Frostbite Falls

by
Emelye

Negative nine degrees Fahrenheit. That was the point at which a human body, acclimated to the cold, was required to wear a jacket when out of doors for longer than the time it took to go out the back door, go twenty feet up the gravel path to the garage, kick the ice off the garage door and get the truck's heater running. Add twenty minutes for vampires. It was a myth that they couldn't get frostbite, and wasn't that a fun discovery to make their first winter up north, but it was true that their bodies healed faster than the tissue could turn necrotic, so amputation of digits was hardly imminent.

Unfortunately, it was fifteen below.

"God dammit!" Xander shouted feelingly, the potbellied stove clanking noisily as Xander angrily shoved firewood into the gaping, fiery maw of the beast. "It is too goddamn cold to go chasing your ass all over fucking creation! What the hell were you doing out there, anyway?"

"Told you, I was getting us a tree. Thought you wanted one," Spike said, trying to rub warmth he didn't come by naturally back into his exposed extremities.

"Yeah, I want a tree, but I thought, oh, I don't know, maybe we'd hit a tree lot in town!"

Spike scoffed. "We live in the middle of a goddamn forest, Xander, what the hell business do we have paying some bastard forty damn dollars for a tree we have growing on our own bloody property?"

"Well for starters, you don't go chasing down the perfect tree so damned far into the woods your damned legs go numb and I have to track you down in the middle of the damned night so you don't accidentally get drifted over and dust in the damned sunrise!"

"Didn't mean to worry you."

"Fuck you. Now get your ass in front of this stove. The cocoa's almost ready and before you ask, no you do not get marshmallows. You don't deserve them."

"Xander …" Spike whined. Xander grabbed a fist of his hair, half threatening, half comforting, fingers more combing than pulling.

"You scared me, you asshole. Maybe you think you've had a good long life, but I'm too young to be a widower."

"Xan …" Spike said, his hand caressing Xander's before pulling it to his mouth and kissing his scarred, weather-beaten knuckles. "Not gonna lose me that easy. Lots tougher than a little weather've cued up for the privilege of dusting old Spike, and I ain't met my final death yet, so what say you take the theatrics down a notch, I'll give you an 'I'm Sorry' blow job and we call it good, yeah?"

Xander snorted. "Quit managing me. You make me sound like some kind of hysterical old woman."

Spike smiled as his hand trailed along the fly of Xander's jeans. "Oh no, love, never that. Couldn't do this for a little old lady, now could I?" he said before taking the fabric in his teeth and with agonizing slowness began unbuttoning Xander's fly.

"Jesus Tap-dancing Christ, more of that, please."

The phone rang.

"Son of a bitch. Hold that thought-" Xander reached across Spike to grab the phone. "Spike and Xander's, where the men are strong, the vampires are good-looking and all the slayers are above average. How may we service you?"

"Cute," came Buffy's amused voice. "Just called to let you know we just touched down."

"Great!-Hey, stop that!" Xander protested as Spike wrenched the phone from his hands.

"Slayer, is the poof with you?" Spike demanded. "Put him on."

"Spike-oh, fine just a second …"

"You there, Peaches?"

"Yeah, what is it, Spike, we're getting looks."

"Yeah, well, thing of it is, Sire …"

"Spike, I'm not really your Sire anymore-"

"-Look this is bloody well hard enough without a lecture on semantics from you, so kindly shut up. You're still my bloody Sire even if you do have a receding hairline now."

"I do not have a receding hairline!" Angel hissed. In the background he heard Buffy's laughter.

"Hey, I'd think you'd be grateful, s'what you fought for innit?"

"Spike, so help me if you don't fucking spit it out-"

"Claimed Xander. Wanted you to know so that you could give us a hand telling the others when you get here."

"YOU DID WHAT?"

"See you later, Peaches." Spike hung up the phone and redressed Xander who was perched expectantly in his lap. "Now then," he began, slowly inching the hem of his shirt up and caressing the skin beneath. "Where were we?"





Xander was taking a protracted nap (having been rudely called to rescue Spike while he should have been enjoying naked dreams of Spike that didn't feature him hip deep in a snow drift) when Buffy and Angel arrived.

Spike embraced the Slayer warmly, smirking at Angel over her shoulder, which, arguably, would have been more effective if he hadn't been bent in a strange angle over her prominent baby bump.

"Good to see you, Slayer. Not that I expected to see this much of you."

It was Angel's turn to smirk.

"We didn't want to say anything too early, in case …well, just in case," Buffy replied with her typical brave little soldier bluster.

Spike didn't call her on it. "Then I guess now's as good a time as any to tell you that Xander's my consort, what with you having your own little bundle of gossip."

"XANDER'S WHAT?" she screamed and Spike pinched the bridge of his nose to stave off the inevitable headache.

"That'd be your cue to get with the family feeling, there, Peaches."

Angel grinned broadly and put an expansive arm around his wife's shoulders. "Oh, I am. You have no idea how much."

"Spike, please make with the splainy before my mood swings," Buffy seethed.

Just then Xander creaked his way down the spiral staircase into the main room, bare-chested and clad only in a pair of well-worn flannel sleep pants. "Consort. Still breathing. Gonna live damn near forever," he intoned, voice still hoarse with sleep. He didn't turn to acknowledge the others once as he said this, but made his way slowly and deliberately to the potbellied stove where he added more wood to the fire. "Coffee?" he asked.

Spike jumped into action, pulling kettle and coffee from the cupboard. "Sorry, love," he said, filling the kettle and measuring the coffee out. "Didn't mean to wake you. Let me take care of breakfast, yeah?"

Xander just nodded, oblivious to the saucer-eyed expressions on Buffy and Angel's faces. "Pancakes?"

Spike nodded. "What?" he asked, turning a withering glare on the others.

Buffy snapped first, reeling on Angel and hitting him solidly in the arm.

"Hey-ow!" he protested.

"You never make me breakfast!" She pouted, appearing dangerously close to tears.

Angel looked at Spike helplessly. "I can't cook!"

Spike took pity on Angel. "S'not his fault, Slayer. He never cared much for human food as a vamp. I only learned cause it was better than watching Dru burn our lodgings to the ground every time she got the notion in her addled head."

Buffy sniffled, milking it a bit, her initial outrage clearly forgotten. "Promise to make Xander breakfast every day?"

Spike looked at the Slayer like she was off her rocker. Xander was no help. He'd fallen back to sleep on the sofa and was sawing logs like a lumber mill.

He shrugged. "Yeah. Do most every day as it is."

Buffy's lip trembled and she threw herself into Spike's arms, her stomach sending her balance off and nearly toppling them both to the floor before he could steady them.

"You have my blessing," she said quietly, kissing his cheek. Over her shoulder Angel shot him a dirty look, but Spike was too busy being confused to enjoy it.





Willow and Faith arrived at half past ten, though Xander hadn't anticipated opening the front door to the sight of Faith exploring his best friend's tonsils. He cleared his throat.

"Oh! Um, Merry Christmas Xander!" Willow told him breathlessly adjusting her sweater.

He smiled wryly. "Happy Chanukah, Wills, Faith. And here I was nervous about telling you Spike and I got hitched vamp style."

Willow's eyes widened before she smiled and blushed. "Guess, that might be a little anti-climactic now, huh?"

"Wouldn't say that," Faith said, entendre as single as ever. "Wicked hickey," she commented, examining the bite mark Xander revealed under his collar as she pushed past him into the warm, dry air of the cabin. "You gonna make time with all my leftovers, Spike, or just the cute ones?"

Xander watched Spike bristle then rise to the bait.

"Not into blokes with mommy issues, thanks."

Faith smirked. "Spose you've got enough for two as it is, huh?"

"Fuck you very much, Slayer."

"Over my cold, inanimate corpse, you will," Willow responded, dryly. "Stop baiting him Faith," she told her girlfriend with a slightly threatening glare. "And you," she addressed Spike, "know exactly what I have to say on the subject of you and Xander."

"Yes ma'am I do."

"Then stop flirting with my woman or I'll turn you into something that breathes before I smack you with a shovel."

"Yes ma'am."

"Now get over here and let me hug you." Spike grinned and complied obediently, thoughtfully positioning them so that she couldn't see Xander thoughtfully caressing the axe that normally resided by the back door with a slightly psychotic smile. Faith saw everything, however and what Xander's version of the shovel speech lacked in creativity it made up for in the blunt promise of lingering death.

Faith shivered.





Dawn arrived after seeing her slayer off home on a flight to Istanbul. The six slayers Spike and Xander ordinarily trained and lived with were scattered around the world enjoying the holidays with their families as well.

"Hey Bit, c'mere."

"What's up, Spike?" Dawn asked as Spike pulled her down into his lap.

"Take a look at Harris over there. He look any different to you?"

Dawn looked for a moment then shook her head.

"Looks the same to me. Why, did he get a new eye patch?"

"Nope."

"Is this where you try to embarrass me by talking about your sex life? Because I hate to keep reminding you, you've got the wrong sister."

"Depends. You think he looks like a man who's had the mortality shagged right out of him?"

Dawn's jaw dropped and she squealed loudly before hugging him around the neck.

Just then Xander turned.

"Oh come on! She was actually surprised? And I missed it?"

"Relax, Xan," Faith told him, pouring a generous measure of brandy into his cider. "Giles isn't here yet. I'm sure he'll flip his shit."

Xander smiled warmly. "Thanks Faith."

Spike rolled his eyes.





"Well, well, well, the gang's all here."

"Ethan?"

"In the flesh. Ripper's getting the bags."

"Ethan?" Xander stood at the doorway, visions of fatherly recriminations dissolving before his eyes.

"Do close your mouth Mr. Harris, you're in rather no position to be casting stones about with your choice of partner, are you?"

"Ethan?" Xander pouted as Spike moved him to one side and ushered the Chaos mage into the room.

"Best come in, mate. Reckon he's had a bit of a disappointment, yeah?"

Ethan stomped his boots on the mat and grinned broadly. "You're too kind, Mister …"

"Just Spike," he told him. "Course, you want to get the watcher's dander up I reckon Mr. Harris will do just fine."

Ethan's eyes widened momentarily before settling into a smile that could have been called mischievous, much as one could have called Hitler a slightly naughty boy. "You don't say? Then allow me to offer my congratulations."

"Ethan?" Xander whined. How come he never got to have the dramatic, forbidden love?

"You've said that, love. Go help Rupert with the bags. There's a lad …"

Xander grumbled but toed on his boots anyway, slamming the door behind him. Inside, he heard Spike apologize to the others. "So sorry about that."

After a brusque greeting to one another, a sulking Xander and a rather snowy Giles returned to the cabin, carrying several items of luggage.

Ethan greeted Giles with an overenthusiastic embrace. "Ah, Ripper, there you are. I was just catching up with your boy's claimant. Is that the appropriate term? Master sounds so formal."

Xander groaned as he was pulled into a similar display of proprietary affection by Spike. "I think husband rather fits the bill, don't you, Xan love?" Spike asked, removing his jacket with obsequious attention.

Giles dropped the bags. "Spike?" He looked devastated. Xander was delighted.

Ethan frowned. "Oh, dear."





That afternoon, with everyone wrapping and napping in the cottages usually inhabited by Spike and Xander's slayers, the kitchen was blessedly cool and quiet. Xander pulled the produce from the crisper and began rinsing the fruit for the salad. Pomegranates were damned expensive in their neck of the woods but it was his only contribution to the meal, a hold over from his days at home, studying his mother's cookbook of no-cook recipes for class treat days and birthdays.

Spike snuck up behind him at the sink and tickled his ribs. Xander jumped a foot in the air before turning the sprayer on him.

"What's this then? Pomegranates, eh? That's an auspicious choice."

Xander settled his back against Spike's chest. "Hmm? How so?"

Spike's eyes grew shrewdly focused. "S'food of the dead, Xan."

Xander rolled his eyes. "It's Christmassy. Look-green pears. They're also high in anti-oxidants, something the dead have no use for." Feeling he'd more than made his point, he returned to coring the pears.

"Can't tell me you never heard the story of Persephone and Hades?" Spike asked.

Xander shook his head over the cutting board. Spike smiled enigmatically and took a pomegranate from the counter, turning it in his hands as he spoke. "Persephone was the daughter of Demeter. Hades, ruler of the underworld, wanted her for his consort." Spike smirked and pulled a knife from his pocket and began to cut into the pomegranate. "Demeter wouldn't allow anyone to court her, so Hades don't bother asking. He takes her one day while she's out picking flowers. Brings her to the underworld and keeps her there."

Spike's hands mesmerized Xander as the knife bit into the fruit. Spike closed the knife and cracked open the pomegranate, red juice trickling down his wrists. He licked it off his hand and Xander groaned with want, his chef's knife clattering to the countertop.

"Demeter wouldn't have it, of course. So she goes to take her daughter back. Only there's one problem, you see. No one who's eaten anything in the underworld is allowed to leave. And Persephone, having been there a while, was hungry. So clever Hades, he offers her a pomegranate."

Spike removed a cluster of seeds from the fruit and held it out to Xander. "She only ate a few seeds though. An' so he cut a deal with Demeter. Persephone would go back with her mother, but she'd have to come back to live as his consort every year - one week for every seed she ate. An' so she did. And when Persephone is in the underworld, it's winter up here, cause Demeter can't be arsed to make anything grow. An when she returns the spring comes with her."

Xander, leaning against the kitchen counter grabbed Spike by the belt loops and dragged him between his legs, Spike still offering the cluster of seeds. "How long can I keep you, Xander?" he whispered humidly in his ear, body pressing intimately against him.

Xander took one look at the seeds in Spike's hand, bypassed them entirely and took the halved fruit from his other hand. Eyes locked together, he plunged his fingers into the pomegranate and brought his dripping hand to his mouth. Spike's eyes darkened, pupils blown wide as the red juice stained Xander's mouth like blood, trickling down the arch of his neck and beneath his collar. Xander grabbed Spike's other wrist and ate the small cluster of seeds from his hand, laving his fingers with his tongue. Spike gasped and bucked against him, his obvious arousal hard against Xander's urgently throbbing erection.

The seeds were tart. Xander swallowed and took Spike's mouth in a desperate kiss, feeling Spike's tongue chasing the traces of juice around his palate. Spike moaned and began clawing at his denim-covered backside, struggling to press closer as Xander's fingers slipped Spike's shirt off.

With a quick glance out the kitchen window to make sure no one was about to burst in on them, they quickly undid each other's pants and let them fall to the floor. Xander threw his shirt across the room as Spike's hands slipped his silk boxer briefs off.

Naked and kissing, Spike pushed Xander against the counter and thrust their erections together with a needy sound. Xander turned his head toward the cabinet behind him and reached for the olive oil as Spike began tonguing his neck.

Xander closed his eyes and counted to ten in M'Fashnik.

Then he reversed their positions and lifted Spike onto the counter, standing between his parted legs and thrusting two oiled digits into his grasping hole.

Spike screamed. Xander massaged his opening and Spike thrust back, making greedy, wanton noises. He removed his fingers and slid Spike forward until their bodies were flush. With a challenging gleam in his eye, Xander wrapped Spike's legs around his waist and lifted him onto his cock. Spike's eyes fluttered shut and his arms trembled on the counter.

"You all right?" Xander panted.

Spike answered by slowly lowering himself until Xander was fully seated inside him. Spike's preternatural strength was on magnificent display as his whipcord arms shifted and flexed as he raised himself again. Spike smirked.

"Fine. You?"

Xander renewed his grip on Spike's waist and leaned forward to lick between his pectorals, ending with a nip to a tendon straining on Spike's neck. Then he slammed himself home.

"Fuck!" Spike gasped.

Xander repeated the action and they found a rhythm and an angle and soon Xander was covered in a sheen of sweat, a trickle of blood, slowly creeping down his chin from where their mouths met and Spike was whimpering deliciously into Xander's mouth.

Xander felt himself readying to shoot and leaned farther forward, providing friction to Spike's iron-hard dick. Spike whined and thrust against Xander as he pounded into him. Xander came with a strangled scream and Spike followed him, releasing his grip on the counter to clutch Xander's shoulders as he covered them both in his spunk. Xander's knees finally gave out and they collapsed onto the limestone tile. Xander leaned against the kitchen island and gently withdrew from Spike's body before resettling him in his lap. Spike leaned forward and kissed Xander's claim mark. Xander shivered.

"May I?" Spike asked, almost timidly.

Xander smiled and stroked the back of Spike's head. "Yeah," he said. "Want me to do you?"

Spike's eyes lit up. "Would you?"

Xander leaned forward and closed his teeth over the pink, horizontal parenthesis at the junction of Spike's neck and shoulder. It was harder for him to break the skin than it was for Spike, whose fangs slid into Xander's neck with the same easy hitch and slide as his cock the first time they made love. Xander tasted blood and drew on the wound and he felt Spike melt against him as warmth radiated outward from the teeth in his throat.

After a few draws, Spike withdrew and licked the wound closed. Xander followed suit and Spike all but melted into Xander.

"That was different," he observed.

Spike nuzzled Xander's chest. "Good different?"

Xander thought about the tender warm feeling coursing through his body. Like afterglow, but somehow different. "Good different," he decided. "It's not always about sex? The bite, I mean."

Spike shook his head slightly. "No. Can be sexual, yeah. Claim bites definitely. But sometimes it's about feeding, sometimes it's comfort, sometimes it's healing. Depends on your intent, what you're feeling, all of it."

Xander smiled at the defensive tone of Spike's voice and wrapped his arms tighter around the vamp. "That was love, wasn't it? That's what I felt."

Spike raised himself off Xander's chest to look at him and nodded.

Xander kissed his mouth softly. "Love you, too," he said.

Spike rested his forehead against Xander's. "I could feel it, too," he said, voice carrying something akin to awe, to Xander's ears.

"You sound surprised. You didn't think I loved you?"

Spike shook his head. "I-I've never felt it from a bite before."

Xander tightened his arms around Spike at that admission and kissed him. "Better get used to it."





As the evening drew nearer, gradually the others began to trickle back to the main house, taking seats in the great room and catching up while Xander and Spike finished preparing dinner.

Caught up in an internal debate over the correct way to place the knives on the table, Xander didn't see Buffy staring at him until it was too late.

"You've got fruit punch mouth," Buffy observed curiously from her seat by the fire.

Xander self-consciously wiped his mouth, worried there was evidence of their blood-sharing remaining until Spike nudged him and showed him his fingers, still stained red with the juice of the pomegranate.

"Oh, yeah, um, fruit salad mishap." Xander was saved from further explanation by the ringing of the doorbell.

"Fred!" Spike exclaimed vaulting over the sofa. The door was thrown open and Xander watched as Lorne and Wesley carefully stepped aside as Fred was swept up and spun around by the exuberant vampire. Angel, Dawn and Buffy were quick to join them at the door, taking bags of presents from them, exchanging hugs and handshakes.

Gunn brought up the rear looking somewhat more somber.

"The upgrades are fading," Wesley muttered in his ear.

Xander stared at Wes. "The lawyer stuff?"

Wes nodded. "I thought you might speak with him."

"Of course."

As everyone sat down to the table, Xander remained standing until all eyes were turned on him, expectantly.

"I'm really, really glad everyone could be here today. It really means a lot to me-to us," he corrected. "Most of us sitting here didn't grow up with the kind of families we would have wanted, didn't have the kind of holidays we should have. So, that we've all found this family, it's kind of amazing. And I feel really lucky."

A few tears were discretely wiped away.

"Looking at all of you here, it'd be hard not to think of those who should be here but aren't. So you'll find there are candles over on the buffet there-" Xander pointed to stack of unlit taper candles, "And I thought we could light them for those that are with us in our hearts right now, instead of the traditional blessing, um, if that's okay?"

Buffy stood first, and with a squeeze of Xander's shoulder took a candle and lit it, placing it in a small glass holder with a sad smile. "For Jesse," she said.

Giles went next. "For Jenny."

Faith stood hesitantly and made her way to the table. She quickly lit a candle. "For Kendra," she said.

Angel lit the next one for Doyle. Gunn lit one for his sister, Alonna. Dawn gave Spike the candle to light for Joyce. Spike thanked her and lit it in her honor.

Willow lit one for Tara, Andrew, who'd arrived not long after the last of the AI contingent, and who had been unusually quiet until this point, tearfully lit a candle for Jonathan.

Xander, rising the same time as Lorne, patted Andrew on the back as he returned to his seat. Xander lit Anya's candle. Lorne lit Cordelia's.

They all basked in the glow of the ten candles, feeling, if only for a moment, those they'd lost were right with them once again.

Then Spike brought the goose in and they got serious about eating.

The goose was Spike's main contribution. Xander's the pear and pomegranate salad (admittedly heavier on the pears due to their earlier exploits). There were Yorkshire puddings and tamales, brussel sprouts and kale, potato latkes and lefse. There was a lot of wine and several varieties of pie.

It was an embarrassment of gustatory riches, and no one left the table unsatisfied.

Eventually, though, the dregs of the coffee and tea were swallowed, the last of the pies reduced to so many crumbs, and they all made their way back to the cluster of sofas around the hearth to open gifts.

The beautifully arranged and wrapped packages were soon consumed in an orgy of avarice and tissue paper. Empty boxes and scraps of paper littered the room as everyone exclaimed over their presents. Giles grinned bashfully over a framed candid shot of him playing his guitar bestowed to Ethan who exclaimed loud and long over it. Buffy oohed over the yellow cashmere scarf from Xander, which was a bet lost for Spike.

Xander opened his gift from Faith. A confused hush fell over the room. Faith shrugged. "Wills had to get me hella drunk before I'd set foot in the mall. I swear to god it made perfect sense at the time."

"A Hello Kitty sleep mask just screamed Xander to you?" Angel asked, dubiously.

Xander looked down at the happy little bow gracing the top of his functional, albeit girly, present. "No, y'know, actually I think I maybe get where she was going with this," he said, thoughtfully fingering the mask.

Faith smiled genuinely and pulled Willow down into her lap, whispering something into her ear that made her squeak and blush.

It was comfortable and domestic and someone (he suspected Wes) brilliantly got Angel a price club sized bottle of hair gel and Angel was laughing.

Spike and Ethan and Giles huddled over stacks of glam, punk and acid bootleg CDs, deep in conversation.

Xander saw Dawn and Gunn talking quietly by the fire, and he suspected he wasn't going to have to say anything to him at all.

Lorne and Andrew seemed to find something in common. They were trading a bottle of raspberry lambic back and forth along with a medley of holiday lounge favorites.

Xander sat back and soaked it all in, reflecting on all that had brought him to this point.





Xander didn't go to LA intending to fall in love with Spike. Xander didn't go to LA intending to fall in like with Spike. Or mutual tolerance. Or tentative civility.

He'd gone to LA to keep Buffy from falling in love with Spike. Or possibly Angel, he wasn't too picky about which vamp he cock-blocked, so long as neither bloodsucker was making the beast with two backs with her. Guys who spent hundreds of years maiming, torturing, raping and murdering the innocent, didn't get to repent and get into Buffy's pants as a signing bonus. For fuck's sake, Xander hadn't killed anybody, had been fighting the good fight almost as long as Buffy had and he couldn't even get a date to the Spring Formal with her.

Not that he was bitter, or anything.

But Buffy'd insisted on going to LA the minute Andrew let slip that Spike was alive. Dawn, naturally, insisted on going along. So Xander chaperoned. He knew he was annoying Buffy, but there was no way he was trusting her newfound maturity around those two panty-peeling bastards who had no qualms about sleeping with a man's ex-fiancée before the terrified groom's sweat had even cooled on his fleeing brow.

Nope. No bitterness there.

So all in all, it was pretty much an accident that he fell in love with Spike. It shouldn't have happened at all, except that something about the sight of him in that hospital bed, wrists bandaged, IVs dripping blood and god-knows-what into his dead veins, really struck an uncomfortably empathetic nerve.

The one in his hollow eye-socket that still twinged when he was tired, as a matter of fact.

Spike was spooked, Xander could tell. There was really nothing like the loss of vital body parts to really sink home your own mortality. Even for immortals, apparently.

So, there he was in Spike's hospital room, waiting for Buffy to finish arguing with Angel and Dawn to get tired of watching them bicker, and suddenly, the fight just went right out of him. He found himself pulling up a chair beside the bed with a sympathetic smile and saying, "Hey."

Spike looked at him like he couldn't quite decide if Xander was just messing with him, but he eventually hazarded a guarded little head nod.

Remembering something from a lifetime ago, he said, "How're your feelers?"

Spike gave him a wry smile. "Not feeling much of anything at the moment."

Xander nodded. "Buffy's here," he told him, filling the somewhat awkward silence. "And Dawn."

"The bit came?"

Xander nodded. "Yep. You had to know Andrew was going to spill his guts the second he got back," he said in an accusing tone he didn't really feel.

Spike sighed long and deep and nodded.

"Buffy's in there with Angel now. I'm sure she'll be in soon." Xander didn't know why he felt so damned apologetic about that, but wasn't it impolite to chat up the ex when you came to visit your other ex in the hospital? He was pretty sure even Anya wouldn't have blown him off like that-and wasn't that a thought to add insult to injury-

"Ticking him off for ruling the evil empire, is she?"

"Something like that. She seems surprised that Angel's turned to the dark side. Me, personally, I'm not exactly shocked and awed."

"Angel's all right," Spike admitted, quietly. "Seems to think he's doing all this for the greater good, whatever that is when it's at home." Spike trailed off, lost in thought for a moment before adding, "He was in here when I first came to. Looked at me like I was some great, suffering, hero for letting that slayer get one up on me."

"Aren't you?" Xander asked, evenly.

"Think you know better than that, mate," Spike admitted, more honestly than Xander expected, and even more unexpectedly, Xander found himself inclined to be contrary about it. Or maybe not so unexpectedly. Some habits are hard to break.

"If you mean you're nothing like Angel, you're right about that," he said, then added when he saw the resignation in Spike's eyes, "You've got him beat by light-years."

"If you mean that thrice-damned soul-"

"-I mean you. The soul's a part of it, but do you ever give up? It was the first thing Angel told us when you came to town-that once you start something you don't stop. At the time my thoughts were something along the lines of-well, terror, closely followed by kill it, kill it, oh my god-" That drew a laugh from Spike, "But I got why that scared Angel. Tucking tail is what he does best. You don't quit."

Spike's shoulders fell and he stared wearily at the blanket on his lap. "M'not a hero, Xander. M'not trying to atone, not trying to fight the good fight like you. Just-just did what I've always done. Followed my heart. To my death. Again.

"Bloody bastard had me thinking I was some kind of Champion. But even that was all about showing up the great pouf. Had nothing to do with the fight for puppies and Christmas-just don't know what the bloody hell I'm supposed to be without someone to fight for. An' I can't even get that right-popping back from a fiery holiday wasn't my idea, you know."

Xander nodded. "I know. Look-when …this …happened-" Xander gestured to his eye patch, "Well, hell, you remember how everyone fell all over themselves to put me out to pasture."

Spike snorted. Some part of Xander appreciated that Spike found the idea as ludicrous as he had. It made it easier to say, "Well, no one's going to give you that choice, Spike. You're strong, you're going to live a long time, and those-" he gestured to Spike's hands, "Are going to heal."

"Xander-"

Xander held up a hand. "That wasn't a guilt trip. I'm just saying, since nobody else is going to, you have a choice. You don't have to fight. I know you're tired. If you want a take a break, lick your wounds, well, you've more than earned it."

Spike nodded and turned his head. Xander saw his lip tremble slightly.

Xander took his hand. Spike didn't notice. Xander put his hand on his forearm and Spike turned his head sharply toward him but didn't move his arm.

He swallowed. "Have to see this through. Fred-she's been a bit of all right. Won't leave her in the lurch."

Xander smiled. "Well then I guess we're just going to have to get you through this in one piece."

Spike smiled at him with something like hope in his eyes and if Xander had to pick, he'd probably have to rate that as the moment he started falling in love with Spike.

Miraculously, they did make it out of Wolfram & Hart alive, intact and with relatively few casualties.

They discovered Angel was working to bring down a powerful secret society known as the Circle of the Black Thorn. The only problem was his plan was pretty much stolen from the end of the original Godfather movie, except in this case, there was next to no chance his hits wouldn't draw immediate retaliation, and Angel had nothing resembling an exit strategy.

Xander suggested taking out the Senior Partners. Fred goggled, Angel laughed, Gunn scoffed and Wesley explained that the Senior Partners existed on a demonic plane they neither knew nor had access to, never mind the seemingly limitless power they had to draw on to smite them in the attempt.

Lorne insisted on hearing them out, though, and Dawn was the first to bring up her status as the Key, suggesting she might have access to the Senior Partner's dimension. That started Wesley and Fred thinking, which led to researching, which led, inevitably, to Buffy and Angel plotting.

Gunn, with his limited access to the Partners through their conduit, suggested petitioning the oracles for power from the Powers.

The Powers were surprisingly amenable.

And so it was the entire band descended into hell, killed the Wolf, Ram and Hart, and returned again to the streets of LA, triumphant, though not without cost.

The wages of channeling the power of the Powers was that Angel dusted in a light display mirroring Spike's conflagration closely enough to evoke a show of real terror from the younger vamp.

Xander held Spike's hand. And when Angel returned moments later, human, warm and breathing, he held Spike as he wept, from relief, exhaustion or disappointment he never knew. But when they all returned to the city, things had changed irrevocably between the two men, and when Buffy invited the crew of AI to help train and lead the Slayers that were being stationed all over the world, it was understood that wherever Xander went, Spike would go with him.

Unfortunately, no one else seemed to share that understanding.

Buffy stood, glaring over the desk of the restored Hyperion Hotel, the laptop screen in front of her casting a blue light over her barely restrained anger.

"What the hell is this?" she demanded of Spike. "Revenge?"

"Is it that hard to believe maybe Spike just wants to be with me?" Xander asked.

"In a word, yes!"

Before Xander could recover from the hurt of her words, Angel stepped in. "Is this about the Shanshu?"

Spike didn't dignify that with a response. "Believe it or don't, Slayer. We'll be leaving together either way."

Angel tried another tact. "So you're just going to abandon Fred-"

"You manipulative bastard-"

"Fred's fine, actually," Fred chimed in across the room where she was perched on the arm of the settee where Wesley and Gunn were seated.

Lorne stepped bravely into the fray. "Angelcakes, Miss Thing, I think we need to accept the possibility that these two gentlemen might actually have feelings for one another that have absolutely nothing to do with the two of you."

Angel glared. "Fine. You say you're sincere? Sing."

"I'm not giving a bloody concert."

Buffy smirked. Spike wasn't about to give her the satisfaction of thinking she was right and launched into a few bars of a particularly loud and obnoxious rendition of "I'm A Yankee Doodle Dandy".

It was enough. Not that they especially needed permission, but Angel backed off.

Buffy gave them the Northwoods post.

Willow, they told by phone. She was more understanding but Xander felt that might have had more to do with the emotional gulf between them than considered acceptance.

Everything and everyone had changed so much, but yet it seemed that leaving Sunnydale had somehow amplified those changes, creating gulfs and rifts between the Scoobies where none existed before.

When he'd offered their place to celebrate the holiday, he nearly hadn't expected anyone to accept. But they did. They all did. And though Xander knew they'd never go home again, not to the Dale, not to what they once were, for the first time he had hope that maybe they could find a new home and a new way to be together.

Tucked up in bed, everyone back to their own cabins, Xander thought maybe they had.

Xander curled around Spike's back in their bed and traced the still lightening scars of that last, brutal battle across his torso. Spike's hand found his and stilled it.

"M'fine, love."

Xander placed a lingering kiss on the back of Spike's neck. "I know you are."

Spike drew Xander's arm tighter around him and fell back to sleep.

Life, Xander reflected, was entirely too short. And those scars would soon fade until only Xander would remember where they lay, his fingers tracing the smooth skin in the familiar pattern, reminding him of how fragile and how precious their lives were, and how grateful he was for a chance to appreciate the love he'd found while he had it.
"Happy Christmas, luv," Spike muttered, drifting into sleep.

Xander smiled. "The happiest."



The End