“She wasn’t half-bad, your girl.”
The voice from behind him nearly made Xander spray his beer all over the bar. As it was he almost choked on it as he struggled to keep it going in the right direction. What the hell… “Spike?”
And it was. Great. Today of all days – five years exactly since Sunnydale became a hole in the ground – he got to find out that for one of the demons who died that day, death wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. Too bad it was the wrong one.
“Una cerveza,” Spike called over to the bartender as he parked his very unwelcome British ass on the stool next to Xander.
“This is a tourist bar,” Xander said with a snort. “They speak English here. In fact, it’s silly and bordering on annoying not to. I’m pretty sure that bartender is American.”
Spike shrugged. “When in Rome.”
“This isn’t Rome.” It wasn’t Sunnydale either. It was never going to be Sunnydale, no matter how much Xander drank or where he drank it.
The bartender set down a bottle in front of Spike without saying a word. It looked like he’d figured out that this was a guy who didn’t much bother with gimmicky doodads like mugs.
There were two choices swimming in the bottom of Xander’s glass. He could leave – try to find another bar, perhaps, or just buy some bottles and get shitfaced alone in his crappy motel room – or he could stay and make small talk with the vampire who’d once fucked the very girl he was in here memorializing with cheap booze and an impending hangover. “So – this you being undead again thing? How long has that been going on?”
Yeah, he was staying. Mostly because he was already on the far side of the line between tipsily numb and drunk off his ass and he was too morose to give a damn whether anything Spike had to say would hurt him more than he was already hurting.
“Been this way for awhile. Started out as a ghost, haunted Angel for a bit, got my body back, stopped an apocalypse in Los Angeles, pretty much the usual. But then when everything calmed down, fighting with the old man started to pall, so here I am – a gentleman of fortune seeing the world.” It was then that Xander noticed the crisp hundred dollar bill on the bar. Guess Spike wasn’t kidding when he called himself a gentleman of fortune. “I’m buying,” Spike added, and it suddenly occurred to Xander to wonder if he was hallucinating. How much had he already had to drink, anyway?
Well, if he was imagining this, might as well be as cruel as possible because it wouldn’t really matter, now would it? He thought of something else significant about Rome. “Figured you’d have gone looking for Buffy.” Take that, Anya-stealing asshole. Oh was he going to enjoy telling him all about…
But then he heard a short bark of laughter from Spike. “Been there. Used to know the worthless bastard she’s shaggin’ now, so I’m guessing she’s fallen out of the habit of callin’ out a name when the big moment happens. Can’t really imagine a chit cryin’…”
“The Immortal! The Immortal!” Xander finished in a girly falsetto, forgetting his resentment of Spike and his disappointment at not being able to hurt him for just long enough to find the image of Buffy doing something that ridiculous amusing. Unbelievably, he was kind of glad that Spike was laughing, enjoying his antics.
For a few seconds he was the guy he’d been when Anya fell in love with him. It had been a long time and he never thought he’d be that Xander ever again, but here he was. Of course then he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror behind the bar. Yeah, the eye patch and the five o’clock shadow really didn’t go with the high school goofball, now did they?
“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.” Now Xander was positive he was hallucinating because there was no way Spike would ever apologize to him.
But what truly seemed unreal was what he said back. “I left her. I hurt her. I guess I can’t really blame her. Or you.”
Those words. Something happened after he said them, because the wall between him and Spike seemed to have been chipped away. Oh, there were still a few bricks here and there, but it was a border, not a barrier. Spike ordered another round, and then another, and maybe another after that, and there were stories shared – stories about Angel that were funny and stories about Africa that would have been humiliating if Xander were sober enough to question the wisdom of telling them. He wasn’t counting the number of drinks he had or worrying about whether he was betraying Jesse’s memory by hanging out with a vampire; he was too busy feeling… good for what felt like the first time since Sunnydale and Anya had been destroyed. They were getting along – he and Spike – maybe even becoming friends.
Still, he had to ask something. “When you were with… did she say anything about me?” Of course what he meant was ‘did she say you were better than me?’ but it wasn’t possible for him to be so drunk he actually said that.
Spike heard it anyway. “She missed you the whole while. Why the hell do you think she shagged me to begin with? Hell, we were both tryin’ to forget. Didn’t work. Not for either of us.” He paused, drank the last of his beer, and then said softly, “She loved you, y’know. More than any of us gave her credit for.” Another pause as he stared longingly at Xander’s half full glass. “When I was in Rome, you know what I thought?” Without waiting for Xander to answer, he continued. “I was just glad Angel was never gonna get her back. Mattered more to me than bein’ jealous of that daft Immortal.” With that, he grabbed Xander’s glass and drained it. Guess that was okay, seeing as how he was paying for it.
But now, dammit, Xander was thinking deep thoughts: about love and whether it was everything you thought it was; about friendship and what exactly made someone something more than just someone you knew; and about life and how you could never quite manage to get a handle on it. “I need to go pass out. Or puke. I’m not sure which.”
It was a good thing Spike was there or getting off that barstool would have left him with worse injuries than he’d ever sustained back in the old days.
Well, he qualified as his fingers found his patch, there was one injury he probably hadn’t been about to top.
Somehow, though, Spike not only kept him from winding up in a Mexican hospital trying to figure out how to get them to call the Watchers Council to pay his medical bill, but now they were both outside. It was weirdly quiet and he realized they had walked – well, Spike had walked, Xander had been led – a couple of blocks away from the bar… and they were almost at his motel.
Tomorrow, when his brain worked again, Xander would ask Spike if he knew where Xander was staying even before he found him at the bar.
Or maybe not, because he kind of thought the question was answered as Spike half-dragged him right up to the door of his room. “Got the key?” Yeah, he did, and he nodded, but before he could even try to fish it out, Spike was rooting around in his front pocket and…
Hey, buddy, watch the hand. It came out with a key, though, and Xander was just going to chalk up what felt suspiciously like a little groping to the fact that he was really, really drunk and not the best judge of anything right now.
About five seconds later, he was lying on a bed that smelled only slightly better than the high school locker room after the championship game and a vampire was untying his shoelaces. He sat up in a flash. First the groping and now this? “I can undress myself, you know.”
“Wasn’t undressing ya. Just takin’ off your shoes.”
“Oh.” Should he be embarrassed for thinking that Spike…? Hey, he had a built-in excuse. Speaking of which… “In case I’m too busy worshipping the porcelain god tomorrow, thanks for…” He stopped, not wanting to say anything stupid that he would regret when Spike made him fun of him for it in the… whenever he woke up. “Thanks for everything tonight.”
Spike was sitting beside him now, and Xander felt his hand briefly on his cheek. The sensation lingered for too long after. “You’re rat-arsed, pet. Go to sleep.”
That was a great idea. In fact, at that precise moment, he passed out cold.
Tomorrow, he would be violently sick and aching and he’d be parting company with everything he’d eaten for the past week and a half, but he’d still be feeling weirdly better than he had when this night had begun alone. He probably wouldn’t even remember his dreams. But if he did and if they had Spike in them… well that made sense, now didn’t it?