by Dira Sudis
Xander ran a hand through his hair and waved the flashlight around, aiming at
knee-level. He'd memorized the plan, he was in the right spot, and Spike had
seemed attached to this place. He ought to be here.
"Spike?" Xander thought, again, about how much easier it would have been to buy
the beer, instead, and spend his solitary Friday night in the customary fashion.
"I brought you something."
On the other hand, this plan would have been irresistible after a six-pack, and
then he'd be here anyway, but drunk, and he'd have fallen over when Spike popped
out from behind a file cabinet.
Xander aimed the flashlight beam for center of body mass, so that he wouldn't
blind Spike. The same spiffy blue shirt he'd been wearing for over a week was
brightly illuminated, and Xander noticed it was even grimier now than it had
been in the woods last night. Spike had picked up what looked like a big smear
of grease somewhere, and spatters of, presumably, blood.
It was Spike who finally broke the silence, his voice hoarse and uneven, so that
it took Xander a moment to decipher the words. "You don't know when's my
Xander tried not to sigh out loud. He'd known coming into this that Spike was
as crazy as a very, very crazy thing. He could deal. "You want to come
upstairs with me?"
Spike waved one hand, a wild slashing gesture full of no. "You said you brought
me something, but you don't know when's my birthday, so why would you do that?"
Spike moved closer, squinting warily at Xander like he was a math problem just
outside comprehension, trying to figure the puzzle without losing his cool.
"Who are you, anyway? Can't fool me, I'm not stupid."
"It's me, Spike, just me." Xander lowered the flashlight as Spike moved closer.
"The thing I brought you--it's not a birthday present, it's a reward. Job well
Spike's eyes shifted up to meet Xander's straight on.
Xander gentled his voice as much as he could. "You were a big help last night,
tracking that demon."
Spike nodded, and his gaze drifted lower again. This close, it seemed like
Spike was staring at his throat, but that wasn't true. Probably. Not
important, anyway. "Got 'im, then?"
"Yeah, yeah. Buff gouged out his eyes."
Spike looked up again, suddenly sharp. "So now you throw the dog a bone, that
it?" He turned away, back toward his fortress of filing cabinet solitude.
"Don't like bones."
Xander considered letting him go, but, hell, he'd already bought the stuff,
might as well go through with this. "Do you like Weetabix?"
Spike half-turned back, and Xander was surprised by how much it pleased him to
see the familiar expression of amusement on his face. "You never did."
Xander grinned and waved the flashlight back the way he'd come. "You gotta come
upstairs with me."
The prospect of Weetabix, which, even dry, would make a nice change from rat's
blood, sustained Spike through the basement and up the stairs. But Xander, a
couple of strides ahead, just kept walking, through the night-quiet hallways.
They were strangely dimly illuminated, as though a full moon was shining from
all around. That was obviously a crazy thought, but Spike got so distracted
trying to sort it out that he stopped walking, and Xander, halfway down the
hallway, had to call to him.
"It's just the night lights," Xander said, as Spike caught him up. "It's a
thing, they didn't want it to ever be dark in here."
Xander kept walking, leading him down another hallway and through a set of
double doors, and a little bird whispered to Spike that this wasn't quite right.
"No," he whispered back, "No it's not."
Xander glanced back at him as they walked through the rows of lockers, and Spike
walked slower. "Why couldn't you just bring it down to me?"
Xander turned back, walked a little faster, leading him on, and Spike caught him
just at the doorway, grabbed his shoulder and spun him around. "What's going on
here? Where is it?"
Xander's eyes swept over him slowly, head to foot. "I want you to do something
for me first." Spike snatched his hand back, staring warily at (the alleged)
Xander as he met his eyes. "Take off your clothes."
The funny thing, Xander thought, or maybe the sick, scary, not-funny-at-all
thing, was that Spike didn't ask any questions after that, just blinked once,
nodded like that made sense, and turned half away as he pulled the shirt off
over his head. Xander turned away as well, to the bag he'd left on the bench
before going down to find Spike. He was thrown almost literally off balance by
Spike's easy acquiescence, and he steadied himself for a moment, pulling out the
stuff he'd brought, dismissing all the arguments and explanations he'd had
When Xander turned around, Spike was just standing there, naked. Really, really
naked, and almost glowing in the dim white light. Xander fixed his gaze on
Spike's face, willing even to make eye contact at this point, because if he
didn't look at all that exposed skin, maybe it didn't count.
He tossed the soap, and the washcloth, and crazy or no Spike still had vamp
reflexes, and caught both before he had time to register the surprise on his
face. Xander, not looking down, not looking, gestured through the doorway where
Spike had stopped him. "Shower time."
Spike pitched an eyebrow.
Xander stepped back, through the doorway and into the shiny-new echoing shower
room. Leading the way had worked up to now. "Come on, Spike. I don't know if
you've noticed, but you smell awful. You need a shower."
Spike looked down, hefted the bar of soap in his hand. When he looked back up,
he was on top of things again, all cool amusement. "It's your world, boss."
Spike strolled in, brushing past Xander just inside the door, just close enough
to be deliberately invading his personal space, and crossed to a showerhead on
the other side of the small room. He turned the water on and stood still under
it for a moment, then started soaping the washcloth. Xander was just starting
to wonder why he hadn't yet retreated back to the locker room when Spike looked
back at him over his shoulder. "So, I smell, do I?"
Xander had the horribly familiar feeling that there was no earthly way to answer
this question correctly. Spike had a strange look in his eyes, not crazy, not
angry, but intent. "Well, Buffy said something last night," and, wow, that was
so not the right answer.
Spike turned his face back toward the wall and slapped the soap down in the
little metal tray. "That what this is, then? Slayer sent her errand boy to
give the dog a bath before his biscuit?"
Xander, safely out of Spike's sight, rolled his eyes. "No. Buffy didn't send
me. She doesn't even know I'm here."
Spike turned all the way around to face him, soaping one arm as he looked Xander
over, head to toe and back again. Xander held very, very still, and fixed his
eyes on Spike's chin. "Dirty secret," he murmured, his voice almost lost in the
sound of the water as he turned away again. "Right. I can do that."
Xander let his hands open and close, clench and unclench, before he tried to
answer. Spike went on washing methodically. "It's not like that."
"Yeah, no, I know." Spike bent slightly, washing his legs, and was he . . . ?
No. Surely not. "Not like that at all," Spike continued, half to himself, as
he grabbed the bar of soap. "I'm just standing here all naked and soapy and wet
and then I'll probably--" There was a dull clattering sound, and Spike bent all
the way over and looked back at Xander, upside down, hair hanging in wet clumps.
"Oh, look." He blinked at Xander, and then looked at the floor. "I've dropped
my soap." And now he was, yes, undeniably, shaking his ass, a slow, sinuous
Xander closed his eyes, pressed his fingers into his eye sockets like he could
squish out that image, and reminded himself that Spike was crazy and almost
certainly not doing it on purpose. "You should pick it up, then, huh?" He
didn't lower his hands or open his eyes until he heard the soap slap back into
the soap dish and the faint sound of a washcloth running over skin.
Spike was facing Xander now, balanced on one leg and bent over as he scrubbed
intently at the toes of his raised foot. Spike glanced up at him, once, just
for a second, and then returned his attention to washing as he switched feet.
"So, explain to me why you care, then? If I smell bad?"
Xander had been asking himself that for hours, and still hadn't come up with an
answer that didn't sound lame. "I know hygiene isn't a huge priority for vamps,
but you never used to stink."
Spike put his other foot down and just stared at Xander for a moment. "Yeah,
well, maybe it's because I'm crazy!"
Xander couldn't stop himself from recoiling at the shout, which echoed almost
unbearably in the small room, but stood his ground. "I know that. That's why
Spike frowned, looking puzzled.
Xander sighed and waved a hand toward Spike's head. "Did you get behind your
Spike obediently raised the cloth and washed behind his ears, and then the back
of his neck, all the while staring at Xander, waiting for an explanation.
"Look, I know you're crazy, all right? It's pretty obvious. But that means you
need a little help looking after yourself, and you've been helping us, so here I
am. To help you."
Spike's head whipped sharply to his right. "Yeah, well, nobody's talking to
you," he snapped, "so sod--" and his face changed, just like that, as if he'd
been slapped; suddenly he was pleading. "No, no, I'm sorry, baby, I'm sorry, I
Spike froze in place, his head still turned toward the apparition, but his eyes
were on Xander.
"Come on, Spike. Stay with me, here. Finish washing up."
Spike's eyes slid back to his vision, and he gave--her?--a sneering, superior
little nod before turning his attention back to washing. "So, you're to be my
Xander shrugged. "I don't have a plan, I just. Wanted to do something
Spike started rinsing out the washcloth, frowning down at it in his hands, and
Xander ducked out into the locker room and pulled the shampoo out of the bag,
tossing it to Spike as he came back in. Spike caught the bottle and then stared
down at it. "What is this?"
"Shampoo. For your hair?" Craziness, as it turned out, had not dulled the edge
of Spike's who-ate-your-brain look.
"This stuff's English, innit? Giles had this brand."
"Yeah, Will brought it back, it's for color-treated . . ."
Spike's hand had clenched on the bottle, and he was staring at it like it was
full of holy water. "Red's come back?"
"Yeah, she--hey, when Buffy and I came down to talk to you, she was here, wasn't
she? You were talking to her?"
Spike clutched the shampoo to his chest, pressing his hand to his head and
staring down. "No, no, she wasn't, she couldn't. She didn't have papers." He
looked up at Xander. "I double checked! She wasn't real! You're real, and you
couldn't see her."
"No, Spike, she was really there. It was--that was the rest of the world being
crazy, okay? Not you."
"Not--" his face started to crumple, and he turned away again to face the wall,
lifting his face into the spray. Xander slipped out, picking up the towel he'd
filched from Buffy's when he'd stopped to get the shampoo. It was from the
linen closet, all clean and fluffy and not overly pink.
When he stepped back into the shower room, Spike was under control, lathering
his hair with steady hands. Xander suspected that somewhere deep inside, Spike
was freaking out, but at least it had distracted him from the prison-shower sex
Spike rinsed and repeated, all the while pretending he was alone, and Xander
wasn't sure what made him stand there and watch. It was somehow more personal
than anything yet; this was what Spike looked like when he was alone and naked
and washing his hair, and there couldn't be many things more private than that.
Still, Xander stood quietly and waited, towel in hand. Finally, Spike shut off
the water and stood there, the water dripping off his body loud in the sudden
silence. Xander walked over and pressed the towel into his hand, and Spike took
it and began drying himself off. When the towel was safely tucked around his
hips, he finally looked at Xander, spreading his hands. "So, do I pass muster?"
Xander tried for a grin and got only an uncertain smile. "You'll do."
When he headed back out to the locker room, Spike followed close behind. He
stopped by the forlorn heap of his dirty clothes, and Xander went on over to the
bench and rummaged through the bag. He pulled out the black jeans and held them
out to Spike. Spike blinked. "Where'd you get those?"
Xander shrugged. "Thrift store. Hadn't been there in a while, but they had
some good stuff."
Spike's brow wrinkled as he reached out and took the jeans. "Yeah, well. Ta."
Xander turned to the bag and stayed bent over it, fiddling with the next item,
til he'd heard the zip of the jeans.
The pants fit fine, so his vague memory about Spike's laundry was correct. He
held the shirt out hesitantly. "I got a blue one, since you seem to like that
Spike looked at him like maybe he was the crazy one, and took it carefully from
his hand, just an old second-hand shirt, soft with wear.
"I can take your other stuff and wash it, if you want. Bring it back Monday,
I'm working here just about every day."
Spike nodded slowly, and picked up his boots and sat down on a bench to put them
on. Xander bundled the dirty clothes into a bag and withdrew the main
attraction: a big yellow box of Weetabix and a thermos. He set them both on the
bench next to Spike, and sat down across from him. "The blood should still be
hot, it's a pretty good thermos."
Spike's hands went briefly still in tying up his boots, but then he went on with
no other response. When he'd got them fastened up, he carefully unscrewed the
top of the thermos and sniffed. A little steam escaped, and Xander rubbed his
nose and braced himself not to notice the smell.
Spike poured himself a cup, and opened the box of Weetabix and crumpled some of
the cereal into his blood. His hands shook a little as he gulped the mixture,
but he didn't spill a drop. When he'd done that, he put the lid back on the
thermos and pulled out another Weetabix-unit to munch on, and finally looked at
Xander again. Xander looked back, waiting, wondering if Spike was going to
start arguing with invisible people again.
"I can't do it all myself, you know."
"I mean," he waved toward the shower room. "I was trying, to make it easy for
you in there, but obviously you've got this scene all planned out, so, if you
could just get on with it, I'd appreciate it."
Xander blinked. "Spike?"
"I mean, look, you've never liked me, I know that, and I'm crazy, so not the
best company. But you're not here to enjoy my riveting conversation, and we
wouldn't be dallying about like this if there was work you wanted me to do, so,
fine. I see why you're here. Fair's fair. You'd have been out with Rocky's
mum right now if I hadn't gone off and scared her, and I can see how you might
want me to pinch-hit, but I can't do all of it myself."
Xander wished, devoutly, that Spike were directing all of this at some
imaginary, or possibly invisible, other person. Because he couldn't possibly be
"I mean, it's not that I wouldn't, I do as I'm told. The loot, that's a real
nice touch, and I'm grateful. I just can't. Chip won't let me, right? Sooner
or later, you're going to have to jump my bones, so--"
He wrapped his arms around his stomach, like Xander might try to take back the
food he'd already eaten. "Yeah?"
Xander sighed and then crossed the space between them and leaned over Spike.
"Listen carefully." When he got a wide-eyed nod, he went on, "I'm not here to
have sex with you."
Spike nodded again, slowly, obediently. "Right. I know that. You're here to
help me, 'cause you're a white hat. Altruist, I get that. But then, the
fucking. Because. That's what you get out of this."
Xander shook his head, and moved back, sat down beside Spike with a couple of
feet between them. "Wrong."
Spike nibbled on the Weetabix some more. "I'm never going to be able to tell
when I'm being crazy if you insist on acting crazy around me all the time."
"I'm not being crazy. I'm just . . . trying to help."
"Like I said."
Xander sighed. "Okay, fine. Truth is, the girls are all out doing girly things
and I was bored, and this was all just a way for me to pass the time. So, now
time has been passed, and I'm going to go home." And the beauty of it was, if
Spike ever tried to tell anyone they'd had this conversation, Xander could claim
he'd hallucinated it, so there was nothing to stop him from repressing the whole
He went and gathered up the stuff he'd brought and Spike's dirty clothes,
ducking into the shower room to retrieve the soap and cloth and Willow's
shampoo. When he was ready to go, Spike was still sitting there, half-eaten
Weetabix in his hand, staring at the locker across from him. "So, I'll see you
Monday, all right? Bring you your stuff."
Spike didn't look up. "Whatever you say."
Xander nodded, pointlessly as Spike was quite oblivious, and walked out.