Basement of Debasement


They're in the basement one night watching television in grudging silence, and the usual stuff starts up on the first floor—yelling, stomping, bad language. At first Xander doesn't even seem to notice it; it's just background noise. But it keeps up longer and louder than it usually does, doesn't taper back down, and when something like a glass breaks up there he shifts in his chair and his eyes go up to the ceiling. Shoulders tight, anxious. Following the sounds of feet back and forth like an obsessed fan following plays, and as the yelling goes on he gets more and more tense, until he has to stand up and walk across the room to the sink, microwave, the kitchenette or whatever you call it, pretend to do something over there. Spike just takes it all in. He can hear better than Xander can, he knows pretty much what's going on up there. Dinner's not right, the beer's not cold, everything's all wrong and blammo, any minute now Harris Senior is either going to have a heart attack or else smack the missus in the head. Sounds like a real charmer. And he can't help it, he should find it all very amusing, and god knows it's none of his business anyway, but there's something about that man's voice that makes his neck prickle over. Never seen the bastard, but doesn't like him. The missus sounds like a bit of a rotter too, frankly, but at least she's not throwing things. Yet.

"You could at least give me the bloody remote," he says, to cover the fact that he's on edge listening to them go at it. Harris doesn't say anything, and Spike rolls his head back and says, "Hey." Meanwhile catching a quick look to see how the kid's taking all of this. He's standing in the kitchen with his head tipped up, eyes on the ceiling, like a dog at point. Completely focussed. Like he's trying to judge something, exactly the point at which something is going to happen.

"Remote," Spike snaps again, and Xander glances at him, walks over and picks up the remote from the end table, drops it absently into Spike's lap, and how mad is that? He says "Ta" to cover his surprise—when does Xander Harris give up the remote? Never. But suddenly it's in his hands, and he starts flicking rapidly, uselessly through the channels while Harris stands a few feet off, middle of the room, watching the ceiling as if Spike's gone again. Spike opens his mouth to make a crack and there's a new sound upstairs, the missus just got pushed into the wall by the sound of it, and Xander's up the stairs like Seabiscuit. Utter idiot—you don’t go up when the bastard's just getting worked up to fight. The basement door bangs shut behind him and Spike sits listening, the television forgotten. There's a pause, then a few quiet words back and forth, then a lot of sudden thumps that he doesn't need a video feed to understand. Sounds like a sudden shove into something, some heavy piece of furniture that almost unseats and there's china somewhere, rattling. Nothing like broken china to bring the bastard down on you. In his experience.

Some more thumps, feet back and forth, no more talking. In the kitchen overhead, the missus is creeping around, putting things away. Then quiet. After a couple of minutes a television goes on up there.

An hour or so later Harris comes back downstairs and goes straight into the toilet. Even from in there, he smells like cheap lager. When he comes out he walks fast past the sofa, yanks his coat off in passing, and keeps on straight to the door.

"You can't leave me here," Spike says, craning his head back over his shoulder to try to get a glimpse. Xander keeps his face to the door, checking in his pockets for his keys.

"Can and am. Patrol waits for no man."

"Bloody untie me at least, tosser. What if I want a mug of something while you're—"

"You'll have to order in, I guess." Xander opens the door and steps out. "I'll feed you when I get back."

"What if you die?"

"Then I won't feed you when I get back." He closes the door and locks it from the outside. The smell of bad beer lingers in the room. What is he, eighteen? Supposed to be laws about kids that age drinking in this stupid country.

Upstairs all is quiet, except for the television. Spike stares at the ceiling for a while, then tries to settle into a more comfortable position and promptly drops the remote.

At a quarter of three the lock slips quietly and the door opens. There's a second or two of warm sweet night air, and then Xander steps in and closes the door behind him. Spike gives him a sharp look. As sharp as he can make it, at least, since it's dark in the basement and he's a little bleary after five straight hours of telly.

"Nice evening killing my friends?"

"You don't have friends, Spike. Just people you owe money to."

"Oh, well then. Go to it." He rolls his head against the lounger to ease the kink in his neck, and looks longingly down at the remote. It's been a Cheers marathon since eleven o'clock. He's ready to ask for a spare stake.

Xander shrugs his ugly coat off, revealing an ugly shirt dotted with—what are those? Spike squints.

"Are those…celery?" he asks, without thinking. Xander looks down and smoothes the front of his shirt with the palm of his hand.

"Guts," he says simply. "I forget whose now." He unbuttons the collar and starts automatically to pull the shirt off over his head, then stops short. For a second he's hooded, stuck, the seams pulled tight over his shoulders and a few inches of belly showing where his undershirt's rucked up too. Spike frowns.

"Gonna wear that as a hat?"

Xander's already wriggling back into the shirt, popping a couple of stitches as he jams his arms through the sleeves and his head through the collar. Without any explanation, he turns and walks away to the kitchen. Starts opening cupboards and staring inside, still in the dark.

"Nothing in there," Spike says, turning back to the television. "Same as when you left. Sorry, I forgot to go to the market—no, wait, I didn't forget, I'm tied to a chair."

"Which, sadly, doesn't stop your lips from moving."

"It's bloody medieval, is what it is. Bloody torture squad tactics…" He's momentarily distracted by that ad for chewing gum, the one with all the bikinis in it. Behind him, Xander keeps going through cupboards. "Might as well be back in the cold cell in that fascist death camp—"

"'Cold cell'?" Xander opens the fridge, takes out a bottle, and roots in a drawer. "'Fascist death camp'?"

"Look, mate, you weren't bloody there, you've got no idea—"

"You were hardly there. And, 'cold cell'?"

"Solitary confinement, wanker. We had our lingo."

"If you had time to develop a 'lingo' during the three days you were with the Initiative, I'll personally pay all your outstanding traffic fines. And you're cut off watching cop shows." He walks back over toward the television and sinks down into the couch. The bottle in his hand is a beer. "'Cold cell.'" He swigs and stares at the television, toeing his shoes off absently.

Spike sits in silence, watching Xander out of the corner of his eye. He's been in the basement three days, most of it tied up. This is the longest conversation they've had so far, and it's the first time he's seen Xander drink. He was drinking earlier, too, upstairs. With his father. Which reminds Spike— Xander's face is turned to the television; he looks tired and disheveled, he's peppered with demon guts, but there are no signs of any real damage. A couple of shoves, some antler-clashing, that's probably normal for a dad and a kid Xander's age. Must be all right if they can drink a beer together afterward.

"So you're a Kirstie Alley fan," Xander says tonelessly, eyes on the screen. Spike winces.

"I dropped the fucking remote."

"Whatever you say."

"Four hours ago, you punter. It's been bad rugs and barstool jokes since then, and if you think I haven't suffered—"

Xander raises his hands, smiling a slow, tolerant smile. "Hey, whatever floats your boat. But I hope you won't mind if I change to something that doesn't actively poach brain cells and replace them with aerosol cheese."

"Remote's on the floor."

Xander stands up, dangling the beer between the tips of his fingers. "Where?"

Spike nods, down between the lounger and the table beside it, where the remote's lying. Now that he thinks about it, it would be a good ambush setup. If he needed an ambush setup for a tired, barefoot, half-buzzed eighteen year-old kid. If he could do anything to a kid like that. He sighs and, for the thousandth time today, tries to rub the back of his head. No go; he's still tied down.

Xander doesn't seem to give ambushes a second thought, which may be one reason why he's the disposable Scooby. He peers over the arm of the lounger, drops to his knees, and fishes in the gap. He can't see what he's doing, so Spike looks over the arm and tries to navigate—"Right, it's just, no, go left—" After a few seconds of that, his brain kicks in and he has a thought. A few seconds after that, he's not looking at the remote anymore.

Xander's kneeling at his feet, shoulder almost touching Spike's knees, warm enough to feel even with inches between them. The gut-spattered shirt's cheap and thin from too many washings; it hangs away from his body and the television lights him up from behind, so Spike can clearly see the curve of his torso. He's got that eighteen year-old thinness, still growing into his shoulders and his hands. Really actually not bad-looking. Not on his knees like that, at least.

Xander sighs in frustration, leans sideways a couple of inches more, and his shoulder makes contact with Spike's shin. Warm and hard. Then he's sitting back with the remote in his fingers, shaking lint off it and squinting to see the buttons, slugging some beer, pointing and clicking. Still on his knees in front of Spike, slumped a little, skimming channels. He settles on something with spaceships, something Spike would have gone past with a shudder.

"Oh, good," he hears himself say. What the hell?

Xander turns back to look at him, smiling widely, and for the first time Spike sees that he's got a black eye. His left eye, the side he's been keeping away all night.

"It's a good one," Xander's saying. "The one where Picard gets taken prisoner by the Cardassians?"

"Cardassians. Right."

"Yeah, they put him in the cold cell." Xander's laughing quietly, scooting away on the carpet to sit with his back against the couch, his beer propped on his knees. Spike tries automatically to give him two fingers, but…still tied up.

He sits and watches actors in bumpy makeup for a few minutes, feeling weirdly cold and uncomfortable in his belly. Finally, without looking away from the screen, he says, "What happened to your eye?"

"Patrol," Xander says immediately. He doesn't elaborate further.

They watch the rest of the episode. Halfway through the one that follows, Xander falls asleep on the carpet. Spike sits fiddling with his bonds, looking over occasionally at Xander's closed eyes and parted lips.

He wakes up to hot, damp hands on his neck and arms, hot stale beer breath in his face

"Shhh—" The hands pat his shoulders ineffectually. "Shhh, Spike, wake up, just shhhh—" The voice is whispering. Fast and panicked, not soothing.

He blinks, tries to rub his eyes, and can't move his arms. That sends a shock of fear through him—fuck, he's in the wheelchair again—and he goes rigid, yanks hard, and gets one arm up with a sound of tearing rope and vinyl.

"What the—"

"Shhh!" There's a hand over his mouth, quickly, a smell of sweat and fear, and he's amazed at the audacity. Before he has a chance to bite it, it's gone. A light clicks on, and he realizes he's in the basement, in the chair, and Xander Harris is crouching over him, hands up in a pleading, bargaining gesture. He looks tangled, rough, like he's just woken up. His heart's going a hundred miles an hour.

"What's going—"

Xander's hands make a desperate down, down gesture, and Spike frowns. He's talking in a normal tone of voice, and anyway, he's bloody tied to a chair, he's got few enough privileges left, he'll talk however loud he—

Above their heads, the ceiling creaks, and Xander's gaze shoots up. He's breathing hard, hands still poised in midair, face taut and focused. As if every molecule of his attention is willing the creak to just stop there. The black eye's swollen more since he fell asleep.

They sit there in silence, both staring at the ceiling, and there's another creak—a definite footstep, up in what must be the kitchen. Xander's shoulders tighten, and his fingers curl in to his palms, so his hands are in fists. There's sweat in the hollow of his throat. He smells hot and salty and edible.

"Someone awake up there," Spike observes quietly, curling and uncurling the fingers of his free hand. Xander spares him a glance, realizes they're inches apart, and backs away.

"Yeah." The television's off. He's undone the waist of his jeans at some point in his sleep, and a few more buttons down his shirt. He still looks distracted, his eyes on the ceiling, one hand out as if he's balancing something on the back of it.

There's another creak, the shuffle of slippers, heading back across the kitchen floor. Xander tenses, and then, when the footsteps keep going, past the basement door and then up the stairs to the second floor, he relaxes. All at once, his shoulders dropping six inches and his face losing that wooden look.

"Jesus, Spike." He's still whispering, and the hand he's holding out starts to shake a little. He jams it awkwardly into the pocket of his jeans.

"What's it got to do with me?"

"You—" Xander pauses and looks at him quizzically, and Spike realizes that his tone was too defensive. "Nothing. You were dreaming."

"Right, yeah, this tip'll give anyone nightmares."

Xander rolls his shoulders absently, rubs his neck, and gives Spike a long look. "You were yelling. About Angelus."

"Oh, right—" He's got a quip for that, right on the tip of his tongue, but he's lost for a few quick seconds in a memory of yelling, scrambling, breakage, blood. He's not sure whether it's the dream or just dregs, but it leaves him sitting there stupidly with his mouth open, his head wobbling slightly on his neck. He blinks furiously and snaps, "Do you plan to let me eat anything ever again?"

Xander keeps looking intently at him, his hand latched onto the back of his neck, as if he's just figuring something out about Spike. It's unnerving. Then he glances down at the broken rope by Spike's left hand. "You have to let me tie you up again."

"Oh, bloody—"

"I'm serious."

"I think we both know I'm not going to savage you in your sleep."

"Because if you're not tied up, I won't be sleeping in the first place." Xander steps forward and hooks the dangling end of the rope with one hand. "Humor me, Darth Fang."

"I'm a bloody lamb, Harris. Can't do anything."

"Except apparently you can wake my dad up and get him down here to sma—" Xander's mouth snaps shut and his face flushes. Spike says nothing while Xander reties the rope over his left forearm. Harder and tighter than before, so tight it cuts into the muscle and he winces. Xander's breathing hard, his fingers are cold and damp. He stands up, walks away to the kitchen, then turns around and comes back. Kneels down and unties the knot, loosens the rope, and knots it again.

"Sorry," he says, without looking up. Gets up and goes back into the kitchen.

Spike sits testing the rope, listening to Xander pour blood into a mug and run the microwave. The rest of the house is silent. Hard to believe the other Scoobies haven't figured it out by now. The Watcher, at least—what's he paid to do, but watch? Apparently his field of view is limited. Or maybe it hasn't been going on long.

"Ta," he says, when Xander comes back with a mug. There's no straw, and his hands are tied, and he's suddenly very tired. "Be less messy if you gave me my hands back."

Xander frowns. Spike shrugs and leans forward. The blood's warm and a little flat, and he finishes it in a single draught. When he sits back, licking his lips, Xander's expression is more than a little impressed.

"You must fit right in at frat parties."

"Nah, the beer's always crap."

Xander half-smiles and takes the mug back to the kitchen. Spike sits staring at the black television screen, at Xander's reflection running the faucet quietly, putting things away quietly, everything very quiet. For some reason, it occurs to him that he hasn't had sex in months.

"I'm just gonna crash on the couch," Xander says superfluously, coming back over and clicking the light off. Spike hears him collapse on the sofa cushions with a long, low sigh.

"Night then," he says. Xander doesn't answer.

He wakes up once more, with a guilty start and a vivid scene still playing behind his eyes. Lying on top of Xander on the couch, their legs entwined, soft wet kisses and wet cocks rubbing. Jesus Christ. He scowls at the tent in his jeans until it finally dies away.

It doesn't happen again for a week, during which time he gains some privileges, thank God. He bargains his way into daytime freedom ("Can't wash my own dishes if I can't bloody stand up, can I?") and short night-time outings ("What am I going to do, tip cows?"). It depresses him that he actually uses these to do what he says he's going to do—smoke and walk around, and nothing else. Every once in a while he fingers the keys to the DeSoto, but for some reason he doesn't use them.

It's a quiet week, as weeks in the Harris household go. Shouting and banging upstairs almost every night, but no more sounds of violence. They're emphatic people. Large, too, by the sound of it. Xander watches television, sleeps, showers, reads comics, completely oblivious as long as things stay in the normal range. Once, after a bang that sounded like a stack of phone books dropped on the kitchen floor, Spike turned to him and said, only half-joking, "This keeps up I'm going to need bloody captioning for Passions." Xander looked up blankly from the newspaper he was reading, took a second to compute, and then said, "If what keeps up?".

Quiet week until Friday, when he comes home from a couple of hours wandering around the cemetery, smoking and trying to focus his mind on Slayer: revenge on, rather than on the strange directions it's been taking lately (mainly Harris: mouth of). He walks in and right away knows something's wrong. Xander's sitting in the corner of the sofa, white-faced and silent, staring not so much at the television as into the space in front of it. Upstairs, there's unparalleled shouting.

"What—" Xander looks up sharply, and motions for Spike to be careful with the door. The demon wants to slam it. Spike grits his teeth and closes it carefully, with a quiet click. "What's going on?"

"Hey. Nothing. How're you?" That's weird enough; Xander's never asked him how he is. He sounds stilted and absent, as though he's talking to some new acquaintance he doesn't really have time for right now. His hands are clasped between his knees, and his knees are clamped tight.

Spike cocks his head and listens for a second. Upstairs, it's accusation, counter-accusation. Apparently the wife is stupid and fat, lazy, a leech, the worst mistake et cetera et cetera. Harris Senior, in turn, is cold, adulterous, an alcoholic, weak, and everything her mother ever blah blah blah. Fuck this.

"Let's go out," he says, grabbing Xander's ugly coat off the chair beside him. "Come on, I'll buy the first round."

Xander doesn't move or look at him; his eyes are still fixed somewhere near the television, not really on it. "You go ahead."

"Need someone to buy the second round."

"I have patrol later."

"That's later."

"I don't feel like it. Thanks anyway."

Spike stands there swinging Xander's coat in his hand, counting to ten while upstairs it sounds like the cutlery drawer gets turned out. Xander jumps. Spike pushes down game face. "Look, if the monkeys are going to sling shit all night, least you can do is get the hell out for a bit."

"I'm not—"

"You're not required to go up and take it in the guts, you know." As soon as he says that, he wishes he hadn't. Xander flinches again and goes even whiter, and his fingers knot into each other. "Look, all I mean is—"

"Thanks, I don't feel like going out." Xander's voice is a monotone, and he doesn’t look away from the set. Fuck. Spike forces his jaw to loosen, forces his brain to stop having dangerous fantasies of jerking those loud fuckers' throats out through their noses. He can hardly think with all the screaming.

"Just one drink," he says as quietly as he can, hoping that'll get through. It doesn't seem to. Xander just sits there staring at Blanche and Rose, and after a few more seconds Spike sighs, drops the coat back on the chair, and lets himself out.

He gets back at a little past midnight, and Xander's not home yet. Patrol. Right. The place smells weird. Clean. He stands wobbling, sniffing, trying to toe his boots off without success. When he stands on one leg to work at the laces, he almost falls over. It's quiet, thank God. There are beers in the fridge. He grabs two and carries them to the lounger, where his ropes are lying loose and lonely-looking, waiting for him.

"Fuck you then." He veers from the lounger and falls into the sofa, pops the top off a beer, and starts in on VH1. He's been drinking blood and bourbon all night, full to the gills with it, and couldn't stop thinking about Xander fucking Harris, evolutionary marvel. No self-preservation instincts whatsoever.

"There is no moral imperative to be kicked in the teeth," he says into the dark room, slurring only slightly. That seems like a good thing to toast to, so he drinks. "Wish somebody'd told me that. Ages ago."

He watches crap American TV for an hour, then falls asleep with the second beer jammed between his legs. He wakes up when the basement door opens. Night air, quiet footstep, Xander. He squints.

Xander doesn't say anything, just closes the door behind him and shrugs his coat off, then goes into the kitchen. He draws a glass of water from the tap and drinks it in there, then draws another and carries it back toward the television. He looks all right. Tired, sagging, walking a little stiffly, but if he's been getting himself thrown into headstones all night, that's no surprise.

"Nice evening killing my friends?"

"You don't have friends, Spike." Xander glances at him, frowns at the beer, and reaches over to pluck it from between his legs. He puts it to his mouth and drinks most of it in a couple of swallows. Spike sits staring in silence. His brain is idiotic. So is his dick. Christ.

"So, then—" He can't think of anything else to say, and Xander gives him a weary, heavy-lidded look. "Guess you'll want to tie me up, yeah?"

"Unless drinking my beer has magically transformed you into a good vampire, yeah."

"Like tying me up, don't you?" There's a half-submerged leer in his voice, like a crocodile in a tropical river, and he can't quite believe he's hearing himself say this. When did he decide to say this? "Gives you a thrill, I bet."

"The thrill of knowing I'll wake up alive." Xander's not looking at him anymore; he's looking at the television. Maybe a little too intently. Spike pauses. Not all drunk ideas are bad ideas.

"Perfectly normal," he goes on, sinking a little deeper into the sofa and stretching his legs out, letting his hipbones ride free of his jeans. "Man's got to try something to know if he likes it, after all."

Xander drinks some beer and keeps staring at the screen.

"Not like I'd tell anyone, not like anyone'd believe me even if I did. Perfect opportunity, really, for someone who's wondering which side of the fence he's supposed to be playing for—" Wait, that's wrong. He frowns, reaches for the beer, and frowns more when Xander holds it out of his reach.

"You're drunk, Spike. And for some reason, you're hitting on me."

"Not hitting on you. Might be drunk. Means I wouldn't remember it in the morning." He grins and bats his eyelashes, and Xander stares at him a second, then gives a short, barking laugh.

"Jesus Christ." He holds the beer up to the light of the television, studies it, then shakes his head. "My life could not get any more…intense."

"Yeah, it could," Spike says, and leans sideways into him, and kisses him.

Xander's mouth is warm and wet and beery, and his chin is stubbled. He smells like skin and soap and sweat, graveyard dirt, ashes. He doesn't kiss back. At first. That's okay. Spike squirms over onto his side and presses against him, runs a hand around behind his neck, and kisses him again. Xander makes a confused little sound and opens his lips, and his tongue is hot and wet and Christ, he can actually kiss.

That's good, but Spike immediately wants more. He gets his other hand up under Xander's jaw, strokes his throat, and then, still kissing, runs it over his T-shirt, down his ribs.

Xander winces, shoves him away, and jams himself into the corner of the sofa, wiping his mouth with the back of one shaking hand.

"Whoah," he says softly. "Whoah. Okay. So…that happened."

"Could happen again," Spike says, smiling, leaning in. Xander flinches back, his shoulders curling in and his head lowering.

"No it couldn't," he says sharply, but he doesn't get up.

And what it boils down to is more kissing on the couch, Xander's heart going so fast that once or twice Spike just stops and stares at him, and Xander stares back, his pupils so big his eyes look completely black, never quite catching his breath. He gets a little giddy, probably from oxygen deprivation, and starts to laugh, which makes Spike smile. It all seems suddenly good and all right, like something he wants very very much, like he hasn't wanted anything in ages. It all knits up together—the yelling, the black eye, Xander's easy smile and his tight shoulders when he watches the ceiling, and his soft wet mouth, the suggestion of his dick hard against Spike's leg, though he's trying to keep it hidden. He wants all of it, it wells up in a big wave of want, he's drunk, he wants to kiss and fuck and make love and tear the hide off of whatever was throwing punches in the cemetery tonight.

"Get this off," he murmurs, pushing at Xander's shirt. Xander fumbles the kiss, pushing the hem of his shirt back down.

"Hey, wait—"

"God, come on—" Like a teenager, coaxing, and Xander shakes his head slightly but in another minute Spike's at it again. He just wants skin, wants to touch and be touched, that good warm feeling. He slips one hand up under Xander's shirt and runs it over his belly, around to his back, and suddenly the skin's not smooth and warm anymore, it's rough and hot. He hesitates just as Xander shoves him, hard, and half-falls off the couch, trying to get away.

"What the hell—?" He sits for a second just staring, trying to compute, and then reaches down and yanks the back of Xander's shirt up. Xander twists and knocks his hand away, but it just takes a second to see. Marks. Thin swollen marks on his back, like scratches. Not the kind of thing you get from headstones or any demon he knows. Most demons don't wear belts.

"Patrol," Xander says quickly, way too quickly, before he's even been asked. He pulls himself back up onto the couch, straightens his shirt, and tries for a shred of dignity. "I'm thinking this may not be the best idea."

Spike doesn't say anything. Just puts a hand out to rest on his shoulder, lightly at first, and then, when Xander doesn't flinch at that, letting some weight sit there. When Xander finally looks at him, he says, "Let me see."

Xander looks away. "It's just—" He obviously can't think of a good excuse. What's he going to say, he got in the way of a demon prefect? His eyes flick back to Spike, and he licks his lips. In one sudden rush, he says, "My dad lost his job today."

Spike moves his hand to the back of Xander's neck. For a few seconds they sit like that; then Spike starts to press. Xander watches him closely; whatever he sees seems to tell him that it's okay to bend, so he does. He bends at the waist until he's sitting with his belly almost down on the couch, his forehead resting on Spike's knee. Spike pets the back of his head, then raises the shirt.

Definitely a belt. About two inches wide, a lot of strokes. Not the buckle end. The lines are red and angry-looking; not bloody, but they must have bled when it was done, which of course is why the place smells clean, because he cleaned up. Didn't want Spike to smell it. Of course. He's going to have bruises, and probably a couple of light scars for a while.

Spike puts one hand out and lets it hover, palm flat, an inch over Xander's back. The heat's intense; he can feel it through the air. Must ache like a bastard. He lets his fingers drop, and when they touch the skin, Xander jerks and quivers all over. His other hand's still in Xander's hair, and he strokes it lightly.

He sits there tracing the lines, not feeling anything or thinking about much, not turned on anymore. It'll itch when it heals. Probably itches already. Cool fingers must feel good. After a while he notices Xander's breathing oddly; only then does he recognize the heat and dampness against his knee.

"'s all right," he says automatically, thinking about all the times Drusilla cried in his lap. All the things he used to say; he thought he'd forgotten them, but he hasn't. "'s all right, you're all right."

There are all kinds of things you can do at four in the morning that you can't do any other time. You can kiss somebody, you can cry in somebody's lap. You can pet and whisper and finally just lie back on a ratty old couch with a person folded up in your arms, like you want to take them right into your body. You can decide all kinds of things about yourself and someone else, no matter what kind of person you really are.

The thing is, it's only four in the morning for so long. Sooner or later it's ten again, and the world's awake around you, footsteps and dishes and doors closing, and you're back to being a dead body on a rubbish-heap sofa, groggily coming to.

Spike's alone when he wakes up. He lies staring at the ceiling, blinking, trying to get his bearings. His head throbs, his mouth's dry and pasty. What's he doing on the couch? And where's Harris? Not in the shower, not in the basement at all, by the sound of it. He lifts his head slowly, winces, and looks around.

The place is empty, two beer bottles on the floor by his feet, Xander's coat gone. Saturday morning—he works. Got some crap job carrying boxes at the supermarket. Fine. And why is Spike on the couch, instead of tied to the lounger? Because—

He remembers pulling Xander's shirt up, the smooth skin cut with a dozen lines like red pencil strokes. Then he remembers the kissing.

"Christ." He sinks back down into the couch with his hand over his eyes, wishing for a time machine. Or at least some fucking peace and quiet.

He spends the whole day in the basement, listening to the missus on the phone upstairs, spreading news in a theatrical tone. No, they just let him go without any warning— He can't get UI because of that supervisor— By five o'clock Spike's ready to head up and try to get at least one good punch in before the chip fires, just to shut her up. He can't watch television because the basement's supposed to be empty. He's drunk all the blood in the fridge. Xander doesn't own books. He sits in the lounger, toying with a frayed end of rope, wondering what he can work out with Rupert to get the hell out of here. Money won't work—maybe a book, or something. The Watcher's got to recognize some kind of currency.

By six o'clock, he's starting to wonder in a pettish way where Xander is. He should be home by now, bringing blood and crisps and since they're going to have to see each other sooner or later, Spike would rather it was sooner. Get it over with. Sorry, kid, I was drunk and stupid. Bad luck about your dad. See you later, or maybe not.

By seven it's starting to get dark, and Spike's annoyed. He's hungry, for one thing. And by now it's occurred to him that a note would have been nice.

"Dear Spike," he says to the ceiling, one finger playing idly with his navel. "I've fucked off and got myself killed in traffic, because I'm a complete moron. Help yourself to my quarter collection. Signed, Harris." Upstairs, the missus is going on about the injustice. "Dear Spike. After work I'll be telling all my little friends about snogging you in my basement, and we're going to laugh like drains and then Buffy's going to drop by and stake you. Have a good day. Signed, Harris." He sighs and sits up. It's dark enough out there now.

He's pulling the duster on when the door opens and Xander walks in, a black shape in the black room, sorting through his keys. His head's dropped, and he almost walks right into Spike. He smells like cardboard boxes and ibuprofen.

"Where've you been?" Spike snaps, and immediately wishes that just once, just one time, he'd stop and think before he said anything. He sounds like a fishwife.

Xander gives him a quick, skeptical glance, and steps around him. "The Swiss Alps. Shouldn't you be out infracting, or something?"


"You're chipped, not kneecapped. Go steal construction signs. Go smoke under a street light."

Which he really should do, because he hasn't had a cigarette all day and it's getting under his skin, and besides, why is he hanging about in the oubliette with Harris when he's free to go? "I need money," he says curtly, and a little randomly.

Xander pauses in the process of shrugging his coat off, and turns to give Spike an even more incredulous stare. For a second it looks like he's fed up and really going to let go, and then he just reaches into his pocket, takes out his wallet, and flips it open. Holds out two twenties pincered between his finger and thumb, like he's tipping a valet.

"Here," he says, when Spike doesn't take it. "Money. Go drink it."

He didn't come home till after dark, Spike thinks, because he didn't want to meet up. And now he's paying for privacy. Paying Spike to get out and leave him alone, and something about that just sits wrong.

After another second, Spike realizes it's that Xander's being a prick.

"Ta," he says, and takes the money. He puts it in his pocket, then shrugs the duster off and starts for the couch.

"Spike," Xander says from behind him. "Maybe you misunderstood. In order to use that money, you'll have to go outside."

"Later," Spike says, fishing between the couch cushions for the remote.

"To go outside, we use the door."

"Thanks, I'm all right."

"The door is a simple technology."

He skims channels until he sees a spaceship, and settles there. "Look, it's that Caucasian thing."

"Cauc—?" For a second or two, Xander's quiet. "Spike, that's Babylon 5."

"Right, yeah. Sh, this's the good part."

There's silence behind him while a woman in heavy makeup explains pretend science to a man in heavy makeup. The bird's not bad-looking, if you overlook the ears. And she's in a bodysuit. Maybe there's something to this whole sci-fi thing.

"Spike." Defeated, edgy. If oysters could speak around the grains of sand driving them mad, that's how they'd sound. Spike smiles slightly at the television.

"Tell you what, you order a pizza, I'll pay." With his free hand, he digs the twenties out of his pocket and rubs them together in midair. Xander groans.

The End

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The Spander Files