Long Time Gone

Yin Again

Part Twenty-Six

“Oh, shit!” Angel exclaimed as the two vampires and two humans walked into the kitchen. Cordelia was sprawled on the floor, her head resting in Willow’s lap as her body thrashed from side to side. Dawn sat on the floor next to her with a pen and a notepad, writing down the words that Cordelia gritted out painfully. Buffy pushed past the men and went to the cabinet, grabbing a prescription bottle and a glass. “Vision,” she said to Xander as she filled the glass with water. Cordelia went limp in Willow’s embrace, then opened her eyes and grimaced. “Ow,” she said succinctly, taking the proffered painkillers and water from Buffy. “You’d think the Powers would be a little nicer to me and make that not hurt so badly,” she complained.

Dawn helped her up and settled her at the table, where she dropped her head into her hands. “What did you see?” Angel asked her gently. She grimaced again. “The usual, death and destruction, blah, blah, blah,” she joked. She looked up at Dawn. “Drusilla is going to attack the girls, the Slayerettes, in Sunnydale. I think it’s tonight. I saw her attacking your old house with three or four other vampires.” Dawn got up and rushed to the phone to call the house and warn the girls. Once she returned to the table, she looked around the group. “Well,” she said, “I guess this is what we’ve been waiting for.”

“Yeah,” Cordelia said, “I get that, but why do the Powers care? They usually don’t give a crap unless they’re involved in some way.” Angel answered her, “There’s really no way to know, but they are protective of future prophecies. It could be that there’s someone at the house who is needed later, and that person will get killed if Dru isn’t stopped.” Buffy broke in, “Doesn’t really matter anyway – we’ve got to get there. Dawn, how soon can you and Jase and Sara be ready to go?” Dawn answered, “Soon,” and dashed away to get ready. Buffy turned to Xander. “We have a van that’s sun proofed, so the rest of us can take that.” He nodded, and she turned to Willow. “Wills, we need you with us; are you up to doing a little mojo at the house? Just a few wards and bolstering the de-invite spells?” The redhead nodded.

Angel looked at his Seer, whose head was resting on her arms. “Cordelia won’t be in any shape to travel until tomorrow. Will you be OK here?” he asked. Xander spoke up, “I think I can find you some company for tonight, if you’re up to it, Cordy. I think maybe Brooks could be persuaded to come hang for a while.” Cordelia smiled wanly at his light tone and nodded. With their assignments decided the group dispersed. Angel swept Cordelia up in his arms to take her to bed, followed by Buffy, who carried the water glass and prescription bottle.

Xander remained seated at the table. Spike walked behind him and dropped his hands onto the human’s shoulders. “This is it, isn’t it?” Xander said. “Yes, luv, this is it. You ready?” the vampire’s voice was soft. Xander leaned back, and Spike wrapped his arms around his lover, bringing his head down to nuzzle against the deliciously warm neck. After a moment, Xander’s arms came up to wrap around Spike’s neck. “I’m ready,” Xander said. “I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”

Willow opted to join Dawn and her family in the SUV, while Spike, Xander, Angel and Buffy piled into the plain van that had no windows except those in front. The back of the van was curtained off from the front, rendering it completely lightproof. Buffy settled into the driver’s seat, and gave Xander a dirty look when he grinned and looked at her questioningly. “Yes,” she groaned, “I finally learned to drive well enough for Angel.” At the vampire’s snort from the back she added, “OK, OK – he still won’t let me drive his convertible.” She rolled her eyes.

Xander climbed into the back and settled himself next to Spike on one of the two long seats. Angel sat sideways across the other. Spike and Xander exchanged a look as Buffy pulled the van out of the parking garage with a squeal of tires. “We may get killed,” Xander whispered, “but at least we don’t have to sing.”

Shortly after they reached the highway, Spike shifted around in his seat so that he could lean back against Xander, who obligingly wrapped his arms around the vampire’s chest, holding him close. He snuggled his nose into Spike’s neck and inhaled the scent of smoke and rain. Within minutes, both men were asleep. Angel sighed as he looked at them. He rarely got to see his childe so relaxed. In sleep, Spike’s features dropped the ever-present tension – he was beautiful. His blond hair gleamed against Xander’s dark sweater, and a few tendrils of the human’s sable hair had fallen forward against his pale neck. Xander’s face smoothed out in repose, and Angel took the opportunity to really look at the young man. The years had changed him, bringing new lines and furrows to his handsome face, yet he still had the same cupid’s bow mouth that Angel had noticed the first time he’d seen the boy. He saw a notepad on the floor of the van and stooped to retrieve it. It had a pencil secured in the metal coil at its top, and he eased it free and began to sketch the study in contrasts before him.

The only sounds in the van were Xander’s breathing, Buffy singing along quietly to the radio and the gentle scratch of pencil on paper.

Part Twenty-Seven

A covered carport had been added to the Summers’ house on Revello Drive years before. Buffy pulled the van under its shelter and released her seatbelt. She parted the curtain behind her and smiled. The two vampires and Xander were all asleep. Xander was leaning against the armrest of the seat with Spike clutched to his chest. Angel was sprawled across the back seat. His body was leaned forward; his head was pillowed on his arm, which rested on the seat in front of him. His other arm was draped over the seat, and his hand rested atop one of Xander’s, which in turn rested atop one of Spike’s.

“Angel,” she whispered, “Come on, honey, wake up.” Buffy knew that there would be a row if Spike woke and saw Angel touching Xander; she was well aware of the younger vampire’s jealous nature. Angel’s chocolate eyes opened, and he smiled at his mate. She gestured at his hand, and he nodded and pulled it back. Buffy leaned further into the back and tapped Xander on the knee. “Wake up, everybody, we’re here,” she announced in a louder voice. She levered herself out of the front seat and came around to open the sliding door. The three men yawned and stretched.

As they piled out of the van, Willow and Dawn came out the back door. Buffy hugged her sister, and then her best friend. “Mojo all … mojo-ed?” she asked. The witch nodded. “We’re warded out the wazoo, and all vamps except for our two are really, really uninvited.” Buffy nodded. Angel walked around the side of the van and enfolded Buffy in his arms. She looked a little surprised, but hugged him back tightly. “Good morning, sleepyhead,” she giggled. He kissed her temple, then released her and walked into the house. Buffy and Willow exchanged a look. Buffy shook her head in bemusement. “I don’t know what that’s all about,” she said, “but I am not complaining.” Willow shrugged. The redhead looked around the far side of the van for Spike and Xander, and then pulled back, blushing. She grabbed one of Dawn’s and one of Buffy’s arms and pulled them forward. All three girls took in the sight of their childhood friend being thoroughly kissed by William the Bloody. Willow cleared her throat and the two men separated reluctantly.

Inside, the house was controlled chaos. Dawn explained to Xander that she and Jase owned a house nearby and that the family’s old house was more of a command center. None of the potentials actually lived there, but someone was on duty at all times. Most of the potentials had settled down in Sunnydale. Several attended college, a few of them even had burgeoning families. Dawn took Xander around and introduced him to those he didn’t know, while Angel and Spike went to the kitchen for blood. Everyone gathered in the old dining room for a briefing. Dawn took the floor and explained what they knew, which was not much. A tall, dark-haired girl reported on the whereabouts of all of the potentials, and it was decided that they should simply wait for nightfall and for Dru to make her move. The meeting dispersed.

Xander wandered into the den and settled on one end of the couch. Spike stripped off his duster and tossed it over a chair. He walked back to Xander, pushed his knees apart and settled on the floor between his lover’s feet, leaning back and resting his chin on Xander’s leg. Xander absently stroked the soft hair at the nape of the vampire’s neck. Glancing over to a pile of schoolbooks on the end table, he laughed softly. He reached out to snag one and turned it over in his hands. “I used this book when I was in school,” he laughed. “There’s a poem in here that I loved …” His voice trailed off as he flipped through the pages. After a few fruitless minutes, he consulted the book’s table of contents and found what he was looking for. “You’ll like this one, Will,” he told Spike. “It’s my favorite, but Shari found it offensive – she took it too literally.” He cleared his throat and began to read.

“Nothing is plumb, level or square:
the studs are bowed, the joists
are shaky by nature, no piece fits
any other piece without a gap
or pinch, and bent nails
dance all over the surfacing
like maggots. By Christ
I am no carpenter. I built
the roof for myself, the walls
for myself, the floors
for myself, and got
hung up in it myself. I
danced with a purple thumb
at this house-warming, drunk
with my prime whiskey: rage.
Oh I spat rage's nails
into the frame-up of my work:
it held. It settled plumb,
level, solid, square and true
for that great moment. Then
it screamed and went on through,
skewing as wrong the other way.
God damned it. This is hell,
but I planned it, I sawed it,
I nailed it, and I
will live in it until it kills me.
I can nail my left palm
to the left-hand cross-piece but
I can't do everything myself
I need a hand to nail the right,
a help, a love, a you, a wife.”

Spike laughed. “The missus thought you were insulting her, eh?” Xander gave him a rueful look. “Yeah – too literal. She thought I was bullshitting her when I gave her my interpretation of it.” Spike held out his hand and Xander passed the book to him. Spike stood and walked over to the discarded duster, digging his glasses out of one of the pockets and putting them on. Back on the floor, he read the poem slowly, twice. “OK, poetry boy, give me your interpretation,” he challenged. Xander smiled. “It’s about accepting your life for what it is – living in the house that you built, no matter how shoddy the construction. It turns out that the poet wrote it while he was in some sort of mid-life crisis. The part I like, though, is when the house settles for one perfect moment ‘plumb, level, solid, square and true for that great moment’. Of course, it all goes straight to Hell in the next second, but that’s not the point. What?” Spike was staring at him with his mouth hanging open.

“Sorry, pet, I didn’t quite expect the literary criticism. You surprised me.” Spike raised an eyebrow when Xander’s grin widened. “I like surprising you,” he said. “Good thing,” Spike observed, “because you’ve done nothing but since you showed up.” He turned back to the book in his hands, settling himself back against the warm human. He flipped pages, stopping now and then to read a few lines, and then moving on. “Here we are,” he said, finding something he liked.

“The grave's a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.
Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapped power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.”

It was Xander’s turn to look dumbstruck. Spike’s voice rolled over the words, infusing them with heat as they dripped from his lips. Blue eyes met brown, and a wicked smile curved the vampire’s lips. Xander shook his head. “You could read the phone book and make it sound sexy, couldn’t you, Will?” he asked.  Spike laid the book on the floor and rose to kneel between Xander’s legs, resting his forearms on his lover’s thighs. He leaned in and brushed their lips together lightly. They shared a tender kiss, and then Xander grasped Spike’s hands to pull him onto the couch. He pushed him to the opposite end, and then leaned down to retrieve the textbook. Handing the book to Spike, Xander reclined back and plopped his feet into the vampire’s lap. “Read to me,” he demanded imperiously. Laughing, Spike opened the book and began reading.

Xander heard a small noise from the door and looked up to see Willow standing there. She was giving them the dreaded puppy-eyed look that Xander could not resist. He prodded Spike’s thigh and looked at him questioningly. Not faltering in his reading, the vampire nodded. Willow was instantly by Xander’s side, kicking off her shoes and snuggling into the crook of her best friend’s arm. She turned on her side and draped an arm over his chest. He pulled her close and rubbed circles on her back. Eyes closed, they both listened to Spike, who read at a measured pace, his accent returning to the clean diction and precise pronunciation of his Victorian origins. He finished the poem he was reading and paused. Willow spoke, not raising her head from Xander’s chest. “Read something epic, Spike. I could listen to you all day,” she said dreamily. Xander grunted his agreement.

“As you wish, my lady,” was Spike’s gallant reply. After flipping through the book for a moment he began to read again. Xander drifted, eyes closed, hearing and feeling the deep rumble of Spike’s voice as he read the opening stanzas of Book 1 of Paradise Lost. He could tell that his lover was really enjoying reading to them, and marveled once again in the changes in Spike. The Big Bad of the old days may have liked poetry, but he would never have agreed to read it to any of the Scoobies, and certainly not while wearing reading glasses. Xander resolutely pushed thoughts of the upcoming evening out of his head and concentrated on Spike’s voice.

Xander felt Spike shift, and noticed that Angel had joined them. The large vampire had settled himself on the floor at Spike’s feet, leaning back against the sofa. Xander found that he was more surprised by Angel taking such a submissive place to sit, than by his seeking out company. Over the few days in L.A. Xander had seen the changes in Angel, too.  Where before, isolation and outright broodiness had kept Angel apart, he had become much more open. The guy still wasn’t outgoing or anything, but Xander had to admit that he didn’t mind having him around. Just as Angel settled, Buffy walked past the door of the den. She did a classic double take, and stood for a moment with her mouth hanging open. At a gesture from her mate, she walked into the room and folded herself into his arms, resting her head on his chest and closing her eyes. Spike and Xander exchanged a soft smile and the vampire continued to read.

NOTE: Xander’s poem is “Love Song: I and Thou” by Alan Dugan; Spike’s is the latter half of “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell.

Part Twenty-Eight

Xander was alone, sitting on the back steps of the Summers’ house, waiting. Over Spike’s objections, it had been decided that he would split off from the group, hoping to draw Drusilla out. Buffy, Angel and Spike were lurking about, but trying to stay far enough from the house so as not to be sensed by Dru. Xander lifted his hand to touch the small gold cross that hung from a thin leather thong there. Dawn had fastened it around his neck and pressed a stake into his hand as he left the house. Taking no chances, he’d also stopped by the van to retrieve his chain whip from his weapons bag, and it was coiled in his pocket, the handle hanging out for easy retrieval.

By the time Spike had finished reading Book 1 of Paradise Lost, Dawn, Jase, Sara and two of the potentials had joined the group in the den, listening to the vampire’s soothing voice. The setting of the sun and the subsequent arrival of more potentials had broken everyone out of the calm quiet suffusing the room. Back in the dining room, Dawn gave everyone their assignments, sending the Slayer, the vampires and Xander outside, keeping the girls safely inside with Willow ready to cast any needed protection spells.

Xander breathed deeply and tried to stay relaxed. He rose to his feet and leaned against the porch rail with feigned nonchalance. He heard a rustling noise from the yard’s periphery and pointedly did not turn toward it. His hand went to his pocket. A vampire burst from the trees and ran at him. Xander pivoted, drawing the chain whip from his pocket. He swung it in a complete circle over his head, and then struck out at the approaching vampire. As the end of the jointed metal strand wrapped itself around the vampire’s neck, Xander closed the distance between them and caught the end of the chain whip in his free hand. With a snapping motion, he pulled his hands apart as hard as he could. The metal whip closed and decapitated the unfortunate vampire, which dusted immediately.

Xander coiled the whip and placed it back in his pocket before he turned toward the sound of soft clapping. His breath left his body as he turned and saw Drusilla standing at the edge of the tree line. She walked forward slowly, still clapping her hands. Her long black hair curled over her shoulders and spilled down the front of her plain, black top. She was wearing a pair of plain black pants and what appeared to be boots. Xander had a sudden thought that he’d never seen her in anything but romantic dresses, and that she looked infinitely more dangerous in the modern attire.

“Oh, kitten,” she crooned. “You’ve got teeth now!” Her voice was light, and she laughed merrily. “My little plaything never had a chance.” Xander took a deep breath and gave her a sardonic smile that came nowhere near touching his eyes. “Good grief, Dru,“ he said, “that one still had the grave dirt on his jacket. Did you make him especially for me? Ten minutes ago?” She moved in closer, and he turned his body to keep her directly in front of him. Her black eyes were snapping, and he thought that she looked very beautiful.

“Now, now, kitten, don’t get all growly with me. I just wanted you to have something to play with. I can be a sweet mummy when I choose. I got you a toy and you broke it, and you didn’t even say thank you.” Xander snorted, “Oh, sorry – I didn’t mean to be rude. Thank you, crazy person, for the evil undead toy – it was great while it lasted.” She tilted her head and stepped closer. Suddenly, her expression hardened, and her eyes became cold and glittering. She sniffed the air and advanced another step. “My Spike is here,” she said, “and my Daddy, too. And that screechy Slayer girl. They’re nearby, wanting to protect you, little one.” She paused and began circling Xander slowly. He circled with her. She sniffed again, and then suddenly vamped out. Sniffing once again, she stopped moving and looked directly into Xander’s eyes. “I see Spike has been doing more than wanting. His smell is all over you, kitten. Spike’s been a naughty, naughty boy. He will have to pay for touching you.”

Xander snorted again. “Let’s leave my sex life out of this, OK?” He took a deep breath and asked the question that had been burning in his brain for six months. “Why did you kill my wife, Dru?” At his words, she smiled brilliantly, and Xander thought that it was the most horrifying sight he’d ever seen. Her tongue flicked out to sweep over sharp teeth and fangs. “Oh, your little china doll,” she sighed in remembered pleasure. “She was a tasty one, so hot and sweet; and the tiny one within.” The vampire moaned and licked her lips again, and Xander saw white. He swung the chain whip again. Drusilla put her hand up before her face and caught it, not noticing as it cut into her palm. She snatched the weapon from his hand and dropped it on the ground. Xander stalked closer to the vampire, his words reverberating with his steps. “Why. Did. You. Kill. Her. You. Bitch,” he demanded, stopping barely two feet from her.

She looked down at the ground in an almost shy gesture, and then her head snapped back up, their eyes meeting. She dropped all pretenses of shyness and craziness, and Xander knew he was looking into the eyes of a pure demon. Her words were as measured as his had been. “Because. I. Wanted. To.”

Xander lunged at her with his stake, and pinned her to the ground, its point at her heart. His eyes filled with tears, but they did not fall. “One last question,“ he ground out through clenched teeth, “and I do mean last. How did you get into my house?” She giggled merrily, and he pressed the stake further into her chest until she stopped. They stared at one another for a long moment, and then a smile curved her lips. “Oh, kitten,” she sighed, “what makes you think that was the first time I had been there? Your little china doll, she was so sweet. So eager to help the nice lady whose car had broken down. She even invited me in and gave me a glass of water. That was over a year ago.” Her sparkling eyes looked up into his shocked ones. “Really, kitten,” she chided, ”you should have warned her about inviting strangers into your home.” She bucked under him and launched his body across the yard.

She picked up the chain whip from the ground, walked over to him and dropped it lightly onto his chest. He lay on the ground, stunned. “It’s not yet time for you to join me,” she said. “But, be a dear and give Spike a message. Tell him I can’t wait for him to meet his little brother.” She turned and disappeared into the trees. Xander sat up on the dewed grass and allowed his tears to fall. When Spike’s arms wrapped around him, he leaned into his lover and sobbed. Xander hardly noticed when Angel and Spike hauled him to his feet and led him into the house.

They manhandled him up the stairs and into one of the bedrooms. Angel helped Spike remove the unresisting human’s shoes and shirt and put him into bed. Spike toed off his boots and climbed into bed with his lover, enfolding the shaking body in his arms. He gave Angel a grim smile as the dark vampire left the room, turning off the overhead light and closing the door softly. Spike leaned against the headboard with Xander curled into his chest; the two men sat silently in a circle of lamplight.

Spike rubbed soothing circles on Xander’s back, lightly tracing his fingers over smooth, warm skin. He had been close enough to hear every word Drusilla had spoken. Aside from that, he had also been close enough to observe her demeanor, and that scared him most of all. She was even more lucid than she had been at their last meeting. She was strong, controlled and as sane as he’d ever seen her and he didn’t know which trait bothered him the most. Spike was positive that he didn’t like her comment about his “little brother”, knowing that it meant Dru had taken another childe. A childe of Dru’s that had actually been raised by her would likely be vicious, unstable and at least partially insane.

Spike sighed and looked down at the stricken human in his arms. Xander clung to him weakly, his eyes open but unseeing. His tears had stopped, but he was unresponsive. Spike understood. He knew that Drusilla’s chiding comment that Xander should have warned his wife about inviting people in was reverberating in his lover’s head. He could almost hear Xander’s anguish, knowing that he was berating himself for not telling Shari about his past and the terrible things that he knew to be true.

Spike gathered Xander’s body more tightly against his own and rested the dark head on his shoulder. “Xan, sweetheart,” he whispered, “come back to me now. You can’t stay locked up in that head of yours all night. I need you out here with me.” Warm arms tightened around him, but there was no other response. Spike bent his head to Xander’s ear and continued speaking softly. “Come on, luv, as much as I’d love to, we can’t stay like this all night. Come on back now. Please. Can you do that for me?”  Xander sighed and tightened his arms even more, and rubbed his face against his lover’s shoulder. He drew and released a couple of shaky breaths, then swallowed audibly. Sighing again he said in a small voice, “I’m here.” Spike hugged him. “Good. Glad you’re back.”

They sat quietly for a few more moments. Xander shifted, and Spike released him enough for the mortal to turn so he was lying on his back between Spike’s legs, with his own legs straightened out in front of him and his back resting against the vampire’s hard chest. Spike hooked his chin over Xander’s shoulder and kept his arms wrapped around him in a loose embrace.  “She was right,” Xander said, his voice toneless. “I should have told Shari. I should have warned her.” Spike stroked a hand lightly up and down Xander’s arm. “God, Xan,” he said quietly, “what were you supposed to do? ‘Oh, honey, by the way – vampires are real, so don’t ever invite one in, OK? I’ll be in the basement if you need me.’”

Xander thought for a moment. “How about, ‘I’m going to be home a little late tonight, so I just wanted to tell you that most of the really creepy stuff in fairytales is true, and the mouth of Hell is located in California and do I need to pick anything up on my way home?’” He laughed shortly. “I didn’t want to tell her that stuff. It should never have touched her.” Spike was happy that his voice was getting stronger, but he could hear the deep sadness and regret in it. He rubbed his face against Xander’s silky hair and hugged him tighter. “Xan, you know she was just pushing your buttons, taunting you. It’s part of the game.” Spike’s voice was tight.

Xander sat up suddenly, throwing off Spike’s arms. He turned to face the vampire, his eyes alive with anger. “This is not a game,” he gritted out. Spike closed his hands on Xander’s shaking shoulders and ran them up and down his arms soothingly. “I know, sweetheart. It’s not a game to you – but it is a game to her. Fucking Angelus taught it to her. It’s how he made her. He taught her that it’s not enough to take the one you want; you have to destroy them first.” Spike sighed softly.  “Angelus would spend months stalking his prey. He’d follow them; learn all about their life, then destroy every single thing that was important to his victim. Why do you think she’s so crazy?” Spike kept up the soothing contact until Xander relaxed back onto the bed and leaned against his chest again.

“She wasn’t crazy when he started with her,” Spike mused. “She did have second sight, but she wasn’t actually insane. The combination of seeing the future and knowing what was going to happen and then having it actually happen is what broke her mind. Then he turned her and threw the demon into the mix.” Xander clapped his hands together. “Blam! Super psycho – just add blood.” His voice was still strained. Spike nodded against Xander’s temple. “Pretty much. I don’t know what’s changed, though. She’s as lucid as I’ve ever seen her. She was fucking scary out there. Those fledges she brought along were just cannon fodder; the two I killed were fresh out of the grave.” Xander nodded. “She didn’t come here to do any real damage – tonight was just part of the hunt. Shit, Spike!” he exclaimed suddenly. “God damn it – I had her – I had the stake in her chest. I could have ended this, and I let her distract me. Fuck!” He buried his face in his hands. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”

Spike rubbed the back of his head. “It’s OK, Xan – she was unlikely to let you get her. She could have thrown you off at any time. She just let you pin her so she could mess with your mind. She wants you to stew for a while. She wants you to be afraid.” Xander turned to face Spike, brown eyes searching blue ones. “I am afraid, Spike. I’m afraid that I’ll screw up and not avenge Shari and Lex’s deaths; that I’ll let them down. I’m afraid that she’s going to get someone else I care about – Buffy or Willow or Dawn or you.” Spike held his gaze, and reached out to grasp Xander’s hand. “I know you’re afraid,” he said in a low voice. “We’re all afraid. Hell, I’m afraid. Big Bad Chicken, that’s me.” He drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. His eye’s never left Xander’s.

“Everyone leaves me, Xander. Angelus left me and Dru left me and Buffy left me. Someday you’ll leave me, whether it’s because of you or me or outside forces or if it’s because you’re mortal and you’ll die someday – doesn’t matter.” He shook his head ruefully. “I’m afraid of that; terrified, actually. I’m afraid of being left again, of not being loved enough again. But, damn it, Xan; I’m more afraid of not taking the chance than I am of the pain. I’ve been hiding for the last nine years because I didn’t have the balls to take a chance. Then - out of nowhere - you come to me; and you’re so differennt, but you’re still the same. And I couldn’t stop wanting to be close to you, wanting you. In nine years, I was never even tempted to try. Then you walk up to my front door and I was lost.” Xander smiled softly and laid his hand against Spike’s cheek as the vampire continued speaking.

“I once told Buffy and Angel that I was love’s bitch.” Spike turned his head and kissed Xander’s palm, then brought his eyes back to the human’s. “Well, I still am. I know this is terrible timing, and probably the last thing you want to hear, but I’ve got to say it. I’m falling in love with you, Xander. I know you aren’t ready to even think along those lines, but I can’t hide anymore – it hurts too fucking much. But, I can wait for you. I’m good at waiting.”

It was Xander’s turn to reach out and pull Spike to his chest and hold him tightly. He was stunned at what the vampire had told him. He had already acknowledged to himself that he was starting to care for Spike, but had pushed any deep analysis of his feelings away, to be considered after the business of avenging his wife and son. He concentrated on the feel and scent of the man in his arms, breathing him in with each breath. He turned his mind to Shari, and realized that the hurt was not as bad as it had been. He could visualize her beautiful, delicate face without feeling a sharp stab in his heart. He smiled sadly. He bent his head and kissed Spike’s temple. “Am I?” he whispered into soft blond waves. “Are you what?” Spike said softly. Xander smiled. “Earlier, you called me sweetheart. Am I your sweetheart?” Spike snuggled his head deeper into Xander’s chest. “Yes, Xan, you are. If you can call me ‘baby’, then I can call you ‘sweetheart’. Sometimes. When we’re alone. Then I can go buy myself a dress and have my name legally changed to Nancy. The things I do for you.” Xander could feel the grin on Spike’s face.

They pulled apart and looked into each other’s eyes. When Xander looked into Spike’s eyes he saw concern, and a little bit of laughter, and what he now recognized as love. Spike loves me, he thought. And why is this not freaking me out? Their lips came together in a light kiss, their arms wrapping around to hold one another tightly. Xander trailed soft kisses across Spike’s face and up to his temple, and then he rubbed his cheek against it. “I guess we should go down and figure out our next move, huh?” he asked reluctantly. Spike’s reply was equally reluctant. “I guess so. Let’s get this done so we can go home to bed.”

Part Twenty-Nine

It was good to be home, Spike thought, as he dropped their bags inside the front door. Xander and Willow came up the steps slowly, waving to Buffy as she drove away in the van. As the two humans entered the house, Spike turned and wrapped his arms around Xander, who hugged him back tightly. Willow pressed herself against one side of the hug, and they each shifted an arm to envelop her. When the two men leaned their heads in and began kissing, she slipped out of their grasp and closed the front door. She leaned back against it and shamelessly stared at them.

They look good together, she thought, light and dark, yin and yang – but more hard than soft. Both of them all angles and planes, from their faces and their chests to Xander’s knee, crooked between Spike’s legs, pressing their thighs together. Their kiss deepened, and Willow could see their tongues dueling, could see them licking and nipping at one another’s lips. Spike’s hand carded through Xander’s dark hair and curled there, pulling just a little. Xander’s hands were on Spike’s back, pressing and kneading the muscles, one slipping lower to curve around a narrow hip.

Spike’s eyes were closed, his dark lashes fanned out on porcelain cheeks. Xander’s were squeezed shut, as if he was trying to push his thoughts and feelings into the vampire’s mind through sheer force. Willow saw Spike’s eyes flutter open, and the vampire’s brow creased when he saw the intense expression on his lover’s face. He pulled back, and broke the kiss with some difficulty. As their lips parted, Xander bent his head and began kissing and sucking at Spike’s neck, while the vampire stroked the back of his head soothingly. Spike’s eyes met Willow’s. “Guest room’s the second door on the left upstairs, Red,” he said, “I’m gonna take him on up.” She smiled and nodded, then walked into the living room to watch TV and give them some privacy. Spike turned Xander around enough to get him to walk, and led him upstairs.

Spike closed the door of the master bedroom behind them. Xander had walked a couple of steps into the room, and stood looking around. The room was not what he expected. It was decorated in light neutral colors: predominantly cream, white and tan. The furniture was light wood, a sitting area in the large suite held two chairs and a loveseat upholstered in cream, strewn with sage green pillows. The bed was a huge expanse of white and cream, with lots of pillows and a soft down comforter. Wooden blinds covered the room’s windows, and Xander could see blackout shades behind the blinds. The bed had a library headboard that was filled with an assortment of books, a desk in the corner held more books. The floor was hardwood covered by a faded oriental rug that picked up the sage and tan colors elsewhere in the room. It was beautiful, soothing and wholly unlike Xander’s perception of what Spike’s bedroom would be.

Cool arms slipped around his waist, and Xander leaned back against his lover. “I like your room,” he said, “It’s nice.” Spike hugged him and kissed his neck. “Thanks, luv.” Xander turned in his arms and kissed him very lightly. Their lips brushed together gently, then more insistently. When Spike moaned, Xander slipped his tongue into his mouth and explored, tasting the inside of his lips, and then running it over his teeth and up against the roof of his mouth. Spike’s tongue came forward to slide against Xander’s, and he sucked at it, earning a hiss.

Spike broke the kiss and reached down to tug the hem of Xander’s thin sweater from his jeans and pull it over his head. Xander kicked off his shoes and bent to take off his socks. As he straightened, the vampire reached out and unbuttoned his jeans, then eased the zipper down. Xander shimmied his hips and the jeans fell to puddle at his feet, leaving him completely naked. He raised his hands and let them rest lightly on Spike’s hips as they kissed softly again. Spike moved back a step to look at his lover. He took in every inch. His gaze started at tanned bare feet; it climbed up muscular calves strewn with curling dark hairs to strong thighs that cradled Xander’s jutting erection. With his eyes, Spike traced the curved lines of Xander’s hips and every dip and swell of his defined abdomen and chest. Finally, he looked at his lover’s tanned throat and up to his face. He couldn’t decide which was sexier; the complete lack of shyness or embarrassment or the frankly sexual light in Xander’s chocolate eyes. Placing one hand on the center of Xander’s chest, he said, “Go sit on the bed, luv.”

The dark man did as he was asked, settling himself against a pile of pillows on top of the covers. He tucked one hand behind his head and left the other one comfortably on his abdomen. He sprawled slightly, leaving his legs splayed open as his hand lazily traced the muscles of his midriff. Spike felt the front of his jeans becoming damp as his cock leaked at the wanton sight before him. He turned off the overhead light and walked to the window. He opened the shutters and rolled the shade up, allowing silvery moonlight to spill into the room. Its glow cast a faintly blue light on the room. Spike stood in the shaft of moonlight. He dropped his duster from his shoulders, catching it before it hit the floor and tossing it over the desk chair.

He lifted one foot to the bedside table and propped it there to unlace his boot. He removed it and his sock, and then repeated the process with the other foot. He unbuttoned his red shirt, and eased it down his arms slowly. Once it was off, he pulled his black tee shirt off over his head. He reached down and unbuttoned the top button of his jeans, then stopped and looked at the bed. “You’re so beautiful in the moonlight, Xan,” he said, his voice rough with passion. “The only place you look better is in the sunlight.” Xander smiled at his lover and gestured for him to continue taking off his jeans. Spike unbuttoned each button slowly and deliberately, and then eased the tight jeans over his hips and down his legs. After stepping out of the jeans, he stood and smiled. “Either way, you look good in my bed.” His tone was warm and possessive. “I promise you, luv, when this is all over I’m going to keep you right where you are for a solid week.” He bit back a moan when he saw Xander’s whiskey-colored eyes darken to ebony and his cock twitch against his flat belly.

Spike walked to the edge of the bed. He groaned when Xander reached out and drew a finger from the base of his cock to the tip, slowly tracing a line of fire. The finger eased around the head, then slid back down, tracing the prominent vein. The single finger was joined by the rest of Xander’s hand, slipping beneath Spike’s balls to cup and squeeze, then to slide delicately across the sensitive strip of skin behind them. Spike’s knees quaked at the sensations, and then faltered altogether as Xander leaned forward to repeat the motions of his hand with his mouth. “Holy Shit, Xan, so hot – you feel so fucking good,” the vampire panted, and then yelped as his entire cock was engulfed in wet heat with one swift move. Xander bobbed his head, sliding Spike’s cock in and out, trailing his tongue along the underside and scraping lightly with his teeth.

He pulled all the way back and stopped, with the leaking crown just resting against his lips, and looked up into Spike’s eyes. “I love hearing you talk, Will. I love the things you say. You make me crazy. Tell me,” he said, letting his lips brush against his lover’s cock with each word. “Tell … tell you what?” Spike rasped, his hands clutching on Xander’s shoulders. He could see the fluid that dripped from his cock shining on Xander’s lips, and the sight made nearly made him come on the spot. “Anything, everything,” Xander replied, then drew back and deep-throated Spike as far as he could. Spike’s mind went blank. There was no way in hell he was going to be able to speak. Not when he could feel the head of his dick pressing against the edge of Xander’s tight throat. Especially not if he swallowed against it, which he did. Broken noises fell from the vampire’s lips, and he clutched Xander harder to stop himself from thrusting.

Xander pulled back again, laughing. “Care to repeat that in English?” he asked. Spike panted harshly and tried not to fall over. “I don’t think it translates. It might have been ‘gah’, I think,” he said. “Can I sit down before I fall down?” Xander slid over on the bed and pulled Spike down to him. He wrapped his arms around the smaller body and simultaneously rubbed his erection against Spike’s hip and kissed and licked his neck. “Tell me,” he demanded. Spike’s hips matched Xander’s rhythm, and he began speaking against his lover’s neck. “I can’t get enough of you, your heat. You feel so good, Xan. You make me burn. Tonight, when I saw you kill that fledge, I nearly came in my pants. You were so gorgeous, striking like a snake. I wanted to run to you and throw you over the porch rail and fuck you blind.”

Xander groaned, lost in Spike’s words. “Yeah,” he panted, “fucking me blind – that sounds good. Can we do that now?” The vampire laughed, “Yes, love – we can do that now. The lube’s in my coat pocket, wanna get it?” Xander kissed him hard, then scrambled off the bed and crossed the room to Spike’s duster, hanging on the desk chair. He dug through the pocket until his hand closed on the mostly-depleted tube. Before he could turn around, one of Spike’s hard hands closed on his hip, the other snatched the tube from him. “Hands on the chair back, Xan, right now.” Spike’s voice was low and rough. Xander swept the duster onto the floor and grabbed the back of the chair, automatically bending over and spreading his legs. He rested his forehead on the back of the chair and waited.

It was a short wait. Within seconds, he felt Spike’s questing fingers slide down the crease of his ass and circle his pucker. Spike’s cool lips brushed his ear, and the vampire spoke in the same rhythm as his fingers circled. “Don’t think I can wait, Xan… wanna make it good for you, but I can’t wait. You mind taking it a little rough?” In answer, Xander arched his back and pushed against the slick hand. “Rough’s good, I can do rough,” he panted, and then gasped and groaned as two fingers breached him in a fast, strong thrust. He groaned again as the fingers began to pump in and out of him. “Oh, God, Spike – so good … want you in me – oh!” His frantic words broke off as a third finger pushed into him. He was reduced to a keening wail for four or five thrusts, and then a frustrated groan as the fingers left him altogether. “Can’t wait, have to be in you, can’t wait, God – you’re so hot inside, burning me, can’t wait,” Spike chanted as he lined himself up and pushed inside with one long, fast stroke that left him completely buried in the human’s heat. Xander’s barely prepared ass clenched and fluttered around the intrusion, and the vampire bit completely through his lip in an effort to hold back the orgasm that threatened to burst from him at the feel of the human’s hot softness surrounding him.

For a long second, they were both completely still and silent. Regaining a thread of control, Spike pulled back, almost completely out of Xander’s body, and slammed himself back in hard enough to lift the taller man up onto his toes. Xander shouted, Spike snarled. Spike set a brutal pace, fucking Xander as hard and as fast as he possibly could, demon to the fore. Xander felt the hardness of Spike’s ridged face against his back, and Spike’s fingers digging into his hips. His own cock was crushed between his body and the back of the chair, but he didn’t care. The raw, primal energy of their coupling had transported him beyond pain. All he could do was feel, caught up in a maelstrom of sensation and Spike’s cock filling him over and over again with stretching, burning, aching pleasure. He felt himself coming without having even touched himself, shooting against the back of the chair and his own stomach and chest, and knew he was making animal noises, gasping and crying out his release.

Still Spike’s pace did not slow, as he pistoned in and out of Xander’s hot channel over and over. He smelled blood, but could tell that it wasn’t much, and he could smell no fear on his lover, only lust and excitement. He smelled the sharp scent of Xander’s come, and reached around to rub the human’s stomach, coating his hand in the slippery mess. He dropped his hand to Xander’s still-hard cock and began to pump it in time with his thrusts. Xander’s head raised up from the chair back as his back arched. “Spike,” he moaned, “bite me.” The vampire’s rhythm faltered a little and he asked, “Are you sure, love?” Xander’s head bent back further and he said, “Fuck, yes.” Spike clamped his hands down harder, one on Xander’s hip, the other around his cock, and he thrust strongly into his lover. As soon as he could tell that they were both close to orgasm, he curled himself forward over Xander’s body and sank his fangs into the almost-healed spot he’d bitten before. He snarled into Xander’s neck, sucking his blood and flooding his ass at the same time. Xander felt himself coming again, splashing the chair, Spike’s hand and himself. He heard someone screaming, “Fuck, yes!” and only vaguely registered that it was him.

Xander slowly uncurled his aching hands from the back of the chair and pushed them both back a step. He fell to his knees, taking Spike with him, their bodies still linked by Spike’s cock. They knelt on the floor, panting for long moments. Spike slipped out of Xander’s body with a small moan and laid his head on the human’s back. He rested his hand on his lover’s thigh. “You OK, Xan? I didn’t hurt you, did I?” he asked. Xander laughed weakly. “I’m good, baby – but I think your chair is shot. Shower now?” he asked hopefully. “God, yes,” the vampire replied, struggling to his feet. He pulled Xander up and wrapped his arms around him, kissing him gently on the cheek, then turning and leading him to the shower.

Halfway through getting cleaned up, Xander remembered Willow. Unfortunately, he was rinsing the soap off of his face at the time and inhaled water when his mouth dropped open in shock. Spike pounded him on the back until he stopped choking, and then asked him what the matter was. “Crap, Will – Willow is downstairs. I know she heard us,” he muttered. “People in other states heard us, Xan – you were howling at one point,” Spike informed him. “Oh, yeah – that,” Xander said with a shrug and a broad grin. They finished their shower in silence, and then returned to the bedroom. “We better go tell her it’s safe to come up to bed,” Spike said. They both pulled on sleep pants and tee shirts and headed downstairs hand in hand. They found Willow asleep on the sofa fully dressed.

Xander bent down and shook her, pulling her into a sitting position. She leaned against him and opened one eye blearily. “You guys fuck loud,” she accused in a slurred voice. Xander kissed her forehead, “Yes, we do, sorry – we can’t help it.” He stood up and started walking her toward the stairs, Spike trailing behind them with their bags from the foyer. They took her to her room, and then went back to the master bedroom. Xander looked at the back of the desk chair ruefully, and then just hung a towel over the mess. He also stopped to pull the shade and close the blinds over the window.

They had just settled back into bed when they heard a soft knock at the door. “Come in,” Spike called. The door opened a crack, and a pajama-clad Willow poked her head around it. “Are you guys naked under there?” she asked. Both men shook their heads. “Was the loud fucking on the bed?” she asked. Again, both men shook their heads. Her expression changed to the dreaded puppy-eyes. “Can I sleep with you, then?” she wheedled in a little-girl voice. Both men nodded, and she flew across the room to the bed. Xander lifted up a corner of the blanket and found himself crawled over by Willow, who settled happily between the two men, snuggling down into the pillows. Spike and Xander leaned in and kissed over her tousled head, and then each pressed a kiss to it. They each stretched an arm across the pillows above her head and intertwined their fingers. “I love you guys,” Willow mumbled sleepily. Spike and Xander’s eyes met in the gloom, as they both whispered, “Love you.”

Part Thirty

Sometime during the night, Xander had begun to thrash from side to side on the bed in the throes of a nightmare. Spike had awakened to Willow pressing back against him in her sleep, instinctively trying to move away from Xander. The vampire easily swept her up and over his body, depositing her on the far side of the bed, where she settled quietly. Sliding to the center of the bed, he gathered Xander’s body to him and wrapped the struggling mortal in his arms, crooning wordlessly and touching him gently until he calmed and fell back asleep.

To his surprise, Spike was the first to awaken again. He could tell that it was late afternoon. He was curled on his side with Xander in front of him and Willow behind, and he couldn’t remember ever feeling so deliciously warm. Spike’s arm draped over Xander’s side, and their hands were clasped against his chest.  Spike’s face was nestled between his lover’s shoulder blades. One of the vampire’s knees was drawn up to curve along Xander’s backside. The other leg was bent slightly back toward Willow, she had both of her feet curled around his ankle. Her arm was draped over his hip, and her front was pressed tightly to his back. The side of her face rested against the back of his neck and her soft breath tickled the fine hairs there. Spike mused to himself that here was no force on earth that could encourage him to move from this lovely, warm nest.

Spike could hear Xander waking; his heartbeat quickened and his circulation sped up slightly. Stretching, the human turned onto his back and gathered both Spike and Willow to him, sliding his arm under them and curling his hand over Willow’s shoulder. He brought his other hand up to trace the contours of Spike’s face, running his finger across sharp cheekbones and lush lips. Willow began to stir, and she braced a palm on Spike’s back and pushed. Getting the hint, Spike rolled across Xander’s body to vacate his spot and move into the corresponding position on the other side. Willow sighed in contentment and snuggled against her best friend’s chest. Xander kissed Spike on the forehead and nuzzled at his spiky hair. The vampire tilted his face up, silently demanding a kiss, which Xander was happy to supply. The human then carefully extricated himself from the others, pointing at the bathroom when Spike looked askance at him. When he returned, Spike and Willow were curled tightly together in the center of the bed, asleep. Xander smiled softly at them and went downstairs.

As he suspected, the smell of cooking bacon could not be ignored. Before breakfast was halfway cooked, Xander found himself fending off attacks on the large skillet full of fatty pork goodness. Willow and Spike both got smacked a couple of times with the spatula before they promised to be good and busied themselves making toast, pouring juice and coffee and heating blood. Xander slid plates of bacon and eggs onto the table and the three ate in companionable silence. After breakfast was done, Spike and Xander cleaned the kitchen while Willow called the Summers’ house to check in. As she walked back into the kitchen, she was greeted with the sight of Xander sitting in one of the dining chairs with Spike straddling his lap. She crossed the threshold just in time to see the vampire place a sweet kiss on the end of the human’s nose. She grinned broadly and said, “Awwwwww!” Spike buried his head on Xander’s shoulder, as he patted the blond head and said, “There, there, Nancy.” Spike punched him in the shoulder and stuck his tongue out at Willow. The vampire yelped in surprise when Xander stood quickly, still holding him. The yelp turned into a growl as Xander loosened his hold and allowed Spike to slide down his body until his bare feet touched the floor. Xander returned the growl and kissed his lover thoroughly, then turned him toward the door and gave him a shove in the general direction of the shower.

They trooped into the living room, and Willow reminded them that they were to be at the Summers’ house an hour after sundown. “Well,” Xander said, smiling grimly, “we better get moving.” They went upstairs and quickly got ready. Spike and Xander went to the basement and retrieved a number of weapons, while Willow checked her magic supplies and packed them into a small satchel. They loaded everything into Xander’s Mercedes and left just after sunset. Within ten minutes, they were at a florist’s shop. Willow got a dozen calla lilies; Spike and Xander again chose mixed roses, this time pink and yellow. None of them spoke until the car was parked at the cemetery. “Well, let’s go,” Willow said with determination. As soon as they were all out of the car, she stepped between the two men and linked an arm with each of them. They exchanged a look, acknowledging that they could both feel the petite witch trembling.

As they approached the grave, the men stopped and allowed Willow to cross the last ten feet to the headstone alone. They each turned to face outward, guarding her. After all, a Sunnydale cemetery after dark wasn’t the safest place in the world. Willow knelt in front of Tara’s marker, and replaced the faded lilies in the vase with fresh ones. She rummaged in her bag for a bottle of water and filled the vase. “Hey, Baby,” she whispered, “I’ve missed you.” She stroked her hand along the soft grass that grew over the grave, wishing that she were touching her lover’s smooth cheek. Reaching again into her bag, Willow removed some herbs and powders, which she crushed in her hands and sprinkled over the grave. She whispered a few short phrases in Latin and made several hand gestures, then laid her hands flat in the grass again. Within a couple of minutes, she felt a soft breeze on her face and smelled a sweet scent. A brilliant smile lighted her tear-stained face.

Willow looked up as Spike and Xander stepped up to flank her. Xander placed the roses on the grave and dropped a hand to rest on the top of Willow’s head. The soft breeze stirred again. “Honeysuckle,” Spike said, “Why do I smell honeysuckle?” He looked down at Willow, who raised her eyes to meet his. “That’s Tara’s scent – her spirit is here,” she said, with wonder in her voice. His eyes widened in surprise and a soft smile curved his lips. Xander whispered, “Hey, Tara,” and sank down next to Willow and wrapped an arm around her. They stayed for a few moments, and then got ready to leave, clearing away the old flowers. Willow reached into her bag one last time and pulled out a completely smooth, palm sized river rock. She passed her hand over it and muttered an incantation before laying it on top of Tara’s headstone. As they turned to go, Xander looked at the rock and ran his finger across the word “always” that was carved across it.

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