( Assess the Blame )
Xander groaned as he sluggishly opened his eyes. The ceiling stared back at him. He supposed that a sense of déjà vu ought to befall him once more any second now; however, he was too numb to care. He fuzzily made a mental note to buy some paint to coat those freaky eye blotches when he purchased lighter fluid to burn Anya's shoes. It served her right seeing as she had been a catalyst to the recent events that had rocked the life he had grown so accustomed to.
He had a steady job – well, he didn't now but homes always seemed to need fixing and rebuilding in Sunnydale, so steady enough. He had moments of near death experiences that added texture to his standard everyday life. He had a unique yet wholesome group of friends and subsequent acquaintances, ever-changing from allies to foes to the undecided.
He liked the status quo.
He really did not need to be internally confused and guilt ridden to top it all! He was one of the good guys, damn it.
That last thought was set aside when a dull ache pushed itself further into his waking consciousness. This time around, unlike a morning seemingly ages ago, Xander indisputably identified the underlying cause. He just hoped that his cupboard wasn't too damaged as result of making rough acquaintance with his overly thick skull. He groaned and rubbed the back of his head that wasn't cradled in the soft pillow.
He had really messed things up this time, he realized as echoes of the previous night resurfaced in his mind.
~ Fuck. ~ He winced at the single loudest internal thought.
Xander pushed himself off his tousled bedding; he hadn't been all too concerned with making the bed before dropping in a comatose heap the night before. After he relieved himself in the toilet and washed up, he stood in front of his bed yet again. His actions were all on autopilot as his mind was too busy forcing itself not to over ponder the fresh events.
It was over-thinking that had gotten him in this mess in the first place. First, when he made the choice to stop thinking about Anya in the presence of alcohol, one mooching Spike and a friendly game of pool. Due to some insane logic, it had resulted in him literally waking up in a cliché. Next, he had to over-think (freak) the loss of his so called "innocence" which soon enough was followed by his overwhelmed brain subsequently working it into a made up nonexistent state. In simple minded terms, he thought his homo-cherry was popped, had a nervous breakdown which didn’t last long because he then decided nothing happened. Problem was, that he then faced the harsh reality of him attributing the fictional occurrence to a well-worn, pent up attraction. Quickly bypassing another meltdown, he finally spun it all into a conspiracy concocted by an evil soulless vampire mind. Anything (even a hidden crush so far within his psyche, brought out by the trauma of recent abandonment and theft of property, all aided by inebriating, perception-altering alcohol) was better than actually having sex with a man. A man who was a vampire he had to see on a somewhat nightly basis, who knew his friends, and was vocally forthright on how evil he was and how he hated them all.
Xander frowned at the fresh sheets he had barely bothered to tuck in and mumbled sarcastically, "I am one hell of a detective! Give Harris P.I the strings to a case and he’ll make it into a fun ball for your kitten." The only response was the grumbling of his stomach. "Jeez, my head’s so messed, I don't even remember the last time I ate."
Of course, he reflected as he walked towards the kitchen, food was the last thing plaguing his mind these past few hours. He opened the fridge and pulled out the milk carton. After the smell test proved that it was still safe for consumption, he turned to get a bowl for his cereal.
He jumped back with a pained yelp, slammed into the fridge, then slipped butt first to the tiled floors, clutching at his foot and feeling wetness slowly soak his pants.
Xander hissed as he carefully removed a small fragment of broken glass that he had apparently missed in his distracted sweeping the night before. ~ Well, I had a bruised head at the time, so I think I did well given the pounding behind the eyes and the near passing out. My tongue hurt too. ~ He pulled the shard of glass close to his face. It was so tiny it could be mistaken for a nail clipping. Narrowing his eyes, he was pleased to find that there was no blood on it. Xander quickly looked down at his throbbing big toe. No sign of blood spurting out of his abused limb as well. Lastly, he looked down at the soaked sweatpants he wore to bed.
"I think it's two for two." He slowly stood up, disposing the shard into the wastebasket. "I'm in pain, not of the un-norm, but, hey, no blood!" He made a weak victory sign with his fist. "Score for rough Harris feet. Hah, and Anya kept pushing that foot cream at me. Shows her what she knows," he grumbled.
Xander started walking away from the kitchen and fumbled unsteadily towards the bathroom, careful not to step on his hurt toe and cautious in his movement as he made sure the soaked pants didn't drip. "What if it's dry toast for breakfast… cleaning is gonna to be a snap thanks to these super-spongy pants –I'm seeing marketing value- bonus, now I have reason to do laundry. If anything, Karma is being all too kind." He turned on the bathroom lights, made a rash judgment with using his feet to kick off his pants and slipped face-first into bright welcoming tiles
The Magic Box's door opened with an announcing dingle.
"Xander?!" Willow jumped up from her seat.
Giles raised his head from checking the income reports and blinked. "Oh, dear."
"Uh, that l-looks painful. I'll get something." Tara scampered off to one corner of the shop after she received a nod from Giles.
"Ouch," Dawn commented, choosing to remain seated.
"What's the hubbub, bu…" Buffy asked, training towel around her neck, clearly coming from her backroom exercise. She strode straight towards Xander who was trying to wave away a concerned Willow and turned his head towards her, ignoring his flinch. "The hell?! Did Spike do this to you? That son of a vamp bitch, I'll…"
"Language, Buffy…" Dawn drawled whilst she made quick strokes with her pencil, eyes shifting from the paper to an uncomfortable looking Xander.
Giles had removed his glasses, looking at Xander then replacing them. "That doesn't appear as if caused by a fist."
"It wasn't," Xander spoke, finally glad that he could get a word in. He winced but smiled gratefully at Tara who gingerly placed a soothing cool cloth against his face. "I would love to say that I got this in a fight – even with a chipped vampire. The night was a breeze, nothing out of the norm." He scratched his chin and tried not to look too shifty. "Sadly, I must report that I slipped in the bathroom. But not to worry, my face broke my fall." He pointed to his face. "Or my left cheek. I did a cool twist in the air, I chose to save my distinguished nose, and if I might say, I think I chose wisely."
"Oh, Xander," Willow sounded disappointed. She dragged him and pushed him down onto a chair. "You really need to take better care of yourself."
Xander gave his best friend a wide grin. "But, Willow, if I did that, what would you do?”
Willow gave him a friendly smack on the shoulder. She ignored him when he acted hurt and moved to sit in front of him next to her girlfriend. She gave Tara a kiss on the cheek. "Thanks, sweetie."
Xander rubbed the back head, embarrassed, then winced when he came in contact with the sore noggin. "Yeah, Tara. Thanks. It numbs the numbing pain."
Tara blushed and ducked her head. "It’s n-nothing. My grandma wrote a r-recipe book with things like that."
"That might prove helpful. Perhaps you could bring it over some time?" Giles asked, intrigued.
Tara nodded quickly.
Willow grinned widely.
Buffy sighed and flopped down next to Dawn. "I’m bored. You could’ve lied about Spike you know, getting you in a fight over kittens or whatever so I can workout some steam."
Xander shook his head, pityingly. "Poor Slayer, the baddies won’t come out to play with you? Have you been mean to them again?"
"Nah, Buffy just needs to get laid."
"Dawn!" Buffy cried, outraged.
Dawn shrugged. "Sorry. Guess the punching bag had it coming, then?"
"What happened to the punching bag?" Xander asked Buffy.
It was Buffy’s turn to look shamefaced. "I kinda broke it." She flashed his shocked eyes a peppy grin. "Fix it for me, my main man in shining hat?"
Before Xander could respond, Dawn cut in as she nibbled on the eraser end of her pencil, "Scarecrow Dummy is down for the count as well."
Xander groaned, "Aw, Buff… Dorothy jokes overflow."
Buffy jumped up, dragging him into the training room. "Thanks, Xander!"
"I’m here to be used."
It was two hours after nightfall when things slowed down and Xander finally asked something he wanted to ask for hours. "Sooo," he said, looking around the empty shop and at no one in particular. "No Evil Undead to give the room a tavern-y smoke stench tonight?"
"Nope," Dawn was the one who replied. Xander tried not to look too deeply into the sentiment that one word held.
Giles came around the counter, cleaning his glasses. "If that bloody vampire expects me to make a house-call to pay him this time around, he’s going to be waiting a long time."
"Uh. ‘Kay." Xander made popping noises with his mouth. Willow and Tara had already left. Dawn was packing her stuff whilst trying to hide her sketchbook from a bored Buffy who pouting next to her. "So, Buffy, how was patrol?"
Buffy’s pout intensified. "You mean the first one? Oh. Wait. Bet you’re talking about that the second round I did just for kicks – I even pulled the helpless lost victim looking for nice people skulking in the night so they can help her out." She turned pathetic looking jade eyes towards the Englishman locking up the store books. "Giles, this town is clean."
Giles smiled lightly. "You could’ve sounded more relieved than that."
"That or twisted the line to sound more ‘Poltergeist one’," Xander offered.
Dawn picked up her bag. "I’m ready."
"Okay." Buffy got up. "See you guys tomorrow." However, she stopped short of the door and turned around. "Hey, maybe I should go by Spike’s crypt to see if he’s up to no good."
"You’re just looking for a fight before bedtime."
Buffy continued speaking as if Dawn hadn’t said anything, "I mean, he must have something on his mind if he’s not in our faces wanting his blood money. Oh. I bet it’s something really bad."
Xander winced. He had one or two ideas why Spike would forgo showing his face that very day.
"He needs the money to eat, so obviously something came up that’s more important than vampy hunger."
Xander tried hard not to picture the already gaunt vampire hungry. ~ Heh. And here I thought I couldn’t feel worse. Really should watch what I think. ~
"Buffy, chill. I have some grocery shopping I need to do and Spike’s on the way. I’m all for dropping on the hired vamp muscle and making sure that he’s being all well-behaved chipped vampire." He made a face. "Or as well-behaved as Spike can be."
Xander raised his hand, palm out, stopping her. "No, buts. You just said that the night –for once- is safe for us regular un-supery folk. Besides, your mom’s waiting." He turned to Giles. "I’ll even play delivery boy sans hat in return for an early day?" he said, probingly.
Giles pondered that before shrugging. "I see no harm in that." He pulled out his wallet and planted a few bills in Xander’s hand.
"But…" Buffy looked on helplessly. "I don’t want to be off my game when …"
"Go home, Buffy," Giles ordered her. "You need focus and stability. I’ll be closing shop soon as well."
Xander stood in his living room. He had no idea why he felt like crap. He, after all, had benefited of Tara’s magical salve, which not only helped relieve the pain in his face and lessened the swelling, but also soothed his toe. It had induced another bout of mother-hen Willow, but Xander liked it when she coddled him. He did, however, have to endure Giles watching him like a hawk wherever he went clearly weary of any sudden bouts of Xander klutziness that might spell disaster in the magic shop. Not to mention the conversation he had with Giles when the older man came into the training room to see how far he had progressed with the repairs.
"You seem to be working slower than usual."
"Yeah. I guess that fall took a lot out of me." Xander didn’t want to mention that the real reason was that he was extra-cautious today for obvious jinxed related reasons.
~ Wait. ~ He throat dried up ~ Could Spike… ~
"Hmm." The older man seemed engrossed in looking over the training horse which seemed to have a bent leg.
Xander put down his hammer and straighter up. "Is there anything like vengeance demons…" He noticed he had Giles’ attention now. "But, I mean not like for scorned women – but like for men."
Giles raised an eyebrow. "Are you asking this for personal reasons?"
Giles continued, "I hope that you are not perusing Anya for leaving you. I understand broken hearts…"
"She took my TV!" he said outraged.
Giles raised both eyebrows at that.
Xander double tracked, "Not that this has to do with anything. Not even that it was the only thing I ever won and of all of things she just had to take that." He took a calming breath before Giles' eyebrows completely disappeared. "I, um, just curious. I mean, do non-humans who are male and get a bad deal romantically, not that there was anything remotely romantic, supposedly," he said, waving his hands all over his place, his eyes looking everywhere other than at whom he could desperately identify as his father-figure. "I guess, one time, even though the other party was unaware, theoretically, and the vengeance wanting party could be evil… and the innocent person might have said some things that could, in a certain context, be taken as…" he trailed off, when his eyes finally landed on the empty place where Giles had been standing.
Xander sighed, arms braced at the back of his couch. He might as well admit it. His mood had something to do with a certain an accounted for vampire. He went by Spike’s crypt twice, once as he went to the store and the second time as he returned laden with heavy grocery bags. But nothing. Bright side, he didn’t need to endure the humiliation that would result when he explained why he abstained from using his car just for this aim. Apparently, his goal was seeing Spike, but why that was the case or what would happen after he saw the bad-tempered vampire, he had no clue. Perhaps, that was another bright side.
He straightened up. Well, he might as well do the laundry. However, the second he entered his bedroom, his eyes zeroed in on the ceiling blotches. A new resolve fell on him. He headed for the closet, pulled out a box, delicately spilled the contents onto the bed then headed for the closet once more. This time, he started throwing shoes and more shoes into the box. Not intending to make a second run, he roughly shoved them inside, breaking more than one heel.
"Hope Anya feels your pain. She couldn’t carry all her shoes with her even if she wanted to." Xander picked up the heavy box. "Too bad real leather doesn’t flame."
Two minutes later, the box was in the backseat of his car and Xander was on the road. Somehow, he found himself driving by the cemetery. He didn’t have a chance to dwell on this as his eyes caught the bright head walking among the tomb stones. He wasn’t surprised. What surprised him was, that not so deep down, he was in fact looking for that since he got into the car.
~ Great. Just great. I shoud be giddy with not seeing Spike, ever. I’m a freak. ~ Xander would have head-butted the steering wheel, but he thought a little dignity was the least he could give himself. ~ Is he limping?~
Spike was walking towards his crypt, his mind distracted. For all his efforts to stop thinking about the bloody slayer i.e. playing with Harris’ brittle mind, he ended up worked-up because of her.
Spike had spent his day in a demon drinking hole that was unknown to the Slayer and her minions. That was because he was ‘avoiding’ Xander according to his plan to make the boy’s head boggle over recent events on top of Spike’s convenient disappearance, allowing the scatterbrained boy’s thoughts enough time to come to a boil. He had intended to work on what he had next in plan for the kid but came to the conclusion that he had no idea what do to next. He would simply let the events unfold and act accordingly. All he had to do was let Xander do all the work for him – the human processed the incidents faster than Spike had anticipated, he had almost unveiled the con but oddly enough, luck was on Spike’s side. However, his choice for a hideaway had consequently led him to discover that the demon folk were in hiding from a 'little red riding dress' that had claim on the Slayer. Trying to literally beat out some information had been fruitless.
He grimaced when he aggravated his foot. "Damn remhogs and their effin' hard crust. Nearly done in my foot… "
He paused when he heard the insecure call. It was like who was addressing him was hoping they were mistaken. Spike smirked. Well, it seemed like his distraction had enough time to simmer. He turned around.
"Why all hot and bothered, Harris?"
Xander was standing by his car, looking uncomfortable like he didn’t know what he was doing there. His hands were stuck in his pockets and he wasn’t meeting Spike’s eyes. It seemed as if he was ready to bolt at any second.
~ And the man makes the first move. ~ Spike strode towards him, making sure to show the determination in his unwavering stride.
"Why are you limping?"
Spike only faltered for a second before he kept on until he stood several feet away from Xander. "Had a lot on my mind. Got into a bit of rough and tumble to clear my head." He crossed his arms. "You about to tell me why you had called me all the way here?" He made a show with leaning on his uninjured foot.
Xander opened his mouth but instead shoved something at Spike, pulling back when the item changed hands.
Spike looked down and raised the handful of bills. "Decided to pay me for my forgettable services, dolt?"
"Ye-ah." Realization fell on Xander when Spike narrowed his eyes and let out a fierce growl. He started babbling, "No, no! God, no! Not those services or service, not that I rememb..." He gulped when the blue eyes took on a gold ting. "It’s Giles! He had your money ready but you didn’t show and he said you got another thing coming if you thought he was going to go to your crypt again to pay you –not that I know what that’s all about- so seeing as I might pass you on my way, um, I said I’ll give it to you." Xander was breathing hard. But it didn’t seem like he was done for he took a deep breath, and instead of another tirade, he said, "Did you vengeance curse me, by any chance?"
Spike shoved the cash into his pocket and faced Xander with a blank expression.
Xander wince and chuckled nervously. "Never mind." He shifted on his feet and finished morosely, "Sorry."
Spike puckered his lips, causing his cheeks to sink in as he looked over Xander. Then instead of acknowledging what he said, he looked behind the boy at the car’s backseat. "What you got there, then?"
Xander turned around without thinking and pulled out the box, pushing it forward at Spike.
Spike raised an eyebrow at the box full of shoes of varying colors. "Nice gesture, this. But buggering men doesn't instantly mean that you're a smarmy bint."
"And Xander the Good Samaritan is giving them to shoeless homeless people?"
Xander returned the box to the car and slammed the door shut. He looked back at Spike. "I’m burning them."
"Yep. Learned that from your ditzy ex."
Spike scowled. "Bloody dimwit tart roasted my Sex Pistols." At Xander’s lack of sympathy, he continued, smartly, "You know, stud, I didn’t know the road from the cemetery is a short cut to the city dump."
His grin widened when Xander’s face flushed and his confidence started wavering once more. He took a couple of steps forward, bringing closer to the boy. He was delighted when Xander only flinched but didn’t jump back when his finger’s grazed his face. "Does footwear fight back now?" he asked, his eyes locked with the unblinking gaze of dilated hazel eyes.
~ Mmm, fear… not the fearing for your life, fear… but delicious fear nonetheless. Uh, and is that…? ~
"Thanks. My bathroom floor doesn’t even have a scratch." Xander breathed hard. "I’m more klutzy than usual."
Spike pulled back a little. "Huh. That’s where the vengeance came from? I’m chipped, Forest Gump, not neutered." He narrowed his eyes.
~ Damn, I should’ve thought about that… ~
Xander unaware of Spike’s internal thoughts, sputtered, "Yeah, you know, living on the Hellmouth…"
Spike looked contemplating at him before leering, pulling closer. "Try looking deeper, Viking." He whispered in Xander’s ear. "Me thinks that you’re bent out of shape over my concerns and yer internal beatings are manifesting." He licked at the reddened ear.
Xander pushed Spike away, ignoring his own heated face. "Doubtful, Free-fang." Xander wished that he could try that again and this time sound more convincing.
Spike noticing Xander’s floundering, tilted his head. "I’m touched you care, pet."
Xander gulped and moved a step back, bringing him flush against his car. "I just slipped in the bathroom."
"Have a habit of doing that then?" Spike asked, amused, reminding Xander of a similar recent incident. He then lowered his eyelids in a more sultry look. "Should take better care of your pretty face, Xander," he purred his name. "Less you want me to be there to watch…"
Xander’s eyes widened and he blurted, "Someone once told me mindless destruction soothes the nerves."
Spike blinked at that, quickly catching on. "Inviting me for a roast?"
"I hear Manolos' fumes give a high." Xander shakily smiled, clearly begging the vampire for an out.
Spike looked at him for a few seconds before nodding firmly. Xander found himself mimicking the movement, eyes still locked with steely blue as if judging his next move.
"Wait here." Spike pointed at the spot Xander was currently standing on, turned around, causing his coat to flap in the air, and briskly walked into the cemetery.
Xander chose the moment Spike disappeared from his gaze to blink. He took a deep breath, exhaling then inhaling as he leaned against the car. His hand unconsciously rubbed the side of his face, where his cheek still tingled from the cool caress and completely ignored his throbbing ear. He dropped his head to look at his feet.
"I really need to start writing these things down…"
The End of Part Six
A/N: of things you might guess here but might not give a damn about (I’ll bore you with them anyway): Joyce is cleared from surgery and is alive and will continue to do so. Riley has left town and Buffy. As for sticking to season 5 canon I will brush on some matters (maybe) a certain big contributor (or two – depending on how you view it) will appear in the next chapter which would put some questions to rest *smirk*. Hope you enjoyed this chapter (been a while since I messed with it). Thanks for all the feedbacks and pokes to bring this back!
It's finally here, the next part Sweet Denial