Willow: "Are you in love with him?"
Xander: "That's the big, heart-shaped question, isn't it?"
Willow, smiling, eyebrows lifting gently in a very cute way: "You act kind of hearty, you know."
Xander: "Do I?"
Willow: "You touch his hair," she lifts her hand up behind her head to the nape, "right in the sweet spot." Her lips twitch, a tiny but firm not-quite-a-smile motion, pretty much a gavel banging down to say: case closed.
Xander goes for the smaller, safer admission: "I like that spot. That's the best spot." He smiles and looks off to the side, his thoughts taking an alone moment. Traffic goes by.
Willow: "It'd be okay to love him, you know."
Xander cuts her a glance, and some of what he's thinking reaches his face: a dryness at her permission but also an acknowledgment that vampire boyfriends come packaged with issues. "Yeah." A pause as they continue ambling toward the Magic Box, coffees in hand. "Timing is everything, isn't it."
Willow's face knits up into a quizzical, self-directed little frown. She's got a navy pea-coat on, and a fuzzy striped scarf, and her hair is doing the Chloe. "We have the weirdest lives," she notes, more or less to herself, as if this hasn't occurred to her lately. "By the most objective standard, I mean? We're right up there."
It's nothing they haven't joked about before, and it's not even a joke really, but Xander nods as they re-establish the common bond of weirdness.
When Xander next sees Spike, he thinks about love. Big word. Four whole letters. He's trying it on for size as he studies the curve of Spike's bowed head, nape to neck to shoulders. Spike is on the couch, typing, absorbed in something, eyes fastened to his monitor screen. Xander thinks that love isn't a useful word for what you can feel for someone. It is and it isn't.
Most of the time he thinks of himself as: Xander Harris, ordinary guy. It's his shoe size. If the shoe fits, and all that. And ordinary guys have ordinary-sized loves. At least, this seems the usual rule. He's not the kind of guy who gets the slayer, for instance. He found that out early. And when he was with Anya--and wow, honesty isn't the nice place in your soul, is it--when he was with Anya, he loved her, he did. But he'd also settled. Settled for settling down with her, because he's always been the kind of guy to try hard and work at things he isn't a natural at. His love was ordinary-sized and not enough. Which was why the whole big botched marriage thing, if you rooted down to the underbelly of fear.
Spike is not at all ordinary. He's slayer-sized. It doesn't matter if he's communing with Xander's couch, or that these days he's more often cursing his keyboard than cursing some demon with the nerve to bleed on him as he guts it. He's an established element--like a rock star with those seven solid albums to his name that ensure his place in history. Not a one-hit wonder, by any means, and he can afford to coast for a while, bring it down a notch. The concept of retirement is meaningless when it comes to vampires; you've got to take the long view. Spike could seclude himself away from society for a hundred years and then turn around and write a whole new chapter for himself in the world's book.
After all, it's been done before.
But okay, here's the funny thing: up until New York, Xander had mostly been acquainted with the Big Bad Spike. It was like knowing Superman--or, well, Bizarro. A guy who duked it out with hellgods, grabbed swords bare-handed, flew up tall towers to save damsels in distress. No matter what Xander felt about Spike back then, he'd gotten to know him as a big, loud, comic-book persona with icy white hair and sinister eyes, duster flaring behind him wherever he strode. And no matter how low Spike sank, diminished by circumstance--no matter how many debates you had with him about the best Doctor Who or the right way to eat french fries--he always had a cloak of darkness around him that kept him upright. He'd looked taller than he was.
Now Xander is getting to know Clark Kent, a guy apt to lounge in low-slung sweatpants, who's trying out different brands of yogurt with his blood, who fumbles when he types.
With all that in mind, what's more likely--that you'll pull a Lois and fall for the Ubermensch? Or that you'll yen for the nebbish who's starting to reveal his cunning at crossword puzzles?
Spike, plunking down across from him at the kitchen table: "What's up?"
Xander, angling his notepad: "I've been meaning to--there's this thing." Spike, looking suddenly warier, waits for him to spill. "You know how you have to use my credit card to pay for stuff," Xander asks, "and it's doable, except there's that whole forgery element?"
Xander: "I just thought it would be cool if you...had a name." He's put this off for weeks, maybe even a few months--he's lost track of time deliberately, to avoid raising money issues again, and this isn't the way he'd intended to go about things. He's saying it wrong. Spike is staring at him, forcing him to continue. "A last name," he clarifies. "And a social security number. To be official."
Spike's brows crease in surprise as if he hasn't ever thought of the idea before, which seems unlikely, but maybe it's been a while. "And why would I want that?"
Xander takes a breath, leaps: "So I can put you on the checking account. And the deed. And my insurance policy."
Spike: "I see." His voice is so soft and strange it makes Xander hincky. He can't tell if it's good or bad, Spike's tone, and Spike is leaning back now, picking at a spot on his jeans, eyes down as if this is where all his focus has gathered, this one tiny crease of denim. "Never been fond of assigned numbers. Tends to attract the wrong sort of attention."
Xander: "The government's not going to know you're anyone worth caring about. Willow can fix it up, get you a clean identity."
Spike, glancing up: "Can she. Planned this out, have you?" He's curious.
Xander: "Yeah. I mean. No. I've just been thinking about it." A pause. "If something happens to me--" It hurts to say it. "--I know you'll fall on your feet. But I want to put a cushion there."
Spike: "You should leave your money to the Bit."
Xander: "She'll get some." He feels they're moving off the point. "But it's not just the future. It's the now. I've got," he reaches for something plausible, "too much. I need to share the wealth."
Spike: "Plenty of charities, if you want to--"
Xander, sharply: "Spike." A breath. "Fuck charity. You're not a charity. I want your name next to mine on little pieces of paper, okay? Is that...it's just a thing. We humans do. We like paper." His lips manage a quirk, and he fixes his gaze on Spike, holding him steady. "We line our nests with it."
Spike says he has to think about it, and that's as far as it goes for a few weeks. It would be easy to resent Spike for keeping him on hold, but Xander finds a reserve of quiet patience, and puts his notepad and his paperwork away in a drawer. When Spike finally agrees, he brings it up out of the blue. Blue wide sky. "Been thinking about what you said."
And Xander smiles inside.
Willow: "Okay, so we need a last name."
Spike stares at her, casually shutting her out with his eyes. "Pick one then." A sly, dry glance at Xander. "Harris."
Xander holds up a finger to point out: "Trendy but disturbing." It's just his personal hang-up, it's where he draws the line in the sand, where on one side you're gay but average, and on the other side you're *gay, gay, gay* and hosting dinner parties served by naked waiters. Spike doesn't seem crushed or anything, though.
Willow steps in: "Yeah, I think you should have your own name." She tries to sound offhand as she hunches closer to her computer, but ends up high-pitched and obvious: "So what about your old name...before you died?"
Spike's eyes narrow, and it's almost a showdown, but Willow keeps an innocent, inquisitive face on. Xander wisely says nothing. Spike, tight of lip, finally lets out: "Atwood." It's a perfectly ordinary last name and Willow and Xander exchange a puzzled glance.
Willow, determinedly upbeat: "Okay, great! William Atwood."
Spike looks disgusted and gloomy, as if he's revealed some great secret about himself. Xander is helpless to find this anything but endearing, and gazes fondly at Spike, making the other man scowl even harder.
Soon there is a paper trail, and a virtual one, along with a folder of very real documents: birth certificate, social security card, California driver's license, Permanent Resident Card, affidavits, tax returns.
"Hello, William Atwood," Xander says one night, sliding his arms around Spike from behind.
Spike: "Sod off."
But his growl is worse than his...no, strike that.
Xander is pleased, though. And Spike, after inflicting a stubborn trial of grumbling on everyone, seems to get a kick out of his legitimacy. Dawn takes him around town and forces businesses to card him so that he can flash his new, flawlessly substantiated ID in place of his old one. And as time goes by, Sunnydale logic prevails, the origins of his false identity fade, and everyone starts to take for granted that even a vampire deserves a green card. What they did seems a small and necessary massage of the citizenship process, instead of the highly illegal mix of magic, computer hackwork, and graft that it is.
Armed with his own name, and a share of funds, Spike starts to buy Xander things. Shirts, a book, a watch. Xander, smiling in delight: "Hey, I needed a new watch!"
They're in an odd place, all told.
At night, Xander always logs onto his own computer for a little while. He has e-mail, sites he keeps up with, a few geeks he chats with. And he keeps a diary. It's just a simple program for journaling, stored on his hard drive. He isn't sure why, but he wants to try and record this part of his life, in case something happens. It's hard, though. The typical entry goes something like:
Thursday -- More rain today, colder. Eggs for breakfast. Jack tried to get me to go with Tucker Co. and derailed the entire meeting with Hammond. Asshole. Came home early with headache & talked with Spike about buying new tires. Killed Masostic (?) demon, Restfield south--tusks, very smelly--thing took three swords.Whenever he goes back and reads these entries, he's confused by how totally he keeps missing the point. He doesn't remember conversations from even a week ago--tires? Jesus. Big fucking deal. In his mind, when he wrote that, there must have been some reason it was important. He isn't sure what, though. He knows when things are important, but it's nothing you can put easily into words. It would take so long, and he's impatient about writing. Not his thing. So he doesn't try to get down the long conversations he has with Spike about everything and nothing, the way Spike rambles on about India and curry, or how women wore their hair when he was a boy. It would be more than he's capable of to express how he feels when Spike looks sideways, holds his head a certain way. Or how he comes over when Xander's on the computer, brings a plate of Fig Newtons. The shape of his eyebrows. The creases of his tee-shirt when he's sitting up in bed with a book. Not that this is so important, but it's what Xander notices. Behind that fan of creases is Spike's chest, and his heart doesn't beat, but he's reading a book, and it continues to be strange. Something to wonder about. A big tangled fascination of little details.
How the hell do you put that into words? This is what he asks himself as he stares at his stupid journal program and its blinking cursor, and meanwhile Spike comes up behind him and strokes his shoulder, and Xander wants to shut the computer *off*, because shit, he's got a life going on right behind him, trying to get him into bed. And if Spike gets dusted tomorrow by some son-of-a-bitching demon, a program full of words isn't going to bring him back.
Spike: "You coming to bed?"
Xander: "In a minute."
And Spike goes, and Xander shuts down window by window, until it's all darkness, and then he follows.
Spike is in bed, chest bare, silk pajama-clad legs loosely apart as he rests on top of the sheets, one arm folded across his stomach. His lamp is on, his side of the bed. He's closed his eyes. Might be asleep. He looks serious and still, as if he is. And he killed three vampires earlier that night, so it wouldn't be a huge surprise if he's conked out.
But he opens his eyes when Xander comes in. He's a vampire, not a human. He doesn't get the same kind of tired. He's always so ready.
It's like getting a present, over and over again, one that never gets dull.
Xander never turns the lamp off. He wants to see everything.