Chapter 9 Creep
Six in the morning saw Xander hunched over the toilet bowl, his body enthusiastically ejecting everything in its digestive system. The combination of too much booze and a bar meal that had basically consisted of a plate of grease with a few items of semi-edible meat and potato floating in it was hardly conducive to a settled stomach, especially when the remainder of the night’s activities were taken into consideration. In between retches he was thinking, and frightened to think, about getting here the previous night, couldn’t believe that he’d driven in that state: somewhere past drunk on his own, conservative, personal scale, beaten and dazed, worse than semi-blind, it was…
“You moan very prettily.” Xander jumped at the sound of Spike’s voice. “Shame it’s only about being hung over, not because I’m sticking cocktails sticks beneath your nails for waking me up.”
“There’s a cure, right? Nice souly Spike is not here to gloat, he’s here because there was a miracle cure in the last batch of stuff Angel sent.”
“He’s here to complain about having his sleep disturbed. And now you’re up, there’s the shower – take that as an unsubtle hint.”
“If I move I’ll barf.”
“You’re a never-ending source of entertainment.”
“Leave me alone, Spike,” Xander groaned as his stomach rumbled in ongoing protest.
Spike went and threw himself onto the nearest bed with a satisfied sigh, only to stir moments later when the muttering from the bathroom increased, Xander protesting about a spirit’s choice of timing. The vampire reluctantly dragged himself to his feet and rejoined Xander, moving near enough to his side to allow the man to lean against his legs, knowing Xander would want to be as close as possible for the peace.
At a stretch Spike could just reach the glass shelf above the wash basin and, with some difficulty thanks to Xander’s unconscious decision to let Spike prop him up, managed to one-handedly grab the tumbler that lived there and fill it with water.
“Sodding hell, Harris, what do you want me to do? Drink it for you an’ all?”
Xander gave a sorry-for-himself shrug and Spike very slowly tipped the glass, pouring a thin stream of cold water over the back of Xander’s head and neck.
“Nice,” Xander murmured.
More manoeuvring and Spike refilled the glass, emptied it over Xander’s head and listened to the water run off into the pan beneath him. Again, and Xander was taking his own weight, charily turning to sit against the shower stall and accepting the offer when Spike held out the once-again full glass, sipping experimentally before drinking the remaining water down. Twice more and a little colour was returning to the chalky complexion.
“Better?” Spike asked, sounding stuck between irritation and indulgence.
Spike sank to the floor in front of Xander, elegantly folding into a cross-legged sit. While Xander stared and wished he could do anything that gracefully, Spike stared with amusement at the water trickling from Xander’s hair and face and gradually soaking his shirt.
“You’re a wonderfully coherent drunk,” Spike eventually said.
“Adrenalin,” Xander explained. “Know that one. Certainly recognise the feeling.”
“But you’ve still got some explaining to do.”
“Yeah. Just a little. I figure if you start now you should finish by the time your pension’s due.” Xander added a new groan to his repertoire. “You know I want to leave tonight,” Spike reminded him.
“Not a chance.”
“Bruises or commitments?”
“Bruises, definitely bruises. I’ve done all I can for Chrissie.” Xander leaned his head back against the shower stall. “Want to help me get in here? ‘Cause, legs: yes. Whereabouts I left them: no.”
“Let’s get this straight,” Spike mused. “You want an admittedly bad, horny demon to strip the clothes from your semi-intoxicated, defenceless body and help it’s highly appealing naked self under warm water which will trickle invitingly…”
“Nyah!” Xander shuddered.
“It’s probably the best offer you’ll be getting.”
“You hate me,” Xander whined, and the grin finally broke out on Spike’s face.
Rising as easily as he’d sat, Spike ignored Xander’s sudden alarm as he was hefted into the vampire’s arms, taken back to the bedroom, and carefully lowered onto the bed he’d left so ignominiously an hour earlier. Spike went to fetch a towel to put under Xander’s head, then sat beside him and began to unbutton the damp shirt. Xander’s hands came up to stop him.
“You can’t sleep in that. You’ll get cold and sick and probably die, knowing my luck.”
“I’ll do it.”
Spike stood and began shedding his own clothes, unselfconsciously bare in less than a minute and heading for his own bed when he noticed Xander watching with surprisingly blatant curiosity. He paused, then pirouetted, waiting for the embarrassed roll away, or the partly amiable but entirely cutting comment. But…
“Was it good?” Xander asked quietly. “With Buffy?”
To say the question was unexpected would be the grossest understatement; jolted by memories, Spike ceased his display and hurriedly got under the covers, tugging them up to his face until all that showed was blond hair and a tellingly creased brow. All of twenty seconds and the covers were pushed back down. Spike leaned up and met Xander’s eye.
“Physically? Astounding. Emotionally?” In a brisk move, Spike was beside Xander, half on him, one bent leg draped over both of Xander’s and feeling unnervingly familiar. “We were better. Middle of the night and you half-conscious and we were better.”
“That isn’t possible.”
“It’s what you said, Xander. Not using. Needing. It excites me. Being needed.”
“She needed you. Right then, I know she did.”
“Used. Believe me, I know, I was there. And you… Maybe you’re a little embarrassed, a little intimidated, but you’re not disgusted by being this close to me, are you? Or are you?”
“You know I’m not.”
“And I can feel the difference.”
“After the soul, she was looking out for you.”
“Fits and starts, suiting herself. Did you hear the way she talked to me sometimes? Like I was a fucking minion she could—” Spike bit his lip, tried to be reasonable. “Sorry. You don’t want to listen to me slagging off your friend.”
“If she was using you, how am I any different? You said it yourself, Spike.”
“When I was angry. I’m not angry now. You’re nothing like her, like anyone who’s been take, take, take.”
“I hope not.”
“And you’ve never exploded my car,” Spike sighed in fake adoration, determined to lighten the moment, satisfied with the smile he received in response.
Xander appreciated the humour, but his ongoing problem seemed to be his hands as he tried to locate somewhere to touch the vampire in a way that suggested friendship rather than many minutes of intense frottage, but all he kept finding was naked flesh that stirred unwanted feelings liberated by the vampire’s unlikely shows of consideration and the high percentage of alcohol remaining in his own bloodstream. Spike was searching his face for…something. Or possibly just checking the mess he was in this morning, one or the other. But the mess wouldn’t explain why the hungry gaze kept flickering down to Xander’s mouth, or why the vampire’s lips were parting, head dipping as he moved in for a kiss. Xander forced himself to turn away.
“Hey, c’mon, you can’t want this,” Xander insisted, shivering as the cool mouth diverted to his exposed neck. “I’m all…” Spike’s hand cupped his groin, gently squeezed an offer. “Oh, God. Aches. I’m all aches and cuts and bruises; you said I need a shower.”
“You’re getting hard for me.”
“I know. I know that. I… Spike.”
The ‘Spike’ sounded as if it might be something more than stonewalling; Spike’s hand withdrew and he backed off slightly.
“What?” Xander swallowed hard, wondering whether he could get away with cheating, playing the rather belated and demonstrably implausible entirely-straight card, in fact any card from the suite of avoidance rather than having to be honest. “Xander?”
No. No lies. In light of the conversation of moments before, they both deserved better.
“This… This would be me using you. If anything happened now I’d be using you. Not needing.”
A moment’s hesitation and Spike was at Xander’s neck again, tasting and teasing.
“Using.” Xander carefully turned his head back, nudging Spike away so he could meet his eyes. “I won’t do that to you. Or me.”
Unreadable emotions glimmered in the blue before Spike gave Xander a sexy smile that felt very false, however well it was played.
“I’m bloody horny, Pet, I’d settle.”
“There’s always an after, though. How we’ll feel after. And working together is already hard enough. So…no.”
Nothing. Then Spike twisted and wriggled, shoved Xander’s arm out of the way, getting comfortable with his head on Xander’s shoulder, body wrapped around the human’s and, with prods and adroit manoeuvring, encouraging Xander to hold him.
“I’m pretending you’re not using me because you genuinely care,” Spike muttered crossly as Xander, sexual shenanigans successfully averted, began to automatically and guiltlessly stroke wherever his hands rested. “All bollocks but here we are, cosy and…and… You’re still damp. Git. Could’ve got your shirt off before it threatened to ruin my hair.” Spike roughly jostled himself impossibly closer, tense under the mindlessly caressing hands. “Not only will I wake up looking like Shirley Temple, we’ll be bound together by the carpet of moss that mysteriously infested your waterlogged grunge-wear, so much so that you have to change your name to peat.”
“You’re crazy,” Xander yawned.
“Frustration sends me mad.”
“That explains a lot.”
“Still doesn’t explain why you though, does it?”
“Mr Convenience?” Xander suggested after a moment’s depressing thought.
“Yeah. That’d be it.” Xander felt Spike relax, suddenly as loose-limbed as a cat, and the weight on him doubled. Comfortably. And with Spike this close the quiet was very…quiet. “That’d be it,” Spike repeated softly, and the hand resting on Xander’s chest began to touch rhythmically, initially in time with Xander’s movements, then in time with the tune in Spike’s head.
“What is that?” Xander asked ten minutes later, having almost been lulled to sleep but ultimately brought back from the brink by Spike’s low humming.
“Still sick of the sound of my voice?”
Xander eeped as Spike sprang up to his hands and knees, crouching over Xander’s body and staring intently into the sleepy brown eye.
“‘I don't care if it hurts’,” Spike sang as he rocked slowly from side to side. “‘I want to have control.
I want a perfect body, I want a perfect soul.’”
“‘I want you to notice, when I'm not around.
You're so fucking special.
I wish I was special.’”
Spike dipped and nuzzled Xander’s cheek, dropping his voice to a tuneful whisper.
“‘But I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo.
What the hell am I doing here?’”
He pushed up, sat back, settled into the curve of Xander’s hips.
“‘I don't belong here.’”
It may have felt like a long time – the exchanged look drawn out and firmly shuttered – but it was a minute at most and then Spike was off, diving under the covers of his own bed, back turned on Xander.
“If I see Toby again I might have to kill the bastard child,” he told Xander reasonably.
“We need to talk about that,” Xander told him, trying to sound firm but feeling weak and queasy, uncomfortable in both his skin and his clothes. “Don’t hurt him.”
He rose cautiously, and with measured movements stripped down to t and boxers. Apparently there was no immediate danger of his internal organs rearranging themselves, and his legs were reassuringly where he usually kept them.
He thought about another drink of water. He thought about sleep. Peace. He thought about Spike killing Toby and weaved around to the vampire’s bed, clumsily getting in and cuddling up; an arm around Spike’s waist and Spike’s hand sluggishly moved to link their fingers. Xander imagined he was keeping Toby safe, and let himself fall asleep.
“I think it’s time for some of that explaining you keep promising but never deliver.”
Xander stopped eating and looked at Spike’s reasonable face. It wasn’t one of his better ones due to the twitching in his clenched jaw which belied the whole premise of reasonability. Xander guessed this face wasn’t one Spike practised much. Or possibly at all if he could help it. Twitch. Talking not thinking.
“Where would you like to start?”
Spike drew breath to speak but hesitated for a moment.
“I d’know. There’s so much I want to give you a hard time about, I’m spoilt for choice.”
Xander painfully swallowed down the last painfully chewed mouthful of pizza and, with a painful grimace, mentally bemoaned the consequences of getting into drunken brawls. Painful ones.
“I’m so outta practise. The whole getting beaten about the head thing, it’s for reckless youth. And vampires, naturally.”
“The whole getting beaten…” Spike nodded. “I left you, drove for a while…”
“I may have coincidentally driven in that direction,” Xander admitted, finding his soda can too irresistible to look away from, suspecting Spike was wearing the exceedingly well practised ‘once you’ve saved the world I’ll kill you’ face. “But I turned around. Came back. Found a bar and… All I wanted was a quiet beer, time to think, and I was minding my own business…”
“Toby came looking for you?”
“This guy comes over to me, and the minute he starts with ‘Toby said’ I knew I was in trouble. And several drinks earlier I’d’ve just got out of there, but… I was so annoyed with you…”
“How does this get to be my fault?”
“Not your fault, but feeling like that I really didn’t have anywhere to go.”
“What had Toby said?”
Xander gave a pained smile. Painfully.
“He’s been telling people that he’s scared of me. Trying to convince them that the only way I could possibly know the stuff I know…”
“Is if you’d killed
“I tried to be reasonable with this guy, explain what it is that I do, how exactly I know what I know. He wanted me to prove it, tell him something, but all I had was a blur of so many voices I couldn’t pick out any single one that was for him. No focus, no control. Don’t let me drink again, will you? Before the big day. ‘Cause…” Xander stopped and sighed, bringing up his hands to tentatively feel the damage to his face, concentrating on the area around his remaining eye. “I’m lucky I didn’t get a black eye, that would have been scary.”
“After you couldn’t prove what you do?”
“I was drunk, and the stupid smart mouth came into play. You have to remember how successful that used to be.”
“What did you say?” Spike asked, already grinning.
“That none of his relatives could bear to speak to him but the family dog wanted to talk about their first time together.” Spike laughed and Xander wished it didn’t hurt to join in. “I’m lucky I got out of there in one piece. But I did. And got followed to my car and…this happened. I guess I’m also lucky that the guy and his pal were drunker than I was by then.”
“Just the two of them?”
“Why? Do I look like I took on the local football team? No way I’m going near a mirror.”
“You’re all right,” Spike told him, deliberately sounding as if he was lying and glad of Xander’s reticence over the mirror: this way he didn’t have to explain the rapid healing and get into that whole vampire saliva thing that humans generally found so distasteful. “I’ve seen worse. And purple suits you. And blue. And red. And yellow.”
“Yellow?” Xander’s hand shot back to his face.
“The last of…y’know…”
“Where you hit me. Does my bruise have a bruise? Ow. Owowow.”
Spike leaned across the bed and stopped Xander prodding his mottled jaw.
“However mad I make you, you don’t do this again. No walking off and getting yourself into who knows what trouble.”
“No. Next time I stick around and take a swing at you instead.”
“You can do that. If we’re not allowed to fuck I’ll settle for a fight.”
“What the hell is all that about, Spike? Sex? Us? It’s bizarre.”
Spike hmmed and scratched his head.
“I think it’s proximity. I haven’t let myself get close to anyone for a long time, it’s usually such a disaster…”
“And that tells you nothing about the possibilities here?”
“I know, I know, you don’t have to warn me. But we sleep together and… It’s the nature of the demon, always wanting more. But…no longer allowed to try…taking more,” Spike finished stiltedly. “You’re quite safe.” Xander nodded. “You mean that? Yes, you know you’re safe? Or is that ‘I hear what you say’?”
“I’m safe,” Xander said after a brief pause for thought.
“That’s… I probably don’t deserve that. In fact…I know I don’t.”
“Okay, there are…things, in the past…” Spike gave an amused snort and rolled onto his back, covering his eyes with crossed arms. “What?”
“The past,” Spike said sourly. “The present. If you knew how I…”
Spike fell silent and Xander waited a while before clearing away the pizza boxes and soda cans, fetching fresh drinks and wandering around the room to try and loosen up his stiff muscles.
“Okay,” Spike said suddenly, grabbing Xander’s attention. “Memo to Angel…” Spike began, and Xander grinned as he strolled. “What’s to tell you about Xander Harris? He’s grown up well. Very nice bloke all round. Flashes of the old Harris temper, but mostly it’s under control ‘cause he needs peace aside from the voices. He’s generally happy with his lot, but he wouldn’t deny that he’s troubled: starting this skill of his so late in life has left him with problems, and I try to sympathise but… I’m too fascinated by him when he’s in that mode to feign pity for long, and it’s only a matter of time before he catches me out.” The remnants of Xander’s fading smile were lost to the rapidly growing discomfort at what he was hearing. “I watch him work and I want to claim him, possess him, rip the throats out of anyone who dares come close to him. He makes me feel special because I can help him in a way no-one else can and, when he turns to me, to the demon, for solace, it’s…a thrill. The demon has accepted and connected and I want him, I want… I want to fuck him senseless, which you’ll have figured out by now.”
“No, Spike,” Xander wasn’t aware of saying, a low, troubled murmur that even the vampire’s sharp hearing missed. Motionless now, leaning heavily against the bathroom doorframe and trying not to believe his ears.
“Lovely face, even when it’s black and blue; sturdy, resilient body. Beautiful arse, trim from all that bloody walking, but round enough to make the most reasonable bloke want to sink his teeth in deep. And I shouldn’t be paying attention to any of that ‘cause this is a job, it’s work, and he’s… Fuck, he can be so vulnerable, that big heart of his, and I’ve exploited my kind, concerned, supportive bullshit persona to the full and Xander’s fallen for it, distractedly and sweetly. I’m taking advantage of his good nature, I know, from making him take on this job, which he’s justifiably afraid of, to sharing his body heat and more at nights. When he figures it out this face’ll be more of a mess than his, ‘cause when that temper flares he’s still handy with his fists and I’ll not put up a fight.
“Is this just me wanting what I shouldn’t be able to have? As stupid and juvenile as that? I blame it on the demon, keep thinking the demon wants him, but I’m the demon, and I want him, shouldn’t even try to hide behind that. I s’pose I could pretend to be an unsuspecting victim of fate, carry on exploiting his good nature, tell him that these feelings have only just hit me like a bolt from the blue. But I have to be honest; I want to be honest. Somehow…somehow I knew. The minute he started to sing in that shit-hole of a room at his chapel, I knew he’d turn my world upside down.
“Is this how you felt about Dru? Were you captivated by her innocence, her skill, her…abnormality? Did you start to get hard every time her misery threatened to break her up, ‘cause when I see a man as tough as Xander brought to his knees by a force I can’t even sense…”
Spike’s attention wandered momentarily to his sire, his lost love. Remembering the nonsense she’d come out with, worse than any of Xander’s ramblings. He’d been ferocious in his need to protect her and he’d missed the duty when it was gone, in fact he’d never felt quite right since. Maybe Xander was a replacement? That would explain a lot. A lot but not all.
Xander watched the internal deliberations, somehow convinced himself not to panic, made himself move.
Spike felt Xander sit back down, no further away than where he’d been before. Brave enough to listen to this, to this demon wanting him, not running to find a place to hide.
“Of course I can’t dismiss the demon’s inherent desire to dominate the only other strong male in the immediate vicinity.” Spike dropped his arms, looked to Xander, who in turn was watching with an expression of horrified interest. “Master vampires fight rivals as a matter of course, you know that, learnt that from the watcher?”
“The winner has the right to take it all: standing, possessions, consorts, minions, mouth, cunt and/or arse; heart, if necessary.” Spike’s fist reflexively clenched tight. “In the past I haven’t hesitated to exert my authority with a little brute force and, quite possibly…” The arms came back up to hide Spike’s face and he returned to his memo to Angel. “Quite possibly there’s an extremely watered down version of that happening here. With Xander so distraught, the demon has accepted our fumbling in the dark as the submission of the opposing male and been satisfied. Or…” The matter-of-fact, lecturing tone softened into the voice Xander was growing more familiar with, one that he associated with darkness and comfort and quiet. “Maybe… I’ve changed, and Xander has changed, and the combination of those changes leaves me…wanting him. I do want him. Xander, who is both freak and consolation. Damaged. Hardy. Irritating. And…delicate. Unconsciously sexy; unlikely he’ll take my interest in him seriously before he’s flat on his back and I’m buried balls deep. Except…” Spike sighed, “contact is almost accidental, beyond our night time regime he won’t be touched with any feeling outside of his panics, and…he won’t kiss me. Let me kiss him. A few kisses and I could win him over but even when he’s giving in to lust he won’t give in to me.”
In one of the sharp moves that Xander found so disorientating, Spike was up and sitting opposite him, trailing his fingertips over the un-bruised cheek.
“I’m sorry, Xander.”
“I…I don’t know what to say.”
Spike focused on the dark eye that was understandably filled with confusion.
“He won’t let himself become attached. He can’t afford to like me any better,” Spike whispered. “He needs me. He won’t let himself use me. He doesn’t. Want. Me.”
The focus shifted to Xander’s mouth, and Xander moved just out of reach as Spike tried, once again, to kiss him. Spike chuckled to himself and kissed Xander’s cheek instead, before standing and reaching for his coat, shrugging it on.
“Where are you going?”
“Because of this?”
“No, Pet, not the biggest deal, is it? I’m crazy enough to want someone who doesn’t want me. Nothing new there.”
“Everything you said… It isn’t just about being wanted. Or not wanted.”
“Don’t fool yourself.”
“Even if it is, this isn’t like you and Dru, or Buffy. You don’t love me, it’s – it’s…like you said. Proximity. The demon reacting.”
“That’s right. Don’t worry, I’ll get over it. Just talking about it has made me see how ridiculous the idea is.”
“Then why are you leaving?”
“I need to see a boy about an axe.”
That jolted Xander out of his shocked state; he leapt up as quickly as his aches would allow, grabbed Spike’s coat and hung on.
“You’re not going anywhere until I explain a few things.”
Spike wrapped his hands around Xander’s.
“That bastard is going to get a little of what he deserves.”
“Please, Spike, sit down and listen, please?”
“Does that work both ways? Will you listen too? Because if you won’t I have no choice but to deal with matters my own way.”
“I’ll listen, I promise.” Xander tried to pull Spike back into the room, and felt the resistance. “Please, Spike. I promise.” The resistance dissolved and Spike let himself be drawn along. “It’s difficult because I have to make decisions based on what I know and… That’s part of the point, isn’t it? Sharing with you, not being the only one who knows what’s going on.”
“I can do that, I’ll get
used to it. Eventually.” Xander sat Spike down, in one of the chairs
rather than on the bed, because… ‘I want to fuck him senseless.’ …it seemed more businesslike. And this was business. Xander opened his mouth to launch into his
explanation of the events surrounding
“No. I was reporting back to Angel. That’s how I report back to Angel, sweeping monochrome statements that he takes with a pinch of salt.”
“Last night you had me fooled. Completely. Even if I’d been sober I think I’d’ve believed anything you told me.”
“Because you’d be right to. Good instincts.”
“I’m in there. That persona. Just felt shit about using the pumped up mode on you.”
“Okay. I get that. And I guess it worked, so from your point of view, job well done.”
Xander couldn’t keep the edge out of his voice, and Spike made the only offer he could.
“You want me to hand over to Angel?”
“Hey, freaked, not
insane. And – and…moving on now.
“Yes. All right.
“Is a killer.”
“No. No, Spike, he isn’t. Toby didn’t kill
“The axe was falling,
Xander, I—” Spike did a double take. “He didn’t kill
“He didn’t kill his brother.”
Spike blinked. Rewound. Replayed.
“Toby didn’t kill
Xander paused as he recalled the boy’s – both boys’ – distress.
Spike burrowed into his
pocket and pulled out the photograph he’d picked up prior to rescuing Xander
the previous day, smoothing out the creases and staring at the family again,
trying to figure out how he’d missed the pertinent dynamics. Toby glaring at
“Who was taking this photo?”
“And Dad really shouldn’t be looking at her like that, should he?”
Xander shook his head again and went back to wandering, unreasonably glad that after his shower he’d put on baggy old sweats that made his backside look as if it was unappealingly hanging halfway down his thighs.
“The day that
“That his dad will come back?”
Xander slowly shook his head.
“That he won’t.” Xander crossed and took the photograph from
Spike, studying the family group, weighed down with sorrow at the fate that was
to befall them. “Talking to Chrissie,
she makes excuses for him shooting through, the fact he couldn’t cope with
“You think she knows?”
“Suspects. About the girl. About her husband.” Xander sank onto his bed. “That poor boy. What a mess. I’m assuming the father did this in a panic, because he was scared of losing his wife. Instead… He lost everything.” Xander put the picture aside and rested his elbows on his knees, head in his hands. “Sometimes I think I’ll never understand people.”
“Toby was going to kill you to cover this up?”
“I thought about it when I was out driving yesterday.” Head up, Xander closed his eye and went through the motions. “I was sitting on the bench, and I kind of…felt Toby move. When I looked around I saw the side of the axe-head. Maybe he would have liked to hurt me for hurting him, but he didn’t seem capable of it. I don’t know whether he wanted to frighten me, or if he was just taking his rage out on the bench, but he wasn’t aiming for me.” Xander slumped again, staring at the floor. “He wants me out of here, obviously, he’s trying to protect what’s left of his family, which is why he told the guys I met in the bar what he did. Kind of spiteful thing a kid does when he’s feeling helpless.”
“Xander?” Xander looked up and Spike took his time standing and moving to sit beside him, deliberately being as non-threatening as possible. “You okay? I don’t know how close you get to the people you’re listening to, but this must be hard on you. You lived through that boy’s death.”
“I— I have to ask… Are you still playing me? What was it? Feigning pity?”
Spike took a deep breath and released it slowly.
“I don’t know why I said any of that.”
“You were trying to make sense of the fact you want to fuck Xander Harris senseless, and it turns out that it’s just ‘cause he’s a freak.”
“I was trying to be honest. Not always the smartest move, I know, but you like honest, and…sometimes I just can’t help myself.”
Xander took a good look at the miserable face.
“How comes it’s you feeling sorry for yourself?”
“I’m not. And I’m not trying to scare you or… Have I hurt you?”
“I don’t know about that. I’m…stunned…and…and…yes, I’m scared. Scared to even consider what it means if a demon thinks it owns me.”
“No, not owns. Wants to.”
“And that split hair makes a difference? I understand you being interested by what I can do, a lot of people are, but… You’re right, I have changed, but I’m still me, and you can’t want me, and that leaves me concerned by…I d’know…who you think I am.”
“Why can’t I want you?”
“Spike,” Xander spelt out. “Xander. Spike and Xander? C’mon…Spike and Xander?”
“I’m not fussed how it looks when you write your Christmas cards, mate, I simply… Oh, fucking hell.” Spike rose and headed back to the door. “Forget every word I said. It’s sex, just sex. You’re close, you’re available – or should be – and you let it happen a couple of times, you pretty much admitted that you enjoyed it. You let me close, lead me on until I want to get off, and now you’re playing hard to get…”
“That is not what I’m doing!” Xander protested, starting to follow Spike but reversing quickly away when the vampire turned on him.
“I told you. And I know you listened because you were quoting it back at me. I can’t afford to get involved.”
“I don’t do just sex.”
“No? Realise what you’re saying, do you? About our little fumbles?”
“I wasn’t leading you on, it’s been about the quiet, the… I wouldn’t have let it happen under normal circumstances.”
“Normal circumstances,” Spike repeated contemptuously. “A backwater existence that you barely share with your colourless friends, stagnating in your empty house with your empty heart and your empty future. Nothing more going for you than the voices in your head and the losers in the auditorium, and you think that’s living. No wonder you’re on your own, you think anyone would want more than sex from you with that attitude?”
Now that did hurt; Spike saw it immediately and as quickly wished he could shut up and stop baiting Xander, taking his frustration out on him. A punch would have been a happy resolution here, and he’d have let Xander off with it, but no. The anger that followed the hurt was deliberately, visibly switched off and Xander…did the usual. Rummaged in his bag for his book, took a little longer than normal to get comfortable on the bed, then studied the latest puzzle.
“Going out then?” he asked without a glance in Spike’s direction.
“If you see Toby, leave him alone. Or Chrissie. Leave them both alone.”
Spike hurried over, snatching the book away, seeing the anger rise for the briefest moment before Xander battled it down, back to neutral.
“Deny it,” Spike challenged. “Deny that there’s a spark inside you that glows at the thought of being wanted.”
“You don’t want me. You want a fuck. And Mr Convenience isn’t living up to his name.”
“Because, if this were the other way around, you’d really want you, wouldn’t you? Spike: what a catch! Irresistible, with those incredibly seductive allusions to violence and rape, expecting me to feel grateful you haven’t used those techniques on me. And should I be adding yet?”
“That is not me, that’s what I fight. It’s not me.”
“Not…! Have you listened to yourself? I know you, Spike.”
“You knew me. That is not me.”
“Don’t you just hate people who refuse to be honest with themselves?”
“Fuck you!” Spike spat as he flung the book down and wheeled away.
“Yeah, right, fuck you too,” Xander flatly dismissed him as he reclaimed his property and turned to the page he’d been about to work on.
Still never managing the grand exit, Spike spun back. Waited silently for so long that Xander couldn’t resist looking up from his puzzle.
“I’d let you,” Spike admitted, voice gentle in contrast to the former coarse protestations. “Fuck me. Is that what you want, Xander?”
Xander’s stared at Spike in shock, face paling. After a few numb seconds he thought to shake his head.
“Go away,” he added quietly.
The curious emptiness on Spike’s face remained as he gave a shallow nod.
“Don’t leave while I’m gone.”
Xander’s fingers tightened tellingly around his pen; he couldn’t believe that Spike had read him so easily.
“No,” he answered in that same disinterested tone, “I won’t. I’ll do what I said I would. As foreign a concept as I’m sure you find it, one of us has been entirely genuine.”
Xander twisted to his right to pick up his soda; when he turned back, the vampire was gone.
When Spike returned several hours later he half expected the room to be empty, Xander long gone, but there he was, virtually where Spike had left him, looking as if he’d fallen asleep mid-puzzle. Still fully dressed, was duly noted, and maybe that was more about his state of mind after Spike’s comments than not being bothered to get into bed.
Spike watched the twitches and flicks as Xander dealt with the voices, even in sleep, and his first instinct was to join him, cuddle up and steal some heat, offer some peace. Because of Xander’s accusations he felt obliged to question his motives and found them surprisingly pure, not that Xander would believe it. Why were humans always such a pain when you were honest about your feelings? Another vampire would accept – expect – this level of interest. Dru had relished her childe’s worshipful adoration and never questioned his integrity for a second.
Xander muttered, twisted, slapped a hand over his ear. Resigning himself to ‘fuck off’, Spike discarded his coat and climbed onto the bed behind the human, moving close enough to scare off the spirits, leaving enough of a gap to hopefully not do the same with Xander. The effect was as expected and predictably satisfying, Xander’s body becoming limp with sleep, but unfortunately rolling back to fill the space that Spike had conscientiously left.
“Bloody charming, that is, Harris. I’ll be the one getting the blame if…”
The relaxation was extremely short lived, Xander immediately responding to his carelessly spoken thoughts, waking fast if the accelerated heartbeat was any indication. And Spike knew he was in trouble unless Xander had reconsidered and focused on the positives and…and…who was he trying to fool?
But Xander was shifting in the vampire’s direction and Spike couldn’t help hoping, accommodating the man’s shuffled turn before freezing as a sharp wooden point dug into his rib cage.
“Hey, Baby,” Xander said coldly. “How was your evening?”
Spike contained the knee-jerk reaction that would have seen Xander being launched across the room and began to ease himself away.
“You don’t need that.”
Xander went with him and Spike flinched, able to smell the blood that oozed from the wound as the stake embedded itself a little more deeply.
“You think I’d do it?” Xander asked, almost taunted.
“No,” came the automatic response, but then, after a few seconds of rampaging doubt, “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know.” The stake was slowly twisted and Spike flinched as the point screwed itself a little further into the flesh. “You just don’t know.”
“I said, didn’t I?”
“And that’s exactly how I feel about the possibility of you hurting me. First instinct says no, but…I don’t know, Spike. I don’t know.” Xander backed off, removed the stake with some care then threw it away, disgust contorting his face. He’d left supplies alongside the bed and grabbed them up, yanking Spike’s t-shirt out of his jeans and pressing a pad he’d quickly soaked in disinfectant to the bloody puncture. “I’m supposed to trust you. How can that happen if I don’t feel safe with you?”
“You are safe.”
“The demon – you – think you own me, you want to fuck me senseless, how can I…”
“Being fucked senseless isn’t a threat. I didn’t mean it aggressively.”
“I know what you are, I know what you’re capable of. Not aggressively for you probably means I get to live through it. At least for as long as I’m useful.”
“Senseless with pleasure, that’s how I’d want you. I have this mental picture of you—” Spike sucked in a breath as Xander jabbed harshly at the wound, liberating the cotton pad from him… “You mind? I don’t think I can take much more of your loving care.” …and tending to himself.
“Why did you have to say that stuff? We were okay and now…now I have no idea what we are.”
“I wanted you to know exactly where I’m coming from. Can’t believe I thought it at the time, but there was always a slim chance you’d be interested. That’s how it works with demons, consensually: cards on the table, no misunderstandings…”
“But I’m not— Ah, no, Spike, no. What happened tonight?” Xander abruptly demanded, taking up Spike’s hand and holding it closer to the lamp. The knuckles were in the midst of recovering from severe bruising. “What happened, what did you do?”
“Don’t panic, it wasn’t the boy. I caught up with the blokes who hurt you.”
“I said not to.”
“You think I care what you said?”
“What did you do to them? Did you ki— Did you bite them?”
“D’know. How mad will you be if I say yes?”
“Then I didn’t bite them.”
“Oh, fuck, you bit them,” Xander groaned.
“No? So… Oh, I get it, you bit one of them.”
“The exceedingly drunk, exceedingly clumsy one might have tripped and accidentally landed on my fangs, yes.”
“Did you… Spike…” Xander took a deep breath. “Spike, did you kill him?”
“Hardly going to risk heaven for that scum, am I?”
“I’m serious. Why…”
“Not another sodding lecture! How about we say it wasn’t for you? It was a preventative measure to stop them behaving the same way with the next bozo who bounces into town and doesn’t fit.”
Xander thought, thought some more, thought of those bastards giving him a hard time in the bar and…
“Say it without the scowl.”
“Okay,” Xander repeated when he’d managed to un-scowl.
“Like that, don’t you?” Spike grinned. “Not the excuse, the beating. After all, they’re only about as sore as you were last night, didn’t kill ‘em, did I? Nothing wrong in you appreciating a little street justice.”
Xander rolled away, appalled at being overly pleased with Spike’s actions, grumpily pretending that he thought himself so much better than that.
“Okay if it wasn’t for me.”
Spike snickered and Xander unsuccessfully willed himself asleep.
“Can I stay here? If I don’t bleed on you?” Spike asked as he tossed the bloody pad over his shoulder and wriggled closer to his charge without waiting for an answer.
“That whole exercise was wasted on you, wasn’t it?”
“No. You think you’re safe but you’re not sure. That was before you knew I played your personal avenging angel and spread those blokes’ faces all over the pavement.”
“Spike,” Xander groaned. “Not for me.”
“For you, a gift, and it’s my pleasure to give it. Stop your hypocritical whingeing and enjoy it too.”
“You love it.”
Spike tugged an unresisting Xander to his chest and buried his face in the untidy hair.
“You bloody love it.”
Chapter 10 Whittling
“I feel sick that I did this.”
Midway through packing to leave, Spike stopped and looked over his shoulder to see Xander kneeling on the floor, staring at the stake he’d thrown down the previous night.
“You felt you had to,” Spike shrugged.
“You’re right though. About me being a hypocrite. I’m coming out with all this crap about learning to trust you and giving you a chance, and the first time you say something slightly provocative I’m overreacting and…and…”
Xander laughed at that, at Spike’s blunt acceptance of the whole business.
“You didn’t give a shit, did you? You could have snapped my neck before I had the chance to give you more than a graze.”
“I gave a shit,” Spike contradicted him, offering a hand and pulling him to his feet. “You’re sick you did that, I’m sick you had to.”
“I didn’t have to.”
“Parameters. Very useful.” Xander unconsciously edged a little further into the Spike zone, and the vampire was taken aback when he noticed Xander’s face, feeling his whole body respond. “Well…bugger me,” Spike announced before clarifying: “As in exclamation, not invitation.”
“It makes sense,” Spike announced with a wide grin. “Something actually makes sense.”
“There’s an expression…” Spike reached up and touched Xander’s cheek. “It’s… It must be about the quiet, but…you look fucked. In a good way. Sated.”
“It’s the relief, it must be, the noise stops and you looked very, very satisfied.”
“And it makes sense in what respect?”
“I get near you and you look like that, it’s hardly surprising there’s this association with you and sex. I see someone who’s…”
“Fucked.” Spike snickered at the deadpan delivery, and Xander smiled. “There had to be a way for you to blame me.”
“Mirror. Go and look in the mirror, and in a couple of minutes I’ll join you and you’ll see the effect. Fucked.”
“I have one day to go until I’m brave enough to look at myself.”
“It’s not as bad as you think.”
“Sure. That’s the vampire-speak equivalent of close your eyes and open your mouth, isn’t it?”
Xander saw the absolute torture Spike went through to not come back with any of the obvious innuendos the remark prompted. Instead Spike took the stake and studied it.
“Can I keep this?”
“Are we expecting that kind of trouble?”
“When this job is done and finished it’ll be a nice souvenir. You haven’t lost your touch.”
“Sure, keep it. I never knew you were the sentimental type.”
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me, Pet.”
“Like why you use that when it’s so demeaning. Or maybe I just answered my own question.”
“Pet. I’ve heard you use it before: Buffy, Dawn,
“No,” Spike frowned. “You think… Why haven’t you mentioned this before now?”
“Because…” Xander thought, “it didn’t seem worth the aggravation. But I’d like to know why you use it, if it isn’t to make me feel as if I should be on my perch, ringing a bell.” Spike was both happy and intrigued at what appeared to be legitimate interest rather than antagonism. “You don’t see humans as equals, so…”
“Didn’t. Long time ago now.”
“Not back to vampire-speak then?”
“No,” Spike chuckled. “It’s English not demonic. A contraction of petal. Long usage and quite amiable. Affectionate even.”
“Petal?” Xander repeated incredulously.
Spike tilted his head this way and that, examining Xander.
“Suits you. At this moment in time you’d be my Passion flower. For the colour, naturally.”
Xander rolled his eye, sighed, stepped out of the zone, and carried on with his tidying and packing.
Spike alternated between unintentionally getting in the way, getting out of the way, and getting in the way again, albeit in some other area that had previously been safe ground.
“You’re doing this on purpose, aren’t you, Harris? Hounding me?”
“Yeah, kinda,” Xander admitted. “It passes the time.”
“I didn’t know you were playful. I always saw you as a bigot and a bore.”
“Welcome. At least you’re no longer a bigot,” Spike teased, the smirk being knocked off his face by a well-aimed pillow.
“That’s it? All you thought of me?”
“Pain in the arse? Or were you looking for something more specific?”
“I saved your life.”
“Yes,” Spike agreed thoughtfully. “Yes, you did. You’re full of surprises.”
“Aren’t you glad you didn’t kill me when you had the chance?”
“You’ve coped with what I told you yesterday, and a lot better than I could have hoped, in retrospect.”
“Yeah, well, we’re back to what I said before. Either we get along or I go crazy. Plus I don’t think you’d risk making a serious move, not while I’m…”
“Don’t say convenient.”
Xander hesitated, then nodded: he didn’t need to say it when it was so obvious.
“I do want to trust you,” Xander said quietly, staring at the pathetically small collection of items he’d brought from home. “I need that.”
“Miss them, don’t you? Your friends.”
It was possible to see the emotion well up in Xander; possible to see the hurt of pressing it back down.
“I do miss them. Very much. I know you didn’t like them but they’ve seen me through what could have been an impossible time. You still don’t think I should talk to them?”
“This way is safer. For them.”
“Okay,” Xander agreed sadly. “Um… Think I might meditate for a while. Any chance you can stay quiet for a hour?”
“Not as easy as saving the world, but I’ll do my best.”
They exchanged a frank, unprecedentedly open look, Spike’s concern meeting Xander’s sense of loss, just for a split second, but long enough to offer comfort or stir determination. Xander turned away sharply, finding himself a corner for his meditation and, as he started to kneel, Spike had the pillow beneath his knees before he got to the floor.
Late afternoon saw a rejuvenated Xander, ready for another round of harass the vampire; eventually Xander sat on the end of the bed that Spike had taken refuge on.
“When did you eat last? Blood not human food.”
“A couple of days ago.”
“That’s what I thought. You gave me the impression that Angel could find you anywhere, magic you up some blood.”
Spike nodded pensively.
“I’ve been a bit concerned, it’s not like him to let me down. Do me a favour? Take a look around outside, see if there’s something tucked in a cool spot?”
Spike watched Xander’s progress as far as he could, all too aware that Xander’s argument about daylight making his promises of protection worthless could be proven right in the blink of an eye if the uber-nasty decided to have a little fun with the medium. No possibilities of plotting a way to save him here if it struck anytime soon and, if the blood wasn’t about assurance that all was well in LA rather than food, he’d never let him beyond arm’s reach, especially after that fiasco with Toby and the subsequent post-bar brawl.
As Xander came back into view he was chatting away to one of his invisible cohorts; Spike strained to catch a few words but was unable to make out enough to judge whether it was Saul, Jesse, the return of Wayne, or one of the dozens of unidentifiable visitors that beat on Xander’s mental door.
With the appearance of a very edgy Chrissie Spike could take a fair bet, and the woman cautiously approached Xander, seeming very relieved when he greeted her with his customary warmth. They talked for long enough for Spike to decide he didn’t like her, her problems, her living son – although that was a given – her town, or what Spike assumed were her attempts to lure Xander back to her house so she could continue to bleed him dry emotionally.
But, by the look of it, she wasn’t having much luck, and Spike revelled in her distress when Xander evidently made it plain that this little psychic fling was over.
“She ask you to go back?” Spike demanded the moment Xander set foot inside their room.
“I thought I noticed her when I was out looking for a piece of wood last night; she probably didn’t feel brave enough to talk to me then. My face.”
“Did she ask you to go back?” Spike pressed.
“Not at first. She’d heard the gossip about me getting beat up and I’m pretty sure she knows about Toby’s part in it. She was trying to apologise without admitting she knew.”
“Fucking nerve of the woman!”
“I had a couple more
things to pass on from
“We’re going as soon as the sun sets, that’s a promise.”
“What if Angel…”
“Can we finish with your
nuisance before we get onto mine?
Weren’t you tempted to tell her how
“I was. Just for a moment. But I thought my motives might have been wrong, so…” Xander shrugged. “She’s heard from Wayne, knows she’ll be with him again one day, maybe I’ve done enough and she can start to heal.”
“You’re too bloody good.”
“It’s my job.”
“Just your job? Who are you kidding?”
“There wasn’t any blood,” Xander moved away from what felt suspiciously like fluffing, and onto something that now had both of them worried. “Are you sure you weren’t supposed to call him, or…”
“I don’t call him, I don’t have to. The way we work is simple: one of us is alone in the field, the other keeps tabs and supplies blood, money, whatever’s needed.”
“But if you don’t call him, how does he know where you are?”
Spike’s hand prodded at a spot on his own right shoulder.
“I’ve got this implant, and…”
“Wait. You’ve got…”
“An implant, little bug that allows Angel to trace me.”
“What? Like you’re a lost dog?”
“It’s practical, we’ve never had a problem with the system.”
“After the chip, the tag the military used to track you… How can you possibly let anyone put anything in your body?”
“Are you asking for personal reasons?” Spike grinned, unable to resist. Xander hesitated before speaking, but before he could get a reconsidered word out… “What do you do when you do that?” Spike asked.
“Sometimes, when you want to tell me to fuck off, there’s this moment, a pause, when something in you switches over from kick Spike’s arse to appallingly tolerant.”
“You’d prefer me to kick your ass?”
“Might be fun if you tried.”
Xander dropped onto his bed, stretched out, tucked his hands behind his head.
“Before I was allowed to work with the public I was given some training as a bereavement councillor. One of the people on the course spent a lot of time analysing me and…”
“You have to be analysed before…”
“This was someone else actually taking the course, we kinda hit it off, spent our free time together, and I got…analysed. She gave me some advice on how to deal with the kind of emotions that would lead to a vampire getting his ass kicked.”
Spike listened and nodded, slowly and thoughtfully. Xander was hoping for an intelligent question but wasn’t surprised with the one he got.
“Nice was she? Pretty? You always got the pretty ones, could never figure it out.”
“She wasn’t what you would think of as pretty, no, but I thought she was beautiful.”
“What was wrong with her then?”
“So why wouldn’t I have fancied her?”
“’Cause she’d been in an accident, her face was scarred.”
“You think I’m…”
“Completely superficial, yes. And you’re physically attractive enough to draw equally superficial women. I’d have been jealous once but not now. Leaves the people worth knowing to the likes of me.”
“All jokes aside, you’re a nice-looking bloke.”
“Gimme a break from the bull, will you, Spike?” Tetchiness finally broke the surface. “As far as a lot of people are concerned you were right, albeit in a different context. I’m a fucking freak.”
“Or, generally, a non-fucking freak.”
“Not a non-fucking freak with her, but…yes. Generally.”
Spike came to sit on the edge of the bed; Xander moved over to accommodate him.
“I thought…” Spike gestured to Xander’s face. “…didn’t bother you.”
“It doesn’t. It bothers other people.”
“Doesn’t bother me.”
“You never look at it.”
“That’s right, I tend to look you in the eye, not the socket. Socket: not so expressive.”
“I think we’ve got way off the point.”
“And I thought you said that you were alone because nobody could put up with you since you started keeping company with the dead dead rather than the undead dead. Nothing to do with how many eyes in your head.”
“It’s a combination.”
“It’s you. I bet it’s just you putting people off. Combination of not being a freak but feeling a freak, the circus skills, the whole ‘I’m okay but really I’m not’ neurosis over the eye…”
“The problem with…the circus skills is perfectly genuine. It’s to do with the fact that I can’t sleep peacefully, and I can’t switch off and give someone my complete attention.”
“You’re doing okay now.”
“I sleep with you. I mean…with you I actually get some sleep, I’m not exhausted and irritable with it, the lethargy has gone, I’ve got my appetite back, my sense of humour…”
“Yeah, all right, I get the point. Why did it work with her then? The woman on the course?”
“It was a few weeks and no possibility of anything more.”
“Why not?” Xander looked away before Spike could figure out embarrassed or humiliated or cross at being asked. Bearing in mind she’d liked Xander enough to get involved in the first place it had to be something…obvious. “Was she married?”
“I only found out when her husband came to collect her when the course finished.”
“She never told you?”
“She didn’t think she’d have to.”
“Cheeky little minx.”
Xander suddenly smiled too.
“Yeah. She was great. Trouble, but she was great.”
“Do you think the only people that will want you are the ones in a similar position? Damaged?”
“Don’t, Spike,” Xander said, voice so full of conflicting emotions that the usually obstinate vampire knew he had to let this go. He swivelled and laid alongside Xander, head propped up on a hand.
“All right. But just so you know, you do get the completely superficial vote.” Xander looked at Spike, trying to figure him out, inching closer for the peace without knowing he was doing it. “There’s that expression,” Spike pointed out gleefully. “Can’t blame me for wanting to be the one that puts it there.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Are you going to call Angel?” Xander very deliberately changed the subject. “It could be something as simple as the implant having malfunctioned. You don’t want to go hungry.”
Spike thought about it, unable to stop himself laying a hand on Xander’s stomach and stroking as he did so.
“I’ll give it a few more days, then… I might have to go to LA.”
“We’ll be really careful to keep your presence concealed, I’ll make sure you’re safe.”
“Fancy a jaunt?”
“No. But I don’t have to go.” Spike turned on the glare and this time Xander simply smiled. “That’s getting way too much practise.”
“Wouldn’t you like to catch up? Buffy might be there. Dawn.”
Xander shifted uncomfortably.
“When this is over maybe.”
“That’s a no, isn’t it? Now or then. Why don’t you want to see them?”
“I never said that.”
“Yes, you did, just not verbally.”
“Why does it matter to you?”
“It doesn’t, I’m only curious. Grown out of them, have you?”
Spike watched Xander’s
hand come up to his breastbone, touch the item beneath his clothing that was
always worn but never seen. Spike
reached up and poked into the neck of Xander’s shirt, finding the chain and
drawing out what he’d expected to be an article of faith, but proved to be a
plain gold locket. Xander let him
examine it, flick it open to see, cut from a single old photo, Buffy and Giles
in the left compartment, Xander and
“You think I could still fit in?” Xander asked apprehensively. “’Cause I don’t.”
“Why is it about fitting in?”
“I guess…it’s something I always needed. To feel a part.”
“You’re still a part. When they used to talk about you…”
“Been nothing much to say these last few years, has there? ‘Heard from Xander?’ ‘No.’”
“I talk to
“They’re not interested in you because you can report back about talking to the dead. If anything I reckon that’s an excuse of Red’s to get you to keep in touch.”
“That junk jewellery you
sent the Bit from
“I’ll call them. All. When this is over. Maybe write some letters in case it’s over when it’s over.”
“And while we’re almost on the subject, what was that about never feeling safe? You were in the slayer’s pocket and you never felt safe?”
“Did that sound as if I didn’t trust them? ‘Cause, I did, with my life, which I have to admit paid off a few times. But…I always understood about the bigger picture, I always knew that if it were me versus mankind… Like now. We’re going into this thing with Dead Guy and, if something goes wrong, I know you’ll be taking care of what matters most and I’m not fooling myself that that’ll be me, whatever promises you make.”
“Hey, I’ve said…”
“On the day it will come down to what’s needed. If Dead Guy doesn’t make contact and all that’s left is a fight, I’m not going to turn my back ‘cause it isn’t what I signed up for, I’m going to fight, any way I can.”
“Xander, I understand perfectly, but know this: I will protect you until the end. I’ve given you my word.”
Spike held up his hand, finger and thumb three inches apart. Xander thought about it.
“I trust you that much. Yes.”
“Oh…bollocks to yesterday.”
“You shouldn’t have said what you said.”
“I know! You think I don’t know!”
“I think you know now.”
“But I am fascinated, you do make me feel special, and you do have a beautiful ar…”
“Don’t go there!”
“Shut up, Harris! Know what else? I’m not playing you, I don’t want to dominate you, and – and…” Spike stopped with a huffed expulsion of breath.
“And?” Spike wriggled his arm out of the way, resting his head on the pillow beside Xander’s. Xander twisted around to see him better, Spike being on his blind side. “And?” he repeated.
“I wanted to kill those men for you. Bring you their hearts as a trophy, their ‘nads for a joke, and decorate the room with their entrails.”
“I hope this is over before Christmas. I’d hate to see the tree when you’re done with the trimmings.”
Spike froze. Felt.
“Sun’s going down. Let’s get out of here.”
Xander took one last look around, despite having been ready to ship out hours ago, grimacing as he listened to Spike’s cheerfully bastardised rendition of ‘Deck the Halls with Bowels of Toby’, complete with alarmingly enthusiastic fa la la la la’s as the vampire shrugged on his duster; ‘Don we now our gay apparel’ and Spike was helping Xander into his coat, before snatching up the car keys, gathering their luggage, encouraging Xander to ‘Follow me in merry measure’ as he made his exit.
Xander locked up the room
and returned the key to the motel’s reception, slowly walking to the Mustang as
In the parking lot Spike was waiting beside the driver’s open door, both hands on the car’s roof and drumming along with a song blaring from the radio. Xander didn’t hesitate to do what Spike had done to him a couple of nights ago: closing in to his back, hands on his waist, leaning forward to rest his brow against the back of Spike’s head.
“Pet…al?” Spike’s laid his hands over Xander’s. “All right?”
“Oh,” Spike accepted gravely. “Help yourself then.”
Xander did, for five silent minutes.
“I shouldn’t need this. Knowing everything I know.”
“Don’t be hard on yourself.”
“And…there has to be some irony in turning to the undead for an affirmation of life,” Xander said as he made himself pull away, feeling Spike’s reluctance to let his hands go.
“Is there a right thing to say now?”
“No,” Xander sighed as he walked resignedly around the car to the passenger’s side, grudgingly accepting that he wasn’t in good enough shape to drive for what could be hours. “Any idea where we’re headed?”
“Yeah, I do. That surprised you, didn’t it?”
“You call Angel?”
“I called someone other than Angel. Two days ago.”
“You’re not… This isn’t some kind of set-up, is it?”
“Not yet. You don’t have to be so suspicious.”
“Curious not suspicious. I can’t help it.”
“Yes, you can.”
“Shame you don’t have a choice then, eh?”
Glare matched smirk; without another word Xander climbed into the car and waited to be taken…somewhere.
Xander dozed for the last part of this journey, coming to with a start when Spike rested a hand on his forearm, and aware of being surrounded by the dark.
“It’s a cabin, I’ll go and get some lights on.”
With a dazed nod, Xander yawned and scrubbed at his face, wishing he hadn’t slept because it was more convenient to be on Spike’s time. As his eye became accustomed to the lack of light he began to pick out a little of their new location. Trees, trees, lots of trees. And…more trees. He suspected the cabin was in the woods.
Lights caught his attention and he blinked a few times to focus on his home for the next however long: a traditional log cabin? Xander shook his head in disbelief – Spike having never struck him as the great outdoors type – and hoped that civilisation wasn’t too far away. Feeling the trunk pop, the slightest movement of the car as Spike removed their bags, Xander climbed out of his seat and attempted to do his own fetching and carrying, but was successfully rejected as, time after time, Spike nimbly sprang away from his hands.
“What do you think?” the vampire asked once Xander was led inside.
“It’s…” Nothing as Xander expected, the rusticity of the outside belying the all mod cons approach of inside. “Pretty cool.”
“Is, innit? Nearest town’s only a couple of minutes away,” Spike assured as if he’d read Xander’s mind a short time before. “And there’s… No, won’t tell you, I’ll show you. Later,” before Xander could ask. “There are two bedrooms. Want to risk it?”
Xander considered that: no sign of the entity and he could probably deal with the voices, so…
…and absolutely no admitting that he was making the most of having someone to hold onto at nights, someone to be held by. A novelty he was happy to exploit, and Spike looked rather smug too as he made for the master bedroom to drop off their luggage.
Xander found the kitchen, happy to discover it was fully stocked and, after rooting through the cupboards and fridge, settling on pasta and ready-made sauce for speed.
“Everything you want?” Spike asked when he joined him.
“Okay?” he waved the sauce bottle at Spike, whose head waved in time until he managed to read the label.
“Anything hot I can add?”
Xander waved at the cupboard that contained an array of herbs and spices in small pots.
“Mind the garlic,” Xander warned, “there’s powder and salt and flakes and…some other version I’ve already forgotten.” Spike was deliberating whether to thank Xander for his consideration and casually mention what a decent bloke he was, or if that would sound like an ingratiating, pre-pickup line, which it very possibly was, when Xander was backing away, fingers twitching. “Okay, c’mon, Sweetie, c’mon… Yes, you’re okay, I can hear you.”
“Who?” Spike asked anxiously, having to work very hard at not approaching Xander. “Xander…”
“Yes, thank you. The cousin who drove you crazy reading the stories in bad voices: is that Francis?”
“Francis? Bugger, what did I do to deserve him?”
Xander gave a rapid shake of the head.
“His sister was Maria…”
“Maria,” they said, simultaneously correcting the pronunciation to make the i sound like eye rather than ee.
“She was older than you both and…you had a crush on her.”
“I did not! Well, not much.”
“This is…” Xander frowned. “Help her, please. … Your aunt, this is William’s aunt. This is… … Again? … Oh, another Maria, her daughter was named after her.” Xander began to rub his chest. “Something… She died because of something to do with her breathing, or her lungs? She’s letting me feel…”
“Nowadays we’d know it was cancer, can’t remember what the quack put it down to at the time.”
“That makes sense, yes. … It was you that gave Francis his interest in reading, and…and… You didn’t kill him when you were turned, you damn fraud!” Spike grinned and shrugged. “The family is together and… … Again? … You were an uncle…three…four… Go back, go back. … Five times over.” Xander smiled at Spike. “Five nieces and nephews you didn’t know, Spike, two…no… Go back. … Yes. Two boys and three girls. The eldest boy, that’s…yes, Francis’ boy, was… He was called William.” Xander’s face reflected the emotion he was dealing with, but his wasn’t the only wet eye in the room. “He missed you so much, Francis missed you, it was a long time before he stopped trying to find you, he couldn’t accept you’d just disappear, you and your mom… … One at a time. … He died, the second William died in…” Xander groaned. “Please don’t show me, just tell me. … The war. First world war. … A battle at— Okay. … Maria – the elder Maria – says there’s a tree growing for you, planted for William… … Where, again? … Can’t catch it, I’m losing the connection. Saul. … What? … No, go back, what was…?” Xander apologetically looked to Spike. “Gone. Sorry.”
“No, that was…” Spike roughly swiped away the tears that had managed to escape. “I used to think it was entertaining, people going into shock when they heard from their late lamented. Not so bloody funny when it’s your own folk, eh?” Swiping and wiping wasn’t working too well; Spike pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes. “Why should it mean so much? All this time. After all this time.”
The vampire visibly jumped when he dropped his hands to find Xander standing before him.
Spike nodded briskly, exasperated by himself for being so susceptible and, naturally, taking it out on Xander.
“Do you really care?”
“If I’m okay. Is it an automatic reaction or do you mean it?”
Spike waited for the offence taken and snapped reply, but although Xander went to speak, he stopped, thought, took his time.
“That’s a fair question,” he conceded when he finally got a few words out.
Xander smiled at Spike’s surprise, glad that he’d been able to take a mental step back before automatically and stridently protesting about Spike’s apparent mistrust. His hand rose and the thumb took the last tear that had spilled onto the vampire’s cheek.
“The lean works both ways.”
“I don’t,” Spike insisted. “I don’t lean on anybody.”
“Okay, you don’t. But know you can.”
“Yeah, you said that.”
“Because I don’t.”
“What was the comfort about then?”
“That wasn’t leaning.”
“If you say so.”
With another smile Xander moved back to the stove; as he went he perhaps unconsciously licked the moisture from his thumb. Impossible to miss the action, and Spike took a deep silent breath, entranced by the idea of Xander tasting him, anyone tasting him, but…Xander tasting him. Xander. Tasting him.
“Spike! Hey! Baby! Come back to me!”
“Hi, where d’you go?” Xander laughed.
“No, it wasn’t…”
“See if there’s any parmesan.”
“Parmesan? Parmesan! Yes.” Shaking off the stupefying effects of his intense thirty-second fantasy in which he got everything he wanted, Spike checked the fridge and poked around in the stack of cheeses until he found one that smelt like week-old socks, tossing it over to Xander before looking around to find something wet to accompany the meal. “You like wine, Pet…al?”
“I’d prefer a soda. I meant what I said about not drinking.” Spike sniggered. “No, I did mean it, you wait and see.”
“The minute Dead Guy’s dealt with, what say we go out and get blind drunk?”
“Can I get semi-blind drunk?”
“You certainly can.”
“Then it’s a date.” Spike waited for the spluttered withdrawal when Xander realised what he’d implied, and was bemused when it didn’t emerge. “How long until you get hungry, Spike? I mean, blood-hungry?”
“While yet, nothing to worry about.”
“But you have to keep your strength up, we don’t know— Do we know when this Dead Guy thing is going to happen?”
“No. But if I need to I’ll go into the woods, drain some animals.”
The tense face belied the casual tone.
“Are you seriously worried about what’s happening in LA?”
“Thought you didn’t read minds,” Spike unsuccessfully joked.
“You’re going to have to go.”
“We’ll see. Get you settled in and we’ll see.”
Xander didn’t seem too anxious about the thought of being left alone, Spike noted. The human pottered around, humming to himself as he served up the meal, appearing pretty settled already.
“Do you cook?” Xander asked as they sat down to eat.
“Not if I can help it.”
“’Kay, no cooking for
Spike.” Spike grinned. “You can clean up after me instead.” Spike scowled. “I’ve been meaning to ask you… These reports I promised to write up for
“I’m happy to, I wanted to read them anyway.”
“Yeah? Cool. And…you’ll make sure Wills gets them if I… If anything goes wrong and I don’t get the chance to give them to her myself.” Before Spike had time to respond with platitudes, Xander reverted the subject. “Will you need to take the car? If you go to LA?”
“No, I wouldn’t leave you without transport, would I?”
“There’ll be something in the garage here, car, bike, whatever.”
“If you went, you think it would be for long? And that’s a stupid question, forget I asked it, I know that these things can’t be…”
“We’ll go out later,” Spike interrupted. “I picked this place for a reason.”
“Yeah? Is it…”
“You’ll have to wait and see.”
“Doesn’t it feel wrong?” Xander taunted. “All the teasing? Like I’m your boyfriend or something.”
“Now, there’s a thought,” Spike replied evenly.
“Oh, sure,” Xander chuckled, “tonight’s a date.”
“No. Apparently it can’t be a date until Dead Guy’s dealt with.”
Xander was about to pick that apart but sense got the better of him. He dismissively waved the point away.
“You wouldn’t ask me on a date.”
“No. I could be a convenience, as we’ve already established. I could be your dirty little secret, but not your date.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Imagine telling Buffy.”
“I’d tell Buffy.”
“Imagine telling Angel.”
“I’d delight in telling Angel.”
“Imagine telling Dawn.”
“She’d want to double date.”
“You as a dirty little secret. Far more…stimulating.”
“Hey. Not over the pasta.”
“You know exactly what I meant, you’re not turning it into some gruesome fantasy.”
“Now, about that…”
“Are we done here? ‘Cause…surprisingly tired. And one more word and you’ll be checking out the spare room, Baby.”
“I know it’s ironic, but every time you call me that I get more turned on.”
“Hit the sack, shall we?”
“You keep your hands to yourself.”
Spike solemnly crossed his heart with a single finger, and Xander grudgingly accepted the show of sincerity that automatically made him suspicious because, well… Spike. He gathered up the plates and, with one last mistrustful glance, returned them to the kitchen.
“Hands, yes,” Spike muttered in his absence. “Can’t make any promises about the rest of me.”
The bedroom was swish and opulent, and Xander wished he’d had a few minutes alone to appreciate the incongruity of this haven of luxury within the confines of a rustic log cabin, but Spike was everywhere, switching on lamps and unpacking and tossing aside the aptly named silk and satin throw cushions to get to the crisp linen beneath, bouncing on the bed and offering a choice of sides. Choosing a side felt strange, far more deliberate than how their sleeping arrangements had been until now, and Xander left the decision to Spike before belatedly realising that if Spike stayed where he was it meant he’d be on Xander’s blind side. Xander screwed his fingers into his hair and sighed, trying to figure out how to work this around without being obvious.
“You prefer this side?” Spike asked, apparently reading his mind again.
“Bigger cabinet,” Spike covered, “for your book and your notepad and your water and…” Spike shrugged, oddly awkward in his consideration.
Xander quickly unpacked, found his toiletries and went off to wash up, pleased to see that Spike had been right when he’d said the damage to his face wasn’t too bad: what had felt massive from the inside was healing well and fading fast on the outside. Still not exactly a pretty sight, mind.
It wasn’t until he was balming his carefully shaved jaw that he wondered what message his primping was sending to the vampire, what message he might be subconsciously sending to himself. It was almost too strange and disturbing to question too deeply, this rapidly developing relationship between the two of them. Almost. Xander sat on the closed toilet lid, stared at the artistically tiled floor, and did question, or at least he tried to, but each and every approach rapidly led to the sheer irresponsibility of getting involved in any way other than friendship, strictly platonic friendship. Any more and, as a person, he didn’t want to cope with a break up, breakdown, break away, whatever it would be if they survived Dead Guy; as a medium there was a good chance he wouldn’t be stable enough to cope with what were often traumatic encounters with the spirits if he were experiencing his own emotional upset.
But how glorious not to be alone for a while, even if he was with Spike of all people – all demons – who was proving to be good company, did seem scarily decent at times, had completely convinced Xander of his desire to keep him safe, and…and who Xander looked up to find standing in the doorway, naked chest, jean buttons unfastened, bare feet; leaning on one side of the doorframe while a raised arm rested high on the opposite. Xander’s gaze trailed over the blatantly obvious offer, wondering and what iffing.
“Xander. TV. Cable. Football. Will it disturb you?”
With a pleased nod, Spike was gone and the almost-peace was disrupted by the sound of a roaring crowd. So much for the blatant offer, Xander laughed to, possibly at, himself, shaking his head and rising to risk another look in the mirror – a daring feat that should be more than enough to convince him that Spike was just fooling around with talk of dates.
Spike lazed on the bed, mentally switching off the game and paying attention to a more immediate need, cock rigid due to the look Xander had given him, unconsciously given him he had no doubt, but fucking hell, if that man only knew what he could stir in this demon’s breast. And lower.
His fingers slipped inside the open jeans and caressed, balls to glans, and these weren’t his fingers, they were Xander’s, and he was holding Spike’s cock just…so because it was easier for him to wrap his lips…
“That good a game, huh?”
“Mmm. Why don’t you come and watch?”
“Oh, sure, there’s bound to be a raincoat around here somewhere. Maybe I could go outside and peer in through the window for greater authenticity.”
“The game,” Spike chuckled. “Watch the game, you dirty-minded wretch. Unless, of course, you’d rather watch…”
“I might just take a better look around the cabin. And outside, yes, good idea, without the peering. Is it safe to go outside?”
“’Kay, I’ll leave you in peace to enjoy your…sport.”
Xander paused in the doorway, refusing to look back.
“Yeah, being careful, don’t worry about me.”
“Mind the wildlife. You don’t want to get eaten.”
“And that’s precisely why I’m going outside,” Xander muttered as he left.
The night was cold and exhilarating and adequately shrivelled any impertinent show of interest; Xander wandered around the perimeter of the cabin, finally making sense of its science fiction outtake qualities – all the extra space inside was due to extensions that were invisible from the front of the building. He couldn’t help glancing over as he walked past what he’d figured out was the bedroom window, and he was startled to see Spike there, leaning on the sill, watching out for him. A ‘wait there’ gesture, and Xander sighed and obediently waited. Barely two minutes and Spike joined him; they strolled.
“You don’t need to guard me every second.”
“And no way I wanted to interrupt your special time with the person you love best.”
“Yeah, well, I couldn’t concentrate knowing you were out here alone.”
“I’m not alone, I’m never alone.”
Xander stopped and directed Spike’s attention to a seemingly mundane stretch of trees.
“There. It’s a deer.”
Spike peered into the darkness.
“In spirit. Coming this way.”
“We’ll scare it off.”
“No. It – she - she’s not running because she doesn’t see us. Doesn’t see the cabin. It wasn’t here when she was. Stay here.”
Xander walked in the direction of the deer, eventually stopping and waiting.
“Where is she now?”
“Just walked right through me,” Xander smiled, swivelling on the spot to watch the deer’s progress as it disappeared into the wall of the cabin.
“What did you feel?” Spike asked as he came to Xander’s side.
“Instinct not thought: food, shelter.”
Spike was staring at Xander rather than at the, to him, non-existent deer, and Xander met the intense scrutiny with wary interest.
“Freak?” he asked dubiously. Spike edged closer, waiting to see if Xander would withdraw, but he didn’t, accepting with a degree of amusement Spike’s overly cautious hug. “What’s this about?” Xander asked kindly, stroking his hands over Spike’s sides and wondering why comfort, and why now. “You okay?”
“You bring the dead to life. Purely. I don’t feel dead with you.”
Xander wasn’t sure how to respond to that extraordinary revelation; relying on actions speaking louder than words, he hugged back, completely at ease. Feeling a tremor ripple through Spike’s body, Xander hoped he hadn’t fallen for one of the vampire’s moves, yet still not considering breaking away because the need for contact seemed genuine, however it played out. Spike’s head turned, brow resting in dark hair tangled by a forest breeze, cold nose rubbing over Xander’s equally chilly ear.
“You okay?” Xander asked again.
“The dragon? My mum said about the dragon?” Xander nodded. “She said about the losses. When we fought it, fought—” Spike shook his head against Xander’s. “You don’t need all that, but it seemed wrong at the time, that only the dead survived the battle. With the living gone, I…I lost something. Inside. Felt as dead as this shell.”
“They were good people, people who can’t be replaced by the new. But you’re not the new, you’re an original. A week ago I’d never have considered it but you’ve been what I need.”
Xander hugged Spike a little harder for a moment.
“If this is a move,” he admitted, “it’s a pretty good one.”
“It’s not a move.” Spike’s head came up; the grip loosened, he retreated, two steps. His smile made Xander smile. “Not everything is a move.”