Xander opened a bleary eye and poked his head out of the covers. His cell phone had been ringing for the past two minutes straight, little metallic chirps that hurt his head. Somewhere around two in the morning, he had decided that anything Spike had left behind was fair game, including that second bottle of Glenlivet. Ignoring the pounding behind his temples, Xander turned over and grabbed the phone off the nightstand.
1:30 in the afternoon. I’ve gotta start sleeping normal hours again soon. I feel like utter shit. Oh, wait. Maybe that’s the Iron Chef drinking game you played last night to drown your sorrows, Xander. You really should not have made a “Drink every time the bimbo actress giggles and compares the food to a lotus flower” rule.
Xander checked the caller ID and answered with a weary, “Hello, Andrew.”
“Xander, where have you been? I’ve been trying to get you all morning. You kinda ran off in a hurry last time we talked, and I was starting to get worried about you.”
Xander poured himself a lukewarm glass of water from the pitcher of melted ice on the dresser and drank it down in big gulps. “Yeah, well, it’s been a rough couple of days. A slug demon gave me near-fatal nightmares of evil!pervy Buffy, Cordy died for real, and I kissed Spike. Twice. Which was great, except for the way he found Anya’s letter and accused me of just using him to get my rocks off.”
“You didn’t tell Spike about Anya’s letter?” Andrew sounded shocked.
“No, I didn’t tell him! What was I supposed to say? ‘My dead ex-fiancée, who slept with you after I dumped her at the altar, has decided you and I should make beautiful love for all eternity?’ I was going to tell him; I just needed some time to think of something a little better than that to say.”
Andrew sighed. “Did you try to explain?”
“Of course I did. I think he eventually believed me that I wasn’t just—his words—taking him for a ‘test drive.’ But by the time Angel called him away on slayage duty, he’d already moved on to the ‘I don’t want to ruin our friendship’ portion of the gentle letdown.”
Xander rubbed the back of his neck; he’d slept funny, and the muscles there were tense and achy. “I don’t even know why I’m so worked up over this. It’s not like I ever thought about Spike in that way, ever, until a few days ago. And once he got past the slightly terrifying rage, all Spike’s points made sense. Him vampire, me Scooby.” And not Buffy.
“But . . . you are worked up about it. Don’t you think that means something, Xander?”
“Yeah. I think it means I’m insane.” Xander tried to laugh, but it sounded forced and insincere.
“Be serious.” Xander could almost see Andrew putting his hands on his hips and pointing a finger at him.
“Okay. I surrender. No need for the Watcher voice. I think it means . . . Let me put it this way. Anya and Cordy are watching out for me now, and I trust them. I don’t think they’d lie to me. Knowing that made me much more willing to give this me-Spike thing a chance. And when we kissed, Andrew, it was . . . well, it was good. Very good. Fireworks kinda good.”
“Then, what are you gonna do?”
“Honestly, I have no idea. If the Xander Harris track record is any indication, probably screw things up even worse than they already are. But enough about my drama. How are things across the pond?”
“Fine. I told everybody about Cordy. Willow wanted to call you, but I told her you couldn’t be reached by phone. I don’t think she bought it, but she didn’t call me on it.”
“Thanks, man. I really don’t think my non-relationship with Spike is the conversation to rekindle our friendship with.” Xander refilled his glass of water and took a tiny sip. “What else is going on?”
“There’s been a change of scenery for me. I’m in Italy for the next little while until Buffy wipes out this Klexnor demon clan. So, I’m staying with her. Dawn’s driving Buffy batshit with this guy she’s dating, Paolo. He’s all handsy, and I think Buffy’s ready to break them.”
Xander laughed. “And how’s the Buffster doing? Is she still seeing that Immortal dude?”
“Yeah. The Immortal, or Tal as we in the know call him, is seriously gorgeous, Xander. Hair like Jude Law, the eyes of Johnny Depp, the glorious biceps of Josh Holloway. Excuse me while I hyperventilate.”
“Oh, god, I must be gay, ‘cause I feel a little short of breath myself.” They both giggled. “What makes him Immortal, anyway? Is he a vampire?”
“No. I’ve seen him in the daylight, so it’s not that. I don’t know what he is. He’s super old though. He knows Spike and Angel. Well, Angelus, really. I think there’s some bad blood between them.”
“Ha. How surprising. Angelus pissed somebody off. You know, Andrew, you’re a Watcher now. Unlimited magical resources at your fingertips. Find a way to get rid of that damn happiness clause. I’ll die a happy man if I never see Angelus again.”
“Duly noted. Speaking of misappropriation of funds, I’m seriously considering commissioning the Council jet so I can see the premier of Episode 3 in New York.”
Xander snorted. “You know it’s all shiny, empty promises don’t you, Andrew? It’s gonna suck just as hard as the last two. Between ‘Little Orphan Anie’ and ‘Anakin’s Creek,’ I was ready to murder Lucas. And this will be just as craptastic.” Xander gripped the phone more tightly in sudden horror. “Oh, god. Do you think Lucas will make Natalie Portman run again? ‘Cause I don’t think my stomach can handle it. She looks like a deranged chicken. Seriously. Worst runner ever.”
“Don’t even get me started on the many, many, many reasons why you are completely wrong, mi amigo. Let me just say—Obi Wan/Anakin light saber duel—and leave it at that.”
The hotel phone began to ring, and Xander answered it. “Can you hold for a minute?”
He switched to his cell phone with his free hand. “Andrew, let me call you back later. Somebody’s on the hotel phone.”
Andrew said goodbye, and Xander returned to the ivory receiver of the hotel phone. “Sorry about that. Can I help you?”
“Xander? This is Fred, Angel’s friend. He asked me to call you. We’ve got kind of a situation here, and Angel’s cancelling the meeting at Caritas tonight. We’ll call you once this is under control.”
“Is Sp . . . Is everything okay? Do you guys need help?”
“No. I think we’re handling it alright. Thanks, though.”
“Okay. I guess I’ll see you guys later, then.”
Xander hung up the phone. I wonder what’s going on. I really wish Spike had been the one to call.
“Xander, it’s Spike. Ummmm…..right. I’m at Wolfram and Hart. There’s something here you’ve really gotta see.”
Xander put down the phone. He’d accidentally left his cell in the hotel room while he stepped out for Mexican food. Spike had left him that voicemail just minutes before he’d returned. So far, Xander had listened to the message eight times. He thought he detected something, some emotion, in Spike’s voice, but he wasn’t sure just what. The message ended puzzlingly with what could either be interpreted as a horrible coughing fit or the death throes of a strangling man.
Xander shrugged. Guess I’m going to Wolfram and Hart.
As the elevator doors opened on Angel’s floor, a group of giggling office personnel headed by Harmony scurried through the lobby.
“Oh, Xander! Hey! I’ll catch up with you guys in the break room.” Harmony sauntered toward Xander, arms extended, clearly intending to hug him. “We never did get that drink. You should totally come over to my place. I just got a plasma screen TV, and we could watch The Banger Sisters or something.”
Xander neatly avoided her hug by bending down to retie his shoe. She tries to woo me with the aging cleavage of Goldie Hawn? Wow. “Sorry, Harm. Don’t think I’ll have time. Council business and all.”
“Oh.” Harmony’s pink lips briefly formed a pout before she was again smiling like an orthodontist’s wet dream. “Are you here to make fun of Angel? Please say you’re here to make fun of Angel.”
“Angel? No. I’m here to see Spike. What’s the deal with Angel?”
Harmony just shook her head. “This you gotta see for yourself. Spike’s in Angel’s office.” She walked in the direction her friends had gone, her high heels making little clicks against the linoleum.
Okaaay…Something seriously weird is going on around here. A tall, yellow lizard exited an office to Xander’s left, all the while gesticulating wildly to a harried-looking lawyer. And I’m surprised…..why?
Xander knocked on Angel’s door then slowly opened it. Spike slouched in one of Angel’s office chairs, talking to someone Xander couldn’t see.
“Spike, I got your message. What’s going on?”
Spike swiveled around in the chair, a shit-eating grin on his face. He pointed to Angel’s desk. “Voila.” Xander walked closer for a better look.
“What? Somebody left a cheesy rip-off of the Count from Sesame Street in Angel’s chair. That’s hardly original. Bonus points for the massive forehead though.”
Suddenly, the Count rip-off moved, rubbing its face with its wee, wee hands. And then it spoke, in Angel’s voice. “Why do you do this to me, Spike? Why? I’ve been nicer to you in the past two days than I can remember being the entire twentieth century. But are you grateful? No. You call Xander Harris to come mock me. It’s not enough that I had to represent Wolfram and Hart like this at a meeting of all the demon Lords of the Amesukietty clans, no. You have to call everyone I’ve ever known within driving distance of L.A. to see Angel the Puppet Vampire Freak. If Drusilla walks through that door, I’m making you stake her.” Puppet!Angel glared at Spike. Or Xander assumed he was glaring. He was at least looking in Spike’s direction and attempting unsuccessfully to furrow his puppet!brow.
Spike grinned. “No worries, mate. Dru’s in South America. I did email her a picture, though. God, I love technology.”
Xander felt a laugh, the frenzied kind that won’t be denied—the kind of laughter that leaves you warm, limp, and slightly phlegmy—bubble up in his chest. “Angel’s a puppet!” That was all he could manage to squeak out before the laughter overtook him.
After a long period in which nothing could be heard but Xander’s giggles and the drumming of Puppet!Angel’s fingers on his desk, Spike stood and took Xander by the elbow. “C’mon, Harris. Can’t make too much fun of Angel. Might hurt his widdle puppet!feelings.”
Spike navigated a still-laughing Xander down the hall and into an empty office.
Xander wiped tears from his eyes. “Thanks for calling, Spike. That was, well, that was better than my most creative ‘something emasculating happens to Angel in front of Buffy’ high school fantasies.”
Spike looked thoughtful. “Emasculating. Hmmmm……wonder if he’s fully functional." A mischievous grin split his face. "Let's go find out.”
Xander put out his hand. “Gimme a break, Spike," he pleaded. "I might hurl if I laugh any more.”
“I know. This is better than the time Charlie pissed in Angel’s chair.”
Xander started laughing again, albeit weakly. “Ow, face hurting. Gunn did what now?”
“Never mind. Long story. Anyway, Angel’s little predicament isn’t the only reason I called you down here.”
Xander stopped laughing abruptly and his mouth went dry. “It’s not?”
Spike sat in a chair at the conference table and motioned for Xander to do the same. He lit a cigarette and left the empty pack on the table to use as an ashtray. With a nervous smile at Xander, Spike took a drag and started to talk. “Been doing a lot of thinking since I left your room, Harris. Angel wasn’t lying when he said he’s been good to me lately. Actually found myself talking to him, like it was the old days. Well, like the old days except we both had our clothes on and nobody was bleeding.”
Oh, god. He’s about to tell me he hooked back up with Angel. ‘Thank you, Xander. Your pitiful crush on me has made me see the light. The Brooding One and I belong together, two souled vampires, fighting evil and having wild monkey sex for all eternity.’
Xander grimaced. “Let me mention again how much I really don’t wanna hear about naked Angel.”
“You never have liked him, have you?”
“No. But I never really gave him a chance, either. In high school, he was so mysterious and tortured, and he had all these superpowers and a kick-ass billowy coat. And Buffy. All she saw was Angel. I mean, I wasn’t even in Deadboy’s shadow. He obliterated me.” Xander leaned back in his chair. “But now . . . It’s hard for me to feel anything but sorry for him. He’s lost so much. Realizing that me and Buffy would’ve been even more of a disaster than me and Anya helps, too.”
Spike snorted. “Took dying, again, for me to get that one through my thick skull.” He stubbed out his cigarette and tucked the butt into the empty pack. “When I left the hotel, I was so angry—at you, at Anya, at Lindsey, at the fucking PTB. Somebody’s always playing Kick-the-Spike, and I’m tired of all these bloody games. But the old man gave me some good advice. He said, ‘Don’t be me, Spike. Don’t wake up one day and realize the only meaningful thing you’ll ever have lying next to you again is empty space.’ See, I may be love's bitch, Harris, but I’d rather be a fool than give up entirely.”
Does that mean what I think it means?
“What are you saying? C’mon, Spike, spell it out for the manual laborer.”
Spike took a deep breath, still smiling that little same little nervous smile. “I’m saying, I don’t detest you, Xander. Things’ve been a hell of a lot more interesting since you came to town. And if Anya thinks you and me should,” he waved his hands around in the air, “whatever, I’m willing to give it a go. Demon girl always did have a way of cutting through to the heart of matters, didn’t she? But let’s take things slow, yeah? Don’t have to run into anything like it’s the sodding end of the world.”
Before Xander could answer him, a fully restored Angel opened the office door and poked his head in. “I’m baaack, boys. We’re heading out to Caritas. It’s time to talk end of the world.”
“So that’s the plan? Buffy’s charge-down-into-the-Hellmouth-with-a-bunch-of-teenagers-and-hope-Willow-doesn’t-go-all-veiny was a better plan than this.” Xander stabbed the air with his half-empty Corona for good measure. Sitting next to him, Spike nodded in agreement and clinked his beer bottle with Xander’s.
“Xander, it’s the end of the world. The Senior Partners have kept us . . . me. . . so busy with all the bullshit of running Wolfram and Hart that I didn’t even see Armageddon coming until almost too late. We don’t have a whole hell of a lot of time. You got a better plan, lay it on me."
Wesley looked at Angel, who was staring intently at Xander, and Xander, who was absently fingering the strap of his eye patch. “Angel, I don’t think Xander is denying the need for action. I think he merely wants to explore all possible avenues before we decide on a plan.”
Heh. That’s putting it . . .nicely, Wes. You mean, ‘Poor guy’s already lost an eye in the last apocalypse; don’t blame him if he gets all twitchy on ya.’ Under the table, where no one could see, Spike’s hand kneaded Xander’s thigh, then settled, a solid and comforting weight on his leg.
Angel sighed. “Wes, we don’t have any options. Any good ones, anyway. Lindsey said . . . .”
“Speaking of which, what do you think happened to the fucker?” Spike interrupted. The question seemed casual, but Xander could tell from the way Spike’s fingers dug into his thigh when he said Lindsey’s name that Spike was very interested in Angel’s answer.
“I know exactly what happened to him. Little perk of running Evil Incorporated. Trust me; Lindsey’s not going anywhere.”
Spike leaned back in his chair, apparently satisfied. He took another beer from the tray Lorne carried over from the bar and smiled at Xander. Xander smiled back and slid his hand under Spike’s, lacing their fingers together. I’m holding hands with William the Bloody under the table like a sixth grader. Woohoo!!
“Hey, wait a minute.” Fred tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "If Lindsey needed those tattoo thingies to hide from the Senior Partners, how come we’re doing our apocalypse planning all out in the open?”
Gunn looked at Fred in alarm. “And we’re just worrying about that now?”
Lorne waved his hands in a placating gesture. “Relax, people. Relax. I had the lovely ladies who set up the wards for Caritas dose the place up extra special for the evening. The Senior Partners could break the wards if they tried, but it’d take a hell of a lot of mojo to do it, and I’d know.”
Angel looked down at his whiskey, at the drops of condensation sliding down the slick glass and pooling at its base. “We don’t talk about this again, not without magical protection. Unless we get new information or a better plan, you all know what to do.”
Xander’s cell phone chose that moment to ring, breaking the tension at the table. Giles. Crap. Not good timing, G-man.
He walked to the farthest corner of the bar to answer his phone. “Giles, hey! What’s shaking?”
“Xander, it’s been more than a week since I heard from you last.”
“Oh, you know how it is. Just lazing around in the Spanish sun. Guess I lost track of time.”
“Do you think I’m an idiot, Xander? Despite Andrew’s best attempts to hide the invoice for your plane ticket from me, I know you’re in L. A. And now it’s time for you to come back to London.”
Xander glanced up at the group. Spike and Angel were watching him attentively. Stupid vampire hearing. Guess there’s no point in trying to make this a private conversation.
“Giles, I’m not coming back anytime soon. Something big is going down here, and I’m not just gonna hide in Headquarters while the world goes to shit.”
“Xander, I admire the bravado, but Angel and his cohorts cannot be trusted. They’ve been tainted by their association with Wolfram and Hart.”
“His cohorts? They’re not wearing Spandex and leaping over tall buildings, Giles. We’re talking about Spike. Died to save the world; remember him? Still pissed that you knew he was alive and didn’t say anything. And Wesley—granted, he didn’t make the best impression in Sunnydale, but he’s come a long way since then. And let’s not forget the Original Souled Wonder himself. When we had our own little apocalypse to deal with, Angel didn’t just tell us to go fuck ourselves.”
“Don’t be so damn naïve, Xander. Our seers have had visions of what is to come. They’ve seen Angel do terrible things. I cannot believe I have to explain this to you.”
“What did they see?” Xander looked again at Angel. He was staring at his hands, brow furrowed. Spike was smoking furiously and talking softly to Angel in between drags.
“They saw him giving a human child to a clan of demons, among other things.”
Xander walked back over to the group. “Lorne, do the wards in here cover phone calls, too?”
“They should. It’s some pretty powerful magic.”
Xander went back to his cell phone. “Giles, it’s part of the plan. Angel’s not supplying demons with tasty infant snacks. You’re just gonna have to trust me.”
“I do trust you, Xander. I just don’t trust the rest of them.”
Xander sighed. “And that’s just insulting, Giles. I’ve always thought of you as a father. I’ve stood beside you more times than I can count and done my part to hold back the end of the world. If you were half the man I thought you were, you’d be here, too, with an army of Slayers beside you.” Xander turned off his phone, cutting off Giles’ reply.
Most of Angel’s team seemed oblivious to the discussion. Fred and Wesley were talking softly at the table, laughing and punctuating their conversation with small touches. Gunn watched the two of them talk with something that Xander could only identify as regret on his face. Lorne even seemed to have forgotten Xander’s question. Xander could hear him clinking glassware behind the bar and humming to himself. But Angel looked . . . defeated. And Spike looked angry. Very angry.
“Can’t believe you stood up to the Watcher like that. Took a lot of courage, Harris. But what I really can’t believe is that old fool saying that shite to you. If he can’t trust you . . . if he can’t trust me after all this time, after everything that happened, everything I did . . .” Spike stood up abruptly. “Outta smokes. I’ll be right back.” He stalked out of the bar, but not before Xander saw exactly how deeply Giles’ distrust had hurt him.
How could Giles not trust him? I just don’t get it. Oh right, the last thing Giles did before we marched down into the Helllmouth was try to kill Spike. Did the man never read Tolkien? Xander tried to ignore his growing hostility towards the Watcher and instead touched Angel on the shoulder to get his attention. “Can I talk to you for a second? Away from the others?”
“Sure.” Angel followed Xander back over to the far corner of the bar. “What do you want to talk about? Spike? He’ll be alright; he’s just blowing off some steam.”
“I know. That seems to be going pretty well, actually. I never thought I’d be thanking you for interfering in my love life, but thanks. By the way, Spike told me what you said. I know you’ve got the corner on angst, Angel, but geez. You’re not alone, you know.”
Angel sighed. “Xander, everyone I love is either dead or letting someone else eat their cookies.”
“Don’t ask. All I mean is that I’ve pretty much given up on that part of my life.”
Xander leaned forward. “It’s not only the kind of love that makes you wanna interlock parts that matters, Angel. You’ve got friends here that care for you, and you’re pushing them away.”
Angel frowned. “What are you talking about?”
“The memory spell.”
Angel glanced over at the group across the bar and lowered his voice even further. “Xander, the only thing keeping us all together is that spell.”
“Have you ever seen Star Trek V?” When Angel looked at him as if he’d lost his mind, Xander hastily added, “This is on topic, I swear.” Angel shook his head no. “Okay, in that movie, Spock’s half-brother Cybok has the power to take away people’s pain. He can get rid of someone’s deepest, darkest trauma, but the mojo leaves behind a kinda hollowed-out pod person. When Cybok offers to take away Captain Kirk’s pain, Kirk says something like, ‘No. Don’t take away my pain. I need my pain. It makes me who I am.’ Angel, that memory spell is a great big wedge between you and your team. You know; they don’t. You’re angry and guilty, and they don’t have a clue. So you just drift farther and farther apart.”
“Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black? When’s the last time you talked to Willow?”
“Touche. But Willow’s not mindfucked into forgetting that I don’t call. Do you really want to die without knowing the truth? Without giving your friends a chance to really be your friends again?”
Angel locked eyes with Xander. Xander almost flinched at the raw pain he saw on the other man’s face. “But what if I lose them?” Angel whispered.
Just then, the front door swung open and Spike strode back in. “We done here, Peaches? If so, me and Harris are leaving. We’ve got places to go, people to see.”
Xander hid a smile. And the bossy vampire speaks for us both. One day, perhaps, I will find that annoying, but today is not the day. No, today my inner sheep is happy to follow my almost-boyfriend wherever he may lead.. “Presumptuous, much?” he said aloud.
Xander could feel Angel watching as he and Spike walked out the door.
“Wow. This place is cool. When Deadboy decides to do something right, he really delivers.”
During their heart-to-heart, Angel had apparently agreed to put Spike up in company digs. As they left Caritas, Spike had invited Xander to stay with him while he was in L. A. “Not like you can use the Council credit card after that little chat with Rupert. We’ll swing by the hotel and get your kit, yeah?”
So now Xander was wandering around a living room as big as the entire basement he’d once shared with Spike back in Sunnydale. The apartment was seriously swanky—expensive fabric framing the windows, real art on the walls, the latest in technology everywhere.
“Good thing the place came furnished, huh? Otherwise we’d be sitting on the floor.” Xander plopped down on the plush couch. He picked up a notebook that lay on the cushion next to him, then set it back down when he realized the notebook contained Spike’s poetry.
“It’s okay. You can read it. I mean, if you want to.” Spike said the words shyly, as if he were afraid Xander might refuse or make fun of him.
Something melted inside Xander, some part of his heart he’d kept frozen and inaccessible since he’d left Anya at the altar. He took up the notebook and handed it to Spike. “Why don’t you read one to me? I really liked listening to you the other night at Finnegan’s Wake.”
Spike smiled, gloriously, blindingly. If Xander didn’t know better, he’d have sworn the vampire was blushing. Then again, Spike never did fit the mold.
Haltingly at first, then gaining in confidence, Spike began to read. “This one’s called ‘World War 24.’ I wrote it about Dru.
World War 24
Your mother owns an antique shop
She takes some stuff
I take a lot
We sleep all day
I’m feeling like an after thought
I guess I’m kinda lost in space
And London’s okay
She don’t even ask what time it is anymore
Dressed up like it’s World War 24
She loves it when it hits her teeth
The river hides the carousel
In London, oh well
Like bullets from a candy gun
Delivers us into the sun
In London my love
She don’t even ask what time it is anymore
Dressed up like it’s World War 24
And if we get too high
We’ll burn this town
Oh baby bring me down
I’m all yours
I’m all yours.”*
Spike looked up nervously but expectantly over the edge of the paper.
“That was beautiful, Spike. Terrifying, but beautiful. I can really see you and Dru plotting to burn London to the ground. When was this written?”
“The poem’s recent, but it’s about the turn of the century, before even the first of the World Wars. Cocaine was all the rage back then. Everybody who was anybody was doing it. Kinda like the ‘80s, actually. We were in London again, and me and Dru’d holed up in an antique shop. The man who owned that place tasted like cobwebs and mothballs. Barely a drop of blood in that skinflint’s body. Anyway, we’d snort obscene amounts of coke, then smoke opium to come down. The only thing I can compare that time to was how wild everybody got after the World Wars. Woulda been more fun if coke didn’t make Dru batshit.”
“Spike, I don’t exactly remember Dru not being batshit.”
Spike snorted. “Yeah, but she wasn't suicidal. Coke made her think she could walk in the sun.”
Hesitantly, Xander asked, “Do you still love her?”
“Yeah, I still love Dru. I think I always will. But she’s a part of my past, not my future. Besides, we’re too different now to make it ever work.”
Xander nodded. “It’s good that you keep in touch, though. And I can’t believe I just said that. So what’s Dru up to these days?”
“Last I heard, giving what’s left of the Initiative hell. I’ll be damned if I tell her not to eat those wankers. I did ask her to lay off Finn and his wife. Buffy wouldn’t like it if she killed them.”
Xander smirked. “Awwww…..going soft in your old age?”
“Not hardly. As far as I’m concerned, Dru can make necklaces out of Finn’s entrails. I just don’t wanna see the old girl staked.”
“Uh huh. Softie.”
Spike shot him the bird and turned on the television.
“I should’ve known. Spike TV.”
As the opening music of Most Extreme Elimination Challenge blared, Xander shifted on the couch until his leg was touching Spike’s. Spike shifted as well, moving gradually closer to Xander until they were plastered together. Just as Guy le Douche attempted to grab the mud-encrusted breasts of a contestant, Xander turned and kissed Spike, who opened his mouth to let Xander’s roving tongue inside. As the kiss deepened, his hands worked their way under Xander’s shirt, exploring smooth planes of skin. Xander broke the kiss and looked at Spike, his eyes dark and liquid with desire.
“Spike, I really wanna make out with you. All we’ve really done is kiss, and that’s been amazing, but I’m feeling all gropy and handsy. And I understand if that’s not okay. If it’s too soon, or whatever, I can wait. I know you said we don’t have to rush like it’s the end of the world. But it’s always the end of the world, and I feel like we’re running out of time.”
Spike smiled at him so seductively, Xander was sure it must be illegal in forty three states. He didn’t speak, just stretched out his hand and led Xander down the hall to his bedroom . . . .
*"World War 24" by Ryan Adams on the album Love is Hell
Spike opened the door to his bedroom and led Xander inside. Xander looked around curiously as Spike shut the door behind them. The focal point of the room was a massive bed with a black, wrought iron frame. The bed was unmade, and slate grey silk sheets twined sinuously around a black coverlet with scarlet piping.
How very gothic of you, Spike. Sheesh. You almost need a stepstool to climb up into that thing.
The door clicked shut softly, and Spike turned Xander around to face him. He slipped his fingers under Xander’s eye patch and gently lifted it from his head. Then he cupped Xander’s jaw in his hand and leaned closer until his lips brushed across Xander’s. Spike’s lips were firm and tasted faintly of smoke and bitter hops.
When Spike licked the corner of his mouth, Xander shivered and wrapped his arms around him. Spike tangled his fingers in the hair at the nape of Xander’s neck and pressed their bodies tightly together. Spike didn’t curve into him the way Anya or Cordelia had. Instead of softness that yielded, Spike was hardness and muscle, a dense weight fixed against his own.
Xander tentatively reached under Spike’s shirt, his hands skimming across the cool span of Spike’s back. Spike pulled away from Xander momentarily; Xander took advantage and lifted Spike’s shirt over his head. Xander had seen Spike’s naked torso more times than he could count, but he’d never touched that taut belly with the flat of his hands or traced the line of a clavicle with his tongue before now. Spike drew in a breath when Xander licked his nipple. The pale disc hardened in Xander’s warm mouth, and Spike’s hand fisted tighter in Xander’s hair.
What had begun as a series of gentle kisses was rapidly gaining in passion and intensity. Spike backed them up until the tops of Xander’s thighs hit the edge of the bed. Xander felt a moment of slight panic. I know this was my idea, but maybe we’re moving too fast.
But then Spike was trying to push him down on the bed, and nothing was happening because the bed was too high, the angle all wrong. “Bloody hell,” Spike muttered, and then he laughed, and Xander laughed, too. It took some maneuvering, but they finally got up into the bed, giggling, and everything was alright again.
For what seemed to Xander like hours, they lay in the tangle of Spike’s sheets, pressing kisses into each other’s heated flesh. Spike’s mouth followed the musculature of Xander’s body, tongue caressing the curve of a pectoral and winding its way down to tease Xander’s belly button. Xander moaned softly, his eye closed. When he opened it, Spike was looking at him, his hands resting lightly on Xander’s fly button.
Xander leaned back against Harmony’s desk and watched the elevator doors open and close. Spike was doing . . . something . . . and Xander had gotten bored waiting for him in an empty office. He thought about the previous night and grinned. I made out with Spike. As in, rolled all around the bed like a couple of teenagers and ended up with his hands stuck down my pants. And then my hands were down his pants. Ahh, the goodness of hands down the pants. William the Bloody gets off on old-fashioned making out. Who knew?
For once, Harmony wasn’t her usual talkative self. She greeted Xander with the requisite subtle-as-a-ton-of-bricks flirtation, but midway into the spiel her voice trailed off. Now she sat at her desk, glancing up at Xander furtively and sniffing as if she had a cold.
Finally, after a particularly lengthy intake of air, Xander turned to Harmony and asked, “Harm, are you smelling me?”
“No. Well, yes. But only a little. It’s just . . . you smell all like Spike. I mean, you smell like him, and I don’t get it. Did you guys watch porn together or something gross like that?”
Xander laughed. “Yeah. Something gross like that.”
Harmony cocked her head to the side and looked at him for a long moment, before her eyes widened comically. “Oh. Oh!” She stood up, flustered, and came around to the front of her desk. “Just let me warn you, Xander. Spike may have a pretty face, and a great body, and be really good in bed, but he will break your heart. Spike is not a giver; he’s a taker. And he will take and take and take until you’re sitting all alone in your bed eating Haagen-Dazs and feeling disgusted with yourself for dressing up like the Slayer ‘cause you said you’d never do that ever again. Not even if he does that bitey thing you like so much.”
“Umm . . . thanks, Harmony. I’ll keep that in mind.” Xander stifled a laugh; he could tell that Harmony still had feelings for Spike, even if she’d transformed most of them into indignation at the way he’d treated her. Harmony grated on Xander’s nerves, but he didn’t want to hurt her. After all, she was a piece of Sunnydale, something of Cordy walking around still, something familiar, something like home.
Just then, the elevator doors opened, and a young man and what looked to be his parents stepped out of the car into the lobby. Xander hadn’t seen Angel all day, but before the elevator doors even had time to close, he was welcoming the new arrivals to Wolfram and Hart and ushering them into his office.
That was . . . odd. Angel looks like he’s seen a ghost.
Xander knocked tentatively on Angel’s door. Spike hadn’t shown up yet, and he could only take so much of Harmony’s relationship management tips before he did something drastic. Angel’s guests had left Wolfram and Hart a half hour ago, so Xander knew he was alone.
At Angel’s, “Come in,” Xander opened the door and stepped inside. Angel looked up at him sharply, nostrils flaring. He didn’t say anything, though; he just shook his head and smiled at Xander.
God, this whole vampire smelling thing is really weirding me out. Deadboy’s gonna know every time Spike and I do anything, and that’s just freaky. Well, at least he’s not offering me sex tips based on his star-crossed love affair with Spike. I’ve really gotta see about setting Harmony up with some nice, upwardly mobile vampire.
“Angel, are you alright? You seemed, I don’t know, bothered by those people that came to see you earlier. They didn’t look like the normal Wolfram and Hart clientele. What gives?”
Angel slouched back in the chair, letting his muscles go slack, trading in what Xander could now identify as his I’m-the-boss-everything’s-fine-don’t-worry-about-me-I-have-no-feelings face for an expression of regret. “That was my son. Connor.”
“What was he doing here? I thought he doesn’t know who you are.” Xander wished he had looked more closely at the young man as he walked through the lobby. He would’ve liked to see a glimpse of Angel in Connor, maybe in something around the eyes or in the way he held his hands.
“We monitor him closely. He had occasion to use his super-strength earlier this week. His abilities are disturbing to his family. They’re worried about him, about what he can do, what he might be. I had someone intervene and direct them to Wolfram and Hart for guidance.”
“What did you tell him?”
Angel sighed. “Some ESP paranormal psychobabble bullshit. One in every two hundred Americans has some kind of special gift, blah blah blah. Use it wisely. I don’t think he bought it, but the parents did.”
“That’s good, right? I mean, your secret’s safe, and everything’s cool.” Xander watched Angel stack a small pile of paperclips, then scatter them with a sweep of his hand. He felt like he should touch him, hug him maybe, but Xander had never really been a hugger, except with Willow, and he wasn’t certain that Angel would welcome the gesture.
Before he had time to further contemplate the issue, the door opened and Spike walked in. He smiled when he saw that Xander was with Angel. He sat next to Xander in one of Angel’s conference chairs, laying a proprietary hand on Xander’s thigh. Xander flashed to waking that morning with Spike curled around his back, his hand in much the same position. He’d thought it might be awkward, waking up in the same bed as Spike, both of them wearing nothing but their underwear. But it wasn’t. Spike had just kissed him on the shoulder and said, “Morning, luv.” Then they’d gone to the kitchen for breakfast, and Xander had eaten a bowl of Weetabix. One look at his face and Spike had laughed. “Guess we better stock up on some real food, huh?”
I was thinking that’s when I knew this is real, that it means something to Spike. Nothing says relationship like a trip to Wal-mart. But that’s not true. I knew it last night when he didn’t push me too hard or too far, and I knew it when he said my name before we fell asleep. Not Harris. Not mate. But Xander. Oh, yeah. Been hearing that all morning.
Xander came back to attention when he realized that both Spike and Angel were watching him daydream. “Where have you been all day?” he asked Spike, in a bid to distract them from his wool-gathering.
“Talking to Dru. We have a little schedule worked out—every two weeks like clockwork, we talk online. She goes to one of those CyberCafe places and IM’s me. Took bloody forever to get her to sign off this time. She knows something’s coming. I had to listen to two hours of Miss Edith’s pronouncements on the impending apocalypse.” Spike took in Angel’s expression and said, “What’s wrong, Angel? You look like hell.”
“Connor was here,” Angel answered. “He was happier than I’ve ever seen him. He’s gotten scholarships to several Ivy League schools, and he’s dating some girl. Nice, smart, pretty.”
“So then, what’s the problem, mate?”
“When he said Dad, he didn’t mean me.”
“Oh.” Spike looked as if he would’ve liked to say more but wasn’t quite sure what was appropriate.
“Yeah. Oh.” Angel picked up one of the paperclips and began unbending it. “Listen, Xander. I wanted to tell you. Star Trek allusion aside, you were right the other day. I’m breaking the memory spell. I can’t do this alone anymore. Even if they all leave, they have to know the truth.”
“What about Connor?” Xander asked.
“I’m leaving the spell intact for him. It may be wrong. It may be mindfucking him,” he glanced at Xander when he said that word, “but he’s my kid. My kid, even if he doesn’t know it. He’s happy and safe, and I’m not screwing that up.” Angel crossed his arms and glared at Spike and Xander as if he expected them to disagree with him.
“When are you doing it?” Spike asked softly.
“Pretty much now. We’ve got a departmental chair meeting in twenty minutes.”
Xander stared to rise. “We should go then.”
But Angel waved him back down into his seat. “No, stay. Both of you. You’re family. And if they all leave, you’re the only family I’ve got left.”
“Well, that was . . . intense.” Xander helped himself to a glass of Angel’s single malt whiskey. “I thought they’d all be pissed about the spell. I guess Angel did, too. But turns out they understand why he did it. It’s all the stuff the spell was hiding that’s doing the damage.”
Spike held out his glass for another drink. “I think they’ll be alright, though. Fred and Percy left together, and the rest of the lot are still in there hashing things out. Nobody threatened to pack their bags or take a swan dive off the roof.”
Harmony opened Angel’s door and poked her head in. “Guys, I’m under strict orders not to interrupt Angel, but something kinda big’s come up. Our branch in Italy is having some problems, and they need Angel to send a team to deal with it.”
Xander raised his glass. “Fieldtrip! I can see Andrew!”
Spike clinked his glass with Xander’s and said excitedly, “And Niblet!”
And Buffy, Xander thought, but the name lay unspoken between them.