They fell fairly rapidly into a strange new routine.
On the surface, everything looked the same. Patrol three times a week, with the usual Hellmouth assortment of vamps and baddies. Occasional research parties -- but luckily no apocalypses -- and pizza/video nights with the whole gang. Evenings spent helping Dawn train to go on patrol. Occasional nights out at the Bronze. Friday nights at the Majestic.
Spike acted the same as he had before. He hung out with everybody, spent time listening to Dawn's troubles, snarked over the pool table at the Bronze, mooched beer, threw popcorn at the screen at the Majestic, and fought the bad guys in a graceful fury.
But when the movie was over, when the research party broke up, when they finished their game of pool, when they went back to Xander's apartment after patrol ... everything was different.
Because that was when the games started.
* * *
How weird is it that I feel safe enough with Spike to try stuff that would have made me feel stupid before? Sure, Spike's big with the mocking, but not once we get to the sweaty naked wrestling. He's just so ... so intense ... so sexual. I just get caught up in it. It's never been like that with anybody else.
Okay, well, maybe it was a little bit like that with Faith, but that wasn't exactly my finest hour... or even my finest five minutes. It was sort of the exact opposite of Spike, in a weird way. Both of them are sexual to the point of violence, but with Spike ... Spike doesn't put me down ... not when it matters. Spike cares about me. I'm sure of it.
Now, I'm not fooling myself. Much. I know he doesn't care about me like Anya did. But Anya ... god, if I'm completely honest ... I was using Anya. I didn't want to. I tried not to. I really really tried not to. I think I showed admirable restraint. But she was just so persistent! And then once we were together, there was definitely plenty of sex ... but she was always so clinical, it made it all sort of impersonal, sort of like having sex with your doctor. "Okay, now cough!"
How weird is it that sex with Spike -- who's only my friend -- is more personal, more emotional, more comfortable -- than sex with the woman who loved me?
I mean, sex with Spike isn't comfortable in a ho-hum ratty old pair of jeans way. God no! But it's comfortable in a "sure, okay, let's do that kinky thing" sort of way. With Anya, that sort of stuff always felt ... silly.
Not with Spike, though. Nuh-uh. No sir. Not silly.
Now it's addictive.
* * *
But it was a little strange, this sharp division between friendship and sex.
One night after a particularly boring researching party, they barely made it in the door before Spike's jeans were open and pale hands were shoving Xander down, grabbing his head and pushing a hard cock into his mouth. Xander drooled and sucked and opened his pants to stroke himself when Spike told him to. He came embarrassingly fast, still sucking Spike's cock, trying not to bite down. Spike came immediately afterward with a tightened grip on Xander's hair and a groan aimed at the ceiling.
One Friday after the creature feature at the Majestic, Xander was over Spike's knee, pants around his ankles, getting a spanking that had him begging and pleading, not for Spike to stop, but for Spike to let him come. He'd never been big on spanking -- the "bad boy needs to be punished" element had always seemed ridiculous -- but Spike's low, angry voice was anything but ridiculous, and in between slaps Spike's hand lingered and stroked in all the right places. It hurt just enough to sting without setting off the chip ... and it made Xander want to be a very bad boy again, someday soon, after he'd had a little time to recover. He had trouble sitting down at work the next day, but every time he settled gingerly into a chair, he felt himself blush and couldn't help but smile secretly to himself.
He got better at talking during sex, too, because the look on Spike's face, the grip of Spike's hands, the twitching of Spike's cock in response to his words ... it was all worth it. He learned that flattery made Spike crazy, and he praised Spike's cock with clumsy stutters that nevertheless had Spike gasping and arching and bucking, sometimes even had Spike coming with the first touch.
When Spike got him really worked up, writhing and desperate, mindless, he always begged Spike to fuck him, but Spike never did.
And, since the dodge, Xander hadn't had the guts to attempt any kissing, though he tried to always be kiss-accessible. Spike never took him up on it.
This wasn't romance.
It was just games.
* * *
It had all been going on for about three weeks, and they'd gotten pretty used to the new rhythm of their strangely split relationship. Patrol ... to be followed by some Spike-determined form of sex. Unfortunately, the bad guys hadn't gotten the memo.
The demon was fat and ugly, but surprisingly spry. "It's a Kashith demon," Spike called out as he fought. "Stay out of the way."
Xander kept to a safe distance, throwing a knife whenever he got a clean shot, which wasn't very often. Spike had hopped onto the thing's back and wrapped his arms around its neck, trying to strangle it. It looked like a strange maneuver, but Xander stayed back, trusting Spike's judgment in a battle situation.
"Fuck! It's a female!" Spike suddenly let go and fell to the ground, writhing in what seemed to be pain.
Trying to give the fat demon a wide berth, Xander ran over, worried by Spike's uncharacteristic collapse. "What happened? Spike, are you okay?"
Spike spoke through gritted teeth. "Just kill the bitch. Xander."
Xander gave it the old never-went-to-college try, but his knives just bounced off the demon's tough skin, and eventually she seemed to decide he wasn't worth her time. She disappeared into the shadows and was gone.
"Can't go after her right now," Spike growled from the ground. "Need to get home. I'm covered in kashithnek."
Spike opened his eyes and glared at Xander. "Female Kashithi excrete a defensive liquid through their skin. Usually, the females are smaller. I guess she's just a bit on the portly side." Spike staggered to his feet, taking hold of a tall tombstone to keep him steady.
"Defensive liquid? What does that mean?" Now that he looked closely, Xander saw that Spike's clothes and hair were sopping wet.
"It paralyzes the attacker so the Kashith can get away to protect her young." Spike started walking carefully in the general direction of Xander's apartment.
"Paralyzes?" That didn't sound good.
"Yeah. Got me good, too. Never been dosed by a Kashith before. Need to wash this crap off." With his stiff, uncoordinated limbs, Spike was doing a pretty funny Frankenstein impression, but Xander chose not to point that out. Spike was already pissed off enough.
"Let's get to my place, since you don't have a shower."
They were almost to the apartment when Spike stumbled hard enough to almost fall. Xander reached out to take his arm, but Spike flinched away.
"Don't touch me, you daft git! This stuff'll paralyze you in a second!"
Xander ran up to the door and unlocked it, stepping out of the way to let Spike in. "Then how are we supposed to get it off you?"
"I'll do it myself." Spike shuffled clumsily toward the bathroom, his hands and arms not cooperating particularly well. He didn't look capable of sitting down by himself, let alone taking a thorough shower.
"You said this stuff washes off with soap, right?"
Spike nodded as he removed his clothes with jerky movements. "Should do." He gave up on getting the t-shirt over his head, and instead just ripped it down the middle. When he was naked, leaving behind a pile of ruined clothes on the bathroom floor, he gingerly climbed into the shower and turned on the water.
Xander persisted. "So if my hands are soapy, I should be okay."
"Can't be sure. Like I said, never been dosed by a Kashith before." Spike reached out for the soap and knocked it onto the floor of the shower. "Fuck!"
Xander just ignored him and quickly took off his own clothes, stepping into the shower and picking up the soap. He started lathering his arms and chest.
Spike backed away on clumsy legs that sent him careening into the shower wall. "Get away from me, you half-wit! I don't need your bloody help." When Xander just kept soaping himself without replying, Spike spat out, "I said I don't need your help! Just ... just look at you ... how could I possibly need help from a loser like you?"
"Me?" Pausing in his ablutions, Xander repeated disbelievingly. "What about you, Slimy Paralysis Boy? I think you just need to shut up, stop being such a prick, and turn around so I can wash your hair. This demony stuff is obviously paralyzing your brain."
With his body well-soaped and hopefully kashithnek-proof, Xander poured some shampoo and reached out to begin vigorously rubbing it into Spike's wet hair. To his complete surprise, Spike obediently closed his eyes and turned away, leaning his head back a bit into Xander's touch.
"This doesn't mean anything," Spike said firmly. "We just fuck. It's just ... fucking."
"I know." The words didn't hurt as much as they probably normally would have, because Xander was more concerned with keeping Spike from getting paralyzed. Kashithnek was a lot more important than relationship definitions at the moment.
"You're just experimenting, and I'm just in it for the sex."
Xander rolled his eyes. "I know. Now rinse."
"I'm the one who gives the orders." Spike sounded petulant. Almost like a little kid.
Xander sighed, then said patiently, "I know that, Spike. So fine. Tell me what to do. You're half-paralyzed ... you can't do it yourself ... so you're the boss ... tell me what to do, and we'll get you cleaned up."
But, strangely enough, after pointing out his own dominance, Spike seemed pretty docile. Instead of barking out orders, he moved where Xander pushed him and held still while he was carefully soaped. Xander ran soapy hands along the well-defined muscles of Spike's arms, enjoying this chance to explore Spike's body in more detail. Spike's biceps were hypnotic, and Xander washed them thoroughly before sliding his hands beneath to wash under his arms. Spike twitched ever so slightly, and Xander bit back a grin. Ticklish, are we?
The pecs and abs were even more interesting. Xander had gotten more of a chance to touch them in the past, but wet and soapy was different. Spike's wet skin seemed to gleam, even in the fluorescent light. Xander wanted to lean over and taste those nipples with water running over them ... but this wasn't the time.
In fact, Xander was just pleased that neither of them had yet fallen down paralyzed. Apparently the soap had been a good idea.
Spike's movements were sluggish and still a bit clumsy as Xander turned him and ran soapy hands up and down his back, tracing the bumps of his spine, palming the wiry muscles on either side, cupping his shoulder blades, then sliding down to draw wide circles on Spike's tight buttocks. Still turned away, face hidden, Spike gave no obvious reaction to the touch, and so Xander daringly allowed one hand to slip between those mounds of flesh, brushing gently against a part of Spike's body he'd never been allowed to touch before this. Mostly he'd only given blow jobs.
Spike audibly caught his breath at the unexpected touch, but his buttocks remained relaxed. Xander wasn't sure, but he thought maybe he widened his stance a bit, giving Xander more room to maneuver.
Xander slowly ran his soapy hand down to stroke just behind Spike's balls, then dragged his fingers back along the smooth skin of the perineum to softly circle the puckered hole he found there. Biting his lip, hoping he wasn't going too far, he gently pressed a finger there, not pushing inside, but thinking about it. Spike went even more still, if that was possible.
Unfortunately, Xander's brain chose that moment to remind him that he hadn't washed off all the kashithnek yet, and Spike was most likely getting closer and closer to paralysis, just because Xander'd gotten all distracted by the hotness of his vampire butt.
Back to business, Xander knelt down to wash Spike's legs, and from the lower vantage point he noticed that Spike's cock was hard. Oh god.
When he was reasonably sure that Spike was clean all over and all the kashithnek should be gone, Xander stood up again. Spike was still facing away from him, swaying slightly from time to time, strangely meek and apparently sleepy.
Xander looked ... and yep. Spike's cock was still hard.
Hoping that this wouldn't come back to haunt him tomorrow, Xander soaped up both hands into a thick lather, and then pressed himself lightly to Spike's back. He grasped Spike's cock with his right hand and began a slow stroke that had Spike leaning back slightly, resting his wet head against Xander's shoulder.
Then Xander slid his left hand between Spike's buttocks, gently stroking the puckered skin there, making Spike groan and flex in something Xander interpreted as enjoyment or even request for more. But he didn't go beyond that light touching, gentle stroking and circling, while his other hand work firmly on Spike's hard cock.
It only took about a minute, and Spike's cock was pulsing and throbbing as he painted the tile of the shower wall with white stripes. His body was a heavy, relaxed weight against Xander. "Sleep it off," he muttered.
Rinsing them both off thoroughly, Xander tried to keep a grasp on Spike, since he seemed in danger of tipping over in a rather undignified heap. Drying them both off was even more difficult, and eventually Xander gave up, hauling a damp Spike over to the bed and maneuvering him onto it and under the covers as best as he could. Spike was shivering a bit, so Xander crawled into the bed with him and spooned up behind him under the covers, wrapping his arm around the smaller framed man in an effort to lend his body heat. He'd planned to phone Willow to ask for more info on the Kashithi and kashithnek, but first things first. He had a cold vampire to take care of.
Bundled up in the blankets with his eyes closed, Spike wasn't shivering so much anymore, but he was talking softly to himself. It sounded remarkably lucid, given the fact that Spike didn't seem to be talking to anybody but himself. "Donut Boy?" Xander hadn't been listening too carefully until he heard that oh-so-flattering moniker. "Dru ... my ripe wicked plum, my dark princess, lovely pale death in the deep of night. And Buffy ... the Slayer, the one girl in all the world ... all gleaming power and sunlight in a world of darkness. And now there's ... there's Xander Harris? Bumbling pizza delivery boy to the Hellmouth?"
Xander couldn't make out everything -- Spike's voice got quieter and more slurred as it went on -- but he understood enough to get offended. "Hey! I'll have you know I'm a carpenter now!"
Spike's voice sounded half-asleep as he murmured softly, "Jesus was a carpenter."
Xander was taken aback for a moment. "Uh ... yeah. But I'm pretty sure he never took naked gay showers with vampires ... unless there's a secret book of the Bible I don't know about. And, boy, I'm just gonna burn in hell for that one, aren't I?"
"Be in good company."
And then Spike's eyes were quiet and he took a few more breaths -- growing slower and shallower until they were imperceptible -- and then he was still. Leaning up on the arm not currently wrapped around Spike, Xander looked at him while he slept. His eyelashes were dark against the paleness of his skin, his lips soft and pink, his hair damp. Carefully extricating his other arm, Xander gently stroked Spike's shoulder, then down along his arm.
Spike stirred, then mumbled without opening his eyes, "It's just sex."
Xander stroked his arm again and then lay back down, wrapping his arm around Spike's body again and pressing his chest to Spike's back. "I know, Spike. Spike, don't worry ... I know."
When Xander woke up the next morning, he was unsurprisingly alone.
The next day at work, Xander came up with 1,436 different ways to tell Spike the truth about the time loop. He actually counted them. And all of them sucked.
Last night ... Spike was so ... soft ... so vulnerable ... he hasn't let me really see him in a long time. Hell, he's never let me see him like that. No big badness. No barking orders. No bravado. No ... um ... anything else starting with "b". Just ... Spike. Spike actually needing my help, and letting me help him.
If he can be that honest with me, then I pretty much owe it to him to be honest too.
Enough excuses. I have to tell him everything.
The question is: how?
Again -- or, rather, still -- Xander didn't have any brilliant answers.
He decided to leave his car at home and walk over to the girls' house for the evening's research shindig, if only to give himself a bit more time to think. It didn't help. Taking care of Spike had been so intimate ... he knew he had to tell the truth now. Unfortunately, that knowledge didn't magically telegraph the right words into his brain.
Sometimes I really wish my life was a science-fiction movie, because that brain telegraphing thing would come in really handy right about now.
When he opened the door and stepped into the Summers' entryway, he still had no idea what he was going to say. He saw Spike sitting with Willow and Dawn in the living room, but as soon as their eyes met, Spike's face tensed and he stood up, grabbing Dawn's arm and practically dragging her out of the room. Dawn glanced at Xander curiously through a screen of flying brown hair as they went past.
Willow was sitting cross-legged on the couch with a large, dusty, crumbly, Giles-type book open on her lap. She looked up when Xander came in, then glanced after the fleeing Spike and Dawn with a concerned wrinkle between her brows. She looked up at Xander and asked mildly, "What's that all about?"
Excellent question. Got a Magic 8 Ball handy? Because maybe I could get an answer that way, because heaven knows my brain isn't much help. In fact, I should just trade my whole head in for a giant Magic 8 Ball. I doubt my decision-making would get much worse.
Outlook not so good. Reply hazy, try again. Better not tell you now. My sources say no.
Xander walked distractedly into the living room and glanced around. "Where's Tara?"
Willow frowned a bit more. "She went to the Magic Shop to get us some stuff for an identification spell. We think maybe these Kashith demons might be working with the Bregnis or something. So we're going to do a spell to..." She seemed to notice that Xander wasn't listening, because she trailed off and quietly closed the book in her lap. She leaned forward slightly so that she could see his eyes. "Why did Spike run off like that when you came in?
Xander glanced toward where they'd gone, then shrugged. "Dunno." Better not tell you now. Reply hazy, try again. Actually, he was pretty sure Spike was avoiding him -- maybe embarrassed because of the shower shenanigans, or mad, or whatever -- but he didn't want to get into some big ol' girl talk with Willow when Spike was bound to come back into the room at any moment. Ask again later. I am the human Magic 8 Ball. Shake my head and wait for random answers to appear. Better than no answers at all, right?
How sad is your life when a Magic 8 Ball is more useful than your brain?
"Well, how goes Operation Vampire Smoochies?" The secretive excitement of Willow's smile made him feel vaguely guilty and brought him back to the fact that she was actually trying to talk to him while he carried on extensive conversations with the Magic 8 Ball in his head.
Xander smiled with a bit of effort. "I'm pretty sure Spike would stake himself before using the word 'smoochies'."
"Who cares about the saying of smoochies ... what about the giving of smoochies? It seemed like you were getting pretty optimistic last time we talked."
"Me?" Xander glanced around melodramatically. "Optimistic?" He gave Willow a sardonic glance. "You obviously have me confused with some other devilishly handsome carpenter of your acquaintance."
Willow nodded. "Yes, there are so many of you in my life these days."
Xander slouched into the cushiony couch and sighed.
Willow asked gently, "So ... no smooching?"
Xander shook his head. Willow just watched him with a little sympathetic frown. Eventually, it got to be too much, and Xander couldn't help but succumb to the power of the Willow Sympathy Face.
"He's really different from what he was like during the time loop," Xander explained hesitantly.
Willow tilted her head slightly and said, "Well duh."
Xander shook his head. "I mean ... when we kissed during the time loop, he just ... he just grabbed me and kissed me, you know? Well, I kissed him first, but he was into it. Very into it. But now ... no kissing at all. It's weird."
Willow looked deep in thought for a moment. Then, "Well, he was a lot more vulnerable before ... with all the lonely and the sad. So maybe he's built up his defenses since then." Willow was warming to her subject and began to talk faster. "Oh! Or maybe you just caught him off-guard with the time-loop smooches, and now he's all guardy. Or maybe ... maybe he doesn't want to seem 'into it'. Maybe he's ... um ... shy." Willow smiled kind of apologetically at the end there, as if even she recognized how unlikely that sounded.
Spike ... shy. Right. Because he's such a retiring flower when he's pushing me down and making me suck him off on the kitchen tile. It seems a lot more likely that he just doesn't give a shit. Maybe he's just using me and I've been imagining all that other stuff. 'Cause sometimes it really does seem like there's more there. And other times not.
God, I'm so pathetic. Why does that seem to be turning into a refrain? If this were a Greek tragedy -- and, hell, who says it's not? -- the chorus would be chanting it in the background in every scene.
Yeah, a choir of angels, singing, "He's so pathetic! He's so pathetic! He's so pathetic!" I can practically hear them now. Well, at least, hopefully it would be a choir of angels, and not Angels. Because the idea of Angel singing pretty much anything is just wronger than ... um ... than Principal Snyder making out with the lunch lady. And ... ew. I so did not need that image in my mind. And yet, Angel singing would be worse. And the idea of an entire choir of Angels singing just makes my ears bleed even thinking about it. But ... would they wear those long satin robey things? Because, hey, actually, that might be pretty funny.
Xander didn't realize how long he'd been staring into space until he heard the soft sound of pages turning. Willow had discreetly gone back to her researching. What had they been talking about? Oh, right, Spike's sudden disappearing act.
He cleared his throat and stood up. "I'm gonna go out back and..." He trailed off, but Willow didn't seem to notice. She just smiled encouragement up at him and went back to her reading. Xander stood still for a moment, hesitating, and then walked through the house to the back door.
When he opened the door and stepped onto the deck, he interrupted Dawn mid-punch. She and Spike were both standing out on the grass, but at the sound of the door opening, they both turned their heads toward the noise, and Dawn's punch accidentally hit home. Spike's head rocked back and then forward, leaving him cradling his jaw, frowning. Dawn, on the other hand, seemed pretty happy about the turn of events.
"Woo hoo! Did you see that? I punched Spike!" She grinned.
Xander smiled at her but didn't say anything. Spike was pointedly looking at Dawn and avoiding Xander's gaze. The whole thing got awkward fast.
"Um, I think I hear Willow calling me," Dawn lied, and then scampered into the house with only a fleeting worried glance behind her.
Xander shifted from one foot to the other and waited for Spike to look at him. Spike just rubbed at his jaw, gazing down at the grass. When a minute or two had passed with no luck, Xander said hesitantly, "I think we need to talk..."
Apparently, that was what was necessary to get Spike moving. Spike looked up and strode glowering toward him at an impressive clip, making Xander flinch when he got near, as if some kind of violence was imminent. But at the last moment, Spike dodged him with a simple sweep to the side and walked into the house without a word. Xander stood confused, looking out at the dark yard -- Outlook not so good. Cannot predict now. -- and then finally turned to follow.
When Xander came into the living room, he found everyone in mid-conversation. Willow was saying, "Sure. We can check out the Kashith demons here, doing the research thing. And Tara's bringing some candles and ingredients for an identification spell, and that might tell us..."
"Right. You do that, then," Spike interrupted. "I'll take the boy with me." He latched a hand onto Xander's upper arm tight enough that Xander looked at Willow and mouthed helplessly, "Ow." Willow just smiled encouragingly again and nodded in reply to whatever Spike had just said. The next thing Xander knew, he and Spike were outside, walking briskly through the mellow evening air. Spike flung Xander's arm aside as if he couldn't bear to continue the touch.
Nearly jogging along to keep up, Xander rubbed his arm where Spike had gripped it.
How come his chip didn't go off? Or was hurting me just worth it ... worth setting off the chip? Hell, maybe he just wanted to humiliate me a little bit, make me feel like a 190-pound weakling in front of the rest of the gang.
He noticed that Spike was still frowning.
Is that the frown of "I have a migraine from rudely bruising my innocent pal"? Or is it the frown of "I think I'll throw Xander into a pit of hungry demons because I'm tired of him"? Or maybe it's just an "I'm pissed that they raised the cigarette tax again" kind of frown. Or a "Sweet little Dawnie clocked me one" frown. Or maybe a "Stupid Xander keeps staring at me with a confused look on his face" kind of frown.
Spike turned to look at him and narrowed his eyes, but still didn't say anything. Xander was so lost in thought and confusion that he hadn't really noticed where they were going. Suddenly, though, he realized they were in the middle of some really dark and disgusting alley, standing next to a very odoriferous garbage dumpster.
Xander looked around and then turned to Spike. "Why are we..."
But Spike cut him off. "Shut up." His voice was sharp and harsh, which was actually pretty unusual. Usually, they were good buds when they were out on the town, joking and occasionally indulging in some good-natured bickering. Spike didn't get all domineering and start barking out orders until they were in the privacy of the crypt or the apartment, and even then he wasn't usually this ... mean. Then it was all in the spirit of fun. But now ... there was a strange sort of tension tonight that was sort of freaking Xander out.
He knows. I mean, he probably doesn't know exactly what he doesn't know, but he knows there's something to know! He knows I've been lying and hiding stuff. He knows, and that's why he's pissed off. God, he has every right to be mad.
"Take your shirt off."
Xander blinked, surprised out of his thoughts, then glanced around the alley nervously. "Here?"
Spike glared impatiently, and Xander reluctantly pulled the long-sleeved t-shirt over his head and handed it over, wrapping his arms around his body for both warmth and cover. He wasn't really in the mood right now to flash his man nipples to every Tom, Dick, and Homeless Guy.
Spike immediately tossed the shirt into the dumpster. It had never been one of Xander's favorite shirts -- the orange sleeves had always made him feel vaguely Ronald McDonaldish, and the flowers on the front just hadn't communicated the raw masculinity he'd been going for -- but, still, it was the principle of the thing. It was his shirt, and Spike had trashed it.
"Hey! I liked that shirt!" Yeah, that was stretching it a bit, but still.
"At least you're wearing the tighter jeans. Show off your bum a bit."
Spike was noticing his "bum"? Well, things were looking up. Xander rubbed his hands along the worn denim that covered his thighs and mumbled, "Yeah, well, it's laundry day."
"Guess that could explain the shirt, too. You're better off. Let's go." Spike turned around and began to walk.
But Xander didn't follow. "'Let's go?' Let's go where? Spike, I'm half-dressed and freezing, standing in a dirty alley, with a perfectly good shirt now soaking in eau de garbage."
Spike stopped and turned to look at him, then smiled a smile that promised really really evil things ... probably involving screaming orgasms. "No worries. The club'll be nice and warm, all those hot sweaty bodies rubbing against each other and all."
"Um ... club?"
Spike smirked and somehow managed to look even more sexually dangerous. "Think it's time you got to check out that special little club you like so much, pet."
Signs point to yes.