Rating: R for language and violence
Word Count: 1690
Feedback: Oxygen to the flame. Concrit also highly welcome via email.
Disclaimer: Characters not mine. Full disclaimer here.
Written for vichan in the Xander round of
Request found after the fic.
Beta'd by cordelianne and madame_meretrix, to whom many thanks and hugs are due.
Xander gasped when he saw it.
Okay, that settled it. The newest comic book shop to open in Sunnydale had to have demonic connections. There was no other way to explain how they’d gotten hold of a mint condition 1966 edition of Batman: Catwoman’s Catnapping Caper.
“Spike – ” he tried to say, but the awe rendered it somewhat garbled. He swallowed, tried again. “Spike. Look. At. This.”
Spike shot a final glare at the teenagers gawping at him from the far aisle, and stalked over to where Xander was gazing raptly through the glass. He looked down. Looked up at Xander. Sighed.
“Right. And how many Xbox games are we not going to buy, to sponsor this little indiscretion?”
Xander gulped. “No price listed. I could probably buy a small country for the same cost, or pay for a nice date with Anya. If, you know, I was still dating her.”
“I don’t get it, pet.”
“It’s rare to find one of these at all, especially in this good shape…”
“Not that,” Spike shrugged dismissively. “Dunno why you find it so fascinating. You pal around with the Slayer and the scariest witch this side of Oz. You and your mates’ve taken on demons, vampires, golems and the occasional god. How exactly do superhero comics add meaning to your existence?”
Xander blinked, clearly at a loss. “I, uh…” He trailed off.
Spike tucked his thumbs through his belt loops and leant back against the counter, wearing an annoyingly expectant expression.
“Escapism? Parody?” Xander finally offered.
“Not buyin’ it.”
“You don’t even know what it costs! And I’m buying it.”
Spike snorted. “Your explanation, you moron.” He swung round, elbows on the glass counter, face right up against Xander’s. His tone dropped, coaxing and honestly interested. “Why do you like them so much, pet?”
Xander was spared from answering when the storeroom door opened and the proprietor emerged. He didn’t look particularly demonic; he looked like a fragile, harmless old man. By now, though, Xander knew enough not to certify him as human without a good look at his tongue, fingernails, pupils, ears, blood, X-rays, and what happened if you punched him.
He leaned forward, trying to look casual. “Nice place. Haven’t been in here since your Grand Opening. I like what you’ve done with it!”
The old man smiled, nodding repeatedly. “Glad you like. Tell your friends! Best selection. Good prices.”
“Er, yeah. Speaking of prices,” Xander scratched his ear casually, “how much is that one there?”
“Five hundred dollars? Five hundred? Are you crazy?”
“Is good condition. Very rare item. Best selection.”
“Rare, fine, but that’s way more than it’s valued at! You ask that kind of money, the kind of guy who’s going to buy it, he’s only interested in it for its price! He won’t appreciate the finer points of the Batman mystique.” He frowned. “This store should cater to comic lovers. That’s what your sign says. Those of us who may not have loads of cash, but love comics. Not collectors, who just want something they can brag about and later, make money off...”
Xander gradually became aware that the proprietor wasn’t paying attention to his speech of righteous indignation. Instead, his spectacled gaze was fixed on the door behind Xander, and his left hand was slowly creeping under the counter.
“…it’s price-gouging, of the vulnerable, and I…” He trailed off. Licked his lips. “Spike? I’m not gonna like what’s behind me, am I?”
“Kevrass m’jelnyak aphth valkem!” rumbled a gravelly bass voice.
“Phthim hyelk!” the proprietor spat.
Spike grabbed Xander and threw him behind a rack of Dark Horse comics, diving after him.
“Nihlathak k’yim rusba’ar,” the bulky figure in the doorway growled, raising something that looked like a cross between a sawed-off shotgun and a rocket launcher. Xander peered out around the end of the rack and flinched. There were three other bulky figures behind him, and Xander didn’t need to check their tongues to know they weren’t human.
“Nihlathak can go fuck himself,” the proprietor retorted. His left hand came up holding a throwing knife which embedded itself in the lower abdomen of one of the newcomers. The demon dropped instantly.
The leader roared, fired his contraption. The wispy proprietor shot out his right hand. There was a flash, several pings, and another one of the gang fell with a massive piece of shrapnel embedded in his chest. More bits hit the walls and ceiling. One of the glass cases shattered. A flying chunk of plaster struck Xander a glancing blow; he cursed and rolled into a ball.
Magic crackled as the leader strode forward. The proprietor deflected another shot upwards, but blue light was rising around him as the remaining goon gestured and chanted frantically. As the light closed over the proprietor’s head, the leader swept him over his shoulder and carted him out the door, spitting orders to his companion who raced after him.
Spike stood, brushing glass out of his hair. Xander uncurled and joined him, looking blankly at the door. “What the hell was that?”
“Had no idea the comics business was that competitive,” Spike agreed.
Then the ceiling fell in.
They staggered but kept their footing as the central roof collapsed, leaving a thin strip at the edges. Rubble caked the middle of the store. The sprinkler system in the remaining ceiling went off at full blast, creating a lovely rainbow effect in the sunlight pouring in. Xander stared, entranced. Pretty.
“Fuckin’ move, you idiot!” Spike’s words were muffled by the duster he’d yanked up over his head, but curls of smoke were beginning to swirl around his ankles. He elbowed Xander out of the way, racing for the back of the shop. Shouldering the storeroom door open blindly, he tripped over the sill and fell full-length inwards. Curses ensued, but the smoke was thinning.
Xander followed more sedately, wincing as he rubbed a graze on his forehead. “If you’re still on fire, stay away from the merchandise, okay? Some of this stuff is irreplaceable.”
Spike flipped him off, but began pacing around, tilting his head sideways to read the spines of the rows and rows of books shelved around the walls.
“Interesting selection. Doubt most of the Sunnydale citizenry can read Tchoi. Or Grelshnak. Wonder if he’s been smuggling from other dimensions? Might explain the Mafia dropping by.”
“These are demon comics?”
“Some of ‘em.” Spike continued his perusal. “Most of these are just translations of human ones, but there’re originals here too.”
“Huh.” Xander looked blank. “Demons have their own comic culture. Who knew?”
“Why not?” Spike abruptly straightened. “Humans! Think the whole fucking world revolves around you! Average demon gets on with life and doesn’t bother you lot. Leastways, not often, unless you get in the way.”
He shoved his hands in his pockets and glared. “Got our own lives. We’re not just defined by how we relate to you.”
Something twisted in Xander’s chest, at the words and the tone and the bristling look, so much sadness and anger underneath and unspoken, and all he could do was look slightly sheepish, raise his hands palms out, and say quietly, “I know.” And the moment passed, and Spike was back on form, bigger than life, wicked glint in his eyes.
“Looks like you don’t need to break the budget after all, mate. Grab your precious comic, and let’s go.”
“We can’t do that!”
“Why the hell not?”
“It’s stealing.” And somehow, Xander didn’t sound very convincing, even to himself.
“It’s stealing from evil demons.”
Covetousness, anxiety and guilt warred on Xander’s face.
“Evil demons who warp innocent minds, price-gouge their customers, and…” Spike looked out at the sunlit rubble, “er… destroy civic property.” He smirked, warming to his topic. “’S practically your duty to confiscate it from them. Very Robin Hood.”
Xander rolled his eyes. “Oh, shut up.” His fingers twitched, but his hand remained at his side.
Spike sighed. “Look, you’ll be protecting it for posterity. It’ll just get looted. Or rained on. Take it and get out, before someone decides this mess is all your fault.”
Xander determinedly clenched his teeth and turned away, unhappy but virtuous.
Spike shrugged his duster up off his shoulders, ducked his head under, and made a mad dash for the counter. He smashed the remarkably intact glass, scooped up the precious comic, and dove back into the darkened storeroom only minimally singed.
Shouldering past Xander, he kicked the back door squarely on the lock. It groaned and gave way to let him emerge into a shaded back alley. Seconds later he was dropping down into the tunnels and heading for home. He got about a block away before scrabbling sounds indicated that Xander had unfrozen and started chasing him.
“You stole it!”
“Yeah, I stole it. Evil vampire, blah blah.”
“You stole it for me!” Xander was grinning manically, practically bouncing with glee.
Spike wagged his head. “Maybe. Maybe not.”
Xander stopped in his tracks. “Whaddaya mean, maybe not?!”
“It’s all yours, pet – if you tell me.”
“Why you like them so much.”
Silence. Xander glared at Spike, all hyperactivity quelled. Spike continued strolling calmly, unperturbed.
They made it most of the way home before Xander finally spoke. Very quietly.
“Reading them – I get to be the hero.”
He didn’t look at Spike. Spike didn’t say anything.
“It’s like you said.” He stopped, rocking back and forth on his heels. “It gets tiring, sometimes, when your life’s defined by how you relate to… someone else.”
Silence, and eventually Spike said quietly, “I know.”
And the moment passed, and Spike leered and said lasciviously, “But Xander, I like how you relate to me!” Took off running, throwing Batman over his shoulder, and Xander dove and caught it before it landed in something sticky, and chased Spike and cuffed him on the back of the head.
Their subsequent progress home was slowed by Xander trying to read and walk at the same time. Spike didn’t tell him to hurry up. Sometimes, you’re a hero, and sometimes a sidekick. That’s life.
The request was for Spike/Xander, including: having to run from the sun, someone being hyper, and references to Batman.
The comic is real. A mint condition version retails for around $350.
Nihlathak's name is borrowed from Diablo II: Lord of Destruction, which incidentally (though completely irrelevantly) also contains someone named Anya.