Snakes and Ladders


by
Reremouse & Tabaqui



Square Nineteen

Sunnydale smelled like storms and dust and mud - and a little bit like Wesley when he changed, the pepper-sharp scent of here there be demons that made Xander's hair stand on end. Kinda turned him on too, but he was long past the age of his confusion about demons. Demons could be pretty sexy when they weren't trying to eat him or rip his head off to mate with him.

Xander paused in his packing and glanced through the office door at Spike, who was sprawled out on the living room floor and sorting his music collection into an acceptable pile that was coming with them to L.A. and a bigger pile that Xander had little hope of ever hearing again. Spike had Xander's lone Alice Cooper CD playing, cranked up loud and unholy. Yesyesyes and strength and mine leapt from Spike to Xander like a livewire. Then Spike looked up with a wicked curl of his tongue and Xander's heartbeat picked up a notch.

Oh yeah - the demon magnetism mojo was working for him now.

Xander bit off a piece of tape and wrestled the box closed. It was labeled office. It'd join the box labeled bathroom and the one labeled bedroom.

This time, he wasn't leaving anything important behind on the Hellmouth. Or under it.

'I wear lace and I wear black leather...' Alice sang, and Spike tossed a badly scratched ELO CD into the 'discard' pile. Tracking Xander through the link; want and possessiveness and yes, and a skein of bittersweetness through it all as Xander sorted his things. The linens and throws of the Nests had already been stacked in the truck, along with a number of pillows. The rest were crammed as tightly into garbage bags as vampiric strength and industrial plastic allowed. Only eight garbage bags - probably more bags then there would be boxes. Spike looked up as Xander carried his 'office' box into the denuded kitchen.

'Tell me where the hell I'm going...let my bones fall in the dust. Can't you hear that ghost that's calling...as my Colt begins to rust...'

"All right, love?" Spike had to ask, and Xander patted the 'office' box and looked over at him, tiny frown creasing his forehead. Spike turned down the music as Xander crossed the room - sat up between the 'keep' and 'throw into the bloody ocean' piles of CDs.

"I was going to put in a loft where the roof peaks and the windows look inland and at the ocean. I thought I could put a mattress up there and it'd be warm in the winter and cool in the summer." Xander settled onto the floor, feeling the home/not home pull of the house. "I don't like it when a window's just for decoration. I wanted to replace them with something that'd open and let in the breeze."

"We can find another house, Xander. One that's not -" They both froze then, as something - stutter phantasm like a bleached photograph - faded in through the fireplace and was gone again, leaving a chill in its wake. Darkly slate-green clouds outside and the seemingly endless rain pattering on the roof and windows and if the ghosts were out and about during the day, it was one more reason to get the hell out.

"That doesn't have those things in it," Spike muttered and Xander poked at the CD discard pile, still frowning just a little. Sad and something complicated that was home and nostalgia and mine notmine from him, and Spike reached out and combed his fingers gently through Xander's hair. "Be all right, love," he said helplessly.

"Yeah - if it's got you in it, it'll be home. I just - god, I was so...happy. I had so many plans. I was so proud this place was mine and I could paint the walls with palm trees and parrots if I wanted to." Xander felt a blast of horror, swiftly muffled, and tipped into Spike's embrace with a snicker. "I don't want to. Relax, sweetheart."

"Bloody shirts scarred you forever, Xander. No parrots," Spike added, kissing whatever he could reach and tugging Xander gradually down until he was on his back and Xander was half sprawled over him, heat and weight that was home and love no matter what. "We'll find something better. Do it up right. Promise, love."

'Promise - love'. Two words that were rapidly creeping into Xander's heart and twisting it around their little pale fingers in a nice way. He could get used to sharing the caretaking duties in the relationship. Besides, Spike's hands felt so nice on his back and his skin was so cool on the tender skin around his eye. "A crypt for two? With the home improvement vampire?"

"Twenty-room mansion, if you like, or a bloody yurt. I don't care." Spike rubbed his chin slowly back and forth over Xander's skull, the long, silky hair lying across Spike's throat and smelling faintly of orange and smoke. "Me an' Dru, we stayed some places for months and some places for only days... I'll leave the house-picking up to you." Another ghost shivered into existence near the kitchen thru-way and Spike jerked then frowned, angry at himself for flinching. "Should get this done, yeah? Get the fuck out of here."

"Yeah. Break time's over, Harris. Get back to work." Xander tipped his face up to brush his lips over Spike's then sat up and looked around the living room. Furniture. Big electronics. Xander poked at his emotions surrounding their loss because face it, relief hadn't been on his expected short list. "Let's load up. I'm done." Happy, when all was said and done. Happy to feel the weight of the place slide off his shoulders. The weight of the Hellmouth, it seemed, finally letting him go.


~*~*~*~*~


It hadn't rained too much that day but the air was still wet - thick with moisture and chilly enough to make Wesley shiver as he stood on his front step, looking down the street. Looking for Xander's truck, and not seeing it. Trying not to worry, because that felt... Stupid. And a bit helpless, and entirely too...wet. Spike can take care of any threat the Hellmouth has to offer...and the greater Los Angeles area, for that matter. And Xander won't let him do anything...rash Wesley thought back to the stories Xander had told him - midnight motorcycle drives and sex on truck-stop picnic tables and fights in the demon underground of Sunnydale - and slumped. Or maybe he will.

Sighing softly, Wesley went back inside and settled at his desk - found a translation he had been laboring over and got to work, determined to wait Spike and Xander out and not to worry.

Something was...bumping. Thumping? Rapping at my chamber door? No, no... Wesley stood up and hissed, back stiff and legs half asleep. A glance at the clock showed him nearly two hours had passed and thump thump at the front door. He moved stiffly to open it and was confronted by a wall of wrinkled black plastic.

"Open the bloody door, Wes!" Spike's voice, from somewhere behind the wall and Wesley stepped back, pulling the door wide. The plastic heaved forward - stuck for a moment - and then burst inward, shredding itself on the jamb. Wesley jumped back but it was too late - a shower of pillows pelted him and he grabbed at them, trying to save them from hitting the floor.

"God damn-it! Fuck - sorry, Wes," Spike stood in the doorway, more bulging garbage-bags in his arms and the shreds of at least two hanging from his fingers. Wesley couldn't stop his grin and Spike grinned back. Then Wesley schooled his features to a frown and snatched at pillows.

"Just why are you assaulting me with pillows, Spike?" he asked, and Spike pushed forward, shredding another bag and kicking pillows out of the way.

"Brought the Nest down, didn't we? You don't have a Nest, love."

"Oh, for heaven's sake - you're getting them wet!" Wesley rescued more pillows before Spike could get his sodden boots on them and heard Xander coming up the walk.

"Blind man coming through!" Xander announced and Wesley heard the telltale rustling of more black plastic. He cast a nervous glance back at the bedroom.

"You do realize this is a one bedroom cottage, not a three bedroom, full sized - "

"Stucco and chicken wire monstrosity," Spike finished, lobbing his last bag onto the couch and turning to recover Xander's from him. "Mind the step, pet."

Wesley waited for Xander's defense of his home - which failed to come. Instead, he found himself with an armful of Xander and a mouthful of Xander tongue that tasted of rain and smoke and the unmistakable tang of Spike's blood. Which - oh! - explained everything, really.

Wesley's back met the wall solidly, making their teeth clack together and he tipped his head back, breathing hard - but not quite ready to remove his hands from Xander's arse just yet.

"Hey," Xander said.

"Hey," Wesley murmured, feeling a little dazed and moving in for more of those sweet-spicy kisses. Xander made an incoherent sound against his lips and leaned into him, pressing Wesley back into the wall and kissing as if it had been months and not days since they'd last seen each other.

"Still got a whole truck to unload," Spike said and Xander pulled back. Turned to Spike who simply shouldered in and now Wesley was kissing Spike, who had one fist in Wesley's shirt, crumpling it. And one on Xander, it seemed, since Xander squeaked and jumped, pushing his hip into Wesley's thigh.

"Hey, I don't want to make Wesley feel unloved." Xander worked a hand between them, sliding up the thick inner seam of Wesley's jeans leg and feeling the narrow muscles twitch and jump under his palm - heat and cold between Spike and Wes' touch. "Feeling loved yet?" Xander's teeth closed with remarkable accuracy over Wes' neck and Wes jumped - moaned into Spike's mouth helplessly. "He sounds loved."

"Is loved," Spike said, leaning one shoulder into the wall and mimicking Xander - nibbling his way down Wes' neck to the collar of his shirt - undoing a button and finding the fever-warm ridge of Wes' collarbone with his tongue. Wes' head thumped gently into the wall and Xander chuckled. Spike undid another button on Wes' shirt and arched in pleasure as Wes' hand finally fumbled under Spike's duster and found skin - ran his hand and his nails up Spike's back.

"Bloody hell." Wesley curled his fingers over the sharp angle of Spike's shoulder blade, fighting the change that would bring out his claws. He shivered in the cool rain-scented breeze curling in the door and clutched at Spike when Xander's fingers closed, warm and strong, around his cock, rubbing, rubbing through his jeans - and then not through his jeans in a move too quick for his lust-fogged brain to follow.

"Can't argue with that," Xander agreed, fleeting kiss to Wesley's cheek and then warm, mobile lips sliding down to Wesley's cock - making him jump and clutch at Spike with unsteady hands.

"The - d-door is - open - oh god - Xander -" Wesley stammered, giving up and giving in and letting the change come - moaning as Spike immediately caressed his scalp - ran cool hands over his back, nudging the spines and sending shivers through him. "S-sspike, the do-or..."

Spike growled - disengaged for mere seconds to slam the door shut and then he was sliding down Wesley's body and his mouth was joining Xander's, cool and warm together and Wesley just closed his eyes and grabbed - hung on.

Hot, slick and pepper-salty, with the cool brush and slide of Spike's tongue and the lusty pulse that was Spike himself. Xander chuckled around Wesley's flesh - savored the strangled groan from above them and wondered if Wes was watching. Wondered if he could see the play of tongues teasing swollen skin, plum-purple tender and slick or if his eyes were squeezed shut, like Xander's. Xander opened his eye to find Spike's gaze hazy and upturned, watching.

Spike blinked - looked at Xander for one moment and then back up at Wesley - watched as Wes' claws scored the plaster of the wall. Then he turned his concentration onto Wes' cock - onto the orgasm he could feel, brimming and trembling just under the surface.

"Isn't he fuckin' lovely, Xan, when he's like this? So turned on he can't talk..." Spike kissed Xander around Wes' hot, succulent flesh - tugged at Wes' jeans and got his hand up and behind, to press and stroke sensitive, secret skin. Wes writhed and Xander's teeth nipped gently at him, and Spike had to wind his other hand in Xander's hair - sink into the lust that was like an electric current from Xander and that was pure, sweet-salt musk from Wes.

"Let's make him come, Xan...take the edge off so we can give him a proper 'we missed you' shag..."

"Give him lots of orgasms," Xander mumbled and ducked - lips barely brushing the drawn-up skin of Wesley's balls, hot breath that made him tremble. Xander gave him thirty seconds. "Check."

Voices blurred into wordless buzzing and Wesley let go, arching into the wall with a growl that was all demon and a roar in his ears like the sea, all rushing white along his nerves; tingling, floating numbness in its wake. The aftershocks rippled through his skin - under his skin and under his scalp and he pressed his cheek to the wall to gain his breath, shivering.

Spike trailed his tongue a last time up the softening flesh of Wes' cock - grabbed Xander and hauled him upright, kissing him along the way. Sharing Wes' sweet-pepper taste and sharing the iron-tang of blood as Xander bit Spike's still-healing lip. Casualty of rush-hour dead-stop almost-sex. They both leaned into Wes and Spike turned to look at the older man - blinked, and nudged Xander.

"Look, Xan. That's -"

"New," Xander said, wide-eyed. The spines along Wes' scalp were lifting and lowering - shimmering through a rainbow of colors. Like a cuttlefish but faint, so faint.

"What?" Wes asked, looked dazedly around at them - the demon shifting away as he got his breath and his senses back.

"Change back." Xander pushed his fingers through Wesley's hair and watched as the spines shivered into existence again before brushing them with his fingertips and watching them ripple in his wake. "They move."

"I - oh..." Wesley shook again, a tremor that shivered away the demon and left him sagging against the wall. "They seem - seem to have become somewhat more sensitive as well."

"That right?" Spike asked, and the glee and - promise - in his voice made Wesley shiver again in anticipation.

"Yes, they - Xander? My - god, you -" Wesley stood up straight, his hands going out automatically to cradle Xander's face - turn him toward the light. The graceful arabesque of rich, reddish ink that curled around the empty socket of Xander's face still looked a bit sore, and Wesley traced the line that curved down onto Xander's cheekbone - watched the younger man shiver under his touch. "Oh, it's..."

Xander couldn't hide his grin - didn't hide the shivers Wesley's warm, dry fingers over the sore skin sent through him. "New?"

"Stunning. But are you certain -?" Wesley realized Xander was staring at him and flushed. "Yes, of course you're certain. I'm sorry."

"Kinda permanent." Xander leaned his face into Wesley's touch, leaned into Wesley.

"There are many tribes, both demon and human, where young warriors do fierce battle for the right to this sort of decoration." Wesley waited until Xander's eye opened and focused on him. "I don't believe any of them would find you lacking."

You always know what to say, Wes. Always say the right thing. Warrior is right... Spike stroked Wes' chest in appreciation and affection - watched a huge smile bloom across Xander's face even as he blushed.

"Really?" Xander asked, and Wes smiled back - touched the tattoo again and then slid his hand back into Xander's hair.

"Really, Xander. You've earned such a thing. And...it's beautiful."

"You said that," Spike murmured, pulling Xander closer - wanting them skin on skin, in the bed - in the Nest they were going to construct.

"It bore repeating," Wesley said, and kissed Xander's forehead - nose - eyelid and then the tattoo, gently.

Xander breathed in the mingled scents - peppermusk lust and Spike's tequila-smoke - and nuzzled his way to Wesley's ear. "Spike got a couple of new toys in Ojai." He felt Wesley's jolt and stepped back with a grin and a stretch. "All in favor of building the Nest and getting naked?"

"Aye."

"Too fuckin' right."

"The people have reached a consensus!"


~*~*~*~*~


Spike gunned the motorcycle's engine - blasted away from the intersection and down the street, grinning. Hearing the appreciative yells from other cruisers, admiring his custom bike. Or maybe admiring the luscious human draped over his back like a second skin. Either was good. Xander's arms tightened around his ribs and Spike went a little faster, whipping around a corner and taking deep breaths of the rain-washed air. Heading downtown - going to find a nest of vamps. Going to kick a little ass and not worry about the policy of it, or the politics, or if it was right. Just doing it, for the sheer thrill of the dance. And for Wes, of course.

"Turn here!" Xander freed an arm from Spike's waist, squinting into the wind at the street signs, Spike's back a comfortable and solid warmth beneath him - still holding on to the heat from the bath. The bath that had been interrupted by the highlight reel of a vampire attack about to happen. "Wes said off Seventh and Mateo. Near the bus station." Xander's hair was still wet but there was a live current under his skin - a jump of adrenaline like he used to feel before patrols in high school, knowing the big gun was on his side.

"Ta!" Spike yelled back, leaning into the curve and sweeping neatly around a slow-moving Honda. Ahead, still several blocks away he could see the Greyhound Bus sign, glowing against a backdrop of seedy buildings. Stupid fledges, picking such a shite neighborhood. Spike pressed back into Xander, shivering slightly. Wes' vision had come, and he'd said something dazedly about calling Angel. And Xander had asked what he'd seen and then... And then he'd told them, and then - the vision had stopped. It wasn't supposed to stop cycling until Wes had told 'the Champion'. Spike couldn't help wondering - aloud, and slightly desperately, if that meant Xander were a Champion.

Stupid fucking Powers. I didn't volunteer for any bloody martyrdom. But Wes...had been so happy. Pillock, Spike thought fondly, and ducked into the station parking lot.

Get the vamps before the vamps get on a bus and turn it into their all night buffet. Simple enough, in theory - but why? What made the people on this bus any more important than all Xander's classmates who had nasty accidents with barbeque forks?

That was one of the questions Xander planned to ask if he ever had an audience with the Powers, right after 'Have you always been such sadistic fucks, or have you improved with age?'

Xander didn't plan on surviving that meeting if it ever happened, but he hoped they'd deign to answer before he died.

"Wes said there was green light but all I see is red and blue - and street lights."

"We'll find it," Spike said. "Rather be clearing out a nest on Rodeo - better pickings after." Spike parked the bike and turned it off - searched for a cigarette and lighter while Xander climbed off and stretched a little, patting himself down for the pair of stakes he'd stashed in his coat. Spike lit up and inhaled deeply - got off the bike as well and sauntered toward the station. Green light...shouldn't be too hard... "Sodding visions...need to find a way out of that for Wes. He can't be doing this forever."

"The job does have a higher turnover rate than the Doublemeat Palace. And we know what that meant now." Xander passed Spike a stake. A bus rumbled by on its way into the back lot, blowing Xander's hair across his face before he pushed it away. No patch - no patch now ever, and it was probably his imagination but it was like he could see better now, without it. "It was outside, so let's check the alleys."

Years of trailing safely behind the Slayer were not wasted on Xander; he was sticking to the walls and the safe places behind Spike, ready to lend the pointy end of his stake. "I think they only transferred 'cause Doyle was about to die - and I kinda - okay I really like Wes alive. It seems like a lifetime gig."

"Yeah, Wes said." Spike sighed - squinted through smoke and the misty air. There was nothing remotely green in this alley. "Let's try one over, yeah?" He caught Xander's hand this time - squeezed it lightly before letting go, grinning over at the man. Xander grinned back and they walked briskly out of the alley, going in search of another one.

"Bingo," Xander said softly behind him, and Spike let the demon rise - felt the tingling pop of demon as the vamps they were searching for came into view. Beside him, Xander shivered - feeling that pop in the link, Spike was sure.

"Time to play," Spike replied softly.

At the end of the alley, a go-light flickered green; intermittent cast of a malfunctioning bulb. Xander stepped forward in the time-honored tradition of bait guy. "Hey guys - are you taking the 9:40 to Escondido? Cause I hate to break it to you but - you're gonna miss it." So, it wasn't up to Slayer standards. Xander couldn't let a Slay go by in silence - it was the principle of the thing.

"Huh," Spike said, and then he was moving, leather and spiky-haired blur and two vamps were bowled over backwards, one crashing into a wall, the other going down hard on his tailbone. Xander thought he might have heard a crack.

"What, you didn't like my preslay quippage?" Xander asked, moving forward - stalking the tail-bone vamp who was moving in a crablike manner across the alley floor. Spike staked a third vamp and ducked a kick from a fourth. Xander readied his stake for tail-bone vamp.

"Slayer's had better, love. You need more practice," Spike said - growled and did a spinning kick into a gangly vamp with a length of chain in his hand - vamp number five.

"It's not like my life is overrun with vamp stakeage." Xander paused, straddling tailbone vamp and looking up at Spike. "Well - not this kind of vamp stakeage."

"You've gotta be fucking kidding me!" Tailbone vamp yelped - squirmed, wriggled and pounced Xander onto his back. The stake went flying and Xander remembered why the quips were for preslay and postslay and not midslay. Trying to hold a vampire's fangs away from his jugular was a great reminder. Super reminder. Kinda late reminder!

"You know - you could probably still make your bus if you left right now."

And holy hounds of Hades, the vamp actually checked his watch! Grab stake. Stake with stake! And the crowd goes wild! Xander dropped back onto the pavement, coughing on vampire dust. Oh yeah - just like old times.

"Christ, love," Spike stretched out his hand and hauled Xander to his feet, brushing at Xander's shirt. "That shite's harder on your lungs than cigarettes." There was a clatter and a sixth vamp lunged from behind a defunct soda machine, heading for the alley entrance. Spike made a disgusted noise and hefted his stake - aimed and let fly and smirked in satisfaction as the vamp exploded into particles. Xander winced and touched his tattoo.

"It didn't get messed up, did it?" he asked anxiously, and Spike tilted his head toward the light, examining him critically.

"Nah, looks fine. Let's go get a drink, yeah?"

"You said something about going up to Rodeo for good postslay pickings...?" Xander slipped an arm around Spike's waist, under the duster, where the skin was still holding the last of its borrowed heat.

"Probably a nest or a lair or something we could toss. Unless you care if I break into that shop - the one with the weird spy stuff?"

"Sharper Image?" Xander asked, and Spike felt around for another cigarette - lit up and pulled Xander closer. Xander leaned into the pull and bumped them off a wall, kissing. "Get a few drinks in me before we talk about knocking over Sharper Image."

"Whatever you like, pet," Spike said - leaned in to press his nose into the skin behind Xander's ear, taking in a deep breath and letting Xander's scent saturate his lungs. "Find a nice present for Wes," he added, thumb caressing the silver ring Xander had given him.

Cool lips on warm skin - Pavlov's dog was never better trained than Xander. He tilted his head away, sliding his hand up the back of Spike's neck. "There's that adult shop on Olympic - " Spike nipped and he shivered " - where we can get something very nice for Wesley. And then we'll go somewhere Cordelia-approved to get something nice he can show off at work."

"Mmmm...like that idea. Bloody brilliant." Spike nipped again and enjoyed the shiver that ran through Xander's body - leaned back, finally, and tugged Xander into a faster walk. "Got to find something else to do first, though - Wes needs a few hours alone with his books."

"Hussy," Xander muttered, and then giggled, and Spike bumped him with his hip.

"Let's go cheat some wankers outta their paychecks. I know a bar with a couple good pool tables."

"You want to hustle pool with a man with no depth perception?"

"They'll think you're an easy mark, love," Spike grinned. "We'll make a bloody fortune."


~*~*~*~*~


"Where's Wes?" Xander asked the pillow, too tired and sore to contemplate lifting his head.

Or possibly too hung over to contemplate lifting his head.

In either case, no head-lifting was happening soon.

But that was no reason for Spike's fingers to stop with the rubbing. Nice rubbing and clearly Spike and holy god was Xander glad they'd made the Nest before getting hammered.

Xander remembered slayage in there somewhere too.

He also remembered why he didn't drink.

"Wes is getting water. Or aspirin. Or both. Or...more alcohol. I'm not sure," Spike muttered, pushing a little harder into the warm flesh of Xander's back - pushing his face into silken, wind-knotted hair that still held the faint tang of bar-smoke and lemons and pre-dawn mist off the sea. Xander groaned. There was the sound of water running and then shutting off and then Wes was back, walking carefully across the floor. Carefully because there was no floor. All the architectural knowledge that Xander possessed - and all the growled expletives that Spike had unleashed - had not made Wes' bed any bigger, or the pillows stack any better. About a third of the Nest was on the floor. It made the floor Nesty, as well, which was good. Spike distinctly remembered falling to the floor with a Wesley attached to him and being grateful for the over-spill.

Wes lowered himself to the bed with two bottles - water and aspirin. Immediately, Spike reached over and pulled him close, squishing Xander and making the man groan again, a little louder.

Wesley swayed close to Spike, tempted by the swollen gloss of his lower lip that still tasted faintly of cigarettes and whiskey and the raw vampire flavor of sex and blood. "I was only gone a moment," he protested, feeling himself grabbed and held and kissed with greedy hunger he couldn't help but return.

"Water, aspirin, alcohol or a gun to the head. Now, please." Xander gave up his struggle before it began, boneless between two bodies.

"Can't resist you, Wes - mmm...cinnamon..." Spike kissed Wes until the toothpaste taste was fading and Xander was groaning loudly, a sulky edge to his voice and something like whimper in the link. Spike let Wes up for air and looked down at Xander, who had turned over and was staring pitifully up at them.

"Water? Aspirin?" he pleaded, and Spike patted him on the cheek.

"No more tequila shots for you, love." Wes made a snorting sound and fished for the bottles - cracked one and then the other and solicitously helped Xander up, cradling Xander between his thighs and doling out pills. Xander swallowed and then swallowed some more, until half the water was gone.

"At least Wes loves me enough to help me," he pouted, snuggling back into the older man's arms. Wes grinned over the dark head and winked at Spike.

Xander's hair was soft and warm and silky - and did smell of clubs, wind and smog and he pushed into Wesley's combing fingers like a furry pet. "It isn't love, I assure you. It's empathy." Wesley pressed a kiss to the crown of Xander's head with the careful gentleness of a man who has been to hell in a hangover many times.

"I'll take what I can get," Xander mumbled, trying not to snicker at Spike's cocktail of amusementaffectionlust and the knowledge that Spike was sharing his headache - and maybe the nice good scratch-scratch of Wesley's fingernails over his scalp.

"Wait - you don't love me?" Xander turned a bloodshot and half-closed eye on Wes - not his best effort at 'big, sad, and teary' - and Wesley stared for one horrified moment before breaking into wheezing snickers. Xander humphed and wormed away, burying his face in the pillows again. Spike leaned on Xander's buttocks - somehow, they look affronted! Wesley thought - and pulled Wesley down again, silencing all laughter in a scorching kiss.

"Course he loves you, pet," Spike said, between kisses, and Wesley reached blindly and found - a shoulder.

"Of course I do, Xander. Let me - ooh - let me show you..."

"Nooooo..." Xander moaned, as the Nest they'd built bounced under Spike's enthusiasm. "I believe you. Show me later." Xander pulled a pillow over his head with a moan and hoped to suffocate where it was warm and dark and soft and smelled like demons and humans and sex. His dreams of great ways to die hadn't changed much over the years - except he'd always thought he'd be one of the ones having the sex.

"Poor thing," Wes crooned, stroking his back, and Spike's cool tongue traced the tattoo on his bicep, followed by nibbling teeth.

"I'm never drinking like that again," Xander said. "Go 'way and let me die in peace."

"Feelin' a bit...peckish, Wes. Pancakes?" Spike sat up and crawled away.

"IHOP doesn't deliver," Wes said, but the voices were moving away, and Xander sighed and burrowed into darkness, hoping the anvil chorus in his head would be gone the next time he surfaced.

"There's..." Wesley opened his cabinets and winced.

"Leeks?" Spike asked.

"Leeks and whiskey," Wesley admitted. "I went shopping."

"For whiskey."

"Spike, you can't object to whiskey. It's - it's hypocritical."

"I'm evil - I'm allowed hypocrisy. Leeks, however..." Spike shuddered and jumped up onto the counter - pulled Wes between his thighs and wrapped his arms around him. "Does anybody deliver pancakes? Or maybe waffles. This is L.A.! There has to be waffle delivery." Wes' skin tasted deliciously of sweat and pepper and tea and Xander, and Spike licked a trail up his shoulder and pushed into the warm crook of Wes' neck, humming happily.

"I'm afraid shopping is - is in order...oh, right there -" They both jumped when Xander's phone cried 'more more more!'. "When did he change his ringtone?"

"Shoot it or answer it!" Xander shouted from the bedroom, punctuated by the thump of a thrown pillow against the adjoining wall.

Spike reluctantly pushed Wes aside and jumped down, heading for the kitchen table. "Bloody Billy bloody Idol and his bloody cheek. 'Oh no, Spike, wouldn't dream of stealin' your look, mate! It's just for the night!' Bloody poser." He snatched Xander's jeans from where they'd landed over a pile of Wes' notes and found the cell phone - snapped it open.

"Xander's phone, he's dead," he growled.

"Then you're going to have to give me the directions and I'll pay last respects when I get there," Carl said.

"What?"

"Directions to yours. As in, I need them," Carl said. "And Alex has them."

Spike stared at the phone for a moment and then tossed it to Wesley with a shrug. "It's Xander's mate. He needs directions." Spike grabbed his cigarettes and gestured to the door.

"Xander's ma - Spike, which one?" Wesley lifted the phone gingerly to his ear. "Hello?"

A warm chuckle, California accent. "Carlos Ayala. Alex calls me Carl."

"Oh, you. Yes, Xan - Alex has mentioned you. I'm sorry we didn't have a chance to meet when I was visiting him in Sunnydale. Where are you coming from?"

Spike listened with half an ear as Wes told Carl how to get to the house. He waded through the pillows on the bedroom floor to grab a clean pair of jeans and slapped Xander on the ass as he went by. "Carl's coming. Better get up," he said, grinning. Something like horror! shot through the link and Xander jolted upright, his hair a rat's nest.

"What? Carl? Where?"

"On the road. Headed here." Spike sauntered out, doing up the bottom couple of buttons on his jeans and was intercepted by an irate Wes.

"Spike, why didn't you tell me someone was coming by? This house isn't fit for pigs, let alone guests." Wesley gestured and Spike looked around at scattered clothes, shredded plastic bags, boxes, books, papers, take-out leftovers and the overspill of pillows from the Nest. He shrugged and tapped out a cigarette.

"Carl won't care, love - he's a man."

"With a wife and three kids. Jesus Christ. The sun's out today." Xander scowled and squinted in the bedroom doorway and then retreated to the bathroom, muttering and slamming things, and Wes started shifting books.

Spike leaned in the front doorway, protected by Wes' out-of-control wisteria and smoked. "Not the soddin' apocalypse. Just Carl."


~*~*~*~*~


"And this is my mother in law, Mariposa Villarreal."

From the corner of his eye, Xander saw horror flicker over Wesley's face and pitied him his half-hearted shuffle to block the chaotic living room from view. Wes shook hands in greeting and stuttered out abject apologies that Xander knew weren't necessary from long personal experience. And from the knowing smirk on Abuela Mariposa's face.

"You live life, you make a mess. Don't worry." She waved Xander closer and gave him a pat on the cheek light enough not to make his skin crawl and whimper with pain. He thought he was doing pretty good playing Mr. Subtle Hangover too - until she spoke. "Alex - you take this, okay? It's good for hangovers." Xander tried not to groan - or turn green - while taking the heavy bag of tamales out of Mariposa's hands; large hands, hands that hadn't been shy about their work in over half a century.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Abuela!" Spike swooped in from somewhere and kissed the woman on the cheek, grinning like a hyena and Mariposa patted his cheek rather hard.

"You! You aren't taking care of Alex. Look at him!"

"He just can't hold his liquor," Spike scoffed. Xander made a face at him which he ignored. Spike reached out and snagged Wesley closer. "Did you meet our Wes? What'd you think?" Wes squirmed a little and Xander rolled his eyes - carried the tamales into the kitchen. Carl followed him, lugging a cooler.

"I think you're not taking care of him either." Mariposa cocked her head and put a hand against the center of Wesley's chest and he flinched - but couldn't back away with Spike's arm around him. "Huh." She gave his chest a pat and stepped into the room.

Mariposa followed Carl and Xander into the kitchen and Spike tugged at Wes' arm and kept him in the living room for a moment, snuggling close and kissing his neck. He'd felt the little shudder go through Wes when Mariposa had touched him. She was la curandera - a healer - and powerful in her own right, and you couldn't be a demon and not feel her. Even Wes, only half-demon and still so new to everything could sense her.

"She wouldn't hurt a flea, Wes," Spike murmured, and Wes looked over at him, smiling hesitantly.

"Then I wasn't...imagining...?

"Not at all. She's got power to spare, but it all goes for helping. Now - let's go see to those tamales. Xander won't have the stomach for 'em - that means more for us."

Xander didn't, fleeing to the living room at the first savory whiff and told himself that Mariposa's wicked chuckle couldn't possibly be directed at him.

Who was he kidding?

Of course it was directed at him.

That woman had a smirk that could win Spike's professional approval.

Unfortunately, his cowardly flight from the land of culinary treats left him standing awkwardly in the living room being callously smirked at and it was too late to turn it in a casual stroll to the couch. For one thing, there was nothing on the couch but an empty takeout bag.

So when his phone rang, he blessed whoever it was, swore to talk to them for as long as they wanted to talk to him and waded manfully into the Nest in search of his phone.

"Abuela - now don't. We're just here to visit, not -"

"Carlos, what? I just need a pot to heat the soup in! What am I supposed to do, heat it by magic?" Mariposa rolled her eyes and opened another cabinet, tsking as she saw the bare shelf and tin of leeks. "This is a kitchen? This is a disgrace! Spike! What sort of way is this to take care of family, huh?"

"Not my house, Abuela - it's Wes' kitchen."

"And you're his novio! You're supposed to look out for him! Is this the only pot you have?" Abuela turned her gimlet gaze on Wes and Spike hugged him closer. Wes gaped for a moment and then stepped manfully up.

"Well, I - well, yes. I don't - don't do a lot of cooking and a - a plethora of pots and pans seemed...seemed foolish."

Xander snickered as he unearthed the phone. Do not fight Abuela Villarreal, Wes. The next thing you know, you'll wake up in the kitchen section of Bed Bath and Beyond with a cart full of pots and no idea how you got there. He flipped his phone open and answered quietly enough not to jar any of his surviving brain cells. "Speak quietly and this conversation will go on a lot longer."

"Xander?" Giles spoke quietly. Blessedly quietly.

"I love you."

Giles chuckled - warm and not loud. "This is somewhat sudden. What about Spike?"

"Spike is a bad, bad vampire who comes bearing tequila."

"Ah. I see. If he comes bearing a drink involving a raw egg and claims of a miracle hangover cure, he's lying."

"Not a raw bloody egg! That's disgusting! Tabasco sauce!" Spike yelled, and Xander snickered - winced. He waded back out to the living room and slouched down on the couch, closing his eye.

"No eggs, no Tabasco, no hair of the dog. I just need some Demerol or something."

"That will teach you to go drinking with a vampire," Giles chuckled, and Xander smiled. In the kitchen there was a clatter and a string of soft curses from Spike - a burst of Spanish from Mariposa that Xander was too tired to translate. Something about pans and...dear god - goat's milk?

"Never, ever again. I promise. I'll be good," Xander moaned. Another soft laugh from Giles and Xander took a deep breath. "So, what's the up, Giles? Something new?"

"Nothing you aren't aware of." Giles' voice warmed considerably and Xander realized how glad he was to hear Giles' voice with that tone - directed at him. "You and Spike made quite a stir at Angel Investigations."

Xander groaned. Okay, suddenly less glad. "Who snitched?"

"A dozen Slayers. Have you forgotten already how quickly gossip spreads between teenaged girls?"

The memory of a dozen pairs of eyes took a throbbing journey through Xander's skull and he remembered suddenly that each had email and a council-equipped cell phone. It was worse than a spy network. "If this is the phone call about responsibility and duty and not pissing off Angel too much, can I take a rain check?"

"This is the call about are you all right, Xander?"

Xander pulled the phone away from his ear to stare at it. Giles' number was still displayed on the screen. "There's a possibility I'm hallucinating - but other than hung over, yeah. I'm - I'm great. Spike's great - this isn't the call where you try to talk me out of the me and Spike thing, is it?"

"No. It's not that call either."

Thank Christ, Spike thought, listening in on Xander's conversation and feeling the surprise and gladness rippling out from the man. 'Bout time the Watcher figured enough was enough. Spike hopped up onto the kitchen counter and watched with a smirk as Abuela showed Wes how to sharpen a carving knife. Wes - who could hone a knife to a sharpness that could split one thought from another - was taking it all in stride. Standing there with his blue eyes shaded by half-lowered lids, and his mouth curving up in a gentle smile. Beautiful man...so fucking special...

"Abuela, leave the man alone! He knows how to sharpen a knife."

"A hunting knife, maybe - this is different! Stir the soup, Carlos, don't just agitate it like a washing machine. Bring the vegetables up from the bottom." Carl rolled his eyes and went back to soup duty and Spike recoiled slightly as he turned from smirking at Carl to find Abuela Mariposa not ten inches from him.

"And do you think that the kitchen counter is where you should be sitting, Spike? Food is prepared there." Spike nodded and slid down, edging toward the living room and catching the gleam of amusement in Wes' eyes. "Although what sort of food is prepared in here is the question. Carlos! I must go to the market."

A thread of what felt suspiciously like a cry for help wound through Xander and he muffled a laugh.

"I wasn't aware the English weather was so amusing." Giles' voice was dry and Xander scrambled backward through his memories trying to remember what Giles had said about the weather. Funny - it was hard to think with Spike edging his way toward the living room.

Xander made room for his sudden armful of vampire and shifted the phone, wave of amusement and love from Spike who was still watching Wesley - and that was good too. "Well, it is kinda funny when you say it's raining and act all surprised. I mean London? I'm thinking rain and brollies."

"That...sounds so very wrong when you say it. Please don't say it again." Giles warm, amused - affectionate voice made Xander feel a wave of nostalgia and Spike turned on the cushions and tugged him close, hand going to Xander's hair and petting gently.

"It's like a virus - Spike and Wes are infecting me with weird English words all the time. I'm a sick, sick man," Xander said, leaning into the petting and closing his eye again. Spike's cool fingers made his head feel better, too. There was a noise near the front door and then a sharp knock and Wes hurried out of the kitchen, looking relieved. He opened the door and stepped back hastily as a figure in coat and hat pushed through.

"Russ?" Spike called, sitting up, and another figure came inside.

Russ, for sure, who helped Sol struggle out of his oversized trench coat. Once his head was free, Sol lifted his nose to the air and sniffled. A ripple ran through his sleek fur and he narrowed his eyes, tongue curling out over sharp teeth before he stalked to the kitchen, a demon of purpose.

"Ssmellss good."

"Then you stir, gatito. Carlos stirs like he's mixing concrete."

Sol snickered, plucking the spoon from Carl's hand and shooing him with a delicately-clawed hand. "You go. No good at stove cooking."

"What? No greetings for us?" Spike twisted in Xander's hold to face the kitchen.

Xander watched Sol flick a dismissive gesture at them, his attention focused entirely on the pot. Sol was a demon of priorities in the kitchen. The food came first.

"Yesss. Is whatever. You don't cook." Sol grinned wickedly. "You iss all bad at stove cooking."

"He wouldn't let me stop at McDonalds." Russ sank into a chair with a creak and a sigh. "Starving all the way here and he wouldn't let me stop at McDonalds."

"MacDonaldsss," Sol said, a wealth of scorn in his voice. "That iss not food."

"He's absolutely right. McDonalds is trash. Russ, you look terrible, has Sol been keeping you up nights?"

"Abuela!" Carl groaned, and Mariposa grinned, coming around the low wall that divided the kitchen from the living room to walk over to Russ and pat him on the head.

"All right, Carlos, I make him tell me. Come have tamales, Russ. I brought them for Xander but he's too sick to eat them." A sharp look from Mariposa and Spike wrapped his arms a little tighter around Xander, shielding him.

"Let him be, Senora Abuela, his head hurts," Spike chided.

"A raw egg in brandy will fix that," Mariposa called over her shoulder, and Xander groaned. Russ hauled himself upright and went into the kitchen, making 'feed the poor starving man' noises at Sol, who whapped him with his tail.

Xander snuggled lower under Spike, basked in possessivepossessive and snickered. "When did you change sides?"

"Didn't change sides, love. Always on your side." Spike kissed carefully, sweetly and like Xander might break - and he had to admit he still felt like that was a possibility.

"Like you on my side." Xander tugged Spike over and ruffled a hand into his hair.

"Charming as this is, Xander, you do remember you're on the telephone with me, don't you?"

Xander jerked back from the guilty verge of forgetting he was on the telephone and groaned. "Sorry, Giles."

"Lemme have that," Spike said, and slipped the phone out of Xander's hands. "What's the news, Rupert?" he asked, and heard a sigh come down the line.

"I'm sure you heard everything I said, Spike," Giles replied, and Spike nodded to himself.

"That I did. Rain, and the new secretary has her lip pierced and...you bein' good to my boy. 'Bout time, Rupert."

"Yes, I... Yes, it was," Giles said, and Spike handed the phone back to Xander with a grin - got up off the couch to rescue Wesley from Mariposa, who was asking him if he had any cleaning supplies.

"You're being nice to Spike too, Giles. I -" Xander found himself without words as he watched Spike barge his way into the tiny kitchen behind Sol's back and around Russ' bulk, Wesley wedged into his corner with Mariposa, the warmth so intense for a moment his headache went away. Totally mad fucking in love. "Thanks." To the silence on the other end of the phone, he watched Spike taste the soup, dodge Sol's tail (and claws), pour himself a whiskey - and at that point, Xander's stomach rebelled and he had to find something else to look at.

Like the ceiling.

"This is an awkward moment in the conversation," Giles observed.

"It's okay. We're handling it like men in manly companionable silence."

"At international rates."

Xander grinned up at the spider crawling across the ceiling. "Bill the Council."

"Rest assured, I will be putting this down as a Hellmouth expense. Xander...Angel said -"

"I'll bet I know exactly what he said. But we were serious, Giles. We're just - done. We just wanna...put it behind us. I'm tired of working in graveyards, Giles, and Spike's tired of living in them."

Another silence, after that, that wasn't quite as comfortable, and Xander listened to the trans-Atlantic connection pop and hiss in his ear, faint and whispery. Giles sighed.

"I suppose I can - understand that, Xander. It's been - hard on all of us but you're...still there... Angel was nearly apoplectic. I had to cover the mouthpiece." Xander snorted, and Giles chuckled, and the mood went back to lighter - went back to better. Love from Spike and Xander watched the spider drop down on a strand of web, swaying slightly in the air-currents in the house. Big air current as the front door opened and Gunn limped in.

"Hey - Wes, you havin' a party and forget to invite me?" He dropped a heavy bag by the front door. "And there's three kids and a hot babe hanging in your magnolia tree."

"Charles! Thank god!"

Xander watched Wes struggle his way through the throng of four in the kitchen and snickered at the sudden stunned silence on the phone. "Good lord, Xander! How many people are there? Wesley said he lived in a small one bedroom cottage."

"He does. You should see it. It's so crowded, Spike should lie on top of me to save space."

"Should I, pet?" Spike said, sauntering over, bottle in one hand and shot glass in the other. Xander rolled his eyes and Spike flopped down, head in Xander's lap and feet dangling over the arm of the couch. Wes stood near the door, speaking in a low voice to Gunn who was watching with wide eyes as Sol and Mariposa bickered over whether or not to add salt to the soup.

"I think we're done here, don't you?" Giles was saying, and Xander grinned into the phone.

"Probably. You don't think I'd make out with Spike while I was on the phone, do you?"

There was a moment's silence and then Giles cleared his throat. "Um. Not as such, however...Wesley mentioned -"

"C'mere and lemme kiss you, love," Spike said loudly and Xander giggled - held his head.

"I'm too hung over to make out. And not in front of Abuela, anyway. I'll call you soon Giles, okay?"

"Yes, please do. Be careful...the both of you."

"Yeah. Bye, Giles," Xander said, and then there was nothing but the soft purr of a dead line and Xander folded up his phone. Smiled as Spike reached and stroked his cheek.

"All right, love?"

"You mean aside from my head splitting like an overripe cantaloupe, right?" Xander dropped his phone onto the side table and leaned his cheek into Spike's stroking fingers. "Yeah. I'm so much more than all right, I'm booked into the Penthouse suite of the All Right Hilton." He let his eye close, toyed with the soft-washed peroxide curls under his fingers. "With a tray of strawberries and champagne - " Xander winced. "Okay, a tray of strawberries and whipped cream, a hot tub and -"

"Changa!" Mariposa yelled out the kitchen window. "Get out of that tree! We're going to the store!"

"- peace and quiet."

Mariel came into the house looking overheated and a little harassed, dragging Alejandro by the hand. He was six, very stubborn, and at the moment filthily dirty and Spike saw Wesley shudder and put out a hand - then stop and turn back to Gunn, squaring his shoulders and obviously doing his best to ignore the scatter of twigs and shredded leaves that Jan left in his wake.

"Jan needs the bathroom," Mariel said in passing, grinning at Spike and Xander.

"I do not!" Jan groused, but let himself be pushed inside and the door shut.

"Don't make a mess!" Mariel pushed her hair back out of her face and turned to the kitchen. "Sol! How are you? Hey, Russ. Mami! What are you doing? Leave that alone, what will Mr. Wyndam-Pryce think!" Mariel lunged at her mother, who was rifling through the junk draw in the kitchen.

"There's no church key, changa."

"We'll buy one," Mariel said, slamming the drawer and giving Sol a one-armed hug - air-kissing Russ. Xander was giggling hysterically into a pillow and snorted helplessly when Jan came out of the bathroom, sans jeans.

"These won't button!" he yelled.

"No kids," Xander whispered to Spike, who was watching with a kind of fascinated horror as Jan stomped over to their couch.

"Jander! Button me."

Xander groaned and sat up, dislodging Spike's head and taking the grubby pants. "You've gotta learn to put your own pants on, buddy. Sit on the table."

"No. None. Ever," Spike agreed as Paloma - middle, girl, eight, attitude - stalked into the house.

"Are we going or what? I want to go!"

"Going where?" Jan asked, kicking his feet. Xander whapped them.

"To the store," Paloma said and Spike watched Jan pout and Mariel roll her eyes.

"Yeah, never," Spike repeated. "Why don't we just slip into the bedroom -"

"Do you have a lot of pillow fights?" Jan had turned all of his attention on Spike. "There were lots of pillows. There was even a pillow in the bathroom."

Xander remembered clutching that pillow under his aching head on the cool tile floor and blushed. "Yeah. Tons of pillow fights. Every night, we're...fighting in the pillows."

"Mmm, yeah. Pillow fights. Rolling and pouncing and...biting -"

"Spike!" Mariel tugged Jan's jeans up - tugged the boy up and buttoned and zipped, all while giving Spike the death-glare she'd inherited from her mother.

"Sorry, Mariel," Xander mumbled, and Spike grinned at her.

"We're going to buy food. Wesley! You're going to show us the way to the market. Spike, Xander -" Mariposa called, "the kitchen needs straightening and why is there a pillow in the bathroom? Unsanitary. Paloma! We're going!"

Mariposa stood with her purse and a string bag in her hands, looking impatient. Wesley looked beseechingly over at the two on the couch and Spike waved happily.

"Have fun, mate!"


~*~*~*~*~


Dizzyhotlusty. On the back of Spike's motorcycle, pressed to Spike like a second skin - like a really tight tee shirt. That close, and tingling with a heady infusion of Spike's blood. Xander slid a hand up under Spike's shirt, scratching upward toward the chill metal rings he hadn't been done playing with when the call came from one of Wesley's contacts, a half demon named Hal.

A deal was going down. A deal with demons and illicit magical gems and seedy bars, oh my. A deal Hal thought Wesley would be really interested in.

And Wesley had agreed.

Xander licked up the back of Spike's neck, salt and smoke and the lingering tang from Wesley biting the nape of Spike's neck when he came. This was the life he'd signed on to years ago when he became the Slayer's boy. Adventure, excitement - okay there was more time spent wrapped around a sexy vampire guy than High School Xander had ever imagined but that was, as the saying goes, of the good.

Spike wanted to pull over, dismount, and fuck Xander right through the plate-glass window of the 'Pay-Day Check Cashing' place. Xander's warm breath, warm hands - warm tongue - were all driving him to distraction and he knew he was vamped out. Driving through the streets of L.A. with the most gleeful of faces - hard as nails, floating on the heady brew that was Xander's blood and loveminewanthappy rolling over and over him - tingling through him. Nothing - nothing - was better. Pleasant ache when he shifted on the saddle that brought Wes vividly to mind - Wes pushing his thighs wider and fucking him; shivering into the demon aspect so he could fuck harder and Xander kissing Spike into panting breaths...

And now - a little wheeling and dealing - a little action. Unlife...was perfect.

A block ahead he saw the stutter neon that spelled out 'The Eight Ball' and he looked for a space to park. Mentally checking his weapon inventory and making a grumbling noise of pure pleasure as Xander cupped his erection and squeezed. Oh, yeah. Perfect.

"Save this." Xander gave another squeeze and let go. Could hear the breathiness in his own voice - ground against Spike for a spine-tingling moment before dismounting and stretching. He needed a new analogy for his blood. He felt like Rice Krispies with a fresh pitcher of milk poured over them. The good kind - with marshmallows. "This place is a dump."

"Yeah, well. Demons tend to gravitate toward dark and damp." Spike lit a cigarette - swung off the bike and into Xander, arm around his waist and all that hot, fragrant flesh pressed tight against him for a moment. Hard cock pushing into Spike's hip and he kissed Xander and let him go. "Save it all night, love. Makes it so much sweeter, when you've been waiting..." Xander grinned at him and together they strode to the door - went inside.

'Dump' was being kind, Spike thought, as he stood at the bar and surveyed the worn, broken, and generally second-hand tables, chairs, booths and clientele of the bar. The bartender slopped whiskey into a smudgy glass - opened a beer for Xander and moved sullenly away and Spike snarled after him. No point in hiding in here - he was Spike here - he was William the Bloody and anybody who didn't know would soon find out. Xander was leaning casually on the bar next to him, and Spike smirked to see the envious glances sent his way. My boy - everybody wants him. But I've got him.

"Hope this Hal shows soon. This place makes me...edgy," Spike muttered.

"You were a regular at Willy's," Xander murmured back, dropping his head and watching the clientele through his hair. He had to admit they were a lot more colorful than Willy's regulars. A lot more open about what they were - but humanized. There was a green-skinned, bald and mottled demon playing darts who Xander could swear had breast implants. "Not that this place isn't fuckin' weird."

"Willy's was the default, love. Where else was I gonna go? Got sick of the soddin' Bronze and the soddin'...white hats," Spike said, flicking a laughing glance at Xander and swallowing his shot. He banged the glass down and raised a finger and the bartender nodded, coming back their way. "I think - that might be our boy," Spike added, looking at a demon coming in the door.

Xander might have thought it was a trick of the light if he wasn't expecting a half-breed. The guy looked almost human. Hockey jersey, baggy jeans, skin a smooth, rich, dark brown that reminded Xander of Gunn except this guy was short and skinny - and seemed to have gently fluttering gills on the sides of his neck. Xander was pretty sure he'd have noticed if Gunn had gills.

He looked about five years too young to drink - at least - but by the time he reached the bar, the bartender was already popping open a beer and sliding it his way. "You guys gotta be Wes' boys."

"And you gotta be stupid. Keep your voice down, you git," Spike snapped, eyeing the half-breed with discontent. Hal seemed - cheery. Spike didn't like cheery. "So who's the seller and exactly what is he selling?" Spike asked. Hal took a long pull of his beer and licked his lips.

"Vuch. Calls himself Jackie. Claims he's got some spelled Dragga-stones from the Seventh Star. Or something." Hal drank more beer and Spike lit a cigarette - squinted at him through the smoke.

"'Claims'? You said he did. You pretty much told Wesley it was a done deal, Hal. Does he have them or not?" Spike didn't raise his voice, but Hal flinched back a little, just the same.

"Well, you know the Vuch! Could be lying through his teeth! Look, he'll be here in a minute, let's go sit down and -"

"No, we'll stand," Spike growled. He leaned over to Xander and kissed him - nibbled his way to Xander's ear. "Keep a sharp eye out, love," he whispered. Made his way back to Xander's mouth and kissed him again and ignored Hal's gape of surprise.

Xander licked the flavor of whiskey and smoke off his bottom lip and leaned against the bar with a little nod - gave Spike room to move and move fast. He didn't know what a Vuch was - and the Seventh Star thing sounded like something out of one of the DVD sets he'd left behind in Sunnydale - but a guy never lost the ability to look like he knew what was going on. Even when he didn't have a single soggy clue. Spike knew what a Vuch was. Xander was just along to be big and freaky. He could do big and freaky.

Hal looked freaked.

Success.

"Th- that's Jackie coming in. The F'rith behind him is Gunther, his bodyguard."

Vuch were wizened, twisted, and scaly. Rather like animate dried lizards. Jackie was a dull grey sheened with a yellow-gold that did not go well with the lavender leisure suit he was wearing. Or the ropes of gold chains around his scrawny, wattled neck. F'rith, on the other hand, were built like Mack trucks. Solid, earthy brown all cracked and mottled like the Thing. Only Gunther had a fringe of auburn hair and...gold chains.

Spike rolled his eyes and widened his stance ever so slightly, one elbow on the bar, hand holding a full shot-glass and the other lifting his cigarette to his lips. Gunther was big. Hit him first, Spike thought, if there's trouble. Hit him hard. Jackie swayed up to them, one hand fluttering.

"Hal. You look smashing. So Nelly. Are these your associates you mentioned?" Jackie gave Spike a long, appraising once-over and Spike shifted - canted his hips out a little. Jackie twitched.

"Jackie," Spike purred. "Call me Spike."

"It is a pleasure, Spike." The word oozed forth in a way that might have made Xander's skin crawl if he wasn't busy feeling a rush of smug possession. Until Jackie's eyes slid to him - and down him. "And this is your -" Jackie paused, tongue flickering out to taste the air "- pet?"

"Partner." Xander slid a hand up Spike's back, muscles loose and ready under his shirt. Mine, you scaly bastard.

"Part-ner," Jackie said, pursing his lips. He murmured something to Gunther, who grunted and stepped up to the bar. "Let's take a booth, shall we? Standing at the bar - so rent-boy, don't you think?" Jackie's slit-pupiled gaze ran once more up and down Xander's body and Spike growled softly.

"Manners, Jackie," he said - took a last puff of his cigarette and blew the smoke into Jackie's face. "Manners, or I'll find a new and exciting way for you to function without your legs." Jackie's eyes went wide and then slitted, the nictitating membrane flashing across them for a moment.

"Gunther! Make mine a double," Jackie snapped. He turned and swayed toward the booths and Spike pushed slowly away from the bar - gestured to Hal.

"Ladies first, Hal."

Hal glanced back at Spike and Xander. Nervous? Xander wondered. "Gotta table reserved by the door."

Gunther closed a hand around Hal's bicep. His thumb and forefinger overlapped easily. "That table." He pointed to a table half way between the door and the back, a table without an easy run for the door. Confident? Or convinced Xander and Spike would grab the whatever stones and run?

A warm feeling, like a mental shrug rolled off Spike and down Xander's spine, relaxing him. "Yeah. Okay." He really hoped it was in Spike's plan to have his back, because he could feel those reptilian eyes sliding down him - and ew. At least in Sunnydale, he hadn't been worried that the demon of the week wanted him naked and chained to the bed. New and wiggy.

Lust curled off Spike like smoke, peeling away from the steady pulse of loathing for the Vuch and the coiled ready ready ready tension.

Okay, when certain demons wanted him naked and tied to the bed, it was less ew. Not on topic - but a lot less ew.

Unwilling to put his blind side to Hal or the rest of the bar, Xander leaned into the corner of booth and wall.


~~~~~


Spike slid in next to Xander - gave Hal a look of pure loathing that had the half-breed scurrying for a chair to perch on. Gunther set down something blue and frothy for Jackie and a beer for himself - wedged his bulk into the booth, rocking the table a little.

"Dragga-stones are pretty fucking rare," Spike said, idly pushing his shot glass back and forth between two fingers. "How'd you manage to find some, Jackie?"

"Wouldn't you like to know," Jackie chuckled, sipping his drink through the straw and Spike froze, feeling his lip lift in a silent snarl.

"Yes I would, actually. Don't want stolen ones. You know what that means." It meant a curse - it meant painful and lingering death. Dragga-stones could only be sold, traded, or given. Stealing them was bad, bad, bad.

"I'm not an idiot, Spike. Bought them off this magic-user, some human - said he had to get to Australia." Gunther swallowed half his beer in one go and Hal nervously sipped his and Xander's thigh pressed tight to Spike's, warmth of his love, tension of the moment - thread of amusement because he was a Scooby, after all.

"Let's see 'em, then," Spike said, and downed his shot.

Xander leaned against Spike, a hand resting on the base of his spine. Before knowing Spike, Xander had no idea how much intent those muscles could communicate. Right now, they were at rest. So was Xander.

Jackie reached into his suit jacket and Xander watched with some amazement as that side of his chest slowly caved in when the cloth-wrapped package was removed, completely revising his impression of Jackie's physique - and causing a small, suspicious voice in his head to ask what Jackie had stashed in the other side of his jacket.

"Five named stones." Jackie plucked at the neat bow and unraveled the cloth, revealing - Xander felt the tension in Spike's spine soar while the rest of him remained visibly boneless - five smooth volcanic rocks, pocked and pitted with an oily sheen. "Two thousand a piece."

"They're no good if the set is broken." Spike lit a cigarette, a vision of carelessness.

"They will pay for themselves and more after a short time - in the right hands."

"Two hundred a piece." Xander said and felt Spike's muscles twang under his fingertips. "If they're ruined that easily."

The confidence - lust - and something like hunting-tension from Xander was oddly soothing, and Spike smoked and watched, listening to Xander haggle with Jackie. Most everything had a negotiable price in Africa, and Xander had learned that age-old dance well.

"These don't grow on trees, little boy - they're a long month's worth of work. Fifteen hundred each."

"Work you didn't do. Three hundred, though, since you had to deal with Hal."

"Hey!" Hal protested, spitting beer. Gunther growled. "I still have a finder's fee coming to me from somebody here -"

"Or a broken jaw. Shut up," Spike snapped. Hal subsided, clutching his beer. Settle on a price - get the bloody stones - get out of this dump and then... Spike leaned into Xander's heat a little more - stroked the muscled thigh that was tight to his. And then...back to the Nest. Celebrate with Wes. All good.

Spike watched Jackie squirm and squint at Xander - watched Xander grin lazily and drink a mouthful of beer. All very good.


~*~*~*~*~


Wesley watched Spike and Xander go, taking a turn fast and low to the ground and accelerating away into the night. He didn't expect them to have trouble with Hal - or Jackie, if it came down to it. Hal hadn't mentioned who his contact was for the stones but the one time Hal hadn't fronted for Jackie, Gunther had found him and broken a few fingers.

Wesley didn't plan to tell that to Spike and Xander, however. He grinned, unlocking the small shed that adjoined his house. They'd have more fun figuring it out for themselves and if all went well, Wesley would feel better about sending them into the Los Angeles demon community on his errands more often..


~~~~~


The shed was empty except for his own motorcycle; nothing like Spike's expensive custom design, but sleek and black and able to get Wesley anywhere he needed to go. In the darkness of the shed, he lifted his helmet - and hesitated - before putting it back on the shelf next to its pink counterpart. He shivered into his other form, fizzes and prickles and the ripple across his scalp that filled his senses with ocean, the lingering scents of human bodies and the mechanical smell of the shed and motorcycle.

I can see better - hear better...feel better like this. It's...it's a public service. I'm safer on the road this way. Wesley smiled to himself, knowing that that sort of justification would have gotten a joke from Xander - a pointed bit of truth from Spike. But it's all true.

He settled himself in the saddle - turned the key and kicked the starter and then rolled slowly out of the shed. As he cleared the doorway the space around him opened - the feeling of invisible, barely tangible walls faded back and away as the sensitive spines registered the change from enclosed to open space. Grinning, Wesley upped his speed and turned north, heading for AI.

I wonder what Angel will think? I smell of chilies and corn and - and bubble gum... Wesley shuddered at the state of his couch and hoped that peanut butter really would get gum off of fabric. And I smell of Sol. And Xander and Spike. Angel's going to think we had some sort of...Mexican-themed orgy. With gum. Wesley snorted in amusement and then sobered. The day that the Sunnydale crew had visited - only 24 hours ago - had been... Had been a good day.

Crowded into his tiny bungalow, eating and drinking and talking and laughing... It had been so...warm. So relaxing. At first Wesley had been on edge, afraid that he would say or do the wrong thing. But then... Max, Carl's oldest son, had asked him about his Lord Leighton print and they'd discussed art for half an hour, the boy surprising Wesley with his enthusiasm. And Russ had joked around with him about the Nest pillows that had continually spilled into the living room despite their best efforts. And Mariposa, and Sol...

Now I know...so much more, Wesley mused. I know my name. And that knowledge had more power than Wesley had expected. All his life, he'd known on some level or another that he was human and what that meant. Perhaps not on a metaphysical level but in a way that, if asked what he was, he could answer 'I am a man.'

Now, with a name for what he was - with three names for what he was - the demon was less alien. His skin was his own.

I am half-Sa'ins demon. English.

Hhetsh in Sol's language.

Kee-tch in his...their - Wesley swooped around a slow-moving minivan on La Cienega and gunned the engine, tucking his body low to the tank and catching a curl of pot smoke and sour candy from the van - his species' language.

Names - have power. Wesley had known that for almost as long as he had known how to speak. 'Nana!' brought Miss Dalton the nanny running, and 'Wesley Wyndam-Pryce!', in that harsh growl...had always made his skin crawl. Having these names felt...solid. As if knowing was the final anchor he needed to...

To feel as if I am finally my own, Wesley thought, and gunned his bike faster. The rush of air over his spines was like one continuous caress and he shivered and shifted on the saddle. He'd have to tell Xander and Spike... He was so caught up in what he was thinking that it took Angel's blank stare and unsubtle flinch on arrival to realize that he hadn't shifted back, and Angel was facing the demon for the first time...ever.

Wesley felt the instinctive pulling shiver - urge to hide his demon face from Angel - and fought, straightening and feeling the stiff ripple of his spines standing upright along his scalp. Warning behavior his mind supplied, now that he knew Sa'ins relied on defense and threatening but harmless display to chase predators away.

Except Angel was not a predator. With a deep breath, Wesley closed his eyes, willing the muscles along his scalp to relax and felt with relief the shift of his spines laying back down and arranging themselves comfortably. "It's called - this species - " Wesley shook his head, There is no way to say this which is not awkward. "I am a Sa'ins demon, Angel - or rather, half of me is. This half," he said and smelled for the first time the scent of a vampire's unease - determined that this be...normal. "Where is everyone?"

"Patrolling. It's what they do every night." Angel stared, and Wesley almost shifted again. But he felt...good. Comfortable. And he was tired of hiding.

"Everyone? There's usually at least a brace of Slayers here."

"I sent them out. I had Andrew do a - some sort of evaluation thing. They were driving me crazy. Illyria's - around somewhere. Wes, can you -" Angel cut himself off, and Wesley sagged, just a little.

"Yes, Angel?"

"Can you change? I'm just not - used to - that. This. Whatever."

"Certainly, Angel," Wesley said, sighing just a little. His skin shivered as he changed, and he lifted his head, taking a deep breath. Angel leaned back in his chair, looking slightly less unhappy.

"Thanks. You know - there haven't been too many visions lately. The Powers trying to keep me out of the loop?" Angel's voice had a slight edge to it and Wesley sighed again - settled himself in the chair opposite Angel's desk.

Had to tell him sometime. He's not going to be happy... "Actually, I have some news about the visions."


~*~*~*~*~


"You told Spike," Angel said. Again.

"Yes, Angel."

"You told Spike and the vision stopped repeating?" Angel asked for the...fourth time? Maybe fifth.

"Yes." Wesley glanced longingly at the clock, wondering how Xander and Spike were getting along with Hal and Jackie. With less repetition, he suspected.

"We've got to contact the Powers."

Wait - that was new. "We do?"

"Yeah. There's gotta be something wrong with the visions. They're not supposed to - " Angel waved a hand, from Wesley to himself, frustrated.

"Not supposed to...be shared?"

"Not supposed to stop repeating until you've told the Champion!"

Wesley stared at Angel for a long moment - sighed deeply and got up. Angel kept a bottle of decent whisky in the file cabinet behind his desk, and Wesley got it out - poured himself a hefty shot - and drank it in one gulp. Then he put the bottle on the desk and slumped back down into his chair.

"Angel. Spike is a vampire with a soul who died saving the world. I suspect he falls into the category of 'Champion' rather neatly, don't you?"

"But he retired," Angel mumbled after Wesley settled again. "It's not fair he gets to retire and keep saving the world."

"He didn't choose this, Angel. The Powers...well, I hate to say they work in mysterious ways because that gives them a bit more...credibility than I'd like but...well...there it is." Wesley poured another shot and pushed it across to Angel, who took it morosely and sat, staring down into the golden depths. Wesley felt a stab of pity for the other man.

Angel lifted the shot and downed it in one gulp, setting the empty glass back on the desk. "These really need to be bigger."

Wesley waggled the half-full bottle. "There's more, Angel."

"Those need to be bigger, too."

"Well, it's a start, anyway," Wesley said and got up and got another glass - poured them both another drink. It's been ages since Angel and I drank together. I hope he doesn't sing...


~*~*~*~*~


Xander could feel the stones clattering together against his thigh through the leather of the duster as they took the last turn onto Wesley's street. He felt - okay, he felt fucking fantastic and only part of it was the blood. Could a guy make a living haggling with demons over things like this? Was this how Spike felt when he hit another demon over the head really hard and took things like this?

Okay, so Spike's method might have been more direct.

Two thousand. For all five stones.

And Hal's finder's fee came out of Jackie's money.

Xander remembered how horny a good sale - or buy - made Anya. Now, he got it.

"What's got into you, pet? Didn't think that kind of thing was so - exciting." Spike shut the shed door and leaned on it, watching Xander from under his lashes. Awash in happiness and lust and wantwantwant.

"Me neither, but...it is. It's a rush," Xander replied. He cast a lingering look over Spike from head to toe and back halfway up and Spike caught his breath at the need that spread through him like slow fire.

"Yeah? Guess we'd better...do something with all that energy, then. Unless - you want to save it for Wes?" Spike reached out and traced a fingertip over Xander's knuckles and Xander grinned. Wolfish grin - sexy grin - and caught Spike's hand - brought the fingers to his mouth.

"I think we could...get all warmed up and ready for Wes... Think you can - wait?"

"I can if you can, love," Spike murmured.

Xander pulled Spike's fingers to his lips, smelled leather and whiskey - cigarette smoke and the mechanical scent that was motorcycle; spread Spike's fingers and there he could scent the faint blood and tequila flavor of Spike himself - and who knew Spike could get turned on being...sniffed? Wave of fucknowlust rocking him on his feet. "Not gonna make it easy. Up for the challenge?" Because he wasn't ready yet to give up the feral bubbling in the back of his brain, the part that divided the world into things to fight, things to eat and things to fuck.

"Always up for you, love." Spike curled his fingers in Xander's and tugged him close - kissed him with the same slow-burning fire that was suffusing his body - walked Xander backward across Wes' pocket-handkerchief of a lawn and up onto the porch. Thud into the door and Xander was fumbling for the spare key, small noises of satisfaction and want vibrating between them. See how long you can take it, Xander. See how long you can resist...god, so good...


~*~*~*~*~


Decent whisky made its way to cheaper whiskey, and some time in the depths of the third shared bottle, a disapproving Andrew had been sent out for more. And this - this was nice, slouching mellowly next to Angel, feeling the battered sofa in Angel's office swallow Wesley's boneless body whole.

It didn't seem to matter that there appeared to be two or three Angels looking back at him - and all of them were frowning thoughtfully. "Angel?"

Angel's eyebrows drew together impressively. "What do you see in them?"

"What do I see in...who?" Wesley asked, confused. In the three Angel's, does he mean? The Angels rolled their eyes - essayed another shot of whiskey and managed to spill some on the desk, where Council papers blotted it up.

"In them. Xander and S-spike. What's the - attraction?"

"You mean - besides the both of them being bloody - fantastic in bed?" Angel winced, and Wesley snickered to himself. Right. Sex-talk makes Angel uncomfortable. More sex talk. "They're bloody marvelous. Spike does this...this...thing. With hisss...tongue -"

"Wes, please. For both our sakes jus'...don' go there."

"Oh, right. Sorry, Angel." Wesley stared at the Angels. "That's what I see in them! Not the tongue - thing. I don't have to - to hide."

All three Angels looked hurt - stared back at him in silence then looked away. "Change."

"No."

"You said you don't want to hide! So don't hide!"

"I am not going to show you my other face because you've finally made yourself drunk enough to tolerate it." Wesley lifted the bottle from Angel's hands and poured himself another drink. Three glasses. All three got another shot of whiskey. "I - I won't."

"I can't play these games, Wesley! Fuck." Angel scrubbed his hands over his face. "Spike's gonna - gonna take you away from me, too."

"He won't."

"I'm losing you."

"Angel." Wesley examined the bottle and set it down.

Angel looked up, hopeful. "I'm not losing you?"

"You've lost me," Wesley corrected gently. "At least - AI has lost me. It's - it's time for me to move on."

"And you're gonna - do what? Go off somewhere and phone visions in? The Powers want you here, Wes!" Angel stood abruptly - flailed for a moment for balance and then paced away - paced back, staring down at Wes. "I...want you here. Wes -"

"It's not that simple, Angel. I just... I can't do this anymore, I..." Wesley closed his eyes, tired of staring up at Angel and after a moment the couch sighed as Angel sat back down, his knee bumping into Wesley's knee.

"I don't understand, Wes. Explain it so I get it, 'cause...I just...don't get it." Angel sounded so - defeated, that for a moment Wesley almost backtracked - almost...gave in.

"There was a time when the people we helped had faces - and names, names we knew and remembered, Angel." Wesley took a deep breath, deeper drink and looked at Angel. Vampires were supposed to be immortal, unchanging. But Angel looked...aged. "If you want to blame anyone," he said gently, "don't blame Spike. Blame Xander. Blame Charles. Blame me. For being human. We're not Champions - we've given everything to the Powers. I gave them my life, Angel." Wesley dropped his head, shivered and changed and felt his senses unfurl around him. "This is what they gave me in return."

"So you could keep fighting, Wes. That's what it's all about - we have to keep fighting."

"Yes," Wesley agreed. "We do. You have Slayers now. You have the support of the Council of Watchers. You don't need me here. And what I need if I am to keep fighting the good fight - you can't give me."

"I'll give you anything." Angel lifted his head, met Wesley's monochrome eyes and held them, without flinching.

"I need freedom."

"Freedom from what - to do what?" Angel's voice cracked a little, and Wesley hesitated for a moment and then reached out and gently squeezed Angel's shoulder.

"The Council - and the Powers - are...political. Are - impersonal. They take the long view, I suppose, and see that some things must...fall through the cracks in order for others to survive." Angel shook his head and Wesley sighed and leaned back, staring at the ceiling again.

"And I can't work that way anymore, Angel. I saw - what that did. What it does. I want the freedom to help anyone - everyone. Not just...toe the Powers' line. Or the Council's. Does...do you understand that?"


~*~*~*~*~


"Well?"

"Message. Again." Xander folded his phone, tucked it under a pillow in easy reach and curled an arm and leg over Spike, a mingling fuzz of worry frosting the air around them. Xander shivered and pulled a fold of the electric blanket over them, around them. "He probably forgot to charge his phone."

"Probably," Spike agreed - felt the worry and knew he was adding his own because Wes just didn't forget things like that. Dunno what he was going to see Angel about. But...if that bastard touches him - hurts him at all...

Xander shivered again and Spike tried to pull back the huntprotecthurt that was building inside. Tried, but that same shivering feeling was coming from Xander - loop of ferocity and protectiveness that could easily spiral into kill. "Wes'll be fine, love. Just fine. We'll...give him another hour, yeah? Just one...maybe just half an hour," Spike muttered unhappily. Come home, Wes...





Square Twenty

Wesley braced himself for a moment, standing on his own front porch and feeling an insane urge to turn around and run away. The house...glowered at him - much as he suspected Xander and Spike would be glowering at him in a few moments.

I deserve glowering. Shouting, even. But it's done, it's...all in motion. Had to be done... Instinct warred with desire and Wesley stood there, hand in midair, key outstretched. And then the door was yanked open and a pale, black-nailed hand reached out and grabbed his shirt front and jerked him inside.

"Just gonna stand there, mate? Starin' at the door?" Spike did more than glower - he snarled, eyes a smoldering gold. Wesley opened his mouth to say something but was interrupted.

"Don't be mean, Spike - he looks like death warmed over." Xander stood there, frowning, his hair damp from a shower, jeans on and a shirt in his hands. "We were gonna come get you. You've been gone for - for almost twenty-four hours, Wes! What the fuck?"

"Not being mean," Spike grumbled but he let go of Wesley's shirt - smoothed it a little, peering uncertainly at him. "You do look fair knackered. What in bloody hell'd the bastard have you doing all night and all day? Fucker never thinks -"

"Please. Please, I'm - I'm all right, I'm just -"

"You're exhausted, Wes," Xander said and the glower and snarl went out of the both of them as Xander moved in closer and pulled Wesley into a tight embrace. Warm and solid and supporting and Wesley sagged, letting his eyes flutter shut. "What does Angel have you doing?"

"My job. That's all." Wesley sighed, let Xander take his weight and relaxed between the two when Spike pressed up against his back, still warm from the Nest - or the shower. Angel was never warm.

He rubbed his cheek along Xander's shoulder, muscle and bone and dampness from the ends of Xander's hair that smelled of lemons and cognac. Words wanted to tumble out, words of deals and phone calls instead of full scale warfare - a meeting with Cardinal Ottaviano tomorrow - words of everything moving so quickly. He wanted to tell them how good that was - how everything couldn't move quickly enough for him because when it was over, he'd be free.

Well, aside from the visions. But Angel would accept phone calls. Had agreed to accept phone calls - and to let him go.

Wesley only had to direct one last campaign.

Spike pressed closer, urging a soft moan from him.

Surely he could tell them a little while later. Business could wait. Should wait. He lifted his head to brush his lips over Xander's - freshly brushed but unshaven, all cinnamon spice and stubble.

"You're tight as a bow-string, love - come on, shower. You smell like dust and Slayers and Angel." Spike's fingers kneaded his shoulders and neck and Xander's arms tightened around his waist, pulling him closer. Deepening the kiss as Spike grazed lips and teeth over the nape of Wesley's neck.

Yes...it can wait. Things are moving in the demon underground - papers are being shuffled and ambitions...reorganized. Angel is probably on the phone to Giles at this very minute and... And oh -

"Mmm, yes - I - oh, that feels -"

"Feels good," Xander murmured, lips so close and breath warm and sweet. Spike was worming his hands between them, working at buttons and belts and Wesley sighed and leaned back into him a little, trusting their strength - trusting their love.

Trusting they wouldn't begrudge him a few moments warmth and comfort snatched before bringing Sunnydale back into their lives, now that they were finally free of it. Surely they wouldn't begrudge themselves a few more hours of that innocence.

Wesley arched between them, losing himself only for a little while in silky heat and hardness, cinnamon and lemon, Xander's kisses and Spike's skilled hands. "God. Yes."


~*~*~*~*~


Wesley stood very still, watching Spike and Xander walk away - watching them grow smaller and smaller.

Flinch of Xander's whole body, as he lays out the plan Angel had approved. Flinch and his face goes white under the tan - his gaze goes flat and dead and...utterly miserable. And Spike snarls silently - getting up and putting his fist through the wall, cursing.

I don't blame them. Everything they worked for - everything they did - this course of action negates it. Makes it...nothing. But it is something! It was. That won't change - that won't ever change...


Far down the concourse, Spike turned, walking backward - mouthed something that looked like 'elephant' but Wesley knew - what it was. Xander turned too, sad smile on his face - his lips moving as well. 'Elephant'. Wesley mouthed it back, but in his throat the words were 'I love you'. He smiled at them, and then they were gone.


Wesley stayed long enough to see their plane lift over the water, turning a graceful arc in the soft purple sky, and heading east into spangled darkness. Then he went slowly up and out, back to the parking structure where Xander's truck was costing more money per hour than the bored parking attendants made.

He climbed in and sat for a moment, just breathing. Taking in deep lungfuls of air. Leather and smoke, spice and sweet and iron. Spike and Xander and the residual musk of their last, frantic clutches in the truck, in the darkness of the parking structure. He thought about home - about the Nest - still tumbled and damp from sex. From hours of kissing and touching and...loving. He couldn't go back there. Not right now, while it was all still so...raw.

God - how am I going to get through these next few days? Never thought...never realized... Wesley sighed and opened his eyes - reached for the seat-belt and as he clicked it shut his hand brushed his cell phone. And a thought formed. Gunn...

Wesley flipped it open, fingers passing over the buttons. He did say I could call him any time I wanted to get away.

From the terrible twosome.

Who weren't there.

And weren't terrible.

And were...hurt.

Wesley winced. He could still hear the strain in Xander's voice. 'I can't do this again. I can't be here for this again. I'm sorry, Wes. I can't.'

They were going to be somewhere safe while he settled his accounts with Angel Investigations. It was absolutely for the best. Wesley dialed Gunn's number and waited for him to come to the phone. "Charles...is my invitation still good?"

"Depends, man. You sporting fangs all of a sudden?"

The easy, casual question wormed its way into him and pressed something - like a button to release the building pressure of guilt and worry. Wesley felt himself smile, felt himself relax. "Don't be silly."

"Then get your ass over here. I'm starving - was just gonna order some pizza. You do still eat pizza, don't you?"

Wesley couldn't help the small, slightly choked laugh. "Yes, I do still eat pizza, Charles. No peppers, though."

"Right. Extra sauce and anchovies on the side. So - what's the deal? The Gruesome Twosome have something to kill tonight?"

"Oh, they -" Wesley felt the ache well up anew - loneliness and need and sorrow, and he blinked - started the truck and eased it out of the parking space. "They're...doing a job for me, I'll - I'll tell you about it when I get there. Forty minutes?"

"Sounds good, English. See you then."

Closing the phone, Wesley wished he could call the...Gruesome Twosome... They'd call after their flight landed.

If they were still speaking to him by then.

Even as a joke, the thought caused an unpleasant cramping flutter in Wesley's belly. They would call. They might even enjoy the vacation. He suspected Xander would take to their destination like a man coming home.

And then they would forgive Wesley for doing what he had to do. Sometimes, a man had to make deals with the devil for the greater good.

Feeling an unexpected surge of pity for Angel, Wesley pulled out of the parking structure and into the teeming LA night, headed east.


~*~*~*~*~


"Let me get another whiskey, yeah? You need anything, love?" Spike asked, and Xander shook his head - smiled wanly at the steward who smiled back and served Spike a whiskey and a little plastic cup. Spike frowned and twisted the cap off the little bottle - tipped it up and drained it and then propped it in his cup. Frustration from Xander. And anger and sorrow and a sort of exhausted defeat that made Spike want to fight something. Kill something. Kill Angel, the bastard. Talking Wes into that...fucking mess. Keeping him there...damnit. He sighed - slumped over until his head was on Xander's shoulder. "It'll be all right, pet," he murmured.

Xander squirmed around - shoved the seat arm between them up and out of the way and tugged Spike against his side, nestling his cheek against blond spikes. Warmer. Better. Calmer.

Okay, not much calmer, but he'd take anything. "That's what's wrong." Xander kept his voice low. Not for secrecy but - privacy. This wasn't meant to be some stranger's in-flight entertainment.

He felt Spike shuffle against him until they lay in a seat belted tangle with Xander's back against the window, the supernova star field of Las Vegas fading into the distance to their left and miles below. "Because if everything is all right and Sunnydale is put back the way it used to be...we're the ones who get erased. Me. You." Anya.

Spike felt the surge of some complicated emotion he couldn't even begin to interpret, but talking about Sunnydale always brought certain things - certain people - to mind. Joyce. She's still...down there. God... Unease at that thought - at Joyce lying restless under a crossroads or a schoolyard - under a fucking drive through. Unease and anger that made Xander take a small, sharp breath.

"Sorry, love. We won't be erased, Xander. We...what we did is there. It's always there." He tugged Xander's arm around him so the warm, callused hand lay on his belly and covered Xander's hand with his own - frowned at the look he got from the man across the aisle.

"We'll know, even if nobody else does. It's enough, isn't it? And Wes knows..." Pang of loss - fierce surge of want want - both of them missing Wes already.

Xander shook his head, want whirling with wrong - making him a little nauseous. "We didn't give this much of ourselves to see Sunnydale go back to square fucking one." Futility - that was the word he was looking for.

"Not going to - to open it back up or anything..." Spike ventured, but he felt the same. Felt that the corp-rat hordes had swarmed in and were even now nibbling at everything he - Xander - the Slayer had ever done there. Bringing it crashing down - making it...nothing. He fought that. He didn't want despair - depression - to swamp them both. Wouldn't allow it.

"Not our fault, love - and not our responsibility anymore. It's all on Angel now - and on the bloody Council. We paid, Xander. We paid, and we're done. Let's...let's just..." Love want need need need, pushing it at Xander as hard as he could. Reassuring him, he hoped. Wanting the deadness of emotion that was washing over Xander to quicken - to lighten. "We got out, Xander. Our time, now..."

Xander reached down, flipped open the buckle on Spike's seatbelt and his, wrapping the thin airline blanket over them both to hide the transgression and pulled Spike fully against his chest. "We're gonna get sucked back in if we stay. They're gonna call us veterans and heroes and act like it's a reward, putting us back in the field." But he didn't say that part of him - some tiny part in his heart that hadn't got the retirement memo - still responded to that. "Wes said they're proposing a deal between the Council and the Cardinal. Put Slayers on the Hellmouth again like cops...this isn't what we worked for."


"No, it's not." Spike turned his head a little, listening to Xander's heart beat - trying to just let it go. "It's gonna be like - like bloody Chicago in the twenties. Demons runnin' things and the Slayers like their own personal clean-up crew. Can't imagine Buffy knows about this... Or Rupert..." Spike fell silent again, wishing Wes was out of the whole mess - was with them. Gonna make him get as far away from Angel as possible. As soon as possible. Damnit...

"Wes knows."

"Wes does what has to be done, yeah?"

Slayers on the Hellmouth - protecting people from the demons. Protecting the Hellmouth from people. And in exchange...what? The Otonius clan would continue to tap the Hellmouth. 'Restrained energy harvest' Wesley called it. Would use their own spell-casters to eliminate the phantom manifestations.

'Everybody wins,' Wes had said, in a voice that sounded like a guy who'd won a dose of the clap.

"Wes...gets the job done, yeah? Always was more practical that way than...any of us. It's the Watcher in him, pet - he can't help it." Spike sighed, and Xander did - heave of his chest and Spike re-settled himself, rubbing his head slowly back and forth on Xander's collarbone. "He was right, you know. If Angel fought them - it'd be a war like you've never seen. It'd be..." Slaughter and ugliness that I don't ever want you to know, love. Never.

"But they'd be dead," Xander insisted - stubborn and desperate and giving Angel more credit than Spike did, in this situation.

"Maybe. Maybe not. Too much of a chance though, you know? Most groups like that - they'd just kill everybody in sight - wouldn't even try to - negotiate. We're well out of it." They were quiet a moment, Xander's palm big and warm over Spike's stomach, working its way under the tee shirt to rub and stroke cool skin. "'Sides, thought you weren't large with the 'kill 'em all' approach to demons these days, love."

"Only when they threaten the people I love." And places. Xander tucked his face against Spike's shoulder, lips pressing against the hollow above his collarbone. "Wes said they're accelerating the project. That means no more artifact tent. Strictly fill, level, and build."

"Yeah," Spike said softly - viciously squashed the rage and horror and misery that welled up at the thought of Joyce being tumbled and ground and leveled. Or Tara, or Anya. All those brave souls, turned under like so much fertilizer. Used to be that's all they were. Used to be... But Spike had lost that critical distance years ago, and it hurt him as much as it hurt Xander, to think on it. War...would it be worth it? His heart said yes - his head said...maybe not. His soul...wanted Xander and Wes and the Nest, and not to think about this anymore. Tried to sink into the sensation of Xander's mouth on his skin, soft and warm.

Xander stilled with his lips over Spike's shoulder, parted and breathing in the flavor of him, the conflict and love. Metallic tang of horror and rage, softened bitterness of misery; as if stifling the emotions drove them into Spike's skin, where Xander could taste them. "I know I can't stop it - but I don't want to see it - if I don't see it, it won't be as real."

"I don't either. Can't...stand the thought of it." Spike twisted until he could see Xander - see his long hair lying like raveled silk against his neck and cheek - see the delicate tracery of ink around his eye, and the shadow of sorrow and remembered loss that darkened his gaze. "I love you, Xander. Would do anything for you. I said it before - time to leave there and it is. We've got the whole world, love - anywhere you want to go, we'll go. All right? Anywhere." Spike leaned up and kissed Xander's soft, down-turned mouth. Kissed the chapped lips and slightly stubbled cheek and jaw. "Anything for you, love..."

Xander sighed. "This should be the moment when I tell you I've always wanted a place in France -" Spike twitched and Xander grinned - he remembered 'Harmony and sodding France'...

"That bint - she lived, you know. Angel said. Probably over there right now, pissin' people off left and right - "

Xander tightened his arm and brought the other hand up to hold Spike's jaw, silence him. "I don't know where I want to go...but I want a place to call home."

Spike kissed Xander again - then one more time, tasting soda and mint gum and faint, faint blood. Knew that whatever Xander was saying, how he was feeling was lost and adrift. "We'll keep our eye out - see if we can find some place good. Lots of nice stuff in New York..."

Xander thought of New York - crowds and cars and noise and people - and Spike there. That part made him smile but it wasn't...quite... "Yeah. Anya wanted to go to New York - until she read a cost-benefit analysis of cities across the United States and decided she'd rather live in Kansas."

Spike snorted softly - settled himself again, cradled against Xander as best they could. Even in first class, the seats weren't that great. "Demon-girl had a good head for the books but that is not how you pick a place to live. It just...grabs you. Me and Dru - had this house near King's Cross. Tiny thing, but we loved it." Xander's arm tightened slightly across his ribs and Spike stroked Xander's hand under the scratchy blanket. "Had this huge old chestnut outside, and a little garden in back, all ivy and dahlias... Lived there for six years. Dru always called it our...nest."

Love loss and that something else that was like a wisp of old perfume whenever Spike remembered Drusilla. Xander caught Spike's hand and stroked its edge with his thumb. "Was it filled with pillows?"

Spike laughed softly. "Dru liked pillows but she liked hangings more. Had a four-poster bed just drowning in lace and velvet and tulle - had curtains so thick and heavy we could have survived the Atom bomb behind 'em. Overstuffed chairs and big plump footstools... Not quite the same kind of Nest..." Spike grinned up at Xander. "Not as good as ours. Dru was always so restless - she couldn't just lay with me all afternoon like you do - too much goin' on in her head."

"And that's the nicest way anyone has ever called me lazy." Xander grinned back, leaned his head against the cool plane wall and settled. "It's easy to lay with you - and okay, the sex really helps pass the time - but that's all I need. You, a Nest and I can - just be. Anya never...got that. Unless she was sleeping or having sex, she didn't understand why I wanted to be in bed. She was so busy." He swallowed around a sudden thickness in his throat, remembering. 'I only have fifty good years left, Xander! I have too much to do! Get out of bed now, please - and do it with me.'

Soft wash of regret, of love, and Spike laced his fingers with Xander's, squeezing gently. "Yeah. She was something special, your demon-girl." They fell silent then, the low hum of the plane and the muffled voices of other passengers - music from somewhere, someone's mp3 player turned up loud. A lulling, cocooning silence and Spike felt Xander settle and sigh - breathe a little more deeply. Resting, and Spike settled himself as well.

The captain announced that they were approaching Denver to their left. Three and a half hours until their flight would land in Boston. Thank you for flying the friendly skies. Enjoy your peanuts, Xander thought sleepily, closing his eye and letting the slow stroke of Spike's fingers over his arm lull him.


~*~*~*~*~


Wesley leaned back on the couch and groaned, one hand on his stomach, the other holding the cool neck of a beer bottle. "Oh my god. I think - I think I've done myself an injury," he moaned, and let his head fall back. Two decimated pizza boxes and a box full of gnawed chicken bones lay open on the coffee table. There were several beer bottles and a box of mostly-gone strips of sugar-and-cinnamon pizza dough, with white icing spilling out of a cup. Beside him, Gunn stretched his legs and laughed.

"C'mon, English - room for one more piece, don't you think?" Gunn waved a drooping slice of pizza and Wesley watched an anchovy tumble to the grease-stained cardboard below.

"God no. You have it, Charles."

"Fish pizza? No way."

"I have seen you eat fish before, Charles Gunn."

"Yeah. Fish. Anchovies are salty little pizza-slaying demons."

"For god's sake - they're fish."

"And fish do not belong on my pizza."

Wesley moaned, catching the scent of it and putting up a hand. "Drop it in the box. I'll eat it for breakfast in the morning."

"What? You don't approve of my breakfast selection?"

"Sugar frosted sugar coated sugar balls?"

Gunn flicked a wadded up corner of napkin at Wesley with a snort. "They give you energy to face the day. Essential vitamins and minerals."

"And a high not unlike a few ounces of the finest Columbian cocaine. Or T'kuss dream-dust," Wesley added, and sniggered at the outraged expression on Gunn's face.

"You are not comparing my breakfast cereal of choice with nose candy or ground up beetles!"

"No, ground up beetles probably taste better," Wesley said, and tried to lean out of the way as Gunn flung an anchovy at him. He couldn't though - he was so stuffed he could barely move and he stared down at the little black anchovy that now clung to his shirt-front, leaving a greasy blotch and trail.

"Now you've done it."

"Yeah," Gunn agreed, looking at his hand and wrinkling his nose. "Now I've got anchovy on me."

"Oh!" Before Wesley knew it, Gunn was on his back beneath him with a face full of anchovy breath and the offending anchovy mashed against Gunn's lips, and Gunn laughing too hard to keep them together. The moment he gasped for air, Wesley shoved the fish in and leapt away.

"Aw! Man. That is gross." Gunn grabbed Wesley's beer and tilted it back, draining it in a long pull. "Jesus. When'd you get so strong?"

"It's my super-powers, you know," Wesley said, lolling back into the corner of the couch and stretching out his legs - belching behind his fingers and then wiggling said fingers at Gunn. "Super Ex-Watcher powers from...lifting all those books and holding that stick up my arse."

Gunn just stared at him and then he snorted - choked - and sprayed a fine mist of beer over the coffee table.

"I am not cleaning that up," Wesley pointed out with dignity - turned his face away from the last sodden piece of pizza in the box. "But I am going to order breakfast at the diner up the road tomorrow morning."

"It's just a little recycled beer, English!"

"All of your American beer is recycled." Wesley folded his hands over his stomach and grinned at Gunn.

"That's disgusting," Gunn said, but he got up and flipped the pizza boxes closed - stacked them and the wing-box and took them to the kitchen where he balanced them on top of the trash can. Wesley stretched his legs out further, slumping even lower into the couch. It was nearly midnight and he knew that Xander and Spike would be landing soon. He hoped they'd call.

"You want another beer?" Gunn called, doing something at the sink, and Wesley roused himself a little.

"No, no thank you, I'm fine." He sat up and collected beer-bottles - took them into the kitchen and lined them up on the counter by the sink. Gunn was washing his hands and Wesley leaned there, his hip against the counter. Feeling...content.

"Really fine?"

"Of course." Wesley looked more closely at Gunn, hearing hesitance in his words and frowning. "Why wouldn't I be?"

"Your boys took off and left you lonely enough to call me. That doesn't sound like 'fine'. What's really goin' on?"

"Charles, you can't think that you're just - just -"

"Backup? I know it when I see it, Wes." Gunn sounded - hurt? No.

"I've just been so busy - Charles, really. I - I've missed you, you know. It's not the same."

Gunn looked up at him, the towel in his hands twisting and knotting. Then he smoothed it out - hung it on the little bar under the sink. "Yeah. I know. Not the same for me, either. So - where'd the Gruesome Twosome go off to?"

Wesley let out breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding and followed Gunn back to the living room. "Salem."

"Oregon? Because Massachusetts is too easy."

Wesley smiled, reclaiming his corner of the couch. "Salem, Massachusetts. They're meeting with a former client of Angel Investigations, actually."

"How former?"

"Perhaps I should say: a former client of the Wyndam-Pryce Agency."

"Gunn Agency," Gunn responded automatically.

Wesley sighed, acutely feeling the loss of the third name for their once-fledgling agency - Chase. He shook it off when Gunn spoke again.

"So, half-demon? Vamp? Or just -" Gunn wiggled his hand and Wesley smiled at him.

"No, not a vampire. A human, actually. When he lived here in L.A. he accidentally got caught up in some sort of Ji-u mating ritual and we had to de-lust him? Remember?"

Gunn frowned and then the memory hit him and he giggled. Well, really, it had been rather amusing - Nathan Cole all done up in feathers and leaves and nothing else, doing the Dance of Demon Love in the middle of Rodeo Drive. There'd been a reason he'd moved, not long after that.

"Oh, hell yeah. Jesus. So what's his deal? Somebody file a palimony suit?"

Gunn collapsed into giggles again and Wesley slapped at his knee, grinning.

"Berk."

"Guy must have been desperate."

"Oh, he is but it's not terribly urgent. I've been putting him off for the past month."

"So what is it?"

"Pink mice."

"Pink mice?"

"With fluffy tails."

"Do Spike and Xander know they're goin' ta case a Disney movie?"

Wesley cleared his throat. "Not yet. The phrase I used was 'possible demonic infestation'."

Gunn snorted softly, grinning. "That's not nice, English." He smiled at Wesley for a moment and then his smile faded a bit. "So - why'd they go? I thought - they were gonna stay around for a while?"

Wesley sighed at that - shifted on the couch and tucked one bare foot up under his knee. "They... I told them about Sunnydale. About the deal we -I - brokered. They - didn't want to be involved. Didn't want to see it. They simply had to go."

Gunn nodded, his expression sober now - serious. "Yeah. I can understand that. That place...is gonna be worse than Pet Semetery when it's all done. Or maybe more like Poltergeist. Either way - I'm not gonna go there any time soon. And my entire life's not even buried under it." Gunn leaned over the arm of the couch and grabbed the last two beers - passed one to Wesley and opened the other thoughtfully. "I guess...if it was, I'd be moving about as far away from here as I could. And staying there."


~*~*~*~*~


Spike squirmed in Xander's death-grip - turned onto his back and sighed in contentment as Xander edged himself over a little more, draping most of himself over Spike. The bed was more-than-blood-heat warm, courtesy of the electric blanket Spike had called ahead for. He'd also called ahead so that when he and Xander had stumbled in past three a.m., tired and frozen, the fire had been roaring in the fireplace, the blanket had been on high, and the room itself had been toasty-warm with central heating. They'd spent nearly an hour in the Jacuzzi, up to their necks in steaming-hot water. Spike eyed the bright light edging around the curtains - light that was bouncing off of snow. Lots and lots of snow. He'd forgotten how cold snow was.

"It snowed last night and we don't have to get up, right?" Xander mumbled and Spike smiled into Xander's hair - kissed the curve of his skull. "I mean - it's up to the roof and we'll be here for days, right? Under the blanket."

"Yup. Days and days. We'll have to burn the furniture."

Xander made a sound that might have been 'good'. He lifted his sleep-mussed head to take a bleary look around the room. Hardwood four-poster, rich honey wooden floors; solid furniture with the voluptuous curves of another era.

"Be a shame to burn it all." Spike watched Xander's hand - barely tawny now where it'd been nut-brown at the end of Summer - slide over his own bleached skin. Watched it creep innocently to one of the silver rings piercing his nipples and arched an eyebrow as the fingertip began to trace the metal.

"Thought you wanted to sleep in. Days, was it?"

"I said I wanted to stay in bed." Xander propped himself up on an elbow, sleepy grin hanging out on his lips, hair in his face. "I didn't say anything about sleep."

"That's so, you didn't," Spike said, arching slightly into the sizzling tug of the jewelry in Xander's fingers. "How will we occupy ourselves?" Xander's sleep-tousled head dipped down and his warm mouth closed around Spike's other nipple and Spike hissed in satisfaction, his hand sweeping down Xander's back to the heavy muscle of his buttock.

"Wes sounded better. Sounded...like he and Gunn were - having a good time," Spike murmured, and Xander's mouth lifted slowly from his body.

Spike watched flushed lips mark a trail upwards along his body and tilted his head into the pillows with an incoherent sound when Xander latched on to his throat, suction and teeth and wet, wet heat.

"This good?" Xander pulled back, thumb rubbing over and over the already fading red mark in Spike's skin. Prickles of heat and electric want now skittering from body to body.

"Don't think Charlie-boy swings that way, but Wes... He could seduce the Pope. Maybe we'll have to ask him, next time we call," Spike replied - hitched in a sharp little breath as Xander's other hand slid down his belly and pinned Spike's cock down, warm and heavy and just holding him there. Nothing else. Spike turned his head until his own mouth brushed over Xander's and his tongue flickered out to taste Xander's lips.

"You Englishmen...coming along with your English ways and making good straight American boys gay, gay," Xander muffled the last gay and a laugh against Spike's lips, warm slide and tangle of tongues with nowhere else they need to be. He nipped at Spike's lip, felt an answering twitch against his palm and finished: "gay."

"Thought it was a Dutchman, got to you first." Spike's hand on Xander's ass squeezed, tugged and then there was skin - lots more skin on skin in a naked touching way that made Xander's toes curl and made him moan against Spike's mouth.

"You underestimate your place in my teenaged fantasies." Xander paused, thoughtful. "You underestimate Giles' place in my teenaged fantasies."

"Rupert? Oh, you've got to tell me, love. Every - tiny - detail," Spike said, between nipping, licking kisses." He pulled and wiggled and twisted until Xander was sprawled over him, thighs on either side of Spike's hips and the warm weight of sac and cock pressing into Spike's belly. It put Xander's own jewelry at mouth-level and Spike took advantage with enthusiasm.

"It's his voice and the - fuck - the look he gets in his eyes sometimes. High School. I was jacking off - flashed on him walking in on me..." Xander licked his lips, dry with the hot, panting breaths that were all he could manage with Spike's tongue and teeth making impossible-to-follow patterns of goodness across his chest; cooler nudge of Spike's metal behind his balls on every rock. "...with that look. And watching..." Xander curled and uncurled his fingers in Spike's hair, tickling and crunch of over-processed curls on over-sensitive skin - grinned at the memory. "He did not have to watch long."

"I'll bet... Rupert gets that look in his eye, sometimes... You just know he'd know exactly how to take care of a naughty school-boy..." Spike lifted his hips so that the tip of his cock pushed up into Xander's body - just brushing sensitive skin. He ran his nails lightly down Xander's sides and grasped his buttocks - held them open and lifted his hips again - grinned up at Xander's flushed face.

"He'd tell you to push your jeans down around your ankles...tell you to bend over his desk...get out his ruler and warm your ass with it..."

Xander twitched - from the top of his scalp to the soles of his feet, and sucked in a quick breath. "That is not playing fair." Because Xander's position was one that left him no secrets and the slick rub and bump of swollen flesh and heavy metal reduced Xander's thoughts to good and fuck and more. "You getting off on me and Giles?"

"Getting off on you," Spike murmured, thrusting up again and again, hands holding Xander wide and his teeth clicking off of metal as his mouth skimmed Xander's chest. "Getting off on you with your jeans pulled down and your ass all pink and hot...your hands clenched on the edge of the desk...head bowed, mouth open and wet...panting for air... You'd feel like fire under him, pet, when he pushed his cock into you..."

"Fuck!" Xander jerked - shaking and hot like he'd been plugged in, swollen and tight and thrusting against slick skin, slick muscle - but it was a flash of Wesley that did him in. Vivid, warm - knew what he'd do; slide in slick and fast and hard while Spike held him open, worked him up, worked him over - make the fantasy more real.

"Fuck..." he repeated shakily, shuddering through the last of the orgasm, lips swollen and hot against Spike's, fingers too cramped to let go - yet - of his hair. "Jesus...I also had...senior year fantasies about Wesley..."

Spike ran his tongue over damp, salty flesh - bit lightly at Xander's throat and shoulder and then wormed a hand between them - dragged it through the cooling fluid that was spattered over his belly. Nudged Xander up, just a little, and slicked himself. A moment later he was pushing into tight, warm heat and Xander was gasping softly above him, eye closed.

"Tell me about Wesley, love..."


~*~*~*~*~


Eventually, promises to be kept and a rumbling belly drove them from the hotel and out onto the twilight streets of Salem. Xander had shivered his way through a brief outfitting trip, emerging from the store warmer and more fashionable with a heavier leather coat and a thick winter cap pulled down over his empty socket against the aching cold.

Xander knuckled melting snow out of his eye and squinted at the street signs. "That way - and why am I navigating? You're the one who's been here." He grinned over at Spike, who looked more absorbed in lighting a fresh cigarette against the wind than listening. Xander held up a cupped hand to help.

"Well," Spike said, brief smile of thanks toward Xander - "this is Flint, and that's Essex, so one more block and we're at Chestnut Street. Hope he's there to let us in - don't want to stand around in this bloody wind for long." Spike tugged Xander close under his arm and they walked rapidly, heads down. Walked until Spike looked up and saw the number - 37 - and warm, golden light spilling out of may-paned windows in an imposing red-brick house.

"This is us, love. Looks like somebody's home, thank gods." Xander seemed too cold to reply and Spike hustled him up the walk and knocked sharply. Hope he remembers to invite me in. Hurry up, wanker!

Xander huddled closer to Spike - no body heat but the duster made a tolerable wind-break. A Grecian porch roof hid the building's bulk from him but did little to protect them from the biting cold and gusts of snowy wind that rocked him on his feet. "Jesus." 'That's one big fucking house', he wanted to say. What came out was: "It looks warm in there."

"Bloody well better be warm in there," Spike muttered, and sent his cigarette butt arching out into the slush of the street. He could hear footsteps coming closer and then the door was flung wide and a jovial, SoCal voice was saying:

"Come in! Wesley's friends, right? Come on in!"

"Thank god," Xander said, and darted forward, Spike hard on his heels. The door swung shut and they both stood there, momentarily stunned by the heavy, heated air that enfolded them. Xander took a deep breath and un-huddled, and Spike eyed their host. Middle-aged, middling looks, pretty much Middle-man, who was smiling and ushering them in. In over glossy hardwood floors, under cathedral ceilings and across dark, patterned India rugs to a fireplace as tall as Xander and a fire that warmed them at ten paces. God, it felt good.

"It was my great-grandmother's. No history. She moved in a few years before she died but it came to me a few years ago. Excellent timing, really. I'd just had a bit of trouble in California your employer got me out of." He clapped his hands, then offered one to Xander. "Nathan Cole."

Xander took it with fingers still half-numb, half-dazed by the heat. Even half-furnished, the home exuded warmth and age and...Xander shook himself, then Nathan's hand. "Xander Harris," he said, tugging his cap off. The hand in his squeezed harder for a second and Xander knew exactly why. Cole stared at him - at his face - at his tattoo.

"Well, that's certainly - I mean to say, you don't see - amazing what you young folks will - Well, now!"

Spike ignored the hand that was held out toward him - ignored Nathan Cole babbling something else about his grandmother - the house - the crown molding over the dining room entry. The man stank of nerves and unease and Spike turned his back and vamped, taking in a deep breath - reaching, with every demonic sense he had to tell him about the house. The house with a 'possible demonic infestation' and Spike was getting nothing. Nothing at all but the faint, teasing scent of...

"Candy floss?" he muttered, losing the demon and turning back to Nathan Cole, who stuttered and blinked and fell silent.

"Uh, what?"

"I smell candy floss. Disgusting stuff."

Xander took pity on their bewildered host and translated. "Cotton candy."

"I - oh - I - I'm certain that's only fumes from the new paint. I've just had the first floor bathroom redone. I'm hoping to sell, you know, once all of this has been cleared up."

"That's not paint, mate."

Cole stumbled over his ready reply, looked like a man choking on his tongue, then licked his lips. "Are you sure?"

"Believe me when I say he's sure." Xander sniffed the air too - smelled varnish and orange wood polish. A little bit of the musty old wood smell - which excited the part of him that had never put away the carpentry tools - but not candy floss. "Where's the problem?" He felt like he was eighteen again and working as Eddie the plumber's assistant.

"It's - it's - it's in the...attic. It's a finished attic, you could make it into a studio or a -"

"Don't care about the finer details, here - just lead the way so we can see what's what," Spike snapped, and Nathan Cole nodded unhappily and led them on, switching on lights as he went and pointing out various features. The hand-painted tiles around the second-floor-sitting-room's fireplace. The parquetry inlay of wood along the hall. The hand-leaded stained glass in the master-bedroom's windows and the delicate plaster-work of roses and ivy that surrounded the chandelier that hung over the stair-well. Spike could feel excitement from Xander - interest and something...else. Something warm. Likes the house, he does, Spike thought. And a plan - formed.

A whisper of plotting slithered over Xander's shoulders and he looked at Spike - who was watching him, speculative expression on his face. The Cole guy was still rambling on about the home - and Jesus, he didn't even know what he had. He'd apologized for the scarred woodwork - the original woodwork - that Xander's first carpentry boss would have sold a kidney for.

Spike was still watching him - that cocked-head innocence that was never innocent. 'What?' He mouthed the word behind Cole's back but didn't voice it.

"Nothin'!" Spike fumbled for a cigarette and lit up, turning to peer at the joinery of the attic door-jamb while Cole dropped a dangerously huge set of keys and snatched them up again, sorting out an old-fashioned iron key with a scrolled bow that would have been at home in any fairy-tale. Spike felt curiosity and amusement and a sort of pointed hunters resolve and he sucked in smoke and blew it out - stepped up when Cole opened the attic door.

"Best let me go first, mate. Just in case," he said, and Cole's eyes went wide and he nodded, stepping back.

Xander watched Spike go - felt curiosity and a swagger of Big Bad that made him half hard and glad he was wearing a baggy sweater. He and Cole followed Spike up the attic stairs. "So - uh - what kind of infestation have you got? Corporeal, incorporeal? Pea soup? Death that awaits us all with nasty, big, pointy teeth?"

"Well - it's - er..."

"It's...?"

Nathan Cole licked his lips again and jangled his keys as they stepped onto the landing, the attic space opening around them. "It's..."

"Bloody hell!" Spike did a little catch-step as something ran over his foot and he darted after it, pouncing and bringing his foot down. He missed. The - thing - jumped like a kangaroo - a very small kangaroo - and he leaped again, this time caging it in his hands. Then he stood slowly, holding it by the...tail. By the long, fluffy, pink tail. The length of his hand, a sleek pink mouse dangled from his fingers. It had oversized, tufted ears, enormous dark eyes and little paws that clutched and clasped like little pink hands. And the tail. Fluffy as a feather-duster. Spike vamped. Candy floss. Jesus fucking...Christ.

"It's a mouse."

Xander had to turn his back not to laugh. Spike's jump-dance-pounce routine looked like Miss Kitty Fantastico after a hit off the catnip pipe. He quickly forced his face back into something appropriate for possibly demonic infestation of cute pink kangaroo mice.

Which meant he was still laughing - and grinned back at Spike on the wave of suspicion coming from the vampire. "You called us out here from California because you have mice?"

"Those aren't normal mice!"

Cole looked freaked out. In fact, he looked pale and Spike took a step toward him, swaying the squirming demon-mouse his way. Cole jumped back and dug around in a pocket - came up with a handkerchief and slapped it over his nose and mouth.

"They probably have some super-strength version of the Hanta virus! They're not safe! Didn't Wesley tell you? I want them out."

Amusement from Xander, strong enough to make Spike grin and he put his other hand up, palm flat, and let the mouse rest on it. It settled on its over-long hind paws and started washing, pushing its shock of ultra-pink whiskers flat to it's skull as it preened.

"You're right, mate. Probably teeming with disease. Fleas. Plague, even. This whole place - might have to tear it down. Sow the earth with salt."

"Oh my god. You can't do that! Surely there's something we can do! Wesley seemed to think -"

"Calm down, mate. Think I got a plan." Spike let go of the down-soft tail and held the mouse up to Xander.

Xander held up his gloved hands, grinning when the little thing pattered into his cupped palm and snuffled around, tickling his fingers when it tried to force its nose between them. It had scales on its feet and little opalescent claws that reminded him of Wesley's. He stroked a finger down its back and it puffed up with an eee-amm, eyes closed, and pushed up against his fingertip.

Cole watched him with blatant horror. "It's attacking."

"Actually, I think it's purring." Xander grinned back at Spike - who radiated predatory glee without a single outward sign. "Of course, that could mean it's getting ready to attack. It's a good thing I wore gloves," he added quickly.

The mouse was making a sort of 'prrrrrut' noise - not quite a purr, certainly not a regular mouse squeak. More like a bird's trill and Spike watched with gimlet eyes as Xander's gloved hand stroked the glossy little back. Cole was busy propping his foot on a sixteenth century side table, rolling up his trouser leg and shoving down his sock to show a pale, hairy, bandaged calf.

"See? It attacked me! Bit me! There was a whole nest of them in the pantry! I barely escaped with my life. I was going for some gooseberry preserve, my grandmother -"

"Yeah, right - must have been a real traumatizing thing for you, mate." Spike dug out smokes and lighter and lit up - huffed smoke toward the man. "Now. About our fee -"

"Yes! Wesley told me. I'm prepared." Cole dropped his trouser-leg and straightened, looking like a man going to the guillotine, and Spike smiled mirthlessly at him.

"Yeah, well, now that I've seen the situation - we need to talk."

Just you and me for a while, little guy, Xander thought, tuning out Cole's nervous stutter and Spike's predator, watching as the mouse demon - and how weird was it to think of this little creature as a demon? - decided to wash the first knuckle of Xander's gloved hand with its tongue.

The emergence of tongue made Cole flinch and back away. "They jump, you know. One almost got me in the face. I called Wesley assuming he'd send someone who knows what to do about demons!"

"Spike's the demon expert here, I'm just the muscle," Xander said, wandering away to examine a dusty wardrobe. Amusement affection from Spike and Xander reached out and ran his fingers over the dark, carved wood. Even after gods-knew how many years the carving was still crisp and fresh. Curlicues and cupids, animals and leaves. The word 'rococo' swam slowly up in Xander's brain, dim memory of a book he'd read one night on the site. He liked it. The demon-mouse - douse? - took his knuckle in both paws and nibbled delicately at the dark leather.

"Probably not good for your digestion," Xander told it.

He's talking to it. Oh god. He'll want to keep it. It'll be a pet. Bugger. Spike dragged his gaze away from Xander fawning over a living sugar-mouse and turned back to Cole. Told the twitching, sweating man about extraordinary effort, rare spells, hard work. Then he gave him an offer on the house. Cole nearly swallowed his tongue.

Smug from Spike, and Xander lifted the douse to eye level, meeting its blinking black eyes. "I don't know what he's up to but we're probably safe from it."

The creature gave another of its odd warbles and hopped onto the wardrobe, snuffling around then scampering back toward Xander and launching itself through the air to land on his right shoulder.

It wiggled its nose.

Scrubbed its face with both paws.

Then yawned tremendously, revealing a double row of sharp long needle-y teeth.

Xander quickly held up a hand for it to climb back on to. "So - uh - where do the pink mice party around here?"

The douse 'ruurr'ed at him, then it launched itself again, this time landing easily on its paws and scrambling across the dusty, scuffed floor of the attic. Xander followed it, noticing for the first time the dozens of little douse-tracks in the dust. Tracks all leading to -

"Jesus. You could bury a whole family in this!" Xander stood and stared at an enormous mahogany buffet whose carved and pillared shelves and cabinets rose to at least ten feet in the air. Rows of drawers with tarnished brass hardware and legs curved and clawed and sturdy enough to hold up an elephant. The douse flicked its tail and dove under and Xander went carefully down on one knee, peering into the gloom under the buffet. He could see - something. A sort of glow. Footsteps behind him, and the scent of smoke and leather.

"What'd you find, pet?"

"I dunno." Xander shuffled back and sat up on his knees, rubbing a hand over his neck, already stiff from the awkward angle. "It ran under here. There's something behind this thing."

"Oh - that - that's...nothing. Been here since the house was built. Practically. Bolted to the wall."

Xander shook his head. "No way. This wouldn't be bolted to the wall, it's just - being stored up here. Should be down in the dining room." He squeezed himself between the edge of the sideboard and the wall, pulling off a glove with his teeth and feeling between wood and wall. "There's a gap - not a big one." And that same faint glow reflecting off his fingertips.

"Lemme see," Spike said, waiting while Xander backed out of the gap. He pushed in - felt, with his hand - then he pushed, straining muscles to heave the towering piece of furniture forward. Back braced against the wall, he eased it out - one foot, two - nearly three. The glow was stronger now and he crouched down, squinting. There.

Two feet from the floor, a wavering circle of pinkish-blue light. It rippled like a pool of mercury and as he watched a demon-mouse suddenly hopped out. It landed with a small thump - froze - and stared up at him. Spike stared back. Right. This house is mine. Ours. The git'll never stand for this. Spike pushed himself to his feet.

"Right. There's your problem - see?" He reached out and jerked Cole closer by a lapel - shoved him toward the gap. Cole peered into the dimness, bewildered, then recoiled, the handkerchief fluttering.

"Oh my god! What is that? Is that some sort of - what is that?"

"Dice," Xander said.

Spike blinked. "What?"

"Dice. Douse. Demon mouse, douse, dice. Right?"

"Right." Bugger. He's named them! "Right, Dice. That's how they're getting in." Spike shot a quelling look at Xander, who was grinning. "Could be thousands right behind that portal. Just waiting to - cross over."

"You can't let them! You've got to stop them!" Cole clutched at Spike's lapels, shook then let go quickly when Spike growled. "You - you don't understand! They look cute but when there's more of them, they're vicious!" He looked wildly from Spike, to Xander, to Spike - and to the douse which had puffed up its hackles and was making a growling sound at him. "They ate my dog!"

A snort of laughter escaped Xander before he could stop it - and hid it behind a coughing fit.

"What kind of dog?" Spike asked, and just barely held his face in its grim lines as Xander seemed to cough up a hairball, shuffling away fast into the crowded gloom of the attic. Something approaching hysterics flowed through the link and Spike drew on the last of his smoke and pinched it out, shoving the butt into his pocket. Regaining some control as Cole babbled on about his dog.

"Look, mate, we got things to do. Let's just go back downstairs and settle the - the transfer, yeah? I'll have cash for you tomorrow."

"Cash? You'll have - Yes, right. Let's go." Cole straightened his coat with a snap and turned on his heel - marched toward the door, leaving Spike to gather up Xander and follow. Xander actually had tear-tracks down his face and another of the - dice - in his palm. Spike rolled his eyes. Never be rid of the damn things.

Xander looked up at the overt huff of fondness irritation from Spike - the almost suppressed thread of cute running through it - and grinned.

Spike growled. "Not a word."

Xander mimed zipping his lips and laughed, trailing after Spike.

The douse on his hand jumped down as they reached the stairs. Halfway down, Xander turned to see if it would go back to the portal and nearly missed the next step. Dozens and dozens of red pinpricks floated in the gloom. Douse-eyes. Watching them go. Xander took a deep breath and hurried after Spike and was very, very happy to shut the attic door behind him.


~*~*~*~*~


"Come on, English." Pacing with a bad leg wasn't his favorite activity but Gunn managed. Had to be doing something. And being pissed off 'cause Wes was late made all the pain go away - okay, so maybe he was worried more than pissed off.

And he did not wanna be the one making that call to Spike and Xander if Wesley went and got himself hurt takin' one more for the team.

They'd both taken plenty for that team if you asked him.

Gunn's leg agreed, shattered kneecap sending up a formal complaint and request for leave to the man upstairs.

Plenty.

He checked his cell phone for messages one more time. Nothing. "I'm givin' you another five minutes to call me," he told it, "- and then I'm calling you even if you're in an audience with Pope Whoeverthefuck."

It was actually fifteen minutes later when Gunn finally lifted the phone, fingers in 'dial' position. Then it chirruped at him and he almost dropped it, fumbling for the 'talk' button. He did drop his cane and stood swaying in the middle of the living room.

"God damnit! Hello?"

"Charles, is everything all right?"

"Oh, yeah, sure, it's all good." Gunn awkwardly bent to get his cane, grimacing as his knee screamed in protest. "Now - you wanna tell me where you are? You better be telling me you're on your way over."

There was a moment's silence and then a heavy sigh. Gunn limped to the couch and sat heavily. "I don't like the sound of you not talkin', English."

"I'm - sorry, Charles. The final negotiations are taking longer than we expected - the Clan Sorcerer is being..."

"An asshole?"

"Mulish." Another sigh, and a resigned "Yes, I'll be right there," to someone else. "I really am sorry, Charles. I'm probably going to be here another hour or more."

Gunn sighed himself - leaned back on the couch, feeling defeated. "Yeah, okay. Just...don't let 'em push you around, English, you hear me? And don't stay there all night."

"I'll do my best. 'Bye, then."

"Yeah, 'bye." The line clicked and Wes was gone, and Gunn shut his phone and stared up at the ceiling. Sure be glad when he's quit of that place.

The phone rang again, Xander Harris on the display.

"Aw come on. I'm not your answering service, man." Gunn pressed the 'talk' button again and brought the phone to his ear. "He ain't here."

"What d'you mean, he's not there? Why not? Where is he?" Sharp, accented voice and Gunn winced away from the phone just a little.

"He's still in negotiations, I -"

"Still? It's been hours! Bloody hell -"

"Christ, Blondie! Will you shut the fuck up? I ain't the man's keeper!" Gunn listened to a vampire breathe on the other end of the line. "You ain't the only one worried but there's nothin' stopping me from hanging up this phone and blocking your goddamn number, swear to god I will." He sank back into the cushions with a groan, headache like an ice-pick - bang right between the eyes.

"You do and I'll -" There was a noise like a lion growling, then a thud and scuffling noises. Then:

"Gunn? It's me. Sorry. Ummm - anything?"

"Tell that Blondie Bear of yours he'd better rein it in. Yeah, something," Gunn added, squeezing the bridge of his nose between thumb and finger. "I just talked to him, he said they're still negotiating. Gonna be a while."

"Shit."

"'Bout sums it up." Xander sounded as tired as he was. "But he's alive and kickin'. Didn't sound like any big ugly took a bite out of him - unless you count Angel."

"Angel bit him?"

"What the fuck?! Angel did what?" Spike, loud enough to make Gunn wince again.

"No, no biting, he -" More thuds - growling - and Gunn wondered what would happen if he just hung up. Then Spike was back on the line for about five seconds - long enough to shout something about Angel and Wesley and stakes. And then a sort of yelp and then a breathless Xander.

"Sorry, I'm - god damnit! - sorry. We're just gonna - Spike! That's not helping! Just gonna go. Okay? Thanks! Bye!" Gunn stared at his phone - shut it and let it fall to the couch. Wes must be out of his mind. Those boys are crazy.

Had to be crazy in that line of work. Seemed like it drove Xander even crazier, hooking up with Spike. Stories he heard from Wes, Xander used to be one of the normal ones.

Unless that was what passed for normal in Sunnydale.

Gunn shook his head. Crazy people - all of 'em. And he was gonna join them - Froot Loops psycho boy edgy - until Wesley came home in one functioning piece.

Damn - the crazy just had to be contagious.


~*~*~*~*~


Wesley stood quietly in the entry of Gunn's apartment. Smiling to himself, watching Gunn. Who was asleep. Sprawled out on the couch, sweat pants and t-shirt and a hooded, zip-up top. Looking, in his sleep, absurdly young. Do I look that young, when I'm asleep? Wesley wondered. He rather doubted it. He wished...he could feel than young again. Back when he was a new Watcher and the world was a little more black and white. All this grey now...like a fog. It's so...bloody hard... Finally, he moved forward, putting his briefcase and jacket down on the easy-chair. Slipping his shoes off and stretching hard. Wondering if he should wake Gunn - glancing at the Law & Order re-run that was playing on the TV.

Wesley padded into the kitchen and got a beer - made himself a sandwich from the tuna Gunn had laughingly stirred up the day before. Heavy on the tuna, light on the 'extras'. When he went back to the living room, Gunn was stirring.

"I smell fish," Gunn said, eyes closed - no unnecessary movement happening anywhere.

"Well done. Your nose is in fine working order." Wesley took another bite, finding himself with an unexpected smile as he watched Gunn mutter and rearrange himself into a less slouched position on the couch before opening his eyes to face the world.

Or one haggard watcher.

"Man. Where was this meeting? On the court during a game at Staples Center?" Wesley looked like - there was no metaphor. Wes looked like an Englishman who'd been dragged through ten kinds of nasty.

"Oh - I - I - God, this is ridiculous. There was a...deterioration in negotiations in the late afternoon and I was pushed into His Eminence's koi pond."

"Are you -? Oh, hell, you're fine. Jesus, Wes!" Gunn looked Wes up and down, shaking his head in mock despair. "You ate one of the koi, didn't you? I can tell. You're just picking at that sandwich."

"A little one," Wesley admitted, remembering the voluptuous satisfaction of tearing into wriggling cool flesh, gills fluttering against his fingers. "Oh don't look at me that way. We never would have earned their respect so quickly if I hadn't." Not that he'd known before biting into the fish. That had been instinct - what had followed had been a very lucky coincidence.

'You bring your own Sa'ins demon?'

'My own what, now?'

How was he to have known Sa'ins demons had a reputation as trustworthy mediators between species?

"Okay, there's a story here - one I gotta hear. But first - man, you are takin' a shower. You stink like a fish-pond. And it might be some kinda Obsession for Fishy Demon Men, but from here it's just eau de dead koi." But Gunn was laughing, and Wesley stared laughing too, and some of the tension of the day slipped away from him. My boy's gotta laugh more often. Too damn serious.

"Get out of here - get cleaned up and I'll make the popcorn. Gotta have movie-theatre-flavor when you're gettin' regaled."

The laughter drained out of Wesley as he watched Gunn lean hard on the couch arm to struggle upright. "Are you certain you're up to it? I could -"

"Could nothin'. Go wash off the stink before I run a bath and hold you down until we find out how long your kind can stay under water."

Wesley smiled, shaking his head - let Gunn have his dignity and went slowly back to the spare bedroom. He gathered up a comfortable old pair of jeans and a soft, woven shirt, shedding his still-damp and yes, fishy-smelling clothing gratefully into a laundry basket. He picked up his toiletry bag and slipped into the bath, listening to the microwave running and Gunn singing - something from Yeomen of the Guard, unless he missed his guess. The hot water and pounding spray were absolute heaven.

Wesley closed his eyes and moaned aloud at the bliss of water over skin - let the demon shiver to the surface and tilted his spines into the water's spray with a gasp as Charles sang on of the 'humble merryman, peerly proud, who loved a lord and who laughed aloud...' Merryman who loved a lord is it now? Are you changing the words for my benefit, Charles?

He shook his head, laughed and slid both hands luxuriously over his spines, flattening them to the curve of his skull in a pleasurable pin-prickle stretch of new muscles.

Gunn heard the shower start and nodded to himself in satisfaction. Popcorn, check. Beer, check. He rooted around in the mess of newspaper on the breakfast bar and found the Channel Guide. Had to be something good on, something they could just...sit and veg on. He scanned the listings, humming, then broke into song again as he got down a bowl for the popcorn.

Like a ghost his vigil keeping,
or a specter all-appalling,
I beheld a figure creeping,
I should rather call it crawling -


"Ah ha!" Gunn grinned. 'Big Trouble in Little China' was on. No brothers, but a damn funny movie all the same. Lapsing back to a low hum again, he poured out the popcorn and limped into the living room. The night was shaping up.


~*~*~*~*~


"Ten out of ten for creepitude," Xander announced, sitting on a headstone and watching tendrils of mist chase each other between the trees. "But a piddling two for action."

"Where'd the extra point come from?" Spike mumbled into the flame of his lighter, tobacco smoke rising into the chill night air. He didn't put up a fuss when Xander wrapped arms around him and pulled him up between his legs.

"Action's right here. One." He gestured to himself. "Two." He gestured to Spike, nudged the cigarette out of the way and kissed him, smoke and cold air. "Action." He ran his hands over Spike's ribs in apology, feeling for tender spots until Spike caught a wrist in his hand.

"Don't mind you pouncing on me," Spike said, slow look through the smoke that made Xander flush and want through the link like a scatter of sparks. "Could've just asked for the phone back, though," he added, pouting just a little - watching Xander out of the corner of his eye. Because Xander was sending out a little guilt as well, and if that meant more make-up kissing and groping, that was fine.

Xander's wrist turned under Spike's hand and the cool leather glove stroked his belly and Spike took in a huge lungful of ice-edged air. Tinged with the scent of the river and the sea, snow and wet stone and wood smoke. Clean and thin and good. "Gonna kiss it all better?"

"Yeah," Xander said, sliding off the tombstone and to his knees in the snow, gloves getting peeled off and both hands resting on Spike's waist, warm and big. His mouth was warm too, hot breath puffing through Spike's sweater to the thin skin beneath.

Xander worked his thumbs under the edge of Spike's shirt, pushing it up to reveal a strip of chilled skin, kissing until his lips were cold too. He felt a hand settle in his hair where it poked out beneath the thick knit cap - and smiled. "Better?" Asked through a screen of eyelashes and a grin.

"Get up, you git. You'll soak your jeans through and get pneumonia," Spike pulled Xander to his feet, trying to frown but Xander's warm hands and warm, laughing mouth were too much and he pulled Xander close and kissed him. "Perfect, love. Exactly what I needed." Another kiss, slower this time, and then Spike pulled back with a small sigh. "You think Wes is all right?"

Xander leaned against his tombstone, Spike a solid weight against his chest. "Gunn'll make sure he eats, sleeps, remembers to take his sense of humor pills. I'd worry about him if he was staying home." But real worry threaded through Spike, crawled through Xander's veins like a blind wriggly thing and he swept his hands over Spike's back beneath the duster. "Bureaucracy takes longer than beating things up."

"Demons and bureaucracy don't much mix. Don't care what this Cardinal says - there's always more blood than ink on a demon contract." Spike hated to say it but it was true and he leaned into Xander and wormed cold fingers up under the layers of t-shirt and thermal and sweater Xander was wearing, making Xander twitch and then shiver. But pull him closer, too, and Spike sighed and took a last draw off his cigarette - tossed it away so he could get both hands on Xander and just...hold on. Be over soon, and we'll get Wes out of there, and... Everything will be good.

"Don't mind me, pet. Never cared for the dickering, you know?"

"You and Buffy," Xander said, nuzzling his cheek against Spike's hair and looking out through the tombstones and trees. It felt...homey. Xander chuckled at the thought and held Spike closer until he thought he could feel the imprint of a hipbone. "He'll be fine. He's smart. He knows how to do things with his brains instead of his fists."

"Oi." The complaint was mild and muffled by Xander's scarf.

"Hey, I'm a fists guy too. Willow and Giles were the brains of our operation."

"Mmmm..." Spike didn't particularly want to talk about Scoobies so he nuzzled in under Xander's jaw - bit and licked and kissed until Xander was sighing - was moving against him in a slow and steady rhythm. Love and need and safemineyours - warm crest of emotion that broke softly over the both of them.

"You're right, love. Wes'll be fine." A breeze suddenly rattled through the winter-bare leaves and Spike heard the dull and distant clang of a buoy-bell. Xander shivered, and Spike straightened up and turned a little, tugging at him. "S'cold, love. Let's go back. Fire'll be going still, and we can get in that tub again, yeah?"

"Yeah." Xander let himself be tugged, pulled, led - which was pretty much the state of his life but these days - with Spike - he was okay with that. With a last kiss, he let go, slipped into the easy side-by-side walk with snow crunching underfoot and witch lights dancing in the trees. They were kinda pretty.

And not trying to kill him.

That was always bonus points in the Xander Harris score book of life.


~*~*~*~*~


"Hello, Spike,' Wes said, and Spike wanted to drop straight down to the floor with overwhelming relief. He didn't, though - he gripped the mantle in one hand and the phone in the other, the fire stitching a line of heat up his naked calf and thigh. Xander was asleep, curled loosely on the bed, hair across his cheek and his arm stretched out over the half of the bed where Spike had been.

"Don't ever do that again, Wes," Spike said. Fighting to keep his voice low. "You're supposed to talk to us every day."

"I'm all right, Spike. And so are you and Xander. I was in no danger at -"

"Bloody hell. You're in danger every sodding day, Wes. Haven't got the sense of a newborn buggering bunny when Angel asks you to hop -"

"Spike." He listened to Wesley take a deep breath, steadying breath and Spike wanted to curse.

Gonna be something else now. Some new quest for Peaches. Gonna be - Xander stirred on the bed and Spike clamped down on his thoughts. "What?"

"The covenant has been signed and sealed, magic and blood."

Spike felt the hairs stand up on his arms and growled. "Whose blood, Wes?"

"Angel's."

"Better have been. Damnit, Wes...that kind of mojo - it's not -"

"It's all right, Spike. I was safe. Am safe. And now..." There was a pause, and a sound of liquid, and Spike knew Wes was taking a drink. "And now I just have to -"

"Have to nothing, Wes! You're done, remember?" Spike throttled his voice back down from a near-shout, watching Xander who twitched and moved a little on the bed. He tried to project calm calm, but he was breathing in hard, angry gusts and he wanted to hit something.

"I'm done, Spike. I am. Angel agreed. Tomorrow I'm going to clear out my office. I'm done."

"You - promise, Wes?"

"I promise." Wesley's voice was warm warm - gentle and wrapping around him over two thousand miles and a bloody awful telephone.

He wanted to believe Wesley. "He's gonna have another excuse. When you come in to clear out your office - it'll be another bloody excuse, another sodding job and those great poufy puppy eyes of pain he's got."

"Then he will have to find another man for the sodding job." Spike listened to ice cubes sliding against each other, a soft swallow. "When are you and Xander coming home?"

Spike closed his eyes for a moment - reached onto the mantle where he'd laid cigarettes and lighter and lit up, drawing a lungful of smoke and looking over at Xander one more time.

"Now, see...here's the thing, Wes. I don't - think we are."

Ice cubes rattled, glass clattered and Wesley's breath grew ragged around the edges. "Spike, I - no. I - " A deep breath. "You can't mean that."

Christ. Idiot. You don't just - "No, no, Wes - bloody hell! I'm sorry, I mean... We can't come back to Sunnydale. We can't, Wes. And - LA... That'll never work either. But here..." Spike drew in a lungful of smoke, pacing back and forth in front of the fire. Muddled content from Xander, sleep-thoughts without real form.

"There's this house, love. Your friend Cole, he's selling it and... It's perfect, Wes."

"You're not coming back," Wesley repeated - quietly - and Spike listened to the slosh and spill of unsteady hands pouring another drink.

"No." Spike drew hard on his cigarette, flicked the butt into the fire and lit another one, listening to the whisky. Listening to Wesley get up and pad across carpet, open a door.

"Do you both want me there?"

"Of course we do! Wes - of course we do. This place...Wes, we both thought of you the minute we walked in. You can make it wall to wall books, love, and - there's a bedroom that'll be nothing but Nest, just for the three of us..." Spike heard a soft click and he wondered if Wes had been checking on Gunn. Was glad, as much as they were both missing Wes, that he had Gunn there for him, to keep him company. "Of course we want you, Wesley. We love you."

Spike listened to another unsteady breath. A muffled laugh. Christ. Can you still doubt it, love? "Wes?"

"Is Monday too soon for my arrival?" So much emotion clouding that voice. Muffled footsteps and the slide of a glass door, then faint traffic noise - always traffic noise in LA. Even at three in the morning.


~~~~~


"Monday's bloody perfect, Wes." Spike grinned - walked over to the small wet bar and poured himself a drink - toasted the empty air. "Monday we'll be in our new house - the three of us. Free of the sodding Powers... Well, almost free. Bloody visions." We will fix that, love. Somehow. We will.

"The visions are a small price to pay for my life and freedom." Wesley sighed and Spike listened to the creak of a metal balcony railing, car horn in the distance. "How was Cole? Did you and Xander...solve his little problem?" Spike could hear the smirk in Wesley's voice, barely suppressed laughter.

"Oh, you absolute sod! You knew. D'you know what? Xander's already named them! Calls 'em douse. We'll never be rid of the little vermin. He'll want 'em for pets." Spike poured another drink - carried it back to the bubble of heat that radiated out from the fire. "An' it's all your fault. Don't come crying to me when the little bastards nibble a hole right through Crawford's Rites and Rituals."

"Spike, do you honestly think even an ex-watcher would leave his library unprotected?" Wesley's chuckle was wicked and Spike heard him took a sip. "These - wait - douse?"

"Demon mouse. Douse. Dice. He named them, Wes. He thinks they're cute." Spike looked fondly over at his sleeping lover. At pale-caramel skin that had warmed to honey in the firelight - at the delicate arabesque of sepia ink that accented...the most beautiful face...my beautiful man... "He was petting the bleedin' thing, Wes. Cole said they ate his dog."

Silence.

Then:

"Spike...Cole owned a champion rottweiler."

And then:

"I do hope Xander was wearing thick gloves."

"Oh, right - pull the other one, Wes, it's got bells on. They're sugar mice! They couldn't kill a chihuahua."

"Did you see a rottweiler when you were there?"

"Could've sold it."

"Was he distraught?"

"Suppose you could call him that."

"God. He loved that bloody dog. Couldn't shut his gob about the damned thing."

"Was goin' on and on 'bout his granny this time." Spike stared into space, smoking the last of his cigarette. "No, no way," he said finally. "They're little. And pink. They're pink, Wes."

"So are Shuryllack demons and they paralyze their prey in order to feast on their warm viscera."

"Shuryllack demons aren't cute."

"Of course, it's impossible for a vicious killer to be cute - blue eyed with the curly hair of a cherub, pouting lips and skin like smooth cream."

"That's not cute, that's bloody horrible, that is, like some soppy Valentine's card or -" Spike checked - growled - and tried to ignore the suppressed snorts of laughter coming over the line.
"M'not cute. Or cherubic. I'm evil, Wes. And don't you forget it." Spike settled carefully on the edge of the bed and reached out to brush Xander's hair back from his face. Yeah. Evil.

Xander mumbled in his sleep and turned his face into Spike's touch with a sigh, lips resting against his palm with warm and even puffs of breath.

"It has been a while since you last saw yourself in a mirror, hasn't it?" Wesley sounded more relaxed, more comfortable - more likely to take the piss.

Spike snorted.

"Xander would agree with me. How is he?"

"Oh, he's brilliant. As always." Spike petted the thick, soft hair - got up again and went back to the fireplace. "He likes it here...And you can't tell him, about the house. He doesn't know I bought it. Wanted to surprise him."

"I won't tell," Wes said softly, and Spike smiled.

"Miss you, Wes."

"It isn't long until Monday. I'll have my ticket this morning and arrange for removers this weekend." Wesley sighed. Didn't sound entirely...happy, that sigh.

"What is it, pet? Not... You do want to come out here, don't you? I mean -"

"I do! God, yes. I do. I couldn't leave the two of you. Not now." Spike listened to Wesley walk again, softly padding across carpet and that quiet click again.

"Wes, you... You know, might be nice, once we get all settled to have Charlie-boy come for a visit. Show him around. I'll bet he's never been out east," Spike said slowly. Picturing in his mind Wesley standing in a dark bedroom door, looking in on Gunn. His best friend, really. Only one left...

"He hasn't," Wesley answered immediately. "I - yes, I'm sure he'd enjoy the vacation. Perhaps once it warms up. I can't imagine him enjoying a northern winter."

"Right. That's settled, then. And - you'll get our gear out here, right? Gunn can help with that... All the pillows, Wes," Spiked added, picturing Wes deciding that they could buy new. Or that they didn't need a Nest. "Some of those pillows have sentimental value."

"How can a pillow have sentimental value? Some of them are practically threadbare, Spike!"

"All the pillows," Spike repeated.

"All right. Every last bloody one."

"I'll buy you nice new pillow when you get here," Spike said, letting his voice drop to a throaty purr. "Something smooth and satiny, you think? Or...something soft...maybe fur... Put it under your belly, Wes...under your hips..." He heard a breathy noise from Wes and grinned.

"Bloody hell." Spike grinned, listening to the sounds of buckle and zip and the soft slither of a blanket over the back of the couch, Wes covering himself.

"Wes...are you hard? For me?" Spike murmured. "Are you...aching and hot for me? Just imagine all that silky fur, Wes, prickly-smooth against your belly...and my mouth on your back...my hands pushing your thighs apart...are you imagining it, Wes?"

Silence on the line, broken by ragged breaths and what sounded like an unsuccessful attempt to calm down. "Damn you. Vividly. On Charles' couch, Spike."

"He's asleep, Wes. Love the way you taste, you know. I'd taste every inch of skin from your neck to your...balls, Wes. Hold you open and fuck you with my tongue..." Spike leaned on the mantle, his own breath quickening, his own cock already hard. He dropped his hand to himself and stroked slowly. "Love how you taste, Wes..."

Wesley made a strangled sound, muffled moan and Spike listened - hard - for the faint tell-tale whisper of flesh on flesh. "And where is Xander? Watching us? Touching himself and...waiting his turn?" Wesley's voice dropped - and dropped again, barely there and Spike could imagine him biting his lip to keep quiet, eyes fastened on the closed bedroom door.

"Xander is -" Spike started when warm hands slid around his waist - pulled him back into heat and solidity and he made a small, pleased sound. "Xander's right behind me, love. Touching me...touching you. He's going to hold my cock when I push it into you...he's going to have his hand on your hip, holding you still..." He felt a puff of air on neck - sharp exhalation, and Xander pressed closer, his hands caressing Spike's belly and then the tops of his thighs. Teasing. "He's going to tell me when I can move, Wes, and when to hold still..."

"Hold still." Xander kissed and bit his way to Spike's ear, nuzzling and rubbing lazily against fire-warm skin with a smile still half-asleep, one hand joining Spike's around his cock, the slow stroke of linked fingers. "Can't move a muscle - love it when you want it so much you're shaking."

Wesley swallowed - hard - and exhaled a shaking breath. "You're an awful influence on Xander, Spike."

"He's a quick study, pet," Spike said, and then Xander slipped the phone from his hand.

"Wes...I'm going to get you ready. Can you feel me? I'm going to slide my fingers into you and make you all hot and slippery...ready for Spike..." Spike shivered, small noise of frustration and wantminewant. Xander leaned closer, making sure Spike would be able to hear anything Wes said. "And he can't move, Wes. Can't move until you're ready...tell me...when you're ready..."

Shuffling fabric, urgent scuff of skin over upholstery, soft moan of need, of giving up, giving in and Wesley's breathless voice. "Now, Xander - please, now."


~*~*~*~*~


"You know you can always call on me, Angel. Any time. I'll always be ready to help you." Wesley squeezed Angel's shoulder, wishing he could do more to ease the ache that was so plain in Angel's gaze. "I'm still... We'll always be friends, Angel. I will always be your friend."

Angel looked everywhere but Wesley, finally settled on the ground between their feet. "I'm not good at the goodbye thing," he admitted to Wesley's work boots.

Wesley smiled. "I know."

"It...you can always call me too, Wes. If you want to. If you need anything."

"I know. And don't think I won't. I'll have you hopping." Wes stood for a moment, looking at Angel's downcast face - at his hunched shoulders. Then he stepped forward and gently pulled Angel into an embrace. Just...holding him, for a moment.

"It's been an honor and a privilege, Angel. Truly. And I'll always consider you one of my very best friends." Wesley stepped back - smiled when Angel finally met his gaze. "Take care of yourself, Angel, all right? And take care of Andrew and the girls..."

Angel held his gaze for a heartbeat - Wesley's - and looked down again with a nod, silent but not finished. Wesley waited patiently, shoulder to shoulder now with Angel and looking out across the lobby of the Hotel Ali Baba together one last time. Home of Angel and his forty thieves. Andrew had begun the job of moving into Wesley's office. He could see an Imperial Star Destroyer scale model hanging from the ceiling already.

"Take care of Spike," Angel said at last. He shoved his hands into his pockets, awkward and big.

"I will. Angel -" Angel looked up at him, and Wesley smiled softly - shook his head. "Just...be careful. Especially now that Sunnydale's going to be - occupied. The Hellmouth can be quite tricky, open or not."

"Yeah. We'll be fine, Wes. There's your taxi." Angel nodded toward the door and Wesley sighed a little - touched Angel's hand and moved toward the door.

A ghost impression of more than human warmth lingered in Angel's skin while he watched Wesley walk away into the California sun and disappear into the anonymous yellow cab.

He turned on his heel and stalked back into his office and to the weapon's cabinet, opening it and pulling out a wickedly curved dagger - one that'd made its way home with him from the ruins of Wolfram and Hart. He tucked it into his coat and headed for the sewer entrance. "Andrew, hold all my calls."


~*~*~*~*~


"Why do I only have one of these socks?" Xander stared down at the wooly red sock he'd bought in Salem. His California socks hadn't been up to 20 degree days.

"Dunno, love - down in the bed somewhere?" Spike shoved a sweater into his bag and toppled Xander to the bed - shifted around until he was on top and Xander was pinned neatly beneath him. "Maybe we should search the bed," he suggested, rolling groin to groin and looking at Xander from under lowered lashes.

"Gonna miss our plane," Xander breathed, legs warm to either side of Spike's hips. "Gonna miss our plane, get stuck here...never get back to California - " His breath hitched and he hissed, sliding a hand over Spike's ass, palming muscle, flex of fingers pinning him in place. "Oh yeah - not seeing the bad."

"Don't you want to go back, then?" Spike asked, throttling down the gleeful surge of yes! that threatened to give him away. He rocked into the press of Xander's flesh, leaning down to push his mouth into Xander's neck - tease the bite that he'd put there only a few hours earlier.

"Uh...how can I put this?" Xander's fingers curled and scratched, sliding into Spike's hair, riding the tide of yes fucknow rising between them. "No." He pushed, rolled and trapped Spike under him and mouthed the long-faded bite that had been on Spike's throat, bringing blood to the surface - stopping abruptly and lifting his head, all mussed hair and glassy eye. "We got paid, right?"

"Course. Money's waitin' in that account Wes set up for us." Spike pulled Xander back down, grinning up at the ceiling as Xander dragged his teeth over Spike's neck. He wormed both hands into the waist of Xander's jeans and kneaded the dense muscle of his flanks. "Mmm, yeah, right there, love."

"Right here?"

"Right - god yeah!"

Xander dragged his tongue over the first coppery drops, feeling the renewed electric shiver through his veins. He closed his lips over the shallow break in Spike's skin, groaning when it sealed over too soon and lifting his head, breathing hard. "Suddenly feeling the need for a horizontal dance of capitalist celebration. Right now."

"Yeah, right - fuck - okay -" Spike struggled with Xander's jeans, trying to feel him up and strip him at the same time. "Plane won't wait for us though, Xander," he said, breathless and low as clothing was tossed aside and Xander got his arms under Spike's thighs, pushing his legs wide.

"Don't want it to. Don't care. Just want - this - god!" Xander hovered, on edge over Spike, eye wild, skin flushed beneath the arabesque of his tattoo and looked down the length of their bodies to watch himself sinking into Spike - still slick, still ready. "Just want this."


~*~*~*~*~


"I'm walking, here!" Gunn snapped, flourishing his cane at an overdressed woman with a misbehaving wheeled suitcase, a small and yippy dog in a carrier and a cell phone seemingly surgically attached to her ear. She shot him a venomous look and clicked past, her suitcase clipping Gunn's cane. "Oh man I hate LAX!"

"It does seem to have gotten worse with time," Wes said, wrinkling his nose at the cloud of perfume the woman had left in her wake. "We're early - care for a drink?"

"Jesus, yeah. I'm buyin'."

"Charles, you don't have to -"

"I," Gunn gestured to himself, "am buying my boy a drink while I still can." He slung an arm over Wesley's shoulders and steered him in the direction of an enclosed bar and restaurant.

"You're welcome to visit - any time," Wesley assured him, not liking the grim set to Gunn's lips or the skeptical look he threw him.

"Ain't the same, is it?"

"Well, I suppose not." They settled silently onto bar stools, waiting for the girl to notice them and come over. Gunn spun his cane through his hands, looking dissatisfied, and Wesley felt a twist of utter sorrow go through him. Going to miss him...

"Hey, man, don't mind me. I'm just..." Gunn shook his head - smiled crookedly at Wesley. "I'll come see you, sure. After you're settled. 'Sides, you got Blondie Bear and his evil henchman to deal with - never a dull minute for you."

Wesley felt the wistfulness of Gunn's smile in his own. "It isn't the same," he admitted.

"Some wise guy said change is good for the soul. He was smokin' something if you ask me but - I guess it's not all bad. It's a step up from changing into evil lawyer people overnight." Gunn occupied himself with spinning a bar mat on the counter and Wesley watched it flip light-dark-light until he spoke again. "What're you gonna do when you get there? Can't tell me you're retiring for good."

"Well, no. I do have a number of contacts from our...Gunn Agency days," Wesley said, smiling at the name - smiling wider when Gunn laughed. "And I will still be - well, the visions are still there, so... No, not retiring. I'd thought about opening a book-shop, though. It would be a good cover, don't you think? I could acquire all the obscure texts I wanted without anyone the wiser."

"And keep food on the table when the clients don't pay the bills." Gunn smiled, remembered the days when the difference between eating cheap spaghetti and a two pound steak came down to that week's client's willingness to pay up. "Think you could get a wholesaler's discount on graphic novels?"

"I'm sure Xander will insist." The bartender finally came over and they both ordered a beer, watching as she opened the bottles, served them.

"And - what - Blondie and Harris are gonna be your go-to boys? Or are they doin' something else out there?"

"Yes. Spike sounds like he's looking forward to dealing with the demon community outside Angel's territory." Wesley took a drink, smiling over at Gunn. "Actually, he's thrilled to be away from Angel's influence and reputation. They get along much better with a continent between them."

"Oh, hell yes." Gunn drank as well - picked at the label of his bottle for a moment. "Angel didn't - give you any hassles, did he? I mean - he didn't try to stop you, right?"

"No. He misses what we had, Charles - all of us. He lost as much as anyone in the past few years."

"And we're all lyin' in the bed he made. He can miss it all he wants."

Wesley sighed softly. He agreed with what Gunn was saying...but he still felt pity for Angel. No, not pity. Empathy. They'd all made hard choices - and made mistakes in the past five years.

They'd all paid a price. "Yes. That's true, I suppose. But he still... He has regrets, Gunn. Don't think too badly of him." Gunn nodded shortly, not convinced, and they finished their beer in silence, listening to the various announcements coming over the PA.

"And that's my flight. Better we say goodbye here, Charles. The checkpoint is a good distance - I don't want you straining your knee in these crowds."

Gunn nodded and they slid off their bar stools, gathering coats and carryon and cane - then dropping it all to catch each other in a fierce hug. "You take care of yourself, English. I don't wanna be getting no teary midnight phone calls from the Gruesome Twosome."

"No, no, I mean - I will, don't worry. I promise." Wesley hugged Gunn hard - closed his eyes for just a moment to deeply breathe in the scent of the man. Musk and spice and something...rich. Savory. Something that was just Gunn. Then Gunn stepped back, and Wesley did, and each held the other's gaze for a long moment.

"I'll call you, Charles. I'll keep in touch. We both will. And - I hope to see you soon."

Gunn grinned, clapped him on the back and steered him back toward the bar's door. "Real soon. I need to get out more, anyway."


~*~*~*~*~


Angel stood amidst the splinters of an ancient wooden door. After a few ancient wood doors, they really stopped being impressive and just got annoying. He looked around the empty cavern of the oracles. Very empty. "Okay - who do I have to kill to get service around here these days?"

"A dragon," two voices answered as one and Angel turned - game-faced snarl at the oracles. Male and female. Blue as the day they were spawned.

"Aren't you supposed to be dead? I'm sure I saw you dead."

"We never lived."

"How can we die if -"

"- we never had life? Foolish -"

"- vampire. Why do -"

"- you come to us now?"

"I need something."

"Your kind is always in need."

"It is not our problem."

"I've got an offering." Angel held up the dagger, held it out - and when they kept staring, set it down and stepped back.

"That is acceptable payment for your audience."

"A favor will cost more -"

"- much more."

"I'll pay it."

"Be careful that you do not enter into a debt you cannot pay."

"I'll pay it."

"You will enter into combat in this arena with another creature who has come to us seeking a favor. If you win, we will grant your request."

Angel looked around the small room - small, short room and breathed a sigh of relief. How big could the other combatant be? "Fine."

"So be it." The man waved his arm and a wall slid away, revealing a vast cavern and a creature Angel had to look up - way up at.

"That's a fake wall? Why did I never know that was a fake wall?"

"Begin."


~*~*~*~*~


Spike hated the sadsad that was coming from Xander. The feeling of leaving home so strong already. He falls so fast... Don't care. I like it here, too. "C'mon, love - not so bad as all that, is it?" He slid closer across the back seat of the cab, getting his arm over Xander's shoulders and tugging him into a kiss. "Gonna see Wes soon," he coaxed, "have great reunion sex."

"Vampires. Always with the sex and the luring. And the more sex." Xander dredged up a smile for Spike and looked past him out the window. He shook his head - because joking was better than clinging to a headstone like a kid clings to Mickey Mouse's leg and whines for one more ride! at Disneyland. "You're getting predictable." Xander watched Spike's hand creeping innocently up his inner thigh. "Not denying that it's an effective motivational tool, though."

"Oh, so you're not bored, then?" Spike asked, letting his hand settle lightly over Xander's groin - knead gently. Xander took in a sharp little breath and then he frowned.

"Are we going the right way? I thought the highway was - the other way," he said, sounding a little confused.

"Oh, yeah, everything's good," Spike said, and nuzzled into warm neck and hair and jaw, kissing. Distracting, just a little.

"'Kay." Xander shrugged, and caved like a wet house of cards at the first neck nibble. "You're the guy paying the driver, so if he soaks us by going to Boston via Maine, that's not my pr - " Xander lost the rest of his problem somewhere against soft lips and tongue and a hint of fangs. And okay - going to Boston via the really scenic route? Suddenly not such a bad idea.

Spike kissed and nibbled and sucked and caressed until Xander was a wriggling heap of nerve-endings and want fuck now, sprawled and panting along the cracked vinyl of the seat. When the taxi stopped he very nearly growled at the driver and told him to just go. But then he remembered and took a deep breath - pulled away from Xander and grabbed his hand.

"Here we are! C'mon, love," he said, tugging him out the door.

"Huh? And what? Or maybe where," Xander finished, staring up at the bulk of 37 Chestnut Street in confusion, shivering in the wind and snow as Spike pulled their luggage from the taxi and paid the driver. "Why are we here?"

Spike's arms slid around him from behind, cold nose nuzzling into his nape, cold lips pressing to his neck. "It's home."


~*~*~*~*~


Angel jumped - hard - flying over the thing's warty shoulder and managing to kick it in the head on the way. It staggered slightly and then turned with a roar, boney wrist-spurs snicking through the air - slicing the edge of Angel's coat. Angel landed hard - rolled - and was up again, leaping and punching and darting away. The thing was stronger then him and definitely bigger, but he was faster and was pretty sure his endurance would hold.

Has to hold. All or nothing - fuck! Angel lost his breath and his sight for a few precious seconds as the thing slammed him into a wall and then he was up and leaping again - landing on the pebbly, thick back and scrabbling for a hold. Trying to ignore the ache in his ribs and the sharp stab of agony in his ankle.

There were more spines on the thing's back - curving up off the shoulders and Angel had a sudden plan. He dug in, nails and elbows and knees and feet and dragged himself up - got one hand around a spine.

The thing roared again, slapping at him - caught a sleeve and the tail of his coat and started to drag him off. Angel had the spine in a death-grip. He wrapped his other hand around it as well and hung on grimly, twisting. The thing bellowed and the spine snapped and Angel flew off, hitting the cavern floor.

The thing whirled and pounded across the packed dirt toward him and Angel hauled himself upright - swiped once at the blood that was trickling into his eye. Then he put every last bit of strength into one more leap up - and sank the spine into the thing's throat.

It's death-throes went on for some time and Angel knelt beside it, gasping after air he didn't need. His ribs ached, his shoulder did, and he was pretty sure his ankle was broken. But it didn't matter. He'd won.

His coat was a loss, a tatter dragging through the dust behind him as he limped back to the oracles, dripping blood - dripping ichor and Jesus, he hated ichor. "I win. Now give Wes' visions to somebody else. Let him go."

The oracles exchanged a glance and nodded together. "Your wish is granted."


~*~*~*~*~


Wesley strode down the concourse, nearly to his gate. His bag swung from his hand, stuffed haphazardly with books, notebooks, toothbrush and change of clothes. He did not trust the airline enough not to have packed some essentials. As he walked, he found himself smiling. Remembered Connor and their goodbye, right before he'd gone into Angel's office.

"So you're really leaving, huh? Going east?" Connor looks...so young. Younger than his actual years, and certainly younger than his life experiences. A little lost, too.

"I really am. Spike and Xander are already there."

"Man. It is gonna be so dull around here without you guys." Connor lifts his head though the rest of him stays slouched, tucked in and guarded. "I'm gonna have to hassle dad all by myself. One guy can only do so much!"

"I'm sure there will always be allies willing to step in and help you annoy Angel."

Connor laughs, but it's short and a little shaky, and Wesley channels Xander for a moment - channels Spike and reaches out - pulls the thin figure into his arms and hugs him, hard.

"You've been a good friend to me, Connor, and I'm proud of you. Please - don't hesitate to call us any time. And you're always welcome in our home, all right? Always." Wesley squeezes him for a moment longer and then steps back, feeling better for having done that.

"I guess - I guess I could apply to Harvard..."

"Look out for Angel, will you?"

"Please. Like I could avoid him!"


And they had been back to jokes, back to banter so quickly and easily and -

"Oh!" Wesley turned too quickly, losing his grip on his suitcase as he collided with another body. "I'm terribly sorry!"

"S'cool, mun," a distinctly Scottish voice said, and Wesley found himself looking straight into amused green eyes. He blinked and then was grinning back - the smile that turned up the corners of the generous mouth was infectious. The - boy? man - bent down and then up again in a flurry of hot-pink dreadlocks and ropes of beads - charms on leather cords and pale-mocha skin decorated with swirling, black tattoos.

"Nah harm, yeah?" the vision said, handing Wesley his bag, and Wesley reached out for it.

"No, no harm," he replied. There were a ladder of silver rings up the boy's right ear - a stud just below his lower lip and - was that metal in his mouth? Wesley's hand closed on the bag, fingers brushing over long, be-ringed fingers and -

Something.

A jolt - a sudden shock of tingling heat and then -

"Safe journey," the boy said and sauntered off, something very Spike-ish in his hip-shot, devil-may-care stride.

And that stride only fanned the flames of need for Nest and home and Spike and Xander. When Wesley's flight was called for boarding, he was at the head of the line. Not long now, Wesley thought, strange little sparks and dread-locked punks forgotten in his longing.


~*~*~*~*~


Spike watched Xander put another log of apple-wood on the flame - watched him pick up the bottle of champagne and come back to the new Nest. They'd decided to set up in the empty sitting room on the first floor, just until they'd made the final choice of bedrooms. But they both wanted Wes there for that. Xander curled down into the Nest and Spike fussed, rearranging pillows and throws, dissatisfied with the thickness and softness.

"Be better when we get our own things - the old things. This isn't near what it should be," he grumbled.

"Martha Stewart vamp," Xander teased and stretched, lifted Spike bodily on top of him and held on. "We bought every pillow available in Salem after nine PM on a week night." He wriggled his toes in the fireplace heat, feeling the warmth soaking into him, baking him, melting him into a Xander-shaped and toasty marshmallow. "Wes won't mind as long as we're in it. I don't mind as long as we're in it."

"I know he won't," Spike mumbled, preoccupied now with tasting the curved and honey-gold arch of Xander's throat. The Nest was too thin, but it would do. And with Wes' fever-heat added to it, it would be... "Delicious," he said, licking up to Xander's ear lobe, and Xander pulled him closer, hum of content love mine need.

"That delectable taste is Chateau Harris, Nineteen Eighty. An excellent year. Very popular with the demon set - ." Xander's throat worked, shivers sliding through him to the pulse of Spike's mouth over his skin, tracing his garland of leaves, teasing. Lots of teasing and a simmering thrum of arousal and want. Like Spike was...feeding on him. Which was disturbing in how undisturbing it was. "Okay - more of that. Right now."

"Ooh, getting bossy with me," Spike husked. He looked up at Xander, tugging lightly on one silver ring. "Givin' me orders, now?" Press of his hips down, and a slow grind and Xander lost his breath - caught it again - opened his mouth. Something - chimed.

"I order you to go and answer the door," Xander said, and Spike groaned.

"It's cold by the door."

"Better hurry, then."

Spike crawled out of the Nest, muttering. "Thought you were supposed to be the harem boy."

"The harem boy has taken over the harem."

"It doesn't work that way, you silly sod."

Xander nuzzled into a pillow and lifted his eye to Spike. "You're already up."

Spike snorted and stalked across the cold parquet to the front door, jerking it open.

"Hello, Spi -"

"Wes! Get in here!" Wesley was nearly jerked off his feet as Spike pounced and dragged him - luggage and all - into the house. "Christ! It's freezing. Come on!" Wesley let go of bag and baggage and allowed a naked, rampant Spike to drag him down a hall, around a corner, and through a door.

"I say, this is a most remarkable -"

"Yeah, yeah, bleedin' lovely, get naked," Spike said, wrestling with Wesley's overcoat.

"Hi Wes!" Xander's tousled head popped up from a size-medium Nest and Wesley smiled at him, letting Spike do what he would.

"Hello, Xander," Wesley managed, muffled through his shirt which Spike was hauling over his head, knocking his glasses askew and pulling his scarf and hat off with it. He felt warm hands on his belt, and cooler hands on his waist and then lips, and hands lifting him and the softness of pillows beneath and bodies around and fire-warmed skin and -

"Oh," he breathed, the world going fuzzy as Xander removed his glasses last of all.

"Welcome home, Wes."





Square Twenty-One


From: wwp@wyndampryceoccult.com
To: cgunn@socalmail.net

...since Spike tends to keep all eleven (yes, I said eleven) fireplaces going if possible. I can't bring myself to waste that much wood - or to do that much work, frankly, but I found I've been too busy to really notice. I haven't tromped through a foot of snow daily since I was fifteen and I find it much more pleasant than my memories said it was. Perhaps because at the end of the journey is either a business I'm eagerly organizing or a house that I'm falling more and more in love with daily.

The 'gruesome twosome', as you insist on calling them, should be back from New York in two more days, at which time I'm hoping Xander can fix the window in the shop office - it comes open at odd moments and if I hadn't already performed a cleansing ritual, I'd be forced to suspect a poltergeist or some other such supernatural occurrence. In reality, I think that the frame is only badly warped by weather and the pry-bar that was used a year ago in a break-in.

And no, break-ins are not frequent, Charles. And certainly not after my warding spells went up.

I'm anticipating the arrival of several boxes of stock tomorrow - herbs and rune stones particularly, so I'll have a full day of sorting and shelving. How odd that I look forward with relish to such mundane tasks.

Did you find the case you were looking into, about grandfathering? It would be very helpful if I did not have to jump through the hoops that the State of Massachusetts has been holding up for me.


Wesley's cell phone reminded him to Feed his Frankenstein and he grabbed it with a groan, glancing at the display before punching the talk button. I must remember. Xander should never be left alone with the cell phone. "Hello, Xander."

"Is this thing supposed to be orange?"

"I beg your pardon?" Wesley set the laptop on the coffee table and stood, padding across the absurdly large living room toward the kitchen. Hopefully toward the kitchen. Provided I don't get lost and require a map along the way.

"This - uh - thing you sent us to get. The - thanks, Spike - the taalsetallmilaa - is it supposed to be orange - oh Christ - shit! Damnit - ! Fuck - okay, is it supposed to glow orange? How do I turn this thing off?"

Wesley smothered a laugh. Naming the thing made it 'wake up', but a complicated set of cantrips and some Oil of Ishtar was required to make it actually work. "Well, first you both have to get naked -" Wesley said, and Xander squeaked.

"We're in public! Spike, he's joking. Wes, say you're joking!"

"I'm joking, Spike!" Wesley padded in socked feet around the corner and into the kitchen, chuckling at the scuffling noises and the sudden yelp that could only be Spike getting his nose whapped with a newspaper. Or something like that.

"Just say the name again, Xander, and it will go back to sleep. How is the rest looking? You said you had the Hand of the Seer, are you set to pick up the boxes from Mr. Gulon's estate? I got a confirmation email this morning."

"Yeah, we're all good on that - Spike - yes, the second we get back to the hotel - no, not in the car, it's below zero out there!"

Wesley laughed aloud this time and picked up the kettle - shook it. It was empty so he went over to the sink to fill it. Something - pink - darted past, just in the tail of his sight.

"You'll have to do better than that if you're hungry," he told it, pulling a leftover carton of Szechwan Shrimp from the refrigerator and opening it with a hip against the counter.

A pink nose appeared over the edge, with pink whiskers twitching.

"Really, it's quite good." Wesley ate a shrimp by way of demonstration and sighed. This would do...for a snack. He wondered - again - if his demon was going through puberty. "Did it work, Xander?" he said into the phone, and passed a shrimp to a pair of grasping, waiting paws.

Wesley supposed he should be disturbed that the dice turned up their noses at rice and vegetables but never turned down an offering of meat.

They seemed to like spicy meat best.

He wondered if the Rottweiler would have been better with Tabasco.

"Xander?"

"Yes." Xander sounded out of breath and the traffic noises were more distant. Spike must have dragged them into an alley. "Yeah...yeah...like - Jesus - oh! No! Hey! In public, buddy! It worked, Wes. Spike is carrying the Hand of the Seer like you told him to - looks like whoever told you vampires are immune was right. Speaking of visions - anything?"

"No, actually, not for two weeks now. I'm - I'm a bit concerned. I've never gone this long without a vision and it's...worrying." Wesley scooped up onions and peppers and shrimp - ate a huge mouthful, grateful for the moment to be alone so he could wolf it down. He felt the shudder as he changed and the food took on a slightly sharper, more distinct flavor in his mouth. The douse froze and then twitched its nose toward him, unfazed. Wesley fished out another shrimp for it.

"I wouldn't worry about it, Wes. Maybe the PTB just decided to give you a - Christ, Spike, that's - Umm, right, sorry, Wes -maybe you're on vacation?"

"I - don't know," Wesley sighed. Another douse had appeared and now stood eagerly up on its hind-paws, nose working and whiskers perked toward Wesley. I'm going to have to order in more food. He shook his head, conceded ignorance. "I - suppose it's possible."

Anything was possible for a half-demon standing in the kitchen of a Federal mansion sharing spicy Szechwan shrimp with carnivorous pink kangaroo mice.

"Don't look a gift vacation in the mouth - or a douse. Definitely don't look a douse in the mouth." Xander laughed - breathlessly enough that Wesley suspected it had very little to do with the conversation. "Um - kay - gotta go or we're gonna be arrested for public lewdness. Oh! Hey, Connor called, he didn't know we were out here, he was really excited about something and he said he lost your new cell number, he wanted to talk to you. So he should be - fuck me - no, not here! He should be calling you soon. Okay?"

"All right. Be careful and - and tell Spike that I will be very displeased if I have to come up there and bail you both out of jail."

"Promise?" Spike's voice suddenly, breathy and thick with desire and Wesley closed his eyes.

"Yes, I promise, Spike. So displeased that you won't be allowed to come for a week." Sharp intake of breath and then Xander was saying something and then -

"Bye, Wes, we'll call you from the hotel, okay? Fuck - love you - bye -" The phone clicked off and Wesley smiled - sighed - went to the junk drawer and dug around for a moment, then pulled out all the delivery menus and fanned them on the counter.

"Hrmmm...what shall it be tonight?" Wesley asked, and the dice pattered over and fell to sniffing the grease-spattered papers. Another hopped with alarming dexterity onto the counter and Wesley mentally tripled his order.

Forty minutes later Wesley was conducting some 'Rigoletto' with his chopsticks - the dice seemed to like Verdi - and doling out bits of crab, yellowtail and salmon to the half-dozen who'd come scurrying when the doorbell had rung. The dreadful ring of his cell interrupted and he scowled and hit pause on the remote - snatched up the phone.

"Hello?"

"Hey! Wes!"

"Connor! Xander said that you wanted to speak to me. How are you?"

"Man, you will not believe this - it's crazy. This guy walks in here like, four days ago, and he's all - with these crazy pink dreads and tattoos -" Connor talked on and Wesley felt a funny little twist in his stomach. Pink dreadlocks and tattoos were very familiar.

"He - what?"

"He had a vision. I thought he was having a seizure or something - a kid in my high-school had epilepsy and it kinda looked the same but - he had a pen in his hand and he started writing on the wall...Dad was kinda pissed. We were in his office."

"What were you doing in Angel's - no, never mind. What did you say his name was?" Wesley got up and walked to the antique desk that was against the sitting-room wall and hurriedly hunted up pen and paper.

"Sionn," Connor said, and Wesley frowned.

"Say that again?"

"Shoon-nuh. It's Scottish. He's Scottish. His accent -"

"Yes, can you - is that S-I-"

"Yeah, O-N-N, Elphinstone. Isn't that cool? He said call him Tod if Sionn is too weird but I like Sionn."

"Tod?"

"Yeah, I don't know either - guess it's a Scottish thing, you know like Australian Bruces. Anyway, he's cool. Dad misses you. It's a lot quieter here since Andrew got his new slayers and moved to Sunnydale..."

At four in the morning Wesley woke with a gasp - reached blindly and turned on the lamp by the Nest, Connor's voice in his head.

'He had a vision...he had a pen in his hand and he started writing on the wall...Dad was kinda pissed...' Pink dreadlocks - Sionn - was in L.A., at Angel Investigations. Having visions. Wesley fumbled for his cell - squinted farsightedly at the keypad and hit memory 2. Waited through four rings and the breathless, rather preoccupied message that said Xander was not able to talk right that minute. Then the beep, and Wesley took a deep breath.

"I think - I don't think I'm a seer anymore. I think that's what Connor was calling to say. I'm...not sure how I feel about this. Call me?" He hung up - stared blankly at the ceiling for a long moment and then lay down, the phone in his hand and his hands curled onto his chest.

Not a seer. Is it possible? How? I wonder...if Angel knows anything about it...


~*~*~*~*~


Dousemaster: Who what now?
SpriteyMcFizz: I knew it! I knew it! I'm the first!
Dousemaster: Kennedy is the Slayer on the Hellmouth? In which bizarro world is that a good idea?
SpriteyMcFizz: Come on, Xander. Share my squee! She's not in England anymore.
Dousemaster: Dawnie, I don't want the world sucked into Hell. I like the world.
SpriteyMcFizz: It's not going to be sucked into Hell. Jeez. Worrypants. The Hellmouth is closed, remember? It just leaks.
Dousemaster: Uh-huh.
SpriteyMcFizz: So anyway, Kennedy's going to Sunnydale and Willow is staying in England with the coven.


"What's the news from Merrie Olde?" Spike asked, leaning in the doorway and making that face he made sometimes when contemplating England. Xander typed a hasty and dazed farewell and a promise to call Dawn for the details and got up, leaving Wesley's laptop open and running. He was sure to be on it in a minute. The face wasn't for England so much as the Watcher's Council, Xander knew - and the fact that Dawn stayed there when she was in London.

"Well, Dawn told me who's gonna be in charge of the Sunnydale Slayers...god, that sounds like a baseball team from Hell." Xander snagged Spike's hand - kissed his cheek and tugged him along to the main room of the shop where Wesley was brooding over a pile of supplies, looking lost.

"Yeah? Who, then?"

"Kennedy. And Willow's not going with her."

"You don't say..." Spike replied, a malicious little glint in his eye and Xander reeled him in by the grip on his hand and kissed him for real.

"Yeah, I do. And no being mean to Willow. I mean - no being very mean."

"Oh, I'd never do that, pet," Spike said, look of mock hurt on his face that Xander felt compelled to kiss away.

"You are evil," he whispered, and Spike 'hmmm'ed in agreement, walking Xander backward until he thumped against the shop counter.

"Don't knock over the - bloody hell."

Xander smelled Wesley's tea-and-leather shopkeeper smell - felt the brush of Wes' sleeve and hmmmed back at Spike who lifted him to sit on the counter with an ease that would have been disturbing...in another lifetime. "Sorry, Wes."

"No. You're not." Wesley pushed his folded fists into the small of his back with a small groan. "Not in the least."

"But I am sorry, Wes. And as soon as we get home, I'll make it up to you..." Xander pulled Wes close and kissed him - fended Spike off for long moments while he did it and Spike watched appreciatively, one hand stroking down Wes' back and the other sliding up under Xander's sawdust-furry t-shirt.

"Mmm..." Wes mumbled, and Xander pulled slowly back - smiled.

"Maybe a little massage, huh Wes? Work out your...kinks."

"Oh, I -" Wes looked appropriately dazed and Spike pulled him closer - nipped up the side of his throat and then took Wes' earlobe in his teeth - sucked and tugged for a moment.

"Never had a massage like Xander does, love," Spike murmured, and Wes shivered, pressing closer - one hand sliding down Spike's back to cup his ass, the other doing something to Xander so that Xander huffed out a small moan.

"Anya had us take a Tantric massage class," Xander murmured, tugging Wesley and Spike into the space between his thighs and working the back of Wesley's neck with his left hand, the other just resting against Spike's back "Anya had us take a lot of classes."

"Boy's a good student," Spike mumbled into the crook of Wes' neck.

"You will never know how wrong you are." Xander knocked Wesley and Spike closer together with his knees.

"Taught you a few good tricks -" Spike said, but Wes' mouth stopped him and then Xander's hand was moving on his back, pressing and digging in just like Spike liked.

"I'd like to teach him a few myself," Wes said, and Spike felt the stab of lust and want through the link like a hot, twisty little knife. So good it was almost bad.

"I'll bet you would," Xander grumbled, but he was back to rubbing his fingers over Wes' neck and Wes was shivering - changing - making a purry little grumbling sound down in his chest that made Xander grin.

"Would you rather I teach you on your back or over my knee?" Wes' eyes were slitted open, gleaming in an expression so wicked it belonged on Spike's face.

Where it was immediately replicated - along with a sinuous sexy slide of blatant appreciation.

"Oh Jesus. You told, him?" And where had hurt accusation turned into lusty moans? Lusty moans weren't in the script - his agent had promised - at least not there in the script. And why was Spike chuckling?

"Didn't tell him anything, pet."

"I find it fascinating that there's something to tell."

"Oh, Wesley, you should hear the fantasies he entertained about you in his school -" Xander shut Spike up by kissing him - hard - and Wesley blinked at the two of them for a moment - grinned when Xander finally let Spike go.

"Fantasies, Xander? What, me in my watcher-suit, all...authoritative and...stern? Did you want to be...punished?" Xander's eye - which had widened and darkened with lust and arousal now closed and he gulped air - groaned - his hand tight and hot on Wesley's neck, stroking the spines that lifted and flattened, lifted and flattened.

"Oh, fuck, Wes, I -"

"Fucking yes -" from Spike and then the phone rang. "Oh, fuck no!" Spike made a grab for the phone but Wesley was quicker, flipping it open and holding it to his ear.

"What? Oh, of course. Certainly." He squirmed out of Xander's grip - dodged Spike and sorted through the stack of papers he'd rescued from the counter behind Xander. "I have the purchase order right here..."

Xander shook his head sadly and watched Wesley wander away, already back in shopkeeper mode - back to human with a flick of his head. "How does he do that?"

"I dunno. All that Watcher training and years of repression, I guess." Spike suddenly rounded on Xander and Xander looked at him, wide-eyed. "Don't you ever try and learn that lesson, pet. Won't have it."

"No, you'll just have me as a registered sex offender in jail for public lewdness," Xander muttered, watching Wes like a hawk. Hands on Spike's ass, pulling him close and kneading, his calves crossing behind Spike's knees and trapping him. Wantwantwant, heavy and thick and warm.

"Won't let you get arrested, love - promise -" Spike said - tipped his head back encouragingly.

"No, that's not right - are you sure you're on the right page?" Wes said, rattling papers, and Xander's breath huffed over Spike's throat in a giggle.

"Need to get Wes on the right page..."

"Which page is that?"

"The page with lots - and lots of - oh god, stop that and I'll stake you." Xander let his head roll back on his shoulders, cool lips and tongue doing sinful gymnastics with his right nipple ring through the gap in his shirt.

"Promise?"

"I told Wes not to connect to the town tunnels until we had the work done here because there was no way you'd stay home or out of the way like a good little vamp. But did he listen to the Xand-man? No. Nobody listens to the Xand - and more of that - man."

"'S because he talks too much," Spike mumbled - snickered when Xander smacked him on the back of his head, shivers of yes yes want that rolling down his spine like melting ice trails and he nuzzled Xander's shirt aside. "Smell good. Smell like - fresh sawdust and -"

"A working man's honest sweat? Ew."

"Nothing wrong with honest sweat, Xander," Wesley said, hand over the phone as he dug through some more papers, his mouth smiling but his eyebrows coming down to frown in irritation at the invoices.

"Nope, nothing. Salty like blood, fresh and clean...god, you're delicious..." Spike's voice faded off into a mumble as he moved from one ring to the other and Xander got his legs up - got his thighs around Spike's hips and pulled their groins together, sighing into Spike's hair - mussing it further with his fingers.

"Maybe we can take off early -"

"No, we can't." Wes was suddenly there, clicking the phone shut and Spike reluctantly straightened, forehead to forehead with Xander and looking over at Wes.

"You sure, love?" he purred.

"Yes. I have eighty seven boxes of books in the back room that need shelving before another one hundred and forty three arrive from Europe. I have no shelves and there is a vampire seducing my carpenter." Wesley softened his words with a peck to Spike's lips and a gentle hand over his hair. "Please, Spike."

Spike pulled Wes close - deepened the kiss for just a moment. And then he pulled away - gently disengaged from Xander. "Anything for you, love. I'll just - start alphabetizing for you, shall I?"

"Thank you, Spike," Wes said - huge, happy smile and Spike had to smile back - step back so Xander could thump down to the floor and arch his back in a spine-crackling stretch.

"Right, I'm on it," Xander said, snagging his tool-belt from the floor and heading to the piles of lumber in the corner. The phone rang again and Spike sighed - found his duster and rooted out a cigarette and lit it - headed back to the boxes. He watched Xander poke around in tools and wood and little sketches of shelves for a minute and then sidled over.

"Spike - seriously - let's just get this done -"

"D'you think the visions are really gone?" Spike asked, his voice pitched low and Xander stopped fiddling - looked up at him, frowning just a little.

"I - dunno. I think Angel knows more than he's saying. I think - if they are - I'm glad, but..." Flicker of a brown eye toward Wes and Spike took a long drag - nodded.

"Yeah. He's - takin' it kinda hard. Wearin' himself out. Trying not to think about it, I guess." Throb of unhappiness and protect from Xander and Spike sighed - shrugged his shoulders. "He'll be all right, love."

"Yeah. I know." Xander pushed his hand back through his hair - picked up a length of board. "I think once it - sinks in, he'll be fine with it. I know I'm fine with it. Hated him being hijacked by the fucking Powers all the time..."

"Yeah." Spike took a last drag - crushed the butt out on his boot-heel and tossed it into the giant waste-can full of tag-ends of wood and other trash. "Yeah, he'll be fine. We'll just keep him distracted and he'll be fine."
"No problem there," Xander said, grin and a fast kiss and then he was walking away, laying the board on a set of saw-horses and Spike settled cross-legged among the crooked towers of books, starting the slow process of shuffling them into order.


~*~*~*~*~


From: cgunn@socalmail.net
To: wwp@wyndampryceoccult.com

...and it was a delivery guy asking me to sign for a box of fish. English, are you out of your goddamn mind? Who the fuck sends a guy fish for his birthday?

The last laugh's on you this time, man - because Mrs. Feeny across the hall's a damn fine cook and I've been eating like a king every night since it came.


Xander lifted his head from Spike's stomach, the soporific heat from the grand fireplace melting him into a state of profound laziness. "Wes looks smug. Do you think Wes looks smug?"

"He looks very smug. I wonder what sort of plot he's hatching over there?" Spike said, his fingers moving slow, slow through Xander's hair, his eyes half shut and his body almost floating from heat and satiation.

"I'm not hatching a plot," Wesley said, glancing up at the two of them, smiling.

'There's some new brand of X out there, I think it's more for demons than humans - really tweaking the kids. Anne's been asking me to talk to Angel - see what's what and that's...just not happening. But maybe - Connor can look around for me?' Wesley made a mental note to call some of his contacts in L.A. - half-demons and humans who would be able to help. "No plot, just - my birthday gift was a hit," he said finally, and Xander grinned sleepily at him.

"What'd you get him?" Xander's eye closed completely and he stretched, one long, golden arch against the brightly colored Nest pillows.

"Fish."

Xander's eye popped open. "Live fish? Like pets?"

"Dead fish. To eat."

"Okay. For my birthday? I want a gift certificate to Tower or something."

"Get you anything you like, pet," Spike murmured and Xander's sleepy look went instantly calculating and gleeful.

"Oh, that was a mistake," Wesley chuckled and Xander turned to Spike, propping himself on his elbows and looking more than a little excited. "And I promise no fish, Xander." Wesley turned his head sharply as a douse scuttled from one corner to another, disappearing behind a glass-fronted bookshelf. Must tell Charles the latest about the dice. How they're empathic... Wesley went back to his email, opening a reply box as Xander started peppering Spike with birthday suggestions.

Peace enjoyed a very brief visit before fleeing in terror.

"What the fuck would you do with a pony?"

It was not an answer Wesley had any wish to hear. 'The dice are remarkable creatures. They have surprising intelligence which I suspect is the result of empathic abilities. I don't believe they understand what we're saying (as Xander does) but that they understand intent and tone to a more complex degree than dogs and cats. None of them have shown any hostility to the three of us, though one did chase a lady from the local church off our porch and into the street.'

"No, now - don't be upset, pet, I know I said 'anything' but...we need more space for a pony. Lot's just not that big," Spike said, a slight edge of desperation to his voice. "Wes, you had horses, yeah? Tell him we don't have room."

"You are completely on your own on this, Spike," Wesley said loftily, and giggled when Spike growled and Xander pouted.

'Of course, we were all fascinated to see the douse 'beamed up', as Xander said, when it reached the end of the walk. As I suspected, their existence is tied directly to the portal, and if they move too far away they're simply - gone. We don't know for sure yet if they are 'beamed' out of existence all together or just returned to their home dimension. Spike says we should tag one and then chase it out of the house, and I'm considering it. So long as the dice don't take that as a threat -'

"Wes! Tell him I can so have a camel if he won't get me a pony!" Xander said, snorting with laughter as Spike pounced on him and started biting him all over - ticklish 'love-bites' that still left a mark.

"Camels are nasty creatures, Xander - ask for an elephant."

'- as they did Cole's extermination attempts. I don't know what might have happened if Spike and Xander had tried to exterminate the dice as per his request.

I wonder, Charles, if it was ever this difficult for Angel to send us on dangerous assignments. If it is this difficult for him to watch his son in dangerous situations...'


Wesley shook his head, deleted the last two lines of the email.

"How about a small elephant? A pygmy elephant I can train to bring me the right screwdriver?"

"You could train a douse to do that," Spike scoffed, then he looked at Xander, narrow-eyed. "What about my birthday? Didn't get me anything," he said. Xander's eye went wide.

"I don't know when your birthday is! You won't tell me!"

"A good boyfriend would find out," Spike huffed and rolled over in the Nest, curling up sulkily.
Like a big white cat, Wesley thought, who's been warned off the cream. He reached for his tea - batted a curious douse away from the sugar-bowl and sipped. Cold.

"I'm getting some fresh tea," he announced.

"Find out how? Hire a psychic?"

Wesley left the room quickly.

So did the douse.

In the kitchen Wesley gave the douse a sugar cube and filled the kettle with fresh water, tuning out the raised voices in the living room. "It's good to have a big house," he told the nibbling douse and ate a sugar cube himself. Then they shared one-sided conversation and tea biscuits until the kettle whistled and Wesley refilled his mug, dropped in a fresh tea bag - and lamenting the loss of his English pride. "It really doesn't taste different once you're used to it," he excused himself.

The douse twitched its whiskers at him and hopped closer to the sugar cubes.

"Very well. One more but that's all. I won't be responsible for rotting your teeth." He gave it another cube and closed the box, listening to the profound silence from the living room. Oh dear.

And a moan.

And a curse.

Oh.

"Wes!" Xander's voice was a breathy moan and Wes came back into the sitting room - leaned against the door jamb, watching Xander fight Spike's hold on his wrists and lose. "Wes, make him let me up!" Spike looked up from where he was slowly licking his way up Xander's stomach, shooting Wes a look that was smoldering and heavy with desire and love.

"I think...not," Wesley said softly - walked to the couch and put his tea-cup down and then slowly stripped off his shirt. Shucked jeans and underwear with a tiny smile. Dark red underwear that was Xander's 'oops, I forgot' gift for Valentines a week past. He knelt down into the Nest - shivered into the change and crawled over to Xander and Spike - took Xander's wrists in his own slate-dark hands and held him effortlessly.

"I think it's time for you to tell me more about these...high-school fantasies," he murmured, and Xander groaned. Spike - leaned up and kissed him.

"Watching you and Spike kiss wasn't one of them," Xander sulked, petulance ruined by his breathlessness and the erection straining against Spike's thigh.

"Shall I guess what was?"

"He's the wrong way up for most of them, mate." Spike murmured with a wicked look from their prisoner to Wesley - drew a sharp, shuddering breath and met Xander's wide-open eye, mindless lust and not a virginal blush left in his body.


~*~*~*~*~


And there's a new Seer. I know you know there's a new Seer. A man can listen in on phone calls in his own office if he wants to.

Wesley was curled up in the master bedroom Nest, cotton sleep pants and a thermal shirt riding easy on his skin. He had a whiskey, a plate of very good imported biscuits, and a letter. And utter silence to read it in, since Xander and Spike were out doing - something. 'Getting to know our demon neighbors' Xander had said, grinning, and Spike had slipped a wad of cash into his pocket and winked. Playing poker, then, and drinking - probably starting one fight and making at least two friends. Almost nothing could withstand Spike and Xander together. Wesley sipped his whiskey and tipped the letter - hand written on fine, dull-parchment paper - toward the light. Angel's clear, slanted hand marched densely across the page; writing habits formed when paper was a luxury and you crammed as much onto one page as possible.

'He's strange and Scottish and writes on my walls and he's not you but he's all right. I'm all right. We're all right. And if you're not all right, I'm flying out there to remind Spike and Xander that Angelus is sleeping, not gone.'

Wesley chuckled softly at that. The mild threat - the simple fact of the threat - made a warm little spot in his heart. He'd felt - so bad, leaving Angel. And he hadn't held out much hope that they would stay friends. But...Angel was trying.

'Why did the PTB send this tod to my henhouse? Half the girls have crushes on him. Andrew has a crush on him after just meeting him one time. And Connor spends way too much time with him.'
That's right,
Wesley thought, 'Tod' means fox... A flash of clear, amused green eyes - of a narrow face and graceful limbs came back to Wesley and he nodded to himself. It was apt. Perhaps a little too apt. Connor probably has a crush on him, too. I wonder if Angel knows, yet? Have to ask Spike...

Wesley glanced at the clock and sighed, the exhalation taking him deeper into the pillows. Only midnight. It may as well be high noon for the two of them. He closed his eyes, remembering the hectic flash and flush of Xander's eye and skin, feral pace as he disappeared into the lamp-lit night with Spike. Wesley returned to his letter. In the morning he would wake with two bodies curled around him, one cold, one warm, both equally dead to the world until they woke up hungry.

Like the douse snuffling into the hem of Wesley's trousers. "You won't find any biscuits in there," he told it and gave it one.

'This girl the council sent - this Slayer...She's very...strident. Reminds me a bit of Darla. She seems to think she knows - everything. I think the Hellmouth is going to have a surprise or two for her. And she knows Andrew from before and it kind of...pisses him off. It's actually kind of funny in a 'maybe they'll kill each other' way...'


~*~*~*~*~


Xander stared at where the table used to be, one hand on his beer bottle, the other fanning out five cards - one queen away from a winning hand. "Hey!"

Something big, heavy and scaly struggled up out of the wreckage and threw itself back the way it came with a snarl, the Queen of Spades speared on one of its back spines.

Xander drained his beer and folded.

"Eight ball in the side pocket," Spike said - set the chalk aside and lined up his shot - made it and then whipped around at the crash from the back corner where Xander was playing poker. Alarm disgust disgruntlement, and Spike grinned as a Chchu scrabbled in the wreckage of the table and pounced on a drunken F'yarl, playing cards speared here and there on its spines. Xander tossed his hand down and sauntered over, grinning back.

"Guess the game's over," he said.

"Who got the pot?" Spike asked. Xander looked blank, then thoughtful, then wandered back toward the corner. There's my boy! Find the pot and take it home, love - looks like everybody else is watching the fight. Spike smirked to himself and collected his winnings from the vamp he'd been playing pool with and looked around for another mark.

"First time I ever folded for the jackpot," Xander observed, dangling a green-fire jewel on a chain with a frown before wrapping it in a sawdusty bandanna and tucking it away carefully. "Gonna ask Wes to take a look at that one." Another crash from the far corner, shattering glasses and Xander slid a hand into Spike's back pocket, groping out a small bill for another beer. "And I've got two hundred on the spiny guy who took my queen."

"Gonna collect on that," Spike said approvingly - snagged Xander back by a belt-loop and kissed him. "Get me a shot, love?" he asked, and Xander kissed him back - sauntered off to the bar, side-stepping a smashed chair. "Right - who's next?" Spike said, eyeing the loose half-circle of demons and vamps who'd been watching him play.

They all looked back nervously and Spike hid a smile. Easy pickings, tonight.

Xander gave his order and leaned on the bar, enjoying the predatory thrum that was Spike and meant great sexcapades ahead - and yep - apparently still reliving his second adolescence because none of Xander was objecting.

In fact, some of Xander was ready to bend Spike over the pool table and - crash he was spun into the bar hard enough to knock the breath out of him - and that was so not of the plan. A second crash and another breath-losing shove from a body wider, taller and more muscled - more everything - and Xander was pushing off with his right foot while his left foot and hands scrabbled and scrambled and vaulted him over the bar and into the cramped, beery space behind it.

"Here's your Jack."

Xander looked down at the shot, up at the bartender. "Thanks."

Spike heard the crash - saw Xander fling himself up and over the bar, apparently none the worse for wear. He summoned his demon and walked up behind the F'yarl that had crashed into Xander - tapped it on the shoulder. It swung around, growling.

"Don't fucking touch my boy, you gobshite," Spike said, and swung.

Xander stared dumbly at the shot of Jack Daniels in his hand and tossed it back, scrambled on knees and elbows back over the polished bar and tackled Spike across the floor - knees, elbows, knees - ow Jesus - head. "Don't kill him! Money on spiny guy! Money on - whoa -" he swallowed, dropping his head and blinking slowly down at Spike when the JD caught up with him. "I'm a little drunk."

Spike lay on the floor and stared up at Xander - grabbed him by the back of head and pulled him down tight as a bar-stool winged across the room to explode against a far wall. "How much on Spines?"

"Two hundred!" Xander said, muffled against Spike's chest.

"Right. Okay. Let's find a better perch." Spike looked around - pushed Xander up and then jumped up himself and hauled Xander by the hand back to the bar. "Up and over, pet," he said, giving Xander's ass a good, groping push and Xander flashed him a dopey grin and slid back over the bar. Spike hopped over right after, nearly braining the bartender with a boot.

"Sorry, mate, my bad," he said. He snagged a bottle of Jack off the shelf and opened it - took a healthy slug. "Right - best seat in the house, love." Xander leaned into him and giggled.

"Don't bogart the booze." Xander snagged the bottle and tilted it back because nothing said Boys' Night Out like chasing a double shot of Jack with more Jack. Xander ducked a flying chair and lunged to rescue the bowl of bar nuts.

"Hey!" Spike ducked the flying chair, too and snatched a bottle of questionable single-malt off the shelf - hurled it with deadly accuracy and whooped in delight as it took out a vamp.

"He didn't throw the chair," Xander mumbled around a mouthful of nuts.

"Who cares? Just wanted to get my hand in. Yeah, yeah, put it on my tab," Spike added, waving off the glowering bartender and snatching another bottle. Schnapps. Not even a question of what to do with that. Spike took aim and let fly and Xander cheered. The night was looking up.


~*~*~*~*~


From: Dousemaster@wyndampryceoccult.com
To: Anactoria@scanthelburycollege.edu

...contacts in the local demon community and yes Wills, I'm being careful. Scooby here! Graduate of the school of hard knocks - straight A's. Honor student. Valedictorian. Survivor. You can take the Scooby out of Sunnydale but you can't take the - okay, that's creepy and I'm getting my Sunnydale surgically extracted. Seriously, Willow - I'm safe and I'm okay and I'd really appreciate it if you lay off the Spike and me thing.

Xander stopped, cursed softly under his breath and backspaced. He'd spelled 'Spike' as 'Spoike'. Normally not a mistake he'd make but he was a little annoyed at Willow. No, not annoyed. That's a Wes word. A Giles word. I'm pissed. I've...gone spare. I'll go spare? Whatever it is Spike says. Fuck. Xander leaned back and stretched his neck and shoulders - rubbed at the socket and then bent back to his task.

'He's a permanent character in the Big Book of Xander Harris from this chapter forth. Andrej was a - a pamphlet, an aside, a footnote - a chapter of porn to keep my readers interested through a really boring part of the story. When kids take a test about the book of me, the answer to 'who was the love of Xander's life?' is going to be D: Bloody, William the.

Xander fidgeted with the mouse, highlighted the last paragraph of text but couldn't make himself press the delete button or deal with all the red-underlined typos staring back at him. "Jesus." He saved the draft and closed the laptop, took a deep breath and pushed himself out of the couch with a grimace.

The bruises around his ribs were fading - fading in a skin of many colors. A whole rainbow. Red hearts! Yellow stars! Purple horseshoes!

Xander Harris: magically delicious.

Also hungry.

He padded through the sitting room - Spike was on his back in the sitting room Nest, one of three Nests - smoking and listening to...something. A stack of CD boxes by the stereo said that the rhythmic crashing coming out of the speakers was Sonic Youth, Frank Zappa, Stravinsky isn't that like - ballet music? MC5 or ICP. Spike grinned as Xander wandered through and Xander grinned back - made his way to the kitchen and perused the pantry. They'd just re-stocked and his array of choices was -

"Exxxcellent," Xander chortled, rubbing his hands. He twitched ever so slightly as a douse appeared out of nowhere, standing tall on its hind legs and sniffing at him. "Wait your turn," he said sternly, and turned back to the shelf full of cereal boxes, mentally dismissing from the running the boring, healthy, whole-grain stuff with pictures of waving wheat and tasteful berries on the front.

He got his crunch on with the Cap'n, filled a bowl and poured in the milk. "Feed a man and he'll eat until his plate is empty. Teach a man to fill a bowl with cereal and he will never go hungry." A quick recon of the pantry added the chocolaty goodness of a HoHo to his snack, a spoon and a bottle of SunnyD for his recommended daily allowance of irony and Vitamin C.

The douse sniffed cautiously at the cereal and flopped over onto its back, tongue lolling.

"Drama queen. I defy you with my big spoon." He shoveled up a heaping spoonful and shoved it into his mouth.

Then his phone rang.

"Sht," Xander sprayed and picked up the phone, choking down the cereal. "Say nothing," he told the douse sternly.

The douse wrapped its paws around the HoHo and started dragging.

"I haven't said anything yet," the caller grumped, and Xander chugged a mouthful of SunnyD and wiped the back of his hand over his lips.

"Hey! Gunn! Sorry, not you, one of the dice. Hey! Gimmie that, you little mooch - you didn't even ask!" Xander stopped watching the Herculean display of Douse With HoHo and snatched at his after-cereal snack. The douse clung and Xander lifted them both to eye-level. "Naughty, naughty demon. You'll make Dousemaster angry! And you wouldn't like him when he's angry." The douse twisted - sckreeked - and slid off with a shredding of plastic, chocolate under its claws.

"Man, what in hell are you talking about? That portal's like a damn - pylon or something, isn't it? Givin' you all brain cancer or something. Is Wes in?"

The douse gave Xander the Evil Eye and licked chocolate out from under its claws.

Xander gave the douse one back and shoved half a HoHo into his mouth, looked uncertainly at the other half. "Here. Take this part. It's got...demon cooties." He crouched, the remaining half of the HoHo held out in his fingers.

The douse hesitated half a second and snatched the treat, hopping like the Hounds of Hell were on its heels.

Okay, maybe not the Hounds of Hell. It'd eat the Hounds of hell. Xander swallowed. "Sorry. Had to do a little...dousekeeping."

"Jesus. Wes?"

"No. Xan-der. Different voice. Lots less English."

"Asshole. Is English there or not? And don't go playin' innocent, tellin' me Spike's in the other room."

"Actually, he is." Xander washed the last of the chocolate out of his mouth with another gulp of orange drink. "Wes is at the shop. Do you have the number?"

"Oh. No, I - don't guess he gave it to me yet. His cell just rolled over to voice mail."

"Probably on his cell, and the other phone too. Some big mess with some of the stock, he's been yelling at people for days. Just a sec." Xander shuffled over to the 'fridge where the list of numbers were - suppliers, the heating guy, the local hardware store, and the shop's new number, just installed three days ago.

"Okay - got a pencil? Here we go - 351..." Xander read the number off and Gunn repeated it, and Xander's spoon clattered to the table as two dice upset his cereal bowl and floundered in the pinkish milk, soggy 'berries' sticking to their fur.

"Oh crap. Gotta go, man - talk to you later. Hey!" Xander snapped the phone shut and dove for the dice, who leaped off the table and shot away, trailing milky paw prints. Headed for the sitting room. Wait for it...

"What the -! Xander! Fuck's sake!"

Xander grabbed an Old Speckled peace offering and followed the yellow brick road - or in this case, the pink paw prints and soggy CrunchBerries trail to scattered jewel cases and a game-faced Spike. "Breakfast got away," Xander said, slipping into the Nest - straddling Spike's thighs with beery offerings held aloft and out of the way. "You know how it is," he mumbled against ridges and fangs, sharp and soft and - "Hmm. Don't change back yet. You taste different like this."

"Taste how?" Spike asked, lying still under Xander's slow and exploring mouth. "You're all sweet - chocolate..." Spike closed his eyes to the goodminewant curling through him. Heated little tendrils all through his soul - through his bones. Fingers lightly on Xander's biceps and his hips lifting slightly - just enough to feel the heat and hardness that was Xander kneeling over him.

Xander ran his tongue over Spike's teeth. Smooth and sharp, like licking a bone knife - not that it was something Xander had done - but like what he imagined licking a bone knife would be. Smooth and risky and kinda exciting and bad.

"Like metal. Like the blood's closer to the surface." Xander chased down the flavor of orange, chocolate and blood and stomped on the voice that still insisted it was Ew! Gross! - and maybe it would be if it wasn't also Spike.

"Magic, maybe," Spike said - caught Xander's odd look. "The demon's full-on magic, love. Lots of magic keeping me like I am...Got to have its own taste, don't you think?" Xander drew back and looked thoughtful for a moment - leaned in again, tracing carefully along a fang and making Spike shiver a little.

Spike slid his hands up Xander's shoulders and ran them down the smooth curve of his back, flinching a tiny bit when Xander did, when he hit a bruise that was still sore. "Barely notice it anymore - unless you're like this," Xander mumbled, tiny crease between his eyebrows and eye closed while he explored, shivers of familiarity creeping from him.

"That all right, love?" Spike asked, stopping the sweep of his hands - stopping everything for a moment to look at Xander. Xander pulled back and looked back. Thinking, and Spike could almost feel the process tick over in his mind as small eddies of emotion came and went.

"It's...yeah. It is. It's more than all right. It's...you and...it's perfect. Love you, Spike," Xander whispered, and leaned down again, to kiss again, and Spike lay back, content - pulled Xander close, arms around bare back, one calf curling around Xander's, knee in Xander's thigh. Love you too...Feel it, pet. Love you too.


~*~*~*~*~


BSummers: I guess if you let me grow up, I have to let you grow up too.
BSummers: God, I think I gave Dawn this speech last year.
BSummers: I'm not saying it isn't weird
BSummers: Xander Harris and Spike?
BSummers: But you're not the same Xander, are you?
BSummers: That was really hard to type, Xan.


Xander wiped quickly under his eye, smearing sawdust and tears across his cheek.

Dousemaster: I love you, Buffy.
BSummers: Do I know you?
Dousemaster: Yeah, Buff. Still Xander-shaped. New and improved ingredients.
BSummers: Stop that.
Dousemaster: What?
BSummers: Stop making me laugh when I'm crying. Snot goes the wrong way.
Dousemaster: And that was in no way disgusting.
BSummers: Not as disgusting as the noise I'm making. laughing Okay, sorry. I - you wanna know something weird?
Dousemaster: Uhhh, maybe?
BSummers: I kind of...envy you. I mean - I was the focus of all of that...love and attention and...attention once. It scared me then. Made me feel like I was drowning.
BSummers: But looking back... It was really... It's one of the most amazing things, when somebody loves you that much.
Dousemaster: Yeah. It is.


Xander's fingers hovered over the keys and he chewed his lip, popped open the can of soda Wes' upstairs neighbor had given him and took a long and grateful drink. Spike and Buffy. Buffy and Spike. He poked at the concept from a few cautious angles, then typed.

Dousemaster: Have you told him that?
BSummers: Well, no. I haven't...told anybody. You're the first. I guess - I haven't known it long enough to tell anybody.
BSummers: Can I ask a favor?
Dousemaster: Always, Buff.
BSummers: Can I crash your party? Can I come over and - hang out and just...Learn how to be friends again?
BSummers: And I really just want to...see you guys, you know? See for myself.
Dousemaster: I'm not promising you a free floor show every night.
BSummers: Oh ew.
Dousemaster: You say 'ew' but can you resist the raw power of the Spike and Xander show?
BSummers: Yeah. I can. : ) You don't have to...worry about me, okay? I just need to see you guys happy.
Dousemaster: My clever code didn't hide a lot, did it?
BSummers: Less than my new bikini.
BSummers: Can I visit? I have two weeks off in March while the new Slayers take their Spring Breaks.
Dousemaster: The council gives Spring Break?
BSummers: It does now.


"Hey, English, you paying any attention at all, here?" Gunn asked, and Wesley blinked - leaned back in his chair a little, focusing on the papers spread before him and not on Xander. Who had gone from amused and casual to stiff, to teary to...something. Happily smug? At any rate, his conversation with Buffy seemed to be going well and Wesley sighed in relief.

"Yes, of course I'm listening Charles, I just had to make sure Xander was...all right," he said quietly.

"Oh, they havin' that kind of conversation? She cool?"

"She seems to be. Now - you were saying - an entire branch of some new sept, right there in Hollywood?"

"Man, pointy yellow demons as far as the eye could see. It was - crazy. Lucky for us they're about two feet high and their only concern is mining the land fills. I think we can work with them."

"That's wonderful, really. I hate to think of you having to fight alone, Charles."

"Oh, I got my crew doin' the work - Anne's regulars are all in the know, but yeah - war isn't what we need." They both contemplated that sentence in silence for a moment. "So what's new in WitchyPoo-Central?"

"Very little, due to a Teamster's Union strike in the Skaff demon lines. They went on strike on the twentieth and there's no sign of an agreement soon. Giles is trying to connect me to a transatlantic supplier willing to work around the union but these things do take time." Wesley sighed, shuffling papers on his desk, listening to the jingling of the shop bell.

"So, this is the new place," a voice like gravel rumbled and Wesley looked up sharply. Two large figures draped in long coats, faces hidden under deep hat-brims stood in the doorway.

"Looks like it's gonna make a lot of money," one said, and the other made a grumbling sound of agreement.

"Can I help you? We're not actually open for business," Wesley said, standing in the doorway to his office, a cold feeling in his stomach. Wrl demons. Slow, tough - greedy. It couldn't be good.

"Oh, I think you're open for our business," the first one chuckled, and Wesley had to resist rolling his eyes at the corny, Late Night Movie line.

"I really doubt it," Xander said, and Wesley turned his head slightly sideways, eyes never leaving the demons - doing his best to ignore the slightly panicked-sounding inquiries coming from Gunn.

"Careful, Xander. They -"

"I know, Wes. Never fear - Dousemaster's here," Xander whispered and then slipped past him. "So, business. It involves payments or our next shipment of Holy Water might spontaneously combust, right?"

One lifted his head, the bigger one - and why is it always the bigger one who notices me?and Xander got a good look at narrow yellow eyes and skin too loose over bone, bristling whiskers and -

Whew. Yeah. There's the sour milk breath.

"Holy water, books..." The two Wrl exchanged a look. "Customers."

"We're not interested," Xander said. "You look familiar. Do you guys go to the bar under Summer and Endicott?"

Another look. A cautious lowering of the brow and wow those guys could get their brows low. Angel could take lessons. "No. We go to the Witch and Web on Flint."

"Just checking," Xander said, and then he went in, ducking down and over, his hand going out hard to the horn he knew was just there, at the temple. Obscured by hat and shadow and a dense comb of whiskers but - yes! He had the scaly, slender thing in his hand and he leaned - twisted - just like Spike had showed him. The Wrl tried to wrench back - hurt itself - shrieked. And tumbled down in a boneless heap. Not dead but paralyzed. Xander stepped back, panting lightly, putting a hand out.

"Hey Wes, wanna give me that jar of powdered nettle? I hear it makes their skin boil right on the bone." He risked a glance back at Wes who had shivered to his demon form and was standing there, spines up and out, teeth bared. "Always wanted to see -"

"Xander!"

Something hit him, hard, on his blind side - made him stagger sideways and the second demon was bending down and hoisting its fallen companion by on arm and a leg - getting the body up over its shoulder and gone, out the door with a bang and a jangle of the bell.

"What the fuck -" Spike, tousled and dusty from a nap in the back room careened into the store proper and then Wes was there, pulling Xander over to a chair, making a hissing sound - touching his temple and pulling back with blood smeared on his fingertips.

"Charles, I'll call you right back, we've had a small - incident. Yes, I'm fine." Wes snapped his phone shut. "Xander! Are you all right?"

A guy didn't survive Sunnydale without learning to check before answering a question like that. He fingered the wound - sharp pain but nothing shifting, nothing...deep. Nothing flashing before or behind his eye so - "Yeah - but I'm not gonna be winning any hearts with my manly beauty for a few days." And where was something to wipe his hands on when he needed it?

Xander sat and dripped thoughtfully on his shirt. It'd do. He pressed the hem to his temple and winced. "We're drinking at the Witch and Web tonight."

"You are not! Xander, it's already beginning to swell -"

"Just a bruise, Wes, and little cut," Spike interrupted, flicking his Zippo closed and walking up close - bending down to peer at the wound, smoldering cigarette held out to one side. Xander turned his head and let Spike look - smiled when Spike lifted his hand and slid Xander's bloody fingers into his mouth. "Got your blind side, love. What'd I say 'bout that?"

"Said to be 'more sodding careful, you daft prick', if I remember right," Xander said, and Spike snorted.

"It's not a joke, Xander!" Wesley had shifted back to human - was hauling a Sunnydale/demon-hunter sized First Aid box out from under the front counter and flipping it open - kneeling beside Xander. He caught Xander's chin and forced him to look down into wide, angry eyes. "You could have been seriously hurt!"

Xander slid sticky fingers between Spike's and sighed. "It's a flesh wound. I had worse injuries after rough sex with Anya in the basement." He felt Spike draw breath next to him - felt the subaural snicker and held up a warning hand. "Nuh! It was not the coffee table or the washing machine and that's all I'm gonna say." Wesley slapped an antiseptic pad onto Xander's temple. "Okay that and ow."

"Is anything not a joke with you, Xander? Regardless of Spike's effect on your blood and your - your testosterone you are human! You can't take the kind of risks Spike can."

"I know that, Wes!" Xander snapped back - took a hard breath and squeezed Spike's fingers. Spike squeezed back, for once wisely silent instead of - not. "Look, I know I'm still just human, okay? But those guys - they're like - like Puffy Giles in his slayerproof suit - big but kinda weak and breakable. Spike showed me that trick with the horn, it paralyzes them - ow, Wes, Jesus!" Wesley threw a second pad into the little heap of trash he was accumulating and picked up a tube of antibacterial cream.

"No, not that crap. I hate the way it smells. I'm not going to get an infection so could you just - stick a band-aid or plaster or whatever on there and stop hurting me?"

"I'm hurting -" Wes exclaimed and suddenly Spike was down next to Wes, on his knees, his hand on Wes' neck, kneading gently.

"Wesley, pet, it's okay. Xander's okay, yeah? Just a bit of a bump and scrape, he's fine. Wes?" Wesley struggled for a moment - sighed and slumped and leaned down, going back onto his heels, his forehead resting on Xander's thigh.

"I'm...sorry. I'm just...I worry." Wesley felt the muscle tense under him and then shuddered with the sensation of Xander's fingers combing through his hair, Spike's rubbing at his neck. "I love you."

"You gotta trust me, too. I know my human limitations. Hey - survived twenty five years human here and I've only lost one body part. I think -" Xander lifted Wes' face, held it in both hands, eyes to eye and brushed his thumb over Wesley's lip. "I think that's pretty good for a guy who grew up on the Hellmouth."

"That's actually - you are actually quite remarkable, Xander," Wesley admitted, and smiled when Xander did - leaned forward for the soft kiss that came next. "Just - promise -"

"Don' t make him promise things he can't deliver, Wes," Spike said softly and Wes shivered - looked over at Spike's serious, solemn face.

"All right, I... Promise to study hard and learn everything Spike teaches you about - about killing and maiming and -"

"Torture, oh my? That I can do, Wes," Xander chuckled, and kissed him again. "Now - a little gauze to keep the sawdust out and I'll go finish that table you wanted, okay?"

"Yes, all right," Wesley said, turning back to the First Aid kit - ignoring Spike, who was pouting.

"Well, fine, that's all good but I was going to kiss Wes better," Spike muttered, and Xander whapped him, grinning.

"I'm the wounded harem boy, I get the snogging from the dashing Nomad Prince."

"You're the - ? Make up your sodding mind!"

"Less talk, more snogging it better," Xander insisted, tugging Spike closer with a hand to the back of his neck. "The harem boy demands his reward for protecting the - ow! - fucking sadist with the medical supplies."

Wesley taped the gauze in place and pressed a gentle kiss to the skin below it. "Idiot."

"That's me."


~*~*~*~*~


"Yeah, really? Okay, yeah...Wow. That sounds really cool...Oh, we will definitely come for a visit. Yeah. Okay, man - glad you called - yeah - take care - bye!" Spike watched Xander fold up his phone - go into the bathroom and get some water running. Mid-afternoon, middle of the week and it was raining. Well, more like sleeting. Needle-fine, mostly frozen water slanting down out of the sky and skinning everything in a slick, hard coat. It made a sound like a snake's hiss and it made Spike feel cold. He got up, the electric blanket around him like a shawl and put two more pieces of wood on the fire - hopped back into the master-bedroom Nest and curled up, tugging the big, puffy down comforter over him and snuggling into the velvet and flannel that lined this Nest.

"That was Russ! And Sol," Xander added, standing in the doorway, spitting tooth-paste foam. "They're in Seattle."

"Yeah? Bet Sol's lovin' it up there - nice and wet and grey."

"Yeah - it sounds - crap." Xander wiped at the toothpaste dribble down his chin and went back into the bathroom and Spike grinned - dug out the remote and clicked the stereo on. Kronos Quartet's 'Kongerei' spiraled out and Spike relaxed into sweet-spicy warmth - the scents of Xander and of Wes who was - downstairs somewhere, sunk into his books. First official job and the shop only open two days.

Xander spat into the sink, rinsed, then curled around awkwardly and poked at the long but shallow gash on his ribs before falling back on his rule that if it's not bleeding, it's fine. "It sounds like they're happy there. He also said Carl turned his seasonal job in San Bernardino into something full time and moved into an old house down there with Mariel and the kids. It's got a guest house he's renovating for Abuela."

A gust of cold air sneaked in from somewhere Xander resolved to find before next winter and he padded back across the floor, minty fresh - and freezing his balls off. A corner of the Nest lump lifted and Xander dove for it without a second thought, snuggling up to toasty warm vampire flesh and hanging on through Spike's squawk and flail of protest.

"Bloody cold!"

"I'll warm up."

"You bastard," Spike hissed, twisting to get away from frozen feet and icicle fingers that Xander stuck unerringly in all his warmest bits. "Told you to wear your slippers. What'd I get 'em for if you're just gonna go barefoot? You'll get chilblains!"

"What the hell are chilblains?" Xander asked, giggling, squirming around and getting on top of Spike - squishing him flat and sticking a cold nose into Spike's neck.

"You'll learn when I toss you out on your naked arse. Pillock," Spike added, jerking the comforter higher and settling, finally, the warmth from the electric blanket seeping back. The top if his head was warmed by the fire and he sighed and shut his eyes. "Think Wes'll come back up before Buffy gets in?"

Xander rubbed his nose over Spike's pulse-point - what would have been a pulse point with a pulse - and breathed deep. Warm, Spike took on a distinctly smoky scent. Nice scent. "Only to ask us if we actually intend to spend the entire day in bed and what she'll think if we're still naked in the Nest by the time she arrives." He shuffled, shifted until his feet were in a fold of the electric blanket and his belly was pressed to Spike's thighs, cold hands tucked under sharp shoulder blades that would glare at him if shoulder blades could glare.

He kissed Spike's collarbone in apology. "Once the phone rings, he's gone ‘till bedtime."

"Hmmm...noticed that, have we? Yeah...they talk as much as the Niblet ever did. At least Wes doesn't giggle."

"Not too much," Xander agreed, smiling into Spike's sternum and making a pleased little sound when Spike stroked his knuckles down the gentle curve of Xander's vertebrae.

"Least the shop's done and open - was drivin' me round the bloody bend, all the last minute shite that kept cropping up."

"How it works. You should have seen Giles trying to get the Magic Box into shape - it was a nightmare." Xander shifted and turned his head - lay his cheek on Spike's chest and idly traced nipple and slatey-blue jewelry with a fingertip. "And he didn't have half the 'real' occult stuff like Wes does - he didn't want the good people of Sunnydale to turn their neighbors into toads or anything."

"Hellmouth did that without any help from him, pet." A rumbley start-stop purr vibrated beneath Xander's cheek and he smiled, straightening the bead and ring and sliding his hand down to rest warmly over Spike's ribs.

"Wes said people here either know what they're doing or think magic is all bubble, bubble, toil and trouble and that kind uses ingredients you can get in a major supermarket." Xander traced the lower edge of Spike's rib cage with his thumb, reviewed half-forgotten lists of spell-ingredients for Giles or Willow. "Mostly. I don't think they sell Eye of Newt at Ralph's."

"Should bloody well hope not," Spike mumbled, more concerned about where Xander's hands might go next than a sale of Newt at the grocers. "S'good, though. Half the mojo-inclined I been talking to have mentioned him or his shop. Got a good reputation out here already."

"Had a good one in L.A. Giles told me some stuff back before the whole Wolfram and Hart - thing."

"Huh." Spike shifted and pulled Xander a little closer - cupped his hands around muscular buttocks and kneaded, smiling lazily. "He won't keep vamp hours, though."

"And that in no way sounded like a complaint." Xander grinned, stretched and pushed his cheek against Spike's chest like a cat. "Take it from a refugee of the retail sector widower's club - midnight to dawn? Not a top-selling shift." He wiggled warmer fingers further under to knead Spike's spine, a discontented grumble in the back of his mind.

"Maybe. Maybe not. S'different around here, yeah? But...his shop, his rules." Spike arched a little into Xander's touch and closed his eyes. "Said maybe a run down to Atlanta in the next week or so. Some stone or other. And this time -" Spike opened his eyes to look as sternly at Xander as possible.

"This time no shouting 'Geronimo!' and jumping off the roof onto a demon. Could have been skewered, you git."

"Mhmm. 'Kay." Xander nuzzled into the pocket of Spike-scented warmth beneath his jaw. "This time I'll yell like Tarzan. I do good Tarzan. I've got manly Tarzan hair." He lifted his face – frowned when he saw Spike’s face. "It was a shed, Spike. And okay - maybe it was higher than I thought but any fight I can walk away from -"

"Is a good one. I taught you that, pillock. Can't help but worry, love. You're not quite as tough as all that just...yet."

Xander snorted, wriggled an overheated foot out of the blankets and planned his masterful retort, but the possessive thrum of worryloveyou...won'tletyougo took a lot of the fun out of it and…there were a few things they needed to talk about and that pretty much topped the list. It was the list. "No pressure there."

"No, no pressure," Spike said, catching Xander's gaze and making sure that the lovewantyouonly was strong - was clear. Xander as a vampire would be...amazing. Powerful - unstoppable. But only a willing Xander and Spike knew - there were questions still. Worries. Enough that he wants it - enough that we talk about it. Can wait...for years, still. "You know - Wes won't disown you, love. Nobody will."

“Nobody might. And then nobody might buy a transatlantic plane ticket for personal stake delivery service. And yet?” He pushed against the Nest, closed the inches between their lips and tasted cool, sweet smoke. “Not feelin’ the doubt.”

"That what's bothering you so much, pet? Feelin' guilty for...not feelin' guilty?" Spike's gaze was mild - was so, so solemn, but the love and the want from him were fierce, and it wasn't anything Xander could stand up to. Wasn't anything he wanted to stand up to.

"Yeah, maybe. I guess." Xander sighed and propped his chin on Spike's sternum - traced his finger over Spike's jaw and to his lower lip. "I don't...I mean, shouldn't I feel bad to feel that way? I'm gonna do something that might make every friend I've got hate me and...I don't care."

"I don't think you should feel bad, love. You know that..."

"Duh," Xander said, a font of eloquence - giggling and failing to dodge a light smack from Spike's hand. He caught the hand and splayed his palm against Spike's, dark to light, looking at them. "I told Buffy I've got different ingredients now but this is gonna be like - giving her a mince tart when she's expecting chocolate chip. She hates mince tarts. It’s not like oatmeal raisin, you know? You can pick out raisins. I was oatmeal raisin last Christmas."

"She doesn't have to eat you. I mean -" Spike whapped at Xander again, who was giggling harder. "She'll just have to - to buck up and eat what we give her...Christ. This is hard." Spike hauled Xander up by force and kissed him hard, hip lift-roll-grind guaranteed to make the giggles go away. "It'll all - all work out in the end," Spike said, kissing his way over Xander's face to his throat - baring fangs and tenderly pressing them into Xander's skin. "It'll all be just...fine. Hundred years from now they'll all be dead, anyway," he mumbled. "Worries over."

"Yeah." Xander worked his fingers into the gel-stiffened peaks of Spike's bed-head and held him there - pressed until he felt the pop and burn of fangs through skin, full body shiver and a trickle of - connection. Swallowed hard to find his voice again, scratching his fingernails against the back of Spike's neck. "I get it - being afraid of losing me. Kinda scares me, too."

But not enough to stop. Not enough to give up - Lightning arced through his nerves, veins, blood wantminemine like a storm, arching his spine, making him gasp.

Spike drank - not the gulping mouthfuls of a feeding demon, but the slow and seductive sips of a demon on the prowl. A demon who was wooing. Xander writhed over him, gone voiceless and breathless and yoursminewantalwaysnownow with every pound of his heart. Spike let his legs fall open - took Xander in closer and went deeper and just held on for long, long minutes.

Finally, slowly, pulled away - licked the bite like a cat at its grooming and growled softly. "Only want you love. Only, always, you. You won't change so much. You'll still be there, you will. Promise you, love. Promise."

"If you -" Xander lost his voice, chased it down in the smoke and spice scent of Spike's hair. "If you end up with a Xander-shaped sack of high-kicking, pun-flinging demon instead of me, you're the one who has to live with it." He licked his lips, flexing stiff fingers in Spike's hair.

"No, love. Won't be like that. Listen..." Spike settled his arms around Xander - tucked the dark head under his chin and started a soothing stroke down Xander's back. "When Dru bit me...turned me... It was like - the world unfolded. Like a Chinese puzzle-box and all of a sudden I knew the right moves - knew the tricks. Everything was so...bright." He paused for a moment, remembering. Drawing it all to the surface again.

"And you were..?"

You, you...which you? Fuck... "All right, love, this is where it gets a bit...confusing. When I turned...the first thing I wanted to do? Go home. Fix my mother. She was dying - I wanted to make her well. Give her immortality. Sounds a bit daft, I suppose, but it seemed like the perfect...plan. Dru went along with it - she didn't care but my mum..." Spike sighed - tugged gently at Xander's hair, slipping the earth-dark silk of it through and through his fingers.

"What came into her took her over, love. Wiped her out. What came into me...didn't. It just - talked me 'round the 'right' thing to do, most times. Told me I was better so I had the right to things. Now a strong-minded bloke might not fall prey to that but... I was lonely, and I was...mostly unloved and I'd had a very bad...night."

"You, love. You're none of those things and you won't have Angelus riding you like a hag, pushing you to more and bloodier and...harder. Or trying to take away your true love." Softly, with that last, because he didn't want to hurt Xander's feelings. But some small bit of Dru was always and forever in the secret chambers of his heart. He'd never leave Xander - never love her like he once had, no, not ever again. But she was there, for good and all.

And it was Xander smiling down at him, hazy-eyed and mussed and his.

"My true love can kick Angel's ass," Xander mumbled and ducked down, pressed the words into Spike's skin, into his throat and tightened his arms - willed Spike to feel the intense needyoumine and the nervous flutter that went with it. He lipped the sharp protrusion of Spike's collarbone, traced it to the point of his shoulder then turned his head to meet gold eyes, a ridged face. "When Buffy gets here, she's gonna see the new model Xand-man, happy human oatmeal raisin guy and the vampire who's not gonna let anything of the bad happen to him. And in maybe - maybe fifteen, twenty years, if she hasn’t staked us yet, she’ll believe it.”

"That she will, love," Spike said softly, watching Xander watch him. Reached out and traced the tattoo on Xander's face with a gentle fingertip. "She'll see, and she'll know... It'll be fine, Xander. Really it will."

Xander took a deep breath, soon and yes and scared humming under his skin. Ready to jump - to throw himself off a cliff. Fly - or fall, and there was Spike, right there. Giving him wings, if he'd just take them. So he did. "That's all," he said, into the rush of air that was himself, flying.

"You lost me, pet."

"That's...pretty much the last item on my 'to do while...warm and breathing' list." Warm and breathing - and with his heart beating hard enough to make him dizzy.

"Is it, then?" Spike said. But the link was fizzing like champagne - like pop-rocks and fireworks and everything and anything else shiny and bubbling and happy.

"Yeah, it is." Xander lifted a tingling hand to the back of Spike's head, the butterflies taking flight in his stomach and soaring. "So - after Buffy leaves - what do you say? You and me? Significant exchange of bodily fluids...?" Forehead to forehead, nose to nose, breath and no breath and lovelovenow. "I’m not getting any younger. Let's get started on forever."


~*~*~*~*~


Wesley yawned - stretched - brought his tea cup to his lips and then grimaced as he realized it was stone cold. Reading, taking notes - talking to Charles while he'd searched a book out of his growing home library and his tea had sat, neglected. Getting up from his chair he padded into the kitchen and assembled the tea things - got a kettle boiling. As was becoming the norm, a douse appeared out of nowhere, sniffing hopefully toward the sugar bowl and fastening huge, damp eyes on Wesley.

"Oh, really - you must think me daft if you expect that to work. I'm not swayed by that look on Xander's face - it's not going to work on an over-grown Cracker-Jack prize." The douse shuffled and scrubbed its face - looked mournful. But edged toward the sugar-bowl all the same, as if confident of victory.

"I'm fairly certain you could get the lid off yourself if you tried," Wesley said, and the douse twitched and eyed the sugar-bowl as if looking for the right spot to put the lever. Must tell Charles about their tool-using. I know I saw one using a toothpick to get the last olive... Wesley smiled to himself. As usual, his thoughts had turned to Charles Gunn.

A pang slipped between his ribs, unerringly to the heart and he stretched out a careful forefinger to stroke down the douse's back. It rrrr 'ed and arched, wiggling its hindquarters and half-closing its eyes. "Out for any pleasure we can get, are we?"

"Fuck!Spike!"

The douse whipped around, tail high, ears low - eyes wide at the ceiling in the direction of the master bedroom.

"Oh, don't mind them," Wesley murmured, watching the douse. Not actually touching it while it was still so on edge. Also not thinking about Spike and Xander upstairs in the Nest, doing...what they were doing. He felt - out of sorts. He loved them - loved them. But he was restless. Wesley knew he could go upstairs and slip into the Nest - could say one word and have the concentrated - and quite mind-blowing - attention of two extremely handsome and sexual men - sort of men - for as long as he could remain conscious. He just...didn't want to. Not right then. It's the damn shop - this first job. I'm just...nervous, is all. The kettle chose that moment to start singing and Wesley moved to the stove, lifting it off - cursing as someone knocked on the door.

"Bloody hell." Buffy was early - or Xander had written down the wrong time for her flight. Spike had distracted him well enough during the phone call. He dropped the kettle onto an unlit burner and flipped the lid off the sugar dish for the douse - hoped Xander or Spike had thought to warn Buffy about the douse population. Darling pink sugar mice with voracious appetites: do not attempt to slay.


~~~~~


Wesley padded out of the kitchen - down the hall past the sitting room and into the entry, the harlequin pattern of pale and darker woods chill on his feet. The sleet was still hissing down outside and he hunched a little as he undid the lock - turned the knob and opened the door.

A wind, ice-edged and tinged with wood smoke struck him in the face and he squinted and started to smile - and froze. Staring not at a small, blonde bundle of leather and wool and SoCal perkiness but - dark wool topcoat and thick, tasseled scarf. Watch-cap pulled low and leather gloves clutching the handle of a suitcase - the knurled head of a cane. Dark skin and dark, dark eyes...

"Charles?"

"Y'said come any time, English." And a smile like sugared coffee with cream, like autumn sunlight, like - things warm and welcome and - Wesley stared open mouthed and with no words left.

"I -"

And then there were lips, warmer and softer and fuller. And suitcases dropped and canes clattering to the floor and a hard wall at his back and warmth - warmth and the scent of cologne and cinnamon gum and -

On the staircase.

On the landing.

Where Wesley could see if only his eyes were open, if only he weren’t lost within the kiss...

Xander leaned against Spike, jolt of arousal, flutter of triumph. Whispered - "You so owe me fifty bucks."





Square Twenty-Two

Lost in a kiss.

A poetic piece of hyperbole, Wesley's rational mind insisted.

The rest of him was lost in a kiss. Warm, full lips sliding over his, pressing, sucking until they tingled, until he couldn't have told when from where. Until his neck ached from craning the few inches that separated his lips from Charles'. Until he felt the first shudder, shiver-pull of demon and jolted back against the grip of arms, falling into here and now with a thump.

Here and now included Xander and Spike, sitting on the steps like two naughty children spying on their elders. Hair tousled from Nest-ing, dressed in pajama pants and flannel shirt and sweater, respectively, and Spike's feet clad in carpet slippers of a dark and suspicious tartan. Suspicious because Wesley was quite certain it was not Spike's family tartan, but then - slippers shouldn't come in family tartan colors, should they? Wesley shook his head slightly, taking in Xander's grin and Spike's leer and... And Charles' leather-clad fingers on his elbow - on his waist. Charles face inches from his own, still, looking a little shocked and a little scared and a little stern. Oh god. Xander and Spike...what will they...? And now Charles thinks that I... Oh god.

"Look who's come to visit," Wesley said and Gunn felt a tightening in his gut, that clatter in a dark alley feeling of - waiting. Xander was coming down the stairs in his peripheral vision. Coming their way. Coming to - Jesus, man. Get a grip and loosen your goddamn hold on Wes. Except his arms weren't listening and then Xander - breezed past.

"Look who's leaving the door open for all the hot air to get out. Not all of us have body heat in here, buddy." Xander circled Charles to close the door, grab the suitcase - grinning like a lunatic fool. "Sitting room fireplace is lit," he said, as if Spike didn't keep all of them lit, and Wesley felt a grateful flutter in his belly before it was swallowed by the yawning chasm of Oh god - Charles...

"Or the Nest. You know - the more the merrier and Spike doesn't bite." Xander grinned, "much," and Wesley could have cursed him - or at least hexed him with something uncomfortable - perhaps boils - if he frightened Charles away.

"This boy invite every strange man who shows up on your doorstep into the Nest?" Right, Charles. You keep focusin' on Wes and not the crazy one-eyed guy.

Crazy one-eyed guy was hard to ignore when he ducked close to - kiss his cheek and what the fuck?

"Only the ones we wanna keep." Xander shut the door in a last swirl of cold air and held up his hands, grinning at them and Wesley found it impossible to resist smiling back. "No rush!"

"The sitting room may be more comfortable." Wesley risked a glance at Charles who looked - bemused. But not upset. And raised a chilled hand to touch Wesley's cheek.

"So y'all didn't roll out the special guest weather for me just to get me into the Nest?" He could feel the heat of Wes' cheek even through the chilled-through leather of his gloves - and god, the way Wes pressed into the touch. Yeah - no turning back from this one. "Thought it was supposed to be snowing, not this hell-spawned liquid ice shit."

"There was more snow two days ago - this sleet has kinda melted it a little." Xander's grin didn't falter as he scooped up Gunn's cane and leaned it against the wall - patted Gunn's shoulder and hopped back up the stairs. Spike stood as Xander came abreast of him.

"We'll put his case in the blue bedroom, Wes," Spike said, and gave Xander's ass a little smacking push as Xander stood there, still grinning - he just could not stop the grin. "Glad you took us at our word, Charlie-boy," Spike added, and then Xander was thumping away up the steps, Spike hot on his heels, leaving one bewildered ex-watcher and one vampire-fighter to...carry on.

Xander tossed the suitcase onto the bed and whirled - pinned Spike to the dresser and stared him down. "I take cash...or trade only. No checks." Giddy happiness fizzed through him. "Admit it - I was right," he singsonged.

"Yeah, you were right. Never thought Charlie-boy swung that way but...Wes..."

"Yeah, who can resist him?" Xander undulated slowly against Spike - resisted when Spike made to pull and push him back onto the bed. "No...no...no. Bad vampire," Xander scolded, kissing Spike's neck between words. "No...sex...on the...guest-bed. C'mon, we've got a Nest and The Big Lebowski waiting in the DVD player and hours to kill until Buffy gets here and I want my fifty dollar blow job before then."


~*~*~*~*~


Charles smelled like Christmas. Like cinnamon and pine forests and mulling spice and - "Oh." Kissing again. Like a teenager at the door and - Wesley pulled back. "Took them at what word?"

Charles looked slightly guilty, now - but more he looked...so wonderful. Flushed from the cold, his lips a little chapped - sleet melting on his shoulders and cap and starred in his eyelashes. Wesley reached up hesitantly and tugged Charles' cap off - tossed it down on the little table by the door and ran his fingertips gently over Charles' skull.

"I can't...believe you're here," he said, and Gunn snorted softly.

"I'm here." Gunn tilted his head, looked down at his arms like they were someone else's arms that kept finding their way around Wesley's waist - like it was where they belonged - and felt the effects of phone calls to the Harris half of the Gruesome Twosome coming on. "I'm here. I'm tryin' out the queer. Get used to it."

"You're trying out... Charles, really, are you actually -" Wesley stopped and just looked at Charles - looked at the bemused - stubborn - expression on Charles' face. Leaned into the still-cool folds of Charles' coat and sighed, smiling despite his confusion. "You're chilled through. Come into the sitting room, it really is wonderfully warm and - and I've tea or coffee - whichever you'd like, and -" Another kiss - remarkable kiss; warm and wonderful and breath-stealing kiss.

"Shut up, English."

"Shutting...up," Wesley mumbled between kisses. Natural kisses - playful kisses like the kisses Xander gave Spike and - "Why?"

"Man, you don't shut up long, do you?" Could be kissing - not asking the hard questions. Why'd he always have to fall for the chatty brains? Chatty brains who made his stomach do that flopping-over thing and the back of his skull tingle and - shut up and kiss, English. Even Fred couldn't talk while kissing. Much.

Figured Wes could, already mumbling between kisses.

"I'm just...I'm just...overwhelmed, Charles, I -" Wesley stopped himself - pulled away a little and took Charles' leather-clad arm in his - tugged him toward the sitting room. Despite the wonder of having Charles kiss him, his feet were numb from cold and he was starting to shiver. Charles grabbed his cane and allowed himself to be towed, smiling all the while. When they entered the sitting room, though, Wesley felt him stiffen and looked over anxiously.

"What is it?"

"I'm not gettin' down in any damn Nest, Wes - whether the wild bunch is in it or not." Yet wasn't a word he was ready for. Yet. See? But Wes was looking - nervous and damn, couldn't have that. "Never get me back up again, man - not with this knee -"

"Oh! No, no -we've chairs, here - let me -" Wesley steered Charles to the hearth where the other man sighed in relief and opened his coat - tucked his cane under his arm and stripped his gloves off. Wesley hurried to the overstuffed chair that was on the other side of the Nest and lifted it - brought it over and positioned it close to the fire. Took Charles' coat and gloves and scarf and draped them over the couch-back.

"There now," Wesley said as Charles eased himself down, grimacing slightly, his leg held stiffly out. "Now, let me get you a drink, Charles and then - really - I must insist on the full story." Wesley tried to sound stern but Charles was grinning at him - reached out and snagged him by a sleeve and pulled him close, pulled him down, and Wesley crouched there, one hand on Charles' thigh, the other on the arm of the chair, watching Charles lean forward. The fire made Wesley's face so warm... Made Charles' face warm too, warm and stubble-rough. And his hand warm where it slid behind Wesley's neck and into his hair, drawing Wesley with it.

It was like something out of a one of those Rockwell paintings - fireplace going, classic American furniture - okay like Rockwell if you ignored the two guys thing, the black guy and white guy thing, the crazy harem pillows and - that blush on Wes' cheeks was just so damn...sexy. "Been a long trip...gettin' here. Ain't gonna pretend I know what I'm doin'. Couple of idiots with sex on the brain told me I should follow my gut. I don't know where the fuck it's goin' but here's where it wants to be." In a crazy, fucked up Norman Rockwell painting with a couple of demons and a crazy one-eyed guy, demon pets and no goddamn clue what he was doin' other than following his gut.

His gut was crazy.

"So, I have your guts to thank for...this?" Wesley said softly, and Charles gave him a look - head a little tilted, all his old, street-wise attitude right there in snapping brown eyes and twisted lip.

"Don't look gift guts in the mouth, Wes. Oh my god. I've been talking to Xander too much." Gunn dropped his face into his hands and Wes - started to laugh because his world was just not turning on end fast enough for the universe.

Delighted and giddy with it all, Wesley pushed aside his anxiety for the moment so he could just - bask. I must have a talk with those two, and soon, Wesley thought. Soon, yes, but...first - there were more important things to do.

Like kiss Charles again, like slip his fingertips under the layers of Charles' sweater and shirt and tee - like listen to the steady heart-beat and the soft sigh of pleasure when their lips touched again.


~*~*~*~*~


"Gah." Xander stared at the ceiling.

The ceiling stared back.

I mock you, ceiling. For you cannot know the mind-numbing thrill of a blow job from a man with over a hundred years of experience.

Xander continued to stare at the ceiling, extremities tingling, until Spike's face hove into view. "Worth fifty, pet?"

"I owe you change."

"Ta, then," Spike said, sounding entirely too pleased with himself. Xander wanted to roll over and pounce on the vampire - wipe that smirk off Spike's face with a few well-chosen moves of his own.

In a minute. Maybe two. When I can feel my legs again. Oh, fuck - what if I can't feel my legs when Buffy gets here? "If I can't actually ever move again and Buffy has to spend her entire visit lying next to me in the Nest it's all your fault, Spike," Xander mumbled. Spike poked him, making him twitch.

"We're not havin' the Slayer in the Nest with us, Xander."

"It'll be a girly slumber party! She'll bring cheesy chips and I'll braid her hair and Jesus did I just say that about Buffy in our bed?"

"That you did, pet."

Xander threw an arm over his eyes, trapped Spike with a leg and felt the cool weight settle onto him. It wasn't doing his legs any favors but the rest of him liked it a lot. The rest of him was a traitor to the cause. "You sucked my brain out," Xander accused.

"What brain?" Spike muttered into his neck and Xander growled half-heartedly.

"Damn...nap...need a nap," he muttered back, and Spike nuzzled in a little further, teeth grazing Xander's collarbone.

"Or a little pick-me-up," Spike said, and nipped with fangs. Xander's body tingled some more, only this time it was renewed arousal and anticipation and Spike chuckled softly, hips grinding down just a little.

Xander gasped, groaned and grabbed a double handful of vampire ass. "Pick me up. Light on the up. Up not happening again any time - oh - in the next ten minutes," Xander finished with a shudder, hungry mouthful of smooth, smoky throat; nipped, nibbled - oh yeah he was not the only guy in that Nest with a neck fetish. No...sirree.

Spike shivered, pushing his throat into Xander's mouth - let the demon up and out and sank careful fangs into the smooth muscle that connected Xander's neck to his shoulder. Spike groaned as Xander's teeth cut into his throat and Xander sucked, coaxing blood out, his hands pulling Spike closer and his hips rising and falling. Spike swallowed - pulled away - licking his lips and rubbing his cheek on Xander's - worming one hand underneath and the other into Xander's hair as Xander slowly unlocked his jaw and drew back, love want yes yes in the link.

Tingles ran from Xander's groin to the top of his head and the soles of his feet like fizz and electric crackles danced under his fingertips when he stroked Spike's back. Taste of Spike - coppery, peppery, demony - "Hey, Buffster. This? Just a hickey. You know what it's like when two crazy kids get to necking," he said with a lazy stretch and grin.

"She knows we're intimate, you git," Spike grumbled. Not like that sort of thing doesn't go on all the time." Xander flexed and Spike let himself be pushed, looking down at a wide-open eye and a mouth that was moving, but making no sounds. At least, not for a few seconds.

"Buffy let you bite her? You bit Buffy? Are you kidding?"

"Well, course she did! Vampire lover an' all..." Spike said. Xander whapped him. "Oh all right. No. She wouldn't let me. Said it gave her the creeps after Drac, that bastard. Ruined it for me, didn't he? Could have had Slayer's blood as an aperitif... Amazing aphrodisiac, that..." Xander whapped him again and Spike growled.

Xander's brain dashed ahead to This is your vampire. This is your vampire on an aphrodisiac' but before it reached any questions? it didn't have any blood left to think with and Xander stared at the ceiling, dazed. "Unless you're planning on asking Buffy to spare a few drops of Slayer-style Spanish fly to give me the jollies. Then it's okay. Actually - do you think she would? Is it still good if it's in a cup? Can you bleed into a cup?"

"Hey!" Spike whapped back, making Xander blink. "Pay attention, pet. Tryin' to seduce you, here. And no, I don't want any bleedin'...blood in a cup."

"Because talking about the most recent ex is such a great seduction technique." Xander tried for serious but somewhere along the way it turned into teasing - and the teasing turned into kissing and Xander dropped his head. "Okay - seduction technique highly successful."

"Mmm...more like it." Spike bent all his concentration to kissing - felt the buzz of the blood going through Xander and Xander's own blood like warm honey and whiskey. Kissed with deliberate slowness and thoroughness until Xander was making a small, needy sound down in his throat and writhing helplessly under Spike. Then a thought occurred and Spike pulled abruptly back.

"You're not... I mean, when the Slayer's here -"

"Not. Talking. About. Buffy. Please?"

"Yeah, not, right, but... You're not expectin' me to - us to - not...fuck. Are you?"

Xander lifted his eye. Then his eyebrows. Everything else was already lifted. He looked down their joined bodies with a snort. "That'd be a no. If delicate Slayer sensibilities can't handle manly fucking going on down the hall, she can sleep in the guest house. I may be a little insecure about having the Buffster's talents in the house, but I am not made of steel."

Spike stared down at Xander - rooted under a pillow and came up with lube. He pushed the blankets back and sat up - straddled Xander and made a show of squeezing out some lube - using it - and then, excruciatingly slowly, impaling himself on Xander's cock. He had one hand on Xander's chest, the other on Xander's thigh, and he never once let his gaze waver from Xander's.

"There is nothing...absolutely nothing...that I did with the Slayer...that compares to this, love. Nothing. You...make every thing we do...every kiss and every touch...perfect. Perfect, love... Never doubt me." And all of that in the link - hard as he could while he flexed and lifted and fell, languorous and calculated and...perfect.


~*~*~*~*~


Nothing like waking from a postnap, postsex nap with a nose full of vampire throat, electric blanket-warmed hands on his back and Texas-sized hickeys that said Spike was here! And here. And here. And over there too. The gears of thought and speech made a creaky, mumbled start. "What time is it?"

"Uh?" Spike just burrowed deeper and Xander struggled into a half-sitting position, squinting in the gloom toward the bedroom clock. Not a nice, easy-to-read digital, like he'd wanted, but something that had to be wound. With a key. Wesley had approved and Spike had approved and Xander had pouted. The dice seemed fascinated by the ticking and the little pendulum that swung inside the case. As a matter of fact... Yup. A crouched and hypnotized douse obscured the clock-face. Great. Looks dark outside. Fuck - Buffy!

"Wake up." Xander jabbed at Spike.

"Fuck off."

"No. Come on, Spike! Wake up. Buffy's late." Xander squirmed, even got his knees under him before he was arrested and pinned by a lazy vampire-strong arm.

"She's the Slayer. Can take care of herself."

"She could've run into trouble."

Spike snorted, rolled them both over and buried his nose determinedly in Xander's throat, nibbling at a half-healed bite. "How much trouble could there be?"

Xander caught Spike's hair, a big handful and pulled - until Spike came away from his neck with a soft sucking sound that made him shiver. "Okay, first? That's really dirty pool. And second? The Slayer. Here. East Coast demon central?"

Spike growled, but there was more worry than want coming from Xander so the growl petered out into a sigh and he reluctantly levered himself upright - grabbed Xander and hauled him across the half-acre of king-sized bed-Nest. They both slid off and upright and Spike dragged his hands through his hair, feeling the wild disorder of strands that had been washed and then slept in. "Fuck," he muttered, and stumbled toward the bathroom. Xander was yanking open drawers and tossing clothes at the Nest and Spike leaned against the sink and groped for a can of mousse - started to palm it through his hair, making tufts and spikes in the moon-pale strands. He'd had Xander clip all the black tips off a week before.

"What'cha think happened? Think she got in a fight? I bet she got in a fight," Spike called.

Xander appeared, tugging a thermal that had once been dark green over his head, heavy dark rust sweater dangling from his other hand, voice muffled until his head popped through. "That's a bet you would so win." He dropped the sweater on the counter and grabbed an elastic, scooping hair back from his face and banding it messily at his nape. He looked at himself in the mirror, wild stray hairs poking out all over - then turned to Spike, neat tufts like icefire all over his head. "And how do you do that without a mirror?"

"Got about a hundred and thirty years practice, pet. But I didn't start using a pomade until..." Spike snapped his jaw shut and stalked out, going for his own clothes and ignoring Xander's snickers. "Beats lookin' like I been dragged backwards through a privet hedge!" He rifled a drawer - yanked on black jeans and black tee and then a thick, pewter-grey sweater - went to put on his boots by the fire. He would warm himself and then trap the heat under his duster - it would linger for nearly an hour. "Didn't hear the phone - think she called?"

Xander snickered around his toothbrush, spat, rinsed and trailed Spike into the bedroom, tugging on his sweater. "Wes would have insisted on one of us taking the call."

"Dunno, pet. He might be all wrapped up in Charlie-boy by now."

"Wes is never too wrapped up to answer the phone." Xander dropped into a crouch behind Spike, slipped his arms around his waist and rested his cheek against sticky-damp tufts that still smelled like alcohol and anonymous floral scent.

"Charlie might change that," Spike said and then paused a moment, thinking about that. Gunn might actually do that - he was different, he was older, he was...something else entirely. He was what Wes needed but didn't have here, that much Spike knew. Needed as much as Wes needed him and Xander. And now he's got him...hope he can keep him...don't wanna screw this up. Spike contemplated all the myriad ways he himself could screw it up - from jealousy to trying to move Gunn along too fast. Take it slow. Let Gunn lead...let Wes tell us...what he wants. Whatever he wants...

"And that is in no way your worried face," Xander said, rubbing his cheek against Spike's, grinning when Spike snorted his derision but worry fluttered through the link, a reluctant thing. "Gunn might. I mean - I guess he might. Or he might answer the phone instead, the way he's always riding our asses about not answering the phone." Xander leaned back and tugged Spike with him, working his hands under his sweater and holding, skin to skin. "It'll be fine. They'll be fine. We'll be fine. And Buffy will be frozen solid and do you wanna bring a cranky Slayer home? I don't think so."

"Not like she won't find something to be cranky about," Spike muttered, but he relaxed into Xander's hold - breathed in his heady scent for a moment. And then they stood up, synchronized through the link, Spike reaching for his Duster and Xander loading wallet and keys into his pockets, hunting for his pocket knife - missing again - while Spike got his cigarettes off the mantle and found his lighter. "Best get a move-on then, love. Shall we pop in on Wes and Gunn or leave them to their own devices?" he added, lift of lip and eyebrow that made Xander grin.

"If there are any wet sucking sounds coming out of that room, I am not walking in on them." Xander gave up on the knife and stuffed his cell phone into his pocket. He bussed Spike's cheek on the way past, striding down the hall.

"Probably sitting in the kitchen having cakes and tea with the bloody dice."

"Do I hear my vampire making another sucker bet?" Xander turned, walked backward, grinned wide and easy, the worry mutating into nervous energy now they were on the move.

"You said 'sucker'" Spike said, in his best Beavis voice and Xander snorted, stumbling over his own boots and turning around to walk forward again - not even glancing at the guest-room door as they went past and down the stairs. Hesitating only for a moment outside of the sitting room door - - both doors were closed.

"So - where do we start? No messages on our phones - no pounding on the door from Wes with a message... Maybe she's out walking?"

"It's probably ten below, pet. I doubt it - don't think Chanel makes all-weather gear and you know she'd never sully her ensemble with a big down coat. What?" Spike added, as Xander laughed again, this time slightly hysterical giggles as they went through the kitchen and mud-room to the back door.

"Buffy did get messy on patrol, Spike. She complained about it but a little mud never killed the Slayer. It only made her mad." He shrugged into his coat. Big and brown and lined with fleece. "Seriously - you did not wanna be the guy getting mud on her Jimmy Choos or whatever." He checked his phone again and squinted into the night. Snowing again and blowing at a sharp slant. "Let's check the shop."

They scurried, heads bowed, from back door to carriage house and got into the cold truck. Spike huddled on the icy leather while Xander started the engine and revved it gently, letting it run for a couple of minutes before he put it in gear and hit the button on the remote for the door. They rolled out into the slanting curtain of white-on-white, each street-light and headlight surrounded by a dazzling corona, the black of the streets obscured here and there by a thin scrim of snow. Xander drove slow and steady - already at ease with winter driving - humming tunelessly under his breath.

Spike fiddled with the heater - got a CD playing - and stared out the windows, half-expecting to see the Slayer striding along; luggage at heel like a good leather dog and dust on her hands.

"I don't see her. I don't see anything -"

"Wait - look there -" Spike said. He popped open the door and climbed out - trotted across the street. Yup - blood. Demon blood by the pepper-sulfur smell. A smear of it, a spatter and then a puddle. And a faded wisp of Armani Sensi. All saying one thing. The Slayer was here.

Xander glanced down the abandoned street and eased the truck over to the sidewalk, rolling down the window and leaning out - squinting against the snow with a shiver. Buffy may have been the Slayer. And she may have won against whichever nasty met up with her but he didn't like the idea of her out in this kind of cold. "Too late for footprints. Can you follow the scent?"

"Oh, yeah," Spike said, flashing for a moment on scents and following and what was probably the only moment of his and Buffy's utterly doomed 'romance' that had actually been...nice. Christ. Maybe I need to get drunk. He walked, the snow creaking underfoot, uttering the occasional muttered curse as hidden patches of ice made him slip and slide. The truck rumbled quietly along beside him, the window down and Xander's Johnny Cash CD playing softly. A block north - turn here - alley, open lot, half a block east...

"It's a bar," Xander said, leaning out of the truck window and Spike grinned.

"That's my girl."

Xander snorted, switched off the truck and scrambled out after Spike, taking in the purple and blue-lit neon sign of 'T e Fr g And Fl gon ', whatever that was supposed to be. A pair of Skovish demons were staggering out, laughing and snuffling loudly to each other in their own language. Xander watched them heave open a manhole cover and drop down into the sewers. "Okay so the plan is we rescue Buffy from the bar, or the bar from Buffy?"

"Oh, probably a little of both." Spike lit a cigarette - pulled open the door and sauntered in, Xander at his side. Things seemed...normal. Pall of smoke hanging overhead, nearly touching some of the taller demon's heads or horns or...whatever. The sweet crack of pool-ball into pool-ball. Early seventies hillbilly rock on the juke-box, some sort of fruit-machine dinging and blinking in the corner. But no Slayer, despite the thread of 'Sensi' that still tickled Spike's nose.

"To Buffy!"

"To Buffy!" ragged chorus of growling, lisping, demonic voices.

"To me!"

"Nope, she's still here."

"Xander! Spike!"

The crowd parted like the Red Sea in that old Charlton Heston movie and Buffy bounced through it, hair muddy and wet, cheeks flushed, a drying stain on her blue jeans and a grin on her face. She threw herself at them. "I went to your address but nobody was there and then there was this little G'ggktch being beaten up by a bunch of Doresh and I kicked their sorry butts!"

"Buff! Buff! Still human!" Xander croaked, creaked and that was so not a good sound for ribs to make and then she was letting go, backing away and squinting, frowning - squinched up her eyes and stood on tip toe, peering at Xander's face.

At his soc -

"You tattooed it!"

Oh.

"You tattooed it! And you stopped wearing the patch. And - huh. That's kinda...sexy." She whirled, grabbing their hands and pulling like a drunken blonde tugboat toward the crowd of demons.

"Hey, guys! Meet my friends!"


~*~*~*~*~


"Okay, man," Gunn said, full of liquid courage and putting his beer bottle on the hearth. He was feeling warm and happy and buzzed. Also hungry. "Dazzle me with your control. Lemme see you dial that phone and not order sushi."

"You'd be amazed at my control," Wesley said and they both - blinked. Wesley felt the blush heat his face and he opened his cell and dialed the number off the menu. 'Authentic Northern Italian Cuisine' which was debatable, but the food was good and filling, and the portions huge so there would be some for Xander and Spike, if they wanted. Xander's truck had rumbled out of the carriage house a half-hour ago or more - presumably in search of Buffy. Wesley...really hadn't thought about it.

"Man. Didn't know you could blush like that anymore." Gunn brushed the backs of his knuckles over Wes' cheekbone - kinda scratchy and warm until Wes jumped - dropped his phone in his lap and fumbled it onto the side table. "It's...fetching."

Wesley felt the blush flare and pretended not to hear Charles' laughter. It was...strange being touched like that. By Charles. As strange as it was natural and Wesley wasn't prepared to examine that deeply. "I reserve it for special occasions."

"I'm a special occasion now?" Charles sat back, puffed out - and grinned, head cocked at an angle that was impossible not to kiss.

And Wesley's restraint was no longer what it once was even if he could feel his lips tingling - chapping from too many kisses already. "Yes. I'm afraid there's no champagne but there is a nice sauvignon blanc."

"I'm pretty good with this Old Spotted Rooster stuff," Gunn said, and then he leaned in and kissed Wesley right back. The kissing, yeah that was the easy part. Getting easier every damn time.

Wesley was absurdly grateful for the privacy of the empty house. Because he and Charles were...necking. Making out like teenagers, their chairs pulled up knee-brush close in front of the fire. Wesley's whole body tingled gently and every touch - every look - from Charles was an overload of affection and amusement and quiet lust. And we're both still fully dressed. Spike would despair. Thank god they had to run out and get Buffy... He loved Spike - loved Xander. But this time alone with Charles - just reaffirming their friendship and discovering...something else...was precious to him.

"Spike won't be pleased if we drink it all up," Wesley said a little breathlessly, and Charles just laughed.

"Yeah," Gunn breathed into the kiss, got a hand behind Wesley's neck and rubbed, thumb and knuckle rolling against Wesley's muscles until he moaned and dropped his head to one broad shoulder, heavy weight, good weight. "'Cause I care about pleasin' Blondie Bear right now."

"He can be very...tenacious," Wesley said, and Charles' fingers worked up through his hair and then back down again. Wesley's own hands were sunk into Charles' sweater, fingertips finding warm, satiny skin over Charles' waist.

"He'll live. 'Sides, he went through my desk and stole my damn jawbreakers plenty of times. Payback's a bitch."

Wesley closed his eyes and passed a hand over them with a muffled groan.

"What's wrong?"

"I saw the rest of my life flash before my eyes. It involves mediating the great Twinkies heist of aught seven." He peeked between his fingers.

"There's Twinkies?"

"Xander lives here. Of course there's Twinkies. And HoHos and something called...Swiss Cake Rolls that, rest assured, have never set foot on Swiss soil." Charles was looking pleased and Wesley shook his head. Another one. I knew about the jawbreakers...what else did he hide in that desk? "When Xander discovers the empty boxes Spike blames the dice, of course."

"Yeah, well I still haven't seen these mythical pink fluffballs, so if you ask me that's a pretty cheap excuse." Gunn sat back in his chair but didn't let go of Wesley's fingers; kept them twined with his, warm and dry. Soft. He remembered when their hands had had the kind of hard calluses that came from swinging weapons, not slinging paperwork.

"Oh, just you wait. They're very smart. They know exactly what a ringing doorbell means."

"Yeah? What's it mean?"

"It means dinner is served," Wesley chuckled, and Charles shook his head, lips pursed in mock disapproval.

"You know if you feed them, they never go away."

"Yes, I've heard that. I suppose that's what happened to Xander," Wesley added, joking, and Charles snorted softly and reached down for his Old Speckled - drained the last half-inch.

"Never feed a vamp - I'll keep that in mind."

The doorbell rang and Wesley held out a hand before Charles could struggle to his feet. "Wait. Listen."

Gunn waited - hand on his cane - hand on the crazy English guy's bonyass knee and first there was a pat and a taptap - and a clatter from the kitchen. And a bounding patter like rain and - "What the fuck?"

Wesley pointed at the staircase.

And a dozen pairs of limpid black eyes blinked back at them, twenty four sets of whiskers quivered at them. And eleven tails shivered in anticipation, the twelfth clutched and wrung between eager paws.

"Shit. It's like that scene from Jurassic Park. And you feed them?"


~*~*~*~*~


"And then I kicked, like this - and punched, one two uppercut, don't drop your shoulder, Buffy and then - and then another kick -" Buffy wobbled - flailed - and fell back into Xander's waiting arms as the crowd of demons, half-demons and humans laughed and applauded, lifting drinks in salute. "And that's how I killed a Mmresch demon in Sicily!"

"That's great, Buff - really cool - why don't we sit down?"

"Oh, sitting's good. My feet hurt. Oooh, a drink!" Buffy sprawled down into the booth and Xander slid in after her, pinning her in the corner. Buffy grabbed Spike's shot and lifted it - pouted when Spike plucked it deftly from her hand and tossed it back himself.

"No fair! Finders keepers!"

"It was mine. And you've had enough, Slayer." Spike seemed immune to The Pout, but Xander found himself reaching out and patting Buffy's shoulder.

"One more Appletini and then we're gonna go home, okay?"

"But Xaaaan! I'm gonna miss all my new best friends!"

"They come here all the time and you can come back." Xander turned, addressed the assembled demon chapter of Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Fanclub and how weird was that? "Can she come back?"

A Horrth raised its flagon in a tentacle and burbled assent.

"To Buffy!" The rest of the demons echoed.

"For you? Drinks on the house, sweetie." The half-Brachen barmaid set an Appletini down for Buffy and pushed at the Horrth. "You give her room!"

The Horrth burbled and waved a tentacle.

"They're not givin' her room!"

"They're my family," Buffy announced - enunciated - and sloshed her drink. "Like brothers." She smiled at Xander and at Spike before her expression crumpled into confusion. "And they're my - my..."

"They're your bleedin' devoted acolytes, all clamorin' to worship at your little kicky feet. You're not gonna puke, are you Slayer?" Spike leaned as far back from Buffy as possible as she made a sort of choking noise, her shoulders heaving.

"Buff? You okay?"

"My acolytes," Buffy moaned - lifted a tear-streaked face to Xander's concerned one. "My family. It's good to have family."

"Oh, yeah, so time to go home. Spike, you wanna go start the truck, get it warming up?" Xander dug the keys out of his pocket and tossed them to Spike.

"You have a truck? Is it a big truck? I bet it's a big truck," Buffy said, apples and spice and everything nice - okay, apples and spice and everything lightly pickled. "It's icy out there," she said with big, serious eyes and the pout he fell in love with when he was sixteen.

"It's icy but I have a great big truck and a guy with vampire reflexes to drive it."

Buffy stuck a finger into the center of Xander's chest, reminding him way too much of Cave Buffy. 'Appletinis bad!'

"Spike's a bad driver."

"No, Spike's a good driver. A good vampire and a good driver -"

"Hey! Can we cut the 'good' shite out? I'm not good! I'm bad to the bone, Slayer, and don't you forget."

Spike scowled down at them, Xander's keys jingling in an agitated hand and Xander stifled the giggle that threatened.

"Oooh, you're right, you're bad...you're real bad..." Buffy slumped lower, her head sagging gently down. "Ama - hic - Amadeus said you were bad...tole me all about you an' Angel and those...chains..."

"Amadeus? Is that what the Immortal Wanker's callin' himself these days?"

"Chains?" Xander grinned, and pulled Buffy upright.

"Like a - like a couple of slabs of beef...cake." Buffy giggled into Xander's shoulder. "And no shirts."

"Storytime!" Xander singsonged, and Spike growled.

"Slayer, you are so. Dead."


~*~*~*~*~


Wesley stacked the last glass in the dishwasher - things left over from Xander and Spike's mid-afternoon dinner as well as his and Charles' things - and turned to the sink to wash his hands. And stopped. Charles was standing very, very still while a douse sniffed his trouser leg thoroughly then moved on to the scarred, dark wood of Charles' cane.

"It's not gonna bite me, is it?" Gunn asked - low and careful and not because he was gonna scream like a big girly-girl if that little pink sucker tried any fast and fancy footwork up his pants leg.

"Oh, no. Not at all. Not unless you want to hurt it. They're empathic, if you recall, so just think - friendly thoughts." Wesley dried his hands and frowned, sure he'd put his watch on the sill above the sink.

"Yeah. Right. Friendly. Hey, little rodent. Little pink vermin," Gunn sing-songed. "How 'bout you scamper off and -" The douse stood on its hind legs and Gunn took a step back. Bite-sized evil sized him up and then it dropped to all fours and hopped over to Wesley - swarmed up his leg and poked its nose into his shirt-collar.

"Jesus, Wes!"

"Charles, really - we had a dozen with us for dinner -"

"Yeah, all down at your end of the table." Charles looked skeptical and Wesley smiled - reached up and coaxed the douse onto his palm.

"Just get a sugar cube out of the bowl there, would you? Hold your palm flat -" Charles stood there, palm held out, and Wesley let the douse hop from his hand. It sat in Charles' palm for a moment, sniffing, and then it picked the sugar cube up and started to nibble, whiskers flicking and tail whisking.

Kinda tickled. Looked about as threatening as a wind-up toy. "Okay. So maybe they ain't all that bad."

The douse gave him a reproachful look and held up the sugar cube in both paws.

"I think it's offering to share." Wesley turned back to the sink, hiding a grin. "It wouldn't want the entire community slandered now.

Gunn made a face and held the douse carefully away in case it decided to try for a sugary free-throw into his mouth. "Hey now. You nibble nibble nibbled it and it's yours. I don't wanna swap spit with demonic ver- uh, rodents."

Liquid back eyes narrowed.

"Not that I don't appreciate the offer!"

Wesley watched covertly, rinsing his hands as the douse opened its mouth wide - exposing the long, sharp teeth - and shoved the sugar cube in, making its cheek bulge. Then it turned and leapt onto the counter, ran lightly to the end and dove off onto the floor, running for the attic or any other of several bolt holes they hadn't yet found.

"That was close," Gunn muttered, brushing his hands together, trying to brush off the sugary stickiness it had left behind with its paws. Douse cooties - Jesus. He shouldered in next to Wesley to wash his own hands.

"So when do you think the Gruesome Twosome and Buffy're gonna be here?"

"Oh, if I know them, not until well after midnight and really -" Wesley yawned, hand to his mouth. "Really, I need to sleep. The shop opens at eight and I need to be there early to let in a supplier. Are you -?"

"Exhausted, English. Need a shower and a soft bed."

"I believe I can provide both of those."

Gunn's stomach did that flipping over thing again, nervous energy shooting up into his chest and down into his balls, light headed and kinda scared - bomb deactivating scared. He lifted a hand, brought it down between Wes' shoulder blades and held his breath in that weird slowed-down time waiting to see if he got it right. Then Wes leaned back into the touch and everything started up again a-okay. "Need a warm body for the bed, too. Think you can provide that?"

Slow as each heartbeat came, Wesley felt one skip. "I think I can come up with something."

"Yeah?"

Out the corner of his eye, Wesley saw a team of three dice hoist the sugar bowl between them and run, paws pattering in close formation. He hadn't liked that sugar bowl anyway and he had much - oh - much better things to occupy himself with. He hadn't quite memorized the exact shape and texture of Charles' lips.

Yet.

"Yes," he said belatedly.


~*~*~*~*~


They had enough bathrooms - and big enough water heaters - plural - that Wesley was able to shower in the master bath at the same time Charles was in the bath attached to his room. Standing in the steam afterward, brushing his teeth, Wesley felt a little shiver of tension - anticipation - twist in his belly. Charles was...so different. Or - not different, but - so surprising. And now - sharing a room - a bed... Wesley shook his head once, sharply. Pulled on a pair of pajama pants and hesitated over the shirt.

Courage, man, he thought, and lay the shirt back down. Pulled his robe on and pushed his feet into his slippers - put his glasses on and walked quickly to Charles' room. He could hear a pleasant humming - an operetta he didn't recognize - and he knocked softly.

"Call me crazy but it ain't locked," Charles called in between verses and Wesley pushed the door open, laughing when he found two dice swaying back and forth to the music on the bed.

"Charles, do you have dice in the bathroom too?"

"Nah. I chased 'em out. They still out there?"

"I'm afraid so." Wesley sat on the bed and ran a fingertip down the back of one, from between the ears to its tail until it started shivering happily. "They are harmless. You didn't have to kick them out."

"Man, they stare. And they were eating the soap."

On cue, a douse hiccupped and a soap bubble floated away. "You shouldn't have done that," Wesley told it.

The douse stuck out a frothy tongue and scrubbed at it with his paws.

"They ate half the bar. Which is too bad 'cause that stuff smells really good...for froofy girly soap." Charles walked out of the bathroom in flannel pajama pants, a towel around his neck. Wesley smiled slowly - shooed the dice, who slithered off the bed and scampered away.

"Your fire needs a little more wood," Wesley said, trying not to stare - trying not to make Charles feel...awkward. But the man was... Lovely. He's...lovely. Still...perfect. Trying not to make himself feel awkward.

"Fire's the only thing." Gunn said - smirked, givin' Wes the once-over. Hot water and warm kisses and a quick and soapy hand job made the world a more secure place. And Wes looked - fine.

Wesley drew his robe quickly around himself, laughing. "I promised to take it slow but I'm only human. Here. Let me. If you add more wood when the fire is this low, you'll wake up with the embers still burning. It's much more pleasant." Three logs joined the others, flames licking at the dry bark.

"I don't mind lookin', English. Or touching. Looking and touching are good things. Wouldn't mind doin' more of both."

"I don't want to make you feel...uncomfortable. Rushed."

"I look rushed to you?"

Wesley smiled, turned - stared. "You look -"

"Yeah?" Gunn felt a big goofy grin coming on. The look in Wes' eyes was next door to worshipful and damn - felt pretty good.

"You look naked," Wesley admitted through a throat too dry for more.

"It's how I sleep. Hate gettin' all twisted up in pajamas."

"Yes, I - I feel the same," Wesley said faintly, and then he blinked - shook his head. Take. Off. Your. Robe. He slipped his robe off his shoulders - draped it over the curved footboard of the sleigh bed. Shook his slippers off and then undid the drawstring of his pants - slipped them down. Bending to free his foot he saw the ugly, twisted scars of Charles' injury - the misshapen knee and the further scars from surgery. It looked slightly swollen and Wesley longed to comfort him - help him, somehow.

Gunn followed Wes' look to his knee - what was left of it. Yeah - okay, so not all of him was the fine specimen it once was. "Not so pretty, huh?"

"It's not - It isn't anything to be ashamed of, Charles. You...you look so -" Wesley took a slow step forward - another - and then Charles hand came up and cupped his cheek - his other hand fitted itself around Wesley's waist and tugged, lightly. The look in his eyes was one of... Want. Desire and...want and...oh, something... Wesley inhaled the lingering clean Christmas spice of Charles' cologne on his skin, overlaid with the orange-cinnamon-honey of the soap

"Wes -" Charles murmured, and Wesley shivered - shivered again and changed - helpless. Wanting so much - so hard - and the demon wanted in the way that Spike did. Selfish and possessive - a covetous want. Charles' eyes went wide and Wesley closed his, feeling...

Oh fuck, English. Gunn's stomach lurched, surprise and -

"I'm - sorry, Charles, I -"

Protectiveness. "Ain't nothin' to be sorry about, English. Just let me look. Don't hide it from me - man, it's what's keepin' you alive."

Wesley took a deep breath - opened his eyes. "I'd...like that." He saw his reflection in Charles' eyes - tiny demon, crest of opalescent spines shivering under the brush of dark fingertips, shiver that skittered down his spine and made him arch and close his eyes.

"Jesus." Gunn watched black eyes close - black like sharks and fishes are black but with way more light than any kind of shark he knew. Felt the bend and bow of spines the color of pearl inlay and skin smooth and thick like the dolphins at Sea World but warm. Freaky - and kinda beautiful too. "Damn, English."

Rough fingertips traced his collarbones, floated over his chest and Wesley caught his breath. "What do you think?"

"Think you'd make a great pair of pants."

Wesley's eyes snapped open. "Excuse me?" Charles' hand was large and warm against his back and strong, holding him there - kissing and tasting, loving and falling back with laughter when Wesley fought an arm free and hit him, demon falling away before human offense. "Pants?"

"Like eelskin, man. Smooth. Soft." Gunn cupped his palm over a stubbled cheek that wasn't soft anymore - scratchy and familiar. "Nice."

"Nice enough for trousers," Wes grumbled, and Gunn laughed softly.

"Or a really nice wallet," Gunn teased, and Wes cracked a smile - pushed into his touch just a little. From - somewhere - a thread of sub-zero air curled around Gunn's ankles and he shivered. "Okay - damn. My feet are freezing already. I think it's time to get under the covers." Said with a bravado he - almost - felt. Because he was a little - nervous. He'd seen Xander and Spike - hell, Spike practically made a point of being seen - and despite it being...them... he'd gotten a shiver of arousal and curiosity, thinking about him and Wes...like that. Hell, he'd whacked off in the shower like a damn seventeen-year-old thinkin' about him and Wes like that. But - thinking about sex - man sex - was totally different from having it. Totally unknown territory and he hoped to fucking god Wes really was okay with going slow.

Wesley wrapped Charles' fingers in his, marveling at how cold human skin felt now. He tugged. "I could sweep you into my arms and carry you like a bride."

"No offense man, but -"

"Joking," Wesley said and tugged sharply - caught Charles when he stumbled and bit his lip. "Joking."

"Wes -" And damn how did it go? Man, you are doin' things to me I never expected a guy to do. And as much as I really want you to do 'em, I'm so scared I'd be shakin' in my boots if I wasn't barefoot and fuckin' freezing. He licked his lips.

"Charles - get. In. The. Bed. Before you freeze. All right?" Wesley stared at Charles who finally nodded and slid under the pile of flannel and wool and eiderdown, making a small sound of satisfaction as he discovered -

"There's an electric blanket under here!"

"On every bed, in every Nest. Spike insisted. He seems to have a fetish -"

"So don't want to hear 'Spike' and 'fetish' in the same sentence, man. Not right now." Wesley grinned and slipped under the covers as well - lay on his side, cheek propped on his fist.

"I promise not to discus the sexual proclivities of the 'Gruesome Twosome' if you promise..."

"Promise what, Wes?"

"That - that you'll..." Wesley took a deep breath - looked up at Charles and took the chance. "Charles, I want you to stay. Here. In this house, in this - this city. Stay with - me. Will you?"


~*~*~*~*~


'Stay with - me. Will you?'

"So the Buffster's as snug as a really drunk bug in a -"

Spike's hand came up sharply and Xander stopped talking and raised an eyebrow - watched Spike with his ear pressed to the guest bedroom door. When Spike straightened he radiated smug satisfaction - and a heady surge of wantwantwant.

He took a step forward.

Xander took a step back.

"Git. I almost missed the most important part."

"And which part would that be?" Xander ran out of back and hit the wall with a thump, Spike's palms smacking the wall to either side of his head.

"Part where Charlie-boy," Spike's mouth made the journey from collarbone to jaw, nipped like a little electric spark that made Xander weak in the knees, "said he'd stay."

"Said he'd - ah ha! I knew it!" Xander tried to wriggle free of Spike to do his 'Superiority Dance' (non-churchy), but Spike had him pinned a bit too efficiently to the wall. Pinned and held and...oh, yeah... "Damn - yeah, right - Spike! Oh, fuck!"

"Yeah, Xan..." Spike nibbled a little harder and then growled in irritation when Xander's hand pulled his hair hard enough to hurt. "What?"

"We are not doing this right outside of their door! And right down the hall from Buffy! It's rude."

"You only wanna go in our room 'cause you know I can make you scream," Spike husked, rolling his hips against Xander's and running his hands up under the layers of clothes, finding sensitive spots and tweaking.

"Yes! No! I mean - stop it! Our room. Now. I'll - ummm....do something extra-special?"

Spike cocked his head to one side, looking at Xander who looked back, eye half-closed and hair mussed - ripe for anything. "You will, will you, pet? Like what, then?"

"I'll be your captive audience. And ah - ah okay - the neck is cheating." Cheating tingles of goodness that left him weak in the knees - weak in the fingers that had no will to pull him away and okay weak in pretty much everything but his dick which really, really liked the plan. Which meant he needed a plan. An offer. A thing. A pair of handcuffs in the top drawer waiting for a special occasion and -

Lesser Xander voted an enthusiastic and shuddering yes.

"Really captive," Xander offered.

"Ooh, captive. My kidnapped harem boy..." Spike put a last, nibbling kiss into the juncture of neck and shoulder and then scooped Xander up and over his shoulder - strode down the hall to their room and pushed open the door - dropped Xander onto the Nest with an ooof of expelled breath and got to work on his boots. "Kit off, love," he said, when Xander just lay there for a stunned moment.

"Well, that's romantic," Xander muttered, struggling with his sweater, and Spike tossed a boot across the room - attacked the other.

"Fuck romance, Xander - wanna see you stretched out and tied down. Every. Inch. Mine."

"Jesus, Spike." Numb fingers and button flies - not mixy. Not mixy at all and - hunger want fucknow clawed through him like electric fingers. Xander closed his eye, pressed the heel of his hand against his cock and took a deep breath. "There's gonna be fewer inches of me available really fast."

And eye closed? Bad because with his eye closed, he felt. Every word. "Could tie that up too, pet. Lash your cock and balls tight, make 'em hurt. Make you wait." Double thump as Spike's own boots joined Xander's against the wall.

"So not helping." Quick, burning breath and Xander pulled it in, pulled it together. Principal Snyder in a Speedo. Oh yeah. The old stand-bys never failed. He was doubled over, fumbling with a sock when he felt the mattress dip behind him.

The pale-gold curve of Xander's neck was too pretty to ignore and Spike bent over Xander, brushing the silken hair to the side - tracing muscle and bone with his tongue. "God, love...want to taste every bit of you - bite you, suck you...make you scream for me..."

Xander's breath hitched - the link surged with desire and Spike slithered backwards, yanking open a night-table drawer and dragging out - things. Laying them on the pillow for Xander to see.

Cuffs.

Long, thin cords of braided leather.

Lube.

Want want want and Spike watched Xander toss the socks away - stand up and push clumsily at his jeans. "So fucking beautiful, Xan..."

"Yeah?"

Warmth from the fireplace and Spike's words crawled over and through his skin, through stretched muscles and he reached for the ceiling with a groan, everything tingling.

"Where're you gonna start?" He could feel Spike's eyes on him and turned - froze and watched Spike's hand touch his knee, gnarled twist of scar tissue that marked the bottom of the wildebeest scar and traced it up, hair shivering upright in its wake.

Spike tugged and Xander crawled onto the bed-Nest - folded to his knees on the pillows. Velvet under the left - something shiny under the right - and silky rough brocade beneath his balls, between his thighs. Scratch and silk and - thump from Buffy's room making him jump. "Spike -"

"Gonna start here..." Spike murmured - ignoring the noise, ignoring the little flinch it drew from Xander. Leaned forward and pressed his lips to Xander's - kissed him slow and steady and hard - bending him back and back until he was lying down, knees still under him, back arching and hands gripping Spike's shoulders.

Spike brought his own hands up - ran them along Xander's and tugged them down and away - grinned into Xander's mouth when the chill and silvery click of the cuffs made him jump.

"But first I'm just gonna make sure you don't go anywhere." A few twists of a leather cord and Xander's hands were immobilized above his head and Spike was sitting back and running fingertips over the taut lines of Xander's ribs, thighs and belly.

"Not going anywhere," Xander promised - even if the handcuffs weren't biting into his wrists - even if he wasn't hard enough to pound nails -

Xander thought about that and winced. There would be no pounding of nails. Pounding of vampire? Yes, yes, yes! Especially if he didn't stop - "Teasing. You're teasing." With feather-light brushes of cool fingertips - over his belly and down his hips, legs and ribs - arms and - Jesus! Fingers through nipple rings that had a direct line to his cock and in hindsight, jerking against Spike's hold was not the smart guy choice.

"Just getting you warmed up, pet," Spike said. He squirmed out of his own clothing in moments. Leaned down to smooth his tongue over Xander's nipples - this one, then that one, lapping like a cat, riding the heave of rib and muscles as Xander took in a hard breath. Distracting him so Spike could reach out - find another cord - bring it down between tense, splayed thighs. With his feet tucked under his haunches, Xander's back was arched - buttocks off the surface of the Nest and Spike liked that. He drew the cord down - around and around - up. Binding neatly and quickly and finishing with a slow stroke of his hand up Xander's cock.

"Now we can take all night." Spike slipped one hand under Xander - lifting him a little more as he moved his mouth slowly down, from nipples to navel to the dark, swollen head of his cock.

"Maybe I'll start here instead."

"Maybe -" Xander heard the breathless squeak, breathless moan under the word and cleared his throat. His thighs were shaking with the strain of the position and he couldn't see Spike anymore. Only the curve and wing of a pale shoulder blade. His mind supplied the rest - wicked blue eyes, wide, wet shining trail left behind the stroke of his tongue where the air felt cold.

Spike rose into view. "Maybe?"

Xander licked his lips and bit back a groan. "Maybe I'll ask for a gag next time." Slow up down slide of fingers tight around his cock, tug of leather ties and slow burn of stretched muscles. Fire warmth and draft cold air and - Want to see... "Is the camera in here?"

"Mmm - good idea, pet." Spike slid up and away - walked to the wide desk that sat in one corner and lifted the digital camera from its place - clicked it on. Another thump from down the hall - what in hell was the Slayer doing? - and he turned back to Xander and just looked.

Feasted with his eyes.

The curves and dips of Xander's torso sheathed in cream-gold skin that flushed rose at chest and groin, the black cord stark against blood-heated flesh. Fan of mink-brown hair over the pillows - over his shoulders - fleece of it, thin and silken, from navel to the root of his cock. His mouth open and wet and swollen. Pretty enough to eat.

Spike took pictures from this side - that side - working around the massive, four-poster frame this Nest was constructed on. He curled down next to Xander to show him the pictures, mouthing the coiling lines of his tattoos.

"That one is s - so - oh!" Xander clenched his teeth - bit back the moan in his throat - in his throat and under Spike's lips and teeth, biting and mouthing color into the woven leaves around his collarbones. "So my Christmas card picture." He turned his face, rubbed against Spike, tufted hair prickling at his cheek, sticking. "With a bow."

"Don't tempt me, pet, I'll do it," Spike said - pushed the camera under a pillow and started to kiss in earnest - kiss, lick, suck. Starting at Xander's mouth, moving slowly down. Hands on shoulders, ribs - thighs. Feeling the quivering strain of the muscles there and gently helping him unfold his legs. Spike rubbed the long muscles, digging his fingertips in as he sucked red-purple bruises up on the thin skin under Xander's hip-bones and along the crease of his thighs. Lay his tongue flat on the underside of Xander's cock and licked up once, slowly, bitter tang of leather that faded to salt-musk and then the cool, savory slip of pre-come at the very tip.

Xander sighed, arching up into him, and Spike backed off - started to make his way down toward Xander's knee.

"Oh fuck you," Xander breathed, curled his hands around the metal cuffs and pulled, sliding Spike's lips down a few more inches to the curve of his knee. "Come back here." Thump from Buffy's room - unless it was his heart. Loud heart. Tell-tale heart. He bit his lip against a whimper and curled his leg over Spike's shoulder - tasted salt and iron - and "Ow." He tongued at the wound in his lip, came away tasting extra red and nudged Spike with his knee. "Willing to offer bribes here."

"Kinda busy," Spike said, sliding his tongue along the crease behind Xander's knee - sinking his teeth in, just a little. His hands were busy kneading muscle - stroking flesh - tugging at the free three or four inches of leather cord that he'd left dangling, right under Xander's balls. Tickly little tease and he could smell blood. He made his way with studied casualness down to Xander's toes - switched feet and started up again, ignoring the little noises - the twisting body and the legs that tried to drag him upward. He stopped, sprawled between Xander's thighs, arms folded over Xander's belly and his chin propped on the back of his hand. Heat and hardness pressing into his sternum and he wiggled.

"You look like a proper harem-boy, love. All rumpled and wide-eyed and...debauched. Ready to beg for it?"

Xander stared at Spike in what had to be stark disbelief. He checked. Yes. Stark. Also hard and thrumming and tingling all over and aching like an overfilled balloon o' pain every time Spike wiggled.

He marshaled his brain cells - all three of them. Each one kicked out a word. "Fuck. Me. Now."
Somewhere on his belly, the fire of Spike's fingernails casually digging in, scratching, and his brain cells got together to kick out a bonus word free of charge. A bonus word full of vowels and of no language known to man and punctuated by wrapping his legs around Spike and arching.

And vowing never ever to give Spike ideas again.

Unless Spike got on with the fucking.

Then, there were a whole lot of ideas on tap as soon as the -

Another thumpthud and Xander swallowed a moan - also, his tongue. "Fuck." His three musketeer brain cells agreed.

"That's not begging, love." Spike pushed himself up onto his knees - moved off of Xander altogether and grinned at him - rolled him, so Xander was sprawled on his belly. Shoved a pillow or two up under his hips, spreading his legs wide. Spike got back in between them - ran his hands possessively up Xander's back to his ass - cupped and squeezed and rubbed.

"God, love, you've got a gorgeous behind. Just - fuckin' perfect. Round like an apple...could sink my teeth right in..."

"Nuh. Gah!" Pinpricks of heat and sharp-sharp biteyness made their mark and Xander closed his eye and saw dancing spots behind both lids. Dancing? Boogying down spots. He ached, the bites setting off sparks inside that begged to join the party, and pushed back against Spike desperately. pleasepleasepleasenownownow crackling through every nerve and the leather ties creaked. "Fuck me, fill me, use me, just do it now!"

"Still not beg-ging," Spike singsonged, mouthful of iron-salt-sweet and link full of formless need. He pushed Xander's cheeks apart with his hands - licked, balls to the small of Xander's back. Did it again. And then again, and again. Flat of his tongue pushing hard - dark bitter-musk taste on his tongue mixing with leather and salt and the faint spiciness of their soap. Thumbs pushing and pulling - working the muscle all around but never quite where Xander wanted him to go. Sucking Xander's balls into his mouth - humming around them. Licking and mouthing the bite high on Xander's left cheek and then going back to the other licking. Spike's whole body tingled with the waves of lust and frustration that were pouring off Xander - tingled with his own desire and he shivered all over - changed - and nuzzled into Xander's neck, his own achingly-hard cock rubbing wetly up and down Xander's crack.

"Begging is please please please, Spike, need you Spike..."

"Spike!" Xander bucked - writhed under Spike - hot, damp-musk air filling his lungs from the pillows pushing back, back, back against hard-wet-teasingfuckingbastard-cock and up. "Need - fucking - n-nee -" Teeth scraped at his throat, scraped along nerves laid raw, shuddering through him, everything tensed, everything hungry, shaking, sweating, hurting. "Please!"

The link was fire, was static-shock tingles and belly-twisting want and Spike rocked backward - slid his hands down and down until he could hold Xander's hip in one hand - himself in the other. Pressed forward until the head of his cock was just barely pushing into Xander. Other hand on Xander's other hip, and a slow, steady breath.

"Now that's begging, pet - that's perfect," Spike murmured. And a sharp, forceful roll of his hips had him going in - riding on pre-come and saliva, Xander open and ready from teasing tongue and fingers. Furnace-heat and clenching sheath of muscle and Spike growled, snarling whine of pure ecstasy. "God, perfect, love -"

Heavy weight burning heat inside and perfect - fuck, yes perfect Xander would agree if he was verbal - felt it all through the link, fucked and fucking - and stretched out, arms and ass and there might have been a more! in his embarrassingly needy whimpers but that was a low priority worry.

Very low.

Several levels of low and well below the dozens of levels of harder and more where his world narrowed to in-out-in-out-flamingJesusyesyesyes!-in.

"Christ -" Spike loved it when Xander got - non-verbal. When all he did was make these sounds - needy and animal and full of passion and desperation and pure fucking enjoyment. Spike leaned over Xander - put his mouth to neck and shoulders and kissed and licked, smooth skin and the raised texture of the razor wire scar. And he bit - small bites that drew no blood but that made Xander twist and moan and clutch a pillow so tight his fingers went right through - pop!. Spike yanked at the leather that looped around the headboard and got Xander's hands free - hauled him upright and fucked harder, one hand curving around Xander's belly and the other across his chest, holding him tight. Xander's arms came up - hooked around his neck and the chain from the hand-cuffs scraped the back of Spike's neck and he didn't care.

"Perfect, perfect, perfect," hoarse mumble into Xander's neck and then his fangs prickling over the wren-beat of Xander's heart - his fingers unknotting and unlooping the last leather cord - fisting Xander's cock to the same rhythm of his hips. "Xander - god -"

Xander clenched his fingers in the short hairs above Spike's neck, pulled and pushed and wanted, breath coming hard and fast between the pressure in his balls and the pressure in his throat - like too much blood - swollen with blood and need and - he loosed a low whine, head thrown back in surrender.

Spark of 'this is what it will be like' - knowledge that Spike wouldn't stop soon. Would keep drinking and fucking and fucking and drinking and take it all crashing into him, crashing through him and taking him with it.

Xander's head, rolling aside on his neck - the hard arch of creamy-gold skin exposed and pulled taut under Spike's mouth and wantyoursyours from Xander, strongest under the sheer lust that made Spike pant for air he didn't need. Shuddering surge of Xander's body and his muscles locked tight - his hips jerking in helpless spasms. The tidal scent of his come was sharp in Spike's nostrils and the demon snarled - wanting to take and keep taking what Xander was offering.

Ultimate surrender in the curving sweep of sweat-damp skin. Not yet not yet notyet, and Spike bit down, harder than usual - growled around the mouthful of flesh and blood and jerked hard, coming as well - grinding into Xander's body, bruising his hip and belly with a grip like iron, fingers sticky and warm on Xander as a second round of shocks jagged through him, making Spike moan at the surge through flesh and link both.

Finally spent, Spike sagged back on his heels, holding Xander to him - carefully loosening his fangs and doing his best not to tear Xander's skin. And then they both simply knelt there, panting - riding the delicious little aftershocks as they came down.

Love, want, mine sang between them, passed from skin to skin and Xander turned his head, rubbed a salt-wet cheek against Spike's. His neck sent up small, spent flares of tingling vampire was here with the movement and he curled his fingers through Spike's hair, sticky with sweat-melted hair products. Holding him there. Holding him right there. When the shake in his muscles got worse, when he couldn't hold the position anymore, he'd let go. But not yet.


~~~~~


Gunn picked up his cane and gave a last glance over the room, making sure his suitcase was zipped up - so no little pink vermin could creep in - and that he'd tidied up the bathroom enough. He patted the bed - grinned at the flashback of memory. A night of...cuddling. Snuggling. Snogging, Wes called it. Of just...being close. Touching, and kissing, and talking. Of listening in acute embarrassment to the...enthusiastic noises from down the hall. And then wondering what it must be like for Xander Yeah, it was Harris to make noises like that. Is that 'cause of Spike or just...'cause it was...gay sex? Fuck... Wesley was dressing and Gunn wanted to join him. Not to ogle the man - again. Oh, hell, who'm I kidding? Course it is.

He opened the bedroom door and stepped out - directly into the path of a dandelion of blonde hair, fluffy pink and green robe and very fluffy, fleecy slippers. And huge green eyes, and a pale, chapped mouth that made an 'O' of surprise at him.

"Oh - my god. Oh my god! I can't believe they let me - I mean - I was drunk but - Oh my god. I brought you home last night and I don't even know you!" The blonde - Buffy. Gotta be Buffy... was clutching the front of her robe, a little overnight case dangling from her hand. "I mean - oh my god - not that you're not - I mean - you're really a very good-looking guy but - oh. My. God! Wesley! G-good morning!"

"Good morning, Buffy," Wes said. And then before Gunn could react, say good morning - or even think about shit, did I brush my teeth yet? Wes was pulling him around, down and in and it was a good morning with a hello kiss like that. "Good morning, Charles," he said and Gunn vowed to get right on that answer - soon as his power of speech came back.

"Wow. Okay so - there was a big explosion of gay in California, right?" Buffy asked. "Oh my god! Is Angel gay now?"

"Actually, he was -" Wesley caught himself in time with the flicker of dismay over Buffy's face and cleared his throat. "I believe he has resumed his monastic ways."

"He's - wha?" Wesley made a sort of - gesture - with his eyebrows and Buffy - who looked a bit pale - seemed to catch on with a little mental click. "Oh. Oh. Okay. I - uh - so I didn't bring you home, right? Wesley did?" Buffy added, turning to Charles and Wesley fought the burst of hysterical giggles down.

"Buffy, this is Charles Gunn. He was a member of Angel Investigations."

"Wow. I thought you'd be a lot taller and - um - you know what? It's really great to meet you finally and I really should brush my teeth and - there's a lot of...girly stuff I need to do before I'm fit for company," Buffy said, edging in the direction of the hall bathroom. "You know? So I'll just...do that. Girly stuff. Now."

"You're welcome to join us for breakfast," Wesley called after her.

"Think we'll see her again before lunch?" Gunn asked, and Wes grinned up at him.

"Buffy is really very resilient. I'm sure she'll be down before long. Now - about breakfast. There is a rather large supply of cereal and toaster pastries and things laid in, of course, but I thought a real English breakfast - a sort of - celebration -"

"Wait - does an 'English' breakfast include anything called 'bangers', 'cause I've heard stories -"


~*~*~*~*~


Wesley swept the last of the table scraps down the garbage disposal and returned a douse's glare with one of his own. "If you wanted that, you should have told me before it went down the drain. I'm sure you can convince the Slayer to share her breakfast with you."

"Dunno, man. I've heard stories about Slayer breakfasts."

"That we eat whole-grain health foods in dainty quantities that keep up our youthful good looks and peppy dispositions?" Buffy asked, making her appearance; buffed, puffed, showered, blow-dried and in a kicky ensemble.

And oh my god, I just thought the words 'kicky ensemble'. There ain't no turnin' back from the gay in this household. Gunn dropped his head to his folded arms and groaned.

"Too much pep, too early?" Buffy asked, sliding into a kitchen chair and Wesley smiled at her - patted Charles' shoulder as he walked by, frying pan and spatula in hand.

"No, no. Something completely un-connected, I'm sure. How are you, Buffy? I'm sorry we weren't up to welcome you when you - got in. You got in rather late, didn't you?"

"And rather...tipsy," Buffy said, eyeing the fry-up Wesley was sliding onto her plate with something between panic and horrified curiosity.

"Ah - Spike and Xander took you drinking?"

"Well...no...more like - a grateful nest of G'ggktch demons took me drinking. And then some other - demons and then - Spike and Xander bought me Appletinis." Buffy perked at that and then frowned again. "I think they were Appletinis."

"You sure you wanna be eating that after all those Appletinis?"

"Why not?" Buffy asked, picking up her fork and digging in.

"It's makin' my stomach queasy and I didn't drink anything."

Buffy jabbed her fork in Gunn's direction. "You have a lot to learn about Slayers."

"What Buffy means," Wesley said, pouring himself another cup of tea, "is that Slayers have advanced healing abilities. While they get drunk as quickly as anyone of a comparable size, the consequences are minimal."

"Well, minimal. That's kind of...minimizing it all. I mean - I threw up last night. Twice." Buffy added, ripping off a chunk of toast and swirling it through her over-easy egg. Gunn watched in fascination - barely twitched when a douse scampered up Wes' leg to his shoulder and perched there, whiskers flicking in anticipation. Buffy, however, wasn't quite so blasé.

"Wesley! There's a pink - a pink - It's one of those! Them! Xander's little - deece!"

"Dice," Wesley corrected.

"Dice?"

"Douse. Dice." Wesley finished his tea and left the cup in the sink. "Any grammatical complaints should be directed to Xander."

The douse hopped down and sniffed after the cup then took a flying leap from the counter to the table, skidding on a patch of spilled tea and careening across the wood, paws flailing.

Buffy yelped and jumped back - just as Gunn did, and Gunn scowled at the douse. Man, get a grip on yourself! "It's okay, they're friendly - mostly. Hungry little fu- guys but friendly. Go on and feed it some bacon." Gunn coaxed. Buffy took the edge of her plate in her fingertips and pushed it gingerly toward the douse.

"It can have the rest," she said, and the douse righted itself and sat upright, tail sweeping in fast arcs through the spatters of tea, little scaly paws clutching in what looked like a distinctly 'Mr. Burns' manner.

"Oh, no, no, that's entirely too much rich breakfast for you, Wes said, swooping in and rescuing the plate. "Buffy, are you sure you don't want any more?"

"Oh, I'm sure. Wow - look at the little nose!" Buffy made a sort of cooing noise and the douse and Gunn both stared in disbelief. Buffy sat up straighter, pushing her hand back through her hair. "Right, okay - ummm... Wesley? You think Spike and Xander are going to join us?"

"You're kiddin' right?" Gunn slipped a sugar cube out of the bowl and held it out to the douse which snatched it and ran, soggy pink tail flicking tea this way and that. "Those boys ain't gonna make an appearance for hours."

"Charles is right, unfortunately. You're welcome to join us at the shop if you like."

"What, spend the day at the 'Occult and Mystical Supply Depot'?" Buffy made a wry face and shook her head. "I've kind of had my fill of booky, spell-y, funny-smelling shops with things like 'rats eyes' on the shelves. When I was fighting last night I saw some neat stores and stuff - I think I'm just gonna - spend some money. I - have a Platinum card with my name on it." Buffy grinned, arching her brows and tipping her chin in a manner that made Wesley feel a little twinge of nostalgia.

"Besides, Dawn threatened me with actual physical harm if I didn't bring her back some sort of authentic 'witch' thing, and Willow wants me to take pictures - she gave me a list." Buffy fluffed her hair - stood up and brushed a crumb off of her sweater. "And the sun is actually shining and it's not doing that weird ice-rain thing anymore and I have a pair of killer snow boots 'Deus got me in Champery."

"Well if you need to find us - for anything - we'll be in the booky, spell-y, funny-smelling shop on Flint," Wesley said in his best dry, 'Watcher' voice - pulled a key off the hook by the door and passed it to Buffy - like anything could break into this house between the spells, dice and sleeping oversexed vampire. "Try not to find any more fights, though - I'm not sure even a Slayer's constitution could stand up to another night of drinking in a demon bar."

Buffy tucked the key into her purse and flashed Wesley a perky California Girl grin. "A Slayer's constitution can try!"


~*~*~*~*~


"It's just above freezing... I wonder if the sidewalks will be slippery? I think I'm going to call a cab," Wesley said, peering out the kitchen window at the ice-sheathed mounds of snow that humped across the yard. The sidewalks between home and work had all been cleared for days but the sleet of the night before might have put a treacherous scrim of ice over everything and he was worried about Charles. "Let me just find the number..."

"Don't you usually walk, Wes? I thought you said it was close?"

"Well, yes, it is but after the storm, I was thinking that perhaps -"

"Walking is therapy, English. I do it every day." Charles looked - stubborn. And maybe a little hurt, and Wesley reached out and touched his arm - rubbed it through shirt and sweater.

"Yes, you do, I know. You did bring some good boots then? Or I can loan you something - we have several pair - Xander seems to enjoy buying boots..."

"That boy spent way too long surrounded by women." Gunn shook his head, shook off Wes' arm, then took his hand. "I'm gonna say this once, English. You don't have to worry about me."

"I'm not worried." Wesley licked his lips, looked at his fingers, pale and skinny trapped in Charles' larger, darker hand. Sturdier hand. Hand that had never looked out of place on an axe.

"I really am," Gunn said. "Now get that damn door unlocked. I'm freezin' my ass off."

Wesley pushed the key into the lock - turned and pushed and grabbed Charles - pulled him into the shop and into a kiss at the same moment. From dazzling brightness to dust-mote dimness and Wesley stood there for a long moment, his fist clenched in Charles' coat, his other hand still on the key, cold lips growing warm, Charles' hand on his waist. And then he pulled back - grinned at the look of stunned pleasure on Charles' face.

"I'm very glad, Charles."

"Damn." Gunn raised a hand to his lips, felt the tingling swell from the outside and caught Wes before he could walk away into the shop. "One more time."

"Only one?" Wes didn't offer any resistance - or any help. Just watched him with those blue blue eyes.

"I'll let you know," Gunn said and kissed him. Warmer now, bolder. And with a hand under Wes' coat where he could feel the shape and heat of his back under his hands and the flex of Wesley's muscles when he put his arms around Gunn's neck.

"Ah." Wesley blinked his eyes open to a world fogged white through his glasses - and laughed.

"Ah?"

"Sorry - I can't actually - see you." Wesley took his glasses off - held them out of the way while he kissed Charles again - and then again, and then finally stepped back and got his key out of the door - let Charles come all the way in.

"Welcome to Wyndam-Pryce Occult - Mystical Books And Supplies. Would you like a tour, or -"

"Or...?" Charles had a wicked smile on his face as he pushed the door shut behind him - slid his hand up Wesley's arm to his neck and rubbed there, leather cool and slick against Wesley's skin. "You wanna spend the day makin' out back here? Leave the lights off and the 'closed' sign up?" Teasing, probably. But god...it was so tempting.

"And lose the moral high ground with Spike and Xander?"

"Man, with those two there is no lower ground."

"Charles - that's hardly fair to - oh..." For a man new to - all of this, Charles was not shy with his kisses. "Peace," he mumbled, when Charles pulled back for air, "I will stop your mouth."

"That was my line, Wes."

"I am not Beatrice."

"Sure as hell ain't Don Pedro. Not unless someone's been changing the script."

Wesley looked up into wide, open, honest eyes and brushed his thumb over the fullness of Charles' lower lip. "Our script has changed."

"Yeah. Guess - it has." Gunn looked down at Wes for a long, long moment - bent and kissed him, one more time. Fluttery excitement in his belly, because this was...was more, and better, and...scary. "We'll figure it out. Wanna show me your pride and joy?" And really - thank god Spike and Xander weren't there. That was just too good a straight line for either of them to pass up.

"You've seen my pride and joy." Wesley felt the heat bloom from within, and covered it with a grin, taking Charles by the hand. "Now come see my shop."

They wound their way between the boxes, stacked, numbered, organized - humming.

Humming?

"What the fuck's in here?"

Wesley peered at the label. "A Thessalonian prophetic urn." He tapped the lid of the box and the humming decreased. "They're unreliable but popular with a certain crowd."

"Wait - wait. You mean we were all skulking around Wolfram and Hart lookin' for prophecies and with one of these, we could've grown our own?"

"I did say they're unreliable. And anyway, only the blind can use them."

"Yeah, but - still -" Gunn glared at the still-humming box, wondering what difference - if any - something like would have made with Connor - or with Angel. Guess we'll never know. Another box seemed to be leaking a sort of greenish mist and Wesley cursed softly. "Now what in hell is that?"

"That is the Breath of the Goddess and before you ask, no, I don't know which goddess. It's a special order for someone who thinks they know more than they do. I think in future I'll have to run a background check for certain orders." Wes muttered something and a bubble appeared, containing the box and the mist.

Gunn sidestepped it carefully, holding his coat in close until they were past. "I think that's a damn good idea, Wes."

Beside the door, Wesley unlocked a book on a pedestal - a very familiar book. "Wes - tell me that ain't one of the volumes from Wolfram and Hart."

"It isn't. March sixteenth, two-thousand and five," he told it and then opened it to the middle, reading the text as it scrolled over the page. "It is by the same manufacturer."

"Jesus. What's it take to get you to use a computer, man?"

"Books do not crash." Wesley pulled a yellow legal pad from the shelf above and jotted notes from the book.

"So what is it?"

"A practical calendar. Anything in red is a risk to sell within the next five days."

"Why's that?"

"Oh, various reasons. Planetary alignments, ides, portents - prophecies." Wesley shot Charles a smile and shut the book - pushed open the back-room door and led Charles out into the store proper. He went briskly to the door, flipping on the lights and unlocking - turning the 'closed' sign to 'open' and then going behind the counter to fire up the electric kettle. He liked to offer hot tea to anyone who fancied some - and he rather enjoyed having a cup or two during the day, as well.

Wesley watched Charles walk around the shop floor, peering into display cases and skirting the 'reading' area Wesley had set up - a low couch and a scatter of chairs and little tables so potential buyers could browse the wares at their leisure.

Of course, there was a small spell on the chairs and things, so that if the intent was to, say, read a spell and memorize it without paying, a nimbus of light would glow around the customer. It was noisy light, and rather unnerving and Wesley hadn't had too many problems with attempted theft.

"So, what do you think, Charles? Does it meet with your approval?"

Gunn eased himself into one of the chairs, stretching his leg out in front of him with a grimace. "Gotta say, English - you've come up in the world since the days of the Gunn Agency."

"Wyndam-Pryce Agency, you mean."

"Yeah, yeah." Wes came over, eased a footstool under his leg and smiled the way that made Gunn need to pull him down by his sweater to be kissed. "Still helping the hopeless?"

"I haven't had any hopeless visitors yet." The kettle whistled and Wesley returned to pour the water, breathing in steam already scented with bergamot.

"Would you? Help them?"

Wesley loaded a tea tray with kettle and cups, sugar and cream, carried it back before he answered. "In a heartbeat."

"So you're still on the side of the - angels. What about the Twosome? They doing good or just doing each other?" Gunn watched as Wesley assembled two cups of tea - the precise, graceful movements of the Englishman's hands unchanged after so many years. Sugar tongs hooked just so, slice of lemon, for fuck's sake and little pot of cream that was probably kept chilled by a spell. Fancy cups that were a plain, dull green on the outside and a riot of color and pattern on the inside. A lot like Wes, really.

"Oh, they - well, they run errands for me. Supplies and books and things. And I know they've stepped in and helped people in need from time to time. They're not heartless. Or cruel. If you asked them, they'd say they quit, but... It gets to be a habit, the Champion business." Wes held out a cup and Gunn took it, letting his fingertips stroke along Wes' hand.

"Yeah, I guess it does at that."

Wesley's fingers tingled and warmed where Charles stroked them and he cupped them around his tea, sitting back in his chair. "It doesn't do any harm, letting them think they're retired."

"They know how well you've got them figured out?"

"I sincerely doubt it." Wesley inhaled deeply, tea and bergamot, lemon and sugar. "They aren't very different from Angel in some ways."

"'Cept they'd kick your ass for sayin' that where they can hear it." Gunn sipped his tea gingerly - and added two more sugar cubes. "How do you figure?"

Wesley thought a minute. "Well, with Angel - he would have 'the plan' - and my goodness, he was proud of his plans." Wesley grinned and Charles grinned back. "And of course, if you saw a hole in it and said something, you generally got -"

"You got 'do not question me, mere mortal, for I am old and know that which you do not wot of," Charles said, adopting a pompous air. A very 'Major-General' sort of air, but it...fit. Wesley huffed soft laugher.

"Yes, exactly. So I tended to pick 'the plan' apart in private and then come up with backups - or safeguards - that I could introduce when the time was right."

"The last-minute, my-god-English-is-damn-smart save. Oh, yeah, know and love those."

"Precisely," Wesley said, sipping, and ignored Charles' eye-roll. "With Xander and Spike it's a little different. They're so - eager, they don't see the flaws, or if they do...they assume Spike can just...kill something."

Wes wasn't looking at him - was looking into his tea like he could read the leaves. Which wasn't out of the question except there weren't any leaves in his cup to read. So unless the china patterns in Wes' cup were doin' the Neutron Dance, he was avoiding eye contact. "What's Spike planning to kill this time?"

Wes drained his tea in one bracing go and poured another. "Xander."

Gunn felt a little shiver go over him and he put his cup back down onto his saucer with a little click that seemed much too loud. "You wanna - elaborate on that one, Wes?"

"He's going to sire Xander."

Gunn's stomach hollowed out and he set the teacup on the table because he had no business holding onto china that nice when his hands were shaking and wanting to crush something. "And you're letting him?"

"As you can imagine, it's not a question of 'letting', Charles." Wesley set his own cup down - folded his hands over his stomach and looked at Charles - at his gutted expression and at fingers that shook as they curled around the carved haft of the cane. "It's a question of...seeing the flaws."

"There ain't nothin' but flaw in that plan, Wes." And damn he wished his hands would stop shaking. Just when he thought one vamp might be okay. Might not be a fuckin' leech. "Thought Blondie Bear was better than that. Not like all the others."

"He is better - Charles, you don't understand -"

"You gonna explain it to me, Wes?" Charles snapped, and Wesley snapped his mouth shut - sat in silence for a moment.

"Charles, I - I know - how you feel. I also know how much they love each other and believe me, this isn't something they've decided lightly. Charles?" Charles was sitting hunched over his knees, his hands tight on his cane and his head bowed. A picture of utter misery except for the white-knuckled grip that screamed rage.

"Love means living together and being happy and - and stuff like that. Wanting the person you're with, not a damn demon in their shell."

"Charles..." Wesley laid a hand carefully on Charles' - over the stiff, cold fingers - and eased it off his cane, folding it in his. "Spike loves Xander. I believe he wouldn't willingly hurt him."

"Can't trust a vampire's love, Wes."

"That...is not entirely true. Spike is famous for the depth of his fidelity to the one he loves."

"Like he's famous for killin' two Slayers? Damn, man, I can't believe -"

"Charles. Please, please listen. Spike loves him. Spike would do - anything for him. Spike was with Drusilla for over a hundred years - their relationship is infamous in Council circles." Wesley chafed Charles' cold hand - tried to make Charles hear him. "And when he loved Buffy - he endured torture and physical abuse...he died for her and for her - cause, Charles. When Spike loves - he loves with everything he is. And he - he has a soul, now - the soul he got for Buffy. It makes - a difference."

"Like it made a difference when Sailor boy strung us up like Christmas cards for Papa Angel?"

"Yes."

"Are you out of your fuckin' mind?"

"Listen to me. Lawson was damaged. He needed something from Angel and was denied that. He needed affirmation." Affirmation from the father. Wesley ran a hand over his face.

"You can't tell me you're goin' by blind trust."

"I'm not." Wesley gave Charles' hand a squeeze and stood, retreating behind the counter. For an unopened courier box. He brought it back and set it on the table with a pocket knife. "Damage control, Charles."

"There ain't no damage control for bein' dead."

"No. But there is for losing one's self."

Gunn watched as Wesley slit open the box - carefully drew out a pottery urn - one that seemed - very familiar. "Wes - is that - what I think it is? The Moo-ping - uh, thingy?" Soul catchers or...something. Gunn couldn't remember as clearly as he'd like. He blamed the memory spell that Angel had...gifted them with. Still wasn't sure his memories had gone back all to the right places - wasn't sure what was real and what was the shiny fake.

"Muo-ping and yes." Wesley lifted it from its wrappings and set it on the table - then lifted out a second, arranging them side by side. "If there's a more secure place to store a soul for safekeeping, I'm not aware of it."

"Uh - Wes? Why're there two of them?"

"The second is a gift for Spike."

"You're gonna do a de-souling on William the Bloody?"

"That decision is Spike's."

"You mean - here's the key to the banana farm, Mr. Monkey? Don't you think that's a little - well - crazy?" Wesley touched one urn - straightened it a bit where it sat.

"I don't think Spike would give up his soul - not now." Wesley left the two identical urns side by side. "But someday...someday he may feel differently."

"And then what? And what if we feel differently once he's soulless and fancy-free?"

"Then," Wesley said, lifting his head and fixing Gunn with a gaze hard and cold as the ice outside, "I have two Orbs of Thesulah and no qualms about using them."

Something in Wes changed when he said that, went hard and calculating and capable. "Tough love, English."

"As four very wise men once said, 'all you need is love', Charles."


~~~~~


"And I said no. No, I will not take a break from Spike to be sure he's what I want. I know what I want."

"How can you say that without trying to date people your own age instead of centuries older?"

"Damn it - Are you listening? You're the one who taught me no means no - also just say no. Which, by the way, I did a lot of." Xander said, pacing. There was a lot of pacing room in the house these days. "Oh yeah - just say no? Kinda overrated."

"Stop -" Willow's voice cracked and it still made him feel like a - Okay, he was a jerk to Willow. Often and in many ways. But jerking was a two way street. Or maybe a circle. Jesus, he hated making Willow cry. "Stop joking about it, Xander."

"I joke because I care."

"Xander!"

"Hey. That part wasn't a joke. Love me, love my inappropriate humor."

"I do." Xander leaned against the wall, dropped his head to the plaster next to a frieze cherub and stared out the window at the house next door. "I love you, Xander - and something bad is going to happen to you with Spike. He already made you quit your job and move all the way across the country and - and now he's alienating you from your friends."

"What? He - Willow, we have been over this. Spike doesn't make me do anything. And anyway, Buffy's here - that's not exactly alienating behavior."

"Spike tried to rape Buffy."

"Failing to see the relevance."

"What happens when you leave him? He won't let you go."

"Therein lies the appeal." Xander slid down the wall and leaned against the chilled glass, watching the next door neighbor - or maybe the next door neighbor's yard boy - clear a path from their kitchen door to their carriage house. He listened to Willow cry on the other end of the line. He spent a lot of time on the phone listening to Willow cry.

"I'm losing you, Xander."

"You don't have to. There's always gonna be a Willow-shaped spot in my life - whether you're in it or not."

He closed his eye. Mouthing the next question with Willow as she spoke. "Are you mad at me?"

"Yeah."

"But you still love me?"

Xander sighed. Family, the voice in his head that sounded like Wes said. "Yeah."

"I love you too. I have to go."

"Yeah," Xander said again and clicked off the phone, dropping it on the carpet next to him.

"Hey, Xander - everything okay?" Xander looked up from his scrutiny of the ice-and-snow shrouded back yard to see Buffy, polished and perky and so very - herself - standing a couple of feet away. Xander smiled wanly up at her and patted the carpet beside him.

"I'm just having a one-man mope-fest. Wanna join? Or is Salem shopping really good and you're riding that zero-percent credit-card high?"

Buffy grinned - plopped down beside him, stretching her legs out and leaning against the wall.

"I'm pooped. All shopped out. But I've got a present for everybody on the list, so - success! Was that - Willow?"

"Yeah," Xander said. He was getting a lot of mileage out of it tonight.

"And was she 'I am your friend I just love you' Willow or 'I am your friend you must do as I command you' Willow?" Buffy was smiling, but her hand came over and gripped his, and Xander squeezed back.

"She was extra-thick guilt-trippy 'don't you love me?' Willow." Xander rested their clasped hands on his knee, pearl pink fingernails looking exotic and girly wrapped around his and he smiled at the nostalgia.

"Ooh, that Willow. That Willow's kinda been the default since the whole Kennedy - thing." Buffy sighed and leaned her head on Xander's shoulder and Xander had an intense - nearly painful flashback to nights in Buffy's room, some crazy Bollywood movie on the TV and he and Buffy and Willow on the bed, braiding hair - and god, what would Spike say to that? - and talking, talking, talking. He'd never thought that anything would be more important in his life. Those friends - that time. A warm - a fuzzy push of puzzlement, contentment and love through the link and Xander shook his head. Times had changed - so much.

"Yeah. I get that it's really hard on her - I mean, we all remember the train-ride-o-pity that was the Oz Aftermath... But it's like she's just - not listening. Deliberately."

"She wants you to be happy," Buffy said softly. She crossed her legs and traced a scar on Xander's knuckle. "Like I do. Willow just... She just can't imagine that you are. Spike - really confuses her."

Xander let Buffy turn his hand, tracing the lines of his palm, then toying with the knotted tie on his bracelet, tucking it under the shells and out of the way. "I am, though." Xander watched Buffy rearrange his bracelet then slide her hand into his. "Really happy. Why can't she trust me to know?"

"I guess she just thinks... You know - I don't really know what she thinks." Buffy clicked her nails on the shells of the bracelet and there was a thump from down the hall and a curse which they both ignored. "I think Willow just needs to get over it." A douse hopped past - super-fast-hop mode - and Xander deduced that the thump had been Spike throwing something.

"She's right, pet - Red needs to let it go." Xander looked up, smiling automatically at a Nest-rumpled Spike. A pair of jeans so old and ratty that Xander was sure they were his from high-school hung off Spike's hips and the sleeves of the soft heather-grey sweater brushed his knuckles. Love mine love - like a beam of sunlight.

Xander caught the hem of the sweater as soon as Spike was close enough and arched his neck for a kiss, worn yarn clutched in one hand, the Slayer's fingers in the other. He tugged and made room for Spike on the carpet between his legs. "Couldn't have decided to have your little brood somewhere more comfortable?" Spike groused and settled, back to Xander's chest, bare feet tucked under Xander's arches, warm from the fireplace.

"You know how it is when you feel a brood coming on."

"Ooh, you're all warm and cuddly," Buffy chirped, snuggling into Spike herself. Xander felt Spike huff out a breath in mock annoyance and then they just sat there for a moment and it felt like... Buffy's house, Bollywood - family. The kind you never lost, no matter what.

"I guess she will have to get over it - 'cause I'm not giving you up," Xander muttered, and Spike turned his head a little - enough to kiss Xander's temple.

"Damn straight, love. 'Til death do us part and...then some."

Xander wrapped an arm around Spike, an arm around Buffy and tipped Spike's jaw, laid kisses along it and then dropped to his throat, kissing there. "Death's just the beginning."

He could feel Buffy's eyes on him, feel the steady possessive thrum of Spike's nearness and dropped his cheek to Spike's hair, settling his arm over his chest before daring a look at Buffy.

"Did you - are you... Okay, it's kinda early and I did have two mochachino brownies with my...uh...mochachino. Are you saying that you're - gonna - die?"

Xander inhaled, a flutter of nerves taking away his speech and then - then Spike twisted, lay open-mouthed kisses over his throat and Xander swallowed with a soft click - closed his eye, held Spike's head - just there. "Uh..."

"Don't mince words, love. She's the Slayer - tell her straight." Spike mumbled it into his neck but the words were clear enough and Xander felt Buffy's hand squeeze his - squeeze a little too tight and he twitched.

"Oops, sorry." Buffy's grip eased up but her stare didn't. "Have to agree with Spike here, Xan, and you know how often that happens. I'm a big girl now - just tell me."

"Joining the fang gang, Buff." Xander squeezed back, hoped the flicker of hurt in Buffy's eyes was his imagination. "Soon - with Spike. It's - time for me to start making really long-range plans."

"It is? You are? Xander, have you thought - Duh, of course you've thought..." Buffy looked - shocked. Looked downright flummoxed and Spike felt himself tense, just a little. Just in case. Xander had been on edge about telling her since she'd arrived and now that feeling - jangly and nerve-scraping - was bleeding into the link. Spike growled very, very softly and Buffy shot a startled look at him.

"Wow, okay - this is - new. And different. New and different and kind of...wiggy. Xander, I thought... Well, I thought you hated the thought of being - the evil undead."

"Uh - I also hated the thought of fucking the evil undead. And boy has that changed." Xander looked down - at Buffy's fingers toying with his bracelet again, counting the shells like beads. "I kinda owe you an apology about that."

"Yeah, well - it turned out to be a kind of a bad idea, anyway..." Buffy sighed and twisted around a little so she was sitting opposite them, legs crossed under her and her hands on her knees. "Okay, so - tell me why. And tell me - how you're going to keep from going all evil and...and tell me that...you'll still be my Xander-shaped friend." Her voice hitched - caught, just a little and Spike felt the surge of pity sorry love from Xander - hugged Xander's arms tight around his ribs.

"He'll be all right, Buffy - promise."

"And that," Xander said, lacing his fingers with Spike's, gripping and holding on, "is good enough for me. I promise you - if I go all evil Deadboy - " Xander pressed his cheekbone to Spike's temple, tightened his arms around him and hoped Spike would take it well. "You can stuff a soul in me too."

Spike felt a little jolt at that - growled again, not so soft. "Takes all the fun out of it, a soul does. You won't need it, love, you'll see." Said with a confidence he was almost 100 percent sure of, and Buffy raised an eyebrow at him.

"It's the 'fun' that gets you in trouble, Spike. I thought you guys were all - help the hopeless now?"

"That's Angel's gig, Slayer - not ours. We're done with lettin' the Powers run our lives." Buffy looked skeptical but that was all right - she didn't need to believe him. She just needed to trust Xander - trust what he was doing. Accept, and be happy. That was all.

"Trust us, Buff." Xander's voice sounded far away to him, drowned out by his heartbeat. Slow but strong, banging against his ribs hard enough to make him dizzy and he held out a hand to her. "I'm not a wife, kids and nine to five career guy - and I love this crazy vampire. Too much to leave him alone. And too selfishly to accept a short life with him when I could have forever. Will you let me be selfish this time?"

Buffy was looking at Xander so - strangely. Something like desolation and something like pride in her gaze - something exactly like love and Spike felt a little knot of tension break loose in him - ease up, just a bit.

"You're all grown up too, aren't you? I just don't want to lose you, Xander. You're my oldest friend - my best friend and... It's okay to be selfish about this. You - so deserve it." Buffy sniffed, looking away and joy surged up in the link - joy and a complicated tenderness and then Xander was reaching out and pulling Buffy into a three-way sort of hug and she was sniffling and laughing a little - hugging back hard enough to make them both wince.

Knew you had sense, Slayer. Knew you'd let him be happy without all the - histrionics.

"Damnit -" Buffy sat back, dabbing at her eyes. "I need a Kleenex and some cake or something now. Think there's cake?"

"There's cake," Xander said into her hair and recognized the LUSH shampoo Dawn sent him in that first Sunnydale care package. "Unless the dice found it. Then there's Twinkies." He gave her a squeeze. Gave Spike a squeeze and let all the tension go. "Even the dice won't eat Twinkies."


~*~*~*~*~


Buffy's seven-day visit passed quickly - and slowly - and strangely and perfectly and by the afternoon of the day before she was to go, Xander lay on his back in the sitting room Nest, wondering just what he thought of it all. They'd talked over old times, of course. Told all the stories of Buffy saving Xander's life - and Xander saving her life. Recounting swim-team demons and crazy spells and Xander finally confessed to the Night of the Living Dead adventure and Jack and his zombie buddies. Confessed to facing down the school 'bad boy' over a ticking bomb while the rest of the gang battled hell-beasts in the library. Spike had just smirked - pointed out that Xander had faced down Angelus, too - and Buffy had smiled like she used to, years ago.

And Xander had that feeling again. That family feeling that felt so damn good, after so long. Wes and Gunn and Spike and Buffy, crowded around the kitchen table with a mountain of take-out and the dice like little pink satellites, mooching. Laughter and jokes, love and support. A real family - a regular family that was pretty damn irregular and Xander just lay there, staring at the ceiling and grinning. Because it felt so damn good.

Warm candlelight bath with Spike after a night in the snow good - and that was in no way girly.

"Okay - a grin like that can only mean one thing." Buffy's voice made Xander blink - look around. She was standing at the edge of the Nest, a toiletries case in her hand.

"Yeah? What's it mean?"

"You're thinking about Spike."

Xander made room for Buffy, putting an arm around her when she crawled into the Nest and propped her chin on his shoulder. "Maybe I'm thinking about you. Or Twinkies."

"No way. That silly grin is only for Spike."

The silly grin Xander couldn't shake, so he turned it on Buffy.

"See? Totally in love. Trying to restore my faith in humanity, Xan?"

"Does it count as humanity when it's vampires?"

"Well - he's more human than some of the Watchers I've had to deal with." Buffy laughed softly and poked Xander in the ribs - laughed harder when he curled up away from her finger. "Oh my god! That really is the goofiest, most sappy, most head-over-heels I love my guy grin ever." She tipped her head a little, and her eyes sparkled, and her mouth shook, just a little bit. "You better still have that grin next time I see you."

Xander laid a smacking kiss on Buffy's forehead and held her close enough to smell Sensi and coconut shampoo. "It's a promise, Buff. How's the packing? Do you need to make an emergency trip to the store for an extra suitcase?"

"Ummmmm..." Buffy looked intently at her toiletries case and Xander felt his jaw drop.

"No. No way. Wesley already loaned you his own suitcase. You've only been here a week!"

"I had to get presents! For lots of people! And then - there was that store. With the really cute stuff that was all kind of witchy-floaty-Betsey Johnson kinda and you know Willow will love that. And -"

"Buffy. Stop. I'll buy you ten suitcases if you need 'em. I'm just not used to the power of the Platinum Card Slayer anymore."

"New and improved." Buffy smoothed his sweater - a thick cable-knit thing of dark green soft yarn she'd bought him - he was going to wear until it fell apart.

"Gotta admit it's not bad." In the kitchen, the microwave dinged loudly. "First person to bring me a Twinkie and a coke gets a blow job," he called.

"Think there'll be a stampede?" Buffy asked, fake-innocent confusion as Spike stalked into the living room, mug of blood, cigarette, coke - Twinkies. And a smile that made Xander's cock perk right up even as he mentally chastised it.

"Reckon I win," Spike said in that low, grumbly purr of a voice and Xander was ignoring the tiny intake of breath from Buffy - the sudden heat of a blush against his shoulder.

My Spike - oh, fuck yeah...

"Oh you so do." Xander slid a hand up Spike's thigh, worn denim, and snagged a belt loop, pulling him down into the Nest. "Gonna collect?"

"Oh god. World of no, Xan." Buffy squirmed up and out of the Nest, laughing when Spike moved in. "Before you guys hop on the Happyland Express, have you seen my sparkly green hair sticks?"

"And they'd be...what, green and sparkly and - fuck - sticky? Spike!"

"M'hands are cold, pet," Spike said, letting the soda can roll into Xander's side as he slid chilled fingers up under Xander's sweater. The Twinkie packet crinkled ominously and Spike realized he was laying on them. Ooops

"Yeah, green, sparkly, sticky. I've looked all over for them."

"Haven't seen 'em, Slayer. Missing my lighter, though..." Spike frowned and hitched closer to Xander - looked for a place to put his mug, cigarette in the same hand and perilously close to igniting - something.

Xander sighed and took the mug with his left hand. Xander Harris - amazing human cup holder and hand warmer! - and accepted blood-flavored kisses in appreciation. Oh yeah - he had it bad. The sappy thinking about Spike smile was back. "You lit the fireplace with it last night."

"Yeah, I know - but it's not on the mantle where I left it." Spike sighed and looked around for a place to put his cigarette, now because he didn't want to ash on the Nest. Xander gave him a look and Spike sighed again - groaning for effect this time - and hauled himself out of the Nest so he could find an ashtray.

"I guess if you find 'em you can just Fed-Ex 'em to me," Buffy said and Spike took a hard puff and then tossed the cigarette remains into the fireplace.

"Fed-Ex? What, these some kind of miraculous Sparkly Sticks of Slaying or something?"

"Well, no, but they're really cute with my -" Buffy was cut off by a muffled bang sound - like a firework - and a puff of reddish smoke from -

"My coat -" Spike growled, staring at the length of black leather that was lying over the back of the couch.

"What the hell did you have in there? Fireworks?" Xander levered himself out of the Nest, taking a hand from Spike and letting Buffy grab his wrist for help. They all stared at the clearing smoke.

The tail end of a douse was hanging limply half out of Spike's duster pocket.

"Do - do you think it's dead?" Buffy had the dead kittens in a basket and somewhere, a poker player is going to pay look on her face.

"I think I saw it twitch -"

"Better not be dead," Spike muttered and Xander whapped him. "What!"

"You're just saying that 'cause you don't want to clean douse-guts out of your coat pocket. What if it's hurt? Think of the douse!"

"I'm thinkin' the little bastards had better stay away from my soddin' coat - there - look. It did twitch."

The tail twitched again, weakly, and Buffy crept a little closer. Suddenly the tail whipped into the coat as the douse, apparently, turned turtle in the pocket. A smudged nose appeared, then frazzled-looking whiskers and the douse slithered from the pocket and thumped unsteadily to the floor. Something - sparkly - slithered with it.

And then with a patter-clatter, douse and trinket rocketed across the floor like a crazed ping-pong ball and up the stairs.

"Thieving bastard!" Spike chased after it - and Xander after Spike, hastily putting the mug on the mantle. A huffing thunder of bare feet and human lungs up the stairs, Slayer on his tail.

"What'd it take?"

"Dunno but it was mine!"

"What the fuck!" The douse took a hard left and skreeeeked its way up the servants' stairs to the third floor.

"Hope that door's not locked!" Spike yelled as the douse squeezed under like a magic-trick, disappearing with a flick of pink fluff and the rattle-hiss of chain? swishing across hardwood. Spike grabbed the doorknob and pushed and the door swung open with a thunk, knob digging into plaster and rebounding into Xander, who pushed it harder. The Slayer finished it - the knob stuck tight after her shoulder slammed the door.

"Okay - what the hell is this room?"

"Box-room, pet. Where the cases live." Cases did live there - humping dimly in piles half up the walls, chintz and brown leather and serviceable black canvas. Spike found the chain and yanked and the overhead light came on. Douse-prints in the dust, going right to the back.

"Yeah - and where the dice play." With the light on, the tracks were everywhere - all leading toward the back. Xander thought non-threatening douse-positive thoughts. Nice douse, dice. Hi. It's the guy who shares his HoHo's with you. There was a scrabbling behind one of the cases.

A patter.

A bigger patter.

And three dice in close formation sprang over a wall of boxes, between Xander's legs and blasted into the hall, noses close to the floor. "Fuck!"

"Wow, I had no idea you guys had all this luggage. Maybe I could borrow a couple of these? Or, you know...three. Three would work.' Buffy looked up at them, guilty-little-girl look and wide, wide eyes. "Ookay, concentrating on the demonic pink puffballs. Maybe they're....mating?"

"Good Christ. I hope not." Spike started shoving cases and there were some sqreeks of alarm and then one hippo-sized, possibly hippo-hided case toppled and -

"Holy Kleptomania, Batman," Xander breathed. "Is anybody else thinking of that scene in Goonies?"

Spike and Buffy tore their eyes away from the trove of everything sparkly to stare at him.

"Okay. Just me, then."

Buffy wiggled her way between the fallen cases to crouch before the hole in the wall - if it could still be called a hole when it was tall enough for a small child, deep enough for a small car - mounds of everything sparkly from a Three Musketeers bar to -

"Hey! My hair sticks! And eewww - they're sticky."

"Well, they are -"

"Don't finish that, mister," Buffy grumped and Spike smirked. Buffy looked sadly at the sticks, which seemed to have - honey on them. Or - Spike sniffed delicately in their direction. Butter. He could see a foil-topped packet of butter that had come in - some meal. Douse-teeth had pierced it and it had somehow melted... Spike lay his hand on the brick he could see just beyond ragged, chewed plaster. Hot. It was a chimney.

"Everything's gonna be all melty and - gross, isn't it," Xander said, leaning far over Spike's shoulder and looking at the candy bars, soy-sauce packets and other take-away detritus scattered throughout the trove.

"'Fraid so - ah ha!" Spike pounced - held his Zippo aloft triumphantly just as a douse scampered onto the trove from somewhere deeper in the walls, something dangling from its front paws. Buffy froze - Spike did - Xander started to lose his balance and the douse stood up tall, nose twitching overtime.

The douse's ears flicked forward, back - and Xander eased his hands carefully from the plaster above Spike's head to his shoulders - froze when the douse rocked back on its paws, prize clutched to its chest.

"Is it holding what I think it is?" Xander leaned further over Spike - stopped again when a tremor ran through the douse.

"If you think it's holding Wes' glasses - um - pretty much."

Buffy carefully lowered the sticks - bumped a precariously balanced heap of bottle-caps which immediately started to avalanche. The douse - flinched - and Spike lunged and Xander lost his battle with gravity and slid down Spike's flying, jean-clad legs as Buffy yelped and rolled aside, knocking into a case and bringing another, more sharply-cornered avalanche down.

"Got it!" Spike yelled, dangling the douse aloft by its tail, Wes' glasses glinting. The douse skreeked furiously and from his uncomfortable sprawl on the floor - was that a whisk digging into his chin? - Xander saw movement.

"Guys? I have a bad feeling about this."

Xander lifted his eye from the treasure - black and pink and glowing red dots stared back at him - patter like heavy rainfall behind the walls, above their heads in the attic.

"Xan?" Who knew Buffy could speak without moving her lips? "Now's a really good time to talk to your little friends."

"I think...we're kinda past the talking part of this program." Thrum of tension from Spike - game-faced and staring down the douse with Wes' glasses. "Just - uh -"

"Got it, pet...c'mon now, little fuzz-for-brains. I'm gonna have those -" Spike put his hand slowly out - palm flat - under the douse. The douse chittered uncertainly and then let Wes' glasses drop. Equally slowly, Spike swiveled his body and let the douse down - very gently.

"Now. We're just gonna back away. Real slow-like. Slayer - we'll get your sticks later. Xander, can you actually...move?"

"I'm caught," Xander mumbled, tugging carefully at his new sweater - unhooking it from a nail and slithering backwards. Spike slithered himself, spoons and tin-foil and bits of wire clattering under him. The circle of dice - advanced.

Buffy stole a quick glance behind them. "Door's still open."

Xander eased his hands under him, and oh yeah there was that Scooby calm in the clutch. "On the count of 'run'?"

A large douse with only one eye lowered its forepaws slowly to the hoard, haunches up.

The dozen dice behind it followed suit.

"Run!" Spike shoved him upright - shoved himself upright and if there was one thing every Sunnydale survivor was good at, it was running and not looking back.

They thundered down hallways - stairs - skidded around corners and ended up in a breathless pile against the door-jamb to the kitchen, Spike then Xander and then Buffy with an oof of displaced breath.

"What on earth is going on?"

"Oh - hey - Wes. Look! We - rescued your -"

"Glasses..." Buffy finished mournfully as Spike sheepishly held up a palmful of mangled metal and plastic.

Wes stared in utter silence for so long that even Gunn was starting to look uneasy.

"Oh, well - jolly good - congratulations all round, then," Wes said brightly and Spike groaned.

"Oh hell. He's gonna be understanding."


~*~*~*~*~


"Man, I'm tellin' you, Batman is way cooler than Superman." Gunn dipped into the bowl of popcorn, tossing a kernel into his mouth then reaching back to slip Wes the other two. The DVD player hovered, pauseed over The Riddler's first appearance.

"Okay - Batman has the cooler toys, sure. But Superman's got X-ray vision. Superman can fly."

"You don't need super powers when you got the cool gadgets."

"Except for when the cool gadgets fail. I mean - what, is that a Utility Belt of Holding? Eventually he's gonna run out or not have the right thing or something."

"That's what Robin is for - back-up utility belt."

"Robin's a nancy," Spike said - looked surprised at the look that Gunn, Xander and even Wes sent him.

"So says the guy who was screamin' - what was it? Oh - oh, yeah - 'Oh, Xander, please - harder!' only this morning."

'The Look' was now turned on Gunn and Wes had added his own particular variation to it and Spike sniggered into his Old Speckled.

"Okay - that was awful. I could do a better English accent than that!" Xander chuckled.

"I beg you not to." Wesley turned an anguished look to Xander just as Spike snickered and earned an elbow to the gut.

"Your accent isn't even real."

Which only got Gunn's attention. "Huh? What? It's not?"

"Real as it gets, mate. Think I learned this from a book?" Spike tried for casually confident but Xander snickered and Spike growled. Gunn tossed a kernel of popcorn at him.

"You pullin' a Dick Van Dyke there, En - uh, Blondie Bear?"

"Bite your tongue!" Spike choked a little on his Old Speckled and Xander whapped him on the back, cackling.

"Oh, it's a jolly 'oliday wit' Mar-reeeeeee!" he warbled.

Spike growled and wrestled Xander under him in the Nest, nearly knocking the popcorn bowl over before Gunn could rescue it, snatching it to his chest and cradling it protectively.

"So what's he really sound like?" Gunn asked because when growls turned to groans, it was time to change the damn subject.

"You expect me to know?" Wesley took a piece of popcorn for himself and nudged Xander and Spike with a bare foot, keeping their distance from the popcorn bowl - and Charles' bad knee.

"You were the Watcher, man."

Wesley bent - cast a critical eye over Spike and Xander - then whispered into Charles' ear just loudly enough for Spike to hear it if he was listening. "It sounds like mine."

"Oi!" Spike's head popped up like a jack-in-the-box and was swiftly tugged down again. "Xan - pet - just let me - Wes is barmy -"

"Hush, you fraud. I've heard you, you know. When you're drunk sometimes. And when you - dream sometimes. You're all - fancy, like Wes."

"Am not," Spike snapped and then looked guiltily at Wes - flipped Xander neatly and squashed him. "Nothin' wrong with bein' fancy, of course, just -"

"That's not you?" Wes said, arch tone and arched brow and Spike gave up - gave in - and gave them what they wanted.

"All right. Fine. This is me, circa 1880 and all this - digging into my past is just not - cricket."

Xander stretched and wriggled under Spike, eye turning heavy-lidded and dark. "Fuck cricket. It's sexy. Cricket's a boring old game on ESPN at three in the morning."

"I'll have you know that cricket is a game of -"

"No, no - no. Don't go there, English. Do not go there. Next thing, you'll be talkin' down baseball and then all hell's gonna break loose. I need more beer for that."

"Oh! Yeah - beer - right, beer, Spike - Spike - hey - more beer!"

"Yes, there's more," Spike said, giving Xander a puzzled look and then opening his mouth to protest when Xander squirmed to the edge of the Nest and yanked him to his feet.

"Yes, it's in here. In the kitchen. Where we put the mail. You know? Those papers that - come in the little slot - every morning?"

"Xander, what on earth -" Wes said, and Xander just grabbed Spikes hand and towed.

"Real subtle there, pet," Spike muttered, tripping over a cushion and shrugging at Wes and Gunn's baffled looks.

Gunn dropped his head back to Wes' stomach and twisted around to get a look at his face, watched him watching Spike and Xander's retreating backs. "You sure the crazy's not catching?" He tossed another piece of popcorn into the air.

Wesley intercepted and ate it. "Would it matter?"

"Nah." Gunn helped himself to another handful of faux-buttery goodness. "But I'd need a new hobby. Man needs something to gripe about."

"Try getting bezoars at half-price. You'll have plenty to complain about." Wesley ran a greasy finger over Charles' lower lip, smiling - grinning when Charles absentmindedly held out his hand to the douse that was begging for popcorn. The creature - an extra-small version - nabbed the kernel and then hopped backwards, tumbling over a pillow and making its escape, prize still firmly clutched in its paws.

"Guess that was a baby?" Charles said, and Wesley nodded - cleared his throat.

"It seemed to be."

"Well all right, then," Charles said, air of a man who was surprised at nothing, anymore. "They seem extra...grabby to you lately?"

"The dice?"

"Yeah. Feel like I'm bein' tested all the time. Creepy shit."

"They have seemed extra attentive for the last day or so. Maybe they miss Buffy." Wesley took a popcorn kernel and fed it to Charles, glanced in the direction of the kitchen where he could see Xander's hips and legs - nothing more. "Or maybe it has to do with whatever Spike and Xander are up to in the kitchen." He raised his voice a little. "Really, it doesn't take that long to find the beer. It's in the pantry."

"Maybe they're afraid we're going to come and clean their little magpie's nest out," Spike said, pushing Xander ahead of him, back into the sitting room. "Oops, forgot your beer, Charlie-boy. Go on, pet."

"Well they have nothing to worry about. We all know better than to threaten the dice - or their territory." And surely the look of guilt that flitted across Xander's face was a figment of Wesley's imagination.

"Yeah." Xander cleared his throat. "Uh. What do they take us for? Amateurs?" He ignored the look Wes was giving him and folded onto the Nest, legs crossed under him, papers and pen in his lap.

"Ix-nay," Spike muttered and Gunn huffed out a laugh.

"Now, what's all this? Did something come here mistakenly for the shop, Xander?"

Wes sat up a little straighter and Xander swallowed and Spike leaned into him, loveyes love here. It'll be fine, love. Wes'll be...fine.

"This is the deed to the house." Xander set it on the pillows, love from Spike winding through the edginess and Christmas Eve excitement crackling through him. "This house. I'm signing it over to you."

A flutter of nerves clenched Wesley's belly beneath Charles' head. "Xander..."

"Let me do this, okay? This house is in my name - because if it was in Spike's, the vampires could walk on in. That's not gonna be enough anymore." Xander pulled it in - pulled it together, professional Alexander Harris putting his life together - and his affairs in order. Or affair.

"Xander I - I don't... I mean, it's admirable of you, to do such a thing but - there are wards that I could -"

"Let the man have his way, Wes," Charles said softly, sitting up and his hand finding Wesley's in the tumble of pillows and squeezing gently. "It's his choice - his to make. And if he gets caught dead, it's gonna make things a lot easier on all of us if the house is in the name of the living."

"He's not wrong." Xander held out the pen.

"Well, that's so..." Wes hesitated for a long moment and then he reached forward - stopped - looked around. "I'm all over salt and ersatz butter, I need - oh, thank you, Charles." Wes wiped his hands on the paper towels Gunn had pulled from under his thigh and then finally took everything, his hands shaking ever so slightly. Spike leaned into Xander a little harder - let his arm creep around Xander's waist.

Gunn kept a hand on Wes' back while he signed, felt the slow, hard beat of his heart vibrating through Wes' ribs and making his hands shake. "Okay, so here's a question for you guys. I'm gonna skip over all the murdering me in my sleep shit and assume you got that all under control." Xander and Spike pressed against each other - like they were tryin' to merge into one pain in the ass instead of two. Nerves. "Why ain't human good enough for you? Everything Wes here tells me says you're this big all-human hero, sidekick of champions. Why you suddenly got a big yen for fangs and bumpies right now?"

Xander sat up, pulled away from Spike just enough to get his sweater over his head and dropped it, Spike's arms winding back into place low on his stomach.

Silver through the nipples.

Blooming bruise in the center of his chest where something kicked him on patrol.

Gun-shot scar under the ribs, puckered and starfish-belly white, thick and twisted tissue underneath when he rubbed.

"Human is great, Charlie. Human is - you know, what I'm good at. But human is fragile and one of these days I'm gonna be too good at being human. And I won't do that to Spike. So - yeah. It's now."




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