A Thousand Swords

Lady Cat and Yin Again

It was a good thing Home Depot was open 24 hours. Where else would you take your vampire to look at paint chips at four in the morning? Xander leaned against the paint mixing counter and watched as Spike shuffled though the little slips of paper, trying not to laugh because every last one of them was some shade of red.

"You don't think having the bedroom walls red will freak you out?" Xander asked. "It'll be like being inside a giant mouth." He shuddered dramatically.

Spike looked up. "You OK? You're looking pale. How's your knee?"

It still made Xander smile every time Spike enquired about his health. Usually it was just over little things - was he eating right, was the room too cold - it was no less charming because there was actually a reason for it this time. He looked down at the immobilizer that covered half his leg - it looked like nothing more than a jumble of rods and straps, and it itched like a mother over the arthroscopic incision sites, but - thanks to better living through chemistry - there was no pain at the moment.

"It's fine," he said. "No pain - drugs good. Besides, this is the first time you've let me out of the house in a week - even if it did hurt, I'd just lie."

Spike's eyes never lost their worried look, though his mouth smiled mechanically. "Doc said wait at least a week before letting you put weight on your leg."

Xander laughed. He had to - Spike had repeated that every single time he tried to get up or do something for himself. If he didn't laugh at it he'd probably get angry and Spike didn't deserve that just because Xander was frustrated with his own private wet-nurse. "He said wait a few days before doing anything 'normal'," Xander said patiently. "Not chain me to the bed where we can't even do anything fun because you're too freaked out you're going to hurt me more."

Frowning, Spike turned back to the paint chips. He grabbed a few blues and a pale, creamy tan and added them to the reds. Xander sighed and reached out to pluck the offending paper testers away. "I didn't say I didn't want red."

"Yeah, you did."

Xander crossed his arms over his chest, his good leg only briefly trembling as it accepted more weight. "No, I said I thought it might freak me out. But hey, wait, I like that color." Tugging the square out of Spike's grasp, he waved the rich dark red, the same color as leaves turning in the fall. "We could faux-paint, you know. There are kits and stuff here and I'm pretty sure I can figure those out without making too much of a mess. Give our walls a little texture?"

They could not be any gayer.

"Yeah - I think the kits are over here - stay." Spike glared at Xander, who hadn't even moved, before walking down the aisle to look at the kits.

"Leather or suede?" he called.

"Are we still talking about paint?" Xander yelled back.

"For the moment," Spike replied, coming back with two texture kits, one leather and one suede.

"I think suede," Xander said. "You know, it's soft and supple and it feels so good against your skin." He ran a suggestive finger up and down the side of the box, looking into Spike's now-smoldering eyes. God, he was easy.

"Yeah," Spike whispered, moving in close. "It's soft and sweet at first, but after a bit, once you really get it moving, it can be a little... sharper, have a little... authority, yeah?"

God, Xander thought, swallowing hard - I'm so easy.

Spike closed the distance between them with a gentle, barely-there kiss that made Xander ache with need. A week before the surgery he'd hurt too much to do anything and the past few days Spike hadn't been willing to do anything. He was going insane and having Spike tease him so expertly wasn't helping. He tilted his head, trying to deepen the kiss, but Spike backed off with a smile. "Later, love."

"Grrrr. That's what you've said for days!"

"And it's still not later, yet. Want you all healed up and perfect before we have our fun." Rattling the box, he held it up. "So this is all right for the bedroom? Not gonna accuse me of making it too gothic or bordello-like?"

"We have a giant iron-wrought bed, Spike. I think we've got both the goth and the bordello scenes covered."

"That a no?"

"That's a no. Did we actually agree on something?"

"Only took us twenty minutes, too." Another smile, another kiss, and Xander was approaching levels of desperation. Damned manipulative vampire. Spike loved him like this and, honestly, so did Xander. "Your leg's not hurting, right?"

Sighing, Xander refrained from rubbing his eyes - it'd only make Spike more worried. "No, Spike, my leg doesn't hurt."

Spike continued to look worried.

He sighed and worked the crutches back under his arms. "Get two gallons of the red in eggshell and one of that cream color in high-gloss for the crown molding - that'll lighten up the room a little." He hobbled behind the paint counter and grabbed a handful of little stir-sticks - you could never have too many of those things. Meeting Spike back at the bright-orange cart, he flung them in among the paint and other supplies.

They started toward the front of the store, Spike carefully matching his pace to Xander's.

"Hey, Xander," the guy behind the contractor's checkout greeted them. "What did you do to yourself? And who's your buddy?"

"Hey, Bill," Xander said. "This is Spike, and I blew out some cartilage in my knee."

"Work injury?" Bill asked, ringing up their supplies.

"You could say that," Xander said, reluctant to explain that he'd tripped over a gravestone while being pursued backward by an Ackton'kin demon carrying a broadsword in one hand and what looked like the leg bone of a Saint Bernard in the other. It had not been his finest slaying moment.

He handed over his professional discount card and his credit card, leaning heavily on the checkstand as he signed the receipt. As he straightened, Spike gave him a sharp look.

"Stay here - I'll get the car. You could have told me you were getting tired, love - we didn't have to do this tonight." He pressed a quick kiss to Xander's lips and headed for Xander's SUV. Xander put all of his weight onto the crutches and tried not to dwell on the fact that they were systematically chafing all of the skin off his armpits. Home would be good.

"Receipt in the bag okay?" Bill sounded strangled. Removing his mind from skin that was burning redder and redder each day, Xander tried to figure out why on earth Bill would be sounding like -

"Yeah," he said. Grinning in a complicated combination of pride, sheepishness, and the confidence that came with being totally comfortable with who you are, Xander added, "Yes, that's my boyfriend."

Bill went paler, swallowing before handing the bag over. "Xander, um, you do know that he's a..."



"Well, yeah," Xander said. "But more to the point - how do you know that?"

Bill gave him a look. "Hello? Sunnydale? Besides, red paint for the bedroom at four in the morning? Not everyone in this town is a moron, Xander."

"Sorry," Xander said a little sheepishly. "Denial is so ingrained here that I sometimes forget. Yeah - I know Spike's a vampire. It's cool - he's a good guy, or a not-so-bad guy - ah, hell - he's not evil. Much."

He looked out the plate-glass windows in time to see Spike drive his new SUV up onto the curb, barely missing a display of begonias. From inside the store he could hear the Ramones blaring out of the speakers as Spike left the driver's door open and lifted the tailgate before coming in to get Xander and the bags.

"Stay," he muttered again, pinning Xander in place with a look as he snatched up the bags and carried them out to the truck. He slammed the tailgate and swept back into the store. "Thanks, mate," Spike said to Bill. 'Don't mind us." He grabbed Xander's crutches and slipped an arm around his back, half-carrying him to the SUV, where he loaded him carefully into his seat, even going so far as to buckle his seatbelt.

"You do remember I'm not a baby, right?"

Spike looked pointedly at the crutches now laying along the backseat. "You just had surgery."

Another phrase Spike repeated far too often. If Xander didn't know better, he'd say Spike didn't trust the doctors who'd operated on him. Wait a minute. Xander did know better. "Spike, we aren't in the nineteenth century anymore. This is a simple procedure. It's done all the time. I didn't even have to stay over night!"

Spike growled. "Leave you there? Don't think so." He reached over to brush Xander's hair away from his eyes. "Whaddya say to me giving you a rub-down when we get home. See if I can get your other leg to unkink a bit?"

Could he smell when Xander started hurting? Then again, no way was he passing up free massage. "Okay."

Xander closed his eyes while Spike drove. Sure, he was tired and getting achier by the moment, but the closed eyes were more about not seeing the way Spike drove. He let the rhythmic swaying and cursing blend with the now-lowered drone of the music fade into the background, and concentrated on the feel of Spike's thigh under his hand. It was the same way he'd woken up in the hospital. The local anesthetic had been pretty strong, and he had drifted off during his outpatient surgery only to awaken in the recovery suite with a worried-looking vampire perched on the edge of the bed. The smile that had lit Spike's features when Xander opened his eyes was a sight he would never, ever forget - all relief and joy and love, with the man he'd once been shining through. He sighed a little at the memory.

"Sappy git," Spike said.

Xander cracked open one eye to look at him. "You don't even know what I'm thinking about," he protested.

"Don't have to know what - just know it's sappy. You get that certain, sap-infested smile and then you lay on the dramatic sigh. Drama queen, you are. Next thing I know, you'll be singing me love songs."

"I do sing you love songs, Spike. And you love it - especially in the bathtub." Xander let his eyes slip closed again, knowing that Spike couldn't refute that fact.

"Sappy git," Spike grumbled.

"Sappier git, then. Don't think I haven't seen those little scraps you try oh so badly to hide from me."

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

Xander opened his eyes. He loved it when Spike stuck his nose in the air, as if Xander couldn't see it growing with each way-too-Gilesian sniff. He let go of Spike thigh to slap at the hand moving stealthily towards the volume control. "I like my ears unshattered, please."

"No appreciation for real music."

He snickered. "We have this conversation every time we're in the car together. Every time, Spike. You think we qualify as a married couple by now?"

Spike's eyes lit up and Xander knew he'd find more scribbled bits of poetry or bravado-laced comments like 'don't need to write you sodding poetry, you arrogant Nancy' around their home. One day he was going to tell Spike that he was keeping them in a giant scrap book he'd had locked and enchanted to prevent nosy vampires from discovering. "Only in Massachusetts."

"Huh. Maybe we should move?"

Spike parked the car with inhuman smoothness, not jostling Xander even the tiniest bit. "Stay," he ordered, his new favorite command, hurrying out and around to the other side, hauling out the crutches and propping them by the side of the SUV before he carefully eased Xander out and onto his foot. "Steady?"

"Yes, Mother, I'm fine."

"Sass me again and I'll spank you." Hands up and hovering like he was afraid Xander was going to pitch forward any second, Spike grabbed the bags and looped the plastic over his wrists. Then he picked Xander up and carried him into the house. "Or maybe not. Think you might like that too much."

"Heh," Xander agreed, allowing Spike to maneuver him carefully through the door. "Bathroom," he directed. He had to laugh when Spike placed him gingerly onto his feet on the tile and then got out of there as fast as he could, closing the door. It always amazed Xander that he could sit in front of the television and eat a burrito while watching someone have the fat sucked out of their ass, but he was terrified by human body functions. Oh, well - if he ever needed to scare Spike into doing something for him, he could just threaten to pee in front of him.

He started back toward the bedroom, but stopped when he noticed Spike glaring at him from his station beside the bathroom door.

"You're supposed to call me when you're done," he admonished.

Xander sighed. "Sorry. Bed now? Back rub?" He allowed Spike to drag him over to the bed and set him on its edge. Spike went down to his knees and started unfastening the Velcro strips that held the immobilizer in place. Xander couldn't help his groan of pleasure as the pressure released. He fell back onto the bed and pushed his sweatpants over his hips, allowing Spike to pull them off. He sat back up and immediately began scratching very carefully around the incision sites.

"Easy," Spike warned. "You pull out a stitch and you'll be mad."

"I know," Xander said. "But it itches." He was aware that his voice was getting whiny. Spike rose gracefully to his feet and grabbed several bottles from the bed table. He handed Xander three pills and reached for a glass of water. "Two antibiotics and a pain pill - you won't feel a thing soon, love."

He took the pills and handed the water back to Spike, then allowed himself to be manhandled onto the bed and settled more or less on his stomach.

"Which oil do you want?" Spike asked. "Hey - did that git at the store give you a hard time?"

"Sandalwood and no - I just told him you were my boyfriend." Xander rubbed his face against the crisp pillowcase.

"Boyfriend," Spike snorted. "Undignified, that." He selected a bottle of oil and poured some into his hands.

"Get over it," Xander said. "I'm a young, gay, American man - we have boyfriends. Besides, I'd feel like a dork introducing you as my lover. That sounds..."

"Extra gay?" Spike supplied, slowly stroking the oil onto Xander's back.

"Weird. You want me to call you my honey? My sweetheart? My darling? My love?" Spike's hands stopped moving altogether, and Xander feared he'd done something wrong. Looking over his shoulder, he caught a look of pole-axed wonder on Spike's face. "What?" he asked.

Spike's mask fell back into place and his hands started moving again, but Xander could see the tiny smile playing at the corners of Spike's mouth. He turned his face back to the pillow. "You are, you know - all those things."

"Yeah, yeah. You won't hear me calling you those things," Spike blustered. His vampire was so good at bluster - it never fooled Xander, but it made Spike feel better. "Well. May call you baby."

Xander shivered, then winced as Spike pressed lightly right above his sciatic nerve. It wasn't damaged from the fall, but putting so much of his weight on only one leg was making it twinge disturbingly and the muscles all around it were tense and sore from overcompensation. "You already have a ton of nicknames for me, Spike. You don't need more."

Hands warm from his own body heat stroked over him. "Oh, please. Like you're still actually pissed that I called you snookums in front of the girls."

"Since they laughed at you more than me, no, I'm not." His headache was starting to ease, more from Spike's massage than the pain pills. Those never stopped the headaches that sat around his sinuses and made his head feel bowling-ball heavy. Only Spike could do that, finding the right combination of muscles and keying them into relaxation as deftly as a virtuoso. "I'm just trying to keep up."

Spike's chuckle reverberated through his belly. "Don't bother. At least I call you unique things, with your sweetheart and lover and, god forbid, honey." His voice was full of an awe Xander only rarely heard and treasured as the times he knew Spike knew he loved him. The soft kiss pressed to his spine and whispered, "Baby," made him sigh happily.

"Honey," Xander chanted quietly. "Honey, honey, honey. I'm the only one who can call you that, because I'm the only one who knows you're a true blond. Honey blond. And also that thing with the plastic bear." He yawned hugely, losing the fight to stay awake. "Help me roll over, honey?"

Spike laughed, but stood up to shift Xander onto his back, preparing the complicated arrangement of pillows that held his knee immobile for sleep. As soon as he was settled, Spike climbed into bed, pulling the covers up and snuggling against his side.

"Good night, lover," Spike snickered.

Xander folded his arms around Spike and pressed his lips against platinum curls. "Love you," he murmured as he drifted off.

The next morning dawned - well, set, injured human was on vampire hours - with Xander hyper-awake and Spike still dead to the world. The hyperness Xander was starting to expect, as he got used to the side-effects from the drugs. Spike still fast asleep wasn't unusual. Feeling like a ten year old sneaking out the window, Xander buckled himself into his cast and hobbled over to the bathroom. Business finished, he hobbled back into the bedroom where Spike was still asleep.


Removing the suede kit from its bag, Xander opened it up and began poring over the goodies inside. It didn't look too difficult from the instructions, although Spike was definitely going to have to do most of it. That was okay. As foreman for a major construction company, Xander was used to telling people what to do and that their method was wrong, don't argue. Saying so to Spike was just an added bonus.

Xander glanced through the bedroom door to the living room. With the fine distinctions that only someone who was intimately knowledgeable about the sleep habits of the undead, he watched the shadows turn from "nearly sunset" to "sunset." He swiveled his head around just in time to see Spike sit bolt upright in the bed as the light faded, still mostly asleep. The abruptness, the timing and - most importantly - the bedhead, never ceased to amuse him.

"Down here," he called from his seat on the floor.

Spike slithered out of the bed with a thump and crawled over, draping himself across Xander's lap while miraculously managing not to jostle the injured leg, and shoved his face into the side of Xander's neck, snuffling sleepily.

"Hey, snuggles," Xander said.

"Git," Spike mumbled, latching onto the skin over Xander's jugular and sucking softly.

"No hickeys," Xander said. "Gotta go back to work in a few days."

"Don't," Spike protested. "Broken."

"Do," Xander said. "Running out of sick days. I'll be on the desk for three weeks."

"Mmmmmm," Spike said, pulling back a little and settling for licking the warm skin. "Like to have you on the desk."

Xander groaned and wrapped his arms tightly around Spike. "Tease."

"Mm hmm. Wait a minute." Spike's head backed up like a stork's, sharp and like it was too bendy for its own good. "Today's Wednesday, yeah?"

"Er, yeah?"

"An' you've got two more sick days, at least?"

"Probably more like three, but no more than."

"Right." Spike latched himself onto Xander's neck again, sucking as hard as only a vampire could.

Xander's "Ack!" of surprise turned into an "Oh!" of something else entirely. They'd only been together for a few months, and the depth and breadth of his desire for Spike always surprised and shocked him - always. It was like there was something...magnetic about the two of them together, something that charged the very particles of the air between them, so that they were pulled together whenever they got into any sort of proximity at all. Xander always felt drawn, helpless, weak from the attraction. He'd never felt this way for anyone before. It was wonderful and frustrating and exciting and scary all at the same time.

Spike's mouth on his neck was soft and wet, the suction hard and hungry, and he couldn't stop himself from tilting his head back, begging without words for more of the delicious contact. He threaded his hands into Spike's hair and held him there, tight against his throat, in exactly the sort of posture one should never show a vampire, and the wrongness and the rightness made him even harder. He tried to buck his hips up, to feel some friction, and all he got for his trouble was a stab of pain from his abused knee.

At the groan that was definitely not pleasure, Spike lifted his head, his lips wet and pink, his passion-hazed eyes rapidly clearing. "Oh, love," he sighed, pulling away. "'M sorry - wasn't thinking."

"You figure out how to do that and keep me from moving my hips, and you can do that as much as you like," Xander said, voice thin and thready from pain.

Kissing him in apology, Spike levered himself to his feet. "Hang on, lemme get you your meds. And why're you playing with those now? It's barely past sunset."

Xander didn't answer. He was too busy staring at long, fine-boned feet that could crack each toe independently of the others. Sinewy legs that were topped with low-slung cotton boxers - a nice colorless grey - that clung to every curve and dip and extension. A perfectly v-shaped torso stretched, tight and taut leading to arms that were held above a head still topped with the cutest bed-head.

"You know," he heard himself say. "You need to stop doing stretches right in front of me. It's distracting." Also frustrating - stupid surgery with its stupid restrictions and Xander's stupid inability to tolerate any additional pain.

Half an hour later found Xander in the middle of the bed, which had been pulled into the middle of the room, along with the rest of the furniture. They had taped the baseboards and window frames prior to Xander's surgery, so it was time to begin. Spike had wrestled him into place, plied him with drugs and leftover Chinese food and forbidden him to move. In a haze of Vicodin and MSG, Xander didn't argue much, just watched as the rich, red paint was stirred and poured into the tray, the brushes and rollers laid out on the drop-cloth draped dresser, and watched Spike himself, wearing Xander's oldest sweatpants, which clung to his hips on the strength of a worn drawstring and a thread of hope.

"Did you ever?" Xander asked sleepily.

"What, pet?"

"Did you ever actually paint a town red, Spike? Paint something with blood? Back when you were...when you were...not mine?" Xander's voice was a little dopey, a little sing-songy.

Spike looked back over his shoulder, as if gauging Xander's mood, the seriousness of his question. He turned back to the wall and kept his voice neutral as he answered.

"Skin and hair, lovely - and lips and teeth and tongues. Like we've done with chocolate sauce; in and out and all over."

"Huh," Xander said. "That really shouldn't turn me on, should it?"

"Does it?" Spike's voice was low.

Xander matched the tone. "Yes. Everything about you does. I...I think about it sometimes...what it's like for you. Wish I could..."

Spike's hands never stopped moving; he never stopped doing the precise, delicate cut-in work around the window frames, but Xander, even in his loopy state, could see the tension in his body.

"Wish you could what, Xan?"

Xander raised a hand and rubbed it across his forehead, as if that would crystallize his thoughts, clear the fog from his mind. This was important - he knew that. He knew that there were words that needed saying, and if he could just say them correctly, that Spike would understand.

"Wish I could change things somehow - get the chip out or make it where you could be... what you're supposed to be; what you want to be."

The tension didn't go away. "I am what I want to be, Xan."

"No, you aren't. You're caged in and shackled and this isn't about me." Thinking so hard was making his neck and head hurt, but this was important. Out of the blue important, but still. He had to make Spike understand.

"Xander, if it wasn't for the chip..."

No need to continue there. Even drug-foggy Xander knew damned well that it if wasn't for the chip a whole lot of things would be different. Xander's love-life was at the bottom of that list. "I'm not saying I don't appreciate certain things about it. I do. But it still makes you less of you, and I hate that. I want you to be Spike - poet and idiot guy who can belch out Sex Pistols and vicious killer. Two of those things do not make a Spike. Only all three."

Spike didn't answer, just kept on painting, and Xander wondered if he should just shut up. But, he couldn't - couldn't leave Spike hanging there, not understanding what he was trying to say.

"I know I'm not making sense, Spike - I get that. I just... I know that if it wasn't for the chip you wouldn't be with me - things would be different. I know that. It's just wrong, you know?" He stared at Spike's back, wishing that he'd turn around so Xander could see his eyes - those eyes that couldn't hide a thing from him, those eyes that leaked feelings like Xander's were leaking tears of frustration.

Xander babbled on, hoping that somewhere in the tumble of words he'd find the right ones, stumble upon the phrase that would speak his heart. "I'm glad you're with me, Spike. Shit, I lived my whole life on dumb luck. It's a miracle I never got killed, a miracle I survived high school. And somehow, I got to have you, and that's the biggest miracle of all. And I'm not saying I'd give that back. I just wish I..."

In a motion too fast to follow, Spike placed the brush on the dresser and was by Xander's side, gentling the tears away with careful fingers. "Don't, Xan, just don't. Things are good, with us, right? Just let it be."

"It's not us I'm talking about! I just - I want you to be able to be free. The way you make me feel free, even if it's just to trip over my own too stupid, too clumsy, too big feet."

He hadn't cried once since he'd injured himself two weeks ago. He'd never even wanted to, since it was just physical pain. He was used to that. Emotional pain, though, the one that said he was stifling Spike and feeling selfish and guilty for it, the one that sometimes whispered that Spike was only here because he didn't have anywhere else to go - he knew those were lies. It was just hard not to believe them when he was hurting and drugged and trying to say something he didn't have the words to say.

Spike crawled onto the bed with him and pulled him so he could wrap his arms around Spike's waist, careful not to jostle Xander's aching leg. He held Xander, stroking his hair and saying soft things while Xander not-cried into Spike's belly. "Didn't know this bothered you so much," he said after a while.

"Didn't know I hated you having that thing in your head?"

Spike smiled at the bitterness, soft and sad and knowing. "No, that it made you feel like this. It shouldn't, Xan. Baby. Sweetheart. Love. I am what I am and I'm happy like this."

"Are you? I mean, really happy?"

"Happy that you love me? That you love all of me - poet and punk and killer?" Spike pulled back to look at him, and Xander smiled a watery smile at that beautiful face. "You know how many people have ever loved all three, Xander? One. You. That's all I need, all I want."

Xander wiped at his eyes. "I...you..." He took a deep breath and tried again. "You understand what I'm trying to say?"

"Yeah, I do, you babbling fool. I've learned to translate." He smiled and leaned forward for a soft kiss. "I get you, love - even when you're cranky and stoned and hurt and feeling blue, all right?"

Xander laid his head down on what turned out to be Spike's thigh. Cool fingers traced over his cheeks, calming the flush and drying any hint of moisture. "Paint's drying."

"Let it."

"I love you." Such a small voice for such a big pronouncement. Every time Xander said those words something expanded in his chest making him giddy and breathless and terrified all at once. "All of you. You - you know that."

Leaning down for an upside-down kiss, Spike smiled and nipped his nose. "I know it. You show me so in a hundred ways, and if you make me start quoting poetry, I'm going to be very cross with you."

Xander blinked wide, innocent eyes.

"Oh, right. Like I'm falling for those." Another kiss, so sweet it was almost chaste, something totally incomprehensible when it came to Xander and Spike. "You let me love you, Xan. I don't need death and destruction. I have someone who lets me love them. Who wants me to love them."

"Is that why you wanted the room painted red?" Xander guessed suddenly. It was a perfectly Spike thing to do - almost romantic, definitely sappy, and sweet mixed in with sheepishness. Kind of like the smile he was giving Xander right then. "Red for love?"

"What, you thought it was for blood?" Snickering, Spike resettled Xander down and kissed his mouth and eyes. "You turn me into a sap, love. Just to keep you company, right?"

I love you, Spike eyes told him. I love you, Xander said back with every bit of his being. Leaning back comfortably, Xander gestured to the slowly drying paint. "Yup. Just to keep my sappy-self company. Otherwise I'd get lonely."

"Can't have that, can we?"

"No, we can't. Now paint, minion. I want my room red and sueded. And after the stitches dissolve can we please have some redness and suede of our own?"

Handling the brush with surprising deftness and efficiency, Spike smiled. "As you wish."

The End

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