Pairing: Spike/Xander
Rating: Mature
Warnings: Excessive use of cultural references, both high and low brow.
Notes: This is a series of three different stories that do not follow upon each other, but rather share the same beginning, each veering off in a different direction. They are fun to read together, but any single story can stand alone. Our thanks to [info]cordelianne for excellent beta reading. All mistakes are our own.

Written for [info]spring_with_xan.





This is Not a Trilogy


by
apreludetoanend
and
Savoy Truffle



1 This is Not a Story

Xander’s heels click an erratic cadence that echoes down the empty hallway and slaps back like the opening strains of Back in Black, and he stops dead when he realizes he’s humming along.

He adjusts his tie and pushes forward again, sans humming, and his dress shoes meet the floor in a rhythm any man in a suit would be proud to call his own.

There’s a door and another and a third before he can set his briefcase down on a counter a little too loudly because this is not how he wanted to end his day.

“I got a message that I need to pick something up here, but—”

“Name?”

“Listen, I think there’s some mistake. I haven’t lost anyth—”

“Name?”

“Harris. Alexander Harris.”

Alexander Harris taps his fingers on his briefcase and his toe on the floor and radiates irritation to the best of his ability.

The woman behind the desk ignores his fingers and his toes in favor of a box and a paper and a “Sign here.”

“This stuff’s not mine.”

“No,” she says, nodding to Xander’s right. “It’s his.”


~*~*~*~*~


Xander opens the passenger door to his car and all but shoves Spike inside, tossing the box in after him. “Apparently, you’re a flight risk.”

He doesn’t even check to make sure Spike’s limbs are clear of the door before slamming it closed and walking around to the driver’s side. He slams that door, too, and looks over in time to catch a wince Spike is trying to hide.

“That right?” Spike asks – like it’s news to him, but not even interesting news, more like a weather report. He reaches into his box and pulls out a cigarette, sticks it in his mouth and pulls out a lighter, holds it up…

Xander plucks the cigarette from Spike’s mouth, rolls down the power window a couple inches and tosses it out. “Yeah, well, what with the fleeing you did last night.”

“Huh,” Spike extracts another cigarette from the box and slips it between his lips, delivers the next words out of the side of his mouth, “might have been a wee bit—”

“Trashed,” Xander concludes. “Yeah, they noticed.” This time he leaves the cigarette and grabs the lighter instead. Takes a quick glance out the window to make sure it won’t hit anything before he tosses it.

“Hey!” Spike says, but Xander’s not worried. It’s not like it was a Zippo, just a cheap Bic you can pick up at any corner store.

“No smoking in the car,” Xander says. “Or in the apartment, or in the hallway, or anywhere near me.”

When Xander looks over, Spike is wearing a convincing pout. “What’re you? My daddy?”

“Yep,” Xander says. “From now until your court date. You’re mine, bought and paid for. Unless you’ve got a spare five hundred in that little box of yours.”

Even Xander’s not sure what he means, but he expects protest. Spike just leans forward in his seat and reaches out to fiddle with the radio. “Tie’s a nice touch,” he says.

Xander’s hand goes straight to his neck, tugs a bit at the knot. He looks Spike over in search of a comeback, blinks. “Um, why are you wearing a name tag?”




Xander’s more surprised when Spike returns the car than when he steals it, though in retrospect, it was probably more along the lines of unauthorized borrowing. Still, he vows never to pee again and tosses his water bottle into the back seat as he puts the last forty-five minutes and the Sav-More in the rearview mirror.

The car’s a rental, too small and too red with too tinted windows, and Xander’s too old to be driving it, or too young, depending on how you look at it.

Spike, on the other hand, names her Bessie, buys her pine-fresh jewelry, and practically melts into her black leather interior. He’s got a bag full of things he could have bought at the Sav-More but didn’t, and when he tosses Xander the receipt, Xander’s not sure whether he’s supposed to be impressed that Spike didn’t steal or reimburse him.

The next road and a half passes to the squeak of Sharpie on paper, and Hello my name is William eventually becomes Hello my name is William the Bloody and don’t you fucking forget it.

Spike smiles and caps his pen, and he’s asleep before they hit the onramp.


~*~*~*~*~


The father-son metaphor is turning out more apt than Xander expected. This occurs to Xander another hour later as he takes his exit and the loss of the smooth, constant freeway motion causes Spike to stir in the other seat, rubbing at his eyes with his fists.

Plus there’s the whole battle-of-wills thing they’ve got going on, whereby Xander’s been waiting for the explanation he knows he’s owed and thus refuses to ask for and Spike seems determined to remain mum on the subject unless asked a direction question.

Possibly even if asked a direction question, and that’s exactly what Xander doesn’t want to find out.

There’s power (or at least its appearance) in being patient, in being so in control that you don’t even need to know what’s going on.

Or something like that.

On the other hand, if Xander asks and Spike refuses to answer and it turns out that there’s not a damn thing Xander can do to make him (which, given that an hour of think time has yielded not one single foolproof method of coercion, seems pretty damn likely), then Xander can pretty much kiss the upper hand goodbye.

Xander knows these things now. Africa is the ITT Tech of power politics.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander always takes the stairs.

That’s something else he picked up in Africa.

Not stair-taking. The value of walking, and not just in a getting from one graveyard to the next kind of way.

There’s only one door at the top landing because his apartment’s not only on the top floor, it is the top floor.

In respectable company, he pretends he’s just another kid whose dad gave him a down payment and a pat on the shoulder and said, “Real estate, son—it’s the way to go,” instead of an insomniac who finally gave in to the hypnotic lure of the twin midgets and their get rich quick promises.

He contemplates giving Spike the full tour, but Spike’s never needed permission before and he doesn’t disappoint now.

He breezes past Xander, already carrying a bottle and the kind of magazine Xander doesn’t leave lying around, and when Xander catches up at the guest room door there’s a Hello my name is William the Bloody and don’t you fucking forget it sticker mocking him and damaging the finish at the same time.

He raises a hand but gets hung up halfway because he’s not knocking on a door he carved from a slab of wood and hung himself in a building with his name on the deed. He looks at his raised fist and thinks, Power. Revolution.

Maybe tomorrow.


~*~*~*~*~


He still watches the twins sometimes. Watches them peddling their snake oil and thinks of all that ails him that has yet to be cured. Smiles anyway because they feel like old friends, even if they have let him down.

Or maybe that’s what makes them feel like old friends in the first place.

He avoids clocks during the times of night that’re actually morning. It never helps to know exactly how much sleep you’re missing.

His eyes must have closed because when they open again, Spike is standing in front of him. The TV glows with false hope and the windows glow with false dawn.

Spike just glows.

Must be the skin, Xander thinks. Or maybe he says it aloud.

Spike drops to his knees and by the time his fingers reach Xander’s dick, it’s already hard. Xander stares past the top of Spike’s head at the flickering screen beyond and lets the blowjob happen. If there’s a reason for all this, it’s probably the wrong one, so Xander decides not to ask.

It’s a theme.

Also, it’s been a while.

The next time his eyes open it’s sunrise and he’s alone on the couch. He doesn’t know if he slept at all last night.

Or if he was ever awake.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander’s thinking about power again.

Or still.

But mostly because it’s out.

Buildings are dark as far as the eye can see, which is a little less than in previous years, but not enough less to admit to the onset of nearsightedness. That way lies Viagra and Hair Club for Men and he’d like to reach mid-life before he reaches his mid-life crisis if it’s all the same.

He watches the absence of lights like it’s something instead of nothing, and there’s a moment right before dusk when there’s the same amount of light inside as out. It passes back and forth through the open windows in equal measure, and it’s like osmosis, but drier. It’s isotonic, and he’s not sure he ever knew that before, but apparently he does now.

It passes, but he’s left with the feeling that it’s a small world after all and they’re like a bunch of little cells bumping blindly into each other and they’re going to have to help each other out if they want to survive in this newly dark world.

He’s thinking neighborly thoughts when the apartment buzzes to life and a whoop and a honk from the street below remind him that he doesn’t actually like people. He sinks into the embrace of his couch for another night and counts his blessings before they hatch because the glow of the TV doesn’t even reach the corners of the room before everything goes dark again.

The room seems darker now, having just been lit.

He stares at the TV because this is his routine and off doesn’t really represent a significant decrease in quality from on at this time of night. He stares until it’s time to choose between reruns of Mr. Wizard and Super Friends (Mr. Wizard hands down, power failure notwithstanding) and then Spike’s there, barefoot and scowling.

Nocturnal, Xander thinks, See also: raccoons, bats, tree frogs, and he blames it on the hour.

Spike sits and then slouches and then slumps and then his face is in Xander’s lap and he says, “I want my MTV.”

The words take him back in a flash – not to the 80s but to those last months of Sunnydale – and he’s surprised that Spike wants to go there.

He’s surprised Spike even remembers – he’d seemed so far gone in those days and, yes, there’s a part of Xander’s brain that still feels guilty as hell, though the rest of his brain’s never let him look back too closely at the fine line between taking solace and taking advantage.

He prefers to think there was something mutual there, but most years he prefers not to think of it at all. Which, yeah, has been harder the last couple of days, but he’s mostly managed until now.

He could say something, but what? Maybe Spike doesn’t even know what he just said. If Spike didn’t know what he was saying back then, then he wouldn’t know what he’s saying right now, and if Xander doesn’t say anything to tell him then it can just be another blowjob between friends.

Right?

Blowjobs between friends – that’s how Xander would like to think of those post-school-basement-pre-Summers-basement days – even if they weren’t friends and even if he really tries not to think of it at all.

Spike’s fingers ghost over his zipper and Xander knows letting Spike blow him right now would be wrong.

So he blows Spike instead.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander wakes without context and thinks his life is like a Magritte, a strange juxtaposition of people, places, and things that create a whole he doesn’t understand but can buy for half price on QVC if he acts now.

Ceci n’est pas une vie.

He remembers waking up being a more coherent process, or maybe it’s that he used to be a more coherent person.

The transition is strange in the same way that he remembers I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America but not what comes next, even though he said it one hundred and eighty times a year for twelve years, give or take.

Maybe it’s the cadence he’s missing, some special rhythm of breathing and blinking that brings it all into focus.

It’s been nearly a year since he woke up in a bed, longer since the other half was occupied. He doesn’t remember the journey, barely recognizes the destination save for a flash of green wall that matches a flash of memory, Buffy likes green.

Not that Buffy’s ever been here.

He could wallow down in that thought but it’s disconcerting to think about Buffy while his legs are tangled in Spike’s, so he thinks about Spike instead.

Or tries.

He’s got nothing.

Ceci n’est pas un vampire.


~*~*~*~*~


The second waking an hour later goes a little better. Surrealism aside, Spike is still undead, and there’s nothing more real than somebody else’s cold, dead feet. They give Xander focus.

He kicks them away.

Spike stirs. “What?”

“Everything I know about modern art, I learned from watching the shopping channel,” Xander says.

“Should get out more,” Spike mutters, rolling over and showing Xander his back.

It’s a nice back.

Xander studies it for a moment, then gets up to fix the coffee. Five minutes later, he steals the first half-cup from the carafe, drinks it black and waits for the coffee to fix him.

Fair’s fair, after all.

He downs the second half-cup as soon as it collects, cataloguing building repairs in his head. He jots down a quick list for the hardware store, then hits the shower.

Spike is stirring again when Xander gets dressed, so he leaves the warming plate on under the carafe and adds blood from butcher to his list before heading downstairs and out into the world for the first time in… he has to think about it… four days.


~*~*~*~*~


He comes home to an empty apartment.

Right, he thinks. Flight risk.

He can’t get comfortable and he blames the furniture.

Internet porn appeals, but the desire fades before he reaches the computer. He looks up Magritte instead but gets sidetracked by that painting of a guy in a business suit reflecting soldiers in the Vietnam Wall.

He identifies, but he’s not sure whether he’s a casualty or the one who made it out.

He buys it anyway.

The apartment’s quiet and he’s always been alone here, but now he feels it.

He zones out on the couch watching the Twilight Zone with the sound off. When Spike comes in, he’s so quiet that Xander fears they’ve actually entered the Twilight Zone (the one where everything’s silent) but it’s just vampire stealth.

And bare feet.

Spike’s got Xander half unzipped when Xander says, “Hey.”

“Yeah?”

Despite the desire to talk, there’s nothing to say.

He wonders if maybe Spike’s the one who made it out.

If maybe Spike’s come back for him.


~*~*~*~*~


They develop a routine consisting of TV, junk food, sex and small talk, and if it’s not much it’s still twice as much fun as Xander used to be having.

Only he wouldn’t really call it fun.

Wouldn’t really call it small talk either.

It’s smaller than small talk. Tiny talk. Wee words. Scattered crumbs of conversation that sink into the carpet and can’t be picked up by the vacuum cleaner.

“Hand me that beer, will you?”

“Got any more of those Frito things?”

“Jesus, how can you watch that?”

“Oy, sunrise. Mind the drapes.”


The occasional coital curse, grunt or groan.

It suits them.

Spike goes out but he always returns. Maybe he’s got nowhere else to go. Xander circles the court date on the calendar in blue pen.

He doesn’t have red.

He only got a calendar so that he’d remember when to collect the rent and when to pay the utilities. You can’t have one without the other.

Xander goes out but he always returns. Most of the time he doesn’t leave the building. November has come and he’s spending quality time with the furnace. He wonders who’s keeping track of whom.

When he gets upstairs, he walks into the living room and finds Spike staring at an old friend. Xander lowers himself onto the couch, sits at its edge. He blinks at the screen.

“What happened?”

“Some bloke died. World’s shortest living twin or some such.”

Xander stares at the face for another long moment.

He gives up.

“What’re you doing here, Spike?”

For a few seconds, Spike just doesn’t answer. Doesn’t move, doesn’t breathe. He doesn’t turn when he speaks. “Bought and paid for – isn’t that what you said?”

Xander shakes his head. “This can’t have been your best offer.”


~*~*~*~*~


The furnace blows again the day Spike doesn’t return.

Xander gets an offer on the building the day he fixes it.

The day in between, all he gets are phone calls.

Nine cold tenants and one old lady from the clerk’s office in Nowhereville who normally wouldn’t call to let him know his friend had jumped bail, but it’s a slow day and her son’s name is Alexander, too.

Xander curses, blames the blue pen.

He doesn’t sell the building. It’s not even on the market.

The offer becomes a better offer and then a best offer and then better still because it turns out the best offer’s just whatever’s on the table at the time.

Xander smiles because it wasn’t snake oil after all.

He still doesn’t sell the building.

He sleeps in the guest room and tries to stop thinking of it as Spike’s but it gets harder when Spike’s suddenly there, sitting on the edge of the bed.

Xander could say something about where Spike’s been, about the five hundred dollars, but he doesn’t because Spike is real and solid and here. As offers go, it’s not bad, so he shifts to make room in the bed.

“You’re a wanted man,” he says as Spike slides under the covers.

Reference Links: ITT Tech, The Rice Twins, Magritte, Reflections by Lee Teter





2 These are Not Enchiladas

From Wikipedia: Since this is a very simple dish to prepare, the phrase "estas no son enchiladas" (these are not enchiladas) is used, tongue in cheek, in Mexico City to refer to something that is not simple.

Xander’s heels click an erratic cadence that echoes down the empty hallway and slaps back like the opening strains of Back in Black, and he stops dead when he realizes he’s humming along.

He adjusts his tie and pushes forward again, sans humming, and his dress shoes meet the floor in a rhythm any man in a suit would be proud to call his own.

There’s a door and another and a third before he can set his briefcase down on a counter a little too loudly because this is not how he wanted to end his day.

“I got a message that I need to pick something up here, but—”

“Name?”

“Listen, I think there’s some mistake. I haven’t lost anyth—”

Name?”

“Harris. Alexander Harris.”

Alexander Harris taps his fingers on his briefcase and his toe on the floor and radiates irritation to the best of his ability.

The woman behind the desk ignores his fingers and his toes in favor of a box and a paper and a “Sign here.”

“This stuff’s not mine.”

“No,” she says, nodding to Xander’s right. “It’s his.”


~*~*~*~*~


Xander follows Spike out of the station feeling vaguely ill. Even after years of comfortable living and sizable paychecks, there’s something about handing over five hundred dollars that you know you’re never getting back that just doesn’t sit right.

Even if he’ll be reimbursed.

Even though he knows vampires and court dates are unmixy things.

Even when his official Council job title might as well be Guy-Who-Throws-Money-at-Civilians-to-Make-Special-Problems-Go-Away.

His paycheck just reads Consultant.

It’s shorter.

He gets in the car, but doesn’t hurry to start it. It’s all about billable hours, after all. He turns to Spike instead. “Apparently, you’re a flight risk.”

“That right?” Spike asks – like it’s news to him, but not even interesting news, more like a weather report. He reaches into his box and pulls out a cigarette, sticks it in his mouth and pulls out a lighter, holds it up…

Xander plucks the cigarette from Spike’s mouth, rolls down the power window a couple inches and tosses it out. “Yeah, well, what with the fleeing you did last night.”

“Huh,” Spike extracts another cigarette from the box and slips it between his lips, delivers the next words out of the side of his mouth, “might have been a wee bit—”

“Trashed,” Xander concludes. “Yeah, they noticed.” This time he leaves the cigarette and grabs the lighter instead. Rolls the window all the way down and lobs the lighter into a grassy knoll, counting on Spike to be too dignified to go after it.

“Wanker,” Spike grumbles, but he stays put.

“It’s a rental car. If I’m not getting your bail back, the least I can do is get the security deposit.”

Xander looks over in time to catch the eye roll. “Not like it’s your dosh.”

“Yeah, well it is until the expense reports go through,” Xander says. “And besides, dosh doesn’t grow on trees.” Hearing himself, he scowls. “And apparently the apple falls a lot closer to the tree than it thought. Fuck.”

Spike smirks as he leans forward in his seat and reaches out to fiddle with the radio. “Tie’s a nice touch,” he says.

Xander turns the key in the ignition. “Bite me,” he mutters, without a trace of irony.

But the sound of the engine drowns it out.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander takes the keys with him into the Sav-More.

Halfway to the door, he doubles back, takes the vampire too. Better safe than sorry.

Though sorry is kind of a given when dealing with Spike.

He completes the gas station trifecta—pissing, fueling, caffeinating—but before he can collect his winnings, Spike’s sliding into the passenger seat with a flick that’s more thumb on lighter than vampire on leather.

A receipt flutters and lands in Xander’s lap, and he’s not sure whether he’s supposed to be impressed that Spike didn’t steal or reimburse him.

“Add that to your expense report.”

He goes with neither.

Instead, he appropriates both cigarette and lighter and takes a drag because if he’s losing the security deposit too, he’s going to be the one enjoying the smoky goodness.

Not Spike, whose Hammurabian single gulp downing of Xander’s coffee fails to penetrate Xander’s nicotine haze.

The lighter’s sporting bare breasts and a g-string. The receipt’s sporting “Nudie Lighter-Female…$2.99.”

“I’m not sending this receipt to the Council.”

The middle of Nowhere could learn a lot from the hotel industry—they do receipts right. Xander would know. He’s a real movie buff, as in “Movie…$14.99.”

He watches for the plot.

“So don’t. ’S your money.”

Xander takes another drag. He doesn’t doubt it.


~*~*~*~*~


Waiting on Spike for an explanation is the local equivalent of waiting for Godot. And though Xander can’t remember if he’s read the play – is pretty sure that if he did read it he didn’t understand it, and is actually beginning to wonder if it might not have been a short story or maybe a poem – the one thing he does know is that Godot doesn’t show.

A wise man once told Xander: “Patience is an African virtue.”

But this ain’t Africa.

It’s Spike, and Xander cuts to the chase.

“So I take it you didn’t find Caro.”

“Bloody well did. Been a vamp since your great-great-granddad was in knickers. Know how to find a soddin’ slayer.”

Xander snorts. “And yet here we are. Just you and me. Catching up on our quality time. Undistracted by the backseat chattering of a teenage girl.”

“Chattering?” Spike’s snort could take Xander’s snort in a fight with one nostril tied behind its back. “Shoving a shiv between your ribs ’fore bolting, more like. Girl’s a bloody menace.”

“Really?” Xander’s brow furrows. “You think?” His head tilts. “Huh, maybe we should send someone out to find her. Someone, like, say… you.” His eye widens. “Oh, wait, we already did. Except you didn’t find her.”

“No call for sarcasm.” Spike shifts in his seat. “’Sides, did find her.”

“Spike, sarcasm is our lingua franca. If I stopped using it, we’d probably have to call in an interpreter. And, what? You just found Caro, took her to a bar, bought her a few rounds and then sent her on her merry way so you could pull a drunk-and-disorderly?”

“She was in the bar when I found her, yeah?” Spike shifts again and that’s how Xander knows they’re coming up on the truth. “And she was the one buying.”

Xander shakes his head as the truth crests the horizon. “She slipped you a roofie, didn’t she?”


~*~*~*~*~


“You still drive like a Consultant.”

“Meaning?”

Spike sighs and rolls his hips against the black leather seat. “Car like this,” he says in a voice Xander hasn’t heard in a long time, “needs to move. Open her up, let her go.”

“Her?”

“Bessie.”

“Nimrod,” Xander mutters.

Consultant.

Spike’s got a title, too. It used to be Field Agent, though Xander hasn’t seen one of Spike’s paychecks since their money stopped going into the same account.

Xander’s always thought of Spike as a divining rod—hold him by both hands and watch him find the slayers.

Thing is, with no one holding on, a divining rod’s just another stick.

With really bad judgment.

And a court date.

And a history of getting drugged.

Xander hits the exit ramp and it’s like Mexico all over again, except he’s picking Spike up instead of dropping him off and there’s no slayer and this little road trip wasn’t a vacation.

It’s actually not like Mexico at all.

“Stop.”

“Stop what?” Xander asks, like they haven’t had the conversation they’re about to have every time they’ve seen each other in the last year and a half.

“Thinking about Mexico.”

“I’m not—”

“You think I can’t tell when you’re thinking about it?”

Xander tunes the local classic rock station in and Spike out.

There’s a brief intermission before act two.

“You’re the one who ditched me,” Spike says.

“You wanted to leave.”

“I was unconscious!”

They’re parked in Xander’s driveway. It’s new. Post-Mexico.

“Spike, can we not do this right now?”

“Tomorrow, then,” Spike says, like he’ll still be here in the morning. “Unless you want to drop me off at a cheap motel. If you think it would be better.”

Xander knows his own words are being thrown back at him, doesn’t remember saying them but catches them anyway.

“Nah. It’s not worthwhile now.”

Now that they’re home. Now that it’s been so long.

“Well?” Spike asks, eventually. “Shall we go?”

“Yeah, let’s go,” Xander answers.

They don’t move.


~*~*~*~*~


Hesitation is resistance.

Or so the instructor informed Xander that one fateful time he let Dawn drag him to a yoga class at the Downtown Cleveland Y.

Resistance is futile.

Or so the Borg informed Captain Picard before assimilating him into their creepy techno-hive mind.

But Jean-Luc was not assimilated.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Next Generation Enterprise was a strong man.

Consultant Alexander LaVelle Harris of the Next Generation Watcher’s Council is weak.

Weak-willed and weak-kneed and being fucked within an inch of his life on the hood of a rented Mercedes named Bessie while thinking about Patrick Stewart.

He’s always been a sucker for the accent.


~*~*~*~*~


“Come in.”

He pushes the words past his throat and tries not to wonder how letting Spike into his new apartment can feel so much more intimate than letting Spike’s dick back into his ass. Either it doesn’t make sense or it makes all the sense in the world, but either way he doesn’t want to know.

He contemplates giving Spike the full tour, but the apartment’s a veritable minefield of expectations waiting to be set and the less spoken at this point the better. His eye flickers between the master bedroom, the guest bedroom and the living room couch and for the first time in, oh, ever he longs for a studio apartment.

Too many doors to choose from.

Xander hovers, not ready to make this particular deal, but Spike doesn’t even stop to think, goes straight for what’s behind Door Number Four.

Beer.

Smart vampire.

Xander jumps right on the stalling bandwagon, grabbing a beer of his own from behind Door Number Four and settling across from Spike on the couch. The TV hums and glows and Xander avoids thinking about the next hour by skipping ahead a couple of days.

He makes a mental note to wipe down the Mercedes before he returns it.

Lost deposit on luxury rental car - $100.

Soap, water, bucket and rag - $5.38.

Not having to meet agent’s eyes when visual inspection reveals unmistakable imprint of sweaty ass on expensive wax job – priceless.

Good thing the Council uses Mastercard.


~*~*~*~*~


A security deposit’s like a first impression: no second chances.

And thank god for that.

He can cover the hundred bucks. What he really needs is a place to smoke that won’t fuck up his apartment or the lungs of passing sixth graders.

Nothing pure ever stays that way.

That’s what Spike would say. Like he doesn’t scramble to stomp out his cigarette any time Dawn comes within a hundred feet.

Xander crushes his cancer stick in the bowl he brought down from his apartment. Bessie’s a BYOA kind of girl.

He taps a fresh one on the edge of the bowl but doesn’t light it.

There’s always a second chance to quit smoking. A second and a third and, Xander suspects, as many chances as times Spike blows back out of his life.

It’s convenient like that.

Though he’s never blown quite this far back in before.

Or taken this long to blow back out.

A knock on the window breaks the rhythm he’s tapping on the bowl. He hits the unlock button because the security deposit probably doesn’t cover Spike ripping the door off its hinges.

Next time he’ll spring for the extra insurance.

“Thought you quit.” Spike takes the cigarette from Xander’s hand and lights up.

“Started again.”

Spike nods and takes the bowl. His knee shakes like he’s got something to say. A minute floats by.

“When?” Spike asks around the smoke in his lungs.

“Today.”

Spike exhales. “And how much are we paying for the pleasure of smoking in this fine automobile?”

“Hundred bucks.”

Spike swirls the tip of his cigarette in the ash at the bottom of the bowl like he’s trying to see the future.

“How many?”

Xander shrugs and pockets the keys. The car doesn’t need to go back just yet. He pulls another cigarette from the pack.

Spike takes it out of his hand.

“’S not good for you.”

Xander just looks at Spike and shrugs. “What is?”


~*~*~*~*~


Xander’s more surprised when Spike returns the car than when he steals it, though in retrospect, it was probably more along the lines of unauthorized borrowing.

And the real surprise is Spike returning himself.

Which he does, and for the first time, Xander thinks there really is a first time for everything.

Hours later, lips stretched wide around Spike’s cock, Xander sees the irony, both on the surface and underneath because a guy from Sunnydale should know better.

There’s a first time for everything.

For staking your vamped best friend, for babysitting a mystical ball of energy turned human, for saving the world.

Apparently, for sucking off your former vampire lover on sheets identical to the ones you last used in Sunnydale (which you bought to remind you of your dead ex-girlfriend) because you can’t bring yourself to say, “I’m glad you came back, Spike.”

The irony of that one flickers momentarily and gets lost in the rush of Spike’s orgasm.

Xander doesn’t share his thoughts.

He and Spike swap fluids, not confidences. Fluids and half truths and snippets of argument that never string together into something whole.

Plus, he’s not sure he’s defined irony correctly.

Maybe the real irony is that, despite being the ditcher to Spike’s ditchee, Xander’s the one who wants it all back.

Or maybe it’s that he never wanted to ditch Spike in the first place.


~*~*~*~*~


The thing about the it is that it’s tricky to pin down.

He misses it. He wants it back. He probably never should have let it go in the first place.

These things he knows.

What he doesn’t know is how to define it. He doesn’t know how to ask for it. And he’s not even sure he’d know it if he saw it.

Because lately this feels a lot like it.

This downtime between jobs with the TV, the junk food, the sex and the small talk.

Tiny talk, really. Wee words. Scattered crumbs of conversation that sink into the carpet and can’t be picked up by the vacuum cleaner.

“Hand me that beer, will you?”

“Got any more of those Frito things?”

“Jesus, how can you watch that?”

“Oy, sunrise. Mind the drapes.”


It’s familiar and it suits them and wasn’t this the way it happened in the first place?

He remembers not noticing. Which shouldn’t be the kind of thing you can remember – what with the not noticing and all – but he does.

Okay, what he really remembers is being the last to know. He remembers Dawn’s mysterious giggles and Buffy’s baffling eye rolls and the words of Willow that went whizzing right over his metaphorical head. Of his entire social circle – which, granted, not that big, but still – he was the last one to see what should have been right in front of his face.

Hell, maybe he never had gotten a good look at it.

Must have been standing in his blind spot.


~*~*~*~*~


They fall into a dance, a kind of lopsided hokey pokey in which Xander turns to his left and Spike turns to see what Xander’s looking at, and Xander shakes his head and walks away.

Turns out it’s impossible to catch your own blind spot and the new angle gives him a headache, not perspective.

Spike doesn’t question it.

He also doesn’t question it when Xander buys tequila, a book of Aztec poetry, and tickets to Acapulco.

When intuition fails, Xander figures, go with the counterintuitive. Relive the trauma. Return to the scene of the crime.

Or at least a luxury resort in the same country as the scene of the crime.

Because Xander’s not so keen to relive the dysentery.

Still, he’s willing to do what it takes. Just as soon as he figures out what that is. He flashes back to brooding over beer at a kitchen table in Mexico City, moaning to Magdalena’s mother about men and machismo and making relationships work.

He can feel her standing over him, shaking her head in that way of wise old women. "Estas no son enchiladas," she tells him, and he nods.

Ain’t that the truth.


~*~*~*~*~


The stroll down memory lane works up an appetite, a sudden craving for enchiladas. When he goes out to satisfy it and comes home to an empty apartment, Xander’s not surprised.

Right, he thinks. Flight risk.

A six pack and three enchiladas later, he’s lost again in thoughts of Mexico because even if he was the one who left, Spike was the one who wanted to, and that has to mean something.

Always been a flight risk, he thinks, and then, Is this irony?

He never settles the irony debate but he doesn’t hold it against himself because, somehow, this irony thing is Spike’s fault, too.

Just like Mexico. A relationship can’t work when one person wants to leave. It takes two physically present people who want to remain physically present.

Xander wakes up when Spike arrives, handcuffed to a teenaged girl with pink hair and a scowl worthy of Dawn.

“I don’t know what you want,” he says. “If you ask me to go, I’ll go.”

Xander looks to his left and Spike’s gaze doesn’t follow.

He shakes his head and tries looking straight ahead for a change.

That’s what it’s all about.

Notes

1. Waiting For Godot
2. Let's Make A Deal





3 This is Not My Beautiful Wife

Xander’s heels click an erratic cadence that echoes down the empty hallway and slaps back like the opening strains of Back in Black, and he stops dead when he realizes he’s humming along.

He adjusts his tie and pushes forward again, sans humming, and his dress shoes meet the floor in a rhythm any man in a suit would be proud to call his own.

There’s a door and another and a third before he can set his briefcase down on a counter a little too loudly because this is not how he wanted to end his day.

“I got a message that I need to pick something up here, but—”

“Name?”

“Listen, I think there’s some mistake. I haven’t lost anyth—”

“Name?”

“Harris. Alexander Harris.”

Alexander Harris taps his fingers on his briefcase and his toe on the floor and radiates irritation to the best of his ability.

The woman behind the desk ignores his fingers and his toes in favor of a box and a paper and a “Sign here.”

“This stuff’s not mine.”

“No,” she says, nodding to Xander’s right. “It’s his.”

Xander looks to his right, then back at the woman and down at the paper. “What exactly am I signing for?”

“We’re prepared to release him into your custody as soon as you post bail.”

“And bail would be?”

“Five hundred dollars.”

Xander turns around and walks out.


~*~*~*~*~


There’s an Applebee’s next door. Xander orders his coffee on the way to the table. The waitress brings it over in an extra large mug and he waves away the dinner menu, skipping straight to the Triple Chocolate Meltdown, the picture of which he’s been staring at for the past three minutes.

Something in the name speaks to him.

Plus, chocolate.

As the plate and spoon slide in front of him, Xander looks up into a sympathetic smile. “She’ll come around,” the waitress says.

Xander shakes his head. “No, I really don’t think he will.”

The smile doesn’t falter as she pats him on the shoulder and leaves him to his thoughts.

Those thoughts take roughly one hour and three refills and when he gets up from the table, he leaves a one-hundred percent tip. What’s fifteen dollars when you’re about to blow five hundred on a guy who never seems to show up where he’s supposed to and isn’t likely to start with a court date?

A wise part of Xander’s brain tells him to go now, to get in the car and drive, not to look back.

But he’s never listened to that part before – why start now?




Xander’s more surprised when Spike returns the car than when he steals it right out from under Xander’s nose in the middle of the god damn police station parking lot, but the real surprise is why: Spike can’t drive stick.

It seems like something he should have known.

Like, Spike talks in his sleep.

Or, Spike won’t eat the blue M&M’s because they replaced tan and he liked tan.

The miles fly by in a one-sided haze of laughter and innuendo, and yeah, okay, dick jokes. A guy’s got a right to entertain himself.

Especially when he’s paid five hundred dollars for the privilege. And that’s not including the cost of the rental car.

Or the gas.

He stops at the Sav-More and completes the gas station trifecta—pissing, fueling, caffeinating—but before he can collect his winnings, the car’s gone again.

Not far, though.

Pushing is slower than driving.

He’s halfway through, “What the fuck?” when Spike hauls him into the backseat.

Turns out Spike can drive stick after all.

It seems like something he should have known.


~*~*~*~*~


The road is a sacred place.

Well, not a place, really, more like an in-between, which is the whole point. The road is sacred in its lack-of-place-ness. Because places are where things happen. Things don’t happen without places. Ergo, no place, no thing.

No thing as in nothing.

Which is exactly what happened between him and Spike a couple hundred miles back.

Nothing.

So what if they weren’t actually driving? That Sav-More was in the middle of nowhere and everyone knows that nothing ever happens in the middle of nowhere.

Nothing.

And, yes, Xander does realize that that’s not earth logic.

It’s road logic.

Which is the whole point.


~*~*~*~*~


“Here we are,” Xander says.

Spike looks out the windshield at the motel and smirks. “What? Can’t wait ’til your place for another round?”

“Actually, I… um… figured you could stay here. You know, until you find somewhere else to go.” The line sounded breezy in his head, but out in the world it’s more like one of those dry prairie winds that pushes the tumbleweed past the saloon just before the big gunfight.

“Somewhere else to go,” Spike repeats. “Right, then.” He pulls the handle and pushes open the door. “Thanks for the ride.”

“Wait.”

Spike looks back and Xander reaches inside his jacket and pulls out a thick envelope.

“This should cover at least a week,” he says, reaching his arm across the gear shift. It feels just as dirty as it probably should and it hurts to watch Spike’s fingers close around the offer he’s in no position to refuse.

Spike’s halfway to the rental office when Xander jumps out of the car.

“I can’t,” he says.

Spike lights a cigarette before turning around to face Xander. “Can’t what?”

He stands there, unarmed, and waits for Xander to draw.

“Take you home,” Xander says at last. “I don’t…” He swallows. “I don’t live alone.”

“I don’t believe you.” Spike turns and continues toward the office.

Xander can’t blame him.

Which doesn’t mean he won’t try. He’s rubber and Spike’s glue. It’s been that way since Mexico, and Xander’s long since traded in his lesser of two evils hat for one that says your fault, not mine.

Spike emerges with a coffee and a newspaper and a key, and he doesn’t look over when he says, “The Harris I know would never cheat.”

It’s either sarcasm or truth.

One doesn’t cut deeper than the other these days.

“Get in the car, Spike,” Xander says, and yeah, he’s dropping a can on his foot to dull the stab wound but he’s got Vicodin in the back seat. He’ll survive.

Spike stops, but it’s just to shuffle the key into his left hand. “You might live with someone, but that doesn’t mean you’re not alone. You’re just alone together.”

“Get in the car.”

“For what? Another round? A nice chat? Just go home to your beautiful wife, or whatever it is you’re hiding,” Spike says, but he shifts and that’s how Xander knows he’s won.

Xander gets in and by the time his seatbelt’s half on, Spike is behind Door Number Three.

It’s a relief.


~*~*~*~*~


Twenty minutes later, he starts the car. His finger taps the steering wheel.

It sounds like knocking.

Ten minutes later, he does it again, but there’s still no answer and Spike is twitching like he’s realized Door Number Three is just a curtain.

But Door Number Two sticks and there’s a sign on Door Number One that says Do Not Enter in big capital letters and Xander’s handwriting, so Xander shoves the car in gear and peels out of the parking space.

His skillful plan to return to road logic stalls out around the second traffic light when he realizes he’s got nowhere to go.

Nowhere to go and nothing to say and two noes don’t make anything at all.

The road’s going slightly east but mostly south and an urge rises up beneath his skin. An urge to keep going, all the way to Mexico. An urge to toss his phone with its GPS, hit the nearest ATM and go rogue à la Jack Bauer.

But they’ve been there, done that, and in real life the rogue agent doesn’t get more than one second chance.

He still remembers the certainty. Days of it, nights of it. Long nights full of warm air and hour after hour of knowing that he’d chosen Spike and that he’d do it again in a heartbeat.

But it’s just a memory and three right turns later they’re back to where they started.

The car is still running when Spike gets out. “Go home,” he says.

This time, Xander does.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander enters the house through the back door and keeps his head down.

If he doesn’t see them, they’re not here.

Or maybe it’s if you build it, they will come.

That had certainly been the case here. Only it was supposed to be if you build it, they will come, then you will leave because you don’t work for the Council. That last part had taken a rogue turn of its own and stranded him in a house full of girls.

Now he’s got tampons on his grocery list, teenage boys calling at all hours, and a longstanding and exclusive relationship with his right hand.

Though, apparently, his right hand deserves better.

The sentiment had gotten him through Sarah’s breakup with Kevin when Kevin kissed Amy, but it’s somewhat less effective in this situation.

Xander stops at the foot of the stairs.

Broken banister, broken window, hole in the wall.

If you build it, they will come, and they will break it.

“Xander?”

There’s a blonde ponytail bobbing somewhere around his chin but it might as well be Monty holding a microphone to his mouth and asking whether he wants to keep the destroyed house or trade it for what’s behind Door Number Two.

It’s the third time this month that the house has sustained serious damage. There might be an all expenses paid trip for two to Mexico if he makes the trade, but at this point, even twenty-five dollars worth of Rice-a-Roni or Fred the goat are appealing.

“Xander, who’s the guy with the accent answering your cell phone?”

He pats his empty pocket.

Fu—unny you should ask,” he says.

He’s no more ready to explain Spike to the girls than he is to explain the girls to Spike, but both explanations are looking hard to avoid. There’s no telling what it will take to repatriate the all important cell phone and Xander has long since learned that the only way to keep the girls out of his business is to avoid having any business at all.

Thus the busyness of his right hand.

And the distinct lack of busy-getting… up until a few hours ago.

A brief panic squeezes Xander’s chest at the thought that slayer senses might be specially attuned to vampire spunk.

A gross thought, but troublesome all the same.

He sketches a plan in his head. Shower, then get the phone.

“Xander?”

Right. Explanation, shower, then phone.

Or maybe that’s - lie, shower, phone.

Or possibly - lie, phone, shower – given the likelihood of phone turning into go to Spike’s motel in search of phone, ask Spike for phone, fight with Spike about phone, have sex with Spike near phone, snatch phone from post-coital Spike and run.

In which case he might as well wait and wash away all the evidence at once.

“Xander?”

Right, he’s supposed to be lying. Too bad he spent all his stalling time thinking abut sex with Spike.

“Well, um…” Best to start with the basics. “Who did he say he—?”

The blonde ponytail slaps Xander in the face as two heads whip around in the direction of the living room and the distinct sound of one teenage supergirl body-checking another into the splinters-of-wood-formerly-known-as-the-coffee-table.

Xander means to take a moment to wonder when that sound became a distinct one – easily distinguished from the destruction of, say, a kitchen chair or the foyer window – but gets distracted by the shouting.

He rushes into the living room, abandoning all thoughts of Fred and the San Francisco treat.

Life in this house isn’t Monty. It’s Montel.

Or possibly Springer.

He sits to the side and asks questions. The answers test his soundproofing skills and the lack of disgruntled neighbors signals a passing grade.

Though building the house was never the issue. It’s living in it that’s the challenge.

He delivers his final thought to the tune of enhanced Slayer huffs and eye rolls and he may not have Slayer strength, but he has power.

He knows how to hit the girls where it hurts: the telephone.

Or telephones, as it were. He gathers them all in preparation for three days of radio silence.

It’s win-win. A lesson for the girls, peace and quiet for Xander. Peace and quiet and a pile of phones on his bed.

Six.

Any one of which, given the right combination of numbers, would connect him with Spike.

But connecting—or reconnecting—with Spike isn’t on tonight’s agenda, so he puts the phones in a box and the box in the closet and the closet behind closed doors.

He picks up the landline and cruises the cell phone section of the yellow pages. A minute later he’s listening to James Taylor sing about Mexico while a recording breaks in every ten seconds to tell him that the Corporate and Business Accounts Division appreciates his business, but not enough to take his call.

The music is eventually replaced by Guillermo, who manages to sound like he genuinely wants to assist Xander and doesn’t miss a beat when Xander adds “kind of” after, “I’d like to report my phone stolen.”

Turns out Guillermo’s dated guys like Spike, guys who’ll steal your phone (except it’s not really stealing because they’ll give it back if you ask for it) and he’s got no qualms about dishing advice on company time.

“Wait a day or two,” he says.

“What if he drops it?” Xander counters. “What if he calls China?”

“He a clumsy Chinese guy?”

“Not even close,” Xander laughs.

“Then wait it out,” Guillermo says. “If he loves you, you’ll have him and the phone back before you know it.”

Xander smiles and then frowns. “Wait, it’s not like that.”

“Of course it’s not,” Guillermo says, and Xander can hear the wink in his voice. “Is there anything else I can assist you with today?”

“Yeah,” Xander says. “What if I have to choose between the guy and the phone?”


~*~*~*~*~


He makes it one night.

One short night because he doesn’t get to bed before two, never gets to sleep and gets up at the ungodly hour of six a.m. convinced that the best thing to do would be to go for a run. Nevermind that Xander’s never been in the practice of running – aside from those times when something was chasing him – a run is just the thing, he decides.

The fact that his path takes him past Spike’s motel means nothing.

Just like the fact that he put Spike in a motel less than two miles from the house means nothing.

These are facts without meaning and Xander has no trouble whatsoever convincing himself of that fact.

The part where he jogs up and knocks on Spike’s door is a bit harder to dismiss, but Xander dedicates every available brain cell to the project. Sadly, given the legendary nature of Spike’s blowjobs, brain cells are a little hard to come by.

And slow to regenerate, apparently, as Xander takes three more morning runs over the next three days.

The girls look askance at his sudden fitness fetish, but when he points out that he’s not getting any younger, they concede. All too quickly, really, and he thinks he knows now how old Giles must have felt when he moved to Sunnydale to hang out with a bunch of teenagers.

But Spike’s not complaining.

At least not about his physical fitness.

Xander’s not sure whether being kicked out of bed every morning with a muttered, “Go home to your beautiful wife,” counts as a complaint.

After all, Spike doesn’t even know what he’s complaining about.


~*~*~*~*~


“Xander!” He looks up from Tom Jennings and into earnest eyes. “There’s a guy standing on the porch smoking and I think he might be a vampire. Should I… should I stake him?”

“Better not,” Xander says as he pushes himself up off the couch. “He’s a little out of your league. Just stay in here, okay?”

She doesn’t, of course, and by the time Xander reaches the front door he’s standing at point position in a slayer wedge.

He pulls open the door and steps forward, looking back over his shoulder. “Girls, this is Spike. Hands off – he’s got a soul.” He faces front. “Spike, meet my beautiful wife.”

A chorus of Ew! flies over his shoulder, but Xander doesn’t hear it. He watches as Spike drops the cigarette and walks away.


~*~*~*~*~


He dreams about Mexico and wakes with a hard-on and doesn’t give up running.

He runs north because north is where Starbucks is and Mexico isn’t. Not that he’d ever make it that far. He’s still winded after two miles.

He leaves Starbucks with a mocha latte and a vague sense of having sold out, and he blames it on the delicious, chocolaty, global imperialism.

He walks home because he’s sick of running.

Spike is gone and it occurs to Xander that it’s time to get a life, some business for the girls not to stay out of. He sends Giles a seven word email: This is not a one man job.

The repairs are completed just in time for the next round of furniture slaying and he Springers his way through the post-slayage meltdown with an insightful final thought about making choices and true friendship and being friends with Amy and Beth at the same time. If you love something set it free, give it a few days, if they’re really your friends, etc.

Guillermo would be proud.

Except possibly about the part where Xander forgot to tell the something that he loved him before setting him free. He confiscates Allilia’s phone and dials his own number.

The front door rings.

Xander answers at the same time Spike does.

“Hey,” Xander says, and he can hear his own voice come out of the phone at Spike’s ear.

“Hey,” Spike says in stereo. He’s holds out a letter printed on Council stationery. “Heard there was an opening.”

The echo is annoying and they both hang up.

“Come in,” Xander says.

Reference links: Jack Bauer, "If you build it, they will come"/Field of Dreams, The Montel Williams Show, The Jerry Springer Show

And the inspiration for our title: Once in a Lifetime by The Talking Heads




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