"What the bloody hell?" Spike dropped down the last couple of feet of ladder. He stood there, directly below the entrance, unable to go any farther into the room. Bladed weapons were scattered haphazardly over the scant floorspace from the entrance to the bunk. There weren't enough of them to form a carpet of weapons, but the way they littered the space made walking impossible. Xander sat on the bunk with a whetstone and a rag, carefully sharpening a dagger. From the state of the cabin, Xander had gotten started sharpening the moment Spike had left him.
"Expecting a fight, mate?" Spike asked lightly. He couldn't imagine where all of it had come from until he spotted Xander's bags lying empty on a pile of rumpled clothes at the end of the bunk. All along the sides and bottoms of the bags, pockets and straps had been sewn to hold the cutlery that now covered the cabin.
"I just needed something to do," Xander answered. His voice was thick, and his hands clutched at the dagger and whetstone too tightly. His knuckles were pale and his fingers splotched with red from the force of his grip.
Spike didn't challenge him, he just cocked his head to the side and asked, "Are you doing alright?" More than a century of experience told him how foolish that question was, but he wasn't sure what else to say.
"No. I think this more than qualifies as not alright," Xander snapped. He waved the blade he was sharpening in the air to indicate the axes, throwing knives, and daggers cluttering the floor. Spike winced at the sight of the young man gesturing with such a deadly object, but he kept his mouth shut as Xander continued. "This is me freaking out. Do you know why me freaking out is a problem?"
Spike figured this was a rhetorical question, but he answered anyway, hoping to put a stop to the rant that the other man had clearly been planning for a while. "Not really. Looks right useful, as a matter of fact. I reckon Jayne probably has a knife or two you could work on when you run out of your own."
Xander looked up for the first time since the former vampire had entered the room. He rewarded Spike's attempted distraction with a brief, humorless smile. "No," he said slowly. "It is a problem. It's a problem because I don't know how to *stop* freaking out by myself, and my therapist died 500 years ago." His voice never got louder, but Xander's hands shook and his single eye blazed with intensity.
Spike nudged aside some of the knives on the floor, sending up a prayer of silent thanks for the protection of boots. He hadn't lived this long to die of bloodloss from accidentally cutting off his foot. He carefully toed a path to the bunk and sank down on the floor in front of Xander. Reaching out, he gently pried the man's fingers from the whetstone and the dagger's hilt. He began rubbing Xander's hands to restore their circulation. "God knows I'm not the most stable person in the world," Spike admitted. "But I'll help you if I can. I do have some idea what you're going through, don't I?"
Xander looked at Spike sharply, but he didn't try to pull his hands away. "Do you really?" he asked. "I don't think so." He paused, thinking about it. "You knew. Buffy said you knew you were going to die."
Spike nodded and closed his eyes gainst the remembered emotions of that battle. Blood lust, pride, fear, love, then nothing but fire and pain. "Truth? I knew from the moment she gave me that amulet. She called me a champion, and I knew that was it for me."
"See? Even if you didn't want to die, you were expecting to." He gave the blonde man a lost look. "I was going on vacation, Spike. I thought I'd visit Oz, listen to old records, fight the local demons. And instead," he shrugged helplessly, his hands still caught in Spike's grasp, "They're all gone. Everyone and everything I knew. Except you."
Spike tried a smile, but it felt quavery. He cleared his throat. "At least I'm a bit of alright for a consolation prize."
Xander's breath hitched, and Spike wasn't sure if it was a laugh or a sob. "Yeah, you're great. Five years ago I never would have believed that I'd be happy to see you, but I am. I just ..." he tugged one hand free and rubbed at his temples. "I just have Arthur Dent syndrome."
That surprised a laugh out of Spike. Trust a damned Scooby to come up with a pop culture reference in the middle of a breakdown. "I don't much fancy playing Trillian, here, mate," he chuckled.
The corner of Xander's mouth twitched up. "I dunno. You'd look adorable in jumpsuit." The smile only lasted a second, but it was real. Spike felt his breath catch at the sight, and he cursed himself for being six kinds of stupid. "Thank you," Xander said in a low voice. He squeezed the hand that still held his. "Thanks for talking to me, giving me someone else to focus on."
"Anytime," Spike said. "You know me, always happy to be the center of attention."
Xander pulled his hand out of Spike's and started picking up his weapons, carefully stowing them in their straps and pouches. "So, did anything interesting happen while you were out? Meet any aliens?"
"Nah. I just walked around a bit to clear my head. Talked to the captain about restraining his warrior princess." Spike bent to retrieve a small hand axe. What he had mostly done was think about Xander, but he wasn't about to tell the boy that.
When he had left Xander in the cabin earlier, he'd scrambled up the ladder and closed the hatch behind him. He leaned back against the cold metal of the bulkhead, letting the connection to Serenity ground him. His thoughts were whirling, dancing from Xander's arrival to the kiss to the rage he'd felt when he saw Zoe threatening his friend. It was an emotional whirligig he could really do without, especially since River would have to suffer from it as well if he bumped into her. The girl was still susceptible to other people's thoughts and emotions at random intervals, and Spike had no desire to be smacked again for drawing her into his head.
He closed his eyes and settled into a deep breathing rhythm. 'Right,' he thought. 'One thing at a time.' He started to pace the corridor, letting his mind circle Xander's arrival and what that might mean to Spike. Personally, all Spike could feel was joy. He had missed the boy badly, as much as or more than the other Scoobies. And now, after months of grief and loneliness, here was one of his humans, returned to him through time and space. It was bloody poetic, that's what it was. Pragmatically, he knew Xander's arrival would cause some difficulty. The adjustment hadn't been easy for Spike, and he had been able to draw on decades of experience adapting to new places. They would have to find a role for Xander on the ship and work out an arrangement for his room and board. Even acknowledging the difficulties, though, Spike felt a bit giddy. He'd been traveling on the tiny ship with six other people for months, but the thought that kept coshing him over the head with joy was, 'I'm not alone.'
With difficulty, Spike stopped himself from simply standing there and glorying in Xander's presence. He started a new lap of pacing and mentally moved on to organize his thoughts about that kiss. Spike knew how he felt about it. He thought it had been brilliant, and should be repeated at regular intervals. What Spike really wanted was to know how Xander felt about that it. He'd kissed Spike while under the impression that this was some kind of consequence-free dream. There were all sorts of things that Spike would do in that kind of situation that he would never do in real life. Take one of the shuttles for a joyride, for one thing. Maybe hide Jayne's ruddy grenades around the ship and send him on an Easter egg hunt. That didn't mean he'd ever even consider those things when in full command of his faculties. Spike sighed. There wasn't much point in worrying about Xander's intentions and regrets. Not that that would stop him from worrying, but he could at least *pretend* he was in control of his own mind.
Spike walked faster as he moved on to an issue he had a chance of dealing with: Zoe. Spike hadn't interacted with her much, but he had a great deal of sympathy for her. He'd been where she was, grieving for a lost love, forced to cope while carrying on with life's duties. He'd been willing to cut her a lot of slack. Right up until she'd threatened Xander. First mate or not, she couldn't be allowed to endanger the boy. Spike nodded to himself. 'Right. Time to see a man about a lady.'
Mal wasn't in the cockpit, but this close to take off it was a dead cert he'd be along soon. Spike planted himself at the top of the stairs and waited. He forced his body to assume a casual pose, sitting on the top step with his upper body propped up on one arm, examining the fingernails on the opposite hand. Before long, the captain climbed the steps and found him there. Spike felt that his efforts had been rewarded when he saw the look of resigned annoyance on the man's face.
"Can this wait?" Mal asked with a sigh. "Our little albatross might be smarter than a whole passel of monkeys, but she's bu-tai zheng-chang de. I like to be in there when she's launching my boat."
"You need to look to your first mate." One thing Spike had learned in his first few months as a vampire was how to use his voice to make up for his lack of stature. The poet in him had thrilled to see *any* reaction to his words, and the demon in him had purred with satisfaction at the sight of fear in his listeners. Despite the long years and the change in circumstance, he remembered his lessons well. Mal didn't show fear at the cold, flat tone Spike used, but the careless irritation slipped off his face. He raised his eyebrows attentively.
"Zen -me le? I am all ears," he said, slipping his thumbs into his gun belt.
"Zoe needs to be controlled around Xander," Spike said flatly. "She found him touching her man's dinosaurs and lit into him. The boy didn't mean nothing by it. He likes toys, always has done. She'd no right to threaten him."
"Seems to me, if your friend ain't hurt none, you got no call for complaint," Mal countered.
"He's not hurt because I stopped her. *She's* not hurt because I'm making allowances for her grief." Spike wished he could still flash his eyes gold to show just how angry he was. He settled for narrowing his blue eyes and thinning his lips.
"Zoe's crew. She's family. Hell, she's been with me longer nor most of my blood kin ever was. Convince me I need to take that woman aside and tell her to stop yearning after Wash."
"She won't," Spike said simply. "She'll never stop missing him. That don't mean she can take it out on any passing body." He stood, tilting his head back belligerently. "You don't want to talk to her about it, that's fine. Just pass along the warning. She's not to threaten Xander again." He slipped past Mal and down the steps. He heard quiet cursing in Chinese behind him, but he didn't turn back.
The blonde man wandered around the ship for a while, making sure he had himself under control before he returned to his cabin. He felt some of his tension slide away as Serenity shuddered through the take off. He'd grown comfortable enough with the idea of being offplanet that he felt safer now in the openness of the black than he did dirtside, where anyone could just walk on board.
He came to a decision somewhere between the engine room and the cargo hold. He knew it would be easy to manipulate Xander into a dependent relationship right now. Part of him clamored to do just that, take the boy and make him live and breath for Spike's approval and attention. But the heart and soul he'd been slowly coming to terms with balked at the idea. Sure, he'd missed Xander. He'd missed the entire group from Sunnydale. Yes, he'd enjoyed that kiss. He wasn't made of stone. But neither was he a demon any longer. He pushed the temptation out of his mind. He would befriend Xander as he never really had in the past. He wouldn't rush anything.
That didn't mean he wouldn't hope for anything.
bu-tai zheng-chang de - not entirely sane
Zen-me le? - What's going on?