1 Count Spikeula
"Bloody hell... we're out of Weetabix again!"
The sound of a vampire whining. Truly a healing balm to Xander Harris' already abused and exhausted ears. He climbed slowly down the stairs to his pseudo-apartment in his pseudo-parents' basement. His Job-of-the-Week, waiter/bouncer/hazardous waste disposal officer at Sunnydale's only (hence, packed to bursting) Chuck-E-Cheese, had worn his nerves to a frazzle. The last thing he needed was a grumpy, bored vampire on his hands.
"Ahh, the Children of the Night...what music they make..." he said in a muffled voice as he peeled off the blue polo-shirt that comprised half his uniform. Then, more clearly, while smoothing his dark hair back into a non-perpendicular position, "For the record, Spike, I am out of Weetabix again, since I bought it in the first place. I'm also out of steam, and you are out of your undead mind if you think I'm going back out at 11:00 just so you can have cereal that stays crunchy in blood. You're also out of my apartment if you don't shut the hell up and let me get some sleep."
Xander shook his head and looked critically at his uniform shirt-- wash or wear again? A pizza sauce stain covered the left breast in a triangle that looked like a demented Star Trek insignia. Ensign Harris, report to Deck Three for kiddie-puke detail... That was the least exotic-looking stain on the shirt, and after getting the thing within two inches of his nose...eeew. Wash. Definitely. Later.
"But... but...no Weetabix..." Spike moaned tragically. "You don't love me anymore, Xander!"
"And tell me again why you're in my apartment, oh unloved one?" Xander asked tiredly, as he tossed the dirty shirt vaguely in the direction of the washing machine. It sailed over Spike's head, landing on top of a large pile of cast-off uniforms from cast-off jobs, and Xander gave a half-hearted "cha-ching" sound. Ha-- I may not be able to keep a crappy job, but at least I can keep their crappy clothes! There's a moral victory in there somewhere, I'm sure of it.
"Er...Initiative gits trash Spike's crypt? Harris boy not smart enough to hang crosses and garlic over door? Homeless but still hard-core vamp stops in on pathetic Slayerette in attempt to improve said boy's taste in interior decorating?" Spike jerked his bleach-blond head in the direction of the large "Sex Pistols in '66" poster he'd apparently tacked to the wall while Xander had been in Chuck-E-Cheese Hell this evening. "Any of those events ring a bell?"
"Homeless vamp betrays generous Scooby Gang to grotesque demonic-human hybrid with delusions of grandeur? Or, more recently, Harris boy threatens to stake pathetic vampire who won't shut up while courageous Slayerette's trying to get some well-deserved sleep after a really bad week ? Ring any bells?" Ending on a harsh note, Xander unceremoniously yanked his khaki Dockers-wanna-be uniform pants down and off, and fell with an exaggerated thud onto the sofa bed, clad only in Snoopy boxers and eau de Chuck-E-Cheese.
Spike laughed mockingly. "Ooh, courageous Slayerette survives yet another night of serving overcooked pizza to six-year-olds. That'll go down in the annals of the Watchers' Council." He returned to rummaging about in the small area that served as Xander's kitchen. Then he poked his head back round the corner. "Anyway, I explained about Adam."
"Yeah, something about 'I'm evil, what the hell did you expect, now can I put this blood in your fridge, or what?' as I recall," Xander replied. One arm thrown over his eyes to shut out the light from Spike's end of the room, he sighed theatrically. "And aside from being mobbed by the rugrats at Cool Chuck's for a week straight, my loving girlfriend decided this Monday that we have no future, because I'm not in love with her. Although I'm apparently a Viking in the sack," he grumped.
"So I've heard. Wondered why the chickie hadn't been by all week. Poor courageous Slayerette. Dumped by ex-demon because he has a commitment problem. I take it all back," Spike oozed.
"I don't have a commitment problem. Except for the fact that I should probably be committed for not kicking you out of here. Don't suppose you could voluntarily get the hell out and stalk the wild Weetabix yourself, could you? I mean, Creature of the Night and all."
"Broke. Unless generous Slayerette wants to lend me some dosh." Spike's voice perked up.
"Bite me, Spike." Xander answered without uncovering his eyes. He'd finally accepted that while Spike was as good at head games as ever, he really was trustworthy, or at least harmless, in a physical way. Not that he ever thought about Spike in a physical way. Nope. Never ever thought about how Spike looks in those obnoxiously tight jeans that he managed to shrink in my washer again . Not me. All man, me.
Spike chuckled. "Nummy a treat as you might be, mate, biting you is unfortunately not an option." Xander cracked open one eyelid in time to see him turn back to the cabinet next to the tiny fridge. "That's why I'm trying to find some more bloody..." Spike reached into the back of the cabinet..."Shredded Wheat?" He held a box of the Nabisco delicacy in one pale hand and was looking at it in disgust.
Xander groaned. "Look, the only place to get Weetabix around here is that little import grocery on 5th, and they charge out the wazoo for it. That's the last box of freakin' Weetabix you're getting out of me, so you might as well learn to like Shredded Wheat. So there, good night, parting is such sweet sorrow, don't let the door hit you, et cetera."
"Hmph. Sacrilege. Anyway, this one's empty too." Spike said, tossing the box at the trash can with more strength than accuracy.
Xander propped himself up on one elbow, and spoke slowly and clearly, through clenched teeth. Which was an impressive feat in and of itself.
"So. Find. Something. Else. And. Shut. Up." With one last glare at the hyperactive vampire, Xander buried his head beneath a pillow and tried to sleep.
There was a bit of banging as Spike worked his way through the rest of Xander's storage space, and then silence, blessed, sweet silence. Xander began to think he might actually be able to sleep before he had to get up, shower, and prepare to greet the world at his day job. What was his day job again? Oh yeah, stockboy. Cool stripey uniform and all the discounted Shredded Wheat you can carry home. Can't remember occupation -- need sleep. Mmm... sleep...
But then the silence, and the still-functioning brain --dammit -- began to prey on him. It might be bedtime for an exhausted Xander, but it was about noon for Spike. What was he up to that was so...damn...quiet? Xander began to listen, really listen. Finally, from the silence, came "slide...scrape... slurp...crunch crunch crunch..."
He turned over in his bed, pillow still over his eyes. Crunch? What did he find that could possibly...crunch...oh god, no...
Unable to shake the terrifying suspicion forming in his burned-out brain, Xander crawled out of bed and stumbled over to the card table he'd set up in his laughable little kitchenette. Blinking, he finally focused on Spike, who was seated at the table next to the tell-tale brown box, cheerfully shoveling in a huge spoonful of blood and...
"Count Chocula ???" Xander shrieked, horrified beyond all imagining.
Spike looked up innocently at him with a mouthful of bloody chocolate cereal. Not in game face. That made it even creepier. "Wha'?" he mumbled defensively. Chew. Swallow. "You said to find something else. I did."
"B...but...the Count...that's just completely disgusting!" Xander sputtered, still aghast.
"Dunno why. Stays crunchy in blood, like y'said. Endorsed by a cartoon vampire, so it's gotta be good. Even has these cute little marshmallow ghosts in it," Spike teased. "Besides, blood n' chocolate...it's like vampire Viagra." He waggled one dark eyebrow in a way that would have been distubingly sexy if he hadn't still had traces of chocolatey blood around his lips.
OK, it's still disturbingly sexy, but also disgusting, if that's possible. Welcome to the Hellmouth. "TMI..." Xander muttered.
"Too Much Information."
"It's the iron content, or somethin'," Spike went on, grinning.
Dammit, he's doing this on purpose! "It's my childhood, Spike," Xander tried to explain.
"You've just poured blood over my childhood and now you're crunching it to pieces with your big vampire teeth." He reached for the box, and Spike blocked his way with his non-spoon-holding hand.
"How poetic. Too bad. S'good. I like it. Nummy." The vampire grinned again.
Xander looked back down at the bowl of chocolate crunchies and marshmallows, swimming in blood. Shuddered.
"Spike, I will do anything --anything-- not to ever have to see you eat Count Chocula and blood again." He reached for the box again, and this time Spike let him have it. The vampire put his spoon down slowly, and stood up.
"Anything, Harris?" He did the eyebrow thing again.
Xander backed up against the refrigerator, box of Count Chocula clutched against his bare chest. "Umm...within reason, of course..."
Spike walked around the table toward him.
"I'll switch to Shredded Wheat, or maybe Cocoa Puffs, tomorrow. But it's only fair that you give the Count a chance. How can you say this gourmet treat is disgusting when you haven't even tasted it?" The demonic grin was still in place.
Xander glanced over at the bowl still half full of Count Bloodula. Taste that ? He looked up at Spike and shook his head resolutely. Nope. Not me. I'll die before I'll...
Spike cocked his head as he followed Xander's eyes to the bowl and back. If anything, the blinding grin got wider. Spike slowly shook his own head, and then, in a move that was faster than anything Xander had ever seen, Spike was right in front of him...two inches away... leaning in toward his face, and... kissing him?
The vampire's lips weren't cold at all. Warm with microwaved blood, they pressed against Xander's own, and, involuntarily, he opened his to meet them. Blood and chocolate. Lips...tongue...blood and chocolate. Sweet and warm, strong as the cold hands that gripped his shoulders, as the body that pressed him up against the half-height fridge. Blood and chocolate. Need something...what? Oh, yeah...blood and chocolate...no - air! Need air!
Spike finally pulled away, and the grin had become a smirk. "That's right, you have to breathe, don't you. Inconvenient, innit." He let go of Xander and stomped back to the table. "So, what's the verdict? Do I get to keep my chocolate crunchies?" He sat down in front of his bowl, spoon poised over it.
Xander peeled the crushed box of cereal from his chest. Shakily, he walked over and put it back on the table.
"Umm, yeah. All yours. Just...don't forget to wash the bowl out afterwards." He walked unsteadily back to his bed, and dived under the covers. He could hear Spike chuckling even with the pillow pulled over his head.
Sleep. He needed... Chocolate and blood ...sleep. Yeah, that was it. So why couldn't he? Chocolate and blood... Xander growled at himself, at the taste that was still in his mouth, and poked his head out from under the pillow.
"Turn off the damned light!"
Spike looked up from his crunching, and smiled. "Yes, dear," he replied sarcastically.
Xander pulled the pillow back over his head and sighed. "How I'm supposed to get any sleep with you around is beyond me!"
It might have been the distorting effect of the pillow, but he could have sworn he heard Spike say in a perfectly serious mutter, "Too bloody right."
2 Peanut Butter And...
Xander shrugged out of his FoodMart stockboy shirt and hung it in his locker. A reasonably uneventful morning of unpacking boxes, freezing his ass off re-filling the dairy case, and cleaning up a disastrous baby-food spill on Aisle Nine had left him still able to walk and chew gum. Which was more than he could say for last night's thrill-a-minute late shift at Chuck-E-Cheese, not to mention the psychotic interlude that had followed when he got home. The routine of the morning had given him all too much time to think about how little sleep he'd gotten the previous night, and why. A half-hour stint of re-arranging the cereal aisle hadn't helped matters.
At the end of his five-hour shift, as he pushed his cart down the aisles looking for provisions that would fit in his little refrigerator or his three tiny cupboards, his thoughts weren't any clearer. He pulled items off the shelf almost on auto-pilot. So what the hell did Spike mean by... that, and what the hell did I mean by not kicking his undead ass?
It wasn't like he'd been cheating on anybody, since Anya had unceremoniously informed him on Monday afternoon that "they" were over, but she'd like to stay friends. He still couldn't quite wrap his mind around that concept. Friends? Anya? Anya who only puts up with mine because I told her over and over that there are other relationships in the world than the orgasmic? And when did I come to that mature conclusion, anyway? Couldn't have proved it by me in high school... But Spike? Undead guy? Male undead guy?
He rounded the corner of Aisle Two (bread and condiments) and banged his shopping cart smack into the cart of the last person he expected to see. (Well, technically, Spike would have been the last person, since it was one in the afternoon and the sun was high in the sky, so maybe the second-to-last person.) Anya herself. Her cart was well-stocked with yummy junk-food, Xander noted approvingly in the middle of his panic. I have taught the young Jedi well. She looked up at him.
"Are you stalking me, Xander? Because while it's strangely flattering, the next step as I understand it would be either you leaving dead tropical fish in an envelope on my bed, or us ending up on the Jerry Springer Show. Can we skip those steps?" She said it with a perfectly straight face, and God knew, she was probably serious. Humor was one of those things that Anya was rediscoving...slowly.
"Yes, Anya, I came to work today with the express purpose of stalking you. I exist only to terrorize you with discount grocery products. If you don't come back to me, I swear I'll suffocate myself in the plastic-bag recycling bin." He reached down to disentangle the left front wheel of his cart from the right front wheel of hers. Yes, Anya, I can't live without you. That's why I let a blood-sucking demon kiss me last night. Yeah, that would go over well.
Anya was silent for a minute. Finally, "That was a joke, right?"
Xander stood back up. Anya had her face screwed up in a quizzical expression, and she wore an old t-shirt and faded jeans -- but she still looked like hot sex on toast. Well, at least I'm still functioning in a manly manner, even if it's my ex-girlfriend I happen to be ogling.
"Yes, that was a joke."
"I knew it! And you told me I wouldn't recognize humor if it came up and bit me on the ass." She smiled proudly.
"Woo-hoo, go you. No ass-biting required. No, I'm not stalking you, An. And the tropical fish gag is supposed to be pulled on your best friend, not you. Which would be... Never mind." Xander followed that thought to its logical conclusion -- her best friend had been him, hadn't it? And now who did she have? Then he followed his comment to its logical conclusion, and realized that it didn't come out the way he meant, as a hurt expression materialized on Anya's face.
"I guess I deserved that," she answered slowly. "At the moment I guess I am my own best friend. But I really wasn't trying to be when I broke up with you. Look, Xander, I was hoping we could also skip the step where you hate me and say bitter, funny things to me every time we meet. Can we?"
"That could be dangerous. Remember when Willow tried to skip a few steps in the breakup process?" he teased. "I'm sorry, Anya. That wasn't meant to be a Chandler Bing moment. If I learned anything from Cordy it's that nursing grudges sucks, even with zingy one-liners. I don't hate you. I don't understand, but I don't hate you." He pulled his cart back and maneuvered it around Anya's, so their carts stood side by side, completely blocking the bread aisle. God help us if there's a run on tasty baked goods.
"Oh, good. See, that's why I love you. You're so sensible." She smiled, apparently completely relieved, then added, "And the mind-blowing sex was also a factor."
The middle-aged woman a few feet down the aisle from Anya looked over at them, scanned Xander head-to-toe, and muttered, "Whatever you say, little girl," before turning back to the Wonder Bread display.
"Hey, if she says it was mind-blowing, it was mind-blowing... " Xander answered hotly, and then more slowly, " Mrs. Thompson..." and then began repeatedly banging his head against the edge of a shelf. Yes, Xander, that's it. Debate your ex-sex-life with your mother's bridge partner. That'll make a lovely topic of conversation at the Fourth of July barbecue. Only when he heard his neighbor's cart squeak off down the aisle did he look back up at Anya.
"OK, so if I'm Mr. Sensible Mind-Blowing Sex Guy, why is it you dumped me, again?" he said in what he hoped was a sensible, not-pathetic voice.
"Because you're not in love with me. And you won't ever be," she said matter-of-factly, as if she were explaining politely why choosy moms choose Jif.
"Yeah, I heard that part. But the machine must have cut you off before you got around to what the hell you meant by that. " And thank God Spike showed up on Tuesday, and wasn't around to take that message... I'd never live it down.
She grimaced. "Yes...sorry. That was cowardly. Manlike, even."
"I do love you, Anya. I thought you knew that." I question some of your socialization skills, but I'm pretty sure I do love you. "And yeah, there's the mind-blowing sex. Which is nice. But it isn't everything." He yanked two loaves of whole wheat bread off the shelf, thought better of it, and decided on that childhood comforter, Wonder bread. Which was on the other side of Anya.
"Yes, you do. And no, it isn't. You love me the same way you love Buffy, and not quite as much as you love Willow. I really am just your friend. An orgasm friend, sure. But do you see us getting married, Xander? Do you see us together in five years? Are you even sure you want to spend next Christmas with me? You're not in love with me, and right now that's enough for you, to be friends who have sex, or think about having sex, or discuss having sex loudly in public places. "
"Hey, that last one's your specialty." Or did she mean that we were supposed to have sex loudly in a public place? I do remember discussing that, and I distinctly recall veto-ing the idea...
"Shut up and let me finish, please. I may not be explaining this very well. I haven't had a lot of practice with amicable breakups. Most of the communications I was involved in tended to involve boils or exploding sexual organs. But you need to understand. It's not enough for me. I could pretend that it was, and probably make you believe it. But sooner or later it wouldn't be enough for you either. And you'd hurt me. You wouldn't mean to, but you would. And I'd hate you, and there'd be frogs and leprosy and plagues of locusts. Or there would be if I had my powers back. I don't want that, because, believe it or not, Xander Harris, completely separate from craving your luscious manly body..."
There was a snort from the next aisle over that made Xander suspect that Mrs. Thompson hadn't traveled very far.
"...and the whole being in love with you thing, which I think I can maybe get over, if we end this now..."
Pause for breath, Anya, or you'll turn blue, Xander thought.
"...I like you. And I don't want to not like you anymore. I'm new to this friend thing, and I only have a few. You were my first, and I don't want to lose you."
OK, brain not functioning properly. Maybe I'm having a stroke? That might explain last night. It was a figment of lack of blood supply to the brain. Anya broke up with me because she likes me? And this is actually making sense to me?
"That's...pretty sensible, from the girl who thought we were breaking up because we didn't have sex for two nights in a row," he finally replied. He pushed his cart forward, until he was standing next to her, and put his arms around her. It felt...familiar, and strange, at the same time. Anya as friend? It would take some getting used to.
"Yeah, well..." she answered. "You got a call from Cordelia while you were in the shower last week. She's pretty smart, for somebody who willingly chose not to have sex with you. We talked. She taught. I learned."
"In one phone call?"
"It was a long shower."
"And the message was?"
Anya frowned. "Something about demons overrunning the Earth if you didn't call her back by Wednesday, I think. Nothing important."
"Anya???? Demons??? Wednesday??? It's Saturday!"
She grinned, and dug her elbow into his side, which was conveniently close, since he still had her wrapped in a loose hug.
"Gotcha! Woo-hoo. Go me! No ass-biting required." Humor. From Anya. Oh yeah, definite stroke evidence. Xander smiled.
"Harris! I'm all for customer service, but we don't offer that kind of service in FoodMart, last time I checked." The weekend manager, Jack Dunphy, stood at the end of the aisle, a scowl on his face.
Xander disengaged locking mechanisms and pulled away from Anya. "So, ma'am, you were looking for Aunt Millie's Potato Bread? We're out of it, but we do have the Oatmeal Bread on the second shelf there."
Dunphy gave him a "who do you think you're fooling?" look, but moved on past. Hey-- I'm off the clock. If I want to cuddle with my ex-girlfriend in Aisle Two, what business is it of yours? Well, aside from the obvious thing about apparent foreplay in a public place...
"Actually, I was looking for those Jif Smooth Sensations flavored peanut butters. And Cordelia said hi, and asked for Tara's number, since Willow wasn't home. " Anya informed him, suddenly purposeful. She reached across to the condiment side of the aisle, and pulled down a jar of brown peanut butter, eyeing it thoughtfully.
"Umm, Anya, that might be a little out of date. Not that we'd ever ...er...forget to take stock off the shelves in time around here.." Xander commented, looking at the jar.
"Nope. It's supposed to be this color. It's chocolate." She dropped the plastic jar into her cart.
"Chocolate? They make chocolate peanut butter, and no one told me?" Xander swooped three of the little jars into his cart. The two great forces of the universe, united in one creamy potion....A Bad Xander Thought™ ran through his head: What can you do with spreadable chocolate? Yeah, I'm definitely having a stroke. I can't feel my brain.
Anya looked down at his cart, and the most puzzled look he'd ever seen crossed her face. What? He hadn't exactly been paying attention to what he'd been pulling off the shelves, but surely it wasn't full of tampons and Midol or something? He was reasonably sure he hadn't been down that aisle...
"Xander," she finally asked, "Why do you have six boxes of Count Chocula in your cart?"
3 Sometimes You Feel Like A Nut...
Parking lot of the Food Mart. Dark-haired guy in jeans and Sunnydale Swim Team t-shirt. Arms full of grocery bags. Look left -- no demons. Look right -- no vamps. It's 1:30 in the afternoon, Harris. They don't sell Gems of Amara in the gumball machine next to the exit sign. Spin around -- no Anya following him to rip apart his lame excuses for buying six boxes of Count Chocula, three jars of chocolate peanut butter, and a 24-count Valu-pack of Almond Joy candy bars.
Said excuses being:
1. He was planning to make "Count Chocula treats" for the Scoobyriffic research party at Giles' next Tuesday-- a bold-faced lie which resulted in him also having to buy several bags of marshmallows and a tub of butter. But I can't very well tell her that my subconscious is apparently hoping the blood-sucking, chocolate-crunching undead will decide to give me mouth-to-mouth again. Preferably without the blood this time. Oh, I did not just think that. I am losing my mind!
2. He was out of peanut butter-- the shameful truth.
3. Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't-- that one had earned him a smile. Okay, the Anya getting his jokes thing was really wiggins-inducing..
Truthfully, junk food, especially chocolate, was his fallback comfort zone. Home life getting a little too nightmarish? Love life or lack thereof tearing him up inside? There was always his safe, supportive, delicious friend, chocolate. And Willow, and once, Jesse. They'd been the Three Musketeers. Chocolate was d'Artagnon! Willow would be so proud of me. See, watching American Movie Classics at 3 a.m. really can increase your cultural literacy.
When they'd lost Jesse, when they'd found Buffy, everything changed. Their fab four turned into the fab five. Or fab six. Or fab seven, depending on the day of the week or the phase of the moon. And when I felt like I was on the outside looking in, couldn't do a damn thing to help save the world this week, at least there was good old chocolate. Friends and lovers may come and go, but chocolate is constant. Chocolate is pure and good. Especially this last year, as he began to feel more and more left behind, while the fab however-many seemed to be falling apart. And I'm babbling, thankfully not out loud. Chocolate is pure and good?
Now, though, since Adam, they were back in each other's lives. Now they were vowing Scooby togetherness, and no more keeping stupid hurtful secrets. Now chocolate was on the outside lookin' in, and everything was supposed to be fine in Xanderland, except for the whole Anya dumping him thing, which, truthfully, he wasn't all that upset about. Confused, but somehow not surprised, and since their little conversation in Aisle Two, not even all that confused any more.
So-- Almond Joy. Lots of it. Why? Because I'm losing my frickin' mind! Chocolate, come home, all is forgiven! I neeeeed you! Spike. Basement. Tight jeans. Count Chocula. Kiss. Huh? And then there was the fact that he'd played the entire experience over in his mind in a delirious film loop all day as he'd stocked groceries. And his entire conversation with Anya had been carried on with "I did not kiss a vampire last night, I did not kiss Spike last night" playing as the background music in his skull. Chocolate, help meeeee! Silence from the chocolate. I'm not gay, right? Not that there's anything wrong with that... I'm cool with good old Larry, may he rest in peace, and believe me, I'm totally in the Willow and Tara groove, but not me, right? Right? Um, chocolate, you're not answering me here....
Except chocolate wasn't really all that pure anymore, was it, since the blonde vampire had pressed his chocolate-coated lips to Xander's chocolate and blood, but I'm trying to forget that, blown Xander's exhausted mind, Xander, mind, he blew your mind, and then smirked his way back to the table to happily crunch his bloody Count Chocula. And a big eeeuww to my mind for dredging up that image, thanks so much... Still, it wasn't chocolate's fault Spike had dragged it into that bizarre little scene. Chocolate would stand by him, Xander was sure of it.
Yup, talkin' 'bout the choc like it's a person. Definitely feelin' like a nut at the moment. With that thought, he reached his Uncle Rory's repaired-for-the-moment car, and set the grocery bags on the trunk. Reaching into the all-important one, he ripped open the plastic on the Valu-pack and fished out one of those familiar blue-wrappered bars. Tearing the slick paper away, he slid both milk-chocolate pieces out of their cardboard holder and into his waiting mouth. Prozac for the poor: sweet milk-chocolate, chewy coconut, and those two crunchy almonds waiting in the center of each bar... Oh, yeah.
Spike was trapped, bored, and looking for a fight. Unfortunately the only thing he could find to fight with at the moment was Xander's washing machine, and it was winning. Not stupid enough to try washing his own clothes in it again, at least not yet, he'd decided to practice on Xander's. The mixed pile of cast-off and still viable uniforms on the floor, including the one that the boy had thrown at his head last night, provided a nice start. Everything was going swimmingly until the damned buzzer went off, and nothing he did seemed to make a blind bit of difference towards shutting it up. It didn't do this before! What the hell button did I press this time??
"Xander, open the lid and add the fabric softener! If you absolutely have to set the washer on Idiot-Proof, the least you can do is pay attention to the buzzer!" shouted an exasperated female voice from upstairs. Spike lifted the washer's lid, and there was wonderful, holy, or maybe unholy, silence.
Ah, thank you, Xander's half-drunk mum. You, I'll consider not killing immediately if I ever get this bloody chip dug out of my skull. The silence was maybe a little too silent, and he didn't particularly want to have the "who are you and what are you doing in my son's room" conversation with Mrs. Bourgeois Suburban Housewife. The English vampire raised his voice from his natural baritone to something approaching Xander's youthful tenor, and, thankful he didn't have to try to keep a straight face, shouted up to her in his very best attempt at a Californian accent:
"Uh, thanks, Mom." The silence continued, but there was no creaking, and no knocking, so apparently she'd bought his impression. Which was bloody amazing if he did say so himself, because his American accent sucked, even if he no longer could. Or maybe she's one martini too far gone to actually give a shit. Works for me.
He reached for the bottle of fabric softener (conveniently labeled "FABRIC SOFTENER" -- God bless Xander's penny-pinching eye for the generic), poured some in, and shut the lid. The machine resumed its chugging, thankfully without accompaniment from the high-pitched buzzer. Mission accomplished.
"Yeah, kicked your Maytag arse, didn't I!" Spike growled triumphantly. On second thought... Right. Big bad vampire trounces household appliance all by himself. No, that's not right. With some help from suburban kid's intoxicated mother. Ooh, I'm a badass, I am. He silently knocked his white-blonde head against the cinderblock wall a few times. Useless. Useless, that's what you are.
Still a badass, though. I am, sod it! He might be drinking his blood from a cup (or bowl) but at least he could still beat the living shit out of the inhuman and the unalive. He was still Spike. But the sun was shining merrily outside; it wasn't as if he could go out and kick demon arse at the moment, like he had last night. Ahh, last night. Now that was fun. Somewhere around two in the morning he'd pummeled two seven-foot-tall Tyrellix into the pavement behind Willy's Place. After cruising Sunnydale for hours looking for a good fight and finding bugger-all, he'd finally come upon the giant pseudo-demons putting the squeeze on Willy the Snitch in the parking lot behind his own bar.
Trying to ignore the sound of "Here I come to save the day!" playing on his mental soundtrack, it was Spike to the rescue. Well, it was Spike into the fray, any road, and if it looked to the little bartender like he was actually coming down on the side of good and order, it wasn't Spike's fault. He needed to bust some heads, and it couldn't hurt to get in good with his major blood supplier, and one of the centers of supernatural gossip in Sunnyhell. I'm not exactly persona grata among the toothy an' scaly set right now, but if Willy's on my side, maybe I won't be Public Enemy Number One, at least. He'd tried to make it clear to Willy that he was just protecting his food source, though he wasn't sure if the rat-boy entirely believed him.
He'd slipped out of Xander's basement as soon as he heard the rhythmic not-quite-snores that announced that the boy had fallen asleep. He'd even shut the light off on his way out. How's that for being a considerate houseguest? After all, he is putting me up after I shopped 'em all to that Frankenweenie, Adam. I can't piss him off too much, or I might be out on my ear again. And he's such fun to play with, too...
That little game with the chocolate cereal had been...amusing, to say the least. The look on the kid's face! If he'd known it was this easy to mess with Xander's head, he'd have skipped all that "your mates think you should join the army" crap and gone straight for the lips.
Not bad ones, neither. The lips, that is. No sacrifice on Spike's part to spread a little chocolate-flavored panic by pressing his mouth to the whelp's. Sent Chuck-E-Cheese-Boy scuttling and stuttering back to bed, and got Spike his chocolate crispies back, didn't it? Poor little Xander-- "I must be manly at all times lest they all think I'm one of those." As if masculinity has a damn thing to do with who you screw.
Anyway, just a bit of fun to kick off the evening, followed by a serious dust-up. That it took you two and a half hours to find, by which point you were ready to run head-first into a brick wall to conk yourself out... his inner self bitched at him. Shut up, self. Not as if I actually fancy the little git...
It wasn't as if he'd been ...working up a load of sexual tension and then prancing away like a magnificent poof... Spike growled, maybe a little too loudly, and kicked the chair in front of him. I am not my bloody sire, thank you, dead brain of mine. I'm just trapped and bored and it's the weekend so there's no "Passions" on. He flipped Xander's little TV on, grabbed the remote, and threw himself down on the boy's unmade sofa bed.
Ooh. Home and Garden TV. Click. Hey wait-- the kid has cable? He didn't before. Spike jumped back up and examined the wires leading from the back of the small color TV. A little rabbit-ear antenna sat atop the set, but it wasn't actually connected. A coaxial cable ran down to the floor, and disappeared surreptitiously into a snake's nest of other cables-- with a splitter at the center of it. Another black cable ran into a hole in the wall, and presumably up to the main floor. Well, good on ya, Harris! I'd never have suspected you for stealing cable from the folks. Just about makes up for the ridiculous rent you're paying 'em for this rathole. Nodding approvingly, Spike flung himself back down on the bed. Ooh, C-Span. Click. Grr. Bored, bored... Not particularly hungry, never get particularly hungry, 'cept for blood, violence, or a good shag but... oh, so bored.
Wonder what he has to eat around here besides blood and cereal?
Xander was still leaning against the trunk of "his" car, staring into space, and well into his fourth Almond Joy when the light blue Ford station wagon pulled to a stop in front of him. He blinked, and the car began to come into focus as he drifted back from his chocolate haze. He dimly remembered seeing Anya pass him and wave as she guided her little Neon out of the lot, so who on earth could this be? Hopefully not the middle-aged neighbor woman who'd overheard Anya describing their former sex life in flattering but inappropriate detail.
Aha! No, from the familiar head hunched over in the driver's seat-- no, he was banging his head repeatedly against the steering wheel-- this was Giles' rental-of-the-week. Since Spike had turned his beloved Citroen into a pathetic heap of crushed metal, the G-Man had been reduced to trying one substandard American-type vehicle after another. Meanwhile, the foreign car mechanics at Jim's on Summerville Street continued to shake their heads over the Gilesmobile, and draw straws over who was going to sign the death certificate.
The passenger door opened on the other side of the wagon, and Willow popped out, smiling way too cheerfully for a Saturday afternoon in the middle of the re-run season. Oh, no. Evil's afoot, and only the Slayer and her faithful band of buds can avert the apocalypse. Hey, I'm alliterating! And I'm aware of alliteration! Willow would be proud of me again! The back passenger side door opened, and Tara's blonde head emerged more slowly, but she, too, was smiling. Okay, maybe not apocalyptic, then, or Shy Girl would be looking a little more worried.
"Xander! Yay-- we caught you!" Okay, today was apparently Perky Willow day.
"Greetings, Mistresses of the Dark Arts. Does danger beckon?" At least it would mean I don't have to go home, and deal with a basement full of Spike, just yet. Willow shook her head, grinning, and then took stock of the Almond Joy wrappers lined up neatly on the trunk of the car. The grin disappeared from the redhead's little elf-mouth, to be replaced with Concern Face.
"Xander, what's wrong? Whatever it is, it can't be bad enough for Suicide By Chocolate. We're here for you. I even have helpline numbers!" She probably did, too. Since they'd made up their various differences and vowed never to shut each other out again, Willow had taken it upon herself to be the Scooby peer facilitator or something. Any appearance of depression or anti-social withdrawal brought out the Willow and Tara Cheer Squad, with bonding exercises aplenty-- including, to Giles' horror, miniature golf at the new Putt n' Play last Tuesday. Part of the "Help Xander Get Over Anya" crusade.
She'd even taken to calling Angel's new place in L.A. every two weeks or so, just to check in with the extended Scooby family. God-- Willow and Cordy bonding (bonding, Xander, not bondage!!) Almost as scary as Anya taking relationship advice from Queen C.
"But no, good Witch. I merely hunger after the nectar of the cocoa bean, combined with the sweet flesh of the coco...er...nut." He faltered to a stop, and gathered up the wrappers, dumping them into the nearest grocery bag.
"Nut is right," Willow answered, quirking one eyebrow. Hey-- where did she learn that? I thought only Giles and Spike could do that. It's not fair. Everyone can do the eyebrow thing but me. "Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yes, Will, I'm sure I'm okay. Long morning. Just needed a sugar-rush. No vast depression here." He did his best to match her original grin. "See? Happy Xander-boy. If there's no emergency of the Scooby variety, then what's up?"
"Party! Pasta! Giles!" Willow responded happily. Xander did the eyebrow thing with both eyebrows, since that was the best he could do. Curse you, eyebrow-dexterous people. I'll get you yet!
Giles leaned his bespectacled head out the window. "What she's trying to explain, in words of more than two syllables, is that my humble abode has once again been co-opted for a Slayerette bonding ceremony, thankfully not involving Lilliputian golf this time. Buffy is, believe it or not, in my living room studying for a make-up French exam that might actually allow her to pass the class. The young witches are on a quest for provisions, and I am the designated chauffeur. And host. And dishwasher."
"And entertainment..." Tara said proudly. "Mr. Giles promised to sing for us, if we're good."
"A promise I sincerely doubt I'll have to keep, if Xander's attending," Giles commented dryly. "And Mister Giles was my deceased father. Grown-up people get to call me Giles. Or Rupert, if you think you can bear the Englishness of it all."
Tara blushed. What a surprise.
"Okay, Mis...G...Giles." Xander did his best not to laugh at Shy Girl and Stuffy Guy both working on the informality thing. He didn't want Tara to think he was laughing at her. Might drive her back into ghost mode again, where she didn't say a word, just looked around with those big dark blue eyes like somebody was about to kick her. There was a story there, somewhere. Probably a familiar one.
"Hey, way to manage the mid-life crisis, Rupert!" he cracked. Giles rolled his eyes.
"You, on the other hand, Xander, may call me Mister Giles. Are you going to be attending the festivities?"
Xander nodded. Oh, yeah, beats going home and deciding whether I pretend last night was completely ordinary, or confront bleach-boy so he doesn't think he can get away with twisting my head in circles. He was twisting my head, right? He must've been.
"You guys just missed Anya, or you could've invited her, too." Oooookay... dead silence, and Concerned Face had made another appearance. Even Giles looked perturbed. "What did I say?"
"You do mean the same Anya who just dumped you this Monday, right? The one we were trying to mini-golf out of your broken heart? Or is there another Anya that you forgot to introduce us to?" Willow cocked her head in confusion, and it was oddly reminiscent of Spike's much more mischievous expression last night.
Gotta get vampire off the brain! More chocolate is required. Focus. Willow. Oh yeah-- they weren't here for that eye-opening little conversation with Anya next to the Wonder Bread.
"Yeah, same Anya. We kind of had a talk. The broken heart's not quite so broken. Guess it wasn't all that shattered to begin with. I pretty much get why she did what she did. Which is absolutely amazing to me, and I think I deserve a round of choc... I mean, applause, for my sensitivity." Willow's eyes were doing a sort of buggy-out thing, which wasn't completely unattractive, but made Xander a little concerned for her own mental state. "Umm, Will?"
Tara spoke up. Hey, way to go, T!
"So you're...okay...with Anya? Like...still friends?"
"Yup. Shocked the hell out of me, too. I may be mature enough to call you Rupert yet, G-Man. Anyway, I think Anya still wants to be of the Scoob, if you can put up with her. Far as I know, she's coming to the research shindig on Tuesday. Speaking of which, is that still on, or is this a replacement?" Wow. More words than he'd spoken in a coherent row in a long time.
Willow was still looking at him suspiciously. "Yeah, it's still on. Scooby Jeopardy on demon breeds, languages, spells, prophecies, feeding habits, and shoe sizes. Tonight's just dinner and laid-back stuff. A good time to be had by all."
Giles groaned. "Speak for yourselves."
Xander studied him. Old sweatshirt, faded jeans...non-Watcher clothes, light brown hair a little disheveled...Methinks the lonely unemployed librarian protests too much. He likes this family fun stuff. I'll get him to admit it yet.
"Anyway," Tara added, "we were kind of hoping you'd like to come shopping for the dinner stuff, and the Tuesday stuff, with us."
"Me and my employee discount, you mean?" Xander laughed. "Sure. Hey Giles-- how 'bout I swap you my groceries for these two witches, and you stash this stuff," he nodded toward his grocery bags, "at your place?"
The ex-Watcher nodded. "Gladly. Ladies, much as I regret losing the pleasure of your company, I'm sure Buffy could use someone to quiz her on irregular verbs."
"And there's no one more irregular than you, Giles." Xander shot back, as Willow and Tara helped him load his grocery bags into the back of the station wagon. " Err... I mean that in a mental sense, not a digestive one."
Giles nodded again, the perfect picture of martyrdom. "Thank you, Xander. I'm glad we clarified that. Everyone out who's getting out?" Since everyone was, and everything was in that was going in, Giles pulled off with a long-suffering wave, and the three remaining shoppers walked slowly toward the entrance of the Food Mart.
I'm never getting out of this place! Xander thought, only half annoyed. Meanwhile, Willow still hadn't quite got the Anya thing in perspective.
"You're sure you're not just being a brave little soldier?"
"I assure you, Willow, this soldier is neither brave, nor little. Umm...that only came out half right."
"Because we can always help you, if you need it. I've found, for instance, that finding a nice public place and yelling 'Fuck you, Oz!' or, umm, 'Anya,' in this case, at the top of your lungs, is really therapeutic. Oh, and the horse he, or she, rode in on..."
Xander turned to her as the three of them walked in the door. "Willow! You kiss Tara with that mouth?"
Willow smiled evilly. "Among other things." Tara, naturally, blushed again.
"Really?" mused Xander. "Go on. Please."
Spike was on the prowl. He was a leatherclad, shit-kickin', predatory creature of the night, and he could smell the fear wafting off his prey where it hid...somewhere in Xander's mess of an excuse for a kitchen. Well, actually, he wasn't leatherclad at the moment. Too damned hot. T-shirt and jeans would do for this particular hunt.
Growling softly, he tore open a box on the floor next to the fridge. "Almond licorice? Bit of an overkill on the amaretto flavor, yeah? Maple walnut... cherry berry..." he muttered to himself. Pulling the wrapper off one of the "Cherry Berry" Boost bars, he bit gingerly into one corner of the chocolate-coated rectangle. Chewed. A look of dawning realization rippled its way up his face, from the sharp chin, over the twitching of the hollowed cheekbones, up to the demonstrably dexterous eyebrows....
"Gachhh....gluch..." he choked, muddy blue eyes turning golden as he morphed into full game-face. He spat repeatedly into the little wastebasket on the other side of the fridge, but the taste of the hideous power snack thing still filled his now-fanged mouth. "Bloody hell! Trust the Yanks to market rat shit in a chewy cookie shell!" Now he really needed something to eat, just to get the taste of that abomination out of his mouth. He opened the fridge. Cran-apple in boxes. No thanks. But what was this? At the back of the lettuce crisper, a lone pint bottle of Woodpecker cider! Someone's been a naughty underage hooligan. S'pose I'll just have to get rid of the evidence for him.
He pulled the lovely chilled brown bottle from the little refrigerator. Now for something actually edible. Just to have something to chew on, give his jaws something to do so he didn't end up talking to himself until the sun went down, or something equally as squirrelly. I'm the sanest vamp in... in this basement, anyway. Hell, trap me in this town with this chip for long enough, and you could just lock me and Dru in the same padded cell and see who needs the straitjacket first. On the hunt again. The fake chocolate on the outside of the Boost bar had fooled him for a moment-- damn, he was slipping-- but he knew the real stuff was somewhere in this dank little bolthole.
The nasty little voice in his head, the one that was so good at coming up with those cutting retorts to throw at the Slayer and her cartoon friends, didn't play favorites, and it was after him with a vengeance today. Yeah, bolthole, and that's exactly what it is, innit Spike? Place for you to hide from the world. You're not trapped in this town, and with the bloody Initiative down the bog, that chip's not conking out until it runs down of its own accord. Better hope it don't have one of those nuclear batteries like Adam's. You're just cowerin' in Harris' little hole, 'cos you'd rather pretend you have a chance to get the chip out than face the fact that Dru's done with you once and for all, chip or no chip, fangs or no fangs. It's not about the damn chip. You've gone soft, and she wants a real demon. Spike growled again, a real vampire growl. Sure, that was gonna work. Yeah, it's really terrifying when you try to use your badass vampire powers to scare the shit out of yourself...
Shut up, you. Where the hell were you when I needed you, like when I was tryin' to convince Adam that my plan hadn't failed, and he needed to get the chip out of my head without getting my head off my body? No, all you could say then was "Oh, shit," or something equally brilliant. 'Sides, she doesn't want a real demon. She wants bloody Angelus. She's just running to the mucus-n'-horns types 'cos she doesn't want his little wanna-be shadow. Namely me...
Great. The voices in my head agree with each other, and they both think I'm a tosser. Anyway, that's not why I'm cowerin' in Harris' little bolthole...I get genuine pleasure out of annoying the hell out of him.
You get genuine pleasure out of lookin' at him. Annoying the hell out of him is just window-dressing. Tosser.
Spike grumbled his way through the storage cupboards. Damn it, there was chocolate in here somewhere, and not that cereal crap, either, though it would do in a pinch. Aha! There--a brown paper grocery bag, top folded down three quarters of the way, in the tool cupboard behind a plunger , a pipe wrench, and five rolls of silver duct tape. He pulled the bag out carefully, ripped off the piece of duct tape that held it shut, and unrolled it. Jackpot. Three cherries on the fruit machine. Two plastic bags full of Halloween-sized Mounds bars.
Cider in one hand, chocolate in the other, he stomped back to the sofa-bed for a third time. Wait-- bottle opener. Where... "Oh, screw it." He muttered, ripping the crimped metal cap off the bottle with his vamped-out teeth. Ouch. Hurt like hell. I am goin' soft! He guzzled about half of the hard cider, until the taste of the Boost bar was firmly banished from his mouth, and then ripped into one of the bags of candy, returning his attention to the TV. Nickelodeon. Bloody Rugrats. Don't think so. Click. He popped a Mounds into his mouth, and as the dark chocolate dissolved in his fang-filled mouth and he began to chew the coconut filling, his face returned to its human likeness.
That was the stuff. That bit he'd given Xander about blood and chocolate being like vampire Viagra had been about half shit What vamp would need chemical help to get it up? Has he spent about five seconds observing the species?, but it was true that chocolate, at least for Spike, had some interesting effects. Pissed off and fuming, a little chocolate would get him into a better mood. A little more, especially with the added effect of the sugar and his own admittedly limited attention-span, and he'd be scratching at the walls, itching to either fight or shag something. A lot more, and he wouldn't be all that choosy about which was which.
Where was his genial host, anyway? Should he have gotten off work by now? And why the fuck do I care? Oh yeah, company. Need somebody to piss off.
Hey, here was something. "...so I could never marry a horrible heffalump, or I might get squished!" Alright! Miranda Richardson, in a blonde wig and Regency gown. "Blackadder the Third. " Second series is better-- she has red hair in that one, and Edmund's an absolute scream. But this'll do. He reached absently into the bag of candy and retrieved another Mounds. Won't overdo it. Don't want to go completely stir-crazy in here. Just a few...
Xander and the two witches walked in the door to Giles' condo, arms laden with yet more grocery bags, to find Giles seated on the sofa next to Buffy, holding a French textbook.
"Alright, Buffy, let's try this again. Où votre père est né?"
The Slayer ran a hand through her longish blonde hair, which had apparently been in a crimpy mood today, and screwed her face up in concentration. Go, Buff. Do the French thing. Très beau. Whoa-- where did that come from? Bad memory! No more bonbons for you!
"Umm...Veuillez permettre aux poissons de continuer de danser. ... Mmmm.... Je suis très attiré à lui....? "
She looked up at Giles hopefully, and he buried his face in his hands. Emerging after a few seconds, his face was quite a bit redder than before, and he looked like he was desperately trying not to either laugh or cry.
"That's very interesting, Buffy, and ah..a much more ambitious attempt at the language than I was expecting." He, too, ran a hand over his hair, probably to smooth over the bald patches where he'd been tearing it out, Xander decided.
Cute Slayer-pout. "But not cruising anywhere near the neighborhood of...right?" she asked sadly.
"Not unless I'm missing some information about your family history, and the answer to 'Where was your father born?' actually is... now let me try to translate this properly... 'Please allow the fish to continue dancing; I am very attracted to it.' " Giles was obviously losing his battle, for he brought the large textbook up in front of his face, and his entire body began shaking silently. Xander, Willow, and Tara weren't doing much better.
Buffy reached out and pulled on the bottom of the book. Watcher determination was no match for Slayer strength, and at last the book came down to reveal a gasping Giles, red-faced and teary-eyed. When she met his eyes, he lost it completely. Great honking guffaws. Which, of course, sent the three newcomers over the edge. It wasn't that it was all that funny; Buffy had come up with some interesting Frenchisms in the past-- it was the sight of the normally reserved Brit unable to stop his hysterical laughing jag. Even Buffy was chuckling, if a bit half-heartedly.
"I don't suppose you'd believe that was intended as a tension breaker?" she asked hopefully. Finally Giles mopped his face with the sleeve of his sweatshirt, and shook his head with a smile. Whoo, and did we all need one. We haven't laughed like that since... oh, the last really stupid thing I did. That they actually know about.
"I'm sorry, Buffy. It's been... a long morning. Why don't we try this again a little later? Perhaps Willow can take a hand as well. And Xander? Didn't you take French?"
Xander put his two bags of groceries on the kitchen counter and returned to take a bag each from Willow and Tara. "I think the operative word there was 'take,' not 'pass,' right? In that case, yes." Willow punched him on the arm. "Hey, watch the arm, Will. Don't want me to drop les baguettes, non?" He put them on the counter and returned to the living room, taking a seat on the arm of the sofa.
"You didn't fail French. Because I tutored you. And Buffy passed high school French-- for the same reason. You're just having a little case of too-much-Slayage amnesia, Buff. We'll get you through it." Willow said supportively.
Buffy smiled. "Thanks, guys. Xander, glad you could make it."
Willow nodded enthusiastically. "So are we. He saved us about ten bucks on the groceries. Umm, and of course, because we love you, Xander. Also. Too."
"Yeah, Wills, I can feel the love," he teased. "Everyone in this room wants a piece of the Xan..."
Giles looked up at him. Smiling, so he was at least a little amused. Nice to know Xanderspeak could compete with the attractive dancing fish. "I'm glad you're here, Xander. I'm not sure I'd go as far as all that."
"C'mon, G. Admit it. I have it on very good authority that I'm a nummy treat. " They all stared at him. Erk. Okay, wondering where that came from... "Vampire joke, guys. Xander blood? Nummy treat?"
"Don't mind Xander. He's just lost his mind. He almost invited Anya to come along, except we missed her by about five minutes." Willow put in for him.
Buffy stood up. "Anya? As in dumped-you-on-the-answering-machine-Anya?" What... protectiveness from the Buffster? He could get to like this Scooby togetherness thing.
"Apparently he had some eye-opening encounter with her in the aisle between the wheat bread and the crunchy peanut butter, and now he's Mr. Forgiveness Guy." Willow sounded a bit put out, but resigned to it. She went into Giles' little kitchenette, followed by Tara, and began to unpack the groceries.
"Maybe you could give it to me slowly, in words of one syllable, in English?" Buffy pleaded.
"Anya broke up with me because she...loves me."
Giles nodded. "Yes, that explains it all." Buffy's head swung around like Mantis-Woman's, to stare at him.
"Sarcasm, Buffy. Yes, I know. It's been a long day." Mantis-Slayer swung back to Xander.
"She doesn't think I'll ever actually be in love with her, and she's..." Buffy looked at him skeptically, but he forged ahead. "...probably right. I love her, and yeah, warning, cliché approaching, but she's right. I'm not in love with her. I love her the same way I love you guys. " Seeing Giles' incredulous look, he quickly added, "Not meaning in the actual physical sense, because that would be just wrong on so many levels, and I should just shut up now... Anyway, she really does want to be friends. With me, with us... she's coming to the thing on Tuesday, if it doesn't bother you guys too much."
Buffy blinked. Repeatedly. In fact, he began to wonder if she didn't have something in her eye. Like a plank. "I guess if it doesn't bother you..." she finally answered, "it doesn't bother me." She turned to Giles. "Do I get Mature Slayer points? I'm being much better about this than Xander was about Angel."
Giles put down the French textbook and rose to help the two kitchen-witches, not looking at Buffy as he lifted the side of his mouth that Xander could see in that good old British-guy smirk. "I think ten points for the mature attitude, with a four point deduction for the immaturity of pointing it out, for a total of... how many, Buffy?"
"Six. I passed math, thanks. Yay, me! I'm still in the black! What about you, Will? Um, and Tara, but I'm guessing you don't care much about Anya one way or the other."
The other blonde popped her head through the counter-top cutout and answered, "Actually, I like her. She's, kinda like, not afraid to speak her mind." Then she quickly pulled her head back into the kitchen zone, as if she was a little shocked at having spoken her own. Willow snorted from the stove, where she appeared to be dumping spaghetti into boiling water.
"Can't argue with you there, sweetie. Anyway, I guess if I could put up with Anya as Xander's girlfriend, I can put up with her as, okay, wigging me out just to say it, but, our friend. Maybe. I'm just thinking, whoa, with the forgiveness and the lack of bitterness, Xander. Not in the Cordelia zone here. Not even in the Oz zone, though I'm in a somewhat Oz-friendly place at this point. Have you reached new levels of maturity, or are you really Xander? 'Cause, next you'll be inviting Spike to the Tuesday thing." She spun around, wooden spoon in hand, and smiled to show she wasn't being snotty. Then she frowned.
"Umm-- are you inviting Spike to the Tuesday thing? 'Cause I'm thinking, more cookie dough, if so."
Xander choked. Little more worried about ever having to face Spike again than whether he wants to join the Scooby fun club for a rousing evening of "What is a Bezoar, Alex?" Come to think of it, Spike would probably wipe the floor with everyone except Willow and Giles.
Buffy's eyes narrowed. "Speaking of the manipulative little rat-bastard...okay, losing Mature Slayer points here, I know. I'm not sure I'm entirely down with the concept of Spike living in your basement. I mean, hello, Adam? Head games? "
Xander shrugged awkwardly. Nothing I haven't said myself. But the alternative to having to put up with Spike is... not having to put up with Spike. Whose sanity were we questioning, again? "Yeah, but at least he's where we can see him. And I don't think he'll be trying that particular divide and conquer game on us again. Plus, he brought my lamp back, which was nice. Well, it was broken, but Riley's guys actually did that."
"Uh-huh. Point? Point? Heeeere Point..." she called, looking around as if for a puppy.
"And he's... I don't know. It's a daily question of whether I'll kick his ass out the door, but at this point, I'm not quite ready to kill him yet, and I'm less worried about him doing something behind our backs if he's... in front of our backs, which also didn't emerge as coherently as intended. " He paused. "I dunno. Maybe I am Mr. Maturity." Riiiiiight... "But I can see why he went along with Adam-- he was desperate to get the chip out of his head. And he got screwed, which, good for the human population, but I can..." he trailed off, losing any sense of intelligent thought. What exactly was his reasoning, anyway?
"Feel his pain? Yeah, okay, I guess. I'm not the boss of you. You want to play Tom Bodette to Chip-Boy, it's your basement. Just... be careful. As for inviting him here..." Buffy shrugged. "It's Giles' party. If Spike's willing to work with us, I don't see that we're much worse off than we were before the Adam thing. We know he's in it for himself. He feels like whaling on evil, or digging fascinating demon facts out of the corners of his slimy little brain, I guess I don't have a problem with it, if Giles doesn't."
She looked over at Giles, who was leaning against the wall where kitchen met living room, as if to say 'Oh, please, Giles, have a problem with it...' but he merely raised both eyebrows.
"Er...well-put, Buffy. Twenty-five Mature Slayer points for that one. As long as we remain aware of what Spike is, it might be a waste of our resources not to take advantage of his skills."
And the mind boggles. In fact, it's still boggling. It's shakin' that Boggle cube for all it's worth. I can't decide if Spike's jerking me around or... what? And they're ready to welcome him back with... folded arms? I need chocolate. Where's my groceries?
"Okay, if it happens to come up in conversation, I'll mention that the Scooby Maturity Squad has spoken, and he's welcome to come beat things up with us. I'm sure he'll do cartwheels." That got a snort from the Buff.
Now, where did that chocolate go... Xander noticed a grocery bag on the floor just inside the door, and did the "I'm so subtle, I think I'll go for a stroll..." thing, rising from the sofa arm and ambling in the direction of the bag. Yup. Blue bars. He reached down for one, only to have Willow dart out of the kitchen and smack it out of his hand.
"No you don't. You'll spoil your dinner. Who wants garlic bread?"
Curses-- foiled again.
The half-hour of "Blackadder" had disappeared all too quickly from what Spike realized was the local PBS station, to be replaced by "Yan Can Cook." Click. The candy bars had disappeared all too quickly too, as had the cider. The empty bottle rested on the floor, alongside one crumpled plastic Mounds bag. The other bag was still half full (or half empty, as the snarky little voice in his head pointed out) and sat beside him on the sofa bed.
"Four-thirty and all's petrifyingly boring..." he sing-songed as he glanced at the digital watch that was the only thing he'd managed to lift from his last "Vamp-n-Mug" attempt. That routine was getting boring, too. The residents of fair Sunnydale had either gotten so used to supernatural activity that he wasn't a terribly frightening sight anymore, or, more likely, they were in such denial that they couldn't even admit they saw the stone-wicked monster looming over them. Yeah, 'cos it couldn't be Door Number Three, behind which lies the fact that it's just you who doesn't inspire terror in the human herd. Yeah, so you can kick the hell out of a demon or two in a fair fight. Really impressive, when you can't actually touch the ones that're below you on the food chain.
"Sod off," he whispered to himself, but he didn't seem to be listening. Click.
"The mating habits of the squid, while visually fascinating..." Click.
"Hey Loooooooocy, I'm ho-ome..." Click.
"And, ya know, it wasn't like I didn't like the guys, but when I found out they were really from the Road Rules crew, I just felt, I dunno, like, violated. I mean, they stole our dog, and so it's a toy, yeah, but the point is, I think it was really lame of them to use the Make-A-Wish Foundation as their cover story, 'cause y'know, there's some really sick kids out there...and..."
Look--the Food Network. All moronic teens, all the time, with occasional breaks for the bloody awful crap they try to pass off as music these days. Not that VH-1's much better. Click. Click. Click.
He jumped up from the bed and began to pace the room. Well, as much room as there was to pace in here, it was a bit more like spinning around in circles, but it got the job done.
Where's Harris, anyway? I know he doesn't work at Pizza Hell tonight. Damn sun. Sink already, you big orange ball of happiness. Need to be free, need to be me, need to stop scarfing the choccies before I lose what's left of my mind and start singing Rogers and Hammerstein medleys. Bored, trapped, raving-- Dru, why didn't you kill me when I asked you to?
Empty spaghetti plates pushed to the side, the over-full Slayer and -ettes exchanged worried glances as Giles finished laboriously tuning his acoustic guitar ("Spike made me do a bad thing to it. I don't want to talk about it.") and bent his head over to play.
Well, hell, he wouldn't look at us, would he? I mean, that incident at the Expresso Pump was bad enough, and now the Willow and Tara Express has steamrolled him into actually performing for us voluntarily? I'm not sure whether to be impressed with his cojones, or sincerely creeped out by the fact that the aging rocker look is kind of sexy...no. I did not think that, and I'll kill the next one of you who says I did. And not sure who I'm talking to, so I vote for the creeped out option. Xander had finally gotten into his stash of Almond Joys without being pimp-slapped by Willow, and offered them around as dessert. Only one taker-- Tara, who was happily munching on her second. Oh, my child, you will come over to the Dark Side. The cocoa is strong in you. Xander, meanwhile, was quietly devouring number ten. Leaving eight proud beauties left, bwah-ha-ha...oh man, have I lost it.
"She was just a waitress in the café at night, and a part-time mother by day..." Giles' voice filled the little living room, and Xander was jolted back out of his chocolate groove. "I heard her life story in a conversation as she walked me to the side of the stage..." It wasn't so much the singing that had done the world-rockin' thing when they caught Giles at the Expresso Pump; it was the fact that here was this guy, you know? Not just stodgy librarian guy in his normal place, but this guy. Named Giles. Somebody he knew, or thought he knew. Which, on reflection, was actually pretty cool. And yet, still with the creepiness.
"She said when you're done, if you need someone to tell your troubles to, well come on over to my place, and we can make do..."
The voices in Spike's head were into their third round of "You're a loser," "Yeah, so's your mum."
It wasn't getting any more amusing. There was nothing on telly, it was six-thirty, and Xander hadn't wandered home from his supermarket job, which, according to Spike's pinpoint memory, ended at one o'clock on Saturdays. Off with the Slayer, no doubt, saving the bloody world.
Alright, break it up in there. New topic of conversation. Why I give a shit where Harris is, and why I'm hiding in his basement instead of, say, the crypt next door to the one the military morons trashed. Talk amongst yourselves.
Snarky Voice Number One
(the one that told the Slayer that Angel hadn't thought she was worth a second go) :
'Cos you actually like the pathetic little git.
Snarky Voice Number Two
(the one that took great delight in pointing out the Watcher's status as an unemployed librarian):
Yeh, you're fond of 'im, even.
Semi-sane Spike Voice
(the one that was pretty sure he'd gone utterly round the twist):
Ever notice how the more wonked out I get, the more my mental accent matches my physical one? I mean, I can usually think in straight English, even if I don't speak it.
Snarky Voices One and Two: Shut up. You lost control about three chocolate bars ago. Or maybe it was that first night you spent tied up in the bloody chair watchin' him sleep, and thinkin' by two a.m. that he might be moist and delicious after all.
Snarky Voice Three (The quiet little one that he steadfastly pretended didn't exist, because it sounded uncomfortably like a dark-haired mortal guy he'd once known, name of Will), added softly,
And realized you weren't talking about blood at all, at all.
"Sod off..." he whispered to himself again.
Giles handed him a plate, and he dried it. The girls gathered around the coffee table, speaking fractured French. Giles handed him a plate, and he dried it. They had a rhythm going. It was quiet. Nice, even. Couldn't last.
"So," said the quiet British voice, "do you want to tell me about it?" Xander almost dropped the plate.
And he catches it on the rebound... a nice save for Harris, folks. "About what, Giles?"
"Whatever's got you inhaling chocolate at what I must say is a truly impressive speed. Are you really...er...alright with Anya remaining part of our merry band of brothers, as it were?"
Does everybody know about the chocolate thing? I thought it was just Willow, and here's Giles being all observant. What was I saying about Scooby togetherness being a good thing? Xander dried his dish slowly. Nice pattern, little blue flowers around the edges... la la la la....
"Yeah, I'm fine about Anya. Really."
"Then what is it?"
"Nothing, Giles. What makes you think anything's...anything?" Oh yeah, that was smoooooth.
"I brought in your groceries, Xander. There's enough chocolate in there to feed the French Foreign Legion, if they still have one. And yes, I do know about you and chocolate. " Giles handed him the spaghetti strainer.
"Willow worries about you, you know. We all do. Admittedly, we weren't paying a lot of attention to each other in the recent past. Probably something to do with the difficulty of noticing our friends' problems with our heads lodged firmly in our own arses..."
And Xander's choking fit was luckily quiet enough not to attract attention from the living room.
"What, the English can't be direct?" Smile.
"Not in my recent experience. Look, everything's fine about Anya. I'm just...working through some other stuff in my head." Like the fact that I'm going out of it.
"Well, it's your head, and I'm not going to try poking about in there, but believe it or not, you can talk to me."
"Not just about slimy dead things and how to kill them?"
"No, and not just about the oxymoron inherent in the concept of killing dead things." Beat. "I might surprise you." All said softly, while stubbornly scrubbing the spaghetti pot, which had amazing things stuck to the bottom of it.
"Constantly, Giles. Constantly. Oh, hell..." Oh, hell... Verrrrrry quietly, "It's so not about Anya. Or Buffy, or Willow, or any of my other more wholesome teenage fantasies."
"Wholesome? No, I won't ask. So you're diving into the ocean of comfort food because..."
"I had an interesting experience last night, to say the least." Am I actually telling him this? Okay, I've arrived at the final destination. Mind, lost. Gone. AWOL.
"Not, I assume, at the Chuck-E-Cheese place."
"No, that was horrifying, but not interesting." Stall...stall...how did I get myself into this?
"An experience of the romantic variety, I'm guessing?"
Damn! Damn..damn...damn-de-damn damn...
"I'm not sure you could call it romantic, but theoretically, yeah. Kissing was involved. Or rather, a kiss, or being the object of one..." And the babbling commences...
Scrub, scrub. How kind of Giles not to actually look at him. "And this distresses you because..."
"Umm, because it was..." Distressing? Gulp. Terribly, terribly quietly... "a guy." Oh God, I actually said that. Out loud. To Giles. At least I didn't say it was Spike. Oh, because that fact was really likely to pry its way out of my mouth....
"Ahh." The silence that had once been companionable was now filled with roiling uncertainty, at least on Xander's part, and the fervent desire not to have eaten so much of the pasta that now seemed to want to crawl its way back up his throat. Maybe I could chase it down with the remaining eight Almond Joys. All at once, preferably.
Finally... shit, Giles was actually looking at him. With what-- disgust? Concern? Amusement? "Xander?"
"Are you upset about the fact that this man kissed you, or the fact that you liked it?"
Xander rested his head against the cabinet next to the sink. It had been a really long day.
"Both..." he whispered.
The only reason Spike hadn't kicked the walls in was that it would have had Mr. or Mrs. Harris down to the basement in a flash-- and from the sound of Xander's father's dinnertime shouting, he was in none too good a mood already, not that he ever was. Oh, and then there was the fact that it would hurt. They were bloody concrete, behind the cinderblock.
The last of the bag of candy bars had disappeared somewhere. He couldn't recall having eaten them, but the empty bag lay beside its brother on the floor. He'd finally tuned the telly to the Cartoon Network and left it there, but he was having a hard time getting enthused over the seventh episode of the Powerpuff Girls marathon, somehow.
"Kick 'is furry arse, Buttercup..." he muttered
"Somebody you know?" asked Giles softly.
"Somebody you trust?"
"As far as I could throw Buffy. "
"I'll take that as a no. Which no doubt complicates things."
Xander laughed in spite of his mental meltdown, but it was on the hysterical side.
"Things couldn't get a lot more complicated. No, I shouldn't say that. Welcome to the Hellmouth. Yeah, there's the distinct possibility that he's playing me."
Damn-- they were out of dishes for him to dry. Now he actually had to look at Giles, unless he could get away with counting floor tiles. Nope-- linoleum.
"Somebody you care about?"
Who the hell knows? "Yeah. I think so." Really? Who knew?
Spike snarled to himself as he sat on the washer and slowly drummed his booted heels against the side. That would amuse him for about thirty seconds.
He'd dried and folded the first load of laundry, just to have something to do. A second load swirled in the water inside the machine beneath him. It included his own habitual ensemble (repurchased since he'd shrunk them beyond all imagining in his first adventure with the laundry appliances) of black jeans, black t-shirt, and red silk formal shirt. That left him wearing Xander's clothes, of course, something he'd sworn he'd never do again. At least this time he'd dug up a plain old dark blue T, and a pair of jeans whose cuffs he'd only had to roll twice to stop the legs from dragging the floor... I do not have a height-related inferiority complex, Angel.
"It's eight o'bloody' o'clock. Doesn't 'e know it's dangerous out there? Nah, Slayer's there to protect 'im from the fearsome creatures of the night."
Snarky Voice Number Something-Or-Other-- he'd lost track: You're a fearsome creature of the night, you great soddin' fairy! What the hell are you doin' in here?
"What the hell is there to do in this bloody city?" he answered himself aloud, angrily. "Not a single, solitary thing."
You could go beat something up.
"I don't want to go beat something up." He jumped down from the washing machine and resumed pacing.
Silence from the voices in his head, at that one.
What-- not a single pip-pip-cheerio out of you lot?
"I don't want to go beat something up," he said again, trying it on for size. God, it sounded horrible.
The little quiet one took the opportunity to sneak in a shot: What the hell is there to do in this bloody world ? Not a single, solitary thing.
He didn't even bother telling it to sod off.
"So..." said Giles.
"So." agreed Xander. "Sorry you asked?"
Giles shook his head, and looked for something to dry his hands on. Xander handed him a clean dish towel.
"Not at all. Sorry you answered?"
Long past emotions as simple and straightforward as "sorry," Brit-man. "I...ah...don't know. What does the accumulated wisdom of thousands of year of Watchers have to say on the subject?"
"Bugger all." Pause... "Trust me." Pause... "Did you want to know what the accumulated wisdom of forty-six years of Rupert Giles has to say on the subject?"
"Yeah. I'd like that."
Spike was standing at the top of the back stairs, in the open doorway to the outside. Looking out at the stars. The night had gotten cool, as they usually did, but not enough for him to go back for his leather duster. He wasn't going anywhere.
"Hey Dru, you out there?" he said quietly. "'Cos I think I've gone and lost my mind, and I need some expert advice on the subject."
"Be careful? Forty-six years and that's all you can come up with??? A condom ad?" Xander retorted incredulously. Perhaps, on reflection, a little too loudly, but none of the women looked up from le cramming of le Francais. What the heck am I doing? Did I just say that to Giles? Giles? Isn't the mere presence of Giles supposed to wipe all sex-related words from your memory?
"No, I could go into enough bloody detail to pin your tender little ears to the wall, but I'm assuming that's not the sort of accumulated wisdom you were looking for. Damn it, Xander, I meant be careful with your heart. I credit you with enough sense to have figured the other bit out on your own." Giles was looking almost as frazzled as he had before the dancing fish had made its appearance.
"But not so careful that you never let anyone in. Alone in there is a sorry place to live. "
"But at least you know the landlord," Xander pointed out.
"I believe you know your current landlords."
"And you aren't living alone. Is that why you haven't kicked Spike out, by the way?"
"Ahh...what??" Panicking now. Thanks for asking.
"Somebody to keep you from being alone in the house with your parents. Honestly, Xander, why you don't move out is beyond me." Giles hung the dish towel from one of the cabinet handles, and leaned his tall frame back against the refrigerator.
Whew. "Maybe. Probably. And why I don't move out is beyond my finances, at the moment. " And then there's not wanting to leave my Mom alone with my Dad. 'Cause without me around to treat like shit...But that's my problem, not Giles'.
Dru, wherever she was, was probably fucking the brains out of something slimy and horny. Which only halfway describes me, ta. Cheers, Princess, whatever you're doing.
The stars used to talk to her. She said she'd named them all. The same name, of course, but that was Drusilla for you. But not for me, anymore. 'Bout time I faced up to that one like a man. Or demon. I can chase her 'round the world, and she still won't be mine anymore.
"Oi-- stars! Got anything useful to say?"
The stars, if they did, were keeping it to themselves. Didn't bloody think so.
"Just...be careful, Xander. We don't want to see you hurt. Now that we can see each other, that is."
"Right, now that our asses are head-free."
"I don't want to see you hurt. Head-free enough for you? But I don't want to see you locked away inside yourself, afraid to let anyone love you. I've been there, and like I said, the view isn't worth the rent."
"So the accumulated wisdom is what-- play it by ear?" Xander asked, opening a cupboard to put away the clean dishes.
"Or by heart. Once you learn the music, then you can improvise. Oh, crap... what the hell did I just say? Was that as sappy as it sounded?" Giles scratched his ear. "I sound like a bloody coffee advert!"
"Yeah, the one with the stalker guy who keeps coming around to borrow a cup of Taster's Choice," Xander needled. They'd teased Giles unmercifully in high school about his resemblance to the actor in the commercial series. "Seriously. Y'know. Thanks." Something I'm forgetting here... "Oh...G-Man, a favor?"
"If you promise to stop calling me that."
"Conversation not for public consumption, right?" I'm glowing with joy that they all care about my welfare, but I can just see them having a Taster's Choice moment about me. Please, no.
Giles stared at him.
"What?" Xander responded.
"I can't believe the sound is coming out of my mouth, but," Giles sighed, "duh."
Damn stars. Damn road. Damn idiotic Spike on the top step staring out at the dark like it would get damn idiotic Xander Harris back any quicker.
You've lost it, William the bloody idiot! Snarky Voice number whatever taunted in his ear.
"Yeah, I've lost it. Shut up already."
The sound of a car starting up and pulling out had him diving down the stairs. Tires squealed as the car blew through the stop sign at the end of the road. Another night of the boy's dad on the road after four beers and a whiskey chaser, or maybe the other way around. Least I don't have to listen to the shouting, or the throwing, or, shudder, the subtle attempt at post-row romance.
Leaving the door cracked open, he stalked back to the TV. Joy of joys. Bubbles has been smashed headfirst into the pavement and is now firmly convinced that she's Mojo Jojo. Now there's a bad guy with style. Chimpanzee with a brain twice the size of his skull, wearing a purple cape. No wonder his brilliant plans always meet with some cock-up or other. At least the crack team that foils my every plan aren't three kindergarten kids in pastel frocks. Granted, I could probably learn something from the chimp-- like the good guys always win, or some such rot.
He stomped off to the washer and stomped the clean clothes over to the dryer, then stomped off to the "kitchen." All in all, about four stomps. What did I do with the rest of that chocolate cereal?
And the silence in Giles' kitchenette was once again companionable, as the two men put the last of the clean dishes away.
"Hey, Giles!" shouted Buffy from the living room.
"Mon père est né à Bakersfield!"
Giles and Xander emerged from the kitchen applauding.
"Très bon. Et les poissons attrayants??" Giles asked seriously.
Buffy grinned wickedly. "Les poissons attrayants ont obtenu un travail dansant sur des tables à Las Vegas."
Xander puzzled that one out in his head, and at last came up with, "The attractive fish got a job table dancing in Las Vegas?"
Giles laughed. "Close enough."
"I'm so proud!" Willow announced.
... "Sod off, brain."
Spike had long since lost track of which part of his mind was trying to tell him he was an imbecile.
"Point bloody taken."
He tried clicking the TV remote again, anything to get the ruddy Powerpuffs off the screen. Nothing. The batteries had finally gone out. Frustrated, he threw the remote at the nearest wall. It was a measure of his frustration that it shattered into about twenty-five pieces. It was a more telling measure of his mental situation that he didn't particularly notice. His addled thoughts were three logic-leaps ahead before the pieces even hit the ground. The concept of changing the channel by hand was bypassed entirely. No, his mind was back on the Harris track.
Then he heard the car pull up, and then the sound of someone singing, coming up the walk.
"Before I could answer, I looked and I was standin' on her point of view..." Xander sang softly as he juggled the two bags containing his groceries and what was left of the garlic bread, trying to fish his hard-won key out of his jeans pocket without dropping anything. "...and she said come on over to my place, and we can make do."
He looked up and realized he didn't need it. The door that led into his basement apartment was ever so slightly open. If he took off into the night and left the door open, I'll... no, why would he? Yeah, the place is pretty much safe from vampires, but if Spike wants a place to stay, he knows better than to let burglars of the plain old human variety clean me out.
He cautiously nudged the door open and peered down. The sound of the TV rose up to him...
"The city of Townsville..."
He's watching the Powerpuff Girls? Focus, Xander, focus. Playing by ear, remember?
He reached into a grocery bag and pulled out the last remaining Almond Joy. Tara had taken another, Buffy had devoured two after victoriously passing the pre-test at the back of the French book...and okay, yours truly gobbled the other four on the drive home. So sue me. It's been a very long day.
He took a step in, and stood at the top of the stairs looking down. Spike stood next to the TV, thumping it absently with his fist, looking up at him. Wearing my clothes?
"Heads up!" he called, and tossed the candy bar down.
Xander took another step down.
"Hey Spike--" he began. What's a good opening line, Giles? B-flat? No, that's just a note. "We need to talk." Oh, yeah, that was it. Very suave, very not pathetic.
He started to take that third step down, but he didn't have to bother. In the time it had taken his brain to quote his younger self, the vampire was across the room, up the stairs, and two inches from Xander's face, the candy bar lying crumpled on the basement floor.
"And just where the hell've you been? " Spike growled.
"Come On Over to My Place" is written and recorded by Dave Loggins. This one admits to being a shameless fangirl.