Well, it's a big city, and he's a Sunnydale lad, born and
raised. As much as he's joked about the
one-Starbucks thing, he's always kind of liked the little town, and L.A. hasn't
so much sung a siren song as hunkered like a big smoggy glow on the horizon,
somewhere to get to, or just talk about getting to, when the Sunny-D got a
little too much. When something
happened to push him that way, because he'd never just up and go.
Sunnydale was comfortable, and that was a
sentence he'd never imagined constructing.
Sure, it was on a Hellmouth and it wasn't waterfront, but get your own
place and a sweet strange oversexed girlfriend, toss in some thick-and-thin
Scooby friends, it wasn't so bad. There
was excitement in the occasional narrowly-averted apocalypse, the wacky
life-threatening results of spells gone wrong, the absence of zippers running
up the back of the Monster of the Week.
It gave a guy stories for his grandkids. So L.A. could chill.
Xander had a nice gig in Sunnydale, and who'd ever have believed Xander
would get a nice gig anywhere?
Anya left, the apartment was empty. If he dropped a quarter on the floor he
could hear the echoes for half an hour.
She went east, wanted to see the country in a blue Buick coupe and
didn't want him with her. He'd thought
she was joking at first, like the time she'd said if she was rich she'd buy an
antelope. But she wasn't, and when he
thought back later he remembered she hadn't been joking about the antelope
either. She realized halfway through
that she was hurting him, and he watched the understanding spread over her
face, thinking Ok, good, here's the part where she says sorry, didn't get
that, you come too Xander. But she
didn't say that. She looked horrified
and sick and said she'd just realized what she was doing.
What are you doing, he'd asked heavily, sitting on the edge of the bed with his hands
hanging down between his knees.
with you, she'd said, and put her fingers over her
mouth as if she'd screamed.
She bought the coupe and drove jerkily away
in it, and he spun quarters on the floor and listened to the echo. Drank half a bottle of JD and smoked twelve
cigarettes, and woke up the next morning before it was light, to puke and stand
in a lukewarm shower and wish he was either smarter or dead.
Willow and Tara took him to a movie, made
him play mini golf, tried to teach him to levitate a pencil. Buffy sat with him on the glider on her
mom's back porch, and they talked a little about how love bit the big one, and
then they just sat for an hour, gliding.
He had good friends. He loved them a lot. But Sunnydale was suddenly hell on earth,
and not just in the literal sense.
It was the next logical step, and without thinking about it very much at
all he woke up one morning knowing that it was where he wanted to go. Where else?
He asked a few guys at the site if there was construction work there,
and of course there was. Jeff, the
foreman, knew a guy who knew a guy.
Jeff would give him a call and tell him Xander was on his way.
He told Willow first, because she deserved
to know. They sat in the swings in the
park across from her house, the park where they used to dig tunnels in the
sandbox, aiming them so they'd meet up and be able to shake hands underground. She clung to the chains and twisted slightly
from side to side as she listened to him say it wasn't a big deal, he just
wanted to try it out, he'd probably be back in a few months. Both of them knowing that wasn't true. He wished he'd had the guts to just say it
that way, plain and simple.
understand," she'd said finally.
"Is it—is it that bad, Anya leaving?"
He ran his shoes through the sand and
didn't answer for a minute. What should
he say—yes? It was that bad. But, no.
It wasn't just Anya. It was a
lot of things. It was everything. While Anya was there, Sunnydale was
comfortable and he was a comfortable guy.
He had work, he had friends, he had love. When she left, love took a header and he started thinking more
about how much else he had. Work was a
construction job—he paid the rent by pounding nails, occasionally thumbs. His friends—he loved them, would always love
them, but he was a fifth wheel. The
Zeppo, as Cordelia had said. The girls
kicked ass. Tara and Willow had the
magic arsenal, and Buffy had everything else.
He had...the amazing ability to get whupped. It was endearing, but not useful.
"I just need a change," he'd said
at last. Lamely. He smiled at her, and she smiled back with
"Okay," she said. "So, you'll be the L.A.
correspondent. We'll get a satellite
link. It'll be cool."
he said. "I'll send you regular
updates on Luke Perry's doings."
She looked at
know," he said. "I couldn't
think of any other celebrities just then."
She stood up
and held out her hand, and he took it to pull himself out of the swing.
"Does it strike you," he said,
straightening his trousers, "that these things were more fun when we were
"It does," she said. "I think it has something to do with
adult butts. When you turn twenty, your
butt morphs and you can't swing anymore."
"Butt-morphing," he said, putting
his arm around her and starting to walk.
"Lovely. You read this in a
"Darkest Buttcromicon," she
said. They walked a minute in silence,
and then she said, "Xander, I'm worried about you. As a friend. You know, not a mom or other parental stand-in."
worried," he said. "Not till
after I tell Buffy."
And it was true, he didn't want her to
worry, he wanted Willow to live forever in a perfect bubble of calm and
happiness, but some part of him nodded in agreement when she spoke and thought,
yeah, worry is good. Because everything
was not okay just now, and he might need someone with actual brains looking
after him for the next little while.
He was standing on the edge of something
very tall, looking down into blackness, wondering how it would feel to just let
himself lean forward a little bit more.
Just that littlest bit. Feel the
wind beneath his wings.
That, and Buffy
was going to kick his ass when he signed out of the Scooby crew.
But it was okay. They told Buffy and the others together, and he was so glad to
have Will there just then, nodding and looking calm while Buffy's eyes went
wide and Giles polished his glasses over and over, like a stage trick. Again he said no big deal, just testing the
waters, probably back in a few months.
Nobody wig. And they nodded and
pretended to accept that, but all of them knew it was more. It was exit stage
left for Xander.
And so strange, so funny almost, that it
was Anya who'd set it off. Who was she
anyway? Some moments he felt like he
could turn around and see her right there, wearing her usual frantic
expression, trying to keep up. And some
moments he felt like he hadn't seen her in years. Couldn’t remember her face.
She wasn't even one of the originals. He half-smiled when he thought that; as if
they were a TV cast and she was a third-season add-on who turned out to carry
the plot. He was a true child of the
about patrolling?" Buffy asked first, and he forced down a laugh.
manage without me," he said.
Tara said. "Wow, Xander. That's a big move."
"Not that far," he said. "Few hours' drive. We'll have a housewarming shindig, soon as I
have a house to warm. Or a shin to
Buffy said. "You'll have to work,
Xander. How are you going to get a
"Look," he said, "if you
consult your sources, you'll find that this 'moving' phenomenon isn't wholly
unheard-of. People do this. It's doable."
Buffy stared at him for a second. "Not my people," she said after a
moment. She was making tiny tears
around the edges of a bookmark she'd picked up from beside the till. They all watched her do it in silence.
"Buff," he said gently, "you
moved here from L.A. a few years ago, right?
I'm just reversing the process.
This is not matter for an aneurysm."
She looked down at the bookmark, and he
felt instantly wretched. "Look,
guys, I'm sorry. It isn't anything to
do with you, or patrolling, or being a Scooby, or anything. I just need a change. Jeff knows a guy who'll give me work, and
I'll find a nice dry cardboard box by the freeway, and just...see, you
There was a
brief silence, and then Willow took a breath.
"I think it's a great idea," she
said, too loudly. Everyone looked at
her, and Xander was deeply in love with her for that moment—good Willow, sweet
Willow, what the hell was he thinking all those years while she was still straight? She stared back at them uncomfortably, her
Then Giles took the hint, cleared his
throat and put his glasses back on.
"Of course," he said.
"Willow's right, it's a fine idea.
Xander, if you feel you need to do this, you should do so, of
course. We'll support you however we
"I know a guy with an apartment
building," Tara said quietly.
"I can call him up, if you want, see if there are any
would be...great. Thanks,
Buffy was still
staring at the bookmark in her hands.
She'd torn the edges to fringe.
"Buffster?" Xander said, going to
lean on the counter next to her.
"Come on, Buff, give me your blessing on this."
"No," she said. "I know I'm supposed to be mature here,
but no. I mean, come on, Xander, Anya
leaves and you're going to up and move to L.A.? I lost Angel, I lost Riley, I'm still here. It's not like, when your heart gets stomped,
you get a 'move away free' card."
He laughed shakily and held onto the edge
of the counter. "Yeah, I
know. No card here."
She stared at
her hands a minute more, then looked at him.
She sighed and ripped the bookmark in
half. "Okay, you have my
blessing. Fly, be free."
He put his hand on her back. Once, in another lifetime, he would have
killed to do that, just touch her back.
Now she was warm and she smelled like soap, shampoo, girl stuff, and she was one of his dearest friends, and
he didn't feel a thing except sad and guilty and grateful.
"Thanks, Buff," he said. "Don't worry, I'll probably get mugged
inside a week and you can come pick me up in the G-mobile."
"Don't even joke about that," she
said, hitting him lightly in the arm.
"Be careful. It's not
Sunnydale out there."
No, it wasn't. It wasn't Sunnydale at all, and there was deep irony in the fact
that in Sunnydale, on the hairy upper lip of the Hellmouth, he felt safer than
he did walking around his neighbourhood in L.A. It was an eye-opener, living the working-class-stiff life in the
city. A whole different ballgame.
In Sunnydale everyone was more or less the
same, more or less white, more or less middle-class. He'd never thought about it much. He could find his way home from anywhere in Sunnydale; he knew
all the street names, all the landmarks.
In L.A., he got lost looking for a gas
station, and then again looking for the site, and then again trying to get
home. He almost ended up in the Malibu
Hills, which sounded nice, and in Watts, which he knew was not nice at
It was strange and scary and at the same
time kind of exhilarating, bouncing around the big concrete city like a ping
pong ball. And it was just him, Xander
Harris—not the Scooby crew, with Giles to fold the maps and Buffy to punch out
the bad guys. When he drove through a
bad neighbourhood, or what he thought was a bad neighbourhood, he locked the
doors and tapped the steering wheel nervously and didn't meet the eyes of the
black men who wandered out into the street at stop lights, and it was just him. And somehow he didn't get carjacked, and he
didn't get mugged, and he started to learn how not to look at people when he
walked to the corner store. Or
The whole gang came out for the
housewarming after a month, after he'd moved out of the firetrap Tara's friend
owned. He'd found a little place in
Echo Park, cheap and dirty and not very safe.
The car stereo had been stolen already, and the car itself was crap, so
parking was okay.
For furniture he had just what he'd brought
from the Sunnydale apartment—the bed, the ratty sofa, the folding kitchen table
and chairs. The television and a couple
of lamps. He kept his clothes in a
tangled mess between the bed and the wall, washing things only when they were
so stiff with sweat and plaster dust that he could prop them up against the
There were roaches, he was sure. He was never there except to shower and fall
into bed. He didn't cook. The refrigerator held half a liter of milk,
an unopened jar of jam that Joyce had given him when he'd left, a packet of
processed cheese slices.
Chateau Harris, welcome to it.
They went out for cheap Mexican food and
then came back and sat around on the folding chairs drinking sodas and acting
like Xander in L.A. was a good thing, like it made some kind of sense. There was no air conditioning, and the
windows were open to the car alarms and Spanish cussing in the streets. Willow sat with six inches between her back
and the chair, shotgunned her Pepsis, and talked in a high-pitched voice about
classes, college, the weather, spells.
Tara didn't drink at all, just watched Willow and smiled quietly at
Xander whenever their eyes met.
Together, they gave him a tacky bead curtain for the doorway between the
kitchen and his bedroom.
"That," he said when it slid out
of the paper, "is truly hideous.
Many thanks." They put it
up with a couple of nails he'd lifted from the site, and sat admiring it from a
Giles gave him a guidebook to the
city—thanks, Giles. By that time he
knew his way around a little better, but it was a nice thought. Also an envelope that turned out to hold an
AAA membership. For some reason that
made him tear up—it was so perfectly the kind of thing a dad should do—and he
had to bob his head for a minute as if he couldn't figure out what it was he
was looking at, blinking like an idiot.
"Thanks, Giles." When he looked up they were all looking at
him, and Giles was smiling oddly and was he insane, or was Giles close to the
salt-eye, himself? With all the British
in the way it was hard to tell. And he
didn't want to think about it too much.
Buffy gave him a key ring from the
Sunnydale Amoco, and he laughed and jingled it for a minute before realizing
there was a little mace canister on it, and that was probably the point. Perfect Buffy gift—overtones of Slayer,
undertones of emasculation.
he said. "Goes with my rape
"Don't mock the mace," Willow
said. "That stuff can knock a
grizzly bear back at twenty paces. It's
not just for the ladies."
remember that," he said, "when I'm mugged by the Russian circus. Thanks, Buff."
you'll carry it," she said.
He smiled and
put it in his pocket.
"I'm serious," she said. "Think of it as a little Buffy in your
pocket. For use in case of
"Whoah," he said. "There's a slogan. Put a little Buffy in your pocket. Not so catchy without the context, but once
you understand the whole Slayer thing, it's really—"
she said. "Come on, be a
sport. We're worried about you."
he asked. "Why?"
Something like a gunshot—probably a
gunshot—went off in the distance, and they all flinched.
sure this is right?" Giles asked.
"You're happy here, you feel...safe?"
"I'm fine," he said. "Guys, come on—Hellmouth,
remember? I'm the one who should be up
nights worrying. Here in the Park we
got our drug deals, gang violence, racial turmoil...but you've got, you know,
Hell. And okay, yeah, maybe it's not
such a big difference, but-"
alone here," Buffy said. "In
Sunnydale we're a team."
posse," Willow said, nodding.
" We run with Buff Daddy, no-one can touch us."
He didn't bother reminding her of how
untrue that was. "Yeah, well,
think of me as the inaugural member of the L.A. extension, posse-wise. I'm scouring the streets for new
recruits. Free stake and Wendo lesson
Buffy stared at
him and Will smiled weakly.
you're sure," Giles said, and Tara closed her eyes.
They drove back that same night—the girls
had tests, or studying, or something collegiate. He sat at the kitchen table for a while, drinking a soda and
listening to a fight in the parking lot beside the building. The bead curtain was truly horrendous.
After a while he got up and went out, down
to the bodega on the corner for a tallboy and a bottle of Canadian Club. They didn't ask him for ID; they never
did. He was looking older now, thinner
and wearier, and he didn't know if that was a good thing or not. It let him buy booze.
Weeks passed, then months, and he talked to
Will at first every other day, then once a week or so, then less and less
often. She had school, he had
work. The new job was fine, an office
building that went up and up and never seemed to quit. He hauled I beams from eight to five, ate
tacos or noodles or pizza for dinner, and stumbled home to shower and
sleep. Sometimes he saw a movie; it
didn't matter which one.
He started to make a habit of stopping for
a drink on his way home. He'd drive
until he couldn't take the traffic anymore, then realize he'd started looking
for a bar to stop off at, and there was always a bar. Sooner or later. It was a
way of getting to know the city, he told himself. He had to get to know at least a few hotspots, in case Luke Perry
called up and wanted to go for a Cosmopolitan.
He liked little places, preferably cheap
and ugly. If there was a mirror facing
the bar he sat facing away from it, so he wouldn't see the guy looking back at
him. Dark hair that needed to be cut,
skin baked brown by too much sun at thirty storeys. Shoulders a little rawboned under the T-shirt—if you took it off,
you'd see pink stars on the skin over the bones, where carrying beams had worn
permanent marks. Most of all, big
ghosty black eyes and mouth way too wide, especially now that the cheeks had
worn down. He didn't like looking
himself in the face; it gave him a strange sad desperate feeling, as if he were
already old and looking back on his youth, wondering what the hell went wrong.
In late August, coming home from work, he
stopped for a drink in a dive called The Summer Place, just because he liked
the name. It turned out to be the
Platonic Ideal: ugly and small, just
half a dozen tables and a bar, a television showing baseball with the sound
turned down. There was a mirror behind
the bar, so he sat sideways and watched the game, drinking CC on ice. The bartender was a little Vietnamese matron
who called him love.
you here before," she said, whipping a cloth over the bar around his
been here," he said, lifting his glass so she could wipe beneath it.
Park," he said. She scowled.
"Bad neighbourhood," she
said. "Not safe. My nephew got mugged there,
twice." She held two fingers up in
front of his face. "Twice. They don't like Vietnamese there, I
He frowned and
put his glass down carefully. "I'm
sorry about your nephew," he said.
you are, love," she said, and patted his elbow. "You're sweet boy."
"Rosie has a boyfriend," someone
observed from the table behind Xander.
Xander looked around at the guy, took in the expansive gut, the Lakers
hat perched on top of a fuzz of grey hair, the pink alcoholic meshwork over the
nose and cheeks. The guy grinned and
raised his glass, and Xander smiled automatically.
"He's not my boyfriend," Rosie
said delightedly, and wiped the counter around Xander's elbows again. "He lives in Echo Park."
"They don't like Vietnamese much
there," the guy said immediately, and winked at Xander.
Xander nodded and turned back to the
game. He didn't want a
conversation. He didn't want to think
about the fact that he was here by choice, in a dirty little bar full of alcoholics
who looked like his own father would, fifteen years and a couple of layoffs
down the line. He spun a beer mat with
his thumb and watched the game.
Orioles and Braves, and Rocker was
pitching. Clearly you didn't need a
brain or a conscience to pitch like a son of a bitch, because that's exactly
what Rocker was doing. He raised his
glass to drink and found it was almost empty.
"Again, please," he said, and
Rosie grabbed a glass and polished it professionally before plunging it into
the ice. "Man, this guy can
She gave the screen a brief, disinterested
look. "Not like Ty Cobb," she
said. "Ty Cobb was the
He accepted the drink she put in front of
him, and considered pointing out that Cobb wasn't a pitcher, but she had moved
away down the bar already and was wiping around the elbows of an old guy in a
He didn't mean to, but he sat through all
nine innings. Rosie kept putting the
Club in front of him, and he kept putting it away. It was hard to keep track of how much he'd had, since she took
the empty glasses away and he couldn't see the bottle. When the Braves finished spreading the
Orioles all over the outfield, he realized he had to use the head. He pushed
his stool back to stand up, and the room tipped. He had to grab the bar to keep from falling.
"Watch out, Romeo," someone
said. It was the old guy at the back,
the one in the Lakers ball cap. He'd
been joined by a wizened-up black guy with a pure white moustache. Xander waved loosely, waited for the room to
straighten out, and made for the head.
When he got there he spent a minute
fumbling with his fly, then leaned his forehead against the wall and closed his
eyes while he pissed. Fuck. He hadn't meant to get so drunk. Where was the car? He couldn't drive it.
He'd have to walk or take a cab, and pick the car up tomorrow
morning. Early, so it wouldn't get
towed. He sighed, shook off, zipped
Washing his hands, he glanced quickly at
himself in the mirror and saw red eyes, flushed cheeks. The Harris face, the same one he'd seen so
often on his dad when he was a kid. He
filled his hands with cold water and splashed his face; he remembered his dad
doing that, too. Heredity was an evil
that, Lamarck," he said, leaning on the sink as he dried his hands.
The bill for the whiskey was close to thirty
dollars, and that cleaned out his wallet.
He smiled ruefully at Rosie as he laid it down on the bar.
"You want a cab, love?" she
asked. Her tone was so sweet, her face
so open and friendly that he had a brief vision of leaning over and asking her
to marry him. He could move into The
Summer Place, be the janitor. Drink his
wages. It could be good.
thanks," he said. "I'll be
way," she said. "Not good to
worry," he said. "I have a
friend around the corner, I'll stay there."
broadly and wagged the cloth at him.
lucky her. Have fun, love."
He smiled and
started carefully for the door.
Outside, it was dark and hot, and the air
smelled of cars. He stood on the
sidewalk in front of the bar, watching tail lights streak past in the
Talking with Rosie had been the longest
conversation he'd had in days, since talking to Willow over the weekend. Today was...Friday. Weekend again tomorrow, and that was
good. Very good. The car was around the corner. He could still catch a bus, or find a bank
machine and take out some money for a cab.
Or he could walk. It was a nice
night. No work tomorrow. He could just walk until he found a bank
machine, then hail a cab. Home
He swung in the general direction of home
and started to walk. Nobody walked in
L.A., that was the problem. In
Sunnydale you could walk from one end of town to the other in twenty
minutes. Less, if you weren't on
He checked his watch—ten thirty. He'd been in the bar four hours. In Sunnydale, the girls were probably doing
something Friday-ish, watching a movie or staking some early-rising vampire, or
maybe having a cherry Coke at the Bronze.
He could call them if he saw a pay phone, just say hi, catch up. Was it strange that all his friends were
He dug his wallet out of his pocket and
started to rifle it for change, walking with his head bent. When something knocked him half off his feet
he was too shocked to think for a second, and then he thought he must finally
be getting mugged. Of course, and his
own fault too. Walking with his wallet
out, what a Zeppo.
He pushed off the sidewalk with his right
fist and spun around as quickly as he could, then blinked as the Club went for
another half revolution and took him with it.
His wallet was in his left hand, loose and open, and if someone wanted
to snag it, well, silver platter. Shit,
his AAA card was in there.
But nobody grabbed him, and after a second
he found his feet and shook his head and grinned. He couldn't help it. It
was kind of funny, in a loopy way.
"Sorry," he said. "My fault." He'd bumped into someone, that was all. Happened all the time. "Sorry, sorry." Then he looked at the guy, who was just
standing there looking at him in silence.
Standing staring at him on the sidewalk
outside of The Summer Place. In black
jeans and black T-shirt and a black leather jacket, the same damn thing he'd
worn for years in Sunnydale, and his hair was still bottle blonde, and he still
looked like the Billy Idol of vampires, but a little off balance at the moment
because Xander had walked into him as if he were a turnstile. The look on Spike's face was half surprise,
half annoyance. Then he started to look
"Xander." It was weird, a little chilly, to hear his
voice again. Xander remembered that he
was still holding his wallet out open in his hand, and flipped it closed. He tucked it back into his pocket and
he said. "How's death,
thanks. And you?"
"Well, it's been nice
talking." He turned on his heel
and started to walk quickly away, correcting a little as he veered to the
left. Spike. Of all the friendly folks to run into in L.A. It couldn't be a Crip, or a crackhead serial
murderer, or Luke Perry. No, it had to
be Spike. He had to remember to cancel
his Russian roulette lessons.
He could hear Spike catching up to him,
then falling into step beside him. He
walked faster, knowing it was stupid.
the rest of the Bloodhound Gang?" Spike asked.
wait just up the block. Come on, let's
go see 'em."
here alone, then."
"Yeah. No, wait, there’s this dumbass vampire
that's not friendly."
decided to reserve 'friendly' for people I like."
They walked for a moment in silence, while
Xander tried to think what to do. His
brain had seized. He'd forgotten that
Spike was here now, and seeing him so suddenly put a weird taste in his mouth,
nervous and slippery. It made him feel
like he was back in Sunnydale again, eighteen years old. Down in the basement, lying awake at two am
listening to the shouting and banging upstairs.
Knowing that Spike was sitting up in the
lounger on the other side of the room, listening to it too.
"What're you doing in L.A.,
Xander?" His tone was amused,
interested. Not going anywhere.
Xander said automatically.
you bait? You're often bait. Is that it?"
short and raised his hands to keep his balance.
bait—" he started.
"You're arseholed," Spike said,
whiskey. Always pegged you for a beer
man. Or else those fucking awful mix
drinks, what do they call them? Put the
whole bottom shelf in, drink 'em through three feet of surgical tubing."
for a moment, staring.
"I have no
idea what you're talking about," he said.
do," said Spike. "See it on
MTV all the time. Spring break."
"Spike," Xander said, "I am
not bait. I am not anything. I am going home. Again, I've enjoyed our little chat."
Spike said. "What, back to
Sunnyhell at this late hour?"
"No," Xander said. The pavement under his feet was starting to
tip a little, and he took a step back to compensate. Then another. "Back
to here. I live here."
widened. "You're joking," he
"No joke," Xander said, still
stepping backward. The sound of cars
passing in the street—wheels, engine, thumping stereos—was disorienting. It was pulling him off his feet. "Why is this such a bizarre
concept? Is there some natural law they
forgot to tell me about? The stasis of
"So just you, then. Not the whole lot." Spike was regarding him narrowly, standing
still while Xander stepped slowly away.
He was right under a streetlight, and it lit his hair up pure
white. He still had the cheekbones from
hell. Evil bastard.
"Just me, Spike. Hellmouth's still in Sunnydale, Buffy's
still slaying away. I'm the L.A. branch
of Slayer, Inc." He laughed a
little at that.
Spike relaxed visibly, and walked toward
him with a smile. "Well, that's
all right then. The thought of you lot
turning up on my doorstep, that gave me a turn. Last thing I need in my life right now is the bloody
Xander stood up as straight as he could and
scowled. "Why's that?" he
asked. "You getting up to your old
Spike sneered. "Chip, idiot. If I
could get up to hijinks, I'd have yanked your lungs out through your navel when
you bashed into me just now."
"Yeah, that's the Spike I know and
ignore." He fished in his pocket
for his keys, turned, and started walking back the way he'd come.
He wasn't going to get away from Spike on
foot; he'd have to drive after all. He
wasn't that drunk. And he came from a
long line of proudly drunk drivers. For
years, it wasn't a Sunday afternoon in the Harris household unless he and Mom
were trapped in the Nova, careening helplessly between lanes while Dad tuned the
radio with one hand and nursed a bottle with the other. Until he was twelve, Xander thought all dads
steered with their knees.
"Wrong way." Spike was walking with him again, of
course. Xander raised the keys without looking up.
you're going to drive home? Oh,
this I have to see."
don't you have an ambulance to chase or something?"
"In a few
minutes, I expect."
They made it to the corner and turned. The Nova was just a few spaces up, he'd left
it between a new Volkswagen bug and a decrepit pickup truck. Both of those were gone now, and the Nova
was alone on the curb. Alone except for
the little white car with flashing lights pulled up beside it, and the woman in
the tan uniform standing next to the driver's door, writing something out.
"Oh shit, that's—" He broke off and ran the last few paces to
the car. "Hey, excuse me, could
The woman stopped writing and looked at him
without raising her head. She was
black, slightly built, with bleached braids under her uniform cap. She looked at him with deep skepticism.
car," he said, waving the keys.
She raised her
head slowly and continued to look at him without speaking.
"I'll move it," he said quickly,
taking in the two tickets already tucked under the windshield wiper. "I didn't even see that—I didn't know I
couldn't park here, sorry, I'll move it now."
She tipped her head even farther back and
looked at him through narrowed eyes, tapping her pen against the pad she
"Yeah, okay, I'll take that one too,"
he said, reaching out for the ticket she'd written. "And I'm sorry, and okay, that's actually a full pound of
flesh, right there." He
half-turned to put the key into the driver's side door lock.
she said. He paused, took the key out
of the lock, and turned back to face her.
love L.A.," she said.
town," he said.
"Because not only are you going to pay
several hundred dollars' worth of parking tickets tonight, but you're about to
get into that vehicle while under the influence, which means I'm going to call
LAPD, and they're going to pull you over in about thirty yards, and you'll get
to pay a whole other set of fines tonight, sir. Plus a night in jail free."
He stared at
her for a moment.
"Well, I wouldn't exactly call it
free," he said numbly. She smiled
slightly and pursed her lips.
"Tell you what," she said. "I'm feeling tender. You've got two choices. You let the car stay where it is, I won't
ticket it any more tonight. I'll call
the tow truck right now, tell you which company, you pick your car up tomorrow
and pay the fines. 'Cause I could keep
ticketing you till five, then tow you.
Save you a couple hundred bucks right there."
he said. "And my second choice
"You got someone can come get you,
drive you home?" she asked.
"Someone who wasn't drinking with you tonight?"
His brain was just too slow, too
drunk. It was only an instant before he
found the words to say, "Tow me," but it was too late.
reached around and jerked the keys from his hand.
"Hey!" He whirled around, but Spike had stepped back and was holding the
keys behind his back. He was looking at
the woman with his chin down and his brows drawn together, probably trying to
look stern and respectable. He looked
gestured at Xander without taking her eyes off Spike.
your friend?" she asked.
his eyes and leaned on the side of the car.
"We go way
back," Spike said, smiling.
The woman stared at Spike a moment longer,
then looked quickly at Xander.
"He's sober?" she asked.
Xander said, staring at the ground.
"Sorry for the inconvenience,
officer," Spike said, his accent suddenly clean and posh. "I'll see he gets home all right."
The woman hesitated a moment longer, then
tore the ticket from her pad and leaned forward to tuck it under the
wiper. "Okay," she said,
flipping the pad shut with a slap.
"You boys have a nice night."
will," Spike said, moving to the driver's side door.
Wait a minute, Xander's brain protested.
How had this happened? Half an
hour ago, he'd been sitting in The Summer Place, drinking his final whiskey,
watching the post-game and thinking he had to go to the head. He'd been thinking about his dad, about the
Canadian Club bottle behind the bar, about the guy sitting behind him with the
pink bruises of alcoholism on his face.
And somehow...it had added up to this. Standing here, with the handle of his car
door pressing into his butt, while Spike lifted his car keys and sweet-talked
an L.A. meter maid. Spike.
He needed to find the auxiliary engines,
because the main thrusters were still shorted out.
over," Spike said.
The woman was getting back into her car,
fussing with something inside, talking on a radio, checking her mirrors. Spike pushed him and he stumbled slightly,
away from the car. The woman put her
signal on and started to pull out.
brain called out. Tow me. Give me a free night in jail. Sign me up.
Come on, this is ridiculous.
In all of L.A.,
Spike opened the driver's side door and
slid in. The car started, and Xander
felt a little thrill of shock at the familiar sound of the engine, the slight
slip in the belts; he never heard that sound unless he was in the driver's
seat. He scowled through the windshield
at Spike, and Spike smiled back. After
a moment he rolled down the window and put his head through.
Xander turned to look at the woman's
retreating tail lights. She'd already
merged into the traffic and while he watched, she went from going to gone. Come back, he thought. His eyes felt heavy and swollen, his mouth
was dry. Tow me.
Spike bipped the horn and he jumped. For a moment he tipped his head back and
looked up—looking for the stars, or the moon, or something to guide him. There was only the weird pink haze of the
night sky, a million lights reflected through the smog.
bastard," he said, and he was talking to Spike, himself, everyone. The world.
He turned and
started to walk slowly around to the passenger side of the car.
Continued in Chapter 2