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Expert Care

by Te

     Subject: BtVS: Expert Care
     Date: Tuesday, November 12, 2002 6:04 AM

     Expert Care
     by Te
     November 2002
     Disclaimers: All hail Joss. Hail! Hail!
     Spoilers: Vague ones throughout S7.
     Summary: Xander deals with his new houseguest.
     Ratings Note: PG-13
     Author's Note: Happy birthday, Spike! This is all yours, and
     all your fault. g
     Acknowledgments: To the Spike for audiencing, Cassandra for
     keeping me company, and Debchan just because.
     Feedback is as good as living alone. thete1@earthlink.net

Xander bitches about the way Spike leaves his clothes all over the floor, and he does. Sometimes.

Of course, there are the other times, when Xander comes home from work to the smell of disinfectant he wasn't even sure he owned, and the kind of shiny-kitchen-counter cleanliness soap opera commercials came in their pants over. If commercials could be said to come in their pants.

If they had pants.

And yes, he is losing his mind, but it's not the sort of thing you can bitch about.

'Willow, he's cleaning again!'

And yeah, that would go over like the proverbial lead balloon.

And it isn't that Spike's cleaning -- or, not just that at any rate. It's the way he is when he's in Domestic Undead Goddess mode. And there are no words for that. Or there are, but...

Not the kind of words that he trusts anywhere near his mouth, no way, no how.

Because the minute he starts talking about what it's like to live with a vampire who seems to thrum just beneath the surface of his skin, like maybe Xander could plug his stereo into that twisted-up hateful-cynical mouth and listen to some tunes, like maybe Spike's filling the whole apartment with some kind of whacked out Hellmouth explosive energy that's just waiting to blow...

All that and then some.

Plus, sometimes he digs out Anya's old apron.

And while there are words for that -- good words, snappy, downright clever words, if he does say so himself -- some things deserve to be repressed as quickly and cleanly as possible.

So is it any wonder that he seizes on anything possible to bitch about?

He doesn't think he should be blamed. Hey, Buffy may have had sex with two entirely different vampires, but she's never had to live with one. Giles would understand.

Giles... would probably ask him in that dry, calm British voice if he was old enough to drink yet.

And then Xander would pithily quote something from Animal House and revel in the G-man's bemused expression and yeah, as far as happy places go, it's pretty sad, but it's his.

Xander sucks in a deep breath and reaches for his keys. He can't lurk in his own hallway all night, no matter how tempting it is.

"I can hear you breathing."

"GYAH!"

And once his heart is more or less back in his chest cavity, Xander can figure it out. Spike, for reasons known only to his sanity-deficient self, is lurking just inside the door. And talking.

"Why do you do it? You know you don't have to, pet..."

Though not necessarily to him. Christ. They need another y chromosome in the Scooby Gang stat. It could be, like, initiation. 'Sure, you're one of us. Here's your new roommate. Try not to let him wander into the sunlight.'

"I'm trying to, luv, but I can't hear them the way you do. Do you think I should breathe? Would it help?"

Xander rubs the bridge of his nose in a gesture he'd be shocked to see himself do in a mirror. It isn't all that difficult to figure out just what phantoms are haunting Spike tonight. Something hot and vicious squeezes him inside. It also isn't all that difficult to be... sympathetic. Shakes it off and knocks on his own door. "Ready or not, Spike. The Xand-man's home to chase the boogeychicks away."

A scuttling sound, like the world's largest, most freaked-out beetle, and yes, thank you, yet another mental image not to have on the Hellmouth. No verbal answer from Spike, but Xander opens the door anyway.

And there's Spike. No apron today, thank all that's holy, just the usual jeans and t-shirt. No shoes. Xander doesn't think the guy owns socks, but then he bets vampires don't necessarily have to worry about blisters.

Unless someone pours holy water in their Docs.

Just a shoeless, scrawny -- and hadn't Buffy said Spike had been some kind of middle class type when he died? Why should he look malnourished? -- guy on Xander's floor, expression stuck somewhere between shock and fear and confused rage.

He looks... he looks a lot like the members of the Harris family that don't get spoken about after that one bottle of Beam or handful of pills too many.

Lost.

And since Xander is a Harris, well, he knows what to do about that.

Maybe not the right thing, or the best thing, but it's what he knows. It's what got him through on those visits to Gramma that his parents used to make him take back when there was some (small, dim) hope of an inheritance.

He closes the door behind him gently, and crosses to the windows. Walks slowly and lightly and twitches the curtains more in ritual than in anything actually useful -- of course Spike wasn't actually going to stay in his closet -- and thinks about light. Would it be better or worse to brighten up the place a little?

Better, Xander thinks, and candlelight better than the rest, but... he's not feeling especially secure about having open flame anywhere near this particular vampire. Turns on the dimmest lamp he owns instead and goes back to the living room.

Sits on the couch, and tries on the quiet for size.

Spike is still staring at him.

He can feel it. Like two bored out holes to nowhere sucking all the life from the room which just happen to be aimed at his face. Xander does his best to look relaxed. Thinks about the plans for the new computer lab, and that warms him up inside. He'd had to fight to convince the high muckety-mucks to put the lab there, but he got his way.

Hey, computer labs are expensive -- before you bring the hardware in. Even he was smart enough to know that they didn't want it anywhere near the principal's office/mouth of hell.

Maybe the lab would survive the next Apocalypse.

Hey, maybe it would survive him.

It's a nice --

"I know who you are." And Spike's voice is bizarrely... pouty.

Xander bites back the first six snarky responses. He's doing something here, after all. And never mind why. There were reasons. Smarter people than him had come up with them. "You sure about that?" He turns to face Spike, who, to his credit, only has two or three expressions warring for dominance on his face now. As opposed to eight or nine.

And all of the expressions melt to one, sure, solid face of snarky Spike bitchiness. "Yes, Xander, I'm sure. I'm... sure." Small, distracted frown.

"Well, okay then. If I felt like being a bastard I could ask you if you knew what year it was --"

"Two thousand and two. I want my bloody flying car."

"Don't you mean hearse? Or who the president is --"

"Not even you Americans can answer that question. Look --"

"Or I could just ask you if you felt like actually talking about some of the shit going on in that shellacked head of yours."

The look Spike shoots him is venomous enough to make Xander's stomach clench, but it fades in that scary-fast way Xander's come to recognize. Shifts right back into sane and snarky land. "I would think that was obvious." Everything in his posture is screaming 'I want a cigarette, but only so I can put it out in your eye.'

"Uh-huh, yeah, you're crazy, I get that. Apparently par for the course for every vampire with a soul. I'm just wondering what, in particular, is driving you crazy. Since I'm guessing it's not the same thing that made Angel --"

"I'm nothing like him!"

And, okay, vampire speed still very much in effect. Because one blink ago Spike was on the floor, and now he's... not. Or, well, his feet are. The rest of him is looming very effectively over Xander in a way that could turn ugly... quickly. Especially if Xander does what every muscle in his body is screaming for him to do, which is get up and do... something.

Anything.

But hey, he can do this. He can be the guy who sits here and takes it and acts like he's in control, because even though there's nothing remotely like an inheritance in this, there's still...

Something.

Xander leans back as casually as he can, puts his hands up. Shuffles through his mind until he can come up with something that doesn't sound patronizing, though he has to give up on the snark thing. "Okay, fine. You're nothing at all like Broody McLeatherpants. After all, you're taking your crazytime vacation on the West Coast."

Spike continues to glare at him for what feels like at least five full minutes, but is probably less than a minute.

And then he... laughs.

It's not a very good laugh, as laughs go. In fact, it's pretty damned cracked, but it breaks the moment. Which is all Xander feels good about asking for.

"I'm California dreamin', what can I say?" The look on his face is so ruefully human Xander wants to run screaming. Or at least go back in time to when he could have reasonably dialed up a nice, Undead shrink.

"See, the funny thing -- the fascinating thing, you might say -- is that you seem to be doing most of the dreaming while you're fully awake." Xander lets the sentence lie, but Spike just stares off into the distance. "That, by the way, was my clever segue into talking about your psychosis."

"You can't leave bad enough alone, can you?"

"Well, being as how you're my roommate and being scarier than you ever were without a soul --"

"That's cruel."

" -- I think I'm within my rights, here."

And Spike scrubs a hand through his hair, sending it into a million little squiggles of dye-job and half-sits, half-falls next to Xander on the couch. "I see ghosts."

"I hope I'm getting credit for not making Sixth Sense jokes."

"You're the worst fucking psychiatrist ever, you know that?"

"Well, the talking was only plan A."

"Yeah? Well, bloody hell, let's move the fuck on to plan B."

"Sorry, can't. I'm all out Night Train, and Mad Dog Twenty-Twenty gives me nightmares. Too many colors."

"I... really hate you." And that would be a lot more satisfying if Spike didn't sound so tired.

Xander's never been the type to poke sharp sticks at the rangy mutts on the street. Too easy to think about the fact that they might have had homes once, too. So... right. "Ghosts, hunh?"

There's a long enough pause that Xander thinks Spike isn't going to answer at all, but finally: "Not the people I killed, or hurt. Except for... I think... I think that would be easier."

And this is exactly what 'out of your depth' feels like, Xander. Tread water quick, now. "Why?"

"Well, then it would be simple, wouldn't it? All guilt and recrimination and I've been a bad, bad man, let's wander out into the sun and get it over with while I've still got the balls to do it, yeah?"

"Okay..."

"But this... I see Angelus -- not Angel. Or I see the demons I used to make a little mayhem with. Or I see. I see Dru."

"They talk to you."

"All the time. Never stop. Always... always in my sodding head and there's nothing I can do about it, because they're not really there, but they are, y'see?" And Spike's looking at him with pure pleading of the kind people get killed for seeing, so Xander just nods quickly.

Tries to pretend he doesn't see anything out of the ordinary.

"They tell me things. About the Hellmouth. About... about what's coming. Dru can't shut up about it. The last time I saw her this happy, this sweet little girl had invited her into an orphanage...

"Ah, God, it doesn't end."

Xander reaches out, not cautiously, not hesitantly, just does. The cap of Spike's shoulder is hard and cool under his palm, and jerks with the kind of impossible strength Xander wishes he didn't have to think about. Ever. He holds on, though. "It will, though."

Spike isn't looking at him. "You don't know anything. You're a child --"

"Dumber than most, yeah, I get that. A lot. But I know this part."

Dark smile. "Lots of loonies in the Harrises? Family tree a little twisted, is it?"

Xander gives his own smile back. He knows it isn't a nice one. "As a matter of fact, yes. We prefer to call them drunks, though."

"Well isn't this the nice little pity party."

"Only if you make it one."

"Sod off."

Xander shrugs. Squeezes Spike's shoulder. "My apartment." Watches the little cracks appear on the mean mask Spike has put on and wonders if he's doing anything like the right thing. "Look, I get this, okay? Right now you're wondering why you even bother stepping out into the real world, away from your happy, scary little ghosts who tell you stories, right?"

Spike's mouth twists into an unreadable -- if definitely foul --expression.

"See, here's the thing: That's not who you are anymore. Not even close. You got yourself a soul. Now you have to deal with it. And maybe tell all those ghosts to deal with it, too. Because I'm thinking...

"I'm thinking it's only a matter of time before those other ghosts show up and start riding your narrow ass. And you better be ready."

"Are you done?"

Xander blows out a shaky breath. "Yeah, I think so."

Spike nods slowly. Stares into space in an entirely less freaky way than before.

Xander wonders if academic types write papers on that sort of thing. The Catatonia Continuum.

"You want a beer?"

"Hunh?"

"I said --"

"Oh, yeah. Sure. Now seems like a good time for drinking to me."

Spike smiles small and somewhat secretive as he stands, shuddering --almost -- imperceptibly at the slide of Xander's hand down his bare arm. "Do you shut up when you're drunk?"

"Spike, my not-even-close-to-friend, I plan on babbling from the grave."

Rough snort. "Remind me never to turn you."

"Done and done."

Spike brings their beers back to the couch and opens them with his thumbnail in a move that makes Xander wince reflexively. "You could at least leave one or two out to get warm."

"You get more disgusting by the minute."

"I've seen the way you live."

"Bite me. Wait. Fuck you. Wait."

"'Sod off' is amazingly useful at times like these, I find," Spike says musingly.

"Riiiiiiiight. And when I can say that remotely convincingly, I'll let you know." Xander reaches for the remote, but Spike grabs his wrist before he can turn the TV on. Holds him still and forces him to be aware of the rush and pound of his pulse in a way he can frankly live without. When he turns, Spike is looking at him with that thousand-yard stare again, both worse and better because everything he is is there behind those eyes.

The blue and the black just masks for everything beneath.

"Spike?"

"I..." Spike swallows hard, looks at where he's holding Xander's wrist for a long moment before releasing him with something like a convulsive jerk. "I'll remember this." His voice is rough and low.

Xander nods, then realizes it's a pretty useless gesture with Spike staring at the floor. "Uh... okay? Okay."

Turns the television on. Takes a long, healthy swallow of beer.

And wonders just what he's gotten himself into.

End.


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