Xander's having doubts. He's had a dream with all kinds of symbolism in it, and he doesn't know whether it's Freudian or not, but it's right there, symbolism tall and erect as sequoias. Obvious as wood. In the dream, he's on one of those moving sidewalks, carried along in an airport: slow, steady, heading to his final destination at a level pace. All of a sudden Spike is next to him and he's been talking for a while, and Xander looks up to find they're riding on an escalator. "Stairway to Heaven" is playing on the airport speakers.
As Xander lies on his side of the bed piecing together his dream, he's amazed that his brain came up with this: is he very brilliant, he wonders, or common minded?
The thing is, the escalator isn't taking them anywhere. It just keeps going and going and somewhere up there is the next floor, but it will take hours to reach it--he knows this in the dream--and after a while he glances to the side and sees they've started to move down. Backwards.
He associates this dream with certain feelings he's been having lately. There's no question he's had his ups and downs in the last few years, but on the whole it's been a steady ride, a ride of money, friends, independence. Security and the ability to make choices. And then along came Spike, and Xander looked up: here was this whole new level of happiness, a possibility coming into view above him. And he rose, with Spike next to him. Being with Spike gets him high.
But where the fuck is this going, Xander wonders. He looks over at the white curve of Spike's shoulder and the muscles that braid his arm. The other man--so beautiful, like a demon prince from a tawdry fantasy novel--lies facing Xander, still asleep. Sheet draped over his hip, hair sleep-licked, face calm in death. His right hand rests between their bodies, a bony fan with a slight curl to the fingers. Xander's eye is drawn to the leather choker at Spike's neck, its brown twist and simple beads. He never takes it off.
Shouldn't that be enough?
It's a killing thing, how Spike wakes up: lashes lifting, head shifting on the pillow as his gaze finds Xander. And it's always an open question whether he'll smile or not, which is why Xander often slips out of bed early, so that he won't be around when Spike open his blue, blue eyes.
Vampires are moody bitches, and Spike is no exception. He can be amazingly calm for long periods of time, lull Xander into a sense that all is right with the world. If they fall asleep blissed on sex and pillow talk, Xander expects to wake up to a contented bedmate. It isn't always the case. Sometimes Spike opens his eyes and meets Xander's and he doesn't smile; looks tired instead, disturbed by his own dreams, by existence. It tears away Xander's heart, piece by small piece. It's in his own nature to smile good morning--that's what he wants to believe of himself. He wants to be steady, a rock. And when Spike's insides are showing on the outside, through his eyes, Xander wants to be strong enough to reach out and stroke the curve of his head: the shell that holds all those dark, unhappy thoughts. But he's not perfect by any means. He's only human, and not immune to the infection of other people's moods. So sometimes they wake up and don't say much to each other, and Xander goes to work a bit pissy and on edge.
Grunts keep them stitched together: animal sounds of greeting, acknowledgment. It helps to reassure Xander that there's a subcurrent of being-togetherness that never entirely goes away. Communication below the surface.
When Spike's eyes meet his this morning, Xander wants to see a sunflower opening and turning to face its source. Despite himself, he measures Spike's actual smile against his hope and tries to decide if it's full enough and if it's for him, or whether it's a shade too brief, the exercise of habit unconnected to anything deeper. A smile without any roots.
This morning, the smile is sexy, and Spike's hand works south on his own body, waking himself up with a few lazy pulls. Xander smiles back.
Every morning should be like this.
Not every morning is. Not every day is easy. And there are the doubts. He doesn't know where they came from, because last time he looked everything was good and right in his world. Maybe it still is good. If nothing has changed, though, where are his doubts coming from?
Okay, he thinks. Here's the problem: he needs to get over this whole stupid escalator thing. Life isn't going up. It's going steady. And that's what he's got.
On the other hand...what if *he's* not enough for *Spike*?
Moodiness. The Harrises also breed it into their spawn. In the middle of the afternoon, Xander is at work and someone ticks him off and he raises his voice, then retreats to his office like a grizzly to its cave, guilty and testy. As he broods he feels it all come together for a moment: it's not just Spike. It's work and Becca's arm and Willow's misery and Buffy's distracting presence and his own insecure fears. And he catches himself wondering if, while he's sitting here, Buffy is visiting his house and hanging out with Spike, talking and...talking.
I am a dumb man-thing, he thinks as he stares at a photo on his desk: Spike posed in an armchair almost as if someone gave him a shove and sent him sprawling--limbs loose, sexual akimbo, head tipped as he gives the camera a look, white shirt unbuttoned and showing a hint of chest, jeans showing everything. A picture that makes female employees sneak into his office in tiny herds to show new hires the Mysterious Boyfriend.
Xander doesn't want to admit that he's jealous, that his own tightly-wound bitchfest is all about that, but self-awareness is trying to surface, pounding at the underside of consciousness like a drowning child trapped beneath a sheet of ice.
When he goes home that night, he's tired and grumpy despite himself, and there's his house: a comfortable but elegant stucco gem almost completely hidden behind layers of trees and shrubs, up a short but winding drive. The realtor hadn't needed a hard sell; the house is a marriage of perfect bone structure and taste, architecture and design, and oh man, he is so very gay about it. It's a manly kind of gay, he often assures himself. He loves his home. Tonight it soothes him, and as he turns in the drive, he waves to the gardener, who is working late. Parks, pauses a moment to absorb the ambiance: flagstones and rich green frondy bushes and the wind chimes that were a housewarming gift from Becca and Willow. He lets himself relax into the evening breeze and goes inside, tosses his keys on the hall table, steps out of his shoes.
Inside, Spike and Buffy are hanging out in the living room, and it makes him immediately tense. They're laughing and drinking beers and there's music on and they look just too, too cozy. He gives them a brief smile and goes to take a shower--makes it last a while, lets it beat down on his nape as he stands bent and propped against the tiles. When he comes out again Buffy is gone.
Nothing else special about that night, and life goes on, and there are a few more incidents--are they incidents? Hardly. A few more chance social overlaps like this, of him and Spike and Buffy and sometimes Dawn. He feels older than all of them and has no idea why. Maybe because he has a job, pulls the usual nine-to-five while the girls take the summer off and Spike just...does his thing. Whatever that is.
A month or so into summer, he's feeling sore and out of sorts. He's not doing much to change things. It just seems like a thing, a thing you let happen that will eventually pass. Moods, shifts in relationships, a randomness of wind chimes. They go to a carnival one night, everyone--even Becca, blouse discreetly pinned. It's fun, it's a wild, warm, starry night and he and Spike ride all the rides and Xander smiles at the right moments and feels a kind of contentment, and if there's a strain of melancholy underneath it all, that probably just has to do with the nature of summer. A fleeting season, even in California. Time, not weather.
But it's around this time that little things start to change. He comes home one night and Spike is in the kitchen. He's got that whole barefoot, blue-jeaned, tee-shirted thing going on; a greyish-blue tee that drapes over his muscles, a teasing sight which still makes Xander's mouth go dry, makes him want to sink his teeth deep and not let go. He looks so fucking good even from the back--Jesus, especially from the back--and he's--
--making stir fry.
Xander blinks and comes over. He's been trailing the smell since he hit the front hall, figuring Buffy is getting domestic on their behalf, but he doesn't see her. He comes up behind Spike and wraps his arms around him and lays a bemused kiss on the side of his face. Spike, relaxed, lets himself be cuddled and continues shoving his wooden thing--to Xander, kitchenware is just a collection of nameless things--around in the pan. In the onions and chicken and other fine stuff.
Xander: "What's this?"
Spike: "Thought it'd be obvious. Food meets skillet, does that sizzly thing. 'S called dinner." He turns a little to find Xander's eyes and says, "All the cool kids are doing it." His voice is a blend you could never bottle: rich and low and teasing and warm.
Xander, surfing on a wave of dazed pleasure, a trigger of goofiness: "Since when do you cook? Did I miss a memo? Because I checked the fridge--" Where they keep their post-its, he means. "--and I saw no memo. There was no memo." It's his Bill Murray impression, which is wasted on Spike.
Spike: "Yeah, well. I'm not totally helpless, you know."
The seductive smell of friend onions is making Xander downright romantic, and he squeezes his arms tighter around Spike and reminds: "Yes, but those of our patients on liquid diets are *not* required to serve kitchen shifts."
Spike, mildly: "Thought it might be nice, having dinner ready."
Xander steps back several feet and does the classic finger-pointing screech, straight out of *Invasion of the Body Snatchers*, the 1978 version. Spike looks confused and alarmed. Of course, it's only hours later as he's falling asleep that Xander realizes he had it backwards and that, in his impromptu performance, *he's* the pod person, but thankfully it's yet another pop culture reference that flies right over Spike's bleached head. His own geek cred remains intact.
Xander, dropping his arm: "Who are you and what have you done with Spike?"
Spike pauses a moment, then shrugs a shoulder as if he's copping to a failed conspiracy: "He's in the bedroom closet. You'll find a couple of bags there."
It's wonderful, Spike's stir-fry, and Xander eats it on the couch cuddled next to his vampire as they watch *Hellbender*, the latest Colin Farrell movie to hit cable.
Spike, as Farrell stumbles backwards from the bloody shower in a panic: "Christ. I'd eat that sweet ass like an apple."
Xander, forking up rice on autopilot, eyes fixed to the screen: "I'd help."
Things keep happening. Spike starts making dinner three or four nights a week, greets Xander when he comes home instead of clamming up with his laptop, stares deep into Xander's eyes at the most unexpected moments--his own wide, clear eyes saying things. Deep, deep things.
Xander is freaking out. Not necessarily in a bad way.
There's definitely a moment when he gets it, when he connects a dozen tiny dots like fireflies and figures out that Buffy has been talking to Spike. Coaching him or something. It's strangely girlish and he doesn't know what to think. Except, thinking: not so big on the thinking, not when Spike is gazing at him with luminous eyes and sliding his shirt off like a stripper. Sliding arms around Xander's waist, cheeking their faces together gently. Dropping to his knees, hands latched gently to Xander's hips.
Not when he's bringing Xander beers and doing dishes and trying to find out if he wants to try a new brand of toothpaste.
Xander: "Okay, stop." He has to wrench the toothpaste from Spike's hand, chuck it aside. It whacks into the sink. "What's going on with you?"
Spike, wide-eyed and startled, just dips his head a little and stares at Xander as if he's not sure he wants to engage the scary, crazy man.
Xander: "The cooking, the foot rubs, the toothpaste--if you're reading *Cosmo*, I may have to deprogram you."
Spike looks self-absorbed, as if he's adding up the details of his own behavior for the first time, or maybe just trying to figure out what to say. "Just trying to contribute," he says at last.
Xander, lost: "Contribute?"
Spike, eyebrows drawn together, face uncertain but very serious: "To our relationship."
Xander is floored, can't really find a response. He knows Spike intimately on every level, but he is still turning to tapioca, so helplessly lost and in love he can't even form words. Had he ever in his life looked at Spike differently? In disgust and loathing? It's like he's broken free of the most foul fever. His life is marked by this moment: past and present and future. There's nothing in him now that could hate Spike again. He wishes a soul was something he could hold in his hands, a thick sweet body of flesh he could fuck into heaven.
But he's so stupid. It is.
He ends up with his arms around Spike, murmuring soft things into his ear, and Spike pushes like a storm's wind against him, something exotic and tropical and dark and endless.
It's around this time his tide turns, comes in. Luck and joy and laughter, things that only mean something when they're strung together in the gazes of someone else's eyes. Xander feels lost and helpless, and when they make love he can't focus on skill, can't do anything but kiss Spike wildly all over and force himself deep inside. His entire body is a cry.
I love you, I love you, I love you, his hands say.
Spike comes for him, eyes so wide they're seeing past Xander, right up through the atmosphere to the stars.
Spike figures out how to make the perfect sandwich for him, with ham and pickles and mayo.
Spike slides close to Xander's side of the couch and leans his head on Xander's shoulder and takes up residence in the cradle of his body as they watch the world go by on television.
One night at Willow's, Xander and Buffy are talking and he throws his arms around her and has to stop himself from crying, he's so grateful. She hugs back, head on his shoulder, a tiny shrimp of a girl with a terribly large heart.
Aware that it is absurd in countless ways, Xander takes Spike to a lesser known island in the Bahamas, rents a private villa in a place so secluded and exotic, it's like a hush has fallen over the world. They have their own bay, a huge overhang of cliffs, trees massing and whispering all around them. Spike loves the way it all feels by moonlight, wears nothing but white--or, if you want to get technical, fashionably expensive colors like oyster and eggshell.
It's the first time Xander has been anywhere this exotic, this amazing. He decides seventeen times during their trip that he wants to move there, dig his feet into the white sands and never leave. He eats fruit, he eats Spike in the lazy afternoon when the blinds are drawn.
When they return to Sunnydale, it seems smaller. Kind of tacky, dull, and doomed. But their home is familiar and it smells right.
Xander: "I'm going to go pick up Supercat."
Spike, flipping absently through the accumulated mail: "Poor little beast. Hope he doesn't crawl up your neck again, like that one time..." He leaves off absently, reading something or other.
Xander: "I won't be long." He steps forward and turns Spike toward him. Letters drop to the table from Spike's hand, some falling to scatter at their feet. Spike doesn't care. He's an armful for Xander, a pliant gift. His coolness is like home, no matter where they go.
The Hellmouth is no place to grow old, but if they can, this is where they'll be.