Notes: Woo-hoo! We rocked the Spander 5K (=Pervy Geeks in Motion) here in our little corner of the world, with a sunny morning and a couple of firefighters in full gear, and a bunch of little kids, and some seriously long straightaways. Sheesh. It was a 10K all told, which means next year we can put our feet up and congratulate ourselves on having stored an extra 5K away for the future. Gist: Jolie did fantastic, I survived, and then we went for bagels. What more could we want?
"You have got to be kidding me."
There was a fizzling sound, and the back bumper dropped off. Xander flinched. Spike pursed his lips.
"Might still be doable." He dropped to a squat, peered beneath the sagging undercarriage, and stood up again quickly. "Or we could steal one."
"I'm not stealing a car." Xander couldn't take his eyes off the hood, which was now mostly gone. What remained was a delicate lacework of acid-eaten metal and smoking steel guts. "I can't believe that's my car."
"Not like it was worth anything anyway."
"It was our ride, Spike. It was going to get us across town with this--" Xander brandished the wrapped fetish "--so Willow can do the...thing..." He let his hand fall and went back to staring blankly at his car. One tire had been hit with acid, and was slowly hissing down into a comfortable recline. "It was my car."
"Witch owes you one then," Spike said, stepping back and pulling a cigarette out of his pocket. "What time is it?"
"Willow? Willow doesn't owe me a car, Spike. Willow isn't the one who dismembered a Bunyip on the hood of my one and only automobile, which I bought and paid for with money I earned schlepping pizza through the death-infested nights of Sunny--"
Spike grabbed Xander's wrist and looked at his watch. "Half past already."
"Half past, as in eleven thirty?" Xander held the watch up close to his own face so he could make out the numbers in the night. "Holy shit."
"How far's it from here?"
Xander calculated rapidly. "I don't know."
"Three miles, maybe."
"More than that."
"Not that much."
Spike gave him a deathly, slit-eyed glare. "Three. And. A half."
"I can't run that far in half an hour." Xander's voice was pitched high, elevated by memories of high-school track practices spent warming the bench and picking up other guys' gonch. Ew. Spike was looking at him, with the kind of speculative, surprise me look that people wore at Sunnydale Sluggers games. "Shut up. I can do it."
"You're too fat." Spike blew out a cloud of smoke and stamped out his butt. "Give it to me, I'll take it."
"You'll sell it on Ebay, asshole."
"No I won't." He didn't even bother trying for sincerity anymore. He put out a hand, and Xander slapped it away.
"Go mug a stamp machine, deadboy. I'm taking it." With that, Xander tucked the fetish under his right arm, the way football players carried footballs, and started jogging. Immediately, he heard Spike's feet fall into step beside him. "Get lost, will you?"
"You could trip," Spike said. "And there'd be nobody to point and laugh."
"I hate you." Xander lowered his head and ran.
He made it up Lowdermilk to Parmenter feeling pretty good. He had spring in his stride, he had the fetish jammed in his pit so tightly it didn't even feel like a weight. He'd spent his whole life running from stuff, he realized--maybe he was good at it by now. He'd never paid much attention to it. Maybe he had a talent after all.
Spike lit a cigarette in mid-stride.
About three blocks up Parmenter, things stopped being quite so great. Something happened to gravity, and suddenly Xander's legs didn't kick out quite the way they had been doing. He could feel sweat starting to prickle up under his brow and between his shoulder blades. He glanced at his watch. Eleven thirty-eight. Shit. He had a ways to go still. The fetish was jiggling loose, getting harder to hold onto. He clamped down harder with his arm and tried to pick up the pace.
"Sad," Spike said, blowing smoke considerately in the opposite direction. "Modern life makes you all such bloody weeble-wobbles. Big round bottoms and nothing up top."
"Tell me," Xander gasped, "that you aren't checking out my ass."
"Can't help it, can I? Too big not to."
"I'd just get high cholesterol."
Xander gritted his teeth and ran.
He made it up Parmenter to Vine and hung a last-minute left, almost clobbering Spike into a hedge. He was sweating now--Sunnydale nights in July were hot. He kept seeing the hood of his car go up in smoke and Bunyip acid, and Willow's face as she told him what would happen if she didn't have the fetish by midnight. The car was the least of his troubles. He had a stitch up his right side, all the way into the depths of his armpit, as if some insane acupuncturist had sunk a hundred white-hot needles into him. His breath was starting to feel tight in his chest. He checked his watch: eleven forty-five.
"You're not going to make it," Spike said, loping along like a Kenyan. Momentarily, Xander wished he could stop and watch, because Spike running was a pretty hilarious sight. Then he just wished he could stop. Maybe he should give the thing to Spike. Spike could be there in five minutes flat. But Spike would run the other direction, laughing like the supreme dickhead he was. Spike liked to kill things, and he'd killed the Bunyip, and that was useful, and now Spike needed to disappear.
"Please fuck off," Xander gasped, veering left into the alley and readjusting the fetish. "I will pay you to fuck off."
Wheezing, Xander sorted through his trouser pocket with his free hand, scattering lint and pennies behind him. He dragged out the few bills he knew he had, and held them out without looking at them. Spike took them, examined them, and pocketed them.
"Not enough," he said, and kept running.
Xander squeezed his eyes shut until he saw red stars in the blackness, then opened them again just in time to avoid braining himself on a lowered fire escape.
The alley dead-ended into the back of the Bronze, but there was a walk-through on the right, along the chain-link. Xander took it at a sprint, shouldering the gate open and hurdling the empty pony kegs he knew were there.
"Nice!" Spike called out from somewhere overhead. He was on the roof, Xander realized. Show-off.
When he hit the street again, Spike dropped down beside him as if nothing had happened, grinning that jerkoff grin.
"You know your gutters, I'll give you that."
"Thanks." That was all Xander could manage. He shifted the fetish to the other arm and checked his watch again. Somehow it was eleven fifty-three already, and he had a mile left to go. "Oh....fuck...." With the distinct sensation of brain cells popping in his inner ears, he buckled down again.
"You can do it!" Spike said heartily, then cracked up. He was so clearly dogging it, just out for an evening stroll, nothing to see here, that it made Xander want to punch him. The stitch was worse now, like a knife cutting into his side. His legs felt dead. He must have stepped in wet cement somewhere along the way. Or the air had thickened. Or he'd gained twenty pounds. He was pulling an invisible tire, an invisible Volkswagen bug, an invisible Sears Tower. Sweat ran freely down his spine into his boxers. His shoulders ached.
"Three minutes," Spike intoned, and Xander looked with horror at his watch. Five, actually. He was going to stake Spike when this was over. If he could still lift an arm.
"They've left already," Spike said after a small eternity, and that was Xander's cue to look up and see that they were right where they were supposed to be, Willow and Buffy and Giles, right in the middle of the green circle on top of the reservoir, staring down the hill at him as if he were riding the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile toward them. All he had to do was get up the hill and he was done. He willed his knees up, willed his legs to eat up the vertical gain. His hamstrings were like plucked piano strings, singing shocked little arias of pain. His heart hammered in his forehead. The fetish weighed a ton.
"Xander--?" That was Willow, sounding astonished and thank god, very close. He took the last few yards at a sprint and almost bowled her over. "Xander, are you okay?"
"Fih--" He thrust the fetish at her, gasping for breath. "Here, take--"
She took it warily, hugged it to her chest, and kept staring at him. "Is someone after you?"
"Spike--" Buffy had already gone to suspicion mode. "What's going on?"
"Get the...do the...it's midnight--" Xander jabbed a finger at his watch, then noticed that the casting circle was only half done. Giles was standing in the middle of it with the chalk bag in his hand, looking nonplussed. "Um...hello?" Saving the world here? He couldn't say any more, though--all he could do was stand there with his hands on his hips, gasping.
"Spike." Buffy took an ominous step down the hill. Xander spat, wiped his mouth, and realized that Spike was laughing.
"Is there anyone following you?" Giles asked, his eyebrows at half-mast. "Were you chased?"
"No." Xander looked at the three of them, then back at the half-finished casting circle. "It's midnight, right?"
"It's eleven o'clock." Buffy took another step down toward Spike, who'd started to stumble back down the hill. He was giggling into his hand. "Spike, what did you do?"
"Nothing." Momentarily, he affected indignation--then the funny overcame him and he could barely speak. "You should see that one run. Like Benny Hill through the hedgerows." He snerked again, then yelped when Buffy pegged him with an incense burner.
"I need that," Willow said, turning back to the circle. "Xander, do you want to sit down for a minute?"
"No." He slowly straightened up, took a few deep breaths, and palmed sweat off his forehead. His watch read ten fifty-nine. Not eleven fifty-nine. While he stared at it, the second hand swept past the twelve. "I'm just going to..." He wandered off a few steps across the grass, still breathing deeply, his hands still wedged in his hips.
"The important thing is, it's here on time, right?" Even without turning around, he could see Willow's hopeful face. He waved to let her know it was okay, everything was cool. They were all quiet for a few seconds, and then he heard Buffy order Spike to throw the incense burner back up the hill. Giles went back to muttering Latin. The wind was cool up here, and the stars were close.
Xander laced his fingers behind his neck and stared at the stars while his blood receded into all its usual haunts. His whole body felt warm and elastic. His ears felt clearer than they had in months. He felt...good.
"Xander?" Willow's voice was tentative. "Um, what happened to your car?"
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