Written for lynnevitational
A birthday present for cordelianne who has inspired me yet again to actually get on and finish something
Many thanks to savoytruffle for kindly looking this over on no notice whatsoever. All mistakes are of course my own (and please feel free to point them out.)
This is set in Angel season 5, around the episodes "Unleashed" and "Hell Bound", in an AU where Xander joined the W&H crew after Sunnydale's collapse. 3737 words, rated R. A couple of snippets of dialogue are taken directly from canon; I have altered a couple of minor canonical details to fit my purpose.
The title is of course from the Police's "Every Breath You Take".
Standard disclaimers apply.
Fulfils the "Let's go again!" prompt in my 10_cliche_fics table.
Every Claim You Stake
Xander can’t shake the feeling that someone is watching him.
He doubts this makes him paranoid. Someone almost certainly is. He can’t locate any hidden cameras in his new office, but he’d expect Wolfram and Hart to have the best in undetectable surveillance equipment. Angel has a habit of appearing noiselessly when Xander least expects him, Harmony keeps staring at him when she thinks he isn’t looking, and he still shivers at the remembered sensation of being screened by the company psychics during his arrival interview. To top it off, he wouldn’t put it past Willow to be surreptitiously monitoring him – none of the other Sunnydale survivors were happy about his decision to join the ongoing fight against evil in LA.
He doesn’t blame them. He isn’t at all sure himself why he’s decided to head back into the fight – and with Angel, of all people – but in his bleaker moments, he can’t imagine what else he’d do. No eye. No job, and few prospects – employer, company, buildings, references, all gone, vanished into the crater that houses his former life.
Once a sidekick, always a sidekick. But Buffy isn’t fighting anymore. She’s apparently too busy teaching Dawn the mysteries of dancing and shopping in Italy, while Giles and Willow had headed for England and seem content with academic research. No hands-on stuff. No place for him.
Do they seriously think that Sunnydale was the only source of evil in the world?
So here he is, sitting in a brightly lit room that still smells of disinfectant – Harmony had explained in graphic detail how many times the carpet had needed shampooing and how hard it had been to get the ichor out of the curtains – staring at his newly painted walls and trying to shake the feeling that someone’s watching him from the corner.
He checks his email, straightens the pens and legal pad sitting on the desk, opens and closes all the drawers, loads the stapler, checks his email again, stares at the wall some more, fidgets with his shirt cuff buttons, spins around in his chair several times, checks his email again, looks at the clock, curses half-heartedly, and goes to get a cup of coffee.
When he comes back, the room seems cold. He pokes at the thermostat. Behind him, his chair begins spinning again, very slowly.
Pizza for supper, sitting hot and tempting on the coffee table. Xander stretches out on the cushy leather sofa, cracks a Coke, admires the view from his window and tries to feel at home. The sophisticated opulence of the executive apartment doesn’t quite fit him, and how weird is it that he lives at his place of work? But it’s self-contained, it’s easy, and it’s not costing him anything for now. After his first paycheck, he’ll think about getting a place. A car. Some second-hand furniture. Things normal people have.
Things he used to have.
The bed is huge and cold. He rolls around a bit, taking pleasure in the slide of the sheets against his bare skin. He may disdain Angel’s silk shirts and pricy haircuts, but he’s not above enjoying the luxury of high-count Egyptian cotton.
Pleasantly tired, mildly hedonistic – he’s in the mood for an orgasm before sleep. He wraps his hand in the sheet and strokes his burgeoning erection, cool fabric sliding beautifully over heated but equally smooth skin. Various fantasy scenarios play through his mind; he settles on an unexpected locker room blow job. His masturbatory fantasies have always been gender-indiscriminate, but since Sunnydale’s collapse, he’s tended to avoid the female-oriented ones. The women turn into Anya and look at him with reproachful eyes.
His cock starts to leak and he pushes the sheet away; this is something he’d rather not share with Angel’s housekeeping staff. He brings himself off with practiced ease, ejaculating into a wad of Kleenex.
The air feels cold, now he’s no longer concentrating on his overheated dick. The leather smell of the sofa washes over him. There must be a draft. He wanders over to check the windows.
They’re all shut. He shoves the tissues deep into the wastebasket, and goes to sleep.
Three days later, he’s busy seeing how tightly he can roll up the inside of his tie, as an alternative to chewing his own arm off in boredom, while Angel’s inner circle give weekly updates on their projects. Wesley explains arrangements for the upcoming demon trade negotiations, a complex ceremony made no more comprehensible by the extensive use of a whiteboard and multi-colored markers. Gunn provides details of his ongoing court cases, complete with far too many Jim vs. Bob references – the gist of it all seems to be that his clients are evil scum but he stands a good chance of winning. Fred is now earnestly outlining her latest attempt to alter the fabric of reality. Or something.
Xander tries, he really does – he likes Fred, she reminds him of the Willow-that-was – but he can’t follow more than one word in ten of what she says. He concentrates, therefore, on altering the fabric of his tie. Until one of the words she says percolates into his consciousness and he tips his chair over backwards.
Everyone is staring at him. It’s a familiar, sinking feeling. “I’m really out of the loop, aren’t I?”
“You didn’t know?” Angel’s got his bewildered look on.
“How could I know if no one tells me? And how come no one did tell me?” He pulls himself and his chair up, and glares around the table. “Spike’s alive? How? Who else knows? And, again, how come no one told me?”
“Well, he’s not exactly alive. Kinda… ghosty?” Fred gives him a weak smile. “I’m real sorry, Xander. I didn’t know you… didn’t know. I just… haven’t you seen him?”
“No, I haven’t seen him!” Xander rounds on Angel. “I would have mentioned something about how, oh, I just ran into a guy I last saw burn up and collapse under a massive earthquake!” His stomach twists; he sits down heavily. “So, someone up there had the option of bringing back someone who died closing the Hellmouth, and they chose Spike?”
“It was the amulet.” Angel’s tone is gentle, almost apologetic. Xander gives him a flat, unfriendly stare. Sympathy from Fred is one thing. He doesn’t want it from Angel.
“We don’t know exactly how,” Fred interjects, “but something in the amulet seems to have preserved his psychic matrix.” She turns back to the whiteboard and starts pointing out bits of diagrams that look like turtle intestines. “See, Knox and I speculated that the crystal in it stores information either through light – it’s an orthorhombic crystal – in which case the refraction index could be used to – ”
“Psychic matrix.” Xander interrupts her.
“…I think so. Anyway, it could be light, or a EM frequency outside the visible range.” She frowns, twiddling a marker. “I don’t get usual readings on the spectroscope, but he’s definitely electromagnetic. Just not ectoplasmic. It’s like… right now he’s just a set of instructions? A computer program? And we’re trying to figure out how to download that into a body.”
“What, a random dead body?” Fred looks briefly shocked, then intrigued. “No, I’ve been working on corporealizing his energy into tangible form, but…”
“Can you imagine Spike forced to inhabit a body other than his own?” Wesley says dryly. “He’d be devastated. No one else meets his standards.”
Xander raises his eyebrows at that. Wesley quirks one right back. Xander thinks about it for two seconds and gives Wes a conceding nod. Spike’s always had a very high opinion of his body – not undeservedly, Xander privately admits.
“Does ‘psychic matrix’ equal ‘soul’? Or do you have an evil un-undead ghost Spike haunting the place?”
“His soul’s there.”
“And that doesn’t mean too much to me coming from Mr. Velcro Soul.”
“He does seem to have retained his soul despite the events surrounding his death and return,” Wesley says, restraining a smile.
Xander returns to the original question. “How come I didn’t know? Does he just float round the place? You guys see him?”
“Far too often,” Angel mutters.
Fred frowns. “He was here right before the meeting, but then he faded again.”
“Do you think he’ll be back?”
Gunn shrugs. “Give him twenty minutes. He’ll be popping up next to you in the bathroom, making cracks about your…” He breaks off and glances around. “Am I the only one he does that to?”
“So you honestly haven’t seen him?” Wesley looks baffled. “Count yourself lucky. The rest of us can’t seem to get rid of him.”
Xander just shrugs. He’s getting a nasty suspicion that although he hasn’t seen Spike, Spike has seen him.
He sits back, takes a sip of coffee, and suddenly realizes just how much of him Spike has probably seen.
After he’s apologized and mopped up the coffee, Fred goes back to discussing energy transfer and the intersection between magic and particle physics. She gets permission to spend lots of money and risk the space-time continuum. The meeting wraps up. Angel gives him a funny look on the way out, but then, Angel hardly ever gives him normal looks.
Chinese food tonight – Fred knows all the good places. Feet up on the coffee table, Xander nurses a beer and stares at the wall.
Spike’s here. Even more dead than he was before, somehow, but he’s here. The cat came back. You’d think that voluntary magical incineration would be pretty final. Spike’s worse than a cat. He couldn’t stay away…
But he hasn’t seen him.
Has Spike been avoiding him? Xander feels a momentary surge of indignation before his brain points out that first, having a terminally annoying vampire leave you alone is not a bad thing, and second? Apparently, these days, not seeing Spike does not equal absence of Spike.
He shudders and downs half the bottle in one go.
Spike’s been watching him. He’s absolutely sure of that.
He’s fuzzier on the why.
Lurking in the office is one thing. Watch Harris screw up another job, very funny, great. He could see Spike getting off on that.
Haunting his bedroom, though? Watching Xander eat, fold clothes, jerk off?
He’d never have imagined Spike getting off on that.
Only now he is. It’s a disturbingly hot image.
Spike’s been watching him, and apparently, Xander likes being watched.
A few hours of TV and beer later, and it’s time for bed.
He’ll need to – relax – a bit before sleep will come, though.
He strips off a bit more slowly, stretches a bit more thoroughly than he has to. Walks around naked, checking the door lock and turning out the bathroom light. On his way back he grabs an old T-shirt and drops it by the bed.
It feels a bit cold in the room. But hey, he’s naked, it’s to be expected.
Tonight he kicks the covers down from the start. If anyone were there, they’d see exactly how he likes to work his cock and where he likes to be touched. They could watch the lazy rhythm of his pelvis as he fucks his fist, and learn the look he gets when a spit-slick finger teases his perineum before breaching him.
Not that anyone’s there, of course.
He draws it out, stops a few times just before the point of no return, holds still and breathes deeply. There’s the leather smell again. Must be the sofa.
When he’s ready, he reaches down for the T-shirt, and spreads it on his belly. He pumps hard and fast and his hips arch off the bed as he shoots. If anyone were there, they’d have a full-on view of his cock pulsing, painting white stripes on the dark shirt. Good thing there’s not a soul to be seen.
He lies there panting, limbs like jelly. When he can move again, he wipes his cock with the shirt, rolls it up and wanders over to stuff it in the laundry bag.
As he closes the closet door, there’s a flicker of movement in the corner of his eye. The instant he looks at it, it’s gone. He shivers, and pulls on pajamas. It really is cold.
Sleep comes quickly, and if he dreams he doesn’t remember in the morning.
The watched feeling is near-constant now.
It’d be easier if he had some actual work to distract him, instead of the make-work stuff people keep finding for him to do. He’s got an office. He’s got paperclips, and a Dictaphone, and a standing order with Harmony for lunch. But he still doesn’t really have a reason to be here.
Everyone’s nice, welcoming even, and reassures him he’s helping. He suspects, though, that Wesley would get the research done faster on his own, and he catches Fred cringing when he gets too close to delicate stuff in the lab. Gunn already had lackeys to cart his paperwork around, and… well, he’s not sure exactly what Angel does all day, but he clearly doesn’t need Xander’s help. There’s no patrolling, and every time there’s a demon in the lobby it turns out to be a client.
This whole fighting-evil-from-the-inside concept is too ambiguous for his liking. Give him a weapon and point him at the bad guys any day. Or, you know, point Buffy at the bad guys and he’ll fight valiantly in her wake. The point is, he doesn’t have a project and LA is depressing and he’s lonely and no use to anybody.
Angel’s crew are a team. They’ve been through stuff together.
Xander’s team has dissolved, and he misses them like mad. He doesn’t call them, even on the office budget. You can’t go home again.
“What,” he asks the stapler, “am I doing here?”
“Tell you what you’re not doin’,” says the corner behind his left shoulder, “you’re not doin’ your job.”
Xander’s been waiting for this moment, or one like it: a moment when he can manage to not drop the stapler or kick his chair into a spin. He can say casually, “Hey Spike. Wondered when you’d grace me with your presence.”
Then he can turn in his chair and see for himself that it really is Spike, hair, boots, and all.
“Got more interesting people to haunt, don’t I?”
“Yeah, I can understand how spying on Gunn in the urinals must keep you busy.”
Spike flips him off amiably and saunters forward through the garbage can.
“Whereas until now I’ve been rejoicing in my lack of ghost. So how would you know I’m not doing my job?”
“Don’t care what the job you think you ought to be doin’ is. Especially as you’re not even sure yourself.” Spike pokes Xander’s shoulder. Xander watches in mild amusement as the finger passes right into him. It tingles. “I need you to help me out here.”
“No,” says Xander, “you need Fred. Me and particle physics do not a happy couple make.”
Spike snorts. “Like I’d let you muck about with my existence?”
“Right. So, what illegal, immoral, or gratuitously embarrassing thing are you trying to talk me into?”
Spike dismisses this with a wave of a hand which, if solid, would have sent Xander’s desk lamp crashing to the floor.
“You’re not pissing Angel off nearly enough.”
“Thought I could count on you to be a constant irritation. Thorn in his side and all that.”
“Isn’t that your job?”
Spike looks morose. “’M trying. It’s difficult these days. Keep fading out in the middle of my best insults.”
“Fading out?” Xander frowns. “I thought you just appeared and vanished when you felt like it.”
“Started out like that,” Spike agrees, “but not so…”
Xander blinks as Spike flickers and disappears.
“Let’s have a picnic,” Angel says the next day.
Xander makes a few cracks about flammability, but his insults are definitely sub-par. Somehow, thinking of it as a job rather takes the fun out of it. Part of him is also distracted by wondering whether Spike’s watching; another part is worrying about what’s happening to Spike; yet another is doing its best to repress those parts and pretend nothing Spike-related matters to Xander. It’s no wonder he’s not in the zone.
The picnic is not a success by most people’s standards. Still, Xander discovers a new favorite in the mu shu chicken. And the subsequent werewolf hunt is the most fun he’s had at work yet. He’s actually useful.
He briefly considers “accidentally” tranking Angel too, but doesn’t fancy hauling both of them back to the car.
He brings Nina coffee after Angel’s delivered the bad news. She doesn’t exactly cheer up when he tells her some Oz stories, but after half an hour she starts eating her lowfat peach raspberry muffin.
Also, Angel chasing after her with his tongue hanging out – figuratively speaking; Nina’s the only one who slobbered on the carpet – looks likely to provide entertainment and mockage possibilities for some time to come. So, he’s feeling pretty good by the time he gets back.
Also sweaty. He heads for the walk-in shower, musing that although Wolfram and Hart were far from godly, they clearly appreciated the importance of cleanliness. You could swing a small cat in here. Assuming you hadn’t just dismembered the cat in an evil ritual. Right. No wonder they had good washing facilities. Evil can get pretty messy.
He’s soaping his face, eyes closed, when he gets it again, that feeling of eyes on him.
His internal radar’s not good enough to tell exactly what bit of him the eyes are on. But if they wanted to look at, say, his fingernails, they could swing by any time. He’s already half-hard by the time he’s rinsed the soap off his face and opens his eye.
Spike is standing in the corner. Visible. This is startling, but even more so is his expression: not mocking, not leering, not even overtly lustful, but… sad. Wistful.
And that should be a mood-killer but it’s not.
It does stop Xander’s words in his throat, but he meets Spike’s eyes and during the next five minutes he and Spike say a fair amount to each other without uttering a syllable.
Or rather, without uttering any recognizable consonants. Xander makes a fair number of unintelligible vowel sounds as his hands stroke and pull, twist and tease.
He doesn’t mean to break their conversation but he’s getting close, his knees are starting to shake and he leans back against the tiled wall. His eyelid flickers and falls shut and so it’s a shock when a chill, electrifying tingle passes through his hands and into his groin and damn near makes him come on the spot.
His eye snaps open and it's only a few inches from Spike's. Spike is standing right in front of him, Spike’s hands are…
Jesus, they’re passing through his hands, surrounding his dick, even – oh fuck, Spike’s fingers are wrapped around him and moving, but with every jerk of his dick the fingers slide through his skin and the feeling is unbelievable.
Part of him is appalled by seeing something in the same place as his own body, but the rest of him is feeling too fucking amazing to care. He solves the problem by simply closing his eye. The crazy tingling intensifies and icy shivers jolt up every nerve as he’s touched from the inside.
He pushes off the wall and takes a step forward. For an instant the sparking, chilling feeling invades his whole body.
And then both body and brain short out and explode.
When his systems come back online, the water is starting to run cold, and Spike is gone. Not just invisible, but gone.
Xander trusts Fred. Really, he does.
No, really. He has complete faith in her calculations. And in this... gizmo.
Okay, so there are definite parallels to Willow and he does have a plan worked out. With subsections. Including which direction to dive, should the …thing… explode, the location of the main power switch, a handy first aid kit, and the trank gun in case of accidental desouling.
Inadvertent materialization of the wrong disembodied soul isn’t in the plan.
He hangs back as Spike talks quietly to Fred. Her hand still goes unconsciously to her throat from time to time. The conversation is a muffled blur, but he knows what she’ll say. He paid enough attention in meetings to understand this was a one-shot deal.
They’ll be talking for a while, until she appeases her guilt somewhat. Xander leaves. He doesn’t want to see what Angel does with Pavaine. He’s had enough depressing events for one day.
He’s unlocking his door when Spike appears beside him. He holds the door open and gestures Spike in. No point in making the guy walk through wood and plaster just because he can.
Silence reigns while Xander pokes through the fridge, decides he’s not hungry, and wanders over to his usual spot on the couch. Spike drifts about, avoiding the furniture.
“Always saving the girl,” Xander says finally. He stares at the ceiling rather than Spike. “You can’t do things the easy way, can you? Always with the grand gestures.”
“You would’ve done the same,” Spike says curtly.
“True,” Xander concedes with a nod, “but I’m not a kinda-evil, blood-sucking dead guy.”
The silence between them isn’t tense, or expectant, or even companionable. It just is.
“’S hard to be evil round here,” Spike says finally. “Too much competition. The Partners are serious players. Kind of evil just doesn’t cut it.” He glances at Xander. “You tell anyone I said this, mind, I’ll rip out your tongue, boil it and eat it with mustard.”
“Understood. I’ll defend your moral ambiguity to the end.”
Xander’s still engrossed by the tiny imperfections in the plaster overhead when he feels it.
The hand that has landed in his crotch doesn’t send shivers through him – at least, not by sinking through cotton and flesh. His cock stirs under a firm grip.
“Been learning a few new tricks,” Spike remarks.
Xander wants to ask how but his brain’s busy regressing to a pre-language state. Spike answers him anyway.
“I just have to want it bad enough.”
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