Rating: NC-17
Title from a quote by Miyamoto Musashi -- "Perception is strong and sight weak. In strategy it is important to see distant things as if they were close and to take a distanced view of close things."

Seeing Distant Things
As If They Were Close


Xander wants to go home.

He repeats it while they wait for him to be seen in the emergency room. They wait ten minutes, then ten more, and then Buffy is yelling at some poor bint behind the desk whose only job is to write down names, photocopy insurance cards, and call people when they're lucky enough to be seen. Which considering Sunnydale's doctors, Spike supposes, is debatable.

The woman cowers and stammers that she'll try to find someone to take a look at Xander, who's more than a little shocky at this point, leaning up against Spike like he doesn't even realize he's doing it.

Buffy comes back. "She's going to get us a room," she says, her eyes glinting with determination. "Xander? You hanging in there?"

"Yeah," Xander says roughly. It's about all he can manage, Spike thinks.

Less than two minutes later the three of them are in a little cubicle, and everything is white and sterile. It reminds Spike just a tad too much of the Initiative, right down to the smell of blood. It's bright in a way that's probably meant to be reassuring, but instead it only makes him feel small, empty, and alone. The fact that he's none of these things doesn't help.

Spike wants a smoke like he's never wanted one in his life, but he can't have one here. Oh, he could go outside, but Xander's using him and Buffy like a pair of the world's most fucked-up bookends, holding himself upright between them. Spike isn't about to let him fall, or to let Buffy do the holding by herself.

"Want to go home," Xander mutters again, words that are spoken aloud unknowingly.

"We will," Buffy tells him, her arm around his back, hand rubbing his shoulder comfortingly. Her fingers brush over Spike's shoulder, and he's not sure if it's on purpose or by accident. He's not sure he cares.

The curtain pulls back as some people in white coats enter, and then everything's crazy for the next hour or so. Buffy and Spike are asked to leave the room and they do, reluctantly.

"I want to check on Rona," Buffy says, her arms wrapped around herself now that Xander's being taken care of. "Will you stay here? Make sure he's okay? I don't want him to be alone, if..."

But Spike doesn't need her to finish that sentence. "Yeah. You go on. I'll stay."

"Thank you." Buffy touches his arm, definitely on purpose this time. She walks off down the hallway, her stride capturing both defeat and stubbornness at the same time, and still managing to look graceful despite the juxtaposition.

The doctors do... whatever it is they do to Xander. Pack him up full of gauze, maybe. By the time they're done with him, his head's all wrapped up and he's out of it. Spike follows as they wheel Xander on a gurney up to a room on another floor of the hospital. He tries to be unobtrusive, but he knows on some instinctive level that people are always watching him. Doesn't matter if he's trying to be openly threatening, stealthy, or even friendly -- people always watch him.

The room's quiet, and the temptation to crack a window and have a quick smoke is strong. Before Spike can make a move to do so, Xander stirs on the bed. When his eye opens, it holds the warm, circled expression of the well-drugged.

Spike goes over and stands next to the bed, and Xander's fingers twitch. They twitch like they need something to hold onto, and Spike thinks he can understand that, so he reaches out and takes Xander's hand. Xander holds on.

"Where's Buffy?" he asks, his voice hoarse.

"Went to check on one of the girls. If you want, I could go look for her? Or Willow?" Spike can't help but think that someone else ought to be here, someone who knows how to comfort better than he does.

Xander's already slipped into that awake-but-gone place, staring at nothingness like it might eat him alive if he's not careful. Spike doesn't think he heard him. But then, "I can still see," he says.

"Well, yeah," Spike says. "Nothing wrong with the other one."

Xander doesn't shake his head, but something about the way his lips reshape themselves tells Spike that he wants to. "No. With both."

And Spike's never heard of phantom sight, but he shrugs amiably enough. "Could be the drugs."

"Yeah," Xander says finally, and his eye closes. His breathing evens out and his grip on Spike's hand loosens, but he doesn't let go.


Two days later, Xander goes home.

Spike goes with him, not because he particularly wants to -- although it's not that he doesn't want to -- but because Buffy asks him to.

"I don't want him to be alone," she says, which is pretty much the same as the hospital all over again, making Spike want to tell her to make a recording and get it over with, since that way she wouldn't have to actually talk to him. "Someone should be there. What if something happens? He might need... help."

Spike thinks about saying that Xander's going to need a hell of a lot more help than Spike can give him, but that will just make Buffy think about the fact that none of them may survive what's coming, anyway. So instead he says, "All right," and when Giles drives Xander home from the hospital, Spike goes along. He sits in the back seat while Xander rides shotgun and tries not to hiss when they hit bumps in the road, and listens to Giles offer quiet apologies that aren't even about his damned driving.

"Call if you need anything," Giles tells Spike at the front door of the apartment, once Xander is settled back in. "Buffy and Willow will come round in the morning to see how he's doing."

"Right." Spike closes the door and goes to sit in front of the television, since Xander's bedroom door is closed and he's sure as fuck not going to go knocking, asking how he is.

One hour later, Spike has had a beer and four cigarettes.

Two hours later, he's gone through the fridge and noted with approval that Willow and Dawn have stocked the apartment with food, but nothing appeals to him, so he smokes some more and has another beer.

Three hours later, Spike knocks on Xander's door.

"What?" Xander's annoyed, and Spike doesn't blame him.

"Just... you all right in there?"

"Spike. I'm only going to say this once, so listen very carefully. Go. Away."

Spike smiles because he thinks it's the longest thing Xander's said since he was hurt, and that's got to be a good thing. Right? But Spike's never been one to listen when people tell him to go away, so instead he opens the door and leans on the door frame, all casual-like. "Thought you might be getting bored in here. We could watch a movie."

"No, you could watch a movie." Xander's sitting with his back up against the headboard of his bed, with his arms crossed over his middle and his feet crossed at the ankles. His socks are black, and he looks irritated and depressed.

"C'mon," Spike says encouragingly, with a jerk of his head. "I'll give you a beer."

"Can't," Xander tells him morosely. "Alcohol and prescription painkillers don't mix real well when you have a pulse."

Oh, right. "You could watch me drink a beer."

"You know, Spike, fun as that sounds, I think I'm going to take a pass."

"All right then."

Spike tilts his head to look at Xander one last time before he shuts the door, and that's when Xander says, "Buffy asked you to stay, didn't she."

It's not really a question, but Spike answers anyway. "Yeah."

Xander snorts, and the sound is more pitiful than derisive. "Figures."

"Well, not like she could stay, herself, what with the house full of mini-Slayers," Spike says, reasonably enough. He wonders if Harris is mad that none of the girls stayed, or just that Spike's the one that did.

He turns to go again, and again Xander says something. "Spike?"


"You don't think he'd... go to the house, do you?"

And Spike hears what he's asking and not-quite-asking, and says, "No. S'not his style, is it? Wait for her to come to him again, that's what he'll do. Don't worry about it."

Xander's good eye -- only eye -- is closed again, and Spike slides out and shuts the door.


The girls come the next morning -- Buffy, Willow and Dawn, the littlest Summer's looking nervous -- but Xander hasn't come out of his room, and they don't want to wake him if he's still sleeping. The box of donuts they bring sits untouched on the table for nearly an hour, and then Dawn takes one, almost defiantly, and eats it.

"What? I'm hungry," she says to Buffy, who just nods and doesn't say whatever it is she's thinking. Spike thinks it might be some passionate little speech about the world being a hard place and people needing to fight for what they believe in, and he can't say he's sorry that she skips it. He's heard enough. He thinks they all have.

After nearly two hours, the girls go home, leaving a note for Xander along with the rest of the donuts and an order to have Xander call when he gets up.

Spike spends the day watching television and smoking, and he realizes that at this rate he's going to be out of cigarettes sooner than he'd like.

Just as the sun is setting and he's contemplating making a quick run to the nearest convenience store, Xander's bedroom door opens and he comes out, one hand underneath his t-shirt, scratching at his belly. The bandage on his head looks stark and out of place.

He disappears into the bathroom for a long time, and then comes out into the living room, looking groggy and half-asleep despite the more than twenty hours of sleep he seemingly got.

"Donuts," Xander says, seeing them on the table.

"Seem to be, yeah," Spike tells him, with a casual glance from his spot on the couch.

Xander picks the box up, shuffles over to the other side of the couch, and sinks down in a move that owes a lot of its carefulness to not wanting to jostle his head. "Want one?" he asks through a mouthful, offering the box.

Spike just shakes his head.

They watch some court television show, and then Xander changes the channel to MTV and they watch a bunch of college kids on spring break, down in Florida or somewhere, dancing on the beach in the warm yellow sunshine. And Spike realizes that the Scoobies are all so jaded that they don't even know that's where they ought to be, burning the soles of their feet on scorching hot sand and dancing to music that they think is 'alternative.' Instead of on the Hellmouth, getting their eyes gouged out by an evil that wears religious robes like its got a right to them.

Halfway through a video that makes Spike want to gouge his own eyes out, he glances over and finds that Xander is asleep, snoring softly with a partially-eaten donut hanging from his grasp.

Spike takes the donut carefully from Xander's fingers and the box from his lap, and sets them on the table. Now, he thinks, would be a good time to slip out for a pack of smokes. Or maybe a carton, if this is going to be his unlife for the next couple of days.

He helps himself to some cash from Harris' wallet, which is tucked neatly into his coat pocket, and heads out.

In the alley next to the convenience store, Spike runs into a guy he hasn't seen for a long time -- since before he left for Africa, truth be told. A guy who owes him some dosh. One not-quite-casual reminder, a couple of subtle threats, and Spike has a cool two hundred bucks in his pocket. This somehow makes a carton of cigarettes a less-than-sufficient purchase, so he stops by the liquor store and gets a bottle of whisky to go along with his smokes.

When he gets back to Xander's place, having been gone half an hour longer than he'd intended, he finds the chain locked across the door. He can't get in.

"Harris," he says, frustrated and guilty in one. "It's me. Open the bloody door."

"Spike?" he hears Xander say. "How do I know that's really you?"

"Because I reek of cigarette smoke and if you don't let me in, I'm going to break the lock," Spike says, with more patience than he feels.

Xander opens the door, and he's got the last bottle of beer in his hand, half-empty.

"Thought you weren't supposed to be drinking," Spike says mildly, coming in and shutting -- and locking -- the door behind him.

"Yeah, well, chalk another one up for the intellectually challenged." There's a belligerence in Xander's voice like an undertow, and Spike's not the one who's going to be swept out to sea.

He puts the cigarettes and the bottle down on the table, and sits down to unlace his boots. Time for a new pair has come and gone, and now they're part of a past he's not sure he'll ever be ready to give up.

Xander's got his back up against the wall, his head resting there, beer in hand, but he's not drinking it. Spike can smell him from where he is -- pain and hops and the faint tang of strong medicine. It doesn't smell like sorrow, exactly. More like defeat.

"Should I be gettin' ready to call someone?" Spike asks.

Xander looks at him blankly. "What?"

"Since you're going off the deep end and all," Spike says, as he gestures at the bottle in Xander's hand.

"Like you care," Xander says, taking what looks to Spike like a very small sip of his beer.

"I'm here, aren't I?" Spike asks. He's not sure whether to be offended or to feel sorry for the poor bloke, and the fact that he's leaning towards sorry just depresses him. Yeah, definitely time for some whisky.

"And I'm supposed to think that means you give a shit?" Xander moves stiffly over to the couch and sits down, watching as Spike takes a long drink from his own bottle.

Spike shrugs. "Think what you like."

He props himself up at the other end of the sofa and proceeds to get drunk -- not crazy-drunk, just mellow-drunk. Nice, slow, fuck-against-the-wall drunk. On the opposite side of the couch, Xander takes tiny sips of his beer, nursing it like he might be able to make it last for a week.

"You ever think of leaving?" Spike asks him.


"Sunnydale." Spike dismisses the whole town -- what there is of it -- with a wave of his hand. "Just... gettin' out? Going somewhere with a little less Hellmouth?"

"Which would be pretty much anywhere," Xander points out. His head is leaning back on the cushioned part of the couch and he rolls it toward Spike, ball-bearing smooth. "And... no."

"Not even now?" Spike doesn't gesture at Xander's head, and gives himself a little mental pat on the back for his restraint.

"No." Xander sounds far away. Not from Spike, but from everything.

Spike guesses that the beer and drug combination is good for that. He's a bit surprised that Harris denies thinking about leaving, but suspects he's telling the truth. It's Buffy's doing, of course. Give her a flute and the breath to play it, and they'll all follow her, rats to her bloody Pied Piper. They'll all stay here 'til they're dust and gone, for love of the Slayer.

'Course, at this point, it may not be a lot longer for any of them.


Next morning, Xander gets up in time for breakfast. He stands in front of the refrigerator for a long time, and then seems to give up. He has three bowls of cold cereal with milk, sitting in front of the tv. There's nothing on at this time of day but cartoons and news and talk shows, and Xander watches them all, remote clicking from one channel to the next until Spike snatches it out of his hand.

"Do you mind?" Xander says, grabbing it back.

"That's bloody annoying, is what that is," Spike tells him. Of course, it's not annoying when he's the one with the remote in his hand, but it's too early, and all he really wants is to go back to bed.

"Whereas you're a pleasant person to be around?" Xander gets up and takes his bowl into the kitchen. "If this is why you never got up in the mornings before, I urge you to return to that time-honored tradition."

Insulted, or at the very least cranky and pretending to be, Spike swings back into his room and closes the door with a dramatic slam.

Fifteen minutes later, there's a knock at the front door as the visiting nurse comes to change Xander's bandages, and Spike comes out in time to see the bathroom door shut. He can hear their murmurs through the closed door, obviously. He tries not to listen in, and tells himself that it's because it's only proper to respect a man's privacy, and not because he doesn't want to hear.

Bloody soul's made him soft.

The nurse leaves Xander looking pale and shaken, and he retreats to his room again just before the girls arrive.

"Don't even tell me he's still asleep," Buffy says.

"We might start to suspect a conspiracy," Willow agrees. Dawn has stayed back at the house with the potential Slayers.

"Nurse was here," Spike tells them. "Changed the bandages and all. Don't think he's in the mood to see anyone."

Buffy looks uncertain, but Willow tosses her head. "He's always in the mood to see me." She knocks on the door, all false bravado and good posture, and goes in when Xander answers.

He can hear them talking -- hear Harris doing his best impression of someone who's lookin' on the bright side of life -- but Buffy just stands where she is.

"How is he?"

Spike shrugs. He figures he can get at least ten words' worth of conversation into a shrug if it's eloquent enough. "How am I supposed to know? Not like he wants to tell me all his deep dark secrets."

"That's why you're here," Buffy says.

"I'm here," he correct her, "because you wanted someone to look after him. Didn't realize that meant I was supposed to play amateur therapist."

Buffy looks irritated in that dismissive way she has, the one that tells him she knows she shouldn't expect any more from him. It's the look that he used to want to smack off her face, and he's not sure the urge is completely gone because his palm itches with the wanting. "I need you to come train the newer girls tonight," she says, changing tacks. "Giles will be here while you're gone."

"You really think he's gonna appreciate being babysat?" Spike asks, with a jerk of his head toward the open bedroom door. "He's not stupid, you know."

"I know." Buffy frowns. "Still... it can't be good for him to be alone. I'd feel better if Giles was here."

"You're the boss," Spike says.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Just what I said."

She blinks. "Oh. Well... good."

There's nothing else to say to her. Spike's trying to convince himself that she may be the boss, but that doesn't have to mean he's her lap dog, so he goes back into his room and shuts the door. His palm is still flat against the wood when he realizes what a joke he is.

He smokes four cigarettes in the time it takes the girls to finish their little Florence Nightingale mission of mercy. Sunshine's bright outside. It calls to him, like it has every bleedin' day since he got the soul. He guesses all those years with Dru taught him a thing or two about being insane, and being the First's bitch for a time sealed the deal.

It isn't until he hears raised voices that he sighs and goes to investigate.

Harris is protesting, and not quietly, Buffy's plan to have the old man come and watch him. "And is there some reason you think I want a babysitter?"

Spike smirks.

"Spike's here," Buffy says, gesturing at him.

"Spike doesn't count," Xander says, and Spike's not sure whether he should be pleased or offended. "He's not even breathing."

"Hey!" The word slips out.

"Sorry, Spike," Xander says. "I'm just saying."

Buffy nods tersely. "Fine. It's up to you."

"Darned right it is." Xander says. "Just because the world might be ending, that's no reason to throw common courtesy out the window." He pauses, then adds, "Especially since I'm the one who fixes the window."

"Okay. You're right." Buffy nods, her face softening, making her look even younger than she is. She exchanges a glance with Willow. "I'm just... we're all just worried about you."

"Well, don't be," Xander says. "I'm fine."

She turns to Spike then. "So, we'll see you tonight?"

"With bells on."

The flat's quiet once they go. Xander disappears into his bedroom again, and Spike settles himself back in front of the telly. Rather predictably, at just past noon, Xander reemerges and stands in front of the open refrigerator.

"Trying to cool the whole place down, are we?" Spike asks after another minute, without turning his head.

"Shut up," Xander says. "It's my apartment. I can stand here with the refrigerator open all day if I want to."

Spike keeps staring at the television.

Another minute.

Xander sighs very softly.

"Could make you something, if you like," Spike offers, surprising himself as much as Xander.

"If you made it, I wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole," Xander says.

"Fine." Spike still hasn't turned his head from the screen in front of him, although he couldn't have said what it was he was pretending to watch.

Xander closes the fridge, finally. "So... what can you make? Not that I'm asking you to make something - I'm just curious."

Spike goes into the kitchen and opens the refrigerator. He takes a package of cheese slices out, along with a stick of butter, and then opens cabinets near the stove until he finds a frying pan. Flicks the control for the burner to medium.

"Go sit down," he tells Xander, waving a spatula in his general direction. "You're all... hurt. You shouldn't be standing around."

For once, Harris is speechless -- either at Spike's suggestion that he sit, or at the fact that Spike's actually preparing to cook. It's a good look on him, Spike thinks. Slightly open-mouthed.

It's been a while since Spike's cooked anything this normal, but it turns out that grilling a cheese sandwich's something you don't forget how to do. He sets it in front of Xander, along with a glass of milk, and slouches down into one of the other chairs.

Xander gives him a quick look, eye dark and questioning. He seems to consider and discard a dozen comments before settling on, "Thanks."

"Yeah. Well." Spike doesn't have a good response either.

Xander eats his sandwich, and later on Spike washes the pan, but he does a half-arsed job and turns it upside down in the dish drainer to hide the fact. Hey, he'd cooked, right? Good thing the soul doesn't make him feel guilty about every little thing.

They watch more television as the afternoon creeps on, and at dusk when Spike leaves to go to Buffy's house, they exchange what might almost be smiles.


Spike comes back four hours later, bruised and thinking that if the world ends, at least that'll mean he won't have to teach little girls how to fight anymore. God, they're so bloody annoying. They ask too many questions, and they don't learn as quick as they should, and Buffy doesn't seem to see anything wrong with any of it.

He thinks maybe she's trying to let everything slide off -- not feel it. Still afraid to feel.

After all, Spike knows it's not being dead that she's afraid of.

Harris is cursing in the bathroom as Spike closes the door and shrugs off his coat. He goes and knocks, feeling more tentative than he'd like.

"Y'all right in there?"

A pause. "Yeah."

Spike wouldn't mind a shower. He's about to ask Xander how long he's going to be when the door opens abruptly.

Xander's got a towel wrapped around his waist, droplets of water still clinging to his chest and shoulders like little magnifying glasses. His skin's not as white as it used to be -- plenty of time spent out in the sun, carpentry and whatnot -- but it looks smooth and... Spike raises his eyes. "Some nice four-letter words you got going for you, there."

Nodding just a bit, Xander says, "Thanks. I learned from the best."

Must be talking about his dad. Now that Spike thinks about it, he can remember some pretty spectacular rows in the Harris household. At the time he'd hardly given them a second thought, and now he wouldn't be able to recall what the arguments had been about even if you ran him through with hot pokers. "So. Nothing exciting happened while I was off helping Buffy train the little ducklings to walk in line?"

Xander blinks. "Not unless you count my rediscovering the trials and tribulations of bathing." He blinks again as he realizes the possible implications behind his words. "In the bathtub. Because normally, I shower."

A slow smile spreads Spike's lips thin. "Yeah, guess it'd be hard to take a shower without getting the bandage wet," is all he says.

"Which would be the reason for my excessive swearing," Xander admits.

"Looks dry enough to me."

"What? Oh. No. I meant -- the bandage having to stay dry pretty much kills any opportunity to wash my hair." Self-consciously, Xander runs a hand over it. Spike isn't sure if the look he's going for is 'more messed up than it already was,' but if so, he's succeeding.

"I could - " he hears himself start to offer, and pulls it back before he can finish. But the fact that he was starting to make an offer, any offer, hangs in the air between them.

Xander finally stops standing there like a dolt and moves past him. "Don't do me any favors," he says, and it's Spike's turn to blink. Seems Buffy's not the only one who forgets, sometimes, that Harris isn't dumb.

"I won't," Spike says, as Xander goes into his room and starts to shut the door.

"Good," Xander says, and slams the door.

"Fine!" Spike shouts.

He goes into the kitchen and slams some pots that are sitting around back into the cabinets, not knowing if it's where they belong, and not caring. Tells himself he should have known better than to do this, even if Buffy'd batted her eyelashes and said 'please' in that little voice that made her seem all soft, like something needing protecting. God, he hates her. He hates her and this town and the Hellmouth and even Xander-bloody-Harris.

Almost immediately feels terrible. Poor bloke's had his eye out, and Spike can't even manage to treat him decently for more than a minute at a time.

Well, maybe five.

Stupid soul. He has no idea why he ever thought it was worth getting in the first place.

He goes and knocks on Xander's door. All he's done the past few days is stand on the other side of a door and knock, it seems, but it's something he has to do. He could no more walk away from this than he could have walked away from Dawn after Buffy died. A sense of duty's something that comes natural, he guesses.

"This is my apartment, you know," Xander says from inside the room.


"I can kick you out of here any time I want to. I was doing Buffy a favor by letting you stay."

"Yeah. I know. Listen, Xander..." And Spike runs out of things to say.

Silence. Then, "What?"

"Listen..." He tries again, and doesn't get any further.

"Wouldn't that require you actually saying something?" Xander asks.

"Look," Spike says, and then winces because that's not any better. "Is there, you know... anything I can do for you?"

He steps backward as the door flies open. Xander looks furious and, it has to be admitted, more full of life than he has in the past few days. Xander's voice is scathing, bitter as pith. "You tell me, Spike. Is there something you can do for me?"

"Well, I - "

Xander takes a step out of the room, the first two fingers of his hand leveled at Spike's chest. "Because I'm thinking," he continues, poking Spike in the sternum for emphasis, "that unless you can turn back time and give me back my eye, then there's nothing you can do."

And Spike figures that he has a point there, and he's impressed. Impressed that Harris has still got so much anger in him, that it hasn't all been driven out by the years of being pushed down and walked on. "Right," he says. "So that's that, then. You're just gonna wallow in it."

"Okay, first? I hardly think that a couple of days counts as wallowing. Trust me, if I decide to wallow, you'll know. And second?" Xander throws his hands up in the air, a gesture of disgust and frustration. "Okay, maybe there is no second."

Spike has to try not to grin. "Look, you've been through a lot, I'm not denying it. S'no shame in lettin' people help you."

"You're not people."

"No. But I'm here, aren't I?"

Xander nods, slowly and carefully. "Yeah." He looks at Spike like he never really saw him before, like Spike's turning out to be someone else from what he thought.

Spike shrugs and gives Xander a crooked little half-smile, his head tipped to one side. "So." And then moves in for the kill. "Fancy a bite to eat?"


Couple of hours later -- Spike's not sure of the time, just knows that it's late -- Xander's lying across the couch, feet up, head propped on a pillow. They've talked about the potentials, and about Dawn, and somehow managed to do it all without saying Buffy's name. She's the sore spot between them.

Spike's sitting on the floor near Xander's feet, with his back up against the couch. It hasn't escaped his notice that if Xander wanted to he could kick Spike in the head, but he's not particularly worried.

Which might mean he's stupid.

Or drunk.

Possibly both.

He's smoking his third cigarette in half an hour, and his bottle of whisky's nearly empty.

"You do realize that's disgusting," Xander says.

"Which?" Spike asks. "Smoking? Drinking? Being this close to your feet?"

Xander does reach out and nudge him with a socked foot, but it's a gentle reprimand, not a kick. Might as well be a caress, as far as Spike's concerned. "My feet," he says, "do not smell."

"'Course not. Fresh as daisies."

Foot slides over against his head again, and this time it is a caress, something anyone would consider a caress. Cotton-socked big toe tracing the edge of Spike's ear. "And don't you forget it," Xander says, his voice rough and slow. It's like sandpaper across an open wound.

The silence is comfortable.

"Maybe I should shave my head," Xander says, out of nowhere.

Spike turns, mildly astonished. "Yeah, you, bald. That'd be a good look."

"Better than this one," Xander says, pointing at his hair. "If it's like this now, how do you think it'll look in another week?"

"And your solution's to shave it all off?" Spike's always thought the boy had nice hair -- bit long and floppy, of course, but at least it had a bit of body to it.

"You have any other suggestions?"

Tentative, unsure how it'll be received, Spike makes the offer he'd stopped himself from making before. "I could wash it for you."

Big toe in the back of his neck, hard.

"Ow!" Spike says, even though the pain is fleeting, a flare briefer than a kiss.

"Don't be an asshole," Xander says.

"Fine," Spike says, offended. "Geez, try to be a decent bloke and help a guy out, and what do you get for your troubles? Kicked in the head."

"That wasn't a kick," Xander tells him. "Besides, you deserved it."

"What for?" Spike reaches back and shoves Xander's foot away from him.

"For being an jerk."

"And how does offering to wash your hair make me a jerk? Other than by showing how stupid I am for trying to be nice to you?" Spike can hear the hurt in his own voice now, and it makes him so bloody furious to know that he's still the same, that he'll never change. He's always been soft. Blaming it on the soul's a fool's game.

Xander sits up and pulls his feet back toward himself, away from Spike. He looks uncertain now, like he can see the truth behind Spike's eyes, but doesn't understand how it got there.

Spike can tell it's driving him crazy.

If there's anything Spike knows, it's crazy.

"I didn't..." Xander starts, and then the silence gets so long that Spike's about ready to get up and... well, go somewhere. Finally, Xander says, "Sorry. I didn't think you were being serious."

"You think I go around asking people I don't like if they want me to wash their hair?" Spike is incredulous.

Xander's incredulous right back at him. "Well, yeah, apparently."

Spike blinks. Christ, life with Harris is like a slide show. Or like doing drugs. The latter of which isn't a completely unpleasant thought. "You - oh."

"What? Am I supposed to think something other than that you don't like me?"

There's a puzzler. Between a rock and a hard place, which granted is a spot Spike's excruciatingly familiar with. "You're all right," he says, grudgingly.

"Oh, thanks a lot." It's possible that might be a smile that Xander's trying to hold off.

"So what d'ya say?"

Xander does smile, just slightly. "I say I'm probably nuts, but what the hell. Tomorrow I could be dead. Might as well have clean hair for the funeral."


They find a chair that's close enough to the right height, and use the kitchen sink because it's got one of those nozzle things attached to it. Xander brings his shampoo from the bathroom and a pile of towels, and Spike pads the edge of the sink with one, rolled up. It's not even close to a good job, but it'll do.

Xander's nervous; he can smell it on him.

"Sure you want to do this?" Spike asks, telling himself that he won't be hurt if Xander changes his mind.

"Yeah," Xander says, sitting down and leaning back. Gingerly, like he's afraid it might break, he rests his head down on the rolled-up towel.

"Right, then," Spike says. He starts the water running, one hand underneath it to test the temperature as it goes slowly from cold to warm to hot. He realizes it might feel hotter to him than it will to Harris. "Don't know if the temperature's all right," he says, a request for verification.

Xander reaches his hand up and back blindly, bumping it into Spike's, and manages to get it under the stream of water. "Yeah, it's fine."

"Right, then," Spike says again. His hands don't move -- one on the nozzle, one under the running water.

"You said that already," Xander tells him. "Are you sure you want to do this?"

"What? Yeah." Spike flicks the water from his fingers and uses that hand as a barrier on Xander's forehead, then moves the spout so that the flow of water starts running over Xander's hair. "S'not too hot?"

"No. It's good." Xander's eye is closed, his face an odd mix of peace and tension that talks to Spike in ways he couldn't quite explain.

Xander's hair is long -- well, longer than Spike's, at any rate. It feels different than Spike's used to. His own's a bit brittle from the bleach, dry under his fingers when he cleans it. Xander's is thick and soft. The water moves through it in rivulets and Spike watches for a long moment, spellbound, as the dark brown hair goes to black, before setting the nozzle down into the basin and picking up the shampoo.

The smell's not unfamiliar, though Spike doesn't often use shampoo himself and never would have thought to touch Xander's in a million years. It's neither masculine nor feminine; nearly a sharp scent, like crushed herbs, but also flowers. Manly flowers, though. If there is such a thing. With an abruptness like a slap Spike realizes that he's trying not to be in this moment, trying to detach himself.

He doesn't need to fear death, any more than Buffy does.

Shaking himself off, he goes back to work. He lathers up Xander's hair, and then just works his fingers through, again and again, the strands sliding across his palms.

Xander's eye's still closed, and he's quieter than Spike's used to him being, but the smell of his nervousness is mostly gone, and not just 'cause it's covered up with the scent of the shampoo. His breathing's slow, relaxed. In and out, through his nose, like he might just fall asleep. It's the first time in days Spike's seen the tension completely gone.

So Spike takes his time. Lathers each strand of hair separately, curling them around his fingers and then releasing. Working the suds in close to the scalp and then massaging with the pads of his fingers, letting Xander's breathing and heart rate guide him. "Don't fall asleep, now," he says warningly, voice low and dark. "Don't fancy the idea of having to carry you off to bed."

And Xander must be relaxed, because there's no response, no quick retort, to the subtext of Spike's message. He just says, "Nope. Not falling asleep."

There's enough soap through his hair now to wash an entire corpse clean, and the bandage is still dry. Spike figures he's done a good enough job, and yet he can't quite bring himself to stop. The little hitch of Xander's breathing when he rubs just a little harder, in behind his ears, makes Spike grin. He shifts his weight and his knee brushes Xander's thigh, and he can feel the heat from Xander's body through both layers of fabric.

"Gonna rinse now," Spike says, as he picks up the nozzle again.

He keeps his hand cupped over Xander's hairline again, a protective barrier for the bandage. Suds wash away in layers -- a soapy sluice of water followed by a clean one, followed by more soap. Spike doesn't think he used that much shampoo. But every time he runs the water over another spot, there's a new stream of filmy white bubbles. More water, more soap.

Like it's coming from nowhere.

Spike's transfixed by it, and he can feel Xander's leg against his own, even though he'd have to look to see if they were actually still touching.

When the water up near Xander's hairline finally seems to be running clear, Spike moves the stream further down and uses his other hand to comb through the tangles. Hair's softer when it's wet. The hush of the water's soothing twice - once as it comes out of the nozzle and a second time as it runs down into the basin.

The water's been clear for nearly a minute, but Spike's reluctant to shut it off. Peace is in short supply these days, and he's tempted to hang on to this moment as long as he can. His fingers squeak through Xander's hair one last time and, with a quiet sigh, he shuts the water off.

Xander blinks, and starts to lift his head up.

"No, stay there. Otherwise you'll drip all over the floor, not to mention that bandage I just worked so hard to keep dry." Spike grabs a towel, unfurls it with a quick snap, and gently uses it to smooth back Xander's hair, away from his face.

When Xander brings his hands up to hold the towel they close over Spike's. Xander twitches, almost pulls his hands back, and then instead slips them under Spike's. Their fingers brush together. Reminds Spike of how Dru liked to hold hands, all entwined so it almost felt like you didn't know where one person ended and the other began.

He steps back, gives Xander room. "Better?"

Xander looks at him thoughtfully, and then nods. "Thanks."

"No problem. Hey, least I could do, since - " Spike breaks off, horrified that he's nearly just revealed something he won't even allow himself to think. If he thinks it, he'll have to hurt over it, and there's too much of that already. His facade may be a strong one, but he's not that man anymore.

He stumbles to recover lost ground. "So. Yeah. Looks good." Which is clearly totally insane, since the towel's wrapped around Xander's head.

There's nothing to see.

Spike can feel the crazy slip a little bit closer, and all he knows to do is hide.

He nods at Xander; acknowledgement, dismissal, apology. "Y'should get some sleep." Without waiting for a reply, he retreats to his room and closes the door, softly, the little snick another nail in his coffin.

It doesn't matter, really. He's been dead all this time.


The first rays of light start to creep over the horizon. Spike's smoked damned near a whole pack of cigarettes in the past few hours, sitting on the couch, like maybe he can draw some life into himself along with the carbons and nicotine. He's weary in ways that have nothing to do with not enough sleep, and as the sunshine brightens the world into day, a part of him'd like nothing better than to step out into it.

He just wants to rest.

No rest for the wicked, though, even if he's not, and never will be again. He has one last cigarette, slowly, his eyes never leaving the small part in the curtains through which the daylight grows brighter and brighter.

The click of Xander's door opening, and he comes out wearing pajamas and a smile that looks about as weary as Spike feels.

Spike stubs his cigarette out and stands up. "Sorry - I'll get out of your way."

Xander looks confused. "Okay, did something just happen here that I missed? Because I didn't think I had a way for you to be in."

Spike looks at him steadily. Dark hair tousled from sleep -- unbandaged eye looking back at Spike like there's something different between them, something new that Xander's acknowledging. "You don't give yourself enough credit," he says finally.

"Uh-huh." Xander's voice is not-quite-flat; there's a tiny lilt to it like an upwind, encouraging Spike to go on.

But, "Sorry. Nothing," Spike mutters, and goes to move past him.

Unexpected, Xander's hand shoots out and grabs onto Spike's arm. Not hard, but firm. A rebuke that Spike knows he must deserve.

"Why don't you sit back down and tell me what the hell you're talking about? Because it's way too early for this."

Spike straightens, but can't quite make himself look Xander in the eye. Christ, apt phrasing, that. "I just meant... it's your place, not mine. Shouldn't be making myself at home."

"You're living in a closet," Xander points out. "You're also here because of this," and he gestures at his bandaged eye socket, "so I'm thinking you're entitled to sit on the couch and smoke if you want to."

Spike does meet Xander's gaze then, startled and pleased. "S'a big closet," he murmurs, unable to express his feelings in any other words.

"Well, yeah, but still. Closet."

What follows is another day of cooking and eating and watching television. Spike burns toast, and Xander just laughs at him and throws it away. They watch an action flick on pay-per-view and make fun of the special effects. They order pizza, and argue good-naturedly about what toppings to get -- Xander likes green peppers, but Spike complains that they get caught in his teeth. Xander seems to find this endlessly amusing.

Spike feels entertaining. It's not a bad feeling.

It's not until that night, when he's ducking a slow awkward swing by one of the potentials, that Spike realizes something. That when he went to walk past Xander, and the boy reached out to grab onto him, he was on Xander's left side.

Xander shouldn't have been able to see him, not on that side.

The realization surprises Spike so much that he stops in mid-block, and the Slayer-in-waiting he's training hits him upside the head with a force that knocks his feet out from under him.

"Nice," Buffy says, standing over him as his head rings with the blow. "What's up?"

"Dunno what you mean," Spike answers faintly, still lying on the ground. The grass beneath him's cool and a bit damp.

"You just let someone half your size take you out," Buffy explains, offering her hand to pull him to his feet.

Part of Spike wants to ignore her offer and get upright on his own steam, but he's tired. Her fingers wrapped around his wrist are strong, and there's some affection there, but not love. Never love.

"Yeah, well... everyone has an off moment or two." He can hear the sullenness in his own voice, rough and unappealing.

Buffy looks concerned. "You okay?"

"Yeah," he lies. "M'fine." He turns back to the girl who knocked him down -- he doesn't remember her name. They're all alike, a sea of meaningless faces who know they're drowning and are trying to learn to swim out of sheer desperation. "Come on then. Back to work."

Spike's tense, and the fighting isn't enough to relieve it anymore.

He finds himself wanting to go home.


Xander's still up when Spike gets back. He's got the telly on and is stretched out on the couch. Glass of Coke or something in his hand, the bottom of the glass resting on his thigh. He looks up as Spike comes in, and he must see something on Spike's face because he sits up, swinging his legs to the floor. "What's wrong? Did something happen?"

Spike just shakes his head. "Nothing's wrong."

Xander relaxes noticably. "Then what's with the face?"

Spike shrugs, then continues the movement and lets his duster slip from his shoulders. He drops it onto a chair and walks over closer to the couch. "Long day," he says. It's a pitifully inexact explanation, but the best he can come up with. He hesitates, then drops down onto the sofa next to Xander.

"No, I meant..." Xander sets his glass on the table, then reaches out and brushes his fingers lightly over Spike's cheekbone and temple.

Huh. Spike hadn't even realized there was a mark, but then, he had been knocked right off his feet. "One of the girls," he says tersely. "Take your eyes off 'em for a second, they're on you like wild cats."

"I'm sure," Xander says. His fingers are still touching the side of Spike's face, very gently, and Spike finds himself leaning into the touch, even though he should know better. Inside he's cringing, a dog waiting to be kicked.

"You want some ice or something?" Xander asks.

"Nah. It'll heal up quick enough." His eyes are on Xander's one. Still waiting.

Xander's fingers slide sideways into Spike's hair, and his thumb traces the cheekbone he's just been touching. Spike can feel the bruise now, but it's not a bad hurt.

"You sure? Because I could get you some..." Xander says. His face is closer to Spike's and Spike fights his instinct to pull back, because he doesn't want to, even though a part of him is screaming.

"M'fine," Spike says, quiet-like. Still. Waiting.

"I don't..." Xander starts to say something, and then stops himself. "You're okay? I mean, you aren't hurt anywhere else?"

"I'm a vampire," Spike reminds him, without moving. "I get hurt, s'not such a big deal."

"It might be to some people," Xander says.

"You think?"

"Yeah." There's a little smile on Xander's lips, and his mouth is so fucking expressive, all grin and self-deprecation, that Spike lets himself be weak, just in that moment.

And leans forward and kisses him.

It's careful, and gentle. Words that should apply to a guy kissing a girl, maybe, but in the end it's just about giving a shit about someone besides yourself, Spike knows. Besides, kissing Xander's not a thing like kissing a girl, even if Spike's hand is cupping his face. Even if it's soft and rather sweet. Even if there's an edge that's hot underneath it, like a coil of fire.

Spike realizes what he's just done, and pulls back. Waits for it, the rejection that he knows has to be coming.

Xander looks stunned. "What -- what the hell was that?"

Spike doesn't think Xander wants an actual answer, so he doesn't say anything, just gives a little shrug and a half-smile. He straightens up a bit, further away. Waits. All he does is wait, it seems. At this point, the axe falling would almost be a relief. "Sorry?" he offers finally.

Xander's leaning back against the arm of the couch, like he just got hit instead of kissed. "Are you?" he asks, kind of faintly.

"Am I sorry?" Spike considers this for a minute. "Well, no, not really." The look on Xander's face confuses him, and he backpeddles rapidly. "I mean yeah. Don't know what got into me."

Xander reaches over to the table and picks up the remote control. He changes the channel once, twice, and then a third time. "So how's it going over at Casa Summers? Other than you getting brained, I mean. And hey, does that phrase still work if the person in question doesn't actually have a brain?" He's trying too hard, Spike can hear it in his voice.

Still, it's probably for the best. At least he hasn't told Spike to leave or started a big row. "I've got plenty of brains," Spike says, mock-offended, before slumping down into the couch cushions. "S'okay over there. They're keeping busy."

"Is there a plan?"

"Not so much, I don't think. Not yet." Spike stares unseeingly at the telly for a few moments, and then says, "You could come over there, tomorrow night."

Tiny intake of breath, then, "Why? Is there some apocalyptic problem over there that requires my specific attention? A stopped-up toilet, maybe?"

Without taking his eyes off the television, Spike says, mildly, "You shouldn't do that."

Xander changes the channel again. "What, that?"

But Spike's not going to let him get away with it, not that easy. "No, the other."

"Ah," Xander says. "Belittling my super powers, you mean. Carpentry Man deserves more respect than that?" He sighs. "Yeah. I know. Isn't there some law or bylaw or something that says I'm allowed a little self-pity?"

Spike snorts.

Xander changes the channel a few more times.

Spike's still thinking about the eye thing. He's never been one to beat around the bush -- any attempts he's ever made to play subtle have fallen flat -- but in this case he really wants to do it right. Too bad he has no idea how to. "You remember at the hospital?" he starts, tentatively.

Xander nods, and then glances over at him. "What is it that I'm trying to remember, exactly? I was there for three days. That's kind of a lot of source material."

"When... right after they fixed you up. Before Buffy came back."

Xander's mouth turns into a small frown, the curve of his upper lip smoothing out. "I was pretty out of it," he says. "Was I actually making any sense?"

"Depends on what you mean by making sense," Spike tells him. "You may have said some stuff that sounded a bit loopy, yeah."

Xander's looking at him now. "Like what?"

"Said you could still see," Spike mutters, once he's sure Xander's not going to stop looking at him until he talks.

"Well yeah. I still have one eye," Xander says. "It's not like they bandaged up both just for the hell of it. Um, unless they did and I forget that part."

"Nah. Just... you said you could still see out of both." Spike doesn't know what he's hoping to hear -- if he wants Harris to say that sure, it was a mystical injury and of course he can still see out of his missing eye, or if he wants him to say that he was dead gone on drugs and must have been hallucinating.

Xander changes the channel again. "Don't remember that," he says, casual, like it's nothing, not even the tiniest blip on his radar screen.

"This morning, you reached out to stop me and grabbed onto my arm, first try. I was on your left."

Xander takes a minute to process this information. Then another minute. "You're right. I mean, you were on the right, and that was my left, and is it just me or does that seem strange?"

"Wouldn't have brought it up if I thought it seemed normal," Spike says quietly. "You noticed it happening any other times?"

Setting the remote control -- thank fuck -- down on the table, Xander leans further back into the couch cushions, like maybe they can swallow him up and save him from this whole mess. Spike's not unaware of the sick humor in Xander seeming more worried about the fact that something not-terrible is happening than he seems about having lost his eye. "No," he says, after a bit.

"So just those two then?" Spike leans back further himself, slumping down slightly to convey that the world's a casual place and they're just two normal guys sitting on a sofa. Except as he relaxes his knee ends up leaning against Xander's, and neither of them moves away.

"Yeah. You don't think - ?"



Spike presses his knee into Xander's, just a slight bump like a punctuation mark. "What?" he asks again.

"Just... you don't think he could have... done something? You know, in addition to the unrequested make-over?" Xander tries to smile, but it's strained.

"Can't say I wasn't wondering."

Xander gets up and paces over toward the window, looks out, comes back. "You don't think -- I mean, he couldn't have put something in my head, could he? Like a homing beacon, or a, a..."

Spike moves over to him immediately, puts one hand on his shoulder while the other cups his chin. He gently forces Xander to look at him, brown eye wide and slightly panicked. "If there was something in there the doctors would have found it, yeah?"

Even with Spike's hand on his face, Xander gives a quick shake of his head. "Not if it was something mystical."

"Stop. Calm down." Spike speaks soothingly, like he used to to Dru when she was all freaked out about some nonsense. "Can you see anything now?"

"Well yeah, you're standing right in front of me." Xander sounds exasperated, and that might be good. Better than panicked, at any rate.

"No, you stupid pillock." Spike puts his hand over Xander's good eye, blocking his vision. "What about now. Can you see?"

Xander swallows heavily. "No."

"Guess that answers the question, then." Spike removes his hand and shrugs. "Maybe it's just a fluke."

"Yeah. Maybe." Xander doesn't sound convinced. He looks worn out and shaky now, like the day's been too much for him, which it probably has.

"S'late," Spike says. "You should get some sleep if I'm gonna drag you over to Potential Central tomorrow."

Xander's will to argue's obviously gone. He lets himself be led to his bedroom door, where he hesitates long enough that finally Spike keeps going, taking him over to the side of the bed and gently pushing him down to sit on the edge.

"Lie down," Spike says, as if to a child, and Xander obeys unquestioningly.

Just as Spike reaches the doorway, Xander says, "Spike?"

He pauses. "Yeah?"

"What the hell was that?" Xander's voice is slightly slurred, like he's already half-asleep.

"You mean the kiss?" Spike asks.


"Bloody good, that's what it was. G'night, Xander." And Spike swings the door closed before he can hear whatever it is Xander thinks about his reply.

He still hears: "Night, Spike."


Spike jolts awake from a sound sleep with the awareness that something's wrong. He blinks and sits up in bed -- Xander's in his doorway, and the room's bathed in a faint light from the lamp that must be on in Xander's room. Plenty for Spike to see by, though he doesn't think Harris can see him. "What?" he asks, his voice hoarse with sleep.

"I heard something," Xander says simply, with a touch of nervousness. He's leaning against the door frame like he needs it to prop him up. Spike's unexpectedly reminded of the feel of Xander leaning against him at the hospital, even as he's throwing off the sheets.

He grabs his jeans and starts to pull them on. "Heard what?"

"I don't know. That would be where the 'something' comes in." Xander's uneasy, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.

Hands still fastening the button at his waistband, Spike brushes past Xander, and their bare arms touch briefly. He's listening for something, anything, that might be wrong. For a moment he's distracted by the scent of Harris standing next to him. Then, "You think someone's here, is that it?" he asks quietly.

"I don't know," Xander repeats, and shivers.

"Well, there's no one in my room," Spike tells him. "Get in there and shut the door. I'll check it out."

"But - "

"Go," Spike says, with a gentle shove. "S'probably nothing. I'll be right back."

Xander moves reluctantly into the room and closes the door, leaving Spike to prowl in peace. He'd welcome the chance to hit something, but the flat's quiet as death. Hum of the refrigerator a calming constant, everything else silent and still. Spike checks Xander's room thoroughly, but the window's locked. Front door's locked too, all the other windows secure. No one there.

He goes back to his own room and says, "It's me," before opening the door. No point in scaring Harris any more than he already is.

Xander's sitting on the end of Spike's bed, one arm wrapped around his own waist. In the dim light Spike can see the dark pink scar on Xander's abdomen from his little encounter with the seal.

"Nothing there," he says. "Maybe you were dreaming?"

"Maybe." Xander doesn't sound convinced, and his eye's got that wild, edgy look that speaks of someone closing in on panic.

Spike goes over closer to him, slow, not wanting to spook him. "I checked real careful," he says soothingly. "Place is empty -- s'just you and me. Nothing to worry about, yeah?"

Xander shakes his head. "I just -- it seemed so real."

Sinking down on the bed next to him, not close enough that they're touching, Spike says, "Dreams, they can seem real sometimes."

"This was different." He looks so... well, scared, but like he's trying not to be. The smell of him wafts over Spike again, and it's then that he identifies it -- it's the drugs.

Spike reaches out and sets his hand on Xander's knee. "I swear to you there's no one here but us." Poor bloke's all drugged up and half out of his mind with it, probably.

Xander blinks and swallows and nods, glancing over at Spike. "Sorry," he says.

"S'okay. Everybody has a nightmare now and then." Xander's knee is warm under his hand, even through the fabric of his pants. His breathing's starting to slow a bit now; his heartbeat's not racing like it had been. Spike's fingers move slightly on his knee in little pat-strokes meant to comfort.

Spike thinks about kissing; about what it had felt like to kiss Xander.

"Sorry," Xander says again. He's watching Spike look at him.

"Those drugs, they do stuff t'your brain," Spike tells him, with a little grin. "S'why you're supposed to just say no."

Xander's still watching him. "You know that thing?" he says, after a long silence.

Spike's thumb on Xander's leg moves back and forth, back and forth. "Er... no. What thing would that be?"

"That thing that we did before." Xander's gaze flickers to Spike's mouth.

Aha. "Yeah. What about it?"

"You think... you think we could try it again?" Xander's eye's dilated, pupil huge in the dim room. His breathing's still not quite normal.

Spike slides his hand a little bit further up Xander's leg and feel his own cock harden in response. Good trick, that. "You sure that's something you want to do?" He'd like to, himself. Real bad actually, but taking advantage of Harris when he's doped up... that's not something he's going to do.

Xander's voice is hoarse. "Yeah."

And since they've already kissed once when Xander wasn't doped up, and it didn't result in total hysteria or a fistfight, and because the thought of human warmth touching him's so appealing, Spike leans closer and kisses him. One hand still on Xander's thigh, draped over it gently. The position's a bit awkward, but it doesn't matter.

Warm lips on his own, moving into the kiss with a hesitant eagerness that makes Spike that much harder. Xander's hand, rough and calloused, on his jaw; not holding him still, just holding him. There's a surge of gratitude and relief at the contact, and Spike finds himself leaning into the kiss even more, at the same time he's calling himself a wanker and all other sorts of names that are both appropriate and derogatory.

Xander moves back first, but it seems it's only to check and see that things are all right, because he says, "That's - " and then nothing else before they're kissing again.

When Spike's hand tightens involuntarily on his thigh, Xander groans. The sound goes straight to Spike's cock, making him want to pull Harris closer and rub against him. When Xander's lips part slightly, Spike pushes his tongue inside, and Xander groans again. It's all Spike can do not to shove him back onto the mattress and crawl on top of him.

Instead, he slides his hand a little bit further up Xander's leg, the tips of his fingers brushing against Xander's straining, flannel-covered cock. Subtle-like, so lightly that if Xander wants to pretend it hasn't happened, he can.

Apparently that's not on the agenda though, 'cause Xander moans into Spike's open mouth and tightens his arse, pushing his cock more firmly against Spike's hand. "Come on," Xander says, his voice rough and full of impatient need.

Spike thinks maybe this isn't such a good idea after all, but damned if he doesn't want to touch Xander. All on their own, his fingers close around Harris' erection, gripping it through the soft cotton cloth, stroking gently. Xander bucks up into his touch.

"Here we go again," Xander says, eye closed, warm breath on Spike's lips.

It's Spike's turn to pull back, because he's not going to let that kind of thing slip by without comment. "What are you on about then?"

Xander looks at him like he's grown horns or something, so convincingly that Spike lets go of him and raises his hand to his own face to make sure he hasn't. "This," Xander says, gesturing between them. "This kind of thing happens to me all the time. Insect women, mummies, ex-vengeance demons... vampires. Another ride on the Xander Harris lust rollercoaster of doom."

Annoyed, Spike says, "So whatever this is, it's automatically guaranteed to come to a bad end, is that it?"

"Yeah," Xander says. He's looking at Spike's mouth again, in a way that Spike thinks would make him just a bit weak in the knees if he was standing up. It makes him want to fuck Xander into the mattress. Or up against the wall -- he's not fussy. "Have you not been paying attention to my life?"

"Well, not before," Spike says, honestly enough. "Wasn't much point to it, was there?"

Xander meets his gaze then. "No. Not unless you were looking for somebody to laugh at. I'm great for providing comic relief."

"Don't sell yourself short," Spike tells him. Boy's come a long way in a few years.

Xander kisses him again, and this time it's hot and wet and slippery, tongues tasting each other. The slide of lips on lips, awakening nerve endings that flare and send up little fireworks. Before Spike realizes it his hand's in Xander's lap again, gripping him through his pajama pants, stroking purposefully as Xander groans and pushes into his touch. In that moment Spike thinks that Xander's somehow giving Spike some of his own life.

He thinks that feeling alive's what he's been missing.

"Yeah," Xander says, into Spike's mouth. "God."

Spike's hand grips a bit tighter, and he can feel Xander's cock leaking through the flannel, leaving a damp spot just under his palm.

Xander gasps and moans, hips doing a frantic dance. He opens his mouth wide for Spike, letting Spike's tongue in to press against the roof of his mouth. His hands, big and rough, grip onto Spike -- one on his face, the other on his upper arm.

There's a warning throb between Spike's fingers, and Xander pants, "God... Spike, I can't - "

"Sure you can," Spike tells him, increasing the speed of his hand's movements. "It's all right. Come on, Xander."

And that seems to be enough -- Xander's back arches, and his mouth is wrenched away from Spike's as he makes a choked sound something between a laugh and a groan. His thigh muscle under Spike's forearm's tight as a drum, and then he spasms. Spike can feel Xander's cock twitching under the soft, worn fabric as he shoots, and Xander's hand on his upper arm clenches in a grip that'd bruise a human.

He can't hurt Spike, though.

Spike pulls him closer, and Xander's forehead comes to rest in the curve of Spike's shoulder, warm and solid and undeniably real.

For long moments, Xander just recovers; his hand's stroking over Spike's bicep now, gentle. It feels good -- better than such a simple touch ought to, actually. Without lifting his head, he asks, "Do you want me to, you know...?"

Spike's hard, his cock an ache in his jeans, pressing up against the inside of the zipper. It's not the first time he's thought that there's a down side to going commando, and it won't be the last, either. But he says, "Nah. Some other time, maybe."

It's not that he doesn't want to -- more that it's really not the right time. Morning ought to be interesting enough, considering, without adding a whole 'nother brick to the wall.

"Y'should go get some sleep," Spike suggests. "All those drugs, not enough shut-eye... you'll be a right mess in the morning."

Xander yawns and nods before shuffling off to the doorway. He pauses, then shakes his head like he's got nothing to say. Goes out and closes the door behind him.

Once he's gone, Spike shucks off his jeans and crawls back into bed. He jerks himself to a sharp, joyless climax and then curls up on his side and tries to sleep.

Morning's a long time coming.


Some time just around dawn, Spike falls into a heavy sleep. He wakes to the sound of running water in the shower, but can't bring himself to get out of bed. Some time later, he hears pans clinking faintly in the kitchen. He drags himself upright, pulls clothes on wearily, and makes his way out into the main room of the apartment.

"Hey," Xander says, from behind the open refrigerator door. He gestures over to the counter. "Coffee?"

Spike doesn't drink it often, but he feels like this is one of the mornings he might need it. He gets a mug and pours, spoons sugar in but doesn't stir. "You're disgustingly chipper this morning," he says.

"Yeah, I got a great night's sleep." Xander moves over to the steaming waffle iron, opens it, and pries the waffle out with a fork. He adds it to the stack of others waiting on a plate in the oven. Pours more batter into the iron and shuts it. He's wearing jeans and a dark t-shirt, and his hair's all curly 'round the edges. "Don't remember anything from the time you put me to bed after our talk about the seeing thing. Head hit the pillow and I was out like a light."

Stopping where he is, Spike stares at the surface of his coffee, all dark oily swirls. "Uh-huh," he says finally. Xander's moving around off to his left.


He lifts his head and looks at Xander, wondering what's coming. "Yeah."

"I'm kidding." Xander grins apologetically.

Spike can feel a smile pulling the corners of his mouth outward as he realizes what Xander's talking about. "Pillock."

"Takes one to know one," Xander says. "Least I'm not the walking undead. Asshole."

"Wanker." Spike's unable to contain his delight at the fact that the boy's just pulled one over on him.

Xander laughs and pokes Spike in the ribs as he goes past. "No, pretty sure that'd be you again."

They eat the waffles with thawed frozen strawberries on top, and liberal amounts of whipped cream from a can. Not as good as fresh, but it'll do.

Because there's no more mention of the night before, Spike doesn't say anything about it either. To be honest, he's just grateful that there's no big confrontation, no loud denial or accusations. Of course, the fact that they're not talking about it might mean that there's a world of quiet denial going on, but for now Spike's content to let it lie.

They watch telly all morning and afternoon, other than the twenty minutes Xander spends on the phone with his work, giving instructions and assuring whoever's on the other end of the line that he'll be back soon.

In the late afternoon, they watch something with John Cusack that Harris seems to know most of the words to. Spike can feel his eyelids getting heavy -- too many late nights, not enough sleep, that's what it is. He leans his head back on the cushions, and closes his eyes just for a minute.

Spike doesn't wake up until the end credits start rolling. He's slid down and his head's resting on Harris' shoulder. Not too comfortable, but it feels nice all the same. He wonders how long he can get away with pretending to be asleep, if that'll mean he doesn't have to move.

A good ten minutes, it turns out. During that time, he just lies there, feeling the subtle rise and fall as Xander breathes, feeling the warmth of Xander against his cheek. Then he feels a gentle touch; fingers brushing over his hair, patting him carefully.

"Spike? Come on, wake up."

Just another minute, Spike thinks. He doesn't move.

"Hey, Spike." Still gentle, but the voice a bit louder now. "Spike, time to wake up."

Spike pretends to stir, yawns, and sits upright slowly, rubbing his face.

"Sorry," Xander says, his fingers a whisper-soft kiss across Spike's cheekbone. "It's just we humans have to do this little thing called 'emptying our bladders.'"

"Didn't mean to fall asleep on you," Spike says. It's not an apology though, more like appreciation.

Xander gets up stiffly. "No problem." He shuffles off toward the bathroom, and Spike hitches himself sideways into the warm spot on the couch that Xander has left behind.


"Come on, Harris."

Xander's sitting stubbornly at the dining room table. They were supposed to have been at Buffy's ten minutes ago. "You can stand there all night, Spike. I'm not going."

"You bloody well are. I'll carry you if I have to."

Eye flashing with a spark of anger, Xander says, "I'd like to see you try."

"Right," Spike says, and walks over towards him. He gets his hands on Xander's shirt and hauls him to his feet, ready to throw him over one shoulder if that's what it takes, before Xander protests.

"Okay, okay." Xander steps away from Spike with a glare.

They walk, because Harris isn't supposed to drive yet and he refuses to let Spike even touch his car keys. "No way, no how."

"Y'let me touch other stuff of yours," Spike says pointedly, looking at the pavement.

"Well, I was kind of figuring you weren't going to crash that into oncoming traffic."

Spike's aware that he's being childish when Xander's use of the word 'coming' makes him smirk, but he can't help himself. "Managed to do all right, didn't I?"

No response from Xander for a few very long seconds, and then quietly, "Yeah."

The girls are waiting for them, on the porch and in the living room. Dawn comes up to Xander immediately and throws her arms around him, holding tight like she doesn't want to let go. Spike can see how touched Xander is by the show of affection.

Dawn and Xander sit together on the porch and watch as Spike and Buffy train the girls. Dawn trained with them for a while, but now she's all into this translating business. Says her time's better spent helping Giles and Willow than learning how to fight when she'll never have the power that the other girls might. Spike's not sure she's right, but she and Xander seem to have some sort of understanding about the matter, so he's let it drop.

Buffy waits until the potentials are paired off before she comes over to Spike and asks, all quiet-like, "How is he?"

Spike can't help but glance at Xander on the porch -- oh yeah, he's real subtle -- but Xander and Dawn are all absorbed in some book and aren't paying them any mind. "All right. Making plans to go back to work."

"Oh." Buffy seems taken aback. "Well, that's... good. Right?"

"Right." Since they seem to be taking a break and all, Spike digs his lighter and battered pack of smokes out of his pocket and lights up. "He's fine. He's tough."

"I know, but this..." Buffy seems to have lost her power over the spoken word, and what with all the speeches that've been going on of late, Spike's not sure that's such a bad thing. "This is... big, you know? It's not like just getting knocked unconscious or, or kidnapped by crazy bug ladies."

"More like getting stabbed in the gut by a demon woman masquerading as a beautiful girl, wouldn't you say?" Spike draws the smoke into his lungs.

Buffy looks shocked, and then her expression pales into something closer to sad. "I didn't want this to happen, Spike. I didn't... I didn't ask for any of this." She gestures at the SiTs and then in Xander's direction. "I don't want them to die. Any of them."

"I know," Spike says gently. He doesn't particularly want them to die either, but in the end they will. Now, saving the world. In their twenties, in a car wreck. Thirtysomething and drinking their livers away with too much rum in their diet cokes. Even in their eighties, of old age.

They're all going to die. Some of the deaths might have more meaning that others, but in the end it's all the same.

"Look," he starts to tell Buffy, "S'my fault just as much as it is yours. Don't blame yourself. What you need to do is concentrate on these girls and do what you can for them."

"But I can't -- "

"Stop it," Spike says sharply, and his voice is raised now. He can feel the attention of some of the girls being drawn towards the two of them. "For once, would you stop worrying about what you can't do and focus on what you bloody can? Because otherwise, you might as well give up right now."

"I'm doing the best I can," Buffy says plaintively, with a little quiver to her lower lip that makes her look about eight years old.

"And so are the rest of us," Spike tells her. "And we're doing just fine."

When he turns his head, not only are Dawn and Xander watching them, but so is Giles, standing in the doorway. He makes a little gesture at Spike, a 'come here, I need to speak with you' gesture that's clear as day.

"Watcher calls, pet," Spike says to Buffy, and goes off, leaving her standing there wearing that expression that says she's never quite going to forgive the world for what it's done to her. And he realizes that he's given up on being the one to take that look off her face.

Spike steps into the kitchen.

"Put that out," Giles says impatiently.

Spike can't quite keep his eyes from rolling, but he moves over to the sink and crushes the cigarette out beside a pile of dirty plates. "World's about to end and you're worried about secondhand smoke?"

"It's the principle of the thing." Giles is standing with his arms at his sides.

"So, what. Gonna try to kill me again?"

Giles sighs, but predictably ignores the question. "How's Xander?"

Spike gives him a look of astonishment. "He's right outside, Rupert. Why don't you ask him?"

"Because I actually have an interest in knowing the answer. If I ask him, I'll probably get... jokes about how he'll need to learn a new trade now that his depth perception's distorted." Giles looks uncomfortable, and Spike thinks that he bloody well should be.

"Right. And that's why you're in here talkin' to me, instead of to him. Because all of a sudden you don't know how to deal with the fact that he's got a sense of humor." Spike says it flatly.

"Yes. Well, I..." Giles takes off his glasses and holds them, looks at them and then at the floor. When he speaks again his voice is lower. "It's awkward," he admits. "I feel responsible. I should never have let Buffy take him in there."

"He's a grown man," Spike says, realizing as he says it that it's true, even though he himself often thinks of Xander as a boy. "You're not responsible for what happened, any more than Buffy is. You think I don't think about it? About how things might've been different if I'd moved faster?"

Giles looks startled. "No," he admits slowly. "Actually, I can't say I'd given it much thought."

"Yeah, well..." Spike deliberately takes out another cigarette and lights it, then moves to the doorway. "S'posed to be helping Buffy. You come up with an actual reason you need to talk to me, you let me know."

He spends another two hours training with the girls. At one point he looks up and Dawn's alone on the porch -- book in her lap, notebook beside her, pencil clenched between her teeth -- but she doesn't seem concerned so he figures Xander's gone in for a drink or something.

It doesn't occur to him to wonder where Giles is until Buffy says, "Okay, good. That's enough for tonight. Everybody... try to get some sleep." The girls are milling around, adjusting sleeves and picking up sweaters that they've left on the edge of the lawn. They chat amongst themselves quietly.

At about that same time Xander comes storming out of the house, more fire in him than Spike's seen in recent days. "Come on," he says to Spike. "We're out of here."

Spike just nods a goodbye to Buffy and follows. He has to run a few steps to catch up with Harris. "What's this about then?"


"Uh-huh. 'Nothing' makes you this pissed off?"

Xander turns to glance at him. "When it includes a lecture that I didn't ask for, yeah."


"Where does he get off telling me what to do?" Xander's furious. "Telling me that you're..."

Spike waits for him to finish, and when he doesn't, prods, "That I'm what?"

"A killer," Xander says, his voice rough. "Also not safe, unpredictable, and 'no doubt waiting to exploit me at the first opportunity.'" He says this last in a remarkably bad imitation of Giles' accent, and it makes Spike grin despite himself.

"What'd you tell him?"

"I told him he was wrong." Xander stops and looks at Spike, then reaches out and adjusts the collar of his duster slightly.

"He is wrong," Spike agrees, meeting Xander's gaze unflinchingly. "S'also right. I've been a killer, Xander. Never claimed I was safe or predictable." Xander's eye drops to the pavement, and Spike extends a hand and lifts Xander's chin again. "But I'm not going to exploit you. Not gonna hurt you. Got my word on that."

Xander nods, and after a few seconds they start walking again.


Spike showers first because Xander claims he needs it worse, and then pulls on a pair of jeans and lounges on the couch while Xander takes his turn, in the tub of course. Spike's sipping at the last beer when he hears muffled cursing under the sound of the water running and goes to investigate.

He knocks on the bathroom door. "Problem in there?"

"Yeah," Harris says. "You want to... maybe you can do this."

Sounds like an invitation, so Spike opens the door. Tub's mostly full, mirror's all steamed over -- which doesn't bother Spike a whit, but might be part of Xander's trouble -- and there's gauze and tape and scissors on the counter.

"It's coming off," Xander says tightly, gesturing at the bandage over his eye. "I was trying to stick it back on, but I can't see to do it."

There's a piece of tape on the counter with what looks like some strands of hair on it, and another piece beside it that looks inexpertly cut. Spike wonders how Xander can be so good with his hands and not be able to cut a piece of tape. Still, not like he can't help. "I can do it."

Xander's just wearing a thin pair of cotton pants, but he turns toward Spike and waits patiently.

Spike cuts a new piece of tape and applies it to the edge of the bandage that's come loose, trying not to press down too hard because he's not sure how painful it is. Xander's lips are set in a line that says it's not a walk in the park.

"You all right?" Spike asks, with Xander's chin cupped in his hand.

"Yeah." Xander says gruffly. "Thanks."

"No problem."

They're still standing there, facing each other, less than a foot of empty space separating them.

Xander's the one who makes the first move.

His warm lips meet Spike's eagerly, and his arm snakes around Spike's waist, pulling him close. And just like that Spike's hard, moving himself in against Xander, moving his tongue into Xander's mouth. Xander's other hand is on the back of Spike's neck, cradling Spike's skull in the curve between thumb and forefinger.

"Jesus, Spike," Xander gasps.

Spike grins against Xander's mouth. "Might want to turn that off," he says, of the still-running water. He grabs onto Xander's arse and rubs their cocks together, just a gentle press through cotton and denim. "Gonna flood the place."

"I'm going to do that anyway if you don't stop." Xander says, with an answering grin, and shoves his cock harder against Spike's in illustration. "But yeah, you're right." He steps away and shuts off the hot water with a quick twist of his wrist. He turns back toward Spike and kisses him again, harder. Then both his hands are on Spike's backside, and he's grinding them together like there's no tomorrow.

Spike trembles in his arms, lets Xander's tongue fuck his mouth, lets Xander lead because if he doesn't he's afraid he might snap and take what he wants. "God... Xan, please." It's almost a whisper.

Xander hears the plea and seems to understand -- backs off a bit, slides his hand down across Spike's chest and abdomen and then cups Spike through his jeans. "You want me to touch you?" he asks, and he sounds like someone else entirely in that moment. Confident, sure of himself.

Spike pushes himself forward against Xander's warm palm. "Please," he whispers again. It's been too long.

Xander only needs the one hand to undo the front of Spike's jeans -- the other one stays on Spike's arse -- and when Spike's cock springs out eagerly he doesn't hesitate, just wraps his fingers around and starts a slow wank.

"S'good," Spike says, and it's a huge understatement, but also about all he feels capable of saying. He reaches out for Xander's cock, rubs it through the fabric, and then shoves the pants down out of his way so that he can touch him properly. Spike closes his eyes as his hand closes around the hot hard flesh -- with Xander's hand moving on his own cock, he can almost imagine that Xander's cock is his.

"God, Spike," Xander groans, roughly, and his hand squeezes Spike tightly for a brief second as his hips buck forward. "This is... I can't believe we're..."

He doesn't sound like he's changing his mind, but Spike wants to be sure. "You want to stop?"

"Is there something I'm doing that makes you think I want to stop?" Xander's fingers aren't hesitating; they keep moving and stroking, and it's obvious that if he's never touched another bloke's cock before, he's at least had plenty of experience with his own.

Spike doesn't answer; just shakes his head and goes in for another kiss, tasting the little whimpers that escape Xander every now and then. His hand's getting slick with Xander's fluid. "Hang on a sec," Spike says, and releases Xander long enough to strip them both of their slacks. He can see a faint blush on Xander's skin, like being completely nude's a bit more than he'd anticipated, but Spike figures he's got a distraction for that.

"Turn around and hold onto the edge of the sink," he directs, quietly. "And don't look in the mirror."

Xander looks uncertain for just one second -- if it had lasted any longer Spike would have changed tacks -- but then he nods and turns around, fingers closing tight on the porcelain.

Spike steps close and reaches around to hold Xander's cock in his hand. Not stroking, not jerking him off, just holding onto him. He kisses Xander's back and shoulders for a long time, wetly, adding little flicks of his tongue. His fingers trace Xander's erection until Xander is breathing more heavily and his lower body's rocking -- back against Spike, then forward into the hand holding his cock. His whole length's damp and slick with precome.

"Got any lube?" Spike asks, casually, as if any answer's okay. Which is true.

"Are you kidding?" Xander says, his voice taut with need, but interlaced with humor. "Have you forgotten that Anya used to live here? For that matter, I find it hard to believe you've never looked through the cabinets."

Spike has, more than once, but those times he was only looking for money, or possibly stuff he could hock. He doesn't figure that's a good thing to mention now. Instead, he swings the vanity cupboard over the sink open six inches and looks inside. He spots a bottle of lube, and kisses the back of Xander's neck while he's there. "Won't do anything you don't want me to do," he promises, just in case there's any question.

Xander shudders and pushes back against Spike's cock again. "Just do something."

Spike wets his fingers with the lube and reaches between Xander's legs from behind this time, playing with his balls, cupping each one separately, pulling on them. He can feel Xander's thigh start a fine trembling against his own.

"Spike. I --"

"Shh," Spike croons, continuing with what he's doing. "S'all right. Feel good?"

He can hear Xander swallow heavily. "Yeah." Tremor in his voice.

He lets his fingers stroke across Xander's perineum, then just the tip of one finger circles Xander's tight opening, pressing wetly, sliding, slick. He doesn't make any attempt to enter, just moves over that sensitive flesh repeatedly, rubbing.

In his other hand, Xander's erection is hard as stone, but Spike waits until Xander starts pushing back to meet his probing finger before he slips it inside. At the same time, Spike begins to pull on Xander's cock, fast and agile. It's less than a minute before Xander comes with a long, low moan, warm seed pulsing out over Spike's hand.

Xander's still moving in the aftermath, fucking himself on Spike's finger, bonelessly relaxed in the way only the young can be. When Spike pushes a second finger in to join the first, Xander makes a little sound like he's not sure whether he's feeling pain or pleasure, but then almost immediately it turns into a soft moan. "You want to?" Xander asks.

Spike doesn't let go of Xander's cock. "Want to what?" He's pretty sure he knows what Xander's asking, but he wants to hear him say it. Out loud.

Xander does. "Fuck me." He sounds turned on. A little apprehensive maybe, but not scared.

"'Course I do. You want me to?" Spike pushes his fingers in further, the ample amounts of lube making everything simple, and finds the spot inside Xander that makes the cock in his grip twitch with renewed interest.

Xander gasps. "Yeah," he admits. "Just... take it easy, okay?"

Spike traces Xander's spine with his tongue. "Don't worry. You're gonna like this, promise." He stretches Xander a bit more, concentrating on stroking that little bundle of nerves that he knows from personal experience feels amazing, and then slides his fingers out.

He coats his cock with lube, quickly but thoroughly, and then guides himself with one hand. He just presses against Xander's entrance, not trying to get inside, teasing both of them with the moisture.

Seemingly instinctively, Xander spreads his legs a bit wider. His cock is hard in Spike's hand again, and he pushes back to meet Spike with a strangled sound that might mean 'Will you get on with it already?' Spike flexes forward at the same time, and the head of his cock slides into Xander, easy as that.

So tight. Spike's leg muscles are taut down to his calves with the effort not to shove himself home and fuck Xander with abandon, and Xander's grip on the edge of the sink is so hard that his knuckles are white with it. "You all right?" Spike asks, with enormous self-control.

Xander nods, and the fingers of his right hand flex slightly.

Spike moves back a bit, then forward again, slow, careful. "Tell me if I hurt you," he urges. "Don't want to..."

"No," Xander gasps, rocking his hips. "I mean you're not. It doesn't. Hurt."

Lube's all spread around now, everything slick and tight and hot, and when Spike pushes forward Xander constricts around him. It's still hard not to take him the way he wants to, but the way Xander's wriggling and moving just about makes up for it.

"Spike," Xander says, in a raspy whisper. "Don't... don't stop." His cock in Spike's hand twitches. "More."

For the first time, Spike really starts to fuck Xander. Hard and fast, angling his cock to glance off of Xander's prostate with each thrust. Xander's hands on the edge of the sink are tightening and releasing with Spike's movements, and his cock in Spike's fist is damp with precome and sweat. Spike's shoving himself deep, squeezing the head of Xander's cock encouragingly. "Good?"

Xander groans. "Yeah. Jesus, Spike..."

"You're so warm," Spike tells him, pressing still deeper, feeling his balls creeping up closer to his body. "So fucking warm, God, how can you stand it?"

"Kinda used to it," Xander manages to get out. "Comes with the whole 'being human' thing."

Feels like the heat is crawling into Spike, through his skin and into him deep, as deep as he is in Xander. They're fucking furiously now, both of them moving together, and Spike can feel it all -- the heat, the sweat, the breath. He can feel the life, and he can smell it. Wants to taste it. He lowers his mouth to Xander's shoulder and licks a bead of sweat, sweet-salty, and then sucks hard. Blood vessels just beneath the skin collapse under the assault, and the blood rushes toward him, and Xander gasps again and clenches around Spike's cock.

Spike comes with a roar that might just resound in his head louder than it does in the tiled bathroom, where the mirror's not steamed up anymore and as Xander comes in his hand for the second time in less than half an hour. Babble falls from Xander's mouth like water from the faucet, meaningless words with more intent behind them than Spike thinks he's ready to admit, except that he doesn't have enough brain power left to admit to anything.

Spike's cock gives a final twitch and then goes quiet, sedated, nothing to do nowhere to go. Xander's trembling, but holding himself upright, so Spike eases out without letting go of him.

"Bath," Xander says.

The water's not hot anymore. They let some out the drain and run new, then get in. Doesn't seem to be any need to discuss it.

"Think I'm gonna get that shovel talk from Willow?" Spike asks some time later. His back's up against Xander's chest, his arms draped over Xander's thighs.

"Probably." Xander's hand rubs a little circle across Spike's abdomen.

"M'tired." His eyelids are drooping closed.

"Yeah. It's okay."

Spike rolls his head side to side slightly. "Should get up." But he's drifting off.

"We will. In a little while." Xander's voice soothes him.

God, he's so tired. His eyes are closed, and Xander's chest rising and falling is taking Spike along for the ride.

Xander's breathing for the both of them.


Spike wakes to warm breath on the back of his neck, and an arm draped over his waist.

"Morning," Xander says, a low rumble like thunder.

"Morning," Spike answers, without moving, his own voice just as rough. He feels well-rested for the first time in recent memory.

Xander's hand moves across Spike's lower belly and he feels himself harden instantly. It's like drugs, and he's addicted, his body's response automatic at the mere thought of the craving being met. When Xander's fingers move further south and grab onto his cock, Spike moans softly.

"You like that?" Xander asks into Spike's ear. "You like me touching you?"

Spike's hips push insistently forward, shoving his cock into Xander's grip. "Yeah," he says.

Xander uses his forearm to roll Spike over onto his back, and throws his own leg over Spike's, partially pinning him down. His mouth comes down on Spike's, firm and demanding, and his hand squeezes expertly. Spike groans again, and Xander takes advantage of this and thrusts his tongue inside of Spike's mouth.

When Xander's lips leave his own, Spike's not sure what the plan is. Xander traces his way down over Spike with his tongue -- throat, collarbone, chest. He settles at one nipple for a minute or so, using his teeth until Spike arches beneath him, and then moves lower.

He glances up at Spike as his tongue leaves a damp trail just beside Spike's cock.

"Xander," Spike says, and his voice's strangled. "You don't have to -- "

"I want to," Xander says, and licks Spike's cock from head to base to balls, one long slow swipe that leaves Spike shuddering, fists clenched. All innocence, he looks up again. "Unless you don't want me to?"

"Shut up and do it again," Spike growls, but even to his own ears it sounds more like begging, and when Xander repeats the action he has to close his eyes.

Xander's mouth closes around him, hesitant but so fucking sweet that Spike thinks he might come in about twelve seconds, if he's extraordinarily unlucky. It's hot, and it's so slick and wet. Spike's thigh muscles ache already with the tension of staying still, of not wanting to do anything to jeopardize this moment of total perfection. His heels are digging into the mattress, and he can feel Xander's erection sliding into the hollow just below his knee so he flattens his leg a bit more, trapping it there.

And it's Xander's turn to groan then. The vibration travels through him and up Spike's cock to lodge in his gut. Part of him's wondering if this is some sort of payback, if Xander feels obligated. That's so far from what Spike wants... but then Xander's tongue circles the head of his cock and whatever it was he'd been thinking is forgotten.

"Christ," Spike says. "Yeah, like that. Jesus, Xander..."

He can feel Xander respond to this, his tongue and lips working more avidly, and Spike's pushed over the edge into the place where his brain disconnects from the rest of him. It's like listening to someone else.

"Xan..." He's writhing on the sheets, one hand twisted in Xander's hair and the other clenched at his side. "Christ, so fucking good, god, please don't stop..."

Xander's hips are moving, shoving his cock between the mattress and the underside of Spike's knee, and his mouth's moving on Spike's cock. Unexpectedly, he shifts position and takes Spike deeper, and his teeth scrape over Spike's sensitive skin.

Spike hears himself cry out and feels his body arch away from the bed toward that warm wet place, and then everything goes away as he comes with a force that feels like his insides are being torn out through his cock. He's dimly aware of the hot splash of Xander's come against his thigh, and of Xander groaning and shuddering beside him.

Then everything's quiet.

Some time later -- a minute, or maybe two -- Xander moves, letting Spike's cock slip from his mouth. He kisses Spike, and runs his hand over Spike's chest gently in soft, stroking movements.

Spike can taste himself in Xander's mouth, and it's bloody amazing.

"I think maybe Willow did gay me up and didn't tell me," Xander says softly, his eye glowing with humor, expression sated. He kisses Spike again, rougher this time, and reaches up to smooth his fingers through Spike's hair. "Gonna go start some breakfast."

When he's left the room, Spike sits up in the bed, leaning against the headboard. The sheets are tangled 'round his feet -- they feel smooth and soft. The curtains are drawn shut. He vaguely remembers Xander closing them the night before, saying something about how he didn't want to wake up next to a pile of dust in the bed. A tiny shaft of light's all that escapes through them, one slash of brightness across the carpet. Dust motes float in the beam, and Spike's caught in it like a cat, even from across the room.

Sunshine's bright outside. Today, Spike feels just a little less like he wants to step out into it.

The End

Yes, this is really the end. There won't be more of this story, or a sequel. The whole nature of it is that it's a little slice of time out of canon, and if the story went on I'd have to figure out what happens next, and I don't want to know. I like it this way.

To paraphrase an Anita Dapperens title, this is as far as I know to go.

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