CHAPTER 6 - The Tough Get Going.
Spike had watched the whole event play out in front of him. Had this been anyone else he would have relished the sight: the anger, hurt and betrayal. Days gone by he would have fed on both of them just for that heady rush of passion-filled blood. But this was Xander and all he felt at this moment was empathy. Only a short time ago he had been feeling powerless against the slayer’s bombardment, which was enough to leave him feeling murderous. This bint had been the lad’s friend for years and she had ripped into him like a disappointed mother berating a child. No wonder Xander was reacting the way he was. Spike had darkness inside that made it simple for him; he wanted rip her useless head from her body. Xander was human, he buckled under the weight of his friend’s demoralising treatment.
Spike ground out his cigarette then wandered cautiously over to where Xander stood motionless against the lamppost. To allow the boy some measure of privacy Spike stayed behind him and waited. He could hear Xander’s pulse, still faster than normal but slowing, as was his breathing. What to do. Approach? Wait? He was saved from the stress of having to make another decision by a soft voice.
Xander turned and leaned heavily against the pole. “Thought you’d left?”
Spike shrugged. “Thought I had too. Drink?”
“Why did you come back?”
“You want me to go?”
Xander closed his eyes. What did he want? Minutes ago in the Magic Box, Spike had looked at him with such antipathy, yet here he was. Spike must have overheard what had just gone on. He was there at Xander’s side just a couple of minutes after Buffy had left. Even if he hadn’t been close by, vampire senses would have picked up on everything. Was he here to gloat? Xander didn’t know if he was in a fit state to be taking this in. He was still reeling from his confrontation with Buffy. But did he want Spike to go?
I don’t know if you hate me, but I want you to stay. Xander shook his head.
You’re asking but do you really want to know? “So not.”
“Déjà vu all over again. You said no.”
“Didn’t want to though. But that slayer was-”
“Buffy,” he laughed sardonically. “Is it any wonder the girl has ego issues. I thought you were an evil doer who bends to no one?”
“Well, yeah. I am. Just didn’t fancy trying to play nice with a slayer who would be happy to sweep me out the door.”
He sighed. “Yeah, I get that.”
“Do you now?”
He nodded. “So is that the only reason?”
Xander looked at him sceptically.
“You think otherwise Harris?”
“Just the look on your face. Didn’t exactly scream regret.”
“No, I imagine it screamed something a little more bloody-minded than that. It wasn’t directed at you.”
“Buffy again.” And they were back to her. If Xander was looking for a common ground, some starting point then this was likely it. They both had Buffy issues, different cause and effect, granted, but this was something. They both needed a sounding board. Before he could act on that though, he needed to be straight in his mind.
“Why, Spike?”“Why Spike what?”
“Why didn’t you want to say no?” Ah. The million dollar question. What to tell him? Something simple. It had been a difficult evening for the lad and Spike didn’t want to cause him anymore confusion. He just wanted to offer some easy companionship. To start with. Then follow the boy’s lead. “You seem to be a good bloke, one I would like to have a drink with.”
“No. But it’ll do for a beginning. So, drink?”
Xander eyed him. There was more, but it would keep. Spike said it was a beginning. That meant there might also be the chance of a middle. Xander was mentally exhausted and in no fit state for a deep and drawn out heart to heart. It would be enough to go on with. Tonight Xander would be glad of the company, male company at that, which needed no deep analysis of emotions and sharing of the same. Company, who knew exactly where he was at right now. Company who was apparently interested in him and wouldn’t try to tear him down.
Without hesitation Xander led Spike to his car and let him direct them to a small bar in a part of town they rarely frequented. Xander appreciated the choice. It meant that the girls would not find him should they decide to look. Unless Willow put the whammy on him with a locator spell, but he thought it would be unlikely once she spoke to Buffy.
The ‘Bear and Lion’ was not like anything Xander had seen before. A long heavy wooden bar stretched most of the way down one wall, the other walls were panelled in combinations of a dark wood or rough stone brickwork. Framed paintings depicting various sports lined the walls and the TV high up in the corner was showing a silent soccer match. It was fitted out with both tables and booths, an old pool table took up the space at the far end. Spike raised a hand in greeting to the bartender and led them towards seats at the back. Good choice. From here he would be able see the door, keep an eye out for anyone they were both trying to avoid, human or not, they had a reasonably private space and easy access to the pool table. Offering to buy the first round, Xander went back to the bar for drinks, a beer for himself, a double Jack for Spike. The air was thick with the smell of stale beer, cooking and a light fragrance of polished wood. It was a comforting place to be. They sat in companionable silence for a time, sipping drinks, watching a pool game, observing the crowd.
The bar held an eclectic mix, some humans, some demons; its tone far different to Willy’s though. That bar Xander was more familiar with and would never have dared enter without begin armed to the teeth, knowing it’s atmosphere was tense and violence often erupted without warning. This bar, straight away Xander could feel the difference. There was easy laughter and conversation and generally happy faces, well, Xander assumed they were happy, with some of the more ‘exotic’ ones; it was a little hard to tell. He felt himself relax more with each passing minute.
Spike noticed Xander beginning to unwind. He was fidgeting less, the strain was gone from his face and he sank more into his seat rather than sitting on the edge. Xander had one arm resting on the back of his own seat, one long leg crossed casually over the other, his foot tapping out the beat to a song only he could hear. He was idly casting his gaze over the other patrons in the bar, skipping from one face, and one table to the next until his eyes came to rest on Spike. This was the man Spike had seen arriving at the Magic Box earlier tonight, the one who was finally growing into himself. This was the Xander that had caught Spike’s eye so many weeks ago.
Xander smiled at him. “This is what I needed. Thanks.”
Spike tilted his glass towards Xander, nodding in acknowledgment. Yes it was. There was plenty of time for him to debrief later. For now, get him away from those girls, well one in particular. Let him find his feet, get a bit of perspective.
“This is a demon bar, how come we didn’t know about it before?” Xander would have assumed Buffy would be all over it. A place like this, he could imagine her blowing in, shaking down the demons.
“The owner,” he indicated the large, and slightly scaly, man behind the bar. “He’s a Joudel demon.” At Xander’s blank look, Spike explained further. “Joudels live mainly in the UK, mostly England, Ireland. They’re a peaceful lot, don’t go looking for trouble, but don’t tolerate it around them either. Thomas there, he came out here oh, about sixty years ago. Set up this place as a bit of a nod to home. His family owned a pub back there.”
“That explains the crazy décor and the soccer on TV.” Xander waved his hand indicating the mahogany fixtures and paintings of cricket matches.
“Football, mate. Joudels have some magic, usually just enough to set up protection, barriers and the like. Tom has a nice little spell on this place, mojoed it up to keep the slayer away. Bit like bug repellent. A bloke’s got to have a place to have a drink in peace and no one in here makes any trouble, they don’t want the slayer sticking her axe in where it don’t belong.” Spike downed the last of his drink.
“So he’s got a spell to stop the fights in here?” Xander asked.
“Nah, he’ll just rip your legs off and use them to beat you to a bloody pulp and not raise a sweat. Strong buggers these Joudels.”
“But I thought you said they were peaceful. I could be wrong, but legs, beating, pulp? None of that sounds peaceful to me. Just a thought.”
Spike shook his head. “You didn’t listen mate, I said they didn’t look for trouble, also said they wouldn’t put up with it. Fight-loving demons steer clear of this place. There’s plenty of others around if they want a bit of argy bargy and they have a better chance of walking out with their limbs where they like them.”
“You come here a lot then.” Xander assumed this from the respect he heard in Spike’s voice when he talked about Thomas.
“Not a lot, no. Just when I’m feeling a bit nostalgic.” At Xander’s smirk he rolled his eyes. “Yes, the pathetic but still evil vampire gets homesick once in a blue moon. Besides, the humans here don’t make trouble for me, same with the demons. None of them care what I do when I’m not here, who I kill. Actually helped Thomas out a time or two when trouble’s walked in. Cleared out the occasional nest around the area, all helps to keep the slayer away. Thomas appreciates that, slips me a bag of blood or a plate of his wife’s roast beef.”
“If it’s such a great place then why don’t you come here more often?”
“Just as easy for me to have a drink at home. No one goes out of their way to talk to a vampire, we aren’t known for our charm and wit. More for our bite and drain.”
Xander stopped his line of questioning to consider Spike. He didn’t really fit in anywhere. Not Willy’s obviously, not really the Magic Box, not even here at the Bear and Lion. It had surprised him to hear that Spike got homesick, although it shouldn’t be a shock. England was his home, sure he had travelled the world, well, torn through it more like, but England was where he had belonged to a family. At a point in Spike’s existence where his original family was dead, his vampiric family spread far and wide Spike was alone. And from what Xander knew about Spike from the watcher’s journals, this was not his preferred state of being. Vampires made themselves families, lived in nests. Alone and chipped, Spike was in limbo.
Xander felt for him. Certainly not pity, but sympathy. He couldn’t imagine being that isolated from friends and family. His own friends might be a little dismissive of him but they did actually care. And his family were far from the greatest, but they were nearby if Xander needed them. Not that he could think of why he would, but they were and it was good to know. He could understand why Spike was drawn to the Scoobies, he picked up on the family vibe, of course none of it was vibing at him but there was a place where he could be on the edge of belonging.
“Another drink?” Spike’s voice snapped Xander out of his musings. “My round.”
“Ah, yeah, sure.”
“Same again?” Spike indicated the empty beer glass on the table.
“No, just a Coke thanks.”
Xander saw Spike’s eyebrow twitch in question, and did he know how that looked? “One beer is plenty for me. I didn’t have the world’s best role model. More of a warning warning danger Will Robinson thing. It’s a conversation for another time.”
Spike just shrugged, “Whatever suits. Table’s free, how about you rack up a game while I buy?” He wandered off to the bar leaving Xander to set up the balls. Thomas greeted him with a smile and a hand shake.
“And here’s my door-bitch. What’ll it be?”
“Oi! I ain’t your door-bitch, I’m the unpaid muscle.” Spike flipped his favourite two fingers. “My usual and a coke for the boy.”
“What brings you round tonight?” Tom asked while he poured the drinks.
“The lad got in a bit of a row with his friend. Just helping his get his mind off things.”
“Course. How very unselfish of you oh evil master. And the goo-goo eyes you been makin’ at him when he’s not lookin’?”
“I do not make goo-goo eyes. I might have had a bit of a perve but so what? Look at him Tom.” Spike took a moment to appreciate Xander as he happily set up the pool table.
Tom chuckled, a low rumbling sound from deep in his solid chest. “I have been mate. And so’s that Hokard demon over there.” Tom pointed an empty glass at a smallish blue-tinged figure at a far table. The demon was nursing a large flamboyant cocktail and had its eyes glued to an oblivious Xander. “Something about your boy there Spike.”
“Yes there is.”
Tom placed the drinks on the bar, waving away Spike’s money and added, “You take care of him, now.”
“That’s my plan. Cheers for the drinks.” Spike kept an eye on the Hokard as he wound his way back to Xander.
At the pool table Spike found Xander in mid conversation with what appeared to be a young human man but was in fact, going by to Spike’s senses, another demon. Spike felt a surge of anger and possessiveness and quickly tamped it down before Xander picked up on it. He was trying to give the boy an easygoing night out. Xander didn’t need to be dealing with Spike’s demon-driven issues.
“Oh, Spike, this is Bilarl, Bill. We just got to talking about the workmanship of this table. It’s really something,” Xander was running his hands admiringly along the worn wooden edges.
At Spike’s pointed look the demon excused himself and continued on to the bar. Spike handed Xander his coke and grabbed the pool cues.
Spike took the opening break and they each played a few shots, Xander chatting away about the construction of the table and the bar, basically all the wooden fixtures Spike had never given a second thought. It was good to see Xander loosening up. He had been wound fairly tight for a few weeks; it had resolved, but after a short breather he had been led almost to breaking point again this evening. Spike cursed the slayer for the unseeing bint she was. So caught up in herself and her ‘duties’ she didn’t see how her friend was turning into a damn fine man. She had him frozen in time, at that 16 year old she first met. Willow, he supposed, was just more naturally accommodating. She and Xander had apparently been friends almost their whole lives, almost like brother and sister, so in that case it was natural that you just accepted subtle changes as they came about. Giles has seen. He had overheard the watcher’s awkward praise and silently applauded him for it.
Spike heard Xander sink his ball and looked up as he walked around to Spike’s side of the table for his next shot. As he passed, Xander smiled and laid his hand briefly on Spike’s shoulder. Spike watched him lean over the side of the table, stretching himself for the shot. Couldn’t blame the other demons for eyeing him off; that was quite a sight, those well fitting clothes and muscular form. Xander fluffed his next shot, the ball ricocheting off the side pocket. He stepped back and waved Spike on for his turn. Spike looked the table over. Not many balls left to sink, all in awkward positions. Dropping his cue, Spike peeled off his duster and laid it carefully over a chair. Hoisting one leg up on the edge he easily potted his ball, knocking several others into decent positions at the same time.
Xander sat back on the edge of their table, sipping his coke and watching Spike take his shots. Spike sure was something to see. He liked his clothes snug and matt black, better to show of his sculpted body. And boy did that work for him. He had an easy grace and made all his movements look smoothly choreographed. Xander knew they weren’t. Well, he thought they weren’t, but did Spike need to flex quite like that to get to the ball? Did Xander care? Not if it meant watching this. He could see Spike was being slow and deliberate, as he sank the last of the balls, then straightened up to catch Xander’s unwavering, admiring gaze with a friendly smirk. Spike knew exactly what he was doing.
Spike knew he was not the most patient of vampires. He would much rather jump in with no forethought than wait and take time to consider the outcomes. But this felt different. This was more reminiscent of the chase. Targeting a human, hunting them down, letting them think they had escaped, pouncing. Drawing out that last moment until he could wait no longer. The blood was always that much sweeter after the chase. It was a delicious thrill, one he didn’t feel often because of the enormous amounts of self control it required. This felt similar. This was something he did not want to rush. The chase, the circling, the baiting and then the capture. He promised himself patience and control.
Xander waved his pool cue grinning at Spike, “Think you could stand another round?” Xander asked .
“Question is can you? You got what it takes?”
“That and more.”
Spike lazily looked him over, “Then rack ‘em up Harris”