A Place Called Home


by
Lady Cat and Xanphibian



Part One

Xander was shopping. Well, window shopping. He walked past the paint aisle twice before giving in and looking at all the little colored strips of paper in their holders. He looked, and dreamed. He'd driven past The House again that day, the cozy little cottage fixer-upper he'd been stalking for the past few months, and now looking at the paint samples, he was mentally painting every room in the house. He shouldn't, it was just a hopeless little pipe-dream, but he was getting pretty good at wishing for things he couldn't have. He sighed and moved on.

He really wanted to do something nice for Spike. Not to show him he cared or anything, because he was really trying to avoid that. Just something to make the vampire smile. Even if Xander didn't actually see the smile, knowing he'd done something to make Spike happy was enough. So. Something for Spike.

Xander looked at the electric blankets, and wondered if one of those would work. He didn't want to set Spike on fire accidentally, but didn't that only happen with bed wetters? So he'd risk getting the blanket, because he knew that even though Spike acted like he didn't feel the cold, he really did. Xander could tell the way he leaned into heat, the way he wore his coat all the time, and the way he nearly purred when the clothes were fresh out of the dryer and he could put them on when they were still warm.

Xander knew that he was way too concerned about Spike.  Concerned?  Xander turned the word over in his mind, then discarded it.  'Obsessed' was probably a better adjective.  Totally over the moon would be the most accurate still, but Xander wasn't going there.  He'd convinced himself months ago that friendship was all he could want or expect and that was really okay.  He liked Spike.  That was all that mattered and maybe, just maybe, Spike liked him back?  He looked again at the electric blanket, considering. Yeah. This was nice.

Except that brought up the problem of electricity.  Xander knew that Spike had jury-rigged something into the crypt for the tv and little fridge he kept there, but he knew how crappy it was.  Would it be able to sustain another drain?  Xander fondled the soft, silkiness of the electric blanket he was looking at—dark red, almost blood-red—and thought about the generators he had seen on sale the day before.  He could get one of those, wait until Spike was away from the crypt and quickly set it up.  That wasn't too obvious, was it?

Yeah. Maybe the generator was going a bit too far. Plus, the time it would take him to set it all up and get it going was more time for him to get caught. And that would mean explaining to Spike just why the heck he was doing it.

He could always keep the blanket at his place and then the next time Spike stayed over, he'd have it ...

No. That was just wishful thinking. Spike probably wouldn't be crashing on the couch again any time soon, unless Xander thought of a damn good reason to entice Spike to stay. And there weren't many reasons for that.

But ... BUT! He could maybe, possibly, think of an excuse of having to stay with Spike! He could bring some creature comforts along with him, including a generator? Maybe some rugs for the floor, a lamp or two, DVD player, a lot of beer?

Xander briefly considered the possiblity that he was going a little overboard. Then dismissed those thoughts.

Staying with Spike? Yeah, that might work. Maybe if he said his place was being fumigated. Maybe Xander's apartment was suddenly a Mecca for mutant rodents?

Yeah, he could do this.  Get the generator and the rest of the stuff, go breezing into the crypt saying that Spike better have some kind of easy plumbing, because he was there for two days and he wasn't going to stink the whole time.  That would keep Spike flustered and defensive, and give Xander time to work.

Pleased with his plan, Xander picked up the blanket and dumped it into his cart.  Blanket, check.  Electronics now, plus lots and lots of cords.  Or should he just buy that at the hardware store?  He checked the prices and decided it didn't matter, so he bought them here.  Plus a DVD player and a converter box.  And a few DVD's.  And a lamp.  A few rugs, and some more odds and ends, and his total was well over the hundred dollars he’d originally planned to spend.  He didn't care.

He was going to do this!  He'd be able to give Spike all these things and Spike wouldn't be able to say 'no', because Xander would let him steal the stuff!  The best way to get Spike to want something was to say he couldn't have it—just like a little kid, except little kids didn't steal with the adeptness that Spike did.  But that was okay.  So he was Xander, the walking Spike Store, and his doors were all open.  And okay, that was the stupidest analogy, but Xander didn't care.  He was gonna do it!

It took him two trips, but he finally got everything to the crypt that he needed. Taking a look around, he went back out and bought a broom, a mop, and some cleaning supplies. Nothing too strong smelling, he didn't want to overwhelm Spike's acute senses, but some nice soap and water would do the place good.

Grateful for the muscle and stamina he'd built by working construction, Xander set to work. It only took him an hour to go over the floors and walls the first time, and then thirty minutes on the second go round. The crypt didn't exactly sparkle, but the cobwebs and piles of dust and dirt were gone.

He called Buffy's cell phone and was informed that Spike had been sent to Willie's on a fact finding mission. That left enough time to leave, grab a shower and get cleaned up, and return before Spike got back. Then he could do the rest.

He showered and then hurried back to the crypt with a few changes of clothing to make the whole thing seem more real.  The crypt was still empty when he got there, so he started working on the generator outside.  That's where Spike found him, tweaking the final settings forty five minutes later.

"The hell you think you're doing?" 

The words were angry, the tone more confused then upset.  Xander hid a grin, pretending to concentrate on the finishing.  "What's it look like?  No way am I going two days without my DVDs, Spike."

Spike blinked at him. Tilted his head like a confused puppy. It was adorable. "What the hell?"

Xander ducked his head again to hide his smile and finished. "You want to help me here? I'll start this up and you go inside and see if the television works."

"I know the bloody television works, I stole the electricity myself," Spike said.

"Well, I rearranged a few wires."

"Rearranged a few—what the bloody hell did you do to my crypt!"  So saying, Spike stomped off into said crypt, muttering about ignorant, meddling Scoobies.

The silence that followed was sweet.

Tying off the last wire, Xander rose and entered the crypt.  It really did look better.  Clean, or at least relatively clean, with a few rugs for comfort and warmth.  Maybe some wall-hangings later?  The tv was on, and Spike was staring at the blue 'please insert DVD' lettering.  The refrigerator hummed—a lot less noisy after Xander had worked on it for a little—and he knew it was stocked with food for him, blood for Spike, and lots of beer for them both.

"What."  Spike wasn't asking, but Xander decided to treat it that way.

Forcing himself to be totally casual and slightly annoyed, he shrugged.  "My place is getting fumigated.  Cockroaches the size of your head.  The girls can't put me up, they don't have the room, so I figure I'll bunk here for a few days.  Live the life of the manly and deprived."

"So you turned into Martha bloody Stewart?" Spike walked around the crypt slowly. "Did you get to the downstairs, too?"

"You're objecting to a little spic'n'span?"  With a shrug of dismissal, Xander sat on the (much cleaner) sofa and picked up the remote.  He'd had to do a lot of guessing and rigging to get cable here, and it wouldn't last long, and then he'd had to go and buy another remote, but it was so— repeat, so—worth it from the look of shock on Spike's face when Xander switched it to Iron Chef.

Today was okra.  Disgusting, but it gave him something to focus on when Spike went downstairs.  He hadn't done much there—cleaned a lot, but otherwise he'd just added blankets and his own inflatable mattress.  He'd figured sharing a bed would be pushing it.

When Spike finally climbed back up, Xander said casually, almost distractedly, "Hey, can you get me a beer?  And what are they—ew, don't tell me what they're doing to that."

He watched Spike out of the corner of his eye. This was just too good. Something to savor. Spike was walking in kind of a dazed way, and when he opened the refrigerator, he didn't say a word. Just grabbed a beer and brought it over. Then he sat down next to Xander in stunned silence, just kind of staring at him.

Taking his eyes away from the television, like it was some reluctant chore to look at Spike (ha! as if), Xander asked, "You okay? You're looking a little paler than usual."

Spike didn't answer.  Spike not answering was kind of unnerving, but Xander just turned his attention back to the tv.  Well, he tried to, and managed it for a good five minutes before, "What!"

"I didn't say anything."

"You were staring.  It's annoying when you stare."  Liarliarliar, but it was nerve-wracking.

"You think you're living here.  For two days."

Xander shrugged a third time.  "Could be a little longer.  And I don't think I'm living here.  I know I am."  Batting his eyes and turning a patently false smile on Spike, he added, "Roomie."

Spike snorted.  A flicker of a grin was in his eyes, though, and Xander relaxed happily back onto the cushions.  "And all this was, what, soften the schmuck up before you invade?"

"Are you kidding?" Xander asked with a grin. "I just had to make this place habitable. You live like a ... a ..."

"Vampire?" Spike asked, amused.

"Hey, just because you're a man of the undead variety doesn't mean you should let everything just go. Nice in here, isn't it? Warm lighting, cozy rugs under the feet, throw pillows and blankets ..." he said, dragging a fuzzy chenille throw over his lap to make the point.

"Is kinda cold in here," Spike admitted grudgingly.  Really grudgingly, Xander knew, given the way he unconsciously shivered.  Poor little Spikey, he thought and started "rearranging" the throw so it covered him and Spike.  It was a measure of the vampire's discomfort that he didn't immediately shove it off.

"Hence the Martha Stewart kick."  Xander thought about mentioning that everything was coming back with him—even though it wasn't—then decided, nah.  If he did that, he'd just make Spike feel bad, and since the point of this was to make Spike feel  good ...

He didn't comment when Spike rose and got himself a beer.  At least, what he thought was a beer.  "Woodpecker?  What the hell do you know about British cider?"

"You might have mentioned it, maybe? Dunno, just thought I'd pick it up on a whim. Is it any good?" Xander said nonchalantly. No way he was telling Spike about all the grilling poor Giles took as Xander made himself more Brit-smart.

"Didn't even think you could buy these here."  Abruptly, Spike's eyes narrowed.  Xander made sure he was not looking, because the only place you could get import liquor was a small shop near the edge of town.  One that charged an arm and a leg—sometimes literally—since they were an ex-patriot's oasis in an Bud Lite desert.

So Xander had spent way too much money already.  He figured he'd spend more, he could afford it, and hey, he was enjoying himself doing it.  Besides, Spike looking confused and suspicious was adorable.

Twisting the not-twistable cap right off, Spike sipped cautiously.  "Nice stuff."  It was the Spike-version of a 'yeah, woohoo!'.  "Hey now, we gonna watch Iron Chef all bloody evening?  Not near enough violence."

Xander bit the inside of his mouth to keep from grinning. "Can't exactly call and order pay-per-view unless we want a nice visit from the cable police, but I picked up a few DVDs today that I haven't seen." He pointed to the stack on top of the television. "Maybe there's something there you'd like."

Spike sneered at him, which was Spike for 'I'm trying to be Big and Bad but actually really grateful you're doing all of this'.  Or so he told himself.

After pawing through the choices for a little, Spike came back with Fight Club.  "Got good taste, pet."

There were several responses going through Xander's head. 'I have excellent taste ... especially in gay vampire sex&snuggle fantasies' or 'why don't you come over here and see how good I taste?' but both of those statements would lead to nothing but badness and utter humiliation. So Xander just nodded and handed Spike the DVD remote. Might as well give him some semblance of control in his own home.

Halfway through the movie, Xander'd had several beers and was enjoying a nice, soothing buzz. He was practically cuddled next to Spike, and his feelings were just as fuzzy as the blanket they were sharing. He was really trying to stay cool and casual, but this was like every little happy little domestic dream he'd ever had.

After Fight Club, Xander tried not to pout while Spike retrieved blood and a few more beers from the fridge and put on another movie.  He was just tipsy enough not to recognize the movie, or care.  Because Spike sat back down in the same place he'd left.  And he didn't object when Xander yawned, creaked, and leaned a little more heavily against him.

"Human blood," Spike commented slowly.  "Must've really wanted to make a good impression, then."

"Better for you," Xander said drowsily. "And you're starting to get a little too skinny."

Spike's body shifted a little, allowing Xander's head to fall almost on his shoulder.  Okay, more like his chest, and it was hurting Xander's neck a little, but Spike's arm was resting on his side.  There was no way he was moving.  Plus, he was too tired.

Spike's voice vibrated through the places they touched.  "And that bothers you, doesn't it."  It wasn't a question.

"Shouldn't see the Big Bad's ribs," Xander mumbled. Turned his face the tiniest fraction of an inch to slowly, secretly breathe in Spike's scent.

Shoulder's twitched underneath his weight.  "Big and bad.  Yeah."  His hand started moving on Xander's body.  Slow, careful touches.  Like petting, or stroking, or something equally subconscious—and probably Dru-like in origin.  Xander didn't care, concentrating on maintaining his relaxed breathing.  After a few moments he didn't have to concentrate anymore—the pleasure of being touched and petted mixed nicely with the fuzziness of the beer.  "Mmm."

"Think you need tucking in, pet," Spike said. "Gets cold up here. Come on, I got a little space heater downstairs."

Xander did not want to move from where he was, but he got up reluctantly anyway and followed Spike down the ladder. Slipped once in his relaxed state, but Spike was there to catch him and half carry him the rest of the way, so it didn't really matter.

It was really nice to let Spike carry most of his weight.  Along with the touching Spike parts, being shown that a guy a little shorter and a little smaller was so much stronger then him was ... nice.  He liked it.

"Mattress," he mumbled into Spike shirt.

"I know, I see it."  Xander was tipped backward, landing gently on the inflatable mattress next to Spike's bed.  "Here we are, lie down now.  Been a busy little bee, turning my crypt upside down, haven't you."

Xander smiled without opening his eyes. "You like it?"

Cool fingers pushed hair away from his face.  "Go to sleep, Xander.  I'll ... I'll try an' be quiet so not to disturb you."  With that totally unexpected, and differently accented goodbye, Spike vanished back upstairs.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander woke slowly.  There was a crick in his neck, but he felt really rested.  Comfortable.  Mmm.  Stretching leisurely, Xander yawned, sat up, and blinked.

Spike was stretched out on his bed, underneath the electric blanket.  That was plugged in.

Oh, yeah.  Xander ruled.

Grinning foolishly, since Spike-the-dead-body wouldn't see it, Xander did a mini-Snoopy dance and then headed towards the little bathroom area Spike had rigged up.

He washed his face and brushed his teeth, and thought about what he could do while Spike slept. He'd really like to do more to the crypt—clean up all the melted wax from Spike's candles, for one. But that didn't really benefit Spike, per se, more like just pleased Xander's sense of personal style.

Splashing water over his body in lieu of a shower, Xander pulled on fresh clothes and went back to the 'bedroom'.  Spike was still sprawled over the bed, cosily tucked under the electric blanket.  The wine-dark red suited him.  He looked ... calm, underneath all that heat.  Satisfied.  Sated.

Shaking his head, Xander went upstairs and ate a breakfast bar.  He didn't really have anything he needed to do today, and it was late enough that Spike might wake up soon—which meant trying to plaster the walls, which his internal carpenter screamed to do right that minute, was out.

So he settled for relaxing on the couch and flicking through the channels a bit.

He'd just started getting interested in the commentators' back-and-forth dialogue—hey, he could keep up with the news ... um, sometimes—when Spike shuffled up the ladder. Xander hadn't known it was possible to shuffle while climbing a ladder.

Or that Spike would have eyes half closed. Body totally relaxed. And bed head.

Totally oblivious to the way Xander stared at him, Spike stumbled over to the refrigerator and pulled out a packet of blood. He stared at it, eyes narrow in contemplation, until he blinked and looked around the crypt. He made a guttural noise as his eyes landed on Xander, sitting on his newly cleaned sofa. "Still here."

Xander hid his 'aww, that's so cute!' face and nodded. "Told you two days. You slept sound, but not that sound."

"No. Just thought ... " Brows coming down in a way that threatened to force Xander's 'awww' out loud, Spike shook his head and started heating the blood.

Xander's stomach rumbled and he remembered the electric skillet and toaster he'd brought. Mmm, eggs and toast sounded pretty good.

Xander came over and plugged the skillet in. He tried to ignore Spike watching him while he cracked eggs and started preparing his own breakfast. "So? Big plans for ... " he checked his watch " ... the rest of this Saturday afternoon? And why are you up now?"

"Wasn't ... That is, I thought I'd go on down to Willie's, catch a poker game." He so obviously hadn't been planning anything of the sort. Xander was suddenly reminded of himself when he was trying not to look like a loser. "Why, you got any ideas?"

"A poker game at four thirty on a Saturday?"  Xander gave Spike a skeptical look, but left it at that.  He didn't want to rile up the already nervous vampire.

"No, not at four thirty," Spike blustered, rubbing his face and hair.  It messed the curls up even further, making them so much cuter.  Xander was pretty sure he was going to die of hypoglycemia. Then Spike was going to kill himself, once he learned that it wasn't overwhelming evilness that had finished Xander off.  

"Oi, lemme have some of that."  Spike snagged a piece of toast and started dunking it.

Xander made the expected 'bleugh' face, even though the blood thing didn't even bother him anymore. And stealing someone's food—that was practically flirting, right? Maybe even foreplay, if he looked at it from a certain angle. In the right light. Like, the light of the blue moon.

"I was going to go by the Bronze, shoot a little pool. Maybe catch a movie later. If you aren't doing anything, I guess you could come," Xander said. Please say yes, please say yes.

"You guess, huh?"  A glimmer of amusement made Xander flush and duck his head.  Spike couldn't look at him like that.  First there was the whole Spike actually hating him thing.  Then there was the ohmigodcan'tbreathewhenhedoesthat thing.  The latter was more physically pressing, but the former ...  "No skin off your nose or money from your wallet, is that it?"

"Right," Xander agreed nervously. "I mean, I'll pay for the pool table, since I'd be spending that anyway. And you can just sneak into the movie." He made a quick note to just pay for Spike's ticket while he was 'sneaking in'.

Spike stared at him for a moment.  "You're a weird kid, anybody ever tell you that?"  Tossing back the rest of his blood, he disappeared downstairs and soon Xander heard the sound of Spike's makeshift plumbing being operated.

Oh yeah, that was another thing he had to fix.  Hmmmm.  Maybe he could do that now?  Movies weren't till later, anyway, and all Spike needed was a shower-head and Xander was pretty sure he knew enough to get the rest of plumbing done without help ...

He almost left a note, but then he stopped himself. Spike wouldn't care one way or the other if Xander was gone when he got back, so Xander just left.


~*~*~*~*~


Showerhead? Check. Nothing fancy, just a nice, adjustable fixture that looked nice, too.

Xander wandered the aisles of Ralph's Discount Hardware Emporium and picked up everything he needed. And then ... then he saw something that made him just stop in his tracks.

Water heaters. On sale. Okay, that 'sale' price was a little steep, but it was a tankless unit, and easy to install, and ... and Spike probably hated the cold water he was stuck with.

Xander did some quick mathematics in his head.  He'd have to give up cable at his own apartment for a month, or beer, or something but ... chuckling, he shook his head.  Like he wasn't going to do this?

Everything bought and paid for, Xander headed back towards the crypt.  It was still daylight, so he was careful to minimize the sunlight exposure as he opened the front door. 

Spike glanced up from the TV, pausing his movie.  "Where'd you run off to?"

"Here, you carry this down the ladder.  It looks in okay shape, right?"  Knowing he wasn't answering anything, Xander grabbed the rest of his stuff and made sure he closed to door tightly behind him.

Spike was staring at the water heater with narrowed eyes.  Flicking a glance towards Xander was more pointed then any of the "what the bloody hell is this" responses Xander had expected.

"Well, I'm not going to take cold showers!" Xander said defensively.

"So you went out and bought a water heater?" Spike's voice rose incredulously.

"No, I didn't just go out and buy a water heater. I know a guy at the hardware store. This one ... fell off the truck, kinda."

A dark eyebrow rose precipitously.  "Right.  And you're gonna install this one, too?"

"No, you're going to install this one.  I know you know a lot about plumbing, and I don't.  So carry that downstairs, I'll get the rest of the stuff, and we can have hot showers before we leave tonight.  Um.  If you're coming with me."

Spike didn't answer the question that wasn't really a question, just gave Xander another look—this one, Xander couldn't figure out, even though he thought he might be an expert on Spike looks—and headed down the ladder with the water heater.

Grateful that Spike hadn't made more of a fuss, Xander followed.  Setting everything up was surprisingly easy.  Spike really did know a lot about plumbing, rifling through Xander's purchasing with nary a word.  There was a lot of eyebrow raising, though.  Xander helped when he knew what to do or when Spike told him to do something, staying mostly out of the way.

Because watching Spike twist and turn and flex those muscles in his tight black tee and tighter black jeans with the top button undone?  Momma.

"Gimme that tension rod," Spike said eventually.  Xander passed it over, as well as the plastic curtain he'd bought to get threaded through it.  Black

"Black?" Spike questioned.

"It ... was the least see-through of the store's selection."

"Right."  Spike was giving him really odd looks.  "Well, since it was your friend that 'found' this, you wanna take the first one?"

Xander shook his head.  "Nah, I'm good.  You go ahead if you want."  Busying himself with cleaning up and muttering about finding a movie in the paper he'd picked up, Xander covertly watched Spike's reaction.

Surprise.  Suspicion.  Disgruntlement.  More suspicion.  And then a longing that told him he'd been right.  Spike wanted this, the hot water, the chance to get totally clean.  He wanted it badly.

Xander held the happiness close to himself as he climbed the ladder, waiting until he heard the new shower fixtures twist and the water start before letting out a whoop and allowing himself to grin the way he'd been wanting to all afternoon. Just knowing that Spike was getting something he really wanted—hell, needed—made Xander happy. Incredibly, wonderfully, amazingly and hugely happy.

The shower ran for a really, really long time.  Xander wasn't worried about taking a cold shower—the tankless unit had pretty much instantaneous electric heating. The generator was probably drinking up fuel like it was nothing, though.

And then the singing started.

It wasn't good signing.  Or very loud.  Xander recognized it as something punk and probably tuneless in origin.  It was also coming from Spike.

Xander grinned even more broadly and sat down beside the ladder hole, cocking his head down to hear better. He knew he had it bad before this, but here was the irrefutable proof. He was straining his ears to hear Spike's bad shower-singing.

Three songs later, the water was turned off.  Xander scurried back to the sofa as a clean and smirking Spike came upstairs.  He didn't say anything about the shower.  Just heated a mug of blood and started fussing with his still-wet hair.  The almost golden-colored curls needed to be gelled.  Xander enjoyed the rare opportunity to see Spike free of product—and reminded himself not to let Spike see him looking like such an utter sap.

"Well?" Spike asked when Xander made no move to head downstairs.  "C'mon, hurry up.  Gotta get you dressed in something respectable before we go."

Xander hid his grin. So they were going. And Spike wanted to dress him? What?

There was a sudden flash of fantasy: Spike dressing Xander in leather pants and an unbuttoned silk shirt ... maybe oiling his chest first, pale, strong fingers working over his skin, skimming his nipples .. silver choke chain he'd use to lead Xander over to the bed, just one finger hooked through the largest loop ...

Xander swallowed. Yeah, like that would be happening. "Sure, I'll uh ... go down right now," he said, moving quickly so Spike couldn't see the so very hard erection tenting Xander's khakis.

The shower was good. The heater worked well, but Xander soon turned the hot water down to rid himself of the erection.

Finished, he found clothes laid out on Spike's bed. 

"Put those on," Spike's voice called down to him. "No bloody arguments."

Like he was going to argue.  The jeans were his own, and he must have brought them over by mistake because they were just this side of too tight.  The shirt was definitely Spike's: a red silk button down, the kind Spike used to never be without.

"Hurry up!" Spike called while Xander stared at the shirt and tried not to tremble.  "S'just clothes, pet, put 'em on."

Xander flushed and dropped the towel. Without Spike downstairs to see him, he let himself have the momentary thrill of being naked in Spike's bedroom. He grinned to himself.

His skin was just damp enough to make the tight jeans difficult to get on, but once they were on, they clung to his skin in a way that felt good.

The shirt was cool and luxurious and only a little too short in the arms. He flipped the cuffs up to make it look less obvious. Way too tight in the neck, but Xander solved that by leaving the first two buttons opened.  He hoped he looked rakish and not idiotic, but the lack of mirrors offered no help.

"Will you get a bloody—oh."  Spike dropped onto the floor next to him, roughly pushing his body this way and that.  "Not bad.  Better than the banana boat.  I'm sure you'd throw a very straight, manly man hissy fit if I suggested eyeliner?  You've got such pretty ones."

While Xander boggled at that, Spike messed around with his hair and then disappeared back to the first floor.  "C'mon, don't wanna miss the flick you picked out.  I like previews."

Right. They had a date! Okay, not really a date. But Xander could pretend. Even though Spike thought he was 'very straight'. He wondered if he should correct the misconception or if he should just ignore it? Nah, probably shouldn't say anything. It might make things weird, and then Spike would get the wrong idea—or the right idea, but he'd probably take it badly—and then this little slice of Spike-heaven would be gone. Xander had about twenty-four hours left of quality Spike time before he had to leave, and he didn't want to ruin it.

Xander followed quickly and they both headed to the car.

Ten minutes later, Xander was parking by the movie theater.  "You're gonna sneak in, right?"

Spike gave him a scornful look.  "Not the first time I've snuck into the cinema, pet.  Just get me popcorn and some of those Snowcap thingies."

"Popcorn and Snowcaps, check."

Buying a ticket for an absent Spike was easier then he'd thought.  The ticket-taker didn't care and he had the stubs if there were any problems.  Not that there were. 

Arms laden with goodies, Xander found Spike in the back row, feet in the chair in front of him.  "So what're we seeing?"

"One of those weird new movies Tom Cruise is doin'," Spike whispered back, then jabbed him when he tried to ask which one.

A while into the movie and Xander was confused.  And more then a little disturbed.  "What is this?" he hissed.

"You're the one that circled it on the bloody paper," Spike answered back.

"What?  No, I didn't!"  He tried to think back to what he'd chosen as 'things he wanted to see'.  Had he?  Maybe he had.  Because Tom Cruise usually meant stupid movies like Mission: Impossible, not freaky kinky shit that was hard to watch.

"Just.  Watch."

"What's with the masks? Are they just gonna do that with ..." Xander trailed off and stared. "Huh. Guess they are."

He stayed quiet a little longer, then gave up.  The movie was too confusing.  Spike, however, seem to really like it, so ... Xander started watching Spike.

Oh, he tried to be slick about it.  Watching from the corner of his eye, tensed to look away if Spike noticed.  But Spike didn't turn.  He was watching the screen with what looked like serious concentration.  The corners of his mouth were turned down fiercely when he wasn't laughing, and—most surprising—he was silent.  Spike was rarely silent when watching movies.  Or maybe that was only with movies he didn't know?  Xander tried to remember if he'd shown Spike any movies he knew the vampire hadn't seen before.

"I know I'm pretty, pet, but the flick isn't that bad," Spike said quietly.

Xander gulped audibly and stared at the screen until the credits rolled.

They were quiet as they headed back to the car.  The silence was starting to make Xander kind of crazy.  "So what was that?" he blurted.  "The movie, I mean."

Spike shrugged. "Pretty good job of getting at how intense things can get when a bloke's jealous. The way the imagination can run away with you, the way it can all make you crazy." Spike thought a few seconds more and added, "If Kubrick hadn't have kicked it, I'd think he was a vampire. Thought like a vampire, that's for sure. All raw and dirty. Getting to the meat. Love and obsession and all that." He must have remembered who he was talking to suddenly, because he lost the thoughtful expression and smirked. "You up for the Bronze? Been looking forward to taking your dosh in a bit of 9-ball."

Xander blinked as Spike pared the movie down into something he could understand.  He knew Spike wasn't stupid—but seeing how stupid he really wasn't was ... different.  Nice.  Okay, it made Xander feel really stupid, but he was used to that.

"Bronze it is," he said, happy to change the topic.

Once there, the music was loud and the beer was nice and cold. Girls looked interested, but Spike managed to somehow smile and then ignore them. One girl actually started talking to Xander at the bar, but he smiled and just said he was there with someone. He let himself believe that for a minute, even, that he was there with Spike.

He wanted to grab the vampire and drag him out onto the dance floor, bump and grind against him, lick his neck and promise him all kinds of things he'd have no trouble delivering. But he didn't.

Spike won four games before Xander paid attention, and then won three more after Xander actually started to try to win.

Xander was having the best night of his life.

"Refill," Spike commented at one point.  He disappeared before Xander could reach for his wallet.  Okay, weird, but he came back bearing beers, wings, and a tale about how the waitress at the bar had been so enamored with Spike's appearance that she made mistake after mistake.

Chuckling, Xander leaned against his cue stick and watched the way Spike bent over the table to line up his shot.  God, what a position ...

Spike turned and gave him a look. "Nice view, pet?"

He was joking. He had to be joking.

"Yeah, Spike. I'm over here, drooling over the hotness that is your ass," Xander said sarcastically. "Would you just take the damn shot?"

Spike grinned and sank the five, but his shape was shit. "Fuck."

"Fucked yourself over there, huh?" Xander teased.

Spike missed the six completely.

"I think that's ... ball in hand," Xander said with a grin, grabbing the cue ball and setting up a sweet shot. He hit the six and banked the nine into the corner pocket. "Hmm. Looks like I won."

"Smartass."

Xander executed a half-bow, grinning madly.  "It's a sweet one, too.  Your rack."

And why the hell had he said that?  Hastily, gulped his beer while Spike retrieved all the balls.

Xander broke and sunk two balls, but then scratched on the two. Spike looked insanely cocky as he took his shot, but then missed the pocket by about a half-centimeter.

"Ouch," Xander said without sympathy. "You keep this up, I'm gonna break even."

Spike shot him a filthy look and proceeded to sink every ball—and then scratched on the eight.

Xander whooped and quickly sunk the eight and nine, then gave Spike his cheekiest expression. "I think it's your rack again, champ."

Spike was so damn hot when he was glowery.

"You're cheating," Spike accused when he lost another game.

Wha-huh?  Outraged, Xander made the most wounded expression his almost-drunk allowed.  "I am not!  And hey, not like you don't cheat.  You cheat all the time!  I guess I just cheat better then you do!"

Spike half-sat on the table, cue behind him as he lined up a complicated shot.  "Oh yeah?" he challenged, amused.  "Thought you didn't cheat at all, goody-goody.  So how're you cheating better?"

"Well, if I'm cheating, and you're cheating, but I'm winning, then I guess I'm cheating better, huh?" Xander said. Then he stuck out his tongue for good measure.

Spike laughed outright.  "Whatever you say, Harris."  He proceeded to kick Xander's tail in the next game.  "Had enough?" he taunted.  "Or do you want to 'cheat' some more?"

"That's it, Spike. You're going down," Xander said, racking the balls quickly.

"That right?" Spike asked with a smirk. There was something there Xander didn't catch, he was sure of it, but he was intent on ... something. Proving something. Or maybe just getting Spike to laugh again, even if it was at Xander's expense.

"That's right. Just you watch me," Xander said. He stood back and let Spike take his turn, then stepped up when nothing fell on the break.

It was close, but Xander won the game.

"I think I've proven my point," Xander said, draining his mug and putting the stick back on the wall. "Time to go home?"

"Yeah.  Here, gimme your keys."

"What, you're the designated driver now?" Xander asked with a smile, but he handed the keys over without a fight.

"The amount of beers you've had?  Yeah."  Spike was oddly attentive as they headed outside.  He kept close to Xander, steadying him whenever the ground moved or things jumped in front of him.  "In you go."

It was nice, for a minute, to imagine Spike taking care of him, Spike watching out for him. Sliding into the seat next to him and buckling the belt for him.

"Hey.  Don't fall asleep yet, pet."  Cool fingers lifted his head up.  "Don't fancy carrying you back to the crypt."

"You could," Xander said rebelliously.

"Hush, pet.  Know I could, just don't particularly want to."

"Oh.  How come?"

Spike started driving, the deep thrum of the engine making his body vibrate.  "Because if you're drunk enough to pass out, you're drunk enough to puke."

Xander straightened up. "I'm not that drunk. I'm not passing out, and I'm not puking. Geez. I'm in the happy netherworld between tipsy and shit-faced. It's a nice spot, and I hope to stay here for as long as I can."

Spike chuckled and drove. Not nearly as dangerously as Xander feared.

Back home—the crypt, not home—Spike slipped an arm around Xander's waist when Xander pretended to trip on a broken headstone, then walked them both inside.

Gently sitting him down on the sofa, Spike knelt and removed his shoes.  "You want to hit shit-faced, or do I give you one of the water bottles you brought?"

Xander smiled up at Spike. He looked so nice and ... nice when he was helping. Now, if he was shitfaced, he might have said that out loud, and he was smart enough to know that wasn't such a great thing. "Water's good. Don't feel like spilling all my secrets and then passing out in a puddle."

Light touch to his hair and Xander blinked, not knowing if he imagined that or not.

"Got a lot of secrets, pet?"

Spike didn't look like he was fishing.  Mostly he looked like he was amused.  Xander smiled back.  "No," he lied.  "Why would I have secrets?"

Spike's smile widened.  "Naughty, pet.  Asked if you have many, not if you had any at all."  Rising gracefully, Spike retrieved dinner for him and water for Xander. 

Watching Spike eat reminded Xander that his dinner had been popcorn, candy, and various fried foods at the Bronze.

Standing, he managed about three steps towards the fridge before he stumbled and—whoa!  Spike had good reflexes, catching him a foot before he hit the ground.  "Xander!  What the hell're you doing!"

"Um, hungry?" Xander said sheepishly. He leaned back a little against Spike. Just for a second. Just ... gah. So good. Right there in his arms. He swallowed and tried to right himself. "Sorry, guess I'm a little drunker than I thought."

Spike stepped forward with him, crook of his arm still cradling Xander's neck.  "Yeah.  Back you go.  Just sit and sip that and I'll fix you something."  He made a face at Xander's expression.  "Not gonna be gourmet, but I can handle a bloody sandwich!"

"Don't like blood on my sandwich!" Xander said petulantly.  A blanket was tangled around him, effectively trapping him to the sofa.  "That'd be gross!"

Spike chuckled.  "S'why I'm not making one for you.  Hold tight."  Xander held the pillow and then—hey, a cheese sandwich!

Xander was acutely aware of how the alcohol was affecting him tonight. No hot, sexy Xander. No loose, funny Xander. He was more like childish, needs-taking-care-of Xander. He hoped Spike didn't laugh at him too badly tomorrow morning.

"Thanks, Spike," he said. Maybe a little too adoringly, but maybe that could be chalked up to heavy beer consumption.

Spike shrugged awkwardly.  Even through the alcohol he could see Spike was uncomfortable with thanks.  Okay, no more thanking then.  Just eating. The sandwich really was good.

He didn't react when Spike sat next to him, remote in hand.  "Mind?" Spike turned on the TV without a response.  "It's not that late, yet.  Think I'll skip patrol, though.  Don't want you to drown in your own puke," he added nastily.  Fake nastily, but Xander wasn't going to mention that.

Xander finished his sandwich and washed it down with the bottled water. "You're all heart," he said, comfortably sarcastic this time.

Spike snorted, stretching his arms over the back of the sofa.  He flipped quickly.  Xander grew dizzy watching the channels fly by so he let his eyes fall shut.

He didn't start when he felt cool fingers against his neck.  The skin there was hot and sweaty from his drunken state, so the gentle brushing back and forth felt nice.  He did murmur when Spike started toying with the hair at the nape of his neck, but a soft word from Spike quieted him.

There was a Spanish soap opera running on the television, and cool, caring fingers lulling him into a very happy place, and all Xander could think was that he only had one day left, and then it was back to being Spikeless.

He had to manufacture another excuse.  Or something, because he really, really liked this.  Especially when Spike just shifted when he listed to one side, allowing Xander's body to stretch out, head on Spike's thigh.  "Nice," Xander muttered.

He hadn't meant to say it out loud though.

Wondering how much damage he'd done, trying to force himself awake and sober at the same time, he wasn't prepared for Spike's chuckle.  "You just like the cold, you drunken sod."

"And you're only using me for my body heat, you whore," Xander snickered back.

"Works out well, then."

Lulled by the sound of chattering Spanish voices, Xander let himself drift off.  Spike's thigh was hard underneath his ear, but not uncomfortable.  Fingers toyed with his hair and rubbed gently over his sweaty back, calming him.

Xander was so happy.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander was sore when he woke up. Not sore in a 'I worked out all day' way, or a 'I had the best sex of my life' way, but more like a 'I slept so hard it hurt me' way.

It felt good.

Lifting his head a little, Xander got his bearings. Bed. Crypt. Wait, not his little air mattress, but Spike's bed. He put his head back on his pillow and ... realized the 'pillow' was actually Spike. Oh, sweet double-dutching jeezus.

Spike grunted at the returning weight of Xander's head on his chest and shifted irritably.  "Stop moving," he mumbled, clearly ninety nine percent asleep.  Arms around Xander's body tightened a fraction.  "G'back to sleep."

Xander froze. He didn't mean to tense up, really he didn't. But it was good, and how could he possibly relax, let alone go back to sleep?

"Oh, for bloody ... "  Muttering in annoyance, Spike rolled over, forcing Xander to move with him.  Now lying half on top of Xander, Spike, well .... snuggled.

"Sodding limpet," came the sleepy murmurs.

Xander didn't know if that was a good thing or a bad thing, but coming from Spike's sleepy lips—lips that were close enough to kiss, if he was so inclined—it sounded like an endearment.

"Sorry?" he whispered.  He could undo his arms, which held Spike as tightly as he was being held.

"Shut. It."  Spike turned his head with the sharp, abrupt movements of a body mostly asleep and trying to get back to 'fully', so he was facing away from Xander.  His ear was nearly over Xander's heart.  "Shut your mouth, or I'll bloody well make you."

Speaking of Xander's heart, it was starting to pound. Not in fear or anxiety or anything Spike would probably expect, but full on, oh-my-god-did-he-just-say-that lust.

"Yeah?" Xander said. Stupid to say, stupid to think, but he couldn't help it. He had too many fantasies of ways Spike could make him shut up.

Spike gave a mournful grumble.  "Pet, if you don't shut up, I'm gonna regret letting you stay here."  He still sounded mostly asleep.  Like the part of people's brains that controlled what they thought and what they said was faulty—kinda the way Xander's was, all the time.

Xander sighed. You give a man an opening like that and he doesn't take it, then he must not want it at all. Figured. Xander was just glad Spike was a little too groggy to realize.

"Go back to sleep, Spike," Xander said, slipping out of the bed.

"Oi!"  A flurry of blankets being tossed and Xander was flat on his back, a very strong vampire wrapped around him.  "Didn't say you could move wanker."

And then Spike rubbed.  It wasn't a sexual rub, Xander told himself.  Just the way a guy would snuggle up to a warm teddy bear.  Except the electric blanket was on, so Spike probably wasn't that cold, and oh, wow.

Spike's dick was pressing into his thigh.

Probably didn't realize he was doing it. Probably wasn't for Xander, just a normal morning erection. But that didn't stop Xander from dreaming.

His own cock filled and swelled, and Xander turned, just a little, to press against Spike.

Now, he knew Spike was half asleep. If he were awake, this wouldn't be happening. But when Xander tried to drag up the guilt he should have been feeling to give himself the strength to pull away, well—it wasn't there. And Xander moved a little more, shifted his body against Spike's cock. Accidental, slow caress.

Spike rumbled low in his throat.  It was an incredibly sexy, wanton sound and Xander's cock got a little bit harder.

If he moved his hand down, slipped it there between their bodies to touch Spike, then it wouldn't be 'accidental', and Spike would stop him. So Xander just held on and moved a little more, arm slung around Spike's neck now, his face in messy, platinum curls.

Another rumbling, almost yowling sound.  Like a cat getting its belly rubbed.  Spike shifted against him again, moving even closer, with his thigh slipping between Xander's legs.  Right over his cock.

It felt too good, Xander knew if it went on he was going to give himself away and then it was back to living the life of the Spikeless. And he'd give up just about anything to keep that disaster from happening.

He knew he had to move.  Not arch back and swallow a groan as Spike's hand rested on his belly, rubbing lightly.  "You," Spike pronounced slowly, "need a shower, pet."

Xander blinked, surprised at how awake Spike sounded.  Had he—did he know—was he gonna—but Spike was smiling up at him, eyes clear and calm, not the least disturbed about their positions.  He didn't sound like he wanted Xander to roll out of bed that instant and into the shower.  Mostly he sounded ... teasing.

Xander blushed and unwound his arm from around Spike's neck. "Yeah," he managed. He smacked his mouth a little and made a face. "Need to brush my teeth, too."

"Hm."  Spike was still rubbing his belly.  Xander didn't know if he was supposed to ignore it completely—the way Spike seemed to—or curl up into the caress the way he desperately wanted to.

"So, I should go and do all that."

Was he imagining Spike's flash of disappointment?  He definitely saw the return of the sneer, but was it hiding something?  Xander pondered those and other questions as he did his morning business.

Was cuddly, snugly Spike an accident? He'd seemed different recently, and Xander didn't know what to make of it. Were they just friends? Xander was more than happy to settle for that. Just being near Spike made him happy, and ... well, he had his hand when the oversexed fantasies started running through his mind again.

Like now, when only a few pulls of his cock under the hot water of the shower made him come. He didn't even need to think about it, because the feeling of SpikeSpikeSpike was so fresh in his memory. He could still feel the hard press of Spike's cock against his thigh.

Minty fresh, deodorized, and wrapped in a damn towel, Xander exited the 'bathroom' and went in search of clothes.

Spike was still lounging in bed.  Hands tucked behind his head, framed by black sheets and the red blanket bunched over his feet, he looked beautiful.  Statue of David beautiful.  It made Xander's throat go dry.

"Back?"  Spike sat up and grabbed at his own towel.  "Good."

It hit Xander, then, watching Spike head towards the shower, that they'd been in bed together.  Naked.  That Spike had undressed them both and put them both into bed.  Naked.

Xander blinked and sat on the edge of the bed. He tried to figure out what being naked in bed with Spike meant, but he was having a hard time getting past the words naked, bed and Spike.

He realized he knew nothing about vampires and sex. Was there such a thing as platonic nudity in vampire, er, society? Because as much as he tried, Xander was having a hard time reconciling naked bed-sharing with the whole 'just buddies' thing he had going on with Spike.

He knew that Spike didn't like him.  Well, Spike didn't really like anybody, so Xander wasn't daunted by that.  Spike didn't seem to mind him too terribly much—if Buffy had tried the whole 'fumigation' trick, Xander really doubted it would've gone over as well.

Also, he really doubted Buffy would try something like that.

Confused and distracted, Xander tugged clothes onto his damp body.  Sitting on the corner of the bed to put on his socks, he distantly noted that the shower had turned off.  That meant Spike was done.

Of course, it didn't mean that Spike would stand right in front of Xander, wearing nothing but a really skimpy towel, when Xander—still bent over—looked up.

"Uh, hi," Xander said. Then closed his eyes and berated himself, because 'hi' was just about the stupidest thing he could have said.

But Spike wasn't laughing.

"Hey."  Spike was smiling at him curiously.  "Wanna go upstairs while I change?"

"Oh! Right. More nudity. I'll ... just be going now." He didn't wait for any reply, just scrambled up the ladder in his socks.

Man.  Man oh man.  Xander was ... 'weirded out' was probably a good description.  Flying was another.  He'd slept in Spike's bed.  Naked!  And Spike had freaking cuddled with him, and was giving him weirdly soft and friendly grins, and okay, this probably wasn't going to lead up to the hot, dirty sex he fantasized about.  But that was so okay.

Humming contentedly, Xander set about making breakfast for them both.

By the time Spike poked his head out of the hole like some bleached blond rabbit, Xander had breakfast for himself ready, with a bit put aside for Spike if he wanted, and Spike's blood heated to just the right temperature. Xander knew it was the right temperature because he'd spent so much time watching Spike and learning Spike and ... he was hopelessly obsessed. And doomed. So very, very doomed.

Spike wasn't wearing a shirt.  Just jeans, no socks, even.  Guh.

"Ta," he thanked, picking up his mug and a few slices of toast.  "So you go back tonight?"

"Back?" Xander echoed. Oh, right. Shit. "Uh, I guess? Maybe tomorrow morning, just to be safe." That's right, Xander, buy yourself a few more hours worth of time so you can come up with an excuse not to go back. Okay, the original plan had been to just stay and then go, leaving Spike with ... an electric blanket. But. The new plan was now apparently to stay as long as possible and to see if there would be more naked snuggling. If Spike let him. "If ... that's okay."

"You've made yourself pretty at home already," he said with a wave at the redecorated upper level.  Then he started fidgeting.  Had Spike ever fidgeted before?  It was cute.  "Not, uh, kicking you out, if that's what you're asking."

Xander nodded. "Good. It's uh, still a crypt though." He noticed when Spike's face seemed to fall a little. "But you know, home is where the heart is and all. Bet I could make this place look like a posh apartment with a few things. Some drywall, a few beams," he said, looking around. "Spackle, paint, maybe a little hard wood for the floor. Or wall to wall carpeting. How do you feel about berber?"

"No carpet in a crypt, pet.  Doesn't go with the ambiance."  Finishing his blood, Spike stole a few forkfuls of eggs.

Xander waited.  He knew Spike had more to say—he'd just gone all Bob Villa and if nothing else, that was prime mockage material.  But Spike didn't say anything, cleaning up his stuff and wiping down the hotplate.  Then he sat down in front of the television, and that was apparently that.

Xander had no idea what it meant.

"Yeah. Maybe I should look into buying a house to get this interior design bug out of me," Xander said after a while. "Just doesn't seem right to buy a house just for myself. Not really worth it if I can't share it."

He sighed and sat beside Spike, suddenly wishing that this could never end, and he'd never have to go back to being lonely and pining again.

"Bloody sci-fi marathon," Spike said after a few moments.  Battlestar Galactica continued playing in all its cheesy glory, the remote sitting on the arm of the sofa.  "And you should do that.  Don't like your apartment much."

"Yeah, me neither. Not very cozy, you know? Too much of that whole modern feel to it. That was Anya's style, not mine. I feel like a complete girl, but I kinda want the white picket fence."

"And she wanted the deluxe penthouse, didn't she.  All cold and metal."  Not a question, but the amount of antagonism was surprising.  Not directed at Xander, though, not since Spike was currently patting his thigh and saying, "Not girly, wanting to put down roots an' all.  Plus, you like that stuff, putting things right.  Should look for a fixer-upper, something you can really make yours."

Xander smiled, suddenly feeling embarrassed and a little nervous. "There's a place I've been looking at for a few months. It's a two bedroom, kinda small, but it's got a little yard and these great windows, and a nice big kitchen. There's room out back for a nice little patio and a hot tub, and ..." He sighed and leaned back against the sofa. "And way out of my price range. Fucking California real estate."

Half-turning so he could see Xander better, Spike cocked his head.  His expression was totally unreadable.  "How much out?  Thought you were making good money at the construction gig."  A flicker of something was in his eyes.

"Yeah, I'm making good money. Not that good. Do you have any idea how much a house around here costs? You'd think the value of property on the hellmouth would be a little on the depreciating side. But you'd be thinking wrong. Bank won't even give me a loan that big, not with me being as young as I am and with my past job history. Maybe in a few years, after I've been working steady."

"Yeah, true enough.  Could show me the place, later?  Two bedroom ... sounds nice."

No way, no way was Xander reading anything into that.  He wasn't.  Really.  Nuh uh.  But it really did sound like ...

"You need a workroom," Spike was continuing.  "Know you like carving stuff.  Bet you could make some nice tables and chairs and sell those off.  I know you've been carving all the Slayer's stakes—the scroll work's a nice touch."

Xander blushed. If heat was a color then what he was feeling was fire engine red. Or maybe scarlet. "I ... dabble."

The eyebrow went up.  "You forget, pet, I've seen master carpenters before.  My furniture wasn't bloody mass produced, back in the day.  You do good work.  There's gotta be a market for the high-end stuff."

More blushing. He almost wished Spike would stop, because it was so embarrassing, and then the embarrassment itself was embarrassing.

"It would be nice to make a little cash from it. I mean, it's just a hobby, and I don't know if anyone would pay, but ... it's a good idea. I'll think about it." He smiled and ducked his head. "And if you want to see it, I could ... call the realtor. See if she'll meet us later, after sundown. Tomorrow, if you wanted to."

"Tomorrow?  Sure, sounds good.  Can go with you before patrol.  Are you coming tonight?  Since you're, uh, staying tonight and all.  Don't have to take all the stuff back yet."

Xander grinned. He'd been so caught up in Spike, and Spike's crypt, and Spike's shower head and Spike's blood and Spike's water heater and Spike's bed and ... yeah. Anyway, he hadn't even thought about patrol.

"Yeah, I'll come tonight. Just you and me, or are the others coming to make an event of it?"

"Slayer should be around," was the noncommittal answer.  Then Spike grinned at him and Xander was afraid his heart could stop.  "But don't worry, we can avoid her."

Xander found himself smiling back, and suddenly the moment felt special, like they were sharing something, just the two of them.





Part Two

Xander really hated patrolling in the rain. Spike was complaining, Xander was complaining, even the newly-risen vamps were complaining as they dug themselves out of their fresh, muddy graves.

"Should have brought a bloody umbrella," Spike grumbled, his boots making squish-squish sounds in the soaked grass.

"Hey, maybe we can find one with a stake on the handle. You know, for next time?"

"Your first commission," Spike agreed.  "And I'll pay you a hundred bucks."

Xander snickered and punched Spike lightly on the arm. "Good one. Like I can make a fucking umbrella."

His laughter was cut off in the middle, though, because standing right in front of them was the biggest, meanest, slimiest demon Xander'd seen this side of ... well, okay, it was the biggest and meanest he'd seen that week, at least.

"What the fuck is that?" Xander said quietly.

"Zirox demon," Spike said back, just as quietly.

"I thought Xerox demons lived in offices?"

"Not the time for jokes, pet."

"Um, okay, so how do we kill it?"  Xander asked. Spike wasn't looking amused anymore, he was looking worried.  And a worried Spike usually meant an owie Xander.  "Spike?  Brilliant ideas really good right about now."

"Stone kills it.  In the arse."

"The what?"

His too-loud squawk alerted the demon.  It growled and lowed and basically said 'I didn't want to be disturbed and now I must kill you'.  Xander eeped and hid behind Spike.

The demon picked Spike up and threw him. Not too far, so Xander wasn't worried about him, but he was worried about himself, because the demon was advancing and looking hella pissed.

"Stone.  Okay, lots of stone, since, hey, headstones.  Unless it's a certain kind of stone?  And I don't even know where your, um, bottom is let alone how to unearth a gravestone and shove it there and please don't hurt me?"

Backing up as fast he could wasn't a good plan.  He tripped over an aforementioned headstone, going down hard.  The demon chuckled wetly and advanced.

"Oi!  Reject from Office Space!  Over here!"  Spike's holler distracted the demon long enough for Xander to scramble to his feet and see Spike swinging an unearthed headstone menacingly.

The demon swiped at Spike again and missed, and then decided it would pin the vampire down. Spike was struggling beneath the massive grip, and Xander (acting solely on dumb instinct and Spike-preservation) stuck a stake in the demon's back.

It roared—hey, the thing had nerves—flailing.  Spike and Xander both went flying.  Xander oofed when he hit the ground, mud squishing and something flaring hot and painful in his side.  Dispassionately, his mind determined the injury not that bad, and getting to his feet now was more important.

The demon roared again, turning back and forth trying to determine which irritant it was going to go after first.

Spike started shouting.  "Oi!  That's enough!  It's wet, I'm cold, I've got mud in my bloody ears and you are going to die Right. Fucking. Now!"  And shoved a broken piece of headstone into the demon's backside.

It exploded.

Xander laughed and winced at the same time, limping slightly as he rejoined Spike. "Do you really have mud in your ears?"

Spike shook his head like a dog.  Mud coated the entire left side of his face.  "Yeah.  And I'm telling you now, you take that bloody hot water heater back with you, I'm gonna steal the bloody thing.  Want this shit off."

Still grumbling, he stomped back towards the crypt.

Xander grinned and trailed behind him.

Halfway back, Spike turned around.  "You're limping," he accused.  "Christ, can't you for once not get hurt?"  Waiting until Xander caught up, he slid a muddy arm around his back and persuaded Xander to lean on him to spare his aching right leg.  "Hurt bad?"

"Don't think so."  Xander was proud that his voice didn't tremble or give his happiness away.  "It's just a scrape, Spike."

"Yeah, yeah.  With you 'just a scrape' is gonna turn into bloody gangrene.  Come on, lean on me."

Xander was quite happy to lean on Spike. More than happy, actually. Joyful, ecstatic, really excited—he even considered letting demons get the better of him more often, just for a little extra Spike closeness. But then again, he got enough boo-boos; he didn't need more, no matter how much Spikage it got him.

Back at home—the crypt—Spike chivvied them both downstairs to the shower.  "Turn it on," he ordered, busy holding Xander upright.

Xander did what he was told without question, although he certainly was wondering just what the heck was going on.

Hot water immediately sluiced down over both of them.  "Ahh!  What the hell!"

"At least it isn't cold water."  Pushing Xander to lean against the crypt wall, he stuck his head under the water, shaking mud off like a dog.  "Now, then, let's see what you did to yourself."

"Spike!  I'm standing under water fully clothed!"

"Better then the rain, innit?"

Xander started laughing. Then winced. His side hurt a little more than he was prepared for. He twisted and pulled his shirt up a little, trying to see the damage.

Cool hands probed the skin gently, and Xander protested.  "Hey, lemme see!"

"Hush up."  Spike pushed and prodded him, blonde head turning dark gold underneath the spray.  "Bruised a rib, I think.  And cut yourself.  Not bad, but it must hurt like a bitch."

Xander shrugged. "I've had a lot worse. What about you, did you crack anything open? I've been itching for a chance to test my newly acquired suturing skills. What do you think?" Xander said, giving Spike a practiced, comically interested look. "Need sewing?"

Spike smiled briefly.  "Think you need the stitches, pet."

Xander had a brief moment of 'oh, shit'. Then a 'he's joking' moment of relief. But Spike wasn't laughing, or smirking, and Xander closed his eyes and let his head bang against the shower wall. "Fuck. You got anything for pain? You can't do it unless I'm good and numb; don't want your chip going off."

"Got something.  Here, get this off.  Can you stand on your own?  Good, lemme go get you some clothes.  Wash as much of the muck off as you can."

Spike closed the curtain behind him.  In the relative darkness behind the black curtain, Xander mouthed curses.  He'd thought he'd just scratched it a little!

Xander undressed and turned this way and that, trying to get as clean as he could. He thought most of the mud was on his clothes, anyway, so that was a good.

"Done!" he said, poking his head outside the curtain.

Sweat pants were thrust past the curtain.  "Put these on, then lemme in."

"What, I can't even dry off, first?" Xander whined. But then he pulled the pants on over his wet legs and opened the curtain. "Why are you coming in here? Wouldn't this be more comfortable over on the bed or something?"

"Because I want the mud off of me numbskull."  Spike rubbed a hand through muddy hair, then grimaced at it.  "Just go sit on the bed, keep the towel pressed against, and I'll be quick, all right?  I fucking hate being covered in muck like this."

Xander went and sat on the bed like a good little boy and waited for the sexy vampire to finish soaping himself off. Guh.

Spike really was quick, muttering as he washed that toned, lean, unusually soft body that Xander couldn't see, but had to stop thinking about.  Soon.

"All right."  Dressed in a clean pair of jeans, Spike headed towards a small cubby by his bed.  "Take these, pet.  Send you to la-la land, they will."

Xander downed them happily without water, a trick you picked up quick when you were Xander Harris. His side was really starting to hurt, and hopefully whatever Spike was giving him would work quickly.

Brows drawn and close, Spike looked angry.  He wasn't, though.  Xander wasn't sure what he was, but when Spike was angry he shouted and broke things and snarled at everyone.  He didn't gently roll people on their sides, blotting the still-bleeding cut, fiddling with thread and suture-string.

"Nicked the dissolvable stuff a while back," he said quietly.  "So it'll pop on its own in a few days.  Only need one or two, pet, so it won't be so bad."

"You know," Xander said after a few minutes of waiting for the meds to kick in, "if I get really numb and stuff, you could probably bite me and I wouldn't feel it. You're not gonna bite me, are you, Spike?"

"What?"  There was a pure note of shock in his voice.  "Bloody hell, didn't think the drugs would work that fast!"

"Well, I'm human, and you probably got them from a vampire doctor," Xander said, nodding. It made complete sense.

"Uh huuh.  Little pink elephants telling you that?"

Spike's hands felt almost warm, pushing him more onto his belly.  The first prick of the needle made him stiffen, but Spike stayed soundless and the pain soon faded into the general 'owiness' of his side.

"You're really good at this Spike," Xander murmured. It only tickled, really. "You're so good to me."

"You're loopy, pet, just relax and let me get this.  Just a bit more now."  Spike's breath was cool against the bare skin of his back.  His hands were large and slightly callused at certain finger tips.  He couldn't figure out which ones, but he liked the feel of them.  "Just a bit more, now," he almost sang.  "Almost done."

"Your fingers feel good, Spike. You've got special Spike fingers."

"You keep thinking that."  A few more pokes and then, "All right, that's it.  Roll over; lemme look at those ribs more."

Xander did as he was told and smiled happily up at Spike.

Spike smiled back, laughing a little.  "Think I like you this loopy, pet.  Here, does this hurt?"  He pressed down a little, then winced.  "Answered my own question, didn't I?  Just bruised like I thought.  Come on, now, into bed.  Gonna get you something to eat, okay?"

"Not hungry," Xander said, pulling Spike down with him. "Come lay down and talk to me. We don't ever get to talk, Spike." He said it gravely so Spike would understand how important it was.

Spike chuckled.  "Too busy being nervous around me, pet.  But all right."  Arranging himself comfortably beside Xander seemed to be pulling Xander against his chest, and Xander wasn't complaining.  "So what do you want to talk about, hm?"

"Is there such a thing as platonic nude bed-sharing?"

Spike blinked.  "Say what now?"

"Last night," Xander explained impatiently. "Me, you, naked in the same bed."

Spike's shoulders moved under his head.  "You turned into a leech, and I sleep naked.  Didn't feel like rubbing up against jeans."

"Oh," Xander said. It made perfect sense when Spike said it like that, and made him feel stupid for ever hoping it was more than that. "Okay. Guess it's no big deal then."

Spike's fingers found their way back into his hair.  "Did you want it to be a big deal, pet?"

Xander frowned. "I ... don't want you to stop being my friend," he said. He was trying to explain, wanted Spike to know he wouldn't jeopardize what they had.

Spike's fingers stopped moving.  "Is that what I am?  Your friend?"

Xander moved his head against Spike's fingers, wanting the touch back. "I'm your friend, Spike," he said slowly, blinking groggily. "And you're my ... everything."

Spike went very, very still.  Xander blinked, twisting around because Spike being still was bad, except ow, that hurt his side.

"Hey, easy."  Spike got him straightened out, again petting his hair and back.  It felt so nice.  "Think we should tell Buffy about the Zirox?  Pretty nasty bugger.  If it's around, could be bad news."

"But you killed it?" Xander asked.

"Killed the male.  Female's probably out there now, wondering who the hell made her hubby go splat."

"Yeah. Should tell her," Xander said, yawning. "You tell her. I'm gonna take a nap."

"Yeah, all right."

The last thing Xander remembered was Spike stripping them both out of their pants.


~*~*~*~*~


There was a sock in his mouth.  Something fuzzy was wrapped around his brain, and his side ached badly.  And, he realized with a sense of impeding doom, he was late.

"Shit!"  Struggling out of Spike's hold and the grasping softness of the blankets, Xander stumbled over to the shower and sluiced himself off cold.  "Fuck, fuck, fuck," he muttered.

"S'matter, pet?" was the muffled question from the bed.

Oh crap, he'd woken Spike up.  Jamming himself into clothes, Xander went over to Spike and—greatly daring—stroked his neck lightly.  "Nothing, Spike.  I'm just late for work.  I'll, um, see you later."

Not later, though, because his apartment was done being 'fumigated'.  Had he realized how much he hated the place?  Not until he and Spike had talked about it and ...

Halfway to work, Xander almost got into an accident.  He'd asked Spike about the naked-platonic thing.

He didn't remember all the details, but he did remember that. And ... Spike must have answered him, because Spike would of course answer a direct question. But what the hell had he said?

Xander worried about it all day. He remembered to call the realtor, though, the way he'd told Spike he would. Well, that would give him an excuse to go back to Spike's crypt, at least.

He did pretty much nothing until it was time to leave.  His boss found about his injury—"Another one, Harris?"—and had him on desk duty.  Xander hated desk duty but he did what he had to and tried not to worry about tonight too much.  When he caught himself writing 'Spike' instead of Bill Spector on an invoice, he got himself a cup of coffee and managed to finish off all what little work he needed to do.

By quitting time he was bursting to get the hell out of there.  His car practically flew as he went home, changed, and then went over to the crypt.

He entered a little cautiously, though, not knowing exactly what to expect from Spike.

"Spike? You here?" he called out.

All the homey touches Xander had brought—the blankets, the pillows, the rugs—those were all gone.  Xander spied a neatly-tied bundle next to the sofa and knew they were all there.

Wait.  That bundle was way too small.  Good.  Grinning happily now that Spike was 'stealing' things from him, he wandered down to the opening to the lower level.  "Spike?  Um, do you still want to do this?"

"Said I did, didn't I?  Calling me a liar?"  Spike almost ran up the ladder, a grin simmering under the affected sneer.  "Right, let's get this bloody over with."

Xander didn't bother to hide his own grin as he blocked the door. "Sun won't be down for another twenty minutes. I'm sure you're not eager to be a torch."

"Oh.  Er, right."  Still affecting a sneer and now a swagger, Spike stalked over to the TV.  "Suppose you'll be wanting all this back, now."

"I don't really have the room right now. Uh, maybe you can keep it for me for a while?"

"Not your bloody storage facility.  You talk to Buffy today?"

"I was supposed to?" Xander asked, a little confused.

"Oh, for Christ—the Zirox demon?  You remember?"  Spike searched his pockets for his cigarettes, impatiently lighting one.

"I remember the demon, but you killed it, remember?" Xander said. He had a nice little case of deja vu, too.

Spike puffed.  "It has a mate.  And you know what?  Fuck it.  If Slayer gets her arse wiped, it's her own fault.  Sun's down, c'mon."

Xander nodded and followed Spike out to the car. The drive was quiet, but not uncomfortably so. Xander allowed himself a few moments of a 'Xander and Spike go house shopping' fantasy. It really didn't even seem like that much of a fantasy, when he thought about it.

"There it is," Xander said proudly as they pulled up into the drive. The lights from the inside of the small house seemed to glow warmly, and Xander was happy that Spike could see it like this. It had been a good idea to call the realtor and not to just come over and peek in the windows in the dark.

The realtor was waiting on the walk up to the house.  Even the walk showed just how badly in need of repair the house was, with cracks and uneven patches.  Xander skirted them, smiling a hello.  The realtor—Susan—didn't even blink at the smoking, sneering, scowling shadow behind Xander's shoulder.

"I'm so glad you decided to look again," Susan was saying warmly.  "I think you really suit this house.  It's got an ... old-time charm."

Xander didn't have any idea what that meant, but he followed along happily as Susan went over the salient features.

"Well, I've already gone over this with you before, I'm sure you know it all. I think I'll just leave you two alone to look by yourselves now," Susan said with a smile.

"So, what do you think?" Xander asked Spike. He was nervous. He didn't know why Spike liking the house was so important to him, but he really, really wanted him to.

"It's nice.  Cottage-like." 

Xander nodded excitedly.  It was cottage-like—small and cosy and yeah, it needed work, but it was the kind of work Xander really wanted to do.  It was the perfect size for two people and maybe a dog, with enough room for a workroom out back.

Spike wandered through every room, commenting here and there.  Back at the kitchen, which had granite counter-tops but dilapidated cabinets above and below, he paused and looked at Xander thoughtfully.  "You really like this place, huh?"

"Are you kidding? I love it. I've wanted it from the first time I saw it, and I've come back here over and over, just to walk around the yard and ..." He trailed off and blushed. Spike didn't ask him all that.

"You're such a wuss, you know that?  Mind hanging out here a bit?  Think I need a smoke."  Without waiting for Xander's response, Spike disappeared from the room.

Okay, that was weird.  And ... who was Susan talking to?

Xander shrugged and ran his hands over the counter again. He'd read a book on cabinetry, and he was pretty sure he could make some nice cabinets. Maybe a little carving up towards the ceiling, a nice light wood, thin sheen of polyurethane.

Lost in his musing, he didn't hear Spike return.  "This place is beautiful, pet.  Or it could be with a little work."

Xander turned and grinned. "Or a lot of work. Which is even better. Making it my own—that would be the best."

It really would be, and the way Spike was grinning at him, he knew the vampire agreed.  Strange, that.  Only Dawn understood wanting to take a place and totally refurbish and restore it—Buffy and Willow had just seen the problems and how much money it would drain from him, not the joys he would get from it.

"It's not, uh, that expensive," Spike said slowly.

Xander snickered. "Uh, yeah, it is."

Shaking his head, Spike fiddled with an unlit cigarette.  "Nah, rates are down, and under a hundred grand for this kind of property's pretty cheap.  You've got a nice little view, neighborhood's quiet.  Not a lot of vamps come through here, either, which is a point in this bloody town.  Close to the sea, too; know how much you like that."

Xander ducked his head and smiled. It felt nice that Spike seemed to see all the good things about the house, unlike the others who just saw a run-down, tiny place that no one in their right mind should look twice at. "Yeah, it's nearly perfect. But ... I still can't afford it, Spike. It's nice to dream though."

"Yeah," Spike answered distractedly.  "Dreams are good.  So, uh, you wanna go get some grub?  I feel like a beer."

There was a strangely hopeful air about Spike.  Almost shy.  It didn't make any sense—Spike, shy?—but Xander couldn't shake the feeling that Spike was, well, a little nervous around him.   But not nervous in a bad way.  He shook his head trying to make his thoughts settle down.

"Yeah. I'm feeling a little hungry, actually. I'll go tell Susan we're leaving."

Susan seemed unusually warm and cheerful as he made his goodbyes.  She did reaffirm that this little house was perfect for him—and that there weren't a lot of other buyers out there.  She seemed less interested in making a sale and more interested in making sure he made the sale.  It was refreshing.

"So, Bronze?" he asked as they headed back to the car.

"Nah, how 'bout real dinner?  Could do with something more than grease tonight."

"Got anything in mind?" Xander asked. Real dinner? With Spike? At like, a restaurant?

"You like Italian, right?"  Spike rolled down his window and lit up.  The sight of his profile against the warm sky and the glowing cherry of his cigarette made Xander swallow abruptly.  "Could go to that new place down on Russell?"

Xander gave Spike a crooked grin. "Oooh, fancy. I don't get to go to places too often that have, like, tablecloths. You think they'll have napkins? Silverware that doesn't look like it got stuck in the garbage disposal? Cute little waiters running around to do our bidding?"

"Always fun to see 'em make garlic-less garlic bread," Spike agreed.

Xander snickered and turned the car down Russell. "Isn't that a big tipoff around here? They might douse you in holy water if you order that."

"You'll just have to protect me, then, won't you?" Spike said with a sidelong look.  "Speaking of, how's your side feel?"

Xander parked the car and gave a little experimental stretch. "Okay. Not too bad. I've had a lot worse. At least this one didn't require any trips to the emergency room, for which I am one grateful little Scooby."

"Stitches aren't pulling too bad, are they?  I know it's just two."  Spike brushed up against his side, hands seeking the injury without going underneath the shirt.  Xander eeped a little—cold!—but held still while Spike checked him over.

Spike was checking him over.  Cool.

"They're fine," Xander said. "You did a good job." No, no, don't let that stupid 'ooh, Spike, my hero!' tone into your voice, Xan!

Spike smiled—shyly.  Spike was actually smiling shyly!  "Just two stitches," he demurred.  "C'mon, should be early enough there's no line.  Bloody hate waiting in line."

Amused, Xander watched the way Spike stalked into the restaurant.  All brass and black leather and cool, disdainful sneer.  Hot as hell, really, and Xander was glad it was on his side.  He hurried forward when he heard a polite, "Of course, right this way, sir."

Well, that was quick. If he didn't know better, he might suspect Spike had called ahead.

Inside, they were seated at a cozy little corner table. They could see most of the restaurant, but it was set apart from the other tables, enough to be semi-private and—dare he even think it?—romantic.

Xander tried not to grin like a loon.

A cute, brunette waitress appeared and lit the small oil-lamp on their table.  "Good evening, gentleman.  My name is Mary and I'll be your server tonight.  Can I get you something to drink?"

"Bottle of Chablis," Spike said immediately.  "Xan, you want an appetizer?"

"Um, I don't know?" Xander answered.

Spike chuckled.  "Know I said I didn't want grease tonight, but how about a plate of the fried zucchini?"  Catching Xander's expression, he grinned.  "Trust me, you'll like it."

The waitress murmured agreement and left.

They made small talk for a while until Xander remembered what had been ordered.

"Zucchini is gross," he stated firmly.

"Yeah, but you're still trying this.  And you'll like it."

Xander rolled his eyes. "Yes, Daddy."

Spike grinned.  "Cheeky lad.  Somebody needs his bottom tanned, if he continues mouthin' off."

Spike was teasing, Xander knew he was, but the raised eyebrows on the waitress returning with the wine was humiliating.  Xander flushed and stared at the table while Spike tested the wine and nodded his approval.  Yes, they needed a few more moments, thanks.

"Oh, relax, pet," he said when Mary disappeared.  "She doesn't think anything untoward.  Try the wine; s'nice vintage."

Tried some of the zucchini first, and was actually surprised that he liked it. At Spike's prodding, Xander sipped the wine and made a face. Then he sipped again. It was better the second time.

Watching him closely, Spike caught the first reaction.  "Not a big wine-drinker, are you?  Shouldn't be surprised.  Try their lasagna, pet, I've heard it's good."

Spike the wine-and-food-connoisseur was decidedly creepy, but Xander was enjoying it.  Forays into 'respectable' dining with Anya had usually forced him into the role of knowing all the answers—when he really didn't.  It was nice to just sit back and let Spike take care of that kind of thing.  Xander just hoped he wasn't looking that dopey.

Food was ordered. Spike coaxed Xander into talking about the house again, and Xander warmed to the conversation quickly. When he started talking about different types of stone for the patio he had to stop, though, convinced he was boring Spike to death. Luckily the food arrived then and Xander had another focus.

Lasagna, as thick and meaty and cheesy as he loved, and hot enough that he had to gulp his wine to cool his mouth.  It was delicious.  Smiling happily through his mouthful, Xander thought about thanking Spike for suggesting the place—food was usually either crap he made, or fast food, and it'd been a while since he'd had a nice dinner like this.

"How garlicky is that, pet?" Spike asked after a few moments of concerted eating.  "Wanna try some of my ravioli?"

"Not too much garlic," Xander answered after he swallowed. "Just right, actually. Ravioli? Yeah, give." He was acting like he'd never eaten before, but the food was really good.

Spike cut one of the ravioli in half, as prim and proper as Giles.  Then he plopped the bit of dough, cheese, spinach and red-sauce onto Xander's plate and took a huge forkful of Xander's lasagna.

"Hey!"

"You got twice as much food as me, wanker, don't complain!"

"You don't need to eat to survive!"

He watched, stunned, as Spike shoved the entire piece into his mouth.  A strand of cheese hung from Spike lips, sauce surrounding his mouth like poorly done makeup.  Spike grinned broadly and chewed—mouth slightly open.

"That's disgusting, Spike," Xander accused, but he was laughing as he said it.

Spike just continued chewing, looking smug.  He did clean his mouth, though.

Xander picked up the teensy bit of ravioli on his fork and took a bite. "Mm, pretty good," he said, then quickly speared a whole one from Spike's place and ate it. "Mm, even better."

"Wanker," Spike teased him, but didn't try and steal any more of his food.  "Want dessert here?  Or are you gonna eat that entire plate and start moaning to me about being too full to move?"  He refilled Xander's wine glass while he spoke.

"Dessert's good. You can order," Xander said with a grin. He figured Spike was enjoying this whole experience, and Xander might as well let him be in control. Not that he'd say that out loud.

They finished their meals, Spike accepting the menu for dessert.  After a moment's perusal, he ordered a glass of port for them both, tiramisu and piece of the Chocolate Sin cake.

Xander was pretty sure he was going to have to be rolled out of the restaurant.  "Uh, isn't this getting kinda pricey?"

Spike dismissed that with a wave.  "Don't worry about it.  Have an ... arrangement."  He flashed a toothy grin that in no way reassured Xander.

Dessert was yummy but the port, which Xander's never had before, was even yummier.  He grinned at Spike as he sipped and bit and sipped again.  "This?  Is really nice.  But you're sure I can't help pay for it?"

Spike diverted the question—easily, since Xander was getting increasingly tipsy.  "C'mon, pet, out we go.  Say bye to the nice waitress now."

Xander waved to a grinning Mary and let Spike help him outside.  "That was really nice," he said too loudly.  "Really."

Spike got him into the car and then slid in next to Xander in the driver's seat. "This driving you around is becoming a habit, pet," Spike said with a smile.

"This was really nice," Xander repeated.

"You said that already."  Spike's chuckle was low and warm.  "Should I stop back at my place, maybe grab your stuff before I take you home?"

"Yeah," Xander agreed. "Home."

The car thrummed, echoing inside his skull.  Xander snuggled into the passenger seat, watching Spike more then he watched the road.  "Nice," he repeated for the who-knew-how-many-eth time.

"Think you need a bigger vocabulary, love.  And I'm thinking I'll return your stuff tomorrow."  The fond glance told Xander that was acting or looking drunker then he felt, but that was okay.  He was warm and full and comfy and Spike had called him 'love'.

"Thank you for coming with me, Spike," Xander murmured. "To the house. And for taking me out. It's nice to go out and not, like, end up needing stitches."

"It is, pet.  A proper date."

Blinking under that startling statement, Xander was sure—sure—it was the wine talking.  But Spike was parking the car and helping up the stairs, fumbling into Xander's pockets for the key to his apartment. 

"In you go, pet, come on."

The barrier had been down for Spike for months now, so Spike was able to lead Xander directly to the bedroom.  Gently pushing him onto the mattress, Spike knelt and started undoing Xander's shoes.

Xander blinked. "I thought I said I wanted to go back to the crypt?" he asked, totally confused.

"You did," Spike said patiently, "and I said that we could get your stuff tomorrow.  It's not like you need most of it when you're about ten seconds from passing out, love."

"Didn't want to come back here," Xander grumbled. "Hate it hate it. Stupid ... place."

Spike had removed the right shoe, but he paused while unlacing the second.  "You hate it that much, pet?" he asked softly.  "Enough to want to spend another night with me?"

Xander giggled and nudged Spike with his toe. "Is that a come on?"

Capturing the socked foot, Spike rubbed it absently.  "Nah.  Just don't feel like giving up the electric blanket."

The answer was breezy and false, but Xander was too dizzy and giggly to follow up on it.  And soon he was too busy trying to stand up without falling over, leaning heavily on Spike and laughing.  "So we're going home?" he asked excitedly.

Spike stilled for a moment, then seemed to remember he needed to be helping Xander stand up. "Yeah, pet."

The ride in the car must have taken place, but Xander didn't remember that part. He opened his eyes in time to see Spike lowering him onto the bed.

"Hey."  He clumsily grabbed at Spike's arms.  "Don't go."

"Not going far, pet," Spike said reassuringly. 

Forcing himself to sit up, Xander watched as Spike rummaged around doing various things before grabbing a paperback and sliding into bed beside Xander.  They were both clothed, but in sweat-pants now, and Xander knew those would go pretty soon.

"Whatcha reading?"  Xander tried to make the letters on the cover stop crawling and order themselves appropriately.

"Something with big words, love.  Come here."  Spike tugged and Xander went, curling up around Spike's legs with a sigh, head resting on Spike's thigh.  The expected hand found its way into Xander's hair, combing lightly.  "Go to sleep now, love."

"Read to me?" Xander asked, closing his eyes and rubbing his cheek lightly against Spike's thigh. "Like your voice."

"Don't think you'd like this one.  Tolstoy's prob'ly a bit too much for you.  But hang on."

Xander whimpered when Spike slid out of his grasp, but almost as soon as the sound died away, Spike was back, rearranging them so they were in their former positions.  "The year 1866 was signalized by a remarkable incident, a mysterious and puzzling phenomenon, which doubtless no one has yet forgotten.  Not to mention rumors which agitated the maritime population and excited the public mind, even in the interior of continents, seafaring men were particularly excited ... "

Xander couldn't really follow the actual words, but the flow was nice, and Spike's voice was even nicer. He fell asleep before he could ask what exactly the book was.


~*~*~*~*~


Damn it.  Damn it!

 Xander had worked out a routine over the last two weeks.  Go to work.  Drive by the house on the way home from work.  If he needed something specific, he'd stop by his apartment and pick it up.  Then, he'd go home to Spike's crypt where they'd amuse themselves before going to sleep, or go and help the girls do normal Scooby things.  No one had noticed that Xander wasn't living in his apartment anymore; Xander thought that was a good thing.  It meant that his and Spike's friendship was acceptable and unworthy of shock, surprise, or intervention.

But that wasn't what was pissing him off.

"Damn it!" he said aloud, stomping into the crypt.  He wasn't brushing the tight, burning from his eyes, because he refused to acknowledge it.

"What?"  Spike was lounging in front of the TV—normal—and toying with a sheaf of papers—not normal.  "What the bloody hell is wrong with you?"

"My house! Someone stole my house from me!" Xander said. "I mean, someone bought it, but it's mine, and it's stealing. I mean, not mine, but ..."

"The house's been sold?" Spike deduced.  "Sorry, pet. Here, come sit by me, relax a bit."

Xander almost fell onto the sofa, anger giving way to shock and dismay.  "That's my house," he repeated.

"I know, pet, don't worry."  Spike tucked his legs underneath him so he was kneeling on the sofa, pushing Xander forward a bit so he could work on tense neck and shoulder muscles.  "Calm down, now.  Take a look at those papers?"

"Spike, this is really—"  He stopped mid complaint when Spike hit a particularly sore spot.  Momentarily distracted from his rant, he picked up the abandoned papers and glanced at them.

The papers were a deed.  And a mortgage.

"Thought I should live some place a little nicer then a crypt," Spike told him quietly, still massaging.  "Some place quiet and out of the way, but not far from the action, you know?  Someplace warm."

"You bought my house?" Xander asked, a little confused. Okay, a lot confused. And a little bit hurt.

"Yup."

"You know, when I was telling you how great it was, I didn't think you were gonna go out and buy it right out from under me!" He wasn't about to start crying over this. He was a little too confused for that, anyway. "You bought my house!" he said, a little more accusing this time.

Spike low chuckle just made him angrier.  "Yeah, I did.  But it does need a lot of work and I'm not working with wood.  So what do you say—room and board for fixing the place up?"

"Room and board!" Xander sputtered. "And what happens when I get my house just right? What happens when it's perfect and it doesn't need anything else? What do I do then, just let you live in my house while I go off and get another little shitty chrome and glass apartment?"

Spike's hands stilled.  "Then I sell you the deed for a buck and I get out of your life."  Spike rose, keeping his back turned when Xander twisted around to see.

"What?!" Xander practically screamed. "No one said anything about anyone getting out of anyone else's life!"

He could hear the click as Spike swallowed.  "Then I don't know what the bloody hell you want!"  It would've been easier if Spike had shouted that, instead of that low, sad voice.  "You want the deed, it's yours.  Gimme a buck.  I put down a lot, so the mortgage isn't too bad.  I figured by the time you'd fixed everything up, you'd be able to afford the mortgage by yourself, wouldn't need me around anymore."

And with that, Spike swirled the duster onto his shoulders and stalked out of his own crypt.

Xander was left standing in the middle of the crypt with his mouth moving, but there wasn't any sound coming out, and he didn't know what the hell he was supposed to do. Run after Spike? Er, yeah. Maybe that.

He caught up to Spike just as he met Buffy near the entrance of the adjacent cemetery.  "Hey, Buffy, me and the mosquito here need to have a small chat, do you mind?  We'll catch up."  His smile forced and frozen, Xander grabbed Spike's arm and forced him back around a small crypt.

"Okay, Spike, let's go slow here.  What?  Is going on?"

Spike's lips were turned down in a sullen sneer.  "You shouldn't live in a sodding crypt.  Or in that place Anya made you get.  You love that house.  Should have it."

Xander's breath got a little short, and he felt the slightest bit lightheaded when he thought about what he was about to say. "Spike. I'm living in the crypt because that's where I want to be. If you lived on the fucking moon, that's where I'd want to be. That's no reason for you to buy a house. Now, are you telling me you bought the house because you want me out of the crypt and away from you, or because you love the house and you want it for yourself, or because you ... want me to have the house?"

For a second, Spike looked like he was going to go the sneering, bluffing, badass route.  Then he shrugged and looked at his feet.  "Wanted you to have the house.  Didn't think you'd let me buy it for you outright."

Xander took that in and stepped a little closer. "You're right, I wouldn't have. And the only way I'll take it now is ..." He swallowed and looked into Spike's eyes, wanting him to know he was utterly serious. "I don't want to live there alone."

Spike's shy smiles were becoming precious to Xander.  "Think I got that when you said you'd live on the moon if I was there."  Lifting his head a little, Spike met Xander's eyes.  "It's a two-bedroom, isn't it?  And you'll need a boarder, with all the repairs you'll be paying for."

Xander blushed. He couldn't believe he'd said that, about the moon. Spike was right; he really was a silly little sod. "Okay, then. When do we move?" he asked, grinning.


~*~*~*~*~


"That the last of it?" Spike said, looking around the empty apartment.

"Yep. This is the last box. Do you think it's okay for me to be about two seconds away from a very Dawn-like squeal?"

"So long as you don't squeal near me," Spike told him, rubbing his ear ruefully.  Dawn had been extremely excited when she found out that Xander was moving to his beloved house, and that Spike was going along with him.

"Someone's gotta watch Spike," he'd told Buffy and Giles.  "It might as well be me.  Plus, he can do all that heavy lifting for me."

"No need for squealing anyway with all of that bouncing you're doing.  C'mon, in the car, then we can start unpacking."

Xander bounded after him, feeling a little like a happy puppy.

The drive seemed short as Xander babbled happily to Spike about the home improvement show he'd seen on his lunch break. Spike just nodded and didn't look at all bored, which Xander was grateful for.

At the house, Spike helped Xander with the last boxes.

Spike's ratty sofa—which was better then Xander's posh, leather, totally uncomfortable, Anya-picked out sofa—was already in the area they deemed the living room.  Xander collapsed onto it.  His knee immediately started jiggling with misplaced energy.

"Our house," he said reverently.  "It's our house."

Spike joined him on the sofa, though the supernatural creature could not be exhausted since, well, supernatural.  "It is."  There was intense satisfaction in Spike's voice.

Xander rolled his head to the side to look at Spike, feeling the tired, happy smile on his face. "Did I tell you thank you, yet?"

Shy smile number five of the day.  "You did, love.  Where do you want to start unpacking first?  Or do you want to live out of boxes for a bit while you work?"

"Um, the ... kitchen. After we hook up the television and all related appliances. And the bathroom, got to have towels and soap and stuff. And the bedroom, need our sheets and everything."

"Just one bedroom, then?"  Turning immediately away after asking, Spike headed for the television.  "I can hook this up, pet, if you start on the kitchen.  Don't know where you want things to be, yeah?  And the drawers are crap right now."

So saying, he crouched behind the TV already placed reverently on the open-air stand, VCR, cable-box, and DVD player stacked on top of it.

The kitchen cabinets were crap. Really, really horrible. New cabinets were high on Xander's list, but he'd need a big enough workshop to make them in. Right, so setting the workshop up came first. Whistling, Xander put down shelf paper—actually, folded leftover wallpaper of Buffy's, but it made damn good shelf paper—and put the plates and glasses away. He lined the drawers (the ones that would open, anyway) and sorted the silverware.

He had a very happy, cozy nesting feeling when everything was put away, with the coffee maker on the counter right next to a brand spanking new knife set Xander had gotten the other day.

Returning to the living room, he found a functional entertainment center, as well as a sofa and several chairs dusted off and arranged neatly.  "Which bedroom do w--you want?" Spike asked as he worked to sort through boxes.  "I'll start running that stuff up."

"The bigger bedroom faces west, I think that's a good idea?" Xander asked, a little nervously. "No, uh, early morning sizzle surprises." He didn't look at Spike when he said it.

"Sure."  Spike cleared his throat a little, then added, "We'll have to doss on the floor for a few nights.  Bed'll take a few days to arrive."

Blink.  "Bed?"  He hadn't wanted to take the bed he shared with Anya here, and Spike's was actually moldy on the inside and a little smelly.  So ... what bed?

"Uh.  I may've, um, ordered some stuff.  It'll be here soon."

"What about the air mattress? It's a queen, we can sleep on that until ..." He didn't finish the sentence. His heart was pounding a little too fast for complete sentences right then.

"Sounds good."  Spike disappeared up the stairs.

Xander immediately started pumping the air and, yes, jumping up and down like an excited kid. Which worked well, since it was a foot operated pump. He had to remember not to jump too much so he wouldn't break it, but ... yeah. Happiness was an air mattress with your best friend in your brand new house!

Air mattress pumped, he headed up the stairs to deliver it to Spike.  The bedrooms were just empty rooms, clean since the previous tenant had been scrupulous about that, if too poor to make repairs, and Spike was staring out the western window.  "We're gonna need thick blinds, pet.  Something heavy enough to block it out.  Still, west's better than the eastern one.  Don't think frying tomorrow morning's gonna be the best way to wake you up.  Speaking of ... "  Spike turned a fierce look on him.  "Don't forget to set your bloody alarm!  You've been late to work the past three days in a row."

Xander grinned. "Can't help it if you've worn me out so much every night," he said. Spike had been a real task master with the moving, and they'd spent the past few nights packing and moving everything in the crypt and apartment.

Spike snorted and lightly punched his shoulder.  "You have a dirty mind, love.  Come on, help me get this thing made, yeah?  You need to set up that workroom, and you'll be bloody exhausted, since you'll start making drawers or sanding wood for the stairs and you'll blame me when the bed's not ready to be slept in."

"Not getting started on any of that yet, Spike," Xander said. "Tomorrow's Friday so I can stay up late and do it then, then work Saturday after I have a nice, long morning of sleeping in." Sleeping in your arms, he wanted to say, but ... didn't.

"All right.  Wanna reward ourselves with successfully moving in, then, with beer and watching TV downstairs?"

Spike grinned as he intentionally mocked Willow.  She didn't understand that it wasn't just friendship—at least on Xander's side—and constantly queried what else they did other then get drunk and watch bad movies.

Xander grinned back and nodded. "Yeah. Maybe something with machine guns? And helicopters. A nice war movie would make me happy."

"Sounds bloody good to me!"

Xander sent Spike downstairs while he put some heavy towels over the bedroom windows, then went downstairs.

Checking out the movie selection, Xander bypassed the classics and put in something with Chuck Norris. It was full of cheesy dialogue and even worse acting, but that just made Spike's comments even funnier.

Xander contented himself with only one beer.  They seemed to have a system without really talking or discussing it—if Xander was drunk, then Spike wasn't, and vice versa.  So Xander sipped his two beers while Spike hit four, five, and six while mocking the mullet and Clint-esque voice mercilessly.

"Oh, shit, I forgot he says he trained with Tibetan monks in this one," Xander said, giggling and leaning his head on Spike's shoulder.

Drunk Spike?  Was a really snugly, cuddly Spike.  An arm always ended up around his shoulders, or there was hair-playing, or massaging.  Not that Xander didn't get these things normally, but they were less nervous when Spike was drunk.

Tonight, Spike pulled Xander into the circle of his arms, linked hands rubbing distractedly over Xander's hip.  His mouth and nose were pressed into Xander's hair.  It was comfy and cosy and pretty much perfect.

"This is perfect," Xander said softly. He found himself saying silly, sappy things like that more and more now.

It took him a moment to place the soft, smacking sound and the pressure against the back of his head.  "Soppy sod."

Okay, that? Even perfect-er. Xander smiled happily, closed his eyes, and didn't wake up until morning.

He wasn't sure what woke him.  Possibly the uncomfortable crick in his neck.  Or some sixth-sense he was blessing and promising imminent sacrificage, just as soon as he got Spike away from the un-blinded windows.

"Spike, Spike!  Sunlight!"

Spike popped up with a slightly-hungover curse.  "Is the upstairs done?" he asked, watching the way the sunlight crept over the wood floors.

"Yes, go!"

Spike managed to get upstairs with only a slightly singed foot, which Xander quickly fetched ice for.

"I'm sorry," Xander said. "I shouldn't have fallen asleep. You're always taking care of me, and I can't even return the favor? I suck. I'm sorry, shit. You could have been really hurt!"

Spike basked in the attention for all of thirty seconds.  "Enough, love, enough!"  Snatching the ice bag, he applied it to his own foot.  "You fell asleep, no harm in that.  You woke up in time, s'all I care about."

"Yeah, well ... okay. You're okay," Xander said, feeling stupid and still berating himself inwardly. He glanced over at the alarm clock. "And look, I've got an hour before I have to leave! Think I'll just lay down and rest a few minutes." He smiled and stretched out on the air mattress.

"Good. I'm goin' back to sleep," Spike said, tugging his pants off and slipping beneath the sheets.

Five, four, three, two ...

Before he reached 'one', Spike was wrapping himself around Xander like he was the sole source of heat in the room.  Which, actually he was.  "Have to remember the electric blanket," he said drowsily.

"You can always just turn me on, instead," Xander whispered.

"Mmmm."  Spike snuggled even closer, tugging Xander so he was lying almost on top of Spike's body.  "Nice'n warm.  Does turning it on make it hotter?"

Xander wasn't going to be sleeping any time soon. He closed his eyes, his heart pounding in his ears. His breath was threatening to just quit on him altogether. "Dunno. You'd have to find out," he said bravely.

Spike moved below him.  It could have just been sleepy stretches, but ... not after saying that.  "Challenging me, huh?" Spike murmured.  "Careful you don't push too hard, love."  But the arms linked behind his back showed no sign of releasing and Spike was smiling.

Xander raised himself up just a little to look into Spike's eyes. He was feeling a little dizzy as he nervously wet his lips. Lips. Spike lips, right there. He stared at them for just a minute and then his eyes darted back to Spike's. "Why's that?"

Spike voice gained a more serious tone.  "Don't wanna mess this up," he said, barely audible.

"Me neither," Xander said, just as quietly.

"But I want ... " Right after the cool wave of Spike's breath there were Spike's lips.  Pressing against his and moving as delicately as a butterfly's wings.  Kissing him.

It wasn't the fiery, possessive kiss of each and every one of Xander's fantasies. This, somehow, was even better. He could feel every movement, every tiny touch of Spike's lips. It was so surprisingly gentle, but over way too soon. Xander pulled back a little and looked at Spike worriedly. "Is that okay? Not the ... lips, but the ... me and you and lips?"

"Yeah.  More than."

But Spike didn't seem interested in kissing again.  When Xander leaned down, Spike brought his hand up, cupping Xander's mouth.

"Can it wait, love?"  There was a new emphasis on 'love'.  "Can we?"

Xander felt an instinctive flash of hurt, but it was gone as soon as it came. He understood. More than understood. "I've been waiting for six months for that one kiss, Spike; I don't think I'll have a problem with being patient."

If vampires could flush ... Spike dropped his eyes, the only measure of privacy he could have when Xander was lying on top of him.  "I've not had friends before," he whispered.  "Don't want to lose that."

"I know," Xander said, moving off the naked vampire to rest beside him. "But I'm not going anywhere."

Spike immediately returned to his cuddly position, head on Xander's chest.  "Know you're not, pet.  But I've a habit of botching things like that.  I don't want to."  Kissing his chest, Spike sighed and held a little tighter, a clear sign that Spike was going back to sleep—and this discussion was over.

Xander wrapped his arms around his ... Spike, and smiled happily. Then looked at the clock and realized he had a whole ten minutes to get up, showered, dressed, caffeine fortified, and off to work. He snickered to himself. He'd just have to be a little late again, he thought, bending to kiss the top of Spike's head.




The End



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