CHAPTER 3 – OLD DOG
Xander had a late lunch then packed the last of his things into a duffle bag. It had been a good week; he was happy. He knew he’d done right ending the relationship with Anya. He felt recharged and ready to go home and begin the next phase of his life.
It had been incredibly strengthening to him to realise that he had not screwed up. He had dealt with the issues like the adult he was; found he was satisfied with the result and, after one brief phone call had established that Anya was at ease with their dissolution too. He felt confident in himself and positive about his future. A relatively new state of being for Xander Harris but one he would wear with pride. He had good friends, a nice apartment, a great job… a huge crush on a gorgeous vampire. And hadn’t that taken less time to come to grips with than he imagined it would have?
Xander had decided to take the ‘come what may’ approach to Spike. As good as he felt about everything else, he still had lingering doubts about the likelihood of Spike being interested. Even so, Xander was prepared to give it a shot. When he got back, he would head off to the regular Scooby meeting and if Spike was there, Xander would watch and listen for any hint that he was open to an approach from a Scooby.
He tossed the duffle into the back of the car and headed home.
As he had done every night since Xander left, Spike made his way to the meeting at the Magic Box via the man’s apartment. He was looking for lights, any sign really that he had returned. He didn’t expect anything and was beginning to think Xander had changed his mind and decided to move on completely. Stupid thought, really. Xander would never leave his friends for good without long drawn-out goodbyes. As he had done each other night, Spike kept his eyes downcast until the last minute, waiting until he was at the head of the path leading to the young man’s front door.
Spike shook his head. What was a Master vampire doing flitting about like a bloody infatuated girl? Mooning around over a boy who would probably stake him as soon as look at him. But he couldn’t ignore the fact that he was drawn to Xander. He hated not knowing and needed an answer either way. So, checking on Xander’s whereabouts was not a girly pastime. It was a very manly way of keeping tabs on the boy. This way he would know as soon as Xander returned and would be able to confront him straight up. Maybe.
Hands shoved deep into his duster pockets, Spike prepared himself for the blacked-out windows of Xander’s apartment. Fully expecting the same sight to meet his eyes as it had every night, he was shocked into a sudden and unnecessary gasp when he saw light pouring from Xander’s living room windows.
“He’s back,” Spike whispered to himself. The swelling feeling in his chest took him by surprise. Big sap.
Spike stood still in the shadows on the sidewalk. Right. Next move? Storm in there, shove him against a wall and demand an answer. I feel a thing, do you feel a thing? No, bad move. Number one, no invitation in. Number two, wall shoving? Idiot. So, new move. Knock on the door, ask to come in for a chat. Something like- so, bint’s gone, fancy a bit of man on man? Right, like that’s any better. It was too soon for a heart to heart; it was only a matter of days really since Anya had left. What to do then? Spike knew he was not famous for his patience and wasn’t happy with the answer he gave himself. Wait.
Bloody hell. That was it for now, just wait. And watch. Xander was bound to turn up to the meeting so Spike would just keep watching Xander like he had done for months now. See if he could gauge Xander’s feelings. Spike cursed himself for not being as big and bad as he made out to be. If he couldn’t even confront a human with a simple question… but no. What he was doing was saving face in case he was rejected, that was a nice selfish move suitable for the evil dead. He also knew it was about not humiliating, or infuriating Xander if he were wrong; there was that fluffy William rearing his head again.
Spike turned abruptly, coat tails swirling and headed off to the meeting. If he ran he would get there before Xander.
Xander spent just long enough inside his apartment to toss the bag down and change his clothes. It was Friday night so there would most likely be a short meeting and after that he might just hit the town. Just a quiet drink, nothing over the top. He switched the worn and battered jeans and T shirt he had travelled in, to his ‘dressy casual’ jeans and wine-coloured pullover. Xander had been surprised when Anya took him shopping after his managerial promotion. Usually she wasn’t keen on him buying for himself, but this time insisted that he needed better fitting, more ‘grown-up’ clothes. She’d filled his closet with dark coloured, form- fitting shirts and trousers and a couple of pair of leather boots. She said it was all mix and match and even he couldn’t go wrong. He’d been a bit self conscious at first, but looking in the mirror, he agreed. Not bad. No oil painting though. Snatching up his car keys and wallet he headed off to the Magic Box.
When Xander arrived, he peered through the window for a moment, taking in the scene inside the store. Buffy coming out of the training room wiping the sweat from her face. Giles limping along behind her rubbing at his left thigh. Willow and Tara sitting at the table with their backs to him, an old book spread open before them. Anya behind the counter shuffling papers. And there. Spike. Off to the side, away from the others, eyes glued to the door, body tense. Obviously he was waiting for something, but Xander had never seen him look so focused.
He moved towards the door, keeping his eyes on Spike. At his first step the vampire’s eyes shifted to where Xander was standing. Was it his imagination, or did Spike just smile in his direction and relax? No. Someone inside must have spoken to him. Now there was a crazy thought. Xander knew nobody inside could have said anything that would make Spike smile like that. Probably no one inside had even spoken to him, except maybe Willow, or Buffy to threaten him a good staking.
He glanced over at Spike quickly as he threw open the door, bell jingling and announced his arrival with a loud, “I’m baa-aack!” Spike had turned away and was now sitting on the staircase watching two blurs shoot across the room.
Xander had barely made it a handful of steps before he felt smaller warm bodies ploughing into him. Willow and Buffy were wrapped around his middle squeezing the life out of him.
“Xander, we missed you!” Willow sniffled. “Are you ok? I was worried.”
“So glad you’re back Xander.” Buffy lightly slapped his arm. “No more taking off. You were by yourself for a week. Anything could have happened.”
Spike watched this exchange with interest and sympathy. Xander had looked so happy when he came in; he was holding himself taller and had a self-assured look about him. He had squeezed Willow back, but at Buffy’s words Spike saw some of the light in Xander’s eyes dull. He slouched just a little. Spike wanted to rip her tongue out at the thoughtless way she spoke to him.
“I’m fine guys. Buffy, I can manage a few days without needing a rescue team,” he said to her as he pulled away.
Xander could see Spike still watching him, but decided to get the most difficult reunion out of the way. Giving Tara a wink and a kiss on the head as he passed, he stepped to the counter and faced Anya.
He was expecting to feel something. He wasn’t sure what, but shouldn’t he have felt…guilty? Hurt? Anything? Nope, nothing bad anyway. He just had that satisfied feeling of a job well done.
“Good trip?” she asked him quietly with a small smile.
“Yeah, it was. Glad I did it,” he told her. “How are you?”
Anya thought about it for a moment and nodded. “Happy.” He smiled and nodded back.
Anya sized him up, staring into his eyes. “Right,” she stated firmly. “Enough of that then, go make me a cup of tea, then you can dust the shelves.”
“Ha! Do it yourself woman. You can’t order me around no more.” He laughed with her at the surprised expressions on his friends faces as she came around the counter to give him a warm hug.
“Yes, welcome back, Xander,” Giles patted him on the shoulder as he rounded the counter in search of painkillers. “My many strains and bruises also heartily welcome you back and offer you my place in the training room.”
“Thanks G-man, but I think I’ll give it a miss for now.”
Well that was nearly everyone. Xander extricated himself from Anya and turned to the side of the room where he knew Spike hadn’t moved since he arrived. He knew Spike had been watching him, but why? Keep it light Harris, keep it normal.
“Fangless,” he said with a small nod.
"Whelp,” a nod back.
Spike looked him over and snorted. “Like a chip in the head.”
Was Xander right in thinking there was a little less smirk than usual in that smile from Spike? As far as conversation between them went, that one was a lot less acidic. Xander gave him a small smile then turned to the others.
“So, Friday night Scooby meeting, yes?” he asked rubbing his hands together. “Then drinks on me at the Bronze?”
“Sounds like a plan,” Buffy said. “Giles, you wanna get started?”
“Hmm? Oh, yes. Certainly.” As everyone settled around the table, Giles brought out a small pad and checked his notes. He launched into a long winded explanation of the slayers achievements over the past week.
Spike briefly wondered if it was possible to be bored to death and if he killed the watcher could he plead self-defence with the the Slayer.