Spike has never hesitated to tell him that he loves him. From the day he understood the feeling for what it was, Xander has known as well.
But then, Spike's always been like that. He would be the first to tell you that he falls in love too easily, enjoys it entirely too much for his own peace of mind.
Because the truth is, he likes being in love. He likes the thought that there's someone out there who needs him, whom he can take care of, who might look at him like the world starts and ends somewhere in his eyes. And although he's tried on occasion, he can't keep his feelings to himself. If he loves someone, they are everything in his world. There is no room for deceit, no need to hide, just a sincere desire to share what he is feeling with the one he is feeling it for.
Well, that and a rarely acknowledged need to confront his deep-seated and impossible to ignore insecurities.
And if there's some hint of apprehension the first time he tells Xander that he's fallen in love with him, it's quickly overshadowed by the smile that lights up the younger man's face. It wasn't like that with Buffy, or with Dru or even with Cecily. But Xander smiled, a brilliantly beautiful smile, honestly delighted. Like he hadn't even really thought about such a thing being possible.
Of course, the truth is he hasn't, wouldn't ever have considered the possibility. Sure, Spike is sleeping with him, has been on and off for months. He would even have gone so far as to say that they were friends, sometimes. But he'd never read anything more into it.
Then Spike had looked at him, looked into him, smiled and kissed him and said quite seriously that he loved him.
And really, he was thrilled. That someone loved him. It was a wonderful feeling. So he'd smiled and responded in kind. Told Spike that he loved him, too. It was even true, mostly. He does love Spike, has loved him for a while. Sure, he ignored it for the most part, certainly didn't let it interfere with how he went about living his life not a whole lot, anyway but it was there, simmering away beneath the surface.
And Spike's eyes lit up, his mouth stretching into a smile that had nothing to do with manipulation or arrogance or cynicism. It wasn't something that happened very often, and it almost convinced Xander that Spike really did love him back.
Spike didn't notice anything then, doesn't notice anything for a long time, really. Back then, Xander acted exactly how he would have wanted, exactly how he'd always imagined the person who loved him would act. He smiled happily every time Spike caught his eyes, watched him when he didn't think Spike was looking, protested when Buffy wanted him to do something dangerous, reached to hold his hand when they were alone or no one was looking. Wasn't ashamed to be seen with him, to be with him. And he told him that he loved him, every time he needed to hear it, whether it was after a patrol or a fight with Buffy or when they were wrapped up in each other's arms in their bed.
It was perfect, as long as he didn't look too closely.
So he didn't, look too closely. He was happy and there was no need to complicate things. He didn't question Xander's reluctance to talk about their relationship. If the couple of times he'd brought up the future Xander carefully changed the subject, he was prepared to let him. They had eternity. He could wait for as long as Xander needed.
And really, what was there to talk about? As far as he saw it, there were really only two options, and he was never going to let Xander die, so he just had to keep him safe until he was old enough to turn. He didn't wonder what Xander thought of this, because Xander said he loved him, said it and meant it. He knew that more surely than he knew anything. There was nothing that could disguise the sincerity in his boy's eyes as he said those words.
So it is the longest time before he decides he wants to actually talk about it. And only when Xander begins actively avoiding his questions, does he begin to doubt. He has to stop himself, then, from resorting to violence to get answers to questions he is increasingly convinced he doesn't want to ask.
Xander sees Spike's confusion. Truth is, he doesn't really understand it. As much as he loves Spike, he does understand what the relationship can and can't be. He's never invested everything that he is into it. They won't last for ever. If the hellmouth doesn't kill him before he's thirty, he will still die sooner or later. If he thought Spike would stay with him for ever, until he is old and grey and barely coherent, it might be different. But he knows Spike well enough by now to know that that is never going to happen. Spike doesn't have that much patience, even if he could look past the obvious physical difficulties. So Xander tries to tell himself he doesn't really want that either, that he doesn't want forever. That he has no desire to chain Spike to an ageing man and an increasingly empty existence.
All that aside, he isn't sure he's ready to be considering forever, even his kind of forever, anyway. Anya would seem to be proof enough of that.
He'd assumed that was given.
And yet Spike keeps wanting to talk about the future, as though he expects them to still be together ten years down the line. But more than that, he occasionally says something that Xander could swear sounded like the promise of more than ten years, more than a lifetime, and that confuses him, scares him if he's being honest with himself. Because there is only one way they can be together for longer than a lifetime, and that is a prospect he just doesn't know how to deal with.
So he keeps his mouth shut and tries to keep both of them focussed on what they do have, right now.
Because really, how can he tell Spike he doesn't want to be with him like that? That he's never even seriously considered it? How the very thought sends his mind reeling back to the face of his best friend in all the world as he plunged a stake into his chest? What the knowledge that Jesse was prepared to kill the one person he had most cared about does to him?
How is he supposed to deal with the fact that the man he loves wants to kill him? As much as he tries to tell himself it isn't like that, he never believes it, not in his heart. Oh, he believes that Spike doesn't see it that way, but that doesn't change the fact that he'll be dead.
He doesn't understand that Spike would consider turning him only because he loves him. Loves him more than he can ever remember loving anything in his life, except maybe his mother. He'd never wanted to turn Buffy, not really. He would have stayed with her for years, as long as she lived maybe. But he'd never thought about being with her for eternity.
But this time, he knows in his heart that even eternity will never be long enough as long as he can spend it with Xander.
Xander has thought about being a vampire before. Doing what he does, it's hardly something he can avoid. He doesn't even bother keeping track of the number of times he's been bitten or nearly bitten over the years. And he can admit that on occasion it hasn't seemed like such a bad fate. Especially after that whole alternate universe vamp-Willow, when he'd discovered that he was actually pretty good at it.
But he doesn't really want it. He might never have a normal life, would probably up and die of shock if that ever looked like it might happen, just to spite fate, but he doesn't want to be dead. To have to give up the sunlight, to live off the pain and sacrifice of others for the rest of his existence, to lose his conscience, his soul. And most of all, he never wants to risk hurting the people he loves.
Xander can't understand why Spike would think he'd want that, and Spike doesn't understand how Xander can say he loves him and not want forever.
Worse is the knowledge of what Spike would do if the chip was ever removed. Because Xander imagines he understands what it means to be a vampire, and maybe he's right. Maybe Spike wouldn't kill Buffy and the other Scoobies. Matter of fact, he's right to think they're all mostly safe now. But Xander isn't naïve enough to believe that Spike would completely deny his nature, would never kill again, just because Xander didn't want him to. Spike has never said that, never said it and never meant it.
And then there's the fact that every now and again he just can't bring himself to care. He might be walking along the street, driving, working at the site, and for a moment look around him and _see_ all the people. People he doesn't know, doesn't specifically care about, and he thinks, would it really be so bad if some of them died? It's gonna happen to all of them in the end, anyway. He doesn't know them, doesn't know their families, will never be affected by the void that their deaths leave behind. So what if Spike did kill them, if _he_ killed them?
And always, in the second after, he hates himself, feels dirty, glances away so he doesn't have to look them in the eye.
He wishes Spike loved him enough to stay with him for ever, to live something approaching a normal life with him, even though it's becoming increasingly obvious that he doesn't. But always, there are moments, when he wonders what it would be like if Spike turned him, killed him. And there are times when he wishes he loved Spike enough, or hated his friends enough, to let him, to give him his body and his life to do with what he willed, if that would make him happy.
Spike does believe that he's changed, has a vague idea that things would be different, but apart from the fact that he wants to spend it with Xander, the future isn't something he really questions.
For him, the future is simple.
For Xander, it is just way too complicated.
But neither of them know how to fix it, neither of them seem to have the courage to end the silent confusion, and neither of them have the strength or the will to simply end the relationship altogether.
So still they don't talk. Soon, even casual conversation becomes strained. Where there was easy laughter and stolen kisses, now they flinch away from careless touches and can't quite meet each other's eyes.
He tries, for the longest time he tries, but eventually Spike just can't deny the evidence before his eyes. Xander doesn't love him, probably never loved him. He still says it, buried inside him in the middle of the night, but Spike tells himself that what he'd always assumed was sincerity must be something else, even if he can't figure out what. And he still loves him so much, would do almost anything if it meant he could convince Xander to love him enough to stay with him. But he knows how well that's worked in the past, and he'd thought this time that he'd found something real, someone who loved him, accepted him for everything that he is.
Every time he looks at Xander, he sees the boy smiling at him, and even now he would swear that smile looked happy, like a man in love. But if there's no feeling behind it, he doesn't want to see it, doesn't want to feel his heart breaking. Not this time, not again.
And as Spike draws away, Xander assumes that, as he'd always known would happen sooner or later, Spike has grown tired of him, will soon be taking himself off to look for greener pastures. He wishes he could stop loving him, knows he'll get over it eventually, but he can't help trying to hold onto what they've got for as long as he can, can't stop trying to convince Spike to love him enough to stay with him.
At night, two men lie tangled in each other's arms, expressing in sleep the words that never seem to get said when it counts.
And two breaking hearts cry out one word, one wish and two achingly different desires to be with someone...