Sequel to And Afterwards Remember

What happens after "and they lived happily ever after?"




A Harsh Master

by
Melissa

Xander closed his eyes against the bright artificial light that suffused the plane. The low murmur of conversation was undercut by the strangely muted roar of the engines and the hum of the air conditioner. He'd loved flying the first time he'd been, eighteen months ago, after the destruction of Sunnydale. The way the plane shuddered and vibrated through his whole body, the way you were pushed back into the seat when it took off, the feeling of leaving it all behind. He didn't particularly like the thought that there was no-where to run if and, let's face it, probably when, they were attacked by demons, or terrorists, or the engine just went and fell off the plane, but as long as it he concentrated on not thinking about that, it had been a lot of fun.

Still, it was starting to lose its appeal. After months travelling to England, Europe, back to L.A., back to England and thence all around Africa--and he could only thank Christ the Watchers had agreed to spring for first-class, such as it was, all the way around that continent--he'd almost fainted at the relief when he'd realised he was back on civilised flights where the passengers weren't allowed to smoke. He could honestly say it was not as much fun as it'd cracked up to be.

He pressed his fingers to his temple as though that would somehow magically push the ache that had developed a good fifteen hours ago out of his head. Surprise, surprise, it wasn't working. It sill amazed him sometimes that his empty eye socket could hurt so much. Probably would have been more sensible to wear his glass eye, but he just couldn't do that when he was flying. Dawn had jokingly remarked that you wouldn't want the pressure to change suddenly while you were in the air and have it explode all inside your head. Which, okay, would so never happen, but really, gross much. He could practically feel his heart pounding out a steady, flaring beat behind the patch. He'd already taken more paracetamol than a healthy human being probably should, and at this stage he was wondering if he shouldn't fall back on that old classic; shitloads of alcohol.

It was the air, mostly. That artificial, recycled smell that after a while made him feel l

ike he was back in the boy's locker room after gym class in winter. That, and the lights, the air hosts, or whatever the hell they were calling them these days, who were alternately rude and irritating or over-friendly and cloying, the tiny little television screen, the total lack of sleep...

Although he could admit that little problem had less to do with the headache and more to do with thoughts of a certain blond vampire he'd left behind five months ago and who he could theoretically be seeing in less than two hours.

Not that he thought Spike would be there to meet him at the airport or anything. Last he'd heard from Spike had been last Friday, when he'd called for their weekly conversation. He'd left a message with Harmony the day before yesterday saying when he'd be in, but hadn't heard anything after that, although granted he had been on a plane like twelve hours after he'd called her. He'd spent the last twenty or so hours telling himself firmly that he was not going to pick up the weird looking phone in the back of the seat in front of him and call ... anybody. Spike either got the message or he didn't and he'd either be there or he wouldn't and Xander really didn't care either way. Really. There was no part of him that went all gooey at the thought of Spike slouching against a pillar, his arms folded across his chest, watching all the people with that kinda creepy speculative gaze he got when he thought no-one was looking. And if he could see in perfect, technicolour detail the way Spike would straighten when Xander came out of the gate, the small smile that would curve his lips and paint sparkling lights in his eyes ... then it was just 'cause he knew Spike really well ... and he wouldn't be there anyway so he had to get his kicks where he could. Not that he cared either way. Yeah, that was it.

He sighed and opened his eyes, looking out the window. There was still a slight pinkish tinge to the sky behind them, but they were flying directly into darkness. Who was he trying to kid, really? Next he'd be trying to convince himself that his flight was arriving at LAX a couple of hours after sunset just by chance. He'd given up on that argument a good hour ago.

He hadn't seen Spike in five months. Four weeks they'd had, one whole month for that thing that had started when Xander came back from the past with Spike's mystical cure for ghostliness. On the whole, it had been fucking fantastic. He snickered silently to himself. In more ways than one. Spike, it turned out, was almost as much fun as Anya when it came to sex. And it had been nice to be able to think of her without all the accompanying sense of loss. He knew that as long as she always held a piece of his heart, she would have wanted him to have someone. He could only hope that, where ever she was, she knew that she did. But while Spike wasn't nearly as old as she had been, in one hundred and some years he'd worked up a pretty thorough list of interesting ways to have sex. There were even a few things Anya had never talked about.

Then again, the great sex hadn't really come as such a surprise, it being Spike they were talking about. What had been something of a revelation was just how well they worked together all the rest of the time. That is to say, he'd known they were capable of getting along and he'd been shown firsthand on several occasions just what a good person Spike was, but still .... after three years of mutual pig-headed dislike, he kept expecting taunts that these days were closer to teasing, arrogance that was just plain cute when it wasn't directed at him and derisive dismissals that never even looked like they were planning on showing up.

Not that there weren't arguments. Hell, they wouldn't be Spike and Xander if there weren't arguments. He couldn't imagine being in any relationship where he wasn't fighting with the other person a good fifty percent of the time. But they were friendly arguments, as in the sort that friends have, because that's what they were. Friends. Not acquaintances, or allies, or roomMates--although there had been a fair bit of that going on, too--or even two people who disliked each other but used each other to get off; they were friends.

Spike had taken Xander out to dinner, eventually, had even paid for said dinner. Xander had gone out and bought Spike breakfast, heating it up and giving it to him in bed. Sometimes they'd swapped and Xander had ordered the dinner and Spike had made breakfast. It was a whole food thing. And that had made it seem more ... respectable, somehow. You didn't nick off with someone else's sweet and sour pork if it was just a one night stand, or, okay, more than one night, but still ... food meant relationship, Xander was sure of it.

Four week long relationship which had ended with Xander agreeing to help with finding the slayers in Africa. He hadn't thought it'd take all that long, and even if it had, he hadn't figured it could be all that hard to maintain a long-distance relationship until he got back. Spike had been pretty pissed when he'd told him what was going on, but that was okay. Xander would have been hurt if Spike hadn't seemed to care one way or the other. And he thought he'd seen something in the other man's eyes as they'd said goodbye. Something like loss, or pleading, or maybe, when he was alone in a cold, unfamiliar bed in the middle of the night, something that had looked like love. It was what had kept him going, given him hope. Sure, they talked once a week, but it wasn't the same. Every time, he wanted to end the conversation with 'I miss you' or 'I love you' but he never did and the closest Spike ever came was asking quietly when he'd be back. After three months he'd stopped asking even that.

He knew everything that had happened at Wolfram and Hart over the past months and Spike knew more about Africa than he'd probably ever wanted to know. They talked, they laughed, they occasionally reminisced or got a little wistful and knew they were both wishing they could at least be on the same continent, but damn it if they didn't both manage to act like totally straight men and never actually talk about anything they were feeling.

He wasn't even sure they were still, like, a couple. It wasn't like they'd made any commitments or anything. It was like that look in Spike's eyes. Like everything that'd been all explicit but unspoken five months ago. He'd swear to anyone that asked him that they'd had an understanding, but five months down the track he was starting to wonder just what exactly it was they had both understood. It was all kinda ... hazy. Or not hazy, but ... they were just pictures in his head. Every time he got them out to study they seemed smaller, further away, and he couldn't help but wonder just how much of what he remembered was what had actually happened and how much was pure wishful thinking. Something, let's face it, he really didn't suck at.

So there was this corner of his mind carefully preparing itself for the fact that Spike had moved on, found someone else. That was frantically building brick walls to keep out the crushing disappointment that threatened every time he thought, quite reasonably, that there was no reason to imagine Spike would have waited for him, that he'd probably slept with heaps of people over the past few months.

It might have been different if they'd ever called themselves anything but friends. But they hadn't. They hadn't been boyfriends, or lovers, or partners, or anything even vaguely suggesting serious, monogamous, long-term relationship. That was another one of those things Xander had just gone and taken for granted. Assumed Spike had taken for granted, too.

Truth was, he hadn't started questioning it until seeing Spike in a matter of days had become a certainty. Then, the insecurities had decided they'd been ignored long enough and banded into a union to diligently plague his every goddamn waking thought and all of the sleeping ones he could remember.

He didn't want to hope. Hope was for suckers. But god he wanted Spike to be there when he got off this plane.

 



Spike wasn't there.

 

He made himself walk through the doors and down the ramp to the seating area before he let his eyes flicker around all the milling people, glancing over families and friends and a few anxious faces, but not really seeing any of them. He wasn't there. He would have been pretty unmistakeable.

Xander wasn't disappointed. Really. Hope and expectation were two entirely different things, and this was nothing more than he'd expected. He squared his shoulders and glanced around for a sign to point him the way to the baggage terminal. And was shocked to see a young man in a black suit holding a plaque with his name on it. For a split second he wanted to ignore it. He had to clench his jaw to get rid of the tears he could feel pricking the back of his eye. Harmony must have sent it, which meant she hadn't forgotten he was coming, which meant she would have told Spike, which meant Xander couldn't imagine Spike wasn't here because he didn't know he was supposed to be ... That is to say, didn't know when his flight was getting in.

With a forced mental sneer at his foolishness, he slung his backpack over his shoulder and changed direction to stride over to the young man.

Xander knew what he looked like. Not especially tall, maybe, but months of travelling around Africa with various slayers had done wonders for his muscles, not to mention the dark tan, the black clothes, the eye patch. He just hadn't been able to resist the whole dangerous secret agent look. He wouldn't generally wear this stuff by choice, but it was funny, damnnit. A good Angel-ish glower, a bit of Spike-ish stalking, and he was giggling inside his head as the kid paled and seemed to shrink back into the wall.

"Mr Harris?" the man said faintly.

Xander cleared his throat, fighting back a smirk. "That's me," he replied shortly. "And you are?"

"Peter," he squeaked, his eyes going wide. Xander raised an eyebrow and waited. Peter straightened up, took a deep breath and tried to face him squarely. Xander grinned inwardly and gave the man a mental pat on the back. "Peter Hawley, sir. I'm with Wolfram and Hart. Miss Kendall told me I was to take you to your hotel, or anywhere else you want to go."

Xander smiled a little as he opened his backpack and rooted around for his phone. He looked up at Peter curiously. "You must be new."

The man nodded a little uncertainly. "Uh, yes sir. I started a few months ago now. I was told you were, that is, you know Angel, you're part of the Special Projects."

Xander narrowed his eye, slowly raising his head to stare at the young man. They were all terrified of Angel. Deadboy had apparently had to kill a few clients, a few employees in his first few months as boss. They'd probably been evil, chances were, considering they worked for an evil law firm and all, but the buzz from Harmony was that people generally tried to stay out of Angel's bad books these days. He tried on one of Spike's patented evil smiles, feeling just a little bad about it when Peter got a slightly panicked look in his eyes, but he figured, hey, the kid was going to meet things scarier than him before too long, and most of them wouldn't just be playing with him. Fear was only going to get him killed. So he held the man's gaze as he flipped open his phone and hit the speed dial for Harmony's desk. "Oh, the boss man and I go way back, Pete."

"Wolfram and Hart, Angel's office, this is Harmony, how may I help you?" Harmony's voice chirped in his ear and he dropped the scary killer act and grinned.

"Hey, Harmony! It's Xander." He turned his attention to the conversation, smirking inwardly when he saw Peter staring at him in shock.

"Xander! How are you? Are you in L.A. yet?"

"I'm dead on my feet, Harm, something I suspect you can relate to," he grinned. "My flight just landed, and can I just express my deep and abiding gratitude for being on the ground again. I don't think my ass is ever going to be the same."

Harmony giggled. "Eeew, Xander. That is so much more than I needed to know. Did you find the car I sent for you?"

"Yep," he replied, "that's why I'm calling. Let me just put him on." Peter was looking at him with wide eyes, but didn't seem overly surprised when Xander handed him the cell phone.

Xander listened closely. "Uh, good evening Miss Kendall ... Peter Hawley, ma'am ... Yes, ma'am ... Ah, Faure, In Paradisum," he hummed a few bars, "yes, ma'am ... Of course not ... Thank you, Miss Kendall ..."

Xander took the phone back with a wicked little smile. Peter swallowed, but met his eye. "So, am I set, Miss Kendall?" he asked into the phone.

"You're good, Xan," she reported cheerfully. "That's the one I sent."

He relaxed and sent Peter a genuine smile. It apparently wasn't as reassuring as he'd meant it to be, but the man did seem to relax a little. "Cool. I know I can trust you to hunt him down and make sure he dies in all sorts of painful and disgusting ways if I turn up missing or dead." He didn't stop smiling, but Peter was apparently not stupid enough to miss the fact that he was entirely serious, judging from the way he turned a little green around the gills.

"Aw, Xander, that's so nice of you." He smiled, but couldn't help rolling his eyes. She might be a mean, self-centred, not highly intelligent bitch, but he had to admit, there was no-one in the world quite like Harmony.

"Thanks for this, by the way, Harm. I think being an evil creature of the night has truly helped you grow as a person," he teased.

She laughed. "You coming in to the office, Xan? We all can't wait to see you."

He hesitated a moment as he had to quash the immediate desire to ask whether or not Spike was there. "Is, I mean, is everyone there, then?" Jesus Christ, even to him that sounded pathetic. He jerked his head at Peter and they started walking towards the baggage carousels as he kept talking.

Harmony knew about his and Spike's ... thing. They all did. Not that they'd told anyone, but Fred had taken all of two seconds to figure it out, Wes and Gunn had caught them making out in the elevator and it had all just gone downhill from there. Although, as the whole elevator thing had shown in high quality digital video all over the building, neither of them were all that worried about keeping it a secret or anything, Spike's protestations aside.

"Oh!" she said, sounding suddenly apologetic. "My god, Xander, I completely forgot! Spike's been out of town the past couple of days. Emergency thing up in Cleveland. He won't be back until later tonight. He was, like, so pissed when Angel told him no one else could go. I think he really wanted to be here to meet you." Harmony was actually all for their relationship. Apparently anyone was better than the Slayer, complete with distasteful grimace. Personally, Xander thought she was so chuffed about the whole thing because it made her little Blondie bear gay, but whatever.

Xander had to clear his throat of the lump that had suddenly formed. He was aware that he was now grinning stupidly. "Is everything okay? In Cleveland, I mean. Nothing to worry about?"

"Nah, it's all good, I think. Just a little apocalypse. Nothing that Faith girl can't handle, according to Angel and Spike."

"Oh, well, that's, that's great then. When is he getting in?"

"Ah, I wrote that down... um, oh! Here we are. Five fifty am. Flight 452, gate 34." Xander grimaced a little. He so didn't want to sit in the airport for the next ten hours. He was already practically falling asleep on his feet. And Spike would probably need to get some rest, anyway. He wouldn't want to be met at the airport. That was probably just way too needy and girly and he really didn't want to push or anything. He'd go to his usual hotel room and hook up with Spike and all the rest of the gang tomorrow after he'd had some sleep.

"Oh, um, okay, then. I need to get some sleep, but I'll come in first thing tomorrow. Do you think you could tell him I got here, when he gets into the office? I mean, tell everyone."

Harmony sounded a little surprised. "You're not going to meet him at the airport? You haven't seen each other in like five months. Oh my God! Xander! You didn't break up, did you? Spike never said anything. And he's always talking about you. You guys were so cute together. That would be just so sad."

Wait. Spike talked about him? That was ... that was good. "No, Harm, we haven't broken up I don't think. It's just ..." Suddenly he needed to tell someone. "I don't know if he still wants me." And could he sound more like a girl?

Harmony snorted. "My god, Xander, are you, like, totally deficient? This is Spike we're talking about, right? Men! You never want talk about anything. Shouldn't you be all share-y now you're both gay?"

Okay, then ... That was even better. He felt his headache start to ease up. Maybe he really was worrying for nothing. He took a deep breath of wonderfully fresh air as Peter led the way out of the building. The car was parked directly outside the doors. Illegally, except that they had one of those passes that let them park anywhere. "Okay, well, I really do need some sleep, but maybe I will try to make it back here. Five fifty, you said, yeah?"

"Gate 34. He really did miss you, Xan," she said sincerely.

"Yeah," he said, choking back way too many emotions. He was tired, physically and mentally exhausted, his head was better, but was still killing him and with Harmony, of all people, being so quietly understanding, he was pretty sure that if the conversation went on for too much longer he was just going to break down right here in the car park. "Thanks, Harm. I'll see you tomorrow."

"No prob, Xan. Have a good sleep."

He flipped the phone shut and closed his eyes for a moment before turning to where Peter was holding the door for him. All his stuff was already in the trunk. He slipped into the front seat and waited while the driver got behind the wheel. When he turned his head Peter was looking at him strangely, like he'd suddenly discovered that grown-ups were people, too. "Home, sir?" he asked quietly.

"Yeah, Pete. Home."

 


 



He was still exhausted when his alarm went off nine hours later. He could hear the beeping invading his dreams, but it took him a while to wake up enough to reach over and fumble around with the button to make the thing shut up. Not bothering to open his eyes, he heaved a deep breath and rolled onto his back. He took a minute to seriously wish he could go back to sleep, then reluctantly dragged open his eyelids. Resisting the impulse to just lie there in the dark until his brain decided it wanted to start working again, he pushed back the covers and sat up with a soft groan. Getting up to meet Spike at the airport had seemed like such a good idea last night. Right, Spike. Going to meet Spike. The thought woke him up a little more and he carefully got out of bed, rubbing his hands over his face as he staggered out of the bedroom, bent on finding himself some coffee.

He glanced into the living room as he made his way over to the kitchen and stopped short. There was someone lying on his sofa.

His brain wasn't up to cognitive thought this early in the morning, but luckily his feet suddenly developed a mind of their own and before he knew it he was standing in front of the coffee table, staring down at a face he hadn't seen in way too fucking long.

For the longest moment he was just frozen, looking, soaking him up, letting his presence just wash over him, seep into him and suddenly Xander was lighter than he'd felt in a long time. The figure was on his back, his head cushioned on one soft leather armrest, his pale, bare feet just resting on the other, one arm dangling over the edge, one curled against his chest and his skin was so smooth, so clear, catching the moonlight and floating like fallen leaves against all that darkness. His eyes were closed, but his face was open. It was one of those things that had fascinated Xander back when. How he could look so young. In the dark, in the calm embrace of peaceful dreams, that was when he'd smiled at the little glimpses of William, who was always there, but wasn't always so noticeable.

Spike ...

The thought took an age to form in his mind, but as it did he smiled.

Spike. It was running around his head. SpikeSpikeSpikeSpike. And there were ... things ... he should be ... but ... Spike. And he was grinning, or maybe he was crying, but probably not, 'cause Spike Spike would laugh at him if he did that, so grinning, and loosing control of his knees and landing with a bump on the coffee table and Spike -Spike- was opening his eyes, long fingers curling, eyelashes that he couldn't see fluttering, but he didn't need to see them, he'd forgotten about them, couldn't believe he'd forgotten about Spike's -Spike- eyelashes, but he remembered them now, remembered everything now ... Spike SpikeSpikeSpike ... and eyes ...

Then Spike was awake, from asleep to fully alert, but relaxed, staring at him, and he was still grinning.

Spike didn't move, didn't do anything, but suddenly there was a sparkle in his eyes and Xander couldn't believe he'd forgotten that, too. He'd thought he'd remembered it, but it had faded and this was better, best, his and he was back to -Spike-.

"Hey, Xan." Rough, smiling, and Xander was shaken back to something approaching rationality by the so faint no one else would even think to hear it undercurrent of hesitation in Spike's voice.

The grin faded into a smile. "Hey, Spike." Warm, trying to be reassuring and okay, maybe just the tiniest bit teary.

Spike silently sat up so they were facing each other and Xander reached out a hand to his shoulder. He had to stop uncertainly before he got there, but a look at Spike's carefully bank face had him finishing the movement and then there was black fabric but underneath there was corded steel and that muted warmth that was like nothing he'd touched in five months and the tip of one finger tracing over satiny skin.

Spike's breath hitched and it was laughter, probably laughter, because Xander wasn't crying either, he was smiling, grinning, laughing and pulling Spike into his arms.

They had to stand up, because there wasn't enough contact and the exceptionally small part of Xander's brain that hadn't melted into a little puddle of goo when Spike's arms had gone around him was wondering just how much pressure human ribs could take before they cracked. Thankfully, though, it was being cheerfully ignored by said puddle of goo.

Spike's hands were in his hair and running over his back and Xander could feel him breathing, his chest making jerky movements and soft exhalations against his cheek and his neck and then his knees buckled because Spike kissed him.

He'd had doubts, he could remember having doubts. And he was sure they'd come back, 'cause that's what doubts did, but for the longest moment there was just Spike, kissing him, and it was ... it was everything.

So he kissed back, tracing his lips over Spike's, pulling back then plunging back in and letting himself be taken, taking back. It was soft and wet, cool and warm, and tasted like smoke and salt and Spike and yes, like sex, but that was for later, because now they were crawling inside each other, lost and found and clear as crystal.

He had to break away, breathless, laughing, buried his face in Spike's neck, heard the whispered confession, "I missed you, god, I missed you," and goddamnit, it was his party and he'd fucking well cry if he wanted to.

There was someone in the back of his brain coming up with semi-witty comebacks to that; 'Are you sure? I never would have guessed', 'Well, naturally, who wouldn't miss my gorgeous self', 'Awww, I knew you loved me'. Thankfully, or maybe not, the record hit a groove at that point and another looping track was added to the -Spike- that still circled in search of resolution.

But they must have been behind all those brick walls he'd been working on, because someone in the front of his brain took it upon themself to make sure he didn't entirely screw up this relationship and murmured in Spike's ear, "Good, 'cause I missed you too."

He moved his head back to find Spike smiling at him, just smiling, like he was happy. It was a smile that needed kissing, like most of Spike's smiles, come to think of it, but Xander was sure that was beside the point. He grinned, it wasn't like he needed an excuse in any case. It was gentle, this time, slow and a little hesitant and almost like learning the shape of his lips, the curve of his teeth, the sweep of his tongue and all the hidden spots that made him moan and mewl and make his eyes slip shut all over again. All those things he'd almost forgotten to remember.

His own eyes slipped shut and for a while he just ... lost himself. It was soft and sweet and so much like all those dreams that had accompanied his every sleeping moment in Africa, that he'd always tried to go back to, had hated to wake up from, because when he did Spike was never there.

But in his dreams Spike never stopped kissing him and he was left momentarily disoriented as lukewarm lips pulled away from him and lukewarm fingers traced patterns over his face and urged him to open his eyes

"Spike!" He honestly didn't mean to sound that surprised and grimaced when Spike raised an amused eyebrow.

"Uh, yeah. Just who exactly did you think you were snogging?" Xander shook his head to clear it. "Just so's I know who to go out and kill, you understand."

Xander rolled his eyes. "Spike, what are you doing here?"

Spike smirked and raised an eyebrow. It was dark enough that Xander almost didn't see the hurt that flashed through his eyes. "Heavens, you really haven't been payin' attention, have you? I'll fill you in, shall I? Don't know what you were doin' before, mind, but I was asleep, woke up to find you staring at me, then we pretty much moved into the snogging, which you apparently missed because you were thinking about something else."

"No, Spike, I mean why aren't you on a plane about to land at the airport, where I was going to meet you, after having gotten up at some ungodly hour, and are, instead, here in my hotel room, sleeping on my couch. When did you get back?"

Spike's eyes softened and he shrugged. "Got an earlier flight. Harm called, told me when you'd be in. Wanted to see you. Wanted to meet you, but the Poofter put paid to that plan. Next best thing, yeah?"

Spike really had wanted to meet him. He would have been there. Xander hadn't believed ... he'd hoped ...  and this, yeah...  the next best thing.

"Oh, right," he said stupidly, conscientiously not letting the enormous grin building in his chest break out on his face. He was cool, he was calm, no girly men here, no sirree. "So, uh, cool. How, how've you been then? I figure if you're here the apocalypse must be all averted and stuff." He immediately felt like a complete moron, but Spike didn't seem to really be paying attention to what he was saying. Matter of fact, he'd be pretty damn surprised if the vampire had heard a single word he'd said. And with Spike staring at him like that, like something … precious, he was hard pressed to remember … there was something they were talking about …

He could only watch helplessly as long, cool fingers brushed airily over his neck, traced the line of his mouth, combed through the hair falling over his forehead. Spike wasn't looking him in the eyes, but he couldn't look anywhere else. Blue eyes followed the path of fingers, soft, surprised and suddenly Xander wondered if Spike had forgotten him, too. But that couldn't be right, could it, 'cause Spike was a vampire and vampires remembered everything. But his eyes were bright and happy and his face was almost like a mirror, reflecting the joy at having found something you'd worried you'd lost.

His mind had fallen silent. There was nothing but this. Then Spike met his eyes.

He couldn't remember moving forward, wasn't even aware of the intent, but then it didn't matter anyway because Spike was pressed up against him and was devouring him, hands gripping savagely, tongues delving passionately. Desperately. Then thank fuck they were moving towards the bedroom and there was no need for conversation, which for once was a good thing, 'cause there was only one thing going through his head right now.


His fingers fumbled at the buttons of his shirt, or possibly Spike's shirt, it was all good, especially when the damn things finally decided to cooperate and he could run his hands over smooth, cool skin. Spike gasped as he raked his fingernails down his chest, flicking over his nipples and leaving faint red marks that were probably fading even as he was busy not caring a damn and licking his way from the little dimple in Spike's chin, over the cut glass shelves he liked to pretend were cheekbones and to the little scar that was the only thing he could never see William in.

Spike, practical individual that he was, took the opportunity to suck on his neck. The minute part of Xander's brain that was still capable of rational thought took a moment to wonder that he didn't even bother to worry about that any more, wondered at how easy it had been to trust Spike, after everything he had done, everything he was. If he had been more rational, he might have wondered whether or not that was truly a good thing.

He pulled his mouth away with a breathless laugh when Spike started teasing the skin of his neck with the tip of his tongue. Right now he couldn't even remember what he'd been worried about. Spike tucked his fingers under his waistband and smirked at him as he continued to walk them back into the bedroom.

"You ain't gonna start babbling are you, Mate?"

It took him a moment to get that, but then he smirked right back. They'd been in this room the first time they'd had sex. Spike had almost put an end to the whole thing when he'd realised Xander had been babbling and assumed that meant he was nervous and didn't want to go through with it. This time, Xander recognised it for the out that it was and was struck again by just how thoughtful Spike could occasionally be. He was always tempted to call him on it, but figured that was probably the right way to pretty much guarantee it never happened again.

Honestly, it had occurred to him to wonder if they should be taking about this at all, but jeez, he was still a guy. Sex now talk later had always worked in the past. He ignored the snide little voice that said, 'Yeah, if never counts as always,' and murmured, "Spike, up 'till two seconds ago, I was officially speechless."

Spike raised an eyebrow. "Well, I might just have to make note of that in my diary, Luv. Thing like that happens once in a lifetime."

Xander glared at him, although he could feel the laughter sparkling in his eyes. "Spike, you're babbling."

Spike's eyes widened, and Xander could feel the grin as he bent in an attempt to swallow the undoubtedly droll comment on his lips. A quick glance over Spike's shoulder told him they'd managed to make it to the bed, so he promptly pushed the other man backwards, grinning at the startled expression and grinning wider at the lascivious leer that took it's place a moment later. Spike propped himself up on his elbows and spread his legs.

Xander's mouth went dry. Spike was probably smirking. Spike was always smirking, damn, evil, undead ... guy ... His fingers were sure as hell smirking at him. They were also undoing buttons and a zipper and oh so thoughtfully getting rid of jeans and briefs, though, so Xander thought he might be prepared to forgive them just this once.

"Oh dear." Xander's head snapped up. Spike was regarding him with amusement. "Lost you again, haven't I?" he said, shaking his head regretfully. "Keep this up, I'm gonna start thinkin' you're not happy to see me at all."

Look at that, he was right about the smirk after all, Xander thought distantly. His fingers went to his jeans. Spike's eyes followed, grew large, dark and maybe something else, but then Xander was stepping out of his jeans and his boxers and onto the bed and since his vocal chords didn't appear to be working figured he could safely use his mouth to show Spike just how really not unhappy he was to see him again.

He licked and nipped his way around Spike's navel, relishing the little spasms as muscles clenched and relaxed, marvelling as always at how cool the skin was, how the blood rose to the surface with just the barest suggestion of heat and suction and disappeared almost instantly as he moved his mouth away, the way Spike's chest heaved, sucking air like his life depended on it, though if he didn't Xander supposed he might have a harder time making all those little moans that always managed to turn him on faster than a teenage boy in a room full of naked women, or a room full of naked Spikes. Mmmm, a room full of naked Spikes ... he took a nipple between his teeth then proceeded to suck thoughtfully as he devoted a little brain power to that mental image.

He was brought rather rudely back to himself when Spike apparently decided that that just wasn't good enough and growled at him. He looked up innocently.

"And what were we thinking about this time, Luv?" Spike asked, his voice dark, his eyes intent, his fingers combing softly through Xander's hair.

Xander knew he had a good answer this time, and he spoke without thinking. "You." He got a kind of a weird feeling at the look Spike got in his eyes. To cover it, he grinned. "A room full of naked Spikes, and they were all mine."

Spike growled again and flipped them over, moulding his body over the top of Xander's. "Better believe it Xan," he muttered, so soft Xander barely heard it. But before he could let it sink in, they both gasped as their dicks bumped against each other. They thrust at the same time. Xander's hand found it's way to the back of Spike's neck and pulled him down for a searing kiss, even as his hips continued to move restlessly.

Then he froze as something suddenly occurred to him. He noticed that Spike stopped moving almost as soon as he did, but didn't give it much thought. He looked up into eyes that were oddly blank and grimaced. "You'll never believe what I haven't got around to buying any more of yet."

He did, however, notice when the body on top of his relaxed suddenly and even in the half light from the other room he could see that relief that was instantly quashed. Not really knowing what else to do, he wrapped his arms around Spike's torso and started moving his hips again. Part of him wanted to frown, wondering just why Spike was being so considerate. If he really hadn't got any in the last five months, shouldn't he be as eager to get this done as Xander? Although, he wasn't being considerate so much as he was being ... hesitant, which was just weird.

But Spike was grinning and leaning over the side of the bed to dig around in his jeans, or so Xander assumed, 'cause a second later he reappeared with a little tube that looked brand new and would so not last them very long, but was more than good enough for right now.

Xander grinned back. "Well, aren't you the regular little Boy Scout," he said, plucking the little tube from Spike's fingers to break the seal.

He shivered when Spike's eyes went dark with memories and promise. "Oh, I got knots they never taught you in the Scouts, Mate."

Xander could personally vouch for that. Not that they'd had much time to explore that particular kink, but the couple of times Spike'd tied him to the headboard and fucked him through the mattress he had certainly made a point of saying just how impressed he was with the man's knot-tying skills. 'Course, he'd then had to threaten to withhold sex to keep Spike from telling him where he'd picked up said oh-so admirable skills, but it had certainly been worth it.

Xander smirked. "Well, in honour of this little trip down memory lane, you got a preference, Spike?" he asked, already squeezing the lube onto his fingers. He knew what he wanted. He wanted to be inside Spike, like that first time, right here in this hotel room, in this bed. Wanted to pound into him as he stared into his eyes and forget that they hadn't seen each other in five months and that he didn't know what that meant for them, what Spike was thinking, all the things that might have changed ...

But Spike was kissing him and rolling off him and looking at him and waiting and wanting and he didn't say anything, but it was enough for Xander. Then Spike bent his legs and placed his feet flat on the mattress and a little corner of Xander's brain commented, 'Well, you don't get much clearer than that.'

He fisted Spike's cock as his fingers pushed into Spike's body, slowly sliding in and out, stretching, and it was so tight, just like that first time. He didn't take his eyes off Spike's face, couldn't, as the other man's eyes slipped shut and he moaned deep in chest. Then, when he didn't think he could take it any longer, he moved his body over Spike's, his fingers slipping free even as Spike's eyes slipped open and smiled at him, even through the haze of desire and need and impatience. One leg draped itself easily over his shoulder as the other gripped him tightly around his waist. Then he was guiding himself inside and Spike was arching up and gripping his arms and his hair and their teeth crashed together as he slid in as far as he could go.

Xander propped himself up with one trembling arm and, not taking his eyes from Spike's face, set up a slow rhythm. Spike met him thrust for thrust, repeating "Xander" over and over again, like breathing.

"Spike," Xander groaned, his hips speeding up in spite of himself. Viking or not, he hadn't had sex in months and with Spike actually here, with him, under him and so goddamn much better than dreams or memories he'd be lucky to last minutes. But from the look on Spike's face, the way his hips were slamming upwards, maybe it didn't really matter. "God, Spike."

Pounding now, both of them on the edge, Xander looked into dazed eyes, snaked a hand in between them to place his hand on a cock that felt almost harder than his own, if that was possible and with a rough pull murmured, "Will," because even after all this time he knew what that did to Spike and because it was at times like this, when there were no defences, no shields or masks that he could see him, see all that Spike was, all that he had been and all that he always would be, no matter how hard he tried to deny it.

And Spike shouted and arched up, shooting streams over Xander's hand while his ass clenched around Xander's dick and drew his orgasm from him along with a muffled groan.

They lay panting, slick with Xander's sweat for a long moment before Xander could work up the enthusiasm to pull out and roll over to the side.

Spike stretched languorously, grinding his head softly into the pillow and smiling contentedly. "Fuck, that was good, Mate. Been way too long."

Xander made a soft noise of agreement, turning his head slightly to look at the man beside him. Spike's hair was sticking up in little untidy gel-filled clumps. Before he'd left he'd been working on making Spike give up the whole hair product fetish, but it was pretty obvious he had given up on that with very little in the way of second thoughts. It was a shame, really. Spike had such nice hair when he wasn't trying to make it resemble a piece of plastic. He reached over and fingered a little patch into a stiff spike, mostly ignoring the giddy feeling when Spike just turned his head to give him better access and smiled at him sleepily.

He could feel his own eyes start to lower the longer he lay there not moving and as much as he really wanted to stay awake to savour this moment, there was just no way ...

He opened his mouth to speak, but had to roll a wry eye as it took that moment to release a jaw cracking yawn.

Spike chuckled and moved to thread his fingers through the hand Xander was still resting near his head. He raised it to his lips before pulling it onto his chest. "Plenty of time for that now, Xan," he said softly and Xander had to smile as he realised that there really was.

"Not going anywhere," he murmured even as his eyes slipped shut.

The quiet, "No, Luv," followed him into his dreams.

 




They didn't get into the office 'till just before dawn the next day. Angel glared at them, looking all disappointed that Spike hadn't come straight there to tell him about what had happened in Cleveland, but like he hadn't really expected anything better from his irresponsible childe anyway. Spike rolled his eyes and ignored it, Xander grinned suggestively at the man, snorting when Angel grimaced at him. He didn't know what Angel found more distasteful, the fact that he was sleeping with Spike, or the fact the Spike was sleeping with him. Either way, it was pretty damn funny.

The rest of the gang met him with smiles and hugs. Fred was bouncing around the office, Lorne had an arm slung over his shoulder and Wes and Gunn were standing watching them with matching grins on their faces. He noticed in a vague way that Eve wasn't there, but didn't give it much thought.

Harmony had greeted him with a bone crushing hug the second they'd stepped out of the elevator. He'd had to look pleadingly at Spike over her shoulder when he couldn't pry her arms away from him. Spike had smirked and simply tapped her on the shoulder.

"If you squeeze all the air out him I will have to kill you horribly, Pet," he'd said mildly, a dangerous glint in his eyes.

Xander had had to roll his eyes at the utter absurdity of dating a vampire, but Harmony had let him go, so he figured he could let Spike get away with it this time.

They chatted for a little while, but everyone had jobs to do, so with promises to meet sometime for drinks, Angel, Spike and Xander were left alone on the office. Xander stood up and wandered over to the window. He had something he wanted to say, but he really wasn't sure how Angel would take it. He could practically feel the other vampire drilling holes in his back with his eyes, so he turned around, schooling his face to a neutral expression, or at least as neutral as he could make it.

Taking a deep breath he moved to stand in front of Angel's desk. "Spike told me about Cordelia." He closed his eyes against the tears he could feel welling. It had been less than a month ago Spike had called and told him about what happened to her. It had hit him harder than he had expected it to, not that he'd thought about Cordelia dying much, but it was the old feeling that everyone he loved ended up hurt or dead and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He knew it wasn't true, not really, but Buffy, Anya, now Cordelia. It was almost a relief Spike was already dead. Or, at least … it would be if he was in love with him … which he wasn't. He didn't think. But he'd known Angel was in love with Cordelia as well, or had been and against his better judgement he'd found himself feeling for the vampire. 'Course, he knew Angel wouldn't appreciate his sympathy, but he had to say something. For Cordy, if for no one else.

Angel was just looking at him, his face stony. Xander didn't let it bother him too much. It wasn't like the man had a whole lot of expressions to draw on. "I want to see her," he said quietly, meeting Angel's eyes. "I need to say goodbye."

Angel looked a little surprised, his mouth opened once, slipping shut a moment later. He supposed Angel had been expecting him to say he was sorry, which he was, but he knew that wasn't what the vampire needed or wanted to hear. He was sorry she was dead, sorry he hadn't been there to see her before it happened, sorry for a lot of things really, but it wasn't his fault, and his regrets had very little to do with Angel. Truth was, he wanted Angel to take him to where they'd buried her, but he didn't know how to ask for that. Didn't really even understand why he wanted it, except that here was something they had in common. Not something good, exactly, except that it was, kind of. It was Cordelia. Suddenly Angel looked away, but Xander thought he saw something there, something old and tired and inexpressibly sad. "Of course," he said quietly. "I'll take you tonight."

He nodded his thanks, finally smiling and relaxing. "I'll come by at sunset. In the meantime I s'pose you'll want Spike to tell you all about that whole averting the apocalypse thing he tells me he's been doing, which I am deliriously happy to say I do so not need to hear about, so I'll see you both later." He flashed a grin at Spike and took a step back towards the door. Spike, slumped in one of the leather armchairs in front of Angel's desk, just smirked at him.

"Not interested in hearing about how the world almost ended this time, Mate?"

Xander rolled his eyes. "No, no I'm not. If I didn't see it, it didn't happen," he said firmly.

Angel frowned. "That's not really a very productive attitude, Xander."

Spike leaned back, put his hands behind his head. "Thought saving the world was like your mission statement or somethin', Mate," he grinned. "Shouldn't you be all over this, report back to the Council and whatnot?"

He snorted and took another step back towards the door. He knew they were only teasing him. Or at least, he knew Spike was. Who the hell knew what Angel was thinking? "Hey, don't you be telling me about saving the world. Or do I have to remind you both that I am the only one in the room who hasn't tried to destroy it?"

"Oi!" Spike interrupted, "When did I ever try to destroy the world?"

Angel smirked at him. "The Judge?"

Spike looked surprised. "Huh, right, forgot about that." Then his face cleared and he waved a hand dismissively. "Doesn't count, anyway. Wasn't going to destroy the world, was just going to kill off all the humans. And it was mainly Dru's little project anyway... and yours after you showed up, Wanker."

Angel just raised an eyebrow. "Planning to kill off humanity doesn't count? Wasn't that what The First was going to do? Guess you really didn't save the world after all then, huh Spike?"

Spike turned to glare at Angel. "Certainly didn't save it from becoming a peaceful paradise to the eternal gratitude of the most evil organization in the world."

Angel tensed up and glared right back. "I've been saving the world for the past five years--"

"After spending how many decades with a soul sittin' around feelin' sorry for yourself? Whereas I was savin' the world when I was still evil..."

Xander rolled his eyes. This sounded distinctly like an old disagreement. It never ceased to amaze him how two people who had been alive for so long could turn into five year olds when they got together. He couldn't help but wonder what they must have been like back in the day, then snickered silently as he imagined a five year old Angel and Spike running around in those silly billowing shirts, playing knock and run, obstructing traffic, picking pockets, killing small animals ...

He cleared his throat as it looked like they were both about to get out of their chairs. Although he couldn't help the abstract thought that these two could probably keep him in a job if he just let them go around smashing the furniture over each other. He almost gave into the smirk as they turned to glare at him. "Guys, let's bear in mind that I've been saving the world for longer than the both of you. Good forty percent of my life, I'd say. You two've got nothing but catching up to do."

Angel frowned dismissively. "But you're not a vampire, with or without a soul."

Xander did smirk then as he raised an eyebrow. "No, no I'm not. So what does that say about me?" He had to wonder about these two sometimes. Half the time they seemed to have no idea why they were bothering to fight at all, although Xander knew he'd explained it to Spike at least once. They both looked at him, frowning.

"That you're an idiot, right an' proper," Spike eventually chuckled, relaxing back into his chair. Xander had the fleeting urge to step over and leave him with a kiss on the cheek. Angel was giving him an odd look, but strangely enough it looked like he actually understood the point Xander'd been trying to make, not that he cared either way. It wasn't his job to make sure Angel didn't stray from the path to redemption or whatever he was on, or to reassure him about his actions. He'd do it for Spike because it was, well, Spike, but that was different. Besides, Angel wasn't as stupid as he looked, something Xander was slowly coming to understand. Being around Spike seemed to shave a whole lot of points off his IQ, but no one stuck around this long, kept fighting even through all the shit Angel'd been through, without some understanding of why he was doing it.

"Where you off to, then?" Spike asked as Xander made to turn back towards the door.

"Shopping," he said philosophically. "Not my most favourite of activities, but this puny human frame of mine needs sustenance and the supermarket is the only thing that's going to be open at this ungodly hour of the morning. Then I dunno. Call me when you're done."

Xander felt his insides go all pleasantly mushy at the way Spike smiled at him then. "Will do, Mate." It was the one that reminded him of William, that made him think things like 'love' and 'forever' and, oddly enough, didn't fill him with an unholy terror akin to standing in his tuxedo waiting to get married to the woman of his dreams. But then, he didn't really see it often enough for that, and the feelings it inspired were only ever fleeting. He knew Spike didn't see him that way. They weren't in love, certainly weren't planning on getting married and could hardly be together forever in any case, what with the whole, him getting old and dying. Which was fine with Xander. Just because it wasn't going to last forever didn't mean it wasn't worthwhile.

He smiled back. "You two try not to kill each other. Although if you do feel like destroying some of the building, bear in mind that I've just got back and will be looking for some work to pass the time. Considering they're a worldwide institution and two of my very close friends are rebuilding it, council pay is shit."

"Ah, don't worry Mate," Spike leered, "I'll look after you. We'll just sell a few of those videos."

Xander winked right back, much to Angel's disgust, if the grimace on his face was anything to go by. "You mean you'd share me with all those people? Why Spike, I think I'm hurt."

Spike shrugged, smirking. "Ah, you're probably right. Should save 'em for when we really want The Poofter, here, to do something. Just imagine what he'd pay us to destroy them forever."

Xander snorted at the pained expression on Angel's face. "We do have work to do, if you two don't mind," Angel suggested stiffly. "I need Spike's report on this apocalypse. Xander, I'll see you this evening."

Xander and Spike exchanged an amused glance, but Xander obligingly opened the door. "Yeah, yeah. Later, vamps."

 

 



It took Xander almost fifteen minutes of concerted arguing to get Spike to stay home when he left to meet Angel that evening. He had no idea why it was so hard for the man to grasp the concept that he didn't really want the person he was currently sleeping with to be there while he visited the grave of a girl he had once been in love with, especially when Spike couldn't even give him even a moderately good reason why he wanted to be there so badly. He just kept saying that he didn't want Xander wandering around graveyards in the middle of the night without any protection. He hadn't even seemed all that reassured when Xander promised to take a stake and his sword with him. Or by the fact that Angel was going to be there, but then Xander didn't really put much stock in that either. Not that he thought Angel wouldn't give him a hand if something attacked him, but ... it was Angel. As if that was reason enough in and of itself.

If he hadn't known better, he might have thought that Spike was jealous of the time he was spending with the other vampire, but he so didn't want to imagine where he could have got the idea that Xander was in the least bit interested in Angel as anything other than a kind of annoying, occasionally useful, friend only in the strictest sense of the word.

As nice as it was that Spike wanted to spend time with him, it wasn't like they were joined at the hip. And as much as he was looking forward to some serious renewing their friendship time, it wasn't like they didn't have plenty of time for that sort of thing now that he was back.

But Spike had eventually backed down, apparently finally accepting the fact that this was something he needed to do by himself, and Xander had made his way back to Wolfram and Hart about equal parts annoyed, confused and nervous. The whole thing hadn't really started out as a big deal. It was sad, sure; they'd been friends, he'd loved her, she was yet another piece of his past that was lost forever, but he supposed he hadn't really been giving it that much thought. Spike making such a scene over it seemed to have blown it up in his mind, because he found himself oddly jittery as he left the hotel.

Fortunately, Angel was being even more reticent than usual and didn't seem to notice the complete and total lack of anything even resembling conversation as they made their way to a small cemetery on the north road out of the city. The one that would have led to Sunnydale, if Sunnydale had still been there. The one that led to the big hole in the ground that stood in for the grave of the other woman he'd loved with all his heart and soul. It was hard to believe it had been almost two years since it had happened. Maybe Spike would come with him when he visited her. Spike had known Anya, at least. As far as he knew, the only times he'd met Cordy he was trying to kill her. Didn't allow for much in the way of sympathetic reminiscing, or even stoic silences, which he figured was about all he could expect of Angel.

 

But oddly enough Angel did have something to say and once again they spent a night swapping stories. By the time they made it back to the hotel, Angel seemed almost relaxed, and Xander was feeling more comfortable with the other man than he had since they'd spent a similar night swapping stories about Spike and William and getting drunk.

When Spike opened the door and growled at them, he just rolled his eyes and turned back to offer Angel genuine thanks. Once again Angel surprised him by merely glancing over his shoulder at Spike, nodding calmly and pretty much disappearing into the night like Batman. Just this once, Xander stopped himself from smirking.

Turning around, he found Spike watching him, an odd look on his face. "Hey, Spike," he smiled as he dropped his jacket over one of the couches and dragged himself into the bedroom. Now that he was here, he could feel the adrenalin draining out of him. He'd been up for almost twenty four hours now, not counting a nap in the middle of the day, and he was practically dead on his feet.

Spike followed. "You okay, Xan?" he asked. "You've been hours."

Xander shrugged, rotating his shoulders, and smiled a little. "Yeah, it was good, thanks. I'm glad I got to do that." He didn't really notice as Spike narrowed his eyes and took a step closer to him. "I'm thinking of going out to Sunnydale in a couple of days. You wanna come?"

He looked up when Spike didn't respond, and blinked to see the other man staring at him with narrowed eyes, his head tilted, like he was trying to puzzle out something not entirely pleasant. "And is Angel coming on this little trip, too?" Spike asked stiffly.

Xander blinked again. What the hell was wrong with Spike this evening? He was starting to think maybe he should rethink that whole jealousy shtick. "Why would Angel want to come? I don't think he even met Anya. Maybe that once when he came to help Buffy, but I'm pretty sure they didn't get all that close."

"Anya," Spike said flatly.

Xander narrowed his eyes and took a closer look at Spike. Was he being insensitive or something by wanting to visit the graves of his friends? It wasn't even like Spike hadn't gone with him before, the last time he'd been in L.A.

"Yeah, I thought I'd take her some flowers, say 'Hi'," he said carefully. "Maybe some for Tara and Joyce and Jesse. I'd take some for you, but it's just not the same when you're standing right there." He reached out, hovering just short of placing his hand on Spike's arm. "Don't have to come if you don't want to, but ..." he paused, noticing when Spike tensed up a little. He honestly didn't understand what was bothering the other man so much, but he could see that he'd have to say something to fix it. It occurred to him that Spike was acting kinda William-y, which he really only did when he was really relaxed, or really insecure. So he swallowed his manly pride and said what he thought Spike probably needed to hear. "I'd like to have you there with me. It was your home too, for a while. It's what we've got in common ... one of the things we have in common. Cordy is the only thing, other than you, that Angel and I have in common. But you know that place. We spent most of our ..." he hesitated, before setting on, "relationship," with a small grin that Spike echoed somewhat reluctantly, "there. You died there. It's ours." And because if the deep and meaningful went on for very much longer he was afraid he might just turn into a girl, he added with a smirk, "In retrospect, in any case."

Spike just looked at him, eyes narrowed, for a moment. "Relationship?" he eventually repeated with a smirk. Xander relaxed a little. Well, apparently that'd done the trick. Who would've guessed Spike would get so insecure over something like this? Still, he had always felt things pretty deeply, and Xander had been hoping not forty-eight hours ago that their relationship had meant enough to Spike that he'd remember it, that Spike still wanted to give what they had a shot. He knew that he cared about Spike more than he'd thought he was going to, so it was kinda nice to see that maybe he wasn't the only one.

He raised an eyebrow and moved forward to loop his arms loosely around Spike's waist. Spike leaned into him a little. "Well, I was gonna say our period of mutual pig headed loathing, but it just didn't have the same ring to it."

Spike tilted his thoughtfully. "You could be right at that, Luv. Aren't you glad we got over that?" he added with a suggestive leer, moving in to lick a line over Xander's lips.

Xander shuddered and lowered his eyelids. "Yeah, glad you don't loathe me anymore," he murmured.

Spike snorted, clearly getting his insinuation, and Xander grinned briefly. "Yeah, Luv, I'll come with you. I'd like that. Now, about that relationship of ours. What's say we move it along a little? Direction of the bed, perhaps?"

Xander could only moan his agreement as Spike's hands went around his head and pulled him for a deep, powerful kiss. He was panting when Spike finally let go of him, his eyes wide. Jesus, Spike'd never kissed him like that before. He could really make this whole jealousy thing work for him. "Mmm." Spike licked his lips, his eyes watching Xander intently. "Love the way you taste, Xan."

Xander snapped out of his daze with an almost audible click and suddenly he needed Spike naked. Naked and writhing and begging and spread out over him or under him or what-the-fuck-ever...  just so long as the fucking happened in there somewhere. Not particularly wanting to take the time to explain all this to Spike, he spared a brief micro second to thank god he wasn't wearing anything with buttons as he yanked his T-shirt over his head, shucked his pants; then thanked Spike for getting the message and dealing with own clothes so quickly by taking his cock in one hand and his head in the other and doing his level best to kiss Spike like Spike had just kissed him.


 



They fucked, they talked, they watched tv, Xander taught Spike a thing or two about playing Donkey Kong, Spike took the opportunity to teach Xander a thing or two about knots and why you should always let the other person win at least once. He'd been kinda surprised at how easy the whole thing was. Sitting there throwing insults and popcorn at each other it was almost like it had always been this way. Like all those times they'd done the same thing, back when Sunnydale was more than just dust in the wind, they hadn't really meant it then either. Like if he concentrated hard enough he'd be able to remember all the fantastic make-up sex that went on afterwards.

And while sometimes he'd look at Spike and it would hit him, how long he'd been gone, how much they'd both been alone, mostly it was as though he'd never left.

 

During the day Xander searched for an apartment, seriously considering taking Cordy's old place, but not entirely sure Dennis would appreciate what went on in the bedroom. Angel didn't say he couldn't, but when he mentioned it to the man, he had gone all dark and brooding and the next day Lorne had set him up with an estate agent.

He also looked for a job, something to pass the time. There was a headquarters for the Council in Los Angeles, where he'd be spending some of his time training a few of the girls, but that was only a couple of hours a day. He didn't really want anything permanent, either. He wasn't sure if or when he might have to go back to England, so he didn't want anything tying him down if Buffy or Willow said they needed him.

Three weeks later he was installed in a nice, very domestic looking, small, two bedroom, forth story apartment not too far from the centre of the city. It would have cost a small fortune for most people, but Lorne had been pulling strings with clients and stuff and had got him a fantastic deal for it. He was also doing part time work for a big handy-man company and getting to know the L.A. girls he was meant to be helping train.

He'd been itching to get back out on the streets for days now, do a little violence, feel like he was helping to make the city a better place and all that. Somehow they'd just kept putting it off. Spike always had something else to do, or wasn't in the mood, or they got distracted by sex, which Xander had to admit wasn't exactly a bad thing. But it was Friday, which meant no training, no work the next day, he was pretty sure they had no plans for the evening and Spike had been in at Wolfram and Hart all day helping Angel with something, so he figured now was the perfect opportunity to work off a little of that excess energy the old fashioned way.

When he got in Harmony informed him that yeah, Spike was in with Angel and they'd finished up with the Psakids about half an hour ago and were done for the day as far as meetings and stuff were concerned.

Spike was sprawled in his usual chair, Angel behind his desk, when Xander opened the door. They turned as one to look at him. Spike jumped lightly to his feet and smiled at Xander. Xander pretended to sigh and slump in relief. "There was no yelling, I thought you must be dead." Angel frowned defensively while Spike smirked and rolled his eyes.

"Oh, you're a right chuckle, aren't you Mate?"

He grinned and shrugged modestly. "Well, we all have out superpowers. So, didja have a productive day? More importantly, are you finished and when can we leave?"

Spike shrugged. "Yeah, Mate, I'm done. You got something in mind for tonight?"

"Yup," he grinned, "want to go kill something. I feel my white hat has become more of an eggshell recently." He turned to Angel. "What you got planned for tonight, then, Angel? Brooding and paperwork, or can you take an hour or so off and come patrolling with us?" Xander smirked inwardly at the bemused expression that Angel immediately wiped off his face. He obviously didn't know what to make of the request, which was, of course, precisely why he had made it. There was very little in this life more amusing than watching Angel's face as he struggled through a puzzle.

He glanced over to Spike, his eyes twinkling, expecting to see the other man smirking at his sire as he had so many times in the past. But Spike appeared distracted. Xander sidled over and nudged him. Angel followed him with his eyes. "Hey Spike, everything alright?" he murmured.

Spike looked at him for a moment, then scowled, though Xander got the impression he was angrier with himself than at anything Xander had done. "Fine," he growled. "Lets go then, Angel." He gestured impatiently when Angel continued to sit there, looking even more confused than before. This time, Xander was right there with him. Spike was acting truly weird and Xander couldn't figure out what the hell had set him off this time. Most he could figure was that Spike hadn't wanted Angel to come patrolling with them, either that or he hadn't wanted to go patrolling at all. But last time he'd been here Spike had been all keen for him and Angel to get along, which they had, mostly.. Xander had assumed it was because Angel was the closest thing Spike had to family these days, apart from all the Scoobies, and knowing how important family had been to William, he'd been prepared to make the effort. He really couldn't see Spike suddenly going back to hating Angel. That just wasn't the sort of person he was. And he was sure that he would have got a long and impassioned speech on the complete wankeryness of Spike's bloody pathetic excuse for a sire if Angel had done something to piss him off that much anyway.

On the other hand, maybe Spike had just wanted to spend some time with him alone. In addition to the past couple of weeks that they'd mostly spent both literally and figuratively joined at the hip. Although, if he'd wanted that, all he had to do was say something. And it sure as hell wasn't like Spike to just quietly go along with things he didn't really want to do. He might still do them, but they could expect complaining at the very least.

He caught the look that Angel threw him and shrugged philosophically. Angel flicked his eyes back over to Spike, who was now looking impatiently at the door, holding himself tightly, his face oddly blank, and tapping his foot. If he hadn't known better, Xander would have said it was a nervous movement, which was just ridiculous.

Angel watched him intently for a moment longer, and Xander almost thought he saw Spike flinch under that gaze, but then he swivelled around in his chair and got to his feet, moving around the desk.

As soon as Angel started moving, Spike was stalking out the door. Xander blinked at his back, glanced at Angel, who didn't look at him either, shook his head and walked out the door. He was starting to think he would never understand vampires. One minute everything was completely normal, and the next everyone was dark and brooding and swishing away in black capes. He felt a wry smirk steal over his features as he hurried after the retreating form of his friend. Every now and again, Spike was just as inexplicable as any woman.

He wanted to catch up and thread his arm through Spike's, make the man tell him exactly what was wrong. But his extensive experience with Anya and Cordelia had taught him that not knowing what was wrong could be just as big a sin as whatever he'd done wrong in the first place. 'Course, it was possible Spike'd just tell him if he asked, but Xander wasn't taking any chances when it came to inexplicable Spike.

So instead he dropped back to fall into step beside Angel. He didn't say anything as they walked across to the elevator, which Spike had called and was currently holding impatiently, glaring at them as they crossed the lobby. None of them said anything as the elevator descended to one of the basement levels, although Xander did move to stand a little closer to Spike, watching Angel as Angel watched Spike with narrowed eyes. But when Spike once again hurried ahead to the weapons room, he fell in beside Angel and murmured curiously, "Now, why do I think you've got some idea what this is all about, Angel?"

Angel didn't say anything, but Xander hated to admit he was actually getting used to that particular annoying habit. He waited. After a moment, when Spike had disappeared around a corner, he said, "I don't know, Xander."

Xander narrowed his eyes. "But you have an idea," he pressed.

Angel hesitated, but replied, "I think you should talk about this with Spike."

That gave him pause. Basically, that meant that whatever it was, it was about him, or him and Spike. He stopped and turned to face Angel, his eyes hard, cold, and this time it wasn't just an act to scare the new kid. "You're right, I should, and I will. Question is, is he going to tell me? If there's something wrong I need to know, Angel. Spike is my ... he's ... I ... I care about what happens to him, and so do you, I think. "

Angel didn't look particularly impressed, but maybe all that bonding they'd done last year hadn't been worth nothing because he did respond. "Spike is a vampire, Xander. No matter what else he might be, he's still a vampire."

Xander raised his eyebrows in confusion. "Yeah? So are you."

"That's right, I am. We ... see the world differently sometimes." Xander opened his mouth, but Angel had already walked away from him. He shook his head bemusedly and followed.

 

Spike was handing Angel an impressive array of weapons when he walked into the storeroom. He smiled a little when Xander walked over to him. Xander took it for the apology it probably was and smiled back. He didn't miss the fact that Spike still seemed a bit tense, but he didn't seem so angry, which had to be a good sign.

"Where are we going tonight then?" Xander asked as he picked his favourite long sword off the rack. Bending down he grabbed a couple of stakes off the bottom shelf and stuffed them into his pockets. Standing up he glanced over to Spike with a smile on his face. Spike was looking at him oddly.

"That all you're taking, Mate?" he asked pointedly.

Xander cocked his head curiously. "Ah, yeah, this is what I usually take, Spike. I know it's been a while, but I'm pretty sure I remember how it works."

Spike frowned. "You don't think maybe you should wear some protective clothes or something? Do you even have a cross? Holy water? Fuck, this place has got some of the most powerful magic-users in the bloody world, one of them must be able to come up with some protective charm or some such shit. Bloody hell, why didn't I think of that earlier? Maybe you should just come next time, Mate."

Xander narrowed his eyes as Spike started to usher him out the door, seemingly unaware of the fact that Xander wasn't interested in going anywhere. He merely glanced up in annoyance when Xander refused to move. Xander waited until Spike was looking him in the eye. "Are you saying I can't protect myself, Spike?" he asked, his voice low, calm, intense.

Spike blinked, seemed surprised by the suggestion. Xander was about to smile and apologise when he said, "Well, you are only human, Mate, and lord knows you never were much of a fighter." Then he smiled, like they were sharing a private joke. Xander didn't. Matter of fact he wasn't quite sure how to react to that.

"Gee, Spike," he said lightly, his eyes hard, or maybe hurt, "I had no idea you thought so little of me. So much for 'he can take care of himself' huh?"

Spike shook his head, exasperated, and took a step forward. Xander tensed inwardly and waited for the hand he knew was coming. Sure enough, Spike reached out and gripped his bicep hard, almost enough to bruise, although Xander didn't think he was really aware of how much he was hurting him. But Xander didn't waste time thinking about it. He just gripped that arm with his other hand and used the leverage and his body to throw Spike to the floor, coming to half kneel, half stand over startled blue eyes. It wasn't a new move, although it was one he'd been practicing while he was in Africa. It was something he'd used on dozens of vampires in his day, and while it didn't generally put him in position to stake them, it did put Buffy in a position to come to his aid. He wasn't stupid enough to go out patrolling on his own, but he did know how to work as part of a team, and he knew how to keep himself alive.

Spike glowered at him, but didn't make any move to free himself. Xander smirked, "If you'd wanted to get me on the floor, Spike, all you had to do was ask."

Spike rolled his eyes, but he seemed to have relaxed a little. The smile slipped from Xander's face and he stared down at Spike seriously. "I can take care of myself, Spike."

He would not let Spike try to lock him away from the world, keep him from anything that might get him hurt. Not that Spike had really suggested anything of the sort, but he could see it happening. Just like Buffy had done, trying to keep him away from the danger, stop him from helping her, helping anyone, because she didn't want him to get hurt. He'd always hated it. At first he'd just ignored her. He and Willow had gone rushing in despite what she said because they wanted to help. It had been a long time before he started to understand why she did it, why she needed to keep him safe, and after that he'd tried to respect her wishes. It had been even longer before he'd been able to accept the fact that she was right. He was weak. He was the weakest of all them, except maybe Dawn, physically anyway. But that didn't mean he shouldn't fight, shouldn't try.

Spike sighed, closed his eyes briefly. "I don't want you getting hurt, Luv."

Xander cocked his head. "I don't want you getting hurt either."

Spike blinked, didn't say anything, and for a moment Xander thought he'd gotten through to him. But Spike smirked a little, confused, amused. Condescending. Xander froze, hot prickles running over the back of his scalp even as he willed himself to believe that Spike didn't really mean what he knew he was about to say. "'S hardly the same thing, Mate."

 

So.

Right then.

 

There wasn't any surprise, not really. So Spike didn't think he could take care of himself, they'd pretty much established that. So Spike was an arrogant, tactless bastard, something he'd known for years. So they were never going to be able to approach this thing on an equal footing, well, he never should have thought he'd be able to fool himself about that for any length of time anyway. It had almost been easier when he was in Africa, in that sense.

The smile slipped from his face as he carefully got to his feet, automatically reaching out a hand to help Spike up off the ground. He stared at he hand that slipped into his absently. His mind felt empty, kinda stuck. He found he wasn't really angry at Spike, or at himself, although he probably would be. He knew that once he let himself start to think about it, the thoughts would crowd, flinging themselves around uselessly, making him doubt, making him wonder, making it hard to put on a blank face and an empty smile and pretend that nothing was wrong.

So instead he stared at long, pale fingers, cool, strong, confident, even now turning their grip around so that Spike was the one doing the holding, Xander the one being held. He always did that, Xander thought. He'd noticed, never really minded, but it was all part of the same thing, really, wasn't it?

The hand holding his fingers squeezed and Xander looked up to find Spike watching him curiously. He quickly made his face relax into a genuine grin. "Right, sure, I guess not. Listen, why don't you guys go on without me. Now I think about it, I am a bit tired." Spike nodded, pleased, and Xander felt his stomach clench a little bit tighter, but he didn't let it show on his face. Angel didn't say anything, but Xander looked up to where he had stepped back into the shadows. He could barely see Angel's face, but he could feel those eyes on him, wondering, weighing him up, but cold, calculating and he knew he shouldn't kid himself that Angel really cared about him. About Spike, maybe, but not about him.

"Okay, then," he said brightly, turning back to Spike. "I'll see you later, then." He wanted to say 'be careful', wasn't entirely sure why he didn't. "Have fun."

He was about to turn around and leave, so he was surprised when Spike stepped forward and placed a soft kiss on his lips. "Get some rest, yeah Luv? 'S always next time, right? We'll have a chat to the Ex-Watcher, see what we can come up with."

"Sure, absolutely, we'll make me invincible yet." He flashed Spike a last smile, then turned and hurried out of the room. Away from the vampires.

 



Angel followed Spike quietly as they made their way through the sewers. He found himself thinking about Xander and his boy, something he'd always tried his hardest to avoid doing. But what he'd seen this evening ... He'd never really thought that Xander might love Spike, or that Spike might love the irritating kid back.

It made him wonder, though. Would this have happened if he'd stayed with Buffy, if he'd actually had a chance with Cordelia? Sooner or later it was always going to come down to vampire and human and whether or not it was possible to fit those two worlds together.

He watched Spike stalk cheerfully through the tunnels, humming some god awful piece of punk rock that had to be scaring away half the things they'd come down here to kill. He looked happy. Certainly didn't look worried, like Angel knew he should be. Didn't look like he had any idea that the punch he'd thrown this evening had cracked the glass of his relationship with the kid or that if he kept going the way he was, that relationship was going to shatter into a million tiny, painful and irretrievable pieces.

What Angel couldn't decide was whether or not he cared enough to try and stop it. And even if he did, who was to say they wouldn't both be better off without each other? He couldn't honestly see Spike changing his attitude enough to suit Xander. Being a vampire did mean you were stronger, more capable than humans. It was only natural that Spike would want to protect the person he was in love with, all the more if that person was too weak to protect themselves. Which, he had to admit, Xander really wasn't. He'd been patrolling with the kid a few times, before and once after his little trip to Africa, and the most Xander'd ever come away with was some serious bruising. The kid could take care of himself, especially if he was working as part of a team. But still, he could understand Spike's urge to keep him out of harm's way.

Xander didn't see it that way, obviously. And Angel figured he could also understand the boy's desire to feel like an equal in the relationship. Whether or not he understood Spike's protective urges, sooner or later they were just going to feel patronising, confining, irrational and he had a feeling that wasn't a cage the boy would be prepared to live in.

And putting Xander in danger would tear Spike up inside as much as being parcelled away and catered to would Xander.

Angel knew that this was really only the tip of the iceberg.

Once he started thinking about it, there were so many things that just wouldn't be resolved, no matter how much passion, determination and dogged ignorance they were determined to show.

He grimaced a little at Spike's back. He was aware that he was being unreasonable, being annoyed by the fact that somehow Spike had managed to make him think about how he was fucking up his relationship with Xander, and because it was Spike he had to care, which made no sense, seeing as he really had no interest in caring about anything that involved Spike.

He sighed, bracing himself for the conversation. Damn soul. Spike turned to look at him curiously. "So ..." Angel said vaguely, before realising he didn't really have anything planned.

Spike raised an eyebrow and fell into step beside him. "Something on your mind, Mate?"

"Ah, well, actually, I was thinking about Xander. You and Xander, I mean," he qualified, although he couldn't imagine even Spike could believe he'd be interested in the boy for any other reason. He grimaced at the very thought.

Spike looked surprised. "That right? And what astoundingly insightful conclusions have you come to?" he sneered. "Somehow I thought I might have managed to pick one you didn't want to take away from me this time. Don't tell me I was wrong? Always got the impression the boy managed to piss you off almost as much as I do," he smirked.

"He just ... doesn't really seem like your type, if you know what I mean."

Spike raised an eyebrow. "My type? Well I s'pose you're probably right at that. Few years ago I wouldn't have looked at the bloke sideways. 'S probably the soul talking, really. I was practically in love with him back when I was actually alive, even though I only knew him for a little while. But I saw him then, same thing I see in him now. There's more to that man than you'd think, once you take the time to look."

Angel couldn't help but frown at the look on his boy's face. The way his eyes softened and the smirk fell from his lips. Like they way he'd looked at Drusilla, but more .... more human. It was truly disconcerting thought. "Since when have you been into guys anyway?" he asked, looking to cover his discomfort.

Spike sent him an odd look. "Ah, since what the bloody hell difference does it make anyway? I'm not going to shag him just 'cause he hasn't got tits? What d'you think I am, shallow? I'll have you know it wasn't actually about sex first."

"That, I can well believe," he muttered.

"Meaning what, exactly, Mate," Spike snapped dangerously. Meaning he knew Spike either did completely casual sex, or went and fell in love with the object of affections practically before making any moves at all, but he was hardly going to say that out loud. "You can't tell me you haven't noticed him."

Angel snorted. "Jesus Spike, I wouldn't touch the man with a ten foot pole."

He realised what he'd said pretty much when Spike grabbed a handful of his jacket and slammed him up against the nearest wall. Fortunately they were, as per usual, wandering around alleys and there was no one there to see them. Not that anyone would have raised a finger if they had been. There were probably only two people in the entire city who'd step in to stop an alley brawl, and they were about to be involved in one of their own. But for once Angel figured if he really wanted to talk to Spike they could maybe try to avoid the bruising and lacerations.

So he stayed mostly still and managed to keep from rolling his eyes when Spike growled, "You seem to be tryin' to imply somethin' about my Xander, Mate."

"Your Xander?" he asked before he could stop himself, aware he sounded slightly incredulous. He'd seen it, of course, but he hadn't expected Spike to admit to it just yet.

Spike scowled, but loosened his grip when Angel continued to just stand there. "You heard me, Angel. You keep your hands off him. I've seen how you two've been getting along. This one's mine. You so much as look at him the wrong way and I'll stake you so fast your dust won't have time to blink."

Angel narrowed his eyes, shrugging off the hands on his coat as he took a step forward. "And how's it going between the you two, Spike? All peaches and cream?"

He watched the uncertainly appear in Spike's eyes with a certain callous satisfaction. "What the bloody hell are you talking about? 'Course it's fine. Just as long as you keep your bloody interferin' nose out of it."

Angel scowled and pushed past Spike. Why the hell did he think helping Spike out would be such a fantastic idea again? Well, fine, the boy didn't think he needed it, Angel could give a damn. "You got it, Spike. You've successfully reminded me why I truly couldn't give a shit. Let's just go find something to kill."

"Right, good. Just so long as you understand that."

He ignored the confusion that the cocky sneer couldn't entirely hide. Let him screw up his relationship; Xander'd sure as hell be better off for it in the long run and right now he couldn't care less what Spike might or might not need.

As the man had unequivocally reminded him, it was none of his damn business.


 

 



Whatever Spike and Angel had talked about while they were out hunting, it apparently hadn't helped. Xander hadn't been tired, naturally, something Spike would have known just by looking at him, assuming he'd bothered to look. But Xander was trying not to think about that. Actually, that wasn't true, he was trying to think about it, about all of it. He knew he had to, but he also knew he didn't want to, presumably because some part of him had already worked it all out and he just wasn't prepared to face any conclusions it might have come to.

He'd gone back upstairs after Spike and Angel had left, mostly because he didn't want to have to go home by himself. It had taken all of one glance to convince Wesley to leave his books, which told Xander just how bad his face must look. Not that there was really much to say. The conversation had pretty much started and ended with Xander saying, "Spike didn't want me to go with them. He says he's afraid I'll get hurt. You can probably expect him coming around looking for a spell or something that'll protect me." He'd shrugged, looking down and giving a little humourless laugh. "Or maybe not. Wouldn't be surprised if it slipped his mind somewhere in there."

He'd looked up to see Wes watching him quietly, the compassion showing only in his eyes. "He's a vampire, Xander, you must have known where this would lead."

So he'd grinned, or tried to. "Yeah, sure, I guess. Got no one to blame but myself, I know. And it's not like he hasn't got a point, I am only human, he is better than I am. At the whole fighting thing, I mean."

It had been a little harder to maintain the humorous façade when Wes winced in sympathy. "Oh dear, he didn't say that, did he? And you know that's not what I meant."

He'd sighed. "Yeah, Wes, I know."

Thing was, that didn't make it any less true.

He'd made the one mistake he'd never been able to understand when Buffy had told them what she'd been doing with Spike. The one thing he'd thought he'd never be able to do. He'd forgotten that Spike was first and foremost a vampire. It wasn't that he couldn't understand why he'd done it. Spike getting a soul, wanting to fight the good fight, because there were people in the world he loved enough to want to save. Maybe he hadn't realised it at the time, but those things had gotten inside of him, changed him, the way he thought. Then with William, who was so human, and so vulnerable and so very much a part of the Spike that he knew that it was almost impossible to draw a line down him and say that this was where the human started and the vampire ended. And with everything he'd already been feeling he just hadn't bothered. Spike just was who he was. But he was also what he was. And as Angel as Wes said, what he was, was a vampire. A demon, strictly speaking.

But he'd been thinking about it all evening and he'd come to the conclusion that maybe it didn't really matter anyway. Relationships were all about compromise, at least in his experience. If you cared about someone enough to stay with them, you were inevitably going to have to give something up to make it happen. And when it was something you just couldn't let go of, or you had nothing left to give, that was when relationships ended.

So what if Spike didn't want him to go out patrolling without some protection? What, he was going to get all grief-stricken over not being allowed to get battered and bruised on a regular basis? Shit, he should be happy that Spike cared enough to try and protect him from himself.

The question was, what was it worth to him? Was he prepared to leave Spike over something as inconsequential as this? Sure, Spike was stronger than he was, faster, more capable. So he might not be able to go out patrolling with them, he could help people in other ways. And maybe Spike was a vampire, a demon, Xander was sure he'd never hurt him, was sure that Spike really did care about him. He wanted to see where this thing with Spike could go. Maybe it wouldn't go anywhere and Xander would be back on a plane to England none the worse for wear. But as long as it was just this one little thing, then he decided he couldn't really see what the problem was.

He hadn't spent much time with Wes, wanting to be back at his apartment, like he'd said he would be, when Spike got back from hunting with Angel.

But when Spike got back he was weird, twitchy, kept looking at Xander like he wanted to say something, but never quite worked up the courage. Even when Xander asked him what was wrong he just hesitated and said it was nothing. Eventually, Spike stood up, kissed him soundly, and said he should be heading back to his place. Xander didn't argue, although he did pull him for another passionate kiss before he let him out. Whatever was wrong would either sort itself out or would be all but forgotten by the time they saw each other the next day. In Xander's experience that was the way things generally worked in relationships, too. Besides, if it was really important he was sure Spike would have said something. It wasn't like the vampire to not say something just 'cause he wasn't sure of the reception it would get.

Sure enough, a couple of days later Spike had settled down. Every now and then Xander had caught him looking at him suspiciously, or reflectively, or something anyway. Like he was looking for something. Every now and then he'd look like he wanted to talk about it, too. It did, in fact, occur to Xander that it could have, probably did have, something to do with the way he'd reacted to Spike's concern the other night. But Xander had decided nothing had changed, so as far as he was concerned there was nothing to talk about. And his determined relaxation was apparently convincing, because eventually Spike decided there wasn't a problem after all and things went back to normal.

 


 



It was Saturday morning, a few days later. Xander's eyes flitted open in a dazed sort of way. He felt good this morning. Rested. Not the wide awake but still somehow exhausted feeling he usually got after a good seven hours sleep. He'd switched off the alarm last night before they went to sleep and turning his head slightly he saw that it was after nine o'clock, hours later then he usually had to get up.

Feeling the need to stretch, he spared a glance and a fond smile for the rumpled blond head smooshed into the pillow beside him, decided he didn't want to risk waking it and carefully manoeuvred his way to his feet before giving in to the urge to work out some of the kinks. With a final roll of his shoulders and a relieved sigh he kicked aside the comforter that was currently warming most of the floor and reached for a pair of sweats and a t-shirt. He slipped into the pants, considered the shirt, dropped it back onto the floor with a shrug and made his way quietly to the kitchen.

Xander opened the curtains a crack as he waited for the water to boil, humming softly to himself. The curtains were almost always closed in here these days. Spike stayed over more often than he didn't, showed up at some truly weird hours and the last thing he wanted was to come home to a pile of dust because he'd forgotten to close the curtains when Spike turned up smoking on his font doorstep. Last month the electricity bill had been almost double what he was used to. He didn't mind, generally. It was just a thing. Same way he would have gotten rid of all the ... plants, or something, if the person he was living with had hay fever, or whatever. As much as he liked the sunlight, there was hardly anything he could do about it now. Besides, he worked outside most of the time anyway. It wasn't a big deal.

Still ... He glanced at the bedroom door, tightly shut, feeling guilty for even thinking it, then amused at himself for feeling guilty. He could feel the sun on his fingers where they were still holding back the curtain. There was just the smallest sliver of light shining in a line from his shoulder to his waist and it felt so good, so warm where his skin still hadn't heated up. He turned his face back to the window and took a long look outside.

Spike probably wouldn't be up for hours. He'd shown up just after nine, and they'd gone to bed pretty soon thereafter. But Xander had been too tired for more than one round of sex and had drifted off, near as he could figure, around eleven. Knowing Spike, the man had stayed up for hours after that, doing whatever it was he did all alone in the middle of the night. Probably read, or watched him sleep, and hello creepy thoughts.

Startled by the whistle of the kettle, Xander shook his head and smiled wryly. The creepy thing was that it wasn't so much creepy as endearing, and that was truly disturbing.

Picking up his coffee, Xander shrugged and walked out onto the balcony, leaving the curtains open a couple of inches, checking to make sure the light went no where near the bedroom door and parked himself in front of the gap, so he'd be easy to spot, prepared to soak up a few rays.

God, this was nice.

He'd spent hours like this in Africa, just sitting, being warmed by the sun. Although Africa hadn't been so much with the warm sun, cool ocean breeze thing as it had been blazingly hot, still, sweat-inducing rays. And the flies; dear god the flies had been enough to send him packing off to a little plastic bubble where he'd never have to see a bug or a germ or a spider or especially those creepy giant dragonfly thingies ever again. Then there was the fact that bronzed Californian skin aside the first month he'd spent in a haze of painful sunburned skin before the very attractive bright red faded to a tough, sun-resistant brown.

He let his eyes drift shut, feeling the sun pulse over his eyes in time with his heart. He slumped lower in his chair so he could rest his feet on the railing and placed one hand on his stomach, smiling at the heat there. That was the other thing about Africa. All that sun, all that dark brown skin had just soaked it up. He'd had nothing on the natives, of course; touching their skin after they'd been outside for any amount of time had been like putting your hand directly into an open flame. His tan had faded, but there were still echoes of that fiery heat beating under his skin. Must be awful to be a vampire and not have that.

He found himself wondering idly if Spike missed it. He remembered how much William had enjoyed being outside, soaking up the sun, and he knew that Spike liked being able to see the sunrise from inside Wolfram and Hart. It was probably just one of those things you got used to, like drinking blood. And it wasn't like Spike couldn't go into the sunlight, he just couldn't do it for as long. Without bursting into flame, anyway.

He lay there like that, eyes closed, relishing that familiar prickling over his skin that told him he'd be nicely bronzed after a couple of hours, feeling the sun creep further up his body, warming the top of his head, sipping his coffee and letting his mind wander until he heard the bedroom door open and someone wander out into the living room.

He wanted to move, honestly, and he did manage to force his eyes open, but that was about as far as he got before his body decided to put in a serious word. Rolling his eyes at himself, Xander did a twisty little stretch in his chair and got to his feet with a smile. Scooping up his coffee cup he squeezed between the little gap in the curtains before pulling them firmly shut, shivering at the immediate chill on his skin as he did so.

Spike was sitting on the kitchen counter sipping blood out of his blood-glass. He'd pulled on a ratty old pair of jeans, but hadn't bothered with much else. His hair was still sticking up in rumpled little spikes and he was scratching his bare chest absently as Xander padded over.

"Hey, Spike," he smiled.

"Mornin' Xan," Spike responded with a sideways smirk. "You been hidin' from me out there where I can't get to you?"

Xander grinned, "Nah, just soaking up the rays." He came to a stop directly in front of Spike, so their chests were only a few inches apart. Spike's eyes widened and he shivered. Then, before he could do more than rest his glass on the bench, Xander placed his hot hands on Spike's chest, over his nipples and leaned forward to kiss him. Spike was almost cold against him and he shuddered at the contrast.

Spike broke away with a gasp. "God, Xan, you feel like you're on fire." Spike ran fingertips over Xander's chest, leaving shivers and goosebumps in their wake.

Xander just grinned again. "Well, this manly tan of mine is good for more than attracting all the ladies after all." He took one of Spike's hands and directed it to touch his hair, taking the opportunity to step forward and press their chests together. Spike almost snatched his hand back from Xander's hair, but then there were legs around his waist and fingers in his hair and cold lips opening him up, stealing all his wonderful warmth.

After a moment he pulled back, smile still firmly in place. The heat had almost faded, but he could still feel it in his blood, clean, soaking into him. "Pretty cool, huh?"

"Cool? God, Pet, you taste like sunlight, it's like nothing ..."

Xander raised an eyebrow. "Sunlight has a taste?"

"Mmmm." Spike didn't seem to be paying much attention. Or at least, wasn't paying attention to what Xander was saying, which was just fine, 'cause he was being positively studious about licking all the skin from his chin to his shoulder blades.

Xander squirmed when Spike hit a particularly ticklish bit of skin at the base of his neck. Spike pulled back at looked at him, his face shadowed by an odd sort of ... longing, Xander thought. "I wish--" Spike broke off suddenly, a hint of sadness in his eyes and Xander tightened the arms around his waist.

Xander knew what he was thinking, had thought about it himself. Today was a perfect beach day. Time was he would have packed up with Anya or with the guys and made a day of it, swimming, sunbathing, wandering along the pier, making out in the sand--with Anya, that is. Not with Buffy and Willow and Tara and Riley and Dawn. Although come to think of it he was really only opposed in principle to making out with Dawn. And Tara. She was Willow's. And there was a part of him that was ... disappointed that he would never be able to do those things with Spike, but this was a compromise he'd come to terms with a while ago.

He shrugged self-deprecatingly and looked at Spike from under lowered lashed. "Hey, plenty of non-flammable skin to share between the two of us, right?" He considered Spike seriously for a moment. "I don't mind, if it makes a difference."

Spike just did that little shruggy head-tilt thing he did, his mouth compressed into an unhappy line. "What if something happened to you out there? I can't protect you in the sunlight. I can't be ..." Xander resisted the urge to frown at that. They were back to the protecting thing again. At night with monsters abounding, sure, he got that, but he was gonna start getting really offended if Spike didn't drop the helpless card at some point. But Spike shook his head. "Ah, can't be safe out there, where can you?" He still didn't look very happy, but was apparently prepared to let it go for now. "An' if a couple hours sunbathing gets you like that I reckon it might be worth the risk." He leered pretty convincingly and Xander waggled his eyebrows in response. "Made you all cold now, though, haven't I?"

Xander chuckled. "I may be many things around you Spike, but let me assure you that cold is never one of them. Besides, it wasn't you. It doesn't last that long once you're in the shade again." He found himself momentarily caught in Spike's eyes. Dark blue, pale skin, white hair; he glowed at night ... "I'd like to see you in the sunlight," he murmured absently, running fingers through the hair at Spike's temple. A second later his mouth caught up to his brain and he blushed, clearing his throat self-consciously.

Spike smirked. "We'll get you an open fire. It'll be much the same, Mate."

Xander whapped him in the arm and stepped away with a wry smile. "Yeah, that's right, mock my sentimentality. See if I ever buy you a bunch of flowers." He moved around the bench into the kitchen. Spike crossed his legs and swung around so he could continue to watch him. "You'd probably look all pasty and corpse-like anyway."

"I am all pasty and corpse-like. Dead, remember?"

Xander half-grimaced, half-smiled. "Matter of fact, I do my best not to, you know, Spike. One thing to be having sex with a vampire, quite another to be having sex with a corpse." He paused, held up the bread knife and looked at Spike inquiringly. Spike shrugged, nodded. Xander dug the bread out of the bread bin. "At least if you were a corpse I wouldn't have to feed you," he grinned.

He heard Spike snort behind him. "Someone's gotta stop you from eating all that bloody food you insist on buying, Mate. Can't really see myself wantin' to shag the marshmallow man through the mattress."

Xander chuckled obligingly at that, but he felt a little flicker of .... something, doubt, regret maybe, at Spike's words. He'd always known Spike wouldn't want to stay with him forever, wouldn't want him forever, but he was finding himself increasingly reluctant to look that far ahead. Like if he didn't think about it, it wouldn't have to happen.

He wandered over to the fridge, glancing at Spike as he went past. "Well, seeing as a day at the beach is out then, what you want to do with this wonderfully work-free day'o'mine? You going out with Angel tonight?"

Spike made a non-committal noise. "Eh, poof wants to patrol. Might go." Xander was suddenly very glad he had his face in the fridge. His stomach tightened and he knew that Spike would be able to see the blood rushing to his face. He hadn't been out with them since the aborted attempt nearly four weeks ago. Spike went every second night or so, but Xander had flatly refused to bring it up or think about it or be anything but happy that Spike wanted to protect him. Spike didn't seem to think anything was wrong with his attitude and as far as Xander was concerned it could just stay that way.

Which didn't explain why he glanced over at Spike as he tossed the roast beef onto the bench and remarked, "Patrol, huh? I could go for that." There was a tiny bit of him that crowed at the flicker of fear he saw in Spike's eyes before he turned back to their lunch. That loved the fact that he'd hurt Spike like Spike had hurt him. That he refused to acknowledge existed, because he understood, he didn't hate Spike, didn't resent him. Didn't.

He was so wrapped up in ignoring himself that he didn't hear Spike slide off the bench and come to stand behind him. Although chances were he wouldn't have heard him anyway. He jumped when a hand landed solidly on his shoulder and the knife he was holding went flying from his hand. He, like any even half-sane person would have done, hurriedly moved out of the way of the flying utensil. Spike's hand shot out and caught the thing blade-first, two inches from the counter-top.

He tossed it in the sink as a little pool of blood welled up from the small, shallow cut across his palm. Spike looked at his hand and gave a disgusted roll of his eyes. Xander just chuckled. "Some creature of the night you turned out to be, huh?" He carefully picked up Spike's hand and licked off the blood, placing a kiss on the already closing cut as he pulled away. "And here I'm the one not allowed to go out and fight the bad guys with knives."

He was grinning as he said it, and it took him a moment to realise that Spike wasn't. Wasn't smiling at all. Was looking concerned and stubborn and underneath it all Xander could still see the arrogance, the condescension, the I'm-a-master-vampire-and-you're-just-human-and-I-know-what's-best-for-you-now. He wondered where all that warmth he remembered soaking into his blood had gone.

Spike looked him in the eye. Xander couldn't look away. "Luv, you know you can't. It's too dangerous. I can't be sure I'll always be there to protect you." His voice was soft, sincere and Xander was getting lost in endless pools of blue. Drowning, wanting to. There was something happening, it felt like something inside of him was ... dying ... being folded up in pieces of Spike, and for a moment he struggled, but Spike never stopped looking at him and Spike was everywhere, everything ... "You know that, Xander. It's for the best." And suddenly he did know it. Knew it right down to his soul. Spike only cared about him, didn't want him to get hurt. Xander was weak, human, he did need someone to protect him, he'd always known that, after all. Why had this been bothering him so much?

He smiled, relaxed. "Sure, Spike, I know, I was just kidding."

Spike tilted his head and regarded him seriously for a moment, before giving a relieved smile and stepping back. "Good, right then. Only want what's best for you, Xan."

Xander chuckled. "You see now, if you hadn't just mocked me for my lovable romantic nature I'd say you are what's best for me, but you've gone and lost your chance now, buster."

He had to roll his eyes at the sappy look that appeared on Spike's face and gave into the urge to lean in and kiss him. His eyes slipped shut as Spike took his face between his hands and proceeded to devour his mouth. He felt his knees buckling and had to grasp at the bench behind him to keep himself from falling. Spike didn't let up, just stepped closer, pushing him back and the sharp corner of the granite connected painfully with his back. He barely noticed. He did notice the hard length that was currently digging into his hip. For a moment it was all he could feel. The tongue in his mouth and the erection grinding so close to his own and his concentration was blown. He forgot to keep breathing through his nose and after a moment had to break away, gasping, while Spike just moved onto his neck, licking and biting and dropping tiny, barely there kisses.

"Spike ... Spike," he tried again. He put his hand into that crispy white hair and used it to yank Spike's mouth off his neck. Spike's head came up with a growl.

"Yes?"

Xander's mouth dropped open, but suddenly he had nothing to say. Spike's eyes were almost black; passionate, needy, demanding. Wet. Confused, and he loved that Spike could be such a contradiction, could be thrown by such an offhand comment. He shifted, wanting to get closer, and remembered what the problem was. "Ow," he grimaced, pushing them forward so he wasn't sandwiched against the bench. It pushed him into Spike and their cocks collided. They both shuddered.

"Sorry, Luv," Spike murmured into his ear. It took Xander a moment to figure out he was talking about the bench.

"No problem," he gasped. "What's one more bruise? So I take it you've figured out what you want to do with the rest of the day, then?"

"What you," Spike growled. "Always want you."

Xander didn't protest as he was pushed towards the bedroom. "I think we can work with that."

 


 



Xander was relaxing in front of the tv with a bowl of chips and a can of root beer when his cell phone rang a couple of days later. Spike wasn't there yet. Xander was expecting him eventually, but he was out patrolling with Angel again, so there was no telling how long the two vampires might be. Angel had shown up at their front door just after sunset, which had quite possibly been the single biggest shock of his existence, then topped that by asking point blank if Xander wanted to come with them, didn't he care about helping the helpless any more? Spike hadn't been there for that part of the conversation, getting his weapons from the bedroom.

Xander frowned again as he thought of Angel's expression. He'd looked ... well it had either been concern or suspicion, but either way he hadn't known what to make of it. And when he'd chuckled and pointed out that he was hardly the best person to go patrolling with them, Angel's face had gone carefully blank.

"Oh?"

Xander had just shot him a confused look and perched himself on the back of the sofa, crossing his arms over his chest. Hadn't Angel said just the other week that he hadn't wanted Xander to go patrolling with them? Had something changed? "Come on, Angel, we both know I'm hardly superhero Material. Hell, I am only human. Spike can't be there to protect me all the time."

He'd been distracted then by Spike sauntering out into the living room. He thought he caught the tail end of a look that seemed almost angry directed at Spike, but when he turned back there was just the usual blank mask in place, and Angel gesturing at Spike that it was time for them to be leaving. He did notice that Angel never took his eyes off them as Spike leaned in and placed a hard kiss on his mouth and couldn't stifle the faint thread of unease that seemed to be trying to worm its way through him ... to tell him something ... but Spike was drowning it out, turning his head, pulling away with a smile and it just faded into the background then disappeared completely as he looked into Spike's eyes.

"Have fun," Xander had grinned, then added thoughtlessly, "Be careful." And Spike had grinned back and left him to an evening by himself on the couch.

It took him a moment to figure out where the ringing was coming from. He had to go hunting through his tool box before he was finally able to dig the thing out and press it to his ear.

"Harris," he said cheerfully enough, figuring it was one of the guys from work. They were the only ones who had his number, after all.

He was treated to a burst of static that had him wincing and holding the phone away from his ear, then, "Hello? Xander? You there?"

His eyes widened and he had absolutely no control over the grin that immediately appeared on his face. "Willow?" he exclaimed.

There was a pause, then the line seemed to clear suddenly. "In the flesh. Or the voice, in any case." He could hear her grin, could see it just as clearly if she were standing in front of him. And he could feel it, as something in his soul warmed, loosened, just as it always did whenever he heard her voice. "But not for very much longer, which makes it sound like I'm about to lose my voice or die or something and that is not what I meant, let me reassure you right now."

Xander grinned even wider and flopped down onto the couch. He could tell that nothing was wrong, or at least, nothing was, like really wrong, as in someone was dead or dying or had gotten a really bad hair cut or whatever. So he let himself just sit back and enjoy the sound of his very best friend in the world being happy. "Consider me reassured, then and tell me right this second why you haven't called me once the last month? I'm almost completely convinced you've run off with some gorgeous Brazilian and forgotten all about me."

"Xan, no!" she exclaimed immediately, sounding almost frantic. Xander just smirked. "It's not that, I would never forget about you, none of us would, it's just that there's been this thing and come to think of it, just who, exactly, hasn't called whom, mister? 'Cause unless my answering machine is possessed and has been eating all my messages, which it isn't, there haven't been whole heaps of calls from you either, buddy." He could hear her grinning again and chuckled happily.

"Sorry, Will. I kept thinking about it and not doing it, you know how it is. 'Sides, Spike's been keeping me kinda busy."

Willow sighed. "Yeah, I know how you feel, we've been swamped trying to figure out this big bad evil that's supposed to be coming--and wait, what? What do you mean Spike's been keeping you busy?"

"Spike," Xander reiterated, "you know, Spike, blond hair, blue eyes, bloody annoying ..."

Willow huffed impatiently. "I know who Spike is Xander. The question is, why is he keeping you busy? I know you said you talked to him pretty often while you were in Africa. Have you two been spending lots of time together?"

Xander raised an eyebrow. "Well, yeah, what with the sex and the occasional half-assed date and the practically living ... together ..." He trailed off suddenly as something occurred to him. There was a disturbing sort of silence from the other end of the phone line. "Ah ... I did, you know, mention this, didn't I?"

The silence stretched and he winced in anticipation of the explosion. "Alexander Harris!" Ah yeah, there it was. "How long has this been going on! Why didn't you tell me! Oh my God, who else knows? Does everyone else know! I can't believe you didn't tell me! You didn't even tell me you were gay! Not that that's really the issue, it's not like you haven't, you know, ever seemed entirely opposed to the idea, but I'm still your best friend and .... Spike! Spike! Oh, I have to sit down."

There was a thump that he took to be Willow doing just that and he was about to open his mouth and relate what was sure to be a reasonable and coherent explanation of what had happened and nothing at all resembling a babbling apology when there was a funny sound and a new voice said, "Xander?"

His mouth snapped shut. "Buffy!" He slumped in relief.

"Xander, what the hell did you do to Willow?" She sounded worried. And pissed, but then Buffy generally sounded pissed when she was worried.

'Spike, Xander', he heard in the background. 'He ... they ... Spike!' There was a pause, then Buffy spoke up again. He curled into his seat a little at her tone and thanked Christ that she was currently on the very opposite side of the world. "Xander, why does Willow sound so surprised to hear that you and Spike are together?"

Which was a very good question that he was absolutely prepared to answer right now. "Um ..." he tried.

Buffy apparently wasn't satisfied. "Xander! I can't believe you! Why on earth didn't you tell her? You can't have been worried about what she would think. You know we'd love you no matter what, Willow especially." She sounded hurt now, and Xander felt frantic tears stinging the back of his eyes as he finally found his tongue.

"No, God, no, it wasn't that! I just ... I told you what had happened between me and Spike before I went to Africa, because, well, you know ... and okay so maybe I didn't tell anyone when it was actually happening but it was just new and yeah, a little weird, not really because I didn't want you to know but maybe just 'cause I was getting used to it and then it was like it was over, or on hold or something and ... I guess maybe I thought you'd tell them, but then, I don't know, I guess it never really came up and after a while I just didn't think about it ... I'm really sorry. I do want you to know, all of you ..." He trailed off miserably, waiting to hear Buffy's judgement.

There was a pause. "No, I mean, you didn't have to tell us, I guess." Xander winced at the guilt that immediately sat up and started poking little wooden stakes in his conscience at that statement. He couldn't believe this was happening. It was true he'd hidden the him and Spike thing from them at first. The last thing he'd wanted was a Cordelia rerun. So, really, he guessed it was kinda karmic or something that that was exactly what he was getting, except Willow didn't hate Spike, he didn't think, so that had to be points in his favour, surely. He'd had to tell Buffy about them. It had been eating him up inside that she might still have feelings for Spike. He'd played it down, or maybe not, seeing as it wasn't like he and Spike had been all hearts-and-roses and ever-after, or any of that stuff, really, whatever he might have wished or thought or imagined he might have seen in Spike's eyes. And if it hadn't exactly ended when he'd left for Africa, neither had they promised to do much more than to keep in touch while he was away. He'd talked to Buffy and Willow maybe a couple of times a month, though he'd kept up to date with what was going on through Giles and Andrew in England, and the truth was it really had never come up.

"Buff, I really am sorry. I ... I don't know what to say. Tell Willow I promise to tell her everything."

There was a soft chuckle from Buffy, then Willow, still sounding a little dazed, said, "Buffy's right, Xander, I'm sorry I got all blah. It was just a surprise, although thinking back on it I've got no idea why. She's wrong about the you not telling us, though. Mark my words, mister, you are so going to tell me everything I've been to thick-headed to pick up on the past couple of months."

Xander could hear her smiling again and relaxed. "Absolutely, Will. All the torrid details of my thing with the bleached wonder will be laid out for your viewing pleasure."

"Good," she stated firmly, "glad to hear it. You can start composing the stories in your head now, 'cause the whole point of this call, before your little coming out speech, was to tell you we'll be there, in L.A., on Monday. You might wanna warn Spike, too." That was his Wills, making with the scary friendly voice. He was shivering even as he was smiling.

Then he was just shivering as Buffy added, "Or not." He didn't have to be there to see the smile that all of Dawn's dates had got over the years. It occurred to him he must be on speaker phone, which was just freaking wonderful. With his luck Dawn and Giles had been in the room all along. Although, come to think of it, if they'd been there, there would have been a whole lot more squealing and swearing, so maybe he was safe.

He judiciously ignored both of the not-so-subtle ultimatums. "Yeah?" he asked, delighted. "Cool! Big crisis is there? Or didja just feel like paying me a visit?"

"Fraid you're just the icing, Xan, though visiting you and Spike," Willow hesitated over the name a little, "has suddenly made it to the top of the things to do while in L.A. list." She was still sounding kinda dangerous, of the veiny, black eyes variety, so Xander just grimaced and kept quiet. She hmphed a little at his silence, but went on to explain that the latest big bad was hellmouth bound. The hellmouth they'd all assumed was closed for good and the fact that they couldn't get away from the damned thing even after collapsing a town on it seriously sucked, a sentiment he was careful to share in verbose detail.

They hung up a little while later with promises to call and reiterated threats towards himself and Spike if beans weren't spilled soon. Xander just smiled, shook his head and promised to pass them on.

He was glad they knew. It felt like a weight he hadn't been aware of carrying had been lifted.

It didn't occur to him until later to wonder if Spike would have wanted them to know too.

 


 



"So, there you go, Will, the hentire story." Xander flashed her a grin, watching calmly as she processed all the facts of the Spike and Xander saga, which hadn't been so much saga-y as pretty damn ordinary, when it came right down to it.

"Huh," was all she said for a moment. "Huh, so, that's really kinda .... romantic."

Romantic? His eyes widened in confusion as he smirked at her. "Which story were you listening to, Wills? 'Cause in my version? Not so much with the romance."

But Willow had that faraway, smiling happy expression that he just knew meant she was thinking about, like, white horses and towers and thorns and stuff. He glanced at Buffy, looking for a little support, but she just shrugged, sipped her sea breeze and grinned, "I dunno, Xan, it sounds kinda romantic to me. Think about it. Lifelong hatred cast aside on the eve of the end of the world, only time for one first kiss before he dies, you braving magic and danger to travel back to the past, where his human self falls in love with you just in time for you to disappear from his life forever, so you can bring back what you need to resurrect him now. Then meeting again, both unable to forget that first kiss, him only now remembering that there was a second over a hundred years ago, snatching a mere month to be together before you're torn apart once again, then finally reunited after months only to discover that all those feelings are just as strong as they used to be. What would you call it?"

"I didn't ... that's not," he spluttered.

Willow laughed. "That's what you just said happened, Xan."

"Well, yeah, but not like that. I am not living a Harlequin romance! There's not nearly enough swooning, for one thing."

Buffy nodded sagely. "No, he's right, Will. Neither of them have nearly enough taut, rippling muscles to pull it off."

"Hey, we do so have rippling muscles! I mean, that's right, weak and puny, that's us."

"Uh huh." Willow continued to smirk at him.

Xander glared at her, but she sipped her drink innocently and eventually he sighed. "Okay, fine, so maybe it was kinda ... unconventional ... but, Spike has to be the girl."

"Absolutely, Xan," Willow nodded agreeably. "You da man." Xander just screwed up his nose at her and squelched the urge to stick out his tongue.

An hour or two later, they had moved from the bar and appropriated a few of the couches lining the back wall in friendly little clumps. They were also somewhere to the left of sober and giggling madly as they surveyed the crowds. Having moved on from Spike, received a glowing report on Kennedy, they were in the process of scanning for possibilities for Buffy.

"I haven't been on a date in forever," she said wistfully. "I bet you and Spike go on dates all the time, don't you Xan?"

"Nah," Xander didn't take his eyes from the people. "Don't date so much, really, anymore. Spike's all busy with Angel and stuff. Used to, though, sometimes, when we weren't busy with all the sex and stuff."

"Xander!" Buffy punched him in the arm.

"What?" He jumped, alarmed. "Oh, ah, I mean ... that is ... yeah."

"So, you don't get flowers and chocolates and poems and jewellery and cute little axes and daggers and things? Or go out to, like, restaurants and shows and whatever? That's sad. I don't either. No little weapons for Buffy."

He patted her on the head, which made her poke him, and pointed to a guy sitting at the bar. She grimaced. He went back to the search.

"You could come on patrol with me and Will, Xan," Buffy piped up after a minute. "That's like a date, right? With the walking and the, you know, talking. I bet Spike takes you patrolling with him all the time."

Xander shook his head again. "Nope, don't do that. Finally got it into my head that crappy fighters like me shouldn't be patrolling. Spike's right, I don't want to get hurt." He nodded decisively, ignoring the tiny part of his brain that was trying to make him wonder what the hell he was saying.

Buffy twisted around to look at him. "But you're a good fighter. You didn't hardly ever get--got hurt when you went with me. Well, not lately, anyway."

He shrugged. "Spike doesn't like it."

She looked at him for a moment, then slumped back into her seat with a frown that was trying to be thoughtful. "Huh, guy's are so mean."

"Yeah," Xander agreed. Willow nodded from Buffy other side. "You got the right idea, Will."

Xander was slumped against Buffy when her eyes widened suddenly. "Hey, wait, if Spike's a girl, does that make me gay, then? Huh, 'v never been gay before, but it's okay, isn't it? You'll still love me even though I'm gay, won't you guys?"

She looked so worried; Xander put his arm around her in a comforting sort of way. Willow leaned over and patted her hand. "Of course! We can be gay together!" Willow exclaimed.

Xander nodded. "We love you no matter what," he stated definitively. "'Though I'm not sure if sleeping with Spike makes you gay. I mean, it makes me gay, doesn't it? Or does it make me straight? 'Cause Spike's not really a girl." His eyes narrowed in confusion.

"He's just Xander's girl!" Willow grinned, pleased.

Speak of the devil. Spike Materialised beside them, glaring. "What girl?"

"Spike!" Buffy cried, falling forward, catching herself on the coffee table with enviable slayer reflexes. Xander didn't think he'd've managed to catch himself, but then he wasn't moving, so it was all good. "We were just talking about you! I haven't seen you in forever. Before this afternoon, I mean. Not since you were all incorporatial and you told me you didn't think you still loved me and I was so sad, but happy, 'cause I was glad you're moving on. On and on, but not me, 'cept we think maybe I'm gay now, or maybe not, which'd explain why I haven't had so many dates, really. Oh! Wait, Spike'd know! Willow, ask Spike."

Willow's head snapped around. Xander thought maybe she'd been staring at Buffy's chest, but he didn't want to mention it. "What? Spike! When did you get here? Hey! Spike, we've been meaning to ask you this thing. It's this thing, you see. You see, the thing is, are you are girl?"

Spike blinked at them. "What? Am I a what?"

"A girl," Xander added helpfully. "Y'see, I didn't think so, but if you are then that makes Buffy gay."

"Right!" Willow sounded a little too enthusiastic about that.

Xander glared at her and went on. "So you see, we need to know so we can be all supportive and stuff. And find her the right sort of date. Girl-type dates."

They all looked at him expectantly. Spike seemed to be having trouble forming words. He'd crossed his arms over his chest and was glaring at them some more. Xander smiled encouragingly when Spike glanced at him. "Oh, f'r ..." Giving up, Spike rolled his eyes and threw himself into the seat beside Xander. "You lot are bloody tanked, aren't you? No, I'm not a bleedin' girl. Though with the shit that I put up with I sometimes gotta wonder."

Buffy frowned and leaned into Xander. "Not even Xander's girl?"

"Not anyone's frickin' girl! Not a girl!" Xander giggled when he saw a few heads turn their way, choking it off as Spike turned to glare at him.

"So, I'm not gay, then? Huh, an' I was jus getting used to the idea," Buffy sighed. "Guess that means you were right, Xan, no romance for you." She patted him on the chest consolingly, leaving her hand there longer than was strictly necessary. It occurred to Xander that she was really kinda drunk. Especially when Spike growled.

"You about done here, Harris?" Spike didn't look like he expected no for an answer. Xander tensed, preparing to stand.

But Willow frowned at Spike. "Don't you want to visit with us, Spike? Don't you care about us? I haven't seen you in, well, hours, but before that it was months! Months and months and months and years even! You could have a drink! They have lots of drinks here. We've only tried not very many of them, but they were all pretty bad." She grimaced as she took another long sip of her screwdriver. Or maybe that was the last drink?

"Yeah Spike," Buffy added belligerently, tugging on Xander's arm to keep him beside her. "Go 'way if you're gonna be all party-pooping. We're having a drink with our Xan. You stay right there, Xan."

Xander found himself faced with a rather onerous decision. To stay with his girls, or to go with Spike? He tried to work out the pros and cons, but he was coming up pretty much even. On the one hand, Buffy and Willow would only be in L.A. for a few weeks and he wanted to spend as much time with them as he could. Spike would be there for ages longer than that. Plus, he was having fun. How often was it these days that he got to reconnect with them like this? And then, on the other hand, Spike had said he wanted to go home, and home probably meant sex, which was never a bad idea, especially if you added Spike to the mix.

He looked at Spike. The vampire was watching Buffy with narrowed eyes. Matter of fact, he looked pretty damn annoyed. Xander wondered if something had gone wrong while they were patrolling. "No, Slayer, my Xander is coming home with me right now," he said softly.

Xander narrowed his eyes, not entirely sure he liked that statement. He was about to open his mouth and insist that Spike wasn't the boss of him, when Buffy surged forward and pinned Spike with a suddenly disturbingly sober gaze. "I kinda think that's his decision, Spikey."

Spike's eyes were dark, dangerous, when they fell on him. "It's late, I want to go home, and I don't want him have to get home by himself after dark. It's not safe."

And Xander nodded as everything fell into place. He wasn't sure he liked being bossed around like that, but that was an argument he couldn't fault. "Fair enough." He got to his feet, swaying a little. Spike was there in a heartbeat, hands gripping his biceps hard enough to bruise, but certainly keeping him from falling. Xander just smiled through the pain and said to the two faces regarding him with some concern, "I'll give you a call tomorrow, guys, we can go somewhere with Giles and Dawn and Angel and the team, maybe."

And they said goodbye and watched as Xander was marched firmly out of the bar.

 



Spike didn't say anything the whole drive home. For once, Xander didn't feel the urge to fill in the silence. He still felt ... annoyed, torn, uncomfortable, like something bad had happened but he couldn't quite put his finger on what. His arm was bothering him where Spike had gripped hard enough to grind into his bones.

So he just glowered and sneered when Spike slammed the door and stalked into the apartment without looking at him. He didn't care if it was childish. Spike was being a jerk for some inexplicable reason and to be honest he was getting just a little sick and tired of these damn mood swings with Spike lording it over him and just expecting him to jump every time he crooked a finger.

Well, not tonight, buddy, he thought rebelliously, deliberately not looking at Spike as they walked inside. He carefully hung up his coat, got himself a glass of water from the kitchen and only after making a point of drinking it with a couple of aspirin and washing out his glass turned around to face Spike.

Who wasn't even in the room. Xander felt another surge of childish irritation and stomped into the bedroom to find Spike pacing in the shadows, his duster thrown over the chair beside the bed, but otherwise fully clothed. Which was good.. Yeah, he wasn't putting out 'till he at least got an apology.

He barely got time to open his mouth to issue the ultimatum before Spike was pinning him to the door, devouring his mouth hungrily, angrily, gripping his biceps and pulling his hair, points of pain that stood in stark opposition to the pleasure that was spiralling through him as Spike ground into his hips and his groin and ran his tongue over his gums and his teeth and his chin and made him wonder if he'd played hard to get long enough.

Spike didn't even give him the chance to reciprocate. While he was still reeling from the first kiss, Spike had him tossed onto the bed, just barely managing to not knock him unconscious on the headboard. Xander opened his mouth to comment on just how pleased that made him, but Spike was faster. There was a tongue in his mouth and hands opening his zipper and rubbing his hard-on through his pants and all those exceptionally witty things he'd had lined up would just have to wait for another time.

Spike apparently wasn't in the mood to take the time to make sure all their clothes weren't ripped to shreds, but one glance at the intense, almost angry expression on his face convinced Xander that maybe he didn't want to bring that up either. However, the expression itself was unfortunately not to be ignored. "Spike--" He broke off with a sharp cry and arched up off the sheets as Spike leaned down and wrapped his lips around the head Xander's erection. Then he could only hold on and hope that Spike didn't suck what was left of his brain out as Spike lavished the sort of attention on his dick that he normally only reserved for Passions and bitching about Angel.

It was only when his hand found its way into the crunchy mess that was Spike's hair that Spike let up. He raised his head with a growl and jerked his head out of Xander's grasp. It brought him back to himself enough to notice that although Spike seemed to have relaxed a little, he was still looking more pissed off than anything else. Shaking his head, he reached up and touched Spike's cheek. "Okay, Blondie, what's wrong?" he demanded, slightly breathlessly and possibly with less enthusiasm than the situation warranted, but hey: he was a guy in the middle of having sex, he was doing the best he could.

"Nothin'," Spike stated shortly.

"Nothing," Xander scoffed. "Right. Seriously, Spike..."

"Shut up, Harris," Spike growled. "Only thing that's wrong is you keep interruptin' me fucking you."

Xander blinked, surprised. "Geez, sorry," he muttered. Well, fine, Spike wanted to have non-talky sex, he could do that.

Spike took Xander's hands and thrust them above them his head. "Keep 'em there." Xander obediently wrapped his hands around the bars of the headboard and kept his mouth shut. Spike almost smiled at that, although it wasn't a particularly nice smile. But then there were three lubed fingers shoving into his ass and Xander pretty much forgot that there was something he was supposed to be concerned about.

He cried out at the sensation--which was apparently okay, because Spike didn't mention it--the burn eclipsed when Spike found his prostate. His fingers tightened around the headboard compulsively and his eyes fluttered shut. They flew open again when Spike raked nails down his chest, across his nipples and wrapped fingers tightly around his cock. Spike was hovering over him now and Xander was momentarily distracted by the thought that for someone who was about to have their dick up his ass, Spike didn't actually seem to be looking at him. Then his hips were being lifted up, the fingers were gone from his ass and Spike shoved into him, hard and fast, barely giving him the time to get used to this new, bigger, sensation before he was thrusting, pounding into him, grunting in his ear and digging rough fingers into his hips.

Xander gave up thinking then and just held on for the ride, letting the always unbelievable feeing of Spike inside him drive him closer to the edge. The muscles in his arms were screaming from the effort of hanging onto the rails of the bed head, from the effort of not reaching down and pulling at the erection that Spike was still ignoring. He was just about to break this self-imposed little silence and voice his displeasure when Spike finally got a clue and pried a hand from the bruises he was undoubtedly leaving on Xander's hips and started fisting his dick as his thrusts became harder and more erratic. Xander shouted out his orgasm just as Spike finally lifted his head up far enough to look him in the face for a moment before lowering it to his shoulder once again.

Xander cried out again as Spike bit harshly into the fleshy part of his neck. It was almost equal parts surprise and pleasure, but in the heat of the moment the pain didn't register until Spike threw his head back and growled as he thrust one final time and came.

He waited a moment for Spike to slip out of him and fall to his side before he raised one arm heavily and placed his fingertips over his pulse. He was aware of his heart racing, the rapid pounding just under his skin, then there was a sharp pain and when he moved slightly he became aware of the slick sensation under his fingers. Without really thinking about it, he pulled his hand away and saw the little drops of red that could be nothing but his blood.

He just stared at it as he tried to process this. Spike had bitten him. Bitten him right over his jugular, hard enough to draw blood. Spike was a vampire. If he'd been wearing his fangs Xander would probably be dead right now. It was a seriously disconcerting thought and he felt his breath hitch in is chest, his fingers curling involuntarily.

On the other hand, Spike hadn't been in game face. That had to mean something, right? He'd found out ages ago about Spike's little neck fetish, hadn't thought much of it, truth be told. Biting went on during sex all the time, it was just ... kinky. Wasn't like Spike was trying to rip his throat out, no matter that he could, given the incentive. Spike would never hurt him.

He shook his head, confused. The movement apparently disturbed Spike, because the next thing he knew, there was a "Fuck," and Spike was sitting bolt upright, staring at his neck. There was blood on his chin.

Xander lowered his hand slowly. He still felt kinda ... disconnected. He looked at Spike. "You bit me."

Spike eyed him warily. Rubbed the back of his neck nervously. "Yeah, looks like. Uh, sorry about that. Got, you know, caught up, I guess. Vampire thing. You, ah, you alright, then?"

Xander shrugged. Vampire thing? What did that mean? Spike didn't want to turn him into a vampire or something, did he? "Why ... ah, that is, you wouldn't ..."

Spike's gaze hardened. "Wouldn't what? Wouldn't drink you? Mark you? Make you mine?"

"Accidentally kill me." He tried to keep it light, but Spike stiffened.

"No." He looked at Xander so steadily that after a moment Xander dropped his gaze and shrugged again. There was that tiny niggle in his brain that was shouting, 'deliberately kill me', but he ignored it. Spike would never do that. He wasn't sure what to think about .... marking, was a little disturbed to find it didn't actually disturb hi sas much as it probably should, but he was the king of denial.

"Well, long as you don't do it too often, it's no big deal, right? Doesn't mean anything, we'll just add it to our repertoire of kinky sex." He grinned.

He didn't realise he was holding his breath until Spike said shortly, "Yeah, sure, no big deal."

Spike was up and off the bed in a blur of pale skin, disappearing into the bathroom.

Xander lay there and wondered just what, exactly, he had been holding his breath for.

 


 



Xander stumbled into his apartment some time after midnight. He threw his jacket onto the hall table as he wandered towards the living room, giggling a little drunkenly as it slipped off and fell to the floor, but not bothering to pick it up.

He hadn't actually had all that much to drink. More than he usually did, sure, but that wasn't saying much. He liked the occasional drink as much as the next guy, but he'd never got the hang of getting well and truly sloshed. Even after he'd left Anya at the altar he hadn't been able to bring himself to do it. That would have smacked of his parents even more than betraying and hurting the person he loved and that whole thing, on some level, had been about not following the sterling example of his mother and father. Somehow losing himself in the bottom of a bottle would have been almost as bad as what he'd done in the first place.

Still, he'd gone out because he was looking to have a little fun, what with Spike all unavailable with the whole protecting humanity thing Xander was no longer allowed to participate in, the girls busy with their own monster-finding fest, and it was just possible he'd gotten a little carried away.

He switched on the living room light, then looked up in alarm at the muted growl he could hear from across the room.

Spike was standing by the window, still half in the shadows, seriously pissed if the crossed arms and tense posture were anything to go by. Xander relaxed, placing a hand over his now racing heart and throwing Spike a wry smirk. "Geez, Spike, you scared the life outta me. Lurking much."

Spike stepped into the light, crossing the room in a few long strides to stand in front of him. Xander was surprised to see fangs, although they melted away in the time it took for Spike to reach him. Up close, Xander frowned. "You okay, Spike?" he asked, concern colouring his tone and clearing his head. "You look ..." Actually, if he hadn't known better, Xander might have said he looked scared, under all the righteous anger. "Did something happen while you were patrolling?"

Spike didn't seem to hear him. One hand came up to clutch at Xander's arm roughly, the other clenching at his side. "Where the hell have you been, Xander?" Spike demanded harshly.

He could only stare in shock for a moment. It was one of those weird moments when he could just feel all the good humour draining out him, like someone had turned on a heat lamp over his head and it all just melted away. His eyes narrowed, the smile fell from his face. Almost without thinking, he twisted himself away, out Spike's grip, stepping backwards. "Out," he replied stiffly. "I left you a message on your cell to let you know where I'd be." Actually, he'd called Wolfram and Hart and Spike's cell half a dozen times trying to get a hold of him. He hadn't wanted Spike to worry, after all, when he wasn't able to get a hold of him. By the end of half an hour he had been edging on seriously irritated and had eventually given up. In retrospect, his message could probably have been a little more specific, but by that stage he'd figured that if Spike didn't want to talk to him, then he was really not interested in talking to Spike either.

"'Hey Spike, gone out for a drink with the guys, should be home just after midnight'? Not good enough." Spike was starting to look downright dangerous and Xander took another unconscious step backwards.

He stopped himself, starting to get just a little angry himself. "Well, if you'd wanted to know where I was going to be, maybe you should have answered your phone. Or, and here's a novel idea, you could pick one up and give me a call once in a goddamn while!"

Once again, Spike seemed to ignore him. "I asked you where you were."

"And I think I pretty much said fuck you, Spike!"

God, this was so not the way to solve anything, but suddenly Xander was angrier than he could remember being in a long time.

Spike's eyes narrowed and faster than he could blink Xander was pushed up against the wall. "Who were you with, Xander? Huh? I can smell them on you, you know. You're mine, now, and you don't get to forget that, Pet," Spike growled, his breath coming heavily against Xander's cheek, his voice thick with more than just anger now.

Xander straightened, but didn't attempt to extricate himself. "Is that right, Spike?" he bit out sarcastically. "You can smell them, can you? And just who is it exactly that you can smell? Steve? What about his wife and their five kids? Can ya smell them, too? No, I know, you can smell Travis and his girlfriend Fiona, can't you? Sixty-five year old George? Andrew? He tends to get pretty ripe after a hard days work, what with all that extra weight he's carrying. Maybe it's him you can smell!" He felt a dark thrill of satisfaction as he noticed that Spike had backed up under the force of this rant. "No? Well, maybe it's Angel you can smell on me. Oh, wait, no, that'd be you, wouldn't it Spike?"

Suddenly realising he'd backed them up almost to the middle of the room, Xander stopped. Some of the anger in Spike's eyes had fled, as the corners crinkled in confusion. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. Xander scrunched his eyes shut for a moment, before looking back up at Spike. Truth was, he was almost as surprised he'd said that as Spike obviously was. He'd never really thought there was anything going on between the two vampires, although his subconscious had evidently been devoting some time to it. But that wasn't even remotely the issue and Xander knew it.

Or maybe it was.

Xander trusted Spike enough to not mention it when he wanted to spend all his days and most of his nights with another man, a man he had the sort of history with that Xander had been so good at failing back in high school, but Spike didn't trust Xander enough to let him have an after work drink with the boys without starting a screaming fit?

This had been coming on for a while, now, ever since Spike had said he didn't want him patrolling without extra protection that somehow they never got around to getting. There had been a whole litany of little things, from Spike not wanting him out alone after dark to Spike butting into his conversations when he was talking to a strange woman, or a man, when they were out together. Not usually rudely, but obviously. Not wanting Xander to go out with anyone if he wasn't there. Not enough to comment on, but often enough that eventually Xander couldn't help but notice.

And they really had been little things, insignificant compromises that taken one at a time were so easy to forgive and forget and just move on. This, though, this didn't feel so trivial. And as much as Xander'd really love to just let it go and hope it worked itself out, there was a point at which even he could admit that conversation kinda did become necessary. He'd left it way too long last time. Maybe nipping it in the bud this time wasn't such a bad idea at that.

"Sorry," he said a little awkwardly, "I didn't mean ... It's just .... Sorry."

"Is that what you think, Xander? Is that how much you trust me?" Spike sounded hurt, angry, confused and Xander felt something flash in his brain, something irrational, incredulous.

"I don't know, Spike, is that how much you trust me?"

"Well what'm I s'posed to think, huh? Do you even care about this relationship of ours at all, Xander? What does it mean to you, anyway? 'S far as I can tell it's all just some temporary arrangement for you. You're here with me now, but the second the slayer or Willow says jump, all you can say is how bloody high."

Xander narrowed his eyes. "Is that what this is about? You don't trust me because I want to be there for my friends?"

Spike sighed. "I do trust you, Xan. It's just, I don't want to lose you. What if you'd gotten hurt? I can't protect you if I'm not even there. You go wandering all over town by yourself, anything could happen. We talked about this." Spike sounded so rational, like he'd thought this out and anything Xander said must be wrong because he just didn't have all the facts. And Xander could feel himself caving. He was so angry, so hurt, wasn't thinking clearly. Maybe Spike was right. He knew Spike only wanted to protect him, he'd explained that, proved it, over and over.

He lowered his head, the confusion flashing through his eyes. Spike took a step towards him, leaving them almost touching from the waist down. Apology fresh on his lips Xander looked up just a second too soon, and froze. The triumphant, self-satisfied expression melted into a smile almost before he saw it. But not soon enough.

A sort of frozen calm flooded him as feelings he didn't have time to deal with right now threatened to overwhelm him. Oddly enough, he didn't feel even a little bit drunk anymore. He stepped back. "Do I belong to you Spike?" he asked softly.

Spike's eyes darkened. "You're mine, Xander. Not sharing you with anyone. Ever." Xander shivered at the dark tone, the barely audible growl.

"Do you own me, Spike?"

Uncertainty appeared in the other man's eye's. Xander didn't react. "Might not put it that way, but yeah, I guess so."

That would feel like a punch in the gut later. Much later if he had anything to say about it.

Spike rushed on before he could say anything. "Look, Xan, it's not like that. It's just a vampire thing, I guess. We see something we want we take it. Simple as that. 'S what Angelus taught me. You gotta claim something if you don't want some other vampire to come along and take it off you. Makes you my responsibility, makes it so anything would have hell to pay if it even thought about lookin' at you sideways."

Xander cocked his head to the side. In the cold void of his mind he could admit that didn't make no sense. "So, you own me because you don't want anyone else to have me," he said eventually.

Spike just looked at him. "No one else gets to have you, Pet," he said fiercely.

He looked like he might say something else, but Xander had one more question. One thing that could still make it all alright. "Do you love me, Spike?"

Spike blinked in shock and took a step backwards, his mouth opening, but no sound coming out.

Xander gave it a full thirty seconds, counting along inside his head, before his heart shut down. And once again Spike reacted a second too late. "Of course I do. You know that. How could you even doubt that?"

He didn't have an answer for that. Didn't really believe it. Didn't know if that should be breaking his heart or not.

But a second later it all became obsolete anyway.

Spike's cell phone rang. Spike turned away from him to pick it up. The conversation was brief, Xander watching impassively as Spike went from to irritated to concerned to frantic in the space of less than a minute. Hearing the words 'thirty-third street', 'church', 'be right there'.

Then coming back to himself with an almost physical shock as the pain seemed to lash through his soul. Buffy, screaming for Willow, Willow, screaming for Giles and all of them so afraid.

"Willow," he gasped out, spinning and racing for the door, pausing only long enough to open the hall closet, fumbling blindly for his sword, no thought but the need to get there, to be with them.

The hand on his arm didn't even register at first. In retrospect he thought there might have been words. It was only when Spike hauled him up and slammed him into the wall for the second time that night that he came back to himself enough to really see the other man.

Spike was glaring at him furiously. "Where the hell do you think you're going?"

"Willow, Buffy, they're in trouble," he bit out. "Let go of my arm, I need to leave." He pulled at his arm futilely.

Spike growled at him. "Have you not heard a bloody word I've said tonight? I'm not letting you go out there. You can't protect yourself and I won't be able to stay by your side the whole time."

"Let go of my fucking arm, Spike!" he exclaimed harshly.

"Xander, no. You have to understand, I can't lose you. Not to something like that. Please, Pet, please, you have to stay here. I'll protect them. You know I will. I would never do anything to hurt you."

Spike sounded so desperate. Any other time, any other situation, Xander knew he would have given in. He wanted to give in. Spike was right. He couldn't protect himself. He knew he needed Spike to look out for him.

But Willow, Buffy, Giles, they were pieces of his soul. And if there was one thing that he would never forget, one thing that would always be more important than any partner, any friend or any lover, it was the ties that bound them, the promise that they'd made; they would always fight beside each other and if it came to that, they'd die together.

So he looked into the eyes of the vampire who might have loved him and said, "No. Not this time. You can't keep me here, Spike."

Spike's grip loosened, even as his eyes filled with pain and Xander felt his heart break a little more at that look, felt the almost overwhelming desire to just give in. He opened his mouth, an apology on his lips, his eyes begging for understanding.

But Spike tensed, stepped back. "I'm sorry, Luv," he said.

Then with inhuman speed and calculated force his fist swung back, forward, connected.

And the last thing Xander saw as the world faded to black was broken blue eyes stepping forward to catch him.

 



His eyes fluttered open before his mind managed to catch up with what was going on. Enough time for him to recognise that he was in the bedroom, on the bed, lying on his back fully clothed with the doona covering him from the waist down. The door was open and there was a light on in the living room, bouncing strange shadows off the mirror opposite the bed. His head hurt, like he'd been unconscious and his jaw ached, like it was ...

Then he was sitting up, flinging the covers to the ground and before he really had time to think about it standing by his couch, staring at the LED on the VCR. Twenty minutes, it had been twenty minutes. His mind went inwards, searching for something, anything, and there, the tug in his soul, weak, but alive and thank god he wasn't out of time yet.

Giving the room a final cursory glance he picked up the axe that was still exactly where he had dropped it and without a second thought opened the door and raced out into the night.

 


 



His eyes wouldn't open this time. He'd tried, but the effort was too much, and there was a little corner of his mind that was warning him that he didn't want to wake up anyway, not with the beating he'd suffered.

So he let himself drift, paying the voices and the noises and the soft rustles of movent no mind. But suddenly his mind drifted to Buffy and Willow and the light flared behind his eyes as his heart sped up and he needed to get his eyes open now, damnit. Pain flared along his ribs, his legs, concentrated in his neck and flashed like lightening into his brain and for a second it almost dragged him under, but then his eyes opened, thank fuck, and he could see. He couldn't do more than gasp when he tried to sit up, the air trying to tear itself from his lungs, because he needed to find them, needed to go, now.

There were hands holding him down, strong, cool fingers digging into his shoulder and he was frantic, so desperate he barely heard the, "Xander, Xander, calm down, you're alright now, we've got you."

His head veered around and he stopped. Just stopped, frozen, before slumping in relief. "Buffy, oh god, Buffy, thank god you're alright. Willow--"

"Just went to get a coffee. We're fine Xan," she said quietly, running her fingers over his face, lightly over a spot on his jaw.

He was shaking as he lay back down. "What about Giles? Dawnie? Is everyone alright?"

She sighed and his gut clenched. "Yeah, well, Giles is just down the hall." He realised suddenly that they were in a hospital. "He was hurt pretty bad, magical backlash, but Willow says he'll be okay. Dawnie's fine, you got her out before anything could happen. Anything worse, anyway. Kennedy should pull through. Will's been sitting with her, you know, when she isn't in here or with Giles."

He closed his eyes for a moment and waited for the relief to wash over him. It felt like it was taking all of his energy with it and it was harder than it should have been to open them again. He shook his head, trying to focus, but Buffy was fading in and out. "What happened? What were those things?" he muttered, but suddenly the room was full of people and he was tired, so tired and falling into the darkness and remembering ...


Running out of the building and there was a cab waiting. Snapping off the address 'thirty-third street church'. Then minutes, fifteen, longer, shorter and all he knew, all he could hear, feel, was the strings around his heart thrumming with fear and pain and yelling, screaming at him to hurry.

Terrified eyes staring at him from the rear view mirror. Bouncing the handle of his axe on his knee. Tires squealing into the distance and blending into the screaming coming from behind the two solid oak doors that marked the entrance to the church.

He'd paused then, he remembered, a second for his mind to weigh the options; front door, side door, surprise, recon, numbers, good guys, bad guys. And his feet were taking him around to the rectory, past the corpses; demons, which meant he wasn't the first to come this way and he just followed the blood 'til it took him through a door by the altar and showed him, let him see ...

He remembered the first thing he'd thought had been, 'fuck'. It was a big church, old fashioned, one of those high ceilings, big columns, stained-glass windows numbers. Like the sort they'd had in England. And in the centre, amid broken stone and scattered pews there was a hole. He'd always reckoned a black hole would look kinda like that. Except this one wasn't sucking anything into it.

Shadows crowded the corners, pulsing and straining and watching... and fuck but shadows shouldn't be allowed to do that.

He took it all in. Willow, standing behind the altar, chanting, glowing, light pushing at darkness. Giles, beside her. Buffy, Kennedy, front line, fighting the .... the things that were pulling themselves out of that hole, horrible, bent, gnarled and clawed, slow and huge, going down but still pushing forward. Wesley, Gunn, Dawn, second rank. Two vampires on the floor, out for the count.

And Willow had known it the second he stepped inside. He heard the words inside his head. 'I'm nearly ready.'

And Buffy, 'Xander, get them out, now!'

Darting forward, keeping low, as Buffy and Kennedy stepped up the attack, buying them time. "Dawn, Wes, Gunn, Buffy says out, now. Now!" As the two men had hesitated, Dawnie just nodding and motioning them to pick up an unconscious vampire each.

He'd followed them, last out, paused as one of the demons got through, parried, thrust, ducked under it's guard and buried his axe in its neck, wrenching free with heave and a solid boot to its chest.

And it had been so easy, so natural. Strength and skill and for an instant he'd looked at Buffy, known he could never be that good, that effortless, but known deeper that he could do this.

And he'd remembered fighting, patrolling, making a difference over and over again. Remembered winning, taking down the vamps, by himself, with the guys, with his only human hands. Remembered loving it. And remembered giving it up, without an argument, without trying to make it safer for him, easier for Sp--him, without a second thought, because ... because he'd been told to.

And for a second everything that had made so much sense twenty-four hours ago made no sense at all. Why had he given in without a fight? Why had he let Spike convince him he couldn't do this, couldn't fight, needed to be protected? Why had he believed it?

There hadn't been time then. He'd turned, ducked through the door, seen the vampires were coming around, holding their heads, hunched, breathless, but standing, which meant it was time to leave.

He'd been going to leave. He could hear Willow in his head telling him to get out, they'd be right behind him, told the others and watched as they hesitated only a moment before nodding, turning and making their way outside, leaving just him and his vampire.

Even then, he was ready to leave, wouldn't have waited, but suddenly it came again, the tearing in his soul, a sudden spike of fear, desperation and he knew that Buffy was down and Willow and Giles weren't going to make it in time.

He just moved. There was no decision, no doubt, no time. No time for the hand on his arm and the desperate, "No, Luv, you can't go back in there." And no time to argue with the corner of his soul that he now understood Spike owned, owned completely. That Xander had given him and he in turn had taken and used and twisted to make Xander what he wanted.

He had time to know it, but no time to feel it, so it was with no sense of irony, no sense of anything, really, that with brutal force his fist had swung back, forward, and connected.

He'd gone down, and Xander hadn't waited to see if he'd get up.

Everything after that was a blur of light and shadows. Flashes of illumination; Kennedy standing over an unmoving Buffy, drenched in blood, falling, failing, but up again in a burst of light; Willow standing, head thrown back, glowing, the light around her getting brighter, painful, expanding; Giles, chanting fiercely, glancing at the demon getting closer, lumbering around an already frantic Kennedy, stretching its claws out and stopping suddenly as Xander's axe cleaved it's head as easily as a buzz-saw through a plank of wood.

He thought he might have grinned then, just once for Giles, thought he might have heard himself laughing as he swung his weapon and stepped up beside Kennedy, but he hoped even he wasn't that freaking insane, so maybe not.

Most of the blows didn't register, really. The claws raking over his leg, the powerful fist that glanced off his shoulder as he ducked too late, the jarring pain as his axe connected again and again. They weren't really important. He was used to getting hurt, knew when to worry and when not, and knew anyway that if he didn't keep standing for the next thirty seconds that his friends would die. All the family he had left in the world would lie bleeding on the flagstones of this crumbling church while the shadows devoured their souls and the demons picked over their corpses. There was nothing more important than that. They'd have to cut his legs out from under him before he stopped fighting.

He remembered the light washing over him, was aware of the shadows screaming, falling back into the hole they'd crawled out of, of the demons retreating, uncertain, now their masters were gone, knew that the portal was closing, that they'd done it, they'd won. And it was because of that he could remember so clearly the talon that lashed out, even as Kennedy skewered its owner's bulk, and buried itself in his chest, wrenching down as the creature fell to the floor. He'd watched as it had torn a hole from his shoulder to his heart before slipping out. Remembered the way the blood had welled up, spurting in time with his heartbeat, drops of red on his fingers, on his lips, his life dripping away to pool on the floor.

He'd fallen, gasping. Had lain on the floor, dying, alone, wanting to cry out. And then he'd been there. Spike. Kneeling at his side. There had been tears in his eyes. Xander remembered that. His hands had been frantic, pulling and pressing and covered in blood.

"Xan," he remembered. "God, Xan, what have you done? You fucking idiot, what have you done?" He'd known then, now when it was probably too late. Maybe Spike had seen something in his eyes. Hell, maybe it had been some freaky vampire death sensing thing, but he'd cried out, "No! You are not going to fucking die like this, you bloody moron! I won't lose you like this! I'll ... I can turn you. Keep you with me. We'll work it out, get you your soul, maybe." He hadn't even been looking him at that point. Xander tried to shake his head, tried to say no, that wasn't what he wanted, that Willow could fix him, could save him, but Spike wasn't hearing it. "It'll only hurt for a minute, Luv."

He would never forget the face of the man he loved as it twisted, contorted, stayed exactly the same, and lowered to his neck to sink fangs into his flesh. Xander had felt his heart slow, his breaths shorten, struggled with all the strength he had left.

Then nothing, as the body was ripped away and his eyes slipped shut, leaving him nowhere to go but the darkness.


The pain in his neck was loud, throbbing, calling attention to itself like an accusation or a warning and although he screwed his eyes shut and tried to block it out, his body was one of those things that he just couldn't run away from, no matter how hard he tried.

Couldn't run from his thoughts, either, but at least he was better at ignoring them. And the soft murmur of voices promised to distract him, at least for while, so he opened his eyes.

It was dark in the room now, just the faint lights from the corridor. It hadn't registered earlier, but the venetian blinds were still opened far enough that he could see the lights of the city glittering outside his window. At his soft sigh, the voices fell silent, and he turned his head to see Wes and Giles getting up from mismatched chairs at the end of the bed. Looking around, he could see that he'd been put in a single room.

From what little he could see, Giles looked like crap. Tired, old, and he'd never really thought of Giles like that. Giles turned slightly and the light passed over haggard features and a smile that was typically British, in that you could only see the relief and the pleasure with years of practice. Xander smiled back, raising his eyebrows slightly, grinning when Giles did that little self-deprecating mouth thing that at once dismissed his appearance and scolded Xander for drawing attention to it.

He flicked his eyes over to Wes, who was looking just as relieved as Giles, smiling again.

Giles moved closer, sitting lightly on the side of the bed. "Xander, you're awake at last. How are you feeling?"

Xander went to shrug, stopped when the movement jarred something in his shoulder and sent little stabbing pains through his neck. He couldn't stop the sharp intake of breath, grimacing wryly. "Not too bad, I guess. Except for all the excruciating pain, but hey, still alive, right? No, really, right? Not dying of some internal bleeding thing or something?"

Giles smiled and patted his hand. "No, Xander, you'll be fine. You took quite the beating, and there was a fair amount of ... blood loss, but nothing you won't recover from." Xander caught the hesitation over 'blood loss'. So Giles knew what had happened. Of course he'd know, he was there, after all. But Xander didn't want to talk about that. Not yet. Not before he could figure out what it meant. So he nodded and glanced down. He could feel Giles watching him, waiting. Heard him sigh, finally, and looked back up. "Thank you, Xander."

He blinked, surprised. Not what he'd been expecting. "For what?"

Giles snorted a little, affectionately. "For saving our lives. It was exceptionally foolish of you to go rushing in there like that, but had you hesitated we would all be dead right now."

Xander blinked, then chuckled. "Hey, you know me, King of the distracting pummel. At least I'm learning to pummel back. That's a step in the right direction."

Giles gave him a wry smirk. "Indeed. And may I say, a much more effective method of distraction it is."

Xander just raised his eyebrows and grinned. "So, Buffy said everyone's okay. I didn't dream that, right? We're all dancing merrily along the road to recovery? 'Cause no offence, Giles, but you look like shit. Should you even be out of bed? Last I saw you were busy making the floor your new best friend."

"Well, no offence taken, of course." Giles was giving him the exasperated look. Gee, he'd missed that look. As per expectation he put on his innocent face. Giles maintained the look for longer than Xander would have given him credit for, smirking reluctantly before becoming serious again. "No, you didn't dream that. Yes, everyone will be fine. But you were unconscious for nearly three days, Xander. You woke up only this afternoon. We have been very worried about you."

"Seriously? Three days? Wow, no wonder the Buffster was up and about."

"Xander ..." Giles hesitated, glanced at Wesley. Xander felt his stomach clench, couldn't say anything. "Xander, we were wondering, that is ..." The glasses came off as he looked down. Wes stepped forward.

"We wanted to ask you about Spike," he said plainly. Xander looked away, down, anywhere but at the two men patiently waiting for him to say something. Eventually he just took a deep breath, let go of the life preserver and looked up.

Nodded. "Sure, what'd you want to know?" Cheerfully, carelessly, which made Giles look up sharply and pin him with a suspicious gaze. His smile wanted to crack, but he persevered.

"Well, for a start, why didn't you arrive at the church with Spike? We know you were there when Angel called. He asked for you specifically." Angel had asked for him? Wanted him to come? Spike hadn't said. Then again, it had been a pretty short conversation and what with being all distracted by the crisis, maybe Spike just hadn't heard.

He shrugged. "Spike said he could take care of it. He ... he asked me not to come."

Giles was looking at him. Just looking; like he could be all psychic and see all the things Xander wasn't saying. Hell, maybe he could. Being all watchery and looking at his ... body language and stuff. "I see. You didn't care that you could feel we were in trouble?"

Xander looked up sharply at the harsh tone. "What!? No! Of course I cared! I was running out the door the second I heard you! I got there as fast as I damn well could, Giles. I just got, you know, delayed."

"Delayed."

"Yeah, delayed! You know, that thing that people get when they live in a big city with lots of traffic and stuff? I'm sorry I was late, but at least I was there!"

"And did this delay have anything to do with the fact that you were unconscious for about twenty minutes right after Willow opened the link, Xander?" Giles had moved away, was looking at him like he was some sort of abused wife that couldn't admit anything was wrong. "Did it have anything to do with the bruise on your jaw that the doctors reliably informed us was about an hour older than all your other injuries?"

Xander winced and looked down, running a hand through his hair. It hadn't occurred to him they might have felt that. So, they knew everything then. He wondered if they knew what to do about it. Preferably something that didn't involve telling Spike to stay the hell away from him. Knowing Buffy and Giles, probably not.

Problem was, he wasn't entirely sure they'd be wrong.

Giles sighed. "Xander, I'm sorry. When I learned about you and Spike the other week I was honestly going to try to be supportive, but I'm not sure I can do that anymore. And it's not just this. We're almost certain Spike has been controlling you somehow. Granted, not to harm you, but I'm not sure that makes it any better."

Xander looked up, broken and trying not to be, but he knew Giles would be able to see it. "Giles, it ... he didn't mean to. I don't think .... He just wanted to keep me safe ..."

It was an excuse and he knew it. He didn't want to believe Spike could do something like that, but it was too late to pretend there was nothing there. Giles was right, whatever Spike had done to him, it had made all the doubts, the need to help people, just disappear. He hadn't worried about it, hadn't thought about it at all, most of the time.

But four nights ago his friends had almost died because of Spike's fear, his arrogance and yes, his love. He supposed that was why he'd been able to break out of it. There was no way Spike's little mind tricks would ever stand up against the onslaught of the Scooby bond and Willow's magic.

Spike had held him, laughed with him, loved him ... Controlled him, looked down on him from his vampy pedestal, kept him from the people he loved, from anyone, really, from the sun, put him in a little box to protect him because he was only human and couldn't be trusted to protect himself ... Could go in and play with his mind, even without fucking meaning to, hurt him, bruise him with a careless grip. And then four nights ago Spike had hit him, deliberately knocked him unconscious and for an encore sank fangs into his neck and tried to kill him.

Because he loved him and wanted to keep him safe.

Xander closed his eyes on the tears, spoke softly. "Where is he?"

Giles matched his tone. "Xander ..." Torn, hopeless.

He opened his eyes. "I know ... Giles, I ... I know, alright. Just .... where is he."

"He's upstairs," Wesley broke in. "We're in the medical ward at Wolfram and Hart at the moment. He's been pacing Angel's office for the past three days. Buffy wouldn't, couldn't stake him. She tore him off you before he could drain you completely. Willow kept you alive until the ambulance arrived. But .... she wouldn't let him see you. A stance none of us could much fault. Xander, Spike tried to kill you, are you certain this is advisable?"

Xander let out a despairing sort of huff. "He doesn't want me dead, Wes. You know that."

Wes frowned, but relented. "Yes, I suppose you are right about that. Will you consent to having Willow or Buffy in the room, then, while he is here?"

Xander only hesitated for a moment. "Yeah, sure, Wes." He wasn't sure it was such a bad idea anyway. "They can stand just outside, alright?" It broke his heart that they were talking like this. Talking about Spike like this. Like he was some criminal and Xander was the victim about to come face to face with his tormenter. It broke his heart that he didn't have the strength to argue.

 

He just lay there as Giles and Wesley left, Giles giving him a final pat on the arm, not saying anything. They both knew he couldn't say what Xander wanted to hear; that he would support him no matter what he decided to do. Xander was just as glad he let it be.

He switched on the light and sat up as much as he was able, then suddenly he could hear hurried footsteps in the hall; heavy, thudding boots and two lighter treads. And he screwed it all up, everything he was feeling, thinking, that was screaming to be let out, and buried it. Shovelled blank thoughts and meaningless memories over them, just in time to turn empty eyes to the black-clad figure bursting into his room.

 

God, it was almost too much. Just that and his carefully built walls were already threatening to collapse.


Spike looked terrible. It occurred to Xander that he really must have been pacing Angel's office for the last three days. Literally. The duster was gone, there were weird greenish stains on the shirt and jeans. Demon blood from the other night, apparently. Xander wondered if there were still reddish stains on the dark Material, too, but cut off that train of thought. His hair was  'sticking up in messy little gel-filled clumps...'  as bad as Xander had ever seen it get. His fingers clenched with urge to run through it, to make little spikes and smooth it out, to feel Spike move his head into the pressure and smile unconsciously.

And his eyes looked just as broken as Xander felt.

"Xan ... Oh, God, Xan. Thank God you're all right. They wouldn't let me see you."

Then Spike was holding him, kissing him and for a moment it all just fell away, before his body cried out at the abuse and he wrenched away with a gasp of pain.

Spike pulled away immediately. "Sorry, Luv."

Xander shrugged, tried to smile. "Hey, Spike." Had to look away.

Spike just smiled back. That beautiful turn of his lips that Xander knew made his eyes sparkle. The William smile. God, but he loved that smile. Spike leaned in to kiss him and he couldn't stop it. Didn't want to stop it, wanted to freeze this moment so that all the ones that happened after it would never have to happen. Spike pressed harder, brought his hand up to grasp Xander's chin. It was like ice. Flashing through his brain and sitting heavy in his stomach and Xander winced and pulled away with a jerk.

When his eyes opened, Spike was regarding his chin with a rueful expression, his hand hovering just over the skin. Xander had to stop himself from flinching away.

"Quite the shiner, eh, Luv?" he chuckled. "Sorry about that. Though you must have quite the thick hide there. Didn't think you'd be up and about so soon. Which was right reckless of you, come to mention it. Can't have you doing anything like that again. Still, long as you're alright, this time--"

"Spike," Xander interrupted, the ice spreading into something like incredulity. "Spike, look, we have to talk." The smile fell from Spike's face as confusion bled into his eyes. For a moment Xander was really fucking happy that that little cliché existed. He didn't know if he could do this with Spike smiling at him.

"'Bout what, Luv?" he said, perching on the side of the bed.

"About what happened," Xander frowned. "You don't think maybe that merits a little discussion?"

Spike looked at him oddly, seemed kind of annoyed at the question. "Look, Pet, I'm sorry I hit you, but I didn't want you getting hurt."

"Sorry, what?" Xander's eyebrows climbed his forehead, shocked.

Spike narrowed his eyes. Almost glared. "You could have been killed, Xander. I wasn't going to let you get hurt."

Xander was rendered momentarily speechless. God, since when was Spike this fucking stupid? "You didn't want me getting hurt?" he exclaimed. "And getting punched in the face was a walk in the goddamned park?"

Spike started to interrupt, but Xander could see the defensive retort on his lips and knew in a flash that he did not want to hear it. Spike would listen to this, damnit.

"You hurt me all the time, Spike," he glared. "That's the point. I know you don't mean to. I know, alright! You're a vampire, super strength and all. But for someone who isn't allowed to go out and fight the monsters anymore, I've got a whole damn lot of bruises marring this lovely skin of mine."

"Haven't heard you complaining too much before now, Pet," Spike commented snidely, moving away a little.

Xander narrowed his eyes and tried to sit up, not allowing the flash of pain show on his face. "And if it was just that, then yeah, I'd get over it and move on. It's not like my life hasn't been full of cuts and bruises for as long as I can remember," he sneered sardonically. "But it's not just that, Spike. You ... you act like I'm some ... thing, that you own. You say it's not like that, but what the hell am I supposed to think? You won't let me patrol, you barely even let me out on my own. How are we ever supposed to have any sort of relationship if you're always in control and I'm like some kid you have to watch over every fucking second of the day so they don't fall over and scrape their knees? Fuck, you rolled my mind, Spike ..." Xander could feel himself breathing heavily, the blood pounding through his neck, sharp little points of pain, but it didn't matter. This had been a long time coming.

Spike was standing now, glaring down at him. "I didn't bloody well know that, did I Xan!" he shouted. "I didn't even know I could do that! Besides, you're the one who drank my fucking blood, Pet!"

"And what, you just figured I was being a good little boy and doing what I was told?" Xander yelled right back.

"I thought you understood! How the fuck was I supposed to know about that? I'm sorry, alright? I'm really fucking sorry, but can't you damn well understand that I didn't do that deliberately?"

"So you just accidentally went and controlled my mind. Wow! And what if it happens again? What happens when you do decide to do it deliberately, Spike? How the hell do you think it makes me feel to know that one wrong step and you'll have me twisted around your little finger?" He stared at Spike, more desperate now for the other man to just explain himself, to say... something... that would make all this better, would make it all just go away.

Spike jerked back like he'd been slapped. "Is that what you believe, Xan?" he said softly, incredulously. "My God, is that how much you trust me?"

Xander winced and dropped his head, the anger draining out of him, and all it left him was tired and hurting. "No. No, I guess not. I'm just ... I want to believe you so damn much and I'm ... I'm just not sure how much I trust myself."

Spike stared at him, his eyes intense. "All I ever wanted was to protect you, Pet. You're so fragile. For years I've watched you, when we went patrolling, seen you coming home with bumps and bruises, barely getting away with limbs all intact. And for years I didn't care. Hell, you know what we were like back then, Luv. But that changed. And I hate it, Xan. Hate knowing that someday I might be too slow, you might not see some blow coming and I'd lose you. God, Pet, it was like a knife in my bloody gut every time I thought of it. I couldn't do it, couldn't let you go out there when you couldn't protect yourself."

And it made sense. God help him, but it made so damn much sense. How often had he sat waiting at home for the day Spike got caught unawares, for the phone call that told him to come and pick up his pile of dust, for the day when Spike just never came home at all? How much would he have loved to say to Spike his work was too dangerous and he wasn't going to allow it? How often had he wanted to pick up his axe and never let Spike face his demons alone?

But more to the point, how many times had he actually done it? Ignored what Spike wanted and needed and forced him to do what kept him safe instead? He knew he could have, with threats and pleas if not with direct violence. But he hadn't, 'cause Spike was a vampire with a soul and a conscience and there were some things he needed to do.

Once again he found himself wanting to cave. Even more than the last time. But it was too late and there was just too much and maybe they could work it out and everything would turn out for the best, but not right now. Once again he'd lied to himself and his partner and hoped the truth would just go away. Right now it was time to fix that.

So he ignored the tears in his eyes and said as firmly as he could, "I can, you know, Spike. I know I'm no vampire. I don't have slayer strength or witchy powers, but I can protect myself from the demon monsters and the human monsters better than most people will ever be able to." He stopped, looked at Spike's unreadable face. Took a deep breath and prepared to finish it. "But I can't protect myself from you. I love you, you know. I love you so much it hurts, Spike. I realised it, in the church. All the things you did, do ... and all I could think was you were doing it for me, only ever for me. I know you never meant to hurt me. But you do, you can, and you can't seem to stop yourself. I'm only human, you said it yourself. And I can't take it, anymore. I can't live like that, locked away in your little cage. I won't. I deserve better."

Spike had backed away. Was looking at him with something like fear, Xander thought. "I could never hurt you, Xan. I love you."

Xander sighed, looked the man straight in the eye and said, "Maybe you wouldn't. But you could. I love you too, but Spike, you could snap my neck faster than I could open my mouth and ask you to stop. You proved that much in that church."

Spike was silent for so long, Xander wondered if he was just going to walk out then and there. When he did speak, Xander had to strain to hear. "When I bit you. Xan, I'm so sorry about that. I never meant ... I thought you were dying. Hell, you were dying, Pet. I could hear your heart slowing down. I just ... I couldn't lose you, not when I was able to save you."

There were so many little things, but this, this was the heart of it. The one thing he just couldn't get his mind around. "Spike, you ... you were going to kill me. And I know that shouldn't be a big deal considering my past relationships and all, but fuck, I ... I don't know how to make that okay."

Spike stared at him, horrified. "Kill ...? Xander, no, I wasn't going to kill you. Bloody hell, is that what you think?" Xander looked up to see him running a hand through his hair.

"You stuck your fangs in me and tried to drain me, Spike. You were going to turn me. What else would you call it?"

"I call it saving your life, Luv! Yeah, I was going to turn you, make you a vampire. Like me, remember? You were bleeding out your life in front of me. What the hell did you expect me to do, just sit there and watch you die?! Don't you bloody get that I can't do that! I love you, you flamin' moron. And I am not going to stand by while you give up the bleeding ghost!"

Spike had tears in his eyes. Like when he'd found out they'd brought back the love of his life without bothering to tell him. It broke his heart, but it didn't change anything. "I'm gonna die, Spike," Xander responded harshly. "One day. I'm human, remember? No extended shelf life for me. No matter how hard you try to protect me, I'm still gonna kick that bucket in the end. It's just the way it is."

"Not the way it has to be, though, is it?" Spike responded desperately. "Why the fuck would it be so bad, Xan? I would stay with you forever."

 

Forever?

 

Xander fumbled to a stop. Spike wanted him forever? He couldn't ... he couldn't even imagine it. How did you love someone forever? It all fell apart sooner or later, that was just the way of the world. No matter how much it felt like looking into eternity at the beginning, things were always going to happen, get in the way, and life would rear its ugly head and fuck your perfect world all to high hell.

And even if they lasted a hundred years, longer, what then? He didn't want to be a vampire. Didn't want to lose his soul. And so maybe Willow cursed him, in what possible way was that going to make everything better? He could be with the man he loved for as long as possible, just so long as he never wanted to risk being happy? And what about the rest of it? Having to suppress the urge to kill his friends; drinking blood; never being able to go out into the sun ... Okay, sure, if it happened, he'd deal with it, but he'd seen too much the past decade to want it.

 

"Is that really what you want?" Xander had to know.

Spike screwed his eyes shut for a moment, like he was trying to hold himself together. Xander shivered under the intensity of his gaze when he opened them again and took a tiny step forward. "I want you, Xan. That's all. However bloody strange it is to hear myself saying that, it's true, Luv. I feel like I've loved you forever. Since you walked out of my life a century and a half ago. I can't imagine not having you there. The thought that I could lose you ... it scares the unliving shit out of me."

They were silent for a long while then. Xander thought he could see the light go out Spike's face. He knew there was none left in his own. "Yeah," he said eventually, no longer quite sure what he was agreeing with. "Yeah, I know." And he thought maybe he did. Spike had said Xander belonged to him, but he was starting to think it was possible that he had just as much invested in Spike as Spike did in him. It had only really been two months, but coming back from Africa, back to Spike ... it had felt like coming home. Easy. Right. And even when everything was so fucked up, when it'd felt like they were falling further and further away from each other, he hadn't made himself face up to any of it because he hadn't been able to imagine any longer what it would be like to live without Spike.

The thing was, he was starting to think that maybe now ... now he could.

"Spike, I ... I'm sorry. I love you, I do, but I need some time, please ..." Spike's face went blank, then, dead, and Xander's stomach turned to lead as the wind rushed through his head and horrified tears sprang up behind his eyes. God, but he wanted to take it back, fuck he needed to take it back and he was such a fucking coward ... His head screamed and his mouth wouldn't form the words.

Spike bumped into one of the visitors chairs as he moved away, back. And Xander wanted to open his mouth, to say something, 'cause that wasn't even Spike, anymore. It was clumsy and stiff and broken and when it spoke it was empty, eggshells broken underfoot and nothing left but the pain. "I wish you'd told me some of this earlier, you know? I could have done things differently. You could have at least given me a chance to explain. It's Anya all over again, isn't it? You keep it all bottled up inside until it's too late and destroy what could have been ... You should have given me a chance, Xan. I am what I am, and I know that I fucked things up, but it didn't have to be like this. I just ... it didn't have to be like this."

He watched. He watched as Spike waited, watched as he turned and watched for the eternity it took him to cross the floor, saw his shoulders slump as his hand touched the handle, listened as he fumbled open the door and shut his eyes so he wouldn't have to know that he never once looked back as he found the corridor and walked away, his footsteps echoing long after the silence fell.

 

He found his tongue.

"Wait ..."

 


 



Angel shuffled into the elevator as it opened onto the car pool, rolling his neck and staring blankly at the panel for a moment while his brain played catch up.

He'd spent the past few days cleaning up after the demons that had opened the portal in that church, hunting down what was left of the little society that had planned on raising whatever hell-beastly demonic thing had been next on the list of things to bring down before they brought about the apocalypse. He was just glad they'd nipped it in the bud this time, relatively speaking. Buffy, Gunn, Wes, even Willow had gone with him when they could, researching back in the office to find out where the rest of the fuckers were holed up when he put his foot down and insisted they needed a break.

Buffy didn't like to leave Xander alone, anyway.

He closed his eyes wearily at that thought and snorted as he marvelled at just how well and truly Spike had managed to fuck up this time. Not that he was all that surprised.

Spike had been holed up in his office for days now. Pacing and muttering to himself and demanding that he be allowed to see Xander, asking every five god damn minutes for updates, cursing the slayer and the witch and whoever else happened to be in the room. After the first twenty-four hours he just hadn't bothered going back in there. Used Wes's office for meetings, or at least those he couldn't cancel, and made himself scare the rest of the time.

Realising he was just standing in the elevator, he opened his eyes and reached out to push the button to take him to his apartment. All he wanted right now was a shower, some blood and at least six hours of uninterrupted sleep. But it seemed he couldn't do it. "Fuck," he grimaced. "God damn stupid idiot boy. I don't care. Serves the moron right." He considered knocking his head against the wall 'till he fell unconscious, decided that was more trouble than he was prepared to go to right at this moment, cursed himself for a fucking soft-hearted vampire and pressed the button for his office.

He waited out the ride, trying to think peaceful happy thoughts, or at least trying not to think violent homicidal thoughts, which was generally as close as he ever got when it came to Spike. The doors opened, he squared his shoulders, put on his best don't-fuck-with-me-boy expression, and stepped out, prepared to face the latest little temper tantrum.

He stopped, frowned. Spike was sitting on the back of the couch staring out the windows. Angel was used to the whole preternatural stillness bit, used it himself all the time, but not from Spike. The lights were off, the doors closed and if he hadn't been a vampire and actually looking for it, he might not have even noticed Spike was there.

This was ... not what he'd been expecting. Harmony had been keeping him updated and the last she'd reported Spike was still tearing around the office trying to find an outlet for his frustration. There was only one thing that could have changed, then. And if that was the case, where was the drinking, the swearing, the breaking glass bottles over heavy objects?

"Spike," he started. Spike didn't move, didn't seem to have heard him, and he moved further into the room, trying to fight back a wave of honest concern.

Then, "'Lo, Mate. You alright there?" Angel's feet moved him over to the window, but he wasn't paying them much mind. Spike's voice echoed through his thoughts. Soft ... empty. No antagonism, no snark, not even concern, just ... nothing.

"Spike, what the hell are you doing there?"

Spike snorted, tilted his head to peer at Angel sideways. "No idea, Mate. Lookin' at all the pretty lights. Thinkin' about how shit my life has been since I hooked up with you bloody do-gooders. Workin' up the enthusiasm to go out an' get good and hammered, mostly. I'm thinking give it a couple of minutes, should be out of your hair soon enough."

Angel took a step closer in spite of himself. He'd promised himself he wasn't going to get involved in this. Course, that hadn't stopped him from trying to find out what was happening with Harris, why he suddenly dropped practically off the map. And it hadn't stopped him needling Spike about it every time they went patrolling together. Xander might be a pain in the ass, but he still qualified as one of the good guys, which meant Angel had to look out for him, no matter what he thought of him personally.

Come to think of it, if he was going to get himself involved, he should be going down to visit the boy, not standing here about to actually try to have a conversation with Spike. Sure he could understand why, but Spike had tried to kill Xander, had hit him, too, according to the doctors, which meant that technically the other man was about due for a good staking.

Still, when it came right down to it, Spike was ... family, and there sure as hell wasn't going to be anyone else looking out for him, let alone any one who might come anywhere near understanding.

He ignored the headache forming behind his eyes and lowered himself into the couch with a sigh. To his surprise, Spike actually turned around and this time did look concerned. "You sure you're alright there? Smell like you've been paddling around in slime. And you're bleeding."

Angel waved it off. "More demons than I'd expected. I took care of it. It's only a flesh wound. Be closed by tomorrow."

Spike nodded, shrugged. "You want Harmony to get you some blood?"

He shook his head. "Got some upstairs."

That was apparently it for the small talk. Angel sat there feeling increasingly uncomfortable as Spike just went back to staring out the window, completely unaware of the tension.

Eventually he turned so he could at least see most of Spike's face and bit the bullet. "So, ah, how's Xander then? Have you heard anything?"

He didn't miss the way that body immediately tensed up, but probably only because he was looking for it. "Yeah," Spike said flatly. "Woke up again 'round nine. Went down to see him just before. He's all better, apparently." Angel heard the bitterness there. After a moment he got up and poured both of them a drink from the whisky he kept stashed in his desk. Spike took it without comment as they settled beside each other on the couch.

"Christ," Spike laughed harshly, "how did I even get here? I mean, for fuck's sake, Xander bloody Harris? What the bleedin' hell was I thinking?" Angel resisted the urge to add his incredulity. He had a feeling it probably wouldn't help. Although he still hadn't quite figured out why he was helping. "He should be nothing to me. I'm a vampire, not some sodding little nancy boy to fall head over heels for the first pretty face that looks at me with a bloody smile. What sodding self respecting vampire falls for a human in any case? I'm bloody well better off without him."

Angel smirked and raised an eyebrow at this little temper tantrum. He resisted the urge to point out that it was this very attitude that'd got Spike into so much trouble in the first place. "Don't tell me you got dumped by disaster boy? And here I didn't think you could get any more pathetic."

Spike immediately pinned him with a glare that had more life in it than anything he'd seen yet. "Back off, peaches. This is none of your damn business."

Angel narrowed his eyes slightly. Spike could be an ungrateful bastard sometimes. Or most of the time. "Oh, so you mean he didn't toss you to the curb like so much useless waste?"

He prepared to field the punch the Spike's growling seemed to indicate was about to be thrown his way, but Spike just jumped to his feet and kicked the couch in passing as he started to pace the office. "Yes, he left me, you ponce. The bastard bloody left me. Is that what you wanted to hear?"

"He left because you drove him away, Spike," Angel shrugged. "You should count yourself lucky you got off as lightly as you did. You've got no idea how close Buffy came to staking you in that church."

Spike snorted, hung his head. "'Bout as close as she came to staking me not two hours ago, I imagine, Mate." Angel knew that that had to be eating Spike up almost as much as the Xander thing. Spike and Buffy were hardly the best of friends, but she didn't seem to hate him as much as Angel might have liked. And he knew for a fact that Buffy was torn up inside about it. Whatever might have happened between her and Spike, she'd trusted him. Trusted him with Xander, which he knew meant more than Spike probably appreciated.

Angel just shrugged and took a sip of his drink. "Can't say it's much of a surprise, anyway. Even to you, surely."

"What?" Spike seemed startled. "What the hell are you talking about Mate? 'Course it was a bloody surprise. Things were ... fine."

Angel blinked, watching as Spike shifted uncomfortably. "God, Spike," he said incredulously. "Were you even a part of that relationship? Things were not 'fine'. Things haven't been fine for a while now, from what I've seen. What the hell did expect the boy was going to do? Just suck it up and let you lord it over him for the rest of his life? If you'd wanted that you either shouldn't have picked a human, or you shouldn't have picked Xander Harris."

Spike was starting to look really angry. "I wasn't 'lording it over' anyone, as you so eloquently put it. I was lookin' out for him, din't want him getting hurt."

"He's human, Spike," Angel said pointedly. "They get hurt, they die. Happens all the time"

Spike flinched, looked away. "And, what, I'm supposed to just let it happen? I'm supposed to want it? Never gonna happen, Mate."

Angel shrugged again, leaning back further into the couch, easing his aching muscles. "You know, Spike, I just have to know. What is it, exactly, that you find so appealing about him? I mean, Xander? 'Cause I gotta say, I just don't get it."

Spike flashed him a suspicious glance, but he was careful too keep his face just mildly interested. "Haven't we had this conversation, Mate?"

Angel raised an eyebrow. "So remind me. Is it that he reminds you of Buffy? What?"

Spike snorted. "Yeah, 'cause Xander looks so much like the slayer. He's nothing like her. For one thing he didn't beat me and use me for sex," he said wryly.

Angel ignored the flash of jealousy and disturbingly ambiguous anger and nodded. "Buffy's a champion. A warrior. Xander's just ..."

"Braver than all of us bloody combined, Mate," Spike finished softly. Angel didn't comment, and after a moment Spike went on. "I ever tell you about that first night when I kissed him? We all thought we were going to die. Hell, I did. And he ... he was drowning. Pain and misery and darkness all over him; eating him up, I thought. I saw him, then, falling apart at the seams and I figured it was all over for him, it'd just been too much. Happened to all the rest of them, after all, no surprise the boy was any different. He knew he was gonna die, I could see it in his face. And you know what he did? Accepted it. With a bloody smile in his heart because he knew why he was doing it. They all did, I guess, but he made me understand. He had nothing, and he fought because he loved them too much not to. We do this because we have something to prove, but I think ... I think he just did it 'cause it was ..."

"Right."

"Yeah ..." Spike fell silent for a moment, then shook his head as he sank back down into the cushions. "There's no darkness in him, Angel. Not right down where it counts. I loved that from the moment I saw it, I think, before we even made the effort to get to know each other the old fashioned way."

Angel stared at Spike for a long moment. "You're a moron, you know that, Spike? You're absolutely right. Xander is a white hat. Always has been. And you took that away from him. I repeat, just what the hell were you expecting him to do? I'm starting to think he'd be better off without you." He shook his head. "Just ... what were you thinking?"

Spike let out a tired puff of laughter and rubbed his forehead with his fingertips. "Hate to say it, but I reckon that might be givin' me more credit than 'm due. I dunno, Angel. I just ... I saw him lying there in a pool of his own blood. I heard his heart stopping, an' I just, I just couldn't do it. I watched Buffy die, but it was ... it was nothin' even like the same, you know? I was nothing to her, but Xan ... He's mine. What the bloody hell gave him the right to die? I wasn't going to let him just leave me, not like that."

For a moment Angel truly sympathised. He knew that Dru had left because Spike had compromised with Buffy. Hadn't been able to be the vicious killer Angelus was. Buffy for just the opposite, although he knew that had as much to do with her as it had to do with Spike. He tried to be exactly what they wanted him to be, but it was never good enough.

"So you go all Drusilla on him, punch him in the face, which I'm sure he probably deserved, half-kill him and he leaves you like this instead. Yet another brilliant plan from the master brains trust. You come up with that all on you own, Spike?" He didn't bother to put any antagonism into the words, and when Spike turned to glare at him just gave him a wry smirk.

Spike responded reluctantly and leaned back, cradling his drink. "Yeah, well," he sighed. "And hey! Why didn't I know I could do that mind control thing? You never told me about it. Coulda saved me a whole lota grief if you'd decided to clue me in on that Mate."

Angel rolled his eyes. "And just when was supposed to have found that out, Spike? During that century when I didn't see you more than a couple of times altogether? Why didn't you know?"

"Well, fine, okay, but isn't it like some vamp thing? Never had much cause to go round feeding me blood to humans." He gave Angel the eye. "Then, neither've you, I suppose."

That was true enough. Angel shrugged, "Wes could probably find out. Could have something to do with Dru, I guess. After a century and a bit you were bound to pick up some of her quaint little eccentricities."

Spike nodded, and Angel got the impression he might actually bother to ask. That made him frown. He knew Spike'd never bothered to ask Wes about the protection spell for Xander. Maybe ... maybe this wasn't as hopeless as it looked.

"I shouldn't have hit him, Angel. I said I never wanted to hurt him and punched him in the face."

Angel didn't have anything to say to that. He understood, really. He'd done it himself, knocked one of friends out so they wouldn't follow him and get hurt. It was for their own good, because he was stronger, more capable and the battle was his to fight, not theirs to die in. He'd also been told on more than one occasion what an arrogant, selfish bastard he was for doing so. He liked to think maybe he'd gotten the message, that they had as much right to battle the evil in the world as he did. But then, he wasn't in love with any of his friends. That probably tipped the rational thinking scale to the insanely protective side more than he really had to worry about.

He shifted uncomfortably as he tried to find the words that Spike needed to hear. "Spike ... We're still vampires. No matter how human we try to be, it's always going to be there inside of us. The demon. That ... that want, take, have, mine urge that made everything so simple, so clear. But ..."

He trailed off, not sure how to say what he wanted to say. Still, he wasn't surprised when Spike continued. "But it's not that simple any more, is it, Mate? It can't be. Xander ... He wasn't not fighting it, me, 'cause he didn't want to ... He wasn't fighting me 'cause he couldn't. I ... I didn't let him. I didn't ever give him the chance. I just ..." Spike's eyes had widened and he was slumped in his chair looking at the opposite wall with something like horror.

"Acted like what you are, Spike." Angel said firmly, mercilessly. "The problem is you acted like that's what he is, too. I've done exactly the same thing," he admitted, none to pleased at having to revisit the memories. "You treat them like they're less than you because you figure that until and unless they prove they're not, then that's exactly what they are. It's a vampire standard, and unless you want to drive them away, like I did once upon a time to most of the people who loved me, then it's something that you have to get past. As long as we're like this, as long as we don't want to live our lives alone and miserable, and let me say right now that that's not all it's cracked up to me, then we've got to live by some of their rules. Not all of them, but ... it's got to be different."

"So that's it?" Spike sounded lost ... broken. "I can be with him so long as I'm prepared to watch him die?"

Angel stifled his impatience. "No, you can be with him as long as you're prepared to let him try."

Spike seemed to think about this for a moment, but eventually turned and gave him a twisted smile. "Assuming he hadn't just dumped me, in any case. Can't be with him at all, now. That ... God, that shouldn't hurt so much. It shouldn't ..."

"What are you going to do?" Angel asked after a long while.

Spike shrugged. "Dunno. Somethin' tells me hittin' him over the head and dragging him back home is gonna do more harm than good."

Angel tilted his head in agreement. "Chances are."

"Said he wants 'time'. Time," Spike scoffed, staring at his knees and picking at a thread that had frayed loose in his jeans. "Said he loves me," he added quietly. "Never said that before, you know? How can you even tell someone you love them and fuck off in the same bloody breath? Meant it, too, I think. But ... there was no light in his eyes."

Angel felt moved to reach and place his hand on Spike's shoulder. Spike didn't seem to notice and after a moment he took it away. "So give it some time. This doesn't have to be the en--"

"It doesn't matter, Angel." Spike interrupted hollowly. "It doesn't fucking matter. If this is what he wants, then I can bloody well live without him." He threw back his drink and glared doggedly at the bottom of the glass.

Angel thought about that for a long moment. He knew he couldn't tell Spike what to do, but he also knew that anything he said right now did matter.

He thought about Xander, found himself wondering for the first time in a long time what the boy actually wanted. Thought about how he and Spike had come alive around each other, even with everything that had ended up dragging them down. Thought about everything that had driven him and Buffy apart, all the reasons why vampires and humans should stay as far the fuck away from each as other as universally possible when it came to relationships.

And knew that if he had half a chance with her any more, even after all that'd happened, he would go,he'd chance it; he'd have to.

Spike was peering up at him, wary of his silence, waiting for ... something.

So Angel made a decision, looked his grandchilde in the eye and said, "Spike, you've got the rest of eternity to live without him."


Six days later they didn't tell him he could leave, but they also hadn't tied him to the bed and drugged him so he couldn't move, which, as far as Xander was concerned, was the next best thing to kicking him out of the hospital and telling him he'd never be sick again.

Willow walked in on him while he was wondering how he could manage to put on his pants without bending over. After five minutes, he'd pretty much resigned himself to much agonising pain for the greater good. He shrugged, not like it'd be the first time, and at least this way he was getting something out of it, too.

"Xander!" His head whipped up and he had to resolutely squash the little bit of himself that wanted to feel guilty when it saw the worry etched all over Willow's face. He told it firmly that with that sort of attitude they'd never get out of this damn place. "Xander, what are you doing? Did the doctors tell you you were allowed to get up? Are you getting dressed?" The worry didn't disappear, but it did get covered with a good amount of suspicion and what looked unfortunately like the beginning of a resolved face. She overrode him before he could work up a convincing tale. "Xander, you know you're not strong enough to be up and about yet. I know you don't like being here, but you nearly died. Until the doctors let you go, I really think you should just wait."

He crossed his arms in preparation for some good old fashioned stubborn-as-a-mule-ishness, but at the look in Willow's eyes, he hung his head and sighed. She was right, he didn't want to be here and being Willow she knew exactly why, for all he'd pretty much refused to talk about it. And alright, fine, he knew he shouldn't be leaving yet. People who couldn't put their pants on without considerable pain were probably people who shouldn't be walking around, but ... "Will, please, I know you're worried, but I can't stay here. I just can't." He knew it probably sounded a little too close to begging for comfort, but by this stage he wasn't entirely sure he cared.

Willow's face seemed to cave a little and he felt a flare of hope. "Xander ..."

"Will, it's been a week, now," he interrupted before she could just say no and it would all be over because as much as he wanted to get out of this place, he wouldn't go if she was that worried about it. "I know I'm not all better, but look! Standing without falling down! That's got to worth something, right?" She grimaced. "Will, please, I'll come stay with you and Buffy and Dawn, or with Giles, whatever you say. I won't budge myself from the couch until I'm back to full fighting strength. I promise you can wait on me hand and foot for as long as it takes, but please, I have to get out of this place." He knew he sounded desperate now.

Willow took a step closer and he didn't know whether to be pissed off or grateful for the sympathy he could see in her eyes. She hesitated. "He hasn't ... he hasn't been down here to see you again, has he?" Her face went hard, then, and it almost made him want to grin, cause on the one hand it was his little Willow and on the other it was Willow, who could turn just about anyone into a toad faster than he could blink. "'Cause I swear, if he's so much as laid a finger on you, that vamp's going to wish for the good old days of being sucked down into hell."

He gave her a fond smile. "Nah, I haven't seen him. It's just kinda ooky, thinking about him being here, too." Truth was, every time the door opened there was a lurch in his gut that he just couldn't ignore, that was convinced that at any moment Spike was going to walk in and do ... something. Sometimes he was convinced he could feel Spike walking around above him. He didn't know if it made it better or worse that there was a good chance he actually was.

He had no idea just what, exactly, he thought he was afraid of. Because honestly? He wasn't scared of Spike. Really.

He thought maybe it was that voice inside of him that he sometimes had to spend all his energy ignoring. The one that told him he was being stupid, that Spike would never hurt him, that Spike only ever wanted to protect him, that if he just picked up the phone or turned his thoughts in the right direction, Spike would be here and everything would be better, everything would be right again. Because he didn't know where that voice had come from and if he let himself think about it for too long, he couldn't deny the fact that he was terrified that it didn't come from him at all.

And in any case, he couldn't see how it was so much to ask that he not have to face the person he'd just broken up with. It'd be all uncomfortable and polite or there'd be yelling and accusations and trying to get him to change his mind, or worse not trying to get him to change his mind and until he could work out just what all this meant, what he was going to do about any of it, he just didn't want to have to deal with it.

Willow looked at him intently. "You did the right thing, Xander."

He turned away before she could see the cynical expression on his face and picked up his shirt. The pants could wait. Shrugging into the arms and ignoring the burn in his shoulder, he gave himself a moment to paste a convincingly cheerful grin on his face before turning back. "Sure, I know. Need a bit of time to wrap my head around everything. So! We good to go then? I get my pants on, you go get the piles of paper and we get the heck outta here?"

"Xander ..." she sighed. He just waited, studiously not clenching his fists or grabbing a hold of her and pushing her out the door. After a moment she nodded and he had to sink down onto the bed the way the tension just drained out of him. "Okay, Xan. I'll get the doctor and then we'll get you out of here. Give Buffy a call, tell her we'll be at the house as soon as we can. Probably a few hours."

Xander nodded as she gave him a final concerned smile and disappeared to find the doctor. Now that he was finally leaving, he had to close his eyes to block out the barrage of regrets that suddenly threatened to swamp him. The awareness of Spike seemed to slam through him, leaving his fingers clenched in the sheets and tears leaking from the corners of his eyes. It was like Spike was standing in the room with him, or they were standing in a room in his head together and he could see him and smell him and it would be so easy to just reach out and touch him. The Spike in his head stepped forward, his hand held out, his heart in his eyes. He looked ... betrayed. Lost and broken and betrayed and this was why he couldn't stay here any longer. How could he have done the right thing if this was what happened as a result? And it was so real. As much as he wanted to believe it was just his mind tormenting him for once again being a stupid fucker and screwing up a fantastic relationship, the doubts simmered under the surface. Partly because he knew in his heart that everything had been far from perfect but more because, sometimes, he would swear he could still feel Spike inside of him. Like when Spike had controlled him. And he needed to get away from it.

This time, when he bent down, the pain in his shoulder was almost a relief. He grasped onto it like a lifeline, used it to turn his mind away from the images in his head. He absently glanced out the window, noticed it was just getting dark, and this time the pain was all the kept him from laying back down. The only thing that kept him from giving in to the thought that he shouldn't be out at night by himself, without Spike, that he could get hurt, that he wouldn't be able to defend himself if something attacked him, it was better if he just stayed where he was, he was happy right here, there was plenty of time to be out and about when it was safer.

It took so much more out of him than it should have to just jerk his head so the pain shot through his neck, his arm, flooded through his thoughts until they were drowned, buried, gone for now but always ready to come back.

He'd spent the past six days trying to block them out. Cursing Spike for doing this to him, for making him give up a part of his mind. Understanding, in his more reasonable moments that he couldn't really blame Spike for it, not in a murder one premeditated crime sort of a way. Still, maybe he hadn't deliberately taken away his freedom, his choices, but that fact remained that he had done it. That he'd done it by accident was big with the really not helping at the moment. Especially seeing as Spike had deliberately bitten him, hit him, nearly killed him and basically said that Xander was beneath him but he'd take pity on a poor defenceless human and look after him anyway.

Okay, maybe it hadn't been quite that callous, but Xander had seen the superior look in Spike's eyes more than once and it had made him feel like he was nothing, just a thing, a possession that Spike couldn't lose face over by letting get hurt. He thought maybe it was kinda like Riley had felt before he left Buffy, which wasn't all that encouraging, really.

He shook his head desperately and shoved his feet into his sneakers, picking up the bag with all the rest of his things as he strode over to the door. There was no way in hell he was staying here another damn second. At this point, the further away he was from Spike the better.

Three hours and one fairly pissed off doctor later he and Willow were finally walking through the motor pool to the car Angel was apparently letting them borrow and Xander was finally starting to relax. It was always easier when Willow was there, anyway. She hadn't closed off the link between them and Buffy and Giles completely and Spike always felt further away when he concentrated on that, instead of the other presence in his mind.

He was starting to wish they hadn't left the wheelchair at the elevator as the pain flared through his shoulder once again. The gash in his leg was throbbing and every time he put his foot down the pain behind his eyes flashed brighter, stabbing into his brain. He knew that Willow was talking to him, but he could only hope that it wasn't important, because right now he was doing well to not let his knees crumple and leave him a little Xander-shaped puddle of pain on the floor. Whose fantastic idea had it been to leave the pain medication 'till he was safely installed at home, in any case? Still, he wrapped an arm around her shoulder, closed his eyes and ignored it as best he could.

That was his first mistake. His second was opening them when he felt Willow stiffen under his arm and suck in a harsh breath.

"Xander ..." Spike. Naturally. Why did the universe hate him so much? Spike looked surprised, and just as uncomfortable as he felt. "What are you ...? I mean, you're feeling better?" Xander frowned and looked closer. Spike sounded tired, but he also sounded ... better. Sure as hell didn't look it, though. It was obvious he hadn't slept for days. In the dim light of the garage his skin was almost luminous, it was so pale. Xander had to quash the urge that immediately had him wanting to step forward, take Spike in his arms and hold him until he was back to his old self. He didn't have that right any more. Spike was nervously fingering the keys in his hand and bouncing his knee in that way that Xander knew well enough to know meant he was itching to step forward and do something. He wasn't carrying any weapons, and Xander wondering fleetingly what Spike'd been doing, but told himself firmly that it didn't matter.

He locked his knees and spoke past the lump in his throat. "Um, yeah, thanks. Much better." He tried a patented Xander grin, but decided it was too much work. There was no one here who couldn't see straight through it anyway.

Spike frowned. "You're still injured, Xan, and it's late, you ..." Xander stiffened immediately and he felt Willow's concern as she opened their link wider. Because he knew what Spike was going to say, and he knew that without her there would be pretty much no chance he'd be going anywhere without Spike. And it made him so fucking angry that Spike would do this, after everything that had happened, but he'd be damned if he'd let it control him.

So he was shocked when Spike stopped suddenly. The look that flashed through his eyes was despairing, resigned and just for a moment Xander thought he could see begging, pleading for ... something. But the expression was shuttered before he could do more than notice it and Spike seemed to step back, even though he never moved. "You sure you'll be alright?"

"I think we can manage to go twenty minutes in a car to the hotel, Spike. We're not helpless." He tried to hide his surprise behind the hostility, not that he thought he'd been all that successful.

But Spike nodded. "Right," he said, his voice oddly empty. "Yeah, okay then."

The pain behind his eyes was getting worse and the longer they stood there the more he wanted to step forward and run away and it was too hard ... Because in his mind he could see Spike; standing under a tree in the Summers front yard, his eyes sparking with light and hope and surprise, hips lips wet from an unexpected kiss; William, who was nothing and everything that Spike was; Spike's eyes as Xander got on a plane that was going to take him halfway round the world, his eyes after Xander stepped off the one that brought him back ... And always the flash of yellow and the gleam of fangs and the sharp pain in his neck.

Xander shook his head, tried to disperse the images, regretted it when his body protested the lack of quiet stillness. "Look ..." he started, his voice strained.

"Xander," Spike said at the same time.. He stopped, but Xander nodded, indicating he should go on. Spike shot him an uncomfortable glance, but straightened his shoulders and seemed to come to some sort of decision. "Look, I wasn't going to do this, alright? I mean, 's not like you haven't made your feelings perfectly clear." Xander winced at the bitterness he heard there and opened his mouth to interrupt, but Spike glared a him and he decided maybe he'd wait to see where this was going after all. "But I've been thinking and I've decided that while you're not entirely wrong, you're not entirely right, either, Luv." He paused, and Xander could see him struggling with himself. Spike didn't usually win when it came to trying to keep his mouth shut. Xander braced himself for the outburst. "Christ, Xan! If you'd just bloody listen to me!"

Willow stepped forward suddenly. "That's enough, Spike," she said softly, sounding equal parts heartbroken and bad-ass don't-mess-with-my-friends. He knew how she felt.

Spike rounded on her. "Stay out of this, Red. It's got nothing to do with you." Even Spike seemed to realise the absurdity of that statement, because he paused before ducking his head with a wry expression. "Alright, yeah, fine, you're friends, makes it your business and all that, but Xan," turning back to him, "you don't have to do this."

Xander just looked at him. "Yeah, Spike, right now I do." He didn't know how to make it any clearer than that.

Willow stepped in for him. "Spike, he's told you what he needs. If you love him as much as you say you do you'll leave him alone. You took a part of him away, and that's not just going to miraculously get better."

Xander thought she might have gone on, but all of a sudden he realised that she'd left him with nothing to lean on. It was okay for a moment, but then his vision started going grey around the edges as the pounding in his head reached fever pitch and the sound of the conversation faded in and out around the roaring in his ears. He barely had time to make a faint noise of protest in the back of his throat before his knees finally gave up and he was heading for the floor with nothing to grab a hold of.

Spike caught him. One second there was the anticipation of concrete meeting his head, the next he was being gently held in strong, agonisingly familiar arms. And at the moment he was too grateful to be worried about it. "Spike," he murmured, his face buried in a muscled shoulder, his lips so close to skin that would taste of smoke and salt and Spike, that would leave it's owner shivering if he reached out and licked it just there ... It hurt so goddamn much and it'd be so easy...

Maybe it was just his injuries, but for the first time he couldn't hold it in. The tears crept down his face and no amount of screwing his eyes shut could stop them. Spike didn't say anything, but Xander lifted his head, aware that the arms that were holding him so gently were also so tense a normal person would be in pain. And Spike was breathing, short jerky breaths that he could feel against his chest and by his ear.

Spike was looking over Xander's shoulder, staring desperately at whatever was behind him like it held the answer to the mysteries of the universe. And Xander stared at the twin tracks glistening on Spike's cheeks and didn't know what to do. Because it was too soon and nothing had changed, but he didn't want it to matter, why did it matter, why did any of it matter? "I love you." He knew he'd said it out loud when Spike's jaw twitched and despair seemed to settle briefly over his features.

He was only vaguely aware of it when they moved, even the pain as Spike lowered him onto the front seat of the car that had appeared from somewhere was inconsequential. But it was only as Spike moved away that he put out a hand to stop him, and it was only then that Spike turned broken blue eyes to look him in the face. "I'm sorry," Xander whispered.

Spike smiled sadly and reached out to run his fingers gently over Xander's jaw. For the briefest moment Xander let himself lean into the touch, before it was gone. "So 'm I, love. Gonna make it up to you, though. I swear." Spike's voice went William for a second as he said that and for that second Xander believed him. Then Spike was straightening and stepping away, the pain nowhere but his eyes. "Look after yourself, yeah?"

And there was so much desperate pleading in just that one casual phrase that Xander nodded, vowing to himself that he would. "See you, Spike." Then Willow was patting his arm and pulling out of the car park. But he ignored it, all of it, as he fell into the dark room inside his mind, where Spike was waiting for him.


It took weeks for Xander to recover from his little brush with death. He was pretty much mobile by the end of the first week, but he had to mind the gash in his chest to make sure he didn't pull all his stitches and open the damn thing again. That was never fun. Even healing nicely it was going to leave one hell of an impressive scar. Though he couldn't work up much in the way of angst over that. Wasn't like he didn't already have a sizeable collection.

Anticipating a long stay, the gang had put themselves up in the downtown house that was serving as the Council presence in L.A., for training slayers, housing them if they lived out of city or state, generally being all office-y, so it was hardly the best place for an extended convalescence, but on the other hand, lots of slayers handy, which could hardly be a bad thing.

It took him a whole lot longer to get over ... everything else that had happened.

He never saw Spike. Not once in the six weeks they spent in the city. He didn't call, although neither did Xander, Xander didn't go back to Wolfram and Hart and although Angel, Wes, Gunn and Fred showed up on his doorstep at various times, Spike was never with them.

But then, he didn't have to be.

The bit of Spike that had somehow managed to find its way into his head never went away. He'd clung to it for days, retreating into his mind so he wouldn't have to deal with the fact that he'd so thoroughly screwed up that chances were Spike would never want to talk to him again.

The girls were all very supportive of his depression, telling him he should take all the time he needed, tiptoeing around him, making sure never to mention anything that might remind him of Spike. For a good week he wallowed in the comfort of fluffed pillows and constantly refreshed tea and all the sympathy a teenaged girl who'd just been dumped by her first boyfriend could ever want. Thankfully, that got old fairly fast.

And it was when he decided that enough was enough, that he discovered that the presence in his mind was not to be so easily dismissed.

Having spent the past week inside, in bed, in absolutely no danger at all, it hadn't really proved much of an issue. But the first time he tried to walk outside after dark he started to understand just what was happening. It wasn't so much a voice as it was a compulsion. Like there was something inside him urging him to stay inside, that it wasn't safe, he couldn't protect himself, he should wait for Spike, ask Spike, Spike would take care of him. It had been like that for weeks now, ever since that innocuous morning when Spike had cut himself and Xander had unthinkingly licked up his blood. Even more so since Spike had bitten him, once he came to think about it.

And that first time he hadn't been able to force himself to do it. Dawn and a couple of the younger slayers had been with him, but Buffy, Willow and Giles weren't even in the house. It had been so subtle, so normal that he hadn't even questioned it. They'd gotten to the front door and he had suddenly realised that he wasn't really up to this right now, they should go on without him. It was only after the words had left his mouth that he'd wondered why he'd said them, only after the others had left that he'd realised what was going on. He'd fought against it then, and when he was concentrating he discovered he could get past it, but it was so much harder than it should have been. That night, at the church, with Willow and Buffy and Giles tugging at his soul, it had been nothing, easy, but without that, without them, he wasn't strong enough to just dismiss it.

That pissed him off.

It was bad enough Spike could do this to him in the first place, but that he could keep doing it even after Xander had gotten away was just unfair.

So he made a point of doing any number of little things to deliberately set it off. He wasn't an idiot, didn't go out patrolling in the middle of the night, still injured, all by himself, but he did go out on early evening rounds with the girls every so often, once he'd gotten his strength back. He met up with the gang for drinks almost every night, never mind the fact that they were all living together anyway. And every night, after it got dark, no matter what else he might be planning, he went to the front door, opened it and sat on the front porch for fifteen minutes, by himself, stake in hand.

It never went away.

When he found himself pacing the front deck and wondering if a night-time trip to the cemetery would make the fucking thing piss off, he decided that it was probably time to tell Willow what was going on.

Unfortunately, the best Willow could do was tell him that his mind was probably more susceptible to these sorts of things after having been possessed and magicked so many times, not to mention the frequent head trauma. She could help him block it out, could to a spell to try to make sure supernatural things couldn't just go in and take him over, but apart from that, the best she could think was that time and distance were going to be the best solutions.

So when they asked him if he was going to be coming with them back to England, he jumped at the opportunity.

Once there, he settled back in fairly easily. There was still plenty of rebuilding to be done. Literally. The council building had been completely demolished and they needed somewhere big enough to house and train all the slayers that were still constantly showing up. They gave him a place to stay, an office in the new Council headquarters, paid him not too badly and he was always near Buffy and Giles and Willow.

Four months into his stay he was sitting with Buffy on the back veranda of the old hotel he was slowly doing up, chatting and watching the sunset. Eventually they fell into that comfortable silence that only happened between old friends.

When he finally looked over at her, he found her gazing at the scar on his neck, one hand unconsciously touching the matching one on her own. She jerked away when his head, moved, ducking her head in embarrassment and giving him a wry smile. "Sorry," she said.

Xander shrugged, grinned at her. "No problem, Buff. You're welcome to ask me to take my shirt off any time so you can stare at all my manly scars."

She chuckled and elbowed him lightly. "Just so long as you don't expect me to do the same."

He widened his eyes. "Well, I dunno, tit for tat, Buff, seems only fair."

He laughed out loud and waggled his eyebrows when she turned to him equal parts amused and shocked and exclaimed, "Xander!"

"What? Did you think I meant ...? Oh, Buffy, where does your mind go?" He shook his head despairingly, then grinned at the outraged expression on her face. Leaning back to try to find a comfortable angle on the wooden bench, he glanced over at her. "So, what's got you staring at my neck this fine morning?"

She twisted around so she was sitting sideways and looked at him directly. "Nothing, well, nothing really. I just, you know, noticed it. You usually try to keep it covered up. And I guess it just made me think. That night ... he could have killed you."

Xander looked at her, concerned. She was staring at his neck again, lost, he supposed, in the memories of that night, or countless others when she'd lost, or nearly lost, people she loved. He sat forward and placed a gentle hand on one seriously tense shoulder. "Hey," he said, waiting for her to look at him. "There's a lot of things that might have killed me that night. Might have killed you and Will and Giles. But they didn't. I saved you, you saved me, it was a whole big saving thing, which is what we do right?" He smiled gently at her, relaxing when she sighed and gave him a sad smile back.

"I couldn't believe it, you know, when you didn't come with Spike. The whole thing nearly fell apart right there when we felt you just disappear, when Spike h-hit you." She said it hesitantly, like she still couldn't believe that something like that could happen. Xander didn't react. He'd come to terms with it a while ago. Nothing made it alright, but he understood why Spike had done it. "And then when I saw him drinking you and I just ... god Xander, I froze. I'm so sorry. For a second it was like my mind just ... couldn't put the pictures together. And then ... if I'd been any longer you'd be dead, now."

"No," he said, taking her hand firmly. The horrified expression on her face was too much for him to take. "Buffy, no. It doesn't matter now. You saved me. You did. You got him off me in time and I'm fine."

"I should have killed him then." She shook her head despairingly. "God, after what he did, I know I should have. I had my stake over his heart. But I just, I couldn't, you know?" She looked up at him then, her expression tired, sad, regretful even. But always determined. She might regret the necessity of an action, but she always followed her heart and so she always knew that, ultiMately, she'd done the right thing.

"You never could kill him, could you?" he said wryly. "Not when he was helpless, even when he betrayed us, nearly raped you and, let's not forget, when the first had him killing people left right and centre again. Although, yes, that wasn't exactly his fault. He's given you enough reason, though, hasn't he? But you love him, which pretty much means Spike gets a get out of staking free card, something I'm actually fairly happy about, him being a dickhead aside."

Buffy smirked. "I guess so. I mean, I don't love love him, not like he wanted, like he deserved." She looked up at him suddenly and got that intense, I've-worked-it-out expression, like when she figured out why the demons were attacking or something. "Like you do." Then she laughed softly and looked down. "I don't mean to be, you know, mean, but I'm not sure I'll ever get used to that."

He grimaced, thinking about everything he'd done the past few months to get Spike the hell out of his head. "Heh, well, that makes two of us, then."

Buffy narrowed her eyes sharply. "That mind control thing's not still bothering you, is it, Xan?"

Xander was surprised. He hadn't thought anyone had noticed anything. Being so far away from Spike, the meditations Willow had him doing, having the Scoobies around him most of the time. Mostly it had faded. The most he could really say was that he was more careful about going outside now that he might have been, which, rationally speaking, wasn't exactly a problem. Besides which, Willow had assured him that, with the spell she'd performed, as long as he didn't want it, Spike would never be able to do anything like this again and that from now on everything should be fine.

So he'd just let her think that it was. It was easier, and as long as he wasn't in any danger, he wasn't too keen on doing any rigorous get-Spike-out-of-my-head work.

But the truth was, that weird feeling that some part of Spike was still inside him never went away. And after the anger and the frustration had played themselves out and he'd come to terms with what had happened between them, he'd realised just how much he missed Spike.

Their relationship hadn't been all about control and fear and misunderstanding. In all the in between bits he'd been honestly happy. Now that he didn't have to think about the look in Spike's eyes as his fist came flying out of nowhere, he could think about the look in his eyes every time Xander kissed him, made love to him, every time they caught sight of each other across a crowded room. It was all sickeningly romantic but exactly how he felt.

He'd loved Spike. Still loved him. And as long as he was able to close his eyes and find that little room deep inside of him where Spike waited with a smile that went all the way to his blue eyes, he couldn't imagine not loving him.

And that ... well, he wasn't quite sure how he felt about that.

Buffy's frown had deepened as she waited for him to answer. "Nah, it's not bothering me," he replied. "Well, I mean, 'bothering' is probably not the right word. It's just ..." He broke off uncomfortably, not sure he really wanted to talk about this with her. Then he caught sight of the scar she had been touching so very recently, peeking out from the edge of her top and it made him realise that if there was anyone who could possibly understand, it was going to be Buffy. Not only had she been with more than one vampire, she'd been with the same vampire he was, and okay that thought wasn't helping. Still ... "Do you ever feel like ... like he left a part of him with you," he said hesitantly, watching her face for her reaction.

Buffy just watched him thoughtfully. "Angel, you mean? When he bit me? Well, I don't know. I mean, for years it felt like I was carrying a piece of him around inside, but it started before that, I think. I guess maybe," she said doubtfully. "But I never drank from him, so I don't know if it'd be the same." She trailed off and Xander just shrugged, prepared to concede the point. Before he could do so, her face lit up. "Oh! Wait! Dracula!"

She smiled triumphantly. After a moment he prodded her. "What about Dracula, Buff? The fact that he made me his little monkey boy?" This had so better be going somewhere, because that was one experience he had no desire to revisit.

"No, no," she said impatiently. "Well, maybe ... but I was talking about when he made me drink his blood!"

He looked at her with renewed interest. "Really? You never told me that. So what happened? Could he like control you and stuff with it?"

"Well, no," she frowned. "He thought he was going to be able to, but for some reason it didn't work like that on me. It's probably a Slayer thing. Although, you remember he did come into my room and put the whammy on me the night before when he drank my blood. But the point is, when I drank his blood, I could feel him inside of me. It was seriously creepy, like he was in my mind, in my blood ..." She shuddered at the memory. "I could feel him trying to control me, but there was no way in hell I was going to let that creep go all Master Vampire on me. It pretty much faded when I ignored it, and when I killed him it went away altogether." She looked at him hopefully.

"So ... why hasn't Spike just ... faded away then?" he asked. "It's been months, Buffy. I mean, I know Will said I was all susceptible to stuff like this, and okay, you are the Slayer, natural defences probably abound and all that, not to mention my iron will is something closer to the consistency of jello, but ... what point was I trying to make?"

"You should be happily Spike-free?"

"Right! Why can't I get him out of my mind?"

Buffy just looked at him for a moment, like she was trying to puzzle something through. It made him want to squirm in his seat and protest that no miss, the dog really did eat it. "Xander," she started. "Xander, you still love him, right? And I know you miss him. So, have you ever thought that maybe you can't leave him behind because part of you doesn't want to? I mean, how would you really feel if you woke up tomorrow and he just wasn't there?"

He stared at her. Then he stared at her some more. She sat through it patiently. How would he feel? Well, he'd feel great, wouldn't he? No more Spike. No more doubts and struggles ... that really, honestly, hadn't been bothering him for months. Still, he wouldn't have to close his eyes and feel Spike waiting for him, wouldn't be able to forget the world around him and just let the knowledge that Spike would always love him, always be with him wash through his soul. He'd be alone, honestly and truly alone and fuck but that thought scared the shit out of him. He loved him and these past months he'd been doing everything he could to forget that short of letting Spike go.

Because ... because he didn't want to. Maybe, just maybe, that bit of Spike belonged inside of him. And maybe Spike had forgotten about him, maybe he'd been terrified that this was all he was ever going to get, but suddenly ...

"Buffy, I ..." He stood up, barely registered her startled expression. "I have to go make a phone call."


Spike wasn't going to suddenly decide to turn on his cell and pick up, Xander determined after the sixth phone call. Well, okay, that was kinda discouraging, but there was more than one way to skin a cat. He tried Spike's apartment. He cursed Spike for never getting an answering machine, thought about it a little more and decided that humiliating himself on tape was maybe not the best way to go anyway, not to mention the fact that this whole thing could get kinda expensive if he had to keep ringing back and leaving messages. Maybe he should have used Giles' office.

So, no Spike at home, no Spike on his cell, that left one other option. He flipped through the rolodex on his desk and found the number for Wolfram and Hart. Yes, okay, fine, he knew it off by heart, he was just ... checking.

Harmony picked up. "Wolfram and Hart." He cleared his throat. Hesitated. "Hello? Is someone there?" Oh, god, what if Spike was there, what was he going to say? 'Hi, Spike, I know I broke your heart, but how'd you like to drop everything and come take me back?' ... Okay, yeah, that worked. "Okay, I'm transferring you to the Psychic and Spiritual Research Department. If you're a client, welcome to Wolfram and Hart, if you're not, you're in for a world of hurt, you creep."

Shit! "Harmony! Wait! It's Xander," he exclaimed hurriedly. "Sorry, I just ...sorry. Hey, Harm!"

There was silence for a moment. Then, "Xander? Oh my God, I can't believe it! Where are you, how have you been? Hey, I'm totally mad at you, buster! You broke my poor Spikey's heart. Not that I don't understand, because you know how he treated me, but he was moping around here for like ever...  well, before he left, that is. So, what can I help you with? You want to talk to Angel?"

Xander shook his head bemusedly. "Um, actually, I wanted to talk to Spike."

"Well, duh, I just said he's not here. I'll put you through to Angel."

"Wait, no, Harm! Put me through to Wes--" There was a click as she hung up.

He winced as it was picked up on the first ring. "This is Angel."

Okay, this was fine, he could do this. Angel wasn't sounding too overly broody or anything. He'd just find out where Spike was and that'd be the end of it. Angel wouldn't have to ask him about the state of their relationship, he wouldn't have to share and with any luck there would be a whole lot of no death threats all around. It was all good. "Hi, it's, uh, it's Xander."

"Xander." Angel's voice went flat and that could so not be a good sign.

"Yeah." Oh, yeah, this was in no way uncomfortable. "So, um, I was looking for Spike."

"He's not here," Angel cut in abruptly.

"Yeah, I know, I mean, Harmony said. But I wanted to talk with him and I thought you might be able to tell me where he is." He was an adult. He was not going to be pushed around by big broody vampires who weren't even on the same continent as him.

"Right, he doesn't hear from you for five months and now you want to talk to him." For someone who had two expression altogether, Angel could certainly put a world of scorn into one short sentence.

Xander cringed at the tone. So much for being a big manly-man. But he stuck to his guns. "Yeah."

There was a big heavy meaningful silence at the other end of the line. Xander was sort of annoyed to notice that he was holding his breath. "Fine," Angel stated eventually. "I'll let him know you called."

Then the phone went dead and Xander was left wondering if that was going to be a good thing or a bad thing. He contemplated calling back and getting Harmony to let him talk to Wes or Fred, but knowing Angel he'd have told her to forward any calls straight to him. Bastard.

He'd call back tomorrow. With any luck Angel would be asleep. He could wait one more day.


He was lying on the grass in the middle of the backyard, looking up at the sky. It was eleven seventeen. He'd promised himself he wouldn't call before midday. He'd taken his watch off and placed it beside his head. Oddly enough, it wasn't making the time go by any faster.

There were plenty of jobs he might be doing, should be doing, really. Fact was, he'd been up since before five o'clock coming up with a schedule. Unfortunately, it involved actually involved doing any or all of the things he was supposed to be doing. Things with hammers and nails and probably chainsaws and really big pieces of glass and he had to admit that in this state, he be dead before the new gym was even halfway paned.

So he was passing the time by lying in the sun, watching the clock and quietly going insane. It was all Buffy's fault.

There were voices from inside, doors opening and closing and it occurred to him that he'd been drifting. Turning his head he saw that it was eleven thirty. He could go to his office now. It wasn't too early. Standing up, he closed his eyes and stretched his hands over his head, twisting his body and moaning in appreciation as he shook his head and let his hands fall to his sides.

Bending down to swipe his phone, he turned to the porch door and froze. Blinked. Shook his head and tried very hard to stop seeing things. It wasn't working.

"What ...?" His feet moved him forward. His body was six feet away, but his mind was still lost in somewhere in the backyard.

Then Spike smiled at him. And it was like the world started turning again.

Spike. Was standing in the doorway. Crunchy bleached hair, black duster, arms crossed uncertainly, head tilted cockily, soft smile ... And Xander couldn't move, couldn't speak. He had a feeling his mouth was hanging open.

Spike's smile turned wry. "'Lo there, Mate," he said softly.

It broke him out of his stupor and he realised he'd done it again. He'd thought he'd remembered, but he hadn't remembered everything. Hadn't remembered it right. He wanted to kiss him. Now. It was a good thing his brain wasn't connected to his body at the moment, except that it really, really, wasn't. But there was no way in hell he'd be able to stop the smile he could feel spreading over his face.

"Spike," he breathed.

Spike raised an eyebrow and moved half a step closer. "Heard you wanted to talk to me, Luv," he said, the amusement dancing in his eyes.

Xander shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. "Yeah, I ... Angel said you weren't there ... how did you ... I mean, that was only yesterday." He trailed off, rolling his eyes at himself. Spike snorted gently and Xander lifted his head up, so they were just looking at each other. "Let me try this again, huh? It's so good to see you, Spike," he smiled.

Spike ducked his head momentarily. "Yeah, Luv, 's good to see you to."

Xander grinned. This was all so ... he hadn't even thought about actually seeing Spike. Have a bit of a chat, try to find out where things stood, sure, but this? This was so many million times better it wasn't even funny. Unless Spike wanted to see him in person to tell him it was finally over. But it didn't feel like that. It so didn't feel like that. Maybe things wouldn't go back to what they were. And that would truly suck, but he knew in his heart that Spike didn't hate him, and he obviously wasn't worried about staying the hell away from him. Anything else ... well, that'd get worked out. There was still plenty of time.

It was still shady under the veranda. "You wanna sit?" Xander gestured to the bench by the back door. Spike seemed to hesitate for a moment, then nodded and sat in the middle of the seat. Xander felt a twinge of remorse, but took it in stride and pulled himself up to sit on the railing opposite. "So, Angel actually told you, huh? I wondered, after talking to him. He's pretty pissed at me isn't he?" he said wryly. Not that he could blame the vampire. If someone had walked out on one of his friends, no matter what the reason, he wouldn't be all ready to make with the nice.

Spike snorted. "Yeah, well, for some reason the bloke's finally decided he's got some kinda duty to look out for me. Sorry if he snapped at you."

Xander shrugged uncomfortably. "Nah, I deserved it, I guess. I mean, I did ... leave you." He winced. This wasn't how this conversation was supposed to be going.

"That you did, Luv." Spike was looking at him...  staring at him...  and Xander suppressed the urge to squirm. Finally he cut his eyes away. "With good reason, though. I ... I understand that, Xan. I wanted you to know. I made things impossible for you, didn't I? I'm ... I'm sorry about that."

Xander just shook his head. "Forget about it Spike," he said sincerely. "It took me a while, but ... I get it now. I'm just sorry I never bothered to say anything at the time." Spike seemed to relax a little. Xander took that as a good sign. "So," he grinned, slapping his knees and straightening up. "What've you been doing? How'd you get here so fast?"

Xander could see the caution in his eyes, but Spike sat back and stretched out his arms across the back of the seat. It was a position that was not good for his libido, but they weren't up to that part yet, assuming they were even moving towards that part, so he gave himself a mental slap upside his head and tried to pay attention. "Was in Spain, actually. Called to check in, Angel told me 'bout your call. Got the Wolfram and Hart bunch in Madrid to lend me jet and hopped on over."

"Huh. Spain. What were you doing there? I hope you didn't leave any apocalypses unaverted just 'cause I called," he joked. And was somewhat alarmed to see Spike looking a little uncomfortable. "Spike! I know you work for an evil law firm, but--"

"No, Luv," Spike chuckled. "Earth's still safe, far as I know. Though I'm not sure I wouldn't 'a blown it off anyway. Been waiting for you to call for five months." Suddenly Spike was gazing at him intently, waiting, for something. And Xander didn't know what to say. 'I'm sorry' didn't really seem to cover it. And ravishing Spike right there on the bench might just be overkill, although his dick didn't seem to be entirely opposed to the idea. He shifted slightly and ignored it, telling himself firmly that that had in no way been an invitation. After a moment, Spike smirked and broke the tension. "Went to see Dru, actually."

And okay, that was quite possibly the last thing he'd expected to hear. And he was not jealous. Even if he and Spike were still together, Spike had been over Dru for years. Never mind that they'd been together for over a century, he had a soul now, he wasn't going to go back to her. "Ah, oh-kay. Isn't she still evil?" And that might have come out a little harsher than he'd intended. Spike was back to shifting around looking guilty and he was starting to feel seriously worried. "Spike?"

Spike winced and looked at him briefly. "Well, 's this mind thing I did, yeah? Angel didn't know nothing about it and Wes says that it's not, like, common, or anything, so, we figured it might have somethin' to do with Dru. She's still barmy as a fruit bat," he said fondly. "And she was none too pleased about this soul of mine. But she did help. Knew I was coming, she did. Takes a lot to surprise my princess. Anyway," he went on hurriedly after looking up to find Xander glaring at him, "seems like it was kinda the same as what she can do, 'cept it probably wouldn't 'a worked on too many other people. Taught me how to control it, too, or tried to. Haven't had much chance to test it out, obviously." Spike shrugged and glanced at him, looking like he was waiting for the axe to fall.

And Xander was once again speechless. Spike had actually gone out and tried to ... change? To help? To make sure it didn't happen again? That was ... amazing. "You ... you did that for me?"

Spike looked at him sharply, leant forward. "Course, love. I'd never ... It'd never happen again."

"So, why did it happen to me?"

Spike hesitated. Xander narrowed his eyes. "Well, according to Dru, she said--far as I could tell anyway--my blood might have done it, but .... it happened like that 'cause ... 'cause you loved me. You wanted ...."

"You," Xander finished softly. "I wanted you. I wanted to let you in."

"Yeah," Spike said uncomfortably. "Even then, she was said it was pretty amazing."

Xander snorted and ducked his head. "Not so, according to Will. Apparently, what with living on the hellmouth and everything, I'm kinda more susceptible to that sort of thing than most people would be. She's been teaching me to shield so it ... so it couldn't happen again." And now they'd both basically said they wanted to put themselves in a position where any of this might be an issue. That was good. Hell, that was fucking fantastic.

Spike seemed to have realised it too. He was standing, although it looked like he wanted to be pacing. "Xan, I ... I know you said you wanted time, and I understand why, honestly, but ... I love you. I know you have to fight. It makes you what you are. It's part of what I love about you. I should never have tried to stop you. But please ... I don't want to have to live without you."

Xander squeezed his eyes shut. Smiled. He wanted to kiss Spike so much it hurt. After a moment he opened them to find Spike looking at him, drinking him in and it made him smile wider. "You ... I could you feel you in my head for months, you know, Spike, even after I came here," he started. "It ... it made me so angry."

"Xan, I'm sorry--"

But Xander cut him off. "And I've spent most of that time wondering why I couldn't get past it, why you weren't just fading away. Then yesterday, thanks to our favourite slayer, I realised that I was a complete moron. And that would be your cue to disagree, Blondie," he added with a smirk when Spike just continued to look grave. Spike glared at him. "I realised that you were still there because I didn't want to let you go. I'm sorry for what happened. I know how much I hurt you. But I guess I want to know, is it too late? I love you, Spike and I don't want to have to live without you, either. It's kinda like you said; you're mine," he finished quietly.

He watched Spike's eyes widen. He knew exactly what he was offering. An equal relationship. Not one person owning the other. Waited for Spike to realise it, as his head tilted and his body stilled and Xander thought he was going to drown in the blue of his eyes. "You belong with me," he eventually replied just as softly.

Xander stood up slowly. Spike didn't move. It left them just inches apart. He couldn't take his eyes from Spike's lips. Couldn't stop his fingers from tracing over Spike's neck, savoured the shudder that followed like the first drop of water after months of thirst. Then cool, painfully familiar fingers traced an opposite pattern over his own neck, over the scar that he knew would never fade, would always be a part of him and he closed his eyes at the flash of emotion that poured through him. When he opened them he looked Spike in the eye.

"It's worth a try," Xander murmured. Then it was just a matter of tilting his head and taking Spike's lips with his own. There was no hesitation, no awkwardness. Just heat and love and tongues twisting and stroking, hands cradling and grasping, hips clashing, and two people who knew nothing more than that this was right. That it was coming home.

Xander eventually had to break away. He rested his forehead against Spike's, breathing heavily. Spike drew back, leaving his arms around Xander's waist and smiled. "You sure about this, Love?"

"Yeah, I am. Just ..." He hesitated. Spike tensed, but tilted his head inquiringly. "Are you? I can't give you forever, and I ... I don't want you to turn me. Can you live with that?" He didn't think he'd ever been this scared. He honestly didn't know how Spike would respond to that ultimatum, but it was the one thing he couldn't deal with, had to stay firm on.

He saw the pain flash through Spike's eyes, but there was no hesitation as he nodded. "Yeah, Xan. Long as I can have you."

Xander sagged with relief. He hated that this was so hard, for both of them, but however long they had together would be worth it. He knew that, above everything. "Love you."

Spike smiled and captured his lips in a soft kiss. "Love you, too." They lost themselves for a while, but eventually Spike broke away with a smirk. "How 'bout we don't scar that nosy bunch lookin' in at the window for life, Luv?"

Xander snorted. "What, they're all there? Geez, so much for privacy, huh?"

Spike got that look on his face like he was planning something evil. "Got something for you in India, love. Cost a pretty penny, too. What say we give it a go?"

Xander smirked. "Will it get us away from prying eyes?"

Spike waggled his eyebrows and reached into the inside pocket of his duster, a feat that was made slightly more difficult by the fact that neither of them wanted to move far enough away from each other to give him more room. Xander watched curiously as he pulled out a braided leather thong with a dark black stone hanging like a pendant. Spike slipped it over his head. His own head. Which made it a pretty sucky present as far as Xander was concerned.

"Wow, Spike, you got yourself a necklace for me. You shouldn't have," he smirked.

"Wanker." Spike said it affectionately. "Let's go."

Spike stepped away and headed for the backyard. Xander turned, but didn't move. "Uh, Spike, sunlight?" Spike just grinned and before Xander could do more than widen his eyes in horror, stepped out into the bright midday sun. He was over the railing and about to tackle the flaming vampire back into the shade when he realised that the vampire wasn't, in fact, on fire at all. Wasn't even smouldering. Was, however, grinning like the cat that had polished off the entire gold fish pond.

"Only lasts a couple of hours. Needs to be recharged and whatnot. So, feel like taking a stroll, Pet?"

Xander was still having trouble moving past the his-boyfriend-was-not-actually-a-pillar-of-flame thing. "What, how, why?" He reached out a shaking hand to cup Spike's cheek.

Spike's face immediately softened. "Sorry if I scared you. Said you'd like to see me in the sunlight, didn't you, love?"

"Yeah, well, things to remember. If you want Xander to live to a ripe old age, don't scare him half to death by leaping into the sunlight." His heart was finally slowing down. God, Spike could be such an insensitive bastard sometimes. Then the rest of what he'd said sunk in. "You remembered that?" God, Spike could be such a sweet romantic sometimes. And always a paradox. It made him smile.

Spike regarded him seriously. "I want to be able to follow you everywhere. Not just to protect you, but to be with you. I want to able to share everything with you, love. Plus, I never did get to see if I'd freckle," he grinned.

Xander couldn't help it. He laughed. It was so long since he'd just felt ... happy. "Well, that's certainly something we'll have to explore. You'll be happy to know you're nearly as pasty and corpse like as I was expecting. Although, if you're going to be spending time in the sun, we might have to buy you some clothes with actual colour. The black on white thing is not a good look."

He laced their fingers together and led the way to the back gate. "Oh, no, I never tried to make your change you wardrobe, there's no way in hell I'm letting you anywhere near mine."

"C'mon. Blue. You've worn blue before. I love you in blue. It brings out your eyes."

"Really? Well, maybe blue, but that's it. And only if I get you into some leather."

"Leather! Eeew, no!"

"Nothin' sexier than leather."

They didn't get much further than the park half a block down the street. Didn't work out all the problems between them. Didn't say all the things that needed to be said. By the time they made it back they didn't even have the time or the energy to make love to each other in all the ways they were both desperate to rediscover.

But that was okay, too. They had each other and as for the rest, well ... there was still plenty of time.




The End






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