Breaking


by
Miriam Heddy



Humour is almost always anger with its makeup on.
--Stephen King, Bag of Bones.

Spike had been gone for about twenty minutes--long enough for Xander to have spent some serious time thinking about not following him. He spent the first fifteen composing a list of all the reasons why Spike was a Grade B asshole (an A was giving him too much credit). The list was long, since he had almost a decade of Spike-experience to mine. There was enough there to merit breaking it down by era: pre-chip and souless, chipped/pre-soul, chipped/post-soul, and souled/post-chip. Or, to put it even more simply: sociopathic asshole (Original Flavor Spike), fangless sociopathic asshole (New Spike: Now, with Fewer Victims!), guilty ex-sociopath asshole (Diet Spike), and finally the current (fuckable, yet still assholic) Boyfriend version.

Xander considered writing down his reasons for breaking up with Spike, just in case he missed that yes, this was definitely it. He'd almost done this before--gotten to this point and then somehow pulled back and not broken up with Spike. Each time, Spike somehow mysteriously got him to conveniently forgive and, more importantly, forget things he really ought to remember because the forgiving never seemed to solve anything and they ended up right back where they started.

The problem was, if he wrote it all down, he'd want to show it to Spike, and Spike would probably just mock all his spelling errors and miss the point, or, worse, actually prove his point, and really, Xander needed more of a rebuttal thing happening here since, to be honest, breaking up with Spike was just about the last thing he wanted to do (and yes, ambivalence, thy middle name is LaVelle, which he recognized as a probably fatal flaw in his breakup plan).

So a few character witnesses in Spike's defense might be a good thing and in Spike's favor (not that Xander thought he could find anyone willing to speak up for Spike, since Spike sort of universally pissed off everyone he wasn't fucking. Actually, scratch that. Spike universally pissed off everyone, period. Spike used the fucking like one of those lures on an Angler fish, dangling his cock in your face until you forgot what you were doing and then bam).

Yeah, that was Spike. An ugly, bottom-dwelling fish. A duplicitious, bait and switch vampire with a big mouth and sharp teeth.

In fact, Xander was having a hard time remembering why he ever thought he could put up with Spike's muddy boots and Spike's bloody mugs, and Spike's bloody attitude. It had to be something other than the sex, because that wasn't...

Okay, yes, the sex really was that good. At least recently, it had been. But that still didn't give him an excuse for sticking around all those years when it was sort of a well-intentioned mess full of wound-licking (figurative, except in Spike's case where it was literal) and the sex was sort of below expectations, which were admittedly unrealistic, although he could--and would--blame Spike for setting the bar way the hell above his own bleached-blond head, with his swagger and his big talk and his hip swinging posing in that leather coat and... okay, yes, so while he was watching Spike go after Buffy and then get Buffy, he'd built up some serious fantasies about Spike that, well, no guy could possibly live up to for long.

How was he supposed to know that Spike was mostly bluff and attitude and, despite having a couple of decades on him in the bedroom, had had all of three sex partners in his great unlife--all of them women (Dru, Harmony, and Buffy to the Nth power) and absolutely no experience with another guy?

At least his own resume included having had Cordelia (if "having had" was defined as anything that made you come in your pants in the presence of said other person), Faith (well, she'd had him, really, but since he was all for the padded resume, he liked to think it was a sort of mutual genital exploitation), and finally Anya (which was a definite and legitimate had, having happened many many times in many positions prior to their going up in great flames of public humiliation).

And all that was prior to his doing a little light dabbling in the gay before he even considered making a move on Spike. And that made him the guy with (limited) experience and Spike the guy with the handbook and a lot of bloody-minded determination (and Spike turned out to be a very fast reader. Actually, Spike was like Giles, in that he annotated. Not that Xander'd actually slept with Giles, because he hadn't and wouldn't and hadn't even considered it. Much. Although now, if he was breaking up with Spike, that avenue could be legitimately explored. Take that, vampire mine).

Xander stood by the sink, trying to get a grip, and caught himself about to either jack off or wash a mug--he wasn't sure which.

He set the mug down and then picked it up again and washed it, because otherwise, the blood would just get dried and disgusting--more disgusting--and he didn't like putting them in the dishwasher because then, everytime he sat down to eat something, he'd know the plate was once covered in some stranger's blood, even if it was only for a few seconds at high temperatures before it was washed away. It just seemed... unsanitary.

The water was still running and he shut it off and sighed, thinking about how, if he didn't go after Spike, he could stay in and do laundry, which really needed to be done, since he was out of clean underwear. But there was no way in hell he was going to do laundry, because it was Spike's turn, and half the stuff in there was Spike's and... fuck it.

He was going after him, he was going to bring him home, and... something. He'd figure it out later.

The problem was, Spike hadn't said where he was going when he slammed the front door. Although, once he thought about it, he knew there were only a couple of possibilities, and Xander settled on the cemetery as the first and best place to look, because if he was wrong and Spike wasn't there, he'd still have the pleasure of staking something, which would take the edge off. Spike could've gone to that pub he liked, but if Xander went there and Spike wasn't there, he'd face a much tougher demon crowd who generally only put up with him when he was there as Spike's date, so it wasn't worth the risk. Also, they only served room-temperature beer and human-temperature blood, neither of which were really his thing.

He got to the cemetery in record time, and he was pretty sure Spike's crypt was at the far end by the grove of yew trees. It wasn't really Spike's crypt, of course, since Spike was not a property owner, in this life or the hereafter. Spike was more of a squatter--the kind of guy who asks if he can crash for the night and ends up installing himself in your bedroom on your side of the bed, forcing you to adjust to sleeping on the other side, which Xander'd never quite managed to do (and yeah, maybe Spike had a point about not wanting to sleep on Xander's blind side, but it's not as if he needed to see Spike when he was sleeping, since, duh, sleeping, and also, shouldn't it be Xander's choice where, on the bed, Spike ended up?)

Xander stood beside a recently turned grave and waited, and when the vampire popped up, he didn't bother with the pleasantries and just staked the bastard. But it wasn't as satisfying as it could have been, so he kept on walking.

He only knew about Spike's crypt because, back when this round of the Spike and Xander Fun Hour had started (some forty-five minutes ago) Spike had casually mentioned scoping it out on his last patrol, describing the Fleur de lys stained glass window with so much enthusiasm that Xander told Spike he should think about auditioning for a show on HGTV. Spike had told him to sod off, at which point Xander, who had not gotten enough sleep the night before and had had a shitty day at work, had suggested to Spike that if this fabulous crypt also had excellent Southern exposure, Spike should snap it up, quick, before some other dead guy got there first.

And then Spike had said, yeah, he was considering doing just that, seeing as how it looked to have more square footage than their own miniscule flat, and Xander gave Spike full points for the dig at his provider credentials. Anya couldn't have done much better, and she was the queen of passive-aggressive marketing.

So at that point, Xander had suggested that, for a guy who still had no savings account or investments after a hundred and thirty odd years on the planet or, hell, even a steady job for that matter, Spike did an awful lot of complaining about square footage.

To this, Spike had noted (in a snippy voice, like the great, big, snippy vampire he was) that he contributed exactly what the place was worth and someone should keep in mind who'd set up the deal with the demon at the estate agent's without whom they could not have got the place to begin with on Xander's shite wages.

At this point, showing remarkable restraint (for which he was still congratulating himself), Xander had told Spike that y'know what, if he liked this new crypt so much he could just piss off and take his things with him and enjoy his Fleur de lys with the hot and cold running rats, leaving that much more square footage for one Xander Harris.

Then Spike had done the whole eyes-flashing grrr thing and given him the V for victory, and Xander had crossed the room and gotten up close with fang face and told him he could go fuck himself, which led to Spike saying he'd just as soon do that as he would fuck Xander.

And that was before they got really personal with the insults, including one bon mot in which Spike had none too subtly suggested that Xander needed a bigger place to fit his great big mouth, which was attached to his great big arse and assorted other great big things--which was a line that would have been really good except that Spike lost it, mid-way through, and just started growling and throwing things.

So essentially, it all devolved into a great, big, flaming fight of the sort that he used to figure was just a stereotype until he ended up butt-fucking an unreconstructed, undead Victorian and living with his stupid, velvet chaise longue and his cut crystal lamps (that were scattered on doilies for God's sake) all over Xander's living room.

At some point in the middle of their fight, he had blurted out something about how Spike would still be living at home with his Mommy if he hadn't, y'know, staked her. It just sort of slipped out, the way things did in the heat of the moment, and Spike had gone very, very still and stared at him with those wide, blue eyes before pointedly grabbing Xander's iPod from the table by the sofa and dropping it to the floor, letting gravity do the work. The iPod sort of bounced off the hardwood floor with a loud crack.

And Xander didn't even have time to react before Spike very deliberately lifted up his foot and stomped on it, grinding it into the floor with the heel of his boot until it made a final, squeaking sound--the last sound it was ever going to make.

Xander had just glared at him, and Spike had glared back, and somewhere in the back of his mind, Xander had realized that Spike hadn't meant to do that anymore than he'd meant to bring up Mommie Dearest.

But he'd been too angry to deal with that revelation, and too busy looking for something of Spike's he could break. The problem was, he couldn't find anything of equal value to destroy--at least not in the living room. Though upstairs, there was a lamp Spike claimed was antique, and when he talked about it his eyes got all soft and hazy, which made it perfect, except by the time Xander had run upstairs to get it and had it in hand, the door slammed downstairs, hard enough to rattle the glass cabinets in the kitchen, and with Spike gone, there was no point in destroying the only lamp in the bedroom.

Xander had ended up sitting down on the edge of their bed, on Spike's side of it, breathing hard and trying to get a handle on things. He'd finally picked up Spike's pillow and hit it, hard, only to notice a few blond hairs stuck to the pillowcase, and he'd had to put the pillow back down and walk downstairs to get away from the bed and Spike.

The pillow helped him to start to calm down, and walking through the cemetery helped him calm down a little more. But he wouldn't say he was calm, exactly.

But he was getting there. Assuming they were still together after he found Spike, which was very much in doubt at the moment, Spike was so buying him another iPod--a newer, better one.

Somewhere between the pillow and walking downstairs, he'd come to the conclusion that it was probably a very good thing that he hadn't married Anya, because he was starting to think that wrinkly, demony pseudo-Xander had been right on the money about how that would have gone.

It was really no consolation at all that Anya had ended up dead anyway, or that Spike was already dead and so safe from kitchen-related head injuries. Xander had made a point, when furnishing the new flat, of not buying frying pans or pretty much anything out of wood that he might, in the heat of the moment, use as a makeshift stake when someone started crushing beloved Apple products. It was bad enough that they had actual stakes in the house locked up in the weapon's trunk along with a few crossbows and a gun that shot silver bullets. He wasn't taking any unnecessary chances.

He'd always figured that, having survived two alcoholic parents, staking his best friend, averting a few apocalypses, not averting an eye-gouging, and finally falling in love with the world's second most annoying vampire, it was understandable if he had some lingering anger management issues. But he had to admit that he'd come close a couple of times--maybe too close.

Xander took a deep breath to clear his head as he caught sight of Spike's crypt. He stopped in the doorway and cautiously peered inside, because he could hear someone in there. With his luck, it would be the wrong vampire, though it would serve Spike right if someone had pinched his favorite crypt, and maybe, if someone had, he'd let them live.

But it turned out to be just Spike, and he watched as Spike paced the length of the concrete walls, looking oddly out of place--just a short, thin, blond guy with his shoulders hunched in--looking more like vamp bait than actual vampire. Spike looked almost delicate and frail, and for a moment, that impression overwhelmed everything else--even the anger--and he had a sudden, irrational urge to protect his monster from all the bigger, badder monsters out there, even if that number included himself.

But then sanity reasserted itself and he remembered that his monster, however tastefully appointed and fashionably slim, was still a monster, albeit one who'd scaled down his efforts from Scourge of Europe to Scourge of Xander.

Spike turned around, mid-pace, and Xander saw that he was smoking a cigarette, the smoke pluming up and away from his mouth as the wind swept it out the open doorway.

Xander kicked at a small pile of gravel by the door to get his attention and Spike pointedly didn't look up, even though Xander knew Spike knew that he was there.

"Hey--Fangless." His own voice had that strange hollow sound it got in a room with no furniture and no rugs, but again, Spike, being a master of the cold shoulder (and cold other parts) didn't look up.

Xander watched as Spike smoked down one cigarette only to light up another, and, by the time Spike got to the filter on the second cigarette, Xander was starting to feel invisible in that not spelled sort of way. He was also more than a little pissed off, not to mention cold. But he was also glad that the crypt was empty and without any of the homely little touches that might have meant that Spike had been secretly setting up the place in case this thing between them didn't work out. There was just Spike and a growing pile of butts on the floor.

"Spike," Xander said, as Spike flicked his Bic, about to light up again. Xander pitched his voice a little softer, this time, and this time, Spike nodded--not a real nod but more of a slight dip of his head to indicate he'd heard. There was just enough moonlight to make out Spike's expression--his mouth set in a thin line, tension clear in the tight set of his jaw. The hand not holding the unlit cigarette was clenched into a fist at his side that flexed open and shut, open and shut.

Spike's mouth opened and then he shut it and shook his head, holding back whatever he'd been about to say.

"You have something to say, say it. Because I'm here. I'm listening."

"Didn't invite you, so get the bloody fuck out." Spike's twitchy fist opened as he spoke, and he punctuated "out" by slamming the flat of his hand against the wall of the crypt, raising a cloud of dust. The smacking sound echoed in the empty crypt.

"Uh huh... noise like that's bound to wake the neighbors. You looking for a fight?"

Spike just gave him the kind of look he usually reserved for people he was about to insult, and Xander thought about shutting up and going home, but he wasn't on very good terms with silence, and this side of Spike--the side that Spike had mostly sort of grown out of the last few years--freaked him out, just a little. This Spike was cold and looked at him with something very much like disdain, and Xander wondered if maybe he'd gone too far--pushed too hard.

He would've done what Spike wanted and left, but in the back of his head, there was that old adage about not going to sleep angry, which he didn't quite believe was all that dangerous--not "Go to sleep angry and trigger an Apocalypse" dangerous--but somehow, it still seemed like good advice, and it fit in with his plans, so he went with it.

Spike continued to hold his stare a moment longer and then dropped his gaze suddenly, and Spike played like it was just that he had to look at his lighter to light his cigarette, but Xander had seen the truth in Spike's baby blues. It was hard to win a staring contest with a one-eyed Xan, especially for Spike, who had the whole, "Oh, if only I had been quicker, you would have two eyes" guilt still going on. It was the kind of broody stupidity worthy of Angel, but more guilt meant more ammunition. It wasn't like Xander had super-strength or even depth perception going for him, and Spike's superpowers tended to run toward super-annoying and super-stubborn, so Xander wasn't above using that guilt, as necessary.

Spike took a hit off his cigarette and then scowled, as if he was only just now realizing how many he'd smoked in the last half hour, and he tossed it on the floor of the crypt, where it touched down on a small pile of dried leaves, setting fire to them.

And then Spike moved--so fast that Xander, distracted by the baby bonfire, didn't see him until he was right in Xander's face, shoving him up against the wall beside the doorway before Xander could twist away.

"Ow, fuck!" Xander protested, not really meaning it, since, at the last second, Spike had brought his own hand up behind Xander's head to prevent yet another concussion.

Xander leaned his head back, pressing the back of his head into Spike's hand, and Spike's fingers pushed back up against Xander's scalp, tangling in his hair. The fact that Spike did that when they fucked up against the wall did nothing to ease the seriously mixed signals going to Xander's cock, which may have been intentional on Spike's part, as he thrust his own hips forward to grind against Xander as if he thought that was the best way to keep Xander from getting away.

"Okay, moving on to plan B: we wake the neighbors, get in a little violence and mayhem, and you work out some of that pent-up aggression on someone other than yours truly."

"Not going to hurt you, pillock."

Xander nodded, thinking carefully, aware of Spike's fingers twining in his hair and the hard strength of Spike's body pressed against his own. "No, you won't."

"Not that you don't deserve a good beating, mind, but the spark says that'd be wrong." Spike met his eyes with a look that said, "I have killed thousands, all of them better men than you," with a soulful dash of "And I feel guilty as hell about it" mixed in to spice things up.

The sub-textual guilt sort of ruined the effect of Spike's threats nowadays, but Xander tended to play along, because it was what you did when you were in love with a reformed sociopath. "Well, Sparky, you just keep on listening to that little voice the rest of us like to call a conscience, and I won't have to go burning bed on your ass. Speaking of which, did you know that Smokey the Bear disapproves of that kind of thing?"

But the little leaf fire was already burning down, having run out of fuel on the concrete floor.

Spike's eyes flashed gold and he smiled a tight little smile, keeping their bodies pressed together from the belt on down. "Should've hit you harder with that microscope, Farrah."

"I'm getting all nostalgic." Xander smiled right back. "That's some pretty tough talk from the vampire with enough haircare products to take up a whole shelf in the bathroom. I've been meaning to ask... without a mirror, how do you know when too much is enough? Oh, wait--you don't. Is that genetic--some sort of Aurelius thing?"

"Speakin' of genes, seen your family, 'aven't I? Real beauties, the lot of 'em, especially in their declining years. Shame you weren't adopted, Harris. Might get to keep some of that hair."

"Hey, my hair is--"

Spike smirked.

"You are such an asshole. I am so not losing my hair."

"Don't sound too sure of that. Think it's going at the temples, love."

"Yeah, well if I'm lucky, I'll get killed before I go bald."

Spike stiffened against him, and not in that good, sexy way. And there it was. The thing that got them here in the first place.

"You'll not live to your not-so-golden years taking stupid risks."

Xander frowned. "And here I thought you weren't planning on letting me get old, so it's a moot point, isn't it."

"How you do provoke me." Spike said softly and moved just that fraction closer, pushing his forehead against Xander's and resting it there a moment, pinning him against the wall. If Xander were the romantic type, he might've thought about how, when they were like this, it was almost like being telepathic. He was thinking about sex. And Spike (who had a lot of balls talking about risk) was thinking about sex. And both of them were thinking about how, any day now, Spike was going to turn the mortal boyfriend (the 'over Xander's dead body' thing went without saying).

But Xander had experienced actual telepathy and this was not it. This was just the accidental synchronicity of two guys who both thought about sex and death every couple of seconds on a recurring loop. And so maybe they were having a little détente moment. It wouldn't last, and they both knew it.

On the other hand, as irritating as Spike was, Xander knew he wasn't ready to give up on them just yet. So, apparently the breaking up plan was a bust, despite the threats of immanent death. And yeah, this was a very healthy relationship and in no way in need of an intervention.

Spike was quiet and not breathing, his whole body preternaturally still, no warm puff of air in Xander's face. If Xander shut his eye and ignored the cool, dry press of Spike's forehead against his own and the hand at the back of his head that had slid down to caress the back of his neck, he could pretend he was alone in the crypt--which was a scary thought, what with all the evil English vampires out looking for a quick bite.

Xander shivered.

"Cold, luv?"

Xander nodded, moving Spike's head against his own, leaving his eye shut.

The air was touched with frost and, distracted by the "break up/don't break up/break his head" dilemma, he'd forgotten his coat in his rush to leave the flat and chase after Spike. Spike didn't need a coat, being cold and dead and assholey, and yet Spike had had the presence of mind to grab his duster off the hook by the door (where Xander had hung it in one of his half-assed attempts at keeping the flat neat) before stomping off into the night.

If Xander were Buffy, Spike would probably offer him his coat now. But since Xander wasn't a girl, and Spike, soulful or not, was a miserable piece of shit, Spike wouldn't make that offer, and even if he did, it wouldn't even make it over his shoulders because Spike had stolen it off of one of those little girl Slayers he'd killed, and yeah, Xander was maybe sulking just a little.

Xander sighed and opened his eye, realizing that if he left it to Spike, he might just freeze to death before Hell froze over and/or Spike actually volunteered an apology.

"Look, Spike, one of us is going to have to pony up and be the bigger man here, and I don't know about you, but I'm freezing my ass off here."

Spike smirked, glancing down at their still pressed together pelvises. "Bigger man? We talkin' length or width or arse-size?"

"Can we focus just a--oh. Whoa!" Spike's hand had wandered, and man, it was a cold, cold hand attached to one hot, hot vampire slipping down the back under Xander's jeans and skimming over his ass. Icy, frozen vampire fingers stroked over his tailbone in a proprietary way as Spike shoved their cocks together and thrust against him. And it was good, good, good, but still very, very cold.

"The bigger they come, the harder they... come," Spike whispered, and Spike's other hand worked its way to his front and started to unzip Xander's pants. And then Spike did his patented pull and twist and Xander felt his knees start to give way.

"Spike, please. W'-we're a-arguing here. There. Oh fuck. Do that again. More."

"Bollocks, Harris. Think we're in full agreement. Now you get this out of the way now. Wearing too many layers."

Xander shivered and thrust into Spike's hand. "That's because A) it's cold as fuck out and B) we're not agreeing. I don't know where you get agreeing, because this isn't it. This is... sex, oh, sex, yes. No. No, because I'm not agreeing."

Spike stopped what he was doing, though his hand remained in place, tightly fisting Xander's cock. "You sayin' you want to fight when we can do the other--when we can do this?"

"N-no. I'm not... what--Jesus. Spike. Stop that. I'm trying to think here."

"Right. Get on with it." Spike's hand pulled away, exposing Xander's cock to the very cold night air. "Be a right treat to see you thinking, happens so bloody rarely."

"Spike--"

"The bigger man, is it? Go on, mate. Apologize for being terminally stupid so we can fuck."

"How about first, you apologize for being a smug, self-righteous, iPod-destroying asshole. Go on. I'm listening." Xander pushed Spike away and actually managed to get Spike to back up an inch or two, though he was still very much in Xander's personal space.

Xander zipped back up again before his balls froze off instead of just trying desperately to crawl back into his body.

Spike turned on his heel, putting his back to Xander, and Xander watched as Spike put his hands in his pockets like he was thinking about digging out another cigarette. But his hand came back out empty, and he turned again and pointed at Xander. "I am not in the wrong here, Harris."

"The hell you aren't."

Ah, the sweet sweet rush of adrenaline and that oh so familiar fight or flight response, which years on the Hellmouth had honed into a confused jumble of impulses to do both at the same time, like Ginger Rogers, dancing backwards and in high heels, except that, with Xander's luck and the collective demon magic of the Hellmouth working against him, he usually ended up on his ass with a heel dug into his back.

Xander forced his fists to unclench and took a deep breath. His too-fast breathing was leaving frosty clouds in the air between them, but Xander knew how to get control of that--especially if he caught it before he went to the lamp-destroying place. Controlling Anger Before It Controls You. Step One: Deep breathing from the diaphragm. Step Two: Repeat a calming word while breathing. Step Three: Visualize something peaceful.

Visualizing taking a swing at Spike wasn't so peaceful, though it did kind of make him feel a little better. And, as calming words went, "Asshole" had a sort of a ring to it, so he went with it, chanting it to himself in time with his deep, even breaths.

And okay, maybe this wasn't as easy as the books made it out to be.

"Look. Spike, maybe--and I'll give you that--just maybe it wasn't my best idea ever, but--"

"Right. You were stupid, won't do it again. Now let's fuck." Spike crossed his arms over his chest and Xander was back to remembering how to breathe and trying to remember what the ocean--a nice, peaceful image--looked like without also imagining holding Spike's head underwater.

"No. No fucking. Because look, you and I both know that I might do it again. In fact, I probably will do it again." Xander rubbed his hands together, still very much with the deep breathing while trying to get some heat back into his fingers. "Look, this--this is one of those I give a little, you give a little things."

"Give a little what?" And man, Spike's body language said kill or be killed, which made Xander think the chances of their actually negotiating on this were zero to not a chance in Hell. But he had to try, since Spike did ask.

"Give a little ground. See arguing is supposed to be like sex."

Spike stared at him blankly. "You want to do it on the ground?"

"No--I mean--well, yes, okay, there's something to be said for sex on the dirty floor of your favorite crypt, except that would be cold, so I'd really rather we go home and... losing the thread here. Damn, it's cold. What was I saying?"

"Sex is like arguing," Spike said, looking confused.

And Xander almost laughed. "No, the other way. Arguing is like sex. And you're not buying this. Okay, look, maybe arguing isn't so much like sex, but the idea is we each give and take--and okay, yeah, I get where the vampire worldview runs on more of a take and take model--"

Spike nodded, seeming to finally follow, though as soon as Xander said that about the vampire model, he knew it wasn't true--at least not of Spike. Spike might've been like that once, but he really wasn't that selfish, not usually. Even the iPod--that'd been a gift from Spike, for their first anniversary--and--and now it was a twisted bit of plastic ground into their nice hardwood floor. And this was not going well.

Xander sighed, because maybe their relationship was going to turn out to be as doomed as the Spike and Buffy thing, or the Xander and Anya thing, or the Xander and [insert girl and/or otherworldly creature here] thing. Maybe it was the Hellmouth at work, reaching out its evil, icy, tentacled fingers all the way to London. Or maybe it was just his parents reaching their evil, icy, tentacled fingers out of his past, since it wasn't like he'd grown up with the best of examples in the relationship arena. And since Spike's idea of a reasonable debate was ripping the other guy's head off so he couldn't argue anymore, they had a few more problems than most couples.

But this wasn't the first fight they'd had, and they'd made it so far, and, you could call him lots of things, but Xander LaVelle Harris wasn't a quitter. And Spike was looking at him, waiting for him to figure out how to make this work, or maybe thinking he couldn't and feeling sorry for him.

Actually, he felt a little sorry for himself. Unfortunately, his self-pity mix was on his now busted iPod.

The problem was, Spike's way was simple--just fuck and ignore it. But that wasn't really working for them anymore, and he had the splintered remains of an iPod and a possible case of frostbite to prove it.

"Okay, look, the books say--"

"Know how to read, do you?"

"Yes, Spike, and could you just shut up a minute? This is important."

"More important than sex?" Spike asked that seriously, and it was only Xander's knowing him so well that clued him in that Spike was covering for the fact that he was at a loss. Hell, if Xander didn't know that already, the pile of butts on the floor and the state of Spike's hair would've proved it. Spike's rigidly gelled hair was a mess, the result of his having run his own hand through it as he paced. Spike did that when he was upset, just like he smoked too much and drank too much and broke things when he was upset.

And Xander had his own coping mechanisms, all of which were just as productive.

"Look, sex is important. But there's not going to be any sex if we don't--look, let's try this again. The books--on--on fighting--"

"You been reading books on fighting? You got an expert on it right here, luv. Teach you anything you want to know."

"Yeah, you're a real expert, aren't you?" Xander shot back, annoyed that Spike was doing this--mocking him--when he was trying to fix things.

Spike thought they were going to have sex? They were so not going to have sex.

Xander knew he was blushing because his face was now the only warm part of him. This was how low he'd sank. Sunk. Failed to float. After their last blow-out, he'd called Willow, and when she hadn't been able to do more than wring her hands and offer to bake cookies, he called up Buffy, who'd just given him the, "I'm not going to say I told you so, but..." speech. And then he'd tried Giles who, being Giles, had suggested he try the library. And that turned out to be what he'd done, sort of, although he'd actually gone to the bookstore, starting in the magazine section because he was too freaked out to ask the clerk for books on marriage counseling for gay men. He'd already discarded the books recommended by Cosmo--which he did not read. He... skimmed them, only because Buffy had a subscription. So he ended up covertly flipping through the gay magazines like The Advocate until he'd found an article on fighting by someone who sounded like he had a clue, and he'd bought the guy's book.

It was hidden in his closet, actually, because he'd been afraid to show it to Spike, knowing Spike would just laugh at him, which he was doing now, so good call on his part.

And Spike was waving a hand in his face. "Still in there?"

"Yes--I'm... you gonna listen?"

"I'm listening," Spike said, and this time, he looked almost serious about it. "Think it's bollocks, but--"

"I don't care what you think. I mean, I do care, but I don't care about what you think now. Just... listen. Please?"

Spike nodded and was quiet, and Xander paced and tried to figure out where to start--how to get Spike to actually listen.

"Okay, so the books I read were actually on not fighting. On...relationships--on successful--relationships. Between men."

"Men relating to other men? Don't need a book, luv. Less it's got pictures. This have any pictures? Got to, to have kept your interest."

"William, please. Just. Shut. Up. Give it a rest. I get that you think this is stupid. I get that you think I'm stupid. Is that it? Do you really want me to leave? Because honestly, I'm this close." Xander held up his hand with his fingers a quarter inch apart.

And Spike actually had the decency to look cowed. "Don't think you're stupid. Just taking the piss. Y'know how I am."

Xander frowned. "Yeah, I know how you are. And strangely enough, that's the one thing keeping me here. That and the fact that I think my legs are frozen. So okay, should I continue? I mean, are you done with your little pissing contest?"

Spike smiled, which was the point of playing the dumb American who was strangely unable to pick up English, even after years of living here.

"Yeah. I'm done. So say what you've got to say. What's your book say about relationships between men?"

"It says... " Xander wondered how he was going to sum up several hundred pages of advice into something Spike wouldn't just dismiss out of hand. "It says, basically, that we need to learn how to compromise."

"I know how to compromise, Harris."

"Yeah? Okay then, this should be easy."

"You don't know how to bloody compromise," Spike said, looking up from the floor of the crypt.

Xander laughed. "Oh, yeah, this should be real easy. Look, according to the book, step one is--"

"There are multiple steps?"

"Yes. There are multiple steps. It's a multi-step process."

"So's fucking. Don't see me lecturing on it." And Spike was back to being a pouty five year old again, which was getting seriously annoying. Xander knew Spike did this when he was feeling insecure, and it didn't get him angry because he knew that. But it was still really annoying.

Spike frowned, apparently realizing Xander was losing patience.

"Right. Go on. Step one."

"Step one is that I admit that what happened wasn't my best idea ever, which is not the same as me saying I was wrong, by the way."

"Which you were."

Xander decided to ignore that and continue on to step two. "Step two is you say that--"

"It was a bloody stupid idea, that's what it was--"

"Spike, shut the hell up, okay? That's not step two. Step two is where you make a concession and say, 'Oh, Xander, I suppose it wasn't that bad,' because it wasn't that bad, and everybody lived through it. See, concession is of the good."

"Unlike concussion, which is what you came away with, only because you were bloody lucky this time."

And again, Xander decided to ignore that and pretend that Spike was playing along. "And see, concession is what allows us to keep the dialogue going, whereas not concessing--"

"Conceeding," Spike muttered, and Xander sighed.

"Conceeding. Right. Because not conceeding just leads to iPod destruction, which is of the bad. See? It's simple."

Spike made a noise suggesting he didn't agree, but it was a soft noise, so Xander moved on to the next step. "So after that, I concede something, and then you do, and we sort of take turns--"

"You mean giving in--"

"No, being reasonable," Xander corrected. "And that's how we eventually meet somewhere in the middle."

Spike snorted. "Yeh, now that sounds like one of your plans all right. Focus on finding the bloody middle and, next thing you know, you're bleedin' out on the middle of the bloody floor."

Xander smacked his own forehead and sighed. "But I wasn't bleeding out. Spike, nobody bled out. I got a scratch. A small scratch."

"It needed stitches."

"Yeah, well it'll heal. See?" Xander lifted his shirt, showing off the place he couldn't really show off, since it was still covered by bandages. "The Neosporin nanites are already doing their thing."

"It'll scar."

"So your problem here is that I'm going to be disfigured? Because you're a little late for tha--"

And what happened next happened so damned fast that Xander could've sworn that the pain arrived several seconds before Spike's fist connected with his cheek.

"Ow. Ow. Shit, now, I'm bleeding. Possibly--possibly concussed, too." He felt the back of his head where it had impacted with the floor when he went down. He wasn't bleeding, but he was probably going to get another lump there to match the one he'd gotten earlier that week.

"You'll live," Spike said, and kicked at the floor with his Docs, looking like an unrepentant five year old, which wasn't that far from the truth.

"Yeah, but that's not the point." Xander picked himself up off the floor with no assistance from Spike, who offered none.

"Yeah? What happened to, 'It's just a scratch. Nobody's bled out.' What happened to that?"

"What happened to you not hitting me? What the hell, Spike."

Spike shrugged, but he wouldn't meet Xander's eyes, and Xander knew Spike was pissed off at himself--probably moreso than Xander was mad at him.

An inch or so higher and Spike's punch might have left his good eye blind, at least temporarily, until the swelling wore off. As it was, Spike had hit his cheekbone. But he could tell that, at the last second, Spike had pulled his punch, since nothing was broken, and a full-on vampire punch could've done a helluva lot of damage.

Still, it hurt like hell--a burning pain that made him wince when he held his hand over it. It was cold enough that he could use his own palm as an icepack.

Spike was biting his lower lip with his blunt front teeth, and Xander noticed that Spike hadn't actually shifted to gameface at any point during their argument, which was still another sign of progress. On the other hand, bare-knuckled boxing with the wimpy mortal was not so progressive.

He gauged the distance between them. Spike had come up a little closer when he'd taken the swing, and he'd gotten closer, still, to take a look at what he'd done. So Xander only had to back up a little before pulling his arm back and letting it go.

Unlike Spike, Xander didn't hold back, and since Spike didn't move out of the way, he took it in square on the jaw, staggering back just enough that Xander might have suspected he'd done it for effect. And Xander kind of appreciated that, since Spike was the original immovable object and irresistible force, which usually left Xander to speak up for both inertia and the compelling power of gravity.

"Feel better?" Spike asked, rubbing at his jaw and wincing. He had a cut on his jaw from where Xander's ring had nicked him upon impact. Spike had gotten him that ring from an antique shop just last year, after one of their lesser, but still memorable, fights.

Xander nodded. "Yeah. I kind of do feel better, actually." His knuckles hurt like hell, of course, but a little ice would take care of that.

Spike stepped up close and took hold of Xander's wrist, bringing Xander's hand up to his mouth and licking the blood off his knuckles with little vampy licks before clasping the hand in his own. "Right. So."

"So?"

"So, we done finding this mythic middle of yours?"

"I..."

"Don't need this namby-pamby give and take, Harris. We have it out like men, right and proper, right here, right now, and then it's done. Over."

Xander sighed. "Riiight. Why bother discussing things like reasonable adults when we can just punch each other senseless."

"And then fuck each other senseless. Don't forget about that."

"Like men, right and proper?"

Spike grinned. "Right here, right now, if you like."

"And then we're, what, fine? We just forget about it and move on like nothing happened?"

Spike shrugged. "No harm done far as I can see."

"I'm bleeding. That's some harm right there."

"Yeah, well, 's what happens when you insult me mum--"

"Yeah, yeah, okay, so maybe I earned that. From now on, mum's the word on..." Xander stopped, shook his head, started over. "From now on, no talking about anyone's mother. Or father. Or any family member and the staking thereof. We could make that a rule. For the future, I mean." Xander nodded to himself, thinking that over. Maybe the solution was just setting some ground rules about what was fair game and what was not.

"Right. And no taking stupid risks. Don't forget that. Bloody important, that is."

Xander barked out a laugh. "Now that I won't agree to. Because I can't, and you can't make me."

"Even if next time it might mean you come out dead?"

"Yeah, even then. You're beating a dead horse."

"Right. And you've just proven the sense can't be knocked into you, so I should avoid hitting you in future." Spike's mouth twitched at the corner as he said that, and Xander felt something inside him give way, and then he was almost smiling, too.

"Stupid vampire."

Spike licked his lips and his eyes flashed. "Stupid human. Should've eaten you when I had the chance while you were still young an' tender. Now... well."

"Are you saying I'm old and tough? Wait--tough is good, isn't it?"

"Yeah," Spike nodded, expression turning a bit too sober. "Tough is good."

"You wanna put your teeth where your mouth is, uh... I mean, why don't you..."

"Don't mind if I do," Spike said, coming closer as Xander tipped his head to the side, exposing his throat in a gesture that came pretty naturally at this point, now that they were apparently past the punching portion of the evening.

It didn't mean Spike had won; it just meant the fight was over, though there might've been just a little submission in there somewhere, and some small part of him liked that in a way he usually made a point of not thinking too much about. Besides, he was tired and cold and Spike was probably right about there being no middle ground. There never had been. There was just a lot of fighting, some really desperately good sex, and a strange inability to stay out of each other's personal space. Two people living in eight hundred square feet of pre-War apartment (which was never going to be furnished to their mutual satisfaction) didn't have room for a middle ground. But what ground they had was theirs, and, however dysfunctional it was, it was still "home."

And he was sort of eager to get home to the make-up sex that made the fighting all worthwhile, but the way Spike was looking at him, he had a pretty good idea that they weren't going to make it home before the makeup sex.

Spike was just looking at him with his head cocked to the side like he was unintentionally mirroring Xander, so Xander repeated himself: "Bite me," and Spike blinked slowly, like a cat, and shifted into gameface. And the bite, when it came, was clean and sharp--a bright, familiar agony, like being on a rollercoaster and holding just on the apex of its ascent before coming down fast and hard.

Xander held still as long as he could, his hips wanting to thrust into the pain/pleasure of it, wanting to fall so bad it hurt. And then Spike was swallowing him down, his lips sealed tight against Xander's throat, his tongue licking in soft little motions in time with Xander's pulse, and Xander could hear the roaring in his ears and the rattle and whoosh as he rushed down the other side, sparks flying, steel wheels flying off the track as he went down down down.

After a few seconds, Spike pulled off his throat and pressed his lips to Xander's, another familiar gesture, warm and wet and bloody and strangely comforting, the way sucking on your own wounded finger sometimes soothed the hurt away--the blood coppery and bitter on his tongue, made sweeter by Spike's own mouth.

Spike had already unbuttoned his button-fly and his hands were moving down to undo Xander's jeans again. He unzipped them and pushed aside Xander's boxers and gripped their cocks in his cool fist. Xander gasped and pushed his hips hard against Spike's to keep his balls out of the cold, night air, and then it got colder as Spike gave him a few hard pumps before letting go of him and stepping away to brace himself against one of the raised sarcophagi in the crypt. Spike spread his legs like he was waiting for a pat-down, his ass thrust out, and he gave a little wiggle of his hips when Xander didn't take the hint.

Xander thought warm thoughts and walked over to stand behind Spike, tugging Spike's jeans down just far enough so he could get inside.

He put one hand on Spike's bare hip and, with the other, got a condom out of his back pocket, using his teeth to open it--the one handed maneuver coming easily with practice. It only took a few seconds more to unroll the slicked condom onto his cock and less time than that to push inside of Spike in one easy glide that forced a grunt out of Spike and then a choked laugh from Xander. Spike was one cold guy, but compared to the wintery air, Spike's ass was perfect, and Xander just stood there, not wanting to pull back out again, liking the feel of being inside too much to move.

"Fuckin' hell, Xan. Do it."

Spike shoved backward so that Xander's balls were pressed up against Spike's ass and Xander gave in and pulled back just a little and then moved forward again, more of a shimmy than a thrust, and Spike panted like he did when he forgot he didn't need to breathe.

"Oh, come on. Do it."

Since Spike was nice enough to beg, Xander did it, setting up an easy rhythm, one hand on Spike's hip and the other on the small of Spike's back, and the tight pressure on his cock was enough to keep him from thinking about anything other than the bright edge of an incoming orgasm.

The slight weakness from Spike's bite took some of the oomph out of his thrusts, but it was a trade-off, because he was still buzzing from it, so when the orgasm hit, it was like coming for the second time that night, and for just a second he thought he might've blacked out a little. But he was with Spike when Spike spilled out over his hand with a sharp, muffled gasp and a low moan.

Slumped over onto Spike's back, his head resting in the valley between Spike's shoulders, Xander took inventory and held on. He was still cold, still confused, still tired--more tired than it should be possible to be while standing upright--and they were still no closer to having figured this thing out. But they were also still talking and still fucking, and he knew that, when he got up and walked out of the cemetery, Spike would be coming home with him.

And it was that knowledge which gave him the strength to push himself up and pull out of Spike and straighten up his clothing and wait until Spike turned to face him, at which point he knew he was going to have to suck it up and apologize--not for taking the risks he needed to take, but for everything he'd said since then--and one thing in particular.

The only problem with that plan was that, when Spike, jeans still undone, turned around and leaned against the crypt, something had changed, and the playfulness was gone, as was the earlier almost-agreement. Instead, Spike was suddenly all attitude, saying, "We done here?" with his jaw set in that "done poncing about; let's kill something" way that brooked no argument.

And Xander, despite being exhausted from the extent of their argument so far, knew he was going to be brooking for more.

"Spike, I... No, we're not done here. I mean, I want to go home, and I want you to come with me, but--"

Spike licked his lips. "You're not up for another round already?" Spike snorted and reached into his pocket for a cigarette, lighting it up with a desultory snap of his lighter. Spike's snark was on high beam, but Spike wasn't actually looking at him, his eyes focusing instead on a space just beyond Xander's head as he took a long drag and exhaled.

"I--no. No, definitely not. Only human here. Not that the spirit isn't willing--very, very--willing. But... look, let's go home, okay? I mean, we still need to talk, but let's do it somewhere warm where I can--think."

Xander shrugged, trying not to be distracted by the open V of Spike's jeans and the damp, curling hair framing a damp, pretty penis, all visible where the underwear should be, if Spike actually wore any. Vampires were apparently immune to chafing and were too cool to actually tuck and button.

"This more of your self-help shite?"

"No. Maybe. This is just me trying to apologize, okay? Look, I'm cold, and--"

"About time you saw reason," Spike muttered just loud enough for Xander to hear.

"Again, I'm not apologizing for what I did, Spike. I am not sorry for that. Taking risks... it's what I do."

"Framing walls is what you do."

"Yeah, okay, but when I'm not shimming windows, taking risks is part of who I am and you knew that coming into this, so it's a take it or leave it kind of thing which I hope--I hope you'll keep taking it. Me."

He looked at Spike and after a moment, Spike seemed to come to some sort of peace and nodded. And Spike was buttoning his jeans, finally, and Xander's eye was drawn to the careful way Spike handled his own cock. It was distracting.

Xander released a shaky breath.  "Good. That's... good. So, um, home?"

"Home."

Xander started to head out the door, and Spike came along with him, and as they passed the first of many large monuments with angels on top, Xander said, "I'm sorry that I--I shouldn't have said what I said. Before. About... we all have scars," Xander said, and looked over at Spike, who was looking past him and staring up at one of the large, stone angels with outstretched wings. "This would be easier if you'd look me in the..."

Spike twitched and looked down at the ground, still avoiding him.

"And okay. Sore spot and stupid, under the circumstances. And this is me shutting up now. In fact, if you just want to pretend I shut up ten minutes ago, that would probably be good. Feel free to stop me at any time." Xander stopped walking and put an arm out, touching the stone monument and bracing himself against it as a wave of dizziness hit him. "Whoa. Did I happen to mention that maybe you should keep some of those cookies in your coat--the kind they give out at the Red Cross--"

"Carry 'round some orange juice as well, shall I?"

"Um... that would be good, yes. What?"

Spike was wobbling a little.

"Harris, you going to be sick?"

Xander frowned. "No. Why? I'm just... maybe you should just sit down, because you're..."

The world was greying out again, and Xander felt the damp grass under his hands with some relief as he sank down on it, using his hand to hang onto the stone as he slipped down it.

"Xan--"

"I'm fine. I'm good. I'll just sit here a minute and be good to go in a m-minute. And we can... talk."

"You're not fine. Idiot. Should've said something."

"Said--what?"

"You're passing out, Harris."

Xander laughed, feeling strangely giddy. "Friends don't let friends drink... Whoa. Spinny vampire. I think I might've missed dinner, with the fighting and the yelling and the... sex " So much for standing up again. "Wow. Low blood sugar."

"Low blood's more like it. Christ, I--Sorry, luv. Stupid of me. Got carried away in the moment. I didn't even notice I--fucking hell, Harris." Spike was taking his coat off. Why was he taking his coat off? Didn't he know it was freezing out?

"Hmm. Spike, I--it's okay. No, I am. Was. Sorry. Don't be. What I said before--"

"Never you mind that. That's it. Be easier going this way. And up. I got you."

"No--listen. Spike, I don't think it--what I said, y'know-- that you--but you do think it, which is why I--where're we going?"

One moment he was standing and leaning on Spike and the next he was in the air and then whoosh, he was crushed up against Spike's chest in a very unmanly way, cradled like a girl, with Spike's duster a heavy weight over him while Spike's arm was under his knees and shoulders.

"Home, luv. before you go into shock."

"Big, strong vampire." Spike was very manly. Small, but sturdy.

The air was cold and he shivered and leaned into Spike's chest a little more. He'd gotten Spike's jacket. It wasn't warm enough, but it was his, draped on top of him. He just hoped he didn't throw up on it.

"Sorry, Spike."

"Shh. Be home in a mo. You'll be fine, love."

"Dizzy."

"Low blood pressure'll do that."

"'m I dying? Spike?"

"Yes. In the slow, incremental way of all mortal flesh, yeah."

"Small words, Spike. Dying now?"

"No. No. Just took a bit too much blood. No worries. You'll live long enough to take more stupid risks."

Xander nodded as the streets of London whizzed by and then slowed to a crawl. And then Spike was propping him up against the doorframe of their building as he unlocked the door to their flat.

"That was fast. Y'know, since I'm not dying, you owe me an iPod and I plan to collect, Master."

Spike chuckled and leaned into him, or maybe he leaned into Spike. And then he was back in Spike's arms.

"Mister. Mister. Master. I so did not say Master. Could you--just put me down here. I can walk, m--Spike."

"Right. Down ya' go, then." Spike set him back down again just inside the door, and Xander sighed, leaning up against the wall there and watched as Spike hung his duster up on the hook.

Xander pushed off the wall and took a carefull step in the direction of the sofa, which was--wow--pretty damned far away from the front door, as it happens. The floor, on the other hand, was pretty close and had to be warmer than the floor of the crypt. Quality pre-war hardwood, sanded, waxed, and buffed to a top-notch shine, and by his own hand.

And Spike was beside him on the floor, holding a hand up to his forehead. "Dizziness, feelin' cold, clammy skin, paleness, rapid pulse, confusion--any of this sound familiar? 'Course, confusion's your normal state, ain't it?"

"Huh?"

"Going to pass out again, s'pose you might as well do it there on the floor. Stay there."

Spike's voice was fading then got stronger and Xander looked up to see a large glass of orange juice attached to a concerned-looking Spike.

"Drink up."

Xander took the glass Spike pressed into his hand and drank it down quickly, holding out the empty glass when he was done. Spike pried it from his hands before he could drop it.

"Thanks."

"Not planning on sicking up?"

"No--I--" Xander swallowed, wishing Spike hadn't mentioned that possibility. But then his stomach settled again. "Fine. I'm good. How--um, how much did you drink?"

Spike shrugged and put his hand on Xander's wrist, not answering right away. "Reckon I took about two--two and a half litres."

"That a lot? I should know if it's a lot. Is that a lot?"

"Not fatal. Not ideal. You'll live. Let's get you off to bed. Tomorrow, when you're feeling up to it, you can take up shouting at me. Deserve it, don't I."

"Do I need a hospital?"

"No, love. Just need to rest. Build up those nummy platelets again."

Another woozy journey in Spike's arms had Xander sinking into a soft, warm bed and pulling a cold vampire down on top of him. Spike rolled off and Xander wasn't strong enough to hold him, but Xander got hold of his hand and Spike didn't pull away, sitting on the edge of the bed, one leg pulled up and bent so his knee was pressed against Xander's thigh. It was nice.

"Plates of spaghetti."

"Shh. Sleep first. Later, when I'm sure you'll keep it down, I'll get you some pasta, yeah? Anything you like."

"Pizza. Thanks, Spike."

"No thanks to me. Got me so worried about some monster offing you, a monster almost did."

"Huh?"

"Me. Nearly did you in, Harris. One good thing I miss about that chip."

"Chip bad."

"Yeah, won't argue. But when I was chipped, I never had to worry 'bout turning you."

"C'n turn me anyway you want, babe."

"Shh love. I almost did, y'know."

"Spike--" Xander struggled to sit up but settled for shifting up enough to get the pillow under his head. The ceiling only spun around a little before settling into place again. Xander squeezed his eye shut and waited it out, trying to clear his head, because this was important. This was what he should've said before, the thing that might've stopped everything before it got this far. "Spike--look, you can kill me."

"'swhat I said. Soul or not, I put you in danger, luv."

"No, I mean--I put me in danger. You--you can-- you may turn me. If you--"

"No."

"Spike--look, listen. If I'm hurt. Listen, if--if it happens, I'm saying yes. You can. I want you to do it. Unless--unless you don't want me around anymore. Then don't."

Xander was still fuzzy around the edges, but the orange juice had helped, and so had laying down, and Spike's pain was clear, sharp and cutting through some of the haze of blood loss with which Xander was unfortunately too familiar.

Xander squeezed the hand in his as hard as he could, trying to get Spike's attention. Spike's other hand was on Xander's face, his fingers tracing around the edge of the patch before finally lifting it up and off. Spike set the patch down on the bedside table where Xander kept it while he slept.

"Spike, really. It's okay. If it looks--you'll know, and it's okay. It'll be good. You can do it. I want you--I want you to."

"The spark--you'll lose it, Xan. Might not be able to get it back."

Xander shrugged as well as he could. "I'm a--a risk-taker. I'll take that risk. It's what I do."

"No."

"Will--William, listen. You never listen."

"I'm listening. Just not agreeing. You should sleep."

"Spike, I'm glad--I'm glad you're arguing, because if you weren't arguing with me I'd assume I was hallucinating."

"Someone's feeling better."

"Yeah. I am. You were right. Not dying. A little better. Lying down helps."

Spike looked relieved. "Sleep, Xan."

"I will. But listen. I'm mostly clear-headed and I'm telling you now, if you want me around, I don't want to die, okay?"

"Xan--"

"Okay?"

Spike frowned and shook his head.

"Spike, c'mere."  This was the undercurrent of every argument they had about everything from risk to where to position the wardrobe. Every conversation they had was about this. Spike didn't want him to take risks because Spike knew that, if it came down to it, Spike was going to turn him, protests or not. And, up until now, Xander hadn't said yes. But now he had, and the hard line of Spike's shoulders eased up as Spike pulled away from him just long enough to take off his boots. And then he was climbing onto the bed beside Xander and curling up against him, one arm across Xander's chest. "Spike, I lost a damned iPod over this, which is stupid, because I trust you. You'll know if it's right and you'll do it and it'll be okay. I'll be okay."

"I'll know?" Spike had tucked his head against Xander's shoulder and Xander put his arm around Spike, his fingers feeling warm against the cool flesh of Spike's bicep.

"You'll know."

"And if you can't get your soul back? What then?"

Xander took a moment, knowing Spike would want him to have a good answer, even though he didn't know--couldn't know--what it'd be like to live without a soul. But he knew what it'd be like to live without Spike, which is why he still hadn't managed to break up with him.

He was still so tired he could barely keep his eye open. But Spike was here, and it was good, and when he woke up, they'd be back at each other's throats again, no matter what answer he gave. There were no guarantees.

"You--Spike, you've got a spark in there, right?"

"Yeah." Spike sounded less than thrilled with it, though Xander knew that Spike was long past trying to claw it out.

"And if you turned me, you'd still have it."

"Suppose I would, yeah. Kept it the last time I killed."

"Well, if I lose mine, you'll--you'll just have to share yours. We'll do a time share."

"It don't work that way, Harris."

"We don't know how it'll work, right? You've never done it--turned someone. So maybe it--maybe it'll work."

"I don't..." Spike swallowed, hard, and Xander looked away, wondering if this was going to devolve into a fight, and hoping it didn't, because he was too tired to fight about this anymore.

"William, don't."

"Your soul... it's well-knit, luv. It's--you're unflagged, so... you think we have to trust in that, yeah?"

"Um... sure. Unflagged and well-knit, that's me. Like a scarf or a...sweater."

"Can wrap you 'round me an' keep warm and we'll... we'll do this."

"Sure we will."


~*~*~*~*~



"The energy of life may be kept on after the grave, but not begun! And he who flagg'd not in the earthly strife, from strength to strength advancing--only he, his soul well-knit, and all his battles won, mounts, and that hardly, to eternal life." Spike's voice had a soft, tight sound that Xander knew, from experience, was a half-step away from tears.

"Mount to eternal life... That's sort of a sexual thing, right? What with the wrapping and the mounting and the riding. Yeah, I can see that." It was his job to see that Spike didn't take that half-step, and if that meant playing dumb, well, he had a lot of practice at that. "Did you know him?"

"Who?"

"Whoever wrote that. Or did you write that?"

"No. I--it was Arnold."

"So did you know him? Y'know, brush shoulders with the rich and famous?"

"No--Why, William the Bloody's not famous enough for you?"

"Hey--you're plenty famous in an infamous, mass-murdering kind of way. I just figured you did the poetry thing, he did the poetry thing. You might've done the poetry thing together. And I mean that in a completely non-sexual way. Although it's okay if you fucked him, since I'm guessing he's dead now."

"He--yeah, he's... Harris, plenty of educated people 'did the poetry thing' in the 1880s before the telly convinced man that the path to immortality lay in being the last man standing on a desert island with the cameras rolling."

"Man, that was a good show."

"What? Survivor?"

"Gilligan's Island, obviously. Survivor's stupid."

"Right. Can't argue there. Bloody ponces the lot of 'em. Wouldn't know suffering if it came up and bit them on their evenly-tanned arses." The shine of tears had faded and Spike was sounding cool again--cool and calm and strong. Xander patted himself on the back--or he would have, if he didn't have Spike curled up on top of him.

"Hmm. Now that's an idea. We could hold a casting call and gather a bunch of wannabes and put them on an island with vampires."

"Too sunny in the Bahamas."

"Put them in the Arctic. Short days, long nights."

"Bloody cold, but the concept... the concept's a good one. Put a Watcher--no--a Slayer. Put a Slayer in charge of delegating challenges--"

"Deliver a stake from one end of a cemetary to the other by balancing it on your toes," Xander offered.

Spike grinned. "Make it a relay. They work together to get the stake there. While naked."

"Isn't it a little cold for naked? I mean, in the Arctic."

"Sex sells, love. Erect nipples, gooseflesh, big-titted bints huddling together for warmth, sharing a bit of body heat."

"I like it. The, um, teamwork. Teamwork's good."

"And none of this poncey voting off the island. Everybody dies but the one left with the stake. That one walks away with something big."

"Like his life. We should totally sell this. It only takes one good TV show and people remember you forever. Look at that guy who made Magnum P.I."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah, whathisname. And we can be like him. Like Arnold, or, um, Bellisario. We are geniuses. You are a genius."

"Work well together, yeah?" Spike's voice was soft, uncertain.

"Yeah, totally. On those off days when we aren't trying to beat each other senseless, we're great."

Spike rolled over and stopped. "You didn't destroy my lamp. I was sure you would, but you didn't."

"I almost did, but then I sort of remembered that I'd just rewired it for the third time, and it seemed like a shame to waste all that work, y'know?"

Spike nodded, and looked away, pulling away from him and closing down again. And Xander frowned, seeing that, after all his effort to distract Spike, it hadn't really worked. Spike was still upset, now because he hadn't killed the lamp that Spike said he'd got it for a "bloody steal," which probably meant he'd actually stolen it.

And Xander hadn't destroyed it and would keep on rewiring it, as often as necessary, even though it had a great big chip in the base and a terminally wobbly switch that went back to wobbling each time Xander thought he'd fixed it.

And Xander figured that somewhere in there was a lesson, but Xander was too tired to reach it, and Spike wasn't ready to hear it just yet. And so he reached out to Spike, instead, and held on.

Spike loved the lamp, and Xander loved Spike. Ergo, Xander loved the lamp, even though it was broken. Because that was what Xander LaVelle Harris did.




The End





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