by Whichclothes

Mouse

by
Whichclothes

Part Thirteen

Xander was snoring again, one dark-haired leg sticking out from under the covers. This motel was very much like the last, only here there was just one ugly painting and it was a pastoral landscape instead of seascape. Spike sat on the floor, back against a wall and knees drawn to his chest, staring at the boy.

It had felt oddly nice to talk about the soul, and the experience was even better when Xander didn’t tell him he was stupid for going through those trials, didn’t say he was shite even with the soul. Xander had even looked at him with something like respect and had been indignant over Angel’s actions.

Spike had never thought to find empathy in Xander Harris.

He wondered whether the potential had always been there, if only the two of them had been capable of seeing past their prejudices. Or perhaps they’d both simply grown up.





Part Fourteen

Spike had been reciting Shakespeare for the past few hundred miles, which was a lot more interesting than Xander would have guessed. Kept him awake as he drove anyway, distracting him from the endless dark miles, the ache in his back, the bug splatters on the windshield, the heavy weight of humidity that crept into the car despite the AC. Xander never would have expected that Spike would make a pretty decent travel companion.

They arrived in Smuggler’s Cove in the very wee hours, when even Slayers were tucked into bed. Xander parked as close to his own bungalow as he could get. Someone else could deal with returning the rental car in the morning. That someone could also clean out the wrappers, napkins, empty cups, and paper bags that littered the Chevy. Xander climbed out and gathered his stuff from the trunk, but Spike remained in the passenger seat, unmoving.

“You can get out now,” Xander told him mildly.

“’T’s the end of the line,” replied Spike. He looked scared.

“It’s… a vacation, okay? You can rest a while. Until you decide what you want to do next.”

Spike looked up at him with big eyes. “And if I can’t decide?”

“There’s worse places than here to hang out.”

Spike followed him down the sandy path, pausing at the door for Xander to invite him in. For once, Xander had no misgivings about doing so. “Mi casa,” he said when he flicked on the lights. George squeaked at him from the ceiling.

“’S nice,” said Spike.

“Yeah. It kind of is.” Xander looked around with fresh eyes. He’d salvaged this little house when it was hardly better than scrap. It wasn’t the type of place that was going to grace magazine covers, but it was shipshape and comfy.

Xander cleared his throat. “We’ll rustle you up some fresh blood in the morning. Meantime, I’ve got only the one bed, but the couch isn’t bad. And there’s lots of floor.” He toed at the whitewashed planks.

“Ta,” said Spike, but he still looked uncertain.

After a moment, Xander left him standing in the middle of the living room. He dumped his stuff in the bedroom and made a quick visit to the bathroom. Then he stripped and climbed into his very own bed, which had never ever felt so good.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander and Spike fell into a strangely domestic routine over the next couple of weeks. While Xander spent the day fixing whatever seemed in danger of falling down next, Spike slept in the nest of blankets he’d built on the floor next to Xander’s bed. And at night while Xander snoozed, Spike walked up and down the beach—tracking sand into the bungalow when he returned—or read the books he talked Xander into ordering for him online. For a few hours each evening they were both awake and not otherwise occupied, and then they’d sit on Xander’s tropical couch and argue over what to watch on TV.

Spike seemed relaxed most of the time and pretty sane. And for the first time in, well, ever, Xander felt like he was home. It was kind of strange, really, what a difference another person made, even if that person was a vampire. Spike left wet towels on the floor and blood-stained mugs on the coffee table, but he was someone to talk to and joke with, someone to sit with and make fun of B movies, someone to hold a shelf steady while Xander attached it to the wall. He was, Xander was startled to realize one day, a friend.

And as if all that wasn’t Twilight Zone enough, Spike gave every indication of enjoying Xander’s company as well and wanting to be near him.

Every couple of days the entire gang met in the clubhouse to go over current problems and plans. Xander persuaded Spike to attend these sessions in the hope that Spike’s presence would help ease the Slayers’ discomfort. The first time Spike showed up, every girl in the room reached for her stake and Xander had to stand in front of the vampire, but eventually things calmed down. Now Spike would sit next to Xander in the back row, slouching in his chair, looking almost relaxed. Most of the gang ignored him, although Willow sometimes smiled at him and Buffy occasionally shot him anxious looks.

A month or so after Spike’s arrival in the Cove, there was a meeting to discuss whether to fix their swimming pool—which hadn’t been used in years and seemed to be evolving new life forms—and to decide what to do about the growing threat of a hive of Tfezni demons in Kentucky, and to debate the pros and cons of investing in new axes and crossbows. Xander didn’t contribute much to the meeting, aside from an observation that the ocean was fine if you wanted to swim and he was not going to add pool maintenance to his infinite list of chores. Mostly he sat in the back row, watching Spike stare at the floor.

But then one of the newer Slayers asked about their relationship with the authorities, which sent Giles into a lengthy description of their agreements—sometimes explicit, sometimes tacit—with various law enforcement agencies. Including, at times, the military. And that made Xander start to think, which was a dangerous thing.

When the meeting was over and people started to clear out, Xander grabbed Spike’s arm before he could leave. “Giles? Buff? Will? Can you hang on for a sec? I have a question for you.” Spike looked alarmed.

Xander waited until the room was empty of everyone except the five of them, then dragged Spike to the front, where his old friends were seated behind a card table. In the past, they’d offered to give him a chair up front too, but he’d said no. He was satisfied to remain part of the crowd.

“What’s up?” asked Buffy, giving Spike another of her worried frowns.

“You, uh, you could call in a favor from the army guys if you wanted to, right? After that thing we helped them with a few months ago.”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

Xander nodded. “Good. ’Cause I want you to have them take out Spike’s chip.”

He wasn’t sure who among his audience was the most shocked at his statement, but Spike was certainly a contender. He stared at Xander open-mouthed.

It was Willow who finally spoke, a little slowly, as if Xander was a young child. “Xan, if the chip’s gone he can go back to killing people.”

“I don’t think he will,” Xander said, crossing his arms on his chest.

Buffy took a step forward and put her hand on his shoulder. “Xander, I know he’s your roomie and all and he seems pretty harmless nowadays, but he’s a vampire. You can never forget that.”

Xander stepped away from her and closer to Spike, who was trying—not very successfully—to mask his hurt with a sneer. “I know he’s a vamp,” Xander replied. “I have the bloodstains on my kitchen counter to prove it. But Angel’s a vamp too and you guys insisted that we could trust him.”

“But Angel has a soul,” Giles said.

Xander looked at Spike. Spike worked his jaw for a moment and then gave Xander a nod so small it would have been easy to miss. Xander turned back to his friends and said nothing—he just raised his eyebrows and waited.

Willow got it first. “Goddess!” she cried, then clapped her hand over her mouth. Giles’ eyes widened when he figured it out, and then Buffy went very pale.

“When?” Buffy demanded.

“Just after… after Sunnydale,” answered Xander.

Willow looked stricken. “So when Angel was… was doing those things to him—”

“Yeah.” And then, because he couldn’t help himself, Xander added, “Spike didn’t get cursed. He fought for his soul because he wanted to be a better man.”

Everyone stared at Spike, who said nothing. In fact, he had his eyes focused on Xander and a really strange look on his face, which Xander couldn’t interpret.

“Good Lord,” Giles muttered. He looked very much like he wished he had something to drink just then. Xander kind of wished the same.

“Look,” Xander said. “You went and fought a whole big dragon-infested battle because Angel asked you to. I’m asking for a whole lot less here. Get that fucking thing out of Spike’s brain and try to treat him like a real person for once. Someone with feelings.”

Buffy winced a little, although Xander’s accusation wasn’t aimed only at her. Really, he’d done a pretty good job himself of treating Spike like a thing. And yeah, okay, maybe Spike did try to kill him once or twice, but that didn’t mean Xander had earned the right to pick on him when he was freshly chipped and really down on his luck.

After a long silence, Buffy said, “I’ll call Riley.”

Probably Giles, Willow, and Buffy had some discussing to do. Like deciding how to react to the knowledge that Angel had tortured and raped a guy with a soul. But Xander didn’t want to stick around and listen, so he nodded his thanks and turned to leave the clubhouse. Spike was right beside him as they headed out into the sticky, no-see-um-infested night.

For no reason he could name, Xander felt giddy and bouncy, his heart as light as a helium-filled balloon. He shoved Spike’s shoulder and grinned. “How about a night swim? Race you to the beach.”

Spike smiled, shoved him back—gently—and began to run.





Part Fifteen

The mouse cowered in the corner of the room, shoulders hunched, watching—

No.

Sod that.

The man sat and watched as Xander mumbled in his sleep. Xander’s hair was still damp, and although there were the odors of shampoo and soap, he still smelled of the sea. Spike had enjoyed watching him frolic in the waves: tanned skin, strong arms and legs, movements graceful and sure. The boy was a brilliant swimmer as well, for once outdistancing and outmaneuvering Spike with ease, but always turning back to splash water playfully in Spike’s direction before laughing and diving like a seal.

They’d swum until Spike’s muscles ached and his eyelashes were crusted with salt, then, pausing only to pull their trousers on, had run back to the cozy little bungalow. They’d taken turns in the shower and downed two beers apiece, and then Xander had climbed into bed.

Spike had meant to head back outside then, perhaps for another of his aimless rambles, but found himself loath to open the door. Not out of fear for once, and not because of the bloody voices, which had been silent since that evening’s meeting. He didn’t want to leave because… because he wanted to stay with Xander.

Bloody hell.

For a time, Spike attempted to watch the telly. But he couldn’t focus on any of the programs, not when the scene after the meeting kept replaying in his head, not when Xander’s strong body kept flashing before his eyes.

His chest felt tight and his fingers tingled, and it wasn’t until the sun began to rise —behind the heavy shutters Xander had installed for him—that Spike realized what he was feeling. Happy. He had a soul and a home, the chip was going to come out, and Xander trusted him. Respected him, even.

Spike was bleeding happy.

He didn’t bother to turn off the telly. He tore off his clothing as he hurried through the house, only his demonic grace keeping him from tripping and falling on his arse. And then he stood in Xander’s bedroom, looking down at the sleeping man.

Spike climbed into bed beside him and pulled Xander close.

Xander’s eyes flew open. “Wha—?”

“I'm not offering myself because I have to,” Spike told him earnestly. “Not anymore. It’s because I want to. I want you. Now, and until your heart beats its last.”

Xander breathed in and out for a full minute, his gaze never leaving Spike’s face. And Spike saw the shared feeling before Xander spoke it aloud, saw the spark that lit in Xander’s one good eye. The twin to the spark that had just roared to life in Spike’s chest. No longer painful, the fire inside him was now warm and welcome: newfound life for his cold, dead heart.



The End