Chocolatey Goodness


by
Mad Poetess



11 Friends and Family

Cordelia Chase had not had a good day. She'd hit the shower in the morning only to discover she was out of conditioner. The audition she'd been angling to get for the last three weeks was for the after girl in the No More Frizzies commercial, and she'd emerged from the bathroom looking like the Bride of Frankenstein. If, she corrected herself, the Bride had been played by somebody with a bit of fashion sense and the knowledge of how to use a Thighmaster, instead of a Goodwill reject wearing way too much pancake makeup. Less is more, people.

Suffice it to say, anyway, that she'd started off with the proverbial Bad Hair Day, and things had only gone downhill from there. The crosstown bus was late, the receptionist at the studio thought her name was Cordita for some reason, and she'd gotten a call on her cell-phone from Wesley in the middle of the audition. Come right away, Batgirl, there's danger afoot. Only the danger, when she met Wes and Angel in the sewers beneath the downtown garment district, turned out to be a nest of slimy things that had set up shop in the shipping depot for the local Yves St. Laurent distributor, and wouldn't leave.

Very slimy things, who were very interested in throwing as much slime as possible at the three Evil-Fighters,™. Why did we need Cordelia to leave the audition that might just launch her career as the mega-star she's so obviously destined to become? So glad you asked, ladies and gentlemen. Because boy Slimy Things like to chase girl Human Things. Grr. Bait. They'd dragged her out of Jerry Newman's office so she could scream "Oh, help me, please, you big strong Vampire-With-A-Soul!" and run down the tunnels ruining her last pair of decent Gucci sandals, while getting slimed by things that couldn't actually hurt her, but smelled worse than her father's gardener after a three-day rose-fertilizing binge.

The things she did for these guys... A long day, another shower, this time with conditioner, three hours in front of the TV eating Haagen-Dazs with chocolate syrup, and she thought she might actually be ready to speak to Angel without using the S-word. ('Stake,' quickly followed by skewer, stomp, squish, and, her favorite for the day, shish-kebab). She felt a little guilty by the end of the day-- threatening to sneak into his cheap little temporary apartment and switch his mousse with spermacidal foam had probably been going a bit too far, she decided on reflection.

Not that the poster boy for vampire celibacy had reacted to that threat with anything more than a confused tilt of the head, though Wes had looked torn between bursting into laughter and bursting into flames, his face had turned so red. Well... they were good sandals. Still, after a few hours to cool off, Cordelia had been about to give Angel a call on the new cell-phone he still whined about having to carry, and graciously allow him to apologize, when she'd thought to check her own messages one more time.

That was when she discovered that her brand-new I-Promise-Not-To-Lose- A-Single-Important-Hollywood-Callback-Message answering machine had been blinking "000" not because there were no messages, but because the computer chip had gone on the fritz. She'd salvaged half of the expected message that the No More Frizzies people wouldn't be needing to see her for a second read-through. What a shock. Then came the one from Willow, full of static, and of course the Caller ID feature had eaten the number, unless Willow had really called from xxx-xxxx, but at least Cordelia could make out the two most important parts: Spike, the bleach-addicted psycho who'd tortured Angel last fall, among other scary acts in his yuckily-bloodsoaked past, was on his way to L.A.--- and he had Xander.

A quick call to Wesley, no answer from Angel on the cell-phone, and they'd holed up in her apartment, because really, where else was there? Wesley's little hole in the wall? At least here they had the added protection of a jumpy and somewhat possessive ghost. And so here she was-- standing in her own doorway, Wes behind her with a stake in hand, staring at the aforementioned Spike. Who looked surprised to see her, or maybe it was just the crossbow?

*****

"Don't even think about making a move, buddy. I'm a lot better with this thing than I was the last time you saw me. And a lot closer, too," Cordelia said sharply to Spike, who blinked at her, more confused than frightened, at the moment, despite the eight inches of sharpened wood loaded onto the crossbow she had aimed directly at his heart. Oh wait, there was the fear. Two musclebound Chaos Demons just get me chompin' at the bit, but a little girl with a splinter in her hands, and I'm pissin' myself. Yeah, there's justice. There's logic. There's a good little vampire, now go sit in a dark room 'til the world starts makin' sense again.

It wasn't every day that you got to face off against a bit of tall, tan pulchritude like Cordelia, whether or not it was aiming something the relative size of an oak tree at your unpumping and completely defenseless heart, and Spike savored the view for just a moment, before licking his lips and trying to decipher the bizarre greeting. Surely not having called ahead wasn't sufficient excuse for an impromptu staking?

"I couldn't make a move if I wanted, luv; you haven't invited me in, " he pointed out logically. Did she lower the crossbow and fall swooning into his arms, whispering apologies for ever having doubted him? No, of course not. She ignored him totally and spoke around him, to Xander, who was hovering behind Spike, carrying a women's magazine and hopefully the correct words to convince the Prom Queen of Sunnydale that Spike wasn't planning on eating her for a midnight snack. Not until he got the chip out, anyway.

"Xander, come inside. Now! You'll be safe in here," she commanded. As if he wasn't safe in the corridor with Spike? What was going to get him-- Boogey Men? The dread hallway monsters?

"I would, but there seems to be a vampire and a crossbow between me and inside. If I kick Spike outta the way, you think you can do something about the other part?" Xander asked, babbling nervously. Well, it was nice to know Spike wasn't the only one concerned for his hide. Cordelia eyed them both suspiciously now.

"Xander, this is Spike, here. Arm-in-a-box? Big blue guy? Girlfriend who makes Faith look sane? Any of that ring a bell? You can get away from him now. I won't let him hurt you; you're still my friend. Although if the Fashion Police are listening, that statement was not made under oath."

This recitation earned her a duet of "Hey!" -- from Xander, presumably for the challenge to his dress-sense, and from Spike for the intended slur on Dru, complimentary as it might actually be. He forced himself not to actually growl at Cordelia, on the principle that scaring the person holding the big piece of sharp woody stuff three inches from his chest cavity wasn't a good idea.

"I'm touched as heck that we're still buds, Cordy, but I'd be even happier if you'd put down the crossbow. That's my laundry Spike's carrying, and I'm never sure how these vampire things work. You dust him, I might be out my entire summer wardrobe," Xander cracked.

"I take it all back. Do it now," Spike said, pointing at his chest with his free hand. "It's worth it, trust me." Calm down the stake- happy debutante with a little fashion-conscious humor. There was a plan. Not necessarily a good one, but then Spike wasn't ever all that great with plans, was he. See Item One in Spike's philosophy of failed conquest: lack of patience, coupled with a sort of hysterical terror that was absolutely ridiculous, considering the number of times he'd faced down Buffy in similar situations, with a flip remark and a little pissing into the wind.

Cordelia looked back and forth between them, obviously uncertain of what was going on. That made three of them. Four, if the skinny bespectacled bloke behind her, holding a stake and trying to look butch, was as confused as Spike was. He thought Red had been keeping the Sire and his minions up to date on Sunnydale goings-on. Surely the witch hadn't left out the little fact that the Big Bad was... Growl, clench jaw, puff out manly chest, yeah, that'll do it... still the Big Bad, but couldn't bite anybody anymore? Except for Xander, but Spike decided now was probably not the time to bring that up. "Xander?" she said finally, as if the whole thing were making her pretty little head hurt. "Why are you not moving away from the pointy-toothed guy?"

"Because he's got a computer chip in his head that means he can't hurt humans, and because he's between me and a chair and hopefully a cold Coke? Pepsi? Beer, at this point?" Xander, from the exasperation in his voice, was also feeling the strain. (And was that fear? For Spike's safety? How sweet. He'd have to be suitably rewarded sometime this weekend. Hopefully. ) Spike, for his part, would be happy to put down Xander's bloody huge duffle bag sometime soon. He wouldn't say no to a cold beer, either.

Enlightenment dawned on Cordelia's face. Well, it was about time, wasn't it. "Oh.... I get it," she said, with a bright smile. Wha-hey, wonderful. She got it. That meant she was about to invite them in and offer the use of the sofa for the night, right? Apparently not, since she shoved the crossbow closer, suddenly, so the tip of the stake was just scratching Spike's t-shirt. "You've got him under some kind of whammy. All that spooky Drusilla hypnosis crap. Let him go, or I'm gonna have to call maintenance about the big pile of dust in the hallway outside my door."

Spike groaned. No, it couldn't be that easy, could it. Not for William the Bloody and his sidekick, Joxer... er, Xander, the Clumsy but Multi-Talented.

"Cordy, please put the stake away. I'm not hypnotized. Didn't Willow tell you about Spike and his little operation?" Operation? The boy made it sound like Spike had taken off to Sweden to get his short-and-curlies clipped. How not-humiliating. Xander actually pulled back on Spike's duster, getting him, if not out of Cordelia's firing range, at least out of actual physical contact with the stake. A hand on his back, unseen by Cordelia, let Spike know just how worried Xander really was, underneath the usual stand-up- comic bravado. It was all he could do not to lean back against that hand. He was the grown-up here, right? So why, in Angel's town, did Spike feel like cuddling up with the kid. Right here, right now. Maybe he knows a good bedtime story, Spike. He's bloody hyper enough to stay awake 'til the end this time...

"No," came an uncomfortably familiar voice from behind Xander in the hallway.

Great. Sound the horns, the cavalry's arrived. Too bad it's the other side's cavalry... "She told me," said Angel. "Cordelia, put down the crossbow. Please."

*****

"Oh look," said Spike, as Cordy finally did slowly lower her weapon. "It's the Great Mousse Detective."

Yeah, great, Spike. Piss off the--ahem--very big guy standing behind me who ain't too fond of me anyway, just when he's about to save your sorry but very cute ass from being staked. And, for the record, shit! Angel could see his hand on Spike's back! Xander yanked the offending hand away as if it were burning, clutched Cordy's new issue of Women's Weekly, wrinkling it into a bent-up mess, and leaned back against the wall. He stared unhappily at the tall vampire next to him, who was studying Spike with an expression Xander couldn't even begin to read.

As long as it wasn't lust, he thought with an inward growl. My vampire--I don't care whose Sire you are, or how big your...soul...is. Touch him and you're potpourri. Ulp. No, he wasn't feeling at all possessive. Or insane. Angel was hardly likely to be lusting after Spike; he wasn't lusting after anybody these days, if he wanted to keep being good, nice Angel, instead of snappy dressing, evil Angel.

"You been letting him watch Disney movies?" Angel suddenly asked, turning to Xander. Um, what? Disney movies? Was this a conversation? It suddenly seemed all too surreal to Xander. Here he was in the hallway outside his ex- girlfriend's apartment, and his friend's ex-boyfriend, who also happened to be his boyfriend-or-lover-or-something's ex-something- between-dad-and-lover, was asking him about Spike's movie-watching habits? I'm gonna go with 'HELP!' for my final answer on this one, Regis... Long day-- almost as long as that first crazy day that had ended with him and Spike in bed together, and getting longer by the minute.

"Shut up, Poof..." Spike growled warningly, but Angel just... Dear God. Angel was smiling. Well, grinning, something like the way Spike did when he had something on you and was about to use it to best advantage. His best advantage. Angel could do that look? Xander had never seen any expressions besides irritated, depressed, and obviously-lusting-after-Buffy on Angel's craggy face. Well, there was homicidally deranged, but that was the other Angel. The one they were all hoping had taken a permanent siesta. Now, two minutes into an encounter with Spike, Angel was turning into Blonde Menace Senior, instead of Spike being Deadboy Junior.

"Oh, no, they should all hear this one. It's a classic. " Angel folded his arms. "Dru loves anything with princesses in it, of course, and Disney's just crazy enough to make sense to her. So I go out and rent the entire run of musicals from Snow White to Pocahontas, with Spike whining all the time about why couldn't I at least bring back a copy of Nightmare on Elm Street for him. Come to find out, by the time we hit the ones from the early nineties, it's not because Spike doesn't like Disney, it's 'cause the songs stick in his head. For days...."

*****

Wesley was perched somewhat less-than-comfortably on the end of the couch, stake still absently clutched in his hand, though Angel had assured them that Spike was indeed harmless. He was staring sleepily at the vampire in question, who slouched easily in the middle of the couch, an air of sullen annoyance on his thin, high-cheekboned face. This was William the Bloody. A fourth of the Scourge of Europe, half of the team who had terrorized Sunnydale the year before Wesley had been assigned to the Hellmouth as Buffy and Faith's new Watcher. The man who had hired a child-molesting torture artist to get the Gem of Amara from Angel just last year. Angel's vampiric grandchild. And he was sitting on Cordelia's couch after her dubiously granted invitation had at last allowed him inside, looking like a sixteen year old boy who'd just been put in his place by his father, but wasn't about to admit it. He was also humming what sounded suspiciously like "Under the Sea," complete with calypso rhythm.

Across from Spike in the black leather chair (the one Wesley had sworn never to reveal came from a resale shop and not Pravada's on Rodeo Drive) sat Xander Harris, fresh from the past and twice as hyperactive as Wesley ever remembered him being in his high school days. Granted, his memories of Xander were mostly of beetle-browed glares shot at him across the Sunnydale High library during his own ill-fated attempt to romance Cordelia. Wesley hadn't exactly been devoting a large portion of his then-scattered wits to chatting up her sarcastic ex-boyfriend.

Seeing Xander now, through somewhat bleary eyes, Wesley considered briefly that it might have been an oversight on his part-- or had the young man just filled out in the last year? Blink away such thoughts, man. He's a child, and you're up past your bedtime. Never mind the fact that the 'child' was the same age as Cordelia. The worry/guilt/nervous energy that had the dark-haired, dark-eyed teenager half bouncing in his seat made him appear even younger than Spike was acting. It was practically exhausting Wesley just to look at him.

Xander had finally let go of the now-completely-ruined magazine he'd carried in with him, and was alternately swigging from a can of cola and reaching into the bowl of sweets that Cordelia kept next to the couch for-- well, for Wesley, he supposed. She'd never been seen to eat one, and of course Angel didn't partake. Xander, however, was devouring them as if he'd no idea he was even putting anything in his mouth. God help whoever actually had to put the two visitors up for the weekend-- hopefully not Wesley himself, considering that his cupboard was almost bare at the moment.

Xander would obviously be rocketing off the ceiling until the wee hours, which didn't bode well for anyone else around him getting any rest, and then there was Wesley's utter lack of desire to sleep under the same roof as a homicidal, if hobbled, Spike. If he'd wanted to spend the night with a vampire... But that offer, innocently couched as a genuine gesture of hospitality after Angel's apartment was destroyed, had been turned down equally as politely. As expected.

Wesley stifled a yawn, and tried to follow the thread of accusation and explanation bouncing back and forth between Angel and Cordelia, who stood in the doorway to the dining room. Not that watching Angel try to defend himself wasn't ... yawn... a somewhat adorable sight, especially when he got that 'Please don't kill me, I'm only a helpless six-foot-two, hundred-and-sixty-pound teddy bear' look on his face. Not that, uncomfortable seat or not, Wesley wasn't this close to falling asleep right where he was and dreaming unmentionable dreams about said six-foot-two teddy bear. No. He knew exactly...yawn...what was going on. Spike had some sort of chip in his head. Potato? No... computer. See. It all made perfect sense...Yawn.

*****

"So you just what-- forgot to mention that the guy who almost killed you last year is suddenly off the list of people to watch out for in dark alleys, Angel?" Cordelia said angrily, her hands on her hips. Xander was wondering the same thing himself. If Willow got hold of Angel instead of Cordy for the Scoobathon update where she happened to mention Spike's chip, why didn't Deadboy pass that info along to the rest of the Bat-friends?

"Yes, I'd...quite...hmmm...like to know the explanation for that as well," Wesley put in. Then he yawned, yet again. Somebody hadn't had his recommended daily allowance of caffeine and sugar, apparently. Xander shook his head, just a little jealous. Some lucky bastards got to fall asleep, when the war of the worlds was just starting, and everybody else could be just as un-comfy as possible. Angel raised his arms apologetically.

"It... didn't come up. We had other things on our plate at the time."

Spike looked up from the floor at that. "Yeah, I hear it hasn't been comin' up recently. That really about the whole soul thing, or you just been spreadin' those rumors to cover the sorry truth?" He grinned, but it wasn't pretty, not even to Xander. Mostly, it hurt, because he recognized in it something he hadn't been able to before they were lovers: Spike being mean to cover up the fact that he was feeling little and lost and totally un-Big-Bad-like. Not that Spike couldn't be an asshole for the hell of it, but this was different. Damn, he'd been in a good mood ten minutes ago, and where had that gone? Just went to show you Xander-kissage couldn't solve everything. Or probably even anything.

Not that Spike's snottiness had any effect on the L.A. crowd. Wesley was almost snoring, Angel just ignored Spike, and Cordy flicked him a brief disgusted glance before returning to cross-examining her boss.

"It didn't come up? 'Cordelia, your hairdresser called and your appointment's been re-scheduled.' That's the kind of thing that doesn't come up. Actually, that's the kind of thing that didn't come up last week, thank you so much, and I wasted a trip down to West Hollywood during rush hour. 'Spike's harmless now' is not the kind of thing that doesn't come up."

"I am not harmless," Spike muttered through clenched teeth, the muscles in his jaw cording. Xander really wanted nothing more than to walk over, sit down next to him, and give him a hug. Which would be so helpful to Spike's ego, to get comfort in public from the most actually harmless person in the room aside from Wesley. Not to mention blowing their cover wide open, of course.

A quick flash of Wesley sitting on the arm of the couch, out of the corner of Xander's non-Spike-watching eye. Maybe not so harmless after all? When did the Boy Watcher (as in Boy Wonder, not watcher-of- boys) start wearing jeans and open-necked shirts? Carrying a stake and looking like he knew how to use it, even if right now he looked like he was about to use it for a pillow.

"It didn't come up," Angel repeated, this time with a little more force, and a lot more seriousness. Cordy wasn't having any of the Angel Dinner Special tonight, though.

"Uh-uh. You wanna give me crap about mysterious vampire lore that humans weren't meant to know, you do it on company time, Angel. This is my apartment, and my friend is sitting here across from your...whatever he is, and I almost staked somebody who couldn't fight back a few minutes ago, which believe it or not matters to me for some reason, so talk, or that little thing I threatened you with this afternoon becomes a reality-- only it'll be Nair in your conditioner bottle, instead." All that without a single pause for breath, and it was definitely time for Xander to take a look at the battlefield again.

Angel raised one hand to his spiked-up brown hair, then dropped it to his side, grimacing. Score one for Queen C. Xander itched to know what her earlier threat had been, and what Angel had done to earn it, but it was less important than getting this straightened out and Angel out of the same room as Spike. At least for tonight. Tomorrow... They could start this whole crazy episode of 'Passions' over again.

Or maybe it was more like 'Soap': Will Cordy sabotage Angel's hair- care products, or will he spill the beans about why he didn't tell her Spike's-- what, fangless? Nope. Fangs there, check. Good fangs. Sharp, tingly fangs. Neutered? Nope. Definitely proved that, repeatedly-- Will Spike keep sulking, or will he start flashing the charm, at which point Xander should be very frightened? Will Xander smooch Spike into unconsciousness as soon as the lights go out in order to distract him from all of the above? In order to distract Xander from all of the above? Tune in later tonight...

"This is pretty much my fault," Xander said, trying to defuse the bizarre tension in the room. He could almost feel it making the hairs on his arms stand up. What exactly had he been thinking, again, bringing them here? Something about annoying Angel? Something about Too Much Chocolate Man listening to the little cocoa demons living in his veins, probably. "Spike's been staying with me, we got kinda temporarily evicted, and when Wills mentioned that you needed some help moving stuff...I didn't really think to phone first..."

He trailed off when Cordy held up her Talk-To-The-Hand hand. "I'll get around to you in a minute, Doesn't Write Doesn't Call Boy. And don't talk with your mouth full. Angel?" She turned back to the vampire and folded her arms.

At which point Xander realized he had chocolate in his mouth, and hadn't even noticed it. In fact, he had about six or seven empty Hershey's Kiss wrappers in his left hand. He paid a little attention to his tongue for a moment, in a strange state of shock. I have chocolate in my mouth, and I didn't know it? That's it. I need sleep. Need Spike. He looked back over at Spike, who was at least watching Angel and Cordy now instead of the floor, though he still appeared to be shrunken to about the size of a ninth-grader.

Also, furthermore, in addendum, they were Hugs, not Kisses, Xander corrected himself, sucking a bit of white chocolate off his teeth. Which might explain his built-in chocolate buzzer not going off, but they did have the stripes, and solid milk chocolate underneath the white coating, like a kiss buried under a hug, so... Chocolate babble. A sure sign that A) He'd had too much already, B) He would probably have a lot more before the night was over, and C) He was likely to do something extremely stupid before he finally managed to sleep it off. Like now.

"Angel? Hello?" Cordelia was saying, waving her hands in front of Angel's face. No answer from the tall dead guy. As for the short dead guy... which he'd better call Spike only in his head, if he valued his life... A rotten, lame, sappy, and therefore Xanderiffic idea had stolen into Xander's brain. Lots of room in there for it to bounce around at the moment. He checked his other hand, and sure enough, the Xander Harris auto-pilot, able to buy six boxes of Count Chocula without any guidance from Mission Control, had stocked up on foil-wrapped candy.

He tossed one across at Spike, and beaned him on the head with it-- which was actually what he was trying to do, so hey, way to go Xander's athletic ability, long missing in action. Wes looked up at the flying chocolate missile, squinted, and closed his eyes again. Good. Xander didn't need an audience, even a Stuffy English Guy audience. He had one of his own at home if he decided to go crazier and literally hug Spike in front of somebody they actually knew.

Spike snarled softly and glared at him for a moment, rubbing his head as if it actually hurt...Please! Big vampire baby!... before examining the candy that had fallen into his lap. When he unfolded the little tag sticking out of the top and read the label, he paused, not looking up at Xander. Then he snorted. Yeah, well. Obviously sappiness is restricted to the bedroom, where nobody can see Spike getting all goppy and humanlike with geek-boy. Fine, see if I try to...

Xander's mental grumblings were interrupted by the thwock! of a piece of foil-wrapped chocolate hitting the top of his skull. Spike, that familiar half-disgusted sneer on his face, mouthed the word "Twit" at him. He smiled innocently back, and readied another hug-bomb.

*****

Moron. Idiot. Geek. Spike was running out of things to call Xander as they quietly pelted each other with chocolate. In a minute he might get to the really nasty names, like pet, and luv, and pretty boy with the hungry eyes. Which weren't terribly dignified to be shouting at a prat whom you were supposed to hate, or at least barely tolerate, with a great deal of whining, and then only because you couldn't kill him.

"Angel, talk to me, or the hair gets it, when you least expect it," Cordelia threatened, and Spike had to turn his head to look at that one, which got him whapped in the ear with a chocolate. Unique. He'd never had his ear hugged before. Kissed, yes. Licked, yes. Whispered in... The lovely Cordelia was holding a bottle of depilatory cream in her hand. When had she sneaked off to get that little visual aid? Or did she just stash 'em everywhere as a handy threat against the Poofy One? Not a bad idea at that.

He knew damn well why Angel hadn't told his little friends about the capital-C -Chip. His Sire was bloody well ashamed of him, and why shouldn't he be? Just one more Spike cock-up in a long list that stretches back to the eighteen eighties, and probably forwards into Star Trek territory, assuming the Slayer doesn't stake my arse when, and let's face it, when, not if, she finds out about me and Xander. Because I'm not givin' him up. Ever. Unless he wants it. Insert panicked obscenity here. He'd been bombarded with about three hugs in the time it took him to come to that monumental conclusion. He fished one out of the crack between the sofa cushions and tossed it back at Xander.

"Cordy..." Well, that was informal. Something going on between the Sire and the Cheerleader? Nah. Not with the chance of losing his soul from a good shag. Or was that just if it was somebody he loved? Or just blondes? Or just skinny blondes with nice arses... What were the rules on that curse again? Spike didn't like the direction those thoughts were going. First of all, Buffy didn't have a... alright, she did, but she was still a self-involved bitch. Except that she cared about her friends, including Xander, when she could be woken up enough to see them, which meant... Oh, what the hell did it mean again? Who was Spike supposed to hate, now? Thwap! Another candy hug hit him in the center of the chest, and he unwrapped it and popped it into his mouth. That weird white chocolate stuff, but as it melted, he could taste the real thing underneath.

Second, skinny blondes with nice arses weren't necessarily in short supply in this room right now. One out of five people... And Spike didn't want to want that. Not to have those bloody huge hands on him, hear that silk-smooth growl in his ear as fangs sank into his shoulder. Feel that cock sinking into him and wonder hysterically if something that size was actually designed to fit in a remotely human body. Not anymore. He'd outgrown that want, oh...fifty, sixty years ago. He was sure he had. Yeah. That was why you rolled around that soddin' mansion brooding like it was you'd got the soul when he lost it.

He was damn for sure positive that he loved the boy who was sitting across from him, throwing candy at him because Xander didn't know how to just get up and fuck the world and come sit on Spike's lap. Because Spike didn't know how to ask him to. They fit together like two pieces of broken glass from different mirrors, that somehow formed a perfect circle, even if one of them wasn't reflected in it.

But the great tall pillock with the perfect hair-- maybe Spike wanted a memory, just a little bit. Back when that growl had an awful Irish accent and had made him feel like being the smallest bloke in the room was a good thing, every so often. Maybe... just maybe he wanted to crawl into Angelus' arms and be the boy he hadn't allowed himself to be for a hundred years. But Angelus wasn't here, and the last time he'd been back, he wasn't all there, and Angel -- Angel didn't love him.

Angel was somebody he barely knew, with his Sire's face, and a soul, and a hundred years or so in Hell between them. Angel was somebody he'd fought with and taunted and tortured because it was all he could do to try to get through to somebody in there who remembered him. Angel was somebody who hadn't been able to figure out that Spike could smell a soul on him in the middle of the Boxer Rebellion, let alone in a school corridor holding Xander Harris out as an evening snack and thinking Spike would believe he was really Angelus. Big poncy twit who didn't give a shit for Spike. That was Angel. Angel was... answering the question.

"Okay. Fine. Not the hair." Angel mocked shielding his precious coif. Deep, useless breath. "You're right. I didn't tell you guys. On purpose."

"Because?"

"It's...Spike's business. He's got a rep in the demon world, and as long as this doesn't get spread around outside of Sunnydale... " Angel shrugged gracefully.

Cordelia's mouth dropped open. "And I was gonna tell who? The rest of the First-Wives-of-Haxil-Beasts Club?" Spike's mouth had dropped open as well, though for an entirely different reason.

*****

Cordelia was less than pleased, or maybe she was overjoyed, or something. Dammit, Angel, of all the times to get touchy-feely, it has to be over the smartass bleach-abuser who might burn the apartment down around us? That was what Angel had said when Spike was in town last time. Though, she thought with a touch of sadness, that might've just been Angel's ham-handed way of trying to get her trapped in Doyle's tiny little fleabag apartment. So subtle, Angel, with the matchmaking. And just possibly so stupid, Cordy, with the not-giving-in.

Spike, whether he was really a pyro or not, was also responsible for the lovely rebar-impalement scar on her side that would make bikini commercials an impossible dream for the rest of her life. Kind of responsible. Sort of. Except he didn't make her turn around and run like a moron when she saw Xander kissing Willow, and fall through a piece of burned out floorboard. Well, he was scary, and he'd chased them through the streets of Sunnydale on Halloween, and he... He bit people. That was a bad thing, right? But he didn't bite people anymore. Actually, the last time she'd seen him, he'd told her he liked her hair. So at least he had good taste, if nothing else. The clothes were a little eighties-retro, but he had the looks to pull it off. Yes, sanity reigns, Cordy. There's a killer in your apartment, and you're actually trying to come up with reasons not to like him.

"No. I didn't mean that I don't trust you. Both of you. It's just... I know it sounds nuts, but...Spike's family."

Well. That was... Um. She didn't know whether to be majorly wiggified by the fact that Angel was close enough to Angelus to still think of Spike and Dru as family, or go 'awww' over the fact that Angel had somebody that he considered family, or be just a little insulted that she wasn't on that list. Lucky me-- I can apparently do all of those at once. Ladies and gentlemen, the lovely and talented Cordelia Chase!

"I'm what?" Spike asked incredulously. And he started laughing, really nastily. "Oh, sorry to interrupt your tender International Coffee Moment luv, but I thought I heard him say somethin' about family. You really have gone completely soft, haven't you, Angelus. Family. Next you'll be wearin' an apron and kerchief on your 'ead and flutterin' about the house singing 'My old man said foller the van...' "

His accent got thicker as he made it to the end of his little spiel, and then he snorted. "I hate you, you hate me, we're a bloody happy little family, aren't we. Grow up, Angel. I'm here under protest, 'cos it was this or the streets of Sunnydale for the weekend, and you're here to protect your little friends from Big Bad biteless Spike, and he's..." and Spike pointed to Xander, "...here to make your death a living hell, which is about the only reason I agreed to come along."

"I came for the chocolate, actually," Xander said, chuckling weakly and throwing a Hershey's Hug at Spike's head.

What, to get him to shut up? Interesting technique. Didn't work. Spike grabbed it in midair without even looking at it, and Cordelia was half afraid he'd do something painful and really icky to watch with it, probably to Xander...Um, no. Chip. Right. He didn't, thank God. He just stood up, slipped it into his jeans pocket, and stalked over to Angel, getting right in his face.

Which left Cordelia looking at the back of a white-blonde head and a long leather coat, which he still hadn't taken off, and Angel's face over Spike's shoulder. Because Spike wasn't tall enough to get in Angel's face. When had she lost control of the situation? Probably about the time she said, 'So, are you still...grrr...' and Angel said, 'There's not actually a cure for that...'

"Hello?" she tried. "Excuse me for interrupting your little testosterone party, but somebody wanna tell me..." She fluttered around in her mind looking for a distracting question. "Why Willow said Spike had Xander, and that he was coming down here to kill us? Or something like that?"

Spike twisted around. "Red said what?" Angel took the opportunity to grab Spike by the shoulder and ram him ever so gently into the wall. How considerate of him not to scratch the paint with Spike's head.

"Shut up and be a good boy. Willow said what?" Spike was struggling to get away, but Angel had him pinned neatly against the wall with one hand. Xander rose from the chair, fists clenched. He was gonna give Angel a hand in restraining Spike? That was a little weird, even for the king of weirdness that was Alexander Harris. Anyway, Angel had the sitch under control. Which was more than Cordelia could say for herself, at this point. She walked over to the answering machine and pressed Replay.

This time, of course, it came out perfectly clear. "Hey, Cordy, it's Willow. I know I said we weren't coming down this weekend. What can I say, I'm a sneaky, lying witch. Our holiday plans went wrong, so Tara and I are coming to L.A. after all. We can help out in the morning when we get there, and then we're taking off for a convention. I don't know if Spike's got Xander climbing the walls over there yet, but don't let them kill each other..."

Cordelia groaned. Yes, it could only happen to her. She not only got to look stupid in front of Angel, and of course Wesley, who'd write it down in his little book of things to be used against her at a later date, but also Xander and Spike. Well, no, Spike was still busy trying to free his face from the wall. In front of Xander, at least, who was looking more than a little pissed off. Why? He was the one who hadn't called to say he was coming. Oh. Which he'd already tried to apologize for and she'd cut him off. Yes, this was a good day. A very good day. A ver y good day in the neighborhood... Groan.

"Tell them we'll see you all tomorrow. I'm gonna call Angel at the cell number you gave me, just in case you don't get this tonight, so no big danger of us not getting picked up at the bus station-- like you were worried, I'm sure. Bye!"

"That wasn't," she said, trying to maintain some dignity, "what it said the first time I played it. Wesley, you heard the other version." Come on, Wes. Come through for me here... I know you love me, really, deep in your heart of hearts... Wes... wake up...

"Hmm? Yes, I suppose it was rather garbled the last time we played it. One did get the impression that Spike was planning some sort of mayhem."

"Thank you, Wesley," she said with a grateful sigh.

"Of course, the crossbow might have been a trifle excessive, considering that Spike couldn't actually get in without an invitation..." Wes added, propping his head on his hand. Like if he had to stay awake, he could at least torment her. Fine. Two could play at that game.

"Oh, and that's what in your hand? An oversized toothpick?" she threw back at him. He looked sheepishly down at the stake in his other hand, and slipped it behind the sofa cushion.

*****

Angel felt every twitch of muscle in Spike's neck through the hand he was using to pin his wayward descendant to the wall. Every tiny hair, bleached into invisibility. Touching Spike, and when had that happened last? Slamming him into the trunk of a car? Slamming him into a countertop? Slamming him into... Why did it always end up this way? Spike couldn't even try to be civil to him, though he was apparently making nice with Buffy and her friends.

Janet! Brad! Dr. Scott! Rocky! Honestly, it was like watching a badly scripted B movie, except it was happening right in front of him, and, as usual, he was stuck in the middle. With Cordy, who was still this close to dusting him for keeping his mouth shut about Spike, and Wes. Angel glanced at the tall, thin figure who was nodding off on the sofa again, trying not to look atWesley too fondly, and failing miserably. How the heck was he going to get home on that ridiculous bike of his, if he couldn't even stay awake in the middle of all this...

And then there was the kid in the middle of the room with his hands balled into fists, about to make a complete idiot out of himself if Angel didn't let go of Spike in about three seconds. He pulled his hand off the back of Spike's duster, letting Spike pull away from the wall with a growl. Xander stared at Spike, who turned around and shook off his game face, glowering at Angel, looking back to Xander with a helpless kind of...

"Sit down, already, prat. I'm not gonna rip his empty head off. Wouldn't be polite, seein' as we're guests and all," Spike said. But Xander wasn't worried about Angel's safety, and Angel damn well knew it. Spike? Xander'd never been the brightest star in the sky, on a practical level, but... Spike? Great. Well, that explained most of what they were doing here together. Except what they were doing here. And what they were doing together.

Spike was clenching and unclenching his own fists. Pissed-off, but when wasn't he when he and Angel were in the same room? Smelling like chocolate and lust and menthol. Just Spike. The menthol was a twentieth century addition, but the whole combination was as familiar as Angel's own scent on clothes he hadn't touched in two years, clothes he'd brought to L.A. with him from the mansion on Crawford Drive and hung in the back of his closet. To remind him. Wine-colored silk shirts and leather pants. Maybe, with any luck, they'd burned when the building blew up. And the smell of that lust, those pheromones on Spike-- it wasn't for Dru, who wasn't here, and it sure as hell wasn't for him. Which meant that Spike was playing with fire, waiting to get his ass kicked by the Slayer. Lovely.

"You couldn't rip my head off if you stood on a ladder with a chainsaw, you idiot." Because he always had to play into Spike's game. He always had to step right up to the line in the sand and piss over it, didn't he.

"I couldn't reach it, 'cos it's shoved so far up your arse it'd take a team of bloody proctologists to pull it out!" Spike had those fists down at his sides now. Sure sign he was about to either deck somebody or stalk off in the opposite direction and go sulk somewhere for hours. So of course the thing to do was completely ignore him. It had never worked in the past, but why start trying new strategies now?

"Cordy, Willow called me about ten minutes before I got here. She'd been trying for a couple of hours, but that damn cell-phone...

"Doesn't work unless you turn it on, Angel. So you couldn't call here afterwards and let me know that Spike hadn't kidnapped Xander to do nasty things to him? I mean, even if I'd gotten Willow's message, you knew I didn't know about the chip. What was I supposed to think?"

"I did call. Your phone's off the hook."

*****

Kidnapped Xander to do nasty things to him? Why, when Spike could do nasty things to Xander in the privacy of... Oh. Right. Not public knowledge. Though of course it would be once Saint Angelus twigged, if he hadn't already.

Cordelia took the cordless phone from its base. Shook it. Smacked it. Put it gently on the floor, and tapped Spike on the shoulder.

"What?" he growled. Don't piss off the landlady, Spike. "What?" he tried again, a bit softer.

"Would you like to make something go splat?"

"Scuse me?" And after looking at her for a moment to be sure she was serious, Spike nodded. "Hell, yeah." He brought his boot smashing down on the cause of all this trouble. Well, the immediate cause, any road. It broke into a very satisfying number of pieces.

"Thank you. You can go back to being all manly now, if you want. Or you could just sit down..." she looked straight into his face and growled-- like Dru in one of her saner moments-- "and shut the hell up. I've had about enough of both of you."

Gulp. Not the status-obsessed little Barbie-doll he vaguely remembered running about in a cat costume, alternately clinging to Xander's shoulder and sidling up to Angel on Halloween two years ago. Of course, he'd been paying more attention to Buffy at the time, something he regretted now, since he really wished he could remember how Xander looked in that soldier costume. Still, if this was the real Cordelia Chase, he could see why Xander had his wild, passionate broom-closet affair with her.

"You shagged this one?" he asked, nodding at Xander. "I'm s'prised it didn't burn up and fall off!"

Cordelia looked like she was about to rip him a new one, and Spike really only needed one. He couldn't see Xander wearing it out, even over several centuries. And again with the turning thoughts, which were less than helpful. He didn't even want some demon with Xander's face. Christ, he was in love with... yeah. The soul. Oh, perfect. Hypocrisy, thy name is William the Bloody. Trying to avoid the Wrath of Cordelia while he mentally berated himself for getting himself into a position where he had one less ostensible reason to hate Angel, Spike backed off towards the couch, leaving Xander as the next logical target. Oops.

"No," she said, punching Xander hard on the arm, "he did not..." Punch. "shag" Punch. "me! Eew!"

"Ow!" Xander complained loudly. "I never said I did! And ow! And also ow! And not eew."

"That was meant to be a compliment, y'know..." Spike added, and he couldn't help smirking. This wasn't the kind of thing he needed to defend Xander from, and it was a bit of a laugh to see him beat on by his ex-bit-of-stuff-that-he-hadn't-shagged. Time to make nice with Cordelia, then, and get the Sire the hell out of here. Except of course it didn't work out that way, because Spike had the luck of the original Irish Bastard on his side. Murphy, that is, not Angelus.

*****

"Tell me again why we're leaving the vampires inside to kill each other?" Xander said, as he, Cordelia, and Wesley walked down the steps to the sidewalk.

"Officially, because Wesley needs a ride home or he'll ride his bike into a tree," Cordy answered.

"I will not ride my bike into a tree. I'm just a little... alright, possibly completely knackered," Wesley yawned, leaning on the Chevy where it was crookedly parked next to the curb. He waved a hand at the parking job, and Xander shrugged.

"Spike parked it. You're lucky it's not actually on the front doorstep."

"And then there's the question of why you let Spike drive this car," Wesley replied, stretching as if to wake himself up a bit.

Was Watcher-Boy drooling over the Chevy? The blue-green classic Bel Air was pretty droolworthy, and almost mint, except for a few Rory- dings and the anachronistic but kickin' stereo system. And I just keep using the big words these days. Maybe I should ask Willow for a gold star to stick on the fridge. The kickin' stereo system with the broken radio, of course. Nothing that belonged to a Harris ever worked quite right, somehow. Take Spike, for instance.

"It was that or listen to him whine for another fifty miles," Xander lied smoothly.

"Yes, I'd much rather ride shotgun with a homicidal vampire at the wheel than listen to him whine," Wesley said, opening the back door and shoving aside a reasonably large pile of road-trip munchie-trash.

"And this from a guy who rides a bicycle around L.A.?" Cordelia tapped Xander on the shoulder, and he followed her pointing finger to the big honking motorcycle with the words 'Bad Dog' painted on the side of it. Which would be funny as all hell if Stuffy English Guy (Version 2, doesn't come with acoustic guitar) didn't look so well-stuffed into those jeans as he stepped off the curb and into the back seat of the Chevy, and Xander spent a few seconds imagining one of those long legs swinging over the seat of that 'bike'. Ulp. Something was seriously wrong with him, if he was even having vague lusty thoughts about Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. Maybe he'd caught Spike's too-much-chocolate=hornier-than-hell disease.

"Wanna go for a ride in my car, little girl?" he asked Cordy with a forced grin. Maybe the drive over to Wesley's apartment and back could get his mind off the fact that Angel and Spike were alone in there together. Drive away nasty little thoughts that involved either Spike getting the snot beaten out of him, or Spike and Angel renewing old habits in a much more horizontal way. Images of a nekkid Angel doing hot, sticky things to an equally nekkid Spike. Like running a hand over that spot on Spike's back where his spine made that little dip, the spot that always made Spike purr up into the touch like a damn cat... Yeah, that was helping.

"At least it's a car I'm actually willing to be seen in," Cordy answered, flipping down the passenger side mirror and checking her reflection. Good old Cordy. You could take the cheerleader out of Sunnydale, but... "And a guy I'm actually willing to be seen next to. Who dressed you today, boy? You might just be passable." Then again, hell might freeze over and Cordelia might have just given him, or rather, Spike's taste in clothes, a compliment.

"I dressed myself, in the strictly literal sense," he lied again. "It's amazing what almost twenty years of practice can do. I can tie my own Reeboks and everything. He started the car with the keys he'd finally managed to pry out of Spike's hand, and pulled out. Cordelia sat beside him, obviously not as impressed with the interior of the car. Yeah, it was a mess. Potato chip bags, candy wrappers... What did she expect? Stick two slobs in a car for three or four hours... The back seat must have been even worse, given Spike's habit of tossing trash over his shoulder. Not that Xander really cared what Wesley thought of his carkeeping skills. Much. He glanced in the rear view mirror to discover that Wesley didn't seem to care one way or the other about his slobbiness, since he'd fallen back asleep, his head pillowed on Xander's extra bag of clothes, glasses in serious danger of getting smooshed.

"So... why are we really leaving the vampires in there to kill each other?" Xander asked.

"Because they're obviously not gonna get the Y-chromosome thing out of the way unless we leave them alone to just do it," she stated flatly.

Do it? No, leaving them alone to do it was a bad idea, in Xander's opinion, and he almost stopped the car. No, Angel wasn't that stupid. Spike was that stupid, and that much of a horndog, but Spike hated Angel with a fiery passion. Quote unquote. Which might've been comforting if it hadn't come directly after "Never said I didn't love him..."

"Not that you don't have a Y-chromosome, obviously, but you're usually less under the rule of it than two vampires in a bitch- fit..." she trailed off, looking at him strangely as he dug his fingernails into the steering wheel. "Or not. So... how's Anya?"

*****

The door shut behind the three humans, and five...four...three...two...one... "What're you doing with the boy, Spike?" Blast-off. It had taken how long? Ten, twenty minutes? Too bad he hadn't placed odds on it with Xander. He could've really cleaned up. Spike clenched his teeth as Angel crossed his arms and stared at him.

"I have no idea what the hel..." Three...two...one... Angel across the room and hauling him back up off the couch, game-face in place, hissing around those pretty, actually-useable fangs. Not, of course, that the Great Souled One actually used them, not for their intended purpose. "What're you doing with the boy, Spike?"

Grin. Shoving Angel off with more force than expected, from the stumble backwards. Yeah, well. He'd been playing along, before, with the face-into-the-wall bit. Stand in the corner like a good boy, Spike. We'll get to your punishment later. And the sound of Dru sighing, as Daddy did something lovely and painful to her that Spike wasn't allowed to watch this time, 'cos there was a definite kick to just listening. Once upon a time. Once upon a time, though, this sort of snarl-and-push was foreplay, instead of him about to get his arse kicked. Once upon a time, there might've been Dru watching, or playing too, rolling on the floor, biting and clawing happily. Once upon a bloody time, back before the Bitch brought Angelus a gypsy to snack on.

"I don't have to tell you a damn thing, Angel." Grabbed by the shirt collar. Oh, now there was a memory. A million, good, bad, ugly. Dragged in the direction of Cordelia's bedroom, growling and spitting. "Took you this long? My," a swipe at Angel's arm only succeeded in snagging that poncy J. Crew sweater, "but you're gettin' old, mate. Well, I guess y'won't be losin' your soul over the likes of me, so have at it, if that's what y'want."

Angel thumped Spike on the head with his free hand, and Spike twisted around to kick him in the shin. Yeah, real manly fight, there. Angel yanked at him and hissed in his ear as he was shoved bodily through the doorway into the rather large bedroom. Nice decor, too.

"What're you doin' with th'boy, Spike?" And he could swear he heard Galway in that. He had to be losing it.

*****

Slam! Cordy's bedroom door shut behind them, and Angel had managed not to knock anything off the walls. Thank God. He considered the options, and ran Spike into the doorframe this time. Well, the dimwit never did seem to want to talk to you unless you tossed him on his head. At least in here, if the others came back from dropping off Wes before this little exercise in futility was over, they'd have a little privacy.

"What..." Angel snarled at the blonde moron whose neck he'd somehow made the mistake of saving repeatedly, "are you doing with the boy?" He was trying for 'patient', but he was well aware that it was coming over as 'mental patient.' Which was par for the course, with Spike in spitting distance. Two complete psychos together. Add in Drusilla, and you'd have a nice box of assorted nuts.

"Why do you always bloody assume I'm up to something?" Spike shot back, twisting free and punching him in the stomach, knocking him back against Cordy's bedframe.

It was hard to get enough air in to actually laugh, while simultaneously shooting back up to grab Spike by the throat, but he managed it. "Are you serious? You're always up to something. You..." and this time it was over to the window, Spike's fanged face pressed up against the glass, "live for being up to something. In a manner of speaking."

"Sod off."

"Yeah, that was original." Angel drew Spike up close, hands on the shoulders, which were hunched forward under the well-worn black leather. He stared into narrowed gold eyes. "What. Are. You. Doing. With. The. Boy?" Punctuating each word with a hard shake of Spike's upper body.

"Nothing he doesn't bloody want, and since when is it any of your business?" Spike gave him a swift kick to the instep. Not exactly Jean-Claude Van Damme there, but it worked, well enough to distract him while Spike shoved him back and launched a real kick at his face.

Oh yeah. Doc Martens. How long could he have existed without getting another mouthful of dirt-scuffed black DM's? He dived and rolled across the bed, coming up just in time to see Spike's fist heading straight for him.

Spike launched a nice snap-armed punch at Angel's face, and the potato-head ducked away, leaving him hurtling forward towards a china vase on a foofy-looking dressing table. Before he hit it head-first, Angel grabbed him from behind, pulling him upright and neatly twisting his left arm around behind his back.

"Don't damage the furnishings, or Cordy'll kill you. Then me," his Sire said, and there was actual trepidation in that voice.

Spike laughed fiendishly. Or tried to, though it came out as something of a hiccup. "Nice to know you're afraid of somethin' besides premature baldness."

"God is afraid of Cordy," Angel replied in all seriousness. "Do you realize your watch is broken? Unless it's really eight eighty-eight."

"Infinity to the third power," Spike groaned. "Will you get that bloody thing off me? I keep forgettin' to just bite it off, and y'know I can't do a damn thing with my right hand except wank an' punch. Oh, and bowl."

"You've been playing cricket?" Angel asked, slipping the watch off Spike's left wrist easily, and tossing it on the bed, all the while never letting go of his bone-crunching hold on Spike's forearm. "I thought the wickets made you nervous."

"Do. Look too much like stakes. No, your basic laundrette-type bowling. Tenpins." Angel spun him around to look him in the face. "What? S'not like I joined a bloody league! Boy dragged me out, took Red an' her little hill-witch love-bunny along, and I beat the snot out of all of 'em. Got a nice reward for it, too. Don't give me that look."

Angel was, though. Giving him the 'Spike, you're an idiot' look. The one guaranteed to send him hurtling head-first into that bloody slab- of-beef stomach, to see which one was going to win-- the unstoppable force, or the immovable object. The immovable object got his big arse knocked back onto the bed, as a matter of fact, and Spike gave him a self-satisfied growl.

"What..."

"Are you doing with the boy, Spike?" Spike sing-songed at him. "Get a new tune."

"Okay, what are you doing wearing a broken digital watch? On your left wrist?" Angel bounced back up off the bed, while Spike rubbed said wrist, and the attached forearm. Slam! Into the wall again. Always stuck with the basics, his Sire did. Though at least this time he was facing out, and could sneer into that pretty-boy face in front of him. Even his game-face was pretty. Ponce.

"It wasn't waterproof," Spike grinned, letting the memory of Xander's mouth on his cock, hot water pounding down on them, slide over his own face. "Ergo, broken." He hummed a little snatch of 'God Save the Queen.' They needed to shag in the shower again, and soon. Hot water. Warm mouth. Dark hair. Mmm. And poor Sire hadn't gotten any in how long? What a pity.

"An' it got in the way when I was tossin' off. Before I was doin' anything with the boy. Ergo, left wrist."

*****

"Mmmm. Could you move that a little to the left, please?"

"Excuse me?" Angel replied.

"Your knee. The one you're currently poking me in the bloody kidney with."

Angel shrugged, and shifted the knee he was using to pin Spike to the floor.

Crack-pop! And Spike was moaning, just slightly. "Thank you. Soddin' fold-out sofa bed. Been walkin' around with that crick in my back for two straight weeks." After a moment's pause, he corrected himself. "Two slightly bent weeks."

"You're deranged. You know that, right?"

"It's been pointed out, yeah."

Angel shook his head, and hauled Spike up by the hair, bouncing him lightly off the actual door this time. In a few seconds, there was an answering knock from the outside of the door. Spike was rubbing his own skull where it had hit the wood, and looked up curiously.

"We're fine in here, Dennis. Nobody's trashing the furniture."

"I'm deranged?" Spike said disbelievingly.

"Ghost. Came with the apartment." He leaned back against the door, looking at Spike, who half-knelt on the floor. "What are you doing with Xander, Spike? Honestly? He may be an idiot, but I'd still rather not see you play with him."

"He's not an idiot! And I'm not playin'... Oh, get stuffed. What are you doin' with the 'rogue demon hunter' then? Showin' him your etchings?"

"Wesley? You've got to be kidding." Said convincingly enough, hopefully.

"Oh, please. 'You sure you don't need a ride home, Wes? You look awfully tired... ' Y'did everything but pat his arse on his way out the door."

Or perhaps not.

"What I'm not doing with Wesley, for reasons you know damn well... "

What he wasn't doing with anybody, for reasons they both knew damn well... Of course, he'd just implied that he might be doing something with Wesley if those reasons weren't around. And thank you, Spike the tongue-lube, for making me say something out loud that I'm not even supposed to be thinking...

"...is none of your business, Spike."

"So why the hell is what I'm not doin' with Xander any of yours, then?" Spike growled, jumping back up off the floor and aiming for Angel's chin with one cocked fist. Angel grabbed the wrist before the knuckles ever came in contact with his face, and bent it down at a visibly painful angle.

"Because I'm your Sire."

"You," Spike spat at him, "are not my Sire." And the familiarity of that sentence hit Angel harder than Spike's fist ever could've.

*****

Yorkshire, 1880

William was getting rowdy again, just when Angelus thought he'd verbally smacked the boy down enough to get some peace and quiet. A few bedtime horror stories of the Slayer to put the fear of something or other into the brat. A few hours sleep before the four of them tried to sneak out of the mineshaft, just before dawn, when the villagers wouldn't be expecting them to be up and about. William, no, Spike, he wanted to be called now, was at it again, though. Kicking walls and getting snarky, and saying as how they'd be better off just blazin' a trail through the night ripping out the throats of whoever got in their way.

He'd been like that once himself, ninety or so years ago, but you'd think the brat would learn some subtlety quicker than Angelus had, with Darla and Angelus himself around to lead the way. God knew sweet Dru was no fit teacher for anything but madness, but she had other uses. Her seeing eyes, and her willing body, and her childish wickedness...and she melted into pain from Angelus' hands like it and he were mother, father, lover and god in one.

That sort of thing might teach the brat, if nothing else, Angelus thought as he glared at Dru's offspring. He'd never laid hands on the boy, not really, save for a few scuffles, an assertion of dominance that never seemed to last, though the older male always got the younger to look down, for a while. This was Dru's pet, and he'd been too distracted with Darla, as Drusilla had accused when he suggested she go find a playmate in the first place, to pay much attention to him early on. Not much beyond the observance that Dru had as fine a taste in flesh as he himself did, and that the boy was almost as crazy as his little dark mate.

Enough was enough, though. William-- Spike, that is, pushed too far. He barely tolerated Darla's leadership, and she, in turn, had whispered more than once to Angelus that she was tempted to stake Spike herself, and find Dru a new toy. He'd had the gall to cheek Darla, just now, calling her 'Granny' to her face, because he knew how much she hated being reminded of anything mortal like old age, and she was close to going into one of the cold rages that meant nobody would get any sleep, or any of anything else, for a nice long while.

"That's enough, boy," Angelus growled, and grabbed Spike by the collar, hauling him away from Darla before she calmly clawed his eyes out, as the younger vampire struggled and spat, to no avail. Oh, he could play about a bit, when Angelus was too annoyed with his antics to give in to what he obviously wanted, and squash him like a bug. If the Irish Bastard (and he knew Spike called him that behind his back) was serious, though, there was nothing this little whippet could do to a vampire who was over a hundred years his senior, four inches taller, a foot wider, and aeons worth of experience smarter than him. "Ladies, stay here. I'll take care of this little problem."

Wide eyes from Drusilla, who looked at the struggling Spike with concern, and then, going off into one of her little faerie worlds, she laughed. "Oh, yes, Daddy, you'll have such fun with my Spike."

Darla nodded her approval. She'd been at him to lay down the law to Spike for a while, so no surprise to see the look of smug superiority on her face now. She reveled in her own power over Angelus, and it was half of what drove him wild about her. Angelus pulled Spike deeper into the mineshaft, until they were out of sight of the females, and possibly out of hearing as well.

"Knew it'd come to this, you great poofter," Spike ground out, arms flailing, trying to land a punch on somebody he couldn't even see properly. "Couldn't keep your fairycake hands off me, then? You won't take me without a fight, you bloody bog-trottin' ponce."

Angelus laughed, then. Long and loud. Spike was behaving like a five year old, like Liam's living sister Katherine, when she got into a snit... before things changed in Galway, and she never got into anything again. Right then and there, he threw over all his plans to cow the younger vampire into submission through the sort of torture that Dru loved so much, delicate and rough in turns, or even by just shoving him up against the wall, one animal to another. No, he knew just how to get to this one.

"I'm not gonna bugger you, boy. Not yet, anyhow. You want to act like an infant, I'll treat you like one." Turning over a wooden minecart that lay next to the tracks they were standing on, he sat down, hauling the smaller vampire with him-- and over his lap. That got a reaction, as Spike kicked and cursed and squirmed, and even tried to bite his hand. A cuff on the head got that last notion out of Spike's skull, at least, and returned him to snarling and growling.

"Who d'you think you are, arseface?" Spat out of a fang-filled mouth, from the sound of it, which meant he'd changed after being turned over Angelus' knee, and punctuated by another kick and a twist of the lower-back muscles that got him absolutely nowhere, while Angelus was unfastening the braces from the back of Spike's trousers.

"Who d'you think you are, boy? D'you even know?" Angelus countered. "You play the guttersnipe so well, but we four of us know ye're naught but a soft clerk with delusions of literary grandeur. Why the accent? Why throw yerself at everythin' like a little banty rooster? Why this need to prove you're as bad as you think I am, eh?" He finished with the back of the braces and reached round beneath to undo the clasps in front, Spike's hands struggling to push him away, until he grabbed one and pinned it behind the younger man's back.

"Don't fucking flatter yourself." And that emerged in as pure an accent as God ever granted to an upper-middle-class mother's boy from the Home Counties, which had Spike hissing and spitting even louder when he caught himself at it.

"Not me? Who then?" as he tugged the woolen trousers down, and stared appreciatively at the bare white backside that lay before him. He had to laugh--the lad had stopped wearing underclothes. Anything to make him look as dangerous as possible, when he was really just a willful child. "Who? Drusilla? Y'don't need t'impress her, lad, and you don't care a tinker's damn for Darla. Which is your business, but you'll show respect when you're around her. She's the head of this little family, and you could be dust on her whim. Or mine."

Spike mumbled into Angelus' trouser leg, against which his hanging face was pressed, dark blonde hair pulling loose from the bit of cord that bound it behind his neck. "Sod off. Dust me if y'like, but yer not my idol, and yer not my bloody father. Let me go, you bastard."

"Not y'r father, no," Angelus agreed, shoving the shirttail out of the way and at last bringing his hand down hard on the tight, pale flesh on his lap. "What, he never do you this little favor? Or maybe he did, and you liked it just a bit too much, eh?"

Spike snapped out a quick, "Fuck you..." as he tried to pull away again. No such luck. He wasn't going anywhere.

"Not your father, William, but I am your Sire, and you'll do well to remember that." He continued smacking away at that truly lovely bottom. Harder, now.

"You're not my Sire. Dru's my Sire," Spike said clearly, dangerously.

"Dru couldn't Sire a wee rabbit, boy. She's a child, and she'll always be a child. She's your lover, an' that's fine. Keeps y'both out of our hair, but she's not your Sire. She may've made you, but I'm your Sire. William." Smack. Slap. Smack.

"Spike. My name is Spike. And you can hit me all you want, ponce. You'll still never be anything to me but..." He'd lost his accent again, and he cursed fluently now, those street-rat words in that delicate, educated inflection. A child playing at being a man, losing his dignity in the oldest possible manner.

Angelus could feel what he was to this brat, feel it against his thigh, feel it in the way Spike, William, was twisting towards him now, instead of away. Could smell it, too, and it'd been years since he'd scented that: aroused male vampire musk, desperate and mixed with fear. An animal's cunning, a man's intelligence, both subservient to the demands of body and emotion. Not since Penn, his proud little Puritan, with whom he'd never done this, and Spike's scent was even stronger. Headier.

Spike liked this, Angelus realized. Wanted it. He'd been begging for it, or something like it, since the first time he'd played the strutting cockerel for Dru, pushing Angelus, faking punches at him while the dark vampire looked at him with something between annoyance and amusement. He hadn't really been grandstanding for Drusilla-- Dru wanted him anyway, like she always did with a new plaything. He'd been showing off to impress Daddy. Or push him into doing something just like this.

"Why didn't he do this for you, Will? Didn't love you enough?"

"Piss off..." came the hoarse reply. Angelus sped up his rhythm again.

"Not the right answer, my boy. " Spike groaned, half in pleasure, he could tell, and half in real pain now. If Spike had circulation, that rump would be as rosy as Kathy's had been after Liam had caught her playing alone on the rotted bridge over the deepest part of the stream.

"You think y'need to prove you're a man, then? That what the accent an' the gutter talk an' all that rot about me bein' a poof's about? 'Cause let me tell you boy, we're vampires. Like y'said. That don't mean we have to tear through the night like Saint feckin' Vigeous..." As he got a bit over-excited himself, Angelus' own accent slipped into the thicker brogue he'd used with his lower-class playmates when he was alive. "It does mean there's no such thing as somebody it's wrong to fuck, since there ain't any right nor wrong, no more."

"Y're a soddin' poof, vampire or not," Spike gasped, finding his street-boy accent again. Angelus gave him a hard smack, and he bucked fiercely--up, towards the hand that had just hit him.

"I'm still your Sire, boy. You'll say it if I have to flay the skin off your arse."

"Fine. You're my Sire. It don't make you anything to me at all. S'just a word."

"He didn't, did he. Love you enough to do this," Angelus said with sudden understanding. "Well..." and he laid into the slender cheeks that were being thrust up at him, "I do. Will."

"Spike. My name is..."

"William. There's nothin' wrong wi' it. T'was my name once. Close enough."

"It was his bloody name, too!" Spike shouted at him. "Much good may it do him in hell or wherever he buggered off to."

Ahh. There was that then.

"Right, so you want your own name. One that means nothin' to nobody, least of all you. But who the hell's named after a railroad peg? Me, now, I like William. Means 'resolute protector,' did ye know? And I'll call you William when I please. B'cause I can."

Spike was silent for a moment, just kicking his feet and still writhing under the unending stream of steady smacks. "Call me what y'want. You will anyway. " Then, after a few seconds, "You don't love me. You don't even know me." Slipping in and out of his lowerclass accent now.

Angelus considered this. Spike was right. He didn't love the boy, though he could, so easily. It was just frustration and attraction at this point. A little concern, maybe. But he still had to sling the pretty words. Blarney and bollocks. A gift he'd had at his disposal for years, with his sister, his mother, in the pubs, in the streets, with girls and men, living and dead. Spike saw through it. Bright, this one. Not the first idiot who came along, after all.

"No. I don't love you. You try my patience, you infuriate my woman, you come close to gettin' us killed every time you decide you have to toss off with one of your damn fool schemes. I won't let you destroy my family." He accompanied this little confession with a rain of blows that sent cracks as loud as gunshots echoing off the mineshaft walls, and must have left no doubt in the minds of the women as to exactly what he was doing with the boy.

"Y'won't make me cry, y'know. Never gonna cry again," Spike muttered. Angelus gave him one last hard smack, and rested his hand there, smoothing the soft skin. Feeling the temporary body heat engendered by his touch, which had been something less than loving, though close, something more than punishing. The slim body ground itself into him, and he firmly turned Spike over, so he could look down into the tear-streaked face that gave the lie to Spike's words. Human again. Beautiful. They called him the demon with the face of an angel?

"Nothing wrong with crying, boy. Don't mean you're no' a man," he said, pulling the other man up, so that Spike was sitting gingerly on his lap, for all the world like Dru would when she'd come running to him for a treat or a story or something a great deal more grown up. He studied that face, the sharp angles of it, the blue eyes wet, muddied with confusion, and realized Dru had chosen far more wisely, or more madly, than he'd given her credit for. Spike wasn't trying to move off his lap, just glaring sullenly at him, and he couldn't resist brushing the tangled strands of hair off the high brow. Tracing the track of one of those tears the lad hadn't been crying.

"I don't love you," Angelus said again, and Spike's lower lip jutted out, before being sucked back in. Which was good for Angelus, otherwise he might just have sucked it into his own mouth. "But I will. If you'll let me. If you don't let somebody take care of you, you'll end up as lost as Dru. Wanderin' off into the sun on a whim, drinkin' holy water for tea, because you don't bloody know any better. You can go, if y'want. Even take Dru, since she'd follow you anyway, if I said no. But if y'stay...You're my boy."

"I don't need a soddin' father," Spike answered, all trace of William the well-bred poet vanishing.

"I don't want to be your father. Fathers don't do this," Angelus explained, pulling Spike's face to his and kissing the still-red lips with as much heat as the walking dead can generate, which was much more than any fool Watcher ever dreamed of writing in his precious journals. He plunged his tongue into Spike's mouth, and tasted the salt of those nonexistent tears, which had trickled their way even that far down. Unsurprised, but far more pleased than he expected, when Spike began to return the kiss, sucking at him, demanding something from him that he was all too willing to give.

When they broke apart, aeons later, Spike frowned at him.

"At least my father didn't do that," Angelus added with a leer. Still frowning, Spike was. William. He could be both, surely? Angelus held the stubborn chin in his fingers, and talked softly. "I don't want to be your father. I want to be your Sire."

"You're still a bloody poof."

Angelus lowered a hand to Spike's lap, where the evidence of Spike's arousal at the spanking, and the kiss, and the continued contact between the two of them, was rigidly poking up at him. He wrapped his large hand around the hardened shaft, almost covering it, though it was by no means small, and Spike hissed, drawing in air that he would never need again.

"And this makes you what?" Angelus asked archly.

"A vampire," Spike answered, suddenly transforming, flashing fangs, before darting his head to Angelus' neck and...just kissing him, hotly. Running a raspy tongue over the skin.

Bright move, boy, because you'd have been across the room with your head smashed into the wall if you'd dared try to drink my blood without permission... Angelus drew Spike back, forced him to lock eyes. Playing at dominance, yes, but with the understanding that it was accepted, here, now, or there was nothing. "And this makes you what?"

Spike rolled his eyes. "Yours, poofter. Your bloody boy. You gonna shag me, or what?"

"Oh, aye. Til' ye scream. Then the fun really starts." With his free hand, Angelus reached around behind, slipping just one finger between the cheeks that Spike wasn't quite resting on. Just one finger. No more rolling eyes now--they were opened wide, pupils dilating enough to almost fill the shadowed gold orbs. And the look on Spike's face... if it weren't beaming out from behind those too-real tear-tracks, that happy-smug toothy smile would lead the older vampire to believe he'd been manipulated, here.

"You sure you haven't done this before?" he teased with a serious glare.

"In Barking ?" Spike answered, untying the knot at Angelus' collar.

"Why am I not surprised you're from Barking?" Angelus muttered, coming ever closer to losing the straight face. "No, in London, puppy. Y'managed to pick up that awful bloody accent in a month's time, after all."

Fingers across his now-bared chest, and it was like a thousand spider- touches on him, and he was supposed to be the one in control here. He moved that one finger just so, and the hands on his chest were scrabbling at him.

"Dru... said I should wait for you. Gonna...make it worth my while?"

It was more than he could do not to give in, and the laughter rolled out of him like thunder, bouncing off the walls and surrounding them both. That returned the pout to the boy's sculpted demonic countenance, and Angelus stopped himself, though he couldn't keep the amusement from his face.

"Sorry lad, but you looked just like Dru when I tell her I've got a chocolate for her in my pocket." Or a dead pigeon, or a leftover eyeball... Blink, and the pout disappeared. The eyes lit up with a ferocious glee that he'd only glimpsed on that face in the middle of a particularly bloody killing spree.

"Y'mean there's chocolate in this deal?" And Angelus would almost swear the younger vampire was more aroused by that concept than anything else.

Shite. He'd adopted a chocolate fiend. Was it too late to get out of it now? That stuff was bloody expensive. He freed his...less busy...hand, grasped Spike's shirt-collar and yanked the other man's face roughly close to him, their eyes inches apart. Looking.... Aye. Too bloody late. Well...there were things you could do with the stuff, though he'd never much cared for it himself. He saw the slim body on his lap stepping into a bath filled with melted chocolate, dark ripples spreading out around white skin. Drusilla dipping in a finger and licking it off. There were things you could do with chocolate.

"There might be chocolate. If you're good..." And since his Sire's voice left no confusion as to what he meant by that, Spike set about proving that he could, indeed, be quite, quite good when he had a mind to. Just not in public. So, with the women out front probably finding their own sort of mischief to get into, Angelus did his best to show the younger one what it meant to be a vampire, and a man, in a cold mineshaft lit with flickering candles.

Spike, for his part, showed Angelus that he'd gotten into far more than he bargained for when he dragged this wayward bratling off to teach him a lesson. Those teeth were sharper than Dru's, and the fingers got into all sorts of interesting places, and the tongue was sharper than the teeth. When it felt right, though, the dark vampire called the man in his arms "William," and never got an argument. Not on that score. If there was anything else he could argue about, though... Honestly, the boy never bloody shut up.

*****

"Wanker! Leggo of me, now!" Somehow the Poof had gotten round behind him again, and his arms were wrapped around Spike, and it wasn't bloody fair, because he didn't have any leverage.

"Spike..."

"Sod off! You're not my Sire. "

"Who is? Dru? Seen her around lately?"

"Let go of me, unless you want to eat that bottle your girl was wavin' in your face tonight." Spike twisted, trying to pull out of what was very obviously somebody trying to be Ward fucking Cleaver and about to get his good intentions shoved where the sun definitely didn't shine.

"I am, Spike. The only one you've got."

"Oh, family, is it? You ain't family. You're some twit from Galway who got himself sucked back into 'is body after a hundred an' fifty years flitterin' around contemplatin' his astral bunghole somewhere."

"No," said Angel, and Spike thought he was going to let go, but then those great Neanderthal arms were tighter around him than ever. "It's just me. Soul, no soul, just me. I remember. Galway, London. Yorkshire, Rumania, that damn house on Crawford Street. All of it."

"And you're so fucking sorry for all the bad parts. Dru. Me. You ever trying to get a leg over on the Bitch in the first place. I'm not, an' I'll never be. You've got that handy-dandy soul to answer to, an' I've got me. What the hell do we have in common, Angel ?"

"Look me in the face and ask me that, Will." And Angel's arms let go of him. Not that he was about to spin around and actually do that looking thing. Spike wasn't that bloody stupid. He stalked over to the window and looked out. No Xander out there, though that was where the car would be parked when the tots finally showed back up. No Xander, and he reached into his pocket and fingered the chocolate that he'd put there a century or so ago.

When he thought he could talk without spitting, Spike responded. "Do not call me that. You lost the chance to call me that ninety-eight years ago." Ninety-eight. Not a hundred. Not when the fool had wandered off on the Romanian hillside and Spike had been too drunk on blood, too scared, too angry, to watch him go. No. Not then.

"Look at me, Spike, and ask me what we've got in common."

"I've seen you. You're nothin' to write home about." Angel's hand on his shoulder now, and "Don't fucking touch me! You want to beat hell out of me, go ahead; we both know it always ends with me on the ground. You want me arse-end up for you? No, you wouldn't. Might lose your precious soul. Except you ain't gonna get any moment of true happiness outta me, I guaran-bleedin-tee it." It was bluster and it was bollocks, and it was the only thing he had to throw, to stop himself from hearing that voice, to stop himself from turning around.

"Spike, look at me."

"No." But he was. Spike was turning around and looking at those fucking dark eyes because the game face was gone and it was just Angelus and it didn't matter what he called himself, he looked the same, he sounded the same, he felt the same and it wasn't fair, it wasn't ever fair. Spike had something now like he'd had it once and this one was going to take it away again like he'd taken everything, Dru as a last laugh, but himself before and everything Spike had allowed himself to be when it was just the three of them against the whole sodding world. Wasn't fair, wasn't.

Those three glorious bloodsoaked years when the bat-king had called Darla home to London and she'd gone, left Angelus, and him too proud to chase after her, and hadn't Spike and Dru made him forget all about her? Hadn't they? Almost. And hadn't he welcomed Darla back with open arms when she came flouncing in like she owned everything under the moon, and hadn't they all pretended it was just the same and hadn't the Bitch brought him a little gypsy girl with long legs and dark hair like a Romany version of Dru and hadn't he eaten like the fruit of the tree in the garden and hadn't it all gone to hell and hadn't he left?

And hadn't he found them in China, sniffing after Darla, when all Spike wanted to do was say look, I killed a Slayer, are you proud of me yet, will you stay with us now? And he'd not even seen, not even seen that Spike knew the soul was there and it didn't matter, would never have mattered. And hadn't he left again, like once wasn't enough? And hadn't he taken it all with him when he went?

"Spike..." And Spike was caught, like he'd always been caught, because whoever it was in there, it was still his Sire, and he looked. Trapped. Hell, he was Dru. He might as well be Dru. Mad as a hatter, and no control whatsoever.

"You're in love with him." No bleedin' surprise in that voice. Well, of course not. Angelus the Great knows everything, except how much Spike the Pathetic still wants to let him in, and can't. Won't. Doesn't dare. And wouldn't he take it all again now, Spike's self-respect, Spike's resentment, the fire that had kept him walking for the last two years, and Xander, who was all Spike wanted now? The darkness and the light in whiskey- soldier-puppy eyes and the soft fire and the laughter and the trust where Spike didn't deserve it? Spike's boy? Of course he bloody would.

"You can't have 'im. He's mine." And he knew he sounded like a sprat with a favorite toy, but it wasn't the same. Had he ever had a favorite toy? Seemed like he had. A fluffy baa-lamb called Simon. Simple Simon met a pieman. Something he'd slept with at night, and curled his arms round, and felt safe with. Maybe not so different, really. Granted, he'd never got up to anything as naughty with Simon as he did with Xander...

"You really are." Maybe there was some surprise after all. What, that Spike could love somebody? Couldn't be. Angelus had always known what a wet little sod he really was. Maybe just that it was somebody human. What the two of them had in common, finally. At least Spike's wasn't a Slayer, nyah-nyah. "You're really in love with him."

"Yes, I'm really in love with him, and if you do anything to fuck it up, I'll rip your guts out," Spike growled, and stepped into the sort of thing he couldn't take back, as Angel put those arms around him one more time, and just for a few minutes, he laid his head against that chest and listened to the sound of a heart not beating.

*****

"I hate you. You know that, right?" Spike said into his sweater, and Angel didn't move. Wouldn't move if the ceiling caved in and Phantom Dennis floated into the room wearing a tutu and granting three wishes to the first vampire who raised his hand.

"It's been pointed out."

Spike started to pull away, and Angel held him there, not ready to give this up just yet, because it might never happen again.

"Leggo."

"In a minute."

Spike grrrrd under his breath, and Angel looked down at the top of the bright hair, remembering when it had fallen in darker waves around that cocky face. "You gonna stamp your foot now?" he asked conversationally.

"Possibly," Spike replied, not quite hiding the tiny laugh in his voice. Too damn soon, he broke free with a muttered, "Get off, already," and turned back to the window. He opened it, looking down on the empty street outside the apartment building, and Angel walked over to join him.

"Cordy finds out you lit that up in here, they won't be able to sift you out of the ashes," he pointed out as Spike reached into his duster for a cigarette.

"Yeah, where've I heard that before," Spike replied, fishing a silver Zippo out of another pocket and lighting up anyway. He was careful, Angel noticed, to lean out the window as he smoked.

"What the hell makes you think I'd want Xander Harris?" Angel asked. Spike was human again, and the streetlight shining in the window cast deeper shadows on Spike's face than were given to him by nature, making those cheekbones look like marble knives, especially when he drew in a breathful of smoke. Why would Angel be interested in the kid who'd made it his goal in Sunnydale to be as obnoxiously self- righteous as possible to the only vampire around who actually did have good intentions? There was nothing particularly hideous about Xander's looks, but he had a mouth on him like... somebody standing not too far from Angel right now. That somebody ducked his head back inside and glared at Angel.

"You sayin' he ain't worth wantin' ?"

Groan. "I can't win with you, can I?"

"Could you ever?" Twitch of a smile at the corner of Spike's mouth, tap of the cigarette in his left hand, on the outside of the windowsill, and Spike granted him the concession of a real answer. "Because you always seem to want to bugger up whatever it is I have."

Hopefully Spike didn't expect a reply to that one. Historically speaking, there wasn't much of a shot at denying that Angel had at one time or another broken just about everything Spike ever held dear into little pieces and stomped on them. He didn't have anything to offer on that score except an apology that would earn him a sneer and probably end this conversation way too soon, so he didn't even touch it.

"Does he know?"

Spike smirked. "Does he know we've been shaggin'? Yeah, people generally do find it a memorable occasion when I've been there."

"Does he know you're in love with him, moron. 'We don't change. Not us, not demons… ' " he mimicked. Angel couldn't help it. Spike brought it out in him, the need to treat Dru's get like the kid he wasn't. Like the kid he hadn't really been even when Dru had turned him; what was he, twenty-three, twenty-four? Younger? Pushed into trying to be a Victorian gentleman before he had the chance to learn to waste his life on wine, women, and pretty vampires in dark alleys. Spike the invented gutter kid was as far from William the terrible poet as… the distance that the menthol scented smoke had to travel to reach Angel's sensitive nose. Never that far, really.

"I will think nothing to any purpose that the world can say against it," Spike answered with a genuine smile, "and therefore never flout at me for what I have said against it." He stubbed the cigarette out on the outside wall of the building, and sat down on the windowsill. "Or in English, that was then, this is now. Sit and spin… " and he flipped up a black-nailed middle finger.

Echoes of six months in a wheelchair in that last line, and Angel would much rather think about Shakespeare than the creature he'd been during most of those six months, Disney movies aside. "For man is a giddy thing, and this is my conclusion," he finished. "So you're Benedick now? You are gone."

"Oh, long gone. He had me doin' Beatrice on the drive down. Eatin' your heart in the marketplace. Which still sounds pretty tasty, frankly. No, he doesn't know, and you're to keep your cakehole shut if you don't want my boot down it."

*****

"Where the hell are they? How far away does your not-doin'-anything- with bloke live?" Spike asked, staring out the window and down the road.

"Not that far. Relax. They're all grown-ups. They're probably taking their time so I'll have these extra moments to truly savor the joy of kicking your ass," came Angel's reply.

"You couldn't kick my arse with a new pair of clodhoppers and a copy of Arse-Kicking for Dummies," he answered back. "You couldn't even find my arse in a dark room with a flashlight an' a map."

Angel chuckled. "Speaking of, I gotta know."

What exactly did he have to know? The location of his own arse? It was currently taking up far too much of the other half of the windowsill.

"What?"

"I know you…"

"You bloody well don't, you haven't known me for a century," Spike grumped.

"Okay, I know what you used to be like, and I'll bet a Cordy fashion makeover that you haven't changed where some things are concerned."

"So?"

"And I know Xander Harris well enough to make an educated guess as to where his ass falls on the see-saw."

"I repeat, so?"

"So how the hell do you two figure out which one gets to have the aforementioned ass smacked?"

"Buummmph gmmmph," Spike muttered, still looking for the car on the street below.

"What was that?" snickered the Irish Bastard, who apparently wasn't dead after all.

"Board games."

*****

"Since we're speaking of arses," Spike said after a few minutes of silence broken only by Angel's occasional repetition of 'board games...' with a little hiccupy laugh. Spike jumped up from the windowsill with a grin. Angel had already moved to the edge of Cordelia's bed, a more comfortable seat, and a better view of Spike in the light.

"Yes? Were we talking about you?" Angel answered.

"Ha, bloody ha. Here, take this."

Spike stripped off his duster, and Angel accepted it bemusedly. Not sure where this is going. Might be interesting, might be frightening, might have Xander Harris coming after me with a stake, not that that hasn't happened before... Which seemed even more likely as Spike began to undo his belt.

"Spike? What exactly are you doing?"

"Don't worry, ponce. I'm not on offer. I just want you to tell me," Spike said, turning around and lowering his jeans, "what the hell the boy's gone and stuck on my backside?"

It wasn't the sight of Spike calmly dropping his pants in front of somebody he'd been trying to beat up an hour ago. It wasn't the fact that Spike still wasn't wearing underwear. It wasn't the fact that Angel hadn't seen that ass in all its slim white glory in a hundred years, and six months hidden in a wheelchair didn't count. It was the bright orange and black tattoo on the upper part of Spike's left cheek that did it. Because it was Spike, in his manic phase, like right now. Bouncing. And Angel couldn't help it. He really couldn't.

*****

Cordelia had a half-second of panic while she realized that she'd left her keys in the apartment when they went out, but the door sprang open at her knock, though there was no one on the other side. Good old reliable Phantom Dennis. Xander followed, loaded down with a small duffel bag (more clothes?) and a cooler of blood for Spike which was probably way nasty by now. Cordy supposed Spike could make that judgement call in the morning; she wasn't about to. How do you know when blood's not fresh enough to drink anymore? Gross. Grossgrossgross. He could always raid the stash Angel kept here, anyway.

Then… then the horrible noise started up, and she was a lot less concerned with Spike and whether he got his liquid breakfast or not. The two humans looked at each other in panic.

"That's…" she whispered, and of course Angel and Spike were nowhere to be seen, and that was the sound of…

"That's Angel," said Xander, his eyes turning to slits. And it was. Angel. Laughing. Loud, and nonstop. It wasn't actually that awful a sound, might've been nice if it wasn't Angel. Laughing.

"He's possessed!" she said, stalking towards her bedroom door, where the sound was coming from.

"Or re-possessed. If he's Angelus," said Xander, joining her after retrieving the stake that Wesley had tucked down into the couch cushions, "I get to kill him. And then Spike."

The laughter continued as they stood outside the door wondering if they should enter or run for their lives, and Cordelia, meanwhile, put two and two together to come up with sixty-nine, and did not like the image it produced. "Eew! It's bad enough I have to think about Angel doing it with Buffy, now I've got him and Spike in my head too? Oh, thank you so much."

"Welcome to my world," Xander muttered. "They're vampires. Angel's his Sire. Stuff happens. You really didn't get that?"

"Yes, I...oh, yuck...got that. But I have this neat little thing in my head called the No-No Box. All pictures of Angel getting sweaty with anybody go into the No-No Box. Especially...hurk... Spike. You, Xander Harris, just opened the No-No Box and let out all the bad things. Now go in there and see what's really going on, you big strong hunk of man."

The least she could do was offer him the Y-chromosome role, after having reminded him of his recent, apparently-less-than-painful breakup. Oops. She'd even done him the favor of writing Anya's name on the back of his right hand so that he'd remember to call her in the morning and make sure she hadn't been eaten by Creeping Crud Demons, since loser boy hadn't talked to her in almost two weeks. Honestly, Xander was the kind of guy who used to have his milk money pinned to his shirt in elementary school. No, that had been Jesse Adams, come to think of it. Xander never had milk money. If he did, though, it would've been pinned to his shirt so he wouldn't forget to call his ex-girlfriend. Which made sense if you had the sound of Angel laughing echoing out of your bedroom.

Was Xander even grateful she'd allowed him to be the he-man? Nooo. Just made a nasty face at her and pushed open the door, to reveal Angel sitting on the edge of the bed, laughing so hard that tears were streaming down his face, and Spike grumpily pulling up his jeans. Not, however, before Cordy caught a decent glimpse of the fact that A) he wasn't wearing underwear and B) she should possibly open the No-No Box more often.

"Angel?" she said tentatively, wondering if the concept of Angelus being back was more or less scary than having seen Spike semi-naked.

"Ah…" gasp… "yeah." Snerk. "That's me."

"Not bad Angel?"

"No…" choke. "I don't think this…" wheeze "qualifies as a moment of happiness. Quite."

"Good," she said, taking charge. Finally, something she had some control over tonight. "Now get out! Don't know, don't care, please don't explain. Just get out of my bedroom. I am going to bed. You, " to Angel, " are going home, and you," to Spike, " are going to go sleep in a chair. Xander can have the couch. There's blankets in the closet next to the bathroom. Good Night!"

*****

"Budge up, then…" Spike said as Xander purposely stretched his legs over as much of the couch as he could, so Spike wouldn't be able to find a comfortable place to lie down. Except on top of him, which was the next logical choice, but that wasn't gonna happen either. "No. Go sleep in a chair." I can sulk if I want. That's my tattoo, and my vampire ass, and Angel doesn't get either of 'em.

"What's wrong with you? Princess went to bed, rotten ruddy Angel took off without tellin' me what the damn tattoo is, nobody can see us but the bloody ghost, and you didn't seem to have a problem with that earlier today," Spike said, and the dickhead was actually perplexed.

Why Xander felt like he was becoming Anya all of a sudden, with her 'If you don't know, I'm not gonna tell you' moods, he wasn't sure. Somewhere in the back of his mind, though, he was positive there was a logical reason for being pissed at Spike. Gee, could it be… dropping your pants and showing off your dangly bits to the whole world, asshole?

"I'm not speaking to you."

"You're not what?" Spike sounded amused by the concept. Of course he did. He'd walk around naked all the time without a care in the world if he didn't think the porno-jeans added to the whole sexy undead bad boy image. Not that they didn't. But... well, dammit, naked Spike was supposed to be just for Xander-- and when did he start thinking he owned Spike? He had such a success rate with other living things, after all. You killed a spider-plant, Xander. Do you know how hard it is to kill a spider-plant? Yes, Willow. I fought very hard, and at last succeeded. It died a valiant death. Not that Spike was a living thing, technically, but close enough for government chip work.

"You're not what? Excuse me?" Spike repeated, and Xander was glad the lights were out, so Spike couldn't see him make the kindergarten snotty-face at the vampire.

"I'm not speaking to you. Dennis, please tell Spike to go to sleep and shut the fuck up." Cordy's invisible ghost (and so much for the Xander-ookiness-spider-sense theory, since he hadn't known anything was here until Cordy told him about Dennis on the drive back) didn't do any such thing. Spike apparently got the point, though, because he stomped over to the black chair by the window and sat down in it.

Good. Xander wanted to sulk by himself anyway. He curled up facing the back of the couch. Not looking at Spike, who wasn't coming over to bug him. Fine. He didn't want Spike to torture him into getting a nice blow-job against his will, or anything, not that he'd really let that happen in Cordy's living room. He definitely didn't want to just cuddle with the empty-bleach-head who couldn't figure out why he was pissed. Nope. He'd had way too much chocolate to go to sleep any time soon, and he was pretty sure he could work up a real head of steam on his bad mood if he stayed awake long enough to really... Close his eyes, just for a minute...

*****

Spike waited until the sound of Xander's breathing turned deep and regular, waited until he was sure he wasn't going to get shouted at or whapped with a pillow or asked to explain why he'd done he wasn't entirely sure what to spack his head-case of a lover off. Not too unfamiliar, dealing with the deranged. Aside from himself, he'd had a hundred and eighteen years of practice with Drusilla, after all. Spike stood up, walked over to the sleeping figure on the couch, and knelt down beside him.

"Y'know, you're crazy," he said softly. "I don't even know what the hell you're mad at me for. " Silence, except for the sound of air going in and out of Xander's lungs, and, if he listened close, the beating of one heart. He brushed dark bang-fringe out of squinched-up eyes, and bent down to kiss Xander's forehead.

"Love you anyway," Spike whispered with no breath at all. He reached into his pocket and pulled out that last, somewhat squashed chocolate hug. Studied it, and then looked back at the man who had thrown it at him in the first place. And ain't I a complete ponce myself, these days. Anybody wanna argue with that one? No answer from his brain, so he assumed it agreed with him. Finally he put the chocolate into the open hand that rested on Xander's jean-clad thigh, curled the fingers over it, and went back to his chair.





12 Dark Hours

There'd been one of those silly dreams. You couldn't call it a nightmare. He was standing in front of April Fools. The prom shop in Sunnydale, and in the window there'd been Buffy, dressed in pink taffeta, leaning on the left edge of the frame, and Angel in a tux, looking extra-buff, with that tiny smirk on his face that wasn't a real honest Spike smirk, it was just Angel's sneaky little I-know-something-you-don't-know face. I'm so much better than you at everything, Xander Harris, and I've been everywhere you've been or wanted to be, if it was worth going there, and I was there first. Hey, even Anya thinks I'm large and glowery.

And right in the middle, there'd been Spike. In a tux, too, and one eyebrow raised, the one with the scar, and that smug little smile on his face, and Xander was almost sure this was gonna turn into one of those good dreams, the ones he had sometimes and he'd wake up with a hard-on. Last time it had happened, there'd been suddenly Spike's hand on it, and a low whisper in his ear of 'Somebody's awake, now, isn't he?' If Buffy and Angel would just leave, he might walk in that door and...until Spike pulled off his tux jacket, slipped off his suspenders, and dropped his pants, in the middle of the April Fools display window, and people started lining up outside to see. Willow, and Tara, and Giles, and Jonathan, and Mrs. Thompson, his mom's bridge partner…

Xander had frowned and shook and blinked and woken up and even laughed a little, and burrowed deeper into the cushions and drifted and then it hit.

*****

He's running. He's always running. Slap, slap, Reeboks or Keds or Thom McCann shoes with the little velcro straps when he couldn't quite get down the art of knot tying, slap, slap on pavement or sand or gravel. Louder than the sound of his own heart, almost louder than the sound of whatever is or isn't following him. From where, from what, oh, that changes. Sometimes it's from clowns or sharks with knives or his history class laughing, and he's in his underwear again, and those are simple to get away from. Run to awake and then stop. Laugh and breathe and go back to sleep.

Sometimes, though, it's from the kitchen, and the sound of smack and thud and thud and thud down eleven steps exactly and the sickening crack against the concrete floor below, the crack that never really came, but it could've, and him just standing there, watching. Watching. Sometimes it's from something big and dark and nameless that wants to eat the whole world, and him first. He's met too many of those to be afraid anymore. Not the running dream terror kind of afraid. He just stops and turns around and lets it wash over him, and wakes silent and a little more knowing.

Sometimes it's from some deserted building, some circle of stones, some piece of desert or beach, doesn't matter, and they're lying there, dead all around him. Willow, Giles, Buffy with a stake in her hand and her hair falling into her face, dead blue-green eyes staring at him, others. The ones that change. Oz, Cordy, Tara… Anya… Even Angel, he's seen sometimes, though Angel's not his friend, he doesn't give a damn for Angel, he hates Angel. And they're dead because they counted on him, and he just stood there. Watching. Because he's the only one who can't do anything, no brilliant intellect, no witchy stuff, no Slayer strength. Not a werewolf, not a vampire, not even Cordy who sees things now, just him. Just Xander and he's the last one standing, because he's nothing special, and there's nothing he can do, and he runs, from his dead friends. Slap, slap, scuff, slap.

Sometimes it's from a scuzzy little motel room, and it's the second time he's been there, and there's still stars swimming in front of his eyes, little gold eye-bugs and his throat hurts and he's safe, because Angel is standing in the door, so why is he running? But he is, he's running past Angel who should never have to save him from something this humiliating, and she was going to do it, her hands on his throat and half of him welcomed it when he screamed in his head, and half said no, nononono no vanillnokinksnochocolate pleaseIjustwantedtotalk and she was gonna do the other thing, too. The one where killing him was the nice part, she was gonna take what he gave her for free the first time, and he wasn't sure if it was before or after she'd killed him or if he even cared, and he can still hear her laughing at him as his feet slap slap slap down the street.

Sometimes, and he runs and he shivers in the pines where the sun never shines…it's this one. Slap, slap, slap on the sidewalk and the Bronze is behind him, unlit and silent, so why can he hear the music in his veins as he's running? never forget never forget never forget you… I don't dream at all… It's dark and it's over his shoulder and it's not the place he goes in all the time without a blink and with a smile and his friends on his arms. It's another place, the one that only lives in here, in his head. How he can walk back in when he wakes… because it's another place. Inside, if he turns around, it's there, but he won't, because he's running. Slap, slap, slap on the road, past Willow and Buffy, though he didn't really run, he walked and they talked and nothing will ever be the same again and somehow he got home, though he doesn't really remember whose bed he slept in or why he could taste waffles and maple syrup on his lips in the morning when his mother never cooks.

It's dark and he's running, from what, he knows but to what or who he's never quite sure. He's hot, sweat's dripping off him, his pants are dirty, wrinkled, his shoes are scuffed and he can hear that music behind him now, and he's running as fast as he can. It's Brookside Park in front of him, with caves up behind it that he's not supposed to go in, and the sandbox and the little bugs and horses on springs, and the swings. He's running to the swings, because if he can just swing high enough, it can't get him, what was back there can't find him, he won't have to watch. A Watcher scoffs at gravity. He jumps over the corner of the sandbox, jumps high because sharks live in there, it's the ocean, they used to play that way, Xander and Willow and nononono we don't say that name here when we're running for the swings but it's too late and it's right behind him and there's somebody on the swings. No empty one for Xander, and the sun comes out and he can see, though the dark is still behind him, burning the music down his back.

He's running, slap, slap, slap over the crunch gravel scuff soft grass, and there's the ones in the swings. The one in tweed with the soft gray-greenish eyes and the glasses who tilts his head and says "Come here, it's okay" but the words don't carry over the music and Xander can only see the lips moving, and then there's the other one. The other one, who sneers at him once, and then smiles and it hurts, it hurts his chest and he can't breathe right and he can feel it behind him, a hand on his shoulder and if he turns… So he looks straight ahead and there's leather and tweed and blue eyes open and arms with the black leather on them open and he's running, running, reaching for and it has him and he's still reaching for

*****

"Spike…" he called out with a gasp of breath that should've woken Cordy, should've woken Angel across town, should've woken Buffy and Riley in Santa Barbara, but somehow it didn't, though it at least woke Xander, and he reached out for Spike… who wasn't there. One hand hit something soft and firm that definitely wasn't Spike, the other hit nothing, and dropped back down to Xander's leg. Blinking, still breathing hard, he let his eyes adjust to the almost total darkness in the room… he wasn't in the basement. No red LED numbers on the clock radio, no creaky bedsprings, no Spike wrapped around him sleeping the sleep of the undead.

Face pressed up against the back of Cordy's couch and a pillow over his head… And that would explain the total darkness, moron. He was in L.A. Xander wiped at his forehead with his left hand, which was trapped between him and the sofa back. Covered with sweat, and dripping it all over Cordelia's nice furniture. Just that dream. One of the nightmares, and he knew which one, though the final images were fading, as they always did. He was used to it, though it hadn't come back since Spike had shared his bed.

Anya… Anya couldn't handle them; they'd freaked her out. She said she couldn't find him when he was asleep, and that made as much sense as anything that he'd been dreaming about, but he'd never found any words to say back to her on the subject. Hey, I'm fucked up. You're sleeping with me. What exactly does that make you? Yeah, like that wouldn't have started the Anyafight to end all Anyafights.

Funny, that he didn't have nightmares every night, just some, unless he was with Anya. Then, without fail… There'd been sex, and it was damn fine sex, enough to wear him out sometimes, like Anya was trying to make up for losing eleven hundred years in an immortal body by pushing her little human one to the limits, and taking him with her. Then they'd fallen asleep, Anya snuggled up to him, and it had felt nice, to have somebody there, but somewhere in the night, he'd roll away, and he'd get lost in one of those dreams. Running. Running. The dark started to close in on him now, and he forced his eyes open. Cordy's place. Central air, or she had some kind of deal going on with Phantom Dennis where he did the Sixth Sense thing, and she saved on heating and cooling bills. Xander shouldn't have been sweating, but he was, and cold air hit his back, and suddenly he was shivering.

Breathe, Xander. Just breathe. Spike's in a chair four feet away from you, and you're… Not speaking to him. Right. Because he… Because he dropped his damn jeans for Angel, to find out what the stupid tattoo was. Christ, Spike, it's Tigger. Get over it. Christ, Xander, you knew he'd do it. Get over it. You're sweaty and scared and Spike's four feet away from you and it's okay. It's dark and nobody can see you if you go over to the evil guy and ask if you can cuddle.

But he didn't. Didn't pull the pillow off his head and roll over to see if Spike was asleep or watching him, or staring out the window. Because the evil guy would see him if he went over there and asked if he could cuddle, and he was supposed to be a man, dammit. Of course, being mad about something as stupid as Spike mooning Angel and flashing Cordy, and then Spike not knowing why Xander was mad… It definitely screamed Arnold Schwarzeneggar at the top of its lungs, didn't it. Possibly Peewee Herman. More likely Jack, from 'Will and Grace.' Or Grace, see above. I am woman, hear me sulk.

So Xander just shoved his head further under the pillow, soaked with sweat already, and tried to breathe. Tried to listen to his own heart beat slower as the dream faded away into that half-real place where that dream always went, until he couldn't remember much more than running, and what he was running from. Something that, if he'd turned around, would've looked familiar, like somebody he knew a long time ago, and familiar, because it would've looked just a little like Spike.

You're dating a demon, by the way, Xander… his brain gnawed at him. Yeah, he knew. Sometimes this little voice came up in the middle of the night even with Spike there, holding him. It wasn't a dream; he was wide awake and he knew he was crazy. He killed two things for you today, Xander. Or maybe it was yesterday. Two things that wore jeans and drove a pickup truck, and it was because one of them put his hand on you. Sure, but… Buffy kills things, he argued back,and that's okay, and anyway he killed them 'cause he likes to kill things. Whether they walk on two legs doesn't matter. Which of course made everything alright. Because Spike wouldn't kill… oh, say, Willow, or Giles, or Buffy, or Cordy, if the chips were down, so to speak. Would he?

If Spike was holding him, he could shove that voice away, but Spike wasn't holding him. Smaller. If he could curl up smaller, he could shut that voice up. He was thirsty, and he wanted a drink of water, or Pepsi, and Cordy had Pepsi in the fridge. Not diet, but the real thing. Maybe for Wesley. But Xander wasn't about to get up and get a cold Pepsi, wasn't about to taste cool sugar sweet caffeine sliding down his throat, because then he'd have to look at Spike, and Spike wasn't holding him, and Spike always held him. Always when two weeks was suddenly a lifetime and who was Anya again? That girl he had to call in the morning to see if she was still alive, because he'd forgotten there was somebody before Spike. Who wasn't holding him.

Why would something that lived, or existed, anyway, to kill, want to hold him? Fuck him, maybe, if Spike was bored, insult him, sure, play with his head as he'd accused one Sunday morning all of twelve days ago. But why would a demon, who couldn't do the luuurve thing, really, 'cause he had no soul, but beautiful, so damn beautiful, and no wonder 'cause demons are just fallen angels… Why would something that had drunk the blood of a thousand people just like Xander… hold him? Tickle him? Smooth his hair and feed him pudding and spank him if he asked nicely for it and almost rock him to sleep that one night when he'd asked for too much? Whywhywhywhywhywhy… Why did he trust Spike, just because Spike said he could? Why?

He couldn't breathe, and it had to be just the pillow on top of him, the heat, so finally, finally, Xander shoved the pillow over just a little, off the front of his face, and let in a blast of cool air. He brought his right hand, the cold one, the one that had been resting on his jeans, to his face-- and smelled chocolate. Unclasping the fist he'd made in his sleep, Xander slowly uncurled fingers that were so tight they actually creaked when they unbent. White chocolate, in a scratchy metal wrapper against his lips. He hadn't gone to sleep with candy in his hand, with a Hershey's Hug wrapped in his fingers. Somebody had put it there. He still couldn't breathe, and he was still shivering from the cold on his sweat-drenched back.

Xander shoved the pillow off, heard it hit the sheet that he'd kicked off with a soft thuf sound, and then he could hear. Quiet shush of the central air blower coming from the vent, and Spike, talking to somebody, in the chair by the window. Xander turned to face him, and there was a little light, just a little streetlight glare coming in the blinds that he supposed Spike had closed after Xander had fallen asleep. It turned Spike in the chair into a silver shadow of a sharp face, eyes closed, slumped down and talking to nobody.

"Fucking bitch… you made him go…" Spike muttered, and his voice was full of nastiness-- no, not nasty. Nasty meant Spike could control himself. This was fire and poison, and the torn edge of a sob, almost. Though Spike couldn't cry, could he? "Again. You made 'im leave again! Hate you… Shh… pet, s'alright, I'll take care of you. I'll… I'll protect you, luv. S'my name, y'know. Means… Dru? Pet, don't hide from me…"

No mention of his name, just the ghosts of Spike's past, and Xander wondered why it didn't matter. It was the sound of that voice, low and so obviously a man's voice, but almost kidlike, that was freezing Xander there on the couch. Not just the words.

"Hell, where's everybody gone? Don't…" and it was down to a whisper now, so soft that Xander had to strain to hear it. "Don't leave me…"

Lost, and it chilled Xander more than the air in the room, more than the fact that he wasn't afraid of ghosts anymore, more than the idea of Drusilla sinking her fangs into his neck had, on Valentine's Day, 1998. Spike couldn't be lost. He was the biggest, baddest, dickheadedest monster around, and if Spike was lost… If Spike's lost, how will he ever find me? He drew in a ragged breath of his own, he couldn't help it. You had to breathe sometimes, if you hadn't hit the obituaries yet.

"Xander?" And he thought he'd woken Spike up… but the eyes were still closed, shut even tighter now, and it was his name, his name on Spike's lips, in Spike's voice. In Spike's sleep. In Spike's nightmares. "Where've you gone, luv? Xander?"

And Xander tumbled off the couch, bare toes digging into the sheet on the floor, scrambling for the chair. Crawling up, his hands on Spike's knees, creak of that fake leather chair, hands on Spike's shoulders, softly shaking the vampire awake. Anything, anything not to hear it like that, that voice, that lost place. If he couldn't find Spike…

"Spike, wake up," he choked out. "Wake up."

A little cough, a shake of Spike's head, and white fingers reaching for Spike's forehead, to rub at sweat that hadn't formed there. As if Spike had nightmares long enough ago that he still expected his body to react to them the way a human's would. Then an arm snaked out and pulled Xander down to Spike's lap.

"S'matter, pet? Bad dream?" And like, that, Spike was awake. Boom. The voice Xander knew. Solid, in control, maybe a little amused at him.

"No…" he lied, though it had been, the worst of them, but that wasn't what sent him over here, was it. "You. You were." He wasn't speaking in complete sentences, of course. English as a first language had never been his strongest class. Or French, or math, or… "You were having a nightmare."

Spike's eyes were open, glinting a little in the tiny stripes of streetlamp light across his face. "Nah, not me. I don't have bad dreams, kid. I'm a vampire."

"Liar…" Xander said softly, laying his head down against Spike's shoulder. "You told me yourself. You had one that first morning, after we… after we did it."

Spike chuckled. "Did it? I'm sorry, how many candles on your last birthday cake? Seven? Eight?" But he found Xander's right hand, and… "Erm. Chocolate. Squished chocolate. Nummy. For me?"

"From you, right?" Spike licked the melted chocolate off Xander's fingers, not answering.

"Fine, then," Xander added after a bit, when the feeling of Spike's tongue on his fingers was replaced by Spike just holding his hand, and there was still no answer. "After we made love."

Oh, and there was a really quiet quietness. Is Xander allowed to use that girly phrase, ladies and gentlemen? Without saying 'lur-ur-ur-urve' or snooting it out in a fake French accent? To Spike, whose favorite word for it is 'shag', like it was carpet-laying, or something?

Apparently so, or maybe Spike was just distracted, because Spike's other hand was around Xander's back, pressing against the wetness of his sweatshirt, and Spike rubbed circles there. Frowned, and when Spike frowned, you could see it even in tiny silver slivers of light.

"No bad dreams, eh? I bite 'em, you stake 'em? Liarliarliar…" Spike whispered.

"I didn't," Xander lied again, and Spike brought a finger to Xander's lips.

"I'm evil. I'm allowed. You're a White Hat; you're not s'posed to lie."

Xander bit at that finger lightly. "White hats give me hat-head. When've you ever seen me in a hat?"

"Pizza delivery. And it did. Y'looked like a Shi Tzu with an electric line up its arse." Spike ruffled Xander's hair, which really didn't want to ruffle, soaked with sweat as it was.

"And thank you for that image, which I'll carry with me to my grave…"

Still cold and hot. Still shivering, even in Spike's arms. Still couldn't breathe right. Xander raised his head up, lifted his mouth for a kiss, hoping it was there and waiting for him, and it was. Spike bent his head and their lips met, and Spike was soft and slow, but Xander was sucking away as if he could draw Spike into himself if he tried hard enough, his tongue exploring every space inside Spike's mouth, chocolate-flavored again. It was hot and cold and it made him want to do something, but he wasn't sure what, and there was nothing he'd be willing to do in Cordy's living room, anyway, and he broke away. Put his head down again. Whywhywhywhywhy Spike? Why are you so fucking nice to me? Why do I want you to be? Why do I care? Do you wanna get a cat? Xander wondered if Spike knew any of the answers, but he wasn't about to ask. Wasn't gonna ask.

Spike reached a hand down, stroking Xander's thigh. Slow and soft and easy, and… yeah, that hand was creeping there… and Xander squirmed a little, wanting it but not, wanting the feel of Spike inside him, him inside Spike, any of the touching of places that had come to feel so good so fast… And knowing it wasn't what he needed, somehow.

"Spike, no…" and he tried hard not to make it come out as a whine, as a little kid's voice. "Just… no. Not here, and…"

"What, then? And…" Spike half-mocked. "And I thought you weren't speakin' to me."

Oh yeah. That little thing. "I'm not. This is just another bad dream," Xander said with something like a laugh.

"Thought so," Spike answered, moving the hand on Xander's back down, just a little lower. Traveling steadily south.

"No!" Xander said, louder than he should've, but there was no noise from behind Cordy's closed bedroom door, and nothing thrown at them by her pet invisible ghost, so maybe not. "No, you… and I realize I'm sounding a little bit Dr. Laura here, but you can't fix everything with sex."

And he meant the bad dreams, but Spike took it otherwise, Xander guessed, because there was that frown again, and something of that lost voice in a sigh that should never have come out of Spike's lips, and Xander couldn't take it.

"I'm sorry," he said, way too desperately, and was there an echo in here, or did Spike just say the same thing, same time, like a bad duet of 'You May Be Right' screamed out at the top of their lungs in a moving car?

"You?" Spike asked, turning Xander's face up, forcing him to look right into those eyes that held his own reflection, though Xander's eyes would nevernevernever show Spike. "What the hell're you sorry for?" And Xander broke away from that touch, and buried his face against Spike's t-shirt, because… He wasn't supposed to do it. He wasn't supposed to do it, and Spike was never supposed to see it, but why was Spike sorry? Why did he reach out for Spike, for the bad guy, for the smartass who made all their lives miserable, and why did Spike have him here in cool, strong arms, whywhywhywhywhy and

Spike's lips against the top of his head, and "Boy, why are you crying?"

And even I know that one, dumb Zeppo Xander, 'cause you can't grow up with Willow Rosenberg reading you bedtime stories since you were three and not know that one. And who's Peter freakin' Pan here, huh, Spike, who's never gonna grow up?

"Fuckin'…shadow's come off, an… can't stick it on with soap…" he choked out. Wasn't that the right answer? Were they playing Tag-line? He couldn't stop. It didn't make any sense, not that anything in his life did, really, Hellmouth, Buffy, Anya, Spike… but he couldn't stop, and he was shaking into Spike's chest, and geez, you'd think at least this would make Spike give it up and laugh at him, but no.

"Yeah, lost boy, got that bit. Ten out of ten. Why're you crying, Xander? What'd I do?" Spike still thought it was about the tattoo, about Angel, about…what?

"Nothin'. You didn't…" And he couldn't even talk anymore, just leaned his head against Spike and sobbed, as quietly as he could. Don't wake up Cordy, she'll see us, and there'll be eews, and possible staking… Getting Spike's t-shirt as wet and salty as the back of his own sweatshirt.

"Then what's wrong, pet? Tell me. Tell me an' I'll make it better, whatever it bloody is."

Nononono, Spike wasn't supposed to say shit like that, Spike was supposed to laugh, or smirk, or light up one of those menthol cigarettes that would smell so good right about now, but he wasn't supposed to say that.

"What's the matter? Aw, please Xander, just soddin' tell me," Spike pleaded, his arms tight, way too tight around Xander, and finally Xander drew in a hiccupping sob, and got a breath, for a second.

"I don't know, okay? I just don't…know." But he did. He did, and as Spike laid the side of his face against the top of Xander's head, resting there, rocking him, really rocking him this time, he just tried not to lose every ounce of fluid in his body, and cried. Because… because it was Spike, and…

And I love you, dammit. I love you, and I don't know why, and I don't know what it means…and I'm scared. And Spike just held him there, shushshushshushing at him, like he'd done this with crazy Dru, maybe, so he was used to it, slowly rocking back and forth, softly creaking the chair, never letting go.

*****

You can only cry for so long, before your throat starts to hurt, and your head starts to hurt, and you have to stop so you don't get too much snot on Spike's shirt, though it was really too late for that last one. Xander drew in a breath, and it was slow, and came kind of clear, and didn't break in the middle. And let's throw caution to the winds and try another, folks… And the next one worked the way lungs were supposed to work, too.

Spike didn't let go, but he slowed down his movements back and forth. Just a tiny little rock, just the sounds of Spike kissing him on the ear for a minute.

"Better, luv?"

It hurt to swallow, Xander found out pretty quickly, but it was that or try to talk with that lovely crying-phlegm in his throat.

"Yeah…" Which maybe Spike could hear, with his super-bat-hearing, or something, but it didn't sound very loud to Xander.

Spike turned Xander's face up again. Oh… now… no, don't do that, don't make me look at you… Long fingers, with the suddenly blunt ends, with the silver punky heavy-metal rings, traced tear-tracks up and own his face, for a long time.

"What're you doing?" Xander asked, forcing out enough air for that. His chest still hurt, for some reason, and it tickled when Spike's fingers traced over his eyelashes.

"Remembering…" Spike answered, his voice coming as if from far away, and then he was all there, in a snap of a finger's time. "Shh, luv, I've got you."

The vampire shifted Xander a little, so he was laying completely against Spike's shoulder, his legs across Spike's lap, and the movement set off another ragged indrawn breath, like maybe he could cry some more? Oh, God, he hoped not. Enough was enough.

Spike heard it too. "What can I do?"

"Drink from me." He wanted it, wanted that closeness he'd felt when Spike had done it that one other time, just a little bit, like he was part of Spike. Needed it.

"Xander, that's not a great idea. Not in the lion's den, and you're not exactly… I don't need it, ducks. Really."

Xander shook his head. "I.. for me. I need it."

His lover looked at him. Silver shadows. So fucking beautiful, so fucking crazy strange. "You? You need it?"

"Mm-hmm. Please." Silence. "Please?"

Spike put his hands on Xander's chest, loosening his hold. "You… need me to drink from you."

"Yes, Spike!" God, what did it take, a big sign on his forehead that said 'Victim, get your victim here' ? Spike never had given him a straight answer when he asked if there was one already there, a million years ago in the basement.

He could've sworn he heard Spike gulp. One of those 'My adam's apple is suddenly too big for my throat' gulps. The kind you get when you've been crying for way too long, but Spike wasn't crying, Spike couldn't possibly cry, and his face was dry. His face was changing, into that monster face that really wasn't scary at all. Not on Spike, though somewhere back in the bad place Xander had been when he was sleeping, it was scary on somebody else.

Xander turned up his neck. Just like that. How fast do you learn to offer yourself up to something dangerous? Two weeks? How fast do you come to believe it's not dangerous at all, except to your heart? Two weeks? Months? Years? And kisses, warm against his skin, that chin with the stubborn jaw digging into his collarbone. When did he start to hear what Spike heard, the thump-rush-hiss of blood in his own veins? Sharp, sharpsharpsharp teeth. Sharks live here. Soft… so soft, so slow into his skin, just like needles, though he'd never liked needles, but this was fiery little cold-hot-sweetsweetsweet inside him. And then Spike sucking at him. Slow, slow as hot fudge sauce pouring out of a jar, and Xander lay there, and all he could think, all he could feel, was

Heneedsmeheneedsmeheneedsmeheneedsmeheneedsme…I love him. Love Spike, and at least… he needs me. And he drifted, floating, in Spike's arms. Warm and the --strange-- safest he'd ever been. Drifted…

*****

"No, you don't… Xander, wake up. Wake up!" Spike's voice was calling him out of somewhere nice, but it was Spike's voice, after all and maybe wherever Spike was it was nice too… Xander blinked, looked up into frightened blue eyes.

The lamp by the chair was on, casting a dim gold glow over the room that had been silver before. Spike was wearing his human face, and it was… mmmm, nice to look at. Everything was…nice…

"Xander, how many fingers am I holdin' up?"

Fingers? Spike was holding up fingers? Hmm… One… two… was that three, or was there a little pink worm floating in the air between Spike's fingers, and Spike was flipping him the British bird?

"Um… three?" Spike shook his head.

"Wrong answer. Shit. Fuck. Xander, what'd you eat today?"

Um… Geez, if he'd known there was gonna be a quiz, he would've taken better notes. Blink. Blink. Maybe if he just got a little sleep, he remember…

Snap! In his face, and Spike growling. Human growl. "No you don't, I said. You can't go to sleep, Xander. Talk to me. What'd you have to eat?"

"I don't know… sucker. All that Cadbury's stuff. Moon Pie. Big dinner at the diner… Nothin' could be finer…" What, Spike was the only one allowed to be a poet? "Pie. Lots of pie. Hugs…" He grinned faintly, and gave Spike a half-hearted hug. Well, it was all-hearted, really, but his arms didn't seem to be working right.

"Little bit of your blood, when we were… y'know… makin' lur-uurve…" He was sure there was something else. "Oh yeah. Pie. Lotsa pie."

"You said that already," Spike said, and he didn't sound any less worried.

"I like to repeat myself. It makes it seem like I have something memorable to say," Xander said seriously.

Spike looked at Xander and seemed like he wanted to smile, but maybe it was just gas? No, that was for babies, not vampires who didn't even have working digestive systems. And just where did all that people-food go, anyway? Poof? Maybe that was where Spike got all his extra energy. Straight down the throat and into the blood. The sneaky-snuck somebody else's blood. Do not pass Go, do not go through the icky human intestinal tract, and neither shall ye say 'look out kidneys, here it comes…'

"Hey Mom, guess what, I'm gay…" popped out of his mouth, and Spike's eyes almost crossed.

"What was that?"

"Non-sequiter tennis. Willow and I used to play it on the bus on the way to grade school. We were the only two kids in second grade who knew what a non-sequiter was, I'll tell you that. Course, I just lost, 'cause I explained it to you."

Spike lifted him up and set him down on the chair, standing over him.

"You're babbling. "

"Yeah, well, just call me Alexander…"

"You're really babbling. Sit there, and don't fall asleep. Hell, all that ghost-food from the diner wasn't real. All you've had to eat today is chocolate and soda, an' that's long gone. I'm such a bloody moron," Spike said, smacking himself on the forehead. He disappeared into Cordy's kitchen, but he was back in a few seconds. Could've been a few hours, actually, since Xander was just kind of sitting in the chair staring at the wall. Nice print of… was that cows dancing? Maybe Spike had been holding up two fingers, after all.

"Here…" and Spike was back at his side, holding a cold can of something to his lips. "Drink this. You're prob'ly completely dehydrated. Humans." Mutter mutter. What was that? "Humans… never did this with a human before…"

"You never… what," asked Xander, his mouth full of Pepsi, and suddenly he needed to drink and drink and drink because yeah, there was nothing left in his body but dry salt. Can drained, and… Oops, we made a noise that vampires don't usually make, because we just drained an entire can of carbonated something and that means we burp. Humans do that. Heck, maybe vampires do that too, when they've just had a nice juicy human and they've drained him in three seconds.

"This one too?" and there was another, something cold, in a glass this time. Orange juice, yay healthy Cordy.

Ho-ho's? Do I get Ho-ho's, too? I just donated blood, it's only fair, it's traditional? He drank it, Spike holding it too, though really, he could've held it himself. He could focus on the print on the wall now, and it was something with ballet dancers, Degas or something like that, and Spike was holding up an empty glass. "You never what with a human?" Xander asked again, a lot more coherently, as Spike handed him something soft, that smelled really good. No Ho-ho's in Cordy's place, but what, chewy chocolate chip granola bar? Oh yeah, sooo much more healthy. Just 'cause it's got oatmeal in it? Something Spike had never done? Couldn't be drinking, draining, he'd done that a million, zillion times.

"Drunk from a human with their permission, brat. When I wasn't tryin' to kill 'em." Spike wiped the sweaty hair off Xander's forehead, crouching down next to the chair.

"Just me?" Just him? Nobody but Xander had ever given Spike anything of his own free will? Spike set the empty glass on the little table next to the couch, the one with the bowl of candy on it that you could reach even from the chair. Then he picked Xander up again. Hurf? granola crumbs on Cordy's floor, and wouldn't she be overjoyed. And how did Spike just? swoop and do that? He's shorter than me, dammit. Unfair. Vampire? so-and-so?

The shortish dead guy who could pick him up and carry him like a baby, or maybe like Scarlet O' Hara, moved over to the couch and sat Xander upright at one end, and Xander whimpered, in spite of himself. He was awake, and he was more or less conscious, and he knew what a damn stupid thing he'd just done. Giving blood on an empty stomach. But he didn't want to go back to sleep again with Spike in the chair, didn't want to fall back into that place, wanted, wanted Spike's arms around him. "You can't sleep in that chair," he said logically. 'You'll get fried when the sun comes up."

Spike smiled at him. "That's what designer mini-blinds are for. But I'm not gonna sleep in the chair." And Spike sat down at the end of the couch with the pillow, leaned back, and drew Xander back against him. Arms close around him. Safe. Nuzzled his neck, and Xander giggled. The light was still on, and that was good too.

"You okay now?" Spike asked, and maybe he was talking about whether Xander was gonna slip into a coma or maybe he was talking about whether Xander was gonna slip into the nuthouse and start crying all over him again, but either way, yeah. Xander was more or less okay. Scared, shaky, and wondering what the hell he was going to do about the fact that he was in love with? Spike? oh yeah. That. Maybe not so okay.

He let his head fall back against Spike, and lied again. Half-lied. "Uh-huh. Sorry I scared you." "You're sorry? Hey, what the hell were you sorry about in the first place?" Spike wrapped his legs in around Xander's, and they lay back against the pillow, just feeling the cool air.

"Sorry I brought you here. I didn't mean to?" He didn't mean to stick Spike in the middle of something that would tear him up inside, whether there was anything to be jealous about or not. Still mad at Spike about dropping his pants, though.

"S'okay. Me an' Angel? Can't say we're the best of friends, but I'm not gonna kill him. Really." Killing him wasn't what Xander was worried about, but somehow with Spike's arms on him, Spike's face pressed against his, it didn't seem important right now.

"What're you sorry about?" Xander asked. Spike had said so. Said he was sorry. Maybe he'd figured out the whole tattoo thing after all. Spike ran one finger down the side of Xander's face. Cool. Cool on his skin, and it felt good.

"Sorry I just about sent you into low-blood-sugar-shock, f'r one thing."

"No, before that. Don't think you're gonna get out of it that easy."

"Oh. Er. Sorry for whatever it was I did that got you pissed off in the first place?" Spike was wheedling now. Meaning?

"You still have no idea, do you."

"Not a fuckin' clue. Wanna give me a hint? You speakin' to me now, by the way?"

"No, I don't wanna give you a hint, and yes, I'm speaking to you. And yes, I'm still pissed." He didn't feel all that pissed, but it was never a good idea to let Spike get away with something. Because next time? Xander was positive he could work up some righteous indignation in the morning. Assuming Spike woke up in time to stop Cordy seeing them together on the couch.

"And I suppose me just saying I'm sorry ain't gonna cut it?" Spike tried again.

"Nope."

"You could always turn me over your knee and spank me really hard, since I obviously did something unforgivable."

"Nice try. You wish."

"Really really hard? Cover girl's got a nice big hairbrush in 'er room."

"I'm so not spanking you with Cordy's hairbrush. That's beyond the city limits of wrong. You think she'd wanna brush her hair with something that's touched your ass?"

"You've touched my arse, and she gave you a bloody kiss goodnight. I didn't get a kiss goodnight."

"Good Night, Spike." And Xander gave him a kiss goodnight. It lasted a while.

"G'night, pet. Still pissed-off?"

"Yup. Don't worry. I'll think of something suitable. Good Night, Spike." Which meant another kiss, of course. Silence, and Xander was almost asleep, almost sure he'd be safe from the running dreams, and...

"It's maple wood?"

"Good Night, Spike." And since the precedent had been set, there was a kiss, where tongues played around a little, but Xander was awfully tired, and  "I'll buy you one when we get home, Spike."

"I know," Spike said, petting his hair like he was a puppy-dog, or maybe a cat, though Spike was supposed to be the cat, and there it was, the  hmm,  rumbling purr deep in Spike's chest, that sent Xander sleepward. I love him he thought helplessly as he fell back into that soft, low sound. God -- and I really mean God, if you're there -- I love him. What do I do?





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