Back on Valentine's Day, I asked people to submit drabble suggestions, and I'd try to turn out some schmoop. I've been chiselling away at them since then, since my definition of drabble is "under 35,000 words." This is one for moosesal, who wanted Spike/Xander and chocolate and cigarettes, and also for cashewdani, who wanted Spike/Xander and Cheerios. And so we have Spike, Xander, chocolate, cigarettes, and Cheerios. Among various other things.
Except kind of a story instead
"It's weird." Xander tossed Smithsonian back onto the little plastic table and sighed. "Everybody always says hospitals are these awesome, cool, super-fun places to hang out. But no."
Spike raised one eyebrow enough to let one glacial blue eye focus on Xander's face. The eye was disapproving, affronted even. After a second or two, the eyebrow lowered again. His chin was sunk so far down into his chest he looked neckless.
"I haven't seen one hot nurse since I got here," Xander went on, watching a middle-aged woman in pink floral scrubs wheel an old man by. "Nobody's offered me any sponge baths. I'm not choosing from a platter of mixed pharmaceuticals. I mean, come on." He crossed his arms and sank a little lower in his chair, paralleling Spike's posture. "I'm a little worried that Our Lady of Perpetual Mercy is losing touch with its younger demographic. Kids today want more than just a thermometer up the ass."
"If you don't shut up, I'm going to hit you in the face with a bedpan."
Xander reached over to the little table and picked up the bag he'd brought with him. "I'm thinking chocolates was a bad idea. People with broken ribs don’t want chocolates, do they? I'm thinking I jumped the gun on this one."
They sat in silence for thirty seconds. Xander's gaze traveled to the clock on the far wall. "It's been more than an hour."
Spike said nothing, but he gave the clock a vicious glare. Xander pursed his lips and looked around. The waiting room was empty except for them. Giles was in London, a little more than a phone call away. Willow was in the Sierra Nevadas, on magical retreat. Or a retreat from magic, he wasn't sure which. Slayer ribs healed fast, right? The whole hospital thing was just a precaution.
"I'm gonna go ask again," he said, grabbing his pathetic bag of get-well chocolates and getting up. To his surprise, Spike got up too. "What?"
"Gonna go smoke."
Which begged the question of why, exactly, Spike was hanging around in a hospital waiting room in the first place. He was a friend now, more or less—maybe that was it. It was just hard to get used to thinking of him as a friend, instead of as an evil bloodsucking demon or a batshit-crazy basement Renfield. Xander nodded, trying to look like he was used to it.
"Okay. I'll… come get you if anything happens."
Spike gave the minutest of nods, the littlest nod in the whole nod family, and walked out. Xander watched the automatic doors close behind him, then shook his head and went to the nurses' station.
There wasn't any news. Both Summers sisters were still in there, lost in the hospital maze. If he was a member of the family, they could tell him more, but—
"Thanks." He walked back toward the seats, then turned abruptly and went out the front doors. Spike was propped against the wall about thirty feet to the left, a little past the state-mandated clean-air distance from the doorway, smoking. Xander walked down to him.
Spike was giving him a narrow look, with just the smallest proportion of expectancy, so Xander shook his head. "Nada."
Spike blew out a blue stream of smoke. "Fucking doctors."
"Says the man who hasn't had a sinus infection in a hundred years."
"It's all fucking voodoo anyway, they don't know half of what they're doing."
"Agreed, but next time I get thrown into a wall by a troll—"
"Ogre, whatever, I'd like to go on record as favoring modern medicine over walking it off."
"She'll be fine tomorrow."
"Well…" Even for Buffy, broken bones took a little longer than that, but who was he to say? Besides, he was suddenly struck by a tone in Spike's voice that he'd missed before. There was a question there, under the dismissal. Spike was worried.
Xander stood staring at his shoes, trying not to look like he was having a revelation. After a minute, Spike blew another column of cancer-fog in his direction, then cleared his throat. "Want a smoke?"
Xander looked up, suspecting treachery. But Spike was staring at him with a kind of wary apprehension, looking a bit like he'd looked the time he came up from the basement and found the kitchen full of Dawn's friends wearing avocado face masks. He looked tired and unhappy and out of his element. He wasn't crazy anymore, Xander remembered. And he wasn't a bloodsucker, either.
"No. Thanks." Xander propped himself up against the wall beside Spike, rummaged in his drugstore bag, and popped the box of chocolates open. They were the kind Buffy liked, the kind Joyce used to get and leave around the house near Valentine's Day. He pulled the box out of the bag and held it out to Spike. "Chocolate?"
Spike looked at the open box like it was full of hairy goat bezoars. Then he looked at Xander, his expression the same. Xander shrugged and took a chocolate for himself.
"She's going to be okay," he said firmly, taking a bite of the chocolate. Then he had to stop and spit it out into the shrubbery, because it was coconut. "Okay, that was gross. But she's going to be fine."
"How do you know that?" Spike lightfingered a chocolate out of the box but didn't eat it. "She could get walloped again tomorrow and break her neck."
"So could I." Xander paused in spitting out the coconut. "And I do realize that's not the most effective way of convincing you of my point."
"So could you," Spike repeated, studying the chocolate in his fingers. "So could Dawn, so could Red or anybody. I guess."
"And yet miraculously, we continue to walk around and pay our cable bills."
"It's bloody stupid."
"I know, we should go satellite. But seriously, Spike. Lighten up. She's fine."
Spike took a moody drag on his cigarette, then dropped it and crushed the butt beneath his heel. "Right. Well, guess I'll go home."
"Spike." Xander spread his hands, chocolate box in one, chocolate in the other. He felt futile, helpless, and yet perversely determined to make Spike cave on this one. "As a fragile human creature of almost twenty-two years, I say unto you: It's going to be okay."
"As an evil fucking monster for a hundred years, I say it's not."
They stared at each other for a second or two. Then Xander cleared his throat, fitted the chocolate box lid carefully back on, and slipped it back into the bag. "I'm all out of pep talks right now, Spike. If you're going to take off, leave me the car keys, okay?"
Spike dug in his pocket and handed over the keys. His fingers brushed Xander's hand during the exchange. They were cold.
"So we'll see you back at the ranch," Xander said. "I'll tell them you had to see a man about a dog, yeah?"
"Tell them whatever you want." Spike turned on his heel and walked off, and Xander reflected that soul or no soul, crazy or no crazy, Spike could sure be a pissy little bitch when he put his mind to it.
The next night, Xander was unloading the dishwasher at Revello Drive when the back door opened suddenly and Spike walked in. Xander almost dropped his juice glasses.
"Hey. And thank you for the heart attack."
"Sorry." Spike didn’t look sorry, but mouthing insincere niceties was a big step forward for him. "Got any crackers?"
Xander frowned, watching Spike go through the cabinets. "No. Why, are you going to get some?"
Spike delivered a ha bloody ha look over his shoulder, and went back to inspecting the cupboards. Which were pretty bare, Xander noticed. Dawn was supposed to be on grocery duty lately, but apparently four courses and a part-time job didn't leave a lot of time for shopping. Either that or the house had been hit by locusts while he wasn't looking.
"Ate a kobold on the way over," Spike said, grabbing a box of Cheerios out of the bottom cabinet and shaking it for volume. "There's an…aftertaste."
"Uh huh." Xander went back to pulling out plates and stacking them. "I thought we didn’t bother with kobolds."
"They can be tricky."
"I hear they're big tax evaders."
Spike grabbed a cereal bowl off the pile Xander was building, filled it with Cheerios, and sloshed some milk over it. "Kobolds," he said, pointing a spoon at Xander's nose, "form gangs. You get a gang of kobolds, next thing you know, you've got brickbats through every window on the first floor."
Xander watched Spike take an ambitious mouthful of Cheerios. "Our windows thank you," he said finally, and went back to stacking.
Spike heaved himself up onto the counter, and sat crunching. "She all right?" he asked after a minute. His gaze, Xander noticed, was in his bowl.
"Yeah. She wanted to patrol tonight, but we managed to wrestle her down on that one. On the bright side, she's blitzed on painkillers and sleeping pills, so it's a good time to get her to sign stuff."
Spike crunched his cereal. Xander put the stack of plates in the cupboard, piled the bowls next to it, and toed the dishwasher door closed. There was laundry with his name on it, he knew. Leaving Spike to his Cheerios, he headed down to the basement. The light bulb over the staircase flickered until he pinged it with his fingernail. Something else that needed fixing, check.
He loaded the washer with whites, took the coloreds out of the dryer, and turned around with the basket in his hands to find Spike standing in the door to the laundry room. Again, his heart gave a startled leap.
"Jesus, Spike." He dropped the basket on the table and yanked out a pair of Dawn's jeans. "Are you looking for chores? Because I can assign them."
For a second, Spike looked like he didn't know why he was standing there. Then he glanced back over his shoulder, toward the refinished apartment. "Looks good down here."
"Lot better than it used to."
"It used to be a bunch of cardboard boxes and a hot water heater. But thanks."
Spike looked ruminative. Xander shook Dawn's jeans out and folded them, as neatly as he could. He'd never really got the hang of folding laundry, but these days nobody was complaining. "Is there something on your mind, Spike?"
Spike shrugged. "Just…"
Xander waited, pairing socks.
"Just…you living here, with them. How's that going?"
"What do you mean?" Xander tried to keep his voice even and calm, the way he'd talk to a small, shy child. He could smell Spike's cigarettes from here, even over the floral fabric softener.
"Nothing." Spike came into the room, peered into the laundry basket as if he thought it might contain something living, then went to look out the window. It was dark out, and the window was at ground level, so who knew what he was looking at. "Just doesn't seem very safe, that's all. Especially with Red away."
"You," Xander said flatly, "are turning into my grandmother."
"Seriously, Spike. You're worried about us, I get that. Thank you. But nothing's changed." Xander could feel himself getting frustrated, and he could hear it coming through in his voice. He was a little too tired to care. "We've always been like this, and you never gave a damn before, so welcome to the world of people with souls and sanity. It's scary. Cope and deal."
"You don't know what's out there." Spike was still staring out the window, which gave Xander pause. He didn't seem to mean literally out there, though. Which was a relief. "You've got no clue how bad this can turn."
"And you wonder why the Optimists didn't renew your membership."
"I'm serious, Harris." Spike turned around, his face tight and angry. His eyes were very blue, Xander noticed. Ultrablue. And his hair was very white, and he looked pissed off and desperate. It wasn't a look he'd ever seen on Spike before. For some weird reason, it made him look sort of defenseless.
"Okay." Xander said it gently, trying to smile. "I know that."
"Oh, fuck it." Spike turned around again and went back to staring out the window. The back of his neck was thin, Xander noticed. Under the duster, Spike was a skinny, taut little guy.
Xander sighed and dropped the socks he was holding. "Hey. Captain Miserable." Spike grunted. Xander toyed with the idea of beaning him in the back of the head with a pair of socks.
"Spike." Spike didn't move, so Xander walked over and looked out the window too. "What are you looking at, anyway?"
"I'm staying the night," Spike said flatly.
"Uh, okay. But I've seen that done a little more chivalrously, just so you know."
"Till Red gets back. Or the Slayer's up and around."
"Anyone could walk in here right now, take you all out without even trying."
"And now you're scaring me."
"You should be scared. Should be bloody terrified—"
Xander reached out and clamped his hand over Spike's mouth. Spike stopped talking and looked sideways at him. Xander shook his head.
"Okay," he said. "You're staying until we're back in fighting form. Now please shut up."
Spike's lips were cold, he noticed after he took his hand away. Just like his fingers. Maybe being dead made you paranoid.
"It'll be fun," he said, turning back to the laundry basket, wiping his hand down his trouser leg automatically to get rid of the feeling of Spikelips. Lips of Spike. Distracting. "We'll rent movies. Dawn'll get all sugared up and paint your fingernails."
Spike walked to the doorway, paused, and turned back. "I'll sleep on the couch." His tone was definitive, a little defensive, as if Xander had accused him of trying for Buffy's bed.
"Not if Dawn gets there first." Xander went back to sorting socks and his own private thoughts about wacky, paranoid, slightly soft-lipped vampires.
They watched The Lord of the Rings, which was the compromise between American Werewolf in London (Xander) and Pirates of the Caribbean (Dawn.) Spike abstained, a bony black-T-shirted excresence on the end of the sofa, a mug of blood and Coke in one hand. He seemed preoccupied, too distracted even to put up a fight when Dawn painted half his nails coral. Seeing red fingernails on the ends of Spike's white fingers should have been disturbing, but Xander was careful not to notice. He lay full-length on the carpet with his head on a pillow, watching the armies collide through half-lidded eyes. The movie was about eighteen hours long.
A little after ten, Buffy came down the first few steps and crouched there, squinting at them with her arms wrapped around her stomach. She looked puffy and her hair was a mess. "What are you watching?" she croaked.
"A sex god," Dawn replied, startling Xander into opening his eyes. Viggo Mortenson was slaying orcs. "You want to come down for a bit?"
"No." Buffy squinted at them a couple of seconds longer. "Is that Spike?"
Spike said nothing. Dawn glanced at him, then went back to watching the TV. "Yeah. He has a crush on Liv Tyler."
"Do not," Spike muttered, without looking away from the screen.
"Oh." Buffy nodded, closed her eyes briefly, then stood up. She looked like Joyce, Xander noticed. It was kind of eerie. "I'm going back to bed."
"You need anything?" He wasn't in the mood to get it if she did, but he could always send Dawn. Fortunately, she waved her hand in the negative, and disappeared back upstairs. Xander let his eyelids fall again.
Much later, he drifted up to the sound of Dawn and Spike in conversation.
"I'm not totally stupid. I do get it."
"Nothing to get."
"Oh, right. And you're camping out here because you're worried about Buffy and me."
"Just till she feels better."
"Spike." Dawn's voice was the essence of worldly eighteen year-old. "It's no big deal. You should just, you know. Own it."
Spike was silent. Dawn sighed.
"What's the worst that could happen?"
Xander drifted back down into sleep, and was pursued by a werewolf over a misty moor until he fell into a hole, where Spike was putting on lipstick.
He woke up again at some ungodly hour of darkness, and found himself alone on the living room floor, covered by the couch quilt. His mouth tasted like stale popcorn. When he sat up, he saw that the VCR clock read 3:13.
The front door was ajar, and he pulled it open as he shuffled past. Spike was out on the front step, smoking. Xander ran a hand over his face and went out.
Spike glanced at him. There was just enough light from the street lamps to see the angles of his face. He looked tired and skinny and kind of hatchet-faced. In his sleep-befuddled state, Xander felt a surge of real fondness for this new Spike.
"Thanks for doing this," he said, rubbing a hand over his head, where he could feel his hair standing up in springs. "Staying over, I mean. Thanks."
Spike's expression seemed to lighten somewhat, in surprise or perplexity. "Sure."
"You're right, we're kind of lame ducks right now. It's good to have someone around who can do more than replace the sheetrock he gets thrown through."
"You're all right." Spike rolled the tip of his cigarette against the step, staring down at it as if it were deeply interesting. "You do all right, I mean."
"I think we both know I don't. But Dawn's getting pretty good—"
"And Buffy'll be better in a couple of days. So we'll survive." Xander knocked the railing lightly with his knuckles. "Anyway, thanks."
Spike nodded again, and Xander turned to go. Behind him, Spike cleared his throat.
Xander turned back, expecting to be told that they were out of beer or milk or blood, or that the VCR was on the fritz again, or that Spike needed twenty bucks to tide him over. Instead, he found Spike staring at him with a look of sudden, blanched panic. Instinctively, he checked over his shoulder. Nothing there.
Spike swallowed with a clicking sound. "Nothing. Just—"
Xander waited, fully awake now, his skin crawling.
"Look," Spike said suddenly, staring out at the street. His voice was loud and uneven. "I'm going to tell you something that's been on my mind lately and I want you to forget I said it, all right?"
Xander hesitated, then said, "Okay."
"It's just, I've been thinking a lot lately. Too much. About all you lot, with Rupert gone and things the way they are. It's bloody dangerous. You could get hurt."
Xander waited, unsure of where this was going and whether he really wanted to know. "I know that, Spike. You've been pretty clear about that."
"I haven't, though. See, the thing is—" He paused, chewed the inside of his cheek ferociously for a moment, then took a deep breath and let it out. "I've been thinking too bloody much about you, is the thing."
"Spike, I know you're worried about us. I think it's normal, it takes some getting used to—"
"Not you-you, Harris. You." Spike jabbed a stiff, sharp finger in Xander's direction, as if accusing him of secret seductions. "You. I wake up and I'm thinking about you. I go to sleep and I'm thinking about you. I think about you when I'm killing bloody kobolds, Harris. That's wrong. That's not bloody on." He'd increased in speed and volume while he was talking, as if the flood gates had parted and he couldn't control the flow of words. Finished, he took a long, sharp drag off his cigarette, and nailed Xander with his eyes.
Xander stood with his mouth hanging open, his jaw swinging in the gentle night breeze. There was a lengthy silence.
"Um," Xander said at last. "Okay."
"It's not okay," Spike snapped. "I've been on this ride already, thanks. Started thinking about the Slayer like this and look where it got me. She kicked me down every way she could think of, and now I can't look at her without thinking I'm some kind of monster."
"You were a monster," Xander said automatically. Then he realized that was kind of cruel, and added, "But you're better now."
Spike sneered and looked away into the street.
"Also," Xander said, "you're gayer than I thought."
Spike flicked his cigarette onto the lawn. "Right, well, like I said. Forget I said anything."
But Spike was already brushing past him, disappearing back into the house. Xander stood on the porch for a few minutes making sure the cigarette butt didn’t light them all on fire. And waiting for his heart to slow down. Which took a while.
Breakfast the next morning was pancakes, courtesy of Aunt Jemima and Dawn, who could make leathery starch disks out of the finest ingredients. When Xander emerged from the basement, freshly showered and preoccupied with thoughts of his own, she was studying the syrup bottle with a frown.
"This is really racist." She held it up so he could see the label. "Look at this—she's a total mammy."
"You should have seen it before they redesigned." He went to the fridge and buried his head in it. "Spike still here?"
"Daylight, hello?" She flipped another vulcanized cake out of the frying pan. "He's stuck here until tonight, unless he wants make a run for it under my duvet."
Xander grabbed a yogurt from the fridge, and a pancake from the stack. "I gotta go finish that drywall, Dawnie. Thanks for breakfast."
"Hey—you're not staying?" She held the spatula in front of him at arm's length, blocking his route back to the basement stairs. "You have to stay! I made pancakes! And Spike's here!"
He smiled tightly, remembering the gist of the conversation he'd overheard the night before. "I know. You just said that."
"I know!" She was flustered now, her eyes a little panicky. "I mean, you have to help eat the pancakes. Spike doesn't really eat, and Buffy's still kind of out of it, and besides, they're really bad…" She trailed off, staring at the crispy pile. Xander patted her arm.
"They're great, Dawnie. Thanks for making them. I'll be downstairs if you need me."
He beat a hasty coward's retreat, and immersed himself in drywall.
He made it all the way to noon before he heard Spike's boots coming down the basement stairs. The light bulb was still sputtering, and he heard Spike stop to flick it. Mental note, he thought: Fix that bulb. Then he stopped being able to think very well, because Spike was standing at the foot of the stairs, staring at him and taking up way too much space for such a skinny little guy.
The civil thing to do was to pretend it hadn't happened. Also the only sane thing to do.
"Hey," Xander said, making a neat pencil tick at two inches. "What's up?"
Spike shrugged, walked over to the sawhorse, and glanced inside the toolbox. Xander watched from the corner of his eye, then went back to trying to remember what the fuck he was doing. His hands were sweating suddenly, leaving marks on the drywall. He wiped them on his trousers, one by one.
"Putting up another wall?" Spike walked over the framing and looked it over, as if he were a prospective buyer.
"Yeah. Trying for an even four."
"Then what?" Spike tested the two-by-fours lightly with his palm. "Summers girls going to start renting out their basement, I guess."
"That's the plan. We landlord-types like to call it 'passing the mortgage along to a total stranger.'"
"Good idea." Spike leaned against the doorframe, his arms crossed over his chest. He'd left the duster upstairs, and his arms were white as paper against his T-shirt. "I'm not going to jump on you, Harris."
"I know." Xander swallowed, tried to figure out where to put the next measurement, then gave up and dropped the pencil. "Sorry. I'm a little weirded out, that's all."
"No offence. It's just…maybe you're going through some kind of psychological transference thing." He'd thought that one up shortly before dawn, and it sounded plausible. It also gave him a sad, cold feeling in the pit of his stomach, which he didn't like to think about too much. "It's probably just a side effect, you know? You've been through a lot lately."
Spike actually seemed to consider this. "Could be." Then he shrugged. "Doesn't really matter though, does it? Still means I'm soft for you."
"But you'll get over it." Xander picked up the pencil again, started to put it to the drywall, then hesitated. "You'll forget all about this in a couple of weeks, and if I ever bring it up again you'll knock my teeth down my throat."
Spike said nothing, which Xander saw as a reasonable enough response. He checked the ruler, checked his scribbled notes, and marked for the cut.
"Well," Spike said after the silence had stretched out into a full minute, "just wanted to make sure you knew that."
"That I knew what?" Xander looked up, feeling cornered and panicky.
"That I'm not going to grab you or anything."
"Oh. Right." He nodded, and tried for a smile. "Thanks."
"Not a bad thought, either. The transference thingy." Spike rubbed his finger alongside his nose, and tipped his head back against the wood. "I'll have to look into that."
"Dawn watches a lot of Dr. Phil. She can probably shed some light."
Spike nodded, turned, and walked out. Through the open framing, Xander watched him climb the basement stairs until he was out of sight. Up in the kitchen, he heard a brief, quiet exchange in Spike and Dawn's voices. Neither one of them sounded happy.
He bent back over his drywall, trying to rein his mind in to the task at hand.
He spent the next couple of days in avoidance mode. He went to work and built things or tore them apart, stayed late, came home and said hi to Buffy and Dawn and Spike when he was in evidence, which he wasn't very often. He ate on the run, read the newspaper standing up in the kitchen, and spent a lot of time building the last wall in the basement suite.
Buffy got better. It was a huge relief in all the obvious ways. It was also a letdown, because it meant Spike left. He went back to his crypt and only showed up for patrol. For some reason that always seemed to work out with Buffy and Xander paired off, instead of the usual arrangement with the Summers girls together. Xander found himself strangely torn—grateful that Dawn was stepping in for him on this one, and at the same time sort of annoyed that he never saw Spike anymore. They were both adults, for God's sake. It wasn't like they couldn't get past something like this.
He was aware of his own hypocrisy, but in true hypocritical fashion, he didn't want to acknowledge it. He didn’t want to acknowledge a lot of things. Like the fact that he'd given a couple of hours one early morning to what-iffing this thing with Spike. Steeled himself to think it through, because he was a modern guy and he was a little ashamed of the gay crack he'd made on the porch. He thought about kissing Spike, really kissing him, like kissing a woman. About touching him, and being touched in return. It hadn't been the disgusto-fest he'd thought it would be. It had actually been pretty hot. Disturbingly hot. He hadn't been able to shake the feeling since then.
But then he remembered the transference theory, and the fact that Spike was a guy, and kissing was one thing but guy-sex was another, and if the shadowy image of lurking guy-sex was so hot, in a forbidden, deeply wrong kind of way, that it made him come in thirty seconds flat in the shower, that was his own business. He wasn't gay. He couldn't handle being gay, not on top of everything else. He already had demons and vampires and kobolds, he really couldn't handle being gay.
Besides, Spike was a fickle bastard and even when you took the vampire thing into account, he was still a million miles out of Xander's league. There was a whole universe of reasons why he couldn't consider this. A whole universe of dirty sex and heartbreak. He'd already had sex with Faith, for God's sake. That was about as dark as he wanted to take things.
He saw the one on his left, but he missed the one behind him, which was why he got tackled into the headstone by what felt like a Mack truck going eighty. Our Darling Evangeline flew forward and met him in the face, and he slid down the granite with a growling, slavering bundle of baby vamp on his back. It bit him in the shoulder, through his coat, and he yelled. Dawn was on the other side of the monument, staking her own assailant. Good for her, he thought dimly, as the teeth snapped through his flesh again. And, Ow.
Then the vamp was yanked off and there was a fine shower of dust in his hair. He groveled to his knees, clutching his forehead. Stars wheeled through his brain. He couldn't hear anything, but someone was grabbing him, pulling him to his feet. His balance was totally shot.
"—all right?" It was Spike, pulling his chin up and staring at him grimly. Xander nodded. He had dust in his mouth. "Stay here." Spike pushed him back down to the ground, so he was leaning against dear Evangeline. "Just got to wrap this up."
Xander sat quietly, testing the bites in his shoulder with the fingers of his left hand while Buffy, Dawn, and Spike dusted the rest of the group. It was kind of fun to watch, he realized. Kind of like figure skating. Not that he watched figure skating.
When the vamps were all dust, the three of them reconvened for the post-stakeage debriefing. Buffy was testing her ribs a little gingerly, he noticed. Dawn looked happy and bright, a stake in each hand, the poster child for Slayerettes.
"Where's Xander?" she asked, and Xander hauled himself to his feet. They all looked at him.
"Here," he said, limping over with his dignity dragging behind him. "Present and accounted for. Also slightly perforated."
"Did they bite you?" Dawn stared at his shoulder, her eyes wide. "Are you okay?"
"Took a granite block to the head," Spike observed. "Could be concussed."
"Oh no," Dawn said. "Not again."
"We're taking you to the hospital," Buffy said sternly, pocketing her stake. "No arguments, mister."
"Buffy, I'm fine—"
"If I have to go to the hospital for broken ribs, you have to go for a broken head. You need your head, Xander."
"Not really," he muttered, but they were already steering him out of the cemetery, and there wasn't much he could do about it.
"Still no hot nurses, and I have a bad feeling I'm not getting a spongebath out of this." Xander leaned back in his chair and tried not to stare at the guy across the room with the stapler stuck to his hand. "I feel fine, really."
"Do you know what a concussion is?" Dawn widened her eyes at them all, seeing she had their attention. "It's when the brain moves inside the skull and bumps into the inside of your head. And if it gets hit hard enough it bleeds and there's a bruise, and your brain is bleeding."
Xander tried to work up some spit in his mouth to talk. He was feeling kind of dry. "Wow. Thanks, Dawn."
"Do you want something to drink?" Buffy was watching him attentively. "Can you drink something if you have a concussion?"
"He can drink," Dawn said authoritatively. "Unless they have to do brain surgery, that is."
"They're not doing brain surgery," Buffy said flatly. "Or…I don't think they're going to do that. Dawn, go get Xander a drink from the soda machine."
Dawn started to get up, then paused. "I don’t know where it is."
"It's just down the hall."
"I forget where, though. Come with me, okay?"
Buffy gave her an exasperated look, then stood up. "I'm starting to think maybe you have a concussion."
They disappeared in the direction of soda, and Xander let his chin fall onto his hand. In the chair beside him, Spike was sprawled low in his chair with his legs stretched out. Apparently it was his hospital pose.
"So," Xander said, and then couldn't think of anything else to say.
Spike shifted his legs, considered the state of one of his boots, and said nothing.
"You were right," Xander said. "You are right. Fragile human creatures, check."
"Not your fault." Spike licked his thumb and wiped at some small stain on his duster. "You'll be fine."
"I know." Xander took a deep breath, cast a quick glance in the direction of the soda machine, and saw the coast was still clear. "But I've been thinking. About what you said."
Spike stared fixedly at the ground, like a kid waiting to hear what his punishment was going to be.
"About us being…vulnerable," Xander went on. "And you're right. I could get killed tomorrow."
"Don't say that."
"Yeah, but it's true. I just forget it sometimes, because I'm used to it. I guess. Anyway." Xander rubbed the egg on his head, just above the hairline. "I guess I wanted to say that if you still wanted to, maybe, I don’t know—"
He trailed off. Spike gave him a slow sideways look from beneath his eyebrows, but didn't supply a script.
"You want to go see a movie sometime?" Xander asked, feeling like a total tool. "Or, um…I don’t know. Go for a drink or something. I have no idea what people do. I haven't been on a non-lethal date in three years."
Spike's shoulders seemed to have lowered an inch. He'd raised his head, and he was staring at Xander with a slight smile. Maybe he was mocking. It was hard to tell with Spike. Xander's stomach gave an ungainly flop, and he forced his hands to release the arms of the chair.
"Or not," he said quickly. "Or you could just forget I ever said anything."
"A date," Spike said, contemplatively. With relish, almost. "You and me, on a date."
Spike's smile blossomed fully, until he turned away so Xander couldn’t see it. That was a confirmation, a big thumbs up from mission control, and suddenly Xander's stomach was hopping in a new, exciting way.
"Since I'm going to get my head examined anyway," he said softly, and Spike laughed. That was a total triumph, an instant surge of pure happy, and without thinking about it he reached out and rested his hand on the back of Spike's neck. Stroked his thumb along the cool skin of Spike's throat, just behind his jaw. It felt a little weird, doing that, but it felt good too. Spike closed his eyes for a second and seemed to just soak it in.
Smiling, Xander looked up and saw Dawn and Buffy approaching, sodas in hand. Dawn had already seen them, and she was bright-eyed and full of herself, distracting Buffy with babble. Buffy, thank God, would take a little longer to catch on.
"Yeah," Spike said quietly, and Xander realized he was answering the question, making sure there wasn't any uncertainty left. "Yeah, I'd like that."
"Good." He took his hand off Spike's neck and put it back in his lap like a good boy. For the first time in a long time, he felt kind of invulnerable.
Feed the Author