Snakes and Ladders


by
Reremouse & Tabaqui



Square Seven

When Xander woke, he knew Wesley was gone. Only vaguely remembered Spike's hand wrapping around his and pulling his arm tighter around him as if Xander had been a living blanket. And since then, Xander had curled further around Spike until, waking, he was wrapped so closely with Spike that it felt - really nice.

Aside from the human-type urges that insisted he get out of the Nest. Right Now. Whether he wanted to or not. Stretching to press his lips against Spike's temple, Xander tried not to worry when Spike failed to stir, mumble, grab him tighter or react at all; his skin sheened with a fine sweat that - Xander licked his lips, and grimaced - tasted bitter. Very bitter.

Xander wrapped the silk carefully around Spike, then pushed himself from the nest, staggering on sleep-stiffened knees and grabbing the back of the couch, letting the minor aches and pains and insistent bladder wipe all higher thoughts from his mind until he'd taken care of the most basic business.

Washing his face though, brought the thoughts back full force. The faint antiseptic smell of the bathroom that suggested Wesley had done more than take the soiled linens away, and the-

Xander pressed a hand to his ribs, finally risking a look at them and running his hand over the bruises there, sharp and spreading where Spike's shoulder blades had dug into him as he struggled. And there was something he hoped desperately that they could all forget. And soon. Or at least put behind them. And jesus, he hoped Spike didn't remember all of it. Wouldn't.

"And yet, still better than Africa," he muttered. Because Spike was getting well.

At least, in theory.

Xander thought of his cell phone in his duffel bag, and his laptop. Work, and everyone in Sunnydale he'd promised to call, and - then he thought of the Nest, all comfortable and warm and with Spike in it.

He rested his forehead against the bathroom mirror and closed his eye. Being responsible really bites.

Xander gave his face a last scrub with the towel and left the bathroom, sitting on the stripped bed with his duffel bag, and pulled out his cell phone, checking the charge, then dialing Wesley's number, laying back on the bed and hoping the call wouldn't disturb Spike's sleep. Though, remembering the utter stillness of the vampire when he'd gotten out of the Nest, he figured a bus could crash into the hotel lobby and it still wouldn't wake Spike up.

Xander squinted at the clock. Noon. Come on, Wes. Pick up.

"Wyndam-Pryce" Wesley said, struggling to control a stack of books and papers.

"Hey, Wes?" Xander's hesitant, sleep-roughened voice made him freeze for a moment. And then he was striding into his office - shutting the door firmly and letting the books slide out of his arms to scatter across his desk.

"Xander. Is S- is everything all right?"

Xander winced at the thudding of books, remembering that sound all too well from the days of startling Giles in the library. "That's what I'm calling to find out. Sorry if I -"

"No. No, it's quite all right. Spike?"

At the barely-concealed anxiousness in Wesley's tone, Xander relented. "Still sleeping the sleep of the really dead. But he's sweating a lot, and it tastes - odd."

"Odd?"

"Bitter."

Xander heard Wesley sigh. "He's sweating out the poison."

"Is it dangerous to -"

"No. No, it's quite safe for you now. The tincture breaks down the toxin, and allows Spike to excrete them both through his skin with a high fever." Wesley paused, a small smile on his face. "I do advise against licking Spike, however, as he's unlikely to respond and will probably taste quite bad until the tincture and toxin are entirely out of his system."

Xander briefly pulled the phone away and stared at it, smiling. "Thank you, Captain Obvious. How long is he gonna be totally unresponsive?"

"Probably...most of the time," Wesley said slowly. The fever will make him - dazed, and tired. But you can't skip any doses. It...might be difficult to actually get him to drink... Oh, hell, I should have thought of this..." Wesley rubbed at his jaw, thinking fast, wondering how angry Xander was going to be.

"Does stroking a vampire's throat make him swallow? Like it does with a human?" Xander asked, dragging his hand through his hair. "Cause I can do that. And I've threaded tubes down people's throats before, so I guess I could do that if I had to. Jesus, I'd hate for him to wake up in the middle of that, but I'd do it."

"You have? Where in the world -" Wesley couldn't imagine Alexander Harris - smiling and sarcastic and devil-may-care - getting a tube down someone's throat. And being so...offhand about it.

"Africa," Xander said shortly, and there was a wealth of stories and hurt and horror in that one word, so Wesley let it go.

"I...see. Yes, you could do that if you had to. It's very, very important he not miss a dose. But I think you should be able to wake him up enough to take it."

"Great. Um. Shit, I hate to ask you for more..." Xander let out his breath, frustrated.

"Ask," Wesley said, his voice absolutely firm, then gentling. "I insist."

"Say it like that, and I'll have you bringing me doughnuts at three in the morning. Okay, can you bring a tube and funnel? Just in case? Because he is so out of it, and if he can't miss a dose or go without his blood, I'm not gonna risk it."

"I...of course I can. I can...let me see..." Wesley bent over his desk, scrabbling among his papers for his schedule. "There's a meeting at three, I can send someone else.. And then...yes...cancel that.." He worked for a moment and then nodded in satisfaction. "All right, I can be there in about an hour. Is that all right?"

"Fine. Thanks. And um... Wes?"

"Yes?"

Xander bit his lip. "If you did stop and pick up doughnuts on the way, I wouldn't mind."

Wesley laughed, he couldn't help it. He's still in there, that boy I met in Sunnydale. Thank god. "Jelly or glazed?"

"Jelly," Xander said immediately. "Um. There's this kind at Krispy Kreme with lemon jelly in the middle, and -"

Wesley chuckled. "I'll bring you an assortment then?"

Xander sighed, unable not to smile, remembering that night in the hospital standing guard outside of Buffy's room, and Cordelia showing up. With doughnuts. To keep him company. "Thanks, Wes. And hey - say hi to Cordy for me, okay?"

For a moment Wesley couldn't make his mouth move - couldn't make his lungs move, and he hoped he wouldn't choke. Then he gave a little cough, watching his hand go out to touch the photograph on his desk. "I'll tell her you said hello, Xander." God - why did no one tell him? He was... Dammit. "Right. I'd best - best be going, then. I'll see you soon."

"Sure, Wes. And...thanks, okay?"

"Of course, Xander. It's - I'd do anything... Well, goodbye."

Xander pressed the end call button and folded his arm behind his head, thinking. How many times in his life was he gonna be watching over the patient?

He glanced in the direction of the couch, still hearing nothing but perfect stillness, and felt himself smile. Probably as long as there's a patient to watch. God. I didn't want this, but I wouldn't trade it - Xander rubbed his face and brought up Carl's work number in the directory.

"Sunnydale Southwest. Carl."

"Hey, Carl. It's me."

Xander heard someone in the background, "Who is it?" and Carl's answer: "Our little runaway."

"Hey! I did not run away. I filled out all the paperwork and everything." Xander rolled onto his stomach. "Besides, I owe my soul to the company store same as you." And that thought wasn't quite as light hearted as it had once been. But if he hadn't, if he hadn't accepted house and package and all that went with it, he wouldn't have been able to take care of Spike either. So maybe it was all right.

"Yeah, and we'll be totin' that bale for a good long time." Carl's voice was wearily amused, and then it became a little crisper. "So - how are...things? Is your friend any better?"

"He will be. God, the last couple of days have been rough, but he's on the mend." Xander dropped his arm to his chest, fiddling with the ties of the little leather pouch, barely hearing the soft click-click of the contents.

"You found a treatment, then?"

"Yeah." Xander hesitated, grinning as he wondered how Wesley would react to the description. "We found a specialist."

There was a sharp intake of breath from Carl. "Specialist, huh? Listen...Mariel and me were talking...and Russ, too. All this, hotels and...specialists..." Xander could hear the next words in his head already - could hear the squirming embarrassment but also the sincere wish to just help. "Well, that's a lot of... If you need any - help - you know..." Carl's voice trailed off into silence, and Xander could faintly hear the warning beep of some big vehicle, backing up.

It wasn't something he wanted to get into with Carl when he was at work, but Xander couldn't just - leave him hanging either. "Thanks, Carl. If it wasn't for you guys, I wouldn't have a job to come back to." Xander rubbed his face, part of him wishing he didn't have to come back to a job, but what else was he supposed to do? Hitchhike and sleep in tents for the rest of his life? "It's enough. It's -" He sighed. "It's fine, even. The specialist is a research guy. He did his work pro-bono and Spike's gonna get better."

"Just - you know - don't be all...noble. No eating cat food or anything," Carl said, relief palpable in his voice. Not relief that Xander didn't need anything, 'cause the worry that had prompted that offer was still there. Just relief that Carl had said it. Made the offer. Very probably with visions of Mariel glaring at him in his head.

Xander laughed. "No, no cat food. Trust me. I know when to holler 'Uncle'. Thanks, Carl," Xander added, and he meant it.

"Not 'Uncle'," Carl corrected. "'Carl'. And you holler it into the telephone."

"Yes, mother." Xander's cheeks felt stiff when he smiled, but it felt good anyway. "We'll be back on - Jesus, what the fuck? Carl, what day is it?"

Carl chuckled. "Wednesday, Alex."

Xander groaned. "Okay. Thanks. We'll be back on the weekend."

"Are you sure you don't need anything?"

"Nah. I mean, the house is locked, there's nothing to steal -"

"I'll check your house."

Xander smiled an embarrassed smile. "Thanks, Carl."

"Anything you need, Alex. Even if it's peace of mind."

"Knowing Mariel's out there with a big stick is all the peace of mind I need. Tell her I said hello, okay? And the kids."

"Sure. Take it easy, Alex. Call us when you get home, okay? Any time."

"Okay, sure. 'Bye, Carl."

"Bye, Alex." Xander turned his phone off and rolled onto his back again, staring up at the ceiling . Good guy. He's a good guy and so's Russ and... He sniffed, then smiled at himself.

It wasn't a feeling he'd had since the Scoobies were really the Scoobies: family. He sniffed again, and scrubbed at his eye before the tears could escape and trickle over his cheek.

"Pet?" Spike's voice was dazed, barely there over the hum of the heater, but it made Xander sit up abruptly, and slide off the bed, circling the couch to kneel next to Spike in the Nest.

"What're you doing awake?" And how do you have such perfect timing, sweetheart? Xander smoothed his hand over Spike's hair, leaning into the fluttering touch of Cool again! Thank god, fingers that touched his cheek.

"Been cryin'?" Spike gazed up at that familiar face, his fingers smoothing away a trace of moisture. Everything was...fuzzy - the edges too bright - and he felt nauseated and desperately hungry at the same time. "Don't cry, Xan - s'all right..." he mumbled, wishing he could pull Xander down and just...hold him. His fingers slipped through the silk of Xander's hair and then fell away - arm to heavy to hold upright, hand to unsteady to have near Xander's eye, anyway. The sutures burned and pulled, and his shoulder, hip, and knee all throbbed where they'd been pressed under him. Even the super-soft Nest was too much, just then.

"Need a drink, love. Just..maybe a pill, too, I..." He couldn't finish the thought - pushed into the comfort of Xander's hand and let his eyes fall shut.

Xander dropped a quick, soft kiss to each closed eye, then his forehead. "It's close enough to time for your next dose," he said, crawling back out of the nest and walking to the kitchen. He wasn't sure if Spike could hear him, could understand it all, but it felt wrong not to tell Spike what he'd missed. "I called Wesley to let him know how you're doing. He'll be by in a little bit to poke at you and bring me some doughnuts." He poured the whiskey into a glass, not too much, and riffled through the grocery bag until he found the straws, putting in a green and purple bendy straw, then poured blood into a mug, and put that in the microwave, thinking. "I called Carl too. He was at work, so I didn't know how much to tell him, but god, Spike. It's - it feels so good having someone to call like that. Who just wants to know we're all right down here without asking me for anything."

And that last hurt to say, because he couldn't remember the last time one of his old friends had called him and not asked for something.

The microwave dinged and he took the blood, juggling it into the crook of his arm with a pink straw; grabbed up the pills and put the tincture bottle in his mouth, holding it with his teeth as he carried it all back to Spike.

The whiskey smelled better than the blood, and that made Spike open his eyes, because he had to have the blood - had to have the pills and the damn tincture and...fuck. It was all so fucking nasty he almost didn't want to bother. Almost. But the hope - the gentle concern - in Xander's gaze made him angry at himself.

Stop being such a damn...wimp. Not like this is forever. Not like I lost a fucking eye. Bloody hell - lost my hands and they're...fine. Just fine. He wished he hadn't thought about that - about his hands - because the old scars from that time seemed to throb to life suddenly and he surreptitiously flexed his fingers into the silk sheet. Just...making sure.

"Look like Florence Nightingale, you do," he joked, pushing his unease aside. "Only I bet she didn't push her potions starkers."

"Ahh, but think about how famous she'd be if she did! Like Florence Nightingale and Lady Godiva combined. And then she'd have - medicinal chocolates named after her or something, and okay, that made a lot more sense before I said it out loud." Xander slid an arm under Spike's shoulders, lifting him up enough to get behind him and support Spike against his body. "Let's get the bad over with. Tincture in the blood, and you take the pills with that and then you can have the whiskey." Xander rested his cheek against Spike's hair, smiling. "And I think Florence was a lot more professional than me, too."

Spike winced a little as Xander got him up and settled - glad Xander was behind him, and couldn't see. He watched the tincture measured in slow drops into the blood and then took the cup, grateful Xander kept his hand on it.

"Think I'll do it without the straw this time, pet - get it down faster, yeah?"

"Sure, Spike." Xander held the straw aside with a forefinger and Spike lifted the mug to his mouth - closed his eyes and tossed the pills back and drank fast, tipping his head back on Xander's shoulder so he'd get every last, foul drop. Knowing one cupful, three times a day wasn't enough, but until the poison had left him it was all he could bear.

"Bloody fucking gods, that's foul," he sputtered, and the empty cup was hastily exchanged for the full tumbler, and Spike drank until he was siphoning the last drops from the bottom.

"Ah, Jesus," he muttered, and turned his face into Xander's neck, pushing close for comfort - for warmth. "Save me a doughnut, yeah? Jelly. Anything to cut that fuckin' taste..."

Xander nuzzled his cheek into Spike's hair, reaching up to rub at his throat and good shoulder, grabbing a discarded towel to wipe away the thin layer of sickly sweat that had coated his skin to distract himself from what he knew he had to say next. "I've got Wes bringing extra. I - he's also bringing stuff that'll let me get the blood and medicine into you without you having to wake up. Because you need more..." He wasn't sure if that was just worse though, so kept stroking Spike's skin, up and down, shoulder to jaw.

"What...stuff?" Spike asked, not liking the sudden and subtle tension he could feel in Xander's body - fighting the whirling nausea that hadn't gone away yet.

"Like...a tube to go down your throat, and a funnel, for if you can't swallow. It's - Jesus, I don't want to, but he said you can't miss a dose, and can't stick to starvation rations. I know how to do it while you're unconscious, sweetheart. You won't even know it was there when you wake up."

Spike shuddered all over - fought down the instinctive panic of being...that helpless. That vulnerable. And god - he did not want Xander to have to do that. Tension - some tightly-held emotion - was coloring the man's voice and Spike knew it was the last thing Xander wanted to do.

Fuck, fuck... "It's - that's a good idea, pet. You can...that's all right, yeah?"

"Yeah." Xander tried to put all of the reassurance in that one word, and in the way his hands curved over Spike's skin. "Well, no. It's a shitty idea. But it's all we've got. And it's only for a few days." And fuck, I am not going to cry at the thought of this! Jesus, I did this in fucking Africa, and I did it well and - and - and fuck it, in Africa, it was never Spike! Xander took a long slow breath, shivered, and let it out. "Sorry," he said. "It's been a really fucking long few days." Xander clutched Spike to him as carefully as he could. "It's worth it. You're worth it. Only a few more days of this, sweetheart, and you'll be kicking ass and taking names again."

They both knew it wouldn't be that quick, the change, but Xander needed to say it, needed to hear it.

If I can I will, pet...anything... Spike didn't finish that thought - anything for you... Aware, in the haze and discomfort of the drugs and the poison that he might be... Might be wrong. Might be very wrong. It was easy to love someone who was depending on you for...everything. So easy to love Dru, even as her madness and her fey notions and outright bloody stupid ideas had angered, exasperated, and terrified him by turns. All she had to do was look at him. Helpless dark eyes - trembling chin. And he was clay in her deft hands. Xander's got more backbone than that...but it feels good to be needed...to be wanted. Feels too bloody good.

"Do my best, pet. Between you and the Watcher I'll be - be just fine."

"Want you to be fine," Xander sighed, feeling the ache in his chest expand and contract with his heartbeat, and rubbed off the few tears that had escaped on Spike's hair. "Don't mind the crazy man, Spike." Xander eased Spike's head onto his shoulder, turning him so that he could brush their lips together. "You haven't had a cigarette in days and you still taste like smoke."

"Sorry, pet," Spike murmured, wishing he could drag Xander's head down and really kiss him. Making himself be content with the skimming little kisses and touches that Xander seemed to think were all he could bear.

Xander shook his head. "I like it. Tastes like smoke and metal and kind of like sex too -" Xander dropped his head to Spike's shoulder. Okay. I was doing just fine until the babbling made a return engagement. "Um. Really, I have some self control."

"Don't tease me like that, pet." Spike slithered his arm up around Xander's neck - leaned in and got his mouth on Xander's jaw - on the thin skin under the hinge. Nibbled there, while his fingers stroked the warm, satin skin at the nape of his neck. "Don't want you to have any control..."

Xander caught his breath, muttering, "I'll bet Florence Nightingale had more control." He tilted his head into the touch - into both touches, and carefully swept his hand over Spike's good hip and down to his thigh. "If I didn't have any control," he started, feeling his heart banging against his ribs, and it had to be hard enough for Spike to feel - among other hard things Spike was about to feel. "I'd be rolling you over onto your side, the one that hurts less," the imaginary side, Xander admitted, "sliding your leg up just enough to get in behind you, let you feel how hard you make me just touching me -" He licked his lips, "and you can consider this a bedtime story if you want..."

"God...Xan... You know what that does to me?" Spike twisted in Xander's arms, getting his hip against Xander's cock, that was as interested as Spike's was not. He let his hand slip down from Xander's neck to ghost over his chest - caress a hardening nipple.

"Could, you know...don't mind...want to..." Things were - singing. The air seemed to vibrate, and this vision was going, tunnel of darkness. But god - he wanted Xander to do that - to push into him and bring that heat into him - that want. "Xan..."

Xander inhaled slowly, and god - he could feel his dick expanding with that breath - and dropped his lips to Spike's ear, catching Spike's hand and bringing it to his cock, folding the weak fingers around himself and stroking. He licked his lips. "You want this in you? All slicked up? Moving so fucking slow and careful, it won't hurt. Just make you feel so good, let me do all the work this time." Spike's ear was cool to his lips - colder than the air and Spike's fingers, and dear fucking god let there be something slick left in this room!

Spike shuddered all over at the heat in Xander's voice - at the solid, fever-hot flesh under his fingers.

"Oh god...yeah...want it, love, please..."

"I am a sick," Xander said, kissing Spike's lips lightly, "sick," he added, sweeping his tongue over Spike's lips, and then in, tasting him all smoke, and peat, and musk, and clove, feeling the throb of need through his cock, and the slick, soft pulse of pre-come over their joined hands before pulling back, panting, "very sick man." Spike's forehead was hard and smooth against his own as he rolled his head slowly from one side to the other, regaining his breath. "Gonna get something slick." He trailed their fingers over the tip of his cock, shuddering, and brought them up between his mouth and Spike's, licking. "More than this."

Spike savored the sweet-spice taste of Xander's mouth - lapped eagerly at his damp fingers and rolled the savory musk of Xander's pre-come over his tongue. "Hurry, love...can't wait..." he breathed. "Not sick..." he added, looking straight up at Xander as he pulled away. "Not sick at all, when you make me feel so good."

"Do I?" Xander wished his hand didn't shake as he smoothed his fingertips over Spike's lips, feeling the roughness catch on the soft skin there, and the pressure of Spike's lips. "Gonna make you feel even better." He eased Spike down into the Nest on his side, dropping kisses along his arm before he stood. Xander's knees shook too, making him laugh at himself, and he felt the grin stretch his face as he looked down at Spike. "You make me sixteen again without the stupid."

The words made Xander blush, either stupid or sappy or just silly, he wasn't sure, but he didn't stay for an answer, rummaging instead in his duffel bag, returning with his conditioner and uncapping it to the scent of lemons and cloves and spices, watching Spike. Wanting.

"Sixteen's not sstupid, Xan..." Spike licked dry lips, watching Xander move - watching him pour out a little of the spicy-smelling stuff and slowly, slowly run his fingers over his cock, covering it - making it gleam. "Horny all the time - just what I like." He took in a sharp little breath as Xander teased himself. "God, love...so fuckin' gorgeous, you are - so lovely..."

Xander bit his lip, peeking at Spike through his hair as he knelt in the Nest, back within reach. "And I'm gonna last about three seconds if you keep saying stuff like that." He caught Spike's hand when it hovered over his, bringing it down to his cock to stroke again. And god that was almost enough. Could be enough. "Sure?"

"God love, yes! I'm sure!"

And Spike looked so wild around the eyes, Xander had to kiss him, the air smelling of lemons, cloves, musk, and Spike, so good. He licked his lips, cleared his throat, and tried to find his tone from earlier. "I'd roll you onto the side that hurts less," he said quietly, easing Spike into the pillows again on his side and settling in behind him. "Push your leg up really carefully..." He eased Spike's leg forward, resting it on the rise of pillows and trailing his fingers up the back of the smooth thigh, feeling Spike breathe as his fingers slipped into his cleft to brush over his hole, just touching there, circling slick and warm. "And push up against you," he breathed, easing his aching cock between Spike's legs, rubbing over the taut perineal skin, nudging up behind the weight of Spike's balls, "Let you feel- feel-...god!" So hard not to clutch Spike to him, to remember the stitches he couldn't pull.

"Love, love, shhhhhh...it's all right. Won't break, Xan, you can - just..." Spike shuddered at the heat pressing against him - almost into him. Pushed his hips back, trying to get closer - trying to get some part of Xander in. Panting, and seeing the spangling lights dancing on the edges of his vision. Bloody pills...wanna feel him... "Go on, love." He reached behind himself as best he could and stroked Xander's hip - the top of his thigh. Encouraging him - wanting him - making him know it. "Want to feel you, right now, Xan - please, love -"

"Can you -" Xander caught his lip again, pressing two fingertips through the tight ring of muscle, remembering African nights, lessons...

'A body remembers, Xander. It remembers how to accept, how to want, take...' Spike shuddered around him, and Xander pressed a fevered kiss to his nape, slicking more of the conditioner onto his cock, and pressing, holding his breath, then in, and it was all he could do to move so slowly, so...fucking...

Spike shivered under his hand - around him - gasping in shallow, desperate breaths.

"Feel that, sweetheart?" His words buzzed against the back of Spike's neck, and his teeth itched to bite there; clamp down and claim with an instinct more hyena than Harris as he swept his palm over Spike's thigh, hip, back and forth in a way he needed to keep from slamming home. And then he was there, and aching to move, and not wanting to move all at once.

Spike wanted to writhe back - wanted to open himself, wanted to fuck himself back onto the heat and the sweet, aching stretch of muscles long unused to this. Xander couldn't get deep enough, like this - but god, god - it felt so good. Furnace heat of chest and belly and mouth against him - inside him - Xander's hand smoothing and sensitizing his skin - making him shudder. He could feel the merest edge of Xander's teeth on his neck and he wanted that as well. He pushed back, hoping Xander would do it - would understand.

"Fuckin' lovely - Xander - g-god, yesss..."

"God, Spike...!" Xander mouthed the skin over the back of Spike's neck, sucked blood to the surface over the sharp knob of his spine with all the hunger he couldn't let out by pounding into Spike. He nudged his knee higher, digging into the pillows with his own to lift his hips, draw back, and drive in, smooth and not fucking deep enough! but good, fucking good. "Gonna - gonna have this in me when you're well," he said, in between hungry, biting kisses, fingers sliding over the soft flesh of Spike's cock, stroking, squeezing, "hard and strong till I feel it up in my throat-"

God, god, the sucking, biting kisses were driving him mad, and the clinging friction of Xander's cock inside, pushing and pulling. Hot, insistent hand on his own cock and even though his body couldn't he still felt delicious tremors shiver out from the root and over his body - over and over again as Xander stroked and tugged and talked, god.

Xander caught his breath, bare teeth pressing over soft skin, parting. "Want that," and closing, marking, claiming.

"Want that too -" Spike gasped out and then Xander's teeth latched down onto his neck, rough edges sinking in and he was rigid - arching hard - something like a dry orgasm rolling through him, wave after wave, as his body clenched down hard on Xander and his hand - still on Xander's hip - squeezed frantically at muscle and bone, feeling the pulse and heat Xander's orgasm inside him.

"Xander! Ahhh...god -" The spangles were crowding in, his vision going black with only those random flares of light dancing on the backs of his retinas. Singing, swirling - the room hot and closing in, the sweet spicy scent thick in his throat. Xander was shaking against him and hoped it was enough... "Yesss...yess..." he mumbled, and then he felt it all washing away; tide going out.

Xander's jaws felt like they had tight rubber bands holding them closed when he opened them. Little frissons of aftershock danced along his nerves, but he couldn't bring himself to move. Couldn't...bring himself to separate from Spike just yet, even as he lay soft within his body, only pressing gentle kisses to the livid marks that peppered Spike's nape now, nuzzling into the mingled scents of them.

Wanted to stay like that. Wanted to sleep, joined with Spike...Yeah, sleep. Just a nap. Gonna be...wide awake after a little nap...


~~~~~


Wesley knocked for a third time, listening to the faint scurrying sounds from inside the room. Wondering if he should try to pick the lock, or call Xander on the cell-phone. If something was really wrong...surely he can hear me, he could simply call for help... Wesley shifted his carry-all, feeling the unease rise. He lifted his hand to knock one more time and the door opened under his fist and Xander stood there. In actual sweat-pants, looking flushed and sweaty and a bit... Debauched. Or...that's my imagination, surely.

"Hello, Xander. Is everything...all right?"

Xander pressed a hand to his chest where his heart was still threatening to beat its way out from behind his ribs, and hoped he didn't look as guilty as he felt. "Um. Yeah. Sorry I fell asleep waiting for you." And woke sticky, aching in all the good places, and still nestled intimately between Spike's legs.

As he stepped aside to let Wesley in, he felt a momentary panic like the kind he hadn't felt since his days as a basement dweller. He hurried back to the Nest, snatching up and folding the still damp wash cloth he'd cleaned them both with in what he hoped was more "casual" than "guilty teenager". "He woke up for a little while." And dammit. Xander could feel himself blushing.

Wesley watched a slow flush climb Xander's chest and throat and darken his face. What in the world is wrong with the...man? Wesley shook his head slightly, setting his bag down and taking a deep breath. And noticing a particularly...musky...odor. Ah. That is what's the matter... Wesley smiled to himself. "Xander? Are you all right? You look a bit flushed. And - how is Spike?" Wesley moved to the Nest, and Xander shuffled after him, twisting a damp wash cloth nervously in his fingers.

"I'm - fine, Wes, I was just startled when you knocked, was all. Spike is..." Wesley knelt on the edge of the Nest, examining the vampire. He was sleeping peacefully enough, and the sutures looked fine - dry, with no redness.

"The sutures look good. But - what's this?" Wesley hid his twitching mouth in his shirt-collar as he leaned forward to touch Spike's neck and Xander practically leapt on him.

For a moment, Xander wondered if he could get away with playing dumb. "Uh, probably what it looks like," he admitted, crouching next to Wesley and scrubbing his hands over his face, tossing the washcloth behind him. And the jig is up!

Xander jerked when Wesley rested a hand on his knee, giving it a squeeze, muscle and bone, though perhaps more bone than was quite healthy. "It's all right, Xander. I'm not...Rupert Giles." The name made Wesley smile, though he clearly remembered a time when it wouldn't have. "You were careful?"

Xander wished Wesley would move his fingers away from the bite, because it was making something in him jumpy, making him want to push the fingers away. "Yeah."

Wesley followed Xander's line of sight, and brushed his fingers over the reddened marks, watching Xander's eyes widen and darken. Odd.

"Maybe you shouldn't -"

Xander stopped himself and Wesley watched him bite his lip, looking uncomfortable and... Upset. Or - something. Hrmmm. Wesley pushed himself upright and moved to the bed, sitting on the stripped mattress and waiting. A moment later Xander came around the end of the couch and slumped next to him.

"I really don't have a - a problem with... Well, with the physical nature of your...relationship, Xander. I just want you to be careful. Spike isn't... He doesn't always back off of something, even if knows it's not the best idea."

Xander closed his eye, too tired for the laugh that wanted to come. "God, Wes. I don't want him to back off." He lay back on the mattress, draping an arm over his upper face, the other over his stomach. His knuckles were brushing against a fold in Wesley's sweater. "I wonder if I don't need to back off sometimes." A tension he hadn't realized he'd been harboring had only loosened when Wesley checked Spike over, but he still felt a weight on his chest.

And only recognized it then. Waiting to fuck this up. And that was supposed to have been something he left behind. Far behind.

"Xander." Wesley hesitated, then lay a hand over Xander's fingers, watching him go utterly still. "Even ill, Spike is more than capable of rebuffing an unwanted advance."

"You didn't see -"

"I've seen all year. Harmony worked with us at Wolfram and Hart, Xander. I watched him turn her down every day there."

"That's not the same thing, Wes, and you know it. He's - fuck." Xander sat up again, hunching over his legs and tucking his hands tight between his thighs. "Those pills make him half out of his head! He's - he thinks he's back with Angel and Drusilla - or back in Sunnydale before - or - or in hell, Wes! Or in the Initiative." Xander shivered, and Wesley wanted to put his arm around him, but just - couldn't.

"Xander, I'm sure he -"

"I'm not sure, Wes! I'm not - sure at all."

Wesley's hand hovered above Xander's back, over the two parallel scars that ran over his shoulder blade, raised and white, oddly translucent in the dim hotel room. "What aren't you sure about?"

Xander wrapped his arms around his chest, staring at the back of the couch and feeling a dull pounding begin deep in the empty socket. "If I'm doing this right," he admitted. "Making the right choices. If I'm - reading Spike right. God, he's out of his mind, Wesley."

"You don't trust him?"

"I don't trust me," Xander said. Because everything Spike had been saying was what he wanted to hear, wanted to believe. And what if he was wrong?

Wesley wasn't sure what to say to that - the pills were strong, and the fever and general debility Spike had suffered were enough to put most people in the grave. He could only imagine the confusion Spike must suffer in the grip of it all. But...

"Spike...is quite straightforward, Xander in..." Wesley cleared his throat. "You'll remember I told you about our...liaisons?" Xander nodded slowly.

"Then, let me just say that... He doesn't - he won't lie to you, Xander." Wesley lifted his eyes, looking closely at Xander, at the pale, puckered skin where his eye once was; at the mobile mouth now turned down at the edges in a pensive frown. "If he lied at all, it would be to make the degree of his attachment to you seem - less. Not more, I think." He smiled ruefully. "It is, after all, the nature of narcotic drugs to loosen the tongue."

"I'm lucky they didn't loosen mine into getting my face slapped by a Slayer." Xander let his arms fall, lacing his fingers together again in his lap. "Talk about powdered courage."

"You, when -?"

Xander raised a hand, pointing to his face, and even before he spoke Wesley felt like an utter heel for not having realized more quickly. "Eye," Xander said.

"I - oh, of course."

"You?"

It took Wesley a moment to realize what Xander was asking. "Oh. I was shot." There didn't seem much else to say about it, in hindsight.

"Shot by a psychotic, super powered priest or by a psychotic, super powered Slayer or - were you mugged?" Xander can't help smiling a little because - because it was crazy, sitting here with Wesley talking about Spike and talking about scars... And that made him sober up fast because...scars really could hurt, even years later.

"Zombie policeman," Wesley answered, quite seriously, and then laughed.

And when Wesley laughed, Xander could see the line of another scar beneath his jaw - wondered how many more were hidden beneath Wesley's clothes. Other scars he'd failed to notice in his haze of blood and exhaustion.

Wesley gestured to the gunshot scar in Xander's side. "Not a zombie policeman?"

Xander put a hand over the puckered wound, feeling the indentation under his palm, and remembering the disbelief that had been all he could feel at the time. "Good old fashioned militant in a war zone."

"That's - that's -" Wesley shook his head.

"Kind of dull after zombie policemen."

"Certainly the last thing I would have guessed, I was going to say."

Xander shrugged, he hand falling away from the old wound. "Africa was a lot of things. Safe wasn't one of them. I'm lucky, really. The way I was the first few months -" A slow shake of the head and for a moment Wesley saw the old man at this father's club, who'd drink and talk about his glory days in the Transvaal before the Great War. It was...odd, to see such sobriety on the man Wesley had once, in his head of course, likened to a good-natured beagle-pup.

"I'm fairly certain now that there's a small god who watches out for drunken fools." Wesley thought, briefly, of Illyria, but no... She'd only watched out for one drunken fool, and only to her own ends. He shook himself. Those thoughts weren't suitable to either the moment or the company. "You requested doughnuts, I believe?"

Xander chuckled. "Did we use up our required sharing time?"

"God, I hope so," Wesley said. "No offense, but -"

Xander shook his head. "Awkward conversation. Lots of landmines."

Wesley let his breath out with relief. "Yes."

He stirred and leaned down, picking up his hold-all. "Here we are then," he said, pulling out the box of doughnuts he'd stuck inside. Instinct, mainly - never have both hands occupied if you can help it. He set the box in his lap and opened the flap and they both looked down at the display.

"Wow, deluxe assortment!" Xander said, childish glee back in his voice, and Wesley had to grin.

"Of course. I wouldn't have gotten anything less."

"You're official Doughnut Boy from now on," Xander said, his hand hovering.

"I take that as a very serious duty," Wesley replied, and nicked the lemon-custard from under Xander's reaching fingers.

"Well, you already know the first rule," Xander said.

"Oh? What is that then?" Wesley asked around a mouthful of sweet lemon filling.

"Distract your audience, and steal the best one," Xander said with a grin. Because if Xander hadn't stolen the doughnut he wanted before Buffy and Willow got their hands on the box, all that'd be waiting for him at the bottom would be a sad cake doughnut with nuts.


~*~*~*~*~


Spike sat on the bed, feeling particularly useless but knowing that getting up and staggering around would be even more useless. Xander moved around him, packing with the efficiency of a man who had moved many times, and with no frills - compacting everything into less space then it had taken initially and tossing out trash and nabbing hotel freebies with abandon.

"Do we really need all those little bars of soap, Xan?" Spike asked, amused, and Xander stooped dropping them into his duffel and grinned over at Spike.

"Never know when they could come in handy. They'll just throw 'em away, anyway." Spike nodded and flexed his toes in the lime-green flip-flops Xander had got for him down in the gift shop. Not a good color for the evil undead. He brushed his hand tentatively up his torso, feeling the lingering soreness from the sutures. Mostly they had dissolved, but once his vampiric healing had kicked back in, some had gotten caught and Xander had had to yank them out with a pair of tweezers. Nothing he couldn't handle, but he was glad to have the last of the wounds - the illness - fading from his body.

Xander stood, placing his hands in the small of his back, and stretching. "That's the last of it. Everything else but us is in the truck." He watched Spike's hand play over the pink lines on his torso; he couldn't blame him. And he couldn't help stealing glances at them himself as they faded with every passing hour.
But -

Spike looked up as Xander caught his hand, following it with his eyes to Xander's lips, watching Xander kiss first fingertips, then palm. "What's that for, pet?"

Xander swallowed, playing with Spike's fingers and looking at him through his hair, the patch already back in place for the first time in days. "What, you're getting better, and suddenly I need a reason?" Please tell me I don't.

"No..." Spike said slowly. He began to lever himself to his feet and Xander pulled, giving him a boost. Standing now, Spike shuffled in his unaccustomed footwear until he was inches from Xander. "I hope you don't need a reason, pet," he said, and closed the gap to give Xander a small kiss - lips barely parted, tongue not in play. Just..contact.

Xander let his eye close and smiled against Spike's lips; Spike's hand against his chest, his other arm slipping around a waist that was still too thin - resting over a spine still too prominent. "No," he said, feeling Spike's lips as he spoke, "no reason. Completely," Xander breathed, sliding his hand up to cradle the back of Spike's neck, "reasonless..."

"Mmmm...best kind," Spike murmured, lips whispering against Xander's, his free hand sliding around Xander's ribs and up, to twine through the silky dark hair. Another kiss, and another, and another, shallow and sweet and short - exquisite torture. Spike wanted to stand there and do that all night.

Xander shivered at the bare brushes of lips, soft bump of noses that - Jesus, hasn't felt like this since High School. And he wondered if Spike could hear how hard his heart was beating from just...that. "Would it be...girly of me to want to kiss you like this on the beach?" he whispered.

"Could we?" Spike asked, feeling a sudden lift of spirits. After nearly a week in the hotel room he was feeling more than a little stir-crazy, and the thought of the beach - the thick, salt-laden air and the dry rushing of the waves - seemed wonderfully appealing. "That would be brilliant, pet."

"We're right on the beach." Xander curled and uncurled his fingers in Spike's hair, enjoying the soft crunching of the bleached tips and the smooth silky curls beneath. "Seems like a shame to waste it, if you're -" He stopped himself before he could ask Spike if he was up to it, remembering well how much he'd wanted people to just stop asking if he was up to anything. Instead, he claimed a last kiss, leaning back with regret. "Ready?"

"Ready," Spike said, glad Xander hadn't objected - hadn't fussed. He didn't want to be fussed over now - now that the worst was over. Xander shouldered the duffle and they made their way downstairs. Spike did his best to just walk - to employ that easy, loose-hipped saunter that was second nature. But his joints were stiff, and his legs were weak and his knees would wobble and give with alarming little tremors at the worst moments. And the flip-flops were hard to keep on.

"Buggering hell," he muttered, annoyed, as his left shoe slid off again. He grasped the stair railing and maneuvered his foot back in and then clenched his toes up around the little foam divider, holding it on his foot by sheer force of will, really. Xander stood two stairs below him, watching with a suspiciously smirky expression behind a curtain of hair. "Well, go on!"

Xander muffled a laugh, but stayed only a couple of stairs ahead of Spike the whole time, reassured by the steady thwip-whap of Spike's shoes and the muttered curses that accompanied them all the way to the bottom where he held the door open for Spike. "Your freedom, sir, awaits you."

"Git," Spike muttered, but he trailed a hand over Xander's ribs as he walked out. On the sidewalk he pulled the wife-beater out of his waistband and tugged it on, then tied the draw-string of the pajama pants a little tighter. They were about three inches too long, and wouldn't stay rolled, but he didn't care. Xander tossed the duffel into the back of the truck and they began a slow walk across parking lot, sidewalk, and sand-choked grass to the beach. A deserted tennis-court was off to one side, and there were tall, thin palms everywhere. But Spike kept his eyes fixed on the horizon - the black and sugar-white expanse of the rolling, living sea.

When they hit sand Spike slipped the flip-flops off and stood for a moment, curling his toes into the rough, loose grains. A faint heat lingered from the day's sunshine and the strong smells of earth and brine, tide-pools and fish filled his mouth and nose as the wet, cool air scoured his lungs clean. He closed his eyes and tilted his head back - lifted his arms in pure pleasure. Smiled when he felt Xander's hands on him.

Xander had only meant to rest his hands on Spike's waist when he saw him stretch, but the blissful arch of Spike's body, and the expression of pleasure on his face were too much to resist. Xander slid his hands up Spike's ribs beneath the shirt, over the healed skin of his chest to cross at Spike's waist, pulling him back against his body. It felt so good to just be holding Spike, not holding him up. He rested his forehead against Spike's shoulder, feeling the sharpness of bone beneath him, and pressed a kiss into the cool skin of Spike's neck.

Any other time, the beach would have been tacky; an ugly, dirty, Southern California blight, but just then - even with the amusement park close enough to smell the popcorn whenever the wind changed - it was...

"Y'know, I think I like this."

"I think I do to," Spike said, leaning his weight onto Xander. Trusting him to hold him up. That felt best of all, that he could - and that Xander did. "We should live on the beach," Spike said, unthinking, and then shut his eyes, because... That was going too far, really. Much, much too far. Too fast and too much and... Can't ever, ever help myself, can I? Always a bloody...axe to the back of the head to myself. "Xander..." he sighed, and then didn't know what to say next, because - there was nothing to say. He'd felt the sudden tension and the skip-jump of Xander's heartbeat. Fix this, dammit... But he didn't know how.

We had never felt so good. When Anya had said "we", by the wedding day it had felt like walls closing in. But when Spike said "we", Xander wanted.

Was wanted.

He realized that he'd been silent maybe too long because Spike was so still in his arms and he resisted tightening them before remembering that he didn't have to anymore. The crook of Spike's neck smelled like leather - like the duster even when he wasn't wearing it. And he wanted to speak, but all he could get around the lump in his throat was: "Sounds perfect."





Square Eight

Spike leapt over a dented trash-can and kicked the hulking vamp in the ribs - spun and kicked him again and neatly drove eight inches of hardened maple into his chest. The brief expression of confused surprise was amusing and Spike dropped the stake into his pocket and dusted his hands off - reached for a cigarette and lit up. A walk in Sunnydale after dark was always fun; there was never a shortage of things to kill. Which was odd, considering the Hellmouth was dead and gone. The strange, nerve-twitching buzz that had used to pull in demons from miles around was as gone as the town itself, and wouldn't be revived with granite kitchen counters and fake Tudor architecture. Course - never hurt to keep an eye out. And keeping an eye out was why Spike liked to walk, most times, instead of taking his bike. Nothing to do with testing himself. Reassuring himself that everything was in perfect working order. Mostly. He seemed to feel the cold more, now, but Xander never minded building a fire and curling up with him in the rebuilt Nest. To watch movies, and listen to music, and fuck. Not to snuggle. Not to just lie together and talk, and pet, and doze.

Foolin' yourself, mate. Go on and try it but you know it's for that...closeness. Can't resist it, can you? Can't resist the fact that he just likes to...touch. Touch me. Not even shag, just... Spike took a hard hit off his smoke and blew the smoke out in a snort of disgust. Losin' it, you are. Things like this don't end well. Or they end in screams and bloodshed. Or just screams. Doesn't matter whose, even. Keep a level head, you'll be all right.

"Yeah, level. Here's me, bringin' the boy lunch. A special, hand-picked, good-for-you lunch. Pathetic, is what I am." He kicked a beer bottle hard, feeling no satisfaction when it practically disintegrated against a wall.

Well - same thing as those bloody pillows, innit? And that's not pathetic, that's...that's... "Love", some little voice wanted to say, but Spike squashed it viciously. The pillows are just...comfortable. We both like 'em. Nothing...special there. The big bed in the Master bedroom was Nest in its own right, now, with layers of 'body' size pillows and velvet and chenille and satin pillows that you could practically drown in. And more of those fancy silk sheets that Spike had no clue where Xander got them from - just that they appeared without warning one day about four weeks ago. Rich wine-red and creamy white and navy blue. Absolute sensual pleasure. And the dual-control electric blanket that Spike could turn up on 'high'. And the fleece-soft throws in the living room Nest that held in the heat from the fireplace and made Spike warm enough to be human. Oh, yeah. Nothin' special there at all. He sneered in disgust at himself, and walked on.


Diaspora was a very small, very greasy diner in what appeared to be a caravan, but they served the best Greek food Spike had had outside of Greece, and he knew Xander would love it. If he'd look past the grape leaves. Wes would like it, for sure, and he'd have to tell him about it next time he called the ex-Watcher. Use it as one more carrot in the slow-moving plan of 'tempt Wes to come for a visit'. Pity there wasn't a place to get decent vindaloo - that's what Wes really liked, and even in L.A. he'd complained about it - had made Spike drive him halfway to San Diego once to 'the only place in this benighted state' so he could have some.

He took his time picking over the menu and settled on lamb gyros and dolmades, taramosolata - which was caviar, but Xander didn't need to know that. Tzatziki with pita bread to dip in it, and salad - although since there was no lettuce, he wondered what Xander would think of it. The flavors of feta cheese and onion, vinegar and oregano should make up for lifeless Iceberg leaves, he hoped.

Baklava, of course, as a reward for eating something good. He contemplated coffee but decided that the tiny, poisonously sweet syrup wasn't the way to go - Xander would be up until lunch tomorrow after one of those. Lunch under his arm, he sauntered casually through the silent, manicured streets, curling his lip at the dull sameness of each house and street.

This place is so bloody boring! When his contract's up, gonna take my boy and - Spike stopped cold at that thought - literally stopped walking, his gaze going distant as that thought percolated. Would Xander even want to go - anywhere with him? They weren't...soul mates, after all. Not - in love. Just lovers. Just... Just shaggin' each other 'cause we know each other. Makes it more...comfortable. Boy doesn't love me. And I don't... Bugger. Spike dismissed that thought with a shake of his head and walked on. Love was a foolish word - a foolish sentiment. Love was for...kids. And romantic poets, and fools of the first water. Not for veterans of the Hellmouth. Not...for him.


~*~*~*~*~


"Oh Alex, it's that time again," Russ sang, leaning on the door frame like a shaggy Viking out of time, or one of Santa's cheery crew on steroids with that chipper grin.

Xander groaned, dropping his head onto his arms. "Who made you my mother?"

"I'm not your mother," Russ said, "I'm your accountant. Honestly? I wouldn't care if you don't take your lunch break, but that's the law. You wanna work, you take your fuckin' lunch break."

Xander laughed, pushing away from his desk and leaning back in his chair, fiddling with the sticky note in Russ' handwriting that said: 'WTF, Alex? A guy named Wesley Windham Price called. And when the hell did you start making friends with fancy names? Overcompensating for hooking up with a guy named Spike much?' Xander squinted at the note again, and then tossed it onto his desk, vowing to call Wes at the end of his shift.

"Right. Okay. Fine. What'll it be today, Russ? Cup'o'noodle or do we bother the late night pizza place again?"

"You left out the fine cuisine of the burrito wagon." Russ pulled his knapsack up off the floor, fishing out his wallet.

"God, don't tell me you're ordering the special again. It's too cold out there to leave the windows open this time of year."

Russ grinned at him, all perfect white teeth. "I'll eat it outside if that makes you feel better."

"I'm more worried about the aftermath."

"How did you survive a year in Africa being that picky about food?"

"The tin can is a wonderful invention."

Russ laughed. "Are you sure you don't want anything?"

Xander sighed, rubbing at his face, and thinking absently that what he wanted was to go home to Spike, curl up in the Nest, and take the damn patch off. Yep. I had it right the first time. Being a responsible adult sucks even when you like your job. He shook his head. "Fritos or something. A bag of whatever."

"You sound like my little sister. Pick, pick, pick. Eat like a man."

"I eat like a man. I eat -" Spike. Hard, god, hard at last once the toxins wore off, stretching his throat, tasting like metal and salt and - Xander drew in a deep breath, and concluded lamely with: "...manly things." If that man happens to be Tom of Finland.

"Uh huh." Russ flicked his eyes down knowingly with a smirk that shouldn't have looked that sly on a face that big and open. "Well, I'll leave you with your thoughts. But don't you dare lift a finger to work until your lunch hour's over. I'll know." He tapped a finger to the side of his nose like a big blond Santa Claus.

"You'll know if I've been bad or good?"

"My money's on bad."

"You would so win."

"At least rest an hour, Alex. Get it out of your system 'till it's quitting time."

Xander felt a wash of hot-cold flash through him, embarrassment or guilt, he wasn't sure. "Am I that bad?"

"Only on Fridays," Russ said; smiled, and left Xander alone in the trailer, the door banging shut behind him as he went.

"Oh, Jesus." Because Xander knew it was true. The closer he got to the weekend, the more it reminded him of those two weeks with Spike so sick that nothing was more important than being right there with him. And even though he knew Spike was healed now, healed completely, the memories made it harder to remind himself that this world, this job, that had to be important too.

Got a vampire to keep in blood and beer. And house payments. And water, electric, and sewer, and -

Xander jerked off the patch and scrubbed his hands through his hair because dammit, he might have bills, but he wasn't ready to be his bills. But more and more, the bills were all worth it because they kept a vampire comfortable. And a vampire there.

Though Xander didn't want to think it was just the free comfort, easy contact, easy rapport that kept Spike there -

Because it was easy, living with Spike. Easy to look for him when he came home. Easy to laugh with him. Watch TV with him. ...touch him. God, it'd be so easy to l -

Xander always stopped that thought before it was fully formed though, because that was one word he wasn't ready for yet. As soon as he said that word, it all went downhill. And what was wrong with easy anyway? When it suited them both just fine?

They were guys dammit, and didn't need the words to make it good. To make the living good. And god, definitely not to make the sex good.

Xander dropped his head to the desk again and closed his eye.

Then there was sudden flurry of knocks, hard and almost panicked sounding.

"Fucking hell!" Xander scrambled for his eye patch, jerking it on and into place before the door opened all the way, settling it so quickly that the edge dug uncomfortably into the side of his nose. "What?" His heart leapt against his chest, the response ingrained in a resident of the Hellmouth. The moment you relax is the moment the bad starts.

He was already half way out of his chair before Dave poked his head in the door. "Got a visitor, Alex. Tried to tell him you're working, but this guy's pushy as fuck. Some English guy, thinks it's still 1979."

Xander dropped back into his chair, light-headed and a little sick with the rush of adrenaline And damn-it I have got to stop reacting like that! Though maybe, maybe Spike could count as something vaguely Hellmouthy and he didn't have to feel like quite so much of a nervous idiot. "Send Spike in."

"Aw, Jesus, you actually do know this freak?" Dave let the door bang shut and Xander could hear the mumble of voices outside.

He took the time to re-adjust his patch into a more comfortable position, untangling his hair from the band, and getting it tangled around his fingers instead. "Need. A. Fucking. Haircut."

"I heard that, pet," Spike said, pushing the door open and bouncing up the steps. He dropped the bag of food on Xander's cluttered mess of a desk and leaned over, getting right in his face. "No cutting of the hair."

"It's all - tangled!" Xander whined, and Spike leaned a little closer.

"Yeah? So, tonight...you come home, and fill up the tub, and I'll climb in behind you..." Spike lowered his eyes a little, licking his lip. Knowing exactly what that did to Xander. "And I'll brush it 'til it's smooth as silk..." Xander was staring at him, his face flushing slowly and Spike leaned back, satisfied. God, he smells so good when he wants...

"Jesus." Xander closed his eye, dropping his face into his hands when Spike leaned back away from him and sucking in a long hard breath to reply with something like 'Obnoxious tease'. But the adrenaline still buzzed through him, leaving him a little too sick and dizzy to peek into the food bag yet. "Okay..." Xander cleared his throat, tasting site dust on his lips when he licked them, eye darting over Spike in an unconscious check. Duster, wife beater beneath, blue silk shirt he'd stolen from Xander. Black tips on the ice-blond hair sticking up in mad tufts...all present. But Xander's shoulders still weren't quite relaxing even as he tried for humor. "Did you come all the way down here just to tease me into a dangerous state of arousal, or fatten me up for Christmas?"

Spike frowned, looking closely at Xander. "You all right, pet?"

Xander tangled his fingers in his hair again, not moving when Spike reached out to gently disengage them, resting his elbows on the desk and folding Xander's hands in his until Xander looked at him, and nodded with a smile he wished didn't feel quite so sick. "Yeah. I'm good."

Spike snorted. "You look it. Good thing I brought you food before you blew away on the wind."

"But -"

Spike tilted his head, and quirked an eyebrow.

"Why now?" Xander finished lamely, not entirely able to banish that first sick jolt of worry at seeing Spike here in the pit of the Hellmouth again.

Spike felt a little twisting drop of....something...in his belly. Fear? Disappointment? Xander didn't seem...

"Not your lunch-hour then? I'll just go, if -"

"No! Just -" Xander's fingers tightened in his and Spike brought them up to his lips, kissing gently.

"What is it, pet? You look like a goose just walked over your grave."

Xander frowned. "What does that mean anyway? 'Goose just walked over your grave'?" He shook his head. "Never mind. You Englishmen are weird." Xander let out his breath, resting his forehead on their joined hands. "It's just Hellmouthy instincts. You know? Assume the worst, and - you can feel free to stop me trying to mother the Big Bad any time now."

Spike felt something like relief wash over him. He came around the end of the desk and settled on the edge - drew Xander in between his thighs and put his fingertips under Xander's chin, tipping the down turned, unhappy face up to him. "You worried about me, pet? Is that was this is all about?" He pushed a lock of hair back as Xander fidgeted, chewing his lip. "Don't have to worry about me. I can take care of myself..." He leaned down and kissed the poor, abused lip, tasting gas-station iced tea and mint gum, and dust.

"Instincts," Xander mumbled against Spike's lips, wondering if all of him was this cool from being out in the air or if the duster kept some residual heat from the house trapped against him longer. "C'mere." For the moment, he just wanted to taste that cool night air and ocean flavor that seemed to be pure Spike now that he was well again.

Spike tugged at him, and Xander laughed, letting his chair roll freely over the last couple of inches of floor between him and the desk, until Spike could wrap his legs around him, trapping him there. "That's better."

"What is?"

"Like you smilin' like that, pet."

"Wanna start over again?"

"Huh?" The word was only half out of Spike's mouth before Xander pulled him down again with a surprisingly strong grip on his lapels, warm human tongue invading his mouth with the taste of sweet-lemon-mint-tea, teeth clacking before Xander drew back, and Spike could feel the hot puffs of breath against his lips.

"Hello, Spike," he said breathlessly.

"Hallo, love," Spike purred, and pulled Xander close again, because despite the dust and chemically-sweet tea there was still the underlying sweet that was just Xander, and the spice of his skin and the warmth that tingled through Spike's hands as he slipped his fingers into Xander's hair and held him - tilted his head over just...right.

The band of the patch caught on his hand and he impatiently pulled it free, letting the thing drop to the desk and going back to tasting every inch of Xander's mouth that he could.

Xander tried to laugh, but it was muffled against Spike's lips, Spike's tongue, just Spike, and he slipped his arms under the duster, winding them around Spike's back and holding tight. "Unh. Hello," he said more dazedly this time, blinking up at Spike when their lips parted fractionally, then he was tugging Spike down again, off the desk and onto his lap in the chair, sucking in his breath. "And hello." His skin tingled everywhere Spike pressed to him, from his chest to the absolutely non-work safe hardness stirring in his groin as he willingly let Spike haul him up and in for a devouring kiss.

"You call this lunch, Harris?" Russ filled the doorway with a creak, and a rumbling chuckle.

Well fuck. Spike stiffened, recognizing the voice. The guy he'd mistaken for a soldier in his delirium. Great. Right. Doesn't matter.

Xander groaned, dropping his head to Spike's shoulder, then peeking at Russ around him, left eye still concealed by Spike's jaw, as he smiled dazedly. "Russ, this is Spike."

"You gotta be kidding me."

"Mmmm." Xander leaned back in his chair, holding Spike close against him, because Hello! Lunch hour! My own private time!. "He got better." He was conscious of the stiffness in Spike's spine, rubbing his thumb along the small of his back beneath the concealment of the duster.

"I'll say," Russ muttered, laughter evident in his voice.

"Nothin' much keeps me down," Spike said, turning a bit - aware of Xander's hand on his back and his growing arousal - aware of exactly how they looked. He stared at Russ, eyes half-lidded, small smile on his mouth. Waiting for the flinch or the sneer of disgust because... Nobody better have a thing to say about this to Xan... Now or later.

Under the duster, Xander slid his hands down over Spike's ass and squeezed, eye wide and guileless. "Need anything, Russ?" God. Know what I need.

"Batteries," Russ explained. "Oh yeah, and remember the shocks on this thing creak pretty loud, so if you're not willing to answer questions -"

Xander laughed. "No questions. This is Spike. It's my lunch hour. And the private trailer is a perk of the job."

"Semi-private," Russ corrected.

"Semi-private with open-minded co-worker?" Xander negotiated.

"Uhh -" Russ' voice took on a slightly panicked tone, and Spike could smell the blood rising to the surface of his skin. He upped the wattage on his 'you got a problem?' look, and watched Russ flush the dark red of the perpetually un-tanned.

"I don't want to, you know, see anything. I mean - Jesus, Alex!" Russ shook his head, laughing suddenly, and Spike whipped around to see the look of hilarity on Xander's face.

"Just teasing, Russ. We'll...uh..."

"We'll keep the noise to a minimum, mate," Spike interjected smoothly, shifting just right in Xander's lap so the man bit his lip, gasping silently.

"Oh, great. Uh. Batteries." Russ turned his back and started digging through the drawers in the other desk, and Spike turned back to Xander, letting his hands slide down to lay flat on Xander's chest.

"Now, where were we, pet?"

"Just...about...here..." Xander brought a hand up to the back of Spike's head, burying his fingers in owl-feather tufts and dragging Spike's lips to his with a moan of pure pleasure, a thrill of wantpridemine shivering through him at the juxtaposition of work and Spike, and by the smell of it, food.

As the door banged shut behind Russ and his good natured mutter, Xander sighed, resting his forehead against Spike's, but frowning when he saw the expression on Spike's face. "What's wrong?"

"Who's the weedy git that announced me?" Spike asked, anger seething just below the surface. The hawk-faced bastard who'd given him the evil eye outside, and who'd just had the nerve to make a comment about mine mine mine Xander. A derogatory, nasty comment. One Spike wasn't prepared to let go.

One by one, the muscles beneath Xander's hands were tightening, a tension thrumming through Spike that made his heart trip with a surge of - not fear precisely - but worry. "That's Dave," Xander said, hand creeping down to the back of Spike's neck, kneading there. "He's my lead surveyor. He can be kind of a jerk sometimes, but he's good at what -"

"He'd better watch what comes out of his mouth, if he knows what's good for him," Spike grated, resisting the coaxing touch of Xander's hand. "Fuckin' gobshite."

Xander shifted his grasp, scratching through the short hairs at the nape of Spike's neck, licking his lips. "Do you know anything about surveying, Spike?"

"I know fuck-all, love." Spike said, relaxing just a little.

"Then please don't kill him." Xander sighed, sliding his hand up until it cupped Spike's skull, holding him still. "Although, and I so shouldn't admit this, the thought that you want to is kind of hot."

Spike grinned and jerked Xander close for a hard, possessive kiss, hoping he wasn't hurting him.

"That's my boy," he crooned, when he reluctantly let Xander up for air.

"Ahh...so...did you develop a fetish for office sex at Wolfram and Hart?" Xander was grinning, he could feel it stretching his face as he looked up at Spike, only breathing a little harder than he should. "Or did you actually bring me lunch? Not," he said, tightening his arms on Spike, "that that was an invitation for you to stop what you were doing."

"Yeah, the idea of Angelus walkin' in at any minute and catchin' me and Wes shaggin' like rabbits got me hot every time," Spike deadpanned, inwardly cringing at the thought. God only knows how long he'd have had to hear about that, if Angel had ever actually caught them. He settled himself a little closer and got his hands under the edge of Xander's t-shirt - ran them slowly, slowly up the warm, solid muscle there.

"And yeah, I did bring you lunch. And something nice for afters. Have to earn it, though."

Xander sucked in his stomach at Spike's cool touch, shivering a little and slouching in his chair to bring them closer together, wanting to touch and worming his hand into the back of Spike's jeans with a muttered curse for the inventor of tight denim. "What'd you have in mind?"

"I had you in mind, pet... Naked, hard..." Spike dipped down kiss him; nibbling little kisses all along his jaw. "Sliding into me sooo...slow..." Spike flexed his hips, pressing hardness to hardness and savoring the scent of musky arousal that thickened in the air between them. Xander's heartbeat was speeding up - his skin was warming with blood and Spike closed his eyes and let himself drown in it - in scent and touch and taste, in the quivering tautness of muscles aching to move and take and be taken.

Spike's muscles, flexing beneath his hands still trembled as they had when he was sick, but now it was with the effort of holding back, and god that got to Xander every time - that much power, waiting for him.

Xander closed his eye, mouthing over the cool silkiness of Spike's shirt. "How slow? Cause lunch hour? Gonna end eventually, but I could lock Russ out. Lay you out on my desk while I take calls." Spike's chest hitched beneath Xander's cheek with an involuntary breath. "Strip you out of these tight fucking jeans." Xander's fingers wriggled between denim and skin, working their way over the hard curve and stretch of muscle to stroke between, eye closed with concentration. "Really...take my time." He lifted his eye to see Spike's wide and dilated, and doubted either of them would be lasting to the end of lunch hour.

"Yess..." Spike hitched his shoulders enough to shrug his coat off and onto the desk - reached down and tugged at Xander's shirt until he leaned up and Spike could lift it up and off. "Want that, Xan...want you to take hours..." He slithered out of Xander's lap and knelt between spread thighs, up on his knees so he could taste the sweat-damp skin of chest and belly. Xander's fingers in his hair, tugging and combing and pushing and he popped the button on Xander's jeans open, slipping his fingertips inside.

Like electric shocks, the touch of Spike's fingers inside Xander's jeans, the wrongness of this going on at - Work, work, oh fuck! I'm the guy who gets laid on his lunch hour because he's the one with a door. He dropped his head back, chuckling as the blue-black tips of Spike's hair tickled at his palms.

"What?" Spike's fingers stilled all but for his forefinger which rubbed up, down, in a way that made it hard for Xander to think.

"Just - just hoping Russ doesn't need any more batteries." Which really summed it up. Xander let his head roll forward, lacing his fingers through Spike's hair, and tucking his thumbs into the sharp curves of Spike's cheekbones, watching his smirk reflected on Spike's lips, then shivering as Spike opened his jaw, tongue sliding along the length of Xander's thumb from within his mouth, a smooth caress of skin that made him shiver. "Door," he said, scratching his nails against Spike's scalp, and enjoying the push of Spike's skull back into his hands.

"Door?" Spike asked, raising an eyebrow. He glanced back at it - did a slow push up to his feet and sauntered over. "This door? Want me to lock it?" Xander's eye followed Spike's hand as it caressed down the painted aluminum and cupped the cheap brass-look knob.

"Uuhhh," Xander mumbled, and Spike flipped the thumb-latch.

"Now...locked in...whatever shall I do?" Spike stopped in front of the couch and lifted one leg and then the other, undoing the buckles on his boots and slipping them off - tossing them aside. No socks, deliberately. He shrugged the silk shirt off, tossing it to the couch, then peeled the wife-beater off as well, slow. He undid the first button on his jeans and stopped. Stood there, hipshot, one hand stroking slowly down his own chest, the other slipping into the waist of his jeans. "Gonna come over here and...make me wait a little more, Xanderrr...?" he purred, and watched Xander's eye darken with lust.

It had to be something about Spike that made Xander's muscles loosen like they'd been oiled, made him want to prowl over there and -

"Maybe I want to make you wait from over here." Xander licked his lips, wondering when they'd gotten so dry, and pushed his chair back over the tile floor to let Spike see, the air cool enough against his exposed cock to make him twitch. He rubbed his palms over the arms of his chair, remembering the hard roughness of Spike's denim-clad thighs, digging his fingers into the wood in an effort not to touch. "Gonna - take a lot to get me to move over there." Or about two more seconds of Spike's hand doing - oh god, that looks good.

"Yeah? Think I'm up to it, pet..." Spike let both hands slide up his ribs - let his fingers stroke over his nipples, let his breath shorten to breathy pants. Slid his palms down, slow, and popped another button on his jeans. His cock was flat against his belly, the first two inches showing between the black denim and he got his thumbs under himself and pushed forward, straining the remaining buttons, rubbing his fingers up and down the exposed bit of shaft.

"Jesus." Xander tightened his hands on the chair until he was surprised the arms didn't crack. "Want that," he ground out, giving in and sliding one hand into his lap, grinding the heel against the aching base of his cock. "On my desk, spread out like Christmas morning. God, you're edible." His legs shook as he toed off one sock and shoe, then the other, keeping his eye on Spike's fingers - up, down. Coppery and musky, he could taste sex on the air with every breath. Oh fuck, Russ and Carl are gonna - oh yeah. Cheer me on. Xander drew a sharp breath, feeling the smile stretch his lips. "Take 'em off."

Oh...god... Spike couldn't stop the moan that rose from his throat - couldn't keep his eyes open as the delicious sweet-salt musk of Xander's arousal rolled over him. He took a long breath and lowered his head - opened his eyes and looked up at Xander through half-closed lids while he worked the buttons of his jeans open. Xander was sprawled out in his chair, a small, fucking sexy smile curling up the corner of his mouth. His hand was slowly rubbing up and down the length of his own erection, and Spike deliberately dropped his gaze to it - licked his lips. Xander shuddered and Spike looked up at him again. Slowly pushed the jeans down and kicked them away.

"What next, Xan? What do you want me to do next..."

"Watch," Xander said, the word rough in a dry throat. His hands shook, one part of his brain still babbling about office and work and naked before the rest got it in a strangle hold and wrestled it to the floor. Xander gave his jeans a push as he stood, and stepped out of them. "Only watch." Because if I don't get a taste, I am going to go fucking insane Xander slipped his boxers down, leaving them where they fell, the cold tile floor of the converted camper uncomfortably gritty against his toes. And then his knees as he slid to them before Spike, turning his face up to him, heart pounding. "Keep watching."

"Think - think you've got this backwards," Spike mumbled, shaking with the effort not to touch.

"Watching," Xander breathed, "not talking," and slid Spike along his tongue with a shudder; salt and musk, and something like cloves, and good and Xander let Spike go with a wet sound and a moan that he wasn't entirely sure came from him. "Okay. Now, where were we?"

"We were..." Spike couldn't help reaching out and slipping his fingers into Xander's hair - couldn't help tugging him just a little closer. "Now you're gonna let me climb on top of you and take you in, love... Gonna let me ride you so...very...slow..." Xander's eye was fluttering, open and shut and open again and Spike's knees felt fluttery - his belly did. The heat from Xander's body was like a feather-light caress and he wanted it in - wanted it burning him from the inside. He tugged up, making Xander stand - rubbing all along that heat. "C'mon, Xan...want you, love..."

Xander stopped Spike's words with lips and tongue, wondering how a body so much cooler could make him burn. Tugging blindly back toward the couch and banging into it, grimacing as bony knees clashed. He was forced to pull back from Spike's lips, panting and sitting hard on the couch cushions.

"Y-yes. That's a yes," because misunderstandings were so not in the cards just then. He curled his fingers around Spike's hips - curled and uncurled and leaned forward, rubbing against Spike's cock like a cat until even he could smell Spike on him. "And a 'right now, please'."

"God yes," Spike whispered, shivering as the silky strands of Xander's hair slipped over him - as the rough-smooth of Xander's cheek and barely-there beard made his already-sensitive skin tingle. His want - his desire for Xander was pouring through him in waves of static-spark heat and he was ready - more than ready, to feel Xander push into him and fill him. He eased his knees down on either side of Xander's, onto the rough, cheap fabric of the couch and inched forward, pushing Xander back as he went.

"Ready for you, love..."

God, so close. Xander dropped his head back to the couch, shivering as Spike nibbled a path down his throat. "Oh fuck." Xander's hands clenched, his entire body shuddering with right now need. "Lube - lube, please say you brought -"

Spike's tongue curled behind his teeth with a hiss as he sank down, slick and tight and savoring Xander's wide eyed disbelief.

"Yeah. Brought lube."

"God!"

Spike laughed softly but his breath caught as he sank lower, Xander fully inside and radiating heat, pulsing in time with the heartbeat under his hand. Xander's chest was hitching under his palms, his breath sweet and warm on Spike's mouth as he moved in for a long, probing kiss. Xander's hips were moving under him; lift and slide and push and Spike groaned, pulling slowly away - arching back and lifting up, dropping down, back curving as he positioned himself for fullest penetration.

"Want you - like this in a kilt," Xander panted, Spike's skin slick and smooth, cool beneath Xander's palms as he swept them up over Spike's ribs, thumbs finding and rubbing over darkened nipples. A droplet of sweat trickled over Spike's collarbone, and Xander lunged forward, catching it on his lips, sucking, biting at the salted skin beneath with a groan, the rest of his thoughts on the subject skittering away beneath the taste of salt and lemons and spice.

"Kilt? Xan..." Spike rose and fell, rose and fell - keeping it slow but pushing on the downstroke. Loving the burning stretch, the pressure and the shivery little tingle, like nails down his back, every time the broad head of Xander's cock hit right there. God...so fuckin' good...want this always, always... Xaaan..." Spike fisted a handful of hair and pulled Xander's head up, tasting himself on Xander's lips, inhaling the spice and musk and sweet of Xander's skin.

"Ahhh?" Xander asked vaguely, eye unfocused, tongue seeking more of that taste on Spike's lips, Spike's skin.

"Kilt," Spike said again, giving Xander's hair an affectionate tug until Xander actually looked at him, then twisting his hips as he sank, holding very still.

"K-kilt." Xander panted, trying to get Spike to move, but a vampire could make himself very, very heavy when he wanted to. "Want you in a kilt. Slick and ready," he managed, "like this." Xander's fingers crept down, rubbing over the skin stretched so tight around him, shivering. "Take you a-anywhere. Anytime."

"Fuck," Spike whispered, and squirmed back into Xander's touch - moved his hips in a fluid circle, again and again, clenching down hard. Xander was panting, his other hand on Spike's hip, grasping hard enough to bruise. "Want to... All bare, ready for you...just push me over, fuck me, when...whenever you like, Xan, yes-"

Too fucking much. Xander arched back, fingers spasming into Spike's flesh, the image enough to push him hard and fast and far and - "God!" He closed his hand around Spike's cock, fingers finding Spike's already there, clasping, catching Spike's lips with a groan and clash of teeth against lips and tongue tangling tongue and want that left Xander breathless.

Fingers slipping, grasping, dragging over him and Xander's mouth on his with a desperate greed and Spike rose up and pounded down, again and again, shuddering at the sudden rush of liquid heat that he could feel inside. Xander was shivering and bucking and groaning under him, hot breath in his mouth, nails in his thigh and Spike curved over Xander, his body jerking in rough spasms. He gasped and twisted and pushed his face into Xander's neck, his teeth worrying the wet, hot skin and their hands slicking as he came.

Xander shuddered at the feeling of Spike's teeth on his neck, spent cock twitching gamely at the dull prickle. At Xander's sharp inhalation, Spike began to pull away but Xander's hand flew up, catching the mussed white and black whorls of Spike's hair and drawing him back down with a shaky hand, heart pounding in an echo that he could feel inside Spike's body. "Come on." Whispered.

'Come on...', and Spike froze. For one moment just froze, a dozen thoughts tumbling through his head. But instinct, desire - want - drove him. Want, and need, to take in more of this man - to have him - to have some part of him forever in himself. The demon rose eagerly, and Spike licked the sweetly salty flesh and then, delicately, bit.

A shiver ran through Xander at the first sharp prick of fangs, the fingers clenching in Spike's hair shaking too as icy pain blossomed into spreading, seeping heat that made him moan and clutch Spike closer. "God"

Xander was still inside, still half-hard and Spike pressed down, pressed closer; wound his arms around Xander's shoulders and held him tight. Oh, god, oh...yessss... Xander was honey and iron and rich red earth - as layered as old wine and as heady. Oh, fuck, has to be a next time, want it again, again...

Xander arched his head back; wanted to howl, wanted to snarl the intensity of it, hissing air in through his teeth and clutching Spike hard to his body, thrusting up into that clutching slickness with a growl both possessive and possessed and needing, feeling his ribs shudder with the pounding of his heart. "Fuck, yes!"

Spike couldn't help it - he bit harder - deeper - not so much drawing more blood as intensifying what he was doing and knowing that Xander wanted it. The clutch of Xander's arms around him was frantic and demanding and Spike burrowed closer, thrusting a hardening cock into Xander's belly and feeling his own body stretch again as Xander firmed and lengthened inside him. He realized he was growling around the mouthful of succulent flesh in his teeth, but he didn't care.

The hot and pain and pulling flared with Spike's bite and Xander arched, shaking with an orgasm that ripped through his veins, driving deep and rough into Spike's body, only distantly feeling the strangely cool splash and seep of Spike's fluids over chest and belly. He sank back into the scratchy cushions with a moan borne on the soft pulses of aftershock; echoes of Spike's suckling at his throat that made him pull Spike closer, fierce possession turning to protection, ache, need for contact. "Sweetheart..." Love, love...

Spike was trembling - fizzing aftershocks all through him as he stiffly unlocked his jaws and pulled away, licking the welling drops of blood from the bite. Can't...take too much...never hurt him...god, god that was...was... He caught Xander's face in his hands and kissed him, 'Sweetheart' in his ears, something hot and fierce and Mine, mine, want him! surging up from the demon.

Spike tasted of old pennies and new iron, and Xander sighed into the kiss, unkinking his fingers from Spike's hair to rub and stroke shakily over his head. Because it was good and his throat ached and tingled around the wound and made him feel light headed and cold now in the little trailer, naked and sticky, and clinging to Spike, and he didn't care.

He lifted his head, eye tracking over the mussed spikes of hair, and the swell and bruise of Spike's lips, almost as telling as the streaks and swirls of come on his stomach. "You look so well-fucked." His voice came out hoarse as if he'd been yelling, and he smoothed his hand through the stickiness over Spike's belly, sweeping circles and arcs.

"I am, love." Spike was all but purring - the demon was sated and content, wanting to lie down and sleep - curl around its human, reinforce its claim. Spike - wished they could. A post-fuck nap usually led to sleepy, half-awake post-nap fucking that could grow into a lovely, lazy cycle that lasted all weekend. But it's Thursday and he's working... Wonder if the food's still warm? Spike leaned down and kissed Xander, slow sweep of his tongue and gentle pressure.

"Let's get clean and get you some food, yeah?" Spike slid off of Xander's lap reluctantly, stroking a hand over Xander's face that he leaned into, lips pressing into Spike's palm with a little laugh.

"God. Sex and food? I think I love you." Xander pushed himself up from the couch, staggered, and flopped back down, head spinning. It seemed like a really good idea to close his eye until the room stopped tilting around him, too. Okay, not trying that again so soon.

"You all right, pet?" Spike asked, 'think I love you' in his head, echoing. Didn't mean it, didn't mean it, post-fuckin' brilliant shag, s'practically cliche. Spike crouched down next to Xander, hand on his knee, squeezing gently. "Need something?"

Xander leaned down, resting his forehead against Spike's, rolling it gently. "Hmm. Oxygen's good." Touch was good too and Spike felt nice under his hands, sleek and solid. A few more minutes, and he'd try standing again a bit more slowly. "What did you bring me?"

"Oh, gyros and some dolmades, salad - good stuff. You'll like it."

"Nothing weird though, right?"

"Guess that would depend on what you meant by 'weird'," Spike said, grinning, pushing a little into Xander and running both hands up his thighs. "You trust me, don't you, pet?"

"Yeah," Xander said, his voice coming out more seriously than he intended, and he slid his hands from Spike's wrists up to his biceps, then to frame his jaw, thumbs meeting beneath Spike's lower lip. There was supposed to be more after that - a quip, a light put-down, but nothing followed.

Spike didn't know what to say to that - felt something warm and sweetly sharp in his chest at Xander's steady gaze and tender touch.

"That's good, then," he murmured finally. He pushed himself slowly upright and held out his hand, smiling when Xander took it. "Slow, now, and let's get this mess off of us before it turns to glue."

Xander stumbled, leaning against Spike, and taking a deep breath of musky sweet salty with that copper tang, and groaned. "Right." He shivered, wishing there was a blanket in the trailer too, but not about to go ask the on-site medical team for one. "Here. We've got about five minutes of hot water once it heats up." He cranked the faucet on high and leaned his hip on the counter, dragging a hand through his hair, unconsciously making it stick up in a riot around his head.

Spike snorted, wanting to say something but finding the 'backwards through a hedge' look too endearing. He hoped Xander's hand hadn't been...sticky. He sidled up close to Xander and bent his head to the bite mark - licked it once, broad sweep of his tongue. Xander twitched.

"I'd lick you clean if we were home. Lick you clean and then fuck you dirty again..."

Xander's heart beat a quick heady thump against his ribs, and he reached out, gathering Spike against him, belly to belly. "If we were home, you'd be on the bed with your legs around your ears and my tongue in your ass."

Spike inhaled a sharp little gasp of pure lust, Xander's words like fingers caressing him inside and out. "God, love...you got any sick days yet? Tell 'em my lunch made you sick."

"Wouldn't I have to eat it for it to make me sick?" Xander swayed on his feet though, reaching back to clutch the counter ruefully. "Not that eating wouldn't be a good idea right now."

"Didn't take too much -?" Spike frowned, and Xander closed his eye, goosebumps rising on his flesh as Spike's fingers traced the edges of the bite.

"Which is the answer that'll get you to bite me again?"

Spike snorted. "Yeah, you're fine all right."

"I just need to eat." Xander lowered his head, resting it comfortably on Spike's shoulder. "Will it do anything? The bite?"

"It will make you my willing sex slave," Spike intoned, his best Dracula voice, and he laughed at the look of horrified speculation that crossed Xander's face - laughed again when the look changed to something altogether different and Xander put his hands on Spike's hips.

"Already your harem boy, aren't I?" he half-whispered, and Spike shivered.

"Fuck, yeah, you are..."

"Then let me take care of you." Xander stole a kiss, twisting and fetching down a hand towel, soaking it in the warm tap water and wringing it out before kneeling again and sliding the warm roughness over Spike's chest, sweeping down over his belly in slow, careful arcs, rinsing the cloth, then returning to carefully lift Spike's cock, cleaning with tender concentration and absolute focus on the slide of soft flesh cradled in his palm.

Spike leaned into the rough, warm caress of the towel, eyes half-shut, watching Xander. Seeing the concentration and affection on his face as he rubbed gently at Spike's body. Cleaning him...caring for him. Making him feel... Loved. Makes me feel loved and I don't care if it's love or not, I'll take whatever he's giving, take it all... "You look so lovely, Xan, kneeling there..." Spike breathed, and smiled when Xander looked up.

"The view's not so bad from here either." Xander's thumb brushed over Spike's tip, tracing the edge of Spike's foreskin, and god it was tempting to just lean forward, take Spike into his mouth, and -

"Gonna run out of hot water, pet."

Xander sighed reluctantly, finishing his cleaning with gentle strokes, then letting Spike pull him to his feet, leaning against the counter to wet the towel again with lukewarm water, this time, rubbing it over his chest. "I'm spending this year's Christmas bonus on the biggest water heater in the home improvement store."

"Mmm... I like that. Can never have enough hot water." Spike kissed Xander lightly - softly - then took his hand and tugged him over to his desk, snagging jeans and shirts along the way. Xander dressed slowly, still a little unsteady on his feet and Spike felt a moments concern that'd he'd taken too much blood. Dressed as well, he settled on the edge of the desk and opened the bag from Diaspora, pulling out the salad, pita, and tzatziki for starters.

"Here now - eat up. Gotta get your strength back for when you get home, pet." Spike smirked at Xander's momentary dazed look and tore off a piece of pita bread - swirled it into the dip of yogurt, cucumber and garlic. The light, fresh flavor was wonderful, and the slight burn of the garlic nothing to the Hellmouth-hot wings Willy had served.

"Christ, you're distracting." Xander muttered, snatching up a piece of pita, shrugging, and copying Spike with the tzatziki, frowning.

"Don't like it?"

"Huh?" Xander shook his head, swallowing. "It's...good. Reminded me of something."

"What's that?" Spike tore off another piece of the pita bread.

"Cordy." Xander glanced up, explaining. "She was always the dip."

Spike felt a pang at that - sighed, and poked another piece of the bread into the dip.

"Yeah. 'Bout the cheerleader... Wes - didn't tell you..." Spike looked up at Xander - at the too-familiar look of trepidation. At the rigid set of his shoulders that said he was bracing himself for something. "She died, Xan. 'Bout a year ago. She - was in a coma, for a while, an' - she died."

Xander just sat there, food in his hand and a dull look of pain in his eye and Spike hated Wes for a moment - hated them all for not calling and telling Xander what had happened - how she was. Maybe he could have said goodbye...

"Sorry, love. I'm -" Spike sighed again, feeling inadequate - feeling helpless. "Just...sorry. She was a firecracker, that girl."

Firecracker. Loud, dazzling, colorful, and gone while the after-image is still burned into the retinas.

He wanted-

Didn't want-

Xander shook his head, laying the piece of bread carefully on the desk, and then his head on Spike's thigh, needing real. Because somewhere in his mucked up mind, with a soldier and a hyena was the belief that Cordy was supposed to go on forever and be happy somewhere. Or at least longer and happier than him. She was supposed to have gotten out.

He felt Spike's hand barely settle on his shoulder and jerked upright, taking a ragged breath and stiffly picking up his bread. "Yeah, she was." And he hadn't expected to feel quite so...numb for the loss of a woman he hadn't seen in years. It was funny. He should know what to say by now. But he didn't.

"Yeah," Spike echoed. Wishing Xander had let him...give some comfort. Something. He watched Xander eat - mechanically, slowly - and squashed the anger that wanted to blossom. Anger at Angel and his pack of do-gooders, anger at Wes for not telling - anger at the mood being spoiled. Doesn't need that, now. Doesn't need you acting like a sodding girl. He poked into the bag and pulled out the caviar - scooped some up in a plastic spoon and tried it. Oil and lemon, onion and salt - heavenly. But the fun to be had teasing Xander into trying it was gone.

"Don't fret, love. Wes said... She got a chance, at the end. Came back for a day or something - said her goodbyes..." Puppet on the strings of the PTB, but he wasn't going to tell him that.

Xander looked at the last scrap of bread in his hand, and laid it on the table, resting his head in his hands with a sigh that he wished didn't shake so badly. It wasn't even as if someone should have thought to tell him. She'd known a guy in high school. A stupid, crazy teenaged guy who'd loved her, but not enough.

If he could just get the first words out, the pressure in his chest would - go away or something. Because he wasn't one of her loved ones by the end. There was no earthly reason she should think he needed her goodbye. He hadn't been her first, or her last, or even her biggest mistake, and contradictory as it was, he just wished Spike would touch him again, remind him that he was still there, whether he should be or not.

And he so shouldn't be thinking 'at least Spike's already dead' as if it was a good thing. He didn't want to be laughing. At least he hoped it was laughing. Because the sound hurt. "It's pretty fucked up, Spike." They weren't the words he'd hoped for, but they did what he needed and let him lay his head back on Spike's thigh, one arm curled loosely around his calf.

"Proper fucked," Spike agreed, and hesitantly put his hand on Xander's head - felt relief go through him as Xander shivered a little and pressed closer, his hand on Spike's ankle clutching tighter. He ran slow fingers through the sweat-damp hair - let his other hand go out to smooth down Xander's back, again and again. Letting him know he wasn't alone. Letting him know... Somebody cares.

"I want to go home." Those weren't the words that were supposed to come out, either and Xander laughed helplessly. "God, I've come in to work expecting apocalyptic things to happen, and now here I am at work when I find out my first girlfriend died almost a year ago and all I want is to go home." He swallowed, wishing his voice hadn't come out so broken.

"Then let's get you home, love." Spike slipped his hand under Xander's cheek - tugged gently until Xander turned his face up, blinking and mournful looking - shattered. Oh, love, love... I'd spare you if I could. "Call that Russ - tell him we're off." Spike hesitated a long moment, and then leaned down and gently kissed him; taste of dill and salt and cool cucumber. "Let me take care of you, pet, all right? My turn now."

Words rose again, words that Xander should have said. Words like 'I can't leave work' and 'the guys depend on me' but instead he just nodded, hitting speed dial for Russ' cell phone and laying his head back on Spike's thigh. "Russ? I've gotta take off early..."

"Everything okay with Spike?" Russ hesitated. "It sounded okay."

Xander felt a painful knot in his chest tighten, amazed that his voice sounded so much closer to normal than he felt. "Yeah, I just got some bad news. Really -" Jesus he was not going to cry on the phone with Russ, but the words were stuck again, trapped in his throat, and he scrubbed his hand over his face.

"Alex?"

Xander shuddered as Spike's fingers closed around the phone and drew it from his grip, the other cool hand settling at the nape of his neck. "Death in the family, mate. It all right if I -?"

"Oh god, yeah. Take him home. I'll take over until Carl's shift."

"Right. Thanks, mate."

"Just - take care of him, okay, Spike?" Russ' voice was full of genuine concern and Spike was glad for that even as the demon bristled in proprietary threat.

"'Course. And - don't expect him tomorrow, either." Spike hung up the phone and gave Xander's hair a gentle tug. "Let me up and we'll clear out, yeah? Let me get this mess." Xander sat up slowly and Spike made short work of the aborted meal, packing it all back up into the bag, knowing Xander hated to see food being thrown away - habit he'd picked up in Africa that lingered on. Spike swept up his duster and looked around. Xander's jacket was on the arm of the couch and he picked it up - fished the jingling keys out of the pocket.

"C'mon, love - all done here."

Xander let Spike bundle him into his jacket, then the patch, cool fingers settling it tenderly over his face and freeing his hair from the band. He simply stood still, maybe swayed a little under the touch, but he couldn't tell, and then Spike walked him to the truck, helping him into the passenger side.

He just closed his eye and let Spike drive, shivering when the rough terrain of the site gave way to paved roads; unbuckling his seatbelt and stretching across the seat, laying his head back on Spike's thigh.

And by the time they pulled into the garage, he had words, at least a few. "It's not just Cordy," he said, listening to the whine and clatter of the garage door closing behind them.

"What is it then, Xan?" Spike asked, twining his fingers in the dark hair again - looking down at the tired - too tired - face half-lit by the muted glow of the dash lights.

Xander smoothed his hand up and down Spike's thigh, tracing the curve of the muscle through denim that was only just beginning to fade from pitch black. "I think I'm buried out there, too," Xander said, and wished it made as much sense once spoken as it had inside his mind.

"Feel solid enough," Spike said, hand tracing a curl behind Xander's ear. "And believe me, I know from solid and ghostly."

"That guy Cordy knew? I'm not him anymore."

Spike's fingers moved slowly, beginning to comb through his hair. "He's not dead, pet."

"No?"

"Just grown up, maybe."

"And suddenly Peter Pan is making so much sense." The words were supposed to come out with a laugh, but all that came out was a choked breath, and the first embarrassing tears.

"Ah, love -" Spike cursed the awkwardness of the truck seats and coaxed Xander up - scooted him over and popped open the passenger door, guiding the man out - holding him against a wobble - holding him against the tears. Just too much, this. Doesn't sleep enough - always running himself into the ground - eats garbage... Spike hugged Xander close and walked him into the house, the demon restlessly checking that everything was as it should be. Spike's own influence here and there, in more gaily-colored dishes and a huge Yellow Submarine movie poster and some of the brighter pillows. Also a trail of muddy footprints across the dull-beige carpet, but that couldn't be helped. Needed to be with him, didn't I? Watched him swimming - couldn't help but want him...

Spike stopped and pulled Xander into his arms, feeling the dampness on his shirt from tears. "Want a shower, love? Or just bed?"

What Xander wanted - suddenly, desperately - was to be clean. "Hold me up in the bath? Make sure I don't drown?" The house around him was a swirl of dimmed colors with his eye half closed, but it smelled of wood smoke and tobacco, and a little bit of lemon and spice that told him Spike'd been in the bath already, but warmth and weightlessness and Spike sounded - good.

"I'll make a hedonist of you yet, love."

"I'm too tired to be a hedonist."

Spike tipped Xander's head up - carefully wiped tear tracks off his face. "I can wait, love, while you sleep yourself out." He kissed him, gently, then guided him into the bath - got that monstrously sinful - decadently wonderful - tub filling. Pouring in the bath-oil Xander liked best, making it good and hot.

Xander was weaving on his feet, his eye still suspiciously bright, and Spike made short work of his own clothes, hurling them blindly out the door in the general direction of the bedroom. Then he carefully got Xander naked, caressing every bit of newly-bared skin - feeling the tension and exhaustion almost vibrating through him.

"In we go, now," he said, stepping into the tub and holding his hand out. Xander took it, treading carefully, and they lowered themselves down. Xander settled back against Spike with a wobbly sigh and Spike wrapped his arms tight around Xander's ribs - kissed cheek and temple and the edge of the empty socket and then rested his cheek on Xander's hair.

"I've got you now, love. Won't let you go. Just let go, pet, and trust me..." he murmured.

Xander let the heat seep into his skin, into his bones; all but where Spike's cooler skin touched him, held him just tight enough that Xander couldn't forget he was there. He wrapped his arms over Spike's, too tired for anything but honesty when he answered. "I do." He just hadn't expected that to be the one thing he was still certain of.

"Thank you, love," Spike whispered, and held him a little closer - closed his eyes and breathed in the scents that meant...so many things. Comfort. Home. Love. God... Fool for it, die for it...have to have it...don't care. "Shhh, shhh, shhh..." he whispered, even though Xander was silent - was breathing slower and slower, and his body going limp in Spike's arm.

Sleep, and don't dream, Xan, don't dream... "Sleep, pet. I'll be here." He didn't think Xander really heard him, but it didn't matter. That he lay in his arms and slept...was enough.


~~~~~


Cool water bubbled over Xander's hands, across his face, still rough with morning stubble, the motion doing more to wake him up than the temperature as it tickled at the edges of his eyelids and eased the ache in his socket that always seemed to follow a night of crying. This morning though, he felt mostly...numb.

Not the numb that had turned into bone-crushingly tired, but numb as if a piece of him was missing.

His breath hitched and he choked on the water; twisted off the taps and groped for a towel, scrubbing it roughly, impatiently over his skin until it tingled and his coughing stopped. And then, the lime green of the towel making his skin look sickly, he met his eye. "Harris, you look like shit."

Spike rolled - burrowed - reached for the body that went with the heady, spicy scent, but there was no body and he lifted his head with a jerk, looking for Xander. Not there, in the messy, pillow-cluttered bed, and Spike eased out of the warmth, shivering and snagging the heavy, cashmere robe that lay across the foot. Lined in silk, gods-awful expensive and it hugged him like Xander did - wrapped him in warmth and what felt very much like love. Spike stroked one hand down the deep-blue sleeve, smiling, and left the belt undone. Find him and give him a good-morning full-body kiss. Wonder if he's feeling...all right? Spike had almost forgotten about Cordelia and now he hesitated for a moment. Damn. Maybe just... No, stop it. First find him, then...

He could hear Xander - hear his heart beat, and he knew where he was. He walked slowly into the bathroom, wondering what he would find.

Xander's reflection stared back at him, seemingly content not to answer, and god, that would freak him out if one of these days it did answer and - considering all things Hellmouthy, he probably shouldn't even be thinking it, but...more and more, he didn't feel as if his reflection was his.

Or maybe if he was his, which didn't quite make sense but felt like it was moving in the right direction. At least mentally.

He dropped his eye and looked away from the mirror. Gotta just...snap out of it. Nothing's different today than it was yesterday. That thought shouldn't have hurt. Because things should be different. Xander slid his fingers over the puckered scar on his stomach, only now finding the placement oddly fitting. He wondered if Cordy's scar from her fall had ever faded.

He barely remembered getting shot now, only the pain and disappointment that he was 'gonna be fine, Harris', which only meant he'd have to go back out and do it all again. He frowned. It seemed wrong that the things that he didn't want to remember were the things that left the most visible marks.

Mostly.

Xander laid his fingers over the still-livid bite on his neck, and wondered if it would scar, too.

"Your neck sore, love?" Spike asked quietly, body not quite touching Xander. Watching Xander's face in the mirror - the tiny flinch, the confusion. Doesn't look happy... Looks... Fuck. Can't be regret. Please, love...don't.

Xander shook his head, reaching back to put a hand on Spike's hip beneath the robe, rubbing the bed-warm skin. "Tingly. Not bad," Xander said, sighing when his voice came out in a dry croak. "Do they always scar?"

Spike hesitated, and Xander could feel the uncertainty even though he couldn't see Spike in the mirror. "Sometimes. Mostly, if the human survives the bite."

Something like relief shivered through Xander, and he leaned back against Spike. "Good. Look, I'm sorry I - ruined your surprise last night."

"Oh, that's not important, pet. M'sorry you had to - find out, like that. Bloody bastards should have told you..." Spike hugged Xander a little closer, inhaling his rich, warm scent - inhaling sorrow and weariness, and it made his chest constrict. Made him hurt, and made the demon rage. Just want you to be happy, love. Haven't had a lot of that, have you? And then his brain caught up. "Good? What's that mean?"

"That I want this one. I mean, I want to remember this one." He wished he could see Spike's expression, but it was easier to say when he couldn't. Xander leaned his head back against Spike, closing his eye and feeling the burn in the bite on his neck, wrapping his arms over Spike's. "Maybe... I guess...maybe this was a long time coming, but I don't know what's happening to me."

"How d'you mean?"

Those strong arms tightened around Xander's waist, making him shiver but hold onto Spike harder before he could loosen his grip. "I don't know. But I know that the guy who signed on to be a vampire fighting hero has left the building." Xander licked his lips, looking down at the pale arms that didn't show up in the mirror. "And he never got what he wanted."

"What do you want, pet? Do you know?" Spike caressed the lean belly under his palms - nuzzled into sleep-tangled hair and then, gently, ghosted his lips over the bite. Because...Xander wanted it, and Spike...wanted him to.

Xander shivered, the barest brush of Spike's lips over the bite feathering its way in little sparks and tingles to his groin, making him suck in his breath. "He wanted to be The Guy. The - the hero of the day." Not the guy with the vampire love bite. That's me. Spike was still warm from the bed, hair soft against his hand when he reached back to cup the back of Spike's skull, and tilted his head to the side. "I - want something he was supposed to hate." You.

"That all you want though, Xan? Just... A vampire? Slayer wanted a vampire, too - didn't make her not the Slayer." He pushed back into Xander's caress, turning his head just a little. Rubbing.

Xander's fingers clenched in Spike's hair and his heart beat a painful tattoo against his chest, hearing something in that question that reminded him uncomfortably of cheerful quips about drywall and window repair. "I want you."

Spike took a deep breath, hating himself for his next question. But he had to know, because he couldn't...do that. Again. Or...anymore. Something. Couldn't give his heart to someone who wouldn't... Keep it. Keep me. "You've got me, love... I'm right here. I just... I have to know if... If you think you have to give up...anything..."

"What if it's something I want to give up?" Xander's heart gave a soft, odd flutter even as he asked, the words heavy with implications that were still too big for him to think about clearly. "Something...that doesn't belong in my life?"

"Only if..." Spike eased his hold on Xander - took him by the shoulder and turned him around, so he could see him face to face - so Xander could see him, and see the truth of what he was saying. "I wanted Dru to give up Angelus for me, and she - wouldn't. Buffy thought - " Spike grimaced, hating to bring that mess into this talk that was just them, but he had to. "She thought she'd have to give up...her friends, her - humanity - to be with me. I just - don't want you to think you have to...change, or - or be somebody else. You are different - Xander Harris circa 1999 would have died rather than...share lunch with me." Spike couldn't help but smile at that, because they'd shared so much more than lunch.

He could see a glimmer of recognition in Xander's eye, as well, and knew he was thinking about the night before. If only for a moment.

"But I won't ask you for - anything you don't want to give me, love. Promise."

Xander shook his head. "It doesn't work that way. You - ask me. You don't put up with me. I've...done being put up with."

"Never put up with you, pet, I just..." Spike shook his head - reached out and touched Xander's face - the 'bad' side, smoothing the tiny lines of the skin there. "Everything about you...is beautiful to me. I don't ever... Don't ever want you to think you have to be - anything but this. Anything else." Spike watched Xander's eye flicker over his face, not sure if he was saying what he needed to say - what Xander needed to hear. "I'll ask, love - I always did." And the answer was always no. Unspoken, but maybe not...unnoticed.

"Spike..." I never noticed Spike babbles before.

"What?" There was a wariness to Spike's expression, and a tension in his shoulders that hadn't been there before.

Xander shrugged a shoulder. "If I wasn't like this, I wouldn't have you now, but -" he took a breath, "what if it's something I want to change? What if part of me...wants to be more like you?" The last words came out in a whisper, sounding stupid as soon as they hung in the air between them, but he didn't take them back.

Be like...me? What does - For one moment Spike thought 'vampire' and his stomach twisted in something like dismay, but something like...hope, as well. Can't be what he's sayin', though. "Xan, what do you - like me how? I'm just -" Spike was helpless to finish that thought - utterly bewildered, and he had to smile a little, and let his hand slide back into Xander's hair. "Not lettin' you bleach this, pet."

Xander lowered his head to Spike's shoulder, shaking in his arms with almost silent laughter.

"What's so funny?"

"It's just - I just -" Xander shook his head, sliding a hand over the back of Spike's skull again, the crisp bleached curls crunching against his palm. "I just realized how stupid it sounds."

"How stupid what sounds?"

"Alive. I want - to be more alive." He swallowed. "Like you. And again with the irony."

"Can't be less alive than me, pet. Dead twice over, now." Spike cocked his head to one side, looking at Xander quizzically. "What's going on in the brain of yours? Twisty as a snake's back."

"I said it was irony. I don't know - I just - when I was in Africa, everything seemed so big, and I felt so small. But here, everything feels so small. Too small. But when we're in here, just us, or in the Nest, or fuck, even in the Jacuzzi, everything's the right size, and you may now point out how incredibly dirty that sounds-" Xander dragged in a deep breath as he felt his lungs straining for air, and released it in a sigh. "And that's what I'm thinking. Um. Except for the alive thing which still sounds stupid, but I'm not taking it back."

Spike let his hand slip down to Xander's shoulder - let his other hand slide around Xander's waist. "Nothin' to take back, pet. I - get it, I think. You...trust me and... I make you feel -" Spike stopped and shook his head. Don't know how you feel, really...not about...everything.

"I'm half-asleep still, Xan, I don't want to - say the wrong thing..."

"Spike?"

"Yeah, pet?"

"I don't know if you've noticed this, but..." Xander tilted Spike's face up to look at him seriously. "I'm not a girl."

Spike snorted. "Hard not to notice that."

"I mean, there's no right or wrong thing. I'm not gonna play word games with you." Xander bit his lip, watched his thumb slide over the ridge of Spike's cheekbone, feeling the ache in his belly that still hadn't gone away soothed by the warmth in his chest when he touched Spike. Held - oh, okay, was held by Spike. "You make me feel alive."

Which was only part of it, but the only part Xander had words for, because the usual words...were so cheap. Please, please get this, Spike.

Spike tipped his head into Xander's caress - stood there, for a long moment, just meeting Xander's gaze and feeling - what Xander was saying. And what he wasn't saying. Letting his fingers do slow circles in the small of Xander's back. And Spike couldn't stop the affectionate - loving - smile that slowly curled his mouth up - that made Xander's eye sparkle back at him. Alive. If only you knew, love. I'm only alive when I...have someone to be alive for and god...you make me want to do - so much...be so much. Make me...

"Happy. That makes me...happy, love," Spike murmured, and he leaned forward and kissed Xander lightly, just a taste. Cool skin and hint of tap-water and Xander-sweetness that never faded.

"But...something's not quite right, yeah? Something's bothering you, pet."

"You're right," Xander said, quietly but needing Spike to know that - feel that before they went on. He slipped his hands around Spike's waist beneath the robe, turning them so that he could see himself in the mirror. "It's so weird seeing my arms, but not you or the robe. Why -" Xander shook his head, leaning gratefully into Spike when he felt his arms tighten around him. "Sorry." He licked his lips, tried again. "All my life, I've been reacting to things. Running away from or to things...adapting to what I get...and coming back to it because it's what I know. Even when it's not what I want."

Xander dropped his gaze from his missing eye and turned back to Spike, resting against him forehead to forehead, relieved when Spike just...let him think. "Before the big showdown with the First, Anya and I had a last - okay, a lot of last hoorahs."

Spike smiled at that, and Xander could feel him chuckle. "I know, pet. There were a lot of last hoorahs goin' around then. There's nothin' wrong with that on the eve of a big battle, yeah?" His thumb stroked arcs that tingled on the back of Xander's neck.

"Not...wrong, just...We were over then. Really over. Friends who have sex and can't look each other in the eye afterward over. But we kept coming back to each other because it was what we knew. Xander and Anya fuck away their troubles. Except when we couldn't." Xander closed his eye, wishing the thoughts would line up in neat order and make sense to him, and he really hoped they were making sense to Spike. "But we did. And it didn't help. And we knew it wouldn't."

"Are you tryin' to say that's why you came back to Sunnydale?"

Relief flooded Xander so quickly, so completely, that his knees shook. "Yeah. But, not why I chose you. You - okay, you're familiar, but you're not that kind of familiar, and that's - I think that's what I wanted, but didn't have the balls to take even back then..."

"You sayin'...you wanted to shag me instead of Anya before the big battle?" The note of stunned disbelief should have made Xander laugh, but it didn't.

"I'm saying I would have if I hadn't had my head so far up my ass. I just - it makes me see now..." Xander shook his head, as if that would make the swirling half-formed thoughts make sense.

"Makes you see what, pet?" Spike asked, but Xander just shook his head again, hugging him tighter, and Spike hugged back, trying to sort what he'd said into something he could react to. Or...against. Man's had things shoved down his throat all his life. Shoved in his face. Never really chose anything but he... Xander's words played back and Spike smiled suddenly. Chose me. That's what he said. Chose me... That made a bloom of heat and pleasure unfold in Spike's chest but he struggled to tamp it down, because this was about Xander now, not him. Now Xander was making his own choices - or at least wanting to, and...

"You...chose me, love and, what - that scare you? Think you made the wrong choice?"

"Fuck no!" Xander jerked upright, staring at Spike in horror, the thump of wrong that Spike came to that conclusion enough to loosen his tongue. "I made the choice. And for the first time, it feels right, and I - okay, this is going to sound stupid, but for the first time, I'm thinking that maybe I can be the kind of guy who...chooses things," he finished lamely.

Right choice, then, right, Spike thought, and the squashed the little gleeful voice because this was still about Xander, not him - about choices and Xander feeling...

"Course you can choose, pet! Choose whatever you like." Spike stroked the dark hair back and back, loving the sleep-tangled silkiness of it - the rich, dark color that was full of glints and highlights. "Choosing's easy - it's choosing right - choosing what you want, and not what's expected - that's the hard part. Xan - " Spike looked at the man, and Xander looked back, still frowning a little - hands clenched tight into the edges of Spike's robe as if he'd like to shake him. "Love, whatever you choose - I'll be right there, yeah? I'll help you if I can, and I'll - tell the world 'sod off' if nobody else likes it. Promise, love."

"I know, and that's - very disturbing on more levels than you know," Xander admitted, watching his fingers knead the rich blue of Spike's robe. "It'd be so fucking easy to just follow you, because I never thought about this shit before. People told me who I was, and I was that guy. I have been literally hand molded into -" Xander shuddered with the memory of the slow push, pushpushpressurepressurepain! of Caleb's thumb putting out his eye and held his breath until he was dizzy, letting it out in a rush. "I want to look into the mirror and see the guy I made."

Spike held Xander against the sudden shudder that wracked him - the burst of fear-scent that made him pretty sure Xander was remembering Caleb and his miserable fucking hands, rending and tearing but not destroying - not ending. Spike took Xander's shoulders in his hands and made him turn - made him look in the mirror.

"There you are, love. There's you. Fuckin' gorgeous. Fighter. The heart of a lion and the face of an angel, Xander - that's you." Xander was shaking his head again and Spike slipped his arms around him and hugged him hard - physically reminding him he had back-up. That he had - someone.

"What do you want to see, love? Wanna bleach this lovely head of hair? Wanna - get a fake eye? A fancier patch?" Shake, shake, but a small smile, and Spike kissed the side of his neck - let the tip of his tongue just ghost over the bite-mark there just above the leather thong, and the shake turned to a shudder. Spike grinned, then lost it at a sudden and sobering thought. "Wanna come see...my side of things, love? Live the demon life for a while?" And that gave Spike shivers, because he'd offered that to Buffy, once upon a time, and it had made her go just that much faster...

An ache radiated from the bite, like the ache Xander got when he was desperate to be fucked and he groaned, catching the back of Spike's skull gently, holding him there. "Um. Little Xander says 'yes', but he really likes to get me in trouble." Xander flexed his fingers in Spike's hair, pressing into the warmth of the open robe, silk and cashmere and God, it would be so fucking easy...

"No good if the rest of you don't want it." Spike's voice was distant, dull, and Xander rubbed a hand over his arm, hating that tone.

"The rest of me...is really tempted." Xander pressed his cheek hard against Spike's hair, and wrapped his arm over Spike's, fingers lacing with fingers, gripping. "But god, I can't just - abandon the guys, I - fuck, sweetheart." He laughed quietly, but there wasn't much amusement in it. "And Choices Guy lasted all of five minutes. It's a new Harris world record." And that shouldn't be so depressing.

"And that's you, love, nobody else," Spike said, leaden disappointment sinking down in his belly. But it was true - the White Knight complex that had sent Xander running after Buffy and that had stared Angelus down was the inner core of Damascus steel in this otherwise unremarkable human. The heart, in more ways than he knows. In all the ways that count. Didn't learn that from that miserable excuse for a father. "You're always too good to everybody around you, love..." He put his mouth back over the bite-mark and let his tongue-tip just flutter there. Xander shivered in his arms and Spike watched his eyelid dip and almost go shut - watched his head loll back against Spike's invisible shoulder. "Know you can't leave your mates hangin'..."

Spike freed a hand to trace the line of Xander's throat - skate over his collarbones and the dark brown of the leather thong.

"Look so pretty with a tattoo here. You know? Collar made out of ink..." Spike murmured, Xander's body pressing into his making his sleep-dazed body respond, tingling rush of blood to his cock.

"Collar?" A subtle tension flooded Xander's body, easing under Spike's lips against his throat.

"Not that kind, love. Somethin'...decorative, yeah? Somethin' you choose." Spike's fingers traced back and forth, a subtle heat, and Xander leaned back into the growing hardness behind him, shivering. "Reminds you whenever you look into the mirror. That you're Choices Guy, choosin' to stick around so his mates won't suffer."

Xander reached up to touch the unmarked skin over his collarbones, eye flickering over the scars that were visible in the mirror, then lingering on his empty socket, all of the marks he didn't choose, that shaped him, that defined him... He nodded once, relieved that it felt as certain as the decision to take Spike home. "I want that."

"Yeah?" Spike felt himself bounce ever so slightly at that - turned it into a little hip-shimmy, instead. Xander smelled deliciously of sleepy sex and awakening arousal and salty-sweet-spicy and fuck, want to taste him all over - lick him all over, just...want him... "That'd be fuckin' hot, pet...that'd be..." He let his hands drift, up to a nipple, down to dense, curling hair and basked in the increased heat and the rising heartbeat - the little shift in breathing. So beautiful...sweet... "Xan...derrr...", he crooned, and bent his mouth to the mark again.

"Want this too," Xander whispered, feeling like his whole body was responding to Spike's lips on his throat, and the silk-over-steel hardness pressing against him that made him want to grip the counter, arch his back, and beg. And why the fuck not? Maybe Choices Guy wants howevermanyinches of vampire cock up his - Xander let out a deep, soul-jarring moan, and pressed back against Spike.

"What's going through your pretty head, pet?" Restless shifting, and a voice with just enough predatory growl to make Xander's legs spread and spine tingle.

Xander clenched his fingers on Spike's wrist until the bones ground together, and tilted his head back to encourage Spike at his throat. "I'm thinking I wanna feel your fangs slide into me the way your cock does; fill me up and drain me down till there's nothing but you in me and me in you and I can't think anymore for - god - just for a little while." He turned his head, lips brushing over Spike's hair. "Please?"

Spike knew that he hurt Xander, but he couldn't help it - his fingers curled down hard into the dense muscle of Xander's thigh, and his ribs - he jerked Xander back so sharply against his chest he heard the man's breath oof out of him.

Offering me - bloody hell, giving me - His cock ached, he wanted what Xander was offering so bad. He ground against hot, taut flesh and pushed his face into Xander's neck - sucked at the bite mark hard enough to bruise, and Xander made a groaning, needy sound down in his chest - more animal than human and Spike bit, and it was absolute ecstasy.





Square Nine

>Xander kept his eye closed against the rush of rapidly cooling October wind buffeting him, chilling him, vibrating his skin at speeds that shouldn't excite him as much as they did. He mouthed the tempting expanse of Spike's neck between hair and collar, chasing down the muted flavor that still lingered - more strongly in the crevices of his mouth, between his teeth, at the back of his throat. Made him feel like he had sparklers going off inside; a collection of fizzing fuses laid out from the bite on his neck to his groin and lit with that first, fiery sip of -

God. Blood. Spike's blood. Barely feel the cold with it burning through me. Couldn't believe it was still Friday. God, felt like days since that blood first slid over his tongue like a heartbeat - not hours, and he felt good.

He bit, not quite hard enough to break Spike's skin, and felt the bike swerve - Spike shudder - and chuckled, nuzzling into the marks he left behind with something almost like a drugged euphoria, the high of almost getting bit by something nasty without the nasty and without the almost, and Jesus, I know how people get addicted to this now. So fucking hopped up. And best of all, didn't have to think like this, didn't have to feel anything but the wind, the bike, and Spike's hard body.

Except that it wasn't the bite, even though that was fucking fantastic, the good hurt of it and the fuzzy warmth that felt like he was melting into Spike and the only solid thing left in him had been Spike's cock.

And it wasn't just the drinking of the blood, though that...

Xander groaned, rubbing his face into the leather of Spike's jacket collar, shivering as he felt strong fingers squeeze his thigh, rub back and forth along his jeans until he rocked up against Spike on the seat, dragging a shaking hand down to cup Spike, just rub and hold, because why not? Wondering if that shudder was him or Spike and if he should stop before they ran off the road.

With effort, Xander dragged his thoughts into slightly safer territory. Spike. Blood. Biting. Good biting. Why good?

Because it was like sex that lasted - went on and on in that good non-thinky way. Only when the orgasm stopped, that nothing-else-matters high kept going. Him in Spike, Spike in him, and that was what made it feel so good even when he felt like a shaken bottle of champagne that was ready to pop after the second time in one day. And he did stupid things, then, like getting on the motorcycle behind Spike and wanting to throw his head back and yell into the wind when he cranked it up to a hundred on the mountain highway.

He didn't know, didn't care where they were except that it wasn't Sunnydale and wasn't L.A., and it wasn't some dusty crater in the earth. Instead, desert and low scrub flew by to either side of the highway and Spike leaned demon-faced and grinning into the wind, eyes hidden behind a pair of fucking expensive sunglasses that were probably stolen, but Xander didn't care about that either.

How can you spot the happy vampire biker? By the bugs in his fangs!

Xander muffled a mental giggle before it could become an out-loud giggle and licked up the nape of Spike's neck again with a growl; salt and copper, mountain fog and desert dust chased each other across his tongue.

They'd turned away from the coast as they roared through Santa Maria, and Spike hadn't said where they were going for his tattoo, and Xander hadn't asked. All Spike had said was: "Right. I know a fella - well, I know a demon - got a shop - that's where you wanna go, pet. Not some ex-con scratcher with Hepatitis on every needle an' a meth lab in the back. Gonna do this, gotta do it right. Gonna take care of you, love."

And it'd been the roar of wind and the big black motorcycle that screamed demonic owner - and probably demonic builder too - ever since.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander was like a squirmy, grabby blanket draped over him and around him and Spike couldn't help the idiot grin of pure pleasure that stretched his mouth wide. Xander's teeth on his neck made his eyes roll back briefly and the bike swerved a bit, and he wanted to pull over right there - lay Xander out and lick him up one side and down the other - make him howl like a coyote to the high desert moon.

God, how he looked...under me, legs wide...begging for it - Jesus, wanna see that again...see that every day... The sense-memory of Xander's body clenching down around him made him shiver in delight and Xander's hand - coming around to cup his aching groin - made him moan into the wind. Be lucky if we get there in one piece! The steady, roaring thrum of the bike between his thighs was like a heartbeat, and Spike's whole body pulsed to it.

But they would make it, because Spike was oddly - thrilled at Xander's plan. Thrilled at the thought of him taking this step into...something new. Into change. Brave, he is. Trusting me... Never hurt him. That was the best thing - the most amazing thing. The trust that Xander had. Trust in every line of him - in every touch. Trust in the way he held onto Spike and kissed his neck and put his life into Spike's hands without a second thought. And that was the ultimate turn-on. Even though Spike knew some of this was the manic high that vampire blood caused in humans. He'd seen it once or twice - Dru had liked to do that, to make the most uptight of prey wide-open to her particular brand of fun.

Up ahead, Spike could see the halogen-glare of floods around a truck-stop parking lot and he turned his head enough to shout back to Xander.

"Wanna stop, Xan?"

"Yeah!" Xander yelled back, fingers sneaking into the top of Spike's jeans, and Spike grinned and gunned the bike, making Xander yelp and grab on hard. Spike laughed aloud.

When they reached the gas pumps, Xander slid off the bike with a hiss of sore muscles, jerking off the dark blue bandanna he'd tied over his socket and jamming it in his pocket. The patch hadn't been up to the pressure of the wind on the bike, and the more fragile skin had to be protected. He left the patch in his back pocket, stalking off to the main building - hair wild, head down - and Spike grinned after him, topping up the bike's tank.

Done, he sauntered inside for a bottle of something cold to get the dust out of their mouths. He ignored the giggling clutch of high-school girls by the soda coolers and paid the grandma at the register with a wink. Xander was at the door as he turned and he couldn't help it - he grabbed him close and kissed him hard, and the demon wanted to roar aloud in triumph as Xander just grabbed back, thigh between Spike's and - when he finally pulled back for air - a dazed, feral grin on his face. The high-schoolers were whispering now and Spike lifted a mocking eyebrow in their direction and tugged Xander out. He'd coasted the bike over to one side of the building where a couple of splintery picnic tables were standing.

"Come have a drink, pet?" he asked, holding up the soda and Xander hopped up on the table next to him.

"Fuck, yes! I think I swallowed a bug." Xander tipped his head back, gulping cold Coke, a sticky sweet line escaping his lips to trickle down his throat and Spike leaned in to lick it away, staying to lay a feathery kiss there, close to the bite.

God, he smells so good...

Xander sighed in pure pleasure, legs still rubbery and loose from the wind and vibration of the bike - from fucking and being fucked - aching in just the right places to throb a nice counterpoint to Spike's kiss. "Christ, Spike. This stuff is making me want to do crazy shit."

"Still?" Spike hovered between amusement, lust, and concern, nuzzling his jaw.

"Oh hell yeah." Xander slid an arm around Spike's back, cool leather and cooler vampire beneath, but he could feel the wiry hardness of muscle there too, and a wave of wanttakehavenow washed through him. "Wanted to make you pull off in the mountains, fuck me again over the seat of the bike in all that fog..."

"Should have said," Spike grumbled, nipping at Xander's jaw and the strong column of his throat, easing his fingers up under Xander's layers - old leather jacket and flannel and tee. Running his fingertips up the ridge of Xander's spine and letting his left hand slip between denimed thighs, coaxing and stroking and creeping higher. "Would have been more than happy, Xan, to oblige..." Spike cupped his hand over Xander's groin, kneading the hardness there - let his other hand slide back down and dip into the waist of his jeans. He sucked Xander's earlobe into his mouth for a moment, then whispered: "Would have loved to have slid these down, pet, nice and slow... Bet you're still wet from before - bet you're still so open..." Xander's breath hitched, and Spike glanced up to see his eye was closed, lips parted, and he could barely make out Xander's tongue sliding against his teeth in the diffused glare of the truck stop's lights. "Would've been nothin' to push right into you...fuck you hard, bent over all that leather and iron..."

Xander hitched forward on the table at the feel of Spike's fingers creeping down, down, so close to back inside of him and he groaned - growled. "How much," he asked in the lowest voice he could manage, "do you think we can get away with in plain sight?" It was too late at night for any families passing through, and god damn it, Spike could take any trucker alive who got in his way. A pulse of lust swept through him at the thought.

"What've you got in that pretty head of yours, pet?"

Xander licked his lips - slid a leg over Spike's thighs and knelt on the table, knees to either side of his hips, and that chill hand still tight against him under his jeans. He shuddered violently as Spike's fingers slid lower, then dipped in, cool and hard, breaching the clutching flesh. "Fuck. Something a lot like this."

"Would you, Xander? Let me?" Spike burrowed further - deeper - pushing with two fingers into the hot, slick vise of that hidden muscle and Xander shivered, forearms on Spike's shoulders and hands locked together, knuckles grazing the back of his head. "Let me split these jeans open and just pull you right down on me - right here with the cars and the punters...?" The chill night air was full of the scents of sage and greasewood and petrol and dust, but thick and heady and right there was the musky arousal - the sweet-spicy scent of Xander's want. Spike growled low and caught Xander's mouth in a hard kiss, crooking his fingers deeper into grasping heat and fisting a handful of knotted hair. The blood, he knew - the mostly-magic blood that animated him and healed him and kept him as he was was roaring through Xander's sensitive human body - was flattening his inhibitions and teasing out endorphins and in general acting like a great big wallop of cocaine. And the comin' down's gonna be hard, too. But he needs this. Needs a few hours to just...feel good. Deal with the fallout later. What the fallout was like, exactly, Spike didn't know. He only had Dru's stories to go by. But it couldn't be too bad, really - Xander had barely had a cupful - probably less.

The kiss hurt, and bruised in the way that sent bolts of pure lust down Xander's spine. He shoved back onto Spike's fingers with a growl of his own, feral and low, teeth and tongue marking Spike's lips - leaving them gleaming and swollen when he pulled back to pant for breath, arching his back to feel the intrusion of those two slim digits. He clutched at the back of Spike's hair, forehead to forehead, feeling the crazy gleam in his eye. "Let you? Gonna rip them off myself and jerk myself dry right here if you don't. Want you in me till I can feel you all the way up in my throat."

Spike snarled - he knew he did - he felt the demon surge up and out and he snaked his head forward and got a mouthful of hot, salty flesh, Xander's heartbeat fluttering wildly against his tongue. He held on without actually breaking the skin as he ripped his hand free of Xander's hair and slid it down leather to denim. The seam of the jeans shredded and then parted under his nails and he cupped the tensing flesh beneath, driving his fingers in deeper and pulling Xander open, feeling Xander's hands fumbling urgently at his own belt and buttons.

Xander was panting - shaking - and Spike got a handful of flexing muscle and pulled him up - let go of his throat long enough to mumble 'hang on' and then was slamming in - back in - hot and still slick and fucking perfect, perfect.

It was as if Spike's cock had slammed all the air out of him with that hard, solid goodgoodgood - oh fucking god! Behind them, one of the semis rumbled to life and Xander shuddered, eye opening wide to the night; the highway, the smell of fumes and food, the distant squawk and chatter of a CB radio, and Jesus Christ the world hadn't ended.

He looked at Spike in something that might have been wonder, might have been mindless fuckin' lust, drawing up, savoring the slickly textured slide until Spike was almost out of him, then rocking back down, grinding onto him until his body shook in time to the rapid pounding of his heart. "Spike..."

"Xan...der...god -" Spike put his hands behind him on the table and braced and thrust, and Xander's arms were around his neck again, yanking him close - bringing Spike's face in close, hair sweeping down like a curtain around them. Xander's mouth on his, bump and click of teeth and fangs, sweet-soda kiss that was edged in metallic salt as a fang nicked Xander's tongue and Spike growled, pumping up, battering into that clinging, slipping, grasping heat. A splinter of wood was working into his palm and he didn't care - let the lancing prick of it shudder into pleasure.

"Not gonna last," Xander groaned into the kiss. "Not- not - " He gave up speech, tongue plunging back into Spike's mouth hungrily. The bump and slide of his cock against Spike's shirt and belly painted sticky trails on the smooth fabric and the orgasm already threatening buzzed, snarled at the base of his spine, revved with every engine in the lot.

Breathing hard against Spike's skin with flickers of tongue, tasting salt, metal, want, Xander ducked his head to Spike's neck and bit, worrying the skin to muffle the yell that wanted out

Spike did the same, sucking the skin of Xander's neck into his mouth - prickling with the needle-tips of the fangs and feeling Xander shudder all over - feeling his body clamp down impossibly tight.

"Want me to? Xan - want it?" he gasped out, and Xander's reply was an gut-wrenching moan - fingers digging into his back under the duster so hard Spike knew he was bleeding. He leaned forward, arms coming up and around the man, holding him tight and lifting him and bringing him down, in the same moment that he bit and Xander convulsed around him, keening.

The world grayed around the edges with Spike's bite, the push-pull-thrust of Spike's hardness pounding him, filling him, making light sparkle in the phantom vision of his missing eye. His mouth working in a silent echo to the pull and nurse of Spike's lips on his neck, every heartbeat echoed with that deep, thrumming suction and the kind of dizziness that made the world spin pleasantly around him - left him clinging to Spike as he growled and shuddered against Xander, panting and when had making Spike breathe gotten so fucking sexy?

"That - that was the kind of sex that makes you plan on Friday to call in sick on Monday," Xander managed to say, burying his laugh into Spike's neck, giddy. But not too giddy to notice that Spike wasn't laughing, in fact, wasn't answering at all.

Fucking hell. No rest for the wicked. Heh. Snugging Xander a little tighter to him Spike stepped down off the picnic table, turned, and deposited the limp weight of the man on the table-top in one motion, hissing a little as his cock slipped free. Hastily tucking himself away, he grinned at Xander - pulled the demon back, because fun was fun but they had things to do.

"Don't go anywhere, pet," he said, then he spun around and stalked straight ahead, head down and arms loose at his sides, gaze never leaving the two burly men who were sidling towards them.

Xander watched Spike go, almost too dazed to zip what was left of his jeans before flopping back onto his elbows. He knew he should have been scared out of his mind but instead, he just wanted to laugh; knew he had a wide, crazed, and not so fuckin' nice grin on his face. It was a grin that remembered a cage in a zoo.

"What the fuck're you doin'?" one man shouted, and Spike stopped - dipped one hand into his pocket and pulled out his smokes. He tapped one out and put it to his lips - tucked the cigarettes away and found his lighter.

"I'm havin' a cold beverage and a bit of a shag with my boy, there. The fuck do you want, tosser?" He plumed smoke upwards and the men gaped at him.

"Spike?" Xander said, but Spike ignored him, for the moment.

"Jesus! You can't f- you can't do that here! There's kids! -"

"Nothin' they haven't seen on the telly," Spike said, cigarette to lips and eyes half-lidded - body coiled tight beneath his coat. Ready to do whatever damage he needed to do - wanting to, really, since fucking and fighting all came under 'what vamps do best'.

Xander ran his palms over his thighs, watching Spike through a half closed eye. He felt too good, too lazy, too well-fucked to do more than watch. Listening distantly, rolling his head backwards to look up at the moon. Shivering at the cold of the table on slick, damp, and still bare skin that should have made Xander cringe and wrap his jacket around him, but didn't.

Instead, he pushed himself shakily off the table, short, jerky but uncomplicated movements, jacket falling down into place around his thighs as he walked. He made his way to stand behind Spike, for once in his life not feeling the need to do anything more than look at the aggressors interestedly. Spike leaned back into him for just a fraction of a second, reassurance and possession.

"God. Fuckin' perverts," the other man said, sneering voice and twisted lip and Spike took two long strides forward and his fist swung up and around, catching the man neatly on the chin and knocking him back into the dirt and gravel - making his teeth click shut hard on his tongue so that when he rolled groggily to his side, blood began to drizzle out of his mouth.

"Say that again, then," Spike purred, and the second man launched himself, large fist going fast and low towards Spike's kidney. Spike turned into the blow, absorbing it easily and changed, and drove his own ridged forehead into the man's, hard and sharp, crack like a breaking stick. The man dropped and Spike shook his head - shook the demon away and watched both men scrabble and flail in the dirt, bleeding - cursing.

"S'called a Glasgow kiss, you gobshites. Want another?"

"Man. I get all your good kisses, huh?" Xander rested a hand in the small of Spike's back, as much for contact as balance, fingers curling possessively in the rich-smelling leather.

Spike snorted. "Reckon I did that one up a treat." Spike turned into Xander's touch, the coiled tension melting into concern as he took in Xander's unsteady look. "Didn't hurt you, pet?"

For an answer, Xander clutched a fist in Spike's collar, hauling him up and in for a dizzy clash of lips and teeth, eye sliding sideways to two men in the dirt who - Had it coming. "Let's get out of here."


~*~*~*~*~


Ten minutes out from Ojai and their hotel - fifteen, tops - and Xander's grasp on Spike was feeling - iffy. Spike could feel, over and above the solid thrum of the bike, a steady shivering coming from Xander - as if he had a fever, or was in pain. His head was on Spike's back, and the usual spot of heat that would have caused was almost absent. Bloody hell. Couldn't be the crash already. Not that fast, not that soon. Not after that much.

"Xan? You all right?" Spike yelled, the wind whipping his voice back - knowing Xander could hear him, even if he couldn't answer. But there was nothing - just an increase in the shivering to a hard, bone-deep shake, and Xander's arm, slipping down off his waist a little. Spike grabbed it - hauled it up and gunned the bike, seeing a gas station just ahead. Feeling the dangerous laxity of Xander's whole body and thinking the best way to ditch the bike and grab Xander if the man started to slide off altogether.

"Almost there, pet! Hang on, love - almost there."

The gravel of the parking-lot slithered under the bike wheels as Spike did a particularly hard stop. Xander's body was limp weight across his back and he lifted his right leg up and over the tank of the bike, Xander's arm tight in his hands. Spinning around, he sucked in a hard breath. Xander was pale - a sort of sickly grey under his tan, his lips bloodless and his hair stuck to his forehead with sweat. His eye was open but dazed - not tracking right - and Spike felt a lurch of terror. Oh, god - what? The come-down? Too much blood? Can't be - can't be, didn't get that much, was careful - love, I was careful - "Xander?" He pushed straggling hair back of off Xander's face, cradling him against his chest. Xander's skin was chilled - sweaty - his heart was racing in his chest, fast and stuttery-wrong.

"God, pet - Xan - what's wrong, love?"

Xander opened his mouth silently, and his lips and tongue felt as if they belonged to someone else as he tried to form the words. "Not - not feelin' so hot, Spike." The faster Spike had driven, the further away the world seemed, as if Spike was driving him away from everything with each mountain curve until he felt as if he was floating along behind himself like a balloon on a string; everything distant and disconnected and wrong, and jesus it had to be - "Probably just - just shock or something."

Xander tried on a smile that felt like rubber with teeth that chattered. "Y'know - up - upstanding citizen - arrested for public indecency. Gonna - gonna call my parents or something and Tony's gonna open a can of -" Xander's teeth snapped shut on his tongue and he flinched, easing himself weakly down against Spike's chest, and started to laugh.

"Xan? Love, c'mon. Look at me now. What's so funny?"

"I - I can't crack up now. I've gotta work on Monday," Xander mumbled, wondering if he was shaking, or if it was Spike. He didn't say that out loud though - because it wasn't very funny.

Christ! "Love - you're not workin' Monday if you're sick. C'mon - gotta get up -" Spike got his shoulder under Xander's arm - got his arm around Xander's waist and hauled him upright, grateful to be back at full strength. Xander's feet were tangling and he waited while the man slowly sorted himself. Waited, but wanted to scream. What is it? Think, damn-it! When Dru did this...they didn't get sick like this... lasted a lot longer too. Well, that one chit did, the singer, but she was...already sick... It's not that I took too much blood - I didn't, I know I didn't - As he frantically tried to come up with something he turned and carefully led Xander into the gas station, knowing Xander's coat would cover the torn jeans.

"Let's get you a drink, pet, and see what's what -"

The door buzzed unpleasantly as they walked in, and the girl behind the counter looked up, bored expression rapidly going to one of avid curiosity.

"Hey, he all right? He looks like he's gonna throw up," she said, and Spike wanted to growl at her.

"He look all right to you?" Spike snapped, maneuvering Xander between the narrow aisles to the drinks, propping him awkwardly as he fumbled with the glass case, pulling out the first marginally healthful looking bottle he could grab. "Gonna drink this, love, yeah? Sit down till you feel all right."

Xander shook his head, trying to remember why he was shaking his head, whether it was a bad idea to wait or if he just couldn't keep his head still with the shakes. Product labels flashed through his mind in a series of snapshot views of the store until he closed his eye dizzily and leaned harder on Spike.

Spike lowered his voice so that only Xander could hear, casting a sideways glare at the clerk who was still watching them. "Y'gonna throw up, pet?"

Xander shook his head again, cautiously opening his eye and raising a violently shaking hand to stare at it - feeling his heart beat a quick tattoo against his ribs. "Spike?"

"Yeah, Xan?" Spike quickly tucked the bottle under his arm, cupping Xander's cheek with a chilly hand. Xander shivered, but leaned into it like a puppy, eye wide and dark, the pupil swallowing down everything but the last trace of brown around the rim.

"I'll be - fine. Just - just gotta lay down. Not g-gonna tattoo me like this, huh?" Xander felt himself slipping, going down with his knees giving out, but Spike just went down with him, lowering him to sit on the floor, and crouching protectively over him.

"Nope, won't touch ya like this, Xan. That's why you gotta drink this." Spike fumbled with the cap on the drink - something with a weird green lizard on the label - and looked up, startled, as the cashier suddenly appeared at the edge of his vision.

"He got low blood sugar? Diabetic? My Aunt Kary, she's got it. Goes out just like that." The girl held out an mini-jug of orange juice, already open. "This works best," she added. Spike hesitated for one long moment, crouching there - panic making the demon want to rip her throat out and offer her to Xander. But Spike ignored the demon - bit his lip and put the bottle he held down - reached up and took the orange juice.

"Yeah, he - yeah, thanks. Xan - here, love, drink up now." He scooted a little closer, pulling Xander into his chest, getting his arm behind Xander's head and holding the bottle to his lips. Willing him to just drink. Xander's eye tracked dazedly over the girl - over Spike - and one hand fluttered up and then back to his lap. His whole body vibrated from the shakes but he lifted his head, slowly, and took a tentative sip from the juice.

Spike's hand was rubbing circles on his back, felt nice - good - and Xander opened his mouth to say that only to choke on the juice, coughing.

"Easy, pet. Take it slow, yeah?"

Xander nodded, concentrating on drinking, wishing the girl wouldn't look at him like that. A guy'd think she'd never seen a one eyed man and a vampire walk into a bar -

Convenience store.

Whatever.

He pushed the bottle away with a shaking hand, dragging the back of it across his lips. "I'm good. Let's - get out of here, okay?" The floor was cold under his ass, and he felt a little queasy, the euphoria at the truck stop seeming like a million miles and years away from sitting bare-assed on the scummy floor of a too-bright convenience store where everything smelled like fake oranges. But Spike wasn't moving. "Just tired," he insisted, turning his head and wishing the clerk would go away.

"Just a little more, Xander, okay? Please?" Spike held the juice hopefully, trying to say with his eyes what he would not say aloud, in front of a stranger. That Xander was scaring the fuck out of him.

"My Aunt, she always has something to eat, too," the girl said, and then she was crouching down too, fingers busily ripping open the wrapping on an apple turnover. She was - Fuck, she looks fourteen. Looks like the Bit... Damn-it, fuckin' women will be the death of me...

"Thanks, love, that's good, that is," Spike said, reaching out and twitching the pastry from her fingers - giving them a little 'pat pat', hesitant and brief. Trying not to spill the juice. "He'll be right as rain in a minute, yeah?" Beneath his arm Xander was moving jerkily, as if trying to stand up, and Spike pulled him a little closer. "Just give us a minute, yeah? We'll be outta here in a tick." The girl stared at Xander for one long second - looked up at Spike and nodded.

"Yeah. Better get him home. Stuff's on the house," she added, and stood up and padded away.

Thank Christ. "C'mon Xander, one more drink of this, okay? Just one."

When she left, Xander wrapped unsteady hands around the juice, tilting it back and swallowing convulsively at the sweetness before pushing it away again, really not...wanting it, and pressing in against Spike. The shaking was starting to get scary, and that wasn't something he was gonna think about sitting on the floor with his back up against a rack of snack cakes and a set of symptoms that would've had Andrej cursing in three languages and going for the quinine. "B-be really funny if I made it all the way through Africa with nothin' worse than dysentery only to g-get Malaria at a California fuckin' truck stop."

Malaria? What the fuck? You don't get that here...do you? Where the fuck does that come from? "Love - you don't have malaria," Spike said uncertainly, plucking at the wrapping on the apple turnover, wondering if Xander would eat any of it or not. He was still shaking, and Spike was starting to wonder if he should call an ambulance - or just put Xander on the back of the bike again and go find the hospital at top speed. Why didn't Dru say they got this sick? Fuck, this is bad...

"I know, I'm - god, Spike, I'm so fucking tired. Can we just...?" He tried to struggle upright again. The trembling and weakness didn't help, but they didn't keep him down this time either. He grabbed onto Spike's duster when he stood, giving up completely on the concept of smiling. "Just find a place to lie down?" He pressed a hand over Spike's chest, steadying and reassurance. "Keep me from drowning in a nice hot bath?"

Spike rose with Xander, abandoning apple turnover and juice, looking worriedly at the too-pale face that stared back, exhausted and...scared.

"Course we can, pet. Got a room real near here - big tub an' all. C'mon and - and we'll go check in - oh, fuck." Spike stopped, thinking. Want us to go check in there at the Blue Iguana, but the room's miles away at the Green... Fuck that. "Gotta call somebody, love - let's go outside." Spike got Xander's cell from the man's pocket - got his arm around Xander's waist again and led him slowly out, dialing. Letting Xander sag down again once they were outside, holding him tight as Xander went to his knees in the ratty grass 'landscaping' at the front of the store.

"The Blue Iguana Inn, how can I help you this evening?"

"Yeah, listen, mate, I've got a room all booked and a small problem -"

"Which room, sir?"

"Peacock. Here now, my partner's in a bit of a bad way. We're just north of town -"

Xander's attention drifted from Spike's words - requesting the concierge to meet them at the room in town - to the voice itself, pressing his fingertips to the dip in Spike's throat, trying to concentrate on that vibration instead of the itchy, jumpy, irritable shakes. Or the urge to just close his eyes and -

"C'mon, pet."

Xander jerked awake to Spike pulling him to his feet, stumbling with him back to the bike.

"Gonna meet the bloke who works night shift. Have him let us in, yeah?"

"Fuck, yeah..." Xander locked his hands together around Spike's waist once they were on the bike, but kept his feet firmly on the ground, pressing his face into the nape of Spike's neck. "...it's just shock and blood loss or something - right?"

Spike hesitated one long moment, hoping it was one and not the other - knowing it wasn't, but not sure if Xander would... What if he doesn't...believe me? Bloody hell... He stroked the hands that were locked together over his ribs. "It's the blood, love. It... Lemme tell ya in the room, yeah? Let me take care of you first, Xander. All right?"

For an answer, Xander lifted his feet onto the bike's frame, pressing his cheek against the duster. "I'll try not to become road kill before we get there." He felt Spike's hand tighten sharply over his forearm and winced. "I'll hold on," he amended, and took a shaky breath, concentrating on just that as the bike roared to life, and Spike pulled out onto the road more carefully than Xander had ever imagined him capable of doing.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander was drifting, his eye fluttering shut and opening, again and again. But the grip of his hand on Spike's was strong, still, and Spike leaned against the pillows they'd piled up and kept up a slow sweep of his thumb, over and over the back of Xander's hand. Xander was under all the covers - under a velvet throw that had been across the foot of the bed - and he still shivered convulsively every few minutes.

"Shhh, love. I'm right here. Won't let you go," Spike murmured. Curled around him, skin to skin, cheek against the wind-knotted hair. "I've got you, love..."

Calm, calm, calm for Xander, but inside he seethed. Gonna call Wes and tear him a new one. Bastards.

Spike's skin felt nice against Xander's. Smooth. Cool. Sweep, sweep across his hand nice and steady while everything else jumped and jerked, too bright, too sudden. His mouth didn't feel right, didn't feel connected when he tried to form words. Had to stop and start again before they'd come. "P-promised to tell me what's wrong with me."

And god, he should be so much more freaked, but -

It was better in here than on the bike with the roar and chill of the wind and slipping, skittering fingers, and -.

Xander shuddered until he felt Spike's arm tighten around his shoulders. Harder to be freaked out wrapped up in warm, and rich, and Spike, arm like steel curled around him. Trust you. Jesus, feel like shit, but trust you, sweetheart. Xander pressed his cheek to Spike's shoulder, feeling a muscle twitch and jitter under the skin.

"Course I did, pet. It's like this..." Spike paused for a moment, thinking. How much detail was too much? Well - in for a penny... "Dru liked to give a little blood to her prey sometimes. Just a few drops in a glass of wine or cup of tea. It makes you feel -"

"Know how it makes you feel," Xander grumbled, and Spike hugged him a little closer.

"Yeah, okay. Like you're flyin'. Like you're the king of the world. She liked those straight-laced types to dance a jig or take off their clothes in the garden. But she usually had her fun and that was that - drained 'em right after. She only let one live, that I remember..." Another pause while Spike brought the woman up in his memory. Blonde and tall and icy as the Snow Queen, until Dru's blood had made her into something of a wanton. And then...

She did this, too - shakes and faintin' and all... But she had consumption, she was taking Laudanum every night... God, she was just like this! Spike couldn't pretend - the singer Dru had done this to had reacted just the same.

"I've seen junkies act like this, pet. Comin' down off a high... It's the blood, Xander. It shot you right up into the clouds and then - dropped you hard."

But whether it would be like that every time - or get worse, or better - Spike didn't really know. Dru had only kept the woman around for another day or so.

He kissed Xander's hair - temple - eased him closer. "We'll figure it out, love. No more of that for you, yeah?"

Xander shivered, wanting to argue, but god, so fucking tired. "Ask me again when the sh-shakes stop." Xander groaned, pressing his nose into the crook of Spike's neck, feeling that nagging instinct that more makes it better.

"Shh. No more, pet." Spike's fingers were chill in Xander's hair. They didn't help the shivering, but felt good, so he pushed into the touch, closing his eye. "You'll feel better after a little sleep, yeah?"

Xander wanted to ask how he knew, if he knew, but couldn't make his lips and tongue form the words - gave up, gave in, and let the shuddering blackness take him down.

Spike kept up his soft petting until he was sure Xander was asleep - or unconscious. Then he slipped silently out of the bed and strode outside, lighting a cigarette and puffing furiously.

Bloody hell. Got to figure this out, got to find out... I wonder if Wes... As his thoughts lit on the ex-Watcher Spike felt his lip curl in a snarl. Fuck that. I can ask later. I wanna know why Wes didn't tell him. Why nobody did. Sucking down half the cigarette, he ground the rest out in a planter and shoved the butt away in his pocket - went inside and hunted up Xander's cell. He knew Wes' number by heart so he dialed it in and paced back outside, listening to the sounds of the pool-water lapping softly at its concrete edges, and frogs peeping somewhere in the underbrush. Doing his best to be calm but knowing he wasn't - not one bit.

"Pryce." Wesley's voice sounded tired. Not quite worn to his last threads, but tired, and judging from the background noise, he was in his apartment.

"Wes. Wanna tell my who thought it'd be a good idea to keep Xander in the dark about the cheerleader?" Spike ignored the tiredness in Wes' voice. He wasn't going to let the man off the hook so easily.

"Spike." Wesley fumbled for his thoughts in a whiskey fog, reaching up to drag his fingers through his hair. "What on - Cordelia?"

"Yeah. Xander's friend. His ex. Who was in a coma for some reason and died and nobody told him. I had to tell him, damn it!" I had to see his whole face fall and his eye just...go dead. Fuck, never want to see that again... Spike paced back inside and grabbed a bottle off the mini-bar and cracked it - took a long gulp. Xander was still asleep, unmoving, and he went back outside.

Wesley rubbed his hand over his jaw, then up to his temple, leaning on it. "I -" He sighed, straightening to pour himself another whiskey, filling the highball glass to within an inch of its lip. "You know we had little to no connection with Sunnydale, Spike. I suppose it was simply - seen as a part of the rift between Buffy and Angel. The...territorial lines..." Even as he said it, it sounded like a poor excuse, and he took a long drink of whiskey, searching for clarity in the amber burn. "She hadn't spoken of him in years. We didn't even know where he was."

"You knew when Andrew showed up, spouting all that bullshit about the Council an' all. He said Xander was in Africa! He said he was working for the Council - fuck, Angel saw Buffy to give her that damn amulet, he could have told her! Her and the Slayer were...kind of friends, back in the day. I almost killed 'em together more than once..." Spike took another long drink and leaned wearily against a plant-covered stone wall. "Dammit, Wes..." He sounds sad. He sounds exhausted. It's...not his fault. Not really... Ah, fuck.

Wesley let the glass rest on his desk, giving brief thought to searching for a coaster, then abandoning it along with the wood's finish, already marred by overlapping rings of discoloration. "We - discussed Cordelia while you slept in the hotel, Spike." Wesley hesitated, hearing the voices in his head already beginning to berate him for leaving this difficult revelation to Spike alone. 'Coward' would not be an unfair accusation.

"And you didn't tell him then?"

"I didn't feel it was my right!"

"Your right! Bloody hell -!" Spike checked himself and glanced nervously inside, but Xander hadn't moved. "Wes, that's - that's fucking -" That's Wes. And why should he have told him? Barely knew Xander, from what they've both said - didn't like each other much... Couldn't have known about the cheerleader since he was gone by then... And if she didn't mention him... Spike felt a twist of pain in his chest for Xander, that Cordelia hadn't contacted him at all once she'd left the Hellmouth. Her choice. No need to take it out on Wes...

"Ah, fuck it. Wes, I - Listen, mate, I... M'sorry, yeah? Shouldn't be yellin' at you about this. It's just... I had to tell him, Wes, and he... He was...so hurt."

Spike heard Wesley sigh, the clink and slosh of bottle and glass, then a long pause before the glass was set down again.

"How is he now?" Wesley tried to gentle his voice, the tone of sympathy he used with distraught clients but more...open, perhaps. For Spike. He smiled despite the painful twist in his belly, remembering well that it was Spike's fire, passion, need to connect when upset that had brought them together so briefly in the first place. "You sound terrible."

"Me? I'm - fine, I..." Spike sighed - turned and slid slowly down the wall, able to just see Xander through the open doors. "I'm... Wes? Something...happened. I don't... Listen, I had to tell him and he was - so upset. So we went home an' - an' I did my best to make him fell better, yeah?"

"Of course," Wesley agreed easily, pressing his palm to the desk, tracing those interlocking circles with a forefinger. Part of him, the part that was Academy-trained, wanted to jump on Spike, demand to know what he'd done. But nearly dying, actually dying, and being brought back to life as a demon had somewhat dampened his enthusiasm for Council doctrine. So instead, he did what worked with Angel - he kept agreeing. "It's very plain that you care deeply for him, so naturally you would want to take his pain away if you could."

Spike could feel his eyes wanting to roll - being back with Xander was bringing back old habits already - but he only felt in his jeans-pocket for his cigarettes, lighting up again and sending smoke pluming towards the star-dazzled sky.

"Leave off, Percy. We shagged, yeah? Somethin' you know quite a bit about. Enough to not put that poncy Watcher tone in your voice." Spike heard the indrawn breath, and then the slight chuckle and grinned into the darkness.

"Anyway, we...he... Got a little carried away, didn't he, and - well, he bit me."

Dead silence from Wes, and Spike sighed and closed his eyes. Wait for it...

First, he heard only a soft, indeterminate sound, then a low chuckle, and finally, helpless quiet laughter, and the clink of glass against glass once again. Sounds like Xander's not the only one hitting the stuff too hard tonight. Gotta stop that some time, Wes. Since Illyria had turned up and took over, Wes'd barely spent two nights sober in a row. "'S not funny, Wes."

"I suppose - I suppose you had to be...well, me to find it quite so amusing." Wesley sighed, taking another long drink and closing his eyes to savor the warming path of the whiskey. "Man bites vampire. It's a bit like a gag headline, don't you think?"

"This's serious, Wes. He's passed out on the bloody bed like a junkie dyin' for his next fix!"

"That effect will...fade some, with time and repetition as his body adjusts to the magic in your blood." Wesley dipped a finger into the whiskey, a paper cut there burning and tightening in the alcohol. "Since I presume this is something that will - occur again?"

"Too bloody right," Spike snapped. Then he sighed again and felt after the bottle he'd put down. "Yeah, it's gonna happen again, Wes. And I bit him, and... And it is gonna happen again. Felt too damn good not too. Well, fuck. "Damnit - it never made anybody sick before!"

"Spike, forgive me but - I have read your history."

"And what's that supposed to mean?"

"It means," Wesley explained with all the patience whiskey could grant him, "that I know you don't have much practical experience in this case. Angel and Drusilla toyed with their prey, but you have never shown an inclination for anything but killing humans or acting like one."

"Oi!"

Wesley didn't give Spike time to clarify which half of the sentence he was objecting to and continued. "How often have you seen a human dosed with vampire blood, Spike? One who survived long enough to come down from the high," Wesley added quickly.

"I -" Spike started, and then stopped. "I saw one Dru did that to. Was just...the same. It was the same, Wes," Spike said softly. And it was and he wondered if Xander really would want to do it again, after this. Or if this mess had scared him away for good. Wouldn't blame him if it did. Can't be any fun, feelin' like that, and just goin' on a Watcher's word that it gets better...

Spike felt a sort of depression settle over him - a sort of brittle hardness form around him. Whatever Xander decided would be...it. Would be the way it was going to be. Please don't be scared of it, love... Want you like that, so much. Your life in me...feels so wonderful - feels like the best thing ever...

"Spike?"

"What?"

"I can hear you worrying from here."

Spike snorted, lifting two fingers in the direction of LA. "You hear that too, then?"

"You making a rude gesture?" Wesley guessed, beginning to relax. A few more minutes and he might even feel the urge to smile. "What were the circumstances surrounding the similar case?" He fished a yellow legal pad from the bottom of a pile, flipping it to a clean sheet of paper.

"Oh, it was just - Wes. I can hear you writing."

"It's something I do quite often," Wes said, and Spike shook his head, lifting his bottle up for a quick sip.

"Yeah, you do. But you're not gonna write about me an' Dru. That's private. Let's just say - the girl was sick - she had consumption - so I didn't notice the coming-down so much. She was taking laudanum, I figured that's all it was." Spike leaned a little to see Xander better and then leaned back again, smoking the last half-inch of his cigarette in rapid puffs.

"Chit at the store thought he was diabetic - gave us orange juice."

Wesley frowned at the notes he'd already made, idly circling 'juice'. "Spike? When did Xander last eat? Humans do need to do it rather often and Xander's diet is appalling."

"Well, he had... There's this brilliant Greek place at home, I got him some lunch and that was...Thursday night around...one or so... But no - we got...distracted and then he asked about the cheerleader so..."

Spike went silent for a moment and he clearly heard Wes' exasperated sigh come down the line.

"So what you're saying, Spike, is that you have no real idea of when Xander last ate - or what he ate - and... Has he eaten since all of this happened? Since he bit you?"

"Well, not as such..." Spike ground the cigarette out sulkily, frowning at the black smudge it left on his finger. "Listen, Wes, he's a grown-up, he knows when to eat."

"Spike, he still lives on bagged chips and doughnuts!" Wesley resolutely did not mention the contents of his own refrigerator, which contained several not-so-gracefully-aging take away boxes. "And even if he does keep better food than that at home, clearly he hasn't eaten any of it, and that certainly can't be helping his body to cope with either the blood loss or the crash."

"Didn't take much from him," Spike muttered, fumbling for another cigarette and lighting it impatiently.

Wesley sighed. "If you intend to drink his blood, Spike, and particularly if you plan to let him drink yours, he will need to eat regularly. He can't live on your blood. It simply doesn't work that way."

"And I suppose you know that, do you?"

"Yes. Yes, Spike, I do. What? Do you think Watchers only watch?"

"Kinda implied in the name, innit?"

Wesley huffed, then drained his glass, setting it down heavily. "You know better than that. The good news is that despite current appearances and official Council doctrine, if he observes a healthful diet no permanent harm should come to him once he's become used to the effects of your blood in his system."

"Pedantic gits," Spike muttered, groping for the bottle. He heard Wes make a choking sound of indignation.

"Your education is showing, Spike."

"Bloody hell, Wes. I can't make him eat! And I barely had any of his blood - m'not daft..." Another noise from Wes and Spike nodded, knowing Wes couldn't see it. "I'll do my best, yeah? He's a stubborn bastard."

"Just - be careful, Spike. If the effects are anything like has been written, the sensation is fairly - addictive. He'll want you to give him blood - and to take his blood - even if he's sick."

"Yeah," Spike said, remembering Riley and the other clients at that place. "Thanks, Wes. You're...you're good to help me without the lecture, yeah?"

"Without much lecture," Wesley corrected wryly. "He'll feel wonderful while he's on your blood. Perhaps in time, he may well be able to avoid the crashes with regular doses. But at heart, he will remain absolutely human in his bodily needs."

"So it's not gonna hurt him?"

"Nor heal him," Wesley agreed.

"So long as it doesn't hurt him, he can make up his own mind about the rest." Spike stared at the glowing square of light where Xander was - stared at the long lump he made in the bed, and the bit of dark hair and suede-tan skin that showed above the bunched bedclothes. Can't hurt him. Won't. Took me in - helped me and...did so much... Why can't I just enjoy this, instead of wanting...?

"Guess I'll go, Wes. Get cleaned up. Xan'll probably want to call you tomorrow. I - didn't really know what to tell him 'bout Cordelia."

"You told him the right thing, Spike. You told him the truth." Wesley turned his empty glass on the desktop, the lamplight sparkling on the water trail beneath. "I think - that sometimes...a man needs that release, that escape from a reality he finds difficult to accept."

"You think?" Spike's voice was more gentle, but still didn't quite manage to escape sarcastic as well.

"Very well, I know. And Xander is a grown man, perfectly able to make his own choices. He's fortunate to have you there to give him those choices and look after him when he needs that release. Good night, Spike." Wesley hung up the phone gently, refilled his glass, and returned to work, the scent of whiskey and ancient parchment reassuringly familiar.

"'Night -" Spike started to say, but the line was dead already and Spike turned the phone off with a snort. Typical. Thinks I didn't hear what he said or - or by hangin' up on me I'll forget it or something. I know you're hurting, Wes. We both do. Spike stood slowly, bringing the bottle with him and wandered back into the room. Xander slept on, one hand outside the bedclothes, twisting slowly on the heavy cotton of the duvet. His heart beat slowly - regularly - and Spike knew he would sleep for hours, yet. Which was good. He was hungry, and needed to hunt. He slipped his boots and coat back on - pocketed a key and a stake from Xander's bag and went quietly out.

Should get him into the bath...get him something from room service... Spike thought, two hours later and comfortably full. He stood beside the bed for a long moment, just looking at the figure that lay curled there. Then, a small smile on his face he stripped off jeans and shirt and climbed in, tucking himself close to the fever-warmth that was radiating from Xander. He wasn't ill, but sweating lightly, the scent of salt and iron overlaid with something faintly sweet. Spike's blood, maybe, sweating out of him.

Or just him. Tastes so good - smells good...feels good. Nothing that isn't good about him... Spike kissed forehead and temple and cheekbone gently - got as close as possible and settled down, letting his eyes flutter closed. God, Xander...love you...


~*~*~*~*~


Xander woke slowly to the feeling of Spike's fingers splayed over his chest and breathless lips against the soreness of his throat. It felt...

Xander cautiously opened his eye, staring at a white ceiling and going through the usual post-binge check in those merciful few moments before the hangover made itself known.

Only this time, it didn't. Instead, he felt - Spike's fingers shifting, and Spike leaning up on an elbow over him, face a study in bed head neutral.

Xander opened his mouth to say 'good morning' and grimaced. "Who installed the wall to wall carpet in my mouth?"

"Feelin' all right, Xander?" Spike asked, his fingers unconsciously stroking Xander's chest. Xander's own hand moved to rest lightly over his.

"Yeah, just - really thirsty." And that was something to marvel at because the last thing Xander remembered, he was - "Oh, fuck."

"Pet?" Spike's hand slid up to cup Xander's jaw, the worry more clear now in his voice.

"Um. How good...is the average truck stop security camera?"

Spike chuckled, and bent over Xander to press his lips against warm again - thank god skin. "Not that good, love."

"Oh. Okay. Then I am -" Xander licked his lips, waiting for something more detailed than 'thirsty' but nothing came. "Kind of freaky calm."

"Not feelin' sick or anything? Not - dizzy?" Spike didn't want to panic Xander, but he had to know. His heart's beating fine, not too fast. He's the right temperature, he smells right, he looks...fuckin' good. The lightly-stubbled cheek under his hand was cool and Spike leaned down and nuzzled into the other side of Xander's face, kissing gently along his jaw.

"A little dizzy, um..." It was hard to think with Spike kissing along his jaw, little sparklers of 'want now' making their cheerful way down to what passed for morning wood that morning, and he shivered. "Of course, that could be because you're kissing me. I usually get kinda dizzy with your lips doing that thing." He caught Spike's hands in his, trapped them, and waited for Spike to really look at him. "Sweetheart, I am hungry, thirsty, a little horny -" He lifted the tip of one pale finger to his lips, kissing it, "- and kinda numb," he admitted, "but that's all."

"Numb? Where, love?" Spike tugged his hand free and let it roam over Xander's body, slipping under the covers and making Xander squirm, laughing.

Xander got both giggles and Spike's hand under control at the same time, trapping Spike's hand against his chest again. "In here," he said, pressing down. "It's like - none of it hurts right now, but nothing's filled the hole yet. Just - numb in there." Which might just be good. He rubbed his fingers over the fine bone and tendon web work of Spike's hand, lacing their fingers together. "But okay."

"Yeah? You sure?" Spike watched Xander think about it and slowly nod, and he smiled then, relieved. Numb was all right; better than agony, better than misery. He could fix numb. "Wanna come in the bath, then? The hotel stocked us up with things - juice and all this fruit and whatnot. I'll feed you grapes, love, just like a good harem boy should." Spike couldn't resist pushing a little closer, thigh sliding up over Xander's thigh, pelvis bumping into the warm muscle of Xander's flank.

Xander slid his hand up Spike's thigh beneath the blanket, palming the bones and hollows of his hip to keep him there. "I thought I was the harem boy." And maybe it would all come crashing in on him. But...later. A brief flash of Cordelia passed through his mind, but it wasn't bad. It was...acceptance. He brushed his lips over Spike's, closed to spare the vampire senses his morning breath.
"Spike? Did you remember to recharge my cell phone after calling Wes?"

"Huh? Ummmm..." Spike knew his expression of deep thought didn't fool Xander for a minute, but he didn't care. He rocked his pelvis into Xander's hip a little harder, those delicious low-level tingles starting up in his belly and in his balls. Always want him. God... "You were sick last night, so I get to be the harem boy, pet. Feed you grapes with my mouth and wash you....all over..."

Xander shivered, letting go all thoughts of phones and phone calls easily at that, fingertips brushing down over the satiny skin of Spike's hip to comb through short wiry curls - slide beneath the weight of Spike's balls which got him a rumbling purry groan and a tightening of the Spike-constrictor around him. "Does that mean you have to carry me around so the young master's feet don't touch the floor?"

"Mmmm... I can do that, love..." Spike slithered a little, getting more of himself over Xander - getting his face right down into Xander's neck so he could kiss and nibble over the skin there - over the healing bites. He licked at them, rasping with his tongue and arching a little into the all-over shiver the licking caused in Xander. "Can do whatever you like, pet. Just tell me...command me," he added, lowest purring of his voice and writhed in satisfaction at the shuddery gasp from the man beneath him.

"C-carry me to the bath - hot - scalding hot water. Wanna come out of it red. Ohhh. I am so close to ordering you to forget it and just keep doing that- that's really ni-ice." Xander laughed helplessly, tipping his head back into the pillows and going into a full body stretch that popped his spine all the way down. He thrust against Spike on a trail of slick, sliding a leg over Spike's. "Ummm. Where was I?"

"Bath," Spike prompted from his neck, nibbling in a way that should have hurt, but only made Xander want more.

He dropped his head, licking, then biting one pale shoulder. "Bath," he said again, "fruit. Orgasms," he added, sliding his hand around to curve over Spike's buttock, shuddering at the strong flex under his touch. "Not necessarily in that order."

"Mmmmm...not." Spike twisted and rolled and Xander was flat on his back, looking a little breathless. Spike sat astride him, rubbing slowly up and back, groin to groin and his cock gliding lightly along Xander's. He put his hands on Xander's chest and flicked his thumbs over the hardening nipples there. "You're so pretty like that," he murmured, as Xander arched up into him.

Xander dropped a hand between them, wrapping his fingers around both hard lengths and jacking them lazily together, warm and lukewarm, feeling that glow in his chest that went beyond want. "Gonna get us messy before you get us clean?"

"You're so smart," Spike said, grinning, and leaned down for a kiss.


~~~~~


The bath was a little narrow, but that just meant more flesh touching flesh, as far as Spike was concerned. He got a chair and the huge fruit-basket the hotel had provided and carried them both over to where an ornate screen half-hid the claw-foot tub from the bed. Xander was lying back, eye shut and body utterly limp, but he cracked his eyelid when Spike came in and set the chair down.

"Ooh, looks good." He reached for the bottle of water Spike had tucked in next to the dusky-blue plums and cracked it, taking a long drink. Spike slid into the water facing him, gently lifting Xander's legs over his and running his hands up the sleek thighs.

"Grape, oh my Sultan? Or fig... What's your...pleasure?"

"Orange," Xander said firmly, dropping his head back against the rim of the tub, hands draped over Spike's knees.

"Don't like grapes and figs?"

"In Junior High School, there was this guy on the football team who had a brother in college. And we'd go to their haunted house every year where they had gross stuff to freak out the girls. Bowls of guts, bowls of eyes...um, not real bowls of guts and eyes. The eyes were always grapes."

"Ahh..." Spike said, but it was more of a 'can't possibly imagine why that'd put you off grapes' noise than an 'oh, how awful, let me throw them far away' noise, and Xander knew it. He grinned up at the ceiling and Spike plucked an orange from the basket - rolled it between his palms for a moment to loosen the skin and press the juices to the surface, then started to peel it. He let the peel drop piece by piece into the hot water and soon the steamy air was fragrant with the sharp, sweet scent. Spike broke off a wedge and leaned forward - traced it lightly over Xander's mouth.

"Have a bite then, love," he murmured, and Xander lifted his head.

The sweetsour taste of fresh California Navel burst over his tongue, and Xander sighed, letting it sweep away the last of the dryness. "Huh. If there's any cinnamon or something in there, we can come out of this smelling like chai." Xander caught Spike's hand, sucking the sticky juices from one finger then trapping it against his chest, between the thongs of his leather pouch. The more normal he felt, the more abnormal the last two days felt. It was like - the days after his wedding. Only this time, instead of beating Spike up...

"I don't know if you remember this, but when you were sick, I said you made me feel sixteen again, only not stupid?"

"Yeah?"

Xander lifted his head and Spike's hand, kissing the fingertips. "Leave off the not-stupid. Thank you."

"What for?"

"For witnessing the Harris not-coping mechanism and - god, feeding me oranges after."

"Didn't do so bad, love. It was...hard to hear, I know. And coming from me..."

Xander shook his head, rubbing his hand over Spike's leg from shin to thigh. "Actually, I think I'm kinda glad it came from you. This is going to sound - terrible, but...it's not all about Cordy. It was at first, but it..." He licked his lips. "When Anya died, I didn't have time to mourn in Sunnydale. So I went to work in Africa, shitfaced drunk for months, and somehow survived instead." Xander groped for the connections, knowing it was all part of the same thing, feeling it, but - "And feel free to help me out here, Spike."

"You did survive, love," Spike said softly, smiling because Xander didn't mind that he'd known about Cordelia. "Did it well."

Xander smiled back, but his smile faltered and his hands did, moving over Spike's skin. "But that's all I did. I ran away to Africa. Got as far away as I could from everything and everyone and... And fuck, Africa's real, you know? It's more real than any place I've ever been..." He took an offered piece of orange and chewed it slowly, watching Spike do the same. Watching him listen, in a way so few people did.

"I didn't ever really...bury Anya. Not in my head. And when I came back from Africa it was like - the gang wanted to shove me right back into that...mold. Be - the Xander-shaped friend but... I'm not Xander-shaped anymore! Not - that Xander... You know?" he added, helplessly, not sure any of this was making sense.

"Sure, pet, I know. Angel did that, yeah? I let him, but - he just sees me like he did over a hundred years ago - nattering little mama's boy, tagging after him, trying to get Dru - trying to...impress him. Even when I stopped, he just...doesn't see it. And I just react, like I always did." Spike traced the gun-shot scar on Xander's abdomen - looked up at the man, who had tendrils of steam-damp hair curling around his temples and his throat. "I'm not - Spike-shaped anymore, either."

"Yeah." Xander sighed - hitched himself a little lower. "And then - in Sunnydale... I kept thinking how we had to - pretend the demon remains were animals from the zoo. Pretend they were...nothing special. Just pretend, like I pretended to care about what the girls were telling me. And god - I couldn't...I can't stand the thought of f-finding Anya, Spike, I just can't..."

"Thought we were talkin' about Cordelia," Spike said gently, his hands going still on Xander's body.

"Cordelia..." Xander dragged a hand through his hair, wet and frustrated. "Was more pretend. Everyone pretended she was fine. It's about -" He could taste the word, close by. Words had never been his bosom buddies, but this one would be important. "It's about lies. That I thought I was done with. And I want to be done with," he said slowly, "but I'm not. In Sunnydale, I keep telling myself, it's okay to lie to the public about the demon remains as long as I keep remembering what's true." He shrugged. "But I - don't."

"Some things're awfully hard to tell the truth about," Spike said slowly, thinking of Buffy and what they'd done - what she had done. Thinking, with a small twinge of unease, the lies he was telling himself, regarding Xander. 'Cause I do love him. Gods and the angels, I do, and... I don't want to be alone in this. I want him to love me back. Want it more than anything...

"You did. You tell the brutal truth. And - I think I need that," Xander admitted. "I want that. Everything's been based on big lies, little lies, all my life. Jesus, my entire vampire slayerette career was based on the lie that -" he took a deep breath, getting the words out loud for the first time, "That it was a demon wearing my best friend's body that I killed, not my best friend. Lies to get you through the night, and there's so many of them... God, this seemed so much easier in Africa. In Sunnydale the people got really good at lying to themselves. And they're still lying to me." He looked down to where Spike's hand rested over his leg - covered it with his. "And it's so much easier to live like that, and I'm fucking scared because I can't, anymore."

Spike had long since put the remains of the orange on the chair, and now he reached out and pulled Xander closer - scooted him until Xander's legs were around him, and they were inches apart.

"Love - if you can't, then you can't. Whatever truths you want to say - I won't stop you." he said softly, not letting Xander look away - not letting himself. Because this was important - this was Xander letting go of something that had held him down in dark water for so long, and now he was shooting to the surface and the new world he was getting closer and closer to was scaring him - was blinding him - and Spike wasn't going to let him sink back down.

"Truths. Um...okay." Xander leaned his forehead down until it rested against Spike's, the air bathwater warm between them and scented sweetly with oranges. "I'm naked. In an old fashioned bath tub. With a vampire. (Male) Who I think I'm kinda falling in love with. And I want to scream that from the rooftops. Or at least write home about it. If I had a home. Which I don't. Which is another truth that's kinda hard to take. And I...think I might be too much of a girly man to do that, the screaming from the roof tops thing, but I want to do that. Some day."

'Kind of falling in love with.' Words that echoed and shimmered in Spike's head. Words as warm as the water was - as heady as the scent of oranges and as sweet as the heavy-headed roses in the basket. "Are you, then? Wanting to tell the world that?" Spike said, feeling a small smile at the corner of his mouth. Xander blinked at him - shut his eye for a moment.

"Well - fuck. I kind of wanted to...well, be more subtle or maybe more...convincing? Or at least wa-" Spike didn't let him finish - just leaned forward and pulled him into a hard, orange-spice kiss.

"It's sweeter when it's a surprise, love," he murmured a moment later. He reached up and pushed the long strands of hair off of Xander's forehead - off his neck - and let his fingertips ghost over the bite. "Don't have to lie to me about anything, love, and all this - this mess -" he touched the bite again, watching Xander shiver. "We'll sort it, Xander. You've got...miles to got yet, yeah? And we've got time."

"And you've proved that you're not gonna run away or anything when I lose it and show what a total idiot I can be," Xander sighed, once he had his breath back, already wishing he could get back into that nice place where nothing mattered but immediate desires.

"Not an idiot, pet. S' called grief."

"I barely knew her anymore."

"Still loved her, didn't you?"

"I loved - who she was when I knew her."

"An' you lost her. Lost her an' everyone else who didn't tell you about her."

Xander looked up quickly to find Spike watching him sadly, cool fingers dusting along the hollow of his cheek. "It's never gonna be the same with any of them," he admitted, and knew that was true too.

"You want it to be?" Spike's thumb felt nice, brushing over the two day stubble on Xander's cheek.

"No. Hey, I admitted it and the world didn't end!" Xander slid his fingers up, brushing over Spike's neck. "Can I admit something else?"

"Anything."

He brused his thumb over the spot he'd bitten, already healed, long since vanished into the skin. "I liked this too. I'm a child of the Nineties - if it feels good, don't do it. Just say no."

"Can't hurt you," Spike said, flare of contentment like a shock of warm honey. "Have it on the best authority that it won't do a thing to you but what it - does to you. Wes said." He pushed into Xander's touch a little, because that was something he'd never done with Buffy and it was amazing how different it felt with Xander. Nothing like Dru; they'd shared blood like sparring tigers, but it hadn't had that spark of... Life. Sharing his life - trusting me not to steal it. Makes it...better.

"So if I said I wanted to do it again, you'd say -?" Xander lifted his head just enough to see Spike, to see his eyes dilate, then close.

"I'd say yes, pet."

Spike's lips tasted of orange and salt, and parted to the taste of copper, smoke, and Spike that never changed, no matter what he ate or drank.

"I want to do it again."

Spike leaned his forehead into Xander's - took a long lungful of sweet-spicy-musky air, tasting Xander on his tongue and on his lips. Feeling Xander under his hands; flex of rib-cage as he breathed and the subtle tremoring of his body as his heart beat furiously.

"Yes, pet," he whispered.

Xander shivered at Spike's whisper, at the way it made his accent soften and warm. He wanted to push into it - settled for tasting Spike's lips, the indentation beneath them as he spoke - wanting closeness. "Will they still see me? At the studio tonight? There's not gonna be a 'we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone high on vampire blood' policy?"

"No policy, love. Probably make it easier on you. But...s'gonna hurt again, coming down. You sure you want to do that, love? You don't -" Spike stopped and slowly, slowly rubbed lips and cheek over Xander's - let their foreheads brush. He could feel the bridge of Xander's nose against his eyelashes and he nudged forward a little, tasting the chapped, mobile lips fleetingly with his tongue. "You don't have to do that. It's not...part of it. Doesn't have to be..."

"Yeah, I know." Xander slid his arms between Spike's back and the back of the tub, sliding forward until he could wrap his legs tighter around Spike. Even bath warm, Spike didn't feel human, and Xander - didn't want him to. "I'm a big demon magnet -" and god, Spike's skin felt nice under his hands, satiny smooth like Xander's wasn't, "- and, okay, maybe a big ho too. And lots weirder has happened to me than you. So...what if I want it to be part of it? What if I want to stop pretending to be Mr. Normal B. Vanilla too?"

Spike had to laugh, soft chuckle that rocked them both. "You've never been normal, Xander. Normal hears some blonde bint and a stodgy old Englishman talking about demons and vampires and runs far away - he doesn't start whittling stakes." Xander snorted soft laughter and Spike ran his hands slowly up and down the sleek muscles of Xander's back. "But I won't tell you no, love." He looked up at Xander then, putting every bit of sincerity into his gaze, because it was true. He wouldn't say no to Xander about this - or anything else.

"Hey, I said pretending, buddy. I had everyone fooled pretty good for years. Had you fooled." He gave Spike a squeeze with his legs, settling his arms onto Spike's shoulders and ruffling the bed-head curls. "I had me fooled."

"Won't be able to fool anyone anymore once you start markin' yourself up, pet." Spike traced again the route over Xander's collarbones where the tattoo would go.

"You have been listening, haven't you?" Xander tilted his head back until he could see Spike clearly. "I want to say - 'Hey, this is me. Take it or leave it!' just by walking into a room."

"I hear you, Xander." Spike traced the skin again - rubbed a little, as if testing the tension of it - the grain. "I heard you make jokes when the monster of the week was breathin' down your neck, too. You talk the talk - can you walk the walk?" He saw the disappointment in Xander's eye and shook his head fractionally. "Don't doubt you, love - I don't. Just want you to be sure. That's all."

For an answer, Xander took Spike's hand and put it on his neck, over the new forming scab that covered Spike's bite. "Is this gonna scar?"

"Usually does, yeah."

"If I was going to back out, it would have been then." Because that mark, more than any other Xander wanted to put on his body, put an end to his Xander-shape for good.

Spike didn't say anything to that - there wasn't any point, because it was true. Braver then you ever knew, love... He leaned forward and kissed the mouth that was tight with resolve until it melted and softened with desire under his.





Square Ten

The new blue jeans scratched along Xander's legs with every step, whispering I know what happened to the last pair in a way that made it harder and harder to keep the grin off his face.

Xander felt - good - to have something decided, even if that something was a gigantic fuck it and the willingness to embrace uncertainty.

And the three slow, sparkly, spangly mouthfuls of Spike's blood he'd taken were making the cool California night warm and the leaves sing every time a gust of wind rustled down the colonnade and blew Xander's hair into his eye. "So where is this place?"

Spike was smiling along with Xander's there-and-gone-again grin, guessing what he was thinking about from the flush that came and went with each smile. "Not far. Topa Topa Street. Owner's got a little mojo on it, keeps the tourists out."

"And tourists in this case means...?"

"Tourists."

"So I'm not gonna get some kind of - speciesist treatment, huh?" Right then, he felt too good to care if he did.

"Not if he knows what's good for him," Spike said, flat statement of intent that made a tingle of shivery pleasure dance down Xander's spine. That was the blood, too, in a way. Whatever it was that made Spike so fucking fearless, no matter what. Fearless even in the face of the Initiative, and a chip of silicon that made him helpless. Xander leaned over and kissed Spike, hard and fast, and strode on, grinning in earnest.

Now what's that all about? Spike wondered, slowing for a moment. But the enticing bunch and stretch of muscle in the so far un-torn jeans made him jog a step or two and catch up.

"You'll fit right in, pet."

"Fit right in with what?" Xander had half turned to the sound of Spike's voice by the time the vampire caught his elbow, steering him onto a side street off the colonnade. "I thought the whole point was not to fit in." Stumbling, he gained his feet, catching Spike around the waist from behind and Jesus, fuck when did I go insane?, because yes, he was aware of the basic risk that should be involved in grabbing William the Bloody like a high school sweetheart.

And the best part?

Nope. Still didn't care. "Unless you mean fit in right here. Kinda liking it here." And he did. Like it, that was, the way he and Spike fit together. Just right, and his neck didn't hurt when they kissed too long.

Spike put his hands over Xander's, enjoying the heat and solidity of the body right behind him - holding him. "Fit in 'cause Seb, he attracts all kinds. But they all want one thing." Spike stopped and twisted around, yanking Xander up hard against him and rolling his hips, just a little. "They all want the best, and they all want something unique. That's you, love."

Xander let his hands creep down beneath Spike's duster, sliding into the back pockets of his jeans, and Hello back pockets. Best invention for the discerning gay man since lube. "Tell me again what it'll look like." He was vaguely aware that they were still walking, him forward, and Spike backward and he supposed he should be putting more effort into steering them, but a: he didn't know where they were going, and b: who could concentrate with a double handful of Spike?

"Like a garland, love," Spike said, glancing back over his shoulder and steering them left. "Like...a Greek god, his wreath of laurels slipping down..." Spike made a seductive little moue with his mouth and Xander laughed out loud, his hands hot and proprietary on Spike's haunches.

"I'm no god."

"Good enough to immortalize, though," Spike said, and speculation flashed in Xander's gaze.

Xander squeezed Spike against him until he felt the flash fire burn of that illegal hip-shimmy Spike had going for him, then relaxed his grip. "But I'm not letting you bronze me. Nuh uh. Or put me in a carbonite freezing chamber either."

They paused and stared at each other. "Geek," Spike accused with an amused snort.

"I may be a geek pal, but you're still getting off on me," Xander pointed out, one leg slipping between Spike's with a rasp of new denim against old and a muffled hiss when Spike's hip bone dug into Xander's dick, which was apparently convinced that he was sixteen again.

"Any time I can," Spike husked, crowding Xander back into a vine-hung lattice and leisurely thrusting into him once - twice - three times. Twist and roll of his hips that made Xander groan and Spike ducked down and bit lightly at the fresh mark on Xander's throat.

Xander's head was tilting back obligingly before his mind caught up, but since it was only to give its unconditional approval to the proceedings, he just made a low noise in his throat and raised a hand to cup the back of Spike's head, grinding into Spike's thrusts. "Hey, keep me in fresh jeans and you can get off on me whenever you want." He dipped his head, feeling the colder cold of Spike's ear against his lips. "But I'd rather be somewhere I can ditch the jeans, too."

"After, you satyr," Spike whispered, biting once more, and harder, before hopping back off the trellis and tugging Xander along like an eclectic and ambulatory balloon. Seb's place was just down the block and Spike didn't want the blood to 'run out' before the tattoo was over. It was gonna hurt.

Xander laughed, letting Spike drag him along. The blood, he was starting to think, was something he could get used to. Would kinda like to get used to. None of that weird fuzziness he got with pot, or the sluggish alcohol feeling. Just nice.

Fearless. Xander'd never thought about how much fear he'd had, or how many kinds, till it was all gone.

Yeah, he could get used to it.

"So where is it?" Xander asked when Spike stopped beneath a trellis still sweet-scented with heavy green hanging plants even this late in October, where the street noise seemed oddly muted by the white walls and rough wood.

"Right here."

Xander looked, confused - and then he looked, taking a long breath and scanning the stucco and stone of the storefronts. And it was there - a heavy, carved door of some dark wood with a wide, embroidered piece of cloth hanging down beside it. A brass bead - as big as his fist and carved all over with strange symbols - finished the cloth and Xander watched as Spike reached out and took it in his hand - tugged twice, gently, and then let go, smiling over at him. A brass plaque on the wall said 'Nine Steps to Heaven" in angular script, with more of the odd symbols beneath.

"Do you see it, pet?"

"Either that or you're putting something in the blood when I'm not looking. Which, okay, kind of doesn't make sense, so shutting up now." He felt Spike chuckling into their kiss, and pushed forward to pin Spike against the door frame, and would have, if it hadn't opened and Spike hadn't gently disengaged from the kiss, keeping his arms latched loosely around Xander's waist.

"Delilah! What a treat," Spike said, smiling with genuine pleasure at the tall, dark-haired woman who had opened the door. She was of some Asian extraction mixed with the local Indian tribe and the combination gave her a high-boned, regal appearance not in the least marred by the tight, worn jeans and 'Hello Kitty' baby-doll tee she wore.

"Spike! It's been ages!" Delilah said, and her dark, cat-shaped eyes swept over the vampire and then Xander, glittering and amused.

Something in that greeting and sweep of eyes spoke to Xander's inner cave man which wasn't about to give up its grip on Spike's ass just yet.

"That it has, pet." Spike leaned into Xander a little, loving that the man's arms tightened around him - that Delilah's causally claiming aura had sparked a possessive response. "This is Xander, for Seb."

"Oh? Not you?" Delilah stepped back, gesture of her head ushering them in, and Spike urged Xander up the single step and across the bare landing to the second door. The first swung silently closed, shutting them in to aqueous blue-gold light.

"Not today," Spike said with the tone of someone who'd had the conversation before, which really didn't do much for making Xander relax. But the way Spike leaned into him, and that possessive little smirk did. Just enough that Xander could notice, even appreciate the utterly tranquil atmosphere, the light that seemed to filter in from everywhere and nowhere, and -

Xander hurried to keep up with Spike, slipping his arm back around his waist. Appointment. Right.

There really were nine steps down into the studio, and Spike counted them silently, as he always did. They emerged from the tunnel-like staircase into the lobby of the studio, an oasis of greenery and art and low, squashy couches flanked by tables and more art in books and portfolios. A towering bookshelf took up one wall and Japanese paper lanterns and Cambodian shadow puppets hung from the ceiling. A tattoo machine buzzed somewhere in the depths of the shop and the medicinal scent of antiseptics and cleaners was overlaid with frangipani, musk, and lime.

"Seat yourselves. Seb's working on Venus."

"He has skin left to ink?"

Delilah winked at him. "Barely. And not anymore. Seb will be out soon." She went behind a counter and disappeared into a back room and Spike took a deep breath and eyed the many books, searching for one in particular.

Xander's brain was still jumping back and forth between Venus - he? and imagining what skin someone with that much ink would have left to tattoo as Spike led him to one of the couches, tumbling them both onto it and making himself at home with a Xander blanket.

"Pass me that book there, yeah, pet? The one in red."

"What is it?" Xander squirmed until he was comfortable against Spike, the couch's back surprisingly squashy behind him, then grabbed the book in question. Big, heavy, and slippery, he was grateful to Spike for catching it before he dropped it in Spike's lap which, vamp or not, would have dampened the mood.

Spike manhandled the heavy book around the right way and pulled Xander closer. "Art, love. It's art." He opened the book to the front and they were both confronted by a nude back, elaborately tattooed with a portrait of three women in draped, classical garb.

"It's Seb's best," Spike added, for Xander's benefit. He wanted Xander to see that Seb really was the right man - well, demon - for the job. And before he saw Seb in the flesh, since that could be a little - disconcerting.

Xander's fingers hovered over the image, not quite touching the page where the three women tread so lightly. "Matt has tattoos. From when he was in the Marines. But they're nothing like this."

"That's because Marines are soldiers, love, and soldiers haven't got any brains. Poured 'em all out when they enlisted, didn't they? Seb isn't a tattooist - he's an artist. He'll make you wish you had more skin."

"No. You'll wish I had more skin for him to tattoo, because you're gonna be looking at it every day for the rest of my life. And you'd better appreciate it every day too, pal." Not, Xander's cave brain thought gleefully, that there's much doubt of that. Which made the rest of him feel pretty good too.

"Appreciate what, your skin?" Spike asked, shoving the portfolio aside to slid a hand up under Xander's shirt and stroke the thin, sensitive skin along his ribs. "I appreciate it, love... Appreciate the way it feels...the way it looks...." Spike tugged the shirt higher - leaned forward to trail a series of languid kisses from sternum to navel. "The way it tastes..." he bit lightly at the firm muscles of Xander's abdomen and grinned at the little shiver that went all thought the man.

"I appreciate your appreciating," Xander answered quickly, every inch of the skin in question feeling like it was trying to crawl eagerly forward for its turn being bitten because hello! More Xander to appreciate here and it wasn't as if they had anywhere to go just yet. And he'd bet the farm and a few puppies that Delilah wouldn't mind them engaging in a little PDA. Hell, she'd probably tape it or - something something something. Xander moaned when Spike's tongue swirled wetly around his navel.

"Your attention's wandering, pet."

"Let's see...what could be making it hard for me to concentrate?"

Spike just chuckled softly - and then a little louder as Xander's stomach gurgled under his mouth. "Shhh," he admonished the stomach. "I'm trying to be seductive."

"It's your fault, you know. All that noise," Xander clarified, when Spike peered up at him in confusion. "If you hadn't made me eat the biggest plateful of antelope this side of Africa..." Xander patted his full stomach and Spike bent and kissed it again.

"Needed a decent meal in you, love - it'll help with the come-down. 'Sides, you can't get tattooed on an empty belly. You'll get sick."

"But antelope, Spike? What's wrong with good old American cow?" Xander moved the petting to Spike's head, grinning when the Big Bad pushed his head into Xander's palm like Miss Kitty Fantastico on a good day.

"Silly git. 'S as American as any cow, and better for you too. Darker, richer."

"So that's why you made me eat the liver too? Which by the way, is not an experience I would traditionally look forward to."

"Cleaned your plate, didn't you?"

"Uh, I reserve the right to not respond to that in the interest of protecting my reputation as a red blooded young American guy who hates liver."

Spike snorted. "Liver's where all the good stuff is. An' you liked it, pet. Next time we'll try the kangaroo." Spike rolled his head slowly over Xander's petting hand, letting his own hand slide around Xander's waist to the small of his back, to stroke there with his fingertips.

"'Sides, promised you a nice treat for afters, if you were good and ate it all..."

Xander shivered, tongue ghosting over his bottom lip where he could still feel the ragged edges of Spike's skin, parting beneath his teeth, and the cool seep of ruby red cocaine. Like a little piece of Spike's demon flashed and flickered through him, licked all around his heart and brain. "Oh yeah. And when you promise, jesus you deliver."

"Can't help that, pet - you make it easy," Spike murmured, lifting his head enough to take Xander's mouth in a slow, slow kiss.

"You need a couple more minutes?" a husky voice said, and Spike looked around, grinning.

"Seb!" He felt Xander shift, just a little - heard the small indrawn breath. But nothing else. Good - that's good. Shouldn't be scared, pet. Seb was something to see.

Taller than both of them, with ink-black skin that sheened starling's-wing iridescence in the light. Seb's hair was pure white, braided back tightly from a narrow, triangular face. Mobile, bat-like ears and a long, stretched-looking body. But mostly it was the tail, that flicked and twitched restlessly, thin and long and barbed on the end. And the eyes, which were solidly white and eerie in that dark face. Seb grinned, and the inside of his mouth showed pale pink-white, with sharp teeth like black ice.

"Just havin' a little...moment. You ready for us?"

"All ready, yes."

Spike rolled off of Xander and off of the couch, pulling him to his feet and sliding a cool arm around his waist. "You ready, pet?"

Ready? The jumping under Xander's skin had turned to a low tingling buzz of anticipation that left him hard - or maybe that was the afterglow of Spike's lips and tongue on his stomach.

He wanted to laugh, almost did laugh, but a guy sure as hell didn't survive his first twenty two years on the Hellmouth by laughing in the presence of demons.

Okay, so there might have been some giggling involved, but Seb didn't look offended. Not that Xander would know how Seb looked when he was offended, but Spike didn't look like Seb was offended, and that was good enough for Xander. "Lets do this."


~*~*~*~*~


"Doin' all right, Xander?" Spike asked quietly, as Seb paused to re-fill an ink cap and Xander shifted a little on the reclining chair he was face down in, rustling the plastic cover. His neck was red and a little swollen from the needles but they were in the final stages, now - Seb was doing the white highlights along the little tattooed 'knot' that lay over Xander's spine - knot of old leather thongs, that 'tied' the garland of narrow leaves around Xander's shoulders. It lay low down over his collarbones, easily hidden by a t-shirt.

"M'okay," Xander said, his voice a little muffled. He flexed his right hand around Spike's hand, the pouch from Africa creaking a bit between their palms.

"Almost there, pet," Spike said, rubbing slowly up and down his lightly sweating back.

"Need a bath," Xander said vaguely, and then turned his head to look at Spike. "A long bath and more of that antelope. And...I dunno - Sultan for the day, I guess," he added, smirking a little.

"Think so, huh?" Spike leaned down and kissed the tip of his nose. "You've been very brave and very good," he whispered, "and I think you deserve a special treat for that."

"How special?" Xander breathed, feeling another wave of tension crawling up his spine despite his best efforts. 'Breathe', Seb had advised. And so had Spike. And Delilah too when she poked her head in, and Xander would have complained that he didn't need to be reminded to breathe except that by the time Seb had come back to his spine for the finishing touches, breathing was feeling oh so optional under the fiery cutting pain that wasn't about the buzzing anymore. No, no, no.

"Pet, breathe."

Oh yeah.

Xander dragged in a slow, shaky breath and let it out, eye fluttering - trying to concentrate on Spike's hand petting up and down his spine. "How's it look?" Because hello, babbling didn't require much coherent thought, and to babble, he had to breathe. It'd worked for him so far. "Um, and how special?" He flinched as it felt, for a moment, as if the skin back there was the consistency of all the scraped knees of childhood on top of each other with Seb fishing around in there for something. He tightened his hand on Spike's until he could feel every rock, bone, and twig in the pouch digging into his palm.

"Work of bleedin' art."

"Bleeding art. Right."

Spike snorted, plucking the original design from the side table and holding it where Xander could focus on it. "He's right here, pet. The white bits. Makin' it look all real."

"That's all?"

"'S the worst bit, love. But the last. You're almost done, yeah?"

Xander sucked in another breath against the light-headedness. "Yeah. Okay. Tell me about my special reward again? And feel - feel free to get as detailed as you want to. Because anything that distracts me is so of the good."

Spike bent down low, out of Seb's way but close to Xander's ear. "I know you're sore, love. I can feel it. You're so tense..." Spike ran a finger up Xander's arm, feeling the tightness there as Xander fought to stay still against the bee-sting kiss of the needles.

"I know what would make you relax, love... If i touched you...all over. Just slow, like this...gentle..." Spike worked his fingertips in a spiral, around Xander's bicep, outer arm to inner arm, pressing down. "Your arms and your legs, your hands and your feet...your hips and back and chest...belly..." Xander breathed, and Spike smiled at the little hitch in the inhalation.

"And the blood would be right there, wouldn't it? Right under your skin... And I'd want to taste you - taste it... You don't know what it's like, if I drink from your thigh, Xander..." Another hitching breath, and Spike stroked his fingertips up again, to the single visible puncture mark on Xander's neck. He lowered his voice to the merest whisper, lips close enough to brush Xander's ear.

"I can drink from your cock, love. While I suck you, I can bite, and it feels just...like this..." Spike caressed the mark, merest edge of a nail and the pad of his finger and Xander's hand in his closed like a vise.

Xander's breath stuttered in his throat and he closed his eye, grinding down against the chair with a quick intake of air. "So. Fucking. Hard - to think."

Seb laughed, a quiet hissing. "As long as you're still."

"Still - still as a mouse," Xander promised, bearing down on Spike's hand as that buzzing turned good imagining Spike's fangs around his dick, good like Spike's bite good and okay, fuck, not good etiquette to come in the chair. Jesus. "Are mice still?"

"Not known for it, love."

Xander groaned, another wash of hot-cold radiating through him from the pressure of Seb's hand and the machine and the trickle of sweat sliding down from his hairline and into his socket, making him shiver. "I am so holding you to that promise."

"Won't be hard to do that, pet," Spike said, and then leaned back as Seb spritzed the tattoo down with an antiseptic wash and contemplatively wiped off the thin coating of A&D, ink, and blood.

"We're done, then," Seb said, and set his liner machine down on the stainless tray that held ink caps, cups of water, and the heavier shading machine.

"Done done?" Xander asked, and Seb stood up, rolling his left glove off and balling it in his right fist, then rolling the right glove off around it, turning it inside out.

"Complete. Can you sit up?"

"Course he can," Spike said, and then got a hand on Xander's chest and eased the man upright, watching him grimace as stiff muscles protested the movement. "Go slow, love - three hours is a long time," Spike advised, pushing sweaty hair back off Xander's face. Spike's hand was still locked in Xander's and he gave a soft squeeze. "Looks fuckin' beautiful, pet."

Xander cautiously rolled his head from one side to the other, wincing at the rawness of the new tattoo - and that he'd expected, but not the rolling ache underneath, like he'd spent the hours hauling lumber instead of slouched in a chair. "What's it look like?"

"See it for yourself." Seb returned with a broad mirror, the right size to reflect Xander's head and shoulders and absence of Spike. He could feel Spike's hand still on his chest, and put his own over it, curving his fingers around the edges.

It also reflected the manic gleam in his eye, hair disheveled with sweat and Spike's petting, and a grin so wide it fuckin' hurt. And it was like stumbling out of the closet after the first blow job from Cordy, shaky and all new in his skin and changed.

And it was - beautiful. The leaves feathered and brushed over the tops of his shoulders, swept over his collarbones in a rush of reds that reminded him of African earth and the one tree in Sunnydale that always turned the color of old rust in the fall. "Wow."

The leaves were a little bigger at the very front - they meshed and formed a sort of centerpiece, the tip of which just touched the top of his sternum, where the pectoral muscles started to bulk out.

"Here," Seb said, handing the mirror to Spike. The demon picked up a second mirror and held it behind Xander, so he could see where the 'garland' was tied together at the back, and the curling ends of tattooed thongs hung down his spine, ending between his shoulder blades.

"It's fantastic, love," Spike said, and Xander looked up at him, his grin infectious and so wide it had to hurt.

"Yeah - yeah it is," Xander agreed, taking Spike's arm to be helped out of the chair and muttering under his breath when his knees immediately gave way and Spike had to haul him back to his feet, leaning him against the chair as Xander gingerly eased his tee shirt back on.

"Let's get you back to the hotel love, yeah?"

Xander vaguely remembered nodding, and then everything was a blur. Cash had changed hands at one point, and he was pretty sure Delilah had said something complementary and embarrassing on their way back out. He just stumbled along next to Spike, cool solid arm, and chill insubstantial wind making up most of his world for the walk back to the hotel room, and the side trip into a brightly colored Mexican restaurant where Spike ordered things Xander had never even heard of, but if it wasn't on the menu of Taco Bell, Xander probably hadn't heard of it anyway, and god he was hungry, the scent of spice and chilies and meat making his mouth water.

Then Spike was back at his side, a large paper bag dangling from one hand and they were headed home or at least back to the hotel, and - "Would it be completely gross if I ate whatever you bought in the bath?"

"Can eat anything in a bathtub, pet," Spike said, grabbing Xander's arm and steering him around a mailbox. He tucked Xander's arm into his, not caring if the old-fashioned way of walking looked a little odd - it was better than the man staggering into traffic on the tail-end of a blood-and-endorphin rush. "And I can feed you anything in the bathtub. I'll fix you right up, yeah? Make you feel fine."

"Did it really look good?" Xander murmured, head on Spike's shoulder and his eye half shut, trusting Spike to steer him right.

"Looked good enough to eat, love," Spike murmured. Xander's grip tightened on his arm and Spike grinned, swinging the bag of Mexican food, feeling a little giddy himself.

The air seemed a few shades warmer, and a lot more damp in the green, green, green courtyard that Xander felt like a jerk for not appreciating more, but he only wanted to get in.

Into the warmth, into the privacy where he could strip down to nothing at all, into the bath, and one way or another into Spike. He shivered, the erection that had flagged during the walk making a rallying leap against the roughness of his zipper, and he leaned harder into Spike, overbalancing him until he thumped up against the door frame of their room, doing his red-blooded best to kiss a vampire breathless. Spike's skin was so smooth and cool where Xander's hands crawled up under his shirts to slide over compact muscle, the hardness of Spike's nipples tickling his palms and he dragged his fingernails over them with a huff of breath. "Inside. Now," Cave Xander said.

"Yes, my Sultan," Spike breathed, twisty little flutter of want love need in his belly - loving the way Xander's gaze widened and then darkened as the words were processed. He got the key in the door - got the door open and let Xander man-handle him across the room - into the annex where the bathtub was. The chair was still there from before, minus the fruit basket and Spike dropped the bag of food and let Xander bend him back in a hard kiss. Darting, hot tongue and scrape of teeth, hands up under his shirt and digging into this back, want want want with every panting breath and thrust of hip and Spike...loved it.

"Christ, you feel so good," he muttered, shredding Xander's t-shirt up the back so he could get to more skin, and arching up when Xander bit at his collarbones and dipped the tips of his fingers into the waist of Spike's jeans.

Xander hissed at the coolness of Spike's fingers over the burn of the tattoo, where the leather thongs curled down between his shoulder blades. He got one leg between Spike's and ground against him. "Vampire flesh. Better than an ice pack."

Except that an ice pack was sounding less and less appealing as the shivery shockiness began to set in, the outdoor chill seeping its way into Xander's bones until he shuddered against Spike, goose flesh rising along his arms.

"C'mon, pet. Let's get you out of these things and into a hot bath, yeah?"

"God, yeah." A bath sounded like heaven to sore muscles that cramped with shivering, and skin that itched with sweat and blood.

Spike kissed him once, chill hand in his hair, lips and teeth clashing hard and fast before Spike let go, leaving Xander to fumble his way out of stiff jeans and loosely tied boots.

Spike worked fast, getting the tub filling and getting a towel for Xander to lean back on, so that his sore skin wouldn't be against the cold porcelain. Xander climbed into the filling tub and huddled there, looking a little miserable.

Spike stroked his hair gently and then went to the little wood-burning stove that stood in the corner and got it going, using the oil-soaked sawdust provided in a little bucket for a starter and setting chunks of fragrant cedar and apple-wood to burn.

The water was higher now, and Xander was leaning back - trying to uncoil shivering muscles. Spike stripped hastily and padded into the kitchen, gathering a bottle of water and a bottle of pineapple-orange juice and the aspirin before heading back to the tub. He set everything on the chair and stepped in himself, facing Xander and settling carefully so as not to slop water on the tattoo. Xander's eye was closed, but his skin was pinking, and he looked - comfortable.

"Here, love, take a couple of these and have something to drink, yeah? Make you feel better."

Xander obediently downed three aspirin and half the bottle of juice with them, and by the time he'd finished, the tub was full, the room was warming, and Spike felt less like an ice cube in the bath.

With a sigh, he rolled his shoulders experimentally. "All right, pet?"

"Yeah - tired." Xander wished he could sink down up to his chin in the warm bath but there was no way he was going through all of that to fuck it up the first night for the sake of wallowing in heat. "I think I'm gonna need help with..." He gestured to his neck and shoulders, wincing at the muscle pull. "Because there is no way I'm gonna be able to reach the back."

"Course I will, pet. Said I was gonna take good care of you, didn't I?"

A smile tugged at the corners of Xander's mouth. "Yeah."

"Always keep my promises, love." Spike's hands slid up Xander's shins and he couldn't hold back a moan of pleasure when Spike dug his fingertips into the muscles.

"It is so unfair that I'm sore there when I got the tattoo here."

"Could'a bounced a quarter off your back, your were so tense," Spike said, concentrating on kneading out the knots of tension he could feel - everywhere. He worked silently for a while, listening to the soft groans and little ahh! sounds Xander made, feeling the muscles under his hands gradually smooth out and relax. He ended at Xander's shoulders, just skirting the tattoo and Xander was a boneless lump in the tub.

"Better now, yeah? And now - you need to eat."

"Can't - lift my head," Xander mumbled, rolling his head a little on the towel and eyeing with longing the little paper-wrapped bundles and Styrofoam boxes Spike was pulling out of the big bag.

"You'll have to, pet. Can't eat like that or you'll choke." Spike took a huge bite of some kind of meat in sauce, and offered a forkful to Xander, knowing he couldn't resist.

Xander moaned at the scent of spices and rich deep flavors, taking the offered meat with a groan and chewing, the flavors bursting over his tongue. "'S this?"

"Chicken mole, love. Open up." Another forkful made its way into Xander's mouth, and Spike watched with amusement as Xander chewed.

"But what is it?"

"Is it good?"

Xander briefly thought about glaring at Spike, but decided it took too much energy, and it might make Spike stop feeding him, so he opened his mouth obediently again for another bite, and nodded.

"Secret ingredient's chocolate."

Xander choked on his mouthful, and did glare at Spike as he coughed and chased the mouthful with a sip of water. "You're kidding me."

"I know better than to kid you about chocolate, pet. Not much chocolate in it, and none of the sweet kind you'd eat straight," Spike said thoughtfully, taking a bite himself. "Got lots of other things in it too, don't it? Bit like a Mexican curry."

"Less talk, more feeding the hungry man."

As he ate, the burn in his mouth warmed him from the inside as the bath and fragrant wood fire warmed him from the outside and he settled his hands onto Spike's knees, counting his heartbeats as the skin of his shoulders and collarbones throbbed in time. Hot. Soothing.

"Perfect, pet, you're so perfect," Spike murmured, smoothing soap gently onto the fresh tattoo, using careful fingertips to loosen and wash away the small amount of ointment and blood and ink that still tainted Xander's skin. Xander twitched a little under his hands, and hissed when Spike poured cool water over him, rinsing the soap away. He'd already washed Xander's hair and now he could see the man drooping with fatigue - no more blood, no more endorphins, and a full belly.

"Bed, love," he said, getting his hands under Xander's arms and lifting, and Xander let him haul him up and out - let Spike dry him off and steer him to the bed.

"You goin' out?" Xander mumbled, and Spike hesitated a long moment. He was hungry, but not that hungry, and he rubbed the damp towel through his hair a last time and climbed into the bed with Xander, curling as close as he dared.

"Not goin' anywhere," he said, soft kiss to Xander's temple, and Xander smiled and sighed and was asleep.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander leaned against the kitchen counter, the edge of a cheap stool cutting into one nude hip, and looked out into the back yard with longing - at the pool and the sun and the sea sparkling in the distance. Three things that were, for the moment, off-limits to him and the tattoo he couldn't quite keep his eyes off of. Or his hands, but as his fingers crept up to scratch-

"Hands off!"

"It itches!"

"That means it's healing, you git. Now keep your bloody fingers off of it."

Xander didn't know how Spike had seen him with his eyes glued to the television, sprawled out in one of the Nests with a controller clutched in both hands, and decided it was a mystery best not examined too closely. Giving up on the pool and sunshine for the day, he poured a quick glass of juice and mug of blood and headed into the living room to watch, setting the mug next to Spike's elbow and squinting at a game he didn't recognize. "That's new."

"Yeah." Xander watched Spike obliterate a series of demons, then wander into a shrine, never taking his eyes from the screen.

"You didn't get enough demon fighting in L.A.?"

Spike snorted. "Did you?"

Xander glanced at the game rack with a shrug. "Pretty sure Professor X never visited Sunnydale. Or Africa."

"He visited Africa once."

Xander chuckled, dropping a kiss on Spike's hair. "You're sexy when you're geeky."

Spike made a rude gesture at him as Xander snatched up the phone, wandering back into the kitchen and then out onto the shaded patio, angling the lounge so that his lower body was in sun and the tattoo was carefully in shade.

"And stay out of the bloody sun!"

"Yeah, yeah, I know!"

Spike gulped the blood before it got cold, grimacing at the taste. It was human, and fresh, but nothing like 'alive', and he wondered what Xander would do if he stopped buying blood all together.

Find out one of these days, I guess, Spike thought, and then cursed as his avatar was ambushed. Well, fuck. He tossed the controller down and rolled onto his back, squinting out at Xander on the patio and reveling in the feeling of the silky pillows in the Nest against his naked skin.

Needs some lotion on his tattoo. Keeps scratching at it. Maybe when he's done calling...he'll need to relax a bit, I'll bet. Spike sighed and got up - wandered into the kitchen to put the mug into the sink and to find something else to drink to get the taste of stale blood out of his mouth.

Xander stared at the phone until he was forced to admit that it wasn't going to dial itself and paged through the numbers until he came to Wesley's cell and dialed, stretching his toes to the sun and letting it warm them.

He caught his fingers creeping up to his collarbone again and dropped them forcefully onto the arm of the chair, wriggling a bit to get comfortable instead.

"Wyndam-Pryce."

"Hey, Wesley."

"Xander! Is everything all right?"

"I'm fine, Wes. You don't have to pretend Spike didn't call you two nights ago."

"I - er."

"You watchers and your fancy five dollar words."

Wesley snorted, sounding very much like Spike in that moment. "Quite. How are you?"

"Itchy."

Wesley leaned back in his chair, Wroth's Guide to the Fra-ia momentarily forgotten, along with the rather elaborate ritual they were going to have to perform to make those particular demons amenable to a truce with Angel and company. Rather face Xander, really.

"Xander, I really...must apologize. I don't know what I was thinking -"

"You were thinking that it'd be really fucking awkward if you told me about Cordelia and I cried and snotted all over you in grief."

"I most certainly was not thinking anything of the sort," Wesley said, then sighed at the snicker on the other end. "At least not in those terms."

"Coward," Xander said, but gently. "It's - okay. I get it. Wrong guy for a tough job."

"I am sincerely sorry, Xander."

"I know." Xander sighed, rubbing his finger in a droplet of water from the lawn sprinklers that'd soaked the chair arm earlier that afternoon. "I'm okay." He closed his eye, folded his arm over his stomach and toyed with the edges of the puckered scar there, feeling the words drain away but the silence wasn't - bad.

"I think..." Wesley stopped as well, hearing the faint sounds of wind and the sea from Xander's phone - his own office utterly silent except for the whispery drone of the air conditioning and the faint, distant ringing of phones. Sterile air, sterile sounds. "I think I was simply...afraid. I didn't know what to say, and... It was - she had been in a coma for so long and..." Wesley sighed, tapping a pencil on this desk, imagining Xander sitting on his back patio, the sea just down there, the breeze cool and salt-scented. He hadn't seen it, but Spike had told him and it sounded...nice.

"We thought she'd woken up. We thought she was going to be okay and then...she had died and... It was just - too much. I'm - sor-"

"Okay, apologize one more time, and I'm coming down there and re-filing all of your books by size, color, and ick factor."

Wesley hesitated, unsure if he wanted to ask this question. "Ick factor?"

"Think about it."

Wesley glanced down at the open Wroth's Guide and its rather elaborate woodcut depiction of the acquisition of certain necessary fluids for the ritual, and chuckled tiredly. "That may well come in useful, actually."

"Made you laugh."

Wesley had to smile. "Yes. Yes, you did. Though I'm sure I don't deserve -"

"You talk too much." Xander slithered further down in the chair until the sun came all the way up to his belly and sighed, letting it bake into him like the rock lizards he'd watched skitter away from him in the Namib.

"Do you think so?" Wesley asked, considering the long silences that passed in his office when he was alone, researching. The silences from Angel when they had a meeting - silences overlaid by Andrew's rambling pontifications and the burble of the young Slayers. The drift-deep, cocooning silence of his apartment, and the silence that descended upon him after each vision as he was momentarily deafened and blinded by the force of them.

"Perhaps I do." He hesitated, and something surfaced from earlier. "Err... Itchy?"

"New tattoo."

"Ah. I see." Wesley thought back to that expanse of scarred, tanned skin, unable to remember anything that had looked like a tattoo, and dear god, Xander wasn't the type to get some sort of ghastly heart with 'Cordelia 4-evah' or some other such mangled phrase in it, was he? "I've...heard they can be quite unpleasant when they're new," he said, deciding that was safe.

"Spike appointed himself its guardian protector. I get lotioned, massaged, and yelled at. It's been a great vacation from sanity." Xander sighed, opening his eye to stare out at the ocean, wishing it was more than a vacation.

"Ah, a holiday..." Wesley said. And then he heard the wistful note in his own voice and straightened abruptly in his chair. "So, you're doing all right then, Xander? No...ill effects?"

"Well, I'm still walking a little funny if you wanna know." Xander laughed hearing Wesley groan on the other end. "I'm...okay, Wes. I'm really okay." He looked out at the ocean, the deeper blue-green where the continental shelf dropped abruptly away. "Spike misses you." It was half truth, because Xander wanted to see Wesley again, too. He could hear the exhaustion in Wes' voice even over the phone. He wondered if Spike would hear himself made into Xander's not-so-graceful excuse.

In the kitchen, gulping down Xander's orange juice with a grimace, Spike narrowed his eyes, staring out at Xander. You little liar. Yeah, I miss him, but so do you. Why not just say so? Gonna get you for that. Spike grinned down at his juice and then shook his head in disbelief - shoved the container away into the fridge. I need a damn drink. I must be out of my mind - fruit juice. He grabbed the bottle of all-natural whatever lotion Xander had and slipped outside, glad that half the patio was in shade.

"Need some lotion, pet?" he asked, and was gratified to see Xander jump, just a little.

"Does he? Miss me, I mean? I mean... Well, it has been a while since we've seen each other." Wesley twisted his chair idly back and forth, trying to ignore the little jump of pleasure that came from that casual admission. Does Xander...also? Oh, enough of that.

Xander gave Spike a suspicious look, because nobody had timing that good on accident, especially not with super vamp hearing powers. But he scooted the lounge back until it was out of the sun and pulled Spike down onto the warm cushions, wrapping his legs around him. "Yeah. He misses you so much he just came out here with the lotion out of the charity of his heart. Big snoop." Xander rested one sun-warmed hand on Spike's chest, rubbing in small circles. "And okay, I'd like it if you visited too. Can you get away from Captain Broody?"

"Oh, I..." Wesley quelled that little quiver of happy again and leaned forward on his desk, shuffling papers. "I suppose if...hrmm, there's a meeting -"

"Just come, for fuck's sake, Wes!" Spike held the phone up high away from Xander, other hand in the middle of Xander's chest, holding him down. "We both miss you and you need a break from Batvamp, yeah?"

"Yeah..." Wes sighed. "I mean, yes. Yes, all right, I - how about...Wednesday?"

"We'll see you then, Wes!" Xander called into the phone, glaring playfully at Spike but stroking his hands up and down Spike's arms, working his fingers into the muscles and tendons and letting Spike take over with Wesley if he wanted to. "The house reserves the right to implement a no-dress policy." He didn't know if Wesley had heard him, but laughed at the shove Spike gave him for that, catching Spike's hand and bringing it to his lips to bite a finger.

"What did he say? You're wearing a dress?" Wesley asked, scribbling furiously in his day-runner so that he could re-arrange his schedule. And figure out what to tell Angel, because Angel was still pissed that Spike had 'walked out' and Wesley hadn't told him any differently, so far. He wanted to talk to Spike about it first.

"You been thinkin' of me in a dress?" Spike made a face at Xander and held the phone between shoulder and ear - grabbed Xander's hips and pulled him forward, higher onto his lap, pressing hard cock to warm ass and Xander arched up, his mouth opening and his head falling back. Spike swirled his fingertip lazily on Xander's tongue, watching with glittering eyes.

"I've been - what? No, no, really, Spike - let me talk to Xander again."

"He's a little busy."

Xander shook with silent laughter, closing his lips around Spike's finger, teasing the underside from palm to fingertip with flickering tongue, sucking until Spike shifted involuntarily on the seat. Xander pulled off his finger with a wet pop loud enough for vampire ears. He wriggled closer, feeling Spike harden and nestle along his cleft, teasing his balls with the cool hard length. Rising, and then down, taking Spike in on the left-over morning slick until Spike hissed sharply into the telephone.

Serves him right for snooping. Xander chuckled, dropping his head forward onto Spike's shoulder, letting his legs fall open to tease his fingers over the bite mark on his inner thigh with a low moan.

"Already? I - I - oh!" Wesley stuttered at the sound of the pop, laughing helplessly. "God, do the two of you do anything else?"

"Not if we can help it, mate." Spike got his arm around Xander and pulled him closer, hips moving the tiny bit of up that they could. "You be here Wednesday, Wes, and we'll - talk then, yeah?"

"Of course," Wesley said, and then Spike let the phone slither out of his hand to the end of the lounger somewhere and wrapped both arms around Xander.

"Hold on tight, love," he whispered, and stood. Xander's legs locked around his hips and Spike took the three steps necessary to the picnic table Xander had and lay him down on the smooth wood. He leaned down and ran his mouth up Xander's chest - skipped lightly over his tattoo and then nibbled on his throat, going for the thin skin just under Xander's ear. All the while moving his hips in a slow and teasing rhythm, his hands under Xander's ass, pulling him wide.

"Spike?" Wesley heard a thump, and then Spike's voice, saying something and - was that a moan? Wesley hesitated and then clicked the off button. Probably be hearing more of that than I care to when I visit, he thought, and crushed the something-like-jealousy feeling that surged up.

Xander hitched his knees higher over Spike's ribs, throwing his head back over the edge of the narrow table and staring with wide, upside down and unseeing eye out at the ocean, every thought, every nerve caught up in the push-pull of Spike sliding in and out of him - the nibbling on his throat that felt like it had a direct express line to his cock. The two unoccupied brain cells he had left met and managed a brief spark of coherency. "Weren't we - just talking to Wesley?"

"Mmm...were. Not now," Spike mumbled, nipping and sucking - feeling every tremor and shiver that went through Xander translated through the muscles that gripped Spike and held him - drew him in deeper. Spike let one hand slide up to the bite on Xander's thigh and he scraped a nail over it, gasping at the full-body shudder that resulted.

"And you were bad, love. Usin' me to get him here."

"Yeah, like - like he'd come all the way up here for me." Xander groaned, pushing his leg up into that scrape that flashed along his nerves with every touch. "Jesus, that is gonna make it hard to think at work." He'd already laid out his loosest khakis to wear on site that night.

"Make it easy to think about me," Spike said, and then stopped everything, staring narrow-eyed down at Xander until he lifted his head, dazed. "Don't do that, Xander. Wes likes you. Don't...do that."

Xander worked a hand around behind Spike's neck, drawing him down to nibble on his lower lip before letting it go. "Wes barely knows me yet, Spike. You're the glue, sweetheart." He dotted kisses along Spike's jaw, nuzzling into the soft skin behind his ear.

Spike pressed into the prickle of Xander's teeth, then pushed with his arms, getting Xander's legs up over his shoulders.

"Glue? Been called worse, I suppose, but never during sex." Spike thrust in, deep as he could, starting a hard, fast rhythm that made the table rock. "Call me something else, pet."

"H-how about l-love vamp, g-god of buggery and - god!" The force of Spike's thrusts knocked the laughter breathlessly out of Xander along with most of his higher brain functions, every nerve stepping up to dance the jig of 'fuck me harder, Spike!' like microscopic Rockettes.

"That'll do," Spike growled, and bent to his task - that of fucking Xander into incoherency. And then - we go inside and clean up and I fuck him again. Or - climb on top of him and ride him until he begs. Or both. He grinned and gasped and buried his face in Xander's neck, licking and sucking and losing his own ability to say anything more.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander kicked his chair back from the desk, rolling the few feet to the back window of the trailer and peeking out over the site. The floods lit all the way from the eastern edge of the crater to the sea, black in the distance like the world had ended beyond Sunnydale's borders, and how ironic was that?

He grabbed the site report documentation from the shelf and let the curtain drop, rolling back to his desk and opening his word processing program, beginning to type.

Official Sick Leave Report, Third Shift, Alexander L. Harris, Grade Three.

This weekend, I skivved off work. I don't know what skiv means, but my vampire said it meant something like blowing off. And I like blowing.

I did a lot of that this weekend.

And I got a tattoo too, and went to a place called Shangri La.


And then deleted it all with a sigh, firing up the appropriate template for a real report, complete with 'Why I don't have a doctor's statement in fifty words or less, even though I am an adult and not a third-grader.'.

Xander's hand crept up toward his collar and pressed on the itching skin beneath with a hiss. It felt like a sunburn now, and he was a red-blooded California guy. He'd had sunburns. But he could scratch sunburns. And everyone knew that telling a man not to scratch was going to make that body part itch like fuck.

He settled for unbuttoning his shirt down to his sternum and pushing it back off his shoulders a bit so that only the ends of his hair tickled the healing skin, and got back to work.


~*~*~*~*~


Spike was pretty sure that if he'd said something to Xander, he'd have an escort and a big yellow Caterpillar or something, trundling after him through the wreckage of Sunnydale. But he hadn't asked, and he didn't want that. This little excursion was a solo deal.

He liked buying things for Xander - the tattoo, the hotel, the meals that he was starting to get looks over. He liked buying for himself - after almost six years of being dead broke and dependant, he'd laid down cash for this motorcycle with a secret thrill and an arrogant lift of his chin. William the Bloody and Slayer of Slayers - kept vamp no more. And he didn't like being low on dosh, so that was why a 'secret' stroll through the crater.

He knew Xander liked buying stuff, too - liked to surprise him with little things like that brilliant game, and music... But Spike hadn't lived 150-something years without knowing that money could cause as many problems as solve them, and he wasn't ever going to be without it, again.

He climbed laboriously over the jumbled mess of sidewalk and cratered earth, then dropped like a cat through the hole in the church roof that Xander had pulled him out of. He'd lost the Gem of Amara, but he hadn't been daft enough to let the rest of that incredible horde go to the dogs. The last of it was here in the basement, under an old floor of slate that may or may not have once held coffins. There'd been a reason he'd gone to ground here, even if he'd forgotten it during his illness.

He sauntered down and down, and pried up the slate with his handy little iron and pulled on a pair of heavy leather gloves. Then he shifted gold and gems and too many jeweled crosses into his hold-all, as well as several rare books and a box of rings which, while not the Gem did have a magical taint to them. Something he reckoned Wesley could explore. Finished, he went back out, climbing to the surface the way he'd got in before - up a cracked wall and out through the bell-tower, the hold-all swinging from his shoulder. As he pulled himself free, he heard the crackle of a radio.

"You wanna put that bag down and turn around slowly, buddy?"

Oh bloody fucking hell! Had to be this wanker. Xander said don't kill him - wonder if I scare him to death if that'll count? Spike did turn slowly, and with a calculated grin on his face. And all Xander's mates think I'm a few bricks shy...this could be fun.

"Dave? What's going on?" Disembodied voice that Spike casually identified as Russ, Xander's de-facto second in command.

Not taking his eyes off of Spike, and holding his long torch like a weapon, Dave pulled the walkie from his belt. "Got a looter problem down here, Russ. You want to send somebody along?"

"I'm not at the trailer, Dave. Have Alex send someone."

"I want you to send someone, Russ." Dave didn't take his eyes off of Spike, but didn't come closer either.

"Jesus, Dave. Fine. Where are you?"

"By the old church. This guy looks like he could be trouble, so don't send any of the girls." Dave backed slowly away from the entrance, not liking that grin at all.

"I'll send someone in the cart."

"Thanks man." Dave clicked off the radio and put it back on his belt. "Put the bag down."

"Evenin', Dave," Spike said, and pulled his rather squashed cigarette pack out of his jeans-pocket - lit up with a flourish and tucked them away. He let the hold-all down gently at his feet, just in case. Dave - might do something stupid. Please, do something stupid, you git.

"So does Harris know his boyfriend's looting the place?" Dave glanced in the direction of the trailers, relaxing when he saw someone getting into the cart and heading their way.

Spike smoked, staring at Dave, who stared back, sweat beading on his upper lip despite the late-October chill.

"M'not looting, Dave. I'm takin' back my property. Felt a little nostalgic, wanted to go for a walk - take in the sights." Spike waved his cigarette in a loose arc, indicating the ruins of the town and saw Dave's eyes go wide.

"Sightseeing? You're fuckin' nuts. This place is dangerous."

"That's what makes it fun," Spike murmured, and flicked the cigarette butt away into the dirt.

Dave heard the cart pull in behind him, glancing back to explain the situation. Or maybe just call the cops. Calling the cops would be fun but- "Oh jesus. Come on Russ." Dave muttered and dropped his flashlight into its belt loop, folding his arms. "Okay. Alex, I caught him looting. Are you gonna do something about that or not?"

"Spike? Looting?" Xander stepped out of the cart, hoping that sounded more like 'ha ha! Spike would never be looting' and less like 'ha ha. Of course Spike is looting. What else would he be doing out here?.

Dave pointed to the bag. "Saw him coming up with that big bag of shit."

Xander shrugged. "Our excavators have already been through the church." And he really hoped that Dave didn't catch evasion as well as Willow used to.

"Just recovering some property I left behind," Spike said, and took three sidling steps right into Xander's space - slipped his arm around Xander's waist and pulled him abruptly closer, hip to hip. "Thought we might do lunch, love,"

"Yeah, as soon as I get this straightened out, sweetheart." Xander twisted, laying a kiss on Spike's temple and giving Dave his best 'What can I do?' shrug. "Dave, did you actually see him remove anything from the site?"

Long pause. "No."

"Then there's nothing I can do. You caught him trespassing, but that's all. And he's already got an invite here to visit me."

"Come on, Alex! You wouldn't be doing that if he wasn't your -"

"Boyfriend? Probably not. But I'd still be letting him go." Xander pushed his hand back through his hair, frustrated. "Look, Dave, they don't pay us enough to care about that shit. You know the policy: we find looters, we shoo them off site."

"Shoo? Is that what you're doing, Dave? Shooing me?" Spike slide his hand idly up and down Xander's chest - let it creep lower to rest on Xander's belly. Dave's eyes followed the movement and Spike watched him blink - flinch - sneer, his lip curling in what might be disgust.

"Is there some...problem, Dave?" Spike asked, keeping his voice nice and low and smooth. He felt Xander tense just a bit, all the same.

Sweetheart, please do not take this where I know it could go, okay? I want to make it to that lunch. Xander rested a hand over Spike's hand on his stomach, keeping his expression as professional as he could with a vampire wrapped around him. Wondered if it was Sunnydale or Spike that made this feel so much less wiggy than it should.

Dave chose to ignore Spike, turning instead to Xander. "I have to do a site report on this, Alex."

"And I have to give it my signature. Have it on my desk by, let's say three?"

"Are you going to sign it?" Dave snapped, and the cobweb-thin restraint on Spike's patience snapped as well. With a low growl, Spike flung himself forward, fingers snatching up a length of Dave's shirt and twisting it - yanking the man close.

"Is there a bloody problem here, mate? 'Cause if there is, I can make it just that much fuckin' worse." Dave gaped at him and Spike gave him his best 'I will kill you and eat your heart' look. Never failed, that one.

"Spike, cut it out." Xander planted one hand on Spike's chest and one on Dave's, pushing them apart. There was no way in hell he could do it if Spike wouldn't let him, and jesus, he hoped his relief wasn't visible when Spike easily let go, taking a half step back. "And you." He left his hand on Dave's chest, shaking his hair out of his eye. "Do you have a problem with Spike visiting me on site?"

"Does it look like I have a fuckin' problem?"

"Do you have a problem with Mariel visiting Carl on site?"

Dave opened his mouth, then shut it mutinously.

"Then deal. Write up your site report and I'll sign it if you make it accurate. Because all you saw is a guy climbing out of the old church." He glanced at Spike. "The guy in question should have called the Site Supervisor and asked for an escort, but he didn't." Xander watched his thumb slide over Spike's unbeating heart, and briefly met his eyes. "He will next time."

Dave stepped away in disgust. "God, Alex. Just take it somewhere else, okay?"

Xander saw Spike's lip curling at that - knew something nasty, or provocative, or downright evil was going to come out of Spike's mouth and he hastened to cut him off.

"It's everybody's partner or nobody's." Xander held up a hand. "California law says we can't discriminate on race, sex, disability, gender orientation, or sexual orientation." I wonder if that covers necrophilia.

"Doesn't say I have to turn a blind eye to illegal activities," Dave grumbled, but he was backing off - physically backing up, and Xander let out a long sigh of relief.

"I'm not asking you to. This won't happen again, okay? Dave?" Dave glared at Spike - at Xander - nodded, finally, and looked pointedly at his watch.

"I'll go get started on that report," he said, and turned and marched off.

Spike slid up behind Xander and pulled him back into an embrace, resting his chin on Xander's shoulder and kissing the bit of neck he could reach.

"Wanker. Should have let me pop him one, love."

"Yeah. Right. I let you pop him one, and then I get fired for taking your side in an assault case." Xander sagged back against Spike, feeling the adrenaline drain away in the familiar, safe feeling of Spike pressing up against him. "Dave's okay when he isn't being a homophobic asshole. And you? Are so fucking suspicious." Xander wormed his way around in Spike's grasp to get an arm around his waist, brushing a smudge of church dust off of Spike's cheek. Dressed in his motorcycle boots, black jeans a black wife-beater, Spike practically screamed 'Criminal'. "What were you doing down there?"

"Just what I said, pet. Getting my property." Spike leaned in for a fast, hard kiss and then he untangled himself and walked over to the hold-all - picked it up. "Remember the Gem of Amara that the Wanker crushed?"

"Yeah," Xander said, eyeing the hold-all.

"It was just one treasure among many. And I did not leave all of that lyin' about for Harmony. Vamp with a plan, me." Spike unzipped the hold-all and tipped it towards Xander, knowing he'd probably only see the glint of metal and jewels, but nothing specific.

"I know some good pawn shops, an some demons who don't ask questions," he finished, shrugging, and zipped the hold-all closed again - dropped it back to the ground in favor of another clinch with Xander. Warm and sweet-clove-salt, and Spike couldn't resist running his tongue down Xander's neck.

Xander shivered, but at that point, he wasn't sure which was doing more, Spike's tongue or a bag full of probably cursed and definitely spelled treasure. Either way, the hair at the back of his neck was shivering upright. "Um, Spike? The Gem of Amara was pretty heavy duty mojo. Do you know what the rest of that stuff does?"

"Yup. It sells for a pretty penny." Spike lifted his head and looked over Xander's worried features, cool fingers caressing the back and side of his neck, giving him a little shake, then resting their foreheads together. "C'mon, love. If it was gonna do anything to me it would've already, and if it'll make you feel better about it, I was gonna ask Wes to look it over when he visits."

Xander drew in a deep breath; smoke, whiskey, and leather. Spike was watching him with that hopeful look he couldn't turn down, even when he knew it'd get him into trouble again and again. The problem was, he was kinda liking the trouble it got him into. He smiled, feeling Spike relax immediately. "Okay." He kissed Spike, so far past caring who watched that a distant wolf whistle only made him smile into Spike's lips. "See? They're not all total dickheads."

Spike shook with a chuckle against him, then abruptly grabbed Xander with both arms, and dipped him back in a dramatic pirate captain and wench kiss to the accompaniment of a distant shout of "Whoo! Go Harris!"

"Depends on what you mean by dickhead, don't it?"

Xander groaned, getting an arm around Spike's neck to kiss him back molasses slow and sweet, tasting some of that church dust that had covered Spike on their first trip home from the site in August. And god it was good to taste that dust on his tongue with Spike strong. "Let me up. I'll tell Russ it was you and we'll take off for lunch."

Spike stood Xander upright, swept up the bag and sauntered over to the golf cart, settling in as if he rode around in one every week. "Gotta say pet, I like your other ride better."

Xander turned the key, easing the golf cart back the way he came. "What? Five horsepower golf carts don't make you horny?"

"You make me horny." Spike's hand casually dropped into Xander's lap, fingers curling around his thigh with cool weight. "And five horsepower is a lot more impressive when there's actual horses. Not that I dealt with the horses much, mind."

"No?"

"Nah. I was a city boy, wasn't I? Horses were more the poof's specialty. I stole my first auto in the days of steam and haven't looked back."

Xander pulled in next to the trailer, looking at Spike in surprise. "Steam cars? You've gotta be kidding me."

"Not hardly, pet. The first cars were powered by steam. Internal combustion was a wonderful invention." Spike gave Xander's thigh a last squeeze, snatched up his bag and stepped out of the cart with a mighty stretch.

Xander could only sit where he was, staring at that slim body stretching and going on about steam cars as if they'd been yesterday or something. He shook himself and climbed out of the cart, tucking the keys in his pocket as he walked and taking the trailer steps two at a time.

"Taking my lunch break, Russ."

Russ looked up from his desk, then did a double take as Spike followed Xander into the trailer. "Did you take care of Dave's looter?"

"No. But I will be during my lunch hour." Xander looked over at Spike, who was striking a predictable rent boy pose up against the door frame. He could vaguely remember a time when that pose made him want to pound Spike's face into the pavement. Now, it just made him want to pound into Spike. Life was funny.

"Spike was the looter?" Russ started to laugh. "Now I know why Dave insisted I deal with it instead of you."

"Surprise, surprise. Anyway, Spike wasn't looting. He left some stuff down there before the quake and went back for it." Xander traded his walkie for his cell phone, and his work jacket for the battered brown leather coat that'd seen him through that first winter in southern Africa.

"Did you find it?"

Spike was aware that Russ was watching him now with greater speculation, but there didn't look to be any hostility in it. He smirked back. "Yeah. Right where I left it."

"Good hiding place. The excavators went through that church like it was Christmas morning." Russ leaned back, grabbing a bulging envelope from the shelf behind him and tossing it at Xander. "That's for you."

Xander caught it as it smacked into his chest, disturbingly thick and heavy. "New manuals?"

"No, this is an evil far greater than new manuals," Russ said in a tone of exaggerated sympathy.

Xander pulled out the top sheet and groaned.

"What? What's that?" Spike pushed away from the wall to read over Xander's shoulder. "Conference?"

"It's our Alexander's turn to represent the site," Russ said proudly, tucking his hands behind his head and swinging back and forth in his chair.

"You're just glad it's not your turn."

"My turn? Why Alex, I'm only an underling! It takes a supervisor to make the right impression." Russ' smile was pleasantly evil. "In a suit and tie."

"Carl put you up to this, didn't he?"

"I talked him out of video taping it for the company Christmas party."

"Fuck you both." Xander tilted the rest of the paperwork out of the envelope and sighed, flipping through the pages. "Why do I need all of this?"

"That's the company policy you'll be eating, sleeping, schmoozing, and breathing for a glorious weekend in the Windy City."

Spike leaned over Xander's shoulder, watching glossy pages and dense blocks of smudgy type font flip past.

"Chicago's a fun place, love. Lots of things to do there. You'll have fun, trust me."

Xander looked back over his shoulder, eyebrow going up in a move he seemed to have perfected over the years. "Do you honestly think you're not going to be there? If i have to suffer through two days - no, three counting Friday - of company glad-handing, you're gonna be right there to - uh...glad hand with me." Xander seemed to be thinking that over and Spike did not allow the much-too-goofy grin that was threatening to plaster itself across his face.

Wants me to come, wants me to come, chanting in his head like a ten-year-old. Instead he nuzzled into Xander's neck and found a half-healed bite, and teased it for a moment with the tip of his tongue.

"Gonna have to buy me something nice to wear then, love," he murmured, and out of the corner of his eye saw Russ grin and then frown.

"I'm gonna have to buy you?" Xander looked pointedly at the hold-all on the floor, but Spike just grinned.

"Cashmere, I'm thinkin'," Spike said, low, and Xander paused, his gaze going a little distant.

"Just be -" Russ stopped speaking when both Spike and Xander looked at him, one daring him to go on, the other frowning in concern. "I'm not gonna say anything you don't already know, Alex. Just - be careful."

"Careful?" Spike's scarred eyebrow lifted and his fingers dipped into Xander's waistband.

"Discreet."

Xander felt Spike tense, and put a hand back on Spike's hip. "I'm gonna be as discreet as anybody else."

Fucking humans and their fucking hang-ups, Spike thought, frowning. And Russ was sweating and the musky-citrus scent that was overlaying the dusty-coffee smell that was 'Russ' was not human. And decidedly male. Spike knew the demon-gold flashed for just a moment in his eyes, and Russ nodded at him, one slow and confirming movement of his head.

"What, they gonna give Xander a hard time if he's seen on my arm?" Spike growled, and didn't bother to stop the possessive grip that tightened his arm around Xander's waist, or the growl that underlined his words.

Russ looked from one to the other and raised his hands, a paperclip chain dangling from one thumb. "You guys know what you're doing."

Xander leaned back against Spike, rubbing a hand over the cool arm wrapping his waist, forefinger resting where Spike's pulse wasn't. "We do. But thanks, Russ."

Russ shrugged, attaching another paperclip to the chain. "I like working with you, man." He jerked his head at the door. "Get out of here before I say something mushy and inspiring."

"Perish the thought," Spike muttered, and swung Xander around - propelled him out the door and down the steps, hip bumping ass at every step and Xander's hair sweet and salty across his lips. "I think we need to go for a little drive, love. I think your truck is lonely."

Xander snorted, fishing his keys out of his pocket and slapping them into Spike's hand. "Remember I've only got an hour, and if you get a speeding ticket, you've got the money to pay for it now." He gave Spike just enough time to look offended before catching him around the waist and kissing him. "And if I'm buying you cashmere, you're finding me a suit that doesn't make me look like a twelve year old going to church."

Spike tossed the key ring and caught it - flashed a fangy grin at Xander. "I'll find you a suit that makes you look like walking sex, love. Trust me." Inside the cab, the cool, leather-tinged air was quickly spiced with a Xander-cocktail of clean sweat and clove and musky arousal, and Spike debated not getting food for a minute or two. But no. Xander needed to eat, and not just him. They bounced over the edge of gravel that separated the site from paved roads, and Spike pushed hard on the gas. He reached over and ran a hand up Xander's thigh, taking a hard left and letting the truck fish-tail, just a little.

"Greek all right, love, or you want something else?"

Xander slouched down in his seat with a sigh until the edge of Spike's pinky finger brushed his crotch through the denim. "I want something else, but you're gonna make me eat during my lunch hour anyway." He turned his head in time to see Spike snort and opened his leg a bit more in Spike's direction. Because hey, vamp reflexes had to be good for multi-tasking.

And jesus, okay, that was some good multitasking, and I should not be getting this turned on by reckless driving and a hand job. Xander watched in fascination as Spike's fingers flipped open his belt, button, and zipper in three easy motions and Xander was so glad he'd paid extra for tinted windows. "Think - think we can get lunch to go?"

"That Thai place does take-away," Spike said, fingers neatly bypassing cargo pants and boxers to find the hot, tight flesh of Xander's cock. "Think you can be good in the drive-through lane?" he asked, doing a slow, twisting stroke that had Xander arching up and gasping, hand on Spike's thigh digging in and his knee banging into the gear-shift.

"I'm really good at being quiet the first five minutes after an orgasm," Xander gasped, bracing his feet on that floor and pressing his shoulders into the seatback until it creaked, feeling the last flickers of Spike's blood he'd had before his shift sit up and take notice like that His Master's Voice dog in the commercials. He gripped Spike's thigh as Spike flicked his wrist in a move that made Xander's legs shake.

"But can you be quiet now," Spike said, and turned into the parking lot of the restaurant. He got a hand on the inside of Xander's thigh and urged him closer along the seat, then turned to grin at the deliciously pretty girl that was standing in the window, ready to take his order. They didn't have a radio or whatever, just legions of nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts and uncles.

"Evening, love," Spike purred, and gently squeezed Xander's balls. "Let's have us some beef Prik King, Gai Khua, Gang Ped..."

Xander's face warmed with a mixture of arousal and embarrassment and he stared at the ceiling of the truck trying not to groan because it is so fucking wrong that this is making me harder. And he knows it. Bastard. Xander wiggled, muffling a gasp as Spike's fingers tightened and he just went on talking, ordering things Xander'd never heard of and hoped Spike was gonna eat some of because there was no way he was getting all of that down in an hour. Or a week by the sound of it.

"And two iced teas, pet," Spike added, then watched the girl dimple at him and scurry away. He twisted in the seat a little to look over at Xander, taking in the hectic flush of his cheeks, the hitching pant of his chest, and the damp, deep-red tip of his cock. Spike changed his grip and pumped slowly, once, then twice, letting his free hand wander over Xander's chest and up to his neck, to stroke the healing marks there. "Doing so good, Xan..." he husked, grinning.

"Oh, I'm just - lying back and thinking of England, you know. Or - or maybe Thailand. You ever been to Thailand?" Xander heard himself babbling and wondered distantly what he was talking about as Spike's hand ran up and down, warming up to the flesh it held. Xander Harris, hand warmer to the vampire stars. Personally endorsed by William the Bloody! And he was really glad for the tinted glass as he watched a gang of teenagers cross the parking lot.

"Yeah, been to Thailand, love. Been lots of places. There's this thing the little rent boys in Patpong do -" Spike was interrupted by the girl returning with bags and the check. He slid his hand slowly off Xander and turned back to pay - handed over the bags and put the tea in the cup-holders, then took off with a squealing of tires out of the parking lot, heading for a nice bit of beach he knew about.

"You are going to do something about this, aren't you?" Xander asked when his head cleared enough to gesture to his own obscenely hard dick that swerved with the truck when Spike took a left hard enough to make the tires squeal. "At least tell me what the rent boys in Patpong do so I can do something about it myself!"

Spike spun around a last corner, fielding the sliding food-bags, and stopped the truck with a jerk. He leaned over, demons-eyes glittering, and put his fanged mouth around Xander's cock - slid it slowly down and then slowly back up, merest scrape of the tip of his teeth.

Then he pulled back.

"You're not hungry, love?"

Xander was not going to dignify that with an answer - instead he clamped a hand down on the back of Spike's head so that he couldn't get away. "Basically, the rent boys in Patpong are all vampire cock teases, huh?"

"M'not a tease. Just drawing out the enjoyment." Spike let Xander pull him back down - let Xander twist his fingers in his hair and growl filthy suggestions. Spike wormed one finger past too much clothing and slipped it inside grasping heat, crooking and twisting and clamping his mouth down around Xander with a self-satisfied smirk as Xander arched and moaned and came, panting. Spike occupied himself with a slow tongue-bath of Xander's softening cock until warm hands tugged him up into a kiss.

"You're still a tease," Xander mumbled when he found his breath again, breathing puffs of warm air over Spike's face and nibbling at his lower lip. He slid a hand into Spike's lap, squeezing until Spike hitched in an unnecessary breath then let go. "So what've you got for me to eat?"

Spike growled, pinning Xander hard to the truck-seat and kissing him until Xander was groaning down deep in his chest, hips twitching and hands scrabbling him closer.

"Spicy beef, love, and noodles and this brilliant coconut curry - you'll love it," Spike said, pulling away on a gasp and grinning at Xander's dazed expression. "Gotta keep your strength up for...later," he added, palming the bite on Xander's thigh.

"What happens later?"

"The mall, pet. We've a suit to buy for you before Wes' visit, don't we?" Spike's fingers crawled along Xander's inseam, playing the rough edge over the bite.

Xander groaned, dropping his head back against the seat. "Right. Right. Fuck." Xander sat up straight and Spike glanced.

"What?"

"Do you think Wes would sleep in the Nest? 'Cause I'm pretty sure I don't have any sheets or anything for the guest bed."

"I thought there was -"

"No, no, they were...stained, remember?"

"Oh, yeah." Spike sighed. "Linens it is, then."




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