A tag-story by

Yin Again

The truth was, Spike hadn’t noticed Xander’s nudity. Until he had. Noticed, that is. It was… noticeable. Xander’s tan was long gone, but his body was lean and muscled and Spike was really, really going to think about something else, because the blue pants? Clingy.

“Where do you want to go first?” he asked.

“Is there any sort of sickbay or medlab other than the big, empty hospital thing?” Xander asked. “That might be the place to look for info on the cargo – the people cargo, or animal cargo, right?”

Spike nodded. “Yeah, it’s down this way. There’s a place with automated bays and diagnostic machinery. There’s first aid stuff, too.”

“You’ve used the medical stuff?” Xander asked.

Spike sighed. “Yeah,” he said. “Remember I said that figuring out this ship took a lot of trial and error, heavy on the error?”

“Yeah,” Xander said slowly. “Messed yourself up a few times?”

Spike nodded. “More than I should have. After a while, I learned to do the research part first and the action part second.”

“And what was the object lesson there?” Xander said.

“Nearly lost an arm,” Spike said.

Xander stopped in his tracks and spun Spike around to face him. “You what?”

“I – uh – got this really cool training thing in the gym to work before I figured out that you had to set a safety level on it.” At Xander’s withering look, he talked a little faster. “Oh, come on – it was cool – it had interchangeable weapons and…”

“And the Transformer kicked your ass?” Xander asked, trying not to smile.

“In a manner of speaking,” Spike said. “It had a sword, and I…”

“Zigged when you should have zagged,” Xander finished for him. He put his hands on Spike’s shoulders, as Spike had done to him earlier. “Jesus, Spike – it could have taken your head off.”

“Yeah, I thought of that... too late, of course,” Spike said, and Xander was happy to note that he looked a little sheepish.

He shook Spike gently and smiled. “And you don’t even have a scar to remind you,” he said.

“It’s OK,” Spike said quietly. “I’ve got the memory of giving myself about a hundred stitches. Which hurt like a son of a bitch.” He looked down.

Xander shook him again, just a little, until Spike looked up. “Dumbass," he said.

Spike pulled away, laughing, and continued toward the medical facility. “Wanker,” he said over his shoulder.

Xander caught up to him and bumped his shoulder, throwing Spike off his stride. Spike recovered and bumped back, and they bounced down the hall like a couple of pinballs.

As they bounced along the halls Xander smiled to himself. Who would have thought he'd wake up one day on a space ship in the middle of, well, outer space with Spike of all people? He bumped Spike again and smiled at him.

"Hey, you think after we're done researching in the medlab that you could show me that training device?"

Spike looked at Xander. "No."

"What-- why not?"

Spike was amused by the offended look on Xander's face. "Cause after all these years by myself with no interaction except that machine, I finally managed to wake you up. You wanna spar, you can do it with me."

"Oh." Xander grinned. "You'd spar with me?"

Spike stopped in front of a door and pushed a few buttons on the right and the door opened to reveal a large white room. "Here we are." He turned back to Xander. "Yeah. I'd spar with you." He ran a finger down the length of Xander's arm. "Given a little time and proper instruction, you could be a hell of a fighter, Xan."

Spike missed the soft smile and blush that graced Xander's face as he turned to enter the room. "Thanks, Spike." Xander looked around at all the machines. "So... uh... how does this stuff work exactly?"

The medlab was damn cool. Xander bounced from thing to thing, having Spike demonstrate. The coolest thing was some sort of diagnostic machine that, when he put his arm in it, showed him his arm in layers - first with skin, then the muscle underneath, then tendons and veins, then finally the bone. Slightly creepy but very handy, Spike said, to fix a break or dig out a projectile. Xander had the feeling he'd had to do both of those things.

The thought of Spike, so bored that he let himself get lonely, having to fix himself up and then not having anybody to bitch at, or watch TV with... Xander shook his head, pushing back the sadness that wanted to swamp him. He tried to concentrate on what Spike was saying. Not gonna go there. It's too...chick flick. I'm here now, anyway, and...IS there TV? Gotta ask...

"See, it's got stuff like how to patch up a cut or take out a splinter all the way up to -" Spike tapped a button and an incredibly detailed image of a chest - ribs pulled open, heart exposed - came up on the screen. "Up to how to unblock a bloody aorta. It's like - all this stuff is here so we can - learn."

"Or in case the real doctors are - dead, or something," Xander said, shivering just a little and Spike looked at him for a long moment.

"Yeah. Something like that, maybe. I dunno, maybe it's just so they can - study, or something. Anyway, nothing about animals..." Spike sighed and tapped buttons again, shutting everything down. He sat quietly for a moment, looking a little dejected but then his old, restless energy seemed to come back to him and he sprang to his feet, grinning.

"Let's go hurt each other, yeah?"

"So not tempting when you put it like that," Xander said, but he had to laugh and Spike led him down corridors and to an elevator, pointing out how to navigate.

"See here?" he said, waving his hand at a cluster of colored lines on the wall, about eye-level. "We're on three, and three's blue. So you see a blue line, you know what deck number. Top level's white, then yellow, blue, purple, brown and grey. I dunno what color seven is, I didn't stay long enough to notice. This corridor with the elevator's the main one, so there's just the blue stripe. There's eight corridors that run parallel to this one to the right and eight to the left, and if you're out in the last one, out near the hull?" Spike looked at him, eyebrow raised, and Xander nodded.

"Yeah, if you're turn right and go all the way out, what?" The elevator door opened with a sound surprisingly like the doors on Star Trek and Xander grinned and bounced in.

"Then there's eight little blue dots. So you always know how many corridors to the main one." Spike pushed a button - purple, Xander noticed.

"So, the training room's one level down?"

"Got it in one," Spike grinned.

"Why not numbers? Or, signs? I mean, this ship is so big - it'd be easy to get lost." Xander wondered if Spike had ever gotten lost and reminded himself to ask later.

The vampire shrugged and the doors opened again, and they stepped out into an identical corridor, only the stripe was purple.

"I dunno. Maybe - if Space Pirates attack and board they won't know their way around and they won't be able to kill the Captain."

"Way to inspire confidence," Xander mumbled, but then Spike veered into him and clipped him with his shoulder again, grinning that old Sunnydale grin that said 'You are an incredible wanker, Harris' and Xander felt his spirits rise. "Or - maybe it's so little kids who can't read or - aliens who don't know English can find their way around!" That thought made him feel better - made the ship feel more friendly.

"Yeah, maybe," Spike looked thoughtful, and then they were at a doorway. "Here we go - put your thumb there -" Spike did that thing again, that meant Xander could operate the door now, and then they stepped inside.

"Oh - Wow! This is too cool!"

Xander walked into the room and stepped up onto a raised circular platform. He bounced, testing the surface. It gave a little. He bounced some more.

"Hey," he said, turning to Spike. "If you fight up here, wouldn't you just bounce right off?" He hopped gingerly across the circle, grinning.

Spike moved to a control panel on the wall and pressed several buttons. Xander yelped as he felt... something... that made all the hair on his body stand up.

"Energy barrier," Spike explained. "I can make it as rigid as I want to, so it can slow you down, stop you or even bounce you back into the ring - keeps you from falling out."

"Neat!" Xander said, pressing his palm to the invisible barrier. Moving slowly, he was able to press his hand through. He watched as Spike opened a recessed door and pulled out two pairs of padded gloves and walked over to the ring. He handed a pair to Xander, who pulled them back through the barrier and started working his hand into one.

"Take your shirt off first," Spike said, and Xander looked up in time to see Spike pulling off his own tunic.

Huh. Skin. Lots of pale skin. Also muscle, and Spike had next to no body hair - just a few fine wisps under his arms and a light trail below his navel, leading down to his... and, hey, weren't the blue pants sure clingy? Xander pulled off his own shirt and turned away to get into his gloves, resolutely thinking about the time he'd accidentally seen Aunt Doris in the bathtub. Well, mostly in the bathtub, because Aunt Doris? Not petite.

By the time he had the gloves on, the blue pants were back to normal from a high point of extremely not subtle.

Xander turned to Spike and clapped his gloved hands together. He did a little foot-shuffling maneuver he'd seen in a Rocky movie and swiped at his nose with the back of one hand, hunching his shoulders and miming a punch.

"Whadda we do now?" he asked in the worst Brooklyn accent ever.

Spike laughed, and that was the second time he'd done that, and probably the second time Xander had ever really heard him do it. It was...nice.

"Now you try to keep me from knockin' you on your arse in three seconds," Spike said, and lifted his hands, classic 'boxer' pose. Xander copied him and they shuffled slowly, warily. After a minute Spike frowned, letting his hands drop a little.

"For fuck's sake, Xander, just hit me already, will ya?" he groused. So Xander did.

After that there was more hit and less shuffle and Xander got in a couple more hits. Got in some pretty good ones, really. But he felt - off. Felt tired, and clumsy, and in the middle of one particularly wild roundhouse he lurched and fell right into Spike.

"Damn! Sorry -" Xander tried to push away and Spike just held on - slung an arm around his ribs and got his shoulder up under the pit of Xander's arm, unmindful of the sweat there.

"No - it's okay. I forgot - you've been asleep for four years. Not up to this just yet." Spike kept his arm around Xander and eased them both out of the ring, the force-field making Xander shiver just a little as it slowly let them go. Once on the floor Spike made him sit and with quick efficiency stripped their gloves off and tossed them down, then hauled Xander to his feet.

"C'mon - lets get you something to drink. Shouldn't have let you push it so hard -" Spike sounded worried and Xander patted the closest bit of anatomy he could reach, which turned out to be Spike's chest.

"S'okay. I didn't - I felt okay when we started. Not your fault." Spike grinned at him, and Xander noticed that he had tiny lines at the corners of his eyes, and that his left canine tooth was a little bit crooked.

There was one of those food dispensers in the gym and Xander put his thumb look at that, my hand's shaking on the panel and waited. A minute later he got a tall, thick-looking drink that was an unappetizing greenish color.

"Ahh. Ick. What the hell is that?" Spike picked the drink up and sniffed it - shrugged.

"I guess it's what you need," he said. Xander took it with a sigh - almost dropped it.

"Wow, I guess I'm -" A wave of dizziness swept over him and Spike snatched the cup from his hand - half carried him over to a padded bench along one wall, cursing softly.

"Fuck, Xander - sorry. I forgot, it's been so long... When I first woke up I was like this too. Took me a week or so to get back to normal."

"I guess sleeping for four years takes it out of you," Xander said weakly. He realized he was leaning heavily against Spike but at the moment he didn't care. The vampire's cool skin felt good all along his flushed back and ribs, and Spike's arm around his waist made him feel - steady. He carefully took the cup from Spike and sipped at the drink. It tasted - green, but also malty, and it was cool. It was good, and Xander found he'd gulped half of it without thinking. He twisted a little and found Spike looking at him - smiling at him.

"Guess it's not so bad, huh?"

"No, it's pretty good. Did you - uh - want to try?" Spike eyed the cup for a moment.

"Haven't had human food in years. Stupid machine won't give me anything but blood..." Spike reached out and took the cup and took a sip - made a small face. "Fuck. Rather it were JD. Or a steak. Or even one of your god's awful American candy bars." He handed the cup back and Xander drained it. He felt a little surge of well-being flood through him, and then sleepiness - a wave of fatigue that made him yawn hugely.

"Right on schedule. Best get you back to your room, then." Spike plucked the cup out of his hand and fed it into a chute with a recycling logo on it - the three arrows - and then hoisted Xander up and led him down the hall, back to the elevators.

"Damnit - I haven't been awake for longer than an hour! This sucks." Xander wanted to explore more of the ship, but as Spike manhandled him down the hall and into the elevator he found his hand absentmindedly stroking along the vampire's ribs - exploring without benefit of any real thought - and curling around the lean hip that jutted fractionally from the waist of the pants.

Clingy, thin pants. Damn. Better - stop that 'cause...mine are just as clingy as his and... Xander wanted to stop - getting an erection in front of Spike was about as bad as the dream where he was naked in front of the entire cheerleading squad - but the vampire felt good under his hands - felt cool and smooth and firm, felt nice.

God, he's gonna hate me, he woke me up and he's helping me and I'm GROPING him, fuck, fuck... But it was just... Xander liked to touch, and even if he'd been unconscious for four years his body, it seemed, remembered the isolation and was...compensating. And Spike - didn't actually seem to be minding. He hadn't knocked Xander on his ass, at least.

Spike's arm around his waist was comforting - solid - and his hip bump, bump, bumped into Xander's as he got them down the corridor and into Xander's quarters. The bed looked sooo good - and so big, and so empty. Xander felt a little...fuzzy around the edges.

"You're just - depleted or somethin'. Get some vitamins into you, you'll be fine," Spike was saying, and he flopped them both down onto the edge of the bed - ducked out from under Xander's arm and started to stand up.

"Hey!" Xander flailed and grabbed what he could - the waist of Spike's pants - and pulled. Spike sat back down but not before Xander saw the curve of the top of his buttock.

"Would you - I mean, I just - Spike, I -" More than fuzzy, apparently. Totally - gone. He wanted to lie down and sleep - wanted to curl into Spike's lap and have his shoulder rubbed, wanted to...

"What, Xander?" Spike said, in a 'humor the idiot' sort of tone. Or - no, more of a...

Of a what? Hopeful tone? Desperate tone? Pissed off tone? Fuck. Xander blinked and shook his head - looked over at Spike and knew his mouth dropped open.

What, Xander?" Spike said, but his voice was soft - not impatient at all.

"You have - really blue eyes. Wow, they're just -" And Xander reached out and cupped Spike's jaw, turning his head a little so he could really see, because damn, why hadn't he noticed that before? And the look in them, it was...

"Amazing...really..." Xander had to lean in closer to see, and he could smell the soap from the shower and this subtle, spicy, musky scent that had to be Spike's skin. Or hair. Or...something. Spike smelled - good, and Xander got even closer and took a long breath - got in right next to Spike's face, with his cheek just touching Spike's cheek, and breathed.

"'s really good," he murmured, and he felt Spike's hand, cool and heavy, on his shoulder. "You smell really...good... Taste good?" he whispered, and let his tongue flicker out and just touch the impossible arch of Spike's cheekbone. The little voice in his head that usually stopped him from that sort of thing seemed to be muffled by the fuzz, and Xander was actually - pretty glad.

Oh, God. Spike was ready to groan, to scream, to melt into a sloppy puddle, all because Xander had licked - licked - his cheek. His tongue was like fire - soft, slick and hot, and it was the best thing Spike had felt in four long, lonely years.

The hand on his jaw was also hot, the pads of the fingers soft and smooth - no callus could withstand the rejuvinating effects of that much downtime. His grip was fleeting, and he was mumbling against Spike's skin.

"Taste good, feel good..." His breath was hot and damp as lips trailed down to Spike's jaw and neck and Xander pressed forward, burying his face in the junction of his shoulder, all silky hair and hot mouth and flushed satin skin.

A vampire could only take so much.

Wrapping his arms around Xander's shoulders, Spike leaned them back onto the bed. Xander went willingly, easily; curling his body around Spike's, throwing a leg over his hip and enveloping him in the heat and smells and sounds of life and arousal and something... trust?

Oh, and Spike couldn't stand it, but he knew that Xander was more than halfway to sleep, that he was drifting off right there, right then, right in the middle of probably the best Spike had felt in so long that it didn't bear thinking about. But, no matter that it was on the edge of sleep and wakefulness, Spike knew that it was real, at least a little bit. He could smell it, hell - he could feel it - hard and insistent against his hip - want. It would have to be enough for now.

He eased Xander more fully onto the bed, settling them on their sides, still cocooned together, Xander still mumbling into his shoulder.

"Sleep, pet. You'll feel better for some rest." He paused and pressed his lips against Xander's forehead. "Just... don't forget, OK?" he said, whispering.

"Never forget you, Spike," Xander said, lips tracing heated patterns on Spike's throat. "Never forget." A quiet sigh and he was asleep.

Xander woke slowly, coming to consciousness in bits and pieces. The first thing he was aware of was the blanket over him. The next thing was the firm, cool pillow? surface under his cheek. He opened his eyes, blinking a little. The lights were still on. He flexed the fingers of his right hand and discovered they were tangled with - other fingers. Full consciousness rushed back and he sucked in a hard breath. And then he let it go - let it out. It was Spike he was curled around. Spike's chest under his cheek in a position he hadn't slept ages. Spike's thigh under his own. He remembered...everything.

I...sniffed Spike. I almost kissed him! Wait - really? Huh. Well, close enough. He DOES smell...really good.

Xander regarded the expanse of skin and muscle that was Spike's chest and ribs. He untangled his fingers from Spike's lax grip and slowly ran his hand up the low ridges of rib-cage to the pectoral - let his palm rest on the pale-rose circle of Spike's nipple. There were marks - visible at this angle like silvery brush-strokes - radiating out like the spokes of a wheel.

Those are scars...from when he tried to cut his soul out of himself... Xander traced each faint line with his fingertip, remembering that time. Remembering how a grudging friendship had sprung up in the last weeks before the final battle. Remembering the pain he'd felt when Buffy had told them Spike was dead.

Never thought I'd care. But I did. Shouldn't have died alone - shouldn't have been left behind... When Andrew, in a drunken fit of soul-baring had told him that Spike was alive and working with Angel, Xander had thought long and hard about calling the vampire - telling him what a bastard he was, and welcome back. But in the end, he hadn't. He felt like Spike had given enough, and if he wanted to come back into their lives, it should be his choice. Xander credited Africa for his newly discovered patience, and for something like maturity, finally, when it came to Spike and Angel.

Xander's fingers edged up higher, tracing the ridge of Spike's collarbone and the blue-veined muscle of his bicep. I never DID forget him. All that time...he was always there, in the back of my head. Being sarcastic and annoying. But being there.

Xander sighed and shifted a little, and went back to Spike's ribs, skipping his fingers up and down them until suddenly Spike's hand darted up and snatched his in mid-sweep. Spike's finger's curled around his and he tucked both their hands up against his chest.

"M'not ticklish, if that's what you're thinkin'," Spike muttered, and Xander smiled.

"I'll bet you are. I was just..."

"Just what?" Spike's fingers were rubbing lightly over his own and Xander burrowed his head a little into Spike's chest.

"Dunno. Just...looking."

"Got eyes in your fingertips, then?" Spike's voice rippled with suppressed amusement and Xander lifted his head a little and looked up. Up into God damn BLUE eyes that were sparkling with merriment.

"I might. Might have gotten more than my old eye back. Maybe I'm some sort of mutant eye-guy now. Eyes - everywhere..." Spike was smiling at him, and Xander didn't remember it ever being quite that...

Amazing. Or, no, I used that. Sweet? Ick, no. REAL. That's what it is. Real.

"Hey," Xander said, aware of the delight in his voice and not particularly caring at the moment. Life had gotten damn strange. He was different. And he felt...good. Felt just fine.

"Hey, what?" Spike said, but his eyebrow was up and his expression clearly said 'Let's not revert to being thirteen, ta ever so, mate,' and Xander giggled and lay his head back down, closing his eyes.

"This is nice," he murmured, pretty sure Spike would hear. Spike's fingers tightened around his, and then Spike's other hand slid up onto Xander's back and curved around his ribs; heavy and slightly posessive and just...right.

"Yeah, nice," Spike said.

Nice, Xander thought. Silly word, but it fit. It was nice to be... here. To be safe, and wasn't that a funny thought to have while hurtling through space with no clue as to where you were going or what you were supposed to be doing?

One thing that Africa had given him was an appreciation for the moment. The people he'd met there had a deep reverence for the past and hope for the future, but they were pragmatic in a way that he had greatly admired. They were aware - a bone-deep awareness of the fleetingness and fragility of life, and that awareness made them appreciate the present. Xander hoped that a little of that had rubbed off on him.

He loosed his fingers from Spike's to push his hair back from his forehead, and he tentatively ran them over his left eyebrow. After the vineyard - after Caleb - he'd avoided touching his ruined eye. He'd worn the patch almost all of the time, and he'd learned to look into mirrors sideways, so as not to see the damage, the mark he'd wear forever. But, not forever.

He let the tips of his fingers smooth over his eyebrow, and realized that he could almost count each individual hair, his skin was so sensitive. He swept them down and traced the lid, and felt the odd, liquid tension of his eye - his eye - there. He jumped as his fingers were joined by Spike's gliding cooly across the sweep of his lashes and settling just below, barely resting on his skin.

"So, do you think that everyone in the cargo holds got healed?" he asked quietly. "Is everyone going to wake up with their tonsils back and perfect eyesight and no more heartbreak of psoriasis?"

"Dunno," Spike said. "But, it's good, right? I don't think they'd fix everybody just to eat them, yeah?"

"Point," Xander said. "That makes me feel a little better." He moved his own hand down to cover Spike's and squeezed his fingers. "I wish Joyce could have still been alive, then - they could have fixed her, too."

“Maybe Xan, but she would have hated being away from her girls. You know Joyce, the sun rose and set on those two; they could do nothing wrong.”

Xander laughed ruefully. “You weren’t there that summer when Buffy ran away. God, Joyce was so mad - at Giles, at us for not saying anything, but mostly at Buffy.” Xander wriggled around so he look could at Spike. “I don’t know if she was madder because she ran away, or because she left her responsibilities, but she was pissed. She got over it though, and it was like she and Buffy were closer for a while, because of it.”

Spike fingers continued to touch, to soothe his body and if Xander could purr he would have. It made thinking of home nicer, to have this little bit of home with him. Spike was smooth and cool but comforting in a way he really couldn’t explain to himself.

“Hey Spike, I …I never said sorry about being such a utter bastard when she died. So-sorry.”

Spike looked uncomfortable, talking about the past between them that couldn’t be changed. Still Xander felt it needed to be said, if not for Spike then for his own piece of mind.

“Don’t worry about it, I wasn’t exactly treating you lot good at the time, you had no reason to trust me.”

“Yeah we did Spike, that’s what sucks about how I acted. Even if you hadn’t been sincere I was supposed to be a good guy and give you the benefit of the doubt.”

He ran his hand up and down on of Spike’s arms, enjoying the feel of smooth, nearly hairless skin.


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