It had been surprising when Buffy finally left. Xander had suspected she might back out at the last minute, unwillingly to part from her sister. It had only been four months ago, when Dawn started college, that she'd made the move, and she'd been planning it for over a year, selling off the house at last to score enough for double tuition. Even so. Freaky. A Buffyless Hellmouth.
Willow ruled the school now, powerful enough to keep a spider web of magical protection across the town, every shiver of a strand alerting her to invaders who would fast become prey, sometimes with goofy expressions of surprise as they died. But webs had holes. Webs were in fact mostly holes, and she stressed herself out trying to cover them all, even with Becca at her side, serving as another soothing sidekick, not unlike Tara in many ways. It was a little scary watching that play out again, especially after the whole Kennedy meltdown, clash of the lesbian Titans, an entire freaking year of stormy weather, sometimes literal. But they'd never taken it to that edge Xander had feared, and in retrospect he saw how much more in control Willow had been. With every repetition of a pattern, things seemed to get smoother, and this time around she might just have it down.
Once more, with less feeling.
Oh, she felt real affection for Becca, he could see that. But not the passion she'd worn for Tara, or even the tension--ego fighting ego--that she'd built up with Kennedy. And maybe it was for the best. She needed some serenity. Stable was good.
She corresponded all over the world, and beyond: with witches, warlocks, and the new crop of watchers who were rebuilding in London. The world felt safer and smaller with that network in place, and the threat of an apocalypse would now bring people scurrying to help--planes delivering visitors with their crisp accents and shabby suitcases, cars winding up from L.A., portals dislodging oddballs at them from dimensions adjacent to their own.
Buffy, calling him at work, making a few minutes of conversation, then: "So how's he doing?"
Xander: "Spike? He's hanging in there."
Buffy: "You know, we didn't mean for you to adopt him." Dry.
Xander: "Yeah, I know. But it's cool, having someone around." Like a pet, he almost said. But the word stuck on his tongue.
Buffy: "Uh huh. I called him the other day, and got a big wave of def jammed in my eardrum. And what's he doing, just mooching around your house all day? He was watching *Days of Our Lives*."
Xander, getting annoyed: "So what?"
Buffy: "*So*, you need to kick his ass into gear. Find him something to do."
Xander: "Why? I thought the point was getting him here. He was already doing something."
Buffy: "Kishoi, Xander." Disgust. "Sucking off suits to pay his Elvis-sized bar tabs? Yeah, that's a real savvy career choice." Her voice is sharp. Her most dangerous edged weapon. It's hard to tell how much she still cares for him and how much she simply feels responsible for all the lost causes and head cases she's collected over the years.
Xander, wandering to the window to gaze out at his little slice of view: "He wasn't trolling the streets or noshing rats." Nearly as sharp.
Buffy, dismissively: "One step up." Still judgmental as hell.
Xander: "More like thirty stories."
Buffy, amazement dawning: "Oh my god! You're sleeping with him!"
Busted, he tries to figure out if he can summon plausible deniability, and the hesitation nails the coffin shut.
Buffy: "Don't even think of denying it, Xander Lavelle Harris."
Xander: "I didn't--I'm not!" Deep breath. "Denying it."
Buffy: "I could hear the denial fairies massing to attack."
Xander: "I *really* hope you're not going to claim prior attachment." The words are weirdly formal, but they come out of some drawer in his mind like a loaded pistol he's kept ready.
Buffy: "What does that mean?" She sounds thrown off.
Xander: "I...don't know. Just, don't try to claim he's got fuck-exempt status." He doesn't often talk that way to her, but it doesn't even slow her down.
She has her own train of thought: "I've been down this road more than once, and I'm telling you," urgent tones of friendship rising, "no good can come of it."
Xander: "Did you just say 'no good can come of it'?"
Buffy, deflating: "Okay, that's a bit more Victorian-melodrama than it sounded in my head--but, Xander, he's damaged. He'll bring you down. He may not even try to, but he will."
Yadda, yadda. They talk some more and she keeps worrying at him, chewing at his thoughts like a tiny Buffy rat. Gives him the benefit of her experience with total earnestness, and it's really laughable, but he's not that mean, so he takes it with a smile she can't see and lets her lecture him as he goes to his desk. There's an e-mail from Spike with pasted spam asking: "DOES THE SIZE OF YOUR PENIS REALLY MATTER? Yes… More than you can imagine." And a photo of a horse and a jockey he's found somewhere online. Xander stares at it for a minute with stoned fascination until he realizes Buffy's still talking and he's *on the phone with Buffy staring at horse porn* and he ends the call quickly and puts his head in his hands and sighs and thinks about the Spike problem, like, is there one?
How weird is it that--almost without noticing--he's slipped into white knight mode for the vamp he once wanted to dust? Is that some proof of adulthood? You get up each day, squeeze some orange juice, go to work, move on with your life. It's not what you'd call easy.
He goes home, they say dirty horse-porn things as foreplay, they lick each other.
The cat comes to visit them mid-fuck, which is startling--it's done nothing but lurk in closets and under furniture since Xander bought it a year ago. Poor pet-shopping logic: picking the one that shies away from your hand because you feel sorry for its geeky social awkwardness.
Some things change, though.
The cat is removed but after sex it comes back and settles on Spike's chest, folding itself up, paws tucked in. Furry collapsible luggage. Spike stares at it like a feline mirror, eyes to slitted eyes in some meaningful silent dialogue.
Later, Xander pets Spike's head with an owner's touch, and is aware of doing it. He likes the sway of Spike's naked torso, his unbuttoned jeans, his bare painted toes. He's been waiting for things to go wrong, sex and money, but it's still okay. It's still an unbearable turn-on sometimes, too. Spike lying across the couch, head resting on Xander's thigh, turned to watch the TV. So post-coital and cozy.
Yesterday Xander came home and found that Spike had ordered a carton of cigarettes with the delivery groceries for the first time since his arrival. He was standing in the open door, blowing smoke out toward the deck as the sun died. "I don't want you to smoke," Xander said and took the cigarette from his mouth, threw away the pack and the carton. As if he had a right to. Didn't ask, didn't second-guess himself. And it made him hard. He came back hard and kissed Spike's smoky mouth until Spike yielded and grabbed his waist and rubbed against him. Spike was very accommodating. He liked being handled. There was no hitch of uncertainty there when Xander pushed Spike's shoulders down, unzipped himself, guided himself in with a hand on the back of Spike's neck.
He gave gaspy cries as Spike blew him, as they did this unbalanced, dangerous dance.
Tonight he is disturbingly contented and feels good. The constant sex is beginning to soften him, abrade away the shell he's grown around himself over the last few years.
A breeze from the open window teases the back of his neck and the TV's laugh-track roars softly and he enters a deep place of calm as he strokes Spike's hair. Regular strokes, petting. He hopes that it isn't just money that makes Spike lie there so quietly and accept his touch, and when he looks down he sees Spike's eyes have closed, which he takes as a good sign. The sigh of waves around them all the time may be working their mojo on Spike, even if he's trying to drown their lull out with loud, obnoxious music.
Kick his ass into gear, Xander thinks in Buffy's voice. Find him something to do.
But he has no ideas. He's not so much the idea man these days. He's the getting-by-on-luck man. He surfs the wave.
Spike turns fully onto his back and opens his eyes upward. Xander writes on his forehead with his fingertips, invisible letters. H-O-R-S-E.
Spike: "We going out tonight?"
Xander: "Feel like killing things, Pinky?"
Spike: "Don't mind."
Xander: "We'd have to move."
Spike: "Terrible thing, moving."
Xander: "You have a very hard head."
Spike: "I'm often told."
Xander: "Move your head back like--oh yeah." He shifts his hips up and nearly groans.
Spike: "You have a very hard...horse." And he's rolling his neck, shoving his head around in Xander's lap as if he can't get comfortable, the perfect picture of frowny restlessness, but the lines of his jaw and neck are like paintbrush strokes in motion and Xander wants to take his dick out and rub off in Spike's hair. In a minute maybe he will.
Xander, talking to delay gratification: "Do you need anything?"
Longing tugs at Xander then as he realizes he has nothing to offer. "I want to buy you things," he says. "Expensive, stupid things." If Spike were Anya, she'd be having orgasms already.
Spike: "Mmm." A thoughtful, shut-eyed pause. "Don't have a watch." Frown. "Then again, don't really need a watch."
Xander strokes Spike's jaw and neck, handles him, moves his head to different angles. Every angle is photogenic and every one feels so damn good it stuns and slows down his entire central nervous system. "I like what you do for me," he hears himself say.
Spike opens his eyes, smiles like a flirt, and says in that low voice with vibrations fast and light as hummingbird wings: "And what shall I do for you now?"