CHAPTER 4 – NEW TRICKS
Spike remained where he was on the stairs, with the entire table in his view. From there no one would be able to tell he was keeping an eye on just the boy. He saw Xander settle down between Willow and Tara. Was he avoiding the Slayer? Spike couldn’t blame him after her emasculating comment. He looked the young man over. Yes there was definitely something different, obviously more confidence, as he’d seen earlier, and the clothes had seriously improved. Xander had made some effort with this outfit, the jeans fit well showing off long legs and solid work-built muscle. His pullover was not tight but was snug enough that Spike could see the definition of his broad chest. He seemed to be letting his hair grow out a bit too. It was mostly brushed back from his face, and was long enough to curl over his collar. Nice.
Giles had sat down directly opposite Xander, with his back to Spike. Good. That way Xander could look as though he were paying attention to Giles and could sneak peeks at Spike without being too obvious. Turned out, it wasn’t as easy as he thought it would be. Each time he looked at Spike he found the vampire staring back at him. Xander pretended for the next few minutes to be engrossed in Giles’ run down of Buffy’s activities. The next time he chanced a look, Spike was raking his gaze over Xander’s body with an appreciative expression. Oh, god. Is he checking me out? Xander panicked when he felt a stirring at this thought. He tucked his chair further under the table and shifted in his seat, adjusting his jeans and hoping nobody noticed. Spike noticed. Murphy’s Law. Crap.
As he caught Xander’s eye, Spike’s eyebrow twitched and the hint of a smirk appeared at the corner of his mouth. Hmm. Not exactly what he had expected this evening but it looked as though it was going his way. About bloody time something did. When he saw the embarrassment in Xander’s face, Spike decided to relocate himself. Best not push his luck. He rose off the stairs and went to fetch some blood from the fridge, leaving Xander free to concentrate on Giles.
“And as for this week coming, well it’s much like the last week; there’s nothing to report really. We don’t have any major apocalypse looming, no prophecies slated to play out until early next year and according to Spike’s information, we don’t have any serious demon activity to worry about.”
“So all’s quiet on the Sunnydale front?” Willow asked. “Just basic crowd control?”
“Well, quieter than usual, yes. But that’s no excuse to not be vigilant. We still need regular patrols. There is a nest of vampires over on the north side of the Shady Hill Cemetery that needs some attention.” Giles turned to Spike who had returned from the fridge with a mug in his hand. “I was rather hoping, Spike, that you would take care of that.” Having delivered his orders he turned his back to the vampire. .
Spike eyed the man over the edge of his cup and shook his head. It hadn’t been a request. Did they ever ask him? He should just tell them where to stick their nest. Mind you, if he started refusing or making a fuss then he would most likely be out on his arse. What then? Freelance? At least here he had something to keep him out of trouble…ok well something to get him into as much demonic trouble as he could poke an axe at. Otherwise, he would be out there looking for a fight, maybe getting caught up with humans, and wouldn’t that end badly for him and his bloody chip. For now, he had to stick with this group, they would provide him with all the violence his unbeating heart could desire. Especially since Red had gone hard core Wicca, but ballsed-up most of her spells. Those nights were always good for a laugh; when Willow accidentally conjured up some nasty that needed containing. Didn’t happen often, but Spike took his pleasure where he could.
And the boy; did he have a target on him or what? Never had Spike seen the like of it. Again, not often but compared with everyone else, the number of demonic close encounters Xander got into was mind boggling. His friends’ stock standard response was to blame the boy as if it was his intention to be chased down, tied up, whatever. Idiots. He grew up on the Hellmouth and had reached the ripe old age of twenty-one without being turned or buried; he wasn’t stupid, despite what past fashion choices might suggest. You just couldn’t survive that long if you didn’t have a bit of nous. Shame none of them took the time to look into that.
Giles voice interrupted his train of thought and Spike cast an irritated glance his way. “I can’t help but notice Spike, you’re still here. Aren’t you leaving?”
“Of course he is Giles. Spikey you go earn your keep and we’ll all hit the Bronze,” Buffy taunted the vampire.
“Right you are Slayer. Anything else while I’m doing your job for you?” Spike carefully set down his mug and stepped away from the potential weapon, stuffing his hands in his pockets. Much as he would love to hurl its contents at her, he didn’t think he would live long enough to enjoy the visual.
“Hey, scooter! We pay your way around here. Just you remember who keeps you in blood,” Buffy pointed her finger at him.
Yeah, great. Cold pig’s blood. Cold, often stale, pig’s blood. That was the hardest pill to swallow; having to rely on these people to feed him. Every now and then, he would find a bag of fresh human blood hidden under his regular supply. None there tonight though, hadn’t been for over a week. He’d no idea who was buying it, there was no scent left on the bag to trace. But he was deeply thankful for it each time it appeared. Without that top up he would be too weak to be of any use.
Willow looked nervously from Buffy to Spike who were both tensed and staring each other down., “Ok, how about we all just take a deep breath.” At Spike’s look she faltered. “Or..or, not a breath, if you happen to be a Non-Breathing American….or British-American….or…..tea anybody? No? No tea……ok”
Spike shook his head, turning away from the slayer and noticed Xander had been watching him with a thoughtful expression. Xander had stood off to the side wondering how far this latest round would go on. Slayer versus vampire with a witch refereeing, another in the long line of bizarre, totally familiar, but bizarre events that made up his life. Being familiar didn’t mean he had to put up with it though.
“Ok Buff, leave it be,” Xander told her gently. “He knows the score.”
“Xander, you feeling ok?” she asked him. “You’re sticking up for Spike.”
Xander rolled his eyes at her and spoke clearly but with more than a hint of impatience, “I’m not sticking up for him. But I’ve been back for a matter of minutes and you’ve started with insults already. I just want go have a drink and catch up with everyone, share some stuff. Simple plan. Which does not include listening to your incessant baiting of the resident vamp.”
Spike watched the interplay between the two friends. When he could hear Xander’s heartbeat pick up speed he decided to jump in before the boy said something he couldn’t take back. “Thanks, but I don’t need you speaking for me Whelp. I can deal with this piece of fluff myself.”
Buffy pulled a stake from her pocket and waved it at him, “You wanna deal with this?”
"Enough, Buffy!” Xander said.
Willow jumped, “Xander?”
He sighed. “Sorry Will.” His voice softened considerably as he addressed Willow and then Spike. “And Bleachie, I was not speaking for you, I was speaking for me. I thought I said that already. You deaf and blonde?”
“Children, that’s quite enough all round I think,” Giles raised his voice ensuring he was heard by all. “Xander you mentioned free drinks? And I’m sure the girls are hoping to hear about all about your week. Please, now would be a good time for you all to leave.”
“Yeah, good idea Giles. Ok folks, my car’s just down the street.” Xander gathered his womenfolk, tossed the keys to Tara and motioned them towards the car. “Let everyone in for me Tara, I’ll be there in a second.”
Anya stopped the girls as they were collecting their things. “I’ll take everyone to my house to freshen up and change first, we’ll meet you at your car.”
Willow hugged Xander before joining Tara for the short walk to Anya’s.
“Ahh, and silence reigned.” Giles turned to Spike as he tidied up the shop. “Now, if you would see to the nest; sooner rather than later of course.”
Spike had had enough of being organised and ordered about. “I know about that nest and there’s no point going tonight, Rupert. It’s a bunch of fledges I met a couple of days ago and I know that tonight they had plans that involved a basket of kittens and a deck of cards. Don’t know where they are right now but they’ll be back. Best if the Slayer goes in tomorrow during the day and catches them sleeping.”
“Right, yes of course…if you don’t know their current whereabouts it will have to wait. Go home then Spike.” Looking at Xander he motioned to the training room. “Xander a word if you will?”
Xander glanced at Spike who was making no move to leave. Spike gestured for Xander to follow the watcher then sat himself down on a stair to finish his mug of blood. Xander followed Giles through to the back room feeling a little apprehensive.
“What’s up G-Man?”
"How many times must I ask you not to call me that?”
“Always one more. So…?”
“Oh…I…ah, that is…” Giles stumbled over his words looking decidedly uncomfortable.
“Giles. Do you want to talk about feelings? Is that why you have that look? That, ‘I’m very British and this is making my pancreas hurt’ look?”
Giles gave him a small smile. “You are more perceptive than they give you credit for. Yes Xander, I want to talk about feelings.”
“Talk away, father figure.” Xander chuckled at Giles surprised but pleased expression.
“I, ah, wanted to say that I am very impressed with the way you have handled yourself. With regard to Anya. I have had occasion to speak with her while you were away. Your separation could have gone badly, but you conducted yourself with a great deal of maturity.”
Xander was gobsmacked. He was expecting a lecture about having gone away, not leaving details, taking no one for protection, endangering himself, blah blah…But here was Giles, throwing him for a loop.
Xander understood this was not moment for levity.
“Thankyou. From you that means a lot.”
Giles briefly laid a hand on his shoulder. “You are a good man, Xander.”
“I hope to be.”
“I’ve no doubt. This business with Anya, your overall manner, even the way you have dealt with Buffy's ...ah...Buffy this evening. It speaks volumes.”
Xander smiled and gave him a nod of thanks.
Giles looked uncomfortably around him.
“Ah, yes, well that was all I wanted to say.”
With a large grin and a stage whisper, Xander said, “Hows your pancreas?”
And, there was that look that Xander was more familiar with. he laughed and headed for the doorway to the shop front.
Turning back to the watcher, Xander asked, “You coming for a drink Giles?”
“Ah, no. As much as I would like to…well that would be a lie. I could think of nothing worse.” Giles went off to the back door with a set of keys jangling from his hand.
“Alrighty… and then there were two.” Xander took a deep breath and steadied himself before going back out to the shop floor. Spike was still out there. Could he ask him to join them? Would Spike want to? He’d not said anything to Xander at all out of the ordinary. And what did a few glances mean? Xander knew a bit about vampires; there was a wealth of information in the watchers off-limits shelves. They would pretty much go anything with a pulse…actually pulse was optional. So how flattering could it be that Spike was eyeing him? And surely he had misinterpreted that look anyway. While the thought gave him endless fuel for fantasies, the reality of it was so unlikely. But how could he know? Here was an opportunity, not a one on one situation, so reasonably safe, invite Spike as part of the group. Then if he was wrong no harm, no foul, no need to bang his head into a wall when he made himself look like a fool. Be casual, be calm.
“Spike? How ‘bout you. Bronze?” Good, voice didn’t crack, new, cool persona still in place.
Spike was taken aback. He’d been helping these people for a fair while now and this was the first time he’d been invited anywhere, by anyone. And on top of that, it was Xander doing the asking. Score one for the unpopular vampire. He took a deep breath, scented the air and got a lungful of pheromones for his troubles. It was like a kick to the groin. A nice kick. So, that’s how it was then. Spike looked at him thoughtfully. Not his ideal night out, but what the hell. He was opening his mouth to answer when the door’s bell jangled.