sun and surf, but with Buffy gone… Suddenly summer wasn't summer anymore. And instead of sand castles and barbecues, his time was now entertained with demon hunting and Dawn-sitting.
"You just dusted three vamps the other night. How long is 'too long'?" The older man didn't answer, instead pulling out a cigarette and lighting up as if the question had never been asked. "Seriously, Spike. It's not healthy."
At this, a smirk crossed the vampire's face. "Healthy? Listen to your self a bit, Special-Ed. Not like my health's goin' anywhere."
Xander rolled his eyes. "Right. I'll be sure to keep that in mind the next time you're bloodying up la casa de Summers after a few rounds of 'kick the Spike' with some of your less-than-reputable pals."
"Sod off, Harris." The vampire grumbled and took a few more steps before stopping in front of the coffee house by Xander's side. The young man reached into his pocket for the list of orders and Spike took one last puff on his cigarette before flicking it into the gutter. "Don't see why I'm stuck with 'errand boy' here. Not like this is a two-man job."
Xander shrugged and made his way to the front entrance, looking over the list. "I think they wanted us out of their hair. You have a habit of pacing."
"Figured it was one of my more appealing ones. Harm used to say it was 'cute.'" He put the emphasis on the last word, but it was hard to tell whether or not it was because he liked or disliked it.
"Yeah, well Buffy used to say it was 'annoying as hell,' so I guess it's all relative." As soon as the words had left his mouth he felt a small pang of something like guilt and sadness hit him in the chest, and he glanced back to see Spike pursing his lips.
Mistake number three hundred and sixty five for the day. He really had to learn to be more careful.
Xander cleared his throat a little and looked down at the list in his hands. He was forever at a loss as to what to do during these awkward moments, when Spike's face was rock-hard and emotionless as ever, but a tension still hung in the air that hadn't been there before.
He didn't know what to feel or think either, because wasn't Spike just another vampire? Wasn't he still some soulless monster that didn't need the kind of things that humans needed? Like comfort and affection and sympathy. And what the hell was Xander supposed to do with that thought?
He sighed, not liking that an increasingly larger part of his mind was telling him that Spike was some one he had to treat semi-fairly, if only because they needed his help now that the Slayer was dead.
"I'll be right out." He silently cursed at not being able to think of something better to say, but headed on inside anyway.
"Right." Spike pulled out another cigarette and leaned against the lamp post.
She didn't want him.
The thought confused him. Made his hands shake and his lungs constrict and a hundred other pieces of him react in a hundred different ways that he knew he'd have to give into if he wanted to make it past midnight.
She sodding didn't want him.
He needed a drink. Needed more than that, if he was gonna get past this feeling in his gut, this pain his chest, this blinding emotion that filled him.
This was what nights would be for him from now on, he thought, almost idly. Wake up. Remember. Do everything in his power to forget. To numb that large part of him that had always been a bloody sap when it came to these sort of things. That part of him that still reacted out of emotion, and couldn't take rejection anymore than he could take a stake through the heart.
It was the human side of him that did it. Bloody hell. He'd drink down every bottle at every bar for a hundred miles if it meant he could escape that sodding memory of a man. That's all it was. Just a memory. Didn't mean he had to give into it. Didn't mean he had to have anything to do with it. Just a memory.
But, bloody hell. She didn't want him.
Summer, 2002. Xander wasn't sure if the fact that he remembered the one-year anniversary of Buffy's death was at all healthy, but liked that he, at least, had some company when he did.
Just another one of those nights at the bar, his least favorite person across the pool table from him. Neither felt much like talking. Xander wondered if he should be worried about the vampire. Or Buffy. What must she being doing? He asked himself, and bit the inside of his lip anxiously. Should he go to her? See if there was anything he could do to help her make it through this night a little more easily? Or would Willow come through like the good little girl she was trying so hard to be again?
He shook his head and retreated to the bar, leaving Spike to stare after him and miss another shot. The vampire's pool game had been worsening all night.
"Usual?" The bartender asked, and Xander nodded his head, wondering when he'd gotten to be the kind of bar patron who had his very own 'usual.' He hadn't been to this place all that often in the last year. But then, it wasn't as if he was the most inconspicuous of Sunnydale's residents.
Or maybe the bartender was just that good.
"Got a light?" He glanced up at Spike and cocked an eyebrow, both at the idea that he might have a lighter on him and at the sound of the vampire's voice, which had barely uttered a syllable since they'd arrived.
"What do you think? You lose yours or something?"
"Yeah. Somethin' like that." His tone was low and almost hard to understand when combined with the accent and the fact that he had an unlit cigarette between his lips. He pushed his leather coat aside and sat down on the stool next to Xander, signaling the bartender with a wave that he was in need of a strong drink.
The two men sat in silence for a long while, occasionally swallowing down a little more from the glasses in front of them – the cigarette between Spike's lips still unlit, but there – before Xander got up the nerve to ask the question that had first popped into his head when asked for a light.
"You left it at the house, didn't you?"
Spike didn't look up, but managed to obtain another drink anyway, as though having some silent connection with the man behind the counter. "Yeah. Last week. Made a show of tryin' to look for it too, but I don't think they were buyin'."
Xander sighed a little. "And Dawn?"
The vampire shook his head and gulped down his glass in a single swallow. "Don't wanna disturb the bit anymore than I haveta." They were quiet again for a moment as Xander thought over his options. "Was bloody fond a' that lighter." Spike murmured.
"Why didn't you take it back, then?"
He shrugged and pilfered a book of matches from behind the counter. "If she wants it…" He trailed off, then started over. "Kinda nice knowin' she still fancies keepin' it. Even if…" Xander didn't have a reply to this, knowing that, if he were in the vampire's place, he'd probably feel the same way.
"But you know it doesn't mean anything." He watched Spike blow puffs of smoke into his glass and try to pretend that everything was still alright in the world. As if it ever had been.
"Yeah." The vampire sat back suddenly. "Bloody hell. I guess I'll get the niblet to snatch it back for me. Not like big sis needs another reminder of the big bad."
Xander smirked, realizing, as he did, that he was quickly approaching his blood-alcohol limit. He shook off the thought and laid on the sarcasm. "Right. 'Cause with that chip still in your head you're just as big and bad as you ever were, aren't ya?"
"Lay off it, Harris."
"Jesus, Spike. If you want her to have it…"
"What? I should just let her have it?" His words were harsh, but quiet: strange for that particular vampire. Usually his anger, his emotions, were all over the place. Never so controlled and damn near frightening as this. "I gotta at least put on a show about wantin' it back, don't I? She doesn't even look at me anymore, and I'm supposed to pretend that because she likes to keep my lighter in her back pocket everythin's right as rain? What the bloody hell 'm I suppose' ta think when I can barely get one word outa her, but then she turns 'round and does somethin' like this?"
The younger man sucked in a deep breath. He really and truly hated these conversations. They were rare enough, granted, but that didn't mean he was able to escape them completely. Ever since that night not too long ago – when he'd first learned of Spike and Buffy's "relationship" – he'd had enough sense to dread conversations like this one.
Sure, he'd known all along that Spike was in love with Buffy. Had accepted it. Weighed the pros and cons of it in bed one morning and had decided that, surprisingly, it served more of his and the others' interests that it hindered. He'd even, slowly, started to make some room in his mind for the idea of a friendship between the two. Nothing dramatic. Just a sort of mutual respect shared by coworkers. A reluctant understanding of the other's place and an acceptance of it. Nothing to get too uptight about.
But he hadn't known that the pair had been… physical. That news had taken some time to digest, and, even now, didn't sit very well with him.
And then, of course, things had gotten worse, because – well – when didn't they? See, suddenly Buffy had made a decision – what, exactly, that decision had been he still wasn't certain of – and Spike no longer had a place in the Slayer's bed. She still patrolled with him on occasion, still allowed him in the house every once in awhile, and let him attend a Scooby meeting here and there, but nothing like before.
He didn't even have her hatred now. Just cold indifference.
"I suppose… Hell, I don't know, Spike. I'd tell ya to give her some time, but I suspect you've already heard that speech."
Spike sneered and took another drink. "Yeah. Red fancies herself a shrink just 'cause she took the bloody class. Told me there wasn't anythin' I could do, or some such nonsense. Stopped paying attention once she started in on the 'shaggin' Buffy is bad' lecture."
"Heard that one a few dozen times now, have ya? Not that it isn't one of my own, personal favorites."
"Sod off. I'm bloody sick and tired of hearing just how bad for the bint I am. I never treated her half as nasty as the gits that came before me, and you all know it."
Xander finished his drink and turned to face the vampire fully. There was a dull ache in his chest at having to confront the very topic he'd successfully avoided for the past few weeks, and having to do it on tonight of all nights. All he'd wanted out of this evening was a few drinks and some one to share his sadness with in silence.
Nothing about his life was fair, he decided for the near thousandth time in his twenty-one years.
"Look, Spike." He caught the vampire's gaze and did his best to hold it, his tone suddenly a good deal more serious and straightforward than before. "I don't like you."
"Yeah?" The vampire mocked, as if the fact weren't as obvious as it had always been.
"And I don't like the idea of you and Buffy… together. But, unfortunately, that doesn't seem to matter at the moment. We're stuck with each other for now, whether we like it or not, so, in an attempt to make this night a little less frustrating I'm just gonna tell you what I think now and get it over with."
Spike just smirked and took another drink. Xander set his face into an expression that he hoped was somewhat intimidating, grabbed the vampire by the arm, and hauled his ass out the front door.
"Cor, mate." Spike stumbled a little over the pavement, sensing the urge to fight that was welling up in Xander and not one to turn away from it. He'd been waiting for this for a while now. Ever since the young man had heard about him and Buffy and had come bursting into the crypt with an unmistakable look in his eyes – the one that meant that someone was about to get staked – only to stop within a foot of his target, swallow, and exit as abruptly as he'd come.
Spike's muscles tightened as he prepared himself. Yeah, he'd definitely been expecting this. Just waiting for the git to get together the stones to confront him about the Slayer and finish it. Bloody finish it. If only he might be so lucky. "You wanna go at it? Fine. Let's go. But you better bloody well be plannin' on beatin' the shit outa me, 'else it's not worth my time."
"You know what your problem is?" Spike hadn't been expecting this question, but went with it anyway. Hell if he was gonna let Harris have the last word.
"That a trick question? Enlighten me, mate."
"You were it. That's your problem, 'mate.'" Spike furrowed his brow in confusion, though still in a fighting stance, as he listened to Xander go on. Strangely, the young man almost seemed angrier with himself than at the vampire.
"You were the guy who was supposed to make everything turn out all right. You were that guy that was supposed to give us the happy ending. The excuse to just… let go. Live. You were that guy who was supposed to make it work."
Xander balled his hands into fists at his sides as the vampire stared at him in silence for one, drawn-out moment.
"…And you hated me for it." Spike finished for him, looking a little stunned, as if having been punched in the stomach.
Xander took in a deep breath and calmed himself down somewhat. He nodded his head slowly and uncurled his fingers.
"And I hated you for it."
Whenever Xander Harris thought of Buffy Summers, the first thing to come to mind was an overzealous urge to protect her and the still fresh image of her lifeless body from that first time she'd died and he'd somehow been able to bring her back to life.
The second thing to come to mind was usually how hot she looked when she was kicking demon ass, and then a whole long list of reasons why that thought was more trouble than it was worth.
The third thing, however, had always been – most likely as a defense against that second – her current boyfriend. For a while, it had been Angel. Then Riley, with a few random boys taking up space between the two.
He should have been a little more wary when suddenly the man that came to mind was Spike.
But, instead, he'd just blamed it on Spike's continued crush, and the fact that Buffy wasn't exactly seeing any one since she'd been resurrected. And he'd spent a few semi-blissful months in ignorance of the fact that the two were screwing their brains out every other night.
Spring had come though, and, within the space of a week he'd learned the truth of the slayer and the vampire's relationship, and had then seen it all fall to pieces – somewhere around the time when Riley had shown up – because Buffy had suddenly decided that she'd had enough.
When he'd first heard the news of the couple's… 'relations,' clenching his jaw in what Anya called his 'pensive look,' he'd only managed to contain his fury by masking it with an unparalleled amount of disgust and sarcasm, then racing over to that well-known crypt where he knew the fiend would be, and storming in, wooden stake at the ready.
He'd had every intention, at the time, of pummeling that waste of human flesh and hair gel into oblivion, and then dusting the creature good and slow. And, judging by the look on Spike's face, the vampire knew it.
But then he'd faltered, the unexpected dropping in for yet another visit on good old 'Sunnyhell.'
Not a foot away from knocking Spike back into the nineteenth century, he'd stopped, swallowed, and let his arms drop to his sides. It occurred to him, in that moment, that maybe Spike wasn't the problem. Maybe he was the answer.
As soon as he'd thought it, he'd realized how insane it sounded. But there was still that feeling that, somehow, it fit. Or might, if he let it. And there was nothing he could do about it. Spike was, or might be, anyway… it. That one – that answer – that was going to make everything work out.
So maybe he wasn't exactly Prince Charming. Hell, as far from it as you could get, really. But maybe…
Maybe the Scoobies didn't need a Prince Charming. Maybe Buffy didn't either. And maybe this pathetic excuse for a vampire standing before him was exactly what it would take to bring his 'family' back together.
Hell. 'When in Sunnydale…' and all. Maybe an undead creature of the night was exactly what it would take to make things work out. Maybe 'normal' was not at all what any of them really needed.
He'd exited the crypt then, leaving a rather stunned and uncomprehending Spike still standing and waiting for the beating of his un-life to begin. But, not five minutes later, Xander was back to mulling over the fact that he might just be as crazy as his friends often accused him of being. How could he think that Spike, of all people, might be the perfect match for his Buffy Summers?
And that's when he'd realized what the real problem was. What the real problem had always been. With Angel. With Riley. With every other guy who had ever looked in the direction of the one and only Buffy, the vampire slayer.
The real problem had, of course, been that she was his.
And so, he'd gone on for a few weeks with this knowledge clouding up the back of his mind as he tried to think of things that had nothing at all to do with this little revelation. It wasn't as if there weren't other things to worry about: Anya wanted children right away, Willow wanted Tara back, and Dawn was getting into more and more trouble both in and out of school. There weren't exactly a lack of distractions when it came to Sunnydale, and that was discounting the usual demon and vampire terrors that liked to pop up every now and then.
He should have known, however – he really should have – that sooner or later Spike would make him face up to things.
"…And you hated me for it."
"And I hated you for it." It was something of a relief to finally get it off his chest. But his body language and facial expression weren't exactly broadcasting this fact.
Man and vampire stood still in the moonlight, completely wrapped up in their own realizations and oblivious to the other's.
Spike didn't seem to know what, exactly, he was supposed to do with the information Xander had just handed him. He was 'the one?' Bloody hell, he may have, once upon a time, been diluted enough to say such a thing himself, but to hear it come from the lips of some one else? And not just any one else, but one of those few men he outright disliked yet, no matter how often her tried, couldn't bring himself to kill? How was he supposed to take this?
Xander shuffled his feet, but held Spike's gaze with his own. In the next few seconds they, wordlessly, reached a new and very fragile relationship with each other. Suddenly, they each knew where the other was coming from and, not only that, had somehow found the stones to admit it to themselves.
Only on the hellmouth.
He felt like cracking a joke about hell freezing over, or something along those lines, but held his tongue. Spike smirked for no apparent reason.
"Well then." The British accent assaulted his ears, but was – almost more shockingly than the rest of the night – friendly. Encouraging, even. "Shoulda figured, I guess."
"I'm over her." He said, for the first time feeling as though he meant it. "I mean…"
"No one ever gets over her."
Xander nodded his head. Spike dug into his pocket for his pack of cigarettes and the matches.
"Yeah. I guess I knew that."
For such a small town, Sunnydale had very little in the way of 'small town charm.' And Xander – for whatever strange, whimsical reason – had always thought that it should. As if a Californian hellmouth didn't have enough character. He'd always wanted it to be a little quieter, a little more quaint, and a little less demonic. More culture, fewer demons. More bake sales, fewer apocalypses. Little things.
But, over the years, he'd come to accept that this just wasn't going to happen, and that it was probably for the best, in the long run, anyway. He wasn't the kind of man – never had been and never would be – who belonged to such 'normal' things as high schools without mortality rates and wedding guests who arrived by plane instead of invocation.
Maybe it was the Sunnydale native in him. Maybe it was that masochistic part of himself that still thought he was under the same roof as his parents, and, twistedly, almost still wanted to be.
But the point was that he was, only now, approaching a place where he could not only accept, but appreciate, that 'abnormal' side of his life.
Perhaps that was why he'd suddenly found himself, ever since Buffy's first anniversary death, playing far more games of pool with the undead than he would have once considered healthy.
And, perhaps, that was also why he found himself enjoying these games.
As a matter of principle, however, he never said anything about it. And neither did Spike, much to Xander's relief. The standard "don't talk until your good and drunk" philosophy, however, was quickly being replaced by a kind of constant banter. If they weren't arguing over the game, they were criticizing each other's choice of drink or annoying personal habits. And if it wasn't Captain Peroxide's stupid choice of cars they were debating, than it was Harris' sodding poor taste in clothes.
It had been far too long since he'd had another guy to hang out with.
He vaguely remembered trading tentative jokes with Oz, and being eternally grateful for the fact that they were still able to maintain their friendship after the train wreck that was his brief relationship with Willow. But then Oz had left. And Riley, though he'd never been as good a friend as Xander had hoped he'd be – too busy with his own problems and with Buffy to find any time to humor the young man who liked to follow him around – had left even more quickly than the werewolf.
No more Oz. No more Riley. Hell, even Giles was gone now. Xander was, in a manner of speaking, the last man standing. The only one left on a short list of men who could hold their own amongst so many powerful women.
But now there was Spike too, wasn't there? And maybe it felt weird – maybe he'd rather gouge his own eyes out, or something equally gruesome, before admitting to any of this aloud – but the vampire had out-survived all the rest. Had stuck around the longest – even if the reason for doing so was to kill them all – and had at last, in Xander's eyes anyway, proven that he was going to be a firm fixture in the world of the Scoobies whether any of them liked it or not.
Spike was playing for keeps. A part of Xander admired that. The rest of him was split into equal parts residual disgust and amusement. Because if this newest development between the vampire and the construction worker was anything, it was most definitely amusing.
This was gonna be it. He could feel it. Sense it. The blood rushing through the veins of the girl across the street. The sweat falling down the forehead of the man on the corner. The glow of lamplight on warm concrete.
This was gonna be it.
There was a sharp pain in his arm and he cringed. Bloody hell. Not now. The git sure did like to show up at inopportune times, didn't he?
He cringed again. He didn't have time for this. Never did, but especially not now. Not now, when the last thing he wanted was to be reminded of William the sodding Bloody. William the Bloody Awful. William the Bloody Git who couldn't just keep to himself like a good little memory. Had to creep right into his system when he least expected it. Twist around for a bit in all that dead flesh just to prove he was still there. He hadn't gone anywhere. And, bloody hell, his arm hurt.
Leave it to that sodding ponce to turn the memory of writer's cramp into an actual, physical pain.
Shake it off. Ignore it. He'd put up with this kind of thing before. Had made it disappear as quickly as it'd come. 'Cause how the hell could the universe justify this little pain after going so long without picking up a pen?
Just ignore it. That man that was doing this – that dead bastard – was gone. Just in his head. Still buried under six feet of earth somewhere. A few thousand miles, an ocean, and a century separating them.
And this was gonna be it. He could still feel it. No dead poof was gonna get in the way of that. This was where it was going to end. Had to end. 'Cause he was sick and tired of pretending not to care. Of pretending that it didn't hurt every time that git, Harris, opened his mouth. 'Cause every time he did there was that bit of hope that there would be his validation. His promise. That single thing he kept expecting to hear, because the sodding ponce was the only bloody one of 'em that understood at all, so of course he had to be stupid enough to think that that would mean something.
Three bloody words. That's all it would take. Three words. "I'll tell her." He'd say, and that would be that. Some one besides himself would have finally gotten up the stones to tell her to her face just what she was doing to herself. To her friends. Her family. Him.
He'd tell her everything. The theories on life and love that he could almost see Harris working out in his head during their longer games of pool. The realizations. The truths. God, but she needed to hear some of those truths. And from some one other than him, 'cause he'd stopped being able to reach her a long time ago.
Bloody hell, his arm still hurt. His hands shook a little. He needed a fag.
He leaned against the banister of the porch and lit up. This was still gonna be it. It was. He just needed a moment first was all. Just a smoke. A quiet wrestle with the part of himself that was so god damned similar to William that he had trouble acknowledging that it existed at all.
Then he'd knock. After a smoke. Then he'd do it. He'd put a tight fist to the door and rap against it a few times, and before he'd know it he'd have his sodding lighter back. He'd be done with it all. No more pretending. He could leave.
That's what this was. This was gonna be goodbye. This was gonna be the end of more than just his prolonged visit to good old Sunnyhell. The end of him. Of all of him. From the bottom of the bottle to the top of his bleached head. From the last line of the last poem he'd ever written, to the last victim's face he'd ever slaughtered. This was gonna be… it.
But then he dropped his cigarette. And all thought – be it tied to the man or the monster – vanished from his head.
It was twilight in autumn and Xander was feeling a little more ill than usual. Not physically, though. Oh no. Unless you counted the constant nausea that was probably just in his head. At least… he hoped it was just in his head.
He took in a breath and continued strolling down Rovello Drive in a flawless impersonation of a man 'without a care in the world.' He idly wondered when he'd ever found the time to hone such an awesome skill and how it was that he was able to keep the act going while his mind raced round and round with thoughts that had always, in the past, been left solely for 'early morning reflection time.'
He set his jaw firmly. If any one currently passing him on the sidewalk bothered to look more closely at him they'd know he was faking it. Pretending that all was right with the world when it was really anything but. When, really, he was down right terrified.
And this fear wasn't just about Anya either. Oh no. Though hell if her earlier outburst about her need to procreate before her biological clock told her that her time was up hadn't scared the living bejeezus out of him. Of course it had. He was still reeling. But it wasn't the only concern on his mind at the moment, or, by far, the most immediate.
Sure, Anya's happiness was definitely a problem he needed to be wary of. But he had his whole life to do that. Right now, as he did his best not to break from the stroll into an all out run towards the Summer's home, a good deal of fear was also stemming from the very noticeable absence of a certain immortal bloodsucker.
Spike hadn't showed last night. Hadn't stopped by, hadn't checked in, hadn't even headed on over to the bar to try and get a head start on Xander in the 'good and plastered' department because maybe he was feeling particularly melancholy that night. Or that month. That was the routine. Every Tuesday night; the same thing. Sometimes with a small addendum popping up a little later on in the week, around Friday or Saturday.
That was the way it worked. Though, of course, it wasn't as if Xander expected Spike not to have better things to do than hang out with him and play pool.
Oh hell. Yes he did. What else was Spike going to do on a Tuesday night other than shoot pool and crack jokes with him?
So he'd gone on over to Spike's crypt, but the vampire didn't seem to be home. And it was dark. And he was tired. And he had to get up early the next morning for work, which, in retrospect, had been fairly stupid of him to arrange since the original plan for the night had involved staying out until all hours and possibly consuming a steady amount of alcohol while doing so.
So he'd gone home, slept, gone to work the next morning, and hadn't thought of checking back in on the vampire until he'd stepped through the doorway of the Magic Box that afternoon. The sight that had greeted him at Spike's crypt was decidedly less than optimistic. No Spike. No hum of the refrigerator or television. No nothing. The entire place was empty save an armchair and the bed.
But Xander was not going to run. Oh, no. He'd damn well stroll down his merry way towards the Summers' home if it killed him. He was not going to give any one – particularly that sorry excuse for a vampire – the pleasure of being the one to make him admit to the rest of the world that he gave a damn.
So he kept up the act. A well cultivated façade of happiness for the benefit of passers-by, as well as his own general well being. The old saying, "fake it 'till you make it," came to mind and filled him with the hope that the more skillful of an actor he managed to be, the more blissful he'd end up in the long run.
He was so wrapped up in this pretending not to worry, however, that he was nearly blindsided by a flying metal object from his left. He looked up just in time to catch it – whatever it was – as well as spot the man who'd thrown it.
He should have known not to worry.
Xander furrowed his eyebrows at Spike curiously, silently communicating his confusion over why he was suddenly playing the target to potentially harmful, metal objects, in an attempt to hide whatever relief was currently coursing through his veins.
The vampire stood cockily on the stoop of the Summers' home, lit cigarette between his lips, hands in his coat pockets, and nodded his head to the young man.
"Where the hell you been?" He tried to sound casual. Tried to sound as if that strain of his voice on the last word was just exhaustion from a full day of work instead of exhaustion from a full fifteen minutes of pretending not to care.
Spike's face remained expressionless as he blew out a small cloud of smoke. He shrugged.
"I swung by your crypt earlier. Not sure if the whole Zen 'thou-art-above-earthly-possessions' thing is the right way to go with that particular space." He smiled a little, trying to get one out of the vampire, but, without success, became suddenly serious, and started in on the spiel that had been racing through his mind at those first thoughts of the vampire skipping town.
"Look, I know it's been tough…"
"Harris…" Spike tried to interrupt, but the man kept on, regardless.
"…but I think I know what you're…"
"…going through. I mean, not really, but…"
He looked up at the bleached-blond vampire in surprise at both the use of his first name and the frustrated growl that had accompanied it.
Spike gave him a cool look, which he was certain he'd be able to see right through if this were any other evening, and took a drag from his cigarette. "I'm not leaving."
"You're not…" He trailed off, his own confusion interupting him. He gave the vampire another, bewildered expression. Spike, in answer, motioned to the fist Xander was making.
The young man furrowed his brow a little more, then looked down at his now open palm. Then gawked.
"You're kidding." He said in disbelief, and looked back up at the vampire, who blew out a breath of smoke into the night air, unable to hold back his own small grin now that the secret was out.
"Bloody well hope not." He grinned outright now and tossed the cigarette to the ground. Xander wrapped his fingers once again around the small square of silver in his hand, wondering what had ever happened to make things turn out like this. To make him actually thank his lucky stars while Spike grinned down at him from the Summers' front porch in some kind of awkward yet appropriate male-bonding moment. A strange accent to the weirdness of his life so far. "I'm right fond 'a that lighter."
They each held back a laugh.