This story is no longer a WIP. The muse has left the building and this will likely remain forever unfinished, for which you have my sincere apologies. I hate it when authors don't finish stories, myself included. Mea culpa.



Oh Christmas Tree


by
FireHorse



Xander dropped into the battered folding chair and sighed deeply. He inhaled again, breathing in the fresh, clean scent of pine.

His whole crew had been laid off in the wake of an unusual cold snap. Bored, he'd gone looking for a temp job, and had ended up working for the brother-in-law of his foreman, on a Christmas tree lot.

He liked it. He liked being outside, the smell of the trees, he liked watching the kids. In a way, he was envious; he imagined they were having the kind of Christmas he'd never had.

He worked hard, often more than eight hours a day. Yeah, he was tired, but he was happy.

He was finally out of his parent's basement. He had a decent apartment that could actually afford, thanks to a job he was not only managing to keep, but really liked. He a had a car; a clunker, granted, but it ran like a champ and it was his. And even with the car and the apartment, he had money to spend. He had friends who weren't Scoobies, and he was surprised at how much he enjoyed their company. It was a refreshing change to have a beer or two with someone who didn't know about the things that went bump in the night.

True, he missed Anya, but they had parted friends, and he didn't begrudge her the chance to follow her own destiny. When a demon friend had brought her a spell that would make her a demon again, he'd told her to take it. He'd stood outside the pentacle, pretending to himself that it was the smoke from the braziers making his eyes water.

When he'd gotten home afterwards, he'd discovered that the reborn Anyanka had already been there. The Hawai'ian shirt that was always draped over the end of the bed, the one that Anya had customarily slept in, was gone. In its place hung a heavy but somehow delicate gold chain. There was a small charm hanging from it, a clear stone that was usually an odd green, sometimes just...odd. The note on the pillow had read "Thank you, for everything. I will miss you, and I will always love you. The stone in this necklace will help protect you, and with it it you can call me if you need me. Love, Anyanka."

Xander had tucked the note into his nightstand and fastened the chain, heavier than he'd expected, around his neck. As the stone settled against the notch at the base of his throat, he'd felt the faint subdermal hum of power and magic that he had come to associate with Giles and Willow, and lately, Tara.

But still, he was happy. And it was Christmas. For the first time in what seemed like forever, he was looking forward to the holiday. In the past, it had been a day to avoid, but this year, he was going to celebrate.

And today was the twentythird. He only had a dozen trees left, and they were closing up shop at four. Ken was coming at three to start taking the tent down. Any leftover trees would be taken to the Salvation Army and various other shelters.

All except one. Since Xander was determined to do Christmas right this year, he needed a tree. He'd picked one out and set it back a bit from the others, ready to buy.

The rumble of a large truck interrupted his musing, and he got to his feet. The next few hours passed in a blur of flapping canvas and clanking tent poles. Finally, they were ready to wrap and load the last of the trees and call it a day.

"Hey, Harris! What's this'n for? A pick-up that somebody forgot?" called Ken. The big man nodded toward the tree that Xander had set aside.

"No, that's, uh...I need to pay you for that one." Xander's voice was muffled by the branches of the eight-footer he was wrestling into the binder.

"What? Oh, I get it. Hey, it's yours. Consider it a Christmas bonus." At the other end of the binder, Ken pulled the stubborn tree the rest of the way through. "Seriously, Harris, you want it, you got it."

"You sure? That's seventy five dollars worth of pine needles you're talking about." Xander hefted the next tree into the binder, thankful for the muscles working construction had given him.

"Harris." Ken pulled the tree out and set it down, then turned to face Xander, his gruff voice suddenly loud now that the binder was shut off. "It's yours. The director of the kids' wing of the hospital called and asked me how much he owed for your help in putting up the trees they bought. You're honest - you keep better books than my accountant does. You get tired of breathin' sawdust, call me. I always need people I can count on at the farm." Ken clapped him on the back, then heaved the tree into the truck.

"How ya gonna get yer tree home, Harris?"

Xander took a roll of plastic twine out of his pocket, but Ken interrupted before he could say anything.

"Gonna tie it to your car?" He looked at Xander's car, sitting in a corner of the empty lot.

Xander grinned ruefully. His little car was a Gremlin, color indeterminate. Privately, he thought driving a 'gremlin' on the Hellmouth was a hugely ironic joke. Publicly, he called his car Fred.

"Nah, the tree's almost as big as Fred is. I was kinda hoping if I look pathetic enough, you'll throw it on the truck and drop it off." He grinned when Ken heaved the tree into the back of the truck with the others.

"No problem. Over on Forrester, right?" At Xander's nod he said, "Get going. I'll follow you over."

Half an hour later, the tree was out of its binding and propped in the stand. He shook hands with Ken and traded good wishes for the holiday season. After Ken left, he dragged several bags out of his bedroom closet and into the living room. Sitting on the couch, he sorted through them.

Xander had been buying Christmas decorations since just after Thanksgiving, and he had just about everything. Lights, tinsel garlands, angel hair, icicles, more lights...chuckling, he realized he probably had enough for two trees. He didn't have many ornaments, though. A couple boxes of colored balls, and paper stars and snowflakes sent to him from the kids at the hospital where he'd up put the trees. Hit by a shaft of memory, he sat up straight.

"Wills, Wills! Look at this one I made!"

"Very nice, Xander, but you need to use your inside voice, please."

"Sorry, Miss Plummer."

::whispered:: "Xander! Wow!"

"Here, Willow, you can have it. I'll make one for Jesse, too."

"Hey! Let's each make three. That way we can keep one and trade the other two."

"Okay."

"Miss Plummer, can I have more paper, please?"

Xander sat back with a sigh. That 'wow' from Willow was the most reaction he'd gotten for his ornament. That Christmas he had snuck out and spent the day with Willow at Jesse's. When he was ten, his family had stopped putting up a tree. The year after that was the first year he had slept outside.

He started winding the lights around the tree. Most of them were white, but he had a few strings of colored lights too, and all of them twinkled. He carefully tacked strings of lights around the doorway to the kitchen and the frame of the big window in the living room. He put the last string of white lights around the frame of his bed.

When he was done, he went around the apartment and shut off all the room lights. Settling himself comfortably on the couch, he watched the lights and wandered down memory lane.

"Xander! Merry Christmas, son. Come on in - Willow's already here. Have you had breakfast yet?" Jesse's dad ruffled his dark curls in welcome.

He was enveloped in a vanilla-scented hug before he could answer. "Merry Christmas, sweetie. I think Santa got mixed up. You spend so much time here that he left your presents under our tree."

He'd gotten new socks, a pair of jeans and a couple shirts, magic markers, and a fire truck with a real siren. The glittery snowflake he'd given Willow was hanging on the tree, right where everybody could see it.

Merry Christmas, Xander."

Jesse tood behind him, holding him still for Willow, who planted a messy smooch on his cheek. He returned the favor for Jesse, and the Christmas kisses quickly degenerated into a tickle fight. Pacified with orange juice and sweet rolls, he and Willow and Jesse settled into the den to watch Charlie Brown's Christmas.

He had gotten home right after dark. His dad was nowhere around, and his mom had never commented on his day-long absence.

Hey, Xander, wait up!"

"What's up, Wills?"

"Are you sleeping outside this year?"

"Yeah. You're going to your grandma's and so's Jesse..."

"I'm sorry, Xan, I asked, but... Just, be careful, please. Oh, here. Merry Christmas."

"What's this?"

"The key to the back door. Just 'cause I'm not there doesn't mean you can't be. There's popcorn and hot chocolate in my top desk drawer, and Snoopy's in the VCR already."

He had spent that Christmas in Willow's empty house, eating popcorn and watching Snoopy dance around a Christmas tree from the sanctuary of Willow's pink ruffled bed.

"Xander?"

"Yeah, Jess?"

"Comin' over for Christmas?"

"Yeah."

"Good. I've got your present. Two actually, but you might not want one."

"C'mon, Jess, we're friends, right? That means I'll like whatever it is."

"I hope so."

~later~

"Thanks, Xan. I really needed one."

"Yeah, I noticed-every time you borrowed mine. Hey! Don't whack me with that! Where's this other present you promised me? Ummm, Jess? What...?"

"It's mistletoe."

"I get that, but...why?"

"So I have an excuse to do this."

"..."

"..."

"Xan?"

"Mmm. Now it's my turn to do that. C'mere."

Willow never knew that she was the second best friend he'd kissed. Six months later Jesse was dead, staked by Xander. That was why he hadn't wanted to get involved with Willow: with the certain logic of the young he had just known that if he kissed Willow something bad would happen. He was right. Something bad had happened, and they still hadn't completely recovered from it.

He'd freaked out when Larry had asked him about being gay because he hadn't thought he was. What he and Jesse had was different. They were just friends. Okay, closer than most, but still...they were "engaging in sexual exploration with a trusted peer", to quote their health teacher. To think that Larry had seen something in him that was more than 'exploration' had been weird-making. Giles' library had more in it than just monsters; since then he'd done some reading and had learned the definition of bisexual, and applied it to himself. Now he was comfortable, mostly, with who he was.

From the safety of the present he remembered the past. He fell asleep watching the lights blink psychedelic patterns on the ceiling and dreamed of glittery stars and sweet kisses, memories inextricably entwined with the scent of pine.


~*~*~*~*~


The next morning, Xander planned his day over a bowl of cold cereal and coffee. He dressed, admired his tree some more, then headed for his parent's house.

Parking Fred several blocks away, he slipped through backyards until he came to his own. Looking at the place where his dad's car should have been, he figured it was safe to go in.

His folks had been less than pleased when he moved out. His mother had accused him of abandoning them and his father had threatened to knock him into next week if he showed his face again. Xander was cynical enough to think that the fuss had more to do with the loss of the easy income his rent provided than with anything familial.

Reaching up, he grabbed the overhanging limb of the madrone tree and easily hoisted himself into its branches. Reflecting that this was much easier to do now that he stood more than six feet tall, he regretted the weight that went with that height when he got to the smaller branches that lead to his bedroom window. Former bedroom window.

Gingerly balancing himself, he levered the window open and slipped inside. Looking around, he still didn't know why he'd been moved to the basement. All of his stuff was still where he'd left it, except what he'd taken with him.

The door to the attic was in his room, beside the closet door. He was hoping the Christmas decorations were there; he wanted his paper snowflakes and popsicle-stick stars, but he knew better than to ask.

They weren't. He looked around the dusty space and wondered where everything was. There was only one other place, really, and that was the basement. There was a small storage space in the far corner that he had never used.

Grinning to himself at the skills he'd picked up over the last few years, he silently made his way down the hall and stairs, pausing to peek into the living room.

Yup. Right on schedule. Ten o'clock and all was drunk. His mother was not quite passed out, but definitely oblivious to the world.

Xander eased through the kitchen and headed for the basement stairs. He still had to be careful, but between being downstairs and his mom being drunk he didn't have to be as quiet.

He found the box he was looking for in the storage room where he'd guessed it'd be. Busy trying to open the box, he wasn't looking at where he was putting it down when a quiet, familiar voice hissed at him.

"Watch it, pet! What are you tryin' to do, squash me?"

"SPIKE!" Xander hastily lowered his voice and propped the box on the arm of the couch. "Spike, what the hell are you doing here? Why aren't you in your crypt? How mph mrphmph..." he trailed off under the pressure of Spike's hand over his mouth.

"I'm here 'cause I'm tired of staking Harmony's minions. Stupid bint's decided that taking me out is the solution to all her problems, and it's getting so that a bloke can't get a good night's sleep. I've been here for a few days-you never got the witchkittens to do an uninvite. I've been quiet, nobody upstairs knows I'm here. That answer all your questions, pet?"

Xander nodded and Spike lowered his hand.

"All except one: why didn't you come to my new apartment?"

"'Cause I didn't know where it was, git. Nobody told me, and I couldn't very well go ask the Slayer, now could I?"

"S'pose not. Well, help me sort through this stuff, then you can come home with me. I have a real couch you can sleep on."

"You're actually giving me an invite to your new digs?"

"Yeah, so? Oh, I get it. It can't be a pre-issued invitation, you have to be standing in the doorway first, right? No problemo. Since you're coming home with me I'll just say it again at the door. You are coming with me, right? I mean, why would you not?"

"That's my question, pet, why would I?"

"Gee, I don't know. The chance to sleep on an actual couch instead of this broken down Goodwill reject? A working fridge to keep your blood in? The fact that Harmony might think to look for you here, but she has no idea about my new place?" Xander rattled off his list while rummaging in the box and privately acknowledged the reason why he'd invited Spike.

He was lonely. Yeah, his apartment was great, but without Anya, it was too empty. It wasn't just that he missed the mind-blowing sex, although he did; he missed having someone around.

Spike had always been good company. Snarky, crude, rude, and frequently infuriating, but once Xander had gotten over his nerves and learned to stand his ground verbally, it had been fun. Fun enough that he'd found himself missing the vampire when he was gone.

Realizing that the box was the one he was looking for, he carefully put several clumps of newspaper back in and folded the flaps down.

"Let's go, Fang Boy. Oh, wait, daytime. Sunlight." He looked around, brows furrowed in concentration. "Got it!" He dove back into the storage closet and came up with a musty olive-drab poncho. "I think it was Uncle Rory's."

Spike looked it dubiously, but after carefully shaking out the resident centipede, he put it on without comment.

Xander quietly went back up the stairs and out the door to get Fred, returning a few minutes later.

Spike pulled the netting in the poncho's hood down over his face and made a dash for the car.

"A Gremlin, pet? Don't you know they're bad luck?"

"Spike, this is Fred," Xander replied, patting the dashboard affectionately. "Fred, meet Spike. And ignore him, Fred, I know you're not bad luck."

Turning to Spike he continued. "Fred may be old and primer gray, but he starts first try every morning, and he's never given me any trouble, so don't give him any, 'k?"

"Right." Spike rolled his eyes but went along. "Sorry, Fred. Didn't mean anything by it."


~*~*~*~*~


Spike shifted, trying to get comfortable. He could've been in bed, but no...he had to be out here on the floor with the whelp. What was the phrase, 'caught in a cleft stick'? Well, he was, and the worst part was, he'd cut the cleft in the stick himself. He had, with absolutely no alcohol in his system, just spent most of the evening playing Sensitive Guy. And there was another 'worst'-he hadn't been playing.

It had been an odd day all around, Spike reflected. First the whelp had shown up at his old place and invited Spike to his new place. A casual "C'mon in, Spike," had been tossed over his shoulder at the door.

They'd stopped at the store on the way back, getting fresh blood for him and a second breakfast for Xander.

Parking themselves at the table, Spike had watched with bemusement as Xander had made coffee and biscuits out of a can. They hadn't been half bad with blood and a little honey on them.

They had been sitting at the table, nattering on like old mates when the phone had rung. The Scoobies had had a rare daylight crisis and Xander had to go.

"There's blood in the fridge, remember, an ashtray under the sink, clean towels in the bathroom. Oh, and sweats and stuff in the bottom dresser drawer-I'm guessing Harmony torched your wardrobe again. You're shorter than I am, but they should fit ok. I'll be back in time for dinner, I hope, and then we can decorate the tree." He seemed to take Spike's continued presence for granted. "Try not to scare the neighbors, Spike, I like it here." With that, he'd gone out the door.

Spike had helped himself to a look around, a shower, a pair of too-big black sweats, and a nap on the couch. He'd woken up to the smell of Xander making tacos for dinner.

After dinner, Xander had gone straight to the box he'd brought home and had started unwrapping stuff.

"Hey! Look at this!" Xander had held up a lopsided...square? of sparkly green popsicle sticks with a ribbon loop attached to one corner.

Spike had looked, then had snatched it out of his hand and looked more closely.

"You were a cute little blighter, pet," Spike had said.

And the whelp had been a cute kid. His face was all big eyes and no front teeth, topped with an unruly mop of dark curls. The picture in the popsicle-stick frame was obviously a school photo, and someone had made an effort to make sure Xander was presentable for the camera.

"Why are you wearing that nancyish blue sweater? And what's that on your face?"

Spike had been startled to see Xander's ease vanish in a flash.

"Um, it's Willow's sweater. Here..." he had rummaged in the box again, then had handed Spike another picture frame, this one neater and with purple glitter, featuring a gap-toothed, pony-tailed Willow, in the same blue sweater.

"It's a turtleneck. I wasn't going to get my picture taken, but Willow insisted."

"So I see. But why are you wearing her sweater, and what's the gunk on your face?"

"Because I didn't have anything decent of my own, and makeup, to hide the bruises. Do I need to spell it out?"

No, he hadn't.

"Sorry, pet. Just a bit odd, you wearing Red's stuff. Wondered if I should go have a look in your knickers drawer."

Xander had given him a tight smile and said nothing.

As William, Spike had learned the social graces. He knew when somebody wanted a subject changed or dropped. As Spike, he usually ignored it, because it was more fun to watch people squirm.

This time, though, he'd dropped it. The whelp had been unexpectedly generous, and he could afford to return the favor. He hadn't looked too closely at why he wanted to, though.

"Mm. Why do you have Red's doodad?"

Bloody hell, Spike had thought, what'd I say now? Contrary to popular opinion, vampires did have emotions other than rage and hunger, and could recognize those emotions in others. Granted, they didn't do guilt real well, but they could recognize it when they saw it. And sorrow.

Xander had dug in the box again, and had handed Spike a third frame. That one had been precisely put together, with blue glitter and a picture of a skinny, shaggy-haired boy with big buck front teeth.

"Who's this, then?"

"Jesse. He liked to build models, can you tell?" Xander had taken the frame back and gently stroked the picture with a fingertip. "He and Willow were my best friends. We met in the park when we were about five."

"How old are you lot in these?"

"Um, second grade, I think, so seven or eight." He had smiled reminiscently. "We were inseparable. It didn't matter that we were losers, we had each other. And I sound like a Hallmark commercial. That's not Willow's," Xander had finally replied to Spike's original question. "We always made three of everything and then traded. Willow has a frame like that one," he pointed to the green one, "and one with Jesse, too."

Spike hadn't known the details of the Master's downfall, hadn't really cared. Until one night at Giles', he'd been let out of the bathtub. Far too much sherry later, the Watcher had been downright chatty, and he'd told Spike the whole story. One of the Slayer's friends had been taken as bait and turned, then dusted by another of the Slayer's friends.

Spike wasn't stupid. The fact that the Scoobies didn't have a 'Jesse' pretty much made it obvious who the Slayer's turned friend had been.

Spike was willing to bet everything he had that he knew who had dusted him.

He'd decided to have one more try at changing the subject; if it hadn't worked, he'd been ready to shut his gob and let the whelp do all the talking.

"What else's in the box, luv?"

A lot, it had turned out. Paper snowflakes. Playdough snowmen. A paper-plate-and-construction-paper wreath. A stretched-out white gym sock, liberally decorated with sequins and cotton balls, a crooked 'XANDEr' straggling across the toe in red magic marker.

"My stocking. I made it in kindergarten, but Willow always managed to steal it. It'd be hanging with hers on Jesse's fireplace, every Christmas, and Willow would have her I'm-so-innocent face on."

All except for the sock had gone on the tree, blending in with the ornaments from the hospital.

The next few clumps of newspaper had had real ornaments wrapped in them. Five glass balls with faded gilt snowflakes. A couple of royal blue silk tassels that looked old. Spike could vaguely remember such things on Christmas trees from his human life. A half-dozen delicately twisted glass icicles. Small silver charms, probably from a bracelet; an ice skate, mittens, a snowflake, a heart-shaped locket.

"These were my grandmother's." Xander had hung them reverently on the tree, and Spike had had to admit, if only to himself, that it was pretty.

At the bottom of the box, cocooned in old tea towels, had been an angel. A bit battered, wings slightly crumpled, but her face had still been ethereally beautiful. She had reminded Spike a bit of Red's witchy girlfriend.

Xander had carefully smoothed down her rich satin robes. "Kinda looks like Tara, huh?" He had handed her to Spike.

"What'm I s'posed to do with her?" Unknowingly, Spike had cradled her gently in his street-fighter hands.

Xander had nodded at the tree, decorated but for the traditional angel.

"Me? 't's your house, pet, and your grandmum's angel. Besides, you're taller'n me."

"And you're the guest; guests get to do the honors. I'll hold her, you get the chair."

Spike had done as he was told, wondering how he'd gotten talked into it. Surely the Big Bad didn't decorate Christmas trees, let alone enjoy it.

After Xander had shut off all the room lights, they had sprawled on the floor.

"Why?"

"Duh, to watch the lights on the ceiling."

He'd learned more about Xander in that two hours than he'd learned in the last two years. What it had been like to see a friend turn into something that had to be killed. What it had been like to kill him. How much Willow had been there for him when they were children and how badly he regretted the kiss that had screwed with their friendship. Faith, and Anya.

And Jesse. Spike was still at a loss to name the feeling that had shot through him when he'd learned about the whelp's willingness to sleep on both sides of the bed.

To his chagrin, he'd found himself talking about his own past, too. Childhood memories. Gentle, bookish Dalton, his Childe and a kindred soul. Or demon, as the case may be. Dru and her singing stars. Angel, and how much he missed Angelus-the real Angelus, not the madman that occasionally went by the name nowadays. The despair when he'd realized exactly what the chip had done to him.

They'd fallen silent, each at the edge of their 'here be dragons' zone. He wasn't sure where this new closeness had come from, but on the whole, he thought it a good thing. As much as he hated to admit it, he needed somebody, and he needed that somebody to need him back. And he liked Xander. He wasn't sure where that had come from either, but he thought it had probably started when he'd been sent to live in the basement with the whelp.

The question was, did Xander like him back?

Frustrated with his poncy question, he reminded himself that he was the Big Bad, William the Bloody, half of the Scourge of Europe. He didn't care who liked him.

Except that he did care whether Xander liked him. He sighed and rolled over, and saw that Xander was asleep.

Quietly he got up and got the quilt and a pillow from the bed. He thought about going back to sleep in it, then considered the couch. He rejected both ideas; he might be a sentimental poof, but since he had the chance, he wanted to sleep with Xander. Or at least close to him. He laid down beside Xander and covered them both up.

It took him a long time to get to sleep.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander woke up slowly, hot and cold, hard and soft. Confused. As he woke up, he processed the info his body was sending him. He was sleeping on the floor. Why was he sleeping on the living room floor, and how did the quilt from his bed get out here? If the floor was hard and the quilt was warm and soft, why was he still cool down his back?

He rolled over to investigate, and found himself nose to nose with Spike. Pale blue eyes regarded him with amusement.

"Mornin', luv."

"Good morning, Spike." Xander tucked his head into Spike's shoulder and drifted back to sleep. For about five minutes. The cool bulk he was draped over and the weight of the arm over his waist finally registered, and his eyes popped open. Spike was still there, still looking amused.

"Mornin', luv," Spike said again.

"Spike?!"

Xander closed his eyes. Opened them. Spike was still there.

"Mornin', luv. Not your best in the mornings, are you?"

"Ummm..." Why are you here? Why are we on the floor? Why are we anywhere at all?

Apparently Spike got all that, because he answered patiently. "You invited me, remember? We put a lot of clobber on the tree, then you had to lay on the floor and watch the lights. You fell asleep. I'd have rather slept in the bed, but you're just a bit too big for me to move easily-your legs are too long." He didn't explain why he hadn't slept in the bed--or on the couch--by himself, but he hoped the whelp wouldn't notice.

"Oh." A few hazy memories surfaced through the sleep. Had Spike really put the angel on the tree? He remembered being on the floor, watching the tree lights blink colored patterns through the branches, like a kaleidoscope on fast forward. Talking to Spike about things he hadn't talked about in forever, if he ever had. Listening to Spike talk about things like that, too.

He realized that he was still cuddled up to Spike. He was surprised to find that he was comfortable and didn't want to go anywhere, and then surprised that that thought really didn't surprise him after all.

Too many surprises for this early in the morning. He tucked his head under Spike's chin and wound his arm around Spike's waist, pulling the quilt tighter around both of them.

Spike pulled him closer, and Xander thought he felt the brush of cool lips on his forehead, but he was too close to asleep again to be sure.

The next time he woke up, he was so tangled together with Spike it was hard to tell where one set of body parts ended and the other began. He shifted away, or tried to, and discovered that he could tell the difference between his parts and Spike's, especially that part. That part was hard. Both parts were.

Spike was still awake, or maybe awake again, and still watching him, with less amusement and more intensity. He'd pushed one leg between Xander's, and now he used that leverage to rub his hardness against Xander's.

Xander watched Spike's expression cloud over when he didn't respond. As Spike started to pull away, Xander came to a decision, one he hadn't known he needed to make.

He wanted this.

He slid his hand up Spike's back and cupped it around the back of his head. Letting the intent show in his expression, he moved forward and kissed him.

In Princess Bride terms, it wasn't much of a kiss. Brief and gentle, it was more of a question.

It was answered fiercely, an onslaught of cool pressure and a tongue apparently trying to map his tonsils.

Xander found himself rolled onto his back, Spike alternating between kissing him and doing everything he could to his neck except actually biting it. They were each humping urgently against the other's thigh and from the way his toes were curling, Xander knew he wouldn't last long.

That thought gave him pause. With a monumental effort of will, he pushed Spike off of him and rolled away, breathing heavily.

It wasn't that he didn't want sex, or sex with Spike. He just wanted more than that.

"Xander? What's wrong?"

Xander turned to look at Spike and saw what looked like fear in his pale blue eyes.

"This. Or not this, but the way we're doing this," Xander babbled. "It should be not like this, and that's the way I want it."

"You want to try that again, in English this time?"

"Look at us! We don't even have our clothes off!" Xander knew he wasn't getting through, but the words just weren't there.

Spike was obviously annoyed and heading for pissed. "So take 'em off already!"

"That's it exactly! I wanna be naked, in bed, with you naked."

The light dawned. Xander watched as comprehension stole across the vampire's face, leaving Spike open-mouthed.

"You fancy me. An' you wanna shag, not just rub off. Am I right, pet?"

Xander could only manage nodding, so he nodded.

"Yer cute when you blush, luv." He rolled gracefully to his feet, sweatpants-covered erection jutting hugely from Xander's perspective. "Well, c'mon, then, bedroom's thataway." He held out his hand and pulled Xander up.

Xander stood and pulled his hand free. "No, Spike. I want, I want...a shower. Yeah, that's it, a shower."

"I thought you said you wanted to be in bed. No matter, showers are nice, too."

"Gah! Use some of the supernatural hearing you've got and listen to me this time. NO. Not now, not like this." Xander started for the bathroom, only to be brought to a stop by a cool band of iron vampire grip around his wrist.

Spike's eyes flared briefly yellow and then faded back to blue. "Don't fuck with me, Xander Harris. I won't let that happen." The unspoken 'again' hung between them and reminded Xander of some of the things Spike had told him last night.

He sighed, reaching out with his free hand to stroke the sharp blade of Spike's cheekbone.

"I'm not saying 'never', and I hope 'soon' but..." he paused to collect his thoughts. "What do you want from me? I mean, do you just want to fuck, or do you want something more? I know I'm leaving myself open here, but I want more. I really like you, and I could go a lot farther than just 'like'. But I don't have a great record. The loves of my life have been a friend I had to kill, a praying mantis that wanted her kids to eat me, a princess that thought I was beneath her, a crazy Slayer that tried to kill me, and a demoted vengeance demon. Adding a soulless fiend to that list...well, let's just say I'd like to end the list there, but not because I've stopped trying."

Spike's expression slowly went from frustrated fury through stunned to a smile so sweet it took Xander's breath away. He was folded into Spike's arms and held tightly.

"You humans...all right, we'll do it your way." He cupped Xander's still-solid erection through his jeans and rubbed gently. "Go an' have your shower. But I'm gonna stand outside the door and listen while you toss off, so make it good!"

Xander's cock throbbed in response, earning a chuckle from Spike. Kissing Spike quickly, he disengaged before he could overturn all of his no's with a yes, and went into the bathroom, leaving the door half open behind him.


~*~*~*~*~


Spike stared in amazement at the rather large splat of spunk that was dripping slowly down the wall by the bathroom door. That had been...well, not to put too fine a point on it, but...that had been fantastic. Bloody fantastic for a wank.

Spike hadn't intended to jerk off; he was more than a century old, he had more control than that. With his preternatural hearing, and sense of smell, all he'd intended to do was know about it if the whelp did toss off, so he could razz him about it.

As threatened, he'd stood outside the door and watched as Xander had undressed and gotten in the shower. Forgoing the washcloth, Xander had worked up a handful of lather and proceeded to rub his soapy hands all over himself. Slowly, and with great attention to detail. Eventually, broad soapy hands had run slowly over his chest, leaving swirls of bubbles around peaked nipples. Those same soapy hands had then headed south...to Xander's feet.

Just why the sight of Xander washing his toes had given him wood to rival the Slayer's favorite stake was a good question. It might have had something to do with the way Xander had caressed each toe, stroking it...and he was getting hard, again.

Ruefully tucking himself back in, he went to get a paper towel to clean up his mess with.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander sauntered into the bathroom with equal parts nerve and nerves. He had a sort-of-a-plan; if he was going to jerk off, then so was Spike, or he'd never hear the end of it. Casually stripping, he started off with cool water, which deflated him a bit. A quick peek through the shower curtain, and a quick thanks to Anya for making him buy the clear one, and he saw Spike in the hall, watching him. On to stage two.

He washed the top half of himself slowly, and having gained Spike's riveted attention, he put his foot on the side of the tub and moved on to his toes. He played with them like he'd like to someday play with Spike's cock. Another quick peek, and speaking of Spike's cock, there it was. Hard and rosy pale, the darker pink head was protruding from Spike's fist. So far so good; on to stage three.

Putting his foot down, he leaned back against the slick tiles behind him and spread his legs, blatantly displaying his own hard-on. Dragging his hands slowly up his thighs, he brought both hands together, doubled his fists around his cock and stroked slowly.

Enjoying the growing tension, he slipped one hand down to fondle his balls, then slid his hand around his hip to his ass, stroking slowly up and down the cleft. He'd only done it this way a few times before.

A quick peek at Spike showed him that the vampire was enjoying this as much as he was. Spike was leaning on the wall opposite the bathroom door, with his sweats halfway down his thighs, one hand around his cock, the other up under his shirt.

Closing his eyes, Xander gave himself over to the fantasy he was building in his head. Stroking more quickly now, he slid a finger from his other hand slowly into himself.

It was getting easier; the first time he'd put a finger in himself he'd spent about thirty seconds wondering why anybody would want to do that. Then he'd relaxed and adjusted, and he'd spent the next several minutes wondering why he hadn't tried it sooner, before he'd come so hard his ears had rung.

He slid a second finger in and wondered how it would compare to Spike's bulk. Thinking about it now, wondering how Spike's cock would feel instead of his own fingers...how Spike would feel around his cock, instead of his own firm grip...with Spike just outside the door, watching him, jerking off with him...the tingle grew, tightening his thighs, his balls...he looked up at Spike just as Spike threw his head back and came, come arcing across the narrow hallway. His features were contorted with pleasure, and it took Xander a few seconds to see clearly enough through the steam to see that Spike had vamped out.

That was what pushed him over the edge into his own blazing orgasm. Vamped-out Spike slotted neatly into his fantasy and bit into Xander's shoulder. With a grunt Xander came, splattering the shower curtain across from him and just barely keeping his feet.

When he looked up again, Spike was staring at the wall like he'd never seen one before. Xander chuckled and reached for the soap. The score was even, and he still had to wash.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander came into the living room fully dressed, boots and all. Spike put down his mug of blood as Xander shrugged into his jacket.

"Xander?" Spike felt a flare of panic. Where was the whelp going? Surely that little scene in the shower hadn't scared him that badly. He was startled out of his ruminations by two hands firmly squeezing his fanny. He had to pay more attention; he was getting soft. No way the whelp should have gotten that close without him noticing.

"Relax, Spike. I'm not running out. Well, I am running out, but not on you." In answer to Spike's confused look he continued, "It's Christmas Eve! Now that I have someone to shop for, I actually need to shop."

Spike looked up, surprised. "Uh, pet, vampires don't exactly celebrate Christmas. I don't-" A finger over his mouth stopped him mid-sentence.

"I know. I do. And I'm going shopping. I'll be back in a while; the mall is going to be a zoo. Keeping in mind that I don't cook much, do you want anything in particular from the grocery store?"

Spike considered briefly, then decided. If he really was going to get involved with the whelp, he'd find out sooner or later; may as well tell him now.

"Yeah, hang on. I'll make a list."

Five minutes later, Xander was staring at the list, and Spike was beginning to regret his decision.

"Eggs, milk, flour, a beef roast, potatoes, peas...does this list mean you can actually cook?"

Spike nodded.

"Cool! Make you a deal-you cook, I'll do the laundry, whoever sneezes first dusts. We'll take turns doing the bathroom. Deal?"

Spike gave it lightning-fast thought. The whelp expected him to be around long enough to do household chores? Then maybe he hadn't scared him after all, maybe he really was going Christmas shopping, and not just looking for an excuse to get out of the house-away from Spike.

"Deal." Spike nodded, and pulled Xander into a hug.

Some time later, Xander pushed Spike away and stepped away from the table where Spike had backed him.

"Jeez, blondie, you're persistent when you're horny." He rearranged himself and straightened his jacket. "I'm going. I'll be back later this afternoon." He leaned in for a quick kiss, then patted his pockets for keys and sauntered out the door.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander surveyed the crowds around him. Normally this sort of elbow-to-elbow humanity would set his teeth on edge, but not today. Today he was just in too good a mood.

Several hours of wandering around later and his euphoria had dimmed a bit. All he had to show for his shopping was a Sex Pistols LP - a genuine Virgin original of Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols. Only a few minor scratches, and even the cover was in decent shape. Still, he wanted something different. Special.

His stomach loudly reminded him that not only had he missed breakfast, but it was now after lunch. He headed for the food court.

Then he saw it. More like he walked into it, literally. While dodging around a cluster of wound-up toddlers, he zigged when he should have zagged and bounced off the corner of Things Remembered.

Keys. Key chain. Spike needed a key to the apartment. Well, probably not; not having a key had never stopped him before, but... He went inside.

He emerged some time later, triumphant. In his pocket was a small jeweler's box, containing a copy of his house key, attached to a silver key chain. It was a plain brushed-silver rectangle, engraved with his apartment number on one side and the words 'Always Welcome' on the other. Pleased with himself and his gift, he went in search of his lunch.

Sharing a table with a grumpy guy with a mound of bags, he thought about his new situation. He'd have to get Spike added to his lease, and unless the vampire were more forthcoming about his original last name, he was going to be William LaVelle on the paperwork. William the Bloody looked impressive in dusty books but tended to make landlords look at you funny. And if the threat of being LaVelle didn't make Spike fess up, tough; he could live with being LaVelle-not that he ever went by a last name anyway. What else?

There was no way he was going to give Spike one of Fred's keys; not after what had happened to the DeSoto. Xander knew Fred had a personality; all good cars did. He wasn't convinced, though, that Fred wasn't an entity in his own right. He'd lived too long on the Hellmouth to dismiss such things out of hand. Whatever, Spike was not going to get the chance to insult Fred and put Xander out of transportation and likely, the job that he needed said transportation for.

Finishing his second gyro, he cleaned his end of the table and headed for Fred, and the grocery store.

Which was also a zoo. Crazed women buying fresh cranberries and oranges, lost men wandering around, looking for things like mace. What was mace, anyway? Somehow Xander didn't think they were looking for a studded club, but that was the only kind of mace he knew about. And he had apparently spent entirely too much time with the Slayer.

Fortunately Spike's list had more mundane things on it. A lot of things, but things easily found. He loaded nearly a dozen bags into the back of Fred and headed home. To Spike.

That was a warm, glowy thought. And yeah, he was probably rushing things, but going home to Spike felt...right. Righter than anything had in a while. Yes, he missed Anya, although not as much anymore, but this... whatever-it-was-going-to-be with Spike was about he and Spike, not about him missing Anya.


~*~*~*~*~


Dinner eaten, dishes done, they settled onto the couch to watch Christmas movies.

"'A Charlie Brown Christmas', pet?"

"Hey, it's tradition. Well, so's sleeping outside, but I think I'll skip that one this year."

Spike let the comment pass, and they cuddled up on the couch and watched Snoopy, the Grinch, and Rudolph, with Spike cheering for the grinch and the dentist elf.

"Gotta keep the fangs in good order, pet, all the better to nibble on you with." Spike demonstrated his nibbling technique on the soft skin of Xander's inner forearm until Xander pulled away, laughing.

Xander had made popcorn and they took turns throwing it at each other and catching in their mouths. Xander was better at it than Spike was, despite not having vampire reflexes.

"Hey, give me a break, I've been doing this a lot longer than you have. I bet you haven't eaten popcorn more than two or three times in the last hundred years or so."

Spike conceded the point, and the contest, giving the winner a kiss that lasted most of the way through Frosty the Snowman. Neither noticed.

Eventually though, the hiss of static got their attention, and they reluctantly separated and sat up.

Spike looked at Xander and wanted to push him back down and finish what they'd started. Xander was flushed pink, his hair in wild disarray. His mouth was red and swollen from however long it was they'd been snogging on the couch, and a rather obvious hickey covered the pulse point on his throat.

Xander got up and started the tape rewinding, putting the rest back in their boxes as he waited. He seemed fidgety, maybe slightly nervous now that they had cooled down a bit and he was getting a chance to think about what he was doing. Or who he was doing it with.

Spike thought he should say something, but he didn't really know what to say. It had been so long since he'd had a real relationship--if he'd ever had one--that he didn't quite know what to do. He'd always been in charge with Drusilla. He'd never been in charge with Angelus. This give-and-take with Xander was vastly different, and in consequence, Spike was feeling unusually hesitant.

Before he could come up with something to say that didn't sound like 'shag now', not that that was a bad idea, Xander finished with the tapes and turned to Spike.

"Will you sleep with me tonight, or do you want to sleep on the couch?" Xander met his eyes levelly, his expression hesitant but hopeful.

Spike was taken aback. After this morning, he'd thought the whelp wanted to take it slow.

"Just sleep, luv?" Best get the facts straight, now.

Xander blushed faintly, but didn't look away.

"Um, yeah, just sleep. I'm not trying to drive you nuts, and I'll understand if you'd rather stay out here..."

Spike smiled; a genuine I-like-you smile, not a smirk.

"'s okay, pet. I get it." And he did, he knew exactly what Xander meant. Xander wanted to wake up with Spike, but he didn't want Spike to think that he was being teased.

In companionable quiet, they got ready for bed. Lights were shut off, the door was locked, teeth were brushed.

"Vamps brush their teeth?"

"Don't need to, pet, we don't get cavities, but it's polite to if you're going to kiss somebody..." he broke off with a leer.

Xander laughed and smacked him on the arm, then put an extra-large blob of toothpaste on the toothbrush before ceremoniously handing it over to Spike and heading for the bedroom. He was halfway down the hall when Spike's disgusted tones echoed out of the bathroom.

"Gah! Bubblegum toothpaste? Bleah!"

Xander snickered and kept going.

He was already in bed when Spike went into the bedroom, the covers pulled up to his chin. Spike hesitated in the doorway, but continued as Xander held up the corner of the comforter in invitation. He quickly got into bed. Xander lay still, then turned and cuddled against him.

"Good night, Spike. Merry Christmas."

"G'night, pet. Happy Christmas to you, too."




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