Rides a Pale Horse


by
Rayne Jelly



Part Thirty-Three

Xander bounced. He was rubber, that boy. Sometimes pressed into something new, sometimes stretched or cracked, but he always sprang back, and as Spring burst into Sunnydale, raw greens and fresh chilly rains making every manicured lawn and painstakingly planted tree into a sprawling unruly garden, Xander bounced. Spike wanted to touch him. Spike wanted to dance with him. To wrap him up and hold him close and whisper sweet nothings in his ear, to promise, if he were very very good, to whisper somethings. He wanted to breathe him and bathe in him and he realized he was perhaps a bit obsessed, consumed, but he wanted so much more than what was on offer. He wanted to swallow him.

He wanted Xander to want him back. And it was a sharp burr in his heart to know that he didn’t.

After Joyce’s funeral, the boy spent a forty-eight hours crashed out in bed, sleeping, eating only when Spike put food in front of him, and exhibiting a kind of unnerving silence that had the vampire ready to shake him hard enough that words came out, and then with an almost visible shift in his attitude, pulled himself up by his bootstraps and got on with things. Getting on with things meant clearing the debris out of the apartment, spending the better part of two days just shifting crap from the floor to the dumpster a block down the alley. It was heavy work, hauling cumbersome pieces of ruined furniture that had been built to last out around the shattered door-frame, moving things he wanted to rescue this way and that to get to things he didn’t; Spike watched him with an idle curiosity and no desire whatsoever to join the fun. Watched as he grew slick with sweat that slid down his neck in fine translucent streaks, clouded with chunks of plaster, breathed raggedly when Xander moved to cleaning out the glass that cut open his palms and left Spike panting in an effort not to take, laughed when Xander wondered aloud what the hell Spike had against the oven since they never even used it. Spike didn’t have an answer for him, but he put it on the list of things to be replaced.

Xander saw it as an opportunity, at least, a chance to make the apartment that they’d taken out of convenience into something that was more comfortable for both of them. It had felt, he said, a bit like wearing Angel’s underwear all the time – he was acutely aware that it wasn’t his, and when he let himself think about it he got a deep wriggly wiggins and wanted to run out into the street. While he explained that now they had a chance to make it theirs, he let Spike lick the blood off his hands. Perhaps let, was the wrong word. He’d insisted, asked Spike nicely, then nearly demanded that the vampire take the blood on offer, and it wasn’t exactly a hardship except that the heat of it pooling in Xander’s palm and dripping off the calloused fingers that Spike sucked into his mouth translated into an instant hard-on that he was powerless to take care of, but after the fact, the boy smelled like relief, let himself be bandaged up and taken care of with minimum fuss, and it worried Spike in his bones. Especially after Xander re-built the door frame and sliced himself open with a planer, deeply enough that Spike insisted on stitching him up, but only after he’d had his fill, only after Xander insisted, and once the stitches were in he backed away and kept his distance for days.

The rebuke was subtle, gentle enough that it took Spike days to even notice what was going on. He had expected, of course, that Xander couldn’t trust him anymore, because in a lot of ways Spike no longer trusted himself, he’d betrayed the boy in the most fundamental way and even thinking about it ripped him open with sharp sharp claws. He had expected moments of rage, because the Harris he’d known so long ago was never slow to take a swing. He’d expected Xander to succumb to a bit of the despair that ate at Spike most nights, but Xander was stronger than he was, he was good at maintaining an illusion of health long past its usefulness, and it took Spike a while to cotton on because he never moved away when Spike reached out to touch him, when he’d trimmed his hair, or wiped a smear of dirt and sweat away from his forehead, Xander was still, wearing a placid little smile that Spike enjoyed because it sang of calm. But he never reached out to touch back, never let himself enjoy the attention. And the boy had no problem offering Spike his blood, maybe injuring himself on purpose, or maybe just looking for an excuse because the tension that ratcheted up his shoulders when he’d gone a few days without offering something of himself to Spike would drain away and he would be safe for just a little while longer.

He was a string of contradictions, and Spike drew his own conclusions. Spent a lot of time down at Willy’s wearing his game face and smoking in soothing chains that left the pub cloudy blue with carcinogens and nursing beer after beer, never enough to get drunk, but just enough to numb the ache of knowing that Xander really wanted nothing to do with him. Oh he needed Spike, needed the peace he found in Spike’s skin, and the space that was quiet and uninhabited by finite mortality, needed simple sleep, something he could only find when Spike was there to lay a hand on him and soothe away the creases in the frowning corners of his mouth. He needed Spike to cling to whatever sanity he’d managed to scrape into a jar, but he didn’t really want him. Or didn’t want him, just the peace of mind he could afford. So he just tried to be good, tried to prove that could be valuable, a human available to hurt, and he would be available for whatever use Spike put him to, and he would try so hard not to tempt him to anything he didn’t really want, if only Spike would please let him stay. And that sick realization brought the vampire to his knees.

It wasn’t conscious, which was something. Xander was still Xander on the surface, still sharp witted and occasionally sharp tongued, still willing to ruthlessly mock Spike when the vampire insisted on laying rugs everywhere because he liked the softness of carpet squishing between his toes and he didn’t care that they were mismatched and hideous. He wasn’t using Spike on purpose, not the way Angelus had, not the way Dru had, and it was enough that Spike loved him, that Spike had him near, but Spike wanted to be wanted for once in his life, and the wary animal that sometimes flickered in Harris’ skin simply didn’t. Perhaps wasn’t even capable.

Spike couldn’t help but feel that it was his fault, his fucking weakness that had led to such a pretty pass, clinging to moments when Harris was Harris and, possibly, his friend, trying desperately to spin them out like sparkling golden fleece to blind him to the truth until it grew too thin, stretched to threads and snapped, and Xander was offering, begging, please keep me, please hide me, please take care of me. Which he’d always been good at. And he wanted enough to let himself pretend, sometimes, that Xander might someday want him back when he wrapped him up tight, curled around him in their bed at night, demanding Xander share his warmth, taking advantage of the boy’s desperation in a way that inspired horniness and guilt in equal measure. And Xander shared, of course, with every evidence of trying to make Spike happy, because he was too afraid of being turned out on his ear to deny him anything. It was enough to drive a demon mad.

***

“What would you think if we painted this wall green?” Xander asked without craning around to look at the door as it swung open. He knew it was Spike, it couldn’t be anyone but Spike, and he was too comfortable to move, staring at the wall he was mentally painting from the squashy soft confines of the new not-brooding chair. He couldn’t actually see the vampire from around the high-backed wings, and Spike didn’t exactly show up in the reflective gloss of the new TV, but it was him anyway. The vampire had insisted on warding the apartment as soon as Xander was back on his feet, recovered from two weeks of exhaustion and emotional upheaval, and, displaying a fine acumen for research that had previously gone under-utilized during their endless Scooby meetings, dug up a spell that practically turned the apartment into a bomb shelter. No violence could be done to the inhabitants, and no one who wasn’t invited could so much as turn the door knob; blood magic was powerful, rooted in something real and something alive, and as long as the donor’s heart was still beating, the apartment was nigh impenetrable. It would also help keep bugs out, which was a plus.

Xander didn’t think it was really necessary. He’d always felt plenty safe in Angel’s former bolt-hole, and he’d replaced the door and replaced the locks with steel strong enough to keep a tank at bay for a while, but Spike apparently convinced himself of the necessity, and when he asked, Xander had shrugged and let the vampire paint him in herbal goop and score each of his fingers with fine lines that bled while he pressed his hands against each wall and Spike spoke gibberish in dead languages. Whatever made the vampire happy. Not that Spike was happy, and Xander couldn’t for the life of him imagine why because he’d been trying so hard to be someone Spike would want around. “Not an ugly green, obviously. Good green. Like a dark apple-y olive, maybe?”

“Whatever you want, Xan.”

“Noooo,” he said slowly as the vampire came into view, “Even I know better to put a big Batman decal on the wall.” Spike didn’t even pull a face, sinking into his own version of the high-backed chair, and Xander felt himself frown. “You okay?”

“Yeah. Fine.”

He didn’t like to push, Spike’s business was his own, but he could see the vampire gearing up for a sulk and he didn’t want that. Strangely, all he wanted was to talk about paint. “Try that again,” Xander prodded with a lop-sided grin, “but this time a little life in the voice, maybe? A little panache? C’mon, tell me what’s wrong.”

Spike apparently was not in the mood. He sighed, looked at Xander and looked away, and Xander could feel his own good mood draining away, “You’ve made it perfectly clear you don’t want to hear about it, Harris.”

The buoyant mood sank all the way through the sub-basement, because he knew only too well the “it” Spike was on about. “You’re right. I don’t.” He had thought they were past this. Thought they were maybe getting close again, and it was true that Xander couldn’t quite bring himself to smile the way he used to, or take comfort in the smooth slip of Spike’s mouth against his own, but he was trying like hell, and he thought that after weeks of putting the damage Spike had done to the apartment to rights, they were getting back to some kind of normal. But Spike was never just himself. He was always holding something between them, infuriatingly cautious in everything he did. Cautious, and it drove Xander crazy enough to be blunt. “Get over it, Spike. I’ve forgiven you.”

 “But I can’t forgive myself.” It was a statement completely devoid of venom, exhausted by the argument, and that made it worse. “I don’t regret many things in my life, Xander. Not even the chip, at least, not the way you’d think. But…”

“You regret fucking me.” Every time he said it, Spike flinched.

“No.” The response was measured, shot through with a kind of chilly iron that weighed him down, pinned him with rigid solemnity. And Xander figured it was true, but had no idea what it meant when Spike told him the vampire couldn’t regret having him, couldn’t regret the heat and the closeness and the taste of him, the pure unflinching trust before he’d broken it. Couldn’t regret being in him, wanting him. Because if it was the only memory he had, he wasn’t going to sour it with something as bitter as regret, and Xander only ever shrugged and told him it didn’t have to be the only memory. Which made him flinch. Spike tried again, a little heat snapping in his eyes now while he leaned forward, warming to the conversation, and Xander sank back into his chair, trying to avoid it. “I regret not waiting until you wanted me to. That it was… not good. Because sex should be about life.” It sounded frustrated, and not the least bit ironic, which forced an inelegant snort out of Xander. “All that shit you see… It should have been an affirmation. A comfort at least.”

 “Spike…” He pressed his hands over his face, fingers rubbing against his tired eyes as he tried to think of something, anything, he could say to get the vampire to just let it go. Let him get on with things with a modicum of dignity, because he would get back there, he would make himself. “It’s not… It’s okay. After everything, you’re probably still the best thing that’s ever happened to me. It’s okay. Why can’t you let it be okay?”

 “All your better deeds shall be in water writ, but this in marble,” the vampire said obscurely, and his eyes looked so old.

“I don’t even know what that means.”

“I know…” he said, and it was weary. Hurtful enough that Xander stood, tried to slink away into the kitchen for a soda and a balm to soothe his slowly recovering pride. He knew Spike was trying to tell him something and he hated that he was too stupid to grasp what the vampire wanted. Hated that Spike seemed so torn about it. “Xander, stop.”

His feet stilled in their tracks. “What?”

“Just… I’m sorry.”

“I don’t get it.” He felt helpless. “You want, you don’t want… I’m so fucking confused, Spike. And… I don’t wanna fuck up. I don’t… get it.”

Spike stared at him. Penetrating gaze that left him quailing beneath it, feeling scrutinized, being seen like the vampire had X-ray vision and was measuring all the cracks in his bones. Spike’s eyes were so damned blue that Xander could hardly meet them, could hardly see the patterns of shifting gray and gold behind them that used to be familiar and used to give him hints; he didn’t know what to feel, and finally, the vampire blinked and it felt like he’d come to a decision. “Then let me show you.”

Spike stood, and Xander felt himself take a step backwards, take a step away, and he cursed himself for the show of fear, hated that Spike was even a little bit right in this. He was trying so hard to prove him wrong, to prove he could be what he needed to, that he was unaffected. “What… what do you mean?”

Closer now, and Xander forced himself to be still. Forced his feet to stay exactly where they were because it was Spike, who he trusted, and who showed him in a thousand little ways that he was worth it. Xander could do this for him. “Let me show you…” murmured this time because Spike stepped in close, scant inches away from him, not reaching, not demanding or holding, just… close. Closer than they’d been in weeks, and the presence of him was overwhelming, hooded eyes watching his mouth in a way that sent a short thrill through him, that made him want to retreat with a laugh, maybe a crack about Spiderman. “Please,” the voice was husky, and one of Spike’s cool hands came to skate down his arm, barely touching, “Please let me show you?”

“O-okay?”

“Yes… Spike breathed, pushed the word against his mouth and leaned,  infinitesimally closer, pressing the cool curve of his lip against Xander’s, chaste as anything. “Yes. Thank you.” Another brush, and his lips were dry and cool, a bit chapped even, and Xander licked his own in defense when the vampire said, “Thank you…”

Thank you, thank you, thank you. It was a murmur without issuing so much as a syllable, mouth soft and gentle over Xander’s between each missing exhalation. And Xander could have stepped away, could have given himself some room and the space to breathe, even an inch of air between them because Spike wasn’t holding on to him, wasn’t touching him at all except the press of his mouth and the accidental brush of his chest or his hip just a tingle against him, desperate somehow, standing so close their feet were layered on the carpet, but his hands resisted, drawing arcs of heat and nothingness around Xander’s neck and shoulders, feeling out his warmth without daring so much as a light finger. And Xander could have stepped away, perhaps should have, because that might have been better than standing awkward and still as a statue, watching the intensity on Spike’s face without any idea of what to do, but he didn’t. He stood still while Spike kissed him tenderly, sucking lightly on his upper lip, and sighed, letting himself shift and flow, letting his eyes drift shut and his body lean forward and his brain go away. “Thank you…”

Spike surprised him by not pressing his advantage. By being calm, and careful, and running delicate fingers across his shoulders in a sinuous line that made him shudder. Made him gasp for air, his skin coming alive under the treatment that was soothing and trickled through his nerves like molten glass. His mouth buzzed when Spike flicked his tongue across his teeth, wet and strong and rippling against his own like cool water, and Xander realized he had hummed, a noise of pure relaxed indulgence that made Spike smile against him, and he liked it enough that he began to kiss back while Spike held him, cool fingers drifting across his neck and tangling in his hair, just holding, gentling, thumbing across the line of his jaw like he was something fragile and good. 

Because Spike just kissed him. Simple and easy and unbelievable, kisses soft and sweet and full of longing and regret, and nothing like the times before because they weren’t about shutting him up, or comfort, or chasing nightmares away. Spike was telling him without saying a word that this was just closeness, about wanting, showing him they were good, that the tantalizing sweet rhythm while Spike fucked his mouth was perfect and left him fading in and out, curls of warmth unspooling low in his belly reminding him he was alive so he could melt and moan and press forward, standing stupidly in the middle of the living room like they could do this forever.

He thought too much, and he finally found something to do with the hands that hung dumbly by his sides, twitching out to find Spike’s hips, clinging to the square solidity of them for balance.  Clinging to Spike, who made a happy noise but backed away, holding Xander’s face and petting the slick line of his lower lip with blunt fingertips; Xander felt drugged, felt loose and empty in his bones, felt like Spike had stolen his need to breathe because his lungs were hollow and slow while the vampire sucked in air and breathed against him and smoothed his palms across Xander’s throat and collar bones, touching because he couldn’t seem to stop. “Let me show you… let me…”

“Okay.” This time it wasn’t a question. It wasn’t even a word, just noise that meant more, please. And he couldn’t remember what Spike wanted to show him or what it meant, just knew he felt reckless enough to want what Spike wanted, let his skin sweep him away while nimble black-tipped fingers flicked open the buttons of his shirt to scrape his nails down the ridges of his undershirt and rucked it up, thumbs and palms and the soft cotton sweep of Spike’s tee against his trembling belly. “Okay.”

Spike backed him into the chair, shift of his hips, body moving both of them so Xander could stay attached at the lips, hands bunching and flexing in the taut fabric of Spike’s shirt, finding his skin, digging in and holding so tightly the vampire fell into him, crushing them both against the soft seat. He laughed then, wicked pleasure-filled rumble, backing up enough break Xander’s clench and move his grasping hands to the vampire’s waist while Spike stripped them both out of their mangled shirts, crawling into Xander’s lap for the desert heat that Xander breathed across his skin, and gentling, shushing shh shh shh when Xander gasped raggedly, desperate for air, desperate for something, head lolling back into the creaking leather so Spike could leave hot trails down his throat. Xander could feel his heart pounding against the vampire’s mouth, and he just didn’t care.

Spike let him breathe, knees tight against the outside of Xander’s thighs, trapped against the wide arms of the chair, backed away and left him room for his lungs to expand while he ran his rough fingers through Xander’s hair, smoothing, soothing, distance that he desperately did not want, but Spike evaded his mouth, held his head and left him to gasp like a fish and run helpless hands across Spike’s ribs, his flanks, absorbing the milky ivory calm of him through his fingertips until he could see again, until he was more than a live wire that sang and crackled and existed for the vampire. Absorbing that Spike… refused to take advantage of him, and the realization stilled him, left him to bury his face between the solid slabs of Spike’s pecs, trying to avoid what he’d become. The vampire smelled like cinnamon and cigarettes, and played with Xander’s hair, draped a casual hand across the nape of his neck. 

“You’re okay…” he murmured, the rumble of his voice something that came through Xander’s lips and left him blushing, ashamed, his body shaking with rampant… something that felt bright and new, trying to break the surface. “You’re all right.” He said again, hoarse whisper, “God you’re hot. You’re so hot and I want… feel like I’ve been hard for weeks, you…”

Xander took this as his cue, hands slipping down the fine xylophone ribs to circle the waist of Spike’s jeans, the curve of his ass, sharp jutting hip bone and finally, the brassy button that was chilly against his thumb, but Spike batted his hands away, held his wrists in gentle manacles strong as iron that made him want to surge away, towards, and kissed him again. “No,” he said into Xander’s mouth, “no, let me do this… let me.”

Let me. And the vampire sank, sucking up an archipelago of bruises that draped from the spot behind his ear that made him gasp, down to the divot of his collar bone where his tongue traced cool patterns from the dip of his neck to the bony curve of his shoulder. Down further, across Xander’s chest which heaved an incomprehensible rhythm of surprise and wanting as the vampire tongued across his nipple, wet and unexpected, pebbling up to meet his mouth. He jerked, startled when Spike nipped the curl of skin above his navel, blunt human teeth a gentle contrast to the sweeping rush of Spike’s hands, petting him to stillness, weaving silvery strands of lust between them that tugged Xander’s hands up on marionette strings to cup the back of Spike’s skull, trace the delicate curve of his spine, break through the crust of his hair to explore the shape of things, the sharp jut of his bones and the planes of his face.

He surprised himself by wanting to touch, wanting to be touched. Wanting what the pulse on the edge of hearing was promising, wanting to share it, share the apprehensive flutter in his belly and the tug and drag on his skin like the tide, like Spike was pulling him out to sea, fingers skating across his skin to work open his jeans, and the scrape of the zipper was deafening in the breathy silence, drowning the moment when Spike sank to the floor, too far away. “Spike…” It was a whine.

“Here, love. Here. Off…” and Xander laughed because Spike was down to monosyllables, yanking at the band of his jeans. Laughed because he was astounded to feel himself grow hard under the treatment, cock waking to Spike’s impatient grumbling and vibrations he was close enough to feel. It was a goddamned miracle, and he chuckled, feeling insane, feeling his nerves light up and press against his zipper and jerk into the chocolate gravel rumble of Spike’s voice, “Lift yer hips… get these… fucking…”

Xander lifted, and Spike yanked, and he thought he would lose his mind when the vampire laid his head in his lap and ignored his cock completely, languorously sucking up a deep hickey on the inside of his thigh. He couldn’t look, flung the soft inside of his arm across his eyes to squash the light out of the room, couldn’t stand to see himself strain into the touch, hips pushing towards the sucking strength of Spike’s mouth, right hand dragging him forward by the curve of his neck. Spike only laughed at him and resisted the pull, torturing him with tiny sweeping strokes of his tongue that made him groan and whine high in his throat until the vampire finally, finally followed the vee of his thighs to their apex, breathing, useless, incendiary air against the base of his cock. “Should be about… wanting,” he said slowly, and Xander could feel the words buzz up to his spine.

Hard for the first time in too long, harder than he could ever remember, hardest because it was real and it was now and Xander hadn’t dared to imagine that he would ever want sex again in his life and now he was on fire, trying to thrash against the onslaught, Spike was evil, holding him in place with one cool hand on his hip, taunting him with gust of words across his balls, nuzzling the vein that he could feel throbbing against the bump of Spike’s nose and it was perverse and perfect and he wanted to beg. “Please, Spike? Please… too much, it’s too… I can’t…”

 “Pretty cock… you have such a pretty cock, knew it would be big, be perfect. Gonna be perfect in me…”

“In you!?” Xander felt himself squeak and his eyes flew open then slammed shut because while he was lost behind his eyelids, lost in the press of Spike’s mouth and the sporadic sucking kisses that were slurping up his cock, distracted by an evil flame of sensation disguised as Spike’s wet tongue flicking under the head, the vampire’s hands had been busy, squirming out of his jeans that were too tight, wriggling long slender fingers against himself, into himself, naked pale body a twisted line of rippling muscle that made Xander’s fists clench and his hips surge forward, fucking into Spike’s throat. And Spike laughed around him, then had to spare a hand to tug squarely on his balls, pull him back from a dizzying precipice that had him gnawing his own lip in a kind of agony. “Fuck!”

“Yeah.” The word was a rasp that made his balls tingle.

Spike pulled off him, slick wet mouth dragging up the line of his pelvis, dipping into his navel, meeting his mouth again when Xander had had the chance to breathe, was ready to come out of his skin or scream or die or something. He clutched at Spike’s shoulders when the vampire crawled into his lap again, felt his fingers dig into the sharp bones deep enough that it hurt, that Spike had to be hurting, but the vampire didn’t complain, just hummed a satisfied sigh of contentedness against his mouth and reached between his legs to hold Xander’s cock still, “Want me, Xander?”

He couldn’t look. “Fucking shit, yes!” And clapped a hand over his mouth, holding back the flood of filthy babble that he wanted to sing into Spike’s skin while the vampire crouched over him, impaled himself on his dick. “God…” it came out muffled behind his thumb, and Spike was kind enough to remove his hand from his mouth before he did himself injury, replace the ball of his thumb with his tongue, save him from the desire to plead while he grasped Spike’s hips, bruise tight and desperate to fuck past the ring of tight, slick – where the fuck had Spike gotten the lube from and did it really matter at all? – muscle that clenched around his cock head. “God. Are you okay? Is this…? Oh god…”

“S’good…” he sank a little lower, rocking his hips down Xander’s shaft until he was fully seated, long legs and bony knees draped helplessly over the arms of the chair so Xander didn’t dare move because Spike had no leverage, couldn’t get away, and he was frozen, cock twitching in the tight, tight sheath of Spike’s ass while the vampire’s dick painted shiny lines across his heaving belly. Spike rolled his hips, scraped red lines of counterpoint ice down his ribs, “S’good,” he repeated. “Christ. So good, so… hot, you’re hot. In me. You have to move, I can’t… Fuck, Xander. Move. Please move. Want me, want, I…”

             Xander stole the words from Spike’s tongue, replacing them with his own that were breathy moans and quiet gasps and a noise like a strangled scream when Xander’s hips jerked up and Spike clenched – tight, tightest – rocking frantically now, so he did it again and again until Spike was practically a blur in his lap, cock scraping against Xander’s abs, hands tangled in his hair, tugging, the creamy white ridge of his neck at Xander’s mouth when it was finally too much, too much and he bit to keep from screaming and the world exploded white and green and glittering glass and he flew apart to dust while Spike fucked himself to a roaring orgasm on his cock. He felt himself start to sob.





Part Thirty-Four

The empty headed buzz so dearly earned from a rather lovely orgasm atop a rather lovely cock filled up fast with frantic noise. What the fuck? What the fuck? He was near panic. Xander was crying! The hot trembling air against his chest, splashes of burning wet saline on his belly, and the boy was clinging to him deep enough that Spike felt long lines of bruises scraping across his sides, holding him there, hiding his face in Spike’s collar bones. This was no inappropriate expression of joy or simple appreciation of the admittedly fine fuck; this was broken, gut wrenching sobbing. Xander’s shoulders heaved in time to the desperate sucking of his lungs and Spike was at a complete loss, still skewered nicely, open and exposed and trapped while Xander held him so close, used his skin to hide.

It was unbelievably awkward. “Xander?” The grip around his ribs grew painful, and he was grateful that breathing had only ever been an affectation. “What’s wrong, love?”

The boy shook his head, and that was all Spike got out of him.

Concerned now, “Did I hurt you?” Another shake, and a chuckle that cut through the sobbing in a conflicting jangle of noise that sounded like a dying cat. “Talk to me, Xander. Tell me how to fix it.”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” emerged from the region of Spike’s own sternum, and it tickled, singing against his skin in a way that reminded him of the stinging lines of pleasure that Xander had scraped down his flanks and his shoulder blades, the bite across his throat and Xander’s spunk, still gloriously warm, slipping out of him. In an ill-timed show of renewed interest, his cock twitched and his mind threw up surround-sound flashbacks of what they’d just done, how stretched and full and hot he was, and the choked little squeak of pleasure he’d forced out of the boy when he squeezed… God it had been good. The kind of good that made Spike want to stretch out and purr his satisfaction, maybe even knead the bed and make Xander do it all again. Which obviously wasn’t in the cards at the moment. “I’m sorry…” was breathed out against his stomach in a hot gust, “You were right and I’m sorry I’m fucking it all up… I’ll stop, I’ll stop, I’ll…” and his words were washed away by a hiccough and a fresh wash of misery.

But Xander was true to his word. After a day of shifting boxes of Angel’s crap and fairly vigorous sex, the kind of energy it took to sustain that kind of weeping burnt itself out, slipped gears down to the occasional hitch and sigh and burning wet drip. And Spike was glad, flooded with relief and terror in two disparate parts of his mind because he hadn’t see Xander cry in months. Not since he’d begged to die. Even the grip loosened up a bit, enough that Spike could slip off his cock and wriggle his legs from over the arms of the chair and back under him at least, so he no longer felt quite so vulnerable, but Xander’s loose hold on his hips stayed, and he refused to look up. “What the hell, Harris?”

“I don’t…” He managed dully, and it lapsed back into silence.

Spike made an effort, maneuvered them around in the chair a bit so they were still squashed, but comfortably, and Xander’s face stayed tilted away, hidden in Spike’s neck, but at least he was on a level now where Spike could see his mouth move, see if it would twitch into a smile when he said, “That bad, huh?”

It did, that mouth, and that gave him all the permission he needed to wrap himself around Harris like a limpet and pet his hair back from his face, touch his lips to the smooth brow. “No.”

“Talk to me.”

Xander sniffed, “It was fantastic.” It didn’t sound fantastic.

Spike was afraid he’d made a monumental error in judgment. “And?”

“It’s not… it doesn’t matter. I’m sorry – completely inappropriate post-coital reaction. I’m sorry.”

The vampire snorted, marveling at the understatement of the year. But Xander was tense and hunched and miserable, and Spike took it as a personal affront, saw it as his duty to bring the boy to the relaxed, genial headspace he currently inhabited, and set about trying to make him laugh. “Oooh, I dunno,” he said gamely, “seen some strange things in my time. This one bloke Dru lured into the lair… sometime in the mid-fifties I guess, when we were in Rome, skinny little lad, howled like Tarzan when he came. Put me right off.” When that confession – sadly not embellished – failed to evoke so much as a sigh or a giggle, Spike let himself worry. Xander would laugh at anything if he thought it would make Spike happy, and now he only breathed like there was nothing there but the machine of his body. “Last time someone got laid in this place,” he tried again, glossing over recent history because his body this close to Xander’s, still naked and slick with Xander’s sweat, didn’t want the reminder, “there was a soul-ectomy. I take it that’s not what’s happened?”

“I have your come on my stomach.” Xander told him bluntly, an observation and an utter non-sequitur, like he’d just noticed. Spike’s eyebrows shot up, and he resisted the urge to run his fingers through the sticky mess, to rub it in to Xander’s quivering muscles and mark him completely. He let it be enough that there was a smear of his blood on Xander’s mouth, and the dark swirl of his bite staining the skin on the boy’s shoulder. He could see it, barely, peeking out from beneath a fall of dark hair and Spike stared at it intently, because he wanted it, wanted to suck up a new bruise under the recently healed flesh and let Xander know who he belonged to. But down that road lay madness, and he almost missed it when Xander said, lifelessly, “It was good. It was really good. I didn’t know sex could be that… it was really good.”

Spike couldn’t help feeling smug. And with the temerity and bloody-minded nosiness that had been his hallmark for longer than he could remember, he wanted to pry into his lover’s past partners, because Xander was his lover now, truly, regardless that the boy was miserable, and it sent a little thrill through him to know that it had been good, to have it confirmed. He wanted to prod at him for details, to compare himself to everyone else and find them horribly wanting, but he recognized a pointless endeavor when he saw one, and he could guess well enough. Anya, when she’d been in the picture, was astonishingly vocal about her sex life, about what gave her pleasure and the things Xander did right and wrong, enough that after he’d eked out the juicy details even Spike had been annoyed by the constant verbal pasting. She was self-assured and self-possessed, and maybe she was also a loud and flatteringly enthusiastic lay, but Spike couldn’t imagine that she could be generous, that she would ever bother to explore Xander’s quirks and kinks, wouldn’t bother to learn him at all. And Spike wanted to feel pleased with himself that he did, that he was always good to his partners, looking forward to long hours of comfortable lassitude, where he could be soft and tender, mapping Xander’s body, feeling out the spots that made him squirm or laugh or sigh, enjoying him and being enjoyed. But the lovely fantasy of future hours turned backwards, twisted on him. So he asked, but he thought he knew the answer. “Then why the water works?”

“Because… because…” The dam broke again, but this time it spilled over with anger, and Xander’s words were a dark hissing stream, incoherent with metasyntactic context and bitterness. “It didn’t hurt you at all. You liked… I wasn’t trying to hurt you. It could’ve been good. Should’ve been like that the first time, you said, and it didn’t…. It hurt.” It was a plaintive and simple and childish complaint, and that much more powerful. It hurt. Not for the first time the vampire wished he had a time machine, or a memory spell, or anything that could help them both forget that Xander had been abused, and he was just the last in a long list. Because what he was saying was really You hurt me. “Over and over and it never had to… Christ you were right and you knew it could be good, you knew and you wanted it to be and you… did that anyway?”

Anger because Xander got it now, was ripping open his belly with teeth of ice and pulling him to pieces because he understood why Spike had been unable to forgive himself, and perhaps he would still be incapable of forgiveness once the merry buzz of endorphins was drowned out of his system, because fucking had never brought him absolution before. Xander got it now, and it made Spike hurt to think that this had been just another way to wound him, that pleasure was just another way of showing him how truly mangled the world had left him, how very deeply Spike had betrayed him. “Why would you… you told me you wanted it to be good. I don’t… I don’t understand.”

“I’m so sorry, love.”

But the babble marched on over him, thick and choked with wet, “And it was okay in my head, you know? It was okay. You wanted to hurt me, or whatever, and it was okay because I just… wanted you to have what you wanted.” He started to cry again, breath blocked by anxious hiccoughs, and Spike almost panicked because it sounded like the machine had stuttered and was wheezing on its last legs, but it was just Xander getting his breath back, finding the words past the lump in his throat, and he still wouldn’t look the vampire in the eye. “Because I need you. I wanted to keep you. And I was sorry about it, you know? Cause it makes me so… and I didn’t want you to feel… stuck, maybe? But I was… I was gonna let it be okay. Whatever. Whatever you wanted and you made me feel…”

And Spike knew most of this already. Had surmised from Xander’s behavior and the fucking training that Dracula put him through, training to be dependent and miserable and to beg to be a victim as long as he was kept. All that he knew, but the boy surprised the hell out of him by twisting a patch of skin he’d found on Spike’s thigh, pinching it and giving it a vicious wrench that purpled up immediately under his nails, and yanked a surprised yelp out of Spike, “Ow!”

“Fuck you!” He did it again. Two for flinching.

Spike blinked under the assault, “By all means,” he said dryly, “do it again if it’ll make you feel better.”

And perhaps that was unfair, because it spun the world around again so he fell, turned Xander into the kind of ugly sadist who took his frustrations out on the flesh of his loved ones, turned him into Spike, in fact, and it took the wind right out of his sails. “God I am so fucked up, I’m so fucked up. I want to forgive you. I have, I’ve forgiven you. I mean, I get it, all the logic centers are on board with forgiveness and I just… I wanna be what you need. But you robbed me of that and I didn’t even know. And every time I think I’m over it, I keep finding new things to be angry about. I’m sorry.”

“No, love. No. Don’t be sorry.”

 “But it was so good and I… ruined it. This ruined it.”

The creak in his voice was like the pout of a child mourning a dropped ice cream, made Spike indulgent and he felt the smile curling his mouth, “It can be good again. I’ll show you, if you let me. Every time, it can be good again.” But the smile turned wicked, because he was mollycoddling the boy, full of regret and heartache, but he was still Spike. “Wanna try christening other chair? Test the theory?”

And he finally got the chuckle he’d been looking for. “Maybe later.”

Finally got the slump and melt against his skin that felt like trust, felt like boneless exhaustion and complete surrender the way it should have been. It made Spike want to make good on the joke and christen the other chair, but Xander was a heap beside him, leaning into him hollow of any kind of energy or emotion, and Spike pushed the urge aside. Kissed the boy, sweet and soft and lulling him into a quiet, loose-limbed doze. Maybe later. Spike smiled. It wasn’t a no.

***

Xander woke up in their nest feeling curiously empty. Spike was wrapped around him like a noose, something familiar that went unremarked upon in daily life, but today it made him less uncomfortable than it had the day before, and less than the day before that. He was adjusting. He was making himself, and maybe today there was less to adjust to. And it was good that Spike was so stubbornly tactile, that he had gotten himself into the habit of rolling towards Xander in the night and covering as much surface area as possible. Xander never slept so well than when he was with Spike, the peace and the acceptance in the vampire’s skin letting the nightmares fade into sleepy obscurity. And on those rare occasions when they woke him, his heart pounding and his muscles spasming and cramping, his body trying to force itself back to life, Spike was there. Spike let himself be clung to, talked to, and he made the talking easy. If Xander had dreamed this morning, if he had seen, for once he didn’t remember it.

The vampire’s octopus hold made wriggling out of bed a process though, and Xander usually only managed it by replacing parts of his body with various pillows. This morning he lay in Spike’s grip for as long as he could, reluctant to face the rest of the day, and to see the brightness of the world, but soon his bladder was making obnoxious demands of him, and he was practically flinging pillows in Spike’s direction to evade his questing hands. Sometimes he wondered if the Spike weren’t completely awake, just rebelliously interested in cuddling, but Xander suspected that wasn’t the case because the vampire was, perversely, respectful, and would back away the moment he wanted to be free. Spike just liked to watch him sleep, and at some point, he had to drift off as well.

He took himself off to the bathroom, tile floor chilly under his bare soles while he performed his morning ablutions and his brain stayed pleasantly blank. Xander’s whole body felt new and raw when he stepped into the shower, and he had to turn the heat down, then back up because he was cold, and back down again, performing an indecisive charade to accommodate his new sensitivity. Because yesterday had been…. He felt his skin heat up to match the water, blushing, because Spike had looked… and felt… he didn’t even have the words. But the memory of the vampire in his lap, above him but trapped by the angle, helpless to do anything but roll his hips and buck and squeeze… Xander could hardly breathe. Worked to drag steam into his lungs. And it was so unfamiliar, so intense and loud in his mind that he felt shell-shocked by the whole experience. Too hot, too cold.

He hadn’t even known he liked men. Which was such a trivial thing to think, something astonishingly unimportant after months of use by Master and his women that was all invariably torturous no matter how much his body had responded to it. At this point, Xander wasn’t even sure he’d ever liked sex. But he never imagined he’d ever be allowed to… reciprocate, and somehow that turned everything upside down. He just privately assumed that Spike would use him in the same way, but perhaps more gently, and it didn’t matter if he was sexually attracted at all provided Spike kept him. He knew it made him a whore, and he hated himself for it, but he wasn’t strong enough without Spike. Hadn’t he proved that when he’d killed Joyce? And he didn’t think he’d ever been attracted to a man before. Maybe he’d had a passing thought about Larry once he came out and was showing such blatant interest, but he’d just been tasting the idea, turning it around in his head. And maybe Giles, because he’d been at that age where almost all affection translated into sexual attraction, but that faded quickly, buried under a cairn of bloody-hot hyena memories, the bones of prey, and praying mantis people. Spike was different. Spike was sexy. Not that he hadn’t known that before because women turned to watch him pass and even naked and covered in demon snot he could wear self-confidence like a coat, but he’d known it as a fact, not an experience. And the experience… Spike was sexy. It made all the difference.

It didn’t matter anyway. Nothing had changed, not really, but last night had cracked him open like a geode and all sorts of interesting things were tinkling out and catching in the light. He’d cried. Actually cried, wept as he hadn’t since his childhood, for himself, for the state of the world, for Buffy and Joyce and Jenny and Jesse and the dozens of other people he hadn’t been able to save. Cried for Spike because Xander knew he was using him and he didn’t deserve it. Cried because his life was stupidly unfair and the best orgasm ever had been ripped away by a flood of tears that left him mourning his ignorance of good things, all of it tangled up in itself like a Gordian’s knot of rage and sorrow, one strand inextricable from another. And he cried because Spike had done with a little kindness what no amount of bashing at him with a hammer had achieved, so eventually he was only crying because he was crying, and he wore himself out completely.

Now he felt uncomfortably new. Felt like things were growing in him and he couldn’t scour them away, maybe didn’t want to, tender, delicate shoots of fresh green that he was afraid to expose to the light in case they withered away. He was mixing his metaphors, but didn’t want to correct them in case the analysis broke something, broke the barrier between him and his tumultuous new brain. He was an observer of a shipwreck, standing on a rocky shore. He didn’t want to become a sailor. So he cleaned himself with a kind of monastic diligence, silent and lost in the creamy white froth and the sweet soapy tang in his nose, the beat of water on his neck where the absence of a new puncture stood out like a flag. He wasn’t thinking about it, and finally climbed out of the shower, lobster red from heat and tender enough that even their softest towel was sandpaper on his new senses.

He emerged from the bathroom in a cloud of steam and the fluffy midnight robe he’d adopted as his own. And he hoped that Spike would still be asleep, at least until he had clothes on, some armor to guard the rawness, but had no luck, and their eyes met as soon as the fog cleared. Xander could feel himself start to blush.

“Hey.” Spike said, voice creaking with satisfaction, but rustier than usual, and the flush of heat engulfed his face when he remembered why.

“Hey.”

“How are you feeling?”

His face was on fire. The vampire melted off the bed and slunk towards him, but he was all concern because Xander had cried. He installed himself in Spike’s not-brooding chair, cut off by the high wings. Unless Spike sat in his lap again. “Embarrassed.”

“I love you.”

That stopped the warmth of Xander’s embarrassment in its tracks, like dousing him in a bucket of ice, and he tried to joke, “I thought I was the king of random blurtery.”

“Meant to say it yesterday.” Spike shrugged, casual and completely at home with the idea, “Wanted to say it again now. I love you.”

“Don’t tell me that…”

“I’m sorry.” The silence carried the weight of horror because in this… he couldn’t reciprocate. Not yet, maybe not ever because that part of him had broken off and was washed down the sewers somewhere. And he liked Spike, enough that sorrow bit him when it became clear that the vampire didn’t expect a return, but he couldn’t love him. Spike didn’t seem to mind. “So what’s on the agenda for the day?”

Xander blinked, stepped away from the moment, and glanced at the clock above the brand new stove that they hadn’t fired up even once. It was about four thirty, in the afternoon going by Spike’s rumpled bed-head, and he had no idea how long he’d been asleep, but he felt restless and ready to move. “Thought I’d drag Dawn out to look at paint samples,” he responded, almost normal. “Give Willow and Tara a break for a while and maybe feed her dinner?”

“Still wanna paint that wall green?”

“Yeah, something to give the room a little… definition, y’know?” Xander the interior designer. He could practically see Spike trying to squash the urge to tease him for it, and it lit up a little spark of humor in him. “That okay?”

“Sure. We’ll order in Chinese, walk her home when we’re done.”

“Good. Cause then I think we should go hunting.” It was Spike’s turn to blink, and he raised the scarred eyebrow in a carefully calculated move that never failed to inspire a flood of information out of Xander. This time he managed to only shrug. “The hellmouth still eats.”

Spike nodded vaguely and wandered away to rummage through the closet for a pair of clean trousers. Xander watched him, idly appreciating the stretch and curve of long lean muscles and skin that wasn’t really corpse-blue but salt white in this light and flawless from his slender neck all the way down to his finely turned ankles… until a pair of his own pants hit him in the face, and he wrenched them away, glowering. The vampire was laughing. “We okay?”

Xander took in that it was a genuine question despite the mischievous sparkle on the vampire’s face, and laughed at him. “Yeah,” He said, considering the question, what it meant. “We’re good.”

“Good.” Because then Spike threw a shirt at him.





Part Thirty-Five

Spike expected a gallon of paint and an over-enthusiastic teenager wielding a maniacal roller, so he moved the new TV into the disused kitchen and slid the chairs well out of the way, draping them with a sheet. What he got was an inches-thick stack of paper and Xander, who laughed at him. “I said we were looking at colors,” he teased like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “I’m not ready to paint yet.”

Dawn had apparently infused him with some good humor, or maybe they had coaxed each other back towards happiness because she seemed a little better this evening, no dark cloud of gloom looming over her head and throwing off sparks of stinging lightning at anyone who tried to get close. Spike couldn’t blame her, exactly, because he knew what Joyce had meant, and knew that Buffy was going none-too-gently with her so they were probably taking it out on each other, but that kind of grief was alien to him. All of Spike’s losses had been his own doing, and he could kick himself and kick himself, and when his backside was worn out he turned his boots on the universe, but Dawn was just a girl. She wasn’t helpless by a long stretch, not with Spike in her corner, but it was maddening, the way the world could turn around to spit at you, and she was pissed off about it but powerless to get a little of her own back. Her company in the weeks since the funeral had been… tricky at best. But tonight she seemed all right, and pleaded with him, wide green puppy eyes to please ask for extra hot mustard when he picked up dinner. The kid could do spicy like a champion – Spike was proud.

He called in the order with a shrug – extra mustard – and left the humans to their own devices, thinking he’d take the opportunity to eat something a little more sanguine while he was out. And it wasn’t that they didn’t have blood in the fridge, or that, after all this time, he was worried about putting Dawnie or Xander off their feed – Dawn was persistently fascinated with what she playfully called his “scary teeth” – but he wanted something else. Wanted something wet and fresh and wiggling nicely on his incisors and got it all clotted up in lust and hunger for something else. And Spike was hungry. Because the look Xander gave him… he felt those eyes from all the way across the room, dark and hot and so inviting he had to fling the boy’s clothes at him so he would take temptation out of his path. When Xander left, he’d stepped into the shower – icy cold – and managed to talk himself out of a wank because he had no idea when Xander and, worse, the Nibblet, would be returning, and there was, he hoped, the very real possibility of something far more satisfying at the end of the night. If he played his cards right, if the stars or the fates or the man behind the curtain didn’t shit on him, and if he fucking ate something so he wasn’t tempted to take a sip of whatever victim Xander found for them tonight. Not that Xander minded those times he had cause to lick his fingers, or when Spike took a bite because the mark was already dead, but it made the boy miserable, thinking he had failed. And tonight, Spike didn’t want misery.

On the way to Chen’s, he hunted up a rabbit. When Spike had been human, they’d dug in burrows and warrens all over the grounds, made hash of the vegetable garden, and set the dogs barking at all hours, things that once made him sigh with defeat because it bothered him, but it was nature, and he’d believed like the soft-handed transcendental idealist he had been that nature was always perfect. He’d never even learned to tie snares. In his mind’s eye, he could practically see Red’s lip quiver with sympathy for the fluffy bunny, but he’d always privately detested the fuzzy little menaces, and spotted one sniffing around the edge of a spruce in Weatherly Park. A short, casual chase caught it up in his fingers, soft fur concealing vicious teeth, but Spike had it by the neck, and its powerful legs kicked futilely against his sleeve. He felt himself grinning, felt his senses expand and his face relax into different bones that were good and raw and closer to the ground than he’d ever dreamed when he was alive. The blood was hot and grassy when he tore through its neck, teeth shearing through an inch of fur and the rabbit didn’t struggle long, squealed just a bit before it died, but it was enough; it was herbivore sweet, and Spike tipped the rabbit upside down, letting it all pump his way, trying not to crush its fragile bones or let its guts spill into the clean arterial flow.

He stuffed the dead rabbit in his pocket, back to human again and spitting out clumps of wet fluff, because there was good eating on a rabbit, and soft fur, and he knew a demon bloke he could sell it to for enough to cover dinner at least. Not even Spike wanted to know what they’d use it for after that.

Xander and Dawn were busy arranging the stack of colorful little cards on the wall when he got back. Xander looked at a chip, looked at the wall, made a “hrm” noise and let Dawn tape it up as part of an ever-growing misshapen mosaic. Spike liked the effect, the bold blocks of color arranged in random lines and squares, some of them crookedly because Dawn had to stand on her toes, eating the white space and edging slowly through every permutation from apple green to midnight blue.

Dawn stopped taping when she saw him, coming out of her careful tippy-toe balance and bounding across the room to swipe the food out of his hands. Xander was a little more sedate about it, but Spike heard his stomach growl while he reached for the last of the unbroken plates. “Thanks,” he said quietly, and Dawn, who already had a massive mouthful of garlic shrimp and noodles  mugged furiously behind him, gesturing her appreciation as well. Before she’d even finished half her plate, she was dragging Spike over to the wall and tapping on a square that was, as far as he could tell, identical to all of the little squares around it, and said proudly, “That color.”

Spike had no opinion whatsoever, as long as Xander wasn’t painting the walls cat-piss yellow with massive psychedelic blue daffodils, he was all right with it, but Dawn was bubbling over with excitement at the prospect of putting her energy into something, and it began to dawn on the vampire that that had been Xander’s intention all along. She’d chosen a dark, bluesy teal that reminded Spike of a brooding sea, of home, edged right up against the white cliff of the crown molding. “S’nice,” he said for something to say.

“Can you believe Xander wants green? Ick.” Spike raised an eyebrow and heard Xander’s muted snerk from behind the kitchen counter, and Dawn had the grace to look abashed and gesture to her own belly, “Yeah, but this is a shirt.”

“C’mon, pet. Your dinner’s getting cold.”

She ate with gusto, yammering between dark bites of sesame chicken and spare-ribs that she was going to come help them tape and cover up all the furniture and stuff, and that she’d always wanted to paint her room a bright creamy orange like the inside of a tangerine milkshake but, and here she paused for a jagged moment and Spike could see the cloud begin to form, her mom wouldn’t let her. Spike shared a glance with Xander over her head, a quick nod that held pages of meaning, and offered to let her paint their place like a tangerine milkshake if she wanted to. She laughed and told him that Frothy Almond Sunrise was not a vampire color and went back to her dinner.

Spike picked indiscriminately off both of their plates, popping the tail end of Xander’s eggroll into his mouth and stealing the shrimp out of Dawn’s noodles in a feat of daring that made them both glare daggers at him. It was good, and funny, and accented by his death-threat fortune cookie that read in typical mistype, “Le the sun shine on your soul” and taught him “zhu,” the word for “pig.” [1]Dawn stuck her tongue out, taking this as cookie karma restoring balance to the world of take-out, and said, “So there.”

The cloud lifted, but the damage had been done, and it took coaxing her out for a double scoop of chocolate fudge ice cream on the way home to get her grinning again, which was just as well because Spike knew Xander loved ice cream after Chinese food, and Spike loved watching him eat it.

There was still a smear of chocolate in the corner of Xander’s mouth when they dropped Dawn of at home, returning her to her sister’s protection and a house that was, right now, uncomfortably full of memories. Spike caught himself murmuring an empty platitude in her ear, distracted by wondering if Xander would let him lick the chocolate off, and shook himself. He told her it was fucking awful, that it would hurt for a while and that sometimes when she walked into the kitchen after school she’d expect to see her mum and it would all come rushing in and be fucking awful all over again, but eventually she’d start to let the good memories be good without the inevitable bitter sting, and that raw spot inside her would callus over without, he hoped, much of a scar. She was sniffling when she walked inside, and he hoped he’d been telling her the truth.

Xander lingered back on the street, watching the handoff with his hands in his pockets because he was still upset, still afraid the Slayer hated him for something that was completely out of control. And Spike wanted to argue, wanted to tell him that he didn’t govern the bloody universe and to just let it go already, but Xander was stubborn and he wasn’t looking for a fight. Or at least not that kind of fight. He let the boy lead them down Revello drive where it cut across Main Street and into the less residential part of town where the good people of Sunnydale milled around like well-fed sheep, grazing and baaing and performing their bellwether dances with no inkling there was a wolf in their midst.

And Spike was hunting, at least in his head, scanning the Wednesday night crowd for something interesting, or at least something edible. There was a little blonde girl that might do him nicely, she might’ve resembled the slayer to an eye that didn’t know her well, little upturned nose and bright bubbly smile, and she carried herself well but didn’t crackle, wasn’t strong the way their girl was – but she looked like she’d be a screamer, and he’d been known to enjoy that. He got a little lost in the fantasy, wondering if she’d taste as empty-headed as she looked, and came crashing back to the world when Xander hissed in his ear, “Spike… Spike!”

“Hm?”

“There.” He pointed with the edge of his jaw, a language Spike understood implicitly, and his eyes scanned the crowd again, landing on a little gaggle of teenagers who came tumbling out of The Sun.

They were Dawn’s age, two girls and a boy with a paid-for tan who might’ve been Xander in another life, hovering between them, and Spike caught himself wondering if the boy had paid for all their popcorn before admitting that they were perfect targets. All three, out and about on a school night, feeling naughtily rebellious and ready to take a daring stroll through the cemeteries, maybe egged on by the boy because he would protect them from the things that went bump in the night, or the tall lanky brunette in the short leather jacket who looked the type to prove to the world that she wasn’t afraid of anything. To Spike’s eye, they were dinner – headed away from the herd, young and weak and leaning together. He nodded. “Yeah.”

It felt good, Xander leaning into him while they stalked the kids, about fifty feet behind, and the little group of hormone bombs were so oblivious they wouldn’t have known if they were being followed by a Mack truck. If Spike ever caught Dawn out here like this, drunk on fizzy soda and acting like an idiot, he’d take it out of her hide – well, metaphorically anyway. But Dawn wasn’t stupid, unlike her classmates who, true to form, ducked through a rusted, broken patch of the chain link fence surrounding Restfield. Now Xander was clutching his arm tightly, almost to a point of pain through the padding of the duster and, staring at them, breathing in short little bursts like he was afraid. For them, probably, afraid for all the nights he’d gone wandering through this particular stretch of grass himself, eager and impatient to follow them through the fence, but Spike made them wait, wanted the hunt and the scuffle and didn’t want to scare them away first by simply chasing them out before time.  

He was wrong though, making assumptions like Xander was a fledge he was training, because the boy slinked through the fence behind them, quiet as a snake, but stayed back, waited on Spike, watched them like he was looking for a pox or the cure for cancer or something, intent and thorough and maybe a little desperate. “That one first,” He said quietly, practically on point while he stared, “The tall one.”

It made sense, take out the head of the herd first and watch the other little flocklings cower, it was what Spike would have done. Spike, but not Xander, who was all about defense, and would have guarded the chubby little mousy blonde with the bob. He frowned, “What?”

“Her first…” He whispered back when the children stopped to light a delinquent cigarette that they passed back and forth in the lee of a crypt. Whispered so low and quiet in the back of his throat it was almost a breath, hardly there at all. Spike’s eyes left the prey for the first time since spotting them as his head craned around to stare at Xander with newer eyes, wishing for an insane moment that he had Xander’s vision. “Maybe… maybe thirty seconds before they bite the boy, first bite… no, third bite is the one, two minutes later. And… oh god… the blonde is last, and… by then…”

The blood drained out of his face in an almost comical curtain of chalk white. Spike could imagine.

“When?” He asked, wanting to move into position, set up the best possible vantage point.

“Four minutes.”

“That soon?” Xander had never cut it so close before, had never given him any kinds of details on the timing. He could usually narrow it down to a quarter of an hour, and after that it was guesswork and largely flying by the seat of their pants as something – anything in this town – attacked. “You’re sure?”

“I’ve been practicing.”

The vampire let his eyebrows do the talking, but had to let it go for the moment, told Xander to creep around and flank them, and if the boy encountered anything even a little scary to yell his head off and the hell with the snackpacks in the grave yard.

They nearly didn’t make it. Spike stayed wide, slipping through the shadows of the tallest grave markers and trying not to spook their bait or their unknown prey. Prey that crept out of the shadows a little nearer its victims, that announced itself like an idiot by banging open the door of crypt they’d neatly trapped themselves beside, making them jump. Vampires. Five of them, all male which didn’t bode well for the birds, and moving fast to flank their little lambs, blocking off points of escape. The little nest of fledges was headed by the eldest, tall, dark, around seventy though he looked thirty-five, and wearing leather pants. Spike took a moment to roll his eyes, despairing of his species while he slipped in closer, waiting for their guard to drop, for them to feel safe enough that the herd had abandoned these.

It happened in a heartbeat, the shift from intently hunting pack to swaggering, loose association of individuals, and Spike saw his moment, lifted the stake that was a constant weight in his coat pocket gripped it carefully, feeling the grain, taking his aim. The king of the fledglings stroked a delicate finger across the line of the brunette’s jaw, leaving her still and trembling, defiant mouth sagging open with fear or lust because there was a thrall in that touch, a warm drape of cotton to blanket her mind and ease open her knees, invite him to a soft, fluttering center. She was breathing hard, eyes blank and staring while her friends clutched at each other and the pack snickered, circling, ready to strike when he did, when he was ready to stop playing, and Spike practically felt her take a step forward, willing victim, his dick throbbed and… “NO!”

Xander. Stupid, impulsive, self-sacrificing Xander. Flinging himself through the circle, forcing Spike’s hand, and he moved, flipping the stake on his palm, flicking it in a whistling arc that ended, abruptly, in a cloud of dust to choke the quivering human. The pack turned. He heard, distantly, Xander shaking the boy, smacking a stake into his open palm, “In the heart. Now go. Out of the cemetery – run!” and again when they stood their frozen, safe only until the fledges split their forces between Spike, the threat, and dinner, “Run!” And the mousy blonde caught both her friends in a grip suddenly turned to iron and ran.

The first one was easy, young and impudent and still thick enough with grave dirt that he couldn’t hear the absence of Spike’s heartbeat. He’d have shit himself if he could, when Spike slipped into game face and twisted his head around by his ears. The spine crackled with pressure, but Spike was already moving on to the next, warier of him now, properly afraid and it felt good, except Xander was still here too, wrestling with a heavy ginger in biker leathers instead of back, way out of it where he bloody well should be helping the bait to safety. But he couldn’t be angry, not when the boy well and truly got into the spirit of things, bringing his head up in a sharp jab to crack against his opponent’s strong but sensitive – so sensitive – brow ridges, and the vampire howled and Xander wriggled aside, getting an elbow in, laying on with a fist and a low pounding chant of “You. Do. Not. Do. That. To. Girls!” Taking some of his own back at long fucking last.

Spike grinned, baiting the two still standing, ducking and weaving and playing them back and forth until he kicked the legs out from under the smarter one and a hand tangled in the other’s mop of hair, wrenching his head to the side and biting in deep just because he could. Because he was always hungry these days. Because the rush down his throat was sparkling and cool like lemonade. He dropped the other vampire, left its hands clutching at its mangled throat, helpless and out of the way, dealt with but not dust because Spike wanted the chance to go through his pockets first, and moved on with his shark’s grin to the final target.

Blood – fresh, hot, human – bloomed in the air, not a lot, but enough to make Spike frantic to get to Harris because he was still there, still fighting thirty seconds after Spike’s last check in, rolling back to his knees and straddling the ugly bruiser for the leverage. They never should have split up and Spike felt his gut lurch because there was still a stupid body in his way, blocking his line of sight. He moved faster, no longer enjoying the dance quite so much, and the smart one weaved with him, almost perpetually out of reach, twirling in a circular dance that took him right when Spike dodged left, so Spike stood still. Took a smart step to the right where his opponent wasn’t yet, and threw his fist at empty air so hard it made the face dancing in to meet it jog and explode like ripe strawberry.

He plucked a tooth out of his knuckle and heard the soft “boof” to his left where Xander was suddenly flailing, no longer in danger but balance completely gone because the vampire he’d been kneeling on was dust. Five seconds. Spike breathed, and didn’t look the boy’s way. Instead, he did a quick rummage, collecting bits and bobs that he could hawk and secreting away rolls of cash in his pockets before punching his stake through each of the three downed vampires. Then he looked. Then he thought he was calm enough to see Xander, pushing himself shakily to his feet, without wanting to throttle him for jumping into the fight at all.

“That was fun.” The boy said dryly, moving well, rolling his neck, catching up to Spike where he stood in a ring of ash. “You okay?”

A high scrape had shaved the edge off Xander’s eyebrow, already starting to stain and blacken in a deep bruise, his nose bled sluggishly, dripping down the soft line of his mouth and chin, and Spike didn’t ask permission for once, but lapped it up, closed the gap between them and pushed his tongue into Xander’s mouth, desperate to feel the warmth and solidity of the boy still tasting of chocolate. “You’re okay.” Harris confirmed wryly when Spike gave him the space to breathe, inspecting his hands where the skin on his right knuckles had come away in the pummeling he’d delivered.

Xander stood still for it, was patient while he was prodded and manipulated and twisted around so Spike could see the purple lump above his elbow before coming back to the hand, kissing and cleaning half vampiric desire half courtly affection. “Was worried,” he managed roughly, taking Xander’s mouth again and shoving his mucky fingers through his hair, holding, owning.

“S’good,” Xander slurred out, leaning into him, and the heat of him, pressed tight, jerked Spike’s hips forward, made the low level flame of lust and hunt and blood flare burning white and open, “I’m good. Fine.”

“Can I have you, pet? Please…” Another kiss, this one wet and hot and open mouthed and a little bit desperate with Spike’s need to crush Xander to him and keep him there. “Can I?”

“What does that…?” Wet, red mouth, damp and breathing fire-warm against his, feeling for a word. “I… yeah.”

Perfect Xander, who wasn’t a vampire and who didn’t feel the thrill of bone and teeth and crunch and kill, but flowed, trusting, against Spike, let him coax him to hardness, gasping into his mouth when Spike scraped agile fingers over his cock, and fumbled open the button on his trousers. He let himself be pushed down, clinging to Spike’s shoulders, stroking his neck, let his thighs fall wide and Spike settle in between them, thrusting down, and up in sweet rhythmic counterpoint, pressure and friction and molten heat, and all things good that made his mind shut off beyond scrape, and rub, and a pull like the tide, and Xander’s hands worming in beneath his coat to get both hands on his arse and squeeze. He heard himself mutter, “Fuck”

Heard Xander’s eloquent plea of “Please please please” whispered to the sky, and found the long column of his neck, arched and creamy under his mouth, gasped, “please please please” to give him more room, and suck – taste, sweet on his tongue, sweat and salt and skin. “Please please please…” a mantra, a cry, eyes wide and wet and dark, and “Oh god…” when Spike ground his hips down and felt a burst of warm against his belly, pushing him over the edge, “Fuck” again, panting empty buzz into Xander’s throat.

“Wow…” Xander said when he got his breath back.

Spike hummed. Just wanted to lay there, bask in the warm heat of the body-mattress and the hot-pink sticky-taffy stretch, languorous and empty headed in the afterglow. But he raised his face from the crux of Xander’s neck and shoulder, checking. “Yeah?”

“Wow.” He said again, eyes bright and wide and full of the moon.

“Good.”

“I killed that guy,” Xander said after a long moment of contemplative silence, and Spike felt the moment of contentment crumble and the world come back in a burst of scent that was Xander and grave dirt and grass and a hint of vanilla on the air. But at least it was better than last time.

“Yeah.”

Two things happened at once then, and when he thought about it later, Spike didn’t know which one horrified him more. But it suddenly occurred to him with a cold trickle that Xander had given his stake away long before dusting that vampire, and a voice behind them sang out “Oh. My. God.”

***

 “So… I guess we don’t need to commission that robot girlfriend for you after all,” Buffy lobbed a softball at him, and he sighed with relief.

It felt like there were never enough chairs. Buffy trailed them back to their apartment, muttering about feeling antsy and scoping out the nest and oh god her eyes, her eyes, but even standing in the cemetery with her hands flung over her face, Xander had seen the sharp vee of her fingers, peeking open. Spike had been greasy-smooth as butter, inviting her in for a “cuppa and a chat” while Xander retreated into the shower for the second time that day, this time to scrub the grass stains off his ass and the vamp grit out of his hair while he worked on getting his blush back under control with varying degrees of success. But eventually he had to emerge because his fingers were starting to shrivel up to pale white prunes, the water was starting to run cold, and besides, he could hear Buffy laughing.

It was always an intense source of discomfort to hear distant laughter when he wasn’t the one telling a joke. Maybe, he told himself, it was ridiculous to be embarrassed or concerned or any of a thousand other emotions beside, because Spike was Spike, and it hadn’t even occurred to Xander to treat him like a secret, but it hadn’t been important enough to just throw into conversation either, and now Buffy thought he was in a… relationship or something, and it was weird. Weird and intensely uncomfortable to be washing away sweat and come and graveyard dust while the instigator of his recent sexcapades and his idol of feminine beauty were laughing together in the next room. He was sore, and tired, and his head was ringing, and it was still better than the last time Buffy had shown up unannounced; at least this time he wasn’t bleeding – much.

Xander had belted on his robe – belatedly remembering that it was Angel’s robe – and crept into the living room like he was awaiting an execution – or maybe just Buffy’s long, narrow finger while she pointed and had a good chuckle at his expense. He didn’t know which one would be worse, and Spike didn’t help by handing him a cup of tea and then abandoning him to take his own shower and rid himself of the blood and grit and… sundry that he was caked in. So Xander sat across from her, curled up in his chair while Buffy perched in Spike’s, and thought about where the vampire was going to sit when he came back to rescue Xander from this predicament.

Weird, and disturbing, and unbelievably normal. Like bringing the boyfriend home to meet the in-laws. Not that Spike was a boyfriend, or didn’t know his in-laws, and the attempt to define, even in his head, what was happening between them left him deeply uncomfortable. He could only be grateful that Buffy seemed to have a sense of humor about it, and hoped he wasn’t going to have to endure a talk from Giles about safe sex later. He thought about a robot and whether or not its skin would be as beautifully cool. “No, I… um. Don’t. Need a girlfriend. Um.”

She laughed at him. “Xander… it’s okay. I get it.” A spark of hope, and he looked the question from behind his mug, “Spike’s… attractive. In, y’know, a vicious murderer kinda way, but I can see the appeal. He’s strong, and lean, and has great eyes… and…” She tried to recover it but Xander heard a hint of choked embarrassment, “and he’s been promising to show me some Brazilian ju-jitsu.”

He raised an eyebrow, this time laughing at her, “Are you sure you don’t want to sleep with Spike?” It was absurdly gratifying to see her face flush red and watch her hotly deny it. He gave her a few minutes to calm down, trying not to laugh too hard because sometimes when she was embarrassed she could get mean. “And it’s… it’s okay?”

Buffy’s eyebrow shot up and her mouth quirked into a skeptical line, “Since when do you care if I like who you date?”

He didn’t, and squirmed on the end of the question because Buffy had it totally ass-about-face. They weren’t actually dating, not in any normal sense of the word, and he didn’t want to try to explain that he wasn’t good enough for the vampire. Not by a long shot. “Because you actually like Spike.”

“I liked Cordelia!” She defended herself, and conceded with a grin, “Kindof. Eventually. Besides, he’s way better than some of the people you’ve gone out with.”

“Wait, wait, gimme a name so I can adjust to the proper levels of mortification here. Mummy girl? Anya?”

“Faith.”

The other slayer was a distant memory, so long ago and far away and buried under a mountain of repression that the incident hardly stood out in his mind and completely failed to evoke the lurch of fear and shame that used to come clouding her memory. He gave Buffy the expected response anyway, “Ouch.”

“Sorry, that was below the belt.”

He shrugged, the banter felt good, natural to him and free, like he’d just regained the use of his legs after months of sitting helplessly and letting his words fall wooden to the floor. “At least you’re not going the ‘he’s a vampire, you’re such a hypocrite’ route.”

“Nah. I’ve mellowed.” It was Buffy’s turn to lift a shoulder, “Even though he is and you totally are. I’m going to be mature. And I think I deserve a cookie.”

Xander couldn’t deny it. Maybe he’d mellowed too.

“I do like Spike.” she said eventually, heedless of the fact that he could probably hear her over the running water. Buffy sounded like she meant it, and it was hard to deny as she was drinking his tea and squishing her feet into the arm of his chair, but her face held a shadow, and with the accuracy of long-time association, Xander could predict what came next. It emerged with surprising care and caution, “And I even trust him, I guess, and not just cause I know he’s chipped. And I know that you’ve had… problems since you… got back, and it all looked…” her face flamed, “pretty consensual. But… he is still a vampire. I don’t want you to let him use you.”

“Oh.” He said dumbly; the brief bubble of happy banter had popped. “No. No that’s… he… no.”

“Okay.” She chuckled and climbed to her feet, leaving the empty cup in the chair. “I should get back. Dawn’s… I don’t want her to wake up with me gone, y’know?” He felt a stab of inordinate guilt. Wanted to ask her how she was or if she needed him for anything or if she’d forgiven him, but she stretched and yawned, arms back over her head and tight tummy peeking through the lift of her shirt, and Xander didn’t want to bring the weariness back into her eyes. He wanted to say a lot of things, and didn’t. And she kissed him on the cheek. “I gotta be the worst slayer ever, making friends with William the Bloody so my normal-people friends can sleep with him, but if you’re happy, I’m happy.”

Xander snorted at the irony there, and didn’t get up. “Best Slayer ever.” He told her instead, and believed it. 

She smiled and left, door clicking softly shut behind her, and Xander stared at the wall and the vibrant corners of their paint chips in a kind of contented silence until another door opened and his vampire snuck up behind him to place shower-warm hands on his shoulders. “So. Pet.” His breath caught. “Wanna tell me how you managed to dust that vamp without a stake?”

“Oh. That.”




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