Non-Sequitopia


by
Misanthrope7842



         
         
         








Part Sixteen   Past and Present



Xander unlocked the door to their apartment and headed straight for the refrigerator.  He opened the door and Spike half expected it to fly off the hinges with the force.  Instead of producing a beer, Xander threw a container of blood into the microwave, then retrieved a bottle of water for himself.  When the blood was warmed, he took it and sat at the table, his usual seat.  His back was to Spike, as if it were entirely optional for the blond to join him.

It wasn't, of course, so Spike entered the kitchen and sat across from Xander.  Xander pushed the blood to him, and Spike took it, afraid of what might happen if he refused.  Xander might stop.  He might continue.

"Give"

"I'm sor-"

"Tell me what got into you back there.  Don't say you're sorry.  Don't extrapolate. Don't tell me it was the girl, because we both know she was a joke. You're thinking again.  Doubting me.  Us." Xander's calm tone was underscored by the tightness in his jaw and the way he clenched the bottle of water in his hands.

"No." Spike remembered his words from the previous day: 'Don't you dare doubt me on this, Spike'.

"What then? You used that word. That's not... that's not what we do. I thought it was more than that. And you deliberately baited me in there, with what you said. 'Of humanity'. You want to go do other humans, you go right ahead, but don't fuck with my head, Spike. I'm not here for you to play with." Xander was still mad, but he was more confused. Again, Spike was upset at something he had done, but was refusing to let him in on it. He didn't know why Spike pushed him away, cut him out, but Xander didn't like it. He was tired of feeling useless, that was why he left, and he didn't want to start this relationship with old inadequacies coming back to him.

"Did you miss me?" Spike asked finally, staring into the mug of rapidly cooling blood as if it contained the answers.

"Spike, of course I missed you.  Every moment."

"Did you cry?"

"Do I need to get the ruined blueprints to prove it to you?  Why the hell do you think I worked so damn hard?  For a promotion?"

"Like that wasn't all you could talk about in there?" Spike stood, wanting to pace and rant and smoke. So he did.

"Well, I thought we were moving on.  That's what people do after a fight.  No, usually they fix it, then move on.  But you wouldn't let me. You ran."

"I'm still here, aren't I?"

"Are you?" Xander tried to pin down his eyes, force him to look at him and tell him what was wrong.

"It isn't something you can fix." Spike stopped moving, sounding defeated.

"How do you know if you won't tell me?"

"This isn't going to work."

"Why not?" Xander might have panicked at that, but this would work, it had to. Spike could do the freaking out for them both; right now Xander could see Spike needed him to be strong, needed him to guide him. He had gotten used to picking out when human emotions had confused and hurt and scared Anya, and he was finding that it wasn't so much different now with Spike. Subtler, yes; louder, yes; smokier, hell yes. Different, not so much.

"Me." Spike sank back down in the chair, leaning back and watching his cigarette burn rather than actively smoking it.

"You?" Xander led him on, trying to let Spike get this out on his own pace.

"I shouldn't have this, Xander.  You know what I am."

"I know who you are."

"Not a who."

"Don't."

"Not."

Xander was up then, pulling Spike to his feet.  It wasn't an act of force, though Spike didn't doubt Xander could do it. He was remarkably strong for a human, and Spike wasn't exactly a paragon of vampiric ability these days.  He was pulled along by Xander's bearing.  So dominant, so controlling, so much what he needed.

"You're coming with me."

Again he took Spike into his bedroom.  Positioning him near the dresser, Xander tossed a pair of sweat pants at him.  He walked to the other side of the room, back turned.

"Let me know when you're done."  The clipped speech, the ramrod straight posture, the hands clasped behind his back, reminiscent of the soldier he'd once lived, all signs that this man was not to be denied.  

Spike dressed quickly, leaving his shirt on.  He hoped that was okay.  Xander was angry, and he hadn't been instructed either way.  This was where the taking came, his purpose became clear.  Words from earlier would be stripped down to their truth, leaving Spike with no doubt as to what love meant this time around.  This was exactly what Spike expected, exactly what he had wanted, until it became reality. Now he just wanted the Xander that had comforted him, made eveything better for a while.

He faced Xander, also in sweats and a tee shirt, back still turned.  "I'm finished, Ma-."  He stopped himself.  He hadn't been instructed on how to address Xander.
    
"Come here."  Spike came.  "I know you said you didn't want to stay in here, and you can go when this is done.  I just thought it might get a little long and I didn't want us to be uncomfortable."  He had to explain.  He knew the look in Spike's eyes, the fear and the resignation, and even the want and need.  He had made that face himself once or seventy times, and needed to reassure Spike it was unnecessary. He wasn't here to take from Spike, he was here to give to him, whatever he needed.

Spike nodded.  Xander's tone was not as hard, but still not normal.  There would be no cuddling tonight. That was understandable, after his earlier response to such an action, he would be surprised if he was ever allowed that luxury again.  He expected nothing more than his lesson.

Xander sat.  Spike sat.  He followed Xander's lead.  Whatever he had in mind, and Spike had no idea what that was. Previous experience was offering no help whatsoever.  But he knew better than to stand while Master was sitting.  He realized he should be kneeling, but before he could rectify that, Xander spoke.

"Spike, there's more to this than just Buffy-soul guilt, isn't there."

Spike hesitated, not knowing whether to speak. Finally he figured that he had been asked a direct question, so he chanced a reply. "Yeah."

"Which one?"

"What?"

"Dru or Angel.  Angelus.  Whatever."

"Not whatever.  Angel isn't someone I know, he didn't want to know me."  This was not a Master talk, this was a Xander talk.  But the posture remained, so Spike knew the lesson would come later. He hoped.  He feared.

"Him then." Xander turned his body to look at Spike while he sat. Spike was subdued, sitting as still as Xander had ever seen him, head bowed. Xander got the feeling somewhere deep in his stomach that as much as this was out of character for the Spike he had once known, that this was a position in which the vampire had often found himself. Surprisingly enough, he didn't seem uncomfortable with the pose, but more or less... disappointed.

"Him." Spike confirmed with a slight nod of his head.

"That's part of it, isn't it? That he didn't come back to you afterwards?"

"Yeah."

"Did you love him?"

"It's complicated, Pet."

"Jesus, Spike!  Why does everyone tell me that?  I ask a question and I get 'it's complicated'.  I know it's complicated.  Hence the asking.  Like that's enough of an answer.  Oh, I wanted to know, but if it's complicated, then forget it.  I'm not fucking stupid!"

Spike waited for Xander's ranting, complete with flailing arms and exaggerated expressions, to subside. "I don't think you're stupid.  When people tell you that, it's not because they don't think you'd understand.  It's because they don't understand it themselves."

"Oh." Xander looked chagrinned.  "That's a yes."

"That's a yes."

"More than just the Sire-childe thing, then?"

"He's not my bloody Sire." Looking directly in his eyes, now, and Xander could see the hurt, the pain, and the anger. Spike couldn't hide anything in those eyes, no matter how good a liar he was. Not from Xander.

"I was there, Spike.  When you met him again in the school.  I know."

Dropping his head again, "Yeah.  And yeah."

"That's when you started denying him, isn't it? Because-"

"He thought I wouldn't know. He denied me first."

"Yeah, he did. I don't blame you, but, more?"

Nod now, anymore 'yeah's would be repetitive.

"And he hurt you?"

Nod.

"Yeah, he's good at that. I know the feeling."

"No, I don't think you... What are you saying, Pet?"  Angel would never do anything to hurt Xander, not like this.  But the tone of Xander's voice told him he had, that Xander knew.

Xander took a deep breath.  Never a good sign.  "When he was Angelus again.  He came after me, a few times, when Buffy had kicked his ass and he needed someone to take it out on. Willow, too, but she wasn't as easy as me. It took a while, longer than I think he planned."

Xander shifted on the bed. "He said I was too much fun to rush. But when he had finally had enough of the mind games, you know."  Spike knew. He nodded and waited for Xander to continue. Xander took another deep breath, calming himself and trying to remind himself that that time had passed, that he was not there now. It was hard to do; Angelus was nothing if not thorough in his methods.  "When it was time he came to my house.  Was getting ready to...well, do whatever he was going to do to get me out with him, cause I sure as hell wasn't inviting him in. He was too late."

Spike waited, not liking where this was going. He was afraid he already knew.  Angelus had been picky, refused to be anybody's second.  It was one of the few things, the only thing that could make him change his mind once a plan had been initiated.  And Angelus had never had the boy, of that he was certain.

"My dad had just fini..." Xander trailed off, took a deep breath and tried again.  "He'd just gotten done with me.  He left then, said I wasn't worth... He didn't bother me again after that."  Xander finished.  Spike wasn't sure if it was relief or shame or what Xander was feeling.  There was anger, long ago dealt with, but that could never be gotten over. Yeah, Xander knew, all right.

"I'm..."  Spike didn't know what to say.  He was sorry that Xander had to go through that, with his father.  But he was glad he had been spared the attack from Angelus.  He hoped Xander could understand as he left the sentence hanging. He tried to convey his emotions and leaned back against Xander, letting the larger man comfort himself by holding Spike, stroking his arms and over his back. Spike had picked up on Xander's need to feel in control of things, especially when he wasn't, and letting him take care of him this way was the only solace he could provide at the moment.

"Yeah, me too."  Of course Xander understood.  "I know it was different for you, but I know a little. Can you trust me on that?"

Spike nodded. "You should have given him the invite."

"You have no idea how many times I've had that thought."  Xander was smiling.  This was good.  Curled into Xander's side, his strong fingers playing along his back, discussing their mutual abuser... okay, so it was warped and twisted and still scary as hell, but it was good.

"Spike, listen to me for a minute.  I know that one talk or ten or fifty aren't going to fix this,  And I know that this wasn't our last fight.  But I love you and pissing me off isn't going to change that.  It isn't going to stop it.  The only way that happens is if you tell me you don't want it anymore.  And even then I'll still love you. But you have to give me the benefit of the doubt sometimes. You can't just push me away and expect me not to follow." Xander brushed his lips softly over Spike's temple. He sat back a little and Spike accepted his dismissal and began to leave.

"Spike?"  He turned in the doorway to look at Xander.  "If you ever make me come out in the middle of an argument again, I'll replace your hair gel with holy water."  Xander was still smiling.

So Spike left, getting to his room before he realized that there had been no lesson, no session, no whatever Xander would have called it if he had done it.  And maybe that was the lesson.


Part Seventeen   Secrets



Spike did not wake when Xander left for work.  He hadn't yet been to sleep.  This wasn't a vampire/ middle of the night /stress thing.  This was a thinking way too hard thing. While the former had often robbed him of his sleep, the latter rarely gave him insomnia. It wasn't that he didn't think, it was simply that most of the time he thought about whatever it was, came to a conclusion and moved on. He was different now, and apparently, that included his thought processes.

Even before the soul guilt he had needed this, needed to be punished.  That was why he had always tried so hard to make Angelus mad.  If Angelus could be mad at him, and if he would punish him, that meant he cared no matter what his theories on love.  Spike didn't know if Angelus had loved him if he would still need this.  Xander loved him and he still needed it.  But then again, almost two centuries could screw with you like that. 

After so many years on his own, having to be the Master, he had been able to control the impulses.  Drusilla constantly comparing him to Angelus provided its own form of torture, but she couldn't punish him.  She could only hurt him.  If it got bad, he could always inflict the pain on himself.  No one would notice.

Once the chip had been implanted, returning him to the frailty of being abandoned as a mere fledgling, without even a Sire to make it right again, the need returned.  He knew how the chip worked, and he found out quickly what would and wouldn't set it off.  But when it all got to be too much, just a little tap, an obviously mis-aimed swing at someone would send enough pain to clarify everything, if only for a moment.  Then the moments got smaller, the longer he remained helpless, useless, as worthless as Angelus told him he was.

Then there had been Buffy.  He loved her, really and truly and uselessly, just as he always loved. When she began to punish him, beat him into submission and then fuck him mercilessly, it had been sweeter than any migraine caused by the chip. But then she took even that from him and made him go away, a creature not even worth her contempt. He had tried to fix it, but he had gone so wrong, his dependence on her brand of torture hadn't yet left him, and his own emotional involvement and confusion clouded his already lacking judgment.

And now he had Xander. Xander, who was giving him everything he could ever want, everything he had ever dared ask for.  Xander, who didn't want anything in return, except for honesty.  He should be happy.

But the part of him that he hard learned to repress had been unleashed anew with the soul and the madness.  When the voices stopped telling him in their tortured voices that he was bad, evil, demon, murderer, they began whispering with chocolate eyes or golden hair that he was a thing, a bad thing, useless and worthless and not even demon enough to be evil, certainly not man enough to be loved.  That no one would love him, they didn't even want to punish him.  That would require an effort he didn't deserve.

Most of the time he was in control enough of the impulse to know this wasn't quite rational thought.  He had enough proof to argue with himself for hours that Xander did love him, that it wasn't apathy that prevented the boy from beating him, but love. There was no reason for Xander to hurt him, because Xander didn't want him to hurt. But as he proved time and again that rationality had never been his strong point, and there was always the retort echoing in his head that Xander wouldn't prove that he loved Spike. Because he didn't. That he wouldn't force him into submission because he didn't want to be responsible for a masochistic occasionally insane vampire.  So there he was, listening to Xander leave and stupidly, dangerously, holding his lighter to his fingertips until they blistered and almost caught.

*****

Xander returned to work, once again lost in his thoughts.  He knew things weren't quite right yet between him and Spike.  He was trying to understand, trying to do things the way they should be done.  Trying to treat Spike the way he always should have been, but never was. 

But Spike was holding back, a pain behind his eyes.  Xander assumed it was due to the newness of the situation and the freshness of the fight.  He had to get Spike to trust him.  Nothing could work if he continued to hide things from him.  He never thought he'd meet anyone more insecure than himself.  Having parents who expressed their mostly indifference/ some-times disgust with fists, words, and deeds; friends who often ignored him in favor of whatever was more important; and a history of lovers who were done loving once the loving was done all added up to a big bundle of neuroses in Xander-form.  Add to that the combined lingering instincts of a hyena and twenty years of military training that never actually happened and welcome to a whole new ballpark of crazy.

There were apparently worse things.  Being Sired by Angelus must have been one of them.  Add to that a few years with an instinct-killing torture chip, doomed-from-the-beginning failed relationships, and a shiny new soul and let's give a warm welcome to the visiting team.

Constant internal struggles between who you are and who you are perceived to be were exhausting.  But once the image is set, be it bad-ass slayer slayer or dopey errand boy, Xander knew how difficult it was to let go.  Once it began to crack, there was no telling what would come spilling out, drowning the image and whatever there was of the real you in a flood until what was left was unrecognizable, even to yourself.

When it was just the two of them, briefly at first, and then for longer periods at a time, Xander saw Spike for who he really was.  Not the bad ass, not the weeping newly-souled, not even the love-starved man always used and tossed aside that had led him to become both of those things. Xander loved him, if not more than he had loved anyone before, then at least more honestly. He needed Spike to feel that he could be as open with him as he was being with Spike. He didn't know how to convince him, though, only that he had to before they could ever be anything more than roommates on the brink of something more.

He'd try to think of something before he went home.


Part Eighteen   Picnics



Xander opened the door, newspaper folded under his arm, loosening his tie, looking like a real grown-up. Spike waited for him on the sofa after cleaning up from what had become a nearly daily ritual of burning and feeding and resting, by the end of the day fully physically healed. He wondered why he went to all the trouble to prevent Xander from noticing, when all he wanted was for Xander to notice. He considered asking Xander about it for nearly three whole seconds before he remembered what Angelus had put him through. There was no way Xander would get it, would understand. He'd probably kick him out just for mentioning it. He pulled himself from his thoughts as he realized Xander was speaking to him.

"There's a festival tomorrow night, for Labor Day weekend. They're gonna do fireworks and all that, wanna go?" Xander babbled at him from his bedroom, changing out of his suit and into the jeans and tee-shirt uniform of his time off.

"Why?" Spike stalled, pulling together his Big Bad attitude.

"Spike, think. Night time, outside, lots of people milling about. Okay, so it's not Sunnydale, but still, there are some vampires here. Sounds like a buffet to me, if I were one of the people-as-food variety."

"And you've got it in your head to stop it, do you?"

"Well, yeah, if we can. Besides, fireworks are sexy."

Spike cocked an eyebrow. "So which reason do you really want to go for, hmm?"

"One of these days, you're gonna arch that eyebrow right off your head."

"You sound like my mum."

"You did the eyebrow thing to your mom?" Xander gave him an astonished look. "Come on, just say you'll go with me. We'll have fun."

Spike had planned on making an appearance, having learned of the event through his contacts at the local demon bar, but he hadn't wanted to assume Xander would go. "Yeah, we'll have fun." He replied dryly.

Spike joined Xander in the kitchen as the brunet fixed his dinner and declined when Xander offered to heat him some blood, not wanting him to see how much he'd gone through since he'd been able to replenish it. Xander always picked up his blood with him, and he knew how much Spike ate in a week. He'd asked when Spike started to keep it in the bottom drawers of the refrigerator, specifically to keep the numbers of packets or containers hidden, instead of the shelves where the human had put it, but Spike deftly changed the subject and Xander hadn't brought it up again.

Xander ate and told Spike about his newest project at work, some mall on the outskirts of town. Then they went into the living room, turned on the last of the season's baseball games and Spike watched Xander fall asleep before the end of the first inning.

***

The festival activities ran all day, a midway, local performers, that sort of thing, but the fireworks were the main attraction. Xander and Spike circled around the edge of the clearing as soon as the sun went down, weapons tucked discreetly into back pockets and boots. They had come across only two vampires so far, dusting them both before they could have a picnic of their own. As the starting time for the show neared, Spike assured Xander that any others, if there were any others, would be fully aware of his presence and that they wouldn't dare to attack with him guarding the humans present.

"You sure of that?" Xander asked.

"Pretty sure. I told you I still do have a reputation. The old one."

Xander shook his head. "But we killed the only two we came across. How're the rest going to know you're here, if they're dead?"

"We killed the only two who came across us," Spike clarified. "There were others smart enough to leave before that happened."

"Oh."

"Buffet, you said. Think they didn't know about it, too? Just because it's not the hellmouth, doesn't mean you can start to underestimate them, Pet. An event like this, easy pickings, they knew."

"Have I told you lately how glad I am that you're on my side now?" Xander pulled Spike close and smacked a sloppy kiss on his cheek.

"Oi! Reputation!" Spike shouted, both flustered and pleased at Xander's very public acknowledgement of him.

"Come on, let's watch." Xander dragged him to a couple of trees near the back of the crowd, bouncing like a puppy. He checked the ground and flopped down at the base of the trees, pulling Spike after him and leaned back. Spike was prepared to sit next to him, and behave himself, but Xander apparently had different ideas.

His boy pulled him between his legs, and yanked the duster from his arms, freeing Spike's upper body from the leather and exposing him to the warm late-summer air. He then wrapped his arms around Spike's waist, rearranging him again, pressing cool back to warm chest. Spike couldn't help himself, and he pressed himself back into Xander's body, resting his arms against Xander's drawn-up knees.

"You don't mind?" Xander asked quietly, a hush falling over the crowd signaling the readying of the explosives.

"Hmm?"

"It's not... a girly thing?" Xander asked, and Spike could feel his blush. Xander might be wanting a relationship with him, but he was still struggling with gender roles and expectations Spike gave up a century before he was even born.

Spike thought for a moment, and decided the answer to this question was the same as many others. He grabbed Xander's hand and pulled it down to cup the erection this small amount of contact had inspired.

"Th-that's a not girl thing." Xander stammered as Spike's body reacted to the touch. But he didn't immediately remove his hand, instead hesitantly pressing along the denim covered flesh, heel to fingertips, causing a small moan to escape Spike's lips.

Spike grinned as the first sight-then-sound of a firework thundered overhead, and Xander suddenly realized where he was and what he was doing, prompting him to remove his hand to safer territory. He interlaced their fingers over Spikes flat belly, occasionally using his thumbs to trace abstract patterns and raise the fabric of Spike's tee shirt until their hands rested on the vampire's cool skin. He was achingly hard in his own too-tight jeans, and from Spike's barely controlled wriggling, he was affecting him similarly.  It was too good to give up, but he forced himself to back off. It was too soon for anything more than a kiss, or a touch, and definitely too soon to indulge in a little public vamp-lovin. He was still trying to figure out exactly how two guys went about it, who was going to do what to whom, and if he'd like it as much as the guys on the videos and magazines he did not hide in a box under his bed did.

As the finale geared up and the fireworks flashed in rapid succession above them, Xander chuckled at the cliche.  He leaned down to Spike's ear. "Love you."

Spike purred deep in his chest, coming out more as a feeling than a sound, and tightened Xander's arms around him.


Part Nineteen   Phone Calls



The phone rang and Spike visibly jumped. Xander put down his book, biting back a comment about Spike's phone phobia and shuffled into the kitchen to answer. Spike left the room, maybe to give him privacy, maybe not.

"Hello?"

"Xander!"

"Willow! What's going on? You just called yesterday. Is something wrong? Buffy?"

"No-"

"Dawn?" At Xander's slightly panicked tone, Spike poked his head out of his bedroom.

"No-"

Xander shook his head and Spike disappeared again. "Oh, god, it's not you, are you-"

"Xander!" Willow shouted.

"Sorry."

"We're all fine. I just wanted to... talk to you."

"Okay, but we talked yesterday. Are you sure nothing happened?"

"No. But after I talked to you, Dawn remembered something she wanted to ask, but forgot you were at work, and she called your apartment. She talked to Spike."

"Oh. He picked up the phone?"

"What?"

"Nothing. So, she talked to Spike..." Xander prompted.

"Are you... When... Did..."

"You know he came with me when I left. You hugged him right before you hugged me and then we drove off."

"Yeah, but we all just thought you were going to give him a ride somewhere."

"No," Xander said, a bit too harshly.

"So, then Dawn said you two were..."

Xander could see Willow twisting the phone cord in her fingers nervously. If she wasn't on a cordless. He didn't know, and that bothered him. He'd always known what type of phone she used. He took a deep breath. "We're together, Wills."

"As in together?"

"Is that what Dawn said?"

"She said that's what Spike said."

"Well, Dawn said what Spike said right. We are. Together. In a togethery way." Oh, look, babble has reintroduced itself.

"Um, Xander?"

"I don't know, Wills. I really don't. But it did, and we are and I'm really happy. Really."

"Okay. It's not that I didn't... Well, Dawn's just been bouncing around like a, a, kid and she wouldn't tell me what had her so happy until I bribed her with shopping, so when she told me, I was afraid she had it all wrong and I'd have to be the one to explain-"

"Willow!"

"Sorry."

"Breathe."

"Yeah. Okay, well, we're all just as good as we were yesterday. I'd let you talk to Buffy and Dawn, but they're out."

"Okay, tell them I said 'hi'."

"Okay. Can I talk to Spike?"

"Uh, let me check." Xander covered the receiver with his hand, and turned to see Spike hovering in the doorway of his room.

"You kept talking about Dawn." He said quietly, in explanation for his eavesdropping.

"'S okay. Willow wants to talk to you."

Spike gave him a quizzical look, but took the phone. He held it gingerly. "Yeah?... Okay." And then he handed it back to Xander, leaving the room.

"Willow?" Xander asked into the phone.

"Xander, I'll talk to you later, okay?"

"Okay. Love you. Hey, are you on a cordless phone?"

"No."

Okay. What was it that Dawn wanted?"

"What?"

"You said she called because she forgot something."

"Oh. Right. I don't know, she never said after she talked to Spike."

"Okay."

"Bye, Xan."

"Bye." Xander hung up the phone and slowly walked to Spike's bedroom.

"Spike?" He knocked on the door softly before opening it.

"Yeah?"

"Okay?" He asked as he entered the room, soft grey carpeting squishing beneath his toes. Spike sat, propped against the iron headboard of his bed, and he shifted over so Xander could sit next to him.

"Yeah."

"Okay. Can I ask what she said?"

Spike sighed heavily. "She said that normally she'd give a speech about shovels, but she doesn't think she has to worry about that this time. And then she said if I prove her wrong, she'll turn the Bit loose on me."

"Vicious."

"Very."

"So you told Dawn?"

Spike quickly covered his panic. "Did you not want-? Good enough for the flat, but not around your friends, eh?"

"That's not what I said."

"You-"

"I didn't. I just wanted to know."

"Yeah, well, she wanted to talk."

"So..." Xander drew out the word, fluttering his eyelashes at Spike. "Did you tell her you like me?"

"Maybe," Spike replied, out-coying Xander by miles.

"And did you tell her you like me, like me?"

"Maybe."

"Did you tell her you love me?" All pretence gone now.

"Yes. I told her."

"Cool." Xander flipped onto his stomach and grabbed a magazine off Spike's floor at random, hoping for embarrassing porn, but getting some well-worn, dog-eared catalogue on photography, and flopped down next to Spike. "Photography?"

Spike mumbled something and picked up his own literary digest.

"What?" Xander asked. Spike only mumbled when it was important.

"It has lots of sunsets."

Xander flipped through the magazine, seeing that almost all the pictures were of various stages of bright sunny days ending. "You miss it?"

Spike nodded, once.

"Show me your favorite?" Xander asked, rolling over and squeezing between Spike's legs to rest his head on the vampire's thigh, letting Spike flip through the pages above his head.

He stopped on a panoramic view of the desert sky. One edge blue-blackened fully by night, stars already appearing, fading back, tracing the rainbow from midnight blue to robin's egg at the other side. A few cotton ball clouds still visible reflected the sun's rays, turned colors; beautiful pinks bled to red, orange, purple.

"That's gorgeous."

"It was taken in Arizona." Spike pointed to the caption. "I went there, before coming back to Sunnydale after...  after. Nicked a car, left money for it, blacked out the windows and drove to this exact spot. Sat there all day and waited for the bloody sun to set."

"Was it as pretty as this?"

"Don't know. Couldn't bring myself to look. Was too good for me."

Xander, not knowing what to say to that, said nothing, but held his vampire tighter, really, really not wanting to cry into his jean-clad pillow.


Part Twenty   Masters



They hadn't discussed it in detail, Xander thought with a complete lack of surprise, but Spike still wouldn't answer the phone.  At first, Xander hadn't really noticed, the phone rang and he answered out of habit. It was always for him, anyway. Then he watched Spike jump each time the phone rang, and when he called from work in the middle of the day and still Spike didn't answer, Xander gathered his courage and asked. 

Spike didn't like phones. End of story.

"End of story, my ass," Xander muttered along with the fourth and final ring.  Finally the answering machine picked up and the greeting ended.  "Hey, Spike, it's me, could you pick up please?"

Xander waited while the clunky clicking happened and Spike spoke.  "Thander?"

There was a slight question in Spike's voice but Xander chose to focus on the lisp.  "Yeah, eating dinner?"  He could hear the shame pass through the phone.

"I was."  No lisp.  Xander hoped Spike had eaten most of his dinner, because he certainly wouldn't be finishing it now. It frustrated him that Spike was still so uncomfortable with him, but he pushed that down and went on.

"Good, you need to eat more.  More often, too."  Xander remembered the feel of too-prominant ribs, wanted to tell him to finish every container of pig's blood in the house, then move on to the shipment of human he'd picked up for him yesterday, but that was not an over- the- phone conversation.  "I'm sorry I didn't get home in time to join you.  I got kind of lost."

"Lost?" Spike sounded in near panic.

"In work, here at work.  I'm coming home now, though. It shouldn't take long." Xander placated him.

"Did you walk?" Not quite panic.

"Yes.  It was probably the last really nice morning we're going to have, Spike.  But it's only a few blocks." Xander fought the whine that entered his voice, but it won out anyway.

"Twelve." That was just anger.

"Yeah, but it seems so much less in the mornings."

"You got something?"  Spike suddenly felt like he was in a PSA for safer sex. 

"Yes, dad.  Two stakes, just like always."

"Fine.  Take main, and I'll meet you in front of the coffee shop."

"That's four more blocks!"  Now Xander sounded like he was talking to his dad, if his dad had been the kind to take audible back talk without breaking his arm.

"It's well lit."

"Spike, this isn't Sunnydale."

"How many vamps have you found, Pet, since moving here?"

"A few."  This was not an argument he was going to win.

"Right.  Goodbye, Xander.  I'll see you at the shop."

"Love you, Spike."

There was no reply, but Xander had four extra blocks to prove that Spike did.

***

After six blocks, on the pre-approved Main Street, and therefore supposedly safe, Xander felt eyes watching him.  He was willing to bet that they would be yellow. 

"Someone is going to be very pissed off if I don't meet him two blocks from here." He tossed the comment over his shoulder, not turning around to face his attacker.

"None of my concern.  A while back, you met an associate of mine." The voice had the ring of lower class born trying to affect upper class tones. It failed miserably.

Xander paused.  He had killed a lot of vampires in his time, and what could safely be numbered as 'some' here.

"Probably.  I don't really take the time to get their names."

"You should have.  She was mine.  You were in my territory. In the parking garage, over on fourth."

Xander turned as the clarification sank in. The one from the first night.  He hadn't given it a second thought.  Looking the vampire in the eyes, he pulled himself to full height, still a few inches shorter than the dark- haired demon in front of him.

"Oh, you think yourself a Master, then, don't you. Your territory.  Funny, you don't look like a Master." Xander was really hoping this was one of those times that talking would prolong his life, rather than shorten it.  If he wasn't in front of the coffee shop almost exactly half way between home and the office, Spike would continue down the planned route until he found Xander.  And then he would possibly kill him. He should be along any minute.

"What would you know?" 

Score!  Xander turned his body, circling the vampire to get into better position. "Well, for one thing, Masters don't generally ask questions like that.  What are you, fifty?  Sixty?"

"Three hund-"

"Oh, please! You've no more got triple digits than I do. I know, because I'm the Consort of a Master myself.  That's who I'm meeting, which makes it your concern."  Circular logic wins again!

"You're lying.  I smell no mark on you." 

Just then Xander caught the movement he had been expecting behind the vamp.  Quick flash of white, quick rustle of leather, quick whiff of tobacco.

"Sixty, no more than sixty-three.  Good eye, Pet."  God, how Xander wished he could be both menacing and nonchalant at the same time.

"Who the hell are you?"  The other vampire was whirling back and forth, first facing Xander, then Spike, all affectations gone from his voice now.  Xander hoped he got dizzy.  Did vamps get dizzy?

"Oh, you remember that Master I'm not marked by?  That'd be him.  Looks like you'll be going now."  As Xander distracted him, Spike staked him, a swift in and out that had the stake replaced in the duster before the ash settled.

"I tried to warn him." Xander smiled back up at Spike who was showing his demon for the first time since the move.  So beautiful, even though the dead vampire's had been repulsive and a little scary. "Spike?"   Xander moved toward him, extending his hand. Would he let him touch him, like this?

Spike let his features melt back to their human form.  "Didn't get to you, Pet?"

"No, he was too busy talking.  I didn't know there was a Master here.  He's not like the Master, right? From Sunnydale?"

"Three." Spike shook his head.

"Really? Well, two now, I guess."

"No, two more and then me."

"You? I mean, I know you are, but are you?" Adrenaline was leaving Xander's system, making him jumpy.

"I just killed a territoried Master.  As a Master myself, I challenged his claim and won. I now own his territory," Spike explained slowly.

"Oh... Which means?"

"Means the apartment and about a mile all around it is relatively safe, except from my minions,"  Spike let out a... sound at this.  "So no hunting, no prowling there until I'm bested.  Or challenged, but he was the most powerful, so that isn't likely to happen."

"He was the most powerful vampire around here? That guy?"

Spike nodded, sharing Xander's amazement.

"How do you all know these things?  How will they know?" Xander was thoroughly confused now. For all their fighting, he was pretty much ignorant of the social lives of demons. What would a souled vampire do with territory? How would it affect their relationship? Surely Spike wouldn't go make minions now. So many questions, and Spike just standing there with that unreadable look on his face. Even his eyes weren't giving anything away this time.

"Connections. Instinct." Spike shook his head. "How do you know about Consorts?"

"Giles."

"He told you?"  Spike was incredulous.  Even as far as things had gotten between Buffy and Angel, he doubted the Watcher would have taken the time to explain vampire mating rituals to her hangers-on. 

"No.  Willow's not the only one who stole some books from the top shelf."

"How much do you know?" Spike seemed irritated, and Xander didn't know why.

"About this? Because I have to tell you, I'm pretty much lost at everything you just said. I mean, I get the whole territory thing, but are you going to go out and, like, add to it? Or defend it?"

Spike put a hand up to forestall Xander's rising confusion. "Nothing really changes. We'll keep doing what we've been doing, but we'll probably have to go further out of our way to do it. No one will be too quick to challenge me. Now, what do you know about Consorts?" There really was nothing to the Master business. There could have been if he wanted the hassle of vampiric responsibility, tradition, and hierarchy, but he had never been a fan of the customs even when he was controlled by demonic urges.

This Consort thing is what worried Spike more, that the boy had said anything to that effect. He had never made any mention of the bonding ritual, and he knew he had done nothing to lead the boy in that direction. He didn't even know what Xander thought it meant, to say nothing of what it meant to him in his new... condition.

Xander stepped in and put his arm around Spike's shoulder, putting an end to his own confused musings and moving them along toward the apartment. It had been a long day, and he wanted to go home. "I only know enough that calling you my boyfriend would have given it away. I just took the books for the naughty pictures. I mean, wow, nymphs."

Spike was relieved at this.  Most of those books were only half truths, and what was written was documented, of course, by the Counsel, no doubt full of propaganda and lies.  "Come on, then.  Let's get you home before you attract anymore attention."

"Don't play martyr with me, Spike. You loved it. " Xander smiled as Spike stayed close to him, not touching him anymore, but still letting the duster brush against his legs with every step. Yes, at least for the evening, flapping-coat Spike was back with him, he'd again been rescued from a vampire attack, and all was right in his world.

Spike could smell Xander next to him. He smelled of the soap he used in his shower that morning, fabric softener, and something else. Xanderscent. Underlying all that, though, Spike could feel the faint traces of his waning fear battling with the beginnings of his arousal. It was a scent that Spike noticed more and more every day, never fully fading when Xander was near him. Yet Xander hadn't pressed the issue, they'd barely gotten past first base. Well, first with a healthy lead on second.

They reached the apartment and rode the elevator down in silence. Xander unlocked the door and opened it, letting Spike go in first, then locked the door behind them. When he turned to see Spike shrugging off the duster and hanging it on the coat rack in the entryway, the half a woody he'd sported the entire way home became much less half, and far more aching-I-have-to-get-these-pants-off-now. The muscles rippled under his shirt as he stretched, and Xander couldn't take his eyes off the harsh line where pale skin met black cotton on Spike's biceps.

"Spike?" Xander licked his lips as Spike turned to face him. "Thanks. For saving me." Xander took Spike's cool hand in his own, pulling him over to the sofa.

"Told you, pet, you're mine."

Xander couldn't help the shiver that passed through him at the possessive tone. "Does that make you mine?" He leaned in close for the answer, his quick breaths coming out against Spike's lips.

"Yours." He crushed his lips to Spike's then, tasting him and exploring his mouth. For a brief moment Spike froze, then joined in, meeting Xander's urgency. Their tongues battled, finding every crevice and mapping it out. Spike let out a low moan as Xander's hands left his head and began trailing warmth over his back and sides. He again followed suit and Xander broke the kiss, breathing in raggedly, still continuing to touch and taste. He loosened Spike's shirt from his pants, and pulled it roughly over his head, then did the same with his own.

Spike wanted nothing more than for Xander to come back, return to kissing him, warming him, but Xander sat back and looked at him, burning trails over his skin almost as hotly as his hands had. "God, Spike, you're so perfect." And then he was back, over him, laying him back on the suddenly much too small sofa, one hand on his hip and the other bracing his weight, kissing him with the same intensity as before, only this time their hands covered bare skin, hot on cold.

Xander found Spike's nipples and thumbed over them until they pebbled. He kissed and licked his way down his neck, over his shoulder, and captured one in his mouth. He swept his tongue over it in broad strokes and Spike was powerless to do anything but gasp and moan as he changed from tonguing the nub to gently biting. He moved his attention to the other one, and Spike fisted handfuls of Xander's hair, willing himself not to wrap his legs around Xander's waist and pull him down on top of him. "Please," he tugged gently. "Please, kiss me again."

Xander grinned and replaced his mouth with his hands again, returning to kiss and lick at Spike's lips, taking his weight off his hand and using his knees, keeping Spike trapped below him, and slowly bringing them together, contact from ankle to chest. Spike was nearly writhing under his ministrations now and Xander felt himself grow impossibly harder at the sight. They continued on like that for quite some time, until Xander realized they were getting to that point, the point of icy showers and separate beds, or clothing laying in a shredded trail and maybe not making it completely onto the bed before they were done.

"Spike. Spike, we have to stop."

Spike instantly pulled back from where he had been latched onto Xander's neck, taking his pale hands from under Xander's waistband, pulling them back as if he'd been burned. "Sorry. Sorry, Xander. Sorry, I wasn't. I didn't. Sorry."

Xander instantly sat up, pulling Spike close to him, letting the vampire burrow into his chest as the sobs wracked his body. "That's not... Baby, don't cry. I didn't mean... Shh, it's okay." Xander stopped trying to explain his words when he realized this wasn't about him, not really. "Please, it's okay. It really is."

Spike nodded against him, and struggled to get away without having to look Xander in the eye. It was bad enough he'd done what he'd done, but for Xander to have to comfort him for being so... damaged. He just couldn't face him right now. He stood and scrubbed his eyes harshly with his palms.

"Goodnight, Xander."

"I love you."

"No."

Xander grabbed his wrist, gently, but with enough force that Spike stopped moving away from him. "I do. I don't think I've ever said it so much, and I've never meant it like this."

"You didn't love her?" Spike sneered.

"That's not what I said, and that's not open to discussion tonight." Xander paused, letting his voice soften as the slight irritation drained completely from his body. "I love you."

"All right."

"Goodnight."

"Yeah."








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