Rides a Pale Horse

Rayne Jelly

Part Forty-Two


Blackness punctuated by swirls of pain, dark brown aches that lay through his guts. He had guts. Guts and bones, broken sickly blue in his mind’s eye. His eyes were closed. A flutter of red when he learned his eyelids worked. But only a flutter. They wouldn’t stay open.
What the hell had happened to him?
Blackness again.

There was something soft and warm at his mouth, a careful feather touch that set the blue break of his jaw on fire. And something sweet, liquid soft and full of life, creeping in between his swollen lips. His tongue chased it, swallowed, chased it again. Blood. The shift into gameface was unconscious, and painful. His cheekbone pushed itself back into true, and there was a hole where an incisor should be. But it felt… right. Soothing golden power folding itself over him, making him safer. The warm thing was there, the blood. And he bit, instinct the only thing he owned. Bit and drank, sweet and hot and familiar and all his. Drank while a fire spread through his belly, knitting him closed again, drank to a trickle, and slept again.


“It’s been two weeks.” It was miles away. Bouncing across the pavement and echoing off the edifices of the Russell Square of his childhood, startling the ducks. “What if he never wakes up?”

“He will.” That was closer. Far away a sound like the ocean – rushing and drifting – but the ocean wasn’t in Camden. He could feel himself frowning. “I know it still looks bad, but he is recovering. Stubborn.”

“I brought your blood. But you look like you could use a break… are you sure you won’t come out for dinner?”

“Thanks, Buffy, but… I can’t.”

“Okay but… you know you’re welcome, right?”

And there was silence, and he was starting to understand that perhaps the silence was important, but he couldn’t think why. And his head – by God his head, he could never remember such a headache before. Perhaps mother would have a tonic, or… mother? Dead and gone over a century ago. Faded from memory like Russell Square.

“I know. Thank you.”

There was a thunk of a closing door, and he drifted for a long while. Watching the ducks and the sunlight of his memory trace its golden fingers across the pavement and public benches.

More noise and a moment later the softness he was laying on shifted and rolled with weight. “Okay, Spike. Ready for dinner?”

Warmth. Dampness. Just a trickle, a spoonful, coating his tongue. Blood.

Spike’s left eye refused to open, too swollen to register more than a crack of light, but his right focused blearily. The light was dim, across the room, blocked out by the bulk of a warm body sitting beside him. Someone who had turned away briefly, was tinkering with a mug and straw arrangement, wet to the knuckle with pig’s blood. “Xan…” It was a whisper, dry and whistling through a throat that felt cracked, and caked with sand. A name he knew. A name he longed for. “Xander?”

The dark head whipped around, sloshing a bit of the blood onto his own trousers. Spike couldn’t see his face in the shadow, backlit by a halo of light. “Welcome back.” A finger dripping blood disappeared into an invisible mouth, licking it clean. “Think you can drink some of this?”

Not Xander. But he knew that voice. Knew its rhythms from a long time ago. “’Gelus?”

“Drink, Spike”

There was a straw at his lips, neon orange in the faint shadows, and a tentative sip told him the blood was just the right temperature, not quite steaming in the cool room. He managed a slurp or two, the warmth hitting his belly like a hammer and spreading out across his bones. He remembered… pain everywhere. Clumsy pain. Maelstroms of it, completely engulfing him. But it was less now. He prodded his bottom jaw with his tongue, not especially gentle despite the lingering ache, noting some lost teeth on the left. Then the straw was back, encouraging.

“’Gelus…” he coughed when the mug was done, voice a hair stronger, ribs infinitesimally less shattered. His lungs ached and wheezed trying to draw the breath to speak. “Wha’re’you…?”

“Buffy called me.” Of course she had. “She told me what you did.”

What he did? Angel. Whose rough fingers prodded the line of his jaw, his fragile ribs, the ruined shoulder, testing. Assessing. Angel who would always see him come up short, but who had come for him anyway, huge and looming and such a source of confusion. Not the presence he wanted. Not by an inch or a mile. And what was the point of Angel here. Why. And where was his Xander? “Where?”

“You’re safe, Spike. You’re at the apartment.” Not the question he’d wanted answered. He could have cried with the frustration – the impotence. And there was no more room for talk. Angel had used a fingernail to gently carve a line in his own wrist, dark blood welling up in sluggish waves and pressing it against Spike’s mouth. So much power, so much age and the dust of centuries – like heady wine, making him anew.

Time slipped. It slid away from his reckoning like eels. There was another mug, deep and solid and painted yellow. Xander liked soup out of that mug. This time, the straw was pink. Where was Xander?

“Think you can sit up?”

His thoughts were running clearer now. Less fever bright and the room was sharper around the edges.  Angel was still here, and wasn’t that fucking odd. He thought about the question, really and genuinely considered it. No sense in bravado when it was just the two of them, old and familiar as worn socks. The hellbitch had done her work well, ripped him apart at the center where he could still feel his guts writhing, muscles aching sickly at the thought. She’d broken things in him, his right arm had come clear of the socket, turned in three places, his left knee had been snapped backwards by a petulant kick, his pelvis was out of place, probably broken, and the skin on his back pulled and itched, some missing, some new. But she’d left his spine more or less in-tact, all the better to feel it when she pushed her pointed little heel through his foot, or used her bare hand to yank out one of his teeth. And his hands… like Xander’s, battered and swollen and broken in too many places to count. Could he sit up? If he wanted to risk his intestines spilling out over his knees, and his ribs pushing their way into his lungs, he might manage it. His voice was clearer this time, gravel rumbling out of him instead of rasping over dry sand. “Probably not.”

And it begged so many questions. Like how was he alive? What had happened to Glory? And who had dragged him out of there and patched him up? Was it Angel who had been trickling blood down his throat until he regained consciousness, Buffy? And where the hell was Xander? All important. Because he would never forget – could never forget – the look on Xander’s face, the color of oatmeal where it wasn’t purple, and swaddled with cotton, and so frightened and determined and precious to him. He had been terrified where he wasn’t muddled by concussion, sick with exhaustion and dizziness and pleading for Spike’s life like it meant something to him. Touching him gently, and so very loved. But it had gone strange at the end, he thought. And the details were muzzy because of the pain and the blood-loss and the simple effort of crawling slowly from one thought to the next, but… Spike thought he’d collapsed. And remembered nothing but silence. Where was Xander?

“I’ll heat up some human.”


The older vampire paused, turned, “Yeah?”


There was silence. The brooding sort of stillness Spike associated with the soul when a heavy question had landed at its feet. But something in his voice, the reedy desperation, must have struck a chord of pity hitherto unknown in his sire, and Angel turned back to perch on the edge of the bed. “What is he, Spike?”

Only one answer – automatic and true. “Mine.”

There was a pause, and a raised eyebrow that turned into a sort of facial shrug – something to shelve until he had time to process later. “I knew he came back from the dead,” Angel started again, slowly, “and that’s unlikely in itself. But nothing about Xander Harris has ever led me to believe he could take on a Hell God, let alone win. What is he?”

“Dunno.” Spike said honestly, the anxiety within him clawing its way into his heart, telling him that he’d lost Xander forever. But Angel would never hedge to spare his feelings – and he’d know, wouldn’t he? Wouldn’t he feel that a hole had been ripped in the universe? “I dunno, and I don’t care. Where is he?”

The pause this time was dangerous. And if his sire thought for a moment that he could keep Spike from what was his… revenge may be a long time in coming, until his bones re-knit and his skin held water, but he would have it. If Angel didn’t tell him the truth, didn’t give Xander to him, they would all burn.

“He’s resting.”

“Resting?” Relief was a bubble of light inside him, and his lungs moved easier in his chest. “He’s okay?”

“He’s an idiot.” Before Spike could muster too much offense, Angel clarified, telling him some of the details of what Spike had missed when he had finally lost consciousness. “Apparently he called Buffy from Glory’s penthouse. You were… you must have pissed her off because you were hamburger. No surprise there. But Xander… was fine. Completely unharmed. His hospital records from that evening indicate he has a cracked skull, and apparently Glory and her… minions were dead on the floor, but… he was untouched. The only scratch on him was where he’d cut himself trying to keep you alive.”

“Not here?”

“I told you. He’s resting. Rupert and Buffy dragged you back here, tried to straighten you out as much as possible, and were regularly bringing Xander blood deliveries for you, but he was running himself ragged, refusing to sleep, forgetting to feed himself… Buffy found him passed out next to you with your teeth marks in his wrist. That’s when she called me. She dragged him home for a shower and a shave. Last I heard he was still asleep.”

“Idiot,” Spike creaked out with affection, relief and exasperation warring in him. Xander was alive. He was okay. “Love.”

“What is that?”

The wonder in Angel’s voice was palpable, amusing. Spike was gratified at still being a surprise. But the shrug was not worth it, not at all, and when the room stopped spinning again, things were less funny. “S’just what it is. He’s more than you know.”

“No,” Angel said opaquely, “But he is an ass.”

“He’s like sunshine,” Spike argued, the ultimate appeal to a creature who had lost it. Sunshine and warmth and light – the relief was airy bliss in his veins, warm and dazzling and soothing at once, trying to carry him down to a bed of daffodils. “Sunshine and crystals. And he’s been so cracked… but every line of him glows and he’s not broken… not broken. Fragile… warm…”

He felt himself starting to ramble towards poetry, starting to drift. Managed to accuse Angel in a final moment of clarity, “Drugs?”

“Drugs.” Angel confirmed, and let him slide into oblivion for a few more hours.


Spike was asleep, cool blue shadows playing across his face in the lamp light. There were still bruises there, blue and black in the lamplight, but there was peace too. That wonderful, pervading sense of serenity that was like slipping into a warm bath. Like giving into bliss and eternity in the same breath. Xander petted gently at his forearm, the unblemished patch above the broken wrist, touching just to touch, to feel the solidity of muscle there, to feel the quiet joy and acceptance that lay on Spike’s bones. The Band-Aid on his wrist itched.

“He’s fine, Xander.” Angel muttered from one of the reading chairs, pitched low enough that he could ignore it if he chose.

“I know,” he said instead, but didn’t look up. Angel was hard to look at. He reached instead to Spike’s exposed calf, remarkably whole under a swollen and bruised knee. Glory had gone for joints. Angel had once gone for joints.

Xander wasn’t surprised, seeing him again for the first time, that he was a monster. Truly. Bound up tight in ropes of lust, resentment simmering just under the skin of him. He had died for resentment and a pretty face, died chasing a petty grudge and creamy white breasts. It was embarrassing to witness, like the summer before sophomore year, when Jesse had a screaming row with Mr. McNally about curfew, wandering home drunk and late, all of fifteen years old, squaring up his shoulders in defiance of his old man and trying to take a swing. His dad had laid him out flat with no effort, idly shoving him backwards off the porch steps where he landed on his rump in a sprawl, muttering dire calumnies of his father, who Xander knew to be a reasonable man. He had watched, mortified, from the shadows beside the porch, a little buzzed himself but too embarrassed on the behalf of his friend to so much as look at them as he walked away. Jesse had been grounded for a week, and was dead not long after. And Xander turned away awkwardly, from his friend and from Angel, who carried that moment of adolescent rebellion in the moment of his death, an indelible mark wrapped in layers of rage and guilt and malice.

He could see the soul, caged in Angel’s breast like a dying bird, choking on his sins. Choking on its own guilt. A curse for the soul as much as for the vampire who wore it, sick and bruised and aching. He could see Angel’s unhappiness, and would be forever grateful that that the vampire, after that first brutal grip on his neck, offering him as bait to… Spike. And there was a memory. But Angel would never so much as shake his hand, never touch him except in dire need and perhaps not even then. Xander did not want to feel what lingered in Angel’s past or his future.

“I know he’ll be okay.” He said finally, into Angel’s silence. He could see it, after all. See the life of the demon, layer after layer of experience building onto his skin. See something looming in the distance, powerful and strange. “You said he woke up for a while?”

“He’s been in and out. He may wake up for a feed. But it won’t do him any good for you to be…” he didn’t finish the sentence, which embarrassed them both.

“What, you think he’ll see me and be so excited he jumps out of bed to Riverdance?” Xander snarked, amazed at how easily it came to him with Angel, scratching at the Band-Aid.

He didn’t rise to the bait. “It won’t do you any good either, if you don’t take care of yourself.”

“I’m fine too, Angel. I slept for like twelve hours, and Dawn force-fed me a sandwich.”

“He bit you.”

Xander shrugged. “He was sorta unconscious.”

“That’s what makes it so dangerous. He has no control, Xander. He could have killed you.”

The sheer idiocy of that, the ignorance, had Xander finally looking up, giving Angel such an incredulous look that the vampire looked temporarily abashed before his stony facade reasserted itself. “I can’t die, Angel. I can’t die, and I’m not human, and Spike can gnaw on me all he needs to, because that’s what I’m here for.”

“He has no soul. And there’s a lot a monster can do with someone who can’t die.” There was a darkness there, a blight on the soul that Xander could see, burning dark with sun spots. “He can still hurt you, Xander.”

A shrug. Angel didn’t know, didn’t need to know, how well he knew it, or how very little that mattered.


The word was thick, slurred around drug-induced sleep and a still swollen mouth. But it was a word, and Xander’s head whipped back around to see a single eye, blue and gray and green and gold, open and tracking him. The other was still swollen shut, red and black around the edges. It pained him to look at, and his voice abandoned him, staring in that moment, until Angel moved behind him, headed to the kitchen, and brought the world back. “Hey.”


Something strange threatened to break open inside him, something roaring and sweetly painful in his chest. Happiness, and something else. Angel returned, pressing a warm mug into Xander’s hands, “He needs to eat.”


“B’ggr off, Peaches. Just for a bit, eh?”

Angel snorted, but didn’t argue, backing away toward the sewer entrance; the sun must have been out – Xander had been here for hours, had no idea what time it was. “I’d warn you not to do anything stupid…” he said wryly at the door, “but both you’ll probably live.” And it clicked shut behind him.

There had been so many things he had wanted to say. So many things to share with Spike. When he’d taken that first sweet sip of air on the floor of Glory’s penthouse, his skin alight with life and buzzing with intensity. Xander wanted to tell him, talk to him. But the vampire was… a ruin. Seeing clearly, without the haze of a concussion and the looming threat of a Hell God, without terror and nausea fighting in waves over his skull, he could see…Spike. Terrified of touching him for fear it would be that last touch that broke him into ash. And in that moment he couldn’t use his eyes, couldn’t find the moments of Spike’s life to see where it ended. But there was broken glass everywhere, detritus of a temper tantrum – something that had happened before he’d arrived, so he did the only thing he could think of and drew a sharp line up the inside of his arm. Still buzzing with the light of new life; hard and bright and pouring out of him so fast it was all he could do to get it over Spike’s mouth.

He called Buffy, sometime in the aftermath, and she arrived blonde and shining to save them both, going so far as to pierce the ball of her thumb for Spike, Slayer’s blood to save him. For two weeks, while Spike’s miracle of a body slowly pieced itself back together, he fed Spike careful spoonfulls of pig’s blood until he was swallowing regularly. Happily opened a vein to pour his life – his unnatural, impossible life, an endlessly renewable resource, healed and healthy if a little dehydrated when he came-to – down Spike’s throat, over and over, until finally the vampire bit. Until Buffy rode in again, a knight errant, to save him from himself.

“Xand…” The voice was a rusty creak, bringing Xander back to himself, back to now. “Blood?”

“Oh! Jesus, Spike… I’m sorry. I’m sorry…” he fumbled the mug a bit, in his haste, some of the blood slipping over the edge of the mug to drip gently onto Spike’s neck, while he held the straw to his mouth. The vampire slurped, grunting a bit with the effort of raising his head. “It’s not too cold, is it?”

The dregs rattled around in the mug and Spike let his head sink back into the pillow. “S’fine, love. Thank you.”

“Do you, do you need more? Is there… what can I do? How can I help you?”

“Let this settle a bit, yeah? Just…” a heavily bandaged hand floated up to settle against Xander’s knee, “let it settle.”

Xander didn’t know what to do with his hands. The empty mug filled one, but the other fluttered uselessly, wanting to comfort, wanting to caress, wanting not to cause any additional pain. Spike probably couldn’t feel much skin through the bandages and the haze of drugs Angel slipped into the blood, but any weight would ache, he knew, and he couldn’t be responsible for that. His hand fluttered, indecisive, across his lap, the bed, the crumpled edges of blankets, and settled, finally, on that exposed calf, stroking the fine hairs there, as he had been before Spike woke. “What she did to you…”

“I’ll mend. How’s the nibblet? She make you eat peanut butter and hot sauce?”

This surprised a laugh out of him. It had been peanut butter and banana on Wonder Bread, and he’d scarfed down four of them, surprised with how hungry he had actually been. “How much of that did you hear?”

“Some.” Spike shrugged, and there was a grimace then, revealing the gaps in his teeth, but not as bad as it had been even a few hours ago. He was so tired though, Christ so tired. “You’ve been feeding me?”

Xander nodded, lifting his hand off Spike’s leg long enough to show him the bandaged wrist. “When you’ll take it. You weren’t swallowing, at first. I didn’t… know what to do. The blood seemed to be helping, but you weren’t swallowing.”

There was pressure on his knee, not a squeeze, but felt. “You did just right, pet. Things will happen faster now I’m on the mend.”

“Do you want…?” Xander scrabbled at the Band-Aid, tearing it off at last, which stung like blazes for a second but then felt so much better, like he’d had a good scratch. Dawn had slathered the thing in Neosporin, but a quick scrub against his jeans took care of most of it, even if it scraped some of the scab off. He proffered this to Spike, gently weeping fresh blood where the scab had torn away.

Spike cradled his wrist gently with the arm that would bend, pressed it hesitantly against his lips where his tongue came out to trace and kiss the edges of the ragged crescent, breathing in the clove and clover of him, honey sweet. The skin was soft, silky and fine against his lip, thrumming gently with the oceans swell of him – and Spike could feel it all through his bones, aching through his teeth, while Xander’s pulse sped and thumped under his mouth. He wanted. Wanted with such a fine thread of desperation he could feel it all through him, dragging in air through gasping lungs, golden red haze of the demon sweeping over him, desperate to take, but…. It wasn’t a delicate bite, no pinprick or barbeque fork dots, this was a torn and jagged wound – one he had ripped open in eagerness and need. Like the last time Xander had offered his blood. A mark that would scar, and he couldn’t stand it, pressing his lips against that skin one last time. “Can’t, love…” he managed thickly, mumbling against skin, every part of him straining against himself. Every part of him wanting. “Shouldn’t.”

“Spike…” Xander choked out, thick with emotion he didn’t understand, “Please.”

Ambrosia and napalm and thorny benediction. He didn’t have the will to push away again. Didn’t have the strength to argue, to be more than he was – hungry, monstrous, whole body throbbing to the beat of Xander’s heart – and his teeth slid in smooth and easy, tearing under tendons into the deep, hot veins. A noise, high and pained rose in the back of Xander’s throat, what might have been teeth clenched around a scream, but he didn’t care, didn’t care as the salt and heat of it washed the ashes out of his mouth, slid through him like a cleansing fire, a sudden agony of healing and ecstasy and the closest he would ever come to tasting God.

Spike was lost, dragging the world into himself, honey from the rock. And if he noticed when the pulses slowed, when it was harder and harder to draw that nectar towards himself, when his victim crumpled sideways and to the floor, tearing his limp, cool hand away, then it was lost, sucked under the tide of sleep that rolled over him again.


Spike’s eyes opened. Both of them. He breathed in, for the practice, testing his ribs, wanted a cigarette. Something had woken him; it took a moment to place it, and he found himself furious. There was a heartbeat, pounding double speed, breathing, deep but fast, slowly starting to settle. Xander. Apparently the boy still had nightmares. Was still on the floor beside the bed, and Spike couldn’t see him, hadn’t yet turned to look, but could picture him there, wide-eyed, reminding himself of where he was in the world, but the pity he might otherwise have felt was absent, buried under white hot anger.

“Exactly how many times have you done this?”

A dark head emerged in Spike’s peripheral vision, slightly tousled and paler than he should be, pushing himself off the floor with a little groan. The tenuous smile he offered Spike made the muscles in his jaw clench, and the realization that it hadn’t hurt pissed him off further. “Hey,” Xander’s voice was a croak, but he cleared it before pushing himself up to join Spike on the mattress. “How are you feeling?”

“How many times, Xander?” Spike repeated, pushing himself up on his elbow to look the boy in his eye. The damage to his guts, the torn rotator cuff, it ached, grinding and on fire. But bearable. Bearable enough he could have killed the boy. Again, apparently, and that was the whole fucking problem.


“How many times,” he bit out carefully, hearing the heartbeat and the confusion and having to quash the impulse to reach out and break Xander’s wrist for him, “have you made me drain the life out of you?”

“Oh. That.” Xander flinched satisfyingly, began to babble an explanation, confusion and little tendrils of fear rising in Spike’s nose like freshly mown grass. “It’s… you were hurt so badly, Spike. And I just… I couldn’t just do nothing, not when I could help. I mean, it’s not human blood, exactly, maybe, but it is blood, and it’s fresh and that has to be better than take-out, right? Bagged, I mean. And I just… I couldn’t help you before. And it’s no big deal. For me. But it was helping you and I wanted to because I couldn’t… I just need some juice after… it’s okay. It’s not a big deal and… are you hungry? Because you still look pretty bruised and I could…”

“FUCKING HELL, NO!” It came out as a roar, Spike’s broken fingers – stiff, still stiff, but not screaming at him when he batted the proffered wrist away – protesting as he flexed them, trying not to strangle the boy. Spike reached for him, creaking like the tin man but mobile when he shouldn’t be – mobile when he should have been ash, and he could thank the boy later, when he wasn’t so angry. When there was more in him than the desire to scream obscenities in the face of Xander’s idiocy. Because how dare he? How dare he hurt himself, kill himself, god knew how many times for the sake of convenience, so Spike could convalesce in two weeks, not four. How dare he waste himself so callously, pour himself into Spike without a thought for what would have been so fucking precious. So cherished.

His grip on Xander’s arm was bruise-tight, he knew, and the boy was silent now and wide-eyed, but he couldn’t let go, couldn’t bear not to touch him and couldn’t touch him without wanting to punish, own. His Xander. His Xander, who had been hurting for him. He made himself suck in a breath through his nose, slow and controlled, bring his voice back to a speaking range, but his hands tightened and some of the blood drained from Xander’s face, leaving him ashen-pale. “It stops, Xander.”

“Spike…” It was a plea, for the release of his arm, perhaps, or for something else. Spike didn’t know and didn’t care.

“It stops now.”

“I had to…” It was soft and miserable, and Xander twisted awkwardly in his seat to reach for him with the arm the vampire didn’t have in a vice, fingers caressing his face, brushing over the bruising, light as a breeze. “You were in so much pain...”

“And then I felt your heart stop! You thought killing yourself would make me feel better?”

“It did…”

Spike had walked into that one, but he didn’t care, hauling himself up Xander’s shoulders until he was sitting, eye-to-eye with him, and if he shook the boy in the process, maybe it would rattle some sense into him. And Xander just… took it, fresh bruising blooming black and red petals across his forearm, but without noise of complaint or protest. No grimace of pain but face pinched with fear. Guilt stabbed at him then, twisted in his stomach, and Spike found his rage ebbing away. His hands drew the boy close,  cradling him gently now into a genuine hug where Spike could breathe him in, convince himself that Xander really was undamaged, that the salt of him was sunlight instead of tears. “I’m not worth that.” He said softly, relishing the heat and the closeness and the grassy clover sweetness in his nose. “I’m not worth dying over.”

“I came back, Spike.”

He hadn’t expected an argument, and told himself he couldn’t be disappointed. “Love…”

“I’ll always come back.” And the tone sounded different, absent the despair. “I know what I am now.”

Xander nudged him away, gently holding Spike back to look him in the eye, and didn’t say anything as he padded into the kitchen, leaving Spike confused, irritable, and guilty all at once. The vampire shifted uncomfortably, too stubborn to lay down and take the pressure off his ribs and shoulder – still tender, still radiating ice blue frissons of pain through him – but rested against the wall beside the mattress, propping himself up. He had the energy to demand an explanation, at least, and was just mustering the air to order Xander back into the room when the boy turned up of his own accord, juggling a mug, a plate with two sandwiches, and a large glass of grapefruit juice from the icebox, taking the wind out of his sails.

“Will you drink this?” He asked tentatively, proffering the mug handle-first for Spike’s newly functional fingers. “It’s cow, I think.”

Spike took the mug, not yet trusting himself to speak. It was pig.

“Angel was by again, looks like…” Xander said casually, delaying the inevitable.

A note was produced from his back pocket, it said quite simply “Gone back. Call if you need me. P.S. He sleeps on the floor?” Judgmental bastard. It wasn’t signed, but there was a faint smudge of brown near the bottom, and Spike would recognize that scent anywhere. No phone number though, pillock. Not that Spike didn’t know it, but it was the principle of the thing. And it felt good to be annoyed with Angel – a ground state – something familiar to help him combat the muddle his mind was in. Guilt, anger, longing, grief, all tied up and carrying a plate of sandwiches, and Spike had no idea what to do next. “Pet…?”

“I’m always hungry, after.” Xander said nonchalantly, a non-sequitur, but Spike knew him well enough by now to be quiet, let him get on with it. “Not like I’m ever… woozy or anything. Just hungry.”

“How many times, pet?”

“I wasn’t counting. Often enough, I guess.” More than enough, in Spike’s view. Especially that last, half-awake but numb to the meaning, and too weak to say no, to hold himself away, just taking and taking with animal pleasure where it could have been so sweet. A perversion of his desire to have, to take, to savor. “I’m still mostly human, though. I think. I don’t think it matters much.”

“Don’t suppose it does,” Spike replied wryly, he who hadn’t been human in over a century and who wasn’t inclined to worry about it. What he was inclined to worry about was Xander, what was happening in his head, what the hell he thought he had been doing, voluntarily stumbling into the Hell God’s lair accompanied by the kind of monster even Spike had learned to respect. It had been the worst moment of Spike’s unlife, watching him stagger through those doors, pale and confused and vulnerable. Seeing him so frightened, helpless, then feeling him die, feeling his heart beat slow, in his ears then on his lips, sweet as it was – ecstatic as it was – it was like scenes from a nightmare, healing and Glory and the dream of him all knotted up, all blurring together in a gut-wrenching slip slide of satisfaction and agony and lust and glory. Wrong in his head, and jangling.

“But I came back.”

“So you keep telling me. So I see.”

“No. You don’t…” Xander paused, fidgeted with his grapefruit juice for a moment, “Not this time. I don’t mean this time. I mean… before. I had to choose. She told me I had to choose and I chose… you.”

Spike felt himself frowning, trying to follow. “Glory?”

“No. She didn’t… she doesn’t have a name. Or she didn’t remember it. But Glory really was a god, did you know? She was going to live for twenty million years… and that’s so much life. It’s so much, and it hurts.”

The rambling was like Xander when Spike had first found him, confused and feverish and almost nonsensical. But Xander was healthy now, sound of body at least. And Spike was sure there was a plot in there, he was sure, but he had come in at the third act and half the characters were liars and he simply couldn’t follow. “Who doesn’t have a name, love?”

“She doesn’t have a name…” he said again, but this time it was with a degree of obviousness, the California burr of a ‘well duh’ lingering in the vowels, and Spike rolled his eyes. “She’s just… she’s hard to explain. And sometimes I think I dreamed her. She was there when I died, but not anymore, I let her go. And you’ll help me remember my name, right? You’ll help? Because I had to let her go, and… I sound like a crazy person again, don’t I?”

“A bit,” Spike admitted, shrugging the good arm, off balance. Following where he could.

“I’m not,” Xander said, firm of purpose for the first time in a long time. And the vampire could feel his eyebrows drawing together in consternation. The words were slow, halting, every one carefully considered and turned over in Xander’s mind before he let it out, but sane. Utterly, disconcertingly sane where Spike was so wrong-footed. “Look… it’s hard to explain… what I am now. And I’m not even gonna try for a while, because it doesn’t really matter. What matters is, after Ma… after D-dr-”

“Dracula.” Familiar territory, at last. And the bruises on Xander’s arm stood out bold as a flag.

“Yes. After what he made me… I’m messed up. I know it. You know it. I know you know it, and I’m messed up and I’m going to be for a long time and…” A deep breath, pushing the babble back down. “Look, I’m messed up. But a part of me is still human. A big part. The part of me that can die. And I am going to be messed up because that’s what happens to… people. And I’m still a person. I’m still me. I know it now. I’m messed up, but I’m not broken. Not forever.”

And here it came. The moment of thanks-but-no-thanks, and the debt had been repaid. Maybe that was what it had all been about, fixing him, healing him the way Xander had begged to be healed with a broken neck. He felt empty now, a cracked bowl, drained of everything and waiting for Xander to fill him up with thorns. And maybe he would drain the boy a few times after all, like poison in him but enough to get him the fuck out of Sunnyhell at last and leave the place in flames. Because he couldn’t stay. Not now. He felt hollow, and old. “What are you saying, mate?”

“I’m saying that I had a choice. She gave me a choice.”


“I could have died, Spike.” There were layers in that phrase. Not fear, but relief. Like the prospect of death were inviting, enviable. And Spike didn’t understand, never had, Thanatos and the urge for oblivion. Not as William, not a thousand times bloodied and left for dust, not now when the world might have ended after all. But he understood Xander. “I could have died, but I came back. I chose to come back. And… I’m messed up, still. Maybe a little always. But I came back. To you. For you. …And for her. But she’s gone and you… I need you.”

“Need.” Hollow and repeating, echoes like a canyon. And maybe Glory had scrambled his brains more effectively than he thought, or he was hallucinating in the aftermath of too much damage and too much blood and too much of everything all at once. It was all just echoes and confusion and… hope, damnably, rising like a lit fuse from somewhere deep in his belly, so hot it burned.

“I…” Xander flushed, pink and healthy, and looked away, studying his empty glass – reading tea leaves in his pulp. Spike stared at him. “I made such a fuss about… not being able to… I didn’t… Christ this is hard. Can I just…?”

Kiss him, apparently. Lean in, soft and warm and tasting like grapefruit, so gentle Spike could have wept if he weren’t busy cradling the back of Xander’s head, tangling clumsy fingers in his hair and holding him there, pressing him closer and it hurt – fuck it hurt – but it was glorious too. Sweet and patient and meant.

Xander broke away, too soon, sooner than eternity, breathing slow and even, heart pounding, pressing their foreheads together, noses brushing, intimate and calm and true. Husked out against his mouth, “I love you.”

The powder keg blew. Gold and red flames bursting out of him like fireworks, dazzling, impossible shapes in the darkness. It was all he had wanted – longed for – since time immemorial, to hear that. To feel it, soft and sweet in his bones, that someone might have loved him back. And it couldn’t be true. The old grief breaking open in him, needles of fear and hope ripping into his heart, exposed and blown wide, so full of pain. “Xan… no, you…”

“Love you.” Xander leaned back, so careful of his bruises and his aches, but never breaking contact, broad hands, warm and smelling of grass and chocolate cradling his face, brushing the fresh new scar of his ear where it had reattached. He was flushed, lips curled gently in a smile just about to break into laughter, full of life, and Spike was lost then, he knew it. Lost without a map back to reality and he just didn’t care. “I love you. I… didn’t think I could, Spike. I didn’t think… I thought that part of me was broken. But it’s not. I’m… all messed up, but I love you. And I couldn’t let you be hurt. Not when I could fix it. Dying…” Xander shrugged, bright red now and Spike fucking loved it, the blood under his skin, his heart thumping fast and steady and embarrassed but saying it anyway. “Whatever. I’ve died now… so many times. In my head, every moment people are dying. But you… you I chose to live for.”

“Xander… love…” The explosion of light and joy and terror and hope had settled into a warm glow, bright and lifting Spike’s heart into his throat with happiness. He reached for Xander, leaning into those fingers, drawing them across his cheek to kiss, tenderly, at his palm, the pads of his fingers, the inside of his smooth, unblemished wrist. Touching just to feel him, feeling the blood pulse under his fingertips, his lips. Feeling Xander alive, breathing unsteadily now, drawing in a ragged breath as Spike’s fingers slipped up his shoulder, danced across his neck to draw him down, close again to breathe him in, place kisses, slowly, across his mouth, the corners of his eyes, the tender skin beneath his earlobes. And Xander… no passive compliance, no loose limbed acceptance of this attention, was petting back, fingers feathering hot lines of sensation everywhere he could reach, they danced across his ribs, grazing a nipple, and Spike made a high noise in the back of his throat.

“I love you,” he husked again, mouth moving low on Spike’s neck, caressing his collar bones, speaking to the very core of him.

And it was too much, all at once. The smell of him, clove and clover with honey and sunshine, drowning him, the beautiful warmth, and those words… obliterating reason. He lunged, knee coming down, hip rolling forward, weight propped up by the elbow that… Glory had twisted sickly into wrong angles, the elbow that gave on him now, pitching him forward with a groan of pain and startlement, into Harris, who lurched a bit under the new weight, catching him by the ribs and the torn shoulder, firecrackers of agony in thirty places. “Oh… fuck!”

“Fuck! Spike… I’m so sorry…are you… oh my god. Lay down. I’m so sorry. I’ll go get you more blood, I’ll…”

“Harris,” Spike interrupted, face pressed into the boy’s warm shoulder, still for just a moment while Xander tried to twitch and extricate himself without actually moving at all. He sighed, caught somewhere between crying out in frustrated anguish and just… laughing and the absurdity of it all. He slumped, laughing, comfortable as he could be, and warm at least. “Just… stay put.” He grumbled, good natured.

Some of it must have translated into the boy beneath him, because Xander wheezed out a little giggle himself. “I’m really sorry…” He said again, an edge of laughter on it this time. “And just… here…” He shifted, sliding down, so slow, so gentle that the sick aches in Spike’s bones didn’t protest over much and he found himself pillowed, comfortably, on Xander’s chest with that heart – true and patient – thumping steadily under his ear. “Mattress Xander, King of the Cushion People.”

“Berk.” Spike snorted. Ebullient, irritated, perfect. Grateful to be alive. Muttering, “Telling me something like that when I can’t do anything about it…” Wondering. “Love.”



“Hey, sweetheart.”

Spike emerged in the dying light of a creamy, tangerine sunset, tousled and slinking through the long shadows to hide in the lee of the shed. He pressed a warm mug into Xander’s hands, sweet coffee thick with cream and honey, and though he’d been up for hours already, Xander was grateful for the consideration. Drank it with a little moan of satisfaction, not bothered when some of the dust of his work flaked off his face and swirled around the surface.

The vampire scrubbed a hand over his face, still sleep bleary, noting the changes to the grounds, smelling fresh cedar mulch. “Been out here a while.”

Xander grinned. His garden. Already sprouting tender tomato plants six inches high with their blue-green leaves pointed to the sun, and three kinds of squash starting to push out of the earth, spreading the first of their vines, beans starting to climb the lattice on the south fence that was supposed to keep the deer out and never did, the fresh basket of new potatoes, flat and smooth as skipping stones, he’d dug up this afternoon. He loved this place. Loved the smells, and the green uncurling newness of it all, loved the peach tree in the north-west corner, in full bloom and fragrant, the bees drunk with the effort of his labors. He even loved the compost barrels, rigged to spin and aerate the blend of decaying brown and green, encouraging life with entropy. It was his little slice of paradise, his little taste of eternity, and a long way from rooftop pumpkin vines. “It’s okay. I’ll sleep in the car.”

“Xand…” There was going to be protest, he knew. There always was when they went home for a visit, and not unfounded, but not persuasive either. Xander didn’t have much time, he knew, and in the little time he had, he was miles away. And here it was. “The hellmouth isn’t good for you.”

“It’s only two weeks.” Xander shrugged, unpersuaded as he had predicted, but unable to deny it. The hellmouth wasn’t good for him. It made him sick in his soul, exposed him like a raw nerve, a merciless and hot anvil to the constant hammering of living and dying and suffering. That he’d stayed for two years after dying, that he’d lived with it, always a heartbeat from a case of the shakes, always two breaths away from screaming, was simple testament to the fact that he didn’t know better. Hadn’t known that the rest of the world was… gentler, that away from the holes in the world were places where he could see, easily and freely, the happiness and fulfilment of people’s lives, where their deaths felt as right and as natural as breathing. He dreamed now, the content and the character of every life, a million souls in full; he slept now. The hellmouth, he’d been told, twisted everything out of true. But he was still going back. Would always return, as long as there were people he loved. He wouldn’t be Xander Harris if he didn’t. “And it’s Dawn’s high school graduation, Spike. She’d kill me if we missed it, and I’m out of practice. Besides, Buffy will be there and you guys can compare new horror stories, you know you love that.”

Spike snorted, reaching out to touch, casually and thoughtlessly rubbing at the tension in Xander’s neck, feeling sweat and the lingering warmth of the sun, familiar and felt. Xander leaned in, sun-warm with his eyes closed, taking simple pleasure in the touch. Spike smelled of cigarettes and their fabric softener, and his hands were magic, leaving Xander drunk as the bees and near buzzing. “Best get a shower then. Neighbors taking care of this lot?”

“Yeah…” He came back to himself, smiling, draining his mug and wiping the dirt from his hands and his jeans. It never really came away, and he’d start to itch before too long. “Mr. Orton, next door, said he’d keep an eye on the sprinklers and the porch light. Nice guy.”
Xander had promised him the first zucchini of the season. They had been here a little over a year, a town called Eden, just north of Greensboro but south of the Virginia border where Spike scrounged up the money for a two bedroom craftsmen from god knew where, but it came complete with a fence and a yard and neighbors who looked after each other. It was small, and tight, and close enough to the Appalachians and the national forests for Spike to go hunting when the urge struck him, still on the leash in his head, but on those weekends naked to the waist and roaring primal ferocity. He always came home, sometimes with blood still in his hair or claw marks in his shoulders, always with a cooler full of fresh butchered meat and the occasional rare mushroom that Xander had learned to turn into steaks, stews, sausages, jerky and the best venison brisket, cooked slow in the smoker. And they would have to leave eventually, when the Ortons realized the odd couple next door weren’t aging, when their teenaged daughter who made eyes at Spike started to look older than the twenty-something man next door who had been twenty-something for entirely too long. A little mystery to live in the memory of a stranger. But that was years off, and for now, it really was a piece of heaven. As close as either of them would ever come.

Of course they were leaving now, but only for a couple of weeks.

Xander kissed his vampire, soft and slow, and turned away from the purple twilit garden for the yellow-warm glow of the house, still humming like his bees. He fired up the shower, left his clothes in a heap in the hamper and stripped naked, covered in soil and cedar mulch that clung in fine particles to the hairs on his arms and his face, stuck to the sweat of his neck. Spike joined him, minutes later, and kissed him again, this time tasting of the vampire’s breakfast, which Xander still grumbled about but had long ago gotten used to, and swept the bar of lemongrass soap that they bought at the kitschy hand-made store in the same strip-mall as the K-mart across Spike’s shoulders and down the line of his waist. Just touching. Just feeling. And it was warm and wet, but casual, as Spike ran gentle fingers down the lines of his back and kneaded his muscles but only to touch, not to arouse. Which didn’t stop all of Xander’s blood rushing south, but it wasn’t urgent, wasn’t anything, really, just comfortable, companionable. Love they were accustomed to.

Out of the shower and toweling his hair dry while Spike slicked his back, still an icy sort of blonde because, the vampire claimed, some looks were classic, Xander sat on the edge of the bed and watched. Watched his lover’s lean thighs, the unconscious flex of muscles in his belly with his arms raised, facing the mirror for reasons Xander couldn’t fathom, habit, maybe, so old and so natural that it couldn’t be helped, even when all it reflected was the last curls of steam still wafting through the room. And something that had been niggling at him, percolating in the back of his mind for some time now, came suddenly to the surface, blooming into a blush. “Spike…?”

“Yeah love?” He hadn’t so much as looked around.

“Before we go…” Xander took a deep breath, shaky, trying to muster the courage to get this out without spilling into the babble-space he used to live in, or without choking it out of existence at all. Something he wanted, and was afraid to ask for, afraid of the protest and of opening old wounds. In both of them. In through his nose, out through his mouth, blushing like his peach tree, he blurted, “I want you to bite me.”

The vampire went rigid, every muscle sculpted and frozen, melting just enough to turn, wide eyed to the man on the bed. And Xander forced himself to meet Spike’s eyes, biting his lip and hardly failing to notice in the blue light of the bathroom how very, very hard his lover was, a fully erect statue, like a priapic tribute to a pagan god, and as silent.

“I want you to bite me…” He repeated, watching Spike’s eyes, full of astonishment and pupils blown, but there was more, and he could feel the blush all the way from his scalp to his belly, rising hot and pink in the face of Spike’s total silence, whispering through the embarrassment, “And I want… I want you in me.”

He was amazed, then, that Spike didn’t fall over, rocked as he was, and stiff with shock and arousal that Xander could actually see, and had to suppress a bit of a giggle as Spike’s hands finally came down from his head, reaching as they fell, uncertain, and grasping at nothing. Grasping for Xander, seven feet away, but it might have been a mile. He was breathing, shallow and a little fast, face a picture of lust and anguish, and somehow, that made Xander’s breathing slow, smoothing out while the blush receded back to a pool of warmth in his belly and a slow smile spread across his face. “Xan…” Spike creaked out, moving half a step forward entirely unconsciously, “you…?”

“I want you, sweetheart. Please…” which did the trick.

Spike rolled forward, slow but inexorable, making the four steps to the bed count, and Xander’s breath was coming fast before he’d ever reached him, the pads of his fingers tingling with the desire to touch. The vampire pushed him backwards onto the mattress, crawling over him without touching, and he wriggled across it for more room, familiar, but so new. And Spike hadn’t touched him, hadn’t said a word, but stared, stared so long and so intently that Xander thought he might have been seeing his soul. Looking for old bruises there, that had faded away.

They had never done this. Never done this, because in all the years bouncing from city to city, living in one another’s pockets, touching and loving, each to the other the only real person in the entire world… Spike had never once crossed that line. Never asked, never intimated, and if he was in control, as he liked to be, leaving bruises like bracelets on Xander’s wrists, pinning him down and fucking himself, in and out, on Xander’s cock until the boy begged him, sweet and desperate for anything, just fucking anything, please Spike, and he came, raking nails down the broad plains of Xander’s chest in that moment of perfect surrender which pushed the boy over the edge too… never this. And occasionally, rarely, Xander sucked him off, when the boy was feeling wicked and mischievous, and every time Spike fought himself in a sweet kind of torture, fought the urge to hold the boy’s hair and fuck into that warm sweetness, keep him there until he cried,  just a little, was owned, just a little, and fought the sick knowledge that he hadn’t got there first, that Xander would take it without complaint because he’d been taught to. Which made it worse, somehow, sharper in his guts, the desire to hold and hurt. But never this, because he’d drawn a line and wouldn’t cross it. Not until Xander wanted it. Never again.

And Xander knew that. Knew it all in gory detail, because he knew Spike quite well by now, but still offered himself up like virgin sacrifice – which, technically, he was – his body healed and new by every fresh death. Xander reached for him, smiling, warm, open because Spike couldn’t seem to make himself move, cradling the back of his neck and the still-soft hair under his fingers, drawing him down for a kiss.

“I want this, Spike,” he murmured, sweet as hemlock, still smelling of the sun. Kissing whatever he could reach, his lips, his nose, the soft skin just behind Spike’s ear. He wanted this. Truly. Never having forgotten in those early months, awful months, how Spike looked at the ragged scar where his neck met his shoulder, dark and hooded and full of things that Xander could only imagine. How his fingers brushed it gently, any time they were together, guilty and longing. And he knew, still, that Spike would never hurt him more than he could bear, never hurt him at all, except in ways he liked. And he wanted Spike to own him – mark him – get his stamp on him and put Dracula out of their heads forever; Dracula and that first time, that unholy accident of blood and violence, out of Xander’s head, finally. Replace it with something good, finally. “Please?”

“Fuck, Xander…” the vampire was shaking, head in Xander’s collar bones, breathing hoarsely, while Xander gentled, palms sweeping the smooth planes of his back. “Fuck.”


And Spike kissed him then, at last, shaking and tenuous and so damn needy Xander dug his fingers into the sharp jag of his shoulder blade. “All right.”

It was fast, and slow, and Spike didn’t say anything for a long time. Hardly daring to look at him, while Xander petted, and kissed, knees splayed out and belly curled to reach as Spike slid down, kissing gently at his collar bones, his nipples, the faint lines of his ribs, moving down slowly, worshiping. And usually they laughed in bed, laughed and tickled and blew the occasional raspberry, unexpected on a hip bone, but this was too much, too important, so Xander let himself gasp, and writhe under Spike’s lips when the vampire kissed gentle lines up the vein in his cock, took him cautiously into his mouth, and was quiet, except for “Spike… sweetheart…” whispered like a benediction.

Somewhere in the midst of curling his toes, digging his fingers into the sheets to keep them from Spike’s hair, there came fingers. Prodding gently, slightly chill and damp with the lube Xander kept in the bedside drawer. Spike made an interrogatory noise around Xander’s dick, briefly pulling up to look him in the eye, and Xander, on fire, threw his head back, legs scissoring open as wide as he could make them and bucked, searching for those questing fingers, wanting… wanting. Spike chuckled, dark and opiate, and Xander keened, please please please… wanting this finally, wanting the new, raw, closeness, wanting to come for Christ’s sake because Spike’s throat around his glans, rippling in the wake of that laugh was too much… too much.

But the first finger was still strange, warmed by his own body heat, an invading presence that Xander was so acutely aware of, despite the distraction. Despite Spike’s hand coming up to pinch his nipple, just sharp enough to make him gasp, and soothe it again, that finger was all, strange and squirming in his belly because Xander remembered this, and tensed, remembering all the wrong, all the pain, and this was just… strange. Until that finger moved, gently, so gently, pushing inside him, stretching, brushing something behind his dick that made Xander moan low in his throat, and keen a moment later as another finger joined it, and Spike did it again. “That’s… that’s…”
“Like that, love?” And the cool wet suction had left him, Spike’s mouth coming up, meeting his own, but it didn’t matter. Not with those fingers scissoring gently inside him, opening him up like a flower, parts of him aching and exposed and new, not with Spike’s hand on him, petting and pumping and pulling him back by turns, keeping him right on the edge of everything.

A third finger, and tight, cool pressure deep inside him, but Spike was rubbing that spot now, and Xander’s hands reached up and gripped his shoulders, red crescents deep in the muscle. And “Spike… Spike… please…”

“Okay, love?”

“Okay… okay…” because drawing breath into his lungs was impossible. And Xander realized, looking at his vampire, that his own eyes were a little wet, dewy with frustration and need, and he pushed himself to his elbows, just enough to see Spike’s fingers disappearing into him, stretched and open and Spike’s to his core. “Fuck!”

“You ready, Xan?” The vampire was torturing him, “Want me?”

“Yes, Spike! Christ. Please!” Barked syllables, which made Spike grin, but the eyes were serious, almost solemn, even as the fingers worked, a constant counterpoint.

“Over on your knees? It’ll be easier on you…”

“No… Like this,” he managed, hips jerking, pushing himself onto Spike’s fingers, into his hand. “Can we, like this?”

A kiss, sweet and hot and bending him up, and when Spike’s fingers pulled out, it was like being torn open, empty. But Spike was there, lining up, so wet with lube he dripped, and Xander loved him for it. Just loved him. And pushed his hips forward, guiding him in, fast and slow, burning inside him, pushing, constant. And for a moment, all he could do was cling, ankles wrapped around Spike’s hips, arms around his shoulders, cling and breathe, feeling new muscles fluttering desperately around the intrusion, pushing him out, drawing him in, and it was Spike’s turn at last, hoarse, hips stuttering forward, to curse, “Christ, Xand…”

“Fuck, Spike…. Fuck. Love. Please.” He didn’t know what he was begging for. Spike’s hand, maybe, moving gently over his dick, stripping the skin there in a motion of tug, and twist, and brush that was entirely distracted, but so good Xander could have cried.
“Need to move, love…” And it was gratifying that his voice was strained, because Xander was going to come apart at the seams, “can I? Can I please…”

“Fuck me, yes!” And Spike’s hips drew up, back, then down again, pushing in again, and Xander was clinging and hot all over, and just finding the courage to push back when Spike found that spot again, deep inside him where fireworks went off inside his skin and Xander groaned like he was dying when the vampire did it again. And again. And he couldn’t take it anymore, grabbing for his own dick to slow himself down, grabbing for Spike to wrench him closer, hold him and keep him forever, right here, exactly where they belonged, pushing his hips down, frantic, arrhythmic trying to get deeper, closer. “Please…” and it couldn’t last, it couldn’t… he couldn’t get enough air, couldn’t form a sentence, “Please? Bite… please… yours… make me…”

The teeth ripping into him were like ice, and it hurt, fuck it hurt, tearing at his shoulder and his neck, lighting his world magnesium white, but it didn’t matter because he was coming, dying, a long groan torn from him as Spike thrust and thrust, past gentle, past reason, roaring in his bones while the whole world fizzled down to two points, and then exploding to nothing.

He hadn’t exactly passed out. Things had gone grey around the edges, for a moment maybe, as his mind drifted in the aftermath, as Spike rocked, gently, and slowed to a stop, huffing against his neck, licking, breathing like a bellows, still a little hard inside Xander. He squeezed those muscles, newly tender, and wrenched a groan out of Spike, who breathed against him again.

“Okay, love? You back with me?”

“Fuuuuuck…” It seemed to be the only word Xander knew. He needed a Gatorade. “Good, I’m good…” he managed eventually, hands coming up to ruin Spike’s hair, kiss him gently, lassitude in him like a sleepy river. “Fuck.”

“Yeah.” And Spike was a bastard, nudging his hips forward just a bit, feeling Xander squeak, before rolling off of him, collapsing beside him with a grin that slipped, inexorably, towards concern. The vampire’s hand found his hip, cradling, comforting. “Was good. You okay, Xan?”

He knew it wasn’t an idle question. Spike could be sweet, unexpectedly solicitous, and here in this moment without his brain back online he asked it, because he could, because Spike would answer him, because it was what he had wanted, “Yours now?”

And Spike was on him in a flash, rigid again, staring again, eyes flicking between Xander’s and the mark on his neck, jagged and whole and beautiful in his eyes, permanent. Permanent as long as Xander would have him. He could have fucked him again then, driven the point home again and again until Xander was crying out with it, knew it in every perfect cell of him, knew who he belonged to… and he would. Eventually. But Xander was watching him back, dark eyes liquid and trusting and just… a tiny bit, just there in the back where he was hoping Spike wouldn’t notice, afraid. The mark stood out like a brand, and Spike relaxed, flowing onto the curves and planes of the boy, gentling, kissing slow and deep and meant. “Always been mine, Xand.”

“Thank you…” That same prayer, old but not forgotten. “Thank you.”

Then it was later, and Spike was reaching for the cigarettes that Xander didn’t like him to smoke in the house, and Xander sat up with a groan, wincing, just a hair, which made the vampire grin, satisfied, and twitch, the tiniest bit with fresh lust. Xander padded to the kitchen, came back with a half-drained bottle of orange juice, the wound on his neck still seeping, just a little, throbbing with the beat of his heart. He sat on the edge of the bed, gingerly, and just as gingerly rose again, glowering down at Spike, who lounged there, naked and waiting and wanting all over again. “Fuck, Spike… I’m gonna have to sit through the drive to California.”

And Spike laughed, deep and rolling while Xander broke into chuckles. Then he pounced, dragging the boy back to the bed, tickling and kissing it all better while Xander fought him and giggled and gave in with a sigh, back to the snuggle. “Mine. Love.”

"Yours. Forever.”

The End

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