Chocolatey Goodness


by
Mad Poetess



9 Homeless?

"So, how do I look? Completely seducible?" Spike asked his nonexistent reflection as he combed his gelled hair back from his face and gave the empty bathroom a wink. "It is m'anniversary, after all. Wouldn't want to make the lad work too hard for it."

You look like an utter git who can't remember that he hasn't had a reflection f'r over a century His subconscious groused at him.

Also a bit like a complete poof who thinks two weeks is an anniversary… chimed another mental mosquito.

He grinned at both of them. "You're just jealous 'cos I've got a Xander and you don't." Something about that didn't sound right, somehow. Oh yeah. You're me. We'll just have to share, then.

He shrugged. He might be skint at the moment, but he was pretty sure he could come up with an anniversary present Xander would appreciate… All puns intended.

*****

Rupert Giles was tidying his flat. He was very good at tidying, for somebody who'd once been a bit of a rough lad (to vastly understate the case) and was now generally considered to be the sort of stuffy academic who could refurnish his flat completely in books. New sofa? Certainly. Just let me arrange a few more volumes of Beckett's 'Libris Demonicus' here, and hey-presto. He could, indeed, happily live amidst the clutter as long as he knew where everything was…but he also possessed the useful ability to get lost in the process of returning order to apparent chaos, when necessary. A.K.A. tidying.

He dearly loved his books, his scrolls, his artifacts of arcane origin, but this last year, he'd been beginning to think they were all anybody ever saw of him. Research Man, come to save the day by… providing fascinating secondary sources to the actual superheroine. Things had changed for the better over the late spring, though. Their little group was acting more like a family again, and less like a handful of strangers thrown together every so often by the hazards of living on the Mouth of Hell. Nice, that. Though they seemed to be collecting a few more strays than usual. Anya, the ex-demon. Spike, the chipped demon. Riley, the commando psychology-major, soon to return from his trip home to Iowa.

Family, friends… what might one call Spike? An enemy-turned-associate? And of course, as Anya had so bluntly pointed out last year, there were orgasm-friends. As he placed the last volume of Beckett's overrated and somewhat plodding compendium on the shelf near the stereo, thoughts turning towards his decidedly unfamilial plans for the holiday weekend, Giles was rudely knocked out of his tidying groove by the sharp sound of a rap at the door. "Bugger…" he muttered. "Who can that be? Flight's not due in 'til nine…" Which only gave him five hours to get the place ready and worry about whether he was losing his hair… With a shake of his head, he shelved the book and moved to see who was trying to drive him insane this afternoon.

"Ladies, do come in," Giles said politely, still a bit mentally jarred, as Willow Rosenberg and her friend Tara bounced through the door. Girlfriend Tara, to be exact, and why exactly do I find that to be the sweetest thing on the planet these days? You're getting old, Rupert, when the vanilla kiddies are more out-and-about than you've been in the last decade. The two co-ed witches proceeded apace to his sofa, where they arranged themselves into what had become a familiar position over recent weeks: red-headed Willow at the end of the sofa, ash-blonde Tara on the floor at her feet.

"Giles, you cleaned!" Willow observed, utilizing her normally-endearing talent of stating the bloody obvious. What, as if it was usually a pig-sty? All he'd done was to shelve a stack of books or ten, and tuck away most of the more obviously supernaturally-related bric-a-brac he'd had lying about. Don't kill the children, Rupert. You love the children, remember? Just because you have plans for the evening that definitely don't involve their presence, it doesn't mean you can't be hospitable for a few hours. You won't have to chase them out with an exorcism when the time comes. A few polite hints would do it, like 'I've got a friend coming to stay, and I'd like to get a leg over tonight, unlike the last night she was here, so if you lot would please clear off…' Or perhaps something a little more subtle. Deep breath.

"Yes, I cleaned. Olivia is going to be in town for the weekend, and I thought I might show her the comforts of a tidy, Spike-free flat, preferably with no demonic morticians lurking outside to steal our voices. There are no demonic morticians, yes? Nothing of apocalyptic significance to report?"

Willow chewed delicately on her lower lip. "Well, we went bowling with Spike last night. That was pretty apocalypsy."

*****

"You're kidding, right, Mom? Tell me you're kidding?" Xander looked across the kitchen table at his mother, whose perplexed face he hadn't seen in at least a week, regardless of the fact that he'd been living (among other things) directly below her, all that time. He had seen his Dad's, a few days ago when he'd dropped off the cash for the basement rent. A grunt and a request (well, order, actually) not to park the car in front, since his Dad had almost hit it the night before, had been about all the conversation they exchanged.

"No, Xander, why would I be kidding?" She fiddled with the glass of fruit punch in her hand, which undoubtedly was laced with mostly scentless vodka, it being about that time of the afternoon.

Shaking his head to try to see if what she'd said would make any more sense (it didn't), he was half tempted to join her. "How about because we haven't hosted the family mosh pit and burn center since I was eleven? I thought you guys swore off it after Dad and Uncle Stan decided it would be a fun idea to set up a firewalking pit in the living room?"

She goggled at him. "Alexander, that never happened!"

Sigh. "Shall I show you the scorch marks? They're under that ugly little rug in front of the TV… and I don't mean Uncle Rory's."

She'd caught him outside as he was about to head into the basement apartment, and for a minute he'd actually thought she was going to inquire into his welfare or what he'd been doing since he'd last shown his face upstairs. Oh, working a scut job, getting laid off from said scut job today, which is at least a new and interesting one to add to the Xander Harris List O' Screw-Ups, stealing cable from you guys, screwing a vampire-- hey, would you like to meet him? I think he's home… But no. She'd yanked him into the kitchen to inform him that his basement apartment, hellhole that it might be, was being co-opted for the long-weekend Harris free-for-all-and-booze-up politely known as the Fourth of July reunion.

This close. He was this close. To what, he wasn't sure. Moving out? Cracking up? Going downstairs and crawling into Spike's arms? Sounded good right now.

"Well, I certainly don't remember it," she said. "Anyway, it's not really optional. The plans have all been made. If you visited up here a little more often, you would've known, dear."

Dear? She picked the oddest times to try to sound motherly. Like when she was accusing him of not being a good son when he'd been three feet below them for a year and the most he'd gotten out of her was fruit roll-ups for Anya because she cleans up nice and Mom thought she was somebody's rich daughter and raspberry fruit punch for Giles because he's cute, and thank God he didn't accept, 'cause it probably had vodka in it, and she'd probably have come on to him, and I did not just think that Giles is cute.

"Fine. Whatever." He shoved his chair back. "I'll be out by tonight."

"You don't have to leave, Xander. Just make room for your cousins." Was she serious? Apparently.

"I don't think so, somehow. I outgrew sharing a bed with three…" Four, if we count Spike, which I don't think I should bring up just now… "other people a few years before I actually considered paying rent for sleeping in the basement. When'll they be gone?"

She returned slightly, from whatever spacey dimension she'd been hanging out in, with a little blink. "Oh. I'm not sure. Wednesday, probably. "

"Right. I'll be downstairs, packing."

As he moved towards the back door, she said in a soft voice, "Do you want any help, honey?"

Almost. Sometimes she almost made it back, from wherever the mother he'd known when he was six had disappeared to. "No thanks, Mom." Rather not choose today to introduce you to the possibly naked vampire in the basement. But she was already gone somewhere behind her eyes again, and he grit his teeth and left, patting down his pockets for the closest thing to chocolate he could find.

*****

Willow really couldn't help giggling-- the look on Giles' face, like he'd just swallowed an entire jar of fried newt gizzards, and then been informed as to what they were....

"You went...bowling? With Spike?" he managed to utter, walking over and straightening the books on the low shelf that backed up against the sofa.. "Er... was there a spell involved?" he added with a stern look at the two magic-workers, who replied with innocent faces.

"No, a bet. Which Spike lost to Xander, though neither of them will tell me what it was..." Willow frowned. What on earth could Spike be bad enough at to lose to Xander? She'd been pondering it all night.

She'd been pondering on Xander quite a bit recently, what with her cringe-worthy experience the Monday before last, when she'd walked into Xander's basement using her own key, and noticed, like the Three Bears, that somebody was sleeping in Xander's bed. Who wasn't Xander. And wasn't female. Unless her foot-identification skills were sorely lacking. A little hemming and hawing later, she'd been pretty sure she had Xander convinced she'd thought it was a girl in his bed, but that still left Willow with the questions of who, and why, and was it any of her business. Which it wasn't, unless Xander decided to tell her about it, but… she knew how she had felt when she didn't think she could share was going on between her and Tara with anybody. Plus you're a big nosy-butt, Rosenberg. Admit it.

She hadn't exactly had a chance to get Xander alone at the Scooby/pizza/Jeopardy party the next night, which was probably all for the best. Now that she'd had a good week or so away from him in which to think about it, Willow was pretty sure that keeping her mouth shut and waiting around to see what developed was the way to go. People thought she embarrassed easily, but Xander… She'd kinda like to be able to talk to him again before the next millennium, without him turning beet red and stammering. Anyway, he'd seemed pretty up last night, though her attention had been a little divided between Xander and the world-shaking experience of having a pretty good time with Spike . Not like that kind of good time, she told her mind. Eeew! Her mind thought she protested too much, and she wished she hadn't fed it all that Shakespeare over the years.

"Whatever the bet was, Spike's forfeit was apparently that he had to go bowling. Rented shoes and all. They just showed up at Tara's door last night while we were researching a new spell. Really researching a new spell," she added, and Giles raised both hands in self defense, as if he'd never had any other thought. Well, it did tend to be Xander who cracked the 'doing spells together' jokes. Giles was a grown-up. He didn't think about sex-stuff. Uh huh. Right. Willow here, not Buffy. Orgasm-friend coming over for the weekend remember?

"Xander said they were going bowling, whether Spike liked it or not--cue growling and snarling--and did we want to come along to witness Spike's humiliation. Since everybody's up for a little Spike-humiliation… plus the concept of seeing a bowling vampire… " She shrugged. "It was an experience not to be missed. Of course, so was the graduation of the Sunnydale High Class of 1999…"

"Yes, I must admit the mental image of Spike in bowling shoes is a little earth-shattering to me as well," Giles replied. "You didn't by any chance take photographs?"

Tara laughed. "No…I offered to bring the camera along, and Spike threatened to eat it. I like my camera. So no pictures."

"I hesitate to ask, because it might give the impression that I'm somehow interested in the answer," Giles said, picking up a book bound in blue leather from the shelf and flipping though it nonchalantly, "but can Spike bowl?"

Tara nodded. "He beat the pants off me, anyway. And I'm not too bad at it."

Willow ruffled her girlfriend's hair. "That's Tara's way of saying she kicks major bowling hiney. She's right though. Spike did get the highest score, which is awfully suspicious for a guy who swears the only time he's ever set foot in a bowling alley was sometime in 1978, because he'd heard a rumor that Sid Vicious hung out there. Natural vampiric ability, my butt. I still say he's a hustler. In the non-disgusting sense of the word…" she specified, recalling the peroxide-abusing vampire's smirking description of the type of money he might be able to pull in if he were the other kind of hustler.

Giles shook his head in disbelief, still distractedly flipping through the book in his hands. Willow peered at the cover. "The Chamayandin Kama Sutra, an Illustrated Text, including the Previously Expunged Subversive Chapters?" she pretended to read off.

Giles coughed, slamming the book shut. "It's a demonic translation, from the Rakshasas' point of view. Lends great insight into the background and psychology of the species."

"Mmm-hmmm…" Willow replied with a sly smile.

He glanced at the cover. "Very funny," he added drily, holding the book up cover-outward, so that Willow and Tara both had a good view of the actual title: 'The Compleat Enchanter' by L. Sprague de Camp.

"It's good to know you actually have it… somewhere…" Willow grinned, gesturing at the hundreds, probably thousands, of books in Giles' living room. "Just in case I need to borrow it. Purely for Rakshasa research, of course." Yeah, Giles doesn't think about sex…

"Of course," Giles replied with a beleaguered sigh.

"Willow's being bad today…" Tara commented, with her own version of Willow's smile in her quiet voice, and Willow tugged gently on the blonde braid in front of her.

"So… Spike was actually…sociable? As much as Spike is capable of, at any rate?" Giles asked, apparently still unable to take in the notion.

"Well, if you consider bitching about the shoes, the lack of decent beer, Xander's clothes, Xander's driving, Xander's hair… and actually jumping on top of the ball-return and howling when he won… Yeah. For Spike, I'd say that's probably black-tie behavior. Xander didn't have to drag him outside and clobber him, anyway."

"An improvement over his last social engagement, then. Perhaps Xander is actually a good influence on him. Oh, dear God, what did I just say?" Giles ran one hand through his hair. "Xander… good influence…"

"Maybe. In that he seemed to be keeping Spike in line. They were… almost buddy-like, in a Felix and Oscar kind of way," Tara offered.

Giles raised both eyebrows, obviously trying to figure out which of the two guys was supposed to be the neat one of the Odd Couple.

"Well.. maybe an Oscar and Oscar kind of way. Oscar Madison and Oscar the Grouch," Willow amended. "If sharing a basement with Xander can make Spike into something resembling a human being, I'm all for it, myself."

 

*****

"That's it. Start packing," Xander commanded from the middle of the room. Then he returned the Tootsie Roll Pop to his mouth, sucking on it far more fetchingly than the cartoon owl in the advert. Which Spike had just finished pointing out, in what he thought was a rather tempting come-on, all told. So the instruction to pack his gear, while he didn't really believe Xander was serious, was a bit of a non sequiter.

Spike looked up from the finally re-folded sofa, at his flatmate, lover, and Just stake me now... friend, and cocked his head. "Here I was thinking two weeks was maybe the Pizza Anniversary. Nothing big, you understand. Have to say I wasn't really expecting 'Throw the Vampire Out Into the Sunlight For Suggesting Oral Sex.'"

Blink. Blink. Patented Xander-blinks, while the mind caught up with the mouth. The mouth, pretty as it admittedly was, was luckily taken up with sucking on that sweet-on-a-stick at the moment, or there'd be Xander-babble to go with the blinks. Spike was rather getting to like Xander-babble, truth be told; some of it was honestly worth writing down. Real bumper-sticker material. God knows the morons in this country'll buy anything as long as it comes pre-gummed and can cover up the rust-spots on their chrome…

'There's just something about Martha Stewart that makes me forget I'm a man. How do you feel about coordinating bedsheets?' sprang to mind... He was waiting with minor dread for the day when Xander figured out that he actually had been writing some of them down, in a little black notebook he kept in the inside breast pocket of his duster. That being one of the more innocent lists he was keeping in said notebook.

Out popped the lolly. "No, Fangless. Not that kind of packing. Packing as in your stuff, my stuff, anything you ever want to see again or think I might. We're outta here."

Sparks of unholy glee shot through the vampire, enough to distract him from coming up with a clever retort to Xander's less-than-original insult. Out of the basement? Finally? A real flat, with his own key and no picking the lock to get in when he'd been out by himself? Like two blokes who just happened to live together, and whether they were shagging was nobody's business? No Punch and Judy abovestairs to make Spike twitch and itch to just have the ability to rip somebody's intestines out for one second… Just him and Xander, someplace that was theirs…

And he realized with a shock that would have been heart-stopping, if his heart had been beating in the first place, how much he wanted that. In that hungry sucking way that Drusilla used to want things. Another pretty bird, Spike. This time I'll feed him, I'll love him, I just need to hear him sing. Sure, until you forget again, Princess. He'd taken to naming the bloody things 'TLC' for 'Tastes Like Chicken.' You had to do something with the corpses.

It was that feeling, now. Wanting it all, and damn the consequences. He was completely loony, after all, and what good was insanity if you couldn't take advantage of it? Spike craved a place that was theirs alone, and hell, he wanted to be able to claim Xander in front of all and sundry, sod Buffy the Sire Shagger. His Xander, cabana-wear and all, and best not touch the boy if you want to live. She wouldn't really stake Spike, would she? If she knew Xander would be pissed at her? Maybe, if they moved in together for real... He really had lost it… He was picturing a little doorplate that read "Spike and Xander's Place--Go Away, We're Shagging!"

"Out of here… like…out of here?" he asked, trying not to sound too deliriously happy. "Goodbye basement, hello someplace where the ghosts of cockroaches past don't shake their wee chains in the night?" Moving! Hear that, you gits in there? he shouted into his own head. Me and my shaggable arse have finally got us out of the basement!

Snarky Voice Number One: Twit… Boy's right, you really are full o' yourself.

Xander shook his head, dark hair flying, and gave Spike a somewhat annoyed glance. Didn't seem to be in that good of a mood now, did he. Maybe Spike could do something about that. "No, we're not moving out, for the fourteen hundredth time, so just drop it. We are out of here until… oh, I'd say Wednesday, at least. It's Fourth of July weekend."

Snarky Voice Number Two: Told yer so… told yer so..

Sod off… snarled Spike to his built-in focus-group, just as a matter of habit. Was it Spike's imagination, or was Snarky Voice Number Two starting to sound like a character from 'East Enders'? Posh it up a bit, mate, or the other lads'll laugh at you…He lazily flung one booted foot over the end of the sofa, and crossed the other over it. Let his disappointment fade to a dull irritation, and the hope that Xander at least had in mind a roof to put over their heads until Wednesday, whatever was so special about that magic date. And what was the big soddin' deal about the Fourth of July, come to it? Right. Yank Independence Day. Fireworks. Whoo-bloody-hoo. Look what this lot did with their vast independence: Chia Pets and Gilligan's Island.

"Fourth of July. And…? For entertainment every year, your mum sticks a cleaning rag in your dad's mouth, and lights him like a Molotov cocktail? Thereby blowing up the house and exposing the basement to the sunlight until you can build a new one?"

Xander grinned, finally. "You've been thinking deeply about this, haven't you." He made his way towards the closet, lollipop still in hand, and as he passed the sofa, Spike casually stuck out one foot, tripping the youth and causing him to fall conveniently into his lap. Xander's lovely clumsiness had distinct advantages when it came to looking for opportunities to feel him up...

"Yeah, in my copious free time, while I listen to the two of them bitch at each other and learn to appreciate Lizzie Borden as more than a fellow professional..." Spike answered, pulling Xander close against him and running one hand hungrily over the boy's t-shirt covered back. "By the way," he added, pointing to the sparkling shards that lay in a swept-up pile on the floor in front of the sofa, "I am, to my eternal regret, not responsible for the death of disco. Nor your bloody disco ball, which took a dive all by itself, probably to get away from the sound of your dad stompin' on the floor right above it."

"Yeah. A likely story. You just don't want anybody to know that you used to dress like John Travolta before you got into the red silk and black leather phase, and you were afraid the disco ball would send you into a flashback." Xander grabbed Spike's hand and shoved the Tootsie Pop into it, twisting free of his grasp and standing up.

"Pack now, sex later. It's Fourth of July weekend, and my loving mother just informed me a whole twelve hours in advance that it's our year to host the family barbecue. "

"Wherein we barbecue your family?" Spike asked hopefully.

Xander leaned back down to thumb-flick him on the forehead, then started for the closet again. "Nice thought, but no. Wherein Harrises from all over the state converge to remind me why I should never have children. Which means either you and I get to share the basement and the bed with my cousins Terry, Jim, and Rob the Wonder Weasel, or we find another place to stay until the conquering horde crawls home and we can fumigate in here."

Xander-blinking seemed to be contagious, and Spike had a bad case of it. Right, where to start? The morons were rousting them out (well, rousting Xander out, since they thankfully had no idea he was here) to make room for more morons? Even though Xander was paying them rent? Where did the idiocy end? Then again, it meant the two of them had to leave the basement, so maybe keeping his mouth shut on that score was in order.

"How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop, Mr. Vampire?" Xander asked as he pulled the last container of pudding from the refrigerator, and Spike realized he'd been holding the lollipop in front of his face, staring at it blankly. He pictured himself disemboweling Harris Senior, shifted to game face, and bit clean through the thing. "One," he answered sincerely. "And these things leave something to be desired in the chocolate department. Like actual chocolate." He crunched the remaining bit of candy off the stick, then tossed the stick itself into the wastebin next to the sofa.

"There are other foods in life than chocolate, believe it or not," Xander blasphemed. At a confused look from Spike, he defended himself. "Just for contrast, of course." Well, he could talk, since he was gleefully devouring what just might be the last bit of real chocolate in the place, licking the spoon in a manner obviously designed to make Spike fall upon him and ravish him until he relinquished the last of the chocolate. Not that Spike intended to stop the ravishment at that point. He was evil, after all. Not that we're complainin'... someone interjected from his subconscious, but you're more than usually horny today, you do realize that, right?

Sod off, again. Of course he was more than usually horny. He'd eaten the other four cups of pudding, three bowls of Count Chocula, the third with actual milk, and the rest of the hot fudge Xander had bought for his clever little Spike Sundae. Then he'd had to pace the floor and listen to the Bickersons upstairs, as they discussed each other's ancestry at a volume that would put most heavy-metal bands to shame. Shag or kill, and since he couldn't kill, and his beautiful boy was right here just begging to be shagged...

"Food. Right. Sure. There's...virgin blood, and really really rare chopped liver, which is almost as good as the real thing. Hmm…spiders are pretty good, deep fried an' dipped in HP sauce… " He was playing with Xander, of course, as they both knew he liked human food, chocolate or otherwise, but it was fun to watch the boy squirm. "Oh, and a nice curry--the sort that burns the hairs off the inside of your nose and just keeps gettin' better on the way down…"

"Okay, eew on all counts. …"

"Even the curry?"

"Especially the curry. The curry frightens Xander. Xander runs from the curry."

"Probably," Spike grinned. "Luckily I'm immune to that sort of thing. Well…there's always frozen grapes on a string." He let that image filter through Xander's brain for a moment, smiling innocently. Well, as innocently as a vampire in full demon-face can manage.

"Okay, obviously another 'let's laugh smarmily at Xander' moment approacheth, but why would you want to eat frozen grapes on a string ?'

Snicker. "You don't eat 'em."

*****

Willow and Tara were each tucking into a plate of chocolate chip cookies (store-bought, because Giles wasn't about to muck about in the kitchen he'd just cleaned), and Giles was honestly afraid Olivia would be there before the two girls got around to telling him why they'd stopped in. Courtesy would be his downfall, in the end. Not demons, not vampires, not male-pattern baldness, but the unfailing compunction to brew a pot of tea for every wayward soul who showed up at his door.

Speaking of which, as if on cue, there was a knock. A bloody rap-tap-tapping at his chamber door.

"Hey, Giles. Just wanted to stop in and say bye. Well… say bye, and wait for Mom to pick me up here?" Buffy, a large carry-bag over her shoulder, insinuated herself through the door with a bright smile and a sheepish shrug. "Oh, hey guys. Looks like I get to wave bye-bye to everybody."

"No Xander," Willow said, shaking her head. "Though if you wait around long enough, he'll probably show. This seems to be one of those Scooby-magnet afternoons. "

Please God, no… Giles groaned mentally. Not that he'd mind seeing Xander, but they all needed to get out of his house before he ended up politely asking Olivia if she'd like to shag in the bathroom. Are we perhaps a trifle over-agitated here, Rupert? he thought, calming himself. "Tea, anyone?"

"No thanks. I'm trying to quit," Buffy replied, waving him off. She had a list of tea-jokes at the ready, and he'd just contributed another opportunity. Well, if it kept her happy... He lived to serve.

"If Xander shows up before Mom does, that'd be great. She's gonna drive me to Santa Barbara when she finishes up at the gallery, and then I'll come back with Riley on Wednesday." The Slayer's eyes crinkled at the mention of her boyfriend, who had been gone since shortly after his debriefing and discharge from what was supposedly left of the Initiative.

"Ooh, illicit long weekend in mysterious faraway place with strange man…" Willow teased.

Buffy nodded. "Except for the faraway place, and the strange man, and the illicit parts. Plain old martial arts seminar in nearby Santa Barbara with the most un-strangest-man I've ever dated."

"Yuck. Working vacation," Willow sympathized.

Giles wondered idly when had been the last time any of them had a non-working holiday. Something supernatural always seemed to arise. Thanksgiving, for instance, with Spike attending the festivities in bondage (and if he enjoyed tying up the vampire just a little bit too much, it was his own business), attacking Indian spirits, Angel prowling about, and poor Xander with a bad case of everything you could have a bad case of...

"But still, hotel room in non-mysterious nearby place with boyfriend you haven't seen in a month… Don't tell me there won't be any illicitness…" added the redhead.

Buffy grinned. "Well…. Maybe, in between the tai chi and the crane technique and the steam room and the zen meditatation… there might be time for some illicitness. My lips are sealed."

If only the door were… Giles thought. Ah well.

"I'll have some tea," Tara said, bobbing her head up from where she'd been looking at the blue-bound novel that most definitely wasn't the Chamayandin Kama Sutra.

Of course you will… came the mental sigh, and Giles retreated to the kitchen.

 

*****

Frozen grapes. On a string. That you don't eat. And after a minute of puzzling that out, Xander decided there were some drawbacks to having a vivid imagination.

"Eew." And Spike was chuckling at him, of course. More Spike kinky stuff that, sooner or later, he'd be roped into trying, and, sadly, probably enjoying. Give it to Xander… he won't try it, he hates everything. Hey look! He likes it! Xander really likes it! And granted, some of that stuff he might've liked, in theory, before he started boinking the undead, but Xander placed full blame for corrupting him squarely on those lickable white-chocolate shoulders of Spike's. White-chocolate. Which wasn't really chocolate, but how would it look melted and dribbled on his own somewhat tan skin, with good old dark chocolate syrup poured over Spike, so they could make a neat little yin-yang symbol... (And Spike would be stuck licking off the white chocolate, of course, bwah-ha-ha...)

There were some benefits, besides the obvious, to doing whatever he was doing with Spike, and one of them was that in a pinch, he could always point to the evil walking corpse and say it was all Spike's fault. Granted, that would only work once, since it would sort of clue the Scoobs in on the whole Spike/Xander Summer Sex Farce, and then he'd be dragged away in a straitjacket, and Spike would be in a world of hurt. And we'll try to avoid considering the fact that I don't want Spike to be in a world of hurt, or examining just why that might be.

"Well, it's really a bit of a vampire trick, with the grapes, luv. They'd thaw in a human, and then you'd have a handful of fishing line and an arseful..."

"Shut up. Eew."

More chuckling. "They do make a reasonable substitute for you lot, though..."

"And no, and eew, and thank you for playing, please try again later, because I know you will anyway," Xander riposted through clenched teeth. Spike would win eventually, because he was an evil, seductive bastard, but he didn't have to know that in advance. "And eew, just in case you missed the first three."

He knew Spike was trying to distract him from the task at hand. No! I will not be swayed from my appointed rounds! Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor hot demon guy in pornographically tight jeans lounging on my couch who wants to do wonderfully dirty things to me that Buffy would so stake him for.. NO! I will be good! I will pack. I will clean. I will not look at the vampire.. Xander began looking around for dirty clothes to throw in the washer, and realized with a shock that there weren't any. Most of his wardrobe was folded neatly on top of the dryer.

Fine, trash to bag up, then… gotta get it out of here before the Moron Patrol shows up. Nothing, except four neatly tied black Hefty bags lined up in the stairwell that led to the outside of the house, and a cheap blue canvas tarp bundled up to match them, even tied off with a twist tie. Voluntary cleaning…Help! Freakyness! Horrified thoughts of a possessed Spike tumbling through his mind, he turned back to the sexy vampire on the couch, who grinned somewhat sheepishly, but still sexily, at him. Damn! He got me. Sneaky little shit.

"Got bored, didn't I. Don't think this means I'm housetrained, or anything."

Xander shook his head, more in wonder than in answer to Spike's comment. He dragged his eyes away from Spike to glance at the little kitchen area, and noticed with a start that the dishes were done too, stacked next to the microwave. Aside from shoving things into bags and stacking them in the car, that was half of what he'd planned to do before it got dark. Gracious, what will we do with all that free time? Take me, corrupt me, I'm yours, baby. Bad Xander. Pack the clothes. Clean up the poor dead disco ball. Decide whether you're ever going to eat anything again. Sex later. Then something Spike had said as he came down the stairs finally filtered into his distracted brain.

"Two weeks?" he asked, walking back over to the couch, shoving Spike's feet off the arm, and perching there himself. "Really?"

"To the day," Spike nodded. "Not to the actual hour, mind you. It was eleven o'clock or so when you stumbled your Snoopy-boxered backside into the kitchen and decided you couldn't resist my oh-so-kissable lips."

Xander gave Spike an incredulous stare. Ah, vampire bullshit. Pure and sweet, and reliable as my old buddy chocolate. And I'm babbling again, because it's been two weeks since this guy kissed me and I completely lost my mind. Two weeks. Two episodes of 'Survivor.' A third of the time it takes for a set of 'Babylon 5' commemorative plates to arrive in the mail, if you're lucky. Oh dear God, if you're listening, don't let Spike be the one to open those. Now is not the time for him to find out I'm an SF geek. Two weeks? Really? He found himself wishing for several gallons of chocolate. The easily digestible kind, that went straight into your system, preferably passing the tongue first, but not absolutely necessary. Say…Twix. Kit-Kat. Three pounds of M&M's. Two weeks? Bibble.

"As I remember it…" he finally replied, summoning up a brain cell from the depths of his skull, and working it for all it was worth, lest he never locate another one, "…you were being gross and disgusting as usual, and when I tried to take away my Count Chocula, you came over and stuck your gross, disgusting tongue down my throat."

"Which you hated so much you immediately knocked me on my gross, disgusting arse, dragged me out the door, and left me tied up outside to wait for the sun to rise," Spike agreed sardonically. "Of course, I choose to remember the version where you spent the day wasting time with your mates, came home, knocked me down the stairs, spread peanut butter in my hair, and then shagged me stupid." He grinned a big vampire grin, then his face slid into its handsome human shape. Oh, that was an improvement. Xander was completely un-horny now. Really.

"I didn't mean to knock you down the stairs, " Xander said slowly. "Of course, I thought you were trying to…" Ping! Distraction, and Xander really wished he didn't have a twenty-two track mind that kept skipping to another song, like a scratched-up CD.

"Shagged you stupid? Really?" Goofy grin. Xander Harris shagged somebody stupid. Not that there hadn't been times with Anya where he suspected he might've come close, but this was…a hundred and twenty-six year old vampire, or whatever age Spike was claiming these days. Right, because the eleven hundred year old ex-demon had no experience… Okay, so he wasn't making a lot of sense. Still, it was Spike. The Big Bad had just admitted that… What had he admitted? That he liked it? That Xander Harris was a good lover? Whoo-freakin'-hoo.

"Dozy as a drunken mule," Spike replied, putting his hands behind his head and looking a bit like he was re-living the experience. "And it actually takes a hell of a lot to get a mule drunk. "

Meaning at some point he'd tried. Xander was living with Ahem? Making wild passionate monkey love with? a dead guy who got farm animals drunk and then probably did disgusting things to them. Lovely. Still...shagged Spike stupid. Goofy grin might last a while, images of drunken mules in his head or not. Say, until Hell froze over...

"Almost as much as it does to get Angelus shitfaced…" Spike added thoughtfully. "Thought about gettin' Soulboy snockered, just to see if he's turned lightweight now, but the opportunity ain't arisen."

Xander choke-laughed, still grinning. "And if the opportunity arises, I volunteer to be your designated driver, 'cause I wanna see you two drunk together. Actually, I wanna film you two drunk together and sell it to 'America's Funniest Blasted Vampires.' " Angel drunk? I must brood now. No, I'm plastered, so instead I'll do the Macarena. But I'm still Angel. So I must brood. Macarena. Brood. Macarena. Wait, is that a Ricky Martin song? Snerk. And even if he ended up puking in the gutter, Angel's hair would still be sober.

"I'll hold you to that…" threatened Spike. Sure. Xander trembled in his non-existent boots. Like that was ever gonna happen.

"Two weeks, huh?" Xander said again. Fuck packing. Well, fuck, then packing. Two weeks of complete insanity deserved some kind of recognition, after all. Plus there was the opportunity to see if he could shag Spike stupid again. "I suppose you think some kind of celebratory sex is in order," he added, tapping his fingers on the toes of Spike's dusty black Doc Martens, which had somehow made their way back up onto the sofa, though not to the arm on which he was currently sitting.

"Crossed my mind..." came the so-not-casual answer. "Celebratory sex, ruin the basement for your relatives sex, makes no never-mind to me. Call it making sweet lur-ur-ur-urrrve, if you like..."

Bit of a twinkle in the eyes, under the quirked scarred eyebrow. Spike was up to something. Spike was always up to something. Ooh, scary vampire. Evil thoughts in the undead head, Xander...beware. This is the guy that came up with frozen grapes on a... Bad thought. Go away. If he didn't know better, Xander would be convinced that Spike had this in mind all day… Duh-duh-duh-duh… sang the cynical chorus in his head, and he grinned. Bad Spike. Evil Spike. His Spike.

*****

"So..." said Buffy, her feet propped up on the coffee table because she knew Giles couldn't see her from the kitchen. "You guys partying here for a reason?"

Willow shifted her eyes. "Seems like everybody's got plans for the weekend. You're going off to meet Riley, Giles has Olivia coming over, and we've got a kind of anniversary thing planned. There's a place out in the woods that's a... kind of natural safehouse. Like a good-intentions getaway cottage, if you bring your own cottage: nothing that intends to do harm can get into this little circle of trees. We thought it would be a great place to camp out and try a few spells that need total concentration..."

"And just be alone together, out in the woods. Cool. Granted, I'd rather be alone together somewhere with air conditioning and free HBO, but I get the idea," Buffy nodded. "Which doesn't answer the question, of course."

Giles returned from the kitchen with a teapot on a tray, all the fixin's, and four cups. "Just in case you change your mind..." he said sincerely to Buffy, and she wrinkled her nose at him as she guiltily took her feet off the coffee table to make room for the tray of Brit-juice. She didn't hate tea or anything, but it was fun to have something she could unfailingly tease him about.

Willow looked a bit guilty herself, as she poured herself a cup of tea, adding sugar and cream. "Um... We were kind of hoping somebody could watch the kids. Amy and Miss Kitty, that is. Giles, obviously we didn't know you had plans...do you think... No, that's not fair. Never mind."

That was all they wanted? Giles to watch a rat in a cage and a two month old kitten? They weren't moving in? Praise be to every vaguely well-intentioned god who's listening, the ex-Watcher thought, sending it in the general direction of Heaven.

"I think I have room for two more guests, considering their relative size," Giles said with a smile. "Assuming Ms. Madison and the kitten don't stage Ragnarok in the middle of my living room, I doubt they'll do much to ruin the weekend."

He'd just have to keep his mouth shut to Olivia about the fact that the little brown rat was actually a seventeen year old witch under a pesky spell... Or... nineteen, now, he supposed. If there was anything that would, well, freak Olivia out, more than having discovered the fact that ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties were real, it would be sharing a flat with one for the weekend... again. Giles hadn't been sure she would accept the invitation in the first place, as disturbed as she'd been by the events of her last visit. Having spent quality time with Spike in full vampire face, who'd still managed to be a complete tosser even with no voice, probably hadn't improved matters, either.

"Thanks, Giles. You're a big Watchery lifesaver. The pineapple kind," Willow added, pouring a cup of tea for Tara.

"Tea party at Giles. Wonder what Xander's doing that could possibly compare to the endless thrills we've got going here." Buffy joked with a wink.

"Bowling with Spike, possibly?" Giles commented drily, wondering what Buffy had said that could've put that odd look on Willow's face.

"Say what?" Oh, lovely. Slayer-spit and tea all over his just-cleaned sofa.

 

*****

"So…" Xander asked as he stretched out atop Spike on the sofa. "Is this supposed to be tender Sarah MacLachlan luuurve we're making, or…"

"You wanna start buildin' a mystery, go right ahead, long as you do it with a bit more rhythm than that chit."

"Right. Rhythm method. Wondered what we were using for contraception," his human lover chuckled, and brought his lips down to Spike's. They kissed, slow and warm, exploring each other at a fraction of the pace they'd used that first starving night. This was a different kind of hunger. Spike's blunt fingers, with their chipped black polish, disappeared into Xander's dark hair, and felt the clean, cool softness of it, twisting it slowly into the sort of knots that superstitious sailors once used to tie up the wind. As the weight of Xander's body made him warmer than the heat outside could've done, if he'd been stupid enough to walk out into the sunlight, Spike tried to pick a language.

Xander had popped the evil idea into the pressure cooker of Spike's brain, and it had just come to a boil now, much like Spike himself was doing. "How many demon languages do you speak?" while the boy was kneading his knuckles into Spike's back, and Spike really hadn't had anything coherent to say on the subject at the time. Try to tell him a lovely little story about why you should never try to shag something whose anatomy you aren't familiar with, and he has to interrupt with questions about why a bit of rough like Spike can talk to half the demons and slimy gits he comes across. He had a knack, that's all. You met up with something, it was nice to know whether it was offering you its daughter as a bed warmer, or offering you to its daughter as an appetizer. Or whether that thing in the corner with the pink bow in its hair was really its daughter at all.

Xander's warm breath on his ear, and Spike ran his hands down the surprisingly broad back, touching corded muscles through the thin fabric of the faded t-shirt. Not a kid, he had to remind himself every so often, …no matter how much younger he is than you. A man. Just learning how to be one, but a man. So...the plan. Just pick a language, any old. Something pretty, and bloody obscure, and he could say whatever he pleased, including mushy luuurrrve stuff, and Xander wouldn't have a clue. Torosch? Nah. Had to talk with your fingers, too, for that one, and Spike's fingers were busy. He reached down to tug at Xander's shirt, and Xander lifted his arms to help.

Pretty. Pretty boy, with the rotten grin and the brown nipples that were even now peaking, without the slightest touch from Spike. What might they do if a rough, cool tongue were to swipe across each one, if lips not otherwise engaged were to suck and tease? Oh… that. They'd do that. Pretty. Ifrit? No. Nicely poetic, but speak the language of that sort of demon and if you weren't careful, you found yourself working a bit of unintentional mojo. Not best recommended for sex talk.

Xander sat up to pull Spike's own shirt off, spelling things with his fingers on Spike's chest. All the thousands of ways you can be touched Including in the head, old son…, and Spike loved them all. Soft, hard, as long as it came from the hands of someone he loved, he'd never cared. Just enjoyed it. Lived for it. Died for. Mmm… that one. Not a demon language after all, but fey. How appropriate... laughed Snarky Voice Number Two, who'd poshed up his accent, as requested.

"Tellis scenara, te quisen, glithe…" he whispered. Pretty boy. You're a wonder, you are.

"Mmm? Spike? What'd you just say?" Xander paused in his unbuckling of Spike's belt, which wasn't fair at all.

"Hush. S'a poem, isn't it," he lied. Or maybe it was. "Cel ce stis scironin, ghilones ce scila." Got me caged behind your eyes, you do., and don't you dare let me go.

Ooh, nice, if a bit over-lyrical.
Spike didn't remember having eaten Robert Browning.

"Ahestele." My own. And the other word, so close in English, and light-years away in meaning: "Istiriss..." Mine. A claim that would send Xander running, if he knew what it meant, and it was still hard for Spike to tone down the possessive growl of a vampire in his prime. Mine.

"Pretty…" Xander said, unlacing Spike's boots, pulling them off. Dropping them into the middle of the shards of the disco ball, and Spike could give a toss at this point, because Xander was tracing a finger down the sole of his left foot, and it wasn't nice to tickle your lover when he was trying to be serious. "What language is that? What's it mean?"

"Glaistig, and it… don't translate very well. All about the great epic journey to rescue the hero's aged grandmum from unsavory sock-merchants. Somethin' like that. But like y'said, it's pretty, so shut up, pet." Xander was rubbing his bare feet now, and it didn't tickle at all, just sent warm streaks of pleasure up Spike's calves. He'd never been specifically turned on by his own feet before, but Xander was doing a good job of changing that.

"Okay. Quote on, MacSpike…" Xander answered, and then busied his own mouth with tugging gently at the zipper on Spike's jeans, as Spike pulled his own version of Xander-babble, whispering whatever silly endearments came into his head. He lifted his hips as Xander half-stood to pull the jeans completely off. The younger man was back in a fraction of a second, warm and heavy on him, softly stroking Spike's straining cock to full hardness, before letting go and leaning down to nuzzle the skin of his inner thigh. Concentration was getting difficult to hold onto, unlike Xander.

"Ghelasin, sis ne s'des, clestehel." Hate your clothes, but getting you out of 'em's half the fun. Which actually translated to 'I like not your raiment, but removing it from your body gives me spasms of ecstasy.' All of which he could've said in English, but it did lend verisimilitude to the 'poem' story.

Xander lost his own clothes somewhere between Spike realizing that it was impossible to talk Glaistig without sounding like Robert bloody Browning, and the follow-up that if there was anything else he had to say, he'd better spit it out fast, before he got caught up in other things. Multi-tasking, such a lovely techno-age phrase to describe Spike's nineteenth century schizoid brain, was one thing. Making love to Xander Harris was something completely different. A living work of beauty, complete with the fluffy-puppy silliness on his face that made it all worthwhile. God, I love you, boy. I'm allowed to say that, right, in my head? Anybody want to bitch at me for that? No. Good.

Grabbing Xander by the shoulders, Spike looked straight into the eyes that he'd once thought were black, before he'd seen the gold come out to play, before he'd seen them in the light. "You really are beautiful, in case y'didn't know." And that had come out in English, which was fine, because Xander gave him a surprised smile that took his nonexistent breath away. It hurt, in a way Spike couldn't even define, to know that was all it took to make Xander happy, which meant nobody'd even been giving him that much. What did they ever do to deserve him, the twits upstairs? Right, I'm tellin' you this now, and listen. Maybe you'll understand. Please understand. Please don't. I don't bloody know anymore.

"Lideleles ne dol celeren bei, dehel." With you, it's been like coming home. It was that easy, to say it in a language Xander would never learn. A language that, thank the bloody stuck-up water fairies, didn't have a written version. That easy to lose himself in Xander and not risk the consequences. Except the ones in his own evil little heart, right? "Celisi ne." I love you.

He'd said it, and he didn't burst into ashes... Amazing. Maybe someday he'd risk the English after all. After a couple of hundred bottles of whiskey and a brain transplant. Tell him sooner than that, you great bleached fool… said the quiet voice, the one he kept pretending wasn't there, and he was more frightened of that one than all the rest put together.

He didn't burst into ash, no. Bursting into flame, though... Those last words, the truth and the lie that hid them, freed the hunger in the vampire, and he couldn't see anything but dark eyes that took in everything and understood Xander-only-knew what. He buried his mouth in the hollow of Xander's throat, and took nothing but warmth and pounding pulse into himself through the unbroken skin, and it was all he needed.

*****

Whatever Spike was saying, it was pouring itself into Xander's ears and running through his body like water. The smoothness in that usually rough English voice as it whispered liquid syllables, like the little sounds of a creek, far away, flowing over round rocks. At the end, though, it was more like the ocean, a big fucking wave coming down on you from out of nowhere, tossing you until you didn't know up from down, and you were drinking salt water until it burned your throat and nose and eyes, and you felt like your heart would explode. Sock-merchants, my ass… Xander thought in turned-on irritation.

He's fucking laughing at me in there. This was one little game Spike wouldn't out-stubborn him at. Xander would find out what Spike had really said, if he had to chase it down through every damn book in Giles' collection. Jerk. Beautiful, sexy jerk. If his mind didn't know what it was that Spike was saying, his body did. Spike's lips at his throat had given him an insane compulsion to be drained dry, not of blood, but of this aching hunger in his own body, to be replaced with Spike's, as if they could create a circuit of desire. The vampire was sucking hungrily enough at Xander's shoulder now, biting lightly, and it felt so damn good. Xander sent a quick ironic thanks to the folks at the Initiative, for being stupid enough to base Spike's chip on intent... Rest in peace, Maggie, 'cause he intends to drive me out of my mind with pleasure, not that it's a very long trip, and oh... bite there, yeah.

"Harder, Spike. Please." Spike bit down, and the waves of sensation that Spike's human teeth sent through Xander's body were like nothing he'd felt before. A shadow of the first time Spike had touched his throat. Fear and pain and the knowledge beyond it that there was nothing to fear, and nothing hurt, there was just this delicious fire in his nerves, in his groin, in his head.

Xander tossed his head back, and Spike withdrew his teeth, licking the bite marks, before moving his mouth down to the nipple he'd last teased with just his lips and tongue. Hard and pebbled, burning before the blunt teeth even scraped it, and positively ignited when Spike bit down, soft and sure, and Xander's body spasmed on top of Spike's, grinding their skin together, their hips, thighs, cocks. To think he'd never known what it was to want a man, before this, beyond a few looks, dreams, things he hadn't even let himself examine. To feel himself held by strong arms, to smell sweat and the juices that were less innocent than sweat, but just as natural. Spike's arms, possessive and mind-bogglingly gentle at the same time. If his mind were in any condition to boggle…

The other nipple was feeling neglected, and Spike's mouth moved there as if the two body parts were magnetically attracted. That circuit of desire again, running out of Xander, into Spike's mouth, and back. Licking and sucking again until Xander sunk his fingers into Spike's shoulders, scratching helplessly at the pale skin. Bite, already. You're supposed to be a vampire, bite me! He wanted the freezing fire, needed it to keep him sane, or insane, or... Thought, here, lonely though it might be: if it was doing this to Xander, what might it do…

Xander pushed Spike's face away from his protesting chest, claiming that evil red mouth with his own. He plunged his tongue deep inside, testing it against Spike's, tasting his own flavor there. Teased the back of the palate for a moment, then purposely ran his fingernails sharply down Spike's chest, enough to draw blood. Enough to bring out the vampire face behind the supermodel's, the eyes gold pools beneath the shadowed folds. His tongue still in that mouth, surrounded by sharp fangs, Xander deliberately drew it back, cutting it. Just a scratch, just enough for blood to well, a drop or two, in Spike's mouth. He leaned into the pain as Spike sucked at his tongue. Didn't dare pull away if he ever wanted to talk again, anyway, but he didn't want to, not...yet.

Spike opened his mouth wide, and Xander finally pulled his tongue out, taking the hint. With his lover more aroused than ever at the taste of blood in his mouth, with Spike's cock pressing hard against his own groin, the human ducked his head to the vampire's throat. The reverse of a thousand cheesy movies and a couple of really hot ones, and he bit. Just a tiny fold of skin, but a hard bite. Spike cried out, a strange high animal sound, and God knew what Xander's mother heard upstairs. Animal. Right, he'd tell her he got a cat. A big purry yellow cat with sharp teeth. Careful, he bites, but so do I.

Xander had drawn blood, and he tasted it. Not like what Spike drank heated from the microwave, not like the taste of his own coppery blood on his scratched tongue. This was something more, something supernatural, and he could feel power in it, thrumming along his taste buds. He sucked at it, and Spike ran his hands frantically up and down Xander's back, cupping his ass and squeezing hard. Too soon, Spike let go, reached between them and pushed him away. Not too far away, and Xander let his head spin for a second or two as he sucked air into his aching lungs.

"No more, pet..." Spike purred out in a rich, low voice. How could he not be gasping? Because he didn't have to breathe? "I want to be in you." It was so much more than a request to pull back on the foreplay before there wasn't any main event. So much more than even Spike being inside his body, which he needed with a burning ferocity now.

"You are," he answered simply, before he knew what he was doing. Whatever that meant.

Spike's eyes were hooded, gleaming, as the vampire shook his head, let it fall back against the sofa cushion, like it was all more than he could take. "Yeah." That was all he said, and what Spike meant was anybody's guess, too. In a second, Spike sat back up and lowered his head forward again, sucking and biting on Xander's other nipple, the one that had screamed for attention. Biting, so very gently, with those teeth--and Xander was gone in the heat again, moaning, twisting.

"Fangless, yeah?" Spike growled into his skin, and the echo was like a buzz-saw vibrating its way through him. He grabbed Spike's head, touching hair laid flat by gel, not too sticky, not too slick under his fingers. Lowered his own head down, kissing the top of Spike's, rubbing his face against that bright, smooth hair as streaks of thundershower-in-July electricity zapped their way around his body. Hands on his back, branding fingerprints into him. Did vampires still have fingerprints? Ask again in the morning when the bruises come up.

"Nooo... big fangs. Good fangs. Still the Big Bad." Babble, babble...

Then there was Spike trying to sit up, to push him back, arrange himself, but Xander didn't want that, this time. Not that bottoming from the top thing that Spike had tried on him a few nights ago, though it had seemed like a good idea when he'd laid himself down on top of Spike to begin with. He didn't want control, now; he was too lost in it, lost in Spike. He didn't even think he could handle it if Spike were to give him play-by-play instructions, though he could half hear it in his head. First you lower yourself down, luv, just like that...

No. Not today. He wanted to be shagged stupid, and hard. "No room," he whispered. No room on the couch, ha ha. Too bad. No room. Like the Mad Hatter's tea party, and why Disney movies in his head now? He scrambled off Spike, and hauled him up, hands around his lover's waist. Lover. Still felt good to think, and he almost wanted to say it out loud. And why not? They were, right?

"Lover..." he whispered, and Spike curled his lips up around those teeth, in a goofy game-face smile. And he wondered why Xander wasn't afraid of that face? Really? Spike looked like a shell-shocked Gomer Pyle in game face, which was just too cute for words, and totally unsafe to say if Xander didn't want to get in serious trouble. Chase-you-around-the-room-with-a-helm-axe trouble, as opposed to come-here-and-bend-over-my-knee-you-bad-boy trouble. Not to say that game-face wasn't sexy... Goofy can be sexy. Really sexy. Hey, I'm goofy. Does that mean I'm... Brain-dead, is what it meant. They stood, facing each other, in the middle of the room. Burying themselves in each other's mouths again. Spike just a little shorter, just a little, so that Xander had to lower his head a tiny bit to kiss. He licked Spike's nose, and was rewarded with a human smile, the vampire face dissolving.

Breaking their embrace almost reluctantly, Xander moved to the end of the couch, and stretched himself forward over the arm. Waiting. Wanting. A million seconds later, Spike was behind him, parting his cheeks with gentle hands, stroking them, leaning down to kiss the skin. Nibbling at a tender piece of flesh, and Xander pushed himself forward, spreading his legs as wide as he could, lifting his backside higher. Spike's face pressed between his legs, pressed there, long tongue reaching in to softly touch the places in between, and that was what it felt like? Which was so good that Xander had a brief flash of clarity, wondering why on earth he'd never known before how much he liked having his ass played with. Worshipped, almost, and that was the insane thought that flipped him back into safe, familiar psychotic bliss.

With a last lick, Spike's tongue disappeared, and there was firm coolness at Xander's entrance. That was why the eternity of waiting, so Spike could get the fucking lube, right. Why was it guys got the raw end of the deal, and didn't get the built-in version? Something about this not being natural? Pffft. Slick finger pushing into him, and he pushed back against it, taking it in, Spike inside him. Waiting for the touch at the magic little gland that had become his new best friend (his other new best friend) and there it was, spark, flicker and flame. Oh... that made up for a couple million years of waiting for lube. Poor girls. Multiple orgasms couldn't possibly compare.

Spike was moving that finger in and out, finally adding another. And… this time another. Doing things with them, spreading Xander open, rubbing the skin inside him, knocking against that place that sent him screamward, then caressing it, torturing him, and he wanted more of it, so much more. Could Spike get his whole hand in there, and not set off the chip? Suddenly it seemed like a question inquiring mindlessness wanted to know, but it wasn't to be answered this time, since he couldn't even speak to voice it if he knew how. Scrabbling at the sofa cushions beneath his hands, Xander felt his knees weaken, but he wasn't going anywhere, poured over the arm of the couch like a chocolate bar melted in the sun. Spike was right behind him, to stop him from falling, anyway, even if it was just possibly too late for that one.

Spike shook his head to clear the ruddy glow-bees that seemed to be swimming around his eyes, but it didn't do any good. Xander, spread and waiting for him, then his fingers moving inside, and they'd never been so warm. No place he hadn't been before, but he honestly wanted to crawl inside the human body below him, this time. What did it mean, that he already was? More Xander-babble? Pretty, pretty. He pulled his fingers out, Xander's body not wanting to let go of them, and slicked down his cock with lube, not daring to stroke himself too much in the process, in case he never even made it back inside. Wouldn't exactly be cricket, would it? He did make it there, though, nudging the head up against warm skin, and pushing in, burying himself in the tight channel. Slamming up against that lovely backside, feeling Xander arch into it, up on the balls of his feet. Warm thighs, little hairs brushing the skin on Spike's own when they touched. Every contact, every sound, every moan or growl or whimper, whether it came out of his own mouth or not...he couldn't even tell anymore.

He ran his hands down Xander's sides, touching a living contradiction. Skin smooth as a fresh peach outside, muscle hiding hard beneath it. Spike hard inside too, and really unable to do more than stop himself from actually hurting Xander by pounding him into unconsciousness. Might be worth the headache, at that, but he'd rather have Xander moving against him, just like, yeah, that. Spike slowed himself down, just enough. Just barely. Soon the tightness was building to pressure at an impossible acceleration, like your foot tapping on that pedal and it's suddenly on the floor, and sod the idiots in the passing lane, you're out of there. Letting go, and feeling like it'll last forever, and if you're immortal, maybe it will, philo-bleedin-sophically, but on a physical level, it has to end sometime, in a rush of fluid and joy, if it's ever going to happen again. It did, shooting from him in a mad river, as he whispered in Glaistig again, those same final, self-damning words. He fell forward, spent, against Xander, who pushed back at him for a moment before grinding against the sofa arm and letting go himself, with a choked sigh.

*****

Nestled together in the corner of the sofa, they contemplated the room. Right. Packing. Moving was pretty much a challenge that Xander wasn't really up to at the moment. Moving an inch, that is, forget about moving out for the weekend. He leaned back against Spike, who propped his chin on top of Xander's head.

"Not exactly Sarah MacLachlan," Xander commented, brain slowly returning to semi-functioning status. "Maybe Barry White."

"And what's wrong with Sid Vicious?" Spike asked, stretching. Like he might actually get up, or something.

Uh-uh. Not happening in the near future, buddy. You took the pillow-position, you can cope and deal. Xander reached back and grabbed Spike's arms, pulling them around him. Spike didn't complain, tickling Xander's stomach briefly before resting wonderfully cool hands on Xander's chest, holding him easily.

"Um... Sid's dead, for one thing. Tends to put a crimp in your lifestyle," Xander replied. To forestall the inevitable vampire joke, he added, "Yeah, I know. So are you, and you're still a party animal. Okay, how about he can't sing?"

"Smack you for that, but you'd like it too much. What do you know from singing? That crap they play at the Bronze?" Pouty vampire. Oops. A pouty vampire is not necessarily a cooperative vampire, and they really did need to pack. Plus Spike would have to be on reasonably good behavior this weekend.

Bad move, insulting his idol, Xander. But honestly, punk rock? Spike had hunted up a radio station that played it a few days ago, and Xander had been about to run screaming from the room. Most pop, indie, even country if he was in the right mood, he could handle, but 'I'm a lazy sod' ? Stoned guy yelling into the microphone? That was music? Gak.

"Fine. He's the Luciano Pavarotti of punk. I'm just saying that wasn't Sid Vicious sex. Or wild passionate Sid Vicious lur-ur-ur-urve. No heroin, for one thing."

Spike snorted. "Don't need it, with you. You're doped up enough as it is."

 

*****

As Willow retold the story of 'Bowling With Spike And Xander', available at your local library or bookstore, or order online at Amazon.com, for the second time, Tara watched in mixed amusement and frustration. Amusement because Willow had turned it into a sort of stand-up comedy routine in order to get maximum reaction out of the flabbergasted Slayer, and frustration because, honestly, was she the only one in the room who wasn't blithely ignoring the obvious? Spike and Xander at the research party last week, oh-so-carefully not touching each other? Spike your typical territorial animal defending what was his against a bewildered Anya? The dramatic exit with Xander's fingers in his hair, the sheepish re-entry and mind-boggling apology… And then… bowling?

Were these people blind? Or was the concept of Xander having paired up with the English vampire just so bizarre to them that it was incapable of penetrating their minds, even Willow's? She'd mentioned a 'friend' who might be in a similar situation to their own, and it had to be Xander, but obviously Willow had no clue who Xander might be in that situation with. Come on! I mean, Xander had his eyes glued to Spike's butt for ten frames, honey. Though granted Willow might not have noticed it, hers having been glued to Tara's, which still sent a strange thrill of pleasure through the blonde, to be desired like that by the beautiful, intelligent redhead with the heart as big as she was tiny.

Xander and Spike, though… Buffy had been in love with a vampire, why was it so strange that Xander might be? Or vice versa? Tara shook her head, very slightly. Their business, their secret. Various and sundry gods knew she had enough of her own.

*****

Spike shoved clothes from the top of the dryer into Xander's four foot long army-surplus duffel bag. And who was going to have to carry this little gem, eh? The bloke with the vampiric super-strength. So the question of the day was, should he pack all of Xander's Magnum-P.I.-wear, and then conveniently lose the bag, or pack none of it, and conveniently burn down the basement on the way out? Gazing briefly at a red and blue patterned shirt with long-tailed parrots doing what he suspected were obscene things on it, he decided on the former, since the latter would undoubtedly set off his chip, what with the boy's parents still being upstairs. That was assuming the basement would burn; being a sort of anteroom to Hell, it was probably flame-retardant.

"What about Queen?" he suggested absently, recalling the ongoing debate about what to label that particular sexual experience, aside from sincerely mind-blowing. But not vampire-blowing... So much for the lolly-licking fantasy. Oh well. Not complaining.

"Excuse me?" Xander responded in confusion, turning around from the trash bin where he had just dumped the corpse of his disco ball. "I'm still coming to terms with 'bi,' thank you."

Spike rolled his eyes as he continued to stuff hideous Xander-wear into the duffel bag, setting aside the boy's more reasonable fashion choices to go into a second container that he'd make sure survived the weekend. Bi. Queen. Gay. Right, thank you, teenage human insecurities. "Queen, as in Freddie Mercury, dolt."

"Oh. I see a little silhouetto of a man..." Xander sang in falsetto. "Well, it wasn't Bohemian Rhapsody sex. Maybe something from the 'Highlander' soundtrack, though. Kind of Magic?"

Spike stopped packing. Which probably wasn't a good thing, because the afternoon was moving on towards evening, and they still didn't actually have a place to stay, as far as he knew.

"You realize we just agreed on a musical group. Would you mind goin' outside and checking to see if the Hellmouth's frozen over?"

"Pack, funny vampire. Yes, I like Queen. You like Queen. Be still my beating heart."

"Packing, O Lord and Master, and my unbeating heart wants to know whether we're sleeping in an alleyway or a crypt tonight. Need to know what sort of jim-jams to pack, after all." Motel, maybe? With Magic Fingers? Spike liked Magic Fingers. Granted, most of the motels Xander could afford to spend five nights in, while they might have Magic Fingers, would make sleeping in a crypt look like the bloody Ritz Carlton.

"You don't wear jim-jams. Though you'd damn well better wear something if we're spending the weekend at Giles' place," Xander replied, and Spike's unbeating heart did a double-flip-flop down the snakes-and-ladders slide.

Giles? Five days with Xander in Rupert's little condo? What were they going to do, shag in the bathtub? Which was actually not a bad idea, and he recalled Xander's suggestion of a few days ago regarding filling a big tub with chocolate milk... Only, if Spike had his way, it would be warm cocoa, with little marshmallows in it, and if they could chase Rupes out for the night... Who exactly's nineteen, here, Spike? he chided himself. Sex, sex, sex... to the tune of Spam, Spam, Spam, a la Monty Python... Right. Spam was certainly a non-sexy thought, guaranteed to start him packing again.

"Er... I'm sure he'll put you up, luv, but I wasn't exactly on company manners last time we were there. What makes you think he'll want my sorry arse around for five days?" And should they pack the microwave and the telly? How destructive were the invading Harrises? On the scale of, say, the vampire crusade of Saint Vigeous versus invading Huns versus invading Jehovah's Witnesses.

"Like you ever are? I kinda thought we'd bribe him. Stop by the import grocery on 5th and bring him lots of English goodies. Not quite as expensive as a motel room for five days." Xander disappeared up the steps to the outside, taking out the trash, and Spike took the opportunity to move the canvas bag of weapony toys to the 'going-with' pile. Obviously they couldn't leave sharp objects around for the mentally incompetent to stumble over.

"Weapons..." Xander said as he came back down the stairs.

"Check," replied Spike. Good boy. I'm so proud!

"Clothes?"

"Check and double check. Yours, mine, an' ours."

Xander shot him a funny look. "Ours? We have clothes that are ours ?"

"Just an expression, pet. Your entire bloody wardrobe, and my two black shirts and one extra pair of denims. You'd think, with the amount of gear you have, at least some of it wouldn't give a colorblind monkey epileptic fits. Can't we leave the odd shirt behind? Or all of your odd shirts, preferably."

"My cousins have grabby hands, and less brains than your average colorblind monkey, and I don't want them messing with my clothes. Especially Terry-- she's weird that way." This in a voice muffled by the fact that Xander had his head shoved into one of the utility cupboards.

She? Spike shook off the question about why she'd be sharing a bed with Jim and Rob the Wonder Weasel. Kinky sex was one thing, but between Harrises, present company excepted? Apparently there were things that could make even a vampire go 'eew.' He sighed, and stuffed the last of the clean laundry into the bag. Wonderful. An extended holiday with Rupert Giles. They could have a jolly little time, complete with sing-songs, comforting the Watcher through his raging mid-life crisis, and no bloody sex for five days. Five excruciating days filled with the joy of no sex. Forget the fact that, post-chip and pre-Xander, he'd not had a great deal of it once his demon-killing reputation spread through Sunnydale's vamp society. Being hard-up was one thing; stuck in a one-room flat with your lover three feet away and unable to lay a finger on him for fear of getting your backside staked (so to speak) was another. Lovely. At best, he and Rupert could argue football for five days.

Xander had returned to the land of the living after padlocking the cupboard that contained most of his comic books and Star Trek models and other geeky things he probably hoped Spike hadn't already discovered. Months too late for that… leave a bored vampire alone in your basement with nothing to do but housework, and what do you think he'll do, eh? Hell, he'd read half the way through Xander's 'X-Men' collection by the end of January.

Final catalogue:"Weapons, clothes, bloodbag cooler, razor, toothbrush... Y'know, you don't have a toothbrush, Spike."

Apparently this was an item of some concern? He had hairgel, lube, and killer cheekbones; who needed a toothbrush? "Nope. Come up pearly white every time you switch back from fangs. Just another little selling point for the vampire lifestyle."

"I'll keep it in mind, thanks." Xander surveyed the room, hands on hips. "I think that's actually it."

Spike gave him a smirk of mammoth proportions. "Might want to empty the drawer under the telly, luv."

It was a genuine pleasure to watch Xander's face go from tan to white to red in under twenty-five seconds, as he visibly contemplated the picture of his relatives finding that little stash of (sadly vanilla) fun. Not much of the super-kinky in there (yet), unfortunately, but Spike got a bit of a jolly off the idea of some random Harris trying to figure out why Xander had four flavors of lube and a pair of handcuffs in his room. Then there was the fact that the whole place smelled like sex and chocolate (and mildew, still) , but maybe that was just Spike and his sensitive nose.

*****

The girls were curled up on the sofa, all three of them, and Giles was beginning to suspect that Murphy and his bloody Law had slipped in the unlocked door when he wasn't looking. Two hours later and no sign of Joyce Summers, who had now been volunteered by her daughter to run the witches back to Tara's dorm room to pick up the animals, before the Summers women disappeared into the wilds of Santa Barbara. Which meant no sign of his three visitors leaving so that he could have a quiet nervous breakdown alone.

"I talked to Cordelia a few days ago," Willow was saying.

"Yeah? How's everything in good old L.A.?" Buffy replied with badly disguised interest.

"I told you their office got blown up, right? Apparently the police have just now opened the place up for the tenants to try to salvage anything of theirs they can dig out. Since for...them, that means..."

"Weapons, weapons, books, and more weapons. I know Angel." It seemed to be getting easier for Buffy to mention him without the past crossing her face like a dark cloud, and Giles was glad for that. He'd no love for the vampire, good though Angel's intent might be when in possession of his soul, but Buffy did, and would always. The fact that she could speak of him with humor meant she was healing, and that was, as Buffy would say, 'of the good.'

"Yeah. Cordy sort of put out an open invitation to us, if anybody wants to go down there this weekend and help them move stuff. That was a weird conversation. Like one of those bad Kung Fu movies. Her voice said 'Come renew old friendships,' but somehow I was seeing her lips say 'Come be cheap, nay, free, manual labor, and I'll throw in a fashion critique.' Yes, I know I couldn't see her lips. It's just a whole artsy metaphor. Run with it."

To Tara, Willow explained, "Cordelia once told me that I wasn't a fashion victim. I thought it was a compliment until she pointed out that fashion didn't care enough about me to actively hurt me. It was actually one of the sweeter things she said to me in high school."

"Such a pity we all have plans for the weekend," Giles put in with a grimace. "Just when I was so looking forward to renewing my old friendship with Wesley Wyndam-Pryce."

Willow gave him a look. An 'I'm the Mummy and you'd best behave yourself' look, and where on earth had she learned that ? "Be nice, Giles. He came through in the end, no matter if he was a big doofus in the beginning. And the middle. And kind of at the end too. Besides, Cordy says he's really changed for the better."

Silence while the assembled people who actually knew Cordelia Chase pondered what her concept of a change for the better might be. Giles was a bit frightened, frankly.

"Cordy's kind of changed, too, from what I can tell over the phone. Niceness. And I mean actual niceness, not I-want-some-help-with-my-Trig-so-I-won't-insult-you-today niceness."

"And I thought the concept of Spike bowling was a herald of this week's oncoming apocalypse," Giles said, somewhat bemused.

Wait, what was that? Murphy? And his Law? Actually knocking politely at the door? Never. Perhaps it was, against all hope, Joyce Summers, come to take the children away? No. He couldn't be so lucky. He opened the door to greet a black leather trenchcoat with a large grocery bag for a head. Unsure whether this was some new sort of Hellmouth monster, or merely a sign of his incipient insanity, Giles stared at it for a moment.

"You going to take this, mate, or do I drop it where I stand?" came a familiar north London voice. Ahh, apparently the grocery bag monster had swallowed Spike.

Alright, he knew full well it was Spike holding a grocery bag, but he could always fantasize for a moment... He took the heavy bag from Spike's hands, revealing a surly-looking vampire and a rather chipper Xander standing behind him, carrying two more bags.

"Okay, Deadboy Junior, you gonna move your deceased butt, or do the goodies and I have to stay outside?" Xander gave Spike a wee shove, and the vampire turned to shoot him a glare, before moving past Giles and into the well-lit room. "I come bearing gifts!" Xander added, somewhere between manic cheeriness and a strange desperation.

Buffy looked up from the sofa and twitched her lips. "Great. You brought us Spike, the gift that keeps on giving."

Tossing himself into the armchair that Giles had just vacated, near her end of the sofa, Spike grinned at her. "Heard the rumors, have you? They're all true, luv." He picked up the newspaper lying on a nearby endtable, and opened it, hiding his face.

How Giles had survived so long without Spike's company around here, he'd never know. Now he had two more friends to politely chase out of his flat. Well, one friend and one annoying, undead countryman.

"What exactly did you bring, and why?" Giles asked, and Spike grinned again. This should be fun. He put down the newspaper to watch. The ex-Watcher was looking through the first grocery bag with a combination of confusion and pleasure that rivaled the look on Xander's face when Spike had introduced him to actual Cadbury's chocolate an hour ago.

"Weetabix... thank you, though I haven't actually been able to eat it again since Spike informed me that he likes to crumble it up in his blood for texture..." Giles glared at him, and he smiled innocently.

"All yours, mate. I've got a new cereal hobby."

"Count Chocula," Xander supplied, trying to look disgusted. Don't think so, boy. I know better.

Buffy, on the other hand, managed a very good 'about-to-heave' face. "And we can add that to the list of things I'll never put in my mouth again..."

"Such a list exists?" Spike asked softly, so that only she could hear him. Ooh, that look! Horrors! Chuckle.

Giles was deeper into the bag. "Marmite? Er... right. Well, I am out, but what possessed you to... Right, you went shopping with Spike."

*****

Spike had never really fancied the taste of the yeast-extract himself. He did know for a fact that it made an interesting lube, though, and the thought of Giles spreading it on toast brought a giggle to his lips as he and Xander stood in the little grocery place, so he'd tossed it in the cart. Oh, c'mon, get to the good stuff, already!

*****

Willow was studying Xander, who looked like he'd eaten way too much chocolate in the very recent past. Hyper and grinning, he was watching Giles go through the grocery bag like he had something riding on the whole operation. Good, she supposed. Grinning meant that this chocolate binge had been of the innocent Xander-the-addict variety, and not the drown-your-sorrows kind he sometimes fell into. Whatever had been going on with him and Mr. Unidentified Foot Man, it didn't seem to be getting him down at the moment. Still, what's a nosy-butt to do, but watch and wait?

*****

"Licorice allsorts? Jelly Babies? Toffees? Trust you to try to put me into hyperglycemic shock," Giles muttered at Spike, but his mouth was watering. Sugar fix, anyone?

"You haven't looked in the next bag yet," Spike replied.

Why am I salivating over food products just because they come from the Motherland? Giles asked himself. And do I trust Spike not to have done something nasty to them? Xander had bought them, though, so that shouldn't be an issue. And why had Xander brought him a cornucopia of expensive British imports? Even through his schoolboy-like curiosity at what might be in this equivalent of a Christmas hamper, Giles had a sinking feeling, a little voice that was shouting 'Your weekend is about to be buggered six ways from Sunday...' at the top of its lungs.

Still, in the aforementioned next bag, there was... chocolate. Real chocolate. Dairy Milk. Flake. Timeout. Things that said 'Cadbury' on them, and actually meant it. Four milk chocolate Aero bars, and three orange. (And six empty Aero wrappers, which went a long way towards explaining Xander's condition.) Was there... Yes. There was. Dark chocolate. Velvet Dream bars, with the cream in the center. Somewhere toward the bottom, there was a lone Violet Crumble...

"Giles?" Xander was saying something. What was it again? "You're kind of drooling, there."

*****

He shoots, he scores! The crowd goes wild, hoisting Xander Harris onto their shoulders and carrying him off the court shouting his name... scantily clad cheerleaders chasing after him, throwing their underwear... Which was being caught and fondled by an amused Spike, of course. What, he couldn't even keep the vampire out of his innocent hormonal fantasies? Apparently not.

Still, Giles seemed to be entranced by the chocolate, which was a good thing for Xander's plan to wheedle a place for both him and Spike to stay for the long weekend. Giles was almost as zoned-out as Spike had been by the rows on rows of candy, when they'd been standing in Bassett's Imports. Spike took one look at what he described as proper chocolate, and his eyes glazed over. Xander had actually had time to sneak off to the shop next door, pick up a sappy little anniversary present for Spike, and return to find him still staring at the chocolate oranges.

He didn't quite get what the big deal was... chocolate was chocolate. Perfect, and how could one kind be better than another? Until they got back out to the car, and Spike had unwrapped one of the Aero bars. Xander, thinking merely Hot Damn! Chocolate!, had reached for the half that Spike held out in his hand, but Spike had snatched it away.

"Leave off! You need to be taught a lesson!"

"Here?" Xander had asked, thinking dire thoughts about Spike's concept of teaching him a lesson, and whether it could be done in public without being arrested. Whether it might be worth the risk of being arrested. How he would explain the situation when Giles came down to the station to bail them out... Um... Spike was just... That is... You love me, right Giles?

"Whelp! Pay attention! This is chocolate, here. You wanna wander off somewhere when the Watcher's telling you about which sorts of demons like to eat Slayer entrails for breakfast, be my guest, but this is important."

His eyes had snapped back to Spike's. "Okayyyyy...?"

"Smell it."

One eyebrow raised, and wasn't he glad he'd finally learned that trick, Xander had sniffed at the pockmarked chocolate bar in Spike's hand... and fallen. No, not in love, not with chocolate-- that affair had been going on most of his life. He'd fallen into the chocolate. The rich, creamy scent had sucked his nose down to Spike's hand, and he was reasonably sure that he'd actually tumbled into one of the little holes in the bar, so that he was surrounded by chocolate on all sides, with the parking-lot lights a dim memory at the end of a long, sweet brown tunnel. No Hershey bar ever smelled like this, no Three Musketeers. Nothing that he'd ever picked up in the Food Mart check-out lane could have prepared him for this smell... and then Spike took it away, the bastard, and sat there in the car grinning at him.

"Lesson learned?"

"Hummeda, hummeda... urp... "

"I'll take that as a yes." And Spike broke off a tiny piece, putting it into Xander's mouth. If the smell had been orgasmic, the taste was…

"That was…kinda like a lap dance for my tongue," floated out of Xander's lips, and Spike, with a pleased snort, had reached into his duster pocket, pulled out a black notebook, and written something down. Spike has a Little Black Book? And he just wrote something about me in it? Be still my heart.

Then, as Xander put the car in gear and drove towards Giles' place, Spike had slowly fed him little pieces of God knew how many Aero bars, letting him lick those cool fingers even though there wasn't really any melted chocolate left on them. He'd always thought the M&M's people were lying when they claimed that the chocolate would melt in your mouth, not in your hand... it had always melted in Xander's hands. Not those room-temperature Spike-fingers, though, which smelled like chocolate and tasted like the wind off the ocean.

A block away from Giles' condo court, Spike had motioned him over to the side of the road, a dark stretch between two widely-set streetlamps, and kissed every last bit of chocolate off his lips and tongue. Which was another benefit to shared chocoholism, Xander decided happily. Who needed a 12-step program when you had a fellow addict who could kiss like that? I admit that I am powerless over my craving for Spike... God grant me the serenity to deal with the fact that he's an infuriating, smirky, utterly demented pervert with more stamina than me, the courage to someday tell him I think I'm falling in love with him, and the wisdom to keep my mouth shut when I have insane thoughts like that last one...

And look. Giles had made it to the last bag.

*****

What exactly was Giles drooling over? It was preying on Buffy's mind, and she got up to go over to the counter and peek into that second bag of groceries.

Ooh…chocolate. At least, she assumed from the wrappers that it was chocolate. Tons of chocolate. Good Xander. Nice Xander. Bestest friend Xander. She inserted an arm into that bag, and was promptly smacked for her trouble.

"Mine!" Giles announced with a five year old's possessiveness. What the heck? Had he been eating evil band candy again? After a second, normal, sane Giles made an appearance. "That is… well look, it's English chocolate. It might be a bit too much for you lot to handle."

Grr. Bad Watcher. It's not nice to keep chocolate from your Slayer. She turned her best puppy-dog eyes on him, and at last he relented.

"One. One Dairy Milk for each of you." The words were barely out of his mouth before Buffy's hands were in that bag, pulling out the blue-wrappered bars and tossing one each to Willow and Tara on the couch.

When she made as if to hand one to Xander, Spike said calmly from his chair, "If you give that boy one more piece of anything with caffeine or sugar in it, I'll personally gut you, chip or no chip. Look at 'im."

Much as Buffy hated admitting the Bleached Wonder was right, Xander was a little wired. Which was like saying that Spike was a little dead, or Willow was a little smart, or Giles was a little fascinated by whatever he was pulling out of the third bag.

"Good God…" he breathed, holding up a bottle of something light colored, with a blue label on it. Whatever it was, it was 8.4 percent something, blazoned proudly on the label at the neck. "I didn't think they carried this."

"Booze?" Buffy said as she returned to the couch and bit into the sweetest piece of chocolate she had ever tasted. "You bought him booze, Xander? Somebody besides Jack the evil bartender actually accepted your fake I.D.? "

*****

"I bought him booze, thank you," Spike put in, hoping to secure his welcome. Why exactly was he hoping to secure his welcome for five sex-free days, again? Oh, because the alternative was holing up in a crypt and having Xander bitch at him about how creepy it was, as he had when Spike put it forward as a serious suggestion. Which might very well mean five sex-free days anyway. Giles was giving him a look halfway between grateful and perplexed.

"You bought me… this? In God's name, why?" Giles asked, still staring at the bottle of Diamond White like it was going to evaporate in his hands. If it did, there were seven more in the bag, at least one of which was earmarked for a certain cider-loving vampire. Now if Xander could just keep his mouth shut about the Woodpecker… It wasn't Spike's fault he got a titch nostalgic for a drink that was the cidery equivalent of a Shirley Temple. It was Dru's favorite drink, besides the obvious. Thought they put real woodpeckers in it, poor thing, and nothin' I could say would change 'er mind… No shame in a little wallowing in nostalgia, but if Rupes got hold of that information, he'd never stop taking the mickey.

"Thought if I got you pissed, you might not notice the Twit and me stoppin' over for the week. Mr. an' Missus Twit have invited all the outlying Twits for a holiday hoedown, and chucked us out of the crypt. "

*****

Oh, so subtle, Spike. Xander groaned inwardly. Oh yeah, that was the way to do it. And the look on Giles' face. Like the last thing in the world he wanted was to be saddled with Laurel and Hardy as houseguests.

*****

Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha… shouted Murphy in Giles' mind. That was where the bugger had got to. One weekend with Olivia, one chance to try to make something of whatever long-distance…something…they had, blown. He couldn't turn Xander away like the boy's idiot parents had. As for Spike… Xander obviously had a soft spot In the head? for the vampire these days, and it hardly mattered. Living or dead, one guest or two, there went any shot of putting his bed to any use but the obvious one this weekend.

"Xander, of course you can stay…" but Xander was tugging him down the hall towards the bathroom.

"Is this going to be one of those conversations?" Giles asked with a bit of amusement as he leaned on the inside of the bathroom door.

*****

Those conver… Oh. Xander colored. That conversation. Hysterical laughter bubbled up from his chest, but he swallowed it down. Oh, so past 'I've been kissed by a boy and I liked it, what do I do?'

Xander shook his head. "No. Not really. Just… you've got plans, don't you." It wasn't really a question.

*****

Giles nodded slowly. "I did, but they can always change. I told you once you were always welcome, and that's not rescinded just because it's not the best of timing for either of us." The look on the boy's face, as if he really thought he'd be turned away at the door.

"No. If you've got a big weekend of lur-ur-ur-urve planned," Xander gave him a grin, "I'm not gonna horn in on it, and I'm definitely not gonna subject you and whoever to five days of 'Passions' and vampire whining. Got any suggestions as to where we should run for cover?"

Any suggestions… a diabolical plan, and Giles didn't have many of those, began to form in his mind. He really did owe Spike for vamping out on Olivia while she was brushing her teeth the last morning of her December visit, causing her to scream and then complain that Giles' idea of houseguests left something to be desired. "How would you feel about seeing Angel again?"

*****

Urk? Angel? Oddly enough, Xander had mixed emotions about the idea. He'd come to realize, in the past few weeks, that he might owe Angel just a bit of an apology for treating him like shit just because Buffy was in love with him. And because he's tall and dark and buff and why does it seem more like repression and less like jealousy at this point? Sleep with Spike and suddenly everything that walketh on land stirreth the Xander-pants? His unsouled version had verily and forsooth treated them like less than shit, to the point of murdering Giles' girlfriend…but that hadn't been Angel, and Xander had known that since long before Spike-as-eye-opener had smirked his way into the basement.

Still… The guy just got on his nerves. Which was actually a pretty good reason to go see him, if you were unemployed, in a cruddy mood, and itching to take it out on somebody you didn't have to see every day of your normal life. Plus he had a few things he might need to say to Cordy, too.

Xander's eyes narrowed, and then lit up. "Tell me more…"

*****

"Your roots are showing," Buffy said as she leaned across Spike to steal the newspaper he wasn't reading anyway. He put one hand reflexively to his hairline, and grimaced at her.

Honk! From outside, and she looked up.

"Yours too, Buffy-Jo. Looks like your momma done brought the trailer to pick y'all up…" Spike drawled in a horrible attempt at redneck.

"What is it with you and my mother?" she asked, gathering up her things, and motioning the other two girls to follow her to the door.

Nothing, actually. He rather liked Joyce. She gave him chocolate, for one thing, and she had the patience to put up with Buffy the Bitch for nearly two decades. A bit on the clueless side, but who in this godforsaken burg wasn't? She was pretty much on the 'Won't Kill You As Long As You Don't Get In My Way' list, even before Xander had unwittingly buggered up the whole system.

"We have a love-hate relationship. She loves you, I hate you." He snatched the abandoned newspaper back, and turned to the international sports pages, as the girls filed out the door.

"Bye, Spike…" Willow called, and he gave her a wink.

*****

"So, Cordy'll put us up in exchange for helping them move stuff into her apartment? Sounds like a deal to me. Plus I get to subject Spike to Angel. Or Angel to Spike. Or both. Cool…" So maybe he was a little chocolate-high, but suddenly the idea of getting the hell out of Sunnydale was sounding better and better to Xander.

A thought. More of them seemed to be cropping up these days… maybe because his head was filled with such good fertilizer when Spike was around.

"Hey Giles…"

*****

Giles sensed somehow that this suddenly had morphed into one of those conversations, while he was trying to puzzle out whether he'd just done a horrible thing to Angel and his crew. "Yes…"

"What do you know about Glaistig?"

"Glaistig, as in the water-fey?" he asked with a frown. "You're not… that is to say…" He took the plunge, which was a fairly appropriate metaphor in this case. "This fellow you mentioned before…"

Xander smiled at him, somewhere between embarrassed and mature, which was a truly heartening sight to see. "The one with the kissing, yeah."

"Yes. He's not a Glaistig, is he? They're Unseelie fey…" Blank look. "Water fairies. Dark sorts, mildly vampiric. Dangerous, Xander. They don't have any respect for humans, and they'll play with you if they can. If you've got caught up with one of them…"

And Xander was… laughing. Leaning against the bathtub and just laughing his heart out. Wheezing, almost. What, Watcher information wasn't good enough for him? He needed Rupert-Giles-tells-it-from-experience? That would be hard to come by… Unseelie fairies were one of the several types of lovers Giles hadn't made it around to in his younger and stupider days. Several? I can narrow it down to several? Yes, that's something to write home about.

*****

"No…" Xander gasped. "At least I'm pretty sure he's not a fairy. In that sense. No wings, no magic wand…" Other than the obvious…

Giles gave him a stern look. "They're not pixies, Xander. They look quite a bit like humans. Skin a bit iridescent, sharp teeth, tend towards dark hair… Hang about in lakes and streams, mostly."

"No… I know you didn't mean fairy fairies. It was just the mental picture… " Xander got himself under control. Sharp teeth, well, yeah… "No. He's not a Glaistig. I actually meant what do you know about the language. Specifically, poetry."

*****

Poetry? Xander was asking about poetry? Glaistig poetry? For about the fifteenth time today, Giles was reasonably sure he'd either lost his mind or… No, there really wasn't any alternative choice. Complete mental breakdown was the answer, he was sure of it. Or maybe Xander had lost his mind. Or both of them. That was certainly an option.

"They don't write poetry. They don't write anything as a matter of fact-- it's a little difficult to develop a written language when you live underwater most of the time. But they definitely don't even compose poetry. They tend to think art is beneath them. Come to think of it, they think everything is beneath them." Like a twenty year old idiot with a guitar sitting by the side of a stream in Sussex, trying to impress the silvery bird with the translucent knockers, who'd laughed at him and dissolved back into a splash of water… Hadn't made it around to them, but not for lack of trying.

"That's what I thought. He was shitting me. As usual."

"Problems?"

"No. He just said something to me, in what he said was Glaistig, and of course it wasn't really poetry, and of course there's no written language so I can't look it up, and fate barfs in Xander's Happy Meal and laughs..." Rueful smile.

Nobody was going to mess about with his children, Giles thought in a bit of lingering insanity. Or maybe that was the sanest part of him. "Just because they don't have a written language doesn't mean that no one's ever transcribed it. If you can tell me what he said, I'll see what I can find out."

Xander's eyes widened. He was willing to look something up himself, if there was a nice neat Glaistig-To-English Dictionary lying around, but let Giles know what Spike had said, when he didn't even know? Knowing Spike and his psychotic mouth? It all came down to how much he trusted Giles… Who had accepted him without fail, forgiven him when he'd done the stupidest shit imaginable, like that infamous Valentine's Day love spell… Been mad at him, but never dismissed him, never thrown him out, never laughed at him except in sincere amusement… And was looking at him now with grey-green eyes so full of concern that it actually hurt to see them. To know that his own father hadn't worn that look in Xander's entire life, and booze and middle-age and living with Dad had erased it from his mother's face more years ago than he could count.

"I didn't get it all, but I do remember this much: lye-day-lay-lays… nay… dole…say-lay-reen bee, day-heel. Something like that. If that's even right. There was a lot more, but… oh, yeah, at the end, it was 'Say-lye-sye nay.' "

Giles had a little notebook too. Whaddya know. Of course, his was in his front pocket where everybody could see it, and was probably for jotting down important omens and world-saving grocery lists. The Watcher   --Ex-Watcher my ass. What the hell have the Watcher's Council been doing to save the world lately, huh? --  

Giles folded up the notebook and tucked it away. "I'll take a look through my library. I'm not sure if I have any Glaistig materials on hand, so it may take a while, but I'll do my best."

"Thanks, G-Man."

Another stern look, but he wasn't going to get an apology. Nope. Nope, not from Xander the Brave… "Sorry."

"Hmm. Yes. You're sure this fellow doesn't have goat's feet?"

Snicker. "Goat's feet?" Nope. Fangs, check. Fine ass, check. Ticklish shins, check. Goat's feet? No.

*****

"Okay, Chipped Dip. We're outta here." Xander returned to the room, Giles in tow, and Spike tossed the paper aside. Football scores at the end of June? What had he been thinking?

"You two have a nice confab, then? Decide who's sleeping where? 'Cos I'm not sharing with the whelp. I'd sooner snuggle up to you," he shot at Giles with a flutter of his eyelashes.

"That won't be necessary," his fellow Englishman assured him drily. "Thank God."

"Yeah. 'Outta here' is a phrase we use in America to mean 'leaving.' As in you getting your cold dead ass out of that chair and following me out the door."

"You got a better place for us to stay, brat?"

"Trust in me, and I shall lead the way…" Xander replied, assuming a saintly pose and casting his eyes Heavenward. "Now haul ass."

As they headed out the door, Spike shaking his head in confusion, Giles leaned close to him. "Woodpecker?" the retired librarian whispered into his ear with a chuckle.

Grr. "Sod off."

He could hear the laughter all the way out to the car.

*****

"Hello? Oh, Olivia luv. Nothing, really, just having a relaxing evening at home, waiting for your call. Nothing exciting going on at all. Touchdown in two hours? So you're what, over the ocean at the moment? Must be lovely. Er… How do you feel about rats?"

"Liv? Hello?"

*****

Luckily for the residents of Sunnydale, and especially the patrons of Bob's Gas n' Go, Xander waited until they were about two miles out of town to inform Spike as to where they were actually going. Luckily for Xander, Spike had a little computer chip in his head that prevented him from beating the crap out of human-type people who informed him that he'd be spending the weekend with his much-loved sire. Unluckily for Xander, since Spike couldn't do anything to him physically (that he didn't like), the vampire decided to start in on the damn tattoo again, the one Xander had stuck on Spike's ass last night, and kind of hoped he'd forgotten about.

He lounged in the back seat of the Chevy, feet propped on the headrest in front of him, Xander's headrest, kicking it every so often as he pontificated on what it might be, how unfair it was that he couldn't see it in the mirror, and how the poor vampire was just a victim of hard times, abused by the government, forced to service his landlord in exchange for a roof over his head…

Five miles later, Xander was sincerely wishing Spike was young enough to fully appreciate the significance of the phrase, "Don't make me have to pull this car over and come back there…"





10 A Ritual Sacrifice, With Pie

Twenty minutes out of Sunnydale, and it really wasn't funny anymore. Xander's chocolate high was just fading away, and while he was still happy-on-the-road wired, Spike was starting to get on his nerves, because the vampire wasn't. Happy, that is. At least from the methodical kicking of the back of Xander's headrest, the heavy sighs, the fact that Spike was still sulking in the rear seat of the Chevy convertible like he was being dragged somewhere against his will. Which of course he was, but it wasn't to his death, or anything.

"Will you for God's sake come sit up here like a human, and tell me what's wrong?" Xander finally asked, starting to slow down.

"Makes you think anything's wrong?" Spike replied sarcastically around his cigarette. Xander could see the orange tip glowing in the rear-view mirror, which was a little disconcerting, since the back seat otherwise appeared to be empty. "Or that I'd want to act like a human, for some reason," he added.

"Um, let's see. You ran out of things to whine about five miles ago, that's your what, seventh cancer-stick tonight? And unless my ears deceive me, you've been humming 'Taps' since we passed the last sign that told how many miles it is to L.A."

"Yeah, not all that impressed with your military, f'r obvious reasons, but they do have a way with dirges," Spike answered.

"And if you come up here, I'll let you pick the music," Xander added with a sigh.

Spike gave a half-hearted cheer, clambering over the top of the back seat as Xander frantically tried to slow the car down and pull over so the vampire didn't get tossed into the road during his sudden gymnastic maneuver. "Oh, God, yes, anything but Willie Nelson. You think I couldn't hear you singin' 'On The Road Again' under your breath? Gah."

"Or you could wait until we stopped moving," Xander commented, as Spike dropped easily into the passenger seat, cigarette still in his mouth. Crunch, as Spike landed on one of several bags of gas station snacks strewn across the seat. "Belt up."

"Excuse me? I didn't say anything!" Xander tapped his own seat belt, and Spike fingered his in realization. "Oh, the idiot belt. What's the point? Not like you're gonna kill me, here," Spike whined, pulling a deceased bag of something no longer crunchy from beneath him and tossing it into the back.

"I am if you don't buckle up. I don't need a hundred dollar fine, thanks."

Spike complied, but not without a final grumble. "They'd stop you for what? I could push this thing faster'n you've been driving. "

Xander resisted the urge to put the pedal to the metal, just to show Spike he wasn't a sissy-boy. Last thing he needed was a speeding ticket, and Spike mouthing off to the cop--or something ungood happening to his uncle's precious chick-magnet car. "We'll be in L.A. before the sun comes up, so what's your worry? And no, you're not driving."

"My bloody worry," Spike said, taking one last long drag on the cigarette and flinging it , still half-unsmoked, over the side of the car, "is that we'll be in L.A. before the sun comes up." He flipped the radio on and began fiddling with the dials, growing more and more frustrated as nothing but static echoed out of the speakers.

The highway passed them by accompanied by white noise for a few seconds, while Xander cruised a few miles under the speed limit and tried to digest Spike's statement. Spike didn't want to see Angel. Well, fine, everybody has Dad issues, right? Or Grandad issues, or whatever. Really that bad, though? On a vampire scale? Spike talks about Angel like he could live with a little one-on-one torture time, or at least a chance to annoy the heck out of him, so what's the big deal?

"Hey, I don't love my Dad either," he finally offered, which was more than he'd said on that subject to anybody but Willow in the last four years. It didn't scrape his throat as much as he thought it would, to spit it out. Just a little. He glanced over at Spike, who was staring at the road ahead like there was a big green sign saying '120 miles until you meet your doom, bwah-ha-ha-ha' hanging over it.

Spike didn't even look back at him, before he gave a bit of a sigh, turned the radio off, leaned his head back, closed his eyes, and spoke: "He's not my Dad. And I never said I didn't love him."

*****

"Huh?" came the stunned reply, and Spike opened his eyes. Fished about for something to put in his mouth, so he wouldn't have to answer all at once, and came upon some sort of packaged drink in a silvery bag. Let himself get distracted for a moment, or pretend to, by the concept of poking the little straw into the hole in the front, only to be greeted by a gush of lemonade all over the front of his shirt, as the liquid fountained out of the bag. He growled, flicking the stuff off of him.

"Spike?"

"Just thinking maybe we could market these things for vamps," he cracked. "Capri bloodbags, complete with straw."

"Right..." answered Xander. "You and Angel being the only vamps in the world who'd care, unless you know of anybody else who escaped from the Initiative."

Good point. Angel might be suckered into buying it if it had pictures of helpless little ecch children on the front, though. For every three bags of pig's blood on a stick you buy, you can save one walking Happy Meal from getting drained. Spike read the front of the lemonade bag, as if it would tell him what he was supposed to say to Xander.

"Now with new, safer packaging? What, it used to come with a rusty nail instead of a straw? An' you wonder why I say humans are better off as dinner, when you lot need warning labels on your soft drinks."

"Says a man who's never staked himself in the hand with one of those straws when it went all the way through the package and out the other side. Spike, talk to me, here. You really want me to turn the car around and go back? It bothers you that much?"

Xander was concerned for him. Wasn't that... nice. On top of the fact that he was going to face his Sire, whom he'd last seen on the nasty end of a hot poker, being tortured at Spike's orders, now the whelp was worried. About Spike. Oh, so manly, Spike. Just lay your head on the altar now and be done with it, why don't you. Here comes a candle to light you to bed, here comes a chopper to chop off your...

"Angel's a bloody hair-gel-worshipping poof," he explained, as if it answered everything. He took a drag on the straw, and realized once again that Yanks and Brits spoke two different languages. Lemonade? This was battery acid with a little sugar thrown in for flavoring. Not bad, really, if you were into pain.

"Yeah, so you've said. Repeatedly. With which I agree, pretty much. Your point, and I assume you do have one, being? Something about still loving him?" And Xander's light voice was a little quiet, there. Spike hadn't meant to say it. He really hadn't. Hadn't even meant to think it, but it was there all the same, and it had slithered its way out of his mouth like a slimy little worm, that word.

Love. Luuuuurve. Item Two on his list of things that fucked up the grand scheme of the universe. The one thing he hadn't been able to bring himself to tell Xander, at least in English. Even though he'd given up hope of pretending it wasn't true, if he actually said it, he'd be admitting to his own defenselessness. That the human had control over him. That you've actually turned into Harmony the CheerVamp, with a cock and better dress-sense.

Which seemed so obvious to the vampire himself that Spike just kept thanking whichever totally-bent celestial or demonic powers were watching over him that Xander hadn't caught on thus far. When he wasn't cursing them colorfully for doing this to him in the first place, of course. Er... Spike, you do realize you're in a... relationship, here? giggled a thousand little demons in his head, and telling them to piss off really wasn't doing a lot for him anymore. Why could he spit the L-word out so easily about Angel, then? Oh. Sire. Right. Like that word didn't have a million little trap-door-spider threads of death hanging off it.

"Of course I still bloody love him," he answered at last. "You don't just stop loving somebody 'cos 'e comes down with a bad case of soul-itis, leaves without sayin' goodbye, disappears for ninety-eight years, loses the soddin' soul by fuckin' your worst enemy, comes back, treats you like shit, steals your girl, pops off to Hell, and then shows up again fresh as a daisy."

Xander was glancing back and forth between the road and Spike like his hair had torn itself off his head and was doing a little jig across the top of his skull.

Spike grinned evilly. "You might, say, hate 'im with a fiery passion, shove hot pokers in his side, make fun of his nancified hair and get a bit peckish to eat 'is heart in the marketplace, but you don't stop lovin' him."

The entire repertoire of Xander-faces flashed over his lover's countenance, finally ending up with a cross between Duh-face and Why-Did-I-Get-Into-The-Car-With-This-Bloke-Again?-face. "Eat his heart in the marketplace?" Xander repeated, at last.

Spike winced. Said that last one out loud, had he? "It's Shakespeare. Much Ado About Nothing." He really had to stop with the literary bollocks, or sooner or later Xander was going to twig to the fact that he hadn't been a badass all his life.

"Ooookay. I'll try to pretend you didn't just tell me that, because the mental image of you reading Shakespeare makes my brain go to a bad place, where it wants like crazy to ask you what you did for a living before you got vamped," Xander said. Fuck! Was the brat really that good, or just lucky? While Spike tried hard not to resort to banging his head against the dashboard, since it hadn't done him any good the last time he tried it, Xander pulled the car smoothly into the passing lane and politely accelerated past a minivan with several delicious-looking children pressed up against the windows, making faces at Spike.

He turned his head to focus on the little monster who was sticking his tongue out, and slipped quickly into game face, crossing his eyes and sticking his own tongue out through his fangs. The kid disappeared from the window with a silent scream, and Spike nodded smugly, before returning to human guise. Yeah, that showed 'em. You're still the Big Bad, Spike. You can scare six year olds, and your boyfriend's this close to figuring out you used to write sonnets. Positively putrid sonnets. Couplets. Terza bloody rima. Arrgh. Boyfriend? Did I just think that?

"Plumber," he replied shortly.

"Cool, really? No, wait. In the eighteen hundreds? Who the heck had indoor plumbing?" Xander countered. "Nice try, but you couldn't even fix the leak in the basement when the pipe busted."

"Didn't say I was a good plumber," Spike pointed out. He reached for the radio again, hoping to tune it to something bearable. Finally he located a station, only to discover that the only thing the electronic tuner could pick up was National Public Radio. After three minutes of 'Prairie Home Companion,' he flicked it off again in disgust. "So, when you said I could pick the music, you meant…"

"From the bin-o-tapes under the seat. Aww shucks, no Sex Pistols," Xander answered with his own little bit of smugness. "And thank you for sharing your vampire psychosis with me, by the way. I'm oddly touched. Could you please pass the Cheetos?"

Shamefully grateful for the obvious change of subject, Spike felt around on the floor for the requested snack, half-amazed that Xander could even think of eating, after the amount of chocolate he'd consumed this evening. Still, it was Xander. Coming up with nothing, he realized that he'd tossed the package in the back seat after having squished it by sitting on it.

"Think I dusted 'em, pet. Settle for..er... Chocolate Moon Pie?"

Spike wasn't sure he wanted to know what was in the petrol station pastry, but Xander certainly gobbled it up enthusiastically enough. He thought the conversation was over, and he could get back to whining about wanting to drive, at least, when Xander, licking cheap American chocolate from his fingers, glanced away from the road to look him straight in the face.

"I won't let him hurt you, ya know." With a snotty grin that didn't quite hide the seriousness in his dark eyes. Oh, lovely. Just bleedin' perfect. Xander was gonna protect him from big bad Angel. Spike closed his eyes and started humming 'Taps' again.

*****

"So, it doesn't bother you enough that you want me to turn the car around?" Xander asked again, smirking unabashedly. He'd let Spike hum in peace for about fifteen miles, and then ambushed him just as he was reaching for the box of cassette tapes, causing the vamp to slink down in the passenger seat with a glare that could've cut a hole though your basic lead-lined vault.

"You're gettin' off on this, aren't you?" Spike stalled, with a rumbly growl. Well, yeah. A little. It wasn't often that he could get Spike all trapped and vulnerable and shuffly and embarrassed. It was just way too cute for Xander's own safety, based on the glower he was receiving.

Worth it though. If he could keep Spike on the defensive, Xander wouldn't have to think too hard about the fact that he was jealous as hell that Spike still loved Angel. Big stupid Classically educated… jerk with the big wide, strong shoulders and the cool rakishly sexy hair…

Enough! You're not attracted to Angel, you've never been attracted to Angel, you're jealous of him, remember? Or.. no, that's not right. You're not jealous of him, and you're not thinking about how he and Spike would look pressed up against each other…and you can't decide if that makes you more jealous, or turns you on. You're sick, Xander Harris! Jeez, brain, make up your mind!

Xander tried to let the cool wind rushing over him wipe away some of his confusion. Tried to come up with an image that would get both Angel and Spike (and Angel on Spike) out of his head, just for a second. Something completely not sexy. Safe. Rupert Giles in a sweatshirt and jeans, hair still messed up from laughing hysterically at Buffy's creative French, leaning close over an acoustic guitar, singing "Come on over to my place…" Oh, yeah, that was working. Dammit! Not enough you have to have sexy thoughts about Spike's father figure, now you have to drag mine into it too? Bad brain. Go sit in the corner.

He gave up on chastising his wayward cerebrum, and returned to the Angel question. Buffy's ex had a claim on Spike that Xander couldn't hope to understand-- and shouldn't give a damn about, because he was just having a good time, right? With a friend, right? Right. Right, Harris. You're not in love with the Blonde Menace. You just curl up in his arms at night 'cause it's cheaper than buying a new teddy bear. He doesn't make you feel like you've found the only safe place in the world to be.

And he didn't want to protect Spike from somebody who'd obviously broken the vampire's non-beating heart at least once before. He wasn't being… what had Spike called him back when he was dating Anya and he'd gotten up in Spike's face 'cause he thought the vamp was making time with his girl? All splotchy and possessive, right. Nope, he was a big cool macho guy, Xander Harris, who happened to be boffing another big cool macho guy, purely for the mutual fun of it, because they were both insane, and things like 'I won't let him hurt you,' didn't get said. 'Cept he just had. Oops.

"No, I don't want you to turn the soddin' car around," Spike said, apparently tired of waiting for Xander to let him off the hook. "Doesn't bother me at all. I can put up with the Poof for a few days. If nothin' else, I could walk around naked an' see if he's tempted enough to let me shag the soul back out of 'im."

"Ha, bloody ha," Xander responded. Grrr. Nope. Not jealous. Not him. Spike, meanwhile, was trying to arrange the bags of food at his feet, with less than successful results.

"It's an hour and a half trip, mate. How come you bought enough food for you an' five other bottomless pits to cross the Gobi desert on?"

"Hour and a half??? This is one of the many reasons you're not driving. Anyway, road trip, Spike. It's just what you do. Fill the car with snacks and pig out 'til you get absolutely sick. Didn't you and Dru ever stock up for a road trip?"

"Yeah, but it usually involved conking some git like you over the head and throwing him in the boot to suck on at leisure."

That bought Spike a few moments of silence as Xander decided once again that his imagination was a bad thing and should be surgically removed as soon as possible. He was picturing ads for Capri-Humans, complete with straw. Just stick this sharp little plastic thing in the jugular vein there, and…

"Xander, you just got passed by a blinkin' Yugo-- let me drive, already!"

"In your wet dreams, Junior. Anyway, that wasn't a Yugo, it was a Geo Metro."

Spike sighed dramatically. "Fine. The longer it takes to get there, the better the chance the sun'll rise and dust me before the ruddy ponce figures out we've been shagging."

Panic gripped Xander, and he wasn't entirely sure why. Well, that anybody would know they'd been-- shagging was as good a word as any, he supposed-- was a bit of a head-twister, but why would Spike tell Angel, of all people? Angel, being Soul Guy and Buffy-Drooler, would immediately call Sunnydale, and all hell would break loose. If Buffy knew, she'd stake Spike, right? Wasn't that the point of keeping the whole thing a big secret? Aside from certain small issues like coming out of a closet Xander hadn't even known he was in. Closet? What closet? I'm just having fun, right? Brain? Chocolate? Anybody?

"You're not gonna tell him?" he squeaked, and then tried to tone it down into something more manly. "I mean... Okay, your Sire and all that, but..."

*****

Spike shook his head. "You really don't get him, do ya. Big Irish potato-head can read me like a dirty book. Always could. He'll take one look at me, with you in the same room, and poof. Pun intended."

And Angel would know, and then he'd do something or other to bollocks it up, and Spike would be left with nobody. Again. Which was the biggest reason he wanted to be on the road to anywhere except L.A. But...Xander wanted to go see Angel, for whatever insane reason, and so they were going to see Angel.

*****

And William the Bloody, ladies and gentleman, is your ritual sacrifice for the evening. He needs to re-do his roots, his nail varnish is chipping, and he's about to get his heart ripped out, one way or the other, but right now he's just wondering if there's anything worth listening to in that container of tapes under the car seat. Or if, possibly, since the boy won't let him drive, he can amuse himself by seeing how long it'll take them to run off the road when he sneaks his hand over into Xander's lap.

If you rip off the bleached blonde hair, pry his thick skull open and look to your left, you'll see Angelus, the demon with the face of an angel. He'll be the Master of Ceremonies, and doesn't he look fine in those leather trousers. If you play nice with him, he'll share his hair-care tips with you. For a price. To the right, you'll notice the lovely lady with the long dark hair, currently trying to teach three squirrels to sing 'Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl.' Her name's Drusilla, and she'll be participating in the torture, to come later after hors d'oeuvres and a delightfully saucy cabernet.

Off in the shadows, there's a blonde with a stake and a snotty attitude. Or maybe she has fangs. There's always a bitchy blonde, ain't there. Sitting in the middle of the stage, sucking chocolate off his fingers, is Alexander Harris, with the big gormless grin on his face and no sodding clue that Mr. The Bloody (let's call him that, shall we, since he doesn't admit to his own surname anymore) is completely, totally, suicidally in love with him--- and is terrified out of his not-so-limited, but utterly scattered wits that he's going to lose the boy. To who or what doesn't really enter into the picture. Hey, come on in. Mingle. Black-tie optional. Bring your own dip, but we've already got a nice little government chip in here to munch on.

*****

Interlude in a Sunnydale Nature Park:

Willow and Tara struggled their way up the trail, Tara lagging a little behind because the blonde was carrying both sleeping bags and the tent, to allow the redhead free arms for the bag of much more important spell components, which included several glass bottles.

"Are you sure this is the way?" Tara asked. They'd been walking in circles for half an hour or so before they finally got back on a path that seemed to be going somewhere, so it was a legitimate question. Willow tried very hard not to bite her girlfriend's head off when she answered, seeing as then she'd have to carry the spell stuff, both sleeping bags, the tent, and Tara's headless body, back down the wooded hill. Okay, that was an icky image. Bad brain. Flog. Punish. No killing the girlfriend. No Tara would make for a pretty long, boring night... she thought, suppressing a twinge of excitement at the thought of their weekend plans..

"Yes, I'm sure this is the way. If you just sort of... feel... for it," Willow said, letting herself get very, very quiet inside... there it was. The little area of peace, somewhere up ahead. It felt like the cool, wet quiet you get after a big thunderstorm, when everything's just perfectly balanced, and you can smell tomorrow in the air, but it's going to stay tonight forever.

"Oh!" said Tara, from behind her. "Oh yeah! Wow." And they trekked up the hillside, kicking overgrown foliage out of their way, until at last they came into a small clearing in the middle of a circle of spruce. The woods were dark, but not too dark, and the stars were out overhead, though the night was moonless. Willow shined her flashlight into the center of the clearing, and the beam shimmered across the grass and fallen twigs, before... bouncing suddenly back at them off the side of a bright orange full-size tent, with giggles and decidedly feminine moaning coming from within.

"Like... right there? Really, you sure that's how you... Oh! Yeah... wow. Mmmmmmmmm...." came a voice from inside the tent, and it was vaguely familiar to Willow...

"Oh my god! Somebody's out there!" came another, and that one seemed like she'd heard it before as well. In a second, she had her answer, as two girls poked their heads out of the tent flap. They both had henna-darkened hair, one straight, one permed into long, pre-raphaelite curls.

"Oh... hey..." said Tara. "Isis and Firewomon." She smiled uncertainly as Willow put the voices and the faces together in her head. Oh...the two girls who ran the Wicca group she'd kind of rescued Tara from. 'Who left their scented candles dripping on my womyn power shrine?' she thought to herself in the snottiest voice her mind could come up with, which bore an eerie resemblance to the nasal whine that came out of the straight-haired girl.

"Oh, hello. It's Tara.. and... I'm sorry, I don't remember your name. You're a tree, right? I do remember you came to one of our circles, and decided the path of sisterhood wasn't for you." All in the brightest, cheeriest tone in the world.

"It's Willow," she answered, trying to be nice. Trying very, very hard to be nice. Trying so hard to be nice that she was pretty sure her fingers were gouging holes in the plastic grip of the flashlight.

"Right. Willow," said the other girl. "Um, Tara, I'm kind of surprised that you ended up leaving us to, uh, study...with her. No offense, Willow, but we all thought you were just kind of cruising the meeting to pick up girls. Not that anybody would have said anything, of course, but..."

Huh-what-huh? They'd thought she was what? Er, um... Willow hadn't even known she was interested in girls until Tara, and she had more witchiness in her little toe (which had a nasty blister on it thanks to the fact that she'd decided to hike in sandals, because she was a big nimrod) than that entire group of poseurs could pull together if their lives depended on it! So did Tara. Somewhere in there, the urge to babble aimlessly got power-shifted into the urge to rip these two wenches new places to stick their scented candles.

"Now see here, you trendy little… LUG…" she started.

Tara put her hand on Willow's arm, just as she was about to launch into a well-deserved tirade against 'Firewomon,' whose real name was something like Brandy, if she remembered right.

"Willow, let's just go," Tara said softly. "Obviously they have some very important... goddess worshipping to do." Tara's lips twitched into that little sly smile that only Willow knew the shy girl possessed. She did something with her hands, sketched a little symbol in the air, muttered something too low to hear, and tugged Willow out of the clearing. Tara turned back to shoot a cheery little wave to the two girls, who were already ducking their heads back into the tent and giggling again, though this time Willow was sure she heard her name mentioned.

"Okay," said the redhead, who'd been muttering nasty imprecations under her breath, or mostly under her breath, as they trudged back down the trail. "What did you do? I thought the whole point of that circle was that you can't work any negative magic inside it." She sat down with a thump on a fallen log at the side of the path.

"Who, me? That wasn't negative magic. Just a Dark-of-the-Moon Mirror. A little bit of folk magic from down home. Totally harmless." Tara sat down next to Willow and dropped the packs in front of her, putting her arm around her girlfriend.

"Yeah?" Willow looked up into big dark blue eyes. "What's it do?"

"At midnight, it'll show them each as they truly are..." Tara said, with a smile that was so much more innocent than her voice, which contained a low half-chuckle.

Willow thought about the two idiots in the tent, and slowly a matching smile made it way to her own lips. "So if they see each other as they really are..."

"And they don't run screaming off into the night, then they obviously deserve each other," Tara finished. She leaned across and, brushing her own hair out of her face, gave Willow a kiss that more than made up for having to meet up with the Wiccan-Wanna-Be's for the second time in her life.

"You're so evil," said Willow after a minute.

"Oh yeah, I'm bad," agreed Tara. "What's a lug? Isn't that something you hold a tire on with?"

"Lesbian Until Graduation." Appreciative snort from Tara. Willow gazed back up at the place where they were going to spend their two month anniversary, practicing spells. Only partially in the Xander-speak sense of the phrase. Rassin-frassin-trendywitches and their orange tent and their scented candles... Not that she didn't like scented candles. Especially if you lit them in the bathroom, with some rosewater in the tub, and somebody to pour shampoo over your hair... She didn't brood very well, Willow decided, not for the first time.

"Who knew you needed reservations?" asked the redhead.

"Plan B?" Tara suggested with a shrug.

"Plan B," Willow replied, standing up and shouldering one of the bedrolls. Not that she wanted to accidentally drop any of the supplies, but they weren't about to use them tonight, unfortunately, and it wasn't fair to make Tara carry all the heavy stuff. As they proceeded back down the trail, Tara leading, Willow spared a thought for their friends. Hope everybody else's weekend plans are turning out better than ours… Though Plan B wasn't that bad of an alternative.

"Um, Willow," Tara said suddenly, turning around in the middle of the path to face her, "what's Plan B?"

*****

Xander, as it turned out, was psychotically not interested in running off the road for the sake of a hand-job, for some reason. Spike had pulled the first cassette off the top of the jumbled pile in the case at his feet, and shoved it into the tape deck, trusting to random luck, and for once things had actually appeared to be going his way, as James Taylor started crooning out "Come on, baby, I'm your handyman..." It seemed like as good a sign as any...

"What the heck are you doing... uh...ur..." as Spike nonchalantly finger-walked his left hand over to Xander's lap, and began doing things there that he knew for a fact Xander was enjoying. He had physical evidence. After a bit of heavy breathing and bulging eyes, and a swerve that undoubtedly scared the religious fervor out of the station wagon full of nuns that was passing them in the right lane, Xander smacked his hand away, however.

"And on the Officer Friendly scale of interpersonal communication, I think that qualifies as a Bad Touch," Xander stammered. "Are you insa… Okay, let me re-phrase that, are you more insane than usual?"

"You don't want me?" Spike replied with a phony pout, fluttering his eyelashes. No go.

"I don't want you to molest me in the middle of the freeway! Aside from the fact that we're in a convertible and anybody could see you doing...that, I like my life!" Xander considered his words in silence for a second. "Okay, not all that much, though it's been more interesting recently, but I like being alive, anyway. I mean... haven't you ever read 'Thinner' ?"

Er... Spike was trying to give him a joy-buzz, and Xander wanted to discuss low-calorie cookbooks? "As in 'Seven Days To A More Svelte Vampire' ? "

"As in Stephen King. Guy's wife gives him a hand-job, he hits a little gypsy kid, gypsy family curses him to get thinner and thinner, 'til he's practically a living skeleton..."

Spike rubbed his still-smarting fingers. "Can't imagine how I missed that one-- King's m'favorite bedtime reading, all that blood n' guts and putrification." Blecch-face from Xander. "Okay, I'll spot you that one. My family never did 'ave a lot of luck with gypsy curses, if you recall." Though the chances of coming across a gypsy kid to hit in the middle of the freeway were actually pretty... thin, in Spike's opinion.

He had a thought. Quite a few of them, actually, but one managed to make its way through the tangled muck in his brain and slip downstairs to his tongue. "You could pull over, an' I could do you up proper..."

Xander looked tempted for a minute, but then shook his head. "See above, re convertible."

"Put the bloody top up, then, " Spike half-snarled. Xander looked a bit taken aback, and Spike realized it probably wasn't a good idea to piss off the person he was trying to get semi-horizontal with, though the devil only knew that strategy had worked the first time. Peanut butter…swipes of it across his forehead, rolling across the floor... Xander licking it off his nose…Where was he? Oh, ragtop convertible, right. "Sorry, luv. But it does have one."

"Yeah, but people can still see in the windows. Uh-uh."

Spike settled grumpily back into his seat. If they had his car, that wouldn't be a bloody problem, would it. But they didn't have his car... Ooh. They could. Possibly. It was in L.A. Somewhere. Maybe he could put the Poof onto the problem-- he was supposed to be Angel, Vampire Detective, after all. He stared at the passing coastal highway in silence. He wasn't acting like Angel. No sir, no way. He wasn't brooding. He was sulking. There was a difference. Mostly the fact that he got bored with it pretty quickly, while Angel seemed to actually get his collywobbles off on it. Then again, Spike got bored with most things pretty quickly, Xander being an obvious exception.

Spike was just about to dig another tape out of Xander's hodge-podge collection, when the dark-haired teen, with a whoop and a holler, cut the wheel sharply to the right and dragged the car rapidly across three lanes of traffic. Tires squealing, Xander darted in front of a dangerous-looking pickup truck with a gun-rack across the top, and zoomed past the Geo that had passed them a while back. Almost taking the Chevy up on two wheels, he finally slid into the far right lane.

All this earned Xander four honks in various keys, a middle finger flipped out the window of a VW bus, which Spike happily returned for him, a positively chilling glare from the driver of the pickup (back window plastered with NRA stickers and American flags), and Spike's undying love. Not that he didn't already have that last one. At least, if they were going to the chopping block, they could go in style! It was all Spike could do not to shout "Yee-haw!" into the night air. There you go with the 'Dukes of Hazzard' repeats, Spike. Told you they'd do you in, but nooooooo, do we ever listen to ourselves?

When they at last slowed down, it was on an exit ramp that led down and around a curve, to a little truck-stop diner nestled at the edge of a vast expanse of absolutely nothing. An empty field and some sparse woodland surrounded the gravel lot, which was a bit large for the small building with the sparking neon sign reading 'Ed's Place' attached to the roof. Turning room for the semis, Spike supposed. He was still too juiced from the ride to care.

"Do it again!" Spike gushed, and Xander looked up at him, perplexed. Oi! The kid had pulled off the driving maneuver of the century, and he hadn't even been paying attention? The vampire was beaming ludicrously himself, caught up in the adrenaline rush, or whatever was running through his veins in place of it. So what were they doing here, if it wasn't for the sheer thrill of driving at breakneck speed and pissing off all the surrounding morons on the highway?

"Um... no, I'd rather have some pie," Xander said, pointing up at the badly-lit white sign on the front of the building, which advertised, in plastic letters, 'World's Best Chocol te Pie,' the 'a' having disappeared somewhere.

"You just smell chocolate from the passing lane, or did you know this place was here?" Spike snickered.

Xander parked the car in the almost empty lot, next to a huge juggernaut of a Mack truck. "We stopped here once when I was a kid. Ten or so, I guess, on the way to visit my grandparents. They have the best chocolate pie ever. Period. I looked for the highway sign every time I've driven south since then, and this is the first time I've ever seen it again."

Spike studied the parking lot and the diner dubiously. Best 'chocol-te' pie in the world-- keeping in mind that Xander had grown up with American chocolate-- versus redneck truckers, waitresses with bubblegum hairdo's, and a radio that probably blared all Waylon Jennings, all the time. Errggh. Still, it put off getting to L.A. He followed Xander around the back of the car towards the door.

The sight of Xander walking away in one of his tighter pairs of jeans-- there were some advantages to Spike having had to pack all the clothes, one of which being that he'd gotten to dress Xander, fashion-wise as well as literally, this evening-- had Spike reaching out without thinking, to goose the boy on one round cheek. He snuggled up close behind with a little purr, and so was right in Xander's face when the human whirled around on him with a panicked glare.

Oh. Fine. That was the way it was. Spike was good enough to shag blind in the privacy of a dank little basement, but... Just when he was about to go off into another round of manic-depressive self-pity, he felt himself kicked in the arse. Mentally, of course, but damn if it wasn't hard enough that he was tempted to spin around in the gravel and see if there was anybody behind him. He's nineteen, Spike. He's out to one, count 'em, one, person, an' that's you. Of course he's freaking out when you're coppin' a feel in a public place.

Aside from which, California or not, this place might as well be called the Dew-Drop-Inn, it gave off such vibes of the deep south. One innocent little gesture on Spike's part could have both of them stomped into jelly by some big bearded trucker with fists the size of Christmas hams. Spike was all for a little violence, of course, but not when merely raising his hands in defense of himself and his pillow-mate would end in a headache for him and a lot of bruises for both of them, if they got off easy. Chip, you brainless berk. Chip. Don't bait the humans.

He raised both hands, shrugged apologetically, and followed Xander into the little restaurant.

*****

Xander took a deep breath as they slid into a booth near the counter. Chicken-fried steak. Gravy. Hot coffee brewing, and the smell of that chocolate pie, fresh from the oven. It was like he was ten again, crammed into the booth next to his mom, with Uncle Rory and Aunt Judy across from them, Rory making faces at Xander and reaching across to pull a dime out of Xander's ear. (That was back when there was an Aunt Judy, of course, before she found out about Rory's all-night poker parties that had more to do with poking multiple hers than playing cards with the boys. ) Dad had been on an overnight construction gig somewhere, and it was just the four of them, on the road to see the Harris grandparents.

"Alexander, honey, sit up straight," his mom had said, when he slid down in the seat and started looking on the floor for the little army guy he'd dropped down there. She'd ruffled his hair, though, when he finally came up with the green plastic toy in his hand and showed it to her. She smiled, and laughed, and this place was just so much easier than home. He had felt like he could breathe, here, with the nice waitress who brought him an extra piece of pie, which Mom rolled her eyes about, but let him eat, even though she knew it would make him hyper and bouncy all the rest of the way to L.A. It was one of the best memories he had of his childhood, which should have depressed him, but didn't, because he was in such a damn good mood.

It was all here, in the sound of the radio, playing old country standards, in the laughing truckers in the corner booth, joking about Rolaids, Doan's Pills, and Preparation H. (Eew, and at one point he'd actually thought that song was cool, before he'd been old enough to figure out what the last over-the-counter medication mentioned was used for...) Mostly, though, it was the smell of this place that was getting to him. Which was warm and homey and exactly like it had been the last time he was here. Exactly.

"You smell that?" he raved at Spike, who rolled his eyes and took a sniff. Then another, and the light blue eyes got very big, and the dark eyebrows rose up.

"No... I don't smell...anything! What the hell?" Spike sniffed again, looking more and more confused by the second.

Xander shrugged. "Maybe they're cooking with garlic?" He reached over for one of the little paper menus that was stuck in the clip between the salt and pepper shakers.

Spike winced. "Naw, I'd smell that. Gives me a headache, makes me sneeze, but believe me, I'd smell it." He leaned over, obviously about to take a sniff of Xander. Um, hello, acting weird in public is supposed to be my job, vampire? He shot Spike the Bad Look,™. Don't screw up my happy flashback fantasy by getting us kicked out of here, Chipped One. Twitch of the eyebrow, but Spike got the point, 'cause he backed off, and started playing distractedly with his silverware.

"What can I get you boys?" said a low female voice, with an accent almost as country as the one currently playing over the radio. What, did they just ship these women in from Alabama whenever they needed a new one? The waitress had been almost the same the other time Xander had been here: pretty, in an early-middle-aged way, with dyed reddish-orange hair combed up on top of her head, chewing gum in her mouth, and a friendly smile. This one's nametag read "Marianne," and it had a little bell hanging off the bottom of it, with the words "I'm just a Ding-A-Ling," printed in tiny letters below her name.

"Slice of chocolate pie, chicken fried steak, home fries, biscuits and gravy, coffee and a coke, and a new nose for Spike, here. He says he can't smell all that deliciousness you've got on the grill," Xander said, flashing her his best charm-the-ladies smile. Which usually worked as well as it had in high school, when it had earned him rolling eyes, a sniff, and a snotty comment from Cordelia, or whoever the goddess d'jour had been. This time, surprisingly, it got him a wink from one false-eyelashed brown eye, before Marianne turned to Spike and gave him a quizzical stare.

Spike, who of course could charm the pants off anything that had pants, without even trying, was still sniffing distractedly, but he shot her a smile that had Xander wondering if they shouldn't pull off the road somewhere after all, a little later. He could put the top up... throw the sunshade in the front window (preferably not with the 'Help! Call police!' side facing out) and... No. Bad Xander. Arrest for public indecency = bailed out by Giles, or, God help him, Buffy = Very Bad Thing.

"I'll have a slice of the pie, luv. And a doggie bag to carry him home in, after he explodes from eating everything he just ordered."

The waitress chuckled, while Xander tried to decide if he should get huffy or not. "Hey, I'm a growing boy, and I didn't have dinner." He gave his best puppy-dog eyes to Marianne, and added, "Could I have the pie first, please?"

 

*****

Right, this was…weird. The whole place was giving Spike a strange vibe, not necessarily bad, but not quite right, and he couldn't smell anything. As the waitress turned away, he leaned in across the table and sniffed at Xander, glare or no. There it was. Warm, musky Xander-scent, topped off by Old Spice, and faint hints of tropical fruit shampoo. It was just the food he couldn't smell.

The waitress, not a bad-looking bird, all told, early forties and carried herself younger, brought them two slices of pie, and Xander's coffee and coke. Spike watched as Xander sniffed the coffee appreciatively before shoving it to the middle of the table and starting in on the pie, occasionally sucking on his cola. Spike sniffed at the black coffee (Black coffee? Xander??). Nothing. He picked it up, about to take a sip, and Xander tapped the table.

"Uh-uh. Mine."

"You're lettin' it get cold, then."

"Don't want to drink it. Tastes like crap. Just like the smell."

Of course. Why had he expected anything sane out of Xander? He sniffed the coffee again, with no luck. What smell?

"Eddie, I need a CFS, biscuits an' gravy, taters on the side," the woman called back in her countrified accent. "And tell Phil he's sleepin' on the job. We got a poor vampire out here who can't smell anything."

Spike's head shot up like somebody'd just announced it was raining blood outside. Whowhatwhenwhere?

Xander, of course, still had his face buried in the chocolate pie.

A skinny little fellow in an apron popped his head though the swinging doors that led to the kitchen, and looked around the restaurant, his eyes settling on Spike, who was trying to make sense of the whole thing. These folks couldn't be vampires. Wonky nose or not, he'd have picked up on another vamp the minute he walked in the door.

"Sorry, friend. We don't get a lot of you guys in here." The little bloke, who reminded Spike of Willy the Snitch, though he had lighter hair, must've done something, because all of a sudden, Spike could smell. Everything. Hot food aromas wafting out of the kitchen, the faint steam from the coffee in the cup that was slowly cooling in front of Xander, and the delicious scent of still-warm chocolate pie on Spike's plate.

Spike blinked, his head swimming. Weird, he could deal with. He was dead, after all , and he'd traveled with Dru for a hundred and eighteen years, and he lived in a basement with Xander Harris. Weird was commonplace. He just had to re-adjust his perceptions, that was all.

The waitress returned from pouring coffee for the two truckers in the corner, who seemed to be the only other customers in the place, and gave him a smile. "That better, honey?"

"Er, yeah..." he answered, still a bit befuddled. He sniffed again, reflexively, and realized he still couldn't smell her.

She laughed at him. "You ain't gonna get a whiff of me, no matter how long you try. I stopped smellin' like much of anything a few years ago."

Bing! The cherries lined up on the one-armed-bandit in his head, and he got it. "You're dead," he said, studying her face with a puzzled frown.

"Well, yeah. So're you, but it ain't slowed your lifestyle down much." She gave him a wink, and took away Xander's coffee, replacing it with a fresh cup. "Best eat your pie before it cools off." She sashayed away to tidy up behind the counter, leaving Spike staring at his chocolate pie.

"Xander..." he started.

"Eat your pie, Spike," Xander replied, sucking on his fork, only a few mouthfuls left on his own plate.

"Yeah, but... you get it? This place ain't really..."

"Shut up and eat the pie, Spike."

Did the boy really not get it? The place was run by ghosts! It probably wasn't even really there. They were most likely sitting in the middle of an empty lot, eating dirt and weeds. Well, Xander was eating, anyway. Spike looked at the pie again. It did smell damn good. And Xander... well, Xander would eat anything, though, wouldn't he. Spike knew very well he was getting that damned goofy look on his own face just from watching the boy, and he felt another little surge of panic at the thought that they were most likely on their way to something, or rather someone, that would bollocks it all up.

"Xander, luv, the place is haunted," he got out quickly enough that Xander couldn't interrupt him. Just to let him know. Didn't really bother Spike all that much, now that he knew what he was dealing with.

"I know, Spike. Eat. The. Damn. Pie." Xander finished his last bite of pie, and looked around frantically for the waitress.

*****

Of course he knew the place was haunted. He hadn't lived on the Hellmouth for almost twenty years without being able to pick up on whether something was massively ooky or not. He'd been listening to Spike and the waitress, while he was chowing down on what was definitely the world's best chocolate pie, no questions asked, just like he remembered. He heard it, he got it, he wasn't stupid, and sometimes a twenty-two track mind came in handy.

But this place isn't ooky at all. It's nice. Definitely not human-person normal, but that makes it just like home, come to think of it. God, Spike, shut up! If Spike made this pie disappear just because it wasn't real…

"Marianne?" he called out, and she was at the table before Spike could get another word out.

"Hey, what can I do for you?"

"Could I get another slice of pie?"

Spike's eyes bugged out. He really was cute when he was knocked off his guard. And when he was being smarmy. And when he was being naked, and when he was hopping on one foot and cursing in some demon language 'cause he'd just stubbed his toe on the bedframe for the fourth time in the same night.

The waitress shook her head at Xander, with a very Giles-like air of amused concern. "You really should save it for after dinner, hon. It ain't goin' nowhere."


Xander glared at Spike, but he was mostly faking it. Still seeing a naked Spike bouncing up and down on one foot, holding his opposite little toe. Remembering his own earnest attempts to kiss it better.

"I just don't want this place to disappear before I get another slice of pie 'cause he keeps trying to point out that you're all ghosts."

Marianne went into a long, low chuckle. When Xander started to glare at her, she reached out and ruffled his hair.

Cool… she could touch him. Wait, why was it cool that a ghost could touch him? Eek. He tried a little harder. Eek. Nope. Not wigged. She didn't seem any different from a human. No, she did, after he analyzed the feel of her fingers on his scalp. She was cool, just like Spike. She was making herself solid, so she could pour coffee and carry stuff, but she wasn't putting out fake body heat to go along with it. He'd just gotten so used to touching Spike that he hadn't realized at first.

"We ain't all ghosts, just me and Phil and Eddie. And this place ain't gonna disappear, kiddo. If you can see it now, it ain't goin' nowhere, like I said."

Xander wondered if the restaurant had been a ghost joint the first time he was here. He didn't think so, but then he hadn't been quite as used to Hellmouthy stuff then as he was now. And doesn't that speak volumes for my sanity, that I'm sitting across from my vampire lover, trying to convince a ghost to give me more nonexistent pie, and deciding that it doesn't make me as nervous as it should?

Since his ghostly pseudo-mom had apparently decided he wasn't old enough to make the decision about whether he could have two pieces of pie before dinner, Xander heaved a sigh, and went back to staring at Spike, which was a close second on his current list of fun things to do.

*****

Spike shook his head. A roadside diner run by ghosts, with phantom food, and the patrons... He glanced over at the truckers in the corner, who were leaning close across the table between them, and... kissing? Marianne followed his gaze, and, when the two men broke for air, she started clapping.

"Yee-haw, boys. I'd give that one a nine point eight." Spike gave up trying to understand what was going on, at that point.

The short trucker in the Atlanta Braves cap gave her a lopsided smile. "What'd I lose the two tenths for this time, darlin' ?"

The man across from him, taller, and very thin, leaned back in the booth. "Waiting until after the liver and onions to try it."

"I was gonna say feelin' him up under the table at the same time," Marianne said with a shrug, "since it ain't fair to distract the competition. But you got a point there, about the liver an' onions, Kels."

"I should eat the pie now, right?" Spike asked no one in particular, trying to maintain a grip on reality that he'd never really been that certain of in the first place. As Marianne turned her attention back to him, the door opened, and three tall figures in leather jackets entered. Nice leather jackets-- nothing that would give Spike's duster a case of cowhide-envy, but not bad.

Of course, more important in Spike's view was the fact that they were Kaillif demons. He raised an eyebrow when they slid into the booth behind Xander, one male and one female facing Spike, the other male back to back with Xander. The boy was a little green about the gills at the sight of the three demons, who had symmetrical horns protruding from their faces and necks, and looked like serious hardcases. They were. Kaillif demons tended to work the shady side of the shadows: bonebreakers, loan sharks, killers for hire. The most legit job Spike had ever seen a Kaillif in was bouncer at a demon club in Queens. Great, and Xander was closer to them if anything broke out. Spike would have to dive across the table...

"Hey, Mari-girl!" The male facing Spike called out to the waitress, and she tapped the table in front of Spike.

"Yeah, you should eat the pie, sweets. It's good pie." She walked over to the other booth, pulling out her order pad. "How do, Charlie, Jesha. Weido--hey, how's the missus?"

"Fine, big as a Fyarl. We're lookin' at seventeen, this time. Gotta get a bigger cave."

From the corner table, the taller trucker called over, "If you'd spend more time on the road and less with Mandy, you'd have a hell of a lot more money, and you wouldn't be drownin' in spawn, Wei!"

Some general chuckling and exchanging of greetings later, Spike was still staring at his pie. Xander had calmed down a bit, after seeing that the demons had no interest in, say, taking over the world, opening the Hellmouth, or eating him for dinner. He was actually talking Star Trek plots with the Kaillif behind him, his legs sticking out into the aisle as he gestured animatedly, trying to describe something complex they'd done to get the USS Voyager out of an intergalactic mudhole. Spike fell back into the not too unpleasant occupation of staring at him.

Marianne tapped Spike on the shoulder. She set Xander's dinner on the table--a truly bountiful spread, and Spike stole a fried potato piece from the plate, since Xander was completely distracted anyway. "Scoot over, honey." He did, with a perplexed look at her, and she slid into the booth next to him.

"You look a little lost. This place ain't so weird, is it? I mean, you're a vampire, you havta been in wilder dives than this one."

He nodded. "Yeah. Never one run by ghosts, granted, but...Jimmy Turoni's in Queens."

She looked a little impressed with that one. Vampires didn't tend to get into Turoni's, but he'd had Dru on his arm, and his princess had charmed the horns off the Kaillif at the door. And later that night, the leather chaps, while he'd looked on with unhidden appreciation.

"So what's wrong?" She sounded...concerned. Bad enough he was getting it from Xander, now complete strangers wanted to treat him like a fluffy puppy? Great, all I need's advice for the lovelorn from the undead Dear Abby.

She followed his gaze across the table to Xander, who was looking goofier than usual as he shared his sci-fi anoraktivity with the proud papa-to-be. Marianne picked up a home fry herself, and nibbled on it.

"He's sweet," she said at last. "And he's stuck as all hell on you, so you really should get your head outta that cute behind of yours, and eat the pie."

Spike snorted, and finally took fork in hand to taste the chocolate pie. It was…the best chocolate pie in the world. Xander was right. Dark, and rich, and still warm, the chocolate filling soaking into a flaky crust laced with enough butter to lubricate a couple of hundred sexual encounters… Which his tongue insisted this was, or would be, if it were Xander snuggling up to him, instead of a ghostly agony aunt who said that Xander was…

"Stuck on me?" Letting the almost-but-not-quite-burnt taste of the chocolate pie filling slide over his tongue, smoothing it against the roof of his mouth while he tried to decide if he believed her or not.

"Trust me, honey. Heels over head," Marianne said with a wink, slipping back out of the booth and leaning over to clear away Xander's empty pie plate. She gave Spike a calculating look. "You're just as gaga over him, ain't ya."

Spike narrowed his eyes. "I'm not 'gaga' over anybody, lady."

"Yeah, whatever," she snickered. With a shrug, she returned to plain old friendly curiosity. "How'd you end up with him, anyway? You don't see a lotta vampires with human boyfriends."

Boyfriend, again. Double-arrgh. How'd he ended up with Xander… Snarf. "Chocolate…" he replied with a helpless smile, taking another bite of pie. Well, mostly chocolate. Chocolate and a lovely arse and an idiot smile and a terrible sense of humor and…just Xander.

"Mmmm.." The waitress nodded sagely. "Chocolate. Gets 'em every time. Daddy used to warn me 'bout boys who'd promise me chocolate an' then break my heart. Never got over my first chocolate affair, and by th' time my husband left me for a little piece a' trailer trash from Hershey, Pennsylvania…"

"Yeah, yeah, very funny," Spike said around a mouthful of pie. "Okay, maybe it's more than chocolate."

"Must be, if you brought him here. I think he's only the third human been in here since the tractor-trailer crashed through in ninety-two, not countin' the dead kind. If you're takin' him to Free Zones..."

Spike blinked at her. "I didn't bring him. 'E brought me. I didn't even know this place was here." So the ghosts had gotten ghosted when Xander was what-- twelve? A couple of years after the boy'd been through here the first time.

Marianne gave him a funny look. "You got somethin' special, there. Humans don't see this place from the road. Ever."

She didn't say anything more, just took the dirty dish away. Xander spun back around after a few minutes, and started in on his dinner. Spike watched him eat, occasionally stealing a bite or two, which had Xander pretending to growl at him like a territorial vampire, before letting him escape with the odd bit of potato or southern biscuit. Of course he bloody well had something special. If only he knew what the hell he was doing with it...

*****

Interlude in Front of a Computer

"So they'll still take us?" Tara asked, leaning over Willow's shoulder to look at the reservation web page for Multi-Media Con 2000. A pair of roundish cartoon candies-- who were just misdrawn enough not to get the convention-runners sued by the M&M's people-- held white-gloved hands and danced at the top of the page. Red was 'Multi' and Yellow was 'Media.'

"Oh yeah. They'll even sell tickets at the door, but you get better seating for some of the events if you register ahead of time." Willow was tapping away at the keyboard, entering name and credit card information for the both of them. Tara played with Willow's hair, and wondered if three days at a science fiction convention, with more people than probably lived in the little town she grew up in, was really the best Plan B in the world. Still, Willow said it was fun, and she hadn't really been wrong yet, where Tara was concerned.

"How many of these things have you been to?" she asked, as Willow confirmed their registration with a click that resulted in a monotone electronic voice grinding the word 'Ex-term-in-ate" out of the speakers. Willow bounced a little in her seat, green eyes dancing in her reflection on the laptop's monitor screen.

"Xander and I used to go every year, in middle school. It was one of our things. My dad would drive us down to L.A., 'cause it was always held the same weekend as one of his professional conferences across town, and we'd have a big hotel room to ourselves for the convention."

Tara frowned. "Your dad let you two stay all by yourselves for three days?"

Willow stopped bouncing quite so much. "Well, yeah. He thought I was mature enough to handle being on my own, as long as we didn't leave the hotel."

Tara shook her head. It was a change from her own family, always in each other's business, but not necessarily an improvement. Just a different way of messing with your kids. Why would anybody want to leave Willow alone for three days, anyway? She wouldn't... Tara ran her fingers gently down Willow's shoulder, giving both a silent acknowledgement that parents could be stupid, and a less-than-subtle hint that they could maybe do some of the things here that they'd been planning to do in the woods tonight...

Willow caught her hand and smiled. "Of course, that meant I had to handle Xander for three days, too. Usually on a chocolate high, since convention tradition dictates that you're required to stock up the room with as much junk food as possible so you don't have to pay thirty bucks a meal for hotel food."

Tara spent a few minutes boggling over the concept of three days trapped in a hotel with a hyperactive adolescent Xander (He was wacky enough these days!) while Willow made their room reservations and shut down the computer.

"When was the last time you guys went?"

An expression somewhere between nostalgia and regret crossed Willow's face as she turned to her girlfriend. "That kind of ended when Buffy came along. Not that it was a bad thing, making a new friend, but... "

Tara studied Willow's face. There was something she wasn't saying, and Tara could tell that Willow knew she knew. "That wasn't all, was it."

Willow sighed. "No, that's not…" The redhead looked deep at Tara. Hard to define that, looking deep. It was just something Willow had a way of doing, seeing past skin and bone and right into your heart. Tara feared it and welcomed it at the same time, wanted her secrets known, wanted to keep them hidden forever. Only this time, there was no sudden icy shiver of suppressed terror in the dark-blonde girl. Willow wasn't probing for the secrets in her lover's heart. She was looking for whatever it took to allow her to let Tara into her own, and the other witch only hoped Willow found it there.

"C'mere," Willow said, pulling her into a hug. "I need me some Tara-snugglies for this one." They stood that way for a minute or so, just wrapped around each other, and then Willow took a deep breath.

"Xander and I had a friend. Best friend, since third grade. His name was Jesse…"

It started there, and it went on, and it ended with the two of them sitting on the bed, Willow leaning into Tara's embrace, Tara putting her mouth on strawberry-scented hair, and whispering. It's alright. It's okay. Other stupid words that didn't mean anything, but were all she could say. It ended with Willow giving her another look-deep, and one sentence. It twisted things up somewhere in Tara's chest, because there was nothing she could do to take it away, the wet gray ache in Willow's voice. A little summer rainshower for the friend she'd lost, and an angry ocean for the one she still had. "We don't talk about him in front of Xander."

*****

The Kaillif demons had taken off after they finished their coffee and pie. Xander was still a little wigged by the fact that the one sitting next to him had been a Trekker, and that he'd actually been having a civil, even friendly conversation about Janeway and her obvious lust for Seven of Nine with a guy who looked a hell of a lot like something whose ass Buffy had kicked a few months ago. Probably Weido's second cousin once removed. Then there was the fact that he'd been indulging his geekerdom in front of Spike, but heck, everybody watched Star Trek, right? It wasn't like he'd revealed any of his really unmanly sci-fi addictions. Spike caught him looking when the three demons walked out the door, and cocked his head.

"Penny for 'em? Think I might be able to scrape that much together."

"Just thinking that life doesn't get any less freaky away from the Hellmouth."

Spike chortled at that one. "Nah. It's pretty much a wild ride wherever you end up. When it's not boring as hell." Pause. "Hasn't been boring, these days."

Spike was giving him the look, Xander realized. Not 'The Look'--('We will talk about this...') or the 'Bad Look,™ -- (laser glare of death to be followed by sweeping up your ashes and using them for cat litter…), but the other look. The Spike look. The one that translated to 'my foot is slowly sliding across under the table and making its way oh so subtly up the leg of your jeans, while I smile innocently and imply without saying a damn thing that I'd like to be boffing your brains out against the nearest wall...' Xander used every bit of willpower he possessed to restrain the urge to go looking for a convenient wall, and gave Spike a gentle kick. Yeah, he could tell Marianne was on to them, but that didn't mean they had to...

"Xander...." Spike purred.

"Yes, Spike?" Patience of a nineteen year old saint, really. Which was not a heck of a lot.

"Everybody in this place is either dead or bent."

Or both, Xander thought with an internal snigger, but he got the point. "And...?"

"And can I kiss you now?"

Oh hell. He wasn't going to say yes. In fact, he was going to jump up and run out the door and sit in the car and sulk because Spike wasn't playing nice at all, and Xander's face was turning all sorts of shades of red, he was sure... But his body had other ideas, and he was leaning across the table, looking into those suddenly dark blue eyes that were terribly, terribly serious. Not a trace of the devil that Spike usually was anywhere in them.

For some reason, Spike's lower lip was suddenly in between Xander's, and it tasted like the world's best chocol-te pie, and it didn't matter that two gay truckers and a ghost waitress were probably staring at them. It didn't matter at all, as Xander's tongue found the little ridge that ran down the underside of Spike's, as Spike pulled back a little and gave him what felt like a million tiny mini-kisses. Ghost kisses, to go with the ghost pie, and everything was warm and safe, here. In this place, with Spike... When he opened his eyes, Xander blinked twice, watching the world go back to what passed for normal around here, trying to focus on Spike's face only centimeters away from his, and realized that breathing was probably a good thing.

And of course, as he sank back into his seat and tried to see if maybe there wasn't a little green army guy he could look for on the floor, the applause started up. Just Marianne and the tall trucker, Kels, though the shorter guy gave him a thumbs-up. Where's a Hellmouth opening when you need one? Xander groaned inwardly, while Spike tipped an imaginary hat at the waitress.

"Ten point oh, boys," she commented.

"Hey, how come they get the extra two tenths? Nobody ever gets a ten at the Olympics!" the shorter trucker complained.

"One for first time in public, one 'cause they're just so goldarn cute, Jack. You used to be cute, before you decided the Braves were a real sports team," Marianne explained. Jack pulled his hat off and looked at it, revealing a delicately pointed ear on the side that Xander could see.

"Which one's cuter, him or me?" Spike mugged shamelessly.

Okay, can I die now, or do I have to make an appearance in the second act? Xander asked himself.

*****

Twenty minutes later, and Spike was beginning to wonder if getting Xander to admit to their relationship in public, albeit a limited sort of public, was such a wise idea. Marianne had turned the country music station on the radio up to Spinal Tap volume levels, and Xander had joined the waitress, Kels, and Jack in a voice-over to 'What You Gonna Do With A Cowboy.' Only the assembled multitudes were drowning out the original (alleged) artists with their own version, 'What You Gonna Do With A Vampire' :

"His boots are always muddy..." and Xander kicked the toe of Spike's left Doc under the table, "and his blood-drinkin' buddies will camp out on your couch an' never leave..." Spike groaned and banged his head against the tabletop, thankfully drowning out most the rest of the verse, though he caught that line about "Honey, you can't hide him from your friends," and briefly considered hanging himself from that bridge when they came to it. He misjudged the length of the song, unfortunately, uncovering his ears just in time for the final chorus.

"What you gonna do with a vampire, when that old rooster crows at dawn? When he's lyin' there instead of gettin' out of bed and puttin' on his cape and gettin' gone..."

"Dust," shouted Spike to no one and everyone. "I could be dust... Dust is a nice thing to be. Anybody got a toothpick?"

"What you gonna do when he says honey, I've got half a mind to stay," Xander sang not all that badly, looking at Spike with an evil glint in those dark eyes.

"Better than no mind at all..." Spike replied with a murderous glare.

"What you gonna do with a vampire bat," (Xander's ingenious little addition) "When he don t flap his wings and fly away!"

 

"Thank you," said Spike after the laughter died down. "Thank you from the bottom of my souless, cashless, malevolent little heart, and be assured that I've memorized every one of your names and faces, and I know exactly where to find you. I won't do it tonight. Won't do it tomorrow, won't do it next week. Years from now, when you least expect..."

He had a nasty little finale in mind, but he was cut off mid-address by Xander's mouth on his, which, he supposed, made it alright, though he really would have to get back at the boy somehow. He was naught for two now, considering that he still didn't know what the bloody temporary tattoo Xander'd stuck on his arse was, and now this.

*****

Spike held the door for Xander as they walked out, and Xander really should've known something was fishy there. Never let the psychotic vampire walk behind you. But noooo, he was too busy waving goodbye to Marianne, lusting in his heart over the extra piece of pie she'd wrapped up for him, and wondering if he couldn't sneak off from Spike for a minute to duck back in and ask the two elfin truckers if either of them spoke Glaistig. Having to take a leak sounded like a pretty good excuse, even if it wasn't true…

La la la la... Walking towards the car, out of sight of the door, and the diner didn't have any windows to speak of... and Spike grabbed Xander from behind, spun him around, and pushed him up against the trunk of the Chevy. After a second of surprise, Xander shrugged, tossed the pie over the back seat and into the front with more game than he usually possessed, and gave in to the addiction that was Spike. Whose pie-flavored tongue was getting itself re-acquainted with Xander's as if they hadn't met intimately just a few long minutes ago.

Well…it wasn't that naughty, right? Who was gonna see them who hadn't already? Except, of course, anybody new who pulled into the lot, demonic squirrels who might be nesting in the trees, random spy planes overhead… Not that Xander was getting his usual case of the paranoid, self-conscious wigginses back. Really.

"Urrrmmm… Aren't we getting a little case of the too-frisky-in-publics, here?" Xander asked, his hands nonetheless moving over Spike's back underneath the duster, feeling straining muscles through the two layers of t-shirt and silk. Silk. Red silk, that would never wrinkle again, if Tara's little laundry spell worked like it was supposed to, and it felt like Spike's skin under his hands, cool and smooth.

Spike pulled Xander closer. Kissed him hard, his hand reaching around and down to do exactly what Xander had glared at him for earlier, squeezing Xander's left butt cheek like it was a melon in the fruit and vegetable section of Food Mart. A place whose innocence, Xander admitted, was probably forever ruined for him by the concept of frozen grapes on a string, anyway... and he moaned as Spike brought his other hand down and repeated the process on the opposite side.

"Hey, abandoned parking lots are one thing. I'm not sure I'm ready…mmmm… to blaze new trails into indecent exposure, though. Wouldn't wanna…oh, nice… disturb the natives." Xander tried very hard to concentrate on being good and just, and semi-pure, here. One of them had to make the effort. Spike's hands, however, were basically telling good and just and pure to sod off, if Xander could read hand-to-ass language correctly, and he suspected he was getting pretty fluent. He attempted to pull away. Really. Well, he tried wriggling, anyway, which got Spike to smile, and they somehow ended up trading places. Spike was pushed up against the back bumper, Xander yanked even closer to him, so the fronts of their jeans were pressed together, and Xander could feel just exactly how good and pure they both weren't feeling.

Spike squeezed again, with both hands. "You forget, luv. I've got no problem with colonial expansion; Bring on the conquering hordes. " He ran one hand up Xander's back, under the sweatshirt, sending little shivery sparks up and down Xander's spine. "Westward migration…" That hand somehow made its way around to the front, and it was expertly slipping cool fingers into the waistband of Xander's 501's, while the other was still doing dangerous things around back. "Manifest…" Spike shut up for a moment to kiss Xander, sucking away just about every bit of breath left in his body, or so it seemed to one lightheaded earthboy at the moment… "Manifest destiny…"

Xander fixed Spike with a hard glare when he was at last offered a chance at oxygen again. "You," he said, grabbing the hand at his waist and firmly tugging it away, "are way too over-educated for an ex-plumber. Plus, no plumber's crack," he added, barely fitting a finger into the back waistband of Spike's jeans. Spike gave a strange little shake of his head, and pulled Xander in again.

It wasn't one of those 'Princess Bride'-type kisses. You know, the ten purest (pure? Spike?), most romantic, mind-bendingest kisses in the world-- but it was definitely on the waiting list to take over if one of those historical smoochies should ever be unable to fulfill its duties and have to give up its crown Which was why Xander didn't really notice the rusty pickup pull off the exit ramp and grind into the parking spot on the other side of the Chevy. He probably wouldn't have noticed if it were driven by a naked, chocolate-covered Yasmeen Bleeth, and had the entire cast of All-New, All-Nude Baywatch frolic-ing in the truck-bed.

He did, finally, notice when a door slammed loudly only a few feet from him, and a deep voice with a kind of liquid snort in it, like somebody sucking snot back up his nose, announced, "This place is goin' to hell faster than I thought, Dwayne."

Followed by Spike pulling away (Bad Spike!), looking over Xander's shoulder, and growling, "You have got to be bloody kidding me."

*****

Redneck Chaos Demons? The slimy, mucus-dripping gits were bad enough when they just hung about and played gigolo to lonely, looney vamp girls. At least those guys, and Dru had flirted with more than one, had bought their clothes at Leisure-Suit Larry's Tacky Demon Togs R' Us. These two! Flannel shirts open over sleeveless white vests, jeans stretched across the beginnings of beer bellies, and one of 'em was even wearing a baseball cap, perched between his antlers. Only this hat didn't advertise the home team-- it bore a single silver 'S' on the front, with a scaly green fist behind it. The bloody Scourge.

No way the anti-mixed-breed fascists would allow these two twits into their ranks, no matter how pure of blood they might be. They looked like they had one brain cell between them, and neither was using it at the moment. They could be rank and file, but Spike doubted it. Even the Scourge's bully boys usually had some smarts. Which, in its way, was worse, because it meant these two were wanna-be's. Can't actually get into the big boys' club and beat up on vamps, half-breeds, and humans officially, we'd better do our part on a local scale. Useless wankers.

"Geez, I guess, Kenny. Look at these two. Bad enough Eddie's lettin' fairies in this place, but this just about makes me sick."

Xander, bless his insane little mind, chose this moment to open his mouth and show off those knackers of his at the same time. "Oh, nice. We don't have enough human gay-bashers to make the world a better place, they have to start recruiting from the demon community? Step right up, if your IQ is smaller than your dick length, and join the jamboree?"

Spike snickered. That's my boy. Have I mentioned recently that I love you? But…

"I think they actually meant the elves, Xander."

Xander shook his head. "Okay, fine, elf-bashers. Don't you morons have anything better to do than…" He turned around, Spike's arms still around his waist, and finally got a look at the two Chaos Demons, both six-five at least, muscles on their muscles and a good fifty pounds heavier than Xander would be if he ate straight through the Fourth of July weekend without stopping. Which, knowing him, was actually a possibility.

"You're very large," Xander stated. "Very… very large. And I… am not. I am in fact on the dinky side, in comparison, and I squish easily, so I think I'll shut up now."

"Good call, scum-puppy," the hatted-one, Dwayne, sneered. To his mate (brother, lover, stock analyst for all Spike cared), he bitched again. "Humans. They're lettin' humans in here now."

Spike gripped Xander tighter and let a little of his annoyance show through, blue eyes flashing gold, face re-forming, fangs descending. "I'm not a human, lads. I just play one on TV." This had the makings of some fun, aside from the fact that the toe-rag had just insulted Xander. Only Spike was allowed to insult Xander. Grrr.

"Oh, a vampire. This night's gettin' better and better. I haven't played football with a vampire-head for… oh, a week, wouldn't you say?" Scourge-hat asked his partner.

"Why do I think you mean American football?" Spike asked, and tensed his grip on Xander's waist, trying to put the warning into his touch-- when I say run, run. "You two really wanna throw down with me? Gotta warn ya, I've been doin' Buns of Steel. I can crack your head open at twenty paces just by flexin' my arse at you." Xander snerked, shifting in his arms. "Xan, go get me another piece of pie. I'm gonna be hungry when I finish with these gits."

He released Xander, who stood there for a moment, then took a few nervous steps towards the door--which was on the other side of the two gobshites with the slime-dripping antlers and the bad attitudes. Kenny, a little greener than his friend, stepped in front of Xander, who froze where he stood. The demon smiled mock-politely at him. "Going somewhere?"

He put one large arm on Xander's shoulder, and Spike was across the space between them in milliseconds, pulling Xander away and shoving him not-too-roughly in the direction of the diner's door. "Get inside. Now." When he saw that Xander had indeed made it in the door and was watching out through the glass, a worried frown on his face, Spike spun back to the demon, gold eyes blazing like a thousand lost suns.

"You don't wanna touch him. You don't even wanna look at him funny, arse-wipe." He curled his fingers into fists. Oh, yeah, this was gonna be good. Nobody touched what was his, especially a fuckin' Chaos Demon with a brain the size of a walnut. Spike rushed the moron, knocking him back against the high-roofed cab of the pickup. He'd landed about eight good socks to the stomach when Moron Number Two decided to join in-- Kenny must've tossed him the brain cell-- and then things got really fun.

*****

"Back so soon?" Marianne asked, coming over to join Xander by the door, where he was watching Spike lay into both of the big slimy demons at once. They'd moved out into the middle of the parking lot, so he got the full view of five-foot ten inches of pissy, kissing-interrupted vampire who loved to kick ass anyway, doing what he did best. Second-best, actually, Xander thought with a grin. He'd been worried for a minute, but this was Spike.

He'd watched Spike fight before-- pick up a Vahrall demon one and a half times his size and -oops-- toss it down the Hellmouth. Duck in and out of the tentacles of a Mathgarau while landing kicks in just the right places to keep it off-balance, insulting its mother, and shouting out just in time for Xander to bring his too-heavy helm-axe down on the thing's long, skinny tail. Spike was a joy to see in action, as long as he wasn't threatening you, and the vampire was having the time of his unlife out there now, spinning and kicking, black duster flying behind him. He knocked one of the demons down to the gravel, and was stomping on what passed for its face, while the other one was trying to drag him off. Xander was so caught up in watching, it took Marianne tapping him on the shoulder with a pie-plate to get his attention.

"What's goin' on out there?" she asked, peering out into the night. "Oh." She gave a disgusted snort. "The Bilbo brothers. Those two're about the only thing keepin' this place from bein' a real Free Zone. I serve, Eddie grills, Phil makes pies an' keeps the peace in here, and we got ourselves a nice little setup. Place for the night-folks to hang out without worryin' about who don't like whose mother's brother's step-cousin's face or the number a' horns on his ass. No profit, since the food ain't real, but it's somethin' to do for as long as we're hangin' around here."

"Those hammerheads show up a year ago from Tennessee, and keep botherin' the customers. Not inside, a' course, but out in the lot Phil can't do a damn thing, and the Bilbos won't ever start somethin' when one of the big suckers, like the Kaillifs, is here. They just mess around with sweet little guys like Kels an' Jack, or the Lister demons who came through here a year ago. Anybody who can't defend himself and has a little human in his pedigree somewhere. Fuckin' assholes."

It was weird to hear that southern momma voice spit out the last two words, and Xander turned to look at the ghost. She grimaced.

"I had me a vampire friend, for a while. Mighta been more than friends, if he'd hung around, but the Bilbos beat him up so bad a few months back, he almost died. Well, died again. You know what I mean. One of them little Listers did die, and nobody could do a damn thing about it. I never seen a Chaos Demon like them-- they ain't too street-smart, none of 'em, but these are the only two I ever heard of got a mad on for beatin' hell out of things that can't fight back."

Xander grinned at her. "You'll like this, then." They both turned to watch Spike haul Kenny off the ground by his antlers, while landing a backwards kick to Dwayne's groin that had the jerk doubled over and not about to mess with Spike for at least a few minutes. Marianne sucked in an admiring breath.

"Damn, he's good. He just like fightin'? I know he could care less about this place, really-- vamps don't make friends that easy."

Xander took a forkful of the pie she'd handed him, and chewed it slowly, before answering. "Oh, I think he likes you, as much as he likes anybody he can't kill anyway, who hasn't pissed him off yet. But yeah, he just loves to kick ass. That, and…" Best evil grin yet, learned from the master, "Spike doesn't like Chaos Demons. His girlfriend left him for one."

Marianne watched thoughtfully. "Could be it, I guess, but… Those guys try to rough him up, or he just start whalin' on 'em?"

Xander shook his head. "They probably would've, but they never really got that far. Old Big, Green and Antlery started doing a Bad Touch thing on my shoulder, rapidly heading towards Bang, Squish, Splat, Bye Bye Xander."

She nodded, satisfied. "That makes a lot more sense. That's not just vampy fun times, though ya can see he's havin' a blast. That's a pissin' war over you."

"Me?" Me? Ulp. Nah. Why would Spike get all bumpy over me? Aside from that one time with Anya, yet another Spike oopsie, but that was just… oh. Spike getting territorial. Over me. Xander hoped the smile on his face didn't look too goofy. Something in the range of 'Oh, I'm watching my something-or-other kick ass and he looks really good' instead of 'You sent the birds with the spy cameras, didn't you, and now they're going to take over the world…'

He realized as Spike tripped Dwayne, who'd recovered a bit quicker than Xander had expected, and sent the Chaos Demon diving to the gravel again, that watching Spike fight was getting him almost as excited as he'd been a few minutes ago during the impromptu parking-lot grope. He was thankful he was pressed up against the door where Marianne couldn't see the obvious evidence. "You're a sick, twisted bastard, Alexander Harris…" he muttered.

 

*****

Spike let go of Non-Hat-Head to attend to his partner-in-stupidity, who was getting up from the gravel again. As he bent down to haul Dwayne up for a nice gut-punch, the other demon rushed him from behind, with those nasty antlers lowered. Almost as good as a stake, if one of those tines went through his back. Wouldn't kill him, but it would lay him out long enough for the gimboids to drag him off somewhere and finish the job. Lucky for Spike, Chaos Demons, despite their race name, were about the most predictable creatures he'd ever come across besides Buffy Summers in her non-Slaying moments. He spun around, grabbed Kenny by the antlers, and raised his knee up sharply, cracking the slimy horns right off the bastard's head.

Slump… as the demon fell lifeless to the ground, his energy draining out with the loss of his antlers. Dwayne, who'd been in the process of getting to his feet, just stood there, looking at the corpse of his fellow monster. "You… you killed Kenny," he finally stuttered.

Spike just blinked at him. "That doesn't even deserve an answer," he snorted, and snapped the moron's neck with his foot.

He was going to just leave them there in the lot, for whoever felt like cleaning up to deal with, but on second thought… He reached down and cracked Dwayne's antlers off at the base, using his boot as a brace, then went over and collected Kenny's from the ground.

When he stalked back into the diner, Xander gave him a snarky grin. "My hero…" the boy said, batting his dark eyelashes.

"Shut up." Spike handed the two sets of antlers to Marianne. "Thought you might like a souvenir. Make a great trophy for over the grill. He wiped the nasty slime off on a wet towel handed to him by a grateful Phil (Was it a real towel? How bloody philosophical could you get about a diner that served the best chocolate pie in the world?) and dragged Xander back out the door to the car.

"That was nice," Xander commented, walking over to the passenger side.

"Didn't do it for them," Spike said with a shrug.

"I know," Xander replied, getting in. "You just wanted a little action." The brightest smile Spike had ever seen followed that statement, and afterwards, "Thanks."

"Shut up. Wait, I get to drive?"

Xander mirrored Spike's shrug. "Least I can do, for my big, strong hero…"

"Shut up. You ate so much you're gonna fall asleep in fifteen minutes," Spike groused, "and you don't wanna run off the road."

"I resemble that remark, and furthermore…"

"Belt up." Spike buckled his own seatbelt with the minimum amount of fuss, to Xander's obvious confusion. Well, he couldn't risk the Xander-glare again, could he? The kid might wish him into the cornfield or something.

*****

Interlude In, Um, Tara's Bed, With The Lights Off

Fingers on skin, lips on lips… a crackle as a spark of green static lit the room, and a low exclamation of delight.

Then:

"Oh! I should call and tell Cordy we're coming!"

Amusement, bubbled into the shoulder of one witch from the lips of another.

"Right now?"

"Ta-ra! No, not right now…"

Silence, and then a giggle.

"Oh God… or Gods… there's something you have to say to Angel the first time you meet him! It's wrong and evil. Bad. Rotten. Absolutely perfect…"

"Like you. Shhhsh."

*****

"On the road again, like a band of gypsies we go down the highway…"

Spike groaned. "No. No, nononononono. Tape. Now. Don't bloody care what as long as it's not Willie, Waylon, or Garth Brooks."

Xander stuck his tongue out at Spike. Hee-hee… navigator got to pick the music, but with all the distractions, Spike had actually chosen what, one tape on the entire trip? Xander dug busily through the bin of tapes, while defending his own taste in tunes. Like anybody who liked the Sex Pistols had a right to dis his music collection?

"Garth's not bad. He's great break-up music. 'Friends in Low Places' was the world's best Fuck-You-Cordy song. Before, during, and after we were dating, actually."

"I've met your friends; I'm not surprised. No Garth."

"Um… Rasputina?" Xander held up the tape and hummed a bit of 'Transylvanian Concubine.'

"No. Not that one." Ouch. Vampire bite in Spike's voice. Xander didn't ask, just nodded and went back to digging.

"Oh, by the way," he said, looking up, "you realize you're a legend in the making back at Eddie's?'

Spike grinned. 'Yeah? So?" Sure, like it could hurt his reputation to have been the source of the antlers nailed to the wall in what was probably gonna be one of the more famous Free Zones on the West Coast if the pie was anything to judge by. He wasn't thinking far enough ahead, though. Typical Spike.

"So everybody who passes through gets to know William the Bloody ripped apart two Chaos Demons in a turf war over a human named Xander Harris…"

Spike groaned.

Yeah, that would be a shot in the arm for the Chipped Wonder, having their names linked. "Which is why," continued Xander, still shuffling, "I asked Marianne and company to keep their mouths shut about me."

Spike didn't say anything. Lower lip… he was actually pouting! Spike was insulted! And the things Xander had to do to keep his vampire happy…"Not because I care about being seen with you, Spike. What, like Xander Harris has street cred in the demon world? Jeez, and you say I'm insecure? Because I don't want rumors getting back to Sunnydale and you having to feel all unvamply about it."

"Oh." Pause… "Thanks."

"Shut up. " Xander waggled one arched eyebrow. Spike should've known he was crazy the minute they met-- who else but psychos and movie mad scientists have eyebrows like that? Xander had spent years being thankful for those eyebrows. They scared away Jehovah's Witnesses, for one thing. "Anyway, in the official version, I'm a woman."

Poor Spike. Only a hundred and twenty-whatzit. Mind gone at such a young age. "Er, ah, what? Oh, I see. Pull the other one, luv--it's got bells on."

"The other what?" Xander asked, confused.

"Anything I've got two of," replied Spike with a leer.

Xander snorted. "No, seriously. I'm a gorgeous six foot tall chick with three breasts."

Spike almost drove off the road, he laughed so hard. "Eccentrica Gallumbits, the triple-breasted whore of Eroticon Six? You do get around."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Xander answered with great dignity. At last he pulled a hand-labeled tape from the bin, and just stared at it for a few seconds, as a smile slowly inched its way across his face. Smile, little gasp, snort, silence, snicker…. It was obviously driving Spike nuts. Good.

"What?" Spike asked.

"It's…um…don't hit me or anything…"

"I can't reach you, at the moment, and I can't hit you anywhere y'don't like to be hit, so get on with it."

"It's… Our Song. Capitalize as needed."

"If it's 'Wind Beneath My Wings,' I'm getting out of the car. Right now. You're on your own."

Since they were doing-- gulp--ninety-three in a sixty-five zone, the threat was sufficient unto the day, not that the song in question didn't make Xander want to gag too. Xander shook his head.

"Nah. Billy Joel."

Spike heaved his shoulders in an exaggerated exhalation. "Put it in…"

The motorcycle sounds echoed over the opening notes, and Spike raised one eyebrow in tickled surprise.

"Friday night I crashed your party…Saturday I said I'm sorry, Sunday came and trashed me out again…"

"Tell me that didn't happen. Word for word," Xander challenged. Spike nodded, mouthing the words along with the tape. Finally, not looking at Xander, he started to sing along, and Xander joined him.

"You may be right, I may be crazy, but it just may be a lunatic you're lookin' for…"

By the end, they were roaring it out. Why not? Who the hell could hear them? Afterwards, Spike frowned.

"Okay, that's us. Granted. It's missin' something, though. No chocolate."

Xander considered. "True. It's a little like 'I wrote back and told my friend that it wasn't the perfect country and western song, because he hadn't put anything in it about momma, or trucks, or prison, or trains, or gettin' drunk…' "

"So he wrote back with this verse…. An' I felt obliged to include it on the album," Spike supplied. For a guy who hated everything but punk and classic rock, he sure had a… oh yeah. Brain full of useless trivia. "Okay, fine. Let's see… Remember how I found you there, with peanut butter in your hair, and I fed you chocolate icing 'til you smiled…" he sang with his head tilted, a sparkle in the eye that Xander could see.

"You were lonely for a vamp… I said take me as I am, and you might enjoy some madness for a while…"

*****

Message Left For Cordelia Chase--As Recorded By The Wire-Tap That Doesn't Exist On Tara Maclay's Dorm Phone, And Wasn't Put There By Shadowy Government Agencies Trying To Keep Tabs On U.S. Citizens With Alleged Supernatural Powers…

"Hey, Cordy, it's Willow. I know I said we weren't coming down this weekend. What can I say, I'm a sneaky, lying witch. Our holiday plans went wrong, so Tara and I are coming to L.A. after all. We can help out in the morning when we get there, and then we're taking off for a convention. I don't know if Spike's got Xander climbing the walls over there yet, but don't let them kill each other. Tell them we'll see you all tomorrow. I'm gonna call Angel at the cell number you gave me, just in case you don't get this tonight, so no big danger of us not getting picked up at the bus station-- like you were worried, I'm sure. Bye!"

*****

Spike was… well, not in heaven. There were things he'd rather be doing than driving the streets of L.A. with Xander Harris sleeping against his shoulder. Driving the streets of London with Xander Harris sleeping against his shoulder, for instance. Still, it wasn't a bad place to be at all. If he had to face the firing squad, or whichever execution metaphor his creative and bloodthirsty brain decided to fling up at him this time, at least he had Xander around. Which would make it more interesting, if nothing else. He was reluctant to wake the boy, it felt so good just to have that warmth against him, his arm around Xander, who was leaning across the seat where he'd fallen asleep a good half an hour ago.

"Hey. Sleeping Beauty. We're here," he said, shaking Xander gently. The brown eyes opened, and focused blearily on their surroundings.

"Where's here?" They were parked in front of a collapsed building that Spike had last seen in a somewhat more pristine condition. Neatly lettered signs announced that this was an LAPD investigation site, and former tenants who wished to claim recovered property should see the sergeant on duty between eight a.m. and five p.m.

"The pile of rubble formerly known as Angel Investigations. Seemed like as good a place to navigate from as any. You've got the directions to the Prom Princess' pad."

"Yeah," said Xander, yawning and stretching. "What time is it?" He reached into the little white paper bag on the floor at his feet, and, what a surprise, uncovered a leftover piece of chocolate pie. Ghost pie, that had somehow survived the trip without disintegrating, or winging its way to pie heaven, or whatever ghost pie did when it was outside the ghost diner… Xander ate with his hands, digging into the chocolate filling and licking it slowly off each finger, and Spike was hard put to remember the question at hand. Fingers…hands... Clock... What time was it.

"Just about eleven. Shock, horror, we're fashionably late. Big surprise, considering the Flintstone speeds you drive at."

"Shut up," Xander said succinctly, and kissed him. A mouthful of chocolate and Xander breath, warm and familiar, and reminiscent of the first time he'd had this taste in his mouth, though that time, there had been blood, too. He'd settle, Spike would. More than settle for this, and he bent his head to the task, licking chocolate filling from thin human lips that turned full when Xander smiled into the kiss. It lasted a lot longer than that first one, too. There was something to be said for training your human in the ways of holding his breath…

"Happy Anniversary. Or some sappy shit like that," Xander added manfully. From the glove box, he pulled a little plastic case. Spike ought to recognise the shape by now; he'd been subjected to them all evening: an audio cassette, wrapped in cellophane. "Don't think this means I like you or anything," Xander said sternly, handing it over to him. Spike yipped, just a little, when he saw the cover. Not in an unvamply way, or anything.

It may have been stupid, and girly, and something teenagers would do, but it had been Spike, after all, who pointed out the anniversary thing in the first place. On the Hellmouth, two weeks was nothing to sneeze at, really… He'd said all this stuff, done it all with Dru, and she'd eaten it up. Why did he have to keep fighting being a romantic twit when he was around the whelp? Sod it. Really and truly sod it. "I didn't get you anything, y'know. Sorry-- totally skint."

Xander shrugged, fingering Spike's collar. "I seem to recall some pretty mind-expanding ruin-the-basement-for-your-relatives lur-ur-ur-urve. I liked it. Wouldn't return it for store credit. "

"Mmmm. Let's say it was mutually acceptable. Which doesn't leave us even." What could Spike give that he had on him at the moment, aside from more mutually acceptable anniversary sex, which hadn't been sex at all, and they both damn well knew it? Xander wouldn't go for sex in a car on the street, Spike felt sure. Not yet, anyway. What did he have?

How 'bout the truth, pillock? It's free an' all. said the voice that had kicked his arse earlier this evening.

"One question. Any question. Straight answer," Spike proffered, laying his head on that metaphorical chopping block and hoping the blade was sharp. Don'taskifIloveyoudon'taskifIloveyoudon'taskifIloveyoudon'taskifIloveyoudon'taskifIloveyou…

Xander's eyes lit up with a glee far too unholy for one so young and soul-filled. "So… I could ask what happened to your car?"

Spike breathed a sigh of relief. Embarrassing, but not too sacrificial. "Nicked. On the street outside the bloody club where SP66 was playin', right after my little 'torture Angel to get the ring' plan went arse-end-up. Sad thing was, I even paid for the soddin' parkin' meter, like a… human, or somethin'. Come out and the DeSoto's nowhere to be seen. William the Bloody gets 'is motor jacked like any twit who leaves it on an L.A. streetcorner."

Xander looked at him with wide dark eyes, and snickered. "That's…fascinating. And it wasn't my question."

Brat. Little bastard. Whelp. Puppy-dog-faced hound of hell. He'd never been this bad when he was this age, Spike was sure. Honestly. Made him proud, it did, though it also gave him the urge to smack the grin off that laughing face. Or kiss it off, or something. He'd make such an adorable vamp... Oh, Christ, Spike, put that thought aside. Way aside. Far enough aside to get Angel's giant arse past it without even brushing skin. He grabbed Xander by the shirt collar and stared at him.

"One question. Straight answer. This time, you'd better play nice, or no deal."


Xander bit his lip, but the laughter still spilled out at Spike. He growled. He was doing this voluntarily, right? Spending time with the Slayer's pet Snoopy dog? Brain? Where've you got to, eh? Hello?

"Okay. Real question. What did you do when you were human?"

Sincere. He really wanted to know. Of course he did. Because Spike couldn't keep his mouth shut on all those bleedin' literary quotes. James Dickey oughtta be shot, he recalled prattling during their first time together. And why does a badass vampire know who wrote 'Deliverance,' eh? Why couldn't William the Bloody have been a supermarket stockboy? Pizza delivery bloke? Railroad bull? No, he had to be…

"You promise you won't tell a bleedin' soul, or even anybody without one?" Spike asked, wondering who exactly had decided to steal his voicebox when he wasn't paying attention, and Xander nodded eagerly.

What exactly was he doing, aside from acting suspiciously like the Poof, Spike wondered deliriously. He couldn't be about to… Yeah. Apparently, according to Snarky Brain Voice Number Three, also known as the little quiet one who once answered to Will, he was. That particular personality quirk had decided to commandeer not only Spike's head, but also his mouth, in an accent he hadn't used in a century for much besides faking his way into dinner reservations and doing dead-on impressions of Rupert Giles. Was this really worth it, in exchange for a copy of 'Pistol Whipped--Sex Pistols Live' ? Sorry, Sid…What was I thinkin'?

"I used to be…" he said, bringing his mouth very close to Xander's ear, "a very terrible poet."

'Agog' was such a nice word. Only two syllables, scanned well, you could use it in iambic pentameter without twisting up your line structure… and it rhymed a hell of a lot easier than, say, 'orange.' Off the top of his head, Spike came up with: And there sat Xander, all agog, respect for Spike flushed down the bog… Bit of schoolboy doggerel, but it served its purpose reasonably well, he thought. Not that he believed Xander had ever had any respect for him, as such, but this last little act of dementia had undoubtedly put the capper on any hope of Spike being able pretend he was the grown-up here. Or potential Sire, and no, and sit, stay, heel, dead brain.

But Xander was just chuckling gently at him. " A poet? You, Spike, are a complete psycho. "

"Well, yeah…" That was a given, wasn't it? But where was the ridicule, the smirking, the Xander laughing so hard his tight little backside fell off? Where was the abuse, dammit? He could deal with that!

"When you least expect it," Xander promised, eyes twinkling. "Don't worry. It's goin' on my list. Right up there with 'ticklish shins' and 'Actually talks back to Mr. Whipple when he says not to squeeze the Charmin.' "

"Well, who bloody wants to go around squeezin' bog rolls?" Thank God. He'd got his accent back. Maybe he could convince Xander it'd all been an hallucination from eating bad pie?

"Mrs. Whipple?"

Or maybe he should just quit while he was ahead.

*****

Message Actually Received On Cordelia Chase's Brand Spankin' New Digital Answering Machine And Cordless Phone With Built-In Caller ID and Last Number Re-Dial:

 

"Bzzt… Willow. Snccchtttt….Szot…went wrong… coming to L.A….Help…shhscht…. {unintelligible}. ….eeeeeee…..Spike's got Xander…. kill ….tomorrow. Call Angel…. {line noise, sound of Muzak cutting in from another digital channel: and I-eee-I will always love you-oo-ooo…} big danger … worried… {dead air} Beeeeeeeep!"

*****

"You sure this is it?" Spike was asking as they pulled to a stop in front of a nice-looking apartment building, almost as well-kept as Giles', in a halfway-decent neighborhood.

"Yes, Spike," Xander answered for the fourth time. Like he couldn't read his own handwriting? Xander had occasionally been known to stoop to the suspiciously feminine act of stopping to ask for directions, but this time it wasn't necessary.

"Can't figure how the Poof makes enough money savin' the downtrodden to put her up in a place like this. You reckon she's got herself a sideline? If I remember right, she dresses the part." Spike pulled the keys from the ignition, and Xander held out his hand.

Mine. My keys, my car, --Okay, my uncle's car, and won't he be happy about the extra miles. Then again, haha, I don't have to see him this weekend, do I-- my brain, my vampire who used to be a poet and had an accent like Giles'. Help. Total nuclear meltdown between the ears.

"And that, boys and girls, would be an example of what not to say to the woman who's putting us up for the weekend, if we don't wanna sleep on the sidewalk. Today's words to avoid include hooker, bint, and tasty-looking morsel," he pointed out.

"Well…" Spike sulked. "She called me a Cockney the last time I saw her. A Cockney!" He got out and opened the trunk, pulling out Xander's duffel bag with a wince. "Your entire bleedin' wardrobe, and I use the term loosely. Come on, already." Still not returning the keys, mind you.

Xander followed Spike up the walk and into the building, checking out the mailboxes on the way in. Yep, Chase, C. A 'Woman's Weekly' was sticking out of the not-quite shut mailbox door, and Xander pulled it out. Might as well come bearing gifts. At Cordelia's apartment door, he stood back behind Spike, purely to get a good look at Cordy's face when she opened the door and saw them. It had nothing to do with checking out Spike's butt. Nothing whatsoever. He wasn't about to reach out and…

Knock knock… And Xander snatched his hands back. Foiled again, dangit. The door swung open almost immediately, and Xander peered around Spike, to get his first look since graduation at Cordelia Chase, who was simply, as always, a knockout. She wore tight black jeans, cut low, and a glittery sleeveless top that didn't quite reach down to the top of the jeans, showing off a pretty lickable expanse of tan skin in between. To complete the ensemble, she was pointing a stake-loaded crossbow directly at Spike's chest.

"Would now be a good time to mention that I forgot to call before we left?" Xander croaked out.


This is the music chapter, of course. So. "Handyman" is by Otis Blackwell and Jimmy Jones. "Whatcha Gonna Do With a Cowboy" is by Chris LeDoux. "You May Be Right" is by the great BJ. Er, Billy Joel. Not the other BJ. Shame on you. And the quote about the perfect country and western song is from David Allen Coe's version of "You Never Even Call Me By My Name," which was written by the late (and much-missed) Steve Goodman.





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