Chapter 11 Closer
The Mustang slowed as it passed through the nearby town, Spike trying to find his bearings and track down…
“What? What are you looking for? If you tell me I can help.”
“Not much of a surprise then.”
“I don’t need surprises. Past experience dictates that surprises are frequently not good.”
“This one is.”
“A clue wouldn’t hurt.”
“You don’t need one, Pet, we’re here.”
“Where’s here?” Xander demanded, peering around at the anonymous buildings.
“Petal,” Spike corrected.
“You think that’s any better?” Xander asked distractedly.
“For you? Perfect. ‘Deep in their roots’,” he quoted, “‘all flowers keep the light’. If that isn’t Xander Harris I don’t know what is.”
“I swear you make this stuff up as it suits you.”
“Put your patch on.”
Xander automatically reached into his pocket and pulled the eyepatch out but, instead of slipping it on, he stared at it in his hand.
“Why? Afraid I’ll embarrass you?”
“No. You’ll just wish you had if you don’t, and I thought I’d give you a heads-up.”
Xander considered, reminded himself he had no reason to mistrust Spike on this count, and grudgingly tugged the patch into place.
“Hate this fucking thing. Hate it.”
Spike caught Xander’s arm before he could climb from the car, and Xander twisted in his seat to see the vampire, expecting…he didn’t know what, but one smart comment about swashbuckling and Spike would be reclaiming his balls from the nearest dumpster.
“Take it off,” Spike told him, expression unreadable.
“But you said…”
“Take it off, or I’ll…”
Xander ducked away from Spike’s hand.
“No, you must have said wear it for a reason.”
“Maybe I was wrong.”
“I bet you weren’t. I fucking hate that too.”
They sat in silence for a while, Xander feeling foolish at the internal tantrum and grateful only the merest hint of it emerged, Spike wavering between dragging Xander by the ear to face his surprise, and letting the stroppy git go home and then preparing himself for a nice, uncomplicated inter-dimensional war.
Another five minutes and Xander swung out of the car, waiting on the sidewalk and not daring to look at Spike as he followed at a less than enthusiastic pace. They began to walk, Xander starting to feel a little excited now despite his Hellmouth-borne ingrained caution, picking up speed when they turned a corner and he saw where they were headed.
“How did you know?”
“A leaflet I was given at your place.”
Xander rushed into the short and stocky, weatherboard-clad building, longing for a little home from home; Spike entered more cautiously, hoping he wasn’t going to bounce off some invisible barrier, but happily being able to enter and pursue Xander.
This chapel was rather more chapely than Xander’s work base, and Xander was already tucked into a pew, studying his surroundings, as contented as Spike had seen him. He moved along to let Spike sit.
“Thank you for this,” he said without hesitation.
“They’ll know you, won’t they? When you introduce yourself.”
“Probably, through the network, same way as I know the mediums here by name, but I wasn’t planning on…”
Spike was already heading down the aisle to where a grey-haired man, as homely and dumpy as the building, was in conversation with a twig-thin middle-aged woman. When Spike stopped alongside them, they glanced in his direction with inquisitive smiles.
“Xander Harris. From the Stokes Chapel.” A moment for recognition, and the man was warmly clutching Spike’s hand. “Not me,” he corrected with a grin, turning to gesture to the back of the room. “Him. Bit shy. Ignore the bruises, someone objected to his vocation,” Spike finished grimly.
The man nodded, squeezed Spike’s arm, and marched off in Xander’s direction. The woman studied Spike, received a charismatic smile, and moved away, step by tiny step, until she’d left the Spike zone.
“Yeah. That’s what all the women say.”
He watched with amusement as she skirted the zone and played with the quieting effect.
Xander stood as the man approached, reaching out to take the offered hand and shaking it, relishing the contact and refusing to let go.
“I wasn’t going to bother you, I just wanted to sit a while.”
“I’m pleased your friend intervened, Doug’s spoken about you often.”
“Really?” Xander beamed, for all of a second. “Have you heard from him recently?”
“Yes, and… I understand there were problems, but he’s absolutely fine, everyone at the Stokes is.”
Xander tightened his grip in his relief, and the man patted his hand.
“You can’t tell them you’ve seen me,” Xander blurted out. “The same problems. Ongoing.”
“I respect that, I’ll ensure everyone else here does.”
“I am. Come along and meet my associate, Marilyn Beck. Perhaps we can find out why she’s dancing around your friend.”
“Oh, you’ll love this guy,” Xander promised, finally relinquishing the man’s hand.
The four spent the best part of an hour in conversation before people began arriving for the evening’s meeting; Xander and Spike sat at the back of the hall and watched as first Peter, then Marilyn connected audience members to their departed friends and relatives. Xander inched away from Spike, wanting out of the zone, eager to share fully what his colleagues were experiencing, but he was surprised when Peter gestured for him to join them, introducing Xander to the people and explaining a little of what Xander had told him that evening about how he had come to this life, but careful to respect Xander’s privacy.
By then Saul was isolating specific spirits for Xander’s attention, and Peter stood back, waving him to carry on with the meeting. Xander looked to Spike, not knowing what to expect but absurdly happy to receive a nod.
Spike slid along the pew he now solely occupied, finding the spot with the best view, immediately engrossed in the ‘show’. Despite the lack of preparation, Xander was on good form: accurate, charming in his presentation, as impressive a medium as Spike had ever witnessed. And, yes, Spike was admittedly biased by now.
“Who got arrested for skinny-dipping in a water tower?” Xander was asking.
“Me,” came the laughed reply from the man he was connecting for.
“You were fourteen, and… Ooh,” grimaced Xander, “naked girlfriend got sprung too.” The entire audience laughed, a close-knit community enjoying the wayward past of one of their upright citizens. “You didn’t see a lot more of her that summer. But apparently the folks thought you’d already seen quite enough.”
“You’re good, Xander.”
“Not as good as them, weren’t they fantastic? Peter Kathan has such a great reputation. It’s so exciting to see how I could be. One day, it’s not impossible. Maybe one day, y’know, if I keep working hard, learning, I know I’m at a disadvantage, but I might be that good, I’m determined, there’s nothing else for me, I want to do this, and I want…”
Xander ceased his jubilant, babbling stampede along the road and hurtled back to Spike, letting the vampire step up close and carefully peel off the patch, offering it to Xander and having his hand gripped instead.
“You were right, about that, about this. Thank you.” Spike smoothed the slight indentations from the patch with the fingertips of his free hand; not so much as a twitch from Xander at the cold touch to his face. “Tomorrow night we’ll do something for you, whatever you want.”
“Xander… I have to go to LA.”
The grip tightened. Unexpected regret met unexpected disappointment. The grip loosened.
“Umm…okay. I know that. I knew it was coming, not when, but I knew.”
“I’ll take you back to the cabin, then I’ll leave. If you think you can cope with the threat of the uber-nasty.”
“There’s been no sign of it, has there? When I was panicking about it at Chrissie’s I’m sure you were right, that was down to me, and…”
“Don’t go all heroic on me.”
“I’m not. It’s had plenty of chances to come through, and we’ve seen from past experience that tonight’s meeting would have been the kind of opportunity it would take, chance to scare me out of helping you, or prove I couldn’t work, or – or whatever the hell it was attempting to do.” Xander began a slow walk; Spike followed, moving to Xander’s side, close enough for their shoulders to occasionally brush. “How concerned are you?” Xander’s exuberance had completely evaporated, giving way to apprehension. “You think something’s gone wrong? Something to do with the prophecy?”
“I have no idea, that’s why I need to go.”
“You want me to come along?”
“Voices aside, if the shit has hit the fan you’ll probably be safer here.”
“But if you need me with you…”
“I’d like you with me, but that’s a little different from need. My need is for you to be as safe as possible.”
“Okay.” Xander nodded, deep in thought. “Okay.”
“I wouldn’t go if I thought I had a choice. Our last resort, communications-wise, is this thing in my shoulder. If I tap a certain pattern onto the skin covering it, it sends an alert. Usually that ensures a phone call within two minutes.”
“Then, yes, you have to
go check it out. At least you don’t have
to worry about me. The cabin’s perfect,
I have the chapel here, Peter and Marilyn if I need them. And it’ll give me the chance to get on with
those reports for
They paused either side of the car.
“You’re taking this a lot better than I expected.”
“Is that a compliment or an insult?”
Spike’s ultra-serious face broke into a cheeky grin.
“That’ll give you something to think about while I’m gone.”
Back at the cabin, Xander watched Spike collect together what he needed, accepting but unable to grasp the fact that he was leaving. A week in each other’s pockets and ‘no Spike’ should have been a relief rather than unthinkable, but Xander watched and idly followed, and didn’t choose to consider the next night or the next day or the night after or the day after.
“You’re taking the skin off,” Spike said suddenly.
“Scratching. Stop scratching.”
“I can’t, I’ve been bitten.”
“At least you know it wasn’t me.”
Spike went into the bathroom and Xander trailed after him, examining his arms as he went.
“Isn’t there any kind of hierarchy within the bloodsucking community? Shouldn’t the bugs leave me alone if I’m with you? I was outside for all of ten minutes this afternoon, how did I not notice I was wearing my ‘special of the day’ t-shirt?” Xander finally caught up with the tube of cream Spike was waving under his nose. “What is this?”
“Antihistamine. There’s plenty more here. And there’s repellent too, use that if you spend much time outside.”
“You can find antihistamine and insect repellent without me, Pet…al.”
“What if you don’t come back?”
“Our phones are okay, I’ll— No, too risky, me calling you, but you can call me if you feel the need.” Spike went back to the bedroom to collect his duffle, Xander now in brisk pursuit. “If you can’t get hold of me for a couple of days…” Spike paused and looked at Xander, feeling his responsibility quite acutely. “If you can, wait a week. Unless you feel there’s something wrong and have to go, wait a week. Nothing from me and after a week, go home anyway.”
Xander could feel a knot of tension forming in his stomach.
“I don’t know what to think, but I don’t want you stuck here alone indefinitely. If you go home, I’ll know where to find you again.”
“And will you? Even if things come to a head and the prophecy is dealt with without me?”
“You want me to?” Spike frowned.
“Yes,” Xander insisted, surprising both of them.
“Oh.” A slow, coy smile formed on Spike’s face; he ducked his head and passed by Xander, collecting and shrugging on his duster, taking a set of keys from a pin-board in the kitchen.
“You laughing at me or with me?” Xander challenged.
Spike paused to study Xander, long enough for the human to be internally squirming under the unwavering gaze. Then Spike crossed and took his hand. Not a farewell handshake, Spike just held Xander’s hand for a moment.
“Take care,” he said quietly and, with a final stroke of his thumb, slid his hand from Xander’s and got as far as the front stoop.
“Wait!” Xander called, and hurried to catch him up. “You’re the one that needs to take care. Come back in one piece, okay?”
Spike nodded, hurrying away with a mutter about hating sodding goodbyes, and after a few minutes a solid, black, unidentifiable to Xander in this light, car came from the direction of the detached garage and sped away from the cabin.
Xander remained in place for some time, getting colder and colder, getting bitten, wondering how bugs could live in this temperature, wondering if Spike would be gone long, wondering if he could find the chapel again because he hadn’t been paying attention to where they were going that evening, wondering if Spike would come back, wondering if Willow’s reports would ever get done, wondering if Spike would save the world without him.
Wondering if he’d get to go home now.
Wondering how he’d lived without the quiet.
Wondering if Spike would come back.
Three days of the usual irritations, inconveniences and punch-ups that signified the LA end of the partnership being in the grip of a minor catastrophe, and Spike had hurriedly returned to the cabin, having fretted over his deserted charge to the point where Angel was unconsciously filtering out all the sentences that began ‘If anything happens to Xander…” because he was in equal parts horrified and inspired by the amount of imaginative and detailed repercussive scenarios that Spike was able to construct without making any apparent effort.
The first thing that struck Spike as he approached the cabin was the amount of bugs, flies, whatever they were, clouding around the place in swarms. A freezing night and bugs? They swept away from Spike as he approached, and it took all his enhanced speed to reach into a drift of the insects and snatch a handful to examine, finding his fisted hand to be empty when he carefully peered inside it.
The second thing that struck Spike was the smell as he pushed open the unfastened front door. It was so vile that it made him gag, his eyes water. Unplaceable but, he consoled himself, thankfully not the unforgettable odour of decomposing human flesh. His mind flashed back to Xander’s first encounter with the uber-nasty, the man speaking of the stench of evil: this had to be it. And Spike had left Xander alone, abandoned him to the entity despite all his fine and ultimately worthless promises.
The third thing was Xander’s notebook, open on the kitchen table, the report being made, unremarkable handwriting evolving into a scrawl that threatened – assured - appalling abuses before dissolving into a litany of expletives, gouging into the paper, scoring so deeply that the table surface was damaged. The words moved onto the table, a splintered mass of carved lines and curves that it took a moment for Spike to realise was ‘MY OWN’ over and over, lapping and crossing.
“Xander?” Spike screamed, fury at himself and this being bursting out of him, not admitting to panic but feeling the nauseating sensation throughout his entire body. “Xander!”
There was a heartbeat, pounding so fast it was a miracle the organ could stand the pace without imploding, but it was muffled, it’s direction obscured, and Spike raged about the cabin, through the rooms, throwing aside furniture, tearing doors open, emptying closets with frenzied movements, shouting for Xander to begin with but finally hollering in sheer frustration before stopping and listening again, concentrating. Concentrating.
He’d checked the cellar but… Racing back down the stairs he searched for another access, hissing a triumphant ‘Yes!’ when he finally located the crawlspace hatch, sure that this was where Xander was hiding and understanding why his heartbeat was so muted, being deadened by the layers of insulation between the house and ground. The access was proving itself inaccessible: Xander had deliberately smashed the lock so it would be impossible to open from the inside. Spike tore at the wood, finding a hammer and destroying what was left of the now fully-exposed lock and ripping the hatch open.
The ripe smell of sweat and urine was strangely reassuring after the hellish stench upstairs; Xander was sprawled in the dark, stifling space, surrounded by empty water bottles, unlit flashlight within inches of his hand; he groaned quietly as the cooler air hit him but didn’t seem quite conscious. Spike removed and set aside the bucket Xander had been using as a toilet before leaning in, gently easing the limp human into a more manageable position before lifting him out of his confinement and carrying him to their bedroom.
No injuries, Spike was relieved to note, but the hundreds of bites on Xander’s face, neck and arms were dark and swollen, any unbitten skin showing grazed red welts where he’d scratched himself raw. Knowing that water was the first essential – the bites could be dealt with during Xander’s recovery – Spike ran to the kitchen and searched for more bottles, being brought to an abrupt standstill as the dull drone of insects that permeated the building was overpowered by the onset of the menacing rumble that had announced the entity’s presence back at the Stokes Chapel.
A defiant screech from Xander and Spike was shoving the water bottles into his pockets and racing back, bouncing off an invisible barrier several feet from the bed and now able to see what had been unrecognisable close-up. The clusters of bites formed letters, the letters words, and the words were, perhaps predictably, ‘MY OWN’.
The rage exploded in Spike’s gut and it was all he could do to contain his true self, fighting the appearance of the demon’s face in case Xander was startled by it, gritting his teeth and forcing himself closer to the man even though it felt like he was having to leave his skin behind to make the approach. Xander was thrashing against the assault on his psychic and physical senses, resisting the entity with every last scrap of energy and fighting harder than his weakened state would logically allow.
Which was when Spike noticed that Xander’s hand had automatically clutched the locket; if belief could give him strength, then surely trust…
“Xander. Xander! Give me your hand!” Pushing his fist through what looked like air but felt like broken glass, Spike stretched toward the bed, leaning at an impossible angle and simply hanging in space. “Xander, hear me, c’mon, hear me! Trust me, Pet. Xander!”
Just when it appeared that the final reserves of energy had been drained, Xander threw an arm in Spike’s direction and their fingertips brushed; an almighty whump that popped their ears occurred as the entity withdrew, and Spike toppled onto the floor, up and leaping to Xander’s side in a fraction of a second.
Xander was semi-conscious once again and back to the familiar twitching that indicated the voices – or worse – were indiscernibly present, even with Spike so near. Swearing furiously at the intrusion, Spike pressed up against Xander and waited for him to calm slightly before starting to coax the first of the water into him.
A cough and splutter as Xander accidentally breathed in liquid and his eyelid fluttered, shut, fluttered and opened. Whatever Xander saw in those first moments eluded Spike, but the shout of alarm made him jump and he tossed the bottle aside, clutching Xander to him and unconsciously growling at their surroundings.
Spike’s attention fixed on Xander now, the shuddering and gasping, the heartbeat that was accelerating once again after a short respite.
“It’s all right, Pet, I’m with you now, nothing can get you.”
“Closer,” Xander begged, “closer, Spike, closer.”
“I’m close,” Spike assured, tightening his hold.
“How can I…?”
Xander wriggled his hands between them and began to scrabble at Spike’s t-shirt; within a second, Spike had risked a fleeting separation and stripped it off, ripped Xander’s straight down the middle of the front, exposing more declarations of ownership bitten into enflamed skin. His hands pressed over the most vivid, cool upon hot and Xander paused at that, shivered, eye hooded and glassy, lips parted. The briefest of respites then Xander was desperately pulling at Spike again, delirious and unhearing.
“Closer. Spike. Closer.”
“You still hear it? See it?”
“Please, Spike, please, closer. Quiet.”
“Shh, c’mon, I’m close, feel, the quiet’s there, you just have to calm down and…”
“Please?” Xander sobbed, eye flicking to the side and fixing on something that eluded Spike’s senses. “Spike, closer, you promised, please, please. Closer.”
Xander’s hands were tugging at the sides of Spike’s jeans and, yes, flesh on flesh had helped, fractionally, so Spike escaped the grasping hands and stood, stripping off his own, then Xander’s clothes, falling back into the arms that were flailing in his direction.
Xander did seem to relax a little, but before Spike had a chance to appreciate it a tremor ran from the man’s scalp to his toes, and he grunted in clenched-jawed agony as his whole body spasmed, arching like a bow despite Spike’s attempts to keep it flat, head and heels the only contact with the bed. Spike threw himself over Xander, and even his entire weight wasn’t enough to lower him an inch until, thankfully, the Spike zone began to exert itself and Xander collapsed, taking Spike down with him.
Weeping, begging, Xander wrapped his arms and legs around the vampire, and all of Spike’s hushing and reassurances had no effect whatsoever. Xander’s effect on Spike however was damningly predictable, overheated skin scorching cooler flesh, hard form writhing to stimulate the vampire’s sensitive body, a victim’s entreaties to stimulate the mind; the demon visage emerged as Spike’s will buckled under Xander’s demands, and there was no more holding back, trying to protect Xander from what he’d been denying them both.
“Closer,” Xander continued to plead, and closer Spike came, erection rubbing over Xander’s groin and thighs, balls, backside. A tilt, twist from Xander and Spike was almost in him. “Closer, yes, do it. Do it, do it.”
Although Spike’s lust proved to be not entirely mindless.
“I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Please. Please, closer.”
“Have you seen what you’re begging?” Spike demanded as he forced the slightest withdrawal. “Look at me. Look at me.”
Xander’s eye opened and the tinge of fear at the vampiric features turned to relief.
“Yes,” he said quietly. “Yes,” more determinedly as he began to shake again from the result of this tiny gap between them. “Closer.”
Obvious to Spike that he couldn’t move away to find a lubricant; the only thing within reach was the tube of cream that Xander had been using on the bites and that would have to do. Trembling with a fervent need that had nothing to do with helping Xander, Spike single-handedly emptied the tube onto Xander’s thigh before scooping up half the cream and smearing it on Xander; the remaining half was smoothed over himself.
“Wait, I don’t…”
So much for preparation, and Spike cared desperately but didn’t give a damn, and he was there, pushing into Xander, breaching that perfect untouched tightness, further aroused by the whimpers of discomfort that became gasps of pain as he lost any remaining control and rammed his hips forward, drawing back to repeat the process, luxuriating in what he’d been wanting, pretending that the reactions of shock and hurting were desire and wanting so he could fuck Xander as unconscionably as his entire self demanded.
The cream was too sticky to be a good lubricant but Spike felt the increasing presence of a finer fluid, recognising from a century’s experience the smooth slip of fucking in blood; the knowledge inspired further lust, and nothing mattered beyond the grinding and thrusting and making this human body his possession, wanting… His attention fell on Xander’s strained features, the deliciously pink, teeth-raked lips that told of enduring pain but still whispered a litany of please and closer and Spike. Spike dipped down to take them as he’d taken the rest, but even now Xander turned away, refusing to be kissed, rejecting the demon as totally as he accepted it. Spike’s rhythm crashed, faltering in his confusion.
“Xander, you don’t want me to…”
Spike looked again, saw not a denied kiss but an offered throat, and that was as close as a vampire could get. The possibility of Xander being too distraught to understand that he was making the offer flittered through Spike’s mind, but too faintly and too late as the fangs pierced the taut skin of Xander’s neck, the flavour of the man’s blood sending Spike berserk with pleasure. The blood, the heat, the constriction, the need. Spike was fucking again, hard, fast, keeping his partner, his prey, in place with the strength of his jaws alone.
“Please,” Xander choked. Wept. Clearer. Saner. “Don’t kill me. Please don’t kill me.”
It was as good as a trigger, and Spike jabbed ferociously into Xander as he came, tearing flesh at both points of penetration, working his cock in this desired body until he was on the point of collapse.
Xander’s throat licked clean of every speck of blood, a human-faced Spike propped himself on his elbows and studied his…lover, he wanted to think. Lover. He studied his lover. Xander was… Back, yes, his Xander, strong Xander was back, no more pleading or weeping, simply still and pale, astonishingly pale as every insect bite had miraculously disappeared with the demon’s banishment of the entity; even the scratches had faded from vivid red to a curious pearly mauve and, still fading, looked as if they’d be gone within the hour. The vampire's ragged bite-mark remained, a thing of beauty, its imprecision a testament to their lust. Although…a deep inhalation now and there was no discernible contribution from Xander to the heady fug of arousal in the room.
Their lust? Spike’s lust. Yes, he finally got there. Only his lust.
His mind belatedly recognised that the perceived desire and wanting were indisputably shock and hurting, and…Xander had thought Spike was going to kill him. His hand came up to touch Xander’s face, and he felt the wince like a blow to the heart.
“I wouldn’t kill you,” he whispered, voice not as steady as he would have liked. “I don’t want to hurt you, Xander.”
The emotionless eye stared at his mouth, and Spike knew there had to be blood there. Xander’s unwillingly shared blood.
“Get off me?” Xander asked hoarsely, tone as expressionless as his gaze.
Spike wanted to refuse. He’d pulled out of Xander to give his inexperienced body a rest but thought there’d be more, if nothing else Xander would take comfort from this contact. Because…closer. Spike had never completely lost his erection and now it fully hardened, ready to… Not possess, Spike lied to himself because he’d as good as sworn to Xander that wasn’t the case.
“Don’t want to,” Spike said with a mischievous smile, sure he could win Xander around despite the traumatic circumstances that had brought them to this point. Xander had wanted this, wanted him, begged. Begged and Spike had given. Not taken, given. Still tucked between Xander’s thighs he parted his legs, giving Xander no choice but to reciprocate, dipping his hips and brushing the tip of his cock over bruised flesh. “I want you, Xander, you know that, you can feel that. Not to hurt, to plea…”
“But I do hurt. So, please… Spike. No more.”
Spike moved off, carefully, mindful of the hurting. Immediately, and with an unmistakable creak of discomfort, Xander rolled onto his side, facing away from Spike, burying his face in the pillow and draping a forearm across the exposed side of his head, covering his ear; blind and deaf was the message, and Spike watched with a mixture of sadness and growing unease.
He ran what was intended to be a comforting touch over the man’s shoulders and down his back, and found it impossible to judge whether the shiver it induced was about hating the situation, the contact, or simply hating the vampire.
“Xander,” he began uselessly before persuading the deafening arm to move a little. “Petal?” he tried. A sharp breath was his answer, the kind Spike knew from the past: one that spoke of contained emotion, a human fighting an emotional outburst. He wanted to tell Xander he could cry or scream or…whatever he needed to do right now, after…everything. “Love…?”
“Have to shower,” Xander muttered as he struggled up, pushing further away from Spike and to the edge of the bed, swaying unsteadily as he sat, reaching for the water Spike had left on the cabinet.
“Need to wash me away?” Spike asked with a lightness he didn’t feel.
Xander inhaled deeply and found the energy to raise the bottle, draining it in one long draught.
“Your sense of duty must have overwhelmed your sense of smell,” Xander replied, shakily, but definitely sounding a little more…Xander. “I haven’t showered since you left; you were barely gone and…and… That – that…thing…” The words were lost to a stifled sob, and Spike sprang to Xander’s back, cradling him in a hug that Xander pressed into for all of twenty seconds before pulling away and uncompromisingly insisting his legs take his weight as he stood, staggering toward the bathroom for all of three steps. Spike was as good as his promise in one respect: he was there to catch Xander as he crumpled floorward.
That panicked shout announced Xander’s return to consciousness, and he struggled madly against whatever the fuck was pinning down his flailing form until the Big Bad haunting his dreams morphed into the used-to-be Big Bad keeping him safe.
“It’s me, Xander, it’s Spike, no need to fight.”
“I’ll let you go as soon as I know you’re thinking straight.”
Xander stared at Spike blankly for several seconds.
“You came back?”
“I was always going to come back.”
“Can I let you go?”
“You…” Xander’s voice thickened with emotion. “You came back.” Spike gradually released his hold and moved to Xander’s side, one hand still resting on his body, seemingly casual but ready to make a grab if need be. But no need. Xander just followed his movements with wide-eyed disbelief, as if he were battling to accept what he was seeing. “Spike?” Xander put his hand over the vampire’s and Spike saw the relief when Xander knew it – he – was real. “You came back,” was mouthed one last time before Xander turned his face away and the rib cage beneath Spike’s hand expanded fully with another of those emotion-stifling deep breaths.
“Think you can talk about it?” Spike asked, but gently, not wanting to pursue Xander’s waking nightmares too vigorously.
“Can’t,” came the stifled reply.
“Not yet, eh?”
“Spike,” was broken, coarse, as Xander fought to retain his last scraps of composure.
“Here, me, the real me.” And it seemed acceptable for Spike to move a little closer, the comfort of his presence welcome. “Sleep first? Food?” Xander shook his head. “Shower?” Xander nodded. “You all right with me helping you?” Xander nodded. “Right. Let’s get you gorgeous.”
Spike felt in no way as confident as he sounded, but he quickly pulled on his jeans and bright and breezied to Xander’s side of the bed, throwing back the covers and helping the trembling man to his feet.
“Can I carry you?”
“No. Thanks,” Xander added belatedly with the hint of a smile that conveyed extraordinary effort. Spike was back to wondering: was Xander’s effort about suppressing his reactions to what had occurred in Spike’s absence? Or since his return?
Left arm around Xander’s waist, right hand steadying and supporting him by the elbow, Spike walked Xander into the bathroom and sat him down on the closed toilet seat, tactfully but casually throwing a towel over his lap, understanding the lack of defensive modesty after all Xander had been through but not wanting to appear as if he were exploiting the man’s shocked condition for a moment. Longer, his mind unhelpfully supplied. A moment longer.
“You liable to black out again?”
“I doubt it.”
“Then how about I run you a bath? That way I can leave you alone while I find you something to eat.”
“You can leave me alone in the shower.”
“You’re very weak, Pet, the last thing we need is you falling down and cracking your head open.”
“Shower,” Xander insisted, dropping his voice to add, “Don’t want to sit in my own filth, been doing that for days.”
Hearing how scratchy Xander’s throat still was, Spike retrieved a couple more bottles of water and handed them over before running the shower.
“I can stay…”
“Go. Food. Food sounds good.”
“What if it comes back?”
“It’s gone.” Xander’s voice wobbled and he cleared his throat. “It’s gone. You saw it off.”
Spike stared at Xander, assessing priorities and coming to the conclusion that, ideally, he’d split himself into several Spikes, staying and going and helping, and one pure streak of demon was needed to check out the vicinity on the off-chance that there was a corporeal being influencing Xander’s condition or manipulating the nasty. Not so much an expectation as a hope – he could really do with getting his hands on something that would bleed copiously and scream in complete agony as he tore it to shreds.
“Uh? Oh, sorry, got a bit lost there.”
“You shout if you need me.”
“I’ll shout, believe me.”
As Spike passed through the bedroom the delicious aromas of sex filled his senses and distracted him, body responding with a fresh and presently unwelcome surge of want. A glance at the bed showed a patch of damp red where Xander had sat, the primary source of an intoxicating combination, semen and blood. Spike fought his baser desires and carried on to the kitchen, finding and heating some soup, defrosting bread rolls from the freezer, knowing he had to change the sheets before Xander saw them and becoming disgusted with himself because he wanted to keep them as a reminder. Not a trophy. A reminder of Xander being his lover for the shortest, delusional time.
Food ready, Spike hurried back to the bathroom, throwing the covers over the bloodstain as he went. He was dismayed to discover Xander, arms crossed against the shower wall, leaning his head on them as he sobbed and sobbed. A lump came to Spike’s throat and it took several attempts to swallow it down when he realised that Xander was struggling to be as quiet as possible, vainly hoping that this display of emotion would remain undetected.
“I’m… Okay. I’m okay.” Xander ineffectually tried his best to sound as okay as he insisted he was. “I’ll be all right.”
“Can I come in there?”
“No. No, I haven’t… I… No.”
Spike assumed Xander’s reluctance was about cleaning up where they’d had sex; through the barely patterned glass shower stall he could see smudges of blood on the man’s buttocks and thighs.
“Let me help you, it’ll only take a minute to wash you.”
“No, I – I…can’t… You…”
“How can you be embarrassed with me? I’ve been inside you.”
Xander’s breathless snuffles disintegrated into more tears, and awkwardly outside soon transmuted to awkwardly inside as Spike tore off his jeans and entered the stall behind Xander, insisting on dragging the man around to face him and holding him close, impotently attempting to give him the comfort he needed.
“Spi-ike,” was hiccupped, a final recognition as Xander suddenly clung to him.
“Sorry, Love. Sorry. Let you down, didn’t I?”
Xander fiercely shook his head.
“You saved me,” he croaked. “Just - just don’t…”
“There’s no need to ask, I won’t hurt you again.”
Another shake of the head.
“Just don’t… Don’t go away.”
“Don’t leave me.”
“Please don’t leave me.”
Xander hugged Spike ferociously tight, pressing kisses to his neck and shoulder in place of the words of thanks that wouldn’t come, crying more with the sheer relief of having him back; feeling quiet, knowing peace. Feeling safe.
A long few minutes of relative stillness as the water pounded down on them, then Xander, legs trembling on the verge of collapse, held on to the shower fittings as Spike quickly and dispassionately washed him, and there was not so much as a squeak of objection to any touch, however intimate.
No more protestations after Spike towelled Xander off, Xander letting himself be carried to the dining table for re-heated soup, eating in silence and feverishly watching every move and step as Spike did his best to rid the cabin of any signs of what had occurred in his absence. Dithering on the stoop, Spike stared at the kitchen table and its scrawled message for some time in deep, bitter thought, before thought gave way to his truer nature and he smashed the damn thing to pieces.
Spike eventually joined Xander at the surviving table and gave him the warmest smile he could manage with such an unpleasantly cold sensation creeping through him from the guts out.
“Want to try and get some sleep now?” The nothingness on Xander’s face transformed instantly to panic. “I’ll be with you,” Spike reassured.
“You’d stay with me?”
“Every second. I promise you I’m not going anywhere, not again. I won’t let you down, not this time.”
“That wasn’t your fault. I told you to go.”
“Whatever. It won’t happen again.”
“Then, yeah. Sleep.”
Xander stood, more steadily now, and Spike didn’t attempt to help him back to the bedroom, hoping he was sending a message about Xander’s independence rather than his own lack of caring. He looked away as Xander dropped the towel and climbed between clean sheets, then speedily joined him and…waited.
An apprehensive look in Xander’s direction found the human staring hopefully at him, and he shuffled about, arranging the pillow so Xander’s head wouldn’t be lying entirely on his bony shoulder, and held out a welcoming arm. Xander shimmied across, resting his head comfortably, cuddling up tight to the vampire. When Spike held him he moaned pleasurably.
“Quiet?” Spike asked.
“Safe,” Xander replied after a moment’s pause.
“That’s right, you’re safe now, Love.”
Not the first, but Spike tensed when he realised he’d let that ‘Love’ slip, and prepared himself to be told off, slapped into place; for a moment Xander gave the impression of missing what he’d said, although Spike could feel the heat of the blush Xander believed was masked by the dim light.
“What’s that short for?” Xander attempted to joke.
“Umm… Lovage. The British are very botanical in their endearments.”
A weak, teary laugh, and Xander forced himself impossibly nearer, holding on so firmly that Spike could feel every finger digging into his flesh.
Plenty of shushing and stroking, and an apparently peaceful sleep came quickly, at least, it did for Xander. Spike reached above his head to switch off the light, and found himself staring into the darkness and thinking about what had happened, knowing that despite Xander’s pleas and encouragement there must have been other ways he could have helped him, given him comfort and been close.
The coldness in his gut spread throughout his system and he gave a guilty shiver despite the presence of Xander’s body heat. There was a word for what he’d done to this man, and that word was not ‘comfort’.
Chapter 12 Healing
“Did I sleep for long?”
“Let’s round it up to thirty-six hours that you’ll never get back.”
“Wow. And you stayed with me all the time?”
“Did you find many, many words to newly define boredom?”
“I wasn’t bored.”
Xander missed the interesting edge to that comment as he finished the remains of his omelette and mopped the plate with bread, guzzling that down, as ravenous at the end of his meal as he was before it. Back to the kitchen and rooting through the fridge and cupboards; Xander made himself several slices of toast and spread honey on them.
“Are you sure I can’t get you anything?”
Spike watched his charge, not seeing a Xander who was bouncing back to full physical and emotional strength with his usual uncanny rapidity, but transfixed by the painful hobble, the winces when the damage caused by a vampire’s ‘comfort’ caught up with him.
“Are the bruises gone?” Xander interrupted his thoughts, and Spike felt the shock of the question before realising Xander was talking about his face.
“Pretty much,” Spike told him flatly after a few seconds intense study.
Xander licked the last of the honey from his fingers, washed his sticky hands, then proceeded to poke and prod at himself, pleased that the minor pains from the fight had gone.
“You want to tell me about what happened in LA?” Xander poured two mugs of coffee and took them through to the living room; Spike followed, glad of both the consideration and change of subject.
“There were problems, demon of the week, usual bun fight.”
“Nobody thought to call and tell you?”
“They couldn’t. The offices were taken over by the demon’s cronies and…”
“Angel doesn’t have a cell? He hasn’t figured out how to use a payphone?”
“When one of us is in the field, all communications are scrambled. That technology wasn’t something he thought to take with him once his hands were full of bleeding employee.”
“Ah. Yeah, okay, get that, but surely this once…”
“There’s never a ‘this once’. We agreed the way things would be run and we stick to them.” Spike took a sip of coffee and looked away. More guilt. “After this…I think we’ll have to reconsider the rules.”
“You get a chance to talk about the job, our job?”
“Yes,” Spike sighed.
“Is that bad?”
Spike put down his mug and turned to face Xander.
“It’s more dangerous than we thought.”
“Isn’t it always? Underestimation: vital tool of the evil-fighting trade.”
“Dangerous to you,” Spike continued grimly.
“Because no-one is entirely sure whether Dead Guy was completely human.”
“I came back determined to tell you the truth and put a stop to this.”
“But you still need a medium.”
“Then I have to…”
“Don’t you dare!” Spike sprang up and paced. “When Angel said what he did I was so fucking furious I decked him.”
“He brushed me off, all my concerns for you, he said that you were always willing to put others before yourself and that you’d carry on.”
“You hit him for that?”
“He didn’t care.”
“And don’t make excuses for him!”
“Maybe he can’t afford to care. Not that I think he does, but…”
“I want you to be left out of this. We can find someone else to contact Dead Guy, you get to go home and be safe…”
“Possibly taking the uber-nasty with me so it can play with my friends. Y’know I can still hear those bones breaking in Doug’s arm? It haunts me. If the uber-nasty is anything to do with this, I want to be on hand to witness it getting its incorporeal ass kicked and then some.”
“This is typical of that smug git! He was right about you.”
“You knew that I’d keep with this, don’t pretend you didn’t.”
“I want you safe.”
“Why? ‘Cause of what a wreck I was when you got back here? Don’t let guilt get in the way of sense, Spike. I know the score, it makes sense for me to carry on with this.”
“Guilt,” Spike said in a whisper, eyes closing as he fell still.
“You want to talk?” Xander asked him softly. “I don’t mean about LA.”
“But you’ve been…odd ever since we got up.”
“Maybe you’re right, about the guilt over leaving you, the shock of what I came back to. Let me come to terms and there’ll be no more odd, all right?”
“You can see I’m okay. Not a miracle cure – God knows I don’t want to sleep alone for the foreseeable future – but right now… Let’s both be okay?” Xander patted the seat beside him and Spike, after the requisite mental deliberations, sat down, sitting stiffly and picking at the last few scraps of polish on his nails. “You wear that just to scratch it off?” Xander asked with a smile.
“Have you… Have you forgotten? Everything that’s happened this week?”
“You seem…” Spike shrugged.
“Like I’m coping too well? Try telling me you’re leaving me here alone for an hour, that’ll get you the expected freak out.”
“That isn’t what I want.”
“I know.” Xander let himself tilt sideways until he was leaning against Spike, and he used the contact to give the vampire several playful nudges. Eventually Spike let himself be drawn, and he turned his head to meet Xander’s eye. “I don’t want you feeling bad,” Xander told him sincerely, “none of this is your fault.”
Spike literally sprang away from Xander, leaving him toppling onto the now empty seat.
“Not my fault? After what I did?”
Xander propped himself up on one elbow and watched Spike pace.
“You had to leave and…”
“This isn’t about the leaving, you bloody idiot!”
“Oh, gee, thanks, that makes it worth being nice guy.”
“No, I— I don’t mean that. I…I…”
“Yeah, typically, you, you. Shall I let you in on a shocking secret? Not everything is about you, Spike.”
“Right. That’s right. I rape you and…”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa.” Now Xander was the one scrabbling, as opposed to springing, to his feet. “You did what? Where did that come from?”
“I raped you, didn’t I?”
“No! No, you didn’t, no, no, don’t think that.”
“So much for all the ‘I’ve changed, I’ve got a soul now, I don’t do that’. I don’t fucking do that!”
“You don’t, you didn’t.”
“But I did. After all I went through to get this soul and I’m no better…”
“Don’t blame yourself. This is my fault. I don’t want you to feel bad, I’m sorry you feel bad. If I hadn’t demanded you help me…”
“The demon…the demon acts and the soul regrets.”
“You did what I was asking you to do, I wasn’t expecting the bite but I even understand that, and good, and it’s okay, it’s really okay.”
“Not okay. Not. Okay. The soul…regrets.”
“You. Is that what you’re saying? You regret?”
“Hurting you,” Spike confessed, voice shaking painfully hard. “Yes.”
“But… I asked you to help.”
“Help, yes. Were you asking for what I did?”
“Of course you weren’t.”
“I shouldn’t have done that, I was supposed to say no, there should have been another way to comfort you.”
“The state I was in? Another way might have taken hours to work.”
“You asked for help and I took advantage of you, abused you.”
“I did know what I was asking for.”
“It couldn’t have been that.”
“Yes, I knew, and…after what you told me at the motel I didn’t think it would be a problem for you.” Spike stared at Xander in horrified disbelief for several seconds before managing a shake of the head. “You told me you wanted to fuck me senseless, Spike. I was already halfway senseless, but you got the rest.”
“I never wanted— I hurt you. You think I wanted to hurt you?”
“No, I don’t, and I didn’t want to be hurt, but… You have to try to understand what it had been like for me during your absence – and this isn’t about making you feel bad for leaving me, so forget that side of it, I’m not going there. Spike, I…needed you. As close as possible.”
“And you thought… I wouldn’t have killed you, how could you think that?”
Xander’s hand unconsciously wavered close to the healing scar on his neck.
“Just for a moment I wasn’t sure it was you doing it. I wasn’t even sure it was really you, that I wasn’t hallucinating. Again. Or if it was you, maybe the entity had gotten into you.”
“How could it do that?”
“I don’t know. But I wasn’t in great shape, I wasn’t thinking clearly.”
“No, course you weren’t, sorry. Sorry.”
“That…thing, it’s incredibly cruel. Having you kill me would have been a perfect example of exactly how cruel.”
“Why that in particular?”
“’Cause I’ve stopped trying to trust you.” Spike’s heart sank at that admission. But Xander hadn’t finished. “I don’t have to try anymore. I just do. I trust you. The care you took to find this place, this degree of solitude for me, the chapel in town, someone there I knew ‘cause of Doug. Whether it’s just your job, or – or…friendship – I’d like to think friendship, now – you’re doing your best for me and your best is awesome.”
Spike’s head dropped forward, masking the emotions on his face, but they were easy enough for Xander to guess: regret; frustration; anger, and at both of them, surely.
“Can we leave this? For now? I really want to go back to the chapel tonight and I’d rather not walk out of here in the middle of this particular conversation.”
“Yes, we walk out of here.”
Nothing more from Spike,
and Xander went for a shower, remembering the last one he’d had and feeling
quite pleased with himself over how he’d coped with Spike’s assistance. Not that there’d been much of an option: take
the help graciously or fall down and break into pieces, but it was exactly what
Singing to himself, songs that took him a little closer to home, he washed thoroughly, taking special care around the sorer bits and dreading the food in his system getting that far. Trying to make it better only seemed to make it worse and Xander was grimacing with every step by the time he went back to the bedroom.
Spike was stretched out on the bed, watching him through slitted eyelids, wearing that unimpressed expression of his. Or was that well-suppressed curiosity? Xander would have to put in some more work on Spike’s unspoken vocabulary.
He looked in the mirror and studied his neck, delicately touching pruned fingertips to the oversensitive scar.
“Incredible. Anyone would think that was at least a week old.”
“There are healing qualities in vampire saliva; helps keep the meal fresh if it’s not an instant kill.”
“Can we bottle it? Vampire spit, with factor epidermal Ziploc. We’d be rich.”
Spike found himself relaxing, not realising he’d tensed in expectation of a bad reaction to that scrap of information with its implications about vampires playing with their food, about to explain a little more when Xander dropped the fresh socks he’d fished out of a drawer and ow, ow, owing as he bent down to pick them up; he missed what he wouldn’t have had any trouble reading as sorrow on Spike’s face.
“I can help you.”
“Yeah? What then? Waiting for me to hand you an engraved invitation?” Xander joked, charily straightening up and waiting for Spike to retrieve the socks for him.
Before he knew what was happening, Xander’s towel was tossed aside and he was on the bed, elbows and knees, and Spike was running cool hands over hot buttocks, parting them gently but firmly to allow access for his tongue. The thrashing and gabbled protests stuttered to a halt as the slick, wet digit wriggled its soothing way to damaged areas and the inflammation immediately began to subside. Xander’s hands fisted in the covers and he probably would have laughed at the absurdity of having a vampire’s tongue probing his nether regions if he didn’t have a vampire’s tongue probing his nether regions. The final, ineffectual argument morphed into a contented groan as, amazingly, he felt himself begin to heal, and that groan was all it took for Spike’s touch to change: his right hand clutching tighter where it lay, squeezing and massaging the firm cheek; his left hand slid over Xander’s hip, up and down his outer thigh a few times before trailing to inner, back of his fingers brushing Xander’s balls and making him jump, although not jump away.
So preoccupied was Xander with that strange, balming sensation that he hadn’t noticed he was getting hard, and if he had noticed, he would have acknowledged that hard didn’t necessarily mean horny. But that would only have been until Spike’s hand found and encased his cock.
“Nice. That’s nice. Better,” was murmured against his body, making him squirm. Feeling there, emotion in the tone, and the mild words were as provocative as any Xander had ever heard in relation to himself.
Mentally groping around for some higher brain functions and a few pertinent words proved fruitless; all that occurred was an instinctive withdrawal from the channel Spike had created, pushing him further onto the penetrating tongue, and an equally instinctive jerk forward that thrust him back into Spike’s fist. Hard didn’t necessarily mean horny, but fuck, this was horny.
And the more Xander knew this should stop and wanted to stop the less he wanted to stop and this was wrong and already regrettable and…
Another swift yet casual move, Spike manhandling Xander as if he weighed nothing, and the man was tipped onto his back, Spike moving like liquid to settle between his thighs and unhesitatingly wrap his mouth around Xander’s erection. Physical pleasure, such a rare commodity in Xander’s life, and it instigated a stream of mumbled nonsense as lips slid wetly over his shaft, a precise and clever tongue toyed with the head.
Oh, fuck. Oh, fuck. Wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG! If he stops I’ll kill him.
Nimble fingers returned to his balls and there was a deal of teasing and rolling to accompany the sucking and licking, a little tugging when it seemed Xander might come too soon – Spike’s decision, not Xander’s, as Xander’s too soon couldn’t be too soon enough. It had been a long time between blowjobs and Xander trembled with the effort of stopping himself thrusting into Spike’s throat; he managed to resist that urge despite the unhelpful encouragement from the vampire, but he couldn’t help forcing his fingers into the solid gel that was reputedly Spike’s hair and clenching. A satisfied chuckle from Spike vibrated around his most sensitive parts and Xander came, yelling with it. No-one had ever taken him deep enough to constrict their throat around him as they swallowed his come and this was Spike producing that mind-blowing sensation, Spike swallowing his come, and that was extraordinary but simply getting off was more than enough and Spike swallowed and Xander writhed and felt and came and yelled.
Luckily his body was sprawled on a bed and didn’t have far to go, but his mind and spirits…
“Stop thinking,” Spike whispered as he nuzzled a thigh.
Spike made his way up the bed to lie beside Xander, and it was fortunate that he chose Xander’s blind side because, unlike Spike himself, the self-satisfied expression would not have gone down well. He stroked a flat hand over the heaving chest and quivering stomach, trying to find his way back to that short-lived feeling of happiness when, two days ago, in his naively hopeful and possibly unhinged mind, Xander had been lover rather than victim.
“Stop thinking,” he repeated.
“Why?” Xander asked, tensing beneath Spike’s touch. “Why this?”
Spike carried out a split-second editing of the many truths.
“Because you needed it.”
“No.” Xander cleared his throat. “That wasn’t need.”
“You enjoyed it.”
“That was using you.”
“Gift freely given. How’s your bum, any better?”
“It was wrong.”
“You knew but you still…”
“Hang on, I meant that I know you thought it was wrong. How did it go? ‘Oh, fuck. Wrong, wrong, wrong. If he stops I’ll kill him.’”
“That was aloud?” Xander asked apprehensively, wondering how much else had been.
“It wasn’t wrong.”
“It was, and…”
“You were noisy,” Spike grinned. “See? I knew you should be noisy.”
Xander shifted to make some space between them, turning and looking hard at Spike.
“Spike. What was ‘better’ about?”
“Better?” Spike repeated innocently.
“Don’t try that face, you know and I know you know.”
“So, how is your bum?” Xander’s accusing gaze flicked down Spike’s body to where the prominent lump stretching the jeans at his groin bore testament to how one-sided this encounter had been. So far? The possibility of Spike thinking ‘so far’ bothered Xander in uncountable ways. Spike saw the glance and read Xander’s mind. “I’m not asking because I want in, I’m asking because I want to stop you hurting so much.”
“Better?” Xander pressed, reverting to a place he felt a little safer. “Why ‘better’?”
Spike sighed and fell onto his back.
“The other day. Before I realised how badly I was fucking up. I hated that, that you never… Sodding hell, Xander, figure it out. Sometimes I’m more vain than demonic.”
“Wait, you mean… This was about me not being turned on when you fucked me?” Spike flinched at the disgust in Xander’s voice, unable to tell whether it was about then or now. “The state I was in and you expected me… I don’t believe you.”
“Not expected, wanted. I didn’t understand what was happening, and you were begging for it, and I thought maybe there was more than the uber-nasty going on.”
“Because I always use the excuse of having my mind destroyed to get laid, I can see how you made that mistake.”
“I didn’t understand at the time, all right? And now I do I want to make things up to you.”
“By— I can’t believe I let you do this.”
“You enjoyed it,” Spike stubbornly insisted.
“You let me use you! Now you’ll never trust me again when I genuinely need you, you’ll think— Fuck knows what you’ll think.”
“The needing is something I do understand. If you need me, I’ll think you need me, nothing more.”
“I used you.”
Sick with himself at his own weakness, Xander shook his head in dismay, took a look at the clock on the cabinet and immediately started off of the bed, grabbing clothes and hiding in the bathroom to get changed. Moving far more easily, Spike noticed, so that had been worthwhile. But the rest… He sighed, savoured the lingering flavour of Xander, and sighed again.
“So much for afterglow.”
It was a relief to get to the chapel. The car ride had been a time of stony silence and tangible resentment, both men feeling that every inch of progress they’d made in respect of the other had been lost. There was, however, an unspoken agreement not to make this rift public, and when they were greeted by Peter and Miriam it was as if nothing had gone wrong in their lives, no need to dwell on uber-nasties, or any brand of madness, and especially not the repercussions of.
They met some representatives of another chapel in the group, most of whom Xander knew by name and reputation, most of whom knew Xander in the same personal/impersonal way. It was Jo, the matriarch of the group, that sat alongside Spike when, much as before, Peter invited Xander to join in the meeting. They watched Xander make his contacts and pass on messages; to Spike he seemed sharper, faster, and there was an amount of consideration about what effect the medium’s recent experiences may have had on him and his abilities.
Jo was as delighted by Xander’s precise readings and charismatic presentation as the remainder of the audience, and at one point she turned to Spike.
“You must be very proud of your partner.” She lowered her voice and peaked around before continuing. “Your…significant other?”
“What makes you think he’s that?”
“Because of the way you watch him.”
“Everyone’s watching him.”
“Not like you.”
“I watch him because I’m trying to keep him safe.”
“Then maybe I should rephrase that. The way you look at him.”
“Just good friends?” she suggested.
Spike thought about it, and when he answered, it was with regret.
“No. Not even that.”
Jo gave him an apologetic, perhaps sympathetic, smile and turned back to watch Xander in action, leaving Spike wondering about how he and Xander could stay together after everything that had occurred. In a purely business sense, naturally. He didn’t like any of his conclusions and very firmly put them from his mind, making the most of the present and catching up with Xander’s latest contact.
“They’ve asked me to visit them,” Xander finally broke the silence when they arrived back at the cabin. “Their chapel in Woodbury. I said I would.”
“Very.” Xander dithered on the stoop and took a deep breath before turning to Spike. “I know this place was perfect, but the associations…”
“We’ll leave at dusk tomorrow,” Spike told him without hesitation, irritated with himself for not guessing the kind of feelings the cabin would now evoke in Xander. “That’ll give me time to find somewhere as peaceful for you.”
“Another motel will do, I don’t need…”
“Just leave that to me.” Xander nodded. “I should have thought, I should already have started to make arrangements.”
“The timing’s good,” Xander insisted. “Gave me a chance to see Peter and Miriam again before we leave.”
“Xander… I don’t want us to fight. I know I do things without thinking them through properly, but…this time…it was with the best of intentions.”
Spike watched the man’s tense body language relax slightly and felt the first trickle of relief.
“When I’m calm I can see that clearly, I just haven’t been calm since you left. Until tonight. And I know we have to talk but, you’re right, we don’t have to fight.”
With a resolved nod Spike herded Xander inside, heading straight for the road atlas with the leaflet from the Stokes’ tucked inside, checking out the location of Woodbury and finding where they were headed next.
“You want food or blood or both?” Xander called from the kitchen.
“Yes,” Spike called back distractedly as he prodded at the keypad of his cell phone.
Xander chatted to Jesse and Saul as he cooked, looking to the doorway when they quietened and giving Spike the warm smile that unfailingly made the vampire want to look around to discover who was behind him that Xander was so delighted to see.
“Similar set up to this, about eight miles from the chapel, that do?”
“I asked about a couple of other places on the leaflet in case you carry on with the spiritualist crawl.”
“It’s only Woodbury,” Xander chuckled as he presented Spike with one of the vampire’s favourite fry-ups, Spike being fully aware of the unsubtle peace offering and belatedly realising that his eagerness to make the move might have appeared an equally unsubtle gesture to Xander.
“Wasn’t sure we could get back to this,” Spike admitted halfway through a very amiable dinner, waving his knife between them.
“Me neither,” Xander agreed after a second, and not prepared to pretend that it didn’t matter. “I’m glad we could.”
“Mind you, we haven’t had that talk yet.”
Xander smiled at Spike’s deliberately gloom-laden delivery, and jabbed him in the shin with his sneaker-shod toe until Spike reassuringly glared.
“Tell me about tonight’s meeting,” Xander prompted.
“You were very good.”
“You mean the novelty hasn’t worn off yet?”
“No, I mean you were very good.”
“You think? Good, or…gooder?”
“Goodest. So far.” Xander beamed. “No meditation, no preparation, and it seemed…”
“It seemed?” Xander pressed, smile fading fast, when Spike failed to continue.
Xander drew breath to speak but stalled, thinking over what Spike had said as he finished his meal.
“That was about the best I’ve been,” Xander admitted quietly. “You think the uber-nasty did something to me, don’t you?”
“What if you being sharper is like…a side effect?”
“Then I forgive it everything, providing you never leave my side for the remainder of my life,” Xander said dourly before snapping. “Don’t tell me it’s doing me any favours.”
“Oi! I didn’t say – didn’t even imply – you should be grateful.”
“Because, whatever the side effects, I’m not grateful, I never will be, I just want
the damn thing to stay away from me and the people I love. Better still, I want the good old days when
“We may get to that yet.”
“Was Buffy in LA when you were there?”
“I thought you said I’d see her, maybe Dawn, if I came with you.”
“You might have, I didn’t know one way or the other.”
“You’re lucky you get to see them at all. I wish I didn’t feel so…odd…about them and this. Me. I told you I’d think about it, and I did, and I really want to see them. But…me.”
“I don’t see them, any of them, much. Buffy’s only in LA if she needs to be, some years that’s not at all. Dawn visits for the occasional week here and there.”
“Silly little sod.” The expected dismissal, but Xander heard the smile in Spike’s voice. A sad smile. “Remember I was telling you about losing the people in LA?” Xander nodded. “It wasn’t long after that that Dru was dusted and somehow… It took a long time to figure out what the ache was, that it wasn’t only for her.” Spike swallowed hard, and quietly admitted: “I missed my…friends, they were friends. And I missed you all, the familiarity, however we were getting along.” Spike paused and Xander waited patiently. “They rarely visit, they have…lives. I’ve wondered if, somewhere along the way, I’ve lost the ability to move on. I haven’t been able to replace the living that gave me life and…” The shutters suddenly slammed into place and Spike flicked Xander a forced smile. “Don’t need all this, do you?”
“You can always talk to me, whatever you want.”
“How did we get here? Uber-nasty to self-pity in one giant bound.”
“Talk to me.”
“No. Your turn. Ready to tell me what happened from the moment I left?”
Xander’s face paled.
“I think I’m gonna abstain from abstention for this. Beer?”
Spike nodded; they each took several bottles from the fridge and moved the conversation to the living room. Xander sat at the left end of the sofa, perched on the edge of the seat, turning and turning the bottle that remained in his hands. Spike sat across from him in an armchair, and wondered if he should be on the sofa too, or would that be crowding rather than support? He gave an uncomfortable wave in the sofa’s direction.
“You want me…”
“No. I have to deal with this. I can do it, I can do anything. Other than all the stuff I can’t do, but who’s counting?” Xander sipped his beer. “It started… Really, the minute you left, with the bites as I watched you drive away. I never figured out what the bugs were.” Xander looked questioningly at Spike, who merely shook his head, not wanting to discuss the non-existence of those persistent insects. “I didn’t realise it straight away but I got bitten badly; I came in and used the cream but I couldn’t stop scratching and the itching seemed to be everywhere; it destroyed my concentration, weakened any defences I have, and… I was sitting at the table, trying to write a report, trying not to scratch despite going crazy with the itching… It’s hazy, even from there. There was a presence, I didn’t think it was the entity at first. It came and went a few times, blocking the connection between myself and Saul, then the noise started – that rumbling – and…” Xander stopped to think, already beginning to tremble with the stress of reliving the initial moments of his hellish few days. “What else is there to say? It hounded me, came and went and came back again, I tried to fight it, occasionally I could, more often I couldn’t. I was scared of what it might make me do, so, in one of my more rational moments, I made myself a lock-up and hoped you’d be back before I died in there. I don’t know the time scale for any of this.” Xander drained his bottle, reached for the next. “All I remember clearly is my…disgust. Horror. Fear. My head hurting, really hurting. I know that, early on, I picked up the phone but my hands were so swollen and painful from the bites I couldn’t hold on to it to use it.”
“When you had those problems at Chrissie’s did your head hurt then?”
“I…” Xander frowned. “Yeah. Yeah, I think it did.”
“Then maybe that wasn’t you getting anything wrong, it was the uber-nasty…” Spike shrugged, “testing you, playing with you, whatever. But it wasn’t you.”
“I guess that could make sense. And…and…I do feel better for knowing that, and I entirely don’t. At least if it was the nasty at Chrissie’s it didn’t…” Xander scraped his fingers through his hair several times. “This time it… Things come back to me, thoughts it put in my mind, but with you around they don’t stay.”
“Because I’m a distraction? Or is it a knock on from the quiet?”
“I don’t know. Almost as if…with you around my brain is Teflon-coated,” Xander gave a brave attempt at a smile, turned and turned the latest bottle. “When you left it was… I got used to the peace you allow me very fast, and with the irritation, the – the presence… I’d forgotten how to deal with the constant voices.” Another drained bottle. “When you came back I was confused, I didn’t know it was you, and then I did, and although I knew, I couldn't seem to believe, really believe, ‘cause I needed you so badly.” The empty bottle dropped to the floor as Xander’s composure wavered; he leaned forward, resting his face in his hands and mumbling. “Not using you, Spike, needing you, sorry, sorry for that, sorry for needing you, I… I’m not using you, trying not to. Sorry.”
“I understand about the needing, I don’t want you to be sorry.”
Xander’s head came up, fixed Spike, eye-to-eye.
“You can’t begin to imagine – I wouldn’t want you to – what it felt like to have that thing all over me, inside and out, like I was cocooned in evil and – and…infested and— I don’t have the words. Whereas you…” Xander closed his eye and took a deep breath, exhaling slowly as a better memory took the upset from his face. “You made me feel clean again.”
“I did what?” Spike asked breathlessly.
“You saw the nasty off, you brought me back to…me, you made me feel clean. Inside.”
“But I… You cried so much, I thought that was me, what I’d done.”
“The crying was as much about the release of tension as the laughing was at Chrissie’s. It was about the relief of you being here.”
Spike rose swiftly, seemed to be going back to the kitchen, but made an abrupt turn and came directly to Xander.
“This is you— I don’t know what you’re doing. But you shouldn’t be protecting me from myself.”
Xander took his time looking up to see Spike’s unaccountably hostile face.
“You think you broke me, Spike? That’s what the crying was about? You fucked me and broke me?”
“I don’t know, and I have to.”
“Don’t be so damned arrogant. Remember me? Xander Harris? I don’t break, not for you, not even for the uber-nasty. Big reactions sometimes, but I don’t break.”
“After…what I did…”
Once again Spike turned away, unable to put into words the apologies he felt necessary, the assurances he wanted to give, the promise that he’d never, never hurt Xander again. One fuck and he was ensnared, committed, there for Xander. Needed – ‘cause yes, he felt the need – rather than used, and sometimes a little genuine need was all the encouragement necessary, and…in short… I’m totally bloody fucking screwed.
“Why do you feel so bad about doing what I asked you to do? Why do you feel so bad? Did…did you enjoy it that much?”
“Don’t ask a question you don’t want the answer to.”
“That’s a yes then.”
“Yes! All right? Yes!”
“Because of my pain?”
“Because I had you. I was fooling myself that you really wanted me, and I had your body beneath me and…and you were holding me – clinging to me – as if you wanted me and you were wrapped tightly around my prick and…and… It was fucking glorious.”
“It’s not about the pain?”
“No. I wasn’t trying to hurt you, I gave you what you were demanding. Or that’s what I thought. Now…now I don’t know, and nothing you say…”
“You’re being way too hard on yourself.”
“I’m…! Xander, I raped you!”
“No, you didn’t,” Xander told him yet again, standing and edging close, speaking slowly and deliberately, hoping the words would sink through that solid vampire skull this time. “You didn’t.”
“I think I would know…”
“Actually, I think I would know if you did.”
“You were distraught afterwards.”
“Not because of you. ‘Cause of what that fucking entity had put me through, and even now… Even now if I think about it…” Xander held out his hands to show the increased tremor. Spike automatically, protectively took them. “You saved me. Spike, you saved me.” Spike tried to pull away but Xander held on tightly, tugging the vampire back to face him. “You saved me.”
“I hurt you. I was out of control.”
“If you were out of control you would have carried on hurting me. You didn’t, though, did you?”
“I wanted to fuck you again. Not because you needed me, just…for me.”
“But you didn’t.”
“It’s not that simple!”
“Yes, it is. It can be.” Xander drew Spike near and very deliberately offered the scarred area of his neck. “That’s yours.”
“I know,” Spike said coldly.
“Do it again.”
There was no stopping Spike this time: he was on the far side of the room before Xander registered movement. Xander looked at him and smiled kindly.
“You’re a good man.”
“I raped you.”
“No. If you did…I’d hate you. I’d find a way to kill you, and I’d do it with a clear conscience because…” Xander chuckled to himself. “Goes without saying.”
“Let’s say it anyway, shall we? I’m a demon, I can’t be trusted to…”
“Redundant argument,” Xander shouted over the top of Spike’s words. That burst of noise and then silence as they studied one another. “The apology is mine,” Xander eventually continued. “You’re the one who’s come out of this in pain. And I’m sorry for that.”
“Sorry enough to—” Spike swallowed the last of his quiet words, turning away and back and away before briskly leaving the room.
The last thing he wanted was for Xander to follow so, predictably, Xander did.
“Sorry enough to what?”
“I shut up for a reason, you should respect that.”
“Sorry enough to…”
“Sorry enough to what?”
Spike growled in frustration, pacing the length of the hall. Xander waited patiently, and when Spike eventually let himself come face-to-face with the young man’s open concern it was impossible for him to keep quiet.
“I thought… On the way back I kept thinking… We might have a chance,” Spike admitted, ignoring Xander’s surprise and pressing on. “I was going to show you… Going to prove to you how good I can be if I… How…gentle. Ridiculous, I know.”
“Not ridiculous. But I’ve told you why not.”
“Isn’t it too late for that argument? You didn’t want to get closer but we’ve been closer, it’s done, we’ve been there.” Spike’s voice dropped to a whisper. “I’ve been there. Inside you. I want that again.”
Xander was already shaking his head.
Spike stepped back as his anger burst back to the surface.
“Because, despite what you said: demon here, you hate me for fucking you, you can’t trust me.”
“Because I don’t, and because I do,” Xander protested. “And stop bringing up the demon thing, will you? You realise that you’re the one with the prejudice here? Only one of us has a problem with you being a demon and it isn’t me.”
“I don’t have a problem being a demon.”
“Then forget the old Xander, see the new, and stop accusing me of despising you for being exactly what I need you to be.”
“Fair enough. How about I blame you rather than me? Is that way any better? You gave me no choice but to fuck you.”
“I accept that, and I’ve apologised for…”
“You did that, made me hurt you, and what chance do I have with you now?”
“A greater chance than if that fucker had driven me to suicide.”
“You’re saying there is a chance?”
“No. And honestly? Still Spike and Xander here, I can’t understand why you’d want one.”
Spike grabbed Xander and shoved him up against the wall, holding him there with his body, glaring at him with plenty of annoyance and even more desire.
“Spike…” Not so much as a token struggle; Xander’s hands crept up to caress the vampire’s tense face. “You think it’s easy to say no? You think I don’t want to be close to someone? You were right, what you said about my life, about how empty it is. But I’m used to it being that way, and I can’t see how I would even start to cope with having yo…someone for a while and then going back to that emptiness. You said this…I don’t know what to call what’s going on between us, but you said it was about proximity. This is you taking a shot because I’m convenient…”
“Listen to me. I can’t be your Mr Convenience, not this way. I can’t afford to have anyone – for however short a time, whatever the circumstances – and then lose them. That, of all things… That… Might be what finally breaks me.”
No doubting the honesty in those words: Spike could hear it, see it, feel it in Xander’s gentle touch. The vampire’s head despondently sank until his brow rested on Xander’s shoulder; Xander pressed his lips to the cool temple and sighed miserably at Spike’s soft moan.
“I enjoyed it, Xander, every second of it. Having you beg for me. Being inside you, prick and fangs.”
“I think it’s time for Spike to stop being honest,” Xander told the vampire, quiet humour in his voice.
“But it wasn’t worth it. The soul regrets.”
“I’m sorry to say this, but I think you’ve been infected with a bad case of humanity. It’s how we are, doing stupid stuff and then kicking ourselves for not knowing better.”
“I should be above that.”
“Why you specifically? We all should be above that. But we have to be realistic.” Xander hands continually stroked over Spike’s back, trying to coax him out of his mood. “I want you to stop blaming yourself and…can’t you look at it as getting something you wanted?”
“’Kay, probably needs rephrasing. After the motel, memo to…” Another growl and Xander attempted a verbal sidestep. “You said you enjoyed it? Aaaaand you used that argument on me earlier, and it really sucks, doesn’t it? Will you stop with the grr! Calm place, back to the calm place, calm place was nice.” Spike tried to jerk away, but once again Xander refused to let him go. “Stay. Please. Stay.”
Golden eyes returned to blue, searching Xander’s face.
“You going to let me go?”
“When what I want is…”
Spike yanked Xander to him, kissing him at last, hard and passionately and… Being astounded when there was no resistance, no tussle for freedom. Reciprocation, in fact. The return of the hands, stroking. The kiss lost its desperate edge and mouths met gently, explored lightly, although it wasn’t long before Xander felt he had no choice but to bring it to a halt, however reluctantly.
“You can’t have this,” he murmured, before briefly kissing Spike again. “I can’t have this.” Meaning it. “Please understand why.”
Experiencing the depth of emotion with which Xander imbued every kiss, Spike did understand. It didn’t help that it only made him want Xander more. He released his hold and stepped back.
“I’m done here,” he said firmly, determined to sound like he meant it in a bid to restore a little of Xander’s faith in him.
Xander nodded his acceptance, staring at Spike’s mouth and wanting to explore further. But…his own rules.
“That wasn’t fighting, was it? Some of the discussion was a little heated, but…”
“We don’t fight.”
“We don’t. We talk and we…heal.” An anxious look darted from Xander to Spike. “We do, don’t we?”
“Healing,” Spike promised, taking Xander’s hand and placing it on his chest, over the un-beating heart. “Feel.”
Xander drifted closer, too close, retrieved his hand, drifted away.
“Every time I want to kiss you I’m going to remind myself that your tongue has been in my ass.”
“It’s a very nice arse.”
“But not an appropriate place for a vampire’s tongue.”
“Depends who the vampire is.”
“Oh. Oh, that did it, completely turned off now.”
“I didn’t mean…”
“No, it’s good, you try it.” Spike did, and his face crumpled in disapproval. “We’re both up to speed?” Xander confirmed. “Neither of us ra…took advantage, abused, used, or generally exploited the other; there was, however, plenty of needing and giving, and ultimately, we’re two great guys who are going to save the world, and – and… Really regret never sharing a hot tub if we die prematurely.”
“Are we sleeping together tonight?”
“We are and, warning you now, I will be performing the limpet manoeuvre.”
“You’re not… You’re not going back to living in hope, are you?”
“I think you can safely say I’ve given up hope, Pet…al.”
Xander grinned at that, nodded gratefully at the denial, and wandered off to clean up before bed.
Spike studied his retreating back and felt the spark inside his chest burst into a flame. He hadn’t lied: as far as he was concerned the conquest of Xander Harris was no longer a hope.
It was a certainty.