Shame the Devil

Yin Again

Part Five

As usual, the backstage area was a madhouse. Xander strode through the tangle of technicians, musicians, dancers, starstruck fans and assorted other bodies with the finesse of an experienced waiter navigating the lunch rush, deftly dodging and weaving. The young woman following him matched him step for step and their conversation never faltered. An outsider would think them siblings; the woman shared his height and dark coloring, with wavy chestnut hair that fell to her shoulders in an expensive tousle. Her snapping brown eyes were covered with a pair of fashionable glasses, and her lips were a bold slash of red. Her jeans and tour tee shirt clung to a curvy figure, and she carried a clipboard, occasionally making a note as she walked.

"Make sure the pyro techs have the updated set list, and point out that the last three songs have been re-ordered - we don't need another Milwaukee," Xander said, sharing a grimace with the girl as they both recalled a near-disaster in which Spike had come uncomfortably close to being barbecued. The techs responsible had been fired after receiving the most scathing bitching out from Spike that Xander could ever remember - and that was saying something.

"Anything else, Xan?" she asked, looking at him as they stopped outside Spike's dressing room.

He shrugged. "Nope, Annie, I think that's it. What are you going to do with your two weeks off?"

"Aruba!" she exclaimed, grinning. "I'm going to spend it in the sun - I don't get to work on my tan much when I travel with you guys."

Xander grinned at her. "You're not wrong about that." He sighed. "I guess I'll go see what the disaster of the day is." He turned the doorknob and took a deep breath before entering the room. Annie wisely turned and hurried off down the corridor.

"Hey, Xan," Spike said. The vampire was sitting on the sofa reading a book. As the door opened, he marked his place with a finger and looked up to greet his friend.

"Hey," Xander answered, looking around in a confused manner. "What's up?"

"Not much. Just hanging out." He turned back to his book, marking his page with a slip of paper and tossing it onto the side table. "Everything ready?"

"Yeah," Xander said slowly, looking around. He took a couple of hesitant steps into the room, and then looked around again. "Are you possessed?" he asked, plaintively.

"Not that I know of," Spike replied. "Why do you ask?"

"Well," Xander said. "You aren't stomping around in a diva snit, there aren't a dozen groupies in here sighing over your every twitch, and nothing is on fire or broken. It's just not normal."

Spike gestured to the sofa cushion beside him. "Sit." Xander sat. He jumped a little when Spike's cool hand came to rest on the middle of his back. "I know you're worried about talking to Buffy, and I thought I'd give you a break," the vampire explained.

Xander dropped his head into his hands. "I knew it. You're possessed."



"Blow me."

"In your dreams, overbite."

"Only my better ones, pet. Only my better ones."

Xander was saved from responding by the arrival of the hairdresser, makeup artist and stylist, ushered in by Annie. The brunette girl slid onto the couch next to Xander and watched as Spike was pulled to the center of the room. The stylist, an older man, began efficiently stripping the vampire's black tee shirt off over his head, replacing it with a red one. Spike snatched the black leather pants out of the man's hands and turned his back to his audience to switch them with his faded jeans. Every person in the room stared unabashedly at the pale backside that was exposed and then re-covered with the skin-tight trousers. The stylist threaded a belt around Spike's waist and buckled it, then stepped back.

"I'm done," he said. "Docs and duster are on the rack. See you tomorrow."

"Later, Phil," Spike said, as the other man left the room. Then, addressing Xander and Annie, he said, "Why do we pay him all that money, again?"

"Because he knows the guy who custom makes the pants and dusters. That, and he sometimes gets you to wear really cool stuff. Not today, of course, but sometimes," Annie said. Spike gave her the two-fingered salute and allowed the hairdresser to push him into a chair. A harried-looking man with a headset and a clipboard came to the door and gestured at Annie. She gave Xander a smile and hurried out the door. Xander sat back and watched as Spike's hair was slicked back with gel and his eyes were heavily outlined with artfully smudged kohl. The vampire stood and struck a pose for Xander, while the hair and makeup artists packed their things and swept out.

"Am I presentable, pet?" Spike asked.

"You'll do," Xander replied, climbing to his feet and running a hand through his own tousled hair, pushing the long fringe off his forehead.

"You gonna call Buffy after I go on?" Spike asked.

"Yeah," Xander sighed. "I have to."

Spike walked over and laid a hand on Xander's shoulder. "Yeah, you do." Xander couldn't help noticing for the thousandth time that Spike was considerably shorter without his boots. Spike's attitude was so large that it obscured the fact that he was slim and rather compact. Xander knew for a fact that Spike's head fitted exactly into the crook of his neck if the two of them stood in an embrace. Xander looked at the floor, then back at Spike.

"Yeah, I do," he said. "Get your boots and duster on - it's almost time."

Spike mock-sighed, "Another day, another million dollars."

They shared a "damn we're lucky" grin and Spike moved on to finish dressing. Xander sat on the couch and fingered his cell phone. Spike was just settling the leather coat around his shoulders when there was a knock on the door. The vampire shot a look at the broody man on the couch before he opened it to find another man with a headset and a clipboard. He turned back into the room.

"Come over to the stage once you're done, OK, Xan?"

Xander nodded, and Spike allowed himself to be led away.


"Hey, Buffy. It's Xander."

"Xander. I'm so happy you called." Buffy's voice was warm and friendly.

"Why?" Xander asked, truly dumbfounded.

"Because you're my friend and I've missed you," she said simply.

"Oh, shit," he groaned, "It's worse than I thought. You're going to be all nice to me, aren't you? Please don't, Buffy. I don't think I can handle nice. I really think I need yelling and cursing and name-calling."

She giggled. "You're babbling, Xander."

"Yes, yes I am," he replied. There was a long pause. "I'm sorry, Buffy," Xander said in a tiny voice. "I'm so damn sorry."

Her voice was even when she answered. "What are you sorry for, Xan? Bringing me back? Helping me heal? Hitting me? Leaving?"

"Most of it. All of it. Yes."

"Can we take them one at a time?" she asked, and then continued without waiting for an answer. "I'm glad you guys brought me back, Xan. I wasn't at the time, but I am now. Look at all the things I got to do because of what you did. I got to raise Dawn, and see her go to medical school and graduate at the top of her class. I got to be the only Slayer in the history of Slayers to retire. I got to help train a Slayer, though I hate that Faith had to die for me to be able to do it." Her voice broke a little and she stopped to clear her throat.

"I got to go to college and graduate and get a normal job. I got to see Angel get his reward - he and I got to spend a couple of years in the sun. That alone was worth the price of admission, Xander. So you don't owe me an apology for giving me another chance to live, OK?"

Xander felt a lump form in his throat as he thought about Angel. The older vampire had finally achieved his redemption five years previously. Through a mystical process called shanshu, he'd been made human. He and Buffy had been together for almost two years when he was killed. He hadn't been able to give up the fight against evil, and his human frailty had been his undoing. Spike had attended the funeral in LA, but Xander had been unable to force himself to face his friends.

"OK, Buffy," Xander said thickly. "I'm not sorry about that, then. Besides, it's terrible to have to be sad because your best friend isn't dead. My brain didn't like it."

"And the part after I came back, Xan? Don't be sorry about loving me, please don't. You were the only thing that kept me going, and I used you and hurt you so much. I'm the one who should be sorry. I was so awful to you." She sounded miserable. Xander wanted to say something, but words wouldn't come. He felt tears fill his eyes and begin to spill silently down his cheeks.

"Buffy," he said finally, and he hated the wavery quality of his voice. "I...I hit you."

"I know," she replied, and her voice held tears also. "I can't tell you it's OK, Xander, but I can tell you that I forgave you a long time ago, and I know you'd never, ever do it again."

Xander felt a flare of anger. "You don't know that," he gritted out. "I couldn't control myself with you. I loved you, Buffy - God, I loved you more than anything, and I hit you. If I could do it to you I could do it to anybody. How can you say that you forgive me?" Tears were flowing freely now, and Xander didn't care that Buffy could hear his distress.

She made soothing sounds into the phone, wiping her own tears as she listened to his muffled sobs. Once he got control, she began speaking in a calm voice.

"You're wrong, Xander. You'd never do it again. People who hurt other people like that don't feel remorse. They don't feel like they have to leave everything they know to protect their loved ones. And they don't torture themselves like this. You have got to forgive yourself. Yes, you hit me. Once." She paused. "Would it help you to know that it didn't hurt?"

Xander couldn't stop the hysterical giggle that welled up in him at her wry tone. His giggle triggered hers, and soon they were both laughing as hard as they could into their respective phones, unable to catch their breath. After a long while, they fell silent. Xander could hear Buffy blow her nose, and he dashed tears away from his eyes with his free hand.

"I've missed you, Buff," Xander said.

"I've missed you, too. Are we OK now?"

"I think we're on our way," he said, and was pleasantly surprised to find that he meant it. "Now, tell me more about this party."

An hour later, Xander wandered over to the stage, with his cell phone still pressed to his ear. Buffy had spent most of the time catching him up on the lives of the Sunnydale crew. Xander had already heard much of the news from Willow, but he was happy to simply listen to Buffy's excited chatter. He walked to the edge of the back of the stage, where Spike was finishing up a medium tempo ballad. After the deafening cheers faded, the vampire looked over. He noticed Xander and smiled. He pointed at the cell phone and spread his hands in a questioning gesture. Xander smiled and nodded. In a flash, Spike was at his side, taking the cell phone and walking back to center stage.

"Hello, Slayer," the vampire purred.

"Hi, Spike," she replied brightly. Spike brought his microphone closer to his mouth. "Buffy, this is everybody; everybody, this is Buffy." He held the phone out to the audience, and 16,000 people roared "Hi, Buffy!". Spike put the phone back to his ear in time to catch her whooping laughter.

"Anything special you wanna hear, Buffy?" he asked. She thought for a second, and then made her choice. Spike carried the phone back to Xander.

"Hold this so she can hear, mate," he instructed, turning to strut back to center stage with his coat billowing behind him. "This is for my friend Buffy," he told the audience. He turned to the guitarist and whispered for a second. His instructions were passed to the rest of the band members. A second later the rumbling bass line of one of Spike's early hits rolled out across the arena, prompting another roar from the crowd. The vampire began singing in a baritone growl.

Standing in the doorway of my life in this house
Trying to find a way to get out
Looking for a sign that I should open the door
This craziness is getting me down

But today is the day
That we break free
Today is the day
That we break free

At the chorus, Spike twirled and stalked across the stage. He sang the next verse standing hip to hip with the guitarist

Walking down a stairway to the traffic below
Anything could happen I know
Hey but I'm sick of everybody telling me what to do
I hear you, hey, but I already know

Because today is the day
That we break free
Today is the day
That we break free

The vampire strutted across the stage, every inch a rock star. Xander could only smile and marvel at how far they had come from the early days.

It's clear in my mind after all of this time
What I feel, my love
There's so many times that the sun doesn't shine
But I'm here, my love

And today is the day

Maybe I should wait just a minute or two
It's getting cold now and I feel so insecure
The future is a mistress that is so hard to please
And the past is a pebble in my shoe

But today is the day
That we break free
Today is the day
That we break free

It's clear in my mind after all of this time
What I feel, my love
There's so many times that the sun doesn't shine
But I'm here, my love

And today is the day

As the last notes of the song died away, the crowd roared its approval. Xander put the phone back to his ear and stepped further into the backstage area.

"How'd you like that? Performance on demand," he said.

"Dawn's going to be so jealous when I tell her," Buffy said.

They talked for a few more minutes, and then ended the call. Xander slipped the phone into his pocket just as Spike exited the stage for his set break, with two large bodyguards in tow. The vampire grabbed his arm as he swept by and dragged Xander along to the green room, which was inexplicably painted orange. The guards stayed outside. Xander settled on a sofa while Spike stripped off his duster and tee shirt, pulling on a white tank and a sapphire blue overshirt, which he left unbuttoned. He perched next to Xander.

"My hair OK?" he asked.

Xander reached out to smooth a couple of errant curls back, unconsciously tracing his fingers down the arch of bone behind Spike's ear. "You're good," he said.

Spike leaned slightly into Xander's light touch and fought the urge to close his eyes. "You and Buffy on the mend, then?" he said.

Xander realized where his hand was and slowly drew it back. "Looks like," he said, "though I have no idea why she's being so nice."

"Don't be dumb, pet," Spike explained with a sigh. "She's the Slayer, or a Slayer; if anyone understands the lure of physical violence, it's her. She knows that you acted out of pain and frustration, not a desire to hurt."

"You know it wigs me out when you're insightful, right?" Xander said.

"'S why I do it, luv. You coming back to the stage for the second half?"

"I'll be over in a while. You wanna go out after?"

"Nah. Let's stay in. This town is beat. 'Sides, I need to eat when we get back to the hotel."

"I'm hungry, too," Xander said, realizing that in his nervous state he hadn't eaten all day. "You want food food, too?"

"Sure," the vampire smiled. There was a knock at the door. Spike stood and pulled his shirt straight. He ran a hand over his hair and headed back to work.

*Today Poe (Yes, I know, Poe is a woman. However, Ive used several of her songs for Spike the vibe is perfect you just have to use your imagination on the voice.)

Part Six

The bodyguard, Isha, leaned comfortably against the wall, waiting. Spike stood in front of him, gently holding the large man's right arm. Isha's vaguely Asian features wore an expression of relaxation, tinged with excitement. He looked over the vampire's head at Xander, who was sitting at a small table across the room contemplating the tray of appetizers in front of him. Catching Isha's look, Xander smiled reassuringly.

Spike morphed into game face and bent his head to the tender skin on the inside of Isha's elbow. He carefully sank his fangs into the large vein there and began to draw on the small wounds. The sweet, hot blood began to fill his mouth, soothing the ache of hunger in his belly. Isha's blood told him everything the big man was feeling. Pleasure, arousal and a hint of fear. Spike didn't blame him - Isha had been the one to witness his loss of control with Ace, which was part of the reason he'd asked Xander to stay in the room while he fed, and would do so for the foreseeable future. He relied on the bodyguards too much to start scaring them away.

The idea of carrying Spike's blood supply "on the hoof" had, surprisingly, been Xander's. The vampire had been stunned when the human had suggested it, but it made perfect sense. Spike felt a surge of gratitude when he thought about the other life-changing idea Xander had brought to him.

"Finally! God, I thought you were never gonna get up!" Xander was so excited he was practically bouncing. The excitement did not magically transfer itself to the groggy vampire stumbling up the hall. Spike stopped in the doorway to the kitchen and leaned on the wall, rubbing his eyes. Xander turned from the microwave and pushed a mug of warmed blood into his hands.

"Drink up, then come to the office. I want to show you something."

Spike drank the blood slowly, then rinsed the mug and placed it into the sink. He rubbed his eyes again, and wondered what the hell had gotten his friend and business partner into such a state. Curiosity got the better of him, and he trudged to the small office, marginally more awake than before. Xander was sitting in a black leather swivel chair in front of a small desk. He was typing into the computer. Spike walked up behind him and noticed that the spreadsheet program was open.

"What's got you so happy, mate?" he asked.

"Check this out," Xander said, pointing to the screen. "That is the total income for XS Holdings for the year."

The vampire leaned in and looked at the page. Then he leaned in closer, to make sure that the decimal point was where he thought it was. It was. The column showed a number well in excess of one million dollars.

"Is that for real?" he asked, stepping back from the machine.

Xander stood up from his chair. "Yep. We made a million bucks, Spike." The two men looked at each other silently for a moment, and then Spike stepped forward to clap Xander on the back.

"Damn, we're good," he said, as they exchanged grins. "So, pet, what do you want to do to celebrate?"

The smile dropped off of Xander's face, and he looked nervous. "Um," he said, looking down. "I think we should see about getting that fucking chip out of your head."

Spike was speechless for the first time in over a hundred years. He couldn't think of a response that would do the offer justice. He swallowed heavily against the lump in his throat and turned his back to Xander, rubbing his hand across his eyes.

Without turning, he said, "Why would you want to do that, Xander?' His voice was carefully devoid of inflection.

"Look at me," Xander said, his voice low and steady. Spike turned, and his blue eyes were suspiciously bright as they stared into calm brown ones. "It's the right thing to do." Their gazes held for long moments. Spike nodded once, then turned and walked back into the kitchen.

Spike opened his eyes and gently disengaged from Isha's arm, running his tongue over the small punctures to close them. "Thanks, mate," he told the large man, accepting a smile and a nod in return as Isha left the suite, deftly catching the bottle of orange juice Xander tossed to him. Spike wiped a hand across his mouth to make sure he didn't have any blood on his lips and joined Xander at the small dining table, snaring the last shrimp on the appetizer platter.

"Better?" Xander asked, finishing off a stuffed mushroom.

"Yeah, I'm good," Spike replied. "What do you want to eat?"

"I'm feeling the need to worship at the temple of the cow - prime rib style, I believe," the human said.

"Cool. Get me one of those and some fries - NFG on the steak," Spike said, using their long-standing code for "no fucking garlic".

Xander picked up the phone to order as Spike walked to the luxurious bathroom.

The room service waiter arrived, stalled hoping to get a glimpse of Spike, and then reluctantly left. Xander knocked at the bathroom door.

"Come in," Spike invited.

Xander was unsurprised to find the vampire lounging in the large bathtub, up to his neck in steaming water. They often joked that Spike's exorbitant hot water fetish was one of the reasons they lived in hotels. He loved to feel warm - hot baths and showers, expensive cashmere socks and sweaters and electric blankets were all necessary objects for Spike to be happy.

"Food's here," Xander said, and swept a couple of fluffy towels off of the heated rack on the wall. Spike stood and accepted a proffered towel, wrapping it around his waist. He took the other and rubbed his hair. Xander wandered back to the front room. A few minutes later, Spike appeared, wearing faded jeans and a white sweater, barefoot, with his damp hair curling around his face. He plopped next to Xander on the couch and started in on his very rare steak. At one point, Spike felt the steak's juices running in a small rivulet from the corner of his mouth. Xander deftly reached over and wiped the blood away with his napkin, then continued eating.

That small gesture threw Spike back in time to what he would always remember as one of the best days of his unlife. Shortly after Xander's announcement of his intention to have the chip removed, Spike had agreed to be examined by a doctor the human had located for him. The doctor had turned out to be a Cathaxis demon - able to appear human, but very tall and thin. The Cathaxis were notable for their ability to see electrical energy. The doctor/ demon had simply looked at Spike's head for ten minutes without blinking, then nodded and left the room. Xander had followed it, then returned a few minutes later.

"What?" Spike had demanded irritably.

"Chill," Xander said, "she's a fan, and you make her nervous. When they get nervous, they can't talk. Some sort of vocal cord paralysis thing. Freaky. Anyway, she says that the chip will have to come out surgically - shorting it out would probably fry your brain. She's referring us to a surgeon." He handed a prescription pad to the vampire. "She also wants your autograph."

Shaking his head at the absurdity, Spike wrote out an autograph. Two weeks later he was checked into Cedars Sinai Medical Center under his favorite pseudonym, Alexander Summers, for brain surgery. Spike had blustered at first, but Xander assured him that, with enough money, a vampire really could have brain surgery at a world-famous hospital with little or no fanfare, and they happened to have enough money. That's exactly how it had gone. They'd stayed in a luxuriously appointed suite with no windows. The surgery had taken more than ten hours with a human surgeon and a mixed surgical team. Spike had been well taken care of and stuffed with blood fresh from the blood bank. Two nights later, he had signed autographs for the whole group and walked out under his own power to a waiting limousine.

The limousine had arrived at the hotel, and Xander had exited and watched as the car pulled away with Spike still inside. Two hours later, the door of their suite had opened. Spike strode in, looking every inch the Master vampire. Xander had stood from the sofa where he was reading and met him in the foyer. Spike's hair was mussed, his shirt was wrinkled, and there was a smear of blood along his jaw. Xander had taken a cloth napkin from the bar and gently wiped it away. They had both looked down at the bright streak of red on the white linen.

"I didn't kill anyone," Spike said in a neutral tone.

"That's good," Xander said, his tone every bit as bland as the vampire's. "You feeling OK?"

"A little tired," Spike said. "Busy couple of days."

Xander had nodded and wandered off to return to his book.

"What do you want to do now?" Spike asked Xander.

"Not much to do - last show tomorrow, and then off to Sunnydale," the human replied.

"Are you nervous about going home?"

"Where, Sunnydale? Sunnydale's not my home." Xander's tone was indifferent as he gathered the dinner dishes and returned them to the room service tray.

"Where is?"


"Where is home?"

Xander pondered the question for a moment. "I dunno," he said, "wherever we are, I guess." Spike watched as the human carried the tray to the door of the suite. He heard Xander exchange a few words with the bodyguard on duty, and then a click as the lock on the door engaged.

"I have to tell you something you aren't going to like," Xander said, once he'd flopped back down on one end of the overstuffed couch. Spike merely raised an eyebrow at him. "Dawn wants you to give a speech at her graduation party. The other girls' parents are doing it, and she wants you and Buffy to stand in as Mom and Dad." He closed his eyes and braced himself for the yelling and screaming. When none were forthcoming, he cracked one eye open to see if the vampire had merely melted into a puddle of denial. Spike looked gobsmacked.

"She does? Really?" The wonder in his voice made Xander's chest tighten a little.

"Of course she does," he said softly, "both of you have been behind her all the way. Hell, Spike - remember when you flew to Sunnydale to talk her down when she wanted to drop out of med school and join the Peace Corps? And the time you were an hour and a half late on stage in Japan because she was hysterical on the phone, thinking she was going to fail Gross Anatomy?"

"Organic Chemistry," the vampire corrected automatically, "but, yeah, I remember. I'm just really surprised, I guess." He sat for a few minutes, and then an indignant look came over his face. "Oi!" he shouted, "I don't want to give a speech!"

Xander laughed. "I was wondering when that part would sink in," he said mildly.

"Fucking hell," the vampire swore.

"Why don't you sing her something - you can claim that you sing better than you talk."

Spike marveled at Xander. "Damn, every once in a while you're pretty smart," he said.

Xander winked at the vampire. "I have my moments." Forcing himself to speak in a casual tone, he added, "We should probably get everyone presents. You think we can make Annie buy them?"

"Nah, I'll do some online shopping." Spike's voice was as studiously casual as Xander's. "Should I sign the cards from both of us?"

"Sure," the human rejoined. His tone then became pointed. "Like you always do?"

Spike had the good grace to look away, and Xander could have sworn he saw the faintest blush of color staining his alabaster cheeks. Xander scooted over on the sofa until their legs were just touching. "Thank you, Spike," he said. "I appreciate you keeping up the friendships I neglected - you didn't have to do that for me." Spike turned back and smiled, and Xander knew that his eyes were mirroring the small spark of heat in the vampire's, and he felt himself blushing just a little.

Spike's head tilted slightly to one side, and for a second, Xander thought the vampire was going to kiss him. Panic and desire bloomed in his chest, and he fought equally strong urges to move closer and move away. Spike broke the eye contact and abruptly stood and walked over to the windows, pulling the heavy drapes aside to look out into the night.

"It's late," he observed, and his voice was slightly strained. "I think I'll turn in." Xander watched him walk into his bedroom and shut the door.

Part Seven

Xander was attempting to finish signing the sheaf of papers on the desk in front of him, but kept getting distracted by Spike, who was tapping his feet, tapping his fingers and generally making a pest of himself from his perch on the edge of one of the couch cushions. The vampire had wandered into the office, paced around it several times, picked up and replaced every object on Xander's desk in turn, then flung himself down onto the couch with a long-suffering sigh. He was ready to go on stage a full hour before his call time and he was voluntarily spending time in the business office - two things that never happened.

Xander laid his pen down on the desk and looked at Spike, who was momentarily absorbed in picking at his chipped black nail polish. His hair was a tangle of carefully arranged "casual" waves that fell over his forehead to touch his dark eyebrows, his eyes were thickly lined, and the pale pink of his lips had been darkened a couple of shades. Apparently, Annie had managed to wrangle him into wearing "something cool", as his usual tee shirt had been traded in for a blood-red burnout velvet shirt, worn almost completely unbuttoned over black leather trousers so extremely low-slung that Xander could practically see pubic hair. His ragged Docs had been replaced with motorcycle boots, and the silver chains that decorated them matched the ones around his hips, both wrists and his neck.

"Last show," Xander observed. "How're you feeling?"

"Good. Ready to be done. I'm sick of the set list." Spike's cadence was rapid, and Xander noticed he was chewing gum. He was chewing the hell out of that gum.

"Last groupies for a few weeks. Unless, of course, you plan to fuck Dawn's friends." Xander tilted his head. "You aren't planning to fuck Dawn's friends, right?

Spike threw him a withering look, which was immediately followed up with an impish smile. " I do have a modicum of self control."

"Sometimes," Xander rejoined, with a smile of his own.

"You ready for the trip? You and Buffy all lovey-dovey now?" The vampire's voice sounded funny, but Xander couldn't read the tone.

"I wouldn't go that far," he said thoughtfully.

"Give it time," Spike said.

"Yes, oh wise one," Xander joked.

Hey, wisdom of the years, here, young pup. And - deadly predator, just as soon kill ya as look at ya," Spike sneered.

"Yeah, yeah. Big Bad. I remember," Xander affected boredom.

"Don't patronize me," Spike groused.

"Go sing. Make the girlies fling their panties on the stage." Xander stood and crossed the room, offering a hand to pull Spike to his feet. They stood face to face for a moment. "Is Ace waiting for you?"

"Yeah," Spike said. "He's probably chatting up birds at the stage door."

"Ace likes boys," Xander said.

"Ace likes you," Spike replied.

"Not," Xander said. He reached up to straighten Spike's collar and let the backs of his fingers graze the cool skin of the vampire's neck lightly. "I think it's safe to say that every being under this roof, regardless of species or gender wants you tonight."

"'S that right?" Spike drawled, stepping a fraction of an inch closer. "Every being?"

Xander looked into Spike's eyes, and his own narrowed slightly. He deliberately took one small step back and smiled tightly. "Go sing," he said softly. Spike's head tilted and Xander caught a glimpse of the vampire's pointed pink tongue as he moistened his lips before he took first one and then another step backward before turning to sweep out of the room.

As the door shut, Xander let out the breath he'd been holding. He picked his cell phone up from the desk and pressed a button. As soon as it was answered he said, "Annie, find out who gave Spike the coke and kill them for me, would you?" He disconnected the call and dropped the phone onto the desk, then fell heavily into the chair.

Xander waited in the back seat of the limousine. The show had been spectacular - one of Spike's best ever. Xander had walked over and watched from the wings, staying out of the vampire's sight. From his vantage point, he had watched Spike strut and posture his way through almost two hours of his most aggressive songs. The band had been spot-on, the dancers beautiful and sexy and the crowd full of energy. The backstage area had had a party-like atmosphere, with everyone celebrating the end of the first leg of the tour and talking about what they were going to do with their two week break.

Xander had perched himself on a high stool and taken it all in, basking in his pride at their accomplishments. It was hard to believe that the Zeppo and the chipped vamp had turned themselves into a multi-million dollar industry. Xander marveled at the thought that all of these people, save Spike, worked for him, deferred to him, valued his opinion and courted his favor. It was heady stuff.

At the set break, Xander had stayed where he was, deciding not to join Spike in the dressing room. He was surprised to see the vampire return to the stage wearing a simple, soft-looking grey tee with his leather pants, having ditched the chains and boots in favor of stocking feet. Spike had pulled a stool similar to the one Xander was occupying to center stage and proceeded to sing ballads for a full hour, delighting the girls in the audience and stunning Xander all over again with the quality of the rich baritone voice he'd heard almost every day for the past ten years.

Eventually, Xander had left his stool and gone back to the office to gather his things. While Spike was finishing up on stage, the human packed his briefcase and made the rounds of the staff, shaking hands, receiving a few kisses and hugs, and taking his leave. He'd then walked out to the car and opened a bottle of water from the bar, relaxing in the silence.

The car door opened, and Spike slid onto the seat. Xander noticed he still wasn't wearing shoes. "I guess you really were sick of the set list, huh?" he asked mildly.

"Yeah, well. What's the point of being a pain in the ass rock star if you can't stir things up once in a while?" the vampire said. He reached for Xander's water bottle and Xander let it go.

"I'm guessing the pyro guys were the only ones who were pissed," Xander said.

"They can blow me up another time," Spike deadpanned.

The front doors of the car opened and Ace and Carl got in. Ace turned around from the driver's seat to peer into the open partition. "Hotel?" he asked. Xander looked at Spike.

"That's fine," Spike said, finishing the water and opening another. He pushed the button to close the partition.

"You say all your goodbyes?" Xander asked.

"Three fuck offs, a see ya later and a kiss," Spike said.


"Annie. When's the flight to LA?"

"Tomorrow at 8. It's commercial." At Spike's grimace he added, "We have all of First Class, don't whine. It'll be fine."

Xander punched his pillow, trying to coerce it into the one elusive shape that would make if possible for him to fall asleep. The pillow steadfastly refused to conform. Xander sighed loudly and stared at the ceiling. There was a soft knock at the door.

"Can I come in?" Spike asked.

"Of course," Xander replied, and the door opened a crack. The slim vampire slipped into the room and closed the door. He walked over to the bed and stood beside it, looking down expectantly. Xander took in the bare chest and rumpled cotton pants. "Can't sleep?"

"Still wired from the show," Spike admitted.

"And the coke." Xander's tone was mild.

"Wasn't much," Spike groused.

"How about you don't tell me. I'm on vacation," Xander said.

"Shove over," Spike said, forcing his way onto the bed and under the covers. He manhandled Xander until the human vacated his abused pillow and moved to the far side of the bed. They wound up lying side by side on their backs, almost but not quite touching.

"Comfy now?" Xander asked, sarcastically.


After a few moments of silence, Xander tucked his hands under his head and shifted so he could look at Spike. "You looking forward to seeing Dawn?" he asked.

Spike also shifted to his side. "Yeah, I guess I am. You?"

"Yeah." Quiet descended again.

"You bringing your guitar with?" Spike asked.

"Don't you think I need the practice? Xander rejoined.

"Do you always answer a question with a question?" Xander could hear the grin in Spike's voice. This was a game they played often, and it drove most of the crew absolutely insane.

"Why do you always ask me that?" Xander inquired with a false note of hurt in his voice.

"How should I know?" The vampire's exasperation was equally false.

"What do you mean?" This time Xander attempted to sound plaintive, but his giggle ruined it.

"Is this an attempt to make me insane?" Spike asked.

"What makes you think you're not already insane?" Xander's giggle threatened to morph into a full-blown guffaw.

"Why do I think that's a rhetorical question?" Spike's attempt at plaintive was marginally better than Xander's.

"You think you're pretty smart, don't you?" Xander freed one of his hands to push at the other man's shoulder.

"Why shouldn't I?" Spike preened.

"Have you ever considered modesty?" Xander asked seriously.

"Don't you think that sort of thing is overrated?" Spike kicked Xander's shin lightly.

Xander turned his back to Spike and pulled the blanket over his shoulder. "Can we go to sleep now?"

Spike leaned over and carefully covered an exposed portion of the human's back. His unnecessary breath puffed against Xander's neck as he asked, "Don't I get a goodnight kiss?"

Xander froze, and Spike backed off, moving to his own pillow.

"Go to sleep, Spike," Xander said quietly.

The room was silent for a minute.

"I win," Spike whispered.

"You think?" Xander said.

"Shut up."

Part Eight

Xander kicked off his loafers and stretched his arms out along the back of the seat. He let his head rest against the butter-soft leather and relaxed. God, this was the life. He wondered briefly just when he'd become so accustomed to an existence that included perks like never having to drive yourself, maids who picked up the wet towels, restaurants for most meals, Annie to take care of the details and little to worry about other than Spike. He mentally reviewed that list. Yep, Spike had somehow become his responsibility. How the hell had that happened?

Sure, the bodyguards took care of some things and Annie others, but somewhere along the way Xander had assumed the title of Spike-wrangler. And, somewhere along the way, Spike had submitted to being wrangled. He was still a massive pain in the ass at times, but for the most part he played the game. Early on, Spike's hedonism had threatened the small empire they'd built from the early bar appearances. Too many groupies, too many drugs, too many trashed hotel rooms and too many threatened lawsuits had caused Xander to lay down the law. Spike had chafed at the restrictions at first, but the human's careful, heartfelt pleas for Spike to please stop fucking up their fun, happy and above all profitable life had finally penetrated.

It was during that time that Xander had started booking himself and Spike into two-bedroom suites. It started as a convenience; it was easier for Xander to keep tabs on the vampire that way. After a while, they both realized that they enjoyed the company. On rare occasions, Spike would knock on Xander's door, invite himself into the bed and sleep there, close but not touching. Xander never turned him away, but he never went to Spike's room either. He also didn't spend a lot of time thinking about it.

Even with the close supervision of Xander and the bodyguards, Spike still managed to get into a fair amount of trouble. He was ruthless in using his fame, his looks and his innate sensuality to get what he wanted, and Xander's firing of CJ had merely been the last in a long line of similar dismissals. It was well known that supplying Spike with drugs or the few other things Xander found unacceptable was an express ticket to unemployment. Spike never held the firings against Xander, and Xander never held their necessity against Spike. Each fully understood the others' nature, and acted accordingly.

The door of the limo opened, and Spike slipped inside. He looked at Xander and raised an eyebrow. Xander smiled in return. Both men were wearing what they considered the "travel uniform", black jeans and black tee shirts. Spike kicked off his unlaced Doc Martens and curled his feet under him, tucking himself back into the corner of the seat.

Xander turned and looked out the back window to see the bodyguards getting into two large black SUV's. "We look like a presidential motorcade," he observed.

"Nah," Spike sneered, "we make way more money than that poof."

One SUV pulled out ahead of them, and the other dropped into line behind them. The black vehicles slipped out from under the hotel's portico and into the night. It all ran like a well-oiled machine, and all they had to do was show up. Xander couldn't help but smile.

"You feeling better about going to Sunnydale?" Spike asked.

"I guess I am," Xander replied. "I was just sitting here thinking about how different things are now. We have a lot to be proud of."

"That we do," Spike agreed.

"Did you eat?" Xander asked.

Spike grimaced. "I'll wait 'til we get there."

"Why didn't you go ahead?" Xander asked.

Spike hesitated. "Didn't know where you were," he finally said.

"You don't need me to feed," Xander protested.

Spike turned an appraising eye on his friend. "I'm trying not to scare the guys, right? They're still freaked out about that scene with Ace. If you're in the room they feel better."

"How do you know they feel better if I'm there?" Xander asked.

"I can taste it in their blood - anxiety, fear, calmness, whatever," the vampire replied.

"Oh," Xander said, mildly surprised. "You should have called me, then. I could have come back up to the suite."

"I can wait," Spike said, and pulled a book out of the bag on the floor.

Xander stared at the reading vampire for a moment, then leaned his head back and closed his eyes. Just when he was able to think of Spike as being a self-absorbed prick, he'd come out with some comment that showed compassion or kindness and screw up Xander's carefully constructed assumption. It was maddening.

Xander woke to a soft knock on the window by his head. It took him a moment to remember where he was. Oh, yeah - limo, Sunnydale, vampire in his lap. Huh? Vampire in his lap. Yep, there certainly was. Well, not in his lap per se, but there was Spike's blond head, pillowed on his thigh, the vampire's body curled on the seat, dead asleep. Xander snorted at his own mental funny - dead asleep, Hee. He opened the window a crack. It was Ace.

"You want me to go check us in?" the big man asked. Xander nodded and put the window back up. He reached down and gently shook Spike's shoulder. Clear blue eyes blinked open and then slammed back shut instantly.

"Wake up, Spike - we're here." Xander kept his voice low; a just-awakened Spike could be volatile. Or snuggly. Which is what seemed to have come up in the rotation this time.

Cool hands wrapped themselves around Xander's thigh and Spike's face pressed against his leg. "Comfy. Don't wanna get up," was the muzzy reply.

Xander loosened the hands and pulled the vampire upright. Spike fell heavily against his shoulder, and Xander automatically wrapped an arm around his back to steady him. The tousled blond head came to rest on his chest, and Spike made a happy, sleepy noise. Xander couldn't help himself. He bent his head and let the tip of his nose almost touch the nape of Spike's neck. Silently, he inhaled traces fabric softener, shampoo and the unique scent of the vampire himself.

Ace knocked on the window. Xander straightened abruptly and pushed Spike off of his chest before opening the window. Ace slipped him two keycards and withdrew. Xander turned to find a fully awake Spike pulling his boots on. Slipping his feet into his loafers, he opened the door. Ace held it as the two men exited the car, and then followed them into the lobby. The Delta was Sunnydale's newest and most luxurious hotel. Xander took in the Art Deco style and quiet elegance. He glanced over at Spike, who nodded.

Ace led them to the elevator. Xander stopped before boarding the car.

"Send Jack up as soon as you guys are settled, OK?" he said to Ace.

The guard nodded. "You need anything?" he asked politely.

"I'll just raid the mini-bar," he said. "Keep the limo out front - we'll be going to see our friends. Who's on tonight with you?"

"Isha," Ace replied.

"We'll only need one of you, and you'll be able to come back with the car and then pick us up when we're ready to leave." He held up a hand to forestall Ace's protest. "Don't argue - I'll explain on the way. Our bags upstairs?" Ace nodded, and Xander stepped into the elevator and pushed the button for the penthouse.

When they reached their floor, they walked to one of the two sets of double doors off the elevator lobby, and Xander swiped one of the key cards. The doors opened to reveal a luxurious living room decorated in navy blue and gold. To one side stood a fully stocked bar that held a fruit basket and a vase of fresh flowers. The windows were all discreetly covered with heavy blackout drapes, and Xander noticed that the entertainment center had one of each of the most popular game consoles, as well as selections of music and movies.

"God, I love Annie," Spike said, taking in all of the special details he knew were her doing.

"Should we give her another raise?" Xander asked.

"Shit, no," Spike said. "If she makes any more money, she'll be able to retire and we'll be fucked."

"Point," Xander conceded. He turned and walked into the bedroom on the right side of the suite. Spike went to the room on the left. As expected, their bags had already been unpacked; their clothes were hanging in the closets, their toiletries placed carefully in the bathrooms. It's good to be the king, Xander thought.

He stripped off his traveling clothes and found a pair of faded blue jeans and a soft, cream-colored tee shirt. He traded his loafers for leather sandals and ran a brush through his hair. He glanced in the mirror and decided to shave quickly. He returned to the main room to find Spike seated at the grand piano in the corner, quietly picking out a melody.

Spike had also changed clothes, and now wore a lightweight grey sweater with the sleeves pushed up to his elbows over his black jeans and Docs. Xander started rummaging in the refrigerator behind the bar, coming up with imported chocolates, cheese and crackers and two beers. He diverted his path to the door when he heard a knock. He opened it to admit Jack. A tall man with dark hair in a braid that fell to his waist, Jack was the smallest of the bodyguards, weighing in at a mere 250 pounds, but Xander considered him to be the best of them all. Jack's mastery of four different martial arts, including Krav Maga, the official martial art of the Israeli Army, made him the most devastating fighter of their group, except for Spike.

Xander always thought that Jack looked like he was in uniform, even in jeans and a tee shirt. Jack's upright but relaxed bearing and his intense stare intimidated many people. He was fast, tough and hard to get to know, but he and Xander had become friendly over time. Jack was generous with his knowledge, always willing to train with Xander, Spike or the other guards when asked, but he never instigated contact. He walked into the room and nodded to Spike, who rose from the piano bench and walked to the center of the room.

Jack didn't flinch when Spike morphed into game face; he simply held out his arm and looked impassively over the vampire's head. With a glance toward Xander, who was contentedly licking chocolate off his fingers, Spike began to feed carefully. Jack's blood tasted clean and rich. Spike was always surprised by how little of this particular human's emotions he could taste. He didn't know if Jack had some sort of trick for suppressing his feelings, but very little came through. Spike fed quickly, and then pulled away with a nod. Jack returned the nod, smiled briefly at Xander and left.

"He's not much for the pillow talk, huh?" Xander said, after the door had clicked shut. He held a beer out to Spike, who accepted it and drank a third of it in one long gulp.

"Nope. I don't think he likes me very much," Spike said, turning his beer up again and taking a chocolate from Xander's plate.

"He's good at his job," Xander observed, "but if he makes you uncomfortable..."

"Nah. It's fine," Spike said. They both drained their beers, and Xander finished his snack. "You ready?"

"Yeah," Xander said. He opened his cell phone. A moment later, Ace and Isha knocked on the door.

"Ace, I said we only need one of you," Xander protested.

"Isha's going to drive - the driver was tired, so I sent him to bed," Ace explained.

"OK," Xander conceded, and they went down to the front of the hotel. The guards arranged themselves on either side of Xander and Spike and ushered them to the limo. Once seated, Xander called Willow to tell her they were on their way. As he closed the phone, he looked over at Spike, who was looking at him.

"You ready for this, pet?" the vampire asked.

Xander took in a deep breath and released it slowly. "Ready as I'll ever be."

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