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How The Light Gets In


by
Shadowscast



Part Five


When he got back to the hotel, Xander flopped onto his bed and picked up the phone. Early morning was the only really good time to call Rome, and he needed to talk to Giles. He felt kind of bad about smoking in Spike's kitchen, and what says 'I'm sorry' better than fake I.D.?

While the phone rang he lit up a cigarette. Tasting the smoke, he felt a fresh little surge of guilt. Seriously, though, the idea of Spike as someone who could be hurt by a bit of cigarette smoke was still kind of hard to wrap his head around. Also a head-wrapping challenge: feeling bad about hurting him.

When Giles answered the phone Xander didn't tell him the whole story—he just mentioned the trouble Spike was having without a green card. They were trying to recruit him, after all, so it only made sense to throw him a bone or two.

"Indeed," Giles agreed, "and in any case, if he does agree to come to Rome he'll need a passport. Good thinking."

"How soon can you put it together?"

"It won't take long. We'll need a photo to work with—though I suppose Buffy or Dawn might have something..."

"He should send you a new one. His hair's different—oh, and that scar on his eyebrow's gone, that'd be kind of hard to explain."

"Oh?" Giles sounded interested. "I wonder how...never mind, I'll talk with him soon enough. As to the I.D.—he'll need a proper name. Do you know if he's established an alias already?"

"Hold on, I know this one." Xander pressed his fist to his forehead, sifting through his fuzzy thoughts. "At the hospital, he had a Medi-Cal card...oh yeah. Ian Curtis."

"Good lord," Giles said, "we can't use that one."

Xander frowned, tapped his cigarette over the Coke can he'd been using as an ashtray. "Why not?"

"Ian Curtis was a musician. A bit before your time, I suppose, and British, so it's not surprising you haven't heard of him. Still, the name stands too much a chance of attracting attention. Not to mention, it's in rather bad taste, seeing as the original bearer of the name committed suicide in 1980."

"Oh." Xander exhaled, watched the smoke curl away. "Okay, I see your point. Um, some other name, then. I guess it doesn't matter. He went by Billy at work."

"Right, then. If you have Spike courier a photo to me, I can get the I.D. to you in about a week. Now, have you managed to learn anything else about Illyria? My initial research has been fruitless..."

So Xander told Giles as much as he could—including the part about offering to bring Illyria to Rome.

It wasn't until the end of the conversation that Xander passed on what Spike had told him about Cordelia and Wesley. He said it in a steady voice between long drags on his second cigarette, and Giles took it with the expected stoicism. He said something about informing Wesley's parents, and Cordelia's if he could find them.

"Are you all right, Xander?" Giles asked finally, in a gentler voice than he usually used.

"Yeah. It was hard finding out about Cordy, you know? But I'll be all right, I just need some sleep."

"Perhaps you should talk to Willow. In fact, if you wanted to visit her while we wait for Spike to make up his mind about coming to Rome, the Council would certainly pay for the flight."

"I'll think about it," Xander lied.

***

Before he fell asleep he started to wonder: why had Spike picked that name?

Naming yourself after some rock star was one thing, but choosing one who'd killed himself—that was a little on the morbid side. Like, say someone started calling themselves 'Kurt Cobain'—you'd worry, right?

It was pretty obvious that turning human hadn't worked out too well for Spike. He lived in a dank basement apartment with a creepy elder god for a roommate, he worked crappy hours at a porn store, he had migraines and possibly asthma. After a hundred twenty years of having superpowers and living the want-take-have vampire high life, that had to suck.

In fact, it probably sucked about as much as it had when he first got chipped. And how had he dealt with that? He'd tied a stake to Xander's coffee table and tried to throw himself onto it.

It was enough to make Xander wonder if Spike's little accident with the pills the other night had been such an accident after all.

***

Subtle lines of investigation had never been Xander's strong point.

"What d'you want now?" Spike asked, standing aside to let him in.

Xander pulled the door shut behind him and looked around to see if Illyria was home. She wasn't anywhere in sight. "Spike, I was wondering something. Are you planning to kill yourself?"

Not surprisingly, Spike looked kind of shocked. "What's the fucking poof been telling you?" he said.

Okay, that was interesting. Not an outright denial, and it sounded like he thought Xander had been talking to Angel.

The urge to fill the silence was strong, but Xander had learned a few tricks over the past couple years. He gave Spike a patient, knowing look, and waited.

"Look, I was a fucking vampire for over a century," Spike said, backing away with a scowl and hugging his arms protectively around his chest. "I know where my fucking veins are. If I'd wanted to kill myself I'd be dead, all right?"

Xander stood silently for another moment, feeling really awkward and wishing he'd thought this through better before he asked the question. Spike was scowling and looking everywhere but at Xander; there was tension in his pose like he was about to get the fuck out of there, even if it meant leaving Xander behind in his living room.

Xander tried to think of what a wise, sensitive person would say at a time like this. "Would you maybe like to talk? I mean, I know we were never friends or anything, but it's not like you really have any friends besides the scary blue chick—"

Spike let out a short, barking laugh. "They cut off your training short at the suicide hotline, didn't they?"

Xander shrugged a non-response. "I haven't talked to Angel," he confessed. "It was the name."

"Name?" Spike looked puzzled, and he visibly relaxed a bit. "What name?"

"The one you gave Medi-Cal—Ian Curtis."

"Oh." Spike raised his eyebrow. "Wouldn't have thought you'd know Joy Division."

"Why'd you pick that name?" Xander asked, not bothering to correct Spike's assumption.

"Look, it doesn't mean I'm planning to off myself," Spike said, rolling his eyes. "I liked the man's music, is all."

"What about the overdose?"

"Since when is this any of your fucking business?"

"Since when did I mind my own business?"

"I'm fine," Spike said, suddenly perfectly calm, way too sincere. "It's very nice of you to stop by and check, but there's really nothing to worry about."

Yeah, and if Xander believed that, there was a bridge in Brooklyn going cheap. "Okay, um, look. I talked to Giles about getting you I.D. He needs a passport-type picture of you," he said, mostly to buy himself time while he tried to figure out what the hell to do now that he'd got himself involved in Spike's mental health issues. "Why don't we go get that done, send it off, then find someplace to grab dinner before you have to go to work."

"You know what? Forget it. I don't need your sodding charity." Spike went and yanked open the front door. "Smurfette and me are doing fine on our own, ta very."

"God, what's with you, Spike?" Xander didn't make a move towards the exit Spike was very pointedly providing him with. "If you don't want to talk, whatever, but I know you need some documentation. And hello, it's not charity—Giles wants you to work for us."

"I know what it is," Spike said with a dark look. "It's that I'm human now—all of a sudden I'm part of the club, everyone wants to look out for me. Well, sod that."

"That's what you're—you think I'm just doing this 'cause you're human? Christ, Spike, I was saving you from yourself back when you were evil and I hated you. Give me one good reason I should stop now."

Spike opened his mouth and shut it again without saying anything. The indignation melted out of his posture and his shoulders slumped. He pushed the door shut and leaned against it, still holding the knob. "Sorry," he said quietly, facing into the wall. "Suppose you're right. And I could use the I.D., that's for certain."

"Okay," Xander said, stepping carefully closer. "Then let's go get your picture taken."





Part Six


Getting the pictures was easy; there was a photo shop on the commercial strip a couple blocks away from Spike's apartment.

Negotiating dinner was more of a challenge.

There was an Indian place next door to the photo shop. Xander suggested eating there.

"Suit yourself," Spike said, shrugging. "I'm not really hungry, I think I'll just head back home."

Xander frowned; he still had a weird, uneasy feeling about leaving Spike on his own. "Don't you have to work in like an hour?" he pointed out. "If you don't eat first you'll be starving by two a.m.."

Spike shook his head. "I'm not on tonight. I only get four shifts a week."

"Oh. Well, that's cool. Lots of free time, I guess."

"I'd work more if I could," Spike said with a bit of a grimace. "Georgie doesn't want anyone doing more than 32 hours a week. Something about benefits."

"Oh, shit. The full-time, part-time thing. I got hit with that a couple times back before the construction job. That sucks."

Spike shrugged again in a what-can-you-do? kind of way. "Maybe once I've got those shiny new papers I'll find something better."

Xander, meanwhile, was remembering what it was like earning $216 a week in California. He was remembering counting pennies and saying 'I'm not hungry' like a broken record when the girls wanted to eat out or order pizza. "Dinner's on me, by the way," he said.

"I could pay for my own bloody dinner if I wanted to eat," Spike said, giving Xander a sharp look of wounded pride. "I was just explaining my fucking schedule, not trying for a handout."

Xander winced inwardly—damn, Spike was touchy. Take two, with more tact this time: "Look, I have an expense account. This is a business trip, right? When I say dinner's on me, I really mean it's on the Council, and believe me the Council is not hurting for funds."

Spike looked skeptical. "Aren't you folks starting from scratch, though, with this Council business? What, have you got the Slayers robbing jewelry stores?"

"Hey, remember, the First Evil wasn't exactly sophisticated. The Bringers blew up the Council's headquarters and killed most of the Watchers, but they never touched the bank accounts. We've got a lot of problems now, but money isn't one of them."

Finally, Spike looked interested. "Well," he said, "when you put it that way...it's been too bloody long since I had a good curry."

***

They had beer with dinner—the Council was paying for it, after all.

Xander explained the organization of the new Council in a rough kind of way, and told Spike about some of the more interesting evils they'd defeated in the past year. The giant bank-robbing leprechaun always made a good story; it had taken six Slayers plus a hell dog that Andrew summoned to take it down.

About halfway through their second beers, he decided it was time to change the subject. "So," he said into a pause in the conversation, "How did you turn human, anyway?"

"Wish I knew." Spike paused to tear off a piece of naan bread. "Happened after I got dusted again—in Angel's showdown with the evil law firm. You remember that dragon came out of the rift Glory opened up? Seems Wolfram & Hart were keeping it as a pet. Anyhow, breath of fire, vampire—not a healthy combination."

"Huh. I always wondered what happened to that thing."

"Well, Angel did for it after it flambéed me. And then I popped up again in the same place I'd got dusted—only, human." He shrugged. "Stuck in Angel's craw something awful. See, there was this prophecy."

Xander nodded. "There's always a prophecy."

The corner of Spike mouth twitched in an almost-smile. "Yeah. Anyhow, this one, the Shanshu prophecy, led Angel around by the nose for years. The gist of it was a vampire with a soul was supposed to do a bunch of good deeds, play some role in an apocalypse, and then turn human. Or possibly die. Or maybe get forgiven for his sins. Apparently a few of the key words were hard to translate. The 'vampire with a soul' bit, though, that was clear enough—so Angel knew it was about him, whatever it was."

"Until you came along."

"Right. Buggered up his whole Atlas complex, I did."

"So...it was really about you?"

Spike shrugged again. "Dunno. The whole thing may be complete shite—we know for sure that some parts of it were fake. And then Angel signed away his right to it when he was trying to convince the Circle of the Black Thorn that he was really bad to the bone."

Xander frowned. "You can't sign away a prophecy, can you? I mean, if you could, I'm sure Buffy would've been up for it back when we had that one about the Master escaping from his prison and killing her."

"Yeah, well, tell that to Captain Forehead. Anyhow, even if the bloody prophecy was about me, it still doesn't explain how this happened," he said, gesturing at himself. "Prophecies predict events, they don't cause them—a fine point that's completely lost on Angel."

"And now he's, what, jealous of you?"

"He thinks I stole his destiny and he doesn't like what I'm doing with it. Thinks it's a bloody great gift, turning human."

Okay, now they were getting down to the nitty gritty. Xander put his beer glass down and watched Spike's expression carefully as he said, "But it's not so great, huh?"

Spike tilted his head a bit, looked at Xander through narrowed eyes. "You're still trying to suss out if I'm planning to off myself, aren't you?"

"Well, yeah," Xander admitted. And then, since the subtle approach had apparently failed, he asked "Are you?"

Spike met Xander's eye for a moment with a kind of challenging glare, like he thought maybe Xander would back down and retract the question. Then his shoulders slumped just a bit, and he sighed. "No, I'm not," he said quietly, and took a drink of beer.

"Okay," Xander said in a prompting-for-more kind of way.

"Dunno why I'm back, do I?" Spike said, still quiet, fiddling with his fork now. "Maybe there's something else I'm supposed to do. Maybe I've got a second chance here. Angel thinks the Shanshu thing means my evil deeds are washed away, and my soul's back to hanging in the balance, waiting for judgment and whatnot." He spun the fork between his fingers, staring at it. "Suicides go to hell, right? I've visited the place on a day pass, and I don't fancy ending up there."

Suicides go to hell? Xander wasn't sure what kind of theology Spike thought he was drawing on, but he wasn't going to argue with it if it gave Spike a reason not to kill himself. And unlike earlier when Spike had said he was fine, this time Xander believed he was telling the truth. He might be miserable, but he didn't want to die because he was afraid that whatever came next would be worse than this. Xander could understand that kind of logic.

"Besides," Spike added in a more normal tone, "I can't really say I didn't choose this. I drank the bloody Mountain Dew, didn't I?"

Xander blinked. "I'm sorry, in what universe did that statement make sense?"

Spike grinned. "You'll like this story. It ends up with both me and Angel looking like complete dolts."

Xander let himself return the grin, feeling a surprising amount of relief now that Spike had finally opened up a bit. "I can hardly wait to hear it."





Part Seven


Xander hung up the phone, lit a cigarette, and thought about the evening ahead.

He didn't have to keep his promise to Andrew. There was bound to be something worth watching on cable, and he still had half a bottle of JD under the bed...

...and the walls were closing in.

His hand was shaking again. Shit. He clenched his fist until it stopped, then punched Spike's number.

"'Lo?"

"Hey, Spike. You said you were off again tonight, right?"

"Yeah, what of it?"

"It's Saturday night. Wanna go out?"

There was a surprised pause on the other end, then Spike said "Out where?"

"There's this DJ Andrew really likes. He made me promise to go to the club where he spins and buy a signed copy of one of his CDs."

Another hesitation; Xander somehow knew Spike was going through the same not really my thing / nothing else to do thought process he'd just gone through himself. "We don't have to stay there long," he added. "We could go somewhere else, play pool or something."

"Yeah, okay," Spike said finally. "Meet at my place?"

***

Illyria opened the door. "Come in," she said warmly—she was playing the brown-eyed girl again. "Spike's doing his hair."

"Um, okay."

Illyria went to the couch, picked up the Playstation controller she'd left lying on the coffee table, and resumed her game. Xander went and sat at the other end of the couch and watched her play for a few minutes. It was one of those martial arts games; he thought he recognized a few of Buffy's favorite moves in the mix.

"So, how've you been?" he asked eventually.

"Oh, same old, same old," she said, squishing an animated ninja's head into the dirt. "I'm older than time, you know."

"Right, yeah." Xander glanced towards the bedroom and bathroom—still no sign of Spike. "Hey, did you think any about my offer?"

"Spike says we're better off here on our own."

"But what do you think?"

She ignored the question, and her avatar kicked a bloody hole through the chest of another ninja.

"Because I'm not so sure he's right," Xander pressed on. "Money's kind of tight for you two, isn't it?"

"I don't worry my pretty blue head about things like that," she said dryly, and Xander was pretty sure she was quoting Spike.

"Does he miss a lot of shifts at work? With the headaches, I mean?"

"It's only happened a couple times."

"What would you do, though, if he lost the job?"

"If I lose that job I'll find another one," Spike said irritably, coming into the room. "What're you trying to worry Illyria for, Harris?"

Xander looked around—and saw why Spike had been taking so long with his hair.

It was freshly bleached, a starker white than he'd ever had it in Sunnydale. It looked like he'd cut it, too, sometime since Xander saw him yesterday; it was short enough now that he could gel it up into little spikes all over his head. He was wearing a tight black T-shirt with a brown outline of a coiled cobra on the front, and the usual black jeans and Docs. He still had a bandage around his left forearm, of course, but he had thick leather bracelets with silver studs around his wrists. He was wearing black nail polish, too—and was that eyeliner?

For the first time since Xander had met him here in LA, he looked like his old self.

"Hey, Spike." Xander stood up. "I thought you said you didn't want anyone to recognize you."

Spike tilted his head, giving Xander a puzzled look. "What's that?"

"The, uh, hair." Xander gestured vaguely at his own head. "Something about the bad guys having an APB out on the bleached blond vampire?"

Spike shrugged. "Not a vampire anymore, am I? Got a stake on you? Then no worries. Where are we going?"

"The Eclectic Ballroom." Xander hesitated—he hadn't planned to tell Spike this ahead of time, but now he realized it was probably dumb not to. "It's kind of a gay club, by the way."

Spike arched an eyebrow. "Really, now? Anything you've been meaning to tell me, Harris?"

"Yeah. Andrew's gay."

"Well, yeah..." Spike trailed off, giving Xander a tell me something I don't know look.

"I mean, he's, um, capital-G Gay. He came out." Spike still didn't seem at all surprised. "Wait, did he already tell you?"

"No, the subject didn't come up." Spike rubbed the back of his neck, looking faintly amused. "So when you say he came out...?"

"Rainbows, pink triangles, obscenely tight T-shirts—the whole deal. And since I'm the only other guy under forty involved with the Council these days, I'm the one he drags out clubbing with him."

"Must be a bit awkward for you, then?" Spike asked, innocently raising his eyebrows. "What do you do when he pulls?"

The question confused Xander for a second, and then the British slang finally clicked. "Oh. Well, then sometimes I pick up, too." Not that any of this had happened since before the Congo, but he didn't feel like going into that.

"Places like Andrew would take you," Spike said, turning an amused smirk on Xander now, "are you sure it was always a woman you left with?"

"Pretty sure it wasn't, actually," Xander replied deadpan, and enjoyed the surprise that flickered over Spike's face.

"You've grown up some, Harris," he said with a slight nod. Xander wondered what he meant by that.

Stupid vampire senses; Spike had probably known Xander was bi back before Xander even did.

Spike moved towards the door. "Right then. Illyria, pet, you're set up all right?"

The music from the video game had been playing in the background all along. Now Xander looked back at the couch and saw that Illyria had gone all blue without moving at all. "May your empty pursuits in the face of imminent doom give you some measure of satisfaction," she said without turning away from the TV screen.

"That's her way of saying 'have a nice time,'" Spike whispered. "Let's go."

***

They were early; DJ Dongo wouldn't be arriving till one in the morning.

"Might as well dance," Spike said. The floor was only half full, with colored spots highlighting one dancer at a time on the beat of the tech trance music.

Xander shook his head. "I'll just get a drink, find a table."

Spike shrugged. "Suit yourself, mate. If you don't dance with me, someone else will." He slid away from Xander, already moving to the beat.

Xander did what he'd said—ordered a double rum and coke, and found a table with view of the dance floor.

True to his word, Spike had already found a partner. The guy was dark-haired, bronze-skinned—Latino, probably. His lanky arms were covered with tattoos, and his ears were studded with silver. His white wife-beater and pale cargo pants made him almost Spike's chromatic opposite.

Xander watched them dance for a while, sipping his drink. Andrew could pick up almost that fast, but never that confidently. He always had a wide-eyed puppy thing going, a kind of innocent amazement that the guy in question might actually be interested in him. Spike, on the other hand, knew he was wanted. It showed in every moment, every glance. Xander wasn't sure if Spike was even into guys—maybe he was just putting on this show for Xander's benefit—but he had absolutely no doubt that Spike had hunted like this, back in the day.

Which was a thought that should have been chilling, but somehow failed to connect. There were too many worse evils in the world than a vampire killing for food. The worst weren't even demonic.

Xander realized he'd lost track of his surroundings and he was gripping the edge of the table way too tight. He shook his shoulders loose, took a deep breath, and found himself patting the cigarette pack in his pocket. Fuck. No smoking in California bars. He took a drink instead and tried to locate Spike again on the dance floor. There he was—electric white hair, dark hands around his waist. He was kissing the Latino guy.

Xander felt himself relaxing. He determinedly kept his attention on the dancers—on Spike and his partner in particular—and didn't let his mind drift again. Spike and the other guy finished kissing and kept dancing, their hands roaming over each others' shoulders, torsos, butts. Xander wondered if he was supposed to be embarrassed and turn away—but what the hell, if they were going to do it in public....

Actually, it was pretty damn hot. The Latino guy wasn't hard on the eyes, and Spike—Christ. He was a cat, he was quicksilver, he was a punk rock angel. Watching him, Xander felt stirrings of arousal, and God that was something he hadn't felt in a long time.

Fucking hell, who'd have thought he could be attracted to Spike?

Spike is strong and mysterious and sort of compact but well-muscled.

Yeah, okay, maybe he'd been attracted to Spike before. But back when Xander was supposed to be straight and Spike was supposed to be evil, it couldn't exactly have gone anywhere. Now...

Now he was entertaining wild fantasies of getting up on the dance floor and pushing between the Latino guy and Spike and saying "Hey, you came with me" and kissing Spike the way the other guy was doing.

Wait a second. They were leaving the dance floor. They were holding hands and Spike was leading the way—not towards Xander but the other way, to where the washrooms were.

Oh God. Spike sure as hell wasn't taking the other guy back there to drink his blood.

Xander decided it was high time for a cigarette.

***

Standing in the alley out back of the club, Xander was almost finished his cigarette when he suddenly got the feeling someone was watching him from the shadows. Someone or something. He hadn't survived an adolescence spent hanging out at the Bronze without learning a couple things about shadows in dark alleys. He pitched the stub of his Camel to the pavement and reached into the side pocket of his cargo pants as though reaching for another cigarette, but actually his fingers closed around a stake.

Keeping his breathing steady—if it was a vampire, it'd hear any change—Xander made a half-casual move to one side and then suddenly kicked a garbage can in the direction of the shadow. A flash of movement, a low-pitched "Hey!" and then Xander had the business end of his stake poking a big, beefy leather-clad chest.

"Xander," gasped Angel. "It's me."

Xander backed off, but he kept the stake in his hand. "Hi, Angel. So you're still big with the lurking, huh? Plus ça change."

"Yeah, well." With a wry look, he rubbed at the dent in his coat where the stake's point had been pressing. "Thanks for not dusting me. Does this mean you've warmed up to me a bit?"

"No, it means I'm curious why you followed me here." Xander tapped the stake against his palm. "Or are you going to tell me it's just a coincidence?"

"It's not a coincidence," Angel admitted readily. "I followed you and Spike here."

"I'm still waiting to hear why." Xander knew perfectly well that now that he'd given away the element of surprise, there was pretty much no way he could succeed in dusting Angel. Still, it was satisfying to see Angel flinch at the threat in his voice. That never used to happen.

"Spike doesn't want my help, but that doesn't mean he doesn't need it," Angel said. "The city's full of danger, and he doesn't understand how vulnerable he is."

"So you stalk him?" Xander asked, raising his eyebrows. "You know, there's about four million people in LA getting by without your help."

"I can't save all of them," Angel said. "But Spike's my responsibility."

"Since when? If this is some kind of sire thing, I think you get a pass now that he's human."

Angel shook his head, looking morose. "He's carrying a burden that was meant for me."

"You mean the prophecy? That whole thing with the Mountain Dew?" At Angel's surprised blink, Xander added "Yeah, he told me about that. No offense, but one, he beat you fair and square, two, you can't sign a prophecy away, and three, wasn't the whole thing a fake, anyway?"

"It was never completely clear..." Angel grimaced. "Parts of it were definitely true, all right? Anyway, whether you believe in the Shanshu prophecies or not, you must see that Spike needs help."

Xander gave a half shrug; he couldn't exactly deny it. "I'm helping him. I'm getting him a passport and a green card."

Shaking his head, Angel glanced back towards the club. "He shouldn't be out here."

"Why not?" Xander wondered if Angel even knew what kind of club it was, or if he could possibly suspect what Spike was up to right at this moment.

"It's after midnight," Angel said, like Xander was dumb for even needing this explained to him. "He's human now. He should be in bed."

"Okay, uh, human." Xander gestured at himself. "Not in bed. Human," he gestured widely at the back door of the club, "not in bed."

Angel rolled his eyes. "Obviously. But Spike's not very strong; he shouldn't be wearing himself out like this."

"Yeah, I'm starting to see why he hasn't invited you in," Xander said, finally tucking the stake back in his pocket. "Do you tell him stuff like that to his face?"

"You don't understand," Angel said, and there was a tinge of desperation in his voice. "He's been sick. He had TB complicated with viral pneumonia, he was in the hospital for weeks. And then not long after he got out, he came down with bronchitis. He only got over that a couple weeks ago."

"Oh. Shit." Xander stared at Angel, finally comprehending a little why he'd developed this weird overprotective streak. "So if he only turned human a couple months ago..."

"He's been sick most of that time."

"Damn, no wonder he seemed kind of depressed."

"Xander," Angel said, lightly touching his arm, "he won't let me in. Maybe you can talk sense into him."

Xander moved away from Angel's touch, and closer to the door to the club. "Look, no offense, but if he doesn't want your help, he just doesn't. I'm not going to talk him into anything." Except maybe going to Rome, he thought silently. If Spike was as messed up as Angel said, then he'd definitely be better off with the Council than with Angel. What the hell kind of resources did Angel have to take care of a human?

"Will you at least watch out for him? As long as you're here?" Angel asked, his face drawn with worry.

"Well, obviously." Xander reached for the door handle. "That's what friends do."

***

DJ Dongo had finally arrived and started setting up. Xander went and bought the CD—which had been the whole point in coming here, after all—and while he was handing over his cash, Spike came up behind him and draped an arm over his shoulder.

"How're you holding up, mate?" he said near Xander's ear.

"Okay," Xander said, taking his change and tucking it away. He looked around and saw no sign of Spike's dance partner. "Don't tell me you got ditched?"

Spike looked at him like he was dumb. "No, we finished with each other is all." He met Xander's look with a slow, lazy grin. "Have to say, it was a brill idea coming out here. Best night I've had in a long time."

"Spike..." Xander wasn't sure if he was embarrassed, appalled or jealous. Plus, with the conversation with Angel fresh in his mind, he couldn't stop himself from looking at Spike for signs of weakness. His eyes were bright, and his cheeks and lips were flushed—hello, recent orgasm. "At least tell me you used a condom."

Spike rolled his eyes at Xander. "You're a regular wet blanket tonight. All right, look, I didn't sleep through the eighties; I know what's what. We bought one from the little dispenser by the hand dryer."

"Okay." Xander tucked the CD into the biggest pocket of his cargo pants, and nodded toward the exit. "Let's get out of here."

"Something wrong, Harris?" Spike asked, still keeping inside Xander's personal space. "You seem...off."

Xander gave a jerky shrug. There was plenty wrong, but no more than usual. "I ran into Angel outside," he said. "He followed us here."

"Fucking poof," Spike muttered. Xander knew enough about British swearwords by now to see the irony, but he didn't point it out. "Did he hassle you, then?"

"Nah. I nearly staked him, though." As expected, that got a smile from Spike. "He seemed to think it's past your bedtime." And that brought out a scowl.

"He has boundary issues," Spike said irritably.

"Listen, he told me about how you've been sick." Xander felt like he needed to tell Spike he knew because he was pretty sure Spike had been deliberately not mentioning it—and he didn't want to be sharing secrets from Spike with Angel. "He thought you should still be taking it easy."

Spike rolled his eyes again. "I've been fine for weeks. What I needed was to get out of that sodding flat and have some fun—which is a concept Angel doesn't quite get."

"No argument here," Xander said. "So speaking of fun—I got Andrew's CD. Wanna go find somewhere to play pool?"

"Actually," Spike slid around to block Xander's path, black-lined eyes burning bright with a kind of hungry smile he'd never turned on Xander before, "I want to dance."

***

Cordelia told him once that he danced like a frog in a blender. As her insults went, that one had been delivered lovingly. He'd tried to develop some dignity for her, and it had left him feeling stiff, with too many elbows and not enough knees.

Anya had been new to the scene when he'd danced with her at prom. He'd kept her at arm's length as long as he could, disconcerted by her bloodthirsty small talk. If a future-telling demon had come to him that night and told him that in two years' time he'd be asking Anya to marry him, he would have laughed in its face.

Spike pulled him onto the dance floor with a light touch of fingertips. He looked at Xander like he owned him, smirking as he ran his fingers down the length of Xander's arm. The heavy drumbeat of the music kept time exactly with Xander's racing heart.

And yes, there was something fundamentally wrong with looking at Spike and feeling like this, but it had been too many months since Xander had looked at anyone and felt like this. And yes, this was probably just a game for Spike, but he had the trick of making it seem real. Maybe it was the rum, maybe the heat and the strobe and the jungle beat, but something that had been tight inside Xander since—the Congo? since Rome? since Sunnydale?—something let go, and he decided. He'd let Spike seduce him tonight.

There were hands. There were slender hips and strong shoulders and sleek arms, moving. Inside Spike's sphere of influence Xander forgot that he'd ever been awkward. Everything was fluid—movement, identity, desire. The strobe caught the planes of Spike's face, his sharp cheekbones and black-lined eyes looking unworldly one moment, glittering and feral the next with the slightest turn.

Closer. The chemical scent of fresh-bleached hair. The tang of sweat, a flash of white teeth in a hungry grin, and Xander's brain flickered on the realization that for over a century this was the last thing Spike's dates saw before they died. And in the moment that Spike's lips met his, his body decided that it would have been worth it.





Part Eight


At about ten thirty the next morning, Xander stared up the stone steps at the big wooden front doors of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church.

Intimidated? A little. Weirded out? A lot. When Illyria had told him where to find Spike, he'd thought at first she had to be joking. Or, given that she wasn't big with the humor—lying. She'd stuck to her story, though, even when Xander said it was an emergency, so here he was, climbing the steps.

Funny thing was, Xander had never been in a church before in his life. Walking through the door, he wasn't sure what the rules were—was he supposed to check in with someone? Take his shoes off? Drop to his knees and say three Hail Marys?

But no one stopped him; in fact the vestibule was empty. So he passed through the next set of doors and hey, there were all the people. Just like on TV, the huge stone room had stained glass windows, rows and rows of wooden benches, and a pulpit at the front with a priest behind it. There were maybe eighty people in the room, more gray haired than not. Spike was easy to spot by his electric white bleach job—that, and the fact that he was sitting alone on the last bench, just a few feet in front of Xander.

Xander slid into place beside him and whispered his name. Spike turned and his eyes widened. There were still smudges of black eyeliner ringing them, Xander noticed. Spike was dressed a bit more formally than last night, though—a gray button-down shirt with his black jeans.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Spike whispered.

Xander resisted the urge to throw the question right back at him—there'd be time for that later. "The Council needs you," he said instead.

"Right now?"

"Lives are in danger. Every minute counts. Come on, you know the drill."

Spike gave Xander a skeptical look. In the background, the priest droned on, telling a story about some guy called Lazarus. "Illyria must've told you where to find me, right?" Spike whispered. "If there's something needs killing, she's your girl."

"Not killing. Translating. Giles says you know Ancient Greek."

"Yeah, and? So does he."

So Giles had been right. Weird. No way would Xander have guessed Spike for a dead languages scholar. Of course, there's also no way he would've expected to find him in church, so hey. Weirdness abounding here.

"There's plenty Greek for the both of you," Xander explained. "He needs an entire book translated A.S.A.P." A gray-haired lady sitting a couple rows in front of them glanced backward with an annoyed expression, and Xander realized his voice had exceeded whisper. "Seriously, lives depend on it," he added more softly, but quickly. "Come with me now, I'll explain the rest."

"It's always something, innit?" Spike muttered, looking unenthusiastic about helping—but he followed Xander off the bench and out of the church.

On the way to the Internet café, Xander gave Spike the run-down. One Slayer and two civilians had been bit by a giant snake-like demon in northern India.

"Oh, like that mayor of yours turned into?"

"Not that big. More like jumbo python-sized, with extra teeth."

Now the three people who'd been bit were sick. Their limbs were getting stiff, and their skin strangely hard. The elaborate and grotesque statuary in the den where two other Slayers had tracked down the snake demon suggested that the victims were actually turning to stone.

"And I come into this where?" Spike asked as they pulled into a parking space outside the cyber café.

"Giles found a reference to a cure, but the only surviving copy of the book it's supposedly in is in Ancient Greek. It's about four hundred pages long, and we need to find the right part fast. Giles thinks the people who got bit have a couple days, tops, before they turn into astonishingly lifelike lawn ornaments. So, division of labor—Dawn's scanning a part of the book to give to you."

"Dawn," Spike echoed softly as he followed Xander into the café, but he didn't follow up on the thought. "So, what, I'm going to sit here sipping a latté and translating the ancient mystical text? It's a bit public, innit?"

Xander shook his head and said in an undertone, "Dawn said I should print the pages and give them to you. You can take them home or whatever."

He paid for some time on one of the computers, and Spike silently watched as Xander logged onto his email account. There were a bunch of new messages from Dawn, all with big attachments: p1.jpg, p2.jpg and so on. "Hope we didn't just trap a demon in the Internet," Xander muttered, double-clicking the first one to open it.

"Can that happen?" Spike asked, crouching in close to see the window that popped up. He put his hand on Xander's shoulder as he leaned forward, and Xander felt suddenly warm. Last night's kiss flashed through his mind, and—Dammit, Xander, focus. Crisis.

"Surprisingly, yeah. This one time in high school, Willow accidentally released Moloch the Corrupter into the network by scanning the book he'd been trapped in since the Dark Ages," Xander explained absently as he clicked print and tried to ignore Spike's hand, still on his shoulder. "Then she had an Internet affair with him, and then he turned into a giant robot and tried to kill us all. Just your average week at Sunnydale High."

He jumped up to get the printout, conveniently escaping Spike's touch at the same time. The page looked okay to him, so he handed it to Spike, who squinted at it for a few seconds then nodded. "This'll do. Do you have to print them all one at a time like that?"

"Yeah, I think so. She's sent every page as a separate file." Xander clicked the next one open.

"Right. Gimme your car keys, then." Spike held out his hand.

"Why?"

"Been over a century since I bothered with this shite. Gonna need a dictionary."

"Okay." Xander tossed him the keys. The Council was paying for the rental, anyway. "Where will you go, UCLA?" Spike gave a half nod, half shrug. "UCLA," Xander repeated more firmly. "I'll meet you there when I'm finished printing."

***

Printing the pages was a mindless task that gave Xander time to finally think about last night.

Spike. Lips of Spike.

They hadn't gone any further than kissing. He remembered being disappointed about that when he'd dropped Spike off at his place sometime around 2:30 a.m.. Now he knew relief of the profoundest, most knee-wobbling sort.

Bad enough that he'd gone home drunk with Andrew and had sex with him that one time. At least Andrew had felt as awkward about it as he had the morning after. Spike would have gloated. He would've seen it as a conquest, and he would've used it to mock Xander into the ground.

But...fucking hell, that kiss had been hot.

***

Finally done printing, he collected all the pages and took a cab to UCLA, where he found Spike in the humanities library. Spike had found the book he wanted, but needed Xander to pay for a library card so he could take it out.

"Though of just nicking it," Spike commented as they headed for the car, "but they have those magnetic sensor thingies at the doors..."

"Hey, you're supposed to be non-evil now." He glanced sideways at Spike, who shot him a who, me? grin.

And then Xander caught sight of the car.

"Spike," he said in a very mild tone, "When you borrowed the car it had two headlights, right?"

Spike shrugged. "What. The Council did spring for insurance, didn't it?"

"Fuck." Xander took in the damage. "Just tell me the police aren't after you." The right front headlight was smashed to bits, and the hood and bumper around it were crumpled.

"No problem there," Spike assured him, sounding totally unconcerned about the whole thing. "Look, it still runs fine. The damage is just aesthetic, like."

Xander smacked the hood of the car with his fist. "Fuck! There's no time for this." This was the Spike he remembered from Sunnydale—the one whose picture should be listed under 'irresponsible' in the dictionary. "You are such an asshole," he said through gritted teeth, and he must have sounded dangerous because Spike visibly flinched before he covered it up with a roll of his eyes and a muttered insult. Xander unclenched his hand and reminded himself: Lives are at stake. "Okay, if it can drive, we're driving. Get in the damn car. Passenger side!"





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