Hustler!verse


by
Lady Cat



Part Seven

Xander still keeps in contact with everybody. ‘Everybody’ meaning Willow and the new Watchers Council over in London. He’ll help them out occasionally, if they need it, but lately it’s primarily his contacts and influence that he wants, and he’s happy enough to let them have it. Except when Willow calls demanding that he and his new beau come to London for Winter Holidays.

He thinks about it. He doesn’t tell Spike, because he knows what Spike will say. “Whatever you want, love. Go, or don’t go, it’s you I want.” Usually that leads to wrestling of the naked variety, but sometimes it leads to snits, too, so Xander just thinks. Later, he calls back Willow and tells her that he’ll come, but he needs a favor, first.

Spike doesn’t comment when Xander blocks out two weeks for their London vacation three days before they have to leave. He doesn’t comment when Xander apologizes for not telling him before or taking him to Maui or the Bahamas, where it’s warm and tropical and sunny—except sunny isn’t such a good thing for a vampiric lover and Xander’s apology stumbles to an ungainly finish on the mat, legs cocked, arms pointing in all directions, and he’s so not going to get the gold for this one.

What Spike does do is kiss Xander under he can’t remember what he’s supposed to be apologizing for, anyway. And later, when Xander’s sleepy and sated on the bed, Spike packs their clothes so that when the Friday they’re to leave dawns crisp and clear and cold, all Xander has to do is figure out what he’s wearing on the plane and dump his everyday toiletries into a bag, which Spike then takes and packs in the suitcases.

“You’re too good to me,” Xander murmurs, pressing his boyfriend against the wall so they can share toothpaste-and-tap-water flavored kisses. Spike melts against him, still standing only because Xander’s weight keeps him there, making low, wanting noises in the back of his throat. His arms wind around Xander’s neck and he rests heavily there. “Hey. You okay?”

It’s disturbing to see Spike do things that, in a normal person, would mean insecurity and uncertainty. But this is Spike, so that can’t be what he means, right? His body doesn’t believe that, though, pulling Spike close and nudging so his head falls into the crook of Xander’s neck.

“Fine, love,” Spike says, lips buzzing against Xander’s throat. “We should go. We’ll be late.”

Okay, no, his body is right and his head is really, really wrong. Spike’s never acted this way with Xander before, not even when he brought that girl home and assumed that Spike knew she was for them, to do play with the things two guys didn’t get to play with when they were monogamous, and not a slow introduction of Spike’s replacement. He strokes the skin of Spike’s back under the cashmire sweater he’s wearing and wonders what he’s done wrong and how he’s going to fix it.

“Do you not want to go?” His voice is small and he can practically mouth along with Spike as he goes through the expected ‘whatever you want is fine’ line that he’s been feeding Xander increasingly. “Okay, I know that. But do you, Spike, man who I’m living with and loving with and potentially vacationing with, not want to go to London? I mean, I know you’re okay with Willow and the rest. Well, I know you talk to them.”

The phone bill tells him that, though he’s never once asked either of them what they talk about and if Spike is really talking to Buffy when he calls the number with the Italian country code. It could be Andrew, after all. But Spike doesn’t think so, and the lack of screaming and hatred coming from that half of the globe has always meant acceptance to him.

“We’ll be late,” is all Spike says. He pulls away, hefting all four of their bags—one just to take presents—and starts walking towards the car.

Xander doesn’t try to stop him. Just trails along in Spike’s wake as he loads the car and then climbs into the protected back seat. Usually, Spike’s the one who takes care of Xander. Spike doesn’t have emotional problems, that Xander has ever been able to tell, because all of Spike’s problems center around two things, once normal things like where he’s sleeping are taken care of. They are: a)does he care for someone and b) does that person care for him back. And that’s never been an issue, not since the first time Xander saw him across a crowded room—that’s a song, isn’t it?—because Xander has always cared for him. Always wanted him, the way Spike needs to be wanted, and now that Spike’s quiet and controlled and uncommunicative, Xander hasn’t the first clue how to fix whatever’s wrong.

He hates whenever he has to drive with Spike during the day. Spike has a ‘bed’ they’ve made in the backseat, where he can curl up in comfortably while Xander chauffeurs them to their daylight destination. Xander hates it, because it’s too thick for talking and it makes him feel at best like he’s a hired hand and worst like he’s on some dirty kidnapping or human slavery run.

Once, he told Spike that. A flash of blue eyes was the only warning he’d had before they were playing Master and Slave—frighteningly not that different from normal—for almost a full week.

Regardless, Xander hates it and that, combined with not knowing what’s making Spike upset, puts him in a really grumpy mood when he drives up to his personal hanger. Yes, he has a personal hanger. He travels a lot of business, when things aren’t crunched like they have been lately, and having a personal plane and a group of pilots on retainer—so there’s always someone who can fly it for him—has made a huge difference in the past. It’s nice now, too, because he can use Willow’s favor.

Spike plays dodge-the-windows while Xander chats with the pilot and first officer. They aren’t late, if anything they’re early, but as Spike gazes around the hanger with badly concealed wonder, Xander wonders if he’d ever told Spike he owns his own plane. Or that when he says he has to ‘get to the airport early’, it’s not because he’s waiting in line with the rest of the planet, fighting to get through stupider and stupider security. It’s usually because he can work there without wanting to spend more time cuddling in bed with Spike or working out on his home gym so he can still be buff for Spike.

There’s a lot of things that end with ‘Spike’ in Xander’s head.

He shows the security guy where their suitcases are and both he and Spike submit less than cheerfully as they and their stuff are wanded. They pass, though there’s an interesting moment when the wand goes over Spike’s head, and are allowed to board the plane.

At least, that’s what Xander assumes comes next.

He’s standing in the middle of the hanger, arm extended towards the plane the way a gentleman might because every once in a while, Xander remembers his manners. He knows how much Spike likes that, too, so he covertly reads Miss Manners’ old articles and watches period shows with more interest than he should. Spike’s staring at his arm and the three stairs that lead up to the cabin where they’ll be served drinks and food and blood for Spike as they listen to classical music—the only way Xander can make it through a flight without giving in to his inner phobia.

“Spike?”

The pilot is watching them, but he’s more interested in seeing them disappear up those stairs than whatever is keeping them on the ground. Everyone else is busy and despite the hanger being fairly crowded, and Xander feels like he’s alone.

“Spike, if you don’t want to go, we won’t. Okay? Just tell me, please.” You’re starting to scare me. He hasn’t openly begged in a long time. Not since Anya was dragging him by the short-hairs or something was so incredibly vital that he couldn’t wait to put it in a more private setting and had to get the words out as soon as he possibly could shape them. A situation this was rapidly becoming. “Spike? Talk to me, please.”

“I’ll just go to the back, won’t I?” he says so quietly Xander almost doesn’t hear the words inside the buzzing of Spike’s voice. “Maybe you could, uh, distract them?”

And suddenly Xander knows exactly what Spike’s problem is. And how much of an asshole he is for not seeing it before.

Stuck in their own bubble of space and time, Xander takes Spike’s hands and pulls him close enough for a long, slow kiss. The kind that says hi, I haven’t seen you in a long time, and I’ve really hated that, please don’t go away again, ever, because I need you. Spike resists for a fraction of a second, and that’s way too long as far as Xander’s concerned. Spike isn’t supposed to resist Xander’s kisses, or be confused or worried by them.

Cupping Spike’s face in his hands, Xander nibbles on the fuller lower lip for a moment. “I’m sorry. I should’ve told you.”

“Told me what?” Spike’s just the tiniest bit breathless, fathomless blue eyes dazed as they look everywhere but up at Xander. “Got me the delux coffin to travel in back there?”

“No. Willow sent you a happy-early-solstice present. Okay, so I asked for it, but she was really excited when I did because apparently she’d already been planning on doing something like this and was both pleased and proud and said I’d been very well trained, to ask for it already.”

Spike finally lets his eyes meet Xander’s, a glimmer of amusement shining through the confusion and uncertainly. “She said all that?”

“I paraphrased.” Xander has to kiss him again, has to taste copper and clean salt on his tongue. “Have you ever heard of necrotempered glass?” he murmurs, lips so close that he can barely hear what he’s saying and knows no one else will.

Spike stills in his arms, lips moving as he silently repeats ‘necrotempered’.

Xander knows that there are whispered comments about them now, but doesn’t stop his hands from cupping Spike’s buttocks and pulling him even closer. “Gonna come on the plane now?”

There’s a ghost of a smile and then Spike is backing away—and taking Xander’s hand. That simple gesture is more erotic and meaningful than any of the kisses they’d shared. “Dunno. Am I going to come on the plane?”

The slight droop to his shoulders is gone as if it’s never been. His eyes are back to their cool fire, distant yes, but glowing whenever they look at Xander, lips curved into that faint smile Xander hasn’t realized he’s missed until it’s back again. Relief feels like tums do when he has heartburn—chilly and perfect.

He lets himself grin, giving in to the tug on his hand and climbing up onto the plane. Spike lets his hand go only long enough for them to buckle up before long fingers are winding through his again, palm softer than he’s ever felt before as it rests against his own work-roughened one. They’re quiet as the plane goes through it’s takeoff rituals, including the waiting while other planes go first.

There’s a moment when they taxi out of the hanger and into the weak December sunshine. Spike tenses, fingers tightening around Xander’s as he waits for—for a lot of things Xander doesn’t want to think about. He knows Willow’s spell is good. He knows, because he did his own research before letting Willow cast the spell. Nothing is going to happen to Spike.

And if it does, Xander has a stash of light-proof mylar blankets waiting underneath the seats.

The light creeps over them like syrup, slow and steady and Xander realizes he’s not breathing as Spike’s legs are fully bathed in sunlight. Nothing happens. The spell works.

They both exchange guiltily relieved smiles, silently grateful the other isn’t saying anything. Brahms comes on as the plane takes off and drinks are served by a cheerful Molly, who’s pleased as punch to finally meet the boss’s other half. It’s not until she mentions it that they look down and see—their hands are still clasped together.

Xander resolves not to let go, ever. Not even when Willow greets them with a squeal that makes them both wince and a tackle that would do a linebacker proud.





Part Eight

His eyes ache. Sandpaper rubs them inside his skull, making his entire head ache like when he’s on site and they’re jack-hammering. He wants to tell them to stop, to please just be quiet for five seconds—and then he remembers that the jack-hammers are inside his skull and all he’s trying to do is read.

Xander knows he’s not stupid, and that when it comes to a lot of things, he’s a lot better than merely competent. But when the topics turn outside of business, or sports, or the politics he’s only partially aware of, Xander gets out of depth, fast. It’s that metaphorical diving board, the one that used to taunt him when he was younger and still trying to prove himself to his company. The one that bounces and jiggles and trembles under his naked feet, taunting him with the fifteen foot drop into something he knows is too deep and thinks is filled with something other than chlorinated water. What, he’s not really sure.

So when he gets stuck with Dave, who’s a great guy but can’t stop talking about his kids, Xander gets quiet very rapidly. Normally, that’s okay. He’s kidless, and not expected to understand the daily bitching the rest of the ‘lucky’ go through. But this wasn’t about kids, just the books they read that adults were supposed to have read when they were kids. So when Dave goes on and on about how proud he is of his seven year old genius, busily reading Alice in Wonderland, Xander feels. . .

Ashamed.

He knows why he never read those books. The call of the outdoors was always greater, and there was always Willow to help him with the things he should’ve learned and never quite did. But Willow’s raising kids of her own, now, busy being the perfect Wicca Mommy to two red-headed twins Xander thinks maybe look just a little bit like him, despite his total non-involvement in their procreation. He’s still not sure who the daddy is and isn’t interested in asking.

Kidless or not, he still should’ve read these books during his childhood, or so everyone says when the topic comes up. So Xander’s trying. He’s stared at the first page for almost ten minutes, sprawled in his big office chair in his office, treating himself to cigar while he tries to puzzle out something a seven year old girl could, and he remembers a six year old very definitely did. It’s still not making sense, though. The little black letters are too interested in crawling on the crisp grey pages, taunting him. He knows they’re enjoying their torment of him. He knows it.

He doesn’t move when Spike hands appear in his field of vision, staring fixedly at the letter ‘the’ which is being particularly nasty and doing loop-de-loops. “It’s not going to eat you, love.”

“I’m fine,” he says mechanically. “I just want to read this.”

“Uh huh.” The book is tugged out of his hands before he can blink, right hand clasped tightly into Spike’s. “Come on. Bring your ciggie and the tray.”

Obeying Spike is habit ingrained, so Xander raises, grabbing cigar and ashtray with one hand while he’s tugged into the bedroom with the other. A quiet word has him undressing and then sliding under the cool covers, automatically curling up against Spike’s seated body.

“Don’t get any ashes on me,” Spike instructs, propping the book on his other hip. “Now, then. Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do—

Xander sits up abruptly, the half-familiar words soaking into him, sweeter and richer than the paltry attempts inside his own head. “Spike?”

Spike turns and looks at him, something soft in his eyes that Xander’s seen only three or four times. Wait, this makes four, officially. Xander can’t look away when Spike looks at him like this, and he doesn’t want to. It’s like sinking into a hot tub, knowing there are arms waiting to catch you. “Yeah?”

“I—it’s just Alice in Wonderland..”

“Means I’ll be able to do the voices right, since it’s a good British book.”

“But it’s a kid’s book!”

Spike’s eyebrow flits up, a sign that he’s less than amused, something Xander’s says only when he wants to be spanked. “Wasn’t written for kids, Xan.”

“Yes it was! It was written for the Willow’s of the world so that Xander’s—”

His vehemence startles him and he breaks off before he can complete the sentence. Spike completes it for him, though, and then smiles at him. “Idiot. Cuddle up.”

“Huh?”

Sighing heavily, Spike pushes him down so he’s curled into Spike’s lap. Playing with Xander’s hair keeps him from popping up, and Spike again starts reading: “Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do,” he starts. The smoothness of his voice sends the words directly into Xander’s brainstem, the husky depths making Xander’s eyes fall shut as he stops worrying and fretting and trying and just listens. “Once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, "and what is the use of a book," thought Alice, "without pictures or conversations?"

The ending finally penetrates along the wave of Spike’s voice, and Xander’s glad he’s laying on Spike’s thigh, where Spike can’t see him blush. Spike continues carding through his hair until Xander reaches for his cigar and puffs it slowly. He’s still as a maniquin, and Xander knows without looking he’s as beautiful. But he forgets, sometimes, how sensitive Spike is, too.

“Never too late to be a child,” he murmurs, taking the cigar and tapping it out for Xander. “Gonna fuss more?”

“No.”

“Good. So she was considering in her own mind (as well as she could, for the hot day made her feel very sleepy and stupid,) whether the pleasure of making a daisy-chain would be worth the trouble of getting up and picking the daisies, when suddenly a white rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her. . .





Part Nine

There's a hole in the sky. Oh, it's more complicated than that, as Willow explains over hot cocoa while the others do something arcane and mysterious in the living room. All he knows is that it's magic and involves something that eventually drives him outside, escaping the fumes of sulphur and holly, mixing in unholy union. Good natured laughter chases after him, momentarily warming him the way the winter coat he wraps around himself doesn't.

Christmas in England is cold. Witch-tit cold, as Spike would say if Willow hadn't threatened black-eyed murder the first time it crossed his lips.

It's an appropriate euphemism as the chill arrows through wool coat, wool sweater, and cotton undershirt with the precision of a Robin Hood, everything that can raise up in supplication doing so. He probably looks like a frightened dog, hackling at the sky, or he would if the coat wasn't matched by matching hat and gloves. Spike calls him a mummy every time he sees him bundled up this way, but he hasn't once moved from the cozy fire Willow lit for him, buried in blankets up to his nose so that only his eyes are visible. He looks like a child, innocent and sweet in ways Xander knows damned well he's not—

Except when he is. Like now. The murdering, mayhem-loving, evil vampire Willow drinks hot toddies with and gushes over british foods Xander doesn't understand is more innocent than Xander, right now. Because it's Christmas.

Xander heads to the field Willow took him to that morning, to point out where it is. She knows, of course. In his less charitable moments, Xander thinks the whole purpose of bringing them out here is just to make Xander lose fingers and toes doing what he always does at Christmas time. Except then he looks up and the less charitable parts of him melt in the cold fire of starlight.

It's partially magical and partially just a physical anomaly, but for whatever reason, if you stand just so in a field of something entirely blanketed in snow, you can see the sky. Not like Xander sees it at home, weak pinpricks of light fighting through lightyears of time and distance just to be brought short by man-made greed for newer, faster, more more more. To the left and the right of him, Xander can see the pollution. It's not as thick as at home, turning the sky a murky yellowy brown almost all year round, but it's still there, a film that lays over the night sky, like chocolate only gross.

Just not above him.

Above him, stars shine down with a brilliance Xander hasn't believed possible until this moment. It's not a few occasional moments of clarity, either, a recognized constellation blurring into one he knows, but can't remember the name for. There are thousands of stars above him, blinking and winking their way across galaxies to dance around Xander like fireflies. His arms creak when he extends them, but the cold is forgotten as Xander twirls himself around the way he used to, as a child, the air giving like a lover, before rushing back up to cradle him.

Like this, he can almost forget.

It's been decades, of course. He's not a young man, for all Spike twits him that his presence keeps Xander young. It's been many Christmases since the ones in he thinks of now, Christmases spent happy and sad, with loved ones and without—but these memories persist. Each time he mentally reboots and reformats, these bits of data never let themselves get written over, always around to remind him of a time when Christmas was the worst day of the year, second only to New Years—because on New Years the ‘kids' were sent away. Xander had called himself a child long after he should've, to keep that reprieve.

He's not a kid, hasn't been since before he breached the chronological thresholds, but he still doesn't know how to shake it. The pain is as fresh and real as when he was seven and learned the hard way that the best Christmases were spent away from the annual family gatherings, tucked up in blankets with cool-but-not-cold California air playing games with his hair while the stars watched over him.

The need to be over this is so bad it's an ache. He wants to be back inside, laughing with the friends he hasn't seen in so long, a casual, competent, confident adult who knows his worth and the worth of his friends. And when it's not Christmas, he knows all that.

During Christmas, he's still waiting for one of the stars to detach from the sky and come stay with him, keeping him safe and warm from the kinds of things kids can't fight. An angel, but he doesn't believe in those, not since he learned that since Willow was Jewish, she didn't believe in angels. Willow is his loadstone, his pointer, the ruler against which he measures his life, even to this day.

So Xander sways to a rhythm he can almost hear, playing catch-me-if-you-can with moonbeams, and tries to remember that he's out here by choice, and there's people waiting for him back in Willow's house, if he wants. No sleeping bag, no drunken shouts, since Willow doesn't allow anything more than a slightly alcoholic egg nog, nothing but warmth and safety and love.

He doesn't know how to go back.

The snow is trampled into icy puddles, a misshapen circle surrounding him, marking him as the lunatic dancing with nothing on Christmas eve, but he can't stop. Not until he knows how to leave these memories go, to forget the hurts and remember the joys. He knows that Willow is worried about him, knows she wants more than anything to give him the peace he craves—

"Not like that, love," comes a whispery voice, startling him so badly he nearly falls. "Like this."

Hands wrapped up in leather take his, pulling them into the proper position, his feet automatically following. He's whirled around in a proper waltz step, and for a moment he thinks the angels he can't believe in really do exist, because who else is going to come out on a blistery cold night when presents beckon from underneath the tree in a warm, cozy little room?

Strong hands push his head down to rest against a shoulder, too short to be comfortable but so familiar he nearly sobs. "Spike."

"Red told me."

He's not sure if he's upset or not. "It's not a secret."

"No. It's worse than." They're still dancing. Xander's feet are wet, water seeping past insulated plastic and rubber to make his socks heavy and his feet numb. "It's a memory."

"How is that worse than a secret?"

"Because a secret can be shared, love, and shared again until there are enough shoulders to heft the load so that yours can stop hurting. But a memory ... no one knows that but you. You can tell other people about it, try and explain all the twists and turns it's taken in your head, but you can't truly ever get it out."

That prompts Xander to lift his head, watching eyes gone shadowed black in the night. "What's your memory?"

"Dancing. Drusilla. The way the starlight would shatter like glass when it struck her hair. Her eyes would light up and she'd beg me to whirl her around until she couldn't tell where the earth and the sky were supposed to be anymore."

Xander stops dancing. Pulling Spike into his arms, bulky coat mating to bulky coat, he leans forward for the kind of kiss he's only just now realized he badly wants. "Spike?"

"Yeah, love?"

"Whirl me around, please? I want to dance in the sky."




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