Turn on the Bright Lights
Each November there comes a day when Xander boldly declares that he is going to quit smoking.
It’s been going on for three years now. It’s been three years since he moved to Toronto and three years since he started smoking. Oh yeah, so not a coincidence.
It’s when Xander inhales the warm nicotine and also the first blast of winter’s cold air that he makes his yearly promise to himself.
“Remind me why we do this again.” Xander directs his plea to Oz, his partner in crime. Okay, they’re nowhere near that cool. Oz maybe, but not Xander. It’s more like partner in slacking, breaking and smoking.
“It’s not work.”
“Good point.” And boss guy Ben – who shares their addiction – doesn’t count smoking as break time.
And speaking of – technically thinking of – Ben, he pokes his head out the door. “Got five rooms waiting to be cleaned. Don’t get behind, gonna be a busy night.”
“It’s always a busy night,” Xander mutters to Ben’s back.
Oz nods his agreement. “People do like sex.”
“Gay guys love sex,” Xander amends. He then remembers why he moved to the city. It wasn’t for the subway system and the 24-hour bathhouses.
Okay, maybe the bathhouses played a part, not that he knew about them when he decided to come here.
But it was all about the sex.
The gay sex.
’Cause it’s not like there wasn’t sex to be found in Thunder Bay – there’s not much else to do but get drunk and have sex, in that order. But it was all sex of the heterosexual variety and that just wasn’t something Xander was up for. Literally.
Oz tosses his cigarette down and tilts his head toward the door. Xander takes that last sweet but harsh inhale and sends his cigarette to join the others littering the alley’s gutter, then follows Oz inside.
The smell of sweat and sex fills his nostrils. Xander sighs. He’ll quit tomorrow.
Tomorrow will be the day.
Tomorrow is not the day.
He’s already on cigarette number two and he’s only been up for an hour. But at least it’s one in the afternoon. Smoking in the afternoon is better than in the morning. Or that’s what Xander tells himself anyway.
Xander also tells himself he’s procrastinating. Which he knows. He takes another so-deep-he-should-be-smoking-weed inhale and turns to face the music. Or at least the note.
The stupid note stuck to the fridge.
Moving in with Brandon. Sorry! Greg
Xander peels it off and turns it over in the hopes of finding a shiny cheque on the back to cover the rent that’s due in five days.
Damn those leather daddy sugar daddies.
Not that Xander has anything against leather daddies or sugar daddies or even the combination of the two, but he does when they cause his roommate to skip out on the rent without spreading the wealth to guys who don’t make much more than minimum wage.
He swings open the door to Greg’s room and takes in the garbage littering the floor around the stripped-to-the-bare-mattress futon. It’s like he’s living Reality Bites but without Jeanne Garofalo to liven up the twenties angst.
Nothing but bite here.
Xander ponders hitting his head against the wall. At least then he might feel better when he stopped. He needs to pull himself together: he’s one step away from racking up a few hundred dollars on the psychic hotline – or paying for phone sex.
He slams the door.
It’s briefly satisfying and it reminds Xander of something that always cheers him up: food. As he pours Cheerios, he vows to never again get a roommate from Now Magazine.
He’d be better off pulling some random guy off the street.
And Xander knows he’s desperate because it sounds like a good idea.
Possibly because he’s just discovered that Greg’s cell is no longer in service and he doesn’t know Brandon’s number or last name or anything about him besides his dual daddy identity.
He’s trying to figure out how he can stake out the Black Eagle in the faint hope of seeing either Greg or Brandon when “SexyBack” blasts out of his cell.
“Greg?” Xander answers in his most Remember me? Your roommate of two years who you just deserted tone.
“No. It’s Ben. Where are you? You’re half an hour late.”
Xander blinks at the stove clock. “B-but it’s only one-thirty.”
“It’s three. Get your ass in now before I fire you.” The line clicks dead.
His cell agrees with Ben – it’s displaying three p.m. Three-ten to be exact.
Apparently the stove had an allegiance to Greg (who did cook more – and better food – than Xander) and stopped working in solidarity with Greg’s departure. Xander thinks this may be an example of dramatic irony but since he dropped out of university after one year of Drama, he’s not so sure.
He does know it’s damn unfair. Almost getting fired on the day the guy who paid half the rent on the apartment takes off just… sucks. Xander wishes he had a better word for it – but hey, university drop-out.
And no time for bitter reminiscing – time to run to work and beg for forgiveness. And extra shifts.
Oh yeah, it’s grovelling time.
He’s out the door, winding his scarf around his neck when he realizes he’s left his smokes on the kitchen table.
Maybe today is the day.
It’s a Saturday – of course it’s not the day.
“Thank you, God,” Xander says around a smoky exhale.
“You can call me Oz.”
“Ha ha, very funny. You’re a regular Will Ferrell.”
“We’ll find you a roommate.” Oz claps him on the shoulder. “And when we find Greg, Buffy will beat him up.”
“Is it sad that it makes feel better knowing our five-foot blonde friend will do that for me?”
“She’s pure muscle, she could probably take Frank.” Oz nods to the hulking security guard nearby.
“True.” Xander grins. Personal trainer and boxer? Good friend to have.
They finish their unofficial break in silence, standing over a grate for warmth and alternating which hand holds the cigarette and which is stuffed in a pocket.
It’s hard to imagine but the day only gets worse.
It’s actually night now, but whatever. Xander’s five stops past caring and on the who gives a fuck train now. Which is good, because wherever this night is going, it’s heading there in a hand basket.
First, there’s the room with shit all over the walls. Xander’s not sure if it was accidental or a whole fetish thing, and really doesn’t want to know.
On second thought, nothing tops that.
None of the blood covered-sheets, the used condoms, or the lube and come smeared in inexplicable places even come close to the shit room.
Even being groped by Lecherous Old Guy seems good in comparison.
But the shit room gets a run for its money when Xander almost slams into Angel.
There’s nothing like seeing your ex when you’re wearing latex gloves and stuffing syringes into the needle disposal bin. Actually, make that your asshole of an ex who was nice while you were sleeping together for that week, but then disappeared.
“Angel,” Xander blurts out because his mouth is in no way connected to his brain.
Angel blinks and takes a step back. “Oh, hi…” He looks confused and Xander barely hides a grin even though Angel can’t remember his name. He’s gotta take his pleasures where he can at this point.
“Xander,” he supplies. “Too many conquests to remember all of our names? Wish I could forget yours, but,” Xander shrugs, “it’s hard to forget your first, even if he is a grade A asshole.”
“Oh, I, er, you…” Angel blinks some more and shoves his hands into his pockets. It gives Xander a tiny bit of satisfaction to have rattled the guy.
“Did someone call you an asshole?” Some guy Xander’s never seen – all bleached blond hair, tight black clothes and English-sounding accent – steps up beside Angel. “You are my type of guy. C’mon.”
“But, I…” Angel looks between Xander and the new guy, as he trails off once again.
New guy rolls his eyes. “This is a bathhouse, not a bloody social club. We’re here for sex not some lesbian potluck where we process with our exes.” He turns and stalks into a nearby clean room.
Xander waves Angel off. “Have your fun. I’ve got a date with the sling.” Xander holds up his cleaning container. “I’m in high demand.”
If only he was high right now. Flying on E and feeling like nothing could touch him, everything was alright and he loved everyone.
Flying high above it all.
He settles for nicotine instead.
Well, he would if he could find Oz and bum another smoke off him, but he’s not sure where Oz is. He’s either crashed in an empty room or fucking that young punk guy who’d been eyeing him earlier. Either way, Xander’s not looking to interrupt.
He pulls the zipper up to his chin, yanks his hood over his head, and steps outside, praying that someone will take pity on him.
Unfortunately the only smoker he sees – leaning against the alley wall, heedless of the cold bricks – is the last guy he’d peg to pity him: the guy who was with Angel earlier. But at this point, Xander doesn’t care if it’s Jack the Ripper magically transported through space and time – as long as he has a cigarette.
He approaches his only port in a storm, thankful it’s only a metaphorical storm and not another actual snowstorm like the weatherpeople were predicting.
And the fact that the guy is hot in that I-want-him-to-shove-me-against-the-wall-a
Xander takes courage from his racing heart and grabs onto his port (ignoring his very lame metaphor). “Lovely balmy night, isn’t it?”
The guy lifts an eyebrow – a scarred eyebrow like those guys back home who hung out at the local tavern, got drunk and picked fights (the other main form of entertainment in Thunder Bay). But on this guy, the scar just makes him hotter and makes Xander a little weak in the knees. “’S cold, there’s snow.”
“Please.” Xander waves a hand in probably the feyest gesture he’s ever made. “This isn’t snow, it’s slush. My dad has pictures of me standing on snow piles taller than I am. Now that was snow.”
“It’s white, it’s wet. It’s snow,” the guy says as if this ends it all.
Xander decides to humour him. Maybe it’s his first winter here or something. He’s not sure if they get snow in England. And besides, his need for nicotine is reaching the dangerous level where he’s about to tackle this stranger and grab his cigarettes. Come to think of it, Xander wouldn’t mind tackling him anyway… and then Xander realizes he’s being stared at. “What?” he asks in his best defensive loser tone, it’s something he’s inadvertently perfected.
“You alright?” The you crazy guy is implied. But Xander makes contact with clear blue eyes and there’s genuine concern in them.
Which is what gets to Xander and what he blames for letting loose his list of worries and woes and he covers everything from lame-ass Greg to the shit room to Angel, not even bothering to sugar coat it in case the guy’s really into Angel.
It’s probably only about ten minutes later but it feels like he’s been talking for an hour when he finally stops for breath. “Here.” Xander takes the offered cigarette. “Name’s Spike.”
He leans over the proffered lighter and steps back on an icy smooth exhale. “Xander. And I cannot even begin to thank you.”
“Sure I can think of something,” Spike says with a wicked grin that has exactly the effect on Xander that he suspects Spike was going for. “But you’re gonna have more to thank me for in a sec.”
“Huh?” Xander’s never been eloquent when hormones are involved.
“Got a solution to your roommate thing. I need a place. Been crashing with an ex and the sooner I leave the better.”
Xander blinks as his brain tries to process. It’s like turning the crank on an old car until the engine starts up – it can take a while. “Oh! That would be great.” Great? Great? his brain echoes back at him.
“So, roomies?” Spike inhales and stares across the street at the prostitutes working the corner in their faux fur coats.
At this moment, Xander’s brain helpfully reminds him that sharing an apartment with a guy he’s hot for? Not the best idea. In fact, on the list of bad ideas, it would be right between invading Russia in the winter and the Clapper.
And that’s without factoring in the possibly that Spike’s dating Xander’s ex.
Oh yeah, this is a very bad idea. Maybe not quite Napoleon bad, but still bad.
“Roomies!” Xander declares with a smile. That thing about his brain not being connected to his mouth? Further proof.
But right now, he’s too desperate for help with rent to bother worrying about details.
When Spike offers him another cigarette he accepts. At this point, smoking’s the only thing that makes sense.
More sense than moving in with someone one step up from random guy off the street.
Or is that a step down?
It’s gonna be a long cold winter.
“Bundle up out there! It’s shaping up to be the longest and coldest winter in Canadian history,” the Citytv weatherman chirps – as if this is the news viewers have been waiting to hear.
Xander groans and sinks down further in the couch. He renounces any and all nostalgia for Thunder Bay’s winters, and longs for the return of the usual Toronto ‘winter’ – with the wet slush puddles that grow and grow until you can’t jump over them and have to choose which pant leg you want to immerse in cold water just to reach the sidewalk.
Because ice puddles? Way less fun. Also more dangerous and not conducive to jumping. Xander’s already fallen twice this week. His ass is sore, and not for any fun reasons thanks to his dry spell.
Ironically Toronto’s not having a dry spell.
It is sorta funny to watch City Hall flail around trying to deal with the continual massive snow falls. As long as they don’t call the army in – no one in Toronto wants to be the laughing stock of Canada. Again.
Besides everyone’s gotten used to trudging through uncleared sidewalks and roads.
“Whoever coined ‘Global Warming’ should be shot,” he tells Spike who’s just planted himself on the couch and is currently yanking most of the blanket off Xander and onto himself. “And hey!” He reclaims some blanket.
“Don’t you leave for work now?” Spike asks, with a tug on the coveted source of extra warmth.
“I still have two more minutes and I want to spend them under a blanket.”
He doesn’t have to look to know Spike is rolling his eyes. “What’d you mean about shooting someone? ‘M not opposed, just curious.”
“Earlier the weatherman was saying Global Warming is the cause of this winter. Which is in no way warm. I tell you, it’s false advertising.”
“You’re not wrong.” Spike’s hand slides over and steals the remote before Xander can blink, switches to some show that looks suspiciously like a soap opera. “Tell you what – you find the tosser who named it and we’ll go Thelma and Louise on their ass.”
“Thelma and Louise?” Xander gapes.
Spike waves a hand. “Butch and Sundance, then, whatever suits your fancy.”
“How about a duo that doesn’t die. Don’t I get an option C?”
Spike sighs and shakes his head. “Go to work. Horny men are counting on your cleaning skills.”
Xander stands up reluctantly. Spike’s already fully cocooned in the blanket. “Well don’t forget to get them good and liquored up first.”
Spike turns up the volume and waves him away.
It’s rewarding to know they provide such valuable services to the community. They’re like one step up from pimps.
Or possibly a step down since they make less and have no bling.
At least Spike gets tips.
Ah, the glamourous gay lifestyle.
“No.” Oz bites into his grilled cheese.
Xander dips his sandwich in ketchup. “But don’t you think –?”
Oz swallows hastily before delivering a second, more emphatic, “No. No sex with roommates.”
“It’s a line you just don’t cross.” Buffy points her fork at Xander. “How else can you ask them to not leave their wet towels on the floor?”
“He already does that,” Xander mumbles, smooshing his sandwich into the ketchup. “Even after I asked him not to.”
Buffy rolls her eyes. “That was just an example. You know what I mean. Things will just get awkward.”
“But he’s so hot. Is it really fair to deny me so much hotness? And now that it’s been a month of living under the same roof, I’ve gotten to know him and I think there’s actually a decent guy under that tough retro-punk exterior.”
He tries his best puppy eyes on his friends. Oz shakes his head
“Sure he’s hot,” Buffy says. “Even I think so and he’s totally not my type. Give me tall, dark and handsome anytime.”
“Cliché,” Xander coughs.
She holds up her hand. “Don’t fake cough me. Cliché is you and your I-know-he-looks-tough-on-the-outside-but-h
Xander has no comeback
“And don’t try and distract me, mister.” Buffy points a finger at him. “Here’s the thing: a good roommate is hard to find, but hot boys? You live and work in a very big pool that has lots of hot fish, um, I mean hot boys, men, whatever. You know what I mean, right?”
He really does.
Buffy steals one of his fries, sealing her victory.
If a good roommate is hard to find, a perfect one is impossible.
And Spike? Far, far from perfect.
His towels continue to take up residence on the floor, ambushing Xander’s unsuspecting feet when he stumbles into the washroom still irrationally angry at his alarm.
For some reason Spike always uses Xander’s toothpaste and shampoo despite having arrived with his own.
He never replaces them.
Same with the toilet paper.
Xander learned the hard way to always ensure they’re well-stocked.
Same with milk and cereal, which they go through faster than those six months when Xander and his sister were living on cereal while their dad checked out after their mom’s death.
Xander puts the kibosh on his maudlin memories, and focuses back on his latest annoyance: the kitchen sink. Or what he thinks is the kitchen sink, since he can’t actually see it.
But what he can see is a beer dangling in front of him like a carrot in front of a rabbit. “Beer?” Spike offers.
Xander accepts. And adds a point in the good roommate column. They’re always stocked with beer. And beer makes Xander a happy rabbit.
“Trailer Park Boys marathon. You in?”
Plus, Spike always seems to know when there’s good TV on.
“You know I am. Looking forward to J-Roc.” Xander grabs a bag of chips and follows him into the living room. “You know, I still can’t get over that the Street Cents and Jonovision guy is doing a whole faux Eminem thing. It boggles the mind, I tell you.”
Spike raises his sexy eyebrow (Xander’s inappropriate designation for the scarred one). “Yeah. Mind boggling.”
Xander ignores the sarcasm, he’s gotten good at it. And, to be honest, he doesn’t mind Spike mocking him. Oh yeah, there’s definitely something wrong with him.
But at least he has a roommate who pays his rent on time and is fun to hang out with.
Who wants a perfect roommate anyway?
“You have plans for tomorrow?” Spike calls from his bedroom. He’s sitting on his bed, leaning against the wall and strumming his guitar.
Xander stops, laundry basket in hand, and thinks. “Tomorrow’s Tuesday, so there’s work.”
Spike sits up and puts the guitar aside. “You do know tomorrow’s Christmas, mate?”
“Oh yeah.” Xander can’t believe he’d forgotten about Christmas. The advertisers would be so disappointed. “That means time and half!”
Spike tilts his head and gives Xander the You’re mental look. Xander’s becoming a connoisseur of Spike’s looks.
He puts the laundry down and joins Spike on his bed. “What?”
“You’re working Christmas? Even I’m not.”
“Guess Woody’s likes its employees – whereas Club Toronto? All about making money off the lonely horny gay men on Christmas.” He shrugs. “But, hey, I’m always up for the extra money. Not like I do much on Christmas anyway. Last year Oz and I went to a movie after work. Although this year he’s actually gone back to Oshawa to be with his family.”
Spike shakes his head. “Bad luck, mate.”
Xander picks up the guitar and turns it over in his hands, pretending to examine it. “Anyway, it’s just another day.”
They sit there for a few minutes, Xander staring at the guitar, Spike picking at his nail polish, until Xander finally leaves muttering something about his laundry.
It’s not until later when he’s lying awake watching the shadows of passing cars move across his ceiling, that Xander realizes he didn’t ask Spike if he had any plans.
Even eight hours of giving sad looking guys room keys and cleaning up after them hasn’t eased Xander’s guilt over Spike.
At least he sorta has a peace offering: leftover treats from work.
Although come to think of it, it’s not exactly a Christmas feast.
He stops at the Rabba on the way home to buy some fake champagne, wishing the liquor store weren’t closed. Alcohol, not shortbread, seems the way to Spike’s heart.
He walks through the quiet streets. Toronto actually feels peaceful right now, with everyone inside, their lights reflecting onto the snowy lawns and streets. A car passes him and even it seems hushed, less obnoxious than usual – like for once the occupants aren’t in a hurry and it shows.
The city in solemn stillness lies.
And it actually isn’t creepy.
It’s nice, and reminds Xander just how much he misses his mom.
Xander breathes a sigh of relief when he sees the light shining from underneath the apartment door. This is not the time for him to sit alone in the dark drinking non-alcoholic champagne and feeling sorry for himself. And now he doesn’t have to.
“Spike!” he calls, not bothering to hide his happiness. He’s not sure what room Spike’s in, every light seems to be on.
“Kitchen.” Spike responds.
But Xander doesn’t get there because he’s shocked into a standstill by the new addition to the living room.
A single string of big blue lights.
The fact that Spike – who seems like the antithesis of Christmas – hung lights would have Xander convinced that Spike’s gone round the bend. Except, he’s hung them so low and across the room that it’s like a demented limbo pole.
And then kitchen sinks in. Xander ducks under their random decoration and hurries into the kitchen to see Spike poking something round and black. The window’s open and the cold air has Xander shivering.
“Your oven killed the bird, Harris.”
There’s only one answer for a statement like that. “Huh?”
“The Dominion had no more turkeys so I got a chicken.” Spike nods to the former chicken. “I had it in the oven for an hour and this happened.”
“Did you have the oven on high?” Xander asks, a hunch coming to him.
“I guess.” Spike shrugs.
“Did you get that from one of those display cases that have other food, like potatoes?”
Spike pokes the very dead chicken again. “Yeah.”
“You do know those are precooked, right?”
“Pre… oh, bloody hell.”
Xander puts a hand over his mouth but it doesn’t help, the laughter escapes. Spike shoots him a glare that under any circumstances would have Xander totally scared and totally horny. But right now, all he can do is laugh.
When he collapses into the kitchen chair, clutching his side, he manages to notice that Spike has started to smile.
“Guess I bollocksed that up.” Spike pulls out the other chair and flops into it.
“I don’t…know what… that means but… yeah,” Xander manages between peals of laugher. “That’s one cooked bird.”
He takes a deep calming breath and leans over, placing a hand on Spike’s shoulder. “Chicken was a nice thought, though.”
Spike shifts away, pulls out his lighter and starts flicking it open and closed. “Not nice. Was hungry and bored is all.”
Xander pats his shoulder. “I know.”
Spike pulls out two cigarettes, lights them both and hands one to Xander. “Merry fucking Christmas, mate.”
Xander snorts, causing smoke to go up his nose and resulting in a very inelegant coughing fit. Spike pats him on the back.
“Oh!” Xander jumps up. “I have food! Okay, so it’s not turkey or chicken or stuffing, but who cares about that when you have...” He pulls Spike out into the hall. “A huge tin of cookies and pumpkin pie. What more could two guys ask for?”
“You’ve done good, kid,” Spike says adopting some weird American accent and slinging an arm around Xander’s shoulder. But the contact has him forgetting all about the kid nonsense.
They spend the rest of the night polishing off half the tin and the whole pie while watching and mocking The Sound of Music.
Spike conveniently absorbs himself experimenting with mixing fake champagne and beer so Xander feels free to let a couple of tears flow during “Edelweiss.”
It’s a good night.
The thing about having Spike as a roommate is he’s kinda unpredictable. You never know if you’ll come home to find him yelling advice at a teen soap character or lying on the floor stoned out his mind watching his hand move back and forth in front of his face.
Always entertaining and always around.
Except now he’s not.
Xander hasn’t seen Spike since their impromptu Christmas celebration two weeks ago.
He sees evidence of Spike: cigarette butts, empty beer bottles, wet towels. But no Spike.
The blue lights remain, guaranteed to cause stumbling and/or flailing on a daily basis and serving as a constant reminder of their architect’s absence.
Xander finds he doesn’t just miss being able to lust after the hot guy who’s sitting right beside him. He misses Spike.
When he shares this with Oz, there’s an even longer silence than usual. Xander literally bites his tongue because he’s pretty sure Oz is deep in thought.
He decides his burger will be tastier and bites into that while waiting for Oz to reveal one of his brilliant insights.
Oz takes a sip of his Coke. “Maybe he’s busy.”
“What? Busy? You’re supposed to help me! That’s all you can come up with? A five-year-old could have figured that one out, what with New Year’s being big money night for bartenders and all. Okay, maybe not a five-year-old with the whole not being allowed in bars thing, but still.”
Oz pushes his straw around the glass and Xander starts to get suspicious.
“What?” he asks, abandoning his burger.
“What?” Oz straightens his fork and knife.
“There’s something you don’t want to tell me, isn’t there?”
Oz sighs and removes his hands from the table. “You won’t like it.”
“Hey, I’m not a ‘shoot the messenger’ kind of guy. I’m more about hugging the messenger.” Xander gives Oz what he hopes is a charming grin. “Lay it on me.”
Oz rolls his eyes but smiles. “He’s seeing someone.”
This is the perfect ‘D’oh’ moment but Xander goes for the hitting his head on the table option instead. Okay, he only pretends to hit his head but it still feels like the right reaction because, “I’m an idiot.”
“No, you’re…” Xander lifts his head raises both eyebrows at Oz (he’s never been able to master the one eyebrow lift). “You want to be with him. Of course you didn’t think there was anyone else.”
“I do. I so do. And now I’m the lamest gay guy ever. It’s been like three months since I had sex. The other day? I heard Ben talking about a week being a long time. A week? Do you know how many weeks there are in a month?” Fortunately, Oz chooses to take that as rhetorical. Xander takes a breath. “And why? Because I can’t get up the courage to put the moves on a totally hot guy I see every freakin’ day. Sure the whole ‘don’t have sex with your roommate’ rule was a factor, but only for like a week. My hormones vetoed my brain.”
Oz pushes his soda across the table to Xander and he takes a refreshing gulp of syrupy sugary goodness.
“Why couldn’t my stupid hormones be less with the whiny and more with the proactive?” And this time, Xander does let his head thunk onto the table.
It’s actually not bad to sit there with his face pressed into the sticky surface of a fake wood-grained table. It reminds him of elementary school when teachers would make him have a time-out. He always liked time-outs – you never had to worry about having the wrong answer.
Xander’s a full five minutes into his self-imposed time-out when Oz breaks into his oddly nostalgia-filled breakdown.
“It’s not too late, you know.”
And time-out is officially over. Xander yanks his head up so fast, he’s relieved he doesn’t get whip lash. “Really?”
Oz has that Oh Xander, must I spell it out for you? look on his face.
Duh, Xander flashes back.
“Makes a move. So what if he’s seeing someone? Could be non-monogamous or just friendly fucking.”
“You’re so smart!” If only they’d taught Gay Dating and Sex Tips in school. That’s a class Xander would have stayed awake for.
Oz leans over and grabs the soda back, taking a drink. Even though his head is down, Xander catches a hint of red on Oz’s cheeks.
“You know,” Xander says, holding up a now luke-warm French Fry, “I don’t even think I’d ever heard the words ‘non-monogamous’ before moving here – let alone knew what it meant.”
“Toronto’s an educational city.”
“Right you are, my friend, right you are.” He takes a huge bite of his burger and savours how well grease goes with meat.
If only Spike and him were as easy as grease and meat.
And that’s probably not an analogy he should share.
Not exactly poetic, even to a guy like Spike.
Fortified by food and encouragement, Xander swings open the apartment door ready to woo Spike over.
Note to self: never use the word ‘woo’ again.
But to woo or not to woo really isn’t the question.
The question is whose pair of boots are those sitting beside Spike’s, taking over Xander’s half of the shoe mat?
Xander glares at the interlopers as he yanks off his own boots and dumps them on top of an old Now. He takes a breath and walks into the living room. Which is empty.
And somehow, that’s not at all reassuring.
Food. Food is what Xander needs. Xander can say with certainty that food has always been there for him when no one else was.
But who, Xander might ask, was there for him when food was not?
Nobody. That’s who.
Especially not the whos that Xander finds when he walks into the kitchen. They may be there, but they aren’t there for him.
If Xander had had to come up with one who who he would’ve said was the worst who who Spike could possibly have had over, it would definitely have been this who.
“Angel.” Xander pulls himself out of his not-quite-Dr. Seuss-level thoughts to manage his ex’s name.
Angel nods. “Xander.”
Well, at least they still know each other’s names.
“Hey.” Spike’s leaning back in his chair, the picture of casual and cool, like this isn’t a big deal and Xander isn’t standing there staring at them like some kid on his first visit to the zoo.
“Hey?” Xander repeats. “Hey?”
Spike frowns and shrugs. Angel shifts in his chair.
Xander burns with good old-fashioned rage. “Here I don’t even see you for weeks and then when you finally waltz in, you’re waltzing with the guy who’d be my personal pick for People’s Most Unwanted Man.”
“Uh, love, don’t you think –” Spike starts.
“Love? Love?” Apparently rage makes Xander repeato guy. “Don’t even try to sweet talk me. I’m mad and I’m staying that way.”
Angel stands up, but doesn’t approach Xander. “I feel really bad about this.”
Angel takes a step forward and reaches out like he’s going to touch Xander’s arm, but quickly pulls it to his side instead. “I’m really sorry for, um, you know, what happened with us.” He looks down. “You were right to say I was an asshole. But I’ve changed.” He looks up and meets Xander’s eyes. “I’m not that guy anymore.”
Xander rolls his eyes. Spike sighs and takes a very long drink of beer
“It’s okay,” Angel continues. “You don’t need to forgive me, or even believe me. I just wanted to apologize.”
It turns out that apologies create those long awkward silences that Xander’s had more experience reading about than experiencing and he’s kinda wishing that he wasn’t getting the real thing.
During this time Angel sits down, Spike lights up and Xander opens the fridge door.
And the silence continues.
But Xander’s not good with silences. Or with forgiveness – his best friend in elementary school, who he ignored for two months for trashing his bike, can attest to this.
In situations like this you might as well play to your strengths.
He harnesses his rage (which may bear some slight resemblance to his pent-up sexual frustration) and turns on Angel. “You know what? It’s great that you’re a new and better person and all, but I kinda needed that new and better guy three years ago – you know, back when I was nineteen and just coming out? Right now, though? Pretty much moved on.”
Angel opens his mouth, then closes it, looking enough like a fish to normally make Xander laugh, but he’s still busy with the righteous anger. Even if he has no claim on the righteous anymore.
“You, though!” Xander points at Spike. “I can’t believe you’d do this to me!” It’s possible he’s yelling. It’s also possible he doesn’t care. “You avoid me for weeks and then finally reappear parading around some guy I hate and who you know will make me jealous as hell.” He paces, slams the fridge door and paces to the wall then back again, meets Spike’s very wide eyes. “What the fuck are you playing at?”
Xander thinks he may have veered off rational a few exits back. But, hey, irrational now. Helps with the whole not caring.
The sound of Spike’s chair legs hitting the floor rings through the now all too silent room.
Spike stands up. “Listen Harris…” He looks down at his boots and kicks at the table leg.
“Wow, your poetic prose just bowled me over there.” But Xander’s not up for listening, even if Spike were actually talking. He throws a hand in the air, embracing the inner drama queen. “Whatever.”
And with that last brilliant witticism, he leaves.
A slam of his bedroom door completes the jealous-bitch-with-no-right-to-be temper tantrum.
A knock comes on that door. Xander’s still lying on the bed where he flopped himself ten minutes ago. Or was it thirty? Xander’s mastered not caring.
He doesn’t move.
Through his emo haze he hears a sigh and, “Fine. Be that way.”
Xander’s glad he doesn’t have a small bladder.
Because he’s never leaving his room again.
“Just ten more,” Buffy barks. ”You can do it!”
Xander groans and grips the barbell tighter, willing himself to make it through.
“Good job,” Buffy barks (in a slightly less scary tone) when he collapses.
“You’re a sadist, you know that?” Xander gasps for air, secretly triumphant at his success.
Buffy snorts. “Guess that makes you a masochist. You came to me.”
“Got me there.” He stands up and wipes his face with a towel.
He’s communing with his water bottle – he’d forgotten just how good water tastes – when Buffy corners him. “So how’s the post-confession avoidance going?”
“Wha–” Xander chokes on his water and coughs. Buffy hits him on the back – hard. “Ow! And how?” His brain catches up. “Oz.”
“Our lives are boring.” She shrugs. “We need something to entertain us.”
“Happy to oblige. Maybe I should start a blog ‘How Not To Score Guys dot com.’”
“I’ve got post number one for you: Avoid the guy.”
“Has anyone ever told you that you’re subtle?”
Buffy gives a little bow. “It’s a skill.”
Xander grins. “And to answer your question: very well. I think I have a future in roommate avoidance. It helps to have a long history of saying embarrassing things.”
“You know…” Buffy taps a finger to her lips. “What you said isn’t embarrassing.”
“Really?” Xander feels his face get red. “Did Oz forget to mention the yelling? And the lashing out? Trust me – not my prettiest hour.”
“You did out-drama both her Majesty the Queen and Queen. And you can’t even claim annus horribilis – it’s been done.”
“The Queen, dramatic? Really?”
“She lives in a castle.” Buffy gives Xander her don’t argue with me face, then stoops down to retie her shoelace. “Anyway, before continuing I want it noted that I am still against the whole roommate relationship thing. But putting that aside, my point is that it was good to tell Spike you’re interested.” She stands up. “Now maybe you should, you know, try it without the yelling.”
“Easier said than done.” He shakes his head. “Especially if you’re a big spazz like me.”
“You’re not a spazz – you’re more an effusive hot-head.”
“Oh thanks! I feel loads better.”
Buffy wraps an arm around his waist. “What are friends for?”
As part of his complex avoiding Spike plan, Xander stops for a coffee and bagel before work. Okay, not so much complex as it is simple: avoid home at all costs.
Which is why he’s squeezing past the fifty-somethings in their Goodwill coats doing their usual coffee drinking, smoking and gossiping to get into the Country Style.
They’re like an episode of Queer as Folk, only less articulate and way less sexy.
Food and almost-as-good-as-a-Tim-Hortons-double-d
Everyone’s flailing around, trying not to fall.
Plus, winter’s the great leveler. You can’t tell how hot anyone is when everyone’s all bundled up in huge winter coats with scarves covering half their faces and toques covering the rest.
Xander can wipe his nose on his mittens and no one will recognize him.
Doing it in front of your work? Not very stealthy.
And then his stomach sinks like the Titanic when he recognizes the voice.
He can run but he can’t hide, and he might as well face the music before he uses another cliché.
He turns around and it feels like he’s seeing Spike for the first time. Like how did he never notice those sharper-than-the-wind cheekbones and how clear those blue eyes are and… Xander stops himself before he resorts to things like ‘swoon’ and ‘devilishly handsome.’ He decides to go with, “Spike,” ’cause he doesn’t know what else to say.
“Now who’s avoiding who?” Spike asks with a half-smile.
“This is where I work, I’m not avoiding any – hey! So you were avoiding me.”
Spike shrugs and holds up his smokes. “Got a couple minutes?”
As peace offerings go – god, Xander hopes it’s a peace offering – it’s exactly what he needs.
They end up standing in the same place they were standing when they agreed to be roommates and Xander really hopes that this isn’t a full circle thing. The overflowing dumpster a few feet away isn’t exactly adding a positive vibe – or smell – to the atmosphere.
Spike lights up his cigarette, closes his eyes as he inhales. Xander’s about to ask for a drag – or his own – but then Spike opens those eyes and they lock with Xander’s and his brain shuts down.
A nervous smile flickers over Xander’s face as Spike continues to stare with an intensity never before directed at Xander Harris. And then Spike’s hands are on his jacket, pulling him closer, and Spike’s lips may be cold but so are Xander’s and Spike’s breath is warm and there’s a hint of cigarette that is harsh and sweet at the same time and it tastes good.
This is the peace offering Xander didn’t dare dream about.
Spike presses closer and Xander’s heart beats so strong he’s sure Spike can feel it even through all the layers of leather, down and wool between them,
They pull apart, but not that far. Spike’s warm breath brushes against Xander’s cheeks and lips. He realizes he’s gripping Spike’s coat and doesn’t let go.
“Don’t stop,” he blurts out.
Spike chuckles. “Don’t you have work?”
“It’s okay. I’ll be there when you get home.” Spike brushes their lips together again and then pushes Xander toward the door.
Xander’s keys are out but he doesn’t put one in the lock. His hand is on the doorknob but he doesn’t twist his wrist. Instead he stares at the plain white door with the numbers 1001 stuck on it as if it holds the secrets to life, the universe and everything – or at least how they get the caramel in the Cararmilk bars.
He should be rushing through that door, ready to claim his prize, confident that the guy inside wants him.
Instead he’s stuck on the wrong side of it while butterflies do a jitterbug in his stomach.
He takes a deep calming breath, tries to fit the key into the lock and drops it. Oh yeah, this is promising. Visions of sexual failure dance in his head.
The key goes in fine the second time, except the door swings open before he can actually do the unlocking thing.
“Thought I heard someone.” Spike sounds casual but he’s shifting his weight from foot to foot and not quite meeting Xander’s eyes.
Somehow this gives Xander courage, well, enough courage to not be a complete idiot and just stand here. “Key trouble. You know how it goes.”
“Er, yeah.” Spike stands aside to let him in.
As Xander unbundles, Spike continues to do his best impression of Xander’s patented I’m-totally-comfortable-here-and-not-at-a
But it does give Xander more courage.
The courage to place a hand on Spike’s shoulder, lean forward and kiss him. Nothing intense, just a ‘hello’ which he finishes with a redundant, “Hey.”
“Hey.” Spike stops the shifting. “Beer?”
“Sure.” Liquid courage sounds good about now, Xander’s courage tends to be a little unreliable.
But the problem with the beer is that they automatically slip into their old routine of not having sex and suddenly they’re engrossed in a rerun of That ‘70s Show. Well, Xander’s not engrossed at all but he’s pretty sure it would appear that he is, what with his intent staring as Eric and Donna argue.
“That Donna chick’s not half bad,” Spike says, holding up his bottle and eyeing how much remains. “I’d shag her.”
Xander tilts his head, considers. “She is hot. But I don’t know, I’d rather do Hyde.”
Spike turns and smirks at him. “’Course you would.”
That brings Xander’s courage back, along with a jolt of hormones. He strikes while the iron is hot – and doesn’t bother to decide if that’s a lame double entendre or just plain lame because he’s way more focused on leaning over and kissing Spike.
It’s not just a ‘hello’ this time.
And Spike’s definitely doing his part to extend the conversation.
Clearly the jolt affects his coordination because his elbow slips from where he’d propped himself up on the couch and he lands on top of Spike with an “umph.” The move may not be sexy but the results are, leaving them pressed together in very promising places.
But if there’s one thing that’s reliable about Xander it’s his ability to ruin a moment. “So what happened to you after Christmas?”
They’re so close he can see the individual hairs of Spike’s eyebrow lift. “You want to talk about that now?”
“Yes.” But it sinks in that he’s on top of Spike and that it feels really good and he doesn’t want to move, unless it’s to remove clothing. “Did I just say that? No! No talking now.”
And he makes that official by officially shutting up and making with the kissing.
It’s all hot, desperate kisses and fumbling underneath clothing. It makes him feel like a teenager again, about to get caught by dad but now he doesn’t have to worry about anyone walking in on him. All the fun, none of the worry and way hotter than he remembers it being.
When Spike starts paying special attention to Xander’s neck, biting him just hard enough that it’s just right, the couch starts to feel too small.
“Let’s…” Xander gasps. “Bedroom.”
Spike nods and lets himself be pulled to his feet. On the way to their objective they get distracted by kissing and groping against walls and doorframes. When they stumble over their boots, Xander uses the momentum to push Spike against the door, grinds against him while biting down on the skin right at the base of his throat.
“Fuck!” Spike’s the one gasping now, eyes open, face flushed. “Bedroom. Now.”
Xander’s good with now. He’s all about the now.
They end up in Spike’s room – it’s at least two meters closer – and Xander shoves Spike on the bed then climbs on top of him, yanking his own shirt over his head.
“Gonna fuck me?” Spike asks, voice low and hands busy undoing Xander’s fly.
“Mmmhmm.” He’s nodding and biting his lip to keep from coming especially now that Spike’s fingers have wrapped around his dick.
He closes his eyes and breathes.
The good feeling on his dick stops. “Well?” Spike sounds annoyed but Xander catches the edge of desperation. He bites his lip again.
“Sorry, just taking in the moment.”
“Plenty of time to stop and smell the roses after.” Spike leans over the side of the bed and returns with a couple of condoms and lube.
The reality of it all makes Xander a man of action and he’s stripped and ready faster than he’s ever been ready in his life. Spike’s ready too: lying back, naked, with his hands propped behind his head and a smile that says he knows exactly how fuckable he looks right now. “Ready?”
Ready? Oh yeah, if there was something more than ready, that’d be Xander.
There’s some jittering with the lube and condom but the smile doesn’t leave Spike’s face. And when Xander reenacts the key incident, it’s not the end of the world. Probably because he’s staring into Spike’s eyes and listening to him say, “It’s okay,” in a rough and sexy but somehow gentle voice.
And it is okay. Especially because he slides in easily on his second attempt and now that he’s unlocked the door, he is so ready to start exploring.
This is the last coherent thought before Xander’s brain goes offline. He’s not sure how long it stays that way because he’s not timing.
He’s a little distracted.
The upside of sleeping with your roommate is that you don’t have to go home in the morning and you already have a toothbrush handy.
The downside is that you can’t use your lack of toothbrush as an excuse to go home in the morning.
Not that Xander is unhappy lying here draped over Spike. It’s just that the morning after’s a good time to reflect. Alone.
And not that Xander’s big on the reflection per se. It’s just the post-sex tactic he developed post-Angel: get some distance so he doesn’t get all heart-broken like some girl in an after-school special every time a guy sleeps with him and never calls. ’Cause gay guys? Very big on the fucking you and moving on. Not in a malicious way, just more of a we-got–our-ends-away-had-fun-and-now-it’s-t
But gay flow and Spike are very unmixy. It’s discombobulating but also… nice.
Nice is of course the wrong word to describe Spike or their sex, but somehow it still feels right.
He realizes Spike is looking at him. By the frown on his face, Xander worries that Spike has some hitherto hidden Jedi mind-reading ability. So he’s not expecting Spike to say, “I’m a jerk.”
“Uh, come again?” It did feel like he fucked his brain out last night, maybe it actually happened.
Spike sighs and rolls on his back. “Jerk. Me.” He lights two cigarettes and passes one to Xander. He takes a couple of deep inhales and exhales. “Was using Angel to make you jealous. See if you were into me.” He offers Xander an ashtray and ashes into it himself before returning it to the bedside table. “Was playing fucking games. It was stupid.”
Xander starts to laugh. He doesn’t mean to. He means to say something meaningful or some crap like that but all he can do is laugh and laugh. He does gasp out an incredulous, “I was right.”
“Guess you were. So…” Spike rolls on his side and peers at Xander. “I take it you’re not mad then?”
He swallows a laugh that’s bubbling up. “I was mad. Remember the yelling and door slamming?”
Spike nods. “Fun times.”
Xander rolls over to face Spike. He wants to just kiss Spike but figures since they’re doing the talking thing, he should finish that before they get to the kissing thing. “I’ve got a deal for you: you forget about me being an idiot and I’ll forget about you being one.”
Spike exhales a breath of smoke and warmth, plucks Xander’s cigarette from his mouth and deposits both their smokes in the ashtray. “Deal.”
They seal it with a kiss.
Dating-slash-sleeping-with his roommate turns out not to be the disaster Buffy and Oz predicted.
Spike still leaves his wet towels on the floor but Xander’s learned to avoid their stealth attacks on his feet.
He’s also learned other stuff about Spike. Like how he lived longer in London, Ontario than he did in London, England but when he tells people he’s from London, he lets them assume it’s the cooler one. Xander understands.
Or like how Spike wants to be in a band but refuses to show anyone his lyrics because he says they’re shit. Xander’s sure they’re brilliant.
And then there are all the weird little details. Like how he has to have his steaks rare but his burgers well done, prefers chunky to creamy peanut butter, never puts the cap back on the toothpaste but always leaves the seat down on the toilet – when asked he’d muttered something about his mum.
Xander’s boggles when Spike admits he’s creeped out by Frosted Mini Wheats. “Don’t you think it’s suspicious that the frosting’s only on one side?”
His favourite is that they share a love for the same pizza: the Bacon Double Cheeseburger. It’s perfect for those nights when neither of them wants to cook, which to be fair is basically every night. But tonight? When they’ve both had to walk home in minus forty Celsius? Definitely a pizza night.
He cracks the lid far enough to sniff the tantalizing aroma of ground beef, bacon and four cheese, then quickly slams it shut so as not to let any more cold into the box. He stumbles home over the icy snow fantasizing about double-cheeseburger goodness.
It occurs to Xander that it’s weird to fantasize about food more than sex. But, hey, still a guy here. Being gay didn’t take away his appetite or love of food. Thank god for the gym. And Buffy.
And the way Spike takes the pizza box from his outstretched arms speaks of his shared reverence for food. It’s why they’re good together.
Well, there’s the sex too. It’s good. Very good. And fun. Oh yeah, and damn hot.
But when you’re tired from the sex, or just plain tired, you gotta have something else. They have pizza.
“Who got booted from Top Model?” Xander asks around a mouthful of pizza he’s trying to inhale.
Spike shakes a head at Xander’s vacuum imitation. “The annoying one.”
“They’re all annoying.” He gulps some soda, and burps. He doesn’t know why Spike isn’t jumping him right now – he’s sex personified. “Why do we watch this?”
“It’s on before One Tree Hill,” Spike says as if that settles it.
And it kinda does. Besides Xander’s pretty sure he could watch Men in Trees with Spike and still have a blast.
Sometimes Xander wonders if he should be deeper and think more about where he’s going with his life and what it all means. But then he gets bored thinking about thinking about it.
Besides he’s happiest just hanging out with Spike even if they’re doing nothing.
If there was a way to get paid for just hanging out, Xander would make a fortune. Not that he knows what he’d do with a lot of money. Well, besides quit his job, order a lot of take-out and hang out with Spike watching a lot of television and movies and having hot sex in between. Or sometimes during.
He’s a simple guy, with simple dreams.
Which is good, ’cause that means he can actually live them out.
Now that they’re full from pizza, and Spike’s head is on Xander’s chest, both of them underneath the blanket, he remembers the best thing he’s learned about Spike (well, more from Spike): That it’s even warmer and better when they’re lying on each other with the blanket covering them both.
The cuddling – not that Spike would ever admit to cuddling and Xander would never call it that out loud – actually has Xander happy that Wiarton Willie saw his shadow this year.
Bring on more winter, he can handle the cold.
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