"God," Xander gasped, as the next thrust shoved him into the table he
was leaning over with enough force that the table actually
moved, sliding across the floor an inch or two with
a groaned protest of wood. He pushed back to meet the next thrust, and
the table moved again, squeaking this time. He had to put his trust in
it -- and his abilities -- and assume that it wasn't going to collapse
underneath their combined weight; at least, if it didn't, he'd know it
was well-built. He wondered, a bit hysterically, if he could advertise
that his carpentry was sound enough to withstand a good hard fuck then
the hand that wasn't pressing down on the small of his back closed
unexpectedly around his cock and Xander cried out, panting. "God! Yeah,
like that, fuck..."
There was a breathless chuckle that became a groan, and then the hand moved sharply back and forward, again and again, perfectly timed with the fast, hard slams that drove the table forward again, because no matter how much Xander tried to brace himself against an onslaught like this, he didn't stand a chance.
It didn't help that his legs, unlike the table's, were wobbling.
He was grunting with every thrust now, shoving back to meet the cock that slid back and forth inside him, fucking his own dick into the grip that knew just how tightly to squeeze, and just where...With a series of soft cries, Xander came, his pants around his ankles and his eyes clenched shut, his hands clutching onto the sides of the table until his fingers were almost numb.
He got three more strokes, fast and deep enough to blend into one, and then he felt the hand on his back clench and grab at smooth skin, and heard his name in the middle of an incoherent jumble of words which somehow made perfect sense just then.
A large hand, strong and lacking the scrapes, nicks and calluses of his own, came down on the table beside his head, and he felt the warm, comforting weight of a body against his back, and a kiss on his shoulder, clumsier than usual because there was a lot of panting and catching of breath going on.
Attempting a conversational tone despite his own shaky breathing, Xander offered, "I'm pretty sure I said this last time, but you can feel free to come down and visit me on your lunch break whenever you want."
"Only on the days where I don't require a functioning brain in the afternoon." The weight left him, the hand that had been wrapped around his cock shifting briefly to his hip as they moved apart. "You have a terrible effect on my powers of concentration, you know."
"You say that like it's a bad thing," Xander said, turning around and looking at Giles with affection then glancing down at himself. "Although I'm thinking there's going to be a rule about bringing me a change of clothes along with the lunch." He hitched up his pants and moved over to the sink, giving his hands a quick rinse, and then cleaning himself off as best he could with a handful of paper towels. He took a second handful over to Giles and gave them to him along with a kiss, leaning against the somewhat abused table in the back room of his carpentry shop as Giles put himself back together.
"The lunch we haven't eaten yet," Giles reminded him, nodding at the paper bag from the corner shop that was on the way between their house and Xander's workshop. The hand-made sandwiches it contained were made of thick, crusty slices of bread, filled with whatever Mrs. Collins felt like using, take it or leave it. Xander wasn't sure about the egg salad she'd sold him the previous Tuesday, but if it was a roast beef with horseradish day he was going to stop off on his way home and propose to her. He was sure Giles wouldn't mind.
Suddenly remembering, Xander went from sated to worried. "Are you going to have time to eat? I thought you had that meeting this afternoon."
"I do," Giles said, glancing at his watch. "And as it's been rescheduled twice, thanks to various crises, I suppose I hadn't better be late." He took a wrapped sandwich and a can of lemonade out of the bag. "I'll take a taxi and eat on the way."
Xander frowned and pulled Giles in for another kiss. "I'd apologize, but there's that whole thing where you started it. See you tonight?"
"Tonight," Giles agreed, turning the handle that led to the main part of the rented shop and disappearing through the doorway.
After quickly eating his own lunch, Xander got back to work. It seemed like he'd had the shop for years, but really it had only been a little over six months. He'd tried a stint working for someone else that had ended when it became clear that it just wasn't a good match. It wasn't that Xander couldn't take orders -- heck, his time with Anya would have been enough to prove that he could, and the almost-year that he'd been with Giles cemented that proof pretty firmly. It was more that there'd been a difference of vision. And under other circumstances that was something Xander was familiar with, too. He'd eventually caved to Giles' quiet persistence and been fitted for a glass eye, and he had to admit that Giles was right; he was a lot less self-conscious with it than he'd been with the patch. It made it easier for him to forget that he was different.
He finished up the special order he'd been working on and moved to a project of his own, one that he was idly thinking about putting in the living room. Not that they didn't have a table there already, but it was just a standard, boring kind of thing, not well-built and without any creativity in its design, and Xander had this desire to fill their home with furniture he'd built himself.
It might take years, but he and Giles had talked enough that Xander didn't have any reason to think they wouldn't have them.
He was so into his work that he lost track of time and almost ended up leaving the shop late. Hurriedly, he cleaned and put away his tools, turning over the 'We're Open' sign that Giles had presented him with the first morning he'd officially been open, and making sure to lock the door. Technically, Xander had already paid Giles back the money he'd loaned him when he'd first rented the shop, but it still felt, weirdly, like the place was part Giles', even though Xander was making more than enough to pay the bills and even some of their household expenses now.
The lights were already on by the time he'd walked back to the house. "Hey, I'm home!" Xander called, as he shut the door behind him.
"And for once, I'm back first," Giles said, appearing in the doorway at the end of the hallway that led into the kitchen. He leaned against the door jamb and lifted an eyebrow, looking, Xander thought, pretty happy about them both being around at a reasonable hour. "I seem to recall when I come in, you usually do something." He straightened up and began to walk slowly towards Xander. "Refresh my memory," he said softly when he reached him, standing close enough that Xander could smell freshly-showered Giles, his hair still slightly damp. "Do I ask you how your day went and then kiss you, or the other way around?"
Xander shrugged out of his coat and put his arms around Giles, wondering what the chances were of Giles agreeing to abandon plans for dinner and just go upstairs to bed. Slim, he decided, considering their lunchtime quickie. "I don't think it matters which one you do first," he said. "My day was great, actually. How was yours?"
"If I get to choose, I'll tell you later," Giles said, slipping his hand behind Xander's neck and kissing him. You could tell a lot from a kiss, Xander had discovered. This was one of those ones that started out as a simple press of Giles' mouth against his, and a blink later they were wrapped around each other, tongues touching, sliding, teasing, as a single kiss became an uncounted number of slow, heated kisses that didn't stop.
Just like the first one they'd had, in fact.
Xander wasn't sure how long it would've taken for him and Giles to admit why they were both on edge and snappy without that first kiss. He'd come back from Africa and moved into Giles' spare room until he found a place of his own. Giles had been stressed out because of the whole taking over the Council deal; Xander was still dealing with watching Sunnydale vanish, taking with it Anya, way too many new Slayers, and Spike. Although Spike had come back. Yeah. And about the only bright bit about that news had come from picturing Angel having to deal with him, with staking not an option.
So the way he and Giles had gone from close friends to irritated, barely speaking and bad-tempered hadn't been too hard to explain away.
It just hadn't occurred to either of them that the closer Xander got to finding somewhere else to live, the worse it got. Because by then the only place Xander wanted to wake up was naked and next to Giles, and he was only trudging around looking at places that made Spike's crypt look homey and still cost more than he could afford because he thought Giles was sick of the sight of him and wanted him gone.
And Giles had been doing repressed English guy not hitting on a younger man he'd known for years, and doing it so well Xander had never guessed -
He shuddered at the thought of how close he'd come to leaving, and Giles broke the kiss and stared at him. "What?" he murmured, moving back in for one last nibble at Xander's lip that might've just started another round of kisses if Giles was persistent. "Is everything all right?"
"Yeah," Xander said gently, looking at Giles and raising both hands to cup his face. "Yeah, everything's fine." And this time he was the one who took control of the kiss, speeding it up, tasting the inside of Giles' mouth again and again until they didn't have any choice but to pull back gasping. "Don't suppose I could talk you into postponing dinner half an hour? Um, assuming there's actually a plan for dinner."
"'Dinner'?" Giles repeated, looking, Xander thought smugly, like a man who'd forgotten half the English language. "Oh... dinner." He glanced back at the kitchen. "I just put a shepherd's pie in the oven. It'll be an hour at least." He smiled. "I hope you're not too hungry by then."
"I'm hungry now," Xander said, running his hands over Giles' back. "Just not for food." It sounded kind of dorky, but he meant it, and he kissed Giles harder so there wouldn't be any question. "An hour, huh?"
"I could turn it down," Giles offered. "Or even off altogether. But I think an hour is plenty of time." He closed his eyes as Xander moved his hands lower; grabbing Giles' ass had stopped being dry-mouth terrifying, in a hot kind of way, and just become so natural that the only thought he had when he did it was how good it felt. "More than enough -- Xander, if you want us to make it to the bed, please stop that."
He didn't sound very convincing, but he had a point.
Xander pulled his hands back then slid one across the front of Giles' trousers lightly. "What about this?" he asked, feigning innocence. "Can I do this?"
Giles grabbed his hand, but not before he'd felt just how hard Giles was, and then the other, sweeping them behind Xander's back and pinning them there, with Xander grinning and letting him, because teasing Giles usually paid off one way or another. "I don't think so," Giles said, wrapping one hand around both Xander's wrists which freed up his other. "But I don't see why I can't do this -" He turned Xander so that his back was to the wall and thumbed open the button on Xander's jeans, before easing the zip down with all due care and attention for Xander's erection which was getting in the way. "And this..."
Xander moaned against Giles' mouth as he was kissed again with Giles' fingers curled around his cock, stroking it maddeningly slowly.
"Want me to finish this here?" Giles asked, moving to kiss Xander's neck, his voice husky. "Want my mouth on you? Or did you have other plans?"
"Plans?" Xander repeated, in something more like a squeak than a regular voice, rocking his hips and letting his head fall back against the wall. "God, Giles please." He struggled a little bit, curious to see what Giles would do, but not making a real effort to free his hands.
"God, I'm going to come home early more often," Giles said, bending his head and biting gently at Xander's chest through his T-shirt, licking at the small bump of Xander's nipple as Xander tried to remember to keep breathing. "Still think we should've gone upstairs though." His teeth fastened around fabric and skin, digging in just hard enough to make Xander shudder, his thumb tracing circles on the inside of one of Xander's wrists. "But now I'm hungry, too -"
He slid to his knees without changing the position of his hands and rubbed Xander's cock against his closed lips, letting Xander push forward and part them, feeling lips and teeth yield so that he could slip inside Giles' eager, waiting mouth.
In his head, Xander was chanting something that had the word 'God' in it, which was kind of funny, because he was pretty sure he didn't even believe in God. Still, if he had believed, the way Giles' mouth felt around his cock would have been more proof than he'd need. Hot, and slick, and that thing Giles did with his tongue -- Xander closed his eyes and took a shivering breath that felt like it went into his lungs crooked, or maybe that was the world tilting when Giles sucked harder on the tip of his cock. Xander gasped and swore, pulling against Giles' hand on his wrists again.
Giles slackened his grip and then released him, scraping the edge of his thumbnail across Xander's palm as he dragged his hand away, which set up a chain reaction that left Xander slamming his fist back against the wall as his hips jerked forward, because if Giles kept doing stuff like that, this was going to be over really soon.
"Fuck," he muttered as Giles pulled back and concentrated all his attention on the tip of Xander's cock, licking over the super-sensitized skin there. Xander felt the ache in his balls as a drop of pre-come formed only to be licked away by a quick, flat swipe of Giles' tongue, and he groaned. "I'm not... gonna last another five minutes if you keep doing that," he managed to get out.
Giles sat back on his heels and glanced up at him, his hand still tight around the base of Xander's cock. "Do you want me to stop?" Only Giles could sound so serious and curious at the same time. At this time.
"Yes," Xander said. "I mean, no, I just..." He took a slow, deep breath and let it out. "It would be easier to answer that question if you weren't on your knees in front of me," he pointed out.
Giles considered that for a moment, and then shrugged and stood up, linking his hand with Xander's. "I'll take it as a yes then," he said, starting to walk towards the stairs. "But only because I want to take full advantage of the fact that we're somewhere I can get you naked without risking splinters."
"You think I haven't had a few splinters before?" Xander asked, going along willingly. Their little quickie in the back of his shop had been beyond hot, but he was just as happy to have sex in bed. Their bed, a thought that never failed to make him smile. Upstairs, he started to take off his own clothes, but Giles stopped him and undressed him slowly, running hands and mouth over each bit of bare skin as it was exposed until Xander was quivering with arousal again, his own hands fumbling with the front of Giles' trousers in an awkward attempt to get them open.
"Let me do that," Giles murmured, stepping back and managing to get out of all his clothes in about the same length of time he'd just taken to peel Xander's T-shirt over his head. His gaze never left Xander, travelling over his body with a frank appreciation that intensified and deepened as their eyes met. "Better?" he asked, as they lay down and began to kiss again, bodies tight against each other.
"Much better," Xander agreed, rolling onto his back and pulling Giles on top of him. He liked to feel Giles' weight on him, heavy, solid, comforting. Like this, it was easy to believe that everything was right with the world. Well, for as long as it lasted, anyway. Giles' mouth was hard, insistent, reminding Xander to zero his attention in on Giles and keep it there. Giles rocked against him, erection sliding almost painfully along Xander's pelvic bone, and Xander curled his leg around both of Giles', offering without saying a word.
He felt Giles' hand slip down between them; tracing a path across Xander's stomach, pausing to curl briefly around a cock Xander didn't think could get any harder and then dipping down. Xander made a sound he hoped came across as encouraging rather than needy, although he didn't really mind Giles knowing just what effect he had on him, and felt his balls tighten as Giles cupped them, rolling them gently before letting his fingers drift back to stroke over skin exposed by the position Xander was in, making Xander arch up against him and come close to whimpering.
Xander shifted, trying not to let his heel dig too hard into the back of Giles' thigh as those fingers stroked again, just the lightest brush over skin so awake with nerve-endings that this time he did whimper, right on the verge of begging Giles to do something more, to thrust inside him with fingers or even better, cock, when the phone gave a shrill ring that made them both twitch and then groan.
"Don't get it," Xander said, even though he knew Giles had to. Being the head of the Watchers Council wasn't the kind of job that ended when you came home from the office.
Giles looked tempted, but even before he sighed, rolled off Xander, and reached out to grab at the phone by the bed, Xander knew sex before dinner was doomed. This number was unlisted, so it wasn't going to be someone trying to sell them something; the best they could hope for was that it was a friend like Buffy or Willow, calling to chat.
Giles sounded terse and he started to frown two seconds in. Work. Giving Xander an apologetic look that turned into something a lot more frustrated as he glanced down at them both, still hard, he stood up and began to pull on his shorts and slacks one-handed. "I've got the details in my study. Hang on." He turned, mouthed, "Sorry," and left the room.
With a loud sigh, Xander flopped over onto his back again and stared up at the ceiling, which was a slightly off shade of white that looked almost gray in the dim light from the one lamp over on Giles' dresser. He listened to the sound of Giles' feet on the stairs as he went down to the study. Xander couldn't help but be irritated at the interruption, although on the other hand it wasn't like Giles could just let the machine get it and pretend he didn't hear. Sometimes it really was important. Although there were definitely times when Xander would have given a lot to know that he was, too. His stomach rumbled -- lunch had been hours ago -- so he got up and got dressed and headed down to the kitchen, Giles' soft voice as he talked to whoever drifting over him as he opened the oven. The rich smell of the gravy in the shepherd's pie, bought up the street at the shop that made them for people to reheat at home, made his stomach growl again, but a quick glance at the clock showed that it still had another forty minutes at least. Xander dug around in the back of the cupboard until he found a half-eaten box of cookies. Of course, they were British cookies, so you were supposed to call them biscuits, but Xander was stubborn and refused to go there. They were cookies, damn it. Chocolate plus sugar in a round, cookie-like format was a cookie, not a biscuit.
By the time Giles came back into the kitchen, he'd eaten three.
"You'll ruin your appetite," Giles said mildly. He came over to snag one from the packet. "I take it we're giving up on finishing what we started until later?"
Xander nodded without speaking, grateful for the mouthful of cookie that made silence look like good manners, not sulking. Because he wasn't.
"I'll go and finish dressing then," Giles said with a sigh. "And it was something I had to deal with, but I do wish they wouldn't -- well, never mind." He bit into the cookie and walked towards the door.
If he hadn't been a guy, Xander reflected, he might have told Giles not to go. Suggested that they talk about it. But he was a guy, and he didn't really want to talk, because talking didn't change things. Giles had to be available to the people at work, and neither of them liked it. It was just a fact. Sighing, Xander put the box of cookies, now almost empty, back in the cupboard before he really did ruin his appetite, and started upstairs for a sweatshirt. The days had been warmer lately, but the nights were still cool. As he put his foot on the bottom step, two things happened at once -- Giles appeared at the top of the stairs and there was a knock at the front door. Xander turned toward the door. "Got it," he said, reaching for the handle. "Although I really, really hope that you're not giving out our home address to anyone at work who might decide they want you to, I don't know, verify the authenticity of a magical paperclip or something." He opened the door before Giles could answer and froze in surprise.
"What the hell are you doing here, Harris?"
If anything, Spike looked almost as taken aback as Xander felt. Not enough to render him speechless, of course. Xander didn't think anything could do that. He blinked, taking in the details. Spike. Hair a little longer, but still bleached until it hurt to think of how much peroxide had soaked into each strand. Jeans, a black shirt, a battered leather jacket -- no duster. God, how he'd hated that coat, reeking of cigarettes and blood. Spike's second skin, his armor. Without it, Spike looked smaller somehow; almost defenseless. Xander's gaze shifted down and his eyes widened in alarm, but it was too late.
Spike, and his suitcase, pushed past Xander, and he was left to gape as Spike beamed up at Giles and said, "Giles. How've you been? Good to see you, mate. Hope you don't mind me turning up like this, but I need a favor."
"What the... but you..." Xander turned, shutting the door automatically, because that was just what you did after someone came in, you shut the door. Even if that someone was Spike. "We didn't invite you in!" He looked at the door, and then at Giles as he came down the stairs. "Doesn't that work in England?"
"It does," Giles said a little grimly. "And even if it's never warm enough to suit you, our sunlight's equally effective at setting vampires alight, yet Spike seems singularly lacking in scorch marks." He raised his eyebrows at Spike. "Well?"
"Come on, Rupert. You can make a guess, can't you?" Spike dropped his suitcase onto the floor and took out a battered pack of cigarettes, using, Xander noted, a regular cheap lighter to light the one he stuck between his lips. Then, holding both hands out at his sides, Spike said, "Not a vampire anymore, am I."
Xander was so surprised that he could hardly move. "What do you mean, you're not a vampire anymore?"
"Need me to use smaller words?" Spike asked, smirking.
"No, I think we grasp the concept," Giles said evenly. "I just require a little more proof and then an explanation." He walked over to Spike and stared down at him. "You can save the part where you ask me for a favor and I say 'no' for an encore."
Despite his confusion and the amount of time that had passed since he'd last seen it, there was little Xander liked more than seeing Giles order Spike around.
"You think it was my idea to come here?" Spike said with a scoff. "Not bloody likely. Angel sent me. Says I'm your problem now."
"Why's that?" Xander asked.
"Yes," Giles said, sounding more English with every word. "I find myself curious as to why I'm Angel's first choice of babysitter as well. Some form of revenge, perhaps? Did I forget to send him a birthday card? Since when was he not well able to deal with you himself?" Giles' eyes widened. "Oh my God -- is Angel human, too?"
Spike raised his head at that, and for a second Xander totally couldn't read what was going on behind his eyes. Then, "Nah," Spike said easily. "Signed it away and I ended up with it."
"Signed what away?" Xander asked, exasperated.
"Shanshu," Spike said, leaning against the wall. "Special destiny for the vampire with a soul? Dies so that he can live?" When Xander and Giles continued to look at him blankly, he sighed. "Don't you people talk to each other? First there was Andrew and the Gandalf thing, and now this. Again, from the top... there's this prophecy about a vampire with a soul turning human. Angel agreed not to take it in exchange for some bloody thing or other he wanted, and apparently that meant I got it."
Xander was glad to see that Giles looked as baffled as he was feeling.
"Is this connected with you dying when you closed the Hellmouth?" Giles asked slowly. "Because from what Andrew told us -- and yes, there was a Tolkienesque theme as I recall -- you were still a vampire once you'd ceased to be a ghost. And now -"
He reached out and placed his fingers against Spike's neck, moving them carefully until he found what he was looking for.
Xander swallowed hard, dealing with an unexpectedly strong reaction to seeing Giles and Spike that close, with Giles' fingers stroking skin that, now that he was looking carefully, was slightly tanned. It wasn't jealousy, of course. No. He just felt left out and that was stupid.
"Now you're human," Giles finished, letting his hand drop to his side. He glanced at Xander, erasing that uncomfortable feeling of exclusion, because his voice warmed when he was talking to Xander. "Did I ever mention how much I detest prophecies?"
"Maybe once or twice," Xander said, grinning because it had been thirty or forty times that at least. He turned his attention back to Spike. "So why are you here?"
"Angel couldn't stand the sight of me," Spike said. "Which suited me just fine, because wherever he is is pretty much the last place on earth I want to be." He took another long drag on his cigarette. "He figured an ex-vampire with a soul turned human might be of some interest to Watchers, I s'pose."
"And what was it you were thinking you'd get out of the deal?" Xander asked, because that had to be there in Spike's head somewhere.
Spike gave him an impatient look. "Still the same trusting soul, aren't you? I don't want anything." He pursed his lips. "Place to stay, maybe. Just until I get my head around all this."
Xander felt the stirrings of pity. It was hard to imagine how it must feel, going from being immortal and close to invulnerable to being human. He supposed it could be seen as a reward, but it wasn't going to be all fun and games adjusting.
"And if you're giving this useless git houseroom, you're not going to turn down the chance to do the Good Samaritan bit with me, now are you? And I did save the world and your arses with it." Spike flicked some ash in Xander's direction. "Stayed behind and burned so you could all bugger off safely."
Xander went back to hating Spike without any difficulty at all. "I'm not useless," he said. "Wait. Why am I having this argument with you?" He looked to Giles for support.
He got a tired shrug. "Force of habit?" Giles sighed. "And the day was being reasonably well-behaved up until now." He gave Spike's suitcase a jaundiced look. "Oh, I suppose you can stay here tonight, at least, but can we move this discussion out of the hallway?" Giles led the way into the living room with Xander following, feeling a little indignant that Giles hadn't pointed out to Spike that on a useless scale, he ranked somewhere below the appendix.
Giles pointed at a chair. "Spike. Sit. Don't touch anything."
That seemed pretty unlikely, but surprisingly, Spike did sit down.
"So what happened?" Xander asked. "You just woke up one morning and realized you had a pulse?"
Spike looked around, leaned forward and put his cigarette out in a tea cup that Giles had left there the night before. Giles made a sound of disgust. "Happened that night. Things went all apocalypsy; we tried to kill all the members of the Black Thorn. You heard about that, yeah?" He was looking at Giles.
Giles nodded. "We did."
"Wesley, Charley, we lost them both. Me and Blue and Angel, though... took down a dragon and... thousands, maybe, between the three of us. Felt like it, at any rate." Spike's voice and eyes made it clear that he was far away. "Guess I saved Angel. He says it, so it must be true, right? Not as if he'd make something like that up. Anyway... he says I got dusted, and then next thing he knew I was lying there whole and breathing. Guess the prophecy wasn't so much undone as changed." He stood up, shifting his weight. "Just spent twelve hours on a plane. Think I've been doing enough sitting."
Now that was something Xander could relate to. His journey back from Africa had spread over two nightmarish days of missed connections and canceled flights, with him clinging stubbornly to his single suitcase for thousands of miles and then managing to leave it behind in the taxi that took him from Heathrow to this house. Jet lag was hell.
Giles must've seen the signs of exhaustion on Spike's face, too, because a lot of the hostility had drained from his voice when he spoke. "We heard about Wesley and Gunn. No details; just that they'd been killed. I'm very sorry." The sadness dragging at his voice made the simple words convey all the grief Xander had seen first-hand when they'd got the news. Seen and shared. They hadn't known Gunn, but Wes was one of them when it came down to it, and a heroic death didn't have the glamour it used to.
"We were about to eat," Giles continued.
Xander bit his lip. No, we were about to have sex, he thought and I still want to, and damn, that's not going to happen half as much as it used to with Spike around.
"Would you like to join us?"
The part of the conversation that had happened only in his own head had been so real that Xander actually twitched at that, but Spike just nodded and Xander realized they were talking about dinner.
He had to clean off one of the two kitchen chairs they never used except for piling up papers and stuff so that there'd be somewhere for Spike to sit. Once he had, Spike dropped down into the chair with a tired and maybe grateful grin that disarmed Xander, leaving him confused. An appreciative, thoughtful Spike wasn't something he was used to.
On the other hand, maybe Spike was trying to trick him into lowering his defenses. Yeah, that had to be it. Giles dished up the shepherd's pie and Xander got three beers out of the cupboard. He'd adjusted to the whole warm beer thing pretty quickly. Beer, as far as he was concerned, was beer.
He was three bites into his meal when he realized that Giles wasn't eating, but was watching Spike. Xander had seen Spike eat before, but never often, and the odd time he'd seen him drink blood he'd done his best to repress the memory because, quite honestly, it was gross.
Spike using a knife and fork, both at the same time, just like Giles did and Xander didn't, eating with a careful but somehow automatic tidiness, was new.
"Does it -- do you miss your, ah, previous diet?" Giles asked curiously. "Any cravings?"
Spike shook his head, swallowing and looking at both of them as if he was just then aware of the fact that he was being watched. "M'not a bloody sideshow," he muttered irritatedly.
"It's just... weird," Xander said. "It'd be like if I suddenly jumped up and started, I don't know, ballet dancing or something."
"I'm eating," Spike said. "Not dancing."
"I'm sorry," Giles said. "It's just that from an academic point of view, this is rather fascinating." Spike glared at him, and Giles cleared his throat and picked up his beer. "But not perhaps to you. Fair enough."
Xander concentrated on eating his own food and tried not to look at Spike at all, which was strangely harder than he would have thought it would be. He kept looking over at Giles, too, watching Giles watch Spike and try not to. And Spike kept looking up at both of them, surly now that he felt on display. Xander couldn't really blame him for that; he'd felt the same way right after he'd lost his eye, like he was really interesting all of a sudden; a freak show. There'd been times he'd wanted to just shout at people to stop staring at him.
"So," he tried. "Angel just kicked you out, huh?"
"Yeah," Spike said, leaning back in his chair and drinking more beer. "Don't get me wrong, I was more'n happy to go. Not like the two of us have ever got along."
"Especially now," Giles said shrewdly, going right to the heart of it. For a man who could take five minutes asking Xander how he liked his tea, he was still capable of a brevity that was as disconcerting as it was insightful. "When, for possibly the first time in your relationship, you've achieved something he has not. Can not." Giles' mouth twisted. "I never thought I'd feel pity for him, given our dealings with each other, but I do now." He gave Spike a sharp glance. "And I've no doubt that the urge to gloat, just a little, was irresistible, am I right?"
"You should have seen his face," Spike said, with a little smile. He pushed his chair back, his thighs falling to the sides in a way that Xander found disturbing in a way he couldn't quite put his finger on. "He'd never admit it, of course, but he was furious. And he'd be talking through his clenched teeth, trying to pretend like it didn't bother him."
Xander couldn't deny that he sort of got a kick out of the thought of Angel being all mad that Spike had got the prophecy that had been meant for him. "Did he get that thing where his lip twitches?"
"Yeah," Spike agreed, finishing his beer and yawning. Xander didn't think he'd ever seen Spike yawn. "Totally worth the first time I got puking drunk just to see the look on his face."
That fascinated look crossed Giles' face again, as if he was about to ask Spike all kinds of stuff Xander really didn't want to discuss when he was eating, but Spike yawned again and gave Giles a hopeful glance.
"Any chance of a shower? I'd say bath, but I'd likely fall asleep in it, and I wouldn't want to drown." He smiled with his tongue curled behind his top teeth, a gesture as familiar as it was unsettling. "Me stretched out in your tub; bring back memories, does it, Giles?"
"It does," Giles replied, his eyes narrowing. "All of them the kind that make me want to emphasize how temporary this arrangement is. But by all means have a shower. I'll sort you out some bedding; there's a sofa bed in my study down here that you can use."
Xander showed Spike where the downstairs bathroom was -- there was a shower in there, although he and Giles never used it. He wasn't even a hundred percent sure it worked. Not like he was going to tell Spike that, though. "I don't know if there are any towels in here," he said, opening the closet. "Oh, yeah, here." He put two on the edge of the sink and left quickly.
Giles came downstairs with some sheets and the pillows that had been on the bed in the second bedroom upstairs, the bed Xander had used when he'd first come back to London. It was still 'his' room technically, even though he hadn't slept there in more than six months and all his clothes were in the master bedroom.
"I can't believe Spike's not a vampire anymore," Xander said, as they started to wrestle the sofa into a bed.
"I can believe he's human far more readily than I can believe I told him he could stay," Giles said ruefully. "I'm sorry, Xander; this is your home, too, and I should've consulted with you first. If it's any consolation, I can't see him staying here long."
He picked up the bedding and began to spread it out over the opened-out sofa.
Xander appreciated the apology. "What were we going to do, throw him out on the street?" He grinned a little bit. "I mean, I won't deny the idea is tempting." Leaning over, he grabbed the near end of the sheet Giles was spreading out and helped to settle it on the mattress, which he had to admit looked pretty thin. That made him realize something. "You didn't want him upstairs?"
Giles looked startled. "That's your room."
"So that's my room, and our room is our room?" Xander wanted clarification.
"When you put it that way, I suppose it does sound odd, but I can assure you I think of the room we sleep in as our bedroom, not mine, if that's what you mean." Giles shrugged, dropping two pillows at one end of the bed. "I just still think of the spare room as yours as well, and therefore not somewhere I'd automatically put a guest." He grinned. "Besides, do you really want Spike next door to us?"
"There is no way I can say 'no' emphatically enough," Xander said, just as Spike, still in the shower if the running water had anything to say about it, started to sing. Loudly.
Giles winced. "He used to do that when he was staying with me. And I'm going to make it quite clear tomorrow that he's not to smoke in the house while he's here. Lay down some ground rules. He can be very disruptive, as you know, and I'm sure that hasn't changed."
Giles sounded scarily like a parent right then. Or maybe the scary part was that Xander agreed with him. Wasn't he still young enough to be rebelling? Apparently not.
"I'm less worried about secondhand smoke than I am that he might burn the house down," Xander agreed, as Spike's voice got even louder. "We're not seriously going to let him stay here, are we? I mean, can't the Council put him up somewhere? Aren't you going to want to, I don't know, do blood tests and stuff? Make sure he's really human?"
"He's definitely not a vampire," Giles said thoughtfully. "His skin's warm and he's got a heartbeat... I'll see what I can find out about this prophecy he mentioned. If necessary, we'll call Angel for confirmation, although I'd rather not get involved with him. Our recent dealings haven't been exactly amicable."
The shower stopped running and Spike fell silent, too. Giles stepped away from the couch and gave Xander a brief hug. "He'll be gone soon, I'm sure, but until then -- well, he has got a point. We owe him something for what he did in Sunnydale." He looked a little self-conscious. "And I confess to being curious about how he's coping with this. He's remarkably resilient, but he's gone through some bewildering changes in the last two years."
"I guess," Xander said, but he gave Giles a smile to let him know that it was the situation he wasn't thrilled with, not Giles. Why couldn't Spike have just stayed in L.A.? It didn't even make sense that he'd hung around for years in California, sun central, as a vampire, but now that he was human and could actually enjoy the sun, he'd come back to England where it rained more often than not.
Stupid vampire. Only not, and that was going to take some time to get used to.
There was the sound of the bathroom door opening, and Spike appeared in the doorway to the study wearing nothing but a towel. His hair was slicked back, making his face look even thinner than usual, his cheekbones standing out in sharp relief. He ran a hand down along his damp chest, creating a bead of water that took a slow, meandering slide southward over his abdomen. "Take a picture, Harris," Spike said, but he sounded more tired than snarky. "Lasts longer."
Spike wasn't sure why
they were both staring at him all the time; he
was human, yeah, but he hadn't grown another head, and he didn't look
any different. And yeah, he knew what he'd looked like before. No
reflection didn't mean he hadn't seen himself on the security tapes at
Wolfram & Hart or had photographs taken. When he stared into a
mirror, he saw himself staring back. Spike. William the Bloody.
Useless, destiny-grabbing waste of space. Take your pick.
None of them seemed to fit him now. He was new. New body, nearly-new soul, new life.
Short, measured-in-decades-not-centuries new life, but even so.
Didn't feel that way, though. He still felt connected to all he'd been and done. Connected and distanced at the same time, so that being around Angel was unbearable, because when Angel looked at him all he saw was what Spike had been, not what he'd become.
Angel hadn't been about to give him a chance to prove he'd changed, and Angel sure as hell wasn't going to be someone who cared when Spike got belly-ache from eating too much junk food after forgetting to eat for hours, or someone who'd listen and smile when Spike tried to explain what spicy noodles really tasted like. Spike still hadn't forgotten the look on Angel's face when he'd walked in and found Spike trying to get the lid off a jar. It'd felt bloody welded on, it was that tight, and the arrogant bastard had taken it from him in silence, not even smirking, and opened it using a thumb and one finger.
Angel'd smirked when Spike punched him, though. Smirked and swayed out of the way of the next one -- and the one after that -- moving with lazy speed, arms crossed over his chest...
And now Spike was here with these two, and it was more of the same. Staring at him as if he was a freak.
He spotted his suitcase in the corner. He supposed he should brush his teeth now before they rotted and fell out or something, but he was too tired to care. Let them.
Spike dropped the towel, kicking it out of the way, and walked past Giles and Xander to the bed.
Stupid buggers were still gawping at him.
"Maybe this is something no one thought to tell you," Harris said, his eyes darting away when Spike looked at him. Well, eye. It was obvious he'd got himself a glass one, and Spike couldn't help but think there was some kind of vulnerability there just screaming out to be exploited. "But people... regular people, humans, which is a group you apparently newly belong to, don't just walk around with no clothes on."
Spike smirked and crouched down facing them, opening his suitcase and digging around slowly in search of the soft brushed cotton trousers he knew were in there somewhere. He took his time, aware that he was making them uncomfortable and liking it. "Might be human, but I'm never gonna be 'regular,'" he said, standing up and pulling on the trousers before giving his balls a good scratch.
"I think that's a given," Giles said, sounding more amused than Spike had expected. Took a lot to make Giles lose it, although Spike knew a couple of sure-fire ways, starting with folding down corners on pages and definitely involving mugs of blood left unwashed and forgotten for days. He was fairly sure Giles would get just as pissy about abandoned coffee mugs, so that would still work.
Not that Harris was much better from what he remembered. Lad had lived like a slob in the basement, and from what Spike had seen later it didn't seem like Anya had trained him out of it. What he'd seen of the house looked tidy enough; lived-in, but tidy -- but he'd bet his last dollar -- pound -- that Harris' room was a pig sty.
"If there's nothing else you need, we'll leave you to get some sleep," Giles said. "Help yourself to breakfast if you find yourself waking up at some ungodly hour; I know it can be hard to adjust to the time difference at first."
He'd help himself to anything that suited him, pretty much, not that Spike would say that out loud. Oh, he wouldn't steal anything outright, probably -- the soul saw to that -- but he was a guest, wasn't he?
A bloody exhausted guest. Not that he hadn't got tired as a vampire, but the differences kept surprising him. He'd thought food still tasted fine as a vamp, but the first thing he'd eaten as a human, a bag of potato chips, had been something close to a religious experience. He'd had a bunch of stuff delivered right after, on Angel's tab, of course, and eaten the lot of it to the point where he'd felt ill, but he just hadn't been able to stop himself.
Giles and Harris buggered off to the kitchen, closing the door behind them, and Spike crawled into bed, pulling the covers up over him and burying his face in the pillows. He fell into a deep, almost drugged sleep immediately, the sound of his own breathing comforting and disturbing at the same time.
When he woke, it was pitch-black -- and he still wasn't used to darkness. Nothing was dark when you were a vampire. He'd been in places where he couldn't see much, but he could always see something. This moment of disorientation and thick, palpable black pressing down on him always made his heart leap and thud painfully. Which didn't help to calm him down either.
Not like he was going to go out and buy a sodding nightlight, though, was it?
Spike rolled onto his back and glanced around, vague shapes starting to appear as his eyes adjusted. England. Giles' house. Right. Desk over there, with a computer on -- had to be Harris' and he probably drove Giles mad playing games on it. Bookshelves everywhere -- no change there.
A creak and then another had him staring up at the ceiling. Sounded as if he was under one of their bedrooms and they were toddling off to bed. He wondered who it was making all the racket. They both snored sometimes, if memory served, but Xander was the one who thrashed around most. God, he hoped he was under Giles' room, or he'd never get back to sleep.
For a minute or so, there was silence, so Spike closed his eyes again, but then he heard another creak and what might have been a moan. He frowned. Was Giles sick? Another moan, louder, this one sounding more like Harris, and then the creaks found a rhythm that Spike would have recognized anywhere.
He was so surprised that, at first, his brain tried to come up with other explanations. A whore's car had broken down outside and she'd knocked on their door then offered to have sex with Harris as a way of saying thanks for their help. Harris was jerking off alone, or maybe shagging some kind of blow up doll on his squeaky bed. There had to be a reasonable explanation for what Spike was hearing.
The sounds increased -- more moaning, two men's voices -- and Spike couldn't deny it anymore. Giles and Harris were shagging. Each other. Spike's hand was resting over his own erect cock, and when Giles groaned and the head of the bed hit the wall with a muffled thud, Spike shrugged and slid his hand under the waistband of his trousers. Might as well have a wank, since they were putting on a show.
And that was all he had been doing lately. Oh, he'd gone out and got laid, first chance he'd got, but it'd been some stupid tart he'd picked up in a bar who'd giggled more than Harmony, which he hadn't thought was possible, and it'd been less fun than he'd expected.
She'd thought the same, if her sudden silence afterwards was anything to go by, and he'd left without bothering to explain that no, he didn't usually shoot his load in under a minute, but this was the first time he'd fucked anyone as a human -- ever -- because that really wouldn't have gone down well.
But his hand, his dick; they were old friends, human, vampire, souled or not, and the way his cock was aching and hard against his palm it was appreciating the background music as much as he was.
He didn't give a toss what had got those two in bed with each other -- desperation, most likely, because no one else would have them -- but he had to admit he was getting off on the idea, if only because it was so very fucking wrong and that still appealed to him.
Harris had lost weight since Spike had seen him last, and put on some muscle. The T-shirt he'd been wearing, short-sleeved and tight enough to cling, had shown it off, too. Good enough to eat.
Spike shuddered, pumping his cock with fast, hard jerks thinking about Giles doing just that as Harris moaned and whimpered, just like he was doing now. God, he could hear everything! Inconsiderate gits.
Not that he was complaining, but they weren't even trying to keep quiet.
"Xander -- God, yes - Xander-"
He hadn't known Giles could sound like that. Husky. Desperate. Thud, thud, fucking thud. Christ, they were going at it like bunnies on crack.
"Fuck, yeah," Spike muttered, his fist moving faster, the slick sound of his foreskin moving over the head of his cock making his balls tighten up. Above him, the space between dull thuds had stretched out, but the sounds themselves were louder, like Giles was really giving it to Harris, deep, hard thrusts. He heard a muffled cry that might have been Harris then Giles' answering groan, all creaking and thumping sounds stopping. Spike could picture the look on Giles' face as he came, emptying himself into Harris' body, imagined that body tightening around his own cock. Spike didn't try to muffle his own cry when he came, letting the hoarse shout escape him as his cock throbbed in his hand, surprising him with the intensity of it. In the room above him, there was a moment of utter silence.
Then someone -- had to be Giles -- began to laugh softly, and there was a hissed babble of words from Harris that died away as if Giles had kissed him to shut him up, which was something Spike had never tried, because it was more entertaining to wind him up than soothe him, but which seemed to be working.
He lay back, messy and relaxed, enjoying the afterglow, and listened to them move around, the short rush of water in a basin, flush of a toilet -- and then they settled back down and that was that.
Spike stripped off the trousers he was wearing and used them to dry his hand and stomach before dropping them onto the floor. He preferred sleeping naked anyway, even if it did seem to bother Harris for some reason.
Harris, who'd stared at him when he'd walked in from the shower, dark eyes wide.
Spike was grinning when he fell asleep. Lad could stare all he wanted as long as he wasn't thinking 'freak' when he did it.
Sunshine was pouring into the room through the one small window when Spike woke up again. He remembered who he was, yawned, stretched, and sat up, listening to the sounds of Harris and Giles talking in the kitchen. They'd have to go to work today, presumably, which he hoped meant he'd be able to do a little bit of snooping around, figuring out what they'd been up these past months. In the meantime, he thought he'd have a bit of fun. He pulled on a clean pair of trousers and briefly considered going out bare-chested just to see if he could get a rise out of Harris -- phrase with a whole new meaning, that -- but decided it was too cold. Another thing he could do once they'd gone off for the day -- find the thermostat and turn up the heat.
In his stocking feet, Spike padded out to the kitchen, where Giles was making toast and Harris was pouring coffee. "Quite the domestic pair, aren't you?" he asked. "Who's the missus?"
Harris gave him a look that was a little bit more irritated than Spike had been expecting. "You're in our house," he said bluntly. "You don't get to make cracks like that."
"Not if you want to stay in it, anyway," Giles said without turning around. "Good morning, Spike. Sleep well?"
The toast popped up, and Giles added it to a stack keeping warm under a napkin in a basket. He carried it over and put it down on the table next to butter, marmalade and -
"Is that homemade raspberry jam?" Spike asked, passing up the chance to get in a dig about the noises in the night. He sat down and flipped a piece of toast onto his plate -- well, a plate anyway. Might as well be his. He was company, wasn't he? -- and slathered it thickly with butter and jam. "God, it's been years since I had this."
He bit into the toast, the taste of the jam bursting across his tongue, fresh and sweet, and yeah, he might have moaned a little. He hadn't been able to really taste his food in over a hundred years, so he figured he was entitled.
Harris set a cup of coffee down at Spike's elbow, hard enough that a little bit sloshed out onto the table. "So how long are we going to have the pleasure of your company?" Xander asked.
Spike looked up at him. "Trying to kick me out?"
"Actually, yeah." Harris sat down.
"Three's a crowd, eh? Don't worry; I can turn a blind eye as well as you can, Harris."
Harris flinched, not enough to be noticeable unless you were looking, but Spike was looking. Looking at the flush rising up under his skin, the way his lips tightened and thinned... and then he was looking at the table, because Giles' hand had closed around the back of his neck and forced his head down.
"Hey! Get off!" Spike protested.
Giles let go of him, with a dismissive smack across the back of his head that stung his pride as much as anything, and sat down. "If we're done with the pleasantries, I suggest we get a move on. I need to be at work soon. Spike, I'm obviously going to be looking into this prophecy of yours, but I don't think I want your all-too-familiar face at the Council headquarters just yet. You can spend the day with Xander."
Spike and Harris looked up in horror at the same time. "What?" they both said.
"You heard me," Giles said, sipping at his coffee implacably.
"Oh, no," Harris said. "Look, Giles, it's one thing to have him staying here, but there's no way he's coming to work with me. He'll probably burn the place down!"
"I fail to see how that's any worse than what he might do if we leave him here alone," Giles said, looking at Harris.
The most frustrating thing was that Spike really didn't have anyplace else to go. He had no money, and it wasn't like he could just take whatever he needed from the corner shop and walk away without needing to worry about someone calling the cops or, worse, pulling out a gun and shooting him.
"Do I have to?" Harris asked.
"What are you, five?" Spike said, disgusted by the whiny tone in Harris' voice and still stinging from Giles' reprimand. "Didn't know you were such a pervert, Giles."
Giles took one more sip of his coffee, and then set it down. "Get out."
"What?" Spike blinked at him. Giles sounded bored, not angry, but he'd got a look about him that was making the skin crawl on the back of Spike's neck, the way it did just before a fight started, the way it did when he was walking along and something was stalking him, two steps back in the bushes.
"You heard me. Get your things and get out. Go crawling back to Angel, or step under a bus. I really don't care. I don't want you here, and I fail to see why we should have to endure your pathetic attempts to prove you're still capable of inflicting damage on others." Giles got up and went to stand behind Harris' chair, resting his hand on the boy's shoulder for a moment, and then nodding at the door. "Out."
Part of Spike was tempted to just do as Giles said, to step out the front door with his suitcase and not look back. Then he remembered all the things he needed now, really needed, like food and a place to live, and he backed down. A little. "Look, it's fine. I'll go to work with Harris. No worries."
"That's no longer an option you have, I'm afraid," Giles said.
Harris was staring at Spike as if he was working out the most painful place to punch him, and Giles was looking as if he already knew and was about two seconds away from demonstrating.
"I'm sorry," Spike said.
He was close to wishing he'd stayed dust, he really was. Neither of them reacted. He'd just groveled and they didn't care.
"Look, I said I was fucking sorry!" He closed his eyes to shut out the sight of Harris starting to smirk and took a deep breath before opening them again. "You don't pop back into life wearing Armani and clutching a platinum card, you know. Try stark-naked and penniless, because when I got back to my place three days later, it'd been trashed and everything I owned was gone. Angel's still got the bank account, Angel's still got enough to get by with -- me, I'm skint." He rubbed his finger through a smear of jam on the table. "Bastard bought my plane ticket and gave me enough to cover the cab fare here. I don't have anything left. Fake ID, birth certificate, passport, yeah... needed them to get in here, and he arranged that, but all the rest of it I don't have. I don't exist. I'm not in the fucking system."
His voice was getting louder now, and they were staring at him again. He stood up and realized he was shaking. "You want to throw me out because I've still got a big mouth? Go ahead. I'm getting used to it. But don't fool yourself I've got a nice, bright future out there waiting for me. I've got nothing. I've got no one." He managed a sneer. "Thanks for the warm welcome to the human race. Appreciate it."
Spike actually got as far as the doorway before Harris' voice stopped him. "No, wait," Harris said. Then, softer, to Giles, "We can't just throw him out."
"We most certainly can," Giles said, as Spike turned around to hear the verdict. "He's behaving like a spoilt child, and I won't tolerate it. Not when it's directed at you."
"He said he was sorry," Harris pointed out. "I mean, don't get me wrong, it's not that I want him here But just kicking him out when he doesn't have anywhere to go, that's not right, either." The conflict was clear on Harris' face, the bloody do-gooder at war with his instincts which, very rightly, told him that Spike didn't like him much and probably never would.
Giles didn't look conflicted exactly, but he hesitated and glanced between Spike, who was trying to look pitiful and not needing to try all that hard, and Harris, who was probably secretly hoping Giles would do his dirty work for him and insist that Spike leave.
"Oh, very well," Giles snapped at last, walking over to the doorway. "He can stay." He gave Spike an unfriendly look as he passed him. "Temporarily. If you behave. Are we clear on that point?"
Spike nodded. "Thanks," he said to Harris, grudgingly.
"You can thank me by staying out of my way and finding someplace else to live as soon as possible," Harris said, but he wasn't looking at Spike with seething hatred anymore, so that was something.
Spike watched Xander open up his shop, noting the proprietary look he gave the place as he walked in. Xander turned the sign on the door to read 'open' with a casual flick of his wrist and said, "This is it."
It didn't look like much to Spike at first, but when Xander turned on the lights and he saw the carefully positioned pieces of wooden furniture, placed so that the spotlights overhead picked out the glossy sheen of the wood grain or an intricate piece of carving, he gave it a silent, grudging approval. Xander had carved too many stakes for Spike to feel comfortable about complimenting him on his woodworking skills, though.
He glanced around, spotting a door behind the counter that he guessed led to the workshop.
"Nice place," he said, just to prove he could be polite if he wanted to be. "So do you have someone out here dealing with the customers while you whittle away in the back then?"
"There aren't that many customers," Xander said. "If there are, I just stop what I'm doing. Or sometimes I've got something I can do out here -- polishing, for one." He looked at Spike thoughtfully. "That's something you could do, maybe."
Spike tried to sound neutral. "Polish the furniture? How long's that really gonna take?"
"Oh, don't worry, there's plenty of other stuff, too," Xander said. He went behind the counter and opened the door to the back. "Come on." Spike followed, only to be handed a broom the minute he walked through the doorway. "Here you go," Xander said cheerfully, pointing to the thick layers of sawdust on the floor. "There's a dustpan and a trash bin in the corner."
Polite left the building. "I don't know what Giles had in mind when he said we had to spend the day joined at the hip, but somehow I don't see me cleaning up after you in this life or the next, okay?" Spike cleared his throat as Xander started to frown. "No offense. I just -" He stuck out his hand, trying to get Xander to take back the broom. "Human, yes, skivvy, no."
Xander, surprisingly, seemed to understand. "Look, I sweep up after me all the time. I also clean the bathroom. It's only stupid, meaningless work if you decide it is." He gestured around at tools Spike couldn't even begin to guess the names of. "Besides, what else are you going to do, start making armoires?"
"No, but -" Spike rolled his eyes, feeling depression settle over him like the dust on every surface. And this was what Angel had wanted back? This tedium interrupted by boredom? He was welcome to it. "Look, I get paid, right? Because I'm not doing this for nothing." He decided that needed rephrasing as well, judging by Xander's sharp intake of breath. "I want to pay my way," he said virtuously. Yeah, that sounded better. "Not going to sponge off you two. So I need a job."
For a minute Xander just looked at him, then he nodded. "Yeah, okay. But only if you're actually helpful. No sitting around on your ass all day complaining that you're bored, and then expecting a paycheck."
As it turned out, Xander was able to find all sorts of things for Spike to do, most of them just as boring as Spike had feared, but he managed to make it through the first part of the day by reminding himself that this was a job, that he was getting paid and that the first thing he was going to do with his money was go out and get stinking drunk.
"So, is it weird?" Xander asked, looking up from whatever he was doing to a chair as Spike sorted a pile of wood scraps into two other piles. "You know, the whole breathing, eating, bleeding thing?"
"Don't know about the bleeding yet, but I don't see that being much different," Spike replied. "The rest of it -- yeah. Takes a bit of getting used to. It's worse when I think about it." He tossed a useable-sized chunk onto the left-hand pile and straightened up. "I nearly passed out early on because I started to try to breathe instead of just letting it happen." He gave a short laugh. "Angel thought that was bloody hysterical. Go on: you can have a laugh too if you like."
Again, Xander surprised him, not even looking up from his work and just offering, "Nah. I almost fell down a couple of flights of stairs right after the eye thing -- I'm not sure why. I mean, the doctor said it wouldn't throw off my depth perception by that much, but I guess it was enough."
"Shouldn't have said that earlier," Spike said, feeling a tiny pang of shame. "About turning a blind eye. Won't say sorry, though, because I'm making a rule about only saying that once a day." He picked up another piece of wood and turned it in his hand, studying the grain. "What made you get rid of the patch then?"
"Giles, mostly." Xander said it casually, but it was the sort of thing that had a lot of power behind it. Spike was good at that -- ferreting out the important bits of the conversation and holding onto them. Never knew when you might be in need of some ammunition. "He thought it'd be better for me, I don't know, looking more normal. Blending in." He shrugged with one shoulder, glancing up at Spike. "He was right. He usually is."
"Can't say as I agree with that," Spike said a little dryly. "Or have you forgotten him trying to get me staked not so long ago? And blending in is what you do when you're weak." He ran his finger around a knot in the wood, deep enough to be a flaw. "Never saw me trying to be one of the crowd, did you?"
"Oh yeah? So that whole summer when Buffy was dead, you were just hanging out with us because you thought we were so cool?" Xander glanced up from what he was doing, his gaze knowing. Made Spike want to smack him.
"I was keeping an eye on you lot," Spike said sharply. "With the Slayer gone and nothing but that bloody robot in between you and the monsters -- yeah, you'd have been dead inside a month without me." He slammed the wood down on top of the discard pile hard enough to send the stacked pieces flying. "You needed me," he said, wanting it to be true now as much as he had back then.
"I'm not saying we didn't," Xander said, putting down one tool and picking up a smaller one. "I'm just saying that maybe you needed us, too."
Spike let his silence answer that one. Why bother trying to lie, and why put himself through the humiliation of agreeing with what they both knew was true? "Never mind the history lesson," he said, shoving the scattered pieces of wood together again. "I'm more interested in what's going on now. You and Giles, for one thing. Have to say I didn't see that one coming." He glanced over at Xander, trying to gauge his expression. "Been going on long then, you and him?"
Xander didn't look up from what he was doing, but he answered easily enough, though Spike thought he could hear a tension underneath it all. "A while. I was just supposed to stay with him for a few days when I got back from Africa, but then... you know. Stuff happened."
Spike couldn't help grinning. "Stuff. Yeah. That's one way of putting it, I suppose. What, you tripped one day and his bed just happened to break your fall?" He shook his head. "Doesn't sound likely. And if you don't mind me saying so, it doesn't look good either, old Giles taking advantage of you like that."
"Please. Like I'd really believe you were worried about me being taken advantage of." Xander stood and Spike looked up at him in alarm, but Xander wasn't even looking in his direction, just moving to get some other thing that Spike didn't know the name of. "And he's not old. He's younger than you."
"Not anymore," Spike said smugly. "Got a birth certificate to prove it." He glanced over at where Xander had been working and tutted when he saw the fresh layer of shavings on the floor. "I just swept that bit an hour ago! Do you mind? Put down some bloody paper or something."
Xander snorted. "It'd take more time to put down paper than it will to sweep. Don't worry, it won't kill you." He settled back down to his work. "Speaking of which, you are aware what cigarette smoke does to human lungs, right?"
"Mine are a month old; think I'm safe for a while yet," Spike said with genuine indifference. It'd been a shock taking that first drag and coughing like a twelve-year old, but it hadn't taken him long to get used to smoking again, and it wasn't something he planned to give up. Pleasures of the flesh.... yeah, well now that he was flesh he planned on enjoying them all. "So spare me the lecture, or I'll return the favor and point out that shagging someone with as many miles on the clock as Rupert has might not be the best idea you've ever had." He lifted his eyebrow, unable to resist needling Xander just a little bit more. Call it payback for waking him up like that. "Well? You being all nice and safe, Xander? Hope so."
"That's not the kind of question you ask your boss," Xander pointed out. "But even if it was, it's none of your business." Spike could tell he'd struck a nerve.
"It is when you're going at it like you were last night," Spike said. "You always that loud, or did you get off on having an audience?" He widened his eyes at Xander. "And did you wear him out for the week or am I gonna need earplugs tonight as well?"
Something inside him was screaming at him to shut up, but after weeks of being on the receiving end of Angel's increasingly savage digs it felt good to be the one doing the hurting.
And Xander always did label his buttons so very nice and clearly.
"We thought you were asleep," Xander said, finally pushed over the edge from irritated into angry and not making any effort to hide it. "Look. I know it comes naturally to you to act like an asshole, but I can't work like this. Go out front and, I don't know..." He looked around, got up and went over to grab something off a shelf, then stomped toward Spike and thrust a bottle and a rag into his hands. "Wash the windows. You think you can manage that without breaking anything?"
"Depends on if I care enough to try," Spike said, refusing to take as much as a step backwards. Not for Harris. No fucking way was he backing down from him. "But as I wouldn't put it past you to dock my wages for breakages, I'll see what I can do." He studied the cleaning supplies distastefully, but began to walk towards the door, avoiding a patch of sunlight automatically. Just before he left the room, he turned and grinned at Xander, his bad temper fading a little now he'd got Xander to crack. "Don't feel you two have to keep your hands to yourself just because I'm around though." He squeezed the trigger on the bottle of glass cleaner, sending a fine spray into the air. "Better than cable porn."
"Go," Xander said sharply, following after Spike. "Clean. Be quiet." And, as soon as Spike had stepped out into the front room, Xander closed the door to the back one in his face.
"Fine," Spike muttered. Then, with enough force that Xander would be able to hear him, "What if I want to be loud? Do I get docked for that, too?" There was no reply.
Spike sighed and went outside, taking advantage of his time in the fresh air to smoke. He did a half-arsed job cleaning the glass, grinning as he noted the streaks left behind when he was done, and then he moved inside and finished the job, going as slowly as humanly possible.
The day dragged by with Xander finding jobs to do that kept him and Spike as far apart as possible, even eating his lunch on his own. Spike counted that as a victory of sorts, but it also meant he was bored. Sitting at the counter reading a week-old paper and waiting for someone to walk in wasn't his idea of fun. Even less fun when no one did. Xander seemed to have plenty of work, but he didn't exactly have people beating down the door to get at his tables and chairs.
About an hour before closing, when Spike was half-asleep in his chair, he heard the chirp of a phone. Wasn't the shop one; that was beside him, so it had to be Xander's cell phone. Spike slipped over to the connecting door and listened in.
Xander sounded relieved when he spoke. "Hi," he said. "Yeah... ha ha, very funny. I hope that was a joke... How do you think?" A longer pause. "Okay, yeah, that pretty much sums it up... Yeah, I know. And I kind of might have said I'd pay him." Spike could imagine the reaction to that one, even if his human senses meant he couldn't actually hear it. "Because it's my business and I get to decide, that's why," Xander said, his voice sharp. He sighed. "I know. I know. Sorry." Even more softly, "Me, too. See you later. Bye."
Spike rolled his eyes. So Giles didn't like the idea of him being on the payroll, did he? And was that Xander getting a bit restive at the end there? Spike didn't feel much sympathy. Teach him to hook up with someone who remembered him as a snot-nosed kid and probably still thought of him that way deep-down.
He pushed open the door and gave Xander a friendly smile, noting that he was looking a bit flushed. "Giles checking up on you, is he? Making sure we're both still alive and kicking?"
"Fuck off," Xander muttered, and then glanced up at Spike when he didn't leave. "What, do you need a hearing aid? Get out of here." He stood up abruptly, digging in his pocket and taking out his wallet, thumbing through the notes and pulling out a few. "Here. Go waste it on whatever you're going to waste it on. I assume you can find your way back to the house on your own."
Taken aback, Spike reached out and took the money, folding it one-handed and tucking it into his back pocket. He'd felt a momentary surge of -- not panic, no; concern, maybe -- at Xander's first words, but it looked as if he hadn't pushed him far enough to get kicked out altogether.
"Right. I'll be off then."
He hesitated, but Xander had already turned his back on him as if he'd ceased to exist.
It took three doubles of whiskey at the first pub he found that wasn't full of old men or suits to dull the resentment that rejection had left behind.
"I hope he shows up
before we go to bed," Xander said, slouching
further down on the sofa and clicking the button on the remote control
"Well, we're hardly about to give him a key, are we?" Giles asked.
Xander shook his head and let his other hand drop onto Giles' thigh, patting it gently. "I know." He'd apologized at least twice for having snapped at Giles on the phone earlier, despite Giles' assurances that it wasn't necessary, and they'd had a peaceful dinner without Spike there to stir up trouble. They were currently indulging in their pre-bed ritual of watching mindless television for half an hour before going upstairs.
Giles captured Xander's hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. "I know he broke all records for being obnoxious today, but he's probably still feeling a little disorientated. He'll be less abrasive in a day or two, I'm sure." He considered the likelihood of that for a moment and then sighed. "Or he might get worse, if that's possible. Really, I can't believe he's stupid enough to be this antagonistic when he's got nowhere else to go."
"You can't?" Xander asked, grinning. "I can believe it. In fact, I think it's pretty much par for the course. The more threatened he feels, the more annoying he is." More seriously, he said, "So I think you're right -- he might get less irritating after a couple of days. Although I assume we're still planning to find somewhere else for him to live? Not to mention work."
"God, yes!" Giles said. "For the sake of our sex-life, if nothing else. I really can't say that I want a repeat of last night." He felt irritable just thinking about that. At the time, it'd surprised a laugh out of him, but in retrospect it stopped being at all amusing. The thought of Spike getting off on what Giles was doing with Xander was an unendurable invasion of their privacy. Forcing himself to be practical, he added, "I want him to stay here until I've finished looking into this Shanshu prophecy though; I've got two people researching it, so it shouldn't take long."
Xander was apparently ready to give up on the television, as he shut it off and leaned forward to drop the remote control onto the coffee table. He didn't get up, though, just leaned back again so that their shoulders were touching. "Maybe you can offer them time and a half," he suggested. "You know, to finish sooner."
"Perhaps I could," Giles said, turning slightly and running his hand slowly over Xander's chest. "And perhaps we could take advantage of the fact that we're alone at the moment?"
He didn't wait for Xander to do more than smile before leaning in and kissing him hard, feeling both unexpectedly possessive and in need of reassurance. With an impatience he didn't normally show, he tugged Xander's shirt out of his jeans and slipped his hand underneath it, stroking Xander's stomach and feeling the muscles tighten and shift under his hand.
Xander seemed just as eager as he, returning the kiss and shifting so that he could rub his hand along the length of Giles' sudden erection. "God, yeah," Xander breathed, fingers working at Giles' zip in a way that Giles felt certain was deliberately clumsy. "How long's it been since we had sex on the couch? Gotta be at least a month." His lips were warm and cooperative against Giles', his talented hand finally slipping inside Giles' boxers and touching him where he needed to be touched.
"It feels like a month since you did that," Giles said, hearing his voice roughen with arousal. He wasn't sure that counted as an exaggeration, either. Xander could make him feel a hunger he'd thought lay far behind him. And the couch was only one of the places they'd satisfied that hunger. In fact, he didn't think there was a room in the house they hadn't fucked in by now. Given that he'd long ago decided that a bed was the best place to have sex, no matter how mundane a choice, that was a testament to Xander's effect on him.
He reached down, dealing with Xander's zip quickly, deepening the kiss until Xander's tongue was warm against his. They moved until they were half-lying across the couch, clothes pushed out of the way just enough to allow their hands to reach each other, Giles' leg thrust between Xander's. Lost in the dual sensations of Xander's cock, hard and throbbing in his hand, and what Xander's hand was doing to his own erection, it took Giles a moment to realize that a slow, irregular thudding noise was someone knocking at the door.
He wrenched his mouth away from Xander's and sat up, listening. The thud came again, accompanied by his own name, yelled out at a volume that wasn't going to go down well with the neighbors at all.
"Spike," he said bitterly. "Of all the bloody times to pick to come back!"
Xander struggled to a sitting position beside him, fumbling slowly at putting his clothes to rights, looking every bit as irritable and reluctant as Giles felt. "Figures," Xander muttered, standing and zipping up his trousers. Giles was still tucking himself away, so Xander went, presumably, to let Spike in.
Or at least that was what he hoped Xander had planned, as opposed to something like, for example, opening the door and punching Spike in the face, satisfying as that might be.
The front door slammed, and there was a scuffling sound as if Spike was resisting whatever Xander was doing to him. Which turned out to be pushing him through the door into the living room and forcing him into a wooden chair against the wall. Giles was fully dressed again, but Spike was, judging by the look of him, past noticing anything short of complete nudity anyway.
"Do you know how many houses on this road don't have anyone called Giles living in them?" Spike demanded, his words slurred enough to be verging on incomprehensible. "Knocked and knocked and you weren't behind any of the doors." He drew himself up and fixed Giles with an accusing glare. "You were hiding and that's cheating, Giles. 'Spected better of you. Not playing the game."
"Oh, good Lord," Giles said, staring at Spike with a fascinated disgust. "Three sheets to the wind and he's discovered a sense of honor. Delightful."
"He's really drunk." Xander seemed rather more pleased than the situation called for. He crouched down beside Spike and poked Spike's cheek, then whisked his hand out of the way as Spike swatted at him.
"Leave off!" Spike said. He didn't seem to be focusing his eyes properly, and Giles couldn't help but wonder if Spike had enough sense not to drink himself to death.
Xander poked him again. "I never saw him this drunk in Sunnydale."
"Lots of me you never saw in Sunnydale." Spike appeared to be attempting to leer at Xander, but very nearly fell out of his chair instead, and Xander had to reach out and steady him.
"And let me just emphasize how very, very happy that makes me," Xander said. He stood back up and looked at Giles. "What should we do, just put him to bed and let him sleep it off?"
Giles nodded resignedly. "With a bucket by the bed and a glass of water," he said. "We can try and get some water down him now, but -- no, let's not bother. He's going to wake up feeling terrible no matter what we do, and serve him right."
He walked over to Spike and hooked a hand under his arm. "You get his other arm," he said to Xander.
Between them, they hauled Spike up and started towards the study.
"You can't drink as much as you used to, Spike," Giles told him, although he doubted Spike was listening. "Human bodies can't deal with alcohol as effectively as vampires' can. And I would have thought you'd have learned that by now."
Spike turned his head and gave him a puzzled look. "'M not human, you plonker. I'm Spike." He made what Giles could only assume was an attempt to snarl and ran his tongue over his teeth. "What happened to my fangs? Did you take them? Did you?" He pulled out of their grip and stood there swaying, his fists clenched. "Give them back!"
Xander seemed to be trying not to laugh. "We don't have them," he said, taking half a step back and holding out his hands. "You stole Angel's humanity, or something... remember? Spikey's not a vampire anymore."
Still swaying, Spike looked at Xander and frowned, looking as if he were trying very hard to get his brain to function. Then his expression cleared, only to be replaced a moment later by a look of panic, his face going suddenly very pale.
"Bathroom," Giles said succinctly, having been in a condition not that far removed from Spike's too many times to miss the signs that someone was about to lose a bellyful of expensive -- or not -- drinks.
They got him there just in time and stood in silence watching him throw up into the toilet.
"I'll stay with him while you get the bucket," Giles murmured to Xander. "Probably won't need it after this, but best to be on the safe side."
Xander nodded, wrinkling his nose, and went out.
Giles waited until he was sure Spike had finished, and then reached over his head to flush the toilet.
"Get up," he said, not unkindly. There had been something rather touching about Spike's expression as the reality of his situation dawned on him; an unguarded moment of bewildered loss.
Spike stayed where he was, slumped against the toilet bowl, and Giles sighed. Going to the basin, he ran some cool water over the flannel there and wrung it out. Squatting beside Spike, he cleaned his face, and then rinsed out a slightly dusty glass on the shelf and filled it with water.
"Here," he said, putting the glass to Spike's mouth. "Rinse and spit."
Spike obeyed shakily, taking the glass in a trembling hand and sipping the water, then spitting it out again. This immediately earned him a case of the dry heaves -- apparently there was nothing left to come up -- and Giles sighed and took the glass away again. "Feel terrible," Spike managed to mumble.
Giles debated giving him some aspirin, but decided that the chances of it staying down weren't good. He'd leave some beside Spike's bed with the water.
"I'm sure you do." He studied Spike's face, seeing the strain on it now that Spike wasn't able to hide behind an arrogance that, no matter how abrasive, had to have been assumed rather than real. Spike's skin was clammy, and there were shadows under his bleary, blood-shot eyes. Prompted by pity, Giles patted Spike's shoulder. "You'll be fine. You'll wish you were dead tomorrow, but you don't need me to tell you that it'll pass."
Xander appeared in the doorway, staring down at them, and Giles got to his feet.
"Let's get him to bed," Giles said.
Spike seemed incapable of walking on his own, and they had to half carry him into the bedroom, where Xander had put a bucket by the bed as well as turned down the sheets. As soon as they'd got Spike's jacket and shoes off him, he collapsed onto the mattress, curling up into a miserable ball around a pillow and hiding his face with his arm. "M'dying and nobody cares."
"You're not dying," Xander told him, pulling up the covers over Spike's slight form.
There was a muttered reply that neither of them could understand. Giles frowned. "What?"
Spike groaned and shifted position. "Go away and leave me to die in peace if you can't show proper sympathy," he slurred. Giles didn't think that was what he'd said before, though, and the thought that Spike might actually prefer being dead to living out his life as a human concerned him, little as he might like the man.
"We'll leave you to sleep it off," Giles said, "but tomorrow we'll talk about this." Spike grunted and hunched up his shoulder. "In the afternoon, perhaps," Giles said, wincing as he pictured the hangover Spike was going to wake up to. A new body that hadn't built up a tolerance to any of the hazards of living wasn't an unmixed blessing. It crossed his mind to wonder if Spike would be vulnerable to a dozen illnesses. He wouldn't have been inoculated as a child, after all.
Deciding to get Spike to a doctor at some point for a check-up, Giles left the room with Xander, switching off the light and closing the door quietly.
"Is it soft-hearted of me to admit that I feel kind of bad for him?" Xander asked as they finished their routine of shutting off the lights and checking to see that the front door was locked and went upstairs.
"If it is, it's an emotion I share," Giles admitted, starting to get undressed. "He's so adrift right now that it's hard not to feel sorry for him, even if he is going out of his way to make us hate him." He tossed the last of his clothes onto a chair near the bed. "Idiot," he muttered, reaching for his robe. He wouldn't normally have bothered with it just to go to the bathroom, but with Spike around he had a feeling a lot of his habits were going to change.
"Was Anya like this?" he asked when they were both in bed. "Frightened and angry at becoming human unexpectedly? I know we worked together, but we never really talked about anything personal." He grinned at Xander before reaching out to turn off the bedside lamp. "I tended to discourage that, as she usually ended up talking about you and I found it a little embarrassing, to be honest."
Xander seemed to consider the question before answering. "Yeah, she was. The thing was, she'd just come right out and say it, not pretend that it wasn't happening and only admit it when she was drunk. Um, not that she ever really got drunk." He sighed and resettled himself on his side facing Giles. "So what do we do tomorrow? Make him come to work with me again even though he's miserable?"
"I don't think he'll be up to doing much," Giles said. "And I dread to think what he'll be like with a hangover. I think you've suffered enough. Besides, it just occurred to me that he should really get a medical. He's been given a body, yes, but what state of health is he in?" He turned and put his arm around Xander's waist, resting his hand on Xander's back, and feeling an uncomplicated surge of happiness when Xander moved closer, slipping his arm around Giles. "I've got work I can do here until he's up to leaving the house, and I'll take him to see Dr Simpson. He's used to coping with wounds infected by demon slime; I imagine he'll take a vampire resurrected into a human body in his stride."
"Sounds good," Xander said. "And I swear I'm not only saying that because it gets him out of my hair for the day." His fingers traced idly up and down along Giles' spine. "It's gotta suck, you know? Thinking you're going to live forever -- well, be undead forever -- and then waking up and finding out you're going to die just like everyone else." He sounded a bit sad, Giles thought.
"On the other hand, he had just been turned to dust and might have still been heading for hell, so perhaps he's not that much to be pitied," Giles pointed out. "This is a fresh start for him with, I assume, an unsullied soul." He was in the perfect position to kiss Xander's neck just below his jaw, and he took advantage of that, brushing his lips across the hidden skin. "And I'm willing to make allowances for him, but if he keeps on insinuating that I'm corrupting your innocence I'm going to thump him," he said, pulling back and feeling ridiculously grumpy.
"He's only been insinuating?" Xander asked. "That's probably restrained as far as he's concerned." Giles found himself being pulled on top of Xander, slightly calloused hands running over his skin in the most distracting manner. "Now, can we please stop talking about Spike and focus on what's really important?"
"Finishing what we started on the couch?" Giles murmured, supporting himself on one elbow and leaning over to kiss Xander. "I think I'd class that as being of the highest importance, wouldn't you?"
"Definitely," Xander agreed, nodding. "Hugely important." He slid a hand between them and stroked Giles' cock, his touch so perfect that Giles gasped, and then neither of them said anything for rather a long time.
"Could've asked him to give me an IV to cut this hangover short," Spike muttered as he slid into the passenger seat of Giles' car just after noon the next day. "Since he was already giving me the pincushion treatment."
"Baby," Giles said, glancing over his shoulder, and then taking advantage of a gap in the traffic and pulling out. "Children as young as two -- younger -- have those injections and get no more than a lollipop afterwards." He was slightly hazy on the details, but that sounded about right. And he was damn sure when he was a child the lollipop hadn't been involved at all. "You're in the best of health, the hangover's entirely your own doing, and I suggest you drink that bottle of water he gave you and cancel the pity-party."
Spike grunted noncommittally, but Giles noted that a few moments later he did twist the cap off the bottle of water he was holding and take a sip. "You're getting a real kick out of this, aren't you?" Spike asked.
"Which part?" Giles asked. "Watching you suffer because you drank too much? Hardly. I've been in a similar state too often to cast stones." He gave Spike a sidelong look. "Although I tend to retreat into a dark corner and mope rather than wake up half the neighborhood. Next time -- and I suppose it's too much to hope for that there isn't a next time -- do try and remember we live at number 35."
Spike sighed and looked out the window, falling silent for once. He still looked pale under the odd hint of tan that was his souvenir from his few weeks in L.A. as a human, and the moment before's snark was his first truly normal behavior all day. He'd been strangely subdued the entire morning, going along with Giles' plan without comment, and now his silence left Giles wondering what on earth was going through his head.
By design, not chance, the doctor's office was situated close to the new Council building. Giles pulled into his parking space and switched off the engine before turning to Spike. "I owe you an apology," he said, watching a small spark of interest flare in Spike's eyes.
"Yeah? Told Doc to use the blunt needles, did you?"
Giles shook his head. "No. It's just that -- you came to us for help. You were unexpected and uninvited, but that shouldn't have mattered. If it'd been Buffy or Willow, we'd have made them welcome and really, after what we all went through in Sunnydale, the same should have held good for you." Giles unfastened his seat belt and met Spike's gaze. "You're welcome to stay with us until you decide what you want to do, Spike." Before Spike could answer, he leaned forward a little, resting his arm on the back of his car seat. "But you lose the attitude, you understand me? If you want to talk about what's happened to you, we'll listen, and not unsympathetically either, but I'll not have you going out of your way to upset Xander. He's gone through enough."
Spike looked at him for a long moment, searching his eyes as if waiting, perhaps, for the other shoe to fall. When it didn't, he nodded slowly. "Okay." His voice was rough, and he cleared his throat before continuing. "But if you're expecting me to go on about my feelings, I think you spent a bit too much time in California, mate. I might not know who I am anymore, but I know it's not that."
Giles couldn't help laughing. "I didn't spend that long in California," he said. "Not enough to overcome forty-odd years of being properly reticent when it comes to emotions."
He couldn't help wishing that wasn't the case sometimes, especially where Xander was concerned, but there didn't seem to be much he could do about it.
"I have some work to do," he said. "Why don't you come up to my office?" He smiled. "We lost a lot of our records when Caleb destroyed the original headquarters, but many were in storage facilities designed to withstand more than an explosion. If you like, I could show you your file. There are some gaps in it that you might be able to fill in. Just for the sake of accuracy, of course."
"Not sure I like the idea of a bunch of people I don't know having even more detail about my life," Spike said, but he didn't sound particularly annoyed, and he got out of the car as though he were amicable enough about joining Giles in his office.
"Well, if that doesn't appeal," Giles said, as he led the way through the main reception area and to the stairs, which he made a point of using as his office was on the sixth floor and he rarely had time to exercise, good intentions notwithstanding, "perhaps you'd like to earn some cash by doing a spot of translating? We contract that out sometimes if we get overloaded, and that's certainly the case at the moment, judging by the memos I've been getting from Sarah, who's in charge of that department. You read Greek, I believe? And I daresay when it comes to the demon languages you might have the edge on some of our translators." He paused to catch his breath, making a silent promise to get to the gym in the basement at least once a week. "Pays quite well."
Annoyingly, Spike seemed to be breathing as easily as if he'd just got up from a long nap. "Paid work that doesn't involve sweeping sawdust and cleaning windows? Point me at it."
"Oh," Giles said, a little surprised by Spike's apparent willingness to get started. He'd expected to be told that sitting behind a desk wasn't something Spike was prepared to do, or at best an 'I'll think about it'. "Well, that's good. I'll introduce you to Sarah later and she can give you something to get started on."
They began to climb the stairs again, with Spike soon getting a few steps ahead of Giles. Spike really was in good shape, Giles thought absently, trying not to let the gap between them get too large.
It wasn't until they reached the top that he realized he'd been staring at Spike's backside the whole way.
Spike didn't fail to notice Giles' slightly labored breathing, stopping at the landing and turning around. "I'd think what you get up to with Xander in the evenings'd be enough to keep you in shape," he said fairly pleasantly, leaving Giles to wonder for a moment if he and Xander had been overheard last night as well as the previous one. But no, Spike had been nearly unconscious with drink. It had to be a good guess and nothing more.
Determined not to rise to every taunt of Spike's -- and he hadn't accompanied that one with a leer which meant, for Spike, it ranked more as an observation -- Giles settled for a noncommittal shrug. "I'm sure it helps." He couldn't resist adding, "And it's not an activity confined to the evenings. Or at least it wasn't."
Spike nodded and shrugged a little bit himself, the shoulders of his leather jacket creaking. "Right," he said. "Well, any time the two of you want some privacy, feel free to slip me a tenner and send me out to the pub." It seemed an absurd suggestion considering Spike still hadn't recovered from the previous evening, and when Giles blinked at him in mild astonishment, Spike said, "You don't seriously think one night of a few too many's going to put a halt to my fun, do you?"
"I don't expect you to sign the pledge, no, but I hope you're not planning to waste every penny you earn on beer and cigarettes," Giles snapped, as the hope that Spike was becoming more responsible faded. He pushed open the door at the top of the stairs and walked through it, holding it open for Spike. "And while we're on the subject, if you want to smoke when you're at home, go into the garden, please."
"Brilliant," Spike muttered, following him, but when Giles let the remark pass without comment, simply staring at him coldly, Spike backtracked quickly. "Right. Smoke in the garden. Can do."
They walked into an outer office, with a door leading to Giles' own office on the far wall, and Giles braced himself as his secretary glanced up, her face showing a faint surprise. Miss MacAlister was one of the Council employees who had survived the blast, thanks to a dentist's appointment which had taken her out of the building a scant three minutes before it was destroyed. She had a tendency to treat him as if he was filling in until the real head of the Council returned, and greeted any proposed changes from the way things used to be done with primmed-up lips, but she was mellowing slightly as the weeks went by.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Giles," she said, with an emphasis on 'afternoon' that wasn't lost on him. If he arrived even a minute past nine she made him feel as if he was in disgrace; taking the morning off at a moment's notice hadn't gone down well at all. Her eyes scanned Spike with a detached disapproval. "You've had some phone calls; I've placed the messages on your desk. And I've rearranged your ten o'clock appointment to three, subject to your approval, of course."
"Yes, that's fine, Miss MacAlister," Giles said hastily. Her name was Jean, but somehow he'd never managed to use it. "If you could just bring us two coffees, please. Oh, and get hold of Sarah from Translations for me, would you?" He indicated Spike with a nod of his head. "I've found someone to help her out."
"How nice," Miss MacAlister said, although the look she gave Spike with his slightly slumped shoulders and his heavily bleached hair was doubtful and, it had to admitted, disdainful. Giles could almost feel Spike reacting to her easy dismissal of him and quickly turned toward him, gesturing that he should go ahead into his office and hoping that he'd have the sense to keep his mouth shut until he had.
Fortunately, Spike managed it, waiting until Giles had ushered him inside and closed the door before rolling his eyes. "What the bloody hell is her problem?"
Giles waved him to the visitor's chair, walking around his desk and sitting down. The room was large enough that he didn't bother lowering his voice; Miss MacAlister couldn't hear them unless they shouted, and truthfully he didn't care if she did.
"If it's any consolation, she was equally unfriendly when she met Xander. Still glares at him on the odd occasion he comes here and really isn't happy that he's living with me, although she's stopped short of being as frank about it as you were." Spike crossed one leg over the other, still looking a little ruffled.
Giles went on, oddly anxious to reassure Spike. "Her problem's not with either of you though; she was very fond of my predecessor -- God knows why -- and she knows exactly how much he'd have detested the idea of me taking over. She's too loyal to the Council to be actively hostile, and I do think she's getting used to me, but -" Giles shrugged helplessly and reached for the sheaf of messages placed in the center of his desk.
"If you're the one in charge, can't you sack her?" Spike asked bluntly.
"Sack her?" Giles shook his head, starting to read the messages. "She knows more about how the Council operates than anyone living; she's worked here for nearly 40 years. Getting rid of her because she never lets me forget I'm considered to be a failure as a Watcher, and in her eyes morally unsound, is... well, it's tempting, yes, but she's too valuable. I'd be doing the Council a disservice if I did."
"You're doing yourself a disservice if you let her keep giving you attitude," Spike said, apparently unwilling to let the matter drop. "Bad for morale. Not just yours, but everyone's."
Giles stared at him, feeling slightly lost for words. "Coming from you, Spike, I find that advice rather surprising, although you're probably correct." He gave him a puzzled smile. "Shouldn't you approve of her being a thorn in my side? Or do you resent the competition?"
"You're all right," Spike said grudgingly, surprising Giles further. Then he added, "Assuming you're not hatching another plan to have me killed, that is."
"Ah." They'd never really discussed that, Giles reflected, staring down at his hands, linked and resting on the polished wood. Perhaps they should have, but in that crowded house there hadn't really been the opportunity, and afterwards Spike wasn't there to be apologized to. "I did believe you posed a very real threat, Spike." He glanced up. "And you did. If Robin's actions hadn't allowed you to break through the trigger - " Spike rolled his eyes again, and Giles kept hold of his temper because he couldn't really blame him. "I'm sorry for what I did, because it undermined Buffy's authority. I lost her trust that night and I don't think she's ever entirely forgiven me." He gave Spike a level look. "I was glad you survived though, and not just because it meant you were there to close the Hellmouth. It's up to you if you believe that."
Spike looked away, shifting a bit in his chair as thought the direct scrutiny made him uncomfortable. "She said she loved me," Spike said, still not meeting Giles' eyes. "Right before. I told her I didn't believe her."
It didn't surprise Giles to hear that Buffy had said or felt that particular emotion for Spike, not considering how furious she'd been with Giles when she'd discovered what he'd tried to do. "Did you?" Giles asked.
"'Course not," Spike said. He glanced up at Giles, hands fidgeting in his lap. "How could she? Having a soul didn't make me any less a monster."
"I don't think she thought of you that way by then," Giles told him. "None of us did. You were -- you were mourned, as much as any of those who died." By some of them more than others, but he saw no reason to go into details about that. You couldn't really expect Robin or the new Slayers to feel quite the same way about Spike as the rest of them had. "And when Andrew blurted out that you were alive on his return from L.A. -- which he did almost immediately -- I was... pleased to hear it."
"Wasn't alive though, was I," Spike said, a bit bleakly. His expression reminded Giles of the expressions he'd seen on the faces of people who'd just lost someone or something very dear to them before the realization had really sunk in. Shock.
"I don't know about that," Giles said slowly. Spike's personality had always been forceful enough to make it easy to forget that he was, as Xander would say, the evil undead. "It must have been an improvement on being a ghost, surely?" He frowned, distracted from their conversation by a sudden thought. "Where on earth is that coffee?"
He stabbed his finger at the intercom and said testily, "Miss MacAlister?" just as she opened the door -- without knocking -- and bustled in carrying a tray. Snatching his hand back guiltily, he gave her a weak smile. "Thank you. Did you manage to get hold of Sarah?"
"I can't make coffee and telephone calls at the same time," she said, punctuating her remark with a sniff. Her eyes slid to Spike. "You didn't say how he wanted his so I left it black."
Which would have been fine, had she placed milk and sugar on the tray, Giles reflected.
"'He' likes it black just fine," Spike said, leaning forward and snagging the mug off the tray then sitting back in his chair again, legs spread wide in a way that appeared casual, but which Giles strongly suspected was deliberately provocative. He took a sip of the coffee and ran his tongue along his lower lip, looking directly at Miss MacAlister as he did it.
Suddenly, she seemed to find the atmosphere in the room more uncomfortable than she had. She moved forward to set the tray on Giles' desk, looking everywhere but at Spike.
"Miss MacAlister," Giles said as she turned away.
Spike's eyes narrowed at her tone, which verged on dismissive, and he gave Giles a look that was less challenging than expectant. Giles turned his head and stared at Miss MacAlister, waiting in silence.
"Yes?" she repeated impatiently.
Giles lifted his eyebrow and continued to wait. A dull flush rose in her cheeks.
"Yes, sir?" she said grudgingly.
"If two simple requests are beyond your capability to execute within a time I deem reasonable, Miss MacAlister, might I suggest you consider taking advantage of the excellent retirement package on offer... rather than my rapidly fading good nature?"
Spike snorted, his eyes sparkling with a wicked amusement, and the flush on Miss MacAlister's face deepened.
"I'm sorry, sir," she said stiffly. "It won't happen again."
"No," Giles said gently. "It won't."
"I'll... I'll go make that phone call right now," Miss MacAlister said, and left the room gratifyingly quickly, although that might just have been to escape the situation for all Giles knew.
He looked over at Spike, who seemed pleased. "There you go," Spike said. "Knew you had it in you."
Giles gave him a self-deprecating smile. "Hardly ranks as one of my most memorable victories, but thank you." He felt his smile fade a little. "God, look at me," he said suddenly. "Feeling a glow of pride at putting my secretary in her place. I used to get that from stopping an apocalypse at the very least." He picked up his coffee and took a sip. "D'you know the last time I fought anything that fought back was the day we closed the Hellmouth? I'm getting soft."
"Wouldn't know it by the sounds I heard coming out of your bedroom the other night," Spike said, smirking over the rim of his mug before taking a sip of coffee.
"Will you stop -" Giles took a deep breath, narrowing his eyes. The malice of Spike's earlier jibes had been missing from this latest one, and the embarrassment Giles had felt had faded. Spike had heard them having sex. Fine. If he was going to stay with them, he probably would again. "Why does it intrigue you so much?" he asked mildly, leaning back and giving Spike a pleasant smile. "My sex-life, that is? You surely didn't think I was incapable? Far from it, especially with a partner like Xander." He allowed a concerned expression to pass over his face. "Or is this a cry for help of some sort? Dear me, Spike, if you were having difficulties performing, you should have mentioned it to the doctor. They have these pills these days, you know." Spike opened his mouth, looking indignant, and Giles added, "Although judging by what I heard from your bedroom the other night, you're getting the hang of it. Or was that a cry of frustration, not release?"
"Nothing wrong with me," Spike said, slouching down in his chair a bit further as if aware that this made it impossible for anyone looking at him's eyes not to zero in on his crotch. "Just didn't figure on the two of you ending up together, s'all."
"Well, we did," Giles said matter-of-factly. "And we're very happy. So get used to it, please. We'll try not to offend your delicate sensibilities, but I can't promise I'll never kiss him when you're in the room and I'm damned if we're moving back into separate bedrooms." He smiled slowly. "And if Xander's sharing my bed I can guarantee there will be... sounds, but we'll do our best to keep you from hearing us."
"Guess it'll be easier now that the vamp hearing's gone," Spike said a bit morosely, picking at the inner seam of his jeans, which Giles realized were the same ones he'd worn the day before. He made a mental note to sort out a way to get some more clothes for Spike if he needed them, although how he'd ask without sending Spike into another unpleasant mood was a mystery.
The phone rang, and Giles picked it up. "Yes?"
"Sarah in Translations says you can send your..." Miss MacAlister fumbled, and then recovered, "The new employee down any time and she'll get him started."
"I'll walk him down myself," Giles said, ignoring the implication that Spike was his -- well, he didn't know what she'd assumed, but it probably wasn't to his credit. Stupid woman. "Thank you."
He hung up and raised his eyebrows. "Sounds as if Sarah's eager to meet you." He ran his eyes over Spike and smiled, enjoying the thought of Sarah's reaction to him, which was going to verge on ecstatic given her workload and her current lack of a boyfriend. "And unlike my secretary, I think once she sees you, that won't change. Pretty girl, and very bright. Once I've introduced you I'll take you over to the wages department and get the paperwork started." He frowned. "You won't have a National Insurance number, will you? Damn."
Spike was looking a little lost. "Don't know. Never done this before, have I?"
"I'll sort it out," Giles said hastily. Leaving Spike to deal with the inevitable red-tape involved in becoming a member of the work force would be cruel and unusual punishment. And the Council was influential enough that it wasn't needed. By the end of the week, his name would be just where it should be on a score of files and records and he'd have all the documentation he needed. "Just give me the documents you have and I'll see to it all."
Getting to his feet, Spike set down his mug and fumbled a small pile of papers and what looked to be a passport from the inside pocket of his jacket. He looked through them with a rather bewildered expression on his face, then shrugged and offered the whole mess to Giles. "You sure you want to do this?"
Giles took them from him and slid them inside an envelope from his desk. "It's no trouble," he said. "And to be honest, it won't be me doing it exactly; I'll pass it on to the right people and make a phone call or two, that's all." He tucked the envelope under his arm and went to the door. As he opened it, he saw Miss MacAlister glance up, her face still set in grim lines. "But if you feel you owe me a favor, I'm sure I can come up with something you can do for me," he said.
The sniff Miss MacAlister gave as he ushered Spike past her, his hand resting briefly on Spike's shoulder, was enough to make him grin all the way to the stairs.
"Xander, would you mind
Xander paused and turned to look at Giles, who was sitting at the kitchen table surrounded by files and forms in triplicate. Giles was holding a pen in his hand and had his finger poised over a calculator. He gave Xander an 'I'm at the limit of my endurance' glare. "I don't want to say, 'Go away, Xander', but Xander, go away?"
"Hey! I've got feelings, you know. Hurt feelings."
"Yes," Giles murmured, with one of those piercing looks that always left Xander feeling... warm somehow. "And I've got work. Interrupted three times in the last five minutes work. Xander, you're pacing, humming and driving me insane. Please stop. I love you, but please leave the room."
Xander tried a sad pout and got nowhere. Giles had that determined look on his face.
"Fine," Xander said. "Maybe I'll go for a walk. Do we need anything from the store? Shop. I mean shop." He still couldn't get that word cemented into his brain.
Giles looked pointedly at his watch and Xander sighed. Right. Merrie Old England shut down for the night a whole lot earlier than he was used to. No stores -- shops open, apart from the corner shop that never seemed to shut, where everything cost twice the price you'd pay in a supermarket.
"If you're feeling a surplus of energy," Giles said, leaning back in his chair and letting his eyes travel over Xander slowly, "I know exactly how we could take care of that..."
Oh, yeah. Xander did, too, and with Spike out at the pub -- again -- they might actually be able to make some noise doing it. He had a fading bruise on his shoulder from where Giles had bitten him three nights ago, trying to hold back an anguished moan as he came, and although Xander hadn't minded that at all, it would've been nice to have heard Giles as well.
He went over to Giles and leaned against the table. "Going to take care of me here? Or upstairs?"
"Ah. No. I didn't mean that. Not that I'm not tempted -" Giles ran his hand over Xander's thigh, looking regretful," - but I have to finish these reports. I should've finished them yesterday. No, I meant; why don't you go down to the King's Head and take Spike up on his offer?"
"You're just trying to get rid of me," Xander said.
"Well, yes," Giles admitted. He really did look stressed, Xander realized guiltily, and it would only be to all their benefits if he went down to the pub and dragged Spike home before he got drunk again.
Not that Spike got drunk every time he went to the pub, because he'd gone several times in the past week and always come back acting reasonable. Well, reasonable for Spike. The new and improved version of Spike that Xander was still getting used to had asked earlier if either of them had wanted to go down to the King's Head and hang out, but at the time, Xander had been hoping for some time alone with Giles. He hadn't figured on Giles being so busy.
"Yeah, okay," Xander said. "Might as well go see what he's up to."
"Go and see what Master William is doing, and tell him to stop it," Giles said, sounding as if he was quoting from something. He grinned at Xander's puzzled look. "Never mind. Enjoy yourself, and I'll do my best to get this finished by the time you get back."
The King's Head wasn't as crowded as it was in the middle of the week, but there were enough people to make it difficult to spot Spike at once. Xander bought a pint of lager and started to walk through the groups of people talking over the blare of music from the speakers on the walls. At least it wasn't Karaoke night, he thought.
The pub was one large room, with the bar jutting out into it, dividing it in two to a certain extent. On the far side was a dart board, a few fruit machines and two pool tables and, knowing that Spike enjoyed playing pool, Xander made his way over there.
The music didn't stop, but as he rounded the corner there was a sudden decrease in the general noise as heads turned and conversations came to an abrupt halt, followed by a rush of angry voices.
Fight. Oh, shit. Somehow, Xander knew he'd found Spike.
Leaving his pint on the closest table, with an apologetic smile at the couple sitting there, Xander pushed his way through the crowd and saw Spike face-to-face with a tall, bulky teenager whose face was red with beer and anger.
"You don't bloody well come here and con me out of the best part of fifty quid and then laugh at me, you fucking bastard."
"I wasn't laughing," Spike said, the most annoying grin he possessed plastered to his face. "Rude to mock the afflicted, innit? And, Robbie, mate, anyone who plays pool like you has to have something wrong with him."
Robbie, assuming that was his name and not something Spike was calling him to piss him off more, growled and raised his fist, and Xander got there just in time to grab onto Robbie's wrist. Robbie whirled around and Xander let go, taking half a step back and holding up both hands in an 'I come in peace' pose.
"Look, my friend says stupid stuff when he's drinking," Xander said quickly. "Give him a break, okay?"
"He's a bloody con man," Robbie huffed, lowering his fist, but not sounding any less angry.
"Oh, please!" Spike said, sounding genuinely disdainful. "Like I'd need to cheat to -"
"Spike," Xander said through gritted teeth. "Shut up, okay?" He stared at Robbie. Defending Spike didn't come naturally, but he'd played pool with him back in Sunnydale, when Spike was evil, and he'd never noticed Spike doing anything more reprehensible than trying to convince Xander the sleeve of his duster hadn't brushed against the white ball and moved it an inch. Which, okay, was bad, but come to think of it, Spike played well enough after all these decades that he probably wouldn't need to cheat anyway -
"What did he do? Exactly?" Xander asked.
"I won," Spike said in a silky-smooth voice when Robbie flushed and didn't answer. "Every single, sodding time. And it's winner stays on here. So this jer- joker wants to get me off the table so he can play with his girlfriend -" Xander glanced at a girl off to the side who was looking bored as if she was used to her boyfriend starting fights "- and he says, let's bet on it, and when I was racking up he whispers in my shell-like that if I let him win so he looks good in front of his girl, he'll meet me in the gents and give me the money back and slip me a tenner on top."
A ripple of amusement went through the crowd, and the girl rolled her eyes.
"Not being born yesterday," Spike said, his smile inviting Xander to share the joke, "I decided to stick with a sure thing and I creamed your fucking arse, didn't I, mate?"
Robbie made an infuriated sound and swung his fist hard. Spike ducked it, but the next one slammed into his jaw and sent him staggering back, crashing into the pool table and ending up sprawled on his back.
His face was a mixture of astonishment and pain.
For some reason -- and he wouldn't have been able to say why, couldn't, not even later, although he suspected it might have had something to do with the look on Spike's face -- Xander grabbed onto the back of Robbie's shirt, whirled the younger man around, and hit him. It was, quite possibly, the only perfect punch Xander had ever thrown, and it connected squarely with Robbie's nose. The crunch was both satisfying and a little bit sickening, but it didn't hurt Xander's hand nearly as much as it probably should have.
Robbie went down hard, crumpling to the floor with both hands clutched over his nose and mouth, his girlfriend giving a startled cry and going quickly over to kneel on the floor next to him.
"You might want to re-think that," Xander told her. "Guys like him... they never change." He turned to Spike, who'd managed to get to his feet and straighten his shoulders, although he still looked pretty stunned. "You ready to go?"
"Bloke still owes me money," Spike said.
Xander gave Robbie a cursory glance. "He's bleeding; good enough?"
Spike gave Xander an unblinking stare, and then smiled. "Can't spend it, can't use it."
"Don't push it," Xander told him. There was a side exit and he headed for it with Spike at his heels.
He didn't think he'd have admitted it, but the whole time they were walking toward the exit, and even once they'd gotten outside, Xander was waiting for some previously unknown friends of Robbie's to attack them from behind. Which, okay, at least meant that they'd hit Spike first. But Xander should feel relieved about that possibility, not bad, and all of these thoughts were just giving him a headache.
Stepping outside into the cool, fresh air, Xander turned to Spike, noting that there wasn't anyone following them, and asked, "In what universe does pulling a fast one on a guy that much bigger than you seem like a good idea?"
Spike sauntered a few feet further on, stopped, sighed and turned. "Did you miss the part where I wasn't pulling anything?" He prodded at his face. "And can I just take a minute to say 'oww'."
Xander could see the swelling of what was going to be an impressive bruise on Spike's face.
"You okay?" he asked, starting to walk, deciding that putting some distance between them and the pub wasn't a bad idea.
"It was a punch," Spike said, falling in beside him and looking less than pleased with himself. "One punch from a total tosser and I ended up on my back. No, I'm not bloody well okay. I feel like Superman after he's eaten a Kryptonite sandwich or something."
"I'm not saying he wasn't an asshole, but you let him think you were going along with his little scheme, and then at the last minute you pulled a fast one." Xander glanced over at Spike. "I'm not surprised he was pissed off."
"Pissed off and pissed," Spike said. "If he hadn't been, winning every game wouldn't have been so easy."
"Yeah, well, maybe next time you should go to a different pub," Xander said. "Unless you want to get your teeth kicked in."
Spike did that thing where he tucked his tongue behind his teeth and smirked. Xander didn't know what he wanted to do most; grin back, because that guy had been asking for it, or punch Spike and wipe the grin right off his face. He settled for an all-purpose glare and the smirk got wider.
"Plenty of other pubs," Spike said with an indifferent shrug.
They walked along in silence for a while, and then Spike gave Xander a sidelong glance. "Thanks," he said.
Xander was surprised enough that he almost stopped walking. Almost. "You're welcome," he said after a minute. He held up his hand and looked at his knuckles, then tilted it in Spike's direction. "Not a mark on me."
"Wish I could say the same." Spike rubbed at his jaw. "Stupid humanity."
"You might want to watch who you're insulting there, bub," Xander told him.
"Hey, I'm a displeased member of the human race now, myself," Spike said, hunching his shoulders a little bit. "How do you stand it? Knowing anyone can hurt you."
Xander thought about it for a minute, but it wasn't like things had ever been different for him. It was just... the way things were. "You get used to it," he said. "And if you're lucky, you learn to stop pissing people off."
"Because you're scared?" Spike shook his head, "Sorry. Spent too long being the scary one for that."
"So now you're going to be the idiotic one?" Xander asked. "Excuse me for thinking that doesn't make a lot of sense."
"That lad, Robbie; he didn't back down," Spike said thoughfully. He laughed without sounding very amused. "Not that I plan on using him as a role model, mind you." Xander got another glance from him. "So mind telling me why you saved the day? Automatic hero impulse kicking in? Because last time I looked I could take care of myself, you know."
"He was six inches taller than you," Xander said, like that was a good enough reason. "Plus, last time you looked, if you got hit in the face you wouldn't still be bruised a few days later."
"A few days?" Spike sounded disbelieving. He put out his hand and stopped Xander, turning him so that they were facing each other, with the light from a street lamp falling on Spike's face. "What do I look like? If I'm hideously disfigured, you can tell me."
Xander opened his mouth to assure Spike that no, he still looked pretty -- well, pretty, and then saw the glint in Spike's eyes.
"Very funny," he said. "You've cut your lip and yeah, you've got a bruise coming on your jaw; you'll live. When we get back put some ice on it and you'll be fine." Xander began walking again. "'Course, once Giles finds out what you've been getting up to -"
"We." Spike smiled smugly. "What we've been getting up to. Guess we're both getting spanked, hmm? Unless we come up with a convenient door for me to walk into and spare him the details."
Xander gave a short shake of his head. "Uh-uh, I'm not lying to him." That was one thing he'd promised himself he wouldn't do when things had first started between him and Giles. He'd learned his lesson there.
"You could let me lie and just keep quiet?" Spike suggested without much hope.
"No." Xander shook his head again. "Anyway, it's not like he's going to care. Or be surprised." Not about the Spike getting into trouble part, anyway.
Spike snorted. "Not going to care about his blue-eyed boy getting into a scrap? And that's you by the way, not me."
"Kinda got that," Xander said dryly.
"He's going to blame me." Spike sounded certain about that and there was enough resignation in his voice to make Xander feel the stirrings of pity.
"Let me do the talking, okay? But you know what? If Giles had been there tonight, he'd have probably done the same thing."
"Right," Spike said slowly, like it was the last thing he'd ever believe. "Giles would have stepped in and kept me from getting thumped."
"Yeah, he would have," Xander said. "You're having a hard time adjusting -- we both get that."
Spike stopped walking, and when Xander turned to look at him was wearing a funny expression. "Protecting me from myself, is that it?"
Xander tried to backpedal even though he knew it was probably too late. "No. I mean, not like that."
"Like what then?" Spike asked in a dangerously calm voice. "And now I come to think of it, what the hell were you doing there anyway? Thought you wanted to have some fucking quality time with Rupert. Well?" Spike took a deep breath when Xander didn't answer, looking angrier than Xander had seen him in a long time. "Did you come to fucking baby-sit me or something?"
Seeing Spike all mad made Xander feel the same way. "Actually, if you have to know, Giles was trying to concentrate and I was driving him crazy. So technically you were the excuse to get me out of the house."
"Not sure I like that any better," Spike muttered, sounding sulky. "Would it have killed you to have come out and had a drink with me, anyway? Either of you?" He gave Xander a reproachful look. "Not like I'd have started anything with you two around, now is it?" He tilted up his chin, looking suddenly smug. "In fact, you could say it's all your fault this happened. Because the pair of you were too high-and-mighty to come out for a pint."
Nodding with satisfaction, he set off down the street, swaggering again, his good humor restored, leaving Xander to gape at him.
Giles finished clearing the table and glanced over at Spike, who was humming under his breath and chopping potatoes rather inexpertly. He'd lost control of the knife at least twice and nearly cut himself, and although Giles had gone over and corrected his hold on the knife handle after each incident, he'd been given the distinct impression that further lessons would be indignantly refused.
"I'll just get the mugs that someone's been leaving in the living room," Giles said pointedly, as though talking to the air.
Spike didn't comment.
There were only two mugs in the living room, and to be fair, Giles was fairly certain that one of them was Xander's. Who was due home fairly soon from work. They'd been taking it in turns to keep Spike busy and not leave him alone too often.
Pushing a pillow back into place on the couch, Giles straightened up and heard, "Bloody hell," from the kitchen.
Without rushing, because an exclamation like that from Spike could be prompted by anything from the sight of a squirrel in the small back garden to remembering that he was missing a TV show he liked, Giles went back to him.
Spike turned around, his face pale, gripping one hand with the other. "Giles -"
He sounded panicky and shocked, and Giles found himself moving to him as quickly as possible. He was halfway there when he saw the bright blood welling up between Spike's fingers.
"God, what did you do?" Giles demanded, snatching a few sheets of paper towel from the roll on the countertop. Without waiting for an answer -- and he didn't really need one as it was obvious that Spike's complete ineptitude at preparing food had finally moved beyond clumsy to catastrophic -- he went to him and peered down at Spike's hand, steeling himself for the sight of a deep gash. The way Spike was cradling his hand, and the blood, made it impossible to gauge the depth of the cut, but from what Giles could see, it did look quite nasty.
"Over to the sink," he said, putting his arm around Spike, who seemed frozen with horror, and urging him to turn and take the two steps needed to reach the sink. Blood dripped down in scarlet splotches on the floor as they walked, and Spike stared down at them, his face twisting as if he was about to throw up. "Let's rinse it," Giles said, keeping his voice matter-of-fact.
"Gonna be sick," Spike said faintly, his good hand gripping tight to the edge of the sink as Giles brought the wounded one under the tap.
"No, you're not." Giles said it firmly, permitting no dissent. "Close your eyes if you can't look. Deep breaths."
The wound filled up with blood again as fast as the water washed it away, but it didn't seem deep enough to require stitches, at least. With Spike trembling beside him, Giles rinsed the cut for nearly a minute, making sure to get it good and clean before reaching for the drawer near his knee where they kept the freshly laundered dish towels. "That's it. Good lad. Do you need to sit down?"
Spike nodded, swallowing heavily and keeping his eyes averted as Giles wrapped the towel around his fingers and guided him over to the nearest chair.
"Put your elbow on the table," Giles said, eying the spreading stain on the towel. "Keep your hand elevated while I get the first-aid kit."
Spike nodded and Giles studied him for a moment, and then suggested gently, "Try putting your head down if you feel faint."
"'M not a contortionist," Spike said, with a flicker of his usual attitude. He turned his head, caught a glimpse of the blood on the towel and shuddered, dropping his head down to his knees.
Giles flicked on the kettle, intending to make Spike the universal panacea of a cup of tea, and then went to the cupboard where they kept an assortment of medications and bandages. They hadn't needed to use much in the way of dressings since arriving in England, but force of habit meant that Giles was prepared for anything. Being a Watcher meant that he was more than used to dealing with injuries; a cut finger was nothing.
Although given the way Spike was reacting...
Carrying what he'd need over to the table, Giles drew up a chair, sitting close enough that his knees brushed against Spike's. He reached down and gave Spike's shoulder a reassuring pat. "Soon have you sorted out," he said cheerfully.
Spike sat up straighter and turned his head away. "M'fine," he said, although it was very clear that he wasn't.
When Giles unwrapped the towel and wiped the fresh blood away, Spike breathed in sharply through his nose. "Relax," Giles said.
"You relax," Spike shot back. "You're not the one bleedin' all over the place."
"Since when does the sight of blood bother you?" Giles asked. "Surely you've seen it thousands of times."
"Different now," Spike said.
"Why?" Giles was honestly rather puzzled. "Spike, I once dug a tracking device out of your back and, well, granted you'd downed most of a bottle of brandy, but you didn't even flinch. I've seen you covered in blood after a fight; yours or someone else's, and you never gave it a second glance." He started to wrap Spike's finger in a sterilized dressing. "In fact, on more than one occasion, I saw you licking it off -- no, never mind. Now I feel sick."
"Told you," Spike said. "It's different."
"You'll heal," Giles told him, reaching for the roll of bandages and the scissors. "Not as quickly, and it might leave a small scar, but you will heal, you know."
"Yeah," Spike said softly. "I know." But there was something in his voice that told Giles it wasn't that simple, and as he wrapped the bandage gently around Spike's finger, Spike added, "Gonna get old, too."
Ah. "Yes," Giles said. "You are."
"I didn't ask for this," Spike said.
"No," Giles agreed, "from what you've said, you didn't. But isn't it preferable to being dust in this dimension with your soul -- well, I don't know where that would've ended up. Isn't this better than that?"
"I was immortal," Spike said with a soft vehemence that made Giles blink at him in surprise. "Immortal. Now I've got a couple of good years left before I'm senile and wearing a diaper." He glanced at his hand. "And, for the record, that fucking hurts. Hurts like hell."
It made sense that a vampire's pain threshold was higher than a human's, Giles supposed, but it was obviously something Spike hadn't really grasped.
"Give it time," Giles said. The kettle clicked off and he stood up to make the tea. "You'll adjust to the demands, limitations and differences of having a human body; you just have to be patient." He poured the boiling water into the teapot. "You're doing rather well, you know. I'm sure were I to become a vampire-"
"I could do that," Spike said. "Could find one. Get them to bite me." He didn't sound serious, but Giles almost wished he was; the dull resignation in Spike's voice was hard to hear.
"Shall we pretend you didn't say that?" he said, getting out two mugs and tipping in a couple of spoonfuls of sugar into one.
"You can pretend whatever the hell you want," Spike muttered, but when Giles looked at him pointedly, he sighed. "Not gonna do it. But I could."
Giles wondered if Spike gained comfort from the knowledge. "There are plenty of things you could do," he said, leaning against the counter. "You just need to sort out what you want to do."
"How am I supposed to do that?" Spike asked. He cradled his bandaged hand in his lap and studied it. "I don't even know where to start. Never been all that good at anything." He looked up at Giles, beautiful in his vulnerability.
"As a vampire, or as a human?" Giles asked. "Because as a vampire, I'd say you were successful by any standards. You survived for over a century and, although I'd rather not dwell on it, you killed two Slayers; I imagine you were viewed with some admiration by your peers." He smiled wryly. "You were good at being bad. And I imagine when you were human you were equally good at being good?"
He waited with some curiosity for Spike's answer. The Council records were fairly scanty on Spike's history before he was turned, but Giles had pieced enough together to know more about Spike than Spike would probably have liked.
Spike was still, looking at his bandaged finger again as though he couldn't summon the energy to lift his head. "For all the good it did me," he said. "Look where I ended up."
"You really don't want to see this as a reward, do you? As a second chance?" Giles shook his head, feeling a pang of disappointment that Spike was being so pessimistic, and turned around to busy himself with the routine of pouring the tea. He brought the mugs to the table and sat down facing Spike.
Spike took a sip from his mug and a little color came back into his face.
"Well?" Giles prompted him. "Can you really not think of anything positive in what's happened?"
"Besides royally pissing off Angel?" Spike's mouth quirked up in a reluctant smile.
Giles couldn't help grinning at him. "Besides that, yes."
After a moment, Spike shrugged. "There might be one or two things," he said, in a tone that made it fairly clear he didn't intend on being more specific.
Giles nodded. "You'll get used to the occasional injury," he said.
"If I'm lucky it won't include getting knocked on the head every other week," Spike said, his lips quirking upward again.
"I have a very thick skull," Giles said defensively.
"Good thing you do," Spike said. "Least there are fewer opportunities to get hurt now that you're off the Hellmouth."
"And careful about where I choose to drink," Giles said, raising his eyebrows meaningfully. He'd been surprised when Spike and Xander had returned home from the pub so quickly the week before -- and, in Spike's case, sober -- but once he'd been told why, and checked that neither of them was seriously hurt, he hadn't felt any of the anger Spike had clearly been expecting him to show. They could handle themselves against more than a lout in a bar, after all, and when Xander had finished telling him what had happened and ended with, 'Well, what would you have done, Giles?' he'd shrugged and said, 'Much the same', and been rewarded by a smile from Xander and a puzzled look from Spike.
Spike rolled his eyes. "Right, Rupert. Next time I'll make it the Rose and Crown, shall I?"
As the average age of the customers in that particular pub was hovering in the high seventies and the click of dominoes on the table was the only sound likely to break the funereal silence, Giles didn't dignify that with an answer.
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