Okay, well, it's early yet, but it's finished so why not? This is my entry for [info]crazydiamondsue's and [info]brandil's Music of Pain ficathon (or MOPe-athon). Can't link to the masterlist because there isn't one yet, but oh well.

Title: Love or Something Like It
Author: Camisha
Pairing: Spike/Xander (briefly thought I might branch out on this one, but didn't)
Rating: Mature
Disclaimer: You know I'm not Joss and I don't work for ME, right?
Concrit: In comments or email.
Author's Notes: Written for the Music of Pain ficathon. The song I assigned myself is the one I used as the title--Love or Something Like it by Kenny Rogers. Takes place post-NFA. Spike and Xander are hanging out in bars. And they're almost doing it together.



Love or Something Like It


by
Savoy Truffle



The jukebox starts to play something country. Spike catches his toe tapping, shakes his head in disgust and plants his foot firmly on the floor. Country music is not growing on him.

Someone is approaching the booth and Spike looks up, then quickly down again. Something about the man reminds him of Angel and Spike feigns deep interest in his drink until the man has walked on by.

Not that Angel has ever been unattractive. Not that Spike hasn’t been there, done that. Not that he might not go there again, someday. Bloody good stuff, that. But he doesn’t so much like to think of Angel these days.

It’s been—what, months?—since the night Spike drove off into the desert, leaving the City of Angels to shelter its fallen one. Leaving the fallen one free to sink on out of sight for a decade or three, free to mourn in peace.

It was the right thing to do. He knows that. Doesn’t mean it hadn’t hurt.

It just hadn’t hurt enough.

Spike would have given his life to save any member of Angel’s gang. Without a second thought. But they weren’t his gang.

And he hadn’t been able to save them.

Neither had Angel.

And the wanker may never forgive himself for outliving them. Which is stupid, because Spike and Angel are—and have always been—survivors. But humans are—and will always be—human.

Mortal. Fragile. Breakable.

And there’s nothing Angel could have done about that. Still, he needs time. Time to mourn. His humans are gone.

His humans. Not Spike’s.

His time to mourn. Not Spike’s.

So Spike will catch up with Angel in another fifty years. Or maybe a hundred. After Spike’s own humans are gone. After Spike’s own time to mourn.

Because he does have humans, Spike has finally admitted—at least to himself. And it is to those humans that he returned.

He lingered in LA long enough to see Illyria into her new apartment and her new life. She had spent enough time studying death and grief and loss, she announced one day. She wished now to study lust and joy. She was in the right city for at least one of those things, so Spike got her a job with a phone sex line.

She knows how to find him and he expects to hear from her once she gets bored, but the job and the god-king were an oddly good match and, after a week or two, Spike left her to it and hit the road.

He was the last to arrive.

Spike turns and looks toward the bar, studies the back of the familiar brunet head that has just returned from the jukebox and is now nodding at a neighboring head full of bottle-red curls. The red curls bounce enticingly with laughter and a strong, carpenter’s hand reaches out to brush on them off a bare, creamy shoulder. The shoulder leans into the touch.

Harris was the first to arrive, though no one quite knows why.

Phoenix in the summertime really puts the hell in Hellmouth. Or so the humans say. Spike has no body heat and tends to avoid the sun, so he’s in no position to judge.

Yet it was the height of summer when Harris settled on the site of the hellmouth-to-be. Or so the story goes. Spike didn’t arrive until the following spring, so he really can’t say.

Opinion is divided on whether it was Harris’ inherent demon magnetism that led him to rent an apartment about three blocks from a soon-to-activate hellmouth or whether, after almost two years in sub-Saharan Africa, Phoenix somehow felt like home.

Spike has his own theory—that for whatever reason Harris had been passing through Phoenix when he got tired. The kind of tired that creeps in through your skin and steeps in your muscles for a year or two before it seeps into your bones and settles. And one day you wake up and you feel every bit of it and you just can’t move anymore, so you stop.

Spike suspects that Harris was just passing through when he got tired. And stopped.

Red came next, a month or so later. The official story is that Rio was fun at first, but soon lost its luster. But given that she returned alone, it seems Rio wasn’t all that lost its luster. Spike wonders how long the glossy new Phoenix girlfriend—a freshman at Arizona State and freshly legal—will keep up her shine.

Buffy and the Niblet arrived at Christmastime for a visit, though he’s not sure who convinced whom not to return to Europe. Spike supposes they’re both all-American girls at heart.

They say the Phoenix winter weather is deceptively ideal to human tastes. And it seems Buffy and Dawn were taken in hook, line and sinker. The bliss was short-lived, however, and Buffy hasn’t stopped bitching about the heat since Spike arrival in April.

While weather does not concern the Immortal, it seems he holds America in utter disdain and flatly refused to follow Buffy to “that puritanical barbarian wasteland.” Which suits Spike just fine. While the torch he once carried for Buffy has burned down to a warm glow of friendship, that doesn’t mean they aren’t all better off without that bloody insufferable bastard hanging about.

Buffy doesn’t seem too heartbroken. She’s taken up the search for Mr Joe Guy again—dreaming of holding hands through daisies and going tra-la-la. But, really, what are the chances of that? Spike just hopes she doesn’t turn up another Riley Finn.

In February, the Phoenix Hellmouth burst out of dormancy. And boy does Harris know how to pick ’em. Worst hellmouth in at least two centuries. So Giles came running, research team and spare slayers in tow. Purely a matter of duty, he apparently insisted. Nothing to do with personal inclinations.

By the time Spike showed up two months later, the reunited Scooby gang was running like a well oiled machine—or at least as much like a well oiled machine as they’d ever run. So Spike picked up a battle ax and stepped right in.

And was welcomed, no questions asked.

It felt good.

It still feels good. Hanging out with Buffy and the Bit, trading insults with Harris. He even sits with Giles from time to time, poking holes in the Watcher’s theories and sometimes filling them in exchange for a few highballs of the good scotch—or at least the best Giles will admit to having.

And then there’s just nothing in the world like a good, dirty fight. And nowhere like a new hellmouth for an unlimited supply of opponents—be they evil, criminal or just kinda naughty.

Spike feels alive here.

Really alive. Like the day after he died.

Like The Boxer Rebellion, 1900. Like New York City, 1977. Like the night he learned that the chip would let him fight demons. Like the day he became corporeal again.

He remembers the night that feeling returned. His first full-on fight in Phoenix—a good ol’ graveyard showdown—and even after every last nasty lay beaten and broken, the adrenaline continued to course through him—better than fresh, hot blood in his veins.

Buffy and Dawn invited him back to their place to wind down with movies and popcorn, but unless that was code for a Summers-sisters-slash-Spike threesome—which would have been way on the wrong side of where even Spike draws the line—that wasn’t the type of release he was looking for.

So out Spike went, ducking into the nearest suitable-looking bar.

A post-fight bar should be simple, unsophisticated. A dark, smoky, dirty glasses, beer or liquor, no Cosmo, no Appletini, no chit-chat, your-place-or-mine kind of bar.

And Spike found everything he’d expected in that bar that night. Plus one thing he hadn’t. Harris.

Their eyes met across the room. Spike gaped. Harris didn’t react.

Harris didn’t wave him over. Harris didn’t blink. Harris simply turned and focused his good eye back on the woman he was talking to. Half an hour and two beers later, Harris and the woman left. Maybe back to Harris’ place. Maybe back to hers.

Spike and his friend for the night only made it as far as the parking lot, where they fucked in the backseat of her Pontiac. Twice.

Spike saw Harris the next day as usual. They exchanged the usual friendly insults. Life on the Hellmouth carried on.

Spike doesn’t know what led him back to that bar a couple nights later.

But Harris was there again. Different table, different woman. Same M.O. They didn’t acknowledge each other, but Spike knew Harris knew he was watching. And for the second night that week, Spike watched Harris drink and talk and leave with the nameless woman before securing his own one night stand and bidding the bar goodnight.

A third night. A fourth night. A fifth night. And Spike stopped counting. But he kept going. And watching.

Until one night, Harris didn’t show. Not that night. Or the next night. Or the next.

It took Spike a week to find Harris in a new bar and more than twice that long to suss out why he’d bothered to find Harris in the first place.

Actually, he’s still not sure.

But he’s still moving with Harris from bar to bar.

And after the second time Harris disappeared on him, it occurred to Spike why. He looked around the abandoned bar and realized that Harris had slept with a fair percentage of the women in the room. Most of the interesting ones, anyway. So had Spike, for that matter. There was significant overlap.

Which was disturbing, if you dwelt on it.

Spike didn’t, but decided to speed up their rotation.

It was Spike who declared Bar #3 dead by moving on to Bar #4, where he held his metaphorical breath and waited to see if Harris would follow.

He was far too pleased when Harris did.

Bar #5 was a country bar. Spike put up with it for three painful nights before retaliating with a punk bar. Harris seemed to take it in stride.

Spike almost didn’t find Bar #7.

He just hadn’t been expecting a gay bar.

Harris did well at the gay bar. Spike did even better. There was more overlap. Spike moved them on.

Bars #8, 9 and 10 were all gay bars. It was a good run.

And here they are in Bar #11. It’s mixed.

The fifth and final of Harris’ country ballads plays out on the jukebox and then there’s silence.

Spike wonders if he can beat Harris to the jukebox. One more Kenny Rogers number and he’ll break off a chair leg and stake himself. Spike looks over toward the bar.

The readhead is gone. Xander is alone. Their eyes meet.

What Spike can’t figure—what’s kept him going from bar to bar—is what Harris comes out looking for night after night. Or what he hides from. Whether Harris longs to feel or just hopes to go numb.

Harris is still looking at him.

Maybe it’s time to find out.

Spike crosses the room.

“Your place or mine?”

The eye and the voice are steady.

“Mine.”

Spike follows Harris out the door.




The End




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