Snakes and Ladders


by
Reremouse & Tabaqui



Square Twenty-Three

Xander writhed against pillows, against velvet and cotton, linen and silk, thighs shaking with the spread and with the aftershocks of Spike's wicked tongue doing too much and not enough and then leaving him, opened and wanting.

"Don't want to take it too fast, do we, pet? Only get to do this once." Spike's fingers played up the back of a thigh, slid along the crease, brush against his balls making him whine. "Don't want to hurt you." The words buzzed into his skin before Spike bit into the back of his thigh - a bird bite that tickled and Xander dropped his face into the pillows, rubbing his cheek against a rough brocade that still had the Pier One sticker on it, laughing helplessly.

"Oh fuck - jesus. You're gonna kill me and you don't want to hurt me?" He twisted as far as he could go to meet sparking gold eyes with a grin and arched, pushing his hips back against Spike. "So - so not the point."

A Nest-warm hand slid up his thigh, took a possessive detour up his cock in a way that made him moan and slid up - up to cover his banging heart. To hold it in and the irony set him off again, laughing until Spike mounted him and entered - one stretching, burning thrust that filled him completely as Spike growled into his ear.

"Not the same and you know it." Small, deep thrust - so deep it had nowhere to go and drove a gasp out of Xander, lust and adrenaline and nerves racing through him and making him shake. "Feels good when you laugh. When you're around me... Kinda tickles, right...here." Spike's hand slid down to press his belly - stroke it like a cat.

"Yay for my inappropriate sense of humor." Xander groaned, tightening his fingers on cool muscles, groaning at the answering twitch inside him and the horny possessive vampire pheromones that made his head spin.

"One of the things I love about you, pet," Spike murmured, laying a series of nibbling kisses down Xander's neck - doing a slow roll of his hips. Love you, love you, want you so much, Xander...gonna have you forever... Pushing that out through the link as hard as he could, love and want and shh shh shh.

"Gonna be all right, love - promise."

"That's so much easier to say when you're already dead." It was hard to breathe with Spike in him, hard to think with Spike around him, talking and touching and stroking and whispering. Spike's forehead, ridged and hard pressed to the back of Xander's shoulder, nuzzle and purr and - "Fuck!"

Spike mumbled a querying sound into his shoulder, rolled his hips and Xander had to concentrate to get the words out. "Wh-what about my tattoo?"

"What about it, love?" Spike traced the arabesque, the curve over his cheekbone with a fingertip.

"Will it - look the s-same - ahh -" Spike grinned as another hip-roll cut off Xander's words - his breath - and he traced the tip of his tongue over the twisted knot tattooed at the top of Xander's spine.

"They'll be perfect, Xander - just like they are now. All of them."

"Okay - cause - grr. Bumpies. Bumps - ohhh fuck." Spike nuzzled the bumps and ridges of his forehead up into the crook of Xander's neck, rubbing, nibbling like he was trying to find the perfect place to bite and Xander's pulse leapt up to meet him. Meet the tickling growls, the prickling teeth for the instant before they sank in, deep and hard and plugged in and turned on.

Xander stared sightlessly at the mantel where a douse stared back, pink head tilted so far to the side it looked like it would topple over and Spike was making the kind of noises Xander made with ooey gooey hot fudge ice cream sundaes and he wanted to laugh, shout, cry, moan - because this was it.

A giggle escaped - a giggle that might have been a moan, yes, animal whimper because the way Spike was sucking, he felt it down to his toes and they curled and wanted too.

In his hind brain, cave!Xander curled up under his fur blanket and was scared and Xander gripped Spike's hips in both hands, listening to his heart pound and stumble and his breath catch, told cave!Xander it'd be okay - it'd be more and better and a whole brave new world and he was gonna love it. Love - Spike. Love. Was why. "G-gonna - have to take a picture of my tattoo in game face. Gonna look all b-ba-dass."

Around them, the house was mostly silent. Just the background noises that come with old houses - and dice. The faint tick tick of the furnace, creaks of settling timbers - the patter patter of dice-feet through the walls and up the stairs - across the floors. The soft sucking, feeding sounds against his neck. And Xander's head was spinning and it was hard to feel the heat from the fireplace on his skin.

Pins and needles and Spike. Xander's tongue was thick and didn't want to move.

Hard to talk - and that was another first and last for Xander Harris. He gave cave!Xander a pat. Gave Spike a shiver and a weak smile and the last squeeze his fingers had in them. "D-don't - bury me anywhere gross."

"D-don' - b'ry me an'-where...gr'ss..." and Spike had to grin around his mouthful of flesh and blood. He pulled Xander closer, feeling the lassitude of blood loss creep over his boy - muscles going limp, his heart...slowing. Spike moved his hips slowly, drawing out the pleasure for both of them. Fear in the link, but it was fading. Love love want fading as well as Xander took a long breath in - out - in, slower and slower. Spike pulled away, careful not to tear artery or muscle - licked the sluggish trickle of blood that followed. Xander's body was dead weight against him, back to Spike's chest and Spike settled back on his heels, pulling Xander closer - arm tight over Xander's chest. Xander's blood life blood fizzing through and through his body and making the demon whimper in ecstasy.

"Now's your part, love, now's the hard part...love you so much, Xander..." Spike sliced his wrist with one razor-edged canine and pushed it tight against Xander's mouth - squeezed him gently.

"Come on, love, drink now. I've got you and you're safe, just drink, pet..."

Love and want, urgent coaxing, pulling from his veins, inside and out. The sinuous thereness of the link insisting drinkdrinkdrink. All warm and iron red and voluptuous lust and coming home.

Drink drink beautiful love mine mine mine. The demon wanted - the demon had played along with the wait of months, irritated and covetous - impatient and frustrated. Waited additional weeks while paperwork was finalized. Now it roared its triumph to the heavens, crushing Xander close and rutting furiously - watching with glee as Xander drank, his throat undulating and his jaws working to get more. Mine mine love want love love havemineforever. Wash of yes and love and cold from Xander. Fading fast, now. Light burning brighter and then - not at all.


~*~*~*~*~


In the beginning - or perhaps not the beginning but close to it - there were pillows.

There were big pillows, there were little pillows.

There were well-worn velvet pillows and pillows which still smelled of plastic wrapping to Wesley's demon nose. There were pillows with the price tags and federal warnings still attached.

There were - a bloody great lot of pillows.

And under them somewhere - Spike said - was Xander.

Of course with that many pillows, it could have been an elephant sleeping under there.

"Was this really necessary, Spike?"

"Wha'd you mean, 'necessary', Wes?" Spike's eyes never left the mound of pillows as he spoke - long fingers fumbled blindly for cigarettes, lighter - whiskey. There was a circle of ash and spilt drink and crumbs around Spike's chair that had been steadily growing for the past eight hours - several dice were running back and forth, collecting the bounty. They perched on the headboard of the empty bed-frame in which the massive...Resurrection Nest had been constructed. They balanced on the windowsills. More lined the fireplace mantle, flanking the two squat muo-pings - one dark and the other glowing warmly, glowing brightly, alive - and given respectful distance by the dice. Wesley clicked his biro once or twice and eyed the Nest.

It had taken a finicky Spike two hours to build - and he'd barely moved since. Wesley scribbled a note on his pad to ask Spike - later, when he wasn't quite so on edge - just what determined the waking hour of a vampire. Surely Spike couldn't intend to sit there with that sort of focus for days?

"I mean - if you wanted him to be comfortable, you only needed to lay him in the Nest. You didn't actually need to gather every pillow in the house into this room."

"Or buy a cart-load more," Gunn muttered, and Spike made a strange sort of grimace, conveying - what, Wesley wasn't sure.

"He's got to dig himself out, right and proper, Wes. Can't just have him...lying there. Not right."

A thought nagged at Wesley and he tapped his biro against his lips, willing it to take a more useful form than 'Spike is an odd vampire'. It came to Gunn first.

"This a family thing? I mean - Dru did all that weird 'among the flowers, close to the sky' shit and buried Darla in a goddamn rooftop nursery." Gunn took his beer bottle back from the two groaning dice who were trying to make off with it. "You can drink it when you can lift it," he told them.

"Did she now?" Spike absently located a Jaffa cake and stuffed it into his mouth - chased it with a gulp of very fine, aged whiskey and Gunn and Wesley winced in concert. "Dru was very traditional, you know. Liked to follow the old rituals - all that funeral stuff. Had to claw my way out of my own coffin, I did." Something - flashed through Spike's rapt gaze at that and Gunn shuddered - smiled when he felt Wes' hand come down warm and heavy on his knee.

"Not doin' that to my boy...sodding ground's frozen, Charlie-boy - tear his hands up something awful..."

Wesley glanced at the three electric blanket power cords snaking out of a corner of Nest with a small smile and tried to be inconspicuous at note taking. "Was it cold when you woke?" Spike really is...the softest-hearted vampire.

"Fucking cold and wet, besides - rained all that day. Fucking mud in my ears and in my throat -" Spike stopped talking abruptly and groped for his cigarettes. The douse who was investigating them squeaked and jumped aside as Spike grabbed the pack and tapped one out.

"I'm... That must have been dreadful," Wesley said softly. He tapped his biro on the pad but didn't write anything. "I'm sorry, Spike."

Spike stilled - cigarette between his lips, lighter lit but held awkwardly in front of him - then turned to stare at Wesley until the lighter burned him and he dropped it with a hiss.

An opportunistic douse dove for it and tumbled headlong into Spike's foot blocking its way. "Not the lighter. Sodding pests." Spike snatched up the lighter and lit his cigarette, returning his gaze to the Nest. "It was a long time ago. Forgot all about it."

Spike hadn't forgotten - his waking as a vampire had actually figured in several nightmares when he'd been ill. But he wasn't about to admit to that.

You're such an odd duck, Percy. Watcher to your core but... His gaze flickered up again, skimming over the two jars on the mantle. The one that held...something...of his boy. Soul, or essence, or conscience...Spike didn't know. He only knew that he'd been - astounded, when Wes had presented them. Astounded and amazed and the rush of love for Wes at that moment had been like a tsunami.

Wes listened.

And he trusted, and he - loved. He was an amazing man. Spike still didn't know what he was going to do with his jar. Use it, or hide it away with Xander's. The soul was a restless thing in him, but familiar now.

Think about that later. Now - it's all about my boy. All about my love... He barely noticed that his cigarette had burned down to the filter.

The phone rang in the kitchen. It'd been ringing on and off since fifteen minutes after Xander's 'I decided to become a vampire today' emails had gone out from Wes' computer.

Spike closed his eyes and listened to Xander's voice when the machine picked up. 'You've got Xander. I can't come to the phone right now because I'm dead. Leave your name and number and I'll get back to you tomorrow.'

You git. Only you, pet. A click, a beep, then another voice. Willow again, sounding - strident.

"Xander! This really isn't funny! Pick up the phone, mister! I'm about ten minutes from teleporting over there... Xander?" Spike tuned her out - tuned out Gunn murmuring to Wesley, and the dice and the traffic outside - folk going home from a day's work. Listening for the first telltale susurrus of flesh on cloth that would mean Xander was awake. The link had been dead since Xander had died - Spike hoped it would come back.

"That is the Willow who sucked down a bunch of magic books and tried to end the world?"

"Yes. I'm reasonably sure we have nothing to worry about."

"English - I want better than 'reasonably sure' when it comes to flayin' alive, magic-suckin, world ending witches."

"Charles! You've met her. She's perfectly sweet when she's not -"

"Ending the world?"

Wesley cleared his throat. "She got better."

"Jesus."

Spike was about to say something - to refute that better because Willow wasn't better, just - more subtle. But at that moment a pillow - small and covered in black silk with dull-silver stars - moved. Shifted and slithered down the face of the Nest and Spike shushed Wes and Gunn.

"He's waking up," he hissed, hands curling tense on the arms of the chair. Gunn opened his mouth and Spike growled. The Nest shifted again, another pillow tumbling down. Wes fielded it before it bounced onto the hearth. The Nest stilled and then heaved, and Spike heard a sharp, gasping breath.

"Spike?" Querulous voice, irritated and a little confused and Spike grinned, his foot bouncing in barely-leashed tension against the floor.

Flicker of movement in the corner of Spike's eye and he held up a hand.

"Don't - don't move, Wes. He has to do this himself," Spike said and Wes subsided in his chair, biro and pad clutched in his hand. "He'll be fine..."

"Spike?" Spark of the link coming back - of searching fearneedlove that made Spike want to roar with triumph as a drift of pillows collapsed on one side of the Nest and Xander...struggled to the surface. Dandelion-haired with static, dazed and confused and his eye wide and drugged. "Stupid - weird - vampire. B-burying me in fucking p-pillows." A douse raced in front of Xander and he jerked away, stumbled and flailed.

Spike launched himself out of his chair - across the Nest and beside Xander before he'd toppled even half-way down. Cradling Xander close, fully aware of the insane grin on his face - of the demon flashing to the surface to snuffle into Xander's neck - run hands over the Nest-warm, naked body.

Lovelovebrightlovewant from Xander, chaotic and strong, so damn strong. The demon purred, ecstatic.

"Had to do it, love - had to bury you..." Kissing the still column of Xander's throat - hands rubbing up and down his back and pulling him close and Xander burrowed, eye closed, brightbrightbright and shivering, just a little.

Fire and cotton candy and sex and Spike - and the world whirled with details where it'd been darkness before.

In the beginning, there were pillows, intoned a voice in Xander's head that sounded a lot like Wesley and a hysterical giggle bubbled up. Bubbled out and he pressed closer to Spike - felt Spike like a roaring presence in his veins that made him want, made him hard. Made him clutch Spike tight and he groaned with the feeling of his face changing, shifting - full - feeling that left him panting. "Fuck," he said again - because it seemed like the thing to say.

"God yes," Spike breathed - shifted and then twisted and got them down onto the Nest on their knees. "Xander - love -" Lips on Xander's lips, arousal and fierce possession pounding through the link - the demon drinking in scent and taste of minefamilymemine. Wanting - demanding - and Spike nipped at Xander's mouth and pulled back - gazed on the face of his beloved - transformed.

"So fucking...perfect," Spike breathed. And then he had to kiss Xander again, ignoring the tiny noises from Wesley and Gunn and the gradually closing ring of inquisitive dice.

Xander's lips tingled, teeth itched, and if he'd known dying would make him so horny he would've - "Ssspike" - been lisping for a while by now. Another giggle broke the surface and then Spike was kissing him again, lips and fangs - then lips and teeth and tongue with a feeling like melting bone and he groaned, feeling the touch...everywhere. Dizzy. "How...the fuck do they come out of the ground acting like Bruce Lee?"

"All pumped up from - digging," Spike said - leaned back again and regarded Xander. Eye wide and dazed, still - chest heaving in irregular, half-conscious breaths. Hard - beautiful - aware. The slightly hysterical laughter had only confirmed what he knew would be true. This was Xander.

Moving slowly - not to disturb - Wesley leaned close to Charles, one hand on his thigh and lips close to his ear. "What do you think?"

"Jesus. It's like a birth and an orgy at the same time," Charles whispered.

"Technically, you need more than two for an orgy."

"Well, there's four of us, Wes, and you're lookin' like this is pretty much catnip for demon-types, you know?" Charles' voice was low - circumspect - but his hand was anything but as it crept up Wesley's inner thigh and brushed the hard flesh beneath his fly. Wesley blushed - shivered to the demon and then back to human and Charles grinned at him and pulled him over for a kiss.

Everything smelled so damn - good. Like - spice and blood, sex and food - like life, and Xander clung to Spike's shoulders, trying not to get dragged into the hypnotizing dance of the flames - the incredible layers of brass and gold and crystal of Spike's eyes. Spike's hands made little tingles everywhere they touched his skin and Xander pushed closer, wanting more of that - more of everything and barely aware of Wes and Gunn in their chairs. He wanted to - run. He wanted to fuck, he wanted to bite and he was starting to shake with the conflicting cues the demon was sending out.

"Spike - J-jesus, I - n-need -"

"I know, love - shhh. I know. We'll fix it, Xander. Fix you right up."


~~~~~


"Wh-where're we going?" Xander mumbled - with no circulation the cold bit and numbed, made him feel reptilian and sluggish - overwhelmed, because everything was bright and everything was scent and the wind on his skin tingled, tickled, scraped and whispered, like being tapped by a thousand invisible hands. But he wasn't shivering. Couldn't shiver - and the white puffs of his breath were - gone. Which would be really wiggy if he didn't feel so - himself every other way.

Himself with sparks and fizz and an urge for fight, fuck, feed stronger than the first hit of Spike's blood he'd had that night on the road to Ojai.

"Get you somethin' hot to eat, pet," Spike said, arm tight around Xander's waist. They were headed for a bar that catered to demons and humans - headed to a place where Spike knew a handful of lowlifes hung out nightly. The sort of humans other humans were hard put to care about even if they were viciously murdered. He'd chosen carefully, because Xander was Xander and random murder of the innocent would probably be as foreign - and repellent - a concept now as it ever had been.

Course, if it's not...that's a horse of a different color entirely, Spike thought - and grinned wolfishly at the thought of that other jar, waiting for him at the house. If he wanted it.

"Got a bead on a few bad men - give you something to cut you teeth on, love."

Xander drew in a deep, quick breath, scents and impressions crystallizing like ice inside. "Does it always feel like this?" The hunger was a low throb underlying everything. Like the feeling on the cusp of orgasm - the drive.

"Depends on how hungry you are, love. But it's like - like wanting to fuck, that. Always there - ready to flare up - make you burn..." Spike leaned over and nuzzled into Xander's neck - sucked the flesh up into his mouth and bit gently, feeling the quiver go through Xander - feeling the blast of it through the link.

"Wait'll you taste it, Xander...god..." The bar was half a block away, spilling neon spangles onto the wet parking lot and Spike grinned - tipped his head back and growled, subdued roar. He couldn't wait to see Xander in action.

Xander reacted - shivered, shuddered at the growl, the urge to growl back nearly overwhelming - the urge for everything was nearly overwhelming.

Like puberty again.

Only when he was seventeen, linoleum made him horny - but now he'd grab the linoleum, fuck it until it begged for mercy, bite it and drain it dry. He pulled back into himself with a gasp, shaking away the itch of demon wanting to emerge and tipped his head back to the sky. "Sure you didn't slip me some vampy Spanish fly?"

"Got it bad, do you?" Spike stopped them - tugged Xander close, groin to groin and hardness to hardness, slow grind of his hips and his hands cupping Xander's buttocks. "Some of that's me, love. You're so fucking beautiful...can feel you - so strong, now. Makes me..." Want want want and Spike grinned as Xander closed his eye - clutched at Spike and pulled him into a crushing embrace.

"Think you can do it, love? Walk in there and - start something?" Xander gasped into Spike's neck - shook himself. Then he lifted his head and regarded Spike with a wide, golden eye - curling grin of a feral Cheshire Cat.

"Don't think that's gonna be a problem, Spike."


~~~~~


"Y'know what's weird?" Gunn asked, limping across the sitting room and falling onto his chair before the fireplace. His chair - that's right. Big, plush and red with wings. Class act with a matching footstool.

Wesley glanced up from his notebook, frantic scribbles to document everything - every detail eyes, ears and nose could remember. "The sitting room without a Nest?"

Gunn looked around - had to admit it was damn empty. "Yeah. Okay. What's really weird is that was Xander."

"Yes it was, wasn't it," Wes said, stopping his scribbling for a moment and getting this look on his face.

"You're gonna be milkin' them for info for weeks, aren't you Mr. Spock?"

"Hmmm?" Wes went back to scribbling and Gunn wormed a little lower into his chair, sighing. He wasn't - freaked. That had been over a month ago, when Wes and Spike and Xander had first told him about the 'Kill Xander' plan. That had been...hard. Had made him think of Alonna in ways he hadn't in a long time. Running their last minutes together over and over in his head. How she'd been - how she'd acted. What she'd said.

Now he had to think - had his little sis been in there? Just - overwhelmed with the new, scared and hungry? If he'd waited - talked - tried... Gunn shook his head, hard. Not going there. Just...not.

"You makin' the rounds again?" Gunn found himself being watched by the fuckin' big one-eyed douse that'd been coming around for the last week - that'd been the first douse to sniff over Fangs Harris and declare him - whatever the hell dice declared acceptable beings who weren't lunch.

"If you're lookin' for the master of the house, he ain't here. He's out raping and pillaging - you'd like it."

The douse twitched its whiskers - one of them was bent in the middle, giving it a more rakish air. It did look approving. Gunn held out his bottle. "There y'go. If you can lift it, you can drink it."

The douse scampered off and Gunn settled back in his chair with a chuckle - less Alonna on his mind and more ha - showed your fuzzy pink ass, didn't I? Until the douse hopped back - with a determined look and a fuckin' straw.

"You win." Gunn set the bottle on the floor and watched a crew of three dice appear and carry it away behind their - "Hey - English. Do those guys have leaders?"

"Vampires?" Wesley asked - a million miles away in a sea of yellow legal pad pages.

"The demonic Chia pets. Seems like that Cyclops one is kinda the leader. He had a straw."

Wesley blinked down at his notes - circled something - then: "Straw? Whatever are you talking about, Charles?"

"I'm talkin' about drunk dice in the attic. You're way too involved over there, Wes - haven't given me a leer in at least an hour."

"I do not leer," Wesley protested, but he put his notes and biro down - got up and crossed over to Charles and crouched down beside his chair. Tipped his head up and tugged Charles down for a long, slow kiss.

"I do do that, however. Is that better?"

"Gettin' better by the minute."

The phone rang.

"Jesus. Not again."

'You've got Xander. I can't come to the phone right now because I'm dead. Leave your name and number and I'll get back to you tomorrow.'

They looked toward the kitchen. "Nothin' keeping us from turning the sound off is there?"

"No."

"Xander, this is Rupert Giles. While Buffy and I have talked Willow out of immediate teleportation, please call soon - whether you have a conscience left or not, it's in your best interest. Buffy asks me to remind you that Ben and Jerry only solve a woman's problems until she can't button her jeans."

"Must've turned their damn cells off," Charles grumbled, and Wesley stood up, going for his own cell phone that was perched on the mantle.

"They probably did. Let me just - call Rupert. Reassure him and then..." Wesley turned a long look on Charles - a look that roved from head to foot and back, with significant...pauses. "Then I think that we might - retire. Spike and Xander won't be home for hours." Wesley added, and the heat in Charles' gaze went up a notch.

"Nothin' like 'my parents aren't gonna be home' to turn a guy on." Gunn levered himself out of the chair and slid his hands down Wes' upper arms - the firmness of him - the solidity and warmth. Not a damn thing like Fred, Gwen, Anne - and he was starting to think that might be some of what was right.

"They're hardly parents." Wes turned, shy-smiled the way that made Gunn forget this guy was ever Danger Man The Broody.

"The kids are out," he answered, grinning and slipping his hands down to rest in the small of Wes' back. "The scaryass punk kids with sharp teeth and tattoos." Close enough to kiss - so he did.

"What is today's youth coming to?" Wes asked - a little breathless.

Really breathless a few minutes later and Gunn watched in smug satisfaction as Wes bumbled his way through the phone-call overseas, apologizing for the late hour - even though he knew Rupert was up - apologizing for not calling sooner, apologizing for apologizing until Gunn plucked the phone from his hand.

"English has got some heavy-duty necking to get to while the Gruesome Twosome are out and about. He'll talk to you later, okay? Bye." Gunn flipped the phone shut - put it on the mantle - and grinned at Wes' poleaxed look.

"Wanna get naked?"

Gunn gave Wes a real generous thirty seconds of verbal stumbling, then caught him up, crushed him close and shut him up with a kiss. "That a yes?"

"Yes." Wes was giving him that wide-eyed, dazed and horny look that didn't scare him anymore - hell, it made his blood-pressure rise in all the right places. A guy could get used to making his boy weak in the knees. "Charles - a-are you certain you're -"

"Don't you dare go getting all chivalrous on me now."

"Or what?" That look had changed - that look had gotten dangerous. Danger Man in the house looking - god help him - coy.

"Or I might try out those handcuffs Blondie Bear's been swishin' around with."

"Oh? Big talk, Mr. High Powered Lawyer." Wesley shivered - changed - watched speculation and lust flare in Charles' eyes. "Better be sure you can back it up." Charles smelled - good. Like spiced cookies and musk and earth. Dark and rich and Wesley had to taste. Had to push into the warm crook of Charles' neck and fasten his mouth over the skin there - lick and then suck as Charles moaned. Wesley kissed and nibbled and tasted while his hands made themselves busy untucking Charles' shirt and stroking over warm, silken skin. Charles' hands, meanwhile, were doing the same - running lightly along the spines that crested Wesley's skull and lacing his fingers through the ones along Wesley's back. Sending shivery tingles up and down Wesley's spine and straight down his cock.

"Oh - god, Charles..."

"Like that?" The spines quivered and clattered quietly against each other with every shiver, Wes' lids getting heavier over those shark-dark eyes. "Naked time. Now."

Wesley caught his breath, cock twitching to the growl in Charles' voice - and growled back, tearing Charles' shirt cleanly down the middle, licking a broad stripe up his chest in an explosion of salt and musk and spice until his knees buckled.

"Jesus!"

"I," Wesley said around a nipple, hard and hot between teeth he was careful not to puncture with, and emphasized his words with a thrust of his hips, "like that very much."

Gunn was amazed they actually made it up the stairs. If the Nest had still been in the sitting room, he'd have taken his chances in it. But they did make it, leaving a trail of clothing behind - and oh fuck but wouldn't Blondie Bear have something to say about that? But then Wesley - human again, flushed and panting - pushed Gunn down onto the bed and straddled him - pressed groin to groin and Gunn arched, making a squeak of surprise. Who fuckin' knew? Jesus - "Christ, Wes, that's - that's -"

"Good, isn't it," Wes murmured, and did it again - then reached between them to grasp them both in a slide that would've made Gunn weak in the knees if he'd been standing up.

"Damn good - where you been all my life good!" Gunn grasped a handful of the bedclothes and a handful of Wes, hot smooth skin under his palm and it was nothing like anything else - hard and rough and fast and no worrying he was gonna hurt Wes when too much was almost enough.

But not, not quite and Gunn reached up and wrapped his arms around Wes - pulled him down and held him, press of that fever-warm body all along his. Wes' legs were hugging his hips and Wes' cock was sliding along his hip - his belly - leaving a cool trail of fluid behind - and Gunn's cock was trapped between them.

"Just - wanna feel you. All over me -" Gunn panted, and Wes moved - did something that undulated his whole body and Gunn had to squeeze his eyes shut. "Oh god, god, god!"

"Mmm..." Wes was kissing his neck - his jaw - his mouth. Wes was scratching his nails lightly over Gunn's scalp and shoulders and Gunn was palming the heavy muscles of Wes' buttocks - kneading and pushing and pulling and Wes was grinding down, breathy little moans of pleasure coming out between the kisses.

"Wes - fuck -"

"You're so beautiful, Charles -" Wes murmured, and Gunn stilled in shock. "You feel so good...taste absolutely...wonderful..."

"You're such a girl, English."

"I realize you mean that only in the emotional sense." Wes said in a voice far too dry for a guy moving like that, for a guy that hard - for a guy who'd just been sucking Gunn's brains out through a bottom lip that still tingled. "At least - I do hope you meant -"

"Yeah, yeah." Gunn pushed with his good leg, rolled them over and thanked whichever resident hedonist chose a soft mattress for this bed, grinding Wes down into it with a groan that wasn't all English. "I noticed you're all man." His hand shook, sliding over the angles of a hip, concave curve of Wes' muscled belly - and wrapped around Wes' fingers with a tingling slide of flesh. He jacked slow - hard - good - till Wes' leg came up and around and locked behind him. "I like it."

"Yesss..." Shiver of demon not-demon and Wesley fought it back. Wanted this time - first time - to be just himself. His hands stroked up and down over Charles' back, finding the small scars - the bulge of muscles. Marks of a physical man - a powerful man and Wesley brought his other leg up, thighs wrapping around Charles hips and his body tilting - tongue flickering over Charles' collarbones and nipples. "God - yes, like it..."

"I'd like a whole lot more of it." Charles groaned, ground down against Wesley until he could feel bruises forming, sparking waves of possessive want from the demon.

"That - oh - that can be arranged. You would have...far more trouble putting me off -"

"Than gettin' you off?" Their hands were slick now - wet and warm and fluid - and hot and tight as he could ask for.

"Yes - yes - that won't be a - god! - problem!"

"You always talk this much and I never noticed?"

"I can be quiet if you like," Wesley said, and then he was kissing Charles with everything he had - kissing and arching and squeezing their hands together, tight and hot around their cocks and his other hand was on Charles' ass, pulling him close just like his legs were doing and Charles was groaning into his mouth, and Wesley's heel was riding in the hollow behind Charles' knee and their hands were moving, grasping, clutching...

And Charles broke away with a low moan, eyes wide and then fluttering shut and Wesley was chanting "yes yes yes" with a dry throat and swollen lips and then Charles bucked hard, his hips moving out of rhythm with hands and Wesley's hips, grinding down and thrusting and Wesley pulled him down again, mouth to mouth and his hand slicked and hot, tangled with Charles' and - oh - his world grayed around the edges, sparks jumping, trickling, rushing through his nerves.

Then Wes was arching against Gunn and breaking his promise like a sailor. All yes and fuck and fuck me and dirty, passionate English things Gunn couldn't translate - and then for one second - so fast Gunn wasn't sure if it was real, Wes shivered half way to demon and back - glowing silver all around the edges, pink and flushed in cheek and lip and - "Beautiful, English."

"You -" Wes panted, raised a shaky hand to stroke across Gunn's skull, eyes sated and half closed, "girl."


~~~~~


The cemetery - Old Burying Point - was old, and Spike settled himself carefully on a decrepit tombstone from 1722, lighting a cigarette and watching Xander do a little dance with an obnoxious vamp who'd followed them, apparently spoiling for a fight. He was getting one, and Spike watched - grinned gleefully as Xander twisted aside from a punch and came up fast, fist sinking into the other vamp's midsection and doubling it over. Xander's elbow crashed down on the other's neck and the vamp went down hard. A moment later it was over and Xander was up and bouncing toward Spike, fangy grin and a smear of blood on his lip.

"He caught you, then," Spike said, standing up and wiping his thumb along the blood - sucking it into his mouth. Xander shook the demon away and probed his lip with the tip of his tongue.

"Yeah - got lucky - or I got unlucky. Jesus - I'd have been hamburger before tonight." A grin lit Xander's face and he tilted it up to the moon, laughing.

Spike took a long drag on his cigarette - looked around at the rows of crooked headstones. Everything silver and white, humps of wet weeds and stone almost indistinguishable and the new-Spring trees like stark sentinels over all. Old here - older than Angelus and maybe someone Darla once knew was buried here, who knew? Spike shivered slightly and hooked his hand around Xander's neck - drew him in for a kiss.

"You wanna go home, pet? Sun'll be up soon."

"Uh huh." Xander slipped his hands around Spike's waist, under the duster, under the shirts where cold hands didn't matter and rubbed his nose against the duster collar. "Home, where the Nest lives." He peppered kisses up Spike's throat to his lips and walked backwards. He didn't have super special grace. Or fancy martial arts moves - but now when he fell on his ass, it didn't hurt.

Or it hurt and felt good - and hey, not complaining about what feels good, here. Not that he'd want to try out the big pain. Nope. Not a whip me, beat me, tie me down vamp here.

Okay - maybe a tie me down vamp.

Or a tie you down vamp.


"What're you thinking?" Spike asked, assaulted by musky arousal and a blast of want in the link, Xander's teeth pressing into his lips.

"Thinking about...tying you up..." Xander mumbled and stopped with an oof of breath as he walked himself into a tree. Spike leaned in hard, hands tangled in Xander's hair and his thigh between Xander's.

"Yeah? How d'you want me, pet, back or belly?"

Xander drew breath to moan and wriggled against Spike. Prickles of oncoming dawn skittered over his skin. "On your elbows and knees. Ass up, head down." Xander slid a hand between them and cupped Spike, felt him, hard and soft and his. "Want this where I can get at it. Where only I can get at it."

Footsteps approached - a whistle - and the demon surged with hunger but it was like...his inner kid. Who surged with the same ravenous want when it passed the Cinnabon. He breathed deep and let it out with a growl - stopped. "Hey. Does Cinnabon smell good to vampires?" Which might be a weird thing to ask in a cemetery before dawn with his hand on Spike's dick and some really lucky pedestrian passing by to work. But Xander could take weird. Weird and Xander were old buddies.

"You smell good," Spike murmured, dazed by the force of wantminewant that Xander was putting out - ready to grind into Xander's hand and get them both off. But the want went from lust to blood in the time it took for Spike to notice some human walking perilously near. He kissed Xander - distraction and affection - and tugged him away from the tree.

"Let's go see about that, then," he said, arm around Xander's waist. "Had fun tonight, yeah?"

"I've gotta hand it to you. Vamps know how to party," Xander admitted, skirting the grave of one Samuel Leech and giving him a wave, one leech to another. Xander felt another grin coming on. He cracked himself up. "Gonna let me? Tie you up and drive you to Crazyville?"

"Let you? I expect you to, pet. All spread out and helpless for you? Fucking hot..." Spike slid his fingers down inside the waist of Xander's jeans and stroked the top curve of his ass - dug his fingers in and kneaded. "Let you do anything, Xan." Anything you want...everything.

Xander hitched, a bolt of oh yeah! slithering into his libido and playing around. "Gonna show you how a construction foreman ties knots to start. I'm gonna tease you till you're begging - and fuck you when I'm ready - and not feel even a little guilty about it."

"Fuck I hope not," Spike breathed. He swung Xander around, kissing him hard - pushing hard cock into hard cock. "Gonna make me scream, love?"

"Gonna make you sob, it feels so good." Xander growled, grabbed Spike's hips and ground into him, stumbling in the purple predawn light, the demon sated and Xander exultant.

"God I love you." Spike grabbed back just as hard - pushed his face into Xander's neck and bit at it, human teeth pinching and nipping. He felt the tremor go through Xander - felt the yes and mine and joy in the link and changed - bit for real, shuddering as the pepper-spice of magical, demonic blood hit his tongue. Just a mouthful and then he was pulling back - licking his lips and grinning.

"Last one home - doesn't get to come," he said and bolted away, laughing.

"Wh - hey!" Xander chased after him - after flapping coattails and peppermusk spice. He tackled Spike on their stoop, slamming them both into the door. He was panting - because hello, old habits - and panting was breathing - and breathing was great lungfuls of pheromones pouring off Spike and into him. He thrust, ground Spike into their front door and bit - the pop of fangs through skin and rush of blood over his tongue like summer grapes if summer grapes went straight to the cock. He slid out, traced the punctures with his tongue as they closed, feeling the tremors through Spike's body rattling the door. "You're gonna have to beg so much before I let you come."

"Might...Jesus fuck! Might make you work for it... Might be baaad..." Spike arched up into Xander's body - clutched at muscle and coat and rolled his hips, trying for more contact - more friction. Xander's blood still on his tongue and the bite on his neck sending out hot little tendrils of buzzing pleasure. "Might have to...make me..."

Xander growled out loud and shoved his hand into Spike's front jeans pocket; got a knee between his thighs and pinned him to the door with a hip and a look as he fished for the key and jerked it out. "Might have to spank you. See - I learn by doing. And being done. And fuck, does Wes know how to do." He dangled the key for Spike.

"That he does," Spike said, the growl a pleasant tickle through his bones. He took a startled step backwards as Xander opened the door, then he was pushed into the jamb and Xander was kissing him with a sharp-toothed mouth - and stepping back one, two steps.

"I guess I made it home first. Guess who doesn't get to come?" Then he whirled around and ran, giggling like a maniac and Spike sprinted after, slamming the door shut behind him and pounding up the stairs hot on Xander's heels.


~~~~~


"Damn kids." Gunn muttered. He would have rolled over but damn it, he had an armful of Englishman and it felt too good to waste for drama. "Earplugs, English. I'm buyin' earplugs tomorrow."

"Doesn't help. They can shatter the sound barrier. Dampening spell," Wes muttered back, and then shifted - sighed - and was asleep again. Gunn glared at a pair of winking red eyes that were running along the baseboard and then he sighed, too and settled back to sleep. Figure it out in the morning.


~*~*~*~*~


"Coffee, tea or blood?"

"Do you have any idea how wrong that is?" Gunn lifted his head - but also his cup 'cause hey, a guy had to get his morning jolt somewhere and if a vamp could make a decent cup of coffee, he'd drink it.

"On a scale of mismatched socks to William Shatner albums, it ranks between white chocolate and fat free Oreos." Xander pivoted with a cup of coffee, a cup of blood and a package of regular Oreos, a douse hanging on for dear pink life from the crinkling corner, and set down the coffee for Gunn.

"If you dunk, I'm giving the rest of the package to the furballs."

The douse sat up instantly, whiskers quivering.

Xander pulled the package protectively closer. "Over my dead - huh. That so doesn't work for me anymore."

"And I thought you and Spike got your meals...on the hoof, so to speak?" Gunn settled into the chair opposite Xander and sipped gingerly at the scalding - really good - coffee. He almost didn't wince when he asked that question, too. Good one, Charlie-boy. Sounded real - natural.

"Oh, I do. I mean - we do. But not cows 'cause that's - gross. This is a snack. Like Oreos. Nice warm blood and an Oreo cookie. They forever go together what a classic combination..." Xander sang the jingle, ruining it forevermore and grinning at Gunn's wince. He tore open the Oreo bag and took out a stack of eight or so - handed one off to the douse who clasped it eagerly, tight to the furry, pale-pink belly and started nibbling along the top.

"And - you know it's just really bad guys, right? I mean - we're not eating little old ladies and girl scouts," Xander added - not that he really cared one way or another but it still felt best going after the kind of guys who'd made his skin crawl when he was human. And Gunn nodded - ran his hand over his jaw like it itched and winced

The scent hit Xander like a sledgehammer.

Fresh blood.

The douse was looking at him. Narrow limpid eyes. Then it grinned, gobbled the Oreo down and hopped off the table and away with a flick of its tail.

Xander picked up his cup in shaking hands and drained half of it, rich and thick - salty and good. Human. But without the spark. Like drinking flat orange soda when he could smell the fizz and bubble of -

He shivered and licked his lips, put the cup down and sniffed.

No harm in sniffing...right?

"Uh - Harris?"

Xander's eye popped open to find Gunn leaning way back and him leaning way forward.

"Xan, there any more of those pierogies left? I fancy a few of those before we -" Spike stopped dead in the doorway of the kitchen because Gunn was looking...spooked. And Xander - was looking a little too feral for his own good. The rich scent of fresh blood was on the air and Spike shook his head slightly and sauntered casually over to Xander - pulled him back in his chair and straddled his lap, blocking Gunn and filling Xander's senses with his own scent and feel - and taste, with a lingering kiss.

"You tryin' to scare Charlie-boy, love?" he murmured, and Xander shuddered under him - kissed him back, his fingers digging into Spike's hips.

"No, I - I'm not...I'm really not -" Xander murmured back, sounding a little desperate, and Spike kissed him again, thankful to hear Wes on the stairs. More distraction, until Xander could get himself calmed down

"Course you're not, love..."

"Smells so good," Xander groaned, aware he was hard and breathing, flexing his fingers on Spike's hips. Trying to get it all under control with the demon turning happy circles inside like an overeager puppy - and wasn't that just his luck? He shivered, resting his forehead against Spike's, licked his lips and cleared his throat. "Oreo? Anyone?"

"Certainly not for breakfast," Wesley said, breezing into the kitchen and then shooting a hard look at Xander and Spike - a questioning one at Charles because those two looked - a bit het up. And Charles looked - a little shaken. Wesley crossed to the range, getting a mug off the rack there and lifting the still-steaming kettle - pouring as Charles pushed himself to his feet and limped over

"Everything all right, Charles?" Wesley asked, and Charles took a sip of coffee, brows drawn down a little in thought.

"Yeah. Junior over there couldn't resist the Gunn charm." Gunn made up his mind, reached across Wes for a paper towel and slapped it onto the stinging spot on his jaw. He didn't add 'for breakfast' 'cause a guy's gotta have some standards on his lame quips, no matter how low. Being sniffed didn't rate too high on his freak scale anymore.

Course, that could have had something to do with Wes standing in between him and the Twosome.

"You do smell...edible."

"It doesn't count when you're tryin' to freak me out, English." Wes answered by covering his lips with a warm, tea-flavored kiss and that was all right.

"All right then, Xander?" Spike asked, and Xander took a deep breath - leaned back a little and smiled up at Spike. Slightly crooked smile, but real.

"Yeah. I am. Think I'll just finish up my Oreo's - hey!" Spike ducked as Xander lunged and Oreo's rolled and bounced everywhere as the bag split. The five dice who'd been trying to surreptitiously drag the entire bag off the table scattered, sqreeeling. "Oh, man! Look what they did!" An Oreo crunched underfoot as Spike hopped off Xander's lap.

"If you didn't feed them, they wouldn't be so damn greedy," Gunn intoned, and Spike flipped him two fingers, grinning. Gunn flipped him one back.

"Like nobody's caught you feeding them your extra moo shoo chicken when you think nobody's looking." Xander lifted his head with a grin and Gunn...grinned back.

"I have the right not to incriminate myself and I'm gonna use the hell out of it." Gunn poured himself another cup of coffee, the first a loss to the dice who'd taken a liking to the metallic lettering, a tale spelled out in spilled coffee that was turning spilled Oreo crumbs to mush as fast as Xander could pick them up, casting evil looks at the dice. Gunn slipped the enterprising undersized douse a sugar cube and plopped two more into his coffee cup.

"Good lord - it's like we have...dogs. Or children. Is this what children are like?" Wesley asked, and every other person in the room turned completely blank looks on him. Nearly blank. "Spike - when you were -"

"Don't go there, Watcher. Wasn't married, was I? And no, I did not have children. Unless you count the strays Dru picked up and brought home. She read those bloody books about that bloody French girl with the hat and wanted to have two rows of girls in hats -" Spike stopped talking abruptly as Xander shoved an Oreo into his mouth.

"Oi!" Only it came out more like "Uuuh!", with an accompanying spray of chocolate crumbs. Spike spat the biscuit out into his hand. "That's got teeth-marks on it, Xan! May be a vampire but I don't eat after bloody rodents!"

"And we do not corrupt my childhood reading habits." Xander scooped soggy handfuls of cookie off the floor and onto a napkin.

"You read that shite?"

"Uh - well - Willow..." Xander tried to look like a vampire who'd never worn a yellow hat and marched around for a summer behind a little Jewish girl in a nun's habit - at least until Mrs. Rosenberg had caught them.

"Just when I thought life could get no more weird and disgusting." Gunn moved aside for Xander to drop his soggy handfuls of cookies into the garbage disposal. "I am never gonna be able to eat an Oreo again." He realized Xander was grinning at that. "Ain't none of your Twinkies gonna be safe after this, Harris."

"What? It's just - crumbs and stuff and Spike spitting cookie everywhere - I didn't even dunk!" Xander grabbed some paper towels and went back to mopping up sodden cookies as Spike fixed himself a cup of tea-with-whiskey standard and opened the 'fridge, rooting around enthusiastically.

"Besides, this is your coffee down here making things all gross and melty."

"Says the vampire who put Cheerios in his blood two days ago - you don't get to say anything's gross anymore, my man. And besides - I can't get down there with this knee -" Gunn smirked.

"That's right, trot out the war-wound Lord Nelson," Spike said, wrestling with a Gladware. Xander snickered - saw the grin on Wesley's face quickly hidden behind his mug.

"Besides - the Cheerio thing was an experiment. Spike said I should try something new." Xander scooped the last of the mess up and tossed it - went to the sink to wash his hands. "And clean!"

"Not hardly," Wes drawled, looking with a raised eyebrow at the streaks of mushed Oreo that still decorated the floor.

"What?" Xander asked, looking at the streaked floor with the young American male's blind eye for messes.

Wesley handed him a mop.

Xander took it with a mutter and bent to work - and it was in no way disturbing watching him lift the kitchen table with one hand so he could mop all under it with the other. Gunn shook his head and downed his coffee. "Need a hand, Blondie Bear?"

"No, I - bugger." The lid popped off and pierogies scattered, much as the Oreo's had done and Wes snorted into his tea. "Bloody hell. These? Suck." Spike shredded the 'ware with a jerk of his hands and glared at the food on the floor - stalked over to Wes as he continued to grin much, much too widely.

"All your fault, Wes - you bought the sodding things. Told you we didn't need them." Wes opened his mouth to protest and Spike pounced - kissed him long and hard, hearing with satisfaction the hiss of in-drawn breath from Xander - and the smaller noise from Gunn.

"Tryin' to domesticate us, Wes?" Spike murmured, hip to hip and lips brushing, and Xander was suddenly there, pushing in all eager and grabby, claiming his own kiss before Wes could even blink.

"Yeah - trying to make us into Susie Homemakers," Xander muttered, finding that spot on Wes' neck and sucking gently, sucking up the pepper smell that was stronger now - and slipping Gunn a sly glance when the human lust ratcheted up abruptly.

"Surely - a vampire is clever enough to defeat a simple piece of kitchen equipment."

Xander pointed at the shredded container on the floor. "That? Is defeated kitchen equipment." Gunn's breathing, on the edge of his awareness, was ragged - heart a steady pound and Xander felt a rush of love for Wes - for Wes' timing. For Wes' ability to make it all normal again and pushed into his neck, sucking and nibbling his way to Wes' ear, whispering. "Thanks, Wes." And then kissing the incredible heat of his mouth with a sigh.

"You're - you are quite welcome, Xander," Wesley said, once his mouth was free to speak. He smiled at Xander, a little bewildered and then glanced over at Charles who was...looking. And not a look of disgust or amusement or jealousy, a look of...

Oh ho - is that how it is? Well, then... Wesley smiled - tugged Spike a little closer and ran a hand up Xander's back - into the thick, silken hair. And Charles...watched.

Watched but oh no it was not turning him on. No way was he turned on by two vampires kissing and sucking on Wes. Down boy, he told the part of him that stopped listening to him around the age of thirteen. "When you're done macking on my boy there, remind him we've got a shop to open and an order coming in."

"Our boy," Spike objected, but he grinned at Gunn - pried Xander loose and gave Wes a small push towards the other man. "Better go be the shopkeeper, love. Maybe we'll have a...family night tonight," he added. Then, pierogies forgotten, he got his arm around Xander and started pulling him toward the door. Need to go talk to my boy and then need to fuck him unconscious. Or maybe the other way 'round and save the talk for later.

"Some family. It's like the fuckin' Addams Family around here. Plus incest," Gunn added when Spike's hand dropped to Xander's ass and copped a feel. But before they got out of the kitchen, Xander was squirming like a fish - and then Xander was right there smelling like blood and chocolate and Wes. And then he - licked Gunn's jaw, little coldfire sting. "What the fuck, Harris?"

Xander darted away with a grin, eye dancing, mouth wide and bright - like that was one happy soulless guy. "Would you believe me if I said vampire saliva heals minor wounds?"

"Not in a thousand years."

"Don't be a Doubting Thomas, Charlie-boy," Spike added - sidled in next to Gunn and then snaked his head down to do the same - sucking kiss right over the tiny cut and Gunn's blood tingled on his tongue, rich and sweet and peppery with some sort of magic. Gunn twitched away reflexively but Spike knew. His spicy musk was spiked with lust - the same wantwantwant that was pulsing from Xander and from Wes, even.

Oh yeah, family night. Wonder if Charlie-boy'll ever...

"You should always be up for trying something new, pet," Spike purred.

"First man who says I'm up all right is gettin' staked." Gunn wormed out of the cool embrace and backed to Wes. The two vampires gravitated together like some kind of two-bodied organism, winding around each other and sharing his warmth, he was pretty sure.

"Is that a no?" Xander's forehead rested against Spike's - a pose Wesley knew he'd seen before but couldn't place. He rubbed his fingers over Charles' back in a comforting gesture.

"That's a - " Gunn flicked a look at Wes, whose hand in the small of Gunn's back was soothing but not pushing. He licked his lips. "That's a maybe."

Spike grinned - fangs and golden eyes and a cant to his hip that made Gunn swallow, hard.

"Good enough for me, pet," he said - his voice low and rumbling and beside him Wes shivered, just a little.

"Stop teasing now, Spike and - oh my, it's nearly half past, we really must be going. Charles? Are you ready?" Wes' hand never stopped its soothing pressure and Gunn blinked - licked his lips and watched Xander change as well - watched them both watch him and - Jesus fuck. It was...turnin' him on

"Just - need to get my coat, English," Gunn said, his throat feeling much too dry and his trousers too - tight.

Xander sniffed the air once they'd both gone - in a swirl of the kind of scents he'd have described as 'musky' as a human and 'pure fuck me now' as a vampire. Strong enough to make his head spin and the little taste of Gunn's blood sparkled on his tongue. Control - control he had. But the want - Jesus, that wasn't getting any easier.

"I think we're wearin' him down, love. Gettin' him turned around to our way of thinking," Spike said, doing a slow hip-roll against Xander's thigh.

"He wouldn't be the first white-hat seduced to the dark side by the wiles of a sexy vampire or two. Even construction foremen aren't safe these days."

"Mmmm..." Spike nuzzled into Xander's neck - kissed a slow trail up to his mouth. "Now then, love - want to talk about it?"

Xander pushed into the kiss, comfort and promise of sex - heat that took the edge off the hunger that never went away. "I can resist but god it's hard to remember why I want to sometimes."

"That's why we hunt, love - that's why we fight and fuck like the demons we are. That need... And you can resist anything, Xan. Know you can." Spike kissed his way around to the other side of Xander's neck - nibbled the scar that had claimed his life and grinned at the hitch of breath - the jerk of Xander's hips. "Even I don't wanna drain Charlie-boy. But he did taste...fucking good."

"I could give up Twinkies for that taste." Spike went still under Xander's petting and gave Xander the most skeptical look in his repertoire. "Okay, so I couldn't." He buried his nose in Spike's neck, nipped with demon teeth and sucked on the coppery brightness of Spike's blood - intimately familiar now. Home and family and sex - no longer unmixy things. "But I'm an evil soulless monster so I can lie if I want to."

"You can do all kinds of things if you want to. Like -" Spike got his arms around Xander's waist and leaned back - looked up at Xander through his lashes, pouty smile and grind of groin to groin - cock to cock. "Like that thing you did last night..." Suggestive lift of an eyebrow and Xander's demon shimmered and fell away as he leaned forward to kiss Spike hard. Spike pushed his own demon away and let himself be roughly kissed for long, long minutes. They both jumped when the phone rang. Xander pulled back and eyed the handset on the base - frowned.

"Let's get upstairs so I can try that thing again," he said, and they both walked out of the kitchen. On the way past, Xander picked up the handset and dropped it down into the cradle. "I'll call you back," he told it over his shoulder, letting Spike tow him up the stairs two at a time.


~~~~~


The air, that early, was still crisp with cold but the bone-freezing bite that it had had in March was nearly gone. Recent rain had brought out a strong smell of earth and growing green and Gunn breathed deeply as they walked along, enjoying the day - enjoying the clean air and the sight of budding flowers in tidy gardens and empty lots. He was - happy here. Happier than he'd been in a very long time and it was all down to Wes. And the Gruesome Twosome. Don't sell 'em short. Disturbingly...sexy and wrong as they may be... Gunn pictured the Xander-Wes-Spike clinch from the kitchen and felt a warm rush of blood go from head to toe - and then return to his groin.

"Oh, my god. They've done it, Wes. They've actually done it," he moaned.

"Discovered cold fusion?" Wes looked at him with that mischievously thick look, the 'I'm too proper to know what you're talking about' look.

"And why do you have to be so English? I'm having a crisis here."

Wesley unlocked his shop door and smiled over his shoulder, catching the scent of lust instead of panic. Helpless amusement instead of anxiety. "Stronger men than you have fallen to their charms."

"Oh, you're stronger than me now, are you?"

"Oh, I fell ages ago, Charles - I won't deny it. But, you know - Rupert has confessed to me -"

"No - no. Stop right there." Gunn stomped inside - turned on the heel of his good leg and fixed Wesley with a gimlet eye. "I do not wanna hear the Secret Life of Watchers confessions about lusting after Blondie Bear. Bad enough he and Angel -" Charles snapped his mouth shut at Wesley's look and Wesley took pity - shut the door and locked it and then leaned forward to kiss Charles cool, mint-and-oranges mouth.

"It's all right, Charles. I'd actually find it a bit...odd, if you didn't have some sort of - reaction. Vampire hunters are known to be more...susceptible. It's the appeal of the forbidden."

Gunn snorted and slid a hand under the back of Wes' shirt where his skin was always hottest. "Forbidden is the castle on the hill where the master will be with you and he bids you drink. These guys are...something else. Hell, even Angel had an air of forbidden mystery. These guys are...less like a Nocturne and more like the Monster Mash."

"I always thought them more as Frick and Frack, but that could just be me." Wesley pushed into Charles' caressing hand - nuzzled into the warm bend of his neck and breathed deeply - slowly. "You smell divine, Charles. It's no wonder they flirt with you - any demon in its right mind would want you."

"What is it with you types and neck?" The snuffling breaths against his neck were making him shiver and making that tuning fork feeling crawl up and down his spine.

"It's primal." Wesley pushed in - darted the tip of his tongue over the place where he could taste Xander on Charles' skin and nuzzled, replacing that scent with his with a secret smile. "Instinctive. And it turns you on." He let go of Charles - checked the Book and jotted down the day's warnings and notes and flipped on the shop lights. "Dominant."

"You are so getting your ass smacked for that tonight." Wes froze and Gunn groaned. "Don't tell me it's true - what they say about Englishmen and spanking?"

"What do they say about Englishmen and spanking, Charles? Please - tell me," Wesley said, hiding his grin as he turned on lights and flipped the sign - unlocked the door. Wondering if Charles would say - anything. Wondering - if he'd carry out his threat. Wesley shivered in delight at the thought. At Charles being so - open, and at the affectionate teasing - the warmth in his voice. Spike and Xander would never let them live it down, but... Wesley simply did not care.

"That y'all got your first stiffies bein' thrashed by the nanny or school master and never got over it." Gunn caught up with him and handed out a stinging swat to Wes' ass, grinned when his breathing went harsh and he had to grip the counter. Gunn rubbed the sting from his palm against Wes' slacks, squeezed the firm muscle beneath until he shuddered. "So - is it true?"

"I can't - speak for all my fellow - Englishmen, but I can say that the thought of you -" And suddenly Wes had turned and his blue eyes were nearly violet they were so dark. Dark and hungry, staring at Gunn and Gunn almost took a step back. Felt a wave of heat rush through him and felt his heartbeat drop right down to his cock.

"Th-thought of me what, Wes," he asked, mouth suddenly dry

"The thought of you holding me down - heating up my arse with your hand and then - your cock, sinking into me..." Wes took the single step that bridged the gap between them and his heat and hardness were suddenly pressed tight to Gunn. "It makes me...very, very...eager, Charles. It makes me...weak." Wes' voice had dropped to a whisper and Gunn took in a sharp, hard breath.

"Jesus fucking Christ, Wes."

Because Wes was holding his eyes with that blue-violet gaze, licking his lips and looking...fuckable. And looking like he knew it too, the way the phone rang and he picked it up without breaking that eye-contact - or the contact of his palm burning a circle on Gunn's chest. "Wyndam-Pryce Occult."

Sex line. So what're you wearing? Gunn added privately when Wes kept his bedroom voice on.

"Wesley? Is that you?"

"Rupert!"

"It's Charles, English - the hormones fryin' your brain?" Gunn said, but Wesley shook his head slightly, still eye to eye - still touching, fuck. Gunn tentatively put his hands on Wes' hips and grinned slowly when they moved, twitching toward him.

"Have I called at a bad time, Wesley?"

"I - I - no, of course not!" Wes bit his lip but didn't pull away from Gunn. Blushed high up on his cheekbones. "Charles is here." He closed his eyes and leaned back, slow push and grind and his fingers curling on Gunn's chest, finding his professional voice. "Did the box of enchanted potentilla ansarena arrive in time?"

"It arrived two days ago, thank you, and it was wonderfully fresh, really top-quality. But that's not why I called, Wesley."

"No?" Wesley said, breathless and - grinning, because Charles was returning the pressure - was pushing into Wesley's groin with a slow roll and grind that felt - bloody good.

"I beg your pardon?" Rupert said, and Wesley gaped at the phone. Surely he had not -

"Nothing, Rupert. Is there a problem? Something I can help with?"

"I certainly hope so. It's Willow, Wesley."

"Yes. She's rung several times. Xander has her messages if the bloody dice haven't stolen them again." Wesley swallowed a groan hastily as Charles thrust into him, unmistakable rhythm that made his blood pressure soar.

"Dice? Oh - yes. The thing is, Wesley, that I really must insist that Xander return her calls. She getting frantic and frankly - we're all afraid she might...do something."

"Do - something? What - do you mean, exactly?" Wesley asked. Hoped to god his voice sounded normal and not - breathless and desperate and horny. Dear god. And Charles was looking at him - his dark eyes hooded and his mouth turned up in a slow, seductive smile.

"Something rash," Rupert said. "And something magical. And - are you listening?"

"Every word." It wasn't a lie. Wesley had discussed far more complex matters - with far more complex activities going on. He spared a rare blessing for Lilah and had to smile, catching Charles' lips in a kiss.

"You could be in danger, Wesley - all of you."

"Really - do you think so, Rupert?" Wesley stifled a groan as Charles shifted against him - ran a callused hand up his back. "I realize she's probably upset with Xander but... Surely she wouldn't hurt him."

"I - I would hope not, Wesley but... Listen, just tell him to call her, please. We'd all be very grateful."

Gunn ran his fingernails down Wes' spine, watched the morning foot traffic passing by outside the shop window and got a little thrill being this public - this casual together. Wes was promising to pass on whatever message, then hanging up the phone and Gunn didn't wait to claim his kiss, he went in for it as soon as the phone was down and ground Wes into the counter.

Then the bell jingled and Gunn stepped back with a groan because there was public - and then there was public and thank god and Xander for building a high counter in the shop.


~~~~~


"So what you're sayin' is - basically - most of the real heroes down through history were gay?" Gunn kept his eyes fixed on the subtitles as Hephaestion insinuated more than political loyalty to Alexander.

"Well, not as such -" Wes started, in that very proper 'Watcher' sort of voice that meant he was going into teacher mode. Xander promptly stifled him with a pillow.

"The first kissing scene is coming up, you guys - quit with the lectures!" Wes yanked the pillow away from Xander and tossed it across the nest - after bopping him with it - and Spike leaned across Gunn to bop Wes back with his own pillow.

"Cut it out! I'm gonna miss the good stuff." Gunn got an arm around Spike's neck and an arm around Wes' and dragged them both down to his chest, trapping them there and watching the screen. "If there's gonna be big gay historical smoochies, I'm gonna watch 'em."

"Don't you get enough big gay -"

"Shh!" Xander snuggled up behind Spike and clapped a hand over Wes' mouth, eyes glued to the screen.

Gunn watched the two men - a bit froofy for his tastes - talking in a tent, armor and maps and gear spread everywhere. Reveled in the blissful silence. Wes tended to keep up a running commentary about how that particular type of armor was the wrong century, or that kind of cloth was not sold to Greeks, or whatever. And then Spike would chime in, and he and Xander would roll their eyes. But now, Xander was keeping Wes quiet and Spike was - Spike was -

"Is that your tongue, Blondie Bear?"

A sharp tug at his right nipple and Gunn hissed. "Shit - no fuckin' biting."

"Can tell you like it," Spike muttered around abused flesh, lashing it with his tongue, salt and musk and the orange-clove soap.

"Not by vampires."

"Vamps do it best," Xander tossed over Spike's shoulder and flashed Gunn a flicker of gold in his eyes.

"It's creepy, so knock it off," Gunn said - but not too sternly because it also felt - pretty damn good and no way was he saying that out loud. Wes finally managed to pull Xander's hand off his mouth and he tugged at Gunn's arm, settling more comfortably and dropping his hand onto Gunn's chest - absently stroking. The combination made Gunn shiver. On screen there was kissing. Hard-core kissing with groping through armor and Gunn bet that was no fun. Nothing like lying in a Nest with three horny demons pawing you. Xander's hand was stroking his ribs now and Gunn sighed and squirmed happily - winced as he twisted his knee.

Three heads popped up and with a click of the remote, Alexander and Hephaestion froze in the liplock that dare not speak its name.

"What?" Gunn fought the urge to squirm - 'cause they weren't looking at him like dinner. Way worse. They were looking at him like they wanted to fix something.

"Is your knee bothering you?" Wes' hand came down warm and soft on his thigh, above the constant grinding ache that used to be his knee cap.

"Nah. Just twisted it. Come on - get back with the gay love fest." He pushed himself further into the pillows with his good leg and settled in to play Sultan - in his head. Though he had a feeling these three wouldn't object to that idea if he voiced it out loud.

"Shall I fetch your pills?" Wes asked, and Gunn almost wanted to snap - but didn't, because Wes' hand was so warm, and Spike was looking at him with speculation and - commiseration, and Xander looked ready to do anything from fetch heating pads to give Tantric massage. Gunn snorted softly at that thought, and Wes smiled at him.

"Nah - I'm good. Damn things make me all groggy, anyway - I'd miss the rest of the movie and whatever you guys got up to afterward."

"All right," Wes said - reached to the edge of the Nest and snagged his beer. "I have been doing research, you know. There isn't anything that will - make it like it was but... There are some promising things that will take the pain away, without the soporific effects."

"You mean - Gunn won't be a zombie?" Xander asked, leaning in over Spike, his hand stroking gently at the tensed, strained muscles in Gunn's thigh. Spike's hand slipped underneath - attacked his calf - and Gunn groaned in pleasure.

"Yeah, no pain, no zombie-effect. Sounds - god - yeah - great to me, English."

Xander slid his hands around Gunn's thigh, sitting up in the Nest and working his fingers into the muscles the way he did for Anya when her legs hurt after a day at The Magic Box. Gunn's half closed eyes and incoherent groan said the Harris magic fingers hadn't lost their touch. Spike squirmed around to a half-sitting position, too, concentrating on Gunn's calf.

"Gonna keep the slave boys too." Gunn folded his arms behind his head and grinned at Wes.

"You may find them to be more trouble than they're worth."

"Not when they can do - fuck me - that."

"Just wait 'til I am fucking you," Spike said, knuckle-deep in calf-muscle and there was another pause. "What?"

"Perhaps you -"

"Fuck, Spike -"

"Hey, guys, it's cool." Gunn raised his head a little - took Wes' beer out of his hand and took a sip. Gaze locked on Spike's.

"Too fast for you, Charlie-boy?"

"Just a little, Blondie Bear," Gunn replied, and Spike dropped his lids over his eyes - looked up at Gunn from beneath his lashes and smirked at the jump in Gunn's heartbeat.

"I'll take it slow, then, pet." Want yes love want want in the link and the Nest thick with the scent of lust.

"Until it's time to take it fast." Xander flicked a glance at Spike, wickedly curved grin and no secret of the hardness tenting his pajamas. "Spike's good at fast." He heard Gunn's heartbeat trip and slid his gaze up along Gunn's body.

"What about you? What're you good at?" Gunn heard himself ask and blamed it all on the beer and the vampires turning his leg to jelly. Clearly, he'd lost his mind somewhere flying over Kansas.

"Learning." Xander dug in his knuckles in an imitation of Spike's maneuver in his calf and Gunn hissed, blissful numbing warmth spreading through his thigh.

"Christ." Gunn eyes were wide - so dark - and Spike took a deep breath of his spicy scent - rolled it over his tongue in appreciation. He kept up the kneading massage of Gunn's calf but leaned over to take Wes' mouth in a slow kiss.

"Like -" Xander said, a little breathless, "Wes likes it when Spike does that."

"Uh huh," Gunn muttered, and Spike broke away - smiled up at Gunn.

"Think you'd like that too, Charlie?"

"I think - thh-ink I'll let Wes give me the trial run," Gunn said, his voice low and little rough.

Xander let go Gunn's thigh with one hand and caught Wes to him with the other, holding him with a hand behind the neck and easing his lips apart with nips of teeth and tongue and lightly scratching fingernails that made Wes shudder all over. "Free sample with trial run of the other," he explained to Gunn with a grin.

"Sweet fucking Jesus." Gunn dropped his head back into the Nest and gave up, opened his eyes to find Wes hovering over him, smelling like Spike and Xander and himself and Gunn gave up to him like a lifeline, groaning into the kiss because damn it, why should the twosome have all the fun?

"Our padawan is learning quickly."

Wesley glanced briefly at Xander, smiling, and then concentrated on kissing Charles - on making Charles groan softly into his mouth and curl his hand behind Wesley's neck - breath in panting little breaths through his nose. After a bit Wesley looked up - at Xander and Spike who were leaning together, eyes wide and hot with desire - bodies pressed together and - moving. Gently. Seductively.

"Once I've learned everything there is to know about kissing Charles...you lot can have your turn."


~~~~~


Spike hit the Nest hard and then Xander was on him, frantic hands, frantic kisses, flickering in and out of game face and so hard he forgot not to breathe, cool panting breaths feathering over Spike's throat and chest. A leg over his shoulder, lining up and pushing in with a shaky groan, hunger in the link like tribal drums and Spike's fingers marking bruises in his hips.

"Fuck - fuck," Xander said - with feeling, mouthing wet kisses into Spike's throat, missing the thunder of his heartbeat but loving the needy electric fizz and crackle that'd replaced it. "Jesus yes."

"Christ - thought I was gonna - go crazy -" Then Spike lost the ability to talk and Xander's mouth was on his, making it a moot point, anyway. Shuddering slide of Xander into him - sharp points of fangs and nails and a tingle, a buzz -

That grew. That became a sort of hum and - why was the ceiling going all - swirly?

"Xan - love - ah, god - what in bloody hell -"

"If you don't know - you shouldn't be doing it. Or - wait. What?"

Xander stopped - stared at Spike - stared at the ceiling and suddenly -

"Fucking hell!"

"Oh my god -"

"You're in big trouble, mister." It was Willow.





Square Twenty-Four

For one moment Xander was locked into...utter panic. He wasn't the man who had the remnants of a hyena-spirit in him, or the man who had William the Bloody for a lover. He wasn't even the vampire without a soul who was taking his mate in the most primal and savage way.

He was, instead, the snot-nosed twelve-year-old, caught with Jesse in the Harris garage, smoking the cigarettes they'd stolen from Ralph's. Then Spike - undulated, the outside and the inside of his body doing - something amazing and Xander felt his eyes flutter shut and his lips curl up in a grimace of pure bliss. Exposing bloodied teeth because Willow gasped, a squeaky sort of noise and Xander could smell her.

Sulfur and pepper stink of magic, acrid tang of fear, the salt of her sweat and the scent that was, he realized, just her. Sage and earth, sandalwood and electricity and sugar.

"Willow, Jesus Christ -" he gasped out, and Spike growled.

"Piss-poor timin', Red."

"Would you two just stop? TMI, guys! Big TMI!" Willow's voice was muffled and when Xander forced his eyes open to look at her, she was standing with her hands over her face.

"Our bedroom, our Nest, middle of a bloody brilliant shag - fuck off," Spike snarled, and Xander made his own sort of growl as Spike clenched down on him. His hips, Xander realized, hadn't even faltered in their insistent in-and-out drive into Spike's body.

"Private time with the boyfriend, Willow. Now."

"Xander -"

"After!" The word wheezed away from him when he forgot to take in air to make it and he inhaled the brine-smoke smell of Spike's precome spicing the air. "Please." The ghost of embarrassment or shame pulled the please up from his belly and he - didn't like it. Shook it off and felt the harsher planes of his face surface with a growl - drove into Spike hard enough to make him gasp. "Not now."

"Xander, I can't believe you -" A wordless, bone-shaking snarl from Spike and Xander heard Willow's heart kick up to a faster beat - saw her face pale and her eyes go wide and wantprey in the link - from both of them.

Then Willow was backing out of the room and Xander turned his attention to Spike, the demon and himself dismissing her as soon as she was out of sight.


~~~~~


On the mantel in the second suite, a candle always burned. Whenever it guttered in the holder, Wesley woke and replaced it. Gunn'd watched him swap the damn thing four times since he'd - moved in, once when they'd been having themselves a nice session.

Tonight, the candle flame flickered a lurid purple-red and that wasn't boding any kind of good.

Problem was, Wes was still asleep.

The two dice who'd woken Gunn stared at him from the footboard, noses twitching impatiently at him. "What the fuck am I supposed to do?"

Later, he'd swear the damn furballs rolled their eyes at him before racing up the bed and leaping on Wes' head.

"Bloody hell!" Wes went from asleep to awake in .5 seconds, sitting up fast and sending the dice slithering down and off, one thumping to the floor with an irritated sqreek. Gunn stifled a laugh and reached out to smooth Wes' hair which was, at the moment, rivaling Spike's for wild disarray.

"Sorry, man, they jumped you before I could wake you up. The -"

"Candle, yes." Wes scrubbed his hand over his face and groped beside the bed for his robe. He slipped out from under the covers, tugging it on and fumbling for his glasses - finding his slippers. Gunn sighed and did the same, shivering a little.

"What d'you think - it is?" Gunn said through a yawn and Wes stepped up close to the candle, examining it, adjusting his glasses.

"The wards have been breached."

Gunn tried hard to pretend it was normal watching a man tuck a pistol into his bathrobe. "Breached as in we got trouble right here in River City or breached as in blown wide fuckin' open?" He tied the belt of his robe extra tight because a man did not need to worry about some things when he was facing down unknown evil.

"Breached as in - we have a visitor who did not use the front door -" Wes cocked his head, listening to the house settle and whatever else little half-demon ears picked up. "Whoever it is, they haven't prevented Spike and Xander from pursuing orgasms."

"Ain't nothin' prevents those two from pursuing orgasms," Gunn muttered but followed Wes out into the hall with a cast iron fire poker. It wasn't an axe but it was heavy and pointy and it'd do. And he had his cane in his other hand for back up.

They both stopped stock still in the hallway. Three doors down, just outside of the 'master' bedroom were a cluster of dice. In the dim passage they were looking - up - and Wesley followed their gaze to a form hovering motionless about four feet above the floor.

"Nice little...mice. Little fluffy pink mice. Dice! Maybe - maybe I've got some cheese somewhere?"

"Willow - what on earth -?" Wesley felt an unaccustomed surge of - irritation. Doing magic in my house - uninvited - who in hell does she -

"Oh, great," Gunn mumbled, gripping his cane a little tighter - lifting the poker. "We've got Destructo Girl in the house."

"They started it!" Willow pointed at the dice and eeped when one leapt straight at her finger, double rows of teeth snapping.

"You might find that they disagree." Wesley withdrew his hand from the pocket concealing his gun and held it out to Willow, addressing the dice. "This is a friend of Xander's. I suppose you'll have to trust me on that at the moment."

"Hey!" Willow hit the floor with a jolt and glared up at Wesley. "I'm the wronged party here - I got an email saying Xander was dead a week ago and then nothing."

"I did tell him to call you back. He's been - busy," Wesley said vaguely and Willow snorted.

"Yeah, I kind of saw the busy. They growled at me!" Willow's wide eyed stare - and crimson ears - made Gunn chuckle.

"What, they didn't invite you to join 'em?"

"What? No! Ewww! Gay now!"

"Yes, we're all well aware of that." Wesley sighed and pushed his hands back through his hair. "Let's go downstairs and have some tea and - and talk about this. They'll - be awhile," he added, when it looked like Willow would protest. She made a face - looked down at the dice who were still watching her with a fixed, whiskers-forward intensity that made Wesley remember the stray-dog bones they'd found in the basement, under a broken window.

"We'll have some cake, as well," he said deliberately, and the dice seemed to waver. "Come along, Willow - Charles. I'll make you a hot toddy, if you like," Wesley said, smiling at Charles and Charles leaned the poker against the wall - tucked his arm through Wesley's.

"Sounds good, English."

Willow twisted around to watch the dice, backing away from them. "They sounded a lot cuter in Xander's emails."

"He tell you about their favorite delicacy?" Gunn could see Wes' quelling look in the corner of his eye and ignored it.

"Twinkies?"

"Nah. They'll eat 'em but what really gets 'em going is dog."

"You feed them dogs?"

"Charles!"

Gunn figured it was fair payback for getting him out of bed at three in the morning. "We don't feed 'em. They kinda help themselves. Found a whole skeleton in the basement with their little gnaw marks and -"

"Puppy!"

"Charles, that's quite enough." Wesley battled a helpless laugh at the smug expression on Charles' face. "They only attack when provoked, Willow."

"Yeah, like - when you do magic in the house without asking first," Charles said and Willow sidled around Wesley and Charles both, away from the dice.

"Come along, everyone," Wes said, put-upon sigh that made Gunn smirk. Wes shot Gunn a small smile and they led Willow downstairs and along the hall to the kitchen, flanked by the dice. Once there Wes put on a kettle and Gunn opened up the cabinet over the sink, lifting down the brandy and then getting the little plastic honey bear from the table.

"Think we're outta lemons," he said, and Wes nodded, assembling tea-things on the counter.

"Spike used them all doing shots to that - movie," Wes said, a look of mild disgust on his face.

"Dusk to Dawn is a great movie for drinking shots to," Gunn defended, and Wes just shook his head. Gunn leaned into him for a moment - kissed his rough cheek, ignoring the look the witch shot them. "Next time we'll drink shots to Goodbye, Mr. Chips."

"No. Next time, we'll drink shots to - we will not drink shots." Wesley shook his head. "Honestly, Charles - how the three of you ever remember the end of the movie -?"

"We don't. That's why we gotta watch it again."

"Xander and Jesse did shots to Bollywood movies." Willow said, sitting in a chair and looking - too small and young for a witch who'd almost destroyed the world. "They drank root beer and had to belch whenever a god appeared."

"And good little girls never did that, huh?"

A sudden smile lit Willow's face. "I don't like root beer. I did apple juice."

"Hittin' the hard stuff young."

"Oh yeah, that's me, I'm a rebel," Willow said and for a moment Wesley saw the cheerful, earnest girl she'd been in high-school. "I could never do the burp-thing, anyway," she said, putting her elbows on the table and leaning forward, watching as Wesley found a new box of sugar cubes and filled the sugar-bowl. A douse had crept up onto the table in anticipation and Wesley carried over the bowl. Charles followed with the brandy, settling into his own chair.

"Here - give it one of these," Wesley said, shooting the douse a quelling look. "They'll be much happier with you if you feed them."

"I just can not convince these boys that demon mice on a sugar-high is bad," Charles said, and Willow chuckled. She lifted a cube out of the bowl and held it out flat on her palm, like you'd offer to a horse. The douse cocked its head left, then right - minced forward and delicately took the sugar, its whiskers whiffing over Willow's palm, its tail standing straight up.

"Oh! Did you see? It took it!" Willow grinned happily and the douse skipped backwards. Another was scaling Charles' robe, and a third had leapt up onto the counter and was examining the honey bear, hefting it experimentally with both forepaws.

"Oh, no you don't!" Wesley snatched the bear and set it on the cooker. The dice didn't like the open flame of the gas ring - anything put there was safe as long as the cooker was in use.

"Hey, mister!"

"Sqrrreel!"

Wesley whipped around to find a douse hovering above the table, three sugar cubes clutched precariously to its fluffy chest, hind legs flailing. "One at a time. If that's the rule, that's what you're gonna do. So I'll put you down if you put down two lumps. Deal?"

Whiskers twitched furiously. "Willow - I don't think it's a good idea to -"

"I'm not hurting him. I'm making a deal with him," Willow said reasonably, holding the douse still and not too high. "You drop two and I set you down. Or you can let the spell wear off. It takes a couple of days."

The douse appeared to consider these two options, clutching the sugar more tightly.

"Okay. You wanna be a balloon for a day, that's your business."

Two pieces of sugar thunked to the table where the douse scaling Gunn's robe and a third snatched them up and ran.

"See? That wasn't so hard." Willow let the douse down gently and waved as it ran. "Have a nice day!"

Wesley set a cup and saucer down on the table with a bit too much force and Charles winced ever so slightly. "Willow. I'll thank you to stop using magic in my house. Especially that sort of unnecessary - stunt. It upsets the dice and it upsets -"

"What in bloody hell were you thinkin', Red, doing a sodding Houdini into our bedroom?" Spike, in the doorway, Nest-headed, barely swathed in the heavy brocade robe Wesley had gotten him for Christmas. And Xander right behind him, pajama pants and a worn t-shirt.

"It upsets the vampires," Charles said.

"The witch isn't Miss Calm Girl either!" Willow folded her arms, turned and glared daggers past Spike at Xander. "I had to teleport all the way across the Atlantic to get a word out of you, Mister. So let's have it."

Xander reached for the indignant coal burning in his chest but he seemed to have misplaced it and left the great sex afterglow where it belonged - though Spike was still a seething tangle of annoyance and bristling, offended demon. He stroked Spike's arm until he felt sparks of calm through the angry red streaks and tugged Spike to a chair. "Hi."

"Not that word."

Xander picked up the coffee carafe and shook it before pulling down a mug. "Coffee?"

"Xander -"

"Lay off, witch," Spike snapped, striding over to the range and bending down, lighting a cigarette on the blue flame under the kettle. "You didn't need to come over here at all and you sure as fuck didn't need to -"

"Well, maybe if somebody would have called me, instead of sending very-not-funny 'I am dead' emails out -"

"Look, Wills, I -"

"Oh no, you don't get to be all reasonable and calm, Xander -"

"Shut! It!" Spike's hands slammed down stinging-hard on the table-top on either side of Willow's elbows and she jumped - gaped at him - and then Spike snarled as he felt the tell-tale prickling surge of energy as she started to gather her power.

"Willow. Stop," Xander said, and she deflated, her hand going to her head.

"Wow, that kinda made me -"

"Feel sick? Supposed to. It's Wes' wards." Spike stalked around the table and yanked out a chair - pushed Xander into it and stood behind him, hands on Xander's shoulders. "Stop with the bloody magic and talk."

"How could you do it, Xander?"

"Do you want the flip answer that's going to give you another headache or the real answer you're not going to like?" Spike's fingers brushed the nape of Xander's neck and he pushed into the touch, blinking slowly.

"I want any answer. Please?"

"It's like you said when you and Kennedy left for Brazil, Wills - you have to follow your heart."

"My heart led me into a rainforest, quicksand, a family of mean monkeys and Rio during Carnival."

"My heart bleeds for yours." The words came quickly, smoothly and hey look ma - no guilt even though Willow was giving him hurt eyes and trembling her lower lip. "The point is you followed your heart. So it didn't work out. I'm following mine. Keep following yours - maybe next time it will."

"What about your soul? Does it bleed for mine too?"

"Sure."

"Sure?" Willow leaned back irritably as Wes poured tea into her cup, waving off the offer of cream and the brandishing of the ReaLemon squeezable plastic fruit.

"Yes, sure. What do you want me to say? I thought I explained it all pretty clearly in my email." Spike's fingers rubbed, rubbed, rubbed and frustration irritation mine in the link.

"That's just it! You decide to give up your life and - and your soul and you send an email? Who are you, Bill Gates or something? This is serious, Xander!"

"It's done, Red. No going back now," Spike rumbled, the demon barely leashed.

"No, it's not done. I brought an Orb of Thessulah, Xander. I can give you back your soul."

"Hey - not Deadboy here. Or - " The phrase stopped Xander and he looked to Gunn for help - Gunn wasn't helping. He was snickering into his tea. "Not that Deadboy. Willow..." Xander reached across the table and took her hand - shock of warmth and the electric tingle of power. "I'm still me. It's not - natural putting a soul into a vampire." He flicked a quick look of apology to Spike. Not you sweetheart - never you. You're...more than a vampire. Special. Crazy. The last made him grin.

"But you're evil now."

"Is that what he is?" Wesley murmured, and Willow shot an exasperated glance at him as he settled into the chair next to Charles.

"Of course he is. He's a soulless vampire. Hence, the evil!"

"Shouldn't talk about what you don't have a single, sodding clue about, witch," Spike snapped, and Wesley winced a little. Perhaps this would go better if Spike -

"I think I know a little about soulless vampires being evil, Mr. Bottle Through the Brain!"

"Yeah, those were the bloody days -"

"Play nice, children," Charles sing-songed, and Xander grinned at him - snagged a sugar-cube and crunched it.

"I appreciate the gesture Wills but - not very evil here." Xander spread his hands and ran them up Spike's arms.

"I don't want you to be evil at all." Willow's voice was tiny - and Willow was tiny. And it was broken yellow crayons time. "I don't want Buffy or Faith or Kennedy to slay you."

"They'd have to get me before I got them."

"Xander!"

"I'm a vampire now, Willow! Slayers slay. Vampires try not to get slain. It's the way it works."

"You'd kill Buffy?"

"Duh. No. Buffy's my friend. Ergo - no slayage. Mutual."

Willow raised her hand to her head again, rubbing between her eyebrows and Wesley abruptly stood up, dislodging a clinging douse. "It's nearly four. I say we all go to bed and sleep on this and in the morning - err -" he cast a glance at Spike and Xander - "the afternoon, I mean, we'll all sit down and talk. All right?"

"Perfect. Me and Spike weren't really done, anyway," Xander said, jumping up and slinging an arm around Spike's waist. Willow took a breath as if to speak and then sighed.

"Yeah, okay. My head's killing me. That sounds like a good idea, Wesley."

"I'll show you to your room, then - any luggage?" Willow climbed stiffly to her feet, shaking her head and Wesley ushered her toward the doorway, just wanting her out. Scenting frustration and annoyance and a whisper of sorrow from Xander and nothing remotely like sorrow from Spike. And Charles looked tired, as well, and really - the sub-sonic buzz of the wards was giving Wesley a bit of a headache too, on top of it all.

"Thanks Wes - we'll clean up in here," Xander said, and Wesley nodded and led Willow out.

"I'm doomed to bring wacky in-laws into every relationship." Xander dropped his head to his folded arms.

"Not like mine are any better, love," Spike said, leaning down and brushing the hair away from the back of Xander's neck - kissing the frail skin just there. "There's my girl Dru, who's certifiable, and there's BatVamp, poncing it up on the Hellmouth."

"How 'bout me and Wes? We part of the bride's party or the groom's?" Gunn poured a healthy slug of brandy into his cup and swirled it around.

"The bride's." Xander stretched his neck to give Spike more skin, flexing his hand on a cool thigh.

"Wait - which one of you is the girl?" Gunn asked, and laughed when Spike and Xander spoke in chorus:

"He is!"

"Oh, yeah, you're married all right," Gunn said, and drained his tea. "Let's get this stuff put away before we have to buy another sugar-bowl," he said, glaring, and the dice who were circling bowl number three tried to look innocent.

"I'm not buying another sodding lighter." Spike fixed the dice with a gimlet glare. "Want mine back or I'm taking hostages. Understand me?"

One douse nodded.

Two blew raspberries and heaved at the sugar bowl.

Xander watched them. "I say we bribe them."

All three turned to look at him, tails high and twitching.

"What sort of bribe?" Gunn asked, pushing himself upward and standing still for a moment, getting his balance.

"I have a plan," Xander said, eyes fixed on the dice. "We'll put up a sort of - offering tree."

"Xan, love, they're not bloody druids."

"Like a Christmas tree - they'd like -" Xander watched the dice go into an orgiastic frenzy. "Okay - they know about Christmas trees. Come on, guys - it'll be fun."

"It'll be a sodding nuisance." Spike eyed the dice who were trembling with excitement and doing the nose-whisker whiffly thing that meant, maybe, they were talking. Or getting ready to groom, or possibly to mate. He tried not to notice. "But no - err - Offering Christmas Tree until I get my lighter back, you capisce, you little buggers?"

The dice disappeared into the pantry with three quivering flicks of their tails.

"Think they're going to get the lighter?"

"I think we'd better be gettin' a tree."


~~~~~


Spike fought the noise - fought the growing consciousness the noise was bringing but - he was losing. And there was something on his head, for fuck's sake and it wasn't a pillow and it was not Xander. It moved - tugged painfully at his hair and he shot his hand up and clawed at it - encountered downy fluff and pistoning limbs and he pulled - yelped - and glared at the douse trapped in his fingers.

"Little bastard," he growled and then he and the douse froze as chimes rang through the house. Again. Accompanied by a rather irritating - irritated? - knocking.

"S'early yet," Xander mumbled, buried under pillows and a tasseled, velvet throw and Spike set the douse aside with a glare - reached over and plucked the throw off, exposing a mass of tangled, mink-brown hair.

"Xan - 's the door."

"Doors don't make noise."

"Ours bloody well is." The chime sounded again and Spike growled - wormed out of the Nest and found his robe, jerking it on and lapping the edges but tying the belt so sloppily it would be open and flapping by the time he got downstairs.

"Gonna go eat whoever the sodding bastard is," he muttered, and stomped out the door.

"Kay." Xander yawned - rolled over and tugged the throw back over his shoulder. "Save some for me!" He listened to Spike's snort, tracked his stomping progress down the hall, down the stairs - listened for the yelp of bare vampire feet on cold tiles in the entry and -

"What!"

"Bloody hell, Spike! I've been standing on your stoop for -"

"Middle of the sodding night for our type, Rupert."

Xander sat up fast enough to fling a napping douse to the foot of the Nest and scrambled into his pajama pants, yanked on the first tee shirt he found and pounded after Spike. "Don't eat him!"

Spike glared at the rumpled, frowning Watcher standing on his front step, bulging overnight bag in one hand and a wool coat in the other. Giles was sweating and looked - anxious. Spike felt after his cigarettes and lighter - cursed when the lighter was still not in his pocket, and turned away, stomping toward the kitchen. It was a stomping sort of day.

"Come in then, Rupert - bloody hell. I suppose you'll want tea. And a place to sit. And probably food, too, won't you, you demanding bastard." Spike listened to Xander pounding down the steps and grinned. "This one'd stick in my teeth, pet!" he yelled, and winced when Giles slammed the door.

"Too old for you?" Xander bounded down the last few steps and across the foyer, snatched up Giles' luggage and coat and trotted them through to the kitchen.

"I'm not that old, Xander!"

"Yeah - Spike's a picky eater." Xander turned at the entry to the kitchen, inhaling the musky male and magic and books scent of Giles' coat and suppressed the urge to bury his nose in its folds. "You smell good enough to eat to me."

Giles rubbed between his eyes - the headache place - and gladly took a chair. "I'm not certain if I should thank you or pull a cross on you."

Xander licked his lips and stole a quick sniff of the coat as he passed Spike on his way to hang it up. "Then I guess a lap dance is out of the question." He could feel Spike's eyes on him and the wickedly lustful amusement in the link.

"Oh, right - forgot about that," Spike said, perking up a little and lustyesyes in the link. Xander shot him a look.

So not the time.

Xander hung up the coat and draped himself over Spike, growling into his ear. "Just keep on forgetting."

Giles was still rubbing at his forehead - looking tired - looking...old and Xander felt a sudden clutch of fear, like claws in his belly and Spike looked sharply over at him. "Giles! Why are you here? Is everybody okay? Is Dawn okay and Buffy? Nobody's hurt, are they? I mean, why else would you just show up unannounced at our house unless somebody was -"

"Xander. Stop," Giles said, holding up his hand - then moving it back to his forehead. "Everyone is fine, I promise. I was...concerned for your welfare, actually."

"I'm fine. Fit as a really fit fiddle."

Giles looked him over - "I think you'll find not everyone will agree with you."

"I don't look fine to you? Do I look fine to you?" Xander appealed to Spike.

"Look more than fine to me, pet. If you've got something to say, Rupert, be straight about it." Spike bussed Xander's lips and reluctantly let him go, drifting to the cooker and Wes' tea things.

"Really, have both of you suddenly gone daft?" Giles looked up at them with a hint of that darkness Spike well remembered flashing in his eyes. "You sent out 'I'm not dead, I'm just a vampire' emails, Xander, and then you utterly failed to follow up with any sort of communication whatsoever! I had to call Wesley to find out everything had - worked -" Spike snorted, snapping on the burner and setting the filled kettle on it with a bang and Xander repressed the urge to roll his eyes.

"All very well for you, you didn't have a hysterical witch hanging on your arm every minute of the bloody day! Would it have killed you - stop it, Xander! - to have picked up a phone? And then Willow goes popping out of the Council Headquarters like - like -"

"The Wicked Witch of the West?" Spike asked, settling into a chair and puffing furiously. His lighter, he'd been pleased to note, had been lying on the table with a handful of change and some Mardi-Gras beads. Looked like the dice were taking the Offering Tree thing seriously and acting on their best behavior.

"Well, I wouldn't go that far," Giles said, slumping a little and Xander sat down as well, leaning his elbows on the table.

"Wait'll we tell you what she popped in on," he smirked. Giles looked up at him - stared at Xander's chest.

"Going by that shirt, I don't have to guess."

Xander plucked at it, looked down at the colorized image of Count Dracula and the dripping-blood style words. 'Vampire's do it in coffins.' He shrugged. "Deathday present from Wes and Gunn."

Giles stared at him.

"Okay. Mostly Gunn." Xander picked the string of Mardi Gras beads from the table and ran them through his fingers. In the corner of his vision he could see the littlest douse wringing its paws. "Was this yours?"

It took a hesitant hop forward, whiskers twitching - stopped.

"Here you go." Xander held it down at floor level. "You can have it back."

It rocked back and forth on its hind-paws.

"The gods are appeased."

It fiddled with its tail.

"Trade for a spoon."

Ears and tail sprang upright and the douse disappeared into the pantry.

"So that is a douse," Giles said, watching the retreating pink-tufted tail. "They seem quite - did it really understand what you said?"

"They seem to," Xander said, shrugging. He could feel the nervous energy of being woken up out of a sound sleep creeping over him and he jumped up and went to the pantry himself, perusing the shelves. "You hungry, Giles? We've got tons of stuff - Wes believes in stocking up and I swear Gunn's a closet Mormon or something, the way he buys canned food. Let's see -"

"A bit peckish myself, love - any of those crackers left, the ones with the bits on? Got some of that smoked cheddar -"

"Xander - Spike - you can be honest with me. Did you kill Willow? Because really - you're being remarkably...calm." Giles looked pretty calm himself for having made such a statement and Xander blinked at him in bewilderment, at a loss.

"Would you be very mad if we did?" Spike asked, perking even more and Xander closed his eye.

"Yes. Extremely. As I would be with her if she'd dusted the two of you."

Xander's eye popped open and he stared at Giles. Spike was...goggling. Xander recovered first. "Willow didn't. I mean - obviously - but we didn't either. She's - " Realization that he didn't know where Willow was hit Xander's sleep-addled mind with the speed of a lazy house fly. "Where is Willow?"

"Reckon the dice ate her?"

"The house is still standing so - guessing no."

The kettle's whistle began its rapid climb toward a scream and Spike got up and crossed to the cooker - turned off the gas and paused. "Hang on - here. Looks like Wes left a note." He put the kettle back down, ignoring Giles frustrated sigh - moving aside gladly as Giles came over to make the tea himself.

"He says - 'Gone to the shop, took Willow with us, please don't give the dice any more sugar' and...home by six. Also - message on the phone." Spike picked up the house phone - it had been holding the note down - and dialed the voice mail. Winced when the message was Giles, telling them when his flight would be in.

"That's sorted, then," he said, following Giles back to the table and then scowling as he realized the Watcher had only made one cup. He returned the kettle to the ring, drumming his fingers on the counter. When it whistled again, he made a second cup and liberally dosed it with whisky, ignoring Giles' longing look and tuning back in to the conversation.

"I wouldn't exactly say she's happy for us." Xander made air quotes, had his legs hooked through the rungs of his chair like a little boy.

"Biding her time's what she's doing." Spike slid into a third chair, balancing his cup on his thigh; a disheveled Victorian gentleman after a bender. And the bender wasn't over if Xander had anything to say about it. He dragged himself back to the point.

"She'll come around."

"Around from what, exactly?" Giles asked casually - too casually and he asked the question into his tea.

"From me dying, I guess. So uh," Xander flickered his fingers - indicating Giles and all his invisible friends. "How many of you are in on this little 'soul Xander' plan? And how many guest bedrooms are we gonna need to fix up to convince you I don't want one?"

"Soul Xander plan? I wouldn't call several - well, let's call them rants - about soulless, evil vampires a plan of any kind. I know that Willow is concerned for your - soul, Xander."

"She needs to take her nosy self back off to Merrie Olde before it gets bloodied, Watcher - won't put up with her high-handedness." Spike gulped his laced tea and sighed as the warmth hit his belly and traveled out. "She dropped in on us, practically in the Nest with us - makin' demands - she's got no right -!"

"She's a friend, and she's worried. You two really should have called." Giles sipped his own tea - made a frustrated noise. "For god's sake, give me the whiskey, will you? My head is throbbing and I'm starving and I'm really just too tired to deal with this right now." Again that snap and flare in his eyes and Spike grinned.

"All right then, Rupert. Whiskey it is."

"There's leftover Chinese in..." Xander gestured to the refrigerator.

"God yes. Anything that isn't growing mold will be fine."

Xander ran a quick checklist of the food they'd ordered that week - the Chinese was recent. He checked it under cover of the refrigerator door. "I think it's MuShu Pork. Want it warm?"

"I think I can manage." Giles held out a hand for the box and Xander jabbed a fork into it, passed it over. "This really is appalling," Giles mumbled through a mouthful of cooked - questionable - meat.

"Welcome back to the good old US of A, G-man."

Giles took another bite, a large bite and washed it down with a sip more whiskey than tea, eyes closing in pleasure - muffling a yawn that threatened the entire mouthful.

"Cheese for Spike - oh, I'll get the crackers - and Sesame Chicken for me. And spring rolls!" Xander shoved the chicken into the microwave and fetched crackers and - ah ha! - the jumbo box of fortune cookies. Then he got a root beer from the fridge, grabbed the steaming chicken and settled at the table. Giles took a spring roll and munched thoughtfully and Spike started slicing pieces of cheese to go with his crackers. There was a clatter and then the littlest douse crawled out of the pantry, dragging a spoon.

"Tiny Tim!" Xander called, grinning. "You found a spoon!"

The douse dropped it at his feet with a glittering silvery clatter. It then staggered another pace and sprawled across Xander's foot on its belly, tongue lolling to one side.

"I thought you guys were supposed to have super strength. Like ants." Xander lifted his foot and scooped the douse off it, sweaty pink fur sticking to his fingers as it turned pathetic deep-indigo eyes to him and twitched a whisker.

'Do I look like a fucking ant?' the whisker asked.

Xander had to admit he didn't and plopped the douse on the table next to the beads. "They're yours. Cracker?"

"You - feed them?"

"You kinda feed them or they feed themselves." The kitchen still smelled a little like Oreos and spilled coffee.

"And they like sparklies," Spike said, eyeing the douse who was sniffing toward his tea-cup. "So watch your keys and whatnot, Rupes." From nowhere, another douse suddenly appeared at the table's-edge. This one was big and a little rough-looking and it sauntered with authority over to the sugar bowl, nosing the tongs aside and snatching a cube.

"Good lord, you let me put those in my tea. After they'd been - douse-handled." Giles looked disturbed and a bit sick and Spike shooed the big douse away.

"No, no, they just take one and go - don't play with 'em or anything."

"But, still -"

"Relax, Giles," Xander said - said it around a yawn and Spike found himself following suit.

"Too bloody early. Got a room upstairs, Watcher - fancy a kip? Got a bath attached and everything."

"That sounds -" yawn "- absolutely wonderful. Flying coach is absolutely appalling - I couldn't stretch my legs once and there was a small -" yawn "- sticky child kicking the back of my seat. Lead the way, please, gentlemen." Giles stood up, holding his food and cup questioningly aloft and Xander took the cardboard box from him.

"Lemme get that. C'mon, Tim, you can have the last spring roll." Tiny Tim shook himself and ambled over to Xander's outstretched hand as Spike stood up, drinking down the last of his tea.

Xander shoved boxes of food into the 'fridge, forks still inside, while Spike got cheese and crackers wrapped up and put away. Cups in the sink, lid on the sugar bowl. Xander shouldered Giles' bag and stood with the littlest douse in a pocket, beads clutched in one paw and spring roll in the other. "Let's get this safari on the road. And if you hear any howling or banging down the hall -"

"I assure you, I'll sleep straight through it. And in the event I don't, I'll -"

"Pretend it's ghosts?"

"No. Know the two of you are having a bloody brilliant shag in spite of your utterly exhausted guest, you rude bastards." Giles turned on his heel and followed Spike to the stairs while Xander stared after him - rewinding and replaying that tape until it frayed around the edges.

"Well, you don't have to listen, you could always -"

"Do not finish that sentence if you value your unlife!"

"Gotcha, G-man."


~~~~~


The day that had started out mild and breezy had gotten chilly by the time the sun was well down, and the only good thing about the interminable hours spent talking in circles with Willow and Giles had been that Spike had gotten the sitting room fire roaring and then wound himself around Xander and settled on the hearth, too close for mere humans to be comfortable for too long. So the Watcher and the witch had been forced to circle and retreat, circle and retreat, with Wes trying to run interference and Gunn asking lots of distracting questions.

It had still been fucking exhausting. Now - finally - everyone was tucked up in bed and Spike and his boy were going out. Going to hunt a little, get drunk - feed. Stop for greasy diner eggs and home fries and coffee from the Black Lagoon on the way home because that's what they did, and that was what Xander liked and Spike would be damned twice over if he couldn't find some way of cheering his boy up before the night was through.

Maybe just grab him and fuck him senseless up against a wall - works wonders, that does. Xander was tucking his keys into his jeans-pocket and they both strode quickly and silently down the hall to the front door - turned the lock and the knob and flung open the door - practically bolted out onto the steps but there was a collision of bodies and a small shriek and they ended up fighting for balance and clutching at -

"Good Christ! Have you all gone completely fucking barking?"

"Buffy, that's my foot!"

Buffy shuffled off Xander's foot with a step-hop and guiltily tucked Mr. Pointy back into her coat. "Not...completely fucking barking." She bit a fingernail, looking harried, looking from Spike to Xander, looking...over her shoulder.

Xander sagged against a porch column. "Who else is coming?"

"Nobody. Can I come in? We should probably get to bed. A sleepy Slayer is not a perky Slayer and airplane air is really - fuck."

"God Buffy! As if I didn't already have the address!"

"Dawn, I told you to go home!"

"Uh huh. And I didn't. Go me!" Dawn stomped up the walk and dropped her bag, eyeing the vampires with her impatient face on and Xander felt his heart lurch. "Well?" Lurch and ache and swell and - "Ew! Hey! Put me down! Vampire kisses! Help! Buffy!"

"What the fuck does that mean - 'Ew, vampire kisses'?" Spike growled - snagged Dawn's chin and planted a smacking wet kiss on her forehead - in game-face to boot - as she beat at Xander's shoulders and flailed her feet.

"Gross! Wet! Buffy!"

"I thought you were a grown up Dawn - I thought you were a responsible, reasonable adult who could cope on her own?" Buffy drawled, obviously quoting from some earlier - discussion. She stood with her arms crossed and that look on her face - that 'I dare you' look that had pissed Spike off more times than he could count.

"What? I am! I'm just not superpowered! Xander!"

"Oh, all right," Xander grumbled and put Dawn on her feet - but not without a second kiss, sloppier even than Spike's. Dawn took in a sharp breath, obviously preparing to shriek something else when there was a thump and a groan somewhere down the hall. They all turned to look.

Wes was standing with his head pressed to the striped silk wallpaper, eyes closed. As they watched he lifted his head and thumped down again.

"Tell me I'm having a nightmare, someone, please."

"You're havin' a nightmare." Gunn intoned and limped past him on the stairs, one hand on the banister, the other on his cane. "I'm havin' a nightmare. We're all havin' a nightmare. Nightmare an' a drink."

"God yes!" Dawn squirmed her way past Xander and Spike. "They actually cut me off on the flight over, can you believe it! They have some kind of stupid limit or something - hey!"

"You don't get to drink. You're - you're underage!"

"I drink all the time at school, Buffy!"

Only Dawn didn't flinch from the withering glare that Buffy directed at her. "Okay - first? So not wanting to hear about what you do at school. And second - school is in France where even the little kids drink."

"The little kids drink here too, Buff." Xander hooked a Summers under each arm and steered them toward the kitchen, hoping Spike would read his if we get them drunk, they'll go to sleep and we can leave look. "They just don't tell the parents about it."

"Yeah, and then when the parents do find out, the kids are grounded for five years!"

"I'm almost twenty, Buffy! You can't ground me anymore!"

"Try me, little sister," Buffy snapped and Spike slammed the front door - snatched bags and stomped after Xander and the girls, giving Wesley a gruesome look on the way past. Charles was already pouring out whiskey into a row of glasses and Wesley went on automatic pilot to the kettle and the cooker even though he'd drunk enough tea to float the Titanic earlier. When they were arguing with Willow and Giles.

Oh lord, please - let's not start all that up again now. Not...tonight. His headache had just barely receded - thanks to Charles' skillful fingers - when they'd heard the taxis and the row downstairs.

Thank god tomorrow is a work day. Charles and I can escape.

"What're you gonna do? Chain me in a basement?"

"No - I'm gonna visit you at school - and make sure everyone knows I'm your sister."

Dawn snatched a whiskey the moment Gunn was done pouring and downed it in a single gulp, slamming the glass back onto the counter. "Hit me again."

"And you are?"

"Dawn Summers," Spike filled in - a touch of pride in his voice. At least one of the Summers girls could handle her drink. "The Slayer's little sister."

Gunn poured a double. "Way I'm thinkin'? You need that."

Dawn took her glass with a smirk and wedged herself smugly into a corner. Then she stuck her tongue out at Buffy.

"Oh, so mature." Buffy picked up a whiskey glass, sniffed it and put it back down. "Um - Xan - do you have anything less...Spikey?"

"Xander has some 'Cherry Fizz' wine coolers in the back of the refrigerator," Wesley said dryly, assembling practically by touch alone the tea things onto a tray. "He thinks he hid them behind all the left-over sushi and the super-sized container of mayonnaise, but I saw them." Spike made a groaning sort of noise and even Dawn pretended to gag, sticking her finger into her mouth.

"Hey!" Xander cried, looking for support - somewhere. "It's got fruit!"

"You are the gayest white boy I have ever met," Gunn said, incredulous. But Buffy was perking up.

"Oh! Cherry Fizz is really good! Have you tried the Bahama Mama ones yet?"

"Uh - well -" Xander avoided the wicked grin on Spike's face and the look of disgust on Dawn's and plodded head-down to the 'fridge. "I didn't like them as much as the Calypso Colada ones," he mumbled.

"Do you have any?"

Xander saw two fat-bottomed dice struggling to roll a distinctive orange, yellow and gold bottle deeper into the pantry. "Not anymore." He pulled a Cherry Fizz from the fridge and grabbed a beer for himself. Good beer. Manly beer.

It didn't smell as good as Buffy's Cherry Fizz. "Okay. You're here. You're all here. Why are you all here?"

"We're here to -" Buffy looked confused. "Save someone. You or Willow...whoever needs saving. Or maybe Giles."

"Me," Wesley muttered and drained a scalding cup of tea. Then he poured himself another.

"Why on earth would I need saving?" Giles leaned in the doorway, rubbing his eyes, his robe tightly cinched and his legs looking pale underneath. Spike rolled his eyes.

"Fucking hell - what is this - a pajama party? Why are you down here, Watcher?"

"I heard the distinctive noise of bickering Summers sisters. Once you've suffered through it, you never mistake it. Oh, tea, Wesley? I'll have a cup, thank you."

"Of course you will," Wes snapped, and Gunn moved rapidly to him, saying something very low while his hand rubbed Wes' back in small circles. Wes' shoulders were slumped and Spike felt a jolt of anger go through him. He glared around the room.

"Me and Xan are going out. Gonna go kill something or someone. You lot get to bed and stop irritating Wes. Let's go, Xander, before the bloody witch shows her face.

"Too late," Xander sighed, and Spike turned with a snarl to see a rumpled and pajama-clad Willow standing just behind him, eyes brimming with tears.

"You - is that what you think of me?"

Xander got there before Spike could growl out more than a 'yes!'. "Me? No. I love you." Xander circled the table to stand as close to her as he used to, when she was his other half - her flinch at his nearness stung. He kissed her forehead. "But right now, I don't like you. So sort it out, have a snack, go back to bed - whatever. Spike and I are going out."

"Xander!"

The door banged shut behind the vampires and Wesley grimly drank down another cup of tea.


~~~~~


It was past ten when they dragged themselves up the access ladder and into the Chestnut Street house basement. The scurry of startled dice seemed to be the only sound and Spike wearily heaved the cover closed - kicked the heavy bolt into the groove and slung his arm around Xander's shoulders. "Think they're all still asleep?" Spike asked, hopeful and tiredlove in the link.

"Fuckin' hope so," Xander mumbled back, yawning. They'd stopped by the shop long enough to tackle-hug Wes and kiss him breathless - belated and inadequate thank-you for dealing with unwanted house guests. Giles - who'd been admiring the stacks - had grinned faintly and gone about his business and they'd grabbed Gunn for a little action, as well, because he'd had to put up with a tired and cranky ex-Watcher.

The house was dim and curtained - silent - and Spike could hear heartbeats on the second floor. They went slowly up the stairs - down the hall - and stopped dead. Dawn was sprawled over their Nest, a pile of magazines beside her, headphones on. Balancing a nearly-overflowing bowl of Fruity Pebbles on a puffy, silk-covered pillow. She choked on her spoonful when she saw them.

"Hey!" She wiped her mouth on a paper towel and coughed - pushed the head-phones down around her neck. A tinny rendition of Middle of the Road - The Pretenders - bleated out and Dawn shut off the player. "Where have you guys been! It's way past sun-up!"

"After hours demon bar," Xander said through a yawn and staggered toward the bathroom, cleanhotnownownow. Struggling with his shirt and almost banging into the doorjamb. "Stayed till last call." Spike followed him in and Dawn scrambled out of the Nest. Xander wondered if she was planning to stand there and watch him and Spike strip. With a mental shrug, he decided he was too tired to care.

"Demon bars have a last call?" Dawn made herself a fruitylicious presence against the door-jamb, bowl in one hand, spoon in the other.

"Gotta clean 'em -" Xander stifled a yawn "some time. Know how disgusting a demon bar can get?" He flopped onto the edge of the tub, twisting the hot tap on full and nudging the bubble bath out of sight behind his back.

"Why aren't you all tucked in like big sis and the witch, Bit?" Spike asked, yanking at his boots and finally getting them off - sending them sailing out the door. His coat and button-up shirt followed, and then his t-shirt, but his fingers hesitated at his jeans. Xander was down to jeans, too, and looking shiftily at Dawn from behind a fall of tangled hair.

"Turn around, for fuck's sake," Spike said, and Dawn grinned but turned, wolfing down more cereal. Xander hastily uncapped the bubble bath and poured some out, then shoved the bottle into a forest of other bottles and tubes. They'd kind of gone a little crazy the last time they'd gone soap-shopping.

"I was in bed, but Buffy kicks and I think I'm still kinda...drunk. So I got up and looked around. The dice are really smart, did you know that?" Spike sent his jeans flying over her head and crawled into the tub - pulled Xander backwards with a splash and got the bubbles evened out over the surface of the water.

"Okay, we're in," Xander said, snuggling back, and Spike sighed hugely and slid down the side of the tub a little, arms around Xander's ribs. "And yeah, we know how smart they are - they're damn amazing."

"They're not to be trusted - watch your trinkets, Niblet," Spike mumbled. "So - what happened after we left?" he asked as Dawn turned around, spoon in her mouth and eyes going wide at the sight of the mound of bubbles. Think he poured in too many bubbles. Bugger.

Dawn choked on her cereal - or a giggle - and cough-snorted her way to the closed toilet seat. "Really manly, guys. Is that Mango?"

"Papaya peach," Xander mumbled, too tired to care. "And how many whiskeys did you have?"

"All of them that stuffy English guys didn't get to first. Does Giles always bogart the good scotch?"

"Always," Spike said dourly. "Stingy bastard."

"Anyway, Gunn and I split the bottle of JD you hid above the stove, Buffy drank three Cherry Fizzes and Willow kinda nagged us until Giles poured her a shot and told her to shut up. You should've seen her face!"

"She's hurting, Dawnie."

"Duh. So she was hurting a lot less after she drank and then Giles pulled out a few joints and his guitar and we sat around toasting marshmallows and feeding the dice. They're starting to waddle."

"Very funny. Giles didn't bring his guitar."

"How do you know he didn't bring joints?"

"Stingy bastard," Spike said again and slouched lower in the water.

"Then everybody mellowed out and went to bed," Dawn said in her 'I'm not leaving anything out - honest' voice.

"That's all that happened? You got drunk, you got stoned, you toddled off to bed?" Spike had closed his eyes but he opened one now and squinted it at Dawn who shoved a huge spoonful of cereal into her mouth and tried to chew innocently. The suspicion rippled through the link and Xander roused himself - tipped his head to give Dawn a sort of half-asleep glare.

"Give, Dawnster. What really went down?"

"All of it," Spike added, and Dawn swallowed and sighed and put her bowl on the sink-edge - put her chin in her hands and stared at them - at Xander.

"Are you really evil, Xander? You seem exactly the same to me. Not like Evil-Angel at all."

"Course he's not like the poof, Niblet. You should know better than that."

"Well, I don't have much experience with evil vampires, you know? There was Angel and then there was...that one in the sewers that tried to kill us all when Willow did the memory-spell, and..."

"And there was me," Spike snapped, and Xander giggled, closing his eye again.

"Well, yeah, okay, you, but - I know you! You baby-sat me! I mean - not so evil, okay?" Dawn's eyes were wide and her voice was reasonable but there was a sly twist to her mouth and Spike snorted in exasperation.

"Most evil thing in the state, Bit, and don't you forget it. And no, Xander's not like the poof and he's not - really - evil."

"Uh huh. What is he?"

"Right here. Hello?"

Spike ignored the protest and tightened his arms, even slipped a hand down to give Xander a stroke under the suds. "He's himself, bit. When we turn, we're more what we were before than ever. All those simmering, seething resentments we've kept tucked away like good little humans come trotting out to surface."

"You're trying to tell me Xander didn't have any issues?"

"Tryin' to tell you the issues were already right there on top, bit. A bloke deals with things alive and damns the consequences, he won't be much different when he's dead."

"He wasn't this rude when he was alive."

"Still sitting right here." Spike's hand tightened and Xander arched and moaned, sinking several inches into the suds, glassy-eyed.

"Well you weren't." Dawn hopped up and turned off the taps - stared down at them until even Spike thought he might squirm, just a bit. He really was not used to her being...a grown up.

"Look, Willow is sure you're as evil as they come and she wants to stick your soul back in you whether you want it or not. Giles thinks the soul couldn't hurt but he's against forcing it on you, and Wes and that Gunn guy kept saying it wasn't necessary so could everybody just go home."

"What about Buffy?" Xander asked, twisting a little and getting his own hand onto Spike's thigh, lazy caress.

"Buffy thinks...if you don't kill anybody then she won't have to kill you and that she - get ready for it - trusts Spike to know what's best."

"World comin' to an end, then?" Spike chuckled, but it felt...good, actually. Felt nice to be...trusted. Even if he'd never let on. Xander knew, of course - love and yes and trust in the link, plus a little bubble of pleased surprise and Spike had to kiss Xander's soap-foamy neck.

"That's what I said. And I think everybody should just butt out. I only followed Buffy 'cause I was bored and it's been forever since I've seen you guys and it wasn't fair that everybody got to come over and I didn't." Dawn grinned down at them and then went back to the toilet - grabbed her bowl and sat back down and started eating again, slurping her milk.

"So this is a vacation, is it?" Spike asked lazily, soapy hand petting Xander's chest until he purred, subsonic rumble under Spike's fingers.

"Uh huh."

Spike's eyes narrowed. "Excuse to play truant, is it?"

"Mmhmm."

"Good for you, niblet." Spike settled against the rim of the tub and let the warmth soak in.


~~~~~


Wesley began to spoon tea leaves into the biggest teapot he owned.

"You didn't say it was gonna be that kinda discussion." Gunn glared accusingly at the blue willow monstrosity.

"What kind?"

"The kind that makes you break out the big teapot and eat your weight in sweets, English."

"It's a - " Wesley stared at the tray, Jaffa cakes and biscuits arranged in attractive patterns. "Well I suppose it's a family thing." He turned when he felt Charles' warmth at his back, letting his chin be tipped, lips kissed - oh all right, enthusiastically participating in the tipping and kissing - and leaning against Gunn's chest after.

"Family? As in 'We are a big gay family?'"

"As in Rupert is a second cousin on my mother's side. We share a maiden aunt whose solution to everything in the world was tea and Jaffa cakes."

"Not home baked -?"

"God no. Don't even ask. The woman could have - did - burn water."

"Dear lord, you mean Aunt Harry, don't you? Her cakes could sink battleships." Giles made a pleased sort of noise and took a cake from the tray - popped half of it into his mouth and then wandered away again, peering at book-spines with that head-tilted posture that Gunn was intimately familiar with.

"So what, exactly, are we gonna talk about?" he asked, reluctantly letting Wes go so he could pour the boiling water from electric kettle to teapot.

"Souls and ships and sealing wax," Wes said airily, capping the pot and casting about for spoons and Gunn rolled his eyes.

"You gettin' cute is almost as bad as all this cake."

"You eat Twinkies."

"Yeah. And I don't see any Twinkies here. This some kinda discrimination against the American?"

"No." Giles returned for a second cake. "It's a show of bloody good taste."

Gunn snorted and snatched up a cake, nibbling around the edges. "What? Never said I didn't like Jaffa cakes."

Wesley set the teapot on the table and sat, one of his ubiquitous yellow legal pads on his lap, glasses pushed up his nose.

He was wearing his steely-determination face. And oh, look. The other Watcher had one, too. Gunn pulled out the coffee maker and his jar of Folgers ground. He was gonna be needing it.

"Now then," Wesley said, looking at Giles. "Two sugars, yes?"

"Yes, please," Giles replied and they both ignored the snort of amused irritation from Charles. As Wesley prepared a cup of tea for Giles he mulled over his arguments in his mind. To tell the other Watcher - other Council member - about the jars? Or not? Just how much of Xander's new - life - did he want to reveal? And really, was the man a bottomless pit? That was his fifth cake. Frowning slightly, Wesley passed the tea over and then made his own cup, fussing with the sugar tongs while he tried to think of a good opening gambit.

Charles got his coffee brewing and came over - sat carefully and picked up a cake and took a bite - spoke through a brief shower of crumbs. "So - what exactly makes you think you need to do some kind of soul-mojo on Harris? 'Cause frankly, the only thing I care about at this point is gettin' the two of them to stop havin' sex in the living room."

"A soul would return some of Xander's human sense of propriety."

Gunn snorted, swallowed another tart-sweet bite and waved the cake at the shop counter. "They had sex up there when Xander was human." Gunn twisted, pointing. "And over there. Over there. And on that couch you're sitting on." Giles shifted to the edge of his seat. "Don't bother. They had sex in the chairs, too."

"Have you tried squirting them with water and saying no in a firm voice?" Giles picked up his tea looking more disturbed than his words suggested. "I'm told it works."

"Yeah - if they were dogs."

"Even before Spike sired him, Xander wasn't the same young man you knew, Rupert."

"So it seems." Giles seemed upset by that thought and Wesley sighed, leaning back in his chair.

"He had grown up a great deal, and he had been...alone, for some time. Suffered losses but learned to deal with them on his own terms. When I met him again, when he and Spike called me for help... I met a confident, caring young man who was rapidly falling in love and desperate to help the one person that you would imagine he would have been happiest to see suffer." Wesley smoothed the leg of his trousers - took a sip of tea.

"He'd grown up, Rupert, and taken on responsibilities that would make most grown men despair. But there he was, holding Spike and....caring. Loving. He gave up so much, in his life, and now he's found true happiness. This new - thing. Him being a vampire... It's made very little difference. He's a bit more - selfish, maybe? But I'd say he's earned that, wouldn't you?"

"I'm not so sure he would." Giles set down his teacup and took off his glasses, rubbing at his eyes. "It's what the Xander I knew would have wanted that concerns me, Wesley. He was always a good man."

"He still is."

"He is a vampire. Soulless. Seven years ago, you wouldn't have hesitated to dust him yourself."

"I wouldn't have hesitated to try." Wes looked embarrassed, had that 'baby pictures' look on his face and Gunn put a hand on his leg.

"Cause god knows none of the rest of us have changed in seven years, right?"

"Yes, I suppose we all have," Giles said, and Gunn was a little surprised by the frankly wistful tone in the man's voice. He squeezed Wes' leg again and then turned to Giles.

"Listen - I know where you're comin' from here. My own sister..." He took a deep breath. "My own sister got turned. And I was the one that had to dust her. So I - understand. But..." Gunn held up a hand to forestall what looked like sympathy from Giles.

"But. Harris chose this. And he chose it when he was - happy, and healthy, and basically at the top of his game, you know? It didn't happen 'cause he was hurt or - or found out he had a brain tumor. It happened 'cause the man was crazy-ass in love."

"With a vampire," Giles said dryly, and Gunn nodded.

"Yeah, with a vampire. With a vamp that, according to - everybody - did a lot of good even before he went off to Africa and fought to get his own soul back. Things aren't black and white - and the Gruesome Twosome, believe me, is shades of gray ain't none of us ever seen."

"How much has Angel told you?"

"What's Angel got to do with -?"

"Rather a lot," Giles said dryly and helped himself to another cup of tea. "Fifteen minutes after I received Xander's email, I had Angel on the line with dire warnings."

"Really." Wes fidgeted in the direction of his cell, grip tightening on the tea cup. "Odd that he didn't call me."

"He didn't want to worry you." Giles lifted his eyes to meet a skeptical gaze. "No. It wasn't very convincing to me, either. He's concerned that Xander will be a bad influence on Spike."

"How's he figure that?"

"Spike's soul isn't the most reliable muzzle for his tendencies even without the influence of a soulless partner."

"Could say the same for every human on the planet," Charles scoffed, and Wes had to smile in agreement. "Considering he's got a demon in there eggin' him on to all sorts of - stuff, I'd say he does pretty damn good."

"And let's face it," Wesley said sadly, "Angel isn't... Well, the three of them simply do not get along. I'm rather inclined to take anything Angel says about Spike and Xander with a grain of salt." Wesley felt a twinge of guilt at that, because Angel really was trying - and had done for Wesley something Wesley hadn't thought possible.

"Yes, well, they never did get along," Giles agreed, sipping slowly at his tea. A glint of - something - passed across his eyes and he set his cup down. "What do you propose to do about it?"

"I propose to get to know them as they are now, Rupert." Wesley drained his teacup and set it next to Giles'. "There's no going back," Wesley said, thinking of almost a year when his memories weren't his own, when everything felt...off. "But forward isn't always as terrible as it seems."


~~~~~


"You know it's not exactly helping your big bad image trying to sneak out of your own house every evening. Kinda lame." Dawn closed the master suite door behind her and leaned against it, arms folded.




"We're not sneaking. We're - giving Willow and Buffy their privacy." Xander blew hair out of his face, tightening the laces on his boots. Dawn didn't look impressed. "And since when don't you knock?"

"Since when do I have to knock with you guys?"

"Help me out here, Spike."

"Knocking's overrated, Xan - learn all kinds of fun things when you don't knock." Spike dug through the jeans he'd worn the night before and found his lighter right where he'd left it - went in search of cigarettes as Dawn smirked triumphantly at Xander. "Shouldn't you be layin' down with a cold towel, Dawn? Don't tell me you've already shook off your night of drinkin' with the Watcher."

Dawn pulled a blown-glass bottle out of her pocket and shook it. Fiery purple lights glinted inside what looked like sludge. "Duh. What good is it visiting Witch Town, USA if you don't buy a good hangover cure?"

Spike snatched the bottle from her - examined it, sniffed it, then corked it and tossed it back, scowling. "You get your remedies from the Watcher, Bit - not some two-bit hedge wizard in some 'magic shop' downtown. And you shouldn't be drinkin' so much, anyway - stunt your growth." Spike tried to ignore the identical dramatic eyerolls from Xander and Dawn as he picked up his coat and swung it onto his shoulders.

"If I grow any more I'm going to be taller than Giles - where are you guys going, anyway? I thought we could, you know, do a movie or something?"

"Another time, Dawnie. We're..." Xander yanked on his other boot and rummaged through the sparks of hunger for an excuse. Then he mentally hit himself over the head. "A vamp's gotta eat. It's not a great idea to bring the Slayer's little sis along on a hunt."

"Uh huh. I thought you told Buffy you don't kill anybody."

Xander tied a quick, messy bow and shot to his feet. "Hey, The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy tomorrow night?"

"Geek."

"Is that a yes?"

"Uh huh. I want popcorn, Xan. And Sno-Caps. And a cherry Icee."

"Anything your little heart desires, Dawnie," Xander said - twisted his control down tight and reached over - pulled her into a hug. Maybe it was the hunger - maybe it was the stress of the last few days but Dawn smelled...extra good. Smelled savory and sweet and something else and Xander was pretty sure it was her Key-ness. He let her squeeze him back - let her press a kiss to his cheek that was sweethotwant and he backed off, trying not to push her - smiling in relief when Spike stepped up and put an arm around him and his mouth on Xander's throat. Teeth and tongue on the scar there and it was a flood of distracting sensation that let Dawn grin at him and flop onto their Nest, remote in hand.

"Cool, then. You guys have got more channels then I've ever seen so - see me do my potato impression for the rest of the night. I mean - do you know what they consider a lot of channels in England? It's criminal."

"Going now, Dawnie."

Dawn waved a hand, already clicking through channels. "Don't kill anybody where Buffy can find the bodies. Willow's all 'he's hiding the bodies in the basement!' and Buffy's all 'whatever'." She stopped clicking. "You don't hide bodies in the basement do you? Because that's gross."

"Only amateurs do that, love - or bloody stupid psycho humans," Spike said, conveniently forgetting his own lapse into basement burials. Wasn't all there then, was I? Couldn't be helped. Xander tugged and they walked toward the door, dodging a douse that had come running at the click of the remote. TV meant snacks.

"We take 'em to the local DoubleMeat - they've got this biiig meat grinder -" Xander started, breaking into laughter as Dawn yowled and covered her ears. "Got 'er," Xander chuckled, and he and Spike grinned at each other - went silently down the hall. Passing and then pausing outside of Willow's room. Because Willow and Buffy were talking and right after 'never knock' was 'always eavesdrop' in the Big Book of Evil.

It'd also been rule two in the Harris Book Of Survival - right after 'be invisible'.

"I do love him, Buffy. That's why we can't let him stay this way. This isn't his choice!"

"I - "
They listened to Buffy sigh, the shuff-tap of slippered feet pacing. "I don't know. He doesn't seem very evil."

"And Angel did?"

"Angel's not evil - much."


Spike made a silent huff of displeasure, anger and irritation in the link and Xander squeezed his arm, shaking his head a little.

"Yeah, 'cause he has his soul - Angel without a soul equals big evil, Buffy, and you know it!"

"Yeah, I know, but - this is different, Willow. Look at Spike - he wasn't all that evil before he got his soul - he baby-sat Dawn! Anybody that can baby-sit Dawn and not kill her has to have some good in them."
Spike growled - poked Xander who was stifling giggles behind his hand. Sodding hell. Never live that down. Ever.

"He wasn't good, though."


There was silence in the room then and Xander didn't like it. It was the kind of silence that considered things, and he'd heard enough. So had Spike if the thrum of anger vibrating between them meant anything - vibrating under Xander's hand which was sliding circles over Spike's back, pulling him around to fit his mouth over where Spike must have had a scar once and nibbling.

"Let's go." Whispered for vamp ears only.


~~~~~


They walked in silence toward the shop, the link saying everything that needed to be said - their fingers entwined and tight on the other's saying just as much, if not more. The demon in Xander was angry - was irritated and nervous, unhappy with all the people in the house. Family, but not quite. Human emotion and memory didn't override the demon's territoriality or need to sort everyone into a hierarchy. The Slayer and the Witch were enemy - the girl and the Watcher were prey and they all upset the Family - upset the balance of the house. Its patience was nearly nonexistent and getting shorter every day and Spike - Spike only encouraged it. Safety in family - safety in dispatching enemies and Xander felt like he was starting to unravel, just a bit.

Because he understood it - a little. The part of him that still felt the way Xander Harris had always felt - except the whole vampire thing - got why Willow was upset. Afraid, he admitted, felt Spike considering him and squeezed his fingers. Afraid but try telling that to a demon who smelled human fear and drooled like Pavlov's dog.

He imagined himself in a tweed suit, talking like Wesley. 'I must admit I am of two minds about the situation.'

"What're you getting all giggly about?"

"Giggly? Who's giggly? That was a manly chuckle, pal."

"You're more falsetto than the Niblet, pet," Spike murmured - pulled Xander close and nuzzled in, feeling the riot of unease - of mixed, strong emotion that was pulling Xander every which way. "It'll be all right, Xander. Promise you that if I have to eat every last one of them. Hear me?" Spike growled that last but he was holding Xander tight - love want you mine mine as hard as he could. At the end of his own patience but trying. "Won't let it get bad, love."

"I'll settle for mediocre and the return of long distance communication." Xander pecked Spike's cheek and shook off the roil of emotion - put it out of his mind and the demon was happy to oblige. "And a crazy night of darts, billiards and brawls at the Frog."

"Get a little something hot in your belly first, love - you'll feel right as rain," Spike said - grinned a fangy grin at Xander and deliberately shook off everything but want hunt kill. Heading for the part of town that served those needs very well. Beside him Xander shivered and changed - settled into that head-down, loose-hipped walk that meant hunter and Spike's demon grumbled in pleasure and anticipation. Ready to vent some tension - ready to rend and tear, bite and drink.

Xander licked his lips, grinned wide around the fangs and sniffed the air, scenting booze and brawl, cheap cigarettes and cheaper women. It smelled...good. "Friday night. We're gonna get a head start on our drinking."


~~~~~


The bell over the door jangled and Wesley looked up, his 'hello, how may I help you?' smile on his face. Smile that turned genuine when he saw that it was Spike and Xander. Both vamped, both looking a little wild around the eyes and Wesley's own demonic self rose, fast and hard. For a moment they stood, bristling and sniffing like junk-yard dogs and then Xander was moving smoothly forward - pushing Wesley back into the counter and kissing him with a cool, iron-and-whiskey tongue. Wesley sunk claws into the heavy leather coat Xander wore. A moment later Xander was being pushed aside as Spike moved in and Wesley heard some sound from Giles - heard 'not with the fangs, boy!' from Charles. And then Spike was kissing Charles as well, grinning.

And then there was a soft, strangled sound from Rupert and Wesley turned to find Xander pinning him against the counter, back in human guise - crushing his lips to Rupert's with a possessive growl and Wesley sincerely hoped Xander had fed and Rupert didn't have any holy water on him.

Xander straightened, drew a deep breath that smelled like books and tasted like tea and went back for more until a smack on the shoulder made him jump.

"Stop mackin' on the Watcher." Gunn tossed his newspaper down onto the counter and caught Xander around the back of the neck, kissing him again. "Jesus. You Council people put vampnip in your cologne?"

"Guess I'm just hot for English guys," Xander said, eyeing Giles who was - breathless. And speechless and looking startled and a little pleased rather then murderous, which was good.

"Was it like you imagined?" Spike asked, slithering up and boxing Giles in on the other side, his eyes nearly violet with blood lust and just plain lust lust.

"Ooooh, yeah," Xander purred, and Giles stared at him.

"Think I should have a go, then?" Giles transferred his stare to Spike.

Xander licked his lips. "After I have another."

"Whu - while this is quite charming, and rather unexpected." Giles put a hand on each vampire's chest, holding them there. "I -"

"Still talk too sodding much." Spike brushed the hand aside and pushed his way in, kissing with long slow strokes of lip and tongue and teeth until Giles' heart beat double time. "Not bad."

"Not -!" Giles' voice rose, offended disbelief and Spike yelped, caught by the hair and crushed to the Watcher, plundered and pillaged and pinned to the counter hard enough to make his spine creak. "Not bad," Giles huffed, letting go and folding his arms. "I have developed some skill in my years."

"Man, what is it with you guys! Can you make any man gay or is it just stuffy English types?"

"I'm not stuffy -"

"They didn't make me do anything -"

Gunn snorted in amusement at the identical looks of outrage on Wes and Giles faces. "Yeah, right," he said, to both of them.

"So how has your evening been so far?" Wesley asked, shaking the demon away and smoothing his shirt-front. Giles ran a hand back through his hair and tried to look nonchalant as he adjusted the waist of his trousers.

"Fruitful," Xander said, helping himself to a Jaffa cake and hopping onto the counter. "Fulfilling." He grinned.

"You know it is really gross and disturbing when you do that."

Wesley cleared his throat. "We had a productive afternoon here as well. Didn't we, Rupert?"

"Yes, we did, actually. Wesley has told me about - the jars, Xander. About what they do and - that there are two." Giles looked serious, finally - serious but also - relieved? Spike found a cigarette and lit up, watching the Watcher and leaning against the counter next to Xander, hand on Xander's thigh.

"So where do you stand then, Rupert? Do you think Red should be trying this re-souling mojo? Or do you think we know what we're doing?"

"I think - and god knows why - I trust the two of you to do what's right. Or at least not to cock it up too badly."

"Oi!"

Giles a small smile on his lips and looked...mischievous. Relaxed and Xander slung an arm around his neck, unbalancing him like a toy. "Your confidence in us is overwhelming. Also? Surprising."

"When you get to be my age -" Giles started - looked at Xander and for a moment, fleeting sadness crossing his face. "Well, eventually you do learn things. And I've learned quite a lot, just lately. About demons, and about humans." Giles turned in Xander's loose embrace - reached hesitantly and put his hand on Xander's shoulder, squeezing just a little. "And I've finally learned that you're all grown up, Xander, and that - you know your own mind. Congratulations on your - death."

The words wrapped Xander's heart and squeezed - like a beat. He licked his lips and looked down to the hair peeking out of the neck of Giles' shirt. It was going from gray to white. Eventually, it'd be all white and the warm pressure in his chest twisted. "We're going to the Frog - drinks and darts. Do you wanna come...?"

"The Frog?" Giles asked, and Wesley stepped up - put a hand on Xander's knee because he'd seen that expression - of longing and sorrow - sweep over Xander's face.

"The Frog and Flagon. It's a pub - quite a good one, actually. You'll enjoy it, Rupert," he said - watched Spike tuck his chin down onto Xander's shoulder and kiss his jaw - watched Xander deliberately shake off any sort of...mood.

"Oh, well - yes, then. I'd be delighted. And I could do with a little something, I think, after that display earlier." Giles seemed to be shaking off a mood as well - turning a devilish smile on the two vampires - eyebrow going up in near-perfect imitation of Spike.

"Get a few drinks in me and you might get a repeat," Spike rumbled, sliding down off the counter and tugging Wesley over for a quick kiss.

"I'll remember you said that," Giles said, over his shoulder and jaunty as he looked for his jacket. Xander hopped down as well - gave Charles a sort of cat-nudge, cheek to cheek.

"Take Wes out and get him a good dinner and then take him home and fuck him unconscious, okay? The girls can fend for themselves one night." Charles sputtered a little and Xander grinned and then the three of them trooped out, arm in arm.

"Xander does have a good suggestion."

"Wes -" The nervous flutter in Gunn's stomach developed into full-blown butterflies then calmed under Wes' touch, warm hand resting there then sliding around to the small of his back. And a kiss that tasted like the last chocolate chip scone. Damn him.

"The good dinner and a night to ourselves. We have plenty of time for the rest."


~~~~~


"Hey, little lady. You look like you could use a drink." Xander toed a pillow in the sitting room Nest, nudging Willow through it. She did look like she could use a drink, all pale skin and blue circles. And a red nose that meant she'd been crying. Willow was never pretty when she cried.

She gave him her Brave Little Toaster smile and rubbed the back of her hand across her cheek. "I could use a lot more than that." Willow lifted a hand to pat the pillow next to her then hesitated.

In spite of...fuck, everything - it hurt to see. Xander settled down next to her and stretched out, pulled her close and tucked her head under his chin. She smelled so good. Like childhood and magic. "You need a long hard fuck."

Only vampire strength kept her from flying upright - and maybe into the fire. "Xander!"

"C'mon, Wills. You're so fucking wound up it hurts." Xander kneaded her shoulder with his hand and she flinched a little then sighed, trying to relax. Her back was hard as iron.

"Well...maybe," Willow mumbled, poking him. "But you're not supposed to say stuff like that! I'm not... I'm not gonna be getting any snugglies any time soon, anyway... Not since Kennedy..."

"Yeah. I heard," Xander said, digging his fingertips into her back just a little - stroking her arm. "Wanna - tell me about it? We've got Ben and Jerry's. And vampire snugglies." He lifted her head and pushed her hair out of her face. It was brighter red now. Hennaed and short but it still ran like cool silk through his fingers. Different from Spike's pre-Raphaelite curls.

Across the room Wes lifted his head from the perusal of some book or other and smiled at him, and Xander smiled back. Giles, Wes and Gunn were huddled in arm-chairs around a small table, studying some book that had caught Giles' eye. Prophecies or - apocalypses or - something. Buffy, Spike and Dawn had settled down to kitten-free poker in front of the fire and were vainly fending off a massed dice horde, who wanted the M and M's they were using for chips.

"It's the same old story. Girl meets girl. Girl seduces girl and moves to Rio. Girl comes home to girl nailing a Brazilian beach bunny with her new vibrating tongue stud." Willow choked on the last two words, sniffled. She looked down accusingly. "And I thought you were gay."

"Hey. Lesbians - still a favorite. And might I add - ouch. That was...mean."

"Yeah, well..." Willow sniffed again - sighed. "We'd been kinda - drifting apart, you know? I mean, first there was the whirlwind romance on the Hellmouth with death and pain and uber-vamps and dismemberment... After that, everything else just seemed -"

"Dull as a box of rocks?"

"Yeah. Not that we didn't try to - you know -" Willow made a gesture that made Xander's eyebrows go up and she giggled - blushed - and then giggled again. "Lesbian here, doesn't mean I'm dead and doesn't mean I can't enjoy - things."

"Things like double-ended vibrating di-"

"Spike!" Buffy yelped, putting her hands over Dawn's ears. Trying to, but Dawn was rolling on the floor, laughing hysterically and trying feebly to fend off both Buffy and an opportunistic douse. "Not in front of my baby sister!"

"Just seeing to her education, Slayer."

"That is not a part of Dawn's education I want you seeing to."

"So, things," Willow said, gesturing vaguely again and blushing.

"If you can't say it, you shouldn't be doing it." Xander waggled a finger at Willow but let her catch it and tuck it against his chest.

"Sisters are kinda doin' it for themselves these days." She frowned, shrugged and dropped her head to his chest. "There're a lot of spells for that. I'm really in practice."

"Ah, spells," Xander says in his best obnoxious voice - remembering when the thought of spells and WillowandTara were enough for him. Now - it's a pleasant little bump in a long slide of coziness and nostalgia and Xander blamed the neo-Victorian lounging like a honey-gold and ivory cat on pillows by the fire. Spike'd let his hair grow out a bit - dyed the ice-white back to something more mellow-amber. And now the dark roots were coming in, framing the pale face and black brows and there was nothing in nineteen-year-old Xander's mental porn store that compared.

Gunn said something, shooing a douse away from his beer and laughing and Giles laughed with him, leaning back - at his ease. Making a new friend and re-connecting with Wes and the demon rumbled a short purr - settling at last.

"You just don't have to say it like that." Willow was still blushing and he could smell it on her. He could also smell something else, warmer and muskier and sweeter.

"Somebody has to." Xander shuffled Willow closer, listened to her heartbeat and imagined what it'd be like if it was always like this - calm and peaceful. Family. Sister. He kissed her forehead.


~~~~~


"Wait! Wait, wait, wait. Did you say they had vegetarian spring rolls or vegan spring rolls? There's a difference."

"There's no dead animal flesh in either - no sodding difference," Spike said, snatching a menu out from under Willow's hand and shoving it at Wes. "Get her a number four and a number nine, those'll go down a treat."

"No, but - Spike -"

"But she wanted a number seven," Wes said, scribbling frantically, and Gunn shot Spike a death-glare.

"Shut up, Blondie-Bear, let 'em order what they want!"

"It's been a bloody half hour already! I can see Xander's ribs!"

"Oh you cannot!" Buffy snatched a menu from under Spike's hand and waved it aloft. "I knew it! They've got Greek here! Remember those gyros we got, Dawn?"

"Ooh! Gyros! Wes, cancel whatever I ordered, I'm goin' for gyros!"

Wesley held up a hand, his pen and one of the dice clinging to his sleeve. "One at a sodding time! You." He pointed at Dawn.

"Gyros. With spanakopita and baklava."

"Ooh! Baklava - " Buffy swallowed the rest when Wesley fixed her with a glare.

"Willow."

"Number seven at the Pink Panda."

"Rupert -?"

"Uh - did I come at a bad time?"

"Connor?" It was Wes getting up - Wes dropping pad and biro and crossing the kitchen floor, shaking the douse off his arm and putting his hand out only to be pulled into a brief, hard hug. Xander was bouncing along right behind, grinning like a fool and Gunn was limping over now, too, smiling and slapping Connor on the back. Spike glanced around the room - snagged biro and paper and scribbled names and numbers fast - tossed the pad down and joined Xander in welcoming Connor in.

"I knocked but nobody came and I could hear you guys and - uh - these little pink guys were - staring at me - uh. Like they're doing now."

Half a dozen dice were staring at him. Spike thought one might even have been grinning at him.

"Connor, meet the dice. Dice, this is Connor. He only smells funny."

"Oh, nice way to welcome a house guest." Connor shoved Xander away from him and dropped into a chair, picking up the Pink Panda menu.

Xander staggered, giggling, and added his order to Wes' notes, noticing Spike had changed Willow's order back to the four and nine.

"Connor, why on earth - oh, for heaven's sake, shoo! Charles, please, could you break out the Hershey's Kisses?" Wesley shooed at the apparently mesmerized dice who circled in on Connor - intent. Until Charles crinkled the plastic bag and then they turned as one and hopped fast and furiously over to Charles, who handed each douse a Kiss. Connor watched with an expression that clearly said 'help!'

"Giles, this is - this is Connor, Angel's son. Connor this is Rupert Giles, and Buffy and Dawn Summers. You've met Willow."

"Hey" Connor said, tearing his eyes away from the vanishing dice. "Hey. Andrew talks about you guys. A lot. And he's got this...video -"

Buffy's eyes went round with horror. "Not the towel video! When I get my hands on that little geek - "

Xander's head popped up. "There's a towel video?"

"So not grasping the whole 'gay now' thing, Xander," Willow said, face scrunching in confusion. "Or the vampire-Slayer thing."

"I live life on the edge."

"Edge of a good smack-down," Willow muttered, but she was smiling and Xander was and Spike leaned up next to Xander, slipping an arm around his waist.

"Not that I'm not just - terribly pleased to see you, Connor, but - why are you here?" Wes asked, absently gathering up scattered menus while Gunn got the pad and pen and glared down at it, making corrections.

"Oh, well, see - there's this whole end of the world thing going on -"

"Again?" Eight-part chorus and Connor rolled his eyes.

"You guys are way too jaded. Can't I even get a 'dear lord'?"

"Dear lord," Giles muttered under his breath.

"Thank you." Connor turned to Xander and Spike. "By the way, Dad said if you can't turn on your friggin' cell phones, he's gonna come himself next time."

Spike snorted. "That'll be the day, mate. Peaches has never been comfortable in airplanes unless they were Wolfram and Sodding Hart's necrotempered models."

"So much for having a vacation." Buffy tossed her menu onto the table with a pout.

"Now, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Exactly what do you mean when you say 'end of the world', Connor?" Wes had his 'Watcher' face on and Spike felt his own true face - fanged and ridged and snarling - shift to the surface in a matter of seconds.

No. We are not doing this. "Wes - you even think of gettin' involved in some half-assed prophecy or apocalypse or - hell, a sodding rain of frogs I'm gonna take you upstairs and use Xander's Christmas present on you. And those chains are padded, love - I can leave you in 'em for days."

"Spike, it's hardly necessary to -"

"And I'm gonna help him," Xander said, arms folded and looking stubborn.

Wes shot a look of exasperation at Gunn. "Don't look at me, man. I was gonna lock you in the bathroom."

"Oh! Now you're all being ridiculous. I never even said I was going to -!"

Giles took Connor's arm. "Is Angel talking about the Rathburton Prophecies? I thought those had been nullified by the closing of the Hellmouth."

"Guess not. Sionn's been ringing off the hook with visions about it for weeks." Connor scooped up a straggler douse and rubbed its tummy, leaving it wriggling and flailing in bliss on his palm.

"Aren't they sort of opening the Hellmouth again? I mean, with that deal A.I. made with those demons?"

"No, they're not actually opening it -" Wes started, and Buffy interrupted.

"I thought Angel got the idea that an open Hellmouth is a bad Hellmouth!"

"What about the Hellmouth in Cleveland? Would that - uh - unnullify anything?" Dawn asked, and Giles started shaking his head.

Spike sidled up to Connor and crouched down next to him - inhaled slowly, tasting Angel and Darla on the back of his tongue. And something new - something demony and decidedly male.

"Never seen one do that," Xander said, crouching down next to Spike and leaning into him, eye on the wriggling douse.

"I had a hamster once - he liked this, too." Connor looked up at the cluster of arguing Watchers, Slayer, lawyer, witch and ex-Key. "Uh - can I get a drink and maybe a bathroom? It was a loong ride in the taxi."


~~~~~


"Hark. I hear someone rapping at my chamber door," Xander mumbled beneath his arm which was flung across his face. The rest of him was starfished nude in the Nest, soaking up heat from the fireplace.

"Berk." Spike rose up on his elbows, nudging a snickering Xander with his toe. He could hear a heartbeat on the other side - too strong and sure to be all human but too fast to be Wes. Connor. "We've got company, pet. Come in, then!" Spike added, raising his voice a little and the door creaked and swung wide and Connor stumbled in.

"Help. Me. Please? They're worse than Dad and Andrew arguing about 'vam-pyre' lore. They're worse than the Slayers with a new Cosmo. In fact -" Connor flopped face-down into the Nest, barely missing Spike's legs. "In fact, they're worse than Illyria on a 'you are all just worms to me' tear, jacked up on Mountain Dew and Cheetos. And they're all pissed you're not joining the A-team. What is wrong with those people?"

Xander rolled over, rested his chin on Connor's shoulder and wriggled close to his body heat. "They're the in-laws. And heroes. By definition, the two craziest, freakiest bunches of people known to man."

"Here." Spike shoved a mostly-full bottle of whiskey in front of Connor's face. "Best solution to family, mate." He and Xander made room for Connor to shuffle over onto his back, prop himself up in the pillows and take a long gulp from the bottle.

"Technically, I only have Dad for family - why do I have to have all these other freaks, too? At least Sionn's not a freak."

Spike caught Xander's eye over Connor's head - grinned at the curiosity amusement humming through the link. And the prey that was more of the 'pounce and play' kind of feeling then 'pounce and drain'. And the frankly besotted tone to Connor's voice - the way it lingered over 'Sionn'. "Tell us about Sionn, Connor," Spike said, his best coaxing voice and Connor took another long swallow of the whiskey and grinned.

"Since you've wanted to all night," Xander added with a snicker, ducking a swat.

"He's got pink dreads. And he's got these tattoos... And his voice - man - here, listen -" Connor struggled halfway to one elbow - pulled a cell phone out of his pocket and flipped it open - concentrated on punching buttons for a moment. Xander took the whiskey from him and took a drink himself.

"I mean - just listen - that accent -" Connor held the phone out and Spike and Xander both leaned in, listening to the message.

"Connor, man, d'ya ken the noomber fer yer Da's cell? He dinna leave it fer me. Tha messages 'r pilin' oop, man. Ring me back straight awa', a'reet?"

"Fuckin' sexy," Connor said, and sighed happily, flipping his phone shut.

"Fuckin' Scottish," Spike grumbled, and Connor poked him.

"Don't get started. Dad's bad enough. What is it with you guys and the Scots?"

"Bloody savages," Spike said vaguely, taking the whiskey back and drinking, aware of Connor's gimlet eye on him and a knowing smirk on Xander's face. "All right! All right. Nothing wrong with a bonny Scots laddie. I just can't abide those bloody pipes. Like somebody killing a duck with a paper-clip. It's fucking horrible."

"The accent is kinda sexy," Xander admitted, grinning when Spike fixed him with a glare and set to draining the bottle. "Lilting, exotic - yet not incomprehensible. Traditional and aged like a fine wine but keeping current with the times."

"Least its not sodding Irish," Spike grumbled and stared back at Connor who was watching him with raised eyebrows.

"What's wrong with the sodding Irish?"

"What isn't?" Xander and Spike asked together.

Connor looked back and forth between the two of them, then started struggling up out of the Nest. "I am Irish, you know."

"And we don't hold it against you," Spike said, while Xander got an arm around Connor's waist and hauled him backwards, pinning him with a leg thrown over Connor's thighs.

"Right. Not your fault your father's a - what do you call him, Spike?"

"Bog-trotting poufter," Spike said, hitching closer to a squirming Connor and adding his own leg and an arm over Connor's ribs.

"Right, with no sense of humor. We like you, Connor."

"Even if you are Irish," Spike added, grinning, and yelped when Connor elbowed him.

Xander snickered, snuffling against Connor's neck, breathing in a scent like burning peat and iron under the clean young man smell and sugar sweet douse-musk. "What was Darla?"

"American, pet." Spike snuggled back into place against Connor's warmth, soaking it in, rubbing his fingers across smooth skin and the ghost-scents of family. "Born and died a whore in the Colonies."

"That's so weird." Xander's voice was muffled against Connor's skin, tingling itch burning under his gums to change and bite - just a taste. It was like holding off orgasm.

"You know this is equal parts disturbing and hot right?"

"Yeah."

"And dad would stake you if he saw us like this."

A snort from Spike, tightening of arm and leg. "He could bloody well try."

"So is this some sort of whacked-out, uh - family thing? Or am I... Never mind." Connor flung an arm over his face and Spike leaned up onto one elbow - looked at what he could see of his flushed and unhappy face. Reached out and stroked a finger over Connor's throat where the pulse beat, tiny sparrow-flutter that Spike could just see.

"It's family, mostly," he admitted. Because Connor smelled like Angel and Darla and that was family, hardwired into Spike's brain and nerves and soul, when it came down to it. Disturbing, familiar - comforting. Sensual, because it meant trust and love and acceptance. "But it's - you too, Connor."

"I don't have the family excuse," Xander admitted, lifting his head to look into an unhappy expression he'd seen in the mirror more days than not in high school.

"You're just hungry," Connor said without accusation.

Spike pulled Connor's arm away from his face. "How 'bout you tell us what all this is about, mate. Didn't have to come all the way across the country to deliver a sodding phone message."

Connor sighed and stared at the ceiling - flinched ever so slightly when Xander's fingers joined Spike's - traced down his throat and over his collarbones.

"It's...really stupid -"

"Not a problem. We get stupid," Xander said, his voice low - his gaze intent on the pale skin and curve of bone that showed between the unbuttoned halves of Connor's shirt. Connor closed his eyes.

"It's just that - I really like Sionn. And he's really - cool. And I think I want...wanttokisshim," he finished, rapid mumble and Spike grinned.

"So do it, mate! Just step up to him and stare him straight in the eye and kiss him! He'll be fallin' at your feet."

"But what if he's not?"

"Generally? You'll be humiliated and it'll be the worst thing that ever happened to you - ever. You'll want to lock yourself in your bedroom forever - or blackmail a witch into helping you out with a little spell to end your humiliation with disastrous results. Then you'll get over it and realize it wasn't all bad and at least you got to kiss him."

Spike and Connor stared at Xander.

"Hey, that happens to be the voice of experience. Have you got anything better?"

A vision of stumbling through darkened London streets, words scattering behind him like confetti slinked before Spike's mind's eye. "Nope."

"The point is, you get over it."

"Yeah, okay, sure. You say that - you get over it. But I see him every day. And I know he's - he's into guys. But I don't have a lot of... Jesus Christ." Connor closed his eyes again, thumping his head back into the pillows and Spike shared a look with Xander over him. A look that morphed into a grin wicked enough to make Xander's whole body tingle.

"Are you sayin', pet, that you don't have any experience? You a virgin?" Spike didn't say it mockingly - he said it like Indiana Jones' dad said 'Holy Grail' and Xander took a deep, shaky breath, scenting want and lust and feeling yes.

"No! I mean - not exactly. Well, you know, demon dimension, weird junkie girls looking for a warm body, Mrs. Robinsoned by the parasite of a god in Cordelia's body - mostly I'm the geeky guy with weird nightmares and too much strength... Not exactly been a chick-magnet. Or a guy-magnet." Connor sighed and his voice dropped down low. "Just a demon-magnet mostly, and a freak."

Spike's touch gentled, settled over Connor's chest and heart. "Don't have to worry 'bout that with the seer, pet. He knows what you are - can't lay claim to normal himself now, can he?"

"And being a demon-magnet? Not all bad." Xander propped himself up on his elbow, hand still framing Connor's narrow jaw and covering the flutter of his pulse.

"Voice of experience again?"

Xander and Spike exchanged another quick look. "Oh yeah. The wacky broom closet tonsil Olympics with Cordelia in high school are the closest I ever came to normal."

Connor raised his head, staring curiously at Xander. "You dated Cordelia? Huh. I think - I think my dad was in love with her, you know? Sometimes he'll talk about her and..."

"Really?" Xander had to smile at that, imagining the sheer torture Cordelia had probably put Angel through. "Well - we kind of lost touch after our Mayor turned into a giant snake and I wired the high-school with several hundred pounds of homemade C-4 to kill him."

Connor was staring now and Spike was looking like a proud father at graduation and Xander let his fingers slip up into Connor's shoulder-length hair.

"Why'd you break up?" Connor asked.

"Therein lies a longer and more painful story in which I do not come off in a good light." Xander grinned, pushed into Spike's touch against the scar on his temple, souvenir from a drunk vampire armed with a microscope. "So, anyway, back to the topic...what was the topic?"

"Our boy's inexperience." Spike's finger was back to stroking, playing tag with Connor's pulse. "Insecurity."

"Insanity," Xander added. "Because let's face it - even dead guys think you're hot."

"My life is a freak show." Connor threw his arm back over his eyes.

"Join the club, buddy," Xander said, curling his fingers into Connor's hair again and again. It was oddly baby-fine, like raveled silk wisping over his fingers. Or maybe that was just another new vamp thing that made it feel so...slippery-smooth.

"He's right, pet - dead guys do think you're hot," Spike murmured - let a fingertip drift down and brush over Connor's nipple through his shirt and Connor sucked in a hard breath - lifted his arm a little, staring at Spike, this time.

"Prove it." His voice was husky - whisper-quiet and Spike felt the rush of want lust pretty from Xander as he let his gaze slide over Connor's face and body - looked back at him from under long lashes and leaned in, slow. So, so close - close enough that his lips touched Connor's when he spoke, close enough to feel chapped skin and taste Hershey's kisses and toothpaste. So the boy had had fresh-breathed hopes when he came in.

"You sure?"

Spike's words rumbled through Xander, spiked Connor's body heat and Xander closed his eye, pushed against human warmth and want and tried not to hump Connor's hip like a badly trained dog. Christ. If he isn't, I sure as fuck am. Jesus...

"Bring it, Blondie." Confident words, breathless voice and Spike could feel Connor hard against his hip, heart banging against his ribs - totally...completely...irresistible. He covered Connor's lips; toothpaste, chocolate, family and himself, drank down the husky moan and slipped within the kind of welcoming heat and slick that made humans - so worthwhile. And Connor was absolutely still under him - shocked - and then a slender hand, strong hand, tangled in Spike's hair and crushed him down - made up its mind and took.

The boy kissed like Angelus with Darla's lips.

"God..." Xander's voice - Xander's want want want like a velvet hammer-stroke through the link and Spike finally pulled back - looked down at Connor with a small smile on his lips - rocked his hips into the warm, warm body beneath his.

"You're gonna take his breath away, pet," Spike said - watched the smile bloom across Connor's face - light his eyes - and laughed softly when Xander made a noise like a frustrated puppy.

"What about my breath?"

"You don't have any," Connor said - tipped his head a little and shot Xander a look that was much - more than it had been a moment before. "I could give it a try though," he said, and pulled his lower lip into his mouth, white teeth on red, swollen flesh - and went easily when Xander scooped him up, devoured him like those bloody Chocolate Hurricanes, him and the whimpery wanting noises in the back of his throat.

And Spike smelled - blood. Xander's.

As Xander drew back with gasp and growl, eyes shimmering gold in the firelight - staring down at Connor like dinner, licking at the nick in his bottom lip, hissing and wide-eyed - stunned - when Connor did the same.

"It tingles," Connor said, contemplative and so fucking calm and Xander sent a wild glance Spike's way because the bite had more than tingled - it was a point of throbbing heat that was echoed all through his body - that was making the demon want to flip Connor over and have him, right there. Bite him hard and deep and rut until it was satisfied. He could probably take it - Angel's son...Angel's son, oh fuck - Spike - help!

"Any breath left?" Connor asked and Xander just stared - shook his head mutely while Connor smirked in triumph. And then Spike was turning Connor's head back - was looking at him, suddenly very serious.

"In about one minute I'm gonna strip you and fuck you through the floor," Spike rumbled and Xander's demon growled - mine flashing through the link and startling them both. "Only chance to say no," Spike warned - pushed his face into Connor's neck and breathed, rumbling grumble that was half snarl and half purr.

"Fuck." Connor gasped, tangled his fingers hard in Spike's hair and looked at Xander through wide, bright eyes and the tingling flush of a human with a taste of vamp's blood.

"The best parts about being a demon magnet," Xander growled, demon so close to the surface he itched all under his skin and Connor was hard - so hard under his palm, twisting and bucking up against him, something feral in his eyes, "Best parts happen when you give in."


~~~~~


"There're the taxis, Dawn, c'mon!"

"One more pancake! Lemme just -" Dawn buttered her pancake - sprinkled brown sugar on it and rolled it up - grabbed a paper towel and jogged toward the front door, carry-on bag swinging from her shoulder.

"Okay, that's just - gross," Gunn said with a grimace, and Willow grinned up at him.

"Don't knock it 'til you try it. Are you really not going to come to L.A. with us?"

"Really not. My apocalypse fightin' days are over, little girl. Got a bum knee to prove it."

"But -"

"Willow! Come on!" Buffy yelled - taxi-wrangler and douse intimidator as several of the creatures tried to climb into purses and bags.

"Coming! Giles, your jacket!"

"I doubt it's any colder in L.A. than it is here," Giles grumbled, but he turned back from the kitchen door for his wool coat, gathering it up as Wes stacked plates and Gunn limped doorward, as well. Happy to be seeing this particular branch of the Council out.

"Be prepared," he muttered, and looked up at a bang - someone slamming a door upstairs.

"Oh, did they finally decide to get up?" Wesley asked, coming out of the kitchen and following Charles' gaze upward. A moment later there was the thunder of feet and Connor, Spike and Xander appeared at the head of the stairs, moving fast. Spike had Connor's bag in his hand - Xander had his boots. Connor himself was struggling to button his shirt and his pale chest showed -

"Man, the boy's got hickeys like he was attacked by a Hoover," Charles muttered, and Wesley shut his mouth with a click. Connor skidded on the tessellated floor of the hall and caught himself against the wall - oofed out a breath as Xander did the same and plowed into him.

"Oh, man, they made pancakes for dinner! I told you guys!"

"That you did, pet, but - we asked you if you wanted to stop -"

"You said something about syrup," Connor objected, attempting to finger-comb his wildly mussed hair into some sort of order.

"Uh huh. And you said fuck syrup." Xander had his hands tucked into his jeans, flushed face, casual pose, utterly human and at ease and Wesley felt a prickle at the back of his neck the way Willow looked at him when she came out of the kitchen.

"And now my priorities have changed. Hold the cab!" Connor ran for the kitchen, dodged Giles and slammed cabinets.

"Napkins are in the draw by the cooker, pet." Spike called out and yanked a squirming douse out of Connor's bag by its tail - dropped it onto the floor where it zipped around Willow's feet and raced after Connor, leaping a chair in a single bound.

"Xander - " Willow stood not quite touching Xander - and the look on his face was one of...love. Spike turned away to see to the rest of the baggage, shouldering two and marching out the door.

"Come on, Slayer. Best get these away from the dice before they make off with a new crop of souvenirs."

"Willow." Xander held his arms open for her and she slid into them immediately, laying her head against his chest.

"I'm sorry."

Red hair was all he could see, looking down. Red hair, and shaking shoulders in an orange tee-shirt with Gumby smiling up at him from the back of it. He gave her a squeeze, breathed in lemony shampoo and peppery Willow. "Go save the world."

Connor bounced back out of the kitchen, something held in both hands, licking his lips. Wes and Gunn started moving toward the door and Willow finally leaned back a little - looked up at Xander with a small, tired smile.

"You know I love you, right? You're my best friend and I love you?"

"Course I know, Willow. And I love you, too." Xander tucked a lock of hair behind her ear - gently turned her and steered her down the hall, hand sliding into hand and squeezing. A horn honked outside and Gunn turned at the door, looking back. "It's that time, Wills. Call me when you get in, okay? I promise I'll pick up."

Willow laughed softly. "You better." And then they were stepping outside into a soft spring twilight. Damp scents of grass and the budding lilac from beside the walk - deep purple sky just beginning to show the pin-prick of stars. And a new moon riding sickle-thin just above the tree-tops.

Xander held the gate for Willow, slipping through it behind her, soft clang and clatter as it latched behind them. He pulled her hand to his chest and pressed it there, a spot of familiar warmth. "Don't get killed."

"Don't get killed deader because you know I'm not gonna leave you alone, mister."

Spike kept one eye on the witch and Xander. Xander looked happy - was laughing - but he didn't see Buffy's flinch or hear her suitcase snag and clatter on the rim of the boot.

"I'm not the one flying to the Hellmouth for end of the worldy fun."

Willow stood on tiptoe, kissed Xander's cheek with cool lips and looked up at him sadly. "It won't be the same without you."

"Sure it will! Rains of frogs, opening Hellmouths. Gross demons of the week. Send me a postcard."

"Xander, are you sure you won't come along? I mean - a vampire could really be a big help - look at how helpful Spike was last time!"

"Bursting into flames might have been helpful but it felt bloody rotten. There's not one thing on this earth would make me send Xander to that, Red, so stop asking." Spike was uneasy - was angry, suddenly, and he wasn't sure why. But he didn't like Willow's coaxing and cajoling when she'd already had her answer.

"That's all the bags, then, and everybody got their ticket?" A round of pocket-patting and purse-checking and then Willow was fishing in her pocket for something and Spike tensed. Probably nothing. Probably just a - keepsake. Leave already, you people, and let us have some peace!

It was a green crystal, spinning on a cord, catch-flashing the street lights back at them and Willow held it up for Xander who was eyeing it with the same wary look Spike knew was on his face. It stank of magic. "Even if you don't want to come, I know you want us to be safe."

"I'll know. Angel will call or California will crumble into the ocean." Xander grinned - tried to joke but gave up when Willow's eyes filled with tears and Spike felt unhappiness in the link. Unhappiness and - frustration. And the desire for them to all go. On the surface, Xander was smiling, leaning closer to Willow and kissing her forehead. "Sorry Wills," he said - not sorry at all. "So what'll happen? Will it glow, change colors or - "

The moment Xander's fingers closed around the pendant, the string still in Willow's fingers, a flash shot out from it, blinding them - and when Spike's vision cleared, Xander and Willow were in a shimmering bubble. Xander suspended, frozen in air and Willow with a glowing orb in her hands beginning to chant.

Rage surged up and out and Spike knew he was roaring - knew he was moving but it didn't register until he hit the bubble and it flung him back with a sick sizzling shock, burn of it all through him like the fucking walls in the Initiative. He shot to his feet, pushing off some anonymous helping hand and stalking back to the bubble - stood there, directly behind Willow. Waiting. Because when it was gone, and Spike could reach Willow - he was going to gut her.

"Willow, no!" Buffy's hands hovered - inches from the barrier, magic crackling along her fingertips and Spike saw silvery streaks down Xander's face, opening like cracks in the sidewalk, light inside.

Light glittering off tears in Willow's eyes, off the orb trembling in her hands. "I'm sorry, Xander. It'll be okay once it's in you. It won't hurt as much then."

Brighter, brighter, brightest until Spike had to turn his face away as the night turned bright as daylight.





Square Twenty-Five

"No, no - that's l-y-p-s-e. Yeah. Right. Now read it back, just in case." Spike watched as Xander pushed impatiently at his hair - as the strong, salt-tanged breeze lifted it up and swirled it right back into his eye. Spike reached out and tucked the strands back behind Xander's ear and Xander grinned at him, listening intently to the person on the other end of the line.

"Right, the First Birthday Baby Bouquet with extra - everything. I know, you told me - I don't care if it's double that, I want it big. Right..." Spike snorted softly, imagining the look on Angel's face as a huge bouquet of mixed pink and blue flowers - with noisemakers, party hats and balloons attached - was delivered to his office in Sunnydale. A 'Happy First Apocalypse' bouquet - Xander's brilliant idea, of course. Spike had thought maybe a singing strip-o-gram but they hadn't been able to find anything vulgar enough.

Spike rolled the cigarette between his fingers back and forth, back and forth. Imagining that he could still taste the lingering sugar-pepper-fire taste of Willow's blood in his mouth - replaying the moment over and over in his head. The moment when Willow's containment spell - expanding rapidly to hold the wild energies that were roiling inside it - had met Wes' house wards. The bubble had shattered like thin blown glass and Spike, free of the hot, invisible hand that had been pushing him back and back...had leapt. Had felt sweat-sticky skin and cotton under his hands - bird-bones and a woman's soft curves as he bore Willow to the ground, snarling. Felt the flesh of her throat part under his fangs like a ripe plum, spilling firesugariron onto his tongue. The memory made him snarl silently and Xander's fingers caught his - squeezed hard.

"Okay, great. Thanks a lot." Xander clicked his phone shut and tugged and Spike came into his embrace, settling with a sigh of pleasure into that familiar hold. "I'll call Connor and tell him to take pictures."

"Brilliant, love," Spike murmured.

"Just a little something I thought up to say 'I love you - and by the way, still evil'." Xander pushed, rolled Spike onto his back. He could see the crackling flashes of the ward-lights above them reflected in Spike's eyes and tangled his hands in honey and chestnut curls.

The aged boards of the widow's walk were dry and silken under Spike's bare heels and he settled his hands in the small of Xander's back. He could faintly hear Wes down on the sidewalk, pacing the perimeter and re-setting his wards. They'd faltered a bit under the enormous surge of energy that they'd leeched from Willow.

"And it's perfect, pet. Niblet will enjoy it, at least."

"She'll want copies of the pictures." Witchfire - man-witchfire this time - danced over Spike's skin - pink, blue and colors Xander didn't have words for. "Buffy's gonna have to lock herself in a soundproof room and laugh herself sick. It's bad form for the Slayer to laugh at the troops."

"Or she'll wet 'em - either's good," Spike said, watching sparks drift slowly upward and vanish in the mackerel-clouded sky. A few stars showed, here and there, and the moon made a patch of mercury-silver in the east. "Suppose she's gotten over her mad, then? Kept tellin' her it was an accident, my boot in her face..." Spike couldn't quite suppress the grin at that memory, and he felt Xander shake with silent laughter.

"And yet, she doesn't believe you. What's the world coming to when a slayer doesn't take a vampire at his word?" Xander shook his head sadly and propped it on his hand, turning his head to look up at the sky through the wards, sparks zipping along invisible lines like short circuts. They could hear Wesley curse three stories down. "We owe him."

"That we do. Any ideas? I say we drag him into the Nest and don't let him out for a week." Spike combed his fingers through Xander's hair, pulling it into a veil around his face - nuzzling his cheek into the soft, curling ends. "Charlie-boy'd get an education and we'd finally see just how many times a demon can get it up in a row, triple-teaming Wes like that."

Xander snorted. "I think he wants us to go away more than he wants us to triple-team him." There was love still there - love still growing but Wesley's tea consumption was beginning to make Xander wonder if there was a twelve-step program to help him. "I say we give Wes a chance to finish Gunn's education. Then we come home and triple team Wes till he can't even fantasize about getting it up again."

"Hmmm..." Spike wiggled until he was more comfortable, Xander settling onto his body just right; hill to hollow and bend to curve. "Got a line on a scroll that's supposed to have been written by some mad Arab about some mad demon who knew about some mad prophecy or other about...well, madness. Fancy a trip to Istanbul?"



Crackles and pings of magic danced between Wesley's fingertips and made him itch - made him irritable and made his hair stand on end as if he had ants pole dancing on the strands at his scalp.

Dear god, he was starting to think like Xander.

He paused on the landing, listening to douse-feet overhead and in the walls and the deep, even breathing coming from the bedroom. He could turn right at the stairs instead of left, toss his clothing into a messy heap on top of Charles' and crawl into bed with him.

If he was fortunate, he could compound matters pleasantly with a wake up blow job.

It was a pity that Wesley was a man of responsibility.

Bugger it.

He continued toward the attic.

Up there, the magic seemed more concentrated - seemed thick and Wesley supposed it was the added influence of the portal that the dice came and went through, spilling it's own energies like a slow-leaking spout of treacle. Wesley toed a few mesmerized dice aside - the sparks were dancing through the humid air, following invisible patterns and leaving ghost-trails behind. Phosphor and the tang of burnt tin in the back of Wesley's throat. He went to the far corner where the giant wardrobe was and opened the door - peered inside. Xander's suggestion, to use a wardrobe to hide the little doorway that led to -

"How're they looking, Wes?"

Wesley slipped his hand into the back, between faux-fur coats Xander had bought simply to hang in the wardrobe and into...cold. He grasped the jars, one and then the other and tucked them into the crook of his arm, brushing off flakes of frost before setting them on the workbench running the length of the attic. "See for yourselves."

The dice were creeping closer, whiskers and ears forward, tails up. "Always thought it'd be more tarnished." Xander picked up the glowing jar and turned it. Spider cracks like fractures in ice wove across the surface, testimony to the strength of magic trying to get in. "Those ancient Chinese sorcerers knew how to build these things to last, didn't they?"

"Actually," Wesley said, examining the other muo-ping, empty and smooth, "I ordered both of these from Henry Wang in New Jersey."

"Won't break, will it?" Spike asked, frowning at the damaged jar. At the pale, golden light that leaked out of the cracks without actually lighting anything - not even Xander's palm where it lay curved over the top.

"No, it won't. Xander's soul is still safe inside." Wes flicked a small smile toward Spike and Spike grinned back - finally lit his cigarette and blew smoke toward the dice. One sneezed and shot him a Bambi-glare.

If the jar broke, Xander's soul might go right back to his body. Or it might fly off into the ether like all good souls were supposed to do. Spike didn't want to find out which. He eyed the empty jar, dark and squat next to Xander's. Thought, for the thousandth time if he should put a glow into it, too. Just might. Might be fun, that... Longing and curiosity and a twist of impatience in the link and Xander looked up at that, eyebrow cocked.

"Gonna do it?" he asked.

"Might," Spike said and picked up the dark jar, turning it over in his hands. Looked like it should contain a liniment or some Chinese herb for impotence. Wasn't very impressive without the soul inside. He flicked a glance to Xander, over skin gone pale at last and the stark swirl of his tattoos, perfect casual ease in every joint and sinew. Xander glowed with or without his soul. He sucked on his cigarette and set down the other jar. "Might, some day. Your mate, Harvey - "

"Henry."

"He make many of these?"

"A dozen a year. There isn't much call for soul containment these days."

"So if that one broke - "

"I would place an order for another. This jar is yours, Spike. Not a safeguard for Xander's."

"Mine, yeah," Spike said. He patted the jar and then stepped back, letting Wes pick them up and move them carefully back into the little pocket of other-where that he'd made to house them. Safer there, where no douse or stray human could find them. Or witch's spell break them. Spike frowned at that - reached out and took Xander's hand, fingers lacing together. Did her best and it wasn't enough, thank fucking Christ. Safe, he's safe...

"Guess your magic was the better magic Wes, yeah?"

"Not better." Wesley closed and locked the wardrobe doors, pocketing the key. "Better established." He rested his hand on the wall, the warmth radiating through the old bricks and boards around the wardrobe. "I have the house on my side."

Xander's fingers tightened around Spike's, palm to palm with no spare warmth. Only smooth skin and gentle pressure. "Did it hurt her?"

"I dare say it gave her a shock and it may have weakened her for a time." Wesley absently helped a scrambling douse to the top of the wardrobe. "Permanent dampening is too much to hope for."

"Maybe if she tries again she'll burn out," Spike muttered. "If she tries again, she won't be so lucky. Bloody Slayer." He'd had the witch - had her right there, fangs up to the gum in her throat, her thrashing body stilling beneath his weight as he'd drank. A lovely moment - a moment never to be forgotten. And then Buffy had dragged him off her and in the resulting melee the witch had managed to teleport away, blood still threading down her neck.

Her magic-spiced blood had sent Spike climbing the walls until Xander had taken him out, gotten him in a few fights, gotten him drunk and then shagged him unconscious. No mean feat and Spike had to grin at that memory.

"I know what you're think-in'," Xander sing-songed, and Spike laughed and tugged him close - followed Wesley as he went out of the attic and downstairs again.

"That so?"

Xander attached himself to Spike's back, duck-walking close behind him and cupped Spike's groin with a grin. "Yeah."

"Hardly a challenge, that. Always thinking of a good shag."

"I must concur," Wesley murmured from the darkness ahead of them and Xander laughed, let go of Spike with a grope and a promise and skipped ahead to take Wes' arm.

"What about you?"

"I'm thinking of the warm bed I left to set the wards beneath a full moon while the dew is on the ground."

"You could slip into ours for a while - want to?"

Wes sighed - turned and leaned into Xander and Xander wrapped his arms around him - wasn't surprised when Spike joined them, making a tight knot of their limbs and bodies. Wes' lips were on Xander's throat, moving in a lazy kiss that skated slowly over to Spike.

"I...I think..."

"I think you want some time with your boy, yeah?" Spike murmured, his own mouth finding that smooth and sensitive skin behind Wes' ear and nibbling there. Wes shivered. "Just give us an hour, love, then we'll need to pack." Wes twitched in surprise and Spike leaned away a little, meeting his confused gaze. "Going to take a little trip to old Stamboul, me and my boy. Need to give you a proper good-bye."

"You don't need to go on my - "

"Save it." Xander turned his face with a cool hand and kissed him - hard. "See, we've got it all planned out. We're going prophecy chasing. You're going to get your funky weasel party with Gunn and we're gonna come back to fat dice and horny magic shop owners. But before we can go, we need a proper good-bye." That cool hand slid down Wesley's throat, down his chest and belly to mold itself to his groin, rub and tease. Rub and -

"I'll miss you." Wesley opened his eyes to a golden eye and pointy grin.

"Kinda the point."

"God." Wesley pushed into Xander's hand - into Spike's mouth, which had latched onto his throat again. He was tired - irritated - twitchy from the magics and...yes. He felt like something hard and nasty and exhausting. So he could sleep like the dead next to Charles who was still just a little...unsure. Not that Charles, naked and playful and engaged in tasting every inch of Wesley's skin wasn't enough... Sod it. Stop thinking and just do it. Time for all the melodrama later.

"Fuck yes, a proper goodbye -" Wesley's words stopped with a grunt when Xander yanked him back and tangled a leg around him, both hands dropping to his fly, working it open - friction, heat, impatience.

"A proper fuck," Xander added, rubbing against Wes fore and aft, no finesse, no preamble, only -

"God." He shivered. Whether from the cold of Xander's hands or the hallway or the heat from Spike's gaze.

"Let's see your real face, pet." Spike's fingers joined Xander's, hard and soft, rough in all the right places. "We're all demons here."

Wesley took a deep breath - reached inside for the little tick that was like a synaptic switch. The demon rose smoothly - eagerly - and Wesley took another breath, getting the sharp and peppery scents of the vampires into his nostrils - the thick musk of arousal. Spines lifting and lowering in anticipation, Wesley pushed, sending Spike stumbling back, step after step. Toward their room, the Nest - toward what he wanted. Xander crowding close behind. "Want you," Wesley husked, and snaked his head forward to kiss Spike hard. Hard enough to draw blood.

"You have us," Xander whispered, pushing them forward, pushing them through and down into a tumble and tangle of warm limbs and cool limbs and wet, clinging mouths raising goose flesh on Wesley's limbs. He stretched, felt his shirt pulled up and off, trousers down and tossed god knew where, offered himself and felt the mouths return; biting teeth, pinpricks of drawn blood and clever slicked fingers pushing into him hard, fast, rough and unprepared.

"Spike!"

"Here, pet." Spike's voice, close and soothing, edged with lust and far too near for those to be his fingers. Wesley's eyes snapped open, met Xander's single eye, cat-gold and heavy lidded staring back at him from between his bent knees.

Then there were hands, urging him over onto his belly and Spike's fingers were petting the long spines on Wesley's back - lightly brushing and teasing them, making little quivers of sensation shoot through him, back to belly and all through his legs and arms. It made his fingers curl into the massed pillows of the Nest - sent a claw or two popping through velvet and silk. "Yess..." Wesley hissed - arched his back and pushed as someone pushed back - as someone pushed in in one hard stroke, making him cry out.

"God, Wes, you're so fucking sexy like that..." Xander, cool lips on Wes' jaw and then on his mouth and Wes groaned - felt Spike's fingers on his back as Spike's hips rolled and pressed and slid, obscene and delightful dance. "My turn next," Xander added, and Wesley closed his eyes and held on. Opened his lips to Xander's kisses, Xander's mumbled words. "Can't let you forget about us while we're gone."

"Can't - won't -" Wesley gasped - arched into Spike's rough thrusting and Xander's greedy mouth - opened himself wide and promised with body and mouth and low, wordless cries that everything they were doing was making...an impression.



Wesley eased into bed with the tentative movements of a man trying not to wake his bed mate. A man with a sore yet grateful arse. A man with -

"The Nest. Gotta be somethin' in the Nest makin' y'all make all that noise," Charles muttered, rolling toward him and jerking him under the covers with short, economical movements and burying his nose in Wesley's neck.

"Charles, I - "

"Man, shh. Tryin' to sleep here."

In the dark, Wesley could see one of Charles' eyes open, looking at him. More than a smirk and less than a grin on those full lips. "I'm sorry we woke you up."

"Uh huh."

"Maybe just a little bit...not sorry?" Wesley asked, fingers lifting Charles' face up so Wesley could kiss him. Slow kiss that Charles returned with a sleepy little sigh, his body warm and welcoming and familiar, now. Slide of linen sheets over their bodies - press of Charles' belly and thigh. He smelled of cinnamon and spice and oranges and Wesley stroked his hand down Charles' back, letting him lay his head back down.

They listened to the phone ring - and stop abruptly. Wesley groaned. "He's got the answering machine unplugged again."

"Jesus. Did the man learn nothing?"

"Not about telephones and calls from Willow," Wesley muttered, tugging at a pillow until he was comfortable. He wasn't...anxious to hear from Willow again himself. There would be apologies - refused - and recriminations. It was a vicious cycle. "They're going on a trip. Flying to Istanbul. There's a scroll, apparently."

"And that was the big good-bye, huh?"

"Yes." Wesley hesitated, unsure whether another detail would be welcomed. "You were invited to participate."

To Wesley's immense relief, Charles only chuckled and squirmed his way into a more comfortable position. "Man. I am so not ready for the big leagues."

"I assure you, you're quite beyond little league."

Charles lifted his head. "You know about Little League?"

Wesley ran his fingers over the stubble on Charles' scalp, down to the smoother skin behind his ear. "Not really."

"You know enough," Gunn said - pressed a series of slow kisses all along Wes' chest and collarbone. "Those two probably doin' stuff with chains and feather dusters and live chickens in there - scare a sane man back to bein' straight." Gunn grinned up at Wes' snorted laughter and wriggled closer - kissed the smiling mouth.

"I wanna learn the basics. Start slow - get to know every...last...move" Gunn pushed his hips into Wes' thigh - ground in a slow circle that had Wes' making small, breathy noises. "An' I think you're the guy to teach me."

"They'll be gone weeks," Wesley said, surprised at the breathlessness in his own voice - possibly more surprised at parts of him rising once again to the challenge. Parts of him which should be lying dormant until the next full moon after Spike and Xander's brand of good-bye.

"Gonna have to give me the crash course then, aren't you?" Wesley easily slipped his leg over Charles' hip at the urging of a broad hand, nestled growing hardness alongside Charles' and breathed in the cloud of warm, human lust. "Gonna be one big...gay...summer camp."

"But without all the bloody lanyard-making and bad food," Wesley muttered - felt Charles' body stiffen and then shake with laughter. "Have you ever been to camp, Charles? It's bloody miserable. Rain and insects and counselors in khaki drill shorts shouting at you..."

"Sure you wanna be putting all that in my head, English? Might never get it up again."

"Oh no?"

"Christ - okay. Not sayin' there isn't a possibility of getting it up again."

"No?"

"Fuck. Me."

"Name the time, Charles."

Slow moving, wicked fingers. Heat and sweat, precome.

"Five minutes after the Twosome are out that door."

"Done."


~*~*~*~*~


The plane was gliding lower and lower and Xander watched the silver light of the full moon ripple over the expanse of the Marmara Sea. The lights of Istanbul - Constantinople, Spike said - were like a tangle of twinkle-lights, a glowing crescent that stretched for miles.

"We'll be landing at Ataturk International in aproximately ten minutes - the temperature is 21 degrees Celcius." The pilot's softly-accented voice was low and smooth - the private plane that Spike had chartered was done in greys and golds and dark, smoky green and Xander felt like he was in the sitting room of a plush hotel suite.

"Is that cold or hot?" he asked, turning to Spike, and Spike drained the last of his whiskey and shrugged.

"Dunno - never remember what the difference is."

"Water freezes at zero and," Xander closed his eye - cursing years of science teachers for never telling him when to wake up because it was a piece of information he'd need for more than the final exam. "Fuck it. It doesn't look cold."

It looked old, twisting warrens of streets, clusters of the big villas and drifting boat-lights along the Bosphorus.

"So not Kansas."

Spike was staring at him.

"What?"

"Not your most original, pet."

Xander shrugged. "I'm gay, dead and a product of pop culture. The way I figure it, I'm legally obligated to embrace one cliche a week."

Spike rolled his eyes - signaled the steward who came and picked up glasses and bottle, stowing them away as the plane tilted, nose down. Heading for that old, old city of spices and silks and vices beyond counting. "Was here with Dru a couple times. She wanted to buy a dancing girl." Spike grinned at the memory of the slim, dusky girl that Dru had chosen and who had lasted an astonishing twelve days before Dru had tired of her. "Slave girl and a flying carpet. Only found the one..."

"Slave girls were that tough to come by in the old days?"

"Git. Found the girl. Never did find a flying carpet."

They were silent, watching the ground come closer - turn from lights to domes and spires, hedges and trees, glowing under the moon. When the wheels touched down, Xander said, "I'm gonna buy a flying carpet."

"And I'm gonna chain you to the bed," Spike growled, visions of his boy stuck somewhere halfway between earth and sky, the sun on the horizon and some half-cocked mojo fizzling out.

"Promise?" Xander chuckled and Spike snagged a shirtsleeve and yanked him over - kissed him while the wheels of the plane bumped and then rolled, the engine winding down and down until they finally stopped.

"Welcome to Istanbul, gentlemen," the pilot said, and Spike reluctantly let Xander go.

Xander flicked open his seat belt and stretched toward the ceiling, laughed when Spike snaked arms around his waist and tugged him over. He wove his fingers through loose curls and tugged on them until Spike looked at him. "We'll put it under Wes' desk. It probably can't lift the whole desk. And if it can..."

"I'd be takin' you to bed in an ashtray."

"There is that." Xander dropped a kiss onto Spike's head and wormed away, swinging an oversized duffel bag over his shoulder and bowing in his best attempted courtly gesture. "The city awaits."

"You said one cliche a week."

"It's a busy week."

The plane's door was swung open and they stepped out onto the aluminum stairs into cool, humid air. Spike took a breath but the clinging, sickly smell of petrol exhaust was too thick here and he and Xander hurried down the stairs and across the patched tarmac, heading for the small building where a Customs official waited. Money meant you didn't have to follow the rules and the demon who lurked under the peaked cap sniffed them and waved them on, red eyes winking in the dull-purple twilight. Dawn was another hour off - they had time for a little exercise. There was a car waiting and they loaded in the baggage and then sent it on. The hotel was maybe ten miles away and Spike was stiff from the long flight.

"Could do with a sip of something," Spike said, and Xander's teeth gleamed in the moonlight, feral grin.

"Me, too." Xander tilted his nose to the wind - sea air, spices and bodies crammed into a city. Animals and people. "Jesus. It's like walking into that Indian place in Chicago." Warmth and spice. "Feel like I could eat the whole menu."

"Maybe just a young and tender lamb or two," Spike said, the rush of hunger hunger blood flaring through him as Xander caught some exciting scent. "Or something aged and mellow..."

"Or something," Xander said, catching a scent that spoke of adrenaline and heady, spicy lust - exotic and strange and making his stomach twist and want - "spicy. And local." He broke into a run, gravel crunching against the pavement beneath his feet.

Spike ran with him, his coat snapping back behind, the air heavy with the perfume of night-blooming flowers and rare spices. In a city this old and this steeped in sin, there was always something - someone - that deserved a little death. And he and Xander were just so good at handing it out.

Passionately.

The crunch-shift of bone under Xander's skin was drowned out by the traffic noise and the air in the alleyway was humid, thick as they passed through between here and there.

Hearts beat at the end beneath crowded windows, open for the night breeze and sweet tobacco smoke drifted toward them with laughter and curses. One young man dabbing at skinned knuckles with the hem of his shirt, wet in an alley tap - the other two laughing at him, all three shoving each others' shoulders the way young men do.

Spike stole a glance at Xander's face excitementhunger swirling around him like pheromones.

They had both slowed to a walk and now music was winding out along the street - Indian pop, full of strings and rattling drums and the overspill from a club was suddenly all around them. Slim dark men and long-haired girls, a scattering of tourists. On the edges of the crowd were the predators - and the prey. They sauntered past the three boys, not bothering to hide the gleam of fangs. And there - just what they wanted. A small crowd, drunken voices - a fight. Lust and adrenaline in the air and the thick, sweet smell of hashish. Their kind of crowd.

Spike lit a cigarette and took a long drag - tucked the slim cylinder into the gap between two bricks. Xander reached out and tangled his fingers in Spike's hair - hauled him over for a fast, sloppy kiss before his eye slid sideways to take in the fight. His tongue ghosted over his lower lip, leaving it full and gleaming in the streetlights. "Soup's on."



For a price, a man could have anything in a hotel.

For an even greater price, two dead men could have the beds removed from a hotel room and pillows brought in to form a Nest - no questions asked.

Okay - not many questions.

Most of the questions so far were about room service, shisha and does sir require a wake up call.

Sir did not.

"Leave it to you to take up smoking when the smoke's sweeter than candy." Spike waved a plume of shisha smoke away from his face and lit up another Marlboro. "Dru loved it, you know. Loved the roses and strawberries. Said it tasted like summer parties."

"Huh. Tastes like..." Xander took a long drag - held the smoke in his mouth for a moment and then let it out, slow frost-blue stream that drifted upward into air as thick and golden as Turkish Delight. His eye was dark - half-lidded - his body the color of old ivory in the honeyed air. "Like the first time I ever kissed anybody. Easter Sunday when I was twelve."

"Precocious tyke, weren't you? Smoking up at that age."

"Not hardly." Xander took another drag, filling his lungs with cool, syrupy-sweet smoke. "Incense...and Peeps." He licked his lip, blew out the last of the smoke and closed his eye. "And boy."

"Boy? At twelve? Not only precocious but perverse," Spike said gleefully, worming across the temporary Nest to lean his head on Xander's belly, hand over Xander's ribs. The hookah bubbled quietly as Xander took another drag. "It's not - perverse. It was a - a very sweet and innocent moment. My first real kiss with my first real crush. It was -"

"Unforgettable," Spike said, laying his head sideways and closing his eyes. Remembering his own first real kiss, that had happened with Dru in the back of a hansom, going to the house that the others had claimed. Grave dirt under his nails and in his mouth - fresh blood and Dru.

Xander wove the fingers of his right hand into Spike's hair, petting and playing. "We punched each other extra hard horsing around after that until he got grounded for giving me a black eye." Xander laid back with a grin, streamed sticky-sweet cinnamon-orange smoke toward the ceiling and rubbed his palm over Spike's back and shoulders. The demon whispered Dru in every eddy and whorl of feeling coming from Spike. He didn't kid Spike for being...however old Spike lived as a human. Times were different then.

So was Spike.

"Blood tastes different here."

"Always does. Different diet. Not so much fat and chemicals. Tasted different when I was newly turned, too." Spike let his fingers do a slow sweep, back and forth over Xander's chest. Feeling nipples under his palms and the ripple of muscles and rib bones. He stretched to the ashtray and stubbed his smoke out, to have both hands free for petting.

"Do you like it, pet?" Spike asked, wondering what this boy - and he still was a boy in many ways - thought of this ancient city and ancient, alien land.

Xander liked the smooth sweep of Spike's palm and fingers over his chest. He liked the sweet smoke and thick, spicy air. The exotic spice-salt burst on his tongue in the taste of the locals' skin. A broad and stupid grin come over him. "It's all right."

"All right? All right?" Spike rose over him like an irate lizard, eyebrow beam firing highly concentrated sarcasm at his skull. "You're in an ancient city, exotic land half way around the sodding world and it's 'all right'? Bloody youth of America."

"I don't have much to compare it to. See?"

"Well, that's so," Spike conceded, subsiding grumpily to the pillows - groping under one until he found the bottle of whiskey he'd filched the night before. "I suppose we could travel a bit more. Just because Wes grows roots doesn't mean we need to." Spike uncapped the bottle and drank - rolled over onto his back to watch the smoke curdle and fade, caught in a high, thin beam of sunlight that dazzled across the arched ceiling.

Xander caught something - unease, or could that be guilt? in the link and looked at Spike with a frown. "What is it, sweetheart? I like that plan."

"Yeah, I like it, too. My bloody soul doesn't, though. Gibbering on about duty and repentence and - and bloody destiny isn't it? Miserable thing."

Miserable and - awake - unhappy in the link and Xander rolled over to look down into eyes that wouldn't meet his. "I thought you said the soul didn't affect what you want to do anymore."

"Yeah - well - changed its mind, didn't it?" Spike chewed on a cuticle. The soul...didn't want to be here in Istanbul. It wanted to be on the Hellmouth, saving mankind. Or at least in Salem as backup when Angel fucked up, inevitably. His soul might be good but it didn't like Angel, either. Xander pushed off of him, crawling the perimeter of the Nest and peering under furniture. "What're you about now?"

Xander sat up, pushed the hair out of his eye and gave Spike a direct stare. "Looking for chains."

Spike growled - the amused growl of a tiger that's about to swat an annoying cub away - and lunged. Got Xander's ankle in his hand and jerked him back into the Nest - pinned him with his body, Xander's wrists in his hands. "Only one gettin' chained up around here is you, pet." Xander had changed and now he stared up at Spike - solemn and still, eye glowing like a flame.

"You're not gonna go to Sunnydale and you're not going to be anybody's backup but mine, Spike. I'll fight you if I have to," Xander said - low, even voice and Spike lost his smirk.

"You'd lose, love." He dipped his head down and kissed Xander's mouth - coaxed the almost-frown away with gentle action of lips and tongue until Xander sighed and kissed back. "I won't - go. Promise you, love. I won't. It's just..there, you know? In the back of my head all the bloody time."

"I seem to remember something like it not too long ago," Xander said but the memory of what a soul felt like was fading. He still knew right from wrong from girl, don't go there - but the painful tug in the white hat direction was...gone. The gnawing, nagging knowledge he could be somewhere better being a hero - well okay that was still there, but he didn't care.

He'd been a hero.

He'd been fucking lucky to survive being a hero.

Being a hero was dangerous. "If you break that promise, I'll break your legs."

Spike felt the emotions that were concealed behind the demon's mask - felt the anger and the fear and the possession - the truth of Xander's statement as strong and clean as his love. He had to grin - had to bend his head to kiss again. To whisper.

"Won't, love. Promise you. That's all done, now - not heroes anymore, not champions, just us... Love you, Xan..." Because there was nothing - not even his soul - that could compel Spike to jeopardize what he had. To put Xander, or their future together, at risk.

"Let the white-hats have the glory. And the risk. Have it with my blessing."


~*~*~*~*~


"Okay - that has got to be the freakiest woman in all of Salem." Gunn tossed a CVS bag onto a chair, narrowly missing a douse that sqreeked irritably at him before plunging bodily in to inspect the toothpaste and chewing gum that were inside.

"I'm sure there's someone in Salem stranger than Miss Hawthorne."

"Yeah - but they're both in Istanbul." Gunn grinned and stepped up, his cane left propped in the umbrella stand and put both hands on Wes' shoulders. Whatever Wes had been putting in that god awful stinky 'fix Charlie's knee tea' was...working.

"Yes, and having 'a marvelous time, don't you wish you were here, oh, no, probably not, how's that whole gay-sex thing coming, Charlie-boy?' Wesley grinned at the elegant handwriting that had composed that strange little message - flipped the postcard over and studied the image of - what appeared to be a movie actor. Or pop star. Or - someone very popular in Turkey, with far too many teeth.

"How is that coming?" Charles asked, his voice low and rumbling and Wesley flicked the postcard away, running his hands up Charles' back to his neck - pulling him in close.

"I think it's going very well," Wesley breathed.

"Oh yeah? How well?"

"You've rounded third - and are headed home." Wesley murmured into his lips, muffling Charles' laugh with a kiss.

"Jesus, English. You with the baseball cliches. World of wrong." Gunn ran his palms up and down Wes' flanks, feverish skin too close to his ribs. Boy needed more meat on his bones but the way he pushed into touch, Gunn wasn't about to break the mood for that suggestion. Or the kiss.

Or the hot curl of nervousness and want in his belly that'd been growing there all day since he woke up and his first thought was - wanna nail Wes to the mattress till the furballs run away. No more nerves. No more slow - just take.

The kiss lengthened - deepened - and Wesley found his plans for getting takeaway and maybe a movie dropping away, pruned back to nothing by the gentle insistence of Charles' fingers at his shirt buttons - Charles hands on his hips and Charles' body pressing him lightly but inexorably to the wall. Erect - wanting - his breath catching and hitching as Charles moved his hips in a languorous, erotic roll.

"Oh, god - Charles -"

"Need to go - upstairs, Wes. Need..." Charles lost breath and voice as Wesley locked his hands behind Charles' head and kissed him, a surge of lust and adrenaline making him almost dizzy.

"Need...oh, yes..." Wesley whispered.

"Need this?" Gunn asked, part of him still fuckin' amazed he was here with a guy, wanting him with the kind of fire in his belly he couldn't tamp down - and the rest of him was fuckin' amazed it was Wes - and mutual.

Wes' cock, hard as stone grinding against his hip. Wes' sweat on his tongue, his ass in Gunn's hands and moan in his mouth when he squeezed with shaking fingers. "What do you think?" Wes' voice was rough around the edges.

"I think if we don't get up these stairs right now, the dice are gonna get a show. Need - to get you naked and under me," Gunn breathed around kisses, groans, Wes' skin sticking under his hands - humid. "Around me."

"Charles - "

"And you're gonna say that, in that voice and I'm gonna - " Gunn pulled back, pulled up, breathed deep and got a nose full of lust and salt and clean summer sweaty pheromones. "Gonna come before we get upstairs." Wes' hands were hot on his jaw, on his throat, tilting his face down, staring up at Gunn. "Done waiting," Gunn said to stunned and lusty eyes. "How 'bout you?"

"Oh - yes," Wesley said - pulled Charles down for one more hard, claiming kiss and then he was moving - up the stairs. Charles' hand tight in his and his whole body singing - floating - thrumming with desire and need. Into the bedroom and shutting the door against dice - not that that would help - and then leaning there as Charles stood, breathless, by the bed. Wesley reached up and undid a button on his shirt - undid another and Charles eyes gleamed in the low, golden light of the single lamp.

"Think I wanna be doing that," Charles said, his voice gone low and husky and Wesley let his hands drop to his sides.

"I think I want you to."

"C'mon over here," Charles said, certainty in the words making douse-feet of lust scramble down Wesley's spine to demand compliance of his suddenly clumsy feet. Charles towed him the last foot across the floor, fingers hooked into his belt loops then sliding up sticky-warm over his belly and chest. "Yeah. Wanna see this."

Wesley closed his eyes, warm words coiling around him, into him and he traced Charles' progress by feel. Cool air on his collarbone. A brush of scuffed knuckle across his nipple and oh - tongue - flickering around and over tingling flesh. He arched toward it with a hitch of breath. "Don't - don't lose your place now."

"Oh, no need to worry 'bout that," Gunn said, his lips moving against Wes' chest. Tongue flickering and tasting the salt-musk taste of... My boyfriend. My lover. My...mine. Gunn got his fingers up to Wes' shoulders and pushed at the shirt. Still halfway buttoned, it slid down Wes' shoulders and arms and then clung and Wes twisted, trying to free himself. Brought muscle and tendon into sharp relief and Gunn had to bite on the smooth line of Wes' throat - lick the curves of his collarbones. "Jesus, Wes, you... I can't get - enough of you," Gunn groaned

It was utterly different from Spike and Xander. Sweetly - humanly - possessive and sure of itself in a way Xander hadn't been. Exploratory and...new. His hands were shaking, running over Charles' scalp, pressing him into his skin with trapped arms. "God - we've done this so many times."

"No way." Gunn lifted his head, then lifted Wes' arms and pulled the shirt off, dropped it on the floor and wished like hell for a second he could slide to his knees, do this right. Instead he nudged forward until Wes lost his balance, kissed him down to the mattress and crawled over on his good knee, tasted down to the belt buckle. "Haven't done this."

"No," Wesley said - arched as Charles' fingers slipped under his waistband, pressing against his belly and - god - the head of his cock. "No, this is - this -"

"Shhh," Charles crooned - leaned on one elbow and worked at belt and button and zip until Wesley felt the cooler air - felt heat again as Charles' fingers caressed him, a slow and intimate touch. "You're so - fine. Just -" Charles shifted - swooped down and licked and Wesley moaned softly, his hand fisting the sheets - locking down on Charles' shoulder.

"Like that, like that," Wesley muttered, and heard one of Charles' shoes thud to the floor.

"Got no patience," Charles muttered and the other shoe dropped moments later. "Said I wanted you naked under me - item one," and Charles squirmed down to slip Wes' shoes off and drop them, grab his opened trousers and slide them down his legs slowly enough to raise goose flesh and leave Wesley sprawled nude beneath him, breathing hard, painfully erect and he felt - bloody desirable.

"There - was something about under you and - around you," Wesley said, itching all over for contact, for skin, for - "bloody hell. I'm impatient?"

"You're - " Gunn held Wes' ankle in his hand - bent Wes' knee and put his mouth on the pale knob of bone there. Wes' leg flexed in his hand and the skin went from human to demon-slick and back. Gunn let his teeth graze that spot again - inched his way up Wes' body, ankle locked in his fingers and his mouth tasting the thin skin behind Wes' knee. Tasting the rich salt-musk that was in the crease of thigh and hip and Wes shuddered all over - spread his other leg wide, his knee bent and his toes pushing at Gunn's thigh.

"For god's - sake, Charles - Christ -"

"Mmm." Gunn hummed to himself as he licked lower - lower still - and Wes' breathing went to ragged pants. "Want to be...right here..." Press of the flat of his tongue on roseate, puckered flesh and Wes' heel dug into the mattress and his hips lifted off the bed.

"Want you there - too."

"Right here?" Gunn's words buzzed into flesh already tingling and burning.

"Right there! Sodding Christ!" Wesley arched off the bed, arched then curled, drawing a knee up tight to his chest, thigh trembling under Charles' grasp as he was breached and suddenly understood the universal raunchy appeal of mirrors in the ceiling - well - unless one was a vampire.

But speaking as a - a demon - with a human's tongue exploring his...oh god...inner self - a mirror would have been bloody lovely.

The noises Wes was making were more than encouraging - they were devastatingly sexy and Gunn breathed hard, mouth open and jaw aching and his own hips moving in a helpless grind on the bed. Oh fuck, fuck - want to - like a damn fire, so fucking - hot and - Wes' thigh quivered next to his ear - Wes' ankle twitched and jumped in his fist and Gunn slid upward, mouthing balls and cock, belly and nipples and throat. His own erection pressed and skidded and slithered on the saliva-wet skin and they both groaned. "Fuckin - lube, man - need it - god - need you -" Wes twisted like an eel, stretching, and Gunn ran his fingernails down ribs and flank, watching Wes' shudder and flicker. Human - demon - human. Oh fuck, so damn - fine.

Wesley fumbled the cap off the lube, a gush of the slick gel coating his hands, his wrists, dripping onto his belly and making him hiss at the cold.

"Slick me up, Wes." Charles' voice was close - deep and shaky, words cooling his skin and Charles' groan warming it up again. His eyes fluttered shut in anticipation and reaction. "You're missin' a damn fine show."

Wesley's eyes snapped open to find Charles - watching. Watching Wesley's own pale fingers sliding over dark skin, catching the lamplight - glistening and he sucked in a breath. Watched Charles thrust slow and careful into his hand, dark head appearing through his clenched fist - retreating. And he ached and wanted, thrust his fingers with the last of the lube roughly into himself to ease the way and clutched at Charles' shoulders. "Please."

Gunn leaned all his weight on his left knee - on his fists. Looked down at Wes, who was staring up at him, eyes wide. "Help me - do this," Gunn said - voice a little shaky and a lot breathless and he moaned as Wes' hand closed around him - tugged him gently forward. Wes arched up - pulled his leg wide with a hand on his knee, his other hand guiding - pulling - and Gunn pushed forward. The first touch of that hot, slick skin made him shudder and Wes gasped softly - tugged again.

"Yes, god - there, Charles - there -"

"Fuck -" Gunn pushed gingerly and then a little harder and the flesh moved - parted - sank aside for him and then seemed to pull him in and suddenly the muscle there was tight around the head of Gunn's cock and he stilled - looked down. Wes was panting now, his eyes half-shut and Gunn stared at the place where their bodies joined - jerked in surprise when Wes suddenly bore down - and he slid in.

"God, oh - god, god - fuck - Wes -!"

Gunn's hands shook on the mattress, dug in because there was tight and hot - and then there was tight and goddamn hot the way only a demon guy could be. He held still - right there - breathing rough and fast against Wes' collarbone, muscles like he never ever suspected English had clenching around him, snug and tight.

And Wes holding him, those hot hands stroking over his scalp, neck, back - Jesus - ass, pulling him in till there was no more 'in' to go. And made him want to do things that just weren't physically possible, more than shallow rocking, burning up inside, fucking teasing them both. "God."

"You feel - so good, Charles, so -" Wesley's voice was shaking, just a little and he lifted his head a little and kissed Charles - dart of his tongue along Charles' lips, dipping inside to taste heat and coffee and cinnamon gum. And the dark molasses-sweet that was Charles. Weight and heat holding him - pushing him into the mattress and Wesley arched his back and pulled his knee higher - pressed Charles' forward with heels and palms, wanting him deeper - deeper. "Yess..."

Charles whole body was trembling and Wesley knew he couldn't stay up on just one knee for long. Charles pressed in tight - withdrew - pushed in again. Slow, deliberate strokes that made Wesley suck in a sharp breath - knead the sweat-slick flesh in his hands.

"Charles - let me -" Wesley moved a leg - pushed with the other, urging Charles over. To his side, then his back, and Charles sighed in relief as his weight came off his good knee. Wesley knelt over him, still filled - still held. Put his palm on Charles' ribs - the other on his thigh. And started to move.

"Now this is the good life," Gunn breathed, stretching both arms up and tucking them behind his head - let his body do the talking and mostly it said god in heaven you keep doin' that and I'll keep lyin' right here. Lying right there, watching the flush spread across Wesley's cheeks and down his chest, pink on pale to angry red, standing tall against his belly.

Wes made an inarticulate sound of agreement, teeth bared and the same kind of concentrated look he got when he was deep - deep into his work - instead of his work being deep in him. And looking wasn't nearly enough when Gunn could be touching - and touching wasn't enough when he could be gripping Wes' hips tight, hips, thighs, belly, dick - and he was so far past any hang-ups he'd have to send them a postcard because he was gonna get addicted to the sound Wes made when he swiped his thumb round and round the head of Wes' cock, all slicked up.

And to the sound Wes made when Gunn tasted him - salt and musk - and a little bit of that pepper taste the Twosome kept sayin' meant magic. Who the fuck was he to say they were wrong?

Charles had a look on his face - one part wonder and one part glee and Wesley slowed down - clenched tight - rolled and rocked and twisted his hips. Determined to make this first time something Charles would never forget. Gasping as Charles stroked hot, rough hands over him - moaning as Charles lifted a slick thumb to his mouth and lazily licked it clean.

"Oh - god. Bloody - hell -" Wesley lifted up and thrust down hard - arched in pleasure as Charles pushed up to meet him.

"What do you say, English? You and me - take this number home?" Charles' voice was rough, panting and he was sure his wasn't much better - and they were moving together now, curling into the heated, humid air between them, lips and tongues coming together, clash and clack of teeth - far more hands than two men should have and sparks lighting up, firing off behind his eyes.

"Yes - home -" Wes mumbled and then he moved again - twist and bump and jut of hip and Gunn was arching up, bad knee forgotten, his heels burning on the sheets and his arms wrapping around Wes - pulling him close as orgasm shot fire up his spine. Wes was making a shivery, whimpery kind of noise and Gunn fumbled blindly, panting - pushed between them and found the solid, hot length of Wes' cock - stroked it jerkily, his hips bouncing on the bed. Wes' mouth came down over his and Wes' hands were on his skull - his knees tight in Gunn's ribs - sudden spill of slick-hot fluid - sudden, frenzied clamp and release of Wes' body around him and Gunn subsided, boneless and dazed. Panting for air, Wes' heartbeat thudding double-time against his sternum.

"H-home fuckin' run, English."

"And the crowd," Wesley panted, unwilling - unable - to move, "goes wild."


~*~*~*~*~


Noise and scent assaulted Xander like a gang of drunks after last call. It pushed and shoved at him from all sides, nosed up under his sleeves and into his pockets -

Okay, the pockets thing was a ten year old kid with a broken wrist.

Now.

Bones were pretty fragile when you got down to it.

"Oh, shit," Xander said - looked down into eyes as big and dark as a douse's eyes and a thin, hunger-pinched face. A face struggling to hold back tears as the bone under his fingers grated, tiny sandpaper grit that he felt through his fingertips. "Shit," he repeated.

Spike turned around from inspecting a thick roll of - tobacco? - leaves and scowled down at the shivering boy. "H?rs?z," he said, and the boy jerked - flinched - and his bones twisted. Xander grimaced at the sickening crackle.

"Uh - I kinda - broke something," Xander said and wished the kid would stop tugging because it had to hurt - and didn't they cut off your hand or something if you were caught stealing here? Better a broken wrist then no hand. But - he had broken a bone a time or two in his life and it was - not nice. And even if he was a soulless vampire he wouldn't squish a douse under his boot - or let this kid with the pretty douse eyes creep away all - crushed.

"Oh, here." Spike plunged his hand into his pocket - pulled out something and pushed it into the kids other hand. The kid glanced down - saw the flash of green American money and grinned. Xander let him go and he scampered away, his arm tucked tightly to his chest and the fifty dollar bill Spike had given him in his fist.

"You know, I'm pretty sure his wrist is still broken," Xander said as the kid disappeared into the crowds like a douse down a hole. Fast for a kid with a broken bone. He flexed his fingers, feeling the crackle-shift of bone and skin on his fingertips and rubbed them together. It was...creepy.

"He's got another." Spike slipped the roll of leaves into his coat in a motion nearly too quick for Xander to see and bought a cheap packet of local cigarettes.

"Yeah. Yeah, okay." Xander watched another kid - a girl - dip her hand into and out of the gaping pocket of a fat German's backpack and scuttle away with what looked like a wallet. Wonder what kind of medical care fifty bucks American gets? Wonder if that's a flying carpet? "Hey, Spike -!"

"No, pet, not a flying carpet," Spike said - didn't even glance over from the display of leather belts he was looking at. Xander fought the urge to grab one and put it around Spike's neck. On the other hand, not a bad thing... Spike glanced over at him and leered, his fingers sliding suggestively over thick leather and silver gromets and Xander shivered.

"We'll take it," he croaked because there was something about Spike and leather that should be illegal in any civilized country. Oh Xander, you rebel. On the other hand, two guys could never have too much leather - and Jesus, did dying make him more gay or what?

He left Spike behind to pay - or whatever - and picked up a pillow at the stall down the way, lurid purple and scratchy silver threads - squishy and prickly but even Spike couldn't pocket a pillow and where they were going, Xander wouldn't have room for bags of purchases. He bought a scarf instead and considered a pair of gauzy red harem pants that looked long enough for Spike.

Spike grinned after Xander - bought two belts, because really - that was just more practical. Shoved them into the carrier-bag he gotten with an earlier purchase of some truly heavenly candies and wandered down the row, watching Xander haggle halfheartedly over a spangled scarf. Guess who's playing Harem-boy and the Sultan later... he thought - twist of wantmine through the link that made Xander start and shoot him a glare. Spike just chuckled - ignored the dark looks he was getting from some young toughs. Three or four boys with too much 'national pride' and not enough sense who were staring daggers at all the tourists. Silly sods. Come and try me then, boys. I'm a bit peckish, anyway...

Xander decided not to mention the harem pants - now tucked up into an impossibly neat and small rose-scented bundle in his pocket and fell into step with Spike. Overhead, dust caught on the sunlight in a glittering shower that hurt his eyes and they skirted a patch of light on the floor, smoothly ducking into a stall of lamps and glasses, plates and goblets, the most colorful angled to catch the light. In the back of the stall, a pair of young Australians vigorously rubbed lamp after lamp. Xander gave them a really wide berth. Because after Sunnydale? A guy learned not to tempt fate.

He followed Spike quickly out of the stall.

"Here we go," Spike murmured and ducked aside, edging between a stall full to bursting with long, embroidered robes and another one that was equally full of brightly-printed magazines with Bollywood movie stars on the covers. A gloomy alley twisted away before them, lined with three or four more stalls that were half-hidden in darkness. Stalls that sold things less touristy and more...demony, and at the end of the alley was a steep, down-sloping ramp and at the bottom a door - to something very different.

Spike ushered Xander through with a flourish and then they were on a narrow stair with window holes in the walls, their edges smoothed with age and revealing in glimpses another bazaar below them. Old in way the bazaar aboveground wasn't.

Here, even the merchandise hadn't changed - much. Neither had some of the customers.

Xander flattened himself to the wall for a bearded demon to squeeze past in a turban and a Fu Manchu mustache the color of the French mustard Anya used to sneak into his sandwiches that made his tongue burn and his eyes water. The demon left the scent of orange blossoms in its wake and disappeared down another narrow staircase.

"Okay - this wasn't in The Tourist's Guide To Turkey." Xander hopped down three stairs and pressed close to Spike, the peppery magic smell stronger here than it was even in Wes' shop.

"'S called Cappadocia, pet, and it's been around a lot longer than anything up there. Where we're gonna find our scroll." Spike ducked under a swaying curtain of web - S's'skik demon - and turned left onto a vast promenade. Pillars of stone - worn smooth by time and blackened by countless hands, claws, and tentacles upheld and arched and soot-stained ceiling. Gas and oil lamps - balls of magical fire and weirdly-scented herbal torches and candles lit the endless space like a golden star field.

"Now - just watch your step a little, Xan. Some of these down here don't like vamps much."

"Oh, really?" Xander muttered, eye-roll and 'duh' implicit in his tone.

Xander had discovered, since being turned, that vampire's weren't liked by many demons at all. Something that made for a lot of fights in back alleys and bars. Which was fun, but Spike still worried a bit, since Xander was new to the game and not always aware of the damage some demons could do. But he was learning. Doing damn good, really, Spike thought - leaned over and planted a fast kiss on Xander's cheek. "Don't want to take 'em all on, pet."

"Not without a good reason." Xander rested a hand on the small of Spike's back, unobtrusive contact but reassuring.

Spike snorted, leaned back into his hand for a moment then led the way down and into the throng below. "There is no good reason to take on this lot." A grunting epithet drifted up to meet them from a stall manned by demons who looked like giant pink pigs. Spike flipped them off.

"Did you understand what he said?"

"Didn't need to."

The Lower Bazaar was crowded - fuming with all sorts of stinks and scents and magical energies and Spike felt his demon - settle. This was home in more ways than the human world ever was, and Spike let his stride lengthen - let his shoulders go back and his hands curl loosely at his sides. He felt - damn good here. Now just need to find our scroll...or maybe a drink...or a fight... There's that cafe down here - hashish and coffee and that fuckin' stuff that Dru had once - like vamp-nip. Xander'd like that, maybe... They had - all the time in the world, and showing Xander the 'real' world - was fucking fun.


~*~*~*~*~


In a good romance, the lovers should be able to bask and cuddle, have another round of lovemaking in the morning, then a slow brunch full of stopping to kiss and touch.

In the real world, Wesley and Charles shared a quick shower, hot soapy kisses - and lost the toothpaste tube to a douse. A piece of toast, a glass of orange juice, and they were hurrying through the streets of Salem to the shop.

Because neither love nor the luxury of ownership stopped the demon delivery services from their appointed times.

And these appointed times were always bloody early.

"Sign here. Here. And here. Initial here, then sign -"

"Why am I signing all these forms?" Wesley snapped, irritated, and the squat, short demon in round glasses and a little purple fez blinked up at him. With six eyes.

"This says you were here. This says the shipment is good. This says your initial is good as your signature and this is a sample of your initial. Then you sign to say you okayed your initial and then you initial these -" the demon ruffled through about twenty more pages. "Then we're done."

"I'm not buying bloody Thrummer stones, for heaven's sake." Wesley scribbled on the next form and the next, frowning.

"We have one page per item, all insurance and guarantees for each item need a signature or an initial. You missed one." Wesley glared and flipped a page back. "We have a kit for DNA and blood-print for Thrummer stones.

"I'll bloody well keep that in mind," Wesley growled, ignoring Charles' snigger.

He ignored Charles' snigger but not the warm, solid hand that rested on his hip through the paperwork and gave him reassuring squeezes every time the little delivery demon pointed out another signature needed.

"Thank you for doing business with us, sir. Tevlox Dispatch is always at your service."

"I will keep that in mind," Wesley answered and then added to the puff of smoke where the demon had been until a second before, "git."

"Just doin' his job, English," Gunn said - avoided the halfhearted smack Wes sent his way and snagged the man closer - kissed him. "Just like I'm just doin' mine. Got your tea all made."

"That's not - your job, Charles. But thank you - very much." Wes spoke through kisses and Gunn kissed back and then they both groaned softly as the doorbell tinkled.

"What can I do for you today, Mr. Sells?"



"He was just doing his job, Spike." Xander looked over his shoulder at the squat purple demon, six eyes and a cabbie cap, trying to pull something that looked like a perfume spritzer out of its mouth.

"Never let a demon spray you with anything for free, pet. You never know what it'll do."

"But that was Chanel No. 5 - I recognized it from when I dated Cordelia." Spike glared and Xander shrugged - let it go. Who knew that the demon world had spritzers, too?

"Just not a good idea, Xan. No, I bloody well do not want to buy your sister. Or your daughter. Or your grandfather, you detestable little - creature!" Spike roughly shoved a skinny, long-nosed lizard-looking thing out of his way. Lizard-thing sprang right back as if on an rubber band, trailing a kite's tail of - apparently - scantily dressed family members. Xander hastily averted his eyes from - grandfather.

"Sod. Off." Spike shoved again, hard, and the lizard-thing stumbled back, flailing - fell with a clatter into a stall that apparently sold all sorts of brass things. Which rocked and swung and crashed off their rickety shelves and hooks, escalating din that made Xander wince.

"I think we should - " Xander started.

"Have a drink," Spike finished, catching Xander's arm and disappearing into the crowd before the lizard-thing could point any claws their way.



"No m'am, that's not for sale - private collection."

"But it's a Wormers - you don't see these every day!" The woman's fingers - thin and veined and loaded with enough rings to make them seem like she was wearing knuckle-dusters - tightened down on the book. Wesley's own hands clenched a little tighter.

"Yes, exactly. That is why it's not for sale. And this area of the shop is clearly marked 'Employees Only' so if you would please - let - go!" The woman's hands scrabbled, her long, red nails scoring the fragile old leather and Wesley's mouth thinned in displeasure.

"Well I'm sure I've never been so insulted! Imagine! My husband will be hearing about this!" The woman opened her crocodile handbag and pulled out a cell phone - snapped it open and stabbed buttons furiously as she stomped out, her heels clicking like little gun shots on the floor.

"Thank you, have a nice day," Wesley hissed after her - reshelved the book and turned to find Charles with a Cadbury's egg and a kiss. Thank god for Charles.

"Never thought I'd spend the day watchin' you fight little old ladies over books."

Wesley collapsed into the love seat, relieved when Charles sat with him and pressed a full cup of tea into his hands, warming tingles seeping through his palms and up his arms. Wesley sipped, waiting for the tingles to reach the rock-hard tension in his shoulders. "You have never gone with me to the book bazaar beneath Portobello Road."

"There's one of those?"

Wesley took another long and fortifying drink of his tea. "Yes. And it's the old women you have to watch out for. Every time."




"Anyt'ing elssse, lovey?" the - waitress - lisped and Spike grinned up at her - let a bit of tongue flicker just behind his teeth.

"We're set, love, but if I need anything at all - I'll just whistle." The waitress cocked her crested head and made a snickitty sort of noise in the back of her throat.

"You know 'ow to whissstle?"

"Oh, yeah - you just put your lips together - and blow." With another flurry of clicky noises the demon swayed away and Xander stared hard at Spike.

"What the hell was that?"

"Was a Rykkt demon. They tend to -"

"No, no, I mean - what was all the lips and the - the eyes and - you pouted at her! It!"

Spike lifted an eyebrow and Xander snatched his drink and gulped - froze - coughed so hard he was pretty sure he was going to bring up a lung. "Jesus...Christ..."

"Gotta sip it, love. That's good stuff, that - aged one hundred years in the pickled nest of a -"

"No. Please. I'm a vampire. A demon. Love mayhem and chaos and blood." Xander pushed his glass carefully away. "But please - I don't need to know anything else about this - drink. Or about you flirting with million-year-old waitresses." The Rykkt caught his eye from across the room and winked, crest and wrinkles and crepey jowls swaying and Xander shuddered. Spike just grinned - leaned in close, nuzzling into Xander's neck and nibbling just there. Xander groaned.

"It's the old ones you gotta watch out for, pet."

"You know what? No. Just. No." Xander straightened his spine, his shirt, his dignity - then a finger at Spike. "You. Nest. Chains. For the next century or until your sanity returns because...ew." Xander reclaimed his drink and tossed back a mouthful and felt it burn an acid trail down to his stomach, grateful he didn't need the organ anymore for actual digestion because he was pretty sure this drink would kill it.

"Open your mind, pet. Older Rykkts grow extra - "

"Finish that sentence and I'll let her have you." Xander took another drink. The stuff wasn't so bad. Once it burned off the superficial nerves and taste buds and sensitive stomach lining. Or maybe it'd burned a trail straight through and wasn't following normal channels anymore. He tossed the rest back and coughed.

Then it seemed like a good idea to flag the waitress back for another.



It had seemed like a good idea at the time to splash a sip of whisky in his tea but perhaps Xander had been right that Wesley's tea-drinking was getting out of hand. He blinked blearily into the cash register - he didn't remember it being quite so difficult to make change for twenty dollars on a seventeen dollar and forty two cent purchase.

Bugger.

"No, you need to give me another quarter, not another nickel," the girl said. Black hair, black liner, black lips, for god's sake, and Wesley peered down at the change in his hand.

"But that is another - oh, no, you're right." He laughed too-brightly - switched the coins and poured them into the girls waiting palm. "Sorry! Have a nice day!"

She shot him an odd look and walked out and Wesley slumped against the counter. "Charles? I think I need..."

"Think you need a break."

"Yes. I - yes," Wesley said vaguely around a yawn and let Charles lead him away to the couches. Yes. Yes. Perhaps he could cut back on the tea and hire an assistant...for the busy season.

Or at the very least, schedule sleep.

As pleasurable as it was, man could not live on tea and shagging alone.

Unless that man was Spike.

But Wesley wasn't going there.

He was going - "Oh, yes, Charles. Thank you." - to take a nap.



"I said we're here to pick up the Christiatos scroll," Spike said to the demon in the headlock. The demon with pupils like magic eight balls dancing around each other.

"Is this it?" It was an easy guess to make - as there was one scroll on the dirty blanket this demon called his shop. Xander wondered if it was common practice to stick yard sale type colored price dots on ancient prophetic scrolls or if this guy was as pathetic as he looked.

"Yeah." Spike dropped the demon and picked up the scroll, dropped a handful of bills on his blanket and tucked it away. "Keep the change, mate."


~~~~~


They came up out of Cappadocia in Sultanahmet, probably six blocks from their hotel. The sun was down - just - and the sky was veiled in saffron and terra-cotta and plum-red. Someone was having a party - a wedding party, it looked like - and there were cars and music and guests in bright, glittering dress, trailing perfume and spice and savory food-smells. Spike and Xander walked on the other side of the street, watching the to-ing and fro-ing, hands linked. Remote hunger was in the link but the need for some quiet was stronger. Even now, sometimes Xander felt overwhelmed by how much more he could smell and see - feel, even, as the wind brushed over their sensitive skin like a hundred ghostly fingers.

Somewhere behind them a door slammed and Xander did a little trip-catch stumble as Slayer washed over them both.

"No way," Xander breathed, craning his neck for a glimpse of golden hair in the crowd - only this Slayer didn't smell like Buffy.

Just...Slayer.

And made his gums itch and demon rise.

He was breathing by the time she appeared, dark eyes glittering beneath a neat hijab and Xander felt a flutter in his throat because he'd seen those eyes before, staring out at him from a shop stall in Cairo before he turned her life upside down. "Asima?"

She blinked - and the demon roared to go, go - kill - take advantage of that moment of weakness. But I know her - she has two sisters and three brothers and her father is a machinist and her mother is a teacher... Asima had no such doubts and her fist connected squarely, sending Xander reeling backward.

Then rolling out of the way of her stake, grappling for wrists like twigs in his hands - wrists that should have been fragile, breakable but weren't. That lifted him and threw him against a wall, made his skull connect and crack and lights flash before his eyes and he knew which face he had forward, wading back into the fight. Fast, faster, fastest and twisting with the stake embedding itself into his shoulder, flash of painpainpain! and Spike's arousalexcitementSlayer scalding him through the link.

Spike growled - watched the Slayer whirl and kick - watch Xander connect with a hard punch that drove her back, despite his wounded arm. Mine hurt mine kill! The demon was furious and frantic, scenting Xander's blood - driven into a rage by the tingling buzz of the Slayer.

And Spike - hesitated.

Fucking hell...can't let her... Christ, her Watcher's probably about. Stupid bastard's gonna see her die - fuck. Spike had no doubt - she was going to die. Xander was - that good. And this new crop of Slayers was still so green. He pushed angrily at a stab of memory - Buffy at the foot of the tower, Giles in stunned disbelief and himself - in an agony of scalding tears.

The Slayer punched again and Xander dodged - bent - got her around the neck and chest and yanked her backward, half-choking her. Snarling over her shoulder at Spike, fangs inches from her throat. The hijab was askew - she was panting - and mine enemy kill in the link - excitement and bloodlust, arousal and triumph. Exactly what Spike had felt, so many years ago.

Hard.

Xander had never been so hard - so ready in his life and he shook, dragging his tongue up her throat, feeling the pulse banging against his tongue like a heart right there under the skin - and there was nothing...but...

A tiny foot crashed down on Xander's instep, shattering bones and she twisted like a fish, twisted down and away in a move he'd seen Buffy make a thousand times.

He knew that move, twisted here, lunged there and took her down under him.

Licked his lips.

Looked into her eyes and felt her breath across his face, fast and shallow through the skewed fabric covering her mouth.

He reached up to tug away that scrap of cloth - felt her start to struggle again and gripped his fingers in cloth and hair, slammed her head to the ground until she stopped moving. He delicately finished unwrapping her hijab and licked at a tiny trickle of pepper-fire blood at the corner of her mouth before plunging his fangs deep into her artery and drinking fast, hard, greedily of blood that blew the fucking top off his skull with every gulp.

Spike was unsurprised to hear stumbling footsteps behind him and he turned, ready. Turned away from Slayer and vampire locked in an embrace both profane and sacred. Turned to catch the swinging stake of a tall, thin man who looked more like a gypsy tinker than a Watcher. Caught his wrist and twisted, up and around - crushed the sweating, struggling body to his own and pushed his chin hard into the man's neck. Growled a little.

"It's over, man. Over and done. Don't get yourself killed as well," he said - felt the pounding heartbeat racketing through the both of them and closed his eyes - licked his lips and pushed. Sent the man stumbling into the wall and watched as Xander rose, twist of his body like a lithe, dark mink - instant center and focus on the man who slumped bonelessly against the stone wall, forehead bleeding and blood tears sweat...anguish in his scent.

And hate - bubbling, boiling rage beneath the surface.

"Don't try it," Spike advised, watching Xander's sideways slink, eye trained on the Watcher.

"Hey - I've got room for an aperitif," Xander said, grinning, flying high and giddy and hey - go team!, vampires: one.

"You - you - fiend!" The Watcher choked. Words that would have made Xander laugh if they didn't come with a cross thrust at him and oily heat that made his skin crawl.

"Jesus - she attacked me! Slayer." He pointed. "Vampires." He pointed again. "Doing what comes naturally."

"There's nothing natural about either of you," the Watcher rasped - shot a desperate glance at his dead Slayer. Spike saw the idea form - saw the man clutch the cross tighter and saw him shift his weight. And then Xander was on him - hard pounce that drove the man back the half-step into the wall and drove the air from his lungs. The cross clattered to the ground and Xander kicked it away.

"It's nature at work. Consider me - Darwin's Little Helper." Xander's tongue flickered out and tasted the man's skin, flicker of red against the pale jaw. "I don't know if it's - cricket to kill the Watcher. What'd you think, Spike?"

Spike looked up from his crouch by the Slayer's body - twitched his hand away from smoothing the hijab back into place, tucking her hair out of sight right and proper. "All depends, pet, on how - magnanimous you're feeling." Spike stood up slowly - lit a cigarette and went to lean on the wall beside the pair - looked into the Watcher's dark eyes. Nothing like Wesley, this one. Nothing like...

"I am kinda full and he smells all sour." The Watcher struggled under Xander's hold, under the cold nose pressed to his throat. His eyes rolled, white around the dark irises and fixing on Spike.

"A watcher never begs!"

Xander lifted his head. "Well, actually - " He stopped with a grunt when Spike's elbow connected with his ribs.

"Don't need to torment the man, pet. He's in mourning."

Xander looked at Spike - looked at him and came to an abrupt decision. He stepped back - took the Watcher by the shirtfront and spun him around - shoved him toward the body cooling on the sidewalk.

"She has family so - you'd better get going and call them or something. Better luck next time." The man stared up at them, his eyes wide and wet and his hands clenched into fists and Xander reached blindly for Spike's hand - tugged him into motion.

"Spike? What's up?" he asked, a block later and the hot tingling of the blood in his veins throbbing to the tips of his fingers. Making him want to jump and scream and fuck. Making him - alive. Sorrow want rage guilt in the link, dull and helpless. A bruise struck once too often and Xander didn't want Spike to feel like that. Not ever.

In the corner of his eye, he saw Spike mouth another cigarette out of his pack and light it with one shaky hand, fingers tight in Xander's grip. "Congratulations, pet. Not every vamp can take his first Slayer."

The buzzing Slayer high curdled in Xander's belly like too many cheap beers. Anger radiated from Spike. Stiffened his spine and made their fingers creak with his grip. "Sweetheart - "

Spike dropped his cigarette and spun, caught Xander's face between his palms and pinned his body to the wall, soft where Xander was still hard and high, pushing into Spike's kisses with willful abandon. "I'm proud of you, love. You were stunning. Magnificent." Mine, the demon added, rising in a swirl like Chinese dragons.

"But?" Xander asked, and Spike kisses him again - slower and softer. Tasting the blood - tasting the fight.

"But. This bloody soul - telling me I should have stopped you - helped her... Bollocks to that!" Spike kicked the brick wall that was between Xander's boots - leaned heavily forward until his entire self was draped over Xander, hands in his hair and face pressed into his throat. "Slayers die. By vampire or by demon, they die. And there's no way she would have stopped, seein' as how you knew her. Was she a recruit, love?"

Xander nodded wordlessly - dragged his hands down and down Spike's back, rubbing hard with the tips of his fingers to push out the tension that stiffened Spike's spine.

"Found her in Egypt," Xander muttered.

"Yeah. Nothing to be done, pet." Spike sighed softly - leaned back and looked at Xander, a small smile on his face. "You did good."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah." Xander's lips tingled where Spike's brushed and he slid his arms around, into Spike's coat and around his waist, the scroll a heavy weight against his wrist. He could still feel the waves of resentment shimmering off Spike's skin like heat off the pavement in the summer, warping the love pride mine and Xander crushed Spike against him and tilted his face to the moon.

"We should leave. When a Slayer's killed, the Council sends a squad to hunt down the vamp that did it these days."

"Nothing the Council can throw at us we couldn't take, love," Spike murmured - leaned into Xander's embrace and the false warmth the Slayer's blood was lending him. "Wanted to go down to Cyprus maybe, anyway - or Greece. See the sights - do a bit of a Grand Tour, yeah?" Love love love, but uncertainty in the link, too, and Spike finally pulled away - took Xander's arm and got them walking again. "Don't mean to - rain on your parade, love. I'm all right."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah," Spike said. "Then we'll stop by London on the way home and buy you a few shiny new vocabulary words."

Xander took a moment to process that then snorted and jammed his elbow into Spike's side. "Jerk. Not all of us were poets in another life." The spark was coming back, the subtle sizzle through his veins and the purring happiness of his demon.

"It was good, wasn't it? Besting a Slayer."

Xander's smile split into a wide grin. "Oh yeah."


~*~*~*~*~


Spike had been all right by night. Fights and fucks. Danger and drinks. Nests in four countries and three continents in four weeks.

But discontent shivered through Spike's emotions like smoke and when Xander woke up in the middle of the day, squinting and trying to remember if they were in Greece or Italy, Spike was awake and watching him.

Smoking.

Xander's tongue was still asleep so he made an inquiring noise instead of actual words.

"Watchin' you sleep the sleep of the innocent."

"Okay - again with the whole are you sure you don't need glasses? thing."

"Metaphor, love," Spike said - flicked ash and took a drag - watched Xander struggle up to one elbow and yawn - shake back the curtain of slightly curled, tangled hair and rub absently at his belly.

"Ookay... But - what's wrong, Spike? You feel -" Xander gestured with his hand, a sort of kneading motion.

"I feel squishy?"

"You feel wrong. Sad, or - I dunno. Sweetheart -" Xander scooted over in their hotel-made, jerry-rigged Nest and touched his cheek, lightly. "There's this newfangled thing called sharing all the cool kids do."

Spike snorted. "I'm a vampire. We don't fucking share."

"I'll start. My name is Alexander and I'm a bloodaholic."

"Pillock. That's AA."

"You can stop me any time." Xander rolled onto his back, head in Spike's lap and an arm around his hips, stroking his ribs.

Spike...sighed and crushed out his cigarette, absently petted Xander's chest. "Fine. I just... It's this sodding soul, Xander. It's - interfering. Making me feel like..."

"Like I shouldn't have taken out that Slayer?"

"Like we should be in L.A. instead of here, fucking our way across the Continent. Like I should be doing penance. Or something. Not - encouraging you..." Spike growled in frustration - raked his hand back through his hair and jabbed his cigarette out with unnecessary force. "I don't want to do that, the - hero gig. Never did. People are so bloody stupid - I don't care if they die or not, Christ, this bint in L.A. -" Spike reached down and stroked his hand over and over through Xander's hair.

"I just want us, love. No powers and no champions and no bloody apocalypse. Just - us."

"Ready to go home?"

Spike fumbled another cigarette out of his pack and lit it, drawing hard and staring out the window. "Fucking hell. Yes."

Xander rolled over again onto his stomach and banged his heels together lazily three times.

Spike groaned.

"Kidding, sweetheart. Kidding. I'll call the airline - pass me the phone."



"You know, none of these cards actually say anything," Wes said, shuffling through the inch-thick stack of postcards from Istanbul, Cyprus, London and, obscurely, Tbilisi.

"Sure they do, English. Look - this one says: 'Having a wonderful time fucking our way through the rooms of the Victoria & Albert Museum. I don't know if the guards really don't see or if they're just so British they refuse to notice. Never try to clean -' Uh, looks like three different words for 'sperm' were written and crossed off here - 'stuff off of a really old oil painting with a Handi-wipe. Who knew that Handi-wipe stuff could dissolve old paint? Miss you both - love and orgasms - S and X.'" Gunn looked over at Wes, who was shaking his head. "I think that pretty much says it all, don't you?"

The next card only said 'This one' and Wesley flipped it over with horror to find White-out splattered in the corner of a Gainsborough landscape.

"I'm thinkin' I ought to give them a call and tell 'em not to come home." Gunn chuckled and took the card from Wesley's nerveless fingers, tucking it into the middle of the stack. He flipped over the next one and scanned Xander's scrawled handwriting. "What's Cappadocia?"

Wesley shook himself. "It's - oh. Officially, it's an underground complex of cities in Turkey, several hours from Istanbul."

"How 'bout unofficially?"

"Unofficially, it is an underground demonic city and far, far larger than any cartographer knows."

"Huh." Gunn turned over another card - studied the picture for a moment - glanced at his watch. "Guess they'll be here soon - want another beer?"

"No, I don't think so." Wes stretched hard then slumped, letting himself slide a bit lower into the sitting room Nest. A movie playing on the TV that neither was watching - more interested in the slow kisses and glancing touches. So damn - relaxed.

How my boy should always be, Gunn thought with a nod of satisfaction. So damn glad he finally hired some help. Oh, damn. The help. Wonder how long it'll take the Twosome to - corrupt him. Then Gunn considered their help - a willowy young man named Michael with curling black hair and glasses - and black nail polish. And a wardrobe with more black in it than Spike's. Then again, that might be one barn door wide open without a horse in sight.

A douse squirmed its way up through the cushions to waggle its whiskers at Gunn and he passed it a piece of popcorn. "The boys are comin' home tonight."

Its ears popped forward.

"Bet they brought you all kinds of shiny stuff."

"Charles, don't tease the dice."

"Who's teasin'? Harris probably bought out a whole stall of shinies in Istanbul for the offering tree."

Wesley glanced over at the wizened, dead tree - some species of oak, he thought - that stood in a heavy brass planter in the corner of the sitting room. Xander had poured landscaping rocks all around the trunk to hold the six-foot, skeletal thing upright - and when he'd seen the dice burrowing he'd hidden some things in the rocks. The bare, grey limbs had tinsel, Mardi Gras beads and soda-can tabs festooned on it, along with artfully folded bits of cigarette foil, Hershey's kisses, and - Gunn's contribution - beer-bottle caps. The dice gleaned through it every day, taking this, not taking that - changeable desires that they hadn't sorted out yet.

"Yes, actually, I'm sure he did," Wesley said, handing another piece of popcorn to the douse who snatched it and held it tightly, whiskers and tail vibrating with anticipation - huge eyes fastened on the tree as if imagining it festooned in ropes of treasures. Abruptly it stuffed the kernel in its mouth and ran, heading up. To the attic to spread the news, Wesley was sure.

"Great. We're gone for a few weeks and you stuff the dice so full of food they waddle. It was a joke, not an order!"

"Jesus fuckin' Christ, Harris!" Gunn whipped around to stare at Xander coming down the stairs. "What the fuck?"

"Forgot the house keys. Thought you were asleep - utilized the famous Xander Harris sneaking in the window skill. I could've made a fortune as a cat burglar." Xander crossed the foyer to the front door, unlocked it and let Spike in, grabbing a pair of duffel bags on the porch.

"Gonna give me a fuckin' heart attack," Gunn muttered - subsided grumpily as Wes patted his shoulder.

"The dice missed you - they took comfort in all the HoHo's," Wes said, smiling up at Xander and Spike, who stood poised at the edge of the Nest as if contemplating a dive into an unknown and murky pool of water.

"All the HoHo's?" Xander asked - grabbed at Spike who was yanking on a boot and slowly toppling. "They don't have HoHo's in London. I was dreaming about HoHo's."

"No, but they've got Cadbury's," Wes said and then oofed as Spike launched himself and landed, half on Wes and half on Gunn, grinning like a lunatic.

"Missed you more than any damn junk food," Spike growled - pulled Wes into a hard kiss, his hand sliding down Gunn's chest to latch onto his waistband. Gunn's turn to oof as Xander flopped down as well, leg over Gunn's legs and his hand reaching for Wes.

"Well, okay, yeah - missed -" Gunn growled and grabbed - sank his fingers in Xander's hair and pulled him close.

"Shut up."

"Shutting up," Xander mumbled, kissing back into the warm and orange-iron taste of Gunn and wiggled closer family curling between him and Spike, around and through Wes and Gunn. "Now."


~*~*~*~*~


Wesley slipped his hand into the back of the wardrobe, between faux-fur coats and dipped into wintry cold, ice nipping at his fingers. He grasped the jars, one and then the other, brushing the flakes of frost from his sleeves.

The dice were creeping closer, whiskers and ears forward, tails up, following Wesley to the long bench, swarming up its legs to perch and...watch.

Glacial cracks and webs spanned the glowing jar, glittering like a Faberge egg with Xander's soul contained inside. The other sat squat and cold, cradled in Wesley's hands. Wordlessly, he handed it to Spike.

Spike took the jar - walked over to the clear space away from the wardrobe and sat down cross-legged, the jar in his lap. It was cold against his anklebones - so cold in the June heat and closeness of the attic. June when I found that church. June when I...settled down to die like a sick dog. A year - been a year. Incredible fucking year... Wes sat down opposite him and then Spike felt Xander at his back - Gunn warm and solid on his left. Spike looked up at Xander's jar - at the soft glow and web of cracks and took a long breath - wished for a smoke.

"Are you - sure, Spike? Absolutely - sure?" Wes asked, voice soft and steady, his hand on Spike's knee. So warm. Spike looked at him for a long moment - smiled slightly and nodded - sat up a little straighter.

"Yeah. I'm sure, Wes. Never been so sure."

Xander's arms slipped down his shoulder blades and around his waist and Gunn gave a last reassuring touch - reassuring now he'd been reassured an unsouled Spike was nothing like Angelus.

With a glance to Wesley, Charles backed away, out of the circle and away from the muo-ping. Wesley wasn't sure what would happen if a human accidentally stored his soul in a muo-ping but neither was anxious to test it out.

Wesley pressed his lips to Spike and tasted the last of the whiskey Spike had been drinking all day - drinking after he made the decision - and placed his hand on his forehead, opened the spell book to the proper page, and began to chant in measured Chinese.

Wo qing qui
Wu xin zi li
Kun, zhen, xun, kan, li.
Ci wo ton ling
Ji fao muo li


Spike felt a pressure over his chest, a light press and looked down to see Xander's hand there. He covered it with one of his own and sucked in a breath, feeling the cool tendrils of the spell winding around his soul, bundling it like a bolt of silk.

Wo hao zhao
Jue xin ze
Wan cheng
Ta de zi yuan.


And then - a tug. Painless, all-encompassing. As if his backbone were being pulled free. Spike arched, taking in a sharp breath - feeling loose free cold. Feeling love from Xander - squiggle of fear and then - Wes was cupping his cheek, and Gunn's hand was back on his knee and Xander was rubbing his hands over and over Spike's arms - over his chest. Spike looked down, and the jar - glowed.





Epilogue

The phone was ringing and four men stared at it.

Then three of them turned to Xander.

"I'd better - um - I'm gonna...take this in the other room." Xander pushed his chair back and left his plate of samosas on the table, Spike's lovemine trailing after him like smoke. He grabbed the phone without checking the caller ID and carried it into the sitting room.

Where he sat. Or semi-sprawled, since sitting in the Nest wasn't exactly easy.

Sat and took an unnecessary breath before looking at the caller ID for the first time in a week of being home. A week of no phone calls at all from Willow. Or Dawn. Or even Angel.

And yep - no phone calls was giving him that wiggy crawly feeling up his spine that meant nothing good.

The Watcher's report had to be in London by now - had to be...in the Watchers' diaries.

And while he wanted to be immortalized in the diaries, this was so not the way he wanted it to happen.

Maybe Giles came through and listed him under 'hero' too - he could take a dual listing. And...all that didn't disappear every time he got into trouble - right?

He'd know in...oh...five minutes.

Or possibly five seconds.

He flipped the phone open and closed his eye, queasy. "Hi, Buff."

"Xan."

They both listened to Buffy breathe for a while.

"Awkward, huh?"

"Awkward does not even begin to describe this conversation - which we haven't had yet. And it already is. Awkward."

Xander leaned back into the pillows that smelled like him and Spike - like Wes and Gunn and popcorn and sex - and tangled his hand in his hair. Listened to Buffy breathe. "Buff - "

"Gonna tell me what happened?"

"Doesn't that go against the Slayer Handbook - getting the vampire's side? I mean - that's a Watcher thing. You're exceeding your station or something like that."

"Yeah, yeah. Slayer never to exceed her station. It's two chapters before 'do not date vampires, for it is bad for business.'"

"I love you Buff."

"Can I help it if I'm unusually appealing to the undead?" Buffy sighed - hard. "Okay, indirect isn't really working. I read Mister Drummond's diary, Xan. Start talking. Please?"

"What did - Drummond say?" A longer sigh and then a rustling of papers. Xander opened his eye again and stared at the ceiling.

"He said - while patrolling a large outdoor wedding, two vampires were seen...blah blah...seemed to know the Slayer personally...blah blah...she was...killed and...drained... Xander, why?"

"I knew her, Buffy. I found her in Egypt."

"Yeah, it says that. So - how?"

"She attacked me. I said her name and she recognized me and she - attacked. And we fought and...I won. It's really that -"

"Don't you dare say 'simple'. It's not simple."

Xander closed his eye again. The blackness was somehow more comforting. He could hear Gunn's heartbeat - Wes', slow and steady. And lovelovebrave from Spike, warm and soft.

"No. Well, kind of. I've done a lot of fighting, you know? A lot. And the main goal was to win. That didn't change when I -"

"Became a vampire... Yeah." Silence again - distant city-sounds on Buffy's end and music from the sitting room, turned down to a murmur. And whispers.

"Thinking first? Not exactly the number one trait of the Xand-man." He tried to remember what Buffy's breathing sounded like when she was really upset - and when she was just thinking. "At least I didn't summon a...singing and dancing killing demon who immolated innocent citizens by the strength of their own passions."

"This time," Buffy said after a short silence.

"Uh - yeah. Never make the same mistake twice. That's me."

Which might have been the wrong thing to say - and Xander couldn't think of a good follow up line.

"What's she saying?" Gunn whispered, and Spike shook his head.

"Let me listen," Spike whispered back. Only there wasn't anything to listen to. Buffy wasn't talking, and Xander wasn't talking, and Spike was starting to think he needed to go in there and take the phone away from him when -

"Listen, Buffy -"

"Xander, I -"

They both started to talk - both stopped, and Xander laughed shortly.

"Ladies first."

"Yeah, right. Okay. Xander, I have to know - if you're going to... If this is going to be - are you gonna -?"

"Am I going to hunt down Slayers and kill them wherever I find them?"

"Well...yeah."

"That'd be a great big no." Xander sat straight up in the Nest, frowning, his fingers closing down tight on a cushion. "Still me with the only making the same mistake once - unless you include the twinkie and bologna sandwich which is not to be mentioned in - "

"Are you? Still you? Really? I mean - the Xander Harris I knew wouldn't take a life. A human life. I don't know how or why or where you hunt - but if Spike's soul is okay with it, I can trust that. But this is - "

"I did, Buffy." Xander released his fingers from the pillow, feeling his joints creak under the pressure. "Look I've - had a lot of time to think about the - the Sweet thing. And I did take a human life - I don't know how many human lives." He licked his lips. "You guys forgave me - like it never happened - I kinda didn't."

"Xan - "

"The old Xander did that for a happy wedding, Buffy. And you do not even want to know what I did to keep myself whole in Africa. I did it to stay alive this time. I - I'm not sorry I won." He licked his lips, hearing the hitch in her breath and the heartbeats in the other room. "But I'm sorry it happened."

"So am I."

"I'm still me," Xander said again - to reassure both of them. "The Xander you knew is still in here. And he's pretty freaked. And - Jesus. She staked me - I wasn't - gonna stand there and wait for her to take a better shot." Xander curled his fingers around his shoulder, feeling the sting and ache of the stake going in again.

"You're a vampire," Buffy said quietly.

"Yeah."

"And Xander."

"Yeah."

"It's...complicated, isn't it?"

"Yeah."

"What did...what did Spike do?"

"Do? He - kept the Watcher from getting hurt."

"He didn't - help?" Buffy's voice sounded - not incredulous but...hopeful. As if Xander fighting with a Slayer would have brought on the old Spike and his glory days.

"No, we didn't double-team her if that's what you're thinking. And that sounded really wrong. He just watched, Buffy." My kill mine from the demon, bristling at the thought of Spike having to help - or trying to take away its rightful prey. Xander told it to shut up.

Because he really wasn't in the mood to listen to Mr. Juvenile Delinquent Blood Lust, Esquire - not while talking to Buffy.

There was a soft laugh from the kitchen and Xander glanced toward the empty doorway and the slim line of Spike's bare foot that he could see.

"Spike wasn't going to - get involved."

"Not even to stop you."

"No, not even. I'm not gonna - do it again, Buffy. Or - I mean, I'm not going to do it deliberately. But I'm not going die anytime soon, either."

"Ha ha," Buffy said dryly, but there was a softening to her tone and Xander leaned back in the Nest a little, feeling the tight-coiled bands of nerves in his belly relax a little and the demon settle, grumbling in its corner.

"I don't like killing people who remind me of someone I love."

"Who do you - " Buffy cut herself off, and Xander heard her hair rustle like she was shaking her head. "No. So not going there today." She took in a quick, sharp breath - sound of a Slayer making up her mind and changing a subject. "Giles got the prophecy from Wes. Was that - "

"That's what we went to find - in Istanbul. Did it do any good?"

"Do - oh my god, Xander. There's a whole cult of monks in Ustjurt waiting for that prophecy to come true so they can drive the underworld into the outerworld if you know what I mean."

"Does it start with A and sound like 'pocalypse'?"

"Well there is a Hellmouth under Aktau but no. Mostly it starts with A and sounds like 'whole lot of demons terrorizing Southwestern Asia'. Giles sent Willow and a dozen Slayers to take out the monks this morning."

"I have no idea where Aktau is but I hope they have fun. Maybe have time for some sun and fun on the beach?"

"Um...probably not. These are some crazy crazy monks. Xander, you know that..." Buffy stopped talking again and Xander imagined her staring into space - picking her words. "You know that if you - I mean, if -"

"You'll come after me if I - kill another Slayer? It's okay, Buff - you've threatened my life before this. Little death threat between friends - spices things up."

There was a muffled sort of noise on the other end and then Buffy was laughing softly.

"Yeah, I guess I have. And you threatened me once, too and Spike - that's a whole death-threat-o-rama there that we don't even need to get into."

"Yeah. I get it, Buffy. I really do. You don't need to worry about it - so don't need to worry about it."

"Okay, Xander. I'll - okay." Another sigh, and the slick sound of Buffy licking her lips. "Umm - Dawn says hi, by the way. She's out on a date or I'd have her talk to you."

"A date - like a human date?"

"We think so. We're pretty sure he's human. Or at least mostly. He's an acrobat with one of those weird surrealist circuses so it's kinda hard to tell." Beat. "I can hear you laughing, Xander."

"So - the boyfriend in the circus is the most normal man dated by a Summers woman since your mom met your dad?"

"Pretty much. And you so do not want to get into the who has the most normal dating history game with me, Mr. Demon Magnet."

"Is Dawnie going to run away with the circus?"

"Not until she finishes college."

"Yeah, college." Xander sighed happily, thinking of all the books and writing and scholarly things he wasn't doing. All the boring research that Wes liked to do himself because he was Mr. Uptight English Guy with a worse bug up his ass about the treatment of books than Giles.

Things didn't change much - in high school, he'd had Willow. Now he had another big brain to carry his lazy research guy ass.

On the other end of the line, Buffy yawned.

"I really need to go, we've been research crazy here since that scroll arrived and I need to rest. I just wanted to - make sure."

"Yeah. I get that. I'm glad you called, Buffy. I'm glad you...listened."

"You're my best friend, Xander. I'll always listen. I might listen with Mr. Pointy sitting in - but I'll always listen."

"Me too," Xander said - murmured a soft 'goodbye' and clicked his phone off. Looked up to see Spike standing in the doorway, burned down cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other.

Out of the corner of his eye, Xander saw a medium-sized velvet pillow begin a slow journey toward the door. The dice had attempted pillow theft before - Nest envy - but they had yet to succeed. Xander figured they could use the exercise anyway.

They were getting fat.

"Done eavesdropping?"

Spike folded bonelessly into the Nest next to Xander, turned his face to examine him the way he did after battles. He nodded and kissed Xander's lips, tasting of tobacco and beer. "Yeah."

"You taste gross," Xander said and then took Spike's cigarette, smoking it to the filter.

Spike handed him the beer.

Xander drank it down and dropped the butt into the empty bottle.

"Better?"

Xander licked his lips - and tasted tobacco and beer. "Yeah." He let out his breath on a cloud of smoke and starfished onto his back. "I don't want to have a phone call like that ever again."

"I can arrange for that," Spike said - sprawled down over Xander and sighed, long lock of Xander's hair tangling in his fingers. "It wasn't too awful. She...surprised me, really."

"Yeah, me too. I kind of thought there'd be more yelling."

Spike snorted softly, amused, and Xander grinned up at him. "Me too, pet. You're all right though, yeah?"

"Yeah, I'm... I'm fine. I mean, she did threaten to kill me if I hunted down any more Slayers, but -"

"Oh, nonsense. She's all talk, her. 'I'll stake you, I'll kill you, I'll make you wish you'd never come to the Hellmouth...' On and on and on, no follow-through."

"She kicked your ass a few times," Xander noted, and Spike shrugged.

"Nearly had her twice - my own sodding fault the second time, and Joyce's fault the first time - who expects an axe to the head from the Slayer's mother?"

"And all those other times?" Xander asked, and Spike growled softly.

"Chip, love. You try fighting with an ice-pick through the brain."

"You're so baaad," Xander said, laughing, and Spike pounced - held his arms down and changed, grinning nastily.

"Wanna find out how bad, love?"

"No!" Gunn stood in the kitchen doorway, looking peeved. "The both of you get your asses in here and tell us what she said."

Xander groaned - heaved at Spike who allowed himself to be pushed off. They both climbed to their feet and Spike rescued the pillow from four determined dice and tossed it into the center of the Nest. The dice glared and he growled back - pointed at the offering tree. They seemed to huddle, whiskers quivering, then scampered away. "Little bastards are getting too forward," Spike muttered - followed Xander into the kitchen and settled into a chair. Gunn was already nose-deep in his order of chicken biryani while Wes was doing something fussy with his and assorted bottles from the cupboard.

"She's on a plane right now, coming to dust me and Spike so we can't be a future danger to Slayerkind." Xander pulled open the refrigerator door with hands that shook with something a lot like relief. Because way down at the bottom of 'Xander's big list of things to do before I die for good' was fighting Buffy. And Willow. And - "What happened to the orange juice?"

A warm hand tugged Xander up and around to face Wesley, who pointed at douse-sized orange juice footprints leading into the pantry.

Xander wrote oranges for the offering tree on the shopping list and pulled out a beer.

"Well?" Gunn gave Xander the impatient hairy eyeball and toyed with his fork. "You get a free pass from the Slayer?"

"I - actually, I got a warning."

"What sort of - warning?" Wesley asked, worry making his voice a little sharp and Charles' hand found his thigh under the table - squeezed gently.

"The usual kind," Spike said - stuffed a forkful of curry into his mouth and reached for his beer. Wesley glared. Spike swallowed hastily. "You know, Slayer stuff - I'll have your guts for garters, all that rot. Nothing to be worried about."

"You call that a warning?" Wesley asked, shocked, and Xander stopped his own loaded fork halfway to his mouth.

"Well - yeah. It's not the first time makin' with the death threats, so - it's cool. It's how we did things back in the Sunnydale old school."

"Man, between Slayers and vampires I dunno which ones're crazier," Charles muttered, and Wesley shook his head.

"Nor do I. But - I suppose - will there be an alert sent out? Will the Council try some kind of - retaliatory attack?"

"Like to see 'em try," Spike snorted, unfazed, and Wesley glared again.

"This really isn't a joke, Spike!"

"Seems like - uh, I'll shut up now." Xander ducked his head and ate like a starving man and Wesley stabbed at this plate for a moment.

"Are you a wanted man or not?" Wesley asked and jabbed his fork at Xander in a way that was a lot scarier than Buffy's threat. "No jokes."

"No." Xander broke a samosa in half and smothered it in yogurt dip. "Because I didn't go hunting for a Slayer, okay? She found me. She attacked me. And if Buffy believed for one second I would've said 'Hey! stake me! no hard feelings!' she wouldn't be the Slayer. Because the first rule of being a Slayer is not to let the other guy win." Xander shoved the samosa into his mouth and chewed, watching Wes' expression go from measuring to thoughtful. He swallowed. "Mostly - she called to find out if I was gonna make it a habit."

Wesley nodded absently and stirred his curry, not saying anything.

But Gunn spoke - leaned back in his chair with his hands folded across his lap. "Are you?"

"He already said -" Spike started - muscles going tight in an effort not to growl and Xander's hand found the back of Spike's neck - rubbed.

"It's okay, Spike. No, I'm not. I - it's not my thing." Gunn's look was still - skeptical - and Xander frowned. "What?"

"Nothin' man." Gunn snorted softly - resumed eating, ignoring the glares Spike was sending his way.

"Is there gonna be a whole - trust thing between us now?"

Gunn stopped eating again - looked up at him. Wesley was watching them both and Spike - anger hurt mine mine.

"You're a vampire, Xander. Should I trust you? Wes says I should - then you go and kill a Slayer. Kinda - ambiguous." Gunn didn't raise his voice - didn't even look angry. Just - disappointed and a little sad and Xander felt his stomach knot up.

"Really not looking forward to doing that again." Xander rubbed at a spot on the table - one in the shape of a douse footprint.

"Rather he was dust, Charlie-boy?"

Xander flicked a glance at Spike at the silky smooth tone of his voice - completely at odds with the hurtanger sifting between them and making the dice give Spike wide berth on their way to the pantry.

Gunn leaned back in his chair, nodded slowly but not - completely convinced. "And you decided to have a little snack after you won the fight or what?"

"She wouldn't have stopped until he was dead," Wesley cleared his throat, reluctant. "Reggie wouldn't have either."

"Reggie?"

Wesley fiddled with his cup. "Reginald Drummond. Her Watcher."

"Shit - tell me he wasn't...an old school buddy - chum? Do you use the word 'chum' these days?" Xander chased a loose pea across his plate with a samosa crust, felt Spike take his hand under the table, emotions muffled - loudly.

"I didn't have chums. We - we had a few classes together. That's all. He was a good man - not as hidebound as most." Xander nodded and Wes did and Gunn sighed and tipped his head back, looking at the ceiling.

"I... Aw, fuck it. Xander, I love you. You know I do. Not like I love Wes and nothing like you love Blondie-bear, but you're family, man." Gunn leaned forward, his look one of total candor - and utterly serious. "And I just - I wanna believe that... I wanna know that you're different, okay? 'Cause I'm putting my life in your hands, man. Mine and Wes'."

"My demon isn't - it - okay - it was ecstatic feeling the Slay - Asima's heart stop and tasting her blood."

"Not reassuring me."

"Gunn - look at me."

"I'm lookin'."

"Do I look ecstatic?"

Gunn sat back in his chair and tilted his head. "You look like it's the Trig final and you haven't been to class all semester."

"And I feel like it's report card day after that final and I know I'm gonna have to repeat the grade. I'm - more than my demon. I'll fight to the death to stay alive but who in this room wouldn't?"

"Yeah, but - that's not -"

"Or hasn't?" Xander added and felt a surge of mine from Spike.

"Charles," Wesley said softly, and Charles stopped - shook his head, obviously unhappy at not being able to say what he meant. "There's something - quite alien, inside Xander. Something...new. But he is still in there, as well. My own - demonic self..." Wesley paused - lifted his chin and changed, ripple over his skin as the scents and sounds - the very air - informed him. "It has wants. Needs. But I can - temper those needs. And Xander can." Charles nodded slowly - glanced over at Xander, who was looking hopeful, and Spike who still looked - mutinous.

"When faced with a life-or-death situation - we all choose life. If Xander had run, she would have pursued. If Xander had tried to talk his way out of it - she would have attacked, because every Slayer is told... There's nothing there. When someone you - know - is turned -"

"It's just a demon. Nothing left but the shell," Xander said softly, and Spike gave a harsh, barking laugh.

"That's so much bollocks -"

"Yes, you know that, but it's - the way it is. And to be honest, you know as well as I that most humans, once they're turned...lose their inhibitions. She did what she had been trained to do. And Xander...did also."

"How about you? What're you trained to do? Do you even have a soul?"

Wesley shivered back to his human face and - stared at Gunn. "What?"

"You've got a demon, just like them. You died, just like them. You get it." Gunn fidgeted with his fork. "You got a soul in there, English?"

Spike was watching Wesley with interest - as was Xander. And Wesley gave the only answer he had. "I really don't know. Does it matter to you?" Wesley asked and held his breath.

"Not a damn bit."

"Then get off Xander's arse, Charlie-boy," Spike snapped and Gunn drew in a breath to say - something. And stopped. Looked over at Xander who was wearing his best 'kicked puppy' face and slowly shook his head.

"I am out of my fucking mind. Xander, you gonna - go all Angelus-crazy on me and try to drain me in my sleep?"

"Uh - no."

"Yeah. Okay -" Gunn smiled suddenly - loaded up his fork. "I heard enough stories from Connor - who got 'em from Dawn - about all the white-hat shit you did -" and he pointed his fork at Spike, who recoiled. "So I don't have to worry about you. You're just a little blond teddy-bear under those fangs."

"I - you - am not - what stories? Lying brat -" Spike sputtered and Gunn laughed out loud - pointed his fork at Xander, tumbling some rice off.

"And I figure you - are the same as him. I figure if you wanted us dead we'd be dead. And I guess...I really do trust you, Xander. I was just - surprised, you know? Postcard, postcard - lovely weather. Wish you were here. Fascinating nightlife. You killed a what? Kinda - took me by surprise."

"Yeah. Fuck. Me too, Gunn." They both ignored Spike who was cursing steadily and eating, muttering about revenge.


~*~*~*~*~


"Well?"

Buffy twitched and nearly dropped the phone - turned around and scowled at Dawn. "Don't sneak up on me like that! And aren't you supposed to be out with - with Spiderman or something?"

"He's a gentleman." Dawn made a face. "With a four a.m. rehearsal and a curfew. And anyway, you're the Slayer - I'm not supposed to be able to sneak!"

"Yeah, well - you're right! I am the Slayer and - and you could get hurt! I could stake you!"

"You can't fit a stake in those pants. You almost don't fit in those pants." Dawn flopped gracelessly on the couch and Buffy ran her hands over her abdomen.

"I look fat -? All right - what do you want, Dawn?"

"Me? Want?"

"You. Want. Spill."

Dawn rolled her eyes. "I want the 411 on Xander and Spike and the whole Slayer slaying thing - what d'you think? What'd he say? Was he sorry? Why'd he do it?"

Buffy held up a hand - let it drop as she dropped onto the couch, too - rubbed tiredly at her forehead. "Yeah, okay. I get it. Lemme - think."

"Gonna be here all night," Dawn muttered, but grinned at Buffy's glare. "Sorry. Go on." She made encouraging motions with her hands. "Think. Unless - y'know - it's too hard for you or something." Dawn looked serious and concerned - her I am listening face.

Buffy snorted and pitched a pillow at her head.

"And you don't have to censor it for me. I mean - I was listening to all the gory details from Spike long before - um." Dawn quailed at Buffy's intent look. "Shutting up now."

"Better not be all the gory Slayer details," Buffy muttered under her breath. Memory of a Slayer fight - that ended with a different kind of staking - flashed across her mind.

"Ew. No. I do not need to know about the vampire-Slayer sexcapades. I didn't ask." Dawn held up her hands and waved Buffy on. "Xander. Slayer. Now."

Buffy stuffed those memories of a harder time back where they belonged and focused on Xander - and the easiest interpretation of something that was...not so easy for a Slayer. "Self defense."

Dawn blinked. "That's...it? Self defense? But - he's a vampire now, he can - fight really good, can't he? And - and he could have just - run away or something, couldn't he?"

"The running away thing? Not so effective once you've got a Slayer's attention." Buffy slouched down on the couch, rolling her neck against the cushions. "Or her Watcher's."

"But couldn't he have done anything else?"

Buffy thought about it - thought about Xander's tense, miserable voice. Thought about how much easier this would be if it hadn't happened. "I don't know. I kinda think he wishes he had."

"Well he should! He's - he's Xander."

"To a Slayer, he's just another demon, Dawnie. A demon who killed the guy she met in Egypt."

"So - just like that you're letting it go?"

"Well - no." Buffy fiddled with the corner of a magazine. She thought about doing her Slayer duty - and pictured Xander's face crumbling to dust and blowing away. And it hurt. She chewed on a hangnail and squinted at Dawn. "Kinda? I mean - he is Xander. Our Xander and... If I learned anything from being a Slayer it's that not everything is black and white, Dawn. So - I'm letting it go. And he's - not going to do it again. At least while I'm alive."

Dawn squished the pillow Buffy had thrown at her - pushed her hair back behind her ear and leaned over, head on Buffy's shoulder. "Yeah. Okay. I'm - glad. For both of you. You're still friends, right?"

"Yeah, we're still friends."

"It's not gonna be all - weird and side-takey like it was when mom and dad got divorced?" Dawn's voice was - smaller than it should have been and Buffy freed an arm, wrapping it around Dawn's shoulders and pressing her cheek to her hair.

She shook her head. "No. I mean - there's the whole Willow and Xander thing which is still a little weird but - I think it's gonna work out." She combed her fingers through Dawn's hair - and wondered if the soul would have made a difference. Or if that way was the one way ticket to madness. "We got through scary veiny Willow. We got through Faith. We got through Xander summoning Sweet and Spike going all grr guy with a trigger. We got through Demon Anya."

Dawn curled herself tight and burrowed into Buffy's side.

Buffy petted Dawn's hair. "We'll get through this."


~*~*~*~*~


"Okay - you guys are taking 'traveling light' to whole new levels. This is it?" Gunn limped in to pick up their luggage - a single leather satchel. He lifted it by its strap.

Xander fished a douse out of its side pocket by the tail, grinning at him. "Luggage trolleys? Not so useful in Africa." He took the bag and set it back in the Nest, fished through its pockets for his keys. He cleared his throat and held out a hand.

Tim peeked out at him from behind a bedpost and shuffled across the Nest to him, dragging Xander's key ring with both paws. He looked up with big, moony eyes, whiskers drooping, and held onto the keys when Xander lifted the ring.

"Looks like that one doesn't wanna let you go."

"Hey..." Xander gently took the keys from the douse - lifted him on his palm and held him up, so they were more or less eye to eye. "You know we'll come back. And we'll have all kinds of goodies for the tree. Promise." Tim rubbed his paws back over his face once - twice - then stood wringing them for a moment before doing what Gunn could have sworn was a sad little nod. Xander grinned.

"Okay then. Go and find something of Gunn's to take." Tim flared his whiskers out and then gave Gunn a sort of - assessing look before leaping lightly down onto the Nest and hopping away out of the room.

"You did not just send him to ransack my room, man."

"Well, ransack, that's kinda harsh -"

"Damnit! Last time, mates - out!" Spike stomped in from the bathroom with their toiletries kit, several dice hanging from the edges. They had a sheen of something - oily - on them.

"Oh, Jesus. Don't tell me."

"I told you. Already. I think they can read. It's the damn honey-whatever shampoo again."

Xander plucked them one by one from the edges of the kit and dropped them onto the hardwood where they flailed their slick and soapy way toward the door, paws splaying every which way. "They can read - but do they learn?"

"Haven't taken bites out of a bath bomb since the first time." Spike opened the satchel and tucked the toiletries bag in with the rest and patted his coat for smokes and his lighter, pulling them out with a feeling of deep satisfaction. "That sodding well served the little bastards right."

"Come on, Spike. They're only this bold because they like us."

"Man, how can you tell?" Gunn glanced at the douse currently on clock-watch. He was starting to suspect they had some kinda secret seconds-counting project.

"Because they're not eating us."

"Gotta stop reminding me about that."

"Just keep the offering tree stocked while we're gone," Xander said, giving Gunn a heartening, manly shoulder-hug. "The supplies are in -"

"Pet -" Spike's finger stopped Xander's lips and Xander looked, wide-eyed, at the suddenly focused dice that had popped up from - nearly everywhere. "Wes knows where they are."

"Mm-hmm." Xander nodded and Spike grinned - tapped Xander's nose once and slung his arm around Gunn from the other side. "You'll be fine. Just don't let 'em see you getting the stuff."

Gunn snorted. "Yeah - and when're you guys comin' back again?"

"Mid-August." Xander did one last check for dice and buckled their bag quickly. "We're visiting Russ and Sol in Seattle then driving down the coast until we hit Sunnydale."

"Hottest demon vacation spot on the West Coast."

Spike snorted and muttered something about demons not knowing what was good for them.

"Because you never made repeat visits to the Hellmouth." Xander faced down Spike's glare with a grin. "Let's see. Once with Drusilla. Once to bash me over the head in the school chemistry lab to get Drusilla back. Once for the Gem of Amara - "

"All right! Bloody hell. This is the last time." Spike patted his duster for smokes and lighter.

"Until the next last time."

"Fuck no." Spike pulled out a cigarette, lit it with impatient motions. "Angel's got this...repellent field, see? Anywhere he is, I can't be. Not for more than a few days, anyway."

"Y'wanna explain L.A., then Blondie Bear? Wolfram and Hart ringing any bells?"

"Was a ghost, Charlie-boy. Then I was - " lonely lost wanting - deluded. "Then I was sick," Spike finished, tucking his lighter away.

"Good. Because watching you and Angel duke it out for the next fifty years on the Hellmouth? Not such a romantic vacation."

Spike snorted - quietly. "The Hellmouth is for disaster, pet. Not romance. Time to go?"

"Yeah, time to go - taxi'll be here - or maybe is here." Xander glanced around the room one more time and then the three of them maneuvered out the door and down the hall - down the stairs - Gunn's arms holding them both close.

Gunn stopped them at the door and pried Xander's hand off the doorknob and gave them each a serious look. "Don't go getting yourselves into Slayer trouble this time, okay? I do not wanna be the one to give that message to Wes."

"If I see a Slayer, I'll scream and run like a girly man," Xander promised, one hand over his heart. "I used to be good at that."

Spike snorted. "Won't be any running away, pet. More than two ways to deal with a Slayer."

"Choose the ways that don't get y'all dusted." Gunn ducked his head, quick and easy kisses - first Xander then Spike and then he had the door open and stepped back. "And bring me back something shiny and sharp."

"Thought you were retired, mate."

"Man's gotta have a hobby."

The sun was just down - the sky was dull purple and plum and the dark, sullen red of a dying ember. The summer air was thick and heavy - humid and still warm, tangy with salt and the smells of ripening tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers from various surrounding gardens. The taxi was just pulling up and Spike and Xander went down the walk to it - slung in their bag and climbed in.

"Hope Sol and Russ are glad to see us."

"You kidding me, pet? Your bloke Russ is like a bloody great Saint Bernard. Sodding thrilled when his people come to visit him. He'll be slobbering over you in no time."

Xander snickered. "Okay - first? That's really gross. And second? I'm telling him you said that."

Gunn stood in the door and watched them drive off - lifted his hand in a short farewell and then stepped back inside. Looked contemplatively at Tiny Tim, who was perched on top of the coat-rack, looking...

"You look as mournful as a sick cat." Tim clutched the tip of his tail and wrung it, huge eyes turning up beseechingly to Gunn. "Oh, all right. C'mon - let's go have some ice cream. With chocolate syrup." Gunn held out his hand and Tim hopped on - clutched Gunn's thumb for balance and snuffled. "Yeah, I'm gonna miss 'em, too," Gunn said, and walked away into the kitchen.


~*~*~*~*~


Russ shut the door - leaned on it, his eye glued to the peep-hole. He watched Spike and Xander cross the street - climb into that fucking Euro richboy rental - what the hell was it again? - and start up - roar away with smoking tires and Spike behind the wheel.

"They iss gone?" Sol asked, slipping up silently behind him and Russ jumped and then turned, closing his eyes.

"Gone, yeah. I fucking love those guys but - Jesus."

"Verrry loud, excited - in heat? Is maybe," Sol said, snickering just a little. "But good. Good - in-side."

"Oh, yeah baby, no argument there." Russ pulled Sol close and ran his fingers over the sensitive spots behind Sol's ears - under his chin. Rubbed there while Sol closed his eyes and leaned into the caress. "Just - fuck. Loud. Or - just too damn lively. They never get tired."

"Never shutsss up." Sol smirked, tail lashing and wrapping around Russ' leg, fur prickling around his human's rubbing fingers. "Vampires. Sso annoying."

"Yeah, yeah. And what was Alex's excuse before then?"

Sol cocked his head, tail and one arm wrapped around Russ and tugging him to their back patio to enjoy the sudden deafening return of quiet, distant roar of a jet plane overhead from the air force base. Splash and lap of the Sound against the shore, and the rustling of the trees. Of peace. Then he answered. "He'sss fucking nutss."

"He was such a nice boy when I met him." Russ put a theatrical hand over his heart. "Don't know how Wesley and Charles stand living in the same house with - "

Sol snorted and whipped his tail up and across Russ' mouth, grinning. "You talk too much too. They isss bad influence on you." Russ nipped at the tail-tip - grinned Spike's 'wanna get laid?' grin. Sol's eyes went wide and then he laughed softly, tail tip dancing over Russ' cheek and stroking behind his ear.

"You know they are, baby."


~*~*~*~*~


The water right there at the edge was thick with river-plants. Reeds or sedge or - who fuckin' knew? Gunn didn't know, but they put off a clean, green sort of scent in the late-afternoon air. Sunlight slanted honey-warm through the trees and a dragon-fly hovered just there. Drone of its wings a whisper on the air, tinsel sparkle and gone. Like magic. Gunn turned onto his back and floated, looking straight up into a sky of robin's egg blue and curdled cream - lopsided moon waning slowly to darkness. Swished his arms lazily, kicking slowly through the tea-dark water. It felt good. Every joint was relaxed - every muscle at ease. The water whispered over his bare skin and he could almost fall asleep.

Almost.

There was a ripple in the water and Gunn started humming the theme from Jaws. "Come on, English. I know you're down there."

"Really?" Wes popped up behind him and Gunn went down with a yelp and a mouthful of water, sputtering it out of his lungs when slick, warm long-fingered hands fished him out of the reeds and held him on the surface.

"Jesus - fuckin' Christ, English!" Gunn coughed, spitting water that tasted more like mud than green things and dropping his torso onto Wes' hands - floating just below his back like the instructors at the Y teaching kids to swim.

And Wes only grinned back at him, tiny, sharp, pointy teeth in a sharp and pointy face - that was still Wes - and his spines clattering together in the breeze. "I'm sorry, Charles."

"Yeah - you look like it."

"No, I assure you -" Something went splish and Wes' head turned, sharp and focused, spines rising up and fanning out. And then he was gone, ripple of slick black and phosphorus, no splash and almost no wake. Gunn righted himself and treaded water, watching. A moment later Wes surfaced about ten feet away, the wriggling fin of something slipping between his lips. Fanged grin, quick crunch and Wes dove, arrowing through the water with the tips of his spines just cutting the surface - straight for Gunn.

A warm, sinuous body wound around Gunn and Wes rose to the surface, tongue trailing lazily up Gunn's chest and neck to his jaw.

"Aw, man! You got fish-breath." Gunn gave him a playful shove until Wes yanked him back. "And anyway this is supposed to be a wildlife preserve - not a damn buffet."

"I'm wildlife," Wes insisted, cupping the back of Gunn's neck and sliding a slick, wet hand up the back of his skull. "I believe I'm an endangered species, actually."

They bobbed in the current, weeds twining their legs and and things bumping up against his feet from beneath that Gunn wasn't gonna think about too hard when he could think about the sun heating his skin from above and the slippery slide of wet (Wes) demon all along his body. "You're not the guy gonna be explaining taking his pet demon for a swim to the forest rangers."

"Don't worry - I can hear if anyone is coming." Wesley twined his arms around Charles' neck and kissed him, drowning in the warm cinnamon-bread flavor of Charles' mouth as surely as he was drowning in the flood of sensations that were coming to him through every inch of skin. The front of him was pressed, warm and wet, to Charles but his back was cooled by the lapping water and his spines...

Like a thousand tiny touches, every ripple and current brushed across them and up through his nerves, telling him that the flow was here and a backwash there and there the current curled around a submerged log and there around a hole in the bottom made by a turtle or fish. Every flick of fin or wiggle of limb in twenty yards sent tiny ripples of information through the water and Wesley could see with his eyes closed.

Kissing Charles was wonderful, but after a few moments he pulled away, smiling, and dove again - shock of coolness and then the touch. Tingles and tickles and tiny, muted noises and he opened his eyes to a world murky-green and very clear behind the nictitating membranes of his eyes. Saw a flicker-flash of silver and went after another snack.

Wriggle crunch and the living flavors burst over his tongue, swirled and mingled with the water of the estuary and above him, Charles' silhouette dark against the occluded sun, arms spread in a posture of utter relaxation.

Absolute trust.

Wesley mirrored his position, lungs feeling pleasantly heavy but not yet in need of air as he lay on the estuary bed, fish swimming between him and Charles and the sun. As he watched, Charles kicked out against the current with his left leg - painlessly - and drifted.


~*~*~*~*~


"It was big, Giles. Really big. And mucky and yucky and other -ucky things that mean gross." Willow mumbled, blanket wrapped around her shoulders - wiggled a hand free to take the cup of tea from Giles.

"But you defeated it." There was a smile in Giles' voice, in his words. The kind of pride that always gave Willow a thrill. A charge.

Though she'd kinda settle for a nap and felt her eyelids drooping. "The Slayers held it down. I just hit it with a big stick until it stopped moving."

"Willow, you beat it to death with a tree."

"Really big stick?" It sounded like real'y big stig though because her nose was still bleeding off and on from the blowback of power. Her fingers were still tingling from it like being struck by lightning but it was nice there in Giles' office. With his hand pushing her hair out of her face and nudging the cup toward her lips.

"Drink your tea, Willow."

Only Giles could sound that exasperated and fond at the same time and the tea he made was always just right. Practice did make perfect and Willow figured Giles had seen more tea than Boston Harbor.

"A letter arrived for you while you were away."

Willow knew the handwriting she'd see before she took it. She knew it would be cramped and uneven with jagged down strokes and out of control swoops. Xander's handwriting - but foreknowledge didn't keep her from getting a sick feeling in her stomach when she saw it.

"I'll be - taking a call," Giles said even though the phone didn't ring.

"You don't have to."

"I'm afraid I must. It's a very important call."

That Giles took in the outer office with the door closed between them. Not very smooth - but it did kinda help.

Because her heart hurt for Xander - for when he got his soul because he was Xander and some day, he'd want it back. Some day, he'd fight for it like Spike did and he'd remember killing a Slayer, remember drinking human blood and he'd never be able to forgive himself.

Willow traced the sealed flap of the envelope with a finger.

Being evil when you killed somebody didn't make it hurt less when you became good again.

She opened the envelope and settled in to read with her cooling cup of tea.

There was nothing in the letter about Slayers or souls or spells.

But there was everything else.

And Xander.

And Willow would be there for him when the guilt came because he was - well he was Xander and she was Willow and that was how the world was supposed to be.

He left a care-of address in Sunnydale at the bottom in case she wanted to write back while he was on vacation.


~*~*~*~*~


The halls of Angel Investigations Headquarters beneath the brand new Sunnydale Oceanside Mall were cool - shuttered - almost silent. Traffic noise and the sounds of a half-dozen Slayers filtered through the dense, still air but it was all - remote. Andrew swore it would stay remote after the mall's grand opening.

If it didn't, the mall would be greeting visitors with Andrew's head on a pike.

Angel turned over a page of the L.A. Times, scanning the headlines for anything - odd. After a moment he reached over and picked up his mug - took a sip of the coffee there. It was cold. He grimaced - stood up and carried out of the office and down the hall to the kitchenette. Hot coffee steamed faintly in a half-empty pot and he dumped the old back into the pot and poured fresh.

"That's disgusting - remind me to never drink the coffee again." Angel jumped slightly and then turned around, grinning at Kennedy.

Angel. Grinning.

Known to frighten small children and new Slayers.

It was a good look for him so Kennedy grinned back.

Angel sipped at his coffee. "What - you're afraid of vampire cooties?"

"No. But if you do it, Andrew does it. And I am afraid of Andrew cooties." Kennedy followed Angel back down the hall - sprawled down onto the chair opposite his desk. Angel sat down and folded the paper up, pushing it aside.

"I thought Andrew was all about the mocha-latte-half-skinny...thing?"

"That was a month ago. He's all 'I take my coffee like I take my men' now." They both blinked at each other. "Anyway - here's the mail." Kennedy tossed a rubber-banded bundle to the desk and Angel turned to it gratefully, pushing aside images of Andrew, coffee, and...men.

"Letter to Xander from Willow, care of you," Kennedy said and snatched up an old rubber band, stretching it between her fingers and propping her feet on Angel's desk.

Angel glanced at the bundle. "You know, there are laws about going through someone else's mail."

Kennedy shrugged and took aim with the rubber band at an adventurous fly crawling across the ceiling above Angel's head. "There are laws against ramming pointy wooden things into human-shaped creatures. I got over it." She let fly and fly and rubber band dropped neatly into Angel's waste basket. "So when's the in-law coming?"

"Xander is not my in-law."

There was a staring contest.

Kennedy won.

This time.

"Two days," Angel conceded and tucked the letter for Xander into his desk drawer. "They called from Sacramento."

"So - what's the plan for when they get here? Do we - welcome them with open arms or what?" Kennedy's foot was tapping restlessly and Angel glanced at it - shuffled through the mail, tossing most of it toward the recycling bin Andrew had installed.

Why do we get so much junk? We've only been here four months. You'd think they wouldn't have found us yet. "Oh, 'open arms' would probably be a bit much. Buffy said they're okay and I have to take her word for it, but..."

"But we'll be on alert, just in case," Kennedy finished with satisfaction, and Angel sighed.

"Discreet alert. I dont' want to mess up our mission here. The last thing we need is Spike and Xander Harris on a tear."

"You are such a hypocrite. You're never discreet about those guys." Kennedy's boots thumped against the thin office carpeting and Angel scribbled another note to himself to replace it - with something that said Old World Executive louder than it said middle management.

"You're kind of a pain in the ass, yourself. Don't you have a new Slayer to...orient?"

"You know, I could take that orientation line and have some fun with it but I'll let you off the hook this time. Tell me what to tell the girls and I'll do it. You want to give them free passage? Fine, but you tell them to stay out of our way on patrol because I don't want any mistakes." Kennedy stood and stretched, shrugging out the kinks in her shoulders. "Word on the grapevine is that Harris cried self defense. That's cool. I get self defense. And every one of my Slayers is trained in it."

"Just keep it calm, Kennedy. Official word is - stay out of their way, and I'll make sure they stay out of yours, okay? They're not coming to cause any trouble." He hoped.

Not that Spike ever needed to plan to cause trouble. It just happened around him.

"Yeah, okay." Kennedy gave a little shrug and a little smile and sashayed out of the office and Angel sighed and leaned back in his chair - steepled his fingers and stared up at the ceiling. It was going to be a long visit.

He took a sip of his cooling coffee and pulled the envelope out of his desk drawer and held it up to the light, squinting. He made out a Love and a Berlin before hearing footsteps in the hall and shoving the envelope innocently away in his desk drawer.


~*~*~*~*~


Seb arched his back hard, stretching. The last tattoo of the day had been a lower back thing and a twitchy customer and he'd spent much too much time hunched over, tattooing an intricate design that had given him a headache. The printer clicked and whirred softly, extruding a color print of the collar of leaves Seb had done on Spike's boy. It looked better now than before, on skin that was nearly as pale as Spike's and Seb had had to have another set of photos for his portfolio. And another of the face, and the arm. Good, clear shots that would look very nice once he'd mounted them properly.

Seb laid them aside - looked at the handful of others that he'd taken while they were waiting. Spike and Xander leaning on the counter, looking at a book - Spike pointing to something and Xander looking up at him, listening. So focused. Another of the two of them on the couch. Relaxed, happy - hands entwined but nothing else touching. As-nuk, as his people would say. Harmony. It was in every line of their bodies. It was...relaxing. Spiritually. Sort of. Seb hissed softly to himself in amusement. It was the only relaxing thing about the vampires.

Always in motion.

Always talking.

Always touching.

Always teasing.

Seb laid aside a picture of their PAs, flesh pale and side by side, cut and un.

Vampires. The magpies of the demon world.

But it was a good shot. It went into the adult portfolio and Seb lifted the last picture from the printer tray, the knotted strands at the back of Xander's neck, tattooed ties trailing down between his shoulder blades. Paler, thinner hands than Xander's holding thick hair up and away from the tattoo.

It was good work.

Seb laid the pictures out carefully so they would dry, contemplating the colors he would use for matting. He twitched in annoyance when the phone rang but habit made him pick up. "Seven Ssteps."

"Hello. Is Seb there? Or - who do I talk to to make an appointment?"

"This is Seb, and you make it with me."

"Oh, okay, Cool. Um. I was in there a couple of weeks ago - we talked about that Janus tattoo?"

"Yess...I remember." Seb got up and walked up the hall to the front desk - flipped open the appointments book. "When did you want to do it? I remember you had a bit of trouble, getting away?"

"Yeah, I - A little. Anyway - if you have time tomorrow? I could get away tomorrow, pretty much any time."

"Ahhh, tomorrow..." Seb ran a finger down the page, gaze flicking over other appointments of his own and the other artists. He had time after three. "So, four o'clock? I will need you for about - three hours."

"Yeah, cool - four o'clock, I can do that. Great. Okay - thanks!"

"Yes, thank you. And remember - cash only."

"Right. Cash. Great. Bye!" The caller hung up and Seb smirked to himself - found a pen. This one, he remembered. It would be as-nuk. He carefully wrote 'Connor - Janus' and shut the book.


~*~*~*~*~


Angel stared in bewilderment at the chaos in the room Xander had cheerfully named the Hellmouth War Room.

At that moment, it looked more like the Hellmouth Rummage Sale.

On one end of the table was a wood and silver case holding a pen and ink drawing set of a kind he hadn't seen since before Romania. He'd owned something similar as Angelus.

Spike had laid it out without comment, slipping it into the magpie jumble of Hellmouth-warming gifts they'd unpacked - an hour before disappearing into the Southern California twilight bound for LAX.

Gifts.

He didn't know what to expect from Spike and Xander.

But he was pretty sure it wasn't gifts. Some of them were even thoughtful.

And some of them were just strange.

So Spike and Xander had come bearing gifts and alcohol and pheromones and gone and Angel was still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"What am I supposed to do with all of this?"

"Have a yard sale?"

Angel turned to glare at Connor, who was lounging in the doorway. "Okay - and where were you when Spike and Xander were playing Santa Claus with me half an hour ago?" Angel stopped - sniffed the air, blood and ink and greasy ointment. "Actually, where have you been the last two days?"

"Wreaking havoc and inviting chaos into my bed?" At Angel's stunned look, Connor laughed - pushed off the doorjamb and sauntered forward to look over the gifts. "Man, you are so easy. That's what Wes said, anyway. I was just - getting a tattoo."

"Oh. What? A tattoo? You can get blood poisoning from those!" Angel stomped around the table toward Connor, who was examining a hat with holders on the top and a curl of clear tubing dangling down. Angel had no idea what it was for but it had made Xander giggle.

"Hello - 21st century here! Nobody gets blood poisoning from a tattoo anymore. Besides, Seb's -"

"Seb. I've heard of him. He's a demon." Angel glared harder at Connor. Connor stared back, expression mild. He tossed the hat down.

"Yeah, demon. Spike and Xander said -"

"Oh." Angel listened to the sound of the other shoe dropping and almost relaxed. "I should have known. That's - okay. That. I can handle that." Angel squared his shoulders and put on his hip, modern dad face. "What and where?"

"Sionn's name over my heart," Connor said and picked up a wickedly curved dagger that looked like it might be older than Angel. "With a big red heart under it and - "

Angel hauled Connor's shirt up under his armpits, nearly lifting him up off the ground and stared at Connor's smooth chest.

"Okay - okay. It's on my back." Connor wriggled free and turned, rucking his shirt up in back to reveal the fresh tattoo.

Angel stared for a long moment at the graphic black and white - well, black and flesh-toned - image. At the smoky red behind it that was like a curl of bloody mist. "That's - Janus."

"Yeah." Connor tugged his shirt straight - turned around, a strange look in his eyes. "Because...there's two of me, isn't there? I began and I ended, I went through doorways..." Connor stopped, a self-conscious blush flushing his face and Angel had a flashback of memory to his baby sister - an image of her own blushing face so clear and painfully bright that he winced. "Dad - you okay?"

"Huh? Oh. Yeah, I'm... You know, I like it. It's... Spike and Xander got me that set of pens and things, maybe -" Angel strode around the table again - ran a fingertip over the pens - over the sleek wood of the case. "Maybe I could draw it sometime - draw...you?" Connor's unsettled expression cleared and he grinned, eyes so bright. Just like Kate but...not so painful, this time. Doorways. Angel thought. Endings. And beginnings.

"Yeah. That'd be great. That's be really - great, Dad."


~*~*~*~*~


"You told Angel we were late for our flight." Xander accused and wrapped his arms around Spike from behind, letting his chin rest on Spike's shoulder.

"And you're - what? - shocked and disappointed I lied?" Spike didn't twist but Xander could see him smirk. Could feel it.

"Uh - let me think about that... No." Xander snorted and wormed a hand under Spike's shirt, left it resting there while they stood on the new-laid sod of the Sunnydale Memorial Gardens, watching the moon set behind the combination empty marble tomb and Hellmouth cork. The ground hummed under their feet and energy prickled along Xander's skin and fingertips. "They've done a lot with the place in a year," he said.

Big boxy department and grocery stores were still being erected overnight like mushrooms and the blinking sign of Bucky's Fondue Hut soared now above the subterranean church.

Revello Drive wasn't even a street anymore since the city grid had been remapped for the twenty first century.

Spike sighed softly and leaned back into Xander's body - closed his eyes for a moment. The energy of the place swirled through them both, irritating as gnats - as impossible to ignore. Energy - memories - a moment of pure misery as he remembered he and Dru here - loving and fighting, dancing and laughing. So fucking happy until time and circumstance had brought their castle in the air crashing down. He turned his head and rubbed his nose and cheek against Xander's cheek, wordless apology for what he knew was pushing through the link.

"Just wanted a little time, is all. Just a - moment."

"Yeah. I know." Xander closed his eye and hugged Spike a little tighter. He pushed Spike's emotions gently aside - sifted through his own memories of unhappy home and happy times with friends - of loves lost and friends gone and a life irrevocably changed by one small, blonde whirlwind. Or two blonde whirlwinds, really, he thought. That made him laugh and he opened his eye again - stood a little straighter.

Xander tipped his temple against Spike's, bumping him out of his fog of memory. "It's all gone now. Guess it's time we were too."

"It is at that, love," Spike replied softly.


~*~*~*~*~


"Thy friends all gone, then?" Sionn asked, and Connor straightened up from the front desk and smiled up at him - reached and tucked a pink-sheened dread behind Sionn's ear.

"Yeah - left a while ago. They wanted to - say goodbye." Sionn followed Connor's gesture - out and up, encompassing the Hellmouth and he nodded.

"Tha's a'reet, then. An' nae dustings, an' nae fights?"

"Seems like it was a pretty peaceful meeting all the way around. But you should see the pile of - stuff they left for Dad." Connor chuckled and Sionn grinned at him - reached out slipped his arm around Connor's waist.

"C'mon ta my flat, then - show me thy new ink, a'reet?" Sionn said - long fingers slipping up under Connor's shirt and stroking his back.

"Is that like come and see my etchings?"

"Summat like tha'," Sionn said, grinning, and Connor had to grin back.


~*~*~*~*~


He ran, ran ran, fur still sticking to him from the static pop sweet barrier that separated here from there. Down and down, through the dark spaces. Under water over hot hum sharp, through the dead wood that defined the spaces of this place.

Familiar scent - missed scent - in the currents of here. Burning and iron, lemon and magic. Sweet and the thick, good scent of blood. Want want feeling rippling along his bones, itching under his skin - nownowlove. He was back. They were. The givers - the good hands - the ones.

He leaped from a hole to the strip of soft wool that quieted the tunnel and darted in - climbed - and yes.

Him - both - curled together, nestmates in the best Nest of all. He slithered downward over slipperystickerysoft - landed on a slick-covered foot and climbed. Had to know - had to see. Had to feel. And he felt happy home mine happy tired family want.

Since the magic smell had doubled, they had sometimes come back to the nest with too much blood-scent, all fight and prickly hiss. But not this time. He patted over hair and hairless skin with his paws - pushed with his nose to get into the crevices. Making sure.

"Stop it, Tim. Sleeping." Rumble of his voice - coil of fuzzy warm affectionprotective - and he squeaked in pleasure - sat up expectantly, tail between paws as he lifted his head and opened his eye. "We're fine, we're home - there's sparkly stuff over there."

Want want want but also - want - and he didn't know which way to go - swayed in indecision and then shivered in voluptuous pleasure as a rough finger stroked over and over his back.

"Missed you too. Go on, now."

He hesitated longer and the other lifted his head - made that deep grumble that was pleasure or pain or anger. Pleasure, he was sure, since the scent was warm iron musk. And the feel was home family sleepy love.

"Sod off, Tim. Go get your pressies and leave us be a bit - sun's up, time for all good creatures of the night t'be sleepin'." But stroke stroke stroke by fingers that smelled of smoke and leather and he pushed up. Rurrred in pleasure and finally hopped away as they rolled together, snuffling and muttering. And he - got first sniff.

First sniff, first sparkles, dancing lights filling his eyes and making him shiver from ears to tail.

Clickity shiny, hanging things on the branches of the tree and he ran straight to the top - froze there, whiskers quivering with indecision and shiny shiny shiny.

"That is not sleeping, Spike."

"Get sleepy after, don't you, pet?"

"That's not the point. The point is - oh god."

"Not sleepy now are you?"

"Fuck - Spike."

"Aw Jesus, they're back."

"Admit it, Charles. You've missed them."

"I didn't miss the not sleeping part."

"It's almost time to get up anyway and you heard Spike - they'll sleep - "

"Or fuck like goddamn rabbits all - "

Wet sounds, muffled sounds.

Home good sounds. Love family family home warm as sunlight rippling through him.

He wrapped a strand of shiny around him and darted up, scattering rainbows onto the stairs through the shiny sparkly as he ran.




The End




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