Snakes and Ladders

Reremouse & Tabaqui

Square Eleven

Wesley turned off the Range Rover's ignition and checked the house number one more time. 115 Paradisio, and he had to shake his head at the utter wrongness of that. Nothing could be further from the truth then the uniform lawns and the puny saplings, grouped haphazardly around cookie-cutter houses with all the charm of a Fyarl demon. He got out and pulled his satchel and his rather full overnight bag from the back seat and went slowly up the walk. As he got closer to the door, he faltered, hearing shouting coming from inside.

Oh - damn. Are they fighting? Perhaps I should... He hesitated and suddenly the door was yanked open and Spike stood there, shirtless and barefoot and jeans half undone, his hair a wild nest of moon-white strands and black tips like a Peregrine falcon.

"I bloody well did not, Xander, and you know it! I'm goin' on skill alone! Wes!" Wesley blinked - went slowly up to the door.

"Is everything all right, Spike? Perhaps it would be better if I came back another time -"

"Everything's tip top, pet - want a beer?"

"Er -"

"You say pure skill, but how come I found a link to a Nocturne cheat site on my laptop? Hey, Wes!" Xander came around the corner in a purple and black towel, his hair dripping onto his shoulders Oh! Tattoo!. "Come in."

"Xander, you know you shouldn't invite someone to come into your home this close to the Hellmouth."

"Uh, Wes? I live with Spike. Pretty sure he could take you if you were a vampire." Xander grinned at Wesley, taking the towel from his waist and drying his hair with it before Spike had even closed the door behind them. Wesley watched with less shock than he felt he should have for the situation. "Grab me a beer too, sweetheart." Xander laid a damp kiss on Spike's cheek, heading to the back of the house presumably to dress.

"Sure, love. C'mon, Wes - kitchen's over here." Spike led the bemused ex-Watcher to the kitchen and patted a stool - rummaged in the 'fridge for a beer for Xander and then opened a cabinet with a flourish to reveal ranks of real beer.

"Oh - is that -? Spike, how did you get that?" Wesley watched with real pleasure and Spike took down two bottles of Old Speckled Hen and opened them - poured them out into tall glasses and carried them over to the counter.

"Oh, a demon connection here, a small bribe there - nothing much," Spike said, grinning. They clinked glasses. "Cheers, mate,"

"Cheers," Wesley echoed, and took a long, delicious sip, making room for Xander when he reappeared. Oh dear god, still naked. This time, the thought had still less shock in it, and considerably more amused affection.

"Don't let me get in the way of you two being English at each other." Xander snatched up his Sam Adams and took a long drink. "But for the record? Warm beer is gross."

"Philistine," Spike said, taking a huge swallow of his beer, and Wesley had to laugh. This sounded like an old, familiar argument between - Between people who really know each other. Wesley took another sip and then he couldn't help it - he turned and inspected Xander's tattoo.

"And who drank up the entire jug of scrumpy while I was still at work this time, huh?" Xander tipped his beer back, looking pointedly at Spike the whole while.

"That stuff's hard on a human, pet. No telling where you'd wake up after a few pints of that."

"Next to you, where I always do, stupid. And probably sore in a few places too." Xander shivered at the look Spike was giving him and quickly shifted his attention to Wesley. Being naked around company was a lot easier when Spike was too sick to give him that look.

Wesley looked hastily away, and Xander reached out and touched his arm.

"Hey, Wes, it's okay - you're supposed to admire tattoos. You are admiring it, aren't you?" He was grinning, and Wesley had to grin back. He turned and deliberately studied the stylized leaf-design, in shades of henna and rusty earth. Xander obligingly turned after a minute so Wesley could see the back.

"It's - really quite amazing. Very precise and - very colorful. It suits you, Xander," Wes said, and took another sip of his beer. Heavenly.

"Thanks. Am I supposed to thank someone when they admire the artwork someone else did that I'm wearing? All I did was lie there and crush every bone in Spike's hand." But Xander couldn't keep the flush of pleasure off his face.

"Sure, pet. Say 'thanks' 'cause you earned it." Spike flexed his hand in Xander's face, with a suggestive sort of look. "And my hand's just fine, thank you."

"So - did you get a tattoo, Spike?" Wesley asked, and Spike made a face.

"Get compared to the Souled Wanker enough, thank you. Don't need that hangin' over my head, too. I think I'm more of a...piercing kind of bloke."

Xander's heart beat a queer double-thump in his chest at the thought of Spike...spiked. Or ringed at least. He watched Spike through his hair, draining the last of his beer.

"Piercings? What, get your ears done?"

"For a start." Spike leaned on the counter, returning Xander's look with an arched eyebrow.

"Okay, and why didn't we have this discussion in Ojai?"

"Because I was takin' care of you, love. No time for that sort of thing. We'll go back, though." Spike leaned back on the counter, posturing a bit. And then he remembered what Xander had said, before Wes got there, and went instead to slump on a stool.

"I just...don't want to throw it in his face, you know? I don't want to hurt his feelings. Okay, sweetheart?" An' that's my boy, all over...

"Can we go back before the conference?" Xander toyed with his empty bottle, putting a foot up onto the rung of his stool. Because that'll give me something to look forward to in Chicago.

"Conference?" Wesley asked, looking from one to the other.

"Yeah. My company's sending me to some kind of national conference as a representative of the Sunnydale Southwest project. I drew the short straw or something."

"But - surely you're to be congratulated?" Wesley asked, not quite understanding.

Xander shrugged. "It's a weekend spouting corporate bullshit. I'm a working guy, not a speech-giving guy. We'll make the most of it."

"Ah, I see." Wesley drained the last of his beer and set the glass down - patted it fondly. "Thank you so much, Spike, that was wonderful."

"Haven't had any of the scrumpy yet, pet," Spike said, and drained his own glass in a quick gulp.

"Would that be the scrumpy you drank all of, Spike? Or are you holding out on me?"

"That would be the scrumpy I got delivered last night, while you were slaving away at the site. Darkhavens sent it round, hand delivered with -" Spike bounced up and fished another bottle out of the cabinet. "This! A nice little extra for a good customer she - err - it said."

"Stones!" Wesley took the bottle with a sudden grin. "God, I haven't had proper ginger wine since I left England."

"You're welcome to it, mate. We'll have scrumpy and rotten movies later on."

"At least I won't be the only one getting piss drunk while Spike takes more than his fair share." Xander circled the counter to throw his empty bottle away.

"Well, actually," Wesley began slowly, aware that all eyes were on him, fidgeting nervously.

"Spit it out, Watcher. Don't like movies anymore?" Spike leaned on the counter, close to Wesley - close enough to catch a whiff of his dry, papery, demony scent. A little like dead leaves, a little like bay. Nothing like what he'd smelled like before, which had been dust and Earl Grey and whiskey and despair.

"No, no, it's just... I don't.. Well, I'm afraid alcohol has about the same effect on me as Spike, now.

Wesley seemed to be apologizing, and that made Spike...angry. He leaned over and bumped Wes with his shoulder, making the man meet his eyes.

"That just means we get to watch Harris over there get giggly. Bet we can make him dance the Macarena."

"And you have not seen giggly until you've seen me dance the naked Macarena," Xander supplied, leaning his elbows on the counter as well. Wesley realized with a start that Xander wasn't wearing his patch either, and he'd not noticed. "No cameras in the auditorium, please. Spike has enough blackmail material on me already."
Xander watched Wesley begin to smile with relief. It looked like Wesley just didn't do that much, anymore. He'd been uber-serious the first time Xander had known him, too, but at least he hadn't seemed so fucking miserable back then.

"I'll do my best not to give Spike any more ammunition. And - ah - if you could tell me where the facilities are?"

"Huh? Oh - oh, yeah. Straight back there, door on the right. We put out guest towels!" Xander grinned and Wesley smiled back, sliding off his stool Spike rolled his eyes.

"We did no such thing. You flitted around like a bloody fairy with guest towels and guest soap and all that shite..." Wesley's smile grew even bigger as he walked up the hall, the good-natured bantering fading.

They're...good together. I'm glad.

Once in the bathroom, Wesley was assaulted by half a dozen colors in the guest towels alone and muffled a laugh, taking a vibrant purple towel from the shelf and setting it next to the sink. The fairy has yet to learn to color coordinate.

After making use of the loo and washing his hands, Wesley let out a deep breath and lifted his face to the mirror. Familiar blue eyes gazed back at him, but now up close, he could see that they were shot through with threads of silver in the whites where once his capillaries had shown pink and red. The irises were crazed with a fine network of black. Already the faint effects of the beer were nothing but a pleasant memory and Wesley found himself hoping the scrumpy was indeed as good as Spike implied.


Wesley stretched, groaning just a little. He was so...damn...comfortable. He didn't want to move, really, but the scrumpy had taken its toll and he needed to get up. But he lay still for one more minute, savoring the heavy weight of an arm across his waist, and legs tangled with his own. Warmth, companionship - affection. He soaked it up and then slithered reluctantly to his feet, hitching at his pajama pants. They'd watched several movies and drunk enough to send Xander into a fit of giggles, but the movies and alcohol had been second to the talk. Talk that, after a bit, had flowed and moved effortlessly. The kind of talk he had missed so much after Spike had gone.

Wesley walked quietly down the hall - made a brief detour to the unused guest room to gather some things. In the bath he stripped and showered, going slow. Enjoying the heat and the good water pressure and the fact that he had nowhere to go and nothing to do but...loaf.

Finished, he hung his rainbow-striped towel over the shower-curtain bar and wandered out to the kitchen. The kettle was on the stove - a packet of honest-to-god tea was on the counter, and he set about making a good, strong pot-full. While the water heated he stepped to the sliding door and opened it and took a deep, deep breath. The mid-afternoon air was cool and briny and he could hear gulls, and the hoosh hoosh of the distant waves.

God, that's nice. It's so QUIET... Wesley breathed deeply, losing himself in the scent and the coolness and the calm. Almost missing the rising wail of the kettle. He hastily took it off the burner and made his tea - poured a cup and stepped outside, settling into a lounge chair with a sigh of pure contentment.


Xander groaned and burrowed closer to Spike, rubbing discontentedly at the line of itching around his neck.

"None of that now, pet." Nest-warm fingers closed on Xander's wrist, pinning it down easily.

Xander rubbed against a rough pillow seam instead, yelping when Spike pulled the pillow away impatiently, and kissed him until objecting and scratching weren't at the top of his priorities list any longer. "Sadist."

"Yeah, so?" Spike rubbed at Xander's chest beneath the fall of leaves, cool and smooth. "Don't want to ruin all that hard work, do you love?"

"Only for the first few minutes after I wake up." Xander slid a leg over Spike's, rolling onto his chest and sliding his hands into Spike's hair, forehead to forehead. "And then you give me better things to think about." He sighed. "Which I so should not be thinking about with Wesley on the patio."

"Can think them all you like, love," Spike said, lift of his hips and stroke of hands that made Xander squirm and sigh. "'Sides, been - four days. You can get in the shower and give it a good scrubbing today. Hands and soap only. Hear?" He stretched up to nip at Xander's lips and then settled back, pulling Xander into a long kiss that tasted of scrumpy and salt and, faintly, bar-b-que.

"Hands and soap only," Xander agreed and moaned a soft sound of pleasure against Spike's lips, as much for the thought of being able to scrub his tattoo as for the kiss. He rocked his hips against Spike, enjoying the waking tingles going through his balls, skittering down his thighs and into his belly. "I am thinking really hard about taking you into the shower and fucking you up against the wall with that honey almond bath oil." He gave Spike a hard, quick kiss, tongue wriggling possessively over Spike's palate. "I am going to take a cold shower by myself and play the nice host to Wesley."

"Here now - can be the good host and still shag me in the shower," Spike grumped, his hands curving possessively around taut, dense muscle and pulling Xander's groin tighter against himself. "Promise I'll be quiet, love."

Xander groaned, dropping his head against Spike's. "He'll know." Xander rocked against Spike, closing his eyes to savor the slickness of sweat between them and peppered Spike's jaw with soft kisses. "I don't want to make him feel more lonely."

"I know you don't. We could invite him to join us," Spike said, and grinned wickedly when Xander's head came up with a snap. He could feel the blush creeping up Xander's shoulders and neck. He could also feel the pulse and leak of Xander's cock against his hip, and smirked.

"First? That was a dirty trick saying that while I am naked, barely awake, and highly suggestible. And second? I'm - it's -" Xander sighed, not quite having the words for the kind of social awkwardness behind the mechanics of inviting Wesley to have sex with them.

Spike leaned up again and kissed Xander hard, letting his hands slide up to circle around his ribs and hold him tight. "Don't get flustered, pet. Just a joke. Mostly." Spike sighed in contentment as Xander lay his head down again on his shoulder, snuggling close. "He wouldn't right now, anyway. He's too...too bloody miserable for his own good." Spike turned his head so he could nuzzle into the heavy swath of Xander's hair.

"You go on and have your shower and have a nice slow wank, yeah? Wes can't hear you, but I can...make it nice for me, yeah? So I've got a reason to get out of the Nest." Actually, if Wes came inside Spike was pretty sure he would be able to hear Xander, but Spike wasn't going to mention that.

And if a quick, nasty fuck in the shower was out of the question then at the very least he could take his own shower surrounded by the heady scents of Xander's arousal and pleasure.

Xander kissed Spike once more, hard and fast and dirty, then pushed himself to his knees, shivering as Spike trailed his fingertips up the length of Xander's cock. "Sure you don't want me to join you, pet?"

"Less and less," Xander said with a sigh, pulling away from Spike and giving his fingers a squeeze.

"Remember to give me my show, yeah?" Spike curled his tongue behind his teeth, tucking a hand behind his head and dropping the other hand casually to his lap, giving himself a slow stroke.

"So not a problem." Xander's mouth watered, jaw ached to wrap around Spike's cock and take him in and fuck being the responsible one. Spike's chuckle followed him down the short hallway and into the master bath where he turned on the shower full blast and stepped under the spray. He gave little Xander a glare that didn't seem to dampen its enthusiasm at all, then sighed, and uncapped the honey almond bath oil.

Calgon, take me the fuck away.


Xander emerged from the bedroom in a cloud of cloves and mint, honey and almonds, and delicious musk that made Spike growl. "Good shower, pet?"

Xander's eye tracked slowly down over Spike's chest to his hand, slick with lube and stroking himself languidly. Drawing in a sharp breath, Xander crouched to brush a kiss against Spike's lips, shaking lemon-spice scented water droplets over Spike's belly and making him shiver. "Good show, sweetheart?"

"I particularly liked how you described every. Single. Thing. You did." Spike pushed himself up onto one arm and took a deep, slow breath, tasting lust and sweet and Xander on his tongue. "I think Wes might be gettin' lonely, love... I'm off to...think of you." Spike stole a fast kiss and then rose and stretched, sauntering down the hall and grinning at the soft 'fuck' from Xander.

Xander made a detour through the kitchen for a bottle of juice, then stepped out onto the back patio to pull up a chair next to Wesley, who sat staring out at the sea with a full and steaming cup of tea, and a look of amusement on his face.

Xander groaned and rolled his eyes. Wes wouldn't be able to hear me but you would, huh sweetheart? "Uh. Good morning."

"It is, isn't it? I find the cries of the native wildlife to be most stimulating."

"That's Watcher talk to tell me you heard every word, isn't it?"

"Only when I came in for more tea. Really, Xander it's all right. It's your home, after all." Wesley laid a hand over Xander's arm, warm enough on Xander's water-cooled skin to make him shiver.

"I'm trying to be more considerate than Spike here, Wes." Xander uncapped his juice and took a long drink, and had to admit he felt too good to feel bad.

"Xander, we're all adults. And..." Wesley took a deep breath - a sort of fortifying breath - and turned a little in his chair. His hand was still on Xander and he marveled for a moment at how easy it was to leave it there. "And I'm not going to... Well, you know about Spike and I and you know - that it ended. I'm not - jealous, if that's what you're thinking." Wesley realized his fingers were making gentle circles on Xander's skin and he slowly drew his hand back. "I don't have any claim on Spike. So please don't be worried on my account."

Xander tilted his head in Wesley's direction, lazy and boneless in the sun and smiled. Slowly, he reached out and caught Wesley's hand, bringing it back to his arm and resting his hand over Wesley's. "Yeah. But I know how it feels - being around a couple after you've had your heart broken. Even when they care about you."

Wesley felt a little flicker of hurt at that, because that was more blunt than anyone but Spike would have put...this. Situation. But Xander was trying, and his fingers were warm on Wesley's - weightless but so very...reassuring.

"Thank you for that. Although, Spike and I were hardly a couple, and Fred..." Wesley stopped and lifted his cup - took a small sip and sighed. "Fred and I didn't have much time."

"Spike told me about Fred," Xander said with that feeling that he was sliding down a slippery slope with no hand-holds, but some slippery slopes had to be...slud. "I'm sorry."

"Yes, well... Thank you, Xander. Fred - was an extraordinary young woman and... And she didn't deserve what happened to her." Wesley once again slipped his hand away from Xander and stood up, crossing to the edge of the patio and looking out over the artificially green yard to the distant, turquoise sea.

Xander winced. Score one for Mr. Tactful. He watched Wesley for a few seconds then stood and followed, giving him just enough space to not crowd him. "You don't have to say anything, Wes. But you don't have to pretend either. Spike and me - we're not about pretending anymore." He waited until Wesley looked at him, then smiled, squeezing Wes' shoulder. "I'm gonna get something for breakfast before Spike gets out of the shower and orders sushi or something. Take as long as you want out here."

"I...will. Thank you, Xander."

Wesley listened to Xander go back inside - heard him dialing the phone and placing an order for something and he just...breathed. And a memory came to him, of Fred. At the Hyperion, not long after they'd brought her back from Pylea. Sitting quietly next to him as he'd worked on a translation, and when he'd glanced over she had covered three pages with symbols and math that Wesley had no hope of deciphering. She'd smiled, and he had, and they'd gone on. Comfortable.

And it didn't hurt, to think of that, and Wesley smiled softly and went in, himself.


Wesley stumbled over loose rock as he followed Spike down the slope from Xander's subdivision and skidded to the bottom, letting out a breath of relief as he crashed into Spike. Strong arms held him up until he found his balance again.

"Thank you, Spike. I - physical reflexes and balance were not part of the demonic package, I'm sorry to say."

"Just a matter of practice, love," Spike said, letting his hands linger for just a moment on Wes' arms. He was so damn warm - hot, really - and it felt good. "What is part of the package? Did you find out?" Spike turned and started walking, and Wes fell into step beside him, walking down Oasis Boulevard where it became a dirt road down the hill to the beach. They could see the crater floor to the north of them - mostly level there, and about a half a mile away it all spilled out into sand and the sea. "I remember you tellin' me something...but, you know." Spike shrugged, glancing at Wes. They'd both been pretty firmly sunk in the three D's right after the fight. Drink, Denial, and Despair. A lot of that time was fuzzy. Except for the sensation of Wesley's furnace-hot mouth on Spike's skin.

Wesley chuckled, stooping to pick up a fossil that had been blasted in half at some point during the land reclamation project. "Aside from improved hearing, improved vision, and the ability to drink staggering quantities of whiskey without killing myself, there aren't many benefits. I'm not entirely certain that last is a benefit, by the way."

He pulled back his arm, and threw the rock as hard as he could towards the sea, and if both noticed that it went a little further than it would have gone when Wes was still human, neither commented. "My bodily rhythms have all slowed which makes no sense at all when combined with the speed of my metabolism in regard to drugs and alcohol. Honestly Spike - I haven't the faintest notion of what I am." He paused thoughtfully. "Then, there are the visions, of course."

Spike looked around and found his own rock - took a dancing step forward and hurled it and watched it fly far and high, smirking a little in satisfaction. "They're not like the cheerleader's visions, are they? Or that poor sod Doyle?"

"No. They leave me somewhat dizzy after, but there's no pain. No...damage. And they're disturbingly clear." Wesley picked up another rock, wondering if.... "There is one other remarkable change which I haven't yet fully explored," he offered hesitantly.

"Yeah?" Spike ran an appreciative gaze over Wesley's casually jean-and-worn-oxford-clad frame. "Do tell," he added, grinning at Wes' grin. He picked another rock from the dirt by the road and then studied it for a moment. Another fossil, this one an almost perfect trilobite. He rubbed his thumb across it, smearing dirt away, and then pushed it into his pocket. Xander would like it.

"Yes." Wesley turned the rock over in his hand; a simple piece of quartz, likely from someone's landscaping before the destruction of the Hellmouth. 'Honesty', Xander had said, so Wesley clutched his fist around the rock, tilted his head back, and shivered - felt the bones shift like clockwork, shuddering as they locked into place beneath his skin.

When Wesley lowered his head, lidless slate gray eyes in a feral face - all points and angles - stared back at Spike. A crest of three rows of opalescent spines ran over a hairless scalp from the center of his forehead back to the nape of his neck, three inches tall at their highest point. Wesley glanced down at the rock he held with an expression Spike couldn't interpret, then pulled back his arm and let it fly again, high and far, disappearing after Spike's.

Spike hesitated for a long moment and then he reached out and gently ran his fingers over Wesley's scalp and traced the tip of a pointed ear. He brushed one of the shimmery spines and Wesley shivered. His skin glowed, paler and sheened with frail color, like the nacreous inner part of a mussel shell. Wesley's hands flexed and Spike lifted one - ran a fingertip over the longer, sharply-curving nails that were like sheets of mica. His skin parted and a drop of blood welled up. He gently let go of Wes and put his finger to his mouth, just looking as he sucked away the blood.

"S'lovely, pet. Lovely."

"You would think so. I've got a demon Mohawk sprouting from my scalp." Wesley gave Spike a small smile, then shivered back into his more familiar form, looking out at the ocean. "I don't photograph properly in that form. I imagine I could lead quite the life of crime with that particular advantage. If I were that sort of man." He risked a quick glance at Spike - who knew that Wesley could easily be that sort of man if he had a good reason. Had been that sort of man, skirting what was strictly legal.

"Be like Dick Turpin, yeah?" Spike shrugged and started walking again, heading for the beach. He patted himself down and found his cigarettes and lit one - offered the pack to Wes who smiled at him and shook his head. "You...mind showin' Xander? You don't have to," Spike added hastily, but he knew Xander was curious - and would be a little hurt if Wesley felt he had to hide from him.

"Xander, yes. " Wesley thought of Xander thought, of honesty, and knew that he should see. Know. "I haven't shown Angel," he added casually - not quite looking at Spike. Angel seemed the sort of topic of conversation between them that required a tactful lack of eye contact.

"Haven't you?" Spike took a long drag in and let the smoke trickle out, watching his boots crunch over the ground. "Imagine he'd be used to this sort of thing by now. Why haven't you?"

"I don't want to disturb him unnecessarily. He blames himself for what happened to me." Wesley held up a hand, forestalling any comment from Spike that it was Angel's fault. "But I take full responsibility for my actions. Including the actions that resulted in my death. There's no need to upset Angel further."

Spike puffed hard on his cigarette, scowling. He glared at Wes - he couldn't help it. Wes flinched a little and looked away.

"Dammit, Percy, don't do that! Angel needs upsetting! He's sittin' on his fat arse, directing his little horde of Slayers and playin' cock of the walk - you don't need to pussy-foot around him! You're his seer." Spike flung the cigarette butt away and stomped on, seething.

Wesley stormed after Spike, catching his shoulder and spinning him around. "Angel has a responsibility to The Powers That Be, and he doesn't need any more daily reminders of his failure!"

Spike snarled and grabbed Wes' shirt, yanking him close. "I thought you took full responsibility, Wes! But now you're his failure? Which is it?"

Wesley looked away - knocked Spike's hands off of his shirt but didn't step back. "I am the failure. His only failure was to put his trust in me time and again. I don't deserve this chance, but I've taken it." He turned back to Spike, eyes flashing the color of a storm at sea. "I won't bugger it up by upsetting Angel more." Spike's eyes were molten gold and Wes shivered.

"Fuck that. Don't give me that load of bollocks, Wes, don't even try." Spike knew he was too close - too pissed - too loud, but he was angry and he didn't care. "What exactly is it that you don't deserve? The dying part? Or the part where your life gets hijacked by the bloody Powers? Or maybe it was your girl getting hollowed out like a damn gourd by a bloody god -!" Spike had to turn away from the anguish in Wes' eyes - turned and roared at the sea, his fists clenched tight enough to drive his nails into his palms.

"Angel's not bloody perfect, Wes. He isn't. He went over to the bloody lawyers - he made it impossible for you to come to him with that prophecy about Connor - he's the one that took away your memories without bloody asking and who knows what you lost, yeah? Might have lost the one thing that could have saved us all, if he hadn't been playing' the fuckin' martyr and king of the hill in one."

Wesley was silent and Spike closed his eyes. Just breathed, and hoped Wes wouldn't...go.

Wesley lifted a hand to Spike's rigid back, but let it fall before they touched, looking to the south and the distant reflected glow of the lights of Santa Barbara in the night sky. He shivered, and this time let his hand rest on Spike's shoulder - light and warm. "I know he's not perfect, Spike. But he's their chosen one. Their champion." He looked at his hand where it lay on faded blue cotton - Xander's by the size - then stepped up behind Spike, resting both hands on his shoulders. Gently, he began to rub - working at the inhuman tension that lay beneath the skin. "I'm only alive because I was useful. Necessary for his quest."

"You only got dead because of that, too."

Spike's voice was tight and the tension in his shoulders didn't lessen. With a shiver, Wesley changed forms - dug more deeply into those tensed muscles, careful to keep his - claws - out of the way. "Regardless - Angel's need is the only reason I still exist."

"Wes..." Spike sighed. Deliberately unclenched his muscles and worked his shoulders under the other man's soothing touch. "Wes, you exist because you're needed. Because you're....special." Spike turned - caught Wes' hands as he tried to pull away and cradled them in his own - looked with affection at the narrow, fox-like face and wide eyes that shivered and flowed into Wesley's familiar human features. "Angel's holy calling would fall apart without a seer, and you know it. Don't - diminish yourself for his sake, pet. Please?"

"It could have been anyone." Wesley couldn't meet Spike's eyes. "I was only chosen because I was convenient. I was the only one dying."

"It would have been a lot easier for them to pop the visions into someone live instead of makin' a brand new demon out of someone dead. 'Sides, Gunn was dying, too - they didn't pick him, they picked you. You think The Powers toss around that kind of mojo lightly?"

A small smile appeared on Wesley's lips, then just as quickly disappeared. "I don't know. I haven't asked them."

"You should. Bloody hell, pet!" Spike tugged on Wes' hands until he looked around, blue eyes hooded - sad. "All this 'chosen' one and 'destiny' business - that's a load of shite, yeah? You've got nothing to pay for - you don't need to be redeemed. They chose you 'cause you could do the job the best. And it's a shite job, and one I wouldn't wish on a dog, but it's yours. Don't let Angel make you feel like you were the runner-up, yeah?" Spike wanted to kiss him - wanted to pull him close and stroke his hair. Wished Xander were there to make a joke - to say something worth listening to.

"What's the poof know about destiny, anyway? He was eatin' rats and livin' in garbage - had to drag him kickin' and screamin' into this century and then all he wanted to do was shag the girl. Least you've got class."

"At least he got to shag the girl." Wesley thought of Fred, then looked at the ground. That was hardly fair to her. Hardly fair to either of them. Fred died, and he lived on to make jokes about shagging her. It was appalling, really. "So much for class." He sighed, wrapping his arms around himself - cold comfort.

Spike couldn't stand it - couldn't stand that broken look in Wes' eyes and he just stepped up close and pulled Wes into his arms - held him and stroked his back and slowly, slowly rubbed his cheek against Wes' dark hair. Hair that had a few silver ones in it. Here and there. This last year's been so bloody hard on him. Angel doesn't deserve him. Bastard.

"Wes, it's all right. You had something better than a quick shag, yeah? You were there for her, right to the end, know she loved you, Wes. She did."

"I think she might have, if we had time." Wesley shivered, leaning hard into Spike - the solidity and strength of him. Hadn't realized how much he'd missed touch in the years since the Angel Investigations team first began its slow fragmentation. "But we didn't, and life goes on. The fight goes on." The words lacked the conviction he felt they should have but lately, they often did.

"'The Fight' isn't all there is, Wes." Spike hugged Wes one more time, hard, then slowly stepped back. He pushed the hair off Wes' forehead and smiled at him, hating to see only a tired, fleeting smile in return.

"How is Charlie, anyway? Doing all right?"

Wes seemed to hesitate before taking a breath. "Oh, he's still doing physical therapy for his leg three times a week - he gets tired rather faster than before, so he's mostly staying with law-related activities." They both turned and began to walk again, and Spike lit another cigarette, waiting for more. But Wesley seemed to be finished.

"That's all right, then. C'mon, pet, it's nearly Xander's lunch. Let's go get him some sushi, yeah? Good for his blood."

"Are you sure he wouldn't prefer a sandwich?" Wesley asked. He recalled Xander's earlier comment about sushi, and looked at Spike with amused suspicion. "You overheard him when you were in the shower, didn't you?"

"'Course I overheard. But he doesn't take care of himself like he should - not if he's gonna be drinking my...blood." Spike shot Wesley a look, wondering if there would be any sort of condemnation - disgust, even - but Wesley was only smiling again, a little more genuinely this time. Encouraged, Spike went on, turning Wes gently by the shoulder and leading them back towards the town.

"He thinks he can live on juice and chocolate cereal and Fritos, I ask you!"

"We could tell him that he has to have cod-liver oil every day," Wesley suggested, and laughed aloud at Spike's automatic grimace of disgust. Something they both had in common from their childhoods, apparently.

"M'not sure I'm that evil, Wes," Spike said slowly.

"Yes you are."

"Yes I am." They both spoke at the same time and Wesley threw back his head and laughed. And it felt good.


"My god," Wesley whispered as he followed Spike up onto the crest of the hill and got his first good look at all of the biggest sink hole in California history.

"God didn't have anything to do with this one, mate." Spike shifted the bag of Styrofoam containers against his hip and shaded his eyes against the flood lamps, pointing. "Y'see the big yellow Caterpillar over there, and the blue cherry-picker off that way?"


"That hole, 'bout half way in between, that's the church."

"I'm surprised you were able to get to it in your condition."

Spike shrugged off the words, his recollection of that time already less than perfect. "Wasn't as bad off goin' in as I was comin' out. That's Xander's trailer down there. He's the nighttime Bossman in this quarter."

Wesley squinted in the direction Spike pointed to see Xander walking towards his trailer. "He seems rather busy. Do you think it's wise to come in like this bearing food?"

"Wise? Dunno. But it's what we're gonna do." Spike paused to awkwardly dig cigarettes and lighter out of his pocket. Wesley reached over and took the sushi and Spike grinned his thanks, lighting up and taking a long drag.

"Ta, Wes. Now what?" Down below Xander was pivoting rapidly away from the interior of the trailer - was shutting the door and going down the aluminum steps rather quickly. About ten paces away he stopped and looked back over his shoulder, then shook his head rather like a dog shedding water.

"I couldn't possibly guess. Does he get along well with his co-workers?" Wesley began walking again, relieved that the incline into the crater had been blasted and leveled until it was a long, smooth walk to the bottom down a road he supposed had been cleared for the workers' vehicles.

"Oh, he's right popular, Xander is. With most." Spike snarled suddenly, obviously thinking of someone that Xander did not get along with. "But I dunno what'd make him do that about-face."

"He looks...fine. Perhaps someone was getting a dressing-down, and he didn't want to embarrass them." Wesley looked around again at the halogens, the rumbling herd of machinery and the rubble that still tumbled and slithered everywhere despite the leveling and filling that had been going on for months.

"So - why did you go to a church? That seems..."

"Seems a bit daft, yeah?" Spike finished his cigarette and flicked it away. "I...had something there I needed."

"Oh?" Wesley kept his eyes on the ground, though he spared a glance for Spike when the sparks of his cigarette flashed by. "It's an odd choice for a vampire, hiding something that important in a church. Although I must admit that there aren't many vampires likely to have the balls to do so."

They walked on in companionable silence, broken at last when Spike chuckled. "Not gonna ask me what it was?"

"I had thought it might be rude."

"You know you're dyin' to."

"Oh all right. What did you hide there, Spike?"

Spike grinned. What's 90% of a Watcher? Curiosity. "Angelus ever tell you about the Gem of Amara?"

Wes frowned, thinking. "He made some mention of it...said he had smashed it for fear of...Angelus ever getting it."

"Git," Spike muttered. "Yeah. Well, it was in a whole - hoard of other stuff. Gold, gems - books. I didn't get to keep the Gem, but I kept a lot of the rest. My last bit of it was stashed down there. 'Course, once I got really sick, I forgot all about it. Just recovered it the other day."

"I'm surprised that the excavators didn't find it first." Wesley shaded his eyes, squinting at the sprawling open pavilion just beyond the trailer and parked trucks and cars - perhaps the length of a football pitch distant. "They appear to have quite the collection of artifacts."

"They didn't know where to look." Spike looked at the pavilion, too, where the long steel tables were covered in wallets and jewelry and pictures - personal items recovered from the site. There was a tent with the same collection of tables, but those held bones and teeth - shards and shreds. The 'other' side of this reclamation project, and one that nobody talked about much.

Xander was standing and staring rather blindly into space and didn't react as Spike and Wesley crunched up to him.

"What're you doin' out here, pet? Thought we'd meet at the trailer?"

Inexplicably, Xander blushed and cleared his throat. "The trailer is - um, occupied."

"Occupied? It's your bloody trailer, innit?" Spike stepped easily into Xander's arms, and Wesley looked away as they kissed, resolutely not envying the casual closeness they shared.

"Russ is having a -" Xander tilted his head back, staring at the sky. "- private meeting."

"A private -" Spike stared hard at Xander - turned his head suddenly, listening, and then he grinned. "Oh. A private meeting. Kinda like - our 'private meeting' the other night. The one he interrupted." Xander was flushing, slow and delicious rise of heat and blood-scent. The dry spice-scent that was Wes suddenly strengthened as well and Spike looked over at the other Englishman. Wesley was staring at the trailer, his eyes wide and the sushi bag dangling, forgotten, from his hand.

"Sounds like a good time's bein' had by all," Spike said, and snickered at the look of shock that flashed across Wes' face.

"Uh huh. So we are not gonna walk in on him and his sweetie." Xander took a firm grip on Spike's elbow and steered him towards the parking lot where his truck was parked. "We're gonna have a nice lunch of -" Xander looked at the unmarked bag Wesley carried. "- whatever weird food you picked up tonight." He unlatched the gate of his truck bed and hopped up. "What's for dinner, honey?"

Spike hopped up beside Xander, feet dangling, and Wesley settled on the other side, opening the bag and fishing inside.

"Oh - tuna, yellow tail, octopus..." Spike reeled off a list of food and Xander's eyes narrowed.

"You got sushi."

"S'good for you, pet," Spike said brightly, ignoring the way Xander was staring at him. Wes had a small stack of containers next to him and he held out a paper slipcover with chopsticks inside.

"It all seems fresh, and very well prepared," he said, but his eyes had an evil glint that made Spike grin that much harder.


Spike held up a piece of white and pink flesh, holding it out to Xander. "S' chewy. C'mon. Take a bite."

Xander looked at the offering doubtfully, but to Wesley's surprise, he closed his eyes and took it. He watched Xander chew, and realized that Spike was watching him with a smirk.

Wesley had to grin back. He got his own chopsticks out and picked up a chunk of red and white shell-fish. 'Got lots of protein, that one,' Spike had said. He savored the light, sweet flavor and delicate texture. Oh, very fresh, he though in satisfaction.

"This is quite delicious. And, Xander - your octopus?"

"Chewy." Xander swallowed, chasing down a stray lump with his tongue. "But pretty good. That wasn't raw was it?"

"Nah. Cooked proper. Here." Spike fed Xander another piece, this one a deep ruby red and translucent, watching with satisfaction as he chewed. "That one's raw."

Xander looked for a moment as if he might spit, but then he swallowed and gave Spike a hard glare.

"I am not going to be nice to you later if you don't knock it off." Spike affected a look of wounded surprise.

Wesley rolled his eyes, taking a piece of tuna roll for himself. He remembered Cordelia taking them all out for sushi years ago, recalled Gunn's surprising taste for yellow tail which had ended up costing her so much more on the tab than she'd expected.

"Love - it's to build your blood up! Can't have you gettin' all sick like you did before." Spike ate his own bit of raw fatty tuna, and leaned in closer. "The more fit you are, love, the more blood you can take, yeah? And more often." Spike darted the tips of the chopsticks out - merest brush over a bite-mark and Xander's eye darkened with arousal.

Xander's breath stuttered and he swayed toward Spike, lips parted. "The tuna wasn't too bad."

"Gonna love the salmon." Spike plucked a piece of translucently red-pink salmon from the box, and eased it between Xander's lips, nipping the bottom one with the tips of his chopsticks. "S' smoked."

Wesley ate a piece of salmon himself. The firm smoky flesh went down smoothly - made him wish for a cup of hot sake to chase it down. Watching Xander, the part of his mind that retained its Watcher training noted the signs of vampire thrall - the rest of him simply saw a man absolutely besotted with his lover.

And happy.

Besotted. Not a very...nice word. Almost as bad as thrall, really. Wesley slowly ate a piece of radish roll and then some yellow-tail, scanning his gaze over the crater. It was both awesome and horrific. One of the biggest mass graves in the world, I'm sure. I wonder what the final count was? From what Andrew has said, many residents fled, but... They can't all have left. Not after so many years of blindness to what was going on. Wesley tried to imagine homes covering the tumbled landscape. Homes and parks and shops and oh god schools. It was, in reality, a fairly gruesome thought. I wonder how they're going to get the 'town sucked into a pit, everyone died' part of this to...go away. Surely...surely no one would actually want to live here.

"Hey, Wes?" Wesley blinked - looked up from his chopsticks with a rather stricken expression. "Wes, you okay?" Xander asked. He reached out and rubbed Wes' shoulder for a moment, and the ex-Watcher blinked and then smiled faintly.

"Oh, yes, I'm - I'm fine, Xander. I was just...thinking that..." Wesley looked at Xander - then at Spike, and nodded his head a tiny bit, as if coming to some decision. "Just thinking that this has to be one of the most horrible places I could imagine living in."

Xander stared at the man in surprise and then, slowly, nodded. "You know - you're right. It's...pretty awful." Xander slid to his feet and brushed halfheartedly at the seat of his jeans. "And I'm thirsty. I'm gonna run over to the First Aid tent and grab something to drink. They've got juice and water - what can I get ya, Wes?"

"Water would be fine, thank you," Wesley said, and Xander nodded and smiled over at Spike and strode off.

"You're thinkin' more than that, mate." Spike set his chopsticks down on the edge of one of the Styrofoam containers. "Xan and I botherin' you?"

"No," Wesley said quickly - too quickly. He sighed and scooped a small lump of wasabi from its container and mixed it into a plastic cup of soy sauce. "Well no more than you'd expect, I suppose."

Spike watched Wes stir - watched him pick at eel and octopus, not lifting his head. Damn it, Wes...don't do that. He put his own food down - scooted over until his leg bumped Wesley's thigh and the man had to stop his fidgeting and look up.

"You know... When we first started up - back in L.A.... I was so damn lonely I thought I'd die," Spike said softly. "And not bein' able to touch anything for so long - that made it...a lot worse, yeah?" Wesley nodded, looking unhappy. "You're lonely too, Wes. Or still, I guess. I want..." Spike trailed off, and just looked at Wes - at his downcast expression and the thinness of his face - the way his nails were chewed and his hair longer than he usually let it get. "I really make you happy, pet. Somehow."

Wesley closed his eyes, feeling the slow thump and release of his changed heart, or perhaps not so changed. "I'm not - ready for that yet, Spike."

"If it's about Xander -"

Wesley shook his head and looked at Spike, an earnest expression on his face - smiled apologetically. "No. I won't pretend that it is, though that might make things less complicated if I did." He rested a hand on Spike's thigh. "But I'm not ready - yet."

"And when you are?"

"I'll come to you both."

"All right, Wes. Just - don't make yourself wait too long, yeah? You've nothing for." For the second time that night Spike hugged the man to him, and he felt the awful brittleness of the shell that kept Wesley upright shatter, just a bit. Let us help, love. However we can.

Then he could hear footsteps, and knew Xander was coming. He slowly let go, and Wesley sighed and picked up his chopsticks again, and Xander strolled up to the truck, drinks in his hands.

"You don't have to let go of Spike on my account, Wes." Xander handed him a bottle of water, passed one to Spike with a kiss, and uncapped his own bottle of juice with a virtuous smile at Spike. "Alicia said orange juice is a good drink after donating blood." When Spike didn't quip, Xander looked from vampire to demon. "Okay, and what happened while I was gone?"

"Oh, nothing, I -" Wesley blurted out and then stopped, because Spike was looking at him, and Xander's 'honesty' was in his head, and he just couldn't lie. "Spike...was telling me..." Wesley stopped again, because really - he had no idea what to say. None at all.

"I told Wes he didn't need to be so lonely, is all, pet. Told him - we're here for him." Spike held out his hand, urging Xander to sit again and Xander did - bracketing Wesley between them. It made Wesley shiver, just a little, to have both of them pressed so close.

"He's still being stupid, huh?" Xander grinned back at Wesley's look of shock and bumped him with his shoulder. "There's a lot of stupid going around. I hear it's even worse in L.A."

Wesley felt himself relax, relieved that Xander wasn't going to dig, but still appeared to accept - him. "Thank you."

"Come on Wes - I insulted you! Get with the appropriate response."

Wesley lifted an eyebrow, and raised two fingers.

"God, Spike. You're corrupting Watchers everywhere you go."

"Got a reputation to maintain, don't I?"

Sushi, Xander thought, was actually pretty good. Not that he'd tell Spike. He was on the fence about wasabi, though he did like how the horseradish concoction made Spike's kisses tingly and hot.

Dave had walked by sometime towards the end of lunch, his face showing the disgust he felt and Spike had caught him in the back of the head with a piece of leftover tuna. Xander had snickered into his juice before he could stop himself and Dave had glared at them all before stomping away. Ah, the life of the socially challenged. And being with Spike, it doesn't get better, just more fun. They'd thrown away the trash and cleaned up at the hand-wash station at the personal affects tent, and just as Wes and Spike were going to leave, the trailer door had opened.

"Alex! Um, and Spike and - who're you?" Russ leaned in the doorway of the trailer, blocking most of the light with his bulk, but Xander could see him tensing.

"Oh, uh - this is Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. The specialist we went to see in L.A. - and a good friend. Wes, this is Russell Fenwick, my Assistant Supervisor."

"It's a pleasure to meet you." Wesley stepped forward and held out his hand to Russ, then smiled - eyes focused behind Russ for a moment. "It's a pleasure to meet you both."

Russ looked more than surprised - he looked kinda freaked out, but Xander wasn't sure why. "Hey, Russ, umm - have a nice lunch?" Xander said, not sure why Russ was so freaked. He felt Spike sidle up behind him and slip an arm around his waist - then whisper in his ear.

"Russ' shadow in there is a demon, pet. I think he's a bit...nervous, like."

"Naiades," Wesley murmured, offering his hand to the man standing behind Russ. "Wesley Wyndam-Pryce."

"Sol," the demon flicked amber-ringed black eyes to Russ and back to Wesley, folding Wes' hand in long webbed fingers covered with a fine layer of gleaming fur. "Sol Fenwick."

Xander slid his arm around Spike's waist, leaning into him and whispering back. "Does Russ know about you?"

"Yeah, he knows," Spike murmured back, looking up at the slim, pelted figure that stood beside Russ. Dark, white-less eyes and large mobile ears, and a tail that, Spike noticed, was curled around Russ' calf. "Desert hardly seems the place for a Naiades," he said, and the demon made a sort of shrugging motion, webbed hand resting lightly on Russ' arm.

"We make accommodation. Very niice." Sol's teeth were small and sharp and very white and Spike had to grin back, the cloud of spent sex and pheromones and lust wafting from the trailer making him a little...bouncy.

"I'll bet. Think we need a signal, Xan? Like - put a hanger on the door or something when the trailer' use?" Beside him, Wesley snorted, moment of uncontrolled laughter and Russ finally relaxed and leaned into Sol, just a little.

"Yeah, might be a good idea - what'dya think, Alex?"

"I think we need lunch hours that never overlap." Xander flashed Russ a grin and held out a hand to Sol. "I'm Alexander Harris, the night supervisor." The hand that wrapped around his was warm and sleek, bones delicate under their covering of skin and short fur.

"Not told you were with Spike." Sol glanced down at Xander's throat, sniffing the air delicately then chuckling. "So with Spike. With this demon, too? Mr. Wyndam-Pry-ss?" His gaze switched with curiosity to Wesley.

"You're a demon?" Russ cocked his head, looking at Wes.

"I - well - I certainly -"

"Say yes, pet." Spike smirked at Sol, holding out a hand. "Don't believe we've met."

"No, have not." Sol took his hand hesitantly, and shook. "Chip...yess? In-itia-tive."

Spike couldn't help the small growl that rattled his chest and the Naiades' chin went up, teeth bared. Automatic. "Out an' all," he said shortly, and Sol nodded, his tail uncurling from Russ' calf and whipping a little, like a disturbed cat.

"That's good. But...something else, too. Yes? Something - else," the demon said softly, gesturing at his own chest and Spike sighed. If Anya could see it, half the damn world probably can.

"Yeah, something else. Well! We've had lunch, you've had - lunch with extras - time for all good demons and demon-shagging humans to get back to work, yeah?"

"Yes," Russ agreed, though he had the look of a man who would be asking Sol for details later, which Spike wasn't certain he liked.

Xander chuckled, catching Spike's shoulders and attention by stepping close to him for an orange-sweet kiss, tangling a leg around Spike's the way Sol's tail had curled around Russ. "My sweetheart, demon celebrity."

Spike smirked, and ignored the hissing laughter from Sol. "Me and Wes'll just go on back, then - leave you two to do - whatever you do." He let his arm go from waist to arse and gave Xander a squeeze - backed off and pulled out a cigarette before he was tempted to do more. Wesley looked as if he wanted to ask Sol about a hundred questions and Spike nudged him with an elbow. "Plenty of time for that later, Wes, yeah? Things to do, books to study..." He raised an eyebrow and Wes took a deep breath - let it out on a sigh.

"Yes, you're right. Well - a pleasure to meet the both of you," he said, and seemed gratified when Sol reached out and took his hand again, fleeting contact.

Russ' handshake was more solid. "You too, uh - Mr. Wyndam-Pryce. Xander said you worked a miracle, getting Spike better."

"Oh, no miracle. Just solid science and a bit of standard magic. But - yes - it did work quite well, thank you."

"Meet the most modest man in California." Xander gave Wesley's shoulder a squeeze on his way past. "See you guys after work." He left Wesley stammering that he wasn't modest and stepped into his office before he could give in to the urge to go back home with them. Russ and Sol slipped out to have their own good-byes elsewhere.

Minutes later Russ joined him again, foregoing his work to lean against Xander's desk. "Children of the Hellmouth, huh?"

"I shouldn't be surprised, should I?" Xander slid his keyboard under the desk and leaned back in his chair, swinging. "How long have you known about Spike?"

"That he was a vampire? Since last weekend - that's not a barbeque fork injury on your neck, man."

"Hey, how do you know?"

"Alex, you don't cook. You don't even own a barbeque."

"How do you - oh. 'Cause you've been to my house." Xander swiveled his chair back and forth a little, frowning, and then sighed.

"This isn't going to be a problem, is it? I mean - vampire, grrrrrr, draining the populace. Except he's not. Not really. Not - often." Christ. Way to reassure the man, Harris. Russ just looked at him and then finally sighed himself, propping one hip on the desk and running his hand back through his hair. His very tousled and sweaty hair. Oh, right. They were just having sex. In here. We need to get the couch cleaned.

"Alex - I saw him. When you pulled him out of the church. Saw him at your house. He was half out of his head and - he never did anything... Basically - no problem. I mean - how could there be? I've got Sol, you've got Spike and then - your friend Wesley... Russ shrugged - smiled. "No problems."

"No problems," Xander repeated, then laughed. "God, some day the suits are gonna come while one of us is occupied in here and we're both gonna get fired for having kinky demon sex. And then it won't be this funny."

Russ shook his head. "Never happen."

"How do you know?"

"Demon hearing. It's one of the advantages of a relationship with the fangs, scales, and fur set."


Spike bent over the remains of the crucifix, carefully prying a really nice ruby loose of its setting. Home from the site, he and Wes had examined his haul and Wes had de-activated a couple of nasty spells and then very kindly twisted the icons into something that more closely resembled Buddhist swastikas. So, free of eye-searing 'holy light', Spike was methodically reducing the pieces to their more manageable components. One of the books had been a curiosity - not worth much, but rare in its own right - and Spike had told Wesley to take it.

Another one had made Wes go still, and Spike had seen the way his fingers had gently stroked the tooled leather of the binding before telling him it was worth several thousand dollars. Spike was going to make sure that book ended up in Wes' luggage.

Spike glanced up, grinning, at a loud whoop from outside, followed immediately by a tremendous splash. A week old and Spike had deemed the tattoo healed enough for Xander to get back into the water he so dearly missed. Having my blood in him helped that, too. I think. Have to ask Wes. Both men were outside, soaking up afternoon sunshine and Spike sighed happily, thinking of the warm, golden skin he'd get to feel very soon. Nothing quite as wonderful as Xander all hot and salty-sweet and happy.

The phone rang and Spike growled but got up - peeled off his just-in-case leather gloves and hopped up onto the counter, turning the phone on.

"Harris is busy," he snapped, and heard a sharp intake of breathe from the other end. "Talk or hang up, for fuck's sake!" God, but he hated phones.

"S-spike?" Tiny voice - familiar voice - and Spike's swinging feet froze in mid-motion. Oh...god. Oh bloody hell!


"Spike? Is that really you? Oh my god, Spike! You're alive!" Spike held the phone away from his ear in alarm at a piercing girl-shriek of happiness. "What are you doing answering Xander's phone? Are you like living with him? And he didn't tell me? Wait, you didn't eat him and take over his life, did you?"

"Course I didn't eat him! Well not... He's swimming. And - I told him not to tell you." Spike waited, then, for - anger, he supposed. For the cold fury that had gripped Dawn in the last days of Sunnydale to rise and - heh - bite him again. All he heard was a ragged, hoarse breath, sharply indrawn. "Bit?"

"You - you jerk! How do you think I felt hearing from Andrew that you'd been in Rome and didn't even see us? And then that you went and got yourself killed by a dragon and now you're alive with Xander?" Spike could hear her muffle a sniffle and throw herself into a seat.

Ladylike as ever. "What? I wasn't killed by a dragon! What a load of shite! Bit -"

"And it's like you're not there or anywhere. Both of you! Nobody ever tells me anything about you unless you're dead again or Xander's leaving."

"Niblet, listen, I..." Spike leaned back against the cabinet with a little thump, wondering what to say, exactly. "Listen, I'm sorry I... Look, want me to just - tell you? The short version, mind."

"I want the real version," Dawn huffed, and Spike smiled - so easy to picture her folding an arm over her waist impatiently.

"Real as me, pet. Right... You know I died - here, right? Burned up, an' all."


"Well, that piece of costume jewelry brought me back, right in the middle of the poof's office at Wolfram and Hart. They're evil lawyers."

"I heard about them. Giles didn't like them."

"Rupert was right not to. They tried to take us all out. We fought and - there was a dragon, but we killed it. Now Angelus - er, Angel - he's runnin' some new sort of 'Watcher Headquarters West' down in L.A. with Andrew and whatever Slayers they send over." Spike stopped and took a long breath - wondered where his cigarettes were. "I got - hurt, in the fight, and I came up here to Sunnydale and - Xander helped me out and... I've been stayin' here." Seeing his smokes on the other counter where his treasure was, he slid to his feet and got them, lighting up with a sigh. "You still there, pet?"

"Yes," Dawn said, voice tiny. "But Xander didn't say anything, and - okay, Xander never says much. I get that he can't in letters and that's why he sent the phone card and oh my god! Are you the news he had to tell me about?"

"I dunno, Niblet. I asked him not to -"

"Why?" Dawn's voice was sharp and angry, but there was an underlying hurt there - edge of hoarseness that could only mean tears. Spike climbed up onto the stool that he'd been sitting on before and leaned over the treasure, staring sightlessly, the massed horde nothing but a blur of color and sparkles.

"Think about...those last months here, Dawn. We weren't friends anymore. And when I came back - it just didn't seem like... Well, I didn't want to upset you again, yeah? You or Buffy. You've got - nice lives now. Seeing Europe and going places - all grown up now, aren't you? Don't need me in your life, makin' you...angry all the time."

"Buffy makes me angry all the time. But she's not leaving me alone. Everybody gets to see you but me. It's not fair! And it's not like my life is perfect now either. I'm in school all the time, and nobody speaks English here - which is cool but sometimes I wanna speak English and talk to somebody who doesn't still treat me like a little kid." Dawn's chatter stopped, and Spike heard another sniffle on her end. "I miss you, stupid. You and Xander both."

"Yeah? You do?" And there's no going back from that - no way Spike could erase the pleased tone or the undiluted shock and he was pretty sure he head Dawn giggle. Fuck it. Honesty, he says. "I miss you too, Dawn. I'm...sorry, yeah? Sorry I didn't tell you I was back. Things were pretty crazy down in L.A., I just - I wasn't..." Wasn't sane, half the time. Not like the basement but... Not right.

"I'm back now, yeah? And...I'm glad you know, Niblet. Hated hiding from you." And that's true. Of all of them, he'd missed Dawn the most - regretted what had happened between them the most. Maybe I can fix it, now. Maybe.

"No more hiding?" Spike hated the hesitance in Dawn's voice, and the sniffling she couldn't hide from vamp hearing even half the world away.

"Not from you, pet."

She sighed. "You're still avoiding Buffy, aren't you? Xander is too. It's why he sent me the phone card, so that I could call him and he wouldn't have to talk to Buffy."

Spike thought about that, because was it true? Xander didn't want contact with his old gang, that much was clear, but the why - had never really been discussed, before. Guess we've got a new topic for the dinner hour. "You'll have to ask him, Dawn. And I'm not - hiding from Buffy. I just... I don't need to see her, you know? She doesn't need me in her life and I don't...need her in mine. It's just - better this way."

And there wasn't even any lingering hurt, when he said that, and he knew he was right. Utterly right.

"Fine. But no avoiding me." Dawn sighed again, the petulant kind of sigh only a teenager could do right. "Because hello, I am not Buffy! And I do so need you in my life. Who else is going to tell me stories of bloody mayhem now that I'm old enough to hear them?"

"Rupert might, if you get him good and drunk." Spike had to smile, though, and he got up and got a bottle of Old Speckled out of the cabinet and opened it, drinking straight from the bottle this time. "I won't avoid you any more, love. You want to say hello to Xander?" He'd missed Dawn, but it was...still awkward. And he needed a little time to process the thought that she wasn't still pissed at him - didn't still hate him.

"I called Xander, Spike." Dawn paused, and Spike could hear her shuffling something around on her end. "But I'm really glad you answered. Can I - talk to you again some time? I mean, are you going to stay there, with Xander?"

"Yeah, I'm stayin' here. Getting quite posh, really, with the silk sheets an' all."

"You got the silk sheets? Is that why he wanted more?"

"They're lovely, Bit," Spike answered, not really answering, because he was not going to get into a discussion about why or how or what happens next with Dawn Summers. No. Bloody. Way.

"Hmph. You're hiding something. You're always hiding something," Dawn complained, little girl that she was creeping back into her voice.

"Gotta have my secrets, pet," Spike said gently, remembering that little girl so lost behind big sis' destiny. "I'm gonna go get Xander for you, yeah?"

"Okay, fine." Dawn sighed.

"And I'll know if you try to pry anything out of him, bit," Spike warned, smiling a bit at the indignant sound on the other end of the line.

"Like I could!"

"Don't want you trying," he said. Last thing Xan needs is the last old friend he's got prying into him.

"Fine! I won't try to pry anything out of Xander. God, overprotective much, Spike?"

"No. It's just - don't push him, is all." Spike went over to the sliding door and pushed it open, squinting out at Xander and Wesley. Xander was floating on the surface of the water, his hair fanned out around him, his skin glistening like amber and topaz and old, rich gold. Wesley was sitting on the edge, his feet and shins in the water, his hair dripping down his back. English-pale, a scar down his ribs. Both good. And somehow, Xander had convinced Wesley that in California, swimming in the nude was the norm, so Wesley had bravely stripped down.

"Hey, Xander! Phone for you!"

Xander flipped upright in the water with a splash, treading evenly. "Who is it?"


As Wesley watched, Xander's face drained of all color and he splashed his way out of the pool, grabbing a towel as he went and drying quickly as the wind off the ocean raised goose bumps on his skin. "She got the letter?"

"Sounds like she did, pet." By the time Xander reached Spike, he was shivering, but his lips were warm and tasted of sunshine and chlorine.

"Thanks, sweetheart." Xander gripped the phone, looking at it like it might bite him - leaned into Spike's touch with a grateful smile.

"Pay me later," Spike murmured, and stepped away with a swift glance over Xander's naked body. Then he ducked back into the gloom of the house and Xander tucked the phone between ear and shoulder so he could knot his towel around his waist.

"Hello? Dawn?" He settled into a lounger and looked around for the sun-block - looked up as Wes made a low whistle.

"Hi Xander! How are you! How long has Spike been living with you?" Xander caught the tube of sun-block Wes tossed to him and opened it, squeezing some onto his fingers. Oh, right. Wonder what Spike said?

"A couple of months. Listen Dawnie, I'm sorry I didn't tell you -"

"Xander, nobody tells me things. I get it. And anyway, I already yelled at Spike. But I don't have to yell at you 'cause you're gonna tell me more now, right?"

Xander groaned and closed his eyes - felt the smile on his face as he heard her so clearly, eager to know 'the dirt'. But Spike hadn't seemed upset. In fact, he'd had a bit of a - glow to him that Xander didn't see nearly often enough. "Yes, but don't yell at Spike anymore, okay?"

"Oh. My. God. You like him. You like Spike! And he likes you. You're both so - mother hen! Oh my god." Xander could practically feel Dawn bouncing on the other end of the line and he was pretty sure that Wes heard her, especially since he had to take the phone away from his ear.

"Well - yeah - sure I do, Dawn, I mean..." Honesty! Fuck, it's hard. Wesley wasn't looking at him, but Xander could see the little smile at the corner of his mouth. "Right. Okay. Yeah. I like Spike." No. Lie. I love him. I love Spike. I'm just terrified of telling the people that used to whole world.

"Xander?" He could hear the worry in her voice - couldn't not answer.


"Breathe, okay? I can hear you hyperventilating."

"I am not -" Xander sat upright and swayed gently as the world spun. "Okay, so maybe I was. God - this is hard, Dawnie."

"What, admitting that you have a thing for Spike? I mean my god you two hated each other!" He heard the laughter in her voice, let it make him smile too.

"Admitting that I love Spike is the easy part." Xander closed his eyes, felt a swell of warmth in his chest just saying those words, hoping Spike was listening in.

A sharp intake of breath from Dawn, and then: "So what's the hard part?"

Xander leaned back against the recliner, rubbing the sun-block into his tattoo before it could all drip off his hand - found that there was no hard part left. "The part where you yell at me for not telling you any of this in my letters?"

"You love him." Dawn's voice was a little wobbly - a little breathless. He heard her sniff, and felt instant guilt.

"Dawn, I'm sorry -"

"Xander. You don't apologize for being in love, you dork. I... I wish you could have told me sooner."

"I didn't really know, that much sooner. It's...been a surprising couple of months." Xander closed his eyes and leaned back, feeling relief wash over him. Relief and affection for his 'little sister' who'd always listened - who'd always seen, right along with him. "It's been a really - good couple of months."

"Yeah. Listen, Xander - I want pictures. And I want details. Got it?"

"What kind of details?" Xander stuttered out the question before realizing that he did not want to know the answer.

"Duh! The juicy kind!" That answer.

He groaned, dragging his fingers through his hair. "Jesus. When did you become such a little pervert?"

"Hello! Spike was my favorite baby sitter in my formative years." Dawn sounded way too smug for eighteen.

"Uh -uh." Xander closed his eye again to see that mischievous grin in his mind. "No way are you going to convince me that Spike let you look at gay porn when he was watching you."

"Who said he let me?"

"I did not let her look at porn! She snooped!" Spike yelled from the doorway, and Xander groaned, toppling over sideways in the chair and becoming aware that Wesley was snickering into his towel.

"Jesus! I'm surrounded by people with super-senses and no morals and - and a pervert for a little sister. Why am I the only normal guy?"

"You're dating a vampire, Xander - so not normal. Who else is there? Do you have friends over?"

"What? No. Yes. I mean - yes, a friend and Spike and they can hear you Dawn!" Xander watched Wesley go to the door and accept a beer from Spike and lift it in salute toward him. "And I don't care if you're eighteen and I don't care if you've read - Hustler. No juicy details."

"Call me later, Bit!" Spike yelled, and Xander groaned again.

Dawn giggled. "Hi Spike! I'll call you back when Xander's at work on Monday, so you'd better have lots of stuff to tell me by then!"


Wesley turned away from Xander's agonized groan of embarrassment and went inside, chuckling. The beer was heavenly, sliding down his throat and he stood for a moment savoring it. Then with a small start he realized he was standing nude in Xander's kitchen and he put his beer down so he could wrap his towel around his waist.

The stools are terribly splintery. And...brace up, now. Spike's bound to say something. Wesley finished tucking the towel-end in and turned to face the vampire, expecting some sort of leering remark or, at the very least, a look. But Spike was leaning against the counter, a beer held loosely in his hand. Smiling to himself. A soft, pleased sort of smile - an expression that Wesley had, quite frankly, never seen on the vampire's face.

Now I wonder...what brought that on? Oh... Xander, outside. On the phone. Telling Dawn he was in love. That must have been the first time... Wesley smiled himself, pleased for Spike - for Xander. Pleased and a tiny bit jealous.

"Just going to take a shower, then," he murmured, and slipped out. Spike didn't seem to notice.

Xander clicked the phone off and grinned. A long talk with Dawn was work, but it was worth it. She claimed nobody told her anything, but she always had Council gossip and little tidbits about Willow and Buffy and even Giles. He shivered. The sun was lower now, and he was in shade and he'd gotten chilled, sitting in nothing but a towel. Shivering, he got up and made his way inside, where the ever-burning fire kept his house warmer than your average SoCal home. Spike was bent over his treasure, prying at what looked like an oversized pearl, but when Xander scooted in he looked up and smiled. Soft, sweet, blindingly beautiful smile that made Xander's mouth go dry and his heart beat double-time. Spike put his loot down and stripped off the gloves - stood up slowly and stretched.

Ooh...naked vampire in my kitchen...

"All done with the Bit, then?"

"All d-done," Xander stuttered. Spike's eyes roamed over Xander's body and then he frowned a little.

"You're all over gooseflesh, love. Catch a chill?"

Xander watched Spike stalk towards him and he had enough presence of mind to fumble the cell phone down onto the counter. To save it from hitting the floor.

"Yeah, I - it got - chilly."

"Soon warm you up, love," Spike breathed, and a moment later Xander was draped in a Spike-blanket that felt like velvet over oiled steel and tasted like beer and peppermint.

"It is so wrong to be wrapped up in toasty vampire." Xander murmured, pressed against warmed flesh. He tucked cold fingers between them and found Spike's nipples, covering them with cool palms and muffling Spike's hiss with his lips.

"Not gonna be toasty for long. God - you're frozen."

"Think Wes would mind if we joined him in the shower?" Xander slid a hand over the silken skin, felt the fine raised lines of Spike's scars and ducked his head, nipping at Spike's throat. What does it take to mark a vampire?

"Probably would, pet." A rich groan shuddered up from Spike's chest. He was so hard against Xander's hip, tangled his fingers in Xander's hair with a growl. Spike rose onto the balls of his feet, sliding his body over Xander's chilled skin. Xander's balls were just starting to think it might be a good idea to come out of hiding when Spike stepped away with an evil glance. "Mind you don't get me started, love. Be a shame to break your vow of celibacy this close to the end of his visit."

Xander's breath whooshed out of him and he glared at Spike. "Cocktease."

"Think so? What d'you think of this, then?" Spike put his hands on Xander's shoulders and turned him - slid his hands slowly down from shoulder to ribs to belly. With a flick of his wrist he loosened the towel and let it drop, then he snuggled Xander up tight against him, making sure his cock slid between Xander's thighs. Groin tight against Xander's ass, tip of his cock pushing and rubbing at Xander's balls. Spike let his hands wander, from belly to nipples to hipbones - let his mouth wander, lazily licking and nipping at each tiny mark his fangs had left on Xander's skin. Salt and chlorine, cloves and sweet - heady mix of scents and Xander's body tight against his from shins to collarbones.

"I - I think Wesley had better take a long shower." Each nip of Spike's teeth shuddered through him and the skin Spike wasn't touching ached for him. He dropped his head back against Spike's shoulder - lips drunkenly sought lips and he reached down to slide a hand over Spike's flank shakily. "I - I mean - God, Spike. How can Wes not want this?"

"Dunno, pet. vampiric powers of seduction not workin' right, I suppose," Spike murmured, biting gently at Xander's throat - shuddering with Xander's own shivers. "God - Xan..." Spike did a fast push pull - push Xander away, spin him around, pull him back. Lips and teeth, tongue driving into Xander's mouth, one hand palming a handful of taut muscle, the other catching both of their cocks together and starting a fast, twisting stroking, pre-come and sweat slicking his palm. Xander pushed into him - bit at his mouth - used both his hands on Spike's ass to pull him closer.

Fuck teasing, want this...god, feels good.

"Fuck - fuck - fuck Spike! Gotta do this fast." Xander mumbled into Spike's lips, arousal spiraling fast and hot through him - burning because jacking off in the shower was nothing - nothing like Spike's hands, Spike's skin, taste of Spike on his tongue - muscles like iron under silk flexing under his hands. They hit the edge of the counter with a thump and Xander banged his knee against one of the stools, clattering it to the floor - thrust into Spike's grip and bit - buried his face in Spike's neck and sucked hard, blood firing through him like liquid need.

Spike gasped softly as Xander's teeth cut into him - drew blood. Xander's hips thrust and thrust, hard and then harder and then Spike's hand was slicking with come and the brine-musky scent was thick between them. As Xander panted against him, shaking in little, separate aftershocks, Spike let the demon emerge and licked Xander's neck - nicked him with one fang. Just enough to get a taste, just enough to get that spice-salt nectar over his tongue and send him over the edge.

Xander crowded tight against him as Spike's orgasm spasmed through him, and then they were both limp, panting - collapsing onto one another in a tangle of sweaty, sticky skin and shaking limbs.

"Wes has just finished, love - we'd best make ourselves presentable, yeah?" Spike muttered, and kissed the sluggishly bleeding scrape on Xander's neck. Sooo good, god. Love this. Love him...

"Pet - you told Dawn you love me," Spike said, memory kicking in, and Xander twitched in his arms and lifted his head.

Xander darted close, pressed his lips against Spike's - shared flavor between them all light and smoke and salt-copper musk - grinned as brightly as the sun rising. "I did, didn't I?"

"You did, love." Spike smiled back - tipped his head a little to one side, studying the happy, beautiful face that was so close to his own. "Thank you for that. I was..." He looked away then, and shrugged. "I didn't... Tell her, I mean."

"Does it bother you that I did?" Xander felt his heart clench when Spike looked away, rubbed his hands up and down Spike's back slow and soft. "Sweetheart - I don't want to hide you like a dirty secret."

"No! No, it doesn't, I just...wish I'd said it, too." Spike looked back at Xander - reached up to push back strands of damp hair - to trace a finger down cheek and jaw and follow the intricate line of his tattoo. "I do, you know. Love you."

Xander blinked quickly and trapped Spike's hand against his collarbone. "Would Wes notice if we took a quick shower together? I - just want to touch you for a while."

Spike pressed a soft kiss to Xander's lips - pushed him back far enough to get off the counter's edge and tugged him towards the master bath. "We'll be quick, love."

Wesley leaned against the door of the guest bathroom - eyes closed, listened to Spike and Xander make their slow way down the hall with soft touches, softer kisses. It still - hurt - not to have that. It hurt less that these two men he cared for had it together but it left him once again revolving like a helpless satellite around two people madly in love.


"'Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels' ended, and Spike heaved a sigh of satisfaction. Bloody good movie, that. He drifted for a moment, soothed by the low light from the fireplace and the cluster of fat candles on the side table - the over-sink light from the kitchen. Bright enough not to spill beer or snacks, low enough to simulate the theatre on Xander's big TV.

"Now, tell me that wasn't brilliant, mate," Spike said, poking Wesley in the shoulder.

"I'm not certain if I'd call it brilliant, Spike - but it was quite good." Wesley found himself smiling up into Spike's indignant face, wanting to draw it down to his and taste the laughter on his lips - then Xander's. It had felt so good to laugh that hard - even when he was absolutely horrified by what he was laughing at.

"You laughed as hard as we did," Xander pointed out, throwing a leg over Wesley's for balance - snatching a handful of popcorn from the bowl Spike had been hoarding since the middle of the movie.

"Well, that's so, but - " Wesley shook his head, leaning infinitesimally forward so that Xander's arm brushed against him as he pulled back, triumphant, with popcorn.

"No 'buts', pet," Spike said, slapping after Xander's hands and deliberately missing - whapping Wesley's thigh, instead, and leaving his hand there. "It's was bloody brilliant." Wes was so warm - Spike couldn't resist it. He pushed the popcorn bowl protectively away from Xander and curled up into the delicious heat, letting his hand slide up and then rest on Wesley's ribs, letting his knee come over Wesley's knee and dip down between. Letting his head settle on Wes' shoulder, where the dusty-bay, demon smell was overlaid by salt and butter and verbena and citrus.

"I know better than to argue with you, Spike." Wesley rolled his eyes, let his hand come to rest on Spike's back - surprisingly easy to hold him even after all of this time. Oddly comfortable. Natural.

"Move over, you leech." Xander shoved at Spike - settled himself into Wesley's other side, muttering. "Stop trying to bogart the warm Englishman."

Spike whapped at Xander again and Wesley surprised himself utterly by saying: "Now, boys, enough to go around." Then bit his lip in total humiliation. He cringed just slightly, but then relaxed when Spike only burrowed closer, and Xander's fingers started a slow stoke along his collarbone.

"Mmmm...plenty," Spike mumbled, pressing a cool nose into Wesley's neck - letting his thigh come up over Wesley's thigh and jostle Xander's leg. "Smell good, too. Perfect," Spike said. And then he jerked up, looking a little dazed. "Speaking of - Wes, pet... Would you -" Spike seemed to actually be a little embarrassed, and Wesley couldn't begin to imagine the scenario that would make that possible.

"Would I what, Spike?"

"Would Xander...what you showed me?"

Xander looked Wesley over playfully from head to toe. "You mean there's something I haven't seen?" But Wesley wasn't laughing. "Wes?"

"I - yes, there is." Wesley cast a quick nervous glance at Spike - let his head fall back and shivered.

Wesley's skin shimmered and rippled beneath Xander and Spike, muscles stretched and hardened - familiar planes of Wesley's face changed and Xander caught his breath. "Still the demon magnet."

Spike watched Wesley, and watched Xander - watched Xander lean up and examine the sharp planes and angles of Wes' new face - watched him delicately brush over the shimmering spines and explore a pointed ear before slowly sweeping a hand down Wes' chest.

"You're - wow, Wes, what can I say? So...beautiful. Really just...beautiful. And - you have Spock ears."

"If you ask me to say 'fascinating' or call you 'Captain' I shan't." Wesley shivered back into his human form, looked down at Xander's hand where it still lay on his chest. And as he watched, Spike slid his hand over Xander's and pressed, and Wesley closed his eyes, counting his heartbeats against the pressure on his ribs.

"What about 'live long and prosper'?"

Wesley twitched, but smiled. "No."

"Will you say 'We shield it with ritual and custom shrouded in antiquity. You humans have no conception. It strips our minds from us. It brings a madness which rips away the veneer of civilization. It is the 'pon farr' - the time of mating'?"

Wesley and Spike stared at Xander, speechless.

Xander blushed. "You jack off to an episode enough times in your formative years - you remember things."

Square Twelve

The days leading up to the conference passed in a blur, for Xander. They said goodbye to Wesley on Sunday with long hugs and even a soft kiss each - not pushing, just wanting, and promising. Wesley seemed...happy about it. That next weekend they made the drive up to Ojai again - this time without truck-stop sex. Spike pouted about that for hours, but Xander was proud of his resolve - even if he did grab Spike and slam him into the first convenient surface the second they got into their hotel room. The new piercings - three 10 gage stainless rings in his left ear, one in his right - itched still. Spike had encouraged him and instead of plain stainless balls Xander had picked out something a little fancier, and now little orbs of densely-gold tigers-eye winked at him every time he looked in the mirror. He liked the weight of them - shook his head, from time to time, just to feel them. Russ liked them, too. Dave, of course, sneered.

Three days before they were scheduled to leave Xander had a mild panic attack. How was Spike going to get on the plane? You had to have ID - a passport - something. Spike had kissed him breathless and then calmly produced a California Driver's license and a passport all up to date, all listing him as 'William Rothesay', naturalized citizen of the US. Xander was amazed, but Spike just said that money talked, and he had plenty, now. He refused to say how much, but every time he thought of it he got a hedonistic twinkle in his eye, and Xander was pretty sure that egg-sized emeralds and diamonds enough to fill up a sandwich baggie went for more than loose change on the black market.

He'd managed to stagger out of bed and down to the site for a couple of hours on Thursday - Spike was 'wearing him out' so he could sleep 'day-shift' hours and cope better with the conference's schedule. Being worn out by Spike was no joke - he was dedicated, creative, and tireless. Xander felt so sex-addled he was lucky he didn't run his truck into a light-pole coming home. Spike was waiting when he got back, wearing nothing but a grin, holding a beer in one hand and a bright blue vibrator in the other. Xander had hysterical giggles for twenty minutes.

Finally, around seven - bare minutes after the sun had dipped below the horizon - they tossed their bags into the back of the truck and climbed in. Spike was driving - Xander had insisted his legs were too weak to operate the truck and Spike had smirked in triumph and hit highway 101 doing 110. Xander just turned on the CD player and made sure his seat-belt was secure.

Once in L.A. - and after Xander and Spike had abandoned Xander's truck to the tender mercies of the LAX parking demons - Xander had another brief moment of panic when the metal detector beeped at Spike and a security guard who reminded Xander way too much of Andrew asked Spike to step to one side and hold out his arms.

And god he hoped he was the only person who noticed Spike's eyes flicker gold and the way he smirked when the wand came too close to his crotch.

Please don't make a scene. And please god no strip searching the vampire. Because Xander wasn't the only one who'd gotten a piercing in Ojai.

"Sir? Sir, step through the scanner."

Xander jumped - hurried through the scanner and grabbed his bag, pasted on his best 'big harmless Xander' smile and silently prayed he wouldn't have to explain to the LAPD or FAA or whoever paid these goons now why Spike had whatever disturbing and conspicuous item had made the scanner go off.

"Let's go pet."

Xander jumped again. "We can go?"

"Don't have to look so surprised, love. Left a penny in my pocket, that's all." Spike smirked. "And glad-hands over there's got a light touch - reckon I should tip him?"

"Let's not find out." God, he shouldn't be so nervous - shaky. Jumpy.

"C'mon, love," Spike said, pulling him close, arm around his waist. Xander's heart was going a mile a minute and he was jumping at every blat of the PA and touch of random body in the crowded concourse. "Let's go get a drink, yeah? Somethin' to settle your nerves." Xander nodded dazedly and Spike guided him away, ignoring, for once, any odd or sneering or hostile looks that go thrown their way.

Halfway down the endless concourse Spike abruptly turned and pushed through the blue-painted door of a men's room. Xander started to protest and Spike just kept pushing - right into the big handicapped stall at the end. He hung their bags on the hook on the door, shoved Xander into the wall and kissed him, hard.

"Spike, what the fuck -"

"You're too tense, love," Spike said. He slid into a crouch - got Xander's jeans open and halfway down in seconds flat and a moment later had the soft flesh of Xander's cock in his mouth. Clove-citrus-mint. Salt-sweet. Rising musk. Spike ran his left hand back between Xander's legs - his right up under Xander's shirt. Bent all his talents on one objective and ten minutes later he was pushing himself slowly up Xander's limp body, nipping soft kisses over his throat and mouth and smiling to himself when Xander kissed him, tongue searching for traces of his own come in Spike's mouth.

"Think you can sit on the plane now?"

"Yeah but I'm not so sure I can walk. God." Xander let his head fall back, and Spike's hand was there to keep it from hitting the wall - made him smile and slide a hand up under Spike's shirt, thumbing a nipple - enjoying the rock of Spike's hips. He closed his eye and sighed, pulled his hands out and smoothed Spike's shirt. "Better get out of here before a group of businessmen come swinging in and turn out to be going to the same convention."

"We could wait 'em out," Spike said, pushing into Xander's thigh - nuzzling into his hair and throat and kissing him again, because over the harsh antiseptic smell was the rich, clean, spicy smell of Xander, and he didn't want to move away, just yet.

"We'll come out together all rumpled with our lips swollen and our shirts untucked and make them question their sexuality." Xander mumbled against Spike's lips, didn't want to let them go once he'd found them - smiled and felt them smiling too.

"You could make the Pope question his sexuality, love. No - wait." Spike kissed the tip of Xander's nose, grinning. "Pope's probably already been bent over a pew sometime, that's too easy - how 'bout -" The door crashed open and at least three people came in - loud and excited and youngish, and Xander jumped and then relaxed again. And sighed.

"We really need to go check in. Takes longer now, you know."

"I know." Spike sighed too - took the bags down off the hook and handed Xander his - slung his own over his shoulder and opened the door. Three heads - two dirty-blond, one red - were at the urinals and swiveled in his direction and he gave them a Johnny Rotten sort of death-glare and grabbed Xander's hand.

"Let's go get that drink too, yeah? I fancy a Bloody Mary."

"Okay, that's way too easy. I'm not taking that one." Xander watched Spike snicker out of the corner of his eye, leaned into him when a leather-clad arm wound around his waist - closed his eye. "Jesus I need coffee."

"Irish coffee, do you up right, pet," Spike murmured, then shot an 'I will kill you' glare at the surfer-boys gawping with their dicks in their hands. "All mine, boys, so fuck right off," he said, and kicked the restroom door open.

Irish coffee, Bloody Mary and an oversized blueberry muffin that cost more than the drinks together and they were at their gate, handing over their tickets and ID and Xander was looking more his usual self. This lasted until they reached their seats on the plane - narrow and cramped but together, and Xander shoved the arm rest up out of the way and slumped against Spike. "Doin' all right, pet?"

"How about you wake me up and ask me that again in Chicago?" Xander rolled his head on Spike's shoulder, looked over him and out across the tarmac where the luggage movers were zipping back and forth.

"Sure, love." Spike got Xander's hand in his - got his cheek on Xander's hair and closed his eyes. "You sleep, I'll be here," Xander nodded into him, sighing out a huge breath, and when the pretty little stewardess tucked the blanket around him fifteen minutes later he didn't so much as twitch. Spike just snuggled him closer - watched the stars revolve past the window, and the clouds go from damp, black velvet to iced silver as the moon pushed slowly above them. I'll be here, he thought, and Xander's hand closed a little tighter on his own.


Xander stepped out of the hotel shower cubicle with a luxuriant groan - wriggled his toes in the cheap bath mat that he, Xander Harris, did not have to pick up or launder. A guy had to find his jollies somewhere after all, and the hotel towels were a joke. He tossed the towel after the bath mat and prowled back into the room on a cloud of steam, stalking the lump beneath the covers with the single-minded purpose of a man who knows he has three hours before he's required to make an appearance at the first function.

"Sweetheart," he singsonged, crawling over the covers, Spike's body hard and angular beneath him - dropped kisses over elbow, shoulder, and ear - nibbled at the lobe. He could hear his earrings clicking together when he moved his head and shook, spraying Spike with a fine layer of water droplets.

"S'fuckin' cold!" Spike yelped, but he didn't actually move - couldn't move. Sunk in lassitude and blissful heat - he'd packed his own electric blanket, thank you very much - and as delicious as Xander smelled he just wanted one. More. Hour.

Xander laughed, licked a drop of lemon and spice scented water from Spike's cheek always bring your own soap and shampoo! and fed it to him with a lazy-sweet sweep of his tongue between Spike's lips. He got a sleep-laden response then slid off the bed to sit on the floor. Flipped through the convention binder. Friday night casual buffet meet and greet. Thank god for casual.

Spike cracked an eye open and saw the top of a tousled head - reached out and began to work his fingers through the long strands of shower-damp hair. "Xaan-derr..." he purred, and let his fingers slip down to stroke the side of Xander's throat. Because his mouth tasted sweet still, from Xander's kiss, and his lips were tingling and fuck sleep, he wanted more of that.

Xander chuckled and arched his neck against the bed, turned his head until he could get his lips against Spike's inner wrist. He mouthed the soft skin, kissing down to Spike's palm - nibbled. "I thought you wanted to sleep."

"Can sleep when I'm dead." Spike let his fingers curl around Xander's jaw - stroked razor-smoothed skin and then let his fingers trail over Xander's lips, breathing in softly when Xander lipped at his fingertips. "Want this whenever I can get it."

Xander lifted the blankets and slithered back into the bed - rolled over and molded himself against Spike's side and slid a leg down between his. "You could have had me in the shower. All that hot water and slippery soap and the conditioner you like because it tastes like eggnog with my shampoo."

"Didn't want to get up. Got you here now...and I'll bet you taste like eggnog..." Spike wriggled his arm free and got it around Xander's back - pulled him close and began a slow and methodical licking over every bit of neck and shoulder and collarbone he could reach. Lick, nibble, suck, kiss... Xander tasted of eggnog and citrus and salt and Spike 'hmmmm'd in his throat, fingers kneading the small of Xander's back.

The kneading felt so good - made Xander stretch until he felt his spine pop and he sighed into Spike's lips, tongue, teeth. "You taste like smoke...and pennies." He wormed an arm under Spike's head, scratched his fingernails through silky white curls and fluff.

"Worth more than that," Spike muttered, then he lifted his head fractionally, looking at Xander. "Want me to go brush?"

"Nah. I like it. Tastes like you." Xander flexed his fingers - the curve of Spike's skull fit perfectly against his hand and curls tickled between his fingers. "Tastes like your blood."

"Good. Didn't want to get up." Spike snuggled back down happily, in truth feeling almost too lazy to do much more. Just want to lie here with him. Bugger the meet'n'greet an' all the suits tryin' to relax over Swedish meatballs and martinis. Just want my Xan... "Stay here," he murmured, his head on Xander's chest, now - legs tangled and Xander's hand slow and gentle in his hair. "Tell 'em you ate poisoned fettuccini on the plane and you can't stop throwing up."

"That? Is so tempting, sweetheart. But I am resisting. See me resist." Xander slid his hand down Spike's spine - warm from the blanket, smooth from the cosmic unfairness of vampires who had perfect skin and perfect hair and a perfect ass - Xander groaned in his throat, smiled. "And any vote by Little Xander doesn't count."

Little Xander voted enthusiastically 'yes'.

"Does so," Spike muttered. He squirmed until he was on his elbows over Xander, arch of hip to cup of pelvic bone. He started doing a slow grind with his hips. "Votes yes - I can feel it - big, emphatic yes."

"Big, huh?" Xander slid his hands between them - placed his palms against Spike's chest, lifted him until he could look down their bodies - see the hard-slick slide of cock against cock and the wink of metal peeking up at him from Spike's. He shivered. "No - no, that is way too easy."

"Sayin' I'm easy?" Spike said, bracing up on his knees a little and pressing down - doing something close to a full-body push up, but it involved much more flesh on flesh.

"You first." Xander ran his palms down from Spike's shoulder blades to the curve of his buttocks, spread his legs and pulled Spike against him in a way that made sparks flash behind his eyelids. "Are you saying I'm big?"

Spike closed his eyes, holding his chest inches from Xander - feeling the heat from him rise up in a ticklish wave. Feeling the hard press of Xander's cock against his, and the belly that panted up against his own. Xander's knees brushing against Spike's biceps and Xander's heels in the backs of his thighs.

"You're lovely and big, pet, perfect size to fill me right up - perfect size to make me mad for it, love..." He dipped down and kissed Xander, hard and bruising kiss - thrust up - and someone pounded on the door. They both jumped. Spike opened his eyes.

"Don't. Move." he ordered, and slithered fast out of the bed.

Xander tilted his head back, laughed helplessly because wasn't he supposed to be resisting seduction? Not holding his legs high and wide in a room that was a lot colder with the blankets thrown off. He glared down at his cock. "Traitor."

He could just make out the sound of Spike opening the door and greeting someone - if 'What the fuck took you so long?' could be called a greeting. He crawled to the end of the bed to get a look at whoever or whatever it was and why they weren't hurrying up and letting Spike get back to fucking him.

Right. There. Take the money. Take. The money. Good fucking god! Take the damn money! Spike glared at the garrulous demon that was piling a menu, business cards, and a fridge magnet on top of his mini-cooler of blood, chatting about delivery times and the 'specials'.

"I'm about to get my dinner straight from the tap, you git," he finally growled, and the demon jumped, turned and lumbered off. Spike kicked the door shut - put on the chain - and stalked the five steps to the desk. He dropped the cooler and looked over at the bed, where Xander was on his belly, feet up behind him.

"You - were not - supposed to move," Spike said, in a low and growly sort of voice. He almost grinned when Xander's eye went wide. He sauntered to the bed - and stepped up the single riser that it was elevated on. Xander scrambled back to the on-his-back position.

"Ummmm - oops?"

"Oops, pet?" Spike crawled up the bed, watching Xander's cock jump with his breathing - watching Xander's hands clutch the sheets in anticipation. "Gonna have to punish you." Spike straddled Xander's hips and reached behind himself, getting Xander's cock in his hand. Xander had showered - he had not - and he slid, slow as he could, down and down, gliding on the remains of last nights lube. Not...quite...enough, and Spike let his head fall back in pure pleasure. "Mmmm..."

"This is punishment - how?" Xander asked, hands grasping his hips.

"Got three hours 'til your - thing. I'm gonna make this least two," Spike purred.

"Still not grasping the punishment concept here." Xander slid shaking hands up Spike's thighs - and if this was punishment, lying on his back like a really turned on sloth while Spike rode him for two hours, bring on the punishment! Punish away! Xander was - was -

Okay, not doing so well with the thinking. Because Spike was still warm inside, tight and just slick enough to be rough and dirty the way he threw back his head and groaned like the walls were soundproof.

The window faced east, so the curtain were wide open and the diffuse pinks of sunset gilded Spike's skin, Spike looked - Fucking edible.

"Feel so good inside, Xan. Feel every bump and ridge. Gonna get metal in this for me some day, yeah? Nice thick ring at the top like mine?" Spike jacked himself slowly slick on pre-come - dull blue-gray metallic bead, hidden then revealed by Spike's foreskin on every stroke.

"That - should really not be making me harder." Xander reached out to trace the smooth metal wave of Spike's ring, thick enough to make Xander shudder - feel it banging and dragging in him, over him, against him - solid, heavy and good.

"Course it should, love - you felt me, last night - you made the prettiest sounds..." Spike pulled up - nearly off - slid back down again, slow as molasses on a winter day, muscles clamping tight so he could feel every inch of Xander's cock - so Xander could feel every inch of him. He paused to run his fingers over the head of his own cock - held them out to Xander's mouth. "Want a taste, pet?"

Xander caught Spike's wrist, drew it down - watched the haze come over Spike's eyes as he curled his tongue over the first finger, second - took them in warm and slow as Spike sliding down on him and fought to keep his eye open. The taste of metal was stronger now in the salt-musk flavor, changed - with a bright tang of the piercing that reminded him of tequila with salt and lime. He felt Spike's finger slide over the pad of his tongue - sliding out, trapped it with his teeth and growled. Gonna make you breathe, sweetheart.

Spike dropped his chin to his chest, watching Xander watch him. Xander's mouth was hot - his teeth prickling tight over Spike's knuckles. Spike wiggled them, just a bit - slowly slid his fingers back inside, letting Xander suck - lick - wanting him to. He ran his other hand up Xander's ribs and brushed over his nipples; light pressure, the edge of a nail, then his palm, soothing.

Xander sucked in a breath around Spike's fingers - twisted his tongue up between into the sensitive web - let his head fall back, let go - cool trail of damp fingers down his jaw, over his throat, over the bite that never had time to heal and made him shudder under every touch. This? Was sex without Spike's blood in him, without the fiery passenger in Xander's veins making everything hotter - faster - more intense.

He dropped his hands to the delicate bones of Spike's ankles, felt them shift, tendons flex under his fingers, slid up strong calves, bony knees - touch.

"Love when you do that, love your hands on me like that, just touching..." Spike put his hands over Xander's - let them move where Xander's hands moved, then slid his own down and off - bent slowly, with his hands sliding into the thick hair at the back of Xander's head. He brought his mouth to Xander's and just hovered there a moment, lips barely touching. Love this... ""

Xander stretched - slid his hands up the cooling expanse of Spike's back and into his hair, resting - holding. "Say it again." His eye fluttered closed - open - Spike so close he could only see one blue eye looking back at him, dark as the sky outside the window. He could feel the slightly chapped skin of his lower lip catch on Spike's smoothness, tongue darted out to taste - just a taste - smoke and metal.

"Love. Xander, love, love you..." Xander's tongue on his lips, soft flutter like a bird's wing and Spike pressed closer, licking a slow line along Xander's lower lip - tracing his upper lip - dipping fractionally inside, humming-bird kiss. Sweet and mint and spice...

"Love you - sweetheart..." Spoken into the kiss, shared on lips and tongues - breathed in - good.


"Is there a bar?" Spike asked, digging out a cigarette and lighting up. The room beyond was brightly lit - too bright, really. Dozens of round tables with name-cards, a long buffet table with - yes - Swedish meatballs somewhere. He could smell them. The woman at the desk was trying to stick a name-tag on him and he batted irritably at her hand.

"Leave off, ducks."

"Alexander Harris. I'm with Sunnydale Southwest." Xander accepted his clip-on laminated name-tag with better grace from the woman's companion and took a blankly cheerful 'Hello! My name is:' sticker from her - scrawled on it and slapped it on Spike's chest. Arm possessively - proudly - around Spike's waist, he gave the women at the desk a plastic smile before hustling them into the hall. "You can take it off as soon as she's not watching us," he muttered.

Spike got his own arm around Xander - around the softness of the cashmere jumper he'd nudged him into buying. With his other hand he immediately plucked at the name-tag and peeled it off, glancing at what Xander had written. 'Companion of Alexander Harris'. He snorted, crumpling it and letting it fall.

"Companion my arse," he muttered into Xander's ear. "Fuckin' love of your life, yeah?" Louder, he continued: "Christ, love - what a turn out. There's the bar." Need a drink, then another drink, then...oh! Wings. Thank god. And - more drinks. More zombies in here than any Sunnydale cemetery.

Xander processed it all. Companion. Bar. Turnout. Loud turnout. Love of his life - and smiled. "And there's the line for the bar." Spike's shirt was soft and heavy beneath his palm, and he didn't want to let go yet. Unfortunately his choice was either letting go or joining Spike in his bee-line to the bar. Spike was the one familiar point in a sea of faces - faces he'd have to...face. Like the first day of High School again only without the skateboard - and with booze.

Lots of booze.

And a long line at the bar.

And funny how the thought of a room full of drunken adults still made his stomach flip over. "Is it too late for the poisoned fettuccini?"

"You want to go, love? We'll go." Spike came to a stop, turning to look at Xander. The man's heartbeat was vibrating through his body, too hard and fast for a simple buffet - his scent held a faint trace of...fear? "Love - what is it?" he said, softly - pulled Xander a little closer and cupped his cheek, hating the stupid patch that marred the lines of Xander's face. The elastic was rough under his fingers and Spike smoothed the skin around it.

Xander pushed into Spike's touch, too tense to let his eye close - relax. "Can't go. I have to do this." Reluctant answer to both questions at once. "I'm a responsible adult with a company's future and profits riding on my professional presentation of myself at a conference of my peers. And god, who wrote that stuff in the company packet, a former High School guidance counselor?" He pushed a smile to the forefront, grabbed Spike's hand and aimed for the bar.

Spike let himself be towed along, frowning just a little. They joined the queue and Spike got behind Xander, wrapping his arms around him and resting his chin on Xander's shoulder - rubbing against cashmere and silken hair, just a little. Whispered in Xander's ear.
"Don't have to be responsible, love. I've got plenty of money, you know. We can just bugger off back home if you like." Knowing Xander probably wouldn't, but he wanted him to know he could. If he wanted to.

Xander didn't answer - couldn't yet because he was pretty sure his answer would be something he'd regret on Monday when he was getting fired. Because - well, because in every crap job he'd had - every job that'd demeaned him, humiliated him, kicked his ass - he'd never been fired because of something he couldn't do. "I'm gonna do this." He tilted his head against Spike's hair - ignored the eyes watching them, brushed his hands over Spike's arms.

"Anything you say, love. I'm right here." Spike kissed what he could reach and settled then, skull to skull with a small sigh. Just lending his solidity - just being there. Seeing every look that was coming their way and ignoring it, because he wasn't going to start a fight at Xander's conference and if he noticed... He'd have to do something.

"You're the sexiest guy here," he added, tiny push of groin to ass, and Xander pushed back, just a little. Won't make you...a spectacle, love. Trust me.

"Too bad I'm taken, huh?" Xander swayed into Spike's grasp, caught glimpses of other couples standing close - holding hands, brushing shoulders. It felt good to be one of them.

"Yup, taken." Xander twisted around to grin at him. All. Mine.


As the booze flowed, the room relaxed - got louder, happier, more friendly. And Xander got more tense - more friendly with a planter in the corner where he could wait for Spike to come back from the bar - again - and thank god nobody wanted to talk to the weird guy hiding behind a plant in the corner. Hurry up, sweetheart. The plant? Not a great conversationalist.

Spike eeled his way across the room, the last of his whiskey going down his throat in a lovely warm burn. Heading for Xander, dodging the half-drunk crowd and looking around with an offended snarl when some person put a hand on his ass. Fuck off, human. Taken.

"Xander, love - we are leaving," he said, and plucked Xander's glass out of his white-knuckled hand. Xander had gotten more quiet - more tense - as the party had heated up and he looked utterly miserable and ready to snap. Spike grabbed his hand - ditched the glass in the planter Xander was practically hiding behind - and tugged him close.

"I'm going out of my bloody mind, pet. Walk me upstairs, yeah?" Making it about him, and not about Xander, and not about... Not about whatever it is that's making him so damn nervous. Xander blinked at him for a moment and then they were walking, fast. Across the room, out the door, and if Spike growled more than once, well - they were drunk. They wouldn't remember.

Spike wound around Xander in the elevator, nose buried in the soft sweater. Xander dropped his head onto Spike's shoulder - tired, tired - god, like all his words were sucked out of him in the first five minutes of business small talk. Don't want to be that. Don't want to turn into that. God. "I thought I liked talking."

Spike snorted, wormed his arms between Xander's back and the wall of the elevator. "Nobody likes talking about that boring shite, pet."

"The guy from Texas got pretty worked up over the new Caterpillar catalog."

"Texas - that the bloke who kept pounding you on the back?"

Xander couldn't see Spike's face, but he knew those blue eyes were narrowing dangerously - same as they had when that big friendly hand had punctuated every lame joke with a smack against Xander's spine that had knocked the breath out of him. "Yeah. Um. Roy. Little Roy. I'd hate to meet Big Roy."

"Little Roy better keep his hands to himself or he's gonna regret it," Spike growled, and pinned Xander to the elevator wall, kissing him as if he were drowning and Xander were oxygen. "Christ...hated not touching you...wanted to kiss you for the last hour...fuckin' people..." Spike got one hand under Xander's jumper - got the other in his hair and irritably snatched the damn patch off, glimpsing red, angry flesh where the elastic had dug in. "Taste fuckin' good..."

Xander's arms had nowhere to go but around Spike - where they should've been all evening. Arms full of Spike, mouth full of a Spike still tingly from the hot wings. He groaned, getting a leg around Spike - wanted to get both around him because Xander had never claimed not to deal with tension through sex. Lots of sex. Lots and lots of -

He threw his head back against the wall, sucking in breath when he got too dizzy. "Sex," he croaked.

"What about it, love?" Spike asked, going straight for the newly-bared skin of Xander's throat and sucking, licking, nibbling. God, he'd needed this all night. "You sayin' you want some, pet? Need some? Always need you..." Spike got his hand under Xander's thigh and onto his ass and thrust into him, groaning just a little as Xander, seemingly, tried to crawl under his skin.

"Sex good." Xander squeezed his eye shut - complex shift of muscles trying to push Spike away and pull him closer at the same time. "Sex in elevator with camera - bad." He caught Spike's head between his hands, tugged to look into dark blue eyes, sweep tanned thumbs across the hollows of Spike's cheeks. "Business dinners very bad. I've gotta get out of here, sweetheart."

"Got just the thing..." Spike overpowered Xander's half-hearted attempts to push him off and kissed him breathless - pulled him out of the elevator when the doors slid open, walking backwards, trusting his reflexes to keep them from hitting walls.

Teeth and tongue and lips, hands under his clothes and finally the door - the room - the key slotting in and turning with a heavy click. Before they had even reached the bed, Spike had Xander's jeans open, and was working on his own.

"So okay with this." Fast and frantic, hard and good - shirts shoved up, pants shoved down and then Spike's palm bitten open, rich and bloody against Xander's mouth and he was drinking - coming with the bright crackles and starbursts of the blood blooming in him - making everything better - right.

Got a leg lazily between Spike's, bellies slick with Xander's come - and Spike was still moving, sinuous like the blood sliding down Xander's tongue, into his throat - and god, he could be embarrassed coming so fast - if it didn't make Spike look so hungry.

Spike pulled his hand off Xander's mouth - drove hard and fast into the hollow of Xander's hip, the still-firm length of Xander's cock dragging against him, his strokes lubricated on Xander's come. The heavy, salt-spice scent was delicious and Spike buried his face in Xander's neck - mouthed the old bite-mark there and then changed - scraped with his fangs. Then he bit, delicately, sucking in the thin spurt of blood into his mouth, the heat and iron-salt-sweet of it rushing over him - champagne-tingle down the back of his throat, his spine and his cock and he arched hard, coming, panting. "God - Xan...damn good, love," he mumbled, and just shut his eyes for a moment.

Xander lay there, eye closed to the gently spinning room and listened to his pulse beat in time with the bite on his throat; floated with Spike in the post-orgasmic lassitude. "Don't change back yet sweetheart." Barely a whisper.

He nudged at Spike's hair with his cheek until he lifted his head - ran his fingers over the ridges and bumps of the other face. "Want this." He brushed his lips over Spike's, tongue darted out to taste the obsidian-sharp teeth. "Never thought this was beautiful before." Inside-the-head words slithering their way outside but it was okay. Because a guy couldn't be blamed for saying stupid sweet things after a great orgasm, could he?

"Beautiful now?" Spike whispered, and Xander nodded mutely, lips still touching Spike's. "You're beautiful. You're so beautiful. Xander, you..." Spike couldn't really talk, just yet, even though he wanted to - wanted to tell Xander poetry and lilting prose - wanted to give him words as transcendent - as burning - as the emotion that surged in him. But he couldn't get them out - couldn't string them together the way they were in his head, so he settled for kissing Xander breathless - whimpering, hoping his mouth and his hands said what his tongue couldn't.

"So beautiful." Xander moaned under the touches, smiled into lips and teeth that were being gentle with him. "You..." The whimpering made his chest hurt, made him want to protect Spike which wasn't any more logical than his insane drive to protect Buffy who he - really didn't want to think about just then, in bed with Spike. "Again." Whispered word, gentle hands drew Spike back to his throat. Needed that...closeness after the forced distance through dinner.

Spike moaned softly - let Xander draw his head down, into his neck again - lapped his tongue over and over the mark, gleaning every drop of blood that still welled there.

His cock was hardening and filling again and he wanted - wanted in. "Xan - love, help me -" He kicked at his boots, getting them off - wormed out of his jeans one-handed while he yanked at Xander's boots and Xander struggled dazedly with his own jeans. Naked from the waist down Spike groped along the headboard and found the lube - got a hasty dollop onto his palm. Xander was watching him, his eye nearly black, his mouth open and panting. "Love how you feel around me," Spike breathed, getting between Xander's legs - pushing them up and open.

He caressed the backs of sensitive thighs then leaned over Xander, guiding himself and sinking slowly, slowly in. Xander arched under him and Spike pushed to the hilt - waited for one long moment, his own gaze locked with Xander's. Then he moved - thrust - deep, long push and pull into exquisite heat and pressure. Xander's head was back - his hands on Spike's ribs and Spike bent over him and kissed him. Then he let his mouth slide down and down, and let his fangs slip in. Xander stiffened, gasping, and Spike put his hand back to Xander's mouth, to give him the last few drops that still clung there.

"Slow," Xander mumbled into Spike's palm, dazed - taste of coppery salt giving way to the clean lemon-musk flavor of Spike's skin. He was still soft, shuddered with the erotic feeling of being so full - of Spike. Spike's blood, Spike's cock, Spike's fangs and tongue - hot where cool flesh breached him and cool fangs dipped beneath his skin and cold everywhere Spike wasn't touching.

"Could do this all night - uh, if you keep doing all the work. So willing to let you keep - god! - doing all the work." He felt Spike chuckle against him, smiled and slid his legs down Spike's - trapped and tangled and closed his eye.


Spike knew Xander was awake - felt him do that little cat-stretch thing he did; fingers and toes and then full-body arch that looked like heaven on the cream silk sheets at home. Here, the upward curve and arabesque of tanned limbs was muffled under sheets and blankets and duvet. Spike grinned to himself and turned up the volume on the TV.

"Time is it?" Xander mumbled, and Spike leaned over on one elbow, brushing back a curtain of hair.

"Just after eleven, love."

"Mmphf. Starving...eleven?" Xander sat bolt upright and Spike twitched away, narrowly missing having his nose solidly whacked by Xander's forehead.

"Eleven pee em. Middle of the night, love." Xander stared at him and then slumped back into the bed.

"Jesus. Thought I'd slept through - whatever - day one... That'd be kinda cool. Only, not." Xander mumbled, giving Spike a sleep-muddled stare.

"Want to get some food?" Spike hoped he'd say yes - he was bored, and energized from sex and Xander's blood. My blood's gonna hit him any second now. Now he's all - rested up.

Xander rubbed his hands over his stomach, digging into the emptiness with his palms and stretched again. "God, yes. Why did I ever think buffets were filling?"

Spike snorted. "You'd have to eat at one for it to fill you up, pet. Not pick at a plate for an hour and call it done."

Xander groaned again but this time it had nothing to do with the sensual all over ache and tingling in his veins. "Tasted like shit, sweetheart. Probably bad for me too," he mumbled against Spike's skin - let Spike draw him up, lips to lips - scrambled onto his knees on the mattress and pressed Spike down onto his back in search of that rich red Spike taste that was better than - okay, better than pretty much everything.

Spike let Xander pin him and kiss him until the man was breathless and had to pull back. "Hello, love," he murmured, and Xander grinned down at him.

"Hello. Food? Should we call room service? Is there room service? Maybe we should go out. I wonder if there's some sort of guide - " Xander bounced off the bed and started rifling the desk and Spike slithered after him - grabbed him tight around the waist.

"I think we should go out. Take a walk down to the pier - it's not far. Sure to be places open. Sound good?" Spike buried his face in Xander's hair, still damp at the roots and smelling of sweet shampoo.

"You had me at 'it's not far'." Xander slid his hands behind himself, up over Spike's hips with a backwards wriggle that woke up the rest of him nicely. "I feel like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - unless it was Mr. Jekyll and Dr. Hyde."

Spike chuckled, a warm vibration against the nape of Xander's neck that made him shiver. "How's that then, pet?"

"Dr. Alex and Mr. Xander. Dr. Alex is the responsible guy they hired to come here - give presentations and not grope his boyfriend in the conference hall."

"And Mr. Xander?" Spike mouthed over the tattoo, nibbled the point of Xander's shoulder.

"Mr. Xander is a Spike addict who has sex in elevators and wakes up at midnight to a sexy vampire in his bed."

"Mmmm...Mr. Xander - let's go eat and grope each other on the pier." Spike slid his hands up into Xander's hair and turned his head so he could lick into Xander's mouth and Xander responded eagerly, twisting half around, hips bumping. Then his stomach rumbled and he broke away, laughing.

"Dr. Alex, Mr. Xander, and my stomach as The Blob which is going to escape and eat us alive." Spike cleared his throat and Xander grinned. "Or dead."

They threw on clothes, Xander grumbling a protest when Spike insisted on layers for warmth but giving in quickly once Spike opened the window to a blast of chill wind off of Lake Michigan and an idle comment of 'Looks like an early snow, pet'.

At the doors of the hotel Spike turned and tugged at Xander's jacket-collar - made sure it was buttoned up all the way. The soft merino wool of Xander's scarf was dyed in dark, dark browns, golds, and greens, and made Xander's eye gleam as richly as the tiger's eye in his earrings. "Ready then?"

"It's not the Arctic Circle, Spike," Xander said, but he smiled, and Spike tucked Xander's arm into his - pushed the doors open, and walked out. The wind that hit them was edged with ice and Xander took a deep, deep breath of it - and then let it out in a loud whoop.

"Damn! Cold! I like it!" he laughed, and Spike laughed with him.

"Right then - we're going north." Spike turned them and they strode briskly up the street, laughing into the wind.

Xander shivered, felt his socket and teeth ache with the cold wind but couldn't not grin into it as he jogged with Spike across the street and into a park. There was frost on the grass, crunching underfoot and the trees were all but empty of leaves stark and gray against the city night sky. Already California seemed like an impossible dream - the cool evening wind of Ojai like a summer breeze.

"Where is it?" He had to raise his voice above the wind, staggered into Spike when a gust through the trees caught him by surprise.

"There's the Ferris wheel, love -" Spike said, pointing, and Xander's face lit up at the huge arch of neon and twinkling light. Navy Pier was closed for the night, but the lights gleamed softly in the darkness, and beyond were the tell-tale flicker of buoy lights and the running lights of ships and private boats, all twinkling and sparkling like a reverse star field.

"Oh - cool -" Xander's walk slowed and they strolled, strong scents of lake-water and wet wood, and the faint underlying spice of dead leaves and pines from the park. Clouds scudded overhead, alternately revealing and hiding a rising moon that was slowly polishing itself from dull copper to gleaming silver on a wind that seemed to come straight off a glacier.

The lights reflected, sparkled in Xander's eye, caught and kept there as he looked everywhere - turned in a laughing circle to take it all in once they broke through the trees to the lakefront itself. One more couple, arm in arm in the night. Xander bumped into Spike, leaned close and relished the vampire's shiver at the brush of warm breath over his ear. "I smell hotdogs. And popcorn."

"Long gone, pet. We'll find you something better."

"No sushi this time."

"Thought you liked the sushi, love. You ate your share."

"In California. Where it is a lot warmer than this."

"Then we'll just have to find something to warm you up from the inside, won't we?" Spike's eyes flicked to Xander's neck in a way that made him shiver - grin.

"Had some of that before we left."

Spike chuckled. "Something that fills your stomach too this time."

The city rose along the far shore of the lake, gleaming gold and white and red. Soft lap of water along rocks and down under the pier itself - a hollow sort of noise in the echoing space. The went west after a bit, into a more pedestrian area of the city, with convenience stores and bars, traffic rushing past on damp streets. "Look there, Xander - that looks good," Spike said, nodding to a dark entry and a crowd of taxis.

"How can you tell?" Xander hurried after Spike once the light turned green, dodged puddles in the sidewalk and hopped the gutter onto the curb.

"Look at all the taxies, love! They always know. Ahhh - smell that - curry. I could murder a good curry."

"My sweetheart the pathological killer, ladies and gentlemen. Even the food isn't safe."

Spike couldn't help laughing. Xander's face was flushed with the cold, his hair like dark feathers around his cheeks and throat. Eye sparkling, step buoyant - he looked every bit as edible as the curry smelled. Spike dove in for a fast, hard kiss. "Curry makes," he added, and pushed the open the door of the Baba Palace.

"Sweetheart, saying hello makes you hot." But Spike's words - hard press of Spike's lips - made the tingling tendrils of Spike's blood in him rush to his groin, made the room feel warm - very warm and Xander felt himself break out into a sweat. "And it's totally possible that curry makes me hot too. Or again, that could just be your basic effect of Spike on Xander."

"Or Xander on Spike," Spike murmured in his ear, pushing up against him one brief moment, press of hard flesh to Xander's thigh. "Oh, lovely - c'mon, I see a spot." Spike guided them deftly through the crowd and settled them at the long counter. There were rows of plates covered in cling-film, and Spike pointed them out to Xander. "What'll you have, pet?"

The smell at the hot line was wonderful, warm and fragrant with spices Xander didn't even have names for - made his nose itch and his mouth water. "One of everything." He grinned at Spike, turned to slide a leg between Spike's under cover of the duster - whispered in his ear. "Can I come back for seconds?"

"Thirds, even," Spike whispered back, then a thin, dark man in an apron and a hair-net was standing there, waiting to take their order, and Spike pointed out four - five - six things. Different things, for Xander to try. And one good, hot curry for himself. "Gonna love this, Xander."

"Yeah well tell me which one will peel a layer off my tongue before I take a bite of it this time." Xander pressed up against Spike's back, reached around him to grab bottled drinks with names he'd never heard of instead of the usual selection of Snapples, Cokes, and bottled water.

It took minutes for the food to arrive and Xander fell to it with gusto, his scarf and jacket draped over the back of his chair, his hair in his eyes and his fingers greasy - his mouth grinning around samosas with yogurt dip, korma and torn off pieces of naan.

Their feet tangled together under the table and Spike fed him bits of his own fiery order, watching him taste with a closed eye and pursed mouth and then dive for his bottle of Limca. Didn't look like this at that damn buffet supper. Looks like a kid - happy. Want you to be happy, love. Damn conference - wish i could keep you out of it.

Xander's eye still darted restlessly under the influence of Spike's blood too, but he seemed better able to control it - better able to focus for a few precious seconds at a time and Spike followed his gaze, smirked. Two darkly stubbled faces bent over a shared plate of samosas - bodies hip to hip, thigh to thigh, knee to knee. A subtle tension drained out of Xander and he chewed the last bite of his bread with slow consideration - licked a drop of creamy korma from the ball of his thumb and slid his eye back to Spike.

"How much blood can I handle without putting myself in the Emergency Room?"

Spike stopped chewing for a second, and then reached for his own Limca. "I dunno, love. If you took a big hit - it might damage your heart. But...little sips, now and, every few hours... I think you'd be okay." Spike took a long swallow of the tangy soda and then grinned over at Xander. "Just what are you thinking, pet?"

"I want this." Xander gestured between them, to the restaurant, and to the night outside.

"You have it, pet."

Xander held up a hand. "But I have to play the company monkey all day tomorrow."

"Already told you I can take care of you love. If you want to leave the company, you just say the word."

"What if I don't?" Xander hurried on before the circular logic could catch up to him and bite him in the ass. "I want this and I want to do the job that's paying for this, too. I don't want to let the guys down but - " Xander's eye shone, reflected all the brilliant colors of the Baba Palace and its patrons. "I spent most of my life missing out on stuff like this. And I'm done missing out, Spike."

Spike ate a little more rice, thoughtfully. "So - basically... What you're saying is... What are you saying, Xander?"

"I'm saying I want to be 'Round-The-Clock Man while we're here. I'm saying I don't want to waste my Spike-time in Chicago sleeping." Xander caught Spike's wrist, drew it across the table to kiss, then bite, the heel of his thumb where the blood flowed earlier that night.

The bite was nothing - barely a scrape of tooth on flesh - but it was enough to make Spike shudder - to grab Xander's hand and pull it back - up to his mouth. "You sure, Xander? 'Cause you have to be sure." Spike knew that despite what his mouth was saying, his face - his body - was saying 'fucking yes!' And the demon... The demon was ready to pounce.

Xander licked his lip, tasted the trace of Spike lingering there - wished the movement looked as seductive on him as it did on Spike. But it'd do because Spike's eyes flickered gold and for a moment, his teeth were very sharp. "I am so sure, sweetheart." Xander ghosted his thumb over Spike's bottom lip, watched the tip disappear inside.

Because while three days in Chicago with business associates and pressed suits were his ides of the first level of corporate hell, two nights in Chicago with Spike made his heart race and little Xander sit up and beg.

God. He tastes good, smells good... He's sure... Have to keep an eye on him, though. He's doesn't really know and...neither do I. "Christ but you're beautiful," Spike murmured, reluctantly letting Xander's thumb slide away. "I'm gonna watch you like a hawk, you hear me? If I think you're acting - wrong - or if anything is wrong - it's done and we - we ... Well, fuck, we panic and call Wes. Okay?"

Xander smiled, brushed his fingertips over Spike's lips in a kiss and brought them back to his silverware, took another bite of korma. "Okay." He watched Spike watch him, eloquent eyebrow hovering between skepticism and suspicion that Xander agreed so easily and added: "I trust you."

"Do you, love? Even though -" Even though I just admitted to knowing basically...nothing? And I will, too. Watch you. And call Wes if we have to. God... "Love you, Xander..."

A warm hand slid over his knee beneath the table and Xander smiled at him through his hair in a way that made his stomach flip.

Xander's taste was on his lips, still, and Spike wanted more. "'Bout done here, yeah?"

Xander looked down at the devastation of the seven dishes on the table, laughed. "Unless you want to watch me eat the salt shaker, yeah." He pushed away from the table, fumbled with the unfamiliar scarf and extra layers that hadn't seemed as awkward to put on back on in the hotel room - and then Spike was there, hands knowing what to do, where to go and Xander just - stood and let him. Watched.

Spike tugged and buttoned and tucked - smoothed the front of Xander's jacket down and wished they'd thought of gloves. "Let's go then, pet. Want to walk? Or - fancy a ride?" Lift of an eyebrow and a little curl of the lip, but they were surrounded by taxi-drivers, and Spike wasn't going to make Xander walk in the cold if he didn't want to.

Xander laughed, got his fingers through Spike's belt loops and tugged him close enough to whisper into his ear. "After seeing the amount of beer some of these guys put away with dinner, I suddenly want to walk everywhere." He drew back to Spike's lips, the kiss spicy and brief and the lime-salt flavor of their drinks was a cool counterpoint to the fire of Spike's curry.

Spike nipped at Xander's lower lip - snuggled him under his arm and steered them both towards the door. Relaxed atmosphere or no, Xander wasn't anybody's peep-show, and he wasn't going to get anything started in the middle of the restaurant. The cold hit like a bucket of ice-water and they both instinctively cringed for a moment, then Spike was striding out briskly, taking a huge lungful of the air that tasted of tin and petrol. Snow by morning, he was sure.

Xander's walking bravado had lasted up until that first gust of air and he chattered after Spike, laughing. "Too late to change my mind?" He caught Spike's sharp look - flicker of uncertainty in his eyes - leaned in. "About the cab. Or are you gonna give me something to warm me up. Maybe over there?" Xander nodded with his head to a dark patch up ahead where one street lamp had burnt out, leaving a recessed doorway in darkness. Don't want to waste a fucking minute with you, sweetheart.

"Oh, is that why we're walking? So I can give you blow-job up against a wall?" Spike pulled Xander close with a jerk and kissed him - hard. Bit and sucked and fucked his tongue into Xander's mouth, because if that was how it was going to be, Spike was all for it - was ready. Because Xander was sugar-cube sex dipped in absinthe and Spike wanted it - right now.

"We're walking so I can give you a blow job up against a wall." And Jesus Christ was that his voice all growl and sex and predatory intent?

Because Xander was pretty certain it wasn't the cold wind off the lake making Spike shiver. "Think about it - my mouth all hot around your cock - so hot because the wind's so cold. But I'm not - your blood in me, I'm so fuckin' warm inside." The words rolled over his tongue - maybe didn't make sense but god they felt good. Almost as good as the way Spike's hands tightened on his ass and a taxi driver honked at them - gave them a wolf-whistle, not a curse.

"Gonna let me fuck your mouth, pretty? Won't hurt you, but I want to just...push in as far as I can go, Xander... Push into all that heat..." Spike walked them backwards as he talked - walked and watched Xander's gaze darken - narrow - take on that feral look that meant he was so turned on. Kept one hand knotted in the scarf and pressed the other to Xander's crotch - palmed the hot, swollen flesh there, rolling his knuckles across and then cupping and rubbing. The wall almost knocked the breath out of him when he hit it.

"Yeah...gonna let you use me," Xander breathed, lips parted so close to Spike he could taste him on the air, and he swayed, dizzy with want. Not sure which of them was predator in this, which prey. "Shut me up the way you wished you could back in Sunnydale. Before." He closed his fingers over Spike's hips, wedged a knee between the vampire's with his full weight - cock so hard, full, it hurt. "Back room of the Magic Box. I've been a fucking prick - giving you shit all night. Everybody's out front when you catch me back there - could walk in on us any time." He stopped. Pulled his head back to catch the glitter in Spike's eyes. "Want that?"

Spike felt the demon flashing up to the surface - didn't care, because this was Xander and... not. This was fuckin' Harris, fuckin' loudmouth - wasp in his honey and fuck yeah he wanted it.

"Harr-isss..." he hissed, and Xander twitched, and his body absolutely poured out the pheromones. Fast as he could Spike unwound most of the scarf from Xander's neck - held the long ends in his hand and pushed. Down. "Get me out. Gonna fuck into that pretty, pretty mouth until it's too full to make one fuckin' sound..." The brick was like ice behind him, the air full of knives but Xander was hot, so damn hot, and Spike bit his own lip, hard. Waiting.

Xander's knees cracked against the chilled pavement - hard landing that jarred his teeth, made his dick ache. He rolled his head against the pull of the scarf, felt it tighten - leash and noose and god the Harris family raised a sick little boy.. Pressed the hell of one palm against his zipper, breathed.

"Hurry it up boy." Spike's voice, rich and deep and just right to make Xander jump, fumble with the buttons of Spike's fly - groan at the right and wrong of being on his knees before the big bad and remembered - watched Spike the way he used to, wanting to fight him or fuck him and not caring which.

The scarf tightened slowly and Xander let Spike in, cold flesh and colder metal that clacked against his teeth - surged forward with a moan, too much need to keep up any pretense of hate.

Ice-edged wind, soaking right into his bones and Spike groaned and thrust, Xander's mouth a sink of heat and suction, his body trembling all over. Spike twisted the scarf in his fist a little - felt the surge go through Xander like a wave. Oh, is that how that is? Oh...yeah...

"C'mon, boy, take me all the way - do it right, I might let you come..." Spike dropped his other hand to Xander's hair - tugged and twisted it - let his fingers feel the working of jaw and throat. Feel the socket of bone move in the flesh as Xander mouthed him. He started to thrust - not too hard. Just a slow rock that he could build on. "Good boy..." he murmured.

Another moan worked its way up Xander's throat at the praise and he clutched Spike's hips - rode that slow rock that stretched his jaw, made his mouth water for more. Keep talking and that will so not be a problem. God! If he tilted his head - a little - he could make out Spike's face, tongue sliding between sharp demon teeth and eyes glittering gold in shadow. They fluttered closed when he drew back and sucked and the hand on his jaw shook, scarf tugged. And oh yeah, I am in no way hard-wired to be anyone's bitch.

If he spread his legs - just so - the hard line of his fly dug unto his cock just right, hard and rough and god, he wondered if his heartbeat was as loud to Spike as it was to him.

A car - a taxi - sped by, flickering headlights hitting them full for a moment and Xander's eye was closed, his mouth so wet and red and perfect. Spike fisted his hair - tugged it, pulling Xander closer - thrusting a little harder. He lifted one booted foot and rubbed it along the crotch of Xander's jeans - buckles and straps catching on the seam. Xander made a groaning kind of noise, and Spike twisted the scarf again. "Mind on your work, Harris - gonna be down there a while if you don't pay attention." Little push of his thumb at Xander's jaw. God - so fucking good...

There were worse things to Xander's mind than being down here a while. The heavy ring of Spike's PA dragged over his tongue and he lapped at it, tang of metal and blood on its way to his throat and Spike bucked - incomprehensible hiss and Xander wanted to grin - groan - something that he couldn't do with a throatful of Spikey goodness.

He shut down all higher centers of his brain and gave in, sucking and licking, rutting against Spike's boot like an animal with a fist in his hair and a leash on his throat and quiet, wet eager sounds that took the express route from his ears to his cock.

Couldn't see, couldn't breathe, couldn't think - just want.

Spike let his head thump back into the brick behind him - felt the rising frisson of his coming orgasm and started to thrust his hips in earnest. Xander was practically crawling up his leg, his mouth tight around Spike and his hands digging into Spike's hips. Little whimpers and moans trickling out past Spike's cock, and his whole body pushing into - pulling away at the same moment and Spike got that.

"Like that around your neck, huh? Like it when I pull on it - when I remind you? Fuckin' down on your knees, vampire's cock down your throat - damn - practically a dog on a leash... My dog - my fuckin' leash - fuck yeah -" Spike arched and thrust, lightning crackle over his body, tingles down his spine, white-hot voltage and yeah, yeah fuck yeah.

Yeah, yeah! Xander's inner voice mindlessly agreed, desperately agreed, ears ringing, head exploding and Xander felt like he was fucking electrocuted. Don't stop don't stop don't- - Xander swallowed, choked for lack of air lots of Spike, came hard - like every nerve in his body came to the party.

Fell back on his heels - tasted salt and musk, hot rich blood where he'd bit his tongue, hoped it was only his tongue - cold tang of the air burning his lungs as he whooped in breath and stared at Spike who glowed in the reflected Oh fuck, fuck, God! streetlights.

"Fuck," he croaked, coughed hard - laughed - couldn't get the grin off his face. "That'd be," he panted, "yes."

Spike hauled Xander upright by the lapels of his jacket, wrapping the scarf around his throat - wrapping him up. He could already feel the shivers kicking in and he thought for a second and then bit, hard - splitting his tongue. Got his hands on either side of Xander's face and shoved his tongue past swollen, friction-warmed lips. Tasted blood - Xander's blood - that zinged through his body straight to his cock. Xander was lax for a moment - dazed - and then his mouth fastened down and he was kissing back - sucking Spike's tongue like he'd sucked Spike's cock. Getting what he could and slamming Spike back into the wall.

Xander wondered for a dazed moment if this was what it was like being turned - the craving that hit with the first mouthful of blood that should be ew! not God, yes please more suck you dry then fuck you hard!. His lips ached in the way that screamed naughty things have happened here and the thought he'd be showing up for his presentations that day with the mother of all vampire hickeys under his tie if he was lucky only made him tingle in all the good places and - damn. "Heals too fast," he muttered against Spike's lips, around tongue of Spike.

"You've got teeth," Spike muttered, and then laughed as Xander shoved Spike's head back and attacked his throat with nips and hard sucks. He could feel himself getting hard again and he wanted the room - wanted the bed and warm and - fuck - couldn't think straight.

"Wanna fuck me? Want me to fuck you? Jesus - Xander - let's get back -" He fumbled at his jeans so he could tuck himself back inside, Xander's hands helping and not helping and he started to laugh - shook the demon away and kissed Xander again, taste of himself, of blood, of him. Christ, want him....

Xander pulled back, too warm to feel the cold - could still feel Spike's laughter against his chest. "Yeah." Lost somewhere on Chicago Avenue: one collection of higher brain functions. If found, please return to Xander Harris, care of the bleached blond punk on the corner. "Uh huh."

He worked his hand into Spike's - dead flesh freezing now and he wrapped Spike's arm around his waist, tucked both hands into his jacket pocket for warmth and began to walk.

They strode along for a minute or so, silent, and Spike got a cigarette out and lit one-handed. Smoked for another minute, just walking. Then he couldn't help it anymore, and he looked over at Xander.

"You ever really feel that way? About me, I mean..." At Xander's blank look, Spike sucked in a huge lungful of smoke and blew it out, hard. "What you said about the Magic Box and...your friends not knowin' you an' me were back there... You ever really...?"

Xander looked over at Spike, the shuttered expression back on his face. "Sometimes - when I was drinking enough to be honest. Mostly, I fantasized about beating the shit out of you in front of Buffy." He sucked in a sharp breath and let it out - let it go. "Draw your own conclusions."

Spike could see the guarded look on Xander's face - knew, or thought he knew, what was going through Xander's head. Thinks he's gonna hurt me. But...that doesn't hurt.

"Yeah. Same for me, yeah? I wanted to - to be the hero too, didn't I? Wanted to play the gallant knight, and win the lady fair." Spike smoked for a moment, then tossed the butt away, and bumped Xander a little with his hip. "You wanted to make her see you, love. We all did."

Xander stumbled to a stop, had to smile when he looked - really looked at Spike - his Spike absolutely different from the Spike who cringed against the wall of the Magic Box with no fight left in him to give. "She did see me. Right at my worst, she finally saw me and I saw her and she was so human. I almost didn't forgive her for that."

Spike was pretty sure he knew exactly 'when' Xander was talking about. The moment Buffy had tumbled off her pedestal and straight into the mud - right alongside an 'evil, soulless thing'. Not soulless, anymore, but it hardly matters....Funny how what I wanted most - the truth about me and Buffy coming out to her friends - was the beginning of the end. But, still an' all... I would never take those things back...they made me - made us. It's...what is. "Is that why... Xander - what happened? Even after all that, you were still - friends. Now you're not."

"We're still friends. And nothing happened."

Wasn't that the answer?

"I don't understand, pet."

"It's awkward." Xander started walking again - slowly and with his arm tight around Spike's waist for the contact, comfort. "When Buffy and Willow started college, all that kept us together was living in Sunnydale and fighting the forces of darkness. Once Sunnydale was - gone - I stopped pretending. After a while, they did too."

Spike thought about that - thought about telling Xander that the girls had said he should join the Army - and Xander believing him. Believing him and...being so damn hurt. But they all believed me. Children who thought the world revolved around them...didn't know how to cope with anything real. Monsters and Slayers? That's not real. Full-copper-repipe, that's real.

He leaned his head over enough to touch Xander's - rubbed forehead to hair for a moment. "Are you sorry, love?" he asked, quiet. Because... that Xander - had been.

"Sometimes," Xander said from that place where honesty seemed to bubble up in unlimited supply these days - leaned his head into Spike's touch and closed his eye. "It's amazing what facing death and finals together does for buddy bonding. But we've been living in different worlds for a long time. I get that." He ran his thumb over Spike's. "I accept that."

"But - you still talk to Dawn. You - told her about us. What makes her so different?"

An unexpected grin blossomed over Xander's face. "She sees me."

"Bit's always been - special that way." Spike grinned back, and hugged Xander close. "She's got more insight into some things than the whole pack of you combined ever did." Dawn had always made Spike obscurely proud. Rising above, that girl - making her own way.

"She had enough insight into you and me. She's got a filthy mind."

"Raised her right, we did."


Spike stretched hard, every muscle going long and tight. Then with a sigh he relaxed and curled again. Warm, but not as cozy as the Nest. And no Xander, even though his spice-sweet scent lingered in the sheets, overpowering hotel bleach and harsh soap. Another long sigh, and then he poked his head up and looked at the clock. 12.30. He was meeting Xander at one for lunch, for a quickie in the elevator maybe - for a little dose of blood. If he's doing all right. If he's not feeling good then it stops. Spike slithered out of the bed and lit a cigarette - stared out the window. The sun was heading west already but the sky was thick with dull-pewter clouds. Snow coming. He finished his cigarette and dressed with an eye to 'corporate' Xander.

Needs something nice waiting for him... Nothing ratty... Tight black jeans - the new ones that didn't have any holes. And the jumper Xander had picked out - a thin chenille that felt like heaven on his skin. A dark cherry-red with a rolled neck that showed just a bit of Spike's shoulders - showed the edge of the bite Xander had put there. Spike grinned at that - touched the mark fleetingly and then slid rings on - made sure his hair was evenly tousled and not squashed by the pillows into some strange shape. He contemplated eye-liner but it was really too early in the day. I'm a ponce. But I'm Xander's ponce. Grinning, he shoved the key into his pocket, and a wad of cash into the other and sauntered downstairs.

The closer he got to the conference rooms, the more tourists gave way to men and women in business suits. Lookin' about as happy to be wearin' business suits on a Saturday as Xander did. A middle-aged woman in a pantsuit and fuchsia shirt that didn't suit her gave him a tired smile in the corridor when he paused to get his bearings. Three rooms overflowed with professional booths and the drone of conversation, too much cologne and bad off-the-rack fashions.

"Excuse me, are you part of the conference?" A young man in an obnoxious green polo shirt chased him down with a clip-board, too harried to quail under Spike's look.

"Do I look like I'm part of that lot to you?"

"Um, no. It's a private conference, so I'm very sorry but you'll -"

"Spouses and partners allowed in there to collect their other halves?"

"Excuse me?"

Spike gestured to the hall, a small thrill going through him when he heard Xander's laugh rise above the drone - clear to a vampire's hearing. God he sounds...good. Sounds good. He shifted his attention back to the clipboard-toting...Andrew and spoke very slowly, enunciated. "Spouse. Partner. Mate. Significant other. You savvy? Mine's in there, and I'm here to fetch him out."

"W-what company is he with?"

"Sunnydale somethin' or other. You got a list there?" Without waiting, Spike snatched the clipboard from his hands and scanned down it. "Where's booth three-seventy-two?"

"Windsor room, second row about half way down. Go past the ladies' room and turn right." He grabbed the clipboard back and gave Spike a falsely pleasant smile before turning away and muttering under his breath. "Asshole."

Spike took two fast steps right into Kelly-green-polo-shirt, pinning him to the wall. The clipboard seemed to be digging painfully into the man's diaphragm and Spike leaned a little harder, one hand on the wall Good thing I touched up my nails - that looks good - and one hand digging into the man's neck as if he were a stray cat about to be tossed. "Best keep a civil tongue in your head, you tosser, or I'll take it out and feed it to you. Savvy?"

"O-o-okay! Ok-kay!" the man whimpered, and Spike pushed away from him - from the wall - and sauntered down the hall, heading for Xander. Fuckin' gobshite. Wonder if Xan can leave for lunch - take a couple hours...

The Windsor Room was over-full - hot - reeking of too many bodies, too many products, too much gum and coffee that frustrated smokers were forced to fall back on in the aggressively non-smoking hall. Spike pulled out his cigarettes and lit one, ignoring the equal share of nasty and longing looks he was getting from the Corp-rats.

Xander, Xander...I can hear you - can just smell you in here... Spike stalked forward, as alert as a hunting cat, intent on tracking down Xander and getting the hell out. One row - two - there, banner with Sunnydale on it - and there. Xander. In his tailored suit that he'd let Spike talk him into - his hair like polished mahogany and his tan, beautiful face creased in a smile. His hands moved, gesturing - pointing out something in the huge scale model of the site that was on the table before him. Spike felt a flash of utter love - utter pride, and he edged closer. Joined the crowd of suits listening to him talk - firing questions at him, questions that might've been in Farsi for all the sense they made to Spike and Xander answered every one.

Didn't falter for a moment 'till he caught Spike's eye and halted in mid-sentence to give Spike a smile that would have stopped his breath if he'd had any. "Almost done, sweetheart."

A few of the group turned to Spike - raised eyebrows and startled looks - second glances at Xander who shifted right back into that smooth patter that Spike let wash over him. The sound of his Xander's voice.

He stepped up to the table, up to the scale models of the reclamation project in its various stages. Sunnydale of old made Spike shiver; everything reproduced right down to his old crypt in the cemetery. Bloody macabre makin' the boy slave over this all weekend. He resisted the urge to cover it up - bury it. 'Cause some things ought to fuckin' stay buried.

"We've projected that the final stages of the reclamation will be underway in less than two years. That means -" Xander's voice washed over him and Spike stared at the model, a sort of creeping tide of unease washing over him. He was familiar enough with sympathetic magic to feel that this...thing was projecting a vibe. It made his hackles rise and he traced the contours of the crater burned to ash, dead and buried, but here I am in the world again and who's to say...who's to say other things don't get up and walk in the night?

Xander seemed to be finishing up - there were people crowding around, asking questions, and Spike searched the 'current stage' site model, feeling that chill again when he saw the small the hole that was where the church rested.

Must have taken aerial photos. Jesus. The 'new' Sunnydale was even worse - a perfect grid of streets and lawns - green parks and white fences and nothing at all of the horrors that lay beneath - of the sweat and blood, tears and lives that stained every inch of that ground. Wes was right - it's really fuckin'...awful. Xander was shaking hands - nodding - handing out business cards and brochures and Spike gave into instinct and reached out - plucked his crypt from the cemetery and crushed it in his fingers, letting the dust and shards patter to the carpet behind his leg. He looked up and found some corp-rat biddy staring at him.

"Just wanted a souvenir of my old place," he said, unthinking, and suddenly Xander was there, taking his hand in his. Smiling.

"I'm starving - ready to go?"

"Fuckin' past ready, love," Spike said, and leaned over for a kiss. Xander's hand curled in his and his other hand rested on his shoulder as they kissed for a moment, the model between them. The weird - vibe - was gone.

Xander pulled back with a smile on his lips and in his eye, tasting like lemon jelly donuts and Spike smirked, catching a glimpse of a Krispy Kreme box poorly hidden in a half empty crate of brochures and business cards. Half listened to Xander give directions to the tarted up bint behind the table with him and then Xander was there, warm arms around him, hot lips against his ear. "You've got forty-five minutes to debauch the star of the Sunnydale Southwest Show sweetheart. Feel like a quickie?"

Square Thirteen

Icy cold.

Icy fucking cold.

Motherfucking calm.

So fucking calm his hands were goddamned vibrating with the calm.

Because Xander?

Was Mister Fucking Calm.

He watched his hand close on the kitchen door and wrench the knob like a neck.

Then fucking spun and calmly put his fist through the wall.

And then calmly bled.


Spike rubbed the towel through his hair, drying it half-heartedly. He slung the towel around his shoulders and bent to pick up his jeans, feeling the pleasant little ache that was a left-over of pre-work sex. Or maybe that was post-nap sex. One of those. Whichever, it felt good. Spike pulled his jeans on and fastened the first three buttons - slung the towel haphazardly over the rail and went into the bedroom, contemplating shirts and listening to a vehicle roaring up the street. Unusual, really, for this street - this time of night. He opened a dresser drawer and stared down. Black. Or black. Or one of Xander's over shirts, washed all soft... Or... he'd planned on doing a little weapon cleaning and sharpening tonight so yeah, an old flannel...

The vehicle roared up to the house but instead of passing, it slowed - and the garage door was opening - and that was Xander. What the fuck? He's barely been gone an hour - somebody got hurt, maybe? Blasting went wrong or something... Spike turned and strode toward the kitchen, hearing the slam of the truck door, and then the kitchen door, crashing open hard, hitting the wall. Bloody hell - something bad - Another noise - solid thud and Spike ran - hallway, living room - blood smell in the air, Xander's blood, Jesus Christ - and he was there, right by the garage door - up to his forearm in drywall.

"Xander? Bloody hell -"

Xander sucked in an unsteady breath; breath that caught on every heartbeat and pulsed in his split knuckles. Felt the shaking set in, working its way up his arm and into his shoulders - burn in eye and socket.

"I am fine," he breathed. "I am so fine I could be a cover boy for Fine Magazine..."

"What?" Spike didn't know what the fuck Xander was talking about, but he was shaking, his heart was thundering in his chest like a fucking trip-hammer and he was absolutely white, except for patches of high, intense color at his cheekbones. And he was bleeding, god damn-it. Spike reached out and touched Xander's arm and the skin was cold.

"Xander? Fuck's sake -" He curled his fingers around Xander's forearm - around muscles gone hard as iron and vibrating. Tendons standing out like bow-strings on Xander's neck and Jesus Christ, what was going on. "Let me -" Spike carefully eased Xander's arm backwards, out of the hole he'd made in the wall. Saw plaster dust and wood-splinters and blood - already-swelling knuckles and a hand that was shaking, shaking. Bloody hell.

Xander's fingers twitched in Spike's grasp, colder than the vampire's skin, but he didn't pull away - couldn't. He drew breath until his lungs ached with it but no words came out. Tried again and shook his head, clutching his fingers around Spike's until the blood slicked down over Spike's skin too. Felt the tendrils of humiliation creep up from his belly - wind around his heart and squeeze.

"I am on - suspension. And review." When his voice came, it was someone else's - distant and absolutely flat. "Until the results of my - drug test come in."

Drug test? Oh fuck. "Xan - love, I'm sorry - wasn't thinking, was I? Course those tossers would think - god damn-it - Xander, I -"

Xander raised his hand - sharply. Cut Spike off and glared at him. "I am not. On. Drugs. I am their best fucking representative. And they made me piss in a fucking cup."

Spike stared at Xander for one long moment then tugged gently on his arm, making him walk one and then two stiff-legged strides to the kitchen sink. Turned the water on and waited a moment for it to get warm. "No, love, you're not on drugs. You're on my blood. And it looks - to those bloody corp-rats - it looks like junk, maybe. Or that crack shite." Spike pushed Xander's wrist into the stream of water and watched plaster-dust and blood sluice away over Xander's knuckles - held him against the little automatic twitch away. "Looks like some kind of shite, doesn't it? Bastards."

Xander licked his lips, ears still buzzing with that nameless electricity in his head. In his body that crackled along nerve endings - made everything look flicker-flash like an old silent movie. "And yet - I won them a fucking award in Chicago. That's pretty good for a junkie!" Xander jerked his hand away - hissed when it stripped his knuckles against Spike's palm - stuck one in his mouth and sucked, running his tongue over and over that coppery, salty patch.

Spike leaned back against the sink - turned the water off and crossed his arms over his chest. Water on his hand cold against his ribs and the sweet-salt of Xander's blood in his nostrils. "How long, then? Until they know - you're fine."

"Wednesday." Xander muttered around his knuckles; flexed his fingers until they throbbed and his skin turned absolutely white. Drew his clenched fist away from his mouth and watched it bleed. "I have a review that afternoon with the district supervisor who will be evaluating my - performance - at the conference."

Performance. That's the fucking operative word right there, isn't it? Bloody performance is what he put on for them, only their little trained monkey didn't quite follow form. "So you're home, then - until Wednesday." Xander's look off that was flat and deadly-angry and Spike watched the blood trickle over the split knuckles and drip onto the lino - one, two, threefour. "Let's go kill something then, yeah?"

Xander shook his hand off, thin splatter of blood over the floor. "Yeah - because humiliation at work always calls for getting my ass kicked by the demon of the week." What kind of moron had he been to come back to Sunnydale? He yanked the garage door open again, kicking a stack of two-by-fours out of the way and hauling a rock pick from the garage cabinet, giving it a swing. "Right."

Spike ducked under the pick and put his hand on Xander's face - deliberately on the blind side, stroking his skin and the line where the patch had dug in in the hour or so he'd worn it at work.

"Haven't had your ass kicked in a while, love." Xander stilled for a moment, looking back at him, but his face was still vastly unhappy - unconvinced - and Spike plucked a long-hafted axe from the cabinet and nodded to himself. "I'll just get my boots."

"Right," Xander said again and this time his voice caught in his throat. He felt Spike leave; ache like something inside stretched too thin. Left him shaking, walking like a marionette back through the house, past the new window his fist had made between the kitchen and entry way. Threw the front door open and breathed.

Spike got on boots and an old black tee in under a minute - contemplated his duster and then left it. He just wanted to be unencumbered, tonight. Xander was standing in the front door-way, head back and eye closed, still shaking and suddenly Spike caught a whiff of something off of him. Subtle burning-blood smell, edge of rusted iron. Coming down off the blood, too. Fuck. Get the poisons out - wear him out - make him sleep. He'll feel better.

Xander wondered if it was because of the blood or because of the demon magnetism that he could feel Spike - wanted to ask but didn't want to know. Instead, he walked out the front door, let Spike close it behind them and let himself really feel Sunnydale crawl through his veins. "So where does a guy go to have a good time in this town these days?"

Something was up. Xander looked - less than grounded, and there was something flickering in his gaze - jumping under his skin. More than the coming-down shakes and heebie-jeebies. "South, mostly. Got some places there - right nice dust-up, most nights." Spike lit a cigarette and drew hard on it - shouldered his axe and made a 'come on' gesture with his head, and they started walking.

"A suspicious guy would notice that the demons never show up on site. A suspicious guy would notice that getting rid of the cemeteries didn't get rid of the demons." He flicked a glance at Spike. "A guy with at least one working eye would notice his honey coming home with vamp-dust on him and wonder why they're still here."

"Good thing you're not a suspicious guy."

Xander snorted; felt each impact of the pavement all the way up his leg and knew he had to loosen up or he would be in a world of 'pain' in the morning. Afternoon - whatever. "So what're we looking at? Vamps? Demons? Hells Angels?"
"Little of this, little of that," Spike looked over at Xander and drew on his smoke - blew it in a plume straight up, watching Xander stride. Deadly intent and manic focus, and Xander was a bit scary, tonight. The thought made Spike's cock twitch - start to rise. Xander was fucking lovely like that. "No human-hunting tonight, pet. And the site -" Spike flicked the smoked-down butt away and thought for a moment. "The Hellmouth always had a vibe. Still has it. It's just...not as controlled now. It's - uncomfortable."

"Yeah well - you didn't go to school on top of that vibe for thirteen years," Xander muttered - wondered why. Felt bitter about being a child of the Hellmouth for the first time in years and that made him angry too. Born on the magical version of Three Mile Island. "I'm pretty fucking immune."

"Are you?" Spike wondered if he was - he didn't seem to be - not tonight. "I think you're feelin' it pretty good tonight."

A muscle in Xander's cheek twitched at that but he didn't answer.

The work-site was a low glare off to their right, the sea ahead of them and Spike touched Xander's shoulder - ducked down a side street, heading for a maze of warehouses, storage units and the terminus of the railroad tracks. Plenty of stuff underground there, and plenty of little niches for demons who liked to set up something like a floating craps/poker/blackjack game. Drugs and liquor and spells on the side - semi-organized fights that served the needs of clans and Houses and just plain mean bastards. And whores, and pushers, and junkies. But all non-human, tonight.

Xander was feeling it - whatever that skin-crawly it really was, and dropped down through a manhole after Spike - found himself blinking in torchlight that illuminated tunnels way too much like the underground where he'd first seen Jesse's other face. "This doesn't look new."

"It isn't." Spike glanced back at him. "Used to be the tunnel out of town, this one."


They walked maybe a half-mile, and the sounds of commerce and pleasure and anger got louder until it was pretty much like walking into a club. Music - human and not - shouting, laughter, conversation. Spike eased his shoulders to a more arrogant posture - stopped and turned to Xander. "Everybody knows me, here. A lot know you. I dunno if they'll try anything or not. If you want to fight, you've got your pick - but don't walk away from me, yeah?" He held Xander's gaze, trying to impart the seriousness of it on one pissed-off human who was in the midst of the DT's.

Xander snorted, shifted his grip on the rock pick and flicked a glance at the wickedly curved tip. "They're gonna be surprised if they still expect the Zeppo Scooby."

Spike looked narrowly at Xander, a little twitch of unease going through him. "This isn't about Scoobies, pet. It's about...power. You and me, we're a power here." Xander opened his mouth and Spike reached and lay a finger on his lips. "We, pet. Don't argue. Power they don't like much." And really, they didn't. Spike's 'hands off' to the demon community was a challenge, and the fact that half the site employees were demons or dated demons meant that the community was pretty evenly divided. Any sort of testing of him - or Xander - could mean war, and that made a lot of the demons uneasy - or angry. Or trigger-happy. "Ready, love?"

Xander's tongue darted out - flickered over Spike's forefinger and retreated behind a smile too wide beneath an eye too bright. "I am so ready." His muscles jumping under his skin just pissed him off the way they made him shake - felt like too much energy inside that needed a place to go.

"Right then, love." Spike grinned - let the demon up and out and then turned and began a slow and steady saunter down the tunnel. A moment later it opened out - partly storm-drain concrete, partly a natural cavern that hand been enlarged and shored up by generations of demons. It was loud, and the sound hit them like a wave: noise, and scent, and images - cooking smells and demon smells and magic smells, and the color and texture of other-worldly things lit by electric torches and organic ones. Xander was stalking like a hunting hound beside him, his eye alight with manic energy and Spike guided them towards a bar. Drunk and stupid would fit the bill just fine, and that was always easy to find down here.


Xander leaned heavily on Spike, head down in a way that turned his hair into a dark sheet over his eye. Breathing came in quiet pants between parted lips and his body jerked lightly every time Spike passed soap-slicked hands over the gash in his forearm. Or the wound in his thigh. Wished he could stop - giggling. Wished he could explain the joke better than 'It looked like Herbert. Mascot - Herbert. Piggy -' when he thought about the demon who'd given the wounds to him.

Until he'd ripped its warty throat out and gagged - it hadn't tasted like pig. "W-what?"

"I said - you're a daft git, bitin' that fuckin' tosser. Never know what demon-blood'll do to you, love." Spike finished washing Xander off and directed the shower-spray over him, sluicing off soap and trying to ignore the little twitches and tics. Xander was coming down hard, the fight-endorphins not cushioning him at all. Get some food in him - cake or something - get him to bed. Let him sleep it out. Spike got the soap and did his own quick wash-up, one eye on Xander who slumped against the wall, giggling quietly. Looked like a damn berserker, goin' in there. Got three - no four - without a bit of help.

"You were brilliant, pet," Spike said, and got the water off and Xander up, off the wall. Wrestled him out onto the bathmat and started to dry him off, careful of his hurts.

Xander pushed into the towel - remembered the Feldmans' dog doing the same thing after a bath. God, that dog had loved water - loved being dried even better. Rough towel, cold air, hot skin - crackling sensory echoes firing through his nerves and making his hand twitch like it was still holding the pick. "D-don't remember much of it." Xander's teeth were chattering - it had felt fucking fantastic. He tipped - grabbed at Spike's shoulder and leaned hard on him - flexed his fingers on the firm flesh and bone, dug in. " I get it now."

"Do you?" Spike pushed Xander into the wall - held him with hip and thigh and scrubbed the towel through his hair - more carefully dried Xander's face and the socket, gentle dabs with the corner. "A good fight's as good as a fuck, most nights. Both in one night - that's the best." Spike tossed the towel down and surveyed the man. Eye half shut, skin pinked from the shower, limbs like limp rags. "Now - you hungry, pet? Want a little something?"

"Wanna fuck. Both in one night." Xander's tongue itched from being bitten by chattering teeth - burned on one side where he hadn't been able to spit out the demon's blood quickly enough. He swayed drunkenly into Spike when the world tilted to the side and threatened to drop him on his ass. "Wanna sleep more," he admitted - finally in that warm and foggy place where there was so much going on inside his head it all blended together, became a cozy jumble of images he'd be wigged out by later.

Spike caught Xander in his arms - pressed close and kissed slowly down his jaw and onto his mouth. Felt the uncoordinated sweep of Xander's hands at his back - felt the hands drop away, limp. "C'mon to bed then," he murmured, and got his shoulder under Xander's arm - got him pointed toward the door and down the hall to the bedroom. Curled him into the Nest and spooned up behind him; warm body, soft pillows - fading fizz of adrenalin and a belly-full of blood from a mostly-human brawler. "Love you," he murmured, his palm flat to Xander's belly.

Xander mumbled - curled his fingers over Spike's and burrowed back against him, all warm and smelling of sweet and spices. "Crazy vampire guy."

Spike hugged closer - breathed in and sighed out a great, gusting breath. Xander's own chest rose and fell, slower and slower as he slipped rapidly into sleep. Crazy human.


Impossible to wake up cold in a Nest - but a Nest wasn't a Nest without a vampire in it. Several floundering minutes of closed-eye groping confirmed to Xander that the Nest was vampire-less.

And the room was dark.

And Xander really needed to piss.

Five staggering minutes and a trip to the bathroom later Xander stumbled into the living room on aching limbs and collapsed onto Nest and vampire in a confused muddle. "Still dark."

Spike tracked Xander's loose-limbed progression across the living room floor - managed to avoid a knee in the bollocks when Xander flopped down on top of him. "Hold on a minute, mate," he said into the phone - turned and pushed at the tangled mop of hair until he found Xander's face - eye closed, forehead wrinkled in confusion.

"You slept the clock 'round, love - sun's just down this past half-hour. Feelin' all right?"

Xander muttered something about sleeping around a bigger clock - and burrowed down onto Spike, living blanket.

"Spike, if the two of you are going to initiate another round of enthusiastic copulation, please give me advance warning this time so I may hang up the telephone before I'm treated to free phone sex." Wesley's accent may have been clipped and proper, but Spike could hear the laughter in it.

"No worries, Wesley - we won't assault your delicate sensibilities with our crass rutting." Xander snickered into his chest, limp and heavy, and Spike curled his free arm around him, stroking his hand down the warm, soft skin of Xander's back. "So - anything? It's startin' to feel like it did when the First was here. Things are bein' - stirred up, and I don't like it."

"No - nothing at all that I'm aware of. In fact, things have been quiet here in Los Angeles." Spike listened to Wesley with half an ear, listening to Xander's steady normal again, thank god heartbeat with the other half. Xander stretched like a cat in the sun under Spike's hand and Spike could feel the lazy smile against his shoulder - shifted up to let Xander get an arm behind his neck and make himself more comfortable. "What sort of things have been stirred up?"

Spike could hear the tell-tale scratch of pen on paper. "Nothing...tangible. Just that - feeling."

"Feeling?" Wesley's voice sounded doubtful, and Spike sighed.

"Boding. Sort of. Damn it, Wes - you'd know what I meant if you came up here again! It just feels...bad. Edgy." Spike pushed his hand up into Xander's hair and raked through it, nails scratching gently over his scalp and Xander all but purred, pushing into the caress. "People are gettin' jumpy. S'like it was. Somebody - something - is messing with the energy here. Just 'cause the Hellmouth is closed doesn't mean there isn't still some...output." Wesley sighed, sounding tired again. So bloody tired again already.

"I don't doubt your instincts, Spike. But do keep in mind that there was an enormous disaster there last year. Hundreds died and were buried beneath the rubble that the reclamation project is disturbing."

"You sayin' it's all the restless dead?"

"It's more likely the restless living. People must come out of their shock eventually, Spike. They may be realizing at last that they are living and working on the largest mass grave in California."

Spike thought about that. Thought about Watchers, and what they did. It made sense, but... "Not sayin' you're wrong or anything... But I dunno, Wes. Doesn't feel like that. Feels - different." Fuck! This is impossible. How do you describe a scent to someone who can't actually smell anything? He's never really felt the Hellmouth...needs to come back. Needs to come for a rest.

"Well...I'll look into it. I'll see if I can discover anything - unusual." A long pause, and Spike could hear the sound of liquid being poured out - of Wesley drinking, and he was pretty sure it wasn't tea. "I'll call you if I find anything."

"Call anyway, Wes." Xander's mouth was on his throat, not doing anything in particular but promising to do something, and Spike rubbed his hand down Xander's neck, fingers tangled in the long hair. "Think about coming up, yeah? We miss you."

"I..." Wesley hesitated as if not certain how to finish his own sentence and Spike listened to him drink - then refill. "I miss the two of you as well."

Well, what do you know? Progress can be made. Spike worked the fingers of his left hand into the thickness of Xander's hair and scratched at his scalp, producing a rusty creak of contentment. "Always welcome here, pet."

"Thank you, Spike. And Xander. I'll call the moment I hear anything - or the moment I can abandon my work and drive up for a visit." Wesley murmured the usual pleasantries and hung up.

"Wes gonna visit?" Xander mumbled into Spike's throat, buzzed words against and beneath the skin.

"He's certainly thinking about it." Spike tossed the phone aside and devoted two hands to rubbing and lightly scratching over Xander's back and neck - closing his eyes and breathing in the sweet-spice scent of him. "Hungry, pet? Or are you gonna sleep some more?"

For an answer, Xander bit at Spike's neck - didn't break the skin but he could taste the coppery musk of Spike's blood beneath the surface - feel the Pavlovian hardening against Spike's thigh. "This'd be a bad idea, huh?"

Spike moved sideways, just a little - enough so he could see Xander's face. See the flush that was in his cheeks, and the glint in his eye. "That it would, pet. You need a rest from it, love - it doesn't heal you like it does me."

"Too bad." Xander blinked so, so slowly, dragging his hand over Spike's chest and down to tug at the bead in Spike's piercing. "Think of all the fun we could have if I healed as fast as you did."

"Only one way to have that, pet," Spike breathed, watching Xander's hand on his cock - watching the lazy play of fingers over him. Xander's heart was slow and steady in his chest - his breath even and easy. Got to remember not to let him get so run down, next time. Because there would be a next time, he was sure. Xander...had the taste for it. It wasn't an easy thing to put aside, a rush like that. And Spike wouldn't deny him, except to be sure he wasn't hurting himself. Wouldn't deny him anything, really - right up to turning him someday, if he wanted.

But for now, his little infusions of magic-laden blood were enough.

For now.

"Better pour some juice into me then, sweetheart." Xander shifted lazily against him, lifted his head and pressed warm lips to cool and shared the taste of cinnamon toothpaste. As he woke - as parts of his body that ached and sang woke with him - flashes and pieces of the night before came crawling out of the mental shadows. "God...did I really take a bite out of a pig demon last night?"

"Yup. You did. And you were giggling about it, too. Who's Herbert?"

Xander groaned - tried to block out the memory against Spike's shoulder. "Herbert was our school mascot. Piglet."

Spike looked down at the tangled mane of hair and tugged a little, getting Xander to lift his head. "And - how, exactly, would you know what the school mascot tasted like? Did you - bar-be-que him?"

Xander propped himself on his elbow - looked down into Spike's face and remembered piggy death squeals and crunchy bones - chewy tendons and organs that burst on his tongue; prime eating for the pack leader. "Not exactly. And buddy, Montezuma's Revenge is nothing compared to Herbert's Revenge."

Spike wrinkled his nose in disgust and Xander laughed. "Now what are you on about? This some dark Scooby secret? You know you can tell me, love," Spike wheedled, grinning. "Spill."

"All right. All right. There's a - reason I picked Africa. When Giles gave us all our assignment choices." Xander hooked a leg over Spike's - need for contact too long unsatisfied. "A few months after I met Buffy we had a school field trip at the zoo. Most of the class got sunburns. I got possessed by a hyena spirit."

"Yeah?" Spike studied the man next to him - thought about it for a moment. "Some of it's still there, isn't it?"

Xander thought about the night before - remembered the feel of the hysterical laughter bubbling up through his chest and the urge to riptearbite. "Uh-huh. Genuine Sunnydale souvenir. And the proof? Woke up with pig-demon morning breath and I am still hungry."

"Then we'd better get you fed, love," Spike said. He pulled Xander down to him for a long kiss. "Don't taste like pig-demon," he mumbled. Thank god.

Xander laughed into the kiss, mumbled into Spike's lips and tongue that tasted reassuringly like whiskey and smoke - lobbed his question back at him. "And how exactly would you know what pig-demon tasted like?"

"I'll try anything once, pet," Spike purred, and then rolled Xander over in the Nest, happily pinning him down and nibbling a line of love-bites down his chest. Breakfast could wait.


Xander shut off the truck's engine - and waited. Soon enough, he'd be joined by a curious vampire making his way into the garage but until then he needed to...sit.

He tipped his head back against the seat, loosened his tie and - thought.

It'd felt weird going back to the site. Like being pulled out of class to see the principal - felt like everyone was watching him. The only difference had been that the guys had the decency to talk behind his back if they were talking at all. He wasn't sure they were. Everyone but Dave had been business as usual.

He unbuttoned both shirt-sleeves and rolled them up - rubbed at his arms where they ached from clenching his fingers on the arms of his chair and carefully scratched at the healing reminder not to piss off pig demons even if he was high on vampire blood.

Xander snorted.

Irregularities in your blood work. Spike would get a kick out of being an irregularity.

No drugs - but no apology either. The three suits had sat at his desk and informed him that his blood work and urine test had come back clean but there were some matters of 'company policy' to discuss.

A veiled order to be certain his 'guest' reflected positively on the company next time had also been made somewhere in the middle of the discussion.

Xander rolled his head against the seat, picking up the crumpled copy of their report. And the company grooming policy stapled to it with lines highlighted in manly orange.


Spike heard the truck come into the garage - waited for a couple of minutes. But - nothing. Not another sound. Well, fuck. Wonder what the tosser's said to him...? Spike got up and grabbed his smokes and lighter - shoved them into his jeans-pocket and stomped across the kitchen and out the door. Pissed because Xander probably was. Might have to teach some corp-rats some manners, he thought, and opened the passenger door. Climbed in, and tried a smile.

"Hey, love - what're you doing?"

"Lying in wait for a sexy blond vampire." Xander slid his hand over the back of Spike's neck - tugged him across the gap between the seats and said 'hello' with a syrupy-slow kiss. "Have you seen one?" He mumbled into Spike's lips - click of teeth on teeth when he grinned.

"The sexiest," Spike mumbled back and got his hands up and into Xander's hair, kissing slow and deep, his fingers flexing and stroking over scalp and muscle. "Pales in comparison to this sexy brunet bloke I know," he added, and went in for another kiss. Xander was tense against him, though, and after a moment Spike pulled reluctantly away. "Now tell me what's going on, yeah?"

Xander hit the power locks and sat up, stretched. "We're going to Ojai." A quick glance over Spike to be sure he was dressed for Ojai and Xander put the truck in gear, raised the garage door again. "Is anything burning in there?"

"Fire's still going, but the damper's mostly closed - it'll be fine." Spike got out a cigarette and lit up - opened his window as they pulled out of the garage. "So - why Ojai?"

"Because that's where Seb is. We're celebrating my success in Chicago with the nipple piercings that are directly against company policy. Here." Xander passed the review to Spike, checked his rear view, and pulled back onto the road. "The first three paragraphs are glowing praise about my work in Chicago and on the site. The back page is my blood work and urine sample. And somewhere in the middle is a harassment complaint from Dave."

Spike flipped through the scant pages of text - nodded over the 'good' part of the review and raised an eyebrow over the rest, particularly the harassment complaint. "So - since we're going to Ojai - I guess you won't mind if I keep bringing you lunch? And - sorry, love, but Dave must die." Spike flicked ash out the window and shoved the papers into the crack of the seat for safekeeping.

Xander snorted, slid a hand up Spike's thigh and down to his knee. "I won't mind you bringing me lunch. Russ won't mind. Carl says you'd better visit the site some morning when he's there. Dave's an asshole but that's still not illegal in California so I can't fire him for it."

"Won't have to fire him, pet - they'll find him strangled on his own goolies one fine morning." Spike plucked the papers back up again and studied the 'Company Policy re: Grooming' page. "You cut your hair, love and you'll be very, very sorry," Spike muttered, reaching to tug gently at the long, wind-whipped strands.

"I care a lot more about keeping you happy than keeping them happy." Xander chuckled, fingers flexing on Spike's leg then sliding off and back to the steering wheel. "I've got positive reviews from Carl, Russ, and Matt - and Carl has a Navajo guy working his shift with a braid down to his waist who they don't have a problem with. So once it gets long enough, I'll braid my hair for work. I am - taking a lesson from Buffy."

"What, hair-braiding lessons? Thought you got your fill of that with the Niblet, pet." Spike edged closer along the seat and let his own hand wander, sliding over the fine cotton of Xander's dress-pants; kneading the muscles underneath and inching slowly higher.

"No grabbing the goods while I'm driving, sweetheart." Xander ran his palm along Spike's wrist and forearm, stopping him before he could slide higher, grinning. "For that, I'll pull over." He slid his thumb around Spike's hand, rubbed it against his palm. "Buffy told the Council that if they didn't like the way she slayed, they could wait for the next Slayer to be called. She didn't stop being the Slayer or stop slaying - and eventually they realized that they pretty much didn't have any choice about Buffy. Now, Sunnydale Southwest has a choice about me but they're gonna have a fun time finding a guy who'll work third shift, knows Sunnydale, deals with demons and knows what he's doing like I do."

"Did they say they were letting you go, then? Threaten it, I mean?" Spike curled his hand around Xander's and just held it, content for the moment to simply be skin to skin. "Council never knew what they had in Buffy - bunch of bastards so old they probably farted dust, trying to tell little girls how to live and die..." Spike grinned at Xander's lifted eyebrow. No matter his feelings about Buffy - hate, love, indifference - he'd always respected her.

"Not much different from guys in suits and Italian leather shoes that've never seen mud trying to tell me how to do my job. Which I still have, by the way. I'm on a probationary period now. I've got until after the winter site shutdown to clean up my act. When the crews come back to work in the spring, they'll review me again and decide whether they want to renew my contract for another year."

"Clean up your act..." Spike consulted the papers again and snorted - thought about tossing them out the window, but hesitated. Xander might want the good part of the review. Instead he leaned over and shoved them into the glove box. "I like your definition of 'clean up', love. Gonna get another tattoo, too?"

"Maybe. Carl suggested an arm band - something I can show off in the spring when the site warms up." Xander laughed - felt Spike's fingers tighten on his and sobered. "Carl and Russ and Matt aren't bad guys, Spike. We run a good site together and I don't want to change that. Corporate can either accept me or fire me for something other than doing a bad job."

"You're bloody brilliant, Xander," Spike murmured, and lay his head down on Xander's shoulder - pressed into the warm hollow of Xander's neck and breathed deeply of the spicy-sweet scent that never failed to make him feel safe, happy, and horny.

Xander let his eye close briefly, savoring the ticklish nuzzle and freeing his hand from Spike's. He wrapped his arm around Spike's shoulders. And he could get why the cowboys drove like that with an arm around their girls - didn't quite stop his laugh before it got out.

"What's so funny?"

"You're a cowgirl," Xander informed him.

"I'm a what?" Spike didn't mean for his voice to jump quite like that, but he'd never been accused of being a cowgirl before.

"You're a cowgirl cuddling up to her man behind the wheel of a great big ole pickup. If there was a dog in the back and we'd be every country-western video ever made." Xander knew he was grinning - didn't care. He was becoming a master of the not caring.

"Pull over, Xan, and you'll get an education about what sort of cowgirl I am," Spike growled, creeping his hand into Xander's lap again and making a grab for 'the goods'. He let his teeth graze over Xander's neck, tongue fluttering behind them.

Xander kept the truck on the road through sheer stubborn force of will and rubbed his palm over Spike's ribs - licked his lips. "Are you a horny vampire cowgirl?"

"I'm gonna fuck you so hard you can't walk for a week if you call me cowgirl again, pet," Spike purred and bit, just hard enough - lapped the miniscule drops of blood that formed.

Xander pulled the truck off the highway so fast it skidded a full half circle before coming to a stop in a cloud of dust. His hand shook on the wheel and he grabbed Spike's hair with the other, yanked his head back far enough to look into golden eyes, breathing hard. "Never seen such a purdy cowgirl in my life."

Spike let the demon come all the way out, snarling, and pulled Xander to him - kissed him with the dexterity of over a century's practice, drawing only tiny drops of blood. "You asked for it, love," he said, and slithered backwards, fumbling for the door-handle.

Xander made a futile grab for his door handle but Spike was faster - much faster - and he yelped when Spike dragged him from the truck and slammed him against the hood, knocking the air from his lungs until he shook with silent laughter that felt good.

"I'm a thoroughbred, that's what she said, in the back of my truck bed," Xander gasped more than sang - wiggled back against Spike.

Spike stared at the back of Xander's head for a moment, his brain temporarily short-circuited by the off-key warble that was Xander attempting to sing. Bloody hell. That's - deranged. But - cure's coming up... In a few quick motions he had Xander's pants around his ankles - his own open enough to give a little relief to his erection. "Hold on tight, pet," he said, and slid down Xander's body.

"Fuck!" Xander lurched forward against the truck - engine-warm against erect flesh as a cool, cool tongue wasted no time in wriggling up behind - left Xander trying to crawl up onto the hood and shove back against Spike's mouth all at once as somewhere in the short-circuiting nexus of his brain, abandoned thoughts ran circles and squeaked about 'indecent exposure!' and 'naked on the highway!'.

Musk, salt, whiff of alarm as Xander's brain finally registered 'side of the road' and Spike almost laughed. Instead he palmed the sleek muscles of Xander's ass and pulled at them, giving himself more access, plunging mouth and tongue deeper into the crevice between. Lapping, pushing, opening - making Xander ready. Fuckin' ready - yeah - brace yourself, pet - Spike stood up and nicked his palm with a fang. Blood was an indifferent lubricant, but better than nothing to ease the first push. Probably something in the glove-box, Spike thought, but dismissed that as too far away - too much effort. He stroked himself, slicking the blood down his shaft - over the head that was already slick with pre-come.

Spike pushed against Xander, steadily - slowly - increasing the pressure. Licked the traces of blood off his palm and brought that hand around to Xander's cock, taking it in a tight grip. He leaned up close, lips brushing Xander's ear.

"You ready for me, pet? Hope you're ready..." He pushed - and slid in, hitching glide to the hilt, not giving Xander a chance to move - breathe. Oh god, god, that's so fucking good -

The push and stretch of entry burned and Xander felt every millimeter of it - rose onto his toes against the hood of the truck, breathing hard - rubbed his cheek against the cooling metal. Good good good His inner voice chanted Spike's praise to the sky while his outer voice produced a 'fuck me now' moan that he could feel all the way down in his guts. He licked his lips and reached back to feel the flex of hard, cool muscle under Spike's skin; rubbed a warm and shaking palm over Spike's hip.

A tiny Xander part of his brain made a quip about whether he was being fucked by his cowgirl or the horse but it died unsaid when Spike started to move.

Spike pulled back and then in again, hard, fast rhythm that suited the roar of trucks and cars speeding past - the swirl of hot-cold air, scents of dust and petrol and sweat. He jacked Xander's cock, pull and twist, and nuzzled closer into his throat - nipped and licked, sucked the skin up in bruising kisses. Xander was moaning - arching his back and pushing himself onto Spike, legs as wide as he could get them.

"Fuckin' hot, Xan, fuckin' tight and hot and...good, good..." Spike twisted his hips - sped up - sank his fangs deep into Xander's throat. No finesse, no build-up, and Xander cried out hoarsely, his body locking tight into a hard bow, come slicking Spike's fist. Spike thrust hard, one, then two times and came as well, crowding Xander up on his toes - into the truck. Swallowing the blood that was like spiced wine in his mouth.

Xander shuddered and the world rushed back in - roar of semi trucks barreling past, pound of his heart like it was trying to bang a path out of his chest; harsh breath, burning throb of friction-hot skin around cooler flesh and Spike's weight against his back, lips against his throat - the breeze colder yet. And Xander filled his lungs with air that tasted like rain.

"Hey - sweetheart." Xander's voice emerged rough, caught in his throat as Spike slipped out, flesh too alive to feel empty. He turned, tipped Spike's lips up and tasted - blood and smoke, salt and rain. We're just kissing, officer. Nothing indecent about that. Xander gave Spike's jeans a tug, buttoned them up with numb fingers and a stupid grin.

Spike did a fast down-and-up, getting Xander's slacks back in place - kissing him slow and easy while his fingers deftly maneuvered fly and button and belt. "Love you," he murmured, and pulled Xander close, hugging him. The wind cut across the back-draft from the highway, cool and full of the scent of the sea - of wet earth - of rain. Spike turned his face into that clean wind for a moment, eyes closed, then he looked back at a squeeze from Xander's arms. "Love you, pet," he said again.

"Love you back, crazy vampire - cowgirl," Xander whispered in Spike's ear - squeezed him tight against his chest before Spike could jerk away and kissed cold lips with warm ones that still tingled from orgasm.

He gave Spike's hand a tug, leading him back to the truck door still swinging open in the breeze - slid across the seat with a sweet ache that promised Spike would be the one driving them back home while Xander squirmed in the passenger seat.

Spike took a last look - up and out. Saw the curling wave of storm-cloud coming in from the west and smiled. Then he slid in next to Xander, fingers lacing hands together - automatic, habit - learned. It wasn't until they were a few miles down the highway that Spike finally remembered. Bloody hell - " 'I'm a thoroughbred, that's what she said, in the back of my truck bed'? Xander - what the fuck was that?"

Xander gave in to the urge to giggle madly. "That, my bleached friend, was 'Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy'."


"Oh my god."

"What's that, pet?"

"Oh. My god," Xander said again and dropped his head back against the seat. He was shirtless and shaking and for once it had nothing to do with coming down from sex or blood.

Spike's chuckle was far too knowingly wicked to be sympathetic and Xander - sighed, and had to admit that none of this was Spike's fault.

Okay, maybe the throbbing burn that was his ass and the matching throb in his neck had something to do with Spike. But it wasn't as if Xander hadn't begged for it.

And the nipple rings.

And the tattoo.

"Ow." Xander summed it up.

"Feelin' like you were used pretty hard, cowboy?" Spike sniggered, and avoided a floppy whap from Xander's hand. He smoothly guided the truck out of the slow lane to the fast, passing a lorry, the wipers working overtime to clear the sheet of rain the lorry wheels fanned up from the tarmac.

"I feel like a cowboy on Sunday who got paid on Friday." Xander looked down at himself. "Out of money, out of booze, too sore for sex, and all marked up." Xander grinned, closed his eye - spatter of rain on the truck, on the road, soothing in a nice non-contact way. The redness of his nipples wasn't too noticeable and the sharp pain of the piercing had subsided into a quiet throb that ached in time with his ass and the bite on his neck. The tattoo was a quiet burn. the outer half a complex band of knotted leather thongs with an intricate mandala set in the center and long stylized leaves hanging below. At first glance like a feathered American Indian arm band, but the leaves were more Gothic - the weave of the band more Hindi than Sioux. The inner half wasn't done - it would be finished on the next trip to Ojai.

Spike reached over and took Xander's hand, curling his fingers around and just holding. Pushed the gas down a little harder and got the truck close to one hundred. "We'll be home soon, love - fix you right up."

"I can hear you driving too fast," Xander sing-songed and tugged on Spike's fingers, snickered at Spike's unrepentant snort. He cracked his eye open and looked over at Spike. "What's the big hurry?"

"Just want to get you home. Since you won't stay home - you need a little time to relax. Get ready." Spike edged the speedometer a little higher - squinted at a car in the distance that might or might not be a Highway Patrol.

Xander watched the squint - played his best 'Who me, officer?' lines in his head. "Uh - Spike? How did you get a driver's license? Aren't you legally dead?"

"Money talks, pet. Got enough of it, you can get most anything you like." Spike wondered briefly if he'd actually brought his license, but then dismissed the thought from his mind.

"No worries, Xander. If we get the filth after us, I can just have a little snack." Half-way joking. Half-way not. Wondering what Xander would say to that. A thin line he still trod carefully because Xander, for all his protestations, would be a White Hat until the day he died.

Xander closed his eye again, snuggled back into the corner between the seat and the door to keep his body still when the truck wasn't. "All right sweetheart. Make sure you nail his partner too, then 'cause if you do an OJ, I'm gonna be late for work."

"Won't be drivin' twenty miles an hour, pet, trust me." Spike reached out and fiddled with the radio - shook his head at the poor reception and started poking through the CD's in their case. Driving with his knees, and he made sure Xander's eye was shut. The car turned out to be just another Ford with a 'Jesus is my Co-Pilot' sticker on the back. If Jesus is your co-pilot, why don't you drive a little faster, you git?

The first notes of music made Xander smile. Trying to tell me something, sweetheart?

There ain't nothing I can do
Or nothing I can say
That folks don't criticize me
But I'm going to do
Just as I want to anyway

With his eye closed and the rain isolating the cab of the truck from the rest of the world - Billie Holiday playing on the car stereo - Xander could feel a tightness in his skin the closer they got to Sunnydale. It might have been from playing Wounded Man Sitting for an hour in the truck, but after demon-hunting on Tuesday it was so much easier to believe in the old fashioned Sunnydale Weird. "What did you and Wes talk about yesterday?"

"We talked about what's going on in Sunnydale. About the...vibe. He hadn't heard anything but he's looking into it. He...sounded tired." Spike frowned at that memory. Too tired, too fast...too much. Need to get him away.

"When does has he not sounded tired?" Xander twisted in his seat until he could see Spike - rested their joined hands on his folded knee - rubbed his thumb over Spike's. "You worry about him a lot."

"He's been through so bloody much, is all. Almost dyin' for Connor, then everybody just...abandoning him... Angel takin' his memories... He was so betrayed by that, love, he..." Spike sighed and shook his head. "When we were together...he was so alone. Even when... It was like he was holding himself back - making sure he didn't feel to much. He thinks everything that happened is his fault. Tryin' to make up to Angel for his failures. That's why he stays."

Spike glanced over at Xander - squeezed his hand a little bit. "Don't mean to - to make you feel... Is it all right, love?"

"You did catch the part where I nailed Wesley to the door frame and tasted his tonsils, didn't you?" Xander's lips quirked into a half smile. "It's all right, Spike. I like the guy. And you like the guy. I'm not seeing the problem. Except for him killing himself trying to make up to Angel? As in the guy whose failures almost got us all sucked into Hell with him?"

"Wes has Issues, mate. After that prophecy - after everybody just left him... He pretty much convinced himself he was useless. Keep tryin' to tell him it's all rubbish, but..." Spike shrugged - got his hand free of Xander's grip and patted himself down for a cigarette - lit it and opened the window and smoked, the cool rain misting inside and wetting his arm and the side of his face. The air smelled sharply of ozone and the sea. Nearly home. He glanced over at Xander and grinned.

"That kiss was bloody hot, love - need to see somethin' like that again."

"Wanna participate in a re-enactment?" Xander slid his hand up along Spike's forearm, watching Spike's grin become a lusty smirk. "Then say something dirty in that classy accent and I'll show you what would've come next if he was ready for it."

"Whatever do you mean?" Spike said, 'Wes' voice and a lift of his chin - lift of his eyebrow - and Xander snickered and slid a little closer, not bothering to hide a tiny wince. "Could you be - coming on to me, young man?" he added, goosing the truck a little faster. Home soon, fuck yeah...

"Wesley's accent, not Giles'." Xander leaned up to Spike's ear, blew on the rim and watched the shiver work its way down Spike's body - slid a hand into his lap. "Though Giles was pretty hot with those chains and manacles he kept in his condo."

"Watcher always had a bit of how's your father goin' on with all that. Who just happens to have vamp-proof manacles in their flat? Supposed to kill us all, isn't he?" Spike shivered when Xander chuckled faintly, sending another brush of warm breath over his ear - along his neck.

"I just happened to have vamp-proof rope in my basement. That doesn't mean I wanted to tie you to the chair and climb on, does it?" Xander felt the truck shudder onto the shoulder and back to the blacktop - licked a circle over a pale, pale bruise on Spike's neck.

"I'm gonna pull over up here -" Spike said - warning and promise, flicker of fangs. "And you know you wanted me, Xan. Just wouldn't admit it. Imagine, yeah? If you'd tied me to that chair naked. Hands tight to the arms - legs spread... Rope over my thighs, over my belly... Showing off my cock... And it would have been hard for you, love..." Spike breathed the rising arousal-scent from Xander - listened to his heart kick up to a faster rhythm. "You could have slicked up and climbed on...ridden me all night."

Xander sucked in a breath, deep and hard - bit into the flesh at the base of Spike's neck and breathed in the musky vampire scent. "Want that."

"Just happen to have some rope at home..."


Xander snagged a doughnut from the open box on the desk - propped his feet on a stack of safety manuals they had yet to distribute and relaxed; let Russ brief Carl and his assistant supervisor Harry on the parts of the site that were beginning to look hazardous after the rain.

Agreements had been made - possibly before Xander had even come to work - to let him, as Russ said, goof off on company time for the last few hours of his shift because the bastards in suits owed him.

Xander hadn't complained and had been basking in doughnuts and coffee ever since.

Mmmmm. Doughnuts.

And Dave couldn't have any. When Carl had shown up early with several boxes of assorted doughnuts that all involved nuts, he'd pleaded ignorance to Dave's nut allergy.

High School meanness wasn't so bad when it was on your side.

"Alex, is Spike coming down to the site tonight?"

Xander opened his eye to find Carl and Russ watching him with identical scheming expressions. "Yes, but he'll be pissed you didn't bring him a jelly doughnut. He likes the squishy red ones best."

Carl slid the bottom box off the stack and flipped it open to reveal a dozen assorted jelly doughnuts. "How could I forget Spike?"

"Guys - you really don't need to bribe me to stay here."

"It's not bribery, Alex." Russ slung an arm over Xander's shoulders. "It's appreciation."

"Russ survived a review like this last Spring before you came."

"But Carl didn't bring me doughnuts. He likes you best."

Carl threw a peanut at Russ' head. "The nearest doughnut shop was still in Santa Barbara last spring."

"Okay, so, doughnuts were out, but what about that little diner with the pie? Ronnie's? That pie could bribe Satan back into Heaven, man, and you didn't even get me a single slice."

"There's pie?" Spike asked, slipping inside and gratified by the startled yelp he wrung from Carl.

"Jesus, Spike! Xander keeps sayin' he's gonna put a bell on you - I think I second that." Carl put a hand to his chest, pretending fibrillation of the heart and Spike smirked at him, making a bee-line for Xander and bending down to kiss him, hands in Xander's hair and a discrete nibble at this lower lip.

"Hallo, love."

"Doughnuts," Xander said against Spike's lips and pulled him down onto his lap in a show of unmistakable possession, wound his arms under the duster and crawled a hand into Spike's back pocket by the time his grin reached full wattage.

Carl cleared his throat. "Harry, this is Alex's scandalous houseboy Spike. Spike, this is Harry Chen, my assistant supervisor."

"Scandalous, Carl? What has Xander been telling you?" Spike gave his very best 'come fuck me' leer and laughed when Carl blushed beet-red. He gave Harry Chen the once-over, sizing him up. Tallish, thinnish, thick black hair and an easy grin. Acceptable. Russ was snickering into a giant, insulated cup of soda and Spike grinned brightly at him. "Doughnuts?"

"Doughnuts." Russ opened the box of jelly doughnuts and held it out to Spike.

"We're celebrating the retention of Alex as one of our own." Carl explained, tipped his chair back and swung side to side.

"Without Dave," Russ added.

"Without Dave."

"And with doughnuts." Harry grabbed a jelly doughnut before the box was out of reach. "What? I don't like nuts." He waved the doughnut at Carl and took a defiant bite of pastry and blueberry ooze.

Xander whispered into Spike's ear, happy to sit back and let the vampire weigh him to the couch. "Dave's allergic."

"Allergic? To gettin' his balls kicked? Or just to me in general?" Spike shot a disapproving eye at Harry and cuddled the jelly doughnuts close. He picked one up and took a huge bite, then spent a little time casually licking jelly off his lips and fingers. Harry watched with narrowed eyes - Carl pretended not to see and Russ grinned and got his own jelly-filled. "Those bloody corp-rats don't know what they got in my Xander - utter shite, all that 'personal grooming' business and the rest." Spike turned in Xander's lap, a look of anticipation on his face. "Did you show 'em your new piercings, love?"

"Everything above the belt. And if there's anything below the belt, we don't want to see it," Carl added quickly. "At least I don't."

"You don't want to see Spike's piercing then?" Xander guided Spike's doughnut closer and took a bite for himself - tasted like lemon and spice, like Spike and that almost made him laugh.

"Sure!" from Russ and "No!" from Carl a the same moment. Spike burst out laughing, leaning back in Xander's arms, sprawling his legs out - 'come get me' and 'can't touch this' in the same package. Harry shoved more doughnut into his face and remained silent, but his dark eyes were sparkling with mirth.

Russ leaned forward, elbows on knees. "We're all men here, Carl."

"That's why I don't want to see it! I know what it feels like to stick a needle in my aparato."



"Come on man! Stop holding out!"

Carl swung his chair around laughing. "I am not telling that story! All you perverts can look at Spike's rifle. I am having another doughnut."

"Spoken like a true heterosexual," Russ said and held a hand to his heart. "Unzip, pal."

Spike flicked a glance to Xander's grinning face and then stood up, plopping the doughnut box down on the desk. He made a show of it. He undid his belt with a caress to the long tongue of leather. Popped the buttons on his jeans one by one, hipshot, head down, hands framing the half-hard flesh underneath. Eased himself free of denim and gently pulled his foreskin back so Russ and Harry - who was flushing but also looking - and Xander - who was frankly oggling - could clearly see the blued metal. There was a moment's reverent silence. "Carl, you're looking," Spike purred, and all eyes swiveled to Carl's practically magenta face, half hidden behind his hands and peeking through his fingers.

He dropped his head down onto the desk and waved his hands helplessly. "It's a compulsion! It's a sickness. A mental illness."

"He wants one too." Russ translated with a grin.

"Fuck you, Russ."

Xander wound one arm around Spike's belly, one around his thighs, rested his cheek against one half-clothed hip for a good look. "Nuh. No fucking is happening here." He slid his hand down, sly caress before tucking Spike away and buttoning him up. "Show's over. Mine."

"Stingy bastard." Russ raised his soda in a toast. "To the finest piece of needle-pierced flesh on site!"

Soda cans went up in salute, and Spike flopped back down onto the couch, pulling the doughnuts into his lap and taking out a second one. Mmm - cherry filled. "So - have a good day, love?" he asked, licking more jelly and waggling his fingers at Russ, who was snorting into his Diet Coke.

Xander snickered and stretched, hooked his hands behind his head and wiggled into the couch. "I had a Hellmouthy day. Russ, you want to tell him about it?" Xander could feel Spike looking at him with banked wariness and dropped a hand onto his thigh, rubbing. Harry had a blank expression on his face but Carl was sitting up and paying attention.

"Two of the paramedics took a walk around the perimeter after one of Dave's crew reported seeing a girl on site near the buried church." Russ fished a paper from the pile on the main desk and read it off. "She seemed lost and didn't respond to their calls. By the time they got to the church, she was gone."

Spike looked over at Xander - looked at Russ, who was serious now. "Anything else, then? They go looking?" he asked. Russ pursed his lips - shook his head slowly.

"They kind of looked around, but they didn't go down into the church or anything." Russ' voice made it clear that going down into the church was a bad idea - one he wouldn't condone. "It was close to lunch, and they figured it was somebody's girlfriend or a looter - didn't look too hard." Russ tossed the paper back onto the desk and leaned back, hands pushing through his hair. "I wonder if there's been - you know - anything else? That nobody thought to report?"

There was a moment's silence and then Harry cleared his throat. "Guys. Hellmouth? Wanna - explain?"

Xander raised a hand. "I'll field it." Explaining the Hellmouth - didn't get any less weird, Xander found. Ever.


Spike stretched - arched and twisted luxuriously on the silk sheet and chenille pillows of the Nest - pointed his toes towards the fireplace and soaked up heat with a satisfied, purring sigh. The door to the patio was open and a damp, fragrant breeze curled in, making the flames dance. Outside, the late-afternoon sun was shrouded in heavy clouds, and rain slanted down, silvery and endless - whispering across the surface of the pool and dripping steadily from the eaves. The sea and sky merged into a monotone watercolor a half a mile from shore, and only the white caps of the breaking waves delineated sea from air. On his back, Spike reached around and found his book - propped his head on his arm and a pillow and started reading. Xander was in the kitchen, finding some food item or other.

Xander flopped gracelessly onto the pillows with a grilled cheese sandwich and a can of soda. "That was Matt on the phone. They're closing the site early for the weekend because the ground's getting unstable from the rain." He wriggled around until his head rested on Spike's stomach and he stretched out, skin bare to the open doors and the wind off the sea that ruffled his hair and soothed the passive ache of recent piercings.

Spike's left hand went automatically to Xander's hair - tugging the strands loose and spreading them out over his belly and thigh - stroking through the freed stands again and again, hypnotic rhythm. "So you're home for the evening then, pet?" he murmured happily.

Xander pushed into the tugging and petting, rolled his head against Spike's stomach and smiled. "I'm home for the weekend - and part of next week if the rain keeps up. There's too much risk of cave-ins until we get the site stabilized and filled in."

"You are? Lucky me, then." Spike grinned down at Xander over the book and tugged his hair gently. "Anything new to tell Wes? Any more ghosties?"

"Or something." Xander hooked his arm over Spike's leg, wormed his fingers into the soft hollow behind Spike's knee, stroked absently. "The guys haven't seen a little girl, but there've been more looter reports and no actual looters. Official word is the rain playing tricks on us." Xander took a bite of his sandwich, plate balanced on his stomach.

Spike snorted softly - flexed his leg a little, pressing into Xander's touch. "Rain does no such thing. Have you seen anything? I know you feel it, love. It's getting...stronger."

Xander rolled his head to see Spike over the book and brushed sandwich crumbs off his fingers. " I haven't seen anything that goes bump in the night but I feel the weird - like I feel you and what's up with that? Russ doesn't feel it."

"Russ doesn't - you what?" Spike tossed the book aside - pushed himself up on his elbows to look down at Xander. "What do you mean, you feel me?"

"I - feel when you're in the area - if you're awake or asleep." Xander closed his eye, felt for that tingle that was Spike on the edge of his awareness. "If you''re scared?" He opened his eye and looked at Spike. "This close to you I can feel that."

"I'm not -" Spike started, and then clicked his teeth shut, thinking. He was, actually. Scared. Just a little. Sips of his blood - weren't supposed to do anything. Weren't supposed to change Xander, just give him a buzz. A little extra when they were fucking - or fighting. Or showin' up corp-rat bastards who don't know any better... "When - did it start, Xan? How long? Why didn't you tell me!" he added, and ducked his head, dismayed at the sharpness of his tone.

Xander took the plate off his stomach, set it as far away in the Nest as he could reach and rolled over - right arm wrapped over Spike's waist. "It started after I came down. I - thought it'd go away." Spike's skin was cool and smoky under him but the thrum of unease shivered its way into Xander's bones.


"After?" Spike reluctantly let himself down, lying flat again and reaching for Xander's hand - tugging it up to his ribs and holding it there, fingers laced together. After. Maybe all that blood - that whole weekend... "Got you so hopped up on me it - did something... Xan, I - are you all right?" He didn't voice the 'I'm sorry' that was lodged in his throat, but he was pretty sure Xander heard that, anyway."

"I'm good. Wigged at first but good." Xander inched higher, pressed his lips to Spike's fingers and rested his cheek there. "It doesn't hurt. It doesn't do anything - unless you count the way it's kinda hard to think when you come by work all horny - not that you should take that as a request to stop coming by work when you're horny..." Spike didn't feel any happier. "So it's not...normal?"

Spike let his hand wander up, hand to forearm to bicep - lingered gently over the mostly-healed tattoo, traced the feathery leaves below. Then up a little more, to twine his fingers in Xander's hair again. "I dunno about normal, Xander... I've never done this. The only people that got my blood before this were turned, love, I don't - know. We'll have to ask Wes. Maybe he's read something, or..." Spike saw the look on Xander's face - the look that said 'I'll panic if you tell me to', and deliberately took a deep breath - let it out slowly and smiled. "Can't call Wes for nearly an hour yet - bet that new vampy-sense makes me fuckin' you feel really good."

Xander let his breath out when Spike did, rode the rise of his chest on the inhale and flexed his fingers under Spike's. "It makes me fucking you feel pretty great too. Not - y'know - that it was unpleasant before." Xander felt the grin rise, wormed around in the pillows until he could slide a leg over both of Spike's and straddle his thighs. "Mmmm. I can feel that without the new vampy-sense." He chuckled, stretched out over the vampire and shifted his hips until his cock nestled along Spike's - eyelid fluttered closed. "You said an hour?"

Spike suddenly found himself on top of Xander, with warm fingers stroking down his back - over his ass. Warm hands that coaxed him open - drew him down - held him, helpless in the grip of pure pleasure as Xander kissed him until he had to breathe.

"An hour might do," Xander said softly, tongue flickering out and tracing Spike's lips. Lips and teeth on his throat, hand everywhere, caressing and kneading, stroking and pressing. Slow lift of Xander's hips, and fiery heat shivering through Spike as Xander began to thrust inside him.

God, good... "Xander, love, that's perfect..." Spike murmured, and arched back, eyes closed - letting himself sink into the heat and the hypnotic rhythm - the loving, possessive touch. " you..." he breathed, and Xander smiled. Moved and kept moving slow like the roll of the sea beyond their window.

When Spike rolled off Xander at last he lay limp and panting, spread out like a star on the dark reds of the Nest. "Christ, pet, didn't think you'd really take an hour..."

Xander turned over onto his stomach, belly-crawled until he could get an arm over Spike and licked at his throat, tasted himself and Spike and the softly exploding prickles of Spike's blood. "They call me Marathon Man," he said in an accent that demonstrated why he'd failed French class. "I am the master of providing multiple orgasms on demand." He thought of Anya who had so selflessly sacrificed her time to hone that skill of his - and it didn't hurt. Made him smile.

"Fuckin' Master, yeah," Spike murmured, shivering at the feel of Xander's tongue on his throat. Running his own tongue over his teeth, to taste the last, fleeting bit of Xander's blood. Just tiny sips, we'll be okay. No overdoing it, this time... "Demon-girl always said you were a Viking in the sack, love. Guess she was right."

Xander lifted his head, propped his chin on Spike's right pectoral and hooked a leg over him. "Ever fuck a viking?"

Spike opened his eyes, staring at the ceiling. "M'not that old, pet. I did fuck these two...Swedish cross-country skiers, brother and sister. They were tryin' to improve their stamina for the...hrmmm...1932 Olympics."

Xander skimmed his fingers over Spike's nipple - back and forth until his skin warmed and he felt a shudder in the muscle beneath his palm. "How did they do?"

"Weell..." Spike looked at Xander for a long moment and then sighed. He asked... "Dru got a bit jealous, didn't she? And - she wanted to be a blonde for a bit, so... She ate the girl and took her hair and I ate the boy because...he was inconsolable over his sister. Never would have won after that, anyway."

Spike watched Xander from the corner of his eye; tried not to tense beneath the warm fingers sweeping over his skin. Didn't know what to expect but - not a smile. Not that smile - barely there but making his eye sparkle. "Call me crazy but marathon sex and post-coital atrocities make me kinda nostalgic." Xander hesitated until Spike looked at him before adding uncertainly. "Is Drusilla going to come back?"

Spike felt his eyebrow going up and he grabbed Xander's hand, holding it to his chest. "Nostalgic, pet? 'Fraid you lost me there."

Xander waited - for Spike to say anything about Drusilla but he only looked calmly back, played his thumb over Xander's ragged fingernails. Xander sighed, gave in. "Anya liked to relive her vengeancey glory days during the afterglow." Xander licked his lips, felt the warmth in his belly that came with happy Anya memories. "She figured out reliving them during the foreplay was a bad idea."

Spike snorted, laughing softly. "Demon-girl was a piece of work, Xan. I really...liked her." He paused for a moment, thinking, and then propped his head up on his arm a little higher, watching Xander watch him - watching their fingers skate over each others. "I dunno 'bout Dru, love. I'm - not really sure where she is... She might come back. We spent time apart, now and then..." And that's the true answer, but Spike didn't know if it was the one Xander wanted to hear.

Xander drew a slow breath that - hurt a little, in the center of his chest and swallowed around a sudden thickness in his throat. "Lucky for me she's already brunette." God. Don't want to think about losing you if you left with her sweetheart.
Oh damn. Fuck. Next time use your brain, William. Spike squirmed closer to Xander - got his arms around him and gently kissed his forehead, where a line was creasing between Xander's brows. "I'm sorry, love. I wasn't very clear, was I? Dru may come back - she may not. But - it won't matter. I'm not - not gonna just pack up and leave." Xander moved - lifted his head as if to speak and Spike shushed him. "Wait, please? She had me for more than a hundred years... We fought, and we fucked, and we killed... We had grand times. I kept her from dying after Prague - she kept me from some bad decisions. But..." Spike closed his eyes, breathing in Xander's sweet-spicy scent, his cheek nestled on Xander's hair.

"But she left, and I... I just don't... I love her, Xander. I always will. I can't not. She made me. But I don't - want her." Spike squeezed Xander a little - nudged him with his chin until Xander looked up at him. "Want you, love. For as long as you'll have me. Just - you. I never cheated on Dru. Not in a hundred years."

Xander's heart beat - tripped at the thought of a hundred years. A hundred years of - Spike was promising - radiating - protection, possession, love.

And it was - overwhelming. Xander shivered, had to put his head down over Spike's still chest, worm his arms under Spike and hold on. "I never - cheated on Anya. Unless you count hiding the last bag of cheesy chips for myself." He laughed but it sounded like something painful being lanced - quickly and cleanly and leaving him a little unsteady. "That's...good. I kinda want you too." Words mumbled into skin tasting of salt and smoke.

"You kinda do, love? I want I wanted Dru. How's that go? Truly, madly, deeply..." Spike hoped a movie-title would...make Xander smile. Make his heart slow down a little. "Love - please don't... It's too much, isn't it?" he finished softly, and closed his eyes. Resting in the dark for a moment.

Xander could only answer without words - and he got it - got what the writers and poets and teachers meant when they said 'with his whole heart'. The kiss hurt because he wasn't close enough to Spike in it and god - love you.. He waited until blue eyes opened and smiled. "Do. Not kinda. Do. I - " Xander Harris - man of many many words except when he needed them the most.

"Yeah?" Spike asked, stroking mink-soft hair - hugging the warm body close to him. Xander's heart on his lips - in his look. Spike blinked and took in a deep breath. "I know pretty hard, Xan. Dru told Buffy - we vampires, we love very well..." Spike grinned, thinking about his Dru. "Just not very wisely. I think my affair with a certain Slayer falls neatly into that category. I just... Don't want to scare you off, love."

"Again, Spike? Pretty - pretty hard to scare." Xander held his breath, let it out slow and steady, tried to calm his heart beating too hard. Wiped quickly at both eye and socket that always itched when he teared. He ducked his head, couldn't look at Spike while he spoke. "My love history isn't - great. But I'm loyal and I - I want that - you."

"You're the most loyal person I know, Xander. You just...gave your heart away to someone who couldn't take it." Spike lifted Xander's chin - made the man look at him, damp face and all. "I'll take it, Xan. Take it and keep it safe for - forever. All right? Forever."

"Sold." Xander's voice emerged shaky and rough around the edges but laced with a smile. "To the naked blond vampire. All sales are final and void in - in Vegas cause what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. It says so in their TV commercials."

Square Fourteen

It was raining again but that was okay, really. Spike enjoyed the break from the endless California sunshine. Plus, he could go out in the day, if he wanted. He really didn't want to, at least not right now. Curled up in the Nest in the living room, watching a movie and lazily eating every last Cadbury's that had come with his last shipment of Old Speckled. Well, sharing the Cadburys with Xander. Sharing chocolate, and kisses, and slow strokes of his hands over Xander's body. No sex - not yet. Just contact. Snuggling, he supposed. But - he didn't care.

The movie was at a boring spot - a little too much conversation just now - and Spike rolled onto his back, pushing until Xander grinned and got an arm over his ribs - leaned his chin on Spike's chest.

"What, evil undead? You're like Miss Kitty when she wanted to be petted - pushy."

Spike growled, low, but it was half-hearted. "I'm worried about Wes, love. He's been - has he been avoiding us? It's startin' to piss me off." It wasn't really - it was actually starting to freak him out a little, but Spike wasn't going to go there. With the site shut down from now - late November - until some time in the spring due to all the extra-heavy - and early rains - Xander had a lot of time off and Spike didn't want to...worry him. The weird Hellmouth vibe seemed to have eased off, too - or they'd gotten used to it - but it was still a nagging worry in the backs of their minds and Spike just didn't want to dredge it up. He was loving all this time with Xander. Time that was just theirs.

"He's been putting us off." Xander squirmed in the Nest until he was comfortable in the new arrangement of body parts. He could feel Spike's worry like a quiet flutter in his belly. "And sweetheart - I know a 'don't call us, we'll call you' when I hear one." He traced the sharply delineated lines of Spike's pectorals - smiled at the gentle radiation of comfort - traced his collarbone. "Think Angel caught him?"

"You know..." Spike said slowly, his hand absently going to toy with Xander's hair. "I don't like that 'caught him'. It makes it sound like Wes is doing something...wrong. And we know he's not." Spike sighed, then looked right at Xander, considering. Then he started to grin.

"That look can only mean trouble," Xander said, grinning back.

"We need to just go and get Wes. Kidnap him! Take him someplace quiet and shag him silly." The mental image that went with that was...nice and Spike saw Xander's eyes glaze for a moment. then Xander shook his head.

"What we should do is go down to L.A. and walk right in and - and come out to Angel. About everything. Get under his thick and brooding skin." Xander shimmied up Spike's body, pinned him by the shoulders and claimed that tempting lower lip. Watched the eyes flicker gold with the firelight instead of demon light - felt the comfort turn to the first stirring of lust. "Besides - irritating Angel turns you on."

"Fighting always turns me on, pet. Not as much as you, though." Spike let Xander pin him - kiss him - his hands roaming over the warm skin and sleek muscles. After a little bit, Xander pulled back and Spike sighed. "You really want to do that, love?"

"Course I do! Or...we'll stake him and stash him in the pepper shaker before anybody notices he's missing?"

Spike snorted, laughing, and hugged Xander tight. "That'll be our backup plan, love." Xander was still grinning and Spike had to kiss him again. Then he sighed.

"You know if we do this it's gonna be a bloody mess, Xander. He'll whinge on and on about needing Wes there every minute of every bloody day. And the Slayers'll give us looks... And Andrew..." Spike shuddered. "Andrew will call me a 'vam-pyre and hug me. Sneakin' Wes out'd be so much better. And it'd piss Angel off even more."

"It won't be fun dealing with Angel," Xander admitted. "But do you care? He whines, we make snappy and witty remarks at his expense. The slayers give us looks, we...make out until they leave or we forget they're there. I think Wes would be happier with a more straight-forward plan." Xander thought for a moment, brow furrowing. "Andrew's a problem."

"Andrew's a bloody pain... Maybe we should get him laid." Spike entertained the notion of dragging Andrew to a gay club and getting him in the back room with the biggest, meanest leather-daddy they could find. But that happy fantasy was interrupted by Xander, who was 'tsk' ing and shaking his head. "What, don't like that idea?"

"Actually I find that idea bizarrely appealing and let's not examine that too closely." Xander's smile faded slowly then slipped away because Spike - didn't feel better. Still bothered, still unhappy. "What's the real problem, sweetheart?"

Spike shook his head a little. "Just...Wes. Can't keep thinkin' about him and...worrying. Makes me wanna kill something. And Angel's right there, conveniently pissin' me off every time he opens his mouth."

"I could hit him, instead. He probably won't hit me back and the frustration might make his head explode," Xander offered, smoothing Spike's hair a little and then ruffling it up again, enjoying the 'pissed-off owl' effect.

"You'd just bruise your knuckles on that big, stone lump, love. Best just...slay him with your witty repartee."

"I'll stake him with my well-honed sarcasm. Then give you a good victory staking like the conquering hero."

Spike blinked - then he laughed, because that? Was just... "That's awful, pet. Bloody hell!"

"Just...staking my claim, sweetheart." Xander grinned - gave Spike's hair a tug and nipped his exposed throat. Then got serious again. "You know Wes won't like it if we fight. Let's just - try to keep it low-key. For his sake, okay?" Spike sighed - nodded - not pleased but willing to do it because Xander had asked. "But - make no mistake - if Angel wants a piece of you, he has to come through me."

"That's all right then," Spike said, and rolled them over, determined to put his mouth to every inch of Xander's flesh.


Xander wasn't sure what he had expected from the exterior of the stucco monstrosity of the Hotel Ali Baba - with its wild-growing grounds and long burnt out neon sign - but Classic Moroccan decor with papers scattered over every bit of available floor space and Andrew, crab-walking around the periphery...probably wasn't it.

And luckily the overcast had held all the way to L.A., so Spike could saunter into the lobby with him instead of having to run in under the chancy protection of his coat and a blanket.

"Xander! Spike! Don't move - I have everything sorted in specific piles!"

They froze, and Xander leaned close to Spike, muttering: "Think we can sneak away before he gets to this side of the room?"

Spike muttered back, his arm going possessively around Xander's waist - unthinking reflex. "When he wants to? I swear he can bloody teleport. Brace yourself."

Only Spike's arm around Xander's waist kept him from being knocked over by sheer enthusiasm as Andrew hit them with the force of a small, weepy truck. "Spike! Xander! Mis amigos! Oh, oh Spike - we thought you were dead! Again! I thought I'd never see you again! Again!"

"Hoped," Angel corrected, stepping through a graceful archway, brows lowering like rain over Andrew's parade.

"I'm the proverbial bad penny, Andy - I just keep turnin' up." Spike wrestled Andrew's arm off his neck - set him back a step. Andrew sniffled.

"So, what brings you here, Spike? And with Xander? I didn't think you enjoyed the company of the vampyres, mi hombre."

"Hello? Does anybody see me standing here? Am I invisible and inaudible?" Angel grimaced. "Again?"

"Unfortunately, no." Xander shot Angel a look - and Andrew's company was suddenly a lot more interesting. "I only enjoy Spike's company, Andrew. He's vampire enough for me. Man enough too." Xander didn't even try to fight his grin.

Spike couldn't suppress a snort of laughter at that and he squeezed Xander a little more tightly and then let go - fished out a cigarette and lit it. Andrew coughed, waving a hand in front of his face. And then he got it, and his eyes and mouth went as round as those funny drawings in the comics he bought from Japan.

"Oh my god! Are you dating? Spike - have you given up on Buffy? What about carrying the torch for Anya? Oh my god, I knew it! The constant bickering, the close physical...stuff... It's just like Spock and McCoy! Although -" Andrew paused and leaned closer to them both, and Spike could see that Xander hadn't said anything only because Andrew's ability to babble actually outstripped his own. "Most would say that Spock and Kirk are the ultimate couple, but I find that the dry wit -"

"Andrew - don't you have something you should be doing," Angel snapped, and Spike heaved a sigh.

Here we go. Pet, give me strength.

"Oui, mon capitaine!"

A line of pain deepened between Angel's brows as Andrew gave him a snappy salute and tip-toed back through the paperwork. Xander could feel the tension growing in Spike the closer Angel came - and didn't like it. When Angel turned to Xander and spoke, Spike hummed with suppressed violence.

"Thank you for bringing him back. I think."

Spike growled and that was enough for Xander. He held up a hand - took a half step between Angel and Spike and looked Angel in the eyes - eye - whatever. "Whoa. Hold on, Deadboy. We're not here for you - we're here for Wes."


"We - me and Spike - are here - Hotel Ali Baba - for Wesley."

"Why would you and Spike come here for Wesley?"

"Not really your business, is it?" Spike snapped. He cocked his head, staring at Angel - watching the words sink in and the anger bubble up. Then - "How's the life of servitude, mate?" Spike asked, and looked up with a grin at Connor, who was standing in the archway, a sheaf of papers in his hand.

"I got a ten-cent raise last month," Connor said, grinning back. The young man ambled across the floor, careless of the papers.

Xander watched him - watched the careless grace in his walk that was just like Angel's had been when he'd first showed up to brood, mope and be a cryptic jerk. Except...Connor was full of life and how weird was that? Somehow, he'd been picturing a small Angel brooding in his dad's shadow, not gracefully dodging piles of paper and offering Xander his hand to shake.

"I'm Connor."


"I've heard about you." Connor glanced up at Angel. "You were a lot shorter in the stories."

"Even vampires forget." Spike looked around Angel to see Wes coming out of an office that was just beyond the archway.

"Spike - Xander, it's good to see you."

Wes picked he way across the lobby and came to rest on the other side of Connor, smiling gently at Spike and then Xander, looking... Bloody tired.

"Why are they here for you, Wes?" Angel asked again - as if sheer repetition would get him the answers he wanted five minutes ago, and Spike took a long drag off his smoke - blew the lung-ful straight into Angel's face.

"We're takin' Wes to lunch. How 'bout it, Watcher?"

Wesley flicked a glance at Angel. "I'll get my coat. Angel, I'm taking an hour for a late lunch. My mobile number is by the telephone." Without giving Angel time to answer, Wesley hopscotched his way back across the lobby and Andrew's papers.

"Ohhh-kay." Connor looked expectant. "Dad, I'm taking an hour for -"

"No you're not. You're on the clock until five, so you'll stay until five." Xander thought Connor had the most expressive collection of eye-rolls he'd ever seen. He was impressed.

"Internships suck when the boss is in a mood."

"I'm not your boss. I'm your dad."

Xander couldn't resist a glance at Spike, wondering if it felt weirdly - human here to him but Spike's gaze was fixed solidly on Wesley, radiating unhappiness.

Wes - looks as tired as he sounded. Damnit. "What's good, Wes?" Spike shouted, watching as Wes gathered a coat from a coat-rack and came back out of his office, shutting the door behind him. "Fancy a curry, or maybe -"

"No," Angel said.

"Wasn't asking you, mate."

"No," Angel said again. "No to all of it. What makes you think you can come back in here after disappearing for six months, take Wesley... I need Wesley! Why don't you ever stay gone?"

"I was gone. I'm not coming back, you git. I'm here for Wes - we're going to have lunch, laugh at you behind your back, and maybe get drunk. Now - Fuck. Off." Spike punctuated the last with a flick of his fingers, sending the butt of his cigarette into Angel's chest hard enough to make it shed a little cloud of sparks. It fell to the floor and Angel stomped on it, glaring. Spike knew he'd said he would try - but fuck it. Angel only understood two things - fight or flight. And Spike? Never ran. Connor looked like a deer in the headlights and Wes looked too tired to fight. Xander - Oops. He looks pissed.

Electricity had crackled down Xander's spine as Spike snapped and he closed his eye - was taking deep and cleansing breaths because one of them had to be the grown up and it was clearly not going to be Spike. And he was not going to give in to Spike's urge to break Angel's nose that was coursing through him, too. No matter how tempting it was.

"You about ready, Wes?"

"Yes. Angel, you'll be quite all right with Andrew and Connor. If you must, ask Amanda to take my place phoning clients. She has an excellent telephone presence. I'll...see you tomorrow."

"Wes, I -" Angel stopped - glared at Spike some more, then at Xander, then sighed. "Fine. But I wanna hear about this new friendship of yours in the morning." He shot a last, narrow-eyed glare at Spike and then turned and stomped across the lobby, knocking papers askew and leaving dusty foot-prints.
Connor made a disgusted noise. "I am the one who has to clean this mess up, since Andrew's too 'busy' to do the heavy lifting." He looked at Spike - at Xander - grinned at Wes. "Have a good lunch, Wes. Nice to have met you Xander."

Spike got his arm back around Xander - got the other one around Wes and wheeled them around. "Now - let's go get the most expensive lunch we can. I am buying."


"Sushi without prices on the menu is still sushi, Spike."

Spike swished a piece of fatty tuna through the tamari and wasabi and held it to Xander's lips. "And you love every bite, don't you?"

Spike radiated smug satisfaction. Xander had given in without a fight this time and so far, he'd learned that tuna was a lot more interesting raw, and that in West Hollywood, all you got for macking on your homosexual lover and bookish seducee in public were admiring looks - and a few phone numbers.

Wesley watched the two...lovers...with a smile, eating his own meal with ease, chopsticks held casually and precisely. He'd been - astounded by the warm welcome he'd gotten from both Spike and Xander. Been astounded and gratified and... He looked down - away - from the smiling mouths. His own lips still tingling from the long, probing kiss that Spike had given him, pressed up against the side of Xander's truck. And from the sweet, slow kiss that had followed later from Xander, leaning across the table and stroking Wes' arm with his fingers. How I have missed them...

"You really must try the ikura, Xander, they didn't have that in Sunnydale."

Xander found the bright red-orange roll deftly presented by Spike's chopsticks and obediently opened his mouth, mumbling around the burst of flavor. "'S it?"

"Salmon roe." Wesley watched Xander chew with a blank expression before clarifying. "Salmon eggs."

Xander gave Spike a dirty look, but swallowed instead of spitting. He reached for his beer but Spike stopped him, swapped it for his own glass of champagne. "Chase it with that, yeah?"

Xander did, fresh and sea water salty drained away with fresh and bubbly that - okay wasn't so bad. But it was the principle of the thing. Xander had a feeling from the smirk on Spike's lips that he didn't look believably disgusted and there was probably more ikura in his future.

Spike liked surprising Xander with new and different things - with strange things, and seeing him enjoy them. Liked showing him all the lovely tastes and scents and textures that he'd discovered in his 100 and more years. And he liked that Wes was in on the game.

"Tastes like sex, that does. Does to me," Spike clarified, when Xander and Wes both have him identical 'huh?' looks. "First time I ever had it, Dru'd gotten it. Dunno where - this little place in Hong Kong..." Spike leaned forward, dropping his voice to a low purr...letting his eyes go half-lidded. "She spread it on her belly - on her sex, yeah? Had me lick it off - every inch...poured champagne over her skin..." Spike sat back, smiling. Pleased that Xander and Wes' expressions had gone from 'huh?' to 'oooh'.

Wesley sipped at his champagne, felt the flush spreading across his cheeks, deeper and darker than it ever had when he was human. "There is far more to Drusilla than the Watchers ever chronicled."

Xander's expression went from a speculative moue over the ikura to a frown. "Is the Council still tracking Spike?"

"I - I really don't know," Wesley admitted, plucking a piece of yellowtail from the artful arrangement. "I suppose you would know more about the new council than I."

Xander shook his head. "I don't." And he didn't like the idea of the council tracking him - or Spike or Wesley or any combination of them.

"Better not be," Spike growled, feeling Xander's foot pressing against his ankle, rubbing gently. "Done enough for those wankers over the years..." Spike poked at his rice - grinned. "We'll ask Andrew. He'll tell me 'bout anything I want to know."

"Speaking of Andrew," Wesley said, "I had him do a few jobs for me, these past couple of weeks. He doesn't realize he's working on anything - Sunnydale related. I had him gather and collate a rather wide field of information..." Wes' looked at the two faces looking back - expectation, tinge of impatience, amusement - affection. He smiled. "Yes, well - to make a long story short, I believe someone is mucking with the weather in and around Sunnydale." Wes raised his eyes to the row of skylights that ran down the ocean-side of the restaurant. Rain slid and rippled across them, having started up again while they drove.

"And it's affecting us here, as well." Wesley turned his attention from the skylights to the platter of sashimi and plucked a translucent piece of salmon from the selection.

"This 'someone' have a name?" Spike watched Wesley chew, wondered briefly if Wesley even knew his demon's natural diet. Fish? Flesh? He couldn't remember Wesley eating sushi before. 'Course before, Wesley had lived on take away and whatever stale pasty had been in the Wolfram and Hart break room.

"I'm sure that someone does. However, I don't know yet what it is. The destruction of Wolfram and Hart's Los Angeles branch left a power vacuum. It could be any one of a number of competitors to fill the position they held."

"Great." Xander reached for his tea, deciding he did not like the silver and brown stuff. "More evil law firms."

Wesley shook his head. "It's not necessarily a law firm. It could be anyone who craves power."

"So we're kind of flying blind, here? Is there any chance that they can - open the Hellmouth again?" Spike didn't like the thought of that. Re-opening the Hellmouth would cause all kinds of problems. And he'd fucking died getting it closed. He'd really be pissed if all that...pain...was for nothing. He shivered, taking a gulp of the champagne and felt Xander's hand on his knee, squeezing gently. He probably felt that. Damn. Spike put a hand over Xander's - waited until the dark eye turned to him and nodded - waited for Xander to relax before he went on.

"So - Andrew's helping... Can you trust him? Is he going to spill his guts the first time Angel looks sideways at him?"

Wesley took a sip of his own champagne - sighed, shaking his head. "I can't promise you that Andrew won't figure it out - he's very annoying but he is intelligent enough to become a Watcher. And I can't promise you that he won't bring it before Angel. But I can promise you that I won't."

"Not that I'm objecting, Wes - but why?" Xander grimaced at a disintegrating piece of California roll falling apart in his soy sauce and resisting the clumsy grasp of his chopsticks.

"S'all right to use your fingers, pet." Spike murmured, brushing Xander's hair back behind one ear and turning his attention back to Wesley. "He's just come to his senses about BatVamp, that's all."

"Spike is...not entirely wrong," Wesley admitted. "As far as I'm concerned, this has nothing to do with Angel. Or the Slayers." Wesley hesitated, fiddling with his chopsticks. "Or any of the others."

Spike watched Wes eat - watched him not watch Xander, who was licking soy-sauce and avocado off his fingers. "Wes - how's Gunn doing? And Blue? Didn't seem to be around."

"Illyria is...around. She's proved herself useful for certain cases that require additional muscle and the 'killing of lesser creatures defiling her presence with their crawling cowardice and offensive weakness'." Wesley smiled to himself, and Spike chuckled softly.

"She's discovered television as well...she likes the gardening shows. Charles...left. He formally retired from Angel Investigations and told Angel not to call." Wesley stole a glance at Xander who was blushing and using a napkin now.

"Has he, now? Good on him, then." Spike drank some champagne and set the flute down, stroking his finger down the smooth, cool side. "What's he doing? What'd BatVamp do? Can't see him just lettin' go without a fight."

Wesley chuckled - he couldn't not - felt...relief for Charles, that he had escaped so neatly and so totally without consequences. "Angel didn't have a chance. Charles arrived with his resignation and fully researched legal precedents supporting his decision and the legality of his request - Angel's dislike of lawyers has only increased of course. He's gone back to his old neighborhood, gone to work with a friend of his - Anne. They spent Angel's 'last day on earth' together at Anne's youth center."

"So he got out - why can't you?" Xander glanced at Wesley through his hair in time to catch the flinch.

"My situation is more complex." Wesley sighed and laid his chopsticks aside - put his elbows on the table and leaned on his clasped hands. "I - owe a great debt to Angel. And...there's Connor to consider, and Illyria... And the visions - it's not as easy as - as just leaving..."

A wave of anger - anger mingled with sorrow and want rolled off of Spike, impossible to ignore and Xander shivered under it. Because he knew what it was like for Wesley. Knew the kind of inertia it took to break free of the pull of loyalty to a chosen one. Knew how hard it was. How many excuses there were not to leave. He curled his fingers around Spike's on the table, still chilled from his champagne flute. "You know what? It's not easy - neither's reading a hundred different demonic languages but you do that."

Wes smiled tiredly. "Hardly a hundred, Xander, I -"

"You know what he means," Spike interrupted, leaning forward - making Wes look him in the eye. "You know exactly what he means. You're not - happy Wes! You don't belong there. Don't deserve to be the Power's little marionette and you bloody well don't deserve the great Souled One day after day."

Wesley snapped - set his chopsticks down with a furious click. "I am nobody's marionette, Spike! I have dedicated my life to the service of the Powers that Be and their Champions and I am not going to - going to be the one who cripples their cause because he was a coward!"

"No." Xander clamped a hand over Spike's mouth before he could answer - ignored the flicker of gold and the roil of pissed off demon. "No," he said again - quieter and shifted his fingers to stroke over Spike's cheek. "Had about as much of that as I can take sweetheart...okay?"

Spike glared - reached up yank Xander's hand away and then...stopped. 'Sweetheart.' Xander's gaze was - calm, and steady. And full of a quiet weariness and Spike heaved a sigh, closing his eyes for a moment. He took Xander's hand in his and turned it - pressed a kiss to the fingers, then the knuckles - then Xander's palm. "Course, love. M'sorry." He looked over at Wes who was white - hunched - trembling ever so slightly. He leaned up on the table and reached across - gently stroked his own hand down Wes' cheek and sighed again in relief when Wes pushed into the caress for a moment. "M' sorry, Wes, yeah? Don't want to fight with you."

Xander closed his eye, willed his heart back to normal as Spike calmed down - watched Wesley's color slowly return beneath Spike's touch. "Then don't." Xander didn't let go of Spike's hand when it twitched in his grasp, tightened his hold and lifted it to his lips.

Spike let his hand fall away from Wes' cheek - smiled at Xander for a moment, and the warm press of the man's lips on his knuckles. He saw their waitress and lifted his hand, then smiled at Wes who was looking - a little lost. "C'mon Wes - come back with us, yeah? Relax. We brought pillows - going to make a Nest first thing." Wes smiled - frowned - started to shake his head. "No fighting, Wes. Just say yes. Right?" Wesley sighed and then smiled for real, and leaned back in his chair.

"Yes. But - but that's - that's not it." Wesley looked at the table, fiddled with his chopsticks then his napkin; reached up to glasses he no longer wore and then pressed his palms flat on the table. "I've been - I have been considering your...offer..."

Spike listened to Wes' heart skip and skip and pound a little harder - a little faster. Drew in a breath thick with fear and longing - clean sweat and book-glue and old, dry leather. And a peppery richness that was the demon in him. God...smells so good...Xan - can you feel it? Feel this...

"Wes?" Spike interrupted softly, and Wes blinked over at him, his eyes wide and his lip caught and worried between his teeth. "You said 'yes', love. It's all right. We know. Unless you wanna change your mind." Spike shot a quick glance at Xander who was watching Wesley with a pensive smile, dropped a hand down to Spike's thigh to rub him through denim.

"Blink once for 'no' and twice for 'please take me back to your Nest of Throbbing Love and teach me the pleasures of the flesh you sexy beasts'."

Wesley blinked twice before he'd processed exactly what Xander had said and then flushed. "Xander, I - "

"Nuh!" Xander held up one then two fingers. "Once for no and twice for coming in to work tomorrow bow-legged."

Wesley blinked twice.

"I like a man who knows what he wants," Spike said. Their waitress panted up just then, waving the ticket and Spike handed her three hundred dollar bills - plus one extra and stood, pulling his duster on. "Now - let's go get started on the bow-legged part, yeah? Oi!" The waitress turned back - messy twist of oil-black hair and skin like old ivory - pretty little face like a painting and Spike smiled at her, 'come hither' look from under his lashes. "We want a bottle of that champagne for home, hai? Domo, kawaii."

Wesley watched her blush prettily, take Spike's money with a quick and proper little bow and a very improper giggle and hurry away. "And how many languages can you flirt in, Spike?"

"Just enough, mate. Just enough."


"Spike? Are we visiting a friend, or something? I thought you got us a room at one of those really fancy hotels?" Xander was staring at the house that was framed in the truck's front window, and Spike had to admit it deserved staring. White, grey and bluish stones. Stucco and old, weathered boards. Greenery like some tropical jungle and a covered, colonnaded porch that wrapped all the way around. Spike leaned over and grinned at Xander.

"No, love. Nobody here but us. And Marta the cook and a couple girls who clean. I rented it for us. There's a pool," he added, sliding a hand up the inseam of Wesley's jeans. "What do you think, pet?"

"I - I think I like this rather better than a drafty English manor." Wesley stammered but parted his thighs to Spike's attention - and to Xander's when he slid his hand up the inside of Wesley's other leg.

"I think I wanna get naked and wet." Xander gave Wesley's thigh a squeeze, tongue making a wicked appearance, making him look too like Spike for an instant.

"Didn't ask what you thought." Spike leaned over Wesley, eyes narrowing. Wesley's leg twitched beneath Spike's weight.

"When did that ever keep me from saying what's on my mind?" Xander shot back with a grin - dropped his head and met Spike's kiss, knuckles brushing Spike's as Wesley tried to make himself smaller. "Gotta admit - it's a pretty good idea. What do you think, Wes?"

Wesley felt his eyes going very wide as Spike's attention - and his gaze, which seemed to be composed of some sort of blue flame - was suddenly and completely on him.

"I - I hardly... I mean, isn't it a bit chilly to be swimming?"

"Heated pool, Wes," Spike murmured, and leaned in to graze his lips over Wes' cheek. "Warm, warm, water..."

"Naked flesh," Xander supplied, lips against Wesley's ear - teeth on Wesley's ear.

"I - I the neighbors..." Wesley's voice emerged distressingly like a moan and Spike's lips did taste so very good.

"Privacy fence," Spike countered, flicking his tongue over Wes' lower lip. His hand crept a little higher and he could feel the tips of Xander's fingers against his. Wes squeaked.

"Lots of trees too," Xander said against the side of Wesley's mouth, lips barely brushing Spike's, tongue tasting where he'd been. Spike was cold, Wesley so warm, weird and good -

A hand - Wesley no longer knew whose - had crept into his hair, was tugging, and his zipper was very loud in the truck's interior. "The servants - " And really, his protest would have been far more effective if he hadn't let Xander turn him in a hungry clash of lips and tongues that made his flesh leap within the cool grip surrounding it.

"They've got a private house in the back. Won't come unless they're called... Do you come when you're called, Wes?" Spike purred, pushing for a moment into Xander's cheek - brief nuzzle back - and then slowly trailing his mouth over Wes' jaw and throat - latching on and sucking gently. Feeling the surge of blood in Wes' cock and smelling it - feeling the heat of it flush through Wes' body. God...he has no lovely...

"Why don't you - try me and find out?" Wesley gasped into Xander's lips, Xander's tongue sweeping past his teeth to lay claim to him, steal away the startled whimper that burst forth as cool lips, chill suction swooped down on him as only a vampire could and Xander was kissing - kissing - his human heart beating so fast.

Xander tangled his fingers in Wesley's hair, short nails scratched over Wes' scalp, the back of his neck; rode the restless shifting of the slender body against him - wanted skin, and Wesley arched - cried out - quickly muffled by Xander's lips as hungry fingers fumbled up beneath his shirt, over and over stiffened flesh hardwired to his cock and the unbearable suction of Spike's mouth and - and Xander's mouth so hot against his and -

"Come," Xander whispered, the word scalding Wesley's lungs on a gasp that shot through him like wildfire.

"Christ, love -" Spike worked a hand between Xander and Wes, dislodging Xander's mouth. He turned Wes' head and got in his own kiss, tasting XanderWes and champagne and the lingering spice of wasabi - the warm pepper-spice of the demon. "Bloody brilliant, you are," he said, reluctantly pulling away so Wes could breathe. "Up for that swim now?"

Wesley closed his eyes, swirls of hot skin/cold skin crossing paths, chasing each other across his chest with every breath and he could hear Spike and Xander exchanging hungryslow kisses. His lips were dry from harsh breath and when he licked them, he could taste all three of them so clearly on his skin and the pheromones oozing off Xander with the musk of release and - and god the subtle salt-musk of Spike's arousal on the air made him light headed.


"Yes?" Xander prompted and Wesley pried his eyes open to find Xander and Spike cheek to cheek - watching him through half-lidded eyes.

"Yes," he breathed - shivered with the warm and close spice-musk air of the truck cab. "Yes."


The surface of the pool dimpled in the light drizzle that had begun to fall. Spike lay on the very bottom, near the core of the heating unit. Blissful as a lizard on a rock, watching the view. Wesley and Xander, swimming above him - playing in the water. Splashing, wrestling, and letting go of tensions. Naked, because they hadn't been in the house more than five minutes before Xander had seen the wide veranda - the layers of lush green - and the pool like a sapphire in the midst of it, steaming gently in the chill air. He'd stripped and made for the water like an otter and Spike had laughed - had turned to Wes and held out his hand and Wes had laughed, as well. It was too silly to modestly put on swim trunks after what had happened in the truck, and now Spike watched and waited.

Don't want to push too fast - don't want to scare him off. God, he tasted good...salt, spice, peppery-sweet... Wonder if he'll change next time he comes? Gonna make him so crazy for it he just...lets go...

"I keep forgetting he doesn't need to breathe," Wesley said, peering down through the water at Spike. "I have this urge to drag him to the side and perform CPR." Xander looked down, as well - waved at Spike. Spike made an obscene gesture.

"You could perform CPR on me," Xander said, and Wesley felt his face flush - again. He remembered a time when he could let himself go - give as good as he got with obscene suggestions. But that time - and Wesley - were gone as was the woman who made it possible. This was different.


Xander watched Wesley's flush spread and fade, still feeling that little jump in his chest when Wesley looked at him slyly - wanted and let Xander know.

This far from Spike, Xander couldn't feel more than a ripple of pleasure from him. Wanted to lure him to the top - or maybe rent an air tank and weight belt and join him on the bottom. Sweetheart if you put on a show down there I am going to drown.

"Xander?" Wesley watched Xander's eye lose focus, listened to his breathing slow and heart beat faster - something he'd noticed earlier that day as well. "Where do you go?"

Xander blinked, licked his lips and drifted closer to Wesley. He got an arm around Wesley's neck, knees bumping in the water, and murmured. "Spike's getting off on watching us." And I'm getting off on Spike getting off on watching us but hey - one pervy revelation at a time!

"But - we're not doing anything," Wesley said, and Xander pulled him a little closer, their bodies floating and bumping. Glancing touches of Xander's half-hard cock against his thigh - his belly. His own body responded, and he felt his heart start to beat a little faster - felt a rush of tingling heat in his groin.

"We could be," Xander murmured, and kissed him - slow, easy kiss, that took it's time. Xander's tongue leisurely finding every place in Wesley's mouth and stroking over and over. "You wanna know where I go, Wes?" Xander breathed, and Wes gripped the side of the pool, his forearms on Xander's shoulders.

"Yes - tell me..."

Xander tipped his head back against the side of the pool, let his legs float, wrap loosely around Wesley - kept him from drifting away in water that tugged at the ends of Xander's hair, tickled his shoulders. Felt good. Good like the gentle rock of half-hard flesh on flesh. "I go where Spike is."

Wesley had lost himself in lapping water, warm hands skimming over his back. "Hm. Yes - the two of you have been joined at the hip since you found him." Xander's lips were warm and tasted of chlorine, faintly of champagne and salt.

"No." Xander breathed against Wesley's lips - soft and firm and so nice to kiss. "Where he is. Now." Xander's eye drifted shut and an eddy of wind whipped his hair across his face. "It's so warm down there - feels like a hot mouth around his cock when he wraps his hand around it like he's doing now. It's getting to him - that he can see us but he can't hear us or scent us."

"You... Xander, are you saying that you can...sense Spike? You can...hear him, somehow?" Wesley braced his feet on the side of the pool and let himself bump gently against Xander - leaned forward and tongued a bead of water off his upper lip. "When did this happen?"

"Uh huh." Xander's tongue darted out to slide beneath Wesley's. "Uh huh," he said again, slipped a hand up to the nape of Wesley's neck and pulled him lower in the water, tasted the pepper-salt-chlorine flavor of his lower lip, eye half shut. Hips nudged lazily against hips, weightless bump and slide and Xander felt a tremor in the force that was Spike. "And after the conference. He's coming," Xander whispered against Wesley's neck - bit, and then tongued the mark provocatively as Spike surfaced.

Spike rose up behind Wes, one powerful kick getting him close, his hands on the pool's rim beside Wes' - pressing against him and crowding Wes into Xander - putting his own mouth opposite Xander's and licking - sucking - finally biting gently. Wes shivered all over, his head going back a little, and Spike brought his legs up, winding them over Xander's - around Wes' hips - pulling them closer still.

"You two...floating up here...touching and kissing...drivin' me crazy," he whispered, punctuating his words with small kisses - small bites that made Wes gasp softly. "So bloody lovely..."

"Like the show sweetheart?" Xander barely lifted his head and the words left shivery trails over wet skin, made Wesley shudder between them. Xander dropped a hand to Spike's thigh, rubbed water-warmed flesh that tugged them all closer together. He could feel the lazy burn of arousal off Spike, wrapping them like the water's currents and slipped down through Wesley's grasp - pushed off the bottom and rose behind Wesley as well, pulled his body into the Spike-Xander cradle with a warm hand across his belly. "It's too bad Spike sinks like a rock when he lets go."

"Oh, I - " Wesley clutched the side of the pool in a death grip, the teasing bites and Xander's hand - heavy and possessive across his stomach - making his head swim. "It's sh-shallow by the stairs," he managed finally, and gasped when Spike's cock slipped between his legs. Just gently pushing at his balls - skimming the sensitive skin of his inner thighs. "Oh -"

"Don't let go," Xander said against his ear, took a deep breath and dropped - slid like an otter between Wesley's legs, brush of hot tongue from Spike's balls to Wesley's tip. He suckled, chlorine and pepper-musk and the copper-bright taste of Spike in the back of his mouth and spark of Spike's want want now in the back of his mind. Heartbeat and water and hands in his hair and slippery slick wet skin everywhere he touched.

Spike felt the buck and full-body shudder go through Wes as Xander's mouth touched them and he wound his legs with Wes', opening them wider to the water and to Xander - buried his face in Wes' throat, licking and sucking up bruises in a slow and delicious trail from behind his ear to the top of his shoulder. Wes' heart was beating faster - still not human-normal, but different - and the spicy, demony scent of him was strong. "You taste so good, Wes," he said into Wes' hair - nuzzled his cheek in close and heard Xander surfacing again. "Can't wait to taste you again - can't wait for you to come in my mouth... I want Xander to know what you taste like..."

Wesley tried to reply - wanted to but as Xander took a quick breath and sank beneath the water again he could only moan against Spike's lips - tighten his fingers on the edge of the pool until concrete crumbled under their tips. Xander's hands were warm and strong stroking his inner thighs, pushing them apart and tonguing his way between them and god where had the boy learned to hold his breath so well? "He - he's going to know fairly soon."

Oh, not yet, Wes. Not just yet... Want you so fuckin' hot for it you can't even talk - can't even think. "Not just yet, love," Spike murmured, taking a firm grip on Wes' cock and squeezing, just enough. Xander surfaced again, tossing his head to the side, whipping water out of his eye. "Let's go inside Xan, yeah? Get the Nest made. Wanna get Wes all...warmed up." Xander knew. Touch and talk and wait - tease. Make Wes the focus of their attention - make it last. 'Only get to do it the first time once,' Spike had said somewhere outside of L.A. 'Let's make it take a while.'


Spike had kept his promise.

Taste and touch.

Tease and torment.

Hard and soft and hard until want was a slow burn for all three and Wesley had the drugged movements of a man half out of his mind, pushing into every touch however slight, however light; stretched out like a cat in the center of the nest and sheened with firelight and a fine film of almond oil Spike had sworn was only to relax him.

It worked brilliantly.

Spike was running his hand - light, hard, light, hard - up and down Wes' thigh - was sucking his nipple into his mouth and biting it gently - tonguing it and then blowing cool breath over it. Watching Wes' writhe - gasp - arch and twist and all but beg. It was time. Spike moved up until he could talk in Wes' ear - watching Xander stroke Wes' belly and just brush the head of his cock. Looked...hungry.

"You ready, Wes? You ready to be fucked? I wanna see Xander fuck you, Wes...want to see him hold your legs and push in so...slow... Want to see him make you scream. Wanna suck you off while he does it, Wes..." He knew Xander could hear him - scented the extra surge of wantwantwant that was coming, smoky and rich and heady off of the both of them.

"Would you let him do that, Wes? Let me do that...?" Spike bit gently at Wes' throat and smirked over at Xander when Wes gasped, whimpering.

"He's not the only one who wants, Wes." Xander watched Spike circle, round and round a spot on Wesley's throat that had him shivering - shuddering - and Xander's skin tingling in sympathy. "Gonna shove you so far down Spike's throat it'll take him an hour to get his voice back. And all you have gotta do..." Xander put his lips against Wesley's ear, felt Spike's fingers curl around the back of his neck and stroke. "Is say 'yes'."

Wesley nodded quickly - beyond words - beyond individual concepts that took more effort than now and for god's sake man - hurry up.

"What do you think, sweetheart? Will the judges permit a nod?"

Wesley felt as if he were bathing in liquid fire - felt as if he was drowning in ice and flame. He was floating and made of lead, all at the same time, and the demon inside him was struggling - snarling - wanting, so damn badly. Spike's mouth - Xander's mouth - their scents of clove and salt and citrus and musk - iron-tang of blood and clean sweat and he just...


"That's a good lad, Wes." Spike's voice was smoke and good whiskey - smooth and deep and peaty and stoking the fiery burn in Wesley's belly, making him moan embarrassingly when those fingers stopped teasing and completed their journey, slid on slick oil into him one then two - electrifying stretch that made his teeth click and clack against Xander's. Made his lips ache, stretched wide by Xander's passionate hungry response.

God - wants me wants -

Wesley sucked in breath - hard and aching so quickly as if now that Spike was done with teasing he wanted to waste no time at all and it felt wonderful, like nothing he could do for himself - nothing he'd felt in - "Years."

"Huh?" Xander pulled away and pulling away was bad - pulling away would simply not do and Wesley pulled Xander restlessly back to his lips, mobile tongue and barely chapped skin and the taste like want want want on his tongue.

"It's been - god Spike! - years since - "

Spike's fingers went still in him and Wesley whimpered - moved his hips, begging without words.

"Years, love?" Throaty purr, and Wesley turned his head, looking for that scent - that face.

"Spike - please, please - it''s more, it's..." But speech was deserting him again as Xander bit his neck - cupped his balls and tugged and rolled and then Spike pushed in again - three fingers this time. Exquisite burn, hard stretch, so good, so incredibly good and Wesley didn't know if he could take it - wanted to take it. Wanted them to simply devour him - consume him - never let him go, never -

"Never...let go, never...god, god - Xanderrr..."

The Nest shifted, gentle rock and shift of bodies - fingers withdrew and Xander was in - stole his breath, stole his words and everything burned stretched wide, wide, wide and so open. Nothing left to hide from them then Xander moved - molten slide that made him gasp, arch, grasp for Spike, for something anything solid. "Fuck Wesley - relax - gonna - hurt if you don't relax. Or - oh oh - okay that - that's good too."

Wesley shuddered, shivered around Xander - rippled and changed the sleek demon skin smooth-rough like sharkskin and so tight Xander caught his breath - stared down at the demon splayed wide and trembling for them; felt shock lust want rolling off Spike in waves of desire and satisfaction and sank into slick and smooth grasping impossible heat. "So - fuckin' beautiful, Wes."

Spike stroked his hands over the sleek, new skin of this Wes - this other Wes - halfling demon, magical creature, beautiful, beautiful man. He was moving and gasping and arching under Xander, as sinuous as a snake - as a cat. Claws sunk in the pillows of the Nest - legs around Xander's ribs and Spike kissed his way down Wes' belly to his cock. Darkly plum-colored, flared head and balls small and sleek and tight. Different - beautiful.

"So lovely, Wes..." Spike murmured, and bent his head to taste and then to engulf, sucking down the pepper-sweet-salt of Wes' demon flesh.

Wesley drew in a great breath, arched and pushed onto Xander, into Spike - rattling purr in his chest. Stared wide eyed down the length of his silvery-sheened body that framed Xander's darkly tanned skin, so human - so very human and he - "Never - never - !" and Xander's rhythm stuttered. "No - no keep going. God don't stop."

Oh - fuck. First time...Wes, you daft man... Spike pulled back from Wes' cock - leaned up and kissed him, stroking his skull - his face. Touching the spines, lightly and quickly, and Wes shivered. Xander had slowed - was moving in a languorous rhythm, his hands rubbing Wes' thighs and Spike reached back to touch him - connect.

"You've never done this, love? Never been the demon for this?" Wes' dazed eyes tracked to him and he shook his head. "It's all right, Wes. Just let it go. We'll take care of you." Spike kissed him again - a deep, possessive kiss, and then made his way down Wes' body, back to his cock. Back to driving him over the edge.

Wesley's fingers stretched and curled in the Nest; punctured silk, tore mindlessly into pillows. Xander was a distant aching tide filling him and leaving him empty over and over. From the first shudder of the demon emerging everything was more - was overload - he could smell the fresh copper-brine scent of Spike's pre-come, smell the pepper-iron tang of his blood and the musk-salt human scent pouring off Xander and wave after wave of dizzying human lust driving him mad with the demon's instinct to fight or run or - give in - to mate. Be marked.

"More - Xander please!" And god who had known that would be all it took? All it took was that length splitting him open and battering him from the inside - harder and rougher than he could have taken - could have wanted as a human and hungry hungry suction from Spike and - so close so close needneedneed -

Spike's hand on him suddenly, and Spike's mouth on his - moving to his throat and to his chest - pressure of teeth and then a sudden, sharp sting that Wes knew - knew were fangs. The sting rippled out, transmuting to impossible heat - to nettle-throbbing ache that traveled down his body in waves. Xander pushed his legs higher - kissed him and licked at him and then blunt human teeth were closing onto his shoulder, grinding bite of more painstingingheat that became pressure that became the rollers of an ocean as wave after wave of mindless, shaking sensation crashed through him. Wes felt his body bow upwards - felt his hands clench down tight and his mouth open and he shrieked - hoarse, bull-roaring scream that had nothing remotely human in it.

Spike's mouth was suddenly on his cock again, coolwetpressure and he felt Spike swallowing - felt Xander kissing, rubbing - still thrusting, and Wes gasped for breath after breath, the orgasm longer than a human one - more exquisitely knife-edged and pleasurepain than anything he'd ever felt. Oh god, oh god...want... "Want...want..." he whispered hoarsely, and Spike slid his mouth off Wes' cock - took his mouth in a hard kiss that tasted of himself, of Spike - of Xander and of blood.

And oh Xander was moving gently again - slow thorough strokes that stretched and burned and tested the resilience of this skin every time; made pleasure ripple under the surface and Wesley could hear himself gasping, hear the rattling purr and Spike's whiskey-smoke chuckle as he claimed Xander's lips and shared the flavor Wesley still tasted behind his teeth, under his tongue. So - sexy together his mind supplied lazily, rocked and soothed, stretched and filled, buzzing and tingling at the tip of every nerve.

Spike did taste of pepper-sweet and salty copper musk and the almond in the body oil that made Wesley gleam, made Spike's lips slick and warm and slightly bitter against Xander's, lust affection mine rolling off Spike, rolling off the demon within Spike. It infected Xander, infused him, warmed his body and fizzed in every vein. "Share, stingy guy." Xander nipped at Spike's jaw, his throat.

Spike tipped his head, his demon voicing a rumbling growl-purr, counterpoint to the rattling sound of pleasure that was faintly vibrating Wes' whole body. Xander nuzzled in closer - licked and then sucked and then bit, drawing a mouthful of blood with a moan of pleasure. Spike felt the blood hit him - felt the jolt go through Xander's body, heard his heart kick up and smiled - bent his own head around to sink fangs into Xander's throat and roll the hot, sweet blood over his tongue. Iron-spice tang competing with the sharp copper of Wes' blood and Spike groaned - pulled away. Wes was wide open - breathing in deep, hard gasps, his hands stroking over Xander's arms and belly, leaving little welts when his claws snagged on skin.

The dark-rosy blood of Spike's earlier bite had smeared on Wesley's chest and Spike leaned down to lick it off - to lick and nibble and suck his way to Wes' mouth. To continue to touch and take and learn every inch.


Wesley woke to his human body, to warm silk and eviscerated pillows that tickled his nose with their spilled stuffing. To a crackling fire in the expansive marble fireplace and to the distant sounds of -

Ahhhh. That must be breakfast.

Wes stretched hard, feeling pleasantly achy - deliciously used - in a way that made him shiver all over. He rose slowly and caught sight of a heavy terry-cloth robe, lying over the arm of a chair. He hesitated a moment and then picked it up - caught a whiff of spicesaltsweet and knew it was Xander's robe. He put it on and snuggled into it, then made his way to the kitchen.

There were opaque blinds across all the windows and sunlight glowed behind them, gold-green and thick as syrup. Xander was perched on a stool, wearing some faded green sweats, torso and arms a road-map of pleasure-pain: welts and scratches and livid bites and he looked pale but utterly satisfied. The Watcher in Wesley worried - felt guilt for his part in marking Xander - but he looked so...satisfied. As did Spike, who was sitting on the counter-top near the stove, his own robe slipping off his shoulders and flapping around his shins.

"No, love - that can't be right. You sure you know how to make this?" The heavy-set black woman at the stove - her hair a mass of beaded braids and her dress a riot of jewel tones - smacked at Spike's hand.

"You stay out of that. I am the cook! I've been makin' this for forty years!" She shot Wes a friendly once-over and then turned back to the stove, stirring something that smelled - heavenly.

"Call that biscuits? And gravy? It's not even properly gravy colored. S' not supposed to be white like that."

Xander leaned his cheek on his folded hand and gave Wesley a lazy grin, traced a prominent scratch across his ribs and his eyelid fluttered shut with lustful memory. "Breakfast is American biscuits with gravy and hot coffee - and whatever Spike demands for himself because for a guy who brings me sushi and weird shit I can't pronounce, he is really fussy about breakfast." When he held out his hand to Wesley, the Englishman came to him like a toy on a string and he caught Wesley around the waist for a sweet-slow morning kiss tasting of sugared coffee.

Wesley glanced at the basket of baked goods and nodded as sagely as he could with Xander's hands making him want to arch and purr like a cat. "Ah. Scones."

Xander raised an eyebrow and Marta aimed another slap at Spike's prodding fingers, then whirled and fixed Wesley with a decidedly unhappy glare.

"I don't cook scones. I cool good, pan-baked biscuits just like my mama did and if somebody don't make this fool get away from my stove I'm gonna have to do some serious damage." She heaved an impressive bosom up, then down, and Wesley leaned against Xander and smiled faintly. "Now - what you want for breakfast?"

"Pan-baked biscuits with gravy would be lovely. Thank you." Wesley slid his hands along Xander's forearms and closed his eyes. "They smell heavenly."

"Now there's an Englishman whose mama taught him some manners." Marta poked at Spike with a wooden spoon - hard.

"Spike has manners," Xander said and ignored Spike's laser glare, nipped his way provocatively up Wesley's neck instead.

Wesley gasped - shuddered - felt it was only proper to agree. "Excellent manners - which he chooses not to use in polite company as a matter of principle."

Spike snapped his teeth at Marta and then jumped down - stalked around the enormous kitchen island toward Wes. "You're right, Wes - where are my manners? Need to give you a proper good morning." Spike pounced and had Wes' robe open - his own - and in a matter of seconds was pressing up tight, skin to skin and a kiss that took Wes' breath away.

"Morning, love," Spike purred, nipping at Wes' lip and listening to him pant, satisfied.

"G-good morning, Spike, I... I'm so sorry, Marta -" Marta rolled her eyes, going to refrigerator and pulling out a carton of eggs.

"Ain't nothin' I ain't seen before, though I don't think I ever seen one that white," she said, and Xander hunched over the island in a fit of laughter, coffee spewing out of his mouth.

"They don't come any whiter than Spike." Xander agreed, mopping with napkins. He grinned and tugged the other two back into range, accepting his third or fourth good morning kiss from Spike since arriving in the kitchen. Spike shoved the coffee away and put the glass of orange juice back into Xander's hand with a glare. Xander drank meekly.

"Charles said that as well." Wesley ducked his head, not entirely comfortable with his nakedness pressed tight and warm to Spike's skin in the presence of an absolute stranger.

"So'd Oz. Pause to marvel." Xander ducked a swat from Spike and nibbled into his neck, into the bite that hadn't completely healed yet.

"Careful, pet," Spike grinned, pushing into Xander's heat - into the fragrant, delicious skin in the crook of his neck. Then he paused, thinking. "Don't think Charlie-boy ever actually saw me bollocks to the wind...did he?"

"That day in Angel's office," Wes murmured, glancing furtively at the oblivious Marta, and Xander snickered.

"Story!! Oh please, story," he begged in a hushed voice, rubbed his thumb over the bite on Wesley's throat too and watched him briefly shimmer silver-blue.

"That's right..." Spike lifted an eyebrow at Wes, his tongue darting out to lick his upper lip. "That was a bit of all right, that," he added, and had to kiss Wes again, delighting in simply being able to, reveling in Wesley's warmth, Xander's warmth. Leaned hard into Xander and ran circles around Wesley's abused nipple with the edge of his thumbnail.

Xander closed his eye to savor the rush of smug satisfaction that tingled through him this close to Spike, made him wish he had more than a pair of ratty sweat pants between him and Marta's eyes - or maybe less. The brain cells jury was out, cloistered and ordering pizza for lunch. "Story," Xander demanded again in his best I am three years old voice with the brain cells he had left.

Wesley was blushing, and the rush of delicious heat and scent made Spike close his eyes, basking for a moment. Then he pulled Wes a little closer and shuffled them both between Xander's thighs, ignoring Marta's snort and muttered 'none of that in my kitchen' and the creak of Xander's thighs spreading wider so early on the morning after.

"Well, it's Wes, innit love? Shouting at the poof, all wild-eyed and hot under the collar and then Angel has to go poncing out, doesn't he, bein' the Batvamp and Wes is in there, and I walk in..." Spike stopped and rubbed against Wes, full-body press and a thread of purr. "Couldn't resist, could I? I grabbed him and snogged him and before I know what's happenin' I'm bent over the desk and Wes is givin' it to me somethin' fierce... And Charlie-boy comes in lookin' for Angel... Thought he'd choke on his latte." Spike snickered, but his hands were caressing down Wes' back - up Xander's thigh. "You were lovely, pet," he whispered to Wesley, and Wes smiled at him, ducking his head.

"Somebody's got a kink for desk sex at the office." Xander sing-songed into Spike's ear, rested his cheek against a bony shoulder and watched Wesley's rosy blush recede.

"Didn't complain much, did you?"

Xander nudged half hard flesh against Spike's thigh, blew on the mark he'd left the night before. "Excuse me - did I say it was you?"

"Breakfast!" Marta said, and they all jumped. She eyed them and then thumped a bowlful of gravy down on the island - rapidly added a plate heaped with sausage and bacon and uncovered the pyramid of fluffy biscuits. "Juice in the 'fridge, 'an here's fruit -" turn and turn back and a bowlful of fresh, mixed fruit appeared. "Plates in the warmer, silver here." She stopped and looked at the three of them, her dark eyes appraising and narrow. "Don' you be touchin' my stove or my pans. I'll clean up when you done." Then she turned and stomped out.

Even Xander could hear a distant door slam behind Marta and Wesley relaxed at last, slipped his hands out of the sleeves of his robe and around Spike's waist. "Tell me, Spike - did you get a discount in the rate for hiring her on?" His voice and expression were serious but his eyes hinted at laughter.

"Marta? She's a gem, pet - said she'd make me Eggs Benedict with blood sauce 'stead of Hollandaise..." At Xander and Wes' identical horrified looks Spike broke down, snorting laughter, and Xander whapped at him.

"Stop that, evil undead, and pass the gravy. I'm starved."

Wesley listened to Xander and Spike bicker and banter over the breakfast, over the pool, over the Nest and who left the most towels on the floor back home.

It was... It reminded him of happier times at Angel Investigations.

With benefits.

He closed his eyes against the building pressure in his sinuses, pinched the bridge of his nose but let his hand drop when Spike looked up at him - suspiciously. "All right, pet?"

Wesley shook his head, the words coming to him quickly, naturally - and automatically. "Yes. I'm fine. A bit of a headache. It was quite a night."

Spike looked less convinced than Angel would have but apparently satisfied by a warm touch and a warmer smile. Wesley only hoped that it would wait until he could leave the room - hoped it would be something simple he could phone in to Angel.

"Excuse me. Some demons still retain certain human bodily functions when we eat." Wesley pushed away from the kitchen island - felt the dizziness creeping in around the edges of consciousness by the time he reached the bathroom and realized that it would have been much more thoughtful to his knees to have stopped at the Nest as the vision crashed down on him and his world tilted eighty degrees to the left.

"Wes? Wes, you sodding bastard -" Spike got an arm under Wes where he was sagging against the counter, his palm pressed to his forehead and his face white and strained. "C'mon, come lie down - Xan, get on that side -" Xander slipped under Wes' other shoulder, his mouth thin and tight and they walked Wes carefully back to the Nest - settled him on the more intact pillows. "You think I'd forgotten about the bloody visions? Think I forgot they way they made you feel?" Spike glared at Wes, whose eyes were closed, and Xander reached out and smoothed a hand down Spike's arm.

"Is he gonna be okay?"

"Mostly," Spike muttered, and gently pulled a throw up over Wes' legs.

"Is he gonna be a moron about it when he wakes up?"

Spike snorted, fussed with the blanket and pillows. "Mostly."

Making sure Wesley was comfortable, Xander crawled over him to wrap himself around Spike, catch his hands and tuck them up safely between them. "This is what happens to him all the time?"

"Yeah." Reluctance in Spike's aura. Unhappiness threaded with anger.

"Does it hurt him?"

The reluctance and anger soared, swiftly tamped down. "No."

Xander shivered, heard and felt Spike's teeth grind and eased the blond head down onto his shoulder, rubbed the steel-stiff muscles in Spike's neck. "I hate it too."

Wes made a small sound - shivered - and he was his demon. He opened his eyes slowly, shading them from the light, and Spike glared down at him, not lifting his head. "You git."

"I'm really quite all right, Spike, you needn't -" As Wes tried to sit up Spike reached out and pushed him down - leaned down until he was inches from Wes' face.

"Don't start this shite with me, Wesley," he hissed, and then sat back up, leaning hard on Xander but lacing his fingers with Wes' - squeezing hard.

Wesley sighed - he sounded so tired. "You have to let me up, Spike. I've got to call Angel. Got to tell him." He was flickering and shivering - in and out, human and demon, hair and spines. Squeezed Spike's hand then used it to pull himself upright, leaning heavily on them both.

"Wes - "

"This is not open for debate!"

Xander flinched away from the sharpness in Wesley's voice - a growl when he was closer to the demon's side.

"Lie down, Wes! Fuck's sake, Xan can get your cell," Spike snapped - pushed, because Wes might not suffer the agonies that Cordelia apparently had, but he still hurt and the dizziness made it worse. "What if you fall, damn-it?" he added, as Xander scrambled out of the Nest and dug through Wes' discarded clothes for the cell.

"Then I fall! For god's sake, Spike I am not fragile!" Wesley clutched his head with both hands and moaned, sinking back into the pillows. "Give me the fucking telephone before it drives me mad!" Images flickered, swam, chased each other across the back of his skull, a throbbing loop of what will be. He grabbed the phone before Xander could kneel, called up Angel's number with shaking fingers and curled onto his side. "Angel. Get to the East Hills Teen Center. Vampires - who used to be regulars. Anne and Charles don't know. No - I don't know. When - when The Simpsons is on. I see it on the television behind them - "

"Six o'clock."

"Xander says - Oh. I see Andrew is finally earning his - it was Connor?" Wesley inched his way to Spike until his cheek pressed to one cool knee and closed his eyes. "Seven - no, twelve of them. Five come from upstairs."

Wes finally clicked the phone shut and then just lay there, his head pillowed on Spike and his eyes closed and Spike sighed and began to stroke his back. "Change, love. You said it helps." Wes lifted his head a little, looking up at him and Spike saw confusion and then sadness before he lay back down. And changed, shimmer of skin and bone and muscle, and Spike was stroking the fine-grained, oddly sleek skin that was the blue-grey of twilight.

"I'd rather...gotten out of the habit. I don't change around Angel..."

"More fool you," Spike said, but he kept his voice soft. Xander slithered around in the Nest until he was behind Wes and curled up around him, arm over Wes' ribs and his hand gently stroking Wes' stomach.

"What's it like?" Xander felt the flare of anger from Spike, reluctance to have even this much to do with the visions. Still didn't know what to say - but hey he was physical comfort man. That, he could do. "What do you see?"

"It's - rather confusing at first. It's not dissimilar to a teaser trailer for an action show you've never watched before. I may pick out a face, a location - a word here and there." Wesley groped until he got his hand around Xander's and pressed back into the warmth hesitantly - gasped when Xander pulled him back firmly instead and held him there, nuzzling into his neck. "It doesn't hurt me as badly as Cordelia's visions hurt her but the Powers...compensated."

Spike's eyes narrowed. "Something you didn't tell me, Wes?"

"The visions continue to replay until I've relayed them to a true Champion. It's...a guarantee that the message goes to someone who can do something about it." Wesley pressed Xander's palm flat to his chest and counted human heartbeats against his own. "It guarantees I won't take matters into my own hands."

"That really sucks," Xander muttered into Wes' hair, and Spike agreed - had thought that since the beginning, when Wes had come back from the dead with his new 'powers' and his new demon-self. The Powers That Be really did not have a thimble-full of mercy in them.

"And Angel knows so it's done now, yeah? Done and you just rest, mate." Spike stroked the hairless scalp, brushing the spines and Wes closed his eyes, his breathing slowing and slowing as he relaxed. Xander's hand smoothed his belly, over and over, and after a little while Spike shifted and Wes' dark eyes glanced up at him.

"What is it? Am I squashing your leg?"

"No, pet - you're fine. I just...wondered. Last time you came to see us you didn't know what you wanted." Spike traced the angular features - ran a fingertip up one pointed ear. "What made you change your mind?"



Wesley chuckled into Spike's thigh, pressed his palm over Xander's fingers. "I'm afraid so."

"You been talkin' to Wes behind my back, pet?"

"What did I do?"

"Paved the way for a wonderful shag." Wesley patted Xander's hand, grimaced as even that small movement made his head pound and sighed. "You were right - that's all."

"Not that I'm not used to hearing I'm right - and by the way I am not used to hearing I'm right, so say that again any time you want to - but what am I right about?"

"The only path to freedom when you walk in the shadows of Champions is the path of being true to your own desires."

Xander's eyebrows drew down, confusion clouding his eye. "Uh - pretty sure I never said that."

"Be yourself," Spike translated, slid cool fingers over the tattoo covering Xander's shoulders.

"Oh. Huh." Xander grinned, traced the bones in Spike's hand. "Didn't know you were listening."

"I always listen. I'm a Watcher... Errr, that sounds rather odd," Wes continued, as Xander sniggered into Wes' back. "What I meant is that I...notice things. And I I would be a very poor Watcher - or even ex-Watcher - if I could not see the inherent wisdom in what you do. And the so tiring. So very...tiring." Spike leaned down to kiss Wes' shoulder and grinned at Xander, who smiled back, an absurdly pleased grin on his face.

"I'm wise? I mean - I am wise. In a not wise guy sense." Xander took a deep breath, caught Spike's raised eyebrow and returned an embarrassed smile. "Um. I mean, thanks."

"You camouflage it well, love," Spike deadpanned, then grinned, and Wes poked him in the leg.

"Don't make fun, Spike - I would never... We would never be here if it weren't for him."

"I'm very grateful," Spike said, bending to give Xander a slow kiss. Then he delicately turned Wes' head just enough, and kissed the other man as well. "And I'm glad you're smart enough to know who to listen to."

"'Cause if you listened to Spike, you would have tried hitting Angel until he agreed with you instead - and that kinda never works." Xander grinned shamelessly.


The sunset was lurid - the sky all bruise-blue and mercurochrome-orange, skeined with brown rags of polluted clouds. Spike wrinkled his nose at it and followed Wes and Xander into the Ali Baba, lighting up a smoke just as he stepped in. Knowing it would piss Angel off, but knowing that Angel was going to be pissed, anyway, and why not enjoy a smoke? The lobby was still stacked with papers, but most had been moved to tall piles along the right-hand side and Andrew was crouched over one of them, lips moving silently as he read the top page.

"Wesley! I was worried about you! Where have you been! You had a vision and you didn't come in!" Andrew's face was pink and Spike idly contemplated his plan for getting Andrew laid. It might take a bit of the squeak out of him.

Xander leaned into Spike's side and watched Wesley wrangle Andrew with the finesse of a master. It was impressive.

"Everything is fine, Andrew. I trust you completely in my absence." Wesley clapped Andrew on the shoulder in passing, disappeared into his office before the expression of stunned pleasure on Andrew's face reached full wattage.

"You're moving up in the world, Andrew."

"I am? Of course I am! I am a fully trained Watcher of the New Council, after all!" Andrew looked closely at Xander and Spike. "Have you been biting each other? Because the books say that's bad, and Xander you really should put some Bactine on that."

"Huh? No, no - it's fine -" Xander recoiled slightly as Andrew scampered over, peering at his neck, one finger coming up to poke -

"Sod off!" Spike growled, and Andrew pulled back and clasped his hands behind his back - took on a 'scholarly' air that Spike privately thought looked more like constipation. Lips pursed, Andrew paced away a few steps and paced back - whirled, suddenly, that finger coming out again.

"Ah ha! Theodora Montcollier Armistage! In 1643 she wrote of a local woman who had been thralled and taken under the sinister spell of a local Master Vam-pyre! The evil creature -"

"Bloody hell!" Spike lunged and Xander yanked on the tails of his coat, pulling him off balance.

Xander hauled hard - turned him around and held on tight. Hunger and annoyance cutting sharply into Spike's limited supply of patience - pulled Spike's head down to the wound in his neck. The urge for hunt still made Xander shiver and harden. He licked his lips at the feeling of Spike's tongue curling experimentally over the wound. "Don't taunt the vampire, Andrew."

Spike nipped sharply at Xander's neck - sucked up the tiny drop of blood there and then turned to look at Andrew, demon-faced as Xander shuddered. He took a last drag on his cigarette and blew the smoke at the pale, tense boy. "I don't have that thrall, you wanker. That was Dru, as you lot well know. Ask Rupert about it some time."

Andrew seemed about to speak when there was a sort of ripple - subtle as the faintest wash of perfume from an old trunk. Angel was back - was slamming right through the doors and Andrew jumped.

Xander's hold tightened on Spike as Angel swept through the lobby like a thundercloud, a clattering of armed Slayers in his wake. "All of you - stay where you are."

Indignation rolled off Spike and he jerked in Xander's arms, opened his mouth and had it filled immediately with warm and friendly tongue, still orange juice sweet. "Finally, an order I can follow." Words muttered into Spike's lips, for Spike's ears only.

Spike didn't mind kissing Xander, and did his best to ignore the six or so Slayers that stood around the lobby, weapons in hand. He was vaguely aware of Andrew bustling around and the Slayers talking, but really, Xander's heat and sweet-citrus scent, and his hand on Spike's ass under the duster - his rapidly hardening cock pressing into Spike's hip - were a far more pleasant distraction. In fact, distracting enough that he didn't hear Angel say anything at all.

The hand clamping down bruisingly hard on his shoulder got through though, and he swung around on pure instinct, game-face, snarling, and his fist lashing out, straight into Angel's chin. Kaleidoscope vision of Andrew's round, open mouth and three Slayer's starting forward, weapons raised, and Wes in the archway, his eyes flashing black for just a moment.

Angel's head snapped to the side and he turned slowly slowly back to face Spike and Xander, dark eyes flickering yellow. He looked from Spike to Xander behind Spike's shoulder - flicked a glance at Xander's hands sliding around Spike's waist, resting possessively on his hips, then lifted his eyes.

"I said maybe Spike and Xander would like to explain to us why they neglected to mention the power harvest in Sunnydale."

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