Author's Note
This was a series of off-the-cuff pieces posted in my LiveJournal over the course of a few weeks, not intended to be read as a story. But they kind of took on a life of their own, so I thought I'd collect them on a page for the convenience of readers.





Subtleties


by
Anna S



Part One

I am bored. I would like Spike to go to NYC and kick around in a funk until one day--needing money and blood, too souled to kill, too grumpy to fight the good fight any more--he decides to sell one of his few marketable skills and contracts himself out to an escort service, where he plays the bored role of stony-eyed rough trade to an unending series of eager businessmen.

A few years later, Xander is sent to find him, because they need him once more for a mission, that's the story, and Spike just looks at him and blows cigarette smoke in his face. They palaver a bit in the hotel bar, and Xander says, "So men actually pay you to what--sit on their face?" Spike says, "I can punch you now, you know." Xander shakes his head. "I'm out of the closet and I still wouldn't fuck you on a bet, Spike."

Spike: "I knew it. Damn. Red owes me ten bucks."

Xander: "So come collect it."

Spike: "You don't need me."

Xander: "Right, because I would have flown three thousand miles across country on my own dime to find you if we didn't?"

Spike studies him for several moments, then says slowly, "You're lying. Angel told you I was here, didn't he? Bastard. I told him not to--" Not to what Spike abruptly doesn't say. "--well you can fuck off, hear?"

Xander, dropping all missionary pretext for his visit, says simply: "The girls want you home. I'm your--well, actually I'm your escort."

Spike talks about the idea of home. Sunnydale isn't home. "This is home now." Blah de blah.

Xander: "You know, I've heard that line in a hundred movies, and it never gets less lame."

Spike: "Sod off."

Xander: "Hey, I actually paid for this date."

Spike: "Right. So is it I sit on your face then, or you sit on mine?"

Xander: "It's more of a face-to-face thing where I talk until I wear you down and you--hey, where are you going?"

Spike says he has a room upstairs and they jaw a bit more before Xander trails after him. Upstairs they crack a bottle and each takes a drink, and Xander wanders out onto the balcony, which has an unexpectedly posh view of the city. Spike leans in the doorway and Xander turns and leans against the railing and studies him, and it's cool and night of course, and there's a high, light city breeze, with all the lights spread out below. Spike's wearing expensive black trousers and a white silk shirt unbuttoned in a way that should look sleazy but doesn't, and he's suddenly barefoot. Cuffs of the shirt rolled up. Stupid gold chain at his neck, a different one, and his hair is that kind of gold now, and Xander stares at it. He's a different Spike, with his different hair, but still the same. Souled and jaded, very old, this vampire. Lonely and difficult to figure out. Behind him Xander can see white carpet and shiny chrome furniture and big paintings on the walls, and there's also a bookshelf filled with books. Xander realizes Spike lives in this hotel room--more like an expensive apartment--the way a hermit crab inhabits some random shell it finds.

Spike's eyes are different, as if he's slowed down enough in the last few years to give things a lot of thought and ended up thinking too much. There's a lot more going on in there--Xander thinks this just for a moment, and then he looks again and it's like a trick of light, and Spike is bored and flat-eyed again, and possibly there's nothing all that meaningful or deep going on in his head, not really.

They end up talking for hours, about Sunnydale mostly, and every now and then Xander tries to wrap it up and convince him to return home and Spike digs in and refuses.

Eventually, Xander sighs and leaves, but he's back the next night, paid in full. "What are you, made of money?" Spike asks in annoyance. Xander says yep. They wander out, strolling through the city, seeing the sights, drop in at a few clubs where Spike knows everyone. Xander watches him in his element. It's effortless, but facile, empty. Spike has no friends, and a sense of the other man's utter aloneness seeps into Xander and depresses him, makes him take a few more drinks than he should.

When they get back to the hotel, Xander comes up again, comes inside and stands there, shifting his weight from foot to foot, rambling about this or that or maybe trying to make plans to bring Spike home. When he focuses, Spike is matter of factly undressing. Xander is more or less frozen, watching, asking what the hell, as Spike trails expensive clothes toward the minimalist bedroom.

When Xander gets to the bedroom, Spike is naked and expressionless and staring at him. Challenge or warning in his eyes: you're in or you're out.

Xander can't quite make himself move, but within a minute of terse conversation, Spike is standing by him, unbuttoning his shirt, undoing his belt, and Xander is wanting it--if only for the novelty, he tells himself. Vampire. Spike.

Xander: "I never had a thing for you. Just so we're clear."

Spike: "I know."

Xander: "You were annoying, and when you were at your most evil, I hated you."

Spike, looking at him with cool, unreadable face: "You hated me when I was at my most human too."

They're soon kissing, tongues untied, and Xander's got his arms around Spike, and Spike's hair is soft now, filling Xander's palm along the hard curve of the skull. And when they fuck, it's not bad. It's not earth-shattering true-love sex. At first it's the kind of sex you get when you're paying good money for it, and Spike is closed-off, clearly unwilling to show any vulnerability even when Xander blows him and kisses him. But after a while he's getting into it, there's more friction and breathing and a frantic, hungrier need building, and when Xander fucks him, Spike works his hips and takes it so prettily that Xander nearly loses it, and he gets why men shell out serious money for this, and he thinks he could get used to it.

But it's just one of those high-pitched orgasm thoughts. Afterwards, everything is tense and unfun again, and the idea of sex and money and Spike is unsettling and kind of sad.

"Come home," Xander says.

"Hellmouth doesn't exactly support the lifestyle to which I've grown accustomed, mate."

Xander: "You can stay with me."

Spike: "That right?"

Xander: "Not like that."

Spike: "No? Fuck off then. Why should I drag my ass all the way back to Sunnyhell--so I can fight big nasties for you? Pick your pockets for blood money, nick fags from the Super-Mart? Fuck you."

They fight with rough, angry words, Spike getting ever more cutting, until Xander rather wants to punch him, but he balls up his fist and grips his temper tightly instead.

He leaves. And comes back the next night. Spike is sick of seeing him, or is pretending to be. He flings a few mean, angry jibes at Xander, who after taking it for a bit, hands Spike a check. "What's this?" Spike asks. Xander says it's an advance for the first month of his services. "I need you to house sit," he says blandly, with a facade of suavity and calm. "During the day. When I'm not there."

Spike tears it up into little pieces, staring at him coldly all the while, flings them at Xander's feet in fluttering bits, then goes upstairs. A few minutes later, Xander is knocking.

Palaver follows where Spike informs Xander that he's called his manager at the agency and said he doesn't want any repeat visits. Xander says he's paid up for the night. They sit in silence for a while, Spike fuming, Xander trying to figure out what will convince Spike to come back. He asks the question outright: "What can I do--there must be something that'll convince you to come back."

Derision. "Why, because I'm so soft on you lot that I can't live another day without seeing your shining, happy faces?"

Xander: "Look, I know you could stay here. We both know that. You're doing good for yourself." A pause as they both contemplate this, trying to decide if it's the truth or a lie. "But Dawn misses you, and there's monsters to kill, and I'd like to come home once in a while to someone else's mess, not just my own."

Spike: "So get a cat."

Xander: "Got one. He gets bored too."

Spike, patience thin over impatience: "So get a bloke. You're not altogether monstrously unshaggable. Don't need me pissing away the hours on retainer, watching Oprah and drinking up your beer."

Xander: "Yeah, but...you're dependable. On the beer-drinking thing. And...other things." Spike gives him a dry look, but Xander has a sense that he's dragged Spike to the brink, that Spike might be teetering somewhere inside, contemplating the jump, and there are words he should say at this point, persuasive words, nice words, but--

Xander: "Have you really developed a sense of pride? Because I have to say, it's pretty poorly timed." Another pause. "I'll pay more."

Spike blinks, and they stare at each other for several moments, and then: "How much more?" The merest hint of a smile.

And Xander dips his head just a little with a sense of relief, hair falling into his dark eyes, and he can smile without hiding it. "Everything you're worth."





Part Two

When Xander gets Spike home, there's that whole suspicious-cat vibe going on. Spike picking his way around Xander's house, expression wary, ears pricked, eyes busy, all the while sniffing things out Xander's not sure he wants sniffed out. Dustiness of his house. Total absence of lover spoor. Xander's had several lovers--boyfriends? whatevers--since coming out of the closet, but he's been in a dry stretch for a while. He's got an expensive house. Beachfront property, with his own renovations, totally unlike the house of his parents or any of his relatives, who are never invited to stay. He has lots of excuses, always ready.

It's not a tidy house except right after his weekly housecleaning service comes in. He likes to give them something to do, and he's a guy, after all. He tracks in sand from the beach on his wet feet--from beach to deck, from deck to tiles, the ceramic tiles of his kitchen. Up the beach, up the zig-zagging, boarded steps, through the tall dune grasses and sagebrush and verbena, and all sorts of other things Willow knows the names of and sometimes comes to pick, across his weathered deck, through the sliding door. It's messy mother nature and it seems right to let the outside drift in. It laps at his threshold, some of it getting inside, some of it staying out on the deck. Wood and seashells. Salty sneakers with knotted laces. A kayak paddle he found floating in the waves one morning, propped in the deck corner.

It's how they enter the house.

Spike inspects this without much apparent interest, gaze skating over the debris of the world and the accumulated junk of Xander's life. Stereo system, boat-sized leather couch, and all his other toys--the pinball machine, the pool table, and the work-out machine he bought off the TV one night, which looks like some kind of bizarre sexual fetish equipment, and kind of is.

Xander starts to remark about the house, "It's kind of..." And Spike is looking at him, waiting, and he just finishes, "...home." Not sure what he meant to say. Just fill-in-the-small-blank talk, for those empty moments while Spike prowls around and Xander wonders how dumb it was bringing him back here. Pretty stray cat in his living room, hands in his trouser pockets, and it's very unSpikelike of him to come to a halt and stand there like a motionless male model, bland, no snark. The duffel slung at his feet is ratty and the expensive clothes he brought are probably wrinkling at this very moment. Xander can't bring himself to care.

Xander: "You want a drink?"

Spike: "Nah." Then, changing his mind within seconds: "Yeah."

They're a pair of drinkers, no doubt about it, and it gives their hands something to do.

That's the first night, and the next day Xander goes to work early and leaves his house to the vampire. To his vampire. His pet vampire? His whatever. Later, he'll call Willow and let her know they were back, mission successful.

When he gets home, Spike is on the couch watching TV as promised, as predicted, but he's not sprawled out like Xander would expect. He's got one arm up along the couch back and his legs are spread a bit--he's a guy, he takes up space--but he's also got both feet on the floor and an intent frown, eyes fixed absently on whatever show he's watching, and he looks somehow like a guest. Beer in one hand, propped on his thigh. The black trousers again. The white shirt.

Their eyes meet above the TV and Xander is tired and weather was hot and he was outside on the site all day, so he's got a salty, sweaty, sun-heated human thing going on that vamps seem to die out of, and he just wants a shower and a beer, and a blow-job, Jesus, he really badly wants a blow-job, and Spike seems to read his mind, because when Xander goes to the kitchen, he gets up and wanders in after him, empty beer bottle discarded somewhere, says--when Xander turns from the fridge with his own beer--"Guess I'd better start earnin' my keep then," and folds to his knees, cocks his head, looks up at Xander in a way that is hard to describe. Sort of calm and studious and challenging and sultry and ambiguous and many other adjectives, all captured in the planes of his face, and Xander lets the bottle drop from his hand and roll, drop and roll, and he grabs Spike's head and pulls him close as Spike's hands rise to cup his ass, and he's so sexy and always so fucking ready to fuck--at least, Xander hopes this is proof and precedent--and he's mouthing Xander's cock through the material and he seems darkly radioactive, glowing with amusement and satisfaction and other things opaque to Xander's comprehension. Vampire on the kitchen floor.

He really does suck Xander off. It's kind of a surprise. Here's his--what? houseboy? rentboy? sex tool? whatever, actually doing the job he's paid for, and Xander should really hate himself and oh god, Willow's going to kill him when she finds out, but at least he can say he got Spike back here to Sunnydale. Mission accomplished.

He's a man. Blow-jobs top his list of fun. He rides into it harder than he should, completely selfish, too hard to be nice, but Spike doesn't seem to mind, just plays tricks on Xander with his amazing mouth, busy and serious and slutty-eyed, eyes half-shut, lowered, servile almost, though Xander finds it hard to think of Spike like that, except in a good, willing sort of way. The way of sex. Busy tongue, down there. Hollowed, flexing cheeks. The way his head moves under Xander's hands.

Xander comes harder than he's come in a while, even with New York fresh behind them. A plane ride, a night's sleep, a day's work and some distance--thinking about things, not thinking--have honed him to a horny, nasty edge, made him willing to take advantage of Spike's professional services. He is a grown up now, and rich, the kind of rich bastard who pays for this sort of thing.

It's not bad. Sleazy, but...not bad.

After that, they shower. More sex. And then the cessation of sex, running out of sex like running out of conversation, so that they have to turn to conversation instead. Except they don't seem to have any. That's worrisome to Xander, as they lie in his bed.

They have small talk and big talk but no in-between talk. But maybe that's the kind of thing you grow into, Xander thinks.

It's night, and later they sit at his dining room table and Xander eats, and they discuss practicalities, blood and cars and credit cards. It's kind of a turn on, and Spike seems half-smiling all the time, and very watchful, eyes pinned on Xander, tracking him, making him heat from the balls up.

After dinner, after some TV, Spike strolls to Xander's room and is there waiting for him in bed, everything stripped off, though they haven't talked about this, though Xander has given him the guest room and his own dresser. And for a moment, Xander can picture him there in the future, propped up against the headboard and pillows, reading a book in his intense way--everything he does performed at an extreme of boredom or intensity--and like everything else about this day, it's strange and disturbing and sort of comforting.





Part Three

Spike has been there for a few days, and Xander is getting used to it, in the small-details way if not in the big, existential, vampire-in-my-house way.

There's a reunion with Willow and Dawn, which is giddy and girlish and seems to bemuse Spike. More Spike body language: sitting on the couch, feet on the floor, palms resting flat on his thighs as if he's a patient stuck in a ticking waiting room, or as if like Uncle Rory he's about to say, Well now, in a hearty way, and then stand up. He never does. There's a flight instinct lurking there, though, Xander can see it. But the vampire allows the girls to flutter and fawn, and he listens to various bits of history they impart, listens with his head tilted, eyes down to convey attentiveness, the mannerism of an actor. He meets Willow's new girlfriend, Becca, and is brusque and polite, and obviously assessing her steadily with those cool eyes that have quelled demons, until she just about loses her voice.

And he takes a phone call from Buffy, which from what Xander can tell after handing the phone over is full of stops and starts on her end, warnings and twisted, cryptic encouragement, the push-pull that she saws everyone with. Her wary sympathy and her silent disapproval. Xander can guess at all this, having talked to her about Spike not long before.

Spike gets off the phone looking...strange. Half lost in memory, broody and soulful.

Xander has had to remodel that word for Spike: soulful. In the past, it has always meant the voice of Barry White and the pouty lip of Elvis. Big cry-baby Johnny Depp eyes. Pastel Jesus paintings.

For Spike, soulful means a faint shadow across his expression, as if everything in him is drawing into focus, knots tightening and darkening in the complicated points of his face, where cheekbones meet eye sockets, where mouth meets cheek, where jaw meets ear. More often sadness than grimness, Xander thinks. It's really only a flicker, now and then. It makes Spike look his age. Look adult. Which he's already been for a hundred odd years, not jailbait by a long shot, so Xander confuses himself with what he thinks he sees.

After Spike gets off the phone with Buffy, Xander tries to think of things to say, and his thoughts flash by, something like: Buffy, college--how's she--so do you miss--did you two--and a while back I saw Angel--no, duh, he knows that--what to say--fuck it, I'm a guy.

So he just gives Spike a drink. His stock of beer has doubled.

In those first few days, they shop at the supermarket, they walk on the beach at night and say very little, they drive around and reminisce and look at cemeteries, they kill one vamp. Working the kinks out, is how Spike describes it.

The rest of Spike's clothes arrive. The empty boxes are already folded and stacked near the back door by the time Xander gets home one day, but he knows what was in them more or less, having glanced through Spike's New York closet. Spike is now wearing a black sweater, and Xander makes a study of it, deciding that expensive means shapeless and too big, sleeves that mostly cover the hands. Except it's not too big, really, because the way it fits makes Xander want to unpeel him.

Spike has decided that this sweater is best worn over faded jeans, which is definitely a look.

He's lost the gold chain. Xander isn't sure why and doesn't ask. Maybe it was someone else's gift, with special meaning. Like: whore. Except of course he still kind of is.

Xander, in bed: "It gets me hot, paying you. Is that wrong?"

Spike: "Yeah, you moral cretin. 'Course it's wrong. Illegal, too."

Xander, unmoving, one arm above his head: "Thanks. Thanks for enabling my panic. We now enter full crisis mode."

Spike, after making one of those dry sounds that are never quite laughs: "Too early for a mid-life crisis, 'less you plan to die young."

Xander: "In Sunnydale? Nahhhh."

Later, Xander tries for coherency:

Xander: "It's like this whole thing where...I can finally have everything I've ever wanted, if I just pay for it. Not that you're everything I've ever wanted. I'm just saying."

Spike: "Yeah. I get it." But then: "Money isn't everything, you know." Spike--always trite, always right.

Xander: "I don't get vamps and money."

Spike: "Not much to tell. Some steal, some stash it away. Knew one lucky sod who bought Microsoft early."

Xander, feeling the envy: "Sweet."

Later:

Xander: "I don't want it to be weird, though." Spike stares at him. Xander stares back. "Okay, that was dumb."

Spike: "What you mean to say is, don't tell the others."

Xander: "Well, yeah."

Spike: "They'll figure it out. Red's not stupid."

And later still:

Xander: "You like it, right?" He's gasping and fucking Spike hard into the mattress, twisting his hips and trying not to come. Not yet. Not yet. Not yet.

Spike is stretched out under him on his back, taut as a bow, fisting his own dick: "Oh fuck, yeah." Low, husky, in complete agreement.

Xander, hips snapping erratically: "I'm going to give you...a bonus." He gasps the words. "Nice car. Nice...nice car."

Spike, in rhythm with his hand: "Porsche. Boxster. Black."

Xander, startled enough to jerk to a stop: "What! No! Jesus!" But then Spike tightens his body in a way that severs all connectivity between Xander's brain and dick. "Oh man," he groans, on the verge of promising away fifty grand for a fuck.

Afterwards they are like puzzle pieces broken and rearranged and he tastes the back of Spike's neck and slides his hand between his legs, up behind his balls, the seam of his body still slicked up from the thrusts of Xander's dick when he was getting started a while ago. Xander rubs his thumb there, easy and then hard, and Spike grunts rather breathily, maybe grumpily, except there's no way a guy can be grumpy about that, so it's all a put on and Xander kind of likes that, in an indulgent way.

Xander: "So...you're okay with it then."

Spike, without much heat: "Christ, you're worse than a woman. Said I am, haven't I?" Sighing, he reaches around for Xander's hand and guides it forward to his dick, which is hard. Vampires. Ever ready. "I like your money. Like to fuck. You getting that?"

Xander: "Uh huh." But he's doubtful, and Spike turns and glares at him. And he's doubtful while Spike looks into his eyes and sees him, sees Xander Harris, all grown up and fucked up, more fucked up than he was this time last week, because all it took was this vampire coming back to lick away the years and lies of his boring life and reveal the dark chewy center, a freakish taste for perversion that he's held hidden since Anya--or else why would they be here now? "It's creepy," he says, as Spike stares at him. "I feel like one of those guys who makes a big show of taking out his wallet to pay for dinner." So very much like his dad.

Spike, darkness around the edges of his eyes, says to him slowly and clearly: "I like getting paid. No misunderstandings. No coy games. Someone beats you, you know why you're getting beaten. It's right there, no uncertain terms. Just money and fucking."

It hurts like paper tearing. Bills of big denominations, maybe. Xander's ears burn and he swallows and nods, feeling as if the past is too much with them, and that he and Spike are magnetized, closing in toward disaster together by way of bad, bad awkwardness. But then Spike relents, smiles. One of those different smiles, as if he's someone else now, and it's an even more dizzying turn, a kind of affectionate slap at Xander. Spike smiling as if these are things that don't matter, as if he's past them. This isn't the eternal whirlwind of fury and chaos Xander used to know, and Xander's nerves tingle, hypervision kicks in, because it really is a whorish and sad kind of thing, how readily Spike turns himself off. Not desire, but emotion.

He sees Spike, and Spike is absent.

And it makes it easier. Much, much easier. Because there's a distance between them, wider than a continent--that's very clear now to Xander. And as long as he can hold that thought, it's less scary to reach up and stroke Spike's hair, and to kiss his lips, and to mouth down his body and suck him off, even knowing that there's money behind all of it.

Fearlessness comes and goes in waves. He wants to take care of Spike, he wants to end this. Wants Spike here, wants to send him packing. It's just what he needs, it's the biggest mistake he's ever made.

He's not a very good vampire any more, the vampire in Xander's bed. He's almost too human. It's a deep sticky confusion, it's a submerged bubble waiting to surface and pop. It's unnerving.

There are waves crashing on the beach, audible through the open balcony doors over Spike's groans. It's night and Xander has invited a vampire in. The first fuck-up of the rest of his life. An expensive one, an adult one. Maybe a good one.

Too soon to tell




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