Xander dealt with the attempted rape things years ago. It was ordinary alchemy. A while after the First Evil had been handled, Buffy was working Xander's nerves--he can't even remember the reason now--and at the same time Spike had done something equally forgettable that earned him a temporary spot in Xander's good graces. They'd all been at Buffy's: post-traumatic social gathering number nine hundred and whatever. He'd walked into the kitchen to get something, a drink maybe. The two of them had been in there talking--Spike and Buffy--and Buffy had briefly smiled his way, distracted, the conversation nothing so intimate that she clammed up or shooed him off.
The smile wouldn't normally have irked him, but it did, a feather across a sore, and he tried to pointedly ignore her, but she didn't even notice. She chattered on as Xander got his drink, and he was half-listening, casting the two of them casual and blameless "I happen to be in the same space as you people" glances, and something about Spike's slump-shouldered, helpless attitude of befuddlement struck a chord, because for crying out *loud*, Buffy was so *Buffy*, she drove them all crazy, and that didn't excuse Spike for one motherloving minute, but clearly Buffy had moved on, Buffy could deal with what had happened--whatever *had* happened, because the details were never shared. She'd dealt with Spike the same way she had with Willow and Faith and Angel and Andrew and too many others to count, and here she was, dressing down Spike in the mildest possible tones for who knows what, delivering sugar and tart verbal slaps, talking to him the way a know-it-all girl talks to a friend or some kind of social improvement victim, and there was still a lot of hatred on Xander's part, but it suddenly struck him as bloodless and lukewarm, like leftovers from some meal you can't recall eating; the kind of hatred you feel for some punk-ass stupid ex-flame of your sister's, and not a neck-crawling vampire.
The sister who never pressed charges and gave as good as she got.
Time can create small stitches of affinity as much as it can create distance, mend as much as rip. When you're young you don't get that. Aging helps. You don't get perspective so much as you just get tired.
So one night there's some movie on Showtime, enacting a terrible, disturbingly graphic rape. They watch in silence, as if someone had clicked the mute button on their normal idle commentary ("What the bloody hell's she wearing--looks like someone killed an ostrich on her head"), and then Spike gets up and leaves. Later they talk around the subject, briefly and with a crosshatch of aborted assurances to each other. They reach a mute understanding. Xander thinks they do, anyway. As much of an understanding as you *can* reach when you aren't verbalizing a goddamn thing. They could be acting out their issues with hand-puppet therapy, if they were oh, say, two other people.
The next morning, Xander wakes from a dream that Spike is raping Buffy. It's creepy, but it's a dream, and the extent of his angst is to slink from bed, shower, and navigate his way through the rest of the day via a series of grunts and hand gestures.
That evening he does the wacky and unthinkable and brings Spike flowers. Which makes no sense, and on so many levels. Spike stares at the handful of truncated dead things in surprise and then smiles. It's an amazing smile. It's the only blossom worth looking at in the room. His eyes soften and he gazes at Xander as if he's never seen him before. The whole exchange stuns Xander, makes him Spike's bitch for the rest of the night, dumbfounded and clumsy and short-circuited by weird impulses, schemes to make Spike do that neat trick again with his lips. Cruises, chocolates, fancy dinners--okay, his impulses are not so much weird as trite, not to mention so totally inappropriate for both a vampire and a red-blooded male.
Xander's entire romantic history is Anya and that's just fucking scary.
Well, reconsider: his entire romantic history consists of Cordelia, Faith, Anya, and Tim--a guy who thought sharing *Chiclets* was a sign of commitment and started talking about moving in with Xander right after his own dishwasher broke.
Still fucking scary.
Anya comes to visit and it's just as freakish as expected. Her chain of magical shops--modeled after the Magic Box but given a New Age face lift--have been successful, and in consequence she's flashy and upbeat. She condescends to Becca and Dawn, trades snippy repartee with Willow (who, when Anya turns her back at one point, raises clawed hands in parodic witchiness and pulls the most comically terrifying face that Xander has seen in years), and shows way too much interest in the nuts and bolts of his relationship with Spike. Sexual innuendo fully applicable there.
Spike, strangely, takes some of her harsh edge off. He liquors her up over dinner and calms her down to a soft hum until her hair is a bit awry and she's pressing a tumbler against her cheek to cool it. Her old insecurities and uncertainties, still present, start to reveal themselves, drawn out by his mild questions. By the end of the evening everyone is feeling sympathetic toward her and the gathering closes with a series of hugs.
On the dark winding drive home, it strikes Xander that her visit was completely gratuitous, not at all business related, and--a bit tipsy--he almost starts to cry. They're all freaks, damaged and alone, and it's wonderful, like being part of a secret club--the ones who've saved the world--but it's also terrible sometimes.
He says nothing to Spike of what he's feeling, but maybe Spike senses it. They don't make love that night; they walk down the beach with their bare ankles in the waves. No demons attack.
I have a demon, Xander thinks. It's walking next to him, made colorless by night, just a figure in shadows. He is unutterably happy. The universe is huge and strange. Unkind but strange. And it's the strangeness that makes it bearable. He's only getting that now.
The season turns and it begins to rain all the time, warm rains. His nerves are a perfectly tuned piano and the weather plays scales on him, sends his moods up and down--it's really work that is setting him off, but the rain seems timed to accompany. He leaves work early more often and comes home to find Spike in the living room, lamps on, the rain busy outside, the cat making a lump of itself on the couch arm and staring at the TV. Spike will almost always be on the computer, shoeless feet propped on the coffee table. And when he looks up and sees Xander, he's never not happy. He's so fucking easy to please. This is his life.
Xander, erratic, sometimes drops down to the carpet and gives Spike a blow job that makes him writhe and card Xander's hair. Or they'll just sit, Xander's mind turning off for a while.
It feels as if stormclouds are massing, as if the dark is rising. Evil might be making dire plans at any moment in some crack or corner of town, or motoring on its way to the Hellmouth for a fling.
"I don't want to die," Xander says one day, when the sun is so overcast that Spike can stand with him at three o'clock in the afternoon on the deck and see the distant, restless waves hitting the beach, through a gap in the bushes.
Spike: "Don't knock mortality."
Xander, still watching the waves, feels a flash of anger: "You say all the wrong things."
Spike, quiet. Sad maybe, though it's hard to tell: "Yeah?"
Xander, after a long pause: "No."
Spike has a particular sweater, wool and cable-knit and authentically Irish, in a complex shade of blue-green that Xander's eye keeps trying to puzzle out. It's one of many articles of clothing that are very unlike him. That is, the old him. He has dyed his hair again, though, and it sticks up in whitish-blond tufts that draw Xander's hand upward whenever they're close.
He loves Spike's face, the way it molds to his head, the way his head rests on his neck, the way his neck stems up from the downcurled edge of his sweater. Spike often smiles at him. He's so pale, and so perfect, and when Xander sees him at three o'clock in the pearly twilight of the sky he can't tear his eyes away.
It's time for something different, and he takes Spike to L.A. for no good reason. "Let's get out of here," he says. "Let's go somewhere." There's a concert Spike wants to see and they attend in ridiculous outfits, leather and ripped shirts, both of them laughing and stoned off some sweet pot that a friend of Dawn's scored for Spike, a thing Xander will never tell Buffy.
They visit Angel and company. Stay for a few days and help kick some local demon ass. It's a hell of a good time, and at one point Angel lifts his chin and laughs with genuine pleasure and Xander quite likes him. Just for a moment.
Then they take the car and drive east in random paths, heading toward Buffy. She's expecting them and when they get there, she's radiant, white teeth and wispy hair and big eyes. Such a skinny, pretty woman. No longer a girl, not at all. There are hugs exchanged--Xander lifts her off the ground and she squeals. It's hard not to look at her, impossible not to love her. Spike is more jazzed than Xander has seen him in a long time, ebullient and attentive to his slayer. They walk around the college, then town; have dinners, see the sights. Buffy introduces them to her boyfriend, her friends. She's found a place for herself.
Buffy: "I still get in a good slay now and then. The commute is nothing--New York, Boston, Philly. The vamps in Philly? *So* easy to spot. It's like a Michael Jackson video. I swear time stopped in the mid-eighties."
They're both terribly, manfully indulgent and protective of her, though she clearly doesn't need them to be.
Her friends are a mix of flighty and intellectual, goofy and aloof.
Spike, speaking softly as the first streaks of pink are appearing in the sky, as they're all sitting around in Buffy's apartment after a night of talk and beer: "Dawn misses you."
Buffy, looking down: "I know."
Xander: "Come home more often. If it's money--"
Buffy: "No. It's...not. I just," shrug, "I lose track of time. I *mean* to visit, and then there's a test or paper due, or I end up in Hartford tracking down some vamp with a kiddie kink. And Dawn is...she's doing so great. Best thing that ever happened, big sister leaving the nest."
The drive back to California is mellow, slow. They seek out the kitschiest hotels, the ones that still have unsold stock of color-tinted postcards from the fifties, agate keychains and rock candy and locally jarred honey, pine cabins and mountain views. They ignore interstates for the back highways and discover restaurants with proud pedigrees, selling huge, dripping burgers that stun Xander's cerebral cortex, touristy places that Spike visited with Dru once upon a time, though his stories require careful editing.
Xander's Jag has well-tinted windows, and he takes great care with his passenger. They don't fight over the radio. Much.
There's one motel where the walls are glossy knotted pine, hung with flying-duck paintings, and the lamps have small orange shades. The ice machine is broken. Xander has been chewing gum and his breath smells of wintergreen and Spike smells of the shower's tiny, floral soap. They are on rough sheets and the room's heater has an annoying buzz.
"I want you to stay with me," Xander says.
Spike, blinking up at him: "Don't I now?"
Xander: "Just stay."
Spike: "People clamor for my presence."
Xander: "I know."
Spike: "It's hard, bein' in such demand."
Xander: "You can't go, though. Tell them you're booked up."
Spike: "Well, I don't want to disappoint..."
That could be taken a few different ways, but he's looking into Xander's eyes, and his voice is a quiet thing, and his meaning seems clear.
It's a moment of good. It's like a postcard.