Xander woke again, several hours later, with a head that felt like thunder. He rubbed his hands across his face, trying to recall why he felt so rough. He hadn't been drinking so that wasn't it. He glanced at his watch: 5.30pm. He blinked hard as he shook his mind, remembering where he was and why.
The events from earlier that afternoon flooded back to him, and he let out a loud groan.
Spike had been cat-napping for the past hour or so. He'd rolled over to find Xander still sleeping, but sleeping peacefully, so he'd deliberately left him and stayed stretched out on the bed. It was too early to do much else anyway.
"Spike... sorry...what I said earlier..."
Spike sat up on the bed and swung his legs around so he was facing Xander. He looked rested but anxious. Like he was regretting sharing.
"Don't!" he said firmly. "Don't you even start to apologise for what you told me. What happened to you... it was wrong."
As Xander dropped his head back down onto his pillow with a moan, Spike began to feel woefully not cut out for this kind of conversation.
"Let's not talk about it, eh? If that's what works best for you?"
The question was left open, unanswered by Xander whose breathing had sped up quite significantly. He began to feel panicky and out of control, and he quickly recognised the symptoms for what they were: a looming panic attack.
He leapt up from the bed, turning away from Spike so he couldn't see.
"I'm going for a shower." he said quickly, pushing open the bathroom door and sliding the lock purposely closed behind him. He leant back against the door, letting his head bang on the hard wood as he exhaled hard.
God, what was he thinking? Sharing something so private, so personal, with Spike.
Spike of all people. He barely knew this Spike. He'd spent mere hours with him since he had returned to LA and now they were sharing? Xander thought back to their conversation. Spike had seemed genuinely concerned. He'd certainly been angry afterwards. And the guilt. Spike had felt guilty. Xander frowned as he processed all that, and he realised that his panic attack had passed.
He flicked on the shower, climbing in when the water began to steam and enjoying the sting as it burned away all the dirt and grime from memories of times gone by.
Xander jumped as he stepped back into the bedroom, towel around his waist. He had been so engrossed in his shower that he had pretty much forgotten that he wasn't alone. Good thing he had wrapped the towel tightly.
"Umm, yeah. Thanks." he stuttered, crouching to retrieve clean underwear from the duffel and slipping it on under the towel. He sat on the bed as he pulled on his trousers and stood again, removing the towel from his waist and scrubbing it roughly across his damp hair.
Spike tried not to look. He really did.
But the boy just looked so...
"I'll just finish getting dressed and we can head out and start scouting about."
Xander's voice shook Spike from where his mind was going, and the vampire found himself half-relieved and half-annoyed.
"Sure." Spike's reply was short and terse, and Xander gave him a sideways glance as he returned from hanging the damp towel over the bathroom rail.
"I'm starving too." Xander wriggled himself into a clean tee and layered a shirt over it. Spike shifted his attention from the boy and took a moment to assess his own appearance. He ran a hand through his flattened hair, raising the blonde lengths into a more acceptable shape.
"Yeah. 'm ready." Spike said, pushing his shoulders back with a glance into the mirror where, in the obvious absence of his own reflection, he sneakily observed Xander's.
Xander grabbed his wallet from the side table and headed for the door, Spike behind him. They took the indoor corridor again, emerging at reception just as a tall couple, dressed as Dracula-type vampires, headed back out of the door.
"Convention." the clerk said, indicating towards the exiting couple. "There's all sorts here this weekend."
"Right." Xander hid a smirk at the stereotypical outfits. "Well... yeah... so where do you recommend for dinner then? Somewhere maybe where the locals eat?"
The clerk flicked his eyes across to Spike and back to Xander.
"There's Mojo's. It's a bit off the main road, but it's decent food and decent music, if you're into that sort of thing. Locals hang out there most evenings. It'll probably be busier than usual this weekend with folk avoiding the convention lot."
He pushed a small flyer for the bar across to Xander and turned it over, showing a crudely printed map on the reverse.
"Mojo's it is then." Spike grabbed the flyer, shoving it into his duster pocket as he turned and swept out of the exit door.
"Right. Mojo's it is then!" Xander repeated, eyes rolling as he nodded his thanks to the clerk and followed the vampire - the real vampire - out of the door.
"Wait up, Spike." he shouted, breaking into a half-jog to catch up with the blonde who was already halfway across the car park. "Jees, in a hurry much?"
Spike slowed fractionally to allow Xander to get level with him.
"Sorry, Xan. Wanted to get another look at those two before they vanished." He nodded to the two in fancy dress who had just stopped on the sidewalk to examine a small town map. Xander scanned the area, noticing several other groups of people milling about.
"We're supposed to find a real vampire in this lot." Spike mumbled, reaching into his duster and pulling out the flyer again. "This way." He indicated down a small side street. Xander followed as they headed out of the more crowded area and into the quieter streets off the main road.
"Melandra will probably be doing one of two things this weekend." Spike continued, pulling a smoke from the other pocket of his duster and lighting it up. "She could be hanging with the locals. They've gotta know who she is, even if they don't know what she is. A town this small is no place to stay hidden."
Spike glanced at Xander who had stuffed his hands into his pockets and was listening intently.
Spike blew out a long stream of smoke. The second option wasn't something he'd even considered until they'd arrived in Bordensville.
"Or she could be hiding in plain sight with the convention lot."
"Great." Xander groaned. The convention certainly wasn't going to make their job any easier, if that was the case. Melandra could be disguised as anyone or anything.
It suddenly dawned on him that, if they ended up having to join the convention lot in an attempt to find her, they themselves could end up being identified by Melandra before they recognised her from the sketches they'd seen.
"Err, Spike." Xander stopped walking, reaching out and grabbing Spike's arm to halt the vampire in his tracks too. Spike tutted and turned around.
"Will Melandra know who you are? I mean, she's been around a long time, and she obviously knows Angelus and Dru. Will she recognise you?"
"Dunno, mate." Spike shrugged. He'd been around. People - well, vampires - tended to know of him by reputation but less so by sight. "She might know of me, I s'pose. But I dunno if she'll know what I look like or anything."
Why hadn't they considered this before? They'd been so preoccupied with keeping Angel safe that they hadn't even given a second thought to whether Melandra would know Spike.
"Maybe...umm.. maybe we should call you something else then? Just in case... you know..." Xander stumbled over his words, unsure whether to suggest calling Spike "Will" or something else but deciding the let the vampire himself make that call.
"Be fine, Xan." Spike dropped his cigarette, stubbing it out with his boot before turning and starting to walk again. It'd been a very long time since anybody had called him anything except Spike... or those infernally annoying nicknames that occasionally got thrown out by the likes of Harmony... or Xander himself. "We'll cross that bridge if and when."
They exited the side street onto another main road which ran almost parallel to the first but was rather more dusty and unused. Mojo's was lit with a single neon sign, and as they approached it, they could see quite a gathering inside.
"OK then." Xander said, taking a deep breath and standing up straight.
"Let's do this."