Long Time Gone

Yin Again

Part Six

Spike closed the front door behind Jase, Dawn and Sara. Just as Xander had dropped his bombshell, Sara had awakened. Spike had gestured for Dawn and Jase to go get her, and the vampire had turned back to Xander just in time to see the dark man slip out the back door. With a sigh, he’d joined the others in getting Sara ready to go home and to bed. They had not spoken about the night’s revelations, but as Dawn hugged Spike on her way out the door she had whispered fiercely in his ear, “Take care of him.” Spike listened, and was able to hear Xander’s heartbeat. It was slow and steady. He followed the sound to the back porch.

Xander stood at the bottom of the stairs. He was still barefoot, wearing the black jeans and black silk tee he’d changed into after their sparring earlier in the day. The wind had picked up, and Xander was facing into it, his long hair blowing back from his face. Spike looked at his profile, silhouetted in the moonlight, the tracks of drying tears shining on his cheeks. Xander turned toward the other man and a small smile twisted his lips. He gestured for Spike to join him and seated himself on the bottom step. Spike settled next to him. Xander felt a soft touch on the back of his hand. He looked at Spike and felt his cool hand press the two platinum bands into his palm. As he realized what they were, he clutched Spike’s hand in his briefly, and then pulled away to resettle the rings into their familiar groove.

The two men sat in silence, listening to the wind blow. After a few moments, Xander turned on the stair, pulling one knee up and wrapping his arms around it so he could face Spike. He looked at the vampire until the blue eyes met his and then began to speak.

“Spike, I need you to shut up for a few minutes and let me say some things.” He paused to grin as Spike’s eyebrows raised and his mouth opened and then shut with a nod. Xander drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Spike, I owe you a lot right now.” He shot the other man a quelling look as his mouth opened again. “I owe you a world of thanks, for accepting me, for putting me up, and putting up with me; I owe you major gratitude for the comfort you’ve offered me since I showed up. I didn’t know how much I needed it, really. And don’t think it’s done – I’m still a wreck, so I’m probably gonna fall apart on you again shortly.”

Xander took another deep breath. In coming back to Sunnydale, he had known that he owed apologies to all of his friends. He had practiced what he would say to Dawn and Buffy and Willow, but had been unable to plan what to say to Spike, not knowing what to expect from the vampire. He plunged ahead with his explanation. “The main thing I owe you is an apology, and it’s been a long time coming. When I left Sunnydale, and for all the time we knew each other, I was a complete asshole. I treated you like crap, and I’m both stunned and humbled that you are able to even talk to me now, much less treat me like a friend.” As he spoke these words, Xander realized exactly how true they were. The easy, simple friendship that Spike had shown him in the previous 24 hours had made him feel safe and calm for the first time in six months. He drew in another breath and kept talking. “ I, I …hate like hell to admit it, but I resented you because I always felt like you were in my way. For some stupid reason I thought that if you hadn’t been around I could have maybe had a shot with Buffy. And I hated like hell that you slept with Anya.” Xander paused and raised a hand as Spike’s mouth opened yet again.

“Not yet. I’m not done; you get to talk in a minute.” Xander softened his words with a small smile. “I know now that I never had a chance with Buffy; and I know that you and her together was not about love or anything good. And I even understand the whole bathroom scene.” Xander saw the pain in Spike’s face and reached over to touch the other man’s hand. “I said some awful things to you after that, and I hid behind a lot of inflated self-righteousness that was only fronting for jealousy. I was so angry that you were the only one who could make her feel anything then, so I just let loose on you.” He took in another long breath and let it out with a shuddery sigh. “Let’s not even waste any breath on Anya. I really understand that one now. She was hurting, you were hurting – and you used each other to feel loved, or even just liked for a little while. I can honestly say I understand that now. So, I guess what I’m doing is saying that I’m sorry, and I’m asking for forgiveness.”

Spike quirked his scarred eyebrow at Xander, who laughed and said, “OK, your turn to talk.”

“Xan, why don’t we give all of that crap from the past a skip, yeah? Neither of us was exactly the model citizen at the time. I said and did a lot of things back then that I’m not exactly proud of either. I accept your apology.” He paused, and the two men smiled at one another. Spike looked down, and then met Xander’s brown eyes again. “The reason I’m treating you like a friend is because you are my friend. We should have been better friends before – I always thought we had the most in common of the whole gang. Hell, maybe that’s why we couldn’t get along. We’ve both done a lot of growing up in the last eight years. You were a kid then, and I was pretty much an adolescent myself, at least as far as behavior goes. I hope that we’re both better people now.”

They sat in silence for a few minutes. Xander surprised himself by breaking it to ask a question.

“When you were a human, did you look like Jase?”

Spike spluttered, “Huh? Like Jase?” He paused, and said, in a voice filled with wonder, “Bloody hell! You’re right! I did look a lot like him. I never noticed.” Spike’s mouth hung open.

“When I met him tonight, I realized it. He’s about your size, but slighter, and his eyes are really close, but not as beautiful. He’s got your same bone structure. Put brown hair and glasses on you and there you are – Human Spike, er … William, I guess.” Xander grinned broadly. “I bet if we got him to do the accent it would be uncanny!”

Spike shut his mouth, equally taken aback by the thought that Dawn’s husband looked like his human self and that Xander had said his eyes were beautiful. Xander kept speaking.

“Do you think Dawn did it on purpose? I wonder if she’d even admit it. Figures, though. Another reason I hated you – displacing me as Dawn’s crush object. Heh. I leave town and she married a lookalike. Who would have guessed?”

Spike finally smiled and shot Xander a sideways look. “Just how many reasons to hate me did you have? And did you keep an actual list on paper, or was it just mental?”

“Oh, it was mental, all right. Mostly just Buffy, Anya, Dawn, being cooler than me, stronger than me, more useful than me, and probably a couple more.” Xander ticked off the reasons on his fingers. Spike stared at him for a long moment, appraisingly.

“Xan, when did you get so honest?”

Xander sighed. “It was Shari. Man, she wouldn’t let me get away with a thing. She made me take responsibility for everything. I thought I knew about responsibility – you know, saving the world since I was fifteen and all? But I had zero sense of personal responsibility. I wanted everything to be somebody else’s fault, and she wouldn’t let me play that game for a second. God, she was tough. She made a man out of me.” Xander lapsed into silence, lost in thought. He almost missed Spike’s very quiet comment.

“She made a good man out of you, luv.”

Part Seven

Xander lay across Spike’s comfortable guest bed trying not to toss and turn. He knew the vampire was still awake downstairs, and was trying to act the part of exhausted guest he’d played to come upstairs. He thought about the conversation with Spike, and how, for the first time since her death he had been able to share a comment or story about his wife without feeling sad. When he’d explained to Spike how Shari had changed him, he’d felt pride and love, but no sadness. He didn’t know if this was a good or bad thing. He desperately feared moving on. He didn’t know if he wanted to live in a world where Shari was just a memory, though that seemed inevitable. Xander didn’t know if he was ready to let go of the tangible thing that was his grief.

Turning his thoughts away from Shari, he thought about Spike. Could this truly be the Bleached Menace, Fangless, Deadboy Jr.? Being so nice? He thought about Spike’s earlier comment that they had both grown up. It was true; he had finally made it to adulthood, though many days he still felt like a scared teenager taking on the world. He also realized that Spike’s journey had probably been even harder than his. Thinking about the guilt that Spike must have felt when his soul realized all of the things he’d done – all the pain and death and destruction, Xander felt tears prickle behind his eyelids.

Then he thought about the truly bizarre picture of Spike and Sara together. The toddler had barely left her “Uncle Will’s” arms the entire time she’d been in the house. Her sweet little face had shone with love for him. Xander also realized that she didn’t make him think of Lex. It hurt him that he’d never been able to hold his son, hear his voice, or watch him play; but Sara wasn’t Lex, she was her own person and Xander already loved her as an extension of Dawn. He also marveled at Dawn’s maturity; she’d forgiven him instantly for his shoddy treatment of her, with zero guilt or whining – remarkable.

Turning over in bed and rearranging the pillows, Xander stretched out on his back and let his thoughts turn to Spike again; specifically to his feelings of attraction toward Spike. He thought about all of the touches they had shared, from Spike’s light touch on his shoulder when he’d arrived and the hand in his hair while he’d cried against the vampire’s legs, to the cool hard hand gripping his under the table tonight in support. There had also been assorted small touches, a tap on the shoulder, a hand up when they were sparring. Xander analyzed each one to try and divine if Spike was being anything other than merely friendly.

Dawn had mentioned how tactile both Spike and Xander were. Xander acknowledged the truth in that. He was a sucker for simple physical affection. Early in his relationship with Shari, he had apologized for his need to constantly hold her hand or lean against her. She had shushed him and drawn him closer, establishing a pattern of placing her tiny hand on the inside of his wrist and scratching lightly. That simple contact had gotten him through many nights where he had trouble sleeping – all she had to do was pet him like that and he’d fallen asleep in minutes. Shari was as good a recipient as she was a giver; he’d spent hours brushing her long black hair, making it shine like silk as it flowed to her waist or rubbing her feet after she insisted on wearing ridiculously high heels to dinner.

Xander decided that he truly didn’t know if Spike felt anything for him beyond friendship. He also decided that he wanted to know, badly. Did he have the balls to just go and ask the vampire? He didn’t quite know the answer to that one, either. He listened as hard as he could, trying to hear Spike downstairs. He couldn’t discern any noise. Making up his mind he slid to the side of the bed and grabbed the burgundy sleep pants crumpled on the floor and pulled them on over his nakedness. He ran a hand through his hair and left the room quietly.

The kitchen and living room were empty. Xander stopped in the kitchen and poured himself a glass of juice. Carrying it, he wandered toward the side of the house he’d yet to enter, and saw lamplight gleaming through an open door. He stepped forward and paused in the doorway, taking in the room before him. It was a library. The walls were lined from floor to ceiling with cherry bookcases, and almost every shelf was filled to bursting with books. The room was an interior one, so there were no windows. The few breaks in the bookcases were hung with paintings, or formed nooks to display sculpture or art objects. One corner of the room had two more leather club chairs like those in the kitchen; the room was also furnished with a large desk and two desk chairs and a tufted leather sofa with a lamp table at one end.

Only the lamp on the table lighted the room, and Spike was lying on the sofa. He was wearing a pair of black sleep pants similar to Xander’s, along with another cream-colored long-sleeved tee shirt. A soft-looking throw blanket was bunched up on the end of the sofa, and his feet were dug under its warm folds. A short glass of amber liquid was on the floor by his head, and he had a large book propped up on his chest. He was engrossed in reading it, staring through the lenses of his gold wire-framed glasses.

Xander raised his glass of juice to his lips and took a swallow. The small sound caught Spike’s attention, and he peered at the intruder over the top of his glasses, lowering the book. He smiled gently. “Couldn’t sleep?”

Xander smiled and gestured at the glasses Spike wore, “Those are just like Jase’s.” he pointed out. The two men shared a smile. Spike bent his knees to clear a space on the couch and gestured for Xander to sit. Xander took the offered seat and placed his own glass on the hardwood floor. He picked up the throw blanket and spread it over his chest, making sure the excess material pooled beside him to cover Spike’s bare feet. Spike placed his book on the floor and retrieved his drink. Xander watched his Adam’s apple bob as he took a long swallow and then replaced the glass on the floor.

“I like this room,” he observed. “It’s like Giles’ house.”

Spike glanced around. “Some of the books were his; he left them to me.”

Xander started in alarm. “Giles isn’t  d-d …..” he stammered, eyes searching Spike’s face.

One of Spike’s cold feet prodded Xander’s thigh. “No, you git – he’s fine. He left them with me when he moved back to England. They up and begged him to come help rebuild the Watcher’s Council. He’s a big muckety-muck at HQ now.”

“Oh, good, good.” Xander replied with relief. “I was scared for a minute there.” He realized that he had grabbed the foot that had prodded him and was still holding it. “Your feet are like ice, Spike. And yes, I know – dead, here.” He pulled both of Spike’s feet into his lap and tucked the end of the blanket around them, his hand resting with his fingers lightly encircling the thin, cool ankle. If asked, he could not have easily explained his obvious compulsion for touching his one-time enemy. He thought about it for a second and realized that Spike was the first person he’d shared any kind of physical contact with since Shari’s death, outside of a lot of sympathetic hugs and handshakes.

Xander rubbed his fingers across the ankle under his hand and waited for the vampire to look at him. Spike slowly pulled off his glasses and met Xander’s questioning gaze. “Um, Spike? Does this bother you? Me, um, touching you?”

Spike’s expression was unreadable as he slipped one of the earpieces of his glasses into his mouth and chewed it in an absent and completely endearing gesture. His eyes never left those of the man in front of him. “No, Xan – it doesn’t bother me. I like it. You’re so warm.”  They sat in silence for a moment, Xander’s fingers moved in small circles on Spike’s ankle and Spike shifted his foot into the touch. Xander spoke again. “I have this thing about contact and, well, since Shari’s been gone these six months, I’ve been really ….”

“Lonely?” Spike asked. Xander nodded. “And you don’t want me to get the wrong idea?” Spike asked with a wry tone.

Xander looked across the sofa and into wary blue eyes. He smiled gently. “Spike … Will … I don’t know if there’s a wrong idea to get.” He was startled when Spike’s eyes lost the wariness and widened, and he felt a slight tremor run through the smaller man. His hand stilled on the ankle it was holding. “What? What is it?”

The blue eyes softened, and Spike lowered his eyes and cleared his throat. “Er, you called me Will.” Xander couldn’t read the tone in his voice. So, he asked, “Is that OK?” Spike’s blue eyes rose to his again and he nodded. “Yeah.” He smiled what Xander could only think of as a shy smile. “It’s … nice.” Xander’s fingers started circling again on Spike’s – Will’s ankle and he came to a decision. “I need to go to L.A. We need to go to L.A.” Xander stated. Blue eyes flew to his face again and Spike sat up spluttering, “Wha … huh … what the hell?”

Xander reached out and pulled his friend to his side, turning the pale, angular face toward his own and holding it still. “There’s more to the story of Shari’s murder, much more. It’s why I came here. And I need you and Dawn and Jase and Buffy and Angel and the L.A. Gang and Willow to help me sort it out. And once you know everything, maybe – just maybe we can take a minute and figure out if this is just friendly hand holding and foot-rubbing, or if there’s something between us or not. Because, suddenly, I REALLY want to know. How about you, Will? Do you want to know?” Xander’s eyes searched Spike’s face as his hand dropped from the other man’s chin.

Spike hesitated for a bare second, then leaned in and lightly brushed his lips against Xander’s. Blue and brown eyes closed as they both leaned forward a fraction of an inch to turn the light brush of lips into a tantalizing glide. Xander changed the tilt of his head to capture those smooth, cool lips with his own, and gently flicked his tongue out to taste the vampire’s full lower lip. The taste of Scotch and the scent of Spike filled his senses and he groaned against the kiss. Spike took the opportunity to slide his tongue briefly into Xander’s mouth, just tasting the inside of his lips for a moment and then retreating. Then he broke the kiss. Two sets of eyes opened languidly; harsh pants filled the small space between them. Spike whispered, his voice much huskier than usual “Yeah, Xan, I want to know.” He swallowed audibly. “I’ll call L.A.; you call Willow.”

Part Eight

After the phone calls were made, Xander had gone back to bed. Once there, he had relived the kiss a hundred times, and had looked blindly up at the ceiling and asked Shari for her forgiveness or her blessing or something to help him not feel awful. His heart ached at the thought that hers were no longer the last lips his had kissed. At the same time, it soared at the joy that little kiss had brought him. Kissing Spike had been so much better than he had ever imagined it. Still struggling with his emotions, he had finally slept.

When he awoke the next afternoon, he had found all the arrangements finalized. Xander, Spike, Jase, Dawn and Sara would leave Sunnydale at sundown on Friday, two days hence, to meet the L.A. contingent at Angel's hotel. Willow would fly into LAX that same night. Then Xander would take the floor and tell the story he’d been carrying around for six months.

He’d been a little embarrassed to face Spike the next morning, but the awkwardness had passed as soon as he’d realized that Spike was still treating him the same way. They had eaten, and then cleaned the kitchen. Xander had asked about the changes in Sunnydale over the years, so they had watched TV until full dark and then headed out in Xander’s car to take a tour.

Xander had enjoyed pointing out some of the places he’d worked and sites where he’d gotten his ass kicked repeatedly. Spike had dredged up at least one spectacularly implausible demon-killing story for each of the seven cemeteries they had passed. At the eighth, Xander had parked the car and they had exited the vehicle in silence. Spike reached into the backseat for the bag they’d gotten earlier, and they had moved grimly up the path. They stopped in front of a beautifully carved headstone – each pausing to read the words there: "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends." As one they had stooped to pull a few weeds from around the grave’s perimeter. Once finished, they had carefully unpacked the flowers and placed them reverently on Tara Maclay’s grave. They’d stood in silence for a moment, and then Xander had begun to speak.

“Hey, Tara. I’ve kinda been a long time gone, but, then again, so have you. I’ve missed you. We brought you some flowers.” He smiled down at the slender white blooms he’d placed in the vase attached to the headstone.  “The calla lilies are from Willow. She misses you the most, I think. She’s going to come see you herself, soon. Next week.” He grinned and looked over at Spike, who raised his eyebrow at him.  “The roses are from me and Spike. He wanted red and I wanted white, so we compromised and got some of each.” Xander chuckled. “You’re probably spinning in there to hear that Spike and I have compromised, but, hey – times change, people change, vampires change.” Xander cleared his throat against the lump that was forming. “Tara, I need to ask you to do something for me. You were always so good – the best of all of us, so I know you’re in whatever place the good people go to.” His voice roughened and became more urgent.  “There’s somebody new there, somebody who’s very special to me.” He laughed again and it almost sounded like a sob. “You can’t miss her – tiny little Asian girl, she’s probably kicking everybody’s ass. Her name is Shari Harris and she’s either pregnant or has a little baby with her; I’m not sure how things work there. That little baby is my son, Lex. If…if you could watch out for them, I’d really appreciate it. I know if it can be done, you’ll do it. And I promise that I’ll do a better job of taking care of Willow for you from now on.” He paused, tears streaming unheeded down his face as he bowed his head. On a deep, shuddering breath he whispered, “Tell them I love them.”

Spike touched his elbow and stepped past him to lay his hand on the top of Tara’s headstone, standing silently with his head bowed for a moment. He then turned and stood directly in front of Xander, offering comfort, if the taller man needed it. Xander lifted his head and met Spike’s eyes, which were bright with unshed tears. He leaned his forehead against Spike’s and closed his eyes. Each man’s hand came up to rest at the nape of the other’s neck, and they stood silently for a long time.

After visiting Tara’s grave they had stopped at the convenience store for ice cream. On returning to Spike’s Victorian they had each eaten an enormous hot fudge sundae and then had settled onto the couch to watch a movie. By halfway through the most recent remake of “Dracula” they had moved slowly but surely from their spots at either end of the couch toward the middle and each other. Finally Spike had simply used his superior strength to manhandle Xander into position so that they were spooned together with Xander’s back pressed against his chest, Spike’s hand draped over Xander’s side with their fingers loosely intertwined, a blanket thrown over them. By the end of the movie they were both asleep, Xander’s head pillowed on Spike’s bicep and one of Spike’s legs caught between Xander’s, the other following the curve of the human’s backside; Spike’s nose buried in the wavy, silken hair at the back of Xander’s neck.

Sometime during the night, Spike had woken to the exquisite feel of Xander pressing a warm, soft kiss to his palm and closing his hand around it. He had been unable to stop himself from returning the kiss to the back of the human’s neck. He’d then waited, holding an unneeded breath as Xander had murmured in his sleep. When he’d made out the words, “Mmmmmmm … Spike,” he had sighed with relief and slipped back to sleep.

In the early afternoon, Spike had awoken very glad that he didn’t need to breathe. Somehow, Xander had managed to reverse their positions and was now lying almost directly on top of Spike, who was face down on the couch. Xander’s chin was hooked over the vampire’s shoulder, one arm was hanging off the edge of the couch and the other was curled around Spike so that they were both lying on top of it. Spike could feel Xander’s warm hand covering his chest and wondered how it could still be warm with the circulation cut off by their combined weight. The other thing Spike had noticed was what felt like a very substantial morning erection pressed against his ass.

He was having an “angel on one shoulder, devil on the other” conversation with himself when the human began to stir. The devil was all for wiggling around a bit to see what kind of wonderful things they could do with Xander’s morning wood; the angel was concerned with how embarrassed the boy was going to be when he woke up in this position. Xander’s returning consciousness dictated a quick decision, so Spike decided to take the chicken’s way out. He pretended to be asleep until the boy hauled himself off of the smaller body, making hissing noises about the “pins and needles” sensation in his arm. He had then leaned down and given Spike a short, hard kiss on the cheek and wandered off to the bathroom.

The rest of the day had been peaceful. They had moved about the house, straightening up and dealing with normal domestic chores. In the late afternoon Xander had gone outside to mow the lawn, a job usually handled by Jase. Xander enjoyed the physical labor and the feeling of the afternoon sun on his bare shoulders. Since arriving in Sunnydale, he really had been keeping vampire hours, so this was one of the few times he’d been out in the daylight. He carefully worked his way around Spike’s lawn, and then spent another hour trimming the bushes and weeding the plantings. Upon returning to the house at sunset, he’d found Spike in the kitchen, sitting at the table wearing his glasses and flipping through a cookbook. Xander helped himself to a beer and stood in front of the open refrigerator door to cool off. He turned to find crystal blue eyes on him, and Spike’s head tilted as he scented the air.

“Sorry,” Xander had ducked his head, embarrassed at his smell. “I’m sure I reek.”

The blue eyes had swiveled to his face. “You smell like sunshine.” The vampire’s tone was wistful.

“You miss it, don’t you?” Xander asked, in a sudden burst of perceptiveness.

The glasses were removed, the earpiece slipping between pink lips. “I do,” Spike said slowly. “I loved the sunlight when I was human – I loved the warmth, the way it soaked into my bones.” He barked a short laugh. “Did you know about the Gem of Amarra?” He looked at Xander, who nodded. “I had it for a little while. I wasted it. I used my time to try and kick the Slayer’s ass. I should have left town. I could have been on the beach, but I just had to use it to try and beat Buffy. I was so stupid then.” He sighed. “I should have known that she’d stomp me and take it away, she usually did.”

Xander closed the door of the refrigerator and sat down across from Spike. He tapped his finger on the cover of the cookbook to draw the vampire out of his reflective mood. “Hey, why don’t I cook tonight? I’ll give you a taste of what little Southern cooking I learned in Atlanta.” Spike grinned at him and nodded enthusiastically. “Cool. I’ll get a shower and then get started – you go … do whatever you do when I’m not here.” He made a vague waving gesture with his hand. “Whatever that is.”

Spike grinned at him. “OK, that sounds good to me. Anything special you want to do tonight?”

Xander thought for a moment. “Nah, let’s just hang. I think we would both appreciate some downtime before we get thrown into the big L.A. slumber party. I need to make some calls and stuff anyway.”

Rising from his seat Spike nodded. “Sounds good to me – I’ll be in the library if you want me.” He left the room, still chewing on his glasses absently.

Oh, I’m pretty sure I want you, Xander thought, watching the vampire walk out the door. Pulling on his beer Xander thought about how he’d woken up that morning. He had played it cool, but waking up with his hard on pressed tightly against the cleft of Spike’s ass was a memory that was sticking in his head like a burr in a hiking sock. The body under his had been so hard, not soft and yielding like Shari’s. Shari had been strong, but so tiny and feminine – Spike was all hard muscle and sinew. He fought down the urge to run into the library and jump the blond. With a sigh he headed up to the shower.

Xander wiped his hand on the dishtowel draped over his shoulder and slapped Spike’s hand away from the lid of the frying pan. “No you don’t – you’ll screw it up.” Xander’s eyes darkened as the vampire raised the hand to his mouth, sucking at the red spot the tap had made. He pulled the hand away from Spike’s mouth with a small, wet sound. Never taking his eyes off of the blue ones before him, he gently kissed the spot, then licked it, then, on impulse, bit it lightly.  Xander felt himself become instantly erect when Spike’s eyes rolled back in his head and a low growl emanated from him. When the blue eyes met his again, they were cloudy with passion.

Xander suddenly found himself pinned against the door of the refrigerator. Spike’s hands were on either side of his head, his own arms hanging at his sides. The vampire’s hard body was sealed against his from breastbone to groin, and there was no mistaking his intent, as their erections pressed firmly together, each fitting into the curve of the other’s hip. Their faces were barely an inch apart. Xander sucked in a shaky breath and shifted his hips experimentally against Spike; they both hissed at the contact and Spike stretched his neck to close the distance between their lips. This was not the gentle exploration of the previous night; Xander could feel the stainless steel behind his head, cool and hard. The mouth against his was also cool and hard, and Spike was plundering his mouth, sweeping his tongue around Xander’s and tangling them together. Xander moaned into the mouth on his and brought his hands up to wind into the surprisingly soft blond waves.

As Xander’s fists closed in his hair, Spike opened his mouth even wider and thrust his lower body against Xander’s in a long, taut stroke that sent Xander’s senses spinning. Spike broke the kiss and started speaking, stopping to kiss and lick Xander’s neck between phrases. Xander’s head rolled against the barrier behind him as he tried desperately to make sense of the vampire’s words over the rush of blood in his head. “God, Xan – you’re so hot. You feel so good. Want you so much.” Xander gasped as blunt teeth nibbled over his jugular, followed by the slick rasp of his tongue. “Stop me, luv – if you don’t want me stop me now.” Xander couldn’t believe the naked, begging tone against his neck. Tightening his hands in the blond’s hair until he knew it had to hurt, he reluctantly dragged Spike’s mouth away from his neck, putting a couple of inches between their faces, but not moving their bodies apart at all.

He stared into Spike’s face until the blue eyes opened and looked back at him, and he winced at the pain he saw there. “Oh God,” Spike groaned. “I’m sorry, lu,v” he gritted out. “It was just that you bit me, and, well – vampire.” He tried to smile, but fell short, looking down. Using the hands still coiled in the blond hair, Xander forced Spike to meet his eyes. Making sure that the other man was looking at him, he moved his own hips against Spike in a lazy thrust once, and then again. When the blue eyes started to cloud again with passion, he stopped, and they both panted harshly for a moment. Xander tilted his head and brushed his mouth against the kiss-bruised lips before him.

“I stopped you for a reason, and it’s not that I don’t want you.” He shifted his hips again for emphasis. “I think you can feel how much I want you, Will. I burn for you.” He paused, and kissed those beautiful lips again lightly. “I stopped you because this has to wait until you know the whole story of why I’m here. I can’t risk this going too far until you know everything.”

Blue eyes searched his face, and then the vampire nodded once. He kissed Xander lightly and peeled his body away from the wonderfully warm one against him, forcing himself to push off from the refrigerator with both hands. Once he was standing in his own space, he laid his hand flat on Xander’s chest to feel his heartbeat. He smiled as he felt it thud quickly under his palm. “OK, Xan. I’ve waited this long; I can wait another day or so. You can tell me in your own time and in your own way.” He sighed and removed his hand from the brunet, running that same hand through his hair. “But I don’t think there’s anything you can tell me that will make me not want you.” He pretended not to hear when Xander whispered, “I hope that’s true,” as he turned back to the stove just in time to save the fried chicken.

Grunts and moans filled the air in the kitchen as mouths worked feverishly and hands became slick. Spike and Xander devoured the pieces of fried chicken like starving men, pausing only to add to the growing pile of soiled paper napkins on the table between them. Once they had each reduced several pieces of chicken to small piles of bones, they feasted on the rice and cream gravy, green beans, creamed corn and fluffy biscuits Xander had prepared. Xander drained his glass of iced tea and Spike thumped his empty blood mug down on the table. Both men reached under the table and unbuttoned the top buttons of their jeans to ease the pain of overfull stomachs.

“Bloody hell, that was good!” Spike exclaimed. “How’d you get so skinny if they feed you like that all the time, whelp?”

Xander grinned and smothered a belch in yet another napkin. “Spike, my wife was Japanese – we were much more likely to have sushi than fried chicken. I got this stuff maybe once a month – if I was lucky.” He smiled across the table. “And I’m not skinny – I’m trim.” Xander tried in vain to suck in his distended belly. He groaned with the effort. “OK, I’m fat.”

“Not fat – you’re fluffy.” Spike howled with laughter at the expression that comment caused on Xander’s face. “I’m sorry – it’s something we told Dawn when she was preggers with the Littlest Bit. Come to think of it, she didn’t like it either.” He ducked as a crumpled napkin soared toward him, still chuckling.

“I’m glad you enjoyed dinner – I haven’t cooked in a while. Glad to see I haven’t lost my touch.”

They were still sitting in companionable silence when the phone rang.  They looked at one another for a moment and automatically dropped into a game of “Rock, Paper, Scissors” to see who had to get up and answer it. Xander lost. He sighed deeply and dragged himself to his feet. Spike watched him lean against the wall to answer the phone, one hand rubbing at the soft hair on his lower abdomen.

“Hello?” he paused, listening. “This is he. Hello, sir. Is anything wrong?” Spike tensed to cross the room to Xander, but relaxed when the other man did the same, slumping back into his position against the wall. “Oh, good. I was scared for a minute.” Xander laughed sheepishly. “I forgot I left you this number when I called last night – I thought there was some kind of emergency. Paranoia – it’s not a pretty thing, I know.” Another long pause, then Xander laughed. “Really? That’s awesome. I’ll be in L.A. for a week or so starting Saturday. We should get together.” Another pause. “You really want to do that? For me? I’m, well, I’m honored, sir. Sunday? Well, I’ll be with some friends, and we’re pretty booked during the day – would evening work?” Xander turned a brilliant smile on Spike, and the vampire wondered what had his human so excited. “That’s awesome! Thank you, sir. Hey – the friends I’m staying with have a great gym – do you want to come to us? Great – I’ll call you with details when we get into L.A.” Xander concluded his phone call and practically bounced back to his seat at the table.

Spike raised an eyebrow in question. “What’s got you so Tigger-ish, pet?”

“Number one – you with the Disney references? Big wiggins.” Xander smiled at Spike’s scowl. “Number two – that was my master. Down vampire!” he squeaked. “Not that kind of master – my martial arts teacher – head guy – master! It’s a rank!” Spike’s eyes had flashed yellow, his nostrils had flared and he’d snarled almost inaudibly when the word “master” had left Xander’s lips. Spike shook his head and smiled apologetically as Xander’s hand came up to rest flat against his face, under the sharp cheekbone. He covered the hand with his own.

“Sorry, luv. Don’t like you calling anyone master.” He bit his tongue to avoid adding “Anyone but me.”

Xander considered that for a moment, and then shrugged, mentally filing his questions about the demon away for another time. He looked into Spike’s eyes again, pleased to see that they were clear blue once again. Both men dropped their hands to the table, and Xander began to speak again, carefully.

“My … teacher is going to be in L.A. this weekend working with some of his private students. He wanted to know if I’d be interested in sparring with them. It’s a big honor to be asked. I figured you and Buffy, and maybe Angel would like to play. You think Angel will care that I offered up his facilities? Martial arts schools are full of mirrors – I thought that would be a dead giveaway, pardon the pun. You interested?”

“Yeah, pet, that would be fun. And don’t worry about Angel – I think he’ll be game to play host. Any of these fellas as good as you?” Spike smirked.

“Some of them are better,” Xander replied.

“Yeah, “Spike remarked airily, “but can they cook fried chicken?”

Part Nine

They had spent the rest of the evening packing their clothes and filling Xander’s long bag with a variety of weapons to take to L.A. The phone rang several more times during the evening, with both Dawn and Willow calling to finalize small details of their trip. Dawn and Spike had a rousing argument about whether they should drive Xander’s Mercedes or Dawn’s large SUV, with the SUV winning out due to the sheer volume of materials needed to keep a two-year-old safe and entertained for a week.

In another call, Willow had exacted a promise from Xander that he would be among the contingent who picked her up at the airport, saying that his was the first face she wanted to see, which prompted a tender smile from the dark man and brought a tear to his eye. She also asked about Tara’s grave, and he assured her that they had delivered the lilies as promised.

The last call turned out to be Giles, calling from England to speak to Xander. Xander took the Watcher’s mild chastisement while glaring at Spike for setting up the call without warning him. Xander wound up curled in one of the kitchen club chairs talking to Giles for more than an hour. Halfway through the conversation, Spike had padded into the kitchen carrying the throw blanket from the library sofa, which he had draped over Xander. Then, dropping a kiss on the top of the tousled dark hair, he had wandered off again.

After finishing the phone call, Xander had drifted back to the library, where Spike sat at the large desk, typing on a laptop computer. Xander curled up in the other desk chair and waited until Spike looked up to ask his question.

“Whatcha doin’?”

Spike looked a little embarrassed as he stripped off his glasses and began worrying the stem with his teeth again. “I’m writing my soddin’ memoirs. Giles asked me to do it.” He frowned. “I’m not telling them all the good stuff, though.”

Xander sat up straight. “So, you’re making like Lestat and telling all the vampire adventures?”

Spike sighed. “It was the Vampire Chronicles, and it was Louis who wrote them, not Lestat and do you ever read a book?” Xander pulled a face at him and Spike shut the computer down, pushing himself away from the desk.

“You don’t have to stop. I didn’t mean to …” Xander babbled. He stopped when Spike leaned across the corner of the desk to look into his eyes. Once he was sure Xander had shut up he spoke in a low, warm voice. “I can do that anytime. Right now I want to be with you.” Xander flushed, but didn’t break the eye contact. The vampire reached out for his hand and pulled Xander out of the chair. When they stood face to face Spike dropped the warm hand he held and lifted his fingers to run them lightly along Xander’s jaw and down the side of his neck, pausing at the warm pulse point. When Xander leaned forward, a hard hand on the center of his chest stopped the motion, and the blond head shook at him in a quelling gesture. Once Xander stilled, that hand started to move, lightly tracing Xander’s prominent collarbone and toying with the few dark curls that peeked out of the neck of yet another black tee shirt.

Spike licked his lips and began to speak in a low tone. “Don’t have to do anything, luv. I just want to touch you.” Xander felt held in place, waiting for each word to drip slowly from the vampire’s lips. “You feel so good, so warm. I can feel - I can hear the blood rushing under your skin. It sings. And you burn.” The last word was a low growl, lifted with a tone of wonder. Spike continued, “When you told me that you burn for me, I – I don’t know how to describe what that does to me.” The blue eyes closed and Spike leaned forward to brace his forehead against the taller man’s chest. He stood there for a few moments, taking and releasing unnecessary breaths. Xander lifted one hand to touch the short hair at the back of the pale neck, keeping his touch light, following Spike’s lead.

After several moments of silence, Spike lifted his head, but did not make eye contact. “Xan” he said, in a quiet voice, “I have to tell you this. I haven’t been with anybody since … Buffy.” Xander gasped. “But, Will, that was almost nine years ago.” Spike sighed and nodded. “Yeah, I’m quite aware of that.” He raised his eyes to Xander’s again, his voice almost pleading. “There just wasn’t anyone for me, pet. The demons all hated me since I hung out with the Slayer. The Slayer, well – that was such a rousing success – I was just dying to go back to that as well; humans were right out. Where was I to go?” He laughed mirthlessly.

Xander thought for a moment. “Why no humans?”

Blue eyes narrowed and pink lips drew back in a hard smile. “Once the chip was out, soul or no soul, I could smell the blood in them, feel it, hear it. I was out of control. Part of me roared, night and day, endlessly for their blood.” Spike realized that his hands were opening and closing on the broad shoulders of the other man. He stilled them and his face softened. “It was bad, pet. Real bad. I couldn’t trust myself to get close to anyone new. I was afraid of what could happen. After a while, a long while, I got back in control; I stopped having screaming fights with myself every day, anyway. I stopped wanting to greet the sunrise every other sodding morning. But there was no one for me.”

Xander saw the pain the eyes before him, the tension in the compact frame. He gently enfolded the smaller man in his arms and rubbed small circles on his back. He was glad the he could return some of the comfort Spike had given him – was it really just two nights before? Once he felt the tension starting to ease, he walked backward to the sofa and sat, pulling Spike against him, settling them so that Spike’s head rested on his chest and their legs were stretched out on the leather upholstery. After a few moments he spoke quietly into the blond hair below his chin.

“Will, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I couldn’t be here. I know I wouldn’t have been any help, but maybe things could have been better. I hate it that you had to be so alone.” He pressed a small kiss into Spike’s hair. He was startled when the vampire started laughing against his chest. He slipped his fingers under Spike’s chin and tilted his head up with a questioning look. Spike continued to laugh for a moment, and then grinned at Xander. “Can you believe that this was my big seduction scene, luv? I was all ready to sweep you off your bloody feet and I turn into Angel – laying on the angst.”

He shook his head at himself and Xander laughed, too. “Well, I haven’t exactly been Mary Sunshine myself, Will. I think I could give Deadboy Sr. a run for his money with the piling on of the broody lately. Why don’t we both take a giant step and get over ourselves? We can watch TV and bullshit then go to bed. We’ve got a big day ahead of us tomorrow.” Spike nodded and then broke the eye contact to rest his head on Xander’s chest again, listening to the slow, steady beat of his heart.

They stayed on the sofa for over four hours, changing position only to allow Xander to stretch whenever muscles cramped or circulation got cut off. They talked and told stories, taking turns sharing bits of their lives from the years since they had seen each other. Spike described some of what it was like to try and balance the soul and the demon, and Xander related his climb out of hopelessness and drug dependency. They reminisced about the exploits of the Scoobies in the old days. Xander nearly fell off the sofa with laughter when Spike told the story of Sara’s birth and the havoc the whole gang had created in the hospital. In between stories, they simply relaxed. Spike’s ear rarely left the spot over Xander’s heart and Xander kept one hand entwined in the blond waves resting against him. Their touches were gentle and completely platonic, both men understanding the deep need to give and receive physical comfort.

Eventually, Spike lifted his head and told Xander “Sun’s almost up. You ready for bed?” Xander nodded, and then stretched into a yawn causing the vampire’s body to rise on his chest as he arched his back. He sat up, shifting Spike to sit at his side. They both rubbed their hands over their faces for a moment and then struggled to their feet. Xander flicked off the lamp and they wandered upstairs through the lightening gloom of the house. At the head of the stairs, Xander turned and went into the bathroom. When he came out, he could see Spike through the door of the master bedroom, sitting on the end of his bed, smiling at him a little sadly. Without thinking too much about it, Xander looked into his own bedroom, and then back to the figure slumped across the hall. “Stay with me?” he whispered.

Before the sound was even completely out of his mouth, the vampire was beside him. Xander smiled and took the cool hand in his own, tugging Spike toward the bed. He released the other man and they both climbed into the large, soft bed. They lay side by side for a moment, not touching. Turning his head to the side, Xander lifted his arm, smiling as the soft blond hair brushed his chest and the cool ear settled over his heart. A leg tangled with his and he settled his hands on Spike’s back, rubbing circles over the smooth, soft skin.

Hours later Xander drifted awake. Realizing where he was, he resettled the sleeping form against his chest, pulling the smaller man more on top of him and stretching his cramped arm. Spike’s hand came up to rest on his bicep, and two fingers scratched lightly at the inside of his elbow. The soothing motion sent Xander back to sleep almost instantly.

Part Ten

Xander’s hands flowed through long, silken hair. He wrapped it around and around his fists and pulled back on it gently. Huge green eyes opened languidly to stare into his. He braced all of his weight on his elbows – she was so tiny; he couldn’t crush her. Her body shifted under his, her hips rising to meet his hardness and brush her lower body against it. One of her legs came up to curl around his hip and intensify the contact. He dragged his tongue up the long column of her neck, leaving a shiny trail on the honey-colored skin. He licked and sucked at the spot where her neck met her shoulder, and then nibbled down to her prominent collarbone.

He gently extricated his hands from her hair and moved down her body, kissing a path between her breasts, and his hands closed on the outer curves of their fullness. Her nipples were tiny peaks; he captured first one and then the other with his mouth, drawing delicate gasps and moans from her mouth. He kissed his way down to her still-flat belly. Once there he paused, knowing that this flesh sheltered his child – their child. He pressed his ear to her abdomen, knowing there was nothing to hear yet, but wanting the contact just the same.

He closed his hands on her narrow hips, preparing to move even lower, when her body was pulled from under his in one strong jerk. He reached for her with a shout, hearing only her scream as she was pulled away. She was being held against the wall in the shadows, by a shadow. He couldn’t move, couldn’t go to her. A long, thin white hand tipped with plum-colored fingernails reached across her body and drew back, one long talon slashing across the throat he had lovingly kissed only seconds earlier. Dark blood cascaded down the honeyed skin.

Xander screamed.

Spike heard the shout from the library, where he was working at the computer. He was on his feet and halfway up the stairs when the scream rent the air. When he opened the door to the guestroom he saw Xander backed up against the headboard, unseeing eyes wide open, reaching out to the corner of the room. The scream had tapered off and he was repeating the word “no” in a stricken voice. Spike could barely hear that quiet, desperate whisper over the frantic pounding of Xander’s heart. He could tell that the other man was not yet awake, caught in the claws of some horrible nightmare.

He moved into the room slowly, trying not to startle the frightened figure on the bed. When the mattress dipped slightly under his weight, the dark head swiveled toward him and the brown eyes cleared. “Oh God, Will,” Xander moaned, diving for the vampire. Spike cradled the larger man in his arms, feeling the cold, slick sweat that covered his body and matted his hair. The smell of Xander’s fear was almost overpowering. He rubbed circles on the heaving back and crooned wordless sounds of comfort until the shaking body stilled and Xander sat up, rubbing his hands over his face. Spike’s heart broke a little when the other man tried to muster up a smile under haunted eyes and failed miserably.

Xander drew in a deep breath and let it out as a sigh. “Well,” he said, “that’s got to be among the worst ways to wake up ever. Did you hear me from downstairs?” Spike nodded and said, “Bat ears,” just so he could see his friend smile a little. This smile had a bit more power and was creeping toward the dark eyes. “Why don’t you go get a shower?” he continued, “And I’ll see if I can get us some food going. Sundown’s in about an hour. Little Bit will be here soon.”

Xander nodded and slid to the side of the bed to place his feet on the floor. He glanced at the blond. “Thanks for running in here to my rescue, Will. Don’t be too freaked, but I have nightmares sometimes. Loud ones, as I’m sure you noticed.” Spike’s lips twisted into something like a grin as he replied, “Join the club, pet.” Xander nodded and went to take a shower.

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