Long Time Gone

Yin Again

Part Twenty-One

Spike was ready to vibrate right out of his skin with tension. It had been an hour since he’d touched Xander and the craving – the need – to do so was making him twitch. To add insult to injury, it seemed that everyone else in the hotel was touching his lover. Spike knew he was being irrational and possessive and territorial, but seeing other hands on Xander when his were not allowed was causing him to come unglued.

Angel had kicked Spike sharply under the table at one point, and the sudden jolt of pain made the younger vampire realize that he was growling sub-sonically at Brooks because the black-haired man’s hand was resting on his boy’s shoulder as he and Xander chatted. Intellectually, Spike knew that Xander’s friends were responding to him with affection, and that Xander relished the contact; emotionally, however, he was finding it difficult not to growl. Or switch into game face and kill them all. Whichever. Eventually, Angel resorted to a dirty trick, sending Sara to ask her “Uncle Will” for a bedtime story and tucking-in services. Spike had allowed himself to be led away by the toddler, but not before flashing his grand-sire a killing look.

Three stories, two drinks of water and about a hundred questions later, Spike had returned to the lobby to find that most of the visitors had left. A lively group comprised of Buffy, Angel, Dawn, Cordelia and Brooks was gathered in front of the fireplace. Spike walked over to tell Dawn that Sara was asleep and that Jase was with her. He found himself drawn into their conversation, going over specific moves they’d used in the sparring session and exchanging friendly insults.

Looking around, Spike spotted Xander, Alan and Naomi sitting in a far corner of the lobby, deep in conversation. He desperately wanted to join them, but knew that if he did he would not be able to keep his hands off of Xander, so he stayed put. Looking more closely, he saw that Xander was twisting the two platinum bands on his ring finger in a gesture he’d not seen the human make in days. Spike knew that they were talking about Shari. He viciously smashed down the urge to run to his lover’s side and settled for simply walking across the room, making sure that the others saw him coming.

He stopped at the back of the sofa and placed his hands lightly on Xander’s shoulders, leaning in to put his head between his dark head and Naomi’s. He deepened his voice for effect and intoned, “I feel a tremor in the Force.” In his normal voice he continued, “Come on, Xan – Angel’s over there laughing it up and you’re over here brooding. That’s just unnatural.” He was gratified when Xander laughed and stopped twisting the rings.

Alan and Naomi stood and pulled Xander to his feet and helped Spike herd him over to the rest of the group. Over the next hour, they laughed and talked, but Spike could tell that Xander was not fully engaged. Finally, the party wound down. Xander, Willow and Cordelia walked the visitors out, along with Oz, who was going back to his apartment because of an early session the next day. Buffy, Angel and Dawn all retreated upstairs, but Spike stayed in the lobby. After a few moments, Cordelia and Willow returned to the lobby, their heads bent together, whispering, and then bursting into laughter.

“What?” Spike demanded as they approached him. Cordelia laid her hand on his arm and tried to catch her breath. “I was telling Willow that Brooks pulled me aside and told me to be careful, because he was pretty sure that my boss is a vampire!” She and Willow whooped with laughter at the flummoxed expression on Spike’s face. He gathered his wits and asked slowly, “What did you say to that?” Cordelia wiped her streaming eyes and struck a hands-on-the-hips pose.

“I told him that not only is Angel a vampire, you are, too; and that I’m part demon, Willow’s a witch, Oz is a werewolf, Buffy’s the Slayer and we’re not really sure what Dawn is anymore.” Spike’s lips moved, but no sound came out. On his second try he managed to croak, “How’d he take it?” Cordelia cocked her head to one side. “He seemed OK with it – mostly wanted to make sure that Xander is still human. I told him Xan, Jase and Sara are our token normals.” Off his quizzical look, Cordelia gave Spike a tight smile. “I figured, what the hell – love me, love my family; fangs and all.” Spike looked at her admiringly, “You’re a class act, Cordy.” At that, she gave him a real smile, one that slowly faded. She squeezed Spike’s arm. “You better go out and get Xander – I feel broody vibes from the parking lot.” Both girls kissed Spike on the cheek and departed. As she left, Willow whispered, “he needs you” in the vampire’s ear on a warm breath.

Spike stepped out of the front door of the hotel into the covered turnaround area and looked around. Xander was sitting on a decorative half-wall, staring up into the moonlight. Spike was instantly reminded of the heartbreakingly beautiful figure that Xander had cut, standing in the moonlight in tears on the night that he’d first told them about Shari. Tonight there were no tears on the tanned face, and the two men were lovers; not recently reunited acquaintances. Xander turned his head and noticed the vampire, gesturing him closer.

Spike closed the distance; Xander parted his knees and drew the blond between them. His seat on the wall put their heads at the same height, faces inches apart. Spike raised a hand and carded his fingers through tangled sable waves. Blue and brown eye met and neither man moved for a long time.

When Xander started to stir on the hard bricks, Spike cupped the back of his neck and leaned forward to brush their lips together lightly. Stepping back, the vampire pulled his lover into a standing position and began leading him back to the hotel. They didn’t speak as they crossed the lobby or in the elevator, content to merely stand close and lean on one another. Once on the fifth floor, Spike gestured for Xander to wait while he moved down the hall and opened an unmarked door, pulling out several sets of bed liens and a stack of towels, and then led Xander back to their suite.

Xander opened the door, and Spike pushed him toward the bath, admonishing him to get the shower started. Xander complied. As soon as the human was gone, Spike stripped and remade both beds, then gathered up the clean towels and joined his lover. Spike peeled off his clothes and walked into the enormous marble shower. Xander was standing with his back to the door, arms braced on the wall, forehead pillowed on his arms. One leg was slightly bent and his body was wreathed in steam as the water cascaded over his tanned back. Though he made a lovely picture, standing unaware, Spike knew that the pose was one of dejection, not calculated to arouse. Still silent, Spike pressed his brow to the center of Xander’s upper back and let his hands rest lightly on the hips before him. No other parts of their bodies touched, and they again stood motionless for long minutes.

Finally, Spike raised his head and grabbed the shower gel, carefully washing Xander’s skin and then his own. The vampire turned his lover to face him and shampooed and rinsed his silky hair. Spike moved the unresisting boy to sit on the shower’s bench while he attended to his own hair. Once finished, he pulled Xander back under the spray, where the taller man automatically assumed his previous stance. Spike left the shower, dried off and got dressed in sweat pants and a t-shirt. Back in the bathroom, he called to Xander, “Come on out, luv.” He waited, and the water was turned off.

Xander stepped out of the shower and Spike wrapped him in one of the large, fluffy bath towels and dried him carefully. Xander dressed in the sweatpants and t-shirt Spike had brought in for him and smiled absently as he allowed himself to be led to the parlor. The blond vampire sat on the sofa and maneuvered his lover to sit on the floor at his feet so he could towel-dry the dripping dark hair. When Xander’s shaggy sable waves were barely damp, Spike finger-combed them into order and tossed the towel away, pressing a kiss to his temple.

“Do you want to talk about it, pet?” he asked softly. Xander took and released a shuddering breath and then another. “It hurts,” he said, his pain-filled voice cracking. “It hurts to see all of those people and not see Shari. I – I kept looking for her, expecting her to be there.” The human gave a mirthless laugh. “Hell, when you were fighting with Alan, I actually turned to see if she’d seen some great move you made. Then I remembered.” Xander took several more deep breaths. When he spoke again, his voice was thick with unshed tears. “When does it stop hurting so much?” he asked miserably.

Spike gently rubbed the back of Xander’s neck in soothing circles. “Hell, Xan, I don’t know.” He gave a short, bitter laugh. “I’m still hurting for people dead a hundred years.” He paused. “You don’t ever forget, luv, not if they were important to you. But, after a while, the pain gets … tempered with all of the good memories, so it’s more bittersweet.” The vampire leaned forward and wrapped his arm around Xander’s neck, resting his chin on the warm shoulder. “You’re not wrong to grieve.”

Xander scrubbed his face with his hands, and Spike sat back on the sofa, recognizing that the boy still needed to talk. “I feel, I feel so ungrateful,” he gritted out. “I came back to Sunnydale, out of the blue. You took me in and made me welcome, and made me feel … normal – or almost normal  - again. You and Dawn and Buffy and Willow – you all forgave me instantly for being a shitty friend for eight years. I get to spend a great evening doing something I love with people who love me, and I turn it into one big pity party.” He hung his head. “I’m an ass.”

“No, luv – you’re just being you. It’s your nature to try to carry the weight of the world – you always were a glutton for punishment.” Spike leaned forward and rubbed his cheek against Xander’s silky hair. “So, what’ll it be?” he asked brightly. “Evening of brooding? We can probably find a chick flick on the telly, bawl into our popcorn.” Xander dipped his head to place a kiss on top of the cool hand that rested on his shoulder while he pondered. After a long moment he stood and held out a hand to Spike. “I think I have a better idea.” Spike took the hand and was pulled gently into his lover’s arms. Warm lips traced the outside edge of a cool ear, and Xander whispered, “Take me to bed, Will. Love me.” Spike answered him with a soft kiss and then led him to the bedroom.

An hour later, Xander was sleeping peacefully. Spike was not. He slipped from the bed and pulled on his discarded clothes. He ran a hand through his disheveled hair, scooped up a room key and let himself out of the suite.

Willow answered his knock wearing soft-looking pink pajamas, with a pair of wire-framed glasses perched on her nose. Her hair was held back with a headband, and her face, devoid of makeup, glowed. Spike thought she looked about twelve years old and told her so. “Flattery will get you everywhere,” she told him as she ushered him inside. She crossed the room to the desk and busied herself shutting down her laptop computer. Once the computer was taken care of, she crossed back to the vampire, who was standing by the door staring at the carpet, and took his hand to lead him into the bedroom. She pointed to the bed, and they shared a smile as he kicked off his unlaced boots and they both climbed under the covers, arranging the pillows so they were both on their sides, facing each other. Spike slipped a cold foot between her warm ones. They both sighed, relaxing easily into these positions that they had taken so many times in years past, when everyone else had been to busy with the latest apocalypse and they’d been too damaged to do much else but comfort one another.

“I was wondering when you’d wind up back in my bed, you vampire slut,” Willow teased. “I thought you might have forgotten me.” Spike smiled, “Wasn’t willing to risk the wolf bite, Red.” She smiled back. Her green eyes searched his face and saw the strain there. “Xander was sad tonight,” she did not phrase it as a question. “Yeah,” Spike sighed. “He got hit with some pretty powerful memories, what with the Dirty Dozen here and all.” They shared a sad smile. “I liked his friends,” Willow confided. “It makes it easier, knowing that he had them while he was away. Except that it also makes me jealous, which isn’t very nice at all, and what do you know – I’m babbling.” Spike grinned. “It’s OK. I like it when you babble. It’s cute.” She gave him a mock-frown. “More flattery. You must want something big.”

Spike turned over on his back. Willow recognized this gesture from the past. Both of them had used this particular dodge when they needed to ask or say something horrible or embarrassing and didn’t trust themselves to be able to maintain eye contact. The vampire studied the ceiling and then mumbled a question that Willow didn’t catch. “Spike, human ears here. Say again?”  she demanded. He sighed, and then spoke clearly. “Why won’t Xander fuck me?” Willow’s mouth fell open, and she was thankful that he wasn’t looking at her as a blush raced from her chest to her hairline. “Wha …um, I mean …Spike, I was pretty sure that, uh you two, er …that your relationship had a, um, physical component …” She trailed off, and then also turned on her back to study the ceiling.

“We’ve had sex, Red. What I mean is that I’m always top and he’s always bottom, and when I suggested we switch, he looked bleedin’ horrified.” Spike draped an arm over his eyes. Willow asked softly, “What did you do then?” The vampire sighed, yet again. “What do you think I did? I pretended I never said it, then I distracted him by trying to suck his brains out through his dick, and then I fucked him.” They both paused, and Spike flashed back on the wholly erotic mental picture of Xander’s face when Spike’s cock had eased into his body as they had coupled face-to-face for the first time. Spike knew he was lying when he said that he had fucked Xander. He had made love to the man, and he had seen those brown eyes go wide with some unnamed emotion as their chests and stomachs had sealed together, close, closer, then joined inextricably together. Finally, Willow spoke. “Wow,” she breathed. “That was a short, yet very vivid description.” After a long moment, Spike replied, “I guess it was, wasn’t it?”

They lay quietly on the bed, each lost in thought. After a few minutes, Willow shifted to face the center of the bed and tugged Spike over to face her. “I know the answer,” she said, matter-of-factly. “It’s not you, Spike. It has nothing to do with you.” The vampire looked at her disbelievingly. “I’m a narcissist, pet – it’s always about me,” he deadpanned. She gave him a small smile and tangled their feet once again as she spoke.

“Do you remember what happened when Kennedy and I first got together?” He shrugged, not really sure if he did or not. He hadn’t really liked the dark-haired girl – he’d thought she was kind of a bitch, and she hadn’t liked him either. Willow continued, “Well, after she and I kissed for the first time, my mind went all overdrivey and I almost turned into Warren.” She shuddered delicately at the memory, and Spike realized he did know the story. “That was a spell,” he said. Willow shook her head. “The spell made the punishment manifest, but it was my mind that came up with it. Brains are funny that way, with the torturing and craziness. I wanted to turn into Warren because I felt like I had betrayed Tara by kissing Kennedy.”

She ran the back of her hand lightly down the vampire’s smooth, cool cheek. “He wasn’t horrified at the idea of …making love to you; he was horrified at the idea of making love to anybody other than Shari. Not to put too fine a point on it, she was the last person he was inside, and it’s one of the last things of her that he’s got left. When that’s gone he’s just one step closer to having to accept that the part of his life that had her in it is over.” She smiled sadly and saw her gathering tears mirrored in his beautiful blue eyes. “He doesn’t have much of her left to cling to – just his revenge against Dru and wearing mourning,” she concluded. Spike smiled at her wryly, blinking back the tears. “Noticed that, did you?” She stroked his face again and spoke softly. “I’ve done this, remember? It does get better. You just have to give him time and support and love, and try to be ready for the days when he stumbles.”

Spike leaned into her warm hand and pressed a soft kiss to her palm. His voice was muffled. “I just don’t want to screw this up.” Willow gathered her friend into her arms and marveled at the changes the years had wrought in this beautiful, flawed creature. She sometimes thought that the vampire was the most human of all of them. She crooned soothingly and rubbed his back as he relaxed into her embrace. “It’ll be fine, Spike. You’ll do great. I have faith in you – in both of you. You and Xander will take care of each other.”

Spike slipped back into Xander’s bed, and the human instinctively curled toward him and pulled the cool body close. Warm lips settled against the back of his neck and arms enfolded him. Spike luxuriated against the solid body sealed against his back and smiled. Give him time, he thought. Oh, well, one of the upsides of immortality – lots of time. Xander’s fingers circled lazily on the inside of the vampire’s elbow, and Spike slept.

Part Twenty-Two

Xander woke slowly, drifting in and out of consciousness. He didn’t want to open his eyes, wanted to stay wrapped in the warm blankets and cool arms and remember the extraordinary feelings from the night before. He let his mind wander over the roller coaster of emotions he’d felt in the past twenty-four hours. It seemed an apt metaphor. In the six months between Shari’s death and coming to Sunnydale, he had kept a tight hold, staying numb to avoid the vicious hurt. Since coming to Sunnydale and L.A. he’d gone from breathtaking joy to soul-crushing despair about a hundred times. The previous night was no exception. After the sparring match was over and all of his friends had gone, Xander’s heart had ached for Shari. It seemed so unfair that she was gone. He wondered when his mind would finally assimilate that she was never coming back; it hurt so much to have something happen and automatically think, “Where’s Shari? I’ve got to show her this,” and then remember. His heart broke again every time.

He had been outside, staring at the moon and just hurting when Spike had come to him. Somehow the vampire always knew what was needed, offering strength and silence, and just letting Xander be. It was a remarkable thing. He thought about the gentle way he’d been led upstairs and attended to, how Spike had merely taken care of his immediate needs without comment, letting him take the time he needed. Throughout the shower and getting dressed and having his hair dried so carefully, Xander had taken a little vacation from reality. He’d stopped thinking and just allowed himself to be in the moment and feel. Each gentle touch and small kindness had been a balm to his aching heart.

When Spike had finally broken the silence to let him talk, Xander had poured out his hurt. He was thankful that the vampire hadn’t given him platitudes, but had told him the truth. Xander knew that he’d never forget Shari and Lex, and that those memories would always be painful, but he believed Spike. He believed that all of the wonderful memories would ease that pain, and that someday he would be able to think about them and have it feel – what was Spike’s word? -  bittersweet. He could live with bittersweet.

Rolling onto his back and resettling the sleeping vampire onto his chest, Xander smiled at the happy sound that came from Spike’s beautiful lips as he settled into the new position. When he’d asked to be taken to bed and loved, Spike had complied without question. From the first sweet kiss to a final sigh, their coming together had been almost perfect. Xander flinched at the thought of what his face must have looked like when Spike had looked up at him and panted, “Xander, baby, want you inside me.” The vampire could not have known that he was unconsciously parroting a phrase that Shari had used so many times to signal Xander that she was ready for him. He knew that his face had frozen into a shocked expression, because he saw a flicker of hurt and sadness in the glittering blue eyes under him. Xander had tried to recover as quickly as possible, but, thankfully, Spike had glossed right over it, and had proceeded to make Xander forget all about it, too.

Spike had gently reversed their position, moving on top and had nibbled his way down his lover’s body and stroked and teased and licked and sucked at him until Xander had thrashed mindlessly and poured himself into the willing, cool mouth. As soon as Xander caught his breath, Spike was crawling up his body, giving him sweet kisses that were flavored with his own bitter fluids. Xander had pressed the tube of lubricant into the vampire’s hand and at Spike’s small frown begged, “Please, Will, love me”. With another searing kiss, Spike had complied. He had used his fingers to open and prepare Xander for what felt like an hour. Xander knew that he was being careful because of the human’s earlier soreness, but by the time he’d finished, Xander’s head was rolling on the pillow, and he was chanting, “love me, love me” mindlessly.

When the cool fingers left his body, Xander started to shift over onto his stomach. A hand on his hip stopped him. “Oh, no you don’t,” Spike said in a tone filled with laughter. “I saw you tonight – you’re flexible enough for face-to-face. Besides, I want to see your eyes, and I want you to see mine.” At that, Xander gasped and allowed the blond to arrange him into position, with one knee pulled up to his chest and the other wrapped around Spike’s waist. Xander felt the slick head of Spike’s cock pressing against his opening, and let out a long groan as he was slowly filled, inch by inch. Brown eyes met glittering blue ones, and Xander hoped that his eyes were showing Spike all the things he couldn’t say as the vampire began to make love to him.

It truly had been making love, Xander reflected. All of their previous encounters had been exciting and wonderful, but this was different. Xander knew that he was entering dangerous territory with Spike. Spike, who’d loved one woman for over a hundred years; Spike who made obsessive stalkers seem attention-deficit. Spike, who’d relentlessly pursued Buffy, to the point of attacking and nearly raping her to make her feel again. But, this was not the same man. This was Will - his Will. The one who comforted him annd held him and woke him up by tugging on his toes; the one who chewed on the stem of his glasses and tucked his feet under a blanket on the couch. His Will, who dried his hair and held his hand and whose kisses could be blindingly sweet or crushingly erotic, who felt such pain at thinking that he’d hurt Xander, who wanted to protect him whether it was from nightmares or demons or just from being given a hard time when he was fragile.

This was his Will, his lover, his vampire who was poised above him, around him, inside him. Will’s fingers clutching his hair, Will’s hard body pressed against his, and Will’s cool cock inside him, stretching him, filling him to the point of pain, crashing against the small bundle of nerves that caused him to see stars on every stroke. Will’s hoarse voice that said, “Oh, God, Xan – love this …you feel so good, can’t get enough of you, love how you feel,” and trailed off to an inarticulate howling sob.

Xander was brought out of his reverie by three simultaneous realizations. He realized that thinking about last night had given him a raging erection, that Spike was awake, and that the vampire had noticed the aforementioned erection and was lightly grinding his hip against it. Xander rolled them over so he was on top. He smiled down into sleepy blue eyes. “Good morning, love,” he whispered. “Did you sleep well?” The vampire nodded and stretched his neck to rub his smooth cheek against Xander’s stubbled one.  Xander held him close, not moving. Even without friction, Spike’s cock was starting to harden against his, and he thrust down slightly to feel the delicious tingle as their lengths came into contact.

Exchanging light touches and kisses and whispered words of nonsense, the two men moved together languidly. Their movements were not about seeking release, but about sharing and loving and learning about one another. They found each other’s ticklish spots and the spots that made them gasp and spots that made them move more urgently. Xander spent long minutes exploring the cool column of Spike’s pale neck, running his lips and tongue over every inch of its pale beauty. Spike’s fingers tangled in his lover’s sable hair and traced the contours of his skull, neck and ears with lightly scratching fingernails. They kissed endlessly; hot, slow kisses; light, fast kisses; deep, wet kisses; they lost themselves in the sensations of lips and tongues and teeth. Hands and mouths traced the contours of muscular chests and arms, dipping and sliding over ridges and swells.

Finally, they could stand it no longer. Spike’s hands came up to curl around Xander’s hard triceps muscles; in turn, Xander clasped the back of the vampire’s neck and one hard hip. They pressed their foreheads together and stared into one another’s eyes as their lower bodies moved, faster now, sliding, hot flesh on cool, crisp hair against smooth velvet-over-steel skin. The human found his release first, and the splash of hot semen between them sent Spike over the edge, too. Their motions slowed; both enjoying the slick slide against super-sensitive flesh. They stilled and held there, until Xander’s breathing returned to normal and Spike’s stopped. They rolled to one side, eyes and bodies still locked together, each unable to break either the gaze or the silence that hung between them; unwilling to interrupt the moment or to admit that something new was happening between them.

Xander leaned forward and kissed Spike deeply. “Thank you,” he whispered against cool lips. The vampire simply kissed him back and repeated the phrase.

Dressed casually, Spike and Xander walked into the kitchen, hand in hand. Cordelia was standing in front of the open refrigerator, drinking a diet soda and starring moodily at the food. When she noticed the men, she gave them a smile. “You guys want lunch?” she asked. Xander answered affirmatively. “Good,” she exclaimed. “While you’re at it will you make something for me and Willow?” She gave them a mischievous smile. They laughed together, and Spike offered to make lunch. He started pulling ingredients out of the refrigerator, tossing a bag of blood to his lover, who placed it in the microwave to heat. “I’m afraid it’s grilled cheese,” the vampire groused. “Don’t you people keep any food around here?” Cordelia let out an exaggerated sigh. “We eat out a lot. Nobody here can really cook.” Spike laughed at her sad face, and promised to cook her a real dinner. Cordelia brightened at the offer. Taking Xander by the hand, she led him through a door that led out of the kitchen, promising Spike that she would keep him occupied while the Master Vampire Chef was at work.

The door led to a suite of offices. It was nicely decorated and had all of the modern conveniences. Willow sat at the reception desk and frowned at the computer, typing away busily. She looked up when Xander pressed a kiss to the top of her head. “Hey, Xander – how are you doing today?” He perched on the corner of the desk and smiled at her. “I’m good.” They chatted for a few minutes until Cordelia called to them. Following her voice, they found themselves in a dark, richly appointed office. From the abundance of leather-bound books, leather furniture, leather desk accessories and Irish whiskey, Xander determined that it belonged to Angel. The huge leather chair pulled up to an elaborately carved desk dwarfed Cordelia. She was pointing at the monitor before her.

“Check this out.” She motioned for the others to look over her shoulder. “This is a website for vampire groupies. It talks about whatever famous vamps are in the area and stuff like that.” Xander looked at the screen. “Did you do a search on Angel?” he asked. “Not yet, but I will.” They shared a grin. “I did a search on Drusilla, though – look at this.”

Xander leaned in to read aloud the information that was printed beneath a drawing of Drusilla. “Drusilla always seems to come back to Los Angeles. There are suspicions that her sire still lives in the city. Also of interest may be her wayward childe, Spike.” Spike’s name was underlined, showing that it was a link. Cordelia clicked on it and a new page opened. Xander was greeted with a large, color photo of himself and Spike, taken at the dance club. In it, Spike was sprawled on the club’s stairs, legs spread in a wanton pose. Xander was behind him, sitting with his arms wrapped around Spike’s chest and his face buried in his lover’s neck.

Cordelia read the text this time. “Master Spike, late of Sunnydale, has kept a low profile for a number of years. Seems like that profile has risen considerably, as he was spotted in a mixed group of demons and humans at Club 668 over the weekend. No one was naming names, but speculation is that one of his companions was the Slayer. Also no word on the brunet in the above photo … new Consort? Inquiring minds want to know….” Cordelia sat back in her chair and looked at Willow and Xander. “Terrible writing, but the photo is hot,” she commented. Xander pointed at the screen. “Save that for me, would you?” She complied. After a pause, Xander cleared his throat. “I don’t know what this means, exactly, but I’m hungry. Let’s move this discussion to the kitchen.” The girls agreed.

Back in the kitchen, Buffy, Angel, Dawn, Jase and Sara had gathered. Buffy was setting the table as Spike finished cooking. Xander and the two girls joined them, pulling up chairs. Over lunch they discussed the website. Spike, Dawn and Buffy wanted to see the picture; Angel brooded. None of them really knew what it could mean. Cordelia announced that if there was one vampire groupie website, there would be a hundred more, and that she and Willow would follow up on as many as they could. Jase offered to join the effort on his laptop, as did Xander and Dawn. Angel, Buffy and Spike decided that they would use the vast network of sewer tunnels to do some old-fashioned legwork in the demon bars and hangouts.

Throughout lunch, Xander and Spike held hands, shared lingering looks and generally acted like swanning newlyweds. Cordelia, Willow, Buffy and Dawn exchanged glances and covered broad smiles with their hands, happy to see their friends so besotted with one another. When it came time for the two groups to split up, Buffy and Angel practically had to pry Spike from Xander’s side. Finally, with a lingering kiss, the two men parted, each led away by their assigned group.

Xander went upstairs with Willow to retrieve both of their laptops, so Jase and Dawn could have Angel’s computer. In the elevator, the redhead sighed and looked closely at her oldest friend. “You and Spike seem pretty close this morning,” she observed. His smile was blinding as he replied, "Yeah, I've gotta say things are going well, despite all the impending revenge and murder parts.” She smiled, “Don’t worry, we’d never let that stuff get in the way.” They shared a smile. Hers turned wistful. “You seemed pretty upset last night. Grief thing?” Remembering that she was the one person who could actually understand his feelings, Xander clasped her hand and nodded. “Wills, does it get any easier?”

“Not anytime soon,” she replied. “I won’t lie to you. It sneaks in from time to time and sort of jerks the rug out from under you.” He squeezed her hand. “Even now? After so long?” His voice was soft. She squeezed back. “Yep, even now. I still remember every word she said to me that day; I can still see her face as she said them. I swear that sometimes I feel her, or smell her.” The door opened and they walked down the hall to Willow’s door in silence. Xander waited as she gathered her things, and they turned to go back down the hall. She hesitated, and then laid her hand on his arm. “Xander, I know I’m not exactly the poster child for emotional availability or moving on, but I have to say something. Don’t push Spike away. I think he needs you as much as you need him.”

Xander placed his hand over hers. “I think you’re right, Wills. I won’t push him away. You can count on it.” They continued to the elevator and boarded it to go to Xander’s room for his computer. They exited on the fifth floor and walked to 501. Xander let Willow in and went to the closet to retrieve his laptop bag. Willow had seated herself on the sofa, and she motioned for him to join her. Xander settled himself beside her and took her hand.

“You look serious, Wills,” he observed. She smiled, but her eyes were worried. “Xander, I want to tell you something,” she looked down at their clasped hands, then back up to his face, stalling. He gave her a gentle smile and waited. She began to speak haltingly. “I … I don’t want you to do what I did. I don’t want you to make the mistakes I made… when Tara died.” Xander smiled at her. “No offense, but I’m pretty unlikely to go all dark and veiny and try to destroy the world.” She punched him lightly on the shoulder. “I don’t mean that. I mean after the after, Doofus. I was so afraid to be hurt again that I didn’t let anyone get really close, not Kennedy, not Oz, not anybody.” She looked down at their hands again and whispered, “I still haven’t.” Xander wrapped his arms around her and held her tight. He lowered his lips to her ear and whispered, “It’s not too late, Willow. Oz has waited for you all this time. He loves you.” She squeezed him back and he pressed a kiss to her temple.

They separated, and she looked at him with eyes bright with unshed tears. Willow looked into Xander’s brown eyes and decided that she would take a chance and say the rest of what she was thinking, come what may. She drew in a deep breath and spoke. “Xander, you do know that being with Spike doesn’t take anything away from what you had with Shari, don’t you? What you and she had stays frozen in time – it will always be there for you when you need it.” She paused, and he looked at her. Comprehension dawned in his eyes, and he smiled and blushed at the same time. “That’s where he went last night!” he exclaimed. “Oh, God. He told you …. He told you … Willow, what did he tell you?” Her face flushed, and he groaned out loud. “Do I really want to know what he told you?” he asked. “Let’s just say he needed a little insight into grief and what it does to you and leave it at that, OK?” she begged.  Xander decided to let her (and himself) off the hook. He paused, and then said, “Thank you, Willow. Thanks for helping him understand. It means a lot to me.”

They left the suite and headed back downstairs. Dawn and Jase worked in Angel’s office, Cordelia manned her desk, and Xander and Willow shared a large table in the conference room. Sara happily toddled between all of the adults, finally winding up asleep in one of the conference room chairs as the afternoon wore on. The pile of pages on the printer grew as the searchers cataloged any mention of Drusilla, Spike or Angel that they found.

Spike was happy. He held the scaly, blue-green demon still so that Buffy could deliver a smash kick to its knee. She danced back five feet, and the vampire slung the demon after her. Buffy caught its not-inconsiderable bulk easily and wrenched it around to allow Spike to pummel it with a blindingly fast series of jabs to its body and head. He stepped back, and the Slayer shoved the demon toward her mate. Angel clotheslined his adversary with one arm, causing it to slam down onto the ground with a muttered curse. He picked it back up and spun it around as Buffy and Spike moved in to each smash a knee into its midsection.

The unfortunate creature went around the circle two more times before Angel allowed it to fall, semi-conscious against the wall. Buffy panted and wiped her hands on her jacket. Giving a chortling Spike an arch look, she asked, “What’s so funny, Bleachy?” He raised an eyebrow at her. “That’s sorta the pot calling the kettle blonde, innit Miss Clairol?” He gestured to the unmoving demon. “I was just thinking that our friend here didn’t enjoy our little game of demented Red Rover.” Buffy raised a hand to her hair and frowned, then relented and laughed. Angel joined in as the demon started to stir on the floor.

Spike rubbed his hands together gleefully. Kicking the crap out of this demon was great fun, and he was enjoying the fact that he wasn’t getting any obnoxious guilty feelings from doing it. The big blue asshole had info about Dru that he was reluctant to share. Spike needed the info to help Xander; therefore, no big heavy guilt trip, just ass-kicking. He walked over to the demon and crouched down in front of it. He poked it in the chest to punctuate his words. “Now, let’s hear what you know about Drusilla. Remember her? Tall, dark, thin and loony as a treebird?” Spike was dearly hoping that the demon would resist so they could play with it some more. To his great disappointment, it muttered a few phrases in its native language. Buffy and Angel looked to Spike expectantly for the translation. He waved them off and spoke a short phrase back to the demon in the language that Buffy thought sounded like a cat with a hairball problem. The demon answered with a longer hacking-coughing-barfing series of noises. Spike stood and gestured for the others to follow.

They stalked out the alley door of the small bookshop and returned to the sewer tunnels without encountering any deadly sunlight. Once in the darkness, Spike leaned against the wall and wished for a cigarette. “OK” he sighed, “Same as the last one. She was here over the weekend; she talked to a number of demons, all of which think she was just babbling daftly at them. Which probably means she did one of her mind-fucks on them. Last guy there, his species isn’t all that susceptible to hypnosis, but all he’s saying is that she was asking about us.” Buffy asked, “How did he know she was asking about us? Did she ask for us by name?” Spike smiled at her. “Specifically, she asked about two vampires who ‘stink of souls and Slayer’. I think that was us.” Spike and Angel shared a grimace at the description, and Buffy tried to discreetly sniff herself.

Angel pushed off from his leaning position at the wall and straightened his long leather coat. “Well,” he said, “Do you want to go beat up some more demons for fun, or just go home and see what the Technology Club has come up with?” Spike and Buffy carefully weighed the options, and then looked at each other and both shook their heads. “Not much more to be gained from the beating,“ the Slayer said, “however much fun it is. Besides, my hand hurts, and I’ve got demon blood on my pants.” Spike shoved his hands in the pockets of his duster. “Home, then.” The three turned and made their way back through the dark.

The sun was almost down by the time they entered the office. Cordelia looked up with a bright smile of welcome, which immediately dropped off her face when she saw that they were not paying customers. “Any luck?” she asked, turning back to her monitor. Buffy waggled her hand in a “so-so” gesture. “You?” she asked. “We found some stuff – don’t know how useful it will be. Why don’t you guys go get drinks for everyone and we can sit down in the conference room and compare notes?” Buffy and Angel nodded and turned toward the door to the kitchen. Spike sniffed the air and followed Xander’s scent to the conference room.

He had to laugh as he entered the room. Xander was perched on the edge of a large leather chair trying to read what was on his laptop screen while dangling a happy Sara from his foot and bouncing his knee to give her a “horsy ride”. Every time he stopped to scroll the page or make an adjustment, she smacked him on the knee and said “Giddyap!” Seeing Spike in the doorway, she shouted, “Whoa, horsey!” and ran to her beloved Uncle Will. The vampire scooped her up and accepted Xander’s silent look of thanks, walking over behind him to claim a chaste kiss, ruffling Willow’s hair as he crossed behind her chair.

“We’re all meeting in here in a few minutes,” Spike told the others. “Want to get Jase and the Bit?” Willow nodded and punched a few buttons on the large phone in the center of the table. When Dawn answered, she told the younger woman to gather her husband and all the printouts and come to the conference room. Dawn and Jase arrived at the same time as Angel, Buffy and Cordelia. Everyone settled around the table and drinks were handed around.

Buffy filled everyone in on their not-very-productive experiences, and Cordelia distributed pages printed from the various websites. She launched into a synopsis of their findings. “OK, there seem to be three types of these ‘vamp groupie’ websites. There are gossip/ news ones that have sightings, histories, that sort of thing. Most of those knew about you guys being at 668 on Saturday, a couple had pictures. A few of them mentioned Dru, but it was always that she was seen briefly in some vamp hangout or other.” She paused and threw a page onto the table. It was a photograph of Drusilla standing in a doorway. The camera had caught her profile, and she had an evil smirk on her face.

Xander reached out and pulled the paper toward him. He traced a finger down the line of her profile, but did not comment. He felt the reassuring weight of Spike’s hand on his shoulder and dipped his head to rest his cheek against it for a moment. Cordelia resumed speaking. “The second kind of site was more trashy, supermarket-tabloid kind of stuff. They had a lot of wild speculation and some stuff I think they just made up. Those were the ones most likely to mention the agency by name, though, so hey – free advertising. You guys can read this stuff at your leisure, but the best lie I found was that I’m carrying Angel’s love child and that Buffy has turned to seeking the comfort of Ignath demons to cope with her heartbreak over it.” Amid laughter, Buffy squeaked indignantly, “Hey! Ignath demons are nasty – they have that mucous.”

Cordelia shook her head. “The third type of site was just plain disturbing. They had tributes to specific vampires, with all these weird manipulated photos and they even had fiction stories written about different vamps, er, doing stuff with other vamps and non-vamps and well, everybody. Um, Spike – you’re very popular on those. I think you may have a cult.” Spike looked interested at that tidbit. “And I’m hoping that some of the pictures I saw are fakes. Just out of curiosity, are there really photos in existence of you wearing nothing but handcuffs and leather chaps?” Spike met her eyes and smiled broadly. “Photos? Hmmm, not that I remember, but ….” He trailed off and everyone laughed. Xander shot him a questioning look and gave his lover an exaggerated pout when the vampire shook his head.

They all sat quietly for a moment. “So, we’ve got nothing, right?” Xander asked. “We know she’s around, but that’s not getting us any closer.” Spike rubbed his arm reassuringly. “Pet, I don’t think finding her is going to be a problem. If she’s here, then she’s planning something. I have a feeling she’ll find us. We just have to make sure we’re ready.” There were grim nods all around the table. Sighing, Xander stood and stretched. “Is it dinner time yet?” he asked plaintively. Spike reached out to rub the human’s flat belly, and then hoisted Sara higher on his shoulder. “Let’s see what we can come up with,” he suggested as he led the group back to the kitchen.

Part Twenty-Three

Cordelia sighed as she slammed the door of the dishwasher and started the machine. She had the good grace to laugh at herself. I’m as bad as Angel, she thought, brooding in the kitchen because everyone else has somebody to snuggle up to. She had kicked the couples out of the kitchen shortly after everyone had finished the spaghetti dinner that Spike, Xander and Willow had concocted out of the pantry and cupboards that Xander had pronounced “positively Mother Hubbard-y”.

The ex-cheerleader let her thoughts center on Xander. He had turned out to be a striking man. Who knew? He’d always been cute, making the jump into good-looking in the years after high school. But, now? His leaner, sculpted face and body combined with the graceful way he moved and his obvious quiet confidence were like a beacon. All of the women in the hotel were keeping a surreptitious eye on him, staying under Spike’s radar to avoid being growled at while still enjoying the eye candy. Cordelia shook her head at the thought of the strange couple. Spike and Xander had worked as a team cooking dinner, interacting like an old married couple, complete with good-natured bickering and stolen kisses. Willow had danced around and between the two men, her joy at being with both of them obvious.

Dinner had been a leisurely affair, with discussion and speculation about the meaning of the meager information they had gathered. After hashing over the few facts, it had degenerated into laughing and one-upmanship, as they had combed the printouts for outrageous rumors and teased each other mercilessly. Finally, Willow had left to go see Oz’s band perform at a nearby club. Jase and Dawn had carried a cranky Sara to bed, and Cordelia had shooed the vampires and their significant others out of the kitchen so she could clear the table and indulge in a little self-pity.

She had just settled with a cup of coffee when the phone rang. “Chanticleer, this is Cordelia,” she chirped into the handset. After a short pause, she heard an unfamiliar voice. “Hey, Cordelia – it’s Brooks.” He was obviously on a mobile phone. “Hi.” She waited. After a swish of static, he spoke. “I was at a location shoot kind of near the hotel, and I wondered if you’d like to go for coffee or something? I know it’s short notice …” His voice trailed off. Cordelia smiled. Things were looking up. “Yes,” she said simply. “Yes, coffee or yes, short notice?” he asked. “Both,” she replied. With a wry tone he said, “Cryptic much?” Cordelia laughed. “Sometimes. I just made coffee here. Come to the front and I’ll meet you, OK?” He agreed, and she hopped up to hang up the phone and peer into the toaster to make sure her hair was all right and there was no salad in her teeth.

Dawn curled her fingers around Sara’s chubby ankles and brought the bottoms of her daughter’s feet to rest against her face. Sara had fussed a bit after dinner, and then fallen fast asleep. Knowing that the familiar caress was unlikely to wake the baby, Dawn luxuriated in the feel of her child’s smooth skin. When, shortly after their wedding, Jase had asked about children, Dawn had tearfully confessed that she had no idea if she was even capable of reproduction, given her otherworldly origins. Jase had hugged her tightly and reassured her.

According to both her doctor and Spike’s sensitive nose, Dawn was 100% human. Still, it had taken her a couple of years to conceive. After months of negative tests, Dawn had been so excited to finally get a positive one she had peed on twenty little sticks before Jase had finally forced her to believe the results. The pregnancy had been uneventful, aside from some truly evil mood swings, and the day of Sara’s birth had been crazy, beginning with her water breaking all over Spike’s couch halfway through “Passions” and ending with tiny Sara making her squalling debut to a room filled with one husband, one sister, two vampires, a half-demon ex-cheerleader and assorted medical professionals.

Jase slid onto the bed next to his wife and daughter. He gently took one of Sara’s feet and kissed the sole. The baby twitched, and they both hastily let go of her, not wanting her to wake. A soft sound accompanied her descent back into slumber. Jase pulled Dawn to him, spooning her back against his front and wrapping her in his long arms. Her head rolled back onto his shoulder. “Have I said thank you lately?” she asked. He ran his lips over the curve of her ear and whispered, “For what?” Dawn shifted her brown hair out of the way and bared her neck to give questing lips better access. “For Sara. For you. For this.” He smiled against her neck. “You’re welcome. Wanna make her a sibling?” His whisper was low, seductive. She turned in his arms to gaze up into sparkling blue eyes. “Really?” He looked back at her steadily. “Really,” he whispered, just before their lips met.


A finger slid down the arch of her foot.


A gentle kiss brushed the end of a toe.


The tickle of his tongue caused her to draw back, stopped by a stern look.


Angel leaned back against his end of the Jacuzzi tub and closed the bottle tightly. He admired the fresh coat of Orbit Coral nail lacquer on the toenails of Buffy’s left foot, which rested flat on his chest. She giggled as he blew lightly across the shiny polish.

“Orion’s Belt. It holds up Orion’s Pants.” Xander pointed out the three bright stars. “Ursa Minor, the little bear. The Big Dipper, which is big, and dips.” He pointed out two more constellations. Spike’s hand flicked lazily across his field of vision, gesturing toward a formation of blinking lights. “LAX,” he noted in a smug voice. Xander grabbed the slender, pale hand and kissed it. “Very astute, Carl Sagan,“ he remarked, then turned the hand over to press a warm kiss into the palm, folding cool fingers over it.

The lovers were lying side by side on the roof of the hotel, sprawled out on a blanket, enjoying the warm California night. Xander reveled in the ordinariness of it all. Contentment, rightness and belonging washed over him and soothed any residual stress or irritation from the day’s mostly fruitless research. He raised the clasped hands from his chest and held them under his nose, breathing in Spike’s unique scent, flavored with the dried herbs the vampire had added to the pasta sauce for dinner. “Mmmmmm,” he muttered. “Smoke and rain. And oregano.” Spike laughed and pulled his hand away so he could roll up onto his side. He looked down into his lover’s eyes. “What’s that, pet?” he asked.

Xander crossed his hands behind his head and continued looking up, first at the stars, then into beautiful blue eyes, then back to the heavens. “That’s what you smell like; smoke and rain. The oregano’s from dinner.” Spike leaned in and inhaled. It wasn’t really necessary; he’d been drowning in the other man’s scent since the minute he’d dragged him across the threshold of the house in Sunnydale. However, an excuse to bury his nose in Xander’s warm neck was not to be passed up.  “You’re cinnamon and sunshine,” he said.  Xander made a happy noise. Spike laughed. “You’re an odd duck, Xan. You notice things that most humans don’t, like scent.” Xander nodded. “Well,” he said, “For me, scent is a big trigger. It’s true for everybody if you think about it. Everybody reacts to fresh baked bread or their Grandmother’s perfume. I notice everyone’s scents.” He paused, thinking. “It must be really intense for you, with the super nose.” Spike nodded. “Scent can tell you a lot. I can smell emotions and sickness – where you’ve been and what you’ve touched. It’s handy.” He paused. “Everyone has their own underlying smell – unique to only them.” Xander pondered for a moment. “OK, then, what is Willow’s scent?”

“That’s easy – she’s mostly rosemary, with a hint of something dark and heady.” Spike frowned. “It’s like the forest, down by the roots of the trees,” Xander supplied. Spike smiled. “You’re right, that’s exactly what it is – it’s old and deep and strong.” Xander smiled, “I always thought of it as the smell of her power. It’s fainter now.” They lay in silence for a few moments, and then Spike said, “How about Cordelia?” They spoke together. “Roses.” Spike added, “Probably the most expensive kind.” They laughed. Xander said, “Sara.” “Easy, mate, she’s baby powder and a dirty nappy.” Xander chuckled. “She just smells like a baby to me – they all have that … baby smell. It’s nice.”

It was Spike’s turn. “Buffy.” Xander thought about it. “She smells like vanilla and something else, something kind of sharp.” Spike told him, “It’s sandalwood.”  Xander said, “Oz.” Spike smiled. “He’s different – I just smell the wolf on him, and that hippy stuff – patchouli. Smells kind of like feet.” Xander poked him in the side. “I’m so telling Oz you think he smells like feet. Your turn.” After a few minutes, Spike said, “Joyce.” They shared a sad smile for the woman they had both cared about, Xander as a surrogate mother and Spike as a friend. “Joyce is also vanilla, but with cloves and ginger – spicy,” Xander decided. Spike agreed. “What about Angel?” Xander asked. “I’ve never really gotten close enough to smell him.” Spike paused and thought about his grand-sire. His voice was slightly husky when he answered. “He’s Irish whiskey and blood to me.” Xander decided to lighten the moment. “I was sure you’d say hair gel and angst,” he snorted. “That, too,” Spike retorted. They laughed together and both relaxed onto their backs again.

“Hey, Spike?” Xander began. “Yes, luv?” Xander paused. “The other night, in the elevator, when you kissed Angel….” Spike interrupted with, “He kissed me, pet.” “Whatever,” Xander rejoined. “When you guys kissed, I licked some blood off his chin.” “Yeah, I saw that.” The huskiness was back in Spike’s voice. “I … shared it with Buffy … when I kissed her.” Xander continued, looking steadfastly at the stars. “Saw that, too,“ Spike said. “Was it yours or Angel’s?” Xander’s fingers brushed against a cool arm. Spike leaned into the touch. “Uh, both, pet.” Xander’s voice was also getting husky. “It tasted different than yours and mine did later that night.”

“His is … older, stronger.” Spike let his fingers rest against Xander’s warm hip. “Hmmmm.” Xander shifted toward Spike almost imperceptibly. “And I kissed Buffy, to let her taste it.” He paused. “That was the second time. The first time I kissed her because I wondered what it would be like.” Spike narrowed his eyes, but kept his voice even. “And what was it like?” He watched as Xander’s tongue stole out to moisten his lips, as if tasting the kiss again. “I was excited, because I’d always wanted to, but after I did, it seemed … unimportant. Kissing you is so much better.” Spike didn’t reply, but he let his body relax. He stiffened up again at Xander’s next question. “When Angel kissed you … does he do that a lot?” Spike barked a short, hard laugh. “No, pet. That’s the first time he’s kissed me in over a hundred years.”

Silence descended on them again. Xander took a deep breath. Spike knew another question was coming, but he decided that he liked talking to this man, even if the questions were a bit odd. “In the elevator, before we got out. You and Angel had a look thing going on, and you shook your head and we got out. What were you turning down?” Spike remained quiet for a moment, trying to decide how honestly to answer this latest query. Fuck it, he thought and just told the truth. “Vampire, slayer and human group grope, luv.” He smiled when Xander’s reply was a disinterested, “Huh. That’s what I thought. Maybe some other time.” The human laughed out loud when the grinning vampire rolled on top of him.

“God, I love the way your mind works.” Spike said, smiling madly down into snapping brown eyes. Xander feigned offense. “Hey, I’m not just a brain, you know – I have a hell of a body, too!” Spike answered him by kissing him with unhurried thoroughness, breaking away only when he heard Xander gasping for air. “Yes, luv – you have a gorgeous body and a wonderful mind, and a fantastic sense of smell and terrific taste in men,” Spike assured the panting human, who smiled at him. They lay there for long moments, simply looking at one another and smiling, exchanging soft touches.

Eventually, Xander noticed that something not so soft was touching his hip, and he pressed back against it with his own hardness. He thrust his hips up into Spike’s and was fascinated that he could actually see lust and heat bloom in the crystal blue eyes. He thrust harder, and watched Spike’s eyes start to cloud. Cool, he thought, I can’t believe that I can do this to him. He repeated the motion, and a moan was torn from the vampire’s lips. Spike lay perfectly still to let Xander do whatever he wanted. Xander’s hands came up and pressed flat against the sides of Spike’s head. He tilted his lover’s face, first to one side, and then the other, studying the play of moonlight across sharp cheekbones and sculpted lips. He traced the contours with the pads of his thumbs; callused flesh brushing smooth skin in delicious contrast.

Xander slid his fingers through Spike’s hair and cupped the back of his head to bring their lips together, starting with feathery brushing motions and tantalizing little licks along the contours of the vampire’s mouth. The warm tongue became more insistent, sliding into the cool mouth a little at a time, curling around Spike’s and encouraging it to join in the fun. As the kiss deepened, Spike was careful not to become dominant, wanting to let Xander explore at his own pace, determined to play passive as long as he could.

Xander’s hips mirrored the motion of his tongue, and their cocks brushed together maddeningly, through layers of denim and cotton. Spike’s hands came to rest on Xander’s arms, clutching at his broad biceps. Xander’s fingers dropped from Spike’s head to his chest, starting to unbutton his shirt with slow, precise motions. As each bit of pale flesh was uncovered, hot fingers danced across it, painting over the dips and swells, stopping to rub responsive tissue into hardness, earning stifled groans. Slipping the last button through its hole, Xander peeled the shirt away from Spike’s shoulders and took it off, carelessly tossing it aside. He kissed the vampire lightly and placed his hands flat on the pale chest and pushed until Spike took his own weight on his hands, which were braced on either side of Xander’s arms.

Their hips were still cradled together, but the length of Spike’s arms separated their upper bodies. Xander brought his hands between them and ran his fingers slowly over the contours of taut muscles that were beautifully flexed and defined. Spike tipped his head back and lost himself in the sensation. Xander’s fingers were hot, blazing fiery trails over his skin everywhere they touched. One hand traced a long line from his wrist to his elbow, stopping to scratch circles on the sensitive inner fold before continuing up over the bulge of his bicep. It stroked across his shoulder, and then slipped into the hollow over his collarbone. The other hand rested flat against his ribcage, the fingers lightly massaging his back, the thumb teasing the hollow between two ribs. Spike groaned when soft, wet lips replaced the fingers on his collarbone, and Xander sucked hard against the skin there. He threw his head back even further and turned it to the side, opening himself up to his lover submissively.

Xander took the invitation, moving his mouth to Spike’s long, pale neck, kissing up its length, drawing intricate patterns with the tip of his tongue. Finding the spot he wanted, just over the jugular, he bit down softly. Spike hissed in pleasure and arched his back, pressing his groin against Xander, who was momentarily shocked to realize that he could feel the vampire’s cock twitch against him through both pairs of their jeans. Xander released the flesh from his teeth and licked the slight mark he’d left. Spike shuddered and relaxed against him, still bearing the brunt of his weight on his arms. As soon as he felt the vampire sag against him, Xander bit the same spot again, harder this time, skirting the edge of the amount of force it would take to break the skin. Spike howled, pressing himself fully against his lover. Again Xander released him and looked at the mark; it was an angry red, and he could see the small indentation left by each of his teeth.

He raised his eyes to look at Spike’s face. He stared up into the yellow eyes of the demon. Xander raised a hand to trace the ridges that decorated Spike’s game face, drawing his fingers down them slowly. The vampire’s eyes rolled back at the caress. Tentatively, Xander traced Spike’s lips, stopping at one fang to lightly run his finger over it. Spike’s tongue flicked out to lick at his finger. Bolder now, Xander ran his fingernail down the smooth surface of the fang, and Spike groaned. The questing finger moved to the other fang and gave it the same treatment. As Xander’s eyes flicked down to the mark on the vampire’s neck, Spike finally spoke. “Finish it,” he hissed. Xander knew what he was asking for. He took a deep breath, then grabbed the neck of his own t-shirt and ripped it down the front. “Together,” he said, then bent his head to Spike’s neck and bit down as hard as he could.

Just as he felt the cool flesh part under his teeth, Xander felt Spike rear back slightly and then plunge his fangs into the spot where the human’s shoulder and neck met. Sensations poured over him. He felt the shock of the vampire’s skin parting, which was immediately washed away by the taste and feel of blood in his mouth. Unthinking, he drew and swallowed a mouthful, tasting copper and electricity. Xander could smell the blood, sharp and sweet, familiar and ancient. He could feel the exquisite pain of Spike’s fangs in his shoulder, his head spun from the sensation as his blood was pulled into the vampire’s mouth. At the same time, his cock was throbbing, sending him into the longest and most intense orgasm of his life.

At the whispered word “together”, Spike had pulled back, not daring to believe the offer being made. As soon as the human’s blunt teeth had broken his skin, the demon had taken over. Exercising a small amount of control, Spike had managed to not tear his lover’s throat out, and had even been able to keep himself to a spot that they’d have a chance of hiding later. The pain of the teeth in his own throat, combined with the taste of Xander’s blood sent him over the edge, into the orgasm that had been building, and he came hard, snuffling and groaning around the mouthful of flesh. Xander’s taste and scent surrounded him and he sucked it into his mouth, wanting Xander around him and inside him. After one last mouthful, he reluctantly pulled himself away, retracting his fangs and licking tenderly at the wound until it closed; he then buried his face in the crook of his lover’s neck.

They held each other tightly, bodies fully pressed together until they stopped panting. Xander’s hands began circling on Spike’s bare back, tracing soothing patterns there.  The vampire levered himself back up onto his hands and started down into languid brown eyes. They shared a slow smile. Warm fingers came up to caress Spike’s face, back to normal now. Leaning into the contact, the vampire smiled again. “That was …,“ he started, and trailed off. “Yes, it was.” Xander rejoined, also smiling. They shared a soft, lingering kiss. Xander’s fingers came up to trace the wound on his shoulder. “Will this scar, like Buffy’s?” he asked. Spike gave him a small smile. “No, pet. It should heal fine. Between my spit and the blood you took, it’ll be gone in a couple of days. Besides, Buffy’s isn’t just a bite scar – it’s a claim mark. It was meant to scar.”

Xander rubbed the bite mark and frowned a little, and then shifted his hips, grimacing at the feel of drying stickiness. “We need a shower,” he said. Spike nodded his agreement and gracefully got to his feet. Reaching down, he pulled his lover up beside him and kissed him lightly on the lips. Xander bent back down to grab the blanket and Spike’s discarded shirt, and the two men each wrapped an arm around the other and walked slowly to the stairs.

Cordelia was waiting. She was patiently waiting for Brooks to move his hand two inches to the left and take her hand. They were sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee. Before he arrived, she had turned off the harsh overhead lights and lit an oil lamp on the table. It threw a small circle of soft light and cast the rest of the room into shadow. Over the course of their conversation, she and the dark-haired man had each taken a couple of opportunities to move their chairs closer together so that their knees almost touched. Cordelia was starting to get frustrated. My God, she thought, this is Los Angeles. I usually have to use all of my skills to get men in this town to stop touching me, not to start.

Brooks moved his hand one inch to the left. Cordelia smiled at him and ground her molars at the same time. They had talked about his job and her job and the sparring match and the weather and the entertainment industry and a million trivial things. Pretty much everything except vampires, Slayers, werewolves, witches and half-demon aspiring actresses. Brooks lifted his hand and placed it on top of Cordelia’s, curling his warm fingers over to touch her palm. She looked down at their clasped hands and inwardly yelled, “Score!” Their hands clutched together tightly as they heard something heavy hit the door that led into the hotel lobby.

The door flew open, and two bodies stumbled through. The taller figure grabbed the shorter one by the shoulders and pinned him against the wall just inside the door. Cordelia and Brooks both stared openmouthed at the spectacle of Xander Harris, wearing sweatpants and a tee shirt, barefoot and with shower-damp hair, holding his similarly-clad vampire lover three inches off the floor and kissing him soundly while grinding his hips against him in an unmistakable rhythm. Breaking the kiss, Spike looked over Xander’s shoulder into the two shocked faces.

“Er, Xan,” he said to the oblivious human, who was kissing and biting his neck. “What, baby?” Xander moaned. “Um … audience, luv,” the vampire answered. “Oh, fuck,” the human replied, and lightly banged his head into the wall over Spike’s shoulder. “Please, God, let it not be Angel,” he begged, thumping the wall with his forehead again. “No, not Angel.” Spike told him. “Oh, good. So, who is it?” Xander asked, still not daring to look. “The May Queen and your Kung Fu friend.” Spike craned his neck over his lover’s shoulder and looked at the clasped hands of the couple at the table. “They look kind of cozy.”  Brooks snorted. “Look who’s talking,” he said.

Xander stepped back and let Spike slide down the wall until his feet touched the floor. He gave Spike a quick peck on the lips then turned to the table. He pulled a chair out and turned it around backward; hoping that by straddling it the tented front of his sweatpants would be less obvious. He rested his chin on the top of the chair and smiled at his friends. “Hi, Brooks,” he said, in a casual voice. The dark man replied, “Hello, Xander,” in an equally casual tone. Spike and Cordelia exchanged a look and burst out laughing, quickly joined by the two men.

Once they finally quit laughing, they all settled at the table, wiping their eyes. Cordelia levered herself out of her chair and went to refill her coffee cup. “Xander, do you want any coffee?” she asked. “Hell, yeah,” he replied. “Got any cookies? I’m starving.” He looked at Spike, who glanced over his shoulder at Cordelia and said, “I’ll take a mug of the good stuff, if you don’t mind, Cordy. Thanks, luv.” Xander’s eyes grew wide when he realized what Spike was asking for. Spike gave him a smug look. “’S alright, pet. Your buddy knows what’s what around here. He guessed about Angel the other night and Cordelia set him straight about the rest of us.” Xander closed his mouth with a snap and regained his composure. Looking at Brooks, he asked, “What gave Angel away?” Brooks smiled. “That guy never breathes.”

Xander spluttered, “I told him to breathe, dammit. Didn’t I, Spike?” The vampire murmured that indeed Angel had been instructed to breathe, but what did Xander expect from the stubborn ponce? Cordelia returned to the table with coffee and cookies for Xander and a mug of warmed blood for Spike. While they ate, Brooks regaled the group with the story of all of the warnings Xander had given him when he’d decided to move out to Los Angeles. “He told me to keep an open mind, and not to be too quick to discount the impossible. He also gave me a stake,” Brooks told them. “I hadn’t been out here a week when I found out he wasn’t as crazy as I thought. I was walking home one night from a club, when I got jumped by a guy.” Spike broke in, “Let me guess – one of those bumpy-forehead, pointy-toothed guys?” Brooks laughed. “Exactly that kind of guy. Luckily, I was carrying Xan’s stake, and the guy was slow as hell. I don’t think he expected me to fight back. Still, it took me two tries – I missed his heart the first time. I think that just pissed him off. My aim was better on the second try, and he went ‘poof’.”

They chatted about the demon population of the greater L.A. area and ate cookies and drank coffee until Xander finally caught Cordelia’s look – the one that was desperately trying to tell him to take his vampire and go away. Spike and Xander excused themselves and slipped back out the same door by which they had entered the kitchen; though their exit was much quieter than their entrance. Once they were alone again, Cordelia placed her hand lightly over Brooks’. “Is this where we were?” she asked with a smile.  He smiled back, and then leaned in and brushed his lips softly over hers. “I thought we’d better move on over to this part before someone else comes tumbling in here,” he whispered, and kissed her lightly. Cordelia traced her tongue along his lower lip invitingly and said “Excellent idea,” just before his mouth claimed hers.

Part Twenty-Four

Xander and Spike laughed halfway to their suite. At roughly the halfway point, Xander got distracted by the vampire’s beautiful mouth and pinned him against the inside of the elevator to kiss him. They stumbled out of the elevator car on the fifth floor, and Spike pushed Xander down the hall toward their room. Once inside, they fell to the floor of the parlor in a frenzy of lips and teeth and tongues and hands and fingers, stripping off their clothes and trying to touch each other everywhere at once. Xander gasped as one of Spike’s hands wrapped around his erection and the other snaked down over his hip and between the firm globes of his ass to tease against his entrance.  He tangled a hand in the vampire’s hair and brought their mouths together in a fiery kiss, and swept his other hand across his lover’s hard chest to rub and pinch first one and then the other pebbled nipple. “Fuck, Will,” he gasped. “I’ve never been so hard in my life.”

Spike laughed into his lover’s mouth. “Vampire blood,” he panted.

“Works for me,” Xander said.

In a sudden move, the vampire flipped them over, taking the top position. He pressed Xander into the floor and kissed him, sweeping his tongue around the inside of his mouth relentlessly. As soon as he felt the dark man beneath him surrender completely to the kiss, Spike launched himself off of his lover’s body and tried to run to the bedroom, laughing maniacally.

Xander flipped over and reached out to snag a foot, dragging Spike back down to the floor and underneath him. The human crawled over the vampire’s body where it rested facedown on the floor. He closed his teeth on the back of Spike’s neck and pressed his hard cock against the cleft of his ass. Xander could feel the effects of the small amount of Spike’s blood he had drunk. He could feel his pulse in every part of his body; it thumped in his temples, his tongue, the tips of his fingers and through the long vein that ran up the underside of his cock. His sense of smell was heightened; he could pick out Spike’s scent and his own, the scents of coffee and blood and cookies, as well as the unique, musky, heady smell of sex.

He used his feet to spread Spike’s legs under him, and grasped the vampire’s wrists in his hands to pin him to the floor, spread-eagled. Xander’s sweat slicked their bodies, and he used it to allow him to slide his erection up and down against Spike’s ass, gliding over his puckered opening and pressing against his sharp tailbone in long strokes. The vampire shifted his hips, angling for more contact and to increase the painful friction of the suite’s carpet against his own sensitive cock.

Suddenly, the hard weight pinning Spike to the floor was gone, and he whimpered at the loss. His whimper turned into a surprised yelp as one of Xander’s hands came down hard on his ass with a resounding smack. He turned his head to see his lover kneeling beside him, grinning. Spike raised an eyebrow and wiggled his ass. Xander brought his hand down on the other cheek harder than before, and was rewarded with another yelp and a growl. He sprang to his feet, snatched Spike off the floor by one arm and dragged him into the bedroom, where he threw him bodily onto the bed. Spike landed on his back and looked up expectantly at the human.

Xander stalked the last couple of paces over to the bed with a wicked smile playing about his lips. He threw one leg over Spike and straddled him, allowing their hard cocks to rub together. Xander gathered both of the vampire’s wrists in one hand and pulled them over his head to the ornate iron headboard. “Grab on and don’t let go,” he instructed, eyes glittering darkly. Spike obediently threaded his fingers around the iron bars and tilted his face up for a kiss. Xander obliged, leaning in to kiss the vampire’s cool mouth possessively. As he leaned back, he swept the tube of lubricant off the nightstand and opened it.

Xander poured lubricant into his hand and then reached back. Spike watched the dark eyes close, knowing that his lover was preparing himself. He whimpered. Xander’s eyes opened lazily, and he said, “What’s the matter, baby?” Spike licked his suddenly dry lips and said, “I want to see, Xan. I want to watch you make yourself ready for me.” A shudder ran through Xander’s body, and he flushed a little. He tossed the tube onto the bed, and then moved so that he was straddling Spike’s body with his back facing the vampire. He turned his head over his shoulder and twisted his body slightly so that he could see his lover’s face.

Spike drew in an unnecessary breath as Xander’s slick fingers trailed down the vampire’s chest and came to rest against his own opening. The fingers circled for a moment, and then one slipped inside. Spike watched the muscles in Xander’s back and ass flex as internal muscles clenched and loosened around the finger. He pumped the finger in and out. “Another,” Spike hissed, and Xander complied, moaning as he stretched himself.  Spike’s eyes never left the gorgeous sight before him, two fingers thrusting in and out of his lover’s body, preparing him for the vampire’s cock. “Three,” Spike said, and again Xander complied, this time gasping aloud at the exquisite pleasure and pain as his body stretched to allow the intrusion. He rose up on his knees slightly, and then thrust himself down on his fingers, twisting them in, deeper and deeper with each stroke.

Xander’s eyes never left Spike’s face. He was stunned at the desire, lust and passion he saw there.  His mild embarrassment at what he was doing was swept away when he saw how his actions were affecting the vampire. In Spike’s open, longing, wanting face he could also see joy and exultation, and suddenly he understood. He understood that Spike and he had another thing in common – they both needed to be wanted. They needed to be wanted, desired for themselves and for no other reason. He realized that his actions were saying to Spike in no uncertain terms that he, Xander Harris, wanted the vampire – wanted him fully and completely - not as a means to an end, but as that end itself.

Xander pulled his hand away from himself and reversed his position. He leaned down and kissed Spike, sweeping his tongue around the vampire’s mouth and groaning deeply as Spike’s tongue thrust up into his. He found the tube of lubricant again, and poured more into his hand and spread it liberally over the vampire’s already-dripping erection. Xander pulled back from the kiss and lifted himself onto his knees. Blue and brown eyes met and held as the human guided his lover’s cock to his body and swiftly impaled himself on it in one long stroke. Without waiting for his body to adjust, Xander started sliding up and down on top of Spike, setting a brutal pace. The line between pleasure and pain blurred as he rode his lover. On each stroke he felt as if he would be torn in half, and then felt empty as Spike’s cock pulled almost all the way out, only to fill him again to bursting point on the next stroke.

Spike’s eyes stayed on Xander’s, but he couldn’t stop the flood of moans, groans and half-words that came from his mouth. He knew he wasn’t making any sense, but he didn’t care. The pace of their coupling made it impossible for him to think, much less speak coherently. He felt his orgasm building, and thrust up, nearly unseating Xander, who merely tightened his grip on the vampire’s thighs and met the thrusts with his own. “Gonna …come, Xan,” Spike gasped, and then he did, shooting again and again into Xander’s body as he howled and sobbed his release. Xander rode out the storm, finally coming to rest against his lover’s chest when Spike relaxed under him. They lay quietly for a moment, and then Xander began crawling up Spike’s body, allowing the vampire’s softening cock to slip out of his body with a wet sound.

Xander crawled up to the top of the bed and placed the crown of his still-hard cock at Spike’s lips. He wrapped his hands around Spike’s, which were still threaded around the iron bars of the headboard. He looked down into sparkling blue eyes and said, “Suck me, baby.” The vampire’s mouth opened, and he began licking and sucking just the head of Xander’s dripping erection. Xander felt one of Spike’s hands slip out from under his and reach between his legs. He groaned as three fingers slammed into his stretched, slick hole, just as Spike sucked him down to the root. Xander grabbed the headboard harder and began thrusting his body back and forth, first into the vampire’s mouth and then back against the fingers inside him. He knew he couldn’t last, and when Spike’s fingers found and pressed his prostate, he poured his orgasm into Spike’s tight throat.

Spike continued to lick and suck at him until Xander’s cock was completely soft, and then let it fall from his lips. The human fell onto the bed with a sigh, and sighed again as Spike draped himself over his warm chest, and kissed him deeply. Xander stroked his hands down the cool back, and then hugged the vampire tightly to his chest.  “Will …you make me feel – God, I don’t have the words.” Xander ran his hand over Spike’s soft waves and buried his face against his lover’s neck. Spike laughed softly. “It’s OK, pet – I think I made up some new ones a while ago; we can use those.” He felt the human grin against his neck. “I don’t think I can spell those words,” Xander snorted, “too many vowels.”

Part Twenty-Five

Xander sipped from his mug of coffee and followed the steady stream of thumps emanating from the gym. Turning the corner, he leaned against the doorframe to watch Buffy pound the heavy bag. She was wearing a pair of bike shorts and a sports bra, both faded pink. Her hair was swept back in a ponytail and she was sweating freely as she rhythmically rained blows onto the bag with both her fists and her feet. He laughed at himself just a little when he realized he was paying more attention to her fighting form than to her figure. Great, he thought, most of my life all I wanted to do was ogle Buffy – and now I’d rather think about a different blonde. He smiled at the memory of slipping out of Spike’s arms earlier, and the soft sounds the vampire had made as he wrapped his arms around Xander’s abandoned pillow and drifted back to sleep.

Buffy caught sight of Xander and danced over to the door, peeling tape from her knuckles. She pressed a kiss to his cheek. “Hey, Xan. You’re up early,” she observed, tilting his mug to steal a sip of his coffee. He smiled down at her. “Yeah, those damn vampires want to keep us up all night, but I thought I’d go up to the roof and work out in the sun. Wanna come?” She nodded and replied, “Yeah! I could use some stretching work – can you show me some of the warm-ups you and your friends were doing?” He agreed, and they headed for the roof. Xander marveled a little that here was the Slayer, asking him, the Zeppo, for fitness advice. The mind boggled

They reached the roof and walked to an open, flat area that had been planted with grass. They kicked off their shoes. Xander led Buffy through some simple exercises to get warm, and then started challenging her with some more advanced moves. “Try this one,” he said, as he seated himself on the ground with his legs straight out in front of him. He pressed his fisted hands to the ground next to his hips and raised his entire body, still in the same position, to balance on his fists. Corded muscles stood out on his arms as he held the position and took and released seven deep breaths. He lowered his body in a controlled motion, and then turned to Buffy. He grinned at the stunned expression on her face. “Your turn,” he taunted.

She seated herself beside him and tried to mimic the move. She couldn’t seem to get both her heels and her butt off the ground at the same time, and teetered back and forth. Xander showed her how to lock the position before rising, and where to find the balance point. Within minutes, she had it. They both smiled as she executed it perfectly. “You’re a good teacher, Xan,” she said, back on the ground. “You explain things clearly and you don’t get frustrated, unlike some vampires and Watchers I could name.” He smiled. “I wish all my students were as easy to teach as you – at least you can follow directions.”

“Show me another one,” she pleaded, “this is fun.” He thought for a moment, and then his eyes lit up. “I bet you can do this.” He knelt and placed his elbows on the ground, forming a triangle between them and his cupped hands. He placed his head down in front of his hands and rose in a headstand. Once the headstand was stable, he tilted his hips forward and arched his back so that his entire body formed a taut crescent shape. He shifted his hands apart and braced his palms on the ground. Once he was steady, he lifted his head and balanced on his forearms. He bent his knees to bring the bottoms of his feet nearly into contact with the back of his head. He turned his head and grinned at Buffy. “It’s called the Scorpion,” he panted. She goggled at him while he slowly lowered himself back to the ground.

They worked on the posture until Buffy got the hang of it, stopping several times to laugh hysterically when she overcorrected and fell on her ass. Once she had the move down, they sat side by side on the grass to take a breather. Xander took a deep breath and turned to her.

Before he could speak, she touched a finger to his lips and said, “Don’t, Xander.” He looked at her quizzically and she removed the finger. “Don’t apologize to me,” she said, smiling. “I don’t need it. And, if you don’t apologize to me, I don’t have to apologize to you.” He grabbed her hand and held it. “Buff,” he whispered, “I was a shitty friend.” She clasped his hand back and looked him in the eye. “So?” she asked, “who wasn’t? It was the end of the freaking world, Xander – none of us got through it in good shape. I was a shitty friend to you for a long time before you left. I couldn’t see it at the time. All I saw was my own pain, not the pain I was inflicting. God, I was full of myself.” Xander smiled at her. “Remember the speeches?” he asked in a small voice. “Don’t remind me,” she groaned. “I’m just lucky nobody staked me out of self-preservation.”

“You should know by now that I’m a pretty simple person,” she told him. “I need things to be cut and dried. You always were my friend, and you always will be. That’s enough for me. You needed to be away for a while; you needed to not be here. I can understand that. You sacrificed so much to fight at my side – I could never begrudge you the chance at a normal life.” Xander looked into her open, happy face and was hardly able to believe that this was the same person he’d left behind so many years ago. She’d been through so much, yet she could still smile and forgive and love. The two old friends laughed together for a moment. “So, we’re OK? Just like that?” Xander asked. She nodded, “Just like that. You know me, Xan – save the world, love my friends, sleep with a vampire.” Xander pulled the petite blonde into his arms and hugged her tightly. “I love you, Buffy. I always have,” he whispered into her hair. “I know, Xan – me too,” she replied against his chest. After a moment, she started struggling. As soon as he released her, she said, “OK, enough with the encounter group – show me more cool tricks!” He happily obliged, and pretended not to notice as she wiped a tear from her face. It was only fair, since she pretended not to notice when he did the same.

“This is cozy,” Spike drawled from the doorway of the small atrium that looked out over the roof of the hotel. Inside the specially treated glass room, Angel sat in a chair next to a large, padded chaise lounge and watched Buffy and Xander contort themselves into pretzels in the sunshine. “What do you call it?” the younger vampire asked, “Stalker Hut?” Angel spared his grand-childe a glance and ignored the question. “It’s only 11:00 - what are you doing up?” he queried. Spike looked at the floor, then walked into the room and seated himself on the lounge at Angel’s side. Angel looked at his face and barked a short laugh. “You, too, huh?” he asked ruefully. “I sometimes can’t sleep after Buffy gets up either,” he admitted. “Christ,” Spike groaned, “we’re a matched set of poofs, aren’t we?” Angel shook his head. “That we are, my William, that we are.”

“Looks like the Slayer’s doing the old forgive and forget,” Spike observed, seeing the two old friends embrace. Angel smiled. “Buffy can be very forgiving. It’s a damn good thing, too.” They looked out the windows in silence for long moments.

“I love her,” Angel said quietly, not looking at Spike. “I mean, I’ve always loved her, since she was sixteen; but now, it’s different. It’s like she’s a part of me.” Spike regarded his grand-sire seriously. “She is a part of you, Angel. You make her complete. Oddly enough, you’re what makes her more human.” The younger vampire snorted. “I used to wonder how you could love a human more than your own childer; it used to eat me up inside.” Angel’s dark eyes settled on his face. “Oh, Will – how could you think such a thing? I didn’t always like you, but I’ve never stopped loving you.” Spike’s eyes opened wide in shock, and Angel couldn’t hold back a soft laugh. “You didn’t know, did you?” When the blond head shook at him, he sighed. “Childe, I always loved you. I loved your humanity.” He laughed bitterly. “I loved it as much as Angelus hated it. He – I tried so hard to tear it out of you, but it always stayed. That’s why you’re so different from most vampires - your core of humanity was never destroyed, no matter how hard I tried. It made you unique.”

Spike simply stared at his grand-sire, unable to form coherent thoughts. Angel moved from his chair to sit beside the smaller man. He took a slim, pale hand into his own larger one. He looked into Spike’s ice blue eyes as he stroked the cool hand. “Maybe I haven’t been clear in the past, Will, so I’m just going to tell you outright. You can call me a poof and a ponce all you want later. When Drusilla turned you, I was furious. She had no right to sire anyone, but she took what she wanted and didn’t care who got hurt. If I hadn’t stepped in and taken you away from her, you would have died like so many of her childer did. I wanted you, and I took you for my own.” Angel paused.

“I’m not sorry I did it, Will. I’m sorry for so many things that I did in the past, but I will never be sorry about that. We were magnificent demons, you and I.” Angel’s voice was husky, and he saw Spike’s eyes flashing yellow and knew his were doing the same. He smiled gently and squeezed the hand he held. “We can be good men, Will. We have good hearts; they may not beat, but they can love. We have good souls.”

Spike kept his eyes lowered. He was truly stunned. He had always thought that Angel saw him as an abomination; a mistake that Dru had made in a flight of fancy. Knowing that his grand-sire, the only true sire he’d ever known, loved him was almost more than he could bear. It occurred to him that he’d spent the past nine years coming to terms with having a soul, while guarding that same soul from the risks of loving and being loved. Sure, he loved Dawn and her family, and Willow and Cordelia, but not the way he loved his sire, and not the way he desperately wanted to love Xander. Without looking up, he made the one gesture that he knew would speak volumes to Angel. Turning his head to the side, he bared his neck and whispered, “Sire.”

Angel’s mouth dropped open in shock. He had never imagined that he would see Spike make this submissive offer to him ever again. They had not renewed their blood bond in over a hundred years. He placed his hands on Spike’s shoulders, and leaned forward to place a soft kiss on the side of his favored childe’s neck, then sat back. When Spike’s eyes rose to meet his, he smiled. “No, Spike,” he said. “After all this time, you and I are met as equals.” At the ritual words they shared a long look, and the younger vampire shifted over to make room on the chaise. Angel settled into the space, pressing the entire length of his body against Spike’s side. He threw an arm around Spike’s shoulders and drew the blond head down against his chest, and began stroking his silky hair. Silently, they watched Buffy and Xander.

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