"I think I should have a lesbian phase," Dawn says. "Don't you?" She's asking Spike more than him, twirling her hair around one finger and wiggling her toes as a conscientious vampire tries to paint the little piggies. "It's probably emotionally healthy to explore my options."
Xander isn't going to get sucked into this one, no matter how many times Spike looks his way. He's working on his taxes. Ha ha ha ha ha.
He is strangely moved by the friendship Dawn has renewed with Spike, and relieved to know he has company once in a while. She visits during the day a few times a week, and is often still there when Xander gets home. She stays for dinner, is trying to be a vegetarian but moans and moos in worship of the Great God Cow when Xander drags out the grill. She writes essays for the university rag, wears strangely sloganed tee-shirts, takes back the night--irony there, since it's more a vamp than rape issue the campus needs to worry about--lectures them both about global oppression and textile employment practices, wrests the labels from their jeans and shirts up to view so she can judge their political correctness.
They adore her.
Spike is a big brother of a vampire to her, or would be, except they're bonding over weird shit these days. Music, fingernail polish (gold is the new red), classics of European literature, and the latest *American Idol* competition, which they both try to pretend is passé but watch avidly.
It's a suspicion Xander has, that Spike enjoys being a girl.
When he makes this joke to Spike, he gets A Look. Dry deadpan expression, slightly lowered head--Spike's big cat look--the better with which to contemplate Xander askance, as if assessing him for a head-butt or a smack, which he'd never try these days, but it still raises a whiff of punk sensibility. It's like the smell of your old favorite clothes unearthed from a drawer.
So very much *not* a girl, his look says, and he holds up one painted fingernail at Xander. The middle one. It's a startling victory of some kind, but then Spike is full of contradictions.
For an arbitrary birthday--giftday, she calls it--Willow enchants their bathroom mirror so that it holds Spike's reflection, and also the long mirror that hangs on the back of the bedroom closet door. The vampire of vanity immediately orders six hundred dollars' worth of hair care products from the net--*six fucking hundred*--and glares darkly at Xander for not saying anything about the state of his golden locks before now. Loon, thinks Xander. But he's smitten, loves looking at Spike's face in the glass, and often stands behind him and does the obligatory naughty stuff.
"Xander gives Spike money," Dawn says to Willow.
It's easy to reconstruct the conversation that occurred, and Xander does so many times in his imagination.
"Xander gives Spike money. Don't you think that's kinda weird? I mean, because he was, you know," a hesitancy, "selling his groove thing, and now he and Xander are in the groove, and it's groove, money, groove, money. How does that work?"
Her half-innocent puzzlement, her worry as she tries to work it out.
It blows up into a whole big thing: Spike and Dawn go shopping, Spike passes his card across the counter one too many times, Dawn is envious, Spike says too much, Dawn talks to Willow with a girlish frown, Willow listens, Willow confronts Xander in a dark, ferocious huff.
He tells her to fuck off.
Not in so many words, not at first. But then, when she won't back down and she's scaring the living shit out of him, he does say that. And they stare at each other for a long moment. And he's nearly shaking because, fuck, he can sometimes be scared of his *best friend*. She's powerful and too ready to jump on what she sees as wrong.
She doesn't talk to him for two weeks. He waits for a spell, and has nightmares wondering if she's already cast one and he doesn't even know it. Wakes up each day checking for the status quo: is Spike still living with him? Does he sleep with Spike? Do they smile and canoodle and kiss?
He and Willow communicate through Dawn, and after a while Willow comes to the office, and he takes off for a few hours and they drive downtown for coffee. She doesn't apologize, upset that he doesn't fully trust her--that's the "trust issue" which they apparently have to talk to death. He can tell she wants to yield ground but can't quite, so they sit and spat in their awkward way and she assures him she's not the Willow of yesteryear, but she has such wounded eyes.
And all this is over Spike, which is a little odd if you back off for a moment and think about it, as once upon a time she had no use for him, and Xander didn't either. But now they're fighting over the vampire's peace of mind and the ethics of informal prostitution and similarly weird shit that they don't put into quite those words.
Who the hell are we, Xander wonders. It's like *Hotel California* is droning on some eternal replay as the soundtrack to their lives.
Xander, his cappuccino cooling and ignored: "It's my business and his, not yours."
Willow: "You'd never have even gone to get him if we hadn't pushed you."
Xander: "You don't even--so I give him money, so what? He buys stuff. It's what people *do*. Good, old-fashioned American consumerism. And so *help* me," his hand arresting like a slash in the air, "if you're going to claim a vested interest in where that money came from--"
Willow, getting het up: "I *told* you--"
Xander: "Uh huh. And I *so* believe you, because hey, any Harris can win the California State Lottery. On the *Hellmouth*."
Willow, bitterly: "Believe what you like."
Xander: "I will."
But they get over it. Time passes and Willow--as far as Xander can tell--allows the details of what she suspects to blur until she no longer seems to be holding a grudge. She starts coming to visit again and smiles warmly at Spike, hugs him on arrival and departure. He, like Xander, is cautious of her: "Witches are the scariest women you'll ever meet, mate."
Xander: "No fucking kidding. It's like the GynoPower 5000, with crispy frying action."
It's terrible, fearing that everything you've gotten used to might be taken away with the snap of someone's fingers, your memory burned clean and rewritten like the hard drive of a computer.
Fuck, Xander thinks, staring in tiredness at Spike's sleeping face as morning chirps into life. He is stressed and seriously thinking of leaving Sunnydale for a few weeks, months--however long it takes to shake this anxiety. See Europe is a thought that's been looping in his brain. Why not? Something to think about. He wants to spoil someone. It's what life is about, if you can afford it, and the idea of taking Spike away and fucking him on crisp hotel sheets in strange countries has a definite appeal.
It's unhappy for him to think that Willow can't see this, can't see that for fuck's sake he's not going to hurt Spike. What the hell does she think is going on behind closed doors? He knows that really, her concerns are more or less subtle ones about dependency and self-actualization and emotional vulnerability, but Xander manages to whip his dark thoughts into a latte-like froth, and rewrites the argument they had so that he can say things in his head like: "What do you think I'm doing--using him for a punching bag? A sex bot?" Because those things he can deny.
He's picking at his own anxieties.
Spike smiles when he wakes up. It's a smile that has taken Xander time to recognize--weeks--a movement of lips so small you might think it was your eyes playing tricks on you. He considers Xander alertly and says nothing for a minute, while Xander knuckles his collarbone gently. The day begins.
There've been several orgies of shopping both online and off, some of which Xander has participated in. Spike is pretty, ambling to the bathroom in striped silk pajama bottoms to stare at himself in the mirror, study his hair. Then out to the kitchen with careless gestures that still catch Xander's eye: lazy skritch of fingers across abs, vigorous hair scrub, thoughtful backhand check of jawline to see if a shave is needed--he shaves once a week, no more, the Lex Luthor of vampires.
He drinks coffee, and breakfast blood, collects the paper, and is usually sitting at the table when Xander comes in. Though they've never really made contract negotiations, waiting on Xander is by no stretch of interpretation part of his duties, and Spike remains charmingly thoughtless about many things humans need--bacon, cereal, fruit pulp. Even so, Xander has now and then caught Spike observing what he does in the mornings, and he thinks that if he could establish a regular breakfast habit, that he might come out one morning to find food prepared. Sadly, he is a male, and random, and his breakfasts go something like this:
Monday - cold pizza
Tuesday - oatmeal, toast, chopped apple
Wednesday - muffin
Thursday - cereal
Friday - peanut butter and jelly sandwich
Saturday - eggs, bacon, toast
Sunday - leftover Chinese food
There is no way to predict the whims of his body, and Spike has not yet tried.
Sometimes when he comes home at night Spike is still wearing the pajama bottoms and nothing else. It should annoy Xander, but it so *completely* doesn't. Also, though Spike loves showers and the jacuzzi, he sometimes hasn't bothered to wash. And the great thing about a vampire is, Xander decides, the low ick factor. Vampires, unlike the guys at his construction company, are not prone to interrupt their conversation with you to hawk up a gob of phlegm and spit it a yard from where you stand. They don't catch colds or develop unsightly rashes or have weird toilet practices you need to get used to if you're going to maintain roommate sanity.
Other evidence that Spike is in fact not quite what you'd call a guy. Except in the thousand other ways he very much is, like the drinking, swearing, grumbling, and casual tit-ogling he indulges in, not to mention his emphatic positions on music, his dislike of certain types of shoes, the panthery way he plays pool, and of course his dick, which is a handful of goodness Xander hasn't tired of and never will.
There's the strange New York sweater collection, though--high fashion, not femme, but Xander can't entirely accept that Spike's clothes nature has changed from dusters and Docs to silk and cashmere. It seems one of the most telling pieces of evidence that Spike is having some kind of mid-death crisis. He wears jeans when they go on their killing sprees, and shirts that he can toss afterwards if necessary. But the old Spike skin gets stripped off so quickly when they get home and Xander is often struck by how arbitrary and even false that skin has turned out to be. A lot of Spike's swagger was in the old duster which is god knows where, and he loses a few inches when he removes his boots, and then he's barefoot and cat-sleek again, groomed for indoors.
So it's a relief that he's cracking wise more often these days, and seems to be honing an edge again. Maybe it's the mirror.
Xander is waiting for Spike to nag him, to assert himself, to use his strength, maybe call Xander a few rude names. Give him the finger again.
I'm not a client, Xander thinks. He can be himself.
Whoever the hell that is.