The Root

by
Skuzzbopper

Part One


Giovanni’s Pizza did not pay very well.

It especially did not pay very well for Xander Harris. Xander Harris, who could flip pizzas, toss salads, fold stromboli, take orders, work the register, and somehow still find time to breathe. They were short-staffed, but Larry was an okay boss, and Xander didn’t want to leave him in the lurch. So he took his delivery-boy salary and kept the place propped up behind his back, waiting for things to turn around so that Larry could hire more people to do the work he couldn’t get to.

Though, really, who but Xander could survive being a delivery boy in the ‘Dale?

Still. Xander Harris was not paid his due. Not that he ever was. So when he came home after a really long day and found the blonde vampire currently occupying his couch with his hand in his savings stash, he was understandably annoyed.

“Are you kidding me?” Ripping off his bright yellow ‘Giovanni’s’ hat, he tossed it to the counter and stood in the middle of the kitchen, looking for something to stake him with. “Are you fucking kidding me right now?”

What?” he asked, somehow actually managing to sound perplexed. Which was cute, because his hand was literally in the half-frozen sock Xander kept in the freezer, stuffed with cash for emergencies. “Outta blood, yeah? And there’s a poker game tonight.”

Really?” Incredulous, he lunged for Spike, snatching the sock from his hands and slamming the freezer shut. “Dude, I make five dollars and thirty-five cents an hour. Do you know how long it took me to save this—?” He jammed his hand into the sock and found nothing. Figures… Eyes narrowing, he glared at the wad of cash in Spike’s hand.

It was significantly smaller than it was two weeks ago.

“Give it back.” He heard himself growl. It wasn’t a very manly growl. Kind of like a puppy, trying to sound tough.

Spike looked amused, smirking around his cigarette, long fingers with black nails fanning out the cash between them. “Hmm… Should be enough.”

“I’m serious, Fangless!” He growled louder, reaching for the money. But, of course, Spike evaded him, sliding to the left and pocketing the handful. “Hey!” Grabbing hold of his duster, Xander attempted to get to the pocket where the money was, but the coat was yanked out of his hand. “God, Spike, C’mon!

“Bring ya back half the winnings.” Grinning cheekily, he pulled his cig from his lips and let the smoke hit Xander full in the face. Xander, who really should’ve been used to smoke by now, waved it away, trying not to choke. “Oh, come on, Harris. S’not like you’re doin’ anything with it, right? N’I’ll have it all back to ya later, and then some.”

“Does the concept of saving mean anything to you?” He heard himself whine. It was a manly whine. “And rent? And, like, dreams? You just—” His voice cracked on ‘dreams’, and by ‘just’ his whine was no longer manly, so he swallowed the rest and waved his hand, turning back toward the counter. “You know what? Take it. Just fucking take it. Go ahead.”

There was silence. For a long, heavy second, there was silence.  He didn’t want to move, didn’t want to look back see Spike’s face. See the pity there. Or the disgust.

I am so fucking pathetic…

Then he heard the door slam, and he leaned against the counter, wondering if it was worth it to even think about how long it will take to save up that money again. If he should even bother.

He’s never getting out of this town.





Part Two

It unnerved him, how hard it was to take the dosh.

Should’ve been easy. Fun, even. Hell, he’d been taking it out of that damn sock for a week and a half, twenty, forty, sixty dollars at a time. It’d been fine. But now the cash felt heavy in his pocket, and he crunched his fist around it, trying to think of something other than Harris, hunched over that counter, ugly yellow shirt clinging to his back with the sweat he’d earned on the job. Five dollars and thirty-five cents. Plus tips, he guessed, except he wasn’t earning any now. He wasn’t really delivering anymore.

He wondered when the boy would wise up and ask for a raise—then realized that wasn’t his problem.

“Take it. Just fucking take it. Go ahead.”

His lips tightened to a pale line, and he straightened up his stride, trying not to look as distracted as he was. Why was he still thinking about it, eight blocks later, almost to Willie’s? He didn’t need anything on his mind. He was playing poker tonight.

A car veered by, cutting the corner behind him, too fast for a slow road. Its windows were rolled down. Music poured out—some folksy sounding tripe.

“…it ain’t pretty, the heart of this city, where…”

His head swerved, and for some reason he focused on the music for a second. But it faded with the car’s taillights, and he stopped listening when it became too hard to hear. Eyes flitting around, trying to figure out why his instincts were telling him to go home, he found himself feeling strangely alone. There were no more cars on the street, no more lights in the store windows. The yellow of the yield sign on the corner matched Harris’ uniform shirt.

Oh, for fuck’s sake, he said I could take it, alright?!

“Christ.” He swore, dragging his cigarette from his lips and tossing it away.

--

“—Oh, from the valley, I look to the mountain—”

“—Do you want plastic surg—”

“—Why wait? Fantastic deals are here today, at—”

Annoyed, slightly buzzed, Xander stabbed the power button on his handheld radio and let silence reign. Well, silence and beer. He was on his fourth, and Spike still hadn’t come home, which meant his savings were now in the hands of whatever one-eyed, one-armed, flying purple people-eater he was facing tonight. And it served him right, too. Should’ve staked him while he had the chance. Hell, should’ve staked him a long time ago.

His uniform shirt was on the floor. The grey muscle shirt he wore under it was, too. It was too hot to breathe, let alone drink, and all he could think about was the grin Spike had flashed him as he’d slipped through his fingers. With his cash. God Fucking Dammit.

He’d seen it before. The ‘I’ve Got You’ grin. Drove him crazy on occasion, because he could never be sure if it was really just ‘I’ve Got You’, or…

“Oh, come off it.” He snorted to himself, tracing his fingers through his hair and setting his beer aside.

This was too much. Fucking God, was he stupid? Spike was living in his apartment, taking his cash and his beer... And now he was sitting here, stuck on his smile, trying to figure out why that ‘I’ve Got You’ made him so nervous.

And why he wasn’t feeling so bad about giving him his cash anymore.

Hell, it’s not like he doesn’t know how to live on no money.

Stretching out on the couch, slow and easy, he let his muscles crack and tried to remember what he’d done last time he had no money. Well, he’d had Anya then, right? And she could always come up with something to distract him… But he didn’t have her anymore. Instead, he had a dead-end job and a vampire mooching off him. Considerably less pleasant. But still workable.

“Bring ya back half the winnings.” He’d promised—well, not promised—with that stupid fucking grin, eyes that cool blue they’d somehow mastered. Like every ocean in every travel ad he’d ever stared into, as though staring at it long enough would make it real…

Sometimes he thinks he still hates Spike because of those eyes.

Fuck it… His mind sighed. It was too tired to think of this anymore. Spike and his stupid grin could—

The door smashed open, slamming into the wall with the resounding crack of brittle plaster, and Spike flew in. He looked crazy, eyes wild and drunk and hypnotically blue, his duster falling off his shoulders and his body moving a half-second behind—or a half-second ahead, he couldn’t tell which. Hopping off the couch, Xander went to him, suddenly a little afraid. Insane Spike was not a fun Spike, and drunk/insane Spike looked pretty terrifying so far.

“I—” He stopped mid-word, or mid-sound, swaying there and pressing his hand into the nearest wall. “Oh, fuck, Harris-!

“Welcome home, Spike.” He muttered under his breath, dragging the duster off the vampire’s shoulders and tossing it over one of the chairs in the kitchen. His nostrils flared. “God, you smell like a frat party.”

“Can’t—” The bleach-blonde breathed, eyes narrowing to an obviously fuzzy focus as he peered up at the taller man, searching. His hand slid down the wall, eventually losing hold and leaving him to stumble forward. Xander stepped back, hands automatically reaching out to grasp him. “Ha-”

“You’re dead drunk.” He cut him off, shaking his head at the hapless creature in his arms. Because the night couldn’t get any worse. Moving slow and careful, Xander looked over his shoulder and began guiding the drunk vamp toward his couch.

But Spike had barely moved an inch before he stopped, refusing to budge. “Le- Lemme—”

Jesus… Rolling his eyes, he turned back to the vamp. “Spike, c’mon…” His voice stuttered to a halt as those black nails that had once clung to his wall reached out and touched his face. Softly. Carefully. And those eyes widened, round and high and full of blue, focusing slowly as his fingers somehow held him in place. Like he was afraid he might stain it with his fingerprints.

Xander froze. His heart stopped. The buzz in his brain told him that if he was as drunk as Spike is right now, he’d be in a real bad way.

But… something else was telling him that if he stared into those eyes long enough, he’d drown.

“Can’t—” He said again, tracing his fingers down his cheek, past his chin. “—Tell. Which lips to—”

“What’re—”

Veering to the left, the vampire lunged up, pressing his lips to the corner of his mouth.

It knocked the wind out of him.

He gasped for air, eyes widening huge, and stumbled backward until Spike caught him by the shoulders, fingers pressing into his skin rough and without pity. But when he gasped, his captor caught on. His lips swerved, falling a little lower and pressing far closer to their mark—

Shit—

He started breathing again—fast, hyperventilating breaths, and when Spike’s mouth closed around his lower lip and sucked, he thought he might be drunk by association. His head went all dizzy, and Spike’s fingers slithered warm and too eager down his sweat-slick pecs, and he felt his nipples pebble, standing erect in anticipation of a touch that never came.

It never came, because Xander didn’t let it come.

Somehow, his arms managed to reach his brain before the rest of him, and he opened his eyes to find himself pushing Spike away, wondering what the hell he was thinking. And what the hell he was doing. And why the hell were his eyes closed, anyway?

“You make this face,” The ghost of Jesse flitted through his mind, whispering in his ear just like he had that summer. “when I get to you. Your eyes close, and your mouth drops open like you wanna tell me you love me, but you can’t.”

He swore he’d never love another man. Even if he’d never told Jesse he…

And, God, why is he even thinking about this?

“Spike—” He tried to laugh it off, tried to think of some stupid insult he could throw at him. But before he could, the vampire fell into him again, draping himself over his arms.

“Owe ya.” He murmured drowsily, head falling into Xander’s shoulder, lips uncomfortably close to his skin. “Don’t like… Owin’ you lot.”

Rolling his eyes, Xander slid his arm around Spike and guided him to the couch. “Go to sleep.” He murmured quietly. “I don’t take my dues in sex, Spike. We’ll figure it out when you’re sober.”

He tossed Spike to the couch and left him there, refusing to look back. His feet guided him to his bedroom, and his hands slammed his door shut, but by then his body had disconnected from his mind, stuck on a desire he was unwilling to admit to. At last, the urge took over, and he bit into his lower lip, sucking the taste of beer and blood away.





Part Three

The time on the cable box said 4:37. Spike had cracked one eye open to check.

Then he’d rolled over and shoved his face into the crux of the cushions.

Three hours later, he still couldn’t get the dizzies out of his brain. Nor could he figure out why he’d done what he’d done.

Fuck, Harris? Really?

Licking his lips for the fourth time since he’d sobered up, he tried to summon the memory of that taste that couldn’t quite leave him. It wasn’t necessarily the taste—the beer and the pizza sauce—but the feeling he’d stolen with that kiss that had him shaken. Warmth. Maybe. Or something that felt like warmth, but didn’t blossom into any discernable grade of heat. A spark, a shock, some click of chemistry that had flicked his switch. Okay, perhaps not quite that far. Because he certainly didn’t have the urge to jump the kid’s bones. Not at that very second, anyway.

Brunettes… His mind chided him as he rolled over onto his back, throwing his arms above his head. He should’ve learned his lesson after all these years. Hell, he thought he had. Dru, ‘Gelus… William’s precious Cecily… All of these memories had served to prove that brunettes were one bad habit that Spike needed to break. But Xander Harris wasn’t Dru, and he certainly wasn’t the Great Pouf. He was mortal for one thing, and a fucking White Hat for another—not to mention the veritable buzz that surrounded him wherever he went, calling demons like the pied piper…

… Making his own demon delirious with the want to bite…

He rolled his eyes at himself, feeling low. Alright, he couldn’t blame himself for a stupid drunken kiss. Kid would get over it, maybe even appreciate it. Broaden his horizons, or whatever. But if he kept thinking about it, he’d wind up getting all bent out of shape, feeling guilty for corrupting him like his Great Nonce of a Grandsire. All because he was drunk, excited, practically out of his skin—and the reason for his elation just so happened to be a fucking brunette, to whom he owed one hell of a night.

Xander Harris was a lucky charm.

The money in his back pocket made it hard to get comfortable, and he pushed off the couch with a scowl of frustration. That had to be it, right? He’d been on a losing streak all week, taking the money from Xander’s freezer, and all of a sudden he’s made a killing? Hell, he’d cleaned the whole table out, one round after another. They’d even checked him for charms, to make sure he wasn’t cheating. And he wasn’t. He was just playing poker. And winning. The one night the boy tells him he can just…?

“Take it. Just fucking take it. Go ahead.”

Thinking of the words made his chest feel tight. Like he needed to breathe, all of a sudden.

He ripped the money out of his back pocket and slapped the bills over his palm, edgy and unsure of what to do. Finally, he yanked open the freezer and stuffed the wad of bills into the empty tube sock still lying there.

It was much fatter than it had been before.

--

The dream had come to him every night that week, and had followed him into the waking hours of the morning, filling him with such grief that he could barely move.

Laying on his back in the sleeping bag he’d shared with Jesse, just like that night they’d spent in the woods when they were fifteen. Jesse’s hands down his pants, his own in his hair, mouths locked together as they tried to remember how this worked and rode the high of not knowing. Of feeling. Making out, bucking against each other, pretending they were just two lovers camping because Xander didn’t want to remember that his father had tossed him out the door and said “Don’t Come Back”. It was the night he’d learned what men can do to each other. The pain and the pleasure of it, the way he tasted and the way he looked when he came. They’d gone so far that night that it became impossible to just kiss anymore—and impossible to keep their hands to themselves.

… Until.

God Fucking Damn Spike. Fucking drunk-ass vampire, just kissing him like that?

Jesus.

Rolling out of bed, he glanced at the clock and saw that it was barely an hour before he was due at Giovanni’s. He had to shower, and fast. With a soft curse, he snatched his uniform shirt and yesterday’s jeans from the chair he’d tossed them on and ran for the bathroom, bypassing a thankfully out-cold Spike on the way.

Spike had been weird all week. He hadn’t mentioned the kiss, Thank God, but he’d been strangely quiet. Less insults, more staring. And, fuck, if that didn’t drive him up a wall. Hell, they’d had a good thing going with all the banter, and now it was like he was insulting a plant, or a house cat or something. He just stared. And man, those eyes knew exactly how to make a person squirm. He wondered if he even remembered the fucking kiss at all—not that he’d ever, ever ask. Lately, the only interaction he’s had with the vamp was when he’d come for him for money.

That was the other strange detail. Every day, just before he left for work, Spike would hold up a twenty dollar bill and ask if he could borrow it. God knows where he’s finding these twenties— Xander doesn’t even want to know. But he’d say “Give ye half the winnings”, and Xander would roll his eyes and say “Whatever, Spike,” and move on. He was starting to worry the vamp had a gambling addiction or something.

Yeah, Rolling his eyes at himself, Xander hopped into the shower and prayed to the Hot Water Gods before turning the dial. Because that would be weird…

T B C