Ice-Cream


by
Maz



5 A shot in the dark

Prompt: 66 - Hue and cry


Tuesday

Xander and Willow walked back to her house slowly. It had been nice spending time together. They'd gone for coffee before the movie and Willow had talked about her new computer and what she was learning about 'The Net' and how she had met some people online who were real computer whizzes and were willing to teach her some really cool stuff, and had he ever heard of a thing called a computer virus? He admitted that he hadn't, but by the time they left to walk across the street to The Sun, he could no longer make that claim. He got the impression that there might be something a bit off about all this stuff, but Willow had assured him that she wouldn't do anything bad or dangerous. She said she was more interested in learning about hacking, which was really just curiosity, so he'd allowed himself to be re-assured, especially when she promised not to break into the Pentagon and set their computer off playing tick tack toe.

The movie had been okay, enough car chases to keep Xander happy and some smoochy bits for Willow. It wasn't very memorable, but since it was always just an excuse for an evening out, that didn't matter at all. As they left the cinema he noticed that the new Star Trek was about to open and Willow promised to call Jesse, so they could all go together. With that promise safe, he was able to listen with good humour as she spent most of the walk telling him even more about computer codes, and about how people always picked their birthdays, or family names, as passwords and wasn't that stupid because you could find out about that sort of stuff so easily on The Net? A brief reawakening of his earlier concern caused Xander to question where she was thinking of hacking into and she muttered something about the high school having computerised student records and a plan for Cordelia's files, which made him laugh. Then she complained about how the banks' security was so much tighter than the school's, so he realised she was joking and got into the spirit. They spent the rest of the walk speculating about what they would do if she could hack into the Federal Reserve and steal millions of dollars without being caught. Xander had opted for a never ending supply of Ben and Jerry's and a big TV with surround sound. Willow had wanted a mainframe computer and maybe a yacht, until Xander reminded her that she got seasick on the roller-coaster, so she decided to buy them a house in the mountains instead. It had been fun.

After dropping Willow off at her house and extracting a promise that she would go to bed and sleep, instead of spending the night online, Xander set off in the direction of his own home, feeling more cheerful than he had in days.

He'd just turned off Oak onto Serenity Drive and was walking past Restfield Cemetery when something made him pause and look around. He could have sworn he'd heard a noise behind him, like a sharp footfall. The houses across the street were dark and the tree branches cast deep shadows, obscuring the street lights, but even so, he could see that the street was empty. Shaking his head at the craziness of his brain, he walked on. What kind of mugger would pick on a guy like him anyway? It was obvious he had nothing worth stealing.

When an arm caught him around the neck, he gave a strangled shriek - okay, maybe a mugger who was really desperate. He tried to struggle, but a hand came over his mouth and nose, joining the arm in cutting off his air supply. Beginning to panic, he tugged at the hand with all his strength, but got nowhere. Then, as suddenly as he'd been grabbed, he was free. He thought he heard a strange whooshing sound, but he was too busy falling to be certain. His knees hit the pavement with a painful crack and he only managed to save his face from a similar fate at the cost of scraping the skin off the heels of his hands.

Lying face down on the ground, he dragged in a few gulping breaths, then strong hands were turning him over and helping him sit and a man's voice asked, "Are you okay? He didn't hurt..." The voice broke off as he looked up into the shadowed face above him. "Oh my God! Jeb!"

Still gasping, Xander struggled to his feet, pushing his rescuer away in his eagerness to not be lying helpless on the ground and raised his right hand to his mouth to ease the sting and clean off the blood. The man stood too and took a step back from Xander, shuffling awkwardly, his shoulders hunched, as if he was trying to shrink into himself. He was big and dark and... Xander looked around... the only other person in sight. Xander took a few more steps backwards, "What? What the fuck did you do that for? What d'you want?"

At that, the man looked up and raised his arms, palms towards Xander in a pacifying gesture of surrender. "Nothing" he stammered. "I didn't... There was a guy..."

"Yeah, sure there was," snapped Xander. "So where is he now, huh? It was you. Keep away from me!" Common sense returning in a rush, he spun on his heel and ran.


~*~*~*~*~


Angel stood on the sidewalk watching the fleeing figure. 'So that's it,' he thought. That was why he was dreaming of Jeb. The eyes were brown instead of blue, but otherwise... He groaned. Even here, even now, his past came back to haunt him. With a sigh of defeat, he turned and trudged home, disinclined to continue his patrol, tonight.


~*~*~*~*~


Across the street Spike watched his Sire walk away. Then he crossed the road, crouched down and sifted his fingers through the vamp dust on the ground. Standing up again he breathed deeply, taking in and memorising the last, fading scent of the boy, before following in the direction he'd fled.

Spike had heard every word of the exchange between Angelus and the boy, heard his Sire's shocked exclamation. He smiled, remembering that week over a hundred years ago. Oh yes, Jeb. Such a tasty morsel he'd been. So young and eager, at the start. Spike and Angelus had both found the unusual combination of dark hair and blue eyes intriguing. He remembered that mouth, so warm and welcoming. He remembered how Jeb laughed, that first day. He remembered how, when Angelus fell asleep, he and Jeb had talked; two subs together, forming a brief bond over the old man's prick. Spike snorted, 'or the prick of an old man'. Jeb had told Spike of his dream of owning a cobble of his own and being his own man, with his own string of pots and maybe a net or two. There was an old gadgie in town with no family, he said, and Jeb thought he could buy himself into partnership, if he had some money up front. Spike had listened and encouraged him and shared some of his own dreams, suitably edited.

But then Darla and Dru came in and Dru angered Angelus, so Spike took her away to their own room. He'd not seen Jeb again, although he rather thought he'd gone on board ship with them, in the big trunk. Certainly it was heavy when they left the lodgings and was empty soon after they left port. That would be Darla, thinking ahead to possible returns and the need to avoid leaving evidence.

The scent led Spike to a small house fronted by a bare lawn with a couple of big palm trees close up to the bay window, which provided some minimal cover. There were a few dying plants in pots on the porch and the paintwork was beginning to peel. He peered in through a gap in the curtains and saw two adults, probably the parents, in front of the TV. They had an air of passive permanence - obviously this was their usual evening 'activity'. Scanning the rest of the frontage and finding nothing, he followed the oil stained driveway, around the side of the house to a small back garden, also bare grass. A few shrubs around the edges were illuminated by the light from one window so he stalked over. The ground was lower here and the sill was above his head. Glancing around, he spotted a bicycle leaning against the fence. By propping that up against the wall he was able to use it as a step and peer into the room.

The boy was sitting on his bed, talking on the phone to some friend, describing his lucky escape from the big guy who attacked him and then pretended to help. "Yes, probably," he said. "But anyone with half a brain could see I don't have reward money..... No, he didn't even get a 'thank you'.... Huh? No! Of course not...... No, I just ran...... I don't know. Maybe, if I saw him again...... No, I don't really want to get involved with the police, even as the victim......... No. Okay... Yes, I will. Thanks Will. See you tomorrow?...... Great!...... The park then. Okay, there are...... The Six o'clock showing? Great! Yes....... No, you'll enjoy it....... You will....... Okay. Thanks.... Yes. Same to you...... Night."

Spike watched as the boy put the phone down, ate half a cold pizza and got ready for bed. Then he jumped down, satisfied there would be no hue and cry to scare Angelus off, and went to see what was showing at the pictures tomorrow.





6 Movie Night

Prompt: 67 - Bangkok


Wedneday

Xander stood resentfully on the sidewalk, staring across the street at the cinema and holding onto his anger, hugging it to himself with self righteous determination. Although, inside, he knew that tomorrow it would all be forgotten and most likely they'd hang out again, right now he didn't care about that. He wanted to see the movie today! They'd have enjoyed the show and talked about it all the way home, adding jokes and pointing out the best bits to each other, until they'd dissected the whole thing and lived it all over again. 'What's wrong with Jesse?' he thought. Normally, he'd be as eager as Xander, but instead he'd put him off. Again.

The argument had blown up out of nowhere, as such arguments do. Three people with too much time on their hands, hanging out in the park, slightly bored in the heat of a summer's afternoon. Jesse had wanted to go to the beach. Xander had held out for the movies. And Willow? Willow had been too busy trying to accommodate both of them to express a preference of her own. Eventually Jesse stood up and yelled at them about how they never did what he wanted to do. So then Xander had to stand up too and get in his face, yelling back, then storming off, tears prickling the corners of his eyes, face scrunched up at the injustice of Jesse's accusation, when they'd been doing what Jesse wanted every day for the last week. Just because Cordelia was leaving for France in two weeks, was no reason to not go to the movies today. Just because Cordelia was going to the beach, didn't mean they had to. It wasn't as if she even noticed Jesse. Or that Jesse would do anything, except sit and sigh and watch her from fifty yards away. If Xander believed Jesse would actually do something, like ask Cordelia out, and have a snowball's chance in hell that she'd say 'yes', then sure, he'd have gone to the beach. Then maybe they could've gone to the movies together tomorrow.

But Jesse was never going to say anything to Cordelia and he'd still be following her around tomorrow, like some sad puppy. So instead of a fun evening out, Xander was here by himself. It wasn't fair! Well, he was going to enjoy it anyway! And when Jesse came to his senses and wanted to come? Xander would smile, maybe sneer, and say that he had other things to do. See how Jesse liked having to see a movie like this by himself. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans, digging into the corners and gathering up the crumpled dollar bills and small change. Clenching his hand around them, hot and sweaty with his anger and indignation, he marched across the street.

Xander settled into his seat in the middle of the middle row and dipped his hand into the big tub of popcorn, his eyes already glued to the screen even though, at the moment, all it was showing were ads for hot dogs and car dealerships. He felt, rather than saw someone sit down in the seat to his right.

"This is gonna be good," said a voice next to him.

Xander spared half a glance and a grunt of agreement.

His neighbour didn't seem to notice Xander's lack of enthusiasm for conversation because he continued, "I hear this is the best one yet. Plus, it's got that bald guy as the captain," as he settled himself into a comfortable slouch, knees resting against the back of the seat in front.

Feeling obliged to reply, Xander gave a tentative smile and a snorted laugh of agreement. "Yeah, Patrick Stewart's cool," he said, turning his head to look. He saw a young man with slicked back hair that glowed white in the subdued lighting.

The guy smiled back. "Brilliant special-effects too. I read that somewhere."

His neighbour seemed chatty and Xander discovered that he really didn't mind. It was actually nice. Friendly. "And the Borg." he agreed. The guy didn't have any snacks, so he tilted his tub, offering. The guy smiled and reached over, taking a small handful with a nod of thanks. Then Xander's eyes were drawn back to the screen as the trailers started and he was sucked into the images, oblivious to the small fidgets of the other cinema goers and to the automatic movement of his own hand between the popcorn tub and his mouth.


~*~*~*~*~


Spike was actually enjoying himself. Sitting in an open air cafe, across a table from a barely pubescent man-boy, talking about science fiction movies and TV, he was actually enjoying himself.

They'd exchanged views on the whole Vulcan mysticism rubbish, on the temporal inconsistencies of the Terminator and the stupid impracticality of chain-mail bikinis for women warriors, no matter how nice they looked. One way or another they'd agreed on all counts. He'd made sure of that. Just as he'd used his skills to subtly direct the conversation the way he wanted it to go. Talking about the original Star Trek, they'd agreed that Spock was cool but dorky, that William Shatner was sometimes just plain embarrassing, although Xander held out that that was at least as much the fault of the scripts as of the actor, and that no one could announce a crisis like Scottie.

It was when they got to discussing the character of Bones that Spike suggested, "You know, I reckon he was gay. I always thought there was something going on between him and Spock."

Xander spluttered over his Coke and laughed. "You think so?" he asked.

Spike smiled "Well yeah! It's bleeding obvious, if you look at it sideways."

Xander seemed slightly embarrassed, but his bravado apparently required that he not wimp out on the conversation. "What do you mean, 'sideways'?" he asked.

Spike settled in, leaning forwards, resting his forearms on the table. "Sideways is sideways," he explained. "Just look at the World and step sideways - leave all your preconceived ideas and prejudices where they are, step away from them and look at all it again."

Xander looked like he hadn't really followed that, so before he could speak Spike continued, "I mean, there's nothing wrong with gay sex is there?" Xander shook his head in agreement, like the dutiful twentieth century teenager he was. "It's just that people, like the Church and teachers and authority, they don't approve of it. But just 'cos they say it's wrong, does that mean it is?"

Xander nodded, thoughtful now. "No, I guess not. I guess I never really thought about it, is all."

"Really?" Spike allowed just the right degree of incredulity to seep into his voice. "You never thought about it? How old are you? Seventeen? Eighteen? You never thought about what it'd be like t'kiss another guy? See if it was different from kissing a girl?"


~*~*~*~*~


Xander was too embarrassed to admit to only being sixteen and never actually having kissed a girl, let alone another boy. "Er, well maybe?" he said, uncertainly. Looking at Spike, he couldn't decide how old he was, although he was obviously older than Xander. He had an air of experience, but his enthusiasm and certainty reminded Xander of Jesse - the way he took hold of his argument and the energy he expended on it. Xander decided he was probably about twenty. He acted too young to be a proper adult, but twenty? Twenty wasn't old, but it was leaving home and being independent, old. Twenty was experienced, but not boring and middle-aged.

"Doesn't matter," Spike said with a casual wave of his hand. "It wasn't a test." From anyone else, that would have been a put down, but the laughter in Spike's eyes robbed the dismissal of any malice and Xander found himself relaxing and smiling back. Then, without him really knowing how it happened, Xander found that the conversation had shifted and, within moments, they were deep into a friendly dispute about the authenticity of the story in Jean-Claude Van Damme's movie, The Quest, which Xander and Jesse had seen, before Jesse went crazy. That led to Spike telling some amazing stories about places he'd been in the Far East and Europe and Xander was too busy enjoying himself to worry about whether Spike had guessed that he was still in school.

It was almost midnight before Xander thought to check his watch and realised how late he was. The cafe had closed around them, without him even noticing. He scrambled to his feet apologetically and again Spike made it easy, standing up without Xander needing to make up a story to explain why he apparently had a curfew.

They left the table and headed out towards the street, but as they reached the gap in the half wall that was the entrance to the cafe, Spike hesitated, looking almost shy. "You know? I really enjoyed this," he said.

Xander felt like his smile should probably split his face in half. "Yeah, me too."

With the same hesitation, as if he was afraid Xander would refuse, Spike asked, "You want to meet up again, some time?"

And wasn't that amazing? But for once, Xander didn't feel awkward at all. "Yeah Sure! That would be so cool. Do you live round here? You're not just visiting, are you?"

"Think I might be around for a while, yeah. Got to find myself a place. Somewhere with cable. Hey!" he said, as if it had just occurred to him. "Then we can watch all the re-runs on the Sci-Fi Channel, eh? You ever seen Dr Who?"

"Sure, yeah. That would be neat." Summoning up his courage, Xander asked, "Are you doing anything tomorrow? During the day?"

Spike's expression was regretful. "Sorry. Kind of busy during the day tomorrow," but before Xander could stammer out a reassurance that it didn't matter, he continued, "But I'm free late afternoon, if you are? You want to come over and watch a video or something? Motel's nothing special, but it's okay and I've got a TV and video player in the room." At Xander's dumb but enthusiastic nod, he added, "Right! So you've really never seen 'Trainspotting'?" They sorted out the details and Xander had stepped out onto the sidewalk when Spike spoke again. "Hey. I left something. Listen, I'll see you tomorrow, yeah?" He raised his hand in a casual wave as he stepped back into the shadows, towards the table they'd occupied. "Don't forget, okay?"

Xander laughed and waved back. "No way! I'll see you at five o'clock." He turned and headed home.

He felt light and happy. He had a new friend. Someone just as good as Jesse, for the talking and stuff, but older too. And that was all kinds of amazing; that an older guy would like him. Usually the older kids knocked him out of their way and looked down at him as he sprawled on the ground at their feet. That is, if they noticed him at all. But Spike... Spike wasn't a kid and had not only noticed him, he'd talked to him. And he was cool and really knowledgeable and worldly wise. And foreign too. That made the fact that he liked Xander somehow even more amazing. He must have met so many, much more interesting people, before coming to Sunnydale. From what he'd said of his past, he seemed to have travelled a lot, although Xander wasn't sure he believed all Spike's stories. The red lights in the windows in Amsterdam, maybe, after all the term 'Red Light District' must have come from somewhere, but the idea that boys could dress up as girls and really fool people, like he said they did in Bangkok? Xander couldn't believe that one was true. But he didn't care. He'd had the best evening he could remember with Spike. And he was going to see him again tomorrow. Xander was going to visit a guy who was staying in a motel. By himself. Like a grown-up would.

At that thought, he forced his mind to a halt. 'No, come on Harris.' he thought. 'You can't think like that. That is so not cool. He's not a grown-up, like you were some little kid. He's just a guy. Who happens to be a few years older than you. Grown-ups aren't friends. But he is.' Xander hugged himself again and wandered on, replaying as much of the conversation as he could remember, in his head, so he could enjoy it all over again. He really hadn't ever thought of Bones and Spock like that before. But now that he did...

Xander crept quietly into the house, hearing the TV droning in the living room, but no other sounds. He breathed a quiet sigh of relief and slipped down the hall to his own room and into bed.

And dreamed of blue eyes that really saw him.

Once again, he had failed to notice the dark shadow that guarded his walk home.

*****

Spike waited until Xander was out of sight, before leaving the cafe. He saw his Sire turn the corner of the street and start to follow the boy. 'Old man's really slipping,' he thought. 'That was too close. He must be well off his game not to sense me.' Although, it had been chance that Spike had caught the feeling at the edge of his brain that signalled that his Sire was near, but not in sight. Even so, the old man was slipping. Spike knew he should think some more about what that meant. But first, he had a more immediate game to play and plans to make. The boy had taken the first hook, but he was nowhere near landed yet.





7 Heading for exotic locations


Thursday

For some reason, he wasn't sure why, because he wasn't still angry, Xander didn't tell Jesse and Willow about his new friend. Part of it, he thought, was just wanting to have a secret. But the biggest part was probably because they didn't ask. He asked Jesse about the beach and he asked Willow more about her new computer, but they didn't ask him what he'd done with his evening. 'No,' he thought, he wasn't angry, although it was possible he was a bit hurt. So, when Jesse suggested they go and see the new Star Trek movie, Xander just said that he'd already seen it and didn't mention Spike, or his plans for that afternoon with Spike. And when Jesse went off, stalking Cordelia again, he told Willow that he had to do some chores for his Mom. She looked surprised, but it didn't take her long to get enthusiastic about the idea of Xander spending a summer's afternoon sorting out the junk in the Harris' basement and she went off quite happily to play with her computer, leaving Xander unsure whether he was relieved by her gullibility, or offended by it. He was certainly slightly offended to realise that she could rush off so readily to spend time with people she'd never even met, face-to-face, rather than be with him, but he did his best to shrug that off, reminding himself forcefully that he wanted her to not be hanging around him. The fact that it was only two o'clock and he still had three hours to kill before he could reasonably go to Spike's motel, just meant he could go and buy some snacks to take with him, so he'd be bringing something to the party.

He took a quick detour home, where he found his mom in the kitchen washing last night's dishes and his dad in the living room, supposedly reading the help wanted ads in the Sunnydale Echo, but obviously already eyeing the bottle of whisky on the shelf. It was no sort of challenge to his secret ops skills, to slip a hand into the pocket of his dad's coat and extract $10. His dad wouldn't remember it had even been there in the first place. Telling his mom he was going to Jesse's house, he made his escape and headed to the supermarket, spending a contented hour choosing chips and chocolate and candy. Then he went to ground in the Park and waited for the afternoon to pass.

By the time he set off for Spike's place, walking as slowly as he could since he was still early, the supplies he'd bought were somewhat diminished, but there was enough left for him to feel he would be making a contribution. He approached the motel with caution, terrified that he'd knock on the wrong door, or that it was the wrong motel, even though he'd written the address down. Pausing on the sidewalk, he studied the low, sprawling building. It was just like the motels he'd seen on TV shows. He pulled the carefully guarded and much handled scrap of paper out of his pocket and studied it, looking up at the sign above the entrance, just to be sure. Yep, The Downtowner Motel. That's what it said. Taking a deep breath and hoping that he wasn't about to make a fool of himself, he walked through the entrance and along the rows of parked cars, searching for room 15. It might be a plain and boring motel to most people, but it was still exotic to his eyes.


~*~*~*~*~


Spike waited impatiently for the boy to arrive, but he counted to five before climbing off the bed and going to answer the knock on the door. Didn't want to appear too eager, that was the kid's role. And he didn't disappoint - the tentative smile he was sporting as the door opened, transformed into a huge grin of relief at Spike's warm welcome.

"Xander! Glad you could make it. Come in, mate. What you got there?" he asked, standing back from the reflected light of the summer's afternoon and pulling the door wide for his visitor to enter.

Xander held out the bag he carried. "Just some snacks. I figured if we're going to watch a movie, we have to have snacks, so... well..." He looked a little shamefaced. "I got more, but I ate some of them," he added as he walked over to the foot of the bed and put the bag down. "But there's still enough for both of us." Pausing, he looked around, taking in the room, the bed, the chest of drawers with the TV on top and the door into the bathroom. There was very little space for anything else. He turned to face Spike and glanced down, and Spike saw him notice his bare feet.

"That's great!" Spike said. "Thanks mate. I should've thought of that." He gestured at the bed. "Grab a seat. Sorry about the accommodation. It's a bit cramped, but I've got a lead on a flat, so it's only temporary."

Xander shook his head. "No, it's fine. It's great, even. You still want to watch a movie?"

"Sure. Got it right here," Spike said, picking up the video cassette and brandishing it. "Trainspotting." Turning to the video player, he laughed. "Let's see how good you are at foreign languages. I bet you a dollar, you need a translator."

Xander toed off his sneakers and sat down on the bed, leaning against the headboard, while Spike pushed the cassette into the VCR, before walking back to the other side of the bed and settling next to Xander. Leaning forwards, he grabbed the bag and dragged it over. "What you brought, eh?"

As the tape started and the inevitable ads for future releases began to play, Xander proudly emptied the bag onto the bedspread, between them. 'Yeah,' thought Spike. 'You're as ripe for the plucking as the child you resemble. Just a little more encouragement, a bit of a sympathetic ear and you'll sit there nice and quiet, while I work out what to do with you.' He smiled at Xander and grabbed a bag of hot and spicy corn chips, watching Xander's face light up again at his apparent success in choosing the right snacks. 'Oh yeah,' he thought. 'You're desperate for something and I'm the man to nurture that need and fulfil it. You're mine, boy, and with you, somehow, I'll get Angelus. The only question is, do I need you alive to do it?'





8. Shifting Sands

Prompt: 69 - Confrontational


Thursday afternoon, Friday, Saturday morning

Xander didn't have as much trouble as Spike apparently expected with Trainspotting, although there were some words that just didn't make any sense at all, and the suppository recovery scene was totally gross. Spike laughed at him and accused Americans in general of being obsessed with living disinfected lives, although when challenged, he agreed it was a bit extreme, even if it was, he said, a metaphor for the desperation of the addict. Which made Xander grin at him, teasing him for his sudden attack of education.

That settled, Xander sat back to watch the rest and Spike leaned over the side of the bed, fumbling around a bit. Righting himself, he casually passed Xander a bottle of beer. "Might not be legal here, mate, but in the good old UK you can go out to pubs once you turn 18, even if you want to stick to the letter of the law."

Xander hesitated, but honestly? There was no way he was going to say no, when it was obviously something Spike expected. So he took it, watched Spike crack the lid of his own and copied him. Then he sipped slowly, making it last, as they cheered Renton on, through his adventures to his final bid for freedom. It wasn't the kind of movie Xander would normally have watched, but it was interesting and once he got past the language barrier, and the gross out, he found that he really enjoyed it.

He didn't stay long after it was over, not wanting to outstay his welcome, so it was great that Spike obviously still liked him, because he suggested that Xander might want to come over again and watch Bruce Willis the next afternoon. Xander agreed immediately and walked home through the late afternoon sunlight, happy that there was someone who enjoyed his company and wanted to spend time with him.

Neither Jesse nor Willow phoned him that evening and since he felt neither confrontational enough to chase Jesse, nor up to dealing with Willow's guilt when she realised she'd abandoned him, he didn't call them either. Instead, he spent the night in his room, sorting through his comics and trying to judge whether or not Spike would enjoy them too.

The next day was much the same as the day before, but without the need for occasional translation. They watched Die Hard: With a Vengeance, cheering McClane and Zeus through the hoops the bad guy set for them and afterward they sat and talked it all over, sharing the best bits, while Xander nursed a single beer and watched Spike drink his way through the rest of the six pack. He didn't seem to get even a little bit drunk, which amazed Xander and secretly impressed him. He wished his parents had that kind of tolerance.

Again the time slipped by as they talked about all sorts of things. Spike had never really got into comics, but when Xander described some of his favourites, he seemed really interested, so Xander promised to bring some over, next time. Spike described some concerts he'd been to, talking casually about seeing the Rolling Stones at a small club in London, which was amazing to Xander, who couldn't imagine a huge band like the Stones playing anywhere but big arenas. Spike shrugged that off with his opinion the there was no atmosphere in venues like that. Xander nodded dumbly in agreement as he tried to imagine Mick Jagger at the Bronze.

Eventually Xander got up to leave and Spike walked out with him, saying he had to head into town to see 'a bloke' about some business. Xander wanted to ask what business had brought Spike to Sunnydale, but somehow he never found the opportunity, as the conversation did its usual thing and swerved across every topic under the sun. At the town centre their paths diverged and he stood for a while watching Spike walk away, past The Sun, before he sighed contentedly and turned towards home.

The next day was Saturday and Xander was up early, for him. He decided to surprise Spike with a late breakfast and some comics, so he crept into the kitchen, taking care not to make a noise that might wake his parents, and raided the fridge for bread, butter and jelly and even found a forgotten and unopened packet of Christmas cookies hiding behind an aging box of corn flakes in the back of one of the cupboards. Stuffing them all into his backpack, with the best of his collection, he set off for the motel, anticipating a day of lazing around, talking and reading and sharing one of his favourite hobbies with someone he knew would get a kick out of them, once he'd had the chance. But when he arrived, Spike wasn't there. The door to Spike's room was open and the maid's trolley was parked outside. He stood in the empty doorway, staring in shock.

He couldn't believe it. Spike had been going to see someone, a 'bloke', but he hadn't said anything about leaving. Not so soon. Not at all. Xander kicked himself for not asking about Spike's business. Maybe it had been successful, so Spike didn't need to stay in Sunnydale anymore? Maybe he'd left town? Maybe he'd gone home to England? But he wouldn't do that, would he? Not without saying 'goodbye'? Standing dumbstruck on the porch, Xander tried to gather his thoughts as he peered past the trolley, into the room.

Just as he was about to turn away, the maid came out of the bathroom. He cleared his throat to attract her attention. "Excuse me?" he asked, nervously. "The guy who was in this room, do you know where he went?"

She shook her head and shrugged indifferently, not looking at him. "I was just told he was gone this morning and go to clean up after him." She glanced around. "He wasn't so bad. Not like some, leaving their take away cartons all over the floor." She looked up and caught his eye. "Friend of yours?" she asked. Xander nodded and her demeanour changed as she smiled sympathetically. "Well, he'll probably call then." Xander brightened at that thought. "Tell you what," she suggested, "why don't you go ask at the desk? He might have left a message, or a forwarding address?"

Feeling the relief flood through him, Xander smiled at her. "Yeah," he said, "I never thought of that. Thank you. Thank you, so much." He caught her amused smile as he left, but for once he didn't care as he raced for the office, praying that Spike had just changed motels, rather than left town entirely.

Sure enough, when he asked at the desk, the clerk dug out an envelope and passed it to him. Xander was a little surprised that he wasn't asked for his own name, as proof, but there it was, in fancy flowing handwriting, across the front: 'Xander Harris' with 'for collection' in smaller letters in the top right corner. With a huge smile, he took it and carried it outside to read in private.

Hey, Mate, it read.
I hope you get this, but I guess if you're reading it, you must have.
Remember I said I had my eyes on a flat (sorry - apartment, I should say)? Well, I got something. I moved in last night. So why don't you come over?
3 Torres Heights
Just off Crawford Street.
It's better than a flat. You can't miss it. It's a small cottage, in the grounds of a big mansion place. Follow the road around the back of Crawford Street and it's the third gate on the left. It's got a big white '3' on the mail box. I'll be in all day.


Xander smiled at the last sentence,

And if you don't get this, why am I bothering to write it? I'll give you a call, as soon as they fix the phone.
See you soon, mate,
Spike


Xander hurried out of the motel and back through town, past the end of his own street, to the bottom of Crawford and followed it up the hill, until he sighted the strange mansion ahead of him. That must be the place Spike meant, and sure enough, Torres Heights was a narrow road branching off, heading further up, on the right. He followed it as it curved steeply round, amazed at the sudden quiet. So close to town, but he could be in the middle of nowhere. He couldn't even hear any traffic.

And there it was, the red mail box with a big, faded, white '3' painted on it. The gate was open and Xander followed the short path to the door of the low, dark house. It was just one storey, with tiny windows and a deep porch. He climbed the steps and knocked on the door.




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