Test Drive




Spike could hear Xander outside, fumbling with his keys and talking on his cell phone. He hurried to the door - their place was in a pretty demony part of town and Xander was, after all, a nummy treat. There could conceivably be something left in the area that didn't know Spike's flatmate was off the menu. As the door opened, Xander shoved his keys into his pocket and reached up for the phone that was awkwardly pressed between ear and shoulder.

"Yeah, Steve - I'm really sorry. Something came up. I can't get out there tonight. Can I take you to lunch tomorrow?" He paused, listening, then faked a laugh. "Yeah, a late lunch, say 2:00? Meet you at the bar?" He paused again. "I'll bring a demo CD and a set list for you. Thanks, man."

He pocketed the phone and stepped into the apartment. As Spike closed the door behind him, he noticed that Xander's left arm was not inside the sleeve of his jacket. The arm was, in fact, in a sling. Inside the sling, his arm was encased from palm to just below the elbow in fresh, white plaster.

"What the hell happened, Xan?" he asked, easing the jacket off and hanging it on the coat rack by the door.

Xander moved to the sofa and sat down, bending wearily to struggle with the laces of his boots one-handed. Spike knelt, brushing his hand away to unlace the boots himself. Xander sat back, running his free hand through his hair.

"Me and another guy were carrying some beams and I tripped and broke my wrist. I've been in the hospital all afternoon. It's not bad - greenstick - they didn't even have to mess with it much." He sounded exhausted. But then, he always sounded exhausted. "Damn good thing there's no gig tonight, I'm whipped."

Spike set the work boots beside the couch and got to his feet. He walked back to Xander's jacket and dug in the pocket, coming up with a bottle of painkillers. He read the dosage instructions as he walked to the kitchen. "You had one of these yet?" he called.

"No," Xander said quietly. "Had to drive and they'll make me wonky."

Spike returned with a glass of water and a pill, handing them to Xander before perching on the coffee table in front of him. He waited until the pill was swallowed and the water drunk before taking the empty glass and turning it around and around between his hands.

"Why'd you trip?" he asked.

"Because I'm a klutz," Xander said, rubbing his hand over his face. "You know that."

"Are not," Spike said. "OK, you kind of are, but that's not why. You were asleep on your feet again, weren't you? What time did we get in last night? 3:00? And you were on the site at 6:00. It's a miracle you didn't saw your arm off."

Xander didn't answer, just looked down and picked at the edges of the cast.

After a long pause, Spike set the glass on the table and stood. "Lemme run you a bath and find you some plastic to cover that thing - you're filthy."

Xander nodded tiredly and followed him into the bathroom, easing the strap of the sling off his shoulder and unbuttoning his shirt. Spike started the water and went to the kitchen, returning with a bread bag and duct tape. He covered and secured the cast, then left Xander alone with instructions to call if he needed help.

He knew Xander wouldn't call. He knew this because Xander had methods for dealing with any and all work-related injuries. Because they were happening more frequently. In the prior three months there had been a badly wrenched shoulder, a sprained ankle, and a moderately serious cut, one requiring stitches. Add to that the increase in bruises and cuts and scrapes, and Spike knew that something had to give. He walked to the bathroom and sat down, back against the door.

"Xander?"

He could hear a little splashing, the soft sounds of a washcloth on skin. "Yeah?"

"How long are you out of work?" Spike knew that the broken wrist, unlike the other injuries, would sideline Xander, at least for a while.

"Four to six weeks, Worker's Comp," Xander answered.

Spike stayed quiet and thought. He did some math in his head. Xander was spending at least nine hours a day at work. He usually left the site in the late afternoon and met with one or two club owners, trying to get gigs for Spike. He was good at it - he could talk the talk, and he'd learned a subtle combination of ego stroking and aloofness that worked in the music industry. He'd helped Spike choose his set list and found a place to record and duplicate a demo CD. He learned how to use the annoying graphics package on their computer and made cover art and flyers.

Most nights, Spike had gigs to play - he was building a local following and had a couple of steady engagements. Xander always went with him, and he always stayed to the bitter end, even hanging around for the drinks and bullshitting after the bars closed, cementing his relationship with the club owners over beers and shots. They'd drag themselves home, and Xander would be up at dawn for work. No wonder he was falling apart.

Spike listened, recognizing the sounds of Xander washing and rinsing his hair and levering himself out of the water. He could hear the rasp of the towel as he dried off.

"Why do you still have that job?" Spike asked.

"Um, mostly the paycheck, Spike." Xander's voice was tired, so tired, and Spike could hear the slight slur from the painkillers.

"You could make more money being my manager full-time, you know," Spike said, not knowing if it were true or not, but unable to not make the offer. As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he felt the unfamiliar urge to babble. "I mean, you already do the job, and you're good at it, and you can't work for a few weeks. You could...try it out; see if you...you know...want to."

The bathroom door opened, and Xander stood there, hair dripping onto his shoulders, towel wrapped around his hips. "You'd want me to be your manager? For real?" He looked...stunned and excited and unsure.

"Well, yeah," Spike said. "Of course - you're already my manager, I just don't pay you."

"How much do managers get paid?" Xander asked. "Ten percent?"

"No way," Spike said. "We do this, it's fifty-fifty. Even if it's fifty percent of nothing."

Xander's smile lit up his whole face, and most of the room. He held out his uninjured hand. "Partners?"

Spike shook the outstretched hand. "Partners," he agreed.




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