The counselors march into the Main Lodge two-by-two, as if the clouds are about to open up and dump down torrents of rain.
No such luck.
Spike scowls at the clear blue sky and heaves another bag of mulch onto the trailer. Sweat rolls down his back and he envies those kids lounging in air conditioned comfort. Course they have to listen to Wilkins extol the virtues of being a good Christian so it’s not all fun and games.
He bends down for more heaving and sees Xander staring at him. The boy looks away quick-like. Spike narrows his eyes and focuses on the mulch.
He can’t help looking over again.
This time Xander smiles and waves. The blonde girl next to him raises her hand in a half-hearted greeting and he stops himself from checking if there’s someone behind him. Kid’s just friendly, that's all. Spike nods and tosses another bag, which feels lighter somehow. Stretching up, he watches them walk into the lodge.
“Pretty girl.” It’s Angel doing his usual sneaking. Bloody stalker.
“I guess.” He turns and takes in the slight flush on Angel’s cheeks. “More your type. Cute little blonde. Probably a cheerleader.”
Angel shifts his weight from leg to leg, makes eye contact. “You know, William …” Spike steels himself. “Your type is some –”
“Save the speech, big guy.” He claps Angel on the shoulder. “We’re in the land of Jesus, nothing’s going to happen.”
He feels the shoulder slump in relief and reminds himself he didn’t lie. Noticing’s not the same as doing.
Spike gestures at bags that still need to be loaded. “Back to the salt mines.”
“I’ll help.” Angel picks one up and tosses it onto the pile.
“Always the hero, aren’t you?” Spike follows suit.
“It’s a burden saving your ass all the time.” Angel’s heaving two bags now.
Spike rolls his eyes and sticks to one. “Careful, don’t get a martyr complex.”
“No worry of that with you around.” Angel’s back to one and they've got a rhythm.
The lift and throw lulls Spike from thoughts of counselors, especially the nice ones. They’re the ones he’s got to watch out for.
It's been a hard day's night and maybe he hasn’t been working like a dog, but Spike’s fucking sick of mulch. Wants to dump the whole bloody lot on a bonfire and dance around it and doesn’t give a damn if mulch means less watering of the sodding flowers in the long-term.
He just said that out loud. Spike glances around, cursing the mulch (in his head this time) for risking him a warning, or worse, a prayer session.
A motorcycle roars past on the nearby highway. He stares in the direction of the receding sound and imagines the feel of the wind. If he had the cash for one of those, he could take off. No debt to Angel, or to the church – worse than a bloody bank. With a bike he could hit a big city, lose himself in the crowds.
At least he’s alone now, alone with the mulch. Yeah, life’s just wonderful.
He gets back into a rhythm, spreading and humming. Lyrics in his head. There’s got to be some kind of way out of here, said the joker to the thief.
“Oh wow! That looks great.” It’s Xander, pointing at the mulch-covered flower beds and smiling. Always with the smiling.
“Better do. Don’t fancy startin’ over.” He leans on his rake, turns his attention on the boy.
Xander scuffs his feet in the camp road’s dirt. His eyes fix on Spike’s face then dart away.
“So, um –”
They both stop to let the other speak. Spike waits, Xander waits. Spike glances at the highway, then back. The kid’s still doing that skittering eye thing, but manages, “You first.”
“Making a break for it?” Spike nods to the highway. “Been considering it myself.”
“What? Oh no. I mean, I have thought about hatching a great escape before, but normally just to stock up on Twinkies. They refuse to sell them at the Tuck Shop and really, who doesn’t sell Twinkies? What’s the world coming to, I ask you?”
Spike decides the question is rhetorical.
“So whenever you want to go on a Twinkie run let me know. Or ice cream! I could sneak out for ice cream. I can’t resist Chocolate Brownie – chocolately goodness.”
Spike can’t resist smiling. “Real rebel aren’t ya, mate?”
He’s on the receiving end of an almost blinding smile – one that looks like it’ll bubble over into laughter any second now. “I try.” Xander runs a hand through his hair. “A bunch of us are gonna grab a quick swim before dinner. Quick because the water’s cold. But still, got to get that first swim in. All year long I miss the lake, you know?”
Spike doesn’t know, but finds himself nodding anyway.
Xander’s back to staring at his feet. “So, do you want to join us? If you want, you don’t have to…”
Wasn’t expecting that. “Not really my scene.”
“Oh! Right. Of course. Yeah, I wouldn’t want…” Xander’s backing away. “I’m sure you’re busy. And it’s not, um … Okay. I’m gonna go.” He turns and starts walking away, head down.
Without thinking, Spike calls out, “Xander.” Xander stops, spins around. “If you’re ever craving ice cream, let me know.”
“Really?” Xander’s grinning and is red in the face for some reason. “Sounds good.” He takes off, jogging.
Spike speeds up his mulch spreading. Can’t have Angel asking what slowed him down.
The mulch is done – for the day anyway – and Spike finds himself down by the lake without meaning to be. He stops under some trees just before the clearing, tells himself it’s for shade.
Just counselors in the water, no staff. Splashing and laughing as if they haven’t a care in the world.
He spots Xander tossing that red-haired girl into the water. She shrieks and giggles. Another kid tries to do the same to Xander’s blonde friend but she shoves him in instead. Spike nods in appreciation. Tougher than she looks.
The sun reflects on the lake, making the water glitter. Spike might even say it was pretty. If he were into that sort of thing.
He realizes he’s lurking and all but spying on Xander. Not bloody likely. He turns and almost slams right into Angel.
Spike can tell Angel’s flustered. He’s doing that annoying throat-clearing thing.
“Right. I’m off.” Spike steps around Angel, onto the path.
“Yeah, me too. Big campfire tonight.” Angel falls in step beside him.
A loud splash and more laughter from the water.
“Need help?” Spike asks with a sigh.
“Really?” Angel sounds more suspicious than surprised.
Spike shrugs. “Not like I’ve got anything better to do.”
Xander’s never prided himself on being big with the strategizing – he leaves that to Willow – but he had thought his plan of ‘avoid the guy I’m having sexy dreams about’ would be easy to follow.
And it was, until the part where he asked Spike on a date.
Okay, not really a date, and not really asking, but it was a situation with date asking qualities. Not that Xander’s ever asked anyone on a date before, but the sweaty palms and inability to string words together seem like dead giveaways.
And the not-date isn’t even a not boy-girl date, but a not boy-boy date, which is a whole new not-dating territory that no one has ever sat him down and given him advice about. Not that he expects advice; this is no trespassing, do not eat the apple, do not pass go territory.
Xander decides to fire himself from any future planning.
Of course the problem with that plan – no, not plan, decision – is that he’s going to have to hire someone else to take his place. And then he’s going to have to confess his gah – his guy-centered gah – to that someone else. And then… well, he foresees an apocalypse worthy of Revelations.
Friendships will end; jobs will be lost; Scarlet Letters will be doled out at the very least and…
He really needs to breathe.
Xander collapses onto his bed, sucks air into his empty lungs and stares at the knots in the ceiling’s wood paneling, lets the cool quiet of the cabin wash over him.
What he needs to do is not think about Spike. Block out those intense blue eyes, forget the smirk that sends shivers down his spine. Repress all imaginings of those muscles and how they would feel under his hands if, say, he were to run them over Spike’s abs and down to Spike’s waistband.
In the spirit of repression, Xander pretends his hands aren’t drifting down to his waistband, aren’t sliding inside. His eyes close when his hand doesn’t wrap around his dick.
Oh yeah, finally a plan he can go with.
Xander is calm now. Cool, collected and fully in control of his hormones.
That’s his story and he’s sticking to it.
He jogs to catch up with Willow and Buffy, grinning back at the big smiles he receives. He gives himself an imaginary pat on the back for not asking how his hair looks. A guy’s got to take a stand and since Xander’s running out of options, he’s going with hair. He stops himself when he realizes he’s patting his head, and turns to Buffy. “Ready for the big campfire? Last one before our impressionable charges arrive.”
“So, it’s like our last night of ‘freedom’?” Buffy makes air quotes. “Should I expect lots of wild partying?” Her eyes wander in the direction of the staff quarters. Xander follows her gaze. The bright white of the building mocks him with a lack of helpful – or really any – information.
Willow giggles. “If by wild, you mean playing ‘Chubby bunny,’ then, yes!”
Buffy tilts her head. “You know, that sounds kinda dirty.”
“Only if you don’t like marshmallows.” Xander holds up a hand. “And I’d like to state for the record that I am not competing this year.”
He ignores Willow’s, “Aw,” because he doubts that stuffing his mouth full of marshmallows will impress Spike. He replays that thought and reflects that he doesn’t know what would impress another guy, let alone impress Spike. And that he’s not supposed to be thinking about that anyway.
As if on cue, Spike emerges from his room – number four, Xander files away – and leans against the wall. A cigarette – and Spike’s fingers twitch like he wants to be holding one - would complete the tough guy look and it’s a look that Xander has discovered he likes. Likes so much that he’s no longer calm, cool or in any way in control of his hormones.
“Xander?” Willow’s looking at him with those wide concerned eyes of hers, and he realizes that he’s stopped walking and is quite possibly openly checking Spike out.
He flashes a big smile. “Oh! Right. I just – let’s get moving people!”
Xander tries to follow his own advice but bangs into Buffy. She’s staring at Angel, who has just stepped out of his room. Great, Xander’s become a teenage girl.
Buffy’s not the only girl who’s noticed Angel. “Hello, salty goodness!” Cordelia says to Harmony – and pointedly not to Xander, Willow and Buffy – as she brushes by.
Xander reassures himself that if he’s turning into any teenage girl, at least it’s Buffy and not Cordelia.
Jesse is beckoning to them from the grove of trees leading to the campfire pit. Time for some good wholesome campfire-related fun.
Xander’s thoughts are neither good, nor wholesome, nor campfire-related and he blames Spike. Which isn’t fair to Spike since all he’s doing is leaning across two benches.
Man, Xander needs to stop this train of thought. If only he knew where the emergency brake is. Maybe he can get off at the next station and take a new train, going in the opposite direction on a whole different set of tracks. Or maybe the train thing’s all wrong and he should be switching to another form of transportation, like a plane or an automobile.
He tries to focus on the singing but can’t remember any of the lyrics other than, “My God is an awesome God.” This means that he knows the instant Spike looks his way and they make eye contact. It doesn’t last long because Xander looks down, but he looks up a second later and knows the instant Spike sits up, the instant he stands up, the instant he catches Xander’s eye.
The world around Xander slips into slow motion. He can’t hear anything over the pounding of his heart. In a haze, he stands up, mutters “bathroom” to Willow, and follows Spike.
Somehow it’s not surprising to be yanked into a dense clump of trees. Xander’s happy to let it happen. It means he doesn’t have to think, which is good because it feels like his brain has been switched to ‘off.’
He’s less happy when he comes face-to-face with an angry-looking Spike. “Why’re you staring at me?”
“I want to kiss you.”
The absolute silence that greets Xander’s unplanned admission isn’t surprising either. Xander is as shocked by his own words as Spike is.
Or maybe more shocked, because before Xander can shift gears and get his brain out of neutral, Spike closes the space between them. “Go ahead then.”
He hears the challenge in Spike’s tone but is so stuck on Spike saying yes to his crazy crazy statement that it doesn’t sink in. For once Xander can think of nothing to say.
He may not know what to say, but his hands know what to do. They place themselves on Spike’s shoulders and Xander finds himself leaning forward, brushing his lips against Spike’s. He almost pulls away, startled by how that brief contact leaves him wanting so much more.
He kisses Spike again and it must not completely suck because Spike’s hands slide around his back. So this is what forbidden fruit tastes like, Xander thinks, in a brief moment of clarity before sinking back under.
He’s got the whole world in his hands…
The hymn floats up from the campfire, bursts through the trees, jerking him back to reality.
They break apart, panting.
Spike looks over his shoulder, then at the ground. “Listen. I shouldn’t – ‘s a mistake.”
Xander’s heart plummets to his feet, his face feels hot.
Spike nods towards the singing. “Should get back,” he says and does just that. Walks away and doesn’t look back.
Mistake. The word rings in Xander’s head as he stumbles toward the campfire. He slumps down beside Willow, not sure how he made it without walking into a tree. Doesn’t even try to smile.
Without thinking, he sings along with the next line: “As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after you.”
His throat chokes on the words.
It’s gonna be a long summer.
Whoever said that when God closes a door he opens a window was full of shit.
Xander winces. Outside Pride and it’s insistence that Xander be a good Christian role model – whatever that means – have infiltrated his brain. He now feels guilty just thinking a swear word. Xander glares at an imaginary Wesley who gestures righteously and tells him thinking is as bad as doing.
But how is Xander supposed to control his thoughts?
They start out all innocent and pure and then some other Xander he didn’t know existed grabs the torch and races around his head setting it all on fire. And does this mean Xander’s flaming, as in a big gay flamer? Can he say that if he’s not sure he’s gay? It was just one kiss.
And now, not only is he thinking bad gay thoughts, he’s also thinking bad thoughts about gays, which is bad.
Without interrupting the Xander in his head, who’s still running around in full freak-out mode, he reaches over and grabs the ketchup from Jackie Rodowsky, who is in the middle of pouring the entire bottle onto his lap. The other campers are laughing at ketchup-covered Jackie, whose outfit is now as red as his hair, but Jackie just grins.
Xander’s eyes wander in the direction of the staff table. No, not the staff table. He should not be looking there and he’s definitely not looking at a certain blond groundskeeper.
Sure Spike may have been right about it being a mistake – a mistake of Biblical proportions – but it’s not like that makes everything magically okay or something. Not that Xander isn’t trying. Trying to forget about Spike, forget about Spike’s lips, forget about Spike’s lips pressing against his … and this is the road that should be a whole lot less traveled.
Sane Xander reclaims the torch, puts the car in reverse and speeds out of this dead-end backwards.
That’s probably a mixed metaphor but he’s not in school, so who cares?
Of course, this whole forgetting thing would go better if he didn’t have to see Buffy and Angel exchanging love-struck glances across the room. Xander really hopes that this new romance isn’t the window that opened ’cause, well, he’s just not that nice a guy.
It makes him want to hit the gas and smash through his own ‘do not enter’ sign.
Why did his friend have to start a romance with the guy Spike spends most of his time with? It’s enough to make Xander hate Angel, which isn’t fair. Angel seems like a nice enough guy. He even brings Buffy flowers. Sappy but sweet.
“Hi Xander!” It’s Andrew, hovering over him with a stack of comics under his arm, visibly bouncing. “What’s your stance on whether Star Wars comics are in the same canon as the movies?”
If this is Xander’s window, he’s gonna hurl himself out of it.
They bounce and bump along. The kids shriek, tumbling around on the hay as the trailer trundles through the woods. Xander rubs his butt and reconsiders the wiseness of calling shotgun – there’s no hay up here to cushion him.
The insides of his stomach jostle about and he almost regrets eating all those fish sticks. Almost, because how could he ever think anything but good thoughts about frozen breaded yumminess?
He glances back, sees Riley separate two campers who were shoving each other and remembers why he’s up here. Some peace and quiet. And quiet is definitely what you get with Oz, which is good ’cause Xander doesn’t want to talk.
Except his brain forgets to send that message to his mouth. “It’s nice out here, isn’t it? Nice to get away from the rat race – well, the camp rat race which is more like a relay race or something ’cause they like us to be co-operative. Anyway, it’s nice.”
Oz glances at him, then nods slowly. “Yeah, nice”
He really should stop with the talking. Oz goes in for neither chit nor chat. “So, how’s it going being vehicle guy?” Xander’s mouth continues to ignore his brain. “Must be nice not to be looking after kids – it’s exhausting.”
“The driving’s good.” Oz steers them around a sharp turn.
“Good, good.” Xander nods like he’s a cool guy who knows all about driving instead of some guy whose mom lets him drive the minivan occasionally. “I have a countdown going until my campers go on a canoe trip. Only five days now.”
“You not going?” Oz’s eyes remain on the road.
“Nah, Riley and Graham have that under control. I’ll only get in the way.” Oz tilts his head which Xander interprets as quizzical. “It’s true, they actually said that.” He shrugs. “A break from being a role model is all good with me.”
The trees are whizzing by now and he watches them until everything becomes a green blur.
Green shouldn’t remind him of Spike, but it does. Xander’s beginning to think that anything will remind him of Spike. If someone showed him those ink blot things he’s sure they’d all look like Spike, well Spike in ink blot form. And now he has a very weird image in his head. Okay, maybe he is going a little crazy.
“So, Oz,” Xander says, his eyes on the passing trees. “I have a question for you.”
There’s a pause, but Xander doesn’t look over to see why. “Fire away.”
He takes a breath. “Okay, so let’s say that everyone’s really into, uh, apples. And all your life you’ve heard how great they are and how when you’re old enough you’ll get to enjoy them and that hasn’t sounded that bad. You’ve been around apples and they seem good.”
Xander glances over at Oz who has his usual unexpression happening.
“But then you see an orange. You’ve seen some before, but it’s like you’re seeing oranges for the first time ’cause this one looks so good. Like way way better than you can ever imagine an apple tasting.”
“So, we’re talking apples and oranges here?” Oz asks, the flicker of a smile on his face.
“Very funny. But in a way, yes.” Xander leans down and tightens his sandal. “But what if everyone tells you that you should want an apple, and that it’s wrong to want an orange? What do you do if you really want an orange?”
He braves it and looks at Oz, who’s definitely looking thoughtful, like he may actually be trying to come up with an answer. Or maybe understand the meaning of life, you never know with Oz.
“I think…” Oz slows down as they drive through a narrow gap in the trees, “just because everyone says something is wrong doesn’t mean it is.” Oz scratches behind his ear. “But doesn’t mean it’s right. You’re the only one who can decide if something’s right or not – and I think you’ll know if something’s wrong.”
“So you’re saying it’s up to me. I mean, not me of course, this hypothetical orange-loving guy?”
Oz nods. They emerge back into the compound. “Shouldn’t it have been the apples as the forbidden fruit? They have a history of playing that role.”
“Didn’t want to typecast. And have I mentioned, Bible Study? Not my best subject.”
Oz brings the ride to a halt, turns off the engine and faces Xander. “The thing about eating the forbidden fruit is that it also gave knowledge. It wasn’t all about the badness of the fall.”
“I’m guessing you pay more attention in Bible Study than me.”
Xander hops down. “Thanks man, now you have me thinking deep thoughts.”
“Glad to help.”
Time for Xander to resume the glamorous role of counselor. He grins at Oz and goes to collect his campers. Maybe the bouncing wore them out.
It didn’t. Now they’re bouncing and rolling around on the ground.
Let the excitement begin.
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